Christianity 201

January 1, 2019

The First Month of Your Year

by Russell Young

A new year! The first day of the year is often considered as a new beginning. Reflection is given to the things in life that could be improved by change or by greater commitment. The LORD spoke of a new year to the Israelites. On the day they were redeemed (2 Sam 7:23; 1 Chr 17:21) from bondage in Egypt the LORD said, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (Ex 12:2) They had been given a new beginning with great promise. The LORD was to lead them through his servant Moses into a new life and into the Land of Promise, a land flowing with “milk and honey”.

Gentiles who have committed themselves to God through faith have been offered a similar promise and a similar hope. Although believers have not been set free from earthly kings, they do enjoy the hope of an eternal city and the presence of their God.

A new calendar year can provide opportunity for those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb to reflect on the progress of their own spiritual journey. We might do well to remember that although 600,000 men plus all the women and children left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua made it into that promised land. All had begun their journey with hope but after forty years of testing most died in the wilderness. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) Following redemption comes testing!

Contrary to the teaching of some, not all the redeemed will find a presence in God’s eternal kingdom. Perhaps the new year is a good time to reflect on the Lord’s admonition: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 Italics added) God’s righteous requirements (Rom 8:4) must be met through obedience to the Holy Spirit.

The journey of the committed, of believers, is not easy and is not without testing (1 Thess 2:4) and trials. (Mt 24:9) Like Caleb and Joshua, the person who would enter the Promised Land must be found authentic when confronted with faith challenges (Mt 10:22) and must pursue a walk of obedience. (Heb 5:9) Satan would tempt believers to coast along the road of life and to appease their own desires and interests. As Satan said to Eve, “Did God really say…?” (Gen 3:1) and like Eve many will be led astray. He will tempt those in the Lord to trust that the fruit of the world is desirable and to be enjoyed without cost. Confessors have been admonished concerning the need to die to self (2 Cor 4:11; Col 3:5; Lk 9:24) and to live for Christ, however.

Satan would encourage people to pursue their own worldly desires, comforts, and carnal pleasures and this world has bought into his deceptions; however, the goal of believers is to be much different. It is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Lk 10:27) (Such a statement should be taken as a requirement, and not accepted as an exaggerated proclamation.) Losing a few pounds might make a person feel better and the pursuit of other carnal interests might result in gaining compliments, approval and pleasure, but they will not further the believer in his or her journey to the kingdom of God. Time passes quickly and with it opportunity to prove repentance (Acts 26:20) and to reveal to God the confessor’s conformity to the likeness of Christ. (Rom 8:29)

The new year gives opportunity to honestly examine the nature of the confessor’s love for God. It may even stir the heart and mind to examine that which God truly requires of his people so that they will not suffer his condemnation as “evil-doers” and be commanded to depart from him because he had never known them (Mt 7:23)—known for certain their faith commitment. There are many false teachings prevalent in the Christian community. Each person will enjoy or suffer the consequences of their own spiritual convictions and practices. “Did God really say…?” Believers need to be certain of what God did say because there are a variety of “truths” being presented, even though there is only one truth.

Does your Biblical understanding satisfy the following questions: Do you know and understand the New Covenant? Do you appreciate that you will face the judgment seat of Christ for things done in the flesh, whether good or bad? Do you appreciate the consequences of a negative judgment? Is your love for God complete or have you been pretending and perhaps playing church? Are you producing fruit in your own life and for the kingdom? To what extent have you been making use of the gift(s) given you at your confession of faith?

A new year is beginning, and it offers opportunity for reflection and introspection. God told the Israelites that the Passover was the beginning of the year for them, perhaps it should be considered as an opportunity to honestly reflect on your spiritual journey and the progress being made. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) and are expected to walk as he did. (1 Jn 2:6) The confessor’s redemption gives new hope with both promises and requirements, but these can be lost. Use this occasion to set your path straight and make your hope secure by following the Lord’s call upon your life. (Jn 10:27; Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18, 6:7─8)


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

December 31, 2018

Starting Another Chapter

Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2019?

While some current Christian writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle. There are two aspects to the Bible’s teaching on time management; time stewardship.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for restBe still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2018?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2019?

Nobody said this was easy.


Each of us is about to write another chapter of our lives. The turning of the pages of the calendar may be more significant to some people than it is to others, but the start of a new year is always a time to both look back and look forward. For that reason, I think Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2018.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Steve Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself. When they were much younger I asked my kids if they can tell when, in the middle of devotional book we’re reading, the paragraph moves into a Bible quotation, and they both understood exactly where I was going with this question. There’s something about the power of God’s word that is so easily identified; it stands out from what the devotional writer is saying as though it was underlined, in bold face type, in giant print, or printed in bright orange.

The song’s key verse source is Philippians 1:6, but I’ll give you the verses that precede and follow for full context:

Phil 1:5(NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

I don’t what you or I are facing in 2019, but we are each, in God’s eyes, a work in progress. And he doesn’t abandon his projects.

All God’s best for the new year.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

December 8, 2018

Taking Responsibility for What You Read Here

This is an updated re-post of an article I wrote which appeared here in 2014.

Gal 6:11(NIV) See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology? Would he have a blog? It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising. Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that. I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of sign-off at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight. Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off.

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s. No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point.

I think it’s interesting that the first century Christ-followers were forging the doctrines we now follow. In a way, they were looking at the things Jesus taught and did, and then, in light of the resurrection and ascension, asked themselves the question that in our day was the title of a popular Christian book, “How shall we then live.” In other words, ‘Where do we go from here?’ Or, ‘What is the application of the Messiah’s teaching to our everyday lives, our work, our marriages, our parenting, our church-attending?’

With the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which borrows  content from other writers?” Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into a new year, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown. They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong.

And while we’ll include something every once in awhile from a pastor or author who is worth of name-dropping, most of what appears here is from people you’ve never heard of! People like you and me.

And so as I myself move forward into a new year, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite. But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. My hope is that like the Bereans, you’ll ‘search the scriptures’ to see if a writer’s take on a particular passage or topic is consistent with the rest of what scripture teaches.

I might not always pick the very best, but I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

…well today, anyway.

October 9, 2018

“The Subjects of the Kingdom Will be Thrown Outside”

by Russell Young

The Lord stated that the “subjects of the kingdom would be thrown outside, into the darkness.” (Mt 8:12) Who are the “subjects”? The Greek terminology is “huios basileia” which means “children of the royalty” or “children of the king’s reign.” “Subjects” is replaced by “sons” or “children” in some translations. Huios as used in this instance, represents a universal sense of children having a particular position or relationship to God. That is, by relationship or position, not by birth, these have become children or sons of God. The Greek has three different words that have been translated in English as “sons”—huios, teknon, and huiothesia. Teknon refers to sons or children of natural birth. Huiothesia is used by Paul alone and has meaning according to Roman culture. It refers to an adopted son and Paul uses this term for those whose bodies have been redeemed. (Rom 8: 23) In his writing huios references Gentiles who have become children of God by position and not by birth, as huios (sons) of God. (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 4:6)

Many commentators refer to the children of the Kingdom as being Israelites, and certainly the Lord was talking to a Jewish crowd when he made this statement, however, it would appear that he was informing them that they could not rest in their Jewish heritage as being their source of confidence and hope. The International Standard Version interprets huios as “the unfaithful heirs of that kingdom.” The Contemporary English Version presents it as “the ones who should have been in the kingdom.” By position, huios refers to those who have been “born again” supernaturally, having been cleansed and granted the Holy Spirit. Paul also refers to huios as “the children of the living God (Rom 9:26) and the “children of light.” (1Thess 5:5) These are people whom God esteems as sons, who have confessed commitment to his lordship, whom he loves, protects, and benefits above others. They are those whose character God, as a loving Father and Christ as lord, is attempting to shape by their leadership (Rom 8:14) and chastisements (Heb 12:5-8). By their confession, pledge, or promise they have acknowledged Christ as their lord (Rom 10:9─10) and the parentage of God and have accepted their position and reliance upon him as their father.

Certainly, “subjects” applies to the Jews, but there is no reason why it must not apply to Gentile confessors as well. After all, they are both huios of God, with the need to meet the same righteous requirements of any who will dwell with their Lord. Even though these are huios of the royalty, they will be cast outside.

Regardless of whether “subjects” are Jews or Gentile confessors, they were of God’s Kingdom—this passage may mean that those thrown outside will be the subjects of his kingdom while those inside will reign over them—and subject to his authority. The Lord’s words were directed to the Jewish leaders, who, although were subject to him, did not recognize their place. On the other hand, the centurion, who was being praised, was an outsider who along with other outsiders from the east and west would be invited to the Lord’s banquet. Apparently, the “subjects” who will be thrown out will be those who have not recognized the fullness of the Lord’s authority as sovereign and their placement will be “outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The Lord addressed the issue of those who would not remain permanent members of his family in John’s gospel. “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son (those who are led by the Spirit of God-Rom 8:14)) belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:34─35) Accordingly, “sinners” will not be permanent members of the family.

Daniel also stated that following the Great Tribulation “your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:1─2 Italics added) The names of those raised to suffer everlasting shame and contempt had their names written in “the book” and they resemble those who will be “weeping and gnashing teeth.” Although this reference has been made to those being raised before the millennium, their state is described as “everlasting” and must apply to the banquet also.

The reality is that some of those who were in the Kingdom of God will be thrown outside even though they were once huios of God. What is the “outside”? It is the place of the “nations”, the place of those not of the family of God. It must either be “hell” or some other place of habitation apart from the New Jerusalem. Some of those dwelling there will be of the house of Israel, while others of the Gentiles who will have recognized God’s sovereignty and will have become huios of God for a time but will have been cast from his family because of their unrighteous testimony. They were his subjects but had disdained his holiness and provision. They will be of the body that God declared to “depart” from him because of their wickedness; he had never “known” them (been certain of their commitment). (Mat 7: 2223) Their names had been recorded in “the book” but they will dwell in the state of “shame and everlasting contempt.” The Lord has termed the Jews who will dwell apart from his presence, outside the walls of the New Jerusalem, as “dogs.” (Rev 22:15; Phil 3:2)

Paul spoke of some who will be punished through separation from the Lord’s majesty. “He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and marvelled at among those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8-10) (Belief is revealed through obedience–Heb 3: 1819) The Lord also warned, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41)


Russell Young is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here alternate Tuesdays.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

October 5, 2018

Civil Law May Not Conform to God’s Law

Today we’re back again at Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Laws Versus Human Law

by David Cross

Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.  Daniel 6:4-5, NASB

In this passage the accusers of Daniel decided to get him into trouble (and they were eventually able to get him into the lion`s den) by forcing him into a conflict between the nation’s laws and God`s laws. In our world today, laws are being rewritten to suit the changing moral climate, and many followers of Jesus are finding themselves in a similar position of conflict as Daniel, even if not with quite such a dramatic outcome.

A few decades ago the judiciary in Britain was still strongly influenced by the nation`s Christian heritage and the biblical concept of sin. Today, in much legal interaction, there is little acknowledgement of right or wrong, but rather it has become, very often, just a contest of opposing rights. This new culture of entitlement is founded on ill-defined concepts such as freedom, inclusivity and equality, and it is giving license to countless lifestyles which would previously have been regarded as immoral or dysfunctional, by most of the population.

Increasingly, Christians voicing traditional biblical views with regard to particular lifestyles, not least about sexual expression, are attracting forceful accusations of discrimination, even finding themselves facing legal proceedings. It appears that there is a particular strategy today, by the god of this world, to attack the truths of the bible through the courtroom. We need to be alert to this tactic of the enemy and, with courage, hold firm to God`s laws.

Prayer: Father God, I want to abide by the law of the land but, in this world of changing morality and increasing accusation against traditional Christian belief, I need help to stand, both graciously and confidently, on the truth and efficacy of Your word and Your laws. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

David Cross is Deputy International Director for Ellel Ministries, with particular responsibility for the Ellel centres in Western Europe.


Ninety feet tall and nine feet wide
Solid gold – “It must be a god!”
They were told
“When you hear the music play
Fall on your knees and begin to pray”
They were told
But when the trumpet sounded
The whole world bowed
Three men stood there all alone
They said

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

All Bobby wanted was just to fit in
To be accepted he must act like them
He said “No!”
“Everybody does it! So, what’s the fuss?
Come on, Bobby, won’t’cha be like us?”
He said “No!”
And when the pressure came
He watched them bow
Bobby stood there all alone
He said

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

We don’t have to give in to it
We can choose to go against the crowd

Not gonna bow to your idols
Not gonna bow, oh no
Not gonna bow to your idols
I won’t bow down

September 10, 2018

Just As You Is

A few months ago we introduced you to a new source of devotional material. First 15 is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College.

Each day’s devotional is divided into six parts including a worship music video. The one that follows is kicking off a series for this week on the nearness of God and our awareness of his presence. We’re featuring just the text content, so you’re strongly encouraged to click the title below for the full experience.

God Cares About the Present

Scripture

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

Devotional

I used to view my relationship with God as a straight line of spiritual progress. My goal in spending time in the secret place with fellow believers at church and at work was to try and make the movement across this line of spiritual growth as quickly and painlessly as possible. I would get frustrated any time I got hung up on some issue or sin and couldn’t experience freedom quickly enough. My time spent with Jesus was more about how he could change me than how deeply he already loves me.

We unfortunately live in a day and age where speed and progress is everything. We lose our patience as soon as a waiter takes too long to get us our check, a light takes an extra thirty seconds than we want it to, a driver holds us back five minutes from our destination, or a conversation interrupts the jam-packed schedule of our day. And painfully, we have allowed our culture to shape our perspective of God’s heart for us rather than allowing his word and Spirit to reveal how incredibly patient he is.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, 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; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Every one of these aspects of love finds its perfect fulfillment in the heart of our Father. Our God is patient and kind. He bears our imperfections with love and grace, believes wholeheartedly in us, is filled with hope over who we are, and joyfully endures our process of sanctification.

You see, our heavenly Father cares deeply about you presently. He isn’t waiting until you get a little holier to pour out the full depths of his love and joy over you. He isn’t holding back the satisfaction he feels in simply living in relationship with you until you finally get over a certain sin. He loves and longs for unveiled communion with you right now.

If we wait until we have it all together to settle into the pace of this life, find peace, and fully enjoy God, we will never experience the wealth of abundant life available to us this side of heaven. Matthew 6:34 says, Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Have patience for yourself and others the way your heavenly Father does. Take time to receive his perfect perspective for today. Give your relationship with him all the energy you have and waste nothing on the frivolous cares of tomorrow.

Take time in guided prayer to allow your Father to overwhelm you with the love he feels for you right now, as you are. Experience today the peace and joy that can only be found when you surrender the entirety of your life, spiritual development, and future plans to your faithful Shepherd and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters. He promises there will be more green pastures tomorrow. He promises to guide you faithfully every day to the fullness of life he died to give you. Your only job as his sheep is to trust him, let him love and care for you, and follow his perfect leadership. May you drink deeply of the living waters of God’s love today as you rest in the presence of your loving Shepherd.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s patience and love for you in the present. Allow Scripture to guide you to a desire to encounter God fully and openly just as you are.

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; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31-34

2. What burden are you carrying that is grounded in the future instead of the present? What are you striving toward that is not found in the green pastures Jesus desires to lead you to today?

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. James 5:8

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into a lifestyle of living presently. Ask him what it looks like to cast off fear over tomorrow and experience the abundant life meant for you in the present. Take time to rest in the presence of God and discover his patience over you.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:4

Go…

Your heavenly Father is most definitely molding and shaping you to look more like Jesus through a process of spiritual development. He has perfect plans for your sanctification that you might have a greater sense of his love at the end of every day. But that process is defined by daily living in the present and engaging with him fully in each moment. Leave the planning and leadership up to him, and simply follow him to green pastures and still waters every day. Seek relationship with him and allow daily, consistent encounters with him to mold and fashion you into a greater reflection of your Good Shepherd. May you find peace, joy, and patience by living in the present today.


Extended Reading: James 1

July 12, 2018

Big Renovations (Part 2: The Church)

In today’s devotional study, Pastor Clarke Dixon wrote from a specifically Canadian context. I’ve taken the liberty of generalizing his message for our readership here, because the principles certainly apply broadly. However, if you prefer to read the original, click this link.

by Clarke Dixon

We might think that the best days are in the past for the Church… Christianity seems to exert less influence. In many churches Sunday Schools which were once full are now mostly empty. Many churches feel like run down houses which have seen better days.

In the previous post we considered Haggai’s message for those who looked back at the glory days of the temple which could be summed up as “take courage . . . work”. God’s house had been destroyed, but in Haggai’s day rebuilding had begun then halted. However, the run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work!

We also considered that God no longer takes up residence in a temple building, but somewhere far more exciting for us:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

If we are God’s temple individually, then how much more are we the place of God’s residence collectively? What does “take courage . . . work” look like for us today as the Church? What does the renovation of the Church look like?

The building and rebuilding of the Church can be summed up in two words; disciple making.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

But what about opposition to Christianity today? Renovations may seem daunting in the face of societal changes. Temple building was a daunting task in Haggai’s day as there had been opposition to the rebuilding in the years previous. However, with a new Persian king amenable to the task, there was really now nothing stopping them from moving forward. While we may feel an opposition to Christianity here in our day, there really is nothing stopping us from moving ahead! Yes, there is a movement to take Christianity out of the public sphere. But we do not need the Lord’s prayer to be prayed in schools for God to be answering our prayers. Yes, there is a movement away from Christian values. But we don’t need laws against sharing recreational marijuana to share God’s love in Christ. We don’t need society to make discipleship or evangelism easy. What we need is courage. “Take courage . . .work”.

We have the same reasons for courage as the people of Haggai’s day; God is present, God’s promises stand:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. Haggai 2:45 (NRSV emphasis added)

Plus, the day of God’s glory is coming:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.  ‘And in this place I will grant peace, ’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:6-9 (NIV emphasis added)

Do you see the best days of the Church as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at the glory days of the Church, move forward into God’s glory.



Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

July 11, 2018

The Heat is On!

Today’s article is by Robby McAlpine and first appeared at the website Think Theology. Click the title below to read at source.

The Crucible (Messy Revival)

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.“(Proverbs 17:3)

Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver
Refiner’s fire; my heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
(Refiner’s Fire ~ Brian Doerksen)

The process of refining silver, in the era when the book of Proverbs was written, is an evocative picture of how our hearts are refined. It’s a “made for sermon illustration” metaphor that I really like.

Silver is purified by the refiner, who brings increasing heat to bear on the unrefined metal. As the heat increases, all the impurities rise to the surface, and the refiner skims them off. The process is repeated until the desired result is achieved: a clear reflection of the refiner’s face in the silver.

The spiritual parallel is stunning; God refining our character until He sees a clear reflection of Jesus in us.

But as anyone who has experienced the refining process can tell you, when the heat gets turned up, it’s uncomfortable. (That’s an understatement of, shall we say, ‘biblical proportions’.)

At the same time, achieving the desired result makes the uncomfortable process worth it in the end. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Whenever we pray for more of the Spirit’s power and presence in our lives, we should not be surprised that the heat gets turned up, and some of our “schtuff” flares up in our face.

That’s how it works, after all. More of the Spirit’s work in our lives means more refining as part of the overall package. There are ‘mountain top’ moments that are exhilarating, but there are also difficult ‘valleys’ — both are part of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Which is why things can get wild and woolly during times of revival. The Holy Spirit is poured out in ways that go beyond ‘typical’ — the ‘omni’ presence of God becomes the ‘manifest’ presence — and there are a wide range of responses from people.

Some sin will be stirred up by the Enemy, trying his darndest to discredit what the Spirit is doing. And the critics of renewal movements delight in pointing this out, as if the presence of sinful activity ‘proves’ that God is not involved.

And some sin will be stirred up by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so it can be dealt with. That’s what a good Refiner does.

‘Revival’ is always connected to repentance. Whether it’s people coming to faith for the first time, or believers having the low-burning embers of their faith fanned into flame once again, repentance unto a holy life is normal.

There should be nothing shocking about sinful patterns being forced to the surface during times of revival/renewal. That’s how the Refiner’s fire works. The heat is on.

If you find yourself crying out for more of the Spirit, and sin & the temptation to sin seems to flare up — don’t rebuke the devil (except where appropriate) and don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Instead, recognize the hand of the Refiner, and co-operate with the Spirit’s purifying work.

The heat is on. And the end result will be worth it.

Purify my heart; cleanse me from my sin, deep within
I choose to be holy, set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
(Refiner’s Fire ~ Brian Doerksen)

 

May 5, 2018

Don’t Ask God for Patience!

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

Be careful what you pray for!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

^^^^^^^^

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

May 3, 2018

Walk with Jesus

by Clarke Dixon

(This is part three in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

One of the best “taglines” I’ve heard for a church is “To Know Jesus, and to make Him known.” So why would we go with something more wordy? Why walk with Jesus rather than simply know Him? There are several reasons:

When we walk, there is in mind a destination, a goal. We are implying that we are going somewhere, we are becoming something. We are on a journey of becoming mature in Christ:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

As a church family, we want to keep our eyes on this amazing destination. We want to keep this goal of becoming mature in mind.

If we are walking, then we have not yet reached our destination! We recognize that have not arrived, but we are making progress. This is an echo of Paul:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.   Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

Walking with Jesus happens one step at a time. This should help keep us from a legalistic style of Christianity which assumes everyone should be equally ready to cross the finish line on the very next step. That is not the kind of church I want to be a member of. We all start at different times, and have different capacities. We are not all going to be at the same level of maturity, though we can have that same goal and do have the same Spirit helping us reach the goal.

It is a walk and not a run. The journey is long, the Christian life is not a sprint. Also, walking is an everyday part of life, rather than a special occasion. If you are a runner, you probably schedule in running. However, walking is something we do everyday very naturally. It might just be walking from the couch to the fridge and back, but it happens. Walking with Jesus is like that, an everyday thing. We might schedule in spiritual training like a runner schedules physical training. We schedule worship and times of devotion. But we don’t schedule in putting another person before ourselves, being patient, being generous, forgiving someone, having compassion, or spontaneously praying for someone.

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 (NRSV)

Being clothed with “the new self” is an everyday thing, like walking, and not a scheduled thing, or worse, a good-intentions-to-set-aside-the-time-if-I-ever-get-the-time thing, like running! We want to be a people who walk the walk, everyday.

When we walk there is the possibility of stumbling. Christian celebrities, pastors and artists alike, face the pressure of being pretty-near-perfect. The band DC Talk came up with these lyrics:

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall? (Daniel Joseph / Toby Mckeehan)

The song goes on to speak about God not turning away from from us when we stumble.  But do we turn away from each other? What if a member of our church commits a terrible crime this week? There would be discipline and a statement that the perpetrator’s actions do not represent us. But will we go to that person and ask how we can help him or her take a step toward Jesus? “Walk with Jesus” recognizes the possibility of stumbling. It might be you. Or me.

Why walk with Jesus? Who else?! Who else can be an anchor for our souls? Who else sees us at our absolute worst and yet offers His absolute best? Who else does the evidence lead to? Who else has had such an impact on the world and on individuals? Who else walks with us in our suffering having endured suffering Himself? Who else offers His Holy Spirit?  Who else reconciles sinful people to a holy God?

let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.
This Jesus is
‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10-12 (NRSV emphasis added)

When Peter said there is no name given under heaven by which we must be saved, he was not saying that the Christian religion is better religion than any other. He was simply stating a fact; there really is no one else through whom, or no other way by which, we can have a relationship with the Creator. There is no other way for the justice of God and the mercy of God to come together. Only God the Son could endure the consequence of sin so that justice could be served, yet people could be forgiven. Who else would we walk with?

As a church family, we have the privilege, the opportunity, the calling, to walk with Jesus and help others do the same.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (33 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

May 2, 2018

Extreme Love

While preparing an article for a book industry blog I edit, I came across the name of Pastor Ray Bentley, founder of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, California. The two devotions which follow are from his blog. Click the titles to read each at source, and then if you have time, navigate to other devotionals posted there.

Extreme Love, Extreme Living

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”— 1 Peter 4:8

Extreme love. Love so great that it makes up for not just a few sins—but a multitude! And you know, we are not forced to live in this extreme stratosphere of love. We are invited.

Jesus initiated extreme love.

First He taught His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15: 13); then He did it.

As He hung on the cross, He had few friends left to witness His suffering.

But He hung there anyway. He died for his friends, and for those who hated Him, who misunderstood His purpose, and who were lost in sin and hardness of heart. “While we were still sinners,” He died for us, so that we can know love. We are invited to experience it, to live it, to demonstrate it in our own lives.

Love is the most potent emotion and power in all of creation.Love motivated Creation, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life for mankind. Abundant love, when accepted gratefully, gives us abundant lives, full of purpose, meaning, sacrifice, and ultimate love.

Hebrews chapter eleven is a partial list of daring individuals who chose to live in extreme love. They are as varied a group of people as you will ever encounter, and they laid the foundation for our faith.  

They were judges and farmers, rulers and prostitutes, prophets, and parents.

They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, escaped the edge of the sword; their weaknesses were turned to strength; they fought battles, and saw their dead raised to life.

Some were tortured, some faced jeers and flogging, others were chained in prison.

They were stoned; they were tortured; they were put to death by the sword.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. They lived in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

They were commended for their faith…and God declared that the world was not worthy of them.

Now that’s extreme living.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” —Amy Carmichael


Love Experienced

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” —1 John 4:8

The apostle John simplified everything when he stated, “God is love.”

But we can misunderstand that love. You might regard your relationship with God as an invitation you once answered when He knocked on the door of your life and you let Him in. Now you’re a Christian. Simple.

But don’t let that be enough. We’re not supposed to just start going to church, put a Bible on the coffee table, and figure, OK, took care of that. I’m right with God.

That’s not love experienced!

A life that knows true love is filled with a multitude of invitations, because of the nature of love. Love is a living relationship that never remains exactly the same, but grows deeper, more intimate, more secure. We can never get enough of it, and we will never come to the end of it, because God Himself, the Author of love, is infinite and His love knows no limits.

Every day, in a variety of ways, the Lord comes knocking on the door of your heart. Through circumstances, people, new opportunities, a change of venue, the beauty of nature, and sometimes heartache and tragedy—God gives us the chance to experience and live with His love in a new way, everyday.

Don’t miss your daily invitation to grow deeper in God’s love.

Seek Him in His Word.

Look for Him in the faces of the people around you.

Accept the hard things, as part of what makes you a deeper, more compassionate person.

Give the love God gives to you away freely, abundantly, wisely, and with a grateful heart.

April 27, 2018

Deep Calls to Deep

This is our third time taking you to the writing of Lori Thomason at Pure Devotion. Click the title below to read at source. Click here to read her story.

Deep is Calling

Psalm 42:6-8 (Message) When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you, from Jordan depths to Hermon heights, including Mount Mizar. Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids. Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me. Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God’s prayer.

“Deep calls to deep” is a verse read many times. It is a sense of longing for the gentle whisper that requires a response. Reading the same passage in The Message translation is a more apt description of what the deeper things of God feel like. Chaos calls to chaos. The violent shaking of the storm with the wild winds and waves tossing us from the complacency of what is to the confident hope of what could be if we walk by faith and not by sight. Deep calls out to deep as the Lord beckons us to come closer to step out of the proverbial boat to walk on water with Him. We call out to the deep but prefer wading. There is no real interest in what is beneath the ocean’s surface where grace turns to obedience and calling becomes our destiny. When our soul begins to slump, it is in that moment we look for the Living God to bring His Power and New Life. When He rushes in and change begins to unravel our comfortable, convenient and seemingly controlled existence – we are shaken from the security of what is and to be completely undone to new possibility.

Living in the south, our physical intuitiveness can feel the rain coming. The humidity descends with all the damp pressure. The air is thick. The clouds circle overhead and it becomes overcast. The thunder begins to roll and lightening begins to flash. Sometimes just a few gentle droplets or a torrential downpour – its all the same. Spiritual discernment sees pasts the rising waves. It perceives the winds of change sweeping through our life. Our heart comprehends what our mind does not want to accept – transformation always requires a transition. You cannot stay where you are and find a new position. You cannot remain who you are and assume a new identity. You cannot hold on to the past and fully embrace the future. God put this longing to answer His Call in our heart and mind calling it eternity. He planted a measure of faith in us to achieve that calling equipping us from our creation with exactly what is needed to be who He created us to be. Nothing in this world can stop God’s Plan. We must only answer His Call.

Hebrews 12:25-29 (Message) So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered. Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!

“He is jealous for me… Loves like a hurricane… I am a tree… Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy… When all of a sudden…. I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory… And I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections for me… Oh how He loves us so.”  (John Mark McMillan)

We sing this popular worship song often not really listening to the words but repeating it from memory. What if God’s Love for us produces violent shaking in an effort to make us release the ordinary and receive the extraordinary? What if our hunger and thirst is to seek more and discover full satisfaction? Could it be that all the “chaos” in our life is to stir up the inner gifting and anointing planted by God for His Purpose? God wants to prosper us. It begins in our soul. Makes its way through our heart. Enters our mind. Changes our thoughts. Transitions us from fear to faith and we become courageous in confident hope. See God is doing something in us far greater than the immediate gratification sought after by a weak flesh and fickle heart. He knows exactly what it will take to draw us into the deep. He creates the vortex that will soon overtake us.

Our God is likened to an “all-consuming fire.” Like the burning bush before Moses, thought engulfed with flames, the bush remained. God loves us like that in an explainable display of His Glory that complete overtakes our life yet within Him – we are safe and secure. Like the three Hebrew boys cast in a fire, yet they were never forsaken and certainly not alone. The Lord was waiting in the fire for them. He accompanied them until it was time to come out. Not a hair singed or garments reeking of smoke, they were presented to the people no worse for wear. The people recognized the Living God in that moment. Our calling will always include those who are watching for and waiting on the Kingdom of God to be presented.

Psalm 93 (Message) God is King, robed and ruling, God is robed and surging with strength. And yes, the world is firm, immovable, Your throne ever firm—you’re Eternal! Sea storms are up, God, sea storms wild and roaring, sea storms with thunderous breakers. Stronger than wild sea storms, mightier than sea-storm breakers, Mighty God rules from High Heaven. What you say goes—it always has. “Beauty” and “Holy” mark your palace rule, God, to the very end of time.

The deep calls us to be drowned in His Grace. It is an invitation to die to self and be overtaken with life. If you find it easy to exist in God – there is so much more to discover. The deeper you go the less likely it is that your flesh will survive. Full surrender is required to fully accept salvation and eternal destiny. God is King. He is Sovereign. He is All-Power, All-Knowing and everywhere at the same time. He knows us inside and out. He created us with a purpose and definite plan that is in full execution. The answer of our heart to the deeper things of God is always the same – “yes”. It doesn’t have to loud or dramatic. Most often it is in the darkest place or most dangerous height when a single step of faith seems illogical and impossible – and the Lord says, “Do it anyway…”

Will you? Will you allow the chaos of calling overtake you? Will you answer His Call to come deeper? Will you let God mess up your ordinary life to make it extraordinary? Will you say, “Yes” to it all? Delayed obedience is considered disobedience. It is a quiet rebellion that denies the impossibilities of miracles to accept the ordinary. God has something waiting for you and me that is just beyond our comfort zone, outside the boundaries of convenience, and just outside of our control. Do you want it? Do you desire the Lord above all things? Deep is calling deep. Chaos is crying out to chaos. Our destination is called beautiful and holy. Do you want to meet Him there? He is calling you deeper… Just say, “Yes!”

I Peter 2:9-10 (Message) But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

April 3, 2018

The Value of What God Has Brought You Through

Today we’re paying another visit with Melissa Turner who writes at Tin Roof Sky. Click the title below to read at source.

No wasted stories

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5 (MSG)

There’s an old axiom that says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If that’s true, there are times I should be able to bench press a Buick.

One of the most important, and I think most effective, aspects to the Christian walk is sharing our experiences with others. It can be intimidating. It can be humbling. It can be downright humiliating.

It can also be life-changing – for you, and for the person you are sharing with.

Sometimes, we tell our stories from a pulpit, and sometimes we tell them from a park bench. Our pastor says God has things prepared for you, and you prepared for things. And you might not realize it yet, but everything you’ve gone through has been preparing you for the assignment that He has prepared, in advance for you!

Are you a “more experienced” parent, talking to a new mom or dad? Or have you battled the demons of addiction, made progress, and have the opportunity to give hope to someone still in the midst of the battle?

Have you had to forgive a spouse an infidelity, or are you the offending party who has had to ask forgiveness?

Have you walked through a season of spiritual dryness, or downright turning your back on God? Believe me, you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. Some parent needs to know that her wayward child isn’t hopeless. Some parched soul needs to know that there is a way back to the Father.

Some parts of our story are beautiful. Some, not so much. We can’t rewrite our history, but I’m here to tell you that none of it will be wasted. It might be sooner, or it might be later, but God will use what you’ve been through to help someone else. Every mile you’ve traveled matters. We have to be open to sharing with others what God has brought us through, even if it makes us look not-so-smart at the time. We’ve all made mistakes, and we can’t dwell on the past. But we can use it for God’s glory and for the benefit of others we travel alongside.

No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you can focus on using your pain to bring healing to others. You have cause to rejoice, fellow traveler. You have reason to lift your head high.

Life hasn’t killed you, and someone needs to see you bench pressing that Buick.

January 31, 2018

Filling the Overall Void in Our Lives and Filling the First Hour of the Day

Today’s title is a bit longer because we’re playing a six-month catch-up with two different blogs that we last featured in July of last year; each one offering a short article on a significant theme. I hope, as our own title suggests you see the connection between the two.

The first one is from Partners in Hope Today, a website we first connected with five years ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program. This is something that is also part of my own personal story. Don’t skip past the first sentence too quickly…it’s SO important.

Running on Empty

When we get rid of something bad in our lives, we need to fill the vacancy with something good.  Failure to fill the vacancy with something good can lead to relapse and even cause a person to be worse off than they were before.

For it was I, the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt.  Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Psalm 81:10 NLT)

In the past, bad habits and negative attitudes played a significant role in our lives.  When we felt vulnerable we used our substance of choice to help cope with the emptiness, the pain, and the loneliness we were experiencing.  In addiction our daily agenda was entirely focused on meeting and fulfilling the demands our substance of choice made on us.  In recovery we have become aware that God has promised to meet all our needs.  Are we entirely willing to let Him do so?

This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19 NLT)

Life in recovery is about living in truth, and the truth is that on our own our hearts are unfulfilled.  We struggle with anxiety and fear when we feel vulnerable and powerless.  God, through His word in the Bible, and trusted people in recovery around us, assure us that there is a sure way forward.  Step by step we can come to know and believe in a Power greater than ourselves who can restore us to sanity.  We are encouraged to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this powerful God.  When we choose to do so, God fills our dead hearts with His Holy Spirit, the power greater than ourselves, who enables us to do the things that please God.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us.  (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, When I am afraid and feel vulnerable, help me to trust that You are always with me and will meet all my needs.  Amen. 


Our second piece today is from Gary Henry at WordPoints. For people battling the issue in the first article, this — the way we start each day — is probably the very best place to begin.

Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD (Gen 19:27)

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35)

In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch. (Psalm 5:3) (all verses NASB sourced at Knowing Jesus)

Giving God the First Hour

I have found that giving God the first hour of every day is an excellent practice. Not only does it honor God by giving Him the “firstfruits” of the day, but it is the most helpful thing I’ve ever done in regard to my own spiritual growth.

Before I do anything else, I spend an hour in prayer, Bible study, singing, and meditation on God. In order to do this, of course, I have to get up an hour earlier than my schedule would otherwise require. I do this seven days a week. I don’t always get up at the same time every day, but on any given day, whatever time I would “have to get up,” I get up an hour earlier than that — and give that hour to the Lord.

Not being a “morning person,” this is a very difficult thing for me to do. Even so, I have made it a matter of commitment that I will not allow myself to do anything else until I have devoted myself to the Lord for an hour or more.

Some individuals might practice a similar discipline at the end of the day, staying up an hour later than they normally would and giving that hour to the Lord. Either way, there is a great benefit in making the sacrifices necessary to devote a certain time exclusively to the Lord.

Personally, I believe the beginning of the day is preferable because it gets the day started off in the right manner. It puts into practice our preaching about what should come first. It says, “Lord, I thank you for this new day. I will not embark on any of this day’s activities until I have worshiped You and learned from Your word. Lord, I give this day to You.”

January 29, 2018

Clay in the Hands of the Potter

Once again this year, we’re paying a return visit to the blog Weeping Into Dancing. We don’t normally borrow the graphics as well — better to encourage you to click through — but today’s was an important part of the article so it is here as well. The author, whose name we believe to be Cheryl, is a brain tumor survivor. You can learn more about that in her archives from her first month of blogging, October, 2012. Click the title below to read this at source.

A Godly Perspective

A person’s perspective is an attitude and viewpoint. It can be positive or negative. A positive perspective sees the good in even the most painful and darkest of circumstances. A negative perspective will eventually lead to a hard heart, a root of bitterness, and a stagnant spiritual walk.

Perspective is an understanding that events, people, and circumstances are interrelated, and a positive perspective means we have the ability to see things from a larger frame of reference. A positive perspective means we are looking through the eyes of Jesus.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

With the eyes of Christ we see the good in all people, even when confronted by rude, abusive, and angry people. With a Christ-like vision, we are less apt to judge and more likely to adopt a compassionate attitude. We will consider why actions and behaviors play out and hold our tongues and judgments for later.

When we consider the life of Jesus, we see he was a friend to prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. He was able to look past their mistakes or employment choices and see into the heart of the person. His love looked past all rebellion, greed, and lust and saw the desperation and need for acceptance and love in man’s heart.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”       Luke 7:34 (NIV)

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32 (NIV)

As sinners, at some point we will act out, saying or thinking things that cause our Savior grief. One of these things occurs when we doubt the love of God. During difficult trials, our flesh cries out under the pressure and pain. Too often a man thinks, “If God loves me why must I suffer?” It is because of our sin and our need to be sanctified. The pressure of difficult times will bring the dross of our sin to the surface, enabling the Holy Spirit to remove it for our benefit. We are called to be like Christ.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5 (NKJV)

Sometimes we feel like mishandled clay in the hands of The Potter. Under intense pressure, we cry out and protest at every squeeze and pinch He makes. Then, when The Potter places us on His spinning wheel, life seems to spin out of control. No longer can we see clearly, for the world has become a blur. When the turning slows and comes to a stop, we feel the Creator’s hands lift us from the wheel. In fear, we tremble. Why? Because the heat of the kiln awaits us and we can not look past the future discomfort.

With the eyes of Christ, we see how The Potter has carefully placed us in just the right spot on his spinning wheel. As it whirls us around, we take note of how The Potter places both of His loving hands about us, molding us into a vessel of beauty and usefulness. We understand that our life is under His control, so we worry and fret not. When our Creator lifts us from the wheel and places us in the kiln, we welcome the heat. For it is in the fire that our beauty is enhanced, free of imperfections and strong.

Perspective helps when we are faced with adversity. Perspective was one reason Jesus was able to endure the cross. Without perspective, we follow our own natural inclinations. May God grant us eyes to see the good in every person and in every circumstance.

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV)

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV)

 

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