A New and Improved Covenant

Jeremiah 33 & 34 and Hebrews 8

Following God and obeying His will does not mean that we will have a life free of problems as we can see from so many of the stories in the Bible. It does mean that God is with us as we go through the hard times. Sometimes life is harder for us when we tell others what God wants them to hear.  As we read Jeremiah 33 & 34, we see that this is true for Jeremiah. Jeremiah is still imprisoned by King Zedekiah and Jeremiah is still obeying and trusting in God and telling them what God has told him to say. In Jeremiah 33:2-3a it says “This is what the Lord says, He who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to create it, He whose name is the Lord: ‘Call to Me and I will answer you,‘” Isn’t it amazing that the God who created the universe wants us to call out to Him, and it’s equally amazing that He WILL answer. We all have hard times that we go through, but we can call out to our Father and He will walk with us through the hard times. But He wants us (and the Israelites & Judeans) to know that there is a bright future when all the hardships will be over and we will live in joy and peace.

It says in Jeremiah 33:11b “Give thanks to the Lord of armies, for the Lord is good, for His mercy is everlasting,” God is a good God and His mercies are everlasting, and He has a great future in store for His children. God reminds them that a day is coming when His word will be fulfilled. In Jeremiah 33:14-16 we have a prophecy about Jesus and it says; “Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch of David sprout; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety; and this is the name by which it will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’

In Chapter 34 God tells Jeremiah to tell King Zedekiah that Babylon will come in and take over and he will meet King Nebuchadnezzar face to face, but he says that the king would not die by the sword but that he would die in peace. As we learn in the rest of the chapter that is exactly what happened.

We have all seen commercials about something that is “New and Improved,” which means that something was not as good as it should have been or there would be no need for improvement. Hebrews 8 is all about a new covenant that has been established through Jesus, our sacrificial lamb, and now our high priest. The reason there had to be a new covenant was because the first one was not faultless, but the new covenant is. Hebrews 8:1 “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, without fault.” Jesus was the perfect sacrificial lamb, without fault or blemish.  We have read some of these verses already because they were taken from Jeremiah 31:33. Anytime a verse is used in both the Old and New Testament, we should pay attention to what it says. Hebrews 8:10-11.  “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen, and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.” God is constantly working in our lives because He is a God of love, He loves His children, and He wants to be our God, and for us to be His people.  

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 33-34 and Hebrews 8

My Creator God

Psalm 104 & Jeremiah 13, 14

Our family loves camping and finding new places to hike or kayak through God’s beautiful world. The variety of his creation is truly amazing! Desert, forest, plains, mountain, ocean. We love them all and the chance to explore a new little corner of His world we haven’t seen yet. And, along the way, trying to capture a photo to remind us of the beauty and creativity we had the privilege to see.

Psalm 104 is a beautiful poem of creation. I would love to make a photo book or photo wall with pictures from our family hikes and travels depicting each verse and phrase.

“He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (vs 2) – sunshine blazing in all His glory

“he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (vs 2) – expansive blue sky from horizon to horizon

“He makes the clouds his chariot” (vs 3) – white and multi-shades of gray amazing textured rolling clouds with shafts of sunlight shining through with the brilliant blue sky behind

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines” – hot springs bubbling from the ground and flowing down the mountain side

You get the idea. There would be photos of waterfalls, lightening, mountaintops, ocean waves on the shore, rainstorms, the moon, plants and animals, sunrises, sea creatures, and people. Each one accompanied with God’s text.

I recently taught a unit on creation to the adorable children in children’s church. And it was so much fun spending a week (or more) on each aspect of God’s amazing creation. We brought in shells and rocks and leaves and bird feathers to touch and play with. We matched plant photos to foods we eat and counted plant products in ingredient labels. (Do you know how many plants are in a box of Cheerios or mac’n cheese?) We classified plants and animals and brought in a bird expert. We watched videos and explored books on clouds and planets and sea creatures and the animal kingdom and the incredible human body. And all the things that we take for granted everyday.

Not only is God’s world a beautiful world – but so incredibly functional, too! He thought of EVERYTHING! The more I learn of science and the human body in particular, the more I am amazed at His creation.

I have never made anything nearly as intricate or useful as the smallest, tiniest, most simplistic, most ‘insignificant’ part of God’s creation. But, I do like to create quilts – little scraps of colored fabric (which came from a cotton plant) sewn together in patterns to make a cozy cover to bring comfort and warmth. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to meet someone who explained that those quilts just came to be one day – that it grew from nothing and became strings that wove themselves together and the fabrics cut themselves into the perfect shapes and even stitches magically formed just as they were needed to piece the top together and the materials used to create the final layered project appeared at just the right time and space and lined up just so to automatically go through the final steps to create my quilt. Foolishness. It is foolishness that leaves out the thought, intention, desire, creativity, vision, purpose and ability of me, the quilt creator. Or, equally painful – maybe they would give all the credit for the making of the quilt to another.

It makes sense that the Creator of the Heavens and Earth wants us to enjoy and admire His creation – and give Him all the credit He so much deserves. But, what happens when people don’t? What happens when they take away the glory that belongs to God and call it chance instead or give it to another? What happens when they refuse to listen to God’s words – the first recorded words being – “Let there be light”? What happens when they attribute God’s creation to another? We see in the book of Jeremiah. “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless!” Jeremiah goes on in today’s reading to describe the drought, famine and sword that will be used in judgment of those who have stubbornly turned from God. Jeremiah 14 ends with God telling Jeremiah to speak to the people, telling them to acknowledge their guilt and wickedness and sins against Him and ask God to remember His covenant. The final verse of chapter 14 says,

“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
    Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, Lord our God.
    Therefore our hope is in you,
    for you are the one who does all this.” (vs 22 NIV)

Not only did Our Great God create this world for us – He made a covenant with us – He has power still today – and He holds out a blessed hope for those who acknowledge and worship Him for all He has done, is doing and will do.

Thank you God for your incredible Creation – help me see and appreciate each amazing part!

Thank you God for the rains today – help me see you at work today!

Thank you God for the hope you set before those who believe and worship you alone – a New Heavens and Earth that will be beyond all we can ever dream or imagine!

You are our hope – for you are the one who does all this!

-Marcia Railton

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 13-14 and Psalm 104

Spiritual Malpractice

Jeremiah 7-8; Psalm 96, 97, 98

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            God criticized their priests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Fletcher

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

Just One

Jeremiah 5-6;  Psalm 94-95

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Fletcher

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

Hope for A Broken World

Isaiah 33-34 and 2 Thessalonians 1

Hello!

I am excited to dig deeper into God’s word with you this week as we go through some chapters in Isaiah, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy!  I have to be honest with you… I am never “looking forward” to writing these devotions when the time comes.  However, I am always so surprised and happy with how God speaks to me while I write to you, so each year when the wonderful Marcia asks for writers, I will never turn her down! I imagine that this year will be no different 😊

We are going to start this week off in Isaiah, chapters 33 and 34.  The first chunk of Isaiah is mainly discussing destruction, purification (not really a fun process), and God’s vengeance.  What I find so interesting about the prophecies of the Old Testament is that we often look at them through the lens of our current age, yet so many of these destruction prophecies seem to apply to our world across generations and generations.  People have been going through cycles of brokenness throughout all of existence!  These prophecies to broken people in Isaiah’s day applied in the moment just as much as they apply to our lives today. Thankfully, the prophecy of hope will also apply!

In chapter 33 Isaiah is describing a sad, sinful, and broken world.    There are destroyers, traitors, broken agreements, despised cities, no ways to travel, and human life has been disregarded.  Sounds pretty familiar to me.  In verse 10 God starts to speak, and OH MAN does it get exciting.  From this perspective Isaiah describes God essentially smack-talking the kingdoms of that day and putting them in their place, under Him, and shares how His people (the righteous) will be blessed and safe, also in their place as citizens to a just and majestic King.  We are told that everyone who dwells in this Kingdom will be forgiven of all their sins (v. 24).  Visualize that AMAZING day and tell me it’s not something you want to be part of!! 

In chapter 34 Isaiah explains all the emptiness and evilness that will be in Edom, a nation “set apart for destruction” (v. 5) after God has had His day of vengeance.  This idea can seem confusing, especially if we don’t take the overall context into account.  Here’s a quick recap of what we know about Edom based on the Bible: God had given the land to Esau, the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom were active enemies, Isaiah prophesied about Edom’s destruction (as we see here) and multiple other books of prophets describe the same eventual ruin, Edom was attacked multiple times, and this prophecy eventually came to pass when King Amaziah slaughtered the nation in 2 Chronicles, even though the people were not officially wiped out until King Herod (that guy that tried to kill Jesus as a baby) died.  While this still doesn’t completely answer my questions of “Why Edom?”, it does give that much more credibility to the prophets and to God following through with what He says he will do.  In my quick research of Edom to provide the recap, I came across some notes of people who had more recently traveled to the ruins of Edom and described the deserted space filled with ‘unclean’ wild animals, just as God says it will be forever, from generation to generation (v. 17). 

We also see God’s consistency in judgement in our verses from 2 Thessalonians today!  We are told that God will show vengeance to those who don’t know Him and to the people who afflict His righteous citizens (v. 6 & 8).  Our broken world has not changed, and neither has God’s opinion on how to handle it.

I am not going to pretend that God’s plans and purpose for the world always make sense to me.  But I am always convinced that God follows through on everything He says, and I do trust that it all has a plan and purpose, even when it doesn’t make sense.  Our world has always been broken (since the fall of man that is…), and God has always had a plan, and that plan has always included a way out for the righteous.  How lucky are we to be living in the age of brokenness that has the opportunity to experience salvation in such a grace-filled way?

The rest of this week we will continue to dive into scripture and see that our brokenness isn’t all that new, and our hope is closer now than ever!

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 33-34 and 2 Thessalonians 1

Receive Salvation not Wrath

Isaiah 31-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5

There is so much Paul still wants to say as he is wrapping up his first (recorded) letter to the Thessalonians. Perhaps the mailman is standing at the door ready to take the letter as Paul is finishing up. His writing style is often long winding sentences with many phrases linked together in what English teachers would now call run-on sentences. But he doesn’t have time for that today. He switches to short powerful sentences. “Be joyful always. Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). He has a lot to pack into his final instructions. Many of them deal with specifics on how to please God and how to love others (our two categories from the previous chapter that we are to do more and more). So, read them carefully and take note of how you are doing in these categories.

Paul also takes a final opportunity to remind them/us of the coming day of the Lord. Paul says this day will bring surprise destruction for many. It also becomes a great time to teach a bit on God’s character. Paul writes, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This reminds me of a beautiful passage from our reading in Isaiah yesterday, “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18). God longs to see His people saved from the coming destruction. In the time of Isaiah. In the time of Paul. And, in our time. God longs to see His people saved from the coming destruction, but that does not mean that there won’t be a coming destruction for those who have turned their backs on Him, rejecting Him and His Son.

In Isaiah 31 we read of trouble and God’s judgment coming to the wicked and to those who have turned from God. He denounces those who see they need help – but turn to human allies or their own strength instead of turning to God. They have failed to wait on the LORD, and for them, judgment is coming. God’s perfect plan of salvation requires His children to seek God and accept the salvation offered through His Son Jesus. A response on your part is required to avoid the coming wrath and receive salvation instead.

I will end today, as each of the chapters of 1st Thessalonians have ended, with a reminder of the coming return of Christ. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thesssalonians 5:23-24).

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 31-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5

More and More

1 Thessalonians 4

Paul fits so much into the 18 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4. The chapter is probably best known for laying out the great hope Christians have of the coming of Christ when the dead in Christ shall rise from death to meet their resurrected Lord Jesus at the trumpet call of God. (Remember, “a great trumpet sounding” and a fabulous reunion on God’s holy mountain was also mentioned in yesterday’s reading of Isaiah 27). This indeed will be a moment in time like no other – a celebration like never before – ushering in a Kingdom beyond what we can imagine! Today is a great day to be reminded. Today marks the 6th year that my dad, Pastor Ray Hall, has been dead in the ground. We miss him greatly. But we do not grieve as those with no hope. We look forward to the day of Jesus’ return when the graves will be opened and the dead in Christ will rise to new life! And those believers who are still alive will join in the party. It is a great day to look forward to!

And in the meantime, there is work to be done. Paul cautions against idly waiting. He says stay busy, work with your hands, mind your own business, support yourselves, so you will be a good witness to outsiders – those who currently have no hope for the future, dead or alive.

And, there’s more…in fact, twice in the first ten verses Paul uses the phrase, “More and more”. Do it again. Over and over. An ever increasing spiral. More and more.

The first time Paul uses the phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 is in connection to how we are “to live in order to please God”. Do it more and more. This was my dad’s goal. Even up to what would be the last week of his life, from his hospital bed, when the nurse asked him what his goal was for the day, his goal was to please God. Good answer, dad! I’m guessing it’s not an answer she heard much. People want to be comfortable and pain-free, they want good health, they want good food, they want companionship, they want freedom to pursue personal pursuits, they want to get out of the hospital. But how would our lives look different if our very first and most pressing goal was to please God? And, not just once in a lifetime, or on Sundays, or when convenient, or when you have free-time, or when you feel well, but to strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and to do it more and more.

If pleasing God is our goal, it becomes very important to know what pleases God. We obviously don’t have time in this devotion to list everything possible, and nor did Paul in his letter. But he did take time to write about the importance of avoiding sexual sins, controlling lusts and living pure, holy lives, for there is punishment coming for those who don’t.

The second thing Paul wanted to see more and more from the Thessalonians was brotherly love. He commended them for learning how to love from the best lover and teacher of all time – God himself. (Isaiah also wrote about God instructing and teaching the right way – Isaiah 28:26. How and what are you learning from Him?) I am still working on learning how to love from God and the loving Christian earthly (but far from worldly) parents He gave me – all 4 of them. Dad did teach some great lessons in brotherly love – making time for people (even when you are tired or had other plans), showing grace and second chances (because grace has been given to us), providing for needs (whether it might be a ride to work, a meal, or a visit) and teaching God’s word (because without it, people will perish and have no hope).

More and More. Live to please God.

More and More. Love others.

It’s a great way to spend our time while we wait in eager expectation for the trumpet to announce the arrival of the King, the resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 29-30 and 1 Thessalonians 4

Rescue from the Coming Wrath

Isaiah 23-24 and 1 Thessalonians 1

As editor of SeekGrowLove, last December I created the Bible reading plan we are using this year. Each day we are generally reading two Old Testament chapters and one New Testament chapter. But, to fit it all into 365 days we’ve included Psalms and Proverbs in chunks throughout the year, taking the place of the New Testament reading. I didn’t pay much attention to what Old Testament and New Testament chapters were lining up together for each day. But, I have been amazed throughout the year at how often the two readings have complimented each other. It just goes to show how God’s scriptures are all connected, forever pointing us to the One Almighty God, His Son Jesus, and His plan of salvation and hope for the future. And, it’s been that way for all the generations who went before us, even for those who were reading His words as they were originally written by their writers.

Isaiah had been writing and preaching to the Jews around 740 BC. He was sharing many prophecies he’d received from God of what destruction was to come if the Jewish people and their neighbors did not repent and turn to God. Many of the things Isaiah wrote about did indeed come true within the next few generations. Some of the prophecies Isaiah wrote about (such as we find in Isaiah 24) were telling of a coming judgment further down the timeline – a time still in our future as well. We have not seen it all take place yet, but we can be sure that God’s words are true and just and will happen as He told Isaiah they would – perhaps in our generation or the next few.

In Isaiah 24 we read that God’s judgments will reach across the earth and affect everyone: priest and people, master and servant, borrower and lender, rich and poor. There are none who will be able to escape it because of their wealth or power or position. “The exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.” (Isaiah 24:4b-6a NIV). This will be the fate of the majority, those stuck in their sins without a Savior.

Isaiah also gives hope. To the Jews of his time he spoke of a remnant who would survive the destruction from the conquering armies and return to Jerusalem. This too, has already happened. And, regarding the judgment that is yet to come, Isaiah also has a word of hope and restoration for those who do trust in God in a world that doesn’t – the “very few” that are left after the harvest has taken place. (verse 6 and 13). We have not seen it take place yet, but we can be sure God’s words are true and just and will happen as He told Isaiah they would – perhaps in our generation or the next few.

Those who are left are shouting for joy, giving God praise and singing, “Glory to the Righteous One” (vs. 14-16). Isaiah warns it won’t be easy. This group will be targeted by the evil who tries to trap them. But, God is coming with power and justice. “In that day, the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon…for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously.” Satan, his demons, and all sin and evil and those who have turned their backs on God will face God’s judgment. And God will reign.

Truly, there are so many passages that line up so well with Isaiah 24 (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, Daniel 12, and Revelation just to name a few). For this is indeed a huge part of God’s story for the ages. It is what God wanted Isaiah to tell the nations nearly 3,000 years ago. And, it is what God wanted Paul to remind the church in Thessalonica less than 2,000 years ago. 1st & 2nd Thessalonians are often called the eschatological letters of Paul because of the many references to the end times (or, the end of this age and the beginning of the next). It was not enough for Paul to tell them how they ought to love and serve at the present, without preparing them for what was to come in the future, even if it wasn’t during their lifetime.

As we read 1st and 2nd Thessalonians this week and next, look for how many times Paul teaches, reminds, warns, and encourages the church with God’s perfect plans for our future. How does each chapter in 1st Thessalonians end? For a clue, let’s look at the end of chapter 1? “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 NIV). It is especially exciting reading of a part of the future that Isaiah was only able to allude to – the second coming of Christ Jesus, since Jesus had not come for the first time at the time of Isaiah’s writing.

May we read and heed the warnings of Isaiah and Paul as sent by God. May we be encouraged by God’s plan for the ages as displayed throughout His scriptures. And may we too turn, “to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 NIV).

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 23-24 and 1 Thessalonians 1

Identity in Christ: You are God’s Child!

I think we’ve all experienced chapters in life that were just difficult. Maybe you’re going through one of those times as you’re reading this. Maybe you feel like nobody understands you or hears you. Maybe you’re just looking for a hope to cling to or something to ease the aching hole in your heart.

The good news is…there is someone who knows you more intimately and loves you more deeply than any human ever could.

His name is YHWH. Or, as we call Him, Father God.

It may be true that Father God is just a title and not a technical name, but Abba is the Aramaic Hebrew word for “Father.” Jesus referred to God this way as he was battling with his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mark 14:32- 36

32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. 34 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow —to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” 35 Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. 36 And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

“What, exactly, is the significance of Abba,” you may ask.

This title shows how God works in the context of being in relationship with His children.

Romans 8:14-15

14 All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”

Galatians 4:6

6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”

Do you see it? The faith, love, and trust we can put in God are similar to the love and trust we put in our earthly fathers. As awesome as our dads can be, God’s love and knowledge of you runs even deeper. Crazy, right?!

With this comes the comfort and peace of knowing that God hears and understands our hearts, even when we don’t always feel seen and heard because God knew everything about you even before you were born!

Psalm 139: 13-16 is a beautiful account of that. “For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know [this] very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all [my] days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (CSB)

Another example is one of my favorites, Ephesians 1 verses 4 though 6 which read, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So, we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” (NLT)

The scriptures say it all. So, to conclude, may I quote one of my Atlanta Bible College professors for a moment, the wise Dr. Joe Martin: “Hallelujah, praise God, AMEN!”

-Caitie Wood

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at Bible Gateway here – Song of Songs 1-2 and Ephesians 1

The Under Pressure / I Will Survive Mash-up

Job 39-40

I’m intrigued by tardigrades. They are eight-legged microscopic animals that look almost like bears when they move, earning them the alternate name water bears. They can be found anywhere on earth, surviving the most extreme temperatures and pressures. Apparently it is no big deal for them to have no air, water, or food for a while. They can dehydrate in a water shortage and sit dormant for decades until more water comes along, and then rehydrate and continue their life as if nothing happened. They can even survive exposure to outer space unshielded from dangerous radiation. They have a resilience of almost mythical proportions.

Consider Behemoth (Job 40:15-24). He seems pretty solid. He makes me think of an elephant, hippo, or in the Harry Potter universe, an erumpent. Who knows what he is anyway? All I know is that I’d rather not cross paths with one. The most a tardigrade could do to me is crawl on me, and I wouldn’t notice it. Encountering a black bear could be scary, but they’d likely run away, especially if we are in a group. They don’t want to run into you any more than you want to run into them. But Behemoth doesn’t care. He’d trample you.

“Even if the river is turbulent, it is not frightened; it is confident though Jordan rushes against its mouth. Can one take it with hooks or pierce its nose with a snare?” (Job 40: 23-24)

Like the tardigrade, Behemoth is resilient. You or I would be swept away by the current, but not Behemoth. He makes his way through the turbulent Jordan and doesn’t lose his confidence. He knows the struggle is real, and the waters may even slow him down, but this is not the end of Behemoth. Not even close.

We’re of “small account” just like Job (40:4). We all have our struggles, our raging Jordans, that we are trying to make our way through. During the process, it’s fair to want to know why we have to struggle and suffer, and where all of it comes from. Is it from a broken world paying forward the hurt? Is it the natural consequence of our poor decisions? Does it come from God, like the author of Psalm 88 might suggest? Is it from evil forces trying to discourage us? Is it just general suffering we’re guaranteed to experience? Is it some combination of all of them?

But do you think Behemoth or the tardigrade worry about why they suffer? Probably not. They just try to get through it. Maybe while you are suffering, the “why” questions aren’t going to be the most important thing. You may only have the energy or capacity to react to the crisis and pick up the pieces later. Figuring out the deeper questions might be something you only worry about on the other side of suffering.

The ability to think about suffering is both a blessing and curse. If you think about your situation and realize that you are at least partly responsible for your suffering or the suffering of others, you have the ability to learn from your mistakes and avoid making them again. In that way, being able to avoid unnecessary suffering is a blessing. But it can seem like a curse to keep thinking about the purpose of your suffering when it comes from something completely beyond your control. This is the carousel of painful thoughts Job was on.

In that situation, it is fair to want to challenge God, like Job did. Where is his supposed justice? Go ahead and challenge God and have the wrestling match (Gen 32). He can handle it. Just be prepared to be challenged back. Be prepared for the possibility of injury. Be prepared to grow and receive a new name. Be prepared to be more resilient, more Behemoth or tardigrade-like.

To quote someone who voluntarily took on suffering for our benefit and was resilient through death itself: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)

-Jay Laurent

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 39-40 and Psalm 87-88