Christianity 201

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)

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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)

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“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:

http://www.spurgeongems.org/fhg1-15.pdf; http://www.gracegems.org/Watson/godly_mans_picture4.htm; 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

January 29, 2015

Persevering Grace

Our goal at Christianity 201 is to provide representation from a wide swath of doctrinal and denominational perspectives. Today’s bears both the perspective and the language of the Reformed or Calvinist tradition. This is Richard Phillips on

God’s faithfulness to preserve His own

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Philippians 1:6 develops the theme of God’s preserving grace—which ensures the perseverance of His own—in three points.

First, Paul reminds us that since God has begun our salvation, we can rely on Him to complete it: “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” God always finishes what He starts, especially the salvation of His people.

It is in this way that God’s preserving grace fits with the other doctrines of grace. God the Father chose us in eternity past, and the Bible says that God’s purpose in election must prevail (Rom. 9:11). God the Son offered an atoning sacrifice for these same elect people. Should they fall into condemnation, then His blood would have been shed for them in vain. But He insists that not one of them shall perish and none shall be plucked from His hand (John 10:28). Likewise, the Holy Spirit brought these same elect sheep to eternal life by the irresistible working of His grace. Should eternal life be lost, the Spirit’s work would prove ineffective. Therefore, as faith is the gift of God’s grace, the Christian’s perseverance is the work of God’s continuing grace.

Second, Paul says that God, having begun His work in our lives, “will bring it” to completion. This indicates that God not only guarantees the completion of our salvation, but is actively involved in the believer’s life to bring this to pass. God works in our lives in the way a craftsman works to finish a product he has created. He smooths out the lines, sands the rough places, and puts its pieces together in proper proportion. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:

God does not merely initiate the work and then leave it, he continues with it; he leads us on, directing and manipulating our circumstances, restraining us at one time and urging us on at another. Paul’s whole conception of the Church is that it is a place where God is working in the hearts of men and women.

God’s work is manifested in His will playing out in our lives. This is what Paul says a bit later in Philippians: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:1–213). Being a Christian is not easy. Persevering in faith requires warfare with sin, labor in prayer, plowing in God’s Word, and performing His will in the world. We are God’s workmanship, Paul says, and this means we are called to “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). God will see to it that His work for each of us is carried to completion. By His preserving grace, He will carry us to our destination in heaven. We are called to work this out, but, Paul insists, God is all the while working it in us (Phil. 2:13).

Third, we can see in Philippians 1:6 our certainty of successful “completion” if God’s saving work truly has begun in us. Far from dreading the future, as we must if we look for signs of hope within ourselves, every believer possesses a hope that is certain for the most joyful, glorious, and holy destiny through faith in Jesus.

One of the reasons I love Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is the portrait he paints of the eternity God has secured for every believer. Speaking of the believer’s entry into heaven, he writes:

I saw in my dream the two men enter the gate. As they did, they were transfigured. They had garments that shined like gold. Harps and crowns were given them. The harps for praise and the crowns for honor. Then I heard in my dream all the bells in the city rang again for joy. It was said to them, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

This may be a fanciful rendering from the Bible’s promises, but still it is our future history and not fantasy. For as Paul insists, God brings us to completion. One of the meanings of the Greek word translated as “bring to completion” is “bring to perfection.” That is what God has promised to do for every sheep who hears Christ’s voice and who shows the reality of his or her faith by following after Him through life. Whatever hardships, disappointments, or failures await us in this world, a Christian can anticipate the certain fulfillment of David’s exultant words in Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Terribly flawed though we all are now, God will bring our journey to completion and us to perfection, so that arrayed in perfect holiness we will live forever in His love.

This excerpt is adapted from What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard Phillips

January 28, 2015

You Don’t Need to Have a Position on Every Issue

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Regular midweek contributor Clarke Dixon will return next week.

Opinion - Theological Issues

Perhaps you’ve been in churches where candidates for the position of pastor are being interviewed by the leaders or the congregation to see where they stand on particular issues. If a church has gone through a period of turmoil over specific areas of its ministries, it’s important to know which side a person takes. If there is a particular aspect of Bible teaching the church desires, it’s necessary to know the pastor’s skills on those areas. If the church members have a strong feelings toward certain doctrinal patterns, the candidate needs to be able to define their position.

This morning I was speaking briefly with a woman who I would consider as having a deep spiritual life, and in the course of discussing of something else, I asked her what her belief is concerning women in ministry.  (It made sense in context…)

She never did answer the question.

Instead, she quoted the middle sentence of three that occurs in Jeremiah 31:33:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

Having an opinion, or a position, on such an issue seemed almost irrelevant to her.  Although she didn’t say all this, obviously it wasn’t necessary…

  • to work it out in advance, since she was trusting God would show her His desire, His direction at whatever time it was needed; it’s not that she didn’t understand the question, but more like she didn’t understand my need to ask
  • to amass knowledge on the topic; this is something that came out in a few commentaries as I studied this passage; we put such a huge weight on diagrams, logical constructs, backing verses, etc. but none of this education ensures that we truly know the mind or the ways of God
  • to establish a position categorically; part of the holiness of God is that He is can’t be tamed, can’t be put in a box; it’s possible that the situation or context of any given issue could override the need to have a rule or policy written in stone, such as when David’s men ate the consecrated bread in the temple
  • to determine consensus; the point of the verse, and verse 34 which follows it, is that each individual will independent access to God…and will know Him. [Eerdman’s Bible Commentary, p645] hence there is no need for a collective opinion, a poll, a referendum on God’s desires
  • to practice anything less than grace; the whole point of the verse is God’s announcement of a New Covenant, something not mentioned in Jeremiah until this point

So…should the congregation ask the prospective pastor their questions as to doctrine and practices? Absolutely, but they shouldn’t expect to put God or the pastor in a box. And the individual being asked should not be evasive or mysterious, but should consider the type of answer I was given when I asked.

Or maybe there is a whole set of other questions that matter more, but we don’t know to ask them of each other.

We are simply too caught up in trying to cross ever ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ and tying our theology together with a nice bow. Some categorical, hypothetical questions can’t be answered until you’re in the middle of the situation, and that’s where you often find that God surprises you.

 

January 6, 2015

If It Were Not So I Would Have Told You

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CEB John 14:1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.

John’s quotation from Jesus in John 14: 1-6 begins with four statements, the fourth seeming a bit uncharacteristic:

  1. Don’t be afraid
  2. Trust Me
  3. God’s house contains many ‘mansions’
  4. I would have told you if anything were different

In many translations this last comment is bundled into the phrase which followed or even appears as a unified question, “If that were not true, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?”

Of course, there is a lot of mystery about what awaits beyond this life about which Jesus has not told us. But this passage is seen as the clearest promise of the second coming. The NIV Application commentary states:

The KJV “mansions” (for Gk. monai, “rooms”) was a seventeenth-century expression for modest dwellings; thus, 14:2 should not build a picture for us of heavenly palatial residences. This is not Jesus’ point. God’s “house” refers not to the church but to the heavenly dwelling where he lives (cf. Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:9–22:5), and a mone is a place of residence there with him. This word is related to the common Johannine verb meno, to remain or abide. To “remain” with Jesus is the highest virtue in John’s Gospel (15:4–10), and he is promising

Matthew Henry sees the “I would have told you” as a direct comment to The Twelve:

If you had deceived yourselves, when you quit your livelihoods, and ventured your lives for me, in prospect of a happiness future and unseen, I would soon have undeceived you.” The assurance is built, [1.] Upon the veracity of his word. It is implied, “If there were not such a happiness, valuable and attainable, I would not have told you that there was.” [2.] Upon the sincerity of his affection to them. As he is true, and would not impose upon them himself, so he is kind, and would not suffer them to be imposed upon. If either there were no such mansions, or none designed for them, who had left all to follow him, he would have given them timely notice of the mistake, that they might have made an honourable retreat to the world again, and have made the best they could of it. Note, Christ’s good-will to us is a great encouragement to our hope in him. He loves us too well, and means us too well, to disappoint the expectations of his own raising, or to leave those to be of all men most miserable who have been of him most observant.

It’s interesting that this would seem to affirm their confidence in him and his teachings and ministry, but next he is going to quiz them as to where he is going.  The IVP NT Commentary notes:

After speaking of himself as the agent of their future access to the presence of God, he throws out a statement that steers them toward the next stage of his revelation: You know the way to the place where I am going (v. 4). This could be taken as a question: “Do you know the way to the place where I am going?” Whether or not he is asking a question, Jesus seems to be alluding to his earlier teaching about being the gate through whom the sheep “will come in and go out, and find pasture” (10:9; cf. Talbert 1992:204). If he is alluding to this, the disciples miss it. Indeed, all of Jesus’ teaching in these chapters is mystifying to the disciples (cf. 16:25). But he is walking them through it so the Spirit will be able to unpack it for them later (14:26). This statement (or question) triggers the next question by a disciple, which leads Jesus to further develop the thoughts he has already expressed in very condensed fashion.

The point is that they knew in part and saw only in part.  But pieces of the puzzle were not doubt starting to come together.  I like to think that in these moments they were also struck by an increase in his passion as he imparted these truths to them for what would be the final time.

The second statement, “If it were not so,” really relates to the second, above, which we’ve rendered as “trust me” or better, “Do you trust me?”

 

 

January 3, 2015

When Your Schedule is Daunting

When I asked our friends at Daily Encouragement if that had any sources to recommend for us here at C201, they mentioned one and one only, a marriage enrichment blog by Sabra and David Penley called Simply One. However, you don’t have to have been married to see why their writing came recommended. We’ll probably draw from this resource sometime again soon, but for today, I chose the post below (because I really need to read it); click the link to read it at source; once there click the header to look around.

A Crazy Week

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

“What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:9-10

“…there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work…” – Ecclesiastes 3:22

I’ve had a crazy week.

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Last Sunday, I checked out the calendar to see what the schedule held in store for the next seven days. Ugh!  I was not happy with what I saw! Every single day had something extra written into the allotted square. There was a doctor’s appointment, a women’s meeting, a counseling session, helping with an extra dinner at church, two meetings at my husband’s office, getting blood-work taken, a birthday, a dinner with friends, and a Sunday School party. Those don’t include the activities that were added during the week: an unexpected trip to the dentist, my husband’s lunch with prospective students, and baking a cake for the church dinner. (My husband’s activities are included here because he isn’t able to drive, and I am his driver.)

Now, many of these things would not usually cause stress on their own. In fact, they often can be pleasurable. It’s not that I don’t enjoy dinners and birthdays and parties and getting together with friends; I just don’t enjoy them coming at once. Put them all together in one week’s schedule, and certain things are pushed aside and not achieved. Just the thought of it causes me anxiety!

How does this happen, this over-scheduling?! Obviously, I’m the one who writes it on the calendar. Don’t I notice how full the days are becoming before I make the commitments?

Nevertheless, this frenzied week was upon me. And I wasn’t happy.

As I looked at the hectic schedule shouting at me on that calendar, I felt the stress pouring through my veins. My attitude took a nosedive and an overwhelming feeling took over. All I wanted to do was sit and sulk.

That’s what I desire when I get overwhelmed. I just want to shut down and do nothing. Well, actually, it isn’t nothing. Sulking and sitting are actions…like a little kid pouting when he doesn’t get his way. Yep. That’s a pretty good description. I want to pout…and sometimes I do.

Can you relate?

It seems we need to get a handle on all of this—these out-of-control schedules that wreak havoc . So, what should we do when faced with an upcoming wild week?

I found some encouragement in Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…”  “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time…” “…there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work…” (Eccl. 3:1, 9-10, 22).

Many times we have more on our plates than we think we can handle. But His Word tells us that if God has allowed it in our day, He has a purpose in it and it is a part of His plan. We must remember this and gain a better perspective. Each activity needs to be seen as a God-given opportunity to serve Him, to find the beauty in what we do, and to rejoice in the experience.

I’ve often heard the saying: “How do you eat an elephant?…One bite at a time.”

This certainly applies here. A hectic agenda can be as overwhelming as trying to eat an elephant all at once. Yet, we can victoriously conquer a busy week by taking it day by day, hour by hour, activity by activity.

In praying about all this, I’ve found some steps to follow whenever faced with an overloaded schedule:

  1. Change what can be changed. Look to see if anything on the schedule can be postponed until a less busy week to allow some breathing room.
  2. Be sure to spend time with God every day. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your devotions with God, thinking you just don’t have time. Find your guidance and strength for the day from the One who has the power to make it all work according to His plan. (Matt. 6:9-11)
  3. Take it one day at a time. Spend your time and place your thoughts on what must be done for this one day only.  (Matt. 6:34)
  4. Keep your focus on the current task. Don’t spend time thinking about upcoming activities. Stay present and do your best to glorify the Lord through it. (1 Cor. 10:31)
  5. Enjoy the moment. Don’t let an oversaturated schedule ruin the joy of each activity. Find the beauty in everything. (1 Thess. 5:16)
  6. Be flexible. As you go through the week, some things may get cancelled; others may need to be added.  Some usual weekly activities may need to be postponed until next week.
  7. Always be grateful and give thanks to the Lord in everything. (1 Thess. 5:18)

When a crazy week threatens to take you down, trust the Lord’s calming grace to help you stand firm and be victorious.

Dearest Father, when we are faced with an overburdened calendar and we start to be overwhelmed, give us Your perspective and guide us in each step. Fill us with Your strength and ability to be victorious and complete each needed activity with excellence, all the while rejoicing and giving thanks. Help us to keep our focus on You, Your purpose, and Your power, trusting You to make everything beautiful in Your time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

December 28, 2014

The Metaphor of the Vinedresser, Part Two

Yesterday and today, we’re running back-to-back expositions from Jesus’ teaching in John 15, from the blog Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. Click the title to read at source, and take a few minutes to look around other recent articles there as well.

Fruit that Remains

rudesheim

Continuing a bit in John 15 because I love it so…

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (v.4)

A branch isn’t a branch if it isn’t abiding. It’s a dead stick. The nature of a branch is that is is a living, producing thing. The word “abide” is used more than any other word in this passage. The very nature of the word implies a consistent, constant action. A branch isn’t sometimes connected to the Vine, it either is or isn’t. Abiding allows the branch to draw all the nutrients it needs from the Vine, and over time the result is fruit.

Christ tells us to abide, not to bear fruit. He takes on the responsibility for the fruit – it is a natural result of an abiding branch! Trying to make it on our own is like a branch striving to develop grapes, it just isn’t natural. Our whole job is to respond to His ability to do it. Hebrews 4:11 tells us to “make every effort to enter into that rest.” Jesus is telling us, “relax, I’ve got this!” We never need to worry about the fruit our lives produce, we need to abide and let it happen. He wants fruit that remains. The word talks of fruits of the spirit, fruits of righteousness and holiness as examples of this. How amazing that our entire job is just to make sure we have entered into His rest, through our abiding. What a great way to live!

Here are some more things we learned about life in the vineyard;

  • Vineyards aren’t natural. There are things in nature that flower and bear fruit naturally, without our help, but a vineyard isn’t one of them! A well organized, productive vineyard is one of the most unnatural things that could ever exist. Left to itself, will bear virtually no fruit and go totally wild. Grapevines put their energy into making leaves, not fruit. They need much guidance and care in order to produce. Too many leaves block the sun and air. Our lives can become very “leafy” if we’re not careful. From the outside, things look green and flourishing, but underneath, we aren’t experiencing any real fruit. We aren’t commanded to go forth and be leafy – our job is to bear fruit! All the extra stuff has to be taken away if we are to have quality fruit.
  • A struggling vine makes the best wine. Natural instinct would be to take the very best care of the vines, water them and tend to them so they grow strong. In reality, a vine that feels thirsty once in awhile sends it’s roots deeper in search of water and grows stronger. A vine can be very dry in a drought year and produce very little. But because it’s forced to go deeper, the next years harvest is better than ever. Artificially watering whenever dryness comes leads to lazy roots that don’t ever get strong. Vines that struggle learn to go deeper. When drought comes, it’s not a problem. It may look dry on the outside, but deep down it is secure! God is more concerned with our growth than our comfort.
  • Fruit Is Different. Vines mature with time, and so does fruit. The kind of fruit produced depends on many things, and no vine will turn out the same. Thats the great thing about our Vinedresser. He knows when we need straightening out, watered, directed, cut back, etc. Soils are different. Climates are different. But if we abide, the end result is healthy fruit that He is proud to put His name on. One of our biggest mistakes is to compare our fruit with others. We forget the Vinedresser is customizing each one of us. He takes great pride in the vineyard as a whole, but He loves the individual branches and knows just what each one needs.

ABIDE. It simply means to remain, stay, dwell, and hold on. It’s a fact that the healthiest grapes are the ones that grow closest to the vine.

Fruitfulness glorifies God. His will is done when we abide and allow Him to work on us. We have a Vinedresser that is concerned with every aspect of our growth and maturity.

I’m so thankful He lets us develop deep roots that strengthen us.

I’m thankful He doesn’t allow us to go wild and leafy.

That we would enjoy the special place we are planted and bear the exact kind of fruit the Vinedresser has in mind!

December 9, 2014

Fully Relying on God

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NKJV Col 2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

Fully Rely on GodToday we return to the blog Sharper Iron, where Dan Miller has run this particular devotional more than once. Click the title below to read at source.

Roller Coaster Faith

There are basically two ways to ride a roller coaster. The first is to resist the ride. You can press your feet against the floorboard and arch your back. You can grip the handle bar so hard your knuckles turn white. You can tense your jaw, tighten your abdominal muscles, and scream bloody murder as you descend the precipitous drops and are flung around the death-defying turns.

Somewhere in my rather limited experience of roller coasters, I discovered a second approach. You can actually relax on a roller coaster. Really! You can loosen your grip on the bar, relax your jaw, legs and abdominal muscles. In fact, you can take a roller coaster ride in the same physical condition and mental state of a couch potato.

Obviously, your physical state will have no influence on the roller coaster. No matter how tense or relaxed you may be, the roller coaster will not alter its route one inch or adjust its speed one iota. Either way, you will be delivered to the platform on time and in one piece. You cannot control the ride, you can only control the rider.

In a manner of speaking, this illustrates the way faith operates in the life of the believer. Like a roller coaster, life often takes us on a wild ride at speeds we are not sure we can handle and around turns and down precipitous valleys that seem to spell certain disaster. But choosing to place my faith in God, I can relax. I can rest in the realization that no amount of resistance or anxiety on my part will alter the course, but that he will sustain and uphold me as I hurl down the track of life. There are times the course seems too steep, too fast, too scary, but I can trust that God has designed the course and will get me safely to the celestial platform in one piece. And in this confidence I can rest.

No dream

The idea is not that through a process of mental gymnastics I convince myself that life is nothing but a dream—a gentle stream along which I merrily row my boat. To the contrary, I have a moral responsibility to participate in, and to fully enjoy the ride as it really is. The wind screams through my hair and the g-forces flatten my face. The turns and descents are often unpredictable. I am jostled about. I take it as a roller coaster ride because that is what it is.

Yet taking if for what it is, does not demand that I fight the ride. I can relax in the confidence that God has laid out the course and will convey me home. To say it another way, I can choose to live by faith.

But if faith is not running from reality, neither is it mere psychological transference of natural anxieties onto a higher power—whatever he, she or it may be. Genuine faith does not rest on thin air, it banks on the promises of the living God of Scripture who never lies and who rules the universe with sovereign power.

Colossians 2:6 counsels the believer: “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him.” We received Jesus by faith. We placed our full confidence in His provision for our sin and trusted Him to get us to a heaven we cannot see and could never attain in our own strength. We rested in His grace and trusted God’s power to save. We relied not on ourselves, but rested entirely upon Him (John 1:12; 6:28-29; Ephesians 2:8-9). This is how every true believer “received Christ Jesus as Lord.”

Colossians 2:6 calls believers to go on living in this same way. That is, we are to rely on God, not upon ourselves—to fully trust him through every circumstance of life—to rest unreservedly in the truth that he is working all things together for our everlasting good and for his eternal glory (Romans 8:28-29). It is in this God and on his promises that people of faith can rest, and should.

Are you taking the screaming, twisting, climbing, plunging roller coaster of life in a state of resting faith? Perhaps you find yourself anxiously trying to control the uncontrollable today. Remember, you cannot change the ride, you can only change the rider. Actually, you can’t even do that, but God can. He is able to give you the gift of faith so that you may receive Him as Lord. And once equipped with such transforming faith, He can empower you to relax on the roller coaster ride of life and teach you to enjoy that ride all the way to the celestial platform where rest will take on a whole new dimension in His eternal presence.

December 8, 2014

How We Think About God

Peter Enns is a renown theologian and Biblical scholar who has experienced both accolades and controversy. In this simple article he published last week — click the title below to read at his blog — he presents ten scripture passages that he feels have informed his picture of God. What verses would you add to the list?

10 New Testament passages that shape how I think about God

1. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death… (Phil 3:10). Both suffering and resurrection—times of great difficulty and times of triumph—are expected and normal parts of the Christian life.

2. …unless you change and become like children… (Matt 18:3). As children trust their parents with no thought of an alternative, Christians are called to trust God—which is both comforting and challenging.

3. …do not worry about your life…look at the birds…consider the lilies… (Matt 7:25-34). Worry should be as impossible for followers of Christ as it is for birds and plants, which by definition are incapable of worry.

4. …the truth will make you free… (John 8:32). The truth—knowing Christ—will make you free, namely free from yourself to be free toward God.

5. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us… (1 John 4:12). The difficult and often counter-intuitive act of loving one another is the closest we get to seeing God.

6. But while he was still far off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran… (Luke 15:20). The parable of the lost (or, mistakenly, “prodigal”) son. The father has no thought of judgment toward the son, only welcome…and he can’t wait to get started.

7. …your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Intimacy (union) with God is the present reality and hoped for goal of the Christian life.

8. …there is no longer Jew or Gentile…slave or free…male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). What humans use to divide between each other for power and control—ethnicity, economy, gender—mean nothing to God.

9. Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? (John 8:10). Whereas our tendency is to punish and exact holy retribution, Jesus shows us that God’s default mode is to forgive and encourage us to move on and begin anew.

10. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… on either side of the river is the tree of life… Rev 21:1; 22:2). The entire biblical story is summed up. The Bible ends where it begins; creation is restored. Everything else in between, God’s story as a whole from Abraham to Christ, is about how God makes that happen.

October 18, 2014

Give Me This Mountain

I was enjoying the lyrical depths of a playlist of songs by Graham Kendrick and was particularly drawn to the song Give Me This Mountain (Caleb’s Song). I decided to post it on Thinking Out Loud by itself, but wanted to at least include the scripture reference. The video annotation reads:

A song about a Biblical encounter between Caleb and God. Caleb was called ‘wholehearted’ by God and was allowed to enter the promised land.

I decided to investigate that further, first in scripture,

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

and then when I landed on the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. Once there, I knew I had to include it here at C201.  Click the title below — a reference to Caleb’s character before God — to read it at source.

Wholehearted -Joshua 14

Besides God, there are two main characters throughout this stage of our study of Joshua: obviously Joshua is one of them, and the other is Caleb. Caleb is one of the spies who entered the Promised Land the first time– all the other spies gave reports of giants and fortified cities and how it would be impossible to take this land but Caleb (and Joshua) stuns everyone by boldly proclaiming that they should enter the land because God had already given them the victory. No one listened to him and the children of Israel are forced to wander the wilderness once more. We should not be surprised to learn that the name “Caleb” comes from Hebrew and means “wholehearted”. Caleb is a man who lived his entire life with wholehearted devotion to God’s purpose.

…Caleb is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. He stands as a shining example of one who never lost his edge spiritually. He himself said at age 85, “I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and coming in” (Joshua 14:11 NKJV). This demonstration of courage must have unnerved the other men. They may even have thought him senile.

At this point of our study of Joshua, God’s people have taken much of the long awaited Promised Land and Joshua was dispensing portions of it to the tribes. However, Caleb steps forward to claim that which had been promised him by Moses. In fact, Caleb asks for the land that he had surveyed as much younger man.

In response, Joshua granted his faithful friend Caleb what he asked. He gives Caleb Hebron. The old man proved he had not yet exhausted his courage, when he said:

Now therefore, give me this mountain [the land of Hebron] of which the Lord spoke in that day. . (Joshua 14:10–12 NKJV)

The other men of Israel must have breathed a sigh of relief that Caleb had chosen this portion of land. This was not some beautiful, green pasture; it was one of the most treacherous mountainous areas of the Promised Land. Even more problematic was the fact that formidable adversaries inhabited this land. This was the home of the sons of Anak, the very same giants that terrified the 10 spies sent by Moses. No one wanted to take on the giants except 85-year-old Caleb. Can’t you just envision him holding up that muscular old arm, saying, “Give me this mountain”?

I love the boldness of this man of God. I can just see Caleb running up that mountain. I can see him as he slays his adversaries. He was victorious. He had been strong all those years and he finished well.

Let me share several principles with we learn from Caleb’s life that can give us this same spiritual stamina we need to run and indeed finish in the race of life well.

1. Follow the Lord 100 percent. Scripture says again and again that Caleb “wholly followed the Lord.” It’s in Joshua 14:8–9 and verse 14: Joshua blessed Caleb and gave the old man what he asked because “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.”

This is clearly a key to Caleb’s spiritual success. But what does it mean to “wholly follow the Lord”? It means that you must fully follow our Lord not halfheartedly, but completely. One hundred percent.

Are you wholly following the Lord your God? If you are not, you will eventually be picked off. It is only a matter of time until you become a casualty in the race of life.

2. Don’t compromise—stand your ground. At the risk of being ostracized, Caleb took a stand for what he knew was true. He knew he needed to be more concerned with God’s approval than man’s approval. And for this, he was rewarded.

As you walk with the Lord, you will face many temptations to cave in to peer pressure, to do what everybody else does. But if you are going to fully follow the Lord, then, like Caleb, you must make this principle operative in your life. Stand firm and seek God’s pleasure, no one else’s.

3. Take God at His Word. Caleb didn’t win immediate entrance to the Promised Land. First, he had to wander around with those ungrateful, complaining Israelites for 40 years. They said things like “We remember the good old days back in Egypt, where we had garlic, leeks, and onions.”

Despite the Israelites’ childish clinging to conjured memories, Caleb hung on to the promises of God. He knew God would be faithful, regardless of the time frame. Caleb trusted God’s word to him. We can do the same.

4. Long for fellowship with your God. Caleb asked for a place in the Promised Land called Hebron. There is something very interesting about the name Hebron, which—in the original language—means “fellowship, love, and communion.” Hebron is where Abraham met with God face-to-face and received the promise of the new land in the first place.

Caleb yearned for fellowship with God. While the other Israelites longed for Egypt, Caleb longed for Hebron. While the others looked back in dread, Caleb looked forward with fearless anticipation. While others wanted to please themselves, Caleb wanted only to please God.

This is an essential key to spiritual longevity. You must always move forward. You must always seek to grow spiritually and never look back. That’s what will keep you going.

If you are living this Christian life for others’ applause, you won’t make it. You have to run empowered by your love for God.

Questions for thought:

1. Have you ever felt resentful or burdened by something God was calling you to do?
2. One justification for not helping or serving is that feel we need time for ourselves, for our studies, for our work, for our own rest. While easy to understand, what do you think is wrong with this mindset?
3. When was the last time you felt excited and even proud to have the chance to serve? What made that situation so different?
4. What are some practical ways you can begin to see serving God as your privilege rather than your burden?

 

October 16, 2014

God Has Done the Big Thing

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It wasn’t intentional, but today we have a post from Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud, and below, a post by Mark Altrogge here at C201.  This topic appears very simple, but I had to read it twice to get all the nuances. To read this at The Blazing Center blog, click the title below:

God Has Done The Big Thing. Surely He’ll Take Care Of The Lesser Things.

Israel had a short memory.

They had been miserable slaves to the king of Egypt who seemed to have all power over their lives. They had no means of escape, yet God heard their groaning, and struck Pharaoh and Egypt with plague after plague, then brought Israel out of Egypt loaded with their gold and silver. Then God miraculously split the Red Sea and brought his people through on dry ground, then Israel watched the sea come back together and engulf the Egyptian chariots who pursued them.

Though God delivered them and provided for them again and again, they couldn’t seem to remember his faithfulness. In their unbelief, every new challenge they faced made them doubt the goodness of their God. They failed to make this important connection: If God did the big thing for them, he’d surely do lesser things. If God delivered them out of Egypt, he’d surely provide for their needs.

A short memory wasn’t just the problem of the generation who left Egypt. It was Israel’s constant failure over the years. We see God reminding his people again in Psalm 81:

I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder; (6-7)

I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. PS 81.10

God says to his people: Don’t forget who I am: I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. I did the big thing. I saved you when you couldn’t save yourselves. So ask me to provide for you – open your mouth wide – expect me to meet your needs – and I will fill it – I’ll do the lesser thing and answer your prayers and provide for you.

We too need to remember this truth: God did the big thing for us – he saved us from our sins and his wrath by sending his only Son to live and die and rise for us – surely he will do the lesser things – provide, protect and help us.

God has done the big thing – he saved us. Surely he’ll take care of all the lesser things we need.

God could say to us:

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of your land of Egypt – your slavery to sin, your misery, your condemnation and hopelessness.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it – ask me and I’ll give you all you need.

Romans 8:32 puts it this way:

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?

God gave up his most valuable thing – his Son Jesus on the cross – he sent Jesus to be broken and to pour out his blood for sin, then he poured out his horrific wrath upon his Son’s soul, withdrawing every shred of mercy and love from Jesus’ awareness. He did this for us all. After doing this, how will he not graciously give us all lesser things? Surely God will give us all we need to glorify him. Surely he will give us mercy and grace and strength and help. Surely he’ll provide for our needs.

So open your mouth wide and God will fill it. Open your mouth today in praise and thanksgiving. Open your mouth wide in prayer. Ask for whatever you wish. Nothing will be greater than Jesus. Open your mouth wide in expectation that your heavenly Father will answer your prayers.

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