Christianity 201

July 22, 2021

Abraham’s Faith Never Wavered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Clarke Dixon’s regular Thursday column returns in four weeks.

Today again it’s our privilege to feature who writes at Feeding on Jesus where she has a following of many faithful readers who actively engage with her in her comments section. We chose this one for you today. Click the header which follows to read at source. There are also two more recent articles there on the subject of angels including some inspiring stories, and also a link to her devotional book, Feeding on Jesus.

Weak Faith? Strong Faith? Keep Pushing Forward!

“And Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…(Rom. 4:19a; 20b, NLT)

We can draw much encouragement from how God remembers and memorializes Abraham’s life. I’ve always done a double take when reading this passage from Romans 4. The Holy Spirit, writing through Paul, makes the statement that “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise” (v. 20a).

I read that and my mind starts to protest: Wait, he never wavered? What about when he despaired of waiting and decided to take matters into his own hands? What about Ishmael? What about the poor boy he engendered that had to be sent off into the desert to almost die there?

Somehow, as God gives the overview of Abraham’s earthly sojourn, He chooses not to bring up the Ishmael incident. Apparently, it’s not relevant to the main point: that Abraham’s faith eventually completed the test. The extremely lengthy, prolonged process of waiting on God for His promise actually accomplished something staggering in Abraham. His initially shakeable faith became so resilient that he became renown as “the father of all those who believe” (v. 11).

At the culmination of Abraham’s faith journey, this is the description God gives us of him: “He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises” (v. 21). How do I know this verse is talking about the “end product” of the (twenty-five year) long process that went into the development of Abraham’s faith?

Well, just take a quick look again at the midpoint. That was when Ishmael happened. So clearly Abraham wasn’t fully convinced at that juncture that God was able. He kinda thought God might need some help. His faith was a bit wobbly yet.

However, even after that faltering moment, he didn’t give up on God. He didn’t give up on the process. He didn’t give up on what must have felt like an eternal wait. He kept on choosing hope when for all the world it didn’t look like there was any shred of a reason to keep on hoping (v. 18).

Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, he kept pressing on. His body kept getting older and older. His wife’s did too. But he refused to relinquish God’s word to him.

Every night, he would look up at the stars and remember his Promise encounter. Over and over, he kept choosing to feed and edify his faith. He kept reminding himself of what God had said. He kept stomping on doubt by lifting up his voice and glorifying God (v. 20). He kept pushing through the process. Every. Single. Day.

The result? “Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…” And stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and STRONGER!!!!

Here’s my encouragement to you today. Feeling a little wobbly? Not quite at the “completely convinced” stage yet? That’s okay!!! Just keep pushing forward! Be assured, your faith is not weakening; it’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger by the day. No matter how eternal the wait seems, you ARE going to complete this test. And when God is through with you, WATCH OUT WORLD!! I can’t wait to see the flattened mountains in your wake!!!

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Do you find comfort, as I do, in knowing that “the father of all who believe” started out with faith that needed to be greatly strengthened?

July 21, 2021

Book Excerpt: Don’t Waste Your Pain (2)

This is our second of two excerpts (see here for part one) from a new book by Paul Willoughby titled Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness. Have you known pain in your life? Paul’s book is equal parts of autobiography — including his (and wife Gloria’s) ministry nationally in Canada through Christian television, in local churches in Ontario, in Uganda, and in India — and exposition of key Bible narratives. There are 13 challenging chapters and each has questions at the end for personal or group reflection, as well as links to some supplemental online resources relating to each.

Our excerpt today is from one of the teaching sections. Learn more about the book and how to order at dontwasteyourpain.com.

Fruit from Darkness

God has given us many wonderful parallels in nature that help us understand spiritual realities. Often in the Scriptures we see Jesus using everyday objects to illustrate great truth. One of Jesus’ favourites was to talk about farm life – something very familiar to His hearers. He spoke of a farmer sowing seeds, or of a vineyard that needed tending. One time, in speaking of His death Jesus said those words about a kernel of wheat dying, being buried, so it can produce a harvest of many seeds.

For a plant to grow, a seed needs to be buried in the soil. It is a picture of death and pain, of darkness and loneliness. Unless it is planted it will not bear fruit.

Many times in our lives we also feel like that seed – buried, forgotten, alone. But, like the seed, if we allow God’s presence to fill our lives He can cause us to grow and to be fruitful. It’s not easy. And it may take some time. There may be further pruning involved. But as the great Gardener of our lives, we can trust Him to know what He is doing and to bring us to a place of fruitfulness!

Naomi’s Pain: From Bitter to Blessed

One of the many examples of this in Scripture is seen in the life of Naomi. I imagine that she must have spent many nights weeping, crying out to God, wondering why her dreams had been shattered and buried.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Israel due to a severe famine. They headed as refugees for Moab, a country neighbouring Israel. Not long after, Elimelech tragically died. Naomi was devastated yet grateful that she still had her two sons with her. She soon found wives for them: Mahlon married Orpah and Kilion married Ruth. As hard as it was to imagine tragedy struck Naomi again within ten years of her husband’s death: her two sons died.

Naomi could not bear the pain. She viewed her losses the way many people do and concluded that God was against her. Perhaps Naomi wondered, “Aren’t I part of God’s people? Doesn’t God see me or care for me anymore?” Resentment began to seep into Naomi’s soul. We can sense it in her words: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (Ruth 1:13). In fact, Naomi told her friends to call her “Mara” instead of Naomi, because Mara meant “bitter.” She was beginning to form her identity around her circumstances, rather than on what God thought of her, or had planned for her. Because of her pain Naomi thought her story was finished; she was unable to see how God could bring anything good out of something that appeared to be so bad.

We all need to be careful about how we interpret the bad things that happen to us. In deep sorrow Naomi gave up and advised her two daughters-in-law to go back home and find new husbands. Orpah followed her suggestion, but Ruth refused. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you,” Ruth replied. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16). Could there be any stronger example of devotion in all of Scripture? Ruth’s willingness to selflessly bind herself to one in such tragedy and suffering is amazing. However, in the throes of depression, Naomi was unable to see her world correctly.

A small glimmer of hope for Naomi emerged in her daughter-in-law’s promises to never leave her, never forsake her. It is the same promise that God makes to us: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5–6). We begin to see how, in a sense, Ruth is like God and sometimes we are like Naomi; though many will leave us and forsake us, God will not.

Ruth’s promise did not take away Naomi’s pain, but it did help her begin to move in the right direction and kept her going until she reached a place where she could say, “God is good.”

If you read through the story, in the book of Ruth, you will see how after Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, God moved the heart of Boaz to provide for Ruth and then to eventually marry her. They had a child, Obed, who would eventually become the grandfather of David, the great King of Israel. Hundreds of years later, of course, Jesus himself would come from David’s lineage.

But let’s think about Naomi once again. Imagine her in Moab, her husband and two sons suddenly gone. All her dreams suddenly shattered, her longings unfulfilled, her hopes dashed to pieces. She put a label on herself: “bitter.” But looking back we see that God actually had blessing in store for her. What if she had really given up? Turned her back on God? She could have said, ‘I never want to go back to Israel and its God! He doesn’t care about me!’ But, no, even though she could not understand it, she returned again. And as we turn to the Lord, even in the midst of pain, God can turn our bitterness to blessing, just as he did for Naomi!

When our circumstances look desperate and we are tempted to become despondent, we must remember that there is still hope.

So, don’t give up. God is near. Turn your eyes toward heaven and know that He sees your tears. Let Him draw you close to Himself. Rest there in His embrace and allow Him to “quiet you with his love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, loss is a bitter pill to take, but we never know what good God will bring out of it, or the greater plan He can unfold if we only trust Him.

 

July 19, 2021

Taking the Land

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.Johsua.14.6a&7-9 Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him… “…I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Leiah who writes at Yellow Diamond Blog. Why the name? Her hope is, “that you will discover that you are far more precious and valuable than even a rare yellow diamond.” Her recent writing has been a mix of testimony and Bible study. Click the title to read at source.

You Can’t Take Everyone with You

You can’t take everyone with you.

For nearly a year now I’ve know that the Lord was getting ready to make a shift in my life. I had absolutely no idea how or when it was going to play out. I just knew he was moving me into a long awaited promised land.

I’ve spent hours and hours just imagining what it would be like. I had so many ideas and things I was just really certain about. And finally one day I knew it was time to move forward and take the land. So naturally I summoned others to come too. But as I moved forward, they regressed. Bittersweet isn’t a strong enough word to describe the conflicted feelings I have about this journey so far. I never planned to do it alone. And yet here I am. But you can’t take everyone with you.

I look back on the children of Israel, and I see the difference in the people that crossed over into the promised land, and the ones who didn’t.

The ones who crossed over were willing to face their greatest fears, to face the unknown, and go after the promise of the Lord unapologetically no matter what or who they had to leave behind. They trusted that if the Lord brought them there, He would indeed take care of them there. They knew that even though it looked impossible for them to enjoy the fruits of the land they were entering into, that the Lord intended good for them. They knew that he would heal their hearts of the brokenness they had encountered in the wilderness. They knew that the joy of the promised land would be greater than the sorrow of the wilderness. They knew that there would be an adjustment period, in which they had to go from the “survival of the wilderness” to “thrive in the promised land” mentality. They also knew that maintaining the promised land would require following the Lords instructions meticulously.

I am still in the process of taking the land. I know there will be days I feel defeated, insecure, and want to run back into the wilderness I’ve known for so long. However, I will not turn back. I will set my eyes on Jesus and walk hand in hand with Him towards the life He has for me. I will deal with the trauma of the wilderness. I will not carry those survival mindsets into this new place. I will embrace the goodness of the Lord and all that He has planned for me. I will work hard to embrace this new life. I will open my heart to new adventures with the Lord, and trust that he has equipped me for whatever is ahead.

It makes me sad to think that some people will never experience the promised land in their life. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see fear hold them back. I get it.

It’s terrifying to face the giants in the land.

It’s intimidating to look at all the things in your life that are keeping you from Gods best and tackle them head on.

It’s hard work.

It’s exhausting.

It’s painful and emotional, and confrontational.

It’s all the things I hate.

The process can be long and grueling.

It can take days, months, or even years.

It can take setting boundaries with others,

separating your self from relationships,

saying no to things you’ve always said yes to,

changing your way of thinking,

breaking habits,

being disciplined.

Some days it requires crying until you can’t any more.

Some days you just have to go against everything you’ve ever known and do something different.

It requires taking responsibility for your actions, but at the same time allowing the Lord to reveal the broken places leading you to those actions, and allowing him to heal them.

It takes showing yourself love and compassion while accepting and correcting your biggest failures.

It takes learning who the Lord created you to be, believing what He says about you, and confidently living as that person.

It’s going to require a lot of me to enter into my promised land. It already has in the first few steps towards it. It will require a lot of you too. You won’t want to move towards it some days, in fear of what or who it will require of you next. But remember, it’s YOUR promised land!!! It is the good the Lord intended for YOU!!! He knows who can thrive there with you, and who can’t. TRUST HIM!!! Look at all the times His children took people with them when they weren’t supposed to, and those people cost them their promised land every single time.

Leaving people behind for your promised land is terrifying and heart wrenching. It seems harmless to try and take them with you when the Lord says you shouldn’t. But remember, people don’t value something that isn’t meant for them.

Step out. Move forward. Fight for your promised land with no regrets. The Lord is with you, and for you. He will not let you down. Follow His lead. Hear His voice. Do whatever it takes to defeat those giants keeping you from the fullness of the Lord in your life.

It’s time child. The Lord says you’re ready. Take heart, take courage, take your promised land. ❤️

“but my brothers who went with me frightened the people from entering the Promised Land. For my part, I wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.”

Joshua 14:8 NLT

 

July 14, 2021

God Had a Plan in Mind

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This is our fourth time at Inspire a Fire, but the first time since 2017. They feature a variety of writers and focus on topical devotionals. The writer today is Norma Gail. She is an award winning fiction author, and Bible study leader. Click the header which follows to read this at Inspire a Fire.

Broken Relationships and God’s Plans

Broken relationships hurt. The search for answers feels like grasping at fog. As years pass and circumstances fail to change, the hope of reconciliation fades. God alone can heal a family, but His methods are often different than we would choose.

Joseph Suffered at His Jealous Brothers’ Hands

One of the Bible’s most powerful characters, Joseph, offers a glimpse at how a hopeless family situation was healed. Attacked by jealous older brothers and thrown into a dry cistern, they plotted to kill him. His questions must have circled like vultures, sharp beaks pecking away, leaving painful wounds that pierced his heart. Our most difficult dilemmas and deepest wounds come from those who possess the greatest power to hurt, those we love.

Judah saved Joseph from death but could do nothing to prevent the others from selling him into slavery. What agony he must have experienced as each day carried him further from his life as a favored son. In a foreign land with a strange language and customs, he was tempted and tried, forgotten, and neglected, then suddenly elevated to a position of prominence. Whenever Joseph found a measure of peace and comfort, relationships went bad again, and prison resulted.

Joseph Chose Faithfulness, Not Bitterness

Rather than wallowing in bitterness, Joseph chose to walk closely to the Lord. Scripture repeats the phrases,

“The Lord was with Joseph,” “the Lord gave him success,”

and his masters recognized something special in him. Joseph prospered through faithfulness, despite his circumstances. He was willing to serve others, though he possessed nothing of his former position.

Wherever he went, Joseph honored God in humiliation as he did in prosperity. Whatever his task, he worked as if serving the Lord, and God was faithful in return.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

Joseph’s attitude brought blessing to those around him.

God, Not Man, Controls Our Circumstances

My hurt and anger blind me to the blessings that could result if I trusted God and waited on Him. No one enjoys disrespect, lies, and mistreatment, but seeking to right the wrongs on my own is doomed to fail. God’s time and method are essential.

God could have stopped the situation at any point, protected Joseph from his brothers, and punished their hatred, but He didn’t. My most difficult circumstances grow and mature me if I seek Him. He will change hearts and minds if I trust, pray, and wait for His timing.

When Joseph met his brothers many years later, he forgave. He refused to retaliate in anger. Lord, help me learn the lesson of Joseph and extend grace when relationships go bad. Enable me to say as he did,

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).

[B]less those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28

God heals hurts. The brother’s hearts had changed over the years as they saw the pain their actions brought to their father. What we see as unchangeable is not so to God.

July 13, 2021

Financial Security vs. Eternal Security

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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James.5.1.NIV Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.* You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

*Or yourselves as in a day of feasting

A year later, we’re checking back in with Meanderings of a Minister by Pastor Jack Jacob. This devotional study begins, “Have you ever taken the time to look at a dollar bill?” For our UK readers, think pound note, and in Europe think Euro note. Where he writes “401k” think pension scheme. Click the header which follows to read this at his site.

From Where Does Your Security Come?

Have you ever taken the time to look at a dollar bill? They really are not that remarkable. They are green and many are wrinkled. If you were to look at one under a microscope, you would find they are laden with all sorts of bacteria. There are reminders all over the bill that it is not really your property, but the property of the United States of America. They have reminders of their denomination. A dollar bill is not that remarkable. Did I say that already?

So, if the dollar bill is not that remarkable, then why is it that we tend to put our security in how many of them we have? Security is defined as freedom from danger, fear, and anxiety. Why do we think dollar bills can provide this? Why do we think we must even use the dollar bills of a credit card company to be happy? Why is it that we sacrifice our time, marriages and even health in pursuing them? Why is it that we want to build a house with them and clothe ourselves with them and yet come away feeling so empty? Maybe it is because we have forgotten where they come from and whose they are.

In James 5:1-6, James tells the rich people of his day (and yes, they were believers) that getting their security from their riches instead of finding their security in Christ would mean that their source of security would make them insecure. He says they should howl and weep because misery would come on them. Before we think that James just does not understand our circumstances, think of the rich farmer of Luke 12:16-21. He thought that he ought to tear down his barns to make room for the riches that were pouring in. Because he thought that his crops were his security, God called him a fool and his life ended the very night he was standing on the security he had chosen. When we think that riches are our security, we are putting ourselves in a precarious position at best. Just ask those that have lost their 401K’s to the failing stock market!

James goes on to say that placing our security in wealth will cause us to want to hoard it and keep it where it can be consumed by pests and where other things can become attached to those riches that make them not as flashy and brilliant as we thought they were in verses 2 and 3. In verse 4, he goes even further to say that our misunderstanding of where our security should come from will cause us not only to hoard it, but will also cause us to keep it from others. In this verse, James accuses the rich believers of withholding wages from those that had earned them. Psalm 37 reminds us that a fool borrows and does not pay back. For many of us that get our security from the wrong place, we tend to hold on to our money and not pay bills right away, or pay the minimum. We rationalize this by saying we are managing our money wisely, but the truth so often is that we are afraid that, if we pay our bills as soon as we receive them, we will not have money for something that might come up. If we pay more than the minimum due, we will not have enough for something else we might “need”. We have gotten our security from the wrong place.

Lastly, James warns his listeners that getting our security from the wrong place with both cause us to think that all we have is for us (verse 5) and can lead us into doing anything to get it (verse 6). I cannot tell you how many honorable people ended up in jail because they got their security from the wrong place. They never dreamed they would steal from the company, cheat on their taxes, or even break into someone’s house, but they needed money because they thought that was the source of their security. This is one of the problems with some folks who have bought into the health and welfare movement that is so prevalent in some churches today. Those that buy into this belief system have never really had a change in their security base. They have just gotten religious about how they will go about getting it. James warns that this will only lead to misery. We would do well to heed his warning.

So if money is not sufficient for security, then what is? Simply this: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Our security can only come from Him Who is the chief cornerstone in the temple of our Eternal Father. Place your faith, trust, and security in Him!


Bonus devotional: Sometimes it’s hard to choose among good articles. Here’s one by the same author; check out Protecting Your Testimony.

July 11, 2021

The Holy Spirit Gives GPS-like Guidance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced Jenny Lee Young who lives in Randburg, South Africa and describes herself as a “former Methodist local preacher” who writes at Coffee in the Rain. I found this to be a helpful illustration. Click on the header which follows to read this at source.

Driving with a GPS

My hairdresser moved about two months ago. Her business took a serious knock due to the lockdown and she could no longer afford the rent in a small shopping centre where she ran her salon. She decided to operate from her home instead.

I have always travelled about half an hour to have my hair cut. In the past I have seldom been happy with hairdressers and once I found one I liked, I stuck with her, even though she moved out towards the West Rand about five years ago. Her prices and pensioner’s discount are also the best I’ve found.

The first time I went to her home, I got lost. I had looked at the directions on Google Maps before I left and had a general idea of the first couple of kilometers. Then it was time to switch on the GPS.

I have two cell phones. The one that is connected to the cell phone network has limited connectivity (WIFI, Bluetooth and GPS) after it was dropped on its face and repaired. My backup, which is old, has limited battery life. I stopped at the side of the road to connect my main phone. Predictably, it gave me the first instruction then lost the GPS signal. I drove straight, hoping it would regain connection but it didn’t. There was nothing for it but to call on the backup. To do that, I had to pull over again, create a hotspot on my main phone and connect the backup. I connected the backup to my phone charger because I saw there was only 20% charge left although it had been fully charged just three hours earlier. I sent a message to my hairdresser saying I was running late but on my way.

By now I was in territory totally unfamiliar to me. After about five minutes, my backup phone gave me the low battery warning and then went dead. Obviously it was losing more power than it was gaining. I couldn’t switch it on again.

I was lost.

I looked at my WhatsApp messages to see that my hairdresser hadn’t read my message. I was about to phone her when she phoned me wondering where I was. In the end she came to fetch me and I followed her home and charged my flat phone while I had my hair cut so at least I could find my way home.

If we get lost using a GPS device or app, there are three possible reasons.

  1. We think we know better and ignore the instructions.
  2. Our reception of the GPS satellite is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We run out of battery on our device.

The spiritual life is like driving using a GPS device. The signal is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13 NIV)

Romans 8:14 says, For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (NIV)

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18 NIV)

All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus into their lives as Lord and Saviour. However, we can still get lost on our spiritual journey. This can be for similar reasons to getting lost with a GPS.

  1. We think we know better and ignore instructions.
  2. We do not hear the Spirit’s promptings because our minds are filled with too many other things. Our reception of the signal is faulty or intermittent.
  3. We have run out of power. We have not been in the habit of plugging into Jesus for daily prayer and scripture reading. We have not spent enough time with our Lord to recharge our batteries.

There is one other reason for getting lost, both in the physical drive and the spiritual walk. We misunderstand the instructions. The voice on my phone says turn right and I turn immediately into a building site when I was meant to turn at the next road.

Spiritually, it is when God calls us to something and we try to do it in our own strength immediately and run ahead of God.

I’m happy to say I have been to have my hair cut subsequently and I did not get lost. I took precautions. I made sure my backup phone was charged 100% and I plugged it into my car charger as I left. Moreover, I had gone to Google Maps on my computer and printed instructions to my destination.

I am sure there are precautions we can take in our Spiritual walk too. By constant communion with our Lord, we can make sure our spiritual batteries are charged.

My Prayer

Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10)

July 9, 2021

Book Excerpt: Don’t Waste Your Pain

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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A few years ago, after some contact four decades earlier, Paul Willoughby stepped back into my life. I later learned he had just released a self-published book, Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness and he generously provided a copy for me to examine.

It’s an amazing book. Equal parts of autobiography — including his (and wife Gloria’s) ministry nationally in Canada through Christian television, in local churches in Ontario, in Uganda, and in India — and exposition of key Bible narratives. There are 13 challenging chapters and each has questions at the end for personal or group reflection, as well as links to some supplemental online resources relating to each.

Book summary:

Have you experienced pain in your life?  I want you to know that you’re not alone and there is hope! While no one has gone through exactly what you have, many others have had deeply painful experiences. In “Don’t Waste Your Pain” you’ll join me and the people I’ve met as we share the lessons we’ve learned on our journey from brokenness to healing. As you do, you’ll find new purpose in life and discover how our experiences – even the painful ones – won’t be wasted!

Our excerpt today is from one of the teaching sections. Learn more about the book and how to order at dontwasteyourpain.com.

Gideon, The Reluctant Hero

The Bible says that Gideon was just a young man when an angel appeared and shocked him with the news that God had chosen him to lead the people of Israel. This was during a very difficult time in Israel’s history. Israel had been so severely oppressed by the Midianites, that they were living in constant fear, even hiding in caves so they could not be found. Anything they planted was stolen, all their livestock was likewise taken or killed. They were so impoverished, poor, and fearful that they finally cried out to God in the midst of their pain. But then the angel appeared to Gideon, telling him “God is with you!” Gideon was taken aback, stunned that God would call him of all people for this job. Gideon had a lot of questions – and a lot of excuses! They may sound familiar to you:

If God is with us, why did this happen to us?” he asked (see Judges 7:13). Like many of us, he probably thought God was not interested in his life or did not care about his people anymore. Things had gotten so bad that the Israelites probably felt that God had abandoned them. Or maybe they began to doubt the stories they had heard – maybe it was all made up and God did not exist anyway!

But even standing face-to-face with an angel Gideon still doubted. “How can God use me? My family is nothing, and I am the least in my family, I’m good-for-nothing!” (Judges 7:15 – my paraphrase!) I do not know if you have ever felt that way, but I sure have. With all my doubts, fears, hurts, and brokenness, I’ve wondered, “How can God ever use me? Sure, He can use someone stronger or smarter, or the person who seems like they have everything all together, but me? No way!” Yet the Lord is gracious. He did not give up on Gideon, and He will not give up on you, either! In Gideon’s case, the Lord even spoke a further word of encouragement to him: “I will be with you” (verse 16).

The rest of Gideon’s story details how he set out with 32,000 men to attack the Midianites. Even with all those fighters, Gideon was still fearful. Yet God told him something strange: “you’ve got too many men, Gideon! If you win with all your troops you’ll boast about your own strength!” So God instructed Gideon to send a bunch of soldiers home. He eventually ended up with a handful of men (300) against an army of trained and fierce fighters. But God worked miraculously and Israel defeated the whole Midianite army. And guess what? It was God – not Gideon or his army – who got the glory!

Gideon’s story illustrates what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said that it is during those times when we are weak that God can show Himself strong. When we do not hide our brokenness, but offer it to God, He can use it and make something beautiful, something victorious, out of our life!


Excerpt from pages 86-87 in Don’t Waste Your Pain: The Journey from Brokenness to Wholeness @2021 by Paul Willoughby; used by permission.

July 4, 2021

Prayer Scripture Medley

With our U.S. readers pre-occupied today with their big national holiday, I thought we’d keep today’s devotional shorter.

If you’re open to it, sometimes people who have left us can still speak to us. Before you panic as to what that means, let me explain. Although it’s been 18 years since my father died, I often find his words speaking to me through notes left in various books and notebooks. When my son asked if I had a copy of Practice of the Presence of God, I found a two-in one edition containing With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, with these scripture references tucked inside, which probably are verses on which Murray based his text.

Today I share them with you.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
 – Luke 11:1 NIV

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
 – John 4:23,24 NLT

But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
– Matthew 6:6 CSB

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
 – Matthew 6:9 ESV

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
– Matthew 7:7,8 NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
– James 4:3 NLT

Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
– Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV

Give us day by day our daily bread.
– Luke 11:13 KJV

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
– Mark 10:51 NLT

Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, everything you pray and ask for —believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
-Mark 11:24 CSB

Next to each verse some key words were highlighted. I want to share these as a separate list, extrapolating a little from the notes:

  1. Ask God to help teach you to pray
  2. Pray in spirit and in truth
  3. Don’t make your prayers a public spectacle, pray in secret and let God provide the answer in public
  4. Pray to God as a father and use the principles from what we call The Lord’s Prayer as a guide
  5. You only get what you’ve asked for. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.
  6. God is positively disposed and favorably inclined to give you good gifts.
  7. At the absolute minimum, pray daily and ask God to meet daily needs; don’t take that provision for granted.
  8. Check your motives. Ask with right intentions.
  9. Prayer should be definite. Make your requests specific where possible.
  10. Pray with faith anticipating an answer.

This is based on my father’s notes. I believe that Murray has twelve major points or lessons and I encourage you to read the book, is available everywhere and doesn’t take long to read.

 

July 3, 2021

Called to Foreign and Fear-Filled Places

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re returning to Jesus Unboxed, written by Rev. David Eck, pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital.  All his devotionals are also available on video, the one for today is at this link. Click the header which follows to read this at source.

Calming the Storm (Mark 4:35-41)

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’”

For those of us who may be a little bit geographically challenged, the “other side” of Lake Galilee was the land of the Gerasenes which, roughly translated, means “over against Galilee.” This was Gentile territory, the land of the so-called “heathens.” It was the place where Jews did not want to travel. It was the place where “those kinds of people” lived. And so, I’m sure the disciples looked at Jesus a bit perplexed when he told them he desired to travel there.

But isn’t that like Jesus? He calls us to go to places that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. He calls us to leave behind the security and safety of the church and go out into a world filled with desperate people. A world that is in need of healing and hope. A world that has often felt rejected by the church and treated as “heathen territory.”

God’s people often hesitate to go to the other side, whether it’s a call to minister to the homeless, victims of domestic violence, the poor, those without the benefit of health care insurance, immigrants or the LGBT+ community. Typically, we like to surround ourselves with those who agree with us; those who look like us and think like us. We even select our newspapers and televisions stations based upon our beliefs and rarely consult those whom we view as being from the other side.

However, if I’ve learned one thing about Jesus in thirty-three years of ministry (Beside the fact that he passionately loves ALL his children), it’s the fact that Jesus rarely allows us to remain in places that are comfortable and secure. He often calls us to places that challenge us and help us to grow. He calls us to places that are out of our personal comfort zones. Because this is where he went while we has here on earth; smashing through barriers of culture, class, sex and race in order to transform everyone with the radical, inclusive love of God. And so, Jesus invites us to get into the boat and travel to the other side. We must make a decision as to whether or not we will accept his invitation.

The story continues: “And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.” This is certainly an unusual detail in the story. Mark is the only gospel that contains the phrase “Other boats went with him.” To be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure why it is there. But I do know that it means we’re not alone. Others have also accepted Jesus’ invitation to cross over to the other side.

It has been my experience that some of these boats come from other Christian denominations, Some of whom believe very different things about God than we Lutherans do. But they have answered the call just as we have. Some of these boats bear names such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and the like. They, too, have answered the call to cross over to the other side. I’ve worked side by side with these “other boats.” We’ve entered the so-called “heathen territory” together and ministered to the most helpless and hopeless among us. I know this makes some Christians uncomfortable. They would like to be the only boat on the sea. But our gospel lesson tells us there are other boats. I’ll leave you to ponder the meaning of this unusual detail.

The story continues: “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Storms come in many forms. Some of them are the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. Our nation has been experiencing a great windstorm” this past year as we’ve faced a global pandemic, political unrest and conversations regarding systemic racism. Storms have raged, and continue to rage, all around us. They rock the boats of our personal lives, our families and friends, our church, our community and our world. This reminds us that no one is safe from the storms of life. We will all experience times of smooth sailing, as well as times when the waves crash into our boats and threaten to sink us.

The story continues: “But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” It’s what I call the “Big God Question.” The “Big God Question” sounds something like this “God why are you punishing me?” “Jesus, why did you let this happen to me, to my family, to my church?”

We all ask the “Big God Question” from time to time. It’s human nature to do so. When the storms of life rage all around us, it’s natural to wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering, fear and loss. Our gospel implies that we are tempted to think Jesus doesn’t care about our plight. He’s asleep at the wheel, or in the stern of the boat, as the case may be!

During these times of fear and uncertainty it’s easy for us to try and blame God or blame someone else in the boat as the cause of the storm. I don’t know why this is the case. But it’s hard for us to accept the fact that storms are a part of life. They are unavoidable. Some of them result from us making bad decisions. Others have no great evil behind them. They are simply part of the cycle of life that goes between periods of calm and storm.

The story continues: “Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’”

The good news of our gospel lesson is that Jesus is NOT the cause of the storms that rage in our lives. Jesus is the one who is able to calm them. It has been my experience that the kind of calm Jesus offers us is not always smooth sailing and waveless seas. The kind of calm Jesus offers us is in here. In our hearts and minds and spirits. It is, as St. Paul calls it, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It’s the kind of peace that recognizes we are in God’s capable hands no matter what kind of sea we find ourselves in.

Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping in the midst of storm is not a sign of his indifference as the disciples indicated. Perhaps Jesus’ sleeping means he knew whether he survived the storm or not he was in God’s capable hands. Nothing, not even death, could change this truth. Therefore he slept, not as a sign of apathy; he slept because his heart and soul were resting peacefully in God’s hands. Nothing could alter this truth.

Now there is something to ponder! The challenge is for us to grow in our faith to the point where the storms of life don’t faze us in the least. This doesn’t mean we’ll never be fearful. It means we will remain confident that God is with us in the boat no matter how rough the seas get.

Jesus’ response to the disciples in our story is interesting. After they accuse him of being apathetic, he says to them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Some people may take this to mean that faith means WE have to be the strong ones. I think the opposite is true. Faith means we trust GOD to be the strong one in the midst of our fear and doubt.

You see, I don’t think Jesus was chastising the disciples because of their fear of the wind and waves. He was disappointed because of their lack of trust in him. They doubted his ability to protect them and see them through the storm. We’re not supposed to be the strong ones. We’re supposed to trust that God is the strong one. These two things are completely different. Which one we choose makes a BIG difference in how we understand the meaning of the story.

The kind of faith Jesus expects of us is beautifully defined by one of my all-time favorite authors, Frederich Buechner, who wrote the following about faith: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps. Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

So, my dear friends, there is so much we can learn from our gospel lesson for today. There is much to think about, pray about and apply to our lives. It is my hope that today’s story will challenge us to have the kind of faith to get in the boat with Jesus and sail to wherever he wants us to sail. To have the kind of faith that trusts his guidance through calm seas and rough. May Jesus be the captain of our boat, both now and forever. AMEN

Copyright ©2020 by David Eck; used by permission


Bonus article: Here’s another by the same writer, Growing the Kingdom.


Related: Reading the first part of today’s devotional, where Jesus takes his ‘guys’ to a place they might have referred to avoid reminded me of a study we did last year on the “Jersualem, Judea and Samaria” passage in John, and how the reference to Samaria is less geographic and more symbolic: Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions.

June 29, 2021

Unanswered Prayer for Healing and God’s Sovereignty

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 11:33

Our daily search for good devotional studies takes us back to previously featured writers, and others who, as with today’s piece, we are discovering for the first time. Author and speaker Reagan K. Reynolds lives in North Carolina (USA) has been blogging at her eponymous site since April, 2015. As always, support these writers by reading their work at the source webpages; just click the header which follows.

Wrestling with The Sovereignty of God in Delayed Healing

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:26-29

She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”

My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus.

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”

The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.

As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.

As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.

God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.

Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.

And then another story from scripture came to my mind.

Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord.  He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?

In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).

Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance.

God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.

Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.

Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be?

When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade.

I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result.

“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is

“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”

One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…

He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is good. (Mark 10:18)
He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)
He is loving. (1 John 4:19)
He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31_
He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)
He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)
He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)
He is powerful. (Job 26:14)
He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
He is humble. (Philippians 2:8)
He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)
He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)
He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)
He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)
He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)

He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).

Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?

My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.

Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)

June 22, 2021

When the World is a Mess: Depression

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our third time with Jack Garrott, and this time he shares some details from his own story.  His website is Virtual Vitamins. Click the title in the next line to read this there. Opinions are those of the author.

Depression

Psalm 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

I personally think these two verses express the biggest reason God allows trouble in our lives: to get us to recognize our need for Him so that we will seek Him. There is literally no substitute for that, even though we try to substitute various things for God all the time. This particular Psalm (along with Psalm 43, which is in all probability part of the same original Psalm) deals explicitly with depression.

Sometimes we tend to think depression is a modern problem, but it is as old as mankind. There are lots of reasons for it, but it fundamentally comes from truncated vision, the inability to see beyond current events and circumstances. Frankly, there’s plenty going on around us to cause us to feel down, but at the same time, we are surrounded by God’s gracious blessings. Depression comes when we focus on the one and not the other. There are chemical/biological things that influence depression, either positively or negatively, and I’m not discounting that, but I stand by my premise.

The Psalmist here recognizes that with the admonition to himself, first stated in verse five and repeated in verse 11 and 43:5, to focus on God. I’m sure I will be accused of being simplistic, but that is ultimately, and always, the answer. We can think of countless excuses, but it comes down to the choice to trust God. Depression isn’t something that can be switched on and off like a light, but if we manage to focus on seeking God, He will answer.

I don’t write this casually. I attempted suicide once when I was in college. I can say with assurance that suicide is the ultimate expression of being self-centered.

Lately “bipolar” is a popular diagnosis and excuse, but in my observation, people who are being chemically treated for such a condition are some of the most pathetic people around, because their emotions are compressed from both sides, to the point of being essentially unable to feel anything emotionally at all.

People who are emotionally sensitive do need a support structure of family and friends, but running from emotion isn’t the answer. Many creative people have this issue, and squashing their emotions can likewise squash their creativity. Handel had this issue, and wrote the entire Messiah in the space of about two weeks, hardly sleeping, and then crashed. Thankfully there were no psychiatrists to dope him up, and with the support of those around him he recovered and went on to create much more magnificent music.

In one of my own experiences, I was lying in bed, not consciously praying but just thinking, “There are so many things I wish were different.” Very clearly, so clearly it could have been an audible voice, except that my wife beside me didn’t hear anything, I heard the Lord say, “How do you think I feel?” Ever since then I have been comforted by the assurance that though things are a mess right now, God isn’t through with it all, and He is to be trusted.

Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s not something I’m likely to forget! I ask for wisdom and compassion as I deal with people around me all the time who are depressed, often with good reason. Help me point them to You without making them feel I am taking their suffering lightly. I’ve had some real problems in that area. May I be so focused on You that those with whom I interact may likewise lift their eyes to You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

June 21, 2021

Forget That You’ve Heard the Story Before

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today’s devotional by Charles Stanley is an excerpt of a book excerpt, from his new release, Can You Still Trust God? as published by the website and subscription service Devotions Daily. To read the full excerpt, click the header which follows.

The Power of Perspective

…The problem with studying any familiar passage is that we rarely allow ourselves to feel what the characters must have felt. Why should we? We usually know what happens in the end.

Unfortunately, this familiarity with the Scriptures often robs us of their intended results. It is hard to feel the fear David must have felt when he faced Goliath when we know from the outset that he comes out the victor. We miss the sense of isolation Moses must have felt as he fled Egypt for his life. After all, he ends up a hero. So as you approach this familiar narrative in John 11, try to forget the end of the story. Instead, do your best to put yourself in the shoes, or maybe the sandals, of the people involved. If you read what happens but neglect to consider what must have been felt, you lose some of the richest insights of this story.

“HE WHOM YOU LOVE IS SICK”

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” John 11:1-3

The household of Mary and Martha is one in which Jesus and His disciples had been given hospitality whenever they had been in the area of Judea. Apparently, Lazarus was a wealthy man, and he used his wealth to support the ministry of Christ. The fact that Mary and Martha sent for Jesus as soon as Lazarus became ill is evidence of their faith in His power. No doubt they thought, If Jesus is willing to heal total strangers, certainly He will jump at the opportunity to heal one who has been a friend. But such was not the case.

But when Jesus heard it, He said, This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. John 11:4-6

These verses make absolutely no sense, humanly speaking. That is why I love this story, because most adversity makes about as much sense from our perspective. It is clearly stated that Jesus loves this family; then He makes no move to relieve their suffering. I can relate to that.

Whenever the bottom drops out, I go scrambling to the verses in the Bible that remind me of God’s love — yet at times it seems God is unwilling to follow through with any action.

We need to pause here because at this point in the narrative we have our greatest struggles. I am referring to that time between the point we ask God for help and the point at which He does something. It is so easy to read, “He then stayed two days longer.” But the delay was like an eternity for Mary and Martha. The Scripture informs us that they knew the general area and how long it would take Him to make the trip to Bethany. So they waited. And as the hours dragged on, they watched their brother grow weaker and weaker.

Finally the day arrived when, according to the normal traveling time, Jesus should arrive. No doubt they took turns sitting with Lazarus. That way one of them could go out to the road to look for Jesus. I can imagine Mary or Martha asking all the men and women coming from the direction of Perea if they had seen a group of twelve or so men headed that way. As they would shake their heads no, the sisters’ hope burned a little lower. “Why didn’t He come? Maybe He never got the message? Maybe He left Perea without sending word back to us? Where is He? After all we have done for Him, it is the least He could do.” And yet He failed to come when they expected Him.

Lazarus died. Maybe Mary came in early one morning to check on him and found him dead. Perhaps it was in the afternoon when both Mary and Martha were at his side that he breathed his last breath. Whatever the situation, both women felt that hollow, helpless feeling that always accompanies death. It was over. He was gone. Soon their thoughts turned to Jesus, Why didn’t He come? How could He know what we were going through and yet stay away?

These, no doubt, are some of the questions you have asked as you have cried out to God in the midst of the adversity in your life. How can a God of love stand back and watch my friend and his wife suffer and not do anything about it? How can He watch from the balcony of Heaven as women are physically or sexually abused? How can He watch husbands walk out on their wives and children? Does He know what is going on down here?

Once again, this narrative is helpful. Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He knew what Mary and Martha were going through. He knew His friend’s condition was worsening. And He knew the moment Lazarus died:

And after that He said to them [the disciples], “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” John 11:11

Yet He did nothing! Keep in mind, Lazarus was not some guy off the street. He had invited Jesus into his home. Lazarus had expressed faith in Christ and His ministry. He was a good man. He certainly had more faith than most of the other people Jesus had healed. Some of them did not even know who Christ was (John 9). But Jesus was nowhere to be found when Lazarus needed Him most. To add insult to injury, Jesus had the nerve to say to His disciples,

Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.John 11:14-15, emphasis added

Jesus was “glad”? How could He say such a thing? Two of his best friends go through emotional turmoil; another friend dies of an illness; and Jesus says He is glad? What could He have possibly been thinking? What was going through His mind?

My friend, the answer to that question is the key to unlocking the mystery of tragedy in this life. To understand what was going on in the mind of Christ and in the economy of God in a situation like this one is to discover the universal principle that puts together and holds together all of life — both now and for eternity.

Christ had a goal in all this, a goal so important that it was worth the emotional agony Mary and Martha had to endure. It was worth risking the destruction of their faith. It was even worth the death of a faithful friend.

What Jesus, in conjunction with His heavenly Father, had in mind was so incredible that even through the pain surrounding the whole event Jesus could say, “I am glad this has happened.” In other words, “Men, what you are about to see is so fantastic that it is worth the pain and death of My beloved friend.” If they were like us, they probably thought, What could be worth all of this?

“IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE”

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” …And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him… Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”John 11:18-21, John 11:28-29, John 11:32

Mary and Martha, for all their time spent with the Son of God, were still human to the core. They wanted to know one thing: “Jesus, where in the world have You been?” They had no doubt that Jesus could have healed their brother; Martha even indicates that she believes there is still hope (John 11:22). But the fact that He had seemingly ignored their plight had left them confused and frustrated. Why did He delay?

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”John 11:33-36

At this juncture any doubt about Jesus’ love and concern for Lazarus is laid to rest. “Jesus wept.” Yet His overt concern about His friend Lazarus adds another layer of mystery to the story.

If Jesus was so concerned, why did He not come to Lazarus’s aid? Why did He let him die?

Once again we are faced with what appears to be an unsolvable mystery. It becomes apparent that whatever Christ had in mind, whatever He was trying to accomplish, it was worth sacrificing the emotions of the ones He loved as well as His own. Jesus wept when He arrived to find Lazarus dead. Think about it.

His knowledge of the future did not keep Him from identifying with the sorrow of those around Him.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

If anything is clear from this story, it is that some things are so important to God that they are worth interrupting the happiness and health of His children in order to accomplish them. That is an awesome thought…


Learn more about the book at thomasnelson.com

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Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Thomas Nelson. Used by permission.

 

May 12, 2021

Responses to Unanswered Prayer(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today a double feature from two authors who are new to us. Discover more by these writers by clicking the individual headers which follow.


Bruce Green writes at A Taste of Grace.

“God Answered Our Prayer!”

God answered our prayer!” we proclaim as someone who has been in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers is brought to better circumstances. We mean well by such a statement. We mean to bring glory to our Father and recognize what He has done. But the truth is, these words can be a poor way of expressing our joy.

Church bulletins, personal prayer lists, and social media catalog those in chronic need. Perhaps it’s an illness or disease, hardship, or simply the effects of living a long life that places people there. Whatever it is, people ask for our prayers and we remember them before our Father. Then someone on our list sees things change for the better and they are taken off the list. Should we thank God for that? Absolutely! Praise Him for what He has done? We’d better! Should we be discerning when going public with such news?  Ahhh . . . this is where we tend to have our problems.

In our eagerness to publicly celebrate what God’s done, we can crush the spirits of the others on our list.  Our “God has answered our prayers,” sounds like we’re saying that He hasn’t answered the prayers of the others (and we mean no such thing).  He has answered the prayers of everyone on the list (though it may not have been the answer they desired). But to deny them this recognition is to isolate them even further and add to their troubles. We should say something like, “God has given us what we asked for,” or similar words. Just as important, we should try to do it in a way that is sensitive to all.

But I suspect there’s a larger issue here.  I think our speech is the way it is because we haven’t fully accepted that God does answer our prayers in regard to the person who remains in chronic need. No one has any trouble understanding that God has answered the prayer of the person who is delivered from their circumstances. And, most will agree that God has delivered the person who didn’t get better and died. But what of the person who remains in difficult circumstances—has God really answered their prayer? For many of us, the answer seems to be “no.” What purpose could God have in a little boy suffering for years with leukemia? How could he be using the elderly woman who has been bedridden for a decade? From our finite human perspective, these are questions we have no answer for.

But our ability to understand God’s purposes isn’t the point. The issue is His sovereignty and power.  Is He able to use the situation and make good come of it?  Yes!  That’s exactly what Paul asserts when he writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).  God can use us in death, in life, and anywhere in between!   We may not be able to fathom how He does this, we may struggle to accept it, or we may pray that it be different, but God is sovereign over all circumstances and situations and can use them all (not just the “good” ones)!  We need to believe this!

Paul follows this with the wonderful salvo of v. 31ff, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”  He then enumerates the possible things we might face and boldly declares that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (v. 39).  What is He saying?  Among other things, he is telling us that we should never interpret the worst of life’s situations (trouble, hardship, sickness, etc.), as meaning that God has left us—He hasn’t!  He won’t!  While we may not understand His purpose in them, we can be absolutely assured that the One who used the death of His only Son to bring salvation to the world can and will bring good out of our darkest circumstances and these circumstances do not have the power to separate us from Him.

We have His word on it!


Kevin Carson is a pastor in Ozark, Missouri.

Grateful for Answered and Unanswered Prayer

Are You Grateful for Unanswered Prayer?

I saw this quote earlier:

I am profoundly grateful that God did not grant me certain things I asked for,
and that he shut certain doors in my face.
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones

It got me thinking… What unanswered prayers am I grateful for?

I have a few. For sake of privacy, I think I won’t mention them all on here. Along the way, I have asked God for certain things that I am for sure grateful He chose not to answer affirmatively. He protected me. Some are even embarrassing upon further reflection.

Then I think of this other category… What about those prayers that went unanswered as part of God’s providential protection for which I have no idea how devastating they would have been to me had they been answered?

I’m not sure how big this category even is! When you pray something, at least for me, I think I know the benefits of the prayer at the time – if God would say, “Yes”. For better or worse, I trust my wisdom in asking. Maybe at times I even ask someone else about a particular request before I ask God about it just to get an additional opinion. But at the end of the day, I typically do not know from what a “No” answer from God has actually spared me. I imagine this category is immense.

I think about some of my bigger prayer requests that went unanswered with a “Yes” and I wonder. What did God know that I didn’t know? I try to learn from this.

Are You Grateful for Answered Prayer?

Again, this actually is a trick question in my mind. Even in the answered prayer category there are multiple levels.

Many, many prayer requests I can say that I am grateful God answered. These include spiritual, familial, circumstantial, and various other requests. I rejoice in many of these answered requests like: My Grandad recently recovered from COVID, God allowing me to get a big buck, and there are many, many more. Protection of the family. On and on these could go.

Here’s the next level. Are there answers to prayer that you received in the affirmative and now regret you ever prayed them?

This category contains all kinds of difficult questions as a believer. God granted our request, but on further reflection, we realize that maybe it was not the wisest thing to ever pray about or for. The difficulty here involves the fact that God’s sovereignty includes both what is prayed for and what we received. At that point, we trust God’s providential care.

It Comes Down to the Heart

At the end of the day, it all comes down to our hears. Are we going to trust God? Will we trust what He specifically does? As well, will we trust what God does that we do not even known He is doing?

To be honest, for so many, trust can be very hard. Yet, we must. Trust. Even when hard – Trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6


“Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.” — Here’s a link to an article we ran in September, 2020 which was a recap of other pieces here which touched on this topic: Click here to read.

May 11, 2021

Heed Wisdom, Practice Trust

This is our sixth time with Melody at In Pleasant Places and it’s a double-feature today! Please, honor our writers by sending traffic to their sites and pages by clicking the headers and reading the articles where we first found them.

Written on Your Heart – Proverbs 3:3-4

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.”

Proverbs 3:3-4

This is a call from a father to his son to not only keep to the father’s teaching and commands but also for the son to bind steadfast love and faithfulness around his neck and write them on his very heart.

This goes beyond the surface.

It isn’t just obedience. It is devotion. Pure, wholehearted devotion from the core of his being. This entailed an intentional commitment by the son. His heart wouldn’t necessarily naturally incline to the teaching; he needed to write faithfulness and steadfast love onto it.

This picture of the heart as a tablet highlights how impressionable it is. It implies that the heart itself is impacted by what is written on it. It cannot lead – it follows, and it does so strongly. So we must lead it with truth.

The verses in Proverbs remind me of another, Jeremiah 31:33: But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

That is the Lord’s declaration, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. Contrasting the covenant initiated with Moses, my covenant that they broke (v. 32), with the new covenant the Lord would establish through Christ.

“And [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” Matthew 26:27-28

In the new covenant, when we enter into grace through faith in Christ, we are forgiven, freed, cleansed, and our brokenness healed, because we are made whole in Christ. And the Lord has declared that He will put His law within us and write it on our hearts.

Our hearts engraved with His Word and His commands, enabled to walk in light and life as our hearts are led with truth.

It is devotion, love for Him at our core, which pours out as obedience because that is what He has written in power and grace. And that is what we continually strive to experience as we study His Word, walking in His power to resist the temptations of a world that tries to etch falsehoods in place of His truth.

So to our deepest places, He is our God and we are His people.

Does this not reveal a beautiful aspect of God’s heart?

He is involved here. Very personally.

To put His law within you, a law of liberty and love to guide you to abundant life and keep you free from sin’s entrapment.

To write it on your heart.

This is not surface-level obedience.

It is relationship, a relationship that brings whole-life change at the core.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

All My Heart – Proverbs 3:5

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 3:5

Reading this familiar verse this morning, I began to contemplate what it is to trust in the Lord with all my heart. We generally hear and use the phrase, “with all my heart,” in contexts where it’s all-encompassing. No reservations. No hindrances. All-in.

This is a leaning-in with every piece of my heart, every part of my being, to trust the Lord.

To trust the God who is living and active; the God who reigns over all; the God who made me with all of my details and who watches over me with care because I am His through Christ.

To trust the God who has very specific and intentional commands regarding how I am to live, including where my focus should be, what my aim and motivations should be, how I am to treat people, and the lifestyle and moral character my life is to demonstrate – character grounded solidly in the morals He established in His Word as Ruler and Creator of all and as the One who reigns in light.

To trust in Him with all my heart regardless of what I perceive or understand because He is the One who knows and sees everything.

He knows better.

I do not.

But I know Him and He is trustworthy. Far more trustworthy than my own perceptions or how I feel about something. Far more trustworthy than what makes sense to me.

He is wise. He is good. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. He is comfort and peace. He is strength and joy and hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

When I trust in the Lord with all my heart, this is what it does. This is what it looks like. Unshaken. Hope abounding. Joyful, peace-filled, believing in Him.

As I share the gospel, speaking Christ to those He brings on my path. As I work. As unexpected things happen, whether painful, discouraging, scary, or expensive. As I go throughout my days in my marriage, with my family, with my friends and fellow believers. Whatever my path holds, hope abounding in my ever-present God as I look to and trust fully in Him.

A God who shows His power by giving us hope. We don’t have to muster it ourselves. The joy and peace, even the belief itself, starts with Him and flows into us. As we abide. As we rest. As we dwell with Him and abide in His Word which holds all truth because it reveals Him to us.

We set our eyes. We choose to press in. We lean our hearts and minds toward Him and toward trusting Him fully, and we rejoice knowing that He meets us there and that He has been empowering us for it the whole time.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself
give you peace at all times in every way.
The Lord be with you all.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16

April 26, 2021

From Faith to Doubt to Faith Again

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Every pastor has a Bible character for whom they are able to tell his story in exceptional ways.  For Andy Stanley it’s Nehemiah. For the young preacher you’re about to meet it’s Thomas. Yesterday I listened to two full-length sermons by Tyler Staton. The first was sent to me in a link by a friend who wanted me to know that Tyler is replacing John Mark Comer as teaching pastor at Bridgetown. He’s moving cross-country from Brooklyn, New York to Portland, Oregon.

The second sermon I watched was focused on Thomas, so I was thrilled to discover that Thomas takes up a good one-third of Tyler’s book, Searching for Enough: The High Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith.

This devotional is adapted by the book and was first published by the Bible Gateway Blog, and appeared later at Devotions Daily. Click the title below to read at source, and click the link at the end to learn more about the book. Clicking the header below will also lead you to an audio reading of the book’s first chapter.

Stuck Between Two Unsatisfying Stories

Thomas is my favorite. He’s always been my favorite. I know Thomas. I am Thomas.

Thomas wasn’t a fiercely rational cynic. To think of him that way would be to minimize a whole life down to one single moment, which is always a mistake. This is a man who left everything behind to follow a self-proclaimed Nazarene rabbi. He risked everything for Jesus. He witnessed miracles that left him rubbing his eyes in wonder, but he also faced rejection, confusion, and public disgrace for associating so closely with one who was called a criminal.

The very week of Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas steps forward in a critical moment to say he’s ready to die with Jesus. He was ready to die with his rabbi, but he wasn’t ready to live without him. And that’s exactly what Jesus asked Thomas to do when he wouldn’t say a word at his own defense hearing and took the death penalty like he was planning it all along.

Thomas isn’t a cynic or even a skeptic. It’s so much more personal than that. He’s disappointed. He’s hurt. Imagine pushing in all your chips, like he did on Jesus, and then the story ends in the kind of heartbreak so far outside of the realm of possibility that it blindsides you completely, leaving you in the kind of daze you never want to feel again. That’s the Thomas we meet in his famous declaration of doubt.

He’s hurting. He’s confused. He’s guarded. Life on his own terms wasn’t enough; that’s why he risked everything on Jesus in the first place, but how can he be the King of the everlasting kingdom from within a casket? Thomas isn’t a doubter; he’s a realist—calling it like he sees it.

“So the grave’s empty, huh? Well, that’s great, but I’m gonna need a lot more than that. If the rest of you are so desperate to believe, then go ahead, but I’m gonna piece together my actual life in the actual world. And if laughter, beer, and sex is as good as it gets . . . and if suffering is senseless and death is final and none of it amounts to anything more . . . then at least I had the courage to face it.”

Thomas’s resurrection reaction reads like God picked up a thirty-something from San Francisco or Berlin or Melbourne or Brooklyn and sat them down in first-century Jerusalem on that defining Sunday morning.

I’m not sure I understand the experience of seeing someone alive on Sunday who was definitely dead on Friday, but I certainly understand the skepticism of hearing other people spread a holy rumor like that one and categorizing it as religious well-wishing at best. I see myself in Thomas. I see my friends in Thomas. I see my city in Thomas. Stuck between two unsatisfying stories.

Now Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 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.” John 20:24–25

In essence, Thomas is saying, “If God wants me, he can come get me. I’m not hiding.” Thomas was a realist—a strong-willed, fiercely logical realist—and that earned him a nickname: Doubting Thomas. That’s a modern invention though.

His given name was Didymus, but everyone who really knew him called him by his Aramaic name—Thomas, which translates to “twin.” The Twin—that’s what all the other disciples called him, and it suits him . . . because, in a way, he’s all of our twin.

Thomas is modern Western culture personified. A whole hemisphere is stuck between two unsatisfying stories. The citizens of the industrialized Western world enjoy more personal freedom, leisure time, career options, and entertaining distractions than anyone at any other time in human history, and yet the increase in personal autonomy and freedom hasn’t led to increased happiness and fulfillment. Diagnosed and medicated mental illness has grown almost exactly parallel to these factors. The world’s freest, wealthiest, most autonomous people are also the world’s most anxious and depressed people.

Is there anyone you can identify with more in the Gospels than Thomas? Regardless of how you’d categorize your particular brand of belief or unbelief at this particular moment, plenty of us could say right along with Thomas, “It’s not enough. The meaning I’ve tried to drum up for myself in this life is not enough to still my restlessness, but to be honest, I’m starting to think an empty tomb is not enough either.”

Two Stories Caught in a Single Frame

Early on a hot summer morning in the mid-1970s, Philippe Petit walked across a wire suspended between the iconic Twin Towers dotting the Lower Manhattan skyline. It was a spectacle.

Almost exactly 27 years later, two commercial flights were hijacked and steered directly into those same Twin Towers, bringing them to the ground with thousands of casualties. It was also a spectacle—of the very worst kind.

A photo was snapped during Petit’s jaunt across the wire that was meaningless for nearly three decades but then became iconic: a commercial plane caught behind the balancing man on the wire appears to be flying much too low, almost like it will hit the towers. Two moments that seem logically a lifetime apart are caught in a single frame. The stories overlap for just a moment.

That’s what happened to Thomas. The story of the world and the story of Jesus seemed incompatible on resurrection morning. It was wishful thinking for any true realist. Then, for just a moment, the stories overlapped in a small upper room hideaway in central Jerusalem. Thomas, disenchanted by an empty tomb, encountered the presence of the living God.

That’s the invitation for you.


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Zondervan Publishing. Used by permission.

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