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

Tough Love

1 Corinthians 13

The simplest truth about human relationships is that if we just loved one another a bit more, we would have fewer problems.  I know, it is a bit cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Our focus would be consistently outward.  We would be ready to listen and meet the needs of others. God has made it pretty clear that the most hardened heart can soften by showing the quality that embodies who He is, yet it is a weapon we often leave unwelded.  We often list our harshness or judgements under the guise of “tough love”, and this may or may not be true on a case-by-case basis. However, we must stick closely to the prescribed path in 1 Corinthians 13.  It actually might be simpler to love “toughly”, but if you simply write people off, or find a way to punish them, or speak your mind without backing it up with the many other qualities listed here, you are a hollow box and a lot of noise.  What’s tough love, really tough love, is to love someone who isn’t concerned in the slightest with being like God at the moment, or even ever. Love never fails. So you must love. You absolutely must.  And your love must be like God’s love.  Below I reworded one of the most famous passages of scriptures (v.4-7) that coincides with our reading and, most likely, one of the last handful of weddings you attended.  My goal isn’t to add to the list, only to reword it to give it novelty in hopes to make it challenging or convicting instead of a rehearsal of familiar words.  If it helps tune your mind to God’s love, wonderful.  If it is a confusing mess, don’t read it.  My concern is that you know loving is tough, especially those whose actions betray your love.  That shouldn’t stop you.  But THAT is tough love.  And THAT is what God shows to each one of us on the daily.

For God to come in and change the “unlovable” (mind you, this can be and has been you), you must sit and listen. Listen to their problems and hear them say what they think, even if you don’t agree. You have to include them, share with them, and treat them with dignity, even if they are not concerned in the slightest about having any.  To love, you have to let others be great and cheer them on.  Sometimes this means the spotlight will come off of you, or you are treated as less important.  If you are loving, you’re not concerned with that, because in love, others come first.  Love holds back the insults, name-calling, and doesn’t attack a person made in the image of God.  True love can be shown without expecting anything in return and can be left unreciprocated.  On rare occasions, you can have angry love.  You can be mad at someone because they are doing some serious sin damage to others or even him/herself.  But you don’t start there.  You don’t live there.  You are truthful with someone, because lying is not loving.  But you retreat quickly from the fight, and fill the space with mercy, more patience, and more kindness.  That means love is forgiveness, and not holding grudges.  We can love those who have wronged us.  We can love those who have besmirched our reputation, injured our family through carelessness, or hate us because of our beliefs. We may know their wrong to us as a historical account, but not as an emotional one, and we thank God we have an opportunity to show love to them in such a way.  In fact, loving like God means that you would actually stand-up for this person who has done you the greatest harm.  Loving someone means that you are trusting without “but.” And that can be so hard. But trusting in God first and foremost allows you to do that.  Believe in people.  Never give up on people.  Much easier said than done. It’s tough. So tough. But don’t let it stop you from trying. Your efforts are to help others see God, and they will know His love because it has been extended to and shown through you.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 13

Crumbling Walls and Stumbling Blocks

Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8

It was just a week ago, at the close of summer school, when a student poignantly asked me if I had ever been a bully. Hmm.  My gut answer was immediately, “No.”  Well, at least I don’t think so.  Right?  Then he referenced a sheet of paper he read outside the door to my classroom that stated “Mr. Winner is a bully, but in a good way.”  Truth. I remember seeing this phrase as I freshly hung up papers from my former students to my incoming classes.  The forms they filled out were entitled “10 Things to Know about Mr. Winner’s Classroom.” While the more consistent items were “Mr. Winner will throw things at you,” or “Mr. Winner will make sure you won’t go hungry,” or “Mr. Winner really cares,” there were two people who listed “Mr. Winner is a bully” but with the comforting caveat “in a good way.”  I literally scratched my head as I tried to dissect the information in front of me for a moment.  Maybe I am a pusher? Or do I tease the students too much?  Or bully the bullies creating some ironic form of verbal justice? I didn’t come to a clear conclusion, but I reflected a bit more on my past and present.  I responded, “I think I’ve been a bully before, but I am doing my best not to be.”

Like all of us, I often think before I speak.  This happens significantly less at 36 than a half of a lifetime ago at 18, but my words can be quite cutting when my pride is wounded.  I have a rapier wit sharpened through the first-world sufferings of low self-esteem and some extra weight in high school (and at other points in my life too).  While some mighty say that my rebuttals to ridicule were simply justified self-defense, I know I have often lost control and engineered shock-and-awe offensive assaults.  At several points in my life, my tongue has been an unbridled mess (James 3).  While there is more restraint over words today, neither can I stop craving the attention they give, nor can I shake the overwhelming urge to be right.

Now out of the dark recesses of psyche and into today’s reading.  In the Old Testament (Nehemiah 3,4), we get a detailed look at the many groups who return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under the direction of Nehemiah.  They are faced with two named nemeses, Sanballat and Tobiah, who openly criticize what they deem as futile work.  In the New Testament (1 Corinthians 8) Paul deals with the issue of food, specifically food that isn’t deemed clean by the conditions of the Law, and speaks to the nuance between licensed actions and actions of the conscience.  Both beg the question of what our response should be when faced with open criticism to what we know is correct.

“Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at <Sanballat’s> side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones” – Nehemiah 4:3

“Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.  So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” – Nehemiah 4:4-6

It is easy to be distracted from an important purpose to respond to bullies who are critical because of their own malice, jealousy, or ignorant nay-saying.  If you are shaken by their words, then your next step should be to consult God through his Word and in prayer before continuing.  If he approves, then being despised by the right people can truly be a wonderful thing (James 1:2-4 — said by someone who also loves to be liked).  What arrows will find their mark if God is on your side? Let God handle the frustrations (v.15) and land the blows. Save your wit.  Hold your tongue. You won’t cross the finish line running your mouth; you must use your feet to run his race.  “Yes” and “no” are sufficient replies, (Matt 5:37), and it’s okay to be on your guard, (v.22), but you must continue your efforts to build His kingdom.

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9

But should we ever care about what others think?  Paul, inspired by God, says we MUST consider the feelings of our brothers and sisters in Christ (and those who we are speaking the words of God to).  Culture and maturity play roles in what is and what is not perceived as permissible. While we may have license or liberty to enjoy certain things, like dancing, indulgent foods, clothing trends, worship music styles, or maybe a glass of wine, not everyone is on the same page about all of these things.  You may very well have the scriptural support that gives you the greatest of freedoms, but if they are not requirements to be a follower of Jesus, they are discrections NOT worth causing a divide in the body of Christ.  You are not justified in bullying someone into your belief or preferences (again, if it is a permission and not prescription). In fact, Paul adds , “(12)When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” So being “right” by the law, but wrong by the heart is the most ironic form of sin. See: legalism.


Circling back, in the context of my classroom, I hope the words “bully in a good way” are just a lack of expression of some more positive quality that I possess that is a little more like Jesus and a little less like the man I am trying to flee from. However, in the context of our reading, being a bully, even if it is in a good way, doesn’t get a ringing endorsement.  God wants us to work diligently to fulfill his calling.  Some days it is as simple as denying ourselves a certain privilege for the sake of unity. Other days it can be a bit more difficult, carrying on big callings while being openly criticized and attacked.  In either instance, God wants others to see more of him and less of us as he works to rebuild the biggest of crumbling walls and remove the smallest stumbling blocks.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8

Peace and Building Up

Romans 14

So far this week, I’ve been focusing on the Old Testament reading, since fewer people are as familiar with the Old Testament, and there is a lot to learn from it.  But today, I’d like to point out something from Romans 14.

Romans 14 is written to “strong” Christians, and discussed the topic of doing things that may offend a brother (i.e. cause someone to stumble into sin).  Back in the day, apparently there were some who felt they shouldn’t eat meat, because it may have been sacrificed to an idol.  But since we know idols are nothing, it’s fine to eat meat, as long as we thank God for it.  But here comes the rub, in Romans 14:15, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”

It continues in Romans 14:19 by saying, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  And in Romans 14:21, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”

I share this because it hits me personally.  Years ago, we had someone in our church who thought it was a sin to drink wine.  I happened to drink wine (sparingly, but still…).  Somehow, it came up that I drank, and he came to me to point out my sin.  I was familiar with this passage, and others like it, and knew it wasn’t a sin to drink, but it’s a sin to get drunk.  Of course I thanked him for his concern and for pointing this out, while secretly I was scoffing.

But Beth, my late wife, pointed out 1 Corinthians 8:9, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”  In my arrogance, I was quick to point out that he was the weak one here, and I am the strong one.  That was irrelevant.  I was commanded to do things that lead to peace and to not put a stumbling block in front of the weak.  So, with Beth’s persistence, I was able to comply.

This points out a truth I’ve come to understand over the years.  Many times, we may recognize what God has to say, but we don’t necessarily want to do it.  In cases like these, I have found that it really helps to have an accountability partner to help hold us accountable, to do what God demands, even if we don’t necessarily want to obey.  And ultimately, obeying God works out best for everybody.

So if you haven’t considered having an accountability partner before, you may want to consider how this could be used to draw you closer to God.

-Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 29-30 and Romans 14

Conflict

Acts 25

Conflict within the church weakens community, and ultimately destroys the credibility of the church. In the eyes of the Romans, Paul’s arrest was just another Jewish squabble that needed to be controlled and contained. Arguments in the church make the world look down on us, instead of how God intended the church to be; a light to unbelievers, pointing others to God. Certainly God can still bring good out of conflict but the purpose of the church is to be Christ’s hands and feet doing God’s work.

It is hard to be doing God’s work while you are fighting with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was following God’s direction for his life by going to Jerusalem where he knew he would be imprisoned by the Jewish leaders. From the time Jesus called him on the road to Damascus Paul had been obeying God’s instruction to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul and the Jewish leaders had a lot in common. They both believed in God, and followed all the Jewish teachings and traditions. The difference between Paul and the Jewish leaders is that the Jewish leaders were not listening to God like Paul was and it was creating conflict that affected everyone within the church, the Jewish leaders, and the Romans and Gentiles.

-Makayla Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Kings 7-8 and Acts 25

Prayer for Peace – and More

2 Samuel 3-4 and Acts 11

“The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time.” (2 Samuel 3:1). So begins today’s Old Testament reading. The “young” country of Israel was experiencing great turmoil as some remained loyal to Saul’s remaining relatives, and a growing number were excitedly backing the champion David. The commander of Saul’s army, Abner, becomes angered by an accusation made by Saul’s son and heir, Ish-Bosheth. Abner vows to help bring all Israel under David’s kingship. But the army commander under David, Joab, has a lasting feud with Abner, still distrusts him and kills him for revenge. David mourns and instructs Israel to do the same. When 2 thugs kill Ish-Bosheth they expect to be warmly received by David as they have helped clear the way to David’s legitimate rule. Instead, similar to his reaction to the Amelekite who announced the death of Saul, David orders the death of the two murderers. David sought for peace within the young nation and an end to the hostility, bloodshed, revenge, and distrust. He tried to show a better way.

Today there remains great tension and hostility in the land of Israel, and this week it has bubbled again to the surface with the worst outbreak since 2014. Last night after reading the Bible passages for today I read one more email before bed – it happened to be a request for prayer from an organization called Jewish Voice whose goal is to bring salvation to the Jews, that they may believe in Jesus as God’s Promised Messiah. I will include a few quotes from their email…

“Terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired more than 1,700 rockets and mortars at major Israeli cities and Israel has responded with more than 700 airstrikes on terrorist targets…

To make matters worse, unexpected riots and clashes between Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis have broken out in multiple cities across Israel…

Please join me in fervent prayer for Israel and the Jewish people. Pray supernatural peace for Israelis who have been under continual fire for four days and may have to endure more. Pray safety for the IDF personnel as they battle terrorist forces and wisdom of Israel’s military leaders to know the right course of action. Pray for an end to the violence both between Israel and Gaza, and reconciliation between Arab and Jewish Israelis. Finally, let’s pray that these times of trouble would lead the Jewish people to recognize Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah.”

As David wrote more than 3,000 years ago – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…Pray for the sake of the house of the Lord our God.” Psalm 122:6,9 NIV

In Acts 10 we saw God remove the barrier between Jew and Gentile. Now both could believe in Jesus and be saved. Jews and Gentiles could now remove the hostility between themselves and become brothers and sisters in the family of God! It was unheard of! And it was such an amazing event that Peter explains it all again in Acts 11. The Christians needed to know – the world needed to know. Jews and Gentiles don’t need to live in hatred to one another. Together, they can both be saved. But without the Jesus glue…it falls apart.

Paul would expand upon the prayer of David. “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1 NIV). Just peace is not enough. But with Jesus comes salvation which brings brotherly peace even amongst Jews and Gentiles.

And, here we are today – needing the prayers of David and Paul just as much. For the nation of Israel, and for our neighbor across the street. We pray for brotherhood created by the blood of Jesus. We pray for peace. We pray for salvation for us, our families and churches and also salvation for those different from us. We pray for an end to hostility and take steps to love others. We also know that as followers of Jesus we will face many enemies and we pray for wisdom and strength in confronting them. We pray and long for the day when Jesus returns and a lasting peace will reign in New Jerusalem as God’s Kingdom is set up on earth.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 3-4 and Acts 11

Love Your Enemy

2 Samuel 1-2 and Acts 10

How do you treat people you don’t understand, people who are different than you, people who have hurt you, people you feel threatened by, people who are troubled, those who have become your enemy?

Both our Old Testament and our New Testament reading today offers some options.

The relationship between King Saul and David began back in 1st Samuel 16. “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (vs 14 – NIV). His advisors had heard of a fine young man who spoke well, played the harp well and bravely fought well. David was brought to the king and Saul liked him very much. It began as a helpful, mutually beneficial relationship. The shepherd boy David received a royal position as armor-bearer and musician. And Saul received relief from the evil spirit when David played his soothing music. It was a win-win – until the little harp-playing armor-bearer bested the Philistine giant and EVERYONE in Israel went gaga for the good-looking brave young hero. Saul became jealous and it isn’t long before Saul is pursuing and trying to kill David. How does David respond? He could have very likely led a successful revolt right from the start. He had many faithful followers at a time when Saul’s popularity was greatly declining. He also had many strong and logical reasons to oust the king. Wouldn’t the whole country of Israel be better off if led by a hero favored by the Lord rather than a has-been tormented by an evil spirit? He even had the support of the king’s son Jonathan. How long can you be loyal to a mentally unstable person who is trying to kill you?

But David, who made a practice of inquiring of the Lord, would not respond as so many others would have. Even when given the opportunity (at least twice) to kill Saul, he instead protected his life. David saw and respected Saul as God’s anointed king and so it didn’t matter how Saul treated him, he would not harm Saul. Revenge was not even in his vocabulary. He placed God’s desire above his own, even when it was hard and didn’t make sense to the rest of the world.

In 2nd Samuel 1 the Amalekite brings word that Saul and Jonathan are dead. He even takes credit for ending the life of the severely wounded king (even though this isn’t mentioned in the passage of Saul’s death in 2nd Samuel 31). But whether he did or he didn’t, he took the crown that had been on Saul’s head and brought it to David, the logical new king. I am sure he was expecting to be rewarded. It seems a logical thing to expect. It seems David would now be relieved, he didn’t have to kill the king personally, but it was done and he no longer had to hide and fear for his life. He could now become king. What good news!

But, no. His loyalty had been no act. He sincerely loved and cared for and wanted what was best for the tormented king, regardless of how he had been treated personally. The peaceful reconciliation he had hoped for had not come. David was in deep grief for his faithful friend Jonathan and for the troubled king who had been the Lord’s anointed. Rather than doing what had been expected of him long ago – killing the king – he now had the messenger who took credit for killing the king killed. And, in his grief he turned again to music, writing a lament to teach Israel to grief the deaths as he did.

In Acts 10 we see a different kind of fractured relationship – one that had never been allowed to develop – because Jews had always seen Gentiles as unclean. Jews and Gentiles had different upbringings, different religions, different nationalities, different goals, different understandings. God had been sanctifying the Jews – removing them from their worldly surroundings to keep them the holy, chosen people of God, untainted by others. And, so there had been many Jewish rules about not associating with Gentiles and with good reason at the time. But times were changing…and God was about to show what entering the new covenant was going to look like. The grace, love, and spirit of God was now going to be poured out on all who believed and followed Jesus, the perfect lamb and Son of God sacrificed for all regardless of whether they were a physical descendent of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob (a Jew) or not (a Gentile).

It is hard to overcome centuries of isolation and distrust. Different is different and too often it becomes a barrier to compassion, understanding, brotherhood, and working together for a common goal – sharing Jesus with the world. It took the good Jewish Peter 3 visions from God and a perfectly timed God-ordained appointment with the devout and God-fearing Gentile Cornelius to be willing to accept that God indeed wanted him to change his view of Gentiles and reach out to them with the saving news of Jesus as well.

How are you doing in your view of those different from you? Do you see their need for Jesus and what you can do to bring Jesus to them? Do you react with compassion, eager to share the good news of Jesus to all, not full of judgement and isolation? How do you react to those you might have once considered impure or unclean? Do you want what is best for those who have hurt you or misjudged you? Does God’s desire and love for the troubled and lost motivate you to put off selfish desires and rise above what others expect of you? How are you doing at loving your enemies?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 1-2 and Acts 10

Positive Reactions to Negative Events

1 Samuel 29-31

Today’s Old Testament passage continues the story of David and his men while they were living with the Philistines away from Saul. In 1 Samuel 29, David is about to go fight with the Philistines, but several of the Philistine leaders are worried that David is still loyal to Saul and will turn against the Philistines in battle. So David and his men are sent back to their home, Ziklag. Unfortunately, “When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive” (NIV, 1 Samuel 30:3). This event alone would be quite devastating to David, but in addition, some of David’s men were then considering turning on him and stoning him based upon the recent misfortune. 

This rough series of events would be hard to get through alone, but verse six states that “David found strength in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). His positive reaction to these negative events can be used as an example. Instead of immediately taking revenge on the Amalekites for destroying his home and taking his family and friends, he decides to ask God first. David’s initial response can be used in many situations to choose the wisest action instead of simply reacting in the first imaginable way that is likely unwise. 

After God responds, David and some of his men successfully chase down the Amalekites and get everything back that was stolen. Although they retrieved all their possessions again, some of the men weren’t willing to give back part of the goods to those that didn’t participate in the raid. However, David’s response to this situation is again a positive example that can be applied to many other situations, even today. David disagreed with those men and instead insisted that even those that didn’t participate should receive part of the plunder. He argued that what they had received had actually come from the LORD, not from those that had actually participated in the fight. Further, David didn’t just divide up the plunder between him and his men, he also then gave gifts to others that had been kind to them in the past. As one people united with a common goal to serve and follow God, it is important to remember to share the possessions that have graciously been given by God.

-1st time Devotion Writer who Preferred being Anonymous

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1st Samuel 29-31 and Acts 9

See What You Can Do

1 Samuel 25-26 and Acts 7

In 1 Samuel 25 we are introduced to Abigail. If you haven’t yet – go read her story now. Abigail – intelligent and beautiful, a safe place for the servant to come speak truth, she “lost no time”/”quickly” – woman of decisive action, generous gift-giver, humble and contrite, willing to accept blame (even when it more rightly belonged to her husband instead), thinking ahead to future ramifications, eloquent, known and praised for good judgment, discerning and a peacemaker. Not promoting peace by just keeping her mouth closed or looking the other way, but from speaking up and standing up for what is right and just.

I can learn a lot from Abigail, as well as from her servant. The servant who warned Abigail of her husband’s foolish treatment of David confided in her and said, “Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his household” (1 Samuel 25:17). Think it over – and see what you can do. Wise words of advice from the servant. I too often overthink myself into non-action. I get stuck in the ‘think it over’ stage. I might feel I have discerned a situation well and see the foolishness, wickedness or injustice but become paralyzed by what to do about it by overanalyzing or fear of getting personally involved. Or, just as unhelpful – I can come up with lots of solutions of what other people could or should do to fix the problem. But not Abigail. She thought it over and saw what she could do and “lost no time” in getting it done. Twice it says she “quickly” mounted or dismounted her donkey. She is wasting no time hem hawing around. There is action to be taken – and she will do it.

However, even though Abigail acts decisively and quickly – she also avoids erring on the side of rash, reckless behavior she might regret later. When she returns home to a drunk husband she doesn’t engage him then but waits til morning to tell him of all that had transpired. She still takes the time to wisely interpret a situation and choose the best time, not necessarily the first chance, to intervene and speak.

And, God takes care of the rest. I imagine it was scary for Abigail to approach David and then confront her husband – not knowing how either of them would react or what it would mean for her future. When we are called to act we usually don’t know what the results will be – either short or long-term. But we can know that God is faithful in providing for His children who have stepped out in faith to right wrong and peacefully pursue justice.

But wait – how did God provide for faithful Stephen in Acts? Like Abigail, Stephen was also a courageous, eloquent person of action and wisdom who boldly served his master and spoke for his king, Jesus, in the face of wicked opposition. He saw that disaster was hanging over all those who had rejected Jesus and he had considered what he could do – speak in Jesus’ name. And he did it faithfully, regardless of the outcome. A life cut short and the agony of being stoned to death doesn’t seem like much of a reward for bravely doing the right thing. But, when you read the description of Stephen there is an amazing amount of peace. He is not in fear or second-guessing his words or actions. He is full of the Holy Spirit and he is allowed a glimpse into heaven and sees, “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55). Even at his last moment before “falling asleep”, he is at peace with his Lord Jesus and even with his adversaries.

We don’t need to know the immediate outcome before courageously taking action and speaking up for what is right. Disaster is indeed hanging over so much of the world today. It is time for God’s children to think it over and consider what each one can do. And then take action, quickly mount your donkey, open your mouth, speak His words. You can be confident – you might not know the outcome, but God’s got His children.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 25-26 and Acts 7

Sin is Serious – And So is Mercy

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 35 & 36 and Matthew 18

I have watched just enough mobster movies to know the awful fate of those who anger the mafia boss and receive the “cement shoes” treatment. That is the vision that always comes to mind when I read of the seriousness of leading a child to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5,6 NASB) Jesus was giving a pretty heavy answer to the disciples who had asked who would be greatest in the kingdom. He answered that instead of trying to be great, they should focus on being childlike instead – not immature (we see enough of that), but humble, knowing that they don’t know everything and they need a Father and a Savior. And while the child is standing in their midst – Jesus commends those who welcome a child and blasts those who recklessly (or accidentally?) lead a child to sin. As a parent and a Christian this is a strong warning that I will be judged based on how I am spiritually leading and guiding God’s children. I do not know where the line will be drawn. We might be able to safely point out some cases that would definitely receive Jesus’ condemnation (those who exploit children and youth for sex trafficking, pornography, cults or gangs). But what of the parent who signs their child up for the youth sports, campouts and Sunday morning jobs knowing it will take them away from opportunities for God’s little children to grow closer to Him? I don’t know. But it seems wise to do my best to err on the side of caution. What else can I be doing to spiritually guide His children away from sin? Life is easier when you don’t feel the weight of a millstone around your neck or cement hardening in your shoes.

And, if that isn’t scary enough – Jesus broadens the picture next – to all people and sinners and the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep oneself from falling into sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). And then comes the gruesome cutting off of body parts that causes you to sin. This gives a strong mental picture of doing whatever it takes to hold oneself accountable and keep oneself from sin. If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, to save yourself from judgment and hell. This is definitely true in a metaphorical sense. We need to do all we can, even what would be considered extreme measures, to keep ourselves from sin. And, sometimes that will mean cutting off the influence some people hold over us – cutting off a friend or family member or social media/entertainment who entices us to sin. It’s a hard thing to do, just like cutting off your hand – but it could save your eternal life. And, we must watch ourselves to make sure we are not the ones enticing others to sin!

While I love the parable of the lost sheep and it hurts to skip over it…I am going to skip ahead to the next two passages in Matthew 18 which both deal with the brother who sins against you. Having just established the seriousness of sin, the consequences for those who lead others to sin and the extreme measures we are to employ to keep us from sin – it is easy to assume that the best course of action is to shun all sin and sinners. But, wait, what kind of cut off, silent, lonely, bitter world would that be? While we are all sinners – God gave us a way to be forgiven and to restore relationships. Jesus begins to explain it here.

First, if a brother sins against you – go and talk to him. Matthew 18: 15-17 goes through an important series of steps to work towards either resolution or healthy distance and cutting off -and it starts with talking to the “offender”. Too often when we feel someone has sinned against us we talk to others about it. I know I am guilty of this and need to do a better job of lovingly confronting the person I have an issue with – first. So the steps Jesus laid out are: talk privately to the person, if he doesn’t listen take 1-2 witnesses and try again, if he doesn’t listen tell the church, if he still doesn’t listen cut him off. The goal is always to win him back to ‘God’s saving side’, not to humiliate, point fingers or feel better about ourselves or peace at any cost. But, sometimes repentance doesn’t happen, and then we must be willing to cut the ties that would bring others down to sin as well.

So, let’s assume we correctly followed the steps Jesus left. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He thought 7 sounded like a lot. But Jesus said no – 77 or 70 x 7 or whatever number you want to use to remind yourself to keep forgiving – the same way you want others to forgive you. And the same way God has forgiven you. I think we can safely assume this is not the brother who was unrepentant and cast out of the church, but a brother who was repentant and seeking to live a godly life – but still tripped up – like you and me. And so Jesus lays out the powerful Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (make sure you read it again). Now the harsh words and judgment are not for the sinner who tripped up, or even the one who caused him to sin, but for the one who didn’t forgive. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34).

It isn’t that sin is nothing – and easily forgiven. Sin (of all kinds) is something huge and serious and able to block us from eternal life. If we could see how much our sin hurts others, handicaps ourself and damages our relationship with God we might more readily run from it. But we don’t always, and God in His mercy still lays out a way for us to restore a relationship with Him, ultimately it would cost Him the death of His Son Jesus. To accept the forgiveness offered to you, but not extend it to others puts you again in grave danger. Sin is a big deal – and so is mercy.

-Marcia Railton