Christianity 201

August 3, 2019

Turning Problems to Blessings | Miracles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Sometimes I will spend as much as 15 minutes combing the internet before I land on something and I know, this is the writer I am supposed to share today. I want to introduce you to Janet Perez Eckles:

Although physically blind, Janet Perez Eckles has been teaching thousands to see the best of life. “Because I lost my sight at 31 and endured the murder of my youngest son, along with the acquittal of the man responsible,” Janet says, “my life should’ve been a mess. But God gave me a message to showcase His power: His power at work to conquer fear and turn the deepest pain to a life rich with triumph and success.”

Today we have two short devotionals for you. Click the individual titles to read on her pages.

God’s way to perform miracles

What keeps you from believing in miracles?

A mother answered these questions with boldness and unique faith. The results stirred attention and a film was made of this miraculous event.

The scenario took place in a St. Louis hospital. The story is about John Smith who fell in icy water and remained there for 15 minutes. The news read, “When rescuers brought him to SSM St. Joseph Hospital West, the teen wasn’t breathing. Paramedics and doctors did everything in their power to bring John back, not willing to give up. They performed CPR and other life-saving measures on him for 43 minutes—without regaining a pulse.”

Medically, the boy was dead.

They called his mother to the room to give her the bad news.

What did she do? She prayed. She declared out loud God’s power and the Holy Spirit upon her son and believed she would receive it.

What happened next is that blood began to flow in that dead boy’s veins.

The doctors shocked and stunned couldn’t give explanations. They only had one conclusion: it was a “genuine miracle.”

The chilling details.

Here are the chilling details: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/02/04/inspiration-nation-mom-prays-son-back-to-life/22883985/

I’d like to meet that mother and tell her, “I want faith like yours. To be that bold, and overflow with trust.”

Her trust didn’t drive her to beg, but declare God’s healing power. Her faith didn’t lead her to lament the circumstance, but prompted her to praise the Lord for what He knows how to do. And she didn’t sink into sorrow, instead she believed God’s promise, claimed and received it.

While she claimed it in faith, the mountain was removed.

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Let’s Pray

Father, teach me to look to you for that unwavering faith that proclaims what You can do and what You will do. In Jesus’s name.

What miracle are you expecting?


How our problems turn into blessings

The Terminix rep sat at my kitchen table. “I have good news and not so good news,” he said.

Gulp. I braced myself. I called him because I had some bites that could be from those pesky insects. And since I travel often, they could have hitched a ride in my suitcase.

“Good news,” he said, “you don’t have bed bugs. But not so good news is we inspected and you have no protection against termites.”

Yikes! Forget the bed bugs, termites that could eat up my house is a bigger problem and a greater threat. I signed up for their plan faster than you can say bugs.

Isn’t that like life? We drown in tears because of an ugly situation, painful and unexpected. But God is in the background using that very situation to work something beautiful. He’s using it as a path to bring about greater changes and before you know it, that problem was a blessing in disguise.

Five Ways

Here are five ways God might be crafting that transformation:

  1. When relationships fall apart, God may not restore and heal. Instead, He might be in the process of a make-over of our heart. He might be cleaning stuff that tainted our life. He might be pointing ways to increase our wisdom and preparing us for something lasting and real.
  2. When our children grow up and grow distant, following the wrong path, rather than bringing them back when we expect, our freedom might be what God has prepared instead. The freedom from worry by surrendering each child to Him and placing them in His capable hands.
  3. When financial problems don’t end, God might not wipe out our debt, but might invite us to bring to Him the first fruits of our labor and to see how much He can provide.
  4. When life’s losses devastate us, God might not bring back what we lost, but increase our dependence on Him to receive His comfort and peace.
  5. When the doctor gives us bad news, God’s healing might not happen yet. Instead, He might be working in us a deeper trust, a genuine confidence in Him and boldness to believe He has the answers when doctors don’t.

God has answers that are eternal.

Difficult circumstances demand solutions that are temporary, but God has the answers that are eternal. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Each problem is a blessing when we look for the lesson. When we hear His message. When we appreciate the change. And when we believe that, in Christ there is no problem without a purpose. No sorrow without His comfort, no setback without a solution and no tragedy without His triumph.

Let’s Pray

Father, thank You for your patience with me. Thank You for showing me to look beyond the circumstance and see Your mighty hand at work to bring greater things. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Which of your problems can be turned to a blessing for you?


Janet wrote a book filled with words of encouragement, uplifting thoughts and illustrations of real-life triumph to empower you. Its title: Trials of Today, Treasures for Tomorrow: Overcoming Adversities in Life. You can get it HERE.

August 1, 2019

Take the Initiative, or Leave it To God?

Travel schedule forced me to have to interrupt this four part series on the Book of Ruth of which this is part three. To catch up, or read everything in continuity, visit Clarke’s blog at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we trust God, or do we work things out for ourselves? Do we wait on God, or take the initiative? Do we leave everything in God’s hands, or do we take things into our own hands? Do we wait for a sign, or go ahead with a decision? The Book of Ruth gets at the heart of these questions. Right in the middle of the book Naomi takes a bold step:

 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Ruth 3:1 (NRSV emphasis added)

Naomi then puts a plan into action which sees her daughter-in-law Ruth request marriage to Boaz, their “guardian-redeemer.”

We are not told if Naomi spent time in prayer in formulating this plan. The Book of Ruth does not tell us about Naomi’s prayers, her devotional times, or if she ever sought counsel from godly people, or God himself for that matter! It simply tells us that she took the initiative to solve a problem. She saw an opportunity to make a difference. She saw a practical solution to a practical problem.

While God is very involved in our lives, we have the opportunity to work out practical solutions to practical problems. God gives us the opportunity to grow in knowledge, skill, and wisdom. Finding solutions to problems is a thrill we get to share in. Some have the opportunity to share in finding a cure, a vaccine, a better way to help people, a more efficient car, or a faster motorcycle. Human ingenuity is something to celebrate. Being created in the image of God, we reflect the creativity of God.

Your ingenuity is something to be celebrated, and developed. God does not desire for us to be like infants forever, but to learn to walk on our own two feet. No parent wants their child to never take a first step. We celebrate the growth and development of children. However, no parent wants to come home to find their child has completely disassembled the car. There is a time to celebrate initiative, and there is a time to defer to God who knows best!

While Naomi could take the initiative, the closing verse of the Book of Ruth reminds us that God is sovereign. Only God could establish David’s reign. Only God could make and keep the promises that would lead to Jesus and salvation. Naomi’s initiative had potential impact on the DNA of Jesus, but only God could do what he did through Jesus. There are spiritual problems for which there are only God solutions.

Only God can bring salvation. There is no initiative you can take to reconcile yourself to God. No amount of effort, work, or deep thinking, can reconcile you to God. It is a gift from God. Our salvation is his initiative, his effort, his work on the cross. When it comes to salvation, we celebrate God’s initiative, not ours.

But when it came to finding security for Ruth, Naomi takes some credit. In fact, if Naomi had not taken the initiative, perhaps things may have not turned out as well. We don’t know, but perhaps Naomi might still be bitter by the end of chapter 4, just as we found her at the end of chapter 1. Instead, the Book of Ruth ends with joy and hope. This possibility is instructive. It is possible that looking for purely spiritual solutions to practical problems can lead to spiritual problems.

Many years ago I worked with some people in a Bible study specifically for those with mental illness. A well meaning church in town was willing to pick such folk up for programming they offered at their church. That was all very good, however, some were told that if they could find the sin that led to mental illness and repented of it, they would be healed from their mental illness. If anything, many of these people were much closer to Jesus than the “sound-minded” Christians in the churches! Perhaps some mental illness can be chalked up to spiritual problems, but much mental illness comes from practical problems, for which doctors continue to work on practical solutions. While we pray for miracle cures we also pray for those who work toward practical helps.

There is something else we can notice about Naomi’s initiative. She was keeping in step with God. Naomi saw an opportunity provided by the guardian-redeemer laws that God set up for His people of that time and place. We don’t live by those laws today as Christians, but we do live by the Spirit. We are to keep in step with God’s Spirit. Our initiatives and practical solutions should, and can, be in step with God. To give an example, our neighbour might find a practical solution to the problem of our barking dog. A well aimed bullet would do it. But that is not a good solution. There are better solutions that would keep in step with God!

So do we trust in God, or take initiative? Naomi devises a plan and advises Ruth to take a practical step, a step which lead to a positive outcome. However, in reading the whole book of Ruth, we understand that God is working everything out for good from beginning to end. It is not either/or, but both/and. We take initiative where it makes sense to do so, keeping in step with God, while always trusting in God. God, in his wisdom and power is able to accomplish his purposes despite, and often even through, our initiative. Perhaps this helps us take the initiative to pray. We don’t how our prayers could impact a sovereign God, but we have a wonderful opportunity to participate with God’s activity through our decisions in prayer. Mysterious, yet wonderful!

 

 

July 15, 2019

Communicating with God is Different

We’re back once again with Joanna Pierce who writes for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. There is a longer set-up to this piece, so be sure to click the link below to read everything. (We decided with this piece to embed the scriptures, since many of you don’t click through!)

No Email Required

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12, KJV).

Getting answers, completing work, and building relationships in the business world is vastly different than the supernatural world. I’ve learned business tactics don’t translate well with God. Why? Because He doesn’t like constant check-ins to make sure He’s working. He’s God: He’s not a man that He should lie. Therefore, God will do what He said He will do (Numbers 23:19)! Even when it doesn’t look (or feel like) He’s working, He is—trust me!

Num.23.19 God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?

This key Scripture is a great reminder that God will complete His will (assignments). Another translation says God is actively watching over His Word so He can complete it. God’s not like a bothersome coworker that tells you s/he will get something completed and then drags his/her feet to get it done or has no idea as to the project status. The Lord’s watching, working, and moving things along more closely and perfectly than any of us could ever do (Philippians 1:6).

Phil.1.6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The best part is that God will achieve His work according to His project timeline (Acts 1:7).

Acts1.7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

He’s never going to let a deadline pass or create a scramble-work emergency on our part to fill in the gaps. God’s literally got it all covered, and we don’t need to worry or do a thing. He will do what He’s planned, and He won’t delay fulfilling it (Ezekiel 12:28).

Ezek.12.28 “Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

God’s really the best work-partner as He creates a stress-free working environment. When I get on my knees in prayer and send up those “knee-mails” I don’t need to set reminders for follow-ups. Once I pray a prayer, God will never lose track of it (Revelation 5:8). Realistically, once God answers our prayer, He’s the One reminding us that He’s answered them (it’s not the other way around)!

Rev.5.8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

Let’s pray God helps us realize He’s actively watching and fulfilling His Word in our lives, our loved ones, and the church. We don’t need to (and can’t) micro-manage the Lord of glory who is the greatest project manager, organizer, and Way-Maker of all time. We serve a mighty God who hears us, sees our needs, and will fulfill them in His time—no email required.

 

July 13, 2019

God’s Answers Arrive God’s Way

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Mark.11.24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Rom.4.17b …the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.


Is.55.9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.


Read the full story on which today’s devotional is based at this link, of which the following is an excerpt.

Acts.12.5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.


The site Awakened to Grace, is a relatively recent find for us. The author of today’s piece again is Joy Bollinger. Please read this content at the original source by clicking the header below.

Unexpected Answers

Have you prayed for an answer, but the answer has not yet arrived? Will you recognize the answer when it comes?

The story of Peter’s supernatural rescue from prison gives us a glimpse into the heart of God and how His ways and thoughts are so much higher than our ways and thoughts. He answers prayer, but not always according to our timing and expectations.

We learn in Acts 12 that Peter was arrested and delivered to four squads of soldiers. Typically, a squad included eight soldiers. So, it took thirty-two soldiers to guard one non-violent man. Meanwhile, the Church was earnestly praying for Peter’s release.

Peter was bound with two chains and asleep between two soldiers with sentries posted at the door of the prison. An angel of the Lord stood next to Peter, struck him on the side, and woke him saying, “Get up quickly.” His chains fell off and the angel ordered him to dress, wrap a cloak around himself, and follow him past the two guards. As they approached an iron gate, it opened of its own accord and they went out along a street, and the angel left.

Peter quickly went to the house of Mary, the mother of John where they were all gathered together praying for Peter. When he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice and instead of opening the door ran to tell the others that Peter was at the door. They responded, “You are out of your mind.” Despite her insistence that Peter was at the door, they argued, “It is his angel!” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking on the door. When they finally opened the door, they were shocked to see him standing before them.

How often do we pray and either we do not fully expect our prayer to be answered, or we have our own ideas of how that prayer should be answered? So, when the answer comes, we, like those who prayed for Peter, fail to recognize it.

We have the blessed assurance that if we abide in Him and His Words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish, and it will be done for us (John 15:7). God tells us that before we even call to Him, He will answer. While we are yet speaking, He will hear us (Isaiah 65:24). And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him (I John 5:14-15).

Jesus said, “…whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  For God calls into existence the things that do not exist (Mark 11:24; Romans 4:17).

BELIEF is the key to faith. To believe means to be convinced, to trust, and have total confidence in God. Paul had such great confidence in God that he was able to sleep peacefully, in chains, between two soldiers!

Like Peter, are you caught in a prison of circumstances that you have no control over?

If you have been praying and waiting, yet you have not seen an answer, keep believing and trusting God, so that when the answer arrives, you will recognize its appearing.

PRAYER: FATHER, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Help me to trust and focus on You and not my circumstances. Prepare me to recognize and receive Your answer. Thank you for Your unwavering love and the fulfillment of Your promises. In Jesus’ name, amen.

July 9, 2019

With You There is Light

Today’s piece represents a return visit to the website ThinkTheology.org which contains a broad assortment of approaches to Biblical, theological and practical study. This one is by . Click the title below to read at source.

Life Sucks

Philippians 4:11-13 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yesterday morning at our church staff meeting, the senior pastor asked all of us how we’re all doing. I answered pretty honestly by saying that I’m doing okay, and he answered back, “You know? Life sucks right now.” It’s funny, in hindsight, because later that afternoon a FedEx came barreling through our parking lot and hit our church building’s awning. “Hit” might be a little euphemistic; the entire building shook when she hit the awning.

All of us in the building went out to see what had happened, and we see the driver panicking, looking at the damage to her vehicle and to the church building.

It was bad.

The funny thing is that we had literally fixed this awning a couple weeks ago because another delivery truck had ran into the awning (and then another hit it in the same day.) As I’m writing this, I can’t help but just laugh at the whole situation. I mean, it definitely sucks, but it’s okay. The company will take care of the damages, and we don’t need to really worry about it.

It’ll be taken care of.

It’s a little annoying, but it’ll be okay.

And I don’t want to sound too spiritual, but I definitely think it was God trying to catch all of our attentions. It’s so easy to stick to the script of the day, to do things as they’re supposed to be done, and it becomes somewhat monotonous. Sometimes God uses sucky things to jolt us, to draw attention to what God’s doing, and to remind us that it’s okay.

I’ve been in a long season of trying to find contentment. And if all of us are honest, we’re all trying to find that sweet spot of contentment. We’re constantly going through ups and downs, highs and lows, mountains and valleys, crests and troughs, and we’re trying to figure out how to be stable. In an attempt to remind myself of this, I’ve gotten this idea tattooed on my body, so that I can see it on a daily basis. Life goes up and down, and it sometimes sucks.

Those of you that have read my little posts may tire of my references to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but he’s a spiritual mentor of sorts. The more I read him, the more I appreciate him. The more I study his life, the more in awe I become. This was not a man that said and wrote pretty things. Bonhoeffer lived out his faith in the real world. The things that he said in the classroom, teaching young students, he then had to live it out as he suffered in prison. In a way, his writing and reading became practice as he lived out his faith, a journey from the head to the heart.

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Help me.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison.

Bonhoeffer was just like Paul in this regard. Paul wrote a beautiful letter to the church in Philippi, not as an abstract description of being content, but Paul was actually content because he had communion with Christ. Philippians 4:13 is an often quoted verse about our capability to endure hardship and do what needs to be done. But what it actually is saying is that we can only do things through Christ. It’s a lovely little preposition, isn’t it? It qualifies the sentence. And what I love is that this preposition, ἐν, can say more than just “through.” Bill Mounce defines it “spatially: in, inside, at, among, with; logically: by means of, with, because of; of time: during, while.”

It’s more than just a simple preposition.

It speaks to the kind of Savior Jesus is. He is able to do all things, and we are in him. Life is always going to suck, but we serve a Lord that has accomplished all things in life, and death, and he is our rock and salvation. We find contentment in all the messiness and craziness when we remember Christ. When we go through circumstances, maybe it’s God trying to get our attention.

Let life suck. Let it be an opportunity to abide in the loving arms of God.

July 8, 2019

Worry

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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For the past three days, pastor, author and evangelist Greg Laurie has been doing a series of devotions on worry at Harvest.org. Here are some excerpts with links to the individual pieces.

What Jesus Said about Worry

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:34

…There are so many things happening in our world today that could cause us to worry. The war on terrorism is far from over. There is a terrorist army that calls itself ISIS, the likes of which we have never seen before. Then there are rogue nations like North Korea and Iran arming themselves with nuclear capabilities.Then we have our personal problems too. There are problems with work . . . problems with our families . . . problems with our health.

How can we overcome fear and worry? The Bible has something to say about this. Jesus Himself addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33 NKJV).

Believers should not worry. Jesus is not saying that Christians shouldn’t be concerned about the necessities of life. He is not saying that we shouldn’t think about them or plan for the future. The Bible encourages us to work hard, to save our money, and so forth. But what Jesus is saying is that we shouldn’t worry about these things.

Worry doesn’t make your life longer; it just makes it more miserable.

Pray and Let God Worry

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  Matthew 6:27

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in the region of Galilee, where all around Him were birds chirping away and beautiful wildflowers growing. He drew on that backdrop to make a point:

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:26–27).

In other words, look at what is before your eyes. Have you ever seen a stressed-out bird? Birds wake up every morning and sing away. They’re simply happy. No bird has ever been promised eternal life. No bird has ever been given the hope of Heaven. Yet they sing away, every day. Jesus wasn’t saying that birds sit by idly and wait for the food to come to them. They take action.

I like what Martin Luther said: “Pray and let God worry.” That is really the secret. Philippians 4:6–7 says,

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

The next time you are gripped by fear and worry, the next time you start thinking, “What if this happens? What if that happens?” turn it into a prayer. Look to the Lord and let Him give you His peace.

The Secret to a Worry-Free Life

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33

There are many things you can seek to live for in life. You can live for a lot of things. You can live for your physical appearance. You can live for a successful career. You can live for pleasure. But here is what Jesus said:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NLT).

With those words, Jesus gave us the secret to living a worry-free life: Instead of worry, put God and His will first in your life. Among a number of options, put God in the number one position.

Let’s take your career for example. Is your career choice, your line of work, really for God’s glory? Are you seeking Him first in what you’re doing?

You might say, “Greg, you’re a pastor. It’s easy for you to seek God first. I work in the real world with real people.”

I understand. But here is what your goal should be: to honor God in everything you do. Here is what you need to ask yourself: “As I’m doing this thing, what is my goal?” If your goal is just to make money no matter what it takes, you have the wrong goal. Your goal should be to honor God, give honest work, and have personal integrity and a good testimony in the workplace.

When the day is done, you want to have a good name and a good reputation. Proverbs 22:1 says,

“Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold” (NLT).

Seek first the kingdom of God. If you want a life free of worry, anxiety, and fear, then put God’s kingdom before everything else. Seek Him first, and He will take care of you.

 

 

June 24, 2019

If You Don’t Step Out, You Can’t Receive It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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George Whitten is the editor of Worthy Devotions to which we’re paying a return visit today. Click the title to read at source, and then take a few minutes to browse the site.

Tread and Receive His Promises!

Joshua 1:3,7-8 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

As Joshua is about to enter the promised land, God reassures him and affirms the promise that was given to Moses, saying, “Wherever you place your feet – it shall be given to you!” God reveals His will, makes an amazing promise, then gives His servant a practical principle for working the promise out and claiming it, telling Joshua to literally step into His will. This is true for every believer. Our mandate is to know, understand and step out into the will of God. How can we know God’s will?”

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [Romans 12:2]

But once we know His will we need to have the faith and courage to step out into it. If you don’t step out – you can’t receive it!

Who knows how many blessings we’ve passed on because we were too afraid to step out! So become like Joshua today! Step out in faith! The enemy of our souls is desiring to prevent us from stepping out – but the promise was given that we should “tread upon the power of the enemy” [Luke 10:18-20].

Step out in His will, claim the promise He has spoken to you– and it shall be given to you! Step out – press through – and know the promises are sure to follow – God has spoken, your part is to step out!


Go Deeper: Click the article title above and scroll down to see four linked pieces dealing with other aspects of the Joshua story.

June 15, 2019

Light and Darkness

This is our third time highlighting the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales. Choosing a devotional (or two smaller ones) for today was a tough process; there’s so much good material. Click the header below to read this at source.

Learning to walk in the light

Psalm 89:15

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, LORD.”

What is it like to know God? The people who get to know Him develop an attitude to life that is full of confidence and gratitude. They are not merely drifting through life; they know what they are doing and where they are going. They are ‘walking in the light’.

This sounds deceptively easy, but it doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. In fact, it’s something that we have to learn to do.

The pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21)

Ex.13.21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

When we start out on our Christian journey, God often seems especially close, because He makes things easy for us during our spiritual ‘babyhood’. It was like this on Israel’s first crucial journey out of Egypt: His unseen presence was made visible as a pillar of fiery cloud, and all they had to do was follow it.

In the desert, it’s easier to travel at night (when it’s cooler) – but in the darkness it’s all the more vital to know where you are going! And in a world that is spiritually dark, we need to know which road to take. Whenever we come to a moral decision-point, it’s to God that we must look for direction. We don’t have a convenient pillar of fire (or an audible voice from heaven) to lead us; we must learn to discover God’s will by reading the Bible and by discussion with other believers.

The light of the world (John 8:12)

In Jesus’ time, the four great candelabra in the Temple courtyard were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had led their ancestors through the wilderness. John tells us that at the end of the festival, when the lights were being extinguished, Jesus declared Himself to be the Reality behind the symbol:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Decision (Isaiah 2:5)

Walking in darkness is the ‘default option’. We have to make a positive decision to become followers of Jesus in the first place; and thereafter we must make a conscious effort to reject the ways of the world and keep following His light.

Is.2.5 “Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

But if we stop paying attention to where we are heading, we will gradually drift off course and back into the darkness again!

Walking together (I John 1:7)

1Jn.1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in darkness includes such things as having bad relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 2:9). We cannot have full fellowship with God while refusing to join and work together with other believers!

Walking in the light is also by its very nature a communal activity; for everyone who is following close to Jesus must also be close to one another. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” And that fellowship also helps to keep us together on the right path.

Our destination (Proverbs 4:18)

Prov.4.18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

The path of light is one of safety and growing certainty. As we grow in our faith, and diligently put it into practice, we come further and further into God’s light – and it actually becomes easier to make the right decisions.


Bonus devotional: If you have time, here’s another from the same author…

The Gospel: Some Questions Answered

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— Romans 3:25,26

Our sins could not be forgiven without atonement being made. So what about those, like David, whose sins were forgiven before Christ came?

2.Sam.12.13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

Paul’s answer is that the cross is a ‘once-for-all’ method of dealing with sin, effective both retrospectively and prospectively

Heb.9.26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Before Christ came, God had refrained from executing full judgement on sin because of His mercy.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

But this was not because of moral indifference; rather, judgement was withheld until it could fall upon Jesus.

The cross also answers the question of how a righteous God can remain righteous while forgiving our sins – which seems to overturn the whole concept of justice. Justification is not an amnesty; our sins are not being ignored or ‘swept under the carpet’. In fact, justice has been done – and seen to have been done – in the public execution of Jesus Christ. Because His sacrificial death fully satisfies the demands of justice, God can justify sinners without compromising His own righteousness.

June 14, 2019

Faith Enough to Trust

We’re back again with David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

Grown-up Faith or Childlike Faith?

Reading: Psalm 78
(Verses 17-22)
But they continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
They willfully put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God;
they said, “Can God really
spread a table in the wilderness?
True, he struck the rock,
and water gushed out,
streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?”
When the Lord heard them, he was furious;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,
for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 78 is largely an indictment against the people of Israel for their lack of faith and their rebellious ways. As the psalmist says, They willfully put God to the test.

As a child I recall reading the entire book of Exodus and thinking to myself, “Wow, these people sure are dumb. How could they see God’s amazing miracles and then a few days later grumble, complain and doubt that the LORD would help them? These people are real losers!”

Then I grew up and had a family of my own. At times I saw amazing miracles and God’s supernatural provision. But guess what? When the next big difficulty arose, I found myself doubting that God would come through. I complained about the difficulty I was in and acted just like the people of Israel in the wilderness.

Oops! I thought I was different. I thought I was smarter than those spiritual dullards in the Old Testament. In reality my grownup faith was much weaker than my childhood faith. When real testing and temptation came, I was and still am, as susceptible to unbelief as any of the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. Faith is a gift from God—a wonder-filled gift that carries us through the hard times.

The indictment against Israel is that they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. Do I truly believe in God and trust in his deliverance? Is my faith more than a creedal statement? Does it have legs and wings to carry me through the toughest situation? Often I am more like the rebellious children of Israel than I would like to admit. How about you?

Response: LORD God, I humbly ask you for the gift of faith—faith to sustain me through the tough times ahead. You are my help, my salvation and my deliverer. I praise you for your faithfulness. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you have grown-up faith or childlike faith? Which is better?

 

June 10, 2019

So That the World May Observe Our Contentment

I’m not sure how it happened, but sometime late last week we got connected to the blog Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag finds an excerpt from books and commentaries — including some classics I’m sure you and I have never heard of — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him.

Like this blog, he’s been doing this faithfully on a daily basis since June, 2009. I can’t believe we’ve never seen this website before; it’s a goldmine of devotional and study resources.  Because of that, we’re going to feature it both today and tomorrow. This one — which is longer than some, but features Dallas Willard — is from a year ago, click the link in the header below to read it on his site. Tomorrow we’ll feature one more.

Dallas Willard: Anxiety vs. More or Less Crazy

If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6:8

“If we do value “mammon” as normal people seem to think we should, our fate is fixed. Our fate is anxiety. It is worry. It is frustration. The words anxious and worry both have reference to strangling or being choked. Certainly that is how we feel when we are anxious. Things and events have us by the throat and seem to be cutting off our life. We are being harmed, or we fear what will come upon us, and all our efforts are insufficient to do anything about it.

Because we have the option, in reliance upon Jesus, of having abundant treasures in the realm of the heavens, Jesus gives us another of His “therefores.” “Therefore don’t be anxious for your physical existence, concerning what you will have to eat or drink, or how you will clothe your body” (Matt. 6:25). Life is not about food, He continues to say, nor the body about clothes. It is about a place in God’s immortal kingdom now. Eternity is, in part, what we are now living.

Jesus reminds us to look at living things around us in nature. In particular He refers us to birds and wildflowers. What is most relevant about the birds is that they do not “lay up treasures upon earth.” They receive from their world, under God, daily food for daily needs. When we watch them we are reminded of the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today the food we need for today.

And as for the birds, it is not so much that birds do not work. They are among the busiest citizens of our world. Some, such as domestic chickens, are observed to work very hard. We too should work, and sometimes work hard. But our feathered friends do not seem to worry about the physical supports of their life, such as food and water and shelter. They simply seek it as they need it and take what they find. And that is how we should be. Having our treasures in heaven frees us to live simply in the present so far as our vital needs are concerned. We work hard, of course, and we care for our loved ones. But we do not worry — not even about them. Having food and clothing and God, we can be content (1 Tim. 6:8)…

People who are ignorant of God — the ethne, or “nations,” who also pray, we have seen, with mechanical meaninglessness — live to eat and drink and dress. “For such things the ‘Gentiles’ seek” — and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety and anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare.

By contrast, those who understand Jesus and His Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always “seeking first the kingdom.” That is, they “place top priority on identifying and involving themselves in what God is doing and in the kind of rightness [dikaiosune] He has. All else needed is provided” (6:33). They soon enough have a track record to prove it…

The “Western” segment of the church today lives in a bubble of historical illusion about the meaning of discipleship and the gospel. We are dominated by the essentially Enlightenment values that rule American culture: pursuit of happiness, unrestricted freedom of choice, disdain of authority. The prosperity gospels, the gospels of liberation, and the comfortable sense of “what life is all about” that fills the minds of most devout Christians in our circles are the result. How different is the gritty realization of James: “Friends of the world (kosmou) are enemies of God” (James 4:4) And John: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2 John 2:15).

If we do not treasure earthly goods we must be prepared to be treated as more or less crazy. This is also true if we escape the delusions of respectability and so are not governable by the opinions of those around us, even though we respect them in love…”

Dallas Willard (1935-2013) in Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (New York: HarperCollins, 1998) 209-14. Click the link to download and read this modern-day classic.

As I just read a chapter of it, I felt like Dallas was reading it to me, because I was reminded of a conversation with him about ten years ago at a conference in Long Beach, California. I asked, “How important is it to teach stewardship and generosity to seminary students?” After a long pause, he said, “It’s absolutely vital to share those truths because our world is filled with lies.” He continued. “On my drive here from my home today to this hotel, I read various billboards and most all of them told lies about who I am and what I need. People need to know the truth about those matters, and pastors must teach them, otherwise their focus will be consumed by the things of this world.”

It was one of those conversations I will never forget. And sure this is a long post, but nothing like the book, which is 466 pages. Don’t miss this point of my sharing of this excerpt.

If we follow the world’s wisdom, our focus becomes fixed on mammon. We will are consumed by what we eat, drink, what we wear, and where we live. The world’s messages bombard us with discontentment which breeds “anxiety” and hinders generosity! If, alternatively, we go against the flow and follow Jesus, people will treat us like we are “more or less crazy” but regardless, we take hold of life in the kingdom now, and we are positioned to be generous because we have found that we have everything we need in Christ so we can be content with basic food, clothing, and shelter.

In an increasingly consumeristic global economy, I am becoming convinced that our greatest everyday witness as followers of Jesus may be our contentment with basic needs.

Are you?


If you’re a regular reader online, or are a subscriber, please refer back to posts from the past weekend and look at the survey questions under the posts. We really want to hear from you; we’re looking for feedback that goes beyond just checking a few boxes on a form, so we’ve set up an email address where you can respond and a few topics to which you may react.

June 8, 2019

Falling Prey to the Lies that Lead to Failure to Trust

Today we’re making a return visit with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, but through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.

May 22, 2019

Real Faith Faces Reality With Eyes Wide Open

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Job.1.13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.[c]
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.


NIV.Matt.18.21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Today again we’re back with Sam Williamson, author of Hearing God in Conversation, a book I was able to review a few years back. There’s also a longer introduction this, so click the title below to read the entire piece.

Trusting Doubt

Doubts Meet Reality

Nearly seventy years ago, Norman Vincent Peale published one of the most influential self-help books of all time: The Power of Positive Thinking. And its message infected our culture like the plague. Christians and atheists alike confused faith with the self-hypnosis mantra of repeating “I can do all things in Christ” ten times a day. Twenty times would be better.

The Power of Positive Thinking is heretical, but every successful heresy works only when it resembles the real thing. Peale’s version has faith, but it rests its faith in “faith” rather than in God. And it ignores Scripture. When all sorts of terrors inflict Job, he screams, rips his robes, shaves his head, and sits in a pile of ashes. And Scripture says, “In all this, Job sinned not.”

Maybe Job should have read The Power of Positive Thinking. Probably not.

Real faith looks at reality with eyes wide open, and whenever we honestly examine reality, we will find doubt. If God’s nature is infinite, then our limited understanding of him always falls short of his reality. Which means our sense of reality and his real reality are in conflict.

Jesus Always Reveals Our Doubt

Spiritual growth only takes place when God’s ultimate reality confronts our false reality. That is why Jesus constantly exposes our doubts. He provokes our spiritual growth—not that he makes us to doubt, but because we already do doubt. We just won’t admit it.

When Jesus tells his disciples that they should forgive their repenting brother seven times in one day, what was Jesus doing? He revealed a true-spiritual reality that differed from the disciples’ limited-spiritual reality. How do we know? When they hear his command, they cry, “Increase our faith!” Which means they admitted their doubts.

Which is exactly what Jesus wanted in the first place.

The disciples’ dinky reality led them to forgive their brother, but only with limits. Jesus shows them a spiritual reality of unworthy humanity, repeatedly rebelling against God; and yet of such value to God that he himself comes down to absorb its sins at infinite cost.

Jesus does not fear our imperfect sense of reality. Instead, he constantly incites reactions in us to reveal our doubts so we can grow into a deeper and truer spiritual understanding.

We will always grow most when we take our most perplexing questions to God and look to him to stretch our minds beyond our doubts—our dinky realities—into a new understanding of Him.

As Einstein once said, “Never lose a holy curiosity.” Even when we doubt.

Sam

P. S. Jesus stirs up those doubts in us so we bring them to him; so we can grow in intimacy with him. So we can hear his voice.

To grow in that divine dialogue, please watch this 1-min video, and read, Hearing God in Conversation.

 

May 20, 2019

If God Brought You There, Don’t Turn Back

 

Ex.16.2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’

Ps.73.24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterwards you will take me into glory.

Luke 2.61 …another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ 62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

Today we are returning to the writing of John R. Shuman at Truth Fully Spoken. Click the title below to read this article in full at the original site.*

Don’t Go Back

Turning back, although wrong in itself is more dangerous than going forward. God has brought you to where you are, and he is leading you to where you are going; to turn back would be to turn away from God. The Bible is full of stories about what happens when you try to hide from God, or run from God, or ignore God. Jonah, did not want to go where God led, God brought him there in the belly of a fish. God told lot to leave and not look back, his wife turned back and suffered the punishment. But, the story that made me think about this topic is the Jews leaving Egypt.

While in Egypt, the Jews lived a rough life, they were the slaves to the Egyptians. And God brings Moses to lead them to the promised land. And God promises them the land and the safe journey to the land. All the way there God shows his power, and love to his people. He fed them daily with manna from heaven, gave them water when they needed drink, he even parted the Red Sea for them to pass through (and when the Egyptians tried to use God’s path they died). Now, all the while the Jews are complaining that the want to go back. If they were to turn back, they would not have food and water supplied by God, they would not have passage through the red sea, and the Egyptians would most likely kill whoever did make it back because of all the Egyptians that were killed at the start. And, God would no longer be there for them.

God brought them to the promised land safely, but all they did was complain. Thousands of people unhappy that God gave them all they needed and kept his promise to them. And when they reached the land, they did not trust God to deliver it to them. The land was perfect, the land was theirs because God said it was. But their lack of faith caused the punishment of forty years of wandering. Even during that time, God provided their every need, gave them all that was required for them to survive while traveling. But, they were not happy because it was not what they wanted it to be. This sounds like a familiar theme here, we do not get what we want, but God gives us what we need!

My point is this, remember God has brought you to where you are right now. It may not be what you want, and it may seem “worse” now than it was before, but God is leading you and giving you what you need. To go back will not be the same, it will be harder to get back there than it is to continue moving forward. God is in control, and he is guiding you on your journey through life.

Prayer: God lead me…. direct my path, ever forward. And help me to appreciate all you are doing to get me there. Lord, I know I complain all the time about my station in life, forgive me. I know that I have made it safely here, and I have had all that I needed to get here (which is obvious now to me because I am here). Lord, help me to keep my eyes on you and help me to KEEP a heart of gratitude for all you have done for me.



*Portions of today’s article were reformatted electronically using Case Converter.

May 15, 2019

You Can’t Have Someone Else’s Faith Experience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.1Kings.19.11-13 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

For some, the Lord doesn’t come in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Rather, for some he comes in a gentle whisper.

It can be easy to covet someone else’s expression of their spiritual experience. Of feel spiritually inadequate by comparing the way we process our faith in comparison to someone else.

But coveting is sinful and so is comparison.

Maybe your faith life is simply different because you are uniquely created.

Faith and Rest (or ‘The Spiritual Gift of Not Being Excited About Jesus’)

by Aaron Wilkinson

I don’t really get ‘passionate’ about Jesus.

I was thinking about this while watching the worship leader at church Sunday morning, raising her hands and closing her eyes and singing very passionately. I’m always happy to see that, and there was a time that that was me, but it’s not really my experience anymore.

A few months ago my small group was discussing how to get excited about Jesus and I wasn’t feeling invested in the discussion. It felt heretical coming out my mouth, but when I chimed in and said that I don’t really feel that way, it occurred to me that how I did feel about my faith was rather remarkable.

I feel more relaxed about Jesus. While the worship leaders soulfully belt out songs that could move the most jaded old codger to tears, I’m just quietly grateful that God is bigger than my bank account.

It’s really easy to see the expressions of faith that are colorful and loud and active. I like those expressions of faith, but sometimes there’s too much colour and too much noise and too much activity. Sometimes you get anxious and you just want to slow down.

Sometimes you look for an expression of faith that calms the storms. That says “Come to me if you’re weary, and I will give you rest.” Sometimes you need less “mourning into dancing” and more “worrying into sleeping.”

When I let Jesus make me feel relaxed, it can feel like I’m not doing enough for him. I feel like I have to be doing, feeling, or expressing something. And then Jesus comes along and invites me to slow down.

I wonder what might happen if we, as the church, stopped trying to make Christianity fun and cool and started trying to make it restful.

None of these thoughts are especially new or profound or impressive, but I need to hear it more often and I figure others must as well. It’s okay if the name of Jesus doesn’t make you want to break out into dance.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can honor him is making him one of the few things we’ll slow down for.


NLTIs.30.15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.

May 7, 2019

Fix Your Eyes on the Goal

by Russell Young

It is often said that without a compass, people in a forest would often travel in circles. Without focus on an end-point, journey toward a goal becomes confused. Certainly, without clear focus and committed determination, objectives can become lost or altered.

With limited understanding and purpose choice-making is often based on the immediate. This truth is evident from the Israelites while on the Exodus. They had experienced slavery in Egypt with its cruelty, but as they traveled the wilderness, they had lost motivation and the reality of slavery, and at times even desired to return to it. They became focused on the immediate not on the purpose or promise of their journey.

Would you have been like them? They walked, walked, and walked. Day followed day. The rocky crag before them was no different than the one they had just passed. There was nothing on their horizon to stimulate hope. Month followed month. They often became thirsty through lack of water. They complained and grumbled. The wilderness provided no source of food and they lived on the Lord’s provision of manna for forty years. Would you have grumbled at the monotony of diet over such a long time, or would you have rejoiced that your needs had been provided? Would you have remembered the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic, and fish that supplemented your diet in Egypt? After time slavery had become a distant memory; however, eating was an ever-present occurrence. Have you every groused about having the same dinner two days in a row?

The Lord was not pleased with those he had brought out of bondage. They did not appreciate him or his accommodation. He hadn’t provided enough. They wanted more and expected more. “They despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. So he swore to them with uplifted hand that he would make them fall in the desert.” (Ps 106:24−26)

God does not like grumbling; it demonstrates a lack of faith in him, a lack of trust. The Israelites felt and experienced trials, pressures, and discomfort. Their eyes were consumed with the present and they could not envision “the pleasant land.” To many of them the trials and travel had no purpose. They had surrendered their expectations and had become doubtful of those leading, both God and Moses.

The land to which they were headed and to which believers are headed is not for all; it is for the faithful, for those whose hope is fixed and whose eyes are on the goal. The land is reserved for those who trust enough to feel secure in God when trials come and when wants are not fulfilled, for those who can see beyond the everyday and rest confidently in his promises. Those in him do not need to know the solution for their challenges. They do not need to know where water can be found in the wilderness of life because they are sure that their Lord knows. He knows the need and has a plan; he is to lead, and they are to follow with thanksgiving. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27−28) When following is abandoned, so is hope.

Those who will dwell with their Lord are not called to an easy and pleasant journey through life; in fact, they have been reminded of the need to persevere through the mundane, through difficulties, and even through the threat of death itself. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what you have promised. For in just a little while, ‘He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith.’” (Heb 10:36−38) The righteous will obediently follow their Lord with thanksgiving.

During trials, the passage of time tends to dim hope, but the test of faith and of their hearts was the very purpose of Israel’s journey. Focus must be set on the goal, not on the interruptions to it. At every age believers have had to journey through the wasteland. Their faith will be tested and must be proven. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) God is still testing hearts (1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) to identify those who recognize his sovereignty and to find those who obey his authority. (Heb 5:9) Paul admonished the Philippians, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of god without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars.” (Phil 2:14−15)

Many teachers have neglected to convey the purpose of testing and the need for obedience. Regardless of one’s situation the response during testing must always be to trust and obey. The situation may not be understood but God is always in control and his provision is for his child’s eternal good. “[I]n all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

The gospel is not to become person-centered or offering the promise of the abundant life today, but needs to be God-centered and for the achievement of his goals while giving the believer an eternal hope. Concern for life in the immediate reflects the attitudes of the Israelites who had lost sight of their goal and of God and had allowed the day to rule their lives.

All believers are assured to have wilderness experiences where life is “parched” and where there is no water in sight and no visible solution. Answers are promised, but in the challenges, focus needs to be set on the coming glory. The day should not callous hearts since the Lord journeys with each one committed to him. The faithful are only called to obediently follow and to trust his leadership. Like the Israelites, those who grumble and complain or go their own way, will not find relief from the wilderness nor a place in the Promised Land.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

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