Christianity 201

May 16, 2021

The Enduring and Beloved Shepherd Psalm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Psalm 23 in The Message Bible (since most of you know it in more traditional texts)

1-3 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

From Melvin Banks at Urban Faith:

A professional speaker recited Psalm 23 and people went wild with applause. A saintly old man quoted it, no one applauded, but tears filled their eyes. What made the difference? The first speaker knew the Psalm, the second knew the shepherd.

I watched a few online church services this weekend and in one, Psalm 23 was read, or perhaps better to say quoted from memory. There are 150 Psalms, and a voice in my head asked, ‘Why this particular Psalm?’ Indeed, why is so loved through the centuries?

John Brantley writes at the blog My Sunday Sermons:

…The are two scenes in this song. One verse is a lush green field beside a refreshing stream and the other is at a noisy and busy dinner party. What do these two portents have in common and what makes them relevant for you and me?

Our culture is adopting the idea that “green” is good. This first part of the psalm is very green. Can you smell the fresh green grass? The sparkling clear water babbling by an ancient tree with broad branches and deep roots. There are other signs and smells that may be organic, but are not that green. Sheep are not known for their pleasing aroma. Every herd of animals leave a trail of processes green grass that the shepherd learns to step around. But let’s not lose the romantic and clean image just yet.

The comforting message of the first scene is the restoring and renewing experience of God. God can be trusted like sheep trust the good shepherd to provide food and drink, rest and growth. One message this psalm affirms is God’s continues to be trustworthy to provide for our growth, health and protection.

Life is not always in the green pastures. God provides even in the reality of life-threatening times. The Valley of the Shadow of Death.. might refer to an actual geographical bend in the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and it might be metaphorical of life-and-death moments that come and go in our lives.

Where is God when danger, temptation and death surround us? We want to go back to the green pastures but sometimes that is not where we are. We are in trouble. God does not keep us out of the the shadowy valleys, instead God goes with us on the journey.

We thing God ought to hear our prayers and transport us out of tragedy or trouble, but that is not what happens 99.9999 percent of the time. The songs sings of the shepherd ‘rod and staff’. The staff is the long crook of nativity fame that is for rescuing wandering sheep. The rod is to beat off the enemies of the sheep, defending not chastising the sheep.

We are familiar with the proverb, “do not spare the rod” in child rearing. If we look at the function of the rod it is not to beat the sheep, it is to protect them. If we take that function of the ‘rod’ and read that as the proverb, our children need protecting from the evil in the world. As children of God, we need God protecting us, as much now, as ever.

Think of fishing with a baseball bat? You could tie a string to one end and dangle it over the water, but that is not it’s function. You could use a fishing pole to tan-someone-hide, but that is not it’s function. The rod protects the sheep. And in this evil generation, how we need God’s protection! …

At the New Living Translation blog, Mark Taylor writes:

Psalm 23 is the best-known psalm and the favorite biblical passage of many. Why? Because it does more than tell us that God protects, guides, and blesses. It shows us a poetic image of a powerless sheep being tended by an unfailingly careful shepherd. In a world of dangerous ditches and ravenous wolves, we need more than abstract explanations. We need pictures to hang on to. This is one of the best.

God took David from tending his father’s sheep and made him a shepherd of Israel because David was able to care for this flock with a tender heart and great skill. That tells us volumes about not only the kind of shepherd God chooses but the kind of shepherd he is. God is a zealous protector of his sheep, training us to hear his voice, leading us into pleasant pastures, and even walking with us through the darkest valleys. And he is extravagant in his goodness. He doesn’t just feed us; he prepares a feast in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t just bless us; he fills our cup to overflowing. He doesn’t just offer his goodness and love; he pursues us with them. We aren’t simply his assignment; we are his passion—forever.

Several answers appear at the forum, Quora

■ Who doesn’t want somebody who has their back? We all want a big brother to keep an eye on us. In some situations, people find it to be to their advantage to buddy up to the neighborhood bully. Everybody needs somebody to lean on, right?

So, the LORD is my shepherd. That means he takes care of my food and safety. He is interested in my emotional health. He helps me make moral choices. And when times get tough, I mean really tough, life threatening tough, he sticks by me.

Psalm 23 , I believe, is a concise outline of what a person can expect if they allow God to be their Shepherd through this life. It is so amazingly concise and to the point…. a marvelous Word from God!

■ Would it not be logical to conclude that it is famous because it touches upon issues that are of deep and universal concern to human beings, that it supplies a positive perspective and solution to these issues, and that it does so in such beautiful language as we may easily believe it is divinely inspired?

It seems to me that the issue of being guided by God is the central concern of the entire Bible. Psalm 23 refers to God leading us in the paths of righteousness. And Jesus tells us (Matthew 6:33) that we should seek personal righteousness above all else. So Psalm 23 is telling us how we should respond to Jesus’ advice.

Finally, we have this answer from Texas pastor Matt Morton in a newspaper article at The Eagle. I’ve left this one to the end because if there’s one you might want to continue reading it’s this.

Even if you haven’t read the Bible very much, you are probably familiar with that line from Psalm 23. Also known as “The Shepherd Psalm,” Psalm 23 is probably the most commonly read and quoted chapter in the entire Bible. We recite it at funerals, and we read it when we feel afraid or sad. It even shows up in movies like Titanic and pop songs like Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio. A couple of years ago, Bible Gateway published a list of the 10 most searched-for Bible verses on its website. Five of the top 10 verses were from Psalm 23. I am certain that many people around the world have turned to Psalm 23 during this past month, as we’ve faced a terrifying global crisis and deep uncertainty about the future.

For centuries, Bible scholars have pondered the question of why this particular psalm is so deeply loved. Why do we return to it time and time again in the midst of crisis? After all, there are many Bible passages in which God is referred to as a shepherd. The Bible is full of reminders about how God provides for his people in the midst of uncertainty and fear. So what makes Psalm 23 so special?

I think Psalm 23 is powerful for a simple but surprising reason: the first-person singular pronouns. In case you’ve forgotten your middle-school grammar class, the first-person singular pronouns in English are “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” In other words, King David didn’t write, “The Lord is a shepherd,” or “The Lord is the shepherd,” or even, “The Lord is our shepherd.” Instead, the first verse of Psalm 23 begins with the powerful affirmation, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Psalm 23 personalizes the metaphor of God as our shepherd to a degree that no other biblical passage really does. Most of us know that shepherds provide for and protect their sheep. They lead their sheep to food and water. They fight off wild animals and bandits that threaten their sheep. The Scripture is full of imagery describing God as a good shepherd for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole.

But it’s one thing to know that God is a good shepherd in general, and another thing entirely to know that he is my good shepherd…  [continue reading here]

April 20, 2021

“Don’t Be Afraid” – Not Comforting Words; It’s a Request

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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The title I gave our version of today’s devotional is my reaction to how this impacted me. It reminded me that the request Jesus made bordered on inappropriate, at least in terms of what you say to someone who has suffered great loss…

Today we return to Kristen Larson who writes at Abide.Trust.Believe. Click her title for it which follows and read this at her site.

Just Have Faith

But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
Mark 5:36

I have been putting off writing about this for a while, because the truth is I just don’t understand it half as well as I’d like to. I don’t understand how Jesus could tell Jairus don’t be afraid. Especially given the news Jairus had just received.

Let me set the stage…

Jesus had just arrived in Capernaum after being on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and a large crowed had already gathered around him by the time Jairus arrived. Jairus was the leader at a local synagogue whose daughter, only 12 years old, was at home dying. Having heard that Jesus was in the area, he found the crowd and fought his way through it to reach Jesus. He then fell at his feet, pleading with him to come and lay hands on her so she might live.

Can you imagine the relief Jairus must have felt when Jesus, the man who worked miracles, agreed to go with him to his home?

But on the way there, a woman interrupted the procession by reaching out to touch Jesus’s robe. This in itself is an amazing story, but for now I want to focus on the fact that Jarius was forced to wait while this other woman took precious time away from Jesus getting to his little girl. And as he was watching Jesus speak to this woman, the terrible news he feared arrived: his daughter had died.

This is where my faith is challenged. Because Jesus didn’t weep with Jairus. He didn’t console him. He simply said, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” But the thing was…his daughter had died. She was gone. In that single moment, the fear of her death became a horrible reality.

This is where I struggle. Because I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of Jairus. What if I had gotten news that my husband died and Jesus told me, don’t be afraid. Just have faith? I feel like I’d want to slap him. My grief would be more than I could bear. How could I not be afraid? How could I possibly have faith? This is a hypothetical situation for me, but it wasn’t for Jairus. And it isn’t for many people I know. So the big question is, how can this be encouraging? How can this be what Jesus tells Jairus? How can it put to rest my own fears of the future?

I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus said it – and it was recorded for us for a reason. And I also know that Colossians 1:15 says that “[Jesus] Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If I believe that, and I do, I have to believe that even in the face of death and worst fears come true…we’re to trust Him.

Even though I don’t understand this and it feels like an impossible thing to ask of someone, the fact that Jesus said it means it warrants my time thinking about it and praying about it.

There is so much of God I do not understand. But I really do want to be a person who’s first instinct is to trust His word and act on it, find comfort in it, and discover His heart through it. I believe that good things lie on the other side of our obedience – especially when we obey without fully understanding.

My hope is that in the face of fear, both life threatening and none, my knee-jerk reaction will not be panic, but trust. I want my heart to be ruled by Him alone. I want his peace, which passes understanding. I want to be less like the people of the world, and more like the heroes of the bible – who took God seriously.

The bible doesn’t tell us how Jairus responded to what Jesus said. So I don’t know if he was full of faith or if he fell apart. But Jesus went to his house and healed that little girl – she lived again.

I know this isn’t the way all our stories end. How I wish it was. But I do wonder what is on the other side of our faith when we face these kind of horrifying situations. It encourages me to think about how much stock I put into what God asks of me.

This kind of soul searching and asking these kinds of questions is hard…but I think it’s well worth the undertaking.

 

March 5, 2021

The Saddest Verses in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There are a number of narratives in the scripture which can only be described as unfortunate, sad, or perhaps even tragic. One of these will be quite familiar to all of you, the other two might not.

Close and Yet So Far

This is where the line “almost pursaded” which forms the title of a hymn of a generation past originates. Philip Bliss, who lived only from 1838 to 1876 would have used the Bible of his day, the KJV, as an inspiration; as Paul tries to reason with King Agrippa, defending himself in Acts 26:

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” (26:28)

Here is just part of the fuller context in the NIV:

22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

The hymn in question is worth studying in full but we begin with verse one:

“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
on Thee I’ll call.”

The second and third verses implore the hearer to respond, but by verse four, it’s already too late.

“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last;
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad that bitter wail—
“Almost—but lost!”

On a personal note, my mother’s faith was nurtured as much by the hymnbook as by her Bible. she often sang hymn fragments — isolated lines from rather obscure hymns — apart from their full context. The line, “Sad, sad that bitter wail;” was permanently embedded in her brain as a picture of the state of the lost soul. On my father’s side, his mother (my grandmother) played this as piano solo in a style I have never heard since.

Why was Agrippa “almost” but not fully persuaded to become a follower of “The Way” right then and there? The Enduring Word Bible Commentary offers three reasons having to do with three people in the room:

i. One answer was the person sitting next to him – Bernice. She was a sinful, immoral companion, and he may have rightly realized that becoming a Christian would mean losing her and his other immoral friends. He was unwilling to make that sacrifice.

ii. On the other side of Agrippa sat Festus – a man’s man, a no-nonsense man, a man who thought Paul was crazy. Perhaps Agrippa thought, “I can’t become a Christian. Festus will think I’m also crazy.” Because he wanted the praise of men, he rejected Jesus…

iii. In front of Agrippa was Paul – a strong man, a noble man, and man of wisdom and character – but a man in chains. Did Agrippa say, “Well, if I became a Christian, I might end up in chains like Paul; or at the least, I would have to associate with him. We can’t have that – I’m an important person.”

He Walked Away Sad

This is the more familiar of the three passages, the narrative of the “rich young man,” “powerful young man,” or “rich young ruler.” The encounter with Jesus appears in both Mark 10 and Matthew 19.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, click here to read.

Teaching points on this text usually include:

  • the man’s opening address to Jesus as “Good teacher,” and how Jesus responds,
  • Jesus sets the bar low, asking the man how he relates to the “second tablet” commandments — the ones dealing with our interactions with other people — and not the “first tablet” dealing with our prioritizing of God. The man claims full, lifelong compliance, and Jesus does not argue the point;
  • the proposal that he sell everything to “come follow me;” the same offer given to the twelve that leads to our key verse:

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (10:22, NIV)

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (19: also vs 22! NKJV)

Again, The Enduring Word Bible Commentary:

In this, the wealthy questioner failed utterly. Money was his god; he was guilty of idolatry. This is why Jesus, knowing the man’s heart, asked him to renounce his possessions… The principle remains: God may challenge and require an individual to give something up for the sake of His kingdom that He still allows to someone else. There are many who perish because they will not forsake what God tells them to.

The same commentary, on the Mark passage states,

This man, like all men by nature, had an orientation towards a works-righteousness; he asked, “what shall I do.” If we really want to do the works of God, it must begin with believing on Jesus, whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).

Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to make the man sad; yet he could only be happy by doing what Jesus told him to do. So, he went away sorrowful. Many people have almost everything, yet they are sorrowful.

A Generation of Walking in Circles

This one may be one you hadn’t considered. It’s the second verse in the book of Deuteronomy, and it seems like a piece of geographical trivia, to the point several of the translations include it in parenthesis:

It is eleven days from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea along the Mount Seir route. (CEB)

or consider this casual way of putting things:

Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. (NLT)

But this is verse is included for reasons far from trivial. Since we’ve been with the same commentary throughout today, let’s see how Enduring Word handles this (emphasis added):

The journey from Mount Horeb to Kadesh Barnea only took eleven days. But from Kadesh Barnea (the threshold of the Promised Land) back to Kadesh Barnea (back to the threshold of the Promised Land) took forty years.  This was because it took forty years for the generation of unbelief – those who were adults when Israel left Egypt – it took forty years for that generation to die out in the wilderness, and for a generation of faith and trust in God to arise in place after them.

Did you catch that? 40 years to finish an 11-day road trip. All because of a lack of faith and trust in what God had promised them.

Conclusion

All three are sad endings which were preventable. Do you see yourself in any of these narratives? If so, choose to make yours a different story.

 

 

 

December 10, 2020

A Messy Faith, But a Merry Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How do you believe something when everyone around around you says that what you believe is ridiculous? How do you question anything when everyone around you says that your doubts are ridiculous? Faith can get messy. Should we believe? Can we believe?

This Christmas especially, many people may be questioning their faith. God sent baby Jesus. Can he not send a vaccine? Science seems to be doing well on that front.

As the Christmas story unfolds in the Gospel of Luke we encounter someone whose faith gets messy. I will let you read the story for yourself:

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

Luke 1:5-20 (NLT)

Zechariah had all the credentials of a good religious man, he was as a priest, he was mature, he was righteous, yet he wavered in his faith. It is clear that when the angel appeared, he was not prepared for an experience of the supernatural!

Perhaps there are many good religious people today, who are not prepared for an experience of the supernatural.

Christianity exists as a response to the supernatural, as an outcome of God’s direct involvement in our world. Though there are many examples, let us focus on three occasions:

  • The creation. Everything we consider to be “natural” is a result of the supernatural.
  • The incarnation of God in Jesus through the virgin conception.
  • The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

When Christmas comes along, while some children begin to question if Santa Claus is for real, some adults and youth begin to question if a virgin conception is for real. Faith wavers. If we believe there is any possibility that God exists, that God conceived the universe then brought it into being, then for God to be involved in the conception of a child is no problem at all, especially if there was good reason to do so.

And there was good reason.

It is often said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That is not true, extraordinary claims require good evidence. There are many books and resources available regarding that evidence for the reality of God and Jesus.

Let us try this statement instead; “God’s extraordinary love provides extraordinary evidence.” The story of Christmas with the miracle of the incarnation is extraordinary evidence of God’s love. The story of Easter with the miracle of the resurrection is extraordinary evidence of God’s love.

Zechariah did all the godly things, yet he doubted the power of God. Do we? Faith gets messy when we doubt the power of God. Faith gets especially messy when we doubt the love of God.

There is another side to this coin. Zechariah had his moment of doubt, of asking a question. Since the angel seemed to scold Zechariah for his doubt, we might be tempted to scold anyone, including ourselves, for ever doubting or questioning. However, to do so is to miss the bigger story here.

Zechariah’s doubt did not disqualify him from being part of God’s people, from being a priest, or from the wonderful calling of being John the Baptist’s Dad.

You will not be disqualified for asking a question, for sharing a doubt. As messy as our faith gets, it does not mess up God’s love.

Questions and doubts can sometimes be a necessary part of faith. Wouldn’t the world have been a safer place if the men that took control of planes to fly them into the Wold Trade Centre had less certainty and more doubt? While we might claim that their faith was different, for they were Muslims of a fundamentalist variety, does it sometimes happen that we as Christians cause harm by our certainty on things where perhaps room for doubt or questions would be better?

A friend shared a video with me of a woman dealing with panic attacks and depression. Turning to Christian friends and professionals she was told to look for whatever sin was hindering her, or to have more faith. She eventually got better help beyond the Christian circles she was moving in. We can bring harm into people’s lives by our certitude.

We have questions and doubts. Questions and doubts are part of a growing faith, a growing relationship with God. We want to be careful that we are not acting like we know everything when the Bible does not tell us everything. While faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit, certitude is not.

Zechariah was not disqualified because he expressed doubt. On the contrary, just imagine how his faith must have grown when he saw the power of God at work. Perhaps our questions and doubts can be an important part of the journey of faith.

We may feel a pressure from society to never believe anything the Bible says. We may feel a pressure from our faith community to never doubt anything the faith community says about what the Bible says. As a father seeking a miracle from Jesus for his child said:

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24 (NLT)

Is it time to take a step toward trusting the power and love of God, of trusting Jesus? Is it time to give yourself permission to have questions and doubts? When our faith is messy, it does not mess up God’s love. Zechariah’s faith was messy. It didn’t ruin Christmas.


Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor — not that Baptist, the other one — in Southern Ontario. He writes at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Today’s thoughts alone on video are at this link or may be seen as part of this “online worship expression

November 27, 2020

Following Jesus, but with Reservations, Pessimism and Doubts

In one of the original pieces here six months ago, I re-classified the twelve apostles into some different categories, including “final week disappointments” consisting of “Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, and Thomas’ doubt.” We often hear sermons on the similarities and contrasts between the first two, but Thomas usually doesn’t get included in this grouping.

You know the story. Thomas misses out on that initial resurrection celebration because he just can’t take in the possibility.

At Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries, Dr. Ralph Wilson notes

…Thomas is a pessimist. Some people rejoice to see a glass half full, but Thomas sees it half empty. Oh, he’s full courage, but also possesses a streak of fatalism. Once, when Jesus and his disciples hear about their friend Lazarus’s death near Jerusalem, the center of Jesus’ opposition, Thomas comments darkly, “Yes, let’s go there that we might die with him.” His words are almost prophetic.

Soon, his world falls apart. Thomas sees his Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and he flees for his life. On Good Friday he watches at a distance as they spike his Friend to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. As Jesus’ life drains away, so does Thomas’s hope.

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence…

Thomas, at least in this moment in the narrative, is both a follower and a skeptic. And it’s safe to say his skepticism is winning the day on that Monday.

NIV.Jn.20.24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

He is basically saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Does that remind you of a verse of scripture?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
 – Hebrews 11:1 NASB

or perhaps

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
 – Romans 8:24 NIV

We have to recognize that some of this is just the way Thomas is wired. It’s his temperament; his default setting; his basic character. The website for the Jesus Film Project notes that:

…At one point Jesus tells the disciples:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1–4, NIV)

Naturally, the disciples don’t necessarily understand what He’s talking about. And it’s Thomas that asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (John 14:5, NIV)?…

So was Thomas a “doubting Thomas?” The Enduring Word Bible Commentary says no. You’re thinking, wait? No?

…Thomas is often known as Doubting Thomas, a title that misstates his error and ignores what became of him. Here we could say that Thomas didn’t doubt; he plainly and strongly refused to believe.

· Thomas refused the believe the testimony of many witnesses and reliable witnesses.

· Thomas made an extreme demand for evidence; evidence of not only sight but of touch, and to repeatedly touch the multiple wounds of Jesus.

The same commentary, quoting McLaren’s Commentary notes:

Thomas did the very worst thing that a melancholy man can do, went away to brood in a corner by himself, and so to exaggerate all his idiosyncrasies, to distort the proportion of the truth, and hug his despair, by separating himself from his fellows. Therefore he lost what they got, the sight of the Lord.

And as a result, he misses out. He misses out on the “Peace be with you” blessing noted earlier in John 20, and he misses out on that moment when something bigger happens:

He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas imposes a lot of conditions on what it would take to believe. Enduring Word quotes Leon Morris:

[A]nother possibility should not be overlooked, namely that he was so shocked by the tragedy of the crucifixion that he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled.

As we’ve seen above (vs. 26) he does see the risen Jesus. Eight. Days. Later.

Finally!

Then follows his confession; his affirmation; the statement that has major impact because it’s the words of someone who formerly did not believe:

NIV.Jn.20.28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Dr. Wilson says,

“Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

The Enduring Word commentary notes that the final part of verse 29, which begins “blessed are” is a beatitude, but then quotes Spurgeon on ways we can miss that blessing:

· When we demand for a voice, a vision, a revelation to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some special circumstances to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some ecstatic experience.
· When we demand for an answer to every difficult question or objection.
· When we demand what men think of as success in our work of Jesus.
· When we demand that others support us in our faith.

Are you a doubting Thomas? You may not think so, but if we’re honest, most of us, even on our best days, harbor misgivings about some aspect of the faith, or its relevance to our personal situation. We’re like parent who comes to Jesus with concern for a gravely ill son:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
 – Mark 9:24 NKJV

At those times our prayer should be

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
 – Luke 17:5 NIV

or in the NLT

The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”

 

 

 

March 21, 2020

You Can Choose What You Think

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In a most timely matter, given all that is happening in our world right now, one of the devotionals this week at Devotions Daily at FaithGateway.com was an excerpt from Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado. Although it was too long to run here, I want to include a couple of excerpts from the excerpt!

You can choose what you think about

…For that reason the wise man urges,

Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.
— Proverbs 4:23 NCV

Do you want to be happy tomorrow? Then sow seeds of happiness today. (Count blessings. Memorize Bible verses. Pray. Sing hymns. Spend time with encouraging people.) Do you want to guarantee tomorrow’s misery? Then wallow in a mental mud pit of self-pity or guilt or anxiety today. (Assume the worst. Beat yourself up. Rehearse your regrets. Complain to complainers.) Thoughts have consequences.

Healing from anxiety requires healthy thinking. Your challenge is not your challenge. Your challenge is the way you think about your challenge. Your problem is not your problem; it is the way you look at it.

Satan knows this. The devil is always messing with our minds.

He comes as a thief

with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying.
— John 10:10 Phillips

He brings only gloom and doom. By the time he was finished with Job, the man was sick and alone. By the time he had done his work in Judas, the disciple had given up on life. The devil is to hope what termites are to an oak; he’ll chew you up from the inside.

He will lead you to a sunless place and leave you there. He seeks to convince you this world has no window, no possibility of light. Exaggerated, overstated, inflated, irrational thoughts are the devil’s specialty.

No one will ever love me. It’s all over for me. Everyone is against me. I’ll never lose weight, get out of debt, or have friends.

What lugubrious, monstrous lies!

No problem is unsolvable. No life is irredeemable. No one’s fate is sealed. No one is unloved or unlovable.

Your challenge is the way you think about your challenge. 

But Satan wants us to think we are. He wants to leave us in a swarm of anxious, negative thoughts.

Satan is the master of deceit. But he is not the master of your mind. You have a power he cannot defeat. You have God on your side.

So

fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
— Philippians 4:8 NLT

The transliteration of the Greek word, here rendered as fix, is logizomai. Do you see the root of an English word in the Greek one? Yes, logic. Paul’s point is simple: anxiety is best faced with clearheaded, logical thinking.

Turns out that our most valuable weapon against anxiety weighs less than three pounds and sits between our ears. Think about what you think about!

Here is how it works. You receive a call from the doctor’s office. The message is simple and unwelcome. “The doctor has reviewed your tests and would like you to come into the office for a consultation.”

As quickly as you can say “uh-oh,” you have a choice: anxiety or trust.

Anxiety says…

“I’m in trouble. Why does God let bad things happen to me? Am I being punished? I must have done something wrong.”

“These things never turn out right. My family has a history of tragedy. It’s my turn. I probably have cancer, arthritis, jaundice. Am I going blind? My eyes have been blurry lately. Is this a brain tumor?”

“Who will raise the kids? Who will pay the medical bills? I’m going to die broke and lonely. I’m too young for this tragedy! No one can understand me or help me.”

If you aren’t already sick, you will be by the time you go to the doctor’s office.

Anxiety weighs down the human heart.
— Proverbs 12:25 NRSV

But there is a better way.

Before you call your mom, spouse, neighbor, or friend, call on God. Invite him to speak to the problem.

Capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 NCV

Slap handcuffs on the culprit, and march it before the One who has all authority: Jesus Christ.

Jesus, this anxious, negative thought just wormed its way into my mind. Is it from You?

Jesus, who speaks nothing but the truth, says, “No, get away from here, Satan.” And as the discerning, sober-minded air traffic controller of your mind, you refuse to let the thought have the time of day.

Lay claim to every biblical promise you can remember, and set out to learn a few more. Grip them for the life preservers they are. Give Satan no quarter. Give his lies no welcome.

Fasten the belt of truth around your waist.
— Ephesians 6:14 NRSV

Resist the urge to exaggerate, overstate, or amplify. Focus on the facts, nothing more…

-Max Lucado

March 6, 2020

Practice Handing Your Circumstances Over to God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional is short and simple, but there’s a reason I want to share it here on C201.

I don’t usually drive at night. No particular reason, but my schedule tends to crowd more things into daylight hours. But last week, with my car radio preset to Life 100.3 in Central Ontario (Canada) I was able to listen to what some would describe as “the youth show” called Slammin’ Christian Hits with host Terry Molinaro.

I was quite impressed with the way he handles the conversations with various people who call into the show, which are aired between songs. When I found out he has a blog (since 2014) I made up my mind I was going to share something from it; not only for readers here, but as an encouragement to Terry in his ministry.

As always, click the header below to read this at source. (Especially today…send Terry some online traffic.)

Practice Peace, Forget Worry

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were unprepared? When I was younger, I used to go to piano competitions. It’s a pretty strange thing to do, especially when you get into your teen years. No matter how good you become, what level you get to, there is always a five-year-old that can outplay you. I remember this one time when I was around 18 years old, sitting in a row of performers looking like I was the babysitter instead of a contestant.

Usually, I did well; however, there were times where I felt like I could have done better. I believe it came down to preparation or a lack thereof. If we have to bring things to the modern-day, I’m not worried about winning a piano competition against a bunch of five-year-olds anymore, but there are real things that pop up every once and awhile.

Recently, I had a non-medical emergency happen in my life that ended up costing a decent amount of money. Not to brag, but I got the invoice, and I paid for it. I didn’t stress or think twice about it. Why? Because I had prepared for an emergency in advance. (Thank you, Dave Ramsey)

The Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He’s done.” The question on my mind is, how well are we practicing not worrying? How often are we practicing praying about everything?

When I went on stage as a kid to perform a piece of music, if I suddenly decided to take a few moments to memorize the piece and practice it right then and there, it would have done me no good. It was the practice ahead of time that prepared me for the moments I was on stage.

Let me encourage you; you don’t have a different access level to peace than other people who seem peaceful do. You simply may not have practiced handing your circumstances and stresses over to God.

In the coming weeks and months, even today, stop and breathe, take a moment and bring the things that are on your mind before God. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He’s done. If you do, the Bible goes on to say, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ, Jesus.”

Practice peace, practice putting it into your life today, and it will guard your tomorrows.

March 1, 2020

Courage to Face Fear

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago, I introduced you to Rev. Tonia Slimm’s blog Growing with God nothing that, “Not to many writers use The Voice Bible as their base text.” Actually, in today’s selection, she uses a variety of the more modern translations, which is a sentiment I share. She’s working her way through Proverbs 30, and I encourage you click through and read other devotionals in the series. To start, click the header below to read this on her site.

Take Courage – Proverbs 30:29-31

Proverbs 30:29-31 (NIV)
“There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king secure against revolt.

(MSG)
There are three solemn dignitaries, four that are impressive in their bearing—a lion, king of the beasts, deferring to none; a rooster, proud and strutting; a billy goat; a head of state in stately procession.

(AMP)
“There are three things which are stately in step, even four which are stately in their stride: the lion, which is mighty among beasts and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the male goat also, and the king when his army is with him.” 


“So don’t be afraid. I am here, with you; don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, help you. I am here with My right hand to make right and to hold you up.” ~GOD (Isaiah 41:10 VOICE)

We now find Agur listing four things that he feels are quite stately and majestic. He points out the lion, king of the beasts, the rooster, king of the farmyard, the male goat, in that time used to lead and guide sheep, and the king, leader of country and great armies.

“As always, the Bible uses many natural illustrations so that we can gain spiritual truths. What causes an animal like the lion to walk in such a stately step? He is known as one of the strongest beasts, but it is not just his strength that causes him to stride confidently. It is his lack of fear. He is known as “King of the Beasts” and his strength and prowess give him this advantage; however, his confidence comes because he is not afraid of any other animal and does not turn away for any of them. The spiritual truth that we can glean from this observation is that we also can be strong and unafraid if we walk with God and claim His strength and His confidence.” ~Ronald Nordman

“There are three creatures with majesty in their stride, no, make it four that move with grace: the lion, which is the strongest of the animals, does not back down from any other creature; the strutting rooster, the male goat, and a king as he goes out with his army.” -(VOICE)

We may wonder what the connection is between these four entities; what makes them stately and set apart? Each of these entities is courageous, tenacious, forceful and commands respect. Agur saw wisdom in their examples.

“There are three stately monarchs in the earth—no, four: the lion, king of the animals. He won’t turn aside for anyone. The peacock. The male goat. A king as he leads his army.” -(TLB)

What is it that Agur is trying to teach us in this passage? What bit of wisdom is there for us to learn?

It is this, that just as the lion, the rooster, the goat and the king; we too can have courage and confidence through the Lord. It is God Almighty that will help us to be strong and of good courage. Is that not what God instructed Joshua to do?

“This is My command: be strong and courageous. Never be afraid or discouraged because I am your God, the Eternal One, and I will remain with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9 (VOICE)

David knew what fear was and he knew who to turn to when he was feeling it too. In his time of panic and fear, David was fleeing from Saul, he wrote these words:

“Show mercy to me, O God, because people are crushing me—grinding me down like dirt underfoot—all day long. No matter what I do, I can’t get myself out from under them. My enemies are crushing me, yes all day long, O Highest of High, for many come proud and raise their hands against me.When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone. In God—whose word I praise—in God I place my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me?

All day long they warp my words; all their thoughts against me are mangled by evil. They conspire, then lurk about. They eye my every move, waiting to steal my very life. Because they are wicked through and through, drag them out. In Your just anger, O God, cast them down! You have taken note of my journey through life, caught each of my tears in Your bottle. But God, are they not also blots on Your book? Then my enemies shall turn back and scatter on the day I call out to You. This I know for certain: God is on my side. In God whose word I praise and in the Eternal whose word I praise—In God I have placed my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me? I am bound by Your promise, O God. My life is my offering of thanksgiving to You, for You have saved my soul from the darkness of death, steadied my feet from stumbling so I might continue to walk before God, embraced in the light of the living.” -Psalm 5 (VOICE)

Remember, this strength and courage does not come through our own abilities, but through the Lord. Paul told the Ephesians:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God.” -Ephesians 6:10 (VOICE)

Paul then goes on to instruct them about what their job was in this mutual relationship with God. Yes, God was going to be their strength and might, but they had something to do as well. Paul told them:

“Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:11-12 (VOICE)

My friend, learn from the lion, rooster, goat and king; do not let fear rob you of what God wants to do through you. Take courage! Do not be afraid! God will be your strength. He will use you for His glory, beyond your wildest dreams, if you will allow Him to.

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” ~Moses (Deuteronomy 31:6 MSG)

My Prayer:
Almighty God, I need your strength to help me; especially in those times when I am afraid. Please, give me courage to face those challenges that come my way. Remind me that you are always with me and I have nothing to fear. Please bring to my mind your promises; so that I may grab hold of them. When I hear those whispers in my ear from the Enemy of my soul help me to speak forth a rebuke and speak your words of TRUTH. He is a liar and I do not want to fall into his traps. Fill me, Lord, with your wisdom and help me to walk in your ways. Thank you, Lord.

March 23, 2019

Think About It: Noah Had Never Seen Rain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die.
So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

-Gen 6:17,22 NLT

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
 -1 Peter 1:8 NIV

Back in September, when we last visited the blog Rhetorical Jesus by Jack Wellman, I explained more fully how this particular devotional site is designed as an outreach for (and to) people on Facebook and Pinterest, and even included the matching graphic that went with that devotional.

Today you’ll have to click the header below for the graphic. You might even want to use some of these on your own social media.

Will you trust me as much as Noah did?

Hebrews 11:7

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

The Eyes of Faith

Noah had never seen a flood. He had never seen rain, yet there he and his family were…building an ark in the middle of a semi-arid desert region. Noah believed God and not his eyes. He trusted God enough to do what made absolutely no sense to others and did everything God asked him to do (Gen 6:22), and by his obedience, he obtained a righteousness that comes only by faith or trust. Put yourself in Noah’s place. He had no idea what rain was, not to mention floods, and where he lived, building a great boat made no sense. He built a massive boat, the ark, when no such thing had ever been constructed. Noah saw things that were not as though they would be because he saw with the eyes of faith. Can I trust God as much as Noah did?

Confidence in What Is Not Seen

Chapter 11 of Hebrews has been called the Hall of Faith because in it, there is a veritable who’s who of men and women who trusted God in what was to come before it ever came to be. That’s why the definition of faith is having an assurance of things that are hoped for and the strongest of convictions of what is not even seen (Heb 11:1). Experience tells us that we too can trust God more than what we see with our eyes. God holds the future in His sovereign hands, and there is more confidence in what is not even seen today than what we see with our eyes. We can’t please God without having faith (Heb 11:6), and our faith is only as strong as the Object of Faith.

Faith is Believing God

The genuineness of our faith is being tested today so that it will come forth as being more precious than gold (1Pet 1:7) because even though none of us have even seen Jesus, we believe in Him (1 Pet 1:8), and, thus, a living hope is born in us. The fact that salvation is fully a work of God should make us trust Him even more. If it were up to us, we would have every right to be anxious, but God tells His own children that He isn’t ever going to leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5).  Shouldn’t that be good enough since we know that God cannot lie (Heb 6:18)?

A Closing Prayer

Great Creator God in heaven, please help me to believe in You and trust You even when my eyes tell me otherwise. I know that You hold the future in Your hands and control everything that happens in my life, so please forgive me in my times of doubt and help me to learn to trust You more and more with each passing day. In this great desire of mine I pray, in the strong name of Jesus Christ.  AMEN.


From the same author: What is God Calling You to Do Today?

January 3, 2017

Add God to Your Equation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to Weeping Into Dancing. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Point of View and Proportions

When life is chaotic, painful, or full of uncertainty, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Exhaustion wears a person down, both physically and spiritually. And without time in the Word, depression is certain to knock on our door. It takes both physical and spiritual strength to weather a storm, and we require nourishment to persevere a lengthy or intense battle.

Without spiritual manna, the devil can easily establish footholds in our walk with Christ. Footholds are often secured when we doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. Is God not constant? Is He good only when times are joyful and fruitful? Or, is God good, in spite of the trials that try to knock us sideways?

God does test our faith. But when adversity comes, He hopes the struggle succeeds in chiseling away personal impurities. Remember, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we look into a mirror, we should see Christ in our reflection.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

But the devil, always the prowling opportunist, uses adversity to spread lies. His lies attack the very nature of God.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV)

In good times and bad times, we have to keep our focus on things above. By doing so, we obtain a proper perspective of our situation and correctly see things in their right proportion. Our circumstances may look grim, but Jesus walks with us through every storm!

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

When we remember God’s love for us, we can look at our situation and identify positives, if we search them out. God is all about turning bad things into good. Learning to develop God’s perspective on life is greatly beneficial, but it takes self-discipline and there is no room for self-pity.

Consider the story of David and Goliath. If David had simply looked at the proportions of size and strength when facing Goliath, he would never have approached the giant. But David put God into the equation. He knew that all things were possible with God. He also knew that God would not be mocked.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)

David had God’s perspective when he accepted Goliath’s battlefield challenge. He was able to perceive things from God’s point of view. He knew God was all-powerful. He was certainly far greater than the prideful Philistine who had yelled insults at God’s chosen people. Without armor, and holding a mere slingshot, David slew the enemy who had insulted his God, tormented King Saul, and terrorized the entire army of Israel.

King Saul, David’s brothers, and the Israelite army were paralyzed with fear because they viewed the giant and his challenge with earthly eyes. When God is not added into the equation of life, the proportions of the battle before us will cause feelings of intimidation and even terror.

If you find yourself in a time of testing, where a trial of some sort presses in, add God to your equation. When you do, the obstacles Satan has planted for intimidation purposes will appear out of proportion. Circumstances that initially seemed vast and capacious will melt away and become a fraction of what they had once appeared to be. The Light of the World will disperse all darkness and expose the devil’s handiwork. Step-by-step, through every twist, bump, and turn in your road, God will walk beside you in love, grace, and mercy. Like David, you too will sleigh your Goliath because God is with you.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (NKJV)

 Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.Proverbs 4:25 (NKJV)

 “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6 (NKJV)

“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.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

April 10, 2011

Trust Issues

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:13 pm
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This morning, Andy Stanley spoke on developing trust between yourself and other people, which can impact families (especially marriages) and work relationships.

He talked about the huge gap that exists between expectations and experience and the idea that we have a choice of two ways of filling that gap; we can either:

  • assume the worst, or
  • believe the best

The message text was based on the very familiar passage in I Cor. 13, especially verse 7:

NLT Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

TNIV It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Andy said that when you’re at a crossroads, even in the most difficult relationships, that the way to go is to bend.

Here are some practical ways to live that out:

  1. When there is a gap between what I expected and what I experienced I am going to believe the best
  2. When other people assume the worst about you I will come to your defense
  3. If what I experience begins to erode my trust, I will come directly to you.
  4. When I’m convinced I will not be available to come through on a promise, I will inform you ahead of time
  5. When you confront me about the gaps I’ve created, I will tell you the truth.

October 11, 2010

Believing The Impossible!

Today’s piece is from Lori Ettel, author of the devotional blog, A Display of His Splendor, and appeared under the title, “Superhero.”


“David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine, your servant will go and fight him.” (1Samual 17:32)

Yesterday at soccer practice I had to laugh when I saw this little boy. He is three and is the cutest thing ever. He has blonde curly hair and is such a dude. When I saw him, I told him he’s going to be surfer…that’s what he looks like. And he replied boldly, “No I’m not. I’m going to be Spiderman!!” I love it. He was so doggone cute! That is such a boy statement.

It reminded me of David and Goliath. Here the Philistines thought their guy was bigger and tougher. They thought they had it in the bag. The Israeli army was buying it too. They were so intimidated by Goliath’s size. They were frightened and no one would step forward to fight. They just stood there. Along comes David. He’s not afraid. He’ll fight Goliath.

Now, David was the youngest among his brothers. He was sent simply to bring them food. He wasn’t planning to fight that day. But when he got there and saw what was going on, he couldn’t believe it. He knew his God was bigger than Goliath. He knew that he could do anything with God backing him up. Everyone thought David was just young and stupid. But in reality, he knew the one with the Super powers. He knew that only God could defeat Goliath. He had child-like faith. Everyone around him was older and wiser…hmmm. But David had faith.

I think it’s interesting that as we get older, we become less likely to believe the unbelievable. We become so full of wisdom and knowledge; we don’t think God can do the impossible. We start off as children thinking we can do anything. But as we age, we become more afraid. Aren’t we supposed to be more grounded in the Lord as we grow older? Aren’t we supposed to be less afraid as we grow older? Instead, we fear more. Is it because we are wiser and have seen the truth of life? I think we have started depending on what we see and not depending so much on what is unseen. We have limited the power of God and taken over. We have become so self-sufficient. We think if we cannot do a task, it simply cannot be done. We have stopped relying on God. We have stopped believing in His power. We are too willing to accept defeat.

I love that a little three year old boy reminded me that he is not afraid of anything. He truly believes he can do anything. He can’t wait to grow up and be Spiderman. Something happens to us as we grow older. We lose that ability to believe that God can do anything. The bible is full of magnificent stories of God and His power. But we don’t really believe them, do we? Oh they are nice stories but God doesn’t work like that anymore does He? We don’t believe He can. God is not any less powerful or willing to show His power. I believe we simply don’t expect it. God is so big. He is able. He is a Superhero!

He is able more than able
To accomplish what concerns me today
He is able more than able
To handle anything that comes my way

He is able more than able
To do much more than I could ever dream
He is able more than able
To make me what He wants me to be

October 6, 2010

The Essence of the Gospel

In certain circles it has become, if nothing else, fashionable to discuss the question, “What is the Gospel?” to the point where I am beginning to think that non-believers will simply know it when they hear it.   I just worry that sometimes we over-analyze something we should simply be living.

That dismissiveness aside,Tullian Tchividjian has been busy on Twitter compiling short statements expressing various aspects of the gospel.  Apparently, the gospel can’t be contained in a single statement.   Blogger Barry Simmons assembled a couple of lists at his blog The Journeyman’s Files both here and here.   I linked to it today at Thinking Out Loud, but thought we’d spell out a few of the statements here for C201 readers…

  • The gospel reminds us that we become more mature when we focus less on what we need to do for God and more on all God has already done for us.
  • The gospel tells me my identity and security is in Christ–this frees me to give everything I have because in Christ I have everything I need
  • The gospel tells us we don’t need to spend our lives earning the approval of others because Jesus has already earned God’s approval for us
  • When you understand that your significance and identity is anchored in Christ, you don’t have to win—you’re free to lose
  • Christian growth doesn’t happen by working hard to get something you don’t have. It happens by working hard to live in light of what you do have
  • The world says that the bigger we become, the freer we will be. But the gospel tells us that the smaller we become, the freer we will be.
  • The gospel explains success in terms of giving, not taking; self-sacrifice, not self-indulgence; going to the back, not getting to the front
  • The gospel empowers us to live for what’s timeless, not trendy–to follow Jesus even when it means going against what’s fashionable
  • Because of Christ’s finished work, sinners can have the approval, acceptance, security, freedom, love, righteousness, & rescue they long for
  • The only antidote there has ever been to sin is the gospel—and since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel.
  • Because of Christ’s propitiatory work on my behalf I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, praise or popularity.
  • The vertical indicative (what God’s done for me) always precedes horizontal imperative (how I’m to live in light of what God’s done for me)
  • When you are united to Christ, no amount of good work can earn God’s favor and no amount of bad work can forfeit God’s favor
  • Jesus came not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip away our slavery to lesser things so we might become truly free
  • The irony of the gospel is that we truly perform better when we focus less on our performance for Jesus and more on Jesus’ performance for us
  • The gospel tells us that what God has done for us in Christ is infinitely more important than anything we do for him.
  • Isn’t it ironic that while God’s treatment of us depends on Christ’s performance, our treatment of others depends on their performance?
  • We need God’s gospel rescue every day and in every way because we are, in the words of John Calvin, “partly unbelievers until we die.”
  • Daily sin requires a daily distribution of God’s grace
  • The hard work of sanctification is the hard work of constantly reorienting ourselves back to our justification.
  • Grace can be defined as unconditional acceptance granted to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.
  • The law tells us what God demands from us; the gospel tells us what God in Christ has done for us because we could not meet his demands.
  • Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; He always uses the gospel.
  • When you understand God’s grace, pain leads to freedom because deep suffering leads to deep surrender!
  • When we depend on things smaller than Jesus to provide us with the security and meaning we long for, God will love us enough to take them away.
  • The gospel is the good news that God rescues sinners. And since both non-Christians & Christians are sinners, we both need the gospel.
  • The gospel grants Christians one strength over non-Christians: the strength to admit they’re weak.
  • The gospel isn’t just the power of God to save us, it’s the power of God to grow us once we’re saved.
  • When we transfer trust from ourselves to Christ, we experience the abundant freedoms that come from not having to measure up.
  • The gospel makes wise those who know they’re foolish and makes fools out of those who think they’re wise.
  • It never ceases to amaze me that God’s love to those who are in Christ isn’t conditioned on how we behave but on how Christ behaved for us.
  • In the gospel, God comes after us because we need him not because he needs us. Only the gospel can free us to revel in our insignificance.
  • Mt. Sinai says, “You must do.” Mt. Calvary says, “Because you couldn’t, Jesus did.” Don’t run to the wrong mountain for your hiding place.

Remember these is only about half the list; click on both of the above links to get the full list; and thank-you Barry for compiling this.

July 14, 2010

Love Unknown: This Isn’t The Answer to Prayer I Wanted

From yesterday’s modern worship song, we flash back more than a hundred years for the song “Love Unknown” (the tune name, which I chose as the blog post tile) better known as “Oft When of God We Ask.”  And yet, there’s something very contemporary about these soul-searching lyrics, and approach to its theme: Trusting God in trials.   It’s almost out-of-sync with other hymns from the same era.  (Or perhaps, with the hymns that have survived with which we are now familiar.)    The writer is Thomas Toke Lynch (1818-1871).   I tried to find a video for this, but as you can imagine, this is a very obscure hymn.

Oft when of God we ask
For fuller, happier life,
He sets us some new task
Involving care and strife ;
Is this the boon for which we sought?
Has prayer new trouble on us brought?

This is indeed the boon,
Though strange to us it seems :
We pierce the rock, and soon
The blessing on us streams ;
For when we are the most athirst,
Then the clear waters on us burst.

We toil as in a field,
Wherein, to us unknown,
A treasure lies concealed,
Which may be all our own:
And shall we of the toil complain
That speedily will bring such gain ?

We dig the wells of life,
And God the water gives ;
We win our way by strife,
Then He within us lives ;
And only war could make us meet
For peace so sacred and so sweet.

June 8, 2010

Giving Up

I found this February post somewhat randomly.   Too many good things in the Christian blogosophere disappear after a few days, and it’s too bad, because there are a number of nuggets of gold in most Christian blogs if you’ve got the time to look for them.

This one is from Sim’s Blog and was written with Lent in mind, a time associated with “giving up” various things…

Give up complaining —— Focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism —— Become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments —— Think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry —— Trust divine providence.
Give up discouragement —— Be full of hope.
Give up bitterness —— Turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred —— Return good for evil.
Give up negativism —— Be positive.
Give up anger —— Be more patient.
Give up pettiness —— Become mature.
Give up gloom —— Enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy —— Pray for trust.
Give up gossiping —— Control your tongue.
Give up sin —— Turn to virtue.
Give up giving up —— Hang in there!

`Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.’ – Matthew 9:13

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