Christianity 201

October 7, 2015

The Wisdom of Margin

Today’s devotional thoughts by Alicia Bruxvoort are actually the second half of a longer piece which appeared at the devotional page of Proverbs 31 Ministries. This was a new website for us, and some of you might want to spend some time there, in which case click the title below to read the full post and then look around.

Those of you who are presently parenting children or have children in your care will especially appreciate this and may wish to read the longer version, and those of you who are past the parenting phase or never had kids will no doubt still understand the analogy.

 clock spiral
“Teach us to number our days so that we may truly live and achieve wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
(The Voice)

…In an attempt to give my kids opportunities to learn and grow, I’d packed our days with good things — art classes and swimming lessons, church programs and playgroups. But lately, even those good things had lost their glimmer. Our schedule was full, but my heart ached with emptiness.

When we arrived at the aquatic center, I settled on the edge of the pool to watch. The instructor stood in the water and beckoned Lizzy to swim to his side.

My daughter took a deep breath, dunked her head and kicked with all her might. At first she moved toward her teacher with impressive speed, but then she began to flail. Her torso sank and she yelped in fear.

The teacher lifted my trembling girl out of the water and held her steady. “Slow down,” he chided as Lizzy gulped for air. “You were moving so fast you forgot to breathe!”

The image of a fuzzy orange caterpillar flashed through my mind, and my stomach lurched with conviction. Though a haze of unsolicited tears blurred my vision, suddenly I could see clearly.

In the midst of all our hurry, I’d forgotten to leave time for our souls to breathe. We had no time for lingering on sidewalks or pausing to help a friend in need. We had no time for delighting in God’s Word or savoring a sunset. And in the words of a frenzied mom, we had no time for miracles!

Today’s key verse reminds us that life is a gift to use wisely. We’ve been created for more than just counting our days. We’ve been created to make our days count.

To merely tally time doesn’t require much forethought, but to truly live requires Spirit-inspired wisdom. Maybe that’s why the psalmist approaches God with a humble heart and implores, “Teach us to number our days …”

While the Bible doesn’t contain a template for perfect time management, this simple prayer reminds us that God alone knows the best rhythm for our lives. He knows how to direct our time without draining our souls. He knows how to establish our pace without hurting our hearts.

If we want to truly live, we must seek His vision as we set our schedules.

As we learn to number our days, we’ll have a margin for miracles … because you never know when you might stumble upon a fuzzy orange caterpillar just waiting to turn into a butterfly!

Dear Lord, teach me how to use my time so I can truly live! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Isaiah 52:12, “Go in confidence and grace — no rushing, no frantic escape. There’s no need to be anxious — the Eternal One goes before and behind you. The God of Israel paves the way with assurance and strength. He watches your back.” (The Voice)

Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too.” (The Voice)

If your schedule leaves no room for lingering over caterpillars, you might enjoy Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day. In it, author Glynnis Whitwer helps you manage an overloaded schedule, so you have time for what matters most.

Visit Alicia Bruxvoort’s blog for more encouragement.

Identify someone whose heart is hurting from hurry. Do something this week to lighten her load.

Have an honest conversation with the Lord about your schedule. Ask Him to help you align your agenda with His heart.

October 4, 2015

The Certainty of a Conditional Promise: If We _____, Then God Will _____.

Just a few weeks ago we looked at this verse:

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

Years ago churches would sing a hymn titled Standing On The Promises. (If you’re above a certain age, you’ll remember it like this.) The second verse begins with our trust in the promises themselves:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God.

The fourth verse begins with what that says for us in our Christian pilgrimage:

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God.

The promises themselves are sure and trustworthy, and by them — if I live out any conditions set forth — I am assured of spiritual victory. The Reformation Study Bible* is consistent with this interpretation:

Christ fulfills all the promises of God to us, and all our confidence in God’s promises must come from our trust in Jesus Christ as a person whom we know and can rely on.

The Dictionary of Bible Themes* has a long section about “Divine Promises” which begins:

The promises of God reveal his particular and eternal purposes to which he is unchangeably committed and upon which believers can totally depend. These promises are, however, conditional upon obedience on the part of believers.

God’s promises are irrevocable

He is absolutely trustworthy Nu 23:19 See also Tit 1:2; Heb 6:13-18

He is unchanging Ps 110:4; Mal 3:6-7; Jas 1:17-18

He has the power and will to fulfill his promises Isa 55:11 See also Ro 4:21

He is faithful in keeping all his promises Jos 21:45; Jos 23:14-15; 1Ki 8:56; Ps 145:13; Heb 10:23

His promises stem from his goodness and glory 2Pe 1:3-4

God may confirm his promises with an oath Ge 22:15-18 See also Ge 26:3; Isa 45:23; Am 6:8; Am 8:7

But what is meant by “yes and amen?” At the blog The River Walk we read the following:

2 Corinthians 1:20 (Yes And Amen)

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Read: Job 23:1 – 27:23, 2 Corinthians 1:12 – 2:11, Psalm 41:1-13, Proverbs 22:5-6

[all of the listed passages appear at the above link]

Relate: Depending on who is counting there is roughly three thousand to thirty-five hundred promises made by God in the Bible. Granted, many of them are situational, person specific, and time limited, but that is a minority. Even if more than half were to fall into one of these categories, we have well over a thousand remaining. A significant number of God’s promises are “If… then…” promises. For example, IF we keep our mind focused on Him THEN God has promised to give us perfect peace. (Isaiah 26:3) Some might complain that all of these are conditional. Well duh. I for one am glad. I wouldn’t want to be living in perfect peace if my mind keeps wandering off in sinful directions. I would rather have a divine discontent that would force me to repent.

Even with these conditional promises, it is important to remember that all scripture, especially the Word of God, is authoritative and infallible. What we mean by that is first that scripture has the right and the power to be our authority in life. We have a responsibility to order our life based on its teachings. The second half of that, infallible, means that scripture cannot fail. When we live based on its rules of faith and conduct it will not, it cannot fail us. In other words, when we hold up our IF part of the promise, the THEN is a guarantee. You can bank on it. It is yes and amen. That is my promise to you.

React: So what are some of God’s promises? There are so many, it is hard to limit it, but here are my top 20(ish)

1. God will always be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9) even to the end of time. (Matthew 28:20)
2. God will never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
3. God cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)
4. I am justified freely by God’s grace (Romans 3:24) that I have access to (Romans 5:2) and that is sufficient (2 Corinthains 12:9)
5. The incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. (Philippians 4:7)
6. If I love and am called by God, Then all things work for my good. (Romans 8:28)
7. If I ask, Then God will provide. (James 4:2)
8. If I resist the devil, Then he will run away. (James 4:7)
9. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. (Romans 8:35)
10. If I am God’s sheep (I hear and follow Him), Then nothing can snatch me from His (Father and Son) hand. (John 10:27-29)
11. The Holy Spirit will help me to pray effectively. (Romans 8:26-27)
12. God will not lie to me because He cannot lie. (Titus 1:2)
13. The Holy Spirit will lead me into all truth (John 16:3) and give me the right words to say. (Mark 13:11)
14. God will supply all my needs. (Philippians 4:19)
15. If I sow, Then I will reap. (Galatians 6:7)
16. If I labor in the Lord, Then it will not be fruitless. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
17. If I approach the throne of grace, Then I will receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
18. I have an inheritance. (Ephesians 1:14)
19. I am being transformed into God’s image. (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:17)
20. Christ is in me. (Colossians 1:27)

Finally, the IVP New Testament Commentary affirms:

…God’s faithfulness in and through Jesus was preached by Paul without any wavering or inconsistency, so that the consistency of his message ensured the consistent character of his motives and actions. As the Corinthians themselves could verify, there was no “yes” and “no” about the Son whom Paul and his colleagues preached. His consistency in the greater matters ensured his reliability in the comparatively lesser matters.

Music resource: Click the link above for the River Walk blog, or listen to Your Promises by Elevation Worship at this link.

*Click the “Study This” tab for this verse at



September 8, 2015

Old Testament Provides Examples of What Not To Do

Today we pay a return visit to Juli Camarin at JCBlog. The article is long, but there is good insight here. Click the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the website.

A Textbook Example of What Not To Do

Do you ever stumble across an odd statement while reading your Bible and think, Are you kidding me?

This happened to me this morning. I was reading the account in Numbers where Moses struck the rock and water came out. This account is actually the second time in Israelite history this event has occurred—and check this out—it happened at the exact same place as before: Meribah, which means “quarreling.”

The first account of getting water from the rock was shortly after the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. But the second account that gave me pause happened a generation later. Same place, same situation, but this time this generation had grown up in the desert and grumbled and complained to Moses about not having water.

This is what they said:

“If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:3b-5).

Sounds like a classic rant, doesn’t it?

“We’re going to die of thirst!”
“It would have been a lot better to die when our parents died!”
“Moses, admit it…you’re trying to kill us!”

The Israelites had fallen into a textbook example of a loose tongue backed by charged emotions…I know I’ve been there…(just ask my husband).

Here are the laments that stopped me cold: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5).

That is an odd statement coming from a people who grew up in the wilderness eating quail and manna. Of course, there are no grains, figs, grapevines, or pomegranates because they are wandering in the desert!

Come to think of it, when had they ever had figs, grapes, or pomegranates? And why were they complaining to Moses about there not being any at Meribah? It’s the wilderness after all! Makes me scratch my puzzled head:

  • Do you know where there are figs, grapes and pomegranates? Egypt.
  • Do you know who came from Egypt? Their parents.
  • Do you know why that entire generation died in the desert? Because they were faithless.

Their parents’ generation was a textbook example of what not to do. They grumbled, complained, and continually tested God. But you know what? Let’s cut them some slack because they grew up as slaves and didn’t know any better.

But their children, oh, their children should have known better! They were never slaves, as they had always been free.

They had always lived under God’s provision. He went before them in a pillar of fire. He fed them for forty years. He protected them from every single enemy that tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. And most amazingly, during their entire time in the desert, their clothing and shoes never wore out!

This generation was familiar with the miraculous ways that God provides. On top of that, they had this amazing promise from God of a permanent home in Canaan. This was their time to shine!

And yet their main complaint was about their lack of figs, grapevines, or pomegranates…echoing their parents. How disappointing!

Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with knowing where you come from and remembering the trials and situation you’ve survived to become who you are. It is part of your story and is therefore worth sharing.

But sharing becomes dangerous if we use those things as an anchor to keep us chained to our past rather than walking full of faith into the unknown with the knowledge that the future is full of God’s promises waiting to be unlocked.

Here is an important truth: God will be faithful to you regardless of whatever situation you presently find yourself. So why not trust Him to lead you through it?

This is where I truly believe the Israelites went wrong. They were longing for something in the past, and they kept looking back to what was known rather than looking forward to what was promised!

God was angry with them because they could never quite accept that He had a good plan even though it was unfamiliar to them within their life experiences up until that point. Because His plan was unknown, the Israelites clung to what they remembered and taught their children to do the same, and they all bought into it—hook, line, and sinker.

The Book of Hebrews calls this behavior disobedient unbelief! (Heb. 3:18-19).

So here they are in the exact same place as their parents when they came out of slavery and they are facing the exact same problem. But instead of remembering how God provided water from the rock for their parents’ generation, they longed for figs, grapes, and pomegranates. In other words, they yearned for Egypt, even though that meant slavery.

I call this behavior insane! I read this and thought, Are you kidding me?

They remembered their bondage in Egypt through a different lens than the reality of what actually was. Slowly throughout the years, this fantasy became preferable to wandering in the desert. But the real tragedy in all of this is that their disobedience and hardness of heart blinded them to the real freedom God desired to give them in the future.

Imagine what would have happened if the older generation had only focused on what they were looking forward to: if they spoke about the Promised Land and how it flowed with milk and honey reminded each other that God had promised that land to Abraham. They would have convinced themselves that God would be faithful in bringing them into that land.

I imagine that their children would have shown up in Meribah and announced that this was the last water stop before Jericho! (Oh, the irony, as there was no water anywhere!).

But the entire generation that wandered and died in the desert only spoke of Egypt. They spoke so well of it that their children held onto the hope of having figs, grapes, and pomegranates from a master’s table rather than having their own land, their own vineyards, and God’s best for them. Sadly, this is true because they had never been taught any better!

Friends, we need to evaluate our own lives:

  • Why are we clinging to the past?
  • Why are we focused on our solutions to our problem rather than on the faithfulness of God in the midst of our problems?
  • When was the last time we spent a moment reflecting on the promises found in scripture? And if we know them, do we really believe them?

From the example of the Israelites, we see how harmful this type of thinking is! Not only did it keep them out of the rest God planned to bring to them (Heb. 4:6) it also taught their children to do the same! And the scary thing is that we still behave like this!

  • How many of us are resting in God’s promises, actually resting, which means at peace in the midst of turmoil?
  • How many of us are confident about the future, even when the past and present are less than ideal?
  • How many of us are drowning in circumstances instead of looking to the author of solutions?

If the Israelites are the textbook example of what not to do, then let’s learn from their example and try something different.

August 31, 2015

Offering Unauthorized Fire

Leviticus 10:1 (NIV) Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

4 Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” 5 So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. 7 Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, 9 “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

These are two excerpts from the book What Would Jesus Read by Joe Amaral; two readings related to Leviticus.  In the last year, Joe turned his attention from First Century studies to the heavens. Check out our review of The Story In The Stars.For more of Joe here at C201, click this link.

Leviticus 10:1
They offered unauthorized fire

Aaron’s sons offered unauthorized fire to God. God struck them dead as a result of their sin. Seems a little strong, yet that is what the Scripture records. God is love and God is fair, but God is also just. We like to forget that sometimes.

Many Christians are taught that the God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament – that the God of the New Testament is filled with love and compassion, and the God of the Old Testament is a violent, cruel, and angry God. That is simply not the case. The Bible says in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.”

We need to understand the holiness and justness of God. He is slow to anger and he is willing to bless and love for a thousand generations. But we have to live in the reality that there are consequences to sin.

A police officer may forgive us for running a red light, but we still have to pay the fine. We must learn to live in reverent fear before the Lord and to walk in His ways. He is a loving God who guides our steps, even when we sometimes veer off the path.

Leviticus 10:7
So they did as Moses said

Have you ever used the term “scared to death”? That would apply to today’s passage. The entire camp was literally scared to death. Aaron’s two sons had just been killed for offering unauthorized fire.

God spoke through Moses, and the people did as Moses said. You can be sure that no one was considering disobeying Moses after what had just happened. This wasn’t the first time the people suffered death because of disobedience. Remember at Mount Sinai when they worshiped the golden calf? Three thousand were put to death that day.

People always judge the people of Israel for not “getting it.” They always seemed to stray away from God, get punished, get forgiven, and then stray away again. Let’s take a good long look in the mirror: are we any different today? How many times have you been forgiven for the same sin? We have all fought the same fight with our sins.

Let the fear of the Lord guide you as you strive to live for Him. He has given us His Word to be a light.

~Joe Amaral in What Would Jesus Read? (FaithWords, 2012)


August 18, 2015

The Seasons of Life

This came in an email from the ministry Great Big Life, from whom I subscribe to Breakfast of Champions, a weekday devotional by Andy Elmes.

Get from Every Season All it has for You

John 4:35 (NKJV)

Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!

The journey (pilgrimage) of life is certainly a journey of different seasons. The art of living well is to make sure that you live (milk the goodness out of) each and every season by both sowing into and reaping from each and every one of them. Being alive means that we will all walk through the various seasons of life. Here is a classic verse from the wisdom of Ecclesiastes to make you think this morning.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NKJV)

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted.

If you get the chance read the rest of this classic chapter to see the different types of seasons each and every one of us faces as we journey through this thing called life. Like King David said in Psalm 37:25, we will all experience being young and being old and every season in between. I have met some older people that live in the regret of not being a teenager anymore and I have met younger people that can’t wait for a later season of life (like being married), but the problem is they are missing the season they are in. Neither of these is good enough. The answer to how to get the most out of life is to love the season you’re in.

You can’t go back and re-live seasons gone but you can learn from them. You really don’t want to fast forward to future seasons because when the ones you are in are gone, like flowers when they have flourished, they are gone for good. The key for us all today is to carpe (seize) the one you’re in! So choose today to learn from seasons gone, love the one you’re in and, with faith and expectancy, have excitement concerning the ones yet to come that are promised by your God. Every season has something for you so make sure you harvest it out!

To everything there is a season. There are seasons of age, seasons of relationship, seasons of ministry and business, seasons for everything, and in them all there is a time to plant and a time to pluck (harvest) what was planted.

Here is some food for thought for you today as you consider the seasons that you are currently in:

• What seasons are you in today? Is it time to plant (sow) or to pluck up (harvest)?

• Are you getting from this season everything that you should be or could be? Are you milking out everything that is in the season to be had?

• What else do you need to do to enjoy and seize the season you are in?

God bless you – I pray that this season of your life prospers. Don’t say, “In four months …”, but make the decision to live large today the life God has given!

This has always been one of my all-time favorite Christian songs. If you have 7 minutes, close your eyes and enjoy Seasons of the Soul by Michael and Stormie Omartian.

July 13, 2015

Prayer: Uses and Abuses

The Heavens Declare 1Three times previously we’ve borrowed material from Alabama pastor Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. I can’t recommend his writing enough. Each Tuesday he’s been running insights on the subject of prayer. You can investigate all the articles at this link. We’re going to run one today, and then choose a second one for tomorrow. Click the title below to read this one at its source…

Using Prayer

How do you use prayer? Do you use prayer as an avenue for you or as a way to talk to God?  Before you answer think about these “uses” of prayer.

We disUSE prayer when we are:

  • Not praying for national, state, local, and Church leaders.
  • Not praying for strength for the Body of Christ
  • Not praying for spiritual growth in ourselves and in the Church.
  • Not praying.
  • In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the early church’s reliance on God through prayer, Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

We misUSE prayer when we see it as:

  • A tool for manipulation. Like the misbehaving child who’s parents sent him to his room to pray about his misbehavior.  He came back later and was still acting up. When asked if he prayed about his behavior, he said, “Yes, I prayed you would be more patient with me.” Sometimes we pray aloud with the intent of our words changing those that hear us pray and not a sincere prayer to God.
  • As a substitute for preparation / work. Someone said, “As long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school.”  Prayer-peration is not a substitute for preparation.  Prayer is inviting God to walk and work along-side us and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, not what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Maybe that is what James is warning about in Jas 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t just pray that someone’s needs are taken care of if you are not willing to act to relieve those needs. Prayer is communication with the Father.

We abUSE prayer when

  • We make demands of God. To hear television preachers tell people to pray in a way that demands God act concerns me. God is sovereign, I am not.  God knows what is best for me, I do not.  I ask for God’s blessing, I do not demand it. Again James speaks to this, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15).
  • We pray to “look good” or pious. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:5-7).

How do you use prayer?  Use it to open your life to God letting Him know your struggles, needs, and desires.  Trust that He will work what is TRULY best for you.

Go Deeper: Here’s a link to another article by Scott on a different subject that we considered running today, but it’s a bit longer. Check out Who Is Jesus? Really?

July 6, 2015

On Being a Tree

 Today’s post is by Kim Shay and appeared at Out Of The Ordinary, a blog that is dominantly written for women. I felt this advice could apply to male readers as well. (I made two small textual changes, but then decided to change them back!) Click the title below to read at source.

I’d rather be a tree

While preparing a seminary assignment, I had cause to look at this passage in Jeremiah 17:5-8:

Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places
in the wilderness
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when the heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

We either trust God or we trust something else, usually man, whether it is ourselves, another person, or a man-made system. It’s not wrong to trust people, but when we trust people above God, we are walking on dangerous ground. Jeremiah says that the one who trusts in man has a heart which turns away from the Lord. The result is that he is parched, dry, and sees no good. For the one who places all of his trust in man above God, this parched condition will ultimately show up when trials come. Human friends don’t always stick around when trials come, but God will not forsake us.

When we have a crisis, where do we turn first? Does turning to God in prayer come second, or even last? Do we run to a close friend before God? Our husbands? Our siblings? Our parents? Where do we find our value? Are we more worried about what others think than God? If we walk through a trial, these things will be revealed.

As women we are encouraged to be in relationships with people, especially other women. And we need those relationships. We need to be encouraged in the things of God and we need to minister to others. But it is very easy to put more emphasis on what others think of us than is good.

I picked up the book Trust, by Lydia Brownback, and I liked what she had to say about the risk of trusting too much in people:

Consider your motivations in showing love to others. If you detect an underlying compulsion to obtain a compliment or word of approval, it’s a pretty sure bet that you have placed your well-being in their hands.

Desiring the love and approval of the significant people in our lives is natural; however, if we feel we must have that to be happy, then a good desire has become a destructive one. We are attributing to people what rightfully belongs to God, which is why we are never able to live at rest with ourselves and at peace with others.

In this world of “likes” and “re-tweets,” and sharing of links, it can be a very subtle thing to begin living for the approval of others. We may think we’re putting God first because we travel only in Christian circles, or because our intent is to use social media to spread the gospel. But if we’re restless and frustrated when we’re not getting the attention we feel we deserve, that is a sign that our priorities may be off.

Notice the contrast in the Jeremiah passage: the one who trusts in flesh is a shrub; a little shrub, living in a parched, dry land. The one who trust is God is a tree, tall, strong, flourishing, and well-fed. Perhaps our times of feeling spiritually dry and frustrated are symptoms that we are trusting in man more than God. When it comes right down to it, whom do we trust? It’s a question worth asking.

June 8, 2015

On the Brink of Surrender

Genesis 22:

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

If you don’t know the story, read it in full at Genesis 22: 1-19

James 2:21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?

The story of Abraham and Isaac is certainly unique in scripture, if not in all of human history. Isaac was a child of promise, was he not? And now God is wanting Abraham to kill him? What’s up with that?

Think of the years of father and son bonding over the years. Think of Sarah finally having a child after years of barrenness and all the joy that brought. And now God asks this?

(Is Sarah in on this latest development? The text doesn’t say.)

Of course, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.

So the question today is fairly obvious: What does God want you to surrender? What are you holding on to that God wants to see if you’re willing to give it up?

By contrast of course we have this story in Acts 4 & 5:

4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need…

5:1 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died…

One man wants to do whatever it takes to please God, and the story ends in life. Another decides to hold back and not fully surrender everything to God, and the story ends in death.

Today, God doesn’t ask people to kill their children; in fact some feel the story is necessary to the Bible so that people are clear that the God of Israel doesn’t ask for child sacrifice. Similarly, despite what an evangelist on television might say, no one is compelling you to sell your house and give all the proceeds to the Church. Rather the questions for us are:

  • Are you willing to do whatever God asks, even if it doesn’t make any sense?
  • Do you really trust God?
  • What are you holding back from God that, once surrendered, would bring life?

C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!


May 31, 2015

God’s Higher Purpose

Applegate Christian Fellowship

A couple of times yesterday, I came across the name Jon Courson who is a pastor at Applegate Christian Fellowship in Oregon and has a podcast called Searchlight.  This is a sample of his daily devotional online, which you can read at this link.  (The picture is the outdoor amphitheater they use in the summer.)

Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26 27

I spent some time this week with a man in his early thirties who is on his deathbed. The body of this young man, once a good athlete and a vibrant father, is now racked by cancer. His family asks, understandably, ‘Why? Why doesn’t the Lord just take him Home? Why the suffering? We prayed for his healing and that didn’t happen. What’s the Father doing?’

In those situations, you wonder. I understand the family saying, ‘Take him Home.’ But what if, in these final days of our brother’s difficulty and suffering, the Father is putting on the final touches of the inner person shaping and molding what he will be for the next billion years in Heaven? Is that what’s happening? I don’t know, for, like Paul, I know not how to pray. The only thing I do know is that I don’t know.

Let us ever remember that while prayer is to be directed to God, it is not to be directing God. Most people, at least for part of their pilgrimage, try to direct the Lord, thinking that’s what prayer is about. ‘Let me explain the situation, Lord. Here’s what you need to do …’ we say with great piety and audacity.

Jeremiah, a godly man to be sure, prayed, ‘Save Your people, Lord. Restore the nation. Revive us.’

‘Quiet thyself,’ answered God. ‘I will not hear your prayer, for I have determined that My people must be carried into Babylon, into captivity,’ (Jeremiah 20:4).

Thus, regardless how hard Jeremiah prayed, God had a different plan, for it was through their captivity that Judah was finally healed of her affinity for idolatry.

‘We know not how to pray,’ said Paul. We feel this as well, don’t we?

Someone comes to us and says, ‘Pray I’ll get the job.’ ‘Pray this project will prosper.’ Wait a minute. So many things I thought would be wonderful proved to be detrimental, a distraction, a curse; and so many things I thought would be terrible and awful proved to be a huge blessing.

The same is true nationally. It might be that the Lord wants to close us down. That’s a possibility. Maybe the best thing that could happen to our country would be a collapse economically, politically, militarily — because that’s what it might take to heal us spiritually. I don’t know. I’m not God. Therefore, I’m not going to give Him direction on what He should or should not do. Instead, I just groan, ‘Lord, You see what’s going on in the nation. You see what’s going on with that person. You see what’s going on in our congregation. I don’t know how to pray. I don’t know what Your will is. But I just give it all to You to work out according to Your perfect and beautiful plan.’

Now, if we don’t know how to pray, then why pray at all? Understand this: Prayer is not getting my will done in Heaven. Prayer is getting God’s will done on earth. It’s not me giving directions to the Father, but rather me saying, ‘Father direct me. I open the door for You to work. I hold up this need for You. I place this situation in Your hand’. I do this all through prayer because the Word tells us that God has chosen to work through prayer, and that if we do not pray we will limit what He would do, what He could do, what He desires to do (James 4:2).

Therefore, if I don’t pray, I will never know if God got His way with Peter John, or in this congregation, or in our nation. But if I do pray and say, ‘Lord, here’s the situation. I’m not directing You, but I’m just looking to You to have Your will done’ — then I can be at peace. Whatever happens, I know I played my part; I opened the door, and since the Father knows best, I can rest. The Spirit groans through me, the Son intercedes for me, and the Father will do what’s right concerning me — but if I don’t pray, I’ll always wonder if things would have been different if I had.

This Daily Devotional is an excerpt from the book “A Days Journey” by Pastor Jon. “A Days Journey” is a collection of 365 short devotions from the New Testament.

May 16, 2015

Thankful for Mercy

Common English Bible – Phil 4:6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.

A year ago we introduced you to Hajnalka Elleh who works as a translator and writes devotional blog posts in both English and Hungarian. Click the link below to read the article in both languages, and if you know someone who speaks Hungarian, tell them about this blog.

Are You Thankful? – Selected Quotes, part 1

To be always in a thankful state of heart before God is not to be considered a high plane of spirituality, but rather the normal attitude of one who believes that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, who are called according to His purpose’. – William Law (1686–1761)

The greatest saint in the world is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice. It is he who is most thankful to God. – William Law

Yes, ‘give thanks for all things’ for, as it has been well said, ‘Our disappointments are but His appointments.’ – A.W. Pink (1886–1952)

We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning. ― Albert Barnes (1798–1870)


Are We Thankful For Mercy? (Thomas Watson)

Our needs may send us to prayer, but it takes a truly honest heart to praise God. The raven cries; the lark sings. In petition we act like men; in thanksgiving we act like angels.

A godly man will express his thankfulness in every duty. He mingles thanksgiving with prayer: “in everything by prayer with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). Thanksgiving is the more divine part of prayer. In our petitions we express our own necessities; in our thanksgivings we declare God’s excellence. Prayer goes up as incense, when it is perfumed with thanksgiving.

A godly man expresses thankfulness …in every condition. He will be thankful in adversity as well as prosperity: “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18). A gracious soul is thankful and rejoices that he is drawn nearer to God, though it be by the cords of affliction. When it goes well with him, he praises God’s mercy; when it goes badly with him, he magnifies God’s justice.

When God’s spiritual plants are cut and bleed, they drop thankfulness; the saints’ tears cannot drown their praises.

Where shall we find a grateful Christian? We read of the saints “having harps in their hands” (Rev 5:8)—the emblem of praise. Many have tears in their eyes and complaints in their mouths—but few have harps in their hand and are blessing and praising the name of God.

Let us scrutinize ourselves and examine by this characteristic whether we are godly: Are we thankful for mercy? – Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686)


“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”—1 Thessalonians 5:18

Matthew Henry was a biblical scholar who lived in England from 1662 to 1714. He is best known for the Bible commentary that bears his name. After being robbed one day Henry recorded this in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

Later in life, Henry suffered a stroke. Once his friend Illidge helped the dying man get to a bed. Henry said to him, “You have been used to take notice of the sayings of dying men—this is mine: That a life spent in the service of God and communion with Him is the most comfortable and pleasant life that one can live in the present world.”

If you can give thanks during the difficult times in your life you will tend to be thankful when things are not going well. Gratitude toward Christ and thanksgiving in difficult circumstances indicate Christian maturity. Thanksgiving during tough times brings growth in Christ. Today give thanks to the Lord not because of your circumstances but in spite of them.

Source/Forrás:;; and an excerpt from Peter Kennedy’s “From Generation to Generation”, 1998. Source of illustration: here.  Translated by/Fordította: wordwatcherdawn

May 15, 2015

The Waiting Room of Faith

This is both parts of a two-part e-mail devotional by Andy Elmes of the UK ministry Great Big Life. It’s about the times you sense God has a purpose and plan for you which is somewhat specific, but you’re “on hold” or at the “in-between” stage. He compares it to waiting in the “corridor” or what we might in North America call the “hallway” or even “waiting room.”

The Corridor of Faith

2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Oh, how we love instant arrivals and instantaneous miracles. Why? Partially because we live in such a fast-moving world, we love things to happen “like yesterday”. The problem is, most often God is not like that. He is not in the hurry we are so often in, and does not struggle with patience issues. In fact, I believe that God is more excited about the journey we take in faith towards what He has promised us than He is about our moment of arrival.

Recently I have been considering again something that I have named the Corridor of Faith, that time between when you get a promise or a dream from God and the moment you arrive or see the manifestation of it in your life. This gap between ‘leave’ and ‘arrive’ is a corridor that God provides not with any intention to crush or destroy us but rather to refine and make us. How we perceive and behave while being in a corridor of faith can actually determine how long we spend there, because it is not a place that is a mistake but rather one of design. You see, God works in us more in the corridor of faith than we realise. Often we don’t fully see what He has done until the moment we leave it. Think about all your favourite stories in the Bible – all of them have a ‘leaving’, a ‘journeying towards’ and an ‘arriving’ to them. This week I want to concentrate on that bit in the middle – the journey or corridor of faith you pass through en route to arriving. Hopefully this will encourage you and help you understand and behave in that journey as God would have you.

Abraham left Haran with a promise but no map, and journeyed many years, not a few days, to his “promised spacious place”. Did he arrive? Yes, he did – but consider all that God did in him during that journey.

Joseph had a dream as a boy of being a person of godly prominence that would lead his brothers, and indeed a nation. Did that happen the next week? No, there was a corridor of faith to walk through first. That must have been very confusing at times. Did he arrive at the moment God gave him in his dreams? Yes he did, but again, look at what God did in him and what God made him during the journey.

These, and so many other accounts, reveal to us that when God gives us a promise or a dream there is normally always a journey or “corridor of faith” that has to be walked through. This is a God design because what He does in us as we walk by faith through the moment in between actually makes us the person He needs us to be for the promise or dream He has given us. Joseph entered his corridor of faith a dreaming boy but came out as a wise prime minister. David entered his corridor a boy with a prophecy of kingship, and came out a king able to lead a nation. What is God doing in your present corridor of faith? Are you so anxious to “land the plane” that you are missing out on what God is doing in you and through you “during the flight”? If God gave you the dream or promise and you refuse to quit or walk away then you will arrive exactly where He said you would – but don’t forget the corridor of faith, that time between ‘leave’ and ‘arrive’ will make you everything God needs you to be for your moment of arrival.

Genesis 37:5-8 (NKJV)

Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.” And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

We spoke yesterday about ‘The Corridor of Faith’ – that time between dream or promise given and the arrival or manifestation of it. Let’s look further at Joseph’s Corridor of Faith to learn some things.

In our text today we see the moment when the “God dream or destination” is given. What we know about Joseph at this point is that he is just a young man, and a young man despised by his brothers. The dream related to them but was a much bigger promise, I believe, of the influential person God had appointed him to be. In the final verse you see the brother’s response to Joseph’s God-dream – a response of hatred and disdain that launched him into his Corridor of Faith. If you read on in his storyline you don’t see any form of instant arrival, rather a series of events that must have been totally confusing and given him daily the opportunity to quit on the dream. His brothers throw him in a pit and come up with a plan of faking his death; they sold him to a bunch of travelers; later in the story, when things are starting to go better, he is falsely accused of adultery, and he loses a job that looked like it was heading in the dream’s direction. He does a fairly long stretch in prison when innocent, also interpreting other people’s dreams while in there. But one day he opens his eyes, and he is Prime Minister of a nation, his brothers bowed before him, with the power and wisdom to save a nation from famine.

Let me underline this thought again: a boy with a crazy dream entered the corridor of faith, and a man able to lead a nation stepped out. Where did the change take place? In the corridor. It was what happened as he continued to journey by faith through things that did not make sense that made him the person God had seen when he gave him the promise.

God also promises us according to what He knows we really are, but sometimes He needs to journey us through a Corridor of Faith so that we can “find ourselves” and discover the potential we actually possess. I am not talking about sickness or infirmity, I am talking about ‘stuff’ – things that happen that don’t make sense at the time, but later, when you look back, you smile because you see that God was working in that moment for your good – not to harm you or allow harm on you but to make you the person He knows you can be. Faith is trusting God in the moments that don’t make sense, trusting Him that indeed in “all things He works for your good”. Trusting that God is not obsessed by our present moment, like we can so often be, but rather He is focusing on the larger picture of our lives. He is doing things now that will produce great things later. In these moments you need to believe that though weeping may endure for a night, rejoicing will come in the morning. It’s often not until we are leaving a Corridor of Faith, or a confusing moment, that we look back and fully understand the Godly ‘why’ to what just happened.

Trust Him – when you think you have worked it out and when you have not got a clue what His next move is, He who began a good work in you (started your journey) will complete it (bring you to a place of great arrival)!

May 14, 2015

“It’s a God Thing”

This article by Shane Pruitt is somewhat topical, as it looks at a popular Christian cliché that some of us use. I wasn’t sure whether to post it here or at Thinking Out Loud, but I thought the content was a good match here at C201. As always, click the title below to read this at the blog I Already Am.

Should We Be Saying, “It’s A God Thing”?

It's a God ThingIt was a total “God thing!”

If you’ve spent much time around church people, you’ve probably heard (and maybe said) this statement hundreds of times.

“It’s a God thing” is used in Christian culture when things unexpectedly work out the way we wanted them to. We raised the total amount of money for our mission trip, the chips fell our way, we were totally surprised by an event that popped up from out of the blue.

But, inevitably this statement always follows something good that has happened to us—a story of healing, a rare coincidence that worked out well for us, finding a parking space, getting a job or when our child stops warming the bench in time to hit the game-winning shot.

Who’s in Control?

Should this statement be a part of our vernacular? Well, first, let’s see if the phrase is even biblically accurate:

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” (1 Chronicles 16:31).

“Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

“The heart of man plans His way, but the Lord establishes His steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

“Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10).

These five compelling verses tell us one clear thing: God is sovereign. And, there are literally dozens upon dozens of other verses that say the exact same thing.

God has supreme authority, control and power over all that has happened, is happening and will happen in the future in all times across all history. God has the right, the authority and the power to govern all that happens in accordance to His divine will. He has the right and the power to achieve His purposes. He is in control of circumstances that dictate whatever He wills to come to pass. He has complete control of everything and there is nothing that happens that is not done by or allowed through His will.

So, is the statement “It’s a God thing” accurate? Yes, of course, it is.

The great things that happen in our life—it’s a God thing! When things go our way—it’s God thing! We get that promotion we’ve been wanting—it’s a God thing!

All Things for Good

However, there is a flip side to that coin. When things don’t go our way—it’s still a God thing. When we don’t get the promotion that we’ve been wanting—it’s a God thing. Times of suffering, times of tribulation, times of loss—God thing, God thing. It’s all within God’s sovereign plans.

If God is truly sovereign, then He is in control of the “bad” days just as much as He is in control of the “good” days. Sometimes His plan is not what we may want or would plan for ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to see where He is during the hard times. But we can trust that He’s there, that He cares, that this world is fallen, but He’s in control.

True faith is being able to say, “It’s a God thing” even in the midst of suffering, difficulty and heartache. When something doesn’t go my way, I can still know, trust and believe that God is working out all things for His glory and my good.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Maybe, the best way to look at the statement, “It’s a God thing” is to really understand that everything that is and occurs are all “God’s things” and not mine. And He can do what He wants with His things, including me.

(This Article was also picked up by RELEVANT Magazine online)

Go Deeper:  For a similar theme by the same author, check out Why We Stopped Saying, As Long As They’re Healthy”

May 11, 2015

Will I Find Faith on the Earth?

Several months ago we stumbled on a unique daily devotional site, Rhetorical Jesus written by Jack Wellman. Using a simple 3 paragraph format, plus a prayer, each day’s readings are supplied with an image tailor-made for posting on Facebook or Pinterest.

Every day we post items and here and tell you to click through to read them at source, but in this case, I really want you to experience the format and see the social media graphics. Daily devotions were never like this when I was young. The title below is the link. Is there someone you know who might enjoy this? Tell them about it.

Will I find faith on the earth when I return? Do you trust Me to avenge all wrongs?

Luke 18:8

I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Leave Justice to God

In this chapter, and particularly in the first part of this chapter, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Apparently, there are some issues she wants addressed where she had been wronged and wants justice executed by the unrighteous judge. Jesus ends this parable by saying that He will avenge all that is wrong in this world and that everyone will be held accountable for what they’ve done in their lifetime, including everything they’ve said (Rom. 14:10-12; Matt. 12:36). Jesus is asking the rhetorical question, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them” (Luke 18:7)? The obvious answer is, of course, He will, and there will be no long delay when He returns.

Vengeance Is Not Mine

The church of God is not perfect, of course, and Paul may be addressing this when he tells the church at Rome to not judge our brothers and sisters for what they do and don’t do in areas where the Bible is silent or in nonessential areas. He wants them to trust that God will judge everyone for everything they’ve done and that He will judge rightly. Therefore, we should not be putting ourselves in the judgment seat, where God is the One Who deserves to sit. Each one of us will have to stand before God to give an account to Him. We are not to sit in God’s judgment seat and be the judge of others or take revenge on them when that’s not our job (Rom. 10:10-11).

Will Jesus Find Faith When He Returns?

This also is a rhetorical question where Jesus asks if He will find faith on the earth when He returns. The answer seems to be no, He won’t. This doesn’t mean that those who have repented and trusted in Christ won’t have saving faith, but looking at the context of Luke 18:1-8, it seems to be whether we will trust God to be the ultimate judge over all things. Even if we are troubled by what others are doing, will we have faith in God to make a perfect judgment on these things? Does He need our help? The faith that seems to be the subject of which Jesus speaks about is the faith that He will settle all accounts when He returns to the earth to judge both the lost and the saved. Do we trust Him to do that? Will we have the faith that He will eventually judge these things? The saved will be judged for their works, and their eternal rewards will be passed through the fire and either they will be burned up or the precious stones and gold will survive the fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15). For those who have never repented, justice will be executed perfectly according to what each one has done in their life (Rev. 20:12-15). God will “give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night” and “give justice to them speedily”; of that we can all be sure.

A Closing Prayer

Great God in heaven, I know that you look at the thoughts and intents of the heart and not only at the outward deeds and will execute perfect justice someday. Please help me to not judge others in areas that are not for me to judge and to accept others even when they do things differently than I, for I am not their judge, but You are. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

April 14, 2015

Head for the Hills

Psalm 121 – The Voice

A song for those journeying to worship.

I look up at the vast size of the mountains—
    from where will my help come in times of trouble?
The Eternal Creator of heaven and earth and these mountains
    will send the help I need.

He holds you firmly in place;
He will not let you fall.
    He who keeps you will never take His eyes off you and never drift off to sleep.
What a relief! The One who watches over Israel
    never leaves for rest or sleep.

 The Eternal keeps you safe,
    so close to Him that His shadow is a cooling shade to you.
Neither bright light of sun
    nor dim light of moon will harm you.

The Eternal will keep you safe
    from all of life’s evils,
From your first breath to the last breath you breathe,
    from this day and forever.

Today’s post is from Jon Foster, a pastor in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.

Higher Than the Hills

God can do anything, anytime, anywhere, and in any way. There’s just nothing he can’t do. Do you believe it? In Luke 1:37, the angel Gabriel was commissioned to take that message to Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus. He keenly assured her that “with God nothing is impossible.” She was not too small, weak, or insignificant to benefit from the personal touch of God on her life. Later, in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul made it clear to his readers that they too were beneficiaries of the same divine power. Speaking of God, he wrote: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

To put limits on what God can do is simply wrong. Yet we do this more often than we’d like to admit. There are times when we feel tempted to “throw in the towel” saying, “It’s hopeless! I’ve tried and tried but this is a no-win situation.” But giving up without intently looking to God for help is just another way of saying, “This is impossible… even for you, Lord.” Ouch! …and we wonder why we’re not making progress. Simply put, God can’t help us overcome obstacles that we are unwilling to face with faith.

I like to think of God as the great “Picture Changer.” He specializes in transforming what seems hopeless to us into pictures of promise and blessing. But sometimes He allows us to reach the end of our rope because it’s often only when we’re there, hanging on for dear life, that we get desperate enough to invite Him to come and take control. And when He comes, He comes not as a mere tinkerer, but one who has the power to completely alter the landscape of our lives according to His good purpose.

In Psalm 121, the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills where does my help come from?” In the old days, a person fleeing for his life would often escape to higher ground; they would, as the saying goes, “head for the hills!” There were logistical (and tactical) reasons for this. Not only could “the hills” provide suitable hiding places — they also gave you a better chance of spotting your adversary before he saw you! The benefit of higher ground is even more obvious when the imminent danger is from rising floodwater. But in the very next verse we learn that the psalmist’s confidence ultimately was not in mere physical or logistical advantage. No, he had his eyes much higher than the hills! In verse 2 he declares, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). The help he was looking for is the same kind of help we all need in order to be the kind of spiritual overcomers the Bible says we can be.

In these modern times (and in this part of the world), it’s easy for us to take for granted that “help is on its way.” We have developed structures and systems to ensure our well-being and, to a large degree, we have put our trust in them. But true spiritual help will not come from these “hills.” True spiritual help comes only “from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

At the beginning of a new year it’s appropriate to acknowledge our ultimate source of help and strength. We don’t know what the year will bring but we do know that there will be both challenges and blessings. And we know that we serve a God with whom “all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Take some time to affirm your trust in God. Let him know that you are serious about walking with Him, abiding in Him, and being fruitful for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you that with you, all things are possible. Thank you for making me your child and giving me new life in Christ Jesus. Thank you for your promise to be with me each and every day and to provide the strength and help required to overcome every obstacle. Help me to walk closely with you so that others may see enough of you in my life to inspire them to put their trust in you. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

February 24, 2015

A Cross-Carrying Kind of Life

cross at Grace ChurchThis is one of two posts in a series by Deb Wolf who blogs at Counting My Blessings. This is her third time appearing here at Christianity 201 and we do appreciate the work she does on her site; the tag line is “Encouraging you with stories of faith, hope and love.” Click the title below to read at source and/or read part two, “Jesus Answer to the Fear of Cross-Carrying.

When You Don’t Want a Cross-Carrying Kind of Faith

There is a verse in the Bible that did anything but give me peace and contentment. I tried to pretend I was obedient, but my heart knew it terrified me.

Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

[Last Wednesday] was Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. For the next six and a half weeks followers of Jesus will fast, pray, and ponder His journey to the cross.

Followers who are called to deny themselves, carry their cross, trust and obey . . . lose their life for Jesus.

I didn’t want to carry my cross. I liked my comfortable safe life. Sure there were some problems and pain, but life—my life, my kid’s lives, my husband’s life, complete trust and obedience . . . what could happen to a life lost to cross carrying.

My doctor and a counselor said I was “high-strung,” anxious.

Lack of Faith

I knew I was a fear-filled worrier. Seriously, I turned worry into an art form. Not surprising. Look around. Have you seen all the truly terrible things that can happen?

I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it was lack of faith.

But that verse and others like it:

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15–16

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21

 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:38

Giving Up Fear for Faith

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

It’s true. In this world there will be trials and sorrows. Worry doesn’t prevent it. Fear won’t keep it out of reach.

Trials and sorrows did happen, but.

What a small yet important word.

“You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because.

Take heart [don’t lose your faith], because…

I have overcome the world
I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.
Be sure of this: I am with you always.

Through trials and sorrows Jesus was faithful, and because of His faithfulness my faith grew. Faith that was greater than my fear. Faith that was impossible when I focused on my fears, but grew when I kept my eyes on Jesus.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2

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