How Will You Lead?

Isaiah 65-66, Philemon 1

                What is the best way to lead people?  You may be a leader in some area of your life, at school, at work, at Church, among your friends, on a sports team, in your marriage, with your children etc…  Most of us have had some experience being a leader and I’m going to guess that everyone has had the experience of having a leader, probably many, in your life.

                There are a number of leadership styles.  Authoritarian leaders impose expectations and define outcomes.  It’s a very top down approach.  It’s efficient and sometimes required, but doesn’t always create a great experience for those being led.  If you’re the parent of a 2 year old, it’s pretty much the only leadership style.  But what works with a 2 year old doesn’t work as well with a 16 year old, or with your spouse.  It might work okay if you’re the manager of a fast food restaurant with a bunch of first time teen-age employees, but probably not so well if you are managing a medical practice with a group of physicians.

                Participative leadership is more democratic and helps people feel more engaged, but it can be more time-consuming and lead to poor decisions if the employees participating lack necessary information or skills.

                Delegative leaders step back and let the members of the team set their own agendas, which in the right environment can produce a lot of creativity, but can also lead to disunity.

                Transactional leaders use a lot of carrot and stick, reward and punishment.  They give clear expectations and offer clear feedback and immediate rewards and punishments.  It works well getting a 7 year old to clean her room or finish her vegetables, but doesn’t inspire a lot of creativity in capable adults.

                Transformational leaders inspire with a vision and then encourage and empower followers to achieve that vision.  They act as a role model.  This type of leadership is not coercive and leads to high morale.  To learn more check out: https://www.imd.org/imd-reflections/reflection-page/leadership-styles/

                Great leaders adjust their leadership style to the appropriate context and situation.  The little book of Philemon is a wonderful case study on Christian leadership.  The Apostle Paul writes to his disciple, Philemon, about their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus.  Paul and Philemon were brothers in Jesus Christ.  Paul was responsible for Philemon coming to faith in Christ.  Now, Philemon was a leader in the Church and actually had a congregation that met in his home.  When he wrote the letter to Philemon Paul was in jail, probably in Rome awaiting his trial.  While in prison he met Onesimus.  Onesimus was a runaway slave who had been the property of Philemon.  It seems that Onesimus became a follower of Jesus Christ through Paul while they were in prison.  Onesimus had become a supportive helper to Paul.  Paul has a dilemma.  He has two Christian brothers, Philemon, a slave owner and Onesimus, a runaway slave.  Paul wants Philemon to release Onesimus from his enslavement and either welcome him back not as a slave but as a fellow Christian, or allow him to return to Paul and support him while he’s awaiting trial.

                So what leadership style does Paul use?  He could have played the authoritarian card and said “Philemon, I’m an Apostle, I met Jesus personally, I brought you to faith, and now I order you to release Onesimus.”  Under Roman law Philemon had the right to demand Onesimus’ return.  He was not legally obligated to release him.  Legally, under Roman law Paul had no authority to force Philemon to let Onesimus go.  Paul practiced transformational leadership.  He inspired Philemon and gave him a vision of how being a follower of Jesus Christ can transform a person and their values and relationships.  He gave him a vision of Onesimus as more than property or an asset, but as a person, a child of God, as a fellow heir of the kingdom of God bought from slavery to sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.

                In using this leadership style Paul creates space for the spirit of God to transform Philemon’s heart, and have a much wider impact on the Church (for nearly 2000 years).  Hopefully, other Christian slave owners saw Philemon’s example and also chose to release their slaves and welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

                Paul uses his personal relationship with Philemon to persuade and inspire him to recognize what Paul had done for him and what Paul was inviting him to do for Onesimus.  This is a great example of persuasive transformational leadership.  In times when God calls you to be a leader either at school, at work, in your family, at Church, in community, or wherever you might be called to lead, remember Paul’s great example of how to be a transformational leader.

                The passage in Isaiah also gives a glimpse of leadership.  In this instance. God is leading his disobedient and rebellious children, Israel.  God’s leadership style here might be interpreted as transactional.  God has punished Israel for their idolatrous and rebellious ways.  God also promises better days ahead for those who faithfully listen to God and walk in the ways of obedience.  Ultimately, God is a transformational leader calling people to look to the vision of a new heaven and a new earth to inspire them to faithfulness now.  God doesn’t enjoy punishing the disobedient.  It’s true that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”(Provers 9:10), but ultimately God wants us to respond to Him out of love- to love him with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5).  God always leads in exactly the way we need, because He is the perfect leader.  Let us follow Him and learn from Him just as Paul (and hopefully Philemon) did.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 65-66 and Philemon

Reminders

Isaiah 63-64, Titus 3

Life is so busy and complicated that I have to create lots of reminders for myself.  Fortunately, my phone and computer and watch all have features where I can set reminders for myself.  “Doctors appointment Tuesday at 3:00.  Take the garbage to the dump on the way to work in the morning.  Stop by the store after work and pick up some milk and bread.” I can even set reminders months or years in advance.  I can set alarms to remind me that in 2 hours I have a meeting.  In 1 hour I have a meeting.  In 15 minutes I have a meeting.  The Meeting is now starting.  Maybe I’m too busy or maybe I’m getting old, but I find myself more and more needing reminders.

Do you ever need reminders?  Little kids need to be reminded to brush their teeth, make their bed, do their homework.  What do you need reminders for?

The Apostle Paul thought reminders were important for Christians.  I guess he understood how easy it can be to forget what’s important when we are busy living life and doing  what’s necessary or urgent.  Do Christians ever forget important things about God, about Jesus, about how we are supposed to live?  Yep, we sure do.

In Titus 3 Paul tells Titus to remind the believers of some important things.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” -Titus 3:1-2

Those reminders were important in the first century when Christianity was brand new and people were still learning the basics, but it’s been 2000 years.  We’ve certainly got being a Christian all figured out by now, don’t we?  Do we really need to be reminded to obey people in authority?  Do we need to be reminded to always be ready to do good?  Don’t all Christians always do what is good?   Certainly we never  slander or falsely accuse someone of wrong doing.  I’m always peaceable and considerate and gentle toward everyone, aren’t you? (My tongue is in my cheek- that means I’m kidding).

To tell the truth, I still need to be reminded all of those things.  Just because I’ve been reading the Bible for over 50 years doesn’t mean I always remember to do good.  I still need to be reminded to be considerate and gentle, and so do you.  That’s why Christianity was never designed to be lived in isolation, but in community.  We need each other.  There’s a passage in Hebrews (a different book from today’s reading,  but important) Hebrews 10:24-25 says that Christians shouldn’t get out of the habit of meeting together, because we need to encourage (I think Hebrews says “spur one another on”, like a rider spurs on a horse) each other.  

Following Jesus is hard some times.  Being obedient to God is hard some times.  Remembering to do good and be gentle is hard sometimes.  I need help, I need encouragement to keep on doing what is right.  I need you, and you need me, we need each other.

I’ve read the Bible many times in my life and I need to keep on reading it to help me remember all the important things I need to remember.  Today’s readings in Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3 remind us both about God’s wrath and about God’s mercy.  God has both.  God hates sin, he hates it when his children are brutal to each other.  He hates it when his children fight and argue.  He hates sin because he loves us and he knows that sin hurts us.  We hurt each other when we sin.  No parent likes to see their children hurt each other.  We learned that from our Father, God.

So keep reading your Bible and keep coming to Church and meeting with other believers so that you can remind them and they can remind you to keep on following Jesus.

“Hey Siri  set a reminder for 7 a.m. tomorrow:  be considerate and gentle to everyone.”

“Alexa, remind me to get up for Church Sunday at 8:00.”

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3

Good News and Bad News

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  Which would you like first?  If you’re like me, you’d prefer to rip the band-aid off and get the bad news over with and finish with the good news.  So let’s get to it.

The bad news.  Humans have made a pretty big mess out of this world.  Yes, we’ve done some amazingly good things too, but we’ve made an awful mess of the world.  One of my ministry settings is as a hospital chaplain.  When I visit with patients, a lot of them are there because either they, or someone else, has made a huge mess of their lives.  Sometimes it’s from drug or alcohol abuse, sometimes they are victim of crime, often they have not taken very good care of their bodies.  Sometimes they’ve been in such despair that they attempted to end their life by suicide.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time listing the ways human beings have made a mess out of the world, if you need proof, just turn on the news for an hour or two.

Here’s the thing about messes, you can ignore them, and they will simply get worse, or you can clean them up.  Usually when you clean up a mess you preserve somethings and you discard others.  You try to salvage what is worth saving and discard what isn’t.  That requires some decision making.  What to keep and what to discard.  If you want clean dishes, you have to discard the dirty stuff that’s on the dishes.  If you want a clean house, you have to purge the junk.  If you don’t ever throw anything out then you become a hoarder and that’s an awful mess and no way to live a flourishing and happy life.

In today’s first reading in Isaiah, Israel had made quite a mess.  They failed to be faithful to YHWH, the God who created them and called them to be His.  Despite warnings and pleadings, Israel worshipped other gods.  They failed to give YHWH their exclusive love and devotion.  After numerous attempts to get them to stop, God finally allowed them to face the consequences of their unfaithfulness.  God allowed their enemies to conquer them, destroy their beloved temple and city, Jerusalem, and they went into captivity for 70 years.  That was the bad news.

Now for the good news.  God was going to rescue them, restore them and return them to their beloved Jerusalem.  

Isaiah 61

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

Isaiah goes on to describe how much better things will be for God’s people.  He uses the image of a bride being rejoiced over by her groom.  God’s love for his people is great.

Toward the end of the section is the promise: ” ‘See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him”

Notice God’s rescue of his people is good news for some, and bad news for others.  It’s both the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance.  

Think about WWII for a minute.  When the Allied Forces defeated Hitler and his armies and came to the internment camps like Auschwitz, it was good news for the prisoners, but bad news for the German army.  Hitler chose suicide over the swift justice that was sure to come.  For the men and woman who were set free it was good news but for the perpetrators of injustice it was a day of vengeance.

Jesus is coming again.  In Titus 2 we are told:

“1For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

God’s purpose in allowing His people Israel to face judgement was his way of cleaning up the mess that they had made and giving them a chance to start fresh, free from the worship of idols.

God’s purpose in sending Jesus was to extend the opportunity of salvation to all people, again, to clean up the mess and rescue those who are willing to receive the grace of God.  While we are waiting for Jesus to come and all the mess to be finally cleaned up, God invites us in the name of Jesus to follow him and live Godly lives, rejecting the mess of the world.

The world is a mess and God is fully and finally going to clean it up through the coming of Jesus Christ.  For those who reject God’s grace and mercy it will be a day of vengeance.   While we wait, God is working in our lives to clean up our messes and put us to work doing good, helping point others to God.  Are you willing to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions?  Are you willing to be different (FUEL 2019).  Are you eager to do what is good?  God wants to purify you and put you to work.  Are you willing?

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at Biblegateway.com here. Isaiah 61-62 and Titus 2.

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

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

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