Christianity 201

December 24, 2022

The First Christmas Eve and Ours

What brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem? Was it a census or was it a tax?

Older readers here grew up with Luke 2:1 in the KJV:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

However, the NIV, NLT, NASB prefer it was that the world — their immediate world — should report for the “census;” while the NKJV, CSB and ESV prefer “to be registered.”

The Pulpit Commentary blends the two meanings: “…more accurately, that there should be a registration, etc.; that is, with a view to the assessment of a tax.”  Ellicott’s Bible Commentary offers a different solution to the translation differences, in reference to our understanding of the key word: “The word ‘taxed’ is used in its older English sense of simple “registration,” and in that sense is a true equivalent for the Greek word. The corresponding verb appears in Hebrews 12:23. It does not involve, as to modern ears it seems to do, the payment of taxes.”

Some pastors have referred to what was happening as a “poll tax.” Wikipedia defines this,, “A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources. Head taxes were important sources of revenue for many governments from ancient times until the 19th century.”

In any event, online registration wasn’t an option, and it required travel to one’s birthplace. People with even a superficial awareness of the narrative know that this resulted in a lack of available guest space for Mary and Joseph, and the resultant childbirth taking place under inauspicious circumstances.

The travel crush is similar to what we see each year at this time, and the lack of available sleeping space is amplified this year in North America by the number of people being stranded in airports, forced to sleep in chairs and on blankets in waiting areas. I haven’t heard of any babies being born in airline terminals, but it’s still early in the story as I type this.

In a word then, chaos.

Jesus is born into a less than pleasant, less than ideal situation on the domestic front, and on the broader political front, the tax/census is a reminder of the Roman occupation. Further, looming on the horizon is the possibility that part of the census/registration is compiling updated listings of able-bodied people available for military conscription.

In several words then, inconvenience, taxation, foreboding (in terms of future military draft.)

This is the world to which Christ enters.

And it completely contrasts with the world that he vacated in order to be incarnate; in order to be Immanuel, God with us.

The Christmas carol, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” begins,

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room.
For Thy holy nativity

The song, “If That Isn’t Love” begins in the same place, but immediately cuts to the reason for His coming,

He left the splendor of heaven.
Knowing His destiny.
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha
There to lay down His life for me.

The cross is always in view, from the initial announcement to Mary that she is “with child” to Simeon’s prophetic word (Luke 2) that in Jesus, he (Simeon) has seen the salvation of God (or we could amplify, knowing the trajectory of the story, that he has seen the means of salvation.)

And Jesus himself takes on this role, looking past the chaos. With the narrow lens of our 2022 Christmas in North America, we could talk about looking past the canceled flights and the closed freeways. Or broader, looking past a situation where Christianity being increasingly marginalized each year at this time, and looking past the disappointment of canceled Christmas Eve services.

Historically we could say, he looks past the people who despise him, and even close friends who will betray him (Judas), deny him (Peter) or doubt his ability to have brought about the salvation promised (Thomas).

But he does all this awaiting a future promise, a future hope.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2b NIV

Jesus enters our world in the place of chaos and inconvenience, and our similar circumstances this year should remind us of his.

 

 

 

 

November 14, 2022

Bible Teaching on Chronic Pain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Today we played the search engine game so you don’t have to. Here’s what we found on the first three pages of results.

From the website Faith and Health Connection a look at Psalm 38 from the NLT with key words emphasized:

1 O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance……

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
facing constant pain.  

The writers there also note that verse 3 and verse 5 attributes the suffering to sin; noting that:

[S]ometimes the pain can be caused because a person is in internal conflict with God and/or with them self because they have sinned or are living in intentional sin. This internal conflict can cause tension in the muscles and other body tissues. This soft tissue tension can sometimes compress the tissue or bone against nearby nerves and can result in pain. Sometimes chronic pain… [I]f the pain is rooted in the inner conflict or guilt that stems from sin, the treatment or pill may well not cure the pain.

From the website Beyond Today:

It is easy to assume that if one seeks to live by God’s will and loves Him, God will always relieve that one’s physical suffering. Yet, there you (or those you know and love) are—still bound by pain, disease or disability. Does the lack of physical relief mean that there is something wrong spiritually?

I would like to take you on a brief survey of the Psalms of the Bible to challenge that assumption. Many of us regularly read the Psalms for comfort and encouragement, but I wonder how many have noticed that several of these beloved songs, speak about people of faith who suffer from chronic illnesses.

Before looking into Psalms, let’s lay a little groundwork with two references from the second letter to the Corinthian Christians. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the apostle Paul assures his readers that they—these are Christians, remember—have the opportunity to experience spiritual comfort from God when they endure troubles. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Therein lies a concept that is foreign to many: Christians can have enduring and chronic troubles…

The writer then goes into a detailed look at quite a number of Psalms. This is an excellent article.

The website GotQuestions.org (which we use frequently here) has several articles which address questions surrounding pain and suffering. In this article they state:

The word “pain” or some form of it appears over 70 times in Scripture. The word’s first usage explains the origin of pain in childbirth: “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16, NASB). The context here is that Adam and Eve had sinned and the pain of childbirth is one of the consequences of sin. Because of sin, the whole earth was cursed, and death entered in as a result (Romans 5:12). So, it may be concluded that pain is one of the many results of the original sin.

…[M]edically we know that pain is a gift. Without it we would not know when we needed medical attention. In fact, the absence of pain is one of the problems associated with leprosy. Children would never learn that touching a hot stove is a bad idea, nor would we be alerted to a dangerous medical condition without the pain associated with it. Spiritually speaking, one of the benefits of pain is expressed by James: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). According to James, when we endure painful trials, we can take joy in knowing that God is at work in us to produce endurance and Christ-like character. This applies to mental, emotional, and spiritual pain as well as to physical pain.

… Consider what Paul said: “And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was speaking of a “thorn in his flesh” that was troubling him. We don’t know what it was, but it seemed to have been painful for Paul. He recognized that God’s grace was being given to him so he could endure…

It’s not fair to lift too much content from GotQuestions.org and you really need to visit their website to read all of the article above, and especially the one below, in full. If this subject touches you at a point of need right now, I really want to encourage you to read all of the article excerpted below. Click to read this article in full.

…When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He gained renown for healing the crippled and the chronically ill (Matthew 4:23). He sometimes went out of His way to alleviate the chronic pain of an individual, revealing His compassion for the suffering (Luke 13:10–12; Matthew 9:20–22). Jesus said that He did nothing of His own accord, but only what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19; 14:10), so from this we learn that the Father also has great compassion on those who suffer and can heal them.

But pain relief was not Jesus’ main mission; nor is it the Father’s. Sometimes chronic pain is the result of sin or foolishness. Sometimes it is merely the fallout from living in mortal, imperfect bodies in a fallen, broken world. Whatever the case, our suffering is not wasted. God has a purpose in it. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him about a man born blind, Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1–7). He then healed the man, but only after the man had suffered from blindness his whole life up to that point. So Jesus’ attention to the chronically ill shows us that God knows about our chronic pain and cares that we suffer. However, for reasons known only to Him, He often allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves…

The website Vibrant Christian Living links to 19 different verses about experiencing joy in the middle of pain. Perhaps some of these apply in a more general sense, and some didn’t resonate with me on this particular subject, but I appreciated their intent, which is that on our journey with Christ we would be able to possess an underlying, abiding joy. Their version of choice is the New Living Translation:

Romans.5.3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

John.16.33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Col.1.11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy

1Peter.4.12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.

With a little imagination, you can figure out why I chose this topic today. Your prayers are appreciated!


Worship music video: Yesterday, I posted for the first time in several months at our flagship blog, Thinking Out Loud. I was writing about a worship song which has impressed me (and others) and it really fits today’s theme as well. Because the song is 8 minutes long, the article is called A Worship Song I Can’t Edit.

September 3, 2022

Trials and Tribulations are Gonna Happen

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NIV.James.1.2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials 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.

We have another new writer to introduce to you. Pam Yates has been writing at Where God Leads: Stepping Out in Faith since October, 2019. This selection from her site actually appeared earlier today, and you can get there by clicking the title header which follows.

Trials In Life Are Inevitable

The book of James has become my favorite book to study. I was drawn to it again this morning when it popped up in my Bible study choices in the YouVersion app. Listening to Frances Chan talk about the scattering of the tribes during the persecution following the crucifixion of Jesus helped me to understand why they would be questioning their faith.

Looking through my Bible at the notes I’ve written in the margins and the underlining I’ve done throughout the book makes it evident I’ve heard more sermons on the book than I realized.

We all go through trials, valleys, dumpster fires in life. Whatever you want to call them, the anxiety and fear about how your going to handle them is all to familiar to all of us. Becoming a follower of Jesus never made anyone immune to trials. Don’t think that because something bad happens that it means God doesn’t love you or that he’s punishing you. Quite the opposite!

The testing helps make us stronger. Knowing that God loves you gives you the faith to persevere. By you going through the situation and learning you’ll be able to offer help to someone else in the future.

Maybe we don’t know the answers to all of our situations, but by asking God for wisdom (and knowing that he will provide it) he will provide the answers. It may be from a friend or family member, from a sermon you heard at church or online. Maybe you will read something or hear a snippet of conversation that provides your answer. Maybe you will hear that little whisper that provides what you need. God has many ways to communicate with us. But, it’s important that we believe the answer will be provided.

Perseverance during these trials is what is important, because this faith will bring the reward.

The notes in my Bible point out these key takeaways:

  • Trials are inevitable (1:2)
  • Trials have purpose (1:3)
  • Trials demand endurance (1:4a)
  • Trials produce growth (1:4b)

I love the story about how the silversmith heats the silver on a fire. The heat of the fire brings the impurities to the top and the silversmith removes the dross from the top and then he continues the process again and again until the silver is pure. Then he can look down and see his reflection. I picture this as the procedure God uses to remove impurities from our lives and our hearts. By the time he removes all the impurities God can look down and see that we have become a reflection of him. That’s what he wants us to be, kind of his ambassadors on earth, loving and serving others as his hands and feet.

The book of James is so full of wisdom that encourage us to live our lives according to the will of God. I think it’s worth reading again…


God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12 NLT

[Jesus:] “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 NIV

May 22, 2022

Do You Have a Teachable Spirit?

Today we’re returning to the daily devotional page at Magnficent Life Ministries where fresh devotional studies are posted (wait for it) daily! This one was a two-part topic. If you click through to their page — the headers below are links — you’ll also find the same content available on video.

Are You Open to God’s Correction?

“For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

Since the dawn of time, humans have been plagued by the fear that something terrible will happen to them. For some, this manifests as extreme worry and an inability to enjoy life; for others, it manifests as a crippling belief that they are not good enough. Regardless of its severity, this fear is too common and often results in destructive behaviors. Remember, Proverbs 29:25 says, The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”

But what if there were a different way of looking at circumstances or mishaps around us? What if some setback were simply an opportunity to learn and grow? This is not to say that bad things never happen to good people or that enemies don’t play tricks, but we can always find something positive even in the worst situations. When something bad happens, it can be tempting to see it as a sign of punishment from God because we are not expecting God’s correction of our actions.

Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

However, if we look at the situation objectively, we will see that God does not punish us but rather redirect us toward the right plan. It can be helpful if we think of that issue or setback as a kind of tuning. Revelation 3:19 says, “Those I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Just as the violinist screws up the key till the tense cord sounds the concert pitch, it is not to break it but to use it tunefully. So likewise, God needs to adjust His children when they go out of tune; Because sometimes we need to go through tuning experiences to correct our life course.

This is an act of God’s correction, tuning his people so that they may be used in his service. God is constantly stretching us and tuning us so that we will produce the beautiful music of His kingdom. Sometimes people think God is punishing them because he is tuning them. But He is always working for our good. As long as we remain pliable under His hand, He will continue to tune us until we reach the perfect pitch for His kingdom. Amen. Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoso loves instruction loves knowledge: but he that hate reproof is brutish.”

Prayer:
1. Thank you, Jesus, for your guidance and help. Thank you, Jesus, for being my guide through life, guiding me through all the storms of life.
2. Psalm 6:1 Oh LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.

Are You Open to God’s Correction? Part Two

“Blessed indeed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17

How do you know if you’re open to God’s correction? There are a few ways to know if you’re open to God’s correction. The first way to know is if you’re living a life of repentance. If you’re living a life of repentance, then you’re open to God’s correction because you’re living a life of obedience. The second way to know if you’re open to God’s correction is if you’re living in submission to Him. If you’re living in submission to Him, then you’re open to His correction because you’re living in obedience to Him.

The third way to know if you’re open to God’s correction is if you’re living a life of prayer. If you’re living a life of prayer, then you’re open to God’s correction because you’re seeking Him and His will for your life. The fourth way to know if you’re open to God’s correction is if you’re living a life of fellowship. If you’re living a life of fellowship, then you’re open to God’s correction because you’re living a life of obedience to Him. And the obedience you have for God is what makes you free from sin.

Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that we might have hope through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures.”

The bottom line is that if you want to know if you’re open to God’s correction, then you need to look at your life and see if you’re living in repentance, submission, prayer, fellowship, and obedience. If you’re not living in any of these areas, then you’re not open to God’s correction, and you need to start living in obedience to Him. Remember, the Bible is full of wisdom, and Job 5:17 is one example. This verse says that God blesses anyone willing to be corrected by Him. God is the giver of wisdom, and He will give it to us if we are willing to receive it.

It’s important to remember that God loves us and wants what is best for us. He knows what is best for us, and He isn’t afraid to correct our plans if they are not in line with His will. We need to trust Him and be willing to follow His direction, even if it is not what we originally planned. When God corrects us, it is out of His love for us. He wants us to be successful and live according to His plan for our lives. We can be assured that if we follow God’s correction, it will lead to blessing and success. Amen. Revelation 3:19 says, “Those I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”

Prayer:
1. Oh Lord, help me know the truth about your ways that I should not sin against you.
2. I am open to God’s correction; therefore, Holy Spirit comes into my heart and shows me how to walk in the way of righteousness in Jesus’ name. Amen.

April 23, 2022

Misplaced Blame

The Message, Job 40:3-5 Job answered:

“I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.
    I should never have opened my mouth!
I’ve talked too much, way too much.
    I’m ready to shut up and listen.”

We’re back for a fourth time with Matt Tullos who has been writing dramatic, devotionals, sermons, videos, poems and humor since 1985. Click the link in the header which follows to read this online, and to discover more.

I put my hand over my mouth

It’s something in the core of most people: a desire to find out what or who causes messes. And no one likes to get the blame for a mess. As children we blamed our brother or sister for the broken vase and when we’re older we blame our self-sworn enemies for the broken world. And it is broken. The world is a mess and many just can’t do mess.

Cal Jarrett, the father in the 1981 movie, “Ordinary People” said to his emotionally distant wife:

“We would have been alright, if there hadn’t been any mess. But you can’t handle mess. You need everything neat and easy. I don’t know. Maybe you can’t love anybody. It was so much Buck. When Buck died, it was as if you buried all your love with him, and I don’t understand that, I just don’t know, I don’t… maybe it wasn’t even Buck; maybe it was just you. Maybe, finally, it was the best of you that you buried. But, whatever it was… I don’t know who you are.”

I’ve heard many explanations at the graveside, where people tried to explain or theologize accidents, cancer, or covid. These philosophical expeditions are fool’s errands. Others don’t blame, they just disconnect.

We’ve lived through a season of blame. Some blame the mandates, immune systems, fake news, Facebook, critical race theory, politicians, presidents, doctors, the masked, the unmasked, antifa, news outlets, millennials, boomers, China, political parties, and mandates. Blaming is what we do to make ourselves feel better. We feel more in control when we have an enemy we can attach to the post office walls of our souls. But that feeling becomes eventually void, brief and ephemeral. We dig into our own feeble logic and construct belief systems that tie neat little bows over our limited and inadequate world view. Our nature is to forward blame to others so that we can feel better about ourselves and rationalize the root of anger that grows beyond the borders of our personal lives. This is Springsteen’s darkness on the edge of town. We live in the shadows and snipe at our enemies from Twitter accounts and snarky memes.

One thing is certain: Blame keeps us in safe little bubbles where we don’t have to engage. It works until we realize that the bubble is an eternally dangerous place to be. That bubble of isolation and stagnation leads to an insidious rot of the soul.

I’ve witnessed the birthing process. It’s messy. There’s pain, blood, sweat, snot, cries, and danger. I’ve also experienced graveyards. There’s organization, specific dates, symmetry, and nice, tidy rows. But, I’d rather be in the labor room. You learn so much more.

Throughout the book of Job, we see men doing postmortems of tragedies that come in bunches. We’ve all had cascades of crises which appear together out of nowhere. The baby is sick, the car blows up and we get passed over for the promotion- all in one day. It’s easy to ask the wrong questions when life gets dark and messy. The default is often, “Why?” “What did I do?”  Or, perhaps, an even more insidious question, “Why is God doing this to me?” More often than not, these questions are pointless.

The meaning of the book of Job is found late in the fourth quarter after all the armchair quarterbacking is completed. God finally speaks. A lot. Finally. God asks him forty-six answerless questions about the mysteries of His purpose. Forty-six! How would you like that divine interrogation? I can relate to Job’s response: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”

When God speaks all I can do is put my hand over my mouth.

When God speaks I get tired of my own opinions.

When God speaks I realize that maybe I should shut up about my theories for once.

When God speaks I realize that I’ll never understand the world on this side of eternity.

I say like Job: I have spoken once, but I have no answer— twice, but I have nothing to add.”

It brings Job to a majestic response: Only God knows. His plans are much higher than my mind can fathom.

There’s a joy in not having to explain God, and simply trusting Him when troubles come in bunches. There’s serenity when you hand the gavel over to the Almighty Judge of the universe. You don’t understand? Well, guess what. You aren’t God. How can I add anything to what God has already decreed and ordered in the timeline of His sovereign grace?  I ask about injustice and He replies, “Go look at the elephant. I made that.” I worry about the future, and He tells me to look at the birds.

I give up.

I put my hand over my mouth.

April 12, 2022

Bearing the Marks of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In some Roman Catholic communities, it believed to be possible for someone today to bear the “Stigmata” which Wikipedia defines as, “the appearance of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.”

So a person reading the title of today’s devotional might be forgiven for thinking that’s what we’re looking at today; or that Stigmata was what the Apostle Paul had in mind in today’s key verse. To complicate things, some translations have Paul saying that he bears “branding marks,” and removing the context from his remarks, and taking the passage too literally could result in creating a church ritual which makes foot-washing seem rather tame.

Rather, he’s talking about the physical scars resulting from hardship, imprisonment and beatings for the sake of the gospel…

…Today we’re introducing a new author, who posts weekly at Grace of the King. You can continue here, but you’re encouraged to click the header which follows and read this at its source.

Do We Bear the Marks of Christ?

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
Galatians 6:17 ESV

This verse struck my cords deep with in me. I have read it over and over again pondering my life, while looking at the life of Paul. Now I am no means the Apostle Paul, none of us are or ever will be. As in scripture when we study it, we are to look at it in different perspectives. Who and when is God speaking to in this passage, then what does it mean to us today.

Paul at this time was in prison. He had years of traveling and evangelism. He also had years of beatings, stoning, hardships that you and I could not imagine. The good thing and by the grace of God we don’t have to. Saints before us have paved the way, they were hung on crosses and burned as candles so we can live the life we have. We are blessed beyond reasoning, but yet so we bear the marks of Christ?

I look at this and I am undone. I am nowhere deserving of the marks of Christ as Paul had. I am not sure I could take the lashings, or the beatings as Paul did. My faith I believe lacks in that department. God knows though I will die for him, I will not fail in this race.

I look at Paul who preached the Gospel everywhere he went, and was hunted down. Paul was hated by the gentiles and the Jews. The cross is offensive to the world, and Paul knew the cost he would bear. He knew chains awaited him in Jerusalem but yet he still went. This to me is a mark many of us here in the West will soon bear. As the church’s voice gets louder and more pure in its boldness persecution will come. Will we be sought out by authorities?

Paul was known to be argumentative at times. He pressed into the worldly views and man made religious laws. But he did it with love and grace. Paul started in the synagogue then worked his was to the streets. His life was marked by the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the name he preached that made Paul the enemy. Christ crucified was it, and the cross that Paul bore everyday.

The marks of Christ in our lives, should be seen by all. When we have scars those scars have stories. And we tell those stories with passion and vigor. But yet we hold back on the cross and the redemption he has done in our lives. Oh how beautiful is the healing of those scars. How glorious is the hearts made whole, the marriages renewed, the shattered minds pieced back together. These are the marks of Christ. This is the mark of Jesus in out lives that people see.

Let us bear the marks of Christ proudly and boldly. For the Apostle Paul said it best,

“far be it for me to boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ”. (Galatians 6:14)


BibleHub.com cross-references for today’s key verse:

Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. – 2 Cor. 11:23 NLT

always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. – 2 Cor. 4:10 NET

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, – Phil. 3:10 NIV


Second Helping: By the same author, Are We Living Two Lives.


We want to remind you again about a YouTube playlist which is very appropriate for this week leading to Good Friday and Easter. There are 29 songs. This time, we’ve embedded the playlist here as part of today’s devotional. It will continue playing as long as you keep the email open (subscribers) or keep this page on screen (website visitors).

February 27, 2022

Living the Life of Job

Given the choice, many of us would prefer to be “living the life of Riley.” Who is Riley and where did that expression come from? The website grammarist.com states,

Living the life of Riley means living the easy life, an existence marked by luxury and a carefree attitude. The term living the life of Riley is an American phrase, it first appeared in the early 1900s. There is some suggestion that the idea of a gentleman named Mr. Riley enjoying a luxurious, easy life is suggested in several earlier vaudeville songs, though the phrase living the life of Riley appears slightly later.

It’s not the only explanation online, but again, given the choice, nobody would want to be “living the life of Job.”

The story of Job is referenced in James 5, where verse 7 turned up in this week’s Verse-of-the-Day on the NIV Bible app. Here’s the full context.

NLT.James.5.7 Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen…

10 For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

In church this morning, the pastor referenced a cartoon panel with a large sign saying “2022” and two doors marked “exit” and “entrance.” The Covid-19 pandemic is making an exit but the war in Ukraine is coming through the entrance.

In Act IV of Hamlet, there is what some call the Shakespearean definition of tragedy. Shakespeare has Claudius say, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”. It’s often shortened to “When sorrows come, they come in battalions.” Or as we would say today, “everything is happening at once.”

Sometimes we feel like everything is too much; so overwhelming. My children are now adults, but for those of you with kids in their late single-digits or teens, I would imagine that they are trying to process the stress of world events; first with Coronavirus, and now with war in Europe.

Job certainly had to deal with everything happening at once. If Murphy’s Law is, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong;” then Job’s situation moves it from future tense to past tense, “Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.”

The overarching purpose of James’ reference is the subject of patience, and as we learned in the last two years, much is needed. A worldwide disruption that some thought would last weeks became months. Then the months became two years. People compared it to the times of world war, and as I type this, that is on our doorstep.

The IVP Bible Commentary (click commentaries in the right menu) states:

Here James’s focus is on three elements that make up the portrait of patience at work in the believer’s life: suffering, perseverance and blessing. James wants his readers to understand that these three develop in succession and that their outcome is as definite as the character of God. Suffering enters the believer’s life; perseverance is the believer’s response; blessing comes from the Lord, who is full of compassion and mercy.

Most of us would choose to avoid suffering altogether. It is the only the most mature believer who welcomes suffering; who as James says earlier in his epistle, “Count it as pure joy…” (1:2)

The website BibleRef.com notes:

The goal of worldliness is to avoid suffering. It’s the quest to get everything you want in life, no matter what it costs, no matter who it hurts. James makes it clear that the goal for Christians is different. We consider faithfulness to God despite suffering a mark of success. James uses the Greek word makarizomen, which literally means “to count as blessed, or happy, or successful.” This praise is given to those who continue to demonstrate their trust in God by obedience and service to others.

Matthew Henry adds,

In the case of Job you have an instance of a variety of miseries, and of such as were very grievous, but under all he could bless God, and, as to the general bent of his spirit, he was patient and humble: and what came to him in the end? Why, truly, God accomplished and brought about those things for him which plainly prove that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. The best way to bear afflictions is to look to the end of them; and the pity of God is such that he will not delay the bringing of them to an end when his purposes are once answered; and the tender mercy of God is such that he will make his people an abundant amends for all their sufferings and afflictions.

Finally, again, the IVP Bible Commentary:

This is the message of grace. God gives good gifts because he is full of compassion and mercy. Grace is the element in God’s character which James wants his readers to know with absolute confidence. The Christian can be patient in suffering and consider trials pure joy because of the assurance that God will give wonderfully good gifts even through the hardships.

Fundamental for Christian practice is Christian belief. What is the truth about God? Is he this God of grace or not?


Here’s an appropriate song which is often on repeat at our house; Josh Garrels’ radical remake of the old hymn Farther Along.

If this version is new to you, click here to hear Garrels’ original version.

 

 

 

January 18, 2022

Promises When Terror Comes

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today another new writer to feature. Hope writes at Patiently Hopeful. In discovering this article earlier today, I really love the high value she places on scripture and the way she weaves the texts together. She states the goal of her writing: “I hope you are blessed by what you read and encouraged, for that is what I want my life to stand for: hope in the One that made us, for He is mine.”

Clicking the header below allows you to read it where it first appeared.

Sudden Terror

Proverbs 3:25-26 NKJV — Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.

The truth for the follower of Christ is, trouble will come, but we don’t need to fear it.

Matthew 10:28 NKJV — “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

When we place our lives in the salvation of Jesus Christ our souls are safe.

Matthew 10:32 NKJV — “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.”

Through this truth we can find security in the eternal life through Christ with the Father.

Psalm 56:10-11 NKJV — In God (I will praise His word), In the LORD (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

Psalm 118:4-6 NKJV — Let those who fear the LORD now say, “His mercy endures forever.” I called on the LORD in distress; The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Any troubles, trials, or difficulty we experience on earth is merely temporary and we have God’s Word as well as His Holy Spirit to guide us, comfort us, and hone us through these things.

That is not to say the pain here is trivial, but rather we have peace knowing we don’t suffer alone.

1 Peter 2:21 NIV — To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Rather than fearing what may come, let us be strengthen by the examples set before us.

Jesus first and always.

His disciples and those courageous first believers we read about in the book of Acts, as well.

For Jesus, Himself gave us truth to cling to no matter the circumstances:

Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV — And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Jesus not only gave His instruction on how we are to live, He promised to be with us, always.

Romans 8:31 KJV — What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for Your Word. Thank You for Your promise. Lord Jesus, please help each one of us to live for You this day, shining the light of Your salvation through our lives. Lord, please let no unwholesome word come out of us, but only that which would benefit those who listen, that we might not grieve Your Holy Spirit. Lord, please help us to love You and love others as You do.

Lord, please teach us what is right, true, honorable, and holy. Please show us any iniquity, that we might put away anything which would cause us to stumble. Let there be no unclean thing residing in us, our lives, or our homes.

Thank You, that we do not need to fear the future. Thank You that we do not need to fear wickedness or sudden terror. Thank You that we have the security of Your salvation and the comfort of Your truth. Please use us to spread the truth of salvation and the only true hope to a lost and broken world. Lord, thank You for all Your blessings. May our lives bring You glory and honor and praise! May many more come to faith and assurance in Your salvation! I love You, Jesus. Amen.


While reading Hope’s devotional today, I was reminded of a song we’ve posted before, based on Psalm 91. This link takes you to both the music video and a version of the Psalm from a different translation.

 

October 30, 2021

When the World is Less Than Perfect

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.” Hosea 6: 1-2

 

A friend wrote:

Do you think there was a back up plan? Considering free will and all – what if apostle Paul had stayed Saul? If you say that God knows the future and didn’t need a back up plan, then it follows that he always knows the future and would pick good for us. It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time. I’m curious to hear you’re thinking about this.

Here is my answer. Let me know how well you think I did, or if I left something important out.


First of all, what if you’re not a Christian? How do you explain such things? In philosophy, the view is called Determinism, the opposite of which is Libertarian free will. (Not to be confused with political libertianism.) That’s described in this video, or this Wikipedia article. Again, remember these aren’t Christian sources.

Okay, we got that out of the way.

In many respects, determinism might be a better explanation for the way the world is right now than blaming God’s presence (but inaction) in the mess the world is in in 2021. If you subscribe to the believe that the sovereignty of God implies that he is controlling everything, that is completely different from saying that God is in control. He is definitely in control. He is the place where the buck stops, so to speak. But is he tweaking and fine-tuning every single aspect of human life? This is why for me, I’m more comfortable dealing with a more open theology, though Ruth and I disagree as to how far that extends, plus open theology faces the extra burden of getting into the more thorny subject of how much does God choose to know about the future, apart from any action or inaction on His part.

Our world has been messed up by Covid. It’s a worldwide situation. But we or our parents also had to deal with Spanish Flu, World War I, World War II, etc. In some ways, this is better.

But your question isn’t “Why isn’t God doing something?” but is more like “Why doesn’t God do something about this, when he so clearly directly intervened in the life of Saul/Paul, knocking him off his high horse, as it were?” It would appear that God does jump into the picture (of which the incarnation is the greatest example) at some times and not so much at other times. We trust God’s will, but we pray for sick people to get well. We know that disease takes people, and often the natural course of events appears to lead to an impending worsening of the physical condition, but we ask God to do something special, and in fact, we do hear stories of recovery (healing) which seems to confound medical experts.

In Psalm 31:15, David says, “I trust you…my times are in your hands;” but that only comes after asking, “Turn your ear to listen to me; rescue me quickly. Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe.” (vs. 2 NLT)  He acknowledges God’s authority over the whole world, but asks for special intervention.

So is Saul/Paul an exception? Especially when the world seems to be such a broken place? I read your question out loud to Ruth last night, and she started saying some things that I asked her to write out.

My view is that most of life and history is based in free will, with some clear exceptions like John the Baptist and Samuel – people who are tapped by God at or before birth to do what God has for them to do. Paul may have been one of those. But if he had dug in his heels and said no to God, He would have worked through someone else. Maybe a bunch of people would each have taken on part of what Paul accomplished. Interesting thing to think about, but Paul would have been the only loser, long term.

The phrase “He would have worked through someone else.” That’s the exact message of the Book of Esther. Her uncle is confident that God is going to deliver the Jewish people, but perhaps a bit more fuzzy as to the how. He tells her,  In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” (4:14 CEB)

In other words, the larger, big-picture, master-story-arc plans and purposes of God are not going to be thwarted. He has ways we can’t imagine, and his route to get there is often one we didn’t consider.  He tells Jeremiah, Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (33:3) In other words, God specializes in outside-the-box solutions.  Speaking through Isaiah he says,
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (55: 8-9, The Message)

Which brings us back to one sentence in your question, “It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time.” Yes. Agreed. It’s hard for us to imagine. But in light of the aforementioned world wars and previous plagues, perhaps we’re actually getting off easy. The political polarization in the U.S. and elsewhere? We need to remember that many, many Christians in Germany actively supported Hitler and his political platform. It does serve as a foreshadowing of what Jesus warned about in Matthew, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and will provide great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (24:24, NASB)

A former pastor of ours used the phrase, “God is positively disposed and favorably inclined” to hear and answer our prayers. Many are praying right now for the world to be set right (or as N.T. Wright phrases it, “set to rights.”) It might appear that God is not answering. I believe that’s why we’re told to be tenacious about our praying. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. (Matthew 7:7 even spells out the acronym ASK!) But it doesn’t say that if we ask enough times we’ll get a ‘yes.’  Even as many are praying, we would appear to be living in what a songwriter called, “the mystery of unanswered prayer.” I wrote about that in this article.

The best scenario? I’ll let Ruth describe that:

The best possible scenario would have been if Adam and Eve would have stayed where they were put, but they didn’t. So God is working us toward the restoration of that – the happy ending :-) The best scenario for humanity in a broken world is a life following Jesus, filled with the Spirit, and doing what we can to build that Kingdom.

In other words, if these are the realities of our present circumstances, what are we going to do with what we’ve been handed? I think we need to, in the words of Richard Niebuhr, “accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.” We need to work out our backup plan, when life is less than perfect.

October 9, 2021

Our Salvation: A Source of Hope and Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today we’re featuring, for the first time, Kim Dunkelberger, who writes at Commissioned by Him. She is a poet and author who writes while facing physical challenges. This post actually came up today in a WordPress reader, which surprised me, because it was posted in 2019. I think we were simply meant to share this with you. It also serves as a clear presentation of the good news and salvation.

Click the header below to read this at her site, and then check out other articles.

Salvation – Praise God!

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2

After a difficult weekend that resulted in continued fatigue and brain fog at the start of the week, I was unable to focus on commentaries for the verses I was studying for the day. Instead, I closed my eyes to think about 1 John 2:1-2 and pray. Jesus’ name and the word propitiation were foremost in my awareness. Salvation was my meditation for the next hour while I praised God for this gift.

When I was first saved, I was very thankful. However, I admit that my awareness of the value of salvation was minimal in comparison to the depth of my appreciation now. Prolonged trials have caused me to draw closer to God, long for the day that I can be with Him, and think more about the means by which this is possible.

God created us to glorify Him…

“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by My name,
And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”
Isaiah 43:6-7

However, none of us has loved and obeyed God perfectly – with the exception of Jesus…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:23

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.
Ecclesiastes 7:20

Therefore, we all deserve to go to hell…

These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power
2 Thessalonians 1:9

In His mercy, God provides a way to be forgiven for our trespasses though. He sent His perfectly sinless Son, Jesus, to die by crucifixion, bearing the punishment for the sins of all who would believe this truth. Instead of the torture of eternity in hell, God graciously gives eternal life with Him to all those who accept this gift…

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
1 Peter 3:18

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Salvation is God’s work; I cannot earn it. He called me. He died for me. He lives in me now. He will raise me to life in heaven after death. He offers this to all who will believe…

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus gave His life for me; the Father gave His Son. Even though my life is filled with trials, I am not bitter. How could I be angry with God when He has blessed me more than I deserve? How could I not love the One who loves me enough to lay down His life for me? How could I question Him when He is infinitely wiser than me? Instead of being angry, I praise Him, recognizing that anything this side of hell is pure grace.

It is true that my face does not smile as much as it used to; I’m not sure the smiling muscles work when my head hurts, my brain is foggy, and my energy is null. However, my soul is smiling; it is praising God for my salvation. Like Job, I grieve my losses but worship the source of my hope.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
Job 1:20-22

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

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.


Read more about YouVersion here

 

Next Page »