Christianity 201

November 20, 2022

Overcoming an Overly Critical Spirit

But build one another up every day. Do it as long as there is still time. – Hebrews 3:13a (NIRV)

I’ve often joked that, “I know my spiritual gift, I have the gift of criticism.” It makes people laugh, but in seriousness, our criticisms can really hurt people. In today’s climage of polarity, much energy is spent (especially online) by the people on Team ‘A’ criticizing the people on Team ‘B,’ and it works both ways.

Most of today’s thoughts are based on a sermon shared earlier this morning by Rev. Dwane Parsons, a pastor at Grace Church in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.

What causes us to have a critical spirit? It could be that

  • It resonates with our sinful nature, what scripture calls “the old man.”
  • We’re frustrated, and therefore try to control people and circumstances which ultimately we cannot
  • We have our own insecurities and jealousies
  • We hold a misplaced perfectionism (which we’ve either developed or inherited) and try to impose that standard on others

You see these and other factors manifested in the way the Pharisees react to Jesus.

What can we do?

First, stop walking through life like a whiner. Most people reading this are part of the “first world.” We have our basic necessities met each day, and many of our desires as well. Our personal theme should be, “I’m blessed.”

Philippians 2:4 reminds us to “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” (NLT)

Second, we can work to see the positive, in each situation and in each person. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us, Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. (GNT)

The NASB on that verse is interesting as it adds (amplifies) somewhat rendering the last part of the verse as, “… if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Reading this and thinking about the whole issue of timing, I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 25:11, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (NLT)

In Colossians 4:6 we’re reminded to, Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. (MSG)

Third, Ask the Lord to help you overcome your critical behaviour. Romans 12:3 reminds us, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (NIV)

A key phrase there is “sober judgment.” Sometimes our judgement is irrational judgement or emotional judgement.

Fourth, model encouragement to others. Here’s a quote from this morning’s message I found interesting: “You may be criticizing the gift of God in someone’s life.” Also, we might be normalizing criticism in front of new believers when we criticize someone unfairly. (Christian leaders: Certain negative remarks and assessments should, if necessary, stay between others in Christian leadership and not be shared in a forum where they might be more broadly heard or seen.)

Build a Legacy of Encouragement

Remember that encouragement, teaching, serving and showing mercy are spiritual gifts; criticism is not on the list. So much for my aforementioned ‘gift of criticism.’ Check out Romans 12:6-8, it’s not there.

Also, it comes back to you. Encouragement others benefits you as much as it does the person you encourage. Proverbs 11:25 is a verse I hadn’t considered before, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (NIV)

Here’s another vantage point on this subject, Nobody builds a legacy on criticism, but you might as an encourager. Here Pastor Dwane shared an interesting quotation by musician Jean Sibelius that, “A statue has never been built in honour of a critic.” So true.

Finally, a legacy of encouragement opens doors for ministry. We’re thinking here of the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to Tychicus and Titus in Colossians 4:7-8 and 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3. Paul’s letters are often letters of introduction for people he is sending or commissioning.


During the course of the message, I believe a point was very quickly raised about encouraging people who don’t receive our encouragement. In my head at that moment I heard some lyrics by ’80s Christian musician Margaret Becker:

It’s never for nothing
When we love with no return
Light your candle in the darkness
‘Cause it’s never for nothing.

We’re not responsible for outcomes, but we are responsible to remain faithful to encourage others.


And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

October 26, 2022

Every One of Us is Significant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In December of last year, we introduced you to Doug Eaton who lives in greater Los Angeles, and writes at Flight of Faith, and is also Director of Admissions at Trinity Law School, which upholds Judeo-Christian principles in legal training. Today we have an excellent devotional for you; why not click the title below and read this where it first appeared?

Why There Are No Insignificant Christians

The person sitting in the other pew at church is more glorious than you realize. It is easy for us to look at some of the other people in our church and think, “I am glad they are part of this church, but they are not that significant.” If we feel like that, it exposes a biblical blindness on our part that we need to correct as soon as possible.

Throughout scripture, there are references where the church is called the bride of Christ. One of those places is Revelation 21:2. It says, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This vision is ultimately a picture of the redeemed children of God. This understanding does not eliminate the fact that there will be a heavenly city, but this is ultimately about the people who dwell in that great city. It includes anyone, Old Testament or New, saved by faith and counted righteous in Christ Jesus.

If you notice, the city is adorned like a bride for her husband. Sinclair Ferguson says this is wedding imagery. This scene is the moment in the ceremony when the music begins to play; the congregation stands up, turns around, and looks at the bride, who has made her appearance. She is beautiful, fully adorned. At that moment, she may notice the people in the congregation, but her eyes are ultimately on the groom. It is his approval she is looking to receive, and the smile on his face and the light in his eyes are unmistakable.

Ferguson goes on to make an interesting point. Paraphrasing here, he says, I have officiated many weddings, and this is always an interesting moment because I saw the bride yesterday, and she did not look exceptional. She was wearing old jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Nothing made her stand out then, but now she is fully adorned.

That picture of the bride in jeans and a t-shirt is a picture of us in our current state. We still struggle with sin and weakness. We have bodies that are corruptible and struggle with illness, but one day we will stand fully adorned. On that day, when we see them, we will think, “Wait a minute, that was you?” Fully adorned with Christ shining on them, we will say, “That was who was sitting next to me, and I did not know it?”

We must not write off our brothers and sisters in Christ because they do not measure up to some standard we have imposed on them. Whether that standard is based on class, talent, dignity, employment, or clothing, all of them are false measures because, on that day, the child of God will be turned inside out, and all you will see is Christ. We will recognize all of the battles they fought. How they had been washed in the blood of Jesus, and how he never let them go because he loved them so much.

Never look at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and think, “eh.” This child of God is precious to our Savior. And if you ever feel like an insignificant Christian, know this, your glory awaits. Whether persecuted, broken, sick, poor, or struggling with sin, no matter what you are now, you will shine in glory one day.


…Reading Doug’s devotional reminded me of a quotation wherein C.S. Lewis stops to consider the eternal significance of the everyday people with whom we come in contact. He doesn’t stop at “insignificant Christians,” but would argue that this applies for “insignificant people” everywhere:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”  (from The Weight of Glory)

October 20, 2022

From a Polarized Church to Empathy and Compassion

by Clarke Dixon

We live in days of polarization. Instead of facing life side by side, we take sides. Instead of sitting with, we stand against.

It has been said that Job’s friends had great empathy and compassion for Job…until they opened their mouths. In the midst of terrible suffering, Job’s friends gathered to comfort him, spending seven days in silence. But then they started speaking. How did that go? We will let Job speak from his experience:

Then Job spoke again:
“How long will you torture me?
How long will you try to crush me with your words?
You have already insulted me ten times.
You should be ashamed of treating me so badly.

Job 19:1-3 (NLT)

Job’s friends failed in empathy and compassion. Our world, and even the Christian church, seems to be failing in empathy and compassion as we stand against one another instead of sitting together, as we take sides instead of facing life side by side.

Instead of a polarized faith tradition we want to be an empathetic and compassionate community of faith but there are two roadblocks that get in the way.

First, certitude gets in the way of becoming an empathetic and compassionate community.

Job’s three friends were there to comfort him but once they all start talking it went downhill and descended into chapter after chapter of argument. The problem is, they were all sure they were right. It can feel like we live in an era of Job chapters 3-37, everyone being so sure they are right.

We see a similar kind of certitude in Saul of Tarsus. He was so sure that the Jesus movement needed to be stamped out, that the Jesus followers needed to be imprisoned, or killed. To quote Brian Zhand:

Saul was furiously enraged because he was certain that he was right and that the Christians were wrong. Biblical certainty was the drug of choice for this young Pharisee, but it only made him mean. Certitude can be an incubator for cruelty. Perceived infallibility can lead to brutality.

Brian Zhand from the book “When Everything is on Fire.”

Zhand goes on to describe how in meeting Jesus, Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle and moved from certitude as the top quality of his faith, to love. Can we make that same move? If so we have a chance at a world with less polarization and more empathy and compassion.

Second, the need to win every argument gets in the way of becoming an empathetic and compassionate community.

At no point in all the arguing back and forth in the Book of Job does anyone say to anyone else, “good point,” or “maybe I need to think about that more” or “well maybe we don’t need to solve it today.” Rather, the tone is “I know better.” Each needs to win.

What could have been a conversation, a good conversation and an important conversation about suffering and the place of righteousness in suffering, ended up being an argument. Job chapters 3-37 are not really a record of a conversation between, but rather the record of a series of lectures for, or worse, preaching at.

Conversation requires listening. Listening requires openness and a teachable spirit. A teachable spirit requires the ability to lose an argument.

Can we move from arguments to conversations? If so we have a chance at moving from a polarized world to a more empathetic and compassionate one.

Today we have continued our series called “What Kind of Church” drawing from the cultural statements of Open Table Communities. What kind of church would Jesus himself feel at home in? What kind of church “gets” Jesus? What kind of church do we want to be?

A church with…

A Culture of Empathy and Compassion
We nurture relationships and gatherings where being with people in the midst of their journey, is more important than being right or being in control. We encourage empathetic listening and compassion for each person’s unique journey and story, including our own.

Open Table Communities


Clark Dixon is a Canadian pastor. His condensed sermons can be read at Thinking Through Scripture, and also appear here most Thursdays.

October 12, 2022

The Quest of Fitting In

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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NIV.1Cor.1.10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.

For our sixth time visiting the website Preacher Pollard we’re today featuring another member of the family, Kathy Pollard. But before we go too far, we need to tell you that this is from their related site, Life And Favor. You can read today’s thoughts direct by visiting the website at the main link (above) or the link for this article (below).

The Christian Chameleon

Did you ever have that one friend back in junior high that acted like your best friend at church but then when you saw her at school, she acted like she didn’t know you? Perhaps she was ashamed of you when she was with her other friends because you weren’t cool enough for the school crowd. Do you remember how that made you feel?

That kind of juvenile behavior is unfortunate but not surprising. Young people can struggle with insecurities. They want to be seen in a certain light to be accepted by certain groups. And that objective becomes a stronger motivation than caring about how their actions might hurt or affect others.

Unfortunately, for most of us, that desire to be accepted doesn’t dissipate when we grow up. By the time we’re adults, we’ve honed our skill of reading the crowd and learning how to blend in to become part of it.

Some of that is natural and good. When we move to a new state or start a new job, we observe our new environment and learn how to find our place and fit in. We make friends by learning what others like and are interested in and then try to emphasize areas of common ground. A sense of community is important and we want to feel that our part in it is valued. Paul even said, I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). He observed people and found ways to connect with them.

The problem comes when our desire for acceptance becomes a stronger motivation than our determination to be Christlike. It’s a fleshly thing and I imagine that, even as Christians, we all struggle with it at some point or in certain situations. For example:

  • When our conversations around the water cooler at work are different than our conversations in the fellowship hall at church.
  • When we put all kinds of effort into befriending, helping, and hanging out with the “cool kids” at church but barely offer a nod to those who are on the fringe or those who were converted through benevolent outreach.
  • When we use edgy or worldly humor around some to get a laugh but present a more spiritual tone around an elder’s wife.

What’s the difference between these scenarios and Paul’s declaration? Paul had one clear goal and that was saving souls. He never compromised his faith or integrity. He wasn’t trying to be liked or fit in or gain a following (1 Cor. 1:10-15). In all of his efforts to reach others, He first determined to look like the Christ he was representing.

So how does one “become all things to all people” without becoming a chameleon (presenting a different face in different situations)?

  • Pray for pure motives. While being accepted is nice, our objective in all of our interactions should be, “What can I do to point the way to Heaven?” If we take the focus off of self, it will help remove the temptation to compromise in order to be liked (Gal. 2:20).
  • See people as Jesus did. Think about everyone He interacted with. The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Zacchaeus (Luke 19). The woman who was a sinner (Luke 7). Jesus wasn’t worried about what other people thought about Him, even when His own disciples questioned His actions. Jesus could have blended in, like a chameleon, for self-preservation. But He was more worried about what others needed. Who’s sitting alone in the pew where you worship? Who goes to an empty table at the fellowship meals? Who can you invite to lunch that probably isn’t being invited? Who is being ignored where you work because their life got messy and it made them mean? Jesus SAW people and went out of His way to get to them.
  • Be genuine. Paul was the same with everyone but Peter stumbled in this area. He was nice enough to the Gentiles until certain Jews came around. Then he snubbed them. He would “draw back and separate himself from them.” Paul rightly accused Peter of playing the hypocrite (Gal. 2:11-14). When others see us, it should be a given that we will be warm and friendly to them, every time, as often as we can, no matter who’s around. If we’re only thoughtful toward certain people, we’re not really thoughtful, are we?
  • Protect souls. Peter’s actions lead others to ignore the Gentiles, too. Even friendly Barnabas followed Peter’s example. I imagine this had to leave a bad taste of Christianity in the mouths of those Gentiles. If we’re interested in getting others to Heaven, we will be very careful of our own influence when it comes to how we treat everyone around us. We will be protective of others. This means we will protect the souls of the worldly by trying to influence them with Christlike behavior. We will protect the souls of the less fortunate by doing our best to make them feel wanted and worthwhile. We will protect the souls of those who are on the social fringe by widening our circle to include them. We must lead the way in this!

Jesus had an inner circle but He often left them to make His way to the those who were shunned. Jesus had a comfort zone but He left it to come to earth to reach us. As much as He loved others, He didn’t always feel like being the one to make the sacrifice (remember His prayer in the garden?) but He did it anyway. And the result? Saved souls, genuine relationships, eternal acceptance.

October 11, 2022

The Fruit of Your Connection to God

Today we’re introducing a new writer to you, Tom Graves who writes at The Light of Christ Journey. He is currently going through a series on the life of Joseph, of which this is just a very small sample. (For those of you who lead others, this current blog series provides excellent commentary on the principles to be learned from Joseph’s life.) Click the title which follows to read this where we found it.

Relationship with God Affects Others

NLT.Eph.4.24 You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God’s likeness––righteous, holy, and true.

Your relationship with God affects others. This statement is just as accurate today as it was in the days of people in the Bible. As my relationship with the Lord grows, He opens my eyes to begin to see people more as He sees them.

I was visiting an older faithful believer whose health is not good, yet she is joyful and thankful for Jesus. Her vibrant relationship with Jesus affected her visit with me and everyone with whom she interacted.

The world that seems dark and full of hardship is transformed into opportunities to assist others when my focus is on Jesus. Unfortunately, not everyone looks through the lens of Jesus as they journey through life.

Joseph’s Brothers were Affected by the Lack of Relationship with God

The sons of Jacob were a rough group of men who knew about the Lord, but their relationship with Him seemed shallow. This lack of connection with the Lord affected their actions to such a degree they wanted to kill their brother Joseph.

NLT.Gen.37.18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

Joseph’s brothers’ weak relationship with the Lord would result in consequences they never foresaw. Only with God’s grace and patience were the brothers changed. This is the same patience the Lord has with you and me.

You Can Grow in Your Relationship with the Lord

All of us are a work in progress, and we don’t have to stay the way we are right now. You may be praying for the Lord to change you. God loves to heal broken and strained relationships. Years later, God helped heal the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. If God can do this, no relationship is beyond repair.

When Jesus begins to work in our hearts, He can turn a downcast, self-centered person into a person of joy and thankfulness. Paul gives us beautiful words of wisdom about taking off the old self and putting on the new.

 NLT.Eph.4.21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

To hear how your relationship with God affects others, listen here:

https://podpoint.com/light-of-christ-church-podcast/joseph-sold

August 4, 2022

Love for Christ; Love for One Another

Quantity is not quality when it comes to devotional writing. Sometimes we return to a previously-featured writer here and find they are not active online, but in their archives or most-recent postings there are things worth sharing with readers here. Today we’re back with the blog Ascents written by worship pastor Tim Adams. This appeared in February of this year. Click to read it where we did; and then take some time to look around.

Revelation 2 – Ephesus: A Church’s Love Abandoned

Recently, my daily bible reading schedule brought me to Revelation 2, where Jesus is speaking to the church in Ephesus. He commends them for their perseverance, intolerance of sin, and their testing of false teachers. Then in verse 4, He tells them what He has against them—that they have “left [their] first love.” I recall, some years ago, a sharp debate over this statement in Sunday school over whether their “first love” was love for Christ, or love for one another. What am I to make of this? The text itself implies that the Ephesian church would plainly know what Christ was referring to.

Is this an important issue? I believe it is, as it was enough for Christ to hold them accountable.  He tells them that, unless they repent, He will “remove [their] lampstand out of its place.” In other words, the church in Ephesus will cease to exist in Christ’s eyes.

How do I answer this apparent dilemma? I think I’ll let Scripture speak for itself.  Remember John’s words in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also, (1 John 4:19–21, NASB95).

This statement makes my love for God and love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, inseparable. I cannot love God without loving my brother. This leads me to another question. Is love what I do, or is it both what I do and feel. Scripture clearly tells us love is primarily something I choose to do, not always something I feel. In other words, it’s possible to love those I don’t necessarily, at a given time, feel affection for. That being said, my failure to love others demonstrates that my love for God is not real—remember, to love is a choice.

When asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29–30, NASB95)

He then followed that up with the 2nd most important, quoting Leviticus 19:18.

“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31, NASB95)

How, then, do I love God, whom I have not seen?

  • With my heart – a deep and heart felt affection for God, my Father.
  • With my soul – in response to the testimony of the Holy Spirit on my spirit that I am His child, (Romans 8:16).
  • With my mind – my thoughts, my meditations, my prayers will reflect a regard for God that is worthy of Him.
  • With my strength – the energy I expend, and what I choose to do, will demonstrate my love for God.

So then, how do I love my neighbor as myself? By applying the same effort in meeting the needs of my neighbor that I apply to meeting my own. In the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?”.  Jesus responded with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. If I strive to love others in the same way as this Samaritan, that love will testify to a deep love for God.

The unfortunate reality is that all this is easier said than done. Why? The apostle Paul says it best…

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want, (Romans 7:18–19, NASB95).

So, we continue the struggle to be the people we are called to be.  I am encouraged know that Paul, this great man of God also tangled with his own failures.  Here’s his answer to the struggle.

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin, (Romans 7:24–25, NASB95).

He followed that up with this wonderful statement…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death, (Romans 8:1–2, NASB95).

So, be encouraged. God will finish the work begun!

July 31, 2022

Seeing the Face of God in Others

…and letting them see the face of God in you.

This is our fourth time featuring the writing of Marlene Limgo at Living the Blessed Life (formerly Life Walk with Marlene). Click the header below to read this post where it first appeared.

Seeing God’s Face

There once were two friends travelling in a desert. They got into an argument. In the heat of the moment, one slapped the other. The one who was slapped, wrote on the sand: Today, my best friend slapped me.

When they came to an oasis, they decided to take a bath. The one who was slapped, slipped and fell in the mire, started to drown. Her friend pulled her out and saved her life. The one who nearly drowned wrote on the stone: Today my friend saved my life.

Why?

When someone hurt you, write it on the sand where the wind will blow it away.
When someone helped you, engrave it on the stone where nothing will erase it.
“For to see your face is like seeing the face of God!” Who said this? To who? how? where? when? WHY?

► Who: Jacob
► To who: Esau (Jacob’s twin who wanted to kill him.)
► Where/When: On the way home to return to his father Isaac; after running away/hiding from Esau.
► WHY: Esau wanted to kill Jacob after he stole Esau’s birthright (Gen. 27-28). After so many years of hiding, God told him to go back home (Gen. 31:3).
Jacob feared that Esau might still be mad at him and ready to kill him:
1) He prayed to God about his fear (32:9-12).
2) He planned and strategized what he’s going to do to meet Esau (32:13-21).
3) He changed his plan again when he saw Esau (33:1-3).

Then what? I could imagine how pleasantly shocked Jacob was as I read v. 4
“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”

The brother-turned-enemy became his brother again. Jacob exclaimed: Seeing you is like seeing the face of God! Why? Because now you have received me favourably.

Lessons to learn:

Favor – an attitude of approval or liking; an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual.
Indeed, what a joy it is to have favor with God and man – that is how Jesus was described when he was growing as a boy. The same was described of Samuel: that he grew in favor with God and man.

Am I not happy when people affirm me? Do I not find satisfaction in gaining the approval of friends and family? How comforting is it to receive a kind word, warm hug and a firm pat on the shoulder when I’m feeling down! Whatever blessing I have, is it not a favor – an act of kindness from God beyond what is due me?
How many of my friends and family members or even strangers do i see as like seeing the face of God? Perhaps, many are, in different ways at different times, sometimes taken for granted?

When people see me, will they say that seeing me is like seeing the face of God? Do I extend the same favor that God gives me to others who need it? Do I forgive as God forgives? Am I kind as He is kind? How do I treat those who have wronged me? What is my attitude when I am the one who has done wrong? How do I extend mercy? How do I receive grace?

April 28, 2022

Has Fear or Fighting Stolen Your Peace?

Thinking Through John 20:19-23

by Clarke Dixon

Has either fear or fighting stolen your peace? You might wonder how you could have peace right now with this scary situation, or that horrible relationship. It might be a nasty virus or a nasty war that is stealing your peace. Jesus speaks to themes of fear, fighting, and peace.

Let us begin with how fear steals our peace

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.

John 20:19 (NLT)

The disciples knew all about fear. They were holed up in a room with the doors locked out of the fear that they would end up crucified and dead like their leader. They knew they had targets on their backs, so locked doors it was. Until Jesus showed up.

Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

John 20:21 (NLT)

While there was rejoicing over seeing Jesus alive, the fear was still real, if not heightened by what Jesus had just said. No more hiding behind locked doors, go out into that scary world where you may well get killed! According to tradition, most of them were.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 (NLT)

Breathing on the disciples might seem odd, but as often happens the odd things in the Bible are a clue that something symbolic is happening. Here the breathing on the disciples points back to Genesis:

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Genesis 2:7 (NLT)

God breathed life into humanity at Creation. Now here in Jesus God was doing it again. The Giver of life is with you, even in the face of death. Even though the fear of death was real for the disciples, their peace about life, death, and life after death could be real also.

Our fears can be legitimate. We may well end up wounded, emotionally from relationships, or physically from disease. We will likely face death at some point. Fear helps us seek wisdom, on how to stay alive and healthy. Fear is not all bad. But while fear may be helpful, even necessary at times, fear need not steal our peace. While the worst thing that we imagine might happen, could happen, in Christ the best thing that could happen, even beyond our imagination, shall definitely happen.

Let us continue with how fighting steals our peace

When Jesus says “peace be with you,” it is important that we recognize the word used for peace. Jesus would have spoken mostly in Aramaic and used a word related to the Hebrew word for peace; shalom. While our word peace may be used to describe situations where there is no fighting, the word shalom goes deeper to describe a situation where there is harmony. Two nations may be said to be at peace if they are not lobbing bombs as each other, but they may not be experiencing shalom if the relationship is not good. Likewise, you may experience peace in your relationships, but not shalom.

When Jesus told the disciples he was sending them out, he was sending them out among people with whom they did not have shalom. Their enemies were real, the enmity was real.

Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” How did the Father send Jesus?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Father sent the son with the agenda of offering forgiveness, of bringing love in the face of hatred. The disciples were to go out among their enemies with the intention of bringing love in the face of hatred.

As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.

John 20:20 (NLT)

When Jesus showed the disciples his wounds he could have said “where were you when this happened? Why didn’t you stand by me?” But instead he said “Peace be with you.” Jesus showed them his wounds, not as evidence of their wrongdoing, or anyone else’s wrongdoing, but as a sign that he was real, and that his love for them and his forgiveness of them was real. Having experienced that love, they were now sent out to live it. So are we.

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

John 20:23 (NLT)

We might automatically think Jesus is speaking of the forgiveness from God that leads to eternal life here. We might therefore smell power, our power. But is that necessary? I like Eugene Peterson’s take on what Jesus said:

If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

John 20:23 (MSG)

Good question! If we don’t forgive people’s sins against us, we will let those sins fester in our lives and in our relationships. We will let them steal our peace, our shalom.

Jesus is speaking here about the opportunity of experiencing peace in our relationships, and of bringing shalom to others. In breathing on the disciples, Jesus breathed a breath of fresh air into their relationship with him. Gone was any thought of experiencing judgement and condemnation. We can breathe new life into our relationships through forgiveness.

We enjoy shalom with God because God in Jesus has taken the path of the cross with us. Jesus said “As the father has sent me, I’m sending you,” meaning we are now sent on that same path of the cross, of love and forgiveness.

In Conclusion

Has fear stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “peace be with you.” Our fears may be real, but they need not steal our peace.

Has fighting stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Fighting can end in peace and enmity in friendship when we follow Jesus in the way of the cross.

“Peace be with you.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays.

April 23, 2022

Misplaced Blame

The Message, Job 40:3-5 Job answered:

“I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.
    I should never have opened my mouth!
I’ve talked too much, way too much.
    I’m ready to shut up and listen.”

We’re back for a fourth time with Matt Tullos who has been writing dramatic, devotionals, sermons, videos, poems and humor since 1985. Click the link in the header which follows to read this online, and to discover more.

I put my hand over my mouth

It’s something in the core of most people: a desire to find out what or who causes messes. And no one likes to get the blame for a mess. As children we blamed our brother or sister for the broken vase and when we’re older we blame our self-sworn enemies for the broken world. And it is broken. The world is a mess and many just can’t do mess.

Cal Jarrett, the father in the 1981 movie, “Ordinary People” said to his emotionally distant wife:

“We would have been alright, if there hadn’t been any mess. But you can’t handle mess. You need everything neat and easy. I don’t know. Maybe you can’t love anybody. It was so much Buck. When Buck died, it was as if you buried all your love with him, and I don’t understand that, I just don’t know, I don’t… maybe it wasn’t even Buck; maybe it was just you. Maybe, finally, it was the best of you that you buried. But, whatever it was… I don’t know who you are.”

I’ve heard many explanations at the graveside, where people tried to explain or theologize accidents, cancer, or covid. These philosophical expeditions are fool’s errands. Others don’t blame, they just disconnect.

We’ve lived through a season of blame. Some blame the mandates, immune systems, fake news, Facebook, critical race theory, politicians, presidents, doctors, the masked, the unmasked, antifa, news outlets, millennials, boomers, China, political parties, and mandates. Blaming is what we do to make ourselves feel better. We feel more in control when we have an enemy we can attach to the post office walls of our souls. But that feeling becomes eventually void, brief and ephemeral. We dig into our own feeble logic and construct belief systems that tie neat little bows over our limited and inadequate world view. Our nature is to forward blame to others so that we can feel better about ourselves and rationalize the root of anger that grows beyond the borders of our personal lives. This is Springsteen’s darkness on the edge of town. We live in the shadows and snipe at our enemies from Twitter accounts and snarky memes.

One thing is certain: Blame keeps us in safe little bubbles where we don’t have to engage. It works until we realize that the bubble is an eternally dangerous place to be. That bubble of isolation and stagnation leads to an insidious rot of the soul.

I’ve witnessed the birthing process. It’s messy. There’s pain, blood, sweat, snot, cries, and danger. I’ve also experienced graveyards. There’s organization, specific dates, symmetry, and nice, tidy rows. But, I’d rather be in the labor room. You learn so much more.

Throughout the book of Job, we see men doing postmortems of tragedies that come in bunches. We’ve all had cascades of crises which appear together out of nowhere. The baby is sick, the car blows up and we get passed over for the promotion- all in one day. It’s easy to ask the wrong questions when life gets dark and messy. The default is often, “Why?” “What did I do?”  Or, perhaps, an even more insidious question, “Why is God doing this to me?” More often than not, these questions are pointless.

The meaning of the book of Job is found late in the fourth quarter after all the armchair quarterbacking is completed. God finally speaks. A lot. Finally. God asks him forty-six answerless questions about the mysteries of His purpose. Forty-six! How would you like that divine interrogation? I can relate to Job’s response: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”

When God speaks all I can do is put my hand over my mouth.

When God speaks I get tired of my own opinions.

When God speaks I realize that maybe I should shut up about my theories for once.

When God speaks I realize that I’ll never understand the world on this side of eternity.

I say like Job: I have spoken once, but I have no answer— twice, but I have nothing to add.”

It brings Job to a majestic response: Only God knows. His plans are much higher than my mind can fathom.

There’s a joy in not having to explain God, and simply trusting Him when troubles come in bunches. There’s serenity when you hand the gavel over to the Almighty Judge of the universe. You don’t understand? Well, guess what. You aren’t God. How can I add anything to what God has already decreed and ordered in the timeline of His sovereign grace?  I ask about injustice and He replies, “Go look at the elephant. I made that.” I worry about the future, and He tells me to look at the birds.

I give up.

I put my hand over my mouth.

April 2, 2022

Compassion in a People-First Culture

I wanted to share some of my experience reading the book, A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight with Laura Barringer (Tyndale House Publishers). The short word tov is a Hebrew word that means good. The second half (two thirds, really) of the book are about creating a culture in the local church that fosters goodness, and having a “people first” culture is the third of seven elements in what the writers call the “circle of TOV.”

A short excerpt follows.

Develop Jesus-Like Eyes for People

How did the Gospel writers and apostles know that Jesus was filled with compassion? There are only three options: he told them, his face showed it, or his tears flowed. Two and three are the most likely. However, Jesus’ emotional response to those in need was not simply to “feel bad” about their circumstances; it was an emotional response that prompted action. Each time the Gospel writers describe the compassion of Jesus, the also tell us what he did: he healed, he cured, he cleansed, he taught, he pastored.

The apostle Paul had a similar heart for people–though many people today get him wrong on this one. They think of Paul as a power-mongering, workaholic, money-grubbing, anti-woman, proslavery authoritarian who gathered together groups of new Christians and set up some rules for them before pushing off for the next shore, and who heard some stories about nonsense in those gatherings and dashed off angry letters telling everyone how to live. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but not by much, if you’ve ever heard the critiques of Christianity offered by some people today. Now read 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 and ask yourself if it lines up with the critical view of Paul mentioned above.

When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.

Here’s a man who had such an intense love for the Corinthians (who, at least in Paul’s mind, lacked that same love for him) and concern for his protege Titus that he stopped in his tracks and couldn’t go on until he saw Titus and heard about the welfare of the Corinthians. Paula Gooder, chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, puts it this way: “Paul–the greatest evangelist of all time–passed up an opportunity to preach the gospel because his friend Titus was not there.” And not just “his friend,” but his “dear brother.” People first.

Notice now the focus of Paul’s mission to the church in Colossae–which was almost entirely a group of people he’d never met. We’ve italicized the people-oriented words:

We tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.  [Col 1:28-2:2 NLT]

Agonizing, encouraging, knitting together with “strong ties of love.” Paul was nothing if not compassionate and people-first. It was the foundation of his entire ministry.

pp 132-33, A Church Called TOV


The fine print: Usually, buried here at the bottom is the publisher information and the little phrase “used by permission” but Tyndale no longer has a publisher’s representative in the country where we originate, and review copies of their books are now equally elusive, even though our readership is 78% American. So I could have ignored the book altogether, but I really think it’s something that is important reading in this cultural moment. Plus, I wanted to create my own little “culture of goodness” by sharing it. So… excerpt is ©2020 by the authors, and used without permission.

February 20, 2022

Life is Beautiful When Fulfilled by Relationships

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our first time with Alicia Witt who writes at For His Purpose. in this post, written in late November, she speaks about a particular health challenge, but from her other writing, we know that it was just one of many. You can read this, where we sourced it, by clicking the header below which contains a link.

A Cord of Three Strands

This morning my oldest daughter, Paige, had asked if I’d braid her hair. She’s going out for girls’ wrestling this year and has practice today (even though it’s Thanksgiving break) so pulled back hair is her preference.

I found it interesting because at the time she asked, I was reading and studying over Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 which says this:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

When it comes to my daughter wanting her very long hair braided she always requests the help of either her sister or myself. It takes another set of hands to make it happen. It’s teamwork.

Today as I got the privilege of braiding her hair, with some new and fresh insight, I thought about the last part of the verses I’d just read, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Interesting given the fact I’d just woven three sections of hair together similar to a cord formation. The weaving and intertwining of the hair strands keeps it stronger and serves the purpose for which it was meant—to hold together.

Keeping these verses in mind we can circle the encouragement found here—there is strength when partnering up.

Last weekend I tested positive for Covid and to say I accepted the circumstances to follow with ease would be a huge falsity. I was not impressed and am still struggling. Plans were tossed and negative feelings pursued.

My “quarantine” time doesn’t end until Sunday evening. There’s nothing normal about being isolated from family over Thanksgiving break especially in my own home.

Out of respect for my husband and kids I’ve tried to stay to my room but I was really “wrestling” with depressive thoughts so I’ve graduated a bit more to the main areas of the house while wearing a mask. I know this probably doesn’t meet CDC recommendations but out of the personal health of my sanity it is what it is.

I admit this isn’t one of my most happy-go-lucky-posts. Actually I always aim to just be as transparent as possible. I share all this though because I’ve been able to reflect on how much people matter to me.

God didn’t design us to be alone. In the beginning of His Word we read in Genesis 2:18, “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” God created woman in effort to reinforce that idea. We know sin ensued shortly after and humanity has suffered the results since. But God didn’t leave us without a Way to overcome…His name is Jesus.

When we include Jesus in our life, and in our relationships, that cord we read about in Ecclesiastes exist with the type of supernatural strength that points to Him.

Life is for us to do together. To lift one another up. To encourage. To cheer one another on. To smile. To hug. To laugh. To cry. To fellowship. To be in communion.

So even though Thanksgiving has definitely looked and felt very different and has not been my first choice of creating memories in this way, I can focus on the fact that I am blessed beyond measure—I know the importance (without a shadow of a doubt) of how beautiful life is when we are fulfilled by relationships. And the best is with Jesus laced right in the middle.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken…


January 27, 2022

When Relationships Get Ugly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Luke 4:14-21

by Clarke Dixon

Relationships can get very ugly very quickly. Whether between people groups or among family and friends, things can turn sour fast. I’m sure I don’t need to give examples as you probably have first-hand experience. Don’t we all!?

We have an example of relationships getting ugly fast when Jesus made a positive first impression on his hometown crowd and then that same crowd attempted to throw him off a cliff! Digging into this event will help us with our ugly relationships.

So what happened? Let’s see where it begins:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NRSV)

We will see why things got ugly when we compare what Jesus went on to say, and not say, with what Isaiah went on to say in Isaiah 61 had Jesus just kept reading.

The first thing we notice is that Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah at a significant moment. He stopped mid-sentence. Had he gone on to read further, he would have read:

…to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,

Isaiah 61:2 (NIV emphasis added)

Jesus stopped short of talking about vengeance. Maybe that is our first clue on handling ugly relationships?

To understand what is going on here more fully, it will help us to realize that Isaiah had prophesied to God’s people about the Babylonian invasion of the promised land, the exile of many to Babylon, and then here in the passage quoted by Jesus, their subsequent return. Isaiah was looking forward to the day God’s people would be set free from the Babylonians, a day of “release to the captives” when “the oppressed go free.”

According to Isaiah, not only could God’s people look forward to freedom from these foreign oppressors, the tables would be turned on the enemy. For example,

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the LORD,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.

Isaiah 61:5-6 (NRSV)

According to Isaiah’s prophecy God’s people would no longer be slave-laborers for the Babylonians but instead the foreign enemies would be laborers in the promised land. Also, the wealth of God’s people would no longer belong to Babylon, but instead the wealth of nations would be brought to God’s people. This is a reversal of fortunes.

Those in Jesus’ day would have latched onto this reversal of fortunes, especially when Jesus said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What those listening to Jesus would have been thinking is, “great, just as we needed rescue from Babylon, we now need rescue from these Romans who have invaded our land! This miracle worker may just be the one who will lead the rebellion!”

However, Jesus neither went on to read that part of Isaiah 61 nor to apply it to the current situation, making no insinuation that the tables would be turned and the Romans would become subject to the Jews. As much as the crowd would have loved to have heard that, he said this instead:

Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.

Luke 4:24-27 (NRSV)

Instead of speaking about the tables being turned against the foreigners, Jesus gave two examples from the Old Testament of foreigners receiving a greater blessing from God than God’s people. This is not what the crowd wanted to hear, and this is the point things got ugly and they took Jesus out to throw him off a cliff. This is also the point that helps us with ugly relationships.

Jesus did indeed come to set the prisoners free, but God’s people had bigger enemies than the Romans to worry about. Sin was the greater enemy. The Romans themselves were captive to that same enemy, and in fact, without Christ, so are we. The Romans, though being the oppressors, were themselves prisoners. They were captive to sin, captive to thinking that brute force was the way toward a better world, captive to life without God.

Indeed the brute force of Rome combined with the ignorance of the Jewish religious leaders in the execution of Jesus. Here again, Jesus stopped short of vengeance. Rising from the dead Jesus did not call for immediate destruction of his enemies, but instead sent out his disciples to tell people the good news of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is entered through the receiving of God’s forgiveness and grace. That forgiveness was, and is still, offered to all God’s enemies.

Our Ugly Relationships

Do you have ugly relationships with others? We have bigger enemies to worry about, enemies that all humans face, like hatred, grudges, gossip, and dangerous ideologies or theologies. Let us seek release from these enemies. Perhaps we should put more of our focus and energy on battling these sins than on doing battle with the people we have ugly relationships with. That battle may begin with our own hearts.

When relationships get ugly let us begin by stopping short of seeking vengeance. We might need to learn the art of stopping our thoughts and words mid-sentence, before things go too far. The thought of justice comes naturally to us. The jump from justice to vengeance is a short hop that comes naturally to us. The way of the cross does not. We have God’s Spirit to help!

When our relationships get ugly, let us be like Jesus and remember love first.

Our relationships, our world, could be different if we become enthused by the grace of God, whose first response to His enemies, and ours, is love.


  • To watch a 20-minute sermon on which today’s devotional is based, click this link.

September 28, 2021

A Friend Will Challenge You

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 NIV

While rummaging through the book listings at a large online Christian bookstore a few hours ago, I came across a title which intrigued me: The 7 Friendships That Everyone Needs by Justin Erickson. The advertising blurb listed these:

7 Types of Friendships Every Man Needs:

  1. Godly mentor to Disciple you
  2. Faithful Disciple to follow you
  3. Solid Peer to Encourage you
  4. Best Friend to uphold you
  5. Courageous Brother to confront you
  6. Lost Seeker to hear you
  7. Gracious Savior to redeem you

My mind immediately jumped to Proverbs 27:17

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.  (NLT)

Of course the opposite is also true, as seen in Proverbs 13:20

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (NIV)

The other thing my mind immediately jumped to is the title of a popular Christian book from years back, Caring Enough to Confront. It’s one of those “Snakes on a plane” type of book titles that, once you’ve read the title, you’ve got the premise. If we care enough about people we will not be afraid to stand in their way when they’re going off the rails.

The principle is also in Proverbs 15:31

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. (NLT) The NIV has heeds life-giving correction and the NASB renders it as listens to the life-giving reproof.

I was somewhat horrified to discover that in 11 years, the phrase “caring enough to confront” has never surfaced here. So today we correct that with a short devotional from 2006 published in Today the daily reading booklet given out by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The author is retired CRC pastor Arthur Schoonveld

Caring Enough to Confront

2 Samuel 12:1-7 ERV

The LORD sent Nathan to David. Nathan went to him and said, “There were two men in a city. One man was rich, but the other man was poor. The rich man had lots of sheep and cattle. But the poor man had nothing except one little female lamb that he bought. The poor man fed the lamb, and the lamb grew up with this poor man and his children. She ate from the poor man’s food and drank from his cup. The lamb slept on the poor man’s chest. The lamb was like a daughter to the poor man. “Then a traveler stopped to visit the rich man. The rich man wanted to give food to the traveler, but he did not want to take any of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler. No, the rich man took the lamb from the poor man and cooked it for his visitor.”

David became very angry with the rich man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who did this should die! He must pay four times the price of the lamb because he did this terrible thing and because he had no mercy.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are that rich man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I chose you to be the king of Israel. I saved you from Saul.

Key verse: Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:7

Sometimes we are almost completely blind to our own sins and shortcomings. It’s so much easier to see the faults and failures of others. And sometimes it takes someone else to make us see our sin. That’s how it was with David. When the prophet Nathan told him a story about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb, David was outraged. He could clearly see what the rich man had done, but he failed to see his own sin. The prophet needed to confront David before he realized that Nathan was talking about him.

In the book Caring Enough to Confront, David Augsburger talks about the importance of confronting people who live in sin. Sometimes we need to confront, and sometimes we need to be confronted. It’s not easy to confront a family member, a friend, or a coworker. Sometimes it’s easier to look the other way. Besides, we ourselves don’t like to be confronted. When someone cares enough to confront us, often our first response is “Who do you think you are? You’re not perfect either!”

God calls us to confront others who are in sin, and we need to learn to do so with gentleness (Galatians 6:1). We must also be willing to be confronted when we are blind to our own sins. God wants us all to help remove the barrier of sin that keeps us far from God.

Prayer

Father in heaven, make us caring enough to confront someone who is living in sin, and give us the grace to accept those who confront us. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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July 14, 2021

God Had a Plan in Mind

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our fourth time at Inspire a Fire, but the first time since 2017. They feature a variety of writers and focus on topical devotionals. The writer today is Norma Gail. She is an award winning fiction author, and Bible study leader. Click the header which follows to read this at Inspire a Fire.

Broken Relationships and God’s Plans

Broken relationships hurt. The search for answers feels like grasping at fog. As years pass and circumstances fail to change, the hope of reconciliation fades. God alone can heal a family, but His methods are often different than we would choose.

Joseph Suffered at His Jealous Brothers’ Hands

One of the Bible’s most powerful characters, Joseph, offers a glimpse at how a hopeless family situation was healed. Attacked by jealous older brothers and thrown into a dry cistern, they plotted to kill him. His questions must have circled like vultures, sharp beaks pecking away, leaving painful wounds that pierced his heart. Our most difficult dilemmas and deepest wounds come from those who possess the greatest power to hurt, those we love.

Judah saved Joseph from death but could do nothing to prevent the others from selling him into slavery. What agony he must have experienced as each day carried him further from his life as a favored son. In a foreign land with a strange language and customs, he was tempted and tried, forgotten, and neglected, then suddenly elevated to a position of prominence. Whenever Joseph found a measure of peace and comfort, relationships went bad again, and prison resulted.

Joseph Chose Faithfulness, Not Bitterness

Rather than wallowing in bitterness, Joseph chose to walk closely to the Lord. Scripture repeats the phrases,

“The Lord was with Joseph,” “the Lord gave him success,”

and his masters recognized something special in him. Joseph prospered through faithfulness, despite his circumstances. He was willing to serve others, though he possessed nothing of his former position.

Wherever he went, Joseph honored God in humiliation as he did in prosperity. Whatever his task, he worked as if serving the Lord, and God was faithful in return.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

Joseph’s attitude brought blessing to those around him.

God, Not Man, Controls Our Circumstances

My hurt and anger blind me to the blessings that could result if I trusted God and waited on Him. No one enjoys disrespect, lies, and mistreatment, but seeking to right the wrongs on my own is doomed to fail. God’s time and method are essential.

God could have stopped the situation at any point, protected Joseph from his brothers, and punished their hatred, but He didn’t. My most difficult circumstances grow and mature me if I seek Him. He will change hearts and minds if I trust, pray, and wait for His timing.

When Joseph met his brothers many years later, he forgave. He refused to retaliate in anger. Lord, help me learn the lesson of Joseph and extend grace when relationships go bad. Enable me to say as he did,

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).

[B]less those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28

God heals hurts. The brother’s hearts had changed over the years as they saw the pain their actions brought to their father. What we see as unchangeable is not so to God.

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June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

Spiritual disciplines.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

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