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

Advertisements

April 29, 2018

Stupid Peace

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:48 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

to read this at Aaron’s blog Voice of One Whispering, where this was a follow-up to a previous post on anxiety and adapting to anxiety with medication, click this link.

I generally like to write blog posts that are self-contained isolated thoughts, but today what I happen to have on my mind piggybacks what I wrote about anxiety last time.

There, I mentioned that my brain “handles” differently now. I have a bit more control over where my thoughts go than I used to. I can steer them, but they don’t turn on a dime. Anxiety still strikes, but now I can do something about it.

A phrase from the Bible that has followed me around for quite a long time is “The peace that passes understanding,” (Phil 4:7). The thing is, I’ve never quite understood what that means. The “peace that passes understanding” passes my understanding. I can partially grasp the idea: because we know that we’re in God’s hands, we can have peace even if everything in our life, as we understand it, is falling apart. We have a peace that transcends what we see in our day to day life.

The problem with this concept is that we’re necessarily giving something up. We handing over our security in ourselves (or lack thereof) and in a self-effacing surrender we’re giving up our desire to be in control and in the know.

This completely irrational foreclosure of individual understanding is called “Trust” and I hate it.

On a similar note, Proverbs 3:5 tells to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” To Western ears, this is the most ridiculous and offensive idea anyone could come up with – willfully not understanding. I imagine it’s also, to those of us prone to anxiousness, extremely attractive.

So I’m still struggling to achieve functional adulthood (whatever that means) and today I was told by my dentist that I might need an unexpected procedure done. A minor procedure for a minor problem, but a pricey one. And on the walk back I was worrying a lot. But then I took the reins of my Serotonin-replete brain and thought “What if I just choose not to worry about it?”

“Yeah, it feels incredibly stupid to not worry about it because it’s a rather harsh blow to the bank account. It’s an objectively miserable thing to have to deal with, but worrying about it doesn’t get me to a solution any faster so why I don’t I just skip the anxiousness phase and make the most of my day?”

And then I went home and took what a friend of mine calls a “depression nap.” You know, when sleeping is easier than thinking about the thing. Again, it doesn’t turn on a dime, but it can be gradually nudged in the right direction.

The peace that passes understanding is a stupid peace because we, in and of ourselves, have no reason- we see no cause for peace. We, in and of ourselves, have no control. But if there’s someone we can trust watching out for us, maybe a little bit of stupidity isn’t just quite pleasant but in fact the most rational response.

It might take a few hours, it might take a few days, but I’ll get past this emotional bump in the road and hop back on the highway to peace. The way there is rather counter-intuitive but it gets easier once you get the hang of it.

 

March 23, 2012

Microblogging Friday

Heard a couple of interesting quotes from The Elephant Room II at James MacDonald’s blog; here’s the first one:

T. D. Jakes on the need for the church to be more integrated:

“When you write the books you read, your truth will always be distorted.”

Second quote from ER II

I think it was Crawford Lorrits on the need for us to stop obsessing on the finer points of doctrine when we’re supposed to be evangelizing:

“When someone is drowning, don’t describe the features of the rescue boat.”

from David Platt quotations at GoodReads.com

“We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”
Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

More microblogging this week at this entry at C201 blog

May 25, 2011

Wednesday Link List

There are a couple of blogs I read where there are well over 30 links represented weekly.  Trevin Wax at Kingdom People does a summary of each one, at least four a day with some longer lists;  while Zach Nielsen at Take Your Vitamin Z turns each one into a post of its own.  I guess that relatively speaking I’m not that dedicated.  …The Iberian Lynx makes a rare appearance here this week, while these weekly links do contain items that deserve a few clicks:

  • A Christianity Today item last week reported that atheists want to be participants in military chaplaincies, in a story appropriately titled, Atheists in the Foxholes.
  • Here’s a fun activity for those of you who studied the maps in the back of your Bible, it actually was an ad-link from the above the story; you simply click and drag the push-pin from the tribe name to the territory on the map and thereby Locate the Lost Tribes of Israel.  (I did not do well…)
  • Living Bible Explorers, a ministry organization in Winnipeg, Ontario which tries to steer younger youth away from gang activities believes that gang member wannabes are responsible for fire destroying their three buses.
  • A Christian counselor suggests that, of all things, humility is the key to a Fresh Approach to Facing Fear.
  • Yawn!  In case you missed it yesterday, Harold Camping, everyone’s favorite prophet, has revised the 5.21.11 date… it’s now 10.21.11
  • Russell D. Moore tears a strip off the romance novel genre, and before leaving the topic suggests that while some of their Christian equivalents are different, some are not.  Can Romance Novels Hurt Your Heart?
  • Is a lazy pastor one who simply wastes time, or one who chooses the easy approach over the difficult?  Darryl Dash shifts the priority emphasis at The Pastor Who Jogged While Mowing His Lawn.
  • Justin Holcomb at Resurence thinks perhaps the parents of young girls need to consider Eleven Ways to Protect Your Daughter from Barbie.
  • Julia Rhodes guests at SCL and attracts over 300 comments with another look at the need to Proofread your Worship Slides.
  • Some of you know that in addition to whatever we do on Sunday morning, every Sunday night at 6:00 EST since last fall I’ve been part of virtual church with Andy Stanley at NorthpointOnline.TV.  Well…this week I also checked out what Pete Wilson is doing at Crosspoint.TV; a service which features a live Q&A after the message.  Their time is 6:00 CST which is an hour later, or 7:00 PM Eastern.  His guest was Jon Acuff and together with host Jenni Catron the program was both informative and entertaining to the point where I began to wonder if Leno and Letterman might have some competition.
  • It’s too bad the retail book industry was such a “sitting duck” for online takeover, and too bad that non-computer-user book-lovers have to pay a great price for the changing paradigm in book sales; as I rant yet again in Anger in the Face of Retail Contraction.
  • A timely cartoon from Sacred Sandwich

September 28, 2010

The Tranquility Prayer: Spiritual Wisdom from Planet Trid

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:06 pm

A re-post from September of last year…

It was a dream that I woke from remembering it vividly.

I was living on Planet Trid, very similar to ours in many ways. I was an activist, an angry activist pushing for every type of change, from major social change to why the clothing store never stocked enough of the statistically verifiable most common sizes.

I wrote letters. I left messages. And they even had blogging on Trid, and not to be outdone, I had a dozen of them; venting each day on a variety of topics that were the target of my latest frustration. I would be attacking the government for a flaw in its tax plan on blog one, while on blog two chastising a local restaurant for having seating capacity for 200 but only a dozen parking spaces.

Ranting had become a lifestyle. It was hard to change this pattern because, for one thing, I was always right. Not that everybody else was dead wrong, they just didn’t have my wisdom. How could I see these anomalies, I could I know so many better ways of doing things, and how could I be aware of so much injustice without commenting?

Then some of the Tridians came to me and had the nerve to suggest that it was I who wasn’t getting it.

“Nonsense;” I replied; “Yes, some things are good; but some could be better; others are on the threshold of being great. What’s wrong with a little concrete criticism? What’s wrong with a little objective commentary?”

“We have a something here;” the Tridians informed me; “It’s called The Tranquility Prayer, and it goes like this:

“God give me the peace and tranquility to realize that I can’t reform or renovate everything; the insight into those situations and structures that are actually pliable; and the discernment to know which is which.”

I paused and thought about the wisdom that one sentence contained. You can’t fix everything; certainly not all at once. And where I came from, only one man ever lived about whom it might be said he truly, totally revolutionized the world.

It was time to relax and experience the tranquility about which the Tridians spoke instead of trying to force my suggestions or my agenda on their lifestyle.  Their little one-sentence saying had much wisdom.

“Alright then;” I said; “We need to get that sentence on some plaques, and maybe some posters and bookmarks and greetings cards, and then after that we need to…”


(NIV) Phil 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.


April 2, 2010

God Help Me

Or should I perhaps say, “God, Help me.”  (What a difference a comma makes!)

The following is from John Cassian (365-435)

There is something which has been handed on to us by some of the oldest of the Fathers and which we hand on to only a very small number of the souls eager to know it: To keep the thought of God  always in your mind you must cling totally to this formula for piety:  “Come to my help, O God; Lord hurry to my rescue.”  (Psalm 70:1)

It is not without good reason that this verse has been chosen from the whole of scripture as a device.   It carries within it all the feelings of which human nature is capable.  It can be adapted to every condition and can be usefully deployed against every temptation.  It carries within it a cry of help to God in the face of every danger.   It expresses the humility of a pious confession.   It conveys the watchfulness born of unending worry and fear.   It covers a sense of our frailty, the assurance of being heard, the confidence in help that is always and everywhere present.   Someone forever calling out to his protector is indeed very sure of having him close by.   This is the voice filled with ardor of love and of charity.   This is the terrified cry of someone who sees the snares of the enemy, the cry of someone besieged day and night and, exclaiming that he cannot escape unless his protector comes to the rescue…

This little verse, I am saying, proves to be necessary and useful to each one of us and in all circumstances.   For someone who needs help in all things is making clear that he requires the help of God not simply in hard and sad situations but equally and amid fortunate and joyful conditions.   He knows that God saves us from adversity and makes our joys linger and that in neither situation can human frailty survive without His help.

~as quoted in Devotions for Lent adapted from the NLT Mosaic Bible (Tyndale Publishing)

February 10, 2010

Wednesday Links

But February made with shiver
with every link that I’d deliver…

Time for another look at some things that caught my eye this week.   Recommendations can be sent anytime during the week to the e-mail address on my “about” page.

  • I like a book trailer that really makes me want to read the book, and that’s what I found in the promo vid for the comic novel, The God Cookie by Geoffrey Wood.
  • Not so sure about this one, though.  A somewhat backdoor approach to outreach by Lifechurch.tv under the website Satan Hates Life.  Tell me what you think.
  • Got King James Version Only friends?  Here’s some material to help you make a rational response to their issues — if rationality will help at all — from the blog Gazing at Glory.
  • Blogger Rich Dixon thinks we’re only considering two-thirds of a popular quotation from Augustine.   Check out his thoughts at Bouncing Back.
  • Pornography.   It’s not just a guy thing anymore.   Here’s an article from Rachel Zoller at Focus on the Family, Girls Snared by Porn and Cybersex.
  • Speaking of which, writing Monday’s Jewish-flavored post uncovered this page of recommended internet filtering software.   (The referrer liked the K9 (free) program.
  • New Blog of the Week:  Downhill Both Ways.  Let’s just say the author, who most of you know, uses more than 22 words to tell a story.
  • Here’s a flashback to October, a Tullian Tchividjian post about How to Identify A Reliable Preacher.   “…if we are going to grow we need to be sitting at the feet of reliable carriers of God’s truth.”
  • Afraid?  Anxious?  Worried?  Fearful?   Check out this short post at Justin Taylor’s blog at The Gospel Coalition.
  • You shouldn’t be a manipulator.  But neither should you be manipulated.   Sometimes manipulation comes disguised as the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.   Check out the discussion at Resolved To Worship.
  • A sad story out of Florida last week where two young street preachers were murdered, as reported in the Palm Beach Post.
  • Jim Daly.  Get to know that name.   He replaces another J.D., James Dobson, as the voice — he’s been president since ’05 — of Focus.   Here’s the 411 on him from The Wall Street Journal.
  • Okay, so here’s the deal, I like to end each Wednesday Link List with a cartoon, and this week is no exception, with one from The Back Pew by Jeff Larson.   But does anyone know why there’s two versions circulating out there for this week’s cartoon? ????

January 20, 2009

The Big Bang Theory and Intimacy With God

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, God, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:37 am

Although I believe strongly in the God who said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you;” I struggle with experiencing what some term ‘intimacy with God.’  Having been on this journey for several decades now, I find that it’s easy to look back and see how God has been with me, leading, guiding; but not so easy to see him working in the present or thinking toward the future.

big-bang-theoryIn last night’s episode of The Big Bang Theory (CBS sitcom) the character Sheldon, a research scientist at a university, played flawlessly each week by Jim Parsons, hopes that by befriending another scientist, he can get access to time in a particular research laboratory.   Unfortunately,  Sheldon doesn’t know the first thing about what it takes to be someone’s friend, and has to have the process mapped out as a flowchart.   (Something that we have learned is necessary when trying to teach social situations to a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.)  Eventually, the awkward techniques seem to be working, and Sheldon is on his way to getting what he wants.

Later in the episode,  when he discovers that this scientist actually doesn’t control the lab schedule, he immediately dumps him.   Sheldon was only interested in the benefits to be had by the friendship, and not interested in the other person just for who he was.

The obvious parallel here is, what is our goal in desiring intimacy with God?  (Okay, what is my goal…?)   Though we don’t like to be truthful, often we are hoping for or expecting some kind of benefit to accrue.

Yesterday, I went through what some might consider a routine medical procedure.   After days of anxiety, as I lay in the ‘ready room’ outside the operating room, I reminded myself — or at least remembered being told — that God is right there next to me.   There have been times, certainly, when I have felt His presence in situations like this.    I prayed for that yesterday, to see or feel God’s presence and peace,  but didn’t really feel the assurance I was longing for.  Was I just looking for a benefit from knowing God intimately, and not truly seeking closeness to God for who He is?

We lead a worship chorus sometimes by Israel Houghton that says “I am a friend of God.”

Who am I
That You are mindful of me?
That You hear me
When I call?

Is it true
That You are thinking of me?
How You love me –
It’s amazing!

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

Sometimes we medley that song directly into:

There is a place of quiet rest
Near to the heart of God
A place where sin cannot molest
Near to the heart of God

O Jesus, blest Redeemer
Sent from  the heart of God
Hold us who wait before You
Near to the heart of God

I am a friend of God.  What a wonderful friendship to have!    Yet I am sure that on my part, my attempts at friendship must look to God like Sheldon’s looked to his friends on last night’s show.  I feel like, spiritually anyway, yesterday was a failure, because I carried all that worry, I simply didn’t trust, I didn’t think or act or emote like God was a friend right next to me.

Basically, I am trying really hard to experience a friendship that scripture tells me already exists for those who have decided to follow Him.

November 17, 2008

When You’re Worried or Afraid

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:02 pm

John Acuff writes occasionally at 97SecondsWithGod.com:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Four words.

I have heard roughly 1 million pastors reference the verse, Philippians 4:6-7, in sermons about worry.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And it makes complete sense, because it’s a great verse. I’ve said that one over and over again through the years as I’ve wrestled with my own worries.

jon-acuffBut I’ve never heard anyone mention the four words that come before it. I’ve never heard anyone talk about the incredibly short, but in my mind, incredibly powerful sentence that precedes, “Do not be anxious about anything.”

Have you? If you’re familiar with that verse and have memorized it before, do you know the way the verse before it concludes? I honestly didn’t until a few weeks ago.

The four words before Philippians 4:6 are “The Lord is near.” The verses say, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious …” I love that. When we pray that verse out loud when we’re under the burden of worry, when the skies are dark and we are so anxious we can barely stand and we cry out to God, I think we should start with “The Lord is near.”

We’re not praying to a far off God. We’re not presenting our requests to a long distance lord. The Lord is near. The Lord is near. That’s such a great reminder. Instead of starting with us, “Don’t be anxious about anything,” what if we started with the Lord? What if we started our pray with, “the lord is near” and ended it in verse 7 with “in Christ Jesus?” What if we had God bookends on that prayer about worry?

Would that change the way we thought about worry? It has for me.

John Acuff

Blog at WordPress.com.