Christianity 201

August 19, 2021

Troubles, Distress and the Pains of Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Ps.77.1 I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

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

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

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

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

Psalm 77 – Remember God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

January 28, 2019

God in Your Life Losses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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We’re returning today — for the 14th time — to the site, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. This has been a great source of excellent articles for us and I hope you’ve taken an opportunity to visit the page and read more. Please click the link below to read this one at source.

God Speaks Life Into Your Loss

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:150)

Scripture heals. It ministers grace to your deepest hurts, since it is the voice of the one who created and redeemed you.

In the beginning, the voice of God brought the universe into existence—brought life out of nothing. “God said” and it was so (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Now the voice of God revives your soul. The writer of Psalm 119 experienced this inner rejuvenation. In the midst of his “affliction,” the warmest comfort came from the words of God which give “life.” Earlier in the psalm, he affirmed the same:

“Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors. My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:24-25)

Loss brings sadness. In turn, sadness sometimes stalls and cracks open the door to depression. Sometimes suddenly. Most often it’s gradual, even unnoticed. Either way, you need help from God. In the middle of your thick fog you need the piercing light of divine truth to break through and speak words of grace and comfort to your hurting soul. So, you can pray something like this:

“Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.” (Psalm 119:77)

Or this:

“Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.” (Psalm 119:143)

When the trials of life drain every ounce of spiritual, physical, and emotional energy from you, God’s Word will be your strength. It ministers to your deepest agonies, and helps you gain eternal perspective.

You can receive strength by appreciating the testimony of others, like Paul: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” is a healing balm (Romans 8:18). Or, again, David: “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” is a testimony of persevering grace (Psalm 119:92).

Scripture heals because God has spoken. But Scripture still speaks. It is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). In Scripture, the living Word of God—Jesus, the Man of Sorrows—speaks. As you meditate on the Bible, the Spirit speaks life-giving words into that part of you that feels like it died along with your loss.

How about opening your Bible, and inviting the Lord to speak healing truth?

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.

May 12, 2012

Encouragement from a Shipwreck

Today’s devotional is from the blog of a North Carolina Sunday School class of mostly young married couples, called The Purpose Class.  This blog post, about Paul and his companions being shipwrecked in Acts 27, appeared under the title, Land Hooooo.  (I hope I typed the right number of oo’s!)

Acts: 27: 32: So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let if fall away. 

Today’s devotional is about a shipwreck.  Have you felt like you have shipwrecked some aspect of your life before?  I think to some degree we all have…either by a poor choice, unfortunate circumstances, the sin of someone else, or some other reason; it’s not that difficult for us to have that “sinking feeling” in life.  But I want to encourage you today, especially if you’re going through your own personal shipwreck right now…God can make a miraculous situation out of a shipwreck.  With His help, you can survive the storm!  You can even use that storm and ensuing shipwreck as a turning point in your life to make the proclamation that God brought you through!  Picture us saying, “Yes, I went through the storm; and yes, I was shipwrecked; but in the end, by the grace of God, I’m a product of what God can do with a shipwrecked person!  Amen!  Let’s look at the story.

Today’s scripture comes to us in an extremely trying time in the lives of nearly 300 individuals; 276 to be exact, as the story points out.  The story is that of Paul, his companion prisoners, and the guards and soldiers assigned to maintain order.  Paul had been arrested and was being transported to Rome to have his appeal heard by Caesar.  They had been sailing for several days and had come to harbor in a place called Fair Havens.  And now, against Paul’s advice, the Roman centurion in charge had decided to sail on, instead of “wintering” in the port at Fair Havens…apparently it was very late in the sailing season and bad weather was common.  It’s in this setting that great turmoil strikes those on this fateful trip.  

As they left the port in Fair Havens, they were met by a gentle breeze.  It wasn’t long before this breeze became a “northeaster” that began to drive their ship uncontrollably.  The scripture says in verse 15 that they “were driven along.”  Isn’t that how a lot of our shipwrecks in life start?  At first a sin or circumstance seems like it’s a gentle breeze.  It’s inviting and seems like it’s not that big of a deal.  But soon the gentle breeze turns into a raging nor’easter and by then, it’s too late to get off the ship…we’ve already left the port. With that said, perhaps we could avoid some (not all) life shipwrecks by making God-directed decisions to begin with, especially those that are temptation-based, right?  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

As the men on this ship began to realize the dire situation they had gotten into, they began to throw things off the ship to lighten the load.  It says in verse 19 that “they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands.”  It struck me when I read this that this is exactly how we usually act in our storms too.  We start to try to fix it ourselves, with “our own hands.”  And really, God wants us to turn to Him in those times.  I heard a pastor speaking about how we often feel God turns away from us when we make mistakes and says, “Well, they’ll just have to suffer, I tried to tell them;” or “You turned your back on me, so I’m going to do the same to you.”  But this is not how God seems to work.  There are many stories where Jesus goes TO the one who has sinned and has made bad choices.  He lets them know that He still loves them.  Read the story of the woman at the well in John 4: 1-26; the story of the disciple Peter’s denial of Jesus and how Jesus specifically sought him out after the resurrection.  The same could be said of Thomas after the resurrection; remember, the other disciples had faith, but Thomas “doubted.”  But Jesus came TO Thomas to show him His scars.  Jesus didn’t scorn these people, he sought them out.  So don’t let the devil trick you into thinking that God is mad at you and doesn’t want to hear from you.  No, God loves you dearly and wants a relationship with you, with all of us.

Back to the story.  Part of verse 20 says, “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”  But it is here that I want us to take hold of a different way of looking at things.  It seems that we have a choice to make in the midst of our personal shipwrecks.  We can give up hope, start throwing things overboard, and go down with the ship; or we can be like Paul, and become an encourager.  Paul makes a proclamation (Given to him by an angel) to those onboard the ship, that “no one was going to be lost, so keep up your courage.”  That’s easy to say, but tough to do, right?  If you’re like me, it’s a whole lot easier to “take fear” vs. take courage.  I need to ask God to help me change my mindset and heart in these situations and let God take care of the situation, not me.

After 14 days they were still being driven across the sea.  In fact, they had lost all sight of the sun or stars.  It seemed as if they were at the mercy of the storm, but really God was in control.  He’s still in control today too.  It says in verse 32 that as the ship was approaching land, basically out of control, some of the sailors tried to pretend they were putting out anchors, but were actually trying to get into one of the lifeboats.  When Paul noticed this he told the centurion that “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”  So the centurion had the ropes to the lifeboat cut and the lifeboat fell away.  I think maybe that’s what we need to do, we need to quit holding on to the usual pattern of behavior when it comes to a lot of situations, especially the shipwreck situations.  The usual pattern of trying to get into our own “lifeboat” doesn’t work.  Maybe God is urging us to cut away the “lifeboats” that we are so dependent on in this world and start depending more on him.  The lifeboats of financial security, materialism, etc.  Do we depend on these things more than God?  Something to think about…

During this whole time of struggle, Paul was encouraging the men onboard to take courage.  He encouraged them to eat and reminded them again of what God had promised through the angel that had visited him earlier.  “Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head,” Paul would say.  Maybe that’s a good strategy for us in the storms too.  Go back and read God’s promises.  Proclaim those promises to those around us.  Encourage those who need encouraging.  We’re all sensitive people and we all get scared when the ship is heading towards disaster.  But think about what that situation would have been like if Paul hadn’t been onboard.  I wonder how it would have been different without his encouragement and calm direction.  I also wonder if God has placed us in certain situations so that we might be the encourager and helper. 

Finally, it says in verse 35, that “He (Paul) took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all.  Then he broke it and began to eat.  They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.”  Isn’t that a great example of how God can use a shipwreck to bring folks to him?  Paul was a “doer” of the word, not just a proclaimer or listener.  The story doesn’t say this, but I bet a lot of people on that ship came to know the Lord that day.  After it was all over, I bet they reflected on Paul’s calmness in the midst of the storm.  It’s a calmness that sounds and looks pretty familiar to another person that had been through quite a few storms himself…Jesus.  Remember the story from the gospel of Matthew?  Matthew 8: 24 says,” Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.”  He was sleeping!  When this storm came suddenly, like the storms of life tend to do, Jesus was there with the disciples and He’s with us too.  He asked the disciples that day why they were so afraid?  And then He calmed the storm.  The tough part to understand is that sometimes Jesus calms the storm and sometimes he allows us to go through the shipwreck.  But take comfort in this, either way, Jesus is there and He loves and cares for you. 

I pray that we would grow in our faith to become encouragers to those around us going through their storms and shipwrecks of this life.  They’re going to happen, we all know that…but what we need to remember is that we don’t have to “go it alone.”  How did Paul’s shipwreck turn out?  Well, they all made it safely to shore, all 276 of them.  Did they lose their ship?  Yes.  Did they lose their cargo?  Yes.  Did their faith in God grow because of the experience?  Undoubtedly, YES.  Storms aren’t pleasant, but they’re a part of life.  Through the strength, wisdom, and grace God gives us, let’s weather the storm knowing full well the final outcome.  Land Hooooooo!  We will all make it together!

Father, thank you for bringing us closer to you through the storms and shipwrecks that we go through in this life.  Lord, You know that we’re scared of the storms; help us understand that that you know what’s best for us, and that all things work together for the good of those who love you.  We do love you Lord, help us to love you more and be an encourager to those around us.  Thank you for bringing us closer to you.  Amen.

 

Memory Verse:  Psalm 42:1:  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.