Christianity 201

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

October 7, 2021

Our True Home, Our Refuge from Change

Thinking Through the Life of Moses

by Clarke Dixon

Home is the one place where we are sheltered from the onslaught of change, right?

Everything else changes, our world changes, our society changes, people change, we change. Recently upon standing and seeing my hair on the floor I wondered why my barber has started only cutting the grey hairs. We change and we may not like it. We may not like any change.

Home is a refuge from all that change, it is the most stable thing in our lives, the one thing we can depend upon to not change, right?

Unless you are Moses.

Actually, unless you are most of us!

Let’s think about Moses’ sense of home for a moment. If we could ask Moses what he considered “home” what would he say? He might say it was his family and people of origin, among whom he was born. Or he might say that home is where he had his first memories, among the Egyptians that he grew up with. He might say that home is in Midian where he settled down with a wife and family from yet another people, having fled Egypt. Yet God called him from that new home, and that new people, to be at home among his clan of birth, God’s people, who had made a home in Egypt, to lead them to a new home, the Promised Land, a new home that Moses would never step foot in. Instead Moses spent the last forty years of his life leading the people around the wilderness.

You could say that Moses spent most of his life pitching tents, and never really settled in one home. His life was a journey to his true home.

How would Moses have answered that question “where is your true home? Where does your sense of stability come from?”

There was one constant in Moses’ life, one thing that remained the same throughout, and remains the same for Moses even now; God.

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
When the LORD saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

Exodus 3:1-4 (NLT)

God first appeared to Moses in a bush which was burning, but not consumed by the fire. Is there anything in our lives that cannot be consumed by fire? Take a look around, in the event of a massive fire, would anything be left untouched and unchanged? There is a hint here, that everything in our lives can be taken from us or destroyed, but only with the presence of God can there be any hope of something that endures. Only with God can we find a home that cannot be destroyed or taken from us.

But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”

Exodus 3:13-14 (NLT)

As we read through the Old Testament we often see the word “LORD,” written with all capitals, but not many people know why. It stands in for God’s divine name, which in Jewish tradition, would not be pronounced out of respect. When coming across the divine name in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish people say the word for “Lord” instead. We more or less carry on that tradition as Christians. The point is, God’s name has the idea of existence built right into it.

Only God has existence as part of His essence. God just is. Everything else and everyone else has been created. Everything that is created can also be destroyed. God cannot be destroyed because existence is part of God’s essence.

What is the the one thing we can depend on, the one thing that is not subject to change or can be destroyed, or taken from us? Only God can be our true home, the one constant in our lives.

God was, and continues to be even now, the one constant along Moses’ journey, his true home. Everything else was pitching tents. We may think we are building a home, some might even think they are building, or buying, a “forever” home, but we are always just pitching tents. Whatever home we think we are building will only last for the a season of life, for however long that lasts.

Being at home with God means that this life is a journey home. Being on a journey means saying goodbye, a lot. 

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to places. Having lived in eighteen different dwellings I am amazed when I meet someone who still lives in the home they were born in. This is now the longest I have lived in any one dwelling, at nine years. Yet whether nine months, nine years, or ninety years, these are nothing compared to being at home with God forevermore. This raises the question, how much do we really want to invest our lives in something we will be saying goodbye to? How much more do we want to invest our lives in being at home with God?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to possessions. I have seen pictures of a motorcyclist being buried on his motorcycle. He won’t be riding that where he is going! We have possessions that may be very meaningful to us now, but when we stand before the Lord in the hereafter, when we realize how meaningful Christ is to us, the significance of much we invest in and concern ourselves with now will fall away. How much do we want our lives wrapped up in things we will say goodbye to? How much do we want our lives to be wrapped up in Christ?

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to people. People come in and out of our lives. Saying goodbye can be very difficult when close relationships are involved. Saying goodbye can be particularly painful when those goodbyes are unexpected and happen far too early. Grief is something we can depend upon experiencing in our journey. Let us learn how to manage it and lean into God through it.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to particular ways of thinking.  To give an example, some people are raised, or come to Christianity, with the understanding that every word of the Bible should be taken as historically and literally true. However this does not give space to the fact that there are different genres of writing found in the Bible. Different genres require different approaches in understanding. To give an example, there are those who see a big gap between science and faith based on a very literal and historical understanding of Genesis chapter 1. Some of us, however, have an interpretation of Genesis 1 which sees no war between faith and science (please see this post from the past for more on that). While we make space for those who think differently, a life of faith is a journey of understanding, which means sometimes saying goodbye to ways of understanding that we may have treasured in the past. That can be difficult.

Being on a journey home means saying goodbye to this life as we know it, these poor old bodies as we know them. There are those who get to the point of “goodbye and good riddance.” I remember one dear elderly saint who often said “I’d give anything for a slice of toast.” She lost her home, her health, her independence, and even the ability to eat. She was ready to say goodbye and told me so.

The apostle Paul was also ready to say goodbye:

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

When we think of our home being with God in the here and now, we have courage for the journey, even that final journey home in the hereafter.

In conclusion,

Knowing that our home is with God means being on a journey, and a journey entails much change and many goodbyes. So let us hold onto everything lightly. Let us grasp onto God tightly, knowing that in Christ and through His Holy Spirit, God has a firm grasp of us.

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.

Hebrews 11:13-16 (MSG)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This sermon can be seen preached here.

 

September 30, 2021

The Predictably Unpredictable Life

Thinking Though the Unpredictable Life of Joseph from the Book of Genesis

by Clarke Dixon

Life can be anything but predictable.

We face many new beginnings that we could not predict. Who would have predicted in January 2020 that we would all be facing a pandemic for the last year and a half? Who could have predicted at the beginning of this year that Afghanistan would be completely under the control of the Taliban before the year was done?

In our own lives, we all experience things that we did not and cannot predict.

How do we handle such unpredictable times, and the predictable unpredictability of life?

There is a character from the Bible we may be able to relate to.

When Joseph was living happily on his father’s farm, could he have predicted that he would be sold by his brothers into slavery? When Joseph was serving in Potipahar’s home as a trusted servant, could he have predicted that he would end up in jail? When Joseph was in jail, could he have predicted that he would end up being the main administrator over all of Egypt?

In each of these new unpredictable situations, there is something in common, something very predictable. Despite the unpredictable nature of his life, Joseph himself was a predictable kind of guy.

Joseph was always the same Joseph, with the same God given gifts around dreams, with the same God given gift, or as some would put it, natural talent, for administration, exercising the same integrity.

In the Bible we read of something else which made Joseph predictable:

The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:21 . . . But the LORD was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. . . . So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?

Genesis 39:2,21;41:38 (NLT emphasis added)

The presence of God in Joseph’s life was predictable. Joseph’s reference to God throughout his life was also predictable. Joseph was predictable, in a good way.

In being predictable Joseph actually reflected something true about God. God is predictable in a good way!

With God there is a consistency, a constancy. We see this played out in God’s commitment to all His covenant promises. We can think of God’s relationship with His people as recorded in the Old Testament. God stuck by His people, even though they were predictable in their rebellion against God and constant idolatry. Yet God is predictable in a good way, always making a way for His plans and purposes to be carried out.

The writers of the New Testament came to know that God is predictable. For example, the apostle John wrote “God is love” in 1st John chapter 4. You cannot earn a description like that without being predictable in your love!

If God can be described as love, what word might people choose to describe us?

Clarke is ______.

Please don’t yield to the temptation to answer that in the comments, but please do ask that about yourself. People will fill in that blank based on what is predictable about us. Is it a good word? Do any of these words show up; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? These are the fruit of the Spirit, the consequence of living a life filled with God. Are we predictable in a good way because of our growing relationship with God?

Being predictable does not mean never surprising others.

In fact Joseph, despite being predictable, was likely very surprising, especially for Potiphar’s wife who probably assumed Joseph would be easily seduced. His integrity would have been surprising. Is ours? Joseph likely surprised the jailer who probably assumed that Joseph would be like every other inmate. Instead Joseph was like a breath of fresh air in a very stale jail. Are we experienced as a surprising breath of fresh air? Could Pharaoh have predicted that a seemingly insignificant foreigner sitting in jail would be the person who would save Egypt from starvation? Do we turn out to be of greater significance in people’s lives than they ever could have imagined?

God, though predictable, is full of surprises too.

In fact Joseph’s story reflects that of God’s people in the Old Testament. Joseph had this dream of his older, and therefore more “significant”, brothers bowing down to him. Yet in the end, surprise, they bow down to him and look to him for salvation from starvation. There were bigger stronger, and seemingly more significant nations around God’s people, like Babylon, and Egypt. In comparison God’s people were weak and insignificant. But God did something profound through this little “insignificant” nation. In fact people from every nation look for salvation in what God has done through this little “insignificant” nation, and its “insignificant” king who was crucified on a cross by the “significant” people. Surprise!

Speaking of Jesus, here is another surprise; God came to humanity in Jesus. We killed him. God still loves us and offers reconciliation and a new relationship. Surprising, yet predictable, because God is love. God worked in a very surprising way to help us see what we knew about God all along, that God is love.

Do people find us to be surprising in good ways? Are those surprises consistent with the good things people find predictable about us?

In Conclusion . . .

Our lives may be unpredictable, but we can be predictable, in a good way, living with a constancy, a consistency, and integrity, like Joseph, like God, like Jesus.

As God grows our character, developing within us the fruit of the Spirit, God’s work within us will show up through us no matter what is happening around us.

Life is totally unpredictable and full of nasty surprises. We can learn to be predictable in a good way. And full of good surprises.


Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. You can watch the preaching of this sermon here.

September 26, 2021

“There is No Shadow of Turning with Thee”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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There are Biblical phrases which have a beauty to them in older Bible versions that some might feel gets lost in modern translations, although, if the translators are doing their jobs correctly, the meaning should stay the same.

Some may know the phrase, “There is no shadow of turning with thee;” from the scriptures (though that’s not a direct quotation) but I’m betting that more readers here — including some younger readers — know it from the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

The hymn’s title phrase is from the book of Lamentations,

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:21-23 NIV);

but the next line is from the book of James. In the KJV, which was probably the version before the hymn writer, 1:17 reads

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The blog, An Open Orthodoxy takes the time to show us other renderings,

NLT: “He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”
ESV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
NASB: “…with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
RSV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
RSVn: “with whom there is no variation due to a shadow of turning.”

In the Biblical Hermeneutics section of Stack Exchange, there is the same analogy that my wife suggested when we discussed this earlier today:

The ‘shadow of turning’ I can only assume to refer to a sundial, whose shadow turns as the sun moves. Or, in extension, to any object which might be used as a dial to monitor the sun’s movement ; even a tree in a field can have sticks poked around it in the ground which will, as long as clouds interfere not, tell the workers when to have a break and when to go home. ‘When the shadow reaches the eighth stick, you can go.’

But God is Light, 1 John 1:5, or, more strictly, ‘God light is’ – an equivalence in apposition.

Thus if all is bathed in light, rather than a single point-source giving illumination, there will be no shadow.

That was the first of three comments on the forum, and the third dared to get into a discussion of sunspots, but you can use the link and check that for yourself!

There was only one answer at the forum eBible,

In my opinion, James in this verse is contrasting God the Father with the movement of heavenly bodies (including the sun and moon) that exhibit differing levels of illumination, or changes in the shadows that they cast, as they “turn” (that is, as their position or appearance in relation to the earth changes).

The Father does not possess this variability. He is the “Father of lights”, and is the same from eternity past to eternity future. As such, He is a continuing source of gifts, even to the unjust … but especially to those who seek Him and His will through Christ, and to whom He is faithful in keeping His promises.

At the site, Reflections in the Word, there is a short devotional application to all this:

How can there be all that light and the earth still gets dark? It’s because the earth turns. The earth gets dark because the earth is spinning on its’ axis. Therefore, the side that faces the sun gets light and the side that is facing away does not.

If there is darkness in your life, it’s not because God, the Father of Lights is turning; it’s because you are turning. He is the Father of Lights and in Him there is no shadow. There is no darkness in Him.

Because God is faithful, He’s consistent. Just like the sun, He is always shining and in His light there is no shifting or moving shadow. We just have to make sure we are turned toward Him to experience the fullness of His Light.

At the blog, A Pilgrim’s Theology, there is a mention of 1 John 1:5: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and Malachi 3:16 “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed; followed by,

…The literalistic but memorable turn of phrase “no … shadow of turning” used in the KJV, even if not an exact representation of the semantic equivalent of the metaphor that James uses, captures the notion of God’s faithfulness and steadiness. Given the instability of the world in which the nascent community of believers lived, the solidity and reliability of the wisdom of God was important, and the steadiness of the believers as lights is an important corollary in demonstrating that divine wisdom to the world.”

While we won’t quote it, for all the mathematics nerds reading, the blog Edge Induced Cohesion examines the verse in the light of calculus. (That one was above my pay grade!)

Going back to An Open Orthodoxy (linked above), the author offers a different perspective,

…I’d like to suggest that the point of the illustration is to make it clear that God is unlike objects which cast a shadow when held to the light of the sun because God cannot conceivably be thought to stand in the light of any reality or truth other than himself. Objects cast shadows because they are passive in relation to a source of light outside themselves which they reflect and according to which they cast a shadow, revealing their form. The only thing that can cast a shadow is that object whose substance reflects light cast upon it from a source outside itself, and its shadow is the outline of its reflected form. Its shadow shifts and changes as the object moves relative to the light. Everything on earth reflects the sun’s light in this way.

To say God “casts no shifting shadow” or that God is he “in whom there is no variation of shifting shadow” is to say (among other things) that God does not stand in the light of some measurement, that God’s reality casts no shadow because there is no reality outside God whose light or presence or truth God can be said to reflect and in reflecting reveal his form or substance, that God’s gifts do not reflect a goodness other than God.

For those who wish a new theological term for today, all of this is reflective of God’s divine impassibility.

 

 

 

 

September 25, 2021

The Safety and Protection David Knew

For a weekend reading, we’re introducing another new source to you. Salty Saints are a husband/wife team that’s been serving our Lord Jesus Christ together for 14 years. Their tag line for the blog is, “Sprinkling some salt and shining our light all over this world for Jesus!” Angela, who does most of the writing, is currently in a series on the Psalms. Click the header which follows to read this there, and then explore more well-written, thoughtful devotionals.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
12 Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

This Psalm really resonated with me this morning. With all that is going on in this evil world right now and the fear-driven agenda that’s all around us, the best thing we can do is remind ourselves of God’s character and goodness and the safety and protection we find in Him, just as David did. The dark and the unknown are things that scare us, but we need to remember that the Lord is our Light and our Salvation, our Fortress and Protector. No matter what may come, we can remain confident that He will take care of us always.

Even if we get to a point where we are surrounded by enemies, attacked, and suffer violence for our faith, we can rest assured that God will guide, guard, and keep us. We can be bold in the face of whatever lies ahead.

Three things that I notice that David did: He

  • reminded himself Who God is (built himself up in his faith),
  • he desired more than anything else to worship in the Lord’s presence, and
  • he prayed and waited on God.

These are all the very same things we can and should do when we are facing trying times. These are the things we should do at all times, actually!

As followers and disciples of Christ, we need not fear what tomorrow holds for we know Who holds all tomorrows! So let’s work on building up our faith in these days by seeking the Lord consistently through His Word and becoming a living sacrifice, worshiping and honoring and giving Him praise in all things, and communicating with Him in prayer about everything. There is nothing we can’t go to Him with and He already knows our heart and all of our thoughts, so let’s talk through those things with Him and receive His peace, joy, and direction.

As David had assurance that God would always be with him and never leave or abandon him, we can be sure of this too. No matter who else may leave our side, He won’t. No matter how hard things may seem and how alone we may feel at times, He sees us and feels great mercy and compassion toward us and He offers us comfort and even joy that passes all understanding. He IS a good, good Father and verse 10 says, “He will hold me close.” That’s awesome to think of, isn’t it? I imagine Him just holding me in His arms close to His chest as the kindest, loving Father in such a warm embrace and just never letting me go.

This also says that He teaches us the way we should go. We have to be constantly seeking Him in order to be guided along life’s journey by Him. He will show us which path to take and it will always be the narrow one. Remember that broad is the way that leads to destruction and MOST are on it. So we must stay on the narrow path that leads to life, even if it’s a lonely path because everyone else seems to be on the other one.

David was confident that he would “see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living” but he knew that he had to be brave, courageous, and patient. This holds true for us as well.

We are sure that we will see His goodness, in life and in death, and we must face both in this same way. We do not need to give in to fear, for that is Satan’s number one tactic. We must be brave and courageous…these are characteristics that God has always instilled in and demanded of His soldiers. Cowards have no place in the Kingdom of God and Heaven. And much patience and endurance (to the end) is going to be needed for all that lies ahead until we meet Jesus face to face and are ushered in and hear that long-awaited, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

These are just some thoughts I had as I read this beautiful and encouraging Psalm this morning and thought I would share with all of you. I hope you have a blessed day in the Lord! Remember, let’s be about the Father’s business!


Read more: Here’s another shorter devotional from Salty Saints based on Psalm 29: Click here. (Actually, all of the recent articles we looked at are really good!)

September 18, 2021

Ever Been Called, “Spiritual?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we are highlighting and featuring the writing of Michael Pircio who is appearing here for the first time. Michael’s life took a strange turn about two years ago, and while he doesn’t give us all the details, you can read a quick summary here. His blog is named Something Extraordinary. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Christian Apologetics.

The article we chose was the first of two (so far) in a series called “Society’s Assumptions.” Send some traffic his way by clicking the header which follows and reading today’s devotional there.

Society’s Assumptions: Christianity = Spiritualism?

NIV.Eph.2.8a For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith

I was sitting with a friend the other day, whom many may define as a good person.  He told me “You know Mike, I’m not sure I could have gone through what you’ve gone through without your Spirituality, It’s a good thing you have it.” This is interesting, simply because I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t consider Christianity, God, Christ, good or evil spiritual things. I consider them just as tangible as you or I. The reason I believe in God is the same reason I believe in trees, or water, or the sky, no I can’t touch him, but I can see His work. I can’t hear Him, yet I can read His words. I can’t see him, but He knows where I go.

Likewise, Christ was a real man. He is still God. Many of historians from antiquity have written about Christ and the Christians or “followers of Christ”, so I know He isn’t just a myth. The same can be said for good and evil. Human beings, since the beginning of time, have considered whether there is good and evil, and what that looks like. They question such things as “Are humans substantially more evil than good?”, “Can people choose good without a benefit?”, or my favorite “Why is there evil if there is a benevolent, all-powerful, deity?”.

Dictionary.com gives us more modern interpretations of words and how they are used colloquially or in other words, as common words in  conversation. The site defines “Spiritual” in definition 6 as “of or relating to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.” And I would have to agree in this use of the word, as many people, especially my age may define themselves as “Spiritual, but not religious”. As a Christian, I should be neither spiritual nor religious in my beliefs. If I define Christianity as a tangible faith, then how could either of those (religious or spiritual) bring me closer to my Creator?

Neither of them can. Religion, is a system made of rituals and practices associated with worship. Christians should not practice religion. God doesn’t require us to sing or do anything except love him. As I went over in my love series, that means being the best ambassador of Heaven on Earth. We are to study about Him and read His word. We are to pray and talk to Him, just like any relationship, and we can embark on artistic ventures about Him if we want to, in order to worship him, such as music or artwork; however, if we aren’t talented like that, we should worship Him with diligence in doing “all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:13)

God doesn’t even require us to have corporate worship, we however are commanded to gather with like-minded believers as that encourages us in our faith, but that doesn’t mean we have to go to church. God requires a personal relationship with us first, and then by that relationship we will want to spend time worshipping and fellowshipping with other like minded individuals.

So what’s the issue with someone calling us Spiritual? It seems harmless doesn’t it? It’s all about pluralism. Pluralism allows someone to serve two masters. It separates innate curiosity of the divine from the animalistic instincts that keep us from perfection. It allows us to follow man-made principles in satisfactory fashion allowing for our superficial concern over eternity to be quenched, but also allows for humanity to continue indulging in vices, questionable morals, and blatant rebellion without much consequence if any. People who are spiritual may believe in “God” as a higher power, but also subject themselves to eastern ideas such as karma and nirvana. They may even call themselves Christian, but when tasked with explaining their faith they can’t expound on it much more than being raised in a church.

People who are Spiritual consider themselves good people, and they have a morality that they believe to be right; Christians on the other hand cannot consider themselves to be good people, because we know we aren’t deserving of the title as sinners.

The whole point of this blog is to pierce right through what the church has neglected in so many years. Churches have gotten hung up on being “Spiritual” focusing on music, worship teams, and nice messages about how being good will please God, and following God’s rules make you a good Christian. As Christians we really need to take a stand against what society thinks of us and correct them. We are not spiritual, we simply serve a very real being who cannot be seen because of His holiness, who cannot be touched but can change lives in a very real way, and cannot be heard but has written down His word in a guidebook for our lives.

We are Christians, because we follow the Son of the being, known as God, who was sent to tell us exactly how His Father thinks, as He and the Father are one. We don’t follow Him because of His good ideas, or His compassion, or His Death. We follow Him because He is God.

Out of all this, the takeaway is Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s not religious, it’s faith; a faith that is very real based on personal experience with a divine being who reached out to choose us to love Him and follow His plan on this Earth. While other religions espouse that they received their words from angels or men, we and our Jewish brethren are the only ones who can say we’ve received word directly from God himself.

September 2, 2021

In Repentance and Stress is Your Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Isaiah 30:15

by Clarke Dixon

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

For many people, the Christian life does not seem like a restful life, but a stressful life. It is a life of continual guilt, and when you do not feel guilty, you feel guilt for not feeling guilty. It is a life preoccupied with sin.

Repentance can be defined as remorse over wrongdoing or sin, feeling shame and regret. We might assume that the Christian life is to be a life of constant remorse, regret, and shame.

And so some have found Christianity to be stressful. Isaiah 30:15 may as well read, ”in regret and stress is your salvation.”

Is this the way it should be? Is the Christian life best described as a life preoccupied with sin?

Thinking through Isaiah 30:15 will help. So let’s dig in.

The prophet here is speaking to a specific situation in Old Testament times when God’s people in Judah were under threat of invasion by Assyria. When small nations are under threat from bigger, more powerful nations, the most natural thing to do is make an alliance with another big nation. We do this as Canadians, seeking national security by being part of NORAD and NATO. If anyone wants to mess with us, they will have to mess with the collective might of so many other nations including the military might of the Americans.

So God’s people in Judah did what small nations do, they sought an alliance. What did God think of that?

“Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;
who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.
Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,
everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace. ”

Isaiah 30:1-5 (NIV) 1

Making an alliance with Egypt? Bad idea!

The right thing to do, would be to seek God, to remember the covenant with God, to lean into that covenant with greater passion, trusting that God is faithful and will carry out His covenant promises. To sum up God’s covenant promises, “stick with me and I’ll stick with you and you will live and flourish in the promised land. Don’t stick with me and you are on your own (and remember you are a small nation stuck between big bad enemies, so invasion and exile is how that will go).” Therefore turn to God, and not Egypt.

This is where verse 15 comes in:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

To paraphrase; in turning, or rather returning, to God for help, rather than turning to Egypt for help, and in resting, putting your future as God’s people in God’s hands, rather than trying so hard to ensure safety through an alliance, will be your rescue from the Assyrians. In a quiet confidence in God and trusting in him rather than the Egyptians will be your strength.

The Hebrew word translated “repentance” here in the NIV is not the word meaning “feel ashamed of” or “regret.” It is the word for turning as recognized in many translations, including the NRSV: “In returning and rest you shall be saved”.

So in context, repentance here is not so much a feeling of regret or shame over sin as we would normally think of it, but a decisiveness, a decision to depend on God rather than Egypt. Yes, feeling guilty over not sticking with God and his ways would happen, but the more important thing than the emotions involved is the decision to stick with God. As my wife and I have often said to our children, “it is not an apology we are looking for, but a change in behaviour.”

Given that Isaiah 30:15 was written for a specific occasion, what does it have to do with us?

Does this mean that we as Canadians should not turn to allies like we do with NORAD and NATO for security and defence? Does this mean that we should not turn to doctors when we fall ill, or scientists and their vaccines when there is a pandemic? Does this mean we should trust no one but God alone?

Well, no. Remember the prophet was originally speaking to a specific people who were under a specific covenant with specific promises, about a specific patch of land, during a situation that was specific to them. We are not that people, those are not our promises, Canada is not that land, we are not living under that covenant.

That being said, we too have the opportunity to be in a covenant relationship with God; the new covenant through Jesus. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. God’s promise to us is eternal life with God, beginning with his presence in our lives now. When it comes to these spiritual realities that are a matter of eternal life and death, what can be said about the old covenant, can be said about the new covenant:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

Isaiah 30:15 (NRSV)

In turning to God and in resting in what God has done for us in Jesus is our salvation, in quietness and trust is our strength. We don’t depend on ourselves, on our own capacity to impress God with how good we are. We live in relationship with God, trusting Him, trusting in His love for us. We rest in God’s love, we live in a quiet confidence. The Christian life is not a life of preoccupation with our sin, and our imperfections, but of preoccupation with God and God’s perfect love.

There may well be things in our lives that we should feel ashamed of, that we should regret. Repentance is part of the Christian life and an opportunity for growth. However, framing the Christian life as a life of constant shame and regret, as a never-ending preoccupation with sin, is itself regrettable.

The Christian life is a life of trust and living in God’s love, of resting in God’s loving embrace.

It is not “in regret and stress is your salvation” but “in turning to God and rest is your salvation.”


Join us again tomorrow for a “catch up” post now that Clarke is back from vacation. Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursday and is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Clicking the header which appears just above his name takes you to his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

September 1, 2021

I Am Peter

NIV.Luke.22.54b Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60a Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Katie Davis Majors is an American missionary and author who established a mission in Uganda in 2007, and tells her story in the books, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption (2011) and Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful (2017).

Two days ago a Facebook friend took the time to copy what follows from Katie’s journal, though I was unable to source where that journal was located. This might be a transcription of one of the books.

You can read more about Katie’s work at Amazima Ministries, where you will also find her blog.

I Am Peter

Peter is the rock on which God built his church. But first, Peter was probably the worst disciple ever.

I am Peter.

Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him 3 times; Peter says, “No! I love you, I could never deny you, Lord.” Yet we all know that Peter does in fact deny Jesus three times. I know in my heart and my soul and the core of my being that I love the Lord, that I would do anything for Him, go to the ends of the earth for him, but how often do I forget to give the glory to his name? How often do I take the compliments without giving him the credit?

Do I, like Peter, deny Jesus the glory that is his?

Jesus told his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be arrested. He went willingly when the soldiers came to take him, but enthusiastically, loving Peter raised his sword and cut off a soldiers ear. “Put your sword away,” Jesus commanded. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

I am Peter.

I have my own time frame. When I don’t see things happening, I try to make them happen. And Jesus says “Put away your sword, put away your plans. Shall we not do what the Father has asked of us?” So like Peter, I put away my plans, my defenses, and watch as everything happens perfectly, in God’s own timing.

After Jesus had risen, he appeared to his disciples while they were fishing. When Peter saw his beloved Saviour, he excitedly jumped out of the boat and began swimming to where Jesus stood. Needless to say, the boat probably reached the shore long before Peter.

I am Peter- excitedly jumping into things and then standing, sopping wet, at the feet of the Lord, smiling at my stupidity.

I am Peter who made many mistakes, but I am Peter for whom God had great plans, whom God established to do his work.

That very night when Peter jumped out of the boat, Jesus reinstated him in the presence of the other disciples.

“Do you truly love me?” He asked. “Then feed my lambs.”

“Do you really love me? Take care of my lambs.”

“Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep, and come follow me.”

For each time I deny God the glory that is his, for each time I follow my will instead of listening to his, for each time I jump ahead without first consulting my Lord, he asks, “Daughter, do you truly love me?”

And I do.

‘I am Peter. I mess up. I make mistakes, I am far from perfect, and God will use me. God will establish great things through me.

You are Peter. God already knows that you will make a mess, but his plan for you is great. Go feed his sheep.

August 19, 2021

Troubles, Distress and the Pains of Life

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 77 – Remember God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

August 15, 2021

Job: More than the Poster-Boy for Patience

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1)

[Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (1:21-22)

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.” (13:25)

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (19:25)

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (42:2)

Today we return to the writing of Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church we attended and where our oldest son now attends — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — and his blog, Finishing Well. This is the seventh time we’ve included him here and we invite you to read this on his site by clicking the one-word header which follows.

Job

Job’s name has become a cliche’, attached most commonly to his personification of patience. But Job has much more to teach us. We will never understand this important book of the Bible if we do not keep in mind who he was and all that was happening to him. Job was first and foremost an outstanding man of God. The sovereign Lord of the Universe, could say of him, he is “My servant”; and add: “For there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” What a remarkable commendation to have from the Holy One!

What is even more remarkable is that it was said to Satan, the epitome of evil in every sense of the word. He is a murderer, a deceiving liar, a destroyer and, for now, “the god of this world”. Satan saw a challenge:

“Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”*

Remarkably, God responds: “He is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.”

Satan then shows us everything we need to know about him, he destroys Job’s possessions, livelihood and even his precious family to the last person, other than his wife. It is a blow almost beyond our comprehension. Equally amazing is Job’s response:

“Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his beard, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord’.”

The Scriptures summarize all this in a sentence: “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

This remarkable man, true to God after the most horrendous losses, has yet to become more remarkable still. And, Satan shows himself to be more evil still. He states to God and Job that self-preservation is ultimately more than all else. And the devil, though disallowed to kill him, wracks his body with boils from head to foot. With this pathetic situation even Job’s wife, pained as she would be, despises his integrity and tells him to “curse God and die.” Job responds, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Job, severely troubled and full of questions and angry debate with his friends, lives to see again God’s faithfulness and His rich and wonderful blessing.

Where am I going with this? Theologians believe this book to be the first of Scripture written for our learning. May I suggest that today it may be preparing the followers of Christ Jesus for the last days of our journey on earth before Jesus comes. The Bible’s last book, the Revelation, describes God’s crushing judgments on a sin-cursed world. Satan, his angels and followers, make their last effort to destroy God’s kingdom on earth and His redeemed people. Instead he and his works are judged. It is an awful picture of destruction describing deceit, destitution, death and devouring beasts. The saints are not spared from death, persecution and fearsome trials. They endure but so as by fire. Matthew describes it as so bad that “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” Will we curse God and die, or will we declare in faith, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him?”

Those times are called “the Great Tribulation.” Surely the Revelation, with its detailed description of the final throes of Satan, his cohorts and followers, is given to us both for our learning but also for our preparation for final things. As awful as those seven years will be, when it is over we shall meet our King in the air to join Him in glorious victory as He sets up his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Not until we are in heaven will we truly understand what it means that God loves all of us and wants us for His own, but He hates sin and every work of Satan to the point of hell for him, and ultimately for all who follow his ways in unbelief and without repentance.

Joining the redeemed of all the ages we, who have called upon the name of Jesus, thereby receiving saving grace, shall sing a new song with words like these:

“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear, O Lord and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

This will be sung by the saints in the middle of the devastation of the tribulation. What a testimony and an act of incredible faith!

Perhaps the book of Job, tied to the Revelation, helps us to understand some of the works and ways of God, “ways past finding out.” He will cast the devil into a bottomless pit and bring to naught his destructive power. Jesus, the Victor, will reign over His kingdom and creation as King of kings and Lord of lords. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Him to be the Sovereign Lord of the universe. He will take us to be with Himself, free at last from every evil device of Satan and weakness of the flesh. Eden will be reborn. What a day of rejoicing that will be! Prepare for it so we, like Job in the midst of severe testing, will be “blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”


* Editor’s note: We put scripture verses in green because the scriptures have life! But because this time it was Satan being quoted, I just didn’t want to overly highlight it!

August 7, 2021

Lessons from Peter

Another new source for you! The blog By Leaps and Bounds  is an outreach of Arise Ministries, which is based in West Virginia. The author of today’s thoughts is Dave Snyder, a retired Church of God pastor who now serves in prison ministry.

Faith, Failure, and Good Sense

And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:23-32).

The Christian life is a journey. It is like a marathon and is so different from a sprint. Always, it is a walk of faith.

Sometimes along this journey, we fail. Anything from failing to pray to struggling with sin hinders us and feels like it will defeat us.

During these times of failure, good sense has to kick in. We remember that we cannot and do not have to do this alone. Then we call out to the One who desires to help us.

Faith, failure, and good sense are all necessary components of the Christian walk. Let us briefly examine each one.

Faith is the key ingredient to the Christian life. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We must have faith to do three important things.

Look at the call given to Peter and Andrew.

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he said unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).

These men left their nets to follow Jesus — without knowing where that path would lead them. It takes faith to simply answer the call to follow Jesus.

Obviously, if we are going to follow Jesus, we must have faith to believe He is who He says he is. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered with an emphatic statement of faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” There is so much power in declaring to our Savior, “You are the Son of God.”

Finally, it takes faith to leave our comfortable place. Peter was a man used to the sea- including times of turbulence. Surely, he had encountered stormy seas previously. It would seem to be more comfortable in the ship than out of the ship. When he stepped out onto the water, he left what comfort there was at the time. So it is with us. Faith requires stepping out of the ship to experience the greatness of God.

Down through the years, I have heard people criticize Peter for failing to complete his walk on the water. However, his failure is a reflection of the failure we all experience during our lives. Like Peter, we look at the storm around us and take our eyes off of Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” When we become distracted by all that surrounds us, failure is inevitable. This is when good sense has to come to the forefront.

When Peter began to sink, he did the most sensible thing he could have done. He cried out to Jesus — the One who had the power to save him. The Psalmist was so correct when he wrote, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” We should be so glad that our Lord hears us above all the noise that is around us. One other use of good sense is repentance.

When our actions deny that we know the Lord, repentance is in order. After denying Jesus three times, Peter remembered that Jesus warned him of this great failure. He had boasted that he would never fail in this way; now his heart was broken. Again, good sense was exercised. Peter went out and wept bitter tears of repentance. There are times when we must do likewise.

Matthew 14:23-32 definitely links faith, failure, and good sense together. It takes faith to step out in the first place. Once we step out, our human frailties get in the way and failure shows itself. This is when good sense tells us to cry out to the Lord who can help us. Good sense also tells us to make things right so our journey of faith can continue.

July 25, 2021

Utter Dependence on God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today once again we’re featuring the website Out Of The Ordinary. We’ve showcased writing here by Rebecca and Kim before, this time it’s the third member of the team who goes by Persis. She wrote this in May of 2020 when the global pandemic was just a few months in. How little did we realize for how long we would need to depend on God as our source of strength and comfort. She also (in the first paragraph) quotes a theologian whose name I have been hearing much in the past few weeks. Click the title below to read at source.

The Place of Dependence

We live in a strange world, a world which presents us with tremendous contrasts. The high and the low, the great and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the ugly, the tragic and the comic, the good and the evil, the truth and the lie, these all are heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship. The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. Now we are prompted to optimism, then to pessimism. Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. The whole world stands in the sign of humor, which has been well described as a laugh in a tear.1

Herman Bavinck may have have written those sentences 111 years ago, but he could be describing the present. Life as we know it has changed drastically for the entire world. Every level of society has been impacted, and what we once knew may never return. I am more aware than I have ever been of the complex tangle of human lives, basic needs, information, and decisions that are “heaped up in unfathomable interrelationship.”

In March [2020], two pastors on Twitter asked if Christians would be willing to fast and pray for an hour on Friday afternoons regarding the coronavirus. I was gung-ho the first two weeks and eager to pray. The hour passed quickly as I prayed for everyone and everything I could think of. But as the weeks passed, the number of situations and people needing prayer seemed to grow exponentially. When the last prayer time rolled around, I began to think of government employees from national to local levels, medical staff and researchers, essential workers, the unemployed, the elderly, those with compromised health or mental illness, and the list went on and on.

All these people so dependent on each other.  Some have positions of authority with decision-making power over many. But there are others previously overlooked who we are literally depending upon for our daily bread. So many people. So many lives. Any attempt to untangle these interrelationships would inevitably result in harm to someone because this is a no-win situation. These thoughts were too overwhelming, so I had to give way to the tears and lament that had been building up inside. The only words left to pray were, “Lord, you know.”

In our inmost selves, we are immediately  — without benefit of reasoning, that is, and prior to all reasoning — conscious of ourselves as created, limited, dependent beings. We are dependent upon everything around us, upon the whole spiritual and material world. Man is a “dependent” of the universe. And further, he is dependent, together with other created things, and dependent this time in an absolute sense, on God who is the one, eternal, and real being.2

If our sole dependence rested on other fallible human beings, we would have good reason to fear. There is a limit to the best wisdom, knowledge, and skill any person can offer, and that “best” is still tainted with sin. But there is Someone greater, wiser, and more powerful under-girding our interrelationships and interdependence on each other. Someone on whom we truly depend. He is not the watchmaker god of the deists who winds the timepiece and observes what will happen from afar. Our God sees perfectly and judges righteously. His purpose will not waiver and neither will his love. He took on humanity that he might redeem us, purchasing pardon with his death and providing righteousness with his life.

As his children, we have an open invitation to the throne of grace. We are welcome to pour out our hearts in petition, but we are also free to come when we are too overwhelmed to even know what to pray.  We can come to the end of our rope and the end of ourselves in this place of dependence. A place where Christ accepts a feeble, “Lord, you know,” and gives us assurance that he does.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:15-16 NASB


1. The Wonderful Works of God, Herman Bavinck, Westminster Seminary Press, 2019, pg. 29.
2. Ibid. pg. 27.

July 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!!!

*******************************************************

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

 

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