Christianity 201

August 26, 2019

Jesus Chose Not to Identify with the Rich and Powerful

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

Good News To The Poor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

August 23, 2019

Pain is No Excuse to Sin

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Today we’re back again with Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog.  Although he hasn’t been active online for several months, we thought this older article from April was worth sharing here.

Pain: An Excuse To Sin?

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

Is my pain an excuse for me to sin?

What about if life is extra-hard?

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

God understands right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, to answer the initial question, no.

Pain is never an excuse to sin.

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

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

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

July 19, 2019

He Saw Their Affliction

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

God Sees You And Hears You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

It was suffering.

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

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

July 4, 2019

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

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us read it again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice fourth, that baby steps are taken.

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

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


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

April 4, 2019

Compelling Evil

Compelling Evil: How Suffering Points to a Loving God

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

January 2, 2019

God’s Loving Empathy

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

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

God Sees You And Hears You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By His Stripes We Are Healed

 

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

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

November 18, 2018

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

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

Begging for Serpents

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

One fascinating fact about the book of James is how heavily James relies on Jesus’ teachings in his letter. James 1:17 above is clearly connected in thought to Matthew 7:7-11 which says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

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

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

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

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

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

October 11, 2018

The Road of Thanksgiving (Leads Through Enemy Territory)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus teaches us to rejoice in the midst of trouble:

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

Jesus teaches us to pray for deliverance:

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

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

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

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

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

Peter tells us that troubles will come:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

October 1, 2018

God’s People Suffer; Worldly People Prosper; Is That Fair?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Once again we’re back with pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. (You can get lost in some of these discussion questions; I strongly recommend a visit!) Click the title below to read this one at its source.

Why does God allow his people to suffer while worldly people prosper?

Q. Why does God allow his people to suffer while worldly people prosper?

Your question is exactly the same one that’s asked in Psalm 73:

I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

The psalmist eventually gets an answer to this difficulty, and I’ll discuss it in a moment. But first I’d like to observe that the perception that God’s people suffer while worldly people prosper actually represents a snapshot from a particular moment in life. If we think back over our whole lives, and if we look at the people all around us, we realize that God’s people actually go through seasons of prosperity and seasons of suffering over the course of their whole lives, and so do people who live without any particular devotion for God. If we took the snapshot at a different time, it might show the godly people we know prospering and the worldly people we know suffering.

But I think the perception nevertheless points to an important issue. We would expect, everything else being equal, that God would bless those who live in devotion to him, that God would protect them from misfortunes, and for that matter that they wouldn’t create so much suffering for themselves as those who live without regard to God. In other words, we would expect a positive correlation between godliness and prosperity, and a positive correlation between ungodliness and suffering. But we don’t see this in our world. I think that’s the real concern, and it is indeed borne out by experience.

So what’s the explanation? The author of Psalm 73 finds one part of it by taking a longer-term view. He sees that in the end, the wicked will not prosper. “How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” People who pursue a path of ruthless selfishness in this life are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. God has set up the moral universe that way. And even if these consequences are not experienced in this life, they will be experienced ultimately, when God finally judges the world. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.

However, even this assurance may be small consolation to a person who’s faithfully trying to serve God in this life but who is struggling with suffering, persecution, and failure. The psalmist has a further insight that addresses this concern. He describes going into the temple, encountering God there, receiving reassuring insights, and finally saying to God,

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing I desire on earth besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

The psalmist realizes that what matters most, in this life and the next, is knowing God and loving God. In a mysterious way that we cannot understand, God works through all of the events and circumstances of our lives to help us know and love Him better. This includes allowing suffering at times. In those times, we need to trust God and cling to him all the more.

I’ve written another post that you might find helpful. It’s entitled, “Why do some people seem to suffer more than others?” In that post I observe that Amy Carmichael often said, “The love of God is very courageous.” She meant that God will courageously trust us to accept difficult situations as a part of His plan that we will only understand in the end, when we can see everything clearly. I think we have a hint of this in the middle of Psalm 73:

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

It may not be until we enter the heavenly sanctuary of God that we are no longer troubled deeply by the problem of human suffering and the fact that it seems to affect godly people as well as ungodly ones. But when we do come into that sanctuary, we will understand not only the final destiny of the wicked, but the glorious destiny that God has been preparing us for all along, even through suffering.

This,” as the book of Revelation says, “calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.


By today’s author: Ever wondered about descriptions in the gospel in terms of how things appeared, or what the dimensions are with buildings, or the layout of the surrounding territory? Read how a graphic novel helped Christopher Smith better understand physical locations and perspective in the Gospel of Mark.

August 1, 2018

Suffering and Trouble

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Regular readers here are familiar with the phrase, “Today we’re returning to visit the writing of…” but as I studied three posts at the blog Broken Believers, I saw past the themes of the articles and realized there was more going on here. Then I saw it: “Broken Believers is all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues. Bryan is a pastor who also suffers from clinical depression and now ministers to those in need.”

As always, click the titles below to read the articles at source. We’re bringing you two today!

Training Your Spirit

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.”2 Corinthians 4:10, NLT

“Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” -Hebrews 2:18

No book, no tutor will give us the education we need. We must patiently go through seasons of difficulty and temptation before we can understand what our brother or sister is facing. Furthermore, we must advance through different levels; sickness, injury, loss and discouragement. On top of this, we must be tutored in the language of affliction, till we speak it without an accent.

This is a ‘strange’ school. We’re watched and observed very closely to see what we will do. “Will he give $5 to the homeless man, or will he turn away like usual?” There are billions of these scenarios that we get placed in. And often there are multiple layers of these ‘programs’ running simultaneously.

And yet we are always being evaluated in love.

It is very advantageous for you to pass this way, because it lets you speak the dialect of suffering, with its mixture of pain and joy. Believers now have a common tongue which in we communicate.

When Lynn and I lost our daughter Elizabeth, it was a deep, dark valley. But I came to see (understand) that in some obscure way now able to speak into the hearts of those who were lost in pain. Death has a way of touching us deeply.

There are so many different classes in God’s ‘strange’ university. You may be enrolled in Compassion 101, or Mercy 410. Oh, and by the way there is a school counselor available to all students that request Him (the Holy Spirit).

Also, we will do remarkably better if we will befriend others who are also enrolled. Worshipping and the Word are quite critical as we must keep our spirits clean and right.

“He suffered and endured every test and temptation, so that he can help us every time we pass through the ordeals of life.”Hebrews 2:18, TPT

Help Me to Understand My Tears [Trouble]

In 1895 Andrew Murray was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. He was staying with some dear friends. One morning while he was eating his breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Andrew Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Just give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what hewrote.

“In time of trouble, say, “First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.” Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.” Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.” And last, say, “In His good time He can bring me out again.”

How, and when, He knows.”

Therefore say, “I am here,

  1. by God’s appointment,
  2. in His keeping,
  3. under His training,
  4. for His time.”

Suffering has a purpose for the believer. I must keep or honor this particular engagement. It is for my good that I do so. My life has meaning while I struggle with my issues. Nothing is really ever wasted, even though I don’t really understand why this is happening to me.

God certainly doesn’t waste our sorrows. He uses them to build our faith and work His grace, character, and eternal purposes into our lives and through our lives. In fact, God takes note of our tears and gathers them in His bottle that none be wasted. (Psalm 56:8) He rewards godly tears (Psalm 126:5; Luke 7:44; II Timothy 1:4.) One day God will wipe away al tears from our eyes. (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side!”Psalm 56:8-9, NLT

Be faithful, even when life is challenging right now.

 

July 26, 2018

Why Obedience is Commanded

Once again today we’re back at Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr. Click this link to visit the site. Click the title below to read this one at source.

Why Must We Obey God?

Many are constantly asking why they have to follow God’s Word. Just like little children, they are asking why, and just like your parents God is replying, “Because I told you so”! Here are some of the questions many ask God:

Why Must We Obey The Gospel?

This is the question every sinner needs to know, and always seems to ask: Why must I obey the gospel of Christ? The answer is a simple one. One must obey the gospel in order to be saved. Jesus said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be condemned” (Mk 16:16).

You may ask, why must one believe? The Hebrew writer tells us that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Jesus said, “If you believe that I am not he, you shall die in your sins” (Jn 8:24).

You may ask, why must one confess Jesus is the Christ? Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:32-33).

You may ask, why must one repent of their sins? Luke wrote, “Except we repent we shall perish” (Lk 13:3). And again he said, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man (Jesus Christ) whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

You may ask, why must one be baptized? Paul wrote, “Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so, we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom 6:3-6).

You may ask, why must one remain faithful until death? David wrote that God tries the righteous, but will punish the wicked with fire and brimstone (Ps 11:5). Jeremiah wrote, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer 17:10). James wrote, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience” (Jam 1:3). And again he said, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jam 1:12). Only when we are faithful until death shall we receive our crown of life and be saved (Rev 2:10 f; Mt 24:13).

Why Must We Suffer For The Cause Of Christ?

One might logically think that if one obeyed the gospel that God would not make us suffer. Peter wrote, “The God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Pet 5:10). However, Paul wrote that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12). And remember, God is not a respecter of persons (Rom 2:11). Why suffer? Peter wrote, “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps” (1 Pet 2:21).

Conclusion: The Bible gives us not only the commandments needed for our salvation but also answers the nagging question of why we must do what God has commanded us to do. As parents have authority over their own children, even so, God has authority over us. Paul wrote, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3). Jesus had all power in heaven and in earth given to him by the Father (Matt 11:28). The final reason which exceeds all reasons why we must do what God has commanded us to do is: “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Children who obey their parents must learn this, and so must every child of God! God has the final say, and we are forbidden to go beyond His written Word. (1 Cor 4:6 ff; 1 Cor 2:13; 2 Cor 4:13).

April 3, 2018

The Value of What God Has Brought You Through

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

No wasted stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 7, 2018

Trials and Tribulations on the Way

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


January 29, 2018

Clay in the Hands of the Potter

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

A Godly Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

September 19, 2017

Surviving a Valley Experience

by Russell Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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