Christianity 201

January 21, 2019

Miracles in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:31 pm
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“a noteworthy miracle has taken place through [Peter and John] is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it (emphasis added) (Acts 4:16; see also vv. 13-14; John 3:2; 11:47-48).

Today we’re back visiting what I last called a “wealth of articles” at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. This is part one of a two part series, you need to click the link at the bottom to finish this study.

Miracles: Then and Now (Part One)

On occasion through the years one reads or hears of a great revival somewhere in the world, a sudden outburst of the power of the Holy Spirit. It usually includes the testimony of many souls saved as well as miracles of all sorts that seem to parallel those of the Bible. Fantastic accounts of healings, resurrections from the dead, walking over red-hot burning coals, exorcisms of the devil and demons and the like are reported. What is an earnest Bible-believer to make of all this?

The subject of biblical miracles in the main has suffered disagreement over two factors–their nature and their purpose. Critical scholarship long ago consigned miracles to the ashcan of superstition, ignorance and mythical notions. More sophisticated critical studies have routinely denied the validity of miracles by means of the principles of modern science. It is asserted that divine intrusions simply do not occur in the closed time-space-mass universe of strictly uniform processes.

Bible-believing Christians have disagreed somewhat over the nature of biblical miracles but have had enduring differences of opinion concerning their purpose and longevity. My conclusion in summary is: The true nature of biblical miracles defined their purpose, and their purpose defined their continuance.

The point in this writing is to analyze in general the subject of miracles, mainly New Testament miracles, including those of the launching of the church. The church is the new body of God’s witness and work in the present stage of His overarching purpose of receiving the maximum self-glory from His creation. “Creation” in this sense entails everything that is not God. Some call this complex the world, the cosmos, the universe and the like. In any case this sharp division (between what is God and what is not God) preserves the Creator-creature distinction that is fundamental to the whole of the Bible and Christian Theology (Rom 1:25). Nothing exists in man as it exists in God.

The purpose of God getting glory to Himself means for Him to magnify His own infinitely unique person and cause it to be exclusively and universally enhanced, honored, esteemed and worshipped by rational beings. Since God exists by himself, i.e., he is self-existent, Scripture declares He exists for himself. His personal testimony, e.g., is “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no god” (Isa 45:5. Cf., Isa 47:8, 10; Hos 13:4; Zeph 2:15; Deut 4:35; 32:39; et. al.). And, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).

MIRACLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

First there will be a preliminary sketch of divine miraculous activity in the Old Testament, miracles of various sizes and shapes. However, there were times when clusters of miracles surrounded an important event or person. Some of those occasions were: (1) the Creation of the universe including mankind [Gen 1-2]; (2) the great Exodus from Egypt and the formation of the tribes of Israel into a theocratic kingdom via the giving of the Law at Sinai [Exod 1-15]; (3) the choice of Moses as the leader or king-in-effect of the theocracy [Exodus 3-4]; (4) the accreditation, to Egypt and Pharaoh, of the nation Israel as God’s favored, protected  people [Exod 5:1-2; 6:1-8; 7:1-6; 8:10, 22; 9:14-16, 29; 10:1-2; 11:7; 14:4, 18]; (5) the ensuing Sojourn in the wilderness [Exod 16-40, Numbers and Deuteronomy]; and (6) the Conquest and Settlement of Canaan [Joshua and Judges].

The Law of Moses was the charter, constitution or governing legal instrument of the new nation, and it included the provision of ongoing miraculous activity for some of its functions. Examples would include health and healing (Exod 23:25), food (Exod 16:35), water (Exod 15:23-25), clothing and shoes (Deut 29:5), fertility (Deut 7:12-16) and a direct revelation from God when evidence of an unlawful act was not certain (Num 5:11-31; 15:32-36).

During the United Monarchy (kings Saul, David and Solomon) notice of the occurrence of miracles was nil. In the Divided Monarchy (kingdoms of Israel and Judah) there was an outburst of miraculous activity in the Ninth Century BC. This was during the apostasy and political decline of the northern kingdom of Samaria/Israel. The miraculous activities of Elisha and especially Elijah were used by God to rid the nation of the pernicious debauchery of the Baal-Asherah fertility cult and to call the people back to Himself. This false religion had been established by Ahab and Jezebel as the semi-official, state-supported civil religion rivaling if not practically supplanting true Yahweh worship (850 of the cult’s clergy “ate at Jezebel’s table,” 1 Kings 18:19). The great confrontation between Elijah and the Baal-Asherah priests on Mount Carmel vividly illustrated what was at stake (1 Kings 18:20-40, especially v. 39, “When the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”). The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Queen Athaliah, brought Baalism into Judah, building a Baal temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 11:18).

The writing prophets spoke sparingly of miracles occurring in their days, the exceptions being Jonah and Daniel and the incident of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. The prophets spoke often of the future golden Messianic Age when miracles would return as God crushed all temporal powers and set up His kingdom on the earth. See Isaiah 35 and 40.

THE INTERTESTAMENT PERIOD

The historical interlude between the testaments (ca 400-4 BC) was a barren wasteland as far as miracles, prophetism and other revelatory vehicles were concerned. The temple, the Levitical system and the nation’s political fortunes were deplorable. Even the prior Restoration Period (538-400 BC) with Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi was not much of a restoration of Israel’s politics and spirituality. The return from the Exile did not fulfill the prophecies of a future golden age. Prophets and people knew fully that Israel was not free and independent but was subservient to the Persian domination.

This arrangement changed to the Hellenistic, Alexander the Great era (ca 334-166 BC) that included the ravages of the Egyptian Ptolemies and the Syrian Seleucids. The Jews had a bob-tailed form of independence under the Hasmonean priests (166-63 BC) after which transpired the harsh rule of the Roman Empire, beginning in 63 BC. Into the Roman milieu the New Testament opens with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 4 BC).

By this time the nation was in a deeply apostate condition but still possessed a very small believing remnant such as Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38), and the two from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

►►Click here to continue with part two


Rolland McCune served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981-2009, during which he also served as President of the Seminary for ten years and Dean of the Faculty for six years.

November 21, 2018

Surrendered to the Cross

We’re back once again with Rick Morgan, who writes in the UK at the site, Digging the Word. Click the title below to read this there, and then check out other recent articles, or “Today’s Top Ten” article links in the right margin.

Your Will Be Done

John 17:1-5 After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so He can give glory back to You. 2 For You have given Him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one You have given Him.

3 And this is the way to have eternal life–to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One You sent to earth. 4 I brought glory to You here on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. 5 Now, Father, bring Me into the glory We shared before the world began.


When we hear somebody mention the Lord’s Prayer we think about the prayer that Jesus said when his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Maybe you never thought about it but Jesus didn’t actually pray that prayer, Jesus wouldn’t have asked God to forgive his sins, he spoke that prayer as an example for us. (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4)

The prayer in John 17:1-26 is the longest prayer of Jesus that we have recorded in the Bible. It is our best opportunity to listen in as Jesus talks to his Father, it shows us the courage that Jesus had to stay with God’s plan despite the great sacrifice that it would require.

Jesus begins this prayer completely surrendered, safety and comfort are not on his mind, he is only thinking about God’s will and timing in his life. It is odd that the Giver of Life who would never have to die, willingly submits in obedience, He will choose to be subject to the curse of death. (Philippians 2:8)

God’s Timing In Jesus Life
(John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20, 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32)

Jesus never lost sight of his mission and purpose for being here. Imagine knowing that you came for a purpose and having to wait thirty-three years for God’s timing so that you can complete your mission. We can learn a lot from Jesus about how we handle delay in our lives, we get anxious and want God to hurry up, Jesus left the timing of events up to his Father.

Now the time is right and the shame and the pain would not keep him from completing his work. Jesus shows us that if we are going to do God’s will in this hostile world then we need to submit without hesitation to God’s sovereign plan to glorify Himself.

You will be inconvenienced and you will get dirty, you may have to go toward dangerous situations, live with uncertainty, or embarrassment. Life is full of risk, but the life that is lived for Jesus is even riskier, the side effect of living in the rescuing power of the gospel and being willing to rescue someone else is that you will have to live by faith.

Risk It All To Glorify God
(1 Samuel 14:1-23 / 2 Samuel 10:12 / Esther 4:15-16 / Daniel 3:16-18)

Jesus surrendered to the cross and we must do the same, He told us to pick up our cross daily and follow him, that certainly involves risk. God’s people have always been called to take risk, that’s the very nature of living by faith, we cannot see the outcome or the pathway but we step out because we are told to do so.

When we risk losing face or money or life because we believe God will always help us and use our loss, in the end, to make us more glad in his glory, then it’s not we who get the praise because of our courage; it’s God who gets the praise because of his care. In this way risk reflects God’s value, not our valor.

-John Piper “Risk Is Right”

God is most glorified in my life when I step out and rely on him no matter what is going on around me and how foolish my obedience looks to the rest of the world. The glory goes to God when the world sees me trusting him with absolutely everything.

It is difficult to value our forever life that we cannot see over our temporary life that we can see. The ability to put our lives completely into God’s hands and follow no matter what is a real struggle that most of us want to avoid. Very few people in our safety minded culture come to the point that the disciples came to.

But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

-Apostle Paul

How radical am I for God’s will? We pray a lot about knowing God’s will, but few of us really want to know what that looks like. The number one prayer request from Christ followers living in the safest country on the planet is for safety. I don’t know of anybody praying like that in the Bible. God’s people chose to do God’s will despite the risk that was involved and they prayed that they would have even more boldness. (Acts 4:23-31)

In every life that is lived for the Lord there will be a moment when a radical step of faith is required in order to please God. I need to be willing to allow God to achieve his agenda through my life and I need to be okay with being uncomfortable and insecure when God shows me his agenda.

 

November 18, 2018

We Ask for What We Want; God Gives Us What We Need

This is our seventh time at the website Borrowed Light. This time around the author is Geoff Box.

Begging for Serpents

I’m in the process of preparing to preach through James. James is an intensely practical book. If you want to know how to live as a Christian, James will tell you. One of the overarching themes in James’ letter is that God is faithful to give what is needed to His people. To prove this point, we often quote James 1:17 which says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

One fascinating fact about the book of James is how heavily James relies on Jesus’ teachings in his letter. James 1:17 above is clearly connected in thought to Matthew 7:7-11 which says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

These two passages of Scripture got me thinking. Why do we often feel like God is giving us stones and serpents? Scripture is clear that our Father is good and will not do such things, but often when I look at the gift in my hands, I don’t see what I was wanting.

The problem is clearly not with God. I have a desire and perception problem. I don’t rightly know what I need, and often end up asking for stones and snakes, then when God gives me what I truly need, I get frustrated with Him. I look at the bread in my hand, and because of lack of faith, sin, or whatever reason, I see a stone. Instead of gratefully receiving the fish that I need to sustain me, I throw it away as if it is a snake that would harm me. And so I repeat the process of begging God for more serpents, receiving fish, then rejecting His provision and casting it aside.

What I really ought to be doing is as James suggests, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James1:2-4 The bread and fish of trials and suffering are good for me. I need them to become more perfect and complete. I need them to become more like Jesus.

I also need to more clearly see the gifts that God gives me. When I reject the gifts God is giving, I am essentially saying that God doesn’t know what is best and is not a good Father. So, I need wisdom so that I will correctly perceive the gifts that I am given and so that that I will begin to ask for what I really need. Fortunately, James comes to the rescue again. James 1:5-6 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

I desperately need wisdom. I need God’s help in seeing that what He gives me is indeed nourishing to my soul. I also need the wisdom to ask for better gifts. I need to stop begging for the serpents which are likely to bite me.

November 13, 2018

Convincing Witnesses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to Martha Anderson who has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com. Click the title below to read this one at source.

Full of the Spirit

But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said ‘Go stand in the Temple courts and proclaim to all the people the words of this life.’  Acts 5:20

This is what has stuck with me throughout this week, along with a few other thoughts.  It was the apostles that got tossed into jail for telling about Jesus and new life in Him.  The religious leaders were filled with jealousy, which is what 5:17 tells us.  It wasn’t any complicated scheme–just jealousy.  Anyway, an angel let them out and told them to go back to the Temple court and keep teaching.

What catches me is that the angel told them to teach about ‘the words of this life.’  The whole first few chapters of Acts are flooded with the accounts of the Early Church–about how the Holy Spirit has come and landed on them like tongues of fire.  And how when they prayed the place where prayed shook with power and everyone was filled with boldness.  And then there was so much Holy Spirit power that people brought the sick and they passed by Peter’s shadow and they were healed.

So when they went back to the Temple Courts, they talked about Jesus being risen from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand as a Founder and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  And we are witnesses of these events and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.  

I’m sure the apostles didn’t just mumble a sorry testimony and invite them to Temple too.  No, they were convincing witnesses about the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Go on to Acts 6 and read about Stephen.  He was described as being “full of the Spirit,” “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” and “full of grace and power, who was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”  Now that’s an eye-catcher.

People are looking for something to fill the holes in their empty lives, something big enough to occupy the space that they’re filling with things like their fascination with technology, the NFL, materialism, sex, drinking and other addictions.  If we offer a wimpy version of the Christian life, it is no more appealing than picking up an old textbook, or visiting their grandmother’s church.

But if you show them the real Jesus, and the “life that is truly life,” as 1 Timothy 6:19 says, or the abundant life that John 10:10 talks about.  And 1 Corinthians 4:20 it says that the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but in power.  

Last Sunday night I was at our County Jail for Bible study.  There were six Native American women and another jail chaplain and myself.  We talked for a bit to catch up on how they were doing, and as I began the study, there was a male inmate calling out loudly the whole time.  I stopped and asked what that was.  The women said it was a man in the holding cell. They felt bad for him and said he had been yelling out all day in about ten different voices.

I asked if any of them had been at church with me the last summer when one of the women did the same thing and we stopped and prayed–and she stopped yelling out.  The women immediately begged me, “Please stop and pray.  Please pray.”  So we stopped.  The other gal with me prayed out loud first and me second.  We prayed that the spirits that were oppressing him would be bound and that the peace of the Holy Spirit would rest upon him.  Within one or two minutes the man was totally quiet.

I said, “Hey, do you hear that?”  And they said, “Hear what?”  I said, “My point exactly. It’s dead quiet out there.  Jesus did that.  He hears our prayers and has the power to work.  He will do that in your life.”  We got back into the Bible study and the jailers were stirring up a mighty commotion out in the hallway.  I mean it was like a circus out there.  It went on and on.

Finally I stopped and said, “I’m praying again.  This circus has to stop.”  I prayed that God would silence the commotion in the hall and that it would be so quiet that they could hear a pin drop.  Again, within a minute the noise stopped.  And again, I said: “Do you hear that?  Jesus did it again.  That’s what He wants to do for you.”

Today I met with a Native American gal that just got out of jail and treatment.  She came to church and is resolute about “doing the next right thing.”  She is making a break from the bonds of meth and alcohol.  I told her the story of what happened in jail last week.  Her brother is in prison, but God has gotten a mighty hold on him and he is a living, walking evangelist everywhere he was been incarcerated.

She told me about when he was back at the County jail and was with a guy I’ve known since he was a kid.  He was telling this other guy about Jesus and the other guy kept saying that he was a Native and believing that.  Her brother was telling him that it wasn’t helping his life and that  Jesus is the only way, and that He’s real and wants to save him too.

The guy said, “Well, if Jesus is real, I’ll pray for something sweet.”  Maybe he was being sarcastic, because it was 10 at night and he knew it wasn’t going to happen.  But they prayed that S— would get something sweet and that S— would see that God is real.  Not even 5 minutes later a jailer came to their pod where 5 other guys were, at 10:00 at night and said, “S— I have a cupcake for you.  I just thought you’d like it.”

This guy S— got down on his knees and started sobbing and said, “I believe, I believe.”

Now that’s proclaiming the words of this life!  Words of power, words that aren’t just words, but are about life changing abundance that people can grab onto and say, “Yes, He is real and can do things in my life.”

Now, I have to go stand in the town courts and speak words of this life…


Want more? Check out this article by Martha: A Stripped-Down, Boring Jesus.

September 26, 2018

What it Means to be a Godly Man

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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After a break of a couple of years, we’re paying a return visit to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. While the column is directed at men, I hope that 50% of our readers don’t simply tune out today’s devotional, but rather, see what God is showing you as you read. As you’ll see, they’re wrapping a series on the Book of Daniel.

The Godly Man Shines Like The Stars

The book of Daniel tells us that the godly man shines like the stars. Are you a godly man? Do you humble yourself before God seeking to understand? Do you share the Gospel?

[Suggested reading: Daniel 10-12]

Today we finish Daniel. I love what these final chapters have to say about those who belong to God. I have always intended this blog to look at how God defines a godly man. Take a look at this verse.

Daniel 10:12 ESV
“Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.”

A godly man humbles himself before God and sets his heart to understand. Our prayers are heard and answered when they are offered in the right spirit and are consistent with His will. Remember that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup He was to drink be taken away. He also prayed that even though He did not want the cup, His desire was for God’s will to be done nonetheless. Did God take the cup away? No. It is good to bring your cares and desires before God; just don’t expect to get what you want. God may have other plans. If you are humble before Him, and seek to understand, your prayers will grow to be consistent with His will. In these verses, I see the need to grow in our prayer life and in our Bible study, for these are the tools needed to search for understanding.

Daniel 10:18-19 ESV
“Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me.  And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”

Greatly loved by whom? Those who submit their life to the authority of Christ are greatly loved by God. What does this love mean? It means that we need not fear. It means that we have a peace surpassing understanding. It means we are strong and can have good courage for the touch of the Lord God in our life revives and strengthens us. How precious is His saving grace!

Daniel 11:32-35 ESV
“… but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.   And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder.  When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.”

Do you know your God? Will you stand firm and take action? Will you make many understand even though you suffer for it from time to time? This is what it means to be wise – to be a child of the King. Here we see that the trouble that comes in our life is intended to refine and purify us. This is what it means to be His! Godly men stand firm and take action as directed by Christ Himself.

Daniel 12:1-3 ESV
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.   And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Is your name found in the Book of Life? Will you awake to everlasting life or shame and everlasting contempt? We saw in Daniel 11:32-35 what it means to be wise. The result of faithfully taking action in the name of Christ in His work of building the Kingdom, is the great honor of shining like the brightness of the sky above. To turn others toward Christ is to become like the stars forever and ever! When was the last time you told someone about the love of Jesus Christ? If you love Christ, you should have a burning desire to tell others of His love.

All of these things are what it means to be a godly man.

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

September 23, 2018

A Worship Liturgy and Word Study: Sin, Forgive

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

August 12, 2018

A Year of Sunday Worship

53 Weeks ago I introduced our Sunday Worship feature, and then 52 weeks ago, we began including a number of articles on the subject of worship which introduced us to a number of new writers. Our first stop was Ascents and while we won’t return to each and every one of our sources as this series continues, this one is no longer active and I wanted to include a third and final article from writer Tim Adams.

Before you start reading, click here to read Psalm 74.

Psalm 74 – How long, O God?

Can there be a more desperate state than to think that the creator of all that exists, the singular infinite power, has cast you aside? To feel as though God has rejected you?  I can think of nothing more desperate than to see myself forgotten by God.  Psalm 74 informs us how to respond when those thoughts overtake us, and we find ourselves full of despair—feeling useless.

I struggle with the 74th Psalm; particularly, with phrases such as “…why have you rejected us forever?” or, “remember your congregation which you have purchased”.  Does God reject His own?  Does God “need” us to remind Him of His promises? Does God forget?  These notions seem to challenge what we know to be God’s divine attributes, and what we see as absolute Biblical certainties.  Certainly, the psalmist cannot be affirming these ideas, but there is no question that he is struggling with feelings of abandonment by God, and those feelings can be consuming.

In this prayer, I see four stages that the psalmist goes through in his despair.  In the first three verses, he expresses to God his feelings of abandonment—feeling that God has forgotten him.  He feels that God has forgotten His promises to His people.  Even though we know that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20, John 14:16, Heb. 13:5), there are times in our lives when we don’t feel the closeness of God.  There are times when it seems like our prayers bounce off the ceiling right back down on us, never to find the ear of our Creator.  I have actually prayed, “Dear God, I don’t know what to say and I don’t feel like you’re listening… amen.”  I’m not proud of it, but I’ve said it.

In the second stage, vs. 4-10, Asaph recounts the circumstances God’s people find themselves in. Their enemies have taken over the sacred meetings of God’s people and arrogantly “roared” in defiance of God.  They have burned the sanctuary to the ground, and there is no one to speak for the Lord (v.9) to tell them when this time of tribulation will end.  So, the psalmist asks again, “How long, O God?”.  Certainly, God doesn’t need me to tell Him what’s going on.  He knows better than I.  But, honestly and humbly taking stock of my troubles helps me to acknowledge that He is my only hope for deliverance.

The third stage is praise (vs. 12-17), and this is also one I tend to miss in my prayers.  It’s not that I don’t tell God how great, how powerful, and how marvelous He is.  But, far too often, those are just words I’m obliged to say.  The fact is, praise is hard when life is at its low points and God feels far away.  The importance of Asaph’s praise is that it not only ascribes God’s worth, but it also serves to remind Asaph who he’s talking to.  It renews his awe, and strengthens his faith.  It prepares his heart for the fourth phase of the prayer.  He knows that His Lord and Savior can, and will, deliver and care for His chosen people.

In the fourth and final phase, Asaph tells God precisely what he desires Him to do.  With confidence and faith, he petitions God to remember His people and avenge His holy name.  Asaph’s request is not only for the oppressed nation, but also for God’s glory.  Again, God doesn’t need our insight, our wisdom, or our perspective on what needs to be done.  Nor does he need our permission to do what He has promised.  The need, rather, is ours.  We need to remind ourselves of what is true, what is honorable, what is righteous, pure, and so on (Phil. 4:8).  It is then that …the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4:7).

Something that needs to be noted is that when the psalm ends, there’s no indication that the trials are soon to be over.  There’s no indication that Asaph “feels” any better about the circumstances he and the nation are in.  The fact is, feelings can deceive us, and distract us from what is true about God’s character.  Let’s not forget that God wants the best for us, and only He knows exactly what that is.

He will always bring about His perfect will, and even though His will may be hard, He is always a good Father who hears and cares for His children.

Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child

“Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Kevin Stokes & Tony Wood,
©1995 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Songs 

 

July 8, 2018

A Tower to Run To

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Beautiful Spirit is designed to encourage women to apply the truths of living a Spirit-filled life. It was founded in 2006 as a print magazine, reaching women around the globe. In the fall of 2017, it moved from the print magazine to a blog. Click the title below to read at source and see images, and then visit the rest of their site.

Refuge in the Names of God

Written by Sarah Hudson. Sarah and her husband, Todd, live in Vienna, Austria.

When we moved into the little house at the edge of the Vienna Woods, I had no idea what lay beyond our doorstep. As the kids and I ventured up a path through the trees, I saw the tower. It was tall and rather narrow with concrete walls, edged with stone work, curving upward in strength. There was no visible door from the path, and I figured it had been used for water or even a lookout tower a hundred years ago. Now it stood like a surprise in a modern setting, surrounded by trees with a nearby water pump and a picnic table.

Not long after we had moved to that house on “Pötzleinsdorfer Höhe,” one of my dear friends encouraged me to study the names of God. My friend and I developed a sweet bond as we prayed the names of God for each other and claimed them for our various burdens. Soon the “hidden tower in the woods” became my special place to run to when my spirit was overwhelmed. Although I couldn’t enter it, it was my symbol of Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous man runs into it and is safe.” There in the woods, I could cry to my God El Roi*, who sees all my struggles and all my exhausted efforts. There I could beg for Jehovah Rapha to bring His healing to the brokenness and hurting. There I could meet with my El Shaddai when I wanted to quit, and He would give His grace and fruitfulness. As I saw my kids and church folks wrestling in life’s battles, I would beg for Jehovah Nissi to proclaim His victory and work His miracle. As I grew weary in my own battles with besetting sins, I would reach for Jehovah Tsidkenu to cover me with His robes of righteousness.

“Finding Him is not just a flat surface that has ‘God’ written on it. Rather it is like opening the cover to an ocean of immeasurable depth and comfort. As our Redeemer, He brings beauty from the ugliness of this fallen world.”

We moved to an apartment about 3½ years ago. I no longer visit that strong tower in the Vienna Woods, yet I continue to run headlong to the strong tower of His name. Discovering the many facets of His names has enriched my Christian journey beyond description. My prayer life has been strengthened as I plead to Him using the specific names He has revealed in His Word.

Have you ever noticed how the apostles pray in Acts 4? After being arrested and threatened, they prayed to their sovereign God for increased boldness—not less persecution. They recognized that He is El Elyon, our sovereign God. How far I have drifted from that example! Have you ever found yourself treating this sovereign God like a giant heavenly vending machine at a church prayer meeting or even in your own private prayer time? While reading about hardships in 1 Thessalonians 3 (ESV translation) I was struck again by the phrase “you are destined for this.”  We will have hardships—that’s what happens to the followers of Jesus. And of course, our Father wants us to cry to Him in our hardships. However, I find myself at such rest as I cry to Him with a deeper understanding of Who He is. This hardship is not an end but a means. It is but for a moment; but it is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison. Suffering is never wasted. I cannot escape the wonder of finding God—in all His names, as my strong tower—because of the afflictions that have sent me running to Him as my refuge. My prayers have begun to shift from merely asking that He deliver and heal, to asking that I find Him in the hurting. And finding Him is not just a flat surface that has “God” written on it. Rather it is like opening the cover to an ocean of immeasurable depth and comfort. As our Redeemer, He brings beauty from the ugliness of this fallen world.

For many, many years, my friend had asked that I would make a calligraphy for her that reflected the refuge we had found in the names of our God. I am not a professional artist, nor do I have a huge overflow of time for such a project, so I put her off year after year. Finally, after a very challenging 2017, I tackled the project. I needed that meditation time, and the art was a wonderful “brain therapy” for me in the middle of the whirl of life and ministry. Of course, the result is more of a “heart work” than an art work—but a deep reminder of all we have in our God. I no longer have a tower just beyond my front door; yet the door to the tower of His name is always accessible. What safety and rest I find there, as I seek refuge in His names.

[click the article title above to see the calligraphy]


*El Roi: The God who sees
Jehovah Rapha: The God who heals
El Shaddai: Lord God Almighty
Jehovah Nissi: The Lord, my Banner
Jehovah Tsidkenu: The Lord our Righteousness
El Elyon: The Most High God

 

May 5, 2018

Don’t Ask God for Patience!

Once again we’re back with Elsie Montgomery who, as I mentioned previously, is one of the most faithful devotional writers I’ve encountered online. Click the title below to read this on her blog, Practical Faith.

Be careful what you pray for!

Many of my friends who have small children complain that they need patience. Those who know the Scriptures often say, “Do not pray for patience” because we know how God develops it from this verse:

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience . . .” (Romans 5:3, KJV)

Praying for patience (or persevering endurance) is asking for trouble! James also wrote that we need to be joyful in trials because this is how we become fully mature — and patient. No wonder I’ve often heard, “Be careful what you pray for!”

From personal experience, I have another example. This one is asking God to reveal what stands in the way of being more like Jesus. I will pray that prayer, but I also know that I need to duck after praying it. He answers quickly and the truth is often painful. This indicates that my heart is not quite as contrite as God wants it to be. Instead of wanting to hide, I need to always be glad that God is dealing with my sin. Not only that, this is the attitude to have. With this willingness to see me sin, I know God is with me . . .

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

Contrite’ comes from an English word that means bruised, feeling and showing sorrow for sin or shortcomings. It means the same in Hebrew and is associated with repentance. At times I’ve identified annoyingly over-confident people as having a need for brokenness. I’m often in that place myself. Unless there is brokenness and a contrite heart, I am in a state of trying to do things myself without relying on God.

Yesterday was filled with examples. Sigh. It was one of those days where I realized God is teaching me to go to Him for help and wisdom for even those tasks that I’ve done all my life without prayer or faith. Even knowing what was going on wasn’t much comfort. I was impatient with me instead of seeking the Lord. Finally, in the late afternoon my prayers of ‘help me’ started to go up and God showed me that this was His intention as I struggled. I just need to trust Him with everything, even the simple stuff.

Tozer writes today of people who only pray for revival when they feel weak and unable, when they deeply desire it. Sometimes those prayers are prompted by corruption in our society, but they ought to be the prayer of those whose hearts are broken over their own sin. I cannot speak for others or motivate them to seek God, only myself. At the same time, I know the cost and challenge of revival. When I pray for it, do I really want it?

Tozer says, “It may be said without qualification that every man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be.” That is true, yet I cannot make Him fill me. I can only block Him, turn Him aside, say NO to the voice of God.

What kind of person would I be if I was more cooperative? Perhaps that is the problem. I’ve a notion of how a revived Christian would act, and what changes could happen. Revival seems to involve more change, more unselfishly directed energy, and a deeper trust that I can imagine myself having. This is one more situation where I am careful what I pray for!

^^^^^^^^

Lord Jesus, when You ask me to trust You and I simply forget, or forge ahead thinking I can do things apart from total reliance on You, it reveals my need for a more contrite heart, a lowly spirit, a greater filling by Your Spirit. When I feel weak and unable and still refuse to pray, my need for those things intensifies. When I would rather sleep than pray, waste time than follow Your leading, I learn that I’m not even close to the trusting, revived person that You want me to be.

May 4, 2018

Prayer: Keep it Private, Keep it Concise

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NASB Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. … 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

A year ago we were first introduced to a devotional blog called Comfort and Challenge. I really like the format and writing here, so in addition to clicking the title below, take a moment to see what God might speak to you through some of the other devotions.

Keep it in the Closet

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Leviticus 16:1-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18


Other than during a tornado watch, when is the last time any of us prayed in a closet? Most of us would probably answer: “Never.” Yet that is exactly what Christ advised his disciples to do: “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Most translations use the word “room” but the Greek is closer to “inner room” – or closet. Of course Christ’s point was not the architecture, but the privacy. Even in Christ’s time, public prayer was often more a bid for the admiration of people, rather than communion with God.

We’ve all heard prayers that sound like the person praying was being paid by the word. Christ tells to pray privately, and not heap on words as if desperately trying to tip some divine scale. Ideally prayer is not a monologue, so it needs a lot of silent time to leave room for God.

When Christ says those who pray or give alms in a public manner have already received their reward, he is commenting on motive. People who make a show of piety in order to win admiration have their reward when someone notices, but not beyond.

On the other hand, going too far the other way and making a show of hiding our deeds is still missing the point. People seeking a relationship with God pray or fast only as an expression of their love for God, and attention (or its lack) doesn’t matter. God isn’t a trophy wife, so Christ teaches us to behave in ways that don’t sully the relationship by making it about other people’s opinions.

From the time we are assigned our first 200-word essay, we are taught the number of words we use is important. One of the toughest lessons for any professional writer is to cut, and cut again, until only meaningful words remain. Perhaps this is why writer Anne LaMott’s two favorite prayers are: “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Comfort: God knows what we need before we speak.

Challenge: Find an isolated place to pray.

Prayer: Compassionate God: help me. Thank you.

Discussion: What do you feel is the role of public prayer?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

March 18, 2018

Your Voice Should Be Recognized in Heaven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today’s devotional is from the Prevailing Family Network site, based in Lagos, Nigeria, Africa. It was slightly edited for flow. Click the title below to read at source:

Personal Praise

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. – Psalm 103, NIV

I just want to make two points points in this message.

The first point is this: It is important we understand that our worship to God is personal, God sees us as individuals in the place of worship. Each of us is expected to come to a point God will say, ‘That’s James worshiping… oh, Johnson is praying now… that’s Jane praising me’ in other words, your voice should be recognized in heaven.

Sometimes we think like how can God have my time when there are billions of people in the world? Of course He does have time for each of us, in a church of one million members in attendance God recognizes the voice of each one, the story of Cain and Abel confirms what I am sharing here. It is important you realize that as we gather to worship or worship personally God is waiting to hear your voice.

The second point is this: It is important you realize and acknowledge what God has done for you. Don’t allow the thought of the things God has not done overwhelm your heart to the point that you forget His goodness; rather thinking of His goodness will give you reasons to bless the Lord.

The psalmist considered this absolutely important so he spoke to his soul, ‘Bless the Lord, o my soul‘ he enumerated good great things God has done for him. God has been good to everyone include you, no matter what you’re going through now, if you think deeply you will realize the goodness of the Lord.

I know you still have questions to ask God, questions like; why am I going through this? Why me? In the midst of your challenges and trials God is still good, and as you worship Him continually, He is committed to walking you out of the tempest storms.

God bless you, do have a praise-ful week.

PRAYER.
* Lord whatever will make you reject my praise please remove it.
* Your praise will not depart from my mouth.


We have two worship songs that were suggested by today’s reading. The first one was just presented here three weeks ago, but fits so well we’re repeating it with a slightly remixed version. The next one appears for the first time.

March 10, 2018

Encouraged and Satisfied

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Elsie Montgomery is one of the most faithful devotional writers I encounter when preparing these articles to share with you. She’s now in her 12th year of writing and this is her 14th article here at C201. Click the title below and read it at her blog, Practical Faith.

Content with God’s plan?

God arranges devotional readings to fit whatever is going on in my life. I don’t know how He does that but am so thankful for it. Some days I need correction or a rebuke. He knows and does it. Some days I need something new to challenge me. He does that too. Some days I need to be encouraged and He always knows what to say, both from the Scriptures and from A.W. Tozer’s refreshing perspectives.

My main function in the Body of Christ is prayer. I used to teach and be more involved with other people. Now I am still with people, yet my role has changed from talking and teaching to observation and intercession. God is teaching me to pray as I listen to the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful thing, yet at times I feel disconnected. I sometimes wonder if this is all He wants.

Tozer says that many ordinary folks may have nothing to recommend them but a deep devotion to the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they unconsciously display. The Lord says to me, “This is where you fit.”

Then Tozer goes on. He says the church could not carry on without these people. Some of them are the first to come forward when work is required. My health spoils this, but then he says some are the last to go home when there is prayer needed. The way I see it, prayer is always needed. Tozer says I might not be known outside of the local church because faithfulness and goodness are rarely newsworthy, but people like this are a benediction wherever they go.

I am encouraged. Being great might produce admiration in carnal people but God helps me be content to walk with Him in the fullness of His Spirit that I might pray His will and be satisfied that this is a relatively hidden ministry. He also encourages me in small ways that far out-weigh any accolades. For instance, in the past month He put on the hearts of three children, a three-year-old girl, a boy of about six and a girl of about four to make cards for me. One said, “We hope you are feeling better. I love you.” The boy’s said, “I pray that you are not afraid because God is with you.” Last week, I was blessed by a card with hearts and handprints. Her mother said it was totally the child’s idea to make it for me.

Today’s verses are about what comes from the heart. The children’s cards tell me of their openness to the Holy Spirit and as a result are blessing others. The devotional does that too. Those verses begin with Jesus’ rebuke to the hypocrisy of religious leaders:

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34–37)

Those children leave a fragrance of Christ that lingers in my heart. I want to be like them. God assures me that in praying for them and for others, this role in His kingdom has great value. He hears my heart, puts blessing into the hearts that listen to Him, even the hearts of “the least of these” so that they become a blessing to others, even to me. There is great joy in being loved by little people who hardly know me. Imagine the joy in the heart of Jesus when those who know Him express their love by obedience and by loving others.

^^^^^^^^^
Dear Lord Jesus, Tozer ends with this: “Come unto God, unite yourself to God, and the doing power you have is infinite!” You have encouraged me. Prayer is sometimes a delight, yet also at times very hard work. It is spiritual warfare for the enemy wants to stop me, but also is an unimaginable link to You — and it sometimes results in great surprises.

March 5, 2018

Vertical Devotionals

There’s a story here. My other blog runs a feature every week where we do a news and opinion roundup called Wednesday Link List. This week, we’re running edition #400, so we went looking to find #1. We located it in early January, 2010, and decided to try the links. One of them was to a blog called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. There we found he has continued to be faithfully writing ever since, even though we’d lost contact over the years.

So we emailed him (which we don’t usually do) and told him how it all came about and asked if we could use his material here at C201 and asked him to select a few pieces. Today we present you with two of them which are vertical in orientation, in other words, prayer-like in their composition. He describes his process as, “Basically, my blogs are taken from my journal, typed just as I have written them. I open with a short prayer and then read a passage of scripture. After that I usually write whatever I feel the Lord saying to me about the passage.” Click the titles to read at source.

I Have a Tree

Father, thank You for getting me up this morning. It was very tempting to remain in bed but I cannot, my spiritual fitness suffers if I do not take time to regularly meet with You. Thank You for caring so much about my spiritual health, not just this morning but for everything You have done so I can find salvation in You.

20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.

1 Timothy 6:20-21

I would ask, Lord that you would help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Please give me the strength and the courage and the wisdom and the love to proclaim Your Good News to everyone I can.

Our world is replete with “godless, foolish” notions and there is so much banter back and forth. Help me to invest my time, thoughts and efforts wisely – putting my efforts into things worthy of eternity and Your kingdom.

In my mind’s eye, I see an orchard. I have my tree and everyone else has a tree, too. Each of our trees bears a regular harvest and that harvest is impacted by those things with which we feed and nurture our tree. We water and fertilize our trees but we can also graft in branches from other trees as well. All of these contribute to the kind of fruit we will glean from our trees and for that matter, the kind of fruit others will glean as well from our trees.

Lord, my tree is a gift from You – it is my life. I have done good and bad things to my tree but it is what it is. I have freely chosen to do with it as I will. First of all, I am grateful that I have given my tree back to You. You know what is best for its growth. You have trimmed out dead and diseased patches. You have grafted in branches that strengthen me and help me to produce better fruit. I still, quite often, have to interject things that hinder my growth. But You are patient and help me little by little rid them from my life. Lord, help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Help me to be very careful with what I nurture my tree. My greatest desire is for the Master Gardener to use my tree as He sees fit and that its fruit will nourish others for years to come.

Swept Up into Your Arms

When I call You, Father, that denotes that I am Your child…and there is no better place to be. Life is a big thing. It is full of good things. It is full of bad things. As a child needs a parent to navigate through all the good and the bad in life, I need You.

Prior to writing this morning, I have already processed many things, good and bad. I’ve read of people’s love for each other, the joy of welcoming children into this world and the anticipation of the same. I’ve also read of people’s disregard for the preciousness of life and the audacity they have of expressing that mentality to others…and unfortunately the pain that such words can bring.

As I sit here, I need You Father. Not to just to hold my hand or to pat me on the head but I feel the need to be swept up into Your arms and to bury my face in Your strong shoulder. To be held tight. To feel Your strength…and Your love…Your understanding…Your comfort. Those are the things we so often need. These are the things we crave.

So many of us go through life and we never experience these things. The last part of James 4:2 states,

“You do not have because you do not ask God.”

Father, I am asking and I want to encourage others to ask, as well. You are willing and You are more than able. You can meet every single one of our needs. You can strengthen us for the paths we must tread. And much of that strength is in knowing that You are by our side. May we never forget what a great and awesome Father we have. Amen.

February 22, 2018

Great Expectations

by Clarke Dixon

We are sometimes quite clear in what we want God to do for us. We have clear expectations of a long life, a great life. We expect to not suffer. We expect God to work in power on our behalf. We expect our team to win. We forge ahead with our lives and expect that God will bless our agendas.

Expectations lay at the heart of what is known as Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. Before the Triumphal Entry there were certain expectations of Jesus. The sick could expect to be healed. The curious could expect great teaching. The religious leaders could expect Jesus to say or do something blasphemous. All theses expectations were based on what Jesus had being doing. But at this point, there are not the kind of expectations that come with being a Messiah. Yes, Peter confessed Jesus as being the Messiah in Mark chapter 8, but Jesus told the disciples to keep quite quiet about that. The public at large were generally not thinking that Jesus could be the Messiah, but some thought he might be “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8:28.

However, all that would change at the Triumphal Entry. In entering Jerusalem the way he did, Jesus was in effect saying “I am the Messiah.” The timing was right, for it was Passover, the celebration of freedom. What better time for a Messiah to show up and bring freedom. But it was the way Jesus entered Jerusalem that really sent the message. Consider Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

This corresponds with how the Triumphal Entry happened.

People had great expectations of the Messiah, which of course now meant great expectations of Jesus. These expectations can be summed up by the question of the disciples in Acts 1:6: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”. People were expecting a free kingdom of Israel. They were expecting the Messiah to lead them to military and political victory taking them back to the glory days under King David. This meant freedom from Rome.

By the end of the week, things had changed. Jesus is a captive rather than captivating. He is beaten up. He is insulted and mocked yet puts on no show of force. If he were truly the Messiah, God could be expected to do something grand at some point. There is still a glimmer of hope, on the part of at least one man, that God would pull through and Jesus would be shown to be His Messiah:

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Mark 15:34-36

But by the end of the day there was no rescue, of either Jesus from the Roman cross, or Israel from Rome. There was no shock and awe, just a dead man. According to then current expectations, a dead Messiah was a failed messiah, which was no Messiah at all!

By dying Jesus failed to live up to the expectations aroused by His Triumphal Entry.

Or so it seemed.

As we look at how Jesus failed the expectations of the people, we will learn something that will help us when we think God has failed ours.

First, we can expect God to exceed our expectations. What Jesus accomplished through his death was actually something far greater than what the people expected. Here is what happens when Elijah is a no show and there is no rescue:

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:37-38

Elijah didn’t show up, but there was a rescue! Something remarkable did happen which is symbolized by the tearing of the temple curtain, a symbol of separation from God. In Jesus, God dealt with that separation. No one was expecting that! People were expecting the Messiah to be like King David, ensuring liberation from surrounding enemies. Jesus turned out to be King God, with liberation from the true enemies; sin and death, the things that separate us from God.

When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, trust God to actually exceed them.
We expect longer life, God offers eternal life. We expect God to work in power, He works in love and power. Expect God to exceed your expectations.

Secondly, our expectations need to match reality. The expectations of the people were not realistic in the first place. While they expected a military victory through the Messiah, they really ought to have expected judgement. This is why Jesus had a message of repentance from the beginning. This is why Jesus cursed the fig tree on the day following the Triumphal Entry, as an object lesson of judgement. When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, be sure your expectations are realistic.

Seven years ago I traded in a Triumph Sprint motorcycle with 123 horsepower for a Honda CBR125R which has 13. I remember taking such a Honda for a test ride and the parting words of the salesman: “Prepare to be underwhelmed”. If I were expecting the feeling of power, then yes, I would be disappointed. But what I expected was a frugal riding experience. My expectations matched reality and I was not disappointed. Do our expectations of God match reality? Do our expectations match His promises? Has God promised what we have been expecting?

Expect, not what you want, but what God promises. And expect God to exceed your expectations.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based.

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January 13, 2018

Bold, Protocol-Defying Prayers

NIV Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is a short excerpt from Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It was today’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway.

Crazy Prayers, Crazy Faith

This woman is driving me crazy. – Luke 18:5

I love the parable of the persistent widow. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think persistent is a nice word for crazy. This woman is crazy, but when the cause is a righteous one, it’s a holy crazy!

We aren’t told what injustice took place, but she was on a mission. Maybe her son was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe the man who molested her daughter was still on the streets. We don’t know for sure. But whatever it was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the judge knew it. The judge knew she would circle his house until the day she got justice or the day she died. The judge knew there was no quit in the crazy woman.

Does the Judge know that about you? How desperate are you for the blessing, the breakthrough, the miracle? Desperate enough to pray through the night? How many times are you willing to circle the promise? Until the day you die? How long will you knock on the door of opportunity? Until your knuckles are raw? Until you knock the door down?

The persistent widow’s methodology was unorthodox. She could have, and technically should have, waited for her day in court. Going to the personal residence of the judge crossed a professional line. I’m almost surprised the judge didn’t file a restraining order against her. But this reveals something about the nature of God. God couldn’t care less about protocol. If He did, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees as His disciples. But that isn’t who Jesus honored.

Jesus honored the prostitute who crashed a party at a Pharisee’s home to anoint His feet. Jesus honored the tax collector who climbed a tree in his three-piece suit just to get a glimpse of Him. Jesus honored the four friends who cut in line and cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to help their friend. And in this parable, Jesus honored the crazy woman who drove a judge crazy because she wouldn’t stop knocking.

The common denominator in each of these stories is crazy faith. People took desperate measures to get to God, and God honored them for it. Nothing has changed.

God is still honoring spiritual desperadoes who crash parties and climb trees.

God is still honoring those who defy protocol with their bold prayers. God is still honoring those who pray with audacity and tenacity. And the crazy woman is selected as the gold standard when it comes to praying hard. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary. It has more to do with what we do than what we say.

Don’t just pray about it; act on it.

There are defining moments in life when we need to prove to God that we mean business – and I don’t mean “business as usual.” In fact, it’s only when “business as usual” goes out of business that we’re in business – the Father’s business. That’s when we’re on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough…

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