Christianity 201

September 9, 2021

New Beginnings! Thinking Through Adam and Eve’s Experience, and Ours

by Clarke Dixon

[read and comment at source: Click here]

When we think of new beginnings, we may think of things like a wedding, the birth of a child, or winning a lottery. For most of us a new beginning may come with much less celebration. A new beginning might be a divorce, a broken relationship, the loss of a job, a fire, a bereavement, a health crisis, a mental health crisis, or some unwelcome, really bad news. COVID was a new beginning for all of us, so too are the faltering steps we are taking towards a post-COVID world, if that is indeed what we are doing.

For many people, their new beginning might be described as Adam and Eve may have wanted to describe their new beginning, as cursed. Perhaps you were thinking Adam and Eve’s new beginning was in their creation and placement in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 1 and 2? Nope, that was their beginning, their new beginning was the experience of being kicked out of the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 3 and 4. Not exactly the kind of new beginning we would like either. Let us think through their new beginning and discover what can help us with ours.

There are four things Adam and Eve could say if they took a step back and looked at the big picture of their new beginning.

First, we are still here!

God had said “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:17 (NRSV). Some translations interpret “the day you eat of it” as emphasis on the fact that death would happen. Hebrew language and thinking does not quite work the same way as ours, so we should not get too caught up in the fact that Adam and Eve did not die that very day. The reality of death certainly did, however. Still, God did not say “when you eat it, you will live outside the garden, then die.” To be still alive would have come as a welcome surprise. They could say “we are still here!”

Second, God is still with us!

While we do not hear too much more about Adam and Eve, as Genesis 4 gets going, God is as available to Cain outside of the Garden of Eden as He was to Adam and Eve inside the Garden. There is conversation, there is presence, there is guidance. Though humans were now stuck outside the Garden of Eden, God was not stuck in it.

Third, there are signs of grace!

Adam and Ever were not just still alive, they were also experiencing further signs of God’s grace. Consider the births of Cain and Abel. There was the promise of death as the consequence of taking of the forbidden fruit, yet before we see death, we see the gift of life. In fact even the curse given in Genesis 3:16; “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children,” (NRSV) is a sign of grace. There will be life, there will be future generations.

Fourth, there are opportunities!

For starters, Adam and Eve would have the opportunity to fulfill God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28). God’s call on humanity still stood. God still had, and still has, a plan for us!

Though we are not told much about Adam and Eve and their relationship with God and each other, we can suppose they also had increased opportunities for supporting each other in ways they did not have opportunity to do so before. They would also have had the opportunity to lean on God more than they ever had to before. Things were great back in the Garden. Not so anymore, so leaning on God and others, and being available for others to lean on, became opportunities to help and be helped.

When we face a new beginning.

When we are facing momentous change, a new beginning, whether one anticipated with great excitement and celebration, or one that is thrust upon us, we can look at the big picture.

But before we go there, there are two very practical matters we learn from life. First, change brings stress. New beginnings are stressful whether they are anticipated with joy, or experienced with dread. Let us watch for stress and the need for strategies to cope, things like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercise, breathing exercises, mindful moments, prayer, and the enjoyment of hobbies. Second, change brings loss. New beginnings require grief. We have all faced loss one way or another in this COVID era. Let us watch for signs of grief, like anger and denial, and consider a strategy to deal with grief.

Now back to the practical matters that we learn from Adam and Eve. When we face momentous change, a new beginning, especially one that might be perceived as a curse, there are four things we can say.

First, we are still here!

You are still breathing, so breathe a sigh of relief. God is not done with you yet. And in fact, God never will be done with you. So even when you wake up someday and you are not here, that will be an even greater blessing! Paul knew this when he said,

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

Second, God is still with us!

In the very last words of the Gospel of Matthew we read the promise of Jesus: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 8:20 NLT)

We need not face our new beginnings alone. God’s presence is available through all the change we experience in life. In fact God’s presence is available to us even if we brought about the disastrous change we may be experiencing. God is not stuck in the Garden of Eden. In perfect love, God offers help to the imperfect.

Third, there are signs of grace!

We may have trouble seeing them, but they are there. We can pray for eyes to see them. They are the assurance of God’s presence, not just His presence, but His presence and love. There is no greater sign of God’s grace than Jesus, his being with us, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, and his presence now through the Holy Spirit. The bread and the cup we receive through the Lord’s Table are constant reminders, signs of God’ grace.

Fourth, there are opportunities.

Here again, we may have trouble seeing them, but they are there, and will be there as some come later. Again, we pray for eyes to see the opportunities, but also for the the courage to take them.

Our new beginning may feel like a curse, but it may turn around to be a blessing somehow to us, but potentially, for others.

Let me give a personal example of a new beginning we have faced and of the opportunities that have come though it. When one of our sons came out as openly gay, that was a new beginning for our son, and for all of us. With that new beginning comes opportunities. There is the opportunity of being in a relationship based on honesty, rather than our son feeling he has something to hide from us. There is the opportunity for my wife and I to be on a journey of understanding, challenging the usual story of fear, exclusion and broken relationships when there is a “coming out.” My wife and I have been on a journey of walking with our son as we continue to walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Going forward, I have no doubt that I will have the opportunity to grow as a person and as a pastor, to be a better pastor than I have been, to those who are, or those who have connections with the LGBTQ+ community. For some people, a child coming out as gay might seem like the end of the world. We are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, and there are opportunities.

New beginnings in our church.

Every church family has faced momentous change, a new beginning in these days of pandemic. As society falteringly moves from a COVID era to a post-COVID era (hopefully?!), we can say we are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, there are opportunities.

What about you?

Are you facing momentous change, whether an anticipated blessing, or something you would rather describe as a curse?

Are you taking care of yourself, watching for stress and creating strategies for coping, naming and grieving your losses?

Are you aware of the bigger picture? You are still here! God is still present! There are signs of grace! There are opportunities!

(Thanks for reading. You can watch me preach this sermon here.)

October 24, 2018

Taste Testing the Reality of God

This is our second feature sourced from Don’t Ask The Fish, written by Florida pastor Dr. Tommy Kiedis.

The Proof Is In The Pudding

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.
How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!

— Psalm 34:8 CSB

“Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God. We must all live in the tension of proof and faith.

Last week I read the stories of Ezekiel and John, two men who tasted the reality of God, albeit in different ways. Ezekiel was the bold prophet sent to pronounce God’s judgment on his rebellious people, while John the Baptist trumpeted the arrival of Messiah and saw him walk, talk, teach, and heal.

Their experiences got me thinking about the proverb, “The proof is in the pudding.”

Actually, “the proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb.” So says Ben Zimmer, language columnist at the Boston Globe. Zimmer notes, “The original version is the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And what it meant was that you had to try out food in order to know whether it was good.”

In one sense, Ezekiel and John got to “try out” the food. Their experiences were first-hand, the kind most of us wish for from time-to-time: “Oh, if I could have just heard the voice of God like Ezekiel!” “If I could have just witnessed the work of Jesus like John.”

Not so fast.

Despite having seen Jesus, John the baptizer had his own crisis of faith. His doubts about Jesus spilled out as he sat in Herod’s prison. So unsure was John that sent his followers to ask:

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

— Matthew 11:3 ESV

How does Jesus respond to this temporary lapse of faith? “You go and report to John what you hear and see:”

  • The blind see
  • The lame walk
  • Lepers are cleansed
  • The deaf hear
  • The dead are raised
  • The wretched of the earth learned that God is on their side.

John, the proof is in the pudding. If this is what you were expecting, count yourself most blessed! Because you’re seeing it. The reality that I am the Messiah.

John’s problem — his nagging doubt — reminded me that we all live in the tension of proof and faith. In other words, we may get to see the pudding, but not taste it this side of heaven.

I turn the pages of my Bible to Hebrews 11, to those notables whose pictures grace the faith Hall of Fame: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and the rest of that confident cohort. They possessed a faith so strong we’re on a first-name basis. Yet, in one sense each of these only saw the pudding, never sampled it.

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.

— Hebrews 11:

The members of the Faith Hall of Fame tasted the reality of God, but walked in the unseen reality of the day-to-day. What are we to make of all this?

For starters, God does not owe you or me a tidy wrapped package that is the life of faith. “Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God.

I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words to the crowd after this encounter with John:

“How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” — Matthew 11:16-19 The Message

Jesus is telling me that while the meal may not look the way I want it, I still need to come and eat. And as I continue to read Matthew 11, he urges me to come to his table.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

“Tasting” the reality of God does not mean you will always “see” the reality of God. We must all live in the tension of proof and faith. But Jesus, like the Psalmist, knows the happy person is the one who sits to dine, who comes to him.

Ezekiel, John, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab . . . they all dined with God. They trusted him — even when it didn’t seem to make sense — and found he is good.

How about you? Taste and see. The proof is in the pudding.


Note: “The proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb . . .” from “The Origin Of ‘Proof Is In The Pudding’“, transcript of Morning Edition, August 24, 2012. National Public Radio. www.npr.org. Accessed October 15, 2018.

April 23, 2018

The Difficult Trial of Continued Success

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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As you’ll see, today’s title is not a mistake.

Although since our last visit the site hasn’t been active for several months, there is a wealth of material at Thomas Mathew’s Believer Blogs. Click the title below to read at source.

Handling Success – Trial of Faith Series

2 Ki 18:7a  And the LORD was with him [Hezekiah]; he was successful in whatever he undertook.

In the last message we looked at Peter’s life to learn God’s plan for us in the face of our failures. Today, let’s look at the next trial of our faith. Success.

In some candid discussions with many true men of God, I have come to the conclusion that Success is a more difficult trial of faith than failure. The danger of going through failure is that you may fall prey to unbelief and become bitter towards God. It may happen to a few people, but the common response for failure is that it drives us back towards God. What is the usual result of success? The normal believer tends to become proud, his heart is lifted up and he forgets the God who gave him the success in the first place. It takes a very tender heart to maintain that humility before God and give Him the glory for any success which He has granted us. Let’s look at the example from the life of King Hezekiah.

The Lord was with him

The name Hezekiah means “Yahweh is my Strength”. True to his name, the Lord did mighty things through this wonderful king. If you read from 2 Kings 18:3-8, we note the following things about his blessed reign.

  1. 2 Ki 18:3– He did right in the eyes of the Lord (as David)
  2. 2 Ki 18:4– he eradicated idolatry in all known forms, even destroying the bronze serpent which had existed as an idol for nearly 1000 years!
  3. 2Ki 18:5– He trusted the Lord and the word of God declares him to be a king unlike any other before or after him.
  4. 2 Ki 18:6– He held fast to the Lord and didn’t cease to follow Him. He kept the commandments of the Lord
  5. 2 Ki 18:7– The Lord was with Him and therefore, he was successful in all his endeavors.
  6. 2 Ki 18:8– He didn’t bow down before the Syrian kings and defeated philistines across their borders.

A man whom the Lord honors and protects!

Truly, he was one of the best kings to grace the throne of Israel. There is a touching account of the King of Syria threatening to annihilate Israel. 2 Chr 32:1 (read from v1 to v19) Hezekiah prayed to the Lord (2 Chr 32:20) and the Lord sent an angel which consumed 185,000 soldiers of Syria (2Chr 32:21). I especially loved the Word of God which says 2 Chr 32:22 

So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side.

If we have any doubt concerning this, the Lord says: it is He who delivered the nation. Not the might of armies or the wisdom of a king. But the end result of this deliverance was that the fame of Hezekiah spread far and wide and many came to him with precious gifts and he was highly regarded by all nations. (2 Chr 32:23)

The beginning of the end – Pride

Alas, the result of such fame was a falling away. 2 Chr 32:25 says:

But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the LORD’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem.

The result of that wrath was an illness which came to the King and he was near death. he prayed to the Lord and the lord answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. (Read 2 Ki 20:1-11) And he repented of the pride in his heart (2 Chr 32:26) and the Lord’s wrath didn’t appear to them in that generation. But the result of this prayer was an increase of his life by 15 years. That led him to commit even more mistakes in his later years and he also fathered Manasseh. (If you read 2 Chr 33:1-11, you can see the amount of evil that this young king heaped on himself and Israel) While Hezekiah accomplished much in the secular realm in the added years(2 Chr 32:27-30), we see the steady decline of his spiritual life as the end comes.

The end – God leaves him to test his heart

2 Chr 32:31 But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.

When God leaves us to test us, he expects us to rely on what He has taught us in the past. He expects us to use the wisdom and unction that He deposited in us prior to the test. It is for us to understand the contents of our heart more clearly. 2 Ki 20:13 says – he exposed every little bit of his kingdom to the envoys of the enemy as a result of his pride and that mistake was instrumental in the nation being carried away to Babylon at a later point in time.

What is our lesson from this?

Do I write all this to diss a godly king ? Am I magnifying his mistakes ? Am I trying to erase the good he has done by focusing on his mistakes? Not at all! I believe all scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for our instruction, correction and reproof. It is good for us to take valuable lessons from all these scriptures because we are near the end times. (1 Cor 10:11). Where Hezekiah pleased God, let us desire to imitate his life. Where he fell short of the glory of God, let us take it as a precious example to guard against. Remember, if a spiritual giant like he could fall, so could we! Am I against success? Not at all! I desire success and I believe it is the plan of God for all his disciples to enjoy success. That’s why the precious promises are given to the victors (7 letters of revelation + Rev 21:7). But in our successes that we enjoy, do not forget to attribute glory and honor and praise and thanksgiving to the One who made it possible for us. As Jesus said: Without me, you can do nothing! My prayer is that however well we have begun our spiritual race, God give us the grace to fight the good fight, finish our race and keep the faith and to appropriate the eternal rewards kept for us (2 Tim 4:7)

Further reading : 1 Chr 28:9 & Deut 8:2


King Hezekiah has appeared here many times, including these three devotionals:

July 16, 2017

Make an Effort

by Russell Young

How disturbing it is to hear the proclamation that everything has been done for the believer and that all that is required of him or her is to sit back and enjoy the ride. The Lord said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV)

The teaching of God’s “sovereign grace” has pervaded the thoughts and teachings that are being directed to those who sincerely want to gain God’s eternal kingdom. The term “sovereign grace” does not exist in the Word; consequently, its understanding is a construct of man. Certainly, God is sovereign over all things and over the application of his grace. In this sense, God’s grace is really God’s sovereign grace. The problem is that the interpretation and application of grace has evolved into an understanding that may not be biblical.

The Hebrew word often accepted as applying to grace is chen which means,

1. Favor, grace, charm
• a. favor, grace, elegance
• b. favor, acceptance (biblestudytools.com)

The Greek term for grace is charis and has been defined as, “the unmerited or undeserving favor of God to those who are under condemnation.” (Paul Enns, Moody Bible Handbook of Theology, 196) A common understanding may be “unmerited favor,” but that can have a very broad application, or a very narrow one. Many New Testament scholars have accepted that God has completed the eternal salvation of the confessor because of his or her belief. Even in this, however, the understanding of belief varies from person to person.

The Lord taught that an “effort” was required. This thought is often dismissed because an effort is not consistent with the understanding of God’s sovereign grace, and implies “works” which is clearly presented as being ineffectual in the achievement of the believer’s eternal hope. Somehow the requirement of ‘effort’ must be understood in relation to both grace and works.

Peter wrote that “[Christ’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Pet 2: 3─4 NIV) He has identified that it is through his “precious promises” that we may “participate in” the nature or soul-likeness of Christ and by so doing escape the corruption caused by evil desires. It is through the knowledge of his promises that a person can become like him. Knowledge in itself does not accomplish anything; knowledge must be used or correctly applied before it can have an effect. The application requires “effort.”

Although many teach that eternal salvation was accomplished at the cross through belief in the efficacy of the blood of Christ, Paul taught that through his sacrifice Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13─14 NIV) Every person carries the sentence of death because he or she has transgressed the law. Christ bore our sins and the penalty attached, restoring fellowship with God so that he might gift the Spirit. The Spirit is Christ in the believer. (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3:17, 18) This is grace! Freedom from deserved death and the gifting of Christ as Spirit.

Paul tells us that “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4 NIV) Living according to the Spirit takes effort. The Spirit is given to enlighten (increase knowledge), to lead and to empower for righteousness. The writer of Hebrews states, “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) Obedience requires commitment and effort. Paul also taught that “if you are led by the Spirit are not under the law,” (Gal 5: 18) and that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14 NIV) Further Paul wrote that we shouldn’t be deceived because the way we live could result in eternal life or destruction. {Gal 6:7─8) There are many other commands for obedience and by definition, obedience requires effort.

Obedience should not be confused with “works.” Works refers to unassisted efforts of humankind, and specifically refers to the works of the law or the completion of the law of Moses. Paul wrote that because of the weakened sinful nature humankind could not complete it. The hope of the believer is accomplished through faith in Christ, through conviction of his ability to meet the believer’s need.

The great requirement of humankind is to be transformed into the divine nature of Christ so that we become like him. (Rom 8:29) This transformation demands the practice of death to self-interest and to the evil interests of the flesh as availed through Christ and by the submission of the believer to his rule so that the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) might prevail and the narrow door entered.

May 28, 2017

Eternal Hope through Honoring the Spirit

by Russell Young

These passages dealing with the Spirit are from Romans 8 (NIV). They should inform the reader of his or her need for the continued ministry of Christ as Spirit in their life (Col 1:27) for the accomplishment of their eternal hope.

8:2 “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
8:4 “[H]e condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
8:5 “those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires”.
8:9 “You are controlled…by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit he does no belong to Christ.”
8:11 “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.”
8:13 “[I]f by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
8:14 “[T]hose who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
8:17 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

The “suffering” of Christ has been revealed in Hebrews 2:18. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (NIV) Consider Hebrews 5:7: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (NIV)

8:23 “[W]e ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
8:26 “[T]he Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
8:27 “[H]e who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

Wording that refers to life in the flesh has been left out in order to bring clarity to the full and necessary ministry of the Lord as Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18). The reader can discern that a system of laws (“the law of the Spirit of life”) still exists and that the righteous requirement of the law can only be met by Christ as Spirit living through the believer. The law of the Spirit that is to be met is not recorded on paper; it is dynamic and is revealed by the Spirit according to the Lord’s desire and purposes as he transforms the heart and soul of the believer. Accordingly, believers become his “workmanship” (Eph 2:10 NIV) or, “masterpiece” (NLT)

In these passages, Paul makes it clear that the Spirit must be living in the believer; he cannot just be in the believer. The Spirit is not to be denied, quenched, or thwarted in his workings but must be honoured and obeyed. (Mt 7:21; Heb 5:9; 2 Thess 1:8; Rev 22:14 KJV) if the Spirit is to complete his work so that a person’s eternal salvation might result. (2 Thess 2:13; Titus 3:5─6; Rom 15:16)

Since the “misdeeds of the body” must be put to death by obedience to the Spirit, it cannot be accepted that the sacrificial offering of Christ on the cross completed the believer’s hope or his need; it is the continued transforming ministry of Christ as Spirit, and the believer’s submission to the Lord that is also required.

The passages above should inform the reader why Paul taught that baptism symbolizes death to self (Rom 6:5─7) and new life through Christ, as well as his revelation that he no longer lived but that Christ lived in him. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in–obediently following–the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) They also teach that believers will not be adopted as a son of God until the body has been redeemed of its sinful interests and practices.

The Lord came to fulfill the law (Mt 5:17) for himself, and for the believer through his indwelling presence. The believer cannot be passive in his or her spiritual walk; it must be committed and intentional and requires “suffering” to overcome fleshly interests and temptations.

Deceptive teaching has allowed easy-believism; those who have fallen prey to such teachings will have their hopes dashed in the end when judgment by Christ is rendered for the things done in the body. Believers are to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12 NIV)

November 25, 2016

Fighting Back, Piece by Piece

Today a first-time writer here. Lisa Sharpe came recommended to us and blogs at Thoughts, Ponderings and Random Nothings. You can encourage her by clicking the title below and reading this at her blog. If you know someone who deals with fear, anxiety or depression; you might want to direct them to the article linked below.

Daily Battle: How I Fight Back

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

There are days where I wake up or go to bed simply to reset. The day was too long, too hard, or too empty and so I had to close it out and hope that the next day would be different. Better, somehow. But a reset doesn’t always happen, and I still have a day to get through. So this is how I fight.

I wake up and I can feel it immediately. I don’t have it in me today. “It” being that magical thing inside of you that helps you feel like “you’ve got this”. And mine today, is missing. Why? I don’t know. I try to find it, gathering what pieces of it that are left lying around. There isn’t much, and what I can seem to grab slips through my fingers. I’ve got none of it today.

The rapid fire thoughts start coming even before I’m fully awake. Starting with simple questions, only to find out later down the line that it’s Fear in disguise. Do you really think you can make it today? Maybe you should just stay in bed. Today is going to be hard, are you sure you can handle it? You don’t know what’s waiting for you outside those doors today, and you’re sure you can handle it? Not just it being there, but the unpreparedness of it coming at you? No. I’m not sure. Gosh, this feels hard.

Then, after the questions begin to turn into concerns, the self-doubt bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid man. Why can I not get up and face life like everyone else can? My life’s not that hard, I know it’s not. So the problem must be me. Why can’t I just be strong enough to easily get through a day? Why do I always have to struggle?

Then the statements show up. Self-declared statements that feel like facts. I’m never going to be able to beat this. It’s always going to follow me. This is the rest of my life, and I’m already having a hard time. How can anyone put up with someone like this when it makes me a monster? I am a monster. And I can’t stop. I can’t handle today. I’m not going to make it. I’m not enough to get through this day. And if I keep trying, I’m going to keep failing and this world will crush me. And no one wants to deal with a crushed person.

Geez. I can’t handle today.

So let’s break down today into smaller pieces and see how I do.

Let’s close our eyes and slow down for a minute. Whatever it is that you know needs to be done can wait a minute. Forget about all the people you think you need to be there for. All the things you know you need to do today. Forget about the details of what you need to do at work. If you could take it all out of the equation for just a bit, where would that leave you? That leaves me with nothing. Great. So now I’ve broken my life down to nothing. There would be nothing left. Nothing but God. I almost forget about Him. I keep confusing Him with “it”.

He’s still here. So it’s back to me and Him. I keep forgetting this is exactly where He wants me. Not getting too wrapped up in all the “stuff”. He told me I’m not supposed to be strong enough. “It” was just a lie anyway. I forgot that it’s really kind of Him to break me down until my only prayer can be, “Help. God, just hold my hand”. That way I won’t forget He’s there. That He controls my day. That He knows what’s outside the door, and He is ready to face it boldly, even when I’m not. I forget that my day is His, not mine, and that He has a reason for having me go through today. And that includes this struggle. He is ready for every step of the way, so that I don’t have to be. My interactions with people are for Him, not for others. I work to be faithful, not to impress. I hold His hand because I trust Him and want Him to guide my day, not because it’s the only option. Even though it is the only option. I’m broken. But He knows that, and He said it’s okay.

Geez. I forgot everything. I want to be free again. I want to give Him back my day again. I want Him to have it. I think I could face today if He had today. I don’t want this day to own me. I want to be free again. God take this day back. It was already about you, but I had forgotten, so please take it back and make it about you for me too. Help me to remember. And please, hold my hand while I keep trying. I’m going to need so much help. But I think if you were there, I know I could make it. And even if I fail again, at least I won’t be alone. Help me to remember and see that today is for you. For your plan. It was always your plan.

OK. Eyes open. It’s time to move. My first step can’t wait forever. I’ll just work on making it to breakfast first. Then to the car. Then until lunch. Then home again. Piece by piece. And somehow I’ll turn around and be amazed at what happened in the “in between” spaces of all those place markers in time. Somehow in the in between spaces, I listened and prayed for a friend. I accomplished a task. I solved a problem. I avoided an accident. All while avoiding a meltdown. But how? I’m not even sure, but I do know one thing: It wasn’t “it”. It was Him.

 

September 11, 2014

Taking Jesus at His Word

Matthew 4:18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 8:21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Matthew 9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

Matthew 10:38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me

I have to say I love lists. Maybe it’s the over-simplicity of “Ten things that…” or “Five reasons you…” but my brain processes things that way.  David Leung, a local pastor in our area had this on the landing page for his church website:

Day-to-day as I reflect on the gospel of Jesus, I am excited about the church.  It is evident from his teaching and ministry that Jesus believed another world was possible.  The Kingdom of God: a realm of radical love, acceptance and care that would bring restoration to a fallen world.

What if Jesus really meant it when he said,

  • God loves us? (John 3:16)
  • His Holy Spirit would be with us? (John 14:16)
  • His Kingdom was at hand? (Luke 10:9)
  • Doing it his way would set us free? (John 8:32)
  • We could come together as one? (John 17:22)
  • We would have a reputation of genuine love? (John 13:34)
  • Good news for the poor and oppressed was at hand? (Luke 4:18)
  • We didn’t have to be afraid? (John 14:27)
  • We didn’t have to worry? (Luke 12:-22-34)
  • We could be forgiven? (Luke 5:20)
  • We could live forever? (John 11:25-26)
  • God answers prayer? (John 15:7,16)
  • Jesus has won (John 16::33)

Jesus’ claims are too important to overlook.  Our world needs this!  Our communities need this!  Our families need this!  I need this!

We believe that all this has been made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection.  We believe that this is real.


So are we willing to trust Jesus’ promises?

As I continued thinking about this theme of taking Jesus at his word, I was reminded of the song I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin. This is the acoustic version.

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow…

All your ways are good
All your ways are sure
I will trust in you alone
Higher than my side
High above my life
I will trust in you alone

Where you go, I’ll go
Where you stay, I’ll stay
When you move, I’ll move
I will follow you
Who you love, I’ll love
How you serve I’ll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you

Light unto the world
Light unto my life
I will live for you alone
You’re the one I seek
Knowing I will find
All I need in you alone, in you alone

In you there’s life everlasting
In you there’s freedom for my soul
In you there joy, unending joy
And I will follow

May 13, 2014

Everything Created is Good

I Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

The key verse for today is verse 4, and the Reformation Study Bible sums it up for us:

Contrary to the false teachers, the Christian affirms the essential goodness of God’s creation

and then adds a reference to Genesis 1,

And God saw that it was good.

Matthew Henry associates this passage to Peter’s vision in Acts 10:15

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

The discussion about food is a theme that continues throughout many Second Testament passages. You can imagine that transitioning from a system where certain things were forbidden to a new freedom and liberty would be difficult both for those who made the transition, and for those who clung on to the old rules.   The entirety of Romans 14 is devoted to this as well as the keeping of special days.

One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables…

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind…

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God…

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean…

So why do some hold so tightly to certain rules and try to impose them on others? Paul addresses this in Colossians 2:22-23 (underlined)

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

The highest principle on these things is found in five little words in I Cor. 6:20

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, … You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

 


For some of today’s thoughts, I am deeply grateful for a small booklet published in 1981 by InterVarsity Press, What’s Right, What’s Wrong? Questions of Christian Conduct by Donald E. DeGraaf. This tiny book had a huge impact on me in my formative Christian years and I was able to find it this weekend and read it out loud for our family prayer time.