Christianity 201

July 4, 2021

Prayer Scripture Medley

With our U.S. readers pre-occupied today with their big national holiday, I thought we’d keep today’s devotional shorter.

If you’re open to it, sometimes people who have left us can still speak to us. Before you panic as to what that means, let me explain. Although it’s been 18 years since my father died, I often find his words speaking to me through notes left in various books and notebooks. When my son asked if I had a copy of Practice of the Presence of God, I found a two-in one edition containing With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, with these scripture references tucked inside, which probably are verses on which Murray based his text.

Today I share them with you.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
 – Luke 11:1 NIV

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
 – John 4:23,24 NLT

But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
– Matthew 6:6 CSB

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
 – Matthew 6:9 ESV

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
– Matthew 7:7,8 NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
– James 4:3 NLT

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being 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!
– Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV

Give us day by day our daily bread.
– Luke 11:13 KJV

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
– Mark 10:51 NLT

Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for —believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
-Mark 11:24 CSB

Next to each verse some key words were highlighted. I want to share these as a separate list, extrapolating a little from the notes:

  1. Ask God to help teach you to pray
  2. Pray in spirit and in truth
  3. Don’t make your prayers a public spectacle, pray in secret and let God provide the answer in public
  4. Pray to God as a father and use the principles from what we call The Lord’s Prayer as a guide
  5. You only get what you’ve asked for. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.
  6. God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give you good gifts.
  7. At the absolute minimum, pray daily and ask God to meet daily needs; don’t take that provision for granted.
  8. Check your motives. Ask with right intentions.
  9. Prayer should be definite. Make your requests specific where possible.
  10. Pray with faith anticipating an answer.

This is based on my father’s notes. I believe that Murray has twelve major points or lessons and I encourage you to read the book, is available everywhere and doesn’t take long to read.

 

June 30, 2021

Prayer: Have You Reached the Stage of Saying “What’s the Point?”

Today we have two alternative articles for you, but this one, while perhaps seeming elementary to some of you, is a good review and as we reach the end of the month and the halfway point in the year; I sense someone needs to read this.

The U.K. blog author, who we’re featuring for the first time, simply goes by “The Godly Lady” and the blog has the title, Christian Lady After God’s Own Heart. Click the header below to read at source, and then explore!

What’s the use of praying?

Ever found yourself in a place where you feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, downhearted, and feel a little bitter towards God? Well I have, and I’m sure that several other Christians have also felt this way too. It’s not abnormal to express emotions of annoyance over why God let a specific circumstance, pan out the way it did. My encouragement to you today is that you’re not alone in your feelings of frustration, although our experiences are different we all encounter pain, joy, and happiness in our lives.

So what’s the use in praying or striving to live a life of righteousness? If God has already determined my future, and there’s no changing what has been predetermined, why bother to pray, and pursue holiness? I can confirm that I’ve asked myself these questions, and God has recently brought two major points to my attention.

First point being an analogy. I know that my parents would do whatever they can to help me live a great and fulfilling life, and I’m also aware that if I desire something within their means to obtain, they will not hesitate to give me that thing. Now just because I know my parents will help support me doesn’t mean that I should stop speaking with them altogether, because they’ve done their job as my earthly guardians. What my parents desire most, is to have a deep, loving, and meaningful relationship with me. And we all know that a key ingredient to maintaining a good relationship is GOOD COMMUNICATION.

Now even if an answer to prayer seems delayed, it doesn’t mean that we should stop praying to God, because God desires intimacy with us, and wants us to pour out our hearts to Him. He desires for us to speak with Him! We mustn’t forget that prayer is a form of communication. Be honest and real with God, and pour out all your complaints before Him. God cares about everything that bothers your mind, no matter how small or big your concerns may be, God cares! So what’s the use in praying? It’s about building a better relationship with God, and enhancing our level of closeness with Him.

Psalm 27:8 ~ My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Psalm 55:22 ~ “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Secondly one should not do good (pursue to live righteously) in order to get from God, or to be seen by others. Remember God freely gives to us, not based upon our works or performance, but simply because that’s part of His loving nature! We should pursue to live godly lives, and mustn’t give up on doing good, purely because of our love for The Lord. The great act of love which God showed us through His death on Calvary, should motivate us to love Him through our actions, because He first loved us!

Galatians 6:9 ~ “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

So let us not give up on praying, and let’s not throw in the towel because of challenging circumstances. And let us not forget that when the going gets tough, we should strive to use it as an opportunity to build a better relationship with God!

Luke 18:1 ~ “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.”


Bonus items for today:

Today we have two suggested articles. These are opinion pieces, not Bible studies, but ones we would carry here if the format were different.

The first is by Michael Frost and just published today, If Jesus Planted a Church, What Would it Look Like? Highly recommended.

The other is by Chris Tiegreen and deals with the online disputes often carried out in the name of doctrinal purity; Disagreement or Heresy?

Both of these are respected Christian authors. Enjoy.

June 29, 2021

Unanswered Prayer for Healing and God’s Sovereignty

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 11:33

Our daily search for good devotional studies takes us back to previously featured writers, and others who, as with today’s piece, we are discovering for the first time. Author and speaker Reagan K. Reynolds lives in North Carolina (USA) has been blogging at her eponymous site since April, 2015. As always, support these writers by reading their work at the source webpages; just click the header which follows.

Wrestling with The Sovereignty of God in Delayed Healing

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:26-29

She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”

My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus.

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”

The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.

As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.

As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.

God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.

Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.

And then another story from scripture came to my mind.

Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord.  He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?

In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).

Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance.

God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.

Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.

Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be?

When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade.

I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result.

“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is

“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”

One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…

He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is good. (Mark 10:18)
He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)
He is loving. (1 John 4:19)
He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31_
He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)
He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)
He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)
He is powerful. (Job 26:14)
He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
He is humble. (Philippians 2:8)
He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)
He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)
He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)
He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)
He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)

He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).

Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?

My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.

Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)

June 24, 2021

Feeling Defeated?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Thinking Through 1st John 5:3-5

Do you ever get that defeated feeling? Like you are fighting a losing battle or are on the losing side? It might be your health or a relationship gone sour. It might be your parenting skills or your relationship with God. We try to be Christlike and loving, but there we go again with a rather unloving attitude, words, or actions. Or there we go again, being inpatient or lacking in gentleness or self-control. Or there we go again, another drink, another look. We are losing the battle, again.

We feel defeated, yet John says that we are conquerors!

Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:5 (NRSV)

Perhaps we think that John is thinking of the Christians in his day and wonder if only we could be like those earliest Christians, going from victory to victory in Jesus! But were they going from victory to victory in life and faith?

The earliest Christians would have have sometimes felt like they were fighting a losing battle.

We can think of Paul never being delivered from his “thorn in the flesh.” We can think of how the family of James, the brother of John, would have felt when their loved one was executed while Peter was miraculously rescued by an angel. You win some and you lose some. Some battles were indeed lost.

While there were very positive moments and very good things happening among the young Christian communities, there were reasons these earliest Jesus followers would have felt defeated collectively.

They would have felt like they were losing the battle for the hearts and minds of God’s people, the Jews, who had a great hope that God would come and intervene on behalf of His people. God did, through Jesus. But the good news largely fell on deaf ears.

They were also losing the battle for the hearts and minds of non-Jews in the Roman world. For example, why didn’t Paul and the other apostles ever speak out directly against slavery in their letters? Well, what would be the point? Who would have listened?

Paul did tell the Christ followers that their relationships could and should be different, as we read, for example, in his letter to Philemon. The way of Jesus was working its way into all relationships, but mainly relationships within the community of Christians where there “is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

However, among those calling the shots in society, the Christians were just a small insignificant sect. They were like an insect the authorities would try to squash time and again. Like us, they experienced victories, and crushing defeats. The winds of change were indeed blowing, but at times the battle would have seemed to be lost. We are not alone if we sometimes feel like we are fighting a losing battle and not on the winning team.

Yet John calls us conquerors. John, who would have seen the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the wins and the losses, has the audacity to call us conquerors. How so?

And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

1 John 5:3-4 (NRSV)

Notice how that victory is described by John as “our faith.”

The one who conquers is not the one who figures out how to win every battle by their own efforts, but the one who trusts Jesus to win the war. And Jesus has won the war.

The one who claimed to be the Messiah, the rightful king, seemed to be dispatched easily by the craftiness of the Jewish authorities combined with the power of the occupying Roman authorities. The disciples would have felt the sting of defeat in that moment. But notice what Jesus said:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:23-24 (NRSV)

Sure they killed Jesus, but he rose from the dead. This was no defeat, but victory.

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:24-26 (NRSV)

We are conquerors, not through our abilities, but through faith in the ability of Jesus to win the war against sin, evil, and death.

Faith kept the earliest Christians going when they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Faith has kept Christians throughout the centuries going despite often losing battles. Faith keeps Christians around the world today going when they seem to be fighting a losing battle against persecution. Faith keeps us moving forward no matter what.

If we feel like we are fighting a losing a battle, perhaps we are. Not every battle will be won. But we have faith that Jesus has won the war.

There are battles ahead that will be lost. For some, that ends up not being the last drink, the last time watching pornography, or the last time losing one’s temper. Some, despite their belief in Jesus and the support of Christian friends, will lose the battle to stay alive. Battles are fought, and sadly, sometimes lost.

We see the struggle that prayer does not seem to touch. We see the disease that takes a life. Some battles will indeed be lost and we will feel defeated. The battle may indeed be lost, but the war is won. That makes us victors in Christ.

When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NRSV)

Keep the faith!


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this online worship expression.

June 21, 2021

Forget That You’ve Heard the Story Before

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today’s devotional by Charles Stanley is an excerpt of a book excerpt, from his new release, Can You Still Trust God? as published by the website and subscription service Devotions Daily. To read the full excerpt, click the header which follows.

The Power of Perspective

…The problem with studying any familiar passage is that we rarely allow ourselves to feel what the characters must have felt. Why should we? We usually know what happens in the end.

Unfortunately, this familiarity with the Scriptures often robs us of their intended results. It is hard to feel the fear David must have felt when he faced Goliath when we know from the outset that he comes out the victor. We miss the sense of isolation Moses must have felt as he fled Egypt for his life. After all, he ends up a hero. So as you approach this familiar narrative in John 11, try to forget the end of the story. Instead, do your best to put yourself in the shoes, or maybe the sandals, of the people involved. If you read what happens but neglect to consider what must have been felt, you lose some of the richest insights of this story.

“HE WHOM YOU LOVE IS SICK”

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” John 11:1-3

The household of Mary and Martha is one in which Jesus and His disciples had been given hospitality whenever they had been in the area of Judea. Apparently, Lazarus was a wealthy man, and he used his wealth to support the ministry of Christ. The fact that Mary and Martha sent for Jesus as soon as Lazarus became ill is evidence of their faith in His power. No doubt they thought, If Jesus is willing to heal total strangers, certainly He will jump at the opportunity to heal one who has been a friend. But such was not the case.

But when Jesus heard it, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. John 11:4-6

These verses make absolutely no sense, humanly speaking. That is why I love this story, because most adversity makes about as much sense from our perspective. It is clearly stated that Jesus loves this family; then He makes no move to relieve their suffering. I can relate to that.

Whenever the bottom drops out, I go scrambling to the verses in the Bible that remind me of God’s love — yet at times it seems God is unwilling to follow through with any action.

We need to pause here because at this point in the narrative we have our greatest struggles. I am referring to that time between the point we ask God for help and the point at which He does something. It is so easy to read, “He then stayed two days longer.” But the delay was like an eternity for Mary and Martha. The Scripture informs us that they knew the general area and how long it would take Him to make the trip to Bethany. So they waited. And as the hours dragged on, they watched their brother grow weaker and weaker.

Finally the day arrived when, according to the normal traveling time, Jesus should arrive. No doubt they took turns sitting with Lazarus. That way one of them could go out to the road to look for Jesus. I can imagine Mary or Martha asking all the men and women coming from the direction of Perea if they had seen a group of twelve or so men headed that way. As they would shake their heads no, the sisters’ hope burned a little lower. “Why didn’t He come? Maybe He never got the message? Maybe He left Perea without sending word back to us? Where is He? After all we have done for Him, it is the least He could do.” And yet He failed to come when they expected Him.

Lazarus died. Maybe Mary came in early one morning to check on him and found him dead. Perhaps it was in the afternoon when both Mary and Martha were at his side that he breathed his last breath. Whatever the situation, both women felt that hollow, helpless feeling that always accompanies death. It was over. He was gone. Soon their thoughts turned to Jesus, Why didn’t He come? How could He know what we were going through and yet stay away?

These, no doubt, are some of the questions you have asked as you have cried out to God in the midst of the adversity in your life. How can a God of love stand back and watch my friend and his wife suffer and not do anything about it? How can He watch from the balcony of Heaven as women are physically or sexually abused? How can He watch husbands walk out on their wives and children? Does He know what is going on down here?

Once again, this narrative is helpful. Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He knew what Mary and Martha were going through. He knew His friend’s condition was worsening. And He knew the moment Lazarus died:

And after that He said to them [the disciples], “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” John 11:11

Yet He did nothing! Keep in mind, Lazarus was not some guy off the street. He had invited Jesus into his home. Lazarus had expressed faith in Christ and His ministry. He was a good man. He certainly had more faith than most of the other people Jesus had healed. Some of them did not even know who Christ was (John 9). But Jesus was nowhere to be found when Lazarus needed Him most. To add insult to injury, Jesus had the nerve to say to His disciples,

Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.John 11:14-15, emphasis added

Jesus was “glad”? How could He say such a thing? Two of his best friends go through emotional turmoil; another friend dies of an illness; and Jesus says He is glad? What could He have possibly been thinking? What was going through His mind?

My friend, the answer to that question is the key to unlocking the mystery of tragedy in this life. To understand what was going on in the mind of Christ and in the economy of God in a situation like this one is to discover the universal principle that puts together and holds together all of life — both now and for eternity.

Christ had a goal in all this, a goal so important that it was worth the emotional agony Mary and Martha had to endure. It was worth risking the destruction of their faith. It was even worth the death of a faithful friend.

What Jesus, in conjunction with His heavenly Father, had in mind was so incredible that even through the pain surrounding the whole event Jesus could say, “I am glad this has happened.” In other words, “Men, what you are about to see is so fantastic that it is worth the pain and death of My beloved friend.” If they were like us, they probably thought, What could be worth all of this?

“IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE”

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” …And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him… Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”John 11:18-21, John 11:28-29, John 11:32

Mary and Martha, for all their time spent with the Son of God, were still human to the core. They wanted to know one thing: “Jesus, where in the world have You been?” They had no doubt that Jesus could have healed their brother; Martha even indicates that she believes there is still hope (John 11:22). But the fact that He had seemingly ignored their plight had left them confused and frustrated. Why did He delay?

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”John 11:33-36

At this juncture any doubt about Jesus’ love and concern for Lazarus is laid to rest. “Jesus wept.” Yet His overt concern about His friend Lazarus adds another layer of mystery to the story.

If Jesus was so concerned, why did He not come to Lazarus’s aid? Why did He let him die?

Once again we are faced with what appears to be an unsolvable mystery. It becomes apparent that whatever Christ had in mind, whatever He was trying to accomplish, it was worth sacrificing the emotions of the ones He loved as well as His own. Jesus wept when He arrived to find Lazarus dead. Think about it.

His knowledge of the future did not keep Him from identifying with the sorrow of those around Him.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

If anything is clear from this story, it is that some things are so important to God that they are worth interrupting the happiness and health of His children in order to accomplish them. That is an awesome thought…


Learn more about the book at thomasnelson.com

To sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Thomas Nelson. Used by permission.

 

June 16, 2021

God is Always Up to Something!

Do you agree with today’s title? I believe God is always active and orchestrating things behind the scenes, but we often frame this type of discussion in terms of our subjective experience of unanswered prayer(s). Or we dismiss key passages in Isaiah such as the one which follows today as no longer applying to us, or only claimed by Pentecostals and Charismatics with a penchant for signs and wonders.

But the popular worship song Waymaker reminds us,

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working
You never stop, You never stop working

We sing those words on Sunday mornings, but do we believe it? I know my own faith can falter in a season like the one we’ve been through this past year.

Today we’re back with a mash-up of three devotionals from “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Don’t dwell on the past

Isaiah 43:18-20, NIV
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

Forget former things! It will cost you your future to live in the past, and that is a far too expensive a price to pay. If those former things you need to forget were negative it is time to forget and move on. If those former things were positive it is time to give thanks for them and move on to what God has for you next.

Make sure that you spend your life living for what God is doing now, not forever wandering down memory lane; memory lane is great to visit every now and then but it is not where we live! To live there would cost you the ‘weekly rental payments’ of your present and your future…

Trade in your old moments for His new ones

Isaiah 43:16-21, The Message
This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, the God who summons horses and chariots and armies — they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”

…We need to daily resolve that we will not live our lives desiring to be in moments that have passed but rather to be a part of the moment that now is. Ever had a postcard from somewhere real nice that had the classic message written on it, “Wish you were here”? It is great that the sender thought of you, but the truth is you are not there and you will never be there for the sunset captured in the photo on the postcard. But the good news is you can be a part of the “what God is doing” postcard of today.

The Bible and the history books are like catalogues of great moments that happened, that you were neither at or a part of. Plus, you don’t own a Tardis or converted DeLorean time machine, so you cannot be in them. If God had wanted you there then He would have put you there – but the good news is, He had something even better in mind for you. The truth is God wants you alive today, to live for what He is doing today.

These verses say, “Look, I am doing a new thing”. So trade in your desires to be back in a moment that has been and gone for the honour and excitement of being in a moment that, like an artist, God is still painting.

If you “make the trade” then, in the future, when people say, “Did you hear what God did in 2021?”, you will be able to say, “I know because I was there when it happened!” If you keep your heart set on moving with the God who does new things you can say that about every year of the rest of your life, because our God is always doing a new thing somewhere.

Perceive, know and give heed

Isaiah 43:18-19, AMP
Do not [earnestly] remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Concerning the new thing that God is doing and “causing to spring forth”, He asks us to do three things to relate to it:

• Perceive it
• Know it
• Give heed to it

Perceive it

According to the dictionary, to perceive is to “recognize, discern, envision, or understand”. We need to make sure that we are at a point in our daily spirituality that we are able to sense and perceive what God is doing in a person’s life or any given situation.

It would be a shame to miss the wave of something God was doing because our senses, or ability to discern “new things”, were numb – maybe numbed from carnality or distraction. Make sure your “taste buds” for spiritual things are sharp and able to know the flavour of our God doing something new in your day.

We need to know it

Know when God is bringing a change of season. Jesus said to a crowd, mentioned in the Scripture below, that they knew how to discern natural changes like the weather and then He rebuked them for not being able to sense or know when a spiritual change of season was at hand. Let’s make sure we do not fall into the category of the ignorant, but stand with those who can feel the wind of change when it blows.

Luke 12:54, NKJV
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Give heed

Finally, He wants us to give heed to it – another way of putting that would be to be aware of it or live in accordance with it. Let’s make sure we understand when God is doing something new and that we are passionate to be a part of it, and not bound to a previous moment. Choose to live in accordance with what He is doing today and not just what He has done.

May you know God doing something new in your life today.

May 14, 2021

The Gift or the Altar on Which it is Placed?

Matthew 23:19, NLT: “How blind! For which is more important–the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

Two devotional sources for you today; and three readings in total. First…

My investigation into Matthew 23:19 began in March with a devotional from Magnficent Life Ministries which I had bookmarked to return to. They post insightful thoughts on a daily basis from their offices in California. Click the next line to read this at their site.

Which is More Important?

“Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?” Mathew 23:19

Jesus threw a question at the scribes and Pharisees for their misconception about the altar and the gift on the altar. Have you thought about such a question for a moment? Or have you ever related this to your life? If yes, then I would like to invite you to read today’s devotion with full attention. It is a great opportunity to learn who we are and how to present ourselves to God.

The same way the altar is important, so also the gift, but not as much. About ourselves, it means we are the carrier of the altar, and the gift is God’s riches in our possession. When the gifts are presented to God, they might be rejected or accepted not because the gift is bad or good, but the presenter of the gift that serves as the altar’s carrier is more important than the gift itself.

Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”

We can see from the scriptures how God accepted Abel and his offering but rejected Cain and his offering. Genesis 4: (Read the middle verse of today’s devotion Gen. 4:7 as God’s response to Cain). The bible also clarifies this in Romans 12:1, the more we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, the more our relationship with him becomes deeper than before.

Beloved, thousands and millions present their case before God every second, but it has always been rejected. The creator has not found them worthy of acceptance, not to talk of accepting their gifts, because their life does not reflect the true altar, Christ Jesus. Therefore, we must present our body as a living sacrifice for the sake of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own”

Prayer
1. Psalm 19:14-Father, I present my body as a living sacrifice unto you, making it acceptable in thy sight O lord
2. I receive the grace to set priorities towards the weightiest matters of this kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen


I decided to check out one more source for you. BibleRef.com is unique in that in addition to providing commentary on the verse in question, each page displays an overview of the verse context, along with an overview of the whole chapter. You need to click the header that follows to see what I mean.

What does Matthew 23:19 mean?

Jesus has called the scribes and Pharisees blind guides (Matthew 23:16), blind fools (Matthew 23:17), and now simply calls them blind. Their ranking of some oaths as binding and others as non-binding shows their complete lack of understanding about what belongs to God and what it means to swear an oath (Matthew 23:13–15).

Using a traditional scheme of loopholes and technicalities, these religious leaders have declared that swearing by the gold of the temple or swearing by the sacrifice on an altar requires a person to keep their word. In contrast, they say, swearing by the temple or altar themselves is somehow non-binding. Jesus has pointed out that the temple that makes the gold sacred, just as the altar makes the sacrifice sacred. The scribes and Pharisees, of all people, should understand that all these things come from God and belong to God. These supposedly learned men don’t have any basis to declare one sacred and another not.

While not stated directly, this “woe” also underscores Jesus’ prior criticism of using oaths to enhance a promise. Why encourage anyone to take an oath, to swear by something sacred, for any reason? Why not just teach people to keep their plain word when they say “yes” or “no.” Anything more than that, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, comes from evil (Matthew 5:33–37).


Bonus Devotional

I decided to share today’s item from Magnificent Life Ministries with you as well, even though it’s a different topic. I hope you’ll bookmark this site and visit often, or if you want a shorter devotional (than what we do here) for another part of your day, subscribe. Click the header below to read at source.

Contentment!

“Of course, godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6

More is never enough, seeming to be the motto for life in this world. You have seen it and probably felt it too. The world philosophy as related to things is, “If I can afford it, get it; and if I can’t afford it, charge it!” This craving for possessions (especially things we don’t need) has resulted in too many ruined lives, devastated families, and a vulnerable nation.

God has a better idea. He calls His people to godly lifestyles. In this passage, Paul coupled the call to live in godliness with the spirit of contentment. Ultimate satisfaction and sufficiency can only be attained by abiding in Christ. He alone is the all-sufficient One. When godliness and contentment are wedded in the hearts of God’s people, blessings abound. However, godliness without contention is dangerous to our health, happiness, and well-being.

Proverbs 28:25 says, “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper.”

Do not seek what the world has to offer, for it is never enough—and it will never lead to true contentment. All of those things are not real as they were; the devil has just made it seems genuine in people’s sight. Until we recognize that true riches and inheritance are not in this world, humankind might not stop chasing the world and won’t be contended.

Seek the God of heaven, and seek to further His kingdom on earth. Allow Him to develop His character inside you as you find your sufficiency in Him. Focus your attention on the pursuit of the “mystery of godliness” that Paul described (1 Tim. 3:16) rather than on the pursuit of all the “stuff” that the world holds valuable. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He, Himself, has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Prayer:
1. Father, help me truly know who You are and find true contentment in my relationship with You.
2. Psalm 119:36: Oh Lord, “Turn my heart to Your testimonies and not to covetous gain.” in Jesus’ name.

 

May 12, 2021

Responses to Unanswered Prayer(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today a double feature from two authors who are new to us. Discover more by these writers by clicking the individual headers which follow.


Bruce Green writes at A Taste of Grace.

“God Answered Our Prayer!”

God answered our prayer!” we proclaim as someone who has been in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers is brought to better circumstances. We mean well by such a statement. We mean to bring glory to our Father and recognize what He has done. But the truth is, these words can be a poor way of expressing our joy.

Church bulletins, personal prayer lists, and social media catalog those in chronic need. Perhaps it’s an illness or disease, hardship, or simply the effects of living a long life that places people there. Whatever it is, people ask for our prayers and we remember them before our Father. Then someone on our list sees things change for the better and they are taken off the list. Should we thank God for that? Absolutely! Praise Him for what He has done? We’d better! Should we be discerning when going public with such news?  Ahhh . . . this is where we tend to have our problems.

In our eagerness to publicly celebrate what God’s done, we can crush the spirits of the others on our list.  Our “God has answered our prayers,” sounds like we’re saying that He hasn’t answered the prayers of the others (and we mean no such thing).  He has answered the prayers of everyone on the list (though it may not have been the answer they desired). But to deny them this recognition is to isolate them even further and add to their troubles. We should say something like, “God has given us what we asked for,” or similar words. Just as important, we should try to do it in a way that is sensitive to all.

But I suspect there’s a larger issue here.  I think our speech is the way it is because we haven’t fully accepted that God does answer our prayers in regard to the person who remains in chronic need. No one has any trouble understanding that God has answered the prayer of the person who is delivered from their circumstances. And, most will agree that God has delivered the person who didn’t get better and died. But what of the person who remains in difficult circumstances—has God really answered their prayer? For many of us, the answer seems to be “no.” What purpose could God have in a little boy suffering for years with leukemia? How could he be using the elderly woman who has been bedridden for a decade? From our finite human perspective, these are questions we have no answer for.

But our ability to understand God’s purposes isn’t the point. The issue is His sovereignty and power.  Is He able to use the situation and make good come of it?  Yes!  That’s exactly what Paul asserts when he writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).  God can use us in death, in life, and anywhere in between!   We may not be able to fathom how He does this, we may struggle to accept it, or we may pray that it be different, but God is sovereign over all circumstances and situations and can use them all (not just the “good” ones)!  We need to believe this!

Paul follows this with the wonderful salvo of v. 31ff, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”  He then enumerates the possible things we might face and boldly declares that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (v. 39).  What is He saying?  Among other things, he is telling us that we should never interpret the worst of life’s situations (trouble, hardship, sickness, etc.), as meaning that God has left us—He hasn’t!  He won’t!  While we may not understand His purpose in them, we can be absolutely assured that the One who used the death of His only Son to bring salvation to the world can and will bring good out of our darkest circumstances and these circumstances do not have the power to separate us from Him.

We have His word on it!


Kevin Carson is a pastor in Ozark, Missouri.

Grateful for Answered and Unanswered Prayer

Are You Grateful for Unanswered Prayer?

I saw this quote earlier:

I am profoundly grateful that God did not grant me certain things I asked for,
and that he shut certain doors in my face.
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones

It got me thinking… What unanswered prayers am I grateful for?

I have a few. For sake of privacy, I think I won’t mention them all on here. Along the way, I have asked God for certain things that I am for sure grateful He chose not to answer affirmatively. He protected me. Some are even embarrassing upon further reflection.

Then I think of this other category… What about those prayers that went unanswered as part of God’s providential protection for which I have no idea how devastating they would have been to me had they been answered?

I’m not sure how big this category even is! When you pray something, at least for me, I think I know the benefits of the prayer at the time – if God would say, “Yes”. For better or worse, I trust my wisdom in asking. Maybe at times I even ask someone else about a particular request before I ask God about it just to get an additional opinion. But at the end of the day, I typically do not know from what a “No” answer from God has actually spared me. I imagine this category is immense.

I think about some of my bigger prayer requests that went unanswered with a “Yes” and I wonder. What did God know that I didn’t know? I try to learn from this.

Are You Grateful for Answered Prayer?

Again, this actually is a trick question in my mind. Even in the answered prayer category there are multiple levels.

Many, many prayer requests I can say that I am grateful God answered. These include spiritual, familial, circumstantial, and various other requests. I rejoice in many of these answered requests like: My Grandad recently recovered from COVID, God allowing me to get a big buck, and there are many, many more. Protection of the family. On and on these could go.

Here’s the next level. Are there answers to prayer that you received in the affirmative and now regret you ever prayed them?

This category contains all kinds of difficult questions as a believer. God granted our request, but on further reflection, we realize that maybe it was not the wisest thing to ever pray about or for. The difficulty here involves the fact that God’s sovereignty includes both what is prayed for and what we received. At that point, we trust God’s providential care.

It Comes Down to the Heart

At the end of the day, it all comes down to our hears. Are we going to trust God? Will we trust what He specifically does? As well, will we trust what God does that we do not even known He is doing?

To be honest, for so many, trust can be very hard. Yet, we must. Trust. Even when hard – Trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6


“Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.” — Here’s a link to an article we ran in September, 2020 which was a recap of other pieces here which touched on this topic: Click here to read.

January 6, 2021

Breath Prayers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: ,

The author of today’s piece doesn’t actually use the term Breath Prayers, but I know it’s one many of you are familiar with, so I chose it as today’s headline.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that we’ve never included the writing of Lutheran author Gene Veith here. He writes at a Patheos blog called Cranach — you’ll have to read this page to learn why — and has books published with Concordia and Crossway under the fuller name Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

To read December article, you are urged to click the link in the header below.

The Bible’s Super-Short & Always Useful Prayers

When we pray God’s Word back to Him, the Holy Spirit is praying with us and for us.  Praying the Psalms is a profound devotional activity.  But the Bible also has many profound prayers that are extremely short, yet applicable for much of what we need to pray for.  They are so short that they can constantly be in our hearts and on our lips.

I realized this while reading a wonderful Advent devotion by Peter Leithart, in which he reflects on the last prayer in the Bible (Revelation 22:20).  He says this:

The Bible ends with a small Advent liturgy. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” All who hear echo the prayer and say, “Come.” Jesus assures his people, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” The response to that assurance is another prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.” Maranatha—an Aramaic word meaning “Come, Lord”—is the last of the Spirit’s prayers, harmonized by the Bride. Scripture leaves us eager for the Lord’s arrival.

This last prayer of the Bible is the core of the Table Prayer so popular among Lutherans:  “Come, Lord Jesus,/Be Our Guest/And Let Thy Gifts to Us be Blest.”  For a long time after I had become a Lutheran I didn’t think much of this, considering it to be just a child’s prayer.  Later, though, I came to appreciate it and use it for its apocalyptic meaning and for its theme of vocation (God really is present as He gives us our daily bread through all of the vocations involved as we sit around our tables).

But this short prayer from the Bible has wide applicability, and it called to mind a number of others.

Come, Lord Jesus  [Revelation 22:20].  I’ve heard my daughter say this–actually, I realize now, pray this–many times in this trouble-filled year of 2020.  It’s good to pray when we are overcome with how messed up this world is.  We are asking for Christ to come back to end this fallen world of sin and tragedy and to bring about the resurrection of the dead and the New Heaven and New Earth.

Lord, have mercy.  [Matthew 20:30]  This prayer of the two blind men whom Jesus healed may be the one we need most often and in the most circumstances.  We can pray it when we need forgiveness, when we need help, and when other people need forgiveness and help.

This Biblical prayer has been expanded into the Jesus Prayer used in Eastern Orthodoxy: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This has become a staple of Orthodox spirituality and meditation.  See also how it features in my favorite novel by J. D. Salinger, Franny & Zooey.  It’s also the “Kyrie” (the Greek word for “Lord”) in the liturgy:  “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

Praise the Lord.  [Psalm 106:1, among many others]  To “praise” God does not just mean telling Him how good He is, though this often happens in praising.  The term derives from a word for “shine,” so that it connotes responding to the great light of God.  Thus, praising the Lord involves celebrating God and reveling in Him.  Nor is this phrase, as it seems in the English imperative, to be just an exhortation for other people that they should praise Him.  This is one of those linguistic curiosities in which to use the word is to perform the action.

This is good to pray when you are thankful to Him, when you are conscious of both His benefits and who He is in Himself.  If you want to pray in tongues–that is, in a foreign language–you can use the original Hebrew for this phrase:  Hallelujah!

“Come, Lord Jesus” is one of those super-short prayers that is always appropriate, like “Lord, have mercy,” “Forgive me, Lord,” and “Thank you, Lord.” (in Bible?) “Praise the Lord.”  “Bless the Lord”  (what does that mean, exactly?) “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

I give you thanks, O Lord.  [Psalm 138:1, and others]  For when we feel gratitude for God and for His gifts.  I think of the line about how one of the worst things about being an atheist is when you feel grateful but have no one to thank.

“I believe; help my unbelief! [Mark 9:24]  The prayer of the father of the boy with the unclean spirit who brought him to Jesus in the hope that he might be healed.  Jesus said that all things are possible for one who believes.  The father sort of believed.  His was a mixture of belief and unbelief.  He asked Jesus to give him belief.  And He did as He healed the man’s son.  This is good to pray in times of doubt or spiritual struggle.  It’s striking how well the Word of God understands us.

Can you think of other prayers from the Bible like these?

Having these on the tips of our tongue can help us to “pray without ceasing.”  And to fulfill the rest of that passage:  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).


If you wish to pursue the idea of breath prayers there are other examples at this link. If you want to consider what might be called breathing prayers check out this article.

January 3, 2021

Pray for the Betterment of the Place You Live

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7

I had been looking for this verse in a book I’d just finished reading, but as I flipped back and forth I couldn’t find the reference. I actually wanted to include it today, and then, as I looked for a devotional it was contained in the very first source I checked out!

What do we mean by welfare? Synonyms might include well-being, security, safety, comfort, protection, fortune, robustness, and one site suggested abundance.

I wanted to go one further, and titled this using a word similar to improvement, the word betterment.

I found an excellent article by Doug Scalise at the website of Brewster Baptist Church. It was lengthy and included a number illustrations that we don’t normally have room for, so I’ve included just about a third of it. However, if you prefer, there’s also a half hour sermon version of today’s blog post available at the link in the header which follows. Either way, it flows better if you click the link!

Jeremiah – Seeking the Welfare of the Place You Live

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a person in the Bible? What would it have been like to be someone like Hagar, Samuel, Isaiah, John, Mary, Elizabeth, or Paul? It might be an amazing experience, but I know I wouldn’t want to have been Jeremiah. He had a tough life

The Prophet Jeremiah was born 645 years before Christ and he began to be involved in public life at the age of twenty-two. His ministry and teaching reflect the influence of the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, and Amos. Forbidden by God to marry or have children; his truth-telling made him enemies and he had only a few loyal friends. He spent more than a decade of his life in prison, and died in exile in Egypt at the age of sixty…

…The book of Jeremiah came into existence during a tumultuous time. The little kingdom of Judah had the misfortune to be caught between two much stronger powers: Egypt to the south and Babylon to the east. In Jerusalem it was a tense time of political maneuvering with one faction being pro-Egypt and the other pro-Babylon. Jeremiah was in the Babylon camp. Judah’s kings and not surprisingly most of the prophets and priests leaned in the other direction. Jeremiah’s outspoken endorsement of the Babylonians as the instrument of God’s discipline led to charges of treason and that he was unpatriotic. Most of the prophets and priests associated with the temple opposed to Jeremiah. They said he was wrong that Judah wouldn’t be destroyed…

…Jeremiah chapter 29 begins with a letter from Jeremiah – stop for a moment and think about how amazing that is – we have a letter that is over 2,500 years old and we not only know who wrote it we know who delivered it! Here is the first part of it: Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles in Babylon Jeremiah 29:1-7

“29 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar (neʹbuh-kuhd-nezʹuhr) had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah (jekʹoh-nīʹuh), and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan (shayʹfan) and Gemariah ((gem-uh-rīʹuh) son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It said: 4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

The word translated as “welfare” is the Hebrew word “shalom” which means peace, wholeness, and well-being. It might sound a little strange to hear God saying to people in exile, to people who are in a new place in life where they didn’t choose to go, where they don’t wish to be, “Make the best of where you are in life.”

Have you ever had to move to a new community, state, or country? If it’s our choice we probably feel very differently about relocating than if we’re taken and compelled to leave our home and forced to settle in a new place. Jeremiah’s letter goes on to tell the exiles that this is not a short term situation; they’re going to be there for 70 years.

So the Lord is telling the people, “Find meaning in your situation even in suffering; continue to choose life. Rather than growing bitter, resentful or cynical; seek the shalom – the success and prosperity of the place where you live.” Not only does God tell the exiles to make the best of a bad situation and to go on living, he even tells them to “pray to the LORD on its behalf.” I can imagine some of the exiles listening to Jeremiah’s letter and saying to themselves, “Is he serious? Pray to the Lord on behalf of the capital city of our enemy? Is he joking?” No he wasn’t. God’s people still struggle with biblical teaching like this even though it’s stated in a similar way by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he tells us to pray for our enemies and by Paul in Romans 12…

…I think this is true whether we’re in a new land or where we’ve lived all our life; whether we chose to move or had no say in being relocated; whether we moved because we had the freedom and ability to retire or because we had to flee for our life from danger; I believe the Lord wants us to seek the shalom of where God has led us and to pray on behalf of our community. In the world in which we live all these years after Jeremiah there are still those who are violent and selfish and those who are caring and seek to live in a way that serves and blesses others.

…As Christians…we’re called by God to pray and work for the welfare of the place where we live, wherever we are, even if it’s a place we’d never have chosen to be. Working and praying for the welfare of where God has placed us enables us to bear witness to the love and faithfulness of the Lord in our communities. “Promote the general welfare” is such an important a concept that the Committee on Style who wrote the preamble of the US Constitution included it in the introduction to that important document.

That is what Jeremiah is encouraging the exiles to do – promote the general welfare. Jeremiah tried to help the exiles to change their attitude in the midst of what was a terrible ordeal. He sought to direct their focus to shalom and prayer; to life, gratitude, and hope – things we should hold onto with all the strength and tenacity we can muster. Gratitude is how faith responds in remembering God’s faithfulness in the past; hope is how faith responds in trusting God’s faithfulness in the future

December 28, 2020

A Quiet Place

We often end the devotional with a related music video, but today we want to the song to be the springboard for what follows…

For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection* that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.


The original version of the song was posted at this link. (There’s also a “big band” version for those who like that style at this link.)

*Listen to the full album at this link.

 

 

 

 

November 15, 2020

Andrew Murray on the Names of the Holy Spirit

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
 – John 14:26 NLT

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
 – John 16:7 NASB

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
 – John 16:13 ESV

 

Ten years ago at this time I was slowly working my way through a classic; Andrew Murray’s book With Christ in the School of Prayer. For the two chapters, he was been looking at the passage that begins,If his son asks for bread will he give him a stone?This is paralleled in Matthew and Luke; and says that if corrupted and sinful parents like ourselves still give good things to their children, how much more will God give…to those who ask.

The Matthew section ends, How much more will your Father give good things…”   But in Luke the ending is different;How much more will you Father give the Holy Spirit.” Murray feels that the highest of the “good things” is “the Holy Spirit.”

He then has a paragraph where he lists the various gifts of the Holy Spirit.   He was writing in an era before bullet points — lapsing into point form or numbered lists wasn’t done in prose back then — but I want to spell these out for us today.   There aren’t cross-references, but you’ll recognize many of these:

  • The Spirit of grace — to reveal and impart all of grace there is in Jesus
  • The Spirit of faith — teaching us to begin and go on and increase in continuously believing
  • The Spirit of adoption and assurance — who witnesses that we are God’s children and inspires us to confidently say, ‘Abba, Father.’
  • The Spirit of truth — to lead into all truth, to make each word of God ours in both principle and action
  • The Spirit of prayer — through whom we speak with the Father; prayer that must be heard
  • The Spirit of judgment and refining — to search the heart and convict of sin
  • The Spirit of holiness — manifesting and communicating the Father’s holy presence within us
  • The Spirit of power — through whom we are strong enough to speak boldly and work effectively in the Father’s service
  • The Spirit of glory — the promise of our inheritance, the preparation and foretaste of the glory to come.

Murray states, “In the variety of gifts which the Spirit has to give out, He meets every need of the believer.  …The child of God needs only one thing to really live as a child:  To be filled with this Spirit.”

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (various publishers); taken from lessons 6 and 7; some sentences mildly paraphrased to reflect modern grammar and vocabulary.

November 9, 2020

Using the Scriptures as a Model for Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

For today’s thoughts, we have some very short excerpts from a 2019 book, A Genesis to Revelation Guide to Prayer by Pamela L. McQuade (Barbour Books). I’ve chosen a few that were perhaps not as obvious as others to give you a sense of how the book works. There are also some longer articles about prayer as well but for me the centerpiece is section 4, which consists of 144 references to prayer. This 224-page book comes in a smaller size that can be carried with you in a pocket or purse or lunchbox.

Prayer in the Middle of Disaster

As judgment fell upon the land because of Judah’s unfaithfulness, Joel called out to God, the creator of the earth, to intervene and stop the destruction of the pastures, fields, and woodlands — All the elements of the earth that supported people’s needs. Only God could end the disaster and lift his judgment from his unfaithful people.

Lord help us! The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures and flames have burned up all the trees. Joel 1:19 NLT

Prayer for Sanctuary

In a vision, Ezekiel saw the people of Judah destroyed by God’s command, and the prophet cried out to God for them. Though they had fallen far from God, Ezekiel still had compassion. Though God did not seem inclined to ease their plight, in Ezekiel 11:16 he promised that even though the people would go to foreign lands, he would be their sanctuary.

When they were killing and I was left alone, I fell face down, crying out, “Alas, sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” Ezekiel 9:8 NIV

Prayer for God’s Workers

Anyone who works in ministry will come to recognize that more workers are essential. Jesus told the disciples to ask God to provide workers in order to bring in the harvest of human souls. He will answer this prayer.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38 NIV

A Prayer that God Overhears

Concerned about the state of their nation, a remnant of faithful Jews spoke to one another about their failings in God’s eyes. Even though they weren’t really praying, God heard their concerns. He honored them with a scroll of remembrance and promised to spare them.

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. The scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. Malachi 3:16.

God Hears Short Prayers, Too

Hezekiah heard from the prophet Isaiah that God was prepared to take his life. The faithful King prayed a fervent, short prayer, and before Isaiah could leave the palace, God turned him around with a new, hope-filled message for the king. God hears every prayer, even our shortest, most desperate ones.

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember oh Lord how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. 2 Kings 20: 2-3 NLT

September 29, 2020

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

Every once in awhile, my mother speaks to me from the grave.

Before you change channels, let me explain.

In her later years — and even some not so later ones — she had a habit of writing fragments of hymn lyrics on scraps of paper. Her thing wasn’t Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but those older, richer hymns that nobody bothers with anymore unless Chris Tomlin ‘discovers’ them.

The green piece of scrap paper read,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

It’s a line from “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (full lyrics below) and it somewhat captures one of the things I’ve been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I’m convinced that what keeps people from crossing the line of faith, and what causes others to wander from the fold, is not the allegiance of Evangelicals with a particular political party, the injustice of police interactions with people of color, or the tornadoes, floods and brush fires.

I think it’s more personal. I think it’s unanswered prayer. The time they reached out to God and God didn’t appear to come through for them in the desired time-frame. (Click the date-links in each to read in full.)

It’s been a recurring theme here at C201.

In December, 2011, we quoted from Steven Furtick’s book, Sun Stand Still:

…I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant…

Also in December, 2011, we borrowed from Jon Swanson:

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus.

…“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home…

…Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

In January, 2012, our guest author was Robert Moon:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

In March, 2012, some powerful thoughts from an anonymous writer:

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

Finally (for today) from August, 2012 from Kevin White:

…God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought…


Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

September 16, 2020

We Fail; He Helps us Back Up… Each and Every Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

One writer in our frequent-flyer club here at C201 is Elsie Montgomery who has appeared here more than 20 times.  This very personal reflection appeared yesterday at her blog, Practical Faith. Click the header below to read and find more great devotionals like this one.

One Prayer God Quickly Answers…

2 Samuel 11; Psalms 62–63; Ezekiel 18; 2 Corinthians 4

Reading the familiar story of David and Bathsheba reminds me again of one hard truth: strong desires blind my eyes to reality and truth. David wanted this woman and went against all that he knew was right. He seduced her, used his power to manipulate the death of her husband and tried to cover up his sinfulness with lies.

His actions beg the question: How can a person overcome strong desires? These include lust, desire for power, popularity and fame, even the desire to eat too much or drink too much alcohol. The list is long. David loved the Lord but his desire for a woman ruined his desire for doing the will of God. I don’t want that.

The Apostle Paul was also a man who loved the Lord. He lived with a strong determination to turn away from sin and live a godly life. What made the difference? These verses explain:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1–6)

Paul knew that blindness caused by sin is also blindness from the evil one whose goal is to keep people from seeing the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It is in knowing who Jesus is that changes everything. Paul was given that vision while on his way to persecute and destroy Christians. When he saw the risen Christ, he called that amazing experience “light shining out of darkness” and from that moment on, his life changed.

I understand Paul’s experience. Mine was similar. I read the Bible for nearly two decades but it was darkness to me; I didn’t understand any of it. Then one fall day, while reading another book that had a Scripture verse in it, Jesus shone into my life. I instantly knew that He was God in human flesh and that He came to save me from my sin. He shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference is that my life didn’t change as rapidly as Paul’s life! He was zealous for God before that great event, but I was zealous for me, with many strong desires for what I wanted. God keeps shining light into my life and is amazingly patient with me yet I am slow and forgetful, stubborn and selfish.

However, the Lord does give me an understanding of how Satan works. I know that I can be in the dark with those I-wants and that all of them must be yielded to Him. The more I give up the more I gain. That is, when I refuse to act in disgraceful or underhanded ways, or to be cunning or try to mess with what the Bible says or run my own life, then seeing the glory of God is easier and desirable. This battle against sin is won by losing.

APPLY: Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

Later: This application is proven once again. Today God gave me a test . . . which I flunked! It happened a very short time after writing the above words. Again, if you pray those verses and mean it, He will answer quickly.

Next Page »