Masterful Maker – Stubborn Clay

Isaiah 45-46 and 1 Timothy 4

Hello everyone!

Thanks for taking a journey with me this week!  It has been a different challenge for me to focus on a book in the Old Testament, so I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have 😊

We see the phrase “no other than/like/except/but Me” ten times out of the 38 verses in the two chapters of Isaiah we just read.  That is over 25% of the message that has been written in these texts.  Do you think God was trying to make a point that there is no other like Him???  Seems like something He may want us to understand…

Since there is no other God than our God, it makes sense that we acknowledge His power and authority in our life.  He has been identified as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and everything that lives in it.  We know that He created the world with a purpose of filling it with good things (Isaiah 45:18).  This tells me that everyone, including you and I, has a purpose in their life according to the One True God.  God likes to use analogies to help His people understand His truths.  In Isaiah 45 we see the analogy of God being the potter, molding the clay, His people, to be great works.  In this analogy, God uses some rhetorical questions to help us identify how silly it sounds when we try to take control of our own life from Him.  It’s like the clay asking the potter “What are you making?” or saying “This looks wrong…” (v. 9).  I know I am guilty of being the clay that asks those questions and makes those comments when looking at my own life. 

Depending on where our life is in each season, it can be hard not to question the plan God has laid out for us!  And yet, Isaiah 46:10 reminds us that God knew everything that would happen in our lives from day one.  It doesn’t matter how much we think we have control, because God tells us that “My plan will take place and I will do all My will.”  This can be confusing, but I find it comforting as well.  No matter how badly I think I have screwed up my life, I can have faith that God still has a plan and purpose for me, not necessarily because I am someone that is insanely special, but because I am God’s creation and He has a purpose for ME!

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes it can be easy to feel like my life is supposed to have an extravagant testimony or grandiose plan to fulfill.  God’s purpose has to be one of great achievement, right?  That message is easily pushed by modern day Christian messages, especially those targeting youth and young adults.  While I don’t think it’s bad to set big goals to achieve, I also think it is just as important to recognize that God uses everyone in impactful ways that may not lead to fame and glory on this earth like we can get the image of at times.  When Paul is writing to Timothy he does not encourage Timothy to gather a bigger following or perform any miraculous wonders that will be spread throughout the land.  Instead, he encourages Timothy to train himself in Godliness (1 Tim. 4:7) and to be an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity (v. 12).  None of those things scream popularity or magnificent plans!  But all of them are important for fulfilling the purpose that God has set aside for those who follow Him. 

We were made by an omniscient Creator who wants His people to understand who He is so that they can be strengthened as they fulfill the purpose He has for their life.  We may not always know what that purpose is, but we can trust in our God who does.  We may not always understand the journey we are taking, but we can trust in our God to continue to mold us into what we should be.  So if you have questions about your purpose, I encourage you to lean in to the Potter’s hands, open yourself to the not-so-extravagant, and see what amazing things God has already planned for you.

I hope this week was one that made you think, encouraged you, and grew you in your faith!  Thank you for allowing me to be part of your daily readings this week, I certainly have gained a lot from it as well.

Grace be with you all.

Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 45-46 and 1 Timothy 4

More Opportunities

For God’s Children To Have a Relationship with Him

Isaiah 43-44 and 1 Timothy 3

When you read through Isaiah 43 and 44, what do you see?

I see a God who loves His people, whom He has chosen.  I see a God who shows mercy and patience.  I see a protective God.  I see a jealous God.  I see a God full of power and authority.  I see a world full of broken and lost people.  I also see a Father whose children have ignored Him.  I see a Father who knows there are unrighteous people in the world trying to pull His children off the path of righteousness.  I see a Father longing for a way to have relationships with His children.  I see children who do not understand what they are missing.

All of the great qualities we observe in or read about our God can seem far away when looking at the Old Testament and reading that He set His chosen people aside for destruction and abuse, or when we see large groups of people destroyed, or when the barbaric sacrifices of animals somehow allow for the forgiveness of sins.  I feel at times that the God of the New Testament seems to be much more loving and gracious than the God of the Old Testament.  And yet, since creation, God has had a plan for redemption not just for His chosen people, but for all who called upon His name.  The whole thing can be a bit confusing if I am being honest!  I have to remind myself that God has never changed, He has simply created more opportunities for His children to have a relationship with Him.

The Christian faith is one of just that, faith.  We can scientifically prove many of the events that have happened in the Bible did in fact happen.  However, the idea that an omnipotent God who has created everything in existence chose to create a group of imperfect beings to be made in His image with the purpose of praise, but then those imperfect beings were given free will and ruined it so He had to send them away but He still made a way for them to come back to Him but it still didn’t make them perfect enough so He sent a perfect being as a sacrifice for all the imperfect beings but then the perfect being came back to life to offer hope to the imperfect but the imperfect ones kept making the creation less perfect so one day the perfect one has to come back and fix the imperfect forever so that the omniscient one can live with the imperfect ones who will now be made perfect……Let’s be honest, it doesn’t make sense.  God’s grace requires faith to accept! 

1 Timothy 3:15 – 16 says “…This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth.  Without questions, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit.  He was seen by angels and announced to the nations.  He was believed in throughout the world and taken into heaven in glory.”  

Our God is a living God.  He has been at work in the nations from day one, and He has had a plan for us to all live in relationship with Him from the start.  Why?  I have no clue.  But faith allows me to know that this is true, and our hope through Jesus Christ allows me to live each day knowing that I have an incredible gift of grace that should be used to praise and glorify the One True God.  Do you accept the completely confusing idea of God’s grace? How do you show that daily? 

(In case you were wondering, I definitely plan on asking God why He gave us free will in the Kingdom…along with many other questions 😊)

-Sarah Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 43-44 and 1 Timothy 3

Our God is an Awesome God

Isaiah 41-42 and 1 Timothy 2

Good morning! (Or afternoon, or evening…)

Our God is an awesome God, and He has no problem telling us that!  Isaiah 41 is all about God telling the nations who is in charge.  In certain places, it can seem a little harsh… calling the Israelites weak worms, putting them in their place knowing that their work is worthless compared to God, etc.  HOWEVER, there are also multiple verses where God’s comforting love shows through as he reminds the Israelites not to fear, and that He is there to help and strengthen them (v. 10, 13, 17).  While the passage can be blunt at times, it ultimately is God simply speaking truth to a group of individuals that He cares deeply about.  He wants them to understand how great He is, and how much He cares for them!

In chapter 42 God provides a little more reasoning behind his passionate words towards the Israelites, He reminds them that they are a chosen people dedicated to being a light to the nations (v. 6).  Isaiah has been tasked with sending this message to the Israelites despite the way they continue to reject God.  I can almost feel his exasperation as he does his best to help them understand that they have a purpose, that God has a plan, and that they keep ignoring it! (v. 20) Do you ever feel like Isaiah trying to convince people that God has the best plan for their life?  It can be difficult to speak truth into the lives of others who are not receptive, and it can be hard to see them ignore the need for God in their life.  We must know that it is not our job to convince individuals they need God, He can do that all His own!  Our job is to share the information, model how God can change a life, and continue to pray for their eyes, ears, and hearts to be opened to the truth.

In reality, I think we end up being most like the Israelites ourselves!  We continue to disobey, ignore, or rebel against the purpose God has for us even though we may know exactly what God wants from us.  We all have sin in our lives.  It looks different in everyone!  That is why it is so incredible that God still includes us in His chosen people, and that we all have the same opportunity for salvation and an eternal life with Him in the Kingdom. 

Unlike Isaiah, we are fortunate to live in the time that we don’t have to just tell people salvation is yet to come; we get to share that a Savior has already come, already been put to death for our sins, and has already rose from the grave with a promise of eternal salvation!  We are told in 1 Timothy 2 that God wants everyone to be saved, to come to the knowledge of the truth (v. 4) and that Jesus was a human who gave himself as a ransom for all (v.5-6).  Who can you share some knowledge with today?

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 41-42 and 1 Timothy 2

Let the World See

1 Timothy 1

Welcome!

Today’s passages seem to have some different main themes, so while all of these are valuable, we will be focusing mainly on 1 Timothy 1 for the purpose of keeping this devotional to a reasonable length 😊

1 Timothy 1 is written by a very dedicated and enthusiastic believer, Paul.  Paul is a very impressive man with an incredible testimony (that we get to see a little bit here) and clearly has a passion for the Kingdom.  This is why I sometimes have to re-read his messages to better comprehend just how deeply he cares for people and soak up all the energy for spreading the gospel he has!  Paul tells Timothy that God’s plan operates by faith (v. 4) and that our role as believers is to have love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (v. 5).  I LOVE that description of who Christians should be in the world!  Loving, Good, and Sincere.  Do you think the world today has that view of Christians? Or do you think that unfortunately, the world has the view of Christians who turn to fruitless discussions regarding the law (v.6-7)? 

It can be hard to swallow verses like 1 Timothy 1:9 where it says “the law is not for the righteous, but for the sinful”, if you are a sinner and know a Christian who has fruitless discussions about the law.  However, if more Christians today took their righteousness and expressed the “glorious gospel” that has been entrusted to them (v. 11), I have a feeling that it would be much easier to reach those who do not know the law!  The implied context in this passage is not expressing the idea that once you are a believer you don’t have to follow the law, but rather that once you are a believer your focus should shift off yourself and your “good works”, and move towards reaching others who need to know the law.  Paul models a great example of how to approach others about Jesus, by telling them that Christ came to save ALL sinners, including the worst of them all, which was himself! (v.15) When we openly share the impact Christ has in our lives and humbly recognize that we are all sinners, it becomes much easier to reach those who need salvation just as much as we do.

This is not to say that discussions of the law should not happen amongst believers!  Paul tells Timothy to strongly engage in battle to avoid having a shipwrecked faith (v. 18 -19).  To be prepared for battle, it’s important to know what you are up against and how to combat it!  What is key here is that our battle is not one meant to destroy arguments or put down people by boasting of our own righteousness, but rather our battle is against the evil one who is dedicated to keeping people out of the Kingdom.  Our battle is fighting for the citizenship of an eternal Kingdom, for ourselves and for everyone we meet.  The law is one tool we use to win that battle!  Another tool is our own testimony, another is the story and purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and yet another is simply sharing how amazing our God truly is.

Isaiah 40:28-31 provides a great passage to reach others with; I encourage you to memorize it for the sake of winning the battle!

“Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth.  He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding.  He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless.  Youths may faint and grow weary, young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 39-40 and 1 Timothy 1

Big Bold Prayers

Isaiah 37-38 and 2 Thessalonians 3

Welcome back friends!

Today in Isaiah 37 we see a glimpse of Hezekiah’s prayer life and the boldness he has when asking God for deliverance.  This boldness is not in an outward appearance…when Hezekiah hears the King of Assyria’s threats he rips his clothes and wears sackcloth, both common practices for those who are mourning or in a vulnerable state.  While he seems unsure, Hezekiah is still willing to ask God for deliverance from this threat, even though we do not hear much regarding his faithfulness or attitude towards God until this time.  In my opinion, this makes his request even more bold because he seems to lack relationship with God!  And yet, we see a prayer for his city to be saved for the purpose that they know God is LORD (v.20), and God delivers!  God sends an angel to strike down the Assyrians and scares away the king (v. 36).  While the appearance of Hezekiah almost seems cowardly to human eyes, God saw Hezekiah’s humility and his acknowledgement of the one true God and rewards him for that!

In chapter 38 we see Hezekiah again boldly ask for healing from God.  This bold request for healing shows Hezekiah has confidence in God’s power and knows God can do amazing things.  It’s easy to think, “If I had experienced an answered prayer like Hezekiah I would always pray boldly!”, however, we experience answered prayers daily, but I know I am constantly reminding myself to pray boldly with the concerns I have!  Maybe it’s just me, but when I get caught up in the brokenness of the world it doesn’t always come as my first instinct to offer up a prayer.  Sometimes I may first try to find a solution on my own, other times I may just ignore the problem, or maybe I just sit in the problem!  Although it may seem unlikely, Hezekiah can be a great example of how to pray boldly and have complete trust in God’s power to answer those bold requests.

When we look at our passage in 2 Thessalonians, we see Paul’s encouragement to bold and consistent prayer.  In this chapter, Paul is specifically requesting prayer from the church to guard against the evil one and for the gospel to be spread and honored (v. 1 – 3).  Paul also asks and reminds the church to pray for them to have strength to carry on in good things such as spreading the gospel and working hard to provide for immediate needs.  These requests may not seem as bold as asking God to destroy an army, but I do find them much more relevant to our lives today, and still just as difficult to remember to pray for!  Spreading the gospel is an easy thing to say, but doing so truly does require great effort, dedication, and strength.  Asking for help in this is certainly a bold task, mainly because if you ask God to help you spread the gospel, He is going to put you in places to practice that!  Paul writes “Do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13), which tells me to expect that doing good will be wearisome.  In this letter we can see the benefit in not only praying bold requests for ourselves, but also praying boldly to encourage our brothers and sisters. 

You may not know, but the Church of God has over 600 fellowships of believers outside of the United States.  We have a LOT of brothers and sisters in Christ that can constantly use our prayers for strength, encouragement, and deliverance.  If you are interested in knowing more about our fellow believers, I encourage you to go to https://lhicog.com/ to learn more about what bold prayers you can bring to God on their behalf!

One thought I had (and maybe you did too) during today’s reading was ‘What about when prayers aren’t answered?’  I prayed about this thought, and here is what I felt based on our reading for today:  We must faithfully know that God’s purpose is greater than our own.  I do not believe there are UNanswered prayers, but rather prayers that have an answer yet to come or an answer we do not want to hear.  There are other stories in the Bible where bold prayers are not answered the way that people want or when they want…  I think of David and Bathsheba’s son dying after David prayed and fasted, Hannah diligently praying for her future son to be born, or Jesus himself who prayed to not have to go through the horrible crucifixion process!  We may not be able to comprehend the purpose God has, but we are always invited to pray with boldness and faith.  We are also invited to pray for “peace in every way” (v. 16) for ourselves and our fellow believers when the prayers don’t result in what we want or when we want them.  I look forward to a day when we will never have to bring another bold request to God because we will be living in a perfect Kingdom where all believers can constantly rejoice in God’s holy presence and perfection!  Until that day, let’s continue to boldly pray and praise our amazing YHWH.

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 37-38 and 2 Thessalonians 3

Deception

Isaiah 35-36 and 2 Thessalonians 2

Hello again!  Thanks for joining me for another day!

Isaiah 35 depicts a joyful return of the redeemed of the LORD.  There is singing, gladness, no sorrow, and healing (v. 5-10).  What an incredible celebration to be part of!  I certainly am looking forward to our day of celebration with God.  Unlike this celebration, ours will be one that lasts forever and ever, and never has the possibility for someone else to come and bring us back to a broken place.  No one to come and scare the righteous and try to deceive them! 

In Isaiah 36 the king of Assyria tries to overtake Judah and Jerusalem.  Interestingly, the king here is not only using physical tactics to try and capture the cities, but he is also using some mind-game strategies to create doubt in the people and offer a false hope in his own strength.  The king tries to convince the people that by surrendering to him they will have security and a new, prosperous land (v. 16-17).  He uses the language the people are familiar with and attacks the character of their current leader who follows YHWH.  He creates doubt in God’s promises that are not immediately present and begins to offer the easy way out of the situation with empty promises of independent success, security, and familiarity.  We see these same types of empty promises coming from politicians, employers, and even our own friends or families at times today.  While they may not be empty in what is being offered, they will never satisfy whatever our wants or needs are as they are not promises from God.  I believe that Satan consistently tries to use different tactics to pull us away from God and His promises, and people surrounding us can be lead astray on empty promises of what will make them happy, secure, or comfortable. 

Throughout the Bible we see a common theme is a warning not to fall for the deception of the current age, to not fall for empty and unsatisfying promises offered by man.  This is because no matter what time period, the only promises that will ever fill someone up are those that come directly from God!

Our passage in 2 Thessalonians discusses deception from the ‘lawless one’ who is coming with false miracles, signs, and wonders set out to deceive all those who do not accept the truth (v. 9 – 10).  Paul is writing to a church that seems to already be doing a good job of continuing to follow God’s promises despite attempts at deception.  He is writing to encourage them to STAND FIRM in what they already know (v. 15).  We can know that the promise that Paul writes about (the coming of Jesus) is not one that is empty because he does not write it with the purpose of his own gain, or the purpose of leading us astray from what Jesus himself preached!  In general, this is a pretty good standard to judge promises made by others… does it match with what Jesus said?  When we use this standard to gauge the reliability of promises we are guaranteed to experience less disappointment and confusion! 

I pray over you today and this week that “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourages your hearts and strengthens you in every good work and word” (v. 16 – 17).   Life is hard, full of empty promises, deception, and brokenness.  Praise God we have grace and an everlasting promise that is still coming!

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 35-36 and 2 Thessalonians 2

Hope for A Broken World

Isaiah 33-34 and 2 Thessalonians 1

Hello!

I am excited to dig deeper into God’s word with you this week as we go through some chapters in Isaiah, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy!  I have to be honest with you… I am never “looking forward” to writing these devotions when the time comes.  However, I am always so surprised and happy with how God speaks to me while I write to you, so each year when the wonderful Marcia asks for writers, I will never turn her down! I imagine that this year will be no different 😊

We are going to start this week off in Isaiah, chapters 33 and 34.  The first chunk of Isaiah is mainly discussing destruction, purification (not really a fun process), and God’s vengeance.  What I find so interesting about the prophecies of the Old Testament is that we often look at them through the lens of our current age, yet so many of these destruction prophecies seem to apply to our world across generations and generations.  People have been going through cycles of brokenness throughout all of existence!  These prophecies to broken people in Isaiah’s day applied in the moment just as much as they apply to our lives today. Thankfully, the prophecy of hope will also apply!

In chapter 33 Isaiah is describing a sad, sinful, and broken world.    There are destroyers, traitors, broken agreements, despised cities, no ways to travel, and human life has been disregarded.  Sounds pretty familiar to me.  In verse 10 God starts to speak, and OH MAN does it get exciting.  From this perspective Isaiah describes God essentially smack-talking the kingdoms of that day and putting them in their place, under Him, and shares how His people (the righteous) will be blessed and safe, also in their place as citizens to a just and majestic King.  We are told that everyone who dwells in this Kingdom will be forgiven of all their sins (v. 24).  Visualize that AMAZING day and tell me it’s not something you want to be part of!! 

In chapter 34 Isaiah explains all the emptiness and evilness that will be in Edom, a nation “set apart for destruction” (v. 5) after God has had His day of vengeance.  This idea can seem confusing, especially if we don’t take the overall context into account.  Here’s a quick recap of what we know about Edom based on the Bible: God had given the land to Esau, the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom were active enemies, Isaiah prophesied about Edom’s destruction (as we see here) and multiple other books of prophets describe the same eventual ruin, Edom was attacked multiple times, and this prophecy eventually came to pass when King Amaziah slaughtered the nation in 2 Chronicles, even though the people were not officially wiped out until King Herod (that guy that tried to kill Jesus as a baby) died.  While this still doesn’t completely answer my questions of “Why Edom?”, it does give that much more credibility to the prophets and to God following through with what He says he will do.  In my quick research of Edom to provide the recap, I came across some notes of people who had more recently traveled to the ruins of Edom and described the deserted space filled with ‘unclean’ wild animals, just as God says it will be forever, from generation to generation (v. 17). 

We also see God’s consistency in judgement in our verses from 2 Thessalonians today!  We are told that God will show vengeance to those who don’t know Him and to the people who afflict His righteous citizens (v. 6 & 8).  Our broken world has not changed, and neither has God’s opinion on how to handle it.

I am not going to pretend that God’s plans and purpose for the world always make sense to me.  But I am always convinced that God follows through on everything He says, and I do trust that it all has a plan and purpose, even when it doesn’t make sense.  Our world has always been broken (since the fall of man that is…), and God has always had a plan, and that plan has always included a way out for the righteous.  How lucky are we to be living in the age of brokenness that has the opportunity to experience salvation in such a grace-filled way?

The rest of this week we will continue to dive into scripture and see that our brokenness isn’t all that new, and our hope is closer now than ever!

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 33-34 and 2 Thessalonians 1

Receive Salvation not Wrath

Isaiah 31-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5

There is so much Paul still wants to say as he is wrapping up his first (recorded) letter to the Thessalonians. Perhaps the mailman is standing at the door ready to take the letter as Paul is finishing up. His writing style is often long winding sentences with many phrases linked together in what English teachers would now call run-on sentences. But he doesn’t have time for that today. He switches to short powerful sentences. “Be joyful always. Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). He has a lot to pack into his final instructions. Many of them deal with specifics on how to please God and how to love others (our two categories from the previous chapter that we are to do more and more). So, read them carefully and take note of how you are doing in these categories.

Paul also takes a final opportunity to remind them/us of the coming day of the Lord. Paul says this day will bring surprise destruction for many. It also becomes a great time to teach a bit on God’s character. Paul writes, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This reminds me of a beautiful passage from our reading in Isaiah yesterday, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18). God longs to see His people saved from the coming destruction. In the time of Isaiah. In the time of Paul. And, in our time. God longs to see His people saved from the coming destruction, but that does not mean that there won’t be a coming destruction for those who have turned their backs on Him, rejecting Him and His Son.

In Isaiah 31 we read of trouble and God’s judgment coming to the wicked and to those who have turned from God. He denounces those who see they need help – but turn to human allies or their own strength instead of turning to God. They have failed to wait on the LORD, and for them, judgment is coming. God’s perfect plan of salvation requires His children to seek God and accept the salvation offered through His Son Jesus. A response on your part is required to avoid the coming wrath and receive salvation instead.

I will end today, as each of the chapters of 1st Thessalonians have ended, with a reminder of the coming return of Christ. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thesssalonians 5:23-24).

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 31-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5

More and More

1 Thessalonians 4

Paul fits so much into the 18 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4. The chapter is probably best known for laying out the great hope Christians have of the coming of Christ when the dead in Christ shall rise from death to meet their resurrected Lord Jesus at the trumpet call of God. (Remember, “a great trumpet sounding” and a fabulous reunion on God’s holy mountain was also mentioned in yesterday’s reading of Isaiah 27). This indeed will be a moment in time like no other – a celebration like never before – ushering in a Kingdom beyond what we can imagine! Today is a great day to be reminded. Today marks the 6th year that my dad, Pastor Ray Hall, has been dead in the ground. We miss him greatly. But we do not grieve as those with no hope. We look forward to the day of Jesus’ return when the graves will be opened and the dead in Christ will rise to new life! And those believers who are still alive will join in the party. It is a great day to look forward to!

And in the meantime, there is work to be done. Paul cautions against idly waiting. He says stay busy, work with your hands, mind your own business, support yourselves, so you will be a good witness to outsiders – those who currently have no hope for the future, dead or alive.

And, there’s more…in fact, twice in the first ten verses Paul uses the phrase, “More and more”. Do it again. Over and over. An ever increasing spiral. More and more.

The first time Paul uses the phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 is in connection to how we are “to live in order to please God”. Do it more and more. This was my dad’s goal. Even up to what would be the last week of his life, from his hospital bed, when the nurse asked him what his goal was for the day, his goal was to please God. Good answer, dad! I’m guessing it’s not an answer she heard much. People want to be comfortable and pain-free, they want good health, they want good food, they want companionship, they want freedom to pursue personal pursuits, they want to get out of the hospital. But how would our lives look different if our very first and most pressing goal was to please God? And, not just once in a lifetime, or on Sundays, or when convenient, or when you have free-time, or when you feel well, but to strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and to do it more and more.

If pleasing God is our goal, it becomes very important to know what pleases God. We obviously don’t have time in this devotion to list everything possible, and nor did Paul in his letter. But he did take time to write about the importance of avoiding sexual sins, controlling lusts and living pure, holy lives, for there is punishment coming for those who don’t.

The second thing Paul wanted to see more and more from the Thessalonians was brotherly love. He commended them for learning how to love from the best lover and teacher of all time – God himself. (Isaiah also wrote about God instructing and teaching the right way – Isaiah 28:26. How and what are you learning from Him?) I am still working on learning how to love from God and the loving Christian earthly (but far from worldly) parents He gave me – all 4 of them. Dad did teach some great lessons in brotherly love – making time for people (even when you are tired or had other plans), showing grace and second chances (because grace has been given to us), providing for needs (whether it might be a ride to work, a meal, or a visit) and teaching God’s word (because without it, people will perish and have no hope).

More and More. Live to please God.

More and More. Love others.

It’s a great way to spend our time while we wait in eager expectation for the trumpet to announce the arrival of the King, the resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 29-30 and 1 Thessalonians 4

In That Day

Isaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

The phrase “In that day” is used at least 7o times in the Old Testament – NIV version. Over half of those times (43 times) it is used by the prophet Isaiah – and four of those times is in today’s chapter 27. Clearly, “in that day” is one of Isaiah’s favorite topics and we can’t really discuss today’s reading without knowing a little more about this phrase. It is interesting to look at all the references Isaiah makes to this time period, not a 24 hour day. Simply go to BibleGateway.com (or your favorite Bible study website) and type in “In that day” in the search bar. If you add in the slightly more descriptive phrase, “The day of the Lord” you will get additional passages listed. Out of curiosity I also checked the KJV and found even more “In that day” passages in this version, including several in the New Testament, used by Jesus and Paul (including in the Thessalonians which we are also reading this week). It appears in the NIV New Testament the phrase is often changed to, “ON that day”. So, it’s talked about a lot, throughout Scripture – but, what is it talking about and why does it matter today?

As you look through the list of “In that day” passages, you find a lot of doom and gloom as a result of God’s judgment and punishment. For example, “In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword.” (Isaiah 27:1 NIV). It also appears that pride is often the culprit that leads to the judgment, “The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” (Isaiah 2:11, and similarly in 2:17). Pride gets in the way and causes all sorts of trouble when we think we know better than God, when we forget about Him and His way and strike out in our own direction – towards destruction. Isaiah says it quite poetically in chapter 28, “You boast, ‘We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement…for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.'” (28:15 NIV) But they continue boasting and bragging, believing their lies as they get closer and closer to death. It seems they don’t even see the danger or care, they are so wrapped up in the lie that has become their false refuge.

Who do you see today who has boastfully made a lie their refuge? I have a few ideas, but what do you think?

I thought first of the movement who boastfully displays pride all over themselves as they try to hijack God’s symbol of hope and His sure promises while blatantly denying the truths of God’s creation: male and female. And, speaking of creation, what of those who make a lie their refuge as they turn from the Creator of heaven and earth and put all their trust in big bangs and chance mutations. There are also those who put great pride in the works of their hands, like the Israelites who were so proud of the capital city Samaria that they had built (and then indulged in the selfish and messy ‘pleasure’ of getting drunk in regularly). (Isaiah 28:1-4, 7-8). And, in their prideful lies they all miss Isaiah’s message that God’s judgment is coming…”in that day”.

And, while it is good to consider how these verses apply in our society, let me never forget to consider how it applies to ME personally TODAY. Where and when do I pridefully put myself and my wishes before God and His will? Do I allow pride in my Christian lifestyle or background to prevent me from loving others? How am I led astray by lies that I have put my trust in, lies about who God is or who He created me to be, what is right and what is wrong? When do I get so caught up in the busy-ness of today that I forget to remember what is coming…”in that day.

Remembering God’s righteous punishment that will be coming in that day can be good motivation to stop doing wrong. It can help me put away the pride and lies and selfish sins. The true threat of coming punishment can be powerful incentive. I know, I am a home-daycare provider. Sometimes it just takes mentioning time-out to make a child stop a moment, consider their actions and stop their misdeeds or tantrum.

But, that’s not all!

Rewards are a beautiful incentive to do what is right. As we look at the list of Isaiah’s use of “In that day” references, we see many exciting and glorious views of the future, following the punishment. Isaiah 27:13 says, “And in that day, a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” And in the next chapter, we read, “In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.” (Isaiah 28:5). It is such an encouragement to read through the passages describing the coming reward – the perfect Kingdom of God when He shall reign. In Isaiah’s “In that Day” passages of hope and a coming perfect joy and peace, he includes references to the coming Messiah and His role in his father’s Kingdom. (When you have time, it would be interesting to create a list of what other names and descriptions Isaiah uses for Jesus the Christ?) Rewards can sometimes do what threats can’t. It’s amazing to see how fast the daycare children focus on the work at hand and get all the toys picked up when there is the promise of a waiting treat.

We can be sure God’s threats are not empty, His punishments are just and the rewards He graciously gives we can’t earn but will be beyond all we can imagine! How will you prepare today for all that will come “in that day”? And, how can we help others to be prepared? Paul had some great ideas for the Thessalonians. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.   May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13 NIV)

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereIsaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3