Christianity 201

January 13, 2021

It is a Time to be Stirred

Again today we have a new writer for you! Alex Steward is the pastor of a rural ELCA congregation in the greater Detroit area. He blogs at A Mysterious Way: A Journey Through the Desert of Life. Click the header which follows to read this in full on his page and then he encourages you to browse the rest of the site for other articles.

He begins with a paragraph describing his family’s downsized Thanksgiving which happened to coincide with the Perseid Meteor shower. In the scripture passage, Jesus talks about the stars falling. That’s where we pick up the devotional…

God Wakes Us

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

…Jesus sets out in the gospel lesson to provide an apocalyptic image of his return. He is preparing the disciples for what lays ahead of them. He begins with darkness and the stars falling from the sky. It is quite the image and one that often will generate fear in some people. However, this is not the purpose of apocalyptic literature. The purpose of apocalyptic literature is to inspire hope and not sow fear.

From Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures to Revelation in the New Testament, we read of a promise and hope in the promise which points us to an unflappable God that reigns down with mercy and love.

It may be difficult to find the mercy and love that God promises to all of creation in the past eight months. From a pandemic that seems like a plague, to an election that divided many Americans,  to wars around the world, and civil unrest in our own country, it may seem as though we are living out the last days that much of the apocalyptic literature writes about. Yet, Jesus reminds us to keep awake because we do not know when the master of the house will return.

If we look at the history of Mark’s Gospel, we will find out it was the first gospel written and provided a basis for both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel, thus the similarities. It was written thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Up to this time everything was shared through stories and word of mouth. It was written around the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and was most likely shaped around those events. Mark encouraged his community not to get involved in the revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman Empire.  This is a time of high tension for the followers of Jesus as they witness the destruction of a community in which they grew up. As Mark reflected on Jesus’ words, there is the thought which the day of the Lord must be near and surely not a generation will pass away before seeing that day.

And yet, here we are. Still waiting with an impregnated hope and living in the promise of Jesus Christ. As we enter this Advent season, we come bearing deep wounds of events that have been cancelled and lives turned upside down as we face struggles and challenges which the majority have never had to even think about. God’s creation continues to groan and limp forward as we await something greater to come.

As Christians, we are set apart by our faith, placing our hope in the promise that has echoed throughout the millennia. As we hear these words from Jesus, it is not a time to panic or to be set on edge. It is not a time to fear and bury our heads in the sand or snow depending upon where we live. It is not a time to fret.

It is a time to be stirred. A time to be fully present to the season and contemplate on what Jesus’ birth means not just for us personally, but for all of creation. A time to be alert to those wondrous sightings of God in our world, like viewing a sky full of stars and witnessing meteors streak through the vastness of that sky. This past week in one of my morning devotions was the refrain:

Wake us to your presence, Lord: that we might not waste our times of trial.

The trials we have faced for much of this past year have been debilitating. There are mornings that it is just enough to get out of bed and take a shower. We are in unfamiliar territory and it is easy to get tired when confronted with the unknown. Our bodies are so incredible in telling us what we need, and at times we also need to push ourselves to move forward. Our relationships are more important now than ever before, even if that means we cannot reach out and give someone a personal greeting face to face.

It is times such as this that God invites us into the mystery. A mystery that has shaped our faith for the last two millennia. A mystery of God incarnate. God has come down to us in the form of a newborn baby to lead the way and give us a sign of hope. A sign that shows up in those very same stars that Jesus says will come falling down. A star that shines so brightly announcing the birth of a new reign of God. A time that God in Jesus walks among creation and is one with us in humanity. A time that we are invited to participate in the mystery of Christ’s reign in creation.

As we are awakened and become alert, we learn about ourselves and the place of our community in the greater aspect of creation. The trials that we face today are only a step along the way to that glorious new creation that will come down to earth. We participate by meeting our friends and neighbors where they are. We stare up at the stars together and are reminded of how connected we truly are and how God’s creation is limitless. A creation that invites us to be an active part of the welcoming of a soon to be newborn baby.

I leave you with a prayer from that same devotional I mentioned earlier:

What would you teach us today in our trials, Lord? Make us receptive. Help us to see your victory and compassion rather than look for every answer to our troubles. So make us expectant, Lord, and patient. AMEN


  1. Mark 13:25 Isaiah 13:10; 34:4
  2. Mark 13:29 Or he
  3. Mark 13:33 Some manuscripts alert and pray

January 9, 2021

Persecution: A Promise and a Prescription

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds – James 1:2

Again today we have another new writer to feature. Bob James has been writing at Daily Enduring Truth since December, 2012. His goal is that the site “will lead people to grow spiritually by encountering the Enduring Truth of God’s word on a daily basis.”

Bob has been doing a series on the Beatitudes and in the two posts which follow looks at persecution — I hadn’t considered that Jesus mentions this one twice —  considering the blessing God promises and the attitude with which we should respond. You need to click on each of the headers which follow to read each at source.

In the Midst of Persecution, Look Forward

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:10

Persecution can take many forms, and it can occur for many reasons. Often persecution happens because of nationality or ethnic origin. While there is never a good reason to persecute people, Jesus was talking about a different kind of persecution: persecution that happened because someone was living as though they’re in a good relationship with God.

It seems strange that in a society that asks us to let people be who they want to be, those who have a relationship with the living God are often singled out for scorn. Perhaps the reason for that is that Christians see absolute right and wrong in a world that has no absolutes. Righteousness begins with our relationship with God, and it’s revealed by a life that honors God by living according to His absolute standards. That goes against the grain when the rest of the world makes the bold claim that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes.

Christianity has always gone against the grain of society, and that has engendered persecution because we’re “not like them.” Our “not like them” lifestyle should happen because we’re living for God and according to His moral standards. While that may bring persecution, the persecution will be nothing compared to the reward of the kingdom of heaven.

Oh Lord, may I always live in a way that honors You. If that life brings persecution allow me to stand strong as Your servant knowing that the kingdom of heaven is a far greater joy than any amount of pain or suffering I may endure.

Rejoicing in Persecution

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5: 11,12

Jesus elaborated on His previous blessing about persecution. Perhaps we see it mentioned twice because He knew persecution would come to His followers. This time, He noted that the blessing comes when any of us are persecuted, as if all His followers should expect persecution as opposed to just those who are persecuted for righteousness sake as mentioned in verse 10. Persecution is coming and it’s coming because of our devotion to Jesus Christ.

One of the hardest parts about going through any difficulty is the belief that we’re going through the problem by ourselves. Jesus made it clear here that not only are we all going to be dealing with persecution, but it’s always happened; God’s prophets have always been persecuted. If we’re joining the prophets’ club of those who have been persecuted, then we’re doing so because we’re being faithful to God.

The early disciples recognized that they went through persecution because of their faithfulness to Christ and that it was a spiritual badge of honor. They rejoiced because they were considered worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41) Perhaps they remembered that Jesus told them to rejoice when they were persecuted. Jesus warned us that trouble is ahead and that we can expect persecution, so when it comes, remember two things: 1) you are not alone in being persecuted, and 2) rejoice that you have become a member of that select group who are persecuted because of faithfulness.

Oh Lord, I have to admit that I would prefer that persecution not come. But if the choice is avoiding persecution or being faithful to You, give me the strength to be faithful to You in all circumstances.

used by permission


Second Helping: Sometimes we introduce a new author and before the six-month window is up, we see another article we wish could share. Michael Wilson has written an interesting study on the differences between the poverty with which Jesus had some acquaintance, and the funding of the ministry supporting himself and his twelve associates. Check out Was Jesus Born Into Poverty?

December 4, 2020

Prayerful Preparation for Turbulent Times

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing you to Mark Rowland who writes at A Faith Understanding (domain name: Rays-of-Light consulting). Mark is an ordained minister originally from Iowa who recently moved to Fort Worth, Texas. After discovering his blog earlier today, I read several good articles and we chose this one to share with you today. Send some “stats love” to our contributing writers by clicking headers like the one below and reading at their site.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life.


Church life: In an article from one year ago, Mark writes,

…[T]he church is not exempt from the realities of interpersonal relationships outside of the church. While there is a desire that inside the walls of a church there is safety and love instead of hatred and attacks, this desire is something still to strive for and not a reality. The human behaviors which we encounter in neighborhoods, workplaces, and social groups can all be found within the church…

Check out this piece on Church Bullies.

 

December 2, 2020

When God Humbles Us

Today’s hunting and gathering for new writers to recommend to you took us to Nicholas McNeill‘s blog, From Gideon to Jesus. (Twitter: @Designed4Impact). I just finished reading four of his devotionals and each was thoughtfully written. We chose this one, which you should read by clicking the header which follows. Then, after the article ends, we have some extra resources for you today.

Have we forgotten?

He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then he gave you manna to eat, which you and your ancestors had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

God is the giver of all good things in our lives. We know this because of what we are told in Matthew 7:11. Sadly, many of us enjoy the good gifts that are given without ever acknowledging the giver. If we look around, the vast majority of people only give God credit for the “bad” things to happen in life. This is one of the biggest plagues of our culture when it comes to a proper view of who God is.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.

It wouldn’t take long for anyone to realize that Israelite people continually did this during their journey out of Egypt. Not only did they do it after God freed them from Egyptian slavery, He continually did it throughout their lifetime. Time and time again God would do something amazing for them and they would quickly forget. There would be a short time of them giving God thanks and then it would fade into grumbling. We cannot let this be said of us. They saw so many amazing and miraculous things but still shook their fist at God.

There would be a short time of them giving God thanks and then it would fade into grumbling. We cannot let this be said of us.

Let’s not overlook the fact that “He humbled you…” is a key phrase in this passage. There will be times in life that God will allow circumstances to come into our lives to humble us. The big difference isn’t the circumstance, but instead, it is the reaction of a believer. When “negative” circumstances come into our lives most of our auto-responses would be grumbling, pleading for something different, or just straight up complaining. Maybe there is a better way of responding?

WHAT IF our automatic response is to ask God what He is wanting us to learn from this? I mean, if there is one thing that can cause us all to say WHAT IF it is this pandemic. In my county, we were able to open up for about a month or so, and as a youth leader, it was incredible! We are just starting to get kids coming back, momentum is growing and things are going great! Then boom…. we are put back on time out and can no longer meet inside.

From here, we have two reactions we can take. We can get frustrated and shake our fist at God OR we can pull ourselves back and ask God what manna He wants to provide for us… You see, for me… This concept has completely changed the way I live my life. God is the giver of all good things and He is the sustainer of life. If a “negative” thing comes into our life, we simply must sit back and ask God for clarity…

“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” – Charles Spurgeon


Extra resources for you today:

■ Sometimes we find longer blog posts than we’re able to run here, or the blog isn’t published under a Creative Commons license. The title, Hebrew Roots Mom caught my eye, as did this article, The Feast of Unleavened Bread vs. Passover: What’s the Difference?

■ Fuller Seminary in California recently posted some 2014 lectures given there by N.T. Wright. Each of the lectures and panel discussions is about an hour long. I’d recommend starting with this one on Paul’s Trinitarian Theology. (If you want your end times rapture view shaken up a little, check out the one on the future of the church. All were posted consecutively, so use the link to the channel and scroll back to the last week of November.)

■ Clint Archer has posted a longer piece at The Cripplegate delineating the five claims that Jesus made which would place him as equal with God. Check out Napoleon Syndrome.

November 26, 2020

Six Things to Do When Life Ain’t Perfect

A Reflection on Philippians 4

by Clarke Dixon

There is sometimes an expectation that since God loves us, and since we have responded in faith, then life should be pretty much perfect from now on. But then what follows in our experience is, well, far from ideal. When we realize that things are far from perfect we might be surprised. We might even fall to pieces.

Life is a reality check. Paul’s concluding words to the Christians in Philippi are also a reality check. The reality is, that things are far from perfect.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are reminded that the apostle Paul’s life was far from perfect. Here we are given the reason for the letter. It is a thank you note from Paul for the gift the Christians in Philippians sent him because he was in prison. Yes, this encouraging letter was written while Paul was in troubling circumstances. He may even be executed! We have good reason to believe that he eventually was executed following another imprisonment. Paul’s life was far from the perfect experience we seem to expect Christians to have. His life was no picnic.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are also reminded that the Christian church is far from perfect, since Christian people are far from perfect. In verses 2 and 3 we discover that there are troubled relationships. Euodia and Syntcyche are two leaders who are evidently mature Christians. Yet they are not getting along. They are not the perfect people we seem to expect Christians to be. Getting along was no picnic.

As a side note, if you ever find a perfect church, where everyone is perfect, don’t bother telling me about it. I don’t want to wreck the perfection by showing up.

Here we have evidence, of less than than perfect people in less than perfect circumstances. In fact you could say, messy people in messy circumstances. Perhaps you can relate . . .

So how do we handle the mess?

First, we do the best we can:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

Euodia and Syntyche are to iron out their differences and be reconciled. We can wonder if Paul in our day would encourage the Anglicans and the Baptists among others to iron out our differences and be reconciled. At any rate, we are to just do the best we can as individuals and faith communities and to help each other out the best we can too.

We celebrate God:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

Most translations go with “rejoice” or “be glad,” but I like those that say “celebrate.” It can be hard to just switch our emotions, to suddenly just go from grumpy to joyful. It is not like our emotions respond like a light to the flick of a switch. Think of going home grumpy from a hard day at work. We may still be grumpy when we get home, which is no fun for our loved ones. But if you go home to a celebration, a birthday celebration for example, your emotions may well catch up to your celebrations. When we regularly celebrate Jesus, celebrating all that is real and true in Jesus, then our awful emotions will eventually catch up with the awesome facts.

We grow in gentleness:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

How often have you heard a sermon on gentleness? If you attend my church, not very often, for I have not often preached on it. I suspect that across our land there are many sermons on holiness, and very few on gentleness. Yet gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is an important mark of following Jesus. I promise to speak about it more often. Perhaps we should all promise to grow into it more.

We give our anxiety to God through prayer:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

Simply turning off worry can feel like an impossible thing to do. It likely is. Thankfully, we are not so much encouraged to simply turn it off, but rather to trade it in. Through prayer we trade it in for peace.

We focus our minds on good things.

I like Eugene Peterson’s rendition of the next few verses:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)

We are so good at being focused. Unfortunately we focus on the dirt. We focus on the negative. We focus on what is worst about others, and ourselves. News and social media often doesn’t help in this regard. Let us learn to focus on all that is good, in God, in life, in our world, in our church, in others, and yes, even in ourselves.

We learn contentment with the reality of things:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)

Here we are, back to a reminder that Paul’s situation was from from ideal as he sits in prison, dependent on others for the basic necessities of life. Yet Paul could speak of being content. Yes, things could be better. But yes, things will be better. The reality is that being a Christian is no guarantee of a perfect life. The reality is that in Jesus there is the guarantee of God’s perfect love. As bad as things could get, they can’t do anything but get better yet.

Things are less than ideal in our day. We have been living through an incredibly messy year. We should not act surprised. In fact we have been sheltered. Messiness is nothing new. One of the books I read this summer was “A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London,” by Daniel Dafoe. This book is a memoir about a plague that hit London, England, in the 1600’s. It puts our current plague into perspective. Thanks to advances in society, we are in a much better situation now than then.

The first Christians knew what Paul knew; life gets messy. Following Jesus does not excuse us from the mess. In fact, as Paul also knew, following Jesus could get you into a bigger mess. Sadly, many believers around the world today know that all too well as persecution continues to plague many Christ followers.

Let us not fall to pieces when life is less than ideal, when the people around us, including ourselves, are less than perfect. Let us do the best we can, celebrate Jesus, grow in gentleness, trade anxiety for peace through prayer, focus on the good, and learn contentment. May we not fall to pieces, but as we walk with Jesus, let us watch how God picks up the pieces.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and his weekly devotional here is taken from his blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which in turn are derived from his weekly sermons. With the pandemic, he’s been preaching shorter messages; each one he calls a full reflection and the shorter services he calls an online worship expression(Use the links provided to see other content from previous weeks.)

October 19, 2020

Endurance Produces Sanctification

Today we’re introducing a new writer. April who writes at Redeemed in Grace. She describers herself as “a stay-at-home mom in Alabama, raising a son with Autism- this has been such a joy and a challenge. It’s what I like to call the unexpected things in life, an upside down blessing.” Send her some encouragement by clicking the title below and reading this at her site instead of reading it here.

Deeper Love

Adversity is not intended to diminish our hope in God. Adversity is intended to heighten our hope in Him. We are brought to remember that God is all we have, and that He is enough.”                                                                                       -Devotional Psalter (Psalm 71)

This year has been like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Powerless to stop it, we just have to witness the carnage. I can’t imagine going through this without Christ as my anchor. For those who don’t know how the Story ends these must be terribly upsetting times. But in the drama of 2020, God is still here actively at work. This is the truth believers can lean hard into. Even as external circumstances spin out of control or feelings betray us here is what you and I can stand firm in:

Faith is not a feeling. It is holding fast to what is true even when feelings don’t align. Even when it’s not popular (and the Gospel isn’t) or you feel alone in your Biblical convictions. This doesn’t make Truth void.

 

After God used Elijah in the showdown against 450 false prophets of Baal and 400 false prophets of Asherah, Elijah fled to the desert. He said he’d had enough and wanted to die. He was burned out physically and spiritually. He felt alone in worshipping the One True God. Then the Lord ministers to Elijah providing sleep, food and then His Presence. As if this weren’t enough, what our Father says next must have bolstered Elijah’s spirits even more as God tells him that 7,000 people have not bowed the knee to Baal. The Lord had preserved a remnant. Elijah was not alone like he thought.

Satan would love nothing more than for you and I to believe his lies and become discouraged, thinking we are alone in our allegiance to God. He’s not very creative, but the same routine can still be effective. God’s Word says, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” -1 Peter 5:8-9

One of my favorite quotes is from Corrie Ten Boom, who experienced life in a concentration camp during World War II. Her family attempted to hide Jews in their home from the Nazis. They were eventually caught and arrested. She still found a reason to hope in God while enduring cruel treatment remembering, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” Corrie had an understanding of God’s Sovereignty even as wickedness seemed victorious. Like her, we are not alone in our belief that God Almighty is on His Throne. His will, His timing, His justice are perfect. And He loves His sons and daughters.

Anything we endure in this life is for our sanctification. It is for God’s glory and our eternal good. The Scriptures confirm His love is steadfast, sacrificial, unconditional and perfect toward His children. Our Father demonstrated His great love for us by giving up His own innocent Son. Jesus willingly paid my guilt, taking the consequences I deserved on Himself.

The most beautiful action in human history climaxed on the cross that day. Remember the depth of His love for you when you feel forsaken. God’s Word will be your comfort when you feel unloved, unseen, or friendless. His love abounds. Stay faithful. Stand firm in God’s Word. Jesus is the pearl of great price, a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Grace upon grace,

April

Grow deeper: 1 Kings 18-19; 2 Timothy


Bonus item: here’s a short beautiful poem April wrote, Go to God.

October 10, 2020

The Peace We Crave Right Now

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In the Spring of 2019 we introduced readers to MaryAnn Nguyen-Kwok and her blog, Searching for Treasures. She is an Associate Pastor in a church in San Diego, CA. Today’s readings are from a series of blog posts in September, 2020 on the subject of peace. Each section can be linked from the titles which follow. (I don’t think we’ve ever borrowed a total of four devotions, but these are shorter. There are also three more linked at the bottom.)

Perfect Peace

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4).

There is an unseen and yet pervasive sense of pressure that we are all feeling during this pandemic.  We are weighed down as we are constantly needing to weigh the pros and cons of so many decisions.  Should we go to the store or get groceries delivered?  Can we dine at a restaurant or should we order takeout?  Should we send our kids to school or have them do online school?  These are the daily decisions that we find ourselves needing to make.  And all of it together for so many months may make us feel like the walls are closing in just a little.

It’s in times like these, when I am feeling the constant pressure, that I know I need to return to this prophetic song of promise from Isaiah.  God will keep us in perfect peace when we trust in him.  He is worthy of our trust because he is a Rock that can’t be moved.  He can’t be shaken, and so we can entrust our whole hearts and our whole lives to him.  And, as we do so, he fills us with a perfect peace that is beyond our imagination.

Like a Rainbow in the Clouds

At the kickoff of his ministry, Ezekiel has a vision of a windstorm that comes from the north, and coming with the storm clouds was a throne and the appearance of the Lord as a figure like that of a man.  And this was the description of him, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him” (Ezekiel 1:28).

Something that strikes me about this vision is the reminder that the Lord comes with the storm clouds.

Often, it’s easy for me to think that when I am in the middle of the storm, the Lord is not there. Sure, he’s aware about the storm. Sure, he’s even permitted the storm within the realm of all our human free-will, but he is not there with me in the storm. But it’s interesting that here in this moment, when the storm came, there was the Lord too! He made his appearance with the storm. It’s hard to miss the hope that the Lord brings. He is like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day. Rainbows are the great reminder that storms have beginnings but they also have endings.

We have the hope in Jesus, that no matter what storms may come, he will be with us in the storm, and he will bring us safely through to the storm’s end. We will see the rainbow after the storm. This vision gives me so much hope. May it bring you hope and encouragement today as well.

How Can God be Glorified?

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”  (John 12:27-28).

When Jesus faced the greatest trial of his life, he did not ask to be delivered from it.  Instead, he asked for God to be glorified in it.  This week, as I led the morning Bible study in John 12, I was struck by the posture that Jesus took.  When I face challenges, my default is often to ask for God to fix it and make it better right away.  But, what if, instead, I asked God how he could be glorified through this situation?  What if I asked how I could glorify him or how I could be transformed as I face these challenges?

I think that would make a huge difference, especially when the trials remain for longer than I anticipated.  Covid has lasted longer than was first predicted, and, as a result, life is full to the brim with new responsibilities to juggle. However, instead of asking God to deliver us, I am reminded today that what I really want is to press into asking God how he can be glorified in the midst of all of this.  I hope this reminder could be an encouragement for you as well today.

Not Forgotten

“I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 44:21).

There was no doubt that Israel felt forgotten when their beloved city of Jerusalem was captured and when they were all sent into exile.  While they faced famine, displacement, and death, it seemed like all the loving promises of God had been forgotten forever.  And it is in that context of suffering that God assures them that he has made them and he will not forget them.

Jesus reaffirms this reality of God’s love for us in Luke when he says that we are more valuable to God than the birds, whom God feeds and provides for every single day without fail.  He also reveals in John that the Spirit would be sent for us and will be with us forever.  God has not forgotten us.  He has not forgotten you.  What stresses and what difficulties are you facing?  What hard work have you offered that hasn’t been noticed by others?  God sees you.  He notices.  He hasn’t forgotten you. You are made by him and he loves you.  Hear God’s word for you today, “I will not forget you.”  Soak it in.  Let his words of love wrap around your soul and bring healing to you this day.

Continue reading:

There are three more articles which continue this theme at Searching for Treasures:

 

September 27, 2020

How God Uses the Problem(s) You’re Facing Today

Today again, we’re introducing a new (to us) writer, K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She’s also the author of three books, but only began blogging daily devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm after Coronavirus hit. Click the link below to read today’s at source. You might also enjoy the one she posted this morning.

Give me a word, Lord: PICTURE THIS

Isaiah 41:13 For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

Isaiah 46:4 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

We’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah the last few nights as we continue our reading through the Bible in a year plan. There are some very good words of wisdom in this book and many great reassurances. I praise God for His Word. I am so thankful that He provided His Holy Word to give us guidance, strength, and peace. We have God that is bigger than all our troubles and problems, and His Word reveals that to us over and over again.

We all have problems. We may not admit them, but if we are living and breathing, we probably have some sort of problem or concern. The problem with our problems is that we try work them out on our own. I’m a very visual person. I love to take pictures. I take pictures of anything and everything, and when I’m working things out in my mind, I do so with pictures or images. Sometimes we have to picture things in order to get a clear image of the situation at hand.

When we picture all our problems in our mind, we see all the different problems in the picture. We may see financial problems, relationship issues, concerns about our children, health troubles, job stressors, and the list goes on. We see all of these troubles in the picture, and then we see ourselves sitting in the middle of the picture surrounded by all of these problems. The problem with this is that we are seeing it all wrong! When we look at a picture of all those problems, we shouldn’t see ourselves sitting in the midst of the trouble, but rather we should see GOD in the picture with our problems. We have to take ourselves out everything, and we need to give everything to God.

Some might say, if God is handling all of my problems, why do I have so many? Well, my friend, sometimes we bring those problems on ourselves. We aren’t perfect. We goof up every now and then even when we are trying to live a good and righteous life. God can and will handle any and all problems that we are enduring, but we have to trust Him through the process. Psalm 119:71-72 tells us, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.” What? Did he say that suffering is good for me? Yea, buddy! When we go through the struggles in life, we learn from the difficulties and we learn to lean on our Lord and Savior. We are going to have problems in this life. Life is a problem solving adventure. WE may not choose the problem, but we get to choose how the problem affects us. The problem will either develop us or defeat us. We get to make the choice.

No matter what type of difficulty you are going through, you can rest assured that God will use the problem for your benefit. Sometimes He uses the situation to direct you. Maybe He needs to get you to start moving in a certain direction, and He uses a problem to ignite you and get you going. Maybe, just maybe, God has placed something on your heart that He wants you to do, but you won’t budge. Maybe He uses a problem to get you moving in the direction in which He desires for you to go.

Sometimes He uses a problem to correct you. Maybe you are going down a path of destruction, and God uses a problem to teach you a lesson. Ouch! We don’t like the sounds of that one, but there is truth there. Just as a parent disciplines a child who is doing wrong, God is going to discipline His kids. He’s going to get our attention, and a lesson will be learned. Just as we love our children too much to allow them to do things that will harm them, God loves us too much to ignore us when we are doing wrong.

Maybe God is using the problem to inspect you. Did you ever think of that? I’ve read this little saying on social media. “You are holding a cup of hot coffee, and someone bumps you and causes the hot coffee to spill everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? Because there was coffee in the cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is whatever is in the cup will be spilled out. Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you, whatever is inside of you will spill out.” So…what spills out when you are struggling through a difficult situation? Do people around you see fear, anger, bitterness, or do they see love and grace as the marks of a true child of God? What does God see when He inspects you?

Maybe God is using your problem to protect you. Perhaps He has closed the door on a job, a new place to live, or a dream that you had, and it seems like the end of the world. We have to remember that God knows what is coming down the road, and sometimes He closes doors so that other doors can be opened. We can’t see as God sees. He is all knowing, and He knows just what we need when we need it. He may remove a person, a thing, or even a job from our lives in order to provide needed protection.

Our problems weigh us down. We try to carry the burden all alone. Oh, if we could only see the big picture. All those problems that we picture are not too big for God. We may or may not have invited the problem in, but regardless, God is going to use the situation for our good and His glory every time. Stop picturing yourself surrounded by all of the problems of the day. Begin picturing our perfect Lord and Savior…sitting right there in the middle of it all…working it all out. He’s working on each one of us. He’s directing us, correcting us, inspecting us, and protecting us, and ultimately, y’all, He is perfecting us. Just picture it!

 

August 28, 2020

Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer we might wonder why God would lead us into temptation in the first place. This traditional wording for the Lord’s Prayer is rather unfortunate. When I rode my motorcycle here today I might have prayed ‘Lord, may I not be enticed by this beautiful weather to keep motorcycling instead of getting to work.” Or I might have prayed ‘Lord, may I not fall off.’ Those are two very different prayers and both those ideas work for the Greek word for temptation. Most Bible scholars think the latter is in view, the idea of being tested, of facing trials and great difficulties.

As with the most of the Lord’s Prayer, we want to remember these requests are in the plural. It is not ‘Do not lead me, personally into testing, deliver me from evil,’ but ‘do not lead us, as a people, into testing, deliver us from evil.’ The people standing by Jesus as he taught may have had in mind the entire nation of God’s people. They could have considered the very real possibility of another national tragedy as the kind of testing they were praying to avoid.

God’s old covenant people were used to national tragedies. The Assyrians took out the Northern tribes some time before the Babylonians took the people of Judah into exile. These times of great trial, tribulation and testing happened because of the sin of God’s people. Now God’s covenant people were back in the promised land, as promised, but the Romans were also in the land as an occupying army. There was a very real danger of being led into a great and terrible time of testing again. In this context, the prayer might be understood ‘forgive us rather than lead us into tribulation by driving us into exile again, deliver us from the evil Romans.’

Jesus would go on to answer the prayer in quite a different way. In fact God’s old covenant people did experience great tragedy at the hands of the Romans with Jerusalem being destroyed along with the temple. Jesus, however, did something far greater than deal with the danger God’s convent people faced in losing their land to the Romans. He dealt with the danger we all face in losing life due to separation from God through sin.

Rather than deliverance from the Romans through victory over the Romans, it was deliverance from sin in a victory that even the Romans could share in. It was victory over and deliverance from evil itself. It was, and is, a victory open to all of us.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)

Before we think this means we will never face times of trial and testing, let us also consider the following:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials [the same word traditionally translated as “temptation” in the Lord’s prayer], 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV emphasis added)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials [the same word traditionally translated as “temptation” in the Lord’s Prayer] of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4 (NIV emphasis added)

As these Scriptures make clear, we are not rescued from all suffering; we will face times of trouble and adversity. God does not send those troubles to destroy us. God uses those troubles in our lives to help us grow. His ultimate plan is to deliver us from evil and its consequences. God will answer the prayer. Even when the troubles before us threaten our lives, the day is coming when we will look back and say “God has delivered us from evil! God has taken care of us!”

Jesus taught us to pray “lead us not into great testing, but deliver us from evil.” As we pray that, let us thank the Lord our prayer is already answered in Christ.

(In the summer, Clarke Dixon enjoys riding his motorcycle to the church he pastors. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church services due to COVID-19 precautions. The reflection alone can be seen here.)

July 2, 2020

Building for the Storms: A Reflection on Matthew 7:24-29

by Clarke Dixon

What do we do when the storms of life are raging against us, threatening to beat us down and knock us off our feet? The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like that for many while for others it might be concern over health, work, relationships, or stress levels. What do we do when we face the biggest of all storms, the one that really does knock us down, when death draws close? Jesus speaks about storms. Let’s listen in:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

If we are wise, we will “hear my words and act on them.” Then we will be like the wise person who built a house upon rock, a house with a solid foundation that could withstand the storms.

That could be the end of the sermon right there. Except that we tend go in one of two directions and so end up as unwise builders.

The first bad turn is to make our lives merely about following the rules. We might hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” then be tempted to go through all the words of Jesus, to write up a comprehensive list of his rules.

Since Jesus is concluding his “Sermon on the Mount” here, let us go back and consider again what Jesus has been saying up to this point.

Let us consider an example from earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

We might add to our list of rules, “do not get angry with people” and move on. But that misses the point. Jesus is pushing us into a deeper righteousness here, a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that is of a better kind, a righteousness of the heart.

Instead of merely keeping a rule about anger, we want to become the kind of people who are not angry, the kind of people who are peaceable and gentle, the kind of people who would never murder. Going further in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of merely keeping a rule about looking at others with lust, or a rule about divorce, we want to become the kind of people who are faithful (5:27-32). Instead of merely keeping rules about oaths we want to become the kind of people who have integrity (5:33-37). Instead of merely following the rules about whom we love or hate, we want to become the kind of people who love like God loves (5:38-48). We want to reflect the character of God. It is about Christlike character.

As we read on in the Jesus’ sermon, we don’t want to merely follow rules about piety, about prayer, fasting, and giving. We want to be the kind of people who develop and demonstrate a deep relationship with God (6:1-24). We do not pray to keep a rule about praying, we pray because prayerfulness is part and parcel of a deep and intimate relationship with God. We do not merely follow a rule about not worrying, we become the kind of people who trust in God, who know Him to be a loving, Heavenly Father (6:25-34).

Jesus stands in contrast to the religious types of his day who were all about the religious rules. He still stands in contrast to many of us religious types today. Jesus was leading people to the heart of God in a way that the scribes and Pharisees were not. When we hear the words of Jesus and act on them, we grow in character.

What do we do when the storms of life hit? It is not what we do, but rather who we are becoming in Christ that gives us the solid foundation. We handle a crisis with things like love, integrity, trust, faithfulness, prayer, and a deep relationship with God. That character will be a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

Let us get into the second way we might take a wrong turn and so not be as prepared for the storms as we might think.

Some Bible scholars think that Jesus is talking about the final judgement when he talks about the great storm that knocks over the foolish man’s house but leaves the wise man’s house standing. Bible teachers are divided on whether that is so, but even if Jesus is not specifically referring to the final judgement here, we can think of that final storm among the many storms we face, the one which really does seem to knock us down for the final time.

We may hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” and think we must be super-obedient to receive eternal life. It’s on us to get this right. We may then begin to worry. We have heard his words, some of us have heard them many, many times, but have we actually acted on them? Have we acted on them well enough? So we worry.

Let us go back and consider again what words Jesus is telling us to hear and act on. One of the things Jesus tells us to do is “do not worry.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

The reason we are to not worry is because God’s got our backs. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we need.

There are many stressed out Christians who wonder “have I done enough to be saved?” No you have not. Neither have I. There are many anxious Christians who wonder “what if I have unconfessed sin when I die?” You will have unconfessed sin when you die. So will I. We all have sin we are not even aware of.

But there is good news!

Having told us to not worry, but instead trust God, and trust that God loves us, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by going to the cross, to take away our sin, all of it. We have not done enough to be saved. God has done enough to save us. We will have unconfessed sin when we die. Jesus died for that sin too.

Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them puts us on a solid foundation ready to face death. What do we do when that final storm rages against us? Again, it is not about what we do, but who we are becoming. We continue being the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people who trust God, in everything. We know He loves us. That is the best foundation for facing life, and for facing death. Yes, a storm may blow through that really does seem to knock us down for the final time. Do not worry. God will pick us up.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and act on them, we will be wise,
like the man who built his house upon rock. That house was ready for the storms. A Jesus shaped, God formed character provides a solid foundation for all the storms that threaten to knock us down, even death. Are you hearing Jesus? Are his words being acted out in your life?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Watch today’s teaching portion at this link. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

June 20, 2020

When Things Feel Hopeless

I’m currently reading The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared C. Wilson (Nelson books). For a formal review I’ve written, click this link.

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today.

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

This is an excerpt from chapter five which looks extensively at the Book of Job and the subject of hope, and how people are sometimes ruled by the apparent reality of what is actually subjective feelings. The link in the title below takes you to a page at the publisher’s website.

Your Feelings are Reality

In my days as a pastor, I would often find myself sitting across from people overcome with hurt. The most common question they all wanted answered was “Why?

“Why had God allowed this? Why is God doing this to me?”

As the designated religious professional, it was expected I might have an answer to that question. As it pertains to people’s specific trials and tribulations, I did not. But I would ask a question of my own, and it usually went something like this: “If you weren’t going through this would you be as close to God as you are right now?”

In all my years of asking that question, I never heard anyone say, “Yes.”…

…Christians don’t hope as the world hopes. When the world hopes, they are engaging in wishful thinking. “I hope this or that happens,” they think. They think that when a man dies, as Job says, he just fades away; he breathes his last. “You only live once.” That’s it. That’s all they can see.

But Christian hope is not like that. It defies what we can see and it is ripe with the promise of what cannot be seen.

  • We do not grieve as those who have no hope.“–1Thessalonians 4:13
  • And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.“–2Corinthians 1:7
  • There is hope reserved for you in heaven.“–Colossians 1:5
  • Christ in you, the hope of glory.“–Colossians 1:27
  • Christ Jesus is our hope.“–1 Timothy 1:1 (emphasis added)
  • We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…“–Hebrews 6:19
  • Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.“–Hebrews 11:1 (emphasis added)

See, the world’s hope is hollow. The believer’s hope is firm. Because the believer’s hope is Jesus! And just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he’s not real. Just because you don’t see him now, doesn’t mean you won’t see him then.

Satan wants you to believe that you are all alone, that when you are stripped down to your essence and left with only pain, that’s all you have. He does not want you to see the reality that Jesus will never leave you or abandon you (Heb. 13:5), that he will be with us all the way to the end (Matt. 28:20)…

…Everything may look bleak, our reality may be that we feel that all is lost, but if we have Christ, we defy what is visible. And we cling to hope, which demands what is invisible.


Taken from The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like Truth by: Jared C. Wilson Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

May 26, 2020

The Things We Boast About

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:38 pm
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Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


2 Corinthians 12: 7b NLT … So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.


Micah 6:8 CEB He has told you, human one, what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:
to … walk humbly with your God.


Proverbs 3:34 GNT He has no use for conceited people, but shows favor to those who are humble.


1 Corinthians 1:31 The Voice As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think... Romans 12: 3a NASB

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

In the first two passages above we see God altering the circumstances in order to keep people — collectively in the first passage, an individual in the second passage — from become prideful or boastful.

Introverts might not get this, but as an extrovert, I can say that in my life there is very much a tendency towards arrogance.

In the movie Network the female lead is asked, “What’s it like to be the person in the room who always has the right answers?”

Smugly, she replies, “It’s awful, absolutely awful.”

Psalm 20:7 is a verse that some of you learned in the KJV and other translations as “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” Having a gut feeling about this verse I checked and sure enough, these alternatives to trust exist:

  • Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. (TLB)
  • Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (NASB)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. (NRSV)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (HCSB)

What are our modern equivalents? We don’t have chariots and horses, but many of us have nice cars which we spend our Saturday mornings polishing and caring for. What else?

  • education; including academic certificates, degrees, etc.
  • knowledge; both specialized and general
  • intuitive abilities; logic, reason, quick wit, tech savvy
  • friends; the size of our friends list on social media as a possible example
  • status; standing in the community, perhaps our name is in the local newspaper or mentioned on TV
  • spouse; we take credit for what is really a gift from God to us
  • possessions; our house, car, cabin the woods, consumer electronics, etc.
  • passions; the hobbies and interests we are always talking about

Thinking about these things and speaking of them sometimes boosts are adrenaline, brings a smile to our faces, or causes us to speak with greater volume and passion. We’re energized thinking about these things, and we can become arrogant.

The last category above is a good lead to these two questions:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your opportunity to control the conversation?

God had to wipe out the Tower of Babel. He didn’t wipe out Saul/Paul however, but introduced a condition — and Bible scholars vary as to what exactly it was — to keep him humble. Laura Story, in the popular Christian song Blessings asks:

What if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?

We very rarely thank God for Babel-type changes in plans, or Paul-type ongoing conditions, but they do prevent us from being less of a person than we might be; from being a person that others may not find particularly attractive; and from presenting ourselves in a way that people see us, but don’t see Christ living in and through us.

May 4, 2020

The Book of Job and Worship Song Theology

If today is controversial to some of you, remember this is Christianity 201, not 101, and look at it on that basis.

Earlier today I was preparing a response to a friend concerning the Matt Redman song, “Blessed be the Name” which contains the line, “You give and take away.”

In checking what others have written on this, I came across the blog of former pastor Dr. Paul Ellis who lives in his native Australia currently, and has also resided in Asia and California. His site is called Escape to Reality (or E2R.) There were a number of more recent articles, but on discovering that we’ve only covered this once here (rather superficially in 2011) I decided to share with you the piece which got my attention earlier this morning.

As always, send some traffic to our contributors by clicking on the header which follows.

Does God Give and Take Away?

The entire Bible is good for you, but you won’t get much out of it unless you know Jesus Christ. To understand the written word, you need to know the Living Word. Try to read the Bible without an appreciation of Jesus – who he is and what he has done – you may end up taking someone else’s medicine. Some verses will appear to contradict others and you will get confused.

In the first part of this study on God’s gifts, we looked at a sincere lady in the Bible who mistakenly believed that God gives us bad gifts like death and poverty. Today I want to look at a man who had a different problem. He believed that God gives us good gifts only to take them away again. You can probably guess that I’m talking about Job. Job had this one really bad week when his livestock were stolen, his servants were slain, and his kids were killed when a house fell on them. For some reason, Job thought God was behind his loss for he said:

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)

If there was ever a scripture that has led to some screwy notions about God’s character, it’s this one. Anyone who has suffered loss has probably heard this verse. It’s quoted at funerals. We sing songs about it. For some strange reason people seem to find comfort in believing that God is responsible for their loss.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love Job’s attitude. He’s saying that whatever happens in life, he’s going to praise the name of the Lord. But Job said some dumb things about God. Later on Job would come to regret his choice of words. “I spoke of things I did not understand” (Job 42:3).

The question stands: Does God give and take away?

Any picture we have of God needs to be informed by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). To get a good understanding of God’s character, we need to look to Jesus, not Job. Can you imagine Jesus stealing or killing? Of course not. So how is it that some people think that God was responsible for Job’s loss?

“But Paul, it’s in the Bible, it’s right there in black and white.” Let me put it to you like this. If you want the very best insight into God’s character, are you better off looking at:

(a)    Jesus, who said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), or
(b)    Job, who had only heard of God but did not actually know him  (see Job 42:5)?

Jesus is the better choice! Jesus came to reveal God the Great Giver. Have you been given something good? Then see God as your source:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (Jas 1:17)

Who’s robbing you?

But what if you have suffered loss, like Job? He lost his health, his wealth, and his family. The temptation may be to blame God for your loss, as if God had a change of heart. But God is not fickle. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is an extraordinary giver who never takes back his gifts.

God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never canceled, never rescinded. (Romans 11:29, MSG)

So if God is doing the giving, who is doing the taking? Again, Jesus provides the answer:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

We ought not to be confused about these two different roles. One is a giver, the other is a taker. If you have been given something good, give thanks to God. But if you’ve been robbed, don’t blame God. He’s not behind your loss. And Satan is not his sheepdog.

Humans are spectacularly slow learners. From the beginning of human history the devil has been trying to steal or ruin everything God gave us and yet there are still some who think that God is the thief. God gave us authority over a planet and the devil took it. God gave us freedom and the devil somehow got us to choose the way of slavery. God gave us eternal life, health and glory, and we lost it all. But thank God for Jesus who took back what the devil stole.

Karma versus grace

If you think that God gives and takes away, you’ve missed the point of Jesus. Jesus came to reveal a generous Father and to destroy the work of the thief (1 John 3:8). Jesus came that we might have life to the full, not to the half.

If you think God gives and takes away, you have more faith in karma than grace. Karma says what goes around comes around. If you’re healthy now, you’ll be sick tomorrow. If you’re prospering now, poverty’s waiting around the next corner. When disappointments and hardships come, you won’t be surprised. You’ll just throw in the towel and say, “I knew it was too good to last.”

The world works according to the principle of give and take, but God just gives. The only thing he’ll take off you – if you let him – is your sin, your shame, your sickness, your worries, and your fears. He takes away those things that harm us and gives us good things that bless us.

Are you Job or David?

Both Job and David were robbed. Both were greatly distressed and surrounded by foolish men who gave bad advice. But unlike Job, David did a Jesusy-thing and took back what was stolen. Why did David fight back when Job quit? Because David “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam 30:6). In his pain David considered God’s goodness and realized that God was not behind his loss. He understood that it was not God’s will for him to suffer and, so strengthened, he fought back and prevailed.

I wish I could go back in time and get to Job before his friends did. I would say, “God didn’t kill your kids! He didn’t steal your livestock and make you sick. You’ve been robbed! The devil is having a go at you. Don’t sit there in the ashes and cry about it, get up and fight! Are you a victor or a victim?”

The church will never see victory if we think God is behind our suffering. If we think God is robbing us we won’t even resist. We’ll let the devil waltz in and plunder our families all the while singing “He gives and takes away.”

Funny, but I can’t imagine Jesus or David doing that.

 

April 7, 2020

When You Believe in God, But Everything Falls Apart Anyway

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Due to previous scheduling, we have an extra devotional from Clarke Dixon which has not appeared here previously. Watch for Clarke’s regular column on Thursday as usual. Click the header below to read at source.

Don’t Be Surprised By the Weeds

by Clarke Dixon

When I was young I would often take my friends sailing on Lake Chemong near Peterborough, Ontario. In addition to the the joy of friendship, my sailboat was just large enough that a second person could help keep it from capsizing in a good breeze. Lake Chemong is famous for being very weedy. It is a terrible lake for swimming since there were many slimy, gross weeds all along the shoreline. Therefore we would sometimes drop the sails, throw out the anchor and go for a swim in the middle of the lake.

On one particular day I took a young lady sailing. No, this was not the young lady who would become my wife, that is another story! As we were sailing this one day, I had the feeling this friend of mine thought we were on a date. I did not have the heart to tell her that she was not my date, she was my ballast!

Being a gentle breeze we decided to go for a swim. Time was getting on and so I got back into the boat. My friend didn’t. She couldn’t. She tried. I tried to help. But, no. So I sailed and she swam. At least until she got tired. What now? Being the hero of this story I knew what to do. I threw a line out the back of the boat and I towed her in.

Remember all those weeds around the edge of the lake I mentioned earlier? You should have heard the screams as I towed her through the weeds. She was horrified. What has this story to do with us in our day when face a scary meltdown of our world due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Don’t be surprised by the weeds.

In Christ, we look forward to a rescue, yes. We look forward to getting through anything life will throw at us. We have been thrown a line. We will get to the shore. Consider these words from Peter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 3:1-5

We have been thrown a line. We will get safely to the shore. Our future is certain. However, don’t be surprised by the weeds:

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, . . . 1 Peter 3:6

There are those who assume that since God loves us and is rescuing us, there should be no more trouble in this life. God does love us, and He is rescuing us, but He has never promised that we will not face trouble. In fact, we are told that we will, and we do, face troubling times. Peter goes on:

. . . 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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Troubles do test our faith. In Christ, God has reached out and taken hold of us. But how good a grip do we have as we hold on to the hope we have in God? If we are unsure, troubles will tell us. Do we really trust God? It is easy enough to say ‘yes’ when times are good. However, when we experience the weeds, reality sinks in. Thankfully, it has been my experience that even when my grip is not tight, God has never wavered in His. Still, it is better to face the weeds of life knowing that the rescue is underway, that we will get through the weeds, and that the Rescuer is trustworthy and able. It is also better to face the weeds of life knowing there is a line that can be thrown to the people around us who are floundering in the water.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8,9 (NRSV)

Don’t be surprised by the weeds. But don’t be surprised by the rescue either!

May God bless you as we face these weeds in our day.This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions.. This worship expression can be seen here. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here. Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

March 24, 2020

He Does Not Afflict Willingly

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:52 pm
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For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
– Lamentations 3:33 (NKJV)

It is part of the amazing power of the Christian scriptures that passages will simply come to life at times when we need them most. Scripture portions that perhaps we rushed through or more or less ignored take on greater significance at pivotal times in our lives.

Thus was the case this week as I was housecleaning boxes and boxes of old correspondence, and found this selection from Lamentations 3 on a church bulletin. The above verse is NKJV as was the church bulletin, what follows is The Message:

22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.

25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times…

31-33 Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way

Verse 33 was the one which really jumped out at me. Here it is in some other translations:

■ He definitely doesn’t enjoy affliction, making humans suffer. (CEB)
■ He does not enjoy causing people pain. He does not like to make anyone unhappy. (ERV)
■ He does not willingly bring suffering or grief to anyone (God’s Word)
[I]t is not the desire or way of God’s heart to hurt and grieve the children of men. (The Voice)

This stands in contrast to the theology of some people, that God is angry with us and waiting to pour out his wrath on people.

Some might suggest that this verse goes too far the other way! I compiled the various translations using Bible Gateway, but when you go to Bible Hub, you are always offered parallel passages. Perhaps reading all of these gives better context into the nature of God vis-a-vis his dealings with us in seemingly difficult circumstances:

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.
 – Hebrews 12:10 (NLT)

The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.
– Job 37:23 (NIV)

My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.
– Psalm 119:71 (NLT)

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
– Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
– 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

I’ll leave it there for you to consider. Comments are always welcome.

 

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