Thinking Out Loud

January 1, 2019

The Bible Verse of the Year for 2018

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor, friend, and — compared with everyone else I interact with online — we’re practically next door neighbors. His writings appear every Thursday at our sister blog, Christianity 201, but this seemed like a great choice to start the new year. I figured he gave us permission for one part of our blogging network, so that included Thinking Out Loud as well, right? His writing appears at clarkedixon.wordpress.com or if you prefer, you can read his writing at C201.

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


Scripture references are taken from the NLT

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December 30, 2016

The Sermon on the Mount as Many Live It

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:37 am

Exactly four years ago to the day, we ran an item on the blog which had appeared a few days earlier, December 22, 2012 on the Huffington Post blog. It was a retelling of the story of The Good Samaritan by James Martin, a Catholic Priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.

I was looking back at the original article at Huffington and noticed it was one of three such retold Bible passages which first appeared at The National Catholic Review. As I looked at the next one, which spoofs The Sermon on the Mount, it was clear why I’d run the one I did. Perhaps I lacked the courage to run this one.

But this year I realized that what follows is probably closer to the way we live our lives — yes, even Christians — and is a fairly good representation of how some people wish those chapters in Matthew actually were printed…

james-martinThe New Sermon on the Mount

1. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 2. “Blessed are those who know how to defend themselves, for they will be secure. Blessed are those who arm themselves, for they will not be sorry. Blessed are those with one club, for they will be safe. 3. How much more blessed are those with two clubs, for they will be able to win a fight with those with one club. 4. Let the one who has two clubs buy four, and the one who has four buy ten. Let them increase clubs a hundredfold and a thousandfold.”

“But woe to you with no clubs, for you are asking for trouble. Woe to you who don’t arm yourselves heavily, for you’re just begging for people to steal your stuff. And I say, woe to you peacemakers, for you are wasting your time.” 5. The disciples were amazed. “Lord,” said Nathaniel, “Did you just say ‘Woe to the peacemakers?’ The last time you spoke on the Mount, you said they were blessed.” 6. “I changed my mind,” said Jesus. “Trying to make peace is impossible. Consider the world around you. Look at the beasts of the field. Do they not fight? Do they not tear each other apart with their sharp teeth? 7. It’s super dangerous. Do you think anyone can make peace? It’s a waste of time.” 8. The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “Lord, did you not tell us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?” 9. “I’m re-evaluating that too,” said Jesus. 10. The crowd began to murmur.

“Quiet!” said Jesus, rebuking them with a word. “Look,” said Jesus, “talking about peace and nonviolence is fine until someone asks for your cloak, which is exactly what happened to me yesterday. 11. A beggar tried to take my cloak.” The disciples waited on his word.

“Do you know what I did when he tried to take my cloak?” said Jesus. 13. James answered, “Lord, did you give him your cloak and some food as well?” “Are you kidding?” said Jesus, who was angry. “How long must I be with you? I beat him with my club. 14. That will teach people to try to take my clothes. That cloak cost five talents.” The disciples were filled with confusion and wondered what sort of teaching this was. 15. “Lord, how can we accept this teaching? It seems a violent way to live.” they said. “What about turning the other cheek?” Jesus looked at them with pity. 16. “Accept it or not,” he said. “All I can say is: Don’t be a wimp.”

April 1, 2013

TImely Verse

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

Decided not to go with the usual April 1st post. Not the right season in my life, plus it’s the day after Easter.

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

But Pete’s sermon also had something I needed — and still need — to hear. One of those verses that arrests you in your tracks. It’s the rendering of Isaiah 26:16 in the updated NIV:

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

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

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

The Message makes a rare use of capital letters here:

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

The ESV has:

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

The CEB:

…the one who trusts won’t tremble

The Amplified:

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

The NLT:

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

Finally, the NASB:

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

Part of life in the modern world is the potential for fear and anxiety. This is a verse to claim for those who know what it means to panic.

I watch Pete at 7:00 PM EST Sundays at this link.

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