Christianity 201

April 23, 2018

The Difficult Trial of Continued Success

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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As you’ll see, today’s title is not a mistake.

Although since our last visit the site hasn’t been active for several months, there is a wealth of material at Thomas Mathew’s Believer Blogs. Click the title below to read at source.

Handling Success – Trial of Faith Series

2 Ki 18:7a  And the LORD was with him [Hezekiah]; he was successful in whatever he undertook.

In the last message we looked at Peter’s life to learn God’s plan for us in the face of our failures. Today, let’s look at the next trial of our faith. Success.

In some candid discussions with many true men of God, I have come to the conclusion that Success is a more difficult trial of faith than failure. The danger of going through failure is that you may fall prey to unbelief and become bitter towards God. It may happen to a few people, but the common response for failure is that it drives us back towards God. What is the usual result of success? The normal believer tends to become proud, his heart is lifted up and he forgets the God who gave him the success in the first place. It takes a very tender heart to maintain that humility before God and give Him the glory for any success which He has granted us. Let’s look at the example from the life of King Hezekiah.

The Lord was with him

The name Hezekiah means “Yahweh is my Strength”. True to his name, the Lord did mighty things through this wonderful king. If you read from 2 Kings 18:3-8, we note the following things about his blessed reign.

  1. 2 Ki 18:3– He did right in the eyes of the Lord (as David)
  2. 2 Ki 18:4– he eradicated idolatry in all known forms, even destroying the bronze serpent which had existed as an idol for nearly 1000 years!
  3. 2Ki 18:5– He trusted the Lord and the word of God declares him to be a king unlike any other before or after him.
  4. 2 Ki 18:6– He held fast to the Lord and didn’t cease to follow Him. He kept the commandments of the Lord
  5. 2 Ki 18:7– The Lord was with Him and therefore, he was successful in all his endeavors.
  6. 2 Ki 18:8– He didn’t bow down before the Syrian kings and defeated philistines across their borders.

A man whom the Lord honors and protects!

Truly, he was one of the best kings to grace the throne of Israel. There is a touching account of the King of Syria threatening to annihilate Israel. 2 Chr 32:1 (read from v1 to v19) Hezekiah prayed to the Lord (2 Chr 32:20) and the Lord sent an angel which consumed 185,000 soldiers of Syria (2Chr 32:21). I especially loved the Word of God which says 2 Chr 32:22 

So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side.

If we have any doubt concerning this, the Lord says: it is He who delivered the nation. Not the might of armies or the wisdom of a king. But the end result of this deliverance was that the fame of Hezekiah spread far and wide and many came to him with precious gifts and he was highly regarded by all nations. (2 Chr 32:23)

The beginning of the end – Pride

Alas, the result of such fame was a falling away. 2 Chr 32:25 says:

But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the LORD’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem.

The result of that wrath was an illness which came to the King and he was near death. he prayed to the Lord and the lord answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. (Read 2 Ki 20:1-11) And he repented of the pride in his heart (2 Chr 32:26) and the Lord’s wrath didn’t appear to them in that generation. But the result of this prayer was an increase of his life by 15 years. That led him to commit even more mistakes in his later years and he also fathered Manasseh. (If you read 2 Chr 33:1-11, you can see the amount of evil that this young king heaped on himself and Israel) While Hezekiah accomplished much in the secular realm in the added years(2 Chr 32:27-30), we see the steady decline of his spiritual life as the end comes.

The end – God leaves him to test his heart

2 Chr 32:31 But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.

When God leaves us to test us, he expects us to rely on what He has taught us in the past. He expects us to use the wisdom and unction that He deposited in us prior to the test. It is for us to understand the contents of our heart more clearly. 2 Ki 20:13 says – he exposed every little bit of his kingdom to the envoys of the enemy as a result of his pride and that mistake was instrumental in the nation being carried away to Babylon at a later point in time.

What is our lesson from this?

Do I write all this to diss a godly king ? Am I magnifying his mistakes ? Am I trying to erase the good he has done by focusing on his mistakes? Not at all! I believe all scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for our instruction, correction and reproof. It is good for us to take valuable lessons from all these scriptures because we are near the end times. (1 Cor 10:11). Where Hezekiah pleased God, let us desire to imitate his life. Where he fell short of the glory of God, let us take it as a precious example to guard against. Remember, if a spiritual giant like he could fall, so could we! Am I against success? Not at all! I desire success and I believe it is the plan of God for all his disciples to enjoy success. That’s why the precious promises are given to the victors (7 letters of revelation + Rev 21:7). But in our successes that we enjoy, do not forget to attribute glory and honor and praise and thanksgiving to the One who made it possible for us. As Jesus said: Without me, you can do nothing! My prayer is that however well we have begun our spiritual race, God give us the grace to fight the good fight, finish our race and keep the faith and to appropriate the eternal rewards kept for us (2 Tim 4:7)

Further reading : 1 Chr 28:9 & Deut 8:2


King Hezekiah has appeared here many times, including these three devotionals:

March 7, 2018

Boastfulness

This is what the LORD says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken! ~Jeremiah 9:23-24 NLT

Today we’re paying a second visit to Tara who blogs at PursuePeaceBlog. Click the title below to read at source.

The Heart of a Sinner

In high school I had a friend with very low self-esteem. She always pointed out her accomplishments and waited to be complimented—your standard fisherman of compliments. Even as a teenager, I knew low self-esteem was her problem. I saw that she was broken, but still, I chose not to love her. When she would start drawing attention to her greatness, I would do just about everything but compliment her. I have never been able to embrace a boastful person. I would avoid eye contact with her, change the subject, pretend I didn’t hear—all because I did not think a person as arrogant as her deserved to be praised. The irony here, however, is that this friend of mine was not arrogant. She was anything but arrogant.

Over ten years later, I am an adult—a wife, a mom, and a daughter of the King. However, boastfulness and arrogance still crawl under my skin more skillfully than any other sin. I can’t stand a boastful person. Being in the presence of one causes me to start locating the exits. I want nothing to do with arrogance.

Boastfulness is certainly a sin. God says in Matthew 6:1-2,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Then in James 4:6,

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Seeking validation from anyone but God means we care more for this world than for Him. However, our human nature causes us to crave praise from just about everyone. Some of us seek it more fervently than others, but we are all boastful—small, insecure beings who want someone to notice how fantastic we are. Even though God commands us to not be part of this world, the world’s praises is the very thing many of us desire the most.

Recently in a conversation with an overtly boastful person, God began to heal my own brokenness. As I visited with this person, trying so hard to love her and acknowledge her accomplishments (hating every minute of it), I began to realize that despite the sins and worldly desires of this woman, I, too, was in need of God’s grace. I sat there in judgment of this woman because of her sin, never considering that my inability to embrace her was my sin, equal to her boastfulness. As I judged and ridiculed the heart of a boaster, God revealed the sins of my own heart. Let me worry about her heart, Tara, you must take care of your own.

By God’s grace, my next encounter with a self-conscious person who seeks my approval and praise, will be one where I exhibit the love of Christ. Because this person’s sins are not greater than my own, I will not condemn them nor despise them, but love them.

“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” ~Luke 11:28


Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom
Or the strong man boast in his strength
Let not the rich man boast in his riches
But let the humble come and give thanks
To the One who made us, the One who saved us

This song was written by Paul Baloche. You can watch and listen to his original version (with lyrics) at this link, or this cover version:

 

September 14, 2017

When Your Greatness Messes Others Up

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The person next to me had figured out very quickly that I was not a good volleyball player. So whenever the ball came my way he would yell, “I’ve got it” and then he would get it. Everyone else on the team was playing volleyball. I, however, was playing dodge-ball. My role was to get out of the way and let the better player save the day. I do not know who won the game. But I do know that I did not grow as a volleyball player that day. I did not develop any volleyball skills that day. I didn’t even like playing volleyball that day. If I had any potential as a volleyball player, it was missed that day. This kind of thing happens in all areas of life. This kind of thing would not happen if people followed the Biblical principles laid down in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3 (NRSV)

When we think we are the best person to hit the ball back, we may think we should be the only person to hit the ball back. Our high opinions of ourselves easily translates into low opinions of others. We can do it, they probably can’t. We are capable, they probably are not. We are the solution, they are probably the problem. So we should do it, they shouldn’t. When we think of ourselves more highly that we ought, we can end up stifling others without even realizing it.

Paul goes on to speak about knowing our calling, finding our role and place, and so not squash out others as they are finding theirs:

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)

These verses are as much “back off, and let others shine in their calling” as they are “discover your own”. They are an encouragement to shine, but they are also and encouragement to give space for others to shine also.

Messing others up by our own perceived greatness can happen in any relationship. Let us consider marriage, about which there is an interesting, and often misunderstood passage in the Bible. On first reading, Proverbs 31:10-31 seems to be quite sexist with the man doing nothing while the woman does everything. But keeping in mind the patriarchal society into which this Scripture is given, look at how much the wife accomplishes. While the titles given to this passage by translators are usually things like “Ode to a Capable Wife” (NRSV), or “The Wife of Noble Character” (NIV), another title might be “The Good Husband”. The good husband does not think he is better at everything and so does it all. The good husband does not think he is a better decision-maker and micro-manage his wife. The good husband gives space for his wife to shine. The final verse of Proverbs captures it well: “let her works praise her in the city gates.” Proverbs 31:31 (NRSV emphasis mine).

Not thinking of yourself too highly is part of “thinking towards yourself with smart thinking” to translate Romans 12:3 very literally. We are to have a good, reasonable self-understanding. Although Paul does not say it, included in this would be not thinking of ourselves too lowly either. At the very least, each person can say they are created in the image of God and so are therefore deserving of being treated with dignity. We have important functions within our families, networks of friends, and in God’s Kingdom. Romans 12:4-8, quoted above, is an encouragement to stand up and grow up into what God calls us to do, even if others seem to be better than us at the time of our standing. While we ought not think of ourselves too highly, recognizing that we are not indispensable in everything, neither are we to think of ourselves as disposable either.

Everyone around us benefits when we have a good self-understanding and a proper self assessment of ourselves. But no one benefits more than we, ourselves. When we have too high an opinion of ourselves we don’t see our need of anyone, even God. And when we have too low an opinion of ourselves we cannot imagine allowing ourselves to be loved by anyone, especially God. Having a proper assessment of ourselves is not just a matter of thinking clearly, it is a matter of loving dearly.


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

May 2, 2016

Lest Anyone Should Boast

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


2 Corinthians 12: 7b NLT … So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.


Micah 6:8 CEB He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to … walk humbly with your God.


Proverbs 3:34 GNT He has no use for conceited people, but shows favor to those who are humble.


1 Corinthians 1:31 The Voice As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think... Romans 12: 3a NASB

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

In the first two passages above we see God altering the circumstances in order to keep people — collectively in the first passage, an individual in the second passage — from become prideful or boastful.

Introverts might not get this, but as an extrovert, I can say that in my life there is very much a tendency towards arrogance.

In the movie Network the female lead is asked, “What’s it like to be the person in the room who always has the right answers?”

Smugly, she replies, “It’s awful, absolutely awful.”

Psalm 20:7 is a verse that some of you learned in the KJV and other translations as “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” Having a gut feeling about this verse I checked and sure enough, these alternatives to trust exist:

  • Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. (TLB)
  • Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (NASB)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. (NRSV)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (HCSB)

What are our modern equivalents? We don’t have chariots and horses, but many of us have nice cars which we spend our Saturday mornings polishing and caring for. What else?

  • education; including academic certificates, degrees, etc.
  • knowledge; both specialized and general
  • intuitive abilities; logic, reason, quick wit, tech savvy
  • friends; the size of our friends list on social media as a possible example
  • status; standing in the community, perhaps our name is in the local newspaper or mentioned on TV
  • spouse; we take credit for what is really a gift from God to us
  • possessions; our house, car, cabin the woods, consumer electronics, etc.
  • passions; the hobbies and interests we are always talking about

Thinking about these things and speaking of them sometimes boosts are adrenaline, brings a smile to our faces, or causes us to speak with greater volume and passion. We’re energized thinking about these things, and we can become arrogant.

The last category above is a good lead to these two questions:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your opportunity to control the conversation?

God had to wipe out the Tower of Babel. He didn’t wipe out Saul/Paul however, but introduced a condition — and Bible scholars vary as to what exactly it was — to keep him humble. Laura Story, in the popular Christian song Blessings asks:

What if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?

We very rarely thank God for Babel-type changes in plans, or Paul-type ongoing conditions, but they do prevent us from being less of a person than we might be; from being a person that others may not find particularly attractive; and from presenting ourselves in a way that people see us, but don’t see Christ living in and through us.

 

March 17, 2016

The Bible on Envy, Jealousy, Coveting, Lack of Contentment

Today’s thoughts have two distinct origins.

First, this began with an article I wrote for Thinking Out Loud called A Different Response to Envy, which contained an article titled Turning Envy Upside Down. (Given the choice, choose the second link which has a graphic image and many comments.)

Second, a few years ago here, because it was St. Patrick’s Day, and because scripture verses here always appear in green (because the scriptures are the life of daily Bible study and devotion) we did an entire post in green. So when I found this list, I knew I had to run this on March 17th and tie in with the article on envy.

One last thing: The list is exhaustive, you need to click the title to see it all! (Each verse is also a link to BibleGateway.com)  All scriptures today are ESV, but the link will allow you to click through and see the verse in every English translation. You don’t have to read it all today, just focus on a few verses and let the text speak to you.

Envy And Jealousy

James 3:16 

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Of David. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. …

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. …

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.

A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. …

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. …

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. …

For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge.

 

November 11, 2015

gods Forget GOD

by Clarke Dixon (click here to read at source)

We have a prosperity problem. Prosperity causes us to forget God. We intuitively feel this in Canada as our relative affluence seems to be related to our religious apathy. Scripture seems to point this out also:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

This being the case, perhaps we should be praying for a downturn of the economy? If, as we Christians believe, there is nothing as important as one’s relationship with God, then perhaps more misery might make many souls merry?

Or is prosperity really the problem? Let’s take a look at those verses again, but let me move the highlighting:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

Or as another translation puts it, “your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God”  (NIV). We do not have a prosperity problem. We have a heart problem. Proud hearts are prone to forgetting God.

The heart problem was to be the heart of the problem for God’s people as they entered the Promised Land. Things would be better for them, this is the land flowing with milk and honey after all. But in prosperity and all that has been achieved would be the danger of self-congratulations:

. . . then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. (Deuteronomy 8:14-18 emphasis mine)

We are prone to being self-congratulatory. We are prone to wanting the glory. Just look at all we have achieved. A great team of men and women worked hard to put a man on the moon. We might ask who should get the MVP award for making such an achievement possible. Who deserves the most glory? The astronauts? The scientists? The technicians? The taxpayers? And in deliberating the question we forget that God put the moon there in the first place, not to mention the earth, not to mention the materials in the earth fit for building a spacecraft, not to mention the rules of physics, not to mention the potential of the human mind to dream, and the capacity of human hands to create. Even in the greatest of human achievements, God deserves glory.

As humans we have great potential. Yet we do nothing without God’s gift of potential. We innovate. But we do not innovate without God. We succeed and achieve. But we do not succeed and achieve without God. We live. But we do not live without God. We love. But we do not love without God. To God belongs the glory.

Deuteronomy chapter eight does not leave us without an antidote to our forgetfulness. Though some translations take verse ten as concluding verses 1-9, I think the NIV gets it correct with putting it with what follows:

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, . . .  (Deuteronomy 8:10-11 NIV emphasis mine)

Praise is the cure for forgetfulness. It is in praising God that our hearts are humbled. It is in praising God that our hearts are filled with the wonders of God. It is in praising God that we recognize where the glory truly belongs.

Praise keeps us from stealing God’s glory. Even in matters of salvation we are prone to wanting to steal God’s glory. We think we can be good enough that God will have to accept us. “Yes, He is holy, but I can be holy too.” Actually no. We can no more be good enough before God based on our own righteousness than the Israelites could cross the Red Sea on dry ground by their own miracle working. We depend on God’s grace, God’s work of salvation through Jesus Christ. We cannot steal God’s glory.

So do we have a prosperity problem? We have a heart problem. It is in trying to be gods, we forget GOD. If we have no appetite for God, perhaps it is not that we have too much stuff, so much as we have stuffed ourselves with too much of our own glory.

Not to us, Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.
(Psalms 115:1 NIV)

All Bible references are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.

 

October 9, 2015

Dealing with Stubbornness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we return to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix. Click the title below to read at source. For the full text related to today’s devotions, read 1 Samuel 8.

Stubborn Pride

I’m about as stubborn of a person as they come. In some cases, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out when it is advantageous to be stubborn and when it is detrimental. I don’t always pick the right one. Sometimes I’m stubborn and it pays off, while other times it gets me into trouble. I’ve learned it usually works against me when I’m so set on how I want to do something, that I refuse to listen to wisdom. In those cases, it doesn’t matter how sound or logical the opposing argument is, my stubbornness refuses to allow me to listen.

In I Samuel 8, Israel was at that same place. They knew that Samuel was a person who spoke with God and that his judgements were good. They had watched God use him since he was a boy. When he grew old, he appointed his sons as judges, but they didn’t listen to God like Samuel did. They took bribes and perverted judgement, so the leaders decided to confront Samuel about it. Instead of just asking for their removal and for new judges, they asked for a king.

Samuel was heartbroken. He felt rejected and disappointed in his sons, I’m sure. He went to the Lord about it. In verse 7, the Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything they say to you, for they are rejecting me, not you” (NLT). Then a few verses later, He finished by giving Samuel instructions, “Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will rule over them.” He wanted Samuel to give them wisdom before they made their final decision.

Samuel listed out the things a king would do to their kids, take from their homes, and tax. 1 Samuel 8:19-20 gives us their response. “But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles’” (MSG). Samuel took what they said to God, and He gave them a king. He gave them what they wanted, even though it was not His will because they wouldn’t listen to wisdom. God may grant your request, but it doesn’t mean it was the wisest choice.

Reading this story reminds me that God has placed people in my life to give me wisdom. It’s my choice to listen to them or to be stubborn in my ways. Proverbs 28:26 gives us insight to this kind of thinking. It says, “It is foolish to follow your own opinions. Be safe, and follow the teachings of wiser people” (GNB). Stubbornness leads us down the path of foolishness while wisdom takes us down safe paths. If you’re facing a difficult situation, ask God to put people in your life who can give you godly wisdom, then follow it.

September 22, 2015

Adjusting Your Ego

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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‘Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.’ – Hosea 2:14

Post 2000

As I mentioned a few days ago, over the weekend I was reading a back-issue (May/June 2011) of Every Day With Jesus by Selwyn Hughes titled Close Encounters. The series of daily writings talks about the times God may lead us into a desert experience; two of those devotions follow…

Genesis 32:22-32
‘The man asked him, “What is your name?”‘  (v27)

A reason why God may allure us into the desert is this:  to properly position our ego.  Now here we have to be careful, for many incorrect things are said about the ego by Christians.  The ego is God-created and God-approved, and will function properly if it is surrendered to the Spirit.  I am not in sympathy with those who say the ego is to be banished, cancelled or suppressed.  When the ego is in its proper place – surrendered to Christ – then it becomes Christo-centric; when it is not linked to Him it is likely to become eccentric.

If you will forgive a personal reference, in the early days of my Christian life there was no one with a bigger ego than mine. Many times I tripped over it and sprawled in the dust of humiliation.  After I entered the ministry and was obliged to make announcements, I would say something to this effect:  ‘These are the meetings that will take place in this church over the coming week. The ones at which I shall be present are as follows…’  I often wondered why the congregation smiled when I made such an announcement.

Then came the time when the Lord allured me into the desert, slowed down my life and forced me to cry out, “Lord, what is happening? There are so many possibilities but Your blessing doesn’t seem to be flowing in the way it did.’  God asked me the same question as that asked of Jacob by the angel in the story we have read today:  ‘What is your name?’  It took me a long time to answer but at last I spat it out:  ‘My name is Ego.’  In that wrestling match with God my ego was repositioned.  Instead of being central, it became marginal.  I walk with a limp now.  You cant’ see it in my stride; it’s in my soul.

Psalm 51:1 – 19
‘Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.’  (v6)

In an earlier issue of Every Day With Jesus you may remember we concluded that the questions God asks of us are far more important than the questions we ask of Him.  God’s questions are direct, straight to the point, and can sometimes cause us to feel apprehensive and nervous.  In the same way, we become nervous when we get close to the root of our problems – an unsurrendered ego.  We shy away from the issue and promise to do anything but resolve it. But a barrenness may set in and God may need to allure us into a desert so that we do something about the matter.

What if God spoke to you in an audible voice right now and put to you the same question that the angel put to Jacob in the passage we looked at yesterday:  ‘What is your name?’  How would you respond? Jacob’s name meant ‘supplanter’, so when he owned up to his name, he was owning up to his nature.  Make no mistake about it – Jacob was a deceiver.  When God asks us our name He is not asking us for our given name but wanting us to admit to our real nature.  Jacob was given a new name only after he had confessed his old one.  In God’s service you have to admit where you are before you can move on to where you should be.

Have you been in a spiritual desert in recent times?  Perhaps this may be the reason:  God wants to reposition your ego.  So on God’s behalf and ever so gently I ask you the question: ‘What is your name?  Is it Ego?’  If so, make this an honest moment and confess it.  The game is up.   Surrender it to him right now.  Your ego in your own hands is a problem; in His hands it is a possibility.  With a changed Jacob came changed circumstances.  When we change, our circumstances sometimes change too.


Learn more about CWR, the parent organization which publishes Every Day With Jesus at this link. You can also read previous Selwyn Hughes material here at C201 at this link.


The irony of celebrating our 2,000th post the same day we have a devotional about ego is not lost on me. I scheduled the post, and noticed the number later. I thought about changing things around, but then the coincidence was such that I decided to leave things as they were. It serves to remind me how easily the ego can creep into things.

June 30, 2015

The Sin of Self-Importance

We end the month with a return visit to a blog with an unusual name, re-Ver(sing) Verses.  I love the format used there each day, when you click the title below, take a minute to look through other recent devotionals. (The format is also a good model how of to present Bible study material.)

3 John 1:9

 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.

3 John 1:9 | NIV | Other Versions | Context

Brief

By the time John got to writing the book of 3 John, it was understood that he was already very old, nearing a hundred. By then all the other apostles had been martyred – indeed, according to history (not the Bible), it was said that all the apostles except for John were martyred. Imagine living till that age? Almost ever single one of your peer would most likely have departed. While you will likely have a lot of friends, most of them would be a lot younger than you, and your friendship is based on your mentorship to them. Hence why the title of ‘the Elder’ that John calls himself by is doubly apt – whether or not he truly was an Elder in title or not, or simply in connotation. We know little about the Early Church except from what little the authors of the New Testament tells us, but most of those writers – Paul, Peter etc were all prominent leaders who regularly speak to different churches or visit different churches. Little is known about what goes on in a normal, regular church with a normal, regular leader. In 3 John we were given a glimpse of 3 obscure leaders in the early church days – Gaius, to whom John addressed the book of 3 John to, Diotrephes, who is our character of interest today, and Demetrius, who was the least mentioned but probably most commended. In this study we will focus on the very obscure Diotrephes from the very obscure book, and identify the common traits in a church leader that John has condemned as evil – that which we should not imitate.

Analysis

I wrote to the church – the assumption here is that this was the same church that Gaius was most likely a part of. The idea here was likely, John wrote something to the church, most likely some greetings and teachings, only to be rejected by Diotrephes. In order to reject them, he would have to be of a certain ministerial position – a position of certain authority and leadership powers, at least within the church itself. As a result of Diotrephes, the letter was likely destroyed or not read out to the church, and hence, John was now writing to Gaius, most likely another church leader, so that his message can be passed on to the Church. This was perhaps also an explanation for what he did not bring up the matter of Diotrephes with the Church but with Gaius, as any letter to the church would probably end up with Diotrephes and not paid heed to.

but Diotrephes, who loves to be first – the love of preeminence is pointed out specifically by John here. If Diotrephes is, as we assumed, a man holding a certain office in the church, likely pastoral, and likely amongst a core few key positions, there will certainly be a certain importance to this man. Indeed, even till today, we do afford our pastors and ministers higher importance as a respect of their positions. However, Diotrephes was likely being too self-important, even to the point of abusing his authority. It was out of his own pride, ambition, and self-interest. There are some scholars who believe that Diotrephes preferred a different gospel to the one the apostles preached, and thus did not welcome John, but that is something I cannot speculate on.

will not welcome us – there are two possibilities here, firstly, that John was physically unwelcome when he tried to visit the church, and secondly, his voice and words were unwelcome as Diotrephes disregarded his letter, paid no heed to his words, and withheld the letter from being read to the Church. Either way, this emphasizes the tyrannical rule that Diotrephes has over the church. While a church leader was meant to lead while walking in the truth (like Gaius, as praised by John in v2), Diotrephes not only rejected them and sought preeminence, he also had malicious words for them and chased some of them out of the church. John had harsh words for Diotrephes, implying that he was evil, and he implores Gaius never to follow his example – do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God [3 John 1:11].

Conclusion

Wow, this is like First Century AD Church politics, no? How dramatic, really. We see John, most likely a reputed figure in the Christian world and a mentor figure over several church leaders – the last of apostles, an old man with lots of respect reserved for him, being undermined by a pompous Diotrephes, who had some power in a church where Gaius, a commendable man, was also in. How complicated, but in truth, it happened in the first century, and it’s still happening today. Many times in the midst of our love for preeminence – let’s face it, we all like to be important – we lose sight of what is most important, what the church is about. We lose sight of God, and John’s warning is harsh – do good, or you are not from God.

As much as 3 John was a letter that commends Gaius, and as much as it reads, for a bit, like a complaint letter against Diotrephes to Gaius, the message is clear: lead the church properly, righteously, with the love of God. Do not imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. And that Diotrephes?

Evil man!

For us modern day Christians, we may not be church leaders, but let us not become modern day Diotrephes, but instead imitate the good of Gaius and Demetrius.

 

October 3, 2014

Traits of the Prideful

Luke 18:9-14 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Today I felt led to another post on the subject of pride. I’ve been told that I am perceived as a very humble person. Maybe I’m proud of that!  Today’s post appeared recently at the blog section of the website Unlocking The Bible, which I strongly recommend. The writer is Dillon Mack, and to read this at source and then look around the site, click the title below.

The American airwaves are awash with crime drama television shows.

No matter what night it is, you can flip through the channels on your TV and find either new crime dramas or reruns of old favorites. One crime drama show recently tried to capitalize on a relatively new area of scientific study. The show “Lie to Me” featured a private detective firm that solved crimes by studying micro expressions and body language. The science behind the show is rather amazing. Detectives read a person’s feelings by the subconscious and uncontrollable reactions of the body.

Just like physical posture gives us insight into the emotional life of an individual, so a person’s posture in prayer gives us deep insight into their spiritual lives. And ultimately, the body language of a person’s heart is intimately connected with their acceptance before God.  This truth we learn from one of Jesus’ parables in Luke 18:9-14 where he seeks to answer an important question: Who then is accepted before God?

Jesus begins his parable by telling us that “two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (v. 10). You couldn’t find two more different people:  There’s the Pharisee—known for his moral character, for following God’s law, and for his complete devotion. And there’s the tax collector—known for being a greedy sinner, known for extorting his own people.  The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (v. 10).

The tax collector, standing far off, had a very different posture. He would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but beat his breast.  The tax collector feels the guilt of his sin before God to the point of not even wanting to look up to heaven. And his prayer is simple. He says in verse 13, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

So who will God accept? Will it be the righteous Pharisee or the sinning, greedy tax collector? Jesus gives us the verdict in verse 14: “I tell you, [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Three Traits of a Prideful Person

We learn from this parable that the body language of our hearts towards God in this life has eternal consequences. And so we desperately need to consider the body language of our hearts before God. How have we presented ourselves before him? What is our posture?

Let’s make three observations about the person who exalts themselves before God and examine our own hearts beneath them.

People who exalt themselves feel confident before God.  That is to say; people who exalt themselves feel confident in their acceptance before God. This is the driving force behind the body language of their hearts. The Pharisee stood confidently before God, and he prayed confidently about himself: “I…I…I…I…” The Pharisee’s prayer represents a dangerous attitude to assume before the righteous God: Confidence in our acceptance because of our own righteousness. Is this your attitude when you come before God? Do you stand proudly before God and boast proudly about your own ability?

People who exalt themselves define righteousness by how others perceive them, rather than how they look before God. Look at the Pharisee’s prayer again. What is his standard of being accepted by God? He states that he is not like other men, and that he fasts twice a week and gives tithes of all he possesses. At the forefront of his definition of righteousness is how he is perceived by others, not how he looks before God. How we come to God in prayer reflects our spiritual posture towards him. Does outward appearance and comparison permeate your prayer life?

People who exalt themselves demonstrate their view of themselves by how they treat others.  We get an important insight at the beginning of the parable: “[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (v. 9). Here we have an internal attitude linked with an external evidence. How do we know how we view ourselves before God?  Look at how you view yourself before other people. The Pharisee’s prayer shows his contempt for other people. He says, “I’m not like them.” Consider this in your own life. What is your reaction towards those whom you know to be sinners? Do you treat them with contempt?

There is Hope for the Prideful

Maybe you are reading this, whether you know Christ or not, and are saying to yourself, “That sounds a lot like me.” Well, good news! There is great hope in this passage.  Jesus does not leave self-exalted sinners on their own, but he calls them to humble themselves.

He gives us this promise at the end of verse 14: “But the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” To be exalted is to receive salvation. It is to be lifted up in the last days to be with God forever in eternity. Contrary to the one who exalts himself, who will face God’s judgment on account of his sins, the one who humbles himself will be exalted by God and will receive blessings and honor when Jesus returns to judge the world!

By acknowledging our sinfulness, just as the tax collector did, and crying out for God’s help through Jesus, we can be exalted before God. Humility is both assessing ourselves honestly before God and clinging to the help that he provided for us in Christ Jesus. And so my plea for you today is to embrace humility. Realize your utter sinfulness before God and accept the help that he has provided for you in Jesus Christ.

Do you see any of these prideful traits in your own heart? How does the gospel give you hope?

September 25, 2014

The Connection Between Miracles and Humility

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Naaman in the Jordan River

We didn’t intend to run two back-to-back devotionals on pride, but maybe God orchestrated that for a reason. We wanted to share with you the ministry of Andy Elmes who is better known in the UK, Australia and New Zealand than in North America. His organization is called Great Big Life and he hosts a weekday radio feature called Breakfast of Champions (hence the reference to ‘this morning’ in what follows). You can also get the Breakfast devos by subscription (click the above link) which is where we borrowed this one, which originally ran over two days.

Pride ain’t no friend of yours

Proverbs 16:18 (The Message)

First pride, then the crash – the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.

A real sobering thought this morning is that pride can actually keep you from the miracles that God has for you!

 2 Kings 5:11-12 (NKJV)

But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.

 We read here of the pride-filled response of the Commander of the Syrian armies, a man by the name of Naaman. Yes, a very important man but one with a big problem: he had leprosy!

 He may have been a high-ranking army commander but he was also a man dying on his feet with an incurable, body-eating disease which meant, just like anyone else with leprosy, he needed a miracle from God.

 This much-needed miracle was not a problem. He sent for Elisha to come help and Elisha sent a note (prescription) for him from God concerning what to do to get healed. When he read the prescription he got offended instead of excited! Why? Simple: because of his pride.

 • He was offended that Elisha did not come but sent a note.

 • He was offended at what God expected him to do.

 • He was offended at where he was expected to do it, and felt he knew better.

 Read it again and listen to the tone of pride that may have made him feel important but sadly left him separated from the God-intended miracle for his life. Pride always has a distinctive sound and a tone to it, always be careful when you hear it and be sure to deal quickly with it when you do.

  He turned away in a rage – why? Because he felt what God had asked him to do violated him in some way. Can you see how pride can keep you from things that God has for you? God did not want to violate him but make him better. But God also had a plan to heal him of his unhealthy pride at the same time which, like leprosy, was not doing him any good.

2 Kings 5:13-14 (NKJV)

And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Humility always wins!

 After storming off in a huff a servant helped him to reason what his pride would equal in his life, which was basically a very painful and embarrassing death. Naaman responds this time with a humble heart and does what was prescribed, and the result was exactly what had been originally promised.

 Notice that God did not play or barter with Naaman’s pride, but simply waited for his response to change. As soon as it did, the promised miracle was released.

 What was the problem with the Jordan? The problem was that it was a public place, which meant this great commander had to de-robe himself to get what God had promised. When he took his robes and armour off a couple of things would happen:

1. He would be the same as everybody else. There would be no uniform to separate him. But that is how we are isn’t it? We all stand before God the same, needing Him to do something for us?

2. He had leprosy which meant people would have seen he had a need, but maybe he did not want people to know he was needy?

 We need to understand that we are all the same and God does not regard the uniforms or titles of men. Secondly, we all have needs and everyone of us are depending on God for something.

 I am so glad he dealt with his pride and did not leave and die, but rather humbled himself and lived. He learned that day that his pride may have made him feel important but it could not get him what he needed from God.

April 28, 2014

The Parable of the Soils, Revisited

Matthew 13:1-9 (NIV)

The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Today we introduce a blog that’s new to us, and fairly new itself. Ernest blogs at Sincere Son of the Sanctifier (it’s alliterative and makes you think) where you’re invited to click through to read Lord Prepare the Soil of my Heart.

The parable of the Sower as recorded in Matthew 13:1-9 with its explanation by Jesus later in vv. 18-23 is one of my favorite parables. Yet even with Jesus explaining the basic meanings of the soil compositions of path, rocky, weedy and good, I believe that there is even more to glean from this parable.

As Jesus presents the allegory, the soil appears to be static. Yet considering that the soil is representative of our hearts and how receptive we may be to God’s word, I know that God works in our hearts to make us better people as time progresses as we submit to Him. I believe, therefore, that this allegory is more about knowing our hearts and taking heed to watch for weeds, packed soil and stones within ourselves that we may always be ready to receive the Word of the Lord into our lives.

Yet is it the work of the soil to pull weeds, till, or to cast out rocks? Is it not the work of the farmer to work the field? What, then is the responsibility of the soil? I believe it is the soil’s responsibility to be receptive to the plow, and not treasure the rocks and weeds. There is a tool that Satan uses upon us that is most likely to thwart the work of the farmer. That tool is Pride. Pride is hard soil that will not easily submit to the work of the plow or hoe, or allow the farmer to easily work a rock free and will hang on to a weed so fastidiously that removing it would be to the detriment of the good seed that the farmer seeks to grow within us.

So pride would be the very thing that Jesus, the Lord of the harvest is warning us against. Pride keeps our hearts from being tender and yielded. Pride treasures the things in our lives which keep us from having good relationships with God and each other. Pride seeks to isolate when we know that others do not approve of our actions, or when we are ashamed… Umm… what?

Yes, there is pride in the isolation we harbor our souls in when we should be pressing in to God and to each other through the humility of confession. So again, it is the farmer’s job to help us even with our pride. The act of being truthful to God and His other children (carefully chosen confidants, of course) about that which shames us is the beginning of that humility which will prepare our hearts to receive the farmer’s preparation for that which He would grow within us: Grace, Love, Hope and Faith in abundance.

So what shall we say, then? Shall we hang on to those areas of our hearts which are hard, or full of care and desire for worldly gain or lusts, or let the rocks of suffering and persecution work in us bitterness?

Dear Lord, let us humbly come to You to submit the soil of our hearts to the work of Your hand. We desire to hear Your Words in such a way that they penetrate, germinate, and become a product worthy of the labor of your nail-scarred hands.

April 10, 2014

When God Steps Back

We try not to “borrow” posts from any one source more than every six months, but Jim Thornber’s writing is exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for here. When you click through to read, you’ll notice the name of the blog is similar to one you might have seen before! This one looks at very challenging passage of scripture. Click to read God Left Me Alone? (For those of you too shy to click the text is below.)

 “God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.” — 2 Chron. 32:31

I know this is hard to believe, but sometimes I’ve felt very alone in the world.

Shocking, isn’t it? Here I am, a pastor of a church and a man whose been going to church for 40 years. I’m a self-proclaimed normal and sane person who believes I can actually talk with God and, at times, believes God even talks back.

Yet, sometimes I’ve felt there was no one listening, that God was not in the room much less in the universe, and I was the only real person in the world with feelings, hurts, disappointments, desires, lusts, dreams, failures, successes and more questions than answers.

Then I read about King Hezekiah, and I began to understand that I’m not the first person who ever felt he was alone in the world. And this was after Hezekiah had a great encounter with the miracle-making God. It went like this.

One day Hezekiah wakes up from a nap and isn’t feeling well. His buddy Isaiah, a local prophet, tells him to get his affairs in order for he was going to die. King Hezzy cries out to God and God sends Isaiah back to the King with good news: he is going to live!

When you read the story in 2 Kings 20, you see God promised He would heal Hezekiah of a life-threatening disease and proved it by making the shadow go back ten steps on the stairway. This is very heady stuff.

Word of this miraculous series of events draws international attention and foreign ambassadors come to pay their respects and see how the king is doing. Now God, knowing Hezekiah had a tendency to become proud (2 Chron. 32:25), decided to test the king. He withdraws His presence to see if he’s going to tell the ambassadors about God’s goodness and loving-kindness, or if Hezekiah is going to show them all his accomplishments as a king. Hezekiah failed the test by showing his visitors everything in his storehouses (2 Kings 20:13).

This is where I pause, because I completely understand Hezekiah. If I felt the Lord left me after I’d been healed of a life-threatening disease, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t try to recount all my accomplishments before the assembled crowd and show them everything in my storehouse. Then in my spare time, I’d be looking for God under every pew and behind every stack of Bibles. I’d be telling everyone who’d listen what God did in hopes that God would show up again and let me feel His presence. God, of course, can never truly leave us. There is nowhere you can go to escape His omnipresent Self. David learned this lesson well and wrote a poem about it. Well call this poem Psalm 139.

What I need to do when I feel God leaving the room is simply sit down and know He never really left me.  I remind myself that in His absence, nothing else satisfies. God knows this, but it is a lesson we all need to understand. Maybe we’re all a bit like Hezekiah, building up our storehouses by chasing things like cars, houses, iPhones, titles and vacations because we’re really looking for God. C. S. Lewis said, “All that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

I see now that on the occasions God left me alone, He did it to see if I’d pursue Him or the stuff I think replaces Him. I’ve done both, and I found the stuff falls short. So next time I sense God has left me alone, I’ll know that all He really wants is me, and all I really need is Him.

September 7, 2013

Everyone Is Welcome

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Occasionally I run into blogs that consist of pastors’ sermon notes involving churches that use the Lectionary as a guide to preaching. In these churches, the Evangelical concept of a sermon series in completely foreign; instead there are three or four prescribed readings for each Sunday, usually consisting an Old Testament reading, a Psalm , a selection from the gospels, and an excerpt from an Epistle.  (These vary somewhat by tradition and some denominations send out an amended version to their ministers.)  One of the texts is required to form the basis of the weekend sermon. I believe that’s the case with the blog ForeWords written by Rich Brown.  This one appeared recently there under the title All Are Welcome.  Click through to read at source (with pictures!) and discover more Lectionary based sermons.


Jeremiah 2:4–13; Psalm 81:1, 10–16; Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16; Luke 14:1, 7–14

Any reading of the Gospels reveals this defining characteristic of Jesus: He loved a party. Of course, that raised more than a few eyebrows back then, as it does for many “good, church folks” today. Jesus was often confronted with the way he and his disciples comported themselves, in comparison especially to John the Baptist and his disciples. But Jesus was not John. His agenda and “gospel” was a different, yet related one. We pick up the action in chapter 14 of Luke’s Gospel:

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely…. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” –Luke 14:1, 7-14 NRSV

The rules for hospitality were pretty strict among the Jews of ancient Judea. An invitation to dinner required reciprocal treatment. Furthermore, there was a definite hierarchy as to who would get the place of honor. Characteristically, Jesus turned all that upside down. It’s not that he didn’t believe in being hospitable or valuing the practices of the day, although he was certainly known for bending rules (if not breaking them at times) when he felt the need. Most likely, though, Luke doesn’t share this little story to enlighten his readers/listeners on eating habits. No, I don’t think this is a story about eating and drinking and partying as much as it’s about who gets invited to Jesus’–and therefore God’s–table.

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, Jesus tells his audience. And by doing so those issuing the invitation will be blessed. Here in the 21st century we would probably phrase it differently, with the familiar words “pay it forward” to be found somewhere in the mix. Jesus held a special place for those on the margins of his society, the people who were pretty much invisible to respectable folks. Those marginalized people weren’t important to Judea’s Roman occupiers, nor were they valued by Pharisees or Sadducees–or anybody intent on somehow ingratiating themselves with those groups.

What’s remarkable is to consider that the same sort of situation takes place today. We, too, have the rich and the powerful in charge of business, politics, and the social order. And although we have a far larger middle-class than in the first century of the Common Era, it’s also true that our North American middle-class is shrinking as the disparity between really rich and really poor increases.

The marginalized folks in Jesus’ day were identified as the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. To a certain extent we can start our 21st-century list of marginalized with those groups, too. But we can add many more: think of the massive numbers of people (especially in minority groups) who are in prison, those women and men and children who are denied access to adequate health care, the homeless, the hungry (which includes all those who are in various stages of being “food challenged”), immigrants (especially those who are “undocumented”) who live in an underground economy, many in the LGBT community, people who are denied their right to vote, and those stuck in generations-old cycles of poverty and ignorance and illiteracy.

If Jesus were to tell his parable today, he’d most likely include those groups in his list of marginalized. He’d probably have an even more extensive list. Coincidentally, [last] week marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. And, amazingly, on that anniversary date the first African-American President of the United States, Barack Obama, drew on King’s imagery in his own speech, which included these words:

“We must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks had joined the ranks of millionaires; it was whether this country would admit all people who were willing to work hard, regardless of race, into the ranks of a middle-class life. The test was not and never has been whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many, for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call—this remains our great unfinished business.”

The question for followers of Jesus in the 21st century remains: Who is invited to God’s banquet in the peaceable kingdom, the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven? Yes, this broad question includes some smaller ones: Who is welcome in our congregations? in our neighborhoods? in our towns and cities and suburbs? in our schools and businesses? ultimately, in our hearts and minds?

Jesus’ first and constant concern was for the marginalized. That would appear to be where we, who call ourselves followers and disciples of Christ, should begin as well.

February 20, 2013

What is the Source of Temptation?

I once heard a comedian say, “I have no problem with temptation. I just give in.”  I laughed, but it also resonated with me.

This week our youngest son was asked to speak to his youth group on an assigned topic, the story of David taking the census. At first it seems somewhat straightforward — David did something that was wrong and there were consequences — but as you did deeper the passage becomes more complex.

II Samuel 24 (NLT)

David Takes a Census

Once again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the Lord told him.

So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Take a census of all the tribes of Israel—from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south—so I may know how many people there are.”

But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God let you live to see a hundred times as many people as there are now! But why, my lord the king, do you want to do this?”

But the king insisted that they take the census, so Joab and the commanders of the army went out to count the people of Israel. First they crossed the Jordan and camped at Aroer, south of the town in the valley, in the direction of Gad. Then they went on to Jazer, then to Gilead in the land of Tahtim-hodshi and to Dan-jaan and around to Sidon. Then they came to the fortress of Tyre, and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went south to Judah as far as Beersheba.

Having gone through the entire land for nine months and twenty days, they returned to Jerusalem. Joab reported the number of people to the king. There were 800,000 capable warriors in Israel who could handle a sword, and 500,000 in Judah.

Judgment for David’s Sin

10 But after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him. And he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, Lord, for doing this foolish thing.”

11 The next morning the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, who was David’s seer. This was the message: 12 “Go and say to David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you.’”

13 So Gad came to David and asked him, “Will you choose three years of famine throughout your land, three months of fleeing from your enemies, or three days of severe plague throughout your land? Think this over and decide what answer I should give the Lord who sent me.”

14 “I’m in a desperate situation!” David replied to Gad. “But let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands.”

15 So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel that morning, and it lasted for three days. A total of 70,000 people died throughout the nation, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south. 16 But as the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” At that moment the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

17 When David saw the angel, he said to the Lord, “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are as innocent as sheep—what have they done? Let your anger fall against me and my family.”

(the story continues further into the chapter)

There is so much about this passage that Bible commentators agree we don’t know. Why was God angry with Israel? What it pride that caused David to want the numbers. Did the punishment fit the transgression? (Quickly now, how many Facebook friends do you have?)

But one of the most difficult aspects of this passage is the source of David’s desire to count his men, especially when you consider the parallel passage in I Chronicles 21.  Because there the  first verse there reads:

Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel.

So was it Satan or the Lord who caused David to do the thing David later called ‘sin’ and ‘foolish’?  What is the source of temptation?

NLT -Genesis 2:15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

I think the point is that today, each of us has “trees” in our “garden” that are the source of spiritual testing. Adam and Eve “walked with God in the cool of the evening,” so they were intimate friends; but God was clearly God, so the temptation to ignore his warning not to eat the fruit — especially when offered the opportunity that “your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil”(3:5 NLT)  — was easily rationalized away.

Sometimes these “trees” are simply there, but I believe sometimes God says, ‘It’s exam time. So what about that, or those, or him, or her?  Aren’t you just a little bit interested?’  Sometimes the answers are obvious, but sometimes the details are more complicated. A thing that is generally a good thing — there are many times a census takes place in scripture, including the time at the birth of Jesus where Joseph and Mary are both registered and taxed — can at other times be a bad thing if it’s being done from the motivation of pride.

A good thing done at the wrong time is a bad thing.

I Corinthians 10:13 tells us,

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (NLT)

So what do we do with James 1:13?

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.

I think the key to this story is that God didn’t cause David’s pride or disobedience, but rather that God exposed the pride that was already resident within him. This is probably key to understanding why the first verse of the two accounts appear to disagree.  And it surfaces in the very next verses in James:

14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

A parallel study would involve the trials that are sent to Job. Satan — at God’s suggestion — is allowed to wreak havoc on Job’s life, but within limits. Satan is the agency of calamity, but only as God permitted that unique test to happen.

Job 1:8 Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

Job 2:3 Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil. And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause.”

 

We have to recognize that the source of temptation isn’t nearly as important as our response to it.

~PW

 

 

 

 

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