Christianity 201

July 14, 2017

God’s Promise for Our Eternity (Part Two)

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“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Last month at Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber took a week to present a five part article on the above verse. Today we continue our look at this passage with them, phrase-by-phrase. The days refer to the day of the week they published the topic and are also links to the original, longer articles.

Wednesday – No More Sorrow

Other versions translate “grief”, “anguish”, “suffering”, “sadness”.  Oh, how we long for the day when these heart-wrenching emotions will be no more, but on this side of eternity they are a part of life. As an old Andrae Crouch songs states, “I’ve had many tears and sorrows”.

…Sorrows can affect us in many ways, often concurrently. They may emotionally, spiritually and physically weaken us. Some look for ways to block out sorrow such as alcohol and drugs which usually leads to more sorrow. Foundational trust is tested during times of sorrow but it’s trust that is so vitally needed. As Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe writes, “Faith that cannot be tested is faith that cannot be trusted.” Times of sorrow are times we need to call out to God such as the Psalmist who cried, “My soul is weary with sorrow, strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28).

…Whether our sorrows are a personal experience or whether it’s bearing the burdens of others our faith in God and His promises is crucial, especially today’s text which is a wonderful promise for those enduring sorrow.

I have cried a river in the darkness
I have known the loss of precious dreams
But soon there will be perfect joy and gladness
All suffering will be gone from memory

Thursday – No More Pain

Pain is something we seek hard to avoid. “Pain killing” medicines are big business.

The first Biblical reference to pain was following the trangression in The Garden of Eden when God said to Eve,  “To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).

We’ve all known pain and for some it’s a present reality. Hardly a day goes by in the course of our chaplaincy work that there’s not a discussion about pain. There’s chronic pain, excruciating pain, unbearable pain and many others.

We normally think of pain in the physical but there’s emotional pain, spiritual pain and relational pain. Most of us have experienced all the above. Then as you age you face more pain associated with the aging process! And as Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote in their hymn “Because He Lives” one day we will “fight life’s final war with pain” at the time of our death.

In a message from the “Our Daily Bread” devotional (July 21, 2011) we read:

…He has hurt and bled and cried and suffered. He has dignified for all time those who suffer, by sharing their pain. But one day He will gather the armies of heaven and will unleash them against the enemies of God. The world will see one last terrifying moment of suffering before the full victory is ushered in. Then God will create for us a new, incredible world. And pain will be no more…

Friday – Former Things Gone

…Won’t it be wonderful there! The verse ends with the reason for these blessed “no mores”, “for the former things have passed away”. For now though we live in the season of what will be “the former things”.

…Christ taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come” and all over the world this day people who earnestly follow Christ are seeking to do just that, including many in the business world.

We are all called to have a Kingdom impact. When it’s all been said and done that’s what really matters. This present life is very temporary but it’s all we now know. From the perspective of Revelation 21:4 this life is called “the former things” which will pass away. A helpful outlook in life is to be constantly, intentionally and purposefully mindful of this. Whatever you are going through, pleasant or unpleasant, be mindful that one day these will be the former things.

When the former things pass away we will see clearly what really mattered all along.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to live with an eternal perspective in their daily lives because “the time is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29). “The things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

One of the reasons we are not to love the world is because Scripture reveals that which is in the kingdom of this world is often godless and ultimately transitory: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Theologian Joseph A. Seiss wrote, “Man comes into the world with a cry; and goes out of it with a groan, and all between is more or less intoned with helpless wailing . . . But the hallelujahs of the renewed world will drown out the voice of woe forever.”

While still living in what will be an age of “the former things” let us all seek to make a greater Kingdom impact. A phrase many of us have used fits well as we conclude today’s message, “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

 

July 13, 2017

God’s Promise for Our Eternity (Part One)

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And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

Last month at Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber took a week to present a five part article on the above verse. Today we begin our look at this passage with them, phrase-by-phrase. The days refer to the day of the week they published the topic and are also links to the original, longer articles.

Monday – No More Tears

…I doubt if too many of our readers have given much consideration on why we cry physiologically but we have all experienced the emotional aspect of tears; some positive and pleasant such as “tears of joy”. But we have also known the tears of grief and sadness. When the Bible refers to “tears” it is this type. One of the lesser considered but emotionally touching examples of this is when Paul writes to Timothy, “I am reminded of your tears, and I long to see you, so that I might be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4).

Tears are actually healthy on this side of eternity, even the emotional tears, although when it comes to tears of grief and sadness we would rather avoid these prompters!

When grief has left you low it causes tears to flow
When things have not turned out the way that you had planned
But God won’t forget you His promises are true
Tears are a language God understands.
You have recorded my troubles. You have kept a list of my tears. Aren’t they in your records?” (Psalm 56:8).
We can have an assurance that God understands our tears.
Today some of you are going through a hard time, a season of trouble. It may be an illness, a broken marriage, a wayward child, a financial or health crisis, the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you even shed tears as you consider the sorrows of others.It’s a natural part of existence on this side of eternity in the present age which one day will pass away and be considered “the former things.” But a time is promised when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes… and there will be no more crying.”

In the meantime may God fill your hearts with assurance of His love especially during times of tears.

God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul
He sees your tears and hears them when they fall
God weeps along with man and takes him by the hand
Tears are a language God understands.

Tuesday – No More Death

…Death is God’s appointed method of transition to the afterlife, just as conception and birth are His appointed method of transition into life as we now know it. As William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote, “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” Forthrightly the writer of Hebrews states, “Man is destined to die” (Hebrews 9:27). Of course we are aware of the supernatural departure of Enoch and Elijah, as well as the wonderful promise of the rapture for those living at that time, however the norm for most will be death.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26)

In the above text Paul calls death the “last enemy”. We look for encouragement and comfort in the truths and promises of the Holy Scriptures. Death will one day be destroyed. The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. Death will be swallowed up in victory. When the old order of things has passed away there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

Meanwhile we continue to deal with death and grief, but not like those who have no hope, for we have hope based on the Bible’s promises. Therefore, we comfort and encourage you all with these words today. When the old order (life as we now know it) passes away, there will indeed be no more death!

The important thing we must each ask ourselves is this, “Am I ready to die”? “Have I accepted the glorious gift of salvation by faith in Christ” If you’ve answered “no” to the above soul searching questions we welcome you to say this prayer from your heart and begin serving Jesus, who declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

“Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner and ask You to forgive me of my sins. I believe that You came to this earth and died on the cross as a substitute for me. I place my faith in You and what You have done for me. I receive You into my life and choose this day to follow and serve You. Thank You for hearing my prayer.”

Tomorrow: Part two; the other three clauses of the verse.

 

 

December 31, 2016

Bitterness: Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We pay annual visits to certain blogs, but last year we missed one. We’re making up for that with two posts this weekend — yesterday and today — from the blog Sharper Iron. Be sure to read part one of this excellent study.  Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Click the title below to read at source.

Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives

Bitterness can be a good thing. Hannah’s bitter disappointment led her to earnest prayer. Peter’s bitter weeping moved him toward repentance. Job’s bitter ordeal has been a source of comfort for untold millions. And God commanded Ezekiel to weep bitterly as a means of warning his people of coming judgment (Ezek. 21:11-12).

But for us sinners bitterness is perilous.

At best, continuing bitterness becomes part of a toxic spiritual stew that includes “wrath, anger, clamor and slander” as well as “malice” (ESV, Eph. 4:31). At worst, unchecked bitterness breeds unbelief to the point of life-altering, faithless choices (Deut. 29:18, Heb. 12:15).

Here we’ll consider six ways self-indulgent bitterness poisons us.

1. More Bitterness

Like mildew in the shower, bitterness seems to multiply itself. We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:8). Similarly, in Romans 1:21-31, sinful attitudes lead to more sinful attitudes and actions, spiraling downward toward an ever-uglier condition. And near the beginning of that decline is a simple failure to “honor Him as God” and “give thanks.”

The sinners in Romans 1 are not believers, but sin works the way sin works—even in the reborn. In the case of bitterness, we brood about some offense committed against us, some disappointment, some failure, some loss. We tell ourselves how unfortunate we are, how mistreated we are, how alone we are, how tragically unrealized our potential is. Emotions escalate and bring more intensely and expansively negative and bitter thinking—more unthankful thinking.

Soon bitterness taints, then corrupts, our entire inner (and eventually outer) life. Best to lay it aside (Eph. 4:31) early!

2. Poorer Health

The Proverbs reveal that attitudes and emotional states impact our physical health.

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7–8)

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. (Prov. 14:30)

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)

We’re physically harmed by a state of heart that dwells continually on the negative—what ought to be but isn’t, what I should have done but didn’t, what somebody ought to do but isn’t, what I wish I had but don’t.

These ruminations “make the bones rot.”

3. Corrupted Affections

Ephesians 4:31 doesn’t specify that bitterness is the cause of the other sinful attitudes in the context. It does reveal desires (“affections”) that feed each other. Bitterness breeds bitterness but also encourages more comprehensive corruption of our attitudes and conduct. In Ephesians, it tops the ugly attitudes list.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

In James bitterness is linked closely with jealousy, envy, pride and a pseudo-wisdom associated with demons (James 3:14-15).

The mysterious case of “Simon the Sorcerer” is insightful as well. Soon after Philip brings the gospel to Samaria (Acts 8.5-8), the amazing Simon (Acts 8:11) hears the message and “believe[s]”—and it’s his turn to be amazed (Acts 8:13).

But when he sees the apostles facilitate the Spirit’s coming to the Samaritans, he offers to buy the secret of this power from Peter. As expected, Peter rebukes him. But the apostle’s analysis of what ails Simon is surprising (8:20-23). Peter accuses Simon of:

  • thinking God’s gift could be bought
  • having a heart that is “not right before God”
  • wickedness in the “intent” (epinoia) of his heart”
  • being full of the bile (kole, “gall”) of bitterness (pikria)
  • being tied up (sundesmos) by iniquity (adikia)

There is more than ordinary greed for power going on here. Whatever the precise role of bitterness was in Simon’s life, his bitterness was a major factor in the corruption of his values.

4. Damaged Relationships

The progressive decay of bitterness taints our relationships in so many ways—a critical spirit, a judgmental attitude, a “persecution complex,” just general unpleasantness. Naomi throws a wet blanket on the homecoming celebration in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19-20). Before that, she tries to send everyone she loves away (Ruth 1:12-13). Peter leads others back into fishing (John 21:3) rather than feeding Jesus’ lambs (John 21:15). Esau’s bitterness contributes to a widening rift between himself and Jacob, lasting for years (Gen. 27:34, 41-42).

Though the word “bitterness” does not appear in the context, a similar dynamic is evident in Cain’s disappointment and resentment toward Abel (Gen. 4:5-6, 8). We know how that relationship turned out.

And bitterness can be contagious as well (Heb. 12:15. See Deut. 29:18).

5. Hollowed-out Worship

The Bible reveals that Christian joy is not a mere emotion. In Philippians, for example, an abundance of joy and rejoicing coexists with tears (Phil. 3:18). However, though joy can coexist with sorrow, it cannot coexist with the bitterness of resentment, anger, and malice.

Just as bitterness toward others drives wedges into our relationships, bitterness about life in general chills our relationship with God.

It’s no coincidence that joy and thankfulness are so dominant and so often paired in the most worship-focused book of the Bible, the Psalms. Worship is fundamentally humble, thankful, and joyous. Bitterness is fundamentally joyless, unthankful, and ultimately proud.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! (Ps 107:21–22)

6. Unbelief

In Hebrews 12:15 we find a solemn warning much like Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 29:18.

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit (Deut. 29:18)

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Heb. 12:15)

It’s somewhat unclear here whether the unbelief produces the bitterness or the bitterness produces the unbelief. The relationship probably goes both ways.

The attitude of the Israelites at the place ironically named “bitter” (Marah) is a classic example (Exodus 15:23-24), as is their later response to the challenges of the conquest—and many events between.

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And … grumbled  … “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt? … Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Nu 14:1–4)

Again, Hebrews is eye-opening:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin… . As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? (Heb. 3:12–16)

When I indulge in prolonged, self-pitying or resentful bitterness, I’m either turning my focus away from revealed truth or rejecting it—or some of both. At best, bitterness is unbelief by neglect. It effectively denies that God is both wise and good—wise enough to know best how the events of my life ought to unfold and good enough to have the best purposes for whatever He has allowed me to experience, or lose, or fail to gain.

Happily, God has graciously provided more than enough resources for battling bitterness. We’ll consider some of those in a future post.

 

October 5, 2016

A Great Book For When Life Is Anything But

Have you ever felt like God just doesn’t care? Or perhaps He cares, but is terribly unfair? The husband of my cousin passed away recently and the funeral service confirmed what I already knew. He was a great man who honoured the Lord with his life. He made the lives of everyone around him better. Lord, why not take those who make the lives of everyone around them bitter instead? There are plenty of candidates judging by the evening news. Why this good man and why now as he was still quite young?

Such questioning is common enough. Another cousin of mine sent me a link to a video interview of Stephen Fry who, though not believing in God, responded to the question “what would you like to say to God?” with something like “how dare you create a world with such suffering!” While many of us would not be so bold, we cannot help but question, based on life experience, if God sometimes does not care, or is unfair. Sometimes we just do not feel like clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It . . .”

If you have ever had such negative spiritual thoughts, you are not the first. In fact we are given in the Bible quite a number of Psalms coming from Psalmists writing from dark places. We are also given an entire book written from a dark place, Lamentations. Five chapters mainly of misery. Possibly written by the prophet Jeremiah, but definitely written following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, along with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of God’s people. It is a poem written during dark times. It is a great book for when life is anything but. Here is but a small sample:

[God] has filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”
19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me. Lamentations 3:15-20 (NRSV)

Let us consider what we can learn from Lamentations:

A man or woman of God need not hold back on lament and honest prayer. Listening to my Dad pray in public makes me not want to pray in public. There is an eloquence to his speech in prayer that few of us possess. Do the eloquent prayers of the saints keep sinners from praying? Don’t wait until your prayers sound eloquent, polite, and polished before praying. Pray from experience. Pray honestly. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God can spend some time reflecting on suffering. We ought not to get the picture of the author reacting in the moment, getting the laments off his chest and then moving on and clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It” the next day. The poetry may feel like it is from the gut, but in fact it is well thought out, for this is quite polished poetry. It is hard to see in the English, but each of the chapters are structured around the Hebrew alphabet. Yes, you can sit with your questions. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God knows that all suffering is ultimately deserved. All but the central third chapter focus in on the suffering of the nation. Even where the poet uses the first person, he is speaking on behalf of all God’s people. While exclaiming that the suffering is great, he also knows that it is just:

The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word. Lamentations 1:18 (NRSV)

This can help us understand where suffering comes from. We are no longer in the Garden of Eden. If there were no sin in humanity, there would be no suffering. Expect a just God to allow suffering. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God may still feel that suffering is out of proportion, or is unfair. Where chapters one and two, four and five are about the suffering of the nation, chapter three is about the suffering of the writer personally. We know that Jeremiah, the probable writer, suffered terribly as a prophet. Indeed many of those who were the most faithful to God suffered. While the suffering of the nation could be understood, for the leaders and people did not repent in accordance to the call of God through the prophets, why must the prophets themselves suffer also, sometimes even more so? In our day while we can know that suffering is a result of sin generally, why does the suffering of the relatively innocent seem out of proportion to the suffering of the truly evil?

A man or woman of God can still have hope in the face of suffering. There is a turning point in chapter three, one that has found its way into the wonderful hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The funeral of my cousin’s husband began with this hymn. How many people know these words were lifted from a Biblical poet in a dark time and place?

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NRSV)

His mercies are new every morning, because we in our sin do not deserve any more mornings. Yet they come, full of opportunity, full of the possibility of walking with God in Christ. And if we do not deserve one more morning, we certainly do not deserve the new reality we will awaken to on the resurrection morning. One more day of life is a sign of God’s grace. Eternal life is evidence of God’s amazing grace all the more. Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, is evidence of greatness of God’s faithfulness.

There is more that the poet calls to mind:

  • The Lord is our portion  – verse 24
  • The Lord is good to those who wait on him – verse 25
  • The Lord does not reject forever – verse 31
  • The Lord sees injustice – verse 36
  • The Lord is completely just 39
  • There is opportunity to repent -verse 40
  • The Lord keeps covenant promises – verses 40-48
  • The Lord takes notice – verses 49-63
  • The Lord will execute justice and put things right – verses 64-66

To be able to call to mind these truths about God, the man or woman of God will need to know them in the first place. Sometimes people rail against God without the foggiest notion as to Who it is they are railing against. The better we know the Lord, the greater our opportunity to find hope in the midst of suffering. The author of Lamentations was going through a lot but he knew there was a lot more of the story yet to be told. For this is not just his story to tell, this is God’s story to write. Whatever your circumstance, there is a lot more yet to be told in the story of your life. You may not know all the details of how life will unfold, but you can know that great is His faithfulness.

The man or woman of God may not have all the answers to every question. By the end of Lamentations Jeremiah still had questions:

Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days? Lamentations 5:20 (NRSV)

I have often likened faith to a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces come together nicely and a picture begins to emerge. Other pieces are tricky to place, indeed there are some which you don’t find where they go until you are nearly finished. With faith, some people begin with the really difficult questions and never think of anything else. The puzzle is thrown out as a waste of time and faith never develops. I have found that though there are questions I cannot answer, though there are certain pieces that I cannot place, they do not distract from the amazing picture that has emerged. It is a picture of the faithfulness of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the mercy of God, the justice of God, the holiness of God, the power of God, the plan of God, and so much more. It is a picture of Jesus. The puzzling bits remain puzzling, but the picture of God that emerges keeps me puzzling on. Knowing Jesus has not answered every question for me, but it has enabled me to live with the questions.

The writer of Lamentations knew the Lord well enough that he was able to have hope in the midst of a rotten day. Do you? When it seems like God does not care, or is unfair, call to mind His faithfulness. Call to mind all that we know about God through Jesus Christ. That God does care has been proven in the past, at the cross. That God is fair will be proven when Christ returns.

February 16, 2015

The Death of the Saints: Responding to Present Day Persecution

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CNN called the last 7 days "Religion's Week from Hell." Click the image to read the story.

CNN called the last 7 days “Religion’s Week from Hell.” Click the image to read the story.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. Psalm 116:15 NIV

Most of you realize that I don’t do topical articles here. Rather, I try to keep each post somewhat timeless so that people can go back and reuse the resources here at any time.

Sometimes however, events just overwhelm us. I can’t imagine that I would have simply kept writing and posting Bible studies after September 11th, 2001; and with videos circulating of Middle East Christians being beheaded it’s very difficult not to be overwhelmed.

Our purpose here at Christianity 201 is to help people build their doctrinal foundation and link to similar online sites to find more of the same. But as a “201 Christian” who is moving beyond the basics, we have to realize that there are times we need to simply stop the Bible study, forget the Sunday order-of-service, and cry out to God. Rather, we need to use these occasions to express our anguish and pain at seeing brothers and sisters so brutally cut down.

Modern Christian MartyrsOn an Instagram posting of the picture at right — a graphic image of a type unusual for this site — Ann Voskamp quoted two important scriptures.

…whatever the world news may say about the Brave, Martyred 21 Christians who were beheaded by ISIS, Lord, we know Your Word speaks the Truth: “The world was not worthy of them.” (Heb.11:38)

However any evil thinks it’s winning & overcoming,

Your Truth declares that they are the Overcomers, that they overcame “because of the blood of the Lamb & because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev.12:11)

And wherever Your people are tonight, God,

We will remember every one of their names because they did not forget You or forsake claiming Your name,

We will pray for their families because they are our literal family,

And we will pray that our faith in You
is worth laying down our life for You,

We will pray that we don’t live lives of cheap grace but costly Christianity,

We will pray that their sacrificed lives will stir us to live sacrificial lives

And we will weep prayers for the persecuted Church because we are bound to them through Your Heart & in Your heart they are UNBOUND, UNDEFEATABLE, UNDAUNTED, & UNFORGETTABLE.

James 1:22 says Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. (GNT)

The Message Bible records this as:

22-24 Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

Part of our doing is communicating with God, expressing our sadness, crying out to him for help, interceding on behalf of the persecuted church. Yes, it is possible that God sees their sacrifice differently than we do, but we have only these eyes and ears, and what we see breaks us.

We need to tell God that.

AMP Rom 8:26   So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.

Message Rom 8:26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.

If the news about such modern day martyrdom has touched you — and I do not know how it cannot — I leave some space here that, rather than absorbing teaching and learning today, we would just express our pain to our Father in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 5, 2012

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

Even after his passing, the late David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge, continues to minister to many through the David Wilkerson Devotions blog, where this appeared under the title,  Don’t Waste Your Afflictions.

The book of Numbers contains a sad example of wasted afflictions. The five daughters of a man called Zelophehad came to Moses asking for a share in the possession of the Promised Land. They told Moses,

“Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and had no sons” (Numbers 27:3). These women were saying, “When all the others rose up against you with Korah, our father wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t in rebellion. He died in his own sin.”

This last phrase struck me as I read it: “He died in his own sin.” This meant that although their father had seen incredible miracles—deliverance out of Egypt, water flowing from a rock, manna coming from heaven—he died in unbelief with the rest of his generation. Of that generation, only faithful Joshua and Caleb survived the wilderness.

Obviously, these five daughters were born in the wilderness and they grew up in a family full of anger toward God. All of Israel’s testings and trials produced only hardened unbelief in their father and these young women grew up hearing murmuring, complaining and bitterness. At breakfast, lunch and supper, there was constant bellyaching, with never a word of faith or trust in God. Now these women had to tell Moses, “Our father left us with nothing—no hope, no possessions, no testimony. He spent those forty years whining and in bitterness, because life was hard. He died in sin, his life a total waste.”

What a horrible thing to have to say of one’s parents. Yet I must warn all parents reading this: Your children are watching you as you’re under affliction and your reactions and behavior will influence them for life. So, how are you behaving? Are you wasting your affliction, not only for yourself but for the generations that follow? I hope your heirs are being established in Christ as they hear you say, “I don’t like this affliction but blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I know many Christians who become more bitter and grumpy with every new affliction. The very afflictions meant to train and sweeten them, trials designed by God to reveal His faithfulness, instead turn them into habitual complainers, sourpusses, and meanies. I wonder, “Where is their faith, their trust in the Lord? What must their children think?”

Beloved, don’t waste your afflictions. Let them produce in you the sweet aroma of trust and faith in your Lord.

~David Wilkerson

March 7, 2011

Seeing Illness as a Blessing

Yesterday’s and today’s items here don’t have any specific scripture references.  I wrote this three years ago at an obvious low point, and thought it might be applicable to someone reading it today; maybe you are that person.  Readers may want to add a scripture verse in the comments that references one or all of the points here…

  • Illness forces us to slow down, and that forces us to do the things that really matter, and that forces us to decide what really matters
  • Illness forces us to ask God for help on behalf of ourselves, which seems selfish at times, so first we have to apologize for asking
  • Illness causes us to ask other believers to join in prayer for us, which can be rather humbling
  • Illness helps us remember others who are suffering, it helps us to identify and empathize with their situation
  • Illness – while not necessarily caused by sin -brings us to a wonderful season of self examination and determination to aim for greater holiness
  • Illness reminds us of our mortality; our material culture has forced us to cling to everything including life itself, but our lives have an expiry date
  • Illness has a mellowing, sobering effect on us – some things can become potentially more irritating, but some other things no longer matter as much
  • Illness forces us to ask bigger questions; Is God in control? Does He care about the details of my life? Will he intervene in a special way?
  • Illness brings into clarity other times we were ill, and reminds us that God brought us through that time
  • Illness helps us hear Christian songs differently; “I thank God for the mountains, and I thank him for the valleys…” Can I do that right now?

I’m sure there are other things, too. Most of the prayer requests in our churches are for issues people are dealing with in their physical bodies. Pray specifically for one another. If you are the person for whom this was for today, listen for God’s voice in the middle of all you’re going through.

December 28, 2010

Additonal Thoughts on “Little Deaths”

Because I personally found yesterday’s interview with Rick James so fascinating, I thought we’d continue today with a piece which appeared on his blog, under the the title La Petite Mort.

La Petite Mort

The French have a phrase, La Petite mort, or “the little death” which is roughly defined as “the period of melancholy resulting from having spent one’s life force.” I’m embarrassed to tell you where the expression comes from, but if you must know it refers to the emotional lull that proceeds sex. I apologize for the bluntness, but one must make certain allowances for the free expression of artists, poets and . . . the French. Life is a series of little deaths, a million black dots, major and minor, of varying duration, culminating in a glorious crescendo—“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). We are always rehearsing for that final movement.

In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul describes his trials in similarly poetic terms, though not with the potty mouth or innuendo of the French. In stating that “death is at work in us” (2 Cor 4:12), Paul is referring to his trials as a series of little deaths, or an ongoing death experience. But Paul is a poet in the way that George Bush is a poet, that is to say, not at all. Besides an occasional doxology or engrafted creed, issues of clarity not aesthetics govern Paul’s word choice. So, if Paul observes that trials are like “little deaths” it’s because there are important reasons for seeing them this way, not because “hey, isn’t it kinda cool to think of our trials as, like, little deaths and our prayers as mini-screams and our bodies as tiny coffins.” Here then is Paul’s description of trials as perpetual dying or little deaths:

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

So why refer to trials as “little deaths”? Paul has commandeered the words “death” and “dying” from the lexicon and used them as synonyms for the word “trials.” For Christians the idea of “death” is always coupled to “resurrection;” they are virtually two syllables of the same word. If I were to ask you to complete the sentence: “the death and (blank) of the Lord Jesus Christ,” I doubt you’d labor over it like a crossword puzzle inserting different words to see which fits best. You know it’s the word “resurrection:” “resurrection” always sits across from “death.” Paul wants us to see trials as “deaths” because he wants us to see God’s resurrection power at work in them.

Death (or trials), to Paul’s way of thinking, is raw fuel which God uses to generate spiritual life. It is the principle or dynamic of Genesis: light out of darkness, form out of void, life out of death. This is the principle at work in us as God takes the death of trials and transforms them into life. Paul wants us to see trials as a consumable resource like firewood that can be burned and transferred to heat.

The alchemists invested their time and genius trying to transform waste into gold. Noting its bullion color, Hennig Brand, for example, left 60 buckets of urine to putrefy in his cellar in hopes a residue of gold would be left when it evaporated. It didn’t—though we can thank Brand and his vile experiment for the discovery of phosphorus. The idea of turning raw sewage into something as precious as gold was not insanity: the idea that man could do it was. Few things allow us a vantage point from which to view God’s glory and power than the transmutation of life’s sewage (trials) into life. Who but God could take our trials, our little deaths, and turn them in to spiritual life and vitality?

—the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalms 118:23)

December 20, 2010

A Brutally Honest Christmas Carol: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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The verse is in a minor key.   That should give you a clue.  Not your average Christmas carol.

Thinking about the song, and reading the today’s selected blog post, I was reminded of the popular worship song, “Blessed Be The Name;” especially where it talks about “pain in the offering.”     Ditto, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day;” a song cheerfully sung by some oblivious to the lyrics they are mouthing.    Christmas can be a time of pain for many.   Here in Canada we are mourning the loss of another soldier in Afghanistan, just two days before his 25th birthday; just days before Christmas.   There are other situations and examples I wish I could share here, but am respecting certain confidentialities…

…I find the posts for this blog in some unique places, and this post about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is from the blog of the student ministry of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Norfolk, Maine.   Coincidence?

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan poet who had the following to say about pain and the love of God:

“And when I have been in sickness and pain I have thought if the Lord would but lift up the light of his countenance upon me, although he ground me to powder it would be but light to me; yea, oft have I thought were it hell itself, and could there find the love of God toward me, it would be a heaven.  And could I have been in heaven without the love of God, it would have been a hell to me; for, in truth, it is the absence and presence of God that makes heaven or hell.”  (The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet, 317-318)

So often, we consider God’s love the power that drives away the pain in our lives.  We ask ourselves why God allows us to suffer such pain, and we wonder whether or not it’s because our faith isn’t as firm as it should be.  But I love what Anne Bradstreet writes and I’m challenged to ask myself if I could say the same thing: Heaven without the love of God would be a Hell to me, and Hell with God’s love being present would be like Heaven to me.

This Advent season, we hear and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” often, but I wonder how much we really miss how amazing the truth of that song truly is.  Emmanuel… “God with us.”  Knowing that God truly became a man in Christ Jesus, and that He sent us the Holy Spirit to live within and to guide each of us who believe in Christ should make a serious difference in how we endure pain and suffering.

For many, the Christmas/holiday season is a really difficult time of year as they remember loved ones who are not still around to celebrate with.  December can be a very lonely month!  But “Emmanuel = God with us” rings out even louder than loneliness… God’s love is true in Christ, cherish that sweet truth today.

Normally at this point, I’d embed the video, but this time I want to invite you to jump to the source blog to watch a very stirring contemporary rendition of the song…

September 19, 2010

Deserts in the Streams

Today’s devotional is from a Canadian pastor, artist, and blogger I’ve referred to many times at Thinking Out Loud.   Enjoy this item from David Hayward, aka Naked Pastor…

I was talking with a good friend of mine yesterday. She was outside reading ‘Streams’, a devotional book that she loves. She was feeling very much at peace and content. She felt the Presence. She was happy.

Today she got some disturbing news and it totally upset her. We were talking about it. I said, “Unfortunately, the other half of ‘Streams is In The Desert’.

Easy to say. Harder to do. Maybe even impossible. It’s easy when you are in the middle of a stream to enjoy the stream’s benefits. But what about when you are in the middle of severe or chronic illness, in the middle of relational breakdown, in the middle of financial disaster, in the middle of misery, in the middle of the desert? Then what?

Remember. Remember what you read. (Hopefully, when you were reading and were struck by the truth of it, you didn’t just let it trickle over the surface of your mind. Hopefully you let it sink in and actually transform the way you think.) Remember how it informed your mind. Remember how you wished you’d known this during previous desert experiences. Remember how true it seemed to you then, and that you told yourself you would remember this truth even when the circumstances of life contradict it.

Reflect. Don’t just remember it. Now reflect upon the truth you acquired while in the stream. Once when I was extremely thirsty and finally found some water, I found the first mouthful and swallow of water uncomfortable and difficult. Same with the truth in the middle of extreme hardship. Sometimes it is uncomfortable and difficult to take. But knowing that you need it, receive it. Let the truth now nourish you. Meditate upon it and contemplate it in all its complexity. Trust that it is just as true now even when life seems to deny it.

Refresh. As you remember and reflect upon this truth, it will become more palpable to you. In fact, just as water tastes so much sweeter when it is sparse, so the truth just might have more of an impact upon your mind. I have experienced this first hand: the truth that transformed my mind yesterday in the midst of ease became even more true today in the midst of suffering. Truth has a way of shedding light on everything. Even the roots.

Truth is like a stream in the desert. Drink it in while you can. Let it sustain you even into the deepest parts of the desert. Carry it like a bottomless canteen, so that when times are more than difficult, you can find the refreshment it provides.

-David Hayward

Finding a picture to go with a post like this can be a challenge, but this time I had 18 to choose from; check out 18 Most Incredible Desert Oases.

And don’t forget to bookmark David at Naked Pastor.

August 29, 2010

Have Hurting People Estranged From the Church Left The Faith?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:52 pm
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A piece I wrote at Thinking Out Loud about the need for confession and forgiveness used, as a springboard for discussion, a post from a ‘confessional’ website where a reader stated that they’ve actually left their faith, but are staying on the church’s e-mail prayer chain list so they can continue to be in on all the church gossip.

If you’re interested, here is the item I wrote.

A reader responded with this comment which expresses a rather comment sentiment which you’ve probably heard come up in any discussion of someone leaving the faith.

The obvious scripture about christians who are no longer christians is that they went out from us because they were never part of us. What’s terribly sad is that they really do think they were once a christian. Though they mislead a few. It’s not possible for those people to make a dent in the reality of Christians anymore than a drop of dew on a shingle. Thanks for the blog.

I fully understand that there are a number of people who feel that way.   However, I also recognize that this reader does not speak for many others who would be reading that particular blog post; so I responded:

I’m sorry, but the “They were never Christians to begin with” flow of argument just doesn’t work for the many, many readers of this blog who disagree with your dogmatic eternal security position.   Since this was a post about the need for confession and forgiveness, and not about other doctrinal matters, I won’t pursue it beyond suggesting that the Bible makes very clear the possibility of being “a partaker of the Holy Spirit” and then “falling away.”

The idea that if someone was truly “in Christ” they would never walk away is good positionally, and there is an extent to which I can embrace that; but then you run into people who have endured a great deal of brokenness in their post-conversion situation, and have elected to walk away.

But the simple rejoinder to your statement might be, if a Christian can’t truly ‘leave,’ then they haven’t actually left; they are just going through a period of extreme hurt, extreme pain or extreme rejection.   Some seed in the parable of the sower actually did “take root” and “sprang up” before it was scorched by the sun.

There’s a lot of scorched people out there.

(Actually, I’m amazed at the level of “belief” among so called committed atheists.  They say they’ve left the Church, but they hold on to an interesting mix of doctrines.)

It’s funny how you can coin a phrase in the middle of writing something.   Scorched people is one of those.   But they are legion and and I’m sure you know some.

How do you respond to the “they were never one of us” argument? Judas walked with Jesus for three years.   I believe he was as in as in can be.   Perhaps he had a predilection to some kinds of temptation.   Perhaps he was jealous of the inner-circle relationship enjoyed by Peter, James and John.   Perhaps he just felt the whole crusade wasn’t making enough of a political dent in Galilee.  But was his sin any different from the many distractions which carry away people in Christian leadership today?   If Satan had truly blinded him 100%, he never would have recognized his transgression; he would have continued to believe his cause was just.

I believe the teachings of Jesus “took root” with Judas as much (or more) as with anyone else.

But he got scorched.