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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September 20, 2018

Your Smartphone and Family Gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas

Who are these people?

Why must we spend Thanksgiving with them every year?

Isn’t there a game on right now?

You’re trying to feign interest and laugh in the right places, but with such limited contact you really don’t have much in the way of shared experiences or shared interests with your spouse’s family. The thing that matters to you is your Savior, but past experience has shown that when it comes to religion, this is a tough crowd.

Your wife’s great aunt is sitting at the opposite end of the couch from you. She’s getting less out of this than you are, since English isn’t her first language. What part of Eastern Europe is she from again?

You pull out your smartphone and open YouVersion. Scanning the list of languages in the menu, one stands out. You give it a try. And then you pass her your phone gesturing for her to have a look.

You watch as she smiles as she reads, in her own tongue,

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

And then she does something rather remarkable. She doesn’t give the phone back. Instead, very tentatively, she takes the hand that isn’t holding the phone and places a finger on the screen, scrolling down to read more.

After a few minutes she realizes she’s monopolizing the thing. “Thank you;” she says, passing it back. At least she speaks some English.

You turn to another passage, this time highlighting it; and again she reads in her own language,

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.

As fast as you can navigate the menu — you’re accustomed to just looking things up in English, after all — and as soon as verse references come to mind, you’re passing the phone back and forth. You have no idea where she stands on matters of faith, but something is resonating, to the point where both of you are oblivious to anything else happening in the room.

Weeks later, it’s another Christmas gathering.

This time it’s your side of the family, yet you’re equally bored.

You wonder how the aunt’s getting on, and if you can repeat what you did at Thanksgiving, but everybody here speaks English. And again, it’s a roomful of people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a Bible in their hands at an event like this. That discussion would devolve rather quickly.

But again, at the opposite end of a similarly long couch is your twelve year old nephew. His own smartphone has had a technical issue and he doesn’t get along well with his cousins who are playing the latest game on the big screen downstairs. They consider him too nerdy.
You pull out your phone and hunt down one of the more “cool” versions of John 9 and pass him the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. No comment, you simply pass your phone.

…“Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do…

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”…

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an imposter.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

“Did you write this?” he says to me; oblivious to the information at the top of the screen; adding “Why do the sentences have numbers?”

You throw a question back to him, “Did you like the story?”

“The guy that healed the blind man seems to be in trouble for doing it, but the blind man seems to be in trouble, too for getting healed. It’s like something good happened, but everybody’s afraid to admit it.”

He’s got that part right. Then the question of the day: “Did the guy who could heal the blind man do anything else in the story?”

For twenty minutes, your nephew is your captive. You tell him that it’s not just a story. You tell him some of the bigger picture. You tell him about incarnation. You tell him about the cross

He downloads the app…

You might not think about your smartphone’s Bible app when you’re waiting for all the relatives to arrive at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or the family reunion, or the engagement party; so they can get on with serving the dinner.

But it can be a tremendous tool in a moment like this, especially where people who would never read a Bible are seeing pages from the Bible for the first time.

Imagine what could happen.

I just did.

 

July 11, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Here’s our deal:  I find ’em, you click on ’em.

  • Pants on Fire Department: Apparently Perry Noble may have fudged some stats on church attendance in his home state when he was trying to justify some church expansion.  
  • This is a must read, especially for women who have a man in their life (father, brother, son, friend) who is going where he shouldn’t go online. Check out Four Reasons Why Men Like Porn.
  • Two quick posts about actor Andy Griffith who passed away last week: Ron Edmondson on how Andy was prepared to die;  and a Christianity Today post on the secret to understanding life in the Town of Mayberry.
  • If Solomon* were alive today, instead of the Proverbs 31 text we know, he might have written something like what Dennis Muse posted about what makes a girl beautiful. (*Or Lemuel; see comments!)
  • An eight-year old girl discovers that the dinosaur pictured in the brochure for the IMAX show at the show at the Smithsonian is actually from (gasp!) The Creation Museum.
  • Is this religious persecution? An Arizona man’s weekly Bible studies at his home have cost him $12,000 in fines and two months in jail, because he was violating the building code.
  • Christian bookstores may be disappearing, but according to Rachel Held Evans, their influence isn’t. She thinks their conservatism is choking author creativity.
  • Lisa Robinson thinks that having a “life verse” isn’t a good idea for four reasons, including that it isn’t a nice thing to do to the verse.
  • This one was found linked on Rachel’s blog this weekend: If you are feeling in a silly mood or need to entertain the junior high youth group this weekend, here are The Top Ten Zombie Scenes in the Bible. And here’s a transparent look at the subject of repentance.  Good explanation of the phrase in Matthew, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
  • Darrell at SFL explains why, in fundamentalist circles, many people have the calling but only a few have the job.
  • Blog Discovery of the Week Department:  Caleb Jennings Breakey, an author with two books slated for Harvest House Publishers in each of 2013 and 2014.
  • An internal link here back to 2009: If you’re planning small group ministry for the fall, here’s how National Capital Church (Mark Batterson) allows free-market principles to guide the birth of small groups.
  • This one will be eight days old when you read it, but it supplies some background into the injury suffered by author and missionary Steve Saint.
  • Apparently not all scientists are happy with the term “God Particle” for the Higgs-Boson. But you saw that coming, right?
  • And if the universe is the answer, what is the question? Answers in Genesis weighs in on Higgs-Boson.  (Link is correct, go to the second item.)
  • Yes, we saw that piece about the “whites only” Christian conference, and no, that could never happen in Canada (at least they wouldn’t be able to advertise it.)
  • Christian Piatt shares Ten Clichés Every Christian Should Avoid. I guess every blog post happens for a reason.
  • If you happen to be in my part of the world on Sunday, August 5th, Canadian male vocalist and storyteller Steve Bell will be doing a rare appearance here — the only one on the current tour — with the Steve Bell Trio.
  • Matt Chandler is offering a free chapter preview of his newest book, Explicit Gospel.
  • Check out the growth of the YouVersion Bible app — click the image to see the app’s blog, or click here to go straight to YouVersion.

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