Christianity 201

September 30, 2016

Holding on to Your Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

September 8, 2016

When Things Go From Bad to Worse

clarke-dixon-picby Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

all scripture references are taken from the NRSV

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

January 6, 2016

Blustery Winds and the Prevailing Will of God

•••by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 31, 2015

Complaining Against God

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

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

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

He Hears Our Cries

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

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

Asking the Right Question

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

Have You Considered Job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click the title below to read part two.

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

September 23, 2015

Peace for Your Soul

by Clarke Dixon

Rest in Peace. A Reflection on Psalm 116

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV


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

July 28, 2015

The Prayer Jesus Prayers Before He Rests

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

Into Your HandsA Good Night’s Rest

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

View in your web browser here
You can view a PDF version here

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Father into your hands I commit my spirit”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image: Cathedral of the Rockies, Boise ID

February 25, 2015

Everybody’s Got a Troubled Heart

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


 

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

Trouble!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 26, 2014

Why Trials Come: Two Reasons

Today’s article was submitted by Kimberly David who blogs at Excellent Way. The original links in this story take you to a site which now contains spyware and had to be removed. [Feb, 2018]

“Life is pain…Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”
-Westley, The Princess Bride

We all know life hurts.  While at times we may enjoy the sunshine of the mountain peaks, we are bound to spend some time in the dark valleys too.  Thankfully we have a promise:

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

God promises to bring everything together for our good, for our benefit…if we love Him.  But what benefit can be derived from pain?  How can trials and suffering be good?  What reason does God have to bring difficulty into His children’s lives?  This past week or so, I’ve been contemplating two key reasons for trials and suffering.

1. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prove Us

The book of Job is an amazing case study for trials intended for proving us.  In Job 1, we see Satan coming to account for himself before God.  While he is there, God offers up a challenge of sorts:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
Job 1: 8

And thus the gauntlet is thrown, for Satan is sure no man would serve God without ample compensation.  After all, Job was wealthy, healthy, and happy.  Why shouldn’t he serve God?  But what would he do stripped of all the fruffery and “extra comforts” of this life?  Would he still serve God?

The next eighteen verses lay out the destruction of all that Job held dear.  In these few verses we read about the loss of Job’s livestock, his children, and eventually his health.  His reaction in Job 1:21 still amazes me:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

The rest of the book is a revelation of hearts.  We see Jobs heart as he grieves in silence with his friends.  We see his friends’ hearts as they strive to encourage Job to a just life.  In the end, we get a rare glimpse of Heaven, as God speaks to Job himself, revealing His heart and His power.

The book of Job is a prime example of God using trials and suffering to prove us.  The trials put in Job’s life revealed/proved the nature of Job’s heart.  Job’s heartache proved that his devotion to God was not dependent upon pleasant circumstances.

Trials and suffering have a unique ability to bring out the true nature of our hearts.  Pressure and pain reveal the hidden darkness and sin, or the deep foundation of a true dependence on the Lord.  When we know the true state of our heart, we are better prepared to submit to the cleansing, perfecting guidance of the Lord.

In the midst of all the turmoil, Job presents some of the most comforting and encouraging words about trails that prove us.  Job 23:10 says:

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

Just as gold is refined, God uses trials and suffering in our lives to burn off the dross and purify our hearts.

2. God Uses Trials and Suffering to Prepare Us

The book of Job has 42 chapters dedicated to the story of Jobs trials, but another Bible character’s woes are summed up in a few simple words. 1 Samuel 1 introduces us to a man, Elkanah, and his wife, Hannah.  Verse two brings us to the heart of the trouble:

“But Hannah had no children.”

As our family read through this passage recently, I was touched by three small words in verse 7:

“Year by year.”

Elkanah was a godly man, and he went to worship the Lord as was required of the Jews.  He went up for an offering to the Lord “Year by year.”  You may be wondering why I felt this was significant.  It wasn’t for Elkanah’s faithfulness; rather it was for Hannah’s suffering.

Job tells a hard tale: the loss of everything precious.  Job has a whole book dedicated to his suffering.  We watch his journey.  We see the proving of his heart.

Hannah’s story is similarly heart wrenching.  She hasn’t lost the desires of her heart, she simply cannot attain them.  But her story is not the focus of an entire book.  Instead, her suffering and trials are limited to a few scattered words: year by year she had no children.

So why did Job’s story get a book while Hannah’s was barely cliff notes?  I think one very important reason is the purpose of their suffering.  Job is the poster child for proving trials.  But that isn’t what God had in store for Hannah.  Hannah’s trials weren’t focused on proving her.  God was preparing her.

In 1 Samuel 1:10 we see Hannah leaving her husband’s commemorative feast for some time alone with God.

In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.

Hannah’s heart was constantly, painfully aware of her childless condition.  However, this time of worship and praise was particularly painful for her.  Her husband’s second wife (I know, bad idea) constantly goaded Hannah about her lack of children.  But when the time of worship came, jealousy goaded her to provoke Hannah even more.

In her distraught condition, she made a vow to God:

And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life...”
1 Samuel 1:11

Her desire for a child drove her to an extreme sacrifice.  If God would give her a son, she would give him back.  He would work in the temple and be a full time servant of the Lord from his youth.  She was willing to sacrifice the special moments she would have had raising him, if the Lord would simply be willing to let her have him.

Now let’s imagine we could erase a few words from Hannah’s story.  What if we could remove the trial, the year by year that Hannah had no children.

  • Do you think this new, un-suffering Hannah would have begged for a son only to give Him up?
  • Do you think this new, pain free Hannah would have been willing to dedicate her unborn child to a life of service far away from her?
  • Do you think this happy wife would have even thought of such things?

Hannah’s trials were necessary, because they prepared her for what she needed to do.  Her trials put her in a place to offer her greatest treasure in service of the Heavenly King.  Her suffering gave Israel one of it’s greatest prophets: Samuel.
Sometimes the pain, the suffering of life, can seem senseless…meaningless.  After all, where is the sense in the death of ten beloved, adult children or the loss of all you own?  Where is the meaning in year after year of the same devastating bareness?

When we face these questions, when we are drowning in the pain, we must remember, God has promised to work all things for our good if we love Him.  Sometimes the trials will prove us.  Sometimes they will prepare us for the path ahead.  But they will always propel us in the way God has planned for us.

 

March 11, 2013

Romans 5 in The Voice

BibleGateway.com has added The Voice to its list of available translations. This is a truly different approach to Bible translation. Some of you will immediately resonate with what the translators had in mind and will gravitate toward this fresh approach. For others who prefer the traditional approach to scripture, this is not the version for you.  At the Bible Gateway blog, they highlight the unique aspects of the translation:

  • The Voice BibleThe Voice uses a screenplay format for dialogue and conversations. One advantage to this style is that it removes the need for lots of repetitive conjunctions and verbs (“he said,” “she replied,” etc.) that slow down reading. It also lets the translators use some clever and useful ways to convey key details: for example, in Matthew 8, note the use of stage directions to add detail and clearly identify the audience.
  • Words and phrases in italics represent words that aren’t found in the original text, but which are important for bringing out the original intended meaning of the passage. In the words of The Voice translators, this brings out “the nuance of the original, assist[s] in completing ideas, and often provide[s] readers with information that would have been obvious to the original audience. These additions are meant to help the modern reader better understand the text without having to stop and read footnotes or a study guide.” Here’s an example from Romans 6.
  • Another feature you’ll quickly encounter upon reading The Voice is its collection of explanatory material embedded in with the Bible text. These short paragraphs contain devotional material, study notes, background information, and other clarifying detail of the sort that you might typically find in a study Bible or commentary. These notes are placed near the passages they’re expounding on, and are clearly delineated from the text of Scripture as seen … in Romans 7.

Learn much more about the translation here. Also, I recently reviewed a book which tells the story of this version.

Our reading for today is from The Voice; I had chosen ahead of time to also use a chapter of Romans, but I selected Romans 5.

Note: While The Voice uses boxed and indented sections, that was not possible here. Scripture text in green is a convention we use here at C201, but the green and blue is not part of the original formatting of this Bible edition.

Romans 5

The Voice (VOICE)

In God’s plan to restore a fallen and disfigured world, Abraham became the father of all of us, the agent of blessing to everyone. Jesus completes what God started centuries before when He established Abraham’s covenant family. Those who put faith in Jesus and call Him “Lord” become part of Abraham’s faith family. Because God is gracious, loving, and merciful, men and women from every corner of the earth are not only declared right, but ultimately are made right as well. It happens through God’s actions—not our efforts—in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who was crucified for our misdeeds and raised to repair what has been wrong all along. So the promises of God made long years ago are being realized in men and women who hear the call of faith and answer “yes” to it.

  Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

When the time was right, the Anointed One died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us. As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. 10 If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life? 11 In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.

12 Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.

God’s gift of grace and salvation is amazing. Paul struggles to find the words to describe it. He looks everywhere around him to find a metaphor, an image, a word to put into language one aspect of this awesome gift. One of those is “reconciliation.” There is hardly anything more beautiful than to see two people who have been enemies or estranged or separated coming back together. When Paul reflects on what God has done through Jesus, he thinks about reconciliation. Before we receive God’s blessing through His Son, we are enemies of God, sinners of the worst sort. But God makes the first move to restore us to a right relationship with Him.

13 Before God gave the law, sin existed, but there was no way to account for it. Outside the law, how could anyone be charged and found guilty of sin? 14 Still, death plagued all humanity from Adam to Moses, even those whose sin was of a different sort than Adam’s. You see, in God’s plan, Adam was a prototype of the One who comes to usher in a new day. 15 But the free gift of grace bears no resemblance to Adam’s crime that brings a death sentence to all of humanity; in fact, it is quite the opposite. For if the one man’s sin brings death to so many, how much more does the gift of God’s radical grace extend to humanity since Jesus the Anointed offered His generous gift. 16 His free gift is nothing like the scourge of the first man’s sin. The judgment that fell because of one false step brought condemnation, but the free gift following countless offenses results in a favorable verdict—not guilty. 17 If one man’s sin brought a reign of death—that’s Adam’s legacy—how much more will those who receive grace in abundance and the free gift of redeeming justice reign in life by means of one other man—Jesus the Anointed.

18 So here is the result: as one man’s sin brought about condemnation and punishment for all people, so one man’s act of faithfulness makes all of us right with God and brings us to new life. 19 Just as through one man’s defiant disobedience every one of us were made sinners, so through the willing obedience of the one man many of us will be made right.

20 When the law came into the picture, sin grew and grew; but wherever sin grew and spread, God’s grace was there in fuller, greater measure. No matter how much sin crept in, there was always more grace. 21 In the same way that sin reigned in the sphere of death, now grace reigns through God’s restorative justice, eclipsing death and leading to eternal life through the Anointed One, Jesus our Lord, the Liberating King.

April 28, 2012

A Veteran Pastor Shares Biblical Insights

Lots of scripture today!  I thought it would be fitting to share some excerpts from the blog Murray’s Musings. Murray and his wife Nancy are friends of our family, and for the past few weeks Murray has been excerpting some notes that his father-in-law, Rev. Morley G. Clarke, wrote to share with his men’s group.  On learning today that Morley had passed away yesterday,  I thought I would include seven samples of the 21 “Moments With Morley” here at C201; you may choose to read one, several or all.

Murray’s introduction:

It amazes me (but it really shouldn’t) to realize that as Dad was writing these thoughts as he was battling the last stages of cancer and during the early stages a year earlier had lost a daughter to suicide as a result of a chemical depression.  Morley truly knows of suffering, but he also knows of the comfort that only faith in Jesus Christ can bring to the situation.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 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.

Morley’s Comments

The first verse put suffering it its proper context.  God does not provide a way around suffering but does give His faithful promise to provide His sustaining presence as we walk through it together.


Acts 3:1-10

 1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Morley’s Comment

This is the day that Peter realized that his Lord had bestowed upon him the spiritual gift of healing but he was sufficiently wise and humble enough to disclaim all credit for the miracle.  He made it clear that Jesus, working through him, was the one who had performed the loving miracle.

Someone has said that a person can truly do a lot of good if they are unconcerned with who gets the credit.


Acts 2:1-4

 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

Morley’s Comments

Here is the fantastic fulfillment of the promise given by the living Christ in Luke 24.  During those wonderful three years Jesus walked beside his disciples.  Now He will walk within them.  They will be filled with His Holy Spirit.  That took place on the Day of Pentecost when the Lord poured the Holy Spirit into the hearts of His 129 followers, and the church and the Body of Christ was born with great rejoicing.


Ephesians 3:14-21

 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Morley’s Comments

As I see it, this is the finest prayer in the Bible, although it might well be argued that the Lord’s Prayer in John 17 has equal claim.

The amazing description of praise in verses 14 to 21 is one of the most beautiful and inspiring that I have ever encountered.


Rev 3:20

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Morley’s Comments

Jesus never forces himself upon us, but He does make His presence known, pleading with humanity to open their hearts that they might come in, hearing such blessings as joy, hope and peace.

This door opens from the inside!


John 1:29-34

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

Morley’s Comments

This is John’s record of Jesus’ double baptism.  First, how he was baptized by John with water and secondly, how he was baptized by His Father with the Holy Spirit and with power.  From there he went forth on His mission of preaching, teaching and healing, enabled by the Holy Spirit of God – to enable us to fulfill our mission, to put into action our ministry of using our spiritual gifts.

We too, need that in filling available and it is available to us.  Indeed, Paul issues a command.  “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” on the day of Pentecost as described by Luke in Acts 2:1-4.  The church should celebrate Pentecost with no less fervor than we do Christmas and Easter.


Paul’s note:

Murray posted this as a final “Moment” over two weeks ago. It seems so fitting to be reading this today…

Revelation 22:1-5

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Morley’s Comments

What a beautiful image, filled with a portrayal of Heaven.  When a minister stands at the grave of a Christian, how wonderful it is that he has a sure word from God, a word of comfort, a word of hope!

Thanks be to God!!!


Read the entire series of Moments With Morley – click here.

June 28, 2011

There’s a Peace I’ve Come To Know

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Our guest worship leader on Sunday shared this song.  Beautiful imagery.  Send the link for this* to someone you know who is hurting.

*http://wp.me/pSfhz-vF



There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

There’s a day that’s drawing near
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb”

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

March 7, 2011

Seeing Illness as a Blessing

Yesterday’s and today’s items here don’t have any specific scripture references.  I wrote this three years ago at an obvious low point, and thought it might be applicable to someone reading it today; maybe you are that person.  Readers may want to add a scripture verse in the comments that references one or all of the points here…

  • Illness forces us to slow down, and that forces us to do the things that really matter, and that forces us to decide what really matters
  • Illness forces us to ask God for help on behalf of ourselves, which seems selfish at times, so first we have to apologize for asking
  • Illness causes us to ask other believers to join in prayer for us, which can be rather humbling
  • Illness helps us remember others who are suffering, it helps us to identify and empathize with their situation
  • Illness – while not necessarily caused by sin -brings us to a wonderful season of self examination and determination to aim for greater holiness
  • Illness reminds us of our mortality; our material culture has forced us to cling to everything including life itself, but our lives have an expiry date
  • Illness has a mellowing, sobering effect on us – some things can become potentially more irritating, but some other things no longer matter as much
  • Illness forces us to ask bigger questions; Is God in control? Does He care about the details of my life? Will he intervene in a special way?
  • Illness brings into clarity other times we were ill, and reminds us that God brought us through that time
  • Illness helps us hear Christian songs differently; “I thank God for the mountains, and I thank him for the valleys…” Can I do that right now?

I’m sure there are other things, too. Most of the prayer requests in our churches are for issues people are dealing with in their physical bodies. Pray specifically for one another. If you are the person for whom this was for today, listen for God’s voice in the middle of all you’re going through.

December 28, 2010

Additonal Thoughts on “Little Deaths”

Because I personally found yesterday’s interview with Rick James so fascinating, I thought we’d continue today with a piece which appeared on his blog, under the the title La Petite Mort.

La Petite Mort

The French have a phrase, La Petite mort, or “the little death” which is roughly defined as “the period of melancholy resulting from having spent one’s life force.” I’m embarrassed to tell you where the expression comes from, but if you must know it refers to the emotional lull that proceeds sex. I apologize for the bluntness, but one must make certain allowances for the free expression of artists, poets and . . . the French. Life is a series of little deaths, a million black dots, major and minor, of varying duration, culminating in a glorious crescendo—“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). We are always rehearsing for that final movement.

In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul describes his trials in similarly poetic terms, though not with the potty mouth or innuendo of the French. In stating that “death is at work in us” (2 Cor 4:12), Paul is referring to his trials as a series of little deaths, or an ongoing death experience. But Paul is a poet in the way that George Bush is a poet, that is to say, not at all. Besides an occasional doxology or engrafted creed, issues of clarity not aesthetics govern Paul’s word choice. So, if Paul observes that trials are like “little deaths” it’s because there are important reasons for seeing them this way, not because “hey, isn’t it kinda cool to think of our trials as, like, little deaths and our prayers as mini-screams and our bodies as tiny coffins.” Here then is Paul’s description of trials as perpetual dying or little deaths:

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

So why refer to trials as “little deaths”? Paul has commandeered the words “death” and “dying” from the lexicon and used them as synonyms for the word “trials.” For Christians the idea of “death” is always coupled to “resurrection;” they are virtually two syllables of the same word. If I were to ask you to complete the sentence: “the death and (blank) of the Lord Jesus Christ,” I doubt you’d labor over it like a crossword puzzle inserting different words to see which fits best. You know it’s the word “resurrection:” “resurrection” always sits across from “death.” Paul wants us to see trials as “deaths” because he wants us to see God’s resurrection power at work in them.

Death (or trials), to Paul’s way of thinking, is raw fuel which God uses to generate spiritual life. It is the principle or dynamic of Genesis: light out of darkness, form out of void, life out of death. This is the principle at work in us as God takes the death of trials and transforms them into life. Paul wants us to see trials as a consumable resource like firewood that can be burned and transferred to heat.

The alchemists invested their time and genius trying to transform waste into gold. Noting its bullion color, Hennig Brand, for example, left 60 buckets of urine to putrefy in his cellar in hopes a residue of gold would be left when it evaporated. It didn’t—though we can thank Brand and his vile experiment for the discovery of phosphorus. The idea of turning raw sewage into something as precious as gold was not insanity: the idea that man could do it was. Few things allow us a vantage point from which to view God’s glory and power than the transmutation of life’s sewage (trials) into life. Who but God could take our trials, our little deaths, and turn them in to spiritual life and vitality?

—the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalms 118:23)

December 20, 2010

A Brutally Honest Christmas Carol: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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The verse is in a minor key.   That should give you a clue.  Not your average Christmas carol.

Thinking about the song, and reading the today’s selected blog post, I was reminded of the popular worship song, “Blessed Be The Name;” especially where it talks about “pain in the offering.”     Ditto, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day;” a song cheerfully sung by some oblivious to the lyrics they are mouthing.    Christmas can be a time of pain for many.   Here in Canada we are mourning the loss of another soldier in Afghanistan, just two days before his 25th birthday; just days before Christmas.   There are other situations and examples I wish I could share here, but am respecting certain confidentialities…

…I find the posts for this blog in some unique places, and this post about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is from the blog of the student ministry of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Norfolk, Maine.   Coincidence?

Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan poet who had the following to say about pain and the love of God:

“And when I have been in sickness and pain I have thought if the Lord would but lift up the light of his countenance upon me, although he ground me to powder it would be but light to me; yea, oft have I thought were it hell itself, and could there find the love of God toward me, it would be a heaven.  And could I have been in heaven without the love of God, it would have been a hell to me; for, in truth, it is the absence and presence of God that makes heaven or hell.”  (The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet, 317-318)

So often, we consider God’s love the power that drives away the pain in our lives.  We ask ourselves why God allows us to suffer such pain, and we wonder whether or not it’s because our faith isn’t as firm as it should be.  But I love what Anne Bradstreet writes and I’m challenged to ask myself if I could say the same thing: Heaven without the love of God would be a Hell to me, and Hell with God’s love being present would be like Heaven to me.

This Advent season, we hear and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” often, but I wonder how much we really miss how amazing the truth of that song truly is.  Emmanuel… “God with us.”  Knowing that God truly became a man in Christ Jesus, and that He sent us the Holy Spirit to live within and to guide each of us who believe in Christ should make a serious difference in how we endure pain and suffering.

For many, the Christmas/holiday season is a really difficult time of year as they remember loved ones who are not still around to celebrate with.  December can be a very lonely month!  But “Emmanuel = God with us” rings out even louder than loneliness… God’s love is true in Christ, cherish that sweet truth today.

Normally at this point, I’d embed the video, but this time I want to invite you to jump to the source blog to watch a very stirring contemporary rendition of the song…

September 19, 2010

Deserts in the Streams

Today’s devotional is from a Canadian pastor, artist, and blogger I’ve referred to many times at Thinking Out Loud.   Enjoy this item from David Hayward, aka Naked Pastor…

I was talking with a good friend of mine yesterday. She was outside reading ‘Streams’, a devotional book that she loves. She was feeling very much at peace and content. She felt the Presence. She was happy.

Today she got some disturbing news and it totally upset her. We were talking about it. I said, “Unfortunately, the other half of ‘Streams is In The Desert’.

Easy to say. Harder to do. Maybe even impossible. It’s easy when you are in the middle of a stream to enjoy the stream’s benefits. But what about when you are in the middle of severe or chronic illness, in the middle of relational breakdown, in the middle of financial disaster, in the middle of misery, in the middle of the desert? Then what?

Remember. Remember what you read. (Hopefully, when you were reading and were struck by the truth of it, you didn’t just let it trickle over the surface of your mind. Hopefully you let it sink in and actually transform the way you think.) Remember how it informed your mind. Remember how you wished you’d known this during previous desert experiences. Remember how true it seemed to you then, and that you told yourself you would remember this truth even when the circumstances of life contradict it.

Reflect. Don’t just remember it. Now reflect upon the truth you acquired while in the stream. Once when I was extremely thirsty and finally found some water, I found the first mouthful and swallow of water uncomfortable and difficult. Same with the truth in the middle of extreme hardship. Sometimes it is uncomfortable and difficult to take. But knowing that you need it, receive it. Let the truth now nourish you. Meditate upon it and contemplate it in all its complexity. Trust that it is just as true now even when life seems to deny it.

Refresh. As you remember and reflect upon this truth, it will become more palpable to you. In fact, just as water tastes so much sweeter when it is sparse, so the truth just might have more of an impact upon your mind. I have experienced this first hand: the truth that transformed my mind yesterday in the midst of ease became even more true today in the midst of suffering. Truth has a way of shedding light on everything. Even the roots.

Truth is like a stream in the desert. Drink it in while you can. Let it sustain you even into the deepest parts of the desert. Carry it like a bottomless canteen, so that when times are more than difficult, you can find the refreshment it provides.

-David Hayward

Finding a picture to go with a post like this can be a challenge, but this time I had 18 to choose from; check out 18 Most Incredible Desert Oases.

And don’t forget to bookmark David at Naked Pastor.

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