Hello, IT. Yeah Huh. Have You Tried Forcing An Unexpected Reboot?

Ezra 1-3

The book of Ezra picks up the story of Israel at a very important moment: the return from exile. The Persians swoop in and conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC. The persian King, Cyrus the Great, acknowledging God for giving him the kingdoms of the earth, issues a proclamation that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. The Jews who were taken captive and exiled in Babylon are allowed to return to the land they call home and help rebuild the temple. We’re reminded of the Exodus, when God’s people were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh.

For an ancient king, Cyrus seems to be especially respectful of the customs and religions of his subjects. It turns out that this is in a way beneficial for him, since allowing your subjects freedom of religion and not enslaving them earns you so much more support and makes for a more stable empire. He was a bit of a trend setter in this regard.

Cyrus is reversing what Nebuchadnezzar set in motion. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took the temple vessels, and scattered the people into exile. Cyrus has conquered Babylon, allowed everyone to go back to where they call home, given back the temple vessels, and ordered the temple rebuilt. But really it is God doing the exiling and reversing, through the hands of these kings, to give his people another chance.

Ezra 2 gives an extensive list of the wave of 50,000 some people who returned to Judah, and details the livestock, if you were dying to know. We usually think this kind of passage is a bit of a drag, but it’s really more of a celebration, with more confetti at every name and number. Think of the importance they placed on leadership, and the legacy and roles of the people mentioned. Each of these people are going back to wherever they call home, where they have deep roots and history. Each of them has something unique to contribute toward rebuilding their lives, and they’ll need the skills and resources of everyone to restore Jerusalem and the temple.

Similarly, in the body of Christ, we need the unique skills and gifts everyone brings to the table. We all play an important role in taking care of each other and reaching out into the world.

And so the project begins. First things first! They make sure there is at least an altar and that the usual schedule of sacrifices is back on track. They are trying to build a continuity between what their lives were like before the exile and what they are like now after the exile. Being able to worship again is a stepping stone toward restoration. Routines are important!

Into the second year after returning to Jerusalem, the materials and workers are all being gathered to get the temple together again. When the foundation is laid, there is a big ceremony with music and singing to God. They sing, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” Things are looking up. We’ve got the people, the temple foundation, and some semblance of our usual worship.

But there is something in the air that signals to us that not everything is quite right again. While many people are shouting loudly for joy, many of the older folks who saw the first temple are weeping loudly. It is bittersweet. It is good that there is now at least part of a temple, yet it doesn’t hold a candle to what it was before.

We end chapter 3 with this very divided response to the temple. The noise is so loud that they can’t tell who is joyful and who is sorrowful. They’ve been waiting so many years just for this chance to rebuild, and now it’s not even clear if it is a good thing or not. 

But restoration is a process. Most things that we want, we can get almost instantly. I can drive to the store and get ice cream. I can order something from Amazon almost without moving a muscle, and it will arrive in two days. Way in the future, in the year 2000, we’ll just think of what we need, and it will materialize in our teleportation device. But doing something of significance takes time, effort, prayer, and also probably money. And so does rebuilding Jerusalem. It is tempting to compare back to what things used to be like (the “good old days”) and be discouraged. What we might be missing is that God’s plans and ideas usually break our categories for what we think is even possible.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on BibleGateway here – Ezra 1-3

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezra 4-6 and Psalm 137 as we continue on our

A Messenger Reveals The End

Daniel 10-12

We’re now in the 3rd year of the Persian king Cyrus’s reign, after he has allowed the exiled in Babylon to go home. But it’s not clear if Daniel is hanging around to work in the Persian court somewhere or if he has gone home too. Maybe, he figures, what’s the use of going home if the restoration of his people is going to take 7 times longer than anyone thought. If I were him, I’d also be struggling to find some hope if angels keep dropping by in my dreams and giving me mostly horrible news about the future.

This is likely weighing heavily on Daniel’s tired heart as he is mourning and doing extended fasting. You don’t normally hear about people today fasting to hear a word from God, but it’s one of those ancient tried and true methods to use when you really mean business and something has to give. 

It works well for Daniel here because he receives another vision. He’s by the river and sees an angel that is described with language stolen right from Ezekiel. And the Bible is weird, because it sounds like this angel (Gabriel?) has been in an ongoing battle with a prince (angelic representative?) of Persia. And the angel Michael is there fighting in Gabriel’s place so he could come tell Daniel something very important. If I am understanding this correctly, this means angels engage in extended tag team octagon fighting on behalf of the kingdoms they represent, as if the balance of history depends on it in some way.

What follows in chapter 11 is an insanely detailed prophecy given to Daniel about the Persians and Greeks, leading up to our old friend, Antiochus IV, and his typical shenanigans. It is basically a much more detailed version of chapter 8 (remember the ram, goat, and the horns?), and we have the theme from chapters 2 and 7 about the sequence of kingdoms knitted into it. Not being an expert in history, and not wanting to overload too badly, I’ll keep this very high-level. 

I mentioned Alexander yesterday, who is our “warrior king” in 11:3, or the Greeks taking over the Persians. Alexander dies and his kingdom is split up among four generals. We eventually end up with the Ptolemies of the south (Egypt) and Seleucids of the north (Syria/Mesopotamia), who plague each other with failed alliances, invasions, deception, betrayal, assassinations, and the like. By verse 21, Antiochus (of the north) is on the scene, and by verse 30 we see him start his persecution of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple. By the end of chapter 11, we see his end.

Again, we are interested in patterns more than precise timelines. The north and south had been going back and forth with their conflicts but keeping each other in check. Antiochus comes on the scene and breaks the mold, crosses the line, and does what nobody before him does. And once he upsets the balance and asserts himself as a god, the true God brings an end to him. It’s the arrogant made humble again, like we’ve seen several times before in the book of Daniel.

But what of hope? What’s the point of this endless political drama and transfer of power? The messenger explains that at that point of deep anguish brought in by the king of the north, the people of God will be delivered. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” And the wise are said to have some kind of special reward. If we believe in a God of justice and restoration, the end game has to be that God, being the faithful God that he is, will make all things right, even by raising his “sleeping” faithful to life.

Surely the original audience of Daniel would be familiar with the dry bones of Ezekiel coming alive and how it symbolized the return from exile, since the ideas of exile and death in the Jewish mind are interlocked. But technically, when this new revelation is being given to Daniel, the people have already gone home, although their full restoration has yet to be seen. So is Daniel 12 metaphorically about the coming restoration of God’s people, or about an actual bodily resurrection? I think both are in play. This isn’t the New Testament yet, so nobody is really talking about resurrection as we know it. The Old Testament hints at something like resurrection maybe a few times before Daniel. This passage goes further than others in the Old Testament; it’s hard to deny or explain away the element of bodily resurrection. Still, by the time of Jesus, not all the Jews are sold on it. The Pharisees believe in a resurrection, but the Sadducees do not.

A quick word about verses 5-12, which seem to break the flow a little. It prompts us to remember 8:13 when one angel asks the other how long the “transgression that makes desolate” will be. In scope is the last of the 70 weeks described in chapter 9, but now we have another “How long” question: “How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” To summarize, it cryptically lays out two periods of 3½ years, before and after the people are essentially banned from worshiping. Interpreters struggle with making much sense of the differing numbers in verses 11-12, and I am happy to join them.

I’ve been suggesting how some of these prophecies have had a fulfillment in historical events moving up into the second century B.C. because I think it fits well, but hopefully I have also left the door open for you to envision other ways these patterns have been fulfilled, and even how they are yet to be fulfilled. Part of the joy of the book of Daniel is that it keeps inviting you to interpret. Sometimes it will hand you the interpretation, and sometimes you’ll have to chew on it. Making sense of the book of Daniel (and the rest of scripture) became an important pastime for God’s people, and it is no wonder why. It can provide us wisdom, encouragement, and hope while surviving in our Babylons, or enduring very tough times that never seem to end.

We are in a strange time in our world where I think all of us are asking every day, “How long is this mess going to keep going? When can things be back to normal?” It will probably take much longer than we had wanted or expected. And whether it is good or bad, we’ll probably never go back to what we thought of as normal. But the wise and faithful can enjoy the hope of a time of restoration and resurrection, in a kingdom that has no end, under the rulership of the true God who has finally set everything right.

Thank you so much for studying Daniel with me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 10-12

Tomorrow we will begin the book of Ezra (chapters 1-3) as we continue on our journey through God’s Word using the

I believe, I believe

strengthened in his faith.png

Yet he (Abraham) did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

–Romans 4:20-21

There is a line in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” that I find myself playing repeatedly in my thoughts whenever I become discouraged or tempted to completely forsake any number of particular dreams I have. Little Suzy had finally come to believe that Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus and she dared to ask him for the biggest thing she could imagine, a house for her and her mother to live in; complete with a big tree in the backyard from which a swing hung. Christmas day had come and was just about over, when she finds herself sitting in the back seat of the car with her mother and Mr. Gailey, Santa’s lawyer. As they drive through a quaint subdivision, little Suzy says over and over, “I believe, I believe; it’s silly, but I believe”, with so little enthusiasm that the movie-goer can practically feel the hope drain out of her heart. With one last gigantic sigh, Suzy looks up and out the window to see the exact house that she had asked Santa for. All of a sudden her downtrodden countenance becomes full of life!

Now please don’t mistake my comparison of Santa Claus to the Almighty, but I do think that God instills in each one of us really big hopes and dreams that He alone can execute. In today’s scripture, the apostle Paul is encouraging the Roman believers by reminding them of how big God is and how there is nothing that will prevent God from fulfilling a promise that He makes to those who call Him Father. Abraham and Sarah’s situation was laughable when put next to the promise that God had made them – but the soon to be father of many nations “strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”.

How about you? Is there a call, purpose, dream, vision that you completely believe came from God and you have no idea how he’s going to get it done considering your present circumstances? I have several and I have my days when I look up to the sky and ask God, “Were you really serious about this because I don’t see it happening.”  The reasons for any delay are as varied as the number of hairs on your head, but that doesn’t mean that God has forgotten. He’s waiting for the perfect time to bring your dream into fruition.

In the meantime, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your hope alive and it starts with diving into His Word daily. The more you immerse yourself into what God has already done, the easier it will be for you to state, “I believe, I believe, God loves me, and I believe.”

Dear Friend, God sees you, He hears you, and He’s making something beautiful of your life! So be encouraged and remember to give Him Glory.

Bethany Ligon

 

Daily Diving Into His Word!  Indeed, a great way to keep your hope alive in 2020.  A great way to help you SEEK God and His kingdom First (not with your left-overs).   A great way to strengthen and GROW your faith.   A great way to motivate you to LOVE God and others.  SeekGrowLove – it’s our new blog name and we are gearing up to jump into 2020 with daily devotions based on a chronological reading of the Bible in a year.  Later today the reading plan will be available to print from the SeekGrowLove.com site.  Print it and share it with your friends, family, and church group.  Help them SeekGrowLove, too!  Follow the site to receive daily devotion emails based on your reading for the day.  The plan starts January 1 with Genesis 1-3.  I can’t wait to see how God is going to reveal Himself and work with His children as we read through His Word in 2020 and sharpen our SeekGrowLove skills. 

Praying for your journey, 

Marcia Railton, editor

Cleaning Up

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:8

Matthew 5 8

I’m going to start this by stating very plainly that I’m normally a super hygienic person but there are some times in life when showering just is not an option. We all know that feeling like your skin has an extra layer of grime and you just feel nasty.

I remember one of those times when I felt particularly gross and grimy was after my first backpacking trip. I hiked 4 peaks and climbed something close to 12,000 vertical feet with a 45 lb backpack and the temperature was in the mid 80’s. Luckily the trip was only two days and I really only missed one shower. Needless to say by the time I reached the parking lot at the end of the trip I was feeling pretty dirty. The natural thing to do is to go take a shower and clean ourselves up. Right when we get dirty we wash it off. This way we won’t royally offend people’s nostrils with our B.O.

It’s easy to realize when we’re physically dirty. We can literally feel the grime and (hopefully like myself) try to maintain good hygiene. Sometimes the thing that we fail to recognize is the condition of the heart. We allow our hearts to want, wish, and hope for things that it shouldn’t be hoping for. In our day to day lives it is easy to let the world distract us. Some of the things that we desire aren’t bad things at all and may even have godly results. In essence we can let the world contaminate our hearts or desires to become skewed.

I believe that the life God wants us to live is really just an outpouring from our hearts. Our actions are an indication of the condition of our hearts whether this causes godly or worldly behavior.

How then are we supposed to cleanse a heart when it gets dirty and we allow things in that shouldn’t be there? The answer is pretty easy. We need to ask God to purify it but we also have to put in personal effort. We obviously have to want to have it clean – that means asking God for help in submitting our hearts and minds to focus on Him. Also, not allowing ourselves to focus on things we shouldn’t. The thoughts you allow yourself to dwell on will eventually be imprinted on your heart. Think of your mind as the arena where battle for your heart and life is won and lost.

James 4.8 tells us “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded.” The truth here is that the double-minded do need to have their hearts cleansed. This is exactly what happens when our hearts become contaminated. We need to be singularly focused on God.

The best way I have found to do this is just praying two phrases as often as needed throughout the day. “Lord, I give you all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength. Help me stay focused on you.” Feel free to change the phrasing to suit you but I think praying a prayer like this will go a long way helping you stay focused on God.

So all this talk so far and we haven’t even gotten to our beatitude. Consider everything before this the pre-requisite for the beatitude. Today’s beatitude is Matthew 5.8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Of all the beatitudes and really all the promises of God there isn’t another which I want to be realized in my life so badly. For a Christian I don’t think there is a reward higher than this. I think that the greatest of all human desires is “to know and be fully known.” Obviously one aspect of that is already completed by God. We are already fully known by God. He knows our minds and our hearts. We, though, don’t fully know God. I don’t know if we ever will but I want to know all that I can. On this earth we do all we can to know him. We pray, read scripture, look to see his glory in nature and we catch glimpses of him in all these things but it isn’t seeing him. It is not viewing him on his throne in real life. I feel like we only get to see God’s social media account and we never get to see him in person. Except God’s social media doesn’t come close to the majesty and beauty that he actually has. I don’t think our physical bodies could handle beholding a holy God in all his beauty and magnificence.

This is why we need to keep our hearts pure. So that one day we could see God for all that he is.

Daniel Wall

Can the Entitlement – Serve Some Mercy Instead

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:7

Matt 5 7 nasb

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and got to spend time with family and friends. I know in larger families it can be a real battle for food! I hope everyone got plenty turkey and their favorite side dish.

Yesterday we all celebrated what we were thankful for and it is super appropriate for today’s beatitude that we have this thankfulness in mind. It is amazing how easy it is for me to forget how good God has been to me. One day, like yesterday. I can dwell on God’s sacrifice of his son for all my sins and how he suffered through all my rebellion. He can get over all the times that I have hurt him via my sin in our relationship. He steadily pursues us and extends us grace for actions that no human being would ever forgive. He has ALWAYS taken me back when I came back from being a prodigal. He has never given up on me despite my poor character and my inabilities. He continually sees a value in me that I don’t see in myself. He has given me family, friends and relationships that I completely do not deserve. The older I get the more I see how messed up I really am just as a human being and God’s mercy behind it. The amazing thing is he still sees value in me and adopts me as his child. He still extends mercy and grace to me in spite of it all.

Sometimes I think that just saying “God is good” or worse yet using the cliché “God is good, All the time” doesn’t do any justice or come anywhere near to expressing exactly how good God is. It feels like all words and vocabulary fail to fully express all God has done. Maybe that is why all we‘re left with is “God is good”.

The crazy thing is that his mercies really are new every morning (Lamentations 3.22-23). Everyday I wake up and breathe; God supplies the air (Isaiah 42.5). He supplies us everything that we have. Our jobs, houses, cars, cell phone, internet, toys, entertainment, the plants, the trees, the turkey – it all belongs to him. He made it, he created it, therefore it is all his. We often forget that we are in somebody else’s house and nothing here actually belongs to us. It’s frankly embarrassing the entitlement and lack of gratefulness that I allow in my life. If there was a way to keep all this in our brains 24/7 we would be the happiest people alive. We should be the happiest people alive.

Our beatitude for today is Matthew 5.7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

I already feel like I have received the mercy that is promised here. Sometimes I am amazed at how good we have it in this life. Still I let my gratefulness get drowned out by a sense of entitlement towards God. When in reality he owes me absolutely nothing and everything that he has already given me is far more than I can repay.

Given all that I just talked about and how merciful God has been to us, I think we should extend that to others. If we live with this knowledge imprinted on our hearts it should actually be easy. There really is a redemptive quality to God’s love that allows us to forgive others. To show them grace when they absolutely don’t deserve it. We don’t have to be concerned about righteousness when we show mercy to those around us because we know that God has forgiven us for far more than anything a person could have done to us.

It’s this principle that I believe is our light to the world. We show mercy to those who don’t deserve mercy and love those who don’t love us because there is one who loves us far more. So, let’s have this attitude of gratefulness and let it overflow from our hearts to those around us. Forgiving and loving others the way that God has for us.

Daniel Wall

Hungry!

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:6

Matthew 5 6

As I sit here in a coffee shop the day before Thanksgiving I am currently starving. I made an apple pie this morning and this may be the reason the normal ‘breakfast, no lunch, straight into dinner’ game plan has not satisfied my hunger. This is very fitting for our beatitude of the day and tomorrow being Thanksgiving day. So here it is Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are the those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” Ok, so a moment of honesty, I love this one too. But let’s be real the beatitudes are like bacon and how can you not love bacon.  

I don’t know about you but Thanksgiving at my house has two hunger conditions. I’m either starving or completely stuffed from all the food that I just ate. I have a small family. Thanksgiving dinner is normally an ordeal to put together and I generally end up in the kitchen for a good part of the day. It’s actually pretty amazing how a person can be around so much food all day in the kitchen and still be starving. I feel like Thanksgiving is one of the few days where people actually look forward to the dinner they are preparing and try to make sure they are really hunger for it. The normal routine of eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner even if we aren’t quite hungry doesn’t apply on thanksgiving. One thing that I can say after all that cooking and putting together a good meal, I am normally pretty satisfied. I am happy with the job that I did cooking and I‘m also happy because I had my fill of good food.

I think that the satisfaction that is promised in this beatitude is deeper than our after Thanksgiving dinner satisfaction. First, we should look at what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I want to challenge the way you view righteousness. I don’t believe that righteousness is abstaining from the things that we need to abstain from and do the things we are supposed to be doing. Jesus wasn’t giving a checklist in the beatitudes but he was giving us attitudes and a way of life that we should adopt.

Jesus had a lot of confrontations with the Pharisees and in Matthew 23 he addresses the righteousness of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were righteous in that they checked the boxes but they lacked the true elements of righteousness like mercy, grace, godliness and love. When I view doing what is right I see it as loving people and God with discernment. The rules that God gives us are obviously important but the attitudes of our hearts he wants us to adopt are just as important  to righteousness. I think that we practice righteousness when we try to live by God’s rules and laws and practice mercy, grace and love.

I said earlier that the satisfaction promised here is deeper than our Thanksgiving dinner satisfaction. I think Isaiah 55.1-3 shows this. Here God is saying come, eat and be full. He is offering food and water to those who don’t have money. In verse 2 he is saying we labor for things that don’t satisfy like being ungodly or looking for fulfillment in things other than him. He then tells us to listen to him and delight in the rich food that he has given us. Verse 3 says “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Verse 3 shows us that when we come to God, listen to him and obey his commandments that our souls will live. Besides serving God my goal in life is that my soul would live.

Godliness and living a Christ like life where not only am I sinless but I have adopted God’s heart for him and others is what I think this beatitude is saying we should be hungering and thirsting for. The result of this though is that we would be truly satisfied and have souls that truly live. So as we think about the physical hunger we have to consider what we should really be hungering for and when you are satisfied after that Thanksgiving meal think about the satisfaction that God has promised us when we live righteously.

Have a great Thanksgiving!!!

Daniel Wall

Counter Cultural

Matthew 5 5 NIV

For those of you who drive, have you ever been in the left hand lane on the highway and you have someone in front of you who is driving just slightly slower than you want to? For those of you who don’t drive yet you can imagine the classic slow walker in your school. It can get pretty infuriating the longer the ordeal goes on. Well, when you really look at what is going on here … it’s not that going that extra 5 mph for that 5 minutes is really going to save you that much time. Let’s be honest, most of us would be embarrassed to the fullest extent if our social media usage was published for all the public to see. None of us are missing that sixty seconds to a few minutes. The real thing going on here is a heart issue. That person in front of you is infringing on your freedom to do what you want to do. That is why those sorts of ordeals are so annoying and so infuriating. I for one really enjoy freedom and independence. I feel like I need to insert a ‘Merica here. 

Well today we are dealing with the opposite of this attitude. Matthew 5.5 tells us “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Sorry for setting up everyone but you should have seen this coming.

I think we all have heard that “Meekness isn’t weakness” by now. So, I’m not going to baby bird you guys things you have already heard. 

I am absolutely in love with this beatitude and the thought behind it. We all live in the boss babe and power-hungry world that teaches that you need to take what you deserve. You need to walk tall and make sure that no one fronts on you or pushes you around. This beatitude is possibly the most counter cultural of all the beatitudes and I freaking love it!!!

The thing that really gets me about this beatitude is the reward for meekness is the exact opposite of what you would receive in this world for displaying meekness. Right?! How far do you think that you would get in your high school or middle school or corporate job by being meek? It is so rare that a meek person wins in our society. Yet our King in this passage is telling us that we will be happy and we will inherit the earth when we are meek. The very attitude that will get us nothing in this world, in the age  to come will get us the whole earth. 

This idea is modeled for us in perfection by Jesus. Jesus came as a servant in complete subjection to his Father. He walked this earth humbly, not trying to impose upon others but instead he trusted in God’s faithfulness. The scene that really enforces this idea for me is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the way to his crucifixion.  He didn’t enter Jerusalem on a beautiful glamorous horse wearing royal robes with a crown on his head looking like a king. He entered Jerusalem seated on a donkey in normal clothes. This is the city that he will eventually rule over and he came into it humbly and submitted himself meekly to the will of the Father that sent him to the cross. The times where Jesus was the most aggressive were the times where his honor wasn’t damaged. Rather the times he was the most aggressive were the times he was fighting for God’s honor. (I.e. The flipping of tables in the temple and his interactions with the pharisees). 1 Peter 2.23 says “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” This verse perfectly exemplifies our savior lived meekly on this earth yet he was resurrected to be king over all the earth.

So let’s live meekly, serving those around us knowing that in the kingdom coming we will inherit. Knowing that we are trusting God to fight for what we deserve. 

Dan Wall

Seeing Beyond the Tears

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:4

Matthew 5 4 NIV.png

Today’s beatitude is like a living enigma in my mind and without a living God makes absolutely no sense. Matthew 5.4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The word mourn can also mean sadness.  Let’s attempt to read in our definition of blessed from yesterday. Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted. The idea that I am happy when I am mourning is a real problem in my head. I don’t know about yours.

Have you ever had a friend who was out to accomplish something great and they finally accomplish it? Through this whole process you are proud of them for suffering and enduring and getting to the other side. It is awesome to see your friends succeed. It’s great when you get to celebrate those events and successes with them.

Now when they are hurting and in the middle of this great struggle it is really hard. Sometimes in the middle of life you don’t see how it is going to work out well for you and all you know is that your soul hurts and you don’t see any reprieve. Yet when someone else is going through one of those times it is so easy to see the end for them. When someone else is trying to go through a hard time or is pushing through a hard time it is simple for us to say, “It will all be worth it” or, “You will get through this.”

The reason why it can be easy for us to say those things is we are seeing the end for our friends. Outside of that pain, suffering and sadness we are able to see clearly that it will all be alright or what they are going through will at least be worth it. Sadness, pain and suffering can distort our view and cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture and our hope.

To be completely honest… you will suffer in this life. If you live as a Christian you will probably suffer more. There will be plenty of mourning and sadness.  Sorry guys.

The thing I cling to and the thing that allows people to get through extraordinarily challenging things and accomplish great things is they cling to hope and draw near to God. I will say it again. They cling to HOPE and draw near to GOD.

I believe that God will comfort us in the here and now when we pray for it. Sometimes, however, I can pray and still feel empty and sad. So, what do we do then? How do you continue on?

2 Corinthians 4.17-18 says “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

We aren’t living for this world. We are living for a world that we cannot see yet. We suffer through things that we don’t fully understand. The implication of what we are living for is a kingdom that hasn’t yet come. There is no suffering in vain as long as you are walking with God through it. The reason our mourning and sadness makes us blessed is because it isn’t for nothing.  I know one day God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no mourning and sadness and we will get to see God in all his glory face to face (Rev. 21.4).

I find my comfort in those things when this world has left me mourning. Don’t let the pain and suffering you are going through distract you from the great comfort you have hope in.

It will all be worth it.

Dan Wall

Poor in Spirit

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3

Matthew 5 3 niv

Having just finished Revelation I thought it would be beneficial to revisit Jesus’ teaching for the next six days. There really is no better place to do this than the Sermon on the Mount. In my opinion this is the most important teaching that Jesus gave us. We will be expanding on six of these beatitudes over the course of the next week. Hopefully, a beatitude a day will keep the doctor away and make us spiritually healthy. And yes, my corniness knows no bounds.

So today let’s explore the first beatitude found in Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s start with this first word “Blessed”. What does blessed actually mean? The debate over this topic is varied but I think we can generally assume it simply means happy. I don’t think it means momentary happiness. I believe what Jesus is aiming at here is long term, lasting happiness, the kind of happiness where you know all you are doing and being is worth it.

Now, for the command “poor in spirit”. For the longest time, like longer than a decade, this phrase left me confused. I have talked to all sorts of different pastors and people seeking an explanation but always walked away unsatisfied. I was left feeling like their definition was somehow incomplete. Finally, I heard it defined as spiritual brokenness and this finally made sense. But what does that really mean, right? This story may help.

When I was twenty years old my sister and I swapped vehicles because I was doing a lot of driving and had a truck with terrible gas mileage. My little sister wasn’t driving a lot and she wanted to drive my truck because well, it was really awesome. It was jacked up with a wicked exhaust system. Basically, it was every teenage boy/country girl’s dream truck. One super early Saturday morning my dad woke me up saying “There is something wrong with your truck” and hands me his cell phone with my sister on the line. He then left the room and probably went back to bed.

Much to my surprise on the other end was my now “frantic and scared for her life” sister. She explained to me how the truck had just stopped moving. Even though the engine was still running. Now this probably wouldn’t have been an issue if it was a normal situation but it wasn’t. The truck broke down during the middle of morning traffic on one of the few bridges that stretches for miles across the Hudson River with no shoulder or pull off at all. Even this would have been fine if it had been bumper to bumper traffic which is typical in New York City but it wasn’t. Traffic was moving well, really well actually and cars were flying past her at 60+ mph. She was stuck in the right hand lane of traffic literally praying to God that they would miss the truck.

In this moment she was experiencing the hopelessness of my truck’s brokenness with danger coming fast directly behind her. It is the same way with spiritual brokenness. Without God we are spiritually broken and helpless. The honest truth is that we are in danger and that without God and Christ our “trucks” are not moving on the middle of a highway, that if we were to stay there – it would end in our deaths.

We adopt this attitude of being “poor in spirit” when we realize how much we need God, his son’s sacrifice and how broken we are without him. We acknowledge God’s holiness and that we don’t deserve his grace or his love. We realize there was/is nothing we can do to earn any of what he has done for us. This isn’t condemnation for the sake of making ourselves feel ashamed or worthless rather it is acknowledgement of how much we need him and all that he has done for us. You can look at your sin and say “I suck” or you can look at your sin and say “I have a great, merciful God who loves me more than I understand.”

This is summarized well in the quote “Those who feel their spiritual need.” by Goodspeed.

So, let’s adopt this attitude of brokenness and helplessness before God because not only will we be happy but we will also have the kingdom of God as well.

 

Dan Wall

Living Water

Revelation 22

Revelation 22 1 NIV

First off … Revelation 22 is so deep and glorious that I feel inadequate to even write a devotion about it.

The scene portrayed here as Pastor Jake talked about is the main point. This is what the  whole book of Revelation is pointing us to and even the entire  Bible.

The vision described  is magnificent and has a great implication on our lives in the here and now. Verses 1-2 point us to this river of life that is going through the middle of the thrones of God and Christ. Just imagine the throne of God on earth with his son seated next to him. Through the middle of these glorious, holy and spectacular thrones is a river flowing from it. The scripture says this river is bright like a crystal. Have you ever held a crystal in your hand? It’s a beautiful stone that has a certain awe-inspiring quality to it. Now, imagine a river with the same breath-taking quality flowing from the throne of God and Christ! When I imagine this scene, I see everything I hope for wrapped up before me. Imagining being in the presence of a holy God where I in my sinful flesh have no business being near and seeing this stream descending from them overwhelms my heart with gratefulness for the grace of God.

The river in this vision is feeding the Tree of Life. The same Tree of Life that we see in the beginning with Adam and Eve. The tree needs to be connected to this river simply to be alive. This tree is pretty crazy though because I don’t know about you but I have never seen a tree produce 12 different kinds of fruit. I have never even seen a tree produce two different kinds of fruit. There must be something special about this river that it has the capacity to produce twelve different kinds of fruit on one tree.

When we look at the tree and its fruit, we must conclude that without this river, this tree and its fruit would not exist.

When we examine our world today if a tree or plant doesn’t receive the water it needs it will die. There is even a great example of a plant dying from lack of water in my living room right now. It is a proven fact that trees need water.

In the same way so does the human soul. But not physical water, living water. The greatest mistake we can ever make in our lives is when we disconnect from this river that is flowing from God and Jesus. Sometimes we think that the busyness of our lives doesn’t allow us to spend time with God on a daily basis. We think that today I don’t have time to spend with or connect to the river or well that never runs dry. The tendency is to think that I can skip a day or a week and still be fine. We think “After all I’m still doing fine” and its only when we are hurting that we run to God.

We were made for so much more than just existing, though. We, like this tree, were made magnificently to produce multiple different kinds of fruit. I feel like personally I short change myself and my whole existence when I don’t go to the river and well to fill my soul. When we go to God or the river we can allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out by God. Then we start to produce in hearts and in souls this natural fruit  that can come from nowhere else but God. This fruit externally manifests itself in the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5.22-24).

In verses 3-5 it talks about how God will be the light of the world and there will no longer be need of lamps or a sun. God isn’t dwelling on the earth yet; instead, he is allowing us to be the lights in this world. The only way this happens in our lives is through this connection to living water. We simply cannot be the lights in this world without the connection to these waters of life.

So, I encourage you and I frankly am encouraging myself to stay connected to these waters and don’t let the days go by without connecting to God. When we do, we will become the people God created us to be with lives that shine lights reflecting the God we serve.

Daniel Wall