Christianity 201

September 17, 2022

Anger: It’s What You Do With It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Two years ago we introduced you to last year, Wattsup with Kids (tag line: Kids, Coffee and Christ Every Day) written by Tracy Watts. Looking at her writing again, it’s clear she holds scripture in high regard, and while this topic may not land perfectly with your situation today, make note of the value placed on God’s word to establish each of the teaching points. Click the title below to read this recent article at her site.

Anger

Mr. Rogers poses an excellent question in his song “What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

This was of course, a question aimed at children, but I think it is something adults struggle with too. Perhaps we explode verbally or physically. Perhaps we take it out on those around, snapping short temperedly. Perhaps, we hold tightly to it and it festers inside our hearts, turning to bitterness and resentment.

None of these are good options. What then, can we learn from God’s word about anger?

Anger itself is not wrong

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger ~ Ephesians 4:26

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. ~ Mark 3:1-6

Even Jesus got angry (though it is helpful to note the things that make Jesus angry – and perhaps the less eternally important things that irk us!)

Either we control our anger or our anger controls us

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. ~ Proverbs 29:11

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. ~ Proverbs 16:32

Man’s anger does not produce good things

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. ~ Psalm 37:8

For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. ~ James 1:20

So… as Mr. Rogers so poignantly asks, what do we do with the mad that we feel?

We can place it in God’s hands

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” ~ Romans 12:19

We can pause before speaking in anger

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah ~ Psalm 4:4

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. ~ Proverbs 15:1

We can replace the anger with something good

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:19-21

We can exercise self control

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. ~ Proverbs 29:11

It’s comforting to me that the wise man does feel strongly, he does have a passionate spirit and does feel emotions. He just does not allow “full vent” to them. He does not explode in verbal vomit. He does not erupt with his emotions and spatter them across the unfortunate people nearby.

Instead, he “quietly holds it back.” What does that look like? A person who has learned the beautiful art of self-control. It’s not that he somehow magically got rid of ever feeling anger or frustration. It’s that he has learned to respond instead of merely reacting. He grapples inwardly to not explode outwardly.

Of course, this is a process, a learning of how to channel our anger (and our other emotions) and ultimately to be more like Him.

And indeed, we can agree with Solomon’s wisdom:

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. ~ Proverbs 16:32

May we each learn to control our spirits better, with the help of Him who made us.


Second Helping

Two other recent articles from Tracy:

June 13, 2022

Fashioning Weapons into Agricultural Tools

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we have another new author to introduce to you, although he has been writing online for a long time. Chuck Larsen is a U.S. pastor, and we discovered him when looking at search results for the phrase “they will beat their swords into ploughshares.” It seemed like a timely search in view of the grassroots desire for gun reform in that country, and I couldn’t help but think of social activist Shane Claiborne, who literally takes guns and fashions them into garden tools.

Chuck’s articles are shorter than some we run here, so there is also a bonus devotional for you as well. Clicking the headers (titles) below will take you to where they first appeared. The first is from 2011, the second is from last week and is part of a series in Genesis. If you’re reading this June 2022, simply visit the blog and read through.

Beat Their Swords Into Ploughshares

God has not only given us His absolute truth to guide our life by, but also has promised us a king who will one day apply that truth across the board for all mankind. This King and judge of all will be recognized by the entire world. He will come! He will establish His Kingdom and we will finally have peace. Micah 4:3-4 is a famous passage. Every soldier that’s ever walked a rice patty or stormed a beach, or pointed a rifle, or pushed a button longs for the fulfillment of this passage. Every mother who lost a son, every wife, every child whose husband or father didn’t return from battle gets goose bumps when they read this.

It says,

“He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”

This passage is also found in Isaiah Chapter two. It is inscribed on a stone wall facing the United Nations building in New York. Khrushchev saw a figurative fulfillment of the prophecy when he visited the John Deere factory near Des Moines, Iowa: The plant was built early in World War II for manufacture of machine-gun bullets. Today it produces farm implements.

Micah 5:2-4 is another famous passage. We often sing about it at Christmas time. It tells us about the Prince of Peace who will end war for all time.

It says,

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, …And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

The next time I sing, “O little town of Bethlehem,” I’ll sing it with more meaning. “The Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!”

Chuck

“…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Dust Thou Art!

In Genesis 2:7 we see more detail in God’s creation of our first ancestors. It says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Picking up on what Wenham said in his commentary that I quoted earlier, he adds to his comments on verses 5 and 6 and says more, “The writer flashes back to the situation before mankind was created on the sixth day (1:26–28) and describes a typical middle-eastern desert, which requires human effort to irrigate and make it bloom. It was from the clay of such an area that God, the great Potter, moulded the first man and breathed into him the breath of life. Through this traditional image Genesis implies that people are by nature more than material; they have a spiritual, God-breathed, element too.”[1]

Referring to the material aspect of man, “clay” or “earth” or more often “the ground,” Adam, the man, and Adamah the ground have an intimate relationship. Mangun says, “The word for man is adam, while ground is adamah, so the verse says that God formed adam from the dust of adamah.”[2] He then points out that other commentators insist that both Akkadian and Egyptian texts depict God forming man from clay like a potter. This is a familiar comparison in the Bible as well. One commentator even argues that this relationship is intentional. “God forming man here is intentionally evoking the image of a potter and clay.” Then he points out “The Hebrew word used three times in Gen 2 for ‘formed’ is the same word that describes the potter and his activity in Isa 29:16.”[3]

I love that verse. The English Standard Version follows the traditional translation and says, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’”? I like the New Living Translation better. It says, “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’’?

It was a common practice for man, in repenting, to cover themselves with dust and ashes. I think the “dust” was symbolic of the acknowledgement of being the clay who has not right to question the potter. It took Job 40 chapters to wrestle with why bad things happen in the world to good people. After he and his friends exhausted all their puny ideas, God confronts them with questions they cannot answer. Job finally gets the point in Job 42:2-6 and says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak.” Sometimes it’s good to remember that we are but dust.


[1] Wenham, Gordon J. 1994. “Genesis.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 62. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Mangum, Douglas, Miles Custis, and Wendy Widder. 2012. Genesis 1–11. Lexham Research Commentaries. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

May 19, 2022

Truth-Telling in a World of Lies

Today we’re back for a second time with Rev. Taylor Mertins  who blogs at Think and Let Think, has co-authored three books, and hosts the Strangely Warmed Podcast and the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast. Clicking the header which follows will take you to today’s devotional where it first appeared.

A Dangerous Adventure

John 14.27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

“Christians are people who tell the truth. And, if we cannot tell the truth, then at least we should not lie.” I have those sentences scratched in a notebook that I carried with me during seminary. And, if my notes are correct, I heard those words from a professor named Stanley Hauerwas during a hallway conversation after morning prayer.

His conviction about our truthfulness is nothing new. Martin Luther famously said that a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil whereas a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.

Translation: tell the truth.

But telling the truth is no easy endeavor, particularly because we live in a world that runs on lies. Every ad we consume presents a false vision of reality so long as we purchase a particular product. The nightly news is designed to terrify us so that we will keep watching until we know what side we are supposed to be on for every subject. And even in our domestic dramas we often lie because we are trying to be good: we don’t want to tell our spouses how we really feel, we don’t want to upset the applecart at a family get together, we’d rather brush something under the rug than bring it to the surface.

All the while, as Christians, we worship the one who not only tells the truth, but is, himself, truth incarnate.

When Pontius Pilate was told that Jesus was the one who had come into the world to testify to the truth, he asked, “What is truth?” Jesus gave no response because Pilate was literally looking at the answer to his question. Therefore, should we truly desire to be a community of the truth and by the truth then we need not look further than Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The “and him crucified” is crucial. For, truth-telling is a dangerous adventure. But without an example of a truth telling community, the world has no alternative but to continue to run by lies.

Jesus leaves peace with his disciples and the peace Jesus leaves runs counter to the peace of the world. The peace of the world is achieved, kept, and maintained by violence. Whereas the peace of Jesus comes through vulnerability, sacrifice, and even suffering.

Part of the hard truth that the church has to speak into the world today is this: we have a problem with violence.

Mass shootings have become so commonplace that it’s hard to keep track of what happened and where. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can simply avoid going to churches, malls, supermarkets, concerts, cinemas, parks, pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, college campuses, mass transportation, and any other place where a mass shooting has taken place.

We’ve become so accustomed to the war torn images of Ukraine (and war in general) that it leaves us feeling apathetic. And yet we, as Christians, can advocate for a new peace, a peace given to us by Jesus, a peace that means we have to fundamentally reshape how we understand what it means to be in the world. Or, we can let things continue on their merry way while more and more people are displaced, separated, and killed.

Speaking truth to power is no easy thing. But until we’re willing to call a thing what it is, we are doomed to call evil good and good evil. Or, put simply, the beginning of a faithful imagination comes with telling the truth.


Flashback link: From 2014, scripture verses which reference truth.

May 9, 2022

Losing Discretion to Short-Sightedness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Mark.5.21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24a So Jesus went with him.

24b A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

[continue reading here]

This is our third time with Lily Pierce and her blog Retrospective Lily and although the blog has been inactive for many months, this is a good article which we hadn’t shared the last time. Click the header which follows to read it on her page.

Embrace Holy Interruptions & Be Gracious

This past Sunday, I had been asked to preach at a local Methodist church (due to my Lay Servant School training) while they transition to a new pastor. Fortunately, my own church meets early, and since the churches are in the same small town, I got to attend my church before giving the sermon at the other one.

The lectionary this past week featured Mark 5:21-43, which tells of Jesus’s encounters with Jairus and an unnamed woman as He and the disciples travel through a village. Jairus’s daughter is sick, so beckons Jesus for help. The unnamed woman also seeks healing, but rather than throwing herself at Jesus’s mercy, she simply finds Him in the crowd and touches His garment.

My pastor spoke about “holy interruptions,” which I thought was an intriguing takeaway. These stories are technically interruptions to whatever Jesus and His disciples had been on the way to do. If we look outside of ourselves and take the time to really see people and situations around us, and if we actively try to follow the Spirit, we might find that God constantly throws “holy interruptions” in our path–conversations and actions we didn’t intend/expect to have/take…but they were meant to be. Another word that’s often used for these instances is “divine intervention/interaction.”

I think of the good samaritan story here. The priest and the Levite missed the holy interruption God put before them because they were in a hurry…because they were putting their convenience before others’ suffering…because they were too stringent about the rules/laws.

It’s perfectly possible to justify their actions by pointing to said laws. Yes, it’s true that one would be ceremonially unclean for several days if they touched a dead or dying person, which would be especially inconvenient for a priest or Levite. But there are also laws about caring for your neighbor. God had already modeled unconditional love to them. So, to me, it’s a matter of discretion. They should’ve known helping a neighbor in dire need would be worth not being allowed to enter the place of worship temporarily.

We, too, often lack discretion…mostly out of selfishness or short-sightedness. The combination of those qualities causes us to lack generosity with time, money, grace, love, patience, peacemaking, forgiveness, etc.

I’m not going to call my grandma back because she’ll keep me on the phone an hour (But once she’s gone, will I lament how I clung so hard to my time instead of sharing it with her?) That friend hasn’t apologized, so why should I be the one to initiate reconciliation? (But once they’re gone, will I regret holding that grudge?) My fiance always leaves the coffee table a wreck, and the fact that I have to straighten it up makes me naggy and resentful. (But in the grand scheme of things, is it reallyyy THAT big of a deal? If he got in an accident tomorrow, would that matter to me anymore?)

Remembering that we all die and life is short, fragile, and unpredictable grounds me. Be joyful, be generous, love hard, forgive swiftly, all that jazz. Easier said than done, but yeah, worthy goals.

Anyway, my pastor also talked about peace. When Jesus tells the woman to go in peace, He doesn’t just mean to be well and be blessed. He means, “go in salvation.” Jesus offers peace that passes understanding. In my message, I discussed how Jesus offers HOPE to hopeless and desperate people.

It was an emotional morning. I got teary-eyed several times during my home church service and rode on the verge of choking up through my sermon. To me, this is one of the most stirring stories in the Gospels, period. And it’s ripe with important lessons on peace, hope, faith, mercy, healing, compassion, and more.

I’m thankful for that beautiful story and thankful I can write out my thoughts on it. Writing is a therapeutic exercise in reflection. I needed a little break, to remind myself that this is a hobby instead of a job–I’m not obligated to post week unless I want to–but I’m happy to be back.

In honor of today’s topic, shalom!

April 28, 2022

Has Fear or Fighting Stolen Your Peace?

Thinking Through John 20:19-23

by Clarke Dixon

Has either fear or fighting stolen your peace? You might wonder how you could have peace right now with this scary situation, or that horrible relationship. It might be a nasty virus or a nasty war that is stealing your peace. Jesus speaks to themes of fear, fighting, and peace.

Let us begin with how fear steals our peace

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.

John 20:19 (NLT)

The disciples knew all about fear. They were holed up in a room with the doors locked out of the fear that they would end up crucified and dead like their leader. They knew they had targets on their backs, so locked doors it was. Until Jesus showed up.

Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

John 20:21 (NLT)

While there was rejoicing over seeing Jesus alive, the fear was still real, if not heightened by what Jesus had just said. No more hiding behind locked doors, go out into that scary world where you may well get killed! According to tradition, most of them were.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 (NLT)

Breathing on the disciples might seem odd, but as often happens the odd things in the Bible are a clue that something symbolic is happening. Here the breathing on the disciples points back to Genesis:

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Genesis 2:7 (NLT)

God breathed life into humanity at Creation. Now here in Jesus God was doing it again. The Giver of life is with you, even in the face of death. Even though the fear of death was real for the disciples, their peace about life, death, and life after death could be real also.

Our fears can be legitimate. We may well end up wounded, emotionally from relationships, or physically from disease. We will likely face death at some point. Fear helps us seek wisdom, on how to stay alive and healthy. Fear is not all bad. But while fear may be helpful, even necessary at times, fear need not steal our peace. While the worst thing that we imagine might happen, could happen, in Christ the best thing that could happen, even beyond our imagination, shall definitely happen.

Let us continue with how fighting steals our peace

When Jesus says “peace be with you,” it is important that we recognize the word used for peace. Jesus would have spoken mostly in Aramaic and used a word related to the Hebrew word for peace; shalom. While our word peace may be used to describe situations where there is no fighting, the word shalom goes deeper to describe a situation where there is harmony. Two nations may be said to be at peace if they are not lobbing bombs as each other, but they may not be experiencing shalom if the relationship is not good. Likewise, you may experience peace in your relationships, but not shalom.

When Jesus told the disciples he was sending them out, he was sending them out among people with whom they did not have shalom. Their enemies were real, the enmity was real.

Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” How did the Father send Jesus?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Father sent the son with the agenda of offering forgiveness, of bringing love in the face of hatred. The disciples were to go out among their enemies with the intention of bringing love in the face of hatred.

As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.

John 20:20 (NLT)

When Jesus showed the disciples his wounds he could have said “where were you when this happened? Why didn’t you stand by me?” But instead he said “Peace be with you.” Jesus showed them his wounds, not as evidence of their wrongdoing, or anyone else’s wrongdoing, but as a sign that he was real, and that his love for them and his forgiveness of them was real. Having experienced that love, they were now sent out to live it. So are we.

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

John 20:23 (NLT)

We might automatically think Jesus is speaking of the forgiveness from God that leads to eternal life here. We might therefore smell power, our power. But is that necessary? I like Eugene Peterson’s take on what Jesus said:

If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

John 20:23 (MSG)

Good question! If we don’t forgive people’s sins against us, we will let those sins fester in our lives and in our relationships. We will let them steal our peace, our shalom.

Jesus is speaking here about the opportunity of experiencing peace in our relationships, and of bringing shalom to others. In breathing on the disciples, Jesus breathed a breath of fresh air into their relationship with him. Gone was any thought of experiencing judgement and condemnation. We can breathe new life into our relationships through forgiveness.

We enjoy shalom with God because God in Jesus has taken the path of the cross with us. Jesus said “As the father has sent me, I’m sending you,” meaning we are now sent on that same path of the cross, of love and forgiveness.

In Conclusion

Has fear stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “peace be with you.” Our fears may be real, but they need not steal our peace.

Has fighting stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Fighting can end in peace and enmity in friendship when we follow Jesus in the way of the cross.

“Peace be with you.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays.

February 18, 2022

A Life of Calm

NIV.Matt.8.23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24a Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat…

So many times here we begin with, “Today we have a new writer to introduce;” and this is no exception. But before we start, I want to really highlight something brilliant I’d never considered before. The title the author gave her post — see below — is borrowed from a familiar Christmas carol.

Speaking concerning the birth narrative of Jesus, some preachers will describe a chaotic barn with animal noises and the baby — Jesus — crying. Did Jesus cry? I think we can get lost in questions like that which don’t really advance the major highlights of the story, but if you look at the larger story arc of the Bible, such as the passage she considers below, you could make a point that perhaps he did not.

Also, often a writer includes scripture references at the end of a devotional which aren’t directly quoted, but here again there is that element of a larger story. In Matthew 7 we read

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The house built on a solid foundation stands strong in the storm.

But let’s get back to that Christmas lyric and its connection to the actual text in today’s devotional. The writer we’re featuring is Wynter Kettlewell who blogs at Faith Inspired Tenacity. Click the header below to read this there.

Sleep In Heavenly Peace

But Jesus Himself was asleep.  Matthew 8:24

During the storm, Jesus was sleeping.  His rest was not disturbed by the rising winds and waves.  However, His disciple friends were not nearly as relaxed.  Unlike Jesus, they panicked and believed they were going to die.  They were afraid that this storm was going to be the end of them.  They were so distressed and afraid that they woke Jesus up to help!

What a drastic difference between Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus, unlike His disciples, was able to sleep and rest during the storm because Jesus was the Word, the Word that became flesh.  His life was built on the Word.  A storm is unable to destroy or disrupt the rest of a person whose life is built on the Word because they know the truth that God is over all things.  He could sleep in peace because He knew God was in control.  So in life, when the storms come and the pressure begins to increase and you see the waves rising and you think you are going to die, think of Jesus sleeping in the boat.  Be still and know that God is in control of it all.  And if you have to, do what the disciples did and turn to the Word for help.

Bottomline: A life built on the Word can sleep in peace during even the fiercest storms.

Matthew 7:24-27, John 1:14, Psalm 46:10


Bonus link:

So what happened next in the story? Wynter continues the Matthew 8 story in this devotional, titled How to Save a Life.

January 24, 2022

Carving Out a Place for Prayer into Your Schedule

Today’s first-time writer here is Heather Knowles who lives in the  West Highlands of Scotland. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, and daughter. Her blog is An Unfinished Work of Art (tag line: Otherwise known as a Work in Progress.)

You can be a blessing to the various writers we feature by creating some traffic for their site. There’s two devotionals by Heather today, and you’re encouraged to click the titles for each, which follow, and read them on her page.

Making Time for Prayer

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. – Mark 1:35 NLT

Is it important to make time for prayer?  Well, yes it is, but why?  I’m sure that we have all sat through sermons expounding the benefits of prayer and underlining the fact that Jesus took Himself off to pray on a regular basis, and if He needed to pray, then so do we! But actually going out of our way to make time for it?  Letting prayer “interfere” with our established daily routines?  Let’s take a closer look.  Consider for a moment your relationship with your partner, best friend, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, anyone important in your life.

When two people first fall in love, they become a bit obsessed with each other, spending as much time as possible in each other’s company, ringing up, sending messages, cards, gifts, etc. If a relationship is ‘one-sided’, it’s not going to go very far – it takes two people to build a relationship.  Any relationship can only grow and develop as people spend time in each other’s company, as they get to know each other better and on a deeper level.

And now think about your relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know about you, but my relationship with God can only grow, deepen and develop as I spend time with Him – not just a rushed few seconds here and there, when I can ‘fit Him in’ to my day/schedule/diary/routine, but real, quality time.  God has done His part. He speaks to us through His Word, He has given His Son, He has laid down His Life, He has sent His Holy Spirit. Now it’s up to me to do my part to grow my relationship with Him – to spend quality time with Him, to prioritize Him in my day, to listen to His promptings. I know that I am richly blessed to be in such a privileged relationship, where I can come before the throne of God and simply chat to Him.

Jesus took Himself away to pray before and after performing miracles, when He needed peace and quiet, when He needed to hear from His Father, when He wanted to strengthen and consolidate His relationship with God the Father. To grow my relationship with God, to strengthen it and to consolidate it, I need to do likewise, and it is such a wonderful blessing to be free to come to Father God to get to know Him on a deeper, more personal level.


Bonus article:

A Challenge!

Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV):  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ““Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.””

How’s that for a challenge? You’re not following me?

Well, Jesus said that we have to love God totally and completely – that’s the most important thing to do, the first and greatest commandment.  It’s the second one that presents the challenge.

Love your neighbour as yourself. That’s a huge challenge – why?

Because I have to love myself!  In order to love my neighbour, I have to love myself.  I can only love them as I love myself.

So who is my neighbour?  Is it really only the people that live next-door?  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that loving your neighbour means more than loving your immediate circle of family, friends and next-door neighbours.  He taught that loving your neighbour means more than just being kind and considerate to people you meet in your day-to-day life.  He taught that loving your neighbour meant more than just being respectful, generous and tolerant.  He taught that loving your neighbour means searching for the outcast, the rejected, the marginalized, the abused.  It means drawing alongside them, making space for them, listening to them, getting close to them, accepting them as they are, looking for the spark of Christ in them, searching within them for the likeness of God – for He is surely there, as we are all created in His image – and then holding out the hand of love and friendship, being pro-active to right wrongs and to end injustices.

I can only love them as I love myself, and to do that I need to have a God-given perspective of who and what I am because it’s easy to be self-depreciating and to hold myself unforgiven, and to beat myself up over past mistakes, to drag up memories of past sin and feel so very, very unrighteous and unworthy.  But what does God say about who I am, and what I am?  His word tells me that I am:

  • His
  • His beloved
  • His prize
  • His bride
  • Called
  • Chosen
  • The apple of His eye
  • A new creation
  • A temple of His Spirit
  • Forgiven
  • Redeemed
  • Blessed
  • Elect
  • Victorious
  • One in Christ
  • Fearfully and wonderfully made
  • Set free

Thank you Lord for your great love for me, and thank you that you have that same love for everyone I meet, for everyone who has ever and will ever live here on earth.  Help me Lord to have a right self-image, and to see you in others, that I may love myself and my neighbour.  Amen

January 6, 2022

Worried? 2021’s “Bible Verse of the Year” Will Help

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Matthew 6:33

by Clarke Dixon

  • Click here to watch the sermon on which this is based.

Are you worried? Stressed? Anxious? Who isn’t these days?!

For the past few years we have looked at the “verse of the year,” “the verse shared, bookmarked, and highlighted most often throughout the year” by those who use the YouVersion Bible app, which is a lot of people.

This year’s verse of the year is a great one for anyone who is worried. What is it?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33 (ESV)

When we first read this verse on its own, we may become even more worried. We might jump to the conclusion that Jesus is making a promise, namely, that if we are righteous according to God’s standards, then life will be perfect. We may think Jesus is speaking of a transaction, namely his blessings for our obedience. And so in addition to everything else we worry about, we may worry that we are not keeping our end of the transaction, living up to God’s standards. More stress.

We may also worry that we might not have found the correct standards. Are we to be striving for God’s standards according to Baptists, Roman Catholics, or those in United churches? These, and many more, present some different standards of what “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” look like. More stress.

Yet when we read this verse along with what Jesus said before and after, we will be worrying less, not more:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV, emphasis added)

Jesus’ main point is, do not worry. Look at the birds, Consider the flowers. Life happens. Life keeps happening. There is a lot of beauty as life happens and keeps happening. God’s got this, for this is God’s world. God’s got you. Therefore, we can stop trying so hard to get and secure all the things we think we need. God’s got that covered, so rather than allow all that stuff to overwhelm and consume our minds, we are to “seek first” the Kingdom of God. To seek first the kingdom of God is to give our minds first to the reality of God’s kingdom and our part in it, rather than the things we are worried about.

We seek first, God’s kingdom. This world is God’s kingdom. This is God’s world. There are bullies and tyrants here and there, not just people, but diseases and viruses, but what are they compared to God? This is God’s world, and while there is ugliness in the evil around us and in us, there is much that is beautiful. Yes, we pray “thy kingdom come,” but yes, this already is God’s world, God’s kingdom. To seek first the kingdom of God is to consider what God’s kingdom is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God takes care of it.

We seek first, God’s righteousness. We might assume that this means we are to strive to be righteous as God is righteous. That is a good thing to do, yes, but part of the point Jesus is making here is that we are to fill our minds with the fact that God does the right thing, God does the good thing. This is God’s world and God takes care of it. Consider the birds of the air, and the lilies. God takes care of them. To seek first God’s righteousness is to consider what God is like, to turn our minds first to the fact that God cares.

When Jesus says to us “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” he is not making a promise that life will be perfect if we are, nor is he saying that we should not show appropriate concern for the troubles we face, or make proper preparations for situations ahead. This verse is not a promise to be claimed in every specific situation, but is more like a proverb, a general truth that with God caring for us, it will all be alright. If it is a promise, it is a promise that God loves us. Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies. Consider Jesus, his teaching, life, death, and resurrection. Consider the reconciliation we have because of the cross. God takes care of us.

When I hop on a motorcycle, I still wear a helmet. Something bad could still happen while I ride a motorcycle. If it did, it would not be proof that I had not sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Nor would it be proof that God does not care about me. God cares, is involved, and because God is involved, it will ultimately be alright.

When we put God’s Kingdom and His righteousness uppermost in our minds we are overwhelmed with the goodness and love of God. Given that life happens, beauty happens, this world is God’s kingdom, God does the right thing, the good thing, and that God loves us, we can know it will all be okay.

There will be things to worry about in 2022. But let’s be overwhelmed by the love of God, and not those worries. The best way to not let anxiety and concern overwhelm our hearts and minds is to allow God to overwhelm our hearts and minds first.


More sermon recaps from Clarke Dixon are available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

December 16, 2021

When We Were Hopeless and an Angel Set Us Straight

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 2:11

by Clarke Dixon

Watch the sermon on which today’s devotional is based at this link. Note: Title is different.

It can all seem rather hopeless. Between nuclear weapons and climate change, it can feel like humanity is doomed. We wonder if this is going to end well for us. Or when bad things happen to good people and all kinds of things happen to all kinds of people, it can all feel rather haphazard. Is God really in charge, and if so, is there really a plan? Speaking of God being in charge, looking at past history, it seems like the ones in charge have often used their power for evil. It doesn’t go well for the people under their care.

Is there hope?

According to the angel who spoke to the shepherds that first Christmas, there is great hope:

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:8-12 (NLT emphasis added)

The angel described this baby with three words that bring great hope no matter how things seem.

When it seems humanity is doomed.

If scientists are correct, then it appears that we really are doomed. We’ve got bigger problems than climate change. There is such a thing as universe change. Scientists tell us that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and that ultimately, our universe will cease to be life-permitting at some point. That is a long, long way in the future. But it is still the future! Don’t worry, the heating up of our sun and the boiling of our oceans will get us before the expansion of the universe does.

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day a Saviour.

When we use the term “Jesus is Saviour” people often have in mind one of at least three things. We should have in mind all three:

  1. Salvation from the eternal consequence of our sin which separates us from God. Jesus brings reconciliation with God, saving us from death, changing our future from everlasting death to resurrection to everlasting life.
  2. Salvation from harmful ways of living which messes up relationships, inter-personal, and inter-national. Jesus saves us by teaching us and showing us the better way of love.
  3. Salvation not just of of people, but all of creation. With our resurrection also comes God’s re-creation of everything:

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

Romans 8:18-21 (NLT emphasis added)

If we listen to scientists, and we should, it would seem we are in fact doomed. If we listen to the angel, and we can, we discover that the Creator who spoke all of creation into existence, stepped into creation as Saviour. We are not doomed.

When it seems like God is neither in charge, nor operating by a plan.

When bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and random things happen randomly to all people, it would appear there is no one in charge, there is no plan.

If God is in charge and working out a plan, why couldn’t he stop this virus from spreading, that cancer from spreading, this train from crashing, and that tornado from landing? Is God really in charge?

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day the Messiah.

Some people think God created the world, wound it up, then stood back. The fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, both words meaning “anointed one,” speaks to God stepping in.

The fact there is an “anointed one” speaks to God’s plan:

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NLT)

Paul was not speaking about mystery in the sense of something that cannot be understood, though there is that kind of mystery, in life, and faith. There may well be an element of mystery in why some seem destined to suffer more than others.

When Paul spoke of mystery, he was referring to something that was hidden, now made plain. What is made plain in the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the ‘anointed one’, is that God has a plan.

If we look at the random events of our world, we can lose hope that God is in charge and operating according to a plan. If we look to that one event, the birth of the Messiah, we find hope that all is going according to God’s plan. God is in charge. There is a plan.

When it seems like the powers that be use their power for evil.

When we survey some of the famous rulers in world history, it appears that  those in charge don’t care about the people under their charge. How many people died because of the decisions of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and the list goes on and on. How many people did Rome crucify?

The history of the world is a history of people using power over others. The history of the world is a history of people in power using power to stay in power. This often does not go well for those not in power. We see this with Herod’s plot to kill the infant Jesus which did not end well for those in Bethlehem.

Jesus speaks about power as found in Luke, chapter twelve:

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.

Luke 12:4-5 (NLT)

The most the powers that be can do to us is kill us. That is all they can do. Their power is therefore limited! This is true of the people that might kill us, and thankfully I cannot think of any. This is also true of the diseases and afflictions that might kill us, and unfortunately I can think of many. God’s power, however, is infinite. God can allow for us to be separated from him forever, or can raise us to live in his presence forever. Now that is power! So don’t fear people, fear God. That being said, Jesus immediately went on to say:

“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Luke 12:6-7 (NLT)

Fear God, but don’t be afraid of God. God loves us. The ones using terror against others are the ones who need to be concerned!

According to the angel, there is good, hopeful news: To you is born this day the Lord.

Lord means “master,” and it means that neither Caesar, nor Herod, nor Hitler, nor Stalin is lord, but Jesus is. Their power is limited.

“Lord” was also the word that stood in for God’s name when God’s people read the Hebrew Scriptures. Even today, when Jewish people come across God’s name, they usually say “Adonai,” meaning “Lord”. This is reflected in our English translations of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) whenever LORD is in all capitals. It is also reflected in the Greek translation that the people of New Testament times would have been familiar with. So when the angel announces the birth of the “Lord”, there is a strong hint, especially when taken together with other passages, that this baby is not just one true master among many pretenders, but God Himself.

It may seem like those in power often use power for evil, draining us of hope when we discover that the powers that be are not for us but for themselves. But the angel tells us that this small baby is Lord, this Jesus has power. This infant was evidence that the Powerful One is for us and not against us.

In Conclusion

This can be a hopeless time of year for many. It is said that more people get depressed at this time than any other. Perhaps it is the shorter days, the busyness, or the expectations we place upon ourselves to provide and experience that “perfect” Christmas. It might be that all the glitter and happy songs do not match what is going on in our lives.

This may be a bleak season of your life. This may well be a season of bad news in our world. It is quite normal to feel perplexed by it all, to lose hope. We don’t want to minimize that bad news or gloss over it. But neither do we want to miss the good news.

The identity of Jesus as announced by the angel, of being Saviour, Messiah, and Lord replaces the hopelessness of how things seem with the hope of how things really are.


Clicking the header which appears above Clarke’s byline will take you to Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, for more Advent-themed devotionals.

December 2, 2021

This is Not the Way Things Are Supposed To Be: Welcome to Advent!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Thinking Through Isaiah 40

For a video version of the sermon on which this is based, click here.

by Clarke Dixon

Surely this is not the way things are supposed to be! Do you find yourself saying that a lot these days? You might say it about the pandemic or global conflicts. You might say it about your life, and the challenges you face. You might say it about big life-threatening things, or the little details. I said it when I went to print something in black and white and my printer told me I couldn’t because it didn’t have enough yellow ink. Surely this is not the way things are supposed to be!

Perhaps you can relate. God’s old covenant people in the Old Testament could relate, particularly in the moment spoken of in Isaiah 40:

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.

Isaiah 40:1 (NIV)

God’s people needed comfort at that moment. The city was in ruins, people were exiled to Babylon, the temple was destroyed, and according to the prophet Ezekiel, God had left the building (See Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11). Things were not as they should have been.

A message of comfort was needed.

A message of comfort was also appropriate:

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (NIV)

God had said that if his people stuck with him, he would stick with them, but if they didn’t he wouldn’t. They didn’t and so he didn’t. Therefore the Babylonians invaded, the natural consequence of the sin of God’s people. However, comfort was now the appropriate message because God is good and faithful to all his promises. Now that the consequences of their sin had been rolled out, God would show his faithfulness to the covenant promises by returning his people to the promised land and also in his own return:

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.

Isaiah 40:3 (NIV)

In those days of exile things were not the way they should be. But things were also not the way they would be! There was great hope for the future.

The exiles did return and they all lived happily ever after, right?

Actually, no. God’s people did indeed return, but they entered a season of their history we could call “Advent”. Yes, they had returned, and yes, there was great work done on rebuilding Jerusalem, the temple, and the nation. However, apart from one short season of self-rule, it was one foreign oppressor after another in charge. This was to be God’s people, not Caesar’s. Things were still not as they were supposed to be!

However, things were not the way they would be. There was hope; God is good, and in keeping his promises, will intervene. Therefore God’s people could look forward to the arrival of a messiah. The time between the return to Jerusalem and the birth of that Messiah was an era of Advent.

Jesus was born and everyone lived happily ever after, right?

Yes and no. There is a happily ever after, but we are not there yet. We can still say things are not as they should be.

I grew up with the song by U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Christian faith is expressed in this song, but so too is lament, that something is not right. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

We are now in the season of Advent, but we are not just referring to the time set apart to recognize Advent in the church calendar. We live, not just in four weeks of Advent, but an entire era of Advent where we are aware that things are not as they should be, but also that things are not as they shall be.

In many of our churches we are not really sure how to observe Advent, as we often rush into the celebration of Christmas along with the rest of society. More importantly, however, what are we to do when our entire lives are spent in an era of Advent? Here are three things.

We lean into lament.

This is not the time to sugar coat the world’s problems behind a veneer of faith. Neither is it time to sugar coat our own problems as if they don’t exist. As long as there are things like poverty, oppression, injustice, racism, sexism, discrimination of many sorts, depression, disease, and the list goes on and on, then things are not as they should be. Let us say that and lean into lament. In fact leaning into lament will drive us to the second thing to do:

We lean into the better way of Jesus

Upon the birth of John the Baptist, not long before the birth of Jesus, John’s dad, Zechariah had this to say of John, and Jesus:

…you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Luke 1:76-79 (NIV emphasis added)

Here is a wonderful allusion back to Isaiah 40, that indeed God was returning and ready to intervene in a significant way. This is a message of comfort. But in this message we also see a significant reason why things are still not as they are supposed to be: we humans, Christians and non-Christians alike, fail to walk in that path of peace that Jesus through his life, teaching, example, and way of the cross has guided our feet into. This is the time to lean into that better way of Jesus. This is the time to call for change, in ourselves, and in our world.

We want to be careful here, with our focus on lament and call for change, that we recognize the better way of Jesus is the way of love and not hatred. There can be a fine line between the two. How so? If you attended our church anniversary service, you would have heard my wife share how she came to a point three years ago of saying enough is enough. She chose to make certain changes that would be to the betterment of her physical, mental, and spiritual health. This seeking of better health is an expression of love; of self-love and love for others. However, sometimes the call for change can come from somewhere else. These lines from a Tenille Townes song are striking:

The voice that I don’t wanna hear, the hurtful words I say
The long list of things about myself I wanna change
The heavy cloud that won’t leave even after it rains
I try to be a hero ’til it brings me to my knees
Yeah, there’s a villain in me

From the song “Villain in Me” written by Alex Hope and Tenille Townes

Sometimes the call for change in ourselves can come, not from a place of love, but from a place of self-hatred. Sometimes the call for change in ourselves does not lead to self-love, but to even greater self-hatred. This is not the way things are supposed to be.

Likewise, the call for change in our world can come from a place of love, but it often comes from a place of hatred. Let us be careful, therefore, that our call for change, in ourselves and in others, comes from living out the better way of Jesus which is the better way of love.

Lean into the love and promise of God

The day is coming when things shall be as they should be. Even when our calls for change seem to fall on deaf ears, or our efforts at change seem to come to nothing, change is on the way. This is a season of Advent, but seasons change and the next one will arrive with the return of our Lord! There is reason for great hope!

In Conclusion

There is a Christmas carol that captures well the spirit of Advent, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day“:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

Things are not the way they should be. However,

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

Things are not as they shall be!

While we observe Advent for four weeks, we actually live in Advent our entire lifetime. As we do so, we lean into lament, and we lean into hope, that God, who is good, will intervene in an incredible way some day. In the meantime we lean into the better way of Jesus.


Regular Thursday contributor and Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 18, 2021

Time to Make Christianity Great Again?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Thinking Through Acts 10:44-48

by Clarke Dixon

There is no doubt that Christianity does not enjoy the esteem and influence that it once did in this part of the world. No doubt there are many who would love to make Christianity great again. This being so, there is an event recorded in the book of Acts which should be cause for reflection.

To understand the importance of this event, we will want to go back to the Old Testament. Let’s go back to Genesis where God called Abraham and made two key promises. The first was “I will make you into a great nation” (12:2 NLT). The second was “All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3 NLT).

As we read through the rest of the Old Testament, we may get the impression, from Exodus right through to the book of Malachi, that it is all about the special nation that descended from Abraham. We read about the founding and formation of God’s people, the giving of the law, their relationship with God along the way, their lack of relationship with God along the way, their exile due to a lack of relationship with God, and their return from exile thanks to God’s commitment to the relationship and his promises.

Reading through the Old Testament, therefore, we might get the impression that the focus is almost entirely on the first promise to Abraham, of making him into a great nation. The other promise, of all nations being blessed, for the most part seems to fall off the radar.

Enter Jesus. The attitude of people toward Jesus, as they considered whether he was the Messiah or not, could be summed up with the question: “Is this the one who is going to make Israel great again?”

God’s old covenant people had been through a lot including exile and the return from exile. They continued to face hard times as they had been under foreign rule quite often since the return from exile, and were now under the thumb of the Romans. Perhaps Jesus is the one who will fix this Roman problem and bring them back to being a sovereign nation? The mood in the air pointed to a focus on the first promise of making Israel great. Even the apostles were caught up in it when following his resurrection,

…the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

Acts 1:6 (NLT)

While the apostles still had in mind the promise of making Israel great, Jesus pointed to another promise, the promise of the Holy Spirit:

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:7-8 (NLT)

The Holy Spirit did indeed come upon a great crowd of people which we can read about in Acts, chapter two. But all these people, though coming from different nations, were part of God’s old covenant people. The idea of making Israel great again could still linger, the promise of blessing all the families of the earth could still be largely off the radar. Until we get to Acts, chapter ten. Here Peter had a rather “un-Jewish” vision, while Cornelius, a non-Jew had an angel visitation resulting in the invitation of Peter to the home of Cornelius, another rather “un-Jewish” thing to happen. Peter then spoke to them about Jesus, and,

as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.
Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:44-48 (NLT)

If there was any doubt before, there was no doubt now, that Jesus’ purpose was not about making Israel great again, but about making the world great at last, fulfilling the promise to Abraham that “All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

This fulfillment of the promise challenges us in our desire to make Christianity great again.

Let’s remember that while the Jews hated being under Roman rule, most nations, and many Jews, could see the benefit of Roman rule. New roads were built along with new buildings and facilities like gymnasiums. And there was the “peace of Rome.” Nations under Roman rule, and there were many, could count on protection from attack, both from beyond and from within the empire. The Roman army would intervene, and it was a very good army.

While Rome brought peace, it did so, as at least one Bible teacher has pointed out, by “the power of the cross.” Rome ruled and kept peace through the use of brute force and brutality. The empire had peace, but it was an ugly empire, with an ugly, and precarious, kind of peace. In contrast, Jesus brought a different kind of peace, a beautiful lasting peace with God and others. Jesus brought peace by the power of cross, but it was not peace won by brute force and brutality, but rather peace won by love, grace, and forgiveness.

Through Jesus, God was not making Israel great again by making it like Rome as some had hoped. Rather, through Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God was, and still is, inviting everyone to the Kingdom of God. This is a good kingdom, one of love, justice, and goodness.

Rome had accomplished the bringing together of many different peoples together in one peaceful empire. That peace was held by the power and brutality of the cross. Jesus brings people together in one peaceful kingdom. That peace is held by God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love made evident at the cross.

Which cross do we use? Are we a people of brute force? Or are we a people of love and grace? Christianity can not be made great again through brute force. There is nothing great about that. Perhaps we need a better focus than making Christianity great again anyway. Perhaps a better focus is the blessing of all the families of the earth.


Clarke Dixon had a significant birthday yesterday, but hey, we’ll never tell! His the devotions here come to us via his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s message is based, click this YouTube link.

October 29, 2021

Prayers to Jesus, Our Peace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6b

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

We are continually grateful to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for blanket permission to occasionally include short excerpts from their books here. Transcription for this one was found at today at Devotions Daily. If you’re looking for a daily book excerpt in your inbox each morning, consider subscribing there.

We’ve mentioned author Sarah Young here twice before, but never featured her writing. In her most popular book, Jesus Calling she writes in the first person as though God is speaking to us. In her newest book, Jesus Listens from which today’s readings are gathered, she takes the opposite point of view and writes words of us speaking to Him.  More information about the book appears at the bottom of the reading.

Linked scriptures below take you to BibleGateway.com.

Majestic Jesus, Prince of Peace

Majestic Jesus,

I come joyfully into Your Presence, my Prince of Peace. I love to hear You whispering the words You spoke to Your fearful disciples:

Peace be with you.

I rejoice that Your Peace is always with me because You are my constant Companion. When I keep my focus on You, I can experience both Your Presence and Your Peace. You are worthy of all my worship — for You are King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of Peace.

I need Your Peace each moment in order to accomplish Your purposes in my life. I confess that sometimes I’m tempted to take shortcuts — to reach my goals as quickly as possible. But I’m learning that if the shortcuts involve turning away from Your peaceful Presence, I must choose the longer route.

Lord, please help me to keep walking with You along the path of Peace — enjoying the journey in Your Presence.

In Your worthy Name, Amen

Isaiah 9:6; John 20:19; Psalm 25:4 NKJV; Luke 1:79


Prince of Peace,

I come to You, feeling weary and burdened. I want to spend time resting in Your Presence. I need Your Peace continually, just as I need You each moment.

When things are going smoothly in my life, it’s easy to forget how dependent on You I really am. Then, when I encounter bumps in the road, I tend to become anxious and upset. Eventually, this revives my awareness of my need for You, and I return to You — seeking Your Peace. I’m thankful that You give me this glorious gift, but it’s hard for me to receive it until I calm down. How much better it would be to stay close to You at all times!

Please help me remember that You, my Prince, are Mighty God! All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to You. Whenever I’m experiencing hard times, I can come to You and tell You my troubles. But I need to come humbly, acknowledging how great and wise You are. Rather than shaking my fist at You or insisting that You do things my way, I can pray these wonderful words of David:

I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands.

In Your majestic Name, Jesus, Amen

Isaiah 9:6 AMPC; Matthew 11:28; Matthew 28:18; Psalm 31:14-15


Jesus, my Peace,

Help me to live close to You, remembering that You are my resting place. Since You — my Prince of Peace — are both with and within me, I can dwell in this peaceful haven with You.

I long to be able to stay calm in the midst of stressful situations, centering myself in You. We can deal with my problems together, You and I, so there’s no need for me to panic when things seem out of control. But I confess that the more difficult my circumstances, the more likely I am to anxiously shift into high gear — forgetting Your steadfast Presence that strengthens me.

As soon as I realize I’ve wandered from Your Presence, I need to return to You immediately. Whispering Your Name reconnects me with You and calms me down. Sometimes I get discouraged because I seem to wander away from You so frequently. However, I’m striving to form a new habit, and I know this takes time and persistent effort. Thank You for showing me that the rewards of this strenuous training are well worth all the effort. I’m finding that the more I return to You — my resting place — the more peaceful and joyful my life becomes.

In Your wonderful Name, Amen

Isaiah 9:6; Philippians 4:13 NKJV; Proverbs 18:10; Matthew 11:28 NASB

Ccopyright © 2021 Sarah Young. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. For more information about the book, click this link.

October 8, 2021

Filling our Lives with Good

A year ago we introduced you to Michael Wilson who writes at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will take you there to read this, and then take some extra time to explore other articles.

Do We Want to See Good Days?

I must embrace life. I want to see my days fill up with good stuff.

God’s goal for us is to be honest. So, here is what I must do. I must say nothing evil or hurtful. Oh, the times I have said something and at once wished I could take it back. The better way is to not say evil and hurtful things.

I must cultivate discipline in my speech. I must be uplifting and encouraging. Then my days will fill with good.

For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Master [Lord] are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Master [Lord] is against those who do evil.
English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Peter 3:10–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Peter quoted these statements from Psalm 34:12–15, so it would be profitable for you to read the entire psalm. It describes what God means by “good days.”

  • They are not necessarily days free from problems, for the psalmist wrote about fears, troubles, afflictions, and even a broken heart.
  • A “good day” for the believer who “loves life” is not one in which he is pampered and sheltered, but one in which he experiences God’s help and blessing because of life’s problems and trials.
  • It is a day in which he magnifies the Master Jesus, experiences answers to prayer, tastes the goodness of God, and senses the nearness of God.

We must deliberately decide to love life. This is an act of the will: “He who wills to love life.” It is an attitude of faith that sees the best in every situation. It is the opposite of the pessimistic attitude expressed in Ecclesiastes 2:17: “Therefore I hated life … for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

  • We can decide to endure life and make it a burden, escape life as though we were running from a battle or enjoy life because we know God is in control.
  • Peter was not suggesting unrealistic psychological gymnastics that refused to face facts.
  • Rather, he was urging his readers to take a positive approach to life and by faith make the most of every situation.

We must control our tongues. Many of the problems of life are caused by the wrong words, spoken in the wrong spirit. Every disciple of Jesus should read James 3 regularly and pray Psalm 141:3 daily. How well Peter knew the sad consequences of hasty speech! There is no place for lies in the life of a saint.

We must do good and hate evil. We need both the positive and the negative. The Old English word “eschew” means more than just “avoid.” It means “to avoid something because you despise and loathe it.” It is not enough for us to avoid sin because sin is wrong; we ought to shun it because we hate it.

We must look for and pursue peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

  • If we go out and seek trouble, we will find it; but if we seek peace, we can find it as well. This does not mean “peace at any price,” because righteousness must always be the basis for peace.
  • It simply means that a disciple of Jesus exercises moderation as he relates to people and does not create problems because he wants to have his own way.
  • “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Sometimes it is not possible! We are also admonished to work hard to achieve peace. It does not come automatically.

“But what if our enemies take advantage of us?” a persecuted disciple of Jesus might ask. “We may be seeking peace, but they are seeking war!” Peter gave them the assurance that God’s eyes are on His people and His ears open to their prayers. Peter learned that lesson when he tried to walk on the water without looking to Jesus. We must trust God to protect and provide, for He alone can defeat our enemies.

The next time you think you are having a “bad day,” and you hate life, read Psalm 34 and you may discover you are really having a “good day” to the glory of God!

September 15, 2021

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

A popular scripture verse right now is “Be still and know that I am God;” and sometimes, walking through the giftware section of a store you’ll see it rendered simply as “Be still.” A currently popular Christian book is titled, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.

Our world is in a frantic rush all the time. The classic pop song admonition to “Slow down, you move to fast / You’ve got to make a moment last;” was apparently decades ahead of its time.

Today we’re returning to the blog we introduced you to last year, Wattsup with Kids written by Tracy Watts. She’s put together a beautiful scripture medley here, and I invite you to read this on her site by clicking the header which follows, and then slow down to meditate on each verse.

The Unharried (and Unhurried) Jesus

Reading through the gospels we see a purposeful and unharried Jesus. He was not involved in the rat race of competition and human busyness, though he was very effective with how he used his time. He was intentional, for he was not working for his own purposes but the Lord’s. And when I see His example, I have much to learn. What then are some ways He slowed down instead of rushing about? Here are some thoughts:

Jesus noticed his disciples’ weariness and urged them to rest

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

Jesus slept himself when he needed to

 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him ~ Matthew 8:24-25

Jesus was not too busy to be with children.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. ~ Mark 10:13-16

Jesus stopped to listen to those who called out to him

And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” ~ Mark 10:46-49

Jesus took time to eat with those he taught

So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table ~ John 12:2

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  ~ Mark 2:15

Jesus also took time to feed others

 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way….” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. ~ Matthew 15:32, 35-37

Jesus took time purposefully to go off and pray

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  ~Mark 1:35

We often are pulled by the pressures of the world – where efficiency, busyness and money are valued over compassion, patience, and love. But when we take time to slow down, as Christ did, we find that our lives begin to be changed for the better. Instead of my life being characterized by the whims of fickle humans or society or my own false expectations, I can begin to steward what the Lord Himself has placed in my hands.

Lord, grant us wisdom to slow down and walk with Your purposes!


More from Tracy Watts on a somewhat similar theme:

“Keep silence” is a hard phrase because it means that I must stop. I must pull to a halt all that I am juggling and pushing and speaking. And I am often uninclined to do so…

[continue reading this short devotional at this link]

August 30, 2021

Two Characteristics of Followership | Voyaging in Peace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The first writer we’re introducing and featuring today is Pastor John Jakes who writes at Calvary Baptist Church in Indianola, Iowa. (Yes, I thought it would be in Indiana, but I guess they already have Indianapolis.) Clicking the header which follows next will take you there to read this as it appeared earlier today.

The Test of Commitment

In today’s world we lament a lack of commitment.  We applaud and show excitement when people last long in in their job or position.  Why? We applaud because we don’t see it very often!  We lament that people just can’t stay committed.  We complain.  Yet, when talking about encouraging commitment to God’s church we get shy about it.  We sometimes say we can’t push for it because it will drive people away. This makes me ask – What does it mean to be a disciple?

When Jesus was asked what it meant to be a follower of His, He described discipleship in two ways.  First, He described it as a type of love.  In fact, the type of love we were to have for Him was supposed to make all other loves look like hate.  He said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)  No shying from commitment there!  In fact, this teaching almost offends us, doesn’t it?

The second way Jesus talked of being a disciple was in cross-carrying.  He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Two words leap out at me from that description: cross and daily.  Both of those words speak of commitment.  A cross is tough to carry.  It is especially tough when you think about the end of the journey: death.  Doing anything daily is a conscious decision that requires commitment.  Put the two together, and you and I receive this call – commit permanently to a hard choice: follow me.

As we consider what is necessary in the Christian life, we must take a close look at the type of commitment we are giving Jesus.  Without a Jesus-level of commitment, what are we saying about Him?  What are we saying about this truth upon which we say we are risking our lives?  If His call doesn’t demand much from us, then what is it? It is past time for God’s people to commit to His purpose for them. Are we committing to that purpose?

Something to think about.


NIV.Mark.4.39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

The second new writer we’re featuring today is Scott Dixon of Eagle, Idaho, who writes at Exploring Jesus. Clicking the header which follows will also allow you to see some graphic images which go with this short devotional.

Peace in the Storm

Jesus was always on the move, so when He said, Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35), the disciples set sail… and then a great windstorm arose. Storms are common on the Sea of Galilee and these were experienced sailors, but we learn from the original Greek that this was an exceptionally violent wind-tossed sea that threatened their boat.

I wonder if the disciples anticipated smooth sailing just because Jesus said, “Go.” Herein is a lesson for every child of God.

To voyage with Jesus is to voyage in peace, even in a storm.

In the presence of Jesus, we can have peace in the wildest storms.

In desperation, the disciples turned to Jesus. He rebuked the wind, and its fury ceased. He commanded the sea, “Peace, be still!” and there was tranquility. At the sound of His voice, the tempest quieted, giving them infallible proof: He is LORD over ALL.

He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven.”

Psalm 107:29-30

Do you belong to Jesus Christ? Have you followed Him only to experience wave after wave of trouble? Are you being tossed by fear and doubt over how it will end? Then insert your name and circumstance into this account and its eventual outcome because the same LORD is with you today.

Rest in His power alone and trust Him to take you over to the other side.

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