Christianity 201

April 30, 2017

Joy in Testing

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

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
Tags: , , , , ,

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
Tags: , ,

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
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.”

October 5, 2014

Mountains You’re Facing

image100514

A year ago we introduced you to Chris Hendrix at the blog Devotions By Chris. We returned for a visit and found the piece included below, but we’ve also borrowed another resource from his blog, a list of ten healing scriptures, and as we consider the mountains people face, perhaps that’s the obstacle that you or someone close to you is facing. I also liked this particular devotional because it reminds me how much of my understanding of key scripture verses is shaped by the King James rendering I learned in my younger days, and how I now just speed by these verses because I think I know them.  To read the two posts below at source, which you’re encouraged to do, just click the titles below.

Mountains To Molehills

One of the songs we used to sing at church came from Zechariah 4:6-7. It went, “Not by might. Not by power, but by my spirit sayeth The Lord. This mountain shall be removed by my spirit sayeth The Lord.” I remember wondering what the deeper meaning of that scripture song was. As a child, I didn’t have the capacity to understand it, but I sang it with all of my heart. I had no idea those scripture songs would come back to life in my mind years later.

As I read those verses recently, I started reading them in different translations. An angel was showing Zechariah things in the spirit realm. One of the things he saw was a lamp stand made of gold with a bowl for oil and seven lights with spouts down to the bowl of oil. There were two olive trees on either side of the lamp stand where the bowl was getting its oil from. Zechariah asked the angel what it meant.

In the Message version, the angel replied, “You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit. So, big mountain, who do you think you are? You’re nothing but a molehill.” In my own life, I’ve been known to force things to make them happen. I tell myself, “If things aren’t happening, make them happen.” I pride myself on my determination to get things done. If there’s a brick wall I can’t get over, I do what I can to knock it down. I don’t let it stand in my way. I’m learning that I can’t force things that God wants to do in His timing.

In the Amplified translation, the angel replied, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit of whom the oil is a symbol, says The Lord of Hosts. For who are you, O great mountain of human obstacles? You shall become a plain. A mere molehill.” Here I see that we have to stay plugged in to God’s Spirit. The oil feeds the lamp and keeps it burning. The bowl was connected to the olive trees so it wouldn’t run out. Our connection to God gives us the strength to get past the obstacles in our lives created by ourselves or others. It’s not by anything we do, but only through Him that we will succeed.

In the Good News Bible translation, the angel replied, “You will succeed, not by military might or by your own strength, but by my Spirit. Obstacles as great as mountains will disappear before you.” I like this one because when we face mountains in our lives, we wonder if we will ever get past them. Here, God reminds us that we will be successful and it won’t be dependent on anything we do. It’s through Him that we will be successful. When we realize that, the mountains in our lives will no longer look like mountains because of our perspective. A mountain is tiny in God’s eyes.

Whatever mountain stands in your way today, know that you will be successful in getting past it, but it won’t be because of your own strength. It won’t be because you forced your way through it. You will succeed because you are tapped into God’s Spirit and recognize His strength in your life. When you give up your strength and tactics to accept His, you will see those obstacles in your way disappear and become mere molehills. Trust in God today and get into His Word so you have oil in your lamp to see what He is about to do for you.


10 Scriptures On Healing

1. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. (Psalms 103:3 NLT)

2. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. (Psalm 107:20 ESV)

3. O LORD, if you heal me, I will be truly healed; if you save me, I will be truly saved. My praises are for you alone! (Jeremiah 17:14 NLT)

4. Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone. (Luke 6:19 NLT)

5. For though he wounds, he also bandages. He strikes, but his hands also heal. (Job 5:18 NLT)

6. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.” (Mark 5:34 MSG)

7. He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds. (Psalms 147:3 GNB)

8. If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 AMP)

9. Through the middle of the broadway of the city; also, on either side of the river was the tree of life with its twelve varieties of fruit, yielding each month its fresh crop; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing and the restoration of the nations. [Gen. 2:9.] (Revelation 22:2 AMP)

10. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole. (Isaiah 53:5 AMP)

July 1, 2014

Lay Your Burdens Down

With a few exceptions, we try not to “borrow” devotions from the same source more than every six months, but Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at DailyEncouragement.net are an exception. This is my personal “go to” devotional blog, and I try to make it the first click when my computer boots up in the morning, but sometimes email interrupts!  When I read this, I thought of the video I wanted to include with it, Chuck Girard’s Lay Your Burdens Down, and then realized a few days later that they had the same idea. There’s also a great illustration in the middle of this that I hope to remember. To read today’s devotion at source, including pictures and other suggested videos, click this link.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19). “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

In our final session at the chaplaincy training conference this week we heard Doug Clay share a message on coming to Jesus for our needs. He based his message on the story of the blind man in Mark 8 who came to Jesus to be healed and then came back a second time because he saw men as “trees walking”. Doug shared that this illustrated a persistence in coming to Jesus concerning our needs. One of the lines I really liked from his message was, “Starve your doubts and feed your hope”.

Following his message he asked the various leaders on our chaplain team to come to the front and then extended an altar call for any who may have come to the conference with a special need for which they wanted prayer. I think he was only expecting a few but long lines formed. As I observed the lines I thought of the burdens these people were bearing. For some it was a physical need, for others perhaps a matter in their marriage and family. For others it might have been a financial burden. Perhaps it was a special challenge or hard time for some in their ministry. Brooksyne and I sure recall going to meetings with a heavy heart due to ministry matters in past years.

As I observed the line I considered the burdens those we minister to are enduring. Encounters we have in the course of our chaplaincy, notes and prayer requests we receive from Daily Encouragement readers and those in our church and churches we have served. It was a long line in my mind as I considered specific situations people have and are experiencing.

One of our favorite writers is Robert J. Morgan, a pastor in Tennessee who shared an interesting illustration: he had been on a long trip and was travel weary as he walked through the airport. He was physically relieved when he spotted a long moving sidewalk and headed in that direction. It was here that the Lord spoke to his heart.

He had a bag in each hand but in his fatigue he didn’t even think to set them down. “I was still carrying my load while the moving sidewalk was carrying me. Not until halfway down the hall did I have the presence of mind to release my bags and let the moving sidewalk carry them for me.”

Can you can identify with Morgan’s illustration? In regard to my burdens I tend to set them down (trust) and then pick them back up again (doubt).

As we write this message today I consider several I know who face heavy burdens, part of the long line of people who need God’s tender touch.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” In Scripture God often emphasizes the unit of time we call the day.  In fact it’s the very first unit of time that is referred to in the Bible and the most frequently mentioned starting with Genesis 1:14.

Certainly each of us knows about burdens and we can readily identify with the Lord’s statement that “each day has enough trouble [burdens] of its own” (Matthew 6:34b). A commentary considers the meaning of the daily text in this way: “God daily carries us as a manifestation of His protective and sustaining care.” Such an interpretation brings to mind “Footprints in the Sand” written by Mary Stevenson during her teen years in 1936 as she endured major obstacles in her young life.*

What assurance His Word brings. Believing friend, God is bearing your burdens today, and wants to lighten your load. He loves you, and the trial you are presently enduring does matter to Him. He is faithful and He will see you through to the other side! Don’t try to shoulder your burdens for the heavy load will surely break you.  Instead lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross. Jesus will meet you there.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

*I didn’t want to edit the devotional, but I’ve always heard “Footprints” credited to Margaret Fishback Powers. Either way, the illustration applies. (At least a half-dozen people have claimed the poem was ‘theirs,’ Powers is widely considered to be the author of record.)

October 26, 2013

A Bend in the Road is not the End of the Road

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:11 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A few weeks ago I picked up a Twitter follower and decided to see what his blog was all about. Zech Newman blogs (and posts original photography) at Restoring Significance where this appeared as Growing Pains. (Click through to read at source.)

Life is a difficult thing sometimes. Nothing stays the same. We will be moved backward or forward. Are you advancing? Are you taking back ground restoring what was lost? One of my mentors has told me, “Embrace the pain.” This was very hard for me to hear but so true. You and I need to let our pain and discomfort be a catalyst for our personal development. Our greatest pain can be our biggest testimony and our greatest mission in this world. I have written my story of hope which was so painful. Fear of rejection, the loss of family, and the pain of expectations were other painful points. When we face pain we will never be the same. Facing difficulties and challenges is unavoidable. Learning from them is the part that is optional. John Maxwell has said, “A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.” We want to be shaped by pain, but not defined by it. These 4 things help me embrace the pain and grow.

1. Mindset. How we look at our pains will determine how we end up on the other side. We can choose to look at the glass as being half full or half empty. We cannot control everything, however, we can control our attitude. Everything in life begins and ends in the mind. Focus on adopting a positive life stance. If we have a positive outlook, the good and bad things in life will be better. If we have a negative stance, unfortunately everything will be worse. Focus on the good and it will make the pain a little less painful.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”   ~ Philippians 4:8

2. Time. Allow yourself to have some time to grieve. We are not thoughtless robots; we all have feelings. The bigger the pain the more time we need. We expect others to flip a switch sometimes. Give yourself some grace. I know it can be hard. You will get through this. Some pains like losing someone close to you can last a lifetime.

  ”For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be    revealed to us.” ~ Romans 8:18

3. Help. We should not walk through life alone. We need people to walk along side us in good times and in bad. We as humans are relational beings. We need to reach out to those that are close to us in time of pain. Don’t bottle it in and close yourself off from others. In great pain this is my first reaction. It is wrong and can be dangerous. Sometimes you just need someone to cry with. Someone that will listen to you and have empathy.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:11

4. Make good changes. Pain can make us face changes in our own lives that we need to make. When pain comes we either face the feelings and try to change or we try to escape. Trying to escape can lead to hiding in addiction and many other self-destructive things. We need to slowly but surely train ourselves to fight for positive change and not run toward destruction. Think through what you can learn from the pain. Here are a few examples of things I have learned. I will be rejected; embrace it. Life is short; love as big as I can. Kids are a blessing; be patient with them. I can choose the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. These were not fun lessons, but I would not change them for anything in the world.

If you are walking through major pain at the moment I hope this helps. It can be so painful and I hope that I did not appear to gloss over the pain. I pray that this helps you to grow through your painful time. Allow this time to draw you close to the feet of Jesus, the only one who can truly change us. Be blessed on your journey.

o-o-o-o

Today’s two-for-one special: While at Zech’s blog, I was reminded of this worship song, which I’ve also come to appreciate over the past few weeks. Enjoy No One Higher by Seth Condrey.

« Previous PageNext Page »