Christianity 201

May 7, 2020

Should Christians Have All the Answers?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you feel that there are questions Christianity is not providing good answers for? Why would God allow a pandemic? Why do innocent children suffer while some evil adults do well? Why is God not hearing the prayers of Christians around the world for this pandemic to end? Why does God not seem to answer my prayers at all?

Should we, who are Christians, have all the answers? Should we feel like we are lacking as Christians if we don’t have all the answers? Or, is Christianity lacking as a valid worldview if some questions go unanswered?

I have often thought of the journey of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t open the box and suddenly all the pieces fall into place. There is a long process of getting the pieces together. We don’t simply start following Jesus and expect all the pieces to fall into place. We don’t suddenly know everything there is to know. Rather, we are on a journey of growth in understanding. This is reflected by the apostle Paul:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

There are three things for us to consider from this verse:

First, it is okay to not have all the answers. None of us have a completed puzzle yet! Even the greatest theologians and preachers have pieces still not placed. Those who think they have it all figured out, don’t. I don’t know about you, but when I work on a jigsaw puzzle, there are always pieces which I think belong in particular places, some of which can actually seem to fit, if you hammer them hard enough. But then, later on I find they are out of place. To be able to say “I don’t have an answer for that” may be better than having all kinds of pieces hammered in the wrong places. If Paul can say “now I know only in part” (NRSV), we can too! Here is that same verse in another translation to help us see Paul’s humility:

Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (CEV)

Second, it is okay to be puzzled about our own experiences in life. We may have a season like Job, where despite faithfully putting our best foot forward, we suffer. The suffering does not seem to make sense. An online attendee of our church family (he lives in a different nation!), David Hodgson, shared a post with our church Facebook group. I am sharing it here with his permission:

Imagine the MOST beautiful picture you have ever seen, landscape, person, pet, building – it doesn’t matter what your subject is. Now imagine getting that picture enlarged 10,000 times, and then getting the result turned into a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw puzzle 😳 Some of the pieces individually would be dark, ugly, not make much sense on its own BUT the beautiful picture would be incomplete without it. Now imagine God, who sees everything – He has created a picture more beautiful than anything we can imagine and much larger than a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw – now maybe the bad, dark, things that happen are like the individual pieces mentioned earlier – His beautiful picture would be incomplete without them and they look nasty and ugly on their own 😉 That’s how I look on life, and everything that happens in it – we don’t understand because we have NEVER seen the complete picture, BUT I FIRMLY believe that this helps to put EVERYTHING into context 😃

David Hodgson via Facebook

You might feel like your life is in a very dark place right now. This present darkness is part of a much bigger picture, a beautiful picture. In fact the darkness is a necessary part of that bigger picture. God will complete the picture at some point, then we will see how it all fits together.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)

When we read through the Book of Job, we are not left thinking “ah, all that suffering of Job made sense,” but rather “there is so much we do not know, but we do know we can trust God.” We trust even though “now I know only in part.”

Third, Jesus has given us a wonderful opportunity to make great progress on the puzzle of life and faith. While we have thus far noted Paul’s humility in his knowledge and understanding, we can also note his conviction. Paul has great conviction thanks to Jesus. Because of Jesus there are certain things we do know. Consider these verses:

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

John 1:18 (NLT)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

1 John 4:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus reveals God to us. What is God like? Through Jesus we learn that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Because of Jesus, John, Paul, along with all the apostles, along with Christians down through the centuries, have had confidence that God is, and that God is love. It is like working on a puzzle, and getting the most important bits done. Being an avid motorcyclist I have a puzzle of a Triumph motorcycle. Coming to a knowledge of God and God’s love in Jesus is like getting the pieces that make up the motorcycle in place. Yes, there are unanswered questions, but they are the bits nearer the edges, out of the main focus of the picture.

The Lord’s Table is a reminder, that now we have great answers to the most important questions. Is there a God, and if so, what is he like? We are reminded that God came to us in Jesus, His body broken for us, his blood shed for the atonement of our sins. God is, and God is love. A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

Have you ever been tempted to give up on Christianity because there are unanswered questions? It is okay to not have all the answers. But in Jesus we have the answer to the most important question of all; does God love me?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 4, 2020

The Book of Job and Worship Song Theology

If today is controversial to some of you, remember this is Christianity 201, not 101, and look at it on that basis.

Earlier today I was preparing a response to a friend concerning the Matt Redman song, “Blessed be the Name” which contains the line, “You give and take away.”

In checking what others have written on this, I came across the blog of former pastor Dr. Paul Ellis who lives in his native Australia currently, and has also resided in Asia and California. His site is called Escape to Reality (or E2R.) There were a number of more recent articles, but on discovering that we’ve only covered this once here (rather superficially in 2011) I decided to share with you the piece which got my attention earlier this morning.

As always, send some traffic to our contributors by clicking on the header which follows.

Does God Give and Take Away?

The entire Bible is good for you, but you won’t get much out of it unless you know Jesus Christ. To understand the written word, you need to know the Living Word. Try to read the Bible without an appreciation of Jesus – who he is and what he has done – you may end up taking someone else’s medicine. Some verses will appear to contradict others and you will get confused.

In the first part of this study on God’s gifts, we looked at a sincere lady in the Bible who mistakenly believed that God gives us bad gifts like death and poverty. Today I want to look at a man who had a different problem. He believed that God gives us good gifts only to take them away again. You can probably guess that I’m talking about Job. Job had this one really bad week when his livestock were stolen, his servants were slain, and his kids were killed when a house fell on them. For some reason, Job thought God was behind his loss for he said:

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)

If there was ever a scripture that has led to some screwy notions about God’s character, it’s this one. Anyone who has suffered loss has probably heard this verse. It’s quoted at funerals. We sing songs about it. For some strange reason people seem to find comfort in believing that God is responsible for their loss.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love Job’s attitude. He’s saying that whatever happens in life, he’s going to praise the name of the Lord. But Job said some dumb things about God. Later on Job would come to regret his choice of words. “I spoke of things I did not understand” (Job 42:3).

The question stands: Does God give and take away?

Any picture we have of God needs to be informed by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). To get a good understanding of God’s character, we need to look to Jesus, not Job. Can you imagine Jesus stealing or killing? Of course not. So how is it that some people think that God was responsible for Job’s loss?

“But Paul, it’s in the Bible, it’s right there in black and white.” Let me put it to you like this. If you want the very best insight into God’s character, are you better off looking at:

(a)    Jesus, who said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), or
(b)    Job, who had only heard of God but did not actually know him  (see Job 42:5)?

Jesus is the better choice! Jesus came to reveal God the Great Giver. Have you been given something good? Then see God as your source:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (Jas 1:17)

Who’s robbing you?

But what if you have suffered loss, like Job? He lost his health, his wealth, and his family. The temptation may be to blame God for your loss, as if God had a change of heart. But God is not fickle. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is an extraordinary giver who never takes back his gifts.

God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never canceled, never rescinded. (Romans 11:29, MSG)

So if God is doing the giving, who is doing the taking? Again, Jesus provides the answer:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

We ought not to be confused about these two different roles. One is a giver, the other is a taker. If you have been given something good, give thanks to God. But if you’ve been robbed, don’t blame God. He’s not behind your loss. And Satan is not his sheepdog.

Humans are spectacularly slow learners. From the beginning of human history the devil has been trying to steal or ruin everything God gave us and yet there are still some who think that God is the thief. God gave us authority over a planet and the devil took it. God gave us freedom and the devil somehow got us to choose the way of slavery. God gave us eternal life, health and glory, and we lost it all. But thank God for Jesus who took back what the devil stole.

Karma versus grace

If you think that God gives and takes away, you’ve missed the point of Jesus. Jesus came to reveal a generous Father and to destroy the work of the thief (1 John 3:8). Jesus came that we might have life to the full, not to the half.

If you think God gives and takes away, you have more faith in karma than grace. Karma says what goes around comes around. If you’re healthy now, you’ll be sick tomorrow. If you’re prospering now, poverty’s waiting around the next corner. When disappointments and hardships come, you won’t be surprised. You’ll just throw in the towel and say, “I knew it was too good to last.”

The world works according to the principle of give and take, but God just gives. The only thing he’ll take off you – if you let him – is your sin, your shame, your sickness, your worries, and your fears. He takes away those things that harm us and gives us good things that bless us.

Are you Job or David?

Both Job and David were robbed. Both were greatly distressed and surrounded by foolish men who gave bad advice. But unlike Job, David did a Jesusy-thing and took back what was stolen. Why did David fight back when Job quit? Because David “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam 30:6). In his pain David considered God’s goodness and realized that God was not behind his loss. He understood that it was not God’s will for him to suffer and, so strengthened, he fought back and prevailed.

I wish I could go back in time and get to Job before his friends did. I would say, “God didn’t kill your kids! He didn’t steal your livestock and make you sick. You’ve been robbed! The devil is having a go at you. Don’t sit there in the ashes and cry about it, get up and fight! Are you a victor or a victim?”

The church will never see victory if we think God is behind our suffering. If we think God is robbing us we won’t even resist. We’ll let the devil waltz in and plunder our families all the while singing “He gives and takes away.”

Funny, but I can’t imagine Jesus or David doing that.

 

April 24, 2020

The Apostle Paul’s Personal Circumstances as Apologetic

…”I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee…”
– Paul in Philippians 3:4-6 NIV

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished…”
– Paul in Acts 22:3-5 NLT

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
– Paul in 2 Cor. 5:17 NLT

After the Gospels, the New Testament proceeds to give us a glimpse of what following Christ will look like after He ascended and after He sent the Holy Spirit. Much of this was written by Saul/Paul who is personally completely absent from the gospel accounts.

What we know about his life can be instructive.

The Apostle Paul:

Shows us what following Jesus means when you didn’t see it firsthand.

In a way, Paul is a stand-in for all of us. There’s nothing in either the gospels or Paul’s own writing to suggest he was part of the crowd when he taught in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany or performed miracles in those places. There is a natural skepticism when you didn’t see something extraordinary up close and personal. Even Thomas doubted after following Jesus for three years. Paul would be in this category. Because he never met or conversed with Jesus, in I Cor. 15:8 he goes so far as to call himself “one abnormally born.”

Shows us what following Jesus means when you follow an other religion.

Paul is an example of what it means to convert (verb) or become a convert (noun.) Here was no nominal Jew, but a man steeped in religious training who knew his faith inside-out and would go on to boast about this aspect of his life even after committing to Christ. He in effect becomes the poster boy for conversion; his life allows the possibility for anyone to walk away from their spiritual past into a new chapter.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are an intellectual.

Even if Paul had never boasted about his training, the grammar and sentence structure of his writing betray his thorough education. I personally believe that the “Philippian hymn” which is set off as poetry citation in most of our Bibles could be an example of Paul quoting a popular early Church song written by someone else or it could be Paul quoting Paul, since training in music was part of that classical education. Today we see objections from people who think they are ‘too smart’ to believe the Gospel, but Paul showed that formal education doesn’t make one too sophisticated an intellectual to reject the simple concepts of faith.

Shows us what following Jesus means if you were formerly opposed to Christianity.

It’s one thing to be atheist or agnostic, or to follow another faith, but if you’ve been particularly vocal about it, you have to be willing to swallow your pride and say you were wrong. Most biographers of Paul characterize what happens to him in the wake of the Damascus Road encounter as being a dramatic, 180-degree turnaround. This is the simplest definition of repentance: ‘My life was going in one direction and then, in a moment, I changed trajectory and started walking toward a completely different objective.’

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are being spiritually formed.

None of any of the significant events in Paul’s post-conversion life happens until after he has been inactive while undergoing a time of discipleship and spiritual formation and simply considering the claims of Christ in a world about to be turned upside down by the life of Jesus. Some put this as a three-year period, while others have it as high as 14 years, though the latter number might have some overlap with early ministry. This might have been a tough period of Paul who would have been anxious to share his post-Damascus testimony, and it shows us that just because people aren’t entering into high-profile Christian service right away, it doesn’t mean their life hasn’t been dramatically changed.

Shows us what following Jesus means while you are suffering.

We can only speculate as to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” though some commentators are more certain than others. There can be little doubt that it dogged Paul continually, three times bringing him to a point where he either enlisted the fervent prayers of other or spent time apart crying out to God to take the condition away. If anyone had time to wrestle with the question as to why God allows suffering, it was him. And let’s not even talk about being hungry or shipwrecked. He is convinced that when we are weak we are made strong.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are now the one facing opposition.

From a literary perspective, the story comes full circle; the man who opposes the teaching of Jesus ends up facing the same type of opponents; the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. Many of the epistles are called “Paul’s prison letters” because he spends a section of his life under house arrest. A faith in Christ needs to be anchored firmly and be resilient in the face of challenge.

Shows us what following Jesus means … period.

From Paul’s famous love chapter, to the fruit of the spirit, to his message of economic, ethnic and gender egalitarianism, to his imagery of living the Christian life as one running a race, to his theological treatise in his letter to the Romans; in all these things Paul shows us what it means to live the Christian life.

 

-PW

 

 

March 24, 2020

He Does Not Afflict Willingly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:52 pm
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For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
– Lamentations 3:33 (NKJV)

It is part of the amazing power of the Christian scriptures that passages will simply come to life at times when we need them most. Scripture portions that perhaps we rushed through or more or less ignored take on greater significance at pivotal times in our lives.

Thus was the case this week as I was housecleaning boxes and boxes of old correspondence, and found this selection from Lamentations 3 on a church bulletin. The above verse is NKJV as was the church bulletin, what follows is The Message:

22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.

25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times…

31-33 Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way

Verse 33 was the one which really jumped out at me. Here it is in some other translations:

■ He definitely doesn’t enjoy affliction, making humans suffer. (CEB)
■ He does not enjoy causing people pain. He does not like to make anyone unhappy. (ERV)
■ He does not willingly bring suffering or grief to anyone (God’s Word)
[I]t is not the desire or way of God’s heart to hurt and grieve the children of men. (The Voice)

This stands in contrast to the theology of some people, that God is angry with us and waiting to pour out his wrath on people.

Some might suggest that this verse goes too far the other way! I compiled the various translations using Bible Gateway, but when you go to Bible Hub, you are always offered parallel passages. Perhaps reading all of these gives better context into the nature of God vis-a-vis his dealings with us in seemingly difficult circumstances:

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.
 – Hebrews 12:10 (NLT)

The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.
– Job 37:23 (NIV)

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.
– Psalm 119:71 (NLT)

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
– Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
– 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

I’ll leave it there for you to consider. Comments are always welcome.

 

December 6, 2019

Anna The Prophetess

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This appeared originally as a Twitter thread. On our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I’ve taken threads from Twitter and grouped them into a single article on about eight occasions, believing that they need to be seen by more people. It’s in that spirit I’m highlighting these thoughts here today.

Rich Perez is the author of Mi Casa Uptown; a memoir of his experiences growing up in the inner city of New York and the intersection between faith, family, identity and the significance of place. He’s also the lead pastor of Christ Crucified Fellowship in New York City. The link below takes you to the original thread.

Anna: Going Deep in Three Verses

In the Bible, only 3 verses are dedicated to Anna the prophetess. Because most Christians lack imagination, they’ll miss how deep those 3 verses go….

NIV.Luke.2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[*] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

* Or then had been a widow for eighty-four years.

Something worth noticing about Anna: before she’s the daughter of Phanuel; before she’s known to be of the tribe of Asher, Anna is identified as a prophet.

Being part of a society that disregarded women, esp. an old widow like Anna, God shows us that his world is upside down. Women were identified by the men they were connected to. But God is making a different connection. God’s saying that the most important thing about Anna is not the man she’s connected to but the God that she’s connected to.

Anna also teaches us quite a bit about waiting and aging well. she was 105 years old when she finally saw what she was waiting for: Jesus. Eight-four of those years were alone after her husband died.

I think the real value of these verses is how waiting has the potential to change us.

In my life, waiting has often made me frustrated, hurt and then bitter. Then it’s made me distrusting, hopeless and sometimes, unbelieving.

As young people, we need Anna. she shows us how to grow old well.

God uses Anna to show us that waiting for God isn’t passive, but active. That waiting doesn’t have to mean we grow older and bitter. That waiting doesn’t have to mean we grow stale and skeptical, but waiting can mean we grow to be more present and expectant.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Anna had many moments where she doubted God’s promise. Many nights where her bitterness got the best of her. Many nights where trusting God may have seemed impossible. But whether it was her doubt, her bitterness or her distrust, it all happened in the temple with God.

“She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers.”

Waiting, with all of its frustrations and darkness, is welcomed in the presence of God.

Anna shows that her life of waiting— most of it in the dark and alone— is not possible without prayer. Anna discovered a kind of prayer that doesn’t simply speak to God, but more importantly hears from God and is present with God.

One-way prayers assume that what we have to say is of greater importance than what God has to reveal to us.

I can only imagine Anna’s days and nights in the temple with God to be filled with a lot of silence; waiting to hear from God.

More reflections on Anna…

God’s three short verses on her show us the power of names. In just the first verse we get three of them: Anna, Phanuel and Asher.

Anna means “grace from God.”

Phanuel means “the face of God.”

Asher means “good fortune.” And it was to the tribe of Asher that God said: “…May the bolts of your gate be iron and bronze, and your strength last as long as you live.

Throughout the decades of her life; of her waiting – filled with what I imagine were many lonely moments, Anna waited for “the good fortune” of seeing “the face of God,” and at the temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth, by “the grace of God” she did!

Did you know that patience comes from the same Latin root as passion, which means “to suffer”? In other words, patience ain’t easy.

It all makes me wonder how Jesus waited. How did knowing what he came to do shape HOW Jesus waited?

Jesus waited knowing the the end from the beginning. He waited knowing at least part of the outcome of his waiting. Jesus waited knowing that part of waiting involved disappointment. He waited knowing that part of waiting involved his own suffering and his death.

Yet he waited knowing that his waiting would lead to life… quite literally, revival. Not simply for himself but for all who would trust his work and wait for his finally fulfillment.

November 18, 2019

God is Sovereign Over Suffering

Today we have a new writer. Pastor Matthew Rickett leads Antioch Baptist Church in Portland, Tennessee in the U.S. He posts occasional devotional articles at the church website. Clicking the header below will take you directly to today’s article.

Our Faithful Creator

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Pet 4:19

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All of it is profitable. Yet, some verses become elevated in our thinking because of the promises they contain, or because they speak to a certain season in our life, or because they succinctly declare Gospel truth. Unfortunately, other verses can get overlooked, though they are just as inspired, just as wonderful, and just as powerful. 1 Pet 4:19 is one of those verses. We touched on it briefly this past Sunday when discussing the context of our passage. I encourage you to read 1 Peter this week. Meditate on it. Especially 1 Peter 4:19. Why?

  1. It Affirms that Suffering is a Normal Part of the Christian Experience. Don’t be surprised by suffering. Why are these things happening to me? Why now? Why this? Why me? Don’t be surprised by suffering, says Peter (4:12). Suffering is never scheduled. It is never convenient. But, according to Christ, it is to be expected. Peter reaffirms this in this little letter. This verse brings to conclusion Peter’s thoughts on suffering by telling us how to react: Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator and continue to do good. I can’t answer, “Why?” But I can answer, “How.” God has not left us without instruction for the rainy season.
  1. It Affirms that God is Sovereign Over Suffering. Peter makes a clear distinction: You can suffer as a consequence of your sin (ex. drunkenness will lead to vomiting and hangovers. Gross.). Or, suffering might seemingly come from nowhere. Peter says, that the latter is according to God’s will. It’s shocking to think that suffering might actually be God’s will. Today, we are often told that God wants you to be happy, fed, and blessed. But, suffering is a part of God’s redemptive purposes, and as such, he is sovereign over it. Not a hair on your head will fall without the Creator’s signature to allow it. But, he often does allow it. This is ultimately for your good and for his glory. Jesus suffered. You were saved as a result.
  1. It Affirms that God is Faithful. God is faithful. He has saved you. He has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. He has declared you righteous. He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit. He has adopted you. He has accepted you. He has purified you. Why would he let you down now? When has God ever failed you? When has God ever not been there? When has God ever turned his back on you? When has God ever left you? Point: God is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever. You can entrust your soul to God because he is always, and has always been, faithful.
  1. It Affirms that God is Creator. God is your creator. He is omnipotent, even in the midst of our suffering. Often, our circumstances or our trials rule our thoughts. They become big and God becomes small. Flip it. God created man from dust and breathed into him the breath of life. Your situation does not have that power. Suffering creates in our minds the thought that this (whatever this might be) is too powerful to overcome, too strong, too mighty. Peter, on the other hand, reminds us that God created all things ex nihilo, what is too much for the God who creates?
  1. It affirms that Our Actions and Our Thoughts Precede Our Feelings. Suffer, says Peter, while doing good. You might not feel like doing good, but that’s exactly the point. Anxiety is a feeling- it’s a physiological response to our thoughts. When that response is triggered, anxiety takes over and we live our lives around this feeling. Peter is clear- we may not feel like doing good, but do it anyway. Your anxiety might be telling you to worry about this or that, but tell yourself the truth. To simplify: Tell yourself the truth of Scripture, do good… and eventually, the feelings will follow. Follow your heart? Nah, man… Follow the Word. Do the Word. Your heart will catch up.

Meditate on God’s Word this week. Commit this passage to memory. Open the Word- you might just find hidden treasures.

September 22, 2019

Reading Other Peoples’ Prayers | When There’s Nowhere to Turn

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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CEB.Mark.14.32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. 34 He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” 35 Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

37 He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? 38 Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words. 40 And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”

Yesterday and today, I want to encourage you if you’ve reached a dead end and have nowhere to go. I also want all of us to see the benefit in listening in (via reading, in this case) to the prayers of others. What follows is a smaller excerpt from one of the longer meditations appearing in Intense Moments with the Savior: Learning to Feel, a 1994 book by Ken Gire. Each reading begins with a scripture passage, and then there is devotional that is longer than we would include here. The last section is a prayer — again longer than those published by others who follow this format — and these are our focus in these devotionals.

An Intense Moment in Gethsemane

Prayer

Dear Man of Sorrows,

Thank you for Gethsemane. For a place to go when there’s no place to go but God. For a place to pray. And to cry. And to find out who I really am underneath the rhetoric.

I know that sometime, somewhere, some type of Gethsemane awaits me. Just as it did you. I know that some day a dark night will fall upon my soul. Just as it did yours. But I shudder to think about it, about the darkness and the aloneness and the despair.

Prepare me for that dark night, Lord. Prepare me now by helping me realize that although Gethsemane is the most terrifying of places, it is also the most tranquil.

The terror comes in realizing that I am not in control of my life or the lives of those I love. The tranquility comes in realizing that you are.

Help me when it is dark and I am alone and afraid. Help me to put my trembling hand in yours and trust you with my life. And with the lives of those I love.

Someday I know I will wrestle with circumstances that are beyond my control, that some sort of suffering will pin me to the cold, hard ground.When that happens, Lord Jesus, help me to realize that the victories of heaven are the defeats of the human soul. And that my strength is not found in how courageously I struggle, but in how completely I surrender.

 

 

August 26, 2019

Jesus Chose Not to Identify with the Rich and Powerful

Last night we listened to an interview that Michael Card did in the spring with Skye Jethani at The Holy Post Podcast. It reminded me what a tremendous gift his writing and music is to The Church. Today’s reading is taken from his blog; click the header which follows to read at source.

Good News To The Poor

“I have come to preach good news to the poor.”
Luke 4:18

Those were the very first words Jesus spoke at the start of His ministry, and so they are the perfect words, simply because He spoke them. But they were not easily spoken. They were costly words. In the end, they would cost Him everything. His followers would fret, “If only He would have had the good sense to identify with the rich and the powerful instead of the poor. If only He had acted in accordance with their values. If only He had danced to their tune…” But Jesus did not, would not, dance (Luke 7:32).

There are no words to describe the extent to which He radically identified with the poor. In one of two disturbing and surprising moments that are yet to come, Jesus said, in effect: When you fed the poor, you were feeding Me. When you neglected them, you were neglecting Me. This is one-on-one identification. “If they reject you, they are rejecting Me.” The absolute Highness standing with the lowest.

In a religious world that had concluded that the poor were poor because they were sinners and cursed by God as a result, Jesus came and paradoxically pronounced on them God’s blessing. “Blessed are you who are poor,” He said, because this world is not the only world that exists, and an upside-down kingdom is coming where rich and poor will change places, where those who weep will laugh and the laughing ones will burst into tears. That world is here and at the same time, it is coming.

This is not to say that Jesus didn’t have a few wealthy friends, Joseph of Arimathea being the most noteworthy. But by and large He gravitated toward the poor, and they were drawn almost gravitationally to Him. They followed Him in droves, not necessarily because they grasped fully what His life meant, or what the gospel was, but because they recognized in Him a compassionate heart that would feed them if He could, even when He was forced to borrow bread and fish from a hungry little boy to do so.

Even those who, because of their lack of education, were unaware of Isaiah’s prophecy that He would be a Man of Sorrows acquainted with our deepest grief recognized in Him someone whose rears were somehow their tears as well. He was not only weeping for them, He was weeping with them, becoming acquainted to the darkest depths with their poverty and pain.

Jesus had made it clear that He was going to raise his friend Lazarus, and yet when He saw Lazarus’s sister Mary in tears, initially He could do nothing but weep with her. He did not explain away the pain, did not say He had come with the answer, that He would fix everything; no, He bowed His head and allowed the tears to flow. It was not about providing answers or fixing a problem, it was about entering fully and redemptively into her suffering. Jesus did not weep because it was the right or sympathetic thing to do. He did it because the shape of His heart would not allow him to do otherwise. Jesus knew that God uses suffering to save the world. He had not come to fix death and sorrow but to ultimately bring about their demise. He had not come to give answers; He had come to give Himself. His presence, His tears were the solution, the answer, the Truth for that painful moment, perhaps more than the resuscitating of Lazarus; for, after all, that would only be a temporary reprieve. And in the midst of that moment, Mary didn’t get what she wanted, not just yet, but she got exactly what she needed.

Before the Man of Sorrows wept, Job became acquainted with all-out grief. Job’s experience was just the same. He had lost everything a person can lose – his possessions (that was the easy part), his children, his health. He was exposed to every fear, from the terrorism of the Sabeans to the hopeless anguish of cancer, or perhaps some other wasting disease like Ebola. He tasted the despair of losing his children. Most painful of all, he thought he had lost his God, or perhaps even worse, that his God had abandoned him.

So how does this apply? What does Jesus’ redemptive weeping have to do with us? The answer is, it has everything to do with us. Our call is not to fix those who weep, but to weep with them. We don’t need funds or expertise. We are not expected to provide every individual answer, each solution. Those who seek in obedience to follow Jesus don’t pretend to have all the answers. We don’t pretend to be able to fix every problem and dry every tear – but we can weep. And our tears uniquely qualify us for mission.

After all, fixing people is God’s work. The Father is more deeply committed to it – to fixing all of us, rich and poor – than we could imagine. But fixing isn’t the right word for it; the Bible’s word is salvation, re-creation. We don’t need to be fixed; we need to be re-created. The only way we, all of us, will ever experience that re-creation is to open the door of our lives to the poor, to enter redemptively into their suffering, and to discover through it our suffering as well. They are weeping our tears; Jesus in them is weeping our tears.

So celebrate the tears, the frustration, the confusion. Celebrate every day that you are tempted to give up but don’t. Celebrate changed lives, re-created lives, saved souls, men and women who have discovered that they are not alone after all, children who have discovered that there is a place in a family just for them after all. Be glad with us that good news has come to the poor, as a special blessing to all of us who labor and are heavy-laden. He is worthy of such gladness. In the meantime, continue to weep with those who weep; enter redemptively into the suffering that comes to your door.


Although this wasn’t a book excerpt as far as I know, I want to recommend this series of Michael Card books to you (pictured below) and also his newest book, Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness (IVP, 2018).

August 23, 2019

Pain is No Excuse to Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re back again with Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog.  Although he hasn’t been active online for several months, we thought this older article from April was worth sharing here.

Pain: An Excuse To Sin?

Recently I was asked a question that I suspect many people have wondered about at one time or another in one way or another.

Is my pain an excuse for me to sin?

What about if life is extra-hard?

What if I have been “dealt a really bad hand” in life?

God understands right?

Let me begin by saying that if you are experiencing some sort of pain or turmoil right now as you read this, I am right now praying for you.

I don’t know who you are other than the fact that you probably have experienced some sort of frustrating pain. So, I pray that in the midst of whatever circumstance you are going through that you would keep your eyes on Jesus. I also pray that God would draw you closer to Himself during this time.

Concerning pain, there are several different types; physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual. The Bible is clear that God cares about us humans in every aspect of who we are. Jesus, when He was on earth, healed the sick and healed people who were out of their minds (taking care of physical and mental pain.) Psalm 34:18 says that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted (addressing emotional pain.) And certainly, Jesus came to address our greatest need which is spiritual when He died on the cross. In doing so He made it possible for us to be free from the pain and ensnarement of sin.

It seems that human beings ever since The Fall have experienced pain of one sort or another in a variety of degrees.

Pain is so much a part of our existence on this earth that God has to go out of His way to declare in Revelation 21 that in the New Heaven and the New Earth there shall be no more pain of any kind! “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Additionally, Romans 8:18 gives a promise to those who have trusted in Jesus. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Wow! God has some really incredible and pain-free things in store for those who have faith in Jesus!

If you are going through some sort of pain at this moment I would encourage you to read the whole chapter of John 9, it really is an awesome and easy read! At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus and His disciples run across a man who had been born blind. When they see the man the disciples ask Jesus who had sinned, the man or his parents? Jesus’ response? Neither. The disciples couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that this poor man had been dealt such a “bad hand.” They were looking for a reason for his pain. Maybe his parent’s sin had caused him to be blind. Perhaps his own?

Instead, Jesus goes around all their expectations and says that the man was born in blindness so that God could be glorified! Jesus goes on to miraculously heal the man. At the end of the chapter, the man can now see both physically and spiritually!

So, to answer the initial question, no.

Pain is never an excuse to sin.

God wants us to have faith in Him no matter what our current situation.

He calls us to follow and obey Him no matter what the circumstance.

We may not always understand His reasons or ways, but we still ought to honor Him with our actions. Because He is good no matter what.

July 19, 2019

He Saw Their Affliction

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Again, we’re paying a return visit to the website Before the Cross. The writer today is . Click the title below to read at source.

God Sees You And Hears You

Sometimes when we are going through a difficult trial in life we are tempted to believe God isn’t with us. Maybe He just really isn’t good? Maybe He is blind to what is really going on in our lives? Maybe He really doesn’t care? Maybe He doesn’t understand just how hard things are for us?

This is incredibly challenging for those of us who follow Christ and this is exactly where faith comes in.

Everything in us wants to be delivered out of the trials we find ourselves in.

  • We don’t want to lose a family member.
  • We don’t want to have to stay in our jobs that we don’t like.
  • We don’t want to have to deal with relational conflicts around us.
  • We don’t want to have to handle money problems.
  • We don’t want to have physical or mental health issues.

I was recently reading through Exodus and noticed something for the first time when reading over Exodus 4. I’ve read through this countless times and I love when God always shows me something new in Scripture.

The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years…..400 years! Imagine going through a trial that lasted 400 years. You, your children, their children, and so on…all suffered under the same trial. To the point that if you were living in this time period, you would believe that is all that existed. You would believe you were intended to be a slave. Imagine how hard to it would be to have hope that God would deliver you when you know it hasn’t happened in over 400 years?!

So long story short, as Moses and Aaron are going along and telling the people what God wanted them to say as He was preparing to deliver them out of captivity, I stumbled upon this:

“And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.Exodus 4:31

Noticed the people’s reaction. They bowed their heads and worshiped. Why? Because God had seen them. Because God had heard them. The reality hit them that this same God, creator of the heavens and the earth, had heard their cries and seen their tears.


We have some extra space today, and I thought I would include just a few sentences of a well-known article by John Ortberg (it might have originally been called, “Don’t Waste a Crisis”) which David Jeremiah quoted earlier in the month. I was able to obtain this on a site called Blog Church.

“I once was part of a survey on spiritual formation. Thousands of people were asked when they grew most spiritually, and what contributed to their growth. The response was humbling—at least for someone who works at a church.

The number one contributor to spiritual growth was not transformational teaching. It was not being in a small group. It was not reading deep books. It was not energetic worship experiences. It was not finding meaningful ways to serve.

It was suffering.

People said they grew more during seasons of loss, pain, and crisis than they did at any other time. I immediately realized that, as a church, we had not even put anybody in charge of pain distribution! So now we are figuring out how to create more pain per attender for maximum spiritual growth.

Actually, the wonderful and terrible thing about crisis is that it’s the one resource we do not have to fund or staff or program. It just comes. However, pain does not automatically produce spiritual growth. Ghettos and barrios and abusive homes and trauma wards may produce scarred souls; they can cripple more human spirits than they strengthen…”

July 4, 2019

A Bitter Beginning, A Bitter Woman: Senseless Suffering and the Book of Ruth

  • Listen to the 34-minute sermon on which this devotional is based at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

19 So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
20 “Don’t call me Naomi, [which means ‘pleasant’]” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara [which means ‘bitter’], for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:19-21 (NLT)

The Book of Ruth begins horribly. Naomi and their family flee their homeland to escape famine. Then Naomi’s husband and children died. Naomi’s story begins with grief upon grief. It may have helped Naomi if there were some reason for the deaths. A chain-smoking husband, a dedicated older son dying in the line of duty, a reckless younger son dying in a motorcycle accident. Naomi might then have at least made some sense of their deaths. She could connect the dots. However, there is no reason Naomi can give. All she can say is “the Lord caused me to suffer.” The dots cannot be connected. This is senseless suffering.

Perhaps you have experienced loss and grief that cannot be explained. Perhaps you have experienced senseless suffering yourself, or watched a loved one go through it. The Book of Ruth can help.

Notice first, that in the Book of Ruth, no effort is made to explain Naomi’s suffering.

The townspeople make no attempt to make sense of her loss. There are no platitudes. The writer of the book offers no theological insights at this point. We may need to the resist the desire to explain away senseless suffering.

This is true when we see others suffering. Job’s friends could not resist explaining why Job was suffering. After pages and pages of argument, we eventually discover that they were wrong. Words and arguments can lead, not to a healed heart, but to a hurting head. Our presence can be of greater comfort to someone living though senseless suffering than our words. We may need to accept that our suffering makes no sense, and may never do so.

Notice second, that Naomi holds nothing back in her lament.

Let us read it again:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:20-21 (NLT)

Naomi is honest in her assessment of God. She may not be correct, but she is honest. She may not be in touch with good theology, but she is in touch with her feelings. There is no effort to correct her assessment of God, or her theology. The writer of the book sees no need to defend God at this point. There is no explanation of the fallenness of humanity, the corresponding fallenness of creation, and that sometimes bad things happen. God’s goodness will be seen later, but for now, God gets the blame. For now, Naomi expresses how she really feels. We do well to make space for honest sharing. We do well to be honest in our sharing, and in our prayers. Sometimes it is best to sit with someone in their emotions, than try to correct their thinking. Sometimes we need the space to lament and experience the depths of our souls, even when our heads can’t figure it all out.

Notice third, that suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story.

Let us jump to the end of the book to see how it turns out:

14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. Ruth 4:14-17 (NLT)

In the book of Ruth, suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story. There are better days ahead. We can put suffering and loss at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, rather than the end of our stories. Better days are ahead. When we think of suffering and loss as “where we have ended up,” we can get stuck. Our lives become for us a road that has led to tragedy. When we think of suffering as the beginning of a new chapter of our lives, we put ourselves on a road which includes tragedy, but does not end there. Tragedy is part of our experience, but is not our destination.

Putting suffering at the beginning is something we can do as Christians, because all suffering, indeed your entire life, is the beginning chapter of a really long book:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18 (NLT)

Sometimes we need to jump to the end to see how it all turns out. In Christ and by the grace of God, in being reconciled to God, it turns out well.

Notice fourth, that baby steps are taken.

Naomi returns home. Ruth, in a beautiful step of commitment and care, goes with her. There is connection. If we read ahead into chapters two and three, we will find Ruth doing what the poor people of the land did in that time and place. She followed along the reapers and gleaned the leftovers. There is connection, and there is survival. Naomi and Ruth take steps to make life work. When faced with senseless suffering, we can take the next step. We can take the next best step, however small a step that might be. We can turn the page. We can get further into this new chapter. Is there a step you need to take today?

The Book of Ruth begins with horrible and senseless suffering for Naomi and her daughter-in-laws. If you are a human being, chances are good that senseless suffering will happen in your life at some point. When it does, don’t dwell on explanations, make, or take space for honest sharing, put the suffering at the beginning a new chapter, and turn the page, taking your next best step into the future. With God, whom we may blame for the time being, the story will go on.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small(er) town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada whose writings appear at C201 most Thursdays. Read more here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

April 4, 2019

Compelling Evil

Compelling Evil: How Suffering Points to a Loving God

by Clarke Dixon

If the Bible is correct about God, that God is, and God is love, then why is the world in a mess? Why is there suffering? Yes, the Bible teaches that God is love, but the Bible also teaches that the world is, indeed, in a mess. First of, notice that humanity’s relationship with God is destroyed by sin. Adam and Eve were free to enjoy the Garden of Eden, except that there was one thing they ought not do:

“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT)

Of course they did that one thing and death became an eventuality. Sin separates us from God. However, the Bible tells us that human sin affects more than just humanity:

And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
Genesis 3:17 (NLT)

Adam is affected by his own sin, he will die, but so too is the ground affected. Sin messes up everything. We see this theme carried on in the very next story:

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. Genesis 4:6-8 (NLT emphasis added)

Sin was “eager to control” Cain, but Abel, and Adam, and Eve, were the ones to suffer. Before there was ever a death by the natural consequence of one’s own sin, there was violent death from another’s. Sin makes a mess of everything! It still does. Consider a particularly cruel and selfish man whose attitudes and actions make life miserable for his family. He spreads the misery into his workplace like a bad virus. He then either gets fired, or his business runs down. Soon the money runs out, and the house falls into ruin also. Sin messes everything up for everyone and everything, not just the person who sins.

The Bible teaches that sin even makes a mess of creation:

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse [as a result of the sin of humanity]. But with eager hope,  the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. Romans 8:19-21 (NLT)

Creation is not waiting for God to wipe out humanity, so it can flourish on its own, but to rescue humanity. Brokenness in all creation is tied to human sinfulness. Restoration of creation is tied to the healing of humanity’s sin problem.

So if the Bible is accurate, then we should expect to live in a world where relationship with God is destroyed, where death is the expected and normal end, and where everything is messed up. This is the world we live in! There is suffering because there is evil & sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. It turns out that the world is exactly as we would expect if God is love. Therefore the presence of evil and suffering lends support to the Bible being accurate about the way things are.

But if God is love, would we not expect God to rescue us from evil and suffering? Indeed. The Bible teaches, from Genesis through to Revelation, that God is not content to leave humanity in a mess. God continued to work with humans. He did not just walk away.

God rescued a particular people from a messy situation, then gave them the law so that they would learn to not make a big mess of everything. For example, the Israelites were forbidden from practicing child-sacrifice. If they kept that law, there would be less evil and suffering in the world, for that practice was too common in that day. The law was given to lead God’s particular people out of evil so they could be an example to the other nations. However, they kept tripping on the way out.

All of this was part of a bigger plan for a bigger rescue. God sent his Son and Spirit to rescue us from sin. The two problems of sin are solved. First, we are personally, and individually, reconciled to God. Death, and separation from God is no longer our final end. Second, when it comes to sin making a mess of everything, we are enabled to be part of Spirit-led solutions rather than part of sin-wrecked problems.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

Just think of how much less suffering and evil there would be in the world if all lives were marked by these “fruit” of the Holy Spirit! As people participate in God’s great rescue, our dark world gets brighter.

God’s rescue is not limited to the possibility of individuals being reconciled to God and making less mess along the way. God will rescue all of creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
  I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”  And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.   All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Revelation 21:1-7 (NLT)

Christianity provides a reasonable accounting of why evil and suffering exist in a world created by a loving God. There is suffering because there is sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. Our sin messes up everything. God knows, and since God is love, He has a rescue underway. Christianity speaks of God’s revealed love solution to evil and suffering in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a future with God. The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not prove God does not exist or does not care. It confirms what the Bible teaches. People sin, God is, and God is love.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

January 2, 2019

God’s Loving Empathy

We have four women in our lives who lost their mothers in the weeks leading up to, and during the Christmas holidays. In a couple of those cases, I mentioned to them a book which released a few years ago, A Decembered Grief. The premise is that it’s hard to mourn at a time of year when everyone is programmed for celebration. There are bright lights and gifts and you start to wonder how people can offer sympathy when they’re caught up in all the “joy-to-the-world” of the holidays. Or to put it another way, it’s hard to mourn when everybody around wants to party.

That’s why we chose this devotional. It’s been six months since our last visit, and we’re back at Before the Cross. The writer this time is .

God Sees You And Hears You

Sometimes when we are going through a difficult trial in life we are tempted to believe God isn’t with us. Maybe He just really isn’t good? Maybe He is blind to what is really going on in our lives? Maybe He really doesn’t care? Maybe He doesn’t understand just how hard things are for us?

This is incredibly challenging for those of us who follow Christ and this is exactly where faith comes in.

Everything in us wants to be delivered out of the trials we find ourselves in.

  • We don’t want to lose a family member.
  • We don’t want to have to stay in our jobs that we don’t like.
  • We don’t want to have to deal with relational conflicts around us.
  • We don’t want to have to handle money problems.
  • We don’t want to have physical or mental health issues.

I was recently reading through Exodus and noticed something for the first time when reading over Exodus 4. I’ve read through this countless times and I love when God always shows me something new in Scripture.

The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years…..400 years! Imagine going through a trial that lasted 400 years. You, your children, their children, and so on…all suffered under the same trial. To the point that if you were living in this time period, you would believe that is all that existed. You would believe you were intended to be a slave. Imagine how hard to it would be to have hope that God would deliver you when you know it hasn’t happened in over 400 years?!

So long story short, as Moses and Aaron are going along and telling the people what God wanted them to say as He was preparing to deliver them out of captivity, I stumbled upon this:

“And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.”Exodus 4:31

Noticed the people’s reaction. They bowed their heads and worshiped. Why? Because God had seen them. Because God had heard them. The reality hit them that this same God, creator of the heavens and the earth, had heard their cries and seen their tears.


By His Stripes We Are Healed

 

I found this image in our files and decided to use it again. Originally, it was used in the context of a discussion as to whether or not healing is provided for in the atonement. You can read that devotional at this link. We know that the cross made our salvation possible and demonstrated victory over death. The debate is over whether physical healing is healing is included, because of the phrase, “by his stripes we are healed.”

Unfortunately, I think that in this context we lose sight of the first few words, “He has carried our griefs and carried our sorrows.” We covered that a few days ago in this devotional, and also at this article. While translators have sometimes used ‘griefs’ to be sicknesses and infirmities, there is the whole category of ‘pain’ included in this prophetic description of God’s atoning work.

November 18, 2018

We Ask for What We Want; God Gives Us What We Need

This is our seventh time at the website Borrowed Light. This time around the author is Geoff Box.

Begging for Serpents

I’m in the process of preparing to preach through James. James is an intensely practical book. If you want to know how to live as a Christian, James will tell you. One of the overarching themes in James’ letter is that God is faithful to give what is needed to His people. To prove this point, we often quote James 1:17 which says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

One fascinating fact about the book of James is how heavily James relies on Jesus’ teachings in his letter. James 1:17 above is clearly connected in thought to Matthew 7:7-11 which says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or 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!

These two passages of Scripture got me thinking. Why do we often feel like God is giving us stones and serpents? Scripture is clear that our Father is good and will not do such things, but often when I look at the gift in my hands, I don’t see what I was wanting.

The problem is clearly not with God. I have a desire and perception problem. I don’t rightly know what I need, and often end up asking for stones and snakes, then when God gives me what I truly need, I get frustrated with Him. I look at the bread in my hand, and because of lack of faith, sin, or whatever reason, I see a stone. Instead of gratefully receiving the fish that I need to sustain me, I throw it away as if it is a snake that would harm me. And so I repeat the process of begging God for more serpents, receiving fish, then rejecting His provision and casting it aside.

What I really ought to be doing is as James suggests, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James1:2-4 The bread and fish of trials and suffering are good for me. I need them to become more perfect and complete. I need them to become more like Jesus.

I also need to more clearly see the gifts that God gives me. When I reject the gifts God is giving, I am essentially saying that God doesn’t know what is best and is not a good Father. So, I need wisdom so that I will correctly perceive the gifts that I am given and so that that I will begin to ask for what I really need. Fortunately, James comes to the rescue again. James 1:5-6 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

I desperately need wisdom. I need God’s help in seeing that what He gives me is indeed nourishing to my soul. I also need the wisdom to ask for better gifts. I need to stop begging for the serpents which are likely to bite me.

October 11, 2018

The Road of Thanksgiving (Leads Through Enemy Territory)

by Clarke Dixon  [returning to a study in the book of Esther where we left off a few weeks ago.]
What happened to our “happily ever after”? Jesus came to rescue the world, yet it still seems to need a rescue. You came to Jesus for salvation, yet life still feels messy. At the end of chapter 7 in the Book of Esther, we may have expected a “happily ever after” summary. Haman’s evils plots have been exposed, Haman himself hanged, and we expect  God’s people should now be able to live happily ever after. Indeed there is great celebration:

For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. 17 In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Esther 8:16-17

While thanksgiving is not specifically mentioned, it could hardly be missing from the celebrations.

However, the story is not done. There are battles ahead. There will still be fighting, there will still be violence:

The king’s secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia,  . . . . By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. Esther 8:9-12

Bible scholars point out that chapter 8 reflects chapter 3, even using the same language in parts, to demonstrate a great reversal. There is the giving of a ring (3:10; 8:2), the summoning of secretaries (3:12; 8:9), the writing and sealing of letters (3:12; 8:10), the instruction to kill people including women and children (3:13; 8:11), the publishing of a decree (3:14; 8:13), the speed of couriers (3:15; 8:14), the response of the city of Susa (3:15; 8:15), and the clothing of Mordecai (4:1; 8:15).

With a wonderful reversal, there is much for God’s people to be thankful for. However, this is no “happily ever after”. The road ahead would not be easy. The former edict to wipe the Jews out could not be simply undone. That is not how things were done in Persia. As foolish as it seems, what the king writes is final. Instead, a new edict was provided to allow the Jews to assemble an army together, to give them the right to defend themselves. Their road of thanksgiving would lead through enemy territory.

As Christians we celebrate a great reversal, we have the greatest reasons for celebration and thanksgiving. Instead of heading toward death, we are headed toward eternal life. We celebrate God’s grace. But like God’s people in Esther’s day, the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. In Esther’s day God’s people were not simply removed from the Persian empire with all its quirks. The Christian today is not simply removed from a broken world with all its troubles. There is great thanksgiving, but the road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory.

The teaching of the New Testament encourages us to be ready for this road.

Jesus teaches us to rejoice in the midst of trouble:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

Jesus teaches us to pray for deliverance:

And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Paul teaches us to put on the full armour of God:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17

James tells us that the devil will be tempting and inviting us:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. . . James 4:7-8

Peter tells us that troubles will come:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Peter further tells us that we the devil will come at us:

6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11

Anyone who tells you that God will lift you out of all troubles when you follow Jesus is being selective in their reading of the Bible. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory. Expect trouble. Prepare for it.

There was great celebration for God’s people in the Book of Esther, they knew all would be well, it was a time for thanksgiving. But it was also time to prepare for battle. In Christ we have a great salvation to celebrate, all shall be well, it is a time for thanksgiving. But it is not a time to let our guard down. It is time to prepare for battle, to prepare for the road that leads through enemy territory. The road of thanksgiving leads through enemy territory, but God leads us through it.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

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