2022 Seek Grow Love

Bible Reading Plan

We are happy to announce a NEW Bible reading plan for SeekGrowLove readers in 2022!

We are going to intentionally slow down and each day focus on just ONE Bible chapter. Through the year we will cover every chapter of the New Testament (reading one gospel in each season) and 105 chapters highlighting the best of the Old Testament, with at least one chapter from each of the books. Much thanks to Bob Jones, Old Testament instructor at Atlanta Bible College, for his invaluable help in selecting the Old Testament chapters we have included.

Print and share the printable reading plan attached below.  Since we are intentionally slowing down and focusing on just one chapter a day it is a great time for new readers (individuals, families, youth groups, Sunday School classes, etc…).  Readers will receive daily email devotions based on that day’s Bible chapter if they sign up as a subscriber at https://seekgrowlove.com/. Seek Grow Love can also be found and liked on facebook to read the devotions there.

An addition this year will be reflection and discussion questions at the end of every devotion which will help us further connect to God and His Scriptures on a personal level. Working through these questions can be very useful for personal contemplation or journaling. Also, they may be used within a mentor relationship or amongst accountability partners. Pray about who God may be prompting you to invite on a journey with you into His Word and His heart. And do you have kids at home – or church kids on your heart? With one chapter a day and discussion questions that can be used during family devotions or by a young person working through God’s word, this is a great opportunity to challenge yourself, your family, your youth class, your accountability partner to SeekGrowLove!

The Real Love Chapter

1 John 4

This chapter starts out with an admonition to “test the spirits to see whether they are of God.” Not every teaching or spirit is true. There is a very important test which can be used to know if a spirit is from God, or not. “By this you know the spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (4:2).  The test does NOT say:

  • that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and yet is fully God
  • that God has come in the flesh as Jesus Christ, taking on a human nature
  • that Jesus Christ came from some pre-existent state into the flesh.

We must be very careful to read the text for what it says and not read into it what it doesn’t say! The phrase “come in the flesh” means that Jesus the Christ (Messiah) is a real human being, not just dressed up like one.

1 John 4 is actually the “love chapter” in the Bible as love is mentioned 26 times, almost three times as many times as in 1 Corinthians 13 (9 times). A friend once read this chapter as a devotional thought on Valentine’s Day, and it stuck with me as the “love chapter.” So much so that when I read it last February 14th, I thought that maybe the children’s song could also go “Yes, God loves me, yes, God loves me… the Bible tells me so.”  Ultimately, it’s God’s love that ignites our love for others through His Son, Jesus the Messiah. A key verse that summarizes this chapter of love showing how love is of God is verse 9.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to bethe propitiation for our sins.”

God took the initiative, motivated by love, to remedy our sin problem.

Knowing that “God is love” (4:8,16) should motivate us to love others. But the author is not calling for a hippie kind of “All you need is love, love”. He is admonishing us to a love of other “brothers” who believe that Jesus, the human Jesus, is the Messiah/Christ (5:1). This admonition to love is a call for unity among like-minded believers, because they are family as the children of God. The way we love other like-minded believers whom we can see demonstrates how much we love God, whom we can’t see. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (4:21).

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (4:7)

Bill & Stephanie Schlegel

(Originally posted for SeekGrowLove on Sept 17, 2019 – good enough to share again! Thank you Bill and Stephanie.)

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan chapters at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 5-6 and 1 John 4

Coming with the Clouds of Heaven

Daniel 7

     Some words can get you in trouble.  Some words can get you beat up.  Others, in the right situation, can even get you killed!  You might be surprised to know that merely quoting some words from Daniel chapter 7 once got someone killed. How?  When?  It was only a few hours before Jesus’ death on the cross.  Jesus was being examined before the high priest.  They were attempting to find some guilt in Jesus.  They wanted a reason to condemn Him.  Finally, in Matthew 26:63, the high priest demanded of Jesus, “…tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God…”  Jesus answered, “…you have said it yourself; nevertheless, I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven….”  Essentially, Jesus confirmed that He was the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of Man described in the book of Daniel chapter 7.  As a result of this confession, the high priest concluded in Matthew 26:66, “He deserves death!”  So, as I said, the words of Daniel 7 can get you in trouble.  For the words of Daniel 7 are still revolutionary and they still challenge the current world order.  They are dangerous and threatening words for those who would defy the will of God.

     Jesus, as He appeared before the high priest, quoted in part from Daniel 7:13: “….and behold with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming…..”  Daniel 7:14 continues to describe the Son of Man, “…and to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”   The early Christians thought this was an important verse.  It was directly quoted or referenced several times in the New Testament (Revelation 1:7, Matthew 24:30).  Even before the birth of Jesus, Daniel 7 was thought to be a prophecy of the coming Messiah.   Jesus even used the term “Son of Man” to speak about Himself throughout the Gospels.  Daniel chapter 7 describes a series of empires that will rise and fall.  Some of what Daniel described is now history for us.  However, there is yet to arise another terrifying empire in the time of the end.  This is the empire which the Son of Man will vanquish at His second coming in glory.  Even the mightiest of empires will fail, but the kingdom of God and of His Messiah will stand forever.  

As we enter this Advent season, we see Daniel 7 as evidence that God keeps His promises.  Jesus was born.  He lived.  He taught us the good word of God.  He died for our sins.  He was raised to immortality.  He sits at God’s right hand. He is coming again to reward those who believe in Him and to punish the wicked.

-Scott Deane

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Daniel 7 & 8 and Psalm 145-147

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

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

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

%d bloggers like this: