Christianity 201

November 21, 2021

Four Snapshots of Gratitude…Or a Lack Thereof

 

As the United States gets ready for its annual Thanksgiving holiday, it seemed appropriate to share today’s devotional thoughts with everyone. The writer, appearing here for the first time, goes by the online name S. Joiner and their blog is called Basic Bible Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will allow you to read this direct from the source.

Gratefulness

As I did a quick online Google search for the meaning of thankfulness and gratefulness here is the slight but important difference I found. Thankful is being pleased and relieved, whereas Grateful is showing an appreciate of kindness. Being pleased, is an inner emotion whereas showing appreciate takes some action on our part.

Gratefulness must start at contentment, (a feeling of happiness and satisfaction). Many of us may view contentment as giving up, having no desire or passion, or maybe deciding to settle. Together we will see how contentment is so much more and how gratefulness is to be shown.

Luke 12: 16-21            NIV

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.

His first barn was plenty large enough to care for him and his family (if he had any). Why not share the overflow, give to those in need? Some might say that we should all prepare for a rainy day and for retirement. I would be one of those people, I prepare for just those events in my life. Then how much is enough, where is the line of overflow. The challenge centers more on the statement made by the farmer, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”. He is missing a very important ingredient, “being rich toward God”. Finding contentment begins with understanding you are no longer yours, but His. You see He has created you with a plan, our role is to find the plan by finding Him. Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be given to you.

Jonah 4: 5-8    NIV

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 

Jonah had just preached to Nineveh, and they were changing their ways. He wanted more, he wanted God to destroy them. Jonah makes himself a shelter, but he doesn’t seem to be very pleased, nor does it completely shelter him. It had created it with his own hands and yet that creation did not bring contentment nor gratitude. God creates a plant that towers over his shelter and provides the needed shade. Jonah did nothing for his current state of happiness, God did. I don’t see where Jonah even offered a thank you for God’s wonderful creation, yet he sat there waiting for God to destroy a city. When the plant, Jonah had not lifted a finger to build, was eaten by worms, he was angry yet again.

Luke 17: 11-17            NIV

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?

These ten men, lived outside the cities. They who were diagnosed with leprosy and were sent away with strict rules of conduct. When talking with Jesus they stayed at a distance. Jesus tells them to go visit the priest. As they walked, they felt and saw the healing power of Jesus create them anew. All they did was listen, walk, and obey. The joy and happiness of that healing moment was huge. Nine of them kept walking but one, just one, came back to Jesus. His voice could be heard as he praised God all the way back. Arriving at Jesus there is no distance between them, he throws himself at His feet. He was pleased, happy, and relieved. But don’t you see something more here, he was grateful, unashamedly grateful, change had come, but not through his power but the power of Jesus.

It’s just far to easy to walk though this life seeing only the hurt, the difficulties, maybe the heat of the day, or lack of room for all our overflow of stuff. The burden of life can become overwhelming, and I stop myself and ask, did I build this shelter or this barn, with my own hands? Can I find contentment inside myself, the answer is a resounding NO! Contentment is only found in the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ. As we are blessed, share it. When our life is not the way we planned it out, look toward Jesus because He can grow plants that cover you and offer shade from the heat of this life.

How grateful are you during this season of life? Are you angry, or is your voice wide open in praise? Hopefully this thought comes to mind, “how do we look beyond the challenges of life and develop that spirit of Gratefulness?”

Philippians 4: 4-8 NIV

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Paul encourages us to have joy always, become a gentle person. Gentleness is found in contentment, be satisfied with what you have in Christ, stop trying to build your own shelter. He is near and His ears are tuned to our praise of thanksgiving. When we fall at His feet there is peace. I love that Paul let’s us know that even he believes that this peace is beyond our understanding. But he knows that it will guard our heart and mind. Train you mind and your emotions, have them find the good, have them locate Jesus in every situation. All that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy – think on those things and be grateful to God that he provides them.


Second Helping: This month we’ve been featuring links to read a second devotional study by the featured author. We don’t mind “edgy” topics, but even we have our limits! I say that to warn you that the second helping today (which didn’t become the featured article) is about spit. Yes, that kind of spit. (I warned you!) And it figures into scripture several times. Check out the article titled, Redeemed Saliva. (Before you click, can you guess a few of the passages referenced?)

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

October 11, 2021

Thankful for Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 pm
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This is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. After 30 minutes looking for an appropriate devotional to share with you, I came across Joy in the Everyday, written by Janet who lives on Canada’s east coast.

Click the header which follows to read this at source, then take a few minutes to check out more of her writing..

give thanks

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. 1 Chron. 16:34 NLT

Wishing all of my Canadian friends a Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of roasting turkey and anticipating a lovely dinner with family and friends who are family. Pumpkin trifle is awaiting final touches and I am relaxing until last minute work must be addressed. Admittedly, the last couple of years have not been easy ones, but I truly have so much to be thankful for.

I re-shared the give thanks graphic on Facebook this morning and thought of this post from way back when…

Have you ever been challenged by this quote:

“What if you awoke today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

I am guilty of taking little things and big things alike for granted.  While I am thankful for my wonderful family, a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back, I do not always remember to show my gratitude to my Heavenly Father.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And these items would definitely be on my ‘good gifts list.’

What about the little things?  I have never read Anne Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, though it’s on my mental list of books I’d like to read … I can imagine from the title and gleaning from the thoughts of others that she challenges us to see beauty in the ugliness, and in the commonplace.

I’ve seen this quote: “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.”  Am I truly filled with thankfulness in each magnificent sunset?  For a day filled with love and opportunities to fulfill His purposes for me and in me? For that first sip of morning coffee?  For that hug and “I love you”  from my boy?  For my husband who reaches over to hold my hand?  For mounds of laundry…because this means my home is not empty, and we have the necessities of life, and the benefit of brilliant imaginations so that I don’t need to do laundry by hand?  For the opportunity to serve a sick neighbour, to show the love of Jesus? I’m trying to learn this lesson well, as the name of my blog suggests.  I pray that I would not only find joy in the everyday, but I would be thankful in it. A life lived in thankfulness is a life that is content and full of joy.

It’s easy to be thankful for good things.  FaceTime with grandlittles.  Visits with friends and family.  The precious gift of salvation.  What about the hard things?

I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us “in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  We’ve talked (here, here and here) about difficult circumstances being occasions for God to draw us closer and to make us more like His dear Son.  I can certainly be thankful that He hears me when I cry out to Him in those troubling times, He sustains me in my trials and walks beside me as I face those hard things.  I do not face them alone.

God is good. May my heart be filled and overflowing with thankfulness to Him.

November 13, 2020

What He’s Promised; What He’s Already Given

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re grateful to our friends at HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Zondervan and Thomas Nelson) for allowing us to occasionally share content from their authors (and explaining to us how and when we can do this). This one actually appeared today at Devotions Daily (see link below to sign up; it’s free and you may unsubscribe at any time).

This is an excerpt from a newly-published resource, The Weekly Gratitude Project: A Challenge to Reflect, Journal and Grow a Grateful Heart. The book is described as, “a 52-week guided gratitude journal that offers a life-changing journey through reflection prompts and inviting questions to guide you into a deeper relationship with God. This yearly gratitude journal features beautifully illustrated journaling pages that will help you discover more intimacy and joy in your spiritual life.”

Gifts: What He’s Given

Looking ahead to what He has promised can help us. It can center us in the good to come, no matter the bleakness that sometimes darkens our hearts or fills our days. But we don’t have to look ahead.

Good things are all around you right now!

What He’s already given is more than what He’s promised to give in the future.

Consider, for instance, the gift of grace, which Paul said “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This grace is already yours in Christ. You are already a new creation because of it, able to live a better life and make better choices than you’ve ever made before.

Consider the gift of hope. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said we could “rejoice in hope” (Romans 12:12). This reason to rejoice is not yours to come. It’s yours now. It’s why you can open your eyes right now — in this day — with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Consider what Paul described as “the greatest” gift of all (1 Corinthians 13:13). If God’s love is already — and always — for us, what other gifts could we possibly need?

When packing your bags for a vacation, you’re likely to include a camera, or at least, you’re sure to pack a phone. This is because you anticipate seeing something worth capturing, something worth turning into a memory because of its uniqueness or beauty or both.

What if we approached every day this way?

But, instead of with a camera, what if we approached each day with a focused heart? What if we adjusted our lens so we could see the gifts God has placed all around us — little and big, invisible and visible, spiritual and physical, recurring and unique to today?

We have countless reasons to be thankful — but do start counting! Open your eyes to all He has given and give thanks.

Grace

In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. — Ephesians 1:7 NIV

Grace — it’s the best gift we have and maybe the hardest gift to understand because it’s so unlike anything else. It never wears out. It never quits working. It’s ours, even though we don’t deserve it. It’s ours, even when we forget we have it. It’s the ultimate reason to be grateful.

Describe “God’s rich grace.” What is it? What has it done for you? What does it continue to do?

Is God’s rich grace a gift you can share with others? How?

Hope

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel. It’s what keeps us going when the days are hard. It’s what keeps us believing when valleys are long. It’s why we get back up, pushing on in faith, expecting better days to come. And they will. Because our hope is anchored in the One whom hard days and long valleys can’t touch:

In Christ we have hope. — 1 Corinthians 15:19

The book of Hebrews talks about all the “better” things Christ brings to life — both here and in heaven. How has Christ already made your life better?

What’s something in your life that you hope is made better in the future?

We don’t know how some things will turn out, but we do know about others. What do you hope for that’s “sure and steadfast,” promised to come about in Jesus (Hebrews 6:19)?

Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. — 1 Corinthians 13:13

Hope is fuel to carry us to tomorrow; love is a gift to carry us through today. Whatever we’re facing, whatever we wish we had or wish we didn’t have, whatever trouble or pain comes today, love comes too. It’s higher, wider, and deeper than any other thing.

And it’s here to stay (Romans 8:38–39).

Why do you think Paul said love is “the greatest” in 1 Corinthians 13:13?

What are you facing today that’s troubling you? Write about it, and then on top of what you’ve written, around and all over it, write the words “I am loved.”


Taken from The Weekly Gratitude Project, copyright © 2020 Zondervan. Used by permission.  www.zondervan.com


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October 15, 2020

One Word that Should Not Be Part of Thanksgiving Celebrations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:40 pm
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This was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada so that was a major theme in this week’s devotional from Clarke Dixon, which also continued in Philippians.

by Clarke Dixon

There is one word which should not be part of Thanksgiving celebrations. What is it? Keep reading to find out! But first, let us continue to dig into Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi:

And being found in appearance as a man,
[Jesus] humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:8-11 (NIV emphasis added)

We are so steeped in a love for democracy, and a desire for individualism, that we might read this and think, “Wait, I didn’t vote for Jesus!”, or “One person is in charge? Isn’t this tyranny?” Many people don’t like the idea of Jesus having an exclusive reign and reject the Christian message outright. Meanwhile, we Christians can be demurring in our attitudes, “I guess if Jesus is in charge, I should commit to him. If every knee is going to bow, I should go ahead and bow my knee.”

These are two possible responses to the idea that Jesus is Lord, that God is in charge. Our response may be rebellion, that this does not sound like the kind of God we want to believe in, or our response may be acquiescence, that we should follow whether we want to or not, and, being Thanksgiving, we should give thanks that Jesus is Lord. Thanksgiving is something we should do. Praise is a matter of duty.

There is a third response to the idea that Jesus is Lord, that God is in charge. Let us consider the response of the people to the dedication of the Temple in king Solomon’s day:

When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,
“He is good;
his love endures forever.” . . .

On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the LORD had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel.

2 Chronicles 7:1-3,10 (NIV)

When the people get a sense of the presence and glory of God, they bow in worship, but not out from a sense that this is something they should do as a matter of duty. Rather, their thanksgiving is genuine, spontaneous, and joyful. Thanksgiving is a joyful and genuine response to God upon the recognition of who God is and what God is like.

When we know God well, we will recognize the news that Jesus is Lord, and therefore God is in charge, is good news! Thanksgiving will be a natural and joyful response as opposed to a duty or obligation.

We often frame the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, as being that we are saved from sin and so gain eternal life through Jesus. While this is true, and is very good news indeed, the fact that Jesus is Lord is also very good news. The early Christians in New Testament times would have known that.

Those coming to faith in Jesus from a Jewish background would have had a sense of their history, that the succession of kings seemed to go from bad to worse and the current king was no king at all. Over the years the people suffered, especially the vulnerable of society, the very ones a king was supposed to watch out for. The thought, given through prophecy, that God himself was coming some day to take charge, would be met with “thank the Lord for that!” When Jesus says things like “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” those who trusted him would naturally say “thank the Lord, this is good news!”

The news that Jesus is Lord would also resonate as good news among those from a non-Jewish background. In Roman society where the politics around the emperors rivalled what we see on CNN, where the people were left wondering if the next ruler would be better than the last one, the news that there is one true God who has come to take charge would be met, by those who believed, with “Thank God, this is good news indeed.”

We can think of the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who, a song about revolution with a very cynical concluding line: “meet the news boss, just the same as the old boss.” With the news that Jesus is Lord, the new boss is very different from any boss ever known before! The new boss is none other than the creator of the universe who has shown himself to be for us and not against us.

The news that “Jesus is Lord” would have brought the response of joyful and genuine thanksgiving in New Testament times to those who believed. Does it today?

For many people it is not quite as joyful, because they can only think of God in terms of a judge. When we think of God only as judge whose relationship with us is primarily about looking at our deeds with judgement, with the expectation of either a “pass or fail,” praise and thanks may be a thing we do out of mere obedience.

When we think of God also as Redeemer, as Father and Ruler, as Shepherd, as the Good Shepherd Who has given His life for the sheep, praise and thanksgiving become a natural and joyful response to God. Throughout the Bible, God is presented as judge, yes, but also as a good ruler and good father whose heart is inclined to seeing his loved ones fare well.

What is the one word that should not be part of Thanksgiving celebrations? It is the word “should.” It is the idea that we should give thanks to God. When we really grasp just who God is, what God is like, what God’s relationship with us is like through Jesus, then thanksgiving will just happen.

Is thanksgiving to God naturally happening in your life? Is thanksgiving genuine and joyful? If not, I’m not going to say you should thank him. I am going to say we have the amazing opportunity to get to know Him. We will be grateful when we do.


The full reflection can be seen as part of Clarke’s church’s “online worship expression” from October 4th.

May 27, 2020

If You Ever Wished You Could Have Done Something, You Still Can

A different meaning for “gifts in kind”

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Take a pause here to ask yourself: Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

October 17, 2019

Are Non-Christians Thankful for Christians?

by Clarke Dixon

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

As we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend, we might wonder if anyone expressed thanks for Christians. Would such a notion have entered anyone’s head? If you keep up with the media, you might think no one could be thankful for Christians. We only hear about the bad apples among the clergy and the mistakes of high profile Christians. We don’t typically hear about all the good that is done. TV shows often portray Christians as being the bad guys, the weird or scary people. Perhaps it would be a miracle if someone said “I’m grateful for Christians.”

We have such a miracle in Daniel chapter 2. In the opening chapter of Daniel the ruling Babylonians attempted to turn wise young Jewish men into good Babylonian wisemen. However, Daniel and his friends were determined to retain their Jewish identity and dependence upon God. Surely this is not going to end well! There is indeed a clash of world-views in chapter 3, but something remarkable happens before that:

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.”

48 Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. 49 At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court. Daniel 2:46-49 (NLT)

The Babylonian king is obviously very thankful and very impressed not just with Daniel, but with the God Daniel serves. Daniel alone was able to help the king. Despite the fact Daniel was different, and from a minority group, Nebuchadnezzar is impressed, and thankful.

Back to our day where Christianity no longer has the influence it once did: Could anyone be impressed with, or thankful for, Christians? Let us look to another time in which Christianity had even less influence in society. Was anyone impressed with, or thankful for, Christians in New Testament times?

Some people in Jewish and Roman society were not impressed at all, and certainly not thankful. Consider Jewish religious leaders, like Saul before he became a Christian. He would have liked the Jesus followers to just go away and take their Christianity with them. Consider merchants dependent upon the sale of idols, such as we read of in Acts 19. As Christians didn’t spend their money on idols, the idol merchants were becoming idle merchants as people turned to Jesus. Consider people who liked the status quo, like those we read about in Acts 17.

Was anyone grateful for Christians in New Testament times?

Yes, let us consider some examples. Consider people who were poor, who would have benefitted greatly from the kind of help we read about in Acts 2. Consider women whose husbands became Christians and put a new effort into loving them sacrificially (see Ephesians 5:25-33). Consider women whose husbands became Christians and now focused their sexuality in faithful and selfless ways (see Hebrews 13:4). Consider slave masters whose slaves became Christians and began serving them as if they were rendering service to God (see Acts 6:5-8). Consider slaves whose masters became Christians and began treating them like brothers and sisters (see Ephesians 6:9, and the Book of Philemon). Consider people of lower classes who found themselves on equal footing with people of higher classes in the church community (see Galatians 3:28). We can think of women who were affirmed in greater ways than ever before (see Mary’s commendation by Jesus for taking the place of a disciple Luke 10:38-42). We can think of anyone dependent upon someone, who, in becoming a Christian, had given up drunkenness (see Ephesians 5:18). We can think of infants of parents who formerly would have “exposed” their children, a practice of letting unwanted infants die. We can think of anyone in relationship with someone whose activity, and very character, was changing as they grew in their relationship with Christ:

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:19-23 (NLT emphasis added)

Though certain people were unimpressed and not at all grateful for Christians in New Testament times, many would have been thrilled at the changes happening as a Christians lived Jesus-focused and Spirit-filled lives. There were also people who were thankful for everything changing in their own lives. Consider the gratitude of those who came to know about the love of God because a Christian shared the good news with them (See, for example, Acts 16:25-34).

As in New Testament times, some are neither impressed with, nor thankful for, Christians today. However, when we live Jesus-focused and Spirit-filled lives, good things happen in us, and around us. Jesus-focused ethics bring positive changes to our behaviour. The Holy Spirit creates positive changes in us. Many will be grateful.

We may have expected a clash between a Babylonian king and a young Jewish wiseman in the Book of Daniel. Instead, we have an expression of gratitude from Nebuchadnezzar for Daniel. Let us keep in mind that Daniel appeared before the king, not with an axe to grind, but with help. In our day we might expect a culture clash as traditional Christian values meet the brave new world that is developing around us. If all we have is an axe to grind, that clash will certainly happen. However, if we are living Jesus-focused, Spirit-filled lives, people will be thankful.

 

October 12, 2019

A Canadian Thanksgiving Meditation and Liturgy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. This year, Ruth decided that just as we mark the 40 days before Christmas with Advent anticipation, she would do the same for the days leading up to Thanksgiving here, and has been posting something different each day on her Facebook page.

The thoughts below are something different she plans to share with the congregation for the Thanksgiving Sunday service.

by Ruth Wilkinson

We cannot just “be thankful.” Gratitude doesn’t stand alone.

Gratitude is an emotional response, an intellectual choice that doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Like the ‘fruit of the Spirit’, thankfulness exists in relationship. It’s a link in a chain, connecting something we’re thankful for, to someone we’re thankful to.

We can be grateful to a spouse for helping us find our keys. To a teacher for giving us extra time to complete an assignment. To the fire fighters for putting out the fire.

Like any attribute or characteristic that God commands us to cultivate, gratitude can only truly exist in relationship with other people.

On Thanksgiving, we remind ourselves of our first and our ultimate relationship.


Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.
James 1:16‭-‬18 HCSB

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Luke 7:47 HCSB

Give thanks to Yahweh, shout out His name;
declare what He is doing among the peoples of every nation.
Sing to Him, make music to Him; sing about how He shows Himself wonderful!
Boast of His holy reputation; let the hearts of those who seek to find Yahweh rejoice.
Seek to find the Lord and seek His strength; seek His presence always.
Remember the wonderful things He has done,
His wonders, and the justice He has spoken
He is the Lord our God.
Psalms 105:1‭-‬5 HCSB


In giving thanks, we must have something to be thankful for. We must have someone to give thanks to.

So when we ‘give thanks,’ what does that mean? What does it look like? How do we ‘give thanks?’

It looks different in each culture, in each family, in each relationship. There are many ways to say, “Thank you!”


We say “Thank you” first by accepting the gift. With open hands and humble hearts.
We say “Thank you” by saying the simple words “Thank you.”
We say “Thank you” by testifying, by telling someone about the goodness we’ve received.
We say “Thank you” by imitating that kindness, by sharing with others in need, out of our abundance and even in our own times of want.
We say “Thank you” by sharing our resources, giving to the work that we do together as God’s voice and hands in the world.


We say ‘Thank you’ –
to the one and only God,
to the giver of life,
to the blesser of days,
to the bringer of hope

We say, ‘Thank you’ –
for every grace overflowing,
for every need provided,
for every good work done well,
for every gift shared,
for every obedience to the gospel of Christ,
for every proof of love through service,
for every affection received,
for every prayer on our behalf.

We say ‘Thank you’ –
by speaking,
by sharing,
by going,
by giving,
by singing, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift
that He gives and gives and gives again.”

April 7, 2019

Set Free By Worship

Today we’re back with Ronnie Dauber who is a Christian author who lives in Canada with her family. She has written several young adult novels and Inspirational books. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Worship Breaks the Shackles

As exciting as worship can be on Sunday mornings at church, it should never be limited to just Sunday. It should be part of our daily lifestyle that bursts forth because the heart can’t stop singing praises to God. We need to worship continuously because it’s the fuel that keeps us going. As it says in Psalm 22:3, God dwells in the center of our praises, and when we worship God, His presence breaks all the shackles that bind us.

When we only worship God once a week, that is the only time we spend with God to give Him thanks for all He’s done for us, and one hour just isn’t enough time. If we could see all that He’s done to keep us alive and healthy, most of us would fall on our faces and worship Him around the clock. We have so much to be thankful to God for, and it all begins with our salvation. God sent His own Son to come to earth and die on that gruesome cross for our sins. We need to close our eyes and imagine what it was like for Jesus to be beaten and nailed to that cross for you and for me. Then maybe we can get a glimpse of the love that He has for us.

  • But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.—Psalm 13:5

When we worship, the bonds of evil literally break and the evil one flees from us. This is because worship brings God’s presence, and as it says in James 4:7, when we resist the devil—which means we don’t focus on him or the problem he’s brought to us but instead, we focus on God—then that evil one flees from us as fast as he can. So we come to God in worship because with the enemy gone from us, we are free to receive God’s peace and whatever instruction or words God has for us.

We don’t praise God for the problem, nor do we thank Him for giving it to us, but rather, we praise God that He is greater than our problem. As we seek His presence, we ask God if He has allowed this for a particular reason, and if so, to reveal that reason to us. We praise Him for loving us and for saving us, and we praise Him for hearing and answering our prayers. We praise Him for the joy and freedom of being able to praise Him. Then we praise Him again.

  • To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.—Psalm 30:12

We should make time each day to focus on God and praise Him for His goodness and His mercy towards us, for all the blessings in our life, and for our family and friends. It’s good to have a designated time to worship God but this is more for our own sake so that we don’t “forget” to do it. But God is loving and merciful, and He understands the life we live and how it’s not always possible to do the things we set out to do at the time we plan to do them. So we can get around that issue by coming to worship any time during the day or night. It doesn’t really matter, as long as we spend time in worship.

Even so, we can worship God all day long in everything we do. When we eat our meal, we give thanks and praise to God. When we arrive at work safely, we thank God for His hand of protection. When we see someone in need, we help them and pray for them and give God praise for hearing and answering our prayers. When we see a beautiful rose in a garden, we can rejoice in our heart and praise God for His wonderful creation. As believers, we should have our thoughts and mind always directed towards God so that throughout the day we are rejoicing in our heart and praising God.  We don’t need to shout it out for God to hear us. He sees our heart and He knows that we are worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth, and that it’s personal and not done for show. There is no end to praising God throughout the day because He is literally in everything we see!

  • But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”—John 4:23-24

However, there are times when we can’t just stop everything and worship God, but it’s during these times that we especially should worship Him and bring in His presence. We can overcome this, though, by having worship music always playing in the background of our home and car.  The music fills the air with God’s praises so even the stresses we sense are stifled because of the peace that flows from it. It’s good to have worship music playing in the background throughout the day (and night) so that the peace of God is always present, and so that we can be steadily reminded of His love for us.

Most of us can’t listen to music at work but we can listen to it before and after so that we are steadily refilled with God’s peace and joy. The stresses of the world fall off when our spirit is renewed with praise music. Let’s resist the devil! Let’s fill our heart with the peace of God as often as we can so that when we go to bed at night, we know that even though we had jobs to do during the day, we were able to praise God in everything we did. Life is so much better when we celebrate the joy of the Lord whenever we can and let His peace flow through us so that bonds of shackles fall away.

  • But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.—Psalm 5:11

 


This message was taken from the soon to be released book, The ABC’s for Believers. This book is a devotional that will encourage believers to know God and His amazing love for them. It’s easy to read and understand and will help young and new believers alike to understand what it means to love and follow Jesus and know Him in a very personal way.

November 28, 2018

The Life We’ve Been Given

We’re returning to a writer we introduced to you six months ago at one of our Sunday Worship columns. John R. Shuman writes at Truth Fully Spoken. This was part of a post for the U.S. Thanksgiving, so we’ve modified the introduction, but if you prefer, click the (revised non-seasonal) title below to read this article in full at the original site.

I Am Thankful for Life

Everyday IS A Gift

Nothing is ever promised, we are never guaranteed anything beyond this moment…

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:31-32

31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

And James 4:13-14 says:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

We are nothing more than a “mist”, something that hangs around for a moment and then disappears.  And we are not promised anything beyond this moment.  Today is a day to reflect on the gift we were given, the gift of life.

Life IS A Gift

Every breath we have is a gift.  Every heartbeat (as stated in the song, thank you Randy) is a gift from God.  And Jesus tells us that in John 10:7-10

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Jesus came to us to save us, yes, but more than that, he came to Give us LIFE, more life than we ever knew existed, more life than we deserve, more life than we can handle on our own.  And the life we get is freely given by Jesus because….

Jesus IS Life

John 1:1-5 talks about Jesus in this way…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Jesus is (according to this passage)

  1. The word (vs 1)
  2. God (vs 1)
  3. Eternal (vs 2)
  4. Creator (vs 3)
  5. ESSENTIAL (vs 3)
  6. Life (vs 4)
  7. Light (vs 4)
  8. Not understood by those not in the light.  (vs 5)

And those things are important to living.  Everyone of those things are needed for us to live.  we must…

  1. read God’s word- we can not know God without knowing His word.
  2. accept God into our life- we can not accept God before we Know His word.
  3. Follow God for eternity- life does not cease here, we are told that we have an eternity beyond this lifespan.
  4. create a new lifestyle. Once we follow God we must be dead to our old life and be born again a new creation.
  5. We must BE Essential, we must be a shining example for all to see so that others will see God in us.
  6. We MUST LIVE- we can not hide away once we follow God, laws do not stop just because we follow God.  So we still need to work, and live a life here.
  7. We must shine for the world, we NEED to be the light of man.  we need to be the flame that draws moths in.
  8. We must PROVIDE understanding to the world, so that they will no longer be in darkness.

Jesus is our life, and we must give that life to the world just as Jesus gave us life.  John 3:16-17 (my favorite verses) tells us

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

God freely gives us this life, life EVERLASTING, and He gave it to us so that we might spend eternity WITH HIM.  He does not want us to perish, he does not want us to walk in the darkness, he does not want us to die without knowing Him.  What God wants is for us to HAVE LIFE, and have life MORE ABUNDANTLY!

Give Thanks

So, I am thankful for LIFE, because this moment is more than I was promised, this moment is a gift from God, and this moment is a time to celebrate.  The life I have is not mine, it is God’s, and I am thankful for that.  This life was given to me by God, and I am thankful for that.  The people around me (family and friends) get to share in this life with me, and I am thankful for that.  My job is an extension of my life, part of who I am, and I am thankful for that.  My life is full of mercy, grace, forgiveness, love, and compassion… Not mine but God’s, and I am thankful for that.

So, if you ask me “What are you thankful for?” And I reply “Life!” you now know that there is more to life than meets the eye.  I am overflowing with thanksgiving, and to limit that thankfulness to people or things does an injustice to the very life I have that makes it so I can enjoy those other things.

Prayer Time

God, THANK YOU for this life, thank you for giving me more life than I knew existed, thank you for giving ME anything at all, but especially this life.  Thank you, Jesus, for providing me the life needed to spread you light throughout the world, I pray that the moths are drawn to this flame so that they might gather the understanding of the light and they too can spread it wherever they may go.  Lord, I know that this is not always a time of celebration, but in some lives a time of sadness, I pray that you provide comfort to us that grieve now be with us as we go on through life.  Sadness is fleeting, pain heals, emotions will change, and emptiness will be filled, but these do take time, Lord be with those people that need it and let them know you are there for the ENTIRE time.  I lift up your children, Lord, for we are always in need of reminders of your love, grant us your love and mercy every moment of every day and help us to remember that you are there and that you are freely giving us all we need.  THANK YOU GOD FOR GIVING ME THIS ABUNDANT LIFE!

 

 

October 11, 2018

The Road of Thanksgiving (Leads Through Enemy Territory)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus teaches us to rejoice in the midst of trouble:

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

Jesus teaches us to pray for deliverance:

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

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

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

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

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

Peter tells us that troubles will come:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

October 4, 2018

Genesis 4: How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Clarke Dixon took a break from writing this week, but we found this 2012 article which had never been published here. This week is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada and it’s not that many weeks away in the U.S…

by Clarke Dixon

Thanksgiving is often thought of as a time to focus on family but it is especially also thought of as a time to come before God with special gratitude for the fall harvest. Being a big fan of family and food this is something I am keen on doing. I was a bit concerned, however, that Thanksgiving would interrupt the flow of our sermon series on Genesis. Not to worry, turns out that Genesis chapter 4 brings together the themes of family and a harvest offering quite nicely. However, Cain kinda threw a spanner into the works with a murder on this first ever Thanksgiving, so I decided I had better entitle this “How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving.”

So where did it all go wrong? Two brothers take the time to celebrate God’s goodness with offerings from their work; grain from Cain and a lamb from Abel. How does a seemingly good thing turn so sour? Some might blame God voicing his favor and disfavor toward the brothers. Had God just kept his thoughts to himself perhaps Abel would have lived to see a second Thanksgiving and beyond. But God didn’t keep his remarks to himself, there must have been something remarkable.

So the question becomes what is so remarkable about Cain’s offering that God had to express his displeasure? Was it that God prefers animal sacrifice to grain offerings? Was it that blood needed to be spilled for it to be a true offering? Was Cain’s offering not up to snuff in being of lesser value, being either not of sufficient amount or of quality? Each of these possibilities have been suggested, but I think the passage speaks to the what the problem is, it lets us in on what God found remarkable.

Let’s look at the passage and I’ll ask you to focus in on the character of Cain for a moment;

3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”  13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:3-14 NIV)

So what can we say about Cain? He has anger issues (verse 4), he does not listen or heed instruction (as given in verse 7), He is deceitful (verse 8), He is violent to the point of murder (verse 8), he is apathetic to the concerns of another, especially one he should take responsibility for (verse 9), he is snarky towards One who commands respect (verse 9), and finally he is self-centered in showing no remorse but only concern for his own future (verse 13). In short, his character is just plain pathetic. We might be tempted to assume that the brothers were alike until Cain’s anger was aroused, but we should think rather of Cain’s actions as being rooted in the kind of man he had become.

The problem is not with Cain’s offering, the problem is with Cain. Notice that God does not just look at the offering the brothers are bringing, he looks at the brothers also: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (Genesis 4:4b-5a NIV my italics). If Adam and Eve sinned by trying too hard to be like God, then Cain sinned by not trying hard enough. God is love, Cain is filled with hatred. God is gracious, Cain is selfish. God serves, Cain is self-serving. God is honest, Cain is a liar. Though created in the image of the Creator, Cain fails to live up to that image in any way.

What a contrast Cain is to Jesus. The offering at the cross goes far beyond what any other offering ever could. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV). But more than the perfect and supreme offering, Jesus is the one who bears the image of God like no one else. “This is my Son . . . with Him I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17 NIV and elsewhere). We might say that God looked upon Jesus and his offering with favor.

How does God look upon you and your offering this Thanksgiving? We’ve already seen how not to celebrate Thanksgiving; as one with a character that displeases God, a character that will lead to all kinds of behaviors that displease God and make life miserable for others at the same time. Of course we are grateful for the grace of God, and the gift of forgiveness in Christ. But that grace does not stop us from taking a good solid look at our character.

Wherever we may be in our character formation, are we moving in the right direction? Are we becoming more and more like Jesus, or more and more like Cain? I trust that you and I are moving in the right direction with the power of the Holy Spirit. And for that opportunity there can be much thanksgiving.

To be forgiven, and to be growing in Christian maturity, now that’s a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.


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

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

July 1, 2018

Thank You, Lord: A Worship Liturgy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Give thanks to the Lord – He is good and His faithful love lives forever

I say, ‘Thank you’, Lord, because though You were angry, in compassion You turned your anger away from me.

Isa 12

I say, ‘Thank you’ because You answered me and became my salvation and my cornerstone.

Psalms 118

I say, ‘Thank you’ because Christ Jesus our Lord has strengthened me, to play a part in His work in the world.

1 Timothy 1

I say, ‘Thank you’ when I remember and pray with joy for my brothers and sisters, my partners in the gospel, every day You’ve given us.

Philippians 1

I say, ‘Thank you’ for the cup of blessing – a sharing in the blood of Christ. For the bread that we break – a sharing in the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 10

I say, ‘Thank you’ because all of us, so poor and weak, can give as generously as You have given to us. Because everything comes from Your own hand.

1 Chronicles 29

I say, ‘Thank you’ –

  • Because You’ve redeemed us from the hand of the foe.
  • Satisfied the thirsty and filled the hungry with good things.
  • Brought us out of gloom and broken our chains to pieces.
  • Broken down the bronze gates and cut through the iron bars.
  • Sent Your Word and healed us.
  • Rescued us from the Pit.
  • Turned a desert into a pool of water.
  • Given the lost a fertile home, where they can build a city.
  • And given them fields to sow and vineyards to harvest.

Psalm 107

I say, ‘Thank you’ with the trees of the forest when they shout for joy that You’re coming to judge the earth.

1 Chronicles 16

…………….
I say, ‘Thank you’ –

  • for every grace overflowing,
  • for every need provided,
  • for every good work done well,
  • for every gift shared,
  • for every obedience to the gospel of Christ,
  • for every proof of love through service,
  • for every affection received,
  • for every prayer on my behalf.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

2 Corinthians 9

November 2, 2017

When Gratitude Shines in the Darkness

Clarke Dixon’s full-length articles return next week. In the meantime, this is a shorter one we had in the files which you hadn’t seen before.

by Clarke Dixon

Harvey, Irma, Maria, Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, “Ahmed H”, Stephen Paddock. These are names that have been associated with fear, sadness, and anger in recent days. Whether nature unleashing “natural” disasters, or humans being inhumane, these names can be added to a long history of names that have stirred up negative emotions. We can add to the list the names of various diseases that cause us to think of loved ones. Cancer, Parkinson’s, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, it seems the list could go on forever. Yet, when the dust settles, something else bubbles up. Gratitude for the first responders. Gratitude for family and friends being at one’s side. Gratitude for complete strangers who have responded with help and aid. Gratitude to God for hope that holds firm in the midst of fear.

No matter the tragedy, eventually the emotions of fear, sadness, and anger make space for gratitude. To respond to the events of life with a range of emotions is not bad. But to be moving to new emotions is good. One is reminded of the words of the Psalmist:

Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)

In this Psalm, the Psalmist has an experience that many can relate to, namely, the experience both of God’s goodness, and seeming absence:

6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.. Psalms 30:6-7 (NRSV)

The Psalmist next makes an appeal to God in prayer and you can probably guess how the Psalm ends:

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalms 30:11-12 (NRSV)

Joy and gratitude. With God in our lives these are always the emotions we can look forward to even if we don’t feel that way in the moment. With Christ’s grace and love keeping a firm grip on us through the hardest of trials, salvation will come. The Psalmist does not say he will give thanks to the Lord for the rest of his life. He says “I will give thanks to you forever.” That is a very long thanksgiving celebration!

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com



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October 12, 2017

Grateful for the Christian Church?

Because Thanksgiving has already happened in Canada, our U.S. readers can consider this an early Thanksgiving article for them!

by Clarke Dixon

As people gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey with thanksgiving reflections, how many said something like “thank you Lord, for Christians”? It feels like right now, many would echo the thoughts of Gandhi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” Do we, who call ourselves Christian, inspire gratitude? Are people grateful for the Christian Church? If you are a Christian reading this, are people grateful for you? You may wonder why I am sticking to the series from Romans for Thanksgiving Sunday. Read on, there is a connection!

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10 (NRSV)

As far as I know, people upon discovering their spouse is in an adulterous affair don’t say “thank you, Lord!”. Nor if they discover their family member is a murderer do they say “thank God for that.” And so on. People, whether religious or not, have gratitude when their loved ones  are righteous. Paul fleshes out for us in Romans 13 the kind of life that inspires gratitude.

A life full of love inspires gratitude: “love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”. Love naturally inclines us toward the righteousness that people are thankful for when they experience it from their loved ones. When we learn to love, we do not even need the law. One who holds to a high standard of love does not need rules saying “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, and so on. He or she would not want to. When I am driving my wife’s van on the highway, I need the occasional sign to remind me of the rule “thou shalt not drive faster than 100 km/h”. It is easy to speed when you have a smooth ride and a 3.6 litre V6 engine. When I ride my motorcycle, I need neither the signs, nor the rule. Having an engine smaller than your average lawn mower, it is “out-of-character” for my Honda 125 to go any faster. When we are so filled with the love and presence of God that His love is overflowing from us, we don’t need the rules to keep us from hurting people. Hurting others is out of character for a loving person. Doing anything but being helpful to others is out of character for the loving person. Keep in mind we are not talking about the “I love what you do for me” kind of love, but the Jesus-going-to-the-cross-for-people-who-do-not-deserve-it kind of love. It is a decisive, sacrificial, other benefitting kind of love.

Are we learning that kind of love that inspires gratitude? If people are not generally thankful for Christians, perhaps we Christians are not loving like we can and should?

Paul continues:

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

A life full of light inspires gratitude. To give a loose paraphrase of verse 11, “do this love thing we just spoke of, knowing the age we are in, the age of light breaking in on the darkness”. There is a progression in the Bible from God saying “let there be light” through spiritual darkness beginning with Adam and Eve, through Israel called to be a light to the nations but often having trouble finding the switch, to Jesus being the true light in ways Israel never could. John calls Jesus, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9 NRSV). With Christ a new day has dawned and the darkness is receding. We are called to wake up and live in that new day. We are called to live as those belonging to the Kingdom of light, and not those who live according to the old empire of darkness.

The metaphor of waking up continues with the command to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when we get dressed. In other words, when people see us, when they see what we put on in the morning, they will see Jesus. Here is also a reminder that it is not about our efforts. It is about God’s continual presence with us.

Let us be reminded of Paul’s original appeal:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)

People don’t like it when we are not conformed to this world. But when we are full of love, when we are full of light, the people close to us are grateful. If our nation is not particularly grateful for the Christian Church, then perhaps it is time for us to wake up and put on Christ. Are you up and dressed yet?

Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

 

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