Add Love to the Sabbath

Matthew 12

January 12

Jesus is at it again. Back in Matthew 5 we discussed how Jesus didn’t abolish the Old Testament but he breathed new life into the old laws with his teachings. The most important thing wasn’t following the letter of the law but having the heart of Jesus – adding love. Here in Matthew 12 the Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples picked some heads of grain to eat when they were hungry on the Sabbath. Picking some grains is a lot like harvesting and harvesting is work and work is not allowed on the Sabbath. The Pharisees loved nit-picking the law, making it really hard for anyone to succeed in following the law, thus finding fault in everyone else, which they thought made themselves look better. Their microscopic vision into the smallest detail of the law took the focus off of the big picture – how are you doing at being God’s people. The law had been given by God to create a healthy, righteous people devoted to God and kind to others. But this extreme fascination with catching everyone’s slightest mistake was not healthy, righteous, kind, or pleasing to God. Instead of the law being used to make a holy people for God, it was being used to divide and tear down and pull people further from their love for God. The law was good. Their use of it was not. It wasn’t time to throw away the law. It was time to add love.

The purpose of the Sabbath was to put time (a whole day) aside to stop busyness and focus on rest, worship and loving God. It was given as a gift by a gracious and loving God who knew what people would do if they didn’t take time to rest and refocus. He knew all healthy relationships take time and this was the perfect opportunity to add a date day with God on the calendar – every week. A mini-vacation with God and family every 7th day. It’s a great way to create a spiritually, mentally, physically healthy people for God. But the benefits dwindled when the Pharisees turned it into a legalistic checklist of don’t do this and don’t do that.

Jesus wisely gave the Old-Testament-loving Pharisees two examples from the Scriptures of cases where the Sabbath regulations were broken by Godly people doing Godly things, and God didn’t strike them down dead. In fact, He seemed to approve of the exceptions to the rule. Likewise, Jesus is confident God also approved of him healing, doing good and helping others on the Sabbath.

In calling himself the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus wasn’t saying he was the Lord of something that ought to be thrown out because it had outlived its usefulness. No. He recognized the worth of the Sabbath AND the good that could be done during a day devoted to God. It wasn’t about a checklist and Sabbath day spies making sure you aren’t breaking the law. It is about a day to focus on God, your relationship with Him and the good that He wants you to do for Him. It is a day devoted to loving God and loving others to help us refocus and build our spiritual muscles to take us through the next 6 days doing His will in love.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Does your week generally include a Sabbath day of rest and devotion to God? If so, what does it usually look like? What do you appreciate most about it? Do you do it more for what you gain from it, or to please God? (either answer is legitimate). If you don’t normally include a Sabbath rest on your calendar, do you see value in trying a Sabbath rest? How might it look different from your typical day? What would be challenging about making this change? What benefits might you expect to see?
  2. Re-read Matthew 12:33-37. This week have you been producing good fruit or bad fruit? How so? What about your words? Why do you think your words are so important – at least one of the things you will be judged by? Do you find it easier to say the right thing or do the right thing? Were there any words you said recently that you wouldn’t want Jesus to repeat to you on judgment day? How can we stop careless words which will get us into trouble?
  3. Jesus welcomes us as a part of his family, if we do what? (Matthew 12:50) On a scale of 1-10 how are you doing in this area? What could you do today to boost your score? What benefits are there for those who are in Jesus’ family?

See Clearly

Matthew 7

January 7

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 – NIV) Its a loaded statement. We don’t like to feel judged and told that we are wrong, so we won’t judge and tell other people they are wrong. And so this single verse is used to justify, and even demand, blind acceptance of others and all their deeds. You are free to be gay – I have no right to judge. You are free to have the right to an abortion – I have no right to judge. You are free to believe you are a woman when God made you a man – I have no right to judge. You are free to hook up with anyone anytime you want – I have no right to judge. And that is what some would have us believe a good Christian should do. Let them be them and accept them for it. Their way is just as good as my way.

Only trouble is – the rest of this passage continues.

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2 – NIV) If you use a yard stick to measure yourself but a meter stick to measure others, they will always be coming up short. It is not a fair and right judgment or measure. It is skewed in your favor to make others look less than. They just don’t measure up to your greatness.

Here’s a little true story example – I have been known to be put out and upset when someone I am waiting for is running late. How could they inconvenience me by not operating more according to my clock and my time schedule? Only trouble is, yesterday I was caught by a train (it happens here in northern Indiana – the crossroads of America) and I didn’t show up exactly when someone else was expecting me, but of course my tardiness was excusable, because it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t know a train was going to be coming, etc…. It is not my right to condemn, chastise, be upset with others if I am not willing to be measured in the same way. Late is late. And, in actuality, it’s not my clock or their clock that really matters anyway – but what does God’s clock or measuring stick or word say? That is what matters.

The passage continues, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the PLANK in your own eye?…You hypocrite, FIRST take the plank out of your own eye, AND THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3, 5 – NIV). If a brother has a speck in his eye and there was something loving you could do to help him get that irritating, painful thing out, wouldn’t you want to? Wouldn’t God want you to? But, how much help could I be in this delicate operation if my own eye has a beam sticking out of it? I can’t see clearly to help others out of sin when I am swimming in it myself. That sin in my own life is first priority. I must deal with it. Get rid of it. It may hurt like crazy to pull that beam out – but until I do, my usefulness to help guide and correct others is gone. Pull it out. Heal. See Clearly. Then, I can help others, with the same word of God, same guidelines, same measuring stick and same mercy and compassion that saved me.

It is very true I am not the judge and the jury. God is and He will share that job with His Son. But I DO have a responsibility to watch myself closely, to hold myself accountable to the Word of God, and to be very aware of what is happening around me – including the sin that so easily entangles.

All paths are not created equal. Some – the narrow ones that not many people are willing to stay on – lead to life. Others – the wide, easy, popular ones where the majority are – leads to destruction. It would be foolish of me to not be judging which path I am on at all times. See clearly the two paths.

We are told, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). This will require VERY keen eyesight and insight. We will have to be wise in judging what may at first seem right and true but in fact is cleverly disguised, dangerous, deadly lies which are leading many down the wrong path. Watch out! See clearly those who are deceiving and being deceived. Blind acceptance will take you somewhere you do not want to go.

Make sure you are not sitting in the house of the foolish builder as the wind picks up. Many in that house have heard the word of God. They may profess Christianity and call him Lord and even seek to serve him. But they are not acting any different from the world. They are not doing the will of God. They have grown comfortable with the plank in their eye. They have befriended the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They have failed to put Jesus’ words into practice. They are on the wide path approaching the wide gate that leads to destruction.

Get out and move to the house of the wise builder before the downpour comes! Hear Jesus and listen. Do what he says. Take the plank out of your eye. See clearly. Help your brother take the speck out of his. Don’t make friends with the wolf just because he dressed up like a sheep.

See clearly. All paths are not the same. All houses will not stand. All choices are not okay. All churches will not be saved. Some will lead to life. Some will lead to death. Use the same measuring stick – God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus. And put it into practice! See clearly. Judge roads and gates and houses and wolves wisely. Your life truly depends on this.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What was the difference between the wise and foolish builder? What fate awaited each? How can you put into practice the words of Jesus from Matthew 7 today?
  2. When we were introduced to John the Baptist and to Jesus we were told what they were preaching – see Matthew 3:2 and 4:17 to remember. Are any lessons from Matthew 7 connected to this preaching theme? If so, how?
  3. Is it easier for you to see your own sins or the sins of others? What advice does Jesus give? Pray to see clearly your own sins first so you can deal with them.
  4. How do you feel when you read Matthew 7:21-23? How does it relate to the rest of the chapter? How can we live now to avoid hearing these words from Jesus?

Add Love

Matthew 5

January 5

It’s only been 5 days, but so far I am enjoying the one chapter a day pace for 2022. It’s allowing us a bit more time to soak in the lessons of each chapter before rushing into the next. However, as we look at Matthew chapter 5 today I can’t help but feel that this chapter would be a good one to cover just one VERSE per day! Jesus knew how to stack a sermon with plenty to mull over on the way home. It is possible that Matthew included some bits and pieces from other sermons to lump them all together into what is now known as The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Whether it was all said by Jesus in one particular sitting, or spread out, or often repeated for various audiences, these words of Jesus are priceless and worthy of being read over and over again, finding something new and inspiring every time.

We will save a longer discussion on the Beatitudes for another day/week/month. Until then, watch your attitudes. The right ones, as judged by God and not man, will come with great reward.

It’s okay, even preferred, to be persecuted for following Jesus. Follow anyway. The reward is great. And you are not the first to endure such opposition.

Be different from the world. Keep your saltiness (preserving life, adding spiritual savoring, disinfecting worldliness). Keep shining in the darkness. Keep doing good. Represent your Heavenly Father well.

Keep the Old Testament – with a New Testament heart.

Jesus knew people would think that now that the Messiah was here the old laws and scriptures would be done away with. Laws aren’t a lot of fun, let’s just love instead. He saw it back then, we still see it today. But Jesus clearly stated, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus challenged those sitting at his feet and he challenges us today. Think of the BEST people you can think of. Who is known for being righteous? At that time it was the Pharisees and teachers of the law. But Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Ouch! Did that say what I think it said? Read it again. But Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Something MORE is needed. Following the Old Testament laws one by one to show the world how good you are doesn’t cut it. But that doesn’t mean we throw out the law and the prophets and the Old Testament. Rather than throwing it out, we add to it. We don’t need to add more laws, the Pharisees already tried that, too. Instead, we add to it the heart of Jesus – the New Testament heart. What does that look like? Jesus knew we would ask, so he gives us six examples in Matthew 5.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for not murdering anyone today. Add love. Control your anger toward others. Don’t let that put-down out of your mouth. Work at relationships. Forgive and ask for forgiveness. And still, don’t murder.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for not committing adultery today. Add love. Guard yourself from lust. Take it seriously. There are consequences. Show respect and responsibility. And still, don’t commit adultery.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for doing a divorce in a legal, friendly manner. Add love. Work at it again. Take it seriously. There are consequences for everyone.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for keeping one oath made to God. Watch your words. Take them seriously. Stop making promises. Realize God is so much greater than you. Realize there is so much beyond your control. Keep it simple. Watch for influence from the evil one.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for getting even. Add love. Add sacrifice. Add service. Add generosity. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s not deserved.

Don’t pat yourself on the back for taking good care of people who take good care of you. Add love. For all. God knows. He’s got this. Don’t worry if it’s not fair now. You will see sunshine and rain. They (your enemies) will, too. It’s okay. Pray for them, even if they hurt you – or especially if they hurt you. Your actions and your prayers will show that you are God’s child. Work at being like Him.

Keep the commandments and add love.

Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Where is society trying to throw away the laws of God? What would they replace it with? Is this a good idea or a dangerous one? Why?
  2. Do you more often focus on the law or on love? Think of a particular instance where you leaned one way or another. How do we do both? What could you have done in the example you thought of to add in more of the lesser ingredient?
  3. What is the danger in weighing in too heavily in the law, neglecting love? What is the danger in weighing in too heavily in love, neglecting the law?
  4. Have you ever been afraid of the dark? What about spiritual darkness? How important is light? And spiritual light? What dims your light? What helps it shine brighter? Do you feel more like a match or a floodlight? How can we remember to be a light and shine in the darkness?

Get Right with God

Micah 5-7

Many people point to Micah 6:8 as a simple, straightforward verse telling us how to get right with God:   Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  

Let’s look at this in context.

Micah 6 starts out as a courtroom scene.  “Plead your case”… “For the Lord has a case against his people”.  God then reminded His people of the things He had done for them including leading them out of Egypt, protecting them from Balaam’s cursing them, and leading them into the promised land.

We might pause here to remind ourselves how the Israelites reacted to each of God’s protections that He pointed out to them here.  

  1. He led them out of Egypt to be His people, but they grumbled repeatedly, wanting to go back to Egypt; worshiped a golden calf; and didn’t trust that God could bring them into the promised land – so they had to wander in the desert for 40 years.
  2. He caused Balaam to bless Israel instead of cursing them.  This was a spiritual battle God was fighting on their behalf, without them even knowing about it.  Their response was to sin sexually with Moab’s women and worship Moab’s gods – so God sent a plague and killed many of the Israelites.
  3. He caused the Jordan River (at flood stage) to dry up, letting the Israelites cross on dry ground.  This was reminiscent of what He had done for the Israelites when they had left Egypt 40 years earlier.  God had done for Israel what they could not have done for themselves – but the people didn’t remember all the righteous acts God had done for them, and turned away again and again.

In Micah 6:6-7, we see that things we do can’t reconcile us to God, including bowing down to Him (presumably in hollow worship), performing sacrifices (remember that to obey is better than sacrifice), even sacrificing things most precious to us – including our children.  None of these things can reconcile us to God.

Then, we find the beautiful verse of what God really wants.  Not religious ceremonies, but moral and ethical conduct – “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

None of us can do these things until we first submit to God as broken sinners and allow Him to transform our lives.  We can only act justly once we have been justified.  We can only love mercy (and extend it to others) once we have experienced and recognized God’s mercy.  We can only walk humbly with our God after we bow humbly before Him, confess our sins, and claim his promise of forgiveness (I John 1:9).

Titus 3:5 reminds us, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  So people are misguided if they think they can follow this formula from Micah 6:8 to be saved.  It’s only because of our saving relationship with God that we can do what He requires in Micah 6:8.

As we continue reading Micah, we see that Israel hasn’t lived up to God’s requirements, so in 6:13, He says, “Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins.”  If God treated Israel this way, and if God doesn’t change, I’ll let you consider for yourself the implications for you and the implications for our nation.

Micah 7:13 is pointing to a time still in the future to us, when “the earth will become desolate because of its inhabitants, as the result of their deeds.”

But the last 3 verses of Micah remind us of who God is and what He has done in the past. 

Micah 7:18-20: “18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

19  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.”

To quote Warren Wiersbe from his Bible commentary, “the better we know the character of God, the more we can trust Him for the future.  The better we know the promises and covenants of God, the more peace we will have in our hearts when things fall apart.”

In closing, 

  1. We need to recognize we can never measure up to God’s requirements on our own.  
  2. We need to humbly come to God as broken sinners, confessing our sins, and asking for His forgiveness.  
  3. We need to remember who He is, what He has done in the past, and what promises He has made for the future.  
  4. We then need to develop a deep personal relationship with God.  

Only then can we “be imitators of God as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1).  And only then can we live a life acceptable to God – “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at Bible Gateway.com here – Micah 5-7 and Revelation 10

Mercy

Amos 7-9

When you think of judgment, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of a judge, sentencing a convict. Maybe you think of punishment. The minor prophets have a lot to say about “judgment” against Israel. First, we need to understand why God has so much to say to Israel before we can understand God’s judgments against Israel.

In Deuteronomy 30, God is covenanting with the people of Israel. A covenant is not like today’s modern-day transactional relationships, like an employee and client relationship. Rather, a covenant is a binding union between two parties. It can have conditions or strings attached, but the point is that a covenant is not fickle or nonchalant. It’s intimate and binding. Marriage is a form of a covenant: there are expectations (or vows) between the two parties, and it is an irrevocable binding of two parties. In Deuteronomy 30:15-16, Moses says “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”   

This is a covenant. You may remember yesterday, in Amos 5, God said “Seek the LORD that you may live.” In other words, life is ONLY found in devotion to God. So what happens when God’s covenant partner utterly forsakes the agreement? We find our answer in Amos 7-9.

This passage can be hard to understand. It’s rife with visions. In chapter 7, God shows a series of images depicting total destruction–this is what Israel deserves– but He promises mercy instead (see 7:3,6). Chapter 8 describes horrific famines that affect even the strongest men and women in the land. But in chapter 9:11-15, after these fearsome images of judgment and punishment, God says something the reader might not expect. God says that He’s going to restore Israel, build it up, and make them prosper. He’s going to pick them back up, dust them off, and help them to be the nation He designed them to be. In other words, God is keeping His end of the covenant, no matter what.

Amos shows us an image of judgment (in fact, most of the minor prophets do). However, even moreso, Amos shows us that God is loyal in spite of our sin, merciful in the face of our sin, and blesses us when we don’t deserve it. He is so good! Praise God! 

-Levi Salyers

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Amos 7-9 and Revelation 4

Walking in the Truth

2 John 1

John writes about those who have “come to know the truth” and that he is rejoicing to see some young family members “walking in the truth” (vv. 1, 4).  This “truth” is not some list of doctrines or deep theology but a simple commandment: “that we love one another” (v. 5). Sometimes we can overcomplicate the “truth.” Now don’t misunderstand John; the truth in Scripture is very deep and has many levels. It is not merely comprised of this one commandment. We might say that whatever Scripture reveals on any subject can be constituted as “truth.”

As John wrote about in his previous letter (cf. 1 John 5), biblically speaking love is not predominantly this passionate emotion of desire as some might think of it. Rather, the love that John is talking about is intricately bound together with obedience. And therefore, this is why he says, “And this is love: that we walk according to his commandments” (v. 6).

Why is this so important to John that he is reiterating it again here in his 2nd letter? The reason is likely part of his subsequent warning about the “many deceivers” who are in the world (v. 7). There are many forces at work in the world vying for our attention and our devotion. John raises the danger about these “deceivers” and how they can lead someone astray from the truth, for he declares that “everyone who goes too far and does not remain in the teaching about Christ does not have God (v. 9).

We need to be aware and watch ourselves concerning those who do not “bring the teaching about Christ.” John is very stern about not entertaining deceivers in our homes. The adversary works in subtle ways and sometimes these deceptive influences can come from unlikely places and people who may not even be consciously or intentionally opposing God and the teaching about Christ, but nonetheless are stealthily subverting the message of the good news with criticism, skepticism, or mockery.

Let us be careful to recognize these evil works and not lose our focus on living according to God’s commandments.

-Jerry Wierwille

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 9-11 and 2 John

What is Love?

I John 5

Our parents are a very important part of our lives, and it is a blessing to have earthly parents who are godly and care for us. But not everyone has such parents. Nevertheless, John says that everyone who “believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (v. 1). The greatness of that reality cannot fully be expressed in word. Figuratively, God has “given birth” to us as a parent gives birth to children. God is now our parent! And he is unlike any earthly parent. And since we have been born into God’s family, we are to love all of God’s children, for they are our brothers and sisters.

But what does it mean to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord? As John states, it is “when we love God and obey his commandments” (v. 2). What this means is that our expression of love within God’s family stems first and foremost from our love for God and our willingness to submit to his authority and obey his commandments. That might not be the way that some of us look at what it means to “love” one another perhaps because we have contrived an idea of what love means from our culture rather than from Scripture.

There’s no question about it, John gives us a clear definition: the love of God is that “we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome” (v. 3). Certainly, to love God entails many of the things we conceive of when we think about what it means to “love.” In his letter to the Colossians, Paul gives us a list of the commandments of God that we are to obey as his children:

…but now you too must put away all these things: anger, rage, malice, defaming speech, obscene talk out of your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, since you have stripped off the old self with its practices….12Therefore, as God’s holy and beloved chosen ones, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience; 13bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord forgave you, so you also must forgive.” (Col 3:8-9, 12-13)

Many of these behaviors probably fit into our box of what “love” looks like, but our world is filled with contradictions and disagreements about how to practice it.

But John reassures us that we need not succumb to the pressures of the world when it comes to how to love, for as God’s children, we have overcome the world through our faith in Jesus, the Son of God (v. 5). Let us live with love that comes from a heart of obedience that is willing to surrender our desires to the Creator, knowing that if we love him properly, then we will love each other as well.

-Jerry Wierwille

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 7-8 and 1 John 5

The Writing on the Wall

Daniel 5-6

     The kingdom of God is political.  It is political because it begs the question, “Who or what will rule over you.”  Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  God Himself is moving history to an inevitable conclusion.  A day is coming when the kingdoms of this world will be overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of the kingdom of God.  Remember, God has ultimate control.  In the meantime, however, God gives the authority to govern to various kings, presidents, and prime ministers.  However, all politicians beware.  You will be judged by the God of the universe.  You will be measured according to the LORD’s standard.  God has given you authority and He also can take it away.

     Consider the case of the foolish King Belshazzar.  Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, but he was nothing like his grandfather.  The Babylonian Empire had declined because Belshazzar lacked wisdom and the talent to rule effectively.  Above all, Belshazzar did not fear the God of Israel.  Belshazzar threw a huge blow-out party for all his nobles.  It was a night of drinking and frivolity.  It is believed these events took place in 539 B.C.  At the time, a huge Persian army surrounded the city of Babylon.  Belshazzar was not worried for he believed himself to be safe behind the imposing walls of the city.  Ignoring the threat outside, Belshazzar threw this huge party.  In fact, it is believed that whole city was in the midst of a huge festival. 

When Belshazzar was feeling his wine, he ordered that the vessels that had been taken from the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem be brought to this feast.  They used these sacred cups to drink toasts to the idols of Babylon.  Those in the banquet hall were shocked to see a hand writing a message on the wall.  Belshazzar’s knees knocked together with fright.  Daniel was summoned to interpret the message for it was somewhat mysterious.  Daniel informed Belshazzar of a very simple truth in Daniel 5:21: “…the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes….”   Also, Daniel openly chastised Belshazzar.  Belshazzar had toasted the dumb idols, but “….the God in whose hand are your life breath and all your ways, you have not glorified….”(Daniel 5:23).  King Belshazzar, in his arrogance, had insulted the King of the universe.  The rulers of this earth cannot ignore God without serious consequences.

What about the message on the wall?   It was a short message from the LORD Himself to Belshazzar: “MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN.”  The words themselves are common words that might be heard in the marketplaces of Babylon.  MENE means count.  TEKEL means weigh.  UPHARSIN or its other verb form PERES mean divide (make change).  The message to Belshazzar is that God has judged him.  God has counted his every deed.  God has weighed him in the balance and Belshazzar has come up short.  God has taken the kingdom from him and given it to the Persians.  History tells us that the Persian army, on that very night, had diverted the Euphrates River which flowed through the city of Babylon.  The Persians entered the city undetected.  Belshazzar was killed that night.   Even the rulers of this world are subject to the God of the universe.  Those who rule in defiance of the ways of righteousness will eventually face the consequences while God will bless those who honor Him.

-Scott Deane

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Daniel 5-6 and Psalm 142-144

Praise Him

Psalm 111-113

Most of us say that we would like to have wisdom and good understanding. This seems pretty obvious but it is so easy to loose track of what brings these things. We search in books, on apps, listening to podcasts, and on websites. When we search in these and other places like these for wisdom and understanding we find that it all falls short if it is not based in faith. Thankfully we have a source of both wisdom and understanding. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; All those who follow His commandments have a good understanding; His praise endures forever.”

When we search for wisdom we need to start with fear for the LORD. This does not mean we need to cower and hide when we think of God. He absolutely has the power that He could instill that type of fear but that is not who He is.  Instead it means that we need to have a respectful awe or reverence for the LORD. Although He is mighty and powerful beyond our capabilities, He is also loving and compassionate beyond our understanding. He is the God who is powerful enough to speak and create life as we know it and loving enough to send His Son to overcome death that we may live. David said that wisdom begins with this reverent fear of the LORD. When we know who we serve and the love He has for us we can truly focus on what is important. That is leading as many as possible to a relationship with God as we serve Him with our life. 

David does not stop there. He says that following the commandments of God shows “a good understanding.” We follow His commandments because we understand what has been done for us. We have a desire to serve the one that has blessed us so incredibly with hope, both now and in the life to come. We understand that we have been given a gift that we could not have possibly earned and as such we desire to show thanks in the best way we can. That is to follow His commandments. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments, upon which hang all the others, are to love God and love people!

David ends this verse by saying that “His (God’s) praise endures forever.” At first it may seem a simple statement of just four words. Upon further thought though we realize that this statement has long lasting reach. Also we find that His praise will endure forever. This means that even if I do not praise Him others will. It also means that His praise did not stop when David died, when Solomon died, when Job died, when the apostles died, and it will not stop when you and I die either. If His praise endures forever; this is an eternal statement with implications into the Kingdom of God! It is with great pleasure that I tell you that you can praise Him both now and FOREVER!

Those who have wisdom and have understanding will praise the LORD!

-Bill Dunn

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at SeekGrowLove.com here – Psalm 111-113 and Ezekiel 19-20

Pruning

Ezekiel 5 & 6

Ezekiel 5:8 – Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations.

For homeowners in the Southwest, October is usually the month that winter lawn seed is spread. Since we don’t have snow to cover up our yards, we either let the grass die and go brown for a few months, or we make sure that the grass stays green by dedicating an afternoon to lawn care.

So just a few weeks ago, my brother and dad mowed the lawn three times to get the grass cut down as low as possible. That way, when they spread the lawn seed and fertilizer, the seed would have a better chance of taking root and growing into a luscious green carpet. If the lawn wasn’t cut down low, the winter lawn wouldn’t come up.

This reminds me a bit of the pruning that Jesus talks about in John 15. In order for the vine to grow healthy and produce fruit, it has to be cut back. 

We read in Ezekiel chapter 5 God instructing the prophet to shave off all of his hair and his beard and to divide it into thirds. One third is to be burned, one third to be cut up, and one third to be tossed into the wind. A small amount was to be reserved and later that portion was to be divided with part of it to be burned and the remaining hairs kept. 

These instructions are full of symbolism. The hair represents the Israelites. And because of their disobedience, God has to punish the nation. There would be a small remnant of people who would survive, symbolized by the tiny portion of hair not destroyed. 

If God was to have a people unto His own, He needed to get rid of all the evil. He cannot coexist with unholiness. God had to do some major pruning of His people in order that good fruit (spiritually minded people) could grow and thrive. 

I’ve experienced a season of pruning a few times in my life, maybe you have too. When God decides that it is time for you to grow, there is usually something in our lives that has to be cut back first. This is hard. But it is necessary in order to become who God has designed us to be. 

I realize that we still have a good two months of 2021 left, and traditionally, self reflection takes place towards the end of the calendar year. But now is as good a time as any to examine different areas of your life to see if there is anything that God is telling you to get rid of or to cut back on. 

We have read what God plans for those who are disobedient. Let’s experience God not through His wrath, but through His blessings.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 5 & 6 and 1 Peter 4

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