Christianity 201

October 3, 2017

Obedience and Faith

by Russell Young

The connection between obedience and faith needs to be understood. One of the main themes of the Bible is that believers, the redeemed, need to walk in faith throughout their lifetimes if they are to gain God’s heavenly kingdom. Christ said, “he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13) “Standing firm” is being steadfast in faith. Although many take faith to be a possession, it is also a practice. The great faith chapter of Hebrews 11 records the way many of the great heroes and saints of time past revealed their faith by their actions. James has recorded, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (Jas 2:26 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has clearly presented that the disobedient lack faith. “And to whom did God swear that they would not enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18 NIV) Those who rest their hope solely in a confession of faith once made need to consider these words.

  The Israelite Exodus, those “redeemed” from Egypt (Deut 7:8; Mic 6:4,) reveals the consequences that rested on the nation because of their rebellion against the authority of God, because they lacked faith in him. The first generation of those who left Egypt was condemned to die in the wilderness; they had disobeyed God and had tested him repeatedly (Num 14:22), treating him with contempt. (v. 23) Their children were to suffer for the “unfaithfulness” of their parents. (v. 33) The generation of those who had left Egypt were prevented from entering the Promised Land and from enjoying its riches. Like the Israelites of old, many of the redeemed today will be left to wander the dryness of wilderness life because of their disobedience; some will never cross the Jordan to gain the eternal rest promised in God’s Word.

Since the Reformation many teachers have offered that God’s grace is their only need and their hope and in making their presentations they have allowed a philosophical understanding of “God’s grace” to invade their thinking displacing any notion of obedience which is often considered to be “works.” In the only instance were “eternal salvation” is presented in the Word it is stated as being achieved through obedience to Christ just as God required of the Israelites in the Exodus. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV, Italics added.) The disobedient are those walking in unbelief, who are lacking in faith. Knowing God, trusting him, compels a walk of obedience. Christ is to lead the way and believers are to humbly follow. Christ is the Holy Spirit and it is he as Spirit who is to direct their walk. (2 Cor 3:17, 18; Gal 2:20,4:6; Col 1:27)

Those who defy the Spirit through disobedient acts blaspheme him and will be cut from the body. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” (Num 15:30-31 NIV)

  Disobedience has been the sin issue that has separated humankind from their creator from the beginning of time.  God had told the Israelites, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5 NIV) As a nation they were to obey the Lord and follow his commands and decrees. (Deut 27:19) Of course, they could not accomplish the righteous requirements that the Lord had set forth in his law. Through the Holy Spirit believers have been enabled with “everything that is needed for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) They have been made “competent.” (2 Cor 3:6 NIV) Believers have not been given life and godliness but all that is needed for it. (2 Pet 1:3) Just as God had required the Israelites to obey him, he requires obedience to the Spirit, Christ in them. The Lord can do through his presence in believers what they can not do for themselves because of the weakness of their sinful nature (Rom 8:3), but their faith must be sufficient to obediently follow him.

Faith is persuasion of the promises and power of Christ, including his Spirit, to accomplish the believer’s eternal hope. Faith requires the practice of that faith through humble obedience to the only one able to accomplish it for them, the Lord.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

July 3, 2017

Praying for Healing

Once again we’re visiting Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr. There are some great articles here dealing with subjects that should interest you. Click the title below to read this one and then navigate the site to look at other topics. Also, note the writer’s perspective on healing vs. miracle healing. A cessationist might believe that the day of miracles is over but still adhere to the admonition in today’s key scripture passage. For such people, definitions have to be adjusted to fit with an overarching theology. What’s important here however is the importance of asking God for help.

Praying For The Sick

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (Jam 5:14-15).

I have noticed that when we pray for someone who is sick, frequently the prayer goes something like this:

“Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the many blessings you have given us. . . . We come to you in prayer especially at this time in behalf of our brother who is sick. We pray that you will bless the doctors and nurses who are attending to him. We pray that you will be with his family in this hour of crisis that they might minister to his needs and be a source of comfort, consolation, and strength to him”.

There is nothing in this prayer that should not be prayed for. However, the prayer frequently comes to an end without the one leading it ever asking the Lord to heal the sick body of the person who is suffering. In my observations at the hospital, I see the doctor in pretty good health, not worried about how to pay his medical bills, and doing quite well. The nurses attending to the needs of my loved one also look cheerful, in good health, and generally doing better than the one lying in the hospital bed. The family and friends who come to cheer and comfort the sick also seem relatively in good condition. Any of these can properly be the objects of our prayer. However, in this situation, who is most in need of our prayers? Obviously, the sick person who is in such poor condition that he had to be admitted into the hospital. Why should anyone be so reluctant to pray for him?

Have we so studiously avoided the errors of modem Pentecostalism that we are afraid to ask the Lord to heal the body of someone who is sick? I hope that we have not reached a point in our faith that we no longer believe that prayer does any good. Before proceeding any further, let me close a couple of doors. There are two erroneous concepts of the present operation of the world:

(1) The Pentecostals are wrong when they promise miraculous healing to those who are sick. There are no miracles being performed today. Faith is not a condition to physical health.

(2) The naturalists are also wrong who teach that everything is governed solely by natural law. The deistic concept of the universe teaches that God created and empowered the universe; ever since creation everything has occurred as a result of natural law. The naturalists deny that God even created the world, but are agreed with the deists in believing that all things that happen are the result of the operation of natural law. Neither believes that God intervenes in the affairs of man. Neither of these concepts are true. God does work in the affairs of men, as is expressly stated in such passages as Daniel 4:32. I am afraid that some Christians may be approaching the deistic concept of the world. That would be the case if one were to conclude that prayer does not change things.

When Hezekiah became aware that he was sick with an illness that would lead to death, he prayed to God and wept (2 Kin 20:3). The Lord answered his prayer and extended his life for fifteen years.

The 116th Psalm records the praise of a saint delivered from death. He described his condition:

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Then called I upon the name of the Lord; 0 Lord, I beseech you, deliver my soul (3-4).

The psalmist brought his plight before the Lord and asked for his divine assistance and aid.

If we cannot directly ask for God’s help when we are sick, how can we praise and glorify him when we are healed? If we believe that he has nothing to do with our recovery, why praise him for deliverance? Why not solely give thanks to the doctors, nurses, and natural laws that enable us to recuperate? Most doctors will tell you that they cure no one, but that information evidently hasn’t gotten into the minds of God’s children. Doctors are not God and it is impossible for man to heal anyone. Only God heals! (Jer 17:14)

I plan to ask for God to heal me when I become ill. I am not asking him to perform a miracle, but I am asking him in his providence to heal my sick body. There is not a father or mother among us with a sick child who has not unabashedly taken their prayer directly to God and asked him to let the child live!

Why are we afraid to say in public what we pray in private? Let us not hesitate to ask God to extend the life of our loved ones, to heal their sick body that they might resume their role in the home, and to strengthen them during the hours of their sickness. Let us also recognize that the God who has the power to heal also has the privilege of saying to me like he did to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). I will pray earnestly until I clearly see that the answer to my prayer is “My grace is sufficient for you.” When I so perceive his reply, I will quit asking for healing and ask for the strength to accept what has come to me.

In the meantime, let us avoid the tendency of allowing our reaction to Pentecostalism to drive us away from asking God to heal the sick.


Here is our runner up from Biblical Proof which looks at the prayers of sinners (not to be confused with the sinner’s prayer.) Does God Hear A Sinner’s Prayer?

May 23, 2017

Paradoxes in the Upside Down Kingdom

We’ve linked before to the blog Don’t Ask The Fish at our other blog, but this is the first time for this devotional site, written by Dr. Tommy Kiedis to appear here at C201. There is some really great content waiting for you there. Clicking the title below will allow you to read this at source, where you can then navigate to some other great articles.

The Upside To Down Times

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.  — Charles H. Spurgeon

The New Testament is full of paradoxes:

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul shares another anomaly for those who walk with God: There is an upside to down times. This is a truth Paul discovered while walking through some very difficult circumstances.

We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 The Message)

What happened to Paul in the province of Asia? Was there an attempt on his life? Did he suffer some punishing malady? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that Paul said, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” Why? Because God used the trying time to deepen Paul’s faith.

As Paul trusted God, he discovered that God (who raises the dead) would employ that power to rescue him again and again—as many times as he needed rescuing.

Amazing!

Where are you experiencing a “downer” in life? There is an upside to it. Like Paul you can say, “it was the best thing that could have happened.” This change in perspective occurs as you learn to trust that God really is working in your life in the midst of your challenge.

Sometimes it is hard to think of God at work when difficulties arrive. Anxiety, like some swashbuckling pirate, is making too much noise. But Spurgeon is right, “anxiety . . . only empties today of it’s strengths.” My task is not necessarily to fight the anxious thought, but to look to God through all the dust of emotions, to learn to rest in the fact that is there and that he is at work on my behalf — because he is!

Here’s an idea. Why not take something on your desk or work space and turn it upside down today as your reminder that God promises to bring an upside to your down times.

He has that kind of power. He loves you that much.

 

February 11, 2017

Truth and Honesty in Times of Depression

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Pastor Kevin Rogers has been one of the most frequent writers here since we began C201. In January, he ran a series of posts all containing the world Blue and words which rhyme with it.  In the introductory piece, Lonely and Blue he set up the series noting how depression peaks in winter (which it is here in the Northern hemisphere) and went on to write Blue, Take Your Cue before writing today’s piece:

BLUE, BE HONEST AND TRUE

Truth can be painful because it proclaims life’s situations as they are, and not as we hoped they would have been. An important step out of loneliness is to be honest with God and with others. If you are not being honest with yourself, there’s no way for you to be honest with God.

Sometimes we want to minimize our problems or live in denial. We may be too proud to admit that we have a problem.

There are many people who hide behind service to others. They will do things for all kinds of people, but leave their own needs unmet. Perhaps you find it harder to pray for yourself. This is a false belief that it is wrong to ask God or anyone else to take care of you. This lack of self-love will lead to isolation and self-loathing.

God will never belittle you for being honest with Him about your deep inner feelings. He really does love and care for you.

1 Peter 5:7

“Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”

God’s ability to work in our lives is dependent upon our openness to Him and allowing Him to absorb our deep inner hurt. His power to heal our fears and pains deepens with our honesty. He will not take away the anxieties that we keep from Him.

Many do not make themselves vulnerable to God. They hold back in fear. They think they are being childish, rude or selfish if they bring their complaints to God. It’s as if we want to keep our relationship with God on a professional, adult level. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well. We need to let God see the hurt and immaturity that grips us.

1 Peter 1:13

“Prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

People of fate believe that they are lonely because it is meant to be, but people of faith believe differently. They do not take loneliness sitting down. People with faith cry out to God and look for an answer that will help them break free of their cycle of frustration.

 

January 23, 2017

Are Events Ever Out of God’s Control?

The title of our piece today (above) is written within the context of the political season which our American friends have one level just come through, and on another level is just beginning. Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement wrote this to appear on Friday when the “peaceful transfer of power” took place in Washington, D.C. It provides a great background for these thoughts. If you click through (link in title below) there is the option of listening to these thoughts on audio.

The Assurance of God’s Providence

“During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: ‘Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him'” (Daniel 2:19-22).

Unshakeable, immovable, faithful and true
Full of wisdom, strength and beauty
These things are true of You

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner…Inauguration Day… in the USA. Some people are happy and excited, others angry and fearful. In light of this important date in America’s history let us focus a few minutes on the Word of God and a teaching from some 2,600 years ago.

The daily Scripture portion is a powerful proclamation of the providence of God.  Here’s an historic definition of this theological term: “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.”

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and God revealed to Daniel both the dream and the meaning, a panoramic sweep through hundreds of years into the future and the rise and fall of various kingdoms. We look back now and see how this has marvelously been fulfilled.

“Praise be to the name of God forever and ever.”  Before Daniel revealed the dream to the king he offers praise to God. He “blessed the God of heaven” (v. 19).

“Wisdom and power are His.” This timeless truth is so instructive and encouraging in light of the many issues of uncertainty we face; those things which cause us anxiety and fear. Some we commonly deal with such as the turmoil in the world and especially at this time here in America with a transition and uncertainty as to where the nation is headed. Others are personal and reflect our individual situation. It may be a health need, a job situation, a family matter or many other issues that trouble one’s spirit.

“He changes times and seasons.” We see the hand of God in the changing of the seasons as He ordained at creation. Following the great flood God made a covenant with Noah and seasonal changes have been an evidence of God’s faithfulness ever since.

“He sets up kings and deposes them.” History sure validates this. Some 2,600 years have passed since Daniel made this statement and history abundantly demonstrates that many kings and kingdoms have come and gone. We live out our lives in a tiny window in the scope of God’s providential dealings. Our perspective is narrowly skewed if we don’t constantly observe the bigger landscape of God’s dealings with humankind.

“He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things.” We must look to God as we direct our focus toward Him. A great need for the earnest follower of Christ in this information overload age is godly discernment. It seems that we are awash in fake news, outright lies, distortions, spins and misleading information. We need revelation from God’s Word concerning the deep and hidden things not revealed by man, but revealed to our hearts by the inner working of the Holy Spirit.

“He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.” This last phrase really, really blesses us as we prepare this message. Daniel needed the light of God’s revelation to interpret the king’s dream. God revealed the dream and its meaning to Daniel in the middle of the night. Rather than rushing to the king and boasting of his interpretive skills Daniel broke forth in praise to God and made this glorious declaration about our omniscient God: “He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.”

Since we’re unable to see “what lies in darkness” let us walk with God everyday of our earthly journey since “light dwells with Him.” Nothing surprises God! Since He knows what lies ahead let us be assured that the light of His glory will illumine our path and give us the needed light to see our way through the troubling and narrow passages that await us. God will replace our fear of the future with His promise of provision for that which lies ahead.

And as I turn my face to You
Oh Lord I ask and pray
By the power of Your love and grace
Make these things true of me too

Daily prayer: Father, we know that wisdom is given to those who submit to Your authority, honor You and reverence Your holiness. The opposite is true of fools since they despise wisdom and godly instruction. You grant a treasure of good sense to the godly, for You are our shield, protecting us as we walk in integrity. When we come under Your authority we will know how to find the right course of action when seeking answers, for wisdom will enter our hearts, and knowledge will fill us with joy. Wise planning will watch over us. Discernment and understanding will keep us safe. Father, You are the bright light that comes bursting forth when darkness seeks to blindside our view. All foes are rendered powerless in Your presence and at Your command.  Thank You for the marvelous wisdom available to us as Your children.

(See Proverbs 2: The Benefits of Wisdom)

January 15, 2017

Considering Your Strength

by Russell Young

It is often considered prudent and is a common practice by most to consider the measure of their resources before undertaking a project or a ministry.  We live in a day where independence is applauded, abilities are fully considered, references are given and taken, and resources are counted.  Based on the consideration of our assets concerning the particular need a decision is made on whether to proceed or not.

From God’s perspective decision-making based the assessment of our human resources can be insulting.  The Lord does not want to be left out of consideration and when he is, failure is often the result of neglecting him and his resources to meet the particular need. Those “in Christ” are promised good results when trying to honour his purposes in their lives. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) This promise is offered only to those who are attempting to honour his calling upon their lives, to those who have subjected themselves to the sovereignty of the Spirit and are attempting to live in obedience to him. To be clear, the promises of the Lord’s blessings are not offered to those who have made a confession of faith and of Christ’s lordship and who are living their own lives on their own terms. Unfortunately, many find themselves disappointed and weakened in faith when the “good” does not happen even when God is not being honoured in their hearts and through their practices. Also, the “good” may not always be that which was anticipated.

Near the end of his reign King David decided to consider the strength of his nation by having the number of fighting men counted.  “The king’s command was evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.” (1 Chr 21:6 NIV) We are told that Satan had incited David. (v 1) Had pride filled his heart?  Was he wanting to consider his accomplishments and the military strength of the nation apart from God? His attitude had ignored an important issue.  God had been responsible for his successes and would remain the strength of the nation. The mighty hand of God had been removed from David’s consideration.  In spite of his history and experience with the LORD, even to the point of asking whether or not he should go into battle, David’s command that a count be taken implied the intention of weighing Israel’s strength through the nation of Israel, its people, and apart from God. The prosperity and strength of Israel was being credited to its people and leadership, and not to God.

A lesson should be learned from David. God is not to be left out of consideration. He is the believer’s strength and wisdom.  It is he who is accomplishing his will in the life of the believer and to leave him out of consideration is simply and abandonment of God and he will not bless when those who identify themselves as his children are determined to take the credit that belongs to him.  He will not give his glory to another.  In David’s case, a plague descended on the nation and many died. The Lord’s significance in the life of the believer is not to be restricted to certain times and for certain situations, he is to be lord at all times and in every situation. Without full and constant submission, his overall will cannot be achieved.

It is easy, and perhaps even expected, for decisions to be made based on the measure of human resources available, but it is not God’s way. The godly will walk with God; not apart from him.  He will be sought for direction and honoured through obedience.  God cannot be measured and his provision cannot be counted.  He is the source of all things good for the believer and will bless those who are obedient.

And God is able to make all things abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8 NIV)

The wrath of God had been laid upon Israel many times because of their neglect to recognize his sovereignty over, and his place in, their lives.  It has been, and remains, a common failure of humankind to trust in themselves.  Today people build their wealth and count the resources that they can muster in order to assure comfort, peace, and security.  Society elevates those who have gathered the most.  But even God said that it was almost impossible for the wealthy to find salvation. In the end, their “counting” will have fallen short and their own resources will have been inadequate.

The Lord does not want to be left out of the believer’s planning, nor should a person presume to know his will without humbly seeking it.  God should be pursued and loved “with all of the heart, soul, and mind.” (Mt 22:37) His people will not find comfort in taking inventory, but will place their strength in their God and his resources.  (Mt 19:23-24; Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25).


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

November 30, 2016

God’s Providence for His People

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to the blog No Condemnation. Click the title to read at source. (This Psalm appears in your Bible just a couple before the one we looked at yesterday, and is quite different.)

Let the redeemed tell their story

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe …

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
Psalm 107:1, 6-7, 19-20 (NIV)

Read: Psalm 107

Consider: A few days ago we looked at the problem of praying when the words just won’t come. This can be because the problem we are facing is so enormous, or potentially life-changing. It is in times like these that the Holy Spirit takes our unspoken words and groans, and intercedes to God on our behalf. Prayer in difficult times is generally more heart felt than prayer in easy times.

The story of the people of Israel is one of bringing their troubles before God and, once the immediate danger had passed, they promptly forgot and rebelled against Him. As a Christian you are unlikely to go into open rebellion against God, but do you remember or forget God’s providence once the danger you have been facing has passed?

I love the opening verses of Psalm 107 where it says: ‘Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story …’ (v2). It speaks to me of the providence of God and how he cares for and loves us, but it also speaks to me about my response to God’s goodness in my life. When God rescues you in your trouble (note: not from your trouble) are you forgetful, or do you want to thank God so much that your can’t stop talking about it? Are you willing to share details of God’s rescue with your close relatives, home group members, the wider church membership? I’m not advocating being so talkative about yourself that you very quickly become a bore. What I am advocating is the willingness to recognize God’s hand in your circumstances and thanking him first and foremost for this. As the psalmist puts it : Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever (v1). Having first thanked God, we should then be willing to share with others what God has done for us.

Look again at Psalm 107 and some of the words the psalmist uses to speak of God’s providence for his people. He uses words like redeemed, delivered, led, saved, healed and rescued. All these speak so clearly of God’s love.

Don’t let the fact that the immediate danger has passed prevent you from thanking God and telling others about his providence in your life. You never know who is going through similar circumstance to yourself, who needs to hear your words of encouragement.

Pray: Father, forgive us for being so quick to forget your goodness to us. May we remember to thank you and also to share with others what you have been doing in our lives. Amen

Every blessing.

 

November 25, 2016

Fighting Back, Piece by Piece

Today a first-time writer here. Lisa Sharpe came recommended to us and blogs at Thoughts, Ponderings and Random Nothings. You can encourage her by clicking the title below and reading this at her blog. If you know someone who deals with fear, anxiety or depression; you might want to direct them to the article linked below.

Daily Battle: How I Fight Back

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

There are days where I wake up or go to bed simply to reset. The day was too long, too hard, or too empty and so I had to close it out and hope that the next day would be different. Better, somehow. But a reset doesn’t always happen, and I still have a day to get through. So this is how I fight.

I wake up and I can feel it immediately. I don’t have it in me today. “It” being that magical thing inside of you that helps you feel like “you’ve got this”. And mine today, is missing. Why? I don’t know. I try to find it, gathering what pieces of it that are left lying around. There isn’t much, and what I can seem to grab slips through my fingers. I’ve got none of it today.

The rapid fire thoughts start coming even before I’m fully awake. Starting with simple questions, only to find out later down the line that it’s Fear in disguise. Do you really think you can make it today? Maybe you should just stay in bed. Today is going to be hard, are you sure you can handle it? You don’t know what’s waiting for you outside those doors today, and you’re sure you can handle it? Not just it being there, but the unpreparedness of it coming at you? No. I’m not sure. Gosh, this feels hard.

Then, after the questions begin to turn into concerns, the self-doubt bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid man. Why can I not get up and face life like everyone else can? My life’s not that hard, I know it’s not. So the problem must be me. Why can’t I just be strong enough to easily get through a day? Why do I always have to struggle?

Then the statements show up. Self-declared statements that feel like facts. I’m never going to be able to beat this. It’s always going to follow me. This is the rest of my life, and I’m already having a hard time. How can anyone put up with someone like this when it makes me a monster? I am a monster. And I can’t stop. I can’t handle today. I’m not going to make it. I’m not enough to get through this day. And if I keep trying, I’m going to keep failing and this world will crush me. And no one wants to deal with a crushed person.

Geez. I can’t handle today.

So let’s break down today into smaller pieces and see how I do.

Let’s close our eyes and slow down for a minute. Whatever it is that you know needs to be done can wait a minute. Forget about all the people you think you need to be there for. All the things you know you need to do today. Forget about the details of what you need to do at work. If you could take it all out of the equation for just a bit, where would that leave you? That leaves me with nothing. Great. So now I’ve broken my life down to nothing. There would be nothing left. Nothing but God. I almost forget about Him. I keep confusing Him with “it”.

He’s still here. So it’s back to me and Him. I keep forgetting this is exactly where He wants me. Not getting too wrapped up in all the “stuff”. He told me I’m not supposed to be strong enough. “It” was just a lie anyway. I forgot that it’s really kind of Him to break me down until my only prayer can be, “Help. God, just hold my hand”. That way I won’t forget He’s there. That He controls my day. That He knows what’s outside the door, and He is ready to face it boldly, even when I’m not. I forget that my day is His, not mine, and that He has a reason for having me go through today. And that includes this struggle. He is ready for every step of the way, so that I don’t have to be. My interactions with people are for Him, not for others. I work to be faithful, not to impress. I hold His hand because I trust Him and want Him to guide my day, not because it’s the only option. Even though it is the only option. I’m broken. But He knows that, and He said it’s okay.

Geez. I forgot everything. I want to be free again. I want to give Him back my day again. I want Him to have it. I think I could face today if He had today. I don’t want this day to own me. I want to be free again. God take this day back. It was already about you, but I had forgotten, so please take it back and make it about you for me too. Help me to remember. And please, hold my hand while I keep trying. I’m going to need so much help. But I think if you were there, I know I could make it. And even if I fail again, at least I won’t be alone. Help me to remember and see that today is for you. For your plan. It was always your plan.

OK. Eyes open. It’s time to move. My first step can’t wait forever. I’ll just work on making it to breakfast first. Then to the car. Then until lunch. Then home again. Piece by piece. And somehow I’ll turn around and be amazed at what happened in the “in between” spaces of all those place markers in time. Somehow in the in between spaces, I listened and prayed for a friend. I accomplished a task. I solved a problem. I avoided an accident. All while avoiding a meltdown. But how? I’m not even sure, but I do know one thing: It wasn’t “it”. It was Him.

 

October 27, 2016

When God’s Solution Comes Gift-Wrapped

Sometimes we connect with other writers in the comments section. This is from Melissa at Tin Roof Sky. Click the title below to read at source.

Shut. Up.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.  God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.” Joshua 6:1-2 – The Message

Joshua and the rest of his crew had just been told that their long national nightmare of wandering in the desert was over. Hooray! No more manna, man – milk, honey, and (I’m sure) beans and cornbread were now on the menu! Their lives were going from day after day of same old, same old, to finally getting started with what their forefathers had been promised.

But then – they hit a wall. Literally. They were getting the band back together to take over Canaan, and Jericho was the first stop on the tour. Their mojo was working, but it hit a snag made out of stone.

And we love to look at this story, and imagine the Israelites marching around that city for a week and then shouting the walls down on the last day. We sing songs about it and watch children’s videos with French peas taunting hapless vegetable Hebrews. But don’t skip over those first two verses. They’re the key to this whole thing.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.”

You know what I think? I think the Jericho-ians (or however they were known) were afraid. I think there were probably more Israelites outside that wall than there were of them inside, and I think word had reached their ears of all the great things God had done for His people. Remember Pharaoh losing a chunk of his soldiers and their gear? Remember supernatural provision? Remember divine judgement and so much quail they literally got sick?

They were afraid. They were under a self-imposed siege. They placed all their faith in the wall, and in the hopes that the Israelites would keep on truckin’.

But I think God put that fear into their hearts, so that their defeat would be certain and complete.

 God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.”

Their king couldn’t hide out in an undisclosed location. Their army couldn’t sneak out and come from behind in a surprise attack. Joshua was facing his first big test as Commander-in-Chief, and God had gift wrapped the city for them.

All they had to do was obey his (admittedly odd) instructions. All the people had to do was keep their mouths shut, and keep walking. And then, on the last day, they had to shout to the Lord for the victory.

That’s it. Obey God, watch the walls crumble, and take the first steps into fulfilling God’s call on their lives.

So here’s my question to you: What walls are you up against? Maybe they aren’t obstacles, so much as a gift box. Maybe instead of seeing them as your enemy, you need to see them as God’s way of making sure your victory is complete. Maybe God is going to give you some instructions, and when you follow them, you will have a whole new perspective.

I’m facing some walls. I’ll bet you are too. Let’s look beyond and see them as wrapping paper, instead of a stop sign.

October 22, 2016

The Challenging Concept of Certainty

Mark 9.23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Job 13.5 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

both NKJV

Forgive me while I run a particular rabbit trail today; I hope this gets you thinking. Every once in awhile I trip over a term that is being used by a particular writer or group of writers, and today it’s the term “heuristic faith;” which I believe originated with Gordon Allport in a 1950 book, The Individual and His Religion.

We begin at the Catholic blog Filca Holic

Henri Nouwen said, “I used to resent all the interruptions in my work until I realized that interruptions were my real work.” [Ronald] Rolheiser wrote, “There is something in a planned life that needs to be, for one’s own good, perennially sabotaged by interruptions. I am less glib in quoting them now, given that my own life has just been derailed by a major interruption.” …

…Karl Rahner once wrote that “in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we begin to realize that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.” No matter how hard we try to live the best way we can, at all times the music gets interrupted. To deny this is to make life miserable. We wallow in anger with self and others; we lose faith, and blame God for everything. To accept this reality is to mature in spite of the wintry pain, suffering, scandals and disruptions.

Heuristic faith as defined by Henri Nouwen is clinging to what a person believes, even when everything is against it. In his The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, he wrote, “So I am praying while not knowing how to pray. I am resting while feeling restless; at peace while I am tempted, safe while still anxious; surrounded by a cloud of light while still in darkness, in love while still doubting.”

Next we turn to The Psychology of Jesus by David McKenna:

A practical philosophy of life contains an element of faith — it is heuristic. No world view answers or anticipates all the questions of the universe. Therefore, a mature person holds his or her philosophy of life confidently but tentatively. By his own testimony, Paul made room for the unknown: “At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12)! Jesus demonstrated heuristic faith when he admitted that the time of the coming of the Son of man was known only to the Father (see Acts 1:7). As Allport would say, “It is a characteristic of the mature mind that it can act wholeheartedly even without absolute certainty.”

Ambiguity came as a shock to me when I was a junior in college. As the product of a home, church, and junior college where spiritual certainty reigned, I was unprepared for the intellectual bombardment of a professor in cultural anthropology. He deftly stripped away all the cultural layers of my faith and exposed an indefensible core. Confused and shaken, I could only pray, “God if you exist and if there is anything to Christianity, show me now.” Taking pity on my desperate state, God brought the person of Jesus Christ before my mind and rested his case. One might say that this was my intellectual conversion because I chose to do what Elton Trueblood described for me many years later: “A Christian is a person who is willing to bet his life that Christ is right.”

At the site Reflections on Biblical and Christian Philosophy, a look at this type of faith as it applies in many of our current science-related debates in an essay on the ideas of Michael Polanyi.

His [Polanyi’s] revelation concerning doubt is spectacular “The doubting of any explicit statement merely implies an attempt to deny the belief expressed by the statement, in favor of other beliefs which are not doubted for the time being.”   Faith and doubt, then, are just opposing beliefs according to personal commitment! The Christian, then, when faced with doubts of various kinds, should attempt to sort out what are these various “other” beliefs, and what are their claims to truth that would challenge Christian beliefs? What could be more practical to the doubts that believers have?

 A misunderstanding of faith is clearly illustrated in the waxing and waning of faith-healing.   Is the lack of healing due to a lack of faith, or are there other elements to be considered.     Medical science can provide mechanisms of healing; Scripture can provide its perspective; and personal experiences provides other perspectives. A better understanding of faith by all these perspectives can give more accurate expectations to those who might seek faith-healing.

Polanyi was not overtly Christian. There are occasional and sometimes surprising references to Christian themes, but certainly no case can be made that he is advancing any religious agenda. Far from it. His Christian theology, in contrast to his scientific and philosophical expertise, is superficial, inconsistent, and minimally related to his epistemology. But Christians can make great use of his ideas. First, his thinking can illuminate Scriptural and personal beliefs and how they function in practical applications. Second, he virtually destroys science as a monolithic, objective, and certain source of truth or knowledge, making it instead into a “personal calling” of “discovery.” Christians need not fear any scientific pronouncements that would affect their theology, as science is only another authority whose evidence is to be weighed along with other important authorities.

That last sentence is a great place to stop today, but we’ll return to look at the issue of certainty again.

October 18, 2016

When the Worry Package is at the Door, Don’t Sign for It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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When the courier company driver is standing at the door and says, “We have a package for Paul Wilkinson;” I have a choice. I can accept the parcel or I can refuse it. That was the spirit of today’s header; advice I also need for myself. Today we’re returning to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix. Click the title below to read at source.

Refuse To Worry

Many of us struggle with understanding the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is an emotion triggered by real danger. Anxiety is an emotion triggered by things that may or may not happen. Fear can save your life and anxiety can cause it to end prematurely. They elicit a similar feeling inside, but fear goes away after you’re out of danger. Anxiety continues to eat away at your energy, your mind, and your life if you don’t put a stop to it.

At work, I do an exercise with people to get them to stop assuming. I get them to admit that they don’t know the outcome. From then on, when they assume something, I ask. “But do you know?” Assumptions of the future are what cause anxiety. The truth is, we don’t know the future, but as Corrie Ten Boon says, “We can trust an unknown future to a known God.” When we allow assumption and anxiety to take over, we in essence are not trusting our future to God. The key to losing anxiety is to admit you don’t know and to trust God to take care of you.

The Bible says a lot about anxiety and worry. Here are some verses about it.

1. Therefore I tell you, stop being worried or anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted) about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew6:25 AMP

2. Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.
Proverbs 12:25 NLT

3. Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
1 Peter 5:7 AMP

4. Don’t give in to worry or anger; it only leads to trouble.
Psalm 37:8 GNT

5. Whenever I am anxious and worried, you comfort me and make me glad.
Psalm 94:19 GNT

6. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG

7. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. 
Ecclesiastes 11:10a NLT

8. I am filled with trouble and anxiety, but your commandments bring me joy.
Psalm 119:143 GNT

9. To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.
Job 5:2 GNT

10. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].
Philippians 4:7 AMP

 

October 12, 2016

Standing on Certainty

II Timothy 1:12

…because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

…I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day.

…I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end.

People often say they need “a little more faith,” but perhaps what they are looking for is “a little less faith and a little more certainty.” Is that what they really want?

The argument is compelling: Faith wouldn’t be faith if we had 100% certainty. Probably nobody seemed to have more faith than the Apostle Paul, but it could be argued that he had less faith in God’s existence because he had the certainty of having met Jesus face to face on the Damascus Road.

Doubt has become very fashionable of late, even among Evangelicals. We have a spectrum of people who wear their misgivings on their sleeves at one end, and others who spectacularly crash and burn on the other. Some are actually clergy, and they use every opportunity to flaunt their doubts, begging the question of why they stay in vocational ministry if so little of Christianity’s core beliefs are true.

Paul’s situation isn’t really all that unique. We can have less faith and more certainty if we allow God to meet us on the Damascus Road of our lives. The road to Damascus is a sudden, crisis-like, intervention in our life’s script, but there is, in contrast, also the slow process of getting to know God over time and yet knowing him in the same certainty as the Apostle Paul did, but without the dramatic involvement of physical blindness.

The sometimes controversial musical, Godspell, introduced a generation to the following prayer:

O Dear Lord
Three things I pray.
To see thee more clearly.
Love thee more dearly.
Follow thee more nearly.
Day by Day.

This prayer has its origins in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Here it is in Ignatius’ words:

104. Third Prelude. This is to ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely. (Ignatius)

[source]

The verse from II Timothy is about both a believing faith and a trusting faith. At a blog called Canadian Writers who are Christian, we read these words from Alan Reynolds:

…[W]e don’t trust someone unless we know her (or him), have been together and worked together and talked together. Faith is relational, a personal thing. It doesn’t come wrapped in fancy paper and fine ribbons like a present on one’s birthday — and all we have to do is break the ribbon and tear off the paper! It’s not like buying a new car — shopping around until you decide what model you want, then going in and making a deal, paying the money down, and driving away.

This faith of which I speak is a quiet thing. For most of us, it has a quiet beginning. It grows through the years, often imperceptibly from day to day and week to week. We can’t create faith, or command it. It is the gift of God. But we can receive it, and nurture it. And if we don’t, it withers and dies.

Some of us enjoy gardening — digging in the earth and cultivating, planting and watering and fertilizing and weeding. We give our gardens every care.

Faith is rather like that. Nothing we can do will make a seed come to life and grow. Only God can do that. But if we don’t tend that seed which God’s Word has planted in our hearts, if we don’t care for it and nurture it, it’s not going to amount to much. If we let the weeds get ahead of us, or if we neglect to nourish and water regularly, then the plant which is our faith will wither and perhaps will die. And when we need it and turn to it, as we all do sooner or later, we find that there is nothing there…

Read more:

October 2, 2016

Righteousness through Faith in Christ

by Russell Young

There are different understandings as to what righteousness through faith in Christ means.  Paul wrote: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe.” (Rom 3:21─22 NIV) And, to the Philippians he wrote that he wanted to “be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law, but that which us through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9 NIV)

Paul was clear that he did not accept that righteousness could come through the law, but that it came through faith in Christ.  Most believers would accept this to be true; however, it is true, as well, that ‘righteousness through faith in Christ’ is not well understood.  Although the concept may not be clear to many, believers commonly rest in the confidence of their trust in the Lord that he will unilaterally provide their righteousness; that is, his righteous life will become their righteous life. Such thinking is a mixture of truth and error, which in the end could be very destructive.  Greater understanding is necessary.

Since “faith in Christ” is necessary, this concept needs greater clarification.

Faith in Christ can be appreciated through the understanding that Christ is the Spirit. This truth must be grasped. When Paul teaches that faith must be rested in Christ, he is not speaking of the person and works of the fleshly Jesus who walked this earth without sin.  He is not speaking of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross as the means of achieving righteousness.  He is speaking of the Christ the Spirit.  Paul wrote: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:17─18 NIV) Faith in Christ is faith in the Spirit and it is through the Spirit that righteousness is gained.  Christ died so that we might be cleansed and given his Spirit and a new chance, a new birth.  The believer’s hope of righteousness rests in faith in the Spirit.  Those who fail to appreciate this truth are not likely to practice faith in Christ.

To further ground this truth, Paul affirmed in his letter to the Galatians, “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 5:5 NIV) Accordingly, his understanding was that the Spirit is the source of a person’s righteousness and that it had not yet been achieved by those to whom he was writing or by himself (Phil 3:12), but that its development was being waited …was yet to happen.

How is righteousness through faith in the Spirit (Christ) accomplished?  Does the believer become righteous merely by trusting that the Spirit will make him or her righteous? Absolutely, and unequivocally, NOT.

Faith is often presented as something that the believer must possess. Although this is true, faith is not merely belief or the accepting of an idea as being truth.  Faith does not exist unless the believer is willing to live and reveal his or her acceptance of that belief through their practices. That is, their behaviours and choices must reflect those things that they claim to believe. Faith is more than casual belief is it total persuasion and to the point that it compels action.  Without action faith is dead; it doesn’t exist. (Jas 2:17, 26) Obedience is faith in action and the writer of Hebrews has written that eternal salvation comes through obedience (Heb 5:9) or the practice of faith.  It is in regard to a person’s practices in obedience to the Spirit that “faith in Christ” takes on meaning. And it is in this sense that righteousness comes through faith in Christ. It is those who “are led by the Spirit” who will live righteously (Rom 8:4) and develop holiness and dwell with their God in his royal city, the New Jerusalem. The righteousness that brings eternal salvation is not imputed.

Faith in Christ is through conviction of the truth and claims of Christ to the point that obedience to the Spirit is practiced.


Regular Sunday contributor Russell Young has a book releasing this fall. Stay tuned for details.

September 30, 2016

Holding on to Your Faith

Today we’re featuring a website new to us, Ebony Johanna, although we’ve linked to her content previously at Thinking Out Loud. Click the title below to read at source, and then visit the blog for more. She begins by addressing the current situation in the United States from an African-American perspective.

Where Do We Go From Here? Maintaining Faith in the Midst of Suffering

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. For the help of his presence.” – Psalm 42.5

After another agonizing week of around the clock coverage of the war against black bodies, we find ourselves here again. Once again, we rise in protest because of another shooting of black men, women, and children. Once again, we offer analysis and critique of a system that continuously devalues our lives. Once again, we have conversations with colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even strangers about the urgency in dealing with this national sin. Once again, we petition God for cessation to this madness, praying that he would rescue us from imminent doom.

And with all of this, I still wonder if we are actually doing anything. It feels as if our prayers are falling on deaf ears, reverberating throughout the heavens yearning for someone to listen.

Does God hear? And if God hears, does he care? Can God actually do anything to save us?

As these crises continue, it proves that it doesn’t matter what we are doing – our melanin makes us an instant target. Whether we are armed or not, with our hands up or not, running or lying flat on the ground, able-bodied or disabled, cis-gendered or queer, young or old – the common denominator in them all is blackness. Blackness presumes that we are guilty regardless of what we do or what we don’t do. And that is disheartening as much as it is mind-boggling. If this was about behavior, we could act right even if it didn’t feel right if it meant that we would make it home. But it is not about behavior, how good or how bad, it is about this skin, this blackness which God created.

We can’t change this skin. We can’t peel it off or wake up one day shades lighter so that we can escape the white gaze. Yet the longer we stay in it, the longer our fate remains the same. All it takes is one traffic stop, one sidewalk encounter, one word misinterpreted, one glance mistaken for anger – as if we didn’t have a right to be. Can God get us out of this mess? Didn’t he know what they would do to us, that they would despise and kill what he deemed beautiful?

Deep in my heart I know that things will change. And yet my confession of faith sounds trite and feigned even to my own ears. I sympathize with Baldwin and Coates’ lack of faith in a divine deliverer as the past 400 years suggests that deliverance isn’t coming and at the same time, my blackness denies me the opportunity to surrender to the notion that this is all there is. Hope against hope is the only thing that sustains as black corpses fill my Facebook feed night after night after night. With every new hashtag, I feel my heart leap out of my chest. I have stopped looking. I have stopped counting.

Too oppressed to give up the fight of faith. In a sense, agnosticism is a luxury of the privileged, those who don’t have to spend entire generations praying for relief to come. And yet, faith cannot simply be deduced to a product of poverty and oppression. I disagree with the notion that suffering helps us to center our faith, because then racism sounds like the intent of the divine and not the workings of evil men who have purposed in their hearts to ransack the earth of all of its goods. I choose to believe the latter and still, it brings me little comfort as then we have to question whether God has the capacity to make the suffering stop.

If I keep fixated on the news feeds, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering. Every single day, it seems, there is a new Emmett Till. Before we can even grieve the loss of one of soul, we learn of another. The sheer rate at which our black brothers and sisters are falling – with no plausible end in sight – can leave one to deduce that God is not as powerful as we once imagined him to be. We’ve been praying. We’ve been fasting. Not just in this moment but for centuries. Though methods have changed, the fact that we are brutalized remains the same. If deferred hope makes the heart grow weak, the absence of hope surely kills it.

It is one thing to have our bodies thrown about because our blackness too closely resembles God’s image; it is quite another to allow our spirits to die because we have grown disillusioned by the suffering. If our spirits die, we will never survive this sadistic society.

We must press on. We must fight to maintain this ancient faith, not the white man’s faith but this faith that flows from where the Nile meets the Euphrates. It is this faith that enabled our ancestors to survive slavery, and it is this same faith that empowered them to fight for their freedom. This faith empowered our people to escape the Jim Crow south, to protest against lynching, stand up for voting rights, and march for freedom. We cannot abandon it, even in desperate times like these. We cannot walk out on God, even if we can’t see where God is moving in this moment.

Just as he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army and led our very own people out of slavery, he will lead us away from this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I choose to believe change is coming.

 

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.

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