Christianity 201

August 21, 2022

Seeing God’s Work in the World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Sorting through devotions online, today I discovered a source which, in one of their writings made a statement about the main purpose of scripture, or what they called “the primary theme and promise of the Bible;” and that statement was completely erroneous. And with that I knew I couldn’t share anything they had written. Presenting devotions from a variety of sources is a responsibility taken seriously, and even though there is a disclaimer, sometimes including someone here implies endorsement. Hopefully we get it right most days.


It’s a year later, and we’re back at Life Talk, the devotional page of Methodist Life. The writer today is John Grimm.

The Greatness of God

NRSVUE*.Luke.9.37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he[a] shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was being brought forward, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

Wow.  That is what can be said about Jesus casting out a demon from a boy.  We should be astounded at the greatness of God.  For the man to see his son free from the demon would have been spectacular!

When is the last time we were astounded by the greatness of God?

Did this astonishment happen when a confirmand** felt the Holy Spirit present in her?

Did this astonishment happen when a loved one quietly died after battling a terrible disease?

Did this astonishment happen in a worship service as Jesus healed a broken relationship?

Maybe we are like the generation who watched Jesus cast the demon out of the boy.  Maybe we are faithless and perverse.  It might be that Jesus needs to rebuke us so that we can see the greatness of God.

God, we want to see your greatness.  However, our lack of faith and our perverse ways keep us from noticing your power at work in this world.  Heal our lack of faith and drive out our perverse ways.  We want to see you work in our world.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.


Footnotes

  1. 9.39 Or it

Editor’s notes

*The citation, NRSVUE, stands for New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition, releasing in September.

**A confirmand is a person completing the process of preparation to enter into the sacrament of confirmation. In your tradition, think about someone preparing for adult baptism, or confession of faith, or even someone anticipating a missions trip.

August 1, 2022

No Prayer Request Too Small | Valuing God

Where I live today is a holiday Monday, and so we’re offering two shorter devotions today. We’re returning to an author we introduced eleven months ago, Pastor John Jakes who writes at Calvary Baptist Church in Indianola, Iowa. Clicking the two headers which follow will take you to the source of both articles.

Both of these writings are two sides of the same coin. The first is about how God values us; that we can bring even the smallest request to him. The second is about how we value God, our passion and excitement at his presence.

God Loves Us More Than We Understand

I have a bad habit in my prayer life. It isn’t that I don’t bring my requests to God. It isn’t that I don’t believe that God can answer my prayers. My habit is that I routinely decide which needs are too small to bring to God.

1 Peter 5:6 — 7  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

This encouragement from Peter always catches me. It doesn’t catch me because of the call to humility. Anyone who has heard the teachings of Jesus knows His opinion on pride. However, here in 1 Peter he connects it to how we pray in a profound way. In the midst of talking about prayer and exaltation, Peter urges us to cast all our anxiety upon God. He doesn’t tell us to bring God just the big stuff. He doesn’t say to take to God just the “spiritual” stuff. Peter tells us to bring all our anxiety to Him – every single thing.

I know the usual response. It usually goes something like this: “I pray for others. I pray for the needs of my church and community. I pray for my family. But, I don’t pray for myself much because my needs are little compared to others. God needs to take care of those bigger needs. I can manage these small things.” I don’t want to be too hard on us for trying to be humble in our prayers, however I think we have missed the point. We have missed that we aren’t actually expressing humility when we say such things. We are making the love and expansiveness of God smaller. We are missing that He loves us so much that He wants to know what is on our heart. We are losing sight of what it means for God to be omnipotent = He is so powerful that He can work in the smallest of our problems!

So, instead of shielding God from our little needs I propose we do something truly humble – bring Him every single one of them! Let’s acknowledge our complete dependency upon Him. Let’s embrace a love that wants to know every need of our heart. Let’s marvel in a God like Him. He is so great that He loves you and me. He loves us in our smallness. He loves us in our brokenness. He is always faithful. So, when you think of humility don’t try to make yourself smaller. Make Him bigger. Make Him your everything. Make Him your strength. Make Him your confidence. Make Him your answer. He is big enough for even the little things.

God’s Value to Us

There are a couple of ways to measure what we value. The first way to measure what we value is what we are willing to pay or sacrifice to get it. The other way is how does what we value stack up to other similar items. Consider those that love Apple devices. The average iPad is between 200-300 dollars. The similar Android device is half that price. The new iPhone 13 is just under 1000 dollars. The comparable Android device is a third of the price. Now, ask that Apple user if they are willing to pay that amount. The answer will be yes. Then ask them if they would take a free Android device. Can you guess the answer? It will probably be a snarky, “Yeah, I can use it as a brick to lift up the corner of my bed – it’s a little low.” That’s value. They love their device. They will pay the price and they won’t give it up.

Psalm 84:10 For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

That’s God to us. The Psalmist declares that He would be willing to be a door keeper at God’s house than dwell in the tents of wickedness. That’s quite a cost – stand outside the house of God as a ceremonial guard rather than enjoy the party! Wow. What value! He also says that he would rather spend one day in God’s courts than a thousand outside. No exchanges. Nothing else is acceptable. When compared with all other opportunities, God is worth more. That is value.

God’s people are clear in their declaration: God is worth it. He is worth any sacrifice. He is worth giving our heart solely to. Because of that worth, giving and sacrificing for Him is joy. It is the joy of value. We get to be with Him. We get to walk with Him. We get to follow Him. He makes it joy. Do you know this joy? Do you know His value? How do you show it? He is worth it.

June 25, 2022

Our Monetary Giving is a Sign of our Trust in God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT

Today’s devotional again takes us to a website we’re featuring for the first time. SeekGrowLove.com features different authors each day. The writer of today’s thoughts is Cayce Fletcher. Clicking the link in the headline below will take you to where we discovered this earlier today. (Below it is a link to a full chapter you might wish to read first.)

Saturday – June 25th

2 Corinthians 8

Tithes. It’s an uncomfortable topic. People get uncomfortable when you talk about money in general, and when you say they should give away their money, sometimes they can get downright feisty. If you are under 18, the idea of tithing is just that moment in church where they play an instrumental song and some people reach in their purse or wallet to discreetly turn in a folded bill. You may even participate with some money that your parents have given you. After 18 though – when you’re in charge of paying bills and then taking care of other living beings (whether that’s a dog, a child, or a plant), that’s when tithing can get overlooked. I know it does in my case.

2 Corinthians 8, today’s reading, is all about giving which is just another word for tithing. Tithing was a word that originated in England in the Middle Ages to describe the custom of giving 10% of income to the church to support it during that time. Paul talks about this, but he doesn’t focus on the legalistic requirement of giving 10% to ‘do your duty.’ Instead, Paul frames this giving to support the ministry of the apostles, the ministry of spreading the gospel, as an opportunity, a privilege. He says, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (2 Cor. 8:3-4).

To participate in the ministry of the gospel whether through actually traveling from place-to-place or supporting via funds was a good thing. It wasn’t a duty that they should begrudgingly do. Later in the letter to Corinthians, Paul goes on to say,  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Tithing is very much about our attitude. Are we cheerfully giving this offering to support the ministry of God? Or are we doing it only for the appearance of ‘doing the right Christian things’?

When you think about giving of your time or money, how much should you give? Paul says this: “And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.  For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”

In this, Paul again is pointing to the importance of attitude when considering how much time or money to give. He wanted the Corinthians to continue with the same desire, regardless of how much they actually gave. He also pointed out that if the desire to give is there, God doesn’t look at how big the gift is. He looks at how much is given in comparison to how much that person has. You can read more about this in the parable of the widow and the two coins in Mark 12:41-44.

Ultimately, our tithes and offerings are a display of our trust in God. They harken back to the sabbath rest of the ancient Israelites in the desert. By giving God a portion of our time or our money, we trust that God will do great things with it in the world, and we trust that God will make sure that we are taken care of with what we have left. Now, ‘taken care of’ does not mean that we will get rich off of tithing. (That’s the false prosperity gospel.) Taken care of means that we will have clothes on our backs and food in our bellies (Matt. 6:25-34). Our tithes and offerings can also fix our relationship with money. Instead of holding it tightly and greedily, by giving our money away – we are reinforcing that it is not an idol in our lives. Our attitude towards money changes.

What can you give back to God today?

Questions for Application: 

  1. Do you normally tithe? How does giving look for you?
  2. Can tithing be more than just money? (For example, time serving at a church camp or participating in the worship band.)
  3. What is your relationship with money? How do you think that relationship affects your relationship with God?

 

 

May 15, 2022

Approaching God: Awe, Obedience, Reverence, Fear, Caution

One of the most frequently appearing writers here is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. For this year, she is following readings in a book called Daily Treasures from the Word of God by Leona and Nicolas Venditti, published in 2012. She says, “I will read what they have to say listening to what the Lord is saying to me, write my thoughts here, and pray for His enabling to apply them to my life.”

To read this where it first appeared, click the header which follows.

Power of Reverence

READ Hebrews 5–8

Experience and the Word of God tells me that answered prayer is not a simple matter. It rarely happens unless I keep my communion with Him clear through confessing known sins. It never happens when I pray selfishly or plainly outside of His will. Today’s reading offers another thought; God hears the prayers of those who deeply reverence Him . . .

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

Bible dictionaries say that the words translated reverence mean “a feeling of profound respect” yet also a “certain element of awe, which may be interpreted in some instances as implying even fear.” The implication of such reverent fear or awe is, of course, obedience. Some scholars prefer to interpret these terms as ‘to obey.’ One dictionary says this word is properly understood as “caution” with religiously reverence or piety yet implying dread or fear. An English dictionary says reverence is profound respect and love and a reverent attitude toward God means honoring Him, expressing gratitude to Him, and obeying His commandments.

Another says common synonyms of reverence are adore, revere, venerate, and worship. While all these words mean “to honor and admire profoundly and respectfully,” reverence presupposes an intrinsic merit and sacredness in the one honored with a similar depth of feeling in the one honoring.

In other words, reverence is about my response but it is more about God. The idea of fear comes with the realization that I do not pull God’s strings. He IS in charge and every breath that I take is by His grace. Knowing His power and other qualities should produce in me total cessation of ‘doing my own thing’ and a deep desire to fit in with His plans. Jesus did that. He knew the Father could save Him from death and knew He heard His cries, yet said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Prayer is not about getting my own way but yielding to God’s way, sometimes in holy fear. This is being like Jesus.

The New Testament also talks about patience being the mark of maturity or being like Jesus. He was always emotionally calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation. It comes to us through trials and is also a huge part of reverence. Respecting God and not taking matters into my own hands requires patience and total faith. Hebrews 6:12 & 15 says it is “through faith and patience” that God’s people inherit God’s promises.

Maturity also involves discernment. This reading speaks of having my senses trained to rightly understand the visible realm of reality and the equally real realm of the unseen. God gives Scripture and the Holy Spirit so I can sense the unseen and not be swayed by the constant pull of the world and evil forces to pull me away from following Jesus and instead resorting to sinful self-effort.

Discernment also combats false doctrine and gives an accurate perception of what is really from God and what is not. Scripture warns believers about the devil appearing to be an angel of light. I need to discern fully the powers of darkness and realize how patience and discernment are both tied to spiritual maturity. Both have a strong relationship to effective prayer and to “holding fast to the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18)

The marvel is that even if I pray incorrectly or fail to pray at all, Jesus still “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus prays for me, protecting me from the evil one and from destruction. He is my Savior; I am not.

Another beautiful thought from this reading is the power of the gospel that begins a life of knowing God and growing in that patience that marks maturity and that ensures God’s ear to our prayers:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10–12)

The bottom line for all this is three-fold. Discernment is a gift that enables me to know the Christ of Scripture and not be distracted from Him as my source of all that is godly. Being like Him means reverence, not mere ‘joyful worship’ but the awe that is mixed with fear and obedience that considers His power and ownership of all that concerns me. If my prayers are to be heard and answered, then I must discern all that distracts me from Christ and know all He desires from me so I can yield all of my life to this amazing God of glory.

April 26, 2022

It’s Not a Revelation of End Times, It’s a Revelation of Jesus

A decade ago, on two occasions, we featured the writing of Allan R. Bevere, and it’s always encourage to go back years later and discover the individual is still faithfully posting resources online. You’ll notice two things right away. Allan lists the scriptures from the Lectionary, and he also places the prayer at the beginning of the devotional, which can be a great way of centering our thoughts before we begin reading.

Alan is pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Ashland, Ohio. Clicking the header below will take you the text of today’s devotional at Faith Seeking Understanding.

A Vision Focused on Jesus

Scripture

Psalter: Psalm 122

Old Testament: Esther 7:1-10

Epistle: Revelation 1:9-20

___

Prayer

Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the shadows of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, uphold us with knowledge of the final morning when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son, we will share in his resurrection, redeemed and restored to the fullness of life and forever freed to be your people. Amen.

___

Reflection

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades (Revelation 1:17-18).

“Revelation changes the way we see and respond to the world,” says Joel Green (Reading Scripture as Wesleyans, p. 160). He elaborates, “As much as any book of the Bible, Revelation recognizes how the glasses we wear determine what we see and understand about the world around us” (p. 161).

In Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn says to a young Anakin Skywalker, “Remember, Your focus determines your reality,” or as is stated in C.S. Lewis’ Magician’s Nephew, “[W]hat you see and hear depends a good deal on where you’re standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are” (Green, p. 161).

The truth of the matter is that no one comes to the world from a neutral point of view. There is no objective account of reality. I remember listening to a sermon years ago. Near the end of the message the preacher said to the congregation gathered, “Now, when you leave the church and go out into the real world…” Such a comment is a great theological misstep. It is the conviction of the Bible that the real world is not “out there.” The world “out there” is a distortion of the true reality God has in mind for his creation. It is the church that is to glimpse that real world so the world will know what God expects of it. To be sure, the church so often falls short of reflecting that divine reality, but it is charged with doing so nonetheless. As Stanley Hauerwas states,

My claim, so offensive to some, that the first task of the church is to make the world the world, not to make the world more just, is a correlative of this theological metaphysics. The world simply cannot be narrated—the world cannot have a story— unless a people exist who make the world the world. That is an eschatological claim that presupposes we know there was a beginning only because we have seen the end … [C]reation names God’s continuing action, God’s unrelenting desire for us to want to be loved by that love manifest in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Hannah’s Child, p. 158).

Green reminds us that in his vision the author of Revelation is not located on an island in exile or in the middle of the Roman Empire, but, “[h]e stands in the heavens. He sees things from God’s perspective, so he sees things as they really are” (p. 161)

As we read through the symbolism and the imagery, we are also transported into that realm that is beyond and yet interwoven with human reality that we might see all things earthly from a heavenly “point of view.”—to see things as they really are. This is a most difficult thing, to be sure, but Revelation gives us a glimpse of the divine reality thus determining true reality because of our changed focus.

Joel concludes,

…through his [John’s] narrative, he invites us to accompany him, so that we, too, see things as they really are. To do so, though, we need not only to travel with him to the throne room of God but also to allow our patterns of thinking, feeling, and believing to be dismantled and reassembled through binding ourselves to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is worthy to receive honor, dominion, and power by means of his humiliating death (p. 161).

It must not be forgotten that in the Book of Revelation, John is not offering us a secret road map to discerning the signs of the end time, but rather he offers his vision from the perspective of a pastor who is encouraging his hearers to change the focus of their reality as churches under the thumb of an empire that pretends to offer security and salvation in exchange for complete and total allegiance. Their response to the world should not be focused on the empire’s pretentious claims, but rather on the heavenly reality that is true on earth—Jesus is Lord.


An excellent book on the book of Revelation is Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation. It can be purchased here.

 

March 20, 2022

Putting God Back Into Everything Church-Related

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
– Colossians 4:5-6 NIV

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
– Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT

 

I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.  No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?  What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if the church bulletin had teaching or devotional value, not just announcements, to the point where people wanted to hang on to them beyond a single week?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find an opening.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.  ‘I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.’

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.  But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.  And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.  Nah. That’s way too radical.

Years ago (13 to be exact) our friend Kathy put this on her blog:

I’m reminded of a little church my sister and I visited in the UK, in 2007. St. Leonard’s in Speeton, Yorkshire dates back at least the the 12th century, maybe even further.  It’s the tiniest church I’ve ever seen — surely couldn’t hold more than 50 people — set on the outskirts of the village. It was lovely to sit in its pews and meditate for a while; so quiet and peaceful.

But what struck me the most was the sign on the door:

Don’t you think this sign should be on every church door?

Those routine church events — from cleanup days to business meeting — have a holy, supernatural potential; and we should participate with the expectation of seeing amazing things take place.

 

February 26, 2022

Making Rest an Act of Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today a new writer to introduce, but with a twist. Shannon Birney is actually someone who lives locally to us, and with whom I’ve had a number of personal interactions. (We’re even friends on Facebook, where I first read today’s thoughts.) She describes herself, “I’m just a twenty-something who loves God and wants to share what I’m learning and what He’s teaching me during my time on earth!” She writes occasionally at Simply Shannon. You can also get there by clicking the link in the header below.

The Worship of Rest

“God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. 

 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.

And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.
[Exodus 6:2-9]

As I was reading this I was struck by verse 9 – They did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.”

It really must have seemed too good to be true, that God might deliver on His promises – in the previous chapter Moses had gone to pharaoh and though the Israelites were already slaves they were suddenly being worked even harder and life had become truly exhausting.

They didn’t have the energy to consider listening, it was one more thing on top of the ‘daily grind’.

I don’t blame them, I’ve had days and weeks like that myself – where I’m just too tired physically, mentally or emotionally to be in a position to want to hear from God.

And so it’s especially beautiful that after God has lead them up out of Egypt and given Moses the 10 commandments that He makes one of those commandments to have a sabbath day – right after the first three commandments [To not have any gods before him, make idols, or misuse the name of God] He asks His people to make sure they have a day of rest.

God knows if his people don’t have time for rest – freedom/respite from their labor – they won’t have the time or energy to listen to God – just as when they were in Egypt.

And so rest has become an act of worship! 

By the time of Jesus’s ministry in Israel the Pharisee’s had turned the sabbath day into a regimented day of restrictions (which doesn’t sound very relaxing), they had lost the heart of the sabbath day and condemned Jesus for healing on that day [Matthew 12:11-12]. 

To be able to take a break, and just make time to enjoy and delight in the presence of God – that is the point of worship.  This example comes to mind from the New Testament:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 

 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.
Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”” 

[Luke 10:38-41]

Martha’s preparations and work were an act of worship (not necessarily a bad thing) – although Mary chose better – she took a break to sit at Jesus’s feet and just listen – her resting was an act of worship, and what was really needed.

Not only did God make rest to be an act of worship but it was something God himself did, after he made the heavens and earth He rested [Genesis 2:2-3].

It’s something people are made to feel almost guilty about in Western culture especially, to hustle until we crash and burn is not something God intended.

The heart of the fourth commandment still stands: Have a sabbath day – it might not be Sunday, and it might look different for everyone.

Some may take it quite literally and have a nap, it might be a walk out in nature, enjoying a book, spending some time laughing with friends, painting something beautiful, playing around on the guitar, baking or gardening – while none of these are particularly spiritual practices in themselves they are refreshing to the soul and activities in which God can be invited into and space to hear from Him what He wants to speak to you.

That’s the worship of rest; and the rest of worship follows when we are refreshed and ready to listen. 

January 4, 2022

Let Your Praises Multiply Each Day

Back in May of 2020, we introduced you to Chad Reisig, who is a pastor, podcaster and author of two books. Today he takes us to a scripture which I had rushed past in previous readings of the Psalms. Clicking the heading which follows will take you to his site.

Praise Multiplier

I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.

Psalm 119:164 (NLT)

I have a pastor friend who was relaying a story to me some time ago. He was talking about how discouraged he was at his church. He had been at the church for several years, yet had never received a thank you note, or so much as a “thanks,” for anything that he had done. He felt like a failure. He felt like none of his church members actually cared for, trusted, or loved him. One day, in a moment of pure truthfulness, he asked his head elder if the church members actually appreciated him as their pastor. (The pastor was thinking perhaps it was time to move on if they didn’t.) The elder responded with, “Oh, yeah, we all love you pastor! We didn’t want you to get prideful.” In other words, the church members never showed any appreciation because they didn’t want their pastor to develop an ego problem.

Of course, this story has nothing to do with pastors, really. It is starting to become a global norm that giving thanks is becoming less and less of a thing. We may nod or smile at someone who has done something nice, but actually showing gratitude seems to be dying out in this world. It’s sad, really. Gratitude goes a long way in helping people feel valued.

Unfortunately, in our faith life, this lack of appreciation can spread from our human relationships to our relationship with God. How often do we spend time actually just thanking God for who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do? Is it only in song at church? Is it just when we pray before a meal? Does our gratitude only express itself during ceremonies, or do we let it pour out in our everyday life?

As the psalmist wrote, I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.” I think it’s a bit weird to have a set number of times to offer praise and thanks to God, but let’s look at it this way. Doing so at that level would refocus us on the thankfulness we need to show to God. At this pace, we’d offer praises forty-nine times per week, 196 times per month, 2,352 times per year. (Not including the songs at church) It’s a good start, but I think we can do even better. We need to let our praises multiply with each passing day.

Today, and every day, when you remember God, see beauty, experience love, observe forgiveness, or a million other things to be thankful for. Stop, pause, and give thanks. After all, Jesus gave up His life to save you and me. We have everything to be thankful for.

Bonus devotional:

Because Chad’s devotionals are shorter, here’s another!

Tuning In

Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.

Proverbs 2:2 (NLT)

Growing up, we didn’t have Ipods, Androids, MP3 players, tablets, laptops, portable DVD players, Switch, or a million different handheld devices to keep us entertained on long road trips. We couldn’t just play a game on our device, Facetime a friend, stream Netflix, or livestream how bored we were. We just sat there in the car. Hour after hour would crawl by.

However, there was one thing that perhaps helped to save our sanity. If you were lucky enough, you had a Walkman. For those who have no clue what that is, it is a battery-powered radio the size of a cellphone. Plug in some headphones and you got to listen to the radio rather than your annoying brother or sister. Back then, you couldn’t just punch in a radio station number, like 102.3. There was no scan or seek button that would magically scan the airwaves and stop when it found a station. Nope. There was a dial that you would turn which would move a vertical orange line across a bunch of numbers. You would move it very slowly, listening for the faintest sounds. When you started to hear something, you would then begin the process of tuning in the station, which was generally moving the dial very slowly back and forth until the station came in strong. You just prayed that it was the type of music you wanted to listen to.

In our completely digital word, we’ve lost most of our knowledge of how to tune things in. The computer chips do that for us now. But, when it comes to our spiritual life, it’s still very much analog. Tuning in the voice of God requires some work on our part.

When we are seeking God’s wisdom, direction, calling, whatever you want to call it, are we moving the dial slowly or racing through life? You see, when it comes to hearing God, you’ve got to slow things down and listen for Him. You’ve got to make the effort to tune Him in. That means focusing on Him. That means focusing on listening for His voice. That means when you start to hear Him, you focus even more intently so that you make sure you hear Him loud and clear. As King Solomon tells us in our verse today, Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding.

Each day, spend time in prayer tuning into God’s wisdom. Spend time listening for His voice. You’ve asked something of Him, He’ll answer. But, you’ve got to be paying close attention to hear it. Spend time tuning Him in until you can hear Him loud and clear.


To listen to this Daily Dose episode, go the the Podcasts Page and click on your favorite podcast platform.

December 28, 2021

Something New is Coming

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you. Jamie Hicks has eponymous blog which takes its tag line, “Ruminations of a Tennessee Hicks” from his surname. Since beginning in January 2020, each of his devotionals features both an Old Testament and New Testament passage. Clicking the header below will take you to where we sourced this, which you are encouraged to do.

Everything New

CSB.Malachi.1.6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of me? says the Lord of Armies to you priests, who despise my name.”

Yet you ask, “How have we despised your name?”

“By presenting defiled food on my altar.”

“How have we defiled you?” you ask.

When you say, “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”

“When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. “And now plead for God’s favor. Will he be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will he show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Armies. 10 “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would no longer kindle a useless fire on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Armies, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

11 “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense[a] and pure offerings will be presented in my name in every place because my name will be great among the nations,”[b] says the Lord of Armies.

12 “But you are profaning it when you say, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.’ 13 You also say, ‘Look, what a nuisance!’ And you scorn[c] it,”[d] says the Lord of Armies. “You bring stolen,[e] lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.

14 “The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says the Lord of Armies, “and my name will be feared among the nations.

After returning from their exile in Babylon and rebuilding the temple of God in Jerusalem, the people of Israel drifted away from devotion to God’s word, will and ways. Instead of learning from the mistakes of their ancestors, they allowed themselves to become immoral and careless in their worship of the Lord.

Soon after, Ezra the priest arrived in Israel, and he led a spiritual reform that was later picked up by Nehemiah the Governor. It is highly probable that Malachi prophesied during Nehemiah’s reforms as Governor. Together, Malachi and Nehemiah brought the nation of Israel back to a healthy fear of the Lord that would last hundreds of years and pave the way for the advent of the Messiah.

In chapter 1 of Malachi, the Lord took issue with the priests’ lack of respect for the Lord and their contempt for His prescribed way of worship. Instead of bringing unblemished lambs and goats for sacrifice offerings, they were bringing the lame, blind, sick and weak lambs and goats that would have been killed anyway. Instead of bringing a costly sacrifice, they were bringing God rubbish.

The issue was not that God is unaccepting of the weak, vulnerable and outcasts of life. The issue was that the priests were cutting corners in worship. They were “mailing it in” and not bringing their best. They were keeping the best for themselves and offering God the leftover scraps. They were attempting to deceive God, but were deceiving themselves instead.

If we view the worship of God as drudgery and only care to offer Him the worthless scraps of our lives, then we do not truly honor Him as our Lord… and we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are devoted to His service. Half-hearted worship is not acceptable, and half-hearted worshippers are not the people that God is seeking to be called His own.

CSB.Revelation.21.1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:[a] Look, God’s dwelling[b] is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples,[c] and God himself will be with them and will be their God.[d] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things[e] have passed away.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words[f] are faithful and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son. But the cowards, faithless,[g] detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

After all has been said and done… after Satan and his hoards are eternally destroyed… after death and hell are cast into the lake of fire… after all that is unrighteous and evil is banished and burned on the rubbish heap for eternity, God will make everything new.

No longer will heaven and earth be separated by a vast sea. The new heaven and the new earth will be united in glorious splendor and God will live forevermore with His people – the people who lived their lives in whole-hearted faith and devotion to Him… the people who were redeemed from their sin and cleansed from their filth through faith in the Lamb of God.

The Lord God, the one ever and always seated on the throne, will make everything new. The ones who conquered the world, the flesh and the devil through faith in God and the Lamb will inherit all things and eternally become children of God. Those who refused God’s gift and rejected The Lamb’s sacrifice will burn eternally separated from the life of God with the rubbish of history in the lake of fire.

We don’t have to wait until the end of the age to experience the hope that we have in Christ.

We don’t have to wait until then to experience God’s newness.

We don’t have to wait until then to experience His rivers of life.

We don’t have to wait until then to be named children of God.

When we come to saving faith in Christ and wholeheartedly offer our lives to Him, though we are still contained in our mortal bodies, we spiritually step into eternity in Christ and begin experiencing the yet-to-come in the here-and-now. Our lives are made new, and we begin the sanctifying process of being made new in the image of Christ.

We are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, which bubbles up from within us as a river of living water. We are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, grafted into the prophetic family tree of God, and adopted as His beloved sons and daughters. All of that is available here and now, and in the life to come, to all who will place their faith in the Lamb and worship Him wholeheartedly as they offer all of their lives – not just the scraps – to be used in His service.

Prayer: Lord, I thank You that You did not withhold Your best from me. You did not give me the scraps of heaven, but gave Your dearly beloved and unblemished Son as a sacrifice for my sin. Therefore, You are forever worthy of my best and my all lifted up and presented as a sacrifice of worship to You. Help me to not take Your gift to me for granted. Help me to not see worship and service as drudgery. Make me new, keep me ever-renewed and help me to stay wholeheartedly devoted to You as I keep my faith firmly rooted in You. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.


Footnotes; OT passage:

  1. 1:11 Or Burnt offerings
  2. 1:11 Or is great… are presented… is great
  3. 1:13 Lit blow at
  4. 1:13 Alt Hb tradition reads me
  5. 1:13 Or injured

Footnotes; NT passage:

  1. 21:3 Other mss read from heaven
  2. 21:3 Or tent, or tabernacle
  3. 21:3 Other mss read people
  4. 21:3 Other mss omit and will be their God
  5. 21:4 Or the first things
  6. 21:5 Other mss add of God
  7. 21:8 Other mss add the sinful,

 

December 22, 2021

Potentially Going Overboard with Christmas is Not a Reason Not to Celebrate

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Preview: “…a far bigger mistake than dancing too much before our Lord in joy is to dance too little…”

Today another new author for you. Curtis K. Shelburne has been writing at Focus on Faith since early February, 2012. He also hosts a podcast with the same name. Readers, as always, please encourage our writers by clicking on the headers like the one which follows, and reading the article where it originated.

Finding Hope and Joy in the Light

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

It’s the light, you know!

   Twirling, swirling, splash-silvering

         crisp snow below.

   Liquid luminescence and stardust inadvertently shed

         By pirouetting angels in the sky

                 above the Christ-child’s head.

   They fly, as has been said,

         by taking themselves lightly!

   Ah, the delight! Such glory and brightness!

         O’er that rude Baby King-sized bed.

   And look! Nestled warm in the hay below,

         As the Christmas angels sing,

             Silver-tipped tongues of light hailing the King,

         He lies slumbering ̶ the Truth, the Light, the Way.

    Swaddled against the cold of the night,

          Whiffling and sleeping, the Babe sweetly sighs,

    And on and on the angels dance, and dark gives way to love-light

         And Heaven’s glory shimmers and shines,

               And joy, the angels’ light-essence,

                     Washes over all in His sweet Presence.

Yes, it’s the light, you know!

Wow, my poor poem needs a lot of work! But it really is the light, I think, that is one of the most beautiful features of this season. From the time I was old enough to slide under our family Christmas tree, clad in those wonderful old pajamas that came complete with feet, and gaze up through the branches of the tree and drink in the beauty, it was the light that lit me with joy.

I liked it then. I like it now. I knew instinctively then, and I know more overtly and reflectively now, that celebrating Christ’s birth with joy and light is, well, right. (I’m trying not to stay in cut-rate poet mode; I beg pardon.)

With regard to Christmas, it seems to me increasingly clear that we’re in a “if the people are silent, the very stones will cry out” situation (Luke 19:40), and, though I’m no stranger to self-righteousness in myself (it’s a cancer that all too often recurs), I’ve known for a long time now, as surely as I know my own name, that a far bigger mistake than dancing too much before our Lord in joy is to dance too little and force the rocks to praise him because we’re too full of ourselves and toxic “religion” let our joy—God’s joy—loose in our souls.

I’ve heard all of the arguments against Christmas celebration. Too much, too extravagant, too this and too that. Excessive! And with pagan roots, to boot!

Well, because we can go over the top with celebration is not a good enough reason not to celebrate when celebration is called for! It’s not praiseworthy to inconvenience rocks because we’re praise-mute for no good reason.

And the charges of paganism tossed about by folks who want to pour a little cold water on over-much joy is not all the story by any means. Reading some better scholars telling the historical truth about such will make you feel a lot better about feeling really good about the joy of the season. (I can point you to a great article or two well worth reading, if you ask.)

Our God is not worried that we might overdose on joy. The far greater danger is that we remain so hung up on ourselves that we are unable to dance selflessly before our Lord.

Jesus told us clearly (it’s still a very hard lesson) that being his disciples means laying down our very selves so that we focus on him. That’s the way God molds us into the truest versions of ourselves, exactly what our Creator had in mind when he made us for his joy.

G. K. Chesterton, an amazing and faith-filled wordsmith once wrote, “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you.”

Too often we stumble around in darkness, always in one way or another taking mental “selfies” to see how what we’re doing is “playing.” But it’s hard to see at all when our universe is bounded north, south, east, and west by self. And how boring!

In his light, we begin to open ourselves up to the lives of others, and we find their lives and stories and personalities, their joys and trials and sheer courage, not boring in the least.

If we would let in the light of Christmas, God’s light, Chesterton writes, “You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”

God’s light splashing our souls with God’s joy has been known to grow some very large souls indeed.

My Christmas lights won’t add much to the divine light kindled by our Creator, but nonetheless, I plan to join my neighbors in flipping the switch each night and adding my little attempts at glimmers of light to the nuclear reaction of God’s cosmic glory.

All genuine light is God’s light, you know.


Revisit the introduction for website link and podcast site link.

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

November 20, 2021

The Criteria By Which We Measure Worship Services

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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A year ago we introduced a new writer to you. Sam describes himself as ”a minister, teacher, husband, dad, artist, basketball fan, Ph.D., computer geek, and SG-1 fan;” and blogs at Word-Centered Living. Clicking the header which follows takes you to read this direct from the source.

Worship God in Spirit and Truth

“O clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy.” (Psalm 47:1-9, NASB)

Worship is an important part of human life. It’s not just for the religious but for all human beings. It’s because God created all of us, and we are commanded to worship Him and nothing else. You may argue that God doesn’t exist. But beware. Because if God is real, then you will be accountable to Him in the end.

Worship is the natural response of created beings to their Creator, and it is a command that we worship Him. So, how do we know what is the right way to worship?

It seems there are many ways of worshiping God. Some worship God with a quiet and solemn spirit, while others do it in a celebrative mood. What is your worship like?

Read the psalmist’s words today try to picture the kind of worship they experienced. In verse 1, he writes, “O clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy.” Again in verses 6-7, he writes, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm.” So, what do you think? What kind of worship did they experience? Is there one right way or many ways to do it?

Based on my understanding of the Scriptures, I would have to say that there are many ways but only one God who is to be exalted. For instance, there are different ways of worship based on human culture. Latino believers do not worship the same way Asians do. African believers do not worship the same way as the Americans do.

Even among the churches in America, we see different styles of worship between different cultures. Also, different denominations worship God differently based on how they view the workings of the spiritual gifts such as tongues, prophesying, and healing. We also have differences in worship based on musical accompaniment. Some churches use traditional instruments such as pianos, organs, and orchestras. Many contemporary churches use praise band types of worship with acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards. Some are liturgical and others are charismatic. Some are preaching-oriented, and others are singing-oriented.

I believe that all these ways are legitimate as long as you are worshiping the one true God. The criteria that we must measure our worship services ought to be based on the question: Is the worship service more about us or God?

If it is for God, then we must understand the kind of worship He desires and offer it to Him. And here is what Jesus said about the kind of worship that God desires. He said, But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23-24).

Worshiping in spirit gives us a lot of room for freedom. God desires His worshipers to worship Him using different languages, cultures, emotions, gifts, and abilities. We must allow the Spirit of God to lead our spirits in expressing our love, joy, and reverence for God.

Remember, what happened to Michal when she mocked David for worshiping in spirit and dancing before God. The Bible says, “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (2 Sam.6:23). You cannot quench the Spirit of God when He is leading people in spiritual worship.

On the other hand, worshiping in truth gives us boundaries of what we can do and cannot do in worship. Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, when they tried to offer up a strange fire before God. The Bible says, “And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Lev.10:2).

And during the early church stage, a couple by the name of Ananias and Sapphira lied about their offering and were put to death by God (Acts 5:9-10).

Furthermore, Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian church that if they participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, they may become sick or even die. He said, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Cor.11:30).

God desires worship from us, and He wants us to worship Him in the freedom of our spirits and according to His truth.


Second Helping: Here’s another article from Word-Centered Living. I had a hard time choosing between two recent items, and maybe this one is needed by you today. It’s titled Don’t Panic.


What’s your library like? Today, for readers of Thinking Out Loud, I offered some general category suggestions in Building a Personal Christian Library.


Technical problems mentioned yesterday with our blog appear to be unique to Firefox. If you’re having problems, try using Chrome or Opera browsers.

October 14, 2021

Are You Glass Half-Full or Glass Half-Empty?

Thinking Through Exodus 15

by Clarke Dixon

Are you a glass half-full kind of person or a glass half-empty kind of person? If you are not sure, your friends and family can probably tell you! In the Bible we come across a people who could be described as neither, but in a manner which might describe us even better.

Let us consider God’s people in the moments after they had just crossed the Sea and escaped the Egyptians:

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
my father’s God, and I will exalt him!
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is his name! . . . .

Exodus 15:1-3 (NLT)

And on the song continues with praise to God for the incredible rescue. And of course this is entirely appropriate, for God has pulled through for a tiny people in the face of a large powerful oppressor. Let us remember that they had been slaves for hundreds of years, they were not trained for battle, they were not prepared for battle, and yet here they were, with their backs up against the wall, or rather a sea, with a big trained professional army eager to follow orders to destroy them. Any bystander would know how this is going to pan out. Except that they wouldn’t, for God’s people had a secret weapon; God.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them
and catch up with them.
I will plunder them
and consume them.
I will flash my sword;
my powerful hand will destroy them.’
But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you among the gods, O LORD—
glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
performing great wonders?
You raised your right hand,
and the earth swallowed our enemies.

Exodus 15:9-12 (NLT)

The Hebrew people walked safely through the Sea, young and old alike, while the big bad army on the other hand, were sunk. This song was a “WOW” moment for God’s people, a moment of praise and thanksgiving for what God had just done.

While they stood and reflected on the miracle they had just experienced, they also looked forward:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.
The peoples hear and tremble;
anguish grips those who live in Philistia.
The leaders of Edom are terrified;
the nobles of Moab tremble.
All who live in Canaan melt away;
terror and dread fall upon them.
The power of your arm
makes them lifeless as stone
until your people pass by, O LORD,
until the people you purchased pass by.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—
the place, O LORD, reserved for your own dwelling,
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

Exodus 15:13-17 (NLT)

The song began with what God had just done, but closes looking forward to what God promised to do. The miracle at the Sea was a “WOW” moment, and the promises are “WOW” promises.

So are God’s people glass half-empty kind of people, or glass half-full kind of people? God’s people as we find them in Exodus 15 are something else altogether, they are a glass quite-full kind of people!

For three days . . .

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded

Exodus 15:22-24 (NLT)

Then a little later, and a little further into the wilderness,

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

In no time at all, God’s people went from glass quite-full kind of people to glass knocked-over kind of people.

Perhaps that might be a good description for us. We may be neither glass half-full nor glass half-empty kind of people, but glass knocked-over kind of people. Our moods, thoughts, and attitudes may be all over the place and depend on situations and circumstances. We might be going along quite well with our glasses quite-full, life being good, then we get focused on the problems at hand, or the people in our face, and over the glass goes. We go from hopeful about the future to anxious, from confident in the present to nervous, from relaxed about life to stressed out, from ready to take on the world to unprepared to even get out of bed. From glass quite-full to glass quite-empty in the time it takes for a glass to fall over.

Is there a better way?

How might things have turned out if God’s people kept singing that song from chapter 15 while in the wilderness? What if that song was not a top-of-the-pop-charts-for-just-one-day kind of song, but one they sang every day in the wilderness?

When they ran out of water, if they were singing about how God helped them in the past despite the odds being seemingly stacked against them, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. If God can deal with the army problem, God can do something about the water problem.

When they ran out of food, if they were singing about God’s promises for the future, maybe they would think to seek God in the present. Since God had rescued them in the past and made promises about their future, then just maybe they could trust him with today instead of assuming the worst?

What about us?

Are we singing songs of praise and thanksgiving enough? Are we remembering God in our lives, that when trouble hits, God is our first thought and not our last resort, that when life gets rough, trust in God is something we just do, and not something we must try to muster up? Are we continually getting our hearts and minds in tune, ready for what is next, whether good or bad?

If God’s people could sing of being rescued from Egypt in Exodus 15, we have an even greater rescue to sing about. The Lord has rescued us from all that separates us from Him. The Lord has rescued us from death, though Jesus.

If God’s people could sing about the promised land, we can sing about even bigger promises now. The Lord has promised to be present with us. The Lord has promised eternal life with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has promised us His Kingdom coming, and leads us to move toward it in the here and now.

Thinking of our tag-line at Calvary Baptist Church of “helping people walk with Jesus,” it can feel like an uphill battle trying to get people excited about the possibility of walking with Jesus. It should be harder to convince Jesus to want to walk with us. But Jesus takes no convincing, on the contrary, Jesus “took the nails”. That’s God’s love, that’s God doing what God does because God is love.

That’s a song worth singing, a tune to get stuck in our heads! So when trouble strikes, and it will, we know God is going to get us through it, because God is not some idea we contemplate from time to time, but One with Whom we walk every day in a trust relationship.

Thanksgiving may be just one day in the year, but gratitude is a song we can sing daily, bringing focus on the reality of God walking with us in the past, future, and present, bringing focus to the reality of God and the reality of God’s love. Praise and thanksgiving remind us that we can trust God. When we live a life of gratitude to God, trust will be something we do daily and will not be something we must muster up when hard times hit.

Perhaps this is worth an experiment. What if for a week, or a month, each morning we think of something God has done for us in the past, plus something God has promised for our future? We might want a Bible and a notebook handy! What if we start each day with a “song” of praise and gratitude?

A life lived in praise and gratitude is a life anchored to the reality of God’s love for us. When we are anchored to the reality of God’s love for us we won’t be glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of people, we won’t be full glass-knocked-over kind of people, we will be cup-runneth-over kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. This devotional is based on a sermon which can be seen here.

October 9, 2021

Our Salvation: A Source of Hope and Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re featuring, for the first time, Kim Dunkelberger, who writes at Commissioned by Him. She is a poet and author who writes while facing physical challenges. This post actually came up today in a WordPress reader, which surprised me, because it was posted in 2019. I think we were simply meant to share this with you. It also serves as a clear presentation of the good news and salvation.

Click the header below to read this at her site, and then check out other articles.

Salvation – Praise God!

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
1 John 2:1-2

After a difficult weekend that resulted in continued fatigue and brain fog at the start of the week, I was unable to focus on commentaries for the verses I was studying for the day. Instead, I closed my eyes to think about 1 John 2:1-2 and pray. Jesus’ name and the word propitiation were foremost in my awareness. Salvation was my meditation for the next hour while I praised God for this gift.

When I was first saved, I was very thankful. However, I admit that my awareness of the value of salvation was minimal in comparison to the depth of my appreciation now. Prolonged trials have caused me to draw closer to God, long for the day that I can be with Him, and think more about the means by which this is possible.

God created us to glorify Him…

“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by My name,
And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”
Isaiah 43:6-7

However, none of us has loved and obeyed God perfectly – with the exception of Jesus…

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:23

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.
Ecclesiastes 7:20

Therefore, we all deserve to go to hell…

These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power
2 Thessalonians 1:9

In His mercy, God provides a way to be forgiven for our trespasses though. He sent His perfectly sinless Son, Jesus, to die by crucifixion, bearing the punishment for the sins of all who would believe this truth. Instead of the torture of eternity in hell, God graciously gives eternal life with Him to all those who accept this gift…

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
1 Peter 3:18

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Salvation is God’s work; I cannot earn it. He called me. He died for me. He lives in me now. He will raise me to life in heaven after death. He offers this to all who will believe…

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus gave His life for me; the Father gave His Son. Even though my life is filled with trials, I am not bitter. How could I be angry with God when He has blessed me more than I deserve? How could I not love the One who loves me enough to lay down His life for me? How could I question Him when He is infinitely wiser than me? Instead of being angry, I praise Him, recognizing that anything this side of hell is pure grace.

It is true that my face does not smile as much as it used to; I’m not sure the smiling muscles work when my head hurts, my brain is foggy, and my energy is null. However, my soul is smiling; it is praising God for my salvation. Like Job, I grieve my losses but worship the source of my hope.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
Job 1:20-22

August 29, 2021

A Different Type of Weapon

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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For anyone who leads worship or plays on a worship team, there is a rather ominous verse in Chronicles, which tells of the musicians being the first in the procession marching into battle.

NLT.2.Chronicles.20.20 Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. On the way Jehoshaphat stopped and said, “Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.”

21 After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang:

“Give thanks to the Lord;
    his faithful love endures forever!”

Not exactly what you signed up for in your guitar or vocal audition? Don’t diminish what your voice or instrument can accomplish. David’s music had a powerful effect on Saul:

CEV.1.Samuel.16.14 The Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord was terrifying him. 15 “It’s an evil spirit from God that’s frightening you,” Saul’s officials told him. 16 “Your Majesty, let us go and look for someone who is good at playing the harp. He can play for you whenever the evil spirit from God bothers you, and you’ll feel better.”

17 “All right,” Saul answered. “Find me someone who is good at playing the harp and bring him here.”

18 “A man named Jesse who lives in Bethlehem has a son who can play the harp,” one official said. “He’s a brave warrior, he’s good-looking, he can speak well, and the Lord is with him.”

19 Saul sent a message to Jesse: “Tell your son David to leave your sheep and come here to me.”

20 Jesse loaded a donkey with bread and a goatskin full of wine, then he told David to take the donkey and a young goat to Saul. 21 David went to Saul and started working for him. Saul liked him so much that he put David in charge of carrying his weapons. 22 Not long after this, Saul sent another message to Jesse: “I really like David. Please let him stay with me.”

23 Whenever the evil spirit from God bothered Saul, David would play his harp. Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would go away.

I thought of this passage today when I saw this blog post by

The Spear and The Harp

The hand of Saul is on The Spear, and the hand of David is on The Harp. Who has the upper hand?

If the hand of Saul is on The Spear and the hand of David is on The Harp, it would seem The Spear would be more victorious.

One hand on The Spear and one hand on the strings. How did David get out of that?

There was another hand in the room! The Hand of God is on your life?

The Hand of God was on David. The Hand of God grabbed The Spear of Saul and said, “Not him. Not now! This is My beloved one!”

Keep your hand on The Harp, and God will put his hand on The Spear.

He won’t let it take you out! He will not suffer your foot to be moved.

The LORD which keepeth thee, He will not slumber nor sleep, David had an instrument and Saul had a weapon, but your worship is a weapon.

Maybe David knew, “If I keep my hand on The Harp, if I let God fight my battles, I cannot be defeated”. “God….”

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. I don’t have The Spear in my hands. I still have the winning hand, and when I clap my hands my Praise confuses the enemy.

When I shout, it is a hiss to the enemy of our souls!

When I lift my hands in Worship, The Hand of God is on it.

The same hand that had plucked him from the sheep field and the same hand that had delivered him from lions and bears and Goliath and the same hand that held the flask that poured the oil…

The hand of God was on his life, and Saul cannot kill what God has crowned!!

God’s Hand is on the situation. You don’t fight for Victory — but from Victory!

August 15, 2021

Job: More than the Poster-Boy for Patience

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1)

[Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (1:21-22)

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.” (13:25)

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (19:25)

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (42:2)

Today we return to the writing of Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church we attended and where our oldest son now attends — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — and his blog, Finishing Well. This is the seventh time we’ve included him here and we invite you to read this on his site by clicking the one-word header which follows.

Job

Job’s name has become a cliche’, attached most commonly to his personification of patience. But Job has much more to teach us. We will never understand this important book of the Bible if we do not keep in mind who he was and all that was happening to him. Job was first and foremost an outstanding man of God. The sovereign Lord of the Universe, could say of him, he is “My servant”; and add: “For there is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” What a remarkable commendation to have from the Holy One!

What is even more remarkable is that it was said to Satan, the epitome of evil in every sense of the word. He is a murderer, a deceiving liar, a destroyer and, for now, “the god of this world”. Satan saw a challenge:

“Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”*

Remarkably, God responds: “He is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.”

Satan then shows us everything we need to know about him, he destroys Job’s possessions, livelihood and even his precious family to the last person, other than his wife. It is a blow almost beyond our comprehension. Equally amazing is Job’s response:

“Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his beard, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord’.”

The Scriptures summarize all this in a sentence: “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

This remarkable man, true to God after the most horrendous losses, has yet to become more remarkable still. And, Satan shows himself to be more evil still. He states to God and Job that self-preservation is ultimately more than all else. And the devil, though disallowed to kill him, wracks his body with boils from head to foot. With this pathetic situation even Job’s wife, pained as she would be, despises his integrity and tells him to “curse God and die.” Job responds, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Job, severely troubled and full of questions and angry debate with his friends, lives to see again God’s faithfulness and His rich and wonderful blessing.

Where am I going with this? Theologians believe this book to be the first of Scripture written for our learning. May I suggest that today it may be preparing the followers of Christ Jesus for the last days of our journey on earth before Jesus comes. The Bible’s last book, the Revelation, describes God’s crushing judgments on a sin-cursed world. Satan, his angels and followers, make their last effort to destroy God’s kingdom on earth and His redeemed people. Instead he and his works are judged. It is an awful picture of destruction describing deceit, destitution, death and devouring beasts. The saints are not spared from death, persecution and fearsome trials. They endure but so as by fire. Matthew describes it as so bad that “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” Will we curse God and die, or will we declare in faith, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him?”

Those times are called “the Great Tribulation.” Surely the Revelation, with its detailed description of the final throes of Satan, his cohorts and followers, is given to us both for our learning but also for our preparation for final things. As awful as those seven years will be, when it is over we shall meet our King in the air to join Him in glorious victory as He sets up his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Not until we are in heaven will we truly understand what it means that God loves all of us and wants us for His own, but He hates sin and every work of Satan to the point of hell for him, and ultimately for all who follow his ways in unbelief and without repentance.

Joining the redeemed of all the ages we, who have called upon the name of Jesus, thereby receiving saving grace, shall sing a new song with words like these:

“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear, O Lord and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

This will be sung by the saints in the middle of the devastation of the tribulation. What a testimony and an act of incredible faith!

Perhaps the book of Job, tied to the Revelation, helps us to understand some of the works and ways of God, “ways past finding out.” He will cast the devil into a bottomless pit and bring to naught his destructive power. Jesus, the Victor, will reign over His kingdom and creation as King of kings and Lord of lords. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Him to be the Sovereign Lord of the universe. He will take us to be with Himself, free at last from every evil device of Satan and weakness of the flesh. Eden will be reborn. What a day of rejoicing that will be! Prepare for it so we, like Job in the midst of severe testing, will be “blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”


* Editor’s note: We put scripture verses in green because the scriptures have life! But because this time it was Satan being quoted, I just didn’t want to overly highlight it!

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