Christianity 201

August 26, 2016

A Psalm by Herman

NASB Ps. 88: 1 O Lord, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
3a For my soul has had enough troubles

Okay, it’s actually Heman, not Herman, but if he was around today he’d probably change it to avoid being called He-Man…

…This one needs an extended introduction.

The author of this devotional is frustrated, even to the point of calling Psalm 88, “This stupid Psalm.” (Not necessarily a recommended approach, but…) Artist and illustrator Jackson Ferrell writes a lighter devotion and is looking for an illustration to get things going and then realizes twice that some of the stories from his own life he thinks would be applicable, aren’t really what the Psalmist is saying.

Too many times we simply place the illustration too quickly, we think it fits and we don’t take the time to really slow down and read the passage. Perhaps sometimes our stories have nothing to do with the text.

Start by reading Psalm 88

…Today’s devotional is taken from the rather unusually named Chocolate Book. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day. (Seriously!) To read this at source, click the title below, and yes, the author of this Psalm is really named Herman…

Psalm 88 – Life in the Grave

This stupid psalm is resisting introduction. I’m about to ask “Have you ever thought you were going to die?” and recount the time I got stuck upside-down in a pool floatie as a toddler or the time the family Camry got hit by a semi truck when I was eleven, but then I realize: this psalm is about an extended period of being on the edge of the grave. It’s not about watching your life flash before your eyes in a moment. So then I’m about to ask “Have you ever wished you could die?” and talk about lying in the upstairs hallway overwhelmed by pain on the third day of having chicken pox when I was eight, but then I realize: the author of the psalm wants God to rescue him from his perpetually near-death state. He has no desire to die. So here’s the question: have you ever gone through a time in your life where, day after day, you felt like the living dead?

The psalm (which judging by the epigraph appears to have been penned by Heman the Ezrahite, one of the sons of Korah) is about being close to death in a particular way. The man compares himself to a corpse: “I have become like a man without strength…like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more” (4-5). He’s not even the walking dead; it’s like he’s going through his life just lying there. It’s like he’s gotten the Joseph treatment or even been buried alive: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths” (6). And who is it that’s put him six feet under? The psalmist contends that it’s God.

Chocolate Psalm 88Like David in Psalm 38, Heman the Ezrahite sees himself as an object of God’s wrath. He pleads to God, “You have afflicted me with all Your waves” (7) and “Your terrors have destroyed me” (16). Not only has God left him ostensibly drowning in judgment, it would seem he’s isolated him. “You have removed my acquaintances far from me” (8), the psalmist states. God has taken away the people he knew; moreover, God has made him an object of derision. It may be that Heman is being melodramatic, an unreliable narrator who cannot see God carrying him through this trial. I’ll entertain that possibility. But the fact remains: this is how it feels to Heman. To dismiss him as a histrionic drama queen would be a cruel disservice both to his inner state and the external pressures he’s suffering.

When he pleads his case to God in the middle of the psalm, it’s on grounds we’ve seen before. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?” (10) he asks. How can God get any meaningful praise out of a corpse in the grave? His argument recalls one that David made in Psalm 30, one that might be construed as a bargain for rescue, offering to trade your praise for God’s salvation.

By the end of the psalm, nothing has changed, except that Heman has finished a song about his afflictions. He remains troubled to the last note of the last bar, and what happened afterward we can only imagine. But we know this much: even in the depths of the pit, he still called out to God. He still believed God might release him.

 


Curious to read more Psalms commentary like this one? Or maybe you just want to check out some other chocolate flavors! Either way, take a few minutes to read more at Chocolate Book.

August 23, 2016

For Many of Us, September is a New Start

In North America at least, September marks the beginning of a new season. So I’m taking the liberty of using an early January article from a very popular Christian writer, and importing it into the present calendar situation. Because I’m currently reading Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets, I decided to see what online writing by him was available, and found this at his ministry blog. He posts a new article about once a month. Click the title below to read this at Dutch Sheets Ministries.

Strengthen Yourself In The Lord … sharing a personal lesson

The new year is such a wonderful time, offering us the opportunity to look back on the road we’ve walked, and then dream with God to set bigger goals and tread higher ground. As this pivotal year has drawn to a close, troubles abound in our nation and abroad; even so some still find themselves joyfully celebrating great victories in the Lord. God has blessed us with His goodness and hope for what lies ahead. While reflecting upon these things, the Lord reminds me of a paramount principle He long ago seared upon my heart. It is a fundamental truth that can help us stay in God’s will and fulfill His intended purpose for our life.

Horses and Chariots

When an alliance of enemy armies threatened Joshua and the people of Israel in their quest to possess the land promised to them, God encouraged them not to be afraid, promising to deliver the enemy into their hands. But the assurance of victory was accompanied by a set of critical instructions for maintaining their success. The Lord told them to hamstring the horses and burn the chariots they had acquired as spoils of war (Joshua 11:6). To hamstring a horse is to cut a particular tendon so as not to kill or completely maim the horse, but certainly render it useless for engaging in battle or pulling chariots of war. Disabling the horses and destroying the chariots was God’s way of ensuring Israel would not become self-sufficient and dependent on their own military strength and ability for winning future battles. Instead, they would be reminded to trust Him.

The Lord set this safeguard in place because there was a tendency among the people of Israel, as there is within all of us, to lean on Him in times of great need, yet fall back on our own abilities and strengths when our struggles wane. Psalm 106 illustrates this unfortunate truth. After God so powerfully delivered Israel from slavery, they quickly forgot His miraculous works and did not seek His counsel (verse 13).

History repeated itself after Israel’s conquest of Jericho when they set out to take Ai, a small and seemingly weak city. Having become overconfident and self-sufficient after miraculously winning the battle at Jericho, they did not seek the Lord’s counsel for taking Ai. Attempting to go against the enemy in their own strength and ability, they suffered a most humiliating defeat.

Friends, especially after we’ve experienced times of great success, breakthrough, or promotion, we cannot forget our source of strength! We must rely on the Lord even more, with all the “more” He entrusts to us.

Lean On The Lord

In this season, God is attempting to give us a greater understanding of His authority and strength for breakthrough in our personal lives and family, for all of our labors, and for this nation as a whole. But we won’t grasp the concept of operating successfully in God’s delegated authority if, even unconsciously, there is any form of self-sufficiency in us. We must recognize that each day we need God’s wisdom for our decisions and His strength for everything we undertake.

There are times in life when we are traveling upon what seems to be familiar ground. In those instances, it is important that one not give place to presumptuous self-sufficiency with a “been there, done that” mentality. Even in the seemingly easy times, we must be careful to heed the words of Proverbs 3:5-8:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.

Boast In The Lord

There are other times when the Lord will take us into situations where we feel a degree of intimidation, facing challenges that seem beyond our natural abilities. Following the example of the Apostle Paul, we go to the Lord and say, “Lord I want to glory in my weakness, because You then can be strong in me,” (2 Corinthians 10:17; 12:10; Psalm 20:7; Joel 3:10b).

Our greatest asset can be our area of weakness if we allow it to drive us to God, His vast wisdom, His limitless ability and His magnificent strength, rather than trust in our own.

“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me.”Jeremiah 9:23-24a

“…The people who know their God will display strength and take action. Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many…” – Daniel 11:32b-33a

The Lord desires to accomplish great exploits through those who take time to know Him intimately and hear what’s on His heart. He will cause them to rise up in great strength and take bold, strategic action that leads from victory to victory, bringing glory to His name.

New Strength For The New Year

Let’s make this simple yet vital principle our plumb line for moving into the New Year: trust God, not ourselves. In doing so, we won’t forget the Lord after witnessing great miracles. We won’t let our guard down or act in presumption after experiencing victory. And we won’t become like a weakened Samson who awakened from sleep thinking, “I will shake myself free and overthrow my enemies as I’ve always done,” not realizing that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20).

In this New Year, God is releasing grace to trust Him more. Lean into it, take hold of it. As you strengthen yourself in the Lord, He will add strength to your abilities and release creative thoughts, wise solutions, divine appointments, great favor, good contracts, and timely sales. Struggling ministries will soar in God’s strength and families in need of help will experience breakthrough. The Lord will even bring good from your past defeats. In this coming year, let’s work hard and be diligent, being mindful of His faithfulness, and look to Him for all we need.

My friend, put your trust in Him!

August 18, 2016

Passing Through the Valley of Baca

Andy ElmesI couldn’t help but take a second look at the passage below several times, as UK devotional writer Andy Elmes, to whom I am subscribed, has spent over a week in these three verses. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Psalm 84:5-7 (NKJV)
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

August 9:

I have been thinking of these verses a lot recently and have been considering how pilgrimage affects so many areas of our lives; also how it is not a bad thing but, more often than not, a God-designed thing for our lives. Here are some thoughts for you.

What is it to pilgrimage, you may ask? The word pilgrimage means ‘to journey’, so when God speaks of pilgrimage in this Psalm He is saying, “Blessed is the person who sets his heart on journeying”, and that is so true, especially when it comes to our walk or journeying with God. “Blessed [daily] is the person who sets his heart on journeying with the Lord”. Other faiths in the world have a spiritual pilgrimage mentality but theirs are always to physical places and landmarks, like Mecca and Lourdes, but it is not to be that way for us. Our pilgrimage is to a person – the person of Jesus – ever towards a deeper relationship with Him.

Christianity is not meant to be something or somewhere you totally arrive at instantly. Yes, when we believe, we receive from God everything we are going to get (of His fullness we have received, John 1:16). But we are called to spend the rest of our days (till we appear before Him in Zion) journeying into everything He has given us, to understanding and embracing all that He has done and given to us in Christ. God wants us to “keep on movin'”.  We are not to be parked vehicles, but ever-moving ones that walk, like Abraham, into all the promises and intentions of God for our lives.

So, our pilgrimage (journey) does not end when we reach a historical landmark, because if it did, how sad would that be. You would be left thinking, “What next?”. No, God commits to walk with us each and every day on this pilgrimage that He has called us to and every day it gets better and better. It’s when we set our hearts to journey with the Lord that we learn all that we need to and He is revealed to us so we know Him closer and more intimately as the miles of our days pass by.

Think about those two disciples that walked with the freshly risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). For some reason Jesus had not allowed them to recognise Him, but appeared as someone they did not know. It was as they walked (journeyed) with Him that He made the mysteries of the scripture easily understood, and then it was during the journey that He revealed Himself to them. As we set our hearts to journeying with the Lord He helps us to daily understand His mysteries and daily reveals Himself to us, as He did to those two disciples, and He causes our hearts to burn within us as theirs did…

August 10:

…This verse then makes a strange statement that caught my attention: “as they pass through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs”. I wondered where Baca was and after a short search discovered that no one really knows where this valley was, but most live by the interpretation rather than a physical place: its most common interpretation is ‘valley of weeping’. We all, at one time or another on our pilgrimage, will go through valleys or ‘times of weeping’ but God promises, as we journey (stay) with Him through these seasons, He will cause them to be places of refreshing springs.

When you walk daily with Jesus He causes life and joy to break out in the saddest or seemingly driest places. He causes rivers to flow in what are the dessert times of our life. He does not call us to avoid or by-pass these valleys but walks with us through them – remember He promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you”. He is not a ‘good-time God’, only there for the good bits. Rather He remains a good God in all the seasons we experience on this pilgrimage called life. Remember, David in Psalm 23 said, “though I walk through the valley”. He included valleys in his great ‘pilgrimage with God’ Psalm because he knew we all go through them! …

… He is the God that causes springs to flow in dry places with us, in us and through us!

August 11:

Psalm 84 teaches us that journeying with the Lord causes your life to go from strength to strength, not from strength to weakness. As we dare to daily journey with Him He causes us to become strong where we are weak and fully developed in the areas of our life that we are not. Each stage of our pilgrimage causes our lives to be enhanced and empowered for the road and journey that still lies ahead. Remember what we learn about David’s pilgrimage when it came to the moment he needed to take down a giant (Goliath): his life was prepared and ready, his life was more than strong enough. Why? Because the pilgrimage (God-journey) of his life had brought him to, and through, the defeat of bears and lions; Goliath was the next logical victory and he was destined to win that encounter too.

It was his ongoing journey that made him strong for what God had for him next, and so will yours as you daily commit to journey with the Lord; through things that may seem big He builds you up for the victories that lie further ahead. As the disciples walked with Jesus over the three years of their discipleship they went from strong to stronger in their ability, knowledge and confidence. We don’t have just three years: we have a lifetime! As you commit to walk with Him daily, as they did, your life will also go from strength to strength too.

August 12

…We love the destination and the arriving bit. God loves the journey just as much, because in the journey He does a whole lot of stuff in us which is always good for our long-term life. He is looking at the book of your life, not your present chapter. Let’s face it, when it comes to the promises of God and seeing them manifest in our lives we are all like a bunch of kids in the back of the car on the way to a summer holiday.

Independent of whether we are on route to Torquay or Disneyland, the question that comes from the kids in the back is always the same – come on, you know it, you have either heard it or were the one that said it when you were younger. Yeah, that’s the one: “ARE WE THERE YET?” Kids do not appreciate journeys: they like instant arrivals! Meanwhile, the parent is enjoying the journey (except for the kids keeping on) and the journey is actually producing patience and appreciation in the life of the kids (when they finally get there they will love it).

God has promised we will arrive – and arrive we will, but we, like the kids in a car, need to remember that God is not in a hurry. He knows that the journey can produce a whole lot of good and effective stuff in us that would never be produced if we had a Tardis-type experience (instant arrival) with our destinies. It is often on the journey that we learn and gain valuable things like appreciation. When you have journeyed toward somewhere you really appreciate it when you get there. One common example would be if you save up for something: you appreciate it a lot more than if you put it on the credit card! Journeying towards something really does cause appreciation and value…

August 15:

The journey will create appreciation. It will also create faith as you continually trust in God while still on route. When we talk of faith we should always look around for its best friend, patience. I like faith more and would like to hang out with it on its own! The problem is that God most often sends them as a team, because patience produces a lot, too – and together they produce greatness. Let’s think about the power of patience this morning (the art of waiting for something).

Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Remember, patience is a fruit of the Spirit not a gift – it is grown, rather than given. Like any fruit it grows slowly, not suddenly appears.

Hebrews 6:12 (NIV)
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

The Bible tells us to imitate people of faith and patience – not just those who are full of faith, but those who can trust God and wait for His perfect timing. When we choose to walk in faith and patience we will inherit everything God has promised. Remember, God works in the delay and the things He has promised are so worth waiting for. Keep away from shortcuts that produce look-a-likes, and hang out for the genuine which comes from the very hand of God. Hey, to be honest with you, patience was never my favorite fruit – I would have loved for God to give it to me as an instant download! Trouble is, He would not. Why? Because He knows that patience does us good, and when we have it and mix it with our faith incredible things start to happen.

 

July 14, 2016

Past Tense, Future Victory

We return today to a multiple-writer site we visited last July, Inspire A Fire. The writer for this one is April Dawn White. You can click the title below to read this, with pictures, at source.

Victory Perspective

The invisible battle of trust, is the biggest battle I face.

When I find myself wondering in my wandering, I return to these stories of God’s faithfulness. I can trust God has already won the battle on my behalf.

I love how God uses past tense grammar to describe a current or future victory.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Joshua and Jericho

See I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” (Joshua 6:2, NIV)

Joshua stands before a small city fortified with tall walls. Assessing the giant walls, God said, “See I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” I wish I could see the look on Joshua’s face at that moment. Queue the climatic music. Staring up at the walls, did he have a look of skepticism or determination? Before God offers an unusual battle plan, He assured Joshua, “I have delivered” this city into your hands.

Joshua entered into battle from the stance of victory.

Moses’ Commission

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Exodus 23:20-31 (NIV)

Moses led a million march–a motley crew of former slaves, out of Egypt through the Red Sea towards freedom. God in is mighty way parted the Red Sea and the people marched right through toward freedom. Before the split, God assured Moses, “I am sending an angel ahead of you…to a place I have prepared.”

With Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian army closing in behind, Moses walked in a stance of victory on dry ground as he crossed the Red Sea.

Gideon’s Call

Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” (Judges 7:15, NIV)

A chapter before, the Lord finds Gideon hiding from the enemy. Now God has called him to fight. Before God issues an unusual battle plan (by the way, most of God’s battle strategies are unusual) He assures Gideon, “The Lord has given” the enemy into your hands.

Gideon enters into battle from a stance of victory.

We can learn from Joshua, Moses, and Gideon. These men faced insurmountable circumstances, yet they entered into battle from a stance of victory.

Before God issues an unusual battle plan, for our lives we can rest assure He has already prepared our future and delivered the victory.

What battle are you facing?  The victory is already yours. Go get it.


A song which fits this theme well is one we haven’t previously featured here. Enjoy “The Battle Belongs to The Lord” by the band Petra.

June 25, 2016

Imobilized

Today’s devotional is from Soulfari, a site that I’ve been following for many years. The author is . To read at source, or leave a comment click the link below.

Fear of Falling

I’m restless today…

I tend to feel that way, the sensation of someone relentlessly tugging at my sleeve, trying to get my attention, attempting to pull me in different direction. Sometimes it wearies me with its persistent cry for my focus, for my deep introspection to discover the cause behind such unrest in my spirit. When I commit to explore the crevices of my fidgety spirit, I’m often surprised by the mystery revealed.

I’m restless because I’m not satisfied.

I want more from life and from my relationship with God. I want a stronger marriage and a greater connection with my children. The desire to make a meaningful impact on this world drives me daily and to settle for anything less seems pointless. This tug on my sleeve is a welcomed one… but there is one that is not.

I’m restless because I’m afraid.

Afraid of loss,

Afraid of failure,

Afraid of rejection,

Afraid of the unknown.

The fear of falling (Basiphobia) is a strong phobia and can cripple, immobilize and rob freedom from the strongest person. For our heart, in a spiritual sense, it’s just as dangerous. Loss, failure, rejection, the unknown threaten our spirit daily, trying to get us to believe a lie.

These restless tugs are connected; they meet at the crossroad of faith and fear. Just when I’m disturbed enough to move out/step out in faith, the fear of falling raises its ugly head and lying tongue.

The lie of falling

The fear of falling lies to me, tugs on my sleeve, fabricates a story of doubt and guilt. A story meant to immobilize my heart and stop me in my tracks… afraid to move out in faith. This enemy wants my heart to believe that I’m doomed to fall and that my falls are always fatal and final.

The truth of falling

“Though he fall, he shall not be cast down; for Jehovah upholds his hand.” Psalm 37:24

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. Jude 1:24

So, I’m checking out that tug I feel on the sleeve of my heart. I don’t want to settle for less than all that God has for me, nor do I want the fear of falling compromise my faithfulness to the call on my life. For that I need more of Him.

“All our falls are useful if they strip us of a disastrous confidence in ourselves, while they do not take away a humble and saving trust in God.” – Francois Fenelon

 

How about you… are you afraid of “falling” in something Father God has asked you to do? How can I pray for you?

June 22, 2016

Following the Directions

Today we pay a return visit to Jen Rodewald at the blog The Free Slave’s Devotional; an article from her archives. This is also a return visit to Joshua, who we looked at yesterday.

directionsHe Gives Me Directions

“And Joshua fell on his face…and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’” ~Joshua 5:14, NASB

We discussed the felling of Jericho yesterday, and with it, the purpose for the nation of Israel. They were a people of God’s choosing, a people set apart for His purpose. His glory. His revelation.

They were to show who the true God is to the world. And God worked in and through them to reveal himself. Pretty well, too, despite the Israelites many, many flaws. Consider Rahab, her response to the Hebrew spies…

“…our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11)

She had heard about the Red Sea. About the wilderness, and the mighty kings the nomadic wanderers had taken out. No doubt she’d heard about the crossing of the flooded Jordan river…and now these people, whose God was clearly THE God, were coming.

Notice what she didn’t hear about…How amazing the leadership was among Israel. The awe-inspiring orator who captivated his audience. The unbelievably gifted song leader who could raise a frenzy of praise with his charismatic performances…

She heard about God. HIS power. HIS doing. HIS redemption of his people. Were there amazing leaders, great writers/speakers, gifted musicians? Yep. Among many other extraordinary people, there were such in Israel. Gifted and called by God himself. But Rahab’s faith didn’t sprout from them. She planted herself into the conviction that God was sovereign over all–people, nature, nations. All.

So, what does that have to do with the felling of Jericho? Well, we know Rahab was saved from that destruction. We also know that her legacy wasn’t restricted to her soiled past. Boaz, her son, was quite a good man, you know. And God saw fit to include Rahab in Jesus’s genealogy.

Anything else?

Well, we circled around to this question: “How do we, like the Israelites, show who God is to a godless or idolatress world?”

Perhaps the answer is found in this part of the story.

“I have given Jericho into your hand…. You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days…then on the seventh day march seven times, and the priest shall blow the trumpets…and all the people shall shout…”

What? Not only is that a very strange string of directions, it’s actually quite terrifying. March around the fortified city walls? That is a completely vulnerable position. And seven times? Not only is it vulnerable, it has now become predictable. A recipe for slaughter.

Here, maybe, is the key. Obedience. God said march. Just walk. No shooting. No secret attack. Nothing fancy, cunning, or brilliant. A simple walk around the wall–easy directions that are leg-shakingly difficult to complete. But the obedience is visible, so when Rahab and her family ask “why did you do that?” the people would say, “because God said to.” So when the nations around heard about the walls coming down, the only bit of strategy that they could gain from studying that victory is, “they obeyed God.”

Sometimes showing who God is to the world around me is as simple as walking. Am I willing to obey?

 

June 7, 2016

The God of Angel Armies

Today we’re paying a return visit to Blogos. This time, the post is by Denise Baum. Click the title below to read at source, and then be sure to look around the rest of the site.

Elisha and God’s Angel Army

So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and take him.” And it was told him, saying, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” He sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 2 Kings 6:13-18

Just preceding these verses, we read that the king of Aram was furious with whoever it was that was revealing his highly classified military secrets to the king of Israel. He thought that someone in his own court was a traitor. Instead, it was God who disclosed the enemy plans to Israel’s king through his servant Elisha. When Aram’s king found out about Elisha, he focused his hostility against the city of Dothan where Elisha was staying. Imagine the fearful shock Elisha’s servant felt when he rose early on the morning described in this passage and saw the enemy horses and chariots circling his master’s city. He probably knew that Elisha was an informant against Aram, revealing to Israel’s king the maneuvers of the enemy. Being God’s spy for Israel involved risk, and now their backs were up against the wall.

Was Elisha scared? How could he be, considering what he saw and believed? But he had to share his confidence with his servant. “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see!” The servant saw that beyond the Aramean army, circling the city of Dothan, was God’s invincible army. This supernatural vision revealed a mountain “full of horses and chariots of fire.” Talk about confidence! No wonder Elisha was fearless in the face of imminent death. No one could threaten his composure and faith when he could see, with his own eyes, the military presence of the Lord of hosts. Not only was this army in a superior offensive position, but they were fueled by the fire of the Lord. “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Nothing can resist or overcome fire.

Whether our enemy is an army or an individual, God can give us victory or peace.tweet

This vision of faith, which God gave to Elisha and his attendant, is humorously contrasted in the next event in this drama. Instead of destroying his enemies with that fiery army sent from heaven, Elisha asked the Lord to blind them. Isn’t that fascinating? We read about supernatural vision and blindness in the same paragraph, the sense upon which this whole story pivots. The purpose of Elisha’s request was a reflection of his humility and love for his fellow man. Like Paul, in Romans 12, Elisha wanted to transform enemies into friends.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21

Don’t miss the end of this amazing piece of history. Elisha actually led the blind Aramean army, now helpless and childishly obedient, to Samaria, into the city of Israel’s king! When their sight was restored, they found themselves at the mercy of their enemy’s sovereign. Instead of slaughtering them, however, he fed and watered them. This is the most peaceful disarmament in history. When the Aramean army received back their sight, were treated to a bountiful feast and then released, I imagine they were far more perceptive than ever before. 2 Kings 6:23 reveals the fruit of Elisha’s kindness: “And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel.”


Of course, we couldn’t run this without including the song suggested by the title! We already had the original Chris Tomlin song here in a version with guitar chords, this one is an acapella version by our friend David Wesley. For more of his videos click here.

June 5, 2016

The Destruction of Faith

Note: This article is a companion to last Sunday’s article on Building Faith, and presents the reverse or opposite case of what can take place in a person’s life.

•••by Russell Young

The destruction of faith is not a topic that that brings joy to a person’s heart although it is an issue that needs consideration.  How many people do we know that have walked away from their faith or have left the church?  People come to faith because they have been persuaded of the gospel message.  Something must have happened to convince them that faith has no place in their lives, that their persuasion was false.  Of course there can be a lot of reasons for this.  The parable of the sower reveals some.  Faith, or commitment to faith, can be lost for lack of understanding (Mt 13:19), persecution and trials (Mt 13:21), and the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth (Mt 13:22).

The church can do something about these issues but in many instances has lost its way.  If teaching presents that a believer was designated (elected) to enjoy God’s heavenly kingdom from before time, this parable lacks sense as does falling away.  If the church teaches that a person’s initial commitment of faith brought about his eternal salvation (eternal security), again, the issue of falling away has no relevance.  The problem is that false teaching is destroying the faith and the hope of many.  Although this writing will not speak directly to either the issues of election or of eternal security, the broader issue of false teaching and its impact on faith will be addressed to some extent.

There are many promises that are presented in the gospel but they are not for all people in all circumstances.  When a person mistakenly believes that they apply to him or her and they do not see their evidence in their lives, the whole gospel message becomes suspect.

Promises directed to committed saints and to the apostles do not apply to all who have confessed belief.  A person who is seeking the “pleasures” of the world and who is interested in appeasing his own flesh should not expect the same blessings as the believer who has “died to self,” and may even be giving his or her life in difficult and meager circumstances.  Revelation 21:7 reveals the promise of entrance into the New Jerusalem for those who “overcome”, not to all who have confessed belief.  The apostles presented many promises in epistles to their readers.  They did not mean to suggest that everyone who read their letters would enjoy the same hope.  Their promises applied to those who are purposefully or committedly walking in the light.  Yet, the need for the righteous living that is in accordance with the will of God is seldom mentioned or at least with any conviction.  Even the Lord addressed his disciples by using the all inclusive pronoun “you” and he was not including Judas in many of these instances.

Passages such as John 16:23 present real challenges to faith for many people. “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (NIV) The immature and uninformed believer may accept that he or she will have any request answered.  When it is not, the truth of God’s Word will be questioned.  How many times have you heard, “I tried Christ but it did not work”?  The key to the above passage rests in the phrase “in my name.”  That is, if you ask something in the manner and for the purpose that Christ would have asked, it will be answered.  Christ came to do his Father’s will, to build his kingdom.

When something is done “in the name of Christ,” it is really being presented as being offered according to the character or authority of Christ.  Christ was really saying that if you make a request in his name, you are making it as if it was coming from him and with his authority.    Those whose motivations are the same as the Lord’s will have their prayers answered.  Those who do not appreciate the character and mission of Christ cannot speak in His name; to offer a petition that would be contrary to His moral make-up or ministry purpose would besmirch his holy name.

To encourage his readers Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7, NIV) Accordingly, Paul’s promise was that a person’s heart will be “guarded.” Although any petition might be made, the petitioner must accept at the same time that Christ is going to guard his or her heart and so the request may not be answered if it would prevent the petitioner’s development or taint his or her heart.  It is probably fair to accept that prayers that do not hinder the proper development of a person’s heart according to Christ’s goal or workmanship (Ep 2:10) will be answered.

The problem is that much of current teaching is leaving out the need of a transformed heart and the manner in which that is accomplished.  Instead doctrines that deal with pre-creation election and eternal security have left no purpose for the Spirit’s ministry.  Paul wrote, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us -not for our earthly enjoyment, but in order to develop the product or heart through God’s working) with groans that words cannot express. And he [God] who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:26-27) God’s purpose is to create a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.

The church has become weak and ineffectual concerning its mission because the ministry of Christ has been lost.  Some have gathered hope and are either consciously or unconsciously being led by the Spirit.  However, current ministry teaching is most amenable to those who in their affluence have few worries in life and are not subject to great persecution and trials.  What needs to be given to the church is the truthful establishment of a person’s hope of glory and the believer’s cost or faith commitment in accomplishing it apart from what he or she considers their due blessings in this life.  Faith is hard to build but easy to destroy.  Commitment brings discomfort and even pain.

May 29, 2016

Building Faith

img 052916•••by Russell Young

What is faith?  It is well worth the believer’s time and effort to come to some understanding of what “faith” really means.  Because it is usually left undefined and unclear, people apply meaning according to their own imaginations.  Strong’s Greek Dictionary identifies faith as “persuasion.” (#4102) This understanding gives a practical and realistic meaning to the term.  From experience we can understand that the more one is persuaded about the truth of something, the greater his conviction to accept and honour that truth.  A person’s persuasions about the spiritual world form his faith.

Faith is not something that just appears; it must be derived from some source.  Children develop faith, or not, in their parents to protect and provide for them depending on their experiences.  They tend to idolize their parents and take on their convictions/persuasions as their own; it is from their parents that a child’s faith journey takes root.  Because of the nature of the relationship of a child to a parent Jesus said that you must have the faith of a child- in this case Christ is to the object of one’s faith.  Faith in a parent’s convictions may not last, however.  As children mature they begin to see the world in a broader perspective and note the weaknesses in their parents and set their own.

However it is done, the starting point to spiritual faith in God comes with the recognition that God exists.  Although the truth of God’s existence is very clear to the believer, it should not be accepted that children accept His reality as fact.  They may continue to voice faith in His presence while harbouring doubt in their minds.  When full conviction of God’s reality exists, the new believer must learn of his nature and of his expectations.  These also form his spiritual faith.  It is not unusual even for adults to harbour great doubt about God’s nature and yet play along with the understandings of others-comfort can be found in the uniform persuasions of many.  Those who truly have faith will demonstrate it through commitment to honouring God in all aspects of their being- especially in their practices.  The writer of Hebrews has made it clear that belief is revealed through obedience. “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (3:18-19)  True faith is revealed more in the believer’s behaviours that in his pronouncements.

Spiritual faith is personal and must be built if it is to have any value and strength.  Jehovah led the Israelites out of Egypt and took them on a circuitous route to build and to test their faith.  “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:17, NIV) The LORD was aware of the faith reality of the Israelites and introduced circumstances to improve it.  As the Egyptian army chased them, he led them into a very vulnerable situation, then through Moses commanded them to turn, face their pursuers, and to watch.  Moses said, “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14, NIV) From this experience they came to learn some things about their God and, at least for the moment, their faith grew.

Building faith in God is not easy and those who would like the pleasant, easy Christian experience will never enjoy strong faith nor the comfort that comes through it.  The believer must first recognize his own inability to resolve issues and learn to rely fully upon God.  It is human nature for people to want to maintain control of their lives, but faith-building requires the opposite-weakness, humility, and dependence upon the graciousness of God.  As God proves His faithfulness, the believer’s faith increases.

Peter stated that trials build faith.  “Now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV) The faith-building process can be painful.

The affluence of North America has eroded faith in God.  An abundance of personal resources –talent, finances, education, and family support — is highly valued.  Often once these resources are assured the development of faith is engaged.  The greater the believer’s resources, however, the more difficult it is for him to become vulnerable so that his faith can be strengthened.  Unfortunately, those in the body who do not have talents, wealth, education, or a strong family are often less valued even though these are the children that are most apt to honour the Lord through the exercise of humility and dependence-faith in Him. “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31, NIV)

James wrote: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4, NIV) Faith is built on the evidences and appreciation of God’s love and the manifestation of His work in one’s life.  It is built on weakness and an appreciation of one’s helplessness.

 

May 27, 2016

How Do You Like Your Eggs?

CEV Luke 11:11 “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? 12  If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? 13  If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11 12So is your answer scrambled? Over easy? Sunny side up? Omelette? Hard boiled? Poached?

A few days ago we ran an excerpt from the book Why Pray by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, published in 1982. Today I want to quote from several sections of the book dealing with verse 12 above, starting with an observation:

Though Matthew and Luke mention the bread and the fish, Luke alone adds the third section of the questions which asks for an egg to eat with the bread, and mentions a dead scorpion as the evil substitute — a poisonous creature, curled up, that was never eaten after it had been killed. (124)

There are undoubtedly people reading this who feel that at times they’ve asked God for something they felt was desirable, and were given something quite undesirable. There are examples of this in scripture also.

The Egg the Disciples Wanted

You remember that the disciples came one day to Jesus and asked for the establishment of His literal Kingdom on earth. They also said, “Master, we would like some special positions in Your Kingdom.” …

…Did the Lord disappoint them? Very much so. They probably felt that He had given them a “scorpion,” a deceptive fulfillment of His promise. Christ crucified on the cross was not what they had envisioned at all. The egg of hope that their fond imagination had been hatching brought fort the scorpion of the cross to their Master, and shame and persecution to themselves. But afterwards, when their eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit, they saw that all that Christ had promised them had been fulfilled, that God had indeed given them what they had asked, and in a higher and more lasting form than that which they had expected.  (131)

The Egg that Jesus Asked For

Our Savior Himself prayed three times for what could not be given to Him. And when he asked for an “egg,” a seeming scorpion was offered — the cup from which He shrank with dread in Gethsemane. But He got God’s best answer He yielded His will, saying “Father…not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42) and an angel came an strengthened him (v. 43.) (137-138)

The Egg Paul Asked For

When the Apostle Paul prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh might be removed, and it was not, don’t you think the answer he got, “My grace is sufficient for you” (II Cor 12:9) was a far better thing than if the thorn had been actually taken away? Of course it was; for the removal of the thorn would have been a temporary relief, leaving behind no abiding results, and would have been a blessing to Paul alone… (137)

The Wrong Type of Egg

Our “asks” to God are often misplaced. The KJV version of James 4:3 says we “ask amiss.” The NASB clarifies, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

Very often people ask for a serpent’s egg thinking it to be a hen’s egg. They ask for health and prosperity, but that may only drive them away from God. Rather than helping them it might harm them…People are often mistaking what is good for them, and asking God for things which, if they were granted, they would curse Him. (132, emphasis added)

The Egg that Multiplies

Sometimes if we want an egg, we have to strive for it. The egg in that case would most surely hatch, and, if it is well taken care of, will mostly likely produced a hen that will multiply eggs from which to feed our hunger…

…Prayer is not always effective at once… the egg has to grow, to be formed from the smallest beginning to have its materials collected and prepared, before it can be given to us. And we ourselves must be prepared to enjoy and digest the egg so that it may become part of our being and build up our life.  (139)


I was also reminded of a few other texts:

…your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!. (Matthew 6:8 NLT)

These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. (Matthew 6:32 NLT)

The takeaway today is that your heavenly Father loves you and whatever he gives you and whatever it looks like, it’s not a scorpion.

 

 

February 4, 2016

Let Your Sins Be Strong…

Today we pay a return visit to Deb Wolf who writes at the devotional blog Counting My Blessings. The header we gave today’s post is meant to be provocative. Deb’s title, below clarifies it a little. Be sure to click through (on the title below) and look around the blog. (Her version of today’s post has some graphics!)

You are Free to Sin Boldly

You’ve heard the quote from Martin Luther, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

I woke up the other morning with the words “sin boldly” on my mind.

Not your typical opening thought for the day? Not mine either. I believe it was God’s nudge for me to write about this to start the discussion on—freedom to.

For two weeks I’ve looked at the freedom I have “from.” Now it’s time to look at the freedom I have “to.” Freedom to be who I am created to be. Freedom to plan my calendar. Freedom to love big. Freedom to live.

And part of living in this sinful world is well . . . sin.

So, when I woke up thinking “sin boldly” it seemed a good place to start. I am free to sin boldly.

You are too.

Wait a minute. What exactly does that mean?

I’ve read several articles from teachers whose students use Luther’s quote as an excuse to do as they please and disobey. Is that it?

Paul said, “Some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for Him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) Romans 3:5

And

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Romans 6:1–2

But you and I do continue to live in sin. No matter how hard we try, we’re going to sin.

I have times when my motives are far less than honorable. When my attitude stinks. When I’m tired and cranky and selfish. Times when I do the right thing because I’m supposed to not because I want to. Okay, that’s enough. I’m starting to squirm here.

Let’s take a look at Luther’s actual quote found in – A Letter from Luther to Melanchthon, written August 1, 1521

“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides… It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him.” ~Martin Luther

“We will commit sins while we are here…”

Hmmm. Yes, we will.

I believe Luther’s point is this—we’re not going to get it right!

While we are here we will commit sins, but does that mean we should sit in a corner all day with our Bibles in our laps avoiding life and people to protect ourselves from sin.

Absolutely not.

January 30, 2016

Psalms Provide Keys to Longed-For Happiness in Life

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Devotionals at C201 are usually either (a) original or (b) drawn from more recent writings of authors we’ve used before or (c) drawn from leads or running down various ‘rabbit trails’ of good devotional articles. Sometimes in running the trails there are some interesting discoveries. Today we introduce you to Alfred D. Byrd of Lexington, KY who has about a dozen-and-a-half blogs devoted to his various interests which include writing, microbiology, Christian theology, ancient history, American history, science fiction and horror!

In January he kicked off Happiness in the Psalms, a new blog devoted to the places in the Psalms where the writer provides us with an understanding of what it takes to be happy. (In your older Bibles, the word blessed might be used instead.) Happiness is something everyone longs for.

In selecting today’s reading, I read almost half of the devotions archived and I would encourage you to click the title below, and the select other readings from the margin on the left of his blog.

#6 The Right Confidence

Happy is the one who puts one’s confidence in the LORD and does not look for guidance to proud persons or those who turn aside to lies.

— Psalm 40:4

The road to happiness runs through trusting others. Seeking happiness, you must know whom you may trust, and whom you may not.

The Psalmist points out two categories of persons who will make you unhappy if you trust them. The first category consists of the proud, who, the Psalmist implies, will lead you astray from happiness.

Properly to interpret the Psalmist’s teaching, you should know that Scripture sees two kinds of pride, a right kind and a wrong. The right kind is rooted in a realistic appraisal of who you are in relation to others and to God. This kind of pride expresses itself through proper care for your body, your belongings, and your relationships, and through proper development of your abilities. This kind of pride in itself helps lead you to happiness.

The proud persons against whom the Psalmist warns us express the wrong kind of pride. This is a selfish, self-centered pride that falsely inflates the self-image of the person possessed by it. It leads that person to regard him- or herself more highly than he or she ought to in respect of others and of God. It leads the falsely proud person to value possessions over sharing, domination over friendship, and instant gratification over long-term well-being. Such a person, seeing you only as a means to an end, will ignore your need for happiness in favor of his or her distorted view of his or her own happiness.

False pride is based on a false assessment of who one is. It is no wonder, then, that the Psalmist follows mention of the proud with mention of the second category of those who will make you unhappy if you trust them, those who turn aside to lies. The person possessed by false pride is out of touch with reality. He or she is living a lie and must rely on lies to get from you what he or she wants. If you follow a person who has turned aside to lies, you yourself will turn aside from the way that leads to true happiness.

That way lies in putting your confidence in the LORD. He is the Source of truth, which alone can lead you to true happiness. He, the Creator of all things, is not consumed with the need to possess them, but shares them freely with His creatures. He, Who is both unimaginably far above and inexpressibly close to us, does not remain on His throne in the heavens, but comes down to us and lives among us to be closer to us than our own earthly relatives and friends are. He, Who is eternal, gives us rewards that are everlasting.

Only turning from false pride and lies to confidence in the LORD can give us true happiness.

January 22, 2016

God’s Promises are Guaranteed

A year ago I asked our friends at Daily Encouragement to recommend some souces for material here at C201 and they mentioned one and one only, a marriage enrichment blog by Sabra and David Penley called Simply One. Today we pay a return visit. There is always a danger in misreading a principle in scripture as though it is a general, absolute promise. But if we meet any conditions mentioned, we have the assurance of God’s faithfulness to his promises.

Clicking the title below to read this at source will get you not only a graphic image, but also some discussion questions. And you don’t have to be married to extract the truth of today’s teaching, even though their blog is written for couples.

Five Promises of God to Guide Us through the Year

1 – God enables us to live a godly life.

We read in 2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

In this passage, God gives us “great and precious promises.” These promises are found in His Word, and they are “everything we need for a godly life.” This includes a godly marriage. This is why Sabra and I teach about marriage from God’s Word. And this is why we developed Couple Connect and encourage you and your spouse to use it together. (For a printable PDF of how to design your own time together, click here.)

When we live by God’s great and precious Word, He promises that we will “participate in the divine nature,” and we will escape “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” This is the only way we will have the marriage God designed for us.

2 – God is always with us.

A second promise God gives to us in His Word is that He is always with us, and He will always be with us in our marriage. The last thing Jesus said before He ascended to heaven, after His death and resurrection, was such a promise. We read these words from Jesus in Matthew 28:20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Hebrews 13:5 gives us a command of God, followed by His promise: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” By the way, this directly follows God’s word to us about marriage: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

So God tells us the key to a blessed marriage. If we’ll be faithful to Him and each other in our marriages, He’ll be right there with us. We can be certain that when we seek Him together He will guide us down the right path and He will take care of our every need along the way. We can have a marriage without fear because He is at the center of it and in control of it.

No matter what He allows to come our way, God will go through it with us.

Psalm 139:7-12 says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

As God’s children, our faith and hope for our marriages can be founded on the solid rock of His constant presence.

3 – God will provide all our needs.

He promises at the end of this section in Hebrews 13:6: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus promises that we do not have to worry about anything because He will provide everything. He says in Matthew 6:33: “‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’”

4 – God will answer our prayers when we seek His will together.

Jesus gives us another promise in Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This certainly applies to a husband and wife who are one in Christ.

As one in Christ, we desire to do His will together. When we desire to do His will, He is pleased to reveal it to us through His Word. When we pray together as a married couple, seeking and desiring to do His will, that is a prayer we can pray with confidence. For He promises to answer us. We are told in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”   

5 – Whatever we face in the year ahead, God will bring good out of it.

Not only will God be with us through every situation we face, but He will see that good comes from it. This amazing promise is found in Romans 8:28: “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.”

This promise can help us be strong and stand firm in our faith when our circumstances become difficult and the days seem dark. God is able to work it all together for good.

So, as you look together toward the year ahead, remember God is eternal and omniscient–He knows everything that will happen. And He promises to be with you in the midst of every trial, pain, victory, and defeat. He longs for you to hold on to His promises and to recognize His presence at every moment, in everything you do. He wants you to be full of the hope for this year because He is God. He is your God. And He will be there with you and help you every step of the way.

Never forget His promise to you: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

December 31, 2015

Complaining Against God

This is from a recommended blog, Pilgrim’s Rock by Craig Biehl. It’s a book excerpt as well. Click the image below to read at source, and then click the link at the bottom to connect with part two of the article.

Is It Okay to Complain Against God? (Part One)

Have you ever been angry and disappointed with God, or questioned His goodness in the midst of deep and dark struggles? Have you ever been so disappointed with God’s response to your prayers that you wanted to give Him a piece of your mind? After all, He knows our weakness and is big enough to take it, right? But, does God understanding our weakness give us the right to complain against Him? Moreover, can it ever be proper to complain against our Creator? Let’s see…

He Hears Our Cries

God is good. “His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4). “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14). And in the end, “He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:9). And from His love and care for His children, He calls us to cast all our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). To Him we may cry in our troubles: “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy” (Psalm 64:1). “I pour out my complaint before Him; I tell my trouble before Him” (Psalm 142:2). God welcomes our cries for help and understanding. He responds with great compassion to our needs and weaknesses:

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Asking the Right Question

Our question, then, does not concern our freedom to cast our cares upon God or to bring to Him our cries and complaints, for Christ purchased for us that marvelous privilege. Our question concerns the right to complain against God, or to question His wisdom, goodness, or righteousness in His governing the affairs of the world and our personal circumstances. Put another way, can we as created, sustained, and dependent on God for all things complain against a God of perfect power and goodness, who always acts in perfect righteousness, who always desires the best for His people? Or, can finite and fallen people sit in judgment over the source and standard of all righteousness?

Have You Considered Job?

To answer our question, we turn to Job. After all, if anyone had the right to complain against God it was Job. Used by God as an example to His adversary the Devil, Job suffered because He was righteous. And suffer he did, with great personal loss and intense, prolonged physical suffering.

Early in his agony, Job did well in accepting God’s rule and righteousness: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:2-3). But, time and pain wore on. And as we all know how our physical suffering challenges our spiritual demeanor, so Job eventually resorted to criticizing God for causing and ignoring his plight. He sought an audience with God to argue his case against Him.

Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees? Are your days as the days of man, or your years as a man’s years, that you seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, although you know that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of your hand? Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether (Job 10:3-8).

Job’s complaints not only increased as his suffering lingered, he turned to questioning the righteousness, knowledge, and goodness of God. He even went so far as to imply that God favored the wicked! But was Job right in this? And even if he was not, would God not grant Job the right to his accusations given the depth of Job’s agony and his ignorance of the cause of his suffering? Our answer will come in Part Two.

—Adapted from Craig Biehl, God the Reason: How Infinite Excellence Gives Unbreakable Faith, Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2015.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Click the title below to read part two.

Is It Okay to Complain Against God? (Part Two)

October 23, 2015

The Weeds in Our Souls

dandelions

Today we pay a return visit to Donna Wood from the blog Food For the Journey. Click the title below to read this at source and then look around (we had a tough time choosing which piece to use for this re-visit!)

The Dandelion Says….

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” ~ Matthew 13:24-26

About two weeks ago, I attended the annual retreat for spiritual directors.  The topic was Soul Gardening, so we meditated on the soul plants we had been given as gifts from God and weeds in our garden which might need to be eliminated. I thought about weeds.  What if the weeds in my soul are gifts, too and not something to pulled up or sprayed dead? Maybe, we should listen to them before we decide.

I love happy yellow dandelions.  About the first plant to bloom in the spring, dandelions are the first food available to bees.  Children make bouquets from them for their mothers and bracelets, necklaces and crowns for fun.  When dandelions go to seed and we blow on them, fluffy seedlings float into the sky to spread the joy.  When young, the leaves can be good for eating, and dandelion blooms make fairly good wine. I read that if we kill all the dandelions, the population of bees will be greatly reduced which would be disastrous for our food supply.  In spite of this, most often, we get rid of them.  We don’t want them were they are, because they are weeds…. Or are they?

Perhaps, the weeds are in my soul, along with spirit gifts, to give me something or teach me something—for my benefit and the benefit of others.  If I sit with my dandelions and listen to them, what might they tell me? I’ll share one story. I have listened long to it.

I have a genetic tendency to clinical depression and panic attacks. I don’t have them, now, but there is always a possibility if I don’t pay attention to my life.  There was an extended period, as a young woman, when I was almost totally incapacitated by fear. I couldn’t leave the house; sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed, and I was afraid of everything including God.

It is very unfortunate, I believe, that this weed growth took place when my children were little.  I wasn’t available to them when they most needed me. I drank too much to mask the fear and pain because I didn’t know what else to do. God was eventually able to break in, providing a diagnosis and assuring me of his love, and healing began. I believed that the best thing I could do for my children, first of all, was to get healed myself and so I began the long journey of recovery. I needed medication and therapy for a time and our Christian community was available to pray for me and help when I was ready to panic. So – Gift or Weed?

Rather than zapping me well, God impelled me to become well. I wanted this weed to be pulled up or killed immediately, but it wasn’t time for that.  There were lessons to be learned about me and about God that I would have missed.  The ensuing healings, redemption and transformation are part of my story. Some healing still needs to happen in my family, but God isn’t finished with us yet.

Perhaps, the point of the weeds in our souls is to get us in touch with the One who grows and heals and who turns what appears to be supposedly noxious weeds into lovely trees. Do I love this process?  No.  But I’m so, so grateful for it.

We are the broken,
you are the healer,
Jesus, Redeemer, mighty to save.
You are the love song
we’ll sing forever,
bowing before you, blessing your name.

~ Lynn DeShazo; Gary Sadler

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