Jacob in Padan Aram

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 29 & 30 and Matthew 15

In Genesis 29, Jacob arrived in Padan Aram and found his first cousin, Rachel, at a well.  I’m immediately reminded of Genesis 24, where Abraham’s servant came to this same place, probably to this same well, and found Rebekah, the then-future wife of Isaac.  We’re not told if Jacob had prayed for God’s direction like Abraham’s servant did in Genesis 24.  But we do know Jacob went there not only to run away from his brother, whom he had cheated, but also to find a wife.  And bonus, Rachel was a virgin and was gorgeous.

After spending a month working for Laban, Jacob’s uncle, and working hard the whole time, Laban asked what wages Jacob would like as he continued to work for Laban.  In Genesis 29:18, we read, “Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”  He must have really been in love, because we’re told, “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”  Wow, that sounds like a romance novel (although I haven’t actually ever read one).

At the end of seven years, there was a big wedding ceremony.  When Jacob woke up the next morning, he woke up with Rachel’s older sister, Leah.  Laban had tricked Jacob, and had him marry the wrong girl!  Personally, I can’t imagine how this happened.  Did Jacob celebrate a little too much to notice who he was marrying?  Leah had to be complicit in this subterfuge.  Did Leah keep her veil on until it was dark?  Did she not talk, because presumably the two sisters’ voices sounded different.  Where was Rachel while all this was happening?

Regardless of the answer to any of these questions, Jacob had been tricked into marrying the wrong sister.  After complaining to Laban, he agreed to work another 7 years for the wife he really wanted, and married her a week later.  

Polygamy may sound wrong to us, but there are several examples in the Old Testament of men marrying multiple women.  Having said that, there are no examples of this working out well anywhere in the Bible.  According to Jesus in Matthew 19:4-9, God intended from the beginning that one man would be married to one woman for life.

Anyway, Jacob had tricked his father, and had cheated his brother.  Now, Jacob was tricked by his father-in-law, and (spoiler alert) he would be cheated by his father-in-law repeatedly for 20 years.

This is an example of a principle that we see demonstrated throughout scripture, and in our lives today.  We read in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.”  You may have heard the old axiom, “What goes around comes around.”  Basically, these both mean the same thing – everyone eventually has to deal with the consequences of their actions.

But wait, God had promised rich blessings to Jacob.  Shouldn’t God have prevented Jacob’s problems?  Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.  Followers of God are promised, in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  This takes away God’s punishment for our sins, but it doesn’t take away the natural consequences of our actions.

Despite this, we can still rely on another promise, found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In his early life, Jacob was opportunistic and deceitful – looking out for number one.  After working for Laban for 20 years of hardships, Jacob grew to understand that God was looking out for him (See Genesis 31: 38-42).

I think this isn’t just the story of a historical character and his family.  I think these truths still hold true for us today, and we can learn from them.  God will forgive us if we confess and repent.  But we will receive natural consequences for our actions.  Despite this, if we are living in a right relationship with God, everything, even those natural consequences will turn out for our good.

There is an easier way.  We can save ourselves a lot of pain and trouble by just following God from the start.  But we each have to make that choice for ourselves.  What’s your choice?

–Steve Mattison

How to Get a Spouse

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 23 & 24 and Matthew 12

In Genesis 24, we find the story of Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for his beloved son Isaac.  It’s interesting that the story of creation as recorded in Genesis 1 required only 31 verses, but that this chapter about a wife for Isaac, with its 67 verses is the longest chapter in Genesis.  In addition to the obvious story we read in this chapter,  I think there are additional things we can learn from this chapter.  As I read about the story of finding a wife for Isaac, I see a parallel with GOD (Abraham in this story) finding a bride (the church for Christ, Rebekah for Isaac) for His beloved son, Jesus (Isaac in this story).  I also see lessons for us to consider when seeking a spouse.  This will get long, but I’ll try to touch briefly on the story, the comparison with God, and application for marriage.

Abraham had been following the Lord for 65 years by this point in our story.  Abraham wanted to arrange the marriage for Isaac to the right wife, before he died.  The story starts with Abraham giving instructions to his servant.  Genesis 24: 3-4 says, “I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I’m living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

The servant travelled hundreds of miles (possibly nearly 500 miles) with servants and 10 camels loaded with gifts to get to where Abraham’s relatives lived.  Once he got there, before doing anything else, he prayed, as recorded in Genesis 24: 12-14, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today and show kindness to my master Abraham.  See, I am standing beside this spring and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water.  May it be that when I say to a girl, “Please let down your jar that I may have a drink. And she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ – let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.”  He not only prayed, he also asked for a sign to know who was the right one.

While he was still praying, Rebekah came out to draw water.  He asked her to give him some water – which she did, and then went ahead and watered his camels too, without being asked.  (Note:  a single thirsty camel can drink up to 40 gallons of water – she was obviously a hard worker.)  During all this, the servant just watched quietly and waited.  

He then asked, “whose daughter are you.”  Once he found out she was related to Abraham, he immediately bowed down and worshiped God.  When he did this, Rebekah ran back home to tell her mom what happened – leaving the servant at the well.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, came out to invite the servant to come home with him.  Before the servant would even eat, he wanted to tell the reason for his visit.  Once he told them about Abraham, and Isaac, he asked the family if Rebekah could marry Isaac.  They decided to leave that up to Rebekah, who said, “Yes.”

The servant gave both Rebekah and her family many gifts.  The servant also told how rich Abraham was, and that he had given everything to his son Isaac – indicating how rich Rebekah would be once she married Isaac.

The next day, the servant wanted to take Rebekah and go back home.  Her family wanted to wait a while.  They asked Rebekah, and since she was eager to go too, they left right away.

As soon as they got back to Isaac, the servant gave an account to Isaac of all he had done.  Then Rebekah married Isaac, and they lived happily ever after – or at least, “So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

Parallel:  I see similarities between Abraham as a loving father, and God.  And between Isaac, who had a miraculous birth, and was obedient to the point of being sacrificed, and Jesus.  Rebekah, the bride for Isaac, reminds me of the church as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Neither Abraham nor Isaac went to find a bride, instead, Abraham sent a faithful servant, who swore to be obedient to Abraham’s wishes.  The unnamed servant referred to Abraham as “my master” 19 times in this chapter.  Everything he did was to obey and serve his master.  (We would do well to take this to heart ourselves, as servants of God.)  Neither God nor Jesus are physically present today to build the church.  God sends faithful servants to invite “sinners” to become “the bride of Christ”.

The servant was eager to complete his master’s mission.  Once the bride accepted the invitation, she too was eager to complete the task.  I think it’s imperative that we faithfully serve God eagerly.  Also, once a person decides to accept the invitation to join God’s family, I think it is imperative they respond quickly, otherwise, they may slip away.

The servant gave gifts that were sort of a down payment of immeasurable wealth Rebekah would receive once she joined the family, which is reminiscent of 2 Cor 1:22 which says God’s Holy Spirit in believers is a deposit, guaranteeing the promise that is to come.

Finally, when the servant got back, he had to give an account to Isaac, which reminds us that one day, each of us will have to give an account of our lives (Romans 14:12) and even for every idle word we say (Matthew 12:36).  Will we be a “good and faithful servant?”

Application for marriage:  Christians should not marry non-Christians.  2 Corinthians 6:14 says that believers should not be unequally yoked to unbelievers.  1 Corinthians 7:39 says that if a woman’s husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wants, but only a believer.

Christian’s should pray for God’s direction, ask God for confirmation, watch the person’s character to see if this may be the right one, verify they are a hard worker and they are in the right family (the family of God) – all before ever considering asking (or accepting) “will you marry me”.

–Steve Mattison

Abraham is tested

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 21-22 and Matthew 11

God had promised Abraham, in Genesis 17:19, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

At this point, Abraham was over 100 years old, and had faithfully followed God.  In Genesis 12, Abraham obeyed when God told him to leave his country and family.  Abraham allowed Lot to take the lush land around Sodom in Genesis 13, and trusted God to provide for his own flocks and herds on barren mountains.  In Genesis 15, Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would have a son in his old age, and God counted that faith as righteousness.

In Genesis 22:2, we find God commanding Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

This doesn’t make sense.  God had explicitly promised that God’s promises to Abraham would be passed down through Isaac’s descendants, and now God was commanding Abraham to sacrifice him – apparently destroying the promise He had made to Abraham.

By this point, Abraham had developed a very close relationship with God.  In fact, we’re told 3 times in the Bible that Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chron 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23) – and as far as I know, Abraham is the only person in the Bible of whom this is said.

We’re told in Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise the dead, and that He was going to keep His promise.

So early the next morning, Abraham took Isaac and 2 servants and left for the place God told him to go.  When they got close, Abraham told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there.  We will worship and we (emphasis added) will come back to you.”

As they got even closer, Isaac asked his dad, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Can you imagine how this must have broken Abraham’s heart, looking down into his son’s questioning face, knowing that in a few minutes he would be killing his beloved son, who would be the offering?  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb.”  (Actually, God had provided Isaac – as a miracle baby in his parent’s old age.)  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, tied up Isaac, and laid him on the altar.  

As he was getting ready to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stopped him.  Abraham then saw a ram caught in the brush by its horns, and sacrificed it instead.  God then promised Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 22:16-18, “I swear by myself, declared the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

I could point out all the similarities of Abraham’s being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, and God being willing to sacrifice His Son, Jesus.  I could point out the significance of another quote from this chapter, “Jehovah Jireh – on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (This was the mountain where Soloman’s temple was built hundreds of years later.)  I could point out the importance of obeying God, and the benefits that result.

Instead, I want to comment on who, when, where, how, and why of God’s provision.  

Who:  God tested Abraham with a very difficult test even after a life of serving God.  We see that God provided the ram in this case only after Abraham trusted and obeyed God – even though it didn’t make sense.  Assertion:  God provides for those who trust Him and obey Him.  

When:  God provided for Abraham at the very last minute, not before.  We’re told in Hebrews 4:16 that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Assertion:  God provides precisely when we need something, not when we think we need it.  (i.e.  according to God’s timing.)

Where:  God provided for Abraham only after Abraham went where God told him to go, and after he obeyed everything God told him to do.  Assertion:  God will provide if we are where He wants us to be.  We should have no expectation of receiving God’s provision if we aren’t where He wants us to be. 

How:  God didn’t send an angel from heaven with an offering for Abraham to sacrifice, God provided a normal ram, caught in a normal thicket, by it’s normal horns.  And God didn’t send a whole flock of sheep, just one ram, because that was all that was needed.   Assertion:  God will usually provide in ways that are very natural – don’t look for miracles.

Why:  In times of testing, it’s easy to only think about our problems, and focus on, “why is this happening to me?”  I think there may be two general reasons why trials come.  First, we are told in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Note that this only applies if we are living according to His purpose.  Also note that trials are by definition difficult, and won’t seem to be beneficial at the time.  Second, ultimately, everything is for God’s glory.  Isaiah 43:7 says, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…”  We see an example of this with God destroying Pharaoh and his army for God’s glory in Ex 14:4, 17.  Assertion:  God allows trials and gives provision for our good and for His glory.

The bottom line is, if we are faithfully following God, times of testing will come.  If we remain true to God, if we are where He wants us to be, and if we are obedient to Him, he will provide what we need (not necessarily what we want), at the very last minute, usually through normal means – and this is for our good.  If we aren’t following God, the times of testing may just be to bring Glory to Him.  I’d rather be in that first group.  How about you?

–Steve Mattison

As in the Days of Sodom and Gomorroh

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 19 & 20 and Matthew 10

I think we can assume it is universally known that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire from heaven for their wickedness.  In Genesis 19:1, we read that Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.  Historically, important people, like city elders, would sit in the gateway of a city to judge between parties in a dispute, or businessmen would congregate there to transact business.  

2 Peter 2:7 tells us that Lot was a righteous man.  And yet, there he was sitting at the gate of a very wicked city.  This suggests to me that he was assimilating into the wicked city.  I think Lot’s decline started in Genesis 13, when Lot and Abraham had to separate because the land couldn’t support all their flocks and herds.  Lot greedily chose to live in the lush fertile valley near Sodom, and left the barren, rocky heights for Abraham to graze his flocks.  In Genesis 13:12, Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom.  In Genesis 14:12, he lived in Sodom, here, in Genesis 19:1, he was sitting in the gateway of the city, easing his way into assimilating into the sinful city.

Even though Lot was a righteous man, he apparently didn’t exert much Godly influence over the locals.  In Genesis 18:32, God said He would spare the city if only 10 righteous were found there.  As it was, only Lot was considered righteous.  Not only did he not convert others in the city, he couldn’t even convince his own future sons-in-law to leave the city with him.  (And arguably, he didn’t have much positive influence over his own daughters.  Read Genesis 19:30-38 as proof.)

Despite Lot’s poor judgment in choosing where to live, God was very merciful to Lot by sending two angels to lead Lot and his family out of the city before sending judgement.  Once they were clear of the city, God rained down fire and burning sulfur on the cities of the plain, and everything and everyone was destroyed.  Everything Lot had owned, everything he had worked for literally went up in smoke.  Unfortunately, Lot’s wife looked back, presumably longing for what she had left behind.  She died as a result of this.

We’re told in 2 Peter 2:6, “… he (GOD) condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…”  This story in Genesis 19 is an example of what will happen when Jesus returns, when He will save the righteous, and destroy the wicked by fire.

In Luke 17, Jesus is talking about conditions before the second coming of Christ.  Luke 17: 28-32 says, “It was the same in the days of Lot.  People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, no one who is on the roof of his house with his goods inside should go down to get them.  Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything.  Remember Lot’s wife.”

I think there are several applications for us.  

First, if you don’t have a relationship with the Lord, it’s imperative you fix that right now.  Isaiah 55:6-7 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.  Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Second, If you do have a relationship with the Lord, continuously work on strengthening that relationship with the Lord.  Especially since we don’t know when Jesus will return and we don’t know when we will die.  We should live in such a way that we would always be ready to give an account for our lives.  2 Corinthians 5:10 reminds us:  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Next, we should all carefully choose the situations in which we find ourselves, and seriously consider whether we are being conformed to the patterns of the sinful people around us, or if we’re influencing others for the Lord.

Finally, we should not become too attached to the world or anything in it.

1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.”

I’ll close by challenging you to follow Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

–Steve Mattison

Follow the 2021 SeekGrowLove.com Bible reading plan to read the Bible in a year – with an Old Testament and a New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs reading each day. Together let’s Seek God, Grow spiritually and Love Him and others more and more!

It’s Time to Get the Heck out of Dodge

Revelation 14-18

Dodge City, Kansas made the perfect background for many of the early westerns that hit the silver screen. Any title character was the game-changing lawman who took on the town that was historically and notoriously known for its gunslingers, reckless living, violence, and pretty much the hub for all things unabiding and uncouth.  Dodge became the epitome of frontier lawlessness, and those who resided there were in a collective agreement: every man or woman for himself.  What initially seemed like a good time, a get rich quick plan, or a temporary set of circumstances became a way of life for most those who stayed, and ironically for many, that is exactly what it cost them to stay in Dodge: their life.  Those few that escaped the cruel fates of this city, these ethical outsiders who found themselves living inside its “walls”, could see the turn of the tide, and knew it was time to get the heck out of Dodge.

Dodge City is not alone for its notoriety as an evil city.  Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family hailed from Sodom and Gommah, cities God destroyed with sulfur and fire because of their wickedness.  God also gave instructions to Joshua to destroy the seven nations that were descended from Canaan (who did equally despicable things including child sacrifice).  Additionally, a once-blessed Babylon is handed over to Darius which would lead to an idiom in its own right, because God spoke through the “handwriting on the wall.” In each of these instances, God provides opportunities for the inhabitants of the places to get the heck out. (Angel’s warning and Lot’s escape (Genesis 19); Jericho’s march and Rahab’s salvation (Joshua 6); Jeremiah; Israelites spared (Daniel 5)

As we see in the prophecy delivered in Revelation, there is a new nation that is forming/formed that is not the Babylon of old, but a new one represented by an adulterous woman (Rev 12) There are definite similarities in the wickedness that is taking place in the future and that of Babylon’s past.  This new Babylon is a place of great excess which results in every opportunity to do evil (including the destruction of God’s prophets), and possibly a physical location to the events that are taking place near New Jerusalem (although some think it may be a western civilization like the United States) soon to be established by Jesus.  So what is the word given for those who reside in this place?  That same warning delivered by Jeremiah 600 years prior:  Flee from Babylon!  Run for your lives! (Jeremiah 51:6)  

We do not need to be able to pinpoint on a map where this new Babylon is in order to make plans to run in the direction of God.  He will deliver those who follow his perfect and pleasing will, making a way for those who choose Him.  While the United States or the Western World may or may not be the Babylon spoken of here in this text, with some quick conjecture, there are striking similarities in the way our culture is rapidly shifting in the last half-century or so.  The quest to be the source of  knowledge is valued more than faith in God Almighty. Our wealth and standard of living continue to increase, but so do our distractions and devices. Lawful and unlawful wickedness occurs even to the point that lives of children are being destroyed.  So, does this mean that we should flee to a new country?  Probably not. And it isn’t our physical location that is the primary issue.  It is the heart. We need to make distinctions about our citizenship – it is kingdom bound first.  We are simply in this world, not living for it.

So where have you made your encampment?  Just outside of Sodom?  It won’t be long before you are inside the city walls (Genesis 13:12).  Is your indulgence a constant? Then it is not a vacation home — it’s where you live. Run away from Sodom!  Flee from Babylon!  Get the heck out of Dodge!  This is a cry to myself and to you.  Keep yourself from getting tangled in the web of fulfilling your every whim, pursuing knowledge that gives you some sort of power or position, and desiring things that have nothing to do with God’s kingdom. Your diplomas, your clothing, your dwelling, and your status are the commodities of moths.  Bridle your body so your hands and feet are available to do the work of God or physically move if you must (FLEE! 2 Timothy 2:22) Only then can we be saved from the fate of Babylon and live in the fullness of the new city worth taking up residence.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 14-18

Tomorrow we finish the book and the year with Revelation 19-22.

Stay tuned for the big unveil – SeekGrowLove’s Bible Reading Plan for 2021!

Remind Me: Whose Side Am I On?

Revelation 9-13

The Hebrews watched as the plagues of Israel consumed the whole of Egypt.  They watch God lead them in a cloud by day and a fire by night.  They watched the Red Sea part and swallow the advancing armies hoping to kill or reenslave them.  Yet, fresh off the heels of all of these things, they lost their nerve when Moses, their leader and messenger from God, had been gone for a few moments longer than expected.  In the place of God Almighty, they erected a golden calf to worship saying these were the true gods that brought them out of Egypt.  An enraged Moses came down from the mountain to see utter chaos.  Aaron fumbles through his excuses and the people of Israel are punished.  Moses declares that each person must pick a side – You are either for the Lord or against him. (Ex 32:26)

So much destruction occurs in these few chapters of our reading today as angel ominous trumpeting announces another terrifying event on earth.  Cities are destroyed from earthquakes, fire, sulphur, and smoke destroy a large percentage of the population, and a plague occurs that tortures to the point of death, but never comes. It isn’t a pretty site – unleashed by ultimate permission giver.  It will be an understatement that many will have their faith tested during these times, and begin seeking any answer to the misery they see unfolding before them.  When there is no great parting of the Red Sea proclaiming the Lord is in this moment, so many will begin to look to new creatures, whether literal, people, or nations, to follow for immediate comfort or distraction.  In fact, war will be raged against anyone who tries to serve the Lord during this time or who shares the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). The only way to survive it seems, is to worship a beast and take its mark so you may buy or sell.

“The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.” – Revelation 9:20

“The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom.” – Revelation 13:15-18a

There is much to study in these scriptures about what the unfolding of these events may look like in our coming world, but the implications of these passages are as simple as the charge from Moses. When I struggle, whose side am I on?  If there isn’t immediate relief from the pain, whose side am I on?  If it keeps me from my dreams, whose side am I on?  When it costs me my reputation or position, whose side am I on?  If it costs me my friends, my family, my children, or my life, whose side am I on?  Even if you don’t live long enough to set your eyes on the terrifyingly terrific events laid out by the trumpets, you must make a decision before you cross the path of the lesser trials in your own life.  A claim must be laid for the Lord in your heart, and you must begin setting yourself apart. Otherwise, your faith will be crushed at the first crosswind of complication.  Indecision will place you in the queue of those ready to receive their mark on the path of least resistance.  You may receive a momentary benefit from your idol, but it ultimately places you opposite of God.  Much like the fate of the Israelites who stood against Moses, destruction comes for those who stand against the Lord Almighty.  Draw a line. Pick a side. Ready yourself for the fight of your life.

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matt 5:29,30

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 9-13.

Tomorrow we continue with chapters 14-18.

2 Chapters; 2 Books

2nd & 3rd John


Today, you are racing through two books at a blazing speed. Some of the shortest books in the Bible by word count, verse count, chapter count. However, a sad reality happens with Biblical books. The smaller they are, the less they are read. Out of the top 10 least read books on BibleGateway, you have read three this week. Jude is number 8 on the list of least read books. Though Obadiah takes home the #1 spot, 2 John and 3 John take spots 3 and 4, respectively. It’s sad, because what we get in 2 John and 3 John is the same God-inspired message, just in much smaller, some would say, bite-sized portions. 


Let’s talk about the letter’s collectively. Both are written to smaller groups than 1 John. 1 John was to a general audience; 3 John is to one man, and 2 John is to one woman, or one church. Either way, 2 John’s statements make sense. John says that he is joyous that some “children” are walking in truth. In 3 John 4, we see that this is his greatest joy. Walking in truth means believing in Jesus and following his way of living. Those young people he loves, who he has “raised in the faith”, his “children”, he loves to know they have remained faithful to Jesus.


We have already talked about this remaining faithful. You must follow the commands of Jesus. It is not a new commandment but an old way. LOVE our brothers and sisters, one another in the body! If you don’t understand loving a brother and sister, you don’t understand the gospel. John is clear. This is THE commandment of Jesus. 3 John gives us an example of this. John is commending Gaius for supporting the work of brothers and sisters who were passing through preaching the gospel. He welcomed them in, allowed them to teach, gave them money and sent them on their way. This was the right thing to do. And a man named Diotrephes DIDN’T do the right thing, but in jealousy and out of a lack of love, did not support them and kicked out those who helped them. 


But Diotrephes isn’t alone in harming the message of Jesus. Diotrephes wanted to be the top dog, and his ego was hurt that respected teachers were coming into town. He wanted to be the greatest in the eyes of the church. His arrogance earned him disapproval from John. Moreover, John’s CONDEMNATION is poured out onto those who are deceivers, false teachers. People come along who are denying that Jesus came in the flesh, that he was born in the Little Town of Bethlehem on a Silent, Holy Night. John roundly condemns this attitude, this belief. 


We don’t have people claiming that to us, but we can learn from this. John encourages “the woman” to compare the claims of these “teachers” with the claims of the apostles. If they didn’t match up, follow the trusted source. For you, test the claims that you hear about God, Jesus, the world, the afterlife, against the claims of those who have known and followed God, in scripture and the church. Trust those who have known and experienced God over those who want to be “first among everyone”. Don’t let false teachers and “Big-Headed-Egoists” harm THE faith or harm YOUR faith. 


My brothers and sisters, I am glad to have been reading along with you this week, this week when we remember the birth of Christ. Whether we celebrate together or separately, we are bound together in love, affirming together the truths of Jesus and his message of eternal life. 


May you love your brothers and sisters in faith. 

May the church you call home be a beacon of love in a hurting world. 

May you never be divided by the arrogant or the false teachers, but if they try, may you stay true to the faith of scripture. 

My brothers and sisters, may you forever live in the words of 3 John 2 – Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.


May you prosper in all respects. 

-Jake Ballard
————————————————————————————————(Jake Ballard is Pastor at Timberland Bible Church in South Bend, IN. He lives in the Michiana Area with his wife and three kids. If you’d like to say hi you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336  You can also hear more teachings on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/TimberlandBibleChurch or at YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs_awyI1LyPZ4QEZVN7HqKQ/videos. Finally, Baby Yoda/Grogu is the best Star Wars Character hands down; change my mind. I look forward to hearing from you!  God bless!)

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – 2nd John & 3rd John.

Tomorrow we begin the final book and read Revelation 1-3.

Merry Christmas

1st John

On Christmas, it’s appropriate that we read 1 John. It may seem better that we read Matthew or Luke, but 1 John distills the life and teaching of Jesus from the perspective of an old man. If we want to hear an old, inspired teacher dispensing his wisdom, John (and the books attributed to that name) are books to which to turn. 


John is old and he is concerned with the most important things in life. He testifies about Jesus, the light who comes into the world, to fulfill the joy of himself and his readers. Joy is a chief concern of the old man. Jesus doesn’t turn us into a curmudgeon. That’s because Jesus brings us to a God who is greater. 
A God who is light.  A God who is love.  That’s a God of Joy. 

If we want to be in Christ, to have this God who fulfills joy, to be counted among the children of light and love, we must keep the commands of Christ. We must walk as Jesus walked. But what is the command. When John says the old command they have heard from the beginning, he is not referring to the law. He is referring to the command from the beginning of the teaching of Jesus. The message which we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.(3:11) Just as Christ laid down his life for us, we should be willing to lay down our life for our brothers and sisters in love (3:16). We believe in the name of Jesus and love one another, just as Christ commanded us (3:23). More verses that tell us to love one another because of the love of God : 4:7-8, 4:10-12, 4:19-21.


The command is to love our brothers and sisters. 

But we are also commanded to NOT love the world. Of course, this doesn’t mean to not love people. The “world” according to John, are all the things that are not of God: sin, power, money, control, hate. We so easily love sin, which gives us momentary pleasure, usually at another’s pain. We love power and money and control, so that we can continue to sin without consequence in this world. And hate allows us to have superiority to others even as we hurt them, because we think we are better. 


AVOID THAT. Avoid those idols!

Know that if you keep the command to love, if you believe in the name of Jesus, and allow him to guide you in light and love, the God of joy is going to give you a joy that lasts forever. We are promised eternal life. 


May you, my brothers and sisters, experience the JOY that God gives. 

May you LOVE one another, as is the command of Christ. 

May you avoid sin and the love of the world, and have PEACE in yourself.

May you experience eternal life, both now and forevermore, and have HOPE. 

And with that HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE, may you have a very, very…


Merry Christmas!

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 John.

Tomorrow we read 2nd & 3rd John.

Times will be Tough; Keep the Faith!

2 Timothy 1-4

I wish I could tell you that after you are faithful, after you have lived a life dedicated to loving God and loving people, that everything is smooth sailing. I wish I could make and keep a promise that you will never get sick, never be poor, never be mocked, never be persecuted, for the faith that you have. But, the truth is that we live in a world full of sinful people, a world full of broken people. We may even be the cause of some of our pain. When the world gets tough, when life is hard, what are we supposed to do?


Paul addresses these questions in his second letter to Timothy that we have in scripture. We need to recognize that, when Paul is writing this letter, he is currently under arrest for his faith. He had spoken the name of Jesus and the Jews arrested him. Because he was a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar for his trial. Instead of walking free, he was bound, shipped around the Mediterranean, shipwrecked, and transported to Rome, where he was kept under house arrest. (Before, I thought house arrest didn’t sound bad, but 2020 lockdowns have drastically changed my mind.) In the midst of all this, everything that Paul is going through, his message to Timothy, a young pastor, is “Keep being faithful to the Gospel message.” Even though that message is the very thing that has Paul in chains, as he follows God’s will to be in Rome, Paul knows that the Gospel is the only source of life. The Gospel message of Jesus tells us about God’s Kingdom, both later over the whole world and in our hearts now, how to live as a citizen of that kingdom today, and how to be given eternal life in the future. No amount of suffering now can compare to the hope, peace, love and joy that come through the Kingdom Message. 


Paul notes to Timothy that this doesn’t make life easier. In 2 Timothy, we can almost hear the sadness in Paul’s words as he notes that his friends have left him. He’s not angrily ranting, but sadly noting that his entourage has turned into only the smallest, die-hard band. Moreover, Paul seems to know that his death is near (4:6-8). He is getting his affairs in order, even in case he dies before Timothy’s coming (4:9-15). He knows things are at the end. This is his farewell note before going to sleep.

So what does he say?


Teach others, Timothy! (2:2, 4:1-2) Paul wants the things that Timothy heard to be passed on to others, who will know the faith so well that they can pass it on to others. For the pastors reading this, this is CLEARLY meant for you (and me). If we are not teaching in order to create teachers, we are not doing the job he has called us to do. if you are not a pastor, there is still a calling for you in this. For our more mature readers, this is calling you to share your faith with others in such a way that it sinks down deep and molds people so that they will share their faith. And for those who are new to the faith, share your faith, but also seek out mature and faithful believers to see what they have to teach and offer you. Paul spoke to Timothy, AND TIMOTHY LISTENED TO, TRUSTED AND OBEYED PAUL. 


This is not giving everyone you meet a complex theological treatise. There is nothing wrong with complex theology; I’m a big fan myself. But Paul tells Timothy to keep the message simple to not wrangle over words or about things that don’t matter. (2:14, 16) Be FOCUSED on the things that matter because the days will get worse. You, Timothy, and you, reader, must be strong, because all those who desire to live holy lives, the best lives we can live, will be persecuted by those who don’t want to live that way. (3:12)


Finally, Paul lets Timothy know that there should not be despair at his “departure” (death). Paul knows who he is … and more importantly whose he is. Paul knows what awaits him at the coming of Christ. 
A Kingdom

A Heavenly Kingdom

A Kingdom that will come down from God on high and will last forever. 

Paul’s farewell letter is an ode to this Kingdom. He wants his Son in the Faith Timothy there. He wants those who have not yet heard the message there. His singular focus is glory to God through Jesus Christ. 


May you my brothers and sisters, be strong in the midst of difficult times. 

May you proclaim the faith boldly.

May you trust God, obey him, and serve him in his kingdom, now and forevermore. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Timothy 1-4.

Tomorrow we will read 2 Peter and Jude.

Where He Leads

Acts 15-16


When I started my teaching career 24 years ago, I had no idea that I would spend two and half decades in the same district. I only agreed to the original interview because I thought that it would be good practice for interviews with school districts that were better funded and closer to where I wanted to live. But through the years, I have had amazing students, super supportive principals and supervisors, and colleagues who have become my closest friends. 


There have been times where I sought other jobs outside my district. The crazy thing is that I have never had an invitation to interview for those other positions. Now either I have a highly inflated self-perspective of my skills, or I don’t know how to complete and submit an application, or just maybe, God wants me to stay where I am. 


So I can relate a little bit to Paul in Acts 16 when he realizes that he’s not supposed to go into Asia but rather head up to Macedonia.


Can you imagine setting out on a road trip and not really knowing for sure where you’ll end up?


It makes sense to pray and seek wisdom and discernment before making major life decisions. But this is how God wants us to live our day-to-day lives too. Yes, dreaming up plans, setting goals, and creating task lists are good things to do, but it’s also important to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Asking God to help determine the best use of your time each week, each day, is a good way to practice your listening skills and hone your sensitivity to God’s direction. 


As we go about this week, pause and think about what you already have on your calendar of things to do and places to be at and people to meet up with. Does any of that need to be revised? Does something need to be removed or added? Do you have enough margin in your day-to-day that you can spontaneously respond to God’s leading? 


If nothing specific comes to mind or your days and week go pretty closely as you expected, that’s okay too. What really matters is that you sought God. You took time to listen and you were willing to act on his call. That’s the kind of heart God desires.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Acts 15-16

Tomorrow we will read Galatians 1-3.