Christianity 201

November 14, 2017

“I Have Lost Everything!”

by Russell Young

I recently heard a committed believer lament, “I have lost everything!”  Perhaps as someone endeavoring to walk “in the light,” as John puts it (1 Jn1: 5─7), you are struggling through a valley experience; you feel that you are being attacked from all sides. The committed believer does not need be overwhelmed with loss, the only things that those “in Christ” can lose are sin, sin’s practices, right to self-determination, and your status “in Christ.”

The greatest fear that any believer can have is his or her failure to remain “in Christ.” Many teach that such a fear is unbiblical, that a person cannot lose his or her position in Christ. However, Christ presents this change in status as a very clear possibility. “[My Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (Jn 15:1; Italics added.) Further, the Lord spoke about the blessings that arise “If [a person] remains in him” (Jn 15:5, 7, 10), and promises that he will remain in the person who remains in him. (Jn 15:4) A person remains in him if he or she obeys his commands. (Jn 15:10) The believer—a believer is one who obeys him—need not fear loss, but all who claim his name need to be believing–belief must be ongoing. In another place Christ also spoke of the possibility of impermanence in the family. (Jn 8:35)

It is important for the believer, the person “in Christ,” to understand the reality of what is transpiring in his or her life. Valley experiences require that time be committed to prayer and meditation. Truth must be separated from feelings and losses from gains. Certainly, disappointment, the thwarting of dreams, and even the loss of “friends” or financial security can weigh down a sensitive spirit, but these may not be losses from the Lord’s perspective; consequently, they should not be considered losses from the believer’s perspective. This is easy to say for someone not involved, but reflection will reveal that losses, in fact, may not have been losses at all.  “Losses” bring a person up short. They greatly impact the progress of life and call for an alteration in some sense. However, the Lord is looking out for the good of those “in him.”  Paul encouraged, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) It is easy to become distracted and to stray from the Lord’s will and it can hurt to become re-oriented, to have ungodly interests chipped away, and to be maintained on the narrow path.

The Word never taught that all things would go painlessly for the believer. In fact, he promised persecution (2 Tim 3:12) and trials (1 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:6) and even discipline (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-7; Rev 3:19) and punishment. (Heb 12:6) Discipline and punishment apply to those he loves.  (Heb 12:5) “God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10 NIV)

God tests hearts. He did it for the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 12:25, 16:4, 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16, 13:3;) He tested Abraham (Gen 22:1), Job (Job 23:10), and Jeremiah (Jer 12:3). He even tested the heart of his Son (Mt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:1) Those who claim the name of Christ will be tested also. (Job 7:18; 1 Chr 29:17; 1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) God tests hearts and the faithful will be found walking obediently with him.

The only way a believer can “lose everything” is for him or her to abandon the Lord and the position that was provided for them. Trials must be faced for what they are…trials. This life is not easy. Imperfections must be cut away; holiness must be built through righteousness practices. (Rom 6: 19, 22) All those who want to remain in Christ and attain to the resurrection must live as he did. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6)

When you are counting your loses, it is important to consider them from an eternal perspective.  Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:25 NIV) Loss is often a very good thing.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

October 24, 2017

Holding, Embracing, Living in God’s Promise to Be With Us

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Today we’re paying a return visit to Seeds of the Kingdom the devotional page of  Ellel Ministries*, an organization with locations on many continents. Click the title below to read at source.

When Pressures Build

by Ron Scurfield

A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  Mark 4:37-39, ESV

What do we do when the pressures of life build up and obscure the presence of Jesus – when we seem to be heading down a tunnel that gets narrower and darker? We may tell ourselves, “God is with me. He will never leave me nor forsake me.” We may hold on in faith, aware that God knows our problems and He won’t let us down.

But the effort in maintaining control takes its toll. We’re pushed into a corner and the walls are closing in. We can’t see a way out and we know the enemy is gaining the upper hand. Our resistance fades. Do we examine our conscience and look for ways where the devil may have found a foothold?

We search the Scriptures for words of encouragement. But we can see where we’re heading, and the pressure increases. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). God will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He turned away from His Son because Jesus was carrying the sins of the world on His shoulders, ‘… that they may have life …’ (John 10:10).

We need to hold on. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). We may argue that we do know the truth, but He still seems so far away. The truth is in His Word, and His promises are trustworthy.

Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). To know God is more than just a mental assertion that He exists. It’s an intimate relationship. God is all-loving, all-merciful and all-faithful. We need to embrace this truth and know that He will never let us down. When our faith begins to waver and doubt takes hold, the enemy creeps in as he did in the garden when he said to Eve, Did God really say …? (Genesis 3:1).

Habakkuk writes: My heart pounded, my lips quivered … decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The intimate relationship He has with us is such that He will see us through our troubles. He will provide for our every need. He will never leave us. He is with us continually. David said. ‘‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Psalm 23:4). We need to know the truth. Hold on to it, embrace it, live in it. Jesus said, ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6). He will never fail us. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please forgive me when I allow the trials of life to become greater than my faith in You. You are Lord of all, even my troubles. Help me to rest in Your peace when the storm rages, and know that You are God. Amen.


* What does Ellel mean?

September 19, 2017

Surviving a Valley Experience

by Russell Young

Every believer will be faced with a valley experience at some point. That is, something will come into his or her life that seems devastating and destructive. It might be the loss of a loved one, financial damage, health issues, the pain of a destroyed relationship, the hurt of perceived betrayal, etc. For those living in Florida or Texas, or those suffering through the destructive earthquake of southern Mexico the valley experience is very evident.  Bad things happen and those engulfed in them must find a way through if they are to once more find hope on the other side.

When bad things happen, a person needs to clearly understand what victory looks like to him or her since without it only defeat remains. Their appreciation of victory provides objectivity and the goal that offers hope and recovery. It provides direction for obtaining the mountaintop and the ability to confidently proceed with life.

Although overcoming disaster may look different and feel different for each person, it is singular and consistent for all believers.  Victory while in this life is the attainment of God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus taught, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25 NIV) This life and the glories of this world are not to be valued. There are lessons to be learned from all “misfortunes.” For believers, the lesson may be a reminder to rely on God and to live according to his priorities and purposes. The “consistent and singular” need of the Christ follower is to focus and remain focused on him.

Paul put difficulties into an eternal perspective. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17─18, Italics added.)

Victory must not be accepted as triumph over a momentary event but seen from an eternal perspective with the finding a place in God’s kingdom. There is no doubt that loss brings hurt and causes pain, even great pain and help and compassion needs to be shown the suffering. No one enjoys such experiences but it is through them that faith is tested and proven.  “…you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) The faith of all will be tested. God made the Israelites wander for forty years to test their hearts (Deut 8:2), and Christ was tested in the desert for forty days. Those who confess Christ should not accept that they will be provided a life free of tribulation, turmoil, and pain. Trials are promised to all believers.

Whether or not release can be found from the effects of the devastations of life depends entirely on a person’s perspective. Those who do not have an eternal hope will feel great loss; those who know the Lord can find their way up to the mountaintop by fixing their sight on the only one who can meet their eternal need. They can look past their circumstance and onward to a better hope. Valleys are necessary for spiritual growth. They test our mettle and either engender and prove faith or reveal its weakness. Contrary to the teaching of many, the believer must be made into an “offering acceptable to God” (Rom 15:16 NIV) and “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:29 NIV) When the believer’s perspective becomes focused on the issues and pleasures of this life, it must be adjusted. That is not to say that all people who are walking in the valley need an adjustment.  Sometimes the valley experience becomes ours due to proximity of those around us…family members, neighbors, communities, etc. Few live in isolation.

Concerning God’s intercession Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) This understanding can provide great encouragement for those who are suffering. Regardless of the believer’s circumstance he or she can accept that through humility and obedience all will be well.

Here and now issues must not be permitted to cast the Lord aside. Things arise that require immediate effort and resources. Although the tendency might be for the troubled one to address the problem through his or her own resources without the Lord’s leading a wrong path might be taken and his purpose thwarted. In 2 Corinthians 11:23─27 Paul has listed many of his trials; however, he never gave in to defeat. He did not lose himself in their midst but set his sight on the bigger picture.

Whatever the struggles of life seem to be, they are temporal and must be seen as temporal. As bad as they are if the Lord leads they will eventually pass allowing the sun to shine once again and peace to be restored. The believer is to keep his or her eye set on Christ and on honoring him. That is faith in practice. He must be honored even in the midst of trials. Earthly possessions, health, and relationships may be lost never to be regained; but God is in control and will always remain sovereign over all things.

Paul suffered through despair but found assurance of victory through Christ.  “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (2 Cor 1: 8-10 NIV)  Surviving a valley experience requires eyes set on God and a heart set on honoring him.

April 30, 2017

Joy in Testing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

James taught that believers should “consider it pure joy” when they face trials. (James 1:2 NIV) “Trials” in this passage is derived from the Greek peirasmos which means “a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity: -temptation, X try.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) In essence he is saying that Christ-followers are to take calm delight in the opportunity given to prove their faith because through proving their faith they develop perseverance and perseverance produces maturity. That is, working through trials engenders maturity.

At first glance the thought of having to face testing is something that is not welcome. Who wants their peace and comfort removed, even temporarily? The truth is, however, that testing develops spiritual strength and confidence in the Lord. It also refines the skills needed to gain victory over temptations, provided that the one being tested perseveres to the end.

There is a challenge to the concept of eternal salvation present in James’ proclamation. That is, if a person’s eternal salvation was accomplished at confession of faith, how could faithfully persevering through trials benefit him or her, and if benefit could not be derived, how can joy be found in needless discomfort or pain?

Jesus taught that you must be born again if you are to have any hope of gaining God’s eternal Kingdom. (Jn 3:3) New birth is the production of a baby, not a mature adult. Being “born again” means a new beginning with the indwelling presence of Christ as the Holy Spirit. It is Christ in the believer that is his hope of glory (Col 1:27), but the born-again believer is still a spiritual baby. There are many basic or foundational teachings (Heb 6:1─2) that are needed to nourish the infant, however the writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk (the foundational teachings) is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5: 13─14 NIV) Teachings about righteousness are the ‘meat’ of the gospel and strengthen those who use them because they help believers learn to distinguish good from evil and through perseverance prove, demonstrate, or reveal their faith through righteous practices.

Why are trials considered to be “pure joy”? Why should the person undergoing trials accept them with an attitude of calm delight? Faith is not proven to God or to oneself through easy living. It is not developed in times of peace and comfort. Peter spoke of the inheritance to come for the faithful but states that “though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come to prove your faith-of greater value than gold, which even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) Faithfulness, having been proven, will result in a person’s glorification. Those who do not faithfully persevere will not be found in God’s eternal kingdom. (Mt 10:22)

“Faith” means ‘persuasion’ and although most come to Christ having been persuaded of God’s reality, their need, and his life-saving ministry for them, their persuasion is often not sufficient to enable perseverance through difficult trials and the proving of his faithfulness. Persuasion in these regards is gradually built or put on through experience and trials.

After releasing the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, the LORD took them on a circuitous route to the Promised Land through the desert “to test their faithfulness to him.” (Ex 15:25 NLT) Given their inexperience with him the Lord was not about to put them under trial or testing early in their journey. He said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Ex 13:17 NIV) They needed to be victorious in trials and to learn of him if they were to become strong and committed to honoring him. The journey to the Promised Land could have been completed in eleven days but took forty years. Moses reminded his people, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your hearts, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2 NIV) The life journey of the believer, even today, is a testing of his or her faith so that the Lord might know what is in their hearts. The reader is reminded of Jesus’ proclamation as recorded by Matthew: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you (was not sure of, you had not proven faithful) Away from me you evildoers!’” (Mt 7:21-23 NIV)

A life lived free of concern for evil and lacking repentance concerning its practice will have eternal consequences regardless of deceptive teachings that promote otherwise. God will not be mocked! The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament and the believer’s understanding needs to reflect that reality. It is through his mercy and grace that the Father through his Son has provided means for accomplishing his righteous requirements. (2 Pet 1:3) The believer should count perseverance through tribulations as opportunity to prove his or her faithfulness and commitment and should find joy as they gain victory through the trial of the moment by relying on the enlightenment, leading and power of their Savior. So, count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.



Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown


From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

January 17, 2017

Healing and Testing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Atlanta pastor and author Charles Stanley and the broadcast organization, InTouch Ministries. As we did last year, we’re bringing you a two-for-one special because the articles are shorter. We’ve grouped two together I think make a good fit. Each also includes an audio reading of the same material.

When God Does Not Heal

NLT Prov 3:3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
    Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
    Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
    and you will earn a good reputation.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

In Touch - Charles Stanley“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Testing Builds Endurance

Dear brothers and sisters,[Gk brothers] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

“Why would a loving heavenly Father allow His children to go through terrible trials and experience sorrow?” We can understand the reason that this is a common question—it can be baffling when the all-powerful God of love seems to stand by silently while painful things happen to His followers. Where is He during personal tragedies, natural disasters, financial crises, and other times of heartache?

The Word of God is the only place we can find the real answer. Even so, today’s reading can be hard to understand or accept. One might read James’s exhortation to be joyful in the face of trials and think, Count me out! Difficulties and joy just don’t seem to go together—that is, unless we understand God’s perspective of what life is about.

When James spoke of joy, he wasn’t referring to a cheery, frivolous feeling. Rather, he was talking about an inner sense of calmness, peace, and confidence in the Lord. He wasn’t telling us to feel happy about our trials but to know, as we go through them, that God is up to something good in our life. Our attitude during the struggle will determine what shape we’re in when we come out on the other side.

When our faith gets tested, the end result is endurance; being aware of this gives us hope and strength. What’s more, the Bible promises God will use trials for our good, so we don’t need to be afraid or anxious.

God’s desire is to bless you, not destroy you. Adversity can make someone feel like a victim, but as followers of Christ, we can choose to be victors!


Link for the second devotional is found in the archives section, click to 1/13/17

October 5, 2016

A Great Book For When Life Is Anything But

Have you ever felt like God just doesn’t care? Or perhaps He cares, but is terribly unfair? The husband of my cousin passed away recently and the funeral service confirmed what I already knew. He was a great man who honoured the Lord with his life. He made the lives of everyone around him better. Lord, why not take those who make the lives of everyone around them bitter instead? There are plenty of candidates judging by the evening news. Why this good man and why now as he was still quite young?

Such questioning is common enough. Another cousin of mine sent me a link to a video interview of Stephen Fry who, though not believing in God, responded to the question “what would you like to say to God?” with something like “how dare you create a world with such suffering!” While many of us would not be so bold, we cannot help but question, based on life experience, if God sometimes does not care, or is unfair. Sometimes we just do not feel like clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It . . .”

If you have ever had such negative spiritual thoughts, you are not the first. In fact we are given in the Bible quite a number of Psalms coming from Psalmists writing from dark places. We are also given an entire book written from a dark place, Lamentations. Five chapters mainly of misery. Possibly written by the prophet Jeremiah, but definitely written following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, along with the destruction of the Temple and the exile of God’s people. It is a poem written during dark times. It is a great book for when life is anything but. Here is but a small sample:

[God] has filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”
19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me. Lamentations 3:15-20 (NRSV)

Let us consider what we can learn from Lamentations:

A man or woman of God need not hold back on lament and honest prayer. Listening to my Dad pray in public makes me not want to pray in public. There is an eloquence to his speech in prayer that few of us possess. Do the eloquent prayers of the saints keep sinners from praying? Don’t wait until your prayers sound eloquent, polite, and polished before praying. Pray from experience. Pray honestly. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God can spend some time reflecting on suffering. We ought not to get the picture of the author reacting in the moment, getting the laments off his chest and then moving on and clapping along to “If You Are Happy and You Know It” the next day. The poetry may feel like it is from the gut, but in fact it is well thought out, for this is quite polished poetry. It is hard to see in the English, but each of the chapters are structured around the Hebrew alphabet. Yes, you can sit with your questions. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God knows that all suffering is ultimately deserved. All but the central third chapter focus in on the suffering of the nation. Even where the poet uses the first person, he is speaking on behalf of all God’s people. While exclaiming that the suffering is great, he also knows that it is just:

The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word. Lamentations 1:18 (NRSV)

This can help us understand where suffering comes from. We are no longer in the Garden of Eden. If there were no sin in humanity, there would be no suffering. Expect a just God to allow suffering. The author of Lamentations did.

A man or woman of God may still feel that suffering is out of proportion, or is unfair. Where chapters one and two, four and five are about the suffering of the nation, chapter three is about the suffering of the writer personally. We know that Jeremiah, the probable writer, suffered terribly as a prophet. Indeed many of those who were the most faithful to God suffered. While the suffering of the nation could be understood, for the leaders and people did not repent in accordance to the call of God through the prophets, why must the prophets themselves suffer also, sometimes even more so? In our day while we can know that suffering is a result of sin generally, why does the suffering of the relatively innocent seem out of proportion to the suffering of the truly evil?

A man or woman of God can still have hope in the face of suffering. There is a turning point in chapter three, one that has found its way into the wonderful hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The funeral of my cousin’s husband began with this hymn. How many people know these words were lifted from a Biblical poet in a dark time and place?

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NRSV)

His mercies are new every morning, because we in our sin do not deserve any more mornings. Yet they come, full of opportunity, full of the possibility of walking with God in Christ. And if we do not deserve one more morning, we certainly do not deserve the new reality we will awaken to on the resurrection morning. One more day of life is a sign of God’s grace. Eternal life is evidence of God’s amazing grace all the more. Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, is evidence of greatness of God’s faithfulness.

There is more that the poet calls to mind:

  • The Lord is our portion  – verse 24
  • The Lord is good to those who wait on him – verse 25
  • The Lord does not reject forever – verse 31
  • The Lord sees injustice – verse 36
  • The Lord is completely just 39
  • There is opportunity to repent -verse 40
  • The Lord keeps covenant promises – verses 40-48
  • The Lord takes notice – verses 49-63
  • The Lord will execute justice and put things right – verses 64-66

To be able to call to mind these truths about God, the man or woman of God will need to know them in the first place. Sometimes people rail against God without the foggiest notion as to Who it is they are railing against. The better we know the Lord, the greater our opportunity to find hope in the midst of suffering. The author of Lamentations was going through a lot but he knew there was a lot more of the story yet to be told. For this is not just his story to tell, this is God’s story to write. Whatever your circumstance, there is a lot more yet to be told in the story of your life. You may not know all the details of how life will unfold, but you can know that great is His faithfulness.

The man or woman of God may not have all the answers to every question. By the end of Lamentations Jeremiah still had questions:

Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days? Lamentations 5:20 (NRSV)

I have often likened faith to a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces come together nicely and a picture begins to emerge. Other pieces are tricky to place, indeed there are some which you don’t find where they go until you are nearly finished. With faith, some people begin with the really difficult questions and never think of anything else. The puzzle is thrown out as a waste of time and faith never develops. I have found that though there are questions I cannot answer, though there are certain pieces that I cannot place, they do not distract from the amazing picture that has emerged. It is a picture of the faithfulness of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the mercy of God, the justice of God, the holiness of God, the power of God, the plan of God, and so much more. It is a picture of Jesus. The puzzling bits remain puzzling, but the picture of God that emerges keeps me puzzling on. Knowing Jesus has not answered every question for me, but it has enabled me to live with the questions.

The writer of Lamentations knew the Lord well enough that he was able to have hope in the midst of a rotten day. Do you? When it seems like God does not care, or is unfair, call to mind His faithfulness. Call to mind all that we know about God through Jesus Christ. That God does care has been proven in the past, at the cross. That God is fair will be proven when Christ returns.

September 30, 2016

Holding on to Your Faith

Today we’re featuring a website new to us, Ebony Johanna, although we’ve linked to her content previously at Thinking Out Loud. Click the title below to read at source, and then visit the blog for more. She begins by addressing the current situation in the United States from an African-American perspective.

Where Do We Go From Here? Maintaining Faith in the Midst of Suffering

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. For the help of his presence.” – Psalm 42.5

After another agonizing week of around the clock coverage of the war against black bodies, we find ourselves here again. Once again, we rise in protest because of another shooting of black men, women, and children. Once again, we offer analysis and critique of a system that continuously devalues our lives. Once again, we have conversations with colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even strangers about the urgency in dealing with this national sin. Once again, we petition God for cessation to this madness, praying that he would rescue us from imminent doom.

And with all of this, I still wonder if we are actually doing anything. It feels as if our prayers are falling on deaf ears, reverberating throughout the heavens yearning for someone to listen.

Does God hear? And if God hears, does he care? Can God actually do anything to save us?

As these crises continue, it proves that it doesn’t matter what we are doing – our melanin makes us an instant target. Whether we are armed or not, with our hands up or not, running or lying flat on the ground, able-bodied or disabled, cis-gendered or queer, young or old – the common denominator in them all is blackness. Blackness presumes that we are guilty regardless of what we do or what we don’t do. And that is disheartening as much as it is mind-boggling. If this was about behavior, we could act right even if it didn’t feel right if it meant that we would make it home. But it is not about behavior, how good or how bad, it is about this skin, this blackness which God created.

We can’t change this skin. We can’t peel it off or wake up one day shades lighter so that we can escape the white gaze. Yet the longer we stay in it, the longer our fate remains the same. All it takes is one traffic stop, one sidewalk encounter, one word misinterpreted, one glance mistaken for anger – as if we didn’t have a right to be. Can God get us out of this mess? Didn’t he know what they would do to us, that they would despise and kill what he deemed beautiful?

Deep in my heart I know that things will change. And yet my confession of faith sounds trite and feigned even to my own ears. I sympathize with Baldwin and Coates’ lack of faith in a divine deliverer as the past 400 years suggests that deliverance isn’t coming and at the same time, my blackness denies me the opportunity to surrender to the notion that this is all there is. Hope against hope is the only thing that sustains as black corpses fill my Facebook feed night after night after night. With every new hashtag, I feel my heart leap out of my chest. I have stopped looking. I have stopped counting.

Too oppressed to give up the fight of faith. In a sense, agnosticism is a luxury of the privileged, those who don’t have to spend entire generations praying for relief to come. And yet, faith cannot simply be deduced to a product of poverty and oppression. I disagree with the notion that suffering helps us to center our faith, because then racism sounds like the intent of the divine and not the workings of evil men who have purposed in their hearts to ransack the earth of all of its goods. I choose to believe the latter and still, it brings me little comfort as then we have to question whether God has the capacity to make the suffering stop.

If I keep fixated on the news feeds, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering. Every single day, it seems, there is a new Emmett Till. Before we can even grieve the loss of one of soul, we learn of another. The sheer rate at which our black brothers and sisters are falling – with no plausible end in sight – can leave one to deduce that God is not as powerful as we once imagined him to be. We’ve been praying. We’ve been fasting. Not just in this moment but for centuries. Though methods have changed, the fact that we are brutalized remains the same. If deferred hope makes the heart grow weak, the absence of hope surely kills it.

It is one thing to have our bodies thrown about because our blackness too closely resembles God’s image; it is quite another to allow our spirits to die because we have grown disillusioned by the suffering. If our spirits die, we will never survive this sadistic society.

We must press on. We must fight to maintain this ancient faith, not the white man’s faith but this faith that flows from where the Nile meets the Euphrates. It is this faith that enabled our ancestors to survive slavery, and it is this same faith that empowered them to fight for their freedom. This faith empowered our people to escape the Jim Crow south, to protest against lynching, stand up for voting rights, and march for freedom. We cannot abandon it, even in desperate times like these. We cannot walk out on God, even if we can’t see where God is moving in this moment.

Just as he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army and led our very own people out of slavery, he will lead us away from this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I choose to believe change is coming.

 

August 5, 2016

To the One Who Holds the Stars

Occasionally we run a devotional here, and then include a related song at the end. Today, we’re running the song first, and then the story behind it. This appeared in a longer form at New Release Tuesday. Click the link below to read in its entirety including a full transcript of the lyrics.


#744 – “Stars” by Skillet

interview with John Cooper

Please tell me the personal story behind this song.

… The message of the song is that God is in control of all the huge stuff and He is in control of the small stuff in your life. He is listening when you are having a bad day. Sometimes we think that the world is going to keep going, the sun is going to rise and set every day but God doesn’t care about the small things in your life. The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible teaches the opposite.

God does care about us and even the sparrows have food to eat. That’s the idea of the song. The thing I was most proud of in writing the song is my wife, Korey, said we should write in the verses to not just write about things God has created like the oceans and the stars in the sky, but also provide a little more detail, as that’s the point. God didn’t just create the big things, but also the small details like how God gave the oceans their borders. God told the oceans where to start and where to stop.

Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV): “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.

Psalm 124:8 (VOICE):Our help has come in the name of the Eternal, the Maker of heaven and earth!

Psalm 139:13-14 (NKJV):For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

Psalm 139:17-18 (NKJV):How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.

1 John 4:8 (NKJV):He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:16 (NKJV): And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:18-19 (NKJV):There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV):For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What is the takeaway message?

We included some details of God’s creation in the verses and some references from the Bible such as my favorite passage of Scripture in the second verse: “Can’t separate me, can’t keep me from Your sight,” which is based on Romans 8:38-39. No matter where you run or try to hide, there is nowhere you can hide from God’s presence. Those are some cool aspects of the song and hopefully people can realize that if God cares about the details of His creation, He cares about the details of our lives.

Skillet has a lot of different kinds of fans. Some of our songs have double meanings, and a lot of this album and part of why we call the album “Unleashed” is about not being afraid. There are a lot of songs about that, like “Feel Invincible,” and “Lions.”

I was going through some hard times in my life the past few years, and part of the minutia of that is we struggle with fears and insecurities or something terrible, like broken and abusive homes. The spectrum is wide of what people are fearing, and in all of those situations, God can make you brave and not afraid. You don’t have to fear because God is with you. The theological aspect of not being afraid is that I have become more and more comfortable that God called me and I chose Him because He chose me without getting into a deep theological discussion. He first loved us.

If He first loved me, and called me, and He knows my name, then I don’t have to fear all these things or falling away from Him or losing His Holy Spirit. He has me so securely. That has really impacted me and I’ve gotten a deeper and deeper understanding of how amazing God’s grace really is in my life.

God, our Creator, created us in His image and likeness. He adores us immensely, and sent Jesus to die for us to show us the definition of love. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8 (NIV). God created the stars in the sky and knows the numbers of hairs on our heads. He’s right here. If you’ve put all of your hope and trust in Jesus, there is nothing that can separate you from His love. God sees us as He sees His Son. He knows our names and He loves us so much that He came to die for us.

If you don’t know how to word your prayers of thankfulness for what Jesus has done for you, just sing along with this incredible song of faith. It’s okay to not be okay and bring your thoughts to the Lord no matter what you are thinking. Just like you don’t have to wash your hands before you take a shower, just get into a relationship with the Lord and then profess that relationship to Him.

There are several truths we can cling to as believers in this song: “If You can calm the raging sea, You can calm the storm in me,” and recognizing that we are never too far from His love or His reach. God is omnipresent and always with us. The song also sings about not being afraid of the storm, “Your love has called my name. What do I have to fear?” The Lord tells us all throughout His Word to not be afraid or worry. He knows we suffer from that attack from the enemy who wants to rob us of our joy in God. By reading the Bible every day, God wants us to have a daily reminder not to be afraid.

This song is a great celebratory anthem about what it means to have hope in Christ. Sometimes it is hard to believe that God loves us so much that He knows us intimately and He wants to fill our hearts with love. We don’t have to be pretend, or hide, or strive or stand on our tiptoes to meet some mark. He knows our brokenness inside and out, and because of what Jesus did on the Cross, He sees us as righteous. God sees us as He sees His Son. It’s not our righteousness, or appearance or talent or gifting, it is just Jesus. That’s cause to celebrate and sing out to Him: “You’re never too far away, You never show up too late, So here I am lifting up my heart, To the One who holds the stars, You’re the One who holds the stars.” Amen to that!

August 3, 2016

Christians and Mid-life Crisis

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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midlife-crisis-ahead

This topic arose yesterday and I decided to investigate what the interwebs had to say on this subject. This is a subject on which I think women are more expressive than men, but it would be foolish to think that men don’t experience this. (See the checklist linked at the bottom of this article to see if this applies to you.)

The first link I found was a scripture medley at OpenBible.info and this is just the first among many ESV scriptures posted:

James 1:1-27

… 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. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. …

James 1:4

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

…Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast… it is not irritable or resentful; …

As helpful as those verses are,  one which struck me that should be on the list is:

Philippians 4:11

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (NIV)

So what are the circumstances of a mid-life crisis? It’s interesting to look at the other translations of this verse (use the same link above):

  • The NLT focuses on possessions: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” How many people measure their success in life by what they own?
  • The Berean Literal Bible focuses on status: “I have learned to be content in that which I am.” How many people gauge their life in terms of what they have achieved? (Or is this a reference to character?)

Additional translations emphasize each of these ideas.

I continued looking at other websites. At Crosswalk.com, author Wendy Alsup writes:

…In my teens and twenties, I had naive, idealized notions of how life was going to play out for me if I put my trust in God. Now, my life is not going quite like I thought it would. That disconnect between youthful expectation and mid-life reality has brought about a crisis of sorts—a mid-life crisis of belief…

…From afar, I may seem to have a fulfilling life. But I still have a deep unsatisfied longing.

I note that the longing only becomes more profound the older I get. As I age, the more people I know, the more individual needs I see, the more ministries I see grow, the more ministries I see crumble. Most of all, I see deep needs in my own life that are not going away. Through it all, I recognize that the God of my youthful imagination is not the God of my reality now…

…In the midst of this prolonged mid-life crisis, my dependence upon and appreciation for God’s written word has grown exponentially. God knew of this coming crisis in my life long before I was born, and I am not the first believer to experience it. Thousands of years ago, He recorded words that acknowledge this struggle and point us to the theological truths, the true character of our God, that meet us in it.

We are afflicted, perplexed, and struck down. But we’re not crushed, forsaken, or destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-10. We are sojourners who shouldn’t expect to fully feel at home on this earth (1 Peter 2:11). And our hope all along was never supposed to be about resolution of pain on earth. God has always called us to a hope and confidence in an eternal inheritance that gives perspective to our earthly struggles.

1 Peter 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

God acknowledges through Peter that we for a while in this life are “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). But those various trials are linked to a genuine faith that is more precious than gold 1 Peter 1:7, anchored in a glorious joy in Jesus, whom we do not now see but so very much love (1 Peter 1:8).

I am not the first believer to struggle through a variety of trials, nor will I be the last. God has not left us as orphans to navigate such mid-life crises of faith. He instructs us in His Word, and He is WITH us as we navigate it (2 Corinthians 41 Peter 1. The more I study, the more I realize that the death of my naïve notions of how my life would play out have opened me up to truths central to the whole of Scripture that I needed all along.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10: But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

If this applies to you, feel free to share your story in the comments.


For further reading:

 

 

May 2, 2016

Lest Anyone Should Boast

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 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.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 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. 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.

 

December 31, 2015

Complaining Against God

This is from a recommended blog, Pilgrim’s Rock by Craig Biehl. It’s a book excerpt as well. Click the image below to read at source, and then click the link at the bottom to connect with part two of the article.

Is It Okay to Complain Against God? (Part One)

Have you ever been angry and disappointed with God, or questioned His goodness in the midst of deep and dark struggles? Have you ever been so disappointed with God’s response to your prayers that you wanted to give Him a piece of your mind? After all, He knows our weakness and is big enough to take it, right? But, does God understanding our weakness give us the right to complain against Him? Moreover, can it ever be proper to complain against our Creator? Let’s see…

He Hears Our Cries

God is good. “His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4). “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). And in the end, “He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9). And from His love and care for His children, He calls us to cast all our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). To Him we may cry in our troubles: “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy” (Psalm 64:1). “I pour out my complaint before Him; I tell my trouble before Him” (Psalm 142:2). God welcomes our cries for help and understanding. He responds with great compassion to our needs and weaknesses:

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Asking the Right Question

Our question, then, does not concern our freedom to cast our cares upon God or to bring to Him our cries and complaints, for Christ purchased for us that marvelous privilege. Our question concerns the right to complain against God, or to question His wisdom, goodness, or righteousness in His governing the affairs of the world and our personal circumstances. Put another way, can we as created, sustained, and dependent on God for all things complain against a God of perfect power and goodness, who always acts in perfect righteousness, who always desires the best for His people? Or, can finite and fallen people sit in judgment over the source and standard of all righteousness?

Have You Considered Job?

To answer our question, we turn to Job. After all, if anyone had the right to complain against God it was Job. Used by God as an example to His adversary the Devil, Job suffered because He was righteous. And suffer he did, with great personal loss and intense, prolonged physical suffering.

Early in his agony, Job did well in accepting God’s rule and righteousness: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:2-3). But, time and pain wore on. And as we all know how our physical suffering challenges our spiritual demeanor, so Job eventually resorted to criticizing God for causing and ignoring his plight. He sought an audience with God to argue his case against Him.

Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees? Are your days as the days of man, or your years as a man’s years, that you seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, although you know that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of your hand? Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether (Job 10:3-8).

Job’s complaints not only increased as his suffering lingered, he turned to questioning the righteousness, knowledge, and goodness of God. He even went so far as to imply that God favored the wicked! But was Job right in this? And even if he was not, would God not grant Job the right to his accusations given the depth of Job’s agony and his ignorance of the cause of his suffering? Our answer will come in Part Two.

—Adapted from Craig Biehl, God the Reason: How Infinite Excellence Gives Unbreakable Faith, Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2015.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Click the title below to read part two.

Is It Okay to Complain Against God? (Part Two)

July 28, 2015

The Prayer Jesus Prayers Before He Rests

Today we pay a return visit to Gordon Rumford Ministries. I pored over several excellent devotions before choosing this one. Click the title below to read at source and then take a few minutes to look around at some of the other items available there.

Into Your HandsA Good Night’s Rest

“Into your hands I commit my spirit” Psalm 31:5 (NIV)

View in your web browser here
You can view a PDF version here

We are told very little about the upbringing of Jesus. The Gospels are very silent except for one incident in Jesus’ life when He was twelve years old (Luke 2:41-50). However, there was a custom among the mothers of Jesus’ day that we do know about. When a Jewish mother put her young children to bed it was the custom for them to teach their children certain prayers.

In particular one prayer the mothers taught was to have the child recite Psalm 31:5. There is little doubt that Mary taught her remarkable son Jesus to say this prayer. So this is one thing about our Lord’s childhood of which we may be reasonably certain. Jesus likely prayed this prayer each night at least during His formative years. Perhaps He prayed it every night as an adult as well, we simply do not know.

However, we most certainly know that in His darkest time, when He hung on the cross to pay for His people’s sins, He uttered this prayer. It is the last of the seven things He said while on the cross.

During the first three hours on the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of the people gathered around the cross. Now that the physical alternatives were exhausted, the people turned to verbal abuse from about 9 am to noon. Then for the next three hours from noon to 3 pm, a darkness hung over the land and Jesus was forsaken by the Father in order to save sinners from eternal destruction.

The first three words of Jesus from the cross addressed the needs of others. The last four spoken in quick succession gave expression to His own needs. Jesus always saw to the needs of others before attending to His own concerns.

Having now gone through the trauma of being forsaken by God, He can once again address God as Father just as He taught us to do. And, when He is about to dismiss His spirit and die, He says the last of the seven words from the cross. The last thing Jesus said was, (Luke 23:46 NIV)

“Father into your hands I commit my spirit”

This prayer of Jesus is a remarkable one for us to pray as we endure suffering in our lives.

Jesus, as we have said, had just endured to worst the people could inflict. Now, as He is about sleep the sleep of death He prays this prayer perhaps for the last time.

The lesson for us is that we need to become children of God in order that we may pray this inspired prayer in our times of trouble. In fact, becoming a child of God is, in one sense, committing ourselves to the Lord for Him to save us.

We pray to God and dare to address Him as “Father”. Then we place ourselves into His hands. Putting ourselves into God’s hands means that we come under His control. We submit to Him in everything. What we commit to the Lord is our spirit, our eternal being, our essential selves.

My great desire is that everyone who reads this devotional would pray this simple prayer. Fancy words or prayers written by others are not needed. We can simply take this verse of the Bible and use it as the one to bring salvation to ourselves.

If we are suffering and asking God for help in our situation, then this prayer would be a wonderful way to end the time of prayer. Will you submit to what God has for you as long as He will receive your spirit? Will you call out to Him and use the tender word “Father”?

Do so today. He is waiting to hear from you.


Image: Cathedral of the Rockies, Boise ID

April 8, 2015

Praise in the Middle of Chaos

Regular Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon returns next week.

Today we feature, for the second time, the writing of Nate Stevens who appears regularly at the ChristianDevotions.us site.

Praise between the Chaos

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.Psalm 57:5 NIV

Worshipping God is an uplifting experience – but it does not necessarily mean everything in life is perfect. Sometimes it’s simply a willful act of praising God in spite of my present circumstances.

The early Sunday morning sunlight cast a heavenly glow through the windows of my church sanctuary. Our voices blended in the sweetest harmony as we praised Almighty God with the chorus, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens…” Peaceful smiles gradually erased the cares reflected on faces; hands that hung aimlessly, slowly raised heavenward. We all enjoyed the celestial moment as our hearts joined in divine worship.

I fondly recalled that worship experience during this morning’s devotional reading in Psalm 57. Verse five brought back the pleasant memories and a quiet sense of peace swept over me. Then I noticed verses six and seven.

“I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. They spread a net for my feet—I was bowed down in distress.” How about these frightening bookends for your praise?

David wrote this Psalm while running for his life from King Saul. The harsh wilderness was his home. He was a wanted man hiding in a deep, dark, damp cave. Traitorous, unstable, lying men threatened his life. The answers to his prayers did not come. Yet in the midst of it all, David paused to give his praise to God. I cannot help but believe it strengthened him for the struggles that lay ahead.

Life can be overwhelming. Fear grips our souls. Sadness and disappointment etch their marks on our hearts. Confusion and doubt ravage our minds while weariness and illness drain our bodies. But when we stop the chaotic circus long enough to lift our heartfelt praise to God, we express our gratefulness and reliance on Him while also allowing a little bit of heaven to shine into our lives.

If you are struggling today in a sea of overwhelming circumstances and your prayers for relief seem to bounce unanswered off heaven’s door, pause for a moment of praise. The words or songs of praise may initially get caught in your throat, but force them out. Recall God’s blessings in your life and all of the promises in His Word.

Sing with me, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens…”

February 25, 2015

Everybody’s Got a Troubled Heart

Our post title alludes to Bruce Springsteen’s song Hungry Heart. Some have written about the spirituality that people feel at his concerts. But the truth of the lyrics of this song is certainly appropriate to today’s devotional. People think that some of their friends or people in their church have everything so together, but if they were to peel back the layers, they would see that everybody’s got a hungry heart, a hurting heart, a troubled heart.


 

It’s Wednesday which means today’s post is by Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon. Click the link in the title below to read at source, or better yet, if you have the time, listen to the audio of the full sermon at this link. (Choose the sermon titled “Trouble.”)

Trouble!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1 NRSV

This is a verse with no relevance to any of us as we all have perfect lives, right? We all have perfect health, perfect relationships, and perfect families, and so no troubles, and no troubled hearts. Well truth be told there are many things that can cause our hearts to be troubled. In fact, even if the situations of our lives are not troubling, we can still experience a troubled heart as we fret over situations that may never happen. Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for us all.

Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for the disciples in our passage. He has already told them that one of them would betray him, one of them would deny him, and all of them would fall away from him. Oh, and he would be killed. One can only imagine the kind of thoughts that would be troubling the hearts of the disciples as Jesus is arrested, falsely accused, beat up, mocked, and executed. They might obsess over how they had failed Jesus. They might obsess over the possibility that Jesus had failed them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

But that is Friday and Saturday. Sunday comes and Jesus rises from the dead. That should be the end of all troubles, right? Wrong, following Jesus’ ascension to the Father, persecution breaks out against the Jesus followers and it does not go well for them. Study history and you will find much suffering for many Christians. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Or as one Bible scholar translates it: “Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

But shouldn’t things always go well for those who worship God? Should not their prayers be answered? Isn’t God fixing things? Many well meaning Christians believe that yes, God does fix everything for the true believer, and yes, God does answer every prayer of a good Christian. So if things are broken in your life, or prayers are not being answered; confess more, pray more, be a better Christian.

But what does Jesus say? What did Jesus say to the disciples when thing were about to go oh, so wrong? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God, keep trusting also in me.” He does not say “now that you are following me, your life will be pain free,” but “do not let your hearts be troubled.” You do not say such a thing unless you know trouble is coming. He does not say “I have now fixed everything,” but “keep trusting in God, keep trusting in me.” You do not call for trust unless you know someone needs to wait. He does not say “today you will be with me in paradise,” but “I am going to prepare a place for you.” Well he did tell one believer that paradise would be his lot that very day, but we all know what came next.

Truth is, we are still living in a messy world. No matter how good a Jesus follower we are, no matter how deep our prayer lives are, no matter how all-encompassing our confession of sin is, we still live in a messy world.

Genesis chapter three outlines the result of the fall. The last time I checked, a Christian woman is as likely to experience pain in childbirth as any other. A Christian farmer needs to work just as hard as any other farmer to produce a potato. And all through history, Christians have been as likely to die as anyone else. This is the mess we live in. As we live in this mess we sometimes would rather treat the symptoms than seek the cure. Jesus does not promise to be a pill that will take away pain. He promises to be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus meets our greatest need. He fills our biggest hole. He cures our greatest illness. He lifts us up from our hardest fall. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” Every pain we feel as a Jesus follower is temporary. Jesus dealt with our eternal problem.

But someone will object: “God does fix every problem in our lives in the here and now. If you are experiencing trouble, it is because you are not a good enough Christian.” But are you willing to say that to the apostle Paul?

with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NRSV)

Paul responded to all these troubles, not by blaming himself or God, but with trust: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NRSV)

Someone else will object: “God answers prayers with miracles, and if you are not receiving them, that is because you are not good enough.” I believe God does miracles today. But I also believe that miracles today serve the same purpose as the miracles of Jesus recorded for us in the New Testament. They point people to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near. They point to the fact that Jesus is the One through whom the Kingdom comes. Notice that in the New Testament, Jesus did not fix every problem of every person in every place. He still doesn’t. God does miracles, but He does not hand them out like candy. The Christian, no matter how devout or righteous, still lives in a messy world. A miracle is not the cure for a troubled heart. Trust is. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

I once took a girl sailing on Chemong Lake. Not being very windy we decided to drop the anchor and go for a swim. If you know Chemong Lake you will know that the middle of the lake is the best place to go swimming for all along the shores are icky, slimy, gross weeds. It came time to head in, and so I got back into the boat. My friend tried to do likewise, but failed. I tried to get her in, but to no avail. So she swam for a bit while I sailed alongside, until she became too tired. With my friend being too tired and my being too weak I had to do something. So I threw a line from the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now do you remember those weeds all along the shoreline? If you could have heard the screams of this poor girl as I pulled her through the weeds! The point is this. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. Trouble will come, even upon the very best Christian. But when they do, don’t let go of the rope. That God in His grace and love will get us to the shore is a sure thing.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

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