Christianity 201

September 14, 2021

For Times of Suffering and Affliction

Elsie Montgomery is one of the longest-running and most-quoted devotional writers here at C201. I have great respect for what she produces at Practical Faith. Her writing will have a key-word focus and the word for today is affliction. Other recent studies have included accessible, adopts, and admonishes. Do you sense an alphabetical thing going on?

I strongly encourage you to read this at the link in the header below and then click the tab at the bottom that says “older posts” and then keep reading.

What about calamity?

My hubby was at a Christian men’s gathering and said something about God afflicting people to get their attention. One man responded with, “God would never do that!”

But God did do that. The first appearance of this word is in the first book of the Bible. Abraham and his wife went to Egypt because of a famine in their land. Since Sarah was so beautiful, he feared she’d be taken by an Egyptian and he would be killed so he told her to say she was his sister. She was taken into Pharaoh’s house and this leader treated Abraham well because of her . . .

Genesis 12:17. But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

Isaiah 45:7 also says: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

I know not to speculate but this story makes me wonder of our current pandemic is related to a current situation with God’s people, that as we live among those who do not know God we have fears for our own lives instead of trusting Him to take care of us? Being bold in a pagan land can lead to violent persecution and death. Consider daily news from places like Afghanistan and parts of Africa.

Today’s word is AFFLICTION, not the general hard stuff of life but the trials sent by God to humble His children and to bring us to repentance and contrition so we will trust Him instead of ourselves. The OT has several words for this. Some are translated affliction, particularly plague. Others are crush, or oppress or strike, hit, wound. Still others are more positive such as the challenges of fasting and prayer.

Leviticus 23:27. “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord.

Psalm 35:13. But I, when they were sick— I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest.

The psalmist is thankful for affliction, testifying that it leads to obedience. This is also noted in the NT.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word . . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes . . . . I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:67;71;75).

“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10).

While we tend to blame Satan for suffering, I need to see that God sometimes (not always) uses it to correct me. I must also remember that Jesus was afflicted by God. The prophet foretold what and why:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted . . . . He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:4; 7; 10).

This tells me that affliction can have a far greater purpose than just making me miserable. It can be used by God for reasons I may not realize at the time. Unlike Jesus, I am not always given that awareness.

GAZE INTO HIS GLORY. Deeply considering Jesus changes my understanding of suffering. I do not welcome it, yet Jesus did say that when persecuted (a similar NT word to affliction meaning put into a narrow place of trouble, affliction or distress), I should rejoice:

Matthew 5:10–12. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

James 1:2–4. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The bottom line is God’s sovereignty. He can prevent affliction as well as make it happen. Do I trust Him to the point of being willing to accept the tough stuff and use it in His plan as He sees fit? If not, I need to keep gazing into His glory and realizing this is an incredible and true reality.

 

 

August 19, 2021

Troubles, Distress and the Pains of Life

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NIV.Ps.77.1 I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint…

…10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?

Four years ago when we launched our Sunday Worship series of devotions, we discovered the blog Ascents written by Tim Adams. Today’s thoughts are gathered from two things he posted, the first in October, 2019, and the second in March, 2021. Clicking the post titles which follow will take you there directly.

Psalm 77 – Remember God

This psalm consists of four stanzas, each separated by the Hebrew word Selah. In the first two, Asaph is focused on the trials and tribulations of the Hebrew people. Here he asks if God has turned away from His people forever. In the third stanza his focus moves from the troubles around him to the Lord and all that God has done for his children. The final stanza, he offers praise to God for His power, sovereignty, and glory.

In this song Asaph is a troubled soul. While it’s unclear what is specifically happening to cause his grief, it is clear that his concerns are not only for himself, but also for the nation. It’s not that he isn’t mindful of God’s graciousness to Israel, it’s just that remembering doesn’t lift the cloud over him.

It can be the same for us, can’t it? In the midst of a storm, we remind ourselves of the love and power of God, but that doesn’t always make us feel better because it doesn’t make the storm go away. The problem may be that our perspective needs to change. Just as in the picture, the tornado and the rainbow can seemingly converge at the same spot–right where we are.

Psalm 77:10 is where Asaph’s perspective changes. “Then I said, “It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed.” He remembers who God is and what He has done. Suddenly his lamentations turn to praise. The trial has not abated for him, just his grief.

God does not promise that life will be easy, or that He will always take away our trials. But, He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. He may not always calm the storm, but He will give us all we need to weather it.

“Sometimes He holds us close,
and lets the wind and waves go wild;
Sometimes He calms the storm
and other times He calms His child
.”
–Kevin Stokes and Tony Wood.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – The Minor Pains of Life

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

I remember, as a young man, watching TV with my grandmother.  I remember a certain commercial that would upset her whenever it came on. It was advertising a particular pain medication that claimed to relieve the minor pains of arthritis.  She would get so angry at the phrase “minor pains of arthritis.”  I would suggest that the drug likely only affected the arthritis pains that were minor.  She would say, “There’s no such thing!”.

Life’s afflictions never seem minor when we are in the midst of them.  They absorb our attention, takeover our thoughts, and easily become the only things that matter.  But here, Paul is suggesting that we view our various trials with an eternal perspective.  He is saying that, because God’s grace abounds—what “therefore” is there for—we should not allow our trials, which are temporal, to take us captive to the pain and cause us to lose our joy over the reality of eternal glory in Christ.  Paul is teaching us that the temporary pains of afflictions and trials are actually serving an eternal, divine purpose by producing in us a greater anticipation for this eternal glory.  The greater the pain, the greater the anticipation.

Pain and affliction are real, but when we recognize that these various trials are temporary and we place our focus on eternity with Christ, we truly experience what it means to abide in Him and live fruitful lives in the midst of this life’s troubles, (John 15:4*). By focusing on eternity we can truly know the fullness of joy in Christ (Psalm 16:11**).


*”I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. … No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. – John 15:4

**You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. – Psalm 16:11

July 25, 2021

Utter Dependence on God

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Today once again we’re featuring the website Out Of The Ordinary. We’ve showcased writing here by Rebecca and Kim before, this time it’s the third member of the team who goes by Persis. She wrote this in May of 2020 when the global pandemic was just a few months in. How little did we realize for how long we would need to depend on God as our source of strength and comfort. She also (in the first paragraph) quotes a theologian whose name I have been hearing much in the past few weeks. Click the title below to read at source.

The Place of Dependence

We live in a strange world, a world which presents us with tremendous contrasts. The high and the low, the great and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the ugly, the tragic and the comic, the good and the evil, the truth and the lie, these all are heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship. The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. Now we are prompted to optimism, then to pessimism. Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. The whole world stands in the sign of humor, which has been well described as a laugh in a tear.1

Herman Bavinck may have have written those sentences 111 years ago, but he could be describing the present. Life as we know it has changed drastically for the entire world. Every level of society has been impacted, and what we once knew may never return. I am more aware than I have ever been of the complex tangle of human lives, basic needs, information, and decisions that are “heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship.”

In March [2020], two pastors on Twitter asked if Christians would be willing to fast and pray for an hour on Friday afternoons regarding the coronavirus. I was gung-ho the first two weeks and eager to pray. The hour passed quickly as I prayed for everyone and everything I could think of. But as the weeks passed, the number of situations and people needing prayer seemed to grow exponentially. When the last prayer time rolled around, I began to think of government employees from national to local levels, medical staff and researchers, essential workers, the unemployed, the elderly, those with compromised health or mental illness, and the list went on and on.

All these people so dependent on each other.  Some have positions of authority with decision-making power over many. But there are others previously overlooked who we are literally depending upon for our daily bread. So many people. So many lives. Any attempt to untangle these interrelationships would inevitably result in harm to someone because this is a no-win situation. These thoughts were too overwhelming, so I had to give way to the tears and lament that had been building up inside. The only words left to pray were, “Lord, you know.”

In our inmost selves, we are immediately  — without benefit of reasoning, that is, and prior to all reasoning — conscious of ourselves as created, limited, dependent beings. We are dependent upon everything around us, upon the whole spiritual and material world. Man is a “dependent” of the universe. And further, he is dependent, together with other created things, and dependent this time in an absolute sense, on God who is the one, eternal, and real being.2

If our sole dependence rested on other fallible human beings, we would have good reason to fear. There is a limit to the best wisdom, knowledge, and skill any person can offer, and that “best” is still tainted with sin. But there is Someone greater, wiser, and more powerful under-girding our interrelationships and interdependence on each other. Someone on whom we truly depend. He is not the watchmaker god of the deists who winds the timepiece and observes what will happen from afar. Our God sees perfectly and judges righteously. His purpose will not waiver and neither will his love. He took on humanity that he might redeem us, purchasing pardon with his death and providing righteousness with his life.

As his children, we have an open invitation to the throne of grace. We are welcome to pour out our hearts in petition, but we are also free to come when we are too overwhelmed to even know what to pray.  We can come to the end of our rope and the end of ourselves in this place of dependence. A place where Christ accepts a feeble, “Lord, you know,” and gives us assurance that he does.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:15-16 NASB


1. The Wonderful Works of God, Herman Bavinck, Westminster Seminary Press, 2019, pg. 29.
2. Ibid. pg. 27.

July 21, 2021

Book Excerpt: Don’t Waste Your Pain (2)

This is our second of two excerpts (see here for part one) from a new book by Paul Willoughby titled Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness. Have you known pain in your life? Paul’s book is equal parts of autobiography — including his (and wife Gloria’s) ministry nationally in Canada through Christian television, in local churches in Ontario, in Uganda, and in India — and exposition of key Bible narratives. There are 13 challenging chapters and each has questions at the end for personal or group reflection, as well as links to some supplemental online resources relating to each.

Our excerpt today is from one of the teaching sections. Learn more about the book and how to order at dontwasteyourpain.com.

Fruit from Darkness

God has given us many wonderful parallels in nature that help us understand spiritual realities. Often in the Scriptures we see Jesus using everyday objects to illustrate great truth. One of Jesus’ favourites was to talk about farm life – something very familiar to His hearers. He spoke of a farmer sowing seeds, or of a vineyard that needed tending. One time, in speaking of His death Jesus said those words about a kernel of wheat dying, being buried, so it can produce a harvest of many seeds.

For a plant to grow, a seed needs to be buried in the soil. It is a picture of death and pain, of darkness and loneliness. Unless it is planted it will not bear fruit.

Many times in our lives we also feel like that seed – buried, forgotten, alone. But, like the seed, if we allow God’s presence to fill our lives He can cause us to grow and to be fruitful. It’s not easy. And it may take some time. There may be further pruning involved. But as the great Gardener of our lives, we can trust Him to know what He is doing and to bring us to a place of fruitfulness!

Naomi’s Pain: From Bitter to Blessed

One of the many examples of this in Scripture is seen in the life of Naomi. I imagine that she must have spent many nights weeping, crying out to God, wondering why her dreams had been shattered and buried.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Israel due to a severe famine. They headed as refugees for Moab, a country neighbouring Israel. Not long after, Elimelech tragically died. Naomi was devastated yet grateful that she still had her two sons with her. She soon found wives for them: Mahlon married Orpah and Kilion married Ruth. As hard as it was to imagine tragedy struck Naomi again within ten years of her husband’s death: her two sons died.

Naomi could not bear the pain. She viewed her losses the way many people do and concluded that God was against her. Perhaps Naomi wondered, “Aren’t I part of God’s people? Doesn’t God see me or care for me anymore?” Resentment began to seep into Naomi’s soul. We can sense it in her words: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:13). In fact, Naomi told her friends to call her “Mara” instead of Naomi, because Mara meant “bitter.” She was beginning to form her identity around her circumstances, rather than on what God thought of her, or had planned for her. Because of her pain Naomi thought her story was finished; she was unable to see how God could bring anything good out of something that appeared to be so bad.

We all need to be careful about how we interpret the bad things that happen to us. In deep sorrow Naomi gave up and advised her two daughters-in-law to go back home and find new husbands. Orpah followed her suggestion, but Ruth refused. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you,” Ruth replied. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16). Could there be any stronger example of devotion in all of Scripture? Ruth’s willingness to selflessly bind herself to one in such tragedy and suffering is amazing. However, in the throes of depression, Naomi was unable to see her world correctly.

A small glimmer of hope for Naomi emerged in her daughter-in-law’s promises to never leave her, never forsake her. It is the same promise that God makes to us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5–6). We begin to see how, in a sense, Ruth is like God and sometimes we are like Naomi; though many will leave us and forsake us, God will not.

Ruth’s promise did not take away Naomi’s pain, but it did help her begin to move in the right direction and kept her going until she reached a place where she could say, “God is good.”

If you read through the story, in the book of Ruth, you will see how after Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, God moved the heart of Boaz to provide for Ruth and then to eventually marry her. They had a child, Obed, who would eventually become the grandfather of David, the great King of Israel. Hundreds of years later, of course, Jesus himself would come from David’s lineage.

But let’s think about Naomi once again. Imagine her in Moab, her husband and two sons suddenly gone. All her dreams suddenly shattered, her longings unfulfilled, her hopes dashed to pieces. She put a label on herself: “bitter.” But looking back we see that God actually had blessing in store for her. What if she had really given up? Turned her back on God? She could have said, ‘I never want to go back to Israel and its God! He doesn’t care about me!’ But, no, even though she could not understand it, she returned again. And as we turn to the Lord, even in the midst of pain, God can turn our bitterness to blessing, just as he did for Naomi!

When our circumstances look desperate and we are tempted to become despondent, we must remember that there is still hope.

So, don’t give up. God is near. Turn your eyes toward heaven and know that He sees your tears. Let Him draw you close to Himself. Rest there in His embrace and allow Him to “quiet you with his love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, loss is a bitter pill to take, but we never know what good God will bring out of it, or the greater plan He can unfold if we only trust Him.

 

July 17, 2021

God’s Peace for You

Today something radically different. Our devotional thoughts are taken from one of many 5-day reading plans at YouVersion. For those who don’t know it, just as desktop and laptop computer users tend to gravitate to Bible Gateway or Bible Hub, cell/mobile users tend to download the YouVersion app. It offers an endless list of Bible translations in hundreds of languages. It was conceived by Bobby Gruenewald (an associate of Craig Groeschel) who got the idea and immediately registered the domain name while standing in line at an airport.

Today’s excerpt from the notes has been edited for space; you’re encouraged to click the link which follows to read in full. There are also many suggested scripture readings for each of the five days you select, and you can click on them to read the passages.

Experiencing God’s Peace

What Is Peace?

If you ask people what peace means, they’ll give you a variety of answers…

While those answers aren’t bad or wrong, they are usually from a viewpoint that doesn’t include God in the equation. The world’s peace is different from God’s peace. Worldly peace is temporary and dependent upon circumstances, and doesn’t provide the kind of peace Jesus is offering. When things are calm, we’re at peace. When our circumstances grow dim, we’re not at peace.

In John 14:27, Jesus doesn’t want our hearts to be troubled. Because although we concern ourselves with temporal struggles, He’s offering a permanent solution, which is His peace. It doesn’t matter how intelligent we are, how decorated our resumes are, how many inventions are credited to our names, or how smart, creative, and wise we are—we don’t know how to create peace.

The Creator of peace is the One who created us. He is our Lord, our Creator, our Mighty God, and our Everlasting Father…

Peace With God

This peace that God gives may be beyond our comprehension, but it’s not beyond our grasp. It’s readily available to us. If we want to have peace with God, there are no “Three easy steps to peace with God.” There is only one way—Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross, God put all of the sins of the world on Jesus—past, present, and future. When we accept this gift from God and put our faith in Him, we get the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness, according to Romans 4:23-24, is “credited” to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead.

We all want God’s peace. But until we come to a saving relationship with Jesus, receive His gift, and are saved, we’ll never have it. It’s best stated like this: If we want the peace of God, we must first have peace with God.

When we sin—and we will—this does not cancel out peace with God. When we are justified by God, it’s a one-time event. We’re not justified over and over. Praise God that our human condition doesn’t render our saved, spiritual condition as null and void.

So, what does peace with God do for us during uncertain times? It grants us hope. Hope that the life we live on earth is just the beginning of our forever life with God. As followers of Jesus, people who’ve accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we’re given life abundant and life eternal. They go hand in hand.

Because we have the hope of Jesus and His Holy Spirit guiding us, an abundant life is possible here on earth. When we’ve taken our final breath in our temporary body on this earth, we are ushered into eternity. This life in our forever home is eternal and abundant. But, they are both just a continuation of what was begun on earth.

If you know Jesus, if you’ve made Him your Lord and Savior, then you can rest assured that whatever earthly scenarios or circumstances are weighing heavily on you don’t have eternal power over you. In light of what awaits us in our true home, this life is just a tiny segment in time. The peace we have with God is what guarantees our hope of what’s to come.

Peace of God

…To experience the peace of God, let’s dive into two Bible passages to see how we can make the peace of God our constant reality.

Romans 8:6-11

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[b] his Spirit who lives in you.

A Spirit-controlled mind leads to life and peace, and letting our sinful nature reign brings death. Think about it. When we cave and entertain sinful thoughts that are far from God’s best, our minds don’t have the peace of God. Not because God isn’t near, but because our sin has put a barrier between us and God. The peace of God and our sinful nature are at war. They cannot co-exist. But when we simply submit to our good God, trust in His ways, and obey Him, we’re no longer succumbing to our sinful nature and instead experience His perfect peace.

Philippians 4:6-7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God covers us like a blanket when we stop worrying but pray about everything instead. That’s right—everything. We turn every burden or hardship that we’re carrying over to God and when we do, His peace that “passes understanding”  floods our hearts and minds. It’s so beyond our understanding. It’s not something we can create but something we obtain when we choose to trust, obey, and walk in faith…

Peace With Others

Sometimes our lack of peace with others is because we’re stubborn and don’t want to meet in the middle when we don’t agree. We think arrogantly that our way is the best way. Another reason we don’t have peace with others is because we don’t want things to go well for them, either because they’ve hurt us or we’re jealous of them. We don’t want them to flourish, but instead want them to fail.

But we can learn how to live in peace with others from a variety of verses in God’s Word. Here are a few:

  • When someone persecutes us, we bless them in return (Romans 12:14)
  • Never pay back evil with more evil but instead be honorable (Romans 12:17)
  • Don’t retaliate with insults but pay back with a blessing (I Peter 3:9)

Even when we’ve blessed those who persecuted us, have chosen not to pay back evil, and been honorable in our actions, there still may not be peace. Why? Because people are people, and as good as we try to be and as much good as we try to do, we still fall short of perfection. Not every relationship can be salvaged, but let’s do everything we can to ensure that we’ve done our part.

  • Let’s love and be tenderhearted toward each other
  • Let’s believe and hope for the best for others
  • Let’s consider things from their point of view
  • Let’s apologize when we need to make wrongs right
  • Let’s pray for God to work in us and also in them

And let’s ultimately remember that people are not our enemies. We have a real spiritual enemy who loves it when we battle and accuse each other. If we blame people, circumstances, or struggles for our stress and lack of peace, then we are inevitably giving them control over whether or not we live in peace. Let’s not give anything or anyone in our lives this kind of power. There is only One peace-bringer, and His name is Jesus. He is the Prince of all Peace.

Peace Doesn’t Equal Perfection

…While earth is our home, we will have hardship and difficulties. We’ll go through seasons where the pain is intense because pain accompanies struggling relationships, struggling economies, and struggling health crises. These outside pressures don’t have the power to take away God’s perfect peace through Jesus Christ...

He meets us in our deepest time of need with an unexplainable, unfathomable, and inexplicable peace. This peace of God is unrivaled, and it’s beyond compare. No one or no thing is even in the same class as this perfect, mysterious peace. Even though it’s beyond our comprehension, we know when we have God’s peace and we know when we don’t.

We experience it in the midst of unspeakable pain and yet somehow, we have this calmness over us. We experience it when we’re in financial struggles and are unsure of how to pay the next bill, yet we’re amazed we can rest in God’s provision. We experience it when our health is in jeopardy and we don’t know when healing will come, yet we can’t explain the serenity we are living in. That’s the peace of God in imperfect situations. Life is not perfect, but our God is.

God doesn’t always take us out of our valleys, but He will always bring us through them. It’s often in the unknown that God shows us the most powerful revelations about who He is and who we are. We can still trust and rest in our good God during life’s challenges and exhibit faith during our own torrential, situational downpours. It’s this kind of faith that pleases our God.


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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.

 

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