Don’t Quit

Jeremiah 35 & 36

We sure could use a few more Jeremiahs today!  He was quick to follow God’s instructions, and he boldly spoke God’s truth even when it was quite unpopular.  And, he didn’t quit!

At the time of the events of Jeremiah chapter 36 the prophet had already been preaching to his Jewish brothers and sisters for over 20 years – warning them again and again of God’s displeasure and the coming wrath if they don’t repent and turn from their wicked ways.  Over and over again he has urged the people, the kings, the priests to stop sinning and return to God.  But as a nation, they don’t get it.  They revel in their freedom, follow after the gods of their neighbors and fall further and further from what God designed them to be – His chosen people who love Him and follow Him and are blessed by Him.

The 20 plus years of preaching hasn’t turned the hearts of Judah back to their Creator.  Maybe if it was ALL written down – would the people listen then?  God tells Jeremiah to write down all the sermons he has ever preached – every word that God has given him from the very start of his ministry.  God said, “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:3 NIV).  Even though God hates the sins of His people He still loves them and wants to give them another chance to come back to Him.  And so a great project begins.  Jeremiah dictates as his scribe Baruch writes it all down.  Perhaps the people will listen.  They spend over a year writing – God has said a lot.  How will the people respond to this book that lays it all out?

Since Jeremiah’s unpopular (but very Godly) message has already had him personally banned from the temple, Baruch is sent to read God’s words through Jeremiah to the people.  One who hears it, Micaiah, realizes the importance of what has been written and he arranges a reading of it with some of the royal officials.  “When they heard all these words, they looked at each other in fear” (Jeremiah 36:16) and they arrange for the king himself to hear the words on the scroll from Baruch, Jeremiah, and ultimately God.

Here’s the king’s chance.  He can hear God’s word and repent and lead the nation into a time of Godly reformation, thus saving them from God’s wrath at the hands of the Babylonians – just as his father Josiah had done years ago.  But King Jehoiakim thinks he knows better.  His arrogance and hardened heart don’t crack.  Instead, as the scroll is read to him in his chambers, he cuts it apart and burns God’s word, piece by piece.

Can you imagine the anger and defeat and perhaps fear Jeremiah and Baruch may have felt when they heard the fate of their scroll – God’s words?  To know the utter disrespect they (and their God) had received – and how their work was violated and destroyed.  And they didn’t even have a copy saved on their hard drive.  Totally lost.  Over a year’s work, gone.  But, God’s Word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).  So, when God tells Jeremiah to write it all down again – with an extra word for Jehoiakim – Jeremiah and Baruch get to work – and the second work is completed, more impressive than the first. And perhaps much of what we read today in the book of Jeremiah comes from this second labor of love and obedience and great persistence.

God’s Words are priceless.  Some will hear and respond and pass it on. Like Jeremiah they are motivated to live by, love and share God’s words in order to save themselves and their hearers  (1 Timothy 4:16).  But others will scoff, show no fear and even seek to destroy it.  It does not change the supreme importance and value of the words – or the God who spoke them.  Nations, kings, priests, people; past, present and future will be judged by how they respond to God and His Word.  The king who brazenly cut apart and burned the scroll paid with his life – and his children and country suffered mightily for it as well.  Jeremiah and Baruch had far from an easy life – but they didn’t give up.  They kept at it – writing, sharing, reading, speaking and living God’s Word.  They persistently worked striving to help save those in danger of experiencing God’s wrath.  Will you stand with them today and be a Jeremiah?

-Marcia Railton

Sorry we were late in sending today’s devotion out.

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 35 & 36 and Hebrews 9

Seek and Find

Jeremiah 29 & 30 and Hebrews 6

Have your parents ever planned a big surprise for the family. Maybe a big trip that everyone is excited about and looking forward to. They will do whatever is possible to make it happen. My mother would always say “Lord’s willing” on the off chance that something unforeseen would happen. With God, we don’t have to worry because if he says something will happen, it WILL happen. The Israelites should know this by now, but just like us, sometimes it’s hard to get things through to them.

Jeremiah 29 is a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. We all know Jeremiah 29:11, it’s on lots of items from shirts to artwork, because it has a great message, but continue to read on, the whole passage is just as meaningful. It’s like a love poem written to His children. It starts in verse 10 when He tell them he will bring them back after 70 years, just like He promised. Jeremiah 29: 11-14 says “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.”

Even after all that happened and the fact that they had followed after other gods, the one true God had not given up on His people and He had good plans ahead for them. They just needed to trust Him. We need to all learn to lean on and trust God during the times when we may feel like we are exiled and in captivity. God has good plans for His children. But we have to do our part, it says that we need to call on Him, seek Him, and search for Him with all of our heart. If we do that, He says “I will let Myself be found by you.” He is going to restore them and bring them back to their promised land. These chapters deal with the future prosperity of Israel that God has promised them. In Jeremiah 30:24b it says “Until He has performed, and until He has accomplished the intent of His heart; in the latter days you will understand this.”

We can rest assured that God’s promises will happen, just as He has said, and one of His promises is that He will give us a hope and a future. In Hebrews 6, we learn of better things that are ahead for all believers, we have assurance of our hope of salvation.  It tells us that Abraham waited for the promise of God to be fulfilled just like we must and it tells us to be imitators of those who persevered through faith and patience who will inherit the promises.  Jesus has gone before us as the first fruits of those resurrected to eternal life and is in heaven acting as our high priest. A better day is coming for all of us when Jesus returns to this earth to set up his Father’s kingdom.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 29 & 30 and Hebrews 6

Enter into My Rest

Jeremiah 25-26 and Hebrews 4

In Chapter 25 & 26 of Jeremiah, he continues prophesying to the people of Judah about what is going to happen to them. It sounds to me like he is getting a little irritated with them. Have you ever heard “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times” from your parents? He says that he has been talking to them for 23 years but they will not listen to him. Not only has he been talking to them but God has sent prophets to them for years and they refuse to listen. He is telling them that they have a choice to make. He says in Chapter 25:5&6 “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the Lord gave to you and your ancestors for ever and ever. Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.” God has always given us a choice, which is to choose good or evil, the choice is ours. But he is hoping that we choose to turn from evil and do good, and if we do, he will always forgive us.  But on the flip side, he says, if the children of Judah refuse to listen they will go through hard times and captivity that will last for years.

The prophet Jeremiah could have lied to the Judean people like the other prophets during that time and told them what they wanted to hear, and his life would have gone easier (perhaps for a time), but he did the hard thing and he obeyed God and told them what God wanted them to hear. The people did not like what they heard and they wanted to kill Jeremiah. He put his trust in God knowing that he might be killed. He trusted God with his life and trusted that what God purposed in his life would happen. He says in 26:14-15 “But as for me, behold, I am in your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, and on this city and its inhabitants; for truly the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words so that you hear them.” He knows what Paul tells us in Acts 5:29b “We must obey God rather than men.”

Hebrews 4 seems to go hand in hand with the chapters in Jeremiah. The Israelites before them, and then the children of Judah were not able to enter into God’s rest because of their disobedience. We are invited to live our lives in such a way that we will be allowed to live in God’s rest. The children of Judah needed prophets and priests to help them to have a relationship with God, but we do not have to go to the synagogue to have our sins forgiven or go to the town square to listen to the prophets. It says in Hebrews in verses 14-16 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.” God’s rest is a life that is filled with the knowledge that God is in control and we will trust Him no matter what hardships we may go through. If we would like to enter into God’s rest, all we have to do is accept the salvation that God has provided to us through Jesus and we are free to enter into God’s rest for eternity.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 25-26 and Hebrews 4

Forgetfulness that Leads to Death

Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17 & 18

Forgetfulness is a common ailment. We all forget. We forget where we put the keys. We forget to send the birthday card, forget to get milk at the store and forget to pay the bill or finish the homework or return the library books. We climb in bed after a long day of remembering lots of things and realize we forgot to exercise and read our Bible and call mom. I have done it all. I am pretty much an expert forgetter.

Much of the time our forgetfulness is just inconvenient or unfortunate. It means we have to make an extra stop at the store tomorrow, pay the late fee on our bill, or receive a lower grade. Maybe one day we will learn there are consequences to our forgetfulness and it will help us remember to do what we had planned to do all along – until we forgot.

But sometimes a poor memory will actually lead to death. Tragic cases can occasionally be read in the news. Forgetting to take children out of their car seats and into safety. Forgetting to latch and lock the pool gate. Forgetting the once familiar route home. There can be dreadful, heartbreaking consequences for yourself or others which can lead to death when one simply forgets.

You can also read about the devastating effects of forgetfulness in the Bible. In fact, in both of today’s passages we find instances of forgetful people, with various results. In our Psalm for the day (106), we continue the history lesson of God’s people. In today’s lesson the Israelites are exiting Egypt and traveling through the dessert. Maybe the heat is getting to them because they seem to be having a hard time remembering some pretty big and important events that happened not so long ago.

Psalm 106:7 — When our ancestors were in Egypt,
    they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
    and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:13 — But they soon forgot what he had done
    and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Psalm 106:19-21 — At Horeb they made a calf
    and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
    for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
    who had done great things in Egypt

Sometimes the forgetful people are met with God’s mercy and yet another miracle they will also forget further down the road. Sometimes it’s more serious, and even fatal. Poisonous snakes, deadly disease, and the ground swallowing up those who forgot to remember God. What else could God do to help them remember?

Many generations later we see the same tragic forgetfulness recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 18:15 — Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths. 

They had forgotten the MOST important thing of all – the One who gave them life, the One who provided for all their needs, the One who had laid out blessings for those who follow, the One who had laid out curses for those who went their own stubborn way. They forgot God. And because of their repeated forgetfulness God was preparing the curses promised in his covenant: destruction, invasion, death.

It is easy to get so caught up in living our own busy lives, going our own stubborn ways, before we know it, we have forgotten our Life-Giving Teacher and all the lessons He was trying to teach us. And, instead, we face death and destruction.

Thankfully, there are ways to remember. With effort we can fight off this deadly tendency to forget. Here’s some ideas to build your memory.

How to Remember

Keep a thankful journal. Write down at least 3 things each day to thank God for. The act of writing helps you remember, and you will have the written journal to return to when your brain gets fuzzy on the details of how God has provided and cared for you – every day.

Clear an overly busy schedule. Trying to do too many other things that really don’t matter doesn’t leave time and space in your overbooked brain and calendar to remember God and do what is most important. You may even find some of those “extras” in your life that were getting too much of your time and memories were approaching, or at, idol status. Clear ’em out.

Get to church, Sunday school, Bible study, youth group, the church mens or ladies group, church camp, etc… Surround yourself regularly with those who are helpful for jogging your spiritual memory. When left alone brain connections can diminish leading to difficulty recalling. Instead, get to church. It’s a great place to overcome your own memory deficiencies – and it’s a great place where you can even help someone else remember God, His greatness and all He has done.

Add visual or auditory cues. What “tricks” will help you remember to keep God first. The Israelites were told to write it on their doorposts – maybe you need some Bible verses on your wall, mirror and refrigerator. Satan uses many schemes to erase God from people’s memory. Jesus found great power against Satan’s schemes by using God’s scriptures which he had committed to memory. Take out that Bible, the Sword of the Spirit, and use it daily to slash away cobwebs forming in your brain. Time and study and a love for God’s eternal word is the best cure I know for forgetfulness that leads to death.

Remember God and what He has done, is doing and will do!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17-18

I Did it My Way!

Jeremiah 11-12 and Psalm 102-103

Have you noticed one of Jeremiah’s repeated themes yet? So far we have seen it in 3:17, 5:23, 7:24, 9:14, and in today’s reading in 11:8. It will surface again in 13:10, 16:12, 18:12 and 23:17. Chapter divisions were not included in the original writings of Jeremiah, but it’s interesting that throughout the first half of his book about every 2 chapters (or perhaps every column or two on his scroll), Jeremiah writes of the stubbornness of the people.

Jeremiah 5:23 – But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away.

Jeremiah 7:24 – But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.

Jeremiah 11:6-8 – The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”

I can envision some stubborn starved Hebrew men and women who have been shut up in Jerusalem as the enemy surrounds and destruction is eminent. And they are belting out Frank Sinatra’s hit song – “My Way”.

They had been determined to do what they wanted. They had shut their ears and their hearts to God’s call and His commands. They had refused to comply, agree to or give in to the terms of their Creator’s covenant. They had turned their backs on the Almighty and were going backward not forward. They had chased after pagan idols. In their pride they had elevated themselves, their pleasure, their dreams, their wants, their ways above God’s. Their evil hearts were caught up in sin. They were stubborn and rebellious and there would be a price to pay.

Do you have any stubborn streaks? Sometimes we prefer to use words like determined, headstrong, set in one’s ways. Got any stubborn children – or should I say – strong-willed and opinionated? How often do we remember that God’s opinion is the only one that matters? How often do we remember, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Funeral homes in the UK reported that the song “My Way” is the most often requested song for funerals. A lot of people would like to be remembered as the strong, bold, unbending trailblazer who did life his/her own way. Will you be one of them?

Or will you hear God’s voice calling, “Obey Me”? Stop trying to stubbornly do life your way. Your way leads to disaster and death. My prayer is that we may be a people who surrender to God’s will and way and can say, “I did it God’s Way!”

-Marcia Railton

As an interesting note, Frank Sinatra disliked his great money-making hit, “My Way”. Songfacts.com states: “This became Frank Sinatra’s signature song, but he couldn’t stand it, saying he “loathed” the song. In his later years, he described the song as “a Paul Anka pop hit which became a kind of national anthem.” In a 2000 interview with the BBC show Hardtalk, Sinatra’s daughter Tina said, “He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent. He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe.” Beware of turning your life into a catchy, popular, people-pleasing tune that is actually self-serving and self-indulgent. Thanks for the lesson, Frank.

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 11-12 and Psalm 102-103

Don’t Withhold the Cure

Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

The Old Testament prophets who spoke for God, including Jeremiah, were entrusted with preaching a lot of doom and gloom. Because God’s children had strayed from his commands, judgment would be coming and the people needed to know. I loved Jeff Fletcher’s illustration in his devotion yesterday of a doctor who could be charged with malpractice if he knew the sick condition of a patient’s insides and knew how to fix it and what changes the patient would need to make in order to cure the potentially deadly ailment, and said nothing. This would be like the Christian who sees the broken sinful world and pretends everything is okay. Don’t withhold the cure.

Jeremiah paints a very vivid picture of a world that is not okay. Chapter 9 opens with the prophet mourning the sinfulness of God’s people. He would love nothing more than to pack up and go to a desert retreat where he could get away from and forget this crowd of unfaithful people. Can you relate? But, rather than abandoning the people in their sin, Jeremiah continues passionately speaking truth for God, over and over, even though his words often seem to fall on deaf ears. He still must speak and write and hold out the cure to these wayward people.

God has had it, too. He aptly describes the situation this way:

“It is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3b NIV)

and again, “They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sining. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:6 NIV)

It sounds to me like God and Jeremiah are describing the sad state of affairs in 2021. So many lies and deceptions abound when attempting to justify and explain and even celebrate sin and sinful lifestyles that fester and grow when individuals and nations and societies have turned their backs on God.

It is as though God is left without a choice. “What else can I do because of the sin of my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7 NIV) “‘Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’ ” (Jeremiah 9:9 NIV). God had drawn up the rules long ago with blessings promised to those who followed and curses to those who stubbornly disobeyed. Many chances had been given. Prophets had been sent to remind the people of the deadly disease and of the cure – repentance, turning away from sin and turning back to God. But these were a very stubborn people who took delight in continuing in their sin and lies and more sin and more lies.

God had given mercy. God had given reminders. God had given prophets. God had stretched out the cure. But, to no avail. So, God says – it is time. It is time to teach your daughters how to wail – death and destruction is coming. (Jeremiah 9:20,21).

Towards the end of chapter 9 an interesting section seems almost out of place…

 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Perhaps it was written more for us who would be reading Jeremiah centuries later, to remind us of the choice we have. And, the great opportunity we have to boast about our God, our Creator, Our YHWH. He created the cure. His Son is the cure that was not yet available in Jeremiah’s day. Sin is the same and comes with the same consequences – death. People today need to know about the cure. They don’t need to hear you bragging about your dinner, your kids, your car, your job, your grades, your house, your ______ (on social media or at the checkout line). They need to know about the LORD our God who exercises kindness AND justice and always righteousness. The Psalms passages today have some great examples of boasting about our God while holding out the cure. How can you hold out the cure today to a nation and world that is unknowingly in the stages of the deadly disease of disobedience?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

Spiritual Malpractice

Jeremiah 7-8; Psalm 96, 97, 98

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            God criticized their priests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Fletcher

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

Reminders

Isaiah 63-64, Titus 3

Life is so busy and complicated that I have to create lots of reminders for myself.  Fortunately, my phone and computer and watch all have features where I can set reminders for myself.  “Doctors appointment Tuesday at 3:00.  Take the garbage to the dump on the way to work in the morning.  Stop by the store after work and pick up some milk and bread.” I can even set reminders months or years in advance.  I can set alarms to remind me that in 2 hours I have a meeting.  In 1 hour I have a meeting.  In 15 minutes I have a meeting.  The Meeting is now starting.  Maybe I’m too busy or maybe I’m getting old, but I find myself more and more needing reminders.

Do you ever need reminders?  Little kids need to be reminded to brush their teeth, make their bed, do their homework.  What do you need reminders for?

The Apostle Paul thought reminders were important for Christians.  I guess he understood how easy it can be to forget what’s important when we are busy living life and doing  what’s necessary or urgent.  Do Christians ever forget important things about God, about Jesus, about how we are supposed to live?  Yep, we sure do.

In Titus 3 Paul tells Titus to remind the believers of some important things.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” -Titus 3:1-2

Those reminders were important in the first century when Christianity was brand new and people were still learning the basics, but it’s been 2000 years.  We’ve certainly got being a Christian all figured out by now, don’t we?  Do we really need to be reminded to obey people in authority?  Do we need to be reminded to always be ready to do good?  Don’t all Christians always do what is good?   Certainly we never  slander or falsely accuse someone of wrong doing.  I’m always peaceable and considerate and gentle toward everyone, aren’t you? (My tongue is in my cheek- that means I’m kidding).

To tell the truth, I still need to be reminded all of those things.  Just because I’ve been reading the Bible for over 50 years doesn’t mean I always remember to do good.  I still need to be reminded to be considerate and gentle, and so do you.  That’s why Christianity was never designed to be lived in isolation, but in community.  We need each other.  There’s a passage in Hebrews (a different book from today’s reading,  but important) Hebrews 10:24-25 says that Christians shouldn’t get out of the habit of meeting together, because we need to encourage (I think Hebrews says “spur one another on”, like a rider spurs on a horse) each other.  

Following Jesus is hard some times.  Being obedient to God is hard some times.  Remembering to do good and be gentle is hard sometimes.  I need help, I need encouragement to keep on doing what is right.  I need you, and you need me, we need each other.

I’ve read the Bible many times in my life and I need to keep on reading it to help me remember all the important things I need to remember.  Today’s readings in Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3 remind us both about God’s wrath and about God’s mercy.  God has both.  God hates sin, he hates it when his children are brutal to each other.  He hates it when his children fight and argue.  He hates sin because he loves us and he knows that sin hurts us.  We hurt each other when we sin.  No parent likes to see their children hurt each other.  We learned that from our Father, God.

So keep reading your Bible and keep coming to Church and meeting with other believers so that you can remind them and they can remind you to keep on following Jesus.

“Hey Siri  set a reminder for 7 a.m. tomorrow:  be considerate and gentle to everyone.”

“Alexa, remind me to get up for Church Sunday at 8:00.”

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3

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

What Would You Do For God?

Isaiah 19-20 and Colossians 3

I really just wanted to talk about Colossians today. But, I couldn’t. I try to avoid embarrassing discussions of nakedness. But, today I can’t.

Isaiah 20 is an incredibly short though (at least for me) difficult chapter to read. And it is one I definitely don’t remember learning in Sunday School class growing up. We learned about Isaiah, the faithful servant of God who had a powerful calling from God. When he saw a vision of God’s majesty he crumbled in unworthiness and guilt, but then God cleansed him with a burning coal to his lips and Isaiah boldly declared, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). We knew Isaiah wrote lots of chapters with many warnings and some beautiful passages of the promised Messiah. But, we didn’t know about the humiliation of chapter 20.

Today we read, “At that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, ‘Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.’ And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.” (Isaiah 20:2 NIV). No, argument is recorded. Just obedience. “And he did so.” And, it wouldn’t just be for the day or even a week – but for three years! Commentaries kindly mention he would still have had a loin cloth (a.k.a – underwear). But that’s not too reassuring to Isaiah, his family, or his readers today.

It is natural to ask WHY, God? There has to be a reason why a loving God would ask His faithful servant to go through this embarrassing and painful object lesson for three long years. In this case I believe God was having Isaiah dramatically get the people’s attention to remind them just how degrading and dehumanizing their lives would be as prisoners of war (who were often marched around in such fashion). And, that is what they will become if they choose to forsake the Lord and put their trust instead in foreign ungodly allies like Egypt and Cush.

It makes me wonder – what am I willing to do for God? What amount of personal pain, sorrow, and humiliation am I willing to endure in order to be doing what God has asked of me? Am I more concerned about what men will think of my service to God, or what God would say? Certainly Isaiah would have never lasted for three nearly naked years if he held in greater regard the approval, understanding or encouragement of his peers over pleasing God.

Could I have done what Isaiah did? I think when faced with God’s awesome majesty I could say, “Here am I. Send me!”. After all, it sounds like pretty good resume material to be a messenger for God – I bet it’s a job that comes with some great benefits, too. I would even name my baby boy Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (meaning quick to the plunder, swift to the spoils) just as Isaiah did for God. That is an object lesson I feel I would willingly participate in, even though others might laugh and ridicule my choice. But, is there a cut off line where my loyalty and devotion to God would end? Is there a job He could ask of me that I would say ‘no’ to? I hope not.

Too often when we sign on for a position working for the Almighty, we try to choose what it will look like. “I will go here for God and do this for God.” And everyone will be amazed. But, sometimes, God has different plans. Bigger plans. Sometimes, more confusing plans. Sometimes, plans that will take you far out of your comfort zone and even into the midst of personal pain, loss, turmoil, and ridicule.

While the apostle Paul never faced the exact same jobs Isaiah endured, he also gained a lot of experience facing trials and difficulties, misunderstanding and persecution while following God, and His Son Jesus. He wrote in Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We can learn a thing or two from both Paul and Isaiah about serving the Lord.

What would you do for God?

-Marcia Railton

Maybe, you are interested in writing a day of devotions? This week was going to be covered by a young pastor from Indiana, but instead…he is anticipating a slightly early arrival of his first son – so if anyone would like to write for a day -contact Marcia at mjmjmrailton@gmail.com. And, remember the growing Paul family in your prayers.

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 19-20 and Colossians 3