Christianity 201

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!

May 8, 2021

God is the Object of our Worship, Jesus is the Worship Leader

In one of the churches where I led worship, the service was 70 minutes long, and it was made clear that I was responsible for the first 35 minutes, and the pastor would take the next 35 minutes. Of course, part of my time included a scripture reading which someone else would do, but otherwise it was a beautiful time of spoken things and musical worship. (There’s also that ‘if only I knew then what I know now’ aspect, but I think you get that in church ministry.

Today we’re highlighting the writing of someone new to us, Zak Kratzer who writes at Rediscovering Worship (tag line: Telling the story of God with the community of God.) There’s application here both for people in leadership and the rest of us, also. Click the header which follows to read at source.

Who’s Really Leading Worship in Your Church?

Maybe you are like me, and you’ve come home from church completely worn out before. There is nothing wrong with working hard to serve with excellence. But I’ve recently been asking myself if exhaustion can be a sign that we are trying to lead worship in our own power. When I looked at the book of Hebrews, I realized that Most churches don’t realize who the actual worship leader is.

It seems like it’s all too easy for our churches to fall into the trap of leading worship from our perspective. In this human-centered approach church leaders strive (keyword there) to build up attendance and plan and perform services to the desired outcome. However, in the book of Hebrews biblical worship is depicted quite differently.

Click here to take a look at Hebrews 10:11-18

Here we see that, while the work of human beings cannot satisfy the desires of God, Jesus as high priest has done so once and for all by one sacrifice. This is an approach for God-centered worship where…

  1. God gathers
  2. Jesus acts in the role of priest
  3. The Holy Spirit testifies the truth and fosters our relationship with God (more on this below)

Here’s what should stand out to church leaders. Notice how, in Hebrews, the high priest (or worship leader for our purposes) is Jesus… NOT US!

We stand but he sits (Heb. 10:11-12)

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

Between Jesus and human worship-leaders, the difference in posture is significant. The priests in Jerusalem would have to stand while performing their duties. This is a posture showing the continual nature of their work. It’s also something that we can’t do forever. You might be proud of your work ethic, but you have to sleep some time. Apply this to the job of a pastor or worship leader on Sunday morning. The text says “day after day…” implying the ongoing and repetitive nature of human effort and how the work alone does never yields transformation. We simply don’t have enough gas in the tank to keep offering these worship services over and over. This is why we always see human-centered worship peter out eventually.

And we’re not just inefficient, but at times we’re not even pointed the right direction. For years, we have had inner struggles in the church, that many Christians have called the worship wars. This is humans fighting over preference and has certainly led to hurt feelings, burn out and even people leaving churches.

Humans will wear out. But notice that Jesus rather than stands, actually sits at the right hand of the father. This signals that the work of leading worship, a work of bringing humans and God together, is actually already finished. Only one sacrifice, Jesus’ sacrifice, forever covers sins.

What work? (Heb. 8:6)

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

Hebrews describes the work that Jesus does as ministry. Which is from the greek, leitourgia. Interestingly enough this is where we get the word “liturgy” and it can refer to any public work or service. The repeated liturgies of human priests are not sufficient but Jesus, as worship leader, has a different effect. Hebrews 8:6 compares the two, calling the work obtained by Christ as more perfect, thus completing what humans cannot. Work and worship are inter-connected. But it’s not about the forms of worship, or how talented us humans might or might not be. Instead it’s about who has completed the work. We, as worship leaders are not the power driving worship. We get to be something better… we get to be participants.

In The Spirit (Heb. 10:15-18)

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Now let’s bring all this back to what the Holy Spirit does. In Hebrews, the Spirit testifies that the community of God is forgiven of sin, which is the issue making our work insufficient in the first place. It reminds us of what Paul says in Romans 8. The Holy Spirit declares our adoption into God’s family (Rom. 8:15-16), and even communicates between us and God beyond what our words can say (Rom. 8:26-27). This is a relational kind of work and once, again things that human worship leaders could never do. Jesus does public liturgy, covering sins and bringing us into the love of God through the Spirit.

We as worship leaders, need to always remind ourselves that Jesus is the real worship leader. Let us take note of how the Bible puts Jesus in the place of priest and let him guide the roles of worship leader, liturgist, speaker or anyone else up front. And let us rediscover God-centered worship as Christ himself has revealed to us, for the building up of God’s community.


Bonus Devotional – by the same author – Have We Forgotten How To Wait?

 

 

February 13, 2021

Filled with Awe

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs;
You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy. – Psalm 65:8

“Who is like You among the gods, O Lord?
Who is like You, majestic in holiness,
Awesome in praises, working wonders? – Exodus 15:11

They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.” – Luke 5:26

Today our quest for new bloggers to highlight and encourage took us to the writing of Doreen Eager who lives in North Carolina. Her blog is Doreen Eager’s Blog, but she also reviews podcasts at The Godly Pod Review, about which she writes,  “My mission … is to help a weary Mom or Dad, who is hungry for God’s word, and wants to find Him in their daily lives but cannot find the time.”

Because what follows appeared just today, I’ve closed comments here so that by clicking the header which follows you can read this at her page and comment.

Awestruck by Jesus

The definition of Awestruck, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is the state of being in awe. Awe, is an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred.

We all have things in this world that we enjoy, most would consider entertainment, or perhaps educational. Some love movies or TV, others prefer books or You Tube videos. I enjoy listening to Christian podcasts, it is one way that I can learn from other Christian leaders how they walk out their faith and interpret God’s will in their lives. It gives me context and at times allows me to ponder another way of looking at scripture.

When our outlook on people, who are considered to have a platform or are influential, becomes more than just respectful and moves toward being in awe, are we then turning these people into idols?

I follow many different Christian leaders; Beth Moore, Christine Caine, Annie Downs, Carey Neiuwhof, to name a few. If I am honest, which I am trying to be, if I ever had an instance where I could meet one of them in person, I would probably be nervous and a little fan girlish. I wonder if this is considered being in awe and if so I need to reexamine my thoughts of these people?

Jesus is worthy of being in awe of and we should be amazed at what He did for us some 2000 years ago. In Luke chapter 7 we see Jesus heal a widow’s son who died.

Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. Luke 7:11-17

We are so blessed to have a high priest that came down from heaven, that has feelings as we do, and took pity on this mother. What a glorious and amazing day for that mother. To this day Jesus does wonderful miracles; a new day arrives, a baby is born, an answered prayer for a new job, and the Holy Spirit in us to guide our decisions on this journey.

I am in awe anytime I sit and ponder what Jesus did for our sins. The suffering He endured, and the level of restraint He displayed while He was being tormented. He could have taken out all of the Romans and Pilate with one word but He chose to be obedient to God’s will. “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:42

Doreen’s definition of awestruck is: Jesus.

December 16, 2020

Five Greek Words You Should Know

I know. Some of you are thinking, ‘Let’s not get into Greek here; this is Christianity 201 not 301.” Okay. We won’t do this again. At least this month. And there are no actual Greek alphabet letters in what follows.

A year ago we shared a devotional by Dr. Ed Searcy, a retired minister in Vancouver  who writes at Holy Scribbler. Dropping by earlier today, we saw a reference to the website of University Hill Congregation. That took us to this article which I knew right away needed to be shared here.

Who We Are: The Five Marks of the Church

Liturgia (Worship): Every Sunday morning we gather to worship God, through singing and prayer, the reading of Scripture and preaching, as well as fellowship with one another, in God’s presence. Symbolically, gathering in the morning, on the first day of the week, reminds us that our proper first commitment is to God, made known to us in Jesus Christ, present by the Holy Spirit.

Our worship includes many voices, as members of our congregation lead in prayer, music, Scripture reading, and presiding, reminding us of the importance of the “priesthood of all believers.” Liturgia is a Greek word that means “a public work, undertaken by some, on behalf of all.” In worship, we turn to God, on behalf of this God-beloved world.

Koinonia (Community): From the earliest days of the Church, it is clear that the Christian life is not meant to be a solitary existence. In the book of Acts, we hear that this new community of Jesus followers–members of the Way–“spent much time together” worshiping, eating, baptizing and teaching, praying and learning the rhythms of a new way of life. The community that took shape in response to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead–confirmation that his will and way really is the Divine will and way in the world–sought to live lives appropriate to this new resurrection reality.

This reality we call, as Jesus did, the Kingdom of Heaven: the in-breaking of God’s world-renewing hope, peace, joy, and love, here and now–God’s will on earth as in heaven. When we gather together, learning to love and forgive, worship and work, pray and play in the wide space of God’s grace and love, we seek to align ourselves with the resurrection community through the centuries. Made one in Christ and one with each other, we are called to be a beacon of God’s work to reconcile all things in Jesus, crucified, risen, and reigning. In his name, all are welcome!

Diakonia (Service): Scripture tells us that Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited [or grasped at], but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.” (see Philippians 2:5-11) On the evening before he was crucified, John’s gospel (Ch. 13) tells us that Jesus stripped down, wrapped a towel around himself, and washed his disciples’ feet, like a first-century servant would.

Following his example, and his command to serve and love one another, Christians are expected to offer loving service to the world around us. We seek to do that through the ministries of our congregation, but we are also sent out, like seeds scattered by the Sower and blown by the winds of the Spirit, to love and serve beyond our church community, wherever we find ourselves in the world. The goal as we seek to “grow up in Christ” is to do everything, in word or deed, in the name of Jesus, to the glory of the One he calls Father (see I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3: 17).

Didache (Training): Pronounced “did-a-kay” this is the mark of a Christian community in which members are being trained in the way of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are often called “disciples,” which means something like “apprentice.” At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples, to go and make disciples themselves, teaching others to walk in the world as he did. The Christian way of life is not always intuitive; we need to learn the rhythms of mercy and grace, of radical love and extravagant generosity, of justice and righteous aligned with God’s dream and work for this broken and beloved world.

We know there are many voices and idols vying for our attention; the goal of Christian maturity is to center our attention, and our lives, on Jesus, and to walk in his Way. We are called to “be doers of the word, not merely hearers” (James 1:22); we are called to embody and live out the good news (gospel) of Jesus, the Word made flesh. As a congregation the “training” to do so happens in a number of ways, including: regular worship, through our Church School (for children, during worship), through weekly Bible study, bi-annual book/Bible studies, preparation for baptism or marriage, personal and pastoral care (with clergy and one another).

Kerygma (Proclamation): The Church has good news to share. Gospel means “good news.” It’s from the Greek word euangelion, a word that was first used to describe a royal announcement, often about the most recent military victory. When Christians adopted the term (see Mark 1:1) it was at least in part a reminder of a different kind of victory, by a different kind of king. The Christian witness is that in Jesus, God who made and loves all creation, has come into this world in a unique and revolutionary way–a way of self-giving love, mercy, and grace–a way that ultimately proved too much of a challenge to “the way things are,” and for which he was put to death by the authorities of his day. The Scriptures tell us that three days later, he was raised from the dead, vindicating his way in the world. Christians came to believe and know that through his death and resurrection, God was keeping his promise to Abraham, that the whole world would be blessed, restored and made whole.

After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses of repentance (a new way of life, re-oriented to God and God’s way of lavish love) and forgiveness of sins (freedom from and healing for brokenness and guilt; and the restoration and renewal of our relationships with God, ourselves, each other, and all creation). The Church is called to continue in that witness, proclaiming in our words and actions, a different, Christ-centered way of living in the world, and of relating to one another, as we grow in the hope, peace, joy and love of God for us and all things.

 

September 1, 2020

Keeping a Sense of God’s Holy Presence

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Far too often true, humble worship is lost in the shadow of giftedness.

With so much clamor and movement it is hard to sense the otherness and grandeur, the holiness and authority, of God, His voice and His Spirit – the Divine Presence

 ~ Arnold Reimer


Today we return to the writing of Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

The Divine Presence

One of the most amazing promises of God to His people is: “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” To His threatened prophet, Isaiah, God declared: “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

In spite of His people’s oft waywardness, God led them through forty years of wilderness, with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, assurances of His presence with them, His protection of them, and His purpose for them.

When Jesus told His frightened disciples He was going to leave them, He also assured them, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you. After a little while the world will behold me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in you.

What could be more awesome and reassuring than to know the Creator of the universe, God Almighty, Sovereign over all, is with us, even in us? That is the reality for all who believe in, and receive, the saving work of Jesus Christ. What security and boldness that gives to our going out and coming in! What comfort in the face of trial and hardship! What meaning that brings to each new day! The eternal, all-wise God is with us. His Spirit indwells us, teaches us, leads us, enables us, provides for us, protects us. It is as He promised, “Lo, I am with you always.”

I cannot think of many things more important than this truth. It is vital to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being that we do not forget or belittle this reality. Our need and sense of the Divine Presence puts purpose and urgency into our daily reading of the Bible. It motivates and focuses prayer. It emboldens godly living and witness. It encourages fellowship with the saints. It directs worship and stimulates desire to serve God and others.

Few things are more important to the gathering of the saints than the preparation for, the hope and sense of, the presence of the Lord. Jesus declared, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” Knowing human nature, its tendency to neglect, and its prone-ness to fear, God gave to Israel clear signs of His presence: the cloud, the fire, the tabernacle/temple, the ark, the altar, the bread and wine, the priesthood, the prophets, the apostles, elders, and His Word full of promises. All of it speaks of Him and His holy presence.

It is a sad loss to the church today that for the most part we have put aside the few visuals that once served to remind us of the Divine Presence – the familiarity, instruction and beauty of hymns, the reading of Scripture, the communion table, the pulpit, and the stark simplicity of a wooden cross. Of course, God is bigger than all of that, but each of those symbols spoke volumes to gathered saints. Their absence tends to exaggerate/glorify the role of persons and gifts rather than the Spirit and truth. Sadly, we rarely sense or experience the awe-inspiring Divine Presence. Far too often true, humble worship is lost in the shadow of giftedness.

The emotion and movement of creativity, commonality, noise, immodesty, darkness and technology have replaced the support of melody, harmony, humility, light, familiarity and quietness. With so much clamor and movement it is hard to sense the otherness and grandeur, the holiness and authority, of God, His voice and His Spirit – the Divine Presence. Perhaps, during this time of upheaval, we need to re-think many things.

Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever. . . . Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts.

 

June 17, 2020

Drive In Service: Stuck Inside a Car, But Experiencing Freedom

Today another new author for you, and an unusual devotional format as well. Marjorie Wingert’s focus on her blog is Prayer Over Our Children. On her ‘About’ page she explains,

…As a new parent seeking to raise her child up in the Lord while recognizing the power of prayer in my family’s life, I hungered to proactively pray on behalf of my child. Oh, how my mother’s heart beat to pray against the temptations and struggles that will inevitably bombard our children as they grow. Moreover, I desired to pray in a way that would deepen my walk with our Heavenly Lord while feeding my soul with the meat of Scripture.

One evening as my husband and I were joined in prayer, the Holy Spirit whispered softly to my heart. Why not pray Scripture over her? Why not read a chapter a day from the Bible and use the content from each passage to form your prayer? My eyes popped open. What a great solution!…

So, for example, in its original formatting, following the scripture verse, today’s sample blog post begins,

Prayer Over Our Children
Call my child to You, oh Lord, and surround her with an abundance of Your joy and love. I pray that You will keep her from unbelief, sexual immorality, perversion, slander, and ungodliness. May she not grumble, boast, flatter, fault find, or follow evil desires. Instead, I pray that You will buildup in her a most holy faith and help her to learn to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep her in Your love, oh God, as she waits to be brought to glory. May You also help her show mercy and intercede for others. Oh Lord, keep my little one from falling but help her to stand before Your glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Amen.

Parents might want to read more prayers like this as a model for something you can do in your homes.

…Currently, Marjorie is in a series on Revelation. So I scrolled back to this post-Easter article to find you something that would work as a stand-alone devotional. Please, click the header below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to her blog, marjoriewingert.com


Jude

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Jude 1:20-21, NIV

Living Hope

The day dawned like any other. The sun rose, people slumbered in their beds, and quiet tip-toed through the neighborhoods. Birds chirped their greetings and winds rustled the leaves clinging to tree branches. Young children scrambled to start their day while their parents groaned for more sleep. Today, however, was different. It was Easter Sunday!

My own family tumbled out of bed for the early service. To a nearby fast food restaurant, we headed. Our special Easter breakfast comprised of egg, bacon, and cheese muffins. Hash browns rounded out the meal with small cups of orange juice. Armed with an arsenal for our growling bellies and music blaring from the radio, we nibbled our way to the Easter “drive in” service.

Having participated in sunrise Easter services, never did I dream that Easter “drive in” services would also be added to my repertoire. We sat in our vehicles with one parking spot in between each car to ensure social distancing. Everyone remained in their vehicles and each radio tuned into the same low frequency airwaves. Some engines idled while others remained off.

Here, in this unlikely gathering of dusty vehicles, the Holy Spirit fell strong and vibrant upon this unconventional Easter service. Surrounded by fast food wrappers, empty water bottles on the floor, and neighboring cars instead of people in pews, our souls feasted on a message of hope. In noisy procession, geese banked high above us, raining down their honks of hallelujahs. Even sun rays which crested above the rooftop painted the perfect backdrop to the morning.

Yet, while hearty “Amens” flashed by flickering car lights and hands clapped or raised in praise, two truths unfolded in my brain. The thoughts made my spirits soar and deepened my gratitude. For although our gathering today was far from the traditional Easter service, devoid of Easter lilies, decorative bows, and fancy dresses, something new and beautiful unfolded before me.

Clothed with anonymity within the privacy of our cars, a new freedom of the Spirit emerged. No longer was I hindered by the self-consciousness of what others would think. No longer did I suppress the joyful bubblings stirring for expression. Vibrant Amens frequented my lips. Even my husband flashed multiple Amens with his flickering car lights. A new freedom in worship washed over us.

Though surrounded by rows of cars, the seclusion which our individual vehicles afforded, produced a freedom in the Spirit I had never known. Freedom to dance in my seat. Freedom to wave my hands in praise. Freedom to shout jubilations. Freedom to whoop, holler, or yell agreements and affirmations. Freedom to raise a hallelujah!

Although many of us have felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit prompt expression from the inside out, I suspect many of you are like me. We have tamped down the stirrings of the Spirit due to social etiquette and convention. We have opted not to give expression to our praise and adoration due to self-consciousness and worry of what others may think. However, here, in the privacy of my own car, I experienced the freedom to worship as the Spirit led. The freedom to dance as David danced. The freedom to let go of pride and self-restraint. The freedom to engage in authentic worship.

Interwoven amidst this dawning light, another truth spoke life. Hope. Yes, a hope that this virus will recede. A hope that someday soon we can emerge from our houses. A hope that a cure will be found. This is a good hope. This is a shared hope. However, what struck me is that we were hearing in the Easter message of a different kind of hope. This hope which bound us together and stirred in our very souls was not just hope. It was Living Hope.

A hope bound by earthly measures is not complete. It is like a cup that is half full. It awaits the richness of its potential, not fully blossomed into the abundance of its splendor. When this hope stands beside the crowning riches of eternal glory, it pales in the light of true Living Hope.

Living Hope is exactly that. It is living, it is breathing, it is palpable. It is firmed through the beatings, the blood, and the bruises. It is pounded through by nails driven deep into flesh. It was heard with the anguished yet triumphant cry, “It is finished.” It was seen in the darkness of the land and felt in the quaking of the ground. It was fulfilled with the veil torn top to bottom and the tombs of saints cracked open. It is marked by an empty tomb. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? No longer does death have a hold over us. No longer does death have the final word. It is conquered. It is defeated. It is overcome.

Unlike earthly hope, Living Hope is not grounded in the visages of this world nor is it an emotion, desire, or wish conjured from within. It is derived from the eternal truth of the sacrificial act of the One who came to save. Living Hope is found in the person of Jesus, the Son of God who clothed Himself in human flesh, was crucified, died, buried, and raised on the third day. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. He is the Living Hope. He is our Living Hope.

March 5, 2020

Surpassing Righteousness in Spiritual Disciplines

by Clarke Dixon

People who pray are righteous, right? People who give to people in need are good people, correct? We will be considered righteous if people see us fasting, worshipping in church every Sunday, reading the Bible regularly, and practicing all the spiritual disciplines, correct? According to Jesus, not necessarily:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 ESV

We have previously considered a deeper kind of righteousness, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness Jesus saw in the scribes and Pharisees:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NIV

We do not reach this deeper righteousness by merely being meticulous about the rules, a skill the scribes and Pharisees excelled at, but through a transformation of our character.  It is not so much “do this, don’t do that,” but rather “become the kind of person who . . .” Previously, we looked at examples Jesus used for morality and love in Matthew 5:21-46, which we might summarize as; become the kind of person who does not harm others, gives their spouse and marriage their best effort, is honest and has integrity, handles offence with grace, and who extends grace and love to everyone. Whereas in these things Jesus was teaching about the kind of people we should become in our ethics, in Chapter 6 Jesus is now speaking to the kind of people we should become in our spiritual disciplines:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingc in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6 NIV

Jesus is not giving us new rules here to get all legalistic about. We are not to be Christian versions of the scribes and Pharisees and so apply these rules in a legalistic manner. If we did there should be no more prayers during church services, and prayer meetings would all be cancelled. I think we would benefit from more prayer in worship, not less, more prayer meetings, not fewer! Instead, we are to become “the kind of people” who do spiritual and religious activities in a way that honours God. What is that way which honours God?

Jesus calls us to be a people who engage in spiritual disciplines for the right reasons. Drawing attention to ourselves is not the right reason and does not honour God! Jesus calls those who do this “hypocrites” which is a term for “actors” who put on masks in order to appear to be one thing while actually being another. Jesus is picking on the scribes and Pharisees here who were the prime examples of those who loved to flaunt their righteous activity in front of others to be seen and praised by them. Jesus calls us to have a righteousness that surpasses theirs. According to Jesus, their reward was the praise they received from others. They did not look forward to reward from God. In contrast, God rewards those whose religious activity is done in secret.

What about the idea of reward? Isn’t reward still the wrong reason to practice spiritual disciplines? For example, should we not give alms for the sake of people in need rather than for our own reward? Perhaps we don’t have the best idea of reward here. Our minds may jump to a final judgement-seat scenario when we hear the word “reward.” However, the idea here is more “wages” for your work, the consequence of your efforts. If our purpose in practicing spiritual disciplines is to receive praise from others, we will get that. If our is purpose is to draw closer to God and grow in character, that will happen. If our focus is on God, the practice of spiritual disciplines will be rewarding indeed and we will be happy to practice them quietly without drawing attention to ourselves. Others may not be impressed, but will benefit.

In conclusion, let’s not be that guy; the person who has a need to appear religious, spiritual, righteous, or better than everyone else. That person is like the scribes and Pharisees who often put on a good show. We are to be a people who practice a better kind of righteousness in our spiritual disciplines. The spiritual life in Christ is not a show, it is an opportunity to grow in Christ and become a difference maker in the world.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 26, 2020

You Can’t Have a Song Written Without a Life Lived

Yesterday at this time, I was reading the “musings” of songwriter and recording artist Lynn DeShazo who wrote the worship song, “More Precious Than Silver.” What follows are partial excerpts from four different articles she wrote last year about the 40th anniversary of that song, which you can locate at the link in the title below.

Note: Because the full original articles are also interwoven with insights into Lynn’s life which are key to the story, you are strongly encouraged to click the link and read all four parts of this reflection at source.

More Precious Than Silver

…Forty years! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? Periods of forty years and forty days are found throughout the Scriptures. So when I realized that a significant milestone was approaching in my life, the fortieth anniversary of the creation of “More Precious Than Silver,” it got me thinking.

The Bible is full of instances where our fathers in the faith built altars of stone to mark life-changing encounters with God. In years to come, they would revisit these altars and recall to mind the faithfulness of the Almighty in their lives. They used these memorials to pass on their legacy of faith to their children. An anniversary is a bit like a memorial stone. It marks something significant and perhaps unique to you. It says, “Hey! This event happened here in this place, at that time, and it made a lasting impact on my life.” Here then is my memorial stone, my “Ebenezer raised,” as I reflect on what writing “More Precious Than Silver” has meant to me.

Every creative effort has a beginning. You sit down with your instrument and a pad of paper, or a laptop computer. You hum a melody, strum a chord, or pick out a tune on the piano. Sometimes a song takes shape effortlessly, but usually there’s a struggle involved in the creative process. Every baby born comes into the world with a degree of pain and struggle, some more than others. I think it’s the same with a song. I also think that long before there’s such a creative expression as a song written, there’s a life lived…

…God spoke very clearly to me one night following a powerful message preached at our campus church. He asked me to give up my guitar and, by implication, everything that went along with it – writing and performing my own songs. This was a difficult thing for me to hear and very painful to actually do, but thank God, I found the grace to obey Him. At the close of the meeting, I tearfully handed my guitar over to my pastor for safekeeping (something I freely chose to do), and I did not touch it again for months. As I cooperated with God’s work in me, my spiritual foundation repair began. I learned to trust in Jesus alone for my right standing with God. My striving to please began to give way to restful trust in His love for me. God had big plans for me, but the right foundation had to be in place for Him to build them upon.

Once a field is plowed sufficiently, the farmer stops plowing and starts sowing seed. In like manner, the difficult seasons of God’s dealings with us only go on until He accomplishes His intention. My season of not playing guitar and writing songs did not go on forever. It only lasted until God was satisfied that my spiritual foundation was solidly upon Christ alone. Now He was ready to build upon that foundation, and I began to walk into His purpose for my life…

…When God spoke to me about laying down my guitar, I had a decision to make. My music was very important to me – almost all the self-esteem I could muster up came from being able to play my music “for the Lord.” How could God possibly take that away from me? I chose to trust Him, but it was still difficult.

Putting selfish flesh to death is a hard business and, let’s face it, dying flesh stinks. In ancient times, fragrant spices were used to prepare bodies for burial in order to mask the stench of death as a body decomposed. When Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare His body for burial (see John 19:39-40). Myrrh is also one of the spices used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle worship. One of the blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives is that He works to mask the stench of our dying flesh as we learn take up our cross and follow Jesus. We begin to produce the fragrance of the Christ within us, even in the midst of our “dying.” (See II Corinthians 2:14-16)

Jesus, speaking of His own imminent death, said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before a single grain of wheat can produce a stalk bearing multiple grains, it must first go into the ground where it dies. Its hard exterior is softened through a process hidden from view until the germ of life within is finally able to sprout up through the soil. The tender green shoot is the first sign of the harvest to come…

…Music has a natural power to lift your mood, but it’s the anointing* that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27). So how is it that some ministers have such an evident and consistent anointing flowing to people through what they do, whether it’s preaching, leading worship, counseling, or you name it? I believe it is because of a significant spiritual sacrifice made by that person before the Lord, and a firm commitment to obey Him in every season and circumstance of life.

God called Abraham to Mt. Moriah and required him to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, his son Isaac (See Genesis 22). Thankfully, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. Isaac’s too, for that matter. But you must understand that Abraham’s test was a foreshadowing of what our Father in heaven would do in giving His only Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now, anywhere in the world that the Gospel is preached, there is an anointing upon the message for people to believe and be saved. Why? Because there’s an anointing at the place of sacrifice, and that place is the Cross of Jesus.

Every believer in Jesus Christ who desires to be a fruitful disciple must come to the Cross, to the place of total surrender to Him and be willing to be made a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are called to obedience, and God will test that in every one of us. Will we live by the strength of our own will, or out of obedience to His will for us?


*Read the entire (4th) section of the article where Lynn defines ‘anointing’ quite clearly at this link.

February 25, 2020

On the Lighting of Candles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 pm
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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
 – I Peter 2:9 NIV

I did not grow up with the liturgical calendar or anything close to it. In the last decade or so, I have learned so much from those for whom this is a bedrock of how their faith in Christ is expressed. In preparing Christianity 201, we draw from a wide variety of doctrinal streams. (If you missed yesterday’s post, by a Lutheran minister, it is a great example.)

Today someone asked me about the availability of “Lent candles.” I was familiar with Advent candles, but this one was new to me. A quick Google search revealed there are indeed such things, and “Pentecost candles” also, which got me wondering where candles appear in scripture.

In the KJV, Proverbs 20:27 reads,  The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly. The NASB renders this as, The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the innermost parts of his being. The NLT seems to take a slightly different approach: The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive. The Passion Translation best expresses the source of the light, The spirit God breathed into man is like a living lamp, a shining light searching into the innermost chamber of our being.

The candle reference to which more of you are familiar follows the statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount which begins, ‘You are the light of the world.’ Again, the KJV, Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Or, if you prefer, the ISV: People don’t light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

But why do we light candles today?

The website Schoenstatt comes up in web search results and begins with a reference to Hebrews 9:2 (NIV shown) A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand [KJV: candlestick] and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. The article begins noting the prevalence of candles in Catholic worship:

The custom and praxis of lighting candles is a significant convention in Catholic and Orthodox churches, communities and families, originating from Old Testament times where an oil lamp was lighted to ‘sustain a perpetual flame.’ In The New Testament they emphasize the sacredness of this light in Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. ‘A first tent was prepared with the lamp stand, the table and the bread of the presence; this is called the Holy Place’.

In current Catholic tradition, this light has a precisely distinct status for it symbolizes Christ who said, ‘I am the Light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have light and life,’ chronicled in (John 8:12). Most clergy however, relate the candle as representing Jesus as the Light of the world, but also the light and fire as representing the presence and power of God (similar to the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel in the exodus).

Many individuals light a candle prior to worship to symbolize their life as an offering, being burned up in service to God. All of these beliefs, and many more, exist forming elements of this symbolism. Christian faith is filled with symbolism, all of which is effective in teaching us to appreciate our faith in a way that goes beyond the intellectual level. Anything you do, like getting on your knees in prayer as an act of humility, can be very helpful and meaningful for communicating nuances of our faith which goes way beyond our available intellect…

The HolyArt blog adds,

Lighting up a candle in church is a tangible sign of faith. From the baptism candles to votive candles, light as a symbol of love towards God…

Light as manifestation of God then, as His first manifestation since that is the first thing He created in his endless benevolence and wisdom, and with it, He made all the Creation visible. Light as symbol of Christ, who said about himself: “I am the true light”, and that for us all embodies the Light of God that brightens the world, that defies death and forces darkness to withdraw…

…But there is also a more intimate dimension, tied to the practice of lighting up a candle in church, something that concerns every devotee and his silent dialog with God. A lit candle becomes the symbol of divine fire burning inside all of us, the expression of a flaming passion that warms us and makes us part of that Light that Jesus symbolizes, but that all Christians are part of…

Lighting up a candle in church, or holding one during a procession or a community ritual, has a deep unifying purpose. In such occasions, our love becomes unanimous, like a hymn sung by many joyful voices altogether. It is not just us, nor our swaying flame, but we become part of a union made of love and warmth, many fragments of light warming up in the passion of our faith, in the endlessly benevolent and shiny look of God…

These are obviously two very Catholic answers, especially if you click the links to read the selected quotes in context.

But what about Evangelical churches which are increasingly using candles, not to mention adopting the whole of the liturgical calendar? Reformed/Calvinist worship leader Bob Kauflin dealt with this in a 2006 response to a reader.

[C]andles might intentionally be used to illustrate Jesus coming as the Light of the world, or highlight that the Word of God is a light for our path. They could also be used to emphasize that we are God’s people who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The atmosphere that multiple candles produce can also draw attention to the awe we should experience as we encounter the God of the universe. However that should be balanced by the fact that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and can enter God’s presence with freedom and boldness (Eph. 3:12).

We’re out of space for today. Are candles part of your church’s tradition?


We posted this song back in 2012, noting that it might be more familiar to Catholic readers. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

February 24, 2020

Letting People See Heaven Mirrored In Earth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We are always scanning the internet looking for new sources of devotional material we can highlight and direct you towards. The blog A Simple Christian‘s author goes by ‘justified and sinner’ and is the pastor of a Lutheran Church in California and has been writing online since 2009. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Is there anything on earth…like heaven?

What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor. 2:9 CEV

When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.”  “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.”  Judges 6:21-24 CEV


Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.

There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.

– Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.


So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.

– Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.


As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.

I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent.  My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”

Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven?  How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing?  That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?

How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?

The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.

I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger.  He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.

Then the Lord God tells him to chill.

Wait – where was he?

God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon.  One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering.  Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills of our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ.  Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…

That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best of our talents. It isn’t!

What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.

There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.

January 20, 2020

Devotions: Breaking Out Into Song(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is an archived article which appeared on the writer’s blog in 2016. Julie Meyer is the author of Singing the Scriptures (Chosen Books, 2018) and we were referred to her blog, Into the River.

Spontaneous Worship

For years, part of my personal devotions have been to simply open the Bible and sing the Word. I have found that it is possible to be in the most depressed state of mind – where hope is far away and frustration is knocking at the door of your heart —then I begin to sing the Word – suddenly that song – those words of life actually get inside of me and literally  begin to stir up my heart, mind and spirit to take hope in God. Spontaneous worship and singing the Word of God are powerful tools we all need in our tool belt.

David says it over and over in the Psalms. He writes with complete honesty regarding his feelings, his hopelessness, his discouragement, his despair. Then David begins to sing beyond his feelings. It’s as if this spontaneous song, this prayer that David in complete honesty is writing and singing before God – he begins to stir his heart, his emotions, his mind to remember God. He begins to sing out and write down the questions that he is feeling. He writes down & sings out the answer to the questions. Remember to hope in God. Don’t forget God!

In Psalm 42, David bring us into the whole journey. As I was reading the Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 42, he writes the titles do not tell us who the penman of this psalm is, but most probably it was David. And then David presented it to the ‘Sons of Korah’ to sing this song to the congregation.

David writes,

‘My heart is breaking’. He goes on to write, ‘I am deeply discouraged, yet I remember you God.‘

In this Psalm, we go on a journey with David in his spontaneous prophetic worship where he writes down every emotion and sings our every discouragement, but he does not stop in his downcast state. He also gives the answer to his discouragement.

He is writing down quite possibly what his eyes are beholding, a storm over the seas;  he sees the raging seas and the storm.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

Possibly his emotions identified with that storm and he began to sing of the storm within his soul, his heart and his emotions. But he doesn’t just write the negative – he also – because of the spontaneous worship that he lived a life of – he began to sing the answer.

Then suddenly the Psalm begins to turn and he begins to sing the answer, bringing great hope to His soul, heart, mind and emotions.

Why am I discouraged?
Why am I so sad?
I will put my hope in God;
I will praise Him again!

David was possibly encouraging his own heart from the Torah. The Word of God that He had in his days. We have David’s songs, prayers, and cries today so we can sing the same words. They do the very same thing to our own heart, emotions, mind, and soul.

This is the powerful effect of prophetic spontaneous worship. We can simply open the Living Word of God, sing these same words, and have an encounter with Hope that will bring anyone out of the deepest despair. This is the power of singing the Word; the wonderful simplicity of just opening the Bible and beginning to sing Words that are already written down.

This Spontaneous Prophetic Worship is for everyone.

Oh Lord, make us like David!

October 21, 2019

Nehemiah’s Dual Choirs: Best Worship Ever

Largest Choir Ever

While I owe much of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, I also can be awestruck by a choir. Some choir music is characterized by powerful high energy, and other types are characterized by the beauty of rich harmony.

You may not — especially if you’re a guy — get excited about the sung worship time at your church, but music and the capital-C Church are inseparable. Christianity is a singing faith; something that traces back to our Jewish origins.

A few years back, I heard a sermon on Nehemiah 12, as the nation celebrates the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall:

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.

31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right

38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction…

40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials,

42b … The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

I would love to have heard the sound of these dual choirs performing opposite each other. This was long before the combined choir music sung in European cathedrals, and I must add long before HD sound, SurroundSound, or even Quadraphonic Stereo. I’m sure people went back to their homes saying, ‘Best. Worship. Ever.’

I know it can’t compare to the heavenly worship described in the book of Revelation, in which we will all some day participate, but it must have ranked among the most amazing sounds ever heard on earth.

I think it’s interesting that verse 47 tells us that the musicians were set apart for this purpose. If some or all of their material needs were supplied it could mean that they did not need other employment, or were at the very least bi-vocational. There was no doubt a certain level of technical competence among those chosen for this particular task. I have dabbled in music all my life, and at times earned income doing so, but I still wonder if would make it into Zerubbabel’s band or Nehemiah’s vocal team. I’m not saying they had auditions, but I think only the best made the cut to serve in this particular way.

How do we recreate the same type of musical moment? The challenge today for us is to similarly find ways to raise “the song of the Lord” in the marketplace, but sometimes the public square is not available — literally or figuratively — for the church to rent.

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our lyres, hanging them on the branches of the willow trees. For there our captors demanded a song of us. Our tormentors requested a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

Psalm 137: 1-4 NLT

This psalm provides us some info we don’t get from other histories in scripture, and the people of God were being asked to sing, when their captivity made it hard to form a song on the lips.

We aren’t in captivity right now as much as we are moving toward a period of cultural and political exile. Christianity doesn’t have the pull that it once had. But our challenge is similar: How do raise the Lord’s song in an increasingly hostile environment?


Photo:At least in terms of size, the choir pictured above is taken from a YouTube video frame posted by the Guinness Book of Records on October 15th, 2015 of the largest gospel choir consisting of 8688 participants of the Members Church of God International (Philippines) at the Araneta Coliseum, Manila, Philippines just days earlier. Click the image to watch the video.

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