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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January 17, 2011

Realignment of Horoscope Signs Changes Everything For Followers

At risk of repeating myself, I don’t believe in astrology, but then again, us Geminis are naturally skeptical. [add rim shot here]

But for those who do, the signs they are a-changing.  And if you were born November 29th to December 17th, you’re now a Ophiuchus.  A what?  (Click the image at right for a look at the revised calendar)

I’ve written here before about how astrology is very much a religion, a faith system requiring as much faith as any other.  It’s also a unique faith group that gets free daily newspaper space in about every daily in the western world. But what do followers of that religion do when they wake up one morning and open their newspaper only to find out that their religion has undergone a transformation?

It would be like being a follower of The Worldwide Church of God only to wake up and find that the leader has recanted his beliefs.  Oh wait, that did happen when Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. began moving the group toward more evangelical beliefs.

It would be like being a devout Catholic who regularly prays the three sets of mysteries of the rosary only to wake up one morning and find that there are now four sets of mysteries.  Oh wait, that did happen when Pope John Paul introduced the Luminous Mysteries.

But before Evangelicals get too smug, it would also be like being told you can’t play sports on Sunday only to be told that it’s now permissible and in fact, there’s a volleyball game in the church gym coming up this Sunday afternoon.  Or grow up believing that women can’t preach or be church elders, only to find yourself in a church today where the majority of the church board right now is actually female, one of whom preached last week.

But I’m getting off topic.  And I don’t need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is the same; yesterday, today and forever. The fundamentals of Christianity are unchanged. (And I’d equally expect someone to comment that fundamentals of astrology are unchanged, too.)

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune (motto: Hyphens are our middle name) reports three types of reactions to the changes:

Defiance: “Dude, I’m a Leo and always will be a Leo, no matter where the sun is on August 5th. Besides, this very expensive tattoo on my right shoulder tells me so.”

Consternation: “Darn it, the whole time I thought I was an introvert, now to find out that I’m an extrovert. I’m going to need awhile to unravel my life.”

Delight: “Upgrade from Cancer to Gemini. Woo!”

The changes are based on an earlier article the newspaper published:

In the article, [Parke] Kunkle affirmed that since the Babylonian zodiac periods were established millennia ago, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth “wobble” around its axis in a process called precession. That has created about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment, meaning that “when [astrologers] say that the sun is in ­Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,” said Kunkle, who teaches astronomy courses at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

And then there’s that entirely new star sign.

By the reckoning of Kunkle and other astronomers, astrologers are not only a month off in their zodiac signs, but they are neglecting a 13th constellation, Ophiuchus (Ooh-FEE-yew-kus) the Serpent Bearer, for those born from Nov. 30 to Dec. 17.

According to myth, Ophiuchus became a healer when he killed a snake and another appeared with an herb in his mouth that revived the dead one.

“The sun has been going through Ophiuchus for thousands of years,” said Kunkle, who says that his sign is “vegetarian.”

Linda Zlotnick, an astrologer for 32 years in St. Paul, said she and fellow astrologers have long known of the issue raised by Kunkle, but that the most commonly used zodiac — tropical — isn’t affected by it

So is Kunkle simply starting a sect, splinter-group, or dare I say ‘cult’ among devotees of the daily horoscope?

Time to call in the experts for the last word on this:

A spokeswoman for the American Federation of Astrologers, Shelley Ackerman, said she’d been swamped with e-mails from worried clients. She advises them not to overreact.

“This doesn’t change your chart at all. I’m not about to use it,” she said. “Every few years, a story like this comes out and scares the living daylights out of everyone, but it’ll go away as quickly as it came.”

That should make one demographic happy — people with zodiac tattoos.

So has your “faith” ever been shaken by major announcements by leaders?  For my daily Christian readers, what are the dealbreakers for you?  Creation/evolution?  Women’s role?  Bible versions?  Rapture/end-times? Worship music styles?  Got a story to tell?

Read more at the Star-Tribune at this story from January 14th

November 1, 2010

A Post-Halloween Consideration of Demons, Spirits, et al

I’m finding that I am starting to look forward more to my daily post at Christianity 201.   Many of the posts there are re-posts from other blogs, but it helps me keep a more Christ-centered focus.     I wasn’t sure yesterday which one should go where, so I thought today we’d just reverse them with a few minor changes…


So...Are your kids experiencing a Halloween Hangover?

For the message I prepared for a church in Toronto on Sunday, rather than running away from Halloween, I chose to confront it.

We looked at some supernatural encounters in scripture, including

  1. Simon the Sorcerer (aka ‘Great Power’) in Acts 8:9ff. He was a baptized follower of the Apostle Phillip, and yet parts of his old life — the love of the spotlight, for example — still lingered.
  2. The Seven Sons of Sceva in Acts 19: 11-16. The demons they tried to confront knew of the Apostle Paul and they knew Jesus, but they basically taunted the seven sons with “Who are you?” The world isn’t interested in what we have to do or say on our own strength, but rather, on whether or not Christ is flowing through us.
  3. Demetrius in Acts 19: 23-27. Christianity was turning out to be bad for the whole idol-making business. There are entire industries with a vested interest in retaining followers. If people really do turn to God, that will change. (But we have to be careful that we don’t create similar industries in the Christian world. Hmmm.)
  4. The Demon-Possessed Man in Mark and Luke and Men in Matthew 8:24-34. This wasn’t just a healing. There was a third party — demons — involved in this story. Jesus affirms their reality.

For a good spiritual showdown, we also looked at I Kings 18: 16ff, the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah just knew that God was going to come through. The buckets of water were a nice touch!

We contrasted Jesus’ words to the imprisoned John the Baptist (“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor…”) with his words to Thomas after the resurrection (“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”)

We also were reminded of Ephesians 6:12, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…”

We finished up with John’s admonition in 1 John 4: 1-6 to test the spirits.

1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Some credit for this message concept must go to my favorite Reformed pastor and friend, Jack Vanderveer.

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