Christianity 201

September 21, 2021

Christians and “Failure Porn”

A recent popular Christian podcast series was accused of creating “failure porn.” The term is a reference to those reports and stories of people who experienced failure in ministry — for whatever reason — and the resultant charge or excitement that others seem to get in hearing or reading such accounts.

It’s been compared to the “thrill” — and I hate having used that word — that someone might get in seeing a train wreck. It does seem to be a trait of human nature that people slow down when there has been a bad accident on the freeway. Is that mere curiosity or something else?

A Washington Post headline called it the “celebration of failure.”

Such reaction is antithetical to Christian living.

Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Or, other translations: weep with those who weep.)

We’re told that Job’s friends didn’t just drive by and later relay the details of Job’s tragedy to their friends and family, but rather they entered in to his suffering. We read that, “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” (2:11)

This can also include entering into the suffering of those who, rather than have external circumstances befall them, have brought about their condition by their own doing. The writer of Hebrews tells us, Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (13:3)

Paul echoes this in Romans: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (15:1)

“Bearing with” or “taking on” the consequences and circumstances of those who have fallen, as though it befell or happened to us will help us see these situations in a different light. Again, Paul writing to the Corinthians this time says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I-12:27-28)

He’s speaking about what it means to be part of a body. Even when someone with a high profile experiences catastrophic, headline-making failure, our response should be, “That’s my brother,” or “That’s my sister you’re talking about.”

…The thing I like about the podcast against which the charge of producing “failure porn” has been leveled against is that they are going out of their way to find the redemptive value in us hearing the stories and learning from them. The host has said many times he wants to do this in order to benefit the church, and I personally trust that this is indeed his genuine motive.

Furthermore, many of the Old Testament narratives — and a few in the New Testament as well — are accounts of colossal failures; stories of people who perhaps failed to listen to God (or the prophets) and committed grave errors and made huge mistakes.

Paul in Romans says that, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us…” We’re not to look at Noah’s weak moments, or David’s failure, or Samson’s character flaws and experience some type of endorphin rush, or what the Washington Post called celebration.

But even there in Romans, Paul is thankfully focused on the more positive things that are written for our benefit. The full text reads,

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:4-6)

all scriptures today, NIV

 

September 14, 2021

For Times of Suffering and Affliction

Elsie Montgomery is one of the longest-running and most-quoted devotional writers here at C201. I have great respect for what she produces at Practical Faith. Her writing will have a key-word focus and the word for today is affliction. Other recent studies have included accessible, adopts, and admonishes. Do you sense an alphabetical thing going on?

I strongly encourage you to read this at the link in the header below and then click the tab at the bottom that says “older posts” and then keep reading.

What about calamity?

My hubby was at a Christian men’s gathering and said something about God afflicting people to get their attention. One man responded with, “God would never do that!”

But God did do that. The first appearance of this word is in the first book of the Bible. Abraham and his wife went to Egypt because of a famine in their land. Since Sarah was so beautiful, he feared she’d be taken by an Egyptian and he would be killed so he told her to say she was his sister. She was taken into Pharaoh’s house and this leader treated Abraham well because of her . . .

Genesis 12:17. But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

Isaiah 45:7 also says: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

I know not to speculate but this story makes me wonder of our current pandemic is related to a current situation with God’s people, that as we live among those who do not know God we have fears for our own lives instead of trusting Him to take care of us? Being bold in a pagan land can lead to violent persecution and death. Consider daily news from places like Afghanistan and parts of Africa.

Today’s word is AFFLICTION, not the general hard stuff of life but the trials sent by God to humble His children and to bring us to repentance and contrition so we will trust Him instead of ourselves. The OT has several words for this. Some are translated affliction, particularly plague. Others are crush, or oppress or strike, hit, wound. Still others are more positive such as the challenges of fasting and prayer.

Leviticus 23:27. “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord.

Psalm 35:13. But I, when they were sick— I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.

The psalmist is thankful for affliction, testifying that it leads to obedience. This is also noted in the NT.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word . . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes . . . . I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:67;71;75).

“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10).

While we tend to blame Satan for suffering, I need to see that God sometimes (not always) uses it to correct me. I must also remember that Jesus was afflicted by God. The prophet foretold what and why:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted . . . . He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:4; 7; 10).

This tells me that affliction can have a far greater purpose than just making me miserable. It can be used by God for reasons I may not realize at the time. Unlike Jesus, I am not always given that awareness.

GAZE INTO HIS GLORY. Deeply considering Jesus changes my understanding of suffering. I do not welcome it, yet Jesus did say that when persecuted (a similar NT word to affliction meaning put into a narrow place of trouble, affliction or distress), I should rejoice:

Matthew 5:10–12. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

James 1:2–4. 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.

The bottom line is God’s sovereignty. He can prevent affliction as well as make it happen. Do I trust Him to the point of being willing to accept the tough stuff and use it in His plan as He sees fit? If not, I need to keep gazing into His glory and realizing this is an incredible and true reality.

 

 

July 21, 2021

Book Excerpt: Don’t Waste Your Pain (2)

This is our second of two excerpts (see here for part one) from a new book by Paul Willoughby titled Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness. Have you known pain in your life? Paul’s book is equal parts of autobiography — including his (and wife Gloria’s) ministry nationally in Canada through Christian television, in local churches in Ontario, in Uganda, and in India — and exposition of key Bible narratives. There are 13 challenging chapters and each has questions at the end for personal or group reflection, as well as links to some supplemental online resources relating to each.

Our excerpt today is from one of the teaching sections. Learn more about the book and how to order at dontwasteyourpain.com.

Fruit from Darkness

God has given us many wonderful parallels in nature that help us understand spiritual realities. Often in the Scriptures we see Jesus using everyday objects to illustrate great truth. One of Jesus’ favourites was to talk about farm life – something very familiar to His hearers. He spoke of a farmer sowing seeds, or of a vineyard that needed tending. One time, in speaking of His death Jesus said those words about a kernel of wheat dying, being buried, so it can produce a harvest of many seeds.

For a plant to grow, a seed needs to be buried in the soil. It is a picture of death and pain, of darkness and loneliness. Unless it is planted it will not bear fruit.

Many times in our lives we also feel like that seed – buried, forgotten, alone. But, like the seed, if we allow God’s presence to fill our lives He can cause us to grow and to be fruitful. It’s not easy. And it may take some time. There may be further pruning involved. But as the great Gardener of our lives, we can trust Him to know what He is doing and to bring us to a place of fruitfulness!

Naomi’s Pain: From Bitter to Blessed

One of the many examples of this in Scripture is seen in the life of Naomi. I imagine that she must have spent many nights weeping, crying out to God, wondering why her dreams had been shattered and buried.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Israel due to a severe famine. They headed as refugees for Moab, a country neighbouring Israel. Not long after, Elimelech tragically died. Naomi was devastated yet grateful that she still had her two sons with her. She soon found wives for them: Mahlon married Orpah and Kilion married Ruth. As hard as it was to imagine tragedy struck Naomi again within ten years of her husband’s death: her two sons died.

Naomi could not bear the pain. She viewed her losses the way many people do and concluded that God was against her. Perhaps Naomi wondered, “Aren’t I part of God’s people? Doesn’t God see me or care for me anymore?” Resentment began to seep into Naomi’s soul. We can sense it in her words: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:13). In fact, Naomi told her friends to call her “Mara” instead of Naomi, because Mara meant “bitter.” She was beginning to form her identity around her circumstances, rather than on what God thought of her, or had planned for her. Because of her pain Naomi thought her story was finished; she was unable to see how God could bring anything good out of something that appeared to be so bad.

We all need to be careful about how we interpret the bad things that happen to us. In deep sorrow Naomi gave up and advised her two daughters-in-law to go back home and find new husbands. Orpah followed her suggestion, but Ruth refused. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you,” Ruth replied. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16). Could there be any stronger example of devotion in all of Scripture? Ruth’s willingness to selflessly bind herself to one in such tragedy and suffering is amazing. However, in the throes of depression, Naomi was unable to see her world correctly.

A small glimmer of hope for Naomi emerged in her daughter-in-law’s promises to never leave her, never forsake her. It is the same promise that God makes to us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5–6). We begin to see how, in a sense, Ruth is like God and sometimes we are like Naomi; though many will leave us and forsake us, God will not.

Ruth’s promise did not take away Naomi’s pain, but it did help her begin to move in the right direction and kept her going until she reached a place where she could say, “God is good.”

If you read through the story, in the book of Ruth, you will see how after Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, God moved the heart of Boaz to provide for Ruth and then to eventually marry her. They had a child, Obed, who would eventually become the grandfather of David, the great King of Israel. Hundreds of years later, of course, Jesus himself would come from David’s lineage.

But let’s think about Naomi once again. Imagine her in Moab, her husband and two sons suddenly gone. All her dreams suddenly shattered, her longings unfulfilled, her hopes dashed to pieces. She put a label on herself: “bitter.” But looking back we see that God actually had blessing in store for her. What if she had really given up? Turned her back on God? She could have said, ‘I never want to go back to Israel and its God! He doesn’t care about me!’ But, no, even though she could not understand it, she returned again. And as we turn to the Lord, even in the midst of pain, God can turn our bitterness to blessing, just as he did for Naomi!

When our circumstances look desperate and we are tempted to become despondent, we must remember that there is still hope.

So, don’t give up. God is near. Turn your eyes toward heaven and know that He sees your tears. Let Him draw you close to Himself. Rest there in His embrace and allow Him to “quiet you with his love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, loss is a bitter pill to take, but we never know what good God will bring out of it, or the greater plan He can unfold if we only trust Him.

 

March 18, 2021

Is Suffering Proof that God Has Cancelled Us, or that We Should Cancel God?

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

by Clarke Dixon

Has God cancelled us? Should we cancel God?

There is a lot of talk about cancel culture in our day. The idea is that when someone does something offensive, their influence is stripped away. They fall from everyone’s radar. Perhaps we feel like we have disappeared off God’s radar. Perhaps there are some who think God should disappear from theirs.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like God has cancelled us, that He has abandoned us.

Jesus encourages the disciples knowing they will soon feel abandoned. As related in John chapter 14, Jesus knows the disciples will be troubled when he tells them that he is going away, so he begins:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:1-3 (NRSV)

The disciples are going to feel at a loss, like Jesus has abandoned them. Jesus will go to the Father, but they will still be left behind in the same old dark world, where pain and suffering still happens. If anything, their suffering will increase as they begin to speak about Jesus to people who do not want their comfortable status quo disrupted. In some ways it may seem like nothing has changed at all.

But Jesus tells them to not be troubled, to trust in God, to trust in himself. He tells them that there are many rooms in the Father’s house. That particular verse has often been translated rather poorly. The ‘many rooms’ or ‘many mansions’ idea comes from the ancient practice of building extra ‘rooms’ onto a home to accommodate a growing family. When your son grew up and got married, he wouldn’t necessarily leave home, but rather he would get married and bring his wife home. ‘Rooms’ would be added onto the house to accommodate everyone. What Jesus is saying then, is that though you may feel I am abandoning you, we will be together again, in fact together with the Father. This is a growing family and there will be room for you and many others when you come home!

But that is not all:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14:15-17 (NRSV)

Though Jesus is going away, the Spirit will be near, in fact very close, indwelling the disciples even, including we who become his disciples today. Taken together, God has prepared a home for us, and has made himself at home within us.

Now let us consider the promises of Jesus here. Jesus did not promise to protect the disciples from all difficulty or suffering. They were left in the dark world like everyone else, just as we live in a dark world today. In fact Jesus warns them that they will suffer more, because of being Christians:

As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Mark 13:9-11 (NRSV)

The early Christians were not bubble wrapped by God. Neither are we.

The laws of nature still impact Christians, like they do anyone else. When I dumped my motorcycle a few years back, I hit the ground as hard as the motorcycle and as hard as anyone who is not a Christian. If we, who are Christians, are not careful around a contagious virus, we will catch it like anyone else.

The promise of Jesus is not to shield us from all harm, though there are moments that does happen, but to walk with us through difficulty and suffering when it comes.

When we face trouble, it is not evidence that God has cancelled us or abandoned us, it is evidence that we are human beings living in a beautiful, but broken, world.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27 (NRSV)

Jesus told the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled because he knew that would be the very thing that would happen. The light of the world was leaving them in a dark world. It should be no surprise that there will be times our hearts may be troubled, for we too live in that beautiful, yet often dark and difficult world.

Let us be encouraged by the promises of Jesus. We will be at home with God someday. God is very much at home with us, even within us, on the journey home.

When we experience pain and suffering, we may feel like cancelling God, like abandoning Christianity.

Can we cancel God? We can, and often do, take offence at the suffering in the world, and the seeming lack of answers to our prayers. The writers of the Psalms did not hold back a similar disgust in their prayers.

However, what we have already looked at is applicable here also. Jesus did not promise the perfect life, free from troubles. In fact, when we look at the testimony of Bible as a whole, we see that troubles happen for people from Genesis right through to Revelation. We should not be surprised when troubles happen for us now.

If we think that Jesus promised a trouble free life, then when a crisis hits we will either doubt ourselves, that we don’t have enough faith or enough holiness, or we will doubt God. We would be better to doubt our understanding of God’s promises, our theology of how things work.

God does not promise the perfect, trouble-free life, but his presence through a predictably troubled life.

God promises to be present to a people he should cancel! Far from cancelling us because of our sin, he embraces us in all our messiness, then he invites us to walk with him. We get to decide if we are going to walk with him. Or reject him.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (NRSV)

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, there can be no other way for reconciliation with God apart from God reconciling us to himself. We can never be holy enough on our own, we can never cover over our sins on our own. We need help. God gives that help. We can reject God, we can reject Jesus, we cannot cancel Him.

In our cancel culture, careers are trashed and friendships are ended as people are cancelled. We can think of all kinds of celebrities who are no longer getting big roles. We can try to cancel Jesus, but he is still Lord, he still has the greatest role. He is the way, the truth and the life. And he still offers to walk with us as a friend.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (NIV)


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor whose sermon blogs are republished here each Thursday. The full video of the sermon can also be seen as part of this online worship expression”.

February 26, 2021

Running to Spread the Word

Today another new author whose writing we’ve chosen to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. I encourage you to click through and read some of his devotionals at their source, or click the header which follows to read today’s.

Run

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.”
‭‭II Thessalonians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭NKJV

Even in the time of the writing of this passage in II Thessalonians, Paul was dealing with people in the church who were not quite what they seemed. In that letter, Paul was cautioning the church, then and now, of things that were and things to come, as people were falling away. We are seeing this in our world today, as the evil one is attacking assemblies and driving wedges between people.

There are disrupters amongst us, people bent on drawing others after sin, and causing havoc to the faith. I have heard of pastors attacked over petty things, of people being accosted over matters of faith. There are families in turmoil, and marriages crumbling. People are enduring a multi-tiered assault.

It is tough being an intercessor in these perilous times, as I hear of the struggles of others, and am horrified by the attacks of the evil one on families. I pray fervently for many.

I have learned that prayer is the most needed thing today, as many of us are facing challenges to our ability to share the Gospel. We are often distracted by inner struggles, and the mission is put on the back burner.

Just as Paul called upon the Thessalonians to pray for him, I implore you to pray for me, and others who have taken on the ministry of prayer. We are dealing with supernatural pressures and there is no natural remedy.

Opposition is making it difficult to do the work, slowing the spread to a crawl. I pray over all those on my list, that they have opportunities to share the Good News, that they would do so with no inhibition, with boldness, that the message would indeed run swiftly to the ears of all who need to believe.

If ever there was a time to take up the full armor of God, it is now.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:12-13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Often the opposition that we encounter comes from with in the church, and the family, as people whose god is the flesh have crept in and seek to disrupt the work of God. The attacks are personal and intimate.

Great care is needed in dealing with those in opposition, as we are on mission to lead people to Jesus, whether they be friend or foe. Most of those in opposition have no idea that they are pawns being used by the evil one. Great damage can be done with a single word.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭2:24-26‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Brothers and sisters, pray that we keep our hearts open to those around us. The people who go against us have no idea of what the future holds, and no idea how much danger they are in. They are driven by raw emotions, and find themselves propelled to strike out against others they blame for damage brought on by their own sin.

I am willing to suffer all things if it means someone comes to know Jesus. God has built into me long suffering, as I have been chosen as one who prays. Pray for me. Pray for your pastors, for they are the essential, frontline workers in this rescue mission. Pray that we all remember that we are here to rescue people bound for hell.

My people, let us bear each others burdens, let us lift each other up, as the these times are draining. We all need endurance as time is short. We are nearing the end of a long, long race, and there is a great tendency to slow down, to ease up, to coast into the tape. We have so many saints who have gone before us, so many who gave of themselves with the fullest measure of devotion. Let us run, that the Gospel run swiftly and reach as many as possible.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬


How to become a Christian:

Bernie ended his devotional with a link to a page called The Roman Road. (No, it’s not about the Catholic Church!) If you’d like to read more about following Jesus, click this link.

February 25, 2021

Driven to Tears? Jesus Was Too

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

by Clarke Dixon

Have you been driven to tears yet? Feeling discouraged? We may be driven to tears when we hear how many deaths are being reported around the world due to the pandemic. We think of those who have lost life in other ways, losing connectedness with others, losing work or schooling opportunities. Even where very few are infected, everyone is affected. Everyone has experienced change and loss. Grief is a normal way of dealing with loss and tears are a healthy part of that grief. Of course there are those who are driven to tears even without the pandemic. Life can be hard and when it is, we may be driven to tears.

We may be thinking, “God, you could have done something about all this, if you had been where the COVID-19 virus started, if you had been where the cancer cells started, if you had been where my loved one lost control . . . if you had been here.” We experience things that are life taking, that seem to diminish our lives or the lives of loved ones. We wonder where God was in those moments.

Martha and Mary must have been driven to tears. Jesus was their friend and the friend of their brother Lazarus as well. Jesus was well known for his miracles and healings. Yet now Lazarus is dead and buried:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

John 11:21 (NRSV)

Word was sent by Martha and Mary to Jesus days before that their brother was ill. Jesus could have made it on time, but he didn’t.

When Mary came to where Jesus was, she saw him and fell down at his feet.
‘Master!’ she said. ‘If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judaeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.
’Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Master,’ they said, ‘come and see.’
Jesus burst into tears.

John 11:32-25 (translation by N.T. Wright, as found in the “John For Everyone Commentary”)

Jesus was also driven to tears. Was this grief over Lazarus? Was he perhaps thinking that things could have been different if only he made it on time? When we read the whole story we know that this is not the case. Or, is it possible that Jesus could look back, seeing how things could have been different, if only . . .

  • Adam and Eve had chosen life, instead of choosing the one thing that would lead to death.
  • Cain had chosen life instead of choosing death for his brother Abel.
  • humanity had chosen life instead of violence toward one another in the days of Noah.
  • Pharaoh had chosen life instead of ordering Hebrew babies to be killed.
  • the Israelites in the desert had chosen life with GOD instead of longing to go back to slavery in Egypt.
  • the people had chosen life instead of choosing death in neglecting the law that God had given.
  • when God sent the prophets, the people had chosen life and listened to the prophets instead of choosing to remain in the ways that led to death.

The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 KJV). Is it possible that Jesus was driven to tears because he knew how often we chose death? Things could have been different, if only . . .

Is is possible that Jesus was driven to tears by the fact that even as he was planning on raising Lazarus to life, the religious leaders were potting to put Jesus himself to death. Things will be different.

Was Jesus driven to tears because he could look forward to our lives today? How things could be different, if only . . .

  • we would choose to love like God, love that brings life to people, instead of choosing hate that brings death, or apathy that fails to prevent it.
  • we would choose to develop in the fruit of the Spirit, including love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23), instead of choosing to cultivate the weeds of the evil one.
  • we would choose to engage in conversation instead of shutting it down.
  • we would choose a posture of learning, instead of always choosing the same echo chambers where our thinking is never challenged.
  • we would choose to recognize the impact we have on people, instead of ignoring the hurt we may cause.
  • we would choose to get help with an addiction.
  • we would choose to not gossip, but lift others up with our speech.
  • we would choose to do something about racism, poverty, homelessness, and many other issues that plague our world.

We sometimes lament how things might be different if God would show up. Things could be different, if we would show up.

Was Jesus driven to tears when, looking forward, he would see the many who would choose death over life by rejecting the Giver of life?

Jesus was driven to tears, yet Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25 NRSV). Mary and Martha could say “if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus could say “I am here now and because I am, Lazarus will live.”

Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he did. Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs, to choose life over death. Jesus calls us to leave our graves, to listen to him, to do those things that bring life instead of death to us, and others. Jesus calls us to choose life, to choose him. Jesus will someday call us from our tombs to share in everlasting life with him:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

Until then we have a lot of opportunities to choose life. If we show up, and keep choosing life, things will be different.


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

December 4, 2020

Prayerful Preparation for Turbulent Times

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

Today we’re introducing you to Mark Rowland who writes at A Faith Understanding (domain name: Rays-of-Light consulting). Mark is an ordained minister originally from Iowa who recently moved to Fort Worth, Texas. After discovering his blog earlier today, I read several good articles and we chose this one to share with you today. Send some “stats love” to our contributing writers by clicking headers like the one below and reading at their site.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life.


Church life: In an article from one year ago, Mark writes,

…[T]he church is not exempt from the realities of interpersonal relationships outside of the church. While there is a desire that inside the walls of a church there is safety and love instead of hatred and attacks, this desire is something still to strive for and not a reality. The human behaviors which we encounter in neighborhoods, workplaces, and social groups can all be found within the church…

Check out this piece on Church Bullies.

 

September 27, 2020

How God Uses the Problem(s) You’re Facing Today

Today again, we’re introducing a new (to us) writer, K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She’s also the author of three books, but only began blogging daily devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm after Coronavirus hit. Click the link below to read today’s at source. You might also enjoy the one she posted this morning.

Give me a word, Lord: PICTURE THIS

Isaiah 41:13 For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

Isaiah 46:4 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

We’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah the last few nights as we continue our reading through the Bible in a year plan. There are some very good words of wisdom in this book and many great reassurances. I praise God for His Word. I am so thankful that He provided His Holy Word to give us guidance, strength, and peace. We have God that is bigger than all our troubles and problems, and His Word reveals that to us over and over again.

We all have problems. We may not admit them, but if we are living and breathing, we probably have some sort of problem or concern. The problem with our problems is that we try work them out on our own. I’m a very visual person. I love to take pictures. I take pictures of anything and everything, and when I’m working things out in my mind, I do so with pictures or images. Sometimes we have to picture things in order to get a clear image of the situation at hand.

When we picture all our problems in our mind, we see all the different problems in the picture. We may see financial problems, relationship issues, concerns about our children, health troubles, job stressors, and the list goes on. We see all of these troubles in the picture, and then we see ourselves sitting in the middle of the picture surrounded by all of these problems. The problem with this is that we are seeing it all wrong! When we look at a picture of all those problems, we shouldn’t see ourselves sitting in the midst of the trouble, but rather we should see GOD in the picture with our problems. We have to take ourselves out everything, and we need to give everything to God.

Some might say, if God is handling all of my problems, why do I have so many? Well, my friend, sometimes we bring those problems on ourselves. We aren’t perfect. We goof up every now and then even when we are trying to live a good and righteous life. God can and will handle any and all problems that we are enduring, but we have to trust Him through the process. Psalm 119:71-72 tells us, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.” What? Did he say that suffering is good for me? Yea, buddy! When we go through the struggles in life, we learn from the difficulties and we learn to lean on our Lord and Savior. We are going to have problems in this life. Life is a problem solving adventure. WE may not choose the problem, but we get to choose how the problem affects us. The problem will either develop us or defeat us. We get to make the choice.

No matter what type of difficulty you are going through, you can rest assured that God will use the problem for your benefit. Sometimes He uses the situation to direct you. Maybe He needs to get you to start moving in a certain direction, and He uses a problem to ignite you and get you going. Maybe, just maybe, God has placed something on your heart that He wants you to do, but you won’t budge. Maybe He uses a problem to get you moving in the direction in which He desires for you to go.

Sometimes He uses a problem to correct you. Maybe you are going down a path of destruction, and God uses a problem to teach you a lesson. Ouch! We don’t like the sounds of that one, but there is truth there. Just as a parent disciplines a child who is doing wrong, God is going to discipline His kids. He’s going to get our attention, and a lesson will be learned. Just as we love our children too much to allow them to do things that will harm them, God loves us too much to ignore us when we are doing wrong.

Maybe God is using the problem to inspect you. Did you ever think of that? I’ve read this little saying on social media. “You are holding a cup of hot coffee, and someone bumps you and causes the hot coffee to spill everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? Because there was coffee in the cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is whatever is in the cup will be spilled out. Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you, whatever is inside of you will spill out.” So…what spills out when you are struggling through a difficult situation? Do people around you see fear, anger, bitterness, or do they see love and grace as the marks of a true child of God? What does God see when He inspects you?

Maybe God is using your problem to protect you. Perhaps He has closed the door on a job, a new place to live, or a dream that you had, and it seems like the end of the world. We have to remember that God knows what is coming down the road, and sometimes He closes doors so that other doors can be opened. We can’t see as God sees. He is all knowing, and He knows just what we need when we need it. He may remove a person, a thing, or even a job from our lives in order to provide needed protection.

Our problems weigh us down. We try to carry the burden all alone. Oh, if we could only see the big picture. All those problems that we picture are not too big for God. We may or may not have invited the problem in, but regardless, God is going to use the situation for our good and His glory every time. Stop picturing yourself surrounded by all of the problems of the day. Begin picturing our perfect Lord and Savior…sitting right there in the middle of it all…working it all out. He’s working on each one of us. He’s directing us, correcting us, inspecting us, and protecting us, and ultimately, y’all, He is perfecting us. Just picture it!

 

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

 

 

Next Page »