Christianity 201

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.

 

March 9, 2020

Finding Joy in Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Recently a devotional that I’m subscribed to, Devotions Daily offered an excerpt from the David Jeremiah book A Life Beyond Amazing. It was too long to print here but I wanted to offer you some excerpts from the excerpt!

Infusing life with joy!

…In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories of precious things that are lost and then found, and each is an occasion for joy: the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to search for and find one lost lamb; the woman who lost a valuable coin and found it; and the prodigal son, who was lost but finds his way home. In each story Jesus spoke of the rejoicing that surrounds the saving of one soul, and He described the joy that results:

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.Luke 15:7

After the Ethiopian eunuch was saved, he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Luke recorded the conversion of the Gentiles “caused great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). The Philippian jailer and his family were filled with joy when they became believers in God (Acts 16:34). Never doubt that salvation, the most profound of new beginnings, is also infused with joy beyond description…

…Christian joy shows up not only in the happy times but also in times of trial and discouragement. Jesus’ joy survived troubles and even flourished in the midst of them. He told His followers:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” — Luke 6:22-23

The writers of the epistles followed Jesus’ lead:

You received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
— James 1:2

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They were beaten; they were imprisoned; and who knew what would happen to them the next day?

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25

The kind of joy that gets you singing in jail at midnight with your back bleeding and your life hanging by a thread — that’s joy worth cultivating!

In our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement, it’s hard to understand the suffering the apostles endured for the sake of the gospel. We’ll do anything to avoid trials and tribulations. But often, in an attempt to keep anything uncomfortable from touching us, we miss the very thing God wants to use to lead us to the joy in Him. We can’t avoid difficulties, but in the midst of all our troubles — there is God and His effervescent love.

This doesn’t mean we deny or disguise our feelings. It doesn’t mean we can or should shrug off pain or disappointment, or try not to feel sorrow when we have good cause. It means we place our trust in God, and He opens the door to a joy beyond anything we can know on our own: the joy of knowing we are in His hands forever.

Commenting on the New Testament’s command that we’re to rejoice and be glad when undergoing trials, Philip Yancey said:

By using words like “Rejoice!” the apostles were not advocating a spirit of grin-and-bear-it or act-tough-like-nothing-happened. No trace of those attitudes can be found in Christ’s response to suffering, or in Paul’s…

Nor is there any masochistic hint of enjoying pain. “Rejoicing in suffering” does not mean that Christians should act happy about tragedy and pain when they feel like crying. Rather, the Bible aims the spotlight on the end result, the productive use God can make of suffering in our lives. To achieve that result, however, He first needs our commitment of trust, and the process of giving Him that commitment can be described as rejoicing…

…As Paul contemplated the conclusion of his life and ministry, he anticipated the joy that would be his at the end:

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy. — Acts 20:24

According to the apostle Peter, this joy is “inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8). From his captivity on the Isle of Patmos, John the apostle affirmed this dying joy:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.Revelation 14:13

 

January 21, 2020

As Abraham Aged, Testing Increased

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have two devotions for you by George Whitten. The first appeared at his website, Worthy Devotions, and the second (abridged) is from Standing for God.

Experience it!

Genesis 22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested (Hebrew word len-a-sot, to try) Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

John 6:5-6 Then Jesus lifted up [His] eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test (Hebrew word, lenasot, to try) him, for He Himself knew what He would do.

James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials (nisayon (noun form of lenasot)), knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

The testing of Abraham’s faith was repeated by YHVH throughout the patriarch’s entire life. The tests grew greater as his life advanced, and through everyone, whether Abraham passed or not, YHVH proved Himself to be his friend over and over again. Every test or “trial” involved a serious challenge or threat in which Abraham had to trust that the LORD knew what He was doing, asking, or requiring, and that His goodness and faithfulness were unquestionably reliable.

This type of testing or trying of faith is displayed throughout the Scriptures. In an entirely different setting, Yeshua (Jesus) asked His disciple Philip a question, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” The purpose of the question was simply to try Philip’s faith. The Hebrew, “lenasot” “to try, or test”, in the Greek is “pi-ras-mos”, which carries an interesting connotation: “proving by experiment”.

James, the Lord’s brother, speaks of the “testing of our faith”, as well. Though we often think of this testing in negative terms, James exhorts us to “count it all joy”, never mind that it’s virtually certain there will be little pleasure in the experience of any trial. The fact is that trials function as experiments, and experiences, which serve to prove and improve our faith. In the Hebrew New Testament (Brit Chadasha) the word for “trial” is “ni-sa-yon”, which also happens to be the word for “experience” and “experiment”.

So the trials we experience are literally, experiments upon our faith. And while it is clear that God Himself does not tempt us, we also know that He allows our faith to be proven by experience, and experimentally verified. Faith is not based on experience; it is based on revelation from God. But it’s genuineness is tested by experience. And it ought to be growing through every trial, producing a deeper comprehension of God’s faithfulness.

Your faith is being proved to be genuine through testing and trial; experimentally and experientially, just as was the faith of Abraham, Philip, and every true saint of the Lord. For while faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen — it will be proven in, by, and through the very hard experiences and realities of your life. This is not accidental but very much in the plans and purposes of the Lord.

The stakes are going up!

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning.

…During the past ten years we’ve seen such radical changes in our society… People of Biblical faith are witnessing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s warning, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! [Isaiah 5:20]

Societal changes are also influencing the body of believers as numerous controversies and divisions in churches are challenging leaders and lay people alike. This is not a negative thing according to the Apostle Paul. He addressed the carnal church in Corinth where factions had developed, saying, “I hear that there are divisions among you … for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” [1 Cor. 11:18-19]

Those who truly know the Lord and abide in His Word are all the more easily distinguished in today’s social and moral climate. Since God’s definitions and standards do not vary as human conventions or opinions do — even when “science” is used to support the new claims, faithful believers will be identified for better or worse. We’ll be afforded distinct opportunities to represent our God who is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

While the world makes its resolutions to be more fit, financially independent, or cosmically conscious, we can resolve to make this year, this decade, one in which we continue set apart, representing the truth and love of our Heavenly Father.

…[M]ay we be the ones that stand out as true believers. Let’s resolve to make this year and this decade — one that our faith is genuinely recognized! May His love, joy, and peace be manifest in our lives for His glory as a witness to the world that so desperately needs Him!

November 18, 2019

God is Sovereign Over Suffering

Today we have a new writer. Pastor Matthew Rickett leads Antioch Baptist Church in Portland, Tennessee in the U.S. He posts occasional devotional articles at the church website. Clicking the header below will take you directly to today’s article.

Our Faithful Creator

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Pet 4:19

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All of it is profitable. Yet, some verses become elevated in our thinking because of the promises they contain, or because they speak to a certain season in our life, or because they succinctly declare Gospel truth. Unfortunately, other verses can get overlooked, though they are just as inspired, just as wonderful, and just as powerful. 1 Pet 4:19 is one of those verses. We touched on it briefly this past Sunday when discussing the context of our passage. I encourage you to read 1 Peter this week. Meditate on it. Especially 1 Peter 4:19. Why?

  1. It Affirms that Suffering is a Normal Part of the Christian Experience. Don’t be surprised by suffering. Why are these things happening to me? Why now? Why this? Why me? Don’t be surprised by suffering, says Peter (4:12). Suffering is never scheduled. It is never convenient. But, according to Christ, it is to be expected. Peter reaffirms this in this little letter. This verse brings to conclusion Peter’s thoughts on suffering by telling us how to react: Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator and continue to do good. I can’t answer, “Why?” But I can answer, “How.” God has not left us without instruction for the rainy season.
  1. It Affirms that God is Sovereign Over Suffering. Peter makes a clear distinction: You can suffer as a consequence of your sin (ex. drunkenness will lead to vomiting and hangovers. Gross.). Or, suffering might seemingly come from nowhere. Peter says, that the latter is according to God’s will. It’s shocking to think that suffering might actually be God’s will. Today, we are often told that God wants you to be happy, fed, and blessed. But, suffering is a part of God’s redemptive purposes, and as such, he is sovereign over it. Not a hair on your head will fall without the Creator’s signature to allow it. But, he often does allow it. This is ultimately for your good and for his glory. Jesus suffered. You were saved as a result.
  1. It Affirms that God is Faithful. God is faithful. He has saved you. He has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. He has declared you righteous. He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit. He has adopted you. He has accepted you. He has purified you. Why would he let you down now? When has God ever failed you? When has God ever not been there? When has God ever turned his back on you? When has God ever left you? Point: God is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever. You can entrust your soul to God because he is always, and has always been, faithful.
  1. It Affirms that God is Creator. God is your creator. He is omnipotent, even in the midst of our suffering. Often, our circumstances or our trials rule our thoughts. They become big and God becomes small. Flip it. God created man from dust and breathed into him the breath of life. Your situation does not have that power. Suffering creates in our minds the thought that this (whatever this might be) is too powerful to overcome, too strong, too mighty. Peter, on the other hand, reminds us that God created all things ex nihilo, what is too much for the God who creates?
  1. It affirms that Our Actions and Our Thoughts Precede Our Feelings. Suffer, says Peter, while doing good. You might not feel like doing good, but that’s exactly the point. Anxiety is a feeling- it’s a physiological response to our thoughts. When that response is triggered, anxiety takes over and we live our lives around this feeling. Peter is clear- we may not feel like doing good, but do it anyway. Your anxiety might be telling you to worry about this or that, but tell yourself the truth. To simplify: Tell yourself the truth of Scripture, do good… and eventually, the feelings will follow. Follow your heart? Nah, man… Follow the Word. Do the Word. Your heart will catch up.

Meditate on God’s Word this week. Commit this passage to memory. Open the Word- you might just find hidden treasures.

October 20, 2019

God’s Signature Performance: The Desert Leads to the Promised Land

Six months ago we introduced a blog which is new to us, Just Thinkin’. The site uses several different writers, this piece is by Andrew Knight. As always, click the header below to read the complete article at source and then look around, there are some great articles waiting for you.

Seeing Is Doubting

They say “seeing is believing,” but sometimes seeing is doubting.

The craft of the illusionist is based on this idea. The illusionist tells us he is about to do something amazing (“Watch as I cut my assistant in half!”), and our mind immediately jumps to all the reasons why this is not possible. (“Didn’t he do this show last night? I’m pretty sure that’s the same girl.”) But then we watch in amazement as he takes a “real” saw, places it in the box, cuts her in half, and then separates her lower half (legs kicking) from her upper half (smiling and waving) to a cheering audience. We wonder, “How did he do that?” Our amazement has less to do with the bisected anomaly and more to do with how he made an obviously fake trick look so real.

In a similar way, even though God doesn’t play tricks on us the way illusionists do, he does put us in the midst of circumstances that can be just as confusing (and not nearly as entertaining).

Take the Israelites, for instance. In Exodus 16, they find themselves smack dab in the middle of a desolate, sun-baked landscape where all they can see is starvation, dehydration and imminent death.

But looks can be deceiving. What the Israelites thought was a death sentence was actually a training camp.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
— Deuteronomy 8:3

Did you catch that? God let them hunger. He did so in order to turn their attention to the only one who could truly satisfy them — something mere bread could never do.

But, in the moment, the Israelites couldn’t see this. They were thirsty. And their thirst caused them to doubt God, even after all they had experienced, simply because of the reality of their present situation.

Seeing really can be doubting. But it doesn’t have to be.

Perspective plays a big role in our perception, especially in times of crisis like the one the Israelites were facing. In those times, we can allow ourselves to get overwhelmed and put all our focus on what is happening and how we are feeling or we can center our thoughts and attention on the one who has promised to carry us through it (see Romans 8:31–39).

It’s more than just a mind game, more than an exercise in positive thinking. It’s faith in action.

Faith is so strong that Paul in the New Testament compares it to a shield (Ephesians 6:16). Just as a good shield can make all the difference when heading into battle, so our faith can be the determining factor of how we experience our wilderness.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, “What is the illusion? Does our wilderness journey suggest that the idea of a loving, caring God is itself just an illusion? Or is there something happening behind the scenes, as it were, that points to a reality far beyond our current circumstances?” It is a question worth answering.

God may be the Master Illusionist, but he isn’t into pulling rabbits out of hats. Instead, his signature performance — the one he’s most famous for — is when he takes someone through a wilderness and brings them into a promised land, and leads them to himself in the process.

Now, that’s worth the price of admission.

October 14, 2019

Refreshment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we return for our every-six-months visit to a longstanding source of material here at C201, Jon Swanson’s blog 300 Words a Day. As always, click the header below to read at source.

Joining in the struggle

At the end of a letter, Paul wrote this:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.

It’s a simple and understandable request for prayer. We might find it in any prayer letter from any missionary, any youth group fundraising letter, any letter from followers of Jesus in many parts of the world this morning: Pray that I will be kept safe, pray that I will get to come and see you.

It didn’t work. Not exactly. He went to Jerusalem. He was arrested. He was taken as a prisoner to Rome.

It did work. He wasn’t killed at several points. He was taken to Rome where he was, with joy, in their company, refreshed.

I think the most important part of his request to the church in Rome wasn’t the specific request of God. It was Paul’s request that they join him in his struggle by talking to God about him. He wanted them to be part of his team, to be interested in his progress, his safety, his effectiveness, his faith. It would mean that though they hadn’t ever seen him, they had a part in his work.

And as part of his team, they could ask God about keeping him safe and having influence.

There are people this morning you don’t know who would love you to join in their struggle. To own an interest in their obedience to God’s call for them. If you don’t have a name, simply do this: “God, there’s someone with the same kind of family situation I have, the same life calling I have, and they are in danger at this moment because of You. I want to be part of their struggle. Could you help them today?”

Some of the people who talked with God about Paul never met Paul. But apparently, he counted them as part of his team. And apparently, so did God.


When I’m weary from the fight
And trying to do what’s right
You bring times of refreshing to my soul

 

September 22, 2019

Reading Other Peoples’ Prayers | When There’s Nowhere to Turn

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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CEB.Mark.14.32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. 34 He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” 35 Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

37 He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? 38 Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words. 40 And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”

Yesterday and today, I want to encourage you if you’ve reached a dead end and have nowhere to go. I also want all of us to see the benefit in listening in (via reading, in this case) to the prayers of others. What follows is a smaller excerpt from one of the longer meditations appearing in Intense Moments with the Savior: Learning to Feel, a 1994 book by Ken Gire. Each reading begins with a scripture passage, and then there is devotional that is longer than we would include here. The last section is a prayer — again longer than those published by others who follow this format — and these are our focus in these devotionals.

An Intense Moment in Gethsemane

Prayer

Dear Man of Sorrows,

Thank you for Gethsemane. For a place to go when there’s no place to go but God. For a place to pray. And to cry. And to find out who I really am underneath the rhetoric.

I know that sometime, somewhere, some type of Gethsemane awaits me. Just as it did you. I know that some day a dark night will fall upon my soul. Just as it did yours. But I shudder to think about it, about the darkness and the aloneness and the despair.

Prepare me for that dark night, Lord. Prepare me now by helping me realize that although Gethsemane is the most terrifying of places, it is also the most tranquil.

The terror comes in realizing that I am not in control of my life or the lives of those I love. The tranquility comes in realizing that you are.

Help me when it is dark and I am alone and afraid. Help me to put my trembling hand in yours and trust you with my life. And with the lives of those I love.

Someday I know I will wrestle with circumstances that are beyond my control, that some sort of suffering will pin me to the cold, hard ground.When that happens, Lord Jesus, help me to realize that the victories of heaven are the defeats of the human soul. And that my strength is not found in how courageously I struggle, but in how completely I surrender.

 

 

August 23, 2019

Pain is No Excuse to Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re back again with Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog.  Although he hasn’t been active online for several months, we thought this older article from April was worth sharing here.

Pain: An Excuse To Sin?

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

Is my pain an excuse for me to sin?

What about if life is extra-hard?

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

God understands right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, to answer the initial question, no.

Pain is never an excuse to sin.

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

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

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

August 19, 2019

Pain Makes Your Voice Louder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I subscribe to an email devotional called Devotions Daily. It’s a promotional vehicle for HarperCollins Christian Publishing under the name Faith Gateway. The devotions are always book excerpts, and as you’d expect, they try to sell readers a copy of the book at the end. There are always devotions I want to use here, but many of them are too long, and that raises the issue of copyright on longer excerpts.

This one is an excerpt from an excerpt, with Pastor Levi Lusko writing about pain and suffering from his book, Through the Eyes of a Lion. He’s also the author of Swipe Right and I Declare War. He is the lead pastor of Fresh Life Church with multi-site locations in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah.

🎤 Pain is a Microphone

Pain is a microphone. And the more it hurts, the louder you get.

Suffering isn’t an obstacle to being used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before.

This truth leaps off the pages of Scripture again and again and again. Joseph suffered for years as a prisoner for crimes he didn’t commit, but it only made him louder. In the end he was raised to the right hand of Pharaoh and put in a position to save the lives of his brothers, who had tried to kill him (Genesis 45:5).

Esther went through the unspeakably difficult trial of becoming an orphan when both her parents died (Esther 2:7). Yet her adoption by Mordecai set into motion the events by which she would become queen of Persia and prevent a holocaust.

David was forced to go on the run, like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, while he was hunted by his lunatic of a father-in-law, Saul. David was homeless, living in and out of caves in the wilderness of Israel, and yet it was in those caves he poured out his heart to God in worship (1 Samuel 23–24, 1 Samuel 26). His greatest praise came from his darkest days.

When the apostle Paul was saved, a prophecy was given to Ananias, who had the unique challenge of discipling this recently converted terrorist. God told him that Paul would stand before kings, gentiles, and the nation of Israel and that he would suffer many things for Jesus’ sake (Acts 9:15–16). There are two elements there that we must not miss: (1) Paul would be used powerfully, and (2) Paul would suffer greatly. But I believe those are actually two sides of the same coin that exists within every calling. It would be while he was suffering for Jesus that he would do the great things (speaking to the Jews, speaking to the children of Israel, and speaking to kings).

Here’s where this concept comes to your front door. Just as Ananias was to tell Paul that he was a chosen vessel, so you are part of a chosen generation. No ordinary child. You are royalty, remember? A unique part of God’s forever family. But there’s a catch: just like Paul, you will suffer many things on the way to your destiny being fulfilled.

Pain is guaranteed. The Bible says that the rain falls on the evil and the good alike (Matthew 5:45). Part of living on this fallen planet cursed by sin is that trials are inherent. That’s just the way it is.

What about for the child of God? What happens when you give your life to Jesus Christ? The difficulties ramp up to a whole other level.

Jesus said that He wants us to shine brightly. He didn’t just say,

I am the light of the world. — John 8:12;

He also said,

You are the light of the world. — Matthew 5:14, emphasis added

Daniel said that those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:3). Guess what? God wants to make a star out of you. That’s wonderful — but as the great theologian Spider-Man said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The enemy is not going to let you capture his flag without some serious flak. When you stand up as a Christian, attempt to share your faith, and live to see lost people won, you’ll invite suffering, persecution, and opposition your way. This is why Paul told Timothy,

All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. — 2 Timothy 3:12

Adversity is going to happen. In fact, it’s part of your calling. We’re told in 1 Thessalonians 3:3,

No one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. (emphasis added)

Jesus warned His followers that the world hates Him, and if you’re trying to follow Him, the world’s going to hate you too…


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July 19, 2019

He Saw Their Affliction

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

God Sees You And Hears You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

It was suffering.

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

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

July 4, 2019

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

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us read it again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice fourth, that baby steps are taken.

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

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


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

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