Christianity 201

September 16, 2022

Taking the Bypass Around the Valley of the Shadow

Lately when I’m on YouTube or watching television, I’ve been more aware of references to the Interstate Highway system in the United States. Many of these pass directly through the downtown sections of major cities, and since many drivers will prefer to avoid the congestion, there are also ‘bypass’ routes, sometimes called ‘spurs.’ So with I-75 there might be a I-275, or I-475 offered to you as you approach a metropolitan area. Basically, these help you avoid the pain.

Which brings us to today’s devotional…

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was an up-and-coming youth evangelist, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.’”

We got the message. Or did we?

Years later, I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is often

“Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’

How you feel about such things will affect how you pray. I posted some of these thoughts nearly a decade ago, and at the time the title was, “Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?”

We want to pray for the persecuted. We want to pray for the suffering. But do we have a theology of persecution? Have we ever examined ourselves to see what is our personal theology of suffering?

For the record, if I am dealing with physical, mental or emotional suffering, probably every part of me will cry out for you to please pray that I will see relief from it. But should you pray that for me if God is teaching me something through it? Or should you pray that I experience God’s presence in the middle of it and learn the lesson he is teaching me?

That would be a difficult question. Especially if I’m asking you to pray for healing and you say, “Lord, I pray that our brother will learn the lessons you’re teaching him through this illness.” Huh? That isn’t what I asked you.

With persecution it’s more difficult. We want to see the end of political and social regimes that block justice and oppress people. We want them to see relief from it. We want it to end.

On the flip side, we also want to avoid questioning God’s presence in the middle of suffering and persecution; the line of reasoning that asks, ‘Where was God when __________ was happening?’

While you’re pondering that, let’s throw one more spice into the soup.

What about your theology of end times or what’s called eschatology? If you believe in a rapture doctrine, is it consistent with scripture to believe that the church will be removed from the suffering association with the period called ‘the tribulation,’ or is it more consistent to believe that the church will be faced with enduring it?

I’m not saying one way or another right now, I’m just saying that if we begin to understand a theology of suffering and a theology of persecution then we may want to think about our theology of tribulation.


We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.
– 2 Cor. 4: 8-11 NLT

 

June 17, 2022

Christ’s Sufferings Were for the Benefit of Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Esau Moraes, a Brazilian currently who has served with Youth With A Mission. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the header which follows to see where this first appeared, and if you have friends who speak Portuguese, tell them about his website.

[For this devotional in Portuguese, click here.]

Stand Firm!

Longsuffering.

According to the dictionary, it is the virtue of firmly supporting setbacks for the benefit of others. Patience and resignation with which the difficulties of life are endured.

The Bible narrates, in Luke 23, the painful process of condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. He was falsely accused, ridiculed, mocked, punished, surrendered to the will of men, insulted, and finally executed.

It is impressive, however, the longsuffering with which Christ endured all these sufferings. Being innocent, he patiently went through each stage with firmness for the benefit of others. And who were these others? You and I!

I wonder where Jesus got the strength to endure such adversity. I find the answer in the very words of the crucified Christ.

When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified him with the criminals, one on his right hand and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:33,34)

In the hour of agony, Jesus cried out to the Father to forgive His executors. And the same He did in His last breath on the cross, when He no longer had human strength.

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. When he had said this, he expired. (Luke 23:46)

Until the last moment, we see Christ turning to the Father. What, then, will be our response to the setbacks and difficulties of life?

I invite you today to look to the example of Jesus and cry out to the Father to love and forgive those who have hurt you; to overcome the challenges in your marriage; to pursue that job that seems to require more than you are able to do.

In the midst of hardship, stand firm! Exercise longsuffering, which is also part of the fruit of the spirit. And, remember, you don’t have to do it alone. You have a Father ready to hear your cry, you just need to call Him!

April 23, 2022

Misplaced Blame

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

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

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

I put my hand over my mouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When God speaks I get tired of my own opinions.

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

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

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

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

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

I give up.

I put my hand over my mouth.

March 27, 2022

Looking Evil in the Eye

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In always looking for authors to highlight here, we have a special treat for you today. Ben Foley is the International President of Serve Now. (Their logo reads, “Serve Now, Procrastinate Later.”) He is the author of several editions of their “The Basics” series (discipleship guides), and has been posting at Ben Foley: Whispers of God, Echoes of Eternity (aka BenFoley.com) since 2012.

Click the header which follows to read today’s devotional at its source.

The Problem of Evil

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.  – Isaiah 53:4-5

As we approach the Easter season, my thoughts are directed towards the problem of evil in a new way. The issue of evil is humanity’s age-old problem, and even the greatest saints in Scripture and throughout history have wrestled over it.

The dilemma is this: If God is God, then he is all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful. How then do those three realities reconcile with the reality of evil? What do we do with the horrors we see unfolding in Ukraine, for example, this year? I just wrote an entirely new chapter on “The Problem of Evil” that I hadn’t planned to write for my third book due at the end of 2022 with the working title as: Navigating Disappointment: Finding Healing in a Broken World.

But it’s not just Ukraine. As I am writing more fully about in this new chapter to my new book, my work around the world with ServeNow sees and faces evil head-on in many countries.

When the war started in Ukraine, I was in Nigeria meeting with former Muslim women who were divorced and threatened to be killed by their husbands due to coming to faith in Christ. When the war in Ukraine escalated to an actual nightmare reality, I was in Ethiopia discussing plans to serve those affected by the conflict, drought, and famine there.

And then what about the refugees we serve in Uganda from the Sudanese conflict, many of whom have lost family members, friends, colleagues, and homes in brutal ways there? How about immigrants at the US/Mexico border forced to flee due to crime, violence, corruption, and gangs threatening to kill them and their children if they don’t leave? They face a harrowing journey to the border only to endure an outdated immigration process. In many cases, they are often discriminated against and accused of things they are fleeing from themselves. Or what about the Yazidi people in Iraq whom ISIS terrorized and traumatized for years, only to now feel forgotten and forsaken by the world?

Friends, evil is real, and it affects us all. Yes, some more brutally than others. But it is at work even in more so-called civilized, advanced, progressive, prosperous, democratic, educated, and wealthy nations. We may read about terrible things happening around the world or in history. We may see images and videos on the news of evil causing suffering in other countries worldwide. But at least in much of the so-called civilized or Western world, it remains as something we see perhaps “out there” but not touching us as brutally personal as it does for many worldwide.

I am not trying to put fear in anyone’s hearts or lives in writing this, but evil takes many forms, some more subtle and insidious than others. And we are not nearly as sheltered as we might imagine ourselves to be. Evil is at work underneath the surface and appearance of civility of even the most advanced, prosperous, and educated nations.

Think of abortions performed privately inside modern health clinics. Think of dangerous disinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news propagated throughout media outlets leading to broken relationships, division, and even violence. Or how about dangerous lies taught throughout various places of education leading young people astray into philosophies contrary to God’s truth and word? Then there are politicians stoking our most primitive fears and tribalistic identities for profit and promotion. There are those whose minds become so twisted that they go on shooting sprees in any context, from malls to schools, to churches.

I believe there are four things we must do when it comes to evil. Those four things are we must acknowledge the reality of evil, face the reality of evil head-on, process and pray through evil, and enter the suffering of others with silent presence. Allow me to elaborate further.

First, we cannot afford to ignore the reality that evil is ever-present, whether lurking in the shadows waiting to strike or out in the open in brutal and barbaric ways. We must acknowledge it is real. It is an infectious disease with no country, place, or person immune to its horrible ravages. Trying to ignore, downplay, dismiss, or deny the reality of pure evil is folly that goes against all human history and even modern reality. To confront evil, we must first acknowledge the existence of evil.

Second, we must face evil head-on. I am not talking about seeking out evil. Evil will find and touch us all in some way, shape, or form. This is where I find great comfort in the cross and Christ himself. Jesus did not shy away from evil. Jesus faced evil head-on.

Not only did Jesus face evil head-on, but prophecy stated he would crush the head of the serpent behind all evil. We find a Savior who faced evil head-on verse distancing himself from it at the cross. Though innocent of evil, he felt the full force of evil at his crucifixion. At the cross, evil pounded away at Jesus. From the flogging he endured before the cross, to the nails piercing his flesh, to the taunts and cruel hatred of sinful men, to the injustice and abuse he suffered, to the total weight of sin upon his shoulders, Jesus did not back down or away from evil. He faced evil’s whole brunt force trauma, and he gave his life doing so.

I identify with this kind of Savior. I don’t know about you, but there is no single true hero I can think of, nor a person I respect, who hasn’t endured or stared down evil face to face. The most gripping stories, powerful movies, or inspiring people are those who face evil verse hiding from it. And if we are going to make any difference in this world, we can’t hide from it either.

I love this time of the year as we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. The cross, burial, and resurrection are the crux of our faith as followers of Jesus. They are also the only true balm of healing and salvation. The events of Easter are where love, mercy, grace, judgment, evil, suffering, sin, shame, victory, redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation are seen most clearly. But all these great truths and problems require first acknowledging the reality of evil in the world and facing it head-on in our own lives and around the world.

Third, we must process and pray through evil. Acknowledging the reality of evil is one thing. Facing the existence of evil another. But processing and praying through evil is yet another level. I suppose we could stoically acknowledge and face evil straight on. And sometimes, that stoic stubbornness may be necessary to survive actual encounters with evil in the moment. But there also comes a time when the evil we see, experience, and endure must be processed and prayed through to find healing in this broken world.

Here again, I find great comfort in Scripture along these lines of processing and praying through the reality of evil. In Jesus, I see a Savior who is real and relatable. In Scripture, I find prayers and laments that are honest and raw. Take a moment and read Psalm 10 and Psalm 58.

These types of prayers have a fancy theological term for them. Scholars refer to these prayers as “Imprecatory prayers.” They are prayers invoking the Name of God to put an end to evil rulers, thus stopping the suffering of his people. They are found throughout Scripture, and I believe should be found on the lips of God’s people when they see evil at work in the world today. Yes, we need to guard our hearts against hatred, revenge, and unforgiveness. But I also believe if we care about others, we need to pray with passion and conviction for God to break the power of those who have become vessels of evil and wickedness on the earth.

Fourth, we must enter the suffering of others with a silent presence. What does this mean? When this war in Ukraine broke out, I felt at a total loss of words to share any meaning or comfort to our friends in Ukraine. What could one say that would ease their suffering? Every truth and promise of Scripture seemed insufficient, possibly even cruel if misheard or spoken at the wrong time. Remember Job’s friends? We give them a hard time for adding to Job’s suffering with their attempt to form the perfect theological reason for Job’s calamity. But at first, they do what perhaps they should have just kept doing a bit longer. They enter Job’s suffering and sit silently with him in his grief for seven days.

I have a theory. The most comforting thing you can do for someone suffering is sit with them in their suffering and be silent. Often, in a sincere desire to ease others’ suffering, we feel compelled to say something spiritual or scriptural. But what if the most spiritual and scriptural thing we can do is say nothing but enter sharing in the grief of others suffering? What if people need our presence and not our preaching or reminders of God’s promises, at least for a time?

In my book Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World, I noted that we need to not mistake God’s silence for God’s absence. I genuinely believe God seems silent sometimes in suffering, not because he doesn’t care, but because he cares so much that he knows silence is what we most need in those moments. It’s not words that are always required. It’s presence. And God’s silence is not evidence of his absence. God’s silence may indeed be the very proof of his presence with us.

I know it takes every ounce of energy to be silent and sit with someone in their suffering. It’s easier to say or try to do something. But perhaps the deepest form of engagement for those in the depths of suffering from the reality of evil is to restrain ourselves from speaking or doing something to ease our own or others discomfort. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give others is to be with and walk with those bearing the brunt of the evil that is at work and reality in this fallen world. The problem of evil touches us all. However, the presence of God is also available to all as we face evil head-on.

As we approach this Easter Season, let’s acknowledge the reality of evil. Let’s face the reality of evil head-on. Let’s process and pray through the existence of evil. Let’s faithfully and silently walk with others touched by evil. But most of all, let’s remember we worship and serve a Savior who has done these four things perfectly and fully for all of us. He did not ignore evil. He faced it head-on. He processed and prayed through evil. And he faithfully, often silently, walks with us through even the valley of the shadow of evil.


If you would like to give towards ServeNow’s efforts in alleviating the suffering of others due to evil worldwide, including war relief efforts in Ukraine, click here: ServeNow.

March 10, 2022

Your Greatest Temptation?

Thinking Through Luke 4:1-13

What is your greatest temptation? Perhaps you are thinking of things like speeding, shopping, snacking, or something to do with sex, but I imagine no one has thought of turning a stone into a loaf of bread, or one of the other two temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness. While the temptations Jesus faced may seem far removed from the temptations we face, when we dig in we discover that there is really one temptation here, one very subtle and dangerous temptation, one that we all face yet never think about. The fact that we never think of it makes it all the more dangerous.

So what is that one temptation that Jesus faced? What do the temptations of turning stones into bread, gaining all the kingdoms of the world, and expecting rescue from harm have in common? Each of these would take Jesus off the path of suffering, away from his calling. If Satan had said just one thing it would be “If you are the Son of God, then you don’t need to suffer.”

This is the same temptation Jesus faced later:

Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.
Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Mark 8:31-33 (NLT)

Jesus called Peter “Satan,” for he was saying the same thing Satan had said earlier. You don’t need to suffer, Jesus.

Jesus faced this same temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane on the morning of his execution:

He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Mark 14:35-36 (NLT)

Everything was possible, including the avoidance of suffering and death. Jesus could have called ten thousand angels in a rescue operation and so avoid execution. He could have turned that stone into bread, he could have become the king of all the world by brute force, he could have avoided all harm. Jesus was tempted to exploit the fact he was God the Son, God with us. He did the exact opposite:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV emphasis added)

The greatest temptation Jesus faced was to not offer forgiveness, to not take the way of the cross, to not take the path of suffering for the sake of love. It all comes back to the temptation to not love.

Love is often at the root of other temptations.

We can think of Adam and Eve when they were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Did they fall because the fruit was so tempting, or because the promise of knowledge was so tempting, or was it because their love relationship with God was not that great? They were tempted by Satan, not just to eat fruit, but to stop loving God.

We can think of Cain and Abel when Cain succumbed to the temptation to kill his brother. Did Cain kill his brother because that was oh so tempting, or because there was a failure in their love relationship? Cain didn’t just kill his brother. Cain failed to love his brother.

Though the ten commandments had not yet been given, Cain ought not to have committed violence against his brother because Abel was created in the image of God. Just as important, Cain ought not to have committed violence against his brother because Cain was created in the image of God. Cain’s failure was not the breaking of a rule so much as it was a failure to live up to what it means to be created in the image of God. Being created in the image of God means many things, like being creative for example. But since God is love, it also means being created with the capacity, and the impulse to love. Cain fell short of living up to that image.

Humanity sunk to its worst failure in living up to the image of God when God came to us, in Jesus, and we killed him. Our failure was not just in breaking the commandment, “thou shalt not murder.” We failed to love God, miserably so. God loved us anyway and offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and relationship. God is love indeed!

We see a failure of love being played in our day. Shouldn’t “love your neighbour” also apply to nations? Where is Russia’s love for Ukraine? Where is Vladimir’s Putin’s love even for his own troops, his own people? How many Russians are losing their lives? How many Russians are losing their loved ones? Given the worldwide repercussions, how many people are now being impacted negatively by the failure of a few, to love? Before there was a temptation to pick up the sword against the Ukrainians, there was the temptation to not pick up the cross and follow Jesus.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

The greatest temptation we face is to not love, to not pick up the cross and follow Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love.

Temptations often begin with the temptation to not love. The temptation to drink too much or eat too much can begin with a lack of self-love. Adultery begins, not with attraction, but with a failure of love. Gossip begins, not with words, but with a failure to love. Murder begins, not with the pulling of a trigger or the picking up of a sword, but with a failure to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus in the way of love.

One definition of sin is “missing the mark.” If we were to have a confessional and I were to ask how you missed the mark this week, you might give me a list of rules you have broken. Yet we miss the mark most when we miss reflecting the image of God. We miss reflecting the image of God most when we fail to love. You can keep all the rules really well yet completely miss the mark, miss reflecting the image of God. The religious leaders did this when, though being such sticklers for the rules, they missed the mark and engineered the execution of Jesus.

Jesus did not miss the mark. Jesus chose the cross when the temptation was to pick up a sword instead. We are loved. We are helped in growing into the image of God. The first fruit listed in the fruit of the Spirit is love. That is no accident!

You will be tempted this week, to not love someone, to stop loving someone. Let us seek God’s help in loving others, especially if the person we are to love has treated us like dirt. God is an expert on how to do that! Jesus is an expert in picking up the cross. Jesus is an expert in not succumbing to the greatest temptation we could ever face, the temptation to not love.


They’re still a “shrunken” version of weekly sermons, but Clarke Dixon’s blog — articles from which appear here most Thursdays — is now called Thinking Through Scripture.

February 27, 2022

Living the Life of Job

Given the choice, many of us would prefer to be “living the life of Riley.” Who is Riley and where did that expression come from? The website grammarist.com states,

Living the life of Riley means living the easy life, an existence marked by luxury and a carefree attitude. The term living the life of Riley is an American phrase, it first appeared in the early 1900s. There is some suggestion that the idea of a gentleman named Mr. Riley enjoying a luxurious, easy life is suggested in several earlier vaudeville songs, though the phrase living the life of Riley appears slightly later.

It’s not the only explanation online, but again, given the choice, nobody would want to be “living the life of Job.”

The story of Job is referenced in James 5, where verse 7 turned up in this week’s Verse-of-the-Day on the NIV Bible app. Here’s the full context.

NLT.James.5.7 Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen…

10 For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

In church this morning, the pastor referenced a cartoon panel with a large sign saying “2022” and two doors marked “exit” and “entrance.” The Covid-19 pandemic is making an exit but the war in Ukraine is coming through the entrance.

In Act IV of Hamlet, there is what some call the Shakespearean definition of tragedy. Shakespeare has Claudius say, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”. It’s often shortened to “When sorrows come, they come in battalions.” Or as we would say today, “everything is happening at once.”

Sometimes we feel like everything is too much; so overwhelming. My children are now adults, but for those of you with kids in their late single-digits or teens, I would imagine that they are trying to process the stress of world events; first with Coronavirus, and now with war in Europe.

Job certainly had to deal with everything happening at once. If Murphy’s Law is, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong;” then Job’s situation moves it from future tense to past tense, “Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.”

The overarching purpose of James’ reference is the subject of patience, and as we learned in the last two years, much is needed. A worldwide disruption that some thought would last weeks became months. Then the months became two years. People compared it to the times of world war, and as I type this, that is on our doorstep.

The IVP Bible Commentary (click commentaries in the right menu) states:

Here James’s focus is on three elements that make up the portrait of patience at work in the believer’s life: suffering, perseverance and blessing. James wants his readers to understand that these three develop in succession and that their outcome is as definite as the character of God. Suffering enters the believer’s life; perseverance is the believer’s response; blessing comes from the Lord, who is full of compassion and mercy.

Most of us would choose to avoid suffering altogether. It is the only the most mature believer who welcomes suffering; who as James says earlier in his epistle, “Count it as pure joy…” (1:2)

The website BibleRef.com notes:

The goal of worldliness is to avoid suffering. It’s the quest to get everything you want in life, no matter what it costs, no matter who it hurts. James makes it clear that the goal for Christians is different. We consider faithfulness to God despite suffering a mark of success. James uses the Greek word makarizomen, which literally means “to count as blessed, or happy, or successful.” This praise is given to those who continue to demonstrate their trust in God by obedience and service to others.

Matthew Henry adds,

In the case of Job you have an instance of a variety of miseries, and of such as were very grievous, but under all he could bless God, and, as to the general bent of his spirit, he was patient and humble: and what came to him in the end? Why, truly, God accomplished and brought about those things for him which plainly prove that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. The best way to bear afflictions is to look to the end of them; and the pity of God is such that he will not delay the bringing of them to an end when his purposes are once answered; and the tender mercy of God is such that he will make his people an abundant amends for all their sufferings and afflictions.

Finally, again, the IVP Bible Commentary:

This is the message of grace. God gives good gifts because he is full of compassion and mercy. Grace is the element in God’s character which James wants his readers to know with absolute confidence. The Christian can be patient in suffering and consider trials pure joy because of the assurance that God will give wonderfully good gifts even through the hardships.

Fundamental for Christian practice is Christian belief. What is the truth about God? Is he this God of grace or not?


Here’s an appropriate song which is often on repeat at our house; Josh Garrels’ radical remake of the old hymn Farther Along.

If this version is new to you, click here to hear Garrels’ original version.

 

 

 

January 19, 2022

Resumé: The Apostle Paul

We again feature the writing of someone who appears here for the first time. Pastor Will has spent his life on the U.S. west coast, in California, Oregon and Washington. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog posts are all titled the same as the blog itself, Today’s Scripture. We reached back to last October for this one, while he was in a series on 2 Corinthians. (He’s currently in Hebrews.)

Click the header which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Today’s Scripture

2 Corinthians 11:16-32 (HCSB)

I repeat: No one should consider me a fool. But if you do, at least accept me as a fool, so I too may boast a little. What I say in this matter of boasting, I don’t speak as the Lord would, but foolishly. Since many boast in an unspiritual way, I will also boast. For you, being so wise, gladly put up with fools! In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face. I say this to our shame: We have been weak.

But in whatever anyone dares to boast—I am talking foolishly—I also dare: Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, near death many times.

Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans. Once I was stoned by my enemies. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.

Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is praised forever, knows I am not lying. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to arrest me, so I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

The “super apostles” that had followed Paul into Corinth built themselves up by boasting of their credentials, and by tearing down Paul. Many of them had impressive educational credentials, having studied under one famous rabbi or another. They had traveled miles spreading the good news, and even had letters of commendation from elders in Churches in other communities who appreciated their ministry. What did Paul have that could possibly compete?

Paul didn’t actually have to compete, especially in the church in Corinth which he had founded. But he is willing to play the game, even though it was a foolish game.

He begins with his human credentials, his birth as a Jew, and his credentials as a follower Jesus. In these Paul is in no way inferior to those who are striving to displace him.

Then Paul goes on to list an impressive catalogue of sufferings he had undergone for the gospel. Many of the “super apostles” had done their ministry quite comfortably, being given the best available accommodations in every community they had visited. But they had traveled on trails that had been blazed by Paul, making a comfortable living from structures that Paul had built over years of suffering, privation, and loss.

Paul also pointed out that while those “super apostles” might care for the Corinthians while they were in Corinth, Paul cared about them, wrestled in prayer for them, even when he was ministering in other communities. They were his spiritual children, not just a project he had embraced while he was with them, and then forgot after he had moved on.

Paul has no motive to share only the positive things he has experienced in his ministry, painting a picture of a charmed life. From his beginnings as an apostle in Damascus, his life had been anything but charmed. But all his sufferings, all the persecutions and privations he had experienced, testified to the goodness and power of God the Father and of Jesus. And Paul’s whole focus was not to lift himself up, but to glorify them.

Father, it is easy for us to be swayed by impressive credentials and by people who seem to have had nothing but ever-increasing success in their ministries. Not many congregations today would hire Paul to be their pastor with his history of persecution and conflict. The pastor who has faithfully led a small congregation, often staying put in the face of opposition and outright persecution, is not much appreciated today. It was the same in Paul’s day. But Lord, I am thankful, not only for Paul, but for the unsung heroes of our own day, who faithfully lead small congregations into the deeper life in your kingdom, and who work, and sweat, and persevere until they show up at Your heavenly gates, beaten, and bruised, and exhausted, to hear your words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Amen.

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
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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
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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
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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!

 

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