Christianity 201

March 26, 2020

God’s Got This: When There is a Pandemic and Jesus Says “Do Not Worry”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Is anyone worried yet? If you are not, are you living under a rock? The COVID-19 virus is a big deal, and while cases were once reported in someone else’s backyard, they are now being reported in ours.

So along comes Jesus and says “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). We might want to ask;
“Jesus, are you living under a rock?”

Those who first heard Jesus may have asked that also. Many of them would have been living day to day in a society where you were paid daily. Some may have been living meal to meal. Just plain survival was a big deal for many people. Along comes Jesus who says “do not worry . . . ”

We have been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, realizing that Jesus was not giving news rules for us to follow slavishly, but rather was teaching us what kind of people we should become. This line of thinking continues here:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

We are to be the kind of people who know that God is a good Father. We are to be the kind of people who seek His goodness in our lives. We are to be the kind of people who know, without doubt, that God loves us. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. Don’t worry, God’s got it.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we should never have a concern in the world? The very first Christ followers who were aware they should not worry about food and clothing did not quit working! The apostle Paul did not live as someone who expected money to miraculously fall from the sky. He continued his work as a tentmaker. He encouraged people to work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. There was never the idea that since God loves us, and since we need not worry, that we need not have concern for the things of life and take initiative. Yes, God loves us, so therefore we should not worry, but we still need to take initiative, to show proper concern.

Since Jesus told us to not worry, does that mean we will never face trouble? Jesus went on to say,

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Do not worry, but know there will still be trouble! Being a Christian does not make us immune from trouble. God loves us. That is the way things are. But we will face trouble. That is the way things work.

There is a difference between the way things are and the way things work. The way things are: we live in relationship with a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. The way things work: we live in a broken world where we need to take initiative and where bad things happen. We need, therefore, to make wise decisions, to take proper initiative for the sake of our health and the health of society.

Theologians study the way things are. Scientists study how things work. Theologians and scientists can sometimes say too much about matters in each other’s area of expertise. A theologian can study history, especially with regard to Jesus and point to the reality of God’s love. God has spoken into our world, as we learn in the Old Testament, but ultimately has revealed Himself in Jesus, revealing His love at the cross. Theologians can help us understand that. However, if a religious leader says don’t worry about COVID-19, that God will give you immunity if you just trust Him enough, change the channel. That’s not how things work. Listen to the scientist, who learns through observation how things work. However, if a scientist says there is no God, change the channel. That is not the way things are, and the scientist, with all his or her observation, cannot know that. They cannot observe everything.

We walk by faith and with wisdom. It is not an either/or thing. To show wisdom is not to show a lack of faith. To show faith is not to show a lack of wisdom. It would be foolish to say that God will take care of us, so therefore we do not need to concern ourselves with the evidence with regard to COVID-19. It would also be foolish to say we have evidence on how to deal with the virus, so we don’t need to think of God.

I didn’t plan on this being the week we would land on “don’t worry” in our sermon series. I also didn’t realize how appropriate my one-minute Easter message would be on the radio. It begins,

This is a special time of year for many of us. It is time to get our motors running and head out on the highway. Being a Baptist pastor, I have often been asked if I feel close to God while riding my motorcycle. That sometimes depends on who is pulling out in front of me. Sometimes I have felt a little too close to God.

In life there are many reminders of our mortality. Whether it’s an accident, or the threat of a pandemic, there are many reminders that “dust we are, and to dust we will return.”

That is how things work in this broken world. That is the focus of Lent, a time we remember our mortality. Bad things happen; cars cut in front of motorcycles, people get addicted, a plane falls out of the sky, cancer strikes, infections spread, an innocent man is arrested, beaten and crucified. That is Lent, that is the recognition that death is part of the way things work. But after Lent comes Easter Sunday!

Death is a result of our separation from God. God has dealt with that separation through His grace, His love, His mercy. He is a good and heavenly Father who has gone to extreme lengths to be reconciled to His children. That is the way things are.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

So a pandemic looms ominously. Don’t worry, God’s got this? Actually, our Heavenly Father has us. But we’ve got this. We can see how this virus works, we can take appropriate steps. We do not worry, knowing that come what may, God loves us and someday we will stand before Him in glory. He’s got us. We do not worry. We do take care, however, and we will want to take care of each other through this difficult time.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read more of his ‘shrunk sermons’ at his blog. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

March 21, 2020

You Can Choose What You Think

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In a most timely matter, given all that is happening in our world right now, one of the devotionals this week at Devotions Daily at FaithGateway.com was an excerpt from Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado. Although it was too long to run here, I want to include a couple of excerpts from the excerpt!

You can choose what you think about

…For that reason the wise man urges,

Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.
— Proverbs 4:23 NCV

Do you want to be happy tomorrow? Then sow seeds of happiness today. (Count blessings. Memorize Bible verses. Pray. Sing hymns. Spend time with encouraging people.) Do you want to guarantee tomorrow’s misery? Then wallow in a mental mud pit of self-pity or guilt or anxiety today. (Assume the worst. Beat yourself up. Rehearse your regrets. Complain to complainers.) Thoughts have consequences.

Healing from anxiety requires healthy thinking. Your challenge is not your challenge. Your challenge is the way you think about your challenge. Your problem is not your problem; it is the way you look at it.

Satan knows this. The devil is always messing with our minds.

He comes as a thief

with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying.
— John 10:10 Phillips

He brings only gloom and doom. By the time he was finished with Job, the man was sick and alone. By the time he had done his work in Judas, the disciple had given up on life. The devil is to hope what termites are to an oak; he’ll chew you up from the inside.

He will lead you to a sunless place and leave you there. He seeks to convince you this world has no window, no possibility of light. Exaggerated, overstated, inflated, irrational thoughts are the devil’s specialty.

No one will ever love me. It’s all over for me. Everyone is against me. I’ll never lose weight, get out of debt, or have friends.

What lugubrious, monstrous lies!

No problem is unsolvable. No life is irredeemable. No one’s fate is sealed. No one is unloved or unlovable.

Your challenge is the way you think about your challenge. 

But Satan wants us to think we are. He wants to leave us in a swarm of anxious, negative thoughts.

Satan is the master of deceit. But he is not the master of your mind. You have a power he cannot defeat. You have God on your side.

So

fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
— Philippians 4:8 NLT

The transliteration of the Greek word, here rendered as fix, is logizomai. Do you see the root of an English word in the Greek one? Yes, logic. Paul’s point is simple: anxiety is best faced with clearheaded, logical thinking.

Turns out that our most valuable weapon against anxiety weighs less than three pounds and sits between our ears. Think about what you think about!

Here is how it works. You receive a call from the doctor’s office. The message is simple and unwelcome. “The doctor has reviewed your tests and would like you to come into the office for a consultation.”

As quickly as you can say “uh-oh,” you have a choice: anxiety or trust.

Anxiety says…

“I’m in trouble. Why does God let bad things happen to me? Am I being punished? I must have done something wrong.”

“These things never turn out right. My family has a history of tragedy. It’s my turn. I probably have cancer, arthritis, jaundice. Am I going blind? My eyes have been blurry lately. Is this a brain tumor?”

“Who will raise the kids? Who will pay the medical bills? I’m going to die broke and lonely. I’m too young for this tragedy! No one can understand me or help me.”

If you aren’t already sick, you will be by the time you go to the doctor’s office.

Anxiety weighs down the human heart.
— Proverbs 12:25 NRSV

But there is a better way.

Before you call your mom, spouse, neighbor, or friend, call on God. Invite him to speak to the problem.

Capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 NCV

Slap handcuffs on the culprit, and march it before the One who has all authority: Jesus Christ.

Jesus, this anxious, negative thought just wormed its way into my mind. Is it from You?

Jesus, who speaks nothing but the truth, says, “No, get away from here, Satan.” And as the discerning, sober-minded air traffic controller of your mind, you refuse to let the thought have the time of day.

Lay claim to every biblical promise you can remember, and set out to learn a few more. Grip them for the life preservers they are. Give Satan no quarter. Give his lies no welcome.

Fasten the belt of truth around your waist.
— Ephesians 6:14 NRSV

Resist the urge to exaggerate, overstate, or amplify. Focus on the facts, nothing more…

-Max Lucado

March 16, 2020

Plagues Happened at the Beginning of the Story and Will at the End

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:32 pm
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We tend to consign the word plague to certain Old Testament stories. Of course we also tend to think that with our modern health care, such things could never happen in current times. At least we think that until we find ourselves in the middle of one.

From Bible Study Tools:

The term “plague” is found roughly 100 times in the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament. The most commonly known biblical plagues occurred in Egypt during the time of Moses. Plagues are also mentioned in Revelation of the New Testament when describing the end of days on Earth. Scripture reveals that God sent plagues as a consequence of disobedience and idolatry. Exodus 32:35 gives an example of this, saying “So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.”

The passage clearly indicates that God sent the plague. I think this goes beyond saying God permitted the plague to happen. We say that most times today — and, I believe, correctly — that things happen because we live in a fallen world, but clearly God Himself, speaking through the prophets, takes a proactive role and reveals Himself as the author of the plagues, as is declared in Amos 4:10.

“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.

At the website Knowing Jesus, we’re given a number of verses on this subject, and this one, from Jeremiah 14:12 shows God’s deliberate action and provides us with a number of Biblical synonyms to plague:

“When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

This is of course where so many get the idea of the violent, angry, Old Testament God; the very picture which seems so much at odds to the loving, compassionate, New Testament version of God which the modern church is trying so hard to promote!

But God is the same: yesterday, today and forever, right? We have to be careful of going too far down the road where God has two different masks that he wears. Yes, we live in what some call The Age of Grace, and that grace has been poured out to us through Jesus. But God judges sin as part of his essential character.

So…in the few New Testament references we have to plague, are they part of the fallen world model, or are they going to be sent directly by God as a form of judgement? Mark 13:8 and its parallel passage in Luke 5:11 state respectively,

“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

“…and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”

How did you answer that? How do we answer if the present virus outbreak is judgement or natural consequence of the fallen world we live in?

I am sure that, as diverse as the Body of Christ is, there are people with answers on both sides for that question…

One other thought

Before we leave today, it occurred to me about 30 minutes before posting this that people in the broader demographic are looking to see how we, as Christians, are responding to this crisis. Our neighbors. Our co-workers. Our extended family. Our children. Our unsaved spouses. Our fellow-students.

Is our faith strong enough to hold in these times? I ask myself that question, too; because we don’t truly know until we’re in the time of testing how we will fare.


If you’re joining us today for the first time

We’ve been looking at this theme for the past several devotions:

March 15, 2020

When Anxiety Overwhelms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
-Psalm 139:23

Today, selections from search engine results; you’re encouraged to click the links to each piece; these are just fragments from larger articles.


From Bethany Bible Church, Joel Nevius writes:

Memorize and Pray Scripture

One of the worst things about anxiety attacks is that it turns all of your attention inward. Because you are constantly monitoring and checking on how you’re feeling, it becomes harder to focus on other things and other people. We get consumed with thoughts like: How am I feeling? Is there another attack coming on? Will I ever become sane again? I feel so scared. I feel alone in this. Nothing will ever be the same again. I guess I’ll be in a mental hospital the rest of my life.

During the initial weeks of battling anxiety attacks, I met with one of my pastors who knew what was going on. He did one of the best things for me…he gave me a list of passages that he wanted me to meditate on. Far from it feeling like a cheap fix, the passages he shared with me all took on a more significant meaning to me, since I was desperate for relief. All of a sudden, passages that communicated God’s presence in the midst of scary situations became very real.

I began to commit the beginning of Isaiah 43 to memory:

1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

One of the worst times I found for my anxiety was at night as I was trying to sleep, so I would simply recite and pray through this passage over and over and over again until I fell asleep. The Holy Spirit calmed me down through this passage as I reflected on the amazing truth that God is faithfully present with his people during really scary and dangerous times. This was incredibly powerful since when we’re dealing with severe anxiety the biggest temptation is to think that we are all alone.

Memorize a passage and dwell on the truth of it. I promise the Holy Spirit will use it.

this is part 4 of a 5-part article


At Olive Tree, Cierra Loux writes,

Worry Causes Fear to Crowd out Faith

Thus, in the final reckoning, “the cowardly” are listed alongside the “unbelieving” (Rev 21:8). Linking worry with unbelief, Scripture gives direction for a return to full faith. The road from worry to faith begins with recognition that worry is sin and confession of lack of faith (Ps 139:23), continues with deliverance (Ps 34:4), and finally ends with the assurance that absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God who is the great I am (Ro 8:35Ex 3:14–15).

In place of anxious thoughts, you then freely offer thanksgiving from a heart established with trust in God as all sufficient (Ps 112:7–8Php 4:6–7).

What worry or fear are you surrendering to the Lord today?

this is part 4 of a short 4-part article


From Relevant Magazine, Rachel Moreland writes,

Healing comes in many forms

…God didn’t heal me instantly right on the spot. On the contrary, my experience wasn’t one of immediate relief. It wasn’t a miraculous healing that some encounter in church pews.

Managing my anxiety was a long and drawn-out process. It was the result of many months of intense counseling sessions and emotional energy. But in that process, I found relief. And I experienced healing.

It all started by going to speak a complete stranger about my fears where I learned about tools to help stop the onset of a panic attack. I slowly began to learn how to manage overpowering feelings of anxiety. As I accepted the fact that I struggled with a disorder, I began the frightening process of opening up to my family and friends. I took a step back and observed the bad habits I needed to break, and I even had to say goodbye to some unhealthy relationships. The process was anything but easy or formulaic, but it allowed me to slowly regain that peace of mind that Philippians talks about.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

So did God heal me?

Not in the way you would think. Not in one instant heavenly instant.
I have no shame in admitting to you that my prayers didn’t result in the end of my disorder. Healing takes place in many different ways. Sometimes it’s the immediate relief from anxiety during a worship service, and sometimes it’s ongoing treatment from a doctor.

What I can attest to is that God gave me the peace and determination to manage those days where anxiety was too close for comfort. And through that, I found grace. And ultimately, freedom.

this is part 3 of a 4-part article


I encourage you to do a similar search online; but exercise discernment as a variety of different faith groups optimize their pages in search results.


“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” – Psalm 55:22

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:6-8

March 14, 2020

Faith in God in Chaotic Times

Today we’re returning to Devotions by Chris, the blog of Chris Hendrix.  We’ll probably stay on this same theme for a few days, given what’s taking place in our world. Chris shares a short word and then lists five scripture passages from various translations. After the line break in the article are ten more that Chris listed in an article we shared here four years ago.

Trusting God’s Protection

Yesterday I went to a meeting where a person gave a speech on how to protect yourself from cyber criminals. He talked about the importance of longer passwords, paid for antivirus and firewalls. I began to think about all the ways we try to protect ourselves from bad things or people. We have home security systems, gates to our communities, cameras on our property and crash detection in our vehicles. Right now the world is trying to protect itself from the Coronavirus. Everyone is washing their hands, wearing masks and avoiding public gatherings. Are we being driven by fear or being cautious? Fear leads to panic and it is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7).

I’m all for being cautious and for being wise in protecting my belongings and family, but as the guy mentioned at the meeting, nothing can protect you 100%. That’s why we need to put our full trust in the One who can. Jerusalem had walls built around it for protection, yet David trusted God for protection more than the walls. You and I should do the same. God is our refuge and a very present help in time of need (Psalm 46:1). If we’re trusting God, we have nothing to fear. He is more than able to protect us from anything that would come against us. Take your precautions on things, but also pray to ask God for His divine protection and be at peace.

Here are some Bible verses on God’s protection.

1. He alone is my safe place; his wrap-around presence always protects me. For he is my champion defender; there’s no risk of failure with God. So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?

Psalms 62:2 TPT

2. Trust in the Lord forever; he will always protect us.

Isaiah 26:4 GNT

3. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.

Psalms 91:9-11 NLT

4. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.

Psalm 23:4 GNT

5. Lord, you are my secret hiding place, protecting me from these troubles, surrounding me with songs of gladness! Your joyous shouts of rescue release my breakthrough. Pause in his presence.

Psalms 32:7 TPT


Scriptures from the 2016 article,

Refuse To Worry

1. Therefore I tell you, stop being worried or anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted) about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, as to what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew 6:25 AMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Postscript: If you have time today, take a moment to read Chris’ personal story.

March 13, 2020

Hold Your Head Up

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. – Psalm 3:3 KJV

But you, God, shield me on all sides; You ground my feet, you lift my head high – Psalm 3:3 The Message

But, Lord, you are my shield, my wonderful God who gives me courage. – Psalm 3:3 NCV

Earlier this morning I was reading something posted in a Facebook group on Classic Praise and Worship songs about the early worship song which was based on the KJV rendering of the above verse.

It seemed timely given the climate of fear which has come over so many in the wake of the current Coronavirus pandemic. On a personal level, I’ve been rather ‘rattled’ by that. Perhaps for others of you, all it takes is a haunting nagging from your pre-conversion past over the fact today was a Friday the 13th.

So many Christian books right now deal with the topics of fear, worry, anxiety and its related consequence, depression.

  • The Power of Praying Through Fear
  • Anxious for Nothing
  • Too Blessed to be Stressed
  • Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety
  • Breaking the Worry Habit Forever
  • Worry Less, Live More
  • Worry-Free Living
  • Winning the Worry Battle
  • Letting Go of Fear
  • Prayers for Freedom Over Worry
  • Finding Peace
  • Breaking Anxiety’s Grip
  • Fearless
  • Still: 7 Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos

…and that’s just a few; not to mention the hundreds of self-help books that aren’t in the Christian marketplace; dealing with the effects of fear on the wider society.

There were also many, many more books listed which had the word overcoming in the title.  Note to self: We need to a devotional on the subject of what it means to be an overcomer, as this theme runs throughout scripture, even if the word isn’t used.

Of course, the opposite of looking up is looking down. Three times in Psalm 42 and once again in Psalm 43, we find the word translated in the NIV as downcast.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  43:5

and it appears several other times in that translations.

We all, myself included, need to ask ourselves if in view of the present circumstances our world finds itself in, we are looking up or looking down.

Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Psalm 24:7 NIV

“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” – Jesus in Luke 21:18

We need to be people who are looking up.  No matter what:

“…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me … my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”(Ps 23).

When David wrote Psalm 3 when he was fleeing from Absalom. The lyrics of the short worship song which started our thoughts today include text taken from the subsequent verse, verse 4:

 I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill.

For one more linked song today however, I want to leave us with something slightly more recent, Why So Downcast by Marty Nystrom.

 

 

March 6, 2020

Practice Handing Your Circumstances Over to God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional is short and simple, but there’s a reason I want to share it here on C201.

I don’t usually drive at night. No particular reason, but my schedule tends to crowd more things into daylight hours. But last week, with my car radio preset to Life 100.3 in Central Ontario (Canada) I was able to listen to what some would describe as “the youth show” called Slammin’ Christian Hits with host Terry Molinaro.

I was quite impressed with the way he handles the conversations with various people who call into the show, which are aired between songs. When I found out he has a blog (since 2014) I made up my mind I was going to share something from it; not only for readers here, but as an encouragement to Terry in his ministry.

As always, click the header below to read this at source. (Especially today…send Terry some online traffic.)

Practice Peace, Forget Worry

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were unprepared? When I was younger, I used to go to piano competitions. It’s a pretty strange thing to do, especially when you get into your teen years. No matter how good you become, what level you get to, there is always a five-year-old that can outplay you. I remember this one time when I was around 18 years old, sitting in a row of performers looking like I was the babysitter instead of a contestant.

Usually, I did well; however, there were times where I felt like I could have done better. I believe it came down to preparation or a lack thereof. If we have to bring things to the modern-day, I’m not worried about winning a piano competition against a bunch of five-year-olds anymore, but there are real things that pop up every once and awhile.

Recently, I had a non-medical emergency happen in my life that ended up costing a decent amount of money. Not to brag, but I got the invoice, and I paid for it. I didn’t stress or think twice about it. Why? Because I had prepared for an emergency in advance. (Thank you, Dave Ramsey)

The Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He’s done.” The question on my mind is, how well are we practicing not worrying? How often are we practicing praying about everything?

When I went on stage as a kid to perform a piece of music, if I suddenly decided to take a few moments to memorize the piece and practice it right then and there, it would have done me no good. It was the practice ahead of time that prepared me for the moments I was on stage.

Let me encourage you; you don’t have a different access level to peace than other people who seem peaceful do. You simply may not have practiced handing your circumstances and stresses over to God.

In the coming weeks and months, even today, stop and breathe, take a moment and bring the things that are on your mind before God. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He’s done. If you do, the Bible goes on to say, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ, Jesus.”

Practice peace, practice putting it into your life today, and it will guard your tomorrows.

25 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. We will probably adopt a Monday-to-Friday format. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

 

January 2, 2020

2019 Bible Verse of the Year

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

With 35 billion chapters of the Bible read using their Bible apps in 2019, the people who bring us YouVersion have some impressive statistics to back up their announcement of the “verse of the year.” It is the most looked up, most highlighted, and most shared verse in the YouVersion community. So what is it?

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

This speaks to the fear and anxiety in today’s society, and since the app is used across the globe, the anxieties felt around the world. This verse was written by someone who had great reason for anxiety and worry, for people who had great reason for anxiety and worry. It is in a letter written by the apostle Paul from prison, always a place of uncertainty in that time and place, to the Christians in Philippi who were facing persecution. So what does Paul say? Let’s consider what the Bible says about worry here, beginning with verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

We rejoice, even though we may feel scared, mad, or sad. That might seem like an impossible thing to do, since we cannot normally choose our emotions. However, “rejoice” here is an imperative verb, it is an action rather than a feeling. According to Greek experts it is the activity of being glad or taking delight. It is possible to feel sad, and be glad at the same time. Paul is not contradicting himself when he says “we are saddened, but we rejoice” in 2nd Corinthians 6:10.

To give an example, I might be sorrowful that we are now in a Canadian winter and I cannot ride a motorcycle. But at the same time I can be glad that I have enjoyed motorcycling every year since 1991, and look forward to another season of riding in the spring. For another example, I am unhappy about my Mum having Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling distraught that she is now living in a nursing home. However, I am glad she is safe, and with our shared hope in Christ, I take delight in the fact that her best days are still ahead. My emotions have not changed, I am still feeling the emotions brought by grief, but I can focus my mind on things to take delight in. I don’t try to change my emotions from feeling sad to happy, but rather refocus my mind, engaging in the activity of rejoicing even while unhappy.

This is part of what happens in worship and praise at church gatherings. Whatever our emotions resulting from a difficult week, or a difficult season of life, in worship we focus on the big picture, the reality that is ours in God. There can be awful stuff happening in our lives which will result in negative emotions, but in worship all the awful stuff takes the background. The reality of God takes the forefront of our hearts and minds. We cannot change our emotions, but we can change our focus. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We focus on God. We focus on the big picture God paints for us which takes the focus off the limited perspective of our own field of vision.

Next:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

We keep our cool, even though we may be mad enough to blow our tops. If our emotions take the forefront, then our relationships will be affected. When we allow the worries of life to take the foreground of our hearts and minds, we can easily hurt others. We can “kick the dog” so to speak. The Greek word for ‘gentleness’ has the idea of fitting, appropriate, or fair. Our response to the troubles of life can make our family and friends suffer unfairly, not to mention the poor dog. It is much better when we relate to people with the reality of God in the foreground. We relate to people, not as wounded people flailing away with swords, but as healed and healing people, experiencing grace and love from God, seeking grace and love in the lives of others.

And now for the verse of the year:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

We can pray, even though worry seems like the best, or only, thing to do. When we rejoice, we put the big picture in the forefront. In prayer, we have the opportunity to get our concerns and frustrations back to the forefront. Our frustrations and concerns are important, so should not merely be hidden away as if they do no matter. However, we do not put them forward so they can consume us. We focus on them in order to name them and hand them over to God. What is the result?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NRSV)

We may be uncertain about many things, but in Christ we can be certain God is our Heavenly Father who works out all things together for good (see Romans 8:28). One very literal translation puts it this way: “The peace of God, the one surpassing in value all reasoning, will watch over your inner selves and your thoughts” (from Scripture Direct Interlinear Greek Bible). While many understand this verse to mean something like “the peace of God is beyond understanding,” another possibility is; “having the peace of God is better than having understanding.” In other words, it is better to experience the peace of God, than have everything figured out. That is often our trouble, we want to have everything figured out, we worry and fret when we don’t. We don’t need it all figured out! Give it to God, Who already has it all figured out, Who has the power to do something about it, Who has the love to do something good about it, even if we can’t see it or understand it. Once we have given our concerns over to God, we can then refocus the mind again:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)

We have something far greater than knowing every detail of the future, and the ability to control that future. We have a relationship with the One who holds the future. Instead of worrying, let us go to God, rejoicing in our reality in Christ, relating to others with that reality in mind, giving our concerns over to God, then refocusing on all that is good. Whatever emotions you may experience in 2020, may you know peace, especially the peace of God.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in Cobourg, Ontario about an hour east of Toronto. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

October 16, 2019

Fear Makes the World Darker

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We’re back again featuring the writing of Sarah Jo at Blind Insanity. Again, support our writers by clicking the headers (below) to read items at source.


The Truth About Fear and Darkness

Fear makes things seem darker than they really are; like the open closet door as you’re trying to fall asleep or the tree line as you’re driving home. The power of fear is not in the depths of its shadows, but in the one who gives those shadows life: you and me. We are responsible for the power of fear, and, in and of ourselves, we are incapable of overcoming it.

So many people feel suffocated by fear; it steals their joy and takes away what good they have. But here is the truth about fear… Like darkness, fear cannot spread. All it can do is sit, and it will do so until you choose to turn on the light and take a step of faith toward safety… People can run in fear, but they can’t outrun fear, because it lies within them. But those who run to safety, to the light, run with the courage and faith that their darkness will be overcome… By intentionally running toward what they need (light, safety), fear is left behind; traded in for faith.

The incredible thing about light is that it’s always in motion. If you run toward it, it is also running toward you at 299,792,458 meters per second; light will hit you long before you can reach its source. Though we are incapable of defeating fear and darkness in and of ourselves, we have been given this incredible gift, light, which was created to defeat darkness and expunge fear.

The human body was never meant to live in the dark, but in the light. So, too, our souls were never meant to live in fear, but in faith in God’s Holy Son, Jesus Christ, Who is the Light of the world. Just like any light, His grace and salvation have the power to reach us when we are far from their source. All we have to do is take that step of faith and trust God. Like when the prodigal son returned to his Father, and his Father came running to him, so, too, does our Heavenly Father run to us.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly; for us. (Romans 5:6)

Too often, we let fear have its way in our lives and we surrender to darkness, as though the Son didn’t exist. But the Son is still shining. The darkness is not stronger than His Light. Fear and darkness have no power, except for what we give them. So, if we choose to give all glory, honor, praise, and faith to the Author of Light, to Jesus Christ, then we rob fear of its power and darkness of its hold.

Oh, may that be the story of all our lives.

“What is the way to the dwelling of light? As for darkness, where is its place, that you should take it to its bound, that you should discern the paths to its house?” (Job 38:19-20)

Jesus said to him, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me.” (John 14:6)

Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I AM the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him. Without Him was not anything made that has been made. In Him was life, and the Life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

July 8, 2019

Worry

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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For the past three days, pastor, author and evangelist Greg Laurie has been doing a series of devotions on worry at Harvest.org. Here are some excerpts with links to the individual pieces.

What Jesus Said about Worry

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:34

…There are so many things happening in our world today that could cause us to worry. The war on terrorism is far from over. There is a terrorist army that calls itself ISIS, the likes of which we have never seen before. Then there are rogue nations like North Korea and Iran arming themselves with nuclear capabilities.Then we have our personal problems too. There are problems with work . . . problems with our families . . . problems with our health.

How can we overcome fear and worry? The Bible has something to say about this. Jesus Himself addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33 NKJV).

Believers should not worry. Jesus is not saying that Christians shouldn’t be concerned about the necessities of life. He is not saying that we shouldn’t think about them or plan for the future. The Bible encourages us to work hard, to save our money, and so forth. But what Jesus is saying is that we shouldn’t worry about these things.

Worry doesn’t make your life longer; it just makes it more miserable.

Pray and Let God Worry

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  Matthew 6:27

Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount in the region of Galilee, where all around Him were birds chirping away and beautiful wildflowers growing. He drew on that backdrop to make a point:

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:26–27).

In other words, look at what is before your eyes. Have you ever seen a stressed-out bird? Birds wake up every morning and sing away. They’re simply happy. No bird has ever been promised eternal life. No bird has ever been given the hope of Heaven. Yet they sing away, every day. Jesus wasn’t saying that birds sit by idly and wait for the food to come to them. They take action.

I like what Martin Luther said: “Pray and let God worry.” That is really the secret. Philippians 4:6–7 says,

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

The next time you are gripped by fear and worry, the next time you start thinking, “What if this happens? What if that happens?” turn it into a prayer. Look to the Lord and let Him give you His peace.

The Secret to a Worry-Free Life

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33

There are many things you can seek to live for in life. You can live for a lot of things. You can live for your physical appearance. You can live for a successful career. You can live for pleasure. But here is what Jesus said:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NLT).

With those words, Jesus gave us the secret to living a worry-free life: Instead of worry, put God and His will first in your life. Among a number of options, put God in the number one position.

Let’s take your career for example. Is your career choice, your line of work, really for God’s glory? Are you seeking Him first in what you’re doing?

You might say, “Greg, you’re a pastor. It’s easy for you to seek God first. I work in the real world with real people.”

I understand. But here is what your goal should be: to honor God in everything you do. Here is what you need to ask yourself: “As I’m doing this thing, what is my goal?” If your goal is just to make money no matter what it takes, you have the wrong goal. Your goal should be to honor God, give honest work, and have personal integrity and a good testimony in the workplace.

When the day is done, you want to have a good name and a good reputation. Proverbs 22:1 says,

“Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold” (NLT).

Seek first the kingdom of God. If you want a life free of worry, anxiety, and fear, then put God’s kingdom before everything else. Seek Him first, and He will take care of you.

 

 

April 13, 2019

Worry and Anxiety Can Blind Us to God’s Sovereignty

This is from a book published in 2000, The Ways of God by Henry Blackaby and Roy Edgemon. (pp 67-68)

Sovereignty and Worry

God’s sovereign presence remains and is active in the midst of His people today. However, things that can blind us to God’s rule still surround us. Jesus declared the truth when He said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).

You might think, Great! I know that money is not my master. But are you making important life decisions based on the presence or absence of money? Do you determine whether or not to obey God depending on practicalities, such as “overhead”? If you do not immediately think of “no!” as your answer, you may be ruled by money more than you thought.

Even if you were quickly able to rule out money as a barrier to your service to God, there are plenty of other “practical” candidates for the job of master. Even after ruling out the potential of kings and money, that still leaves another frontrunner – worry.

Sovereignty is clearly a way of God. Yet worry can be a sign of doubt, evidence that we are not trusting God as sovereign over everything. How well do we witness to His nature as sovereign Lord and Creator if we continue to worry? Jesus taught about the dilemma some find in trying to serve the Father by offering this advice,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

When believers worry, they actually may be trying to control a situation. They also may be revealing that they believe their situation is too difficult for God. But God has shown throughout Scripture that He has ultimate power over everything. He wants us to function under His lordship, trusting His sovereignty over this world.

God wants us to seek Him. The reward for seeking God, however, is His activity in and through our lives. When we serve our Sovereign, He will use us. Yet God never functions based on our will, but by His sovereign rule. God’s purpose in working through you is not to help you to be successful or even worry-free, but to use your life as a means by which He reveals Himself. He is not there to reveal you to a watching world. He is there to reveal Himself to a yearning, hurting and watching world.

March 4, 2019

The Greed/Worry Connection

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re back for a fifth time with Steven C. Mills at the website, Steve’s Bible Meditations. Click the header below to read at source and from there, browse other articles.

Worry is a Faith Matter – Luke 12:22-32

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing…. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:22-23, 32, NLT).

Jesus told a parable about greed to a crowd of people (vs. 12:13-21). Then, in stark contrast to the greed story, Jesus turned to His disciples and proceeded to tell them not to worry about their daily needs for life, specifically food and clothing, because God will provide everything they need.

Jesus said that ravens don’t plant or harvest crops yet they have enough food (vs. 24). He said King Solomon was never dressed as beautifully as a lily (vs. 27).

Jesus concluded that if God takes care of both the birds and flowers, how much more will He take care of human beings (vs. 28).

What’s interesting is after Jesus admonishes His disciples to quit worrying about their basic needs for life, He indicts them for a lack of faith.

Jesus links worry to faith! In other words, when you worry you are demonstrating a lack of faith.

So, worry is a faith matter! And, the best way to reduce or eliminate worry from your life is to build your faith in God.

And the way to build your faith in God is to seek His Kingdom more than you seek the necessities of life.

As a result of seeking God’s Kingdom first each day, your daily needs (and more!) will be supplied as a result or benefit of seeking His Kingdom (vs. 31).

When your main priority is seeking the Kingdom of God, the other work you undertake each day will serve to supplement your main vocation of building God’s Kingdom.

And then you won’t have to worry about all your other needs because you belong to God and He takes care of you by blessing what you do.


And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)

January 3, 2019

2018 “Bible Verse of the Year”

by Clarke Dixon

What was the most popular Bible verse of 2018? According to the popular Bible app YouVersion, the verse of the year was not John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 as you might expect. It was Isaiah 41:10.

Unfortunately, this verse is an indicator of what was on the hearts and minds of people around the world in 2018; fear and discouragement. We had many reasons for fear in 2018, such as changes in society and changes in our world with movements toward nationalism and various kinds of fundamentalism. We saw changes in relationships between nations, thinking especially of renewed trade wars. Most of us saw changes in ourselves. I am one year closer to the big five-O. Perhaps you are one year further away from it. Aging can be a great cause for fear. Then there are the things that stay the same; wars and rumours of wars, continuing oppression, natural disasters. There were reasons for fear in Isaiah’s day as well. Israel was a small nation surround by strong nations. That can be cause for fear in any age, but certainly back in the days when empires were eaten up by bigger empires.

What do we humans do when we are afraid? Isaiah tells us:

5 The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
6 The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
7 The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. Isaiah 41:5-7

The New Living Translation makes clear what most other translations don’t. The artisans and goldsmiths are making idols. We have a tendency of turning to idolatry in the midst of fear. In Isaiah’s time people thought idols could control the future. Are we any different today? What do we think controls the future in our day? In answering this we tend to either run toward superstition, or away from it so far that we run from the supernatural altogether.

It amazes me when I check the news headlines using the Internet on my tablet as to how often the daily horoscope shows up among the headline news. Here we are as very sophisticated people with great technology in our hands, and yet people are still looking to the stars for their future.

Superstition can sneak into Christianity very easily. I have often used an app on my phone called IFTTT which means “if this, then that.” I program this app so that when I do the right “trigger,” it will automatically do the right action. So, for example, I can say “time to eat,” and text messages are sent to our boys that dinner is ready. People often treat God that way. If I do this, then God must do that. I can control the future by doing a certain “trigger” which will force God to do the right action. Problem is, God is not an app or a phone that he must operate according to our scripts. God is sovereign. I am reminded of a prominent Christian couple who walked away from Christianity in 2018. God had not responded to them as they thought He should have. People do not tend to walk away from Jesus. They do, however, walk away from superstitious expressions of Christianity. Unfortunately, people tend to walk towards superstitious expressions of Christianity in times of fear.

While some, in thinking of the future, rush headlong into superstition, others will go the opposite extreme and become anti-supernatural. Nothing controls the future, it just all unfolds according to mechanistic processes. Even the process of thinking is said to be just a matter of one thing causing another, like a line of dominoes falling. Anti-supernaturalism can be found in certain expression of Christianity where people appreciate the benefits of religion such as structure, morality, and community. However, they don’t really believe in a transcendent and immanent sovereign God. The world is what it is and the future will be what it will be.

According to Isaiah, neither superstition, nor anti-supernaturalism speaks to our future. Who really holds the future? We find out in Isaiah 41:8-10

8 “But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:8-10

God holds the future. Notice how Isaiah points to the past, present, and future. God’s people could look back and see a long standing relationship with God, “I have chosen you.” They have been his people for a long time. They can look to the present “I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.” They can look to the future, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Nothing could provide hope and help in times of fear like God Himself. In thinking of the future we do well to leave behind our superstitions and our anti-supernaturalism and turn to God. He holds the future as surely as He has held the past and now holds the present.

The theme of “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” will sound familiar to the Christian. We can think of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

9 They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! – Luke 2:9-11

That God had become present through Jesus was good news, and so “do not be afraid”! We are also reminded of the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can look to the past to see the relationship God has been pursuing with us. We can look to Christmas, we can look to Easter and the reconciliation that He has offered at the cross. We can also look to God’s presence in our lives now. We can look forward to God keeping His promises in the future.

2018 may have been a year marked by fear and discouragement for you. Perhaps Isaiah 41:10 is a verse you want to memorize for 2019.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

…or, if you prefer, all his articles here at C201 can be seen at this link.

Scripture references today are taken from the NLT

December 15, 2018

The Garment of Praise

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Almost exactly a year ago we introduced you to homeschool curriculum writer Anne Elliott . At that time we had discovered a much older article by her, and decided this time around to feature something more recent. Click the title below to read on her site, and then navigate from there to check out other articles.

The Garment of Praise for the Spirit of Heaviness

Sometimes we start to feel very sad. Circumstances seem overwhelming, and promises from God take too long to come to pass. Tears flow when we don’t want them to. We lose our desire to work, to eat, to be with our loved ones. We just want to crawl into bed. The Bible calls this a spirit of heaviness.

“To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3, NKJV).

Other times we start to feel very hurt. People accuse us of things we didn’t do. Our hearts feel bruised, and we react in anger when our thoughts merely turn to the words said. We struggle to be with them, and to restrain unkind words, and our faces turn red with passion when they aren’t even in the room. The Bible calls this a spirit of bitterness.

“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 7:11, NKJV).

Other times we feel paralyzed with worry. We know God loves us and has done good for us in the past, but this time feels different. The giants look bigger, and we feel deserted. Our hearts pound, our stomachs hurt, our eyes widen. We can’t think of anything else. The Bible calls this a spirit of fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV).

As the Scripture clearly says, these spirits do not come from God! I’ve been pondering this. How do thoughts like these ever enter our minds, causing emotions and reactions in my body, when they do not come from God? They originate from the deceiver, who plants them in our hearts and minds.

“And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him…” (John 13:2, NKJV).

So let me give you a picture of something I’ve been pondering. My husband has been teaching about how the Spirit of God has been given to us as a down payment and a guarantee of the promises to come, especially of the resurrection.

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

“Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5, NKJV).

The Spirit of God sets up His residence within our hearts, so that His presence can go before us, giving us strength, guarding us, empowering us, and leading us each day.

This reminds me of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. They received the covenant at Sinai, but shortly after, they sinned terribly by building the golden calf. Shortly after, YHVH told them that He would send a messenger before them to lead them to the Promised Land, but that His own presence could not go with them because they were stiff-necked and He would destroy them (Exodus 33). Moses interceded on their behalf, and YHVH relented.

“Then Moses said to [YHVH], ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’

“And YHVH said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name’” (Exodus 33:15-17).

Right after this, YHVH gave the plans for a Tabernacle to Moses, along with all the regulations for the worship of YHVH in the Tabernacle. The basic premise was that YHVH would dwell in the midst of His people, but they would need to be very clean in order for Him to remain there. Any uncleanness would separate them from His presence.

In the same way, the Spirit of God wants to dwell in our hearts and minds, but if His presence is to guide us, we have to get rid of any uncleanness.

We have to cast out the spirits of heaviness, bitterness, and fear.

It makes so much sense, then, why the Enemy wishes to attack us in our minds. If he can plant anxiety and anger and panic — and if we allow him to do this — then we will not be guided by the presence of God!

If we wish to hear His voice, then we have to cast out the voice of the Enemy.

If we wish to be distinguished from all the other people on the face of the earth, we must stop listening to their advice and counsel, heeding only the voice of the Presence of God.

If we wish to please Him, we must keep the outer courts of our hearts clean.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Faith is an action. Here are some actions we can take when we identify that the thoughts in our minds are not from God:

  • To cast out the spirit of heaviness, we must gird ourselves with a garment of praise.
  • To cast out the spirit of bitterness, we must bless others and not curse.
  • To cast out the spirit of fear, we must remember what God has done for us in the past, and how He has shown Himself strong on our behalf.

For myself, these things are easier when I set up some simple disciplines for my life. Just as the Tabernacle was to be maintained daily, always staying clean, we must maintain our hearts daily. It’s not enough to just passively wait for the Enemy to arrive.

  • Start the Day with Scripture. Write down some key verses, then speak those verses all day long. The Word is truth, and when we speak it, the angels of God do His bidding and both guard our “tabernacles” and go before us to destroy the enemy.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

“Praise YHVH, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word” (Psalm 103:20).

  • Pray in the Spirit. As we come into His presence with our requests and petitions, reminding Him of His promises by praying the very Scriptures themselves, then our own faith is built up and renewed.

“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).

  • Sing and Praise. This is one of the hardest points for me, even though I love to sing. My flesh tends toward grumbling and complaining, and I often tend to focus on my problems rather than all the ways in which He has delivered me. It seems that I have to trick my body by singing aloud with a smile, with my foot tapping and even with dancing. If I am with other believers (even my kids or husband), then it can be easier.

“I will greatly praise YHVH with my mouth;
Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.
For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor,
To save him from those who condemn him” (Psalm 109:30-31).

  • Bless and Not Curse. Our Master Yeshua told us to bless others, especially when they try to harm us. This breeds a spirit of forgiveness, of understanding, of empathy. My desire to see harm come upon others is replaced with genuine concern for their well-being. The key is to remember that our true enemy is Satan himself, never another person created by God.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

  • Give Thanks. This discipline is something that needs to be done all day long, so that we can stay in a place of rejoicing. Boy, this one really takes discipline, doesn’t it? However, like all exercise, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).

Our adversary will certainly try to plant thoughts of evil in our hearts, but with these strategies, we can cast him out and instead see the fruit of living in communion with God Himself, His Spirit guiding us and empowering us.

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

 

September 19, 2018

Where Does the Object of Your Faith Reside?

Elsie Montgomery is one of the most faithful devotional writers I encounter when preparing these articles to share with you. She’s now in her 12th year of writing and this is her 15th time being highlighted here at C201. Click the title below and read it at her blog, Practical Faith.

Burdens can reveal the object of my faith

A Christian perspective can be easily misinterpreted. Because I know that God is sovereign and able to govern the world and all that it is in it, I can be calm regarding the stuff that happens because I know God is in charge. This calm reliance on His love and power can be misinterpreted; people might thing that I don’t care about the mayhem and tragedy in this world. Sometimes I misinterpret my burdens though. I can feel deep concern for the mess out there because God cares about the suffering going on in this world, but I can also be in a flap because I don’t believe that He does care. One burden comes from having His heart of compassion; the other is based on fear and panic.

Tozer said that warm hearts and cool heads should belong to Christians. His reason? We are seated above earthly circumstances and can calmly look down without being moved in spirit over the happenings in this world. He points to this passage:

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’” (Hebrews 8:1–5)

Even though Tozer’s conclusions are often a stretch from the Scriptures he uses, this passage did remind me that the Lord God is on the throne. He is the High Priest of heaven who is sovereign, even when I cannot understand what He is doing.

Why then the burdens? The weight in my heart for a world gone crazy can have two sources: fear or faith. I can panic over floods, hurricanes, typhoons, crime, fires and so on because they are tragic and God’s creation is suffering. I can feel the heart of a caring God who knows and cares for even the sparrows that fall (Luke 12). Yet if my burden is the burden of the Holy Spirit for pain and loss, it is not excessive because Jesus said, “My burden is light” (Matthew 11). It is also evidence that the Spirit who lives in me is conveying to me His heart for the needs of people.

However, those burdens can be fearful and overwhelming, without trust in God’s sovereign power and even rooted in fear and pride. I start thinking that I must do something even if it is only identifying with the pain of others. Fear is anxious about the outcome and acts without waiting on the Lord for direction. With fear, I try to run the world even though I know He is the only one who can.

The burdens of faith are rooted in humility. They are the result of a heart willing to bear whatever the Lord puts on it, then praying to give it back to Him. It is obeying what I know — that God can deal with it. He might give me an assignment but humility assumes nothing, not even that my prayers will ‘fix’ these issues. They belong to God, not my will. Faith in Him knows Jesus will ‘win’ even when everything looks very black. Fear runs in circles; faith attaches itself to God.

Jesus, when the burdens of the world start getting me down, I realize I must pray lest my faith slip into fear. Forgive me for letting that happen and quickly let me know so I will be praising You instead of banging my head against a wall.

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