Don’t Miss the Artistry

Psalm 119 – part 1

For the weekdays of this week, I do encourage you to continue to read through Ezekiel. In Saturday’s devotion, we will catch the highlights of those verses. However, our focus for the next few days will be Psalm 119. The longest chapter in the Bible, by both verse and words, Psalm 119 is worth the time we are going to spend with it. Rather than going through verse by verse (we will do a bit of that on Wednesday and Thursday), I’d like to talk about the themes that come out of reading Psalm 119. We’ll talk about God’s self-revelation, in both the Torah and the whole Bible, and we’ll discuss some ways that we can honor God’s word by keeping it close to us. 

But today, I want to talk about Psalms in general, and this Psalm in particular. The Bible is a dense book. Often we can treat it like a study guide, a how-to manual, a game plan for life. And, these are not incorrect. But that is NOT ALL the Bible is. It is not simply an owner’s manual for our life, but it is a vast collection of biographies, histories, letters, and poems that are inspired by God’s Words, authoritative about our lives, and true in everything it affirms. 

The Psalms in general help disabuse us of our study guide/owner’s manual/game plan approach to the Bible, because they are not always God’s words to people, but people’s words BACK TO GOD. In the Psalms there is rage, despair, longing, frustration, ecstasy, devastation, joy, sorrow, wrath, contentment, love. The whole gamut of the human experience is on display. But more than just these emotions, they are the human experience, recreated and retold in beauty.

Think about your favorite song. Do you hear the twang of a steel guitar? Do you feel the rumble of the bass from the hook? Does the distortion make you want to turn up the speakers to 11? What do the lyrics mean? What do the lyrics SAY? Are those two the same, or is the meaning conveyed not in words but in how they are sung or how the music crescendos at the same time they are singing of silence? Let me venture a guess; you like your favorite song. This genius insight of mine is because we all think our song has a certain beauty. I like metal and the screams of the vocalists and the distortion of their guitars are just wonderful and gorgeous. But more often than not, in metal and rock, the music and the lyrics work in tandem to make the pain, betrayal, loss, anger, and even love of the musicians real and visceral. There is beauty in my favorite songs, and in yours, even if you like country. 

Psalm 119 is also beautiful, a labor of love that took the artist hours of labor spent crafting the art to perfection. Just because God guided the Psalmist doesn’t mean the Psalmist didn’t put his blood sweat and tears into crafting a beautiful poem in honor of God and his word. What I want you to notice today is the beauty. Read all of Psalm 119. Read it from start to finish, top to bottom. But DON’T MISS THE ARTISTRY. Think about why the Psalmist used this word in this place. Why? Does one line jump out at you? Why is that? Does one line not sit well with you? Why do you not connect with that line? 

Moreover, think about the breakdown of the Psalm. There are 22 sections of 8 verses of Psalm 119. In your Bibles, there may even be a strange mark and word. For many this would be something that looks like an X and the word “Aleph” or “Alef”. The translators are helping you see that this poem is an acrostic. The first letter of each verse is aleph. Eight times over. Then the same with beth, then gimmel, so on and so forth. The artist had to be intentional to work out each line to build off the previous one, but also each verse needed a new word. That takes time, commitment, dedication. Artistry. 

Don’t miss the artistry. 

Don’t miss the passion or the beauty of this psalm. That is why when you saw””Read all of Psalm 119” and you skipped that and kept reading the devotion, you really should go read the entire Psalm today. The beauty the artist wanted to display for God is in the text, and I don’t want you to miss it. 

Don’t miss the artistry. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 25-26 and Psalm 119:1-40

Grace and Discipline

Psalm 117 & 118 and Ezekiel 23 & 24

Read Psalm 118, or read it again. What is this Psalm all about? What is the refrain? “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” God’s people look back on what has happened in their past and speak of God’s grace goodness and love. The Psalmist says that “he” (we don’t know the psalmist, but we will use he as the pronoun) speaks from his own perspective. The people from all nations were against him, but GOD is for him. In verse 6 he asks the great question, “What can humans do to me?” If God is for us, then who or what could ever stop us? God will save and send protection and salvation. The author says that this does not only hold true for him but it’s true for ALL of God’s people. The community asks God to save. “O LORD, do save, we ask you!” And when God answers, salvation, grace, and protection are for both the individual and the community. Upon his people he gives light (v.27) and to the individual he has become his strength, his song, and his salvation. (V. 14)

Now, compare that with Ezekiel 24:15-27 (go read it). All the words God has said in Psalm 118 don’t seem to make sense in light of Ezekiel 24. Ezekiel is God’s servant. He is a “good man” speaking to the “bad people” of Jerusalem. So what does God do? 

God kills Ezekiel’s wife. 

You may say “Jake, that’s extreme. God doesn’t kill people. He just allows her to die.” I could agree with you, maybe, if all we had was Ezekiel 24:18. Ezekiel reports the fact that his wife dies and he wasn’t allowed to mourn. But just two verses earlier, God explains that HE is taking  Ezekiel’s desire with a blow. God killed her. An innocent wife of a good man, to teach bad and rebellious men. 

Does Ezekiel say, “His love endures forever?”

Do we expect him to?

How do we reconcile this?

First, let me start with the fact that Ezekiel, his wife, and all the prophets recognized that their life was totally forfeit to the God who had power over life and death. I don’t think we should think of Ezekiel’s wife as an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire, no matter how much her story may suggest it. Ezekiel knew that everything he owned and everyone he loved was ultimately owned by God and loved by him more. 

Second, YES love. The love of God is the most fundamental element of his being. “God is love.” “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son.” “What great love the father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God!”

“His love endures forever!” 

So, the primary text is not Ezekiel but the Psalm. The Psalm prescribes who God is in love. And even there, we get our answer for Ezekiel. 

“The Lord has disciplined me severely.” 

Words alone weren’t cutting it with the people. They had heard the voice of the prophets again and again to return to the Lord. In Ezekiel 24, God is done telling them what they will experience, but will show them WHAT he will do. He was going to take his own sanctuary away from the sinning, unfaithful Israelites. He was going to discipline them. But they were not going to mourn even the presence of God being taken from them. Ezekiel showed them that they were going to lose the presence and be totally OK with it. They needed to see it, because it proved that God is the one in control. 

Finally, we need to recognize that too often we are worried too much about this life. Ezekiel’s wife may not have wanted to die, but she trusted in the Lord, as did her husband. Psalm 118 itself reminds those of us who are faithful followers of Christ that this is not the end. The stone that the builders rejected that has become the chief cornerstone. That one is Jesus of Nazareth. This work of God is marvelous in our eyes. God has made our days, our night, our beginning, and our ending. But for the faithful, this life is NOT the end. God has promised that the one who came in the name of the Lord to the shouts of “Hosanna”, or “Save us”, that same Jesus will be the one who comes in power to raise the living and the dead and give the reward to those who love him. 

Life eternal.

Goodness for forever.

Since God’s love endures forever, he promises those he loves will endure forever. 

So, give thanks to the Lord for he is good. 

His love endures forever. 

-Jake Ballard

(P.S. Not part of the main devotional text, but for those who are going through or know someone going through pain, read on. 

This post may have made you uncomfortable. Let me add the following thoughts. 

Quick summary of my points:

  1. Ezekiel’s wife had given God her life
  2. God’s love, not his judgement or anger, defines his divine actions
  3. We limited humans are too worried about the short time here when we have eternity of joy through faith

However, let me be clear :  these are not the words you share with the hurting, nor will these be your first thoughts in pain. Death is an enemy that God will destroy. We are to weep with those who weep. Understanding Ezekiel in light of the Psalm 118 is our ideal, but it may take time. If you are not in a place of pain, do NOT tell the suffering to “just get over it”. Do NOT say that God took someone’s loved one away. If you are in pain, I am not saying God took your loved one or that their life did not matter.

Ezekiel’s wife’s situation is not the way scripture speaks about every death. 

But God loves everyone, and God wishes that none perish; God is a God of life, wholeness, and health. One day, creation will again reflect the life, wholeness and health of it’s Creator, but it’s not there yet. But God may use even his enemies, death, brokenness, sickness, and pain, to bring about a greater goodness in spite of their wickedness. If you are suffering, in need of someone to hear your story, just be with you in your pain, I would encourage you to reach out to a pastor or trusted friend and ask them to listen. If you need someone to listen who doesn’t know you from Adam, but is willing to walk through your pain, please reach out to the author (Jake Ballard) via https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336. You can also find his contact information at TimberlandBibleChurch.org

May God bless show his love to you in the midst of whatever pain you experience.)

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 23& 24 and Psalm 117 & 118

Trust in the LORD

Psalm 114-116, especially 115

What do you put your trust in?

Odds are there are many things that you trust. You may trust your phone alarm to wake you up to go to school or work in the morning. You probably trust the light to come on when you flip the switch. You probably trust the furnace to come on when you turn up the thermostat. There are probably even people you trust deeply. It is good to trust in these things, usually. What happens when you flip the switch and the room is still dark? How about when you turn on the heat and it starts blowing cold air? Have you ever been late because your alarm didn’t wake you up (rather the alarm went off or not)? I bet you have even had a trusted friend or family member hurt you. So again I ask, “What do you do when the things or people you trust fall short?”

It is amazing how much it can throw us off when our trust is shaken. We may be tempted to “never trust anyone again.” We may want to throw the phone across the room and drop kick the furnace, but the fact is we knew these would eventually let us down. As we go through life we learn that all things, people included, fall short. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” This sounds like terrible news and in many ways it is, but there is good news as well. There is One that always has been, always will be, and He does NOT fail. Psalm 115 addresses the times we place too much trust in material items, the things of this world, our idols. Here we read a few of the many weaknesses of idols. They cannot speak, see, hear, smell, feel, walk, make a sound, and are made by human hands; yet still we place our trust in them. Why do we decide to place our trust in these inanimate objects? 

After reading of the weaknesses of idols we find many times that we are to trust in the LORD. We can trust in Him because He is the opposite of every aspect of the idols. “He is (our) help and (our) shield…He is mindful to us…He will bless us.” He is the source of every good thing, every blessing, and will NEVER fail. Verse 18 tells us, “we will bless the LORD from this time and forever.” This is the Kingdom hope we have, that we may bless the LORD and trust in the LORD for all time. 

-Bill Dunn

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Psalm 114- 116 and Ezekiel 21-22

Praise Him

Psalm 111-113

Most of us say that we would like to have wisdom and good understanding. This seems pretty obvious but it is so easy to loose track of what brings these things. We search in books, on apps, listening to podcasts, and on websites. When we search in these and other places like these for wisdom and understanding we find that it all falls short if it is not based in faith. Thankfully we have a source of both wisdom and understanding. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; All those who follow His commandments have a good understanding; His praise endures forever.”

When we search for wisdom we need to start with fear for the LORD. This does not mean we need to cower and hide when we think of God. He absolutely has the power that He could instill that type of fear but that is not who He is.  Instead it means that we need to have a respectful awe or reverence for the LORD. Although He is mighty and powerful beyond our capabilities, He is also loving and compassionate beyond our understanding. He is the God who is powerful enough to speak and create life as we know it and loving enough to send His Son to overcome death that we may live. David said that wisdom begins with this reverent fear of the LORD. When we know who we serve and the love He has for us we can truly focus on what is important. That is leading as many as possible to a relationship with God as we serve Him with our life. 

David does not stop there. He says that following the commandments of God shows “a good understanding.” We follow His commandments because we understand what has been done for us. We have a desire to serve the one that has blessed us so incredibly with hope, both now and in the life to come. We understand that we have been given a gift that we could not have possibly earned and as such we desire to show thanks in the best way we can. That is to follow His commandments. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments, upon which hang all the others, are to love God and love people!

David ends this verse by saying that “His (God’s) praise endures forever.” At first it may seem a simple statement of just four words. Upon further thought though we realize that this statement has long lasting reach. Also we find that His praise will endure forever. This means that even if I do not praise Him others will. It also means that His praise did not stop when David died, when Solomon died, when Job died, when the apostles died, and it will not stop when you and I die either. If His praise endures forever; this is an eternal statement with implications into the Kingdom of God! It is with great pleasure that I tell you that you can praise Him both now and FOREVER!

Those who have wisdom and have understanding will praise the LORD!

-Bill Dunn

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at SeekGrowLove.com here – Psalm 111-113 and Ezekiel 19-20

See a Victory

 

Psalm 108-110

When you think of a strong person what do you picture? Do you envision an Olympic weightlifter holding an impossibly heavy barbell over their head? Or maybe you go the route of imagining a superhero trying to hold back a speeding train.  While these examples do show strength, we need to remember that there is more to strength than flexing a muscle. More than brute strength is needed to have victory over evil.

In today’s passage, David continues to trust in God’s strength and might no matter the circumstance.  As David seems to go through a rollercoaster of emotions, he doesn’t wavier in his trust that God will be victorious at the end of the day. I love what it says in Psalm 108:12 in the Good News Translation, “Help us against the enemy; human help is worthless.”  David is gearing up for a battle and has an army by his side yet he is humble enough to recognize that compared to God’s strength, his army and any other human help is worthless.  If King David was able to humbly recognize that the only way to victory is through God, we should be able to do the same.

God promises that we will ultimately be victorious over evil if we walk in His ways and accept the gift of His Son.  Psalm 110:1 gives us a clear picture of what God has planned for the future.  This verse might seem repetitive at a glance, but as we look closer we can see that the first LORD is in all caps which means its referencing God while the second Lord that is not in all caps references the Messiah who we know as Jesus.  By placing Jesus at His right hand, God is putting His son in a position of authority until the time comes for Jesus to rule over the nations after which will come the Kingdom of God. With all the craziness going on in our world, it’s refreshing to know that God has a plan for us to have victory over evil through Him.

Today I’d like to leave you with the lyrics from a praise and worship song we like to sing at Garden Park.  Remember that no matter how dark it may seem, God has a plan and He will be victorious.

“See A Victory” by Elevation Worship

“The weapon may be formed, but it won’t prosper

When the darkness falls, it won’t prevail

‘Cause the God I serve knows only how to triumph

My God will never fail …

I’m gonna see a victory

I’m gonna see a victory

For the Battle belongs to you Lord.”

-Bill Dunn

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 17-18 and Psalm 108-110

Give Thanks to the LORD!

Psalm 107

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His mercy is everlasting. The redeemed of the LORD shall say so…” (Psalm 107:1, 2a NASB2020)

We, the redeemed of the LORD, are to give praise to our God! This seems obvious when we think of the good things He has done for us. However, when we think of the struggles of life we tend to forget about the many blessings we have from above. It can be easy to get caught up in the stress of a job, the race of paying off debt, the chaos that is a college campus, the extra-curricular activities of high school, or even the pleasures of pet ownership. Some of these are good, some are not so good, and others depend on the day and context; but we find that anything that takes our eyes away from the LORD is a problem. The Psalmist here tells us that we need to give thanks in all situations. 

We will see that if we turn from the ways of the world and walk in the ways of God we will find peace and reason to give thanks! First, he says we are redeemed from the hands of our enemy and gathered from foreign lands. Although it is not as common now, in ancient culture it was quite common for citizens of defeated nations to be carried off and scattered to prevent the nation from rebuilding. This happened to Israel many times in the Old Testament; time and time again God promised he would gather His people and He did just exactly that. For this His people would give thanks to the LORD!

God also delivers His people from hunger, thirst, unjust imprisonment, foolishness, and even illness. This is not to say that we will always be delivered from these situations but we do find that God takes pleasure in caring for us. When we are in these scenarios we need to call to Him to deliver us and give thanks to Him for His goodness. 

There are certainly times that we can feel like we are tossed here and there as if by the waves of the sea during a storm. Your waves may come from any number of areas of life but what we hold in common in these times is that we can be found at our wits’ end as it says in the 2020 NASB. The Psalmist says that when we find ourselves here we can cry out to Him and He can cause the storm to be still and bring us to the end of our distresses. Once the wind and waves stop we must not be tempted to just think, oh the storm died down. We must acknowledge and give thanks to God for stopping the storm. 

In the last 5 verses of Psalm 107 we read of a concept that Jesus taught his disciples. Jesus said the first shall be last and the last shall be first, while here the proud will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. I find this to be encouraging because even when the world punishes us for doing what God has called us to do, we can have faith that God will raise us beyond the judgment of the world. For that we should alway give thanks to the LORD!

-Bill Dunn

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 15-16 and Psalm 107

Forgetfulness that Leads to Death

Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17 & 18

Forgetfulness is a common ailment. We all forget. We forget where we put the keys. We forget to send the birthday card, forget to get milk at the store and forget to pay the bill or finish the homework or return the library books. We climb in bed after a long day of remembering lots of things and realize we forgot to exercise and read our Bible and call mom. I have done it all. I am pretty much an expert forgetter.

Much of the time our forgetfulness is just inconvenient or unfortunate. It means we have to make an extra stop at the store tomorrow, pay the late fee on our bill, or receive a lower grade. Maybe one day we will learn there are consequences to our forgetfulness and it will help us remember to do what we had planned to do all along – until we forgot.

But sometimes a poor memory will actually lead to death. Tragic cases can occasionally be read in the news. Forgetting to take children out of their car seats and into safety. Forgetting to latch and lock the pool gate. Forgetting the once familiar route home. There can be dreadful, heartbreaking consequences for yourself or others which can lead to death when one simply forgets.

You can also read about the devastating effects of forgetfulness in the Bible. In fact, in both of today’s passages we find instances of forgetful people, with various results. In our Psalm for the day (106), we continue the history lesson of God’s people. In today’s lesson the Israelites are exiting Egypt and traveling through the dessert. Maybe the heat is getting to them because they seem to be having a hard time remembering some pretty big and important events that happened not so long ago.

Psalm 106:7 — When our ancestors were in Egypt,
    they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
    and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:13 — But they soon forgot what he had done
    and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Psalm 106:19-21 — At Horeb they made a calf
    and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
    for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
    who had done great things in Egypt

Sometimes the forgetful people are met with God’s mercy and yet another miracle they will also forget further down the road. Sometimes it’s more serious, and even fatal. Poisonous snakes, deadly disease, and the ground swallowing up those who forgot to remember God. What else could God do to help them remember?

Many generations later we see the same tragic forgetfulness recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 18:15 — Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths. 

They had forgotten the MOST important thing of all – the One who gave them life, the One who provided for all their needs, the One who had laid out blessings for those who follow, the One who had laid out curses for those who went their own stubborn way. They forgot God. And because of their repeated forgetfulness God was preparing the curses promised in his covenant: destruction, invasion, death.

It is easy to get so caught up in living our own busy lives, going our own stubborn ways, before we know it, we have forgotten our Life-Giving Teacher and all the lessons He was trying to teach us. And, instead, we face death and destruction.

Thankfully, there are ways to remember. With effort we can fight off this deadly tendency to forget. Here’s some ideas to build your memory.

How to Remember

Keep a thankful journal. Write down at least 3 things each day to thank God for. The act of writing helps you remember, and you will have the written journal to return to when your brain gets fuzzy on the details of how God has provided and cared for you – every day.

Clear an overly busy schedule. Trying to do too many other things that really don’t matter doesn’t leave time and space in your overbooked brain and calendar to remember God and do what is most important. You may even find some of those “extras” in your life that were getting too much of your time and memories were approaching, or at, idol status. Clear ’em out.

Get to church, Sunday school, Bible study, youth group, the church mens or ladies group, church camp, etc… Surround yourself regularly with those who are helpful for jogging your spiritual memory. When left alone brain connections can diminish leading to difficulty recalling. Instead, get to church. It’s a great place to overcome your own memory deficiencies – and it’s a great place where you can even help someone else remember God, His greatness and all He has done.

Add visual or auditory cues. What “tricks” will help you remember to keep God first. The Israelites were told to write it on their doorposts – maybe you need some Bible verses on your wall, mirror and refrigerator. Satan uses many schemes to erase God from people’s memory. Jesus found great power against Satan’s schemes by using God’s scriptures which he had committed to memory. Take out that Bible, the Sword of the Spirit, and use it daily to slash away cobwebs forming in your brain. Time and study and a love for God’s eternal word is the best cure I know for forgetfulness that leads to death.

Remember God and what He has done, is doing and will do!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17-18

God is My Teacher

Jeremiah 15-16 and Psalm 105

Yesterday’s Psalm (104) gave a history lesson on creation. Today’s Psalm (105) gives an overview of God at work during the years of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. God makes a great history teacher – He was there when it all happened and He knows clearly the lessons that ought to be learned to celebrate the good parts of the past and to prevent the tragedy of history repeating the ugly parts. The inspired Psalmist wrote: “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.” (Psalm 105:5). We would do well to remember and be in awe of the amazing miraculous ways God has worked in the past to help teach and provide for His children. And, we must not forget the times He has taught (and will teach) with punishment and judgment those who have turned their backs on Him.

Our passage in Jeremiah today speaks of God as a teacher. Unfortunately, it is at a time when, “Each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me.” (Jeremiah 16:12 – see the recurring stubborn heart problem we talked of earlier this week). Because of their disobedience and collection of false gods (one false god is too many) the lesson coming wasn’t going to be a pleasant one. God says, “Therefore, I will teach them – this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 16:21 NIV)

I love the idea of God being a teacher. We chose the name Moriah for our first born daughter, partly because of the reminder to always keep God first, even above our precious children (Moriah was the name of the mountain God sent Abraham to when He tested his faith and allegiance to Him). And, then when I found out Moriah means “God is my teacher” in Hebrew, it became an automatic favorite. This world tries to teach us many lies. I pray me and my family (and you and yours) will listen to and learn from God instead. And, if we learn the lesson well to put Him first and seek Him always, perhaps we will be saved the agony of the lessons He has reserved for those who have turned to false gods and neglect following His words. May we be busy listening to, and doing, what the Teacher says.

Jeremiah gives a good example of what kind of a student we ought to be. He says to God, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16) What teacher wouldn’t love having a student like this – one who listens, loves, devours, and receives great joy from the Teacher’s words and also takes pride in calling themselves the Teacher’s student. In fact, God told him if he repents (turns from evil) and speaks worthy not worthless words, he will use Jeremiah as his spokesman (Jeremiah 15:19 – perhaps a promotion to teacher’s aide?)

A good teacher knows the subject matter well – God does. He made the world and everything in it. He knows everything. He is the one and only omniscient being.

A great teacher must also know his students well – God does. What are the students’ strengths, their weaknesses, their needs, their fears? What motivates them, what distracts them, what do they already know, what do they still need to learn today, what do they need to be truly successful? How many hairs are on their head? God knows! In Jeremiah 16:17 God says, “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.” The all-knowing, all-seeing teacher doesn’t miss a thing.

And, of course, the very best teacher not only knows each student backward and forward, inside and out, but that teacher loves each and every child to pieces, and is willing to sacrifice for that child’s benefit – God does! He loved you so much that He gave His one and only Son so that you, His student, could have life. His love doesn’t mean punishments won’t be given when earned. After all, punishment is a powerful way to teach a needed lesson. But through it all, never doubt, He knows, He loves and He teaches.

If God is the teacher, what kind of student are you? Are you the child who is easily distracted and zones out during the lesson, missing what the Teacher wants you to know? Are you the one who is making jokes during class to gain the attention and praise of your classmates? Do you deserve several time-outs a day due to your lack of self-control – throwing pencils across the room and getting caught up in sin? Are you a student with a stubborn heart problem and way too many gods in your life? (Hint: the most important math lesson is – the correct number of Gods is ONE and He is the Almighty Creator and Teacher who gives the final grades.). Or, are you a student who is feasting on the Teacher’s words, seeking Him, repenting, and searching for worthy words in an effort to help other students hear His words, too?

Report cards are coming – for you, your family, your church, and all nations. What will the Teacher say about you?

“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 15-16 and Psalm 105

My Creator God

Psalm 104 & Jeremiah 13, 14

Our family loves camping and finding new places to hike or kayak through God’s beautiful world. The variety of his creation is truly amazing! Desert, forest, plains, mountain, ocean. We love them all and the chance to explore a new little corner of His world we haven’t seen yet. And, along the way, trying to capture a photo to remind us of the beauty and creativity we had the privilege to see.

Psalm 104 is a beautiful poem of creation. I would love to make a photo book or photo wall with pictures from our family hikes and travels depicting each verse and phrase.

“He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (vs 2) – sunshine blazing in all His glory

“he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (vs 2) – expansive blue sky from horizon to horizon

“He makes the clouds his chariot” (vs 3) – white and multi-shades of gray amazing textured rolling clouds with shafts of sunlight shining through with the brilliant blue sky behind

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines” – hot springs bubbling from the ground and flowing down the mountain side

You get the idea. There would be photos of waterfalls, lightening, mountaintops, ocean waves on the shore, rainstorms, the moon, plants and animals, sunrises, sea creatures, and people. Each one accompanied with God’s text.

I recently taught a unit on creation to the adorable children in children’s church. And it was so much fun spending a week (or more) on each aspect of God’s amazing creation. We brought in shells and rocks and leaves and bird feathers to touch and play with. We matched plant photos to foods we eat and counted plant products in ingredient labels. (Do you know how many plants are in a box of Cheerios or mac’n cheese?) We classified plants and animals and brought in a bird expert. We watched videos and explored books on clouds and planets and sea creatures and the animal kingdom and the incredible human body. And all the things that we take for granted everyday.

Not only is God’s world a beautiful world – but so incredibly functional, too! He thought of EVERYTHING! The more I learn of science and the human body in particular, the more I am amazed at His creation.

I have never made anything nearly as intricate or useful as the smallest, tiniest, most simplistic, most ‘insignificant’ part of God’s creation. But, I do like to create quilts – little scraps of colored fabric (which came from a cotton plant) sewn together in patterns to make a cozy cover to bring comfort and warmth. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to meet someone who explained that those quilts just came to be one day – that it grew from nothing and became strings that wove themselves together and the fabrics cut themselves into the perfect shapes and even stitches magically formed just as they were needed to piece the top together and the materials used to create the final layered project appeared at just the right time and space and lined up just so to automatically go through the final steps to create my quilt. Foolishness. It is foolishness that leaves out the thought, intention, desire, creativity, vision, purpose and ability of me, the quilt creator. Or, equally painful – maybe they would give all the credit for the making of the quilt to another.

It makes sense that the Creator of the Heavens and Earth wants us to enjoy and admire His creation – and give Him all the credit He so much deserves. But, what happens when people don’t? What happens when they take away the glory that belongs to God and call it chance instead or give it to another? What happens when they refuse to listen to God’s words – the first recorded words being – “Let there be light”? What happens when they attribute God’s creation to another? We see in the book of Jeremiah. “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless!” Jeremiah goes on in today’s reading to describe the drought, famine and sword that will be used in judgment of those who have stubbornly turned from God. Jeremiah 14 ends with God telling Jeremiah to speak to the people, telling them to acknowledge their guilt and wickedness and sins against Him and ask God to remember His covenant. The final verse of chapter 14 says,

“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
    Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, Lord our God.
    Therefore our hope is in you,
    for you are the one who does all this.” (vs 22 NIV)

Not only did Our Great God create this world for us – He made a covenant with us – He has power still today – and He holds out a blessed hope for those who acknowledge and worship Him for all He has done, is doing and will do.

Thank you God for your incredible Creation – help me see and appreciate each amazing part!

Thank you God for the rains today – help me see you at work today!

Thank you God for the hope you set before those who believe and worship you alone – a New Heavens and Earth that will be beyond all we can ever dream or imagine!

You are our hope – for you are the one who does all this!

-Marcia Railton

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 13-14 and Psalm 104

Don’t Withhold the Cure

Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

The Old Testament prophets who spoke for God, including Jeremiah, were entrusted with preaching a lot of doom and gloom. Because God’s children had strayed from his commands, judgment would be coming and the people needed to know. I loved Jeff Fletcher’s illustration in his devotion yesterday of a doctor who could be charged with malpractice if he knew the sick condition of a patient’s insides and knew how to fix it and what changes the patient would need to make in order to cure the potentially deadly ailment, and said nothing. This would be like the Christian who sees the broken sinful world and pretends everything is okay. Don’t withhold the cure.

Jeremiah paints a very vivid picture of a world that is not okay. Chapter 9 opens with the prophet mourning the sinfulness of God’s people. He would love nothing more than to pack up and go to a desert retreat where he could get away from and forget this crowd of unfaithful people. Can you relate? But, rather than abandoning the people in their sin, Jeremiah continues passionately speaking truth for God, over and over, even though his words often seem to fall on deaf ears. He still must speak and write and hold out the cure to these wayward people.

God has had it, too. He aptly describes the situation this way:

“It is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3b NIV)

and again, “They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sining. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:6 NIV)

It sounds to me like God and Jeremiah are describing the sad state of affairs in 2021. So many lies and deceptions abound when attempting to justify and explain and even celebrate sin and sinful lifestyles that fester and grow when individuals and nations and societies have turned their backs on God.

It is as though God is left without a choice. “What else can I do because of the sin of my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7 NIV) “‘Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’ ” (Jeremiah 9:9 NIV). God had drawn up the rules long ago with blessings promised to those who followed and curses to those who stubbornly disobeyed. Many chances had been given. Prophets had been sent to remind the people of the deadly disease and of the cure – repentance, turning away from sin and turning back to God. But these were a very stubborn people who took delight in continuing in their sin and lies and more sin and more lies.

God had given mercy. God had given reminders. God had given prophets. God had stretched out the cure. But, to no avail. So, God says – it is time. It is time to teach your daughters how to wail – death and destruction is coming. (Jeremiah 9:20,21).

Towards the end of chapter 9 an interesting section seems almost out of place…

 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Perhaps it was written more for us who would be reading Jeremiah centuries later, to remind us of the choice we have. And, the great opportunity we have to boast about our God, our Creator, Our YHWH. He created the cure. His Son is the cure that was not yet available in Jeremiah’s day. Sin is the same and comes with the same consequences – death. People today need to know about the cure. They don’t need to hear you bragging about your dinner, your kids, your car, your job, your grades, your house, your ______ (on social media or at the checkout line). They need to know about the LORD our God who exercises kindness AND justice and always righteousness. The Psalms passages today have some great examples of boasting about our God while holding out the cure. How can you hold out the cure today to a nation and world that is unknowingly in the stages of the deadly disease of disobedience?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

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