The Last Time

Old Testament: 2 Samuel 19 & 20

Poetry: Proverbs 26

New Testament: Acts 20

     Paul chose to bypass Ephesus based on an urgent drive he felt to be in Jerusalem for Passover, a drive that may have come from God more than himself. He describes himself as “bound by the Spirit” or “bound in spirit” – he is aware the bonds and afflictions await him, but he is not sure that death is near. But he is sure he will never see the Ephesians again. But Paul arranged to meet the church leaders from Ephesus and gave some words of encouragement and warning (Acts 20:18‑35). It is hard to imagine how that meeting must have affected them. A man who basically shaped their community through years of teaching and healing and tears now said he would never see them again, and that some of them would not remain true to the faith. Their greatest concern remained the loss of Paul. They loved and valued him. The news about their future must have been stunning, maybe even sickening, but what could be done? They had already faced opposition. They may even have anticipated that not all who claimed the name of Jesus would stay true to him. But such concerns had to be for later days.

     I wonder what further meanings they drew out of Paul’s words when they looked back on them, not simply as his closing thoughts about his own ministry, but as a commendation about their ministries. Some of his words are so poetic, or they seem so to me: “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” (v. 26-27). Looking back on it I think this may have seemed less a description of Paul’s own life and more a call to them of danger, for if he was innocent for not shrinking from the task, then that raised the threat that some of them who did so might be condemned for doing so. The image Paul offers of leaders becoming corrupt and seeking to build up themselves is an awful one. I would wish it was presented as a warning to them, something to be avoided, but as with Judas this was simply a prediction.

     A note on Acts 20:28: I prepared these devotions mainly using the 1995 NASB, which has the phrase “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Clearly there is a problem here, as God doesn’t have blood. Meanwhile you might have seen this NRSV wording: “the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” Or perhaps you read the American Standard Version: “the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.” Why do these differences exist?

     You may know that the Bibles we read aren’t translated from a single master copy of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek (with a few chapters’ worth of Aramaic). It would be unlikely for a book on paper or papyrus to survive from the first century to today. Instead we have copies of what was written then. And it isn’t easy to prevent all confusion when copying by hand. You could always make just one copy and destroy the original – but that doesn’t remove all risk of errors, though it removes the ability to check if there were any. F.F. Bruce was a well-known Greek scholar, he wrote: “For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant manuscripts, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day.” People don’t tend to question the text of Gallic War. The text may be wrong if the error got in long enough ago, but we just aren’t going to know.

     The Bible was intended to be spread widely. And because the Bible was used so widely and copied for people in so many parts of the world we have lots of copies, way more than for most things – about 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Having those different manuscripts meant they would get looked at, by language experts who wanted to know if they differed and how they differed. As it turned out almost none of the differences matter. The Church historian Philip Schaff (1819‑1893) wrote that in his time he was aware of only 400 New Testament variants that affected the meaning of a passage, and of those only 50 were of any significance. He didn’t think that any of the 50 rose to the level of affecting an “article of faith” (Companion to the Greek Testament and English Version, p. 177). The figures may be higher now, but it still isn’t something to lose your faith over. There are books (I have one) where committees of language experts evaluate the differences and what they think the situation is for each one.

     Back to Acts 20:28, it is an interesting case for involving two options. Is the issue that the text was changed at some point to say “Church of the God” rather than “Church of the Lord” – maybe because that phrase was more common in the Bible and the copyist thought it was what Luke originally wrote? Or at the end of the sentence was a reference to “son” dropped, changing what would have said “blood of his own son”? You can see here what Philip Schaff was getting at. Everyone agrees that Paul was trying to talk about Jesus here, not the Father, and that something got garbled in some of the manuscripts. It is not clear which of the manuscripts has the original intention, but this is not a big issue of doctrine.

     The matter of manuscripts and translation history can be fascinating, or it may quickly seem overwhelming. Rest assured it is not an area you normally need to concern yourself with if you are not interested in it. (For myself, with my history as an editor, it bothered me that the NASB had not addressed the issue in the verse even with a note.) As one more detail on this history, by the year 600 the gospels had been translated into nine languages. The Gospels were usually the first written literature of these languages. People were creating written forms of their languages just to better spread the news of Jesus to their people. I find that beautiful.

Dear Lord, thank you that you allow us to know about Paul’s struggles, and not just his successes. Help us to be more open with each other about our weaknesses, our tears, our losses. Let us be willing to admit that we need each other. It is more blessed to give than to receive, but if we don’t admit how much we need to receive sometimes people will not know to reach out. And help us, at least, who know that we are weak, to recognize that as a real possibility for others and offer them support and compassion and patience and time. We are not always hurting, but it is hard to make up for missing the opportunity of helping a hurting friend. So let me be more aware, more attentive. Let me listen with your son’s ears. And help me to speak with his words more often. Thank you, Lord. I love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. Why do you think Paul valued meeting with the Ephesian elders? What are some things he may have been hoping for with the meeting?
  2. If you were among the Ephesian elders warned that some of the group would turn against Jesus, what do you think your reaction might be? Do you think that Paul’s statement may have changed how many elders fell, rescuing some?
  3. What do you think the Ephesian elders did when they returned to Ephesus? What kind of message did they have to tell the regular members? How soon?
  4. Did the discussion of manuscripts and translation leave you confused? If so, I’m sorry, email me with your question (

Eyewitnesses to the Messiah

Old Testament: Joshua 16-18

Psalms: Psalm 102

New Testament: Luke 2

As we read through Luke, Joshua, and Psalm, let’s continue to be like Luke in carefully examining scripture. Let’s take note of the important details so that we will know the exact truth about what we are learning, like in Luke, as he lays out the facts surrounding the birth of Jesus, including when he was born, where he was born, and who was ruling and present at the time. We are left with evidence that he is indeed the Lord’s Messiah, born under the law of Moses during the first census that was taken during the reign of Quirinius as governor of Syria.

Those details are important.

As we read Joshua, let’s look for parallels between what happens there and what happens in the New Testament, like the women, daughters in the line of Joseph, who came directly to Joshua to ask for an inheritance. He granted it to them. I relate it to all the passages about women in the New Testament who are always surrounding and supporting Jesus and his ministry. Jesus grants many of them their petitions, even the ones I assume were unspoken.

As we read through Psalm 102, let’s consider what was going on in David’s life at the time of his writing. Let’s remember that although it was prophesied from an early time in his life that he would be king, he spent most of his life on the run for his life. When he finally became king, he committed one (or two) of the gravest sins with grave consequences, yet, he was still known for being a man after God’s own heart. I imagine this was due to the constant love and respect he had for God in loving and respecting the LORD’s first anointed king, King Saul, as we see him time and time again showing mercy to him.

Think of a time in your life as a Christian when you were so distraught that you forgot to eat, or drinking your wine mixed with your tears, before getting up, and carrying on, praising God for his compassion, graciousness, and consistency in your life with fear (reverence). Remember that our Lord Jesus told us that in this life, we will have trouble. If you haven’t experienced distress in this way, praise God! But know that we can expect it, especially if we’re doing our part in God’s plan of salvation, serving the word. We’re promised the age to come after enduring this age and all that that entails for the sake of the salvation of others. If we’re working for him, we may also have a target on our backs like David did. But we can take courage. Jesus has overcome the world, and so can we through him, by imitating him when met with hardships.

Notice now in Joshua that even though the children of Israel were promised the land they were conquering, with Joshua as their leader, that they still had much work to do before they were able to rest in the land that was promised to them. In order to even step foot in the land promised them, they had to drive the current residents out. Many times they failed to drive them out completely and dwelt among people who were not God’s people. Often this caused many of them to stumble.  

I relate this to sin under our new covenant through Jesus. Although we are promised the kingdom of God at the end of our life race, we still have much work to do. For one, we must drive out the sin from our lives completely, not allowing it to dwell with us. If we don’t, we may end up with a snare that costs us our lives. Thank God for repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Now let’s switch gears back to Luke chapter two. There is so much detail that shouldn’t be ignored. These details, along with the parallels between both of the major covenants, can grant us an even greater understanding of what this life is all about if we go through it all carefully. But again, the result of all the knowledge gained should lead us into new creatures, people who are made in the image of God, who become new in the image of Christ, to the glory of God if we belong to him.

The second chapter of Luke is full of people who I admire for their Godly character. I have no doubt that God hand selected them all to receive the best gift, being eyewitnesses of their Messiah Jesus.

Like unto Mary, the angel of the Lord came to a group of highly favored shepherds, bringing good news of great joy for all people. Not only one angel, but a multitude of heavenly hosts came, praising God before them for what he had done. If I am understanding their message correctly, I would say that they were among the men with whom God was pleased. It is my strive at the end of this life to hear those words from my Lord Jesus when I get the chance to meet him face to face.

When the shepherds heard these words, they went straight away to see what was made known to them. That is faith. After they fellowshipped with the new parents, they went away with the response that we should all endeavor to have after an encounter with our Messiah, which was to glorify and praise their God for all that they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Next comes Simeon, the man looking for the consolation of Israel, a devout and righteous man, with holy spirit upon him. He got what he was hungering and thirsting for when he held the Lord God’s Christ in his arms. His response was to bless God, the one who gave him what he promised him, for eyes to see God’s salvation in the face of Jesus, who would be a light of revelation to the gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel.

Then we’re told about Anna, the prophetess, who chose to remain devoted to God’s work in the temple. Day and night she served the Lord God with fasting and prayers, after being widowed for years. At the age of 84, she met her Messiah Jesus. At that very moment, her response was to give thanks to God. She then continued speaking of Jesus to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Looking at the child Jesus, we can see how he grew in wisdom. He didn’t know what he didn’t know. He had to seek it and obtain it. When he was only 12, he spent his time listening to teachers in the temple and asking them questions. He made it his business to be about his father’s business. That’s the heart of someone thirsty for the word.

The result of Jesus’s studying was a young child who had great understanding of the word, someone who had an answer that I can only assume was correct when corresponding with those well versed in the word, as they were astonished by his answers. He continued to increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

And finally, there is my favorite person, save Jesus, Mary, his mother. Her response to all of those Godly people and their words, including her son, was to treasure the things spoken about her son in her heart.   

-Juliet Taylor


  1. What are some petitions or unspoken prayers that Jesus grants to the women during his earthly life?
  2. What else could we relate the work of the children of Israel to with the work we must do under our New Covenant through Jesus besides driving out the sin in our lives?
  3. What characteristic do you admire the most about those who got to witness Jesus in the flesh, face to face before their death?  

Life is Hard

Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 23 & 24

Psalms Reading: Psalm 88

New Testament Reading: Galatians 4

Life is hard.  There are terrible things that all people, even Christians, experience simply because we live in a fallen and sinful world.  Some of the hard things people experience are because of their own poor choices, others are because of someone else’s poor choices, and still others are simply things that cannot be controlled.  Financial stress comes to those who are unwise with their money, car accidents happen when people are paying attention to their phone instead of the road, sickness such as cancer can occur in the healthiest and best people.  Life is hard.

This Psalm (88) is written by Heman the Ezrahite, and unlike most other laments in Psalms, it doesn’t end on a positive, hopeful, note.  Instead, it concludes with darkness.  This psalmist equates his life’s troubles to nearing Sheol (v.3).  He feels weak, overwhelmed, desperate, rejected, and lonely.  Heman writes that his eyes are worn out from crying out all day long (v.9). 

If you’re like me, you may be wondering why in the world this Psalm is included in Scripture… it offers no hope and seemingly no connection to an amazing God.  Why would this be allowed in the Bible??  Doesn’t it turn others off our faith to have someone just writing about how hard life is, even after worshiping God?  How does this chapter bring me anything for my faith walk if it’s just about sadness?

Well, despite being credited as one of the saddest psalms, after some prayerful consideration I also see how important this psalm can be.  Throughout the psalm Heman writes about coming to God, crying out to Him, raising his hands to the Lord, and continually praying (vv.1, 9, 13).  It seems that even with his world crashing down around him and when he feels like he is drowning, his first reaction is to reach out to God.  What an example of faithful living!  

The life of a Christian is never stated to be easy.   In fact, there are times in everyone’s life that I would expect them to be in a similar place as Heman was when writing this psalm.  Overwhelmed, exhausted, alone, in the dark.  If God ‘allowed’ this psalm to be part of his God-breathed Scriptures, then we have to believe it holds value for our lives.  There must be value in the pain and hardship that Heman describes, and the pain we still go through in the modern day.  The lesson we can take away from Heman’s writing is that in all the pain, we can always come to God.  Whether it’s through prayer or simply crying out, God is there to hear us no matter where we are in our life. 


Heman wrote this psalm long before Christ came around.  While he had hope of a coming Savior, our hope resides in a Savior who came, and is coming again.  How does this change our laments or prayers to God?

Balancing hopeful positivity and the real difficulty of life is truly an art.  How does what we know about God impact this balance in your life?

What did God reveal to you about his character in this passage?


Lord, we live in a broken, sinful world.  This life is hard.  Today we pray for you to comfort those who are struggling, to give strength and hope to those who need it.  But we also pray that no matter what life circumstances they are in, they ultimately know that they can go to you in any form.  God, thank you for the hope we have in Christ Jesus.  We are excited for your Kingdom to be brought to earth where there will be no more suffering.  We longingly look to that day.  Amen.

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

My Mouth is Filled with Your Praise

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 24 & 25

*Psalms Reading: Psalm 71

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 8

As I began reading Psalm 71 I immediately took to heart the first sentence, “In you, LORD, I have taken refuge.” How many times do we have troubles and look to things other then God? We look to our friends, our families, sometimes video games, sugar, so many things when our first response should be to look to God. Our writer goes on to ask God to be his rock of refuge, to which I can always go. We can go to Him anytime day or night. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because something is bothering me. While I know my husband would not get upset if I woke him, it is not something I want to do. But guess what, God is there! He is always with us.

The Psalm goes on to ask about not casting him away when he is old, not forsaking him when his strength is gone. He asks God for help. He says he will always have hope and he will praise God more and more. He will tell of his saving acts all day long. He will praise Him with the harp, the lyre, his lips and his tongue. The writer of this Psalm really knew that God is AMAZING!

All of this made me think of a few things. First, as I said earlier, God is aways with us. I have a great support system and God has put wonderful people in my life to help me navigate the craziness of this world but do I put God aside and try everything else first and then go to Him? I know I do sometimes, then I realize I should have gone to Him first. Many times when I go to him first, he puts the right help in front of me to navigate my problem and sometimes he tells me I just need to wait on it.

Second, when he is talking about his enemies, I think of the enemies that are trying to take us away from God. They will stop at nothing to tear us from the love of God. Verse 4 says “Deliver me, my God from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.”  We need to stand firm in our faith, seek God, spend time in His word, and be careful that we don’t get pulled away. It is so easy to walk away, to spend time away from God. We need to be purposeful in our walk with Him so we are not tempted to walk away.

Lastly, he is praising God. We need to praise God for all he has given us. My husband says he is part of the joyful noise club. I am too, I don’t have a beautiful voice but the Bible doesn’t say we have to have a beautiful voice, it says to make a joyful noise. It also doesn’t say we need to be Bible scholars to speak his word or tell others of the great things He does. Verse 17 says, “I declare your marvelous deeds.”  Go out and declare His marvelous deeds in your life.

-Jeani Ransom

Questions for reflection:

  1. How do you take refuge in God? Do you seek others first or God first?
  2. How can you show your praise to Him today?
  3. What marvelous deeds has He done for you? Who can you share them with?

I Am the LORD your God

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 14 & 15

Psalms Reading: Psalm 66

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 3

Today’s reading in Numbers takes us back to the scene of the Israelite crimes of complaining, grumbling, and not trusting God. If you have been reading in Numbers at all this week, you will know we’ve seen plenty of these in action already, and Numbers 14-15 is full of plenty more. It is interesting to consider that it’s not like the Israelites’ negativities had been ignored or that they were serving them well up until now. It had been the complete opposite, and there had been plenty of consequences already. Smitten with a plague with quail still in their teeth, a fire sent down from the LORD, Miriam struck with a leprous disease, delayed travels in the desert, etc. Yet, the Israelites were at it again.

In verse 3 we see a phrase that I am guessing hits close to home.  “Why did the LORD…?”.

In this case, the Israelites weren’t asking, “If the LORD is real, why did he….” They knew he was real and didn’t doubt that. But, as believers in the LORD, like us, they struggled to trust Him when things were tough and when they couldn’t see what our sovereign God knows. They focused on their doubts, worries, discomforts, and did not humble themselves and rely on God who had told them what His plans were for them. Along the way, things were hard. It is a broken, imperfect world full of problems just like the desert wilderness. Sometimes they are beyond our control. Sometimes they are because of our attempts to control. Enemies are real. Plagues and diseases are still a thing. Sin is rampant. But, while problems can seem to prevent us from seeing anything else sometimes, even then, we have an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly loving Father taking care of us through it all.

 And so did the Israelites. Reading further in chapter 14 we see Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua seeking to follow God even through the difficulties, and encouraging others. We see the LORD forgiving when asked in verse 20, and eventually, some Israelites did get to the promised land! Canaan still had some problems as far as promised lands go, but the promised land awaiting us in the coming kingdom of God is one without tears, sickness, and sorrow. Nothing to grumble and complain about at all.

Let us trust God to know best since compared to Him . . .we know a lot less! I like the last verse in Numbers 15  to help facilitate trust, love, and honor toward God. Even in the hard stuff.

 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.”

(Numbers 15:41, NIV)

-Jennifer Hall

Reflection Questions

  1. Seriously consider your own negativity. In what situations, and toward whom, do you find your negativity festering or exploding? How is this affecting your relationship with others and with God? Spend some time talking to God about this problem and what you can do to improve.
  2. How has the Lord shown Himself – and His desire and supreme qualifications to be your God – in your life thus far? What has He brought you out of? (Numbers 15:41)? What has He brought you into? Trusting in Him, what is yet to come?
  3. What do you know about the Lord your God because of your reading in His Scriptures today?

Stay in the Shelter of the LORD

New Testament Reading:  1 Corinthians 14

*Psalms Reading:  Psalm 61

Old Testament Reading:  Numbers 1-3

I really enjoy a good thunderstorm.  Sometimes in the spring and summer in Minnesota we can watch the sky turn dark and see and feel the lightning and thunder.  I find it incredible, and it causes me to praise God for his awesome power and might.  I should clarify, I enjoy it when I am in the safety of my home.  If you have ever been trapped outdoors during a powerful storm it is amazing how weak and helpless you can feel.  The first four verses of Psalm 61 remind me of a time when that happened.

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in your tent forever!
    Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! (ESV)

Amy and I were out fishing in Canada when a powerful storm swept in out of nowhere.  Being outside in a thunderstorm is scary enough but being in what amounts to a 16-foot aluminum lightning rod brings it to a whole new level.  We were far enough from camp when the storm started that I knew we couldn’t make it back before the serious weather hit.  In the middle of the lake, you are the tallest thing, especially if your wife is short.  As it turns out, what we did is not advised but it worked out for us.  We headed toward shore and pulled the boat under a large rock overhang and waited out the storm.  It was still nerve wracking but being protected under that large outcropping gave a feeling of safety and security that would not have been found had we stayed in the middle of the lake.  It’s good to know that in the storms of life, the only safe, reliable shelter is the rock that is higher than I.  Our God is a strong tower against the enemy that we can take refuge in.  Once we are there, verse 4 should be our heart’s cry:  Let me dwell in your tent forever!  Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!

-Todd and Amy Blanchard

Reflection Questions

  1. Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt very near to God?  What were the circumstances that brought you there?  Are you still there?  If not, why?
  2. Unfortunately, often we are closest to God when we are in dire circumstances.  What can you do to find/maintain that closeness with God in your everyday life?
  3. How did God show himself to you today?

No one is all bad, they can always serve as a bad example

*New Testament Reading:  1 Corinthians 10

*Psalms Reading:  Psalm 57

Old Testament Reading:  Leviticus 21-22

Have you ever wondered why some things “made it” into the Bible?  Why do we need to hear about what people did thousands of years ago?  1 Corinthians 10 gives us one reason.  In verses 6 and 11 Paul writes that these things took place as examples for us.  He was referencing the Israelites as they wandered in the desert and telling us not to do the things they did (indulging in sexual immorality, putting God to the test, grumbling, etc.). 

Yesterday we talked about God’s expectations.  Sometimes rather than just giving us a list of do’s and do not’s He gives us examples of others’ choices and how that worked out for them.  We can look in the Bible and find a lot of examples of people who made good choices and bad choices.  We can learn from both of these. 

We can also learn from David’s example in Psalm 57.   Many of the Psalms tell us what the circumstances were when it was written.  This one says it was when David fled from Saul into a cave. 

Verses 1-3 – David cries out to God, believing He will save him

Verse 4 – David tells God some of his problems

Verse 5 – David exalts God

Verse 6 – David tells God more of his problems

Verses 7-11 – David tells God that his heart belongs to Him; he gives thanks and sings praises to God

It seems as if David does believe in God’s ability to protect him, but at the same time sees the big problems that are in his life at that moment.  He reminds himself of God’s faithfulness, but the fears and trials don’t go away.  He finally simply decides to praise God and recognize Him for his greatness, even in the midst of his difficult circumstances. 

-Todd and Amy Blanchard

Reflection Questions

  1. What can you praise God for right now in your life, no matter what your circumstances are? 
  2. Whose example in the Bible do you want to follow?  Whose do you want to avoid?
  3. Are you being a good example of a faithful child of God for others to follow?
  4. What character trait of God did you see in today’s reading?

He Will

Zechariah 10

Monday, November 14, 2022

Think about a time in your life when you felt that you were further from God than you have ever been. Whether you were allowing yourself to be distanced from the Church or you were going about life with God not near as high as he should be on your priorities.

At the time that Zechariah is prophesying to the Jews, the people of Israel were still scattered, the Babylonian conquest had devastated the land, and there seemed to be more and more tribulations building up for them. The Israelites probably felt abandoned and very far from God. Yet, Zechariah was giving a message of hope. 

In Zechariah 10:1, he opens up with: “Ask for rain from the Lord at the time of the spring rain – The Lord who makes the storm winds; And He will give them showers of rain, vegetation in the field to each person.” He is reminding the people that God is unimaginably powerful, and can and will provide for them in their needs. The emphasis on the difference between asking for “rain” and receiving “showers of rain” shows the abundance that may be granted to those that follow closely with God, even through these tribulations. 

The chapter then goes on to describe the idols and corrupt leaders who will try to stray the Israelites away from the path of righteousness. Again, Zechariah prophesies that God will strengthen the house of Judah, will save the house of Joseph, and will bring them back. As the people are scattered, and go through tribulation before then, in His name they will be strengthened in the Lord.

Although our troubles may not be as great as the Jews were facing back in the times of Zechariah, surely we can identify some idols and false leaders in our lives. Idols were magnified as a topic in FUEL 2022, but one thing that we know is that idols can take many shapes and sizes. Furthermore, false leaders can magnify the effects of idols or faulty ideologies if we allow them to. Doing so can lead us to a path where we can end up very far from God, and such a path leads to devastation. However, no matter how far removed we may feel from God, He will have compassion and will always answer us. That seems to be the most powerful message that is being given in Zechariah 10: the continual usage of the modal verb “will” tells us that God is someone who is always present and will deliver on his promises. So then, we must continually pray and keep God in our hearts so that we may traverse our tribulations with righteous resolve.

-Colby Leggitt

Hello, my name is Colby Leggitt. I am currently a Junior at the University of Arkansas and am currently triple majoring in Physics (Computational), Mathematics, and Political Science with a minor in Education. I attend McGintyTown Church of God, and I adore the COG community!

Reflection Questions

  1. What are some idols in your life if you have any? How can you put God first?
  2. What do you think about the prophecy being fulfilled of Israel coming back together? Is the current state of the world truly a sign of end times?
  3. How have you seen God give showers when He was only asked for rain?

The Long Game

James 1

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The letter of James has some of the most immediately practical wisdom you can find in the Bible. Some have called it the “Proverbs of the New Testament.” If you are looking for guidelines about how a Christian should live, James is a great place to start.

The only problem is that some of James’ advice is hard to take: 

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but when I’m going through difficult things in life, I’m not feeling joy. Isn’t joy supposed to be reserved for things that are… joyful? Isn’t joy for when people get married, or when babies are born, or when a new season of your favorite show is available to stream, or when you are going to have tacos? Yes, joy is for the good things in life.

So why does it sound like James is telling us to enjoy suffering? Is he insane?

Well, no. In order to understand what he is saying, we have to think of the long game. We’re not to be joyful because of the difficult times we are facing, but because of the growth potential they provide for us. Going through things teaches us to endure, and being able to endure makes us more mature and complete. Pressures shape us into stronger people. Recall that if you subject carbon to intense heat and pressure, you get diamonds!

Consider any elite athlete. They didn’t get where they are by accident, but through years of difficult and intense training. Do you think they truly enjoyed all of that training? Of course not, but I bet they did enjoy knowing that through their training, they were going to be the GOAT at their sport.

If you want your muscles to become stronger, you have to progressively challenge them. Likewise, when our faith is challenged, it also becomes stronger. James is asking us to take on the right attitude of joy during our times of discomfort, because we know that through those challenges, we are deepening and growing our faith.

In thinking about all these things, I’m reminded of the time Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, under unimaginable distress because he knew he would soon lose his life. Imminent death is the kind of thing that would test anyone’s faith, even Jesus. He didn’t want to go through with it any more than you’d want to drive a stake into your own eye socket. In his situation, I would have been tempted to just run away and wash my hands of the whole thing. I’d say to myself, “This whole messiah business has taken quite a turn and I just want a quiet life somewhere.” I can imagine he had that same temptation. Surely he didn’t enjoy being betrayed, put on trial, scourged, and nailed to a piece of wood to die in total humiliation.

Jesus didn’t have to do what he did, but he was thinking of the long game. Yes, he knew he would face a horrible death, but deep in his heart he had something resembling joy. Not joy because of the circumstances he was enduring, but because of what was just over the horizon. It was this joy and hope that allowed him to muster the strength to say with his dying breath, “It is finished.” He knew that his dying would mean, paradoxically, conquering over the powers of sin and death, and leading us on a mass exodus out of their clutches. He knew that his resurrection would unleash a new reign of God on the earth and again put us at one with God.

Jesus did what he did because he was thinking of us.

-Jay Laurent

A couple questions to reflect on:

1. What are some trials or difficult times that you have had to endure?

2. Can you think of any ways you grew as a result of these times?

Our Response to a Corrupt World

2 Timothy 3

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Though I’ve always struggled with anxiety, I can trace a lot of my childhood anxiety back to one source: the 5 o’clock news. I dreaded the hour-and-a-half each evening that my Dad would sit down in his recliner and turn on the television to hear the journalists report the sad and scary happenings of the day. I grew up near Dayton, Ohio, which has several times been on the “ten most dangerous cities (of its size) in the USA” list, so there were a lot of terrifying updates about local robberies and murders, not to mention domestic and global catastrophes, such as the Persian Gulf War and the Oklahoma City bombing. My tender heart had great difficulty accepting such chaos and pain in the world. 

Then as a sophomore in college, I witnessed a hit-and-run, a robbery gone awry that resulted in the vehicular homicide of a sweet man, beloved in his community. I was forced to relive that terrible day many times over the next several years as a prime subpoenaed witness, until a series of unfortunate mishaps with the trials resulted in the guilty suspects being released with a clean record. I was aghast that the lawyers could be so slimy as to defend people who were clearly guilty of theft and murder, and that such evil could exist in the first place. 

With all the terrible things in the world today, it causes me to wonder, how much worse could it actually have been back in Genesis 6 when God felt he needed to start again with godly people on Earth?

The world became corrupt again after Noah, and the wickedness in human hearts has continued for millenia. Paul warned Timothy, starting in verse 2, that in the final days, “people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.” Paul reminds Timothy to stay away from such people. That list sure sounds like the tendencies of a lot of people in this world and on the news today… and if I’m being completely honest, it sounds a lot like me at times too, when I lose my Christ-focus. I, too, have been “such people.”  I am a sinner saved by grace, and I need to humbly remember how Jesus has saved me. I also need to be careful when I am in the world, to not be of it; it is important to not be influenced by people who are doing evil things, or I might sway to become a part of the sin and be pulled away from my relationship with God. Yes, we need to share the love of Jesus with everyone, but also have boundaries in those relationships.

Sometimes new Christians think that following Jesus should be The Easy Life, but the Bible is very clear that we will have difficulties as followers of Jesus. In verse 12, Paul promises that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus himself said that we will have trouble, but he has overcome the world! (John 16:33). So Paul reminds Timothy two verses later to keep focused on what he has learned, keep the legacy of faith alive. By focusing on what we knew in the good times, we can have the strength to make it through the difficult times. 

Then in verse 16, he reminds Timothy that the scripture is a guidebook for life, a manual for living. By following the God-breathed scriptures, we can have the training and correction we need to be ready to do good work for him, and (I would add) to fight any battle that we might face: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I believe that is true today as well. The scriptures have survived for thousands of years because God wanted us to have them as a roadmap for our journey in this life, His special guidance through which He still speaks to us. 

I’ll never forget how I beamed with pride as I sat in the front seat of our old red Dodge Omni hatchback, filled to the brim with camping supplies for our family’s annual vacation to the Hocking Hills KOA campground, with the Rand McNally road atlas sprawled over my 10-year-old lap. I was my Dad’s “navigator”; I had the very important job of following the criss-cross lines on the map (which my Dad had conveniently highlighted prior to our departure) to help us arrive at our vacation destination, leading the way for the rest of the clan in the car behind us. Until I was a young adult, I believed I was a good navigator. However, when my husband Dan and I got married and began to go on trips together (before smartphones were commonplace and while GPS car systems were still out of our price range), I realized that a modern Ferdinand Magellan I was not. As a directionally-challenged individual, my mis-reading of maps led us on many, shall we say, unplanned adventures. (Now, we reminisce about those frustrating adventures with a half-smile as we thank God for the invention of Google Maps and data plans.) It turns out that I wasn’t the navigator at all; my Dad had already highlighted the route and knew where he was going. He gave me the map and taught me how to read it at a basic level, but ultimately he was leading us the whole time. Likewise, God has given us a map (the Bible), and He shows us the best way to live. But we need to read His word, study His “map” and seek His ways for our lives through prayer and wise counsel. Then we will be better equipped to do His work. 

-Rachel Cain

Reflection questions: 

As a Christian, we are guaranteed persecution in this life. Think and pray about ways that you can prepare yourself to face those trials.

In what practical ways can you encourage and support other Believers who are facing trials? 

Look back on your life. How have you felt God’s leading through prayer and His word? How do you sense Him leading you today? (It’s a great idea to keep a journal of God’s faithfulness and answered prayers, which you can read again during difficult times!)

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