Christianity 201

January 21, 2022

The Wisdom God Gives is a Beautiful Thing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. – James 1:5 NLT

Today I was blessed to discover Faith+Blog (Faith Plus Blog) which is written by Teni, a student in Lagos, Nigeria. I strongly encourage you, instead of reading this here, to click the header which follows to read this at the place we discovered it!

Wisdom

One of my favorite things to pray for these days, is wisdom. According to Google, wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement, it is the quality of being wise.

The wisdom of God is such a beautiful thing. In the Book of James 1:5, we were advised to ask from God if we lack wisdom. It is one of the few things the Scripture explicitly admonishes us to ask from God. If wisdom weren’t so important, God would not have dedicated a whole book of the Bible to emphasize it. Little wonder why God was so impressed with King Solomon’s choice request.

Wisdom brings about ease.

Have you ever heard of the phrase “work hard but work smarter”? This is what that saying refers to. While the place for hard work is not eliminated, smart work can bring ease into the equation. We live in an age where everyone wants what is not just effective but what is also efficient. That is why we changed from bicycles to cars, from landlines to smartphones, from buses to trains.

Wisdom teaches you how to work smart, it is not enough to work hard.

A perfect example is Moses and the Israelites. For some time, Moses was the one settling disputes; whether small or big between the Israelites, I’m referring to 2 million people or more. He was working hard alright but in all honesty, it must have been overwhelming. But, when wisdom entered the equation, things made more sense. It took Jethro (Moses’s father-in-law) to suggest that Moses appoint judges to take care of these matters so he can get on with other duties (Exodus 18). Wisdom took him from working unnecessarily hard, to working smart. The same is applicable to our lives. Some steps we take that seem like great steps because of how much labor and effect we’re getting may not really be imperative.

The Wisdom of God opens our eyes to see better options and avenues to attain even more effective results.

The Wisdom of God influences our decisions.

We make better decisions when we are under the influence of God’s wisdom- it’s only logical that that happens. When you are sharing the mind of God, thinking like He would, your judgement would be better because you understand the implication of decisions you would have taken, better. What made King Solomon so great a King was not his prowess or riches but his wisdom which he got from God. He was able to make the right decisions, his strategy of thinking would have been exceedingly meticulous because he had God’s wisdom upon him. Even his finances were flourishing because he had the wisdom of God influencing his decisions. Therefore, you would not invest in the wrong business when you walk in wisdom, you would not be in a haste to close a deal that could harm you financially, you would not insist on following through a path that would lead you to perdition. Scripture even tells us in Ecclesiastes 10:10 that wisdom is profitable to direct.

Wisdom from God helps us to understand His plans.

At times God tells us to do the “craziest” things. He could tell you to do a thing and it literally seems like a bad or simply unconventional idea but with wisdom, you would easily catch on what His actual plans are. When Jesus was at a wedding in Cana and His mom came to report to Him that wine had finished and He would need to do something about it, He did something too unconventional. I mean, why would you tell me to fill up jars with water when I’m panicking about there being no more wine at my party? Mary, His mother had however lived with Him too long to not have an impartation of His wisdom in her. Before Jesus gave instructions, she already told the servants to do whatever He asks. She knew too well that the Man before them tends to do things in an uncommon fashion. Lo and behold, all the jars that were filled with water, Jesus turned into wine (John 2:1-11). The implication of this is that God’s instructions may not always make sense at first instance to us but wisdom helps us to see the end result from the beginning.

It is absolutely impossible to exhaust the vastness of what the wisdom of God does for and to a man however, it is crystal clear that life is sweeter when you are led by the wisdom of God.  Wisdom would help you make better decisions. Wisdom well applied would keep you from straying away from God. Wisdom would give you insights to mysteries of the Spirit that could not have been understood by surface knowledge.

Moreover, it is important that we note that the Scripture says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10, Psalms 111:10; Job 28:28). Anyone who lacks regard for God, who does not reverence God is yet to gain wisdom. Wisdom starts with honouring God, with our hearts, body, mind and souls.

“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:6-7 NIV

 

January 18, 2022

Promises When Terror Comes

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today another new writer to feature. Hope writes at Patiently Hopeful. In discovering this article earlier today, I really love the high value she places on scripture and the way she weaves the texts together. She states the goal of her writing: “I hope you are blessed by what you read and encouraged, for that is what I want my life to stand for: hope in the One that made us, for He is mine.”

Clicking the header below allows you to read it where it first appeared.

Sudden Terror

Proverbs 3:25-26 NKJV — Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.

The truth for the follower of Christ is, trouble will come, but we don’t need to fear it.

Matthew 10:28 NKJV — “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

When we place our lives in the salvation of Jesus Christ our souls are safe.

Matthew 10:32 NKJV — “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.”

Through this truth we can find security in the eternal life through Christ with the Father.

Psalm 56:10-11 NKJV — In God (I will praise His word), In the LORD (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

Psalm 118:4-6 NKJV — Let those who fear the LORD now say, “His mercy endures forever.” I called on the LORD in distress; The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Any troubles, trials, or difficulty we experience on earth is merely temporary and we have God’s Word as well as His Holy Spirit to guide us, comfort us, and hone us through these things.

That is not to say the pain here is trivial, but rather we have peace knowing we don’t suffer alone.

1 Peter 2:21 NIV — To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Rather than fearing what may come, let us be strengthen by the examples set before us.

Jesus first and always.

His disciples and those courageous first believers we read about in the book of Acts, as well.

For Jesus, Himself gave us truth to cling to no matter the circumstances:

Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV — And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Jesus not only gave His instruction on how we are to live, He promised to be with us, always.

Romans 8:31 KJV — What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for Your Word. Thank You for Your promise. Lord Jesus, please help each one of us to live for You this day, shining the light of Your salvation through our lives. Lord, please let no unwholesome word come out of us, but only that which would benefit those who listen, that we might not grieve Your Holy Spirit. Lord, please help us to love You and love others as You do.

Lord, please teach us what is right, true, honorable, and holy. Please show us any iniquity, that we might put away anything which would cause us to stumble. Let there be no unclean thing residing in us, our lives, or our homes.

Thank You, that we do not need to fear the future. Thank You that we do not need to fear wickedness or sudden terror. Thank You that we have the security of Your salvation and the comfort of Your truth. Please use us to spread the truth of salvation and the only true hope to a lost and broken world. Lord, thank You for all Your blessings. May our lives bring You glory and honor and praise! May many more come to faith and assurance in Your salvation! I love You, Jesus. Amen.


While reading Hope’s devotional today, I was reminded of a song we’ve posted before, based on Psalm 91. This link takes you to both the music video and a version of the Psalm from a different translation.

 

January 14, 2022

What if No Faith was Required?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Can you imagine an alternative reality where there is zero doubt as the to core components of Christianity, and yet, inexplicably, people might still choose to walk away? That’s the subject of today’s devotional.

Today we’re highlighting another creative person who is new to us, Liam Sass, who is a writer, podcaster, musician, and online evangelist. You can connect with his various projects at his website. You’ll also find him on a number of social media platforms.

As always, you’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read today’s devotional there instead of here. Thanks to those of you who recommend writers for us to feature.

A Issue of the Heart

Unbelief in Jesus, for most, isn’t rooted in intellectual reasoning. “That’s a bold statement Liam.” Alright, ask an unbeliever this:

“If Christianity were true, would you be a Christian?”

Assuming you all have atheist friends to ask.

Notice, most will be unsure or even be as bold to say no! Why is this? Because mankind doesn’t WANT a God. They want to BE God. Denying the existence and resurrection of Jesus Christ is impossible. Yet we watch people come up with even more ridiculous theories then the miracle itself! Some big magic trick or everyone who witnessed Jesus after His resurrection was “on something”.

They can’t accept these truths because then they would need to submit to the truth! If they admit to Jesus, they also need to admit the teachings of Jesus. They would admit that physical relations outside of the marriage between a man and a woman is unholy, that worshiping any other God is idolization, that the murder of an unborn child is an abomination, and the list goes on! (I use those examples because those are prevalent things our culture holds onto)

Now we have come to the root of most peoples unbelief in Christ. It is not a intellectual issue but rather a heart issue. Their morals don’t align with Gods morals and so they deny His existence to ease their conscious. The crazy thing is, we were told people would react this way! Even at one point in your walk, before your heart was opened, you would react in the same likeness!

“-being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools-“
Romans 1:20-22

I know this is a hard topic. We need to realize as Christians that some cannot be reasoned with. Ultimately, a heart change happens between them and God alone. If you have tried reasoning with someone and the conversation is not fruitful, DO NOT PRESS THEM! Instead be in prayer and ask that God might open their heart to Him. God is sovereign and all that He wills will come to fruition.

Take rest in that.

January 8, 2022

Bible Imagery: Rock and Stars

Today we’re back with Nancy Ruegg who is now into her tenth year writing at From the Inside Out | Impressions Becoming Expressions. Please don’t read this here. Nancy has some photographic images which accompany this devotional, so click the header which follows immediately below.

From Earth and Sky

The psalmists of old seemed to have a favorite metaphor for God: Rock. You’ll find the imagery used twenty-nine times.  Sometimes the writers included reasons why this was a meaningful comparison for them; sometimes they included synonyms:

  • “The Lord is my rock, my fortress” (18:2)
  • “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield . . . my  stronghold” (also 18:2)
  • “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (61:2)
  • “God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe” (62:2 CEV)
  • “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come” (71:3 NASB)

Later when he became king, David composed Psalm 18, probably after the numerous battle victories summarized in 2 Samuel 8.  Four times in that psalm he extolled God as his Rock.

In the New Testament we find Jesus’ parable about a foolish man building his house on sand, and a wise man building his house on rock. The point is clear: God is a reliable foundation-Rock on which to build our lives.  He provides:

  • solid, trustworthy wisdom for decisions
  • strength and power for life’s challenges
  • protection from our arch enemy, Satan
  • unchanging reliability, faithfulness, and love—to name a few unfailing attributes

One of my favorite examples of Bible imagery is found in Philippians 2:15.  To understand the context though, we have to start reading at verse fourteen:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky
as you hold firmly to the word of life.

–Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

Isn’t that a glorious statement in the fourth line above?  We can shine into the darkness of the world like stars as we allow the Spirit to foster purity within us!

Now why would letter-writer Paul choose stars to make his point? Perhaps their beauty reminded him: with kindness, patience, joy, and more we can bring beauty to the world around us–a world darkened by selfishness, greed, and hatred.

Paul would also have known about using stars for navigation. As far back as 3000 B.C. ancient Minoans were using constellations to navigate the Mediterranean Sea (1). Perhaps Paul connected the starlight to God’s wisdom shining in mature believers, enabling them to provide guidance to those around them.

But now, centuries later, we know more about stars than Paul did and further comparisons can be drawn:

Stars shine by burning hydrogen into helium in their cores. We shine as the Holy Spirit burns away the dross in our lives—those unbecoming traits like pride, negativity, and ingratitude. That’s when we can become radiant.

NIV.2.Cor.3.18 And we all,
who with unveiled faces
contemplate the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his image
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit.

One prominent star in the evening sky of Fall and Winter is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), which is 19 quadrillion miles from earth.  The gleam we see left Deneb about 1500 light years ago in 521 A.D (2). The gleam of our lives can also achieve far-reaching effect as one life touches another which touches another, and then another . . . ad infinitum.

Stars not only create beauty but fulfill function.  They manufacture and distribute into the universe such elements as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen (3). As we shine like stars in our circles of influence, we too fulfill function, manufacturing and distributing such elements as goodness, encouragement, and helpfulness.

From earth and sky come these two insightful examples of biblical imagery:  rock and stars.

Do you see the connection between the two? As you plant yourself on the firm Rock of Almighty God and shine for him like a star . . .

. . . YOU are a Rock star!


Notes:

  1. https://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/navigation/
  2. https://earthsky.org/space/ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-stars/
  3. https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/how-do-stars-from-and-evolve

By the same author:

God of the Unexpected

 

 

December 30, 2021

All That God Has in Store for You

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me. LORD, your faithful love endures forever; do not abandon the work of your hands. – Psalm 138:8 CSB

Once again today we have a new writer to introduce to you. Joey Rudder is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and has several novels and novellas awaiting publication. She started an eponymous site, JoeyRudder.com this year, from which today’s devotional was selected, and also writes at Training for Eternity.

If 2021, didn’t bring you everything you had hoped for, and there are still dreams in your heart that lay unfulfilled, this encouragement is for you. Click the header which follows and read it at her site.

When It All Comes Together

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT.

What if all you’ve been working on, all the tiny threads of your life, and the dream God tucked into your heart so long ago are about to intersect and explode into a miraculous move of God?

Perhaps the time is approaching when all the sweat, all the tears, and all of your faithfulness as you kept your eyes fixed on your Heavenly Father as you persevered in your calling is about to come together before your very eyes.

You may not realize all that God has been working on behind the scenes in your life. Maybe you got the tiniest glimpse of it, like spotting a tiny droplet of water dazzling in the sunlight.

But a time is coming when God will lift your eyes from that droplet, revealing this ocean of a plan He’s been working on all along. It’s going to take your breath away and leave you standing in awe.

God’s love for you is like that too. More than you can possibly take in.

Oh, dear soul. This dream God planted in your heart so long ago is far more elaborate, intricate, and magnificent than you can possibly understand.

It’s been a struggle, a battle to get to this point, hasn’t it? The enemy has been pressing in against you, doing all he can to distract and discourage you. Satan has even twisted things, distorting your path, so you thought you were going the wrong way.

But you kept your eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of your faith. You spent time with the Father, seeking His face and His will. And you stilled yourself, pushing the world and all its demands away so you could hear the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart, encouraging you to keep going.

And you kept going.

Others may have ridiculed you, telling you it’s a silly dream or completely unrealistic. Maybe they even got angry with you because you disappointed them by not living up to their expectations.

But you weren’t worried about disappointing them. You’d rather disappoint the entire world than disappoint God. So you pressed on even when doubt crept in too close and you felt unworthy, drab, and withered like a dandelion in a field of colorful wildflowers. You felt out of place, out of sorts, and lost.

But you’ve never really been lost. God has been with you for the entire duration of your journey, hemming you in and drawing you closer. You clung to His hand and kept walking as He led.

And now it’s as if you’re on the threshold of something spectacular. The thrill of something new like a fresh wind is all around you. Something new and yet something so wonderfully familiar.

It’s as if you were born for this very moment in time.

All the hard work, all the tears and sleepless nights. All the dreaming and hoping and praying. None of it has been wasted because you surrendered it all to God.

Your time is coming, precious soul. The beauty of God working in your life and the amazing plan He has for you is so much more than a shimmer of light on a tiny droplet of water – it’s waves and waves illuminated by His love for you, saturating you and reaching those around you.

And what a glorious sight, a beautiful, soul-saturating moment with your God as you dance in the water and then drop to your knees in complete adoration for your Heavenly Father who loves you so much to create such a plan for your life.

The plan you were born to live that brings you and others closer to Almighty God, bringing Him honor and glory.

Take it all in. Breathe. And don’t forget that even this is only a glimpse of all He has for you – He has eternity in His presence waiting for you.

God loves you that much.♥️

December 27, 2021

Who’s Running the Show?

Toronto area Bible teacher Gordon Rumford has been featured here eleven times previously and today we’re pleased to highlight his devotional website and make it an even dozen. Click the header below to read this where we sourced it, and then take some time to look around at other articles.

Who Is In Charge Anyway?

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.
Proverbs 21:1 (NLT)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree
that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him 
and was expecting a child…”
Luke 2:1-5 (NIV)

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28 (NIV)

There is a special attraction to people who argue over the idea of the sovereignty of God. Just how much of life is under God’s control and how much is under our control is a fertile source of debate among Christians. Of course we are happy to leave the big things like the control of the universe, stars, galaxies, etc. all up to the Lord. But, when it comes to our personal lives, we want into the driver’s seat.

Does Scripture address the issues of our choices in life? One remarkable example on the personal level is the Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Scripture tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 9:12). Other Scripture says Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15). Are you confused? Well so are many people.

Our Scripture today talks about Caesar calling for a census to be held just when Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Joseph had to register in Bethlehem because he was in the lineage of David. So, the couple travelled from their hometown of Nazareth south to Bethlehem because that was David’s hometown. Also, it was prophesied that Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). So, for two important reasons, Mary and Joseph needed to be in Bethlehem before our Lord was born.

What inspired Caesar to call for the census precisely when he did? Was he acting on his own will? Or was God moving him to call for the census when he did? Proverbs 21:1 gives an answer. The Lord inspired Caesar to do what he did. Yet Caesar acted freely. He felt no compulsion.

When you find your life is out of control and you see no way to recover, it is then that the sovereignty of God is a precious refuge. Whether it is a financial reversal, the untimely death of a loved one, loss of health, or other disaster, we flee into the presence of our loving, sovereign Father and sense His powerful arms around us. We may not see how our Father will sort out our issue. But that is His problem not ours.

Christian, take comfort in the promise that our Father in heaven works everything for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain

– William Cowper

December 24, 2021

The Time of Waiting Has Ended

Christmas Eve marks the end of the period of waiting known as Advent. For four weeks we join with those in times past who waited four hundred years for the coming of the Messiah.

I choose that number carefully — Israel obviously anticipated a deliverer for a longer period of time — to represent the period when it seemed the prophets fell silent and the word of God wasn’t heard; a period we as Christians call the “Inter-Testamental” period, falling as it does between the first and second Testaments of our scriptures.

The silence is broken by John the Baptist (who is a type of the prophet Elijah) as promised at the very end of the book of Malachi.

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”  (4:6 NLT)

The words that immediately follow in our Bibles are:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1 NIV)

For those of us who know this story, the final words of the prophet lead to a pause — there’s usually an extra two blank pages between Malachi and Matthew — and then we take a deep breath and something new is stirring. Matthew doesn’t build the drama slowly, he simply blurts it out, “Jesus the Messiah.”

But there was still some waiting, as the people of the day asked the question asked in our day by a popular Christian song, “Could He Be the Messiah?” (see video below)

Increasingly he leaves no doubt, culminating in his resurrection…

…As some read these words today, they are also in a season of waiting. Just as the birth of Jesus marked the breaking in to the world’s stage, they are looking to see God break in to the affairs and circumstances of their life; to intervene in some aspect of their life that is a cause of major concern.

For some, it seems like the heavens are silent; if you will allow me the use of the phrase, a feeling that they are in their own personal Inter-Testamental period.

15 months ago, I wrote a devotional based on a line from an old hymn, “Teach me the mystery of unanswered prayer.”

I remember not to long ago explaining to someone that the subjects under discussion before a person has crossed the line of faith are not the same issues talked about after. The apologetics questions about the creation account in Genesis, or whether the Red Sea could actually be divided a strong wind, or if the “texts of terror” in the book of Judges don’t depict a God given to extreme violence; these topics fade into obscurity once someone is on the inside.

Instead, in our churches we wrestle with the question, “Can God be trusted?” Part of that has to do with the times the heavens seem silent. Can we count on the promises of God?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

At the same time as God seems absent or silent, we believe that he is working in that silence. I also posted an article here titled, “God is Always Up to Something.”

Yes, even in the silences, and even when, at the end of 2021, the world seems to be getting worse…

…Back to the macro story. After 400 years of seemingly divine inactivity God breaks onto the stage once more.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. NIV Hebrews 1:1-2

But even in this, it does not have a spectacular beginning. Rather, the drama plays out in obscurity, in what one person has called a backwater village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The introduction of Jesus to the greater world has its ecclesiastic moment in the dedication presided over by an older man and a widowed woman; and its political moment is never quite realized as Herod is made aware of the potential importance of the birth but misses out on a personal connection.

But we know the end of the story.

We know the ramification of Christ’s birth, and it is that which we celebrate for all the right reasons, but also for the reason that it marks the end of the time of waiting; the end of Advent.


December 6, 2021

Peace Which Transcends Human Understanding

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a new writer to share with you who calls herself and her site, The 5th Sparrow. For 30 minutes today I sat down and looked inside the window of her life as reflected through her blog, and once we were committed to share this today, I found the closed thing to an “about” page through an article called This Is Us, Again. To summarize, it details a number of physical and cognitive challenges faced by both her two sons, and herself.

All of which for me made her writing that much more impactful.

In the end, I chose her most recent article to be representative of her writing. I trusting you’ll click the header which follows and then take a few minutes to also look into the window of a family that is probably different from yours.

Peace

NLT.Phil.4.6 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 second week of Advent focuses on peace. What first comes to mind when you read or hear this word? Maybe the iconic dove with an olive branch? A beautiful winter scene complete with quiet streets and falling snow? Ocean waves lapping at the shore or a mountain brook bubbling through a small clearing? Maybe a symbol made popular in the 60’s? Or maybe something more personal perhaps? A treasured memory, safe family and home, good news at work, even better news from the doctor…

What if I told you there was a peace available that is stronger, purer, and more abundant than all those things put together? What if I told you it is possible to have peace even when everything around us is no where close to being peaceful? Are you sick, broken, worn down? Did you lose your job? Are you struggling to keep up in school? Do you have more things in need of repair than your bank account has the finances to cover? Is your home more of a war zone than a safe shelter? Do you struggle with uncontrollable emotions and thoughts? You can still have peace!

It’s true, if we are talking about the peace of Christ. Peace that surpasses all understanding. It makes no sense! It doesn’t fit the narrative of everything else going on in our life at the moment. It seems impossible! That though is the beauty of it. It is impossible, but Christ makes the impossible possible for those that put their hope and their trust in Him, for those willing to rest in His arms and lay their burdens and worries at His feet.

Because of Christ, when I think about peace these days I think about a water heater. A very specific one, that’s barely a year and a half old. One that has been broken now for the past two and a half weeks with still no solution in site. I remember when I first heard the words “we think it’s cancer” shortly before I found myself in a whirlwind of preparations for emergency surgery, including putting together legal papers with instructions on what to do with my sons if I were not to make it. Memories flood in of being locked away in a place I didn’t belong while in a foreign country, fighting for safety and a way home while growing a small child inside. Filling my pillow with tears, yet my day with song just to try and hold on to my sanity.

Why in the world would I associate these things with peace?? It’s not that I enjoyed the fear of foreign oppressors I couldn’t even understand half the time due to language barriers. Being rushed to a hospital for a blood transfusion just to make me stable enough for the life saving surgery I just found out I needed wasn’t any fun either. Don’t get me started on trying to stay clean with nothing but cold water for weeks. Brrr! Definitely nothing peaceful about any of that!

No, I associate those things with peace because I look to Christ for it instead of at my life (2 Corinthians 4:18, Colossians 3:2). These things remind me of how Christ continuously steps in to calm the storm inside my heart and mind even as the waves crash around me. He has provided for me in ways I will never be able to fully explain and has taken care of my needs in more ways than I can count even when all looked bleak. When we look to Christ, He offers us a peace that isn’t like anything the world can offer (John 14:27, Isaiah 26:3). He promises to give us rest and to share our burdens (Isaiah 40:28-31, 43:2, Isaiah 41:10, 1 Peter 5:7) and that He will never leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 46:4).

He invites us to bring all we’ve got to Him. All of our hurts, hang-ups, fears, joys, celebrations, tears, frustration, excitedness, anger, doubt… He can handle it and He wants us to bring it to Him! He longs to come alongside us and share His yoke with us so He can help shoulder the load, not just in the good times, but also in the bad ones. Along with that invitation, He also delivers a promise to provide the peace that surpasses all understanding. The peace that makes no sense, but is ever so badly needed in our hearts and lives. If we remember to come to Him with what’s in our hearts or what is filling our heads, being grateful for Who He is and all He has done and has promised to do, He will fill us with His peace to help guard our hearts and minds in Christ (Philippians 4:6,7). That doesn’t mean all our problems and worries will disappear, but it does mean we have a safe shelter from the storm when we need Him.

That is what comes to my mind when I think of peace.

November 9, 2021

God Keeps His Promises

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to who writes at Our Living Hope. Today we had a tough time choosing among four recent devotionals. Click the header which follows to read this one at its point of origin.

The Promises of God

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ”. 2 Corinthians 1:20.

Our God is a promise keeping God and everything he says he will do, he does. He will fulfill all his promises in our lives. We cannot see God and his promises separately, his promises proceeds out of him.He is who he is and he does what he wills. All of God’s promises involves a process, and in his presence we receive the patience to see it fulfilled in God’s time. As much as we cannot separate God and his promises, we also cannot separate God’s will and God’s time, his will can happen only in his time.

He makes all things beautiful in its time. It says in Galatians 4:4, ‘ But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law”. It shows that God was willing to put himself through a process to reveal to the world his greatest gift, he was patient enough to wait for the set time to fulfill his promise. We who are called to reflect him must also wait patiently for the promises of God to be revealed in our lives, his plans to be fulfilled in our lives. The scripture says in Hebrews 6:15 that, And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised’. It is in God’s presence Abraham received the strength to wait patiently for the unseen, because we cannot receive his promises apart from his presence, it is the reason Moses asks God’s presence to lead the Israelites to the promise. We can experience his presence only when we travel along with him, he surely does take us in to the path of patience where we are enriched in him.

God said to Abraham,

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1.

I’m your reward — In our patient endurance God strengthens the relationship we have with him, he teaches us to seek him and put our trust on him. He tells to Abraham that the relationship with the promise giver is key to the promise itself, and to desire his presence above everything. He strengthens our relationship with him as we wait in his presence, which becomes the most important process, and our communion with him will transform our nature to agree with God in everything when we receive his plans and promises. The peace that surpasses all understanding is found in our patience for God’s move.

It is only when we value God, the promise giver, we will be able to value and honour the promises we receive from him. As we are strengthened in his relationship with him, we will have the strength to obey and hold the promises he gives faithfully. Only when we understand God through our relationship with him, we will be able to have the wisdom to find the meaning and purposes in the promises we receive. Only when we receive his promise we can bring blessing in to the lives of others.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him”. Luke 2:25.

Simeon and Anna was waiting patiently to see the messiah, and the consolation of Israel in the temple, they were waiting in God’s presence with the strength of the Holyspirit to see Jesus in flesh as a child . They were filled with hope even when they witnessed all the political turmoil and instability in Jerusalem, because they waited patiently in God’s presence. In the end Simeon was able to see and prophetically declare the mission of Christ.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about’ Acts 1:4.

So even with dangers all around and the challenges they had in Jerusalem, the disciples patiently waited as Jesus told them to receive the promise of the Father, they were waiting in God’s presence and strengthened their communion with him in prayer, and at the time of Pentecost when the Holyspirit was poured out on them abundantly, they were able fulfill God’s plans and use the promise of the Holyspirit received to bear fruit.

All the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus….. it is through Jesus we are reconciled to God, through him our communion and our relationship with God is strengthened, and in him we receive the promises from the father. Through the fullness of Christ we receive grace upon grace.

Our patient hope to fulfill his plans will find its greatest meaning in God’s presence where we are renewed to find his likeness in us and our communion with him as our reward.

“And Patience was willing to wait”. – Pilgrim’s Progress

Prayer : Heavenly Father, thank you for your communion with us, which enables us to fulfill all the plans you have set before us. Help us to be faithful. Amen.


Second Helping: By the same author, check out this recent article, A Letter of Encouragement.

November 6, 2021

To Follow Jesus is to be Saturated in Forgiveness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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For we live by faith, not by sight.
For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Cor. 5:7 NIV, NLT

They told [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
… Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
– John 20:25,29 NLT

Frequently we remind you that C201 contains devotional material from across the widest swath of Christian writers. Today’s piece features Justin Elwell, who is the Messianic Rabbi of a congregation in Montana. He holds two doctorates, one in Biblical Ethics and one in New Testament Studies. You can learn more about his congregation at this link.

Justin’s blog is called The Mountain Mench. You’re encouraged to look around there; starting with clicking the header which follows to read this at its origin.

“I’ll believe it …”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” should not be an attitude we hold in faith. To do so would leave us in the realm of doubt, waiting for sensory confirmation in order to believe (II Cor. 5:7).

Forgiveness, is an elusive noun that is easy to define, but so much more difficult to do. In both Greek and Hebrew, forgiveness is derived from verbs; meaning to pardon, release, excuse, or send away.

Of all the concepts of faith that I have taught and counseled on, forgiveness is the most wrestled with, resisted, doubted, and dare I say, disbelieved. Why is that?

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” How hard it is for us to grasp forgiveness, and even harder to send away that which has been grasped: the offense.

The greatest obstacle to walking in forgiveness, is believing that the offender has really repented, was really sorry, or learned some type of lesson. Yet, that’s not what forgiveness is for. It is not for us to judge the efficacy of forgiveness in the life of the other, but to look deeply at how effective forgiveness has been in our heart. Have we let loose of the offense, and set the offender free in our heart?

I need not lay before you the scriptures on forgiveness, as that’s why the Bible contains them … go look them up … but suffice to say, forgiveness, like repentance, is a daily exercise in faith, rooted in God’s grace.

We do not deserve God’s grace. Furthermore, we do not deserve His forgiveness. Yet, both were freely given. Well, someone paid the price: Christ. Grace is costly, as is forgiveness. Yet it is a price you, and I, did not pay. Still, it is a debt we will carry when we do not release the offense; often in the form of bitterness, anger, resentment, and fear.

In teaching His disciples to pray, Yeshua/Jesus said, and I paraphrase, “Forgive us … as we forgive … “ To follow Yeshua is to be a person saturated in forgiveness: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For sure, not easy; but then, we are not to rely on our strength or capability to forgive.

Imagine if we set a standard of “I’ll believe it when I see it,” regarding God’s forgiveness toward us? We would be paralyzed; unable to approach Him, pray to Him, worship Him. We would be locked up in a cage called unforgiveness, even more strongly: death.

I remember reading a rabbinic story years ago of a rabbi who inquired of an old study partner as to whether or not he believed a particular teaching in the Talmud. The man replied, “Of course!” The rabbi said, “I did not; until I did it.”

Forgiveness is difficult, not because of the other; but rather, some part of us still wrestling with it, with believing it. Until we do it, it will be theoretical. Once we do it, freedom.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” may work for those in a condition of doubt; but, “I know it because He did it,” recognizes our continuing maturation in faith, a trusting Him that necessitates doing, especially the most difficult of His teachings, in order to know it personally.

We never graduate from the feeling of pain that accompanies forgiveness, as some part of us dies, each time, in the process. But, we find more freedom in what Messiah did for us, especially when we did not deserve it.

Forgiveness: “I believe it, because He said it.”

Be well. Shalom.

 

October 30, 2021

When the World is Less Than Perfect

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.” Hosea 6: 1-2

 

A friend wrote:

Do you think there was a back up plan? Considering free will and all – what if apostle Paul had stayed Saul? If you say that God knows the future and didn’t need a back up plan, then it follows that he always knows the future and would pick good for us. It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time. I’m curious to hear you’re thinking about this.

Here is my answer. Let me know how well you think I did, or if I left something important out.


First of all, what if you’re not a Christian? How do you explain such things? In philosophy, the view is called Determinism, the opposite of which is Libertarian free will. (Not to be confused with political libertianism.) That’s described in this video, or this Wikipedia article. Again, remember these aren’t Christian sources.

Okay, we got that out of the way.

In many respects, determinism might be a better explanation for the way the world is right now than blaming God’s presence (but inaction) in the mess the world is in in 2021. If you subscribe to the believe that the sovereignty of God implies that he is controlling everything, that is completely different from saying that God is in control. He is definitely in control. He is the place where the buck stops, so to speak. But is he tweaking and fine-tuning every single aspect of human life? This is why for me, I’m more comfortable dealing with a more open theology, though Ruth and I disagree as to how far that extends, plus open theology faces the extra burden of getting into the more thorny subject of how much does God choose to know about the future, apart from any action or inaction on His part.

Our world has been messed up by Covid. It’s a worldwide situation. But we or our parents also had to deal with Spanish Flu, World War I, World War II, etc. In some ways, this is better.

But your question isn’t “Why isn’t God doing something?” but is more like “Why doesn’t God do something about this, when he so clearly directly intervened in the life of Saul/Paul, knocking him off his high horse, as it were?” It would appear that God does jump into the picture (of which the incarnation is the greatest example) at some times and not so much at other times. We trust God’s will, but we pray for sick people to get well. We know that disease takes people, and often the natural course of events appears to lead to an impending worsening of the physical condition, but we ask God to do something special, and in fact, we do hear stories of recovery (healing) which seems to confound medical experts.

In Psalm 31:15, David says, “I trust you…my times are in your hands;” but that only comes after asking, “Turn your ear to listen to me; rescue me quickly. Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe.” (vs. 2 NLT)  He acknowledges God’s authority over the whole world, but asks for special intervention.

So is Saul/Paul an exception? Especially when the world seems to be such a broken place? I read your question out loud to Ruth last night, and she started saying some things that I asked her to write out.

My view is that most of life and history is based in free will, with some clear exceptions like John the Baptist and Samuel – people who are tapped by God at or before birth to do what God has for them to do. Paul may have been one of those. But if he had dug in his heels and said no to God, He would have worked through someone else. Maybe a bunch of people would each have taken on part of what Paul accomplished. Interesting thing to think about, but Paul would have been the only loser, long term.

The phrase “He would have worked through someone else.” That’s the exact message of the Book of Esther. Her uncle is confident that God is going to deliver the Jewish people, but perhaps a bit more fuzzy as to the how. He tells her,  In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” (4:14 CEB)

In other words, the larger, big-picture, master-story-arc plans and purposes of God are not going to be thwarted. He has ways we can’t imagine, and his route to get there is often one we didn’t consider.  He tells Jeremiah, Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (33:3) In other words, God specializes in outside-the-box solutions.  Speaking through Isaiah he says,
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (55: 8-9, The Message)

Which brings us back to one sentence in your question, “It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time.” Yes. Agreed. It’s hard for us to imagine. But in light of the aforementioned world wars and previous plagues, perhaps we’re actually getting off easy. The political polarization in the U.S. and elsewhere? We need to remember that many, many Christians in Germany actively supported Hitler and his political platform. It does serve as a foreshadowing of what Jesus warned about in Matthew, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and will provide great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (24:24, NASB)

A former pastor of ours used the phrase, “God is positively disposed and favorably inclined” to hear and answer our prayers. Many are praying right now for the world to be set right (or as N.T. Wright phrases it, “set to rights.”) It might appear that God is not answering. I believe that’s why we’re told to be tenacious about our praying. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. (Matthew 7:7 even spells out the acronym ASK!) But it doesn’t say that if we ask enough times we’ll get a ‘yes.’  Even as many are praying, we would appear to be living in what a songwriter called, “the mystery of unanswered prayer.” I wrote about that in this article.

The best scenario? I’ll let Ruth describe that:

The best possible scenario would have been if Adam and Eve would have stayed where they were put, but they didn’t. So God is working us toward the restoration of that – the happy ending :-) The best scenario for humanity in a broken world is a life following Jesus, filled with the Spirit, and doing what we can to build that Kingdom.

In other words, if these are the realities of our present circumstances, what are we going to do with what we’ve been handed? I think we need to, in the words of Richard Niebuhr, “accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.” We need to work out our backup plan, when life is less than perfect.

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.

 

 

 

 

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