Christianity 201

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.

February 7, 2018

Trials and Tribulations on the Way

One of the most frequently used post tags here is “trials and tribulations.” These tags help direct search engines to articles even if the phrase isn’t specifically used. Here’s a best of scripture medley from articles.

II Cor 4:8(NLT) We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

II Cor 4:16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

 II Cor 5:1(NLT) For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

 II Cor 5: 6 (NLT) So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. 


Deut 31:6 (NLT) So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”


Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe …

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
Psalm 107:1, 6-7, 19-20 (NIV)


“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).


Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2


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)

 

September 19, 2017

Surviving a Valley Experience

by Russell Young

Every believer will be faced with a valley experience at some point. That is, something will come into his or her life that seems devastating and destructive. It might be the loss of a loved one, financial damage, health issues, the pain of a destroyed relationship, the hurt of perceived betrayal, etc. For those living in Florida or Texas, or those suffering through the destructive earthquake of southern Mexico the valley experience is very evident.  Bad things happen and those engulfed in them must find a way through if they are to once more find hope on the other side.

When bad things happen, a person needs to clearly understand what victory looks like to him or her since without it only defeat remains. Their appreciation of victory provides objectivity and the goal that offers hope and recovery. It provides direction for obtaining the mountaintop and the ability to confidently proceed with life.

Although overcoming disaster may look different and feel different for each person, it is singular and consistent for all believers.  Victory while in this life is the attainment of God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus taught, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25 NIV) This life and the glories of this world are not to be valued. There are lessons to be learned from all “misfortunes.” For believers, the lesson may be a reminder to rely on God and to live according to his priorities and purposes. The “consistent and singular” need of the Christ follower is to focus and remain focused on him.

Paul put difficulties into an eternal perspective. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17─18, Italics added.)

Victory must not be accepted as triumph over a momentary event but seen from an eternal perspective with the finding a place in God’s kingdom. There is no doubt that loss brings hurt and causes pain, even great pain and help and compassion needs to be shown the suffering. No one enjoys such experiences but it is through them that faith is tested and proven.  “…you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) The faith of all will be tested. God made the Israelites wander for forty years to test their hearts (Deut 8:2), and Christ was tested in the desert for forty days. Those who confess Christ should not accept that they will be provided a life free of tribulation, turmoil, and pain. Trials are promised to all believers.

Whether or not release can be found from the effects of the devastations of life depends entirely on a person’s perspective. Those who do not have an eternal hope will feel great loss; those who know the Lord can find their way up to the mountaintop by fixing their sight on the only one who can meet their eternal need. They can look past their circumstance and onward to a better hope. Valleys are necessary for spiritual growth. They test our mettle and either engender and prove faith or reveal its weakness. Contrary to the teaching of many, the believer must be made into an “offering acceptable to God” (Rom 15:16 NIV) and “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:29 NIV) When the believer’s perspective becomes focused on the issues and pleasures of this life, it must be adjusted. That is not to say that all people who are walking in the valley need an adjustment.  Sometimes the valley experience becomes ours due to proximity of those around us…family members, neighbors, communities, etc. Few live in isolation.

Concerning God’s intercession Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) This understanding can provide great encouragement for those who are suffering. Regardless of the believer’s circumstance he or she can accept that through humility and obedience all will be well.

Here and now issues must not be permitted to cast the Lord aside. Things arise that require immediate effort and resources. Although the tendency might be for the troubled one to address the problem through his or her own resources without the Lord’s leading a wrong path might be taken and his purpose thwarted. In 2 Corinthians 11:23─27 Paul has listed many of his trials; however, he never gave in to defeat. He did not lose himself in their midst but set his sight on the bigger picture.

Whatever the struggles of life seem to be, they are temporal and must be seen as temporal. As bad as they are if the Lord leads they will eventually pass allowing the sun to shine once again and peace to be restored. The believer is to keep his or her eye set on Christ and on honoring him. That is faith in practice. He must be honored even in the midst of trials. Earthly possessions, health, and relationships may be lost never to be regained; but God is in control and will always remain sovereign over all things.

Paul suffered through despair but found assurance of victory through Christ.  “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (2 Cor 1: 8-10 NIV)  Surviving a valley experience requires eyes set on God and a heart set on honoring him.

January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown


From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

January 17, 2017

Healing and Testing

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

Today we’re paying a return visit to Atlanta pastor and author Charles Stanley and the broadcast organization, InTouch Ministries. As we did last year, we’re bringing you a two-for-one special because the articles are shorter. We’ve grouped two together I think make a good fit. Each also includes an audio reading of the same material.

When God Does Not Heal

NLT Prov 3:3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
    Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
    Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
    and you will earn a good reputation.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

In Touch - Charles Stanley“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Testing Builds Endurance

Dear brothers and sisters,[Gk brothers] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Link for the second devotional is found in the archives section, click to 1/13/17

January 3, 2017

Add God to Your Equation

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

Today we pay a return visit to Weeping Into Dancing. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Point of View and Proportions

When life is chaotic, painful, or full of uncertainty, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Exhaustion wears a person down, both physically and spiritually. And without time in the Word, depression is certain to knock on our door. It takes both physical and spiritual strength to weather a storm, and we require nourishment to persevere a lengthy or intense battle.

Without spiritual manna, the devil can easily establish footholds in our walk with Christ. Footholds are often secured when we doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. Is God not constant? Is He good only when times are joyful and fruitful? Or, is God good, in spite of the trials that try to knock us sideways?

God does test our faith. But when adversity comes, He hopes the struggle succeeds in chiseling away personal impurities. Remember, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we look into a mirror, we should see Christ in our reflection.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

But the devil, always the prowling opportunist, uses adversity to spread lies. His lies attack the very nature of God.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV)

In good times and bad times, we have to keep our focus on things above. By doing so, we obtain a proper perspective of our situation and correctly see things in their right proportion. Our circumstances may look grim, but Jesus walks with us through every storm!

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

When we remember God’s love for us, we can look at our situation and identify positives, if we search them out. God is all about turning bad things into good. Learning to develop God’s perspective on life is greatly beneficial, but it takes self-discipline and there is no room for self-pity.

Consider the story of David and Goliath. If David had simply looked at the proportions of size and strength when facing Goliath, he would never have approached the giant. But David put God into the equation. He knew that all things were possible with God. He also knew that God would not be mocked.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)

David had God’s perspective when he accepted Goliath’s battlefield challenge. He was able to perceive things from God’s point of view. He knew God was all-powerful. He was certainly far greater than the prideful Philistine who had yelled insults at God’s chosen people. Without armor, and holding a mere slingshot, David slew the enemy who had insulted his God, tormented King Saul, and terrorized the entire army of Israel.

King Saul, David’s brothers, and the Israelite army were paralyzed with fear because they viewed the giant and his challenge with earthly eyes. When God is not added into the equation of life, the proportions of the battle before us will cause feelings of intimidation and even terror.

If you find yourself in a time of testing, where a trial of some sort presses in, add God to your equation. When you do, the obstacles Satan has planted for intimidation purposes will appear out of proportion. Circumstances that initially seemed vast and capacious will melt away and become a fraction of what they had once appeared to be. The Light of the World will disperse all darkness and expose the devil’s handiwork. Step-by-step, through every twist, bump, and turn in your road, God will walk beside you in love, grace, and mercy. Like David, you too will sleigh your Goliath because God is with you.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (NKJV)

 Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.Proverbs 4:25 (NKJV)

 “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6 (NKJV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

October 5, 2016

A Great Book For When Life Is Anything But

Have you ever felt like God just doesn’t care? Or perhaps He cares, but is terribly unfair? The husband of my cousin passed away recently and the funeral service confirmed what I already knew. He was a great man who honoured the Lord with his life. He made the lives of everyone around him better. Lord, why not take those who make the lives of everyone around them bitter instead? There are plenty of candidates judging by the evening news. Why this good man and why now as he was still quite young?

Such questioning is common enough. Another cousin of mine sent me a link to a video interview of Stephen Fry who, though not believing in God, responded to the question “what would you like to say to God?” with something like “how dare you create a world with such suffering!” While many of us would not be so bold, we cannot help but question, based on life experience, if God sometimes does not care, or is unfair. Sometimes we just do not feel like clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It . . .”

If you have ever had such negative spiritual thoughts, you are not the first. In fact we are given in the Bible quite a number of Psalms coming from Psalmists writing from dark places. We are also given an entire book written from a dark place, Lamentations. Five chapters mainly of misery. Possibly written by the prophet Jeremiah, but definitely written following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, along with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of God’s people. It is a poem written during dark times. It is a great book for when life is anything but. Here is but a small sample:

[God] has filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”
19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me. Lamentations 3:15-20 (NRSV)

Let us consider what we can learn from Lamentations:

A man or woman of God need not hold back on lament and honest prayer. Listening to my Dad pray in public makes me not want to pray in public. There is an eloquence to his speech in prayer that few of us possess. Do the eloquent prayers of the saints keep sinners from praying? Don’t wait until your prayers sound eloquent, polite, and polished before praying. Pray from experience. Pray honestly. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God can spend some time reflecting on suffering. We ought not to get the picture of the author reacting in the moment, getting the laments off his chest and then moving on and clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It” the next day. The poetry may feel like it is from the gut, but in fact it is well thought out, for this is quite polished poetry. It is hard to see in the English, but each of the chapters are structured around the Hebrew alphabet. Yes, you can sit with your questions. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God knows that all suffering is ultimately deserved. All but the central third chapter focus in on the suffering of the nation. Even where the poet uses the first person, he is speaking on behalf of all God’s people. While exclaiming that the suffering is great, he also knows that it is just:

The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word. Lamentations 1:18 (NRSV)

This can help us understand where suffering comes from. We are no longer in the Garden of Eden. If there were no sin in humanity, there would be no suffering. Expect a just God to allow suffering. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God may still feel that suffering is out of proportion, or is unfair. Where chapters one and two, four and five are about the suffering of the nation, chapter three is about the suffering of the writer personally. We know that Jeremiah, the probable writer, suffered terribly as a prophet. Indeed many of those who were the most faithful to God suffered. While the suffering of the nation could be understood, for the leaders and people did not repent in accordance to the call of God through the prophets, why must the prophets themselves suffer also, sometimes even more so? In our day while we can know that suffering is a result of sin generally, why does the suffering of the relatively innocent seem out of proportion to the suffering of the truly evil?

A man or woman of God can still have hope in the face of suffering. There is a turning point in chapter three, one that has found its way into the wonderful hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The funeral of my cousin’s husband began with this hymn. How many people know these words were lifted from a Biblical poet in a dark time and place?

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NRSV)

His mercies are new every morning, because we in our sin do not deserve any more mornings. Yet they come, full of opportunity, full of the possibility of walking with God in Christ. And if we do not deserve one more morning, we certainly do not deserve the new reality we will awaken to on the resurrection morning. One more day of life is a sign of God’s grace. Eternal life is evidence of God’s amazing grace all the more. Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, is evidence of greatness of God’s faithfulness.

There is more that the poet calls to mind:

  • The Lord is our portion  – verse 24
  • The Lord is good to those who wait on him – verse 25
  • The Lord does not reject forever – verse 31
  • The Lord sees injustice – verse 36
  • The Lord is completely just 39
  • There is opportunity to repent -verse 40
  • The Lord keeps covenant promises – verses 40-48
  • The Lord takes notice – verses 49-63
  • The Lord will execute justice and put things right – verses 64-66

To be able to call to mind these truths about God, the man or woman of God will need to know them in the first place. Sometimes people rail against God without the foggiest notion as to Who it is they are railing against. The better we know the Lord, the greater our opportunity to find hope in the midst of suffering. The author of Lamentations was going through a lot but he knew there was a lot more of the story yet to be told. For this is not just his story to tell, this is God’s story to write. Whatever your circumstance, there is a lot more yet to be told in the story of your life. You may not know all the details of how life will unfold, but you can know that great is His faithfulness.

The man or woman of God may not have all the answers to every question. By the end of Lamentations Jeremiah still had questions:

Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days? Lamentations 5:20 (NRSV)

I have often likened faith to a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces come together nicely and a picture begins to emerge. Other pieces are tricky to place, indeed there are some which you don’t find where they go until you are nearly finished. With faith, some people begin with the really difficult questions and never think of anything else. The puzzle is thrown out as a waste of time and faith never develops. I have found that though there are questions I cannot answer, though there are certain pieces that I cannot place, they do not distract from the amazing picture that has emerged. It is a picture of the faithfulness of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the mercy of God, the justice of God, the holiness of God, the power of God, the plan of God, and so much more. It is a picture of Jesus. The puzzling bits remain puzzling, but the picture of God that emerges keeps me puzzling on. Knowing Jesus has not answered every question for me, but it has enabled me to live with the questions.

The writer of Lamentations knew the Lord well enough that he was able to have hope in the midst of a rotten day. Do you? When it seems like God does not care, or is unfair, call to mind His faithfulness. Call to mind all that we know about God through Jesus Christ. That God does care has been proven in the past, at the cross. That God is fair will be proven when Christ returns.

September 30, 2016

Holding on to Your Faith

Today we’re featuring a website new to us, Ebony Johanna, although we’ve linked to her content previously at Thinking Out Loud. Click the title below to read at source, and then visit the blog for more. She begins by addressing the current situation in the United States from an African-American perspective.

Where Do We Go From Here? Maintaining Faith in the Midst of Suffering

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. For the help of his presence.” – Psalm 42.5

After another agonizing week of around the clock coverage of the war against black bodies, we find ourselves here again. Once again, we rise in protest because of another shooting of black men, women, and children. Once again, we offer analysis and critique of a system that continuously devalues our lives. Once again, we have conversations with colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even strangers about the urgency in dealing with this national sin. Once again, we petition God for cessation to this madness, praying that he would rescue us from imminent doom.

And with all of this, I still wonder if we are actually doing anything. It feels as if our prayers are falling on deaf ears, reverberating throughout the heavens yearning for someone to listen.

Does God hear? And if God hears, does he care? Can God actually do anything to save us?

As these crises continue, it proves that it doesn’t matter what we are doing – our melanin makes us an instant target. Whether we are armed or not, with our hands up or not, running or lying flat on the ground, able-bodied or disabled, cis-gendered or queer, young or old – the common denominator in them all is blackness. Blackness presumes that we are guilty regardless of what we do or what we don’t do. And that is disheartening as much as it is mind-boggling. If this was about behavior, we could act right even if it didn’t feel right if it meant that we would make it home. But it is not about behavior, how good or how bad, it is about this skin, this blackness which God created.

We can’t change this skin. We can’t peel it off or wake up one day shades lighter so that we can escape the white gaze. Yet the longer we stay in it, the longer our fate remains the same. All it takes is one traffic stop, one sidewalk encounter, one word misinterpreted, one glance mistaken for anger – as if we didn’t have a right to be. Can God get us out of this mess? Didn’t he know what they would do to us, that they would despise and kill what he deemed beautiful?

Deep in my heart I know that things will change. And yet my confession of faith sounds trite and feigned even to my own ears. I sympathize with Baldwin and Coates’ lack of faith in a divine deliverer as the past 400 years suggests that deliverance isn’t coming and at the same time, my blackness denies me the opportunity to surrender to the notion that this is all there is. Hope against hope is the only thing that sustains as black corpses fill my Facebook feed night after night after night. With every new hashtag, I feel my heart leap out of my chest. I have stopped looking. I have stopped counting.

Too oppressed to give up the fight of faith. In a sense, agnosticism is a luxury of the privileged, those who don’t have to spend entire generations praying for relief to come. And yet, faith cannot simply be deduced to a product of poverty and oppression. I disagree with the notion that suffering helps us to center our faith, because then racism sounds like the intent of the divine and not the workings of evil men who have purposed in their hearts to ransack the earth of all of its goods. I choose to believe the latter and still, it brings me little comfort as then we have to question whether God has the capacity to make the suffering stop.

If I keep fixated on the news feeds, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering. Every single day, it seems, there is a new Emmett Till. Before we can even grieve the loss of one of soul, we learn of another. The sheer rate at which our black brothers and sisters are falling – with no plausible end in sight – can leave one to deduce that God is not as powerful as we once imagined him to be. We’ve been praying. We’ve been fasting. Not just in this moment but for centuries. Though methods have changed, the fact that we are brutalized remains the same. If deferred hope makes the heart grow weak, the absence of hope surely kills it.

It is one thing to have our bodies thrown about because our blackness too closely resembles God’s image; it is quite another to allow our spirits to die because we have grown disillusioned by the suffering. If our spirits die, we will never survive this sadistic society.

We must press on. We must fight to maintain this ancient faith, not the white man’s faith but this faith that flows from where the Nile meets the Euphrates. It is this faith that enabled our ancestors to survive slavery, and it is this same faith that empowered them to fight for their freedom. This faith empowered our people to escape the Jim Crow south, to protest against lynching, stand up for voting rights, and march for freedom. We cannot abandon it, even in desperate times like these. We cannot walk out on God, even if we can’t see where God is moving in this moment.

Just as he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army and led our very own people out of slavery, he will lead us away from this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I choose to believe change is coming.

 

September 8, 2016

When Things Go From Bad to Worse

clarke-dixon-picby Clarke Dixon

Ever get the feeling that it is all downhill? That things are going from bad to worse? Or that life could be captured by an expression I grew up with, one said best with an Irish accent: things are “worser and far badder.” It might be health, it might be finances, it might be anything or seem like everything. Whatever it is, it is not good and not getting better. Ezekiel chapter 17 captures a time when God’s people are experiencing things going from bad to worse. It is a “riddle,” or allegory, so let’s quickly cover some of the key moments:

  • In verses 3 and 4 there is an eagle which takes a top branch of a cedar from Lebanon and plants it in a different land. This represents the Babylonian control over Judah and Jerusalem with the resulting deportation of about 10,000 people to Babylon, among whom was Ezekiel himself. This was done to weaken God’s people in order to keep them under Babylon’s thumb.
  • In verses 5 and 6 we find the planting of a vine which stretches toward the eagle. This represents Babylon letting the people of Judah carry on with life, though weakened, so long as they remain loyal to Babylon.
  • In verses 7 and 8 the vine stretches instead to a second eagle. This represents the rebellion of Judah under King Zedekiah, and the seeking of help from Egypt against Babylon.
  • In verses 9 and 10 we learn that the vine will be easily uprooted and destroyed. This represents the utter destruction of Jerusalem and a second and much larger deportation of its people.

This is a bad to worse moment for God’s people. It is bad enough when they are under Babylon’s thumb. Much worse that Jerusalem is to be destroyed and the people exiled. This was “worser and far badder.” Perhaps you can relate.

As we learn from verses 11 to 21, this story could have turned out better. Had the people listened to the prophets who encouraged patience as Babylon’s subjects, they would not have faced such destruction. Things would not have been great, but they would not have gone from bad to worse.  And had the people been listening to God all along, things would have turned out much better from the get-go. There are times that things get “worser and far badder” for us because we are not listening to the Lord. Things can go from bad to worse because our decisions go from dumb to dumber.

But there are also downhill moments not caused by any particular spiritual or moral failure, but rather because of a general spiritual and moral failure. Since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden we have been humans living in a fallen world. A lady once told me that she thought the devil was out to get her, and her faith must be so terribly weak because no amount of prayer would touch her sore feet. I asked if perhaps her feet were sore as a result of walking on them for 95 years. We Christians are prone to the aging process along with the rest of the world. We do share in our humanity which means sometimes things go from bad to worse though the troubles can not be traced to any specific bad decision on our part.

With all this negativity and “worser and far badder” thinking, is there any good news? Yes, it comes in verse 22:

22 Thus says the Lord God:
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
23 On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.
24 All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it. Ezekiel 17:22-24

Here God Himself plays a role in this allegory. This story is not over until God intervenes to write the final chapter. Whatever eagles were swooping around threatening to be the undoing of God’s people, God is the last and greatest eagle. Though God’s people seemed to be at the mercy of the seemingly more powerful powers of Babylon and Egypt, in fact all powers are at the mercy of the Lord. As our passage says “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord.” This represents all the nations which of course would include Babylon and Egypt. The once mighty eagles have had their wings clipped and sprouted leaves. They will know their place.

Whatever powerful eagles are swooping around us, God Himself is the last and greatest eagle. We tend to think that history is written by the powerful, and that our own lives are at the mercy of the powerful. Cancer is powerful. Ageing is powerful, addictions are powerful, hurtful people are powerful. These and the like seem like soaring eagles and we feel like mere twigs in their presence. God Himself is the last and greatest eagle. He sets the story according to His sovereign and loving purposes:

I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it. Ezekiel 17:24

Most importantly, Ezekiel 17 points to the reason for our confidence in God and His love. It points to Jesus. He is the sprig from verse 22. He is the topmost branch of the line of David. He is the one who ensures a future through his death and resurrection. So when if feels like things are going from bad to worse, whether it is you own doing or not, with Jesus it is not your undoing. Because God in Christ kept His promise of Ezekiel 17, even death when it may hover over us like an eagle, or rather like a vulture, does not write the final chapter for us. A diagnosis of cancer may feel like the end of the world. It is not, it is a different world, and a temporary one. Parkinson’s may feel like the end of the world. It is not, it is a different world, and a temporary one. Alzheimer’s may feel like the end of the world. It is not, it is a different world, it is a temporary one. Death itself may feel like the end of the world. In Christ it is not, it is the next step toward the world our Lord has prepared for us. Take your pick of diseases or troubles, they all seem like mighty eagles now, but the Lord is returning, they will find their proper place. Such things as threaten to be our undoing now, He will undo! 

I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it. Ezekiel 17:24

Are things “worser and far badder?” In Christ the best is yet ahead.

all scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Ontario, Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

January 6, 2016

Blustery Winds and the Prevailing Will of God

•••by Clarke Dixon

To read this at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, click this link.

Only twice in my life have I capsized a sailboat. The second time my future wife was onboard, until the boat ended upside down by which time no one was onboard. Long story, but it wasn’t even windy that day. The first capsize, however, was the result of a very unpredictable wind and my failure to see a major gust until it was too late. In sailing sometimes the breeze can be nice and steady, on other days it can be very shifty. Life may feel like that for us. Things may seem nice and steady one day, wild and unpredictable the next. We may even feel we are under the threat of a capsize.

An old expression goes, “It’s an ill wind blows no one any good.” There was an ill wind blowing hard on the heals of Christmas. The Magi had come to worship the newly born king of the Jews and so made inquiries to king Herod. This Herod had no right to be the current “king of the Jews” apart from the fact Rome said he could. This Herod was also in the habit of murdering anyone who threatened his power, and by anyone we include even infants:

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more. (Matthew 2:16-18)

Herod’s was not the only ill in the ill wind that blew in those days. Satan himself was in on the attempt to destroy Jesus:

Then another portent appeared in heaven:a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. (Revelation 12:3-5)

Despite the ill and blustery winds that blew in those days we see the hand of God involved in keeping the child safe. As we read Matthew 2 we find that God used dreams four times to warn and direct, ensuring the safety of the child. Despite the ill and blustery winds, this ship would keep sailing in the course God had chosen.

However, Satan’s ill winds would keep blowing in continued attempts to blow Jesus off course. There was the temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry which we can read about in Matthew 4. The promise of kingdoms and power in exchange for devil worship was an attempt to steer Jesus away from the journey to the cross. Likewise, we hear of another attempt when Peter declares that Jesus must not die.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. (Matthew 16:21-23)

And finally in the Garden of Gethsemane, though we are not told that Satan was present, we do know the same temptation to steer clear of the cross was:

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want. (Matthew 26:39)

As Jesus prays in the Garden we might wonder if the prayers he taught his disciples were reflected in his own prayers in those moments: “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” which is easier prayed than done when the doing requires a cross. “And lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one,” which would require Jesus suffering the worst that evil could deliver, so that God’s people could be delivered from evil. Ironically, when the ill winds of Satan blew in the direction of Jesus, they were an attempt to kill him as a child but to keep him from being killed as a man. God the Father protects Jesus from death in Matthew 2, but the cross looms in the future. The rescue of this one baby was to ensure the rescue of all God’s children. His will was, and is, being done.

These are things we can keep in mind when the ill winds are blowing hard and blustery in our own lives, when they seem so unpredictable we feel a capsize might be imminent. Whatever the winds are, the will of our Lord is the prevailing will. His will is steady and predictable. Whatever gusts threaten us for the moment, keep on the course the Lord has set. The good sailor adapts to the winds moment by moment, trimming the sails, planning an unexpected tack to keep course for the chosen destination. Just as Joseph and Mary adapted to the changing conditions, becoming refugees in Egypt for a time, so too we adapt to the ill winds even as we look to God for protection, direction, and for his prevailing will to be done. Though sometimes the winds are wild, we could not ask for a better journey. Or a better destination.

December 31, 2015

Complaining Against God

This is from a recommended blog, Pilgrim’s Rock by Craig Biehl. It’s a book excerpt as well. Click the image below to read at source, and then click the link at the bottom to connect with part two of the article.

Is It Okay to Complain Against God? (Part One)

Have you ever been angry and disappointed with God, or questioned His goodness in the midst of deep and dark struggles? Have you ever been so disappointed with God’s response to your prayers that you wanted to give Him a piece of your mind? After all, He knows our weakness and is big enough to take it, right? But, does God understanding our weakness give us the right to complain against Him? Moreover, can it ever be proper to complain against our Creator? Let’s see…

He Hears Our Cries

God is good. “His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4). “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). And in the end, “He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9). And from His love and care for His children, He calls us to cast all our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). To Him we may cry in our troubles: “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy” (Psalm 64:1). “I pour out my complaint before Him; I tell my trouble before Him” (Psalm 142:2). God welcomes our cries for help and understanding. He responds with great compassion to our needs and weaknesses:

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Asking the Right Question

Our question, then, does not concern our freedom to cast our cares upon God or to bring to Him our cries and complaints, for Christ purchased for us that marvelous privilege. Our question concerns the right to complain against God, or to question His wisdom, goodness, or righteousness in His governing the affairs of the world and our personal circumstances. Put another way, can we as created, sustained, and dependent on God for all things complain against a God of perfect power and goodness, who always acts in perfect righteousness, who always desires the best for His people? Or, can finite and fallen people sit in judgment over the source and standard of all righteousness?

Have You Considered Job?

To answer our question, we turn to Job. After all, if anyone had the right to complain against God it was Job. Used by God as an example to His adversary the Devil, Job suffered because He was righteous. And suffer he did, with great personal loss and intense, prolonged physical suffering.

Early in his agony, Job did well in accepting God’s rule and righteousness: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:2-3). But, time and pain wore on. And as we all know how our physical suffering challenges our spiritual demeanor, so Job eventually resorted to criticizing God for causing and ignoring his plight. He sought an audience with God to argue his case against Him.

Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees? Are your days as the days of man, or your years as a man’s years, that you seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, although you know that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of your hand? Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether (Job 10:3-8).

Job’s complaints not only increased as his suffering lingered, he turned to questioning the righteousness, knowledge, and goodness of God. He even went so far as to imply that God favored the wicked! But was Job right in this? And even if he was not, would God not grant Job the right to his accusations given the depth of Job’s agony and his ignorance of the cause of his suffering? Our answer will come in Part Two.

—Adapted from Craig Biehl, God the Reason: How Infinite Excellence Gives Unbreakable Faith, Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2015.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Click the title below to read part two.

Is It Okay to Complain Against God? (Part Two)

September 23, 2015

Peace for Your Soul

by Clarke Dixon

Rest in Peace. A Reflection on Psalm 116

Rest in peace” is a statement we often use for the dead which unfortunately we rarely use for the living. We are restless souls with our worries and concerns, with our fights and contentions. We rarely rest. We rarely know peace. Even when our bodies find rest, our souls often do not. Ironically, one thing our souls can fret over is death itself, the very thing that causes “rest in peace” to fall so easily from our lips. We have great difficulty in saying “rest in peace” to our own souls. In Psalm 116 we find someone who does in fact call upon his soul to rest:

7 Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you
(Psalms 116:7)

How did the Psalmist break through to finding a place of rest for his soul? How can we get there? Let us turn to the rest of the Psalm to find out:

The journey to a place of rest for our souls begins with prayer. We do not know the exact nature of the Psalmist’s prayer request, but we do know that his life seemed to be in danger in some way and he is grateful to God for a rescue, for answering his prayer.

1 I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, save my life
(Psalms 116:1-4)

Something we should note here is that the Psalmist does not say “someone out there is looking out for me“. His prayer for deliverance would hardly have been “If something or someone is out there could you please . . . “. Rather the Psalmist’s prayers are specifically to the LORD, God, Creator of the universe, Who has revealed Himself to humanity. The Psalmist does not have some generic idea of God in mind, but The LORD. In fact in this Psalm he uses God’s specific name, represented in many English translations by LORD, fifteen times. The Psalmist is praying to a God he knows, something he can do because God has made Himself known. Which leads us to our next thought.

The journey to a place of rest for our souls begins not with our prayers, but with a God Who hears prayer. Prayer works because God works with grace and mercy toward us:

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me
(Psalms 116:5-6)

We think we are taking a low view of ourselves when we think God does not hear our prayers. “Why should He care about and listen to us? Should we not be nothing to him?” But really we are guilty of taking a low view of God. We are doubting the scope of His love.

Psalm 116 has a caution: Watch out for the dead end roads on your search for a  resting place for your soul. Prayer sounds like a very religious thing to do, and many people assume that religion is the path one should take in seeking rest for one’s soul. However there is a very grave danger here, one made worse by a temporary feeling of peace that most religions can provide. Let us take an extreme example of a man who feels he has made peace with God, and can serve God best by blowing himself up and taking out God’s enemies with him. This man says to his soul “return, O my soul, to your resting place, you are doing the right thing and God will be pleased.” However, what will he say before the judgement seat of Christ when he realizes his religion has failed him? Religion has the horrible habit of giving people some sense of relief for their souls, when really they ought to keep seeking. Likewise, many turn to “non-religions” like Darwinism and Secular Humanism in a search for rest for their souls. Remember the bus signs which said “God probably does not exist. So stop worrying and enjoy your life”? These signs appeal to a sense of rest from worry about the afterlife. People who believe signs like these shall also stand before the judgement seat of Christ but with the realization that their non-religion has failed them every bit as much as the religion of the religious.

So it is the Christian religion which brings true peace to the soul then? No, that is not it either. Our Psalmist does not refer to religion as the reason his soul can rest. It is not religion but the LORD, God Himself Who is the reason for rest.

5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling
(Psalms 116:5-8)

Religion is something we do. Rescue and salvation is something God does. We get the cart before the horse when we subscribe to religion or do religious things to make God like us, to get Him to save us. Too late for that, He already loves us and has offered the rescue. Our “religion” is an expression of worship which flows out of our knowledge of God and His salvation, it is not a precursor to it. The Psalmist commits to religious activity in response to rescue, not in order to obtain it:

12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people
(Psalms 116:12-14)

It is not religion that leads to a resting place for our souls, but a Person, God Himself.

There is one final thing to note about the Psalmist’s prayer. Note how different this Psalm is from the prayers of Jesus in Gethsemane and at the cross. The Psalmist is pleased about being rescued. Jesus, however, wants the cup of suffering to be taken from Him. The psalmist is rescued and can say “return, O my soul, to your resting place,” Jesus says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There was no rescue on that day, at least not for Jesus. However, there was the greatest rescue of all that day, for people like you and me, people who are willing to turn from sin and turn to God. A rescue from sin, from the root cause of the death and destruction that lay around us. Death may lay ahead of us, but only the death of our earthly bodies, not the death of our hope of salvation in God.

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

We may die someday, but we can yet say “Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Is there something you want to say to your soul?

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV


Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Ontario, Canada; read more at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

July 28, 2015

The Prayer Jesus Prayers Before He Rests

Today we pay a return visit to Gordon Rumford Ministries. I pored over several excellent devotions before choosing this one. Click the title below to read at source and then take a few minutes to look around at some of the other items available there.

Into Your HandsA Good Night’s Rest

“Into your hands I commit my spirit” Psalm 31:5 (NIV)

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We are told very little about the upbringing of Jesus. The Gospels are very silent except for one incident in Jesus’ life when He was twelve years old (Luke 2:41-50). However, there was a custom among the mothers of Jesus’ day that we do know about. When a Jewish mother put her young children to bed it was the custom for them to teach their children certain prayers.

In particular one prayer the mothers taught was to have the child recite Psalm 31:5. There is little doubt that Mary taught her remarkable son Jesus to say this prayer. So this is one thing about our Lord’s childhood of which we may be reasonably certain. Jesus likely prayed this prayer each night at least during His formative years. Perhaps He prayed it every night as an adult as well, we simply do not know.

However, we most certainly know that in His darkest time, when He hung on the cross to pay for His people’s sins, He uttered this prayer. It is the last of the seven things He said while on the cross.

During the first three hours on the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of the people gathered around the cross. Now that the physical alternatives were exhausted, the people turned to verbal abuse from about 9 am to noon. Then for the next three hours from noon to 3 pm, a darkness hung over the land and Jesus was forsaken by the Father in order to save sinners from eternal destruction.

The first three words of Jesus from the cross addressed the needs of others. The last four spoken in quick succession gave expression to His own needs. Jesus always saw to the needs of others before attending to His own concerns.

Having now gone through the trauma of being forsaken by God, He can once again address God as Father just as He taught us to do. And, when He is about to dismiss His spirit and die, He says the last of the seven words from the cross. The last thing Jesus said was, (Luke 23:46 NIV)

“Father into your hands I commit my spirit”

This prayer of Jesus is a remarkable one for us to pray as we endure suffering in our lives.

Jesus, as we have said, had just endured to worst the people could inflict. Now, as He is about sleep the sleep of death He prays this prayer perhaps for the last time.

The lesson for us is that we need to become children of God in order that we may pray this inspired prayer in our times of trouble. In fact, becoming a child of God is, in one sense, committing ourselves to the Lord for Him to save us.

We pray to God and dare to address Him as “Father”. Then we place ourselves into His hands. Putting ourselves into God’s hands means that we come under His control. We submit to Him in everything. What we commit to the Lord is our spirit, our eternal being, our essential selves.

My great desire is that everyone who reads this devotional would pray this simple prayer. Fancy words or prayers written by others are not needed. We can simply take this verse of the Bible and use it as the one to bring salvation to ourselves.

If we are suffering and asking God for help in our situation, then this prayer would be a wonderful way to end the time of prayer. Will you submit to what God has for you as long as He will receive your spirit? Will you call out to Him and use the tender word “Father”?

Do so today. He is waiting to hear from you.


Image: Cathedral of the Rockies, Boise ID

February 25, 2015

Everybody’s Got a Troubled Heart

Our post title alludes to Bruce Springsteen’s song Hungry Heart. Some have written about the spirituality that people feel at his concerts. But the truth of the lyrics of this song is certainly appropriate to today’s devotional. People think that some of their friends or people in their church have everything so together, but if they were to peel back the layers, they would see that everybody’s got a hungry heart, a hurting heart, a troubled heart.


 

It’s Wednesday which means today’s post is by Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon. Click the link in the title below to read at source, or better yet, if you have the time, listen to the audio of the full sermon at this link. (Choose the sermon titled “Trouble.”)

Trouble!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1 NRSV

This is a verse with no relevance to any of us as we all have perfect lives, right? We all have perfect health, perfect relationships, and perfect families, and so no troubles, and no troubled hearts. Well truth be told there are many things that can cause our hearts to be troubled. In fact, even if the situations of our lives are not troubling, we can still experience a troubled heart as we fret over situations that may never happen. Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for us all.

Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for the disciples in our passage. He has already told them that one of them would betray him, one of them would deny him, and all of them would fall away from him. Oh, and he would be killed. One can only imagine the kind of thoughts that would be troubling the hearts of the disciples as Jesus is arrested, falsely accused, beat up, mocked, and executed. They might obsess over how they had failed Jesus. They might obsess over the possibility that Jesus had failed them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

But that is Friday and Saturday. Sunday comes and Jesus rises from the dead. That should be the end of all troubles, right? Wrong, following Jesus’ ascension to the Father, persecution breaks out against the Jesus followers and it does not go well for them. Study history and you will find much suffering for many Christians. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Or as one Bible scholar translates it: “Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

But shouldn’t things always go well for those who worship God? Should not their prayers be answered? Isn’t God fixing things? Many well meaning Christians believe that yes, God does fix everything for the true believer, and yes, God does answer every prayer of a good Christian. So if things are broken in your life, or prayers are not being answered; confess more, pray more, be a better Christian.

But what does Jesus say? What did Jesus say to the disciples when thing were about to go oh, so wrong? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God, keep trusting also in me.” He does not say “now that you are following me, your life will be pain free,” but “do not let your hearts be troubled.” You do not say such a thing unless you know trouble is coming. He does not say “I have now fixed everything,” but “keep trusting in God, keep trusting in me.” You do not call for trust unless you know someone needs to wait. He does not say “today you will be with me in paradise,” but “I am going to prepare a place for you.” Well he did tell one believer that paradise would be his lot that very day, but we all know what came next.

Truth is, we are still living in a messy world. No matter how good a Jesus follower we are, no matter how deep our prayer lives are, no matter how all-encompassing our confession of sin is, we still live in a messy world.

Genesis chapter three outlines the result of the fall. The last time I checked, a Christian woman is as likely to experience pain in childbirth as any other. A Christian farmer needs to work just as hard as any other farmer to produce a potato. And all through history, Christians have been as likely to die as anyone else. This is the mess we live in. As we live in this mess we sometimes would rather treat the symptoms than seek the cure. Jesus does not promise to be a pill that will take away pain. He promises to be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus meets our greatest need. He fills our biggest hole. He cures our greatest illness. He lifts us up from our hardest fall. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” Every pain we feel as a Jesus follower is temporary. Jesus dealt with our eternal problem.

But someone will object: “God does fix every problem in our lives in the here and now. If you are experiencing trouble, it is because you are not a good enough Christian.” But are you willing to say that to the apostle Paul?

with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NRSV)

Paul responded to all these troubles, not by blaming himself or God, but with trust: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NRSV)

Someone else will object: “God answers prayers with miracles, and if you are not receiving them, that is because you are not good enough.” I believe God does miracles today. But I also believe that miracles today serve the same purpose as the miracles of Jesus recorded for us in the New Testament. They point people to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near. They point to the fact that Jesus is the One through whom the Kingdom comes. Notice that in the New Testament, Jesus did not fix every problem of every person in every place. He still doesn’t. God does miracles, but He does not hand them out like candy. The Christian, no matter how devout or righteous, still lives in a messy world. A miracle is not the cure for a troubled heart. Trust is. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

I once took a girl sailing on Chemong Lake. Not being very windy we decided to drop the anchor and go for a swim. If you know Chemong Lake you will know that the middle of the lake is the best place to go swimming for all along the shores are icky, slimy, gross weeds. It came time to head in, and so I got back into the boat. My friend tried to do likewise, but failed. I tried to get her in, but to no avail. So she swam for a bit while I sailed alongside, until she became too tired. With my friend being too tired and my being too weak I had to do something. So I threw a line from the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now do you remember those weeds all along the shoreline? If you could have heard the screams of this poor girl as I pulled her through the weeds! The point is this. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. Trouble will come, even upon the very best Christian. But when they do, don’t let go of the rope. That God in His grace and love will get us to the shore is a sure thing.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

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