Christianity 201

May 11, 2021

Heed Wisdom, Practice Trust

This is our sixth time with Melody at In Pleasant Places and it’s a double-feature today! Please, honor our writers by sending traffic to their sites and pages by clicking the headers and reading the articles where we first found them.

Written on Your Heart – Proverbs 3:3-4

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.”

Proverbs 3:3-4

This is a call from a father to his son to not only keep to the father’s teaching and commands but also for the son to bind steadfast love and faithfulness around his neck and write them on his very heart.

This goes beyond the surface.

It isn’t just obedience. It is devotion. Pure, wholehearted devotion from the core of his being. This entailed an intentional commitment by the son. His heart wouldn’t necessarily naturally incline to the teaching; he needed to write faithfulness and steadfast love onto it.

This picture of the heart as a tablet highlights how impressionable it is. It implies that the heart itself is impacted by what is written on it. It cannot lead – it follows, and it does so strongly. So we must lead it with truth.

The verses in Proverbs remind me of another, Jeremiah 31:33: But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

That is the Lord’s declaration, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. Contrasting the covenant initiated with Moses, my covenant that they broke (v. 32), with the new covenant the Lord would establish through Christ.

“And [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:27-28

In the new covenant, when we enter into grace through faith in Christ, we are forgiven, freed, cleansed, and our brokenness healed, because we are made whole in Christ. And the Lord has declared that He will put His law within us and write it on our hearts.

Our hearts engraved with His Word and His commands, enabled to walk in light and life as our hearts are led with truth.

It is devotion, love for Him at our core, which pours out as obedience because that is what He has written in power and grace. And that is what we continually strive to experience as we study His Word, walking in His power to resist the temptations of a world that tries to etch falsehoods in place of His truth.

So to our deepest places, He is our God and we are His people.

Does this not reveal a beautiful aspect of God’s heart?

He is involved here. Very personally.

To put His law within you, a law of liberty and love to guide you to abundant life and keep you free from sin’s entrapment.

To write it on your heart.

This is not surface-level obedience.

It is relationship, a relationship that brings whole-life change at the core.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

All My Heart – Proverbs 3:5

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 3:5

Reading this familiar verse this morning, I began to contemplate what it is to trust in the Lord with all my heart. We generally hear and use the phrase, “with all my heart,” in contexts where it’s all-encompassing. No reservations. No hindrances. All-in.

This is a leaning-in with every piece of my heart, every part of my being, to trust the Lord.

To trust the God who is living and active; the God who reigns over all; the God who made me with all of my details and who watches over me with care because I am His through Christ.

To trust the God who has very specific and intentional commands regarding how I am to live, including where my focus should be, what my aim and motivations should be, how I am to treat people, and the lifestyle and moral character my life is to demonstrate – character grounded solidly in the morals He established in His Word as Ruler and Creator of all and as the One who reigns in light.

To trust in Him with all my heart regardless of what I perceive or understand because He is the One who knows and sees everything.

He knows better.

I do not.

But I know Him and He is trustworthy. Far more trustworthy than my own perceptions or how I feel about something. Far more trustworthy than what makes sense to me.

He is wise. He is good. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. He is comfort and peace. He is strength and joy and hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

When I trust in the Lord with all my heart, this is what it does. This is what it looks like. Unshaken. Hope abounding. Joyful, peace-filled, believing in Him.

As I share the gospel, speaking Christ to those He brings on my path. As I work. As unexpected things happen, whether painful, discouraging, scary, or expensive. As I go throughout my days in my marriage, with my family, with my friends and fellow believers. Whatever my path holds, hope abounding in my ever-present God as I look to and trust fully in Him.

A God who shows His power by giving us hope. We don’t have to muster it ourselves. The joy and peace, even the belief itself, starts with Him and flows into us. As we abide. As we rest. As we dwell with Him and abide in His Word which holds all truth because it reveals Him to us.

We set our eyes. We choose to press in. We lean our hearts and minds toward Him and toward trusting Him fully, and we rejoice knowing that He meets us there and that He has been empowering us for it the whole time.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself
give you peace at all times in every way.
The Lord be with you all.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16

May 9, 2021

Fixing Fractured Fellowship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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I have written about what is called “The Philippian Hymn” many times. I’ve also preached a 40-minute sermon it, written my own paraphrase for it, and committed it memory several different ways. If pressed, I will tell you that the theme of the passage is the humility of Christ, though it’s really an overarching view of the incarnation of Christ from beginning to end. (See my sermon notes here.)

But scrolling through Twitter hours ago, I saw something that maybe I’d missed. While the passage itself is a very creed-like statement of all things that matter in terms of the life of Jesus, it’s true context is relationships.

NIV.Phil.2.1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I remember years ago listening to a sermon on “present yourself as a living sacrifice;” and it was said that “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” Well, in light of the Philippians passage we could add, ‘The problem with being told to prefer others and defer to others is that it doesn’t apply in an argument or debate where I happen to be right.’ In other words, you might smile and open the door for someone, but continue to allow a Great Wall of Disagreement to be constructed where you have different views on a spiritual, political, or social issue.

What’s worse is that in that in the present climate, the differences we have seem to be magnified. And our reactions– whether it’s to pick a fight or simply shut down — have become more frequent and more dramatic.

I have always found Romans 14 to be instructive. It’s dealing with specific issues — the eating of certain food, the keeping of certain days — but the principle behind what’s stated is widely applicable:

NIV.Rom.14.1. Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters… 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister… 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

…While looking for something else earlier today, I came across an item that we had posted nine years ago from author Mark O. Wilson. He had begun with his Mother’s Day sermon with The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands, the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Although we don’t usually re-post third-party devotions here, so much of this was appropriate to today’s cultural moment, both inside and outside the church. Where you see the word “home” below, just replace with “Church” or “community” or “extended family.”

Killkenny Cats and Home Squabble

…Wisdom builds the house. Foolishness tears it down.

When we fail to think before we speak and act, we’re likely to tear the house down. We’ve been given two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion.

Sometimes, in a passion to say right things, we say things wrong and hurt people. We’re wrong in our rightness, and unwilling to budge an inch in spirit. I think this is at the heart of the polarization in our state and nation. People are eager to share their opinions, but few are humble and patent enough to take the time to listen and understand others.

Too many homes are marked by unhealthy conflict and misunderstanding. Sometimes, it’s just a slow simmer of frustration. Frequently, it leads to checking out, and giving less than one’s best. Occasionally, it erupts into full-scale, brutal warfare. In the squabble, hurtful and destructive things are spoken that can never been undone. Rash words in a fit of anger can destroy the very fabric of the relationship.

As the old rhyme goes:

There once were two cats of Kilkenny.
Each thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit,,
And they scratched and they bit
‘Til excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.

Perhaps this is why Proverbs 19:11 reminds us it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

It’s very possible to win the battle (argument) and lose the war (relationship.) Here’s a question: Is what we’re fighting over worth the fight?

Occasionally, it is. Sometimes, there is a significant principle or human right at stake, and only a good fight will set it straight. However, most of the time, our conflicts are over lesser things. We let our selfishness stand in the way, then hold stubbornly to our opinions as a “matter of honor.” Little issues become major eruptions when we stake our significance on them.

Conflict is an emotional state, and the issue will not be resolved when either party is in that state. You can’t argue someone out of it. The only way to help another person move from the state of conflict is through kindness and patient understanding.

Argument may force the other person into a corner, forcing him to agree – but it will only be a surface agreement, and definitely not be an agreement of hearts. As the old adage goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Here’s an idea: fight FOR your family instead of fighting against them. What dreams and hopes to you have for your family? What actions can you take to gently move in that direction? If you don’t do anything different, you will keep following the same path with the same patterns. I appreciate Andy Stanley’s observation, “Direction, not intention, equals destination.”

Weigh your words. Bite your tongue. Think twice. Then, as Colossians 4:6 says, let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you ay know how to answer everyone.

May 3, 2021

Seven Times Jesus Socially Distanced

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.6.12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. 13 At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles.

I know what you’re thinking:“It’s been 15 months since the pandemic came to my part of the world and I’ve missed seeing friends and family, and I’ve missed so many activities. If I have to read one more devotional about quietness, rest, stillness or solitude I’m going to scream. Don’t give me ‘Be still and know…’ I want the verse that says ‘Be active and busy and engaged and know…'”

But then I looked at today’s devotional and especially the list of seven things. I encourage you, don’t rush through this one. It’s short and you’ve got time to focus on that list. How might it apply? And what does it say about being prepared for the next season of life?

This is our third time with Wes Barry, the pastor of Waypoint in Charlotte, North Carolina. Clicking the header below takes you to his blog.

Devotion: Solitude

Luke 5:16–He would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

When is the last time you were alone?

While many of us have become isolated in our homes during this pandemic, we still have not sought solitude. Our days are filled with noises and distractions. Our homes require a daily demandedness. We fill the silence with podcasts, television and music; we read books, play video games or watch YouTube to fill the void.

Solitude is the intentional practice of seeking silence and aloneness.

Because we have become so hyper saturated with noise and distractions, we become anxious and uncertain at any moment of aloneness. Notice how many drivers around you habitually pull out their phones at a stop light. For those brief 30 seconds, they cannot stand not having something to read, look at, listen to or do.

This is why I love to trail run. Disappearing onto a trail is my place of solitude. People are baffled when they learn that I will run for hours on a trail without music. It is just me, the rocks, and the rhythm of my breath. But in this practice of solitude, I am joining in a long tradition of Christians called the “desert fathers.”

Now granted, their times of solitude were not 45 minutes on a Tuesday along the Backyard Trails of Charlotte. Instead, they moved into the desert for years to live in solitude and silence. They understood in their pre-television and pre-internet days, that the distractions and noise of this world would overwhelm their senses and mute their ability to hear from the Lord.

The desert–the wilderness–is the place where the Lord has spoken to people for generations. These places of solitude are where we reestablish our connection with our Creator.

There are 7 times Jesus retreated into solitude:

  1. To deal with inner struggles (Luke 4:1-2): Jesus retreats into solitude to withstand the devil’s temptation.
  2. After a big event (Matthew 14:22): Jesus retreated to solitude after feeding 5000 people.
  3. Before making a big decision (Luke 6:12): Jesus retreats into solitude before selecting his 12 disciples.
  4. To pray (Luke 5:16): Jesus retreats to reconnect himself with his Father.
  5. When experiencing grief (Matthew 14:13): When Jesus learned about John the Baptist’s death.
  6. When experiencing anxiety (Luke 22:39-42): The night before being arrested.
  7. In order to fulfill His mission: In the ultimate moment of solitude, Jesus conquers sin and death.

Something that I have always wondered about is what Jesus was doing on Holy Saturday. The day between Good Friday–the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death–and Easter Morning–the day of His resurrection. Just this week, I finally put an obvious piece into that puzzle for me–it was the Sabbath. The holy day of rest. Jesus, in his victory over Satan and death, did not use that day to conquer evil. He did not go into a spiritual battle in the pits of hell for us. No, he followed the tradition of His Heavenly Father, and he rested on the seventh day. He found silence and solitude in his death, and this is what conquered sin and death. This means for us, that these practices of “not doing” are vital spiritual disciplines that can conquer the sin in our own lives.

When was the last time you sought solitude? When have you embraced silence?

 

April 20, 2021

“Don’t Be Afraid” – Not Comforting Words; It’s a Request

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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The title I gave our version of today’s devotional is my reaction to how this impacted me. It reminded me that the request Jesus made bordered on inappropriate, at least in terms of what you say to someone who has suffered great loss…

Today we return to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. Click her title for it which follows and read this at her site.

Just Have Faith

But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
Mark 5:36

I have been putting off writing about this for a while, because the truth is I just don’t understand it half as well as I’d like to. I don’t understand how Jesus could tell Jairus don’t be afraid. Especially given the news Jairus had just received.

Let me set the stage…

Jesus had just arrived in Capernaum after being on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowed had already gathered around him by the time Jairus arrived. Jairus was the leader at a local synagogue whose daughter, only 12 years old, was at home dying. Having heard that Jesus was in the area, he found the crowd and fought his way through it to reach Jesus. He then fell at his feet, pleading with him to come and lay hands on her so she might live.

Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt when Jesus, the man who worked miracles, agreed to go with him to his home?

But on the way there, a woman interrupted the procession by reaching out to touch Jesus’s robe. This in itself is an amazing story, but for now I want to focus on the fact that Jarius was forced to wait while this other woman took precious time away from Jesus getting to his little girl. And as he was watching Jesus speak to this woman, the terrible news he feared arrived: his daughter had died.

This is where my faith is challenged. Because Jesus didn’t weep with Jairus. He didn’t console him. He simply said, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” But the thing was…his daughter had died. She was gone. In that single moment, the fear of her death became a horrible reality.

This is where I struggle. Because I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of Jairus. What if I had gotten news that my husband died and Jesus told me, don’t be afraid. Just have faith? I feel like I’d want to slap him. My grief would be more than I could bear. How could I not be afraid? How could I possibly have faith? This is a hypothetical situation for me, but it wasn’t for Jairus. And it isn’t for many people I know. So the big question is, how can this be encouraging? How can this be what Jesus tells Jairus? How can it put to rest my own fears of the future?

I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus said it – and it was recorded for us for a reason. And I also know that Colossians 1:15 says that “[Jesus] Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If I believe that, and I do, I have to believe that even in the face of death and worst fears come true…we’re to trust Him.

Even though I don’t understand this and it feels like an impossible thing to ask of someone, the fact that Jesus said it means it warrants my time thinking about it and praying about it.

There is so much of God I do not understand. But I really do want to be a person who’s first instinct is to trust His word and act on it, find comfort in it, and discover His heart through it. I believe that good things lie on the other side of our obedience – especially when we obey without fully understanding.

My hope is that in the face of fear, both life threatening and none, my knee-jerk reaction will not be panic, but trust. I want my heart to be ruled by Him alone. I want his peace, which passes understanding. I want to be less like the people of the world, and more like the heroes of the bible – who took God seriously.

The bible doesn’t tell us how Jairus responded to what Jesus said. So I don’t know if he was full of faith or if he fell apart. But Jesus went to his house and healed that little girl – she lived again.

I know this isn’t the way all our stories end. How I wish it was. But I do wonder what is on the other side of our faith when we face these kind of horrifying situations. It encourages me to think about how much stock I put into what God asks of me.

This kind of soul searching and asking these kinds of questions is hard…but I think it’s well worth the undertaking.

 

April 7, 2021

Who are you looking to in the middle of the storm?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today I skimmed about 50 devotional posts from previous years, but only investigated one site further because its name, 1014 Experience Street, caught my eye and I didn’t remember that we had sourced material there before. Writer Phillip Pratt covers various subjects — he’s currently doing a series of quotations from U.S. Presidents — but I found this article from October that I wanted to share with you today. Click the header below to read this at source.

“But We See Jesus”

I’ve been meditating on vision lately: physical, spiritual, prophetic, all that good stuff. When I was younger we were admonished to be very careful to guard our ear gates and especially our eye gates: we are visual-centric people, it’s a major portion our genetic makeup. What we see, what we focus on, determines our perceptions, our decisions, our faith.

Growing up, my folks used to have two vision-related sayings on their fridge:

“What you focus on becomes magnified”
and
“How you see Him is how you serve Him”.

When you focus on imperfections (your own or others), whether that’s a mole, a scar, a lisp, a limp or other things like weight, height… it can become so magnified that it affects behavior, self image, relationships, etc. Same as when you focus on circumstances, on lack, on empty bank accounts, on sickness and infirmities, on fear-based news, on what could happen; all of these things never lead to peace.

However, when you focus on the Lord; on His goodness; His greatness; His majesty; His love; His grace and mercy; His provision; His healing power; His plans and purposes; you walk in a peace that others covet. Spend a minute with a person or read their posts/tweets and you can always tell what they’ve been focusing on and magnifying. This is not an indictment on anyone, we’re all human, but so many are focusing on and being distracted by, the storm.

There’s prophetic insight to:

– see what’s going on in the storm
– look through the storm
– look ahead of the storm

We need to be people of God who look through the storm and are able to see the form of Jesus & what God is doing.

Here are some Scriptures on seeing [the form of] the Lord:

Numbers 12:8

“With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees (nabat = to regard with pleasure) the form of the Lord…”

Hebrews 2:9 “but we see (blepō = with the bodily eye, to discern mentally) Jesus…”

John 12:21 “…we wish to see (eidō = to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention) Jesus”

Luke 23:8 “When Herod saw (eidō) Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see (eidō) Him…”

Luke 19:3 “And he sought to see (eidō) Jesus…”

Hebrews 12:2 “Looking (aphoraō = to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something) unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”

Matthew 14:22-31

“But the boat [by this time] was already a long distance from land, tossed and battered by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night (3:00-6:00 a.m.) Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw (eidō) Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!”

Peter replied to Him, “Lord, if it is [really] You, command me to come to You on the water.” He said, “Come!” So Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw (blepō) [the effects of] the wind, he was frightened, and he began to sink, and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus extended His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

This passage perfectly highlights the importance of focus: You can be aware of the storm but stop looking at the storm and magnifying it, keep your eyes on Jesus. There’s so much going on in this world and going on around us, so much fear, so many people looking at the storm but as people of God, “we see Jesus”.

What’s in your heart right now? What are your thoughts?

If it causes fear  = you’re looking at the storm.

If it causes peace = you’re looking at Jesus.

All the news reports, prophetic words, predictions, dreams, etc; do they cause fear or faith? Do they point you toward the storm or toward Jesus?

John 14:26 “let not your heart troubled, nor be afraid”

Philippians 4:8 “…think (logizomai = meditate) on these things”

I want to highlight two Scriptures that go hand in hand:

Isaiah 26:3

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed (camak = to lean or lay upon, rest upon, lean against) on Thee, because he trusts Thee”

John 13:23

“Now there was leaning (anakeimai = to lie at a table, eat together, comes from two root words, ana = in the midst, among + keimai = laid down, destined) on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.”

In that room, the noise of the city, the blaring sounds of commerce, crime and community were tuned out, even the room itself was loud with conversation and fellowship; during all of this a lone disciple managed to lay his head on the chest of the Prince of Peace, of Love Incarnate and listened to the heartbeat of Life Himself. There he was safe, there he found peace in the port of the storm of life.

“but we see Jesus…”

The author and finisher of your faith will not be found in the form of the storm, only in the form of Jesus. We see in part, we may not see everything that Jesus has done for us, given to us and happening around us “but we see Jesus”.

Interesting note on Matthew 14: the sea was not calm where Jesus walked, He could have easily had a 20 foot perimeter where it was calm, like glass, but He chose not to calm the sea immediately around Him. He walked on top of the waves, He could have walked a few hundred feet and perhaps even rode a few waves with some foot surfing, who knows?

Some storms we can rebuke, some we ride out, others we sleep through, but we are never utterly cast down nor destroyed.

Your faith is founded on the Rock, the Rock is not moved by the storm.

Our focus determines our direction, our decisions, whether we are paralyzed by fear or propelled by faith. It impacts not only us but everyone around us. It’s imperative in the storms of life that “we see Jesus” and our focus is Him and Him alone.

December 12, 2020

Find Joy in the Story!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s writer came recommended. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ United Methodist Church (UMC) in Alliance, Ohio. His website for sermon content and blog articles is PastorPartridge.com. As usual we strongly suggest reading this at source. (You’ll find a tab which takes you to a section of articles about John’s hearing loss; good reading if you know someone considering a cochlear implant.) Click the header below to read at his site.

Passing the Joy Test

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11              1 Thessalonians 5:16-24;       John 1:6-8, 19-28

It is probably no surprise to anyone to hear that we are living in an unusual time in history.  But what I mean in saying such a thing, is that we are living in a time when we can see the freight train coming.  We are as an American society in the twenty-first century, very much in the position of the damsel Nell Fenwick who has been tied to the railroad tracks by Snidely Whiplash and is desperately hoping for the arrival of Dudley Do-Right to come and rescue her.  We can see the freight train of rising virus cases caused by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year gatherings and we can anticipate the terrible consequences but there is little, or nothing that we can do to stop the train.  The only things that we can do… is hope.

But, as unusual as this might be, it is not unique in history.  …The prophet Isaiah lived in just such a time.  In about 700 BC, Isaiah and the people of Israel watched as the Assyrian Empire grew in power, influence, and military might and the Assyrian King Sennacharib had already brought his armies to the gates of Jerusalem.  Through God’s grace, Israel was saved, but Isaiah knew that those armies would be back, that Israel and Judah would be captured, marched to Babylon, and held in captivity for seventy years.  They saw the train coming down the tracks, they could anticipate the terrible consequences, and they were tempted to despair.  But, as difficult as it must have been to hear about God’s judgement and the impending destruction of their nation, because Isaiah also prophecies their eventual return to Israel and proclaims Israel’s rescue and the coming Messiah, Isaiah’s message is ultimately a message… of hope.

Even though they saw the train coming, and they knew that hard times were coming, they knew that God cared about them and that God had a plan to rescue them.  We hear a part this message in Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11:

61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Isaiah speaks about the coming Messiah, we hear a message that we will hear again from John the Baptist, and we hear a message from a God who loves justice, and who loves and cares for his people.  And that message, given to a people who watched as the freight train of the Assyrian army grew ever closer, shined like a beacon on a dark night and for hundreds of years, through invasions, captivity, destruction, suffering, sorrow, and death, this was a place where they could find hope.

And then, in John 1:6-8, 19-28, Isaiah’s vision becomes reality as John the Baptist announces the imminent arrival of Jesus.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John proclaimed that the time had finally come for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that while he was not the messiah that God had promised, that messiah was already standing “among” them.  After hundreds of years and many generations, the prayers of Israel’s people were being answered.  God’s rescuer and redeemer had arrived, and the hope of the people was transformed… into joy.

Well, at least it did for some of them.  John rejoiced, as did many of the people, but not everyone.  It was the people that Isaiah had talked about who found joy in the coming of the messiah.  It was the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, those in mourning, the grieving, the people who suffered from injustice, robbery, and wrongdoing, it was the outcasts, the least, and the lost who rejoiced.  But the wealthy, and those whom the system served, and whose success had been tied to the success of the system saw the coming of the messiah as a threat to their success and to their way of life.  This disconnect between the haves and the have-nots grew until it exploded into violence, crucifixion, and death in the Easter story as the system struggled to maintain the status quo.

And later, long after the resurrection of Jesus, the church remembered the lesson of joy and in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica and gives them these words of instruction:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Rejoice always.  Find joy in the story, in the message of Good News, and in the prophecies of God.  Give thanks, at all times, for the things that God gives you, even when those times are difficult.  Do not cast aside the prophecies and promises of God just because you think that God is taking too long, or that there is too much pain, or too much suffering, or that your circumstances are too hard.  Instead, test the prophecies of God to find the truth.  Test them against what you know about God.  Hold on to what is good because we know that God is good.  Reject every kind of evil, because we know that God is never found in any kind of evil deeds.  Our God is a god of peace who is always faithful and who always keeps his promises.

In some ways, our joy is a test.  The coming of Jesus was intended to upset the apple cart and to disrupt the status quo.  We are called to rejoice in that disruption and not be so married to our success, to our wealth, our culture, and to the status quo that we become like Israel’s leaders and reject Jesus simply on the basis that his existence will be disruptive and make our lives more complicated.  Secondly, we are invited to test all of God’s prophecies because we know that God is always good and so we know that what God wants for us is good and that we can reject anything that is evil as not being godly.

The coming of Jesus at Christmas is intended to bring good news of great joy.

Let us rejoice.

But let us remember to find joy in the right things.


From the same author, check out Peace in the Present Promise.

November 26, 2020

Six Things to Do When Life Ain’t Perfect

A Reflection on Philippians 4

by Clarke Dixon

There is sometimes an expectation that since God loves us, and since we have responded in faith, then life should be pretty much perfect from now on. But then what follows in our experience is, well, far from ideal. When we realize that things are far from perfect we might be surprised. We might even fall to pieces.

Life is a reality check. Paul’s concluding words to the Christians in Philippi are also a reality check. The reality is, that things are far from perfect.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are reminded that the apostle Paul’s life was far from perfect. Here we are given the reason for the letter. It is a thank you note from Paul for the gift the Christians in Philippians sent him because he was in prison. Yes, this encouraging letter was written while Paul was in troubling circumstances. He may even be executed! We have good reason to believe that he eventually was executed following another imprisonment. Paul’s life was far from the perfect experience we seem to expect Christians to have. His life was no picnic.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are also reminded that the Christian church is far from perfect, since Christian people are far from perfect. In verses 2 and 3 we discover that there are troubled relationships. Euodia and Syntcyche are two leaders who are evidently mature Christians. Yet they are not getting along. They are not the perfect people we seem to expect Christians to be. Getting along was no picnic.

As a side note, if you ever find a perfect church, where everyone is perfect, don’t bother telling me about it. I don’t want to wreck the perfection by showing up.

Here we have evidence, of less than than perfect people in less than perfect circumstances. In fact you could say, messy people in messy circumstances. Perhaps you can relate . . .

So how do we handle the mess?

First, we do the best we can:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

Euodia and Syntyche are to iron out their differences and be reconciled. We can wonder if Paul in our day would encourage the Anglicans and the Baptists among others to iron out our differences and be reconciled. At any rate, we are to just do the best we can as individuals and faith communities and to help each other out the best we can too.

We celebrate God:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

Most translations go with “rejoice” or “be glad,” but I like those that say “celebrate.” It can be hard to just switch our emotions, to suddenly just go from grumpy to joyful. It is not like our emotions respond like a light to the flick of a switch. Think of going home grumpy from a hard day at work. We may still be grumpy when we get home, which is no fun for our loved ones. But if you go home to a celebration, a birthday celebration for example, your emotions may well catch up to your celebrations. When we regularly celebrate Jesus, celebrating all that is real and true in Jesus, then our awful emotions will eventually catch up with the awesome facts.

We grow in gentleness:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

How often have you heard a sermon on gentleness? If you attend my church, not very often, for I have not often preached on it. I suspect that across our land there are many sermons on holiness, and very few on gentleness. Yet gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is an important mark of following Jesus. I promise to speak about it more often. Perhaps we should all promise to grow into it more.

We give our anxiety to God through prayer:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

Simply turning off worry can feel like an impossible thing to do. It likely is. Thankfully, we are not so much encouraged to simply turn it off, but rather to trade it in. Through prayer we trade it in for peace.

We focus our minds on good things.

I like Eugene Peterson’s rendition of the next few verses:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)

We are so good at being focused. Unfortunately we focus on the dirt. We focus on the negative. We focus on what is worst about others, and ourselves. News and social media often doesn’t help in this regard. Let us learn to focus on all that is good, in God, in life, in our world, in our church, in others, and yes, even in ourselves.

We learn contentment with the reality of things:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)

Here we are, back to a reminder that Paul’s situation was from from ideal as he sits in prison, dependent on others for the basic necessities of life. Yet Paul could speak of being content. Yes, things could be better. But yes, things will be better. The reality is that being a Christian is no guarantee of a perfect life. The reality is that in Jesus there is the guarantee of God’s perfect love. As bad as things could get, they can’t do anything but get better yet.

Things are less than ideal in our day. We have been living through an incredibly messy year. We should not act surprised. In fact we have been sheltered. Messiness is nothing new. One of the books I read this summer was “A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London,” by Daniel Dafoe. This book is a memoir about a plague that hit London, England, in the 1600’s. It puts our current plague into perspective. Thanks to advances in society, we are in a much better situation now than then.

The first Christians knew what Paul knew; life gets messy. Following Jesus does not excuse us from the mess. In fact, as Paul also knew, following Jesus could get you into a bigger mess. Sadly, many believers around the world today know that all too well as persecution continues to plague many Christ followers.

Let us not fall to pieces when life is less than ideal, when the people around us, including ourselves, are less than perfect. Let us do the best we can, celebrate Jesus, grow in gentleness, trade anxiety for peace through prayer, focus on the good, and learn contentment. May we not fall to pieces, but as we walk with Jesus, let us watch how God picks up the pieces.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and his weekly devotional here is taken from his blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which in turn are derived from his weekly sermons. With the pandemic, he’s been preaching shorter messages; each one he calls a full reflection and the shorter services he calls an online worship expression(Use the links provided to see other content from previous weeks.)

October 28, 2020

Being Formed and Shaped by God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re breaking our six-month rule!

Although it was just last month that we most recently shared a devotional from “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes, today we’re introducing a voice new to us but not new to readers there, Olivia Elmes.

We’re also breaking from the usual format to include a 5-minute video devotional from Olivia, and it’s been a long, long time since our C201 post was a video. The video was recorded while she’s doing ministry in Europe with Circuit Riders; amid traffic, background noise and construction. (Your devotional routine can happen anywhere!) If you click through to YouTube and then go to her channel, you’ll find four devotionals recorded under better conditions, but we wanted to share this recent one on the subject of encountering peace.

To get the text devotionals sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.]

Quenching

Isaiah 43:2, NLT
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

God gave me a picture, when I was transitioning from one season of life to another, of a sword that was heated up in fire until it was so hot that it was glowing and then it was plunged into cold liquid. I looked up what this was and it is a process called ‘quenching’. Quenching is used by blacksmiths to harden steel because the rapid temperature change makes it much harder than slowly cooling it down. The metal is heated up until it is red hot and then plunged into cold oil.

For me, this spoke directly into the season I found myself in. It felt as though I was being taken from a burning place of being on fire for God and being used in ministry and then plunged into cold liquid where everything felt cold and different. This picture gave me clarity to what God was doing with my life: He wasn’t just quenching me to make me uncomfortable, He was quenching me because He knew that this way would make me a harder sword. If it feels like you are being quenched right now, don’t give up and don’t question the Blacksmith’s plan. He knows what He’s doing, and He knows exactly how to make you into the sword He intends for you to be.

Just know that quenching produces strength that otherwise would not be there. There’s a hardening that will come through the fire and the water. If you’ve been in a place that feels hot and burning and suddenly you are dropped into an icy bucket, do not fear – you are in the hands of the Blacksmith. If it feels like the temperature has suddenly died out and everything around you is cold, you are being formed into a great weapon in the hand of God. Allow the cold oil to confront your hot steel and let the quenching do its job.


Scriptures mentioned in the video:

NIV.John.20.19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

NIV.John.14.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

 

September 2, 2020

Your Soul Isn’t Quarantined

Six months ago we introduced you to Lauren Jensen and today we returned for another visit. In an article posted shortly after the lockdown began she described her house as it “looked like postponed performances after months and months of rehearsal.” You probably have similar metaphors. For the piece I’ve chosen for today, click the header below to read this on her site.

Your Soul Isn’t Quarantined: Living Free From the Condemnation of “Not Enough”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

I’ve held off posting to the blog during COVID-19. I released one encouraging video on Instagram back at the beginning of this whole deal, but then remained pretty silent overall, only sharing personal stuff to my personal page. Because let’s face it, the internet is really noisy right now. Noisy in a way I could never have anticipated. And sometimes it’s just too much.

So privately I did what I assume most people did. I had a series of small identity crises. I clamored for control in a situation over which I literally had zero control. I prayed, read, gave it to God. Gave it to God again. And again. Wash rinse repeat.

I made small discoveries about the people I live with. Maybe not so much discoveries, I always knew their tendencies and inclinations, but now their tendencies and inclinations were all up in my face all the time. And then I adapted and learned to live with them, or to just go for a walk.

And then I hopped on social media where I saw all the good being done. Good that was posted to encourage. Good that was meant to inspire. And inspire it did. It inspired me to think, Wow, they are so much better than me. Why aren’t we doing that? I found myself almost wishing that our situation was worse so we could overcome and inspire others to be all inspirational like us.

It’s gross when I type it now. That I would even think that hopefully gives you a clue as to how shallow I am. On the inside. I keep my pride well hidden. At least I think I do.

But have no fear, this post isn’t all doomy-gloomy woe-is-me. In the midst of rooting out the poisonous weeds in my heart, God is revealing life-giving, freedom-winning truths too. Like this one:

Do not submit to lesser condemnations.

But wait. In light of all that is being revealed in my heart, the pride, the jealousy, the shallowness, the judgment, isn’t a little self-condemnation justified? Maybe even required?

Listen, I’m not saying we take pride in our sinfulness. I am just saying what the apostle Paul tells us: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) And as if those words aren’t liberating enough, he continues.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:2-4 (emphasis mine)

God knew we were weak. Maybe at this time you think you are discovering things about yourself you don’t like. I know I am discovering and rediscovering “new” weaknesses weekly (daily?). But my incomplete discoveries aren’t discoveries to God.

He knew we were weak. This was not news to Him.

And He knew that weakness in our flesh demanded condemnation. So He did it. He condemned our sinful weakness in His Son. So you and I could be free.

God’s not a holy thumb-twiddler who waits to figure out our next move so He can respond. He isn’t asking us why we can’t be more like our brothers and sisters over there, doing that thing. As if the things they are doing are being done in their own strength. As if the desires and thoughts of their hearts are pure, while ours are weak and sinful.

God is an all-consuming fire fiercely pursuing the hearts of those who desperately need Him. He is the Living Water, the Bread of Life for the spiritually starving. He is the Physician on the front lines everyday saving lives and souls. He is a relentless abolitionist, freeing the slaves and captives.

We are those captives made free in Christ Jesus. All those lesser condemnations, the ones we heap on ourselves, those are us- not God. When we contemplate our unworthiness to the point of emptying the cross of its power, when we stand in judgment and declare “guilty,” we shackle our hearts to an idol that looks remarkably like ourselves.

Look at the cross and toss the idol. Jesus makes a better God than we do anyway. The debt has been paid. Let’s start living in the good news already.

And for those of you who are like me and so sick you decide to condemn yourself for things that aren’t even sins, hear this: those are choices. Some things are just choices. None holier than another. She isn’t holier because she made that choice, the same as you aren’t holier because you made yours. Get over it already. Life demands choices. Do the best you can and give glory to God.

OK that’s it for now, friends. I hope you found these words liberating. I wrote this for myself too, in case you couldn’t tell. We are definitely in this together, so let’s offer grace and lighten the load. Love you all!

August 5, 2020

When Things Are So Very Hateful: Don’t Lose Your Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One of the most-featured writers here over the years has been J. Lee Grady who’s blog is titled Fire in My Bones. Today’s article has been edited for length; you’re encouraged to read the entire piece at Charisma Blogs at the link below. Note: When you click through, you’ll have the option of listening to a devotional podcast At Work With God.

Don’t Let Love Grow Cold in These Hateful Times

…I’ve never known my country to be so hateful.

Anger has reached a boiling point. Passengers are being removed from planes because they started fistfights over leg room. Store customers are going ballistic because other customers aren’t wearing masks. Entitled Americans, always ready to record a cellphone video, are ready to blow the whistle on each other.

We don’t care how our words hurt people anymore. We have become a vicious culture. Jesus warned this would happen when He said that in the last days, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12, NASB)…

…The world tells us that ending a relationship is as easy as hitting the unfriend button. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see any room for outrage, resentment, intolerance or “unfriending.” Jesus calls us to love—and He gives us the supernatural power to do it.

Have you considered ending a relationship recently because of politics? Did you already walk out of a church or break a close friendship because of a disagreement? If so, examine your heart and ask these probing questions first:

  1. Am I giving up too soon? The apostle Paul told the Ephesians they should “always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who try your patience” (Eph. 4:2b, TPT). Your love will never grow unless it is stretched—and the best way to stretch your love is to show kindness when you feel like slamming a door in a person’s face.

The truth is that we often give up on relationships because we just don’t want to exert the energy to improve them. Relationships require a lot of work. When you unfriend someone just because they hurt you, you are missing an opportunity to become more like Christ.

Show some patience. Choose to love even when you don’t get anything in return.

Ephesians 4:3 (NLT) says we must “make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” The Greek word for “make every effort” means “to be diligent; to use speed; to be prompt or earnest; to labor.” That means you shouldn’t let wounds fester. Act quickly to repair the relationship before it gets worse!

  1. Would Jesus end this relationship? When you end a friendship because of an offense, you are doing the exact opposite of what Jesus did for you. Ephesians 4:32 says “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” You will never understand God’s merciful love if you don’t show it to others.

Jesus doesn’t flippantly write people off. He loved us even when we were sinners, and He patiently drew us to Himself using “ropes of kindness and love” (Hos. 11:4b). Before you end a friendship, judge a pastor, storm out of a church or give someone the cold shoulder, remember how aggressively Jesus pursued a relationship with you. Let His ropes of kindness pull you out of your bad attitude.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times we are required to forgive a person, Jesus answered “seventy times seven” (see Matt. 18:22b). Taken literally, that means 490 times—but Jesus wasn’t putting a limit on forgiveness. He was using the number seven to imply infinity. Stop counting how many times you have been offended and instead thank God for all the times He has overlooked your mistakes.

  1. Am I nursing a grudge? Our divisive political climate encourages people to get up mad in the morning, fuel their anger with hot political rhetoric throughout the day and then go to bed after listening to more arguments on news broadcasts. We are literally poisoning ourselves.

Many Christians have allowed similar poison in their lives because of church drama. They are mad that a pastor slighted them. They are jealous of someone who took a position they wanted. They are angry because a Christian did something hypocritical.

Resentment is deadly. It actually makes people sick. It also makes us ugly and unpleasant. Unforgiveness puts a frown on your face, wrinkles around your eyes and a sour tone in your voice.

Don’t let today’s culture of outrage infect you. Go against the flow of toxic hate. Make a decision today to work harder at maintaining your relationships. Forgive those who hurt you so your love doesn’t grow cold.

 

 

March 16, 2020

Plagues Happened at the Beginning of the Story and Will at the End

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:32 pm
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We tend to consign the word plague to certain Old Testament stories. Of course we also tend to think that with our modern health care, such things could never happen in current times. At least we think that until we find ourselves in the middle of one.

From Bible Study Tools:

The term “plague” is found roughly 100 times in the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament. The most commonly known biblical plagues occurred in Egypt during the time of Moses. Plagues are also mentioned in Revelation of the New Testament when describing the end of days on Earth. Scripture reveals that God sent plagues as a consequence of disobedience and idolatry. Exodus 32:35 gives an example of this, saying “So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.”

The passage clearly indicates that God sent the plague. I think this goes beyond saying God permitted the plague to happen. We say that most times today — and, I believe, correctly — that things happen because we live in a fallen world, but clearly God Himself, speaking through the prophets, takes a proactive role and reveals Himself as the author of the plagues, as is declared in Amos 4:10.

“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

At the website Knowing Jesus, we’re given a number of verses on this subject, and this one, from Jeremiah 14:12 shows God’s deliberate action and provides us with a number of Biblical synonyms to plague:

“When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

This is of course where so many get the idea of the violent, angry, Old Testament God; the very picture which seems so much at odds to the loving, compassionate, New Testament version of God which the modern church is trying so hard to promote!

But God is the same: yesterday, today and forever, right? We have to be careful of going too far down the road where God has two different masks that he wears. Yes, we live in what some call The Age of Grace, and that grace has been poured out to us through Jesus. But God judges sin as part of his essential character.

So…in the few New Testament references we have to plague, are they part of the fallen world model, or are they going to be sent directly by God as a form of judgement? Mark 13:8 and its parallel passage in Luke 5:11 state respectively,

“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

“…and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

How did you answer that? How do we answer if the present virus outbreak is judgement or natural consequence of the fallen world we live in?

I am sure that, as diverse as the Body of Christ is, there are people with answers on both sides for that question…

One other thought

Before we leave today, it occurred to me about 30 minutes before posting this that people in the broader demographic are looking to see how we, as Christians, are responding to this crisis. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. Our extended family. Our children. Our unsaved spouses. Our fellow-students.

Is our faith strong enough to hold in these times? I ask myself that question, too; because we don’t truly know until we’re in the time of testing how we will fare.


If you’re joining us today for the first time

We’ve been looking at this theme for the past several devotions:

March 15, 2020

When Anxiety Overwhelms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
-Psalm 139:23

Today, selections from search engine results; you’re encouraged to click the links to each piece; these are just fragments from larger articles.


From Bethany Bible Church, Joel Nevius writes:

Memorize and Pray Scripture

One of the worst things about anxiety attacks is that it turns all of your attention inward. Because you are constantly monitoring and checking on how you’re feeling, it becomes harder to focus on other things and other people. We get consumed with thoughts like: How am I feeling? Is there another attack coming on? Will I ever become sane again? I feel so scared. I feel alone in this. Nothing will ever be the same again. I guess I’ll be in a mental hospital the rest of my life.

During the initial weeks of battling anxiety attacks, I met with one of my pastors who knew what was going on. He did one of the best things for me…he gave me a list of passages that he wanted me to meditate on. Far from it feeling like a cheap fix, the passages he shared with me all took on a more significant meaning to me, since I was desperate for relief. All of a sudden, passages that communicated God’s presence in the midst of scary situations became very real.

I began to commit the beginning of Isaiah 43 to memory:

1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

One of the worst times I found for my anxiety was at night as I was trying to sleep, so I would simply recite and pray through this passage over and over and over again until I fell asleep. The Holy Spirit calmed me down through this passage as I reflected on the amazing truth that God is faithfully present with his people during really scary and dangerous times. This was incredibly powerful since when we’re dealing with severe anxiety the biggest temptation is to think that we are all alone.

Memorize a passage and dwell on the truth of it. I promise the Holy Spirit will use it.

this is part 4 of a 5-part article


At Olive Tree, Cierra Loux writes,

Worry Causes Fear to Crowd out Faith

Thus, in the final reckoning, “the cowardly” are listed alongside the “unbelieving” (Rev 21:8). Linking worry with unbelief, Scripture gives direction for a return to full faith. The road from worry to faith begins with recognition that worry is sin and confession of lack of faith (Ps 139:23), continues with deliverance (Ps 34:4), and finally ends with the assurance that absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God who is the great I am (Ro 8:35Ex 3:14–15).

In place of anxious thoughts, you then freely offer thanksgiving from a heart established with trust in God as all sufficient (Ps 112:7–8Php 4:6–7).

What worry or fear are you surrendering to the Lord today?

this is part 4 of a short 4-part article


From Relevant Magazine, Rachel Moreland writes,

Healing comes in many forms

…God didn’t heal me instantly right on the spot. On the contrary, my experience wasn’t one of immediate relief. It wasn’t a miraculous healing that some encounter in church pews.

Managing my anxiety was a long and drawn-out process. It was the result of many months of intense counseling sessions and emotional energy. But in that process, I found relief. And I experienced healing.

It all started by going to speak a complete stranger about my fears where I learned about tools to help stop the onset of a panic attack. I slowly began to learn how to manage overpowering feelings of anxiety. As I accepted the fact that I struggled with a disorder, I began the frightening process of opening up to my family and friends. I took a step back and observed the bad habits I needed to break, and I even had to say goodbye to some unhealthy relationships. The process was anything but easy or formulaic, but it allowed me to slowly regain that peace of mind that Philippians talks about.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

So did God heal me?

Not in the way you would think. Not in one instant heavenly instant.
I have no shame in admitting to you that my prayers didn’t result in the end of my disorder. Healing takes place in many different ways. Sometimes it’s the immediate relief from anxiety during a worship service, and sometimes it’s ongoing treatment from a doctor.

What I can attest to is that God gave me the peace and determination to manage those days where anxiety was too close for comfort. And through that, I found grace. And ultimately, freedom.

this is part 3 of a 4-part article


I encourage you to do a similar search online; but exercise discernment as a variety of different faith groups optimize their pages in search results.


“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” – Psalm 55:22

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:6-8

March 14, 2020

Faith in God in Chaotic Times

Today we’re returning to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix.  We’ll probably stay on this same theme for a few days, given what’s taking place in our world. Chris shares a short word and then lists five scripture passages from various translations. After the line break in the article are ten more that Chris listed in an article we shared here four years ago.

Trusting God’s Protection

Yesterday I went to a meeting where a person gave a speech on how to protect yourself from cyber criminals. He talked about the importance of longer passwords, paid for antivirus and firewalls. I began to think about all the ways we try to protect ourselves from bad things or people. We have home security systems, gates to our communities, cameras on our property and crash detection in our vehicles. Right now the world is trying to protect itself from the Coronavirus. Everyone is washing their hands, wearing masks and avoiding public gatherings. Are we being driven by fear or being cautious? Fear leads to panic and it is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7).

I’m all for being cautious and for being wise in protecting my belongings and family, but as the guy mentioned at the meeting, nothing can protect you 100%. That’s why we need to put our full trust in the One who can. Jerusalem had walls built around it for protection, yet David trusted God for protection more than the walls. You and I should do the same. God is our refuge and a very present help in time of need (Psalm 46:1). If we’re trusting God, we have nothing to fear. He is more than able to protect us from anything that would come against us. Take your precautions on things, but also pray to ask God for His divine protection and be at peace.

Here are some Bible verses on God’s protection.

1. He alone is my safe place; his wrap-around presence always protects me. For he is my champion defender; there’s no risk of failure with God. So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?

Psalms 62:2 TPT

2. Trust in the Lord forever; he will always protect us.

Isaiah 26:4 GNT

3. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.

Psalms 91:9-11 NLT

4. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.

Psalm 23:4 GNT

5. Lord, you are my secret hiding place, protecting me from these troubles, surrounding me with songs of gladness! Your joyous shouts of rescue release my breakthrough. Pause in his presence.

Psalms 32:7 TPT


Scriptures from the 2016 article,

Refuse To Worry

1. Therefore I tell you, stop being worried or anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted) about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew 6:25 AMP

2. Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.
Proverbs 12:25 NLT

3. Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
1 Peter 5:7 AMP

4. Don’t give in to worry or anger; it only leads to trouble.
Psalm 37:8 GNT

5. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad.
Psalm 94:19 GNT

6. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG

7. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy.
Ecclesiastes 11:10a NLT

8. I am filled with trouble and anxiety, but your commandments bring me joy.
Psalm 119:143 GNT

9. To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.
Job 5:2 GNT

10. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].
Philippians 4:7 AMP


Postscript: If you have time today, take a moment to read Chris’ personal story.

March 13, 2020

Hold Your Head Up

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. – Psalm 3:3 KJV

But you, God, shield me on all sides; You ground my feet, you lift my head high – Psalm 3:3 The Message

But, Lord, you are my shield, my wonderful God who gives me courage. – Psalm 3:3 NCV

Earlier this morning I was reading something posted in a Facebook group on Classic Praise and Worship songs about the early worship song which was based on the KJV rendering of the above verse.

It seemed timely given the climate of fear which has come over so many in the wake of the current Coronavirus pandemic. On a personal level, I’ve been rather ‘rattled’ by that. Perhaps for others of you, all it takes is a haunting nagging from your pre-conversion past over the fact today was a Friday the 13th.

So many Christian books right now deal with the topics of fear, worry, anxiety and its related consequence, depression.

  • The Power of Praying Through Fear
  • Anxious for Nothing
  • Too Blessed to be Stressed
  • Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety
  • Breaking the Worry Habit Forever
  • Worry Less, Live More
  • Worry-Free Living
  • Winning the Worry Battle
  • Letting Go of Fear
  • Prayers for Freedom Over Worry
  • Finding Peace
  • Breaking Anxiety’s Grip
  • Fearless
  • Still: 7 Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos

…and that’s just a few; not to mention the hundreds of self-help books that aren’t in the Christian marketplace; dealing with the effects of fear on the wider society.

There were also many, many more books listed which had the word overcoming in the title.  Note to self: We need to a devotional on the subject of what it means to be an overcomer, as this theme runs throughout scripture, even if the word isn’t used.

Of course, the opposite of looking up is looking down. Three times in Psalm 42 and once again in Psalm 43, we find the word translated in the NIV as downcast.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  43:5

and it appears several other times in that translations.

We all, myself included, need to ask ourselves if in view of the present circumstances our world finds itself in, we are looking up or looking down.

Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Psalm 24:7 NIV

“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” – Jesus in Luke 21:18

We need to be people who are looking up.  No matter what:

“…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me … my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”(Ps 23).

When David wrote Psalm 3 when he was fleeing from Absalom. The lyrics of the short worship song which started our thoughts today include text taken from the subsequent verse, verse 4:

 I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill.

For one more linked song today however, I want to leave us with something slightly more recent, Why So Downcast by Marty Nystrom.

 

 

March 11, 2020

Prayer for Peaceful Sleep

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Twice, in 2015 and 2016, we connected with the blog Prayerful Pondering by Pat Luffman Rowland. Although the blog is currently inactive, I was back for a visit yesterday and found this article. With all the turmoil in the world right now I can bet that some of you are not sleeping as soundly as you’d like. I hope this helps.

Peaceful Sleep

For most of us, that time of turning in for the night is when our minds accelerate. We think of the decisions we made that day and whether they were wise, many times wishing we could do them over. We think about things that may happen in the near future, things that may be life changing, problems we face — both big and small. We think about our children and our concerns for them. One thing I think about every night is whether I did anything kind for anyone. It bothers me to think I’ve closed out a day without a single act of kindness.

For some who live alone, there are thoughts about safety. Was everything that needed to be turned off, turned off? Did I lock all the doors? Did I arm the security system? If I fall during the night, will someone know to check on me relatively soon the next day?

In the last year of my mother’s living alone, I prayed a lot about her safety.  I prayed against fire, against a predator realizing that she lived alone, that she wouldn’t fall or get sick or become frightened during the night.

Psalm 4:8 says “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (NIV).  I have a friend who prays this every night over family and friends who live alone, calling out each name and asking that they will know God’s protection. What a beautiful gift!

Proverbs 3:24 says “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (NIV). Psalm 127:3 reminds us that the one who watches over us never slumbers or sleeps.

I especially love this word from Psalm 3:3-6 (NLT):  “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain. I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side.”

I love it because it begins with recognizing and praising God, saying to Him that we know He hears us when we call out to Him. Those words of David say that we know God in Heaven sees every threat that might come our way. It encourages us when it says we slept in trust and woke up without any trouble coming upon us through the night. The last sentence rightly gives God praise again, following the Lord’s instruction to begin and end our prayers with praising God. In that final praise, we affirm our confidence that we are protected on every side and from every danger.

Do you have trouble falling to sleep? Do you replay all the day’s woes? Do you angst over children or parents or other loved ones? Maybe one of these verses can help you to let go and sleep peacefully. Or, you can check your Bible’s concordance or “google” for other verses on peaceful sleep. I encourage you to choose a scripture and commit it to memory, then let it be your last thought of the day. And as Proverb 3:4 says, may your sleep be sweet.


Postscript: Continuing the same theme, part of what directed me to this article was the discovery that an article we ran about the phrase a Isaiah — The Chastisement of Our Peace — was being frequently clicked. Again, these are tumultuous times, so I’m not surprised. The article was repeated just 22 months ago, but if you missed it, click here.

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