Spiritual Malpractice

Jeremiah 7-8; Psalm 96, 97, 98

            Over 100 years ago Eleanor Porter wrote the children’s novel, Pollyanna.  I like the version Disney did in the 1960’s starring Haley Mills as Pollyanna Whittier, a young girl, the daughter of missionary parents who both died.  She moved to a new town to live with her rich but stern Aunt Polly (Fun Fact, in the Disney Movie Aunt Polly is played by Jane Wyman, an actress who was President Ronald Reagan’s first wife- I have a lot of trivial information in my head, sorry).

Pollyanna’s minister/missionary father had taught Pollyanna to play the “glad game” as a way of coping with life’s challenges.  Essentially, she learned that no matter what happens, you should always look on the bright side.  Essentially, it’s a way of life that is exceedingly optimistic in every situation.  Throughout the story Pollyanna met neighbors in challenging situations and preached her gospel of positivity and as a result changed lives and made her town a much more positive place to live. 

In a particularly memorable scene Pollyanna brought her positivity message to the local pastor who, at her dour Aunt Polly’s behest, had been giving his congregation a steady diet of fire and brimstone, anti-positivity.  Pollyanna encouraged him to notice and begin preaching the “glad texts” of the Bible.  He, listened to her counsel, changed his preaching to become more positive, and everyone in the Church became much happier.  There’s more to the story, but that’s the part that is relevant to our conversation.

During the last 30 years there has been a revolution in psychology.  In the past, psychologists and counselors focused on psychological pathology, all the things that are wrong: anxiety, depression, shame, anger, addiction, poor relationships etc…  From Freud onwards psychiatrists were trained to dig into a person’s past to find the cause of their neurotic thoughts and behaviors. But positive psychology introduced the benefits of focusing on positive thoughts and behaviors like gratitude, hope and other glad things.  This corresponds historically with a more positive oriented approach to preaching.  Many pastors traded in fire and brimstone sermons warning people against sin and judgement for more positive messages. Norman Vincent Peale, founder of Guidepost magazine, wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking.”  Robert Schuller, famous TV preacher of the 70’s-90’s, preached a gospel of positive thinking.  Many preachers began preaching a prosperity gospel.  Joel Osteen is popular today because of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller and others like them. 

So the question at hand is, which is more biblical, the hellfire and brimstone preacher who speaks against sin and calls people to repent, or the positive thinking pastor who focuses on preaching all of the “glad texts” in the Bible and ignores icky verses that talk about sin and judgment?  I think the answer is both, or better yet, neither.

I like the old expression that says that the preacher’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  Solomon said it pretty well in Ecclesiastes 3- there’s a time and a season for everything.  Sometimes preachers need to say hard things and issue dire warnings to their hearers.  Sometimes preachers need to give words of comfort and encouragement.  Jesus gives examples of this.  Sometimes Jesus got angry and called his listeners, a.k.a. the Pharisees,  a “brood of vipers”.  Another time Jesus told a woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, while telling her also to not sin anymore.  Jesus showed that one can be both firm and compassionate as they speak for God.

Today’s reading in Jeremiah 7-8 has a clear absence of the “happy texts” that Pollyanna was so fond of noticing:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”

 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.” -Jeremiah 7:3-11.

            God criticized their priests:

“They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
    when there is no peace.”- Jeremiah 8:11

            I love Pollyanna and her innocent joyful optimism.  We all need a good dose of Pollyanna to get us through hard times.  But at the same time, we need to balance that with a good dose of reality and hard truth as well.  We need to hear how important it is to be grateful and have hope, we need to hear how forgiving and merciful God is.  And… we need to be reminded that God absolutely hates certain things and is going to bring an end to sinful actions and that those who do not repent and turn away from pursuing a life in rebellion against God will face judgment.  Some of the priests in the time of Jeremiah were giving false assurance to the people.  They were wrongly assuring them that because they were God’s chosen people who worshipped at the right place, the temple, and came from the right family, descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac, that it really didn’t matter how they lived their lives, they were okay with God.  They were giving false hope and false assurance. “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” –Jeremiah 8:11.

            Part of my ministry is in the hospital.  Sometimes people who are in the hospital are sick and will probably get better.  Sometimes people who are in the hospital are sick and will probably NOT get better.  Sometimes the doctor has to tell people hard things like, “if you don’t quit your… smoking, drinking, injecting heroin, allowing your diabetes to go uncontrolled, etc… you will probably die sooner than later.”  Do people like hearing those things?  Nope.  But if the doctor simply said to them- “You’ll be fine, just keep doing what you’re doing” that would be malpractice.  Doctors need to tell people the truth.  So do pastors.  So do all Christians.

            So as you read through your Bible, I hope you will notice all of the “glad texts” like today’s Psalm 97:1 “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad”. 

And also pay attention to the “not so glad texts”  like “So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.”-Jeremiah 7:32-34

Thank you for reading both the glad and not so glad texts of the Bible with me this week.  I hope that God will use all of it to help you grow as a faithful disciple of Jesus.

Jeff Fletcher

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 7-8 and Psalm 96-98

Just One

Jeremiah 5-6;  Psalm 94-95

          There’s a story in Genesis 18 that is kind of amusing to me (and also tragic).  After God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age he basically tells Abraham, “I’m going to go destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great sin.”  That’s not the part that’s amusing.  Abraham knows that his nephew Lot and his family are living in Sodom and Gomorrah and he’s trying to persuade God not to destroy the whole city.  “What about the good people in Sodom? Are you going to kill them along with all the bad people?  What if there are 50 good people in Sodom, will you spare the city?”  God agrees with Abraham’s request, “If you can find 50 good people in Sodom I won’t destroy it.”  This is the part that I find amusing… Abraham starts to negotiate with God in the way someone might try to negotiate buying a used car. “What about 45 good people?”  God says “Ok, I won’t destroy it for 45 good people.”  Abraham keeps negotiating until he talks God down to 10.  If there are only 10 good people to be found in Sodom, God will not destroy it.  (Abraham is one fine negotiator)

          Sodom is so bad it can’t even reach that low bar.  God rescues Lot and his 2 daughters and everyone else dies (including Lot’s wife who turned back and became a pillar of salt.)

          In today’s reading we’re not in Sodom, we’re in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, the city of God where the Temple and all its priests and religious leaders worked.  Jerusalem, where the King and all his government served.  You would think that with all of these important leaders of religion and government there would be lots of good people in Jerusalem, and you would be wrong.  In Jeremiah 5 God says:

          “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
    look around and consider,
    search through her squares.
If you can find but one person
    who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
    I will forgive this city.”

          When I was a kid, back when music was great, Three Dog Night had a song called “One is the Loneliest Number”.  (Go ahead, if you’re under 50 go check out the song on You Tube, I’ll wait).

          Welcome back!  God is making an offer even better than the one he made to Abraham about Sodom.  1.  If you can find just one person in Jerusalem that is honest and seeks the truth, he will forgive the whole city.  That would be like today God saying “Go to Washington DC.  If you can find one honest person in the whole city, I’ll spare the city.”  Well, maybe we can imagine that.  So apparently Jerusalem was Washington DC level corrupt.  Now, with politicians we can kind of get it.  But this was also the religious leaders, the priests and heads of religion.  Surely they were all honest seekers of truth, right? (No, I’m not biased even though I’ve been a professional clergy for the entirety of my adult life, over 35 years).  Come to think of it…. “Houston, we have a problem.”

          There was not a king nor a priest nor anyone else who was righteous or cared about the truth.  And so Jerusalem was toast.

          But here’s the good news.  God sent His son, Jesus, to Jerusalem.  He was the one true and righteous king.  He was the one priest who cared about truth.  Of course, they killed him, but God raised him.  And Jesus is the only way that we can find salvation. He is our righteous messiah and holy high priest. (See Hebrews).

          Jeremiah paints a painful but honest picture of the brokenness of human beings.  It helps set the stage for Jesus as the true and only one able to save us.  Keep this in mind as you read Jeremiah 5-6 today.  It was bad, it may get badder, but one day all will be well again.

          I will end with a portion of Psalm 95 “Today, if only you would hear his voice, Do not harden your hearts…”  Seriously, don’t harden your heart, let Jesus in.

Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereJeremiah 5-6 and Psalm 94-95

Unfaithful

Jeremiah 3-4; Psalm 92-93

                Occasionally, in my work as a chaplain I  meet an older couple who tell me they have been married a long time.  A few say they’ve been married 50 years.  Still fewer 60 years.  I can only think of 1 or 2 that I’ve met that made it 70 or 75 years.  Think about what it takes to be married to the same person for 75 years.  You have to be married at a young age, you both have to stay healthy enough to live at least into your 90’s, and you have to be able to figure out how to get along with another human being for 75 years.  Those are no small feats.  Statistically in the United States only about 5% of marriages make it to 50 years and far less to 60 or 70 or more.  According to the US census the average marriage lasts 8.2 years and the percentage of divorce is somewhere between 40-50% for all marriages.

                Marriage is a covenant.  A covenant is a faith commitment between two or more persons and God.  God established the covenant of marriage to be between a man and a woman till death do them part.  Because of human brokenness and our propensity to unfaithfulness, God made a provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24.  Divorce is better than murdering your spouse.  Call it the lesser of two evils.  But it was never God’s intention for marriages to end in divorce.  It’s more of an accommodation to sin and brokenness than an ideal.

                Yet, even God had to divorce his unfaithful wife.  Woa, Nelly!  What are you talking about?  God never got married because, he’s… God, right?   Actually, God uses the image of marriage to describe His relationship with Israel.  God is the husband and Israel is His bride.  It’s an image that appears in today’s reading of Jeremiah and it appears in many other places in the Old Testament.  In fact, the book of Hosea is an entire book about this.  God uses the image of an unfaithful bride because it brings an immediate, visceral response to the reader.  Nobody like to be cheated on by the person that they love.  It’s one of life’s most painful experiences.  Go listen to Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats”.  That pretty well captures the rage that comes when someone you love is unfaithful.  Has anyone ever cheated on you?  If so, you know how much it hurts.  And God wants his people to understand how much they have hurt him by their unfaithfulness and idolatry.  Read Jeremiah 3-4.  That’s written from the perspective of a husband who found out that not only has his wife been cheating on him, but she’s a prostitute, selling herself out on the street.  Ouch!

                Jeremiah 3 begins: “If a man divorces his wife
    and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again?
    Would not the land be completely defiled?
But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—
    would you now return to me?”
declares the Lord.  -Jeremiahs 3:1

            Most men in that situation would say “heck no” (or something even stronger).

                And yet…even with all of that hurt and rage and betrayal and pain, God is still willing to take his bride back.

“If you, Israel, will return,
    then return to me,”
declares the Lord.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
    and no longer go astray,
 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
    you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
    and in him they will boast.” –Jeremiah 4:1-2

            That’s what you call mercy.  That’s what you call grace. That’s what you call undeserved favor.

            God called his people to a true change of heart. 

            The original sign of the covenant in Israel was circumcision.  God told Abraham and his descendants to physically circumcise every male born in Israel as a visible sign that they were part of the covenant people of God.  They were uniquely in relationship with God and offered their exclusive allegiance and worship to God.  But far too often these people who were in that covenant relationship with God had hearts that were far from God.

So God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.” –Jeremiah 4:4

Back in the time of Moses God spoke to Israel and said that they were to Love Him with all their heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  What does any husband want?  His wife’s whole heart.  Just as any wife wants her husband’s whole heart.  That’s why unfaithfulness is so painful and leads to so many broken hearts and broken marriages.  God wants those in a covenant relationship with Him to give Him their whole hearts.

God criticized Judah for failing to return to God wholeheartedly: “her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” (Jeremiah 3:10).  God is NOT interested in our half-hearted repentance, our half-hearted worship, our half-hearted service, our half-hearted relationship.  God wants our whole-hearted love.

God created us in His image.  We love, we hurt, we get jealous and angry. That means that God also loves, God hurts when betrayed, God gets jealous and angry.  Jeremiah shows us how heartbroken God was with his faithless bride:

“Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”

 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
    I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
    My heart pounds within me”- Jeremiah 4:18-19

And yet, God loves us so much, he invites us to return to Him.

“Return, faithless people;
    I will cure you of backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22

Have you been giving your heart to someone or something instead of to the God who loves you?

Of course we can love other people, parents, spouses, children, friends.   We can love our jobs and love our homes, we can love pizza and love a pet.  But no love should come before that one true love, that love above all loves, the one with whom we’ve entered a covenant, God.

David loved God and wrote many love songs to God.  Here’s one:

“It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.”  -Psalm 92:1-2

How will you love God today?

-Jeff Fletcher

PS- In November my wife and I will celebrate 37 years married- we’re almost halfway to 75!!

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here Jeremiah 3-4 and Psalm 92-93

Words Matter

Jeremiah 1-2; Psalm 90-91

This past Saturday women (and some men) gathered in front of the US Capital in Washington, DC and in state capitals across the United States to protest for women’s rights to choose to abort their unwanted babies.  One of the signs held up said “Rage, Rage Against the Denial of Your Rights”.

That’s a dangerous way to begin today’s devotions.  Some of you are likely offended or possibly even angry at me for what I wrote.  I referred to them as unwanted “babies” and not “fetuses” or “products of conception.”  Words matter.  If a person says “illegal aliens” referring to those who cross the border without proper documentation and not “undocumented aliens” we know that they have an opinion about the status of those who have entered the country.  “Illegal” sounds like a bad thing, like someone has broken a law and might be punished, whereas “Undocumented” sounds like some innocent mistake or a government slip up.  I forgot my hall pass on my way to the bathroom and so I’m undocumented.  That’s different than bringing a gun to school or taking drugs at school.  Those activities are illegal and should be punished somehow, but crossing over the border without proper authorization, that shouldn’t be illegal, right? (If your sarcasm detector is now going off then it’s working properly)

Words matter, whether you say “illegal” or “undocumented” or whether you say “unborn or pre-born baby” or “product of conception.”  If I refer to a “product of conception” that a woman has a right to dispose of, that’s no big deal.  But if I say that it’s a human baby that is alive and waiting to exit her mother’s womb, and that we are killing that baby, that sounds pretty awful.  No one wants to think about killing babies.  No one should have the right to kill babies, but every woman should have a right to dispose of an inconvenient or unwanted ‘product of conception”.

Words matter.  Jeremiah 1 wasn’t written specifically to address the issue of human life, and yet Jeremiah’s inspired words, given to him by God, are worthy of reflection and application to our context today. 

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

    before you were born I set you apart;

    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”- Jeremiah 1:4-5

Here, God is calling Jeremiah to be his prophetic voice to the people of Israel.  Jeremiah is an integral part of God’s plan to prophecy against His people Israel for their worship of other gods.  Before Jeremiah was even born, God had a plan for his life.  While Jeremiah was still in his mother’s womb, God set Jeremiah apart to be a prophet.  This is such a rich passage and we could reflect on it a hundred different ways.  It speaks about God and his omniscience (that’s a technical term that means God knows everything).  God is able to peer into the future and see that this tiny little cluster of cells which carries in it the DNA for a male human person who  probably has brown eyes, brown hair and olive skin, will grow up to be able to speak for God 20 or 30 years in the future and be a key part of God’s plan.

This little tiny cluster of cells in that young Jewish woman’s womb would  one day be born, grow up  and go in the name of God to confront an entire nation with its rebellion against God.  

“My people have committed two sins:

They have forsaken me,

    the spring of living water,

and have dug their own cisterns,

    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”- Jeremiah 2:13

It was this tiny pre-born human, who God would use to condemn his people because: “On your clothes is found  the lifeblood of the innocent poor.”- Jeremiah 2:34

God condemns Israel because her clothes are stained with the blood of the innocent and the helpless.  Again, in the context Jeremiah is not referring specifically to pre-born babies who have been unjustly murdered (aborted).  However, in our present context, those words have a clear application.  Who are the most innocent and helpless human beings in the world today?  It is the pre-born humans whose Mother’s don’t want to allow  them to live.  As thousands gather around the country to rage at the prospect of some states seeking to bring greater justice and defend the defenseless we must ask ourselves “How in the world did we get here?”

When God called Jeremiah it was to take a courageous stand against a wicked and corrupt nation.  Is God calling His people today to take a courageous stand?  I think so.

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.” -Jeremiahs 1:17-19

If you, like Jeremiah, accept the call to speak faithfully for God against the current culture of death, and in doing so invite the rage of those who don’t want their right to murder unwanted pre-born human babies, then put Psalm 91 in your back pocket and carry it with you wherever you go: 

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

    my God, in whom I trust.”-Psalm 91:1-2

The Lord be with you.

Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereJeremiah 1-2 and Psalm 90-91

A Center for Ants?!

Job 41-42 and Psalm 89

I struggle with the book of Job. I come to the end of it anticipating answers. I’ve read it before, and I didn’t find answers then, so why would I expect answers this time? Maybe I will read it enough times that the key to all of it will suddenly spark into my understanding. But I could be asking the wrong questions. What if the author of Job wasn’t trying to answer the questions I care about? Is it still fair for me to excavate it for the answers I want?

If I was going to judge the book of Job like I would a television series, I would say it got canceled and they had to scramble to figure out a way to end it in the last episode. But there were too many details and connections to squeeze into one episode. There are only so many options in that situation, and none of them are good. So the producers of The Job Show, driven by the fans’ need for closure, opted for the fairy tale ending where some magical element swooped in out of left field and restored Job to his former glory. Then nothing really had to be explained. It was tied up with a bow without the need to craft all the right connections.

Somehow having two Ferraris to replace the first and getting a replacement family doesn’t feel like closure or justice to me. Really, I’m happy that Job had a great life after all of that, but that doesn’t wipe away the lingering questions.

Probably the biggest question everyone has about the book of Job is how a good and loving God can allow such terrible suffering. In Job, it is even more problematic, because God is making some kind of wager with the accuser and giving him permission to take everything from him. It doesn’t really take God off the hook to say that technically he didn’t do anything to Job. It sure sounds like Job was a chip being pushed out into the middle of the table during a divine poker game.

Another uncomfortable question is about the satan/accuser. The assumption might be that he is the bad guy, and that if justice is done, he should be dealt with. But he isn’t dealt with. He’s not important enough to even mention as the story comes to a close. It isn’t clear at all from the text that he is supposed to be understood as being evil. It sounds like he is just fulfilling a role of someone on God’s staff responsible for playing devil’s advocate, to enact checks and balances against God’s policies.

Short of having good answers for these questions, the next best thing I can do is suggest that they were probably not on the radar of Job’s author. The book of Job is not really about why we suffer or where suffering comes from, although Job’s suffering is like the emotional setting of the story. It isn’t about who or what the satan is, nor about his relationship to God. Not that these are not important questions! It’s just that the author of Job didn’t set out to address them. I think the real questions on the table are more about God’s wisdom and justice, and that the events at the beginning of Job serve to propel us into a hypothetical situation where we can sandbox the questions with Job and his friends.

In all the haste to bring the series to a close, there was time for a good bit about Leviathan. He’s a chaos water-dragon type of creature that we are apparently completely powerless against. You could take him to be a representation of our deepest fears and unknowns. How do we face such absolute terror? And if God is his creator, how much more terrifying must God be? Just imagine that we are like ants to Leviathan, but Leviathan is just a tadpole to God. Just a tadpole in a drop of water on a rock orbiting a star, somewhere within a galaxy of billions of stars, somewhere among billions of other galaxies. Do you feel insignificant?

After reading Job, we are left feeling small and with more questions than we had before reading it. Our status is upset from expert to beginner. This is a good place to be. This is humility that can lead to wisdom. God didn’t inspire the author of Job to answer all of our questions or connect all the dots for us. God is prompting us to ask bigger and better questions.

God trusted that Job would endure the most severe unrest and still serve him. Job was somehow able to trust that God was a God of justice even though he didn’t have the evidence we’d all require to do the same. Can I really trust that ultimately God will set everything right? Am I willing to accept that I most likely will not see all of this happen in this lifetime? Can I accept that God has the wisdom to enact true justice in his time, to his standards? 

Little did Job know that having his riches restored was only a small taste of God’s restorative justice. Our ideas of what justice, goodness, and love look like are so tiny compared to the true versions of these that come from God.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway at Job 41-42 and Psalm 89

Gird up now thy loins like a man

Job 37-38 and Psalm 85-86

There is an idea called the “retribution principle” that you can find woven into much of scripture. If you think that being good and righteous means that you will be rewarded, and that being wicked means you will be punished, you think that the retribution principle is true on some level. It seems to make sense as a general rule. What goes around comes around; you reap what you sow.

For most of the book of Job, we’ve been immersed in a debate between Job and his friends about whether this principle holds up. Job’s friends insist that Job must have done something wrong to bring on this suffering. Job insists he’s righteous and that his suffering makes no sense, bringing God’s justice into question. Elihu shows up, defending God’s majesty and justice, and condemning Job for being too self-righteous.

Sometimes Job’s friends seem like they have a grasp on the truth, but other times what they say seems misguided, and in the times left over, we just aren’t sure what to think. They all have worthwhile things to say, but at the core are still flawed humans. When reading anything in Job, we have to use some discernment to decide if what is being said is really true. After all, in the last chapter of the book, Job’s friends are criticized by God for not speaking of him what is right. 

At this point we have read a large chunk of Job, yet we are not sure who to believe or how to make sense of all the things that are being said. Suddenly in chapter 38, God rejoins the conversation from a whirlwind, signaling that this should be the dramatic moment when all our questions are answered.

We get no answers. In fact, God says he is going to ask the questions now.

If Job is man enough to challenge God, then he’d better be man enough to be challenged back. He’d better brace himself like a warrior. Job, were you there when I put down the foundation of the earth and gave the chaotic waters their boundaries? Do you have intimate knowledge of how all of creation works? Have you explored the highest highs and the deepest and darkest chasms? Do you have control over light, rain, snow, lightning, stars, or animals? Where does wisdom come from?

What would you say back? Really, what could you say back?

Does this frustrate you? It frustrates me. We call out to God in our deepest despair and questions but then feel like we just have more questions. It is not any fun to be humbled and put in our place. It’s disheartening to follow God and still go through hard times; we think it isn’t supposed to work that way. It’s natural to ask why we even bother serving God when we can’t seem to find the benefits, and yet the troubles have no trouble finding us. This all hurls us back to the question posed in Job chapter 1: If all the benefits were stripped away, would Job still serve God? Would you?

Through the story, the author of Job is asking us to question the retribution principle. Apparently, being good doesn’t mean you’ll expect only good things in your life. And being bad doesn’t mean getting a lump of coal. Reality is just more complex than that. It rains on the righteous as well as the wicked, and even in a desert land where nobody lives.

I’ll close with prayers of hope from the other part of our reading today:

“Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” (Psalm 85:8-9)

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)

-Jay Laurent

Some of you may know Jay as the really tall bass player in the FUEL worship band. We welcome his deep thoughts on God’s Scriptures this week.

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 37-38 and Psalm 85-86

Asaph’s Prayer List

Psalm 83

How often are your prayers only requests for God? How many times, if those requests were fulfilled, would they help others come to know God? In Psalm 83, Asaph thought about how his requests would help others to come to know the one true God.

At the beginning of Psalm 83, Asaph asks God to intervene on Israel’s behalf in the face of their enemies. Asaph continues by listing many grievances against their enemies as to why God should deliver Israel from their enemies. After listing all the problems that Israel is having with their enemies and listing who those enemies are, Asaph asks God to completely destroy their enemies.

Asaph asks God to destroy their enemies as He did in the past during the times of Gideon and Deborah and Barak. He continues to ask God to destroy them to the point that they are like whirling dust or chaff in the wind. In Psalm 83:16-18, his list goes on to ask that God would make their enemies humiliated, ashamed, and dismayed. He says,

16 Fill their faces with dishonor,

That they may seek Your name, O Lord.

17 Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever,

And let them be humiliated and perish,

18 That they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord,

Are the Most High over all the earth.”

In these verses, Asaph not only asks for their enemies to be ashamed, dismayed, and humiliated, he also explains why he asks for this. Everything Asaph asked God to do to their enemies, he asked so that they would seek God and know that He alone is Most High over all the earth.

Asaph could have just asked God to destroy their enemies because Israel was God’s chosen people. He could have just asked for protection from their enemies because Israel knows God is all-powerful. He could have just asked for deliverance from their enemies because Israel worships God. But Asaph didn’t. He asked for deliverance so that God would be praised by their enemies and that they would come to know God.

In the same way, we need to be a light in this world that would bring others to glorify God. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “‘You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all that are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they might see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Israel was created to be a nation that would worship God, even when the nations around them didn’t.  Through this, they had an opportunity to spread the truth about God.  Asaph knew this and wanted Israel’s light to shine before their enemies so that they would come to know God and glorify Him.  Similarly, we also are surrounded by people who do not know the truth about God.  We were called to be a light to the world so that we could spread the good news with others and to shine our light before the world so that God would be praised and that others around us would come to know God.

-Kaitlyn Hamilton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 35-36 and Psalm 83-84

Freewill and our Battles

Psalm 81-82 (and Job 33-34)

It’s no secret that life can be difficult, and we are always tempted to do things to our liking and understanding. Everyone has their own image set out in front of them, of what THEY think their life should look like. But God has a different image of our lives. Sure, it may be close to our perfect life, but God’s will and our will hold different opportunities, even if they are similar. 

Psalms 81-82 are called, The Call to Obedience, and a Plea for Righteous Judgement. (NLT)

Psalms 81:6-12

“I relieved his shoulder from the burden; His hands were freed from carrying the basket. You called out in distress, and I rescued you; I answered you from the thundercloud. I tested you at the Waters of Meribah.

Listen my people and I will admonish you. Israel, if you would only listen to me! There must not be a strange god among you; you must not bow down to a foreign god. I am the Lord your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. 

“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel did not obey me. So, I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own plans.

The people of Israel back in this time had chosen with their own free will to go against God’s commands and do what they desired at the time. This led to their pain and suffering that God would again bring them through as a lesson of his love and power. The truth is that his plan is all knowing, created with love and perfection. He knows every part of us from the hairs on our head to the tiny wrinkles of our skin. He knows who we are meant to be, even before we are born, but he lets us choose our own path. 

The purpose of this devotional is not to tell you that every path is going to be easy. The purpose is to show you that life is going to be hard, there are going to be valleys of trial and consequence, there will be mistakes. All those things are why free will exists. God gives us free will because he wants us to learn from our past and push for what he knows we are capable of. Because “People make choices and those choices have consequences, and if knowing my will were part of every human decision how would anything happen?” (From the movie, An Interview with God) This quote, and scripture are pointing out that to really reach our full potential we must go through rights and wrongs. We must make the decisions without knowing the result because those choices will bring us to our full potential. 

God says, “I gave them over to their STUBBORN HEARTS to follow THEIR OWN PLANS.” Our Father wants us to choose his way for us in our lives, but he will not force us to. This also does not mean he doesn’t care when we choose our own way. This simply means that he is going to watch and let you learn from your mistakes. He is going to let you fall because then he can pick you up and you will learn from the mistakes after. Learning from our mistakes are some of the greatest parts of our journey. They are the things that make us who we are, and who God intended us to be. 

-Hannah Eldred

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 33-34 and Psalm 81-82

God’s Face

Job 31-32 and Psalm 79-80

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Verses like these are famous. We’ve all heard them. They receive the bulk of our attention when reading Scripture. If you’re following a reading plan, though, you’ve probably come across some passages that are hard to swallow: “How long, LORD God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” (Psalm 80:4).

Today, Psalm 80 was on the reading plan. Some may look at Psalm 80 and see a passage about God’s anger, or God’s burning justice. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand these passages. But when I read Psalm 80 (and other passages like it), I don’t see an angry God– I see a hurting person placing their trust in the only One who can help them. 

Look at verses 3, 7, and 19. Did you notice they look almost identical? The author is using a phrase that his audience would know well: “make your face shine upon us.”  During the time of the Exodus, God gave a prayer of blessing directly to the high priest, Aaron, in Numbers 6:24-26: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” It’s clear that the author of Psalm 80 was remembering this famous blessing that God had given them (on a side note, verses 8-11 of Psalm 80 are also about the Exodus. The author was probably remembering all the good things God had done for Israel!).

But what does that mean? When I think about someone’s face “lighting up,” I think of someone smiling with favor and affection. Or maybe I think of Moses, who came down from the mountain, literally shining because he had been in the company of the God of the universe. When I think of God’s face shining down on us, I think of favor, company, and affection. God is looking upon us favorably. He is keeping us company. And he has affection for us. 

Let’s remember, alongside the author of Psalm 80, that things will not always go well for us. Life can be difficult sometimes. It’s not always clear why. But we have a God who has done incredible things in the past, and wants to keep working in our lives. Let’s pray “God, make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”

-Levi Salyers

Levi is a recent graduate of Atlanta Bible College, current pastoral intern, and last week he received his ministerial license from the Church of God Ministerial Association. Congratulations, Levi! Keep sharing God’s love and wisdom to the world in many ways! Thank you for writing for us today!

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 31-32 and Psalm 79-80

Is God Listening?

Job 27-28 and Psalm 75-77

For the first time in this blog’s 5 year history a very FORTUNATE miscommunication on my part has led us to not just ONE devotion writer today but TWO NEW devotion writers. So, no apologies from me…enjoy them both! It is my pleasure to bring to you two exceptional young men and their thoughts from God’s Word today.

From Elijah New – a high school student I recently had the privilege of meeting when he offered to help with a big job while everyone else was off enjoying a late night party at FUEL youth camp. And, with his internet out last night, he could have used it as an easy excuse to not send in a devotion, but instead he used his mom’s phone and got the job done. THANKS, Elijah!

“Then Job continued his discourse and said, ‘As God lives, who has taken away my right, And the Almighty who has embittered my soul. For as long as life is in me, And the breath of God is in my nostrils, My lips certainly will not speak unjustly, Nor will my tongue mutter deceit. Far be it from me that I should declare you right, Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go. My heart does not reproach any of my days.” Job 27:1-6 NASB

When I read this it didn’t take long for me to see how strong Job’s faith was. And I think we need to look at this as an example of what our faith should be. In Matthew 17:20 it talks about if you have faith the size of a mustard seed then you can move mountains. Imagine being able to put all of your trust into something or someone. Because that‘s what we see here with Job. He didn’t know why he was being tested but he still held firm in his faith. Just like we should through the good and the bad.

-Elijah New

AND – from Mason Kiel, an impressive college student whom I have had the pleasure of watching grow spiritually over the years. Thank you Mason for taking on the job with short notice on one of your last and few truly summer days.

Today’s passage reflects on the chapters of Psalm 75-77 and Job chapters 27-28. Each of these Psalms are written as musical poetry, for the purpose of exalting or praising God. Diving straight into the word of God we can see that Psalm 75 is about the power of God, his strength and majesty unquestionable.

“We praise you, for your Name is near; People tell of your wonderful deeds. You say, ‘I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge with equity. When the earth and all it’s people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm. To the arrogant I say, ‘Boast no more,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horns. Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak so defiantly.’’” Psalm 75:1-5

Psalm 76 is about how God brings down those who attack him and lifts those who praise him. We can read of the rightful power God has to judge us with when in Psalm 76:4 it begins:

“You are radiant with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game. The valiant lie plundered; they sleep their last sleep; not one of the warriors can lift his hands. At your rebuke, God of Jacob, both horse and chariot lie still. It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet— when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; let all the neighboring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared. He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth.” Psalm 76:4-12

We can see that God delivers to those what they deserve and loves those who fearfully worship him.

The final passage is that of Psalm 77. In this chapter, the song is calling to God in distress and questioning His presence. I encourage you to read the whole Psalm for yourself, but these few verses below relate so well to the story of Job.

“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Psalm 77:7-9

The story of Job is perhaps perfectly mirrored by these several Psalms. The first point being that God is all powerful. The second is that regardless of what we believe, God is in complete and total control. Lastly, when we call to God, and it feels like He isn’t there or isn’t listening, remember that He is. Even when Job was diseased, alone, and poor beyond belief, he had faith in God and God ultimately gifted him greater than ever before. The next time it feels like God isn’t listening, remember to trust in Him regardless, give Him praise and sing Him Psalms, and He will bless you!

-Mason Kiel

Thank you God for sending both Elijah and Mason to SeekGrowLove today! It is exciting to see such quality young people digging into Your Word, sharing Your truth and wisdom and serving the Body of Christ in new and often challenging ways. Help us be a light reflecting You today while showing complete faith in You. May we seek You always.

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 27-28 and Psalm 75-77

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