The Law of the Letter or of Life

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Job 3-4, 2 Corinthians 3

The Olympics are going on in full steam with the final days approaching this week. Though I’ve never been one to follow gymnastics, swimming, track, or fencing, when the Olympics comes around, I’m glued to the screen watching people strain towards earthly glory in the form of a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Today, I was watching the morning news, and Caleb Dressel was doing an interview. When asked about how he took care of his mental health, he said that the first thing he did when he got back home from a big event was to not think about swimming for at least two weeks. When he got home, he wasn’t a medal winning athlete; he was just himself. He said if he didn’t do this, the pressure would be too much. He would start to go after an unattainable goal that would ultimately lead him down a dark path. 

Though we can pursue earthly achievements in our careers, finances, homes, sports, hobbies, etc., we are called to live with eternity in mind as Christians. A gold medal, large retirement account, promotion, or degree is not the pinnacle of our life. The way that we live now is working towards that final goal which will come when the trumpet sounds. As I talked about earlier this week, we can rest in assurance that this goal has already been achieved. The victory is won, and we wait for Jesus to come. 

I can say that… but in my heart of hearts, sometimes it’s hard to live like that is actually true. I like to be in control, and for the things that I’m actually good at (which is not sports), I like to be one of the best. I will go all out. And, so in my Christian walk, I can fluctuate from being distracted and worried about the cares of the world and being so legalistic that I stifle the relationship that I’m trying to work towards. When I make it about me, I can go down a wrong path – just like Caleb Dressel. I can’t do anything to add to the accomplishments of Christ, and so all of my actions where I am trying to be the ‘best’ Christian ultimately burn me out and leave me empty – and they can actually leave me further away from Christ (like the Pharisees). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We don’t have to live by the law of the letter anymore. We can live in the freedom that comes from living in the Holy Spirit. We are not changing ourselves on our own power; we are relying on the power of God. And, God can do so much more than any man – Olympic medal winning or not. When we rely on him, we have the victory! Whose power are you living in?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3 .

What’s That Smell?

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

Job 1-2, 2 Corinthians 2

My husband is a great cook, but he takes a long time to prepare his meals. On the nights when he is in charge of dinner, I wait patiently for him to chop all of the vegetables, season the meat, and get something sizzling over the stove. After 30 minutes (or a few hours), I finally know that dinner is ready when I get a whiff of something that smells delicious. That smell draws me into the kitchen; it’s enticing and promises a great meal. 

In today’s reading, we read a little bit more about Paul’s testimony. He explains some of the trials that he has faced in his ministry, some of which are difficult and bring him to tears. At the end of 2 Corinthians 2, Paul begins to turn his focus on the way the Corinthians are living. And the question he asks is one that is a little strange, “What do you smell like?” 

At home, I get to smell the delicious smell of my husband’s cooking. But, at work, the smells are not so pleasant. Middle School boys back from PE hang out in a cramped classroom, where Axe Body Spray mixes with some pretty rank BO. Sometimes the students can’t take it anymore and they say, “Mrs. Fletcher, I need some Febreeze in here, because it STINKS!” So, obviously I get to smell the best of smells and some of the worst of smells. Smells that bring me joy and lead to life and smells that make me die a little inside. 

So let’s go back to Paul’s question – “What do you smell like?” He’s not talking about smelling nice like you are about to go on a date to a nice restaurant. Or smelling bad like a middle schooler back from Field Day. He’s talking about the way that our ‘fragrance’ – our way of living – shows Christ to other people. 

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, “14 But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this? 17 For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.” 
Paul here is saying that we are the fragrance that points people to who Christ is. Through us just being in people’s lives, we should leave behind a scent of Christ. This scent can encourage others to know Christ more – an “aroma of life leading to life” – or it can convict others who refuse to follow Christ – “an aroma of death leading to death.” Our testimony points others to Christ. People are watching, and they are judging the Christian faith based on how you are living. So, I’ll ask you the same question: What do you smell like?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

Our Testimony

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

Esther 9-10, 2 Corinthians 1

So far this week, we’ve seen how we need to live in light of our ‘why’ – or our purpose for living. Our why should be the gospel. We’ve also seen how we can live in light of our final victory. Jesus has already won the war, so we can face our battles with strength and determination. As Paul begins 2 Corinthians, we see him turn his focus onto another important element of our Christian walk – our testimony. 

The word testimony means “evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.” When we think of a testimony, we may imagine someone getting up in court and attesting to what they believe happened in a situation. Testimonies are important and can be used as evidence in serious cases. If a testimony is given in court, that can make the difference between whether or not justice is served. 

In our Christian walk, we also give a testimony. Our testimony is the evidence of Christ’s work in our lives. It is our account of how the gospel has changed us. Sometimes our testimony may look like it does on true crime documentaries. We get up in front of our church or small group and recount in 1-5 minutes how we came to know Jesus and what he has done for us. Our testimony however is much more than a short speech. Our testimony is our whole lives. 

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul gives his own personal testimony of issues that he had previously in his missionary journey. At one point in their travels, they had even despaired of living because things had gotten so bad. But Paul reminds himself and the Corinthians of his hope. He says, 

9 Indeed, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again 11 while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:9-11) 

Even in the midst of his trouble, Paul reminds himself of what God has done for him in his life. He knows that God has already delivered him, and so, he can trust that God will deliver him again. This truth helps to strengthen Paul’s own faith when faced with a difficult circumstance. It also becomes an amazing testimony for the church as a whole. The Corinthians can see how Paul handles this time of trials, and they can live with the same mindset in their own lives. 

Our testimony can be based on the past times that God has been faithful to us, but our testimony also includes how we treat others. In verse 12, Paul goes on, “12 For this is our confidence: The testimony of our conscience is that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with God-given sincerity and purity, not by fleshly wisdom but by God’s grace.” The way we treat other people is also a part of our testimony. If we treat others well – with God-given sincerity and purity, we will testify, or show evidence, that the gospel makes us better people. It makes us a people full of love and grace. Our actions can testify for God or they can testify against God. It depends on how we live. 

What is your testimony?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

We Will Win the War!

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

Esther 7-8, 1 Corinthians 16

Esther took a chance and invited the King to dinner again. By this point, she knew that she had to act fast, but you can tell that she was nervous. If the king was angry at her request, she could have been sent away like Vashti – or worse. The king asked her again what she desired and she spoke out against Haman, letting the king know that Haman was planning destruction for her, Mordecai, and her whole people. Furious, the king sentences Haman to be hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai. Mordecai was then given Haman’s estate and role as advisor to the king. 

A happy ending for Esther and Mordecai, but there was still a dark day planned for the Jews. After the king gave the edict Haman advised him to give, he signed it with his signet ring. An order from the king was not able to be revoked; the day Haman had planned for the Jews would still happen. In order to prevent total destruction of the Jews, Mordecai planned another day where the Jews would be able to face anyone in battle who was hostile to them. Because of this order, there was rejoicing. The Jews could defend themselves, and consequently, they would not be destroyed. They knew they faced a battle, but ultimately, they had already won the war. The king was on their side. They would have victory. 

Most of us will not face a battle like this in our lifetime. We don’t need to worry about anyone destroying our communities, families, or – for the most part – even our property. We may not face physical battles, but we will face spiritual battles. Jesus promised in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We know that we will have trouble in this world, but we can be encouraged that Jesus has the victory. We may have battles, but we know that we will win the war! 

Paul encouraged the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “13 Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. 14 Your every action must be done with love.” We need this encouragement too. Whenever we face difficult trials and temptations, we can stand firm in the faith. We can be strong. And, we know that we can overcome. We pray – as Paul did – ‘Lord Jesus come’ and then we face our battles head on, because we know that we will win the war! 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

The Victory

Sunday, August 1st, 2021

Esther 5-6, 1 Corinthians 15

I love summers because it seems like the pace of life slows down just a little. With camps, VBS, and simply more time, I feel like I can evaluate my priorities and reorient myself towards the things that really matter. Once August rolls around, my mind starts thinking about my classroom in the Fall, and I begin to plan out how I want my year to look. It’s helpful to think about those big priorities when planning out my next year. I want my life to be lived in light of my ‘whys’ – the reasons that I have for doing what I do.

If we are not intentional with our lives, the reason we have for living can range from getting our next meal, next paycheck, or next night out. These things can easily become what dominates our thoughts and our actions. If our lives are ruled by these things, we may end up going down a wicked path – as in the case of Haman. He wanted to get his next egotrip from everyone bowing down to him. When Mordecai didn’t, Haman didn’t stop at anything to destroy the Jews – which he thought would make him feel better. He thought it would make him have that feeling of pride (or being admired) again. Because his pride was his ‘why,’ all of his thoughts and actions led to how he can get that feeling of being admired again. This took him down a dangerous path that ultimately led to his destruction. 

In today’s passage in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul talks to the Corinthians about their ‘whys.’ The Corinthians had people who were trying to teach that there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul systematically goes through their arguments and refutes them. One main point of his argument is that if there is no resurrection from the dead, Christ was also not resurrected from the dead. And, if that’s the case, then, what was Paul doing all of this for?  At one point, he reminds them of their ‘why’: 

29 Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them?[f] 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I affirm by the pride in you that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord: I die every day! 32 If I fought wild animals in Ephesus with only human hope,[g] what good did that do me?[h] If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.[i]   ~ 1 Corinthians 15:29-32

If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, Paul argues, we should be pitied more than any other person. He would then be suffering only for a human hope. But, he reminds them later on: 

55 Death, where is your victory?

Death, where is your sting?[p]

56 Now the sting of death is sin,

and the power of sin is the law.

57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory

through our Lord Jesus Christ!

~ 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Paul knew he was living with the power that comes from Christ’s victory over sin and death. This was his ‘why’ and this helped him to endure whatever he faced – whether shipwrecks or angry men – and glorify God in the process. 

Our ‘why’ is the gospel. When we live in light of eternity – in light of this ‘why’ – we can face whatever battles come our way. We can have the victory!

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

Right Place. Right Time. Right Action.

Esther 3-4

Yesterday, we began to read the book of Esther. Let’s quickly summarize what happened in the first couple of chapters to bring us up to speed for today’s reading:

Chapter 1: King Xerxes, King of Persia, is having a pretty awesome party.  He is serving up an endless buffet with unlimited refills.  He has a few too many refills and calls for his wife, Vashti, because he wants to look at her. She refuses.  He consults with his friends (who might have had a few too many as well),and they decide to execute her as an example to prevent disrespect throughout the kingdom.  Buzzkill. Proclamation in Caveman Voice: Men Strong. Women Weak.  

Chapter 2:  King Xerxes decides it is time for a new queen.  Hmm. What’s a good way to pick my next wife? Personality. No. Virtuous qualities? No. Oh! Beauty contest.  Proclamation in Caveman Voice: Send Pretty Women. Enter Esther – fits the bill. Also, she’s Jewish, although Xerxes doesn’t know, doesn’t care because that doesn’t affect her looks.  Another party.  Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, uncovers a plot to assassinate Xerxes. Mordecai tells Esther who tells Xerxes. Esther trusted. Mordecai trusted. Conspirators impaled.

Have your plot uncovered and being impaled? Unfortunate. But having the car ahead of me pay for my weekly McDonalds run?  Being seated in the section at the ballpark that receives a free loaf of bread? Sitting down at a restaurant and having a meal served on the house? All of this, and more, has happened to me.  I’m a pretty lucky guy.  It seems that I find myself at the right place, the right time.  It’s either that or people just really think that I need food. Being in the correct location at a critical moment is important.  Ask anyone who has ever been late for an interview, or ended up at the wrong Starbucks. But in many circumstances, those two factors are simply not enough.   An equally important prerequisite that isn’t always taken into account (and makes the expression way too long like in the title) is the right action.  Many times you must DO something in order to take advantage of the golden opportunity that is being presented.  Just existing in a place or a moment isn’t enough.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:12-14

Christians are already in some of the prime real estate for evangelizing.  Christians are in schools. Christians are in workplaces.  Christians are on TV and radio. They make TikToks and podcasts.  I would say that for most of us, we err on the side of being in the world a little more than not.  Having a presence in each of these locations, at this time in history, is not in itself a bad thing.  In a caveman voice: School good. Work good. TikTok, umn, me no say.  But when you sit on your hands and let the world continue to spin in the same way it always has, then you are in the midst of the right location, the right time, but the wrong action.  Simply being an elevated, passive Jew in the kingdom of Persia was not going to save her people from being put to death.  Xerxes, didn’t even know. Being a passive Christian in the same manner is equally reckless. They may not even know. THEY. MAY. NOT. EVEN. KNOW. This is most definitely the correct time. Heed Mordecai’s warning. You MUST become an influencer, not in a manner that will get you more clout or draw attention to yourself, but in a manner that draws attention to God.  You most definitely were made for a time such as this.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. – 1 Peter 2: 9,12

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 14

Tough Love

1 Corinthians 13

The simplest truth about human relationships is that if we just loved one another a bit more, we would have fewer problems.  I know, it is a bit cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Our focus would be consistently outward.  We would be ready to listen and meet the needs of others. God has made it pretty clear that the most hardened heart can soften by showing the quality that embodies who He is, yet it is a weapon we often leave unwelded.  We often list our harshness or judgements under the guise of “tough love”, and this may or may not be true on a case-by-case basis. However, we must stick closely to the prescribed path in 1 Corinthians 13.  It actually might be simpler to love “toughly”, but if you simply write people off, or find a way to punish them, or speak your mind without backing it up with the many other qualities listed here, you are a hollow box and a lot of noise.  What’s tough love, really tough love, is to love someone who isn’t concerned in the slightest with being like God at the moment, or even ever. Love never fails. So you must love. You absolutely must.  And your love must be like God’s love.  Below I reworded one of the most famous passages of scriptures (v.4-7) that coincides with our reading and, most likely, one of the last handful of weddings you attended.  My goal isn’t to add to the list, only to reword it to give it novelty in hopes to make it challenging or convicting instead of a rehearsal of familiar words.  If it helps tune your mind to God’s love, wonderful.  If it is a confusing mess, don’t read it.  My concern is that you know loving is tough, especially those whose actions betray your love.  That shouldn’t stop you.  But THAT is tough love.  And THAT is what God shows to each one of us on the daily.

For God to come in and change the “unlovable” (mind you, this can be and has been you), you must sit and listen. Listen to their problems and hear them say what they think, even if you don’t agree. You have to include them, share with them, and treat them with dignity, even if they are not concerned in the slightest about having any.  To love, you have to let others be great and cheer them on.  Sometimes this means the spotlight will come off of you, or you are treated as less important.  If you are loving, you’re not concerned with that, because in love, others come first.  Love holds back the insults, name-calling, and doesn’t attack a person made in the image of God.  True love can be shown without expecting anything in return and can be left unreciprocated.  On rare occasions, you can have angry love.  You can be mad at someone because they are doing some serious sin damage to others or even him/herself.  But you don’t start there.  You don’t live there.  You are truthful with someone, because lying is not loving.  But you retreat quickly from the fight, and fill the space with mercy, more patience, and more kindness.  That means love is forgiveness, and not holding grudges.  We can love those who have wronged us.  We can love those who have besmirched our reputation, injured our family through carelessness, or hate us because of our beliefs. We may know their wrong to us as a historical account, but not as an emotional one, and we thank God we have an opportunity to show love to them in such a way.  In fact, loving like God means that you would actually stand-up for this person who has done you the greatest harm.  Loving someone means that you are trusting without “but.” And that can be so hard. But trusting in God first and foremost allows you to do that.  Believe in people.  Never give up on people.  Much easier said than done. It’s tough. So tough. But don’t let it stop you from trying. Your efforts are to help others see God, and they will know His love because it has been extended to and shown through you.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 13

A Seemingly Small Part

of God’s work,

1 Corinthians 12

When we think of the ear, we most likely are thinking about those lumpy, peculiar bits of cartilage just on the outside of our head.  While their shape helps us to ping the location of the sound, the majority of the work is being done on the inside.  The eardrum is vibrating, creating the analog beating that is then turned to electronic impulses that our brain interprets.  But even just beyond the eardrum, there is great work happening that is equally important to the overall function and health of the body, although this is assuming you are not hearing alarming noises at the present. Enter the eustachian tube.  It is the gravity-driven country road between the other side of your ear and the top of your throat.  This little pathway is responsible for a couple of very key functions, which you may never be aware of if all is going according to plan.  It sends any junk the ear makes down and out.  It prevents bacteria and any other intruders from creeping up.  But finally, its primary function might just sweep you off your feet, literally.  The regulation of gas and pressure behind our eardrum is important to hearing, but even more important to balance.  If this is the slightest bit off, we may be experiencing a case of vertigo, an internal roller coaster that never leaves the station. The room will spin.  Sweat forms on our brow.  Our eyes jitter.  Our head pounds.  Nausea fills our belly until our body cannot take it any longer and we “blow chunks” as one might put it more indelicately. Oh, and yes, you may lose your hearing too.  All because a space less than a quarter of a square inch doesn’t have the right amount of pressurized gas.

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of the ear, but also hands, feet, and eyes.  The metaphors for the functions of each part of our body are endless.  Physically, we can “survive” without some parts, but we recognize that functioning as a whole is disabled because something, or to Paul’s analogy, someone, is missing.  While it may be more obvious when a man or woman is missing an eye or a digit, it is equally important to recognize when we are missing the kidneys and a liver which are removing the poison, or the amygdala which is controlling our rage and lashing out, and yes, the eustachian tube which is providing a steady balance.  These parts are easily overlooked, and many times, the people fulfilling these roles are not only disregarded, but are themselves unaware they are doing them.  These aren’t the folks performing miracles, preaching in the street, or speaking in tongues.  These are the ones who watchfully discern, the ones who are unflinchingly faithful, who make and show perfect peace, and those who have an infinite amount of helping hands to extend.  These are of special modesty, but of equal concern (v.25).

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” – 1 Corinthians 12:18

Now, for the bit with application.  We often give much love to the “showier” bits.  Those who take on a responsibility during a worship service or teach a class, but for a moment, think about the hidden parts among your church body.  Who stands watch (physically or emotionally) at the door of your church?  Who finds a way to create harmony between a foot and a hand vying for the same attention? Who shares their faith when doubt is beginning to spread among the believers?  It is time to take notice.  To recognize. Find a way to show this part of the body some love today. A call, a text, a card, a small token, or a chore done.  It is a very important bit of “self” care. Chances are they will be modest.  They will say they aren’t really doing anything important.  The truth is, they might be the very part keeping the church on their feet, preventing potential headaches, heading off a building rejection of the stomach, or simply lending a listening ear.  If they suffer, so do we, BUT if they rejoice, so do we.  We absolutely need all the parts to be the church we are called to be.

“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.” – 1 Corinthians 12:22-24a

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12

The Overwhelming Compassions of God

Nehemiah 9-10

Everyone needs compassion. Our gracious God, the ultimate source of love and mercy, readily extends compassion to us when we face the great challenges in our life.  But it doesn’t stop there.  God is not “deservingly” showing compassion to us because we have made sacrifices for his namesake.  He overwhelms us with compassion when we deserve it the least.  When our ears have been deaf to his calling, when our back has been turned, when our eyes are glistening with selfish pride, that is when he is most compassionate.  It is pretty simple:  life is best lived in and by the design of God.  Anything else is to be pitied.  But we do not serve a God of overwhelming pity.  He doesn’t stop at, “man, that stinks, wish you would have made some better choices there, bud.” He picks us up in our filth, gives us the full concentration of his blessings, and turns our feet back on the path that leads to him.  Over and over again. Undeservedly. In today’s reading, we get a quick lesson in the history of compassion of Israel from Abraham to Nehemiah.  Draw some (rather easy) parallels to your own life as your study this account of the rich mercies of God.

“But they, our ancestors, were arrogant;  bullheaded, they wouldn’t obey your commands. They turned a deaf ear, they refused to remember the miracles you had done for them;…And you, a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, Incredibly patient, with tons of love – you didn’t dump them.” – Nehemiah 9:16 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even after you have been arrogant.  You can attempt to go it alone.  God doesn’t give up that easily.  When the miracles no longer come, when the blessing subside, and you decide to turn back, he doesn’t merely say, “told you so.” He says “turn around, I’m still here.”

“Yes, even when they cast a sculpted calf and said, “This is your god Who brought you out of Egypt,” and continued from bad to worse,  You in your amazing compassion didn’t walk off and leave them in the desert.”  – Nehemiah 9:18 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you don’t give him credit.  Oh, how we like to take credit. How scorned are we when we don’t get the little credit due to us?  And we haven’t really done anything.  It would be simple enough to say, “Good luck in the desert by yourself,” yet God hears the cries of his people and comes rushing in to, again, fight the battles.

But then they mutinied, rebelled against you, threw out your laws and killed your prophets, the very prophets who tried to get them back on your side— and then things went from bad to worse.  And in keeping with your bottomless compassion you gave them saviors: saviors who saved them from the cruel abuse of their enemies.  – Nehemiah 9:27

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you stab him in the back.  That’s right, literal stabbing of prophets delivering the word of God.  Maybe you are not guilty of such a crime, but openly denying the word of God delivered to you in your life is an equal abuse of the Word of God.  That’s pretty much what sin is.  But guess what?  Those who openly and defiantly deny the gospel, receive sanctification and redemption through Jesus Christ if they make him the Lord and Savior of their life.  Your confession is never rejected, if done so from the heart.

But as soon as they had it easy again they were right back at it—more evil. So you turned away and left them again to their fate, to the enemies who came right back. They cried out to you again; in your great compassion you heard and helped them again.

This went on over and over and over. They turned their backs on you and didn’t listen. – Nehemiah 9: 28, 29 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you when you return right back to your sin.  That’s right, we are almost cartoonish in our behavior sometimes.  Do the sin.  Ask for forgiveness. <5 min later> Do the sin.  Ask forgiveness.  Thankfully, we have a God of infinite mercies, BUT as Paul says our goal is not to exhaust the grace of God.  If you haven’t figured it out, somewhere in our sinful nature is the habit to turn back to sin, but we must try to actively stop or flee from it.  God is unfatigued with extending his compassions if we truly seek him through repentance.

You put up with them year after year and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; But when they refused to listen you abandoned them to foreigners. Still, because of your great compassion, you didn’t make a total end to them. You didn’t walk out and leave them for good; yes, you are a God of grace and compassion.  – Nehemiah 9:30,31 MSG

  1. If you’re reading this, God still has compassion for you.  You are not abandoned.  It may feel foreign because you have pitched a tent outside the wall, but there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Maybe you’re seemingly satisfied to be out there for now.  Man, that’s awful.  You will not receive even the pity of men if this is where you stand.  But God looks compassionately upon you, and leaves the gate open, giving every opportunity to be a part of his grace, love, forgiveness and hope.  There is a time limit though, an end game. Once you stop breathing, it’s over.  There are no guarantees when this will be.  An even more compelling argument than “no guarantees” is every moment you are not living in the presence of God, you walk around heavily burdened with sin, guilt, doubt, and shame because you don’t know His compassion.  He will take it all from you and cast it as far as the east is from the west.  Stop. Turn. Cry. Listen. Let go. It is time to let His compassion overwhelm you.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway – Nehemiah 9-10 NIV or – from The Message Nehemiah 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 11

The Shack of Your Choice

Nehemiah 7-8

Nehemiah’s vision is complete.  The wall of Jerusalem has been repaired and the Jews reestablished their home, yet there is much to contemplate.  It would be easy to focus on what isn’t present at this moment.  Generations have passed away in captivity and exile, to close their eyes in death as slaves.  The present state of a skeletal city is a reminder that there is still so much work left to do to bring Israel to its former glory.  There are fears of the future and the foes taking camp around a city that is trying to put itself back on the map.  Instead of being driven by doubt, regret, or worry, Nehemiah and the priest of Israel establish the completion of the wall as a time to celebrate the return of God’s people.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

As God’s timing would have it, the completion of the wall shared a seam with the Festival of Tabernacles of the Feast of Booths and the words shared from the Laws of Moses.  You may be familiar with this week-long celebration from your earlier reading this year, but this might be a good time to summarize the origin and purpose of this festival.  God had redeemed his people, the Hebrews, out of enslavement in Egypt.  He did this through sending a series of plagues to Egypt, parting the Red Sea, and giving his commandments.  There were a few bumps in the road.  The Jews spent a great deal of time wandering in the desert because of their lack of faith and disobedience, yet he remained with them wherever they were, and he still blessed them with receiving the Promised Land, the very place where Nehemiah and those who followed him out of exile had returned.

We don’t serve a God who is solely responsible for the harvest.  We don’t serve a God who is solely responsible for the rain. We serve a God who works in the harvest, and works in the rain, but also works on the days that are in between. We may endure a great deal of prosperity or adversity, but ultimately, we take count of the blessings and realize that compared to eternity and the Kingdom of God, we are just living in booths, moving, temporary structures built from our feeble attempts to gather a few sticks or a few bricks.  After a long journey, we may seek to call it home, but it won’t be, right?  It is only a place to eat a few meals and get some rest until we no longer want it, it is destroyed by the elements, or someone else is enjoying it because we are pushing up daisies. 

The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. – Nehemiah 8:17,18a

Therefore our home as we wait is not established in a certain location, but is rooted in the Word of God – in our Savior Christ Jesus, The Word and Cornerstone. Additionally, His Word, is the saving knowledge of the Gospel testified to by the Living Word, that is meant to be shared with all, especially those who have not prepared (v.10).  The harvest has not yet come, so we could be freshly stepping out of captivity, like the Hebrew or those returning from Babylon.  If this be the case, there is a lot to do to ensure our initial success – like create some solid boundaries.  Maybe we feel as though we are in exile, we are a far cry from the person who was once called Christian. Listen to God’s calling.  Recognize his blessings.  There is a promised land, even for those who wander (and truly, only for those who wander).  No matter the season, God is there, and the greatest of harvest is coming soon.  Enjoy this spectacular vista from the shack of your (but really, God’s) choice.

-Aaron Winner


Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 10