Christianity 201

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.

August 20, 2021

Time Apart

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back again at Devotions by Chris and a short devotional by Chris Hendrix. Clicking the header which follows will get you there directly.

Alone With God

I was talking with a friend recently about how technology has been both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, we have so much information, entertainment and communication in the palm of our hand. Never before in the history of the world have we had such access, but along with that comes the curse. We’ve lost the ability to be alone to think deeply and to pray. We’re constantly interrupted by it going off, lighting up or us using it out of habit. In times past, people had the ability to process, break down and understand the information they had because they had the ability to truly be alone with their thoughts. That ability also provided them with opportunities to be alone with God.

Exodus 3:1 says, “Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro (Reuel) his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God” (AMP). Notice how Moses was in the wilderness alone. It was then that he noticed the burning bush. Verse 3-4 says, “So Moses said, ‘I must turn away [from the flock] and see this great sight—why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he turned away [from the flock] to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Moses turned away from his distraction, and when he did, God called out to him and met with him.

You will even find this pattern with Jesus. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray [in seclusion].” How often do you slip away into seclusion, away from all distractions, and pray? It’s difficult in today’s world.

We must be intentional about it. Our minds will give us the fear of missing out or of being out of connection with others, but the truth is that those fears have made us miss out on encounters with God and out of connection with Him. Jesus made it a practice to break away from the crowd and noise of life to be alone with God. With all of our connectedness today, we must be even more intentional about it.

God is waiting to meet you, but you must turn away from the things that distract you first and get alone with Him.


On a similar theme:

This a short excerpt taken from a larger look at spiritual disciplines from the blog, Running to Him. The author’s name is not listed. Clicking the header which follows will take you there directly.

All In – Spiritual Disciplines

…[L]et’s bring Solitude into the picture. This one is often overlooked among the Spiritual Disciplines, even in my own life. There’s so much noise in the world around us that we don’t take time to be silent with no background noise. A book titled The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry has a whole chapter on Silence and Solitude.

The big question is how can we expect to hear from God if we don’t put in the time to listen to Him? How can we say He’s not speaking if we’re not actively listening to Him? A great way to start putting solitude in your life is to start with one minute of silence. Try not to think about anything. Try not to say anything. Most importantly, try not to have any background noise. Just silence and see how God speaks!

The next spiritual disciple that I want to highlight is another often overlooked discipline. In a world of burnout, stress, anxiety, and overworking, Rest has become increasingly countercultural. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls the weary souls to come to Him for rest. Jesus wants us to have rest! He doesn’t want us to be burnt out and stressed all of the time.

A great (and incredibly counter cultural) way to have rest and take Jesus’ light yoke upon us is to have a Sabbath, this was another chapter from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Sabbath is a day of rest and stopping. In the creation story, God worked for six days and stopped on the Sabbath. If God took a day of rest, how much more do we need rest?

This has been a hard truth for me to realize and a hard discipline to put into place… A key way to fight back against this is to see the Sabbath as a gift and not a limitation. Instead of seeing it as “I have to rest today,” view the Sabbath as “I get to rest today.” In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath wasn’t made to limit us, it was made as a gift FOR us…

August 9, 2021

Getting Rid of Resentment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This week I discovered a book by Nathan Foster, the son of Richard Foster, who wrote extensively about spiritual disciplines. I decided to see if Nathan had any writing online and came across a very applicable and helpful article about dealing with resentment, at the website Renovaré, founded by his father. What appears below is part one of the article, for the practical steps it’s recommended you click the article’s title, which follows and read everything there.

How to Release Resentment: Steps for Forgiving Others

On my thirty-fifth birthday I wrote the following phrase:

If you make it through life without becoming bitter and resentful, then you’ve done pretty well. To spend your life keeping your heart open to others and relationships is a great accomplishment. Resentment is the human default.

Sometimes I wonder why God laid claim to vengeance. It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

Woven deep in our DNA is a desire for justice. We ache for things to be turned right and good. Yet the anger, wounding, and intensity of retribution is so dangerous and potentially damaging to the human soul that I almost think God’s insistence on letting him handle affairs of judgment is a gift, a freedom of sorts. The truth is I’m not sure I have the capacity to rightly deal with those who have hurt me.

Learning to trust that he’s in control is not an easy task, but I believe it’s safe to assume that God is fully aware of human affairs and the evil we produce.

But I like my resentments

My resentments and me, we have a special relationship. Late at night when the house is quiet, I like to bring them out. I talk to them and they to me. I replay old words over and over again, like a pebble in my shoe. I squeeze my toes, turning, turning, never satisfied, always thinking one more shift and it will find its home. And the more I adjust, the worse things become. My heart races, my mind is on fire.

I line up my offenders like a child with little toy soldiers and compose detailed, articulate responses to all the wrongs they have done me. And, as I imagine the replay, I create new scenarios and new speeches. After months of conversations together, my resentments have taken on a life of their own. I fear the truth and reality of the offense becomes buried in the vengeful rush of my imaginative court.

I have no business holding onto resentments. They are just too powerful.

The old proverb rings so true: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill someone else.

If my own misery wasn’t enough motivation to deal with my resentments, Jesus had some helpful things to say: ​How many times should I forgive? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ answer almost sounds playful, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18: 21 – 22).

He was so serious about the business of humans forgiving each other that he even instructed people not to give offerings until their grudges were dealt with: ​Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23 – 24).

And then a series of difficult verses: ​For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14 – 15).

Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

I don’t quite know what to do with those words other than to try to obey. It certainly seems practicing forgiveness as a discipline is of extreme importance.

The recordings of the words of Jesus reveal that he was not only knowledgeable and kind, but he was practical as well. Therefore, I assume Jesus would not ask us to do something that was beyond our capacity to do. With that information, I’m of the opinion we start where we are. For some it’s as simple as making our unforgiveness a prayer. ​Father, I want to forgive. I don’t know how. Teach me.” I’ve found God is ever so open to meet us where we are, and not where we want or think we should be.

Now I’m not an expert on forgiving others, although I’ve had my share of practice. I’d like to use this space to share a few things I’ve picked up through the years in my work as a counselor and how I personally practice forgiveness as a discipline.

I realize that for some this is an extremely difficult matter to deal with, so please don’t let my short teaching feel trite. I should note that I’m not intending these ideas to replace working with a trained professional or clergy. Some matters just should not be undertaken alone.

I have come to conceptualize my resentments as primarily a debt that I’m rightfully owed. Someone has offended me and I am justly entitled to recompense. Consequently, it is this debt and the collection of its payment that I offer to God. I say something to this effect: ​This person wronged me. God you take it. I’m not holding this debt any longer. I’m releasing retribution to you for you to do with as you please. If you would like to go after them and punish them, that is none of my business. If you have some other arrangement in mind that involves some sort of forgiveness, that is up to you. I no longer hold this debt. It is yours. Take it and do as you please.” …

…continue reading here


Nathan Foster’s 2014 book  which I mentioned above is titled, The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. It’s available in print and audio (read by Nathan himself).

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.

 

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