Christianity 201

November 25, 2021

Five Faith Journey Lessons

Today we have a special treat for regular readers of Christianity 201, as longtime Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon share his personal testimony. Hearing about God’s work in the lives of others can be both instructive and inspiring.

Three Important Years and Five Important Lessons in My Faith Journey

by Clarke Dixon

Rather than invite a guest speaker for our anniversary service, I invited two members to share about an important season of their journey of faith. The following is what I shared about an important season in mine.

Looking back there were five lessons in three years which set the course for my faith, but also my work as a pastor for the last twenty-four years.

You may assume I am referring to my three years at seminary. While my three years at McMaster Divinity College were indeed very important, I am actually referring to the three years prior in which I attended Trent University in pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts. Here are the five important lessons of faith impressed on me in those three years:

My Christian faith is about God’s grace, and not my attempts to impress God.

Two gentlemen from another faith tradition, which I’ll not name, knocked on our door. What followed was an interesting conversation, or rather a challenging conversation where one of the men in particular dismissed the Christian notion of grace. According to him, we had to earn a good standing before God. Immediately following that conversation I opened the Scriptures to Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians and began reading.

While the whole of Paul’s teaching in Romans was helpful, here is one quote to catch the gist of it:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.

Romans 3:23-25 (NLT)

While I already believed that our good standing before God was by God’s grace and not our effort, a deeper dive into Romans solidified this for me. Good teaching can help us learn things, but sometimes a challenge to what we are taught, or a seed of doubt, can really help us go deeper in our search for truth.

To some the teaching of God’s grace may seem like something that should be settled in Sunday school. However, I meet people, both within and beyond the Church, who think that Christianity is all about trying to impress God. When some people say “God is good,” they think mainly of God’s holiness. Grace is a very important part of God’s goodness, and holiness.

My Christian faith is about love, and I don’t mean love for rules.

One day while driving to Trent I was forced to take a detour because of a car accident. In turning back onto the street I saw the wrecked car and thought how tragic, that the driver was probably killed given the state of the car. I thought nothing more about it until I got home and discovered that the driver was my best friend from my last years at high school.

It is a normal response to the death of a loved one, especially an unexpected death, to consider your last words together, your last weeks, months, even years, and to reflect on your relationship. That evening, I’m not sure why, but I read 1st Corinthians, chapter 13. Let me quote a few verses:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

Prior to this moment I always thought of this famous chapter on love to be precisely that, a hymn about love. But this time in reading it, it became a chapter about me, about what I was, and what I wasn’t. By the normal Christian yardstick I was quite a righteous young man, not into drinking, pornography, drugs, and the like. But by the yardstick of love, I had a long way to go. Looking back, I hadn’t been the best of friends to someone who was the best of friends. This was the moment that my faith dropped from my head to my heart. Yes, I had known for a long time, or rather assented to the theological proposition that I had fallen short of the glory of God. But now I knew in a much deeper way that this was no mere thought, but a sad reality. While I was good at keeping rules, I was not doing so well with the greatest commandments which focus on love. Thankfully, there is grace and forgiveness and an experience of God’s love.

There was also a new way forward, of a life and faith focused on love. No longer would I would focus on keeping rules in order to be a good Christian. The focus was now on loving in order to be like Christ. The rules we tend to love so much in Baptist circles are not there to help us get to heaven, as some people suppose. The rules are there to help us express love.

My Christian faith makes sense, even when I can’t makes sense of everything.

While majoring in English Literature and Classical Studies, I took different kinds of courses and was exposed to challenges to religion in general, and my Christian faith specifically. What dawned on me, however, was how Christianity could stand up to scrutiny and critical inquiry. Christianity was reasonable and made sense.

This of course didn’t mean that I could make sense of everything. Who can really understand God? Who can really understand one’s loved ones? God is not an equation to be figured out, but a Person to be in relationship with. Sometimes it feels like God used artists, those familiar with mystery, to write the Scriptures, while we ask lawyers and engineers, those familiar with precision, to interpret them.

Yes, there are things best described as mystery, things hidden from our eyes and understanding. During those three years I learned that while there is mystery, there is nothing nonsensical or unreasonable about faith in Jesus.

In those three years I learned that I did not need to leave my faith in the parking lot of the university. Nor do I need to leave my brain at the door of the church.

My Christian faith leads to a mix of conviction about some things and humility about other things, but not certitude about everything.

The motto of Trent University is “nunc cognosco ex parte” which is a Latin translation from 1st Corinthians 13:9 meaning “now I know in part.” Here the apostle Paul demonstrates both conviction and humility. Paul came to know some very important things, but not everything. He knew that.

Some may assume that one attends a university to learn everything. Actually one attends university to learn how to learn, and the more you know the more you learn just how little you know! The same can be said of seminary. Some may assume that you go to seminary to learn everything there is to know about God, the Bible, and the life of faith. Rather seminary prepares one for a lifetime of learning, thinking, and rethinking. All theology is an exercise in deconstruction and reconstruction.

Sometimes Christianity is presented in a way that makes it seem that a Christian, especially a pastor, can and should have certitude about everything. Yet, if the Apostle Paul could say “now I know in part,” so can I. There are things to have conviction about. There are things it is better to have humility about. It takes wisdom and learning to know which is appropriate when.

My Christian faith is really about Jesus, and not Paul.

When choosing courses in my first year of Trent, one particular course struck me as particularly relevant: New Testament Greek. Problem was that I needed Classical Greek fist, so I ended up taking two courses in Classical Greek and one in New Testament Greek. This began a lifelong pursuit of, and love for, learning the Biblical languages. This also planted an important seed that would blossom later.

If you were to ask me in the early years of my growing faith what my favourite books of the Bible were, I would have said the letters of Paul. They seemed the most “theological” which appealed to me greatly. However, I had a problem; Paul’s letters are harder to read in Greek than the Gospels. So I began reading the Gospels more, which meant I was reading about the life and teaching of Jesus more. I came to realize that I had made Christianity about Paul when really it is about Jesus. I used to read Paul to understand Paul. I now read Paul to understand Jesus. This is a subtle, but important change.

Paul and the other apostles, in their letters, were working out the implications of the life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the Christian communities of their day. We read them now to help us work out the implications of the life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus for us in ours. It is about Jesus.

That Christianity is about Christ might seem like an obvious thing. However, I wonder if many Christians live a kind of Christian life that is really more about a certain expression of Christianity than about Jesus. I fear that some people live a kind of Christianity that is centered and focused on Paul, Luther, Calvin, Joel Olsteen, or anyone other than Jesus. My love of Greek brought me back to Jesus.

Conclusion

While my three years at McMaster Divinity College were very important for my growth as a Christian, God used the three years prior to help ground me in these five insights that set the course for my future.

Have you had a similar season that has been significant in your growth as a person and Jesus follower? Perhaps this next season will be it!

July 26, 2021

Besides Sheep, Jesus Used the Analogy of Fish and Fishing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.5.3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.


ESV.Matt.13.47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.

Our 11-year journey takes us to interesting places to find devotional material, and today’s no exception. Stephen Bernard writes at Mouse Squeak (the computer type of mouse) and shares this personal reflection. Click to read this at source, and take some time to read some of this other recent essays.

When You Can See The Fish But They Won’t Bite

I went out fishing during the hours when the moon was down and they’d be out feeding. I wasn’t wrong either. Upon arrival the tide was high, the river was flowing and the weather was nice and warm. Under the bridge I could see crowds of fish. They were of all sizes big and small. They looked so good I could taste them. In my district I’m only allowed to use barbless hooks and no live bait so I use golden and silver spinners/spoons most of the time.

When I first arrived I started casting and did not see the crowd of fish until later when I actually began to look. As usual I casually began casting the line here nor there. Quite content I began to relax. But when I saw the horde of fish all nicely piled together I began to get excited. Try as I may, for more than one hour I cast that rod in their direction and none of them would bite. . . Not one.

I had the best gear, spinner and even though I changed my spinner from gold to silver (assuming it was overcast and would help) nothing happened. I almost fired the rod into the river to stab one of them with it that’s how frustrated I became. When I cast my line in their direction I only further complicated matters as it simply scared them away. You see? I got too excited and my enthusiasm ended up dispersing them.

I can see why Jesus uses the theme of catching fish for souls in the Gospels. It’s incredibly similar. Sometimes we can arrive at the seemingly right time. There’s plenty of people to introduce the Gospel to. We’ve got what we think is the right bait and all the best of gear available to us, but nothing ever gets them biting, right? You think fishing is hard? Try evangelism.

As Christians we often change our bait according to the fish we are trying to catch. One method of evangelism gets replaced for this method depending on the size, personality and location of the fish. We use the kind of food they’re used to according to their local customs. Even so, none of them seem to catch on. What are we to do in these cases?

Today I threw in the towel and walked away. I think sometimes that’s what we need to do with souls. It can be very easy to get frustrated with people. When they’re not interested or willing to listen sometimes you’ve no choice but to wave the white flag of surrender and go home.

If you hang around and keep shouting in their direction like I did with the fish, you end up scaring them away altogether. There are moments when we get too enthusiastic and such overtly religious attitudes can make them run a mile. Sometimes it’s enough that they’re there in Church sitting in the pew. They’ve all these bizarre ideas about their faith and their hearts are not totally into what you’re preaching, but at least they’re there. You can sermonize and drop lots of the sweet corn of good advice into the ocean but they won’t be interested.

By simply being present these souls give us the opportunity to come back another day, maybe with different bait or other methods and try again. It really is after that down to the Lord to catch them for you. I’m thinking of the bit in the Gospel where the apostles have been fishing all night and caught nothing. Then Jesus tells them to cast their nets again. They do as they’re told and loads of fish come in. Jesus teaches us that by our own efforts no fish is ever reeled in. The Grace of the Lord is always required on any expedition we undergo to evangelize the world.

Today the Lord was not with me.* Why? Because he wanted me to write this article that’s why. He allowed me to go out and waste my absolute time and effort to teach me a valuable lesson which is to say I can do nothing without him. . . nothing. In my ignorance I didn’t even pray. Maybe next time in addition to bringing the best of fishing gear I should bring along the greatest form of bait one can find. . . Jesus.


*Editor’s note: Maybe the Lord was with Stephen all along, or we wouldn’t be enjoying today’s meditation!

…Where he lands the plane today is neither about sheep nor fish, but comes from a passage where Jesus uses another analogy, about vines and branches.

TLB.John.15.5b For apart from me you can’t do a thing.

July 8, 2021

What I Love About Being a Christian, Despite the Shenanigans of Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

NRSV Acts 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

by Clarke Dixon

It may surprise some of you, but sometimes I, a Baptist pastor, don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity that I don’t like. In fact there are aspects of Christianity I hate.

For one thing, I don’t like quite a bit of our history, especially where we have done things to others, and one another, which go well beyond the “shenanigans” spoken of in the title. Atrocities is a better word.

In our day we can point to residential schools here in Canada, all seemingly staffed and run by Christians from various denominations. These are only the tip of the iceberg on Christians doing things that would cause any atheist to say ‘you Christians make a good case for believing that evil exists, but not God.’

We Christians have done and still do bad things. We used to put one another to death for thinking differently. So much for “they will know we are Christians by our love” (see John 13:35). Many shady characters throughout history have identified as Christians. We have used the Bible to support the suppression of human rights, slavery and sexism coming to mind.

So why I am a Christian?

Despite all the things that I hate about Christianity, there are things I love about being a Christian.

I love being a Christian because following Jesus brings beauty.

The way the Jesus centered life works out in life is beautiful. While yes, we Christians have had our share of atrocities, there have been so many beautiful moments because people have followed Jesus in the way of love. This is a sermon in itself, actually many, so I will refer you to a series from a couple of years ago called “Believable and Beautiful. Why Christianity is Compelling.”

I love being a Christian because I don’t have to stop thinking to follow Jesus.

As I have often said, I don’t ever leave my brain at the front door of the church, and neither did I leave my faith in the parking lot of the university. Critical thinking (in the best sense of the phrase) is well integrated into my faith. Again, here is a series touching on this.

I love being a Christian because I am part of a movement of Jesus followers that is worldwide and enduring.

Despite efforts to stamp it out, the movement centered in Jesus continues on. Despite all the stupid and sinful things we have done, the movement has brought and continues to bring a positive impact in peoples lives.

I love being a Christian because the facts about Jesus answer my deepest questions.

The Bible’s storyline focused on Jesus answers my deepest questions about existence. That God is, and that Jesus is the self-revelation of God, makes the best sense of everything; the existence of the world, the existence of humanity as a unique species, the existence of the Bible as a unique collection of writings, and yes, even the existence of suffering.

It answers my deepest questions about the past, present, and future. Looking to the past, there is healing and forgiveness in Jesus, there is change from all that is ugly to all that is beautiful. As one songwriter has put it, we trade our ashes in for beauty. Looking to the present, there is the potential for growth and continual renewal in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. We trade our ashes in for beauty on a daily basis. Looking to the future, there is assurance of life through Jesus. We will trade our ashes in for beauty, quite literally, when even the ashes of our deceased bodies will be traded in for beauty.

I love being a Christian because of Christ.

Though there are things I actually hate about Christianity, Jesus resonates. In speaking before the religious leaders who wanted to squash the nascent Christian movement, Peter calls Jesus “Leader and Saviour” (Acts 5:31). If there is any person in the history of the world that I would want as my leader, it is Jesus. If there is any person in the history of the world that I could consider has any claim to be Saviour, it is Jesus. There is not even a close second. There is not even a distant second. There is no other. There is no other person in the history of the world where we see that God is, that God is love, and that God is for us and not against us.

There have been many inspiring people throughout history, but none as inspiring as Jesus. There have been many revolutionaries, but none as revolutionary as Jesus. There have been many who have had a lasting impact, but none have had as great and lasting an impact as Jesus. Looking to the future, none will have the impact on world, and on our lives, as Jesus.

Many people have inspired me, have brought revolution to my thinking, and have had lasting impact on me, but none like Jesus. No one rescues me from all that separates me from God like Jesus. No one else can.

In conclusion, there are reasons that I don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity I actually hate. But I love being a Christian mainly because I love Jesus. Jesus loved me first.


Clarke Dixon appears here weekly. Videos for this and other messages on which his blog posts are based are available at this link.

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

May 30, 2021

Social Media Detoxification

Rebecca Brand lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband, Kieren, daughter, Sarai, and their rescue dog, Nala. She has blogged for years at RebeccaBrand.org, has spoken nationally and internationally and is the author of Life’s Greatest Battles. We have borrowed two articles from her on this subject, so readers, please reciprocate by clicking the headers which follow and reading this on her site.

Hello, From the Other Side

Over the last two months, I have embarked on a detox for my soul, and it has been life-changing.

You see, at first, it hadn’t dawned on me that I had stumbled into the rat race of social media…I had unintentionally wanted to start to find the “best time” to post (because that is when “my followers” are most “engaged”. I had also started to think about the social media “algorithms”, and how post-after-post on Instagram and Facebook would tell me why I wasn’t good enough, and that these other people had the key to “success” in getting more followers, more engagement, and ultimately, more “famous” (like, what does that even mean?).

I had realized that I had innocently become a consumer on what these social media giants wanted all along – my time, and ultimately, what they hoped for, was my money.

I was tired of waking up, and not spending as much time with God, in order to create “the post” (which ironically was about God) that would speak to “more people”.

For the last six years, blogging was like my “daily diary.” I’d spend time with God and then write what was on my heart. I loved the simplicity of whatever revelation the Holy Spirit had given me for that day – I’d write about.

But Holy Spirit had started to show me that I was spending more time on social media and less time with God, and so I stopped, with repentance in my heart, and a cry in my soul, to truly reconnect with my saviour.

One day, before I went on my soul detox, I stumbled across #fakefamous on Netflix. As I was watching, it was as if a veil of deceit had come off my eyes!

Friends, when something takes our eyes off Jesus – no matter how many times we tell ourselves, that this is our “ministry” – it’s a lie, and we need a heart check.

God never wants us to be more focused on anything other than Himself. We need to ask ourselves some hard truths about why we want more likes, shares and saves…because I know for myself, I wanted more followers, and I had unintentionally started comparing myself!

Let’s stop giving the enemy what He wants and restart to connect with our ultimate true love

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else”

Matthew 6.33

Why Are We Still Striving?

I used to believe that I wasn’t striving, but over my two-month social media detox, God showed me that I, along with many others, still are

The catchphrase “actions speak louder than words” rang true in my ear because it was the first time that when God told me to take the break, I saw people start “unfollowing me” and (no offence), but I didn’t care

A few days ago, I wrote on when I watched a program called “Fake Famous”, and it opened my eyes to how fake social media can be. Honestly, it showed me that although we have people on our profiles who engage with our content, more often than not, the numbers that are represented aren’t an accurate representation

For the first time, and I continue to be, at peace in seeing my numbers decline because I am not interested in having fake accounts or bots follow me. This was never my intention in the first place, and yet, there I was, checking out, daily, my stats and wondering where I was going wrong?

Things have shifted in my life. I realized that I was striving to bring in large numbers as I believed that that would allow the messages God has placed on my heart to have a wider reach. Yet, Jesus changed the world with twelve faithful followers, all located right before His eyes, so why do we strive for anything less?

Kieren and I have been praying into our church – which launches end of June – but, again, we would rather have ten people “on fire” for God to change our city, our region, our nation, and beyond, than a church of ten-thousand that are “sleeping”

My absolute favourite song at the minute is “Jireh” by Elevation Worship, but a few lines within that song became true for the first time in years…

“I’ll never be more loved than I am right now”

“Wasn’t holding You up so there’s nothing I can do to let You down”

“God is enough”

Friends, when will we truly get the revelation that God loves us unconditionally, and so, He doesn’t need our ministries, but He has only ever wanted our hearts?

Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Let’s stop striving and be who God has called us each to be…

A child of God

“Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways”

Proverbs 23:26

May 22, 2021

When Face Masks Block the Light

A year later, we are returning to the website Sacred Sandwich. This article touches on a subject I was thinking about just a week ago and I urge you to click the header below to read it in full. The author is C. R. Carmichael.

Is Your Face Shining With The Light Of Christ?

“…It is ours to reflect the light.. and to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” — C.H. Spurgeon, 1879

It is not until you’ve been forced to wear a mask during a pandemic that you truly value the power of your face. No sooner have you exchanged glances with someone that you suddenly realize they can’t see your hidden smile, and you in turn have no idea what they might be expressing to you under that piece of cloth. It is in that awkward moment that you immediately comprehend how dehumanizing and frustrating it is to have your face so savagely removed from the process of interpersonal communication and emotional connection. No doubt this is why so many masked people these days seem to avoid eye contact altogether, walking past you like soulless zombies in a private hell.

For joyful Christians who demonstrate the grace of God through the social graces, this can be a difficult time for missional endeavors. As ambassadors for Christ who are called to be a light in this dark world, our shining faces are essential in communicating the Gospel to those with whom we interact during the course of our day. The Gospel, you see, is conveyed with more than mere words or deeds. It is a message of love and grace, fueled by the Holy Spirit, that can be powerfully expressed in the very countenances of our faces. Does the Scriptures not tell us so?

Indeed, the Bible teaches that the inward spiritual transformation of the Christian will bear outward “fruit” as the believer increases in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10). By the grace of God, those drawn to Christ have been “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Romans 12:2) and now possess the wisdom of God’s truth embedded in their hearts. This sacred Gospel knowledge imparted by His Spirit is a sparkling treasure in earthen vessels that will always radiate through the bright eyes and happy wrinkles of our beaming faces. Indeed, as God’s word tells us, “a man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).

Once freed from the chains of sin and guilt by Christ’s sacrifice, the wise Christian’s once-dour face is forever changed, shining “as the brightness of the firmament” and appearing like “stars forever and ever” so that the believer might “turn many people to righteousness” through the illumination of the Gospel (Daniel 12:3). Even stretching into eternity, Jesus has assured us, “the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Light, therefore, is intrinsic to the new nature of those transformed by Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells His people. “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus Christ, in fact, is our example to be emulated so that we might become “the children of Light” (John 12:36). During his earthly ministry, our Lord spoke to his disciples, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). And how was His light often transmitted in its full power and glory? Why, in His glorious face! “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

“In the face of Christ!” Imagine being witness to those historic supernatural events bathed in the brilliance of Christ’s white-hot countenance. How thrilling it would have been to stand beside Peter, James, and John in the high mountain when they saw their Master “transfigured before them,” where “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Or being there to share in John’s vision of Christ holding seven stars in his right hand, a sharp double-edged sword coming from His mouth, and seeing His face “like the sun shining at its brightest” (Revelation 1:16).

One day, of course, the redeemed people of God will literally witness such a marvelous sight when “night will be no more, and they will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). And what a glorious thought this is as we anticipate His return to usher us into this bright eternity.

Until that day, however, the question remains: how do we as Christians bring Christ’s light to our faces to help convey the Gospel message in this dark world? Quite simply, it can only happen when we are in daily communion with the Lord. Just as Moses’ face radiated with the fiery glory of God when he returned from his interaction with the Divine in Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29), so too the Christian’s face should be filled with the reflected light of Christ’s glory after boldly approaching His heavenly throne through fervent prayer, worship, and the reading of His word. It is, after all, the spiritual culmination of “fixing our eyes upon Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

As the old hymn beautifully says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

When believers are regularly energized through communion with the holy dynamo that is Christ Jesus, such fellowship cannot help but show forth in their outward expression. This spiritual interaction with the eternal Light of the world produces a godly, compelling visage that can draw the attention of those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 5:6). As explained by Matthew Henry, “Near and spiritual communion with God improves the graces of a renewed and holy character. Serious godliness puts a lustre upon a man’s countenance, such as commands esteem and affection.”

This noticeable “lustre,” therefore, should be the goal of every Christian who desires to be used for God’s glory in bringing the lost to Christ. “Every Christian life,” insists Alexander Maclaren, “should be a life of increasing lustre, uninterrupted, and the natural result of increasing communion with, and conformity to, the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance.”

It is here where the Christian must be very careful not to pursue this heavenly radiance under their own power. This is not something that can be manufactured by sheer will or desire. We must never think we can put on a “happy Christian mask” of our own creation to hide a dark face still burdened by stagnant discipleship, ongoing sin or suspect faith.

When Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:25), He was using a common theatrical term of His day that denotes a stage actor in a Greek play who often wore a mask to “assume a role and identity that were not truly his own and performed for the audience’s approval” (Jesus and the Theatre, New Testament Studies, Vol. 30, 1984). The grave implications of being a hypocrite, therefore, are readily apparent. If you, as a professing Christian, are wearing the false mask of an actor because you are “more concerned with your public image rather than with genuine fidelity to God” (Ibid), then do not be surprised if the Lord soon calls you out as a liar and a hypocrite.

The true disciple of Christ has no need to hide behind a false mask. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church, is a case in point. To be sure, this servant of God was a humble disciple “full of God’s grace and power” who preached Christ with a true supernatural “lustre” that came from the Holy Spirit. There, even among the enemies of Christ, Stephen displayed in his face a real godly wisdom and calm serenity that struck at the very hearts of his listeners as he delivered his Gospel message. As the Bible records, “Gazing at Stephen, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Did this mean that Stephen looked like an effeminate cherub from an old Renaissance painting? Of course not. John Gill tells us that the beauty displayed in Stephen’s face was consistent with the “lovely and amiable” angels of God, “who when they appeared to men, it was in very glorious and splendid forms.” Indeed, the Bible reminds us that angelic beings are “angels of light” that can have “faces like the sun” (Revelation 10:1). And so it was with Stephen’s appearance at the very moment of his martyrdom when his face reflected the heavenly vision he saw of Christ standing at the right Hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).

At this point, perhaps, the Christian may look in the mirror and become worried that the face looking back at him or her has little of the biblical radiance of an angel of God. This, of course, can be a frequent concern among those who are poor in spirit as humble servants and are often “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Whether this fear of a dim spiritual condition is based on one’s lack of godly discipleship or from an overly-harsh assessment of their position in Christ, it makes little difference. The answer is simply to renew one’s commitment to Christ and seek His face at every opportunity. When our spiritual focus wanes, how blessed we are to have a God who is “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8).

This is why the Bible is filled with repeated heartfelt petitions to the Lord, actively seeking His face and asking that He might “make His face shine upon thee” (2 Chronicles 7:14; Numbers 6:25; Psalm 27:8; 105:4-5). It is the shining face of God which imparts His grace and warms us in the rays of His care and benevolence. This, in turn, recharges us and brings a renewed spiritual brightness to our faces. It may not be a vivid, supernatural light of biblical proportion, but nevertheless the public around you will no doubt see a striking difference in your facial expression.

“It is not unusual,” writes theologian Albert Barnes, “for deep feeling, sincerity, and confidence in God, to impress themselves on the countenance.” Even the slightest Spirit-driven influence upon your face can mark you as “peculiar” and distinct from the world. As Scripture declares, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” And why are you set apart from the crowd? “So that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

In this way, your happy face with sparkling eyes, a radiant smile, and the glowing cast of spiritual serenity can truly proclaim the light of the glory of Jesus Christ. And if the dazzling beauty of Christ and the shimmering power of the Holy Spirit rests upon your countenance, perhaps one day it will also warm and enlighten the heart of a lost sinner who then will ask you “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). As C.H. Spurgeon encourages us on this point, “Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say ‘How bright he is,’ but that they may rejoice in the Source from which the light came to you and to them.”

Thus, the Christian should always ask, “Is the Light of Christ still shining in my face?” This may not be an easy question to answer these days. Sadly, we live in a stressful age of suppressive masks and fearful faces that have hardened and waxed cold. Now, more than ever, we must diligently and continually seek after Jesus, knowing that the Captain of our salvation will gladly fill our faces with His eternal brilliance to powerfully shine the Gospel “upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).

Regardless of our circumstance, may we heed the charge of David’s inspired psalm in order to emit the rays of Christ’s glorious light in this dark and fear-gripped world:

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD be joyful! Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face for evermore!” (1 Chronicles 16:8-11).

If this we do, then no mask on earth will ever dim our glorious shine for Jesus.

November 24, 2020

Coming to God with Child-like Faith

The basic offer of Jesus to redeem us is so simple that even a child can understand it and act on it. But it’s part of a narrative that is so wonderfully, beautifully complex that theologians have never stopped marveling about it.

We come individually to God with a child-like faith; a child-like trust; but the good news of the gospel can never be considered childish. Notice how much this theme is repeated:

“Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 – Matthew 18:3 CSB

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
 – Matthew 19:14 NLT

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 – Mark 10:15 NIV

Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
– Luke 18:17 MSG

I wasn’t familiar with Lacey Strum until I tuned in for a live feed of one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Celebration events. I was electrified as she started to share her personal testimony. She is a Christian musician who was in the band Flyleaf, and is the author of three books.

Her blog posts are no longer part of her website, but this one survives on GoodReads. This is a bit different than our usual devotionals here, but I felt there might be someone out there who needs this, or would benefit from her story, which I’ve included below.

Eyes of a child

My son is three. He is currently obsessed with taking pictures. The other night I was falling into a deep sleep in our dark hotel room when I heard his tiny voice from the other bed break the silence. “Daddy. Can I have da phone?” “No,” sighed my sleepy husband. “It’s not time to play.” “But daddy, I gotta take a peetchur!” As an artist himself, my husband sympathized with our sons urgency to seize a moment of inspiration and make it count. So he handed him the phone. My son slid off the bed, took the phone aimed it at the air conditioning unit and snapped. Satisfied he handed the phone back to his father, got back into bed and fell right to sleep.

It’s funny how many times I feel deeply about something right before I fall asleep or early in the morning before I’m ready to wake up. But instead of creating art to express those depths, like my soul is aching to, I turn over and fall back asleep. There are times when I know I should skip lunch to spend more time with my friend. Or times when I should skip working so I can help find dinosaur bones in the back yard like my imaginative boy keeps asking me to. Or times when I should turn off my phone cause I know I’m going to be with loved ones and they are a precious gift. But so often I know what I should do and I roll over and do the predictable, less heroic, self centered grown up thing.

But my beautiful little boy on the other hand… He will never willingly let sleepiness keep him from a moment of inspired creative exploration. His three year old heart would never willingly interrupt the laughter of playtime with friends in order to eat lunch! And when he is around the people he loves, they have his full attention and he is always competing for theirs. “Watch this Granna! Papa look what I can do!”

I love looking at the pictures my three year old takes. It reminds me to pay attention. And it reminds me to seize every moment for what’s most important. It challenges me to see the world with childlike wonder. I think we miss the “on earth as it is in heaven” perspective we need in order to experience life the way God intends for us to. But. I think children rarely miss it. Maybe we should pay more attention to them and learn what’s most important. And (Jesus) said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 18:3



I did an article about Lacey at Thinking Out Loud in October, 2014. Here’s the link.

May 2, 2020

Would You Rate a Shout-out from Paul?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our 4th or 5th time featuring the writing of Jay Mankus at Express Yourself 4 Him. As a rabid sports guy in his youth, it’s fitting that Jay’s faith journey began in 1984 at a Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s event in Philadelphia. Since then he’s attended seminary, worked in youth ministry, and written a film script of his own life story. Click the header below to read this at source, and check out several of the other devotionals there. This is a blog I would recommend to people who maybe don’t want to go as deep (or wordy, or tangential!) as we do here, so you might have a friend who could use some solid devotional material each day who would like to know about this one.

What Would the Bible Say about You?

At the end of his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul thanks those who worked quietly behind the scenes. Without these men and women, Paul’s ministry journeys would not have been possible or successful. Beginning with a deaconess and woman who opened her home as a congregational meeting place, Paul wanted to ensure that their contributions were not minimized or overlooked. Unlike the gospels where woman and children are excluded from the overall count of individuals present, Paul places women first on his list.

Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, That you may receive her in the Lord [with a Christian welcome], as saints (God’s people) ought to receive one another. And help her in whatever matter she may require assistance from you, for she has been a helper of many including myself [shielding us from suffering]. Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, Who risked their lives [endangering their very necks] for my life. To them not only I but also all the churches among the Gentiles give thanks, Romans 16:1-4.

In another letter to the church at Galatia, Paul breaks down his entire life into three stages. Galatians 1:11-24 serves as an outline for sharing your faith by detailing your life before knowing Jesus, your conversion experience and transformation since making this decision. While every faith story contains peaks and valleys, portions of your testimony will connect with or touch other souls. One of Jesus’ disciples urges first century Christians to be prepared, always ready to provide the reason for the hope that you have in God, 1 Peter 3:15-16.

[Remember me] also to the church [that meets] in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was a firstfruit (first convert) to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked so hard among you. Remember me to Andronicus and Junias, my tribal kinsmen and once my fellow prisoners. They are men held in high esteem among the apostles, who also were in Christ before I was. Remember me to Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, that one tried and approved in Christ (the Messiah). Remember me to those who belong to the household of Aristobulus, Romans 16:5-10.

As I turn our attention toward today, I’m curious about what modern writers might say. Would you receive a shout out like Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila or be out-shined by other believers? As you go to work, reside in a neighborhood and let your guard down at home, what do people notice? According to my children, I drive too fast, I’m impatient and too opinionated. Are your daily actions full of light or do moments of darkness blur the love of Jesus inside of you? The book of Acts ends abruptly. Some scholars suggest that either the final chapter was never fully completed or simply missing. When judgement day arrives, what will God say about you? Only time will tell so make the most of the days that the Lord gives you.

February 26, 2020

You Can’t Have a Song Written Without a Life Lived

Yesterday at this time, I was reading the “musings” of songwriter and recording artist Lynn DeShazo who wrote the worship song, “More Precious Than Silver.” What follows are partial excerpts from four different articles she wrote last year about the 40th anniversary of that song, which you can locate at the link in the title below.

Note: Because the full original articles are also interwoven with insights into Lynn’s life which are key to the story, you are strongly encouraged to click the link and read all four parts of this reflection at source.

More Precious Than Silver

…Forty years! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? Periods of forty years and forty days are found throughout the Scriptures. So when I realized that a significant milestone was approaching in my life, the fortieth anniversary of the creation of “More Precious Than Silver,” it got me thinking.

The Bible is full of instances where our fathers in the faith built altars of stone to mark life-changing encounters with God. In years to come, they would revisit these altars and recall to mind the faithfulness of the Almighty in their lives. They used these memorials to pass on their legacy of faith to their children. An anniversary is a bit like a memorial stone. It marks something significant and perhaps unique to you. It says, “Hey! This event happened here in this place, at that time, and it made a lasting impact on my life.” Here then is my memorial stone, my “Ebenezer raised,” as I reflect on what writing “More Precious Than Silver” has meant to me.

Every creative effort has a beginning. You sit down with your instrument and a pad of paper, or a laptop computer. You hum a melody, strum a chord, or pick out a tune on the piano. Sometimes a song takes shape effortlessly, but usually there’s a struggle involved in the creative process. Every baby born comes into the world with a degree of pain and struggle, some more than others. I think it’s the same with a song. I also think that long before there’s such a creative expression as a song written, there’s a life lived…

…God spoke very clearly to me one night following a powerful message preached at our campus church. He asked me to give up my guitar and, by implication, everything that went along with it – writing and performing my own songs. This was a difficult thing for me to hear and very painful to actually do, but thank God, I found the grace to obey Him. At the close of the meeting, I tearfully handed my guitar over to my pastor for safekeeping (something I freely chose to do), and I did not touch it again for months. As I cooperated with God’s work in me, my spiritual foundation repair began. I learned to trust in Jesus alone for my right standing with God. My striving to please began to give way to restful trust in His love for me. God had big plans for me, but the right foundation had to be in place for Him to build them upon.

Once a field is plowed sufficiently, the farmer stops plowing and starts sowing seed. In like manner, the difficult seasons of God’s dealings with us only go on until He accomplishes His intention. My season of not playing guitar and writing songs did not go on forever. It only lasted until God was satisfied that my spiritual foundation was solidly upon Christ alone. Now He was ready to build upon that foundation, and I began to walk into His purpose for my life…

…When God spoke to me about laying down my guitar, I had a decision to make. My music was very important to me – almost all the self-esteem I could muster up came from being able to play my music “for the Lord.” How could God possibly take that away from me? I chose to trust Him, but it was still difficult.

Putting selfish flesh to death is a hard business and, let’s face it, dying flesh stinks. In ancient times, fragrant spices were used to prepare bodies for burial in order to mask the stench of death as a body decomposed. When Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare His body for burial (see John 19:39-40). Myrrh is also one of the spices used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle worship. One of the blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives is that He works to mask the stench of our dying flesh as we learn take up our cross and follow Jesus. We begin to produce the fragrance of the Christ within us, even in the midst of our “dying.” (See II Corinthians 2:14-16)

Jesus, speaking of His own imminent death, said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before a single grain of wheat can produce a stalk bearing multiple grains, it must first go into the ground where it dies. Its hard exterior is softened through a process hidden from view until the germ of life within is finally able to sprout up through the soil. The tender green shoot is the first sign of the harvest to come…

…Music has a natural power to lift your mood, but it’s the anointing* that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27). So how is it that some ministers have such an evident and consistent anointing flowing to people through what they do, whether it’s preaching, leading worship, counseling, or you name it? I believe it is because of a significant spiritual sacrifice made by that person before the Lord, and a firm commitment to obey Him in every season and circumstance of life.

God called Abraham to Mt. Moriah and required him to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, his son Isaac (See Genesis 22). Thankfully, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. Isaac’s too, for that matter. But you must understand that Abraham’s test was a foreshadowing of what our Father in heaven would do in giving His only Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now, anywhere in the world that the Gospel is preached, there is an anointing upon the message for people to believe and be saved. Why? Because there’s an anointing at the place of sacrifice, and that place is the Cross of Jesus.

Every believer in Jesus Christ who desires to be a fruitful disciple must come to the Cross, to the place of total surrender to Him and be willing to be made a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are called to obedience, and God will test that in every one of us. Will we live by the strength of our own will, or out of obedience to His will for us?


*Read the entire (4th) section of the article where Lynn defines ‘anointing’ quite clearly at this link.

January 25, 2020

Not in Valleys, Not on Mountaintops: Formation in the Middle

… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. 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.… I Cor 4:16-18 Berean Study Bible

A year ago our sister blog linked to the writing of Phylicia Masonheimer. I decided this week to look back and she what she was writing more recently and came across a piece I thought would be useful to readers here. Click the header below to read this on her site and then from there, look around at other articles.

Ten Years with God

Ten years passed in a blink and I almost missed it.

I didn’t realize it was a turning of the page, a gentle leaning into a new decade, until an Instagram post stopped me mid-scroll. Ten years. In 2010, I was turning twenty years old, just returned home from residential college and a stint in New Mexico, unsure what the future held. I was particularly annoyed at my lack of romantic prospects. The ripe old age of twenty was pressing heavy on my mind.

I believed God was taking me somewhere, but my twentieth year seemed like a regression. I went away; I came back. I had a boyfriend; I had one no longer. I didn’t even know what job to take next, so I worked two, back in my childhood bedroom like a baby bird kerplunked back in its nest. It was a new season, but it felt so much like the old one.

It was mornings at one job and evenings at the other.

It was letters to old friends and awkward attempts at making new ones.

It was tiny raises and job transitions, wearing scrubs instead of heels and sorting medical files in the office basement.

It was phone call interviews on my lunch break.

It was the catch-and-release of an almost romance.

And then it was over. A little less than two years later, I moved away again. The season ended, with all of the hard and good it held, over before I had fully embraced it.

That’s how seasons tend to go. We fight them for so long, wishing they were different, thinking it will be better when they’re over – then they are. We stand there between what was and what is about to be, unsure how to make the most of waning things. There’s a frantic urgency to fully live now that the end is in sight. But what if we did it in the middle?

Ten years with God have taught me that the middle is what He’s most interested in. I am sure He loves the mountaintop moments, but we are formed in the valleys. We are formed in the dirt, made from dust and getting rather dusty in the making. I think there’s significance in the richness of valley soil, too, because fields don’t grow on mountaintops. Harvests aren’t taken from rocks and crags.

No, it’s in the valleys we are planted and grown and harvested. It’s in the middle seasons of commute, long winters, singleness, on-call hours, and schoolwork that God does His shaping work. In the seasons that feel old and rote, the jobs that are uninspiring, the singleness that seems perpetual God invites us to stop waiting around for the ending and start living from the middle.

Those two years of “not my plan” tumbled into everything for which I’d hoped. I met a man. We married. I finished my degree. We made a home, I became a writer, we had two beautiful babies, we moved to a farm in Michigan. But those were the mountaintop moments. Those were the grace everyone else could see, the monuments built on months of slowly trusting, days of “long obedience” with no particular end in sight.

Ten years with God took me from a light and momentary existence to considering hardship a “light momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Loss of friends, jobs, money, and health were as much a part of my ten years with God as were His blessings, and in both I have learned that strong faith lives from the middle. The more I know Christ, the more I understand deliverance; the more I understand that the presence of the Deliverer is sufficient while we wait.

Ten years with God took me from wondering if He was good because I didn’t have what I wanted… to knowing He is good whether I get what I want or not.

In 2010, at the end of a prayer journal, I wrote:

Everyone lives for something… I’ve been living for my dreams, plans, and pursuits. But no more. I place You on the throne of my life… You are the guide of my journey…That which I do not have, I do not seek… my heart is lost to You.

I asked for what I didn’t understand. I committed to what I couldn’t handle. The grace of God carries us forward in that kind of weakness, and how grateful we should be for it! I didn’t know what ten years would hold, or how hard-won those sweet blessings would be. But I have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). I have seen the goodness of God in middle places, in the valleys and the dirtiness of an average day.

And I can say, after ten more years with God, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” (Psalm 31:19)

 

January 6, 2020

The Word of Knowledge in Action

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The situation described in the story below is probably beyond the experience of many readers here. But because Christianity 201 describes itself as a “melting pot” or a “potpourri” of the various expressions of Christian faith, I wanted you to have exposure to this one. For those who are new, cessationism is a belief in Protestant theology that the supernatural gifts (such as described in I Cor. with speaking in tongues receiving most frequent mention) ceased when the original apostles died off. It’s opposite is continuationism which believes that those gifts are still operative today. Today’s article would be written from the latter perspective.

Tim Halverson blogs at The Lion’s Head Café. Click the header below to read this there.

No Risk, No Reward

“For to one is given . . . the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:8).

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in the Bible in I Corinthians 12: 4-11. They are the super-natural work of the Holy Spirit through the Body of Christ. These nine gifts could be classified in three groupings of three gifts each: 1) The Word Gifts: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues. 2) The Revelation Gifts: the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, the discernment of spirits. 3) The Power Gifts: faith, healings, the working of miracles. Remember this factor: faith is spelled r-i-s-k.

It is my observation that to flow or operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit will involve risk-taking. I’ve been sputtering and misfiring (to use an auto mechanic’s terms, which I are one) with these for decades now but am seeing a big increase in my function in them lately. This seems to be chiefly due to watching on-line since February Catch the Fire – Toronto, where the revival went through my screen and into me somehow. I want to relate a short story to tell you what I’m learning, and that is about risk.

Last night I attended a Bible study with about ten people. Before it even began I had a feeling that God was up to something more than just the study of Acts 14, which is sufficient for me in itself. At the end we prayed about some things. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t really see many faces. As we prayed I really tuned in to God and he showed me in a word of knowledge something only he could know. This impression took several minutes, a basic thought that grew as I considered it. It was this:

“There is someone here who is still suffering because of persecution that happened to them when they were testifying of Christ (I know this is vague but it’s none of my business to know the details of what happened in this case). The devil took advantage of you in this vulnerable moment to say, If you ever speak of Jesus again something worse is going to happen. Plus, we all know you don’t have the courage to do it anyway. The person feels whipped, condemned, and stuck.”

It was a risk to say it but somehow I did. And after I said that with trembling, there came some more to the message:

“But Jesus is healing you right now of that awful experience, the Holy Spirit is upon you here and now, and from this moment on I am making you Lion-hearted. Take courage!”

There was a sort of hubbub for a moment that happened but I couldn’t see anything, and then the prayers went on. A minute later I was wondering if I had missed the Lord in this, so I determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and said, Excuse me, but could we re-visit that word I just had? Is that person even here? A short pause happened, and then a lady in front of me turned around and said, “You were describing me exactly, and God is working on me right now.” She was all red in the face, tears still streaming down, Kleenex in hand and radiant with joy as could be! I was ecstatic to put it mildly, though I covered it up pretty well by trying to blend into the curtains behind me, not wanting to be a spectacle. Too late. What a privilege to work with God. And yet I could have said no to the whole thing. But I took the risk instead which freed a woman of something she felt too embarrassed to talk about. Praise God.

January 4, 2019

The Help Someone Needs May Be You Sharing Your Story

Today’s devotional is from the website Partners in Hope Today, which we reconnected with six months ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  Click the title below to read at source.

Sharing the Message

Audio for SHARING THE MESSAGE

Within each personal story of the journey from bondage to freedom is the power of the Gospel to save those who are lost.  We are simply sinners saved by grace and kept clean and sober daily by God’s mercy.  When we tell our story, our lives give witness to God’s grace and mercy and we are fulfilling the great commission of spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  We are pointing them to the pathway of their own healing journey with Jesus who said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed;” (Luke 4:18 NKJV)

The Bible tells us that if someone struggles we should be gentle and humble as we help them get back on the right path.  It’s important to remember how we were when we were slaves to our addiction, just as they are now.  We need to support the desire in a person’s spirit to carry out their new life choices, even while their flesh is weak.  We also need to respectfully warn others for whom we perceive ongoing danger.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

We are not the Saviour, but we can love others as God loves us.  Love goes beyond mere words.  Sometimes it is demonstrated in silence or in an understanding touch as we come alongside someone who has strayed from the path of recovery.  Love doesn’t accuse but encourages the person to get back on the path to healing and continue the journey.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, May my life reflect the joy of living life to the full so that others may believe in the power of the Gospel to save and transform lives.  Amen


Would you like to be able to share your testimony with others? It could be very helpful to someone you know or someone you don’t.

CRU — the organization once known as Campus Crusade — offers these tips in organizing your thoughts and the chronology of your personal story.


Although we don’t sing hymns in many of our churches anymore, I decided to include this contemporary version of “Love Lifted Me” as an example of how a story (testimony) can be a great encouragement to someone else.

(For a more rocking version, click this link.)

 

October 16, 2018

The Evils and Mistakes of the Past

Once again, we’re featuring Joe Waller who writes at As I Learn to Walk and is a PhD candidate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Click the title below to read this at the original page.

Ghosts and Gospel

People love ghost stories. People hate ghost stories. But no matter the response, ghost stories have crept into our lives and our cultures, and they don’t appear to be leaving.

I live in New Orleans, a city full of history and culture and, according to some, ghosts. You can take tours of buildings with haunted pasts, visit multiple haunting cemeteries, and hear stories of the haunted people (or their ghosts) who live on in legend. And the more I learn about the world, the more I find that most places have similar tales of hauntings. The world, it seems, is filled with ghosts.

To some extent, an abundance of ghost stories makes sense. Ghost stories speak to our fears of the past. We hear stories of tortured souls that still walk the grounds where they were lost years before, stories of homes where tragic deaths still stain the walls, stories of abandoned hospitals or asylums where unspeakable acts still echo in the hallways, and we feel a chill, a tinge of dread that the past might still affect the present. More specifically, our fear of haunted places may stem from our fear of the evils and mistakes of the past, from fear that we can’t truly escape what’s gone before us. And I know few who are immune to such fear. As we learn about history and discover the depths of human depravity, we rightfully fear what humans can become – nay, what humans are. Paul, stringing together a number of Old Testament texts to describe the state of sinful humanity, pointedly writes,

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:10-18

Elsewhere, after describing the unrighteousness that keeps people from God, Paul reminds the Corinthian church that such words describe their own state before they came to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). No matter the greatness of our present faith, we each share the same past record: unrighteous, unworthy, and unable to right our wrongs.

Yet Paul does not stop with a description of sin in either passage referenced above. In 1 Corinthians, he reminds the believers that “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Similarly, in Romans, Paul transitions from the hopeless state of sinful humanity to the hope found in Jesus Christ, writing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:23-25). Note that last part especially. God, in his patience and mercy, graciously gave time for us to turn back to him through the redemption found in his Son. Though we had earned his wrath, through Christ he shows us his love.

As Paul so eloquently explains elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And now, by grace, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). To quote Paul again, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Ghost stories remind us of the past. They employ the evils of history to threaten the present. And those who walk in the way of this world may rightfully fear, for, as the past has been, so the present and future may be. Thankfully, God has provided a rescue from the evils of sin. In Christ, the past turns from a haunting record of wrongs to a testimony of what God can do. Paul knew this well, his life in Christ serving as a shining example of the power of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16-17 and 1 Timothy 1:15-17). Christian, do not fear the ghosts of the past. Walk in the newness of life, freed for the glory of God and for the good of the world. And let hope fill your every step.

 

February 25, 2018

Sunday Worship

You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.
– Psalm 22:3 NET

Today we feature the writing of singer, composer, recording artist and worship leader Tommy Walker. Today’s writing is part testimony, part teaching.

Understanding the Breakthrough Power of Worship

I can’t remember how many times I have felt like God was a million miles away and then, in an instant, I recognized that He was closer than the air I breathe.

The Bible says in Psalm 22:3 that He actually lives and dwells in our praises. This is the mystery and the miracle of the breakthrough power and presence of God when we worship! When we worship, we affirm the truth of God’s Word, and it is being rooted deep in our hearts.

When I was 11 years old, the Jesus Movement was taking hold in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. The church I attended began to be filled with long-haired, barefoot hippies. We sang acapella songs like “Hallelujah” over and over again. It really was an authentic, powerful move of God, but I was very young, so most of the time I was bored and distracted. However, I do remember watching the Holy Spirit move on people’s lives in a special way. I remember seeing high school kids worshiping and weeping at the mention of God’s love. There was such an amazing sense of grace and unity among everyone.

One Friday night as a Christian band was playing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” it happened – for the first time, while observing everyone worshiping God, I began to sense God’s presence. I’ve heard it said that worship is a picture of the Gospel in motion, and it certainly was for me that night. I saw people displaying a kind of personal, intimate relationship with God that I wanted and needed. A relationship that I knew was made possible only by the blood of Jesus.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents gathering us around my mom’s baby grand piano and having us sing the old hymns of the church for what felt like hours. At 5, I would end up lying under the piano and eventually falling asleep. I didn’t think much about Jesus and the Gospel then, but on that Friday night as the Christian band performed, the God we had sung about became my own personal God. I sensed Him saying to me for the first time “Tommy, I love you and I have called you to do great things for Me.” I wept at the thought that the God of heaven wanted to save and use a young boy like me. I surrendered my life to Jesus that night. One of my life verses has been Psalm 40:3, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (NIV).

Every person is created to be a worshiper. God dwells and, I believe, manifests Himself in the praises of His people. It has always been my prayer when I write songs and lead worship that the breakthrough power of God would bring the lost to Him–just like it happened for me.

After graduating from high school, I went to Bible college, and one of the areas I learned about was spiritual warfare. At first I resisted the training because I met people who spent so much time rebuking the devil. I thought they were giving the devil too much attention. To this day, I don’t agree with everything I saw there, but over time I have recognized that we are in a battle and there truly is an enemy that is out to destroy us.

Several years ago when I was doing a worship event in a poor neighborhood in Zambia, I sensed a darkness all around us–poverty, violence, abuse, hopelessness, hunger. We worshiped the Lord every night for more than an hour before we felt we could even begin to present the Gospel. Only then did we sense a real breakthrough in the spirit, and we saw hundreds come to Christ.

Through that event and others like it, I came to realize that worship is how we allow God to fight our battles for us. You may be familiar with the story of Jehoshaphat. Second Chronicles 20:22 says, “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (NIV). What a strange battle plan–but the result was that the Lord won the battle for them! There is something inherent in the act of worship that enables us to encounter the power of God like nothing else. It is not effective to simply tell someone to stop worrying; stop being proud; stop being self-consumed, distracted, insecure, bound and materialistic. But it is effective to tell them to start worshiping. When we make that decision to fix our eyes on Jesus, we quickly realize that God has already begun to release the grip these tendencies can have on our lives.

Worship is a declaration of our weakness and God’s strength. I challenge you in your next point of need to make that hard choice to be a worshiper and let the breakthrough God fight your battle for you.

When we worship, the invisible God is at work doing invisible and powerful things. We get realigned, refreshed and refueled; we find unspeakable joy and indescribable peace. We discover the breakthrough strength of God, which enables us to walk in the truth, live in His presence and see Him fight our battles for us. It is how we can put the beauty of the Gospel on display, receive His many blessings and at the same time be a blessing to the world.


If you’re not familiar with Tommy Walker’s music, here is one of his best-known songs, He Knows My Name

 

March 29, 2017

The Three ‘R’s of Baptism

NLT Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.[1] So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[2] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

[1.] 3:15 Or for we must fulfill all righteousness.
[2.] 3:16 Some manuscripts read opened to him.

One of the ideals we’re committed to here is allowing what I call next generation voices to be heard. Katie calls her blog The Hipster Ginger, and I loved her take on what her denomination teaches about baptism. Click the title below to read the full article at source.

Renounce, Reject, Repent

I love baptisms. I love the stories, the memories that are made, and the amazing promises that happen at a baptism.

I am a United Methodist through and through. My experiences are pretty freaking Methodist, so this post will be mostly Methodist.

When we make our initial vow in front of the body of Christ when we are presented for Holy Baptism, to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin,” (Standard Book of Worship) we are not just renouncing the spiritual forces that we struggle with as individuals. We are also rejecting the evil powers that are loose in the world. Likewise, we are not just repenting of our sins as individuals.

We are also repenting of the sins of humankind as a whole.

Today we are going to have a VERY brief review of the three promises we make in baptism; renouncing, rejecting, and repenting.

To RENOUNCE is a fundamental act of treason. It is to break allegiance to a power or authority to which one had previously given allegiance and service. From the earliest examples of baptismal questions we have, renunciation of Satan or the devil (spiritual forces of wickedness, we say) always comes first. Because you cannot make new alliances until your old ones are broken.

This step follows biblical precedent. The very first story we hear of Jesus after his baptism in the wilderness is his renunciation of Satan. Jesus makes it clear where his allegiances lie, and he shows the way for all who would follow him. (Luke 4:1-13)

It also follows the pattern of centuries of practice when you seek citizenship in a new realm or country. You first breaks allegiance to the realm or sovereign of the people from which you have come from and only then you pledge allegiance to the new realm or sovereign.

To REJECT the evil powers of this world is a phrase that kinda makes me think I’m watching the exorcist. The English word “reject” comes from the Latin “reicere,” which means “to throw out”– and so translates the Greek verb “ekballein,” which is often used to describe what Jesus does to demons (to cast out, to throw out). When we pledge to reject evil, we are promising to do more than just not do evil things. We are promising to throw out, to cast out, to shut the door behind any evil powers that seek to control with us or use us in anyway. So we not only break allegiances, we also commit not to allow evil any sway in our lives. (Psalm 51:10) John Wesley’s first two simple rules cover this when he says “do good” and “do no harm.”

To REPENT of our sin (yeah, SIN. I did it on purpose) means more than feeling sorry or guilty for bad things we have done in the past. The Hebrew verb behind repent (shuv) means “to turn from.” The promise we make is not just to turn from “sins” (actions that bring harm) but “sin” itself.

The singular points less to individual actions and more toward whole patterns of life. So we here commit to turn and walk away from those patterns of life, habits, and behaviors that damage others and/or our relationships with God, with the earth, and with our neighbors. (Luke 5:31-32)


A few days later, Katie’s friend Melissa weighed in on a topic that often trips up Christians: Why should Jesus need to be baptized? We join that article in progress; click the title below to read it in full.

Jesus Got Dunked

…It is important to note that baptism is not exclusively a Christian ritual. Jesus and John were Jews, after all. Christianity gets the ritual from the Jewish cleansing rite, which symbolized a person’s changed nature – a new identification, new status, new creation.

People got baptized as a way to symbolize their repentance, or turning away from sin, and to be symbolically cleansed. So why did Jesus get baptized if John was only preparing the way for him?  Did Jesus need to repent and be cleansed from his sin?

Nah.

My suspicion is that Jesus was not baptized because he needed to repent, but because he was eager to show his devotion to God through baptism. He also was affirming the truth that John was preaching: The Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus would be the one to establish that Kingdom on earth.

After Jesus was baptized, the sky ripped open, God the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and God the Father spoke, affirming Jesus as God the Son. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

Because Jesus was baptized, we get baptized today as a way of following him and to remind us that when we live in the kingdom of God. We have a new identity, and that identity is in Jesus Christ. It is through the water that we experience God’s grace and enter into the Body of Christ.

The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is that all are welcome to this new identity. Our identity in Christ defines us more than what we look like, smell like, dress like, or talk like. God uses people as wild-looking as John the Baptist–the dirty, matted, smelly man with a weird diet.

How will you remember your identity in Christ today? How will you celebrate God’s grace in your life, and how will you offer that grace to others, regardless of what they look like?

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