Unfaithful

Jeremiah 3-4; Psalm 92-93

                Occasionally, in my work as a chaplain I  meet an older couple who tell me they have been married a long time.  A few say they’ve been married 50 years.  Still fewer 60 years.  I can only think of 1 or 2 that I’ve met that made it 70 or 75 years.  Think about what it takes to be married to the same person for 75 years.  You have to be married at a young age, you both have to stay healthy enough to live at least into your 90’s, and you have to be able to figure out how to get along with another human being for 75 years.  Those are no small feats.  Statistically in the United States only about 5% of marriages make it to 50 years and far less to 60 or 70 or more.  According to the US census the average marriage lasts 8.2 years and the percentage of divorce is somewhere between 40-50% for all marriages.

                Marriage is a covenant.  A covenant is a faith commitment between two or more persons and God.  God established the covenant of marriage to be between a man and a woman till death do them part.  Because of human brokenness and our propensity to unfaithfulness, God made a provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24.  Divorce is better than murdering your spouse.  Call it the lesser of two evils.  But it was never God’s intention for marriages to end in divorce.  It’s more of an accommodation to sin and brokenness than an ideal.

                Yet, even God had to divorce his unfaithful wife.  Woa, Nelly!  What are you talking about?  God never got married because, he’s… God, right?   Actually, God uses the image of marriage to describe His relationship with Israel.  God is the husband and Israel is His bride.  It’s an image that appears in today’s reading of Jeremiah and it appears in many other places in the Old Testament.  In fact, the book of Hosea is an entire book about this.  God uses the image of an unfaithful bride because it brings an immediate, visceral response to the reader.  Nobody like to be cheated on by the person that they love.  It’s one of life’s most painful experiences.  Go listen to Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats”.  That pretty well captures the rage that comes when someone you love is unfaithful.  Has anyone ever cheated on you?  If so, you know how much it hurts.  And God wants his people to understand how much they have hurt him by their unfaithfulness and idolatry.  Read Jeremiah 3-4.  That’s written from the perspective of a husband who found out that not only has his wife been cheating on him, but she’s a prostitute, selling herself out on the street.  Ouch!

                Jeremiah 3 begins: “If a man divorces his wife
    and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again?
    Would not the land be completely defiled?
But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—
    would you now return to me?”
declares the Lord.  -Jeremiahs 3:1

            Most men in that situation would say “heck no” (or something even stronger).

                And yet…even with all of that hurt and rage and betrayal and pain, God is still willing to take his bride back.

“If you, Israel, will return,
    then return to me,”
declares the Lord.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
    and no longer go astray,
 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
    you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
    and in him they will boast.” –Jeremiah 4:1-2

            That’s what you call mercy.  That’s what you call grace. That’s what you call undeserved favor.

            God called his people to a true change of heart. 

            The original sign of the covenant in Israel was circumcision.  God told Abraham and his descendants to physically circumcise every male born in Israel as a visible sign that they were part of the covenant people of God.  They were uniquely in relationship with God and offered their exclusive allegiance and worship to God.  But far too often these people who were in that covenant relationship with God had hearts that were far from God.

So God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.” –Jeremiah 4:4

Back in the time of Moses God spoke to Israel and said that they were to Love Him with all their heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  What does any husband want?  His wife’s whole heart.  Just as any wife wants her husband’s whole heart.  That’s why unfaithfulness is so painful and leads to so many broken hearts and broken marriages.  God wants those in a covenant relationship with Him to give Him their whole hearts.

God criticized Judah for failing to return to God wholeheartedly: “her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” (Jeremiah 3:10).  God is NOT interested in our half-hearted repentance, our half-hearted worship, our half-hearted service, our half-hearted relationship.  God wants our whole-hearted love.

God created us in His image.  We love, we hurt, we get jealous and angry. That means that God also loves, God hurts when betrayed, God gets jealous and angry.  Jeremiah shows us how heartbroken God was with his faithless bride:

“Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”

 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
    I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
    My heart pounds within me”- Jeremiah 4:18-19

And yet, God loves us so much, he invites us to return to Him.

“Return, faithless people;
    I will cure you of backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22

Have you been giving your heart to someone or something instead of to the God who loves you?

Of course we can love other people, parents, spouses, children, friends.   We can love our jobs and love our homes, we can love pizza and love a pet.  But no love should come before that one true love, that love above all loves, the one with whom we’ve entered a covenant, God.

David loved God and wrote many love songs to God.  Here’s one:

“It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.”  -Psalm 92:1-2

How will you love God today?

-Jeff Fletcher

PS- In November my wife and I will celebrate 37 years married- we’re almost halfway to 75!!

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here Jeremiah 3-4 and Psalm 92-93

Let the World See

1 Timothy 1

Welcome!

Today’s passages seem to have some different main themes, so while all of these are valuable, we will be focusing mainly on 1 Timothy 1 for the purpose of keeping this devotional to a reasonable length 😊

1 Timothy 1 is written by a very dedicated and enthusiastic believer, Paul.  Paul is a very impressive man with an incredible testimony (that we get to see a little bit here) and clearly has a passion for the Kingdom.  This is why I sometimes have to re-read his messages to better comprehend just how deeply he cares for people and soak up all the energy for spreading the gospel he has!  Paul tells Timothy that God’s plan operates by faith (v. 4) and that our role as believers is to have love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (v. 5).  I LOVE that description of who Christians should be in the world!  Loving, Good, and Sincere.  Do you think the world today has that view of Christians? Or do you think that unfortunately, the world has the view of Christians who turn to fruitless discussions regarding the law (v.6-7)? 

It can be hard to swallow verses like 1 Timothy 1:9 where it says “the law is not for the righteous, but for the sinful”, if you are a sinner and know a Christian who has fruitless discussions about the law.  However, if more Christians today took their righteousness and expressed the “glorious gospel” that has been entrusted to them (v. 11), I have a feeling that it would be much easier to reach those who do not know the law!  The implied context in this passage is not expressing the idea that once you are a believer you don’t have to follow the law, but rather that once you are a believer your focus should shift off yourself and your “good works”, and move towards reaching others who need to know the law.  Paul models a great example of how to approach others about Jesus, by telling them that Christ came to save ALL sinners, including the worst of them all, which was himself! (v.15) When we openly share the impact Christ has in our lives and humbly recognize that we are all sinners, it becomes much easier to reach those who need salvation just as much as we do.

This is not to say that discussions of the law should not happen amongst believers!  Paul tells Timothy to strongly engage in battle to avoid having a shipwrecked faith (v. 18 -19).  To be prepared for battle, it’s important to know what you are up against and how to combat it!  What is key here is that our battle is not one meant to destroy arguments or put down people by boasting of our own righteousness, but rather our battle is against the evil one who is dedicated to keeping people out of the Kingdom.  Our battle is fighting for the citizenship of an eternal Kingdom, for ourselves and for everyone we meet.  The law is one tool we use to win that battle!  Another tool is our own testimony, another is the story and purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and yet another is simply sharing how amazing our God truly is.

Isaiah 40:28-31 provides a great passage to reach others with; I encourage you to memorize it for the sake of winning the battle!

“Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth.  He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding.  He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless.  Youths may faint and grow weary, young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 39-40 and 1 Timothy 1

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

In That Day

Isaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

The phrase “In that day” is used at least 7o times in the Old Testament – NIV version. Over half of those times (43 times) it is used by the prophet Isaiah – and four of those times is in today’s chapter 27. Clearly, “in that day” is one of Isaiah’s favorite topics and we can’t really discuss today’s reading without knowing a little more about this phrase. It is interesting to look at all the references Isaiah makes to this time period, not a 24 hour day. Simply go to BibleGateway.com (or your favorite Bible study website) and type in “In that day” in the search bar. If you add in the slightly more descriptive phrase, “The day of the Lord” you will get additional passages listed. Out of curiosity I also checked the KJV and found even more “In that day” passages in this version, including several in the New Testament, used by Jesus and Paul (including in the Thessalonians which we are also reading this week). It appears in the NIV New Testament the phrase is often changed to, “ON that day”. So, it’s talked about a lot, throughout Scripture – but, what is it talking about and why does it matter today?

As you look through the list of “In that day” passages, you find a lot of doom and gloom as a result of God’s judgment and punishment. For example, “In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword.” (Isaiah 27:1 NIV). It also appears that pride is often the culprit that leads to the judgment, “The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” (Isaiah 2:11, and similarly in 2:17). Pride gets in the way and causes all sorts of trouble when we think we know better than God, when we forget about Him and His way and strike out in our own direction – towards destruction. Isaiah says it quite poetically in chapter 28, “You boast, ‘We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement…for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.'” (28:15 NIV) But they continue boasting and bragging, believing their lies as they get closer and closer to death. It seems they don’t even see the danger or care, they are so wrapped up in the lie that has become their false refuge.

Who do you see today who has boastfully made a lie their refuge? I have a few ideas, but what do you think?

I thought first of the movement who boastfully displays pride all over themselves as they try to hijack God’s symbol of hope and His sure promises while blatantly denying the truths of God’s creation: male and female. And, speaking of creation, what of those who make a lie their refuge as they turn from the Creator of heaven and earth and put all their trust in big bangs and chance mutations. There are also those who put great pride in the works of their hands, like the Israelites who were so proud of the capital city Samaria that they had built (and then indulged in the selfish and messy ‘pleasure’ of getting drunk in regularly). (Isaiah 28:1-4, 7-8). And, in their prideful lies they all miss Isaiah’s message that God’s judgment is coming…”in that day”.

And, while it is good to consider how these verses apply in our society, let me never forget to consider how it applies to ME personally TODAY. Where and when do I pridefully put myself and my wishes before God and His will? Do I allow pride in my Christian lifestyle or background to prevent me from loving others? How am I led astray by lies that I have put my trust in, lies about who God is or who He created me to be, what is right and what is wrong? When do I get so caught up in the busy-ness of today that I forget to remember what is coming…”in that day.

Remembering God’s righteous punishment that will be coming in that day can be good motivation to stop doing wrong. It can help me put away the pride and lies and selfish sins. The true threat of coming punishment can be powerful incentive. I know, I am a home-daycare provider. Sometimes it just takes mentioning time-out to make a child stop a moment, consider their actions and stop their misdeeds or tantrum.

But, that’s not all!

Rewards are a beautiful incentive to do what is right. As we look at the list of Isaiah’s use of “In that day” references, we see many exciting and glorious views of the future, following the punishment. Isaiah 27:13 says, “And in that day, a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” And in the next chapter, we read, “In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.” (Isaiah 28:5). It is such an encouragement to read through the passages describing the coming reward – the perfect Kingdom of God when He shall reign. In Isaiah’s “In that Day” passages of hope and a coming perfect joy and peace, he includes references to the coming Messiah and His role in his father’s Kingdom. (When you have time, it would be interesting to create a list of what other names and descriptions Isaiah uses for Jesus the Christ?) Rewards can sometimes do what threats can’t. It’s amazing to see how fast the daycare children focus on the work at hand and get all the toys picked up when there is the promise of a waiting treat.

We can be sure God’s threats are not empty, His punishments are just and the rewards He graciously gives we can’t earn but will be beyond all we can imagine! How will you prepare today for all that will come “in that day”? And, how can we help others to be prepared? Paul had some great ideas for the Thessalonians. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.   May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13 NIV)

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereIsaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

The Joy of Christlikeness

Philippians

In response to yesterday’s definition of joy, you may be asking, “how do I get joy?” As the example definition says, it comes from hearing the gospel message, responding in faith, and receiving the Holy Spirit. There is a truth to the fact that salvation is a one time event, being transferred from the domain of darkness to his Kingdom of marvelous light. (Col. 1:13, 1 Peter 2:9) But there is also the truth that we are called to continue to grow in faith. We bring joy to ourselves and others as we pursue faith and Christlikeness.  

Philippians 2 is known primarily for the “Christ Hymn” in verses 5-11. These verses contain a powerful, beautiful, early Christian hymn sung to the glory of God in honor of Christ. We could spend a long time discussing the theology, christology and soteriology, but that would miss the MAIN POINT for why Paul wrote this section. He is trying to teach the Philippians to “live like Jesus.” Jesus, who had every right to think of himself as great and wonderful, instead lowered himself and followed God’s will. Because Jesus did this, we should not be selfish, vain, or arrogant, but should regard others more important than ourselves. (2:3) 

Paul tells the Philippians that being like Christ is going to fill them with joy. Verse one shows that if we seek Christlikeness, we can have encouragement in Christ, the consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and compassion. If we seek any of those things, we need to maintain love, be united, and intently serving God (2:2). Maintaining love, being united and intently serving are all descriptions of how Christ lived. If we want the joy that Christ had, the connection to God that allowed him to be joyful in the midst of what, by all accounts, was a tough life, then we need to live as Christ lived, obedient and following God. 

Which is why in verses 12-13, we are told to obey and work our salvation directly after the Christ hymn. Obedience leads to joy! So often we think rebellion, independence, being novel will lead to joy. But that may only be true if we are rebelling against wicked things and unjust systems. Rebelling against good and loving commands of God will only bring heart ache. God is working for our salvation, and we are to work alongside him. Along with the old hymn, we sing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!”

One final note, I said in the first paragraph that we bring joy to ourselves and others when we pursue faith and Christlikeness. When we obey the commands of God like honoring others over ourselves and taking care of their needs, he will bless us with joy. But how does that bring joy to others. Of course, we can and should expect it to bring happiness, which is a fine emotion in itself, but it isn’t the lasting joy we are talking about. But it’s not often the recipients of our blessings that are filled with joy. When we live like Christ, those who led and taught us the faith see and rejoice that we are more like the one they love. Paul asks the Philippians to “make my joy complete” in 2:2 by living like Christ. If the Philippians lived blameless and innocent lives, which they could do by the power of the Holy Spirit, then Paul could rejoice in their faith. In like manner, as we live in faith by the power of Spirit, our parents, grandparents, or spiritual ancestors will react in joy, knowing that we are going to be rejoicing together one day in the Kingdom with Christ. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, live like Christ through the power of the spirit, and by living with that humility, focus on others, and blameless innocence, that you bring joy to yourself and others. 

-Jake Ballard

(I know the days are off, but I needed to define joy yesterday. I am gonna focus mainly on joy and that will take over the first couple days of Colossians, too.)

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 11-12 and Philippians 3

Identity in Christ: You are loved!

Ephesians 2

When you think of the word “love,” what comes to mind?

Our culture would like for us to believe that love is found in sappy movies, romance novels or certain songs on the radio, but that’s simply not the reality.

1st John 4:7-11 reads, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

God created each of us with a desire to love and be loved, but He did that so He could be the one to fulfill that desire and work through us. But His love reaches even deeper.

Ephesians 2: 1-10 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. “

Let’s unpack this passage a bit. First, while we were still sinners and walking in accordance with our own will and what we wanted to do, God reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, even though we didn’t deserve it, out of pure grace. We did nothing on our own to earn that privilege. Secondly, God’s purpose for this was for us to reflect His love and grace to the world so that we could one day enjoy fellowship with Him and Jesus in the Kingdom.

So now that we have received love and grace from God to the point of Him choosing to sacrifice his only Son to bring many of his sons to glory, (as the song How Deep the Father’s Love for Us points out) what are we supposed to do? How do we go about letting our Father’s love radiate though us?

1) Spend time with Him through prayer, Bible reading and worship. Just as a bond is strengthened with your best friend whenever you go out for lunch or whatever you may do to spend time with them, our bond is strengthened with God when we make it a priority to spend time with Him.

2) Invest in your personal relationships, whether that is with brothers and sisters in Christ, or people you may know that are not Christians. We are called to the breaking of bread and fellowship (Acts 2:42) but we’re also called to evangelize and share the Gospel (1st Peter 3:15, 2nd Corinthians 5:20).

3) Finally, tell your friends and family that you love them through words and actions. I know this seems obvious, but in today’s society, social media and text messaging takes away from hearing a verbal “I love you.” When we have a friend or family member that is struggling, quite often we assume that just because we see them online, they must be okay instead of going over to their house to check in and keep them company (with their permission of course). So, I encourage you to ponder how you can show your love and God’s love to those around you.

-Caitie Wood

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Song of Solomon 3-5 and Ephesians 2

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

Identity: Purpose

Continuing on with our theme of identity for this week, today we will talk about purpose, of which there are two kinds: collective and individual.

Having a collective purpose means that we all work together to achieve a common goal. In relation to God, our collective purpose is to evangelize and make disciples of all nations as Matthew 28:18-20 tells us. We also have the responsibility of serving others (1st Peter 4:10-11), and both of these things apply to brothers and sisters in Christ and those outside of our faith.

Let’s discuss some practical examples of how we can love God and love people while striving to make disciples and further the Kingdom:

Most importantly, we are to love each other! (1st Corinthians 13:2, 1st Corinthians 16:14, John 13:34-35). We are also instructed to gather together in fellowship (Acts 2:41; Matthew 18:20). Additionally, we must confess our sins and hold each other accountable (James 5:16, Proverbs 27:17). Finally, Galatians 6 tells us to bear each other’s burdens, lovingly correct those who are struggling with sin and to work for the good of all.

In Jeremiah 1, we find a beautiful example of individual purpose. Let’s look at verses 4-8:

4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah’s individual purpose was to be a prophet and be a vessel for God to speak through, though there are many examples of individual purpose in the Bible. We have the Apostles. We have John the Baptist. We have Jesus himself! All of these people had a different individual purpose, but their unique purpose all worked toward the common purpose of furthering the Kingdom. Just like Jeremiah who was chosen, set apart, and appointed before he was even born, God created us with the same intention. Just like He did for Jeremiah, God will be here guiding our steps as we fulfill whatever He has called us to.

Maybe you don’t know what your individual purpose is yet, and that’s okay. But if you continuously trust in God’s plan for your life, you will find out what your purpose is in His timing. However, I challenge you this week to ponder and pray about how you have seen God’s love displayed in your community and/or how people have ministered to you. I also encourage you to seek God’s guidance about what you can do in your personal life to show His love to others in the spirit of bringing our Father’s lost children back to Him.

-Caitie Wood

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Ecclesiastes 11-12 and Galatians 6

Being the Church Jesus Wants to Return To

My boss recently traveled to Turkey with his father who is a Biblical unitarian pastor to see some Biblical historical sites and came back with lots of stories. He did not bring me back any Turkish delight, but he provided a pretty neat church history lesson in the middle of our therapy department this week. He talked about Constantine, the Roman Catholics, church disputes and the historic structure he toured called the Hagia Sophia, that has apparently withstood centuries of empires/turmoils in what is now Istanbul. Though I know a little bit about Constantine and find history pretty interesting, this place he mentioned was completely new to me. Hearing it was from the 400’s and some of the history behind it had us all talking about the nature of conflict that is always a part of world history and church history. And some if it explains a lot.

Arguments and divisions are nothing new in societies or religious organizations. I use the term religious organization because sometimes I hate to even taint the word “church” more than it already is. As followers of Christ we are part of the greater church. The true church. Not the Sunday morning entertainment center or tax exempt non-for-profit club. We are part of the body of Christ/church family that transcends state lines, continents, races, and generations. And within that church we are to be unified in truth/purpose and actively loving one another more while serving ourselves less.

When we think of “church” today, any number of ideas might come to our minds, though I am not sure much of them are what the New Testament church would have hoped for centuries later. If anyone wants a very convicting laugh…..check out the YouTube video “Drive Thru Church”.  A friend shared this with me and it just rang so true. But, maybe we’d have less of a consumer-driven attitude if we, as the body of Christ, were consistently doing what we were called to do. And that calling is high, but worth it. There is a day coming sooner rather than later when it seems that the true church is going to need to become more and more distinct from those who slap that name on their seeker-sensitive organizations or lukewarm social gatherings Jesus tells us he wants to spit out of his mouth. But, this isn’t the time for the pot to call the kettle black. It is the time to ensure that each of us is prioritizing his/her relationship with God and His family, loving the “one another” of the church body, and together upholding the inerrant Word of God as representatives of His kingdom.

Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching”  Hebrews 10:25

“I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21

–Jennifer Hall

Keep at the Bible reading plan. Today’s passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 21-22 and 2 Corinthians 12

Tough Love

1 Corinthians 13

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

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

-Aaron Winner

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