I think Romans chapter 8 is one of the most encouraging sections of scripture. And boy can we use some encouragement right now.
It is so sad to see so many suffering from the effects of the Covid virus. Many, many people have lost work and income. Many children are not able to attend school in person. Abuse has increased. And many people have died or have otherwise physically suffered from this virus. It is very easy and very natural to be discouraged and worried right now. But for Christians at least, we need to cling to the fact that present circumstances do not alter the future promise that God has made.
One day, there will be no need to fear death from a virus or anything else. We will be made perfect in the coming Kingdom! That is the hope talked about in Chapter 8, and it is a hope that can not be taken from us.
Until that day comes, be encouraged, fellow believers, in the words Paul shares here. Verse 28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. That’s encouraging! That doesn’t mean everything will be perfect as we want it to be, but God, in His infinite wisdom knows what is best for our own good even if we do not.
Verse 31b – If God is for us, who can be against us? That is a great statement. What God has put in motion is unstoppable. No one will stop God’s plans, and God’s plans include YOU!
Yes, this pandemic stinks. And it doesn’t seem the end of it is super soon. But we have a certain hope in that coming day, and nothing can take that hope away or prevent that day from coming. Likewise, these momentary troubles can not separate us from the love of Christ. Paul tells us in verse 37 that in regards to these troubles we are “more than conquerors.” We WILL get through these momentary troubles. For that is all they are, in the bigger picture.
Finally, chapter 8 concludes with more incredible encouragement:
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I hope that is as encouraging for you as it is for me. Take these passages to heart. Remember them when the world seems to be against you or, as now, the world seems to be falling apart. Remember that your creator, your Father, your God is FOR YOU! And nothing can take that, or His future promise for you, away.
Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Romans 8-10.
Welcome back to our final chapters in 1st Corinthians!
Chapter 15 must be one of the most powerful and hopeful chapters that Paul has written. There is no one that can leave this chapter feeling defeated with a message taunting Death asking “Where is your victory? Where is your sting?” (15:55). We have a victory in Christ that no one can stop, not even something that feels as permanent and powerful as death.
This year has brought many challenges. People have experienced financial struggles, people have dealt with severe illnesses and deaths, people have experienced mental and emotional turmoil, people have disagreed with those they are closest to, people have felt betrayed, silenced, oppressed, offended, and defeated. It is so easy this year to become discouraged, and no one would blame anyone if they did not focus on something as far away as the Kingdom.
But that focus on the Kingdom must be at the front of our minds daily, because without it, the darkness that is this world today will all too easily take over our own life. Paul calls us to be steadfast, immovable, working enthusiastically for the Lord, and knowing that our work is not in vain (15:58).
In a world where so often the struggles and challenges we face are in front of us due to someone else’s choices, it can be incredibly uplifting to remember that Jesus will abolish all of the rule and power on earth, God will put the enemies under his feet, and our world will be at peace for the first time since the fall of man. There is a point where things will be made perfect, and those who have committed themselves to Christ will have an opportunity to experience that perfection.
What strikes me while reading these passages is how even when though this was written to a specific church however many hundreds of years ago, the message has never changed and is incredibly applicable in 2020. Our God is unchanging, despite our world changing so rapidly away from Him. In this changing world we must put our faith, trust, and hope in an unchanging God. I don’t care how cheesy that sounds!
So where does Paul leave the church in this letter? He doesn’t just finish with a message of hope. True to form, Paul gives the church one more reality check in chapter 16. Verse 13 says “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.” To me that message is one that you leave when you know something’s coming… Paul wasn’t finishing on a happy-go-lucky victory note because he knows that the victory doesn’t come without a battle. As we grow closer and closer to Christ’s return, we can expect our world to continue to fall. Yes, we have a hope. Yes, that hope should carry us through the hard times. And yes, we should be ready for a spiritual fight.
We shouldn’t be living in fear of the battle, because we already know the outcome. We should be living with the intention of being on the winning side. When we are confidently standing with the winner, we should be finding everyone else we can to bring them to victory as well. That is our mission.
I am so excited to jump into 2nd Corinthians with you all tomorrow! Until then, My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.
Each day’s new reading through the gospels brings more “favorites” from the life and teachings of Jesus. So it is with today’s – too many great stories to choose what to write about. Since we will be reading John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 and Walking on the Water tomorrow, we will focus today on Herod, his wife (and former sister-in-law) Herodias, her dancing daughter and the head of John the Baptist.
It is a difficult story to stomach. So much evil. Perhaps we have gotten used to questionable leaders and too much violence, and the familiarity of this short passage on Herod and John the Baptist can make it quick to read and pass over. But imagine knowing these people, living amongst them, and hearing of these events for the first time. Imagine sitting down to your morning cup of coffee, opening the newspaper and reading of the events that transpired just last night.
Of course you would have known King Herod was having his birthday party last night – everyone could hear the sounds from his palace. And, yes, the newspaper calls him King Herod, since that is what he loves to be called, even though everyone knows his dad had been the last King Herod (yes, the one responsible for killing all the baby boys of Bethlehem about 30 years ago). In reality, now Herod Antipas was just a “tetrach”, ruling over just one quarter of his father’s territory, all the while being watched over by the real Roman authorities.
Herod had divorced his wife in order to marry his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. The only trouble was this prophet of God known as John the Baptist had been speaking out against this marriage, saying it was unlawful. Unlawful for who? Who’s law was it anyway? God’s? Herod wasn’t one to try to follow all those outdated laws – it was so much easier to just make new laws instead (similar to today’s society which is very good at ignoring God’s law and replacing it with their own).
His wife, Herodias, was not one to stand idly by while a prophet pointed out the sins of her family. Something had to be done. Herod (prompted by his wife) had John arrested, bound and put in prison. But, that wasn’t enough. While Matthew records that Herod wanted to kill John, Mark has a slightly different interpretation of Herod and perhaps digs a little deeper into his motives, relationships and thoughts. Mark says that it was Herodias who, “nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:19-20) which I am sure made his wife even more livid.
So, we come to the night of Herod’s birthday party and the entertainment for the evening – Herod’s dancing step-daughter (unnamed in the gospels, but Jewish historian Josephus records her name to be Salome). We aren’t told the details (thankfully), but we can guess that this was not a 5 year old girl performing her latest ballet or tap recital pieces for her father’s dinner guests. Whatever the dance included, it seems likely she was being exploited by her mother and ogled (or worse) by her step-father and all his male guests. These men liked her dance so much Herod thought it fitting to offer this dancing wonder anything she wanted (up to half his kingdom).
That’s a lot for a girl to think on – so she goes running out to get her mother’s advice. Herodias is prepared for this moment and she has no trouble involving her “innocent” daughter in getting what she has been waiting for – the death of John the Baptist, in the most gruesome way she could imagine – his head on a platter for her daughter.
Herod is in conflicted agony but sees no way out. The execution is ordered and completed. The head is delivered.
Can you imagine the varying emotions of each and every participant and those who will hear of these events.
What are John’s last thoughts?
Does Salome have nightmares? What does she become?
What do Jesus – and his 12 Disciples feel? If this is what comes of the one who prepares the way of the Messiah, what is the future of the Messiah – of his followers?
Herod will be mentioned just once more in the gospels – when Jesus is arrested, bound and brought before Herod on trial. Jesus remains silent – but quite likely he is remembering Herod and John as well as looking into his future.
Some days it just looks like evil triumphs.
But God is still at work. This is not where the story ends.
Herod will go to war and suffer defeat at the hands of the angry father of his first wife, whom he had divorced to marry Herodias. Later, Herod and Herodias will be sent into exile, where it is recorded Herod dies.
But, that’s not really the end, either.
A resurrection day is coming. A day when John the Baptist will rise from the dead. Can you imagine the reunion he will have with Jesus? I want to see that!
And, a judgment day is coming. Herod and Herodias will appear before the judge. At that time there is only one law that will matter – God’s. And, only one way to salvation – to accept the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some days it looks like evil triumphs – but that’s not how it ends!
So much work had already been done – the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – now they just needed to finish the gates. Surely this project was God-ordained and he picked the right leader for the job – Nehemiah. He was able to get everyone motivated and working together, and despite the opposition they were able to finish their job on the 25th of Elul (which appears to correspond to somewhere between Sept 15 and October 2). So, this week is a super time to celebrate the work that is accomplished when working for God.
So much good had been done already – but the work did not end and neither did the opposition!
Nehemiah was under attack. Satan (along with Tobia, Sanballat, Geshem and the rest of those fighting against God) were using every weapon at their disposal to bring this righteous leader down: lies, fear, wolves in sheep’s clothing, attempting to distract him from his work with other business, spreading gossip and accusations of sedition to either silence him or get him in serious trouble with the authorities, even hiring a false “prophet” to scare him into sinning.
But Nehemiah stood strong. We continue to see him turn to God in prayer. Asking for strong hands and asking for God to take care of those getting in the way of the Lord’s work. He obviously had a strong knowledge of God’s law to not be tricked into sinning. This gave him wise discernment in knowing who to listen to and what to do, and not do. And, he knew to fear God not men.
We can learn a lot from Nehemiah today because Satan keeps using the same ploys. Adolf Hitler wrote, “Mental confusion, contradiction of feeling, indecisiveness, panic; these are our weapons.” Evil men seeking to destroy God’s work have come and gone and yet remain today. It is indeed a vivid reminder that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). They love nothing more than trying to interrupt God’s work and if they can bring down a godly leader at the same time they probably get bonus points.
We see so much of this evil and oppression today. But like Nehemiah, we must not give up! We must turn to God again and again when faced with the lies and fears and Satan’s strong man tactics that would love to have us throw in the towel and take the easy way instead. Pray, fast, seek His word and His way, don’t fear man, resist sin, use discernment in knowing who to trust, what to say and do. Pray, too, for our leaders that they will have the wisdom and strong hands of Nehemiah
Satan has been running rampant and the result is a broken world. Keep at God’s rebuilding work – one brick at a time.
Speaking of our opposition, mental confusion, lies, panic, and pleasing man not God, reminds me of the life and death fight for the most innocent of God’s creations. Tonight would be a great time to watch See Life 2020 and #LoveEveryHeartbeat. And pray for strong hands – and hearts – to do the work God wants you to do.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 6-7
Tomorrow we will read Nehemiah 8-10 as we continue seeking God on our
I love the man Nehemiah! I love his passion, his prayers and his “get ‘er done” action. At the start of our story he holds the position of royal cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, so we can assume he is no slacker but is quite driven, reliable and trustworthy. He has spent his whole life in Babylon/Persia, and done very well in this “foreign” environment. But kudos to those who raised and influenced him, for his Jewish heart was still steadfast in serving the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his ancestors.
It had been 90 years since the first group of Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem. And just 13 years ago Artaxerxes had allowed Ezra to return to rebuild the temple. Nehemiah learns some have just come from Judah and he asks them how his “homeland” is doing. And what he hears breaks his heart. It is natural to be heartbroken at bad news. But for a lot of people the heartbreak is soon replaced with other feelings – perhaps relief that it didn’t happen to you, perhaps just busy-ness with other daily activities. But Nehemiah mourned, fasted and prayed (with confession) for several days when he heard that the people of Judah were still in distress and the walls of Jerusalem were still torn down. Just as this was breaking God’s heart, Nehemiah allowed his heart to be broken, too. And as he prays and fasts he listens for God’s answer, and just like Esther he too uses the position God has placed him in to be a part of the solution. If you find yourself mourning what God mourns, and you don’t know what to do…follow Nehemiah’s example with prayer and fasting and watch for God’s plan to develop – and then do it!
I won’t retell the rest of the story that Nehemiah tells so well – but make sure you catch some of the neat details that we would do well to remember when we seek to do God’s work.
Nehemiah was scared to death going before the king – this was not an easy thing to do, and it could even cost him his life – but doing God’s work is always worth it.
Even as the king was asking Nehemiah what he wanted, Nehemiah was praying away! He knew he wasn’t doing this on his own – and he would continue to give God the credit for the king’s generosity and for the work that would be done.
Nehemiah didn’t try to build the wall on his own. There was something for everyone to do – and Nehemiah got them going. The city officials, the temple servants, the families, the daughters, even the goldsmiths and the perfumers were out there working. Certainly most of them would never have said their spiritual gift was rebuilding walls – but Nehemiah provided the leadership, the need was presented to them and, most of them, were ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. What job is God calling you to do with your brothers and sisters?
I would have loved to see Baruch the son of Zabbai complete his section of the wall – Nehemiah reports he “zealously” did his work. This wasn’t a half-hearted effort for him. Will you be known as one who zealously does the work of the Lord?
The world didn’t stop to applaud God’s construction team – in fact, God’s people faced much opposition, ridicule, anger, threats and violence from many sides. It would have been easy to give in to their fears and give up. But instead, they responded FIRST with prayer and then they kept at it – with one hand to do the work and one hand to carry the weapon to defend themselves if needed. They meant business. They looked after one another and once again commited themselves to finishing the job God gave them.
Nehemiah also stood up for those who had been taken advantage of and he corrected those who had performed acts of injustice for their own selfish gain.
The world could sure use more leaders like Nehemiah. How will you step up? There is much broken in our world today. What is breaking your heart and God’s? Begin with prayer and fasting. And then continue with prayer as you attack God’s work with wisdom and action even in the face of opposition. His work is always worth it.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 1-5
Tomorrow we will read the next two chapters in Nehemiah’s story as we continue on our journey through the
It is a common question asked through the ages, “Why, God?” Why do the wicked succeed? Why do the violent survive? Why is there injustice in the nation and even in the courts? Why, God? Why?
Habakkuk had the same questions. He lived during the “end” days of Judah, before the Babylonian captivity we have read about the last 2 days. He had a heart for God and sought to do what was right. But, what about everyone else? He was outnumbered, “The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:4 NLT). And that can be a hard place to be. Where right has become wrong and wrong has become right. And, where was God? Why was God not taking action to right the wrongs, punish the evil and make things right?
God answered Habakkuk, but it certainly wasn’t the answer he was expecting or wanting. God did see the evil, violence and injustice. and he was taking care of matters – in His time and His way. He revealed to Habakkuk that He was preparing the wicked, idolatrous Babylonian neighbors to the north to bring God’s judgment on Judah. Wait, a minute, God – they are even worse than us! That’s not fair!
If God had a penny for every time He heard that line – but, He owns everything already.
He doesn’t need your penny – or your advice. God doesn’t need to be understood by His creation. But we would be wise to accept His sovereignty, as Habakkuk did. Even when faced with answers He didn’t fully understand or like, Habakkuk realized and accepted that God was in control. He would punish Judah – and then Babylon – when and how He wanted. And, He would show His power, His patience, His justice, His grace, and His love when and how He saw fit. God’s people can rest in that knowledge. There is a lot we don’t have to know or understand – a lot of “why’s” we can’t answer. But we can rest in knowing that God knows. He knows. He sees. He’s got this. He is working out all things. We can bolster our faith and reliance on God’s way by joining with Habakkuk as He proclaims:
I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. 17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:16-19 NIV
In our questioning, in our fear, in our uncertainty – yet we will wait patiently for God. He WILL set things straight. His perfect judgment is coming. Until then, wait and rejoice in God our Savior – He is our strength.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at Habakkuk 1-3
Isaiah 59 describes what it is like to be separated from God as we are now. Our sins are responsible for the barrier between us and God. Because of this barrier, there is sadness, there is depravity and there is a hope for something that cannot be attained. Everything in this world is touched by this separation. Our attempts at justice are a pale reflection of the true justice that God promises. In the American courts for example, there are instances where innocent men are punished, and guilty men go free. This is not justice, but it is the closest that we are able to get to it because of our human nature. We try to imitate true justice as well as we can, but we will always fall short. We even fall short in our pursuit of truth. Even when truth is proclaimed, there will be some who accept it and some who won’t. Truth is meant to have the power to convince anyone.
The following chapter speaks of what it will be like when that barrier is broken down, when God establishes His perfect kingdom. Everything that we love now, that brings us joy, will be replaced with something better. It says, “I will bring gold instead of bronze and silver instead of iron, bronze instead of wood and iron instead of stones.” If you had no possessions and someone asked you if you’d like $20, you would be excited and would gladly accept it. But if you knew that later someone was going to give you $1000, you would be grateful, but not nearly as excited. This is the way it is in God’s perfect kingdom. When thinking about the coming kingdom, we often lament the things that we will miss doing in our current lives if Jesus were to return today. “I can’t wait for the kingdom, but I’d like to finish college first.” Or, “I’d like to have children first.” There are so many things that we look forward to in this life, but here it says that the good things will be replaced with something better, and more than that, we will still have some of the good things that we already enjoy! It says that iron is replaced with silver, but also that stone is replaced with iron. When we think about our future in God’s kingdom, it can be hard to imagine, but we have to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and that he will give us something so much better than all of the good things we have now.
Today’s reading contained some pretty grim and possibly confusing stuff. In some sections it seems the people of Judah are completely doomed for destruction, while other parts tell of a coming protection. If you have come here today looking for an explanation and clarification on all that took place in these chapters – I’m sorry to say, I haven’t got one. Mainly because one perfect answer doesn’t exist. Scholars, theologians, historians, have all made attempts at understanding biblical prophecy. There has yet to be one universal agreed upon interpretation. The language barrier is one reason, as is the lack of context and historical gaps. If you want to know more about today’s reading and other prophecy, I encourage you to do two things. One, reach out to your local pastor with your specific questions. He or she would love to help you digest the Old Testament. Many have a wealth of biblical knowledge and bookcases stocked with resources. Plus, during this Covid time, many pastors are feeling a disconnect with their congregation, unable to meet under normal circumstances. They would welcome your questions and this opportunity to serve.
My second bit of advice is to follow that in Isaiah 8:20, “Look to God’s instruction and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.” (NLT) Isaiah goes on to describe the type of darkness these people experience as a sort of wandering aimless search for answers. He paints a picture of people looking at the sky and shaking their fists at God. These people sought psychics and other mediums for answers, instead of seeking the LORD’s instruction. Whenever you are reading scripture and stumble upon a passage that confuses you, look to what you know to be true about God. Some of these Old Testament passages can be tricky and may produce the picture of God as being only angry and vengeful. Be sure to look to ALL of God’s instructions and teachings. Personally, when reading doom and gloom in the Old Testament, I try to keep in mind what God says about Himself as being “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;” (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV). I love this verse in Isaiah, because right in the midst of confusing prophecy, he gives us an answer, encouraging us to seek “God’s instructions” known to us through scripture.
This advice from Isaiah can also be applied to other aspects of our lives when searching for answers. I would say all aspects, except I’ve not yet found the part in scripture that explains calculus. Math aside, when we face difficult or confusing challenges, wandering in unknown darkness, we as believers are encouraged to seek God for the answers. We can approach God through our wonderful redeemer, Jesus Christ. Whether these answers are revealed to us by understanding scripture, receiving peace, or prayer, answers exist. I am experiencing some personal challenges in my life right now. A couple weeks ago, one of my best friends sent me a text reminding me to seek answers from God during this trial. Her encouragement applies also to you, and whatever your current struggles may be. The last part of Isaiah 8 reminded me of her words. I want to share some of them with you as a closing thought.
“It may seem like the pain, loss, confusion, and hole in your heart, are the only things you will ever know, but please remember, the Lord has a plan for you and He is there to listen to you, He is there to listen to your cries of anguish and despair. And He will console you, but you have to ask Him for His help. Please don’t shut yourself out of His sweet and divine presence, my dear friend. Ask Him to give you guidance for what you should do next. How you should proceed with your life. Ask Him for His wisdom so that you can understand what lesson He wants to teach you, how He is trying to mold your character. And also maybe think of what He wants you to ask Him. What is HIS will?”
I neglected to mention at the end of yesterday’s “You are Not Alone” devotion that one excellent way to battle the weary, lonely depression that sometimes falls upon those who speak for God is to find a partner in ministry – work together with one you can mentor. At the end of chapter 19 Elijah found Elisha. Some Bible scholars suggest they worked together about 6 years, but I found another that thought it could have been closer to 23 years. Regardless of the length of time, I believe it is safe to say the apprenticeship was a mutual blessing to both Elijah and Elisha – and likely multiplied the work that either one could have done on their own. Elisha will have a very long and powerful ministry for the LORD, but what would it have looked like if he had not had the opportunity to serve under Elijah? Who are you serving under? Who are you mentoring?
It is interesting that in the next chapter neither Elijah nor Elisha are mentioned, but at least twice a prophet or son of a prophet speaks to evil King Ahab – once to tell him how to be victorious over the attacking Ben-Hadad of Aram, and once to reprimand him for being too leniant on Ben-Hadad when God delivered him into Ahab’s hand. This is further proof that Elijah was indeed not the only one left to stand for and speak for God. And proof, that while Elijah had very faithfully performed many deeds and sermons for God – God did not need Elijah. The Almighty can call any man or woman – or rock – to work for Him. I do believe when the city walls fall down on 27,000 fleeing enemy soldiers God’s rocks were at work – perhaps others would have merely called it a coincidence or an earthquake (1 Kings 20:30).
It can truly be amazing who and what God uses – even the evilest king who had ever lived. Sure, enough, when God wanted to show HIS strength against the advancing foreign army – He tells Ahab the winning battle plans through a prophet and Ahab somewhat surprisingly listens and follows along – to a point. And, in the last chapter of today’s reading we will even see Ahab repentant – for a time. There is no heart God can’t soften and change or use for His glory.
But, you are just asking for trouble if you choose to hang out with the bad girls (or in Ahab’s case, his wicked wife). They have done a lot of evil things but how many commandments do they manage to break when Ahab decides he would love to have a vegetable garden for his second palace? Once, again, sin snowballs. One leads to another and it grows larger and larger. With serious consequences.
Following the violent murder of innocent Naboth and the stealing of his property, Elijah is sent to condemn Ahab and Jezebel and foretell their own violent deaths – only partially put on hold by Ahab’s repentant spirit. Isn’t it good to know that God still sees the cruelty and injustice of the world today and His timeline is put in place to make all things right. There will be a time when all humanity meets their judge and will be held accountable for all their deeds and the condition of their hearts. Until that day may we faithfully carry His word – knowing that we are not alone!