Christianity 201

February 22, 2018

Great Expectations

by Clarke Dixon

We are sometimes quite clear in what we want God to do for us. We have clear expectations of a long life, a great life. We expect to not suffer. We expect God to work in power on our behalf. We expect our team to win. We forge ahead with our lives and expect that God will bless our agendas.

Expectations lay at the heart of what is known as Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. Before the Triumphal Entry there were certain expectations of Jesus. The sick could expect to be healed. The curious could expect great teaching. The religious leaders could expect Jesus to say or do something blasphemous. All theses expectations were based on what Jesus had being doing. But at this point, there are not the kind of expectations that come with being a Messiah. Yes, Peter confessed Jesus as being the Messiah in Mark chapter 8, but Jesus told the disciples to keep quite quiet about that. The public at large were generally not thinking that Jesus could be the Messiah, but some thought he might be “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8:28.

However, all that would change at the Triumphal Entry. In entering Jerusalem the way he did, Jesus was in effect saying “I am the Messiah.” The timing was right, for it was Passover, the celebration of freedom. What better time for a Messiah to show up and bring freedom. But it was the way Jesus entered Jerusalem that really sent the message. Consider Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

This corresponds with how the Triumphal Entry happened.

People had great expectations of the Messiah, which of course now meant great expectations of Jesus. These expectations can be summed up by the question of the disciples in Acts 1:6: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”. People were expecting a free kingdom of Israel. They were expecting the Messiah to lead them to military and political victory taking them back to the glory days under King David. This meant freedom from Rome.

By the end of the week, things had changed. Jesus is a captive rather than captivating. He is beaten up. He is insulted and mocked yet puts on no show of force. If he were truly the Messiah, God could be expected to do something grand at some point. There is still a glimmer of hope, on the part of at least one man, that God would pull through and Jesus would be shown to be His Messiah:

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Mark 15:34-36

But by the end of the day there was no rescue, of either Jesus from the Roman cross, or Israel from Rome. There was no shock and awe, just a dead man. According to then current expectations, a dead Messiah was a failed messiah, which was no Messiah at all!

By dying Jesus failed to live up to the expectations aroused by His Triumphal Entry.

Or so it seemed.

As we look at how Jesus failed the expectations of the people, we will learn something that will help us when we think God has failed ours.

First, we can expect God to exceed our expectations. What Jesus accomplished through his death was actually something far greater than what the people expected. Here is what happens when Elijah is a no show and there is no rescue:

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:37-38

Elijah didn’t show up, but there was a rescue! Something remarkable did happen which is symbolized by the tearing of the temple curtain, a symbol of separation from God. In Jesus, God dealt with that separation. No one was expecting that! People were expecting the Messiah to be like King David, ensuring liberation from surrounding enemies. Jesus turned out to be King God, with liberation from the true enemies; sin and death, the things that separate us from God.

When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, trust God to actually exceed them.
We expect longer life, God offers eternal life. We expect God to work in power, He works in love and power. Expect God to exceed your expectations.

Secondly, our expectations need to match reality. The expectations of the people were not realistic in the first place. While they expected a military victory through the Messiah, they really ought to have expected judgement. This is why Jesus had a message of repentance from the beginning. This is why Jesus cursed the fig tree on the day following the Triumphal Entry, as an object lesson of judgement. When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, be sure your expectations are realistic.

Seven years ago I traded in a Triumph Sprint motorcycle with 123 horsepower for a Honda CBR125R which has 13. I remember taking such a Honda for a test ride and the parting words of the salesman: “Prepare to be underwhelmed”. If I were expecting the feeling of power, then yes, I would be disappointed. But what I expected was a frugal riding experience. My expectations matched reality and I was not disappointed. Do our expectations of God match reality? Do our expectations match His promises? Has God promised what we have been expecting?

Expect, not what you want, but what God promises. And expect God to exceed your expectations.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 

February 16, 2018

When Life Overwhelms

Today we’re paying a return visit to Eric Bryant who posted this a few days ago. I’m not sure if was written before or after the mass shooting in Florida, but either way it’s timely. Perhaps you’re facing your own overwhelming situation. Click the title below to read this at source.

Hope When Things Seem Hopeless

My life is a rollercoaster. There’s a lot of sitting down and screaming.

Someone tweeted that last week. Quite profound, huh?!

Have you ever felt that way? Ever felt overwhelmed by life? Have either the circumstances around you or the conflicts within you ever made you feel hopeless?

What if I were to tell you that it’s when you are at your most helpless that you are in the best position to be helped?

What if I were to tell you that it’s when you are at your most powerless that you are in the best position to experience God’s Power?

The Scriptures tell us:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… – those living against God, those far away from God. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6,8

That word “sinners” has been used and abused. You may have heard that word with a finger pointing at you as a kid. That word may be the very reason you struggle with believing in God or even connecting with a church.

Perhaps for a long time, you have had an aversion to organized religion.

Let me encourage you: you are in the right place. We have never been accused of being organized or religious!

The word “sinner” which has been used against us – used to put us down or keep us in guilt and shame is actually a beautiful word.

Jesus came for the sinners – the ones that have missed the mark, the ones who have made mistakes, the ones with regret.

If you are here and you are worried that I am excluding you. Don’t worry: you’re with us too.

There is so much hope when we acknowledge, we need help.

You cannot find healing unless you know you need to be healed!

But we forget that! We try to act like we have it all together, but that is exhausting and everyone knows we don’t!

So what do we do when we feel stuck? When we feel broken? When we feel hopeless?

Here is an amazing Truth:

The sun is shining even on a cloudy day.

The clouds may block the sun, but that does not mean the sun is not shining!

God’s love is like the sun – providing light and warmth and life – no matter how cloudy or foggy things may be right now.

Just because you cannot see it or feel it, does not mean it is not there. It means we have the opportunity to step in the realm of faith – a realm beyond what we see or feel.

You see, we all face disappointment. Who we become depends on how we respond.

Are you giving up because of the challenges you have faced?

Choose hope even when you don’t feel like it.

Hope is not an abstract idea. Hope is a person, and His name is Jesus!

Jesus’ death on a cross and resurrection from the dead is not just the Easter story. It is the Story!

When God walked among us. He taught with authority. He healed those needing healing. He forgave those needing forgiveness. Ultimately, He died on the cross And rose from the dead. In doing so, Jesus defeated sin and death.

Jesus showed God’s power over everything that is broken in this world!

What are you looking at for hope? If you are feeling hopeless, it may be the result of where your hope lies not in the one who Created us and loves us!

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

You may not be putting your hope in an army or a warrior’s strength or a horse, but you may be putting your hope in a job or in your bank account or in a relationship. Nothing in this world can meet the eternal void we feel within, but the One who is Eternal can fill our deepest longings.

Hear this…

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love… – Psalm 33:16-18

There is one Hope bigger than anything we face, one Hope when we are hopeless and His name is Jesus.

You can trust God even when you don’t feel like it.

Paul was a devoted follower of Jesus. He started churches all across the Roman Empire just after Jesus ascended into heaven. He wrote letters to these churches – 13 of these letters make up our New Testament. In the midst of the amazing experiences he had, he also faced oppression, persecution, imprisonment, and betrayal.

Even still, notice his eternal perspective in the midst of terrible circumstances.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. – 2 Timothy 4:18

I like the first part! God, rescue me from all evil! Protect from all bad circumstances! Yet that’s not what Paul was saying. He was saying: no matter how bad things get on this side of eternity, no one can separate me from my Hope – from the One whose love will never fail, the One whose love lasts beyond this life!

You can Hope when things seem Hopeless. God can do the impossible;

One of the greatest spiritual mysteries Jesus reveals is this:

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27

When we say yes and follow Jesus the Same power that rose Jesus from the dead lives in you!

You are stronger than you feel you are!

You are more resilient than you think you are!

For Christ, the one Who Overcame sin and death lives in you!! He is our Hope!

When we lose someone we love, we can entrust them to the One whose love for us led Him to give up His life for us on the Cross!

When we have suffered abuse or oppression, we can rely on the One who was falsely accused, mocked, beaten, and on whose brow was shoved a crown of thorns!

When we find ourselves stuck in addiction or mired in regret, we can look to the One who faced temptation and never gave in!

When we find ourselves overwhelmed and overcome, we can look to the One who Overcame death and rose from the dead!

He has overcome and He is in us!

December 16, 2017

Provision, Presence, Power

It’s a long story how we got there, but today’s post is from a writer I believe is new to us here, Anne Elliott which she posted back in February, 2010. Her blog reminds me of another Anne, Ann (with no e) Voskamp. Anne has been blogging since 1999, before blogs existed and she also writes homeschool curriculum for two different publishers. Despite the age of this article, she is still writing; click the title below and then click on “Blog” to see what she’s been writing more recently.

The God Who Never Leaves Me

Today we read,

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’

So we say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’
(Hebrews 13:5-6).

Faith doesn’t look at material possessions; rather, faith looks at our Spiritual Provider.

God’s Provision

We are told to keep our lives free from the love of money. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us that we can love money (the Hebrew word is “mammon”), or we can love God — but we can’t love both. We can either depend on earthly treasures to supply our needs, or we can depend on God to supply — but we can’t trust both.

We often forget that when we store up our treasures here on earth, our treasures can very quickly be lost. Moth and rust can destroy. Thieves can break in and steal.

Our pursuit of money, and the security that we think it will bring, becomes idol worship.

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

Faith sees what can’t be seen, which is God’s faithful provision for all our needs. He feeds us. He clothes us.

“I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread”
(Psalm 37:25).

So let’s get practical for a moment. When we worry, are we worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator? We may say that we recognize God is our provider, but to prove that, we have to stop worrying.

“Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves
(Psalm 127:1-2).

God’s Presence

God provides for our needs, but He goes even further and provides us with His very presence. The author of Hebrews quotes from the Old Testament here with God’s statement that “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

This is truly an amazing promise! When God gave this promise to Joshua and the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, they believed Him — long enough to conquer the city of Jericho. Oh, except for Achan, who forgot that God would never leave or forsake him… and so he stole some gold from the city… even though God had told them not to… but he forgot God was with Him… so he didn’t obey… then he was surprised when he was caught….

Hmmm. Do I ever forget that God will never leave or forsake me?

I’m quite happy He’s with me… when I’m having a problem, or I want a quick answer to prayer, or I want to get all emotionally wrapped up in my religious experiences.

It’s not as convenient to have an ever-present God when I don’t feel like obeying Him.

“Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time (1 Kings 8:56-61).

So which shows more faith? Prayer and religious experiences… or obedience to my Heavenly Father’s commands?

God’s Power

The hardest part for me is remembering God’s power. I start looking around at the power of man, and then I start to get afraid. I start to think of all the things that people could do to me, might say about me, might think of me. I’m sorry to say that it’s rare indeed that I “say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?‘” (Hebrews 13:6).

(Well, I might say it — but probably not with too much confidence!)

These verses are a quotation from Psalm 118, where the Psalmist wisely tells us,

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man”
(Ps. 118:8).

Faith sees what can’t be seen. It sees YHWH’s power, His presence, and His provision, and it takes refuge in Him.

I mean really, what can man do to me? I suppose my husband could lose his job… but Who has promised to always feed and clothe me? I suppose I could get sick, but Who gives me breath so that I can praise Him? I suppose someone could persecute me because of my faith, but Who has promised to give me life at the last day? I mean really, what can man do to me?

If you’re ever tempted to skip reading the Bible verses on blogs, don’t skip these. They’re good enough to believe!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28-39).

Those are shouting words! Hallelujah!

If we’ll just have faith to see what we can’t see.


Christianity 201 includes articles from people having a variety of expressions of their Christian faith. Anne and her husband Kraig keep the Sabbath (i.e. Friday night thru Saturday) and you can read more about this in some articles she has written about the Biblical feasts.

August 11, 2016

Yet

Today we’re paying a return visit to A Simple Christian. The author is unnamed, but is a pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. Ca. You may click the title below to read this at source.

17 For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls,  18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. 19 GOD, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights.  NABRE – Hab 3:17-19

Yet – 3 Powerful Words of Powerful Faith.

Anything done out of love is important, however small it might appear. God has come to us, even though we are miserable creatures, and he has told us that he loves us: “My delight is to be among the sons of men.” Our Lord tells us that everything is valuable—those actions which from a human point of view we regard as extraordinary and those which seem unimportant. Nothing is wasted. No man is worthless to God. All of us are called to share the kingdom of Heaven—each with his own vocation: in his home, his work, his civic duties, and the exercise of his rights.

Nothing is wasted!   What marvelous words are uttered by St Josemaria!

Words that resonate with the Habbakuk’s conclusion of his book. Let me paraphrase!

“Life Sucks!  YET I will rejoice in the Lord! YET I will exult in my saving God!”

For as our souls, our very lives are entrusted to Him (something the Holy Spirit does, because Jesus paid the price to make it happen on the cross!) everything has meaning, and we begin to see how all things can indeed work for good, for those who love God.

That’s a hard thing to trust God for, especially when we think of him as the deists did in the centuries following the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.  Because they couldn’t trust the God they couldn’t see, they reasoned he left town,  Because they couldn’t understand that God was there in darkest points of history, they assumed he wasn’t there, and that He didn’t care and abandoned those He promised to walk with, those He promised to support, and heal, and strengthen.

Nothing is wasted.

Man is that hard to hear! For there has been much that I can’t count as beneficial without coming to the same conclusions.  Where are you, my God?  Why did You abandon me?  Why did I have to go through this?  Why do I see it repeated?

Nothing is wasted.

Not even the times of emptiness.

Not even the times where I cry out in anger, in pain, in fear.

Those words talk of dependence, of the greatest level of what we call faith.  The point where rock bottom we realize He is hear, and just go, “Lord, I can’t anymore, all I have to cling to are Your promises, the promises I can’t believe are true for me.

“Yet, I abandon myself to you, I will depend on what I can’t see, what may be beyond my logic, but what you promise is real.

“You are here… I can see that today…when I couldn’t last week, and may struggle next month to see it.

“You are here!”

So I will praise You, So I will rejoice in a God who wrote those promises through prophets, and etched them in the hands of His Son.

Yet… a powerful word.

One I need to pull out and use… often.


July 19, 2016

The Besetting Sin of Worry

Don't Worry - Philippians 4 6Today a return visit to Kim Shay at Out Of The Ordinary. Click the title below to read at source.

He who sits in the heavens

Worry is one of my besetting sins. It can cover a wide range of subjects… I begin to worry because I don’t like unknowns, and I don’t like feeling out of control. To compensate, I often try to keep tabs on all the possible variables that could affect the outcome, deluding flattering myself into thinking that I can at least be mentally prepared for what could occur. But this is cold comfort. There are too many factors beyond my scope, and as I consider what is outside of my control, the needle on the worry meter goes up.

I have a less-than-robust background in the absolute sovereignty of God, so I could use that as an excuse. But even wholeheartedly embracing that doctrine, my thoughts of God are often “too human”1, as if He who sits in the heavens “laughs nervously and wrings His hands in confusion.”

If I dig deeper, there’s a showdown taking a place – a face-off between the Bible’s claims of God’s supremacy versus my fallible thoughts and feelings. Who do I listen to? My worries? Or do I take my soul by the scruff of the neck, so to speak, turn off the news or whatever is feeding my anxiety, and turn back to the Scriptures?  Feelings go up and down. Circumstances change for good or bad. But neither feelings or circumstances are the arbiter of truth. God’s Word is, and here’s what it says about His authority over all things:

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Psalm 2: 4-6

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. 1 Chron. 29:11-13

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:1-3

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting…Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, forevermore. Psalm 93:1-2,5

From A.W. Pink:

The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly and positively affirmed in many scriptures… Before Him, presidents and popes, kings and emperors, are less than grasshoppers.3

God’s supremacy over the works of His hands is vividly depicted in Scripture. Inanimate matter, irrational creatures, all perform their Master’s bidding.4

God’s supremacy is also demonstrated in His perfect rule over the wills of men… His own eternal “counsels” are accomplished to their minutest details. 5

I don’t know about you, but this gives me great comfort. This answers my fear of the unknown because there are no unknowns to an omniscient God. He does not react to future events because He has already ordained what will take place by His decrees. We have a foundation that will never shift under any circumstance because we rest on the unchanging character of God Himself.Let every man or, in this case, woman be a liar. The Lord reigns.

Here then is a resting place for the heart. Our lives are neither the product of blind fate nor the result of capricious chance, but every detail of them was ordained from all eternity and is now ordered by the living and reigning God. 6

1. The Attributes of God, Chapter 5 The Supremacy of God, A.W. Pink, Baker, 1975, pg. 28.
2. Thanks to Zack for his open theist “version” of Psalm 2:4.
3. The Attributes of God, Chapter 5 The Supremacy of God, A.W. Pink, Baker, 1975, pg. 29.
4. Ibid. pg. 30.
5. Ibid. pg. 30-31.
6. Ibid. pg. 31.

April 2, 2016

Unmitigated Faith

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to the blog Forward Progress, written by Michael Kelley. I spent several minutes reading different things he has posted lately and encourage you to do the same by clicking the title below and then clicking the “blog” tab at the top of his page. I found this one very powerful.

One Phrase That Clarifies the Nature of Faith

What is faith?

Is it a feeling? Is it based in intellect? Is it a gift? Is it a choice? “Faith” is one of those words that we use frequently, but it’s often difficult to actually define. Fortunately, the Bible does that defining for us:

“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

That’s the definition. But couched in that definition is the recognition that faith is only as good as the object of that faith. I read at one point Tim Keller describing a scenario like this:

“The faith that changes the life and connects to God is best conveyed by the word “trust.” Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved.

Why?

It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”

This quote clarifies the nature of faith. Faith does not guarantee a certain outcome in a given situation, because ultimately faith is dependent on the object of that faith. For the Christian, faith is about trusting God and His character to do what is good and right and true, even if that outcome does not appear to be good and right and true to us.

There is a phrase, from a story in the Bible, that further clarifies the nature of faith. This single phrase moves us past thinking of faith as triumphalism where if we believe strongly enough then we will get the outcome we desire.

Here’s the phrase:

“Even if He does not…”

Remember the story? Let me take you back to the scene where thousands upon thousands of loyal subjects bowed before a golden statue, either because they revered their leader, or they feared the proclamation he had made – that anyone who did not bow before his idol would be thrown into a furnace.

Three figures stood apart, starkly visible in the midst of the crowd of those who has prostrated themselves. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow, and they were called on the carpet for it. After being given one more chance to change their minds, and knowing the consequences of their stand (literally), they responded with that statement:

“Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

“Even if He does not,” they said. And with those 5 words, the three faithful Hebrews pointed out that ultimately, our faith is not dependent on our circumstances; it’s dependent on the character of God. That we trust not so that we can achieve a certain desirable outcome, but because we believe God is trustworthy and will do the right thing on our, and His, behalf.

This phrase reminds me of another moment in time, with another faithful Hebrew, who also knew that faith was grounded in God’s character. This Faithful One knelt before His Father, knowing that He, too, would soon face His own circumstance of pain. And kneeling there in the garden, He prayed for deliverance – that the same God who allowed not one hair on the heads of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be singed would once again intervene. But at the same time, He expressed His unwavering faith in the God who does what is right, all the time, knowing that even if He does not, the outcome would still be the best. So Jesus, too, prayed:

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

And so it was that God, once again, did what was right. Jesus went to the cross. In so doing, He showed us that faith is founded in God’s character, not our preference, and that He always does what is good and right and true, even “if He does not…”

 

April 1, 2013

When Panic Strikes

I have always been a very nervous person. I worry, and I worry that I worry. It seems inconsistent with the life of abiding in Christ we should be living. But sometimes the circumstances of life seem overwhelming. So when Pete Wilson spoke on this verse yesterday, I was all ears. (I watch Pete at 7:00 PM EST Sundays at this link.)

Sometimes in Bible translation, there is consistency from version to version as to a particular passage, and at other times there are a wider variety of terms at the translators disposal.  This is one of those.  This appeared earlier today at Thinking Out Loud.

Last night I was watching the online version of Cross Point Church’s Sunday service; the one where Pete Wilson takes live questions after he preaches.  He mentioned that he reads a chapter of scripture a day and is always amazed at how timely it is to whatever circumstance he is facing. Then he told a story of how God used a scripture reference in an unlikely place to meet a need in his own life.

But Pete’s sermon also had something I needed — and still need — to hear. One of those verses that arrests you in your tracks. It’s the rendering of Isaiah 28:16 in the updated NIV:

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.

It’s that last phrase, which I underlined, that really got me.

The Message makes a rare use of capital letters here:

And this is the meaning of the stone:
A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE.

The ESV has:

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

The CEB:

…the one who trusts won’t tremble

The Amplified:

..he who believes (trusts in, relies on, and adheres to that Stone) will not be ashamed or give way or hasten away [in sudden panic].

The NLT:

It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken.

Finally, the NASB:

A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

Part of life in the modern world is the potential for fear and anxiety.  The translators use: disturbed, panic, shaken, trembling… This is a verse to claim for those who know what it means to panic.  Am I trusting in the cornerstone? Positionally, generally yes, but we live in two worlds and there are times I don’t allow my faith to permeate or penetrate my circumstances.

Blog Update:

While Thinking Out Loud continues to be my most visible blog project, Christianity 201 is fast becoming the more active franchise. Each day more people sign on for this potpourri of Bible study discussion and devotional thoughts culled from the widest variety of the Christian blogosphere.

At the same time, going on a daily “hunting and gathering” routine can be exhausting, so I’m looking for someone who is already familiar with the WordPress platform who might want to eventually have editing privileges here. To start, needed is someone who has been blogging regularly for at least a year themselves, so I can see where they are coming from, and then they need to be able to source out material suitable for C201 subject to the guidelines posted in the sidebar.You also need to be able to generate appropriate post tags; and need to work with HTML in terms of setting blockquotes within quotes and adding color to scripture passages and subheadings and adding to superscripts on Bible references. (Note: This particular theme is not H1, H2 responsive so you have to change font sizes.) Initially, submissions would be emailed in coded text.

A needle in a haystack person, basically; but if you feel that’s you, start by contacting me at the address on the “Submissions” page. Anyone who does not feel up to this task, but wants to send a particularly strong C201 guest post is welcomed to do that anytime by email.
 

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

December 2, 2012

Where We Are Shouldn’t Look Like Where We Came From

Today we pay a return visit to Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith with a post titled, The Present is Sometimes Too Much Like the Past.

Never being a person who dwells on the past, I have difficulty remembering events that are vivid for my children and others in our family. However, one thing I do remember well — what I was like before I became a Christian.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh… that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11–12)
At that time, as these verses say, I was alienated from the promises of God, separated from Him and hopeless regarding anything spiritual or eternal. The biggest reason that I can remember what this was like is that every time I stray from God and try to do anything without Christ, I experience those same emotions and that same sense of separation as I did then. The biggest difference is that it is not God who turns away now, but me. Why would a Christian do this? We have everything God can give us and are no longer alienated from God.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)
The blood of Christ covers all sin and removes the alienation. The big words are atonement, propitiation and redemption. The shorter version is that because Christ died for me, my sins are forgiven. Because He lives for me, I can depend on God for whatever I need.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
And instead I rely on myself? To do so means that I pridefully think I can? Or that God does not care about my issues and problems? Whatever my reasons, the Holy Spirit reminds me that I am no longer separated from the promises of God or alienated from Jesus Christ. He is for me, not against me. I have been brought near.
If God is for me, who can be against me? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for me, how shall He not with Him also freely give me all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for me. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things I am more than a conqueror through Him who loved me. I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. (Romans 8:31–39, personalized)
I’m not sure of my mental IQ but sometimes I just bottom out on my spiritual IQ. So dumb. Put in black and white, nothing seems more foolish and hopeless than to depend on me and put myself into any situation without relying on God. Yet He is my Savior. He always knows how to pull me back out of those holes that I dig for myself and remains faithful to do so, even as I behave so foolishly!

November 7, 2012

Israel and Aquaphobia

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Rev. 21:1 emphasis added)

Other than the Beach Boys, probably the Vineyard churches have had more musical output on the subject of water. But quenched thirst, rains, showers, oceans and rivers have figured into the lyrics of both classic hymns and modern choruses, and the reference is usually positive.

Not so for the nation of Israel in scripture. They were not a water skiing bunch, and so we often see water cast in a negative sense.

I’m currently reading With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani (Thomas Nelson, 2011) and he makes the following observations:

…The sea is a source of endless recreation, whether on the beach playing in the sand; on the water’s surface boating, fishing and surfing; or beneath the waves exploring the alien underwater worlds.

But for all the sea’s joys and beauty, it is also an unrivaled source of destruction…

…The massive power and unpredictability of the sea is why ancient peoples saw it as a symbol of evil. The inhabitants of Israel, who were not a seafaring people, viewed the ocean as a realm of chaos, destruction and darkness… [T]o them the sea was a dark abyss to be feared…

…The opening scene of the Bible captures this contrast. In the beginning the earth is described as “without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” It is an ominous and disorganized world. But then we read, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The God of creation brought order out of the primordial chaos… …God declared the newly organized world “good.”

…Sadly, the onward progress of order and beauty was severely interrupted when the man and woman broke unity with God. Choosing to rule without him, they plunged the world back into chaos…

…But God has not abandoned his world to chaos. The Biblical narrative has more to say about the sea and God’s power over it. The story of the flood found in Genesis 6 … tells of the world being destroyed by water. But the Lord preserved for himself a remnant through the deluge…

…Moses was put into a basket and survived the waters — a retelling of the Noah story on a micro scale. Years later God rescued his people from the oppression of Pharaoh through Moses. With the sea on one side and Egypt’s army amassed on the other, the Lord separated the waters and led his people to freedom on dry land. Then, as in the story of Noah, the waters washed away those committed to evil…

Taking these stories and others, we see that the Old Testament acknowledges the unpredictable and chaotic nature of our world as captured in the imagery of the sea and flood, but it also speaks of God’s power to preserve us through it. These stories affirm that although the cosmos appears to be random, in fact it remains subject to God’s purposes.

Psalm 77: 16 When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.

Psalm 93:3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice;
    the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves of the sea,
    the Lord on high is mighty!

…When King David’s enemies overwhelmed him, he compared the situation to drowning… He cried for the Lord to rescue him.

Psalm 69: 1Save me, O God!
    For the waters have come up to my neck.

I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.

14 Deliver me
    from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
    and from the deep waters.
15 Let not the flood sweep over me,
    or the deep swallow me up,
    or the pit close its mouth over me.

…The imagery of God’s presence with his people in the raging sea may be metaphorical in the poetry of the Psalms and Isaiah, but it becomes vividly literal in the New Testament.  Traveling across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples awakened him when a fierce storm came on their tiny fishing boat. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they shouted.

Jesus spoke to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and immediately everything became calm…

They did not fully understand who was with them in the boat. In time they would come to see that he was the one who separated the sea from the land, who preserved Noah through the flood, Moses in the Nile, and led the Hebrews through the sea on dry land. He is the one before whom the waters tremble. And if he is in our boat, we need not be afraid. We will surely arrive at our destination because the forces of evil cannot overwhelm him. With God there is hope even in a world that appears to be drowning in chaos.

The Biblical narrative ends with John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth. We are told in Revelation 21 that in the renewed creation, “the sea was no more.” This observation must be read within the larger biblical context. From the opening scene in the Bible onward, the sea has been synonymous with evil and chaos. The total absence of the sea in John’s vision simply means evil will have no place in the new creation. Beauty and order and abundance will fill the world, just as God intended from the beginning.

~Skye Jethani

May 20, 2012

Give Me Vision To See Things Like You Do

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It’s been awhile since I added to the worship collection here. This one really needs to be here. (See the sidebar for more songs here at C201.)

Isaiah 55:2 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Psalm 121:1 I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.

Hebrews 12: 2-3 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

God I look to You
I won’t be overwhelmed
Give me vision to see things like You do
God I look to You
You’re where my help comes from
Give me wisdom, You know just what to do

Scripture texts: NIV (Is.),  CEB (Ps.), and MESSAGE (Heb.)

September 6, 2011

God’s In Charge

Ula Gillion lives in South Africa and blogs at Jesus Carries Me.  She called this post, Smooth Sailing Results in Limited Understanding.

Suggested Reading: Matthew 8:23-27

The disciples didn’t always know exactly what Jesus’ next move was going to be or what He had planned ahead, but they followed Him nevertheless.  “He got into the boat and His disciples followed Him.” They didn’t get very far with Jesus when a sudden storm came up. These were seasoned fishermen. They were well acquainted with the weather patterns and recognized the signs of an impending storm, but this “furious” storm caught them off-guard, nonetheless. The Greek word used to describe the intensity of the storm is the word seismos, a word related to the word we use to measure the intensity of an earthquake (seismic activity). The storm was so severe that it caused a shaking similar to that of an earthquake, and in no time the waves were sweeping over the boat.

But, amazingly, throughout the shaking and the strong gale force winds and the water sweeping into the boat, “Jesus was sleeping…” I suppose it is easy to take a nap in the middle of a storm if you know you are in control of things. Jesus could sleep because He knew He was in control of the winds and waves. The problem, however, was the disciples didn’t know that He was aware of the storm. They did however believe He could do something about it and filled with fear, they decided to wake Him up. “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Although they have at this point not yet fully grasped who Jesus was, they nevertheless knew that they could call to Him for help. It does appear that they thought the storm will take Jesus by surprise. They were about to discover that not only was He fully aware of the storm, but with a simple word nature’s power will bow down to His. At that moment  they called for Him to help, I wonder what it is precisely they thought He would do about the storm. One thing is certain; they did not expect Him to settle the problem with a single word. He spoke and it grew “completely” calm. Not a little calmer or considerably calmer. It grew completely calm through a word out of our Lord’s mouth.

Evidence that they did not expect this result is in the stunned silence that followed.  Their jaws dropped to their feet and they exclaimed, “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” That is why He asked them why they had so little faith. They didn’t yet understand that this Man with them in the boat is the Lord of all the earth. They did not yet understand that He is the One through whom all things have been created and that all things will therefore obey Him. They did not yet understand that God placed all things under His feet –that with them in the boat was the One called Immanuel –God with us. God Himself was with them in that boat.

Do we really grasp the One who is with us in the boat when we go through the storms of life? Do we really understand that He only needs to speak one word and then everything will grow completely calm? Do we know that He can do with one word what we have been struggling for years to achieve? We need only to call on that name –the Name of Jesus, and all the powers of the universe will have to obey His command. He will never allow His own to be destroyed. He promised never to leave us nor forsake us.

Whatever storms we face will only be allowed to develop us and never to destroy us. Because of this storm His followers gained a greater understanding of who Jesus was. Had it not been for the storm, they may have continued for a while longer with their limited perception of Jesus. The storm revealed another aspect of His glory. The storm looked big and monstrous, but only until Jesus spoke. When He speaks our storms will appear minute in comparison to His power. Just as it happened for the disciples, our storms may give us deeper insight into the glorious power of our Lord. Without the storms, we may still continue limiting Him in our minds. Smooth sailing results in limited understanding of God, so let us praise Him in the storm!

 

December 30, 2010

Year in Review


Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2010?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2011?

While some writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for rest — Be still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2010?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2011?

Nobody said this was easy.