Blind Guides

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 23 and Genesis 45 & 46

Yesterday we got to spend our whole devotion thinking about a great party and the thrill of receiving an invitation from God to honor His Son. Today – no such fun. The parties and parables are gone and today, in Matthew 23, we read only of strong warnings, harsh words, and blasting condemnation. This is the last recorded time in the book of Matthew that Jesus addresses the crowds. This is what he is going to leave with them – too important to not say. Anyone who believes Jesus would never condemn because he just loved people no matter what, just full of overflowing forgiveness and love, could benefit from a little sit down with Matthew 23.

It is clear that Jesus was not happy with these Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts by warning the crowd to not be like the Pharisees as he begins describing them: they don’t practice what they preach, they make it harder for people to be godly, they love being honored by men and they pridefully exalt themselves. And then, speaking directly to the Pharisees and teachers of the law he lets loose on what has become known as the “7 Woes”. Six times he will begin with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” and once with “Woe to you, blind guides.” Jesus uses some choice language to describe these men: son of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men (notice a pattern?), snakes and brood of vipers.

So, what in the world were these people doing that was so bad to receive this 7 part hellfire sermon. After all, we know Jesus often responded to people’s sins with mercy, grace and forgiveness and the all-important chance to start over. He hadn’t called the lying cheating thieving Zacchaeus a son of hell? What was different here?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were supposed to be the ones to guide people to God. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary suggests there were about 6,000 Pharisees at the time – mostly middle-class businessmen who had devoted themselves to being separate – becoming the religious leaders who would show the Jews how to please God. And, some were indeed authentic in this quest (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are two named in Scripture). The crowd gathered was likely shocked to hear Jesus speaking of and to the Pharisees in this way because they had been taught (at least by the Pharisees themselves) to revere the position and spiritual leadership held by this Jewish sect.

What started out as a good goal became warped and ungodly. As the Pharisees kept puffing themselves up there was no room left for what really pleases God. They had become blind guides. And it is obviously very dangerous to follow a blind guide. They could lead you straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. And that is exactly the warning Jesus was giving the Pharisees and the crowd. “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV).

The Pharisees loved the law and specialized in knowing and enforcing each and every little detail of a long long list of do’s and don’ts. This, they thought, would make God happy. But all the while they neglected the larger heart issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They mastered in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, but failed to see that the novel they were writing with their lives was tearing down every attempt others were making to please God. They were quick to point out other’s errors, but saw none of their own. It became most important to them to look good before man. So important that they forgot about how to actually look good before God. They were puffed up and proud, greedy and selfish.


It is easy to read this chapter and shake my head and point my finger and say, “Boy, I’m glad I am not like one of them.” But, in so doing – I become like one of them.

Dear God, help me to do what is right – with a heart that is right. May I see the error of the Pharisee’s ways – and my own – and work to clean up my own insides. Help me be humble and not seek the honor of men. Open my eyes to who you are and what truly pleases you. Open my ears to the teachings of your Son, to not just know it but to live it. Help me guide others to you, not armed with a legalistic checklist, but with a heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness. In your precious Son’s name, I pray.

-Marcia Railton

What’s in it for Me?

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 20 and Genesis 39-40

Today we have more jostling and trying to get to the front of the line, despite what Jesus just taught about the proper order – keep God first, then others before yourself. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. One of the last verses from yesterday’s Matthew 19 was Peter asking, “What then will there be for us?” (19:27b NIV) In today’s reading of Matthew 20, James’ and John’s mother will ask if her two sons can sit at Jesus’ right and left when Jesus sits on his throne. What’s in it for me (and my kids)? How can I be first, best, greatest?

Jesus’ reply isn’t what they were looking for. First, in continuing his answer to Peter, he tells the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The workers hired first worked all day and worked well and got what they had worked for – one denarius (a fair wage for a day of work). It would have been fine, except that, all day long the boss kept hiring others to come get the job done – some ended up just working the last hour. And, they too, received one full denarius! Where was the extra reward and recognition and pat on the back for being first, for putting more time on the clock, for working harder than any of the others? It wasn’t fair. But the boss didn’t say, “Thank you so much for pointing that injustice out to me, here’s your bonus.” Instead, he said it was time for an attitude check. You did your work well, but your selfish complaining attitude isn’t pretty. Stop questioning the master’s generosity. Stop comparing your work load and pay rate with your neighbors’. God’s got this – He’s a good boss. Your job isn’t to be boss, your job is to keep working in the vineyard – with a good attitude – not selfish and resentful but thankful and joyful for the grace and mercy the boss shows to others.

For the 3rd time in the book of Matthew – Jesus prepares his disciples for his upcoming death – this time revealing it will be through crucifixion. But they don’t get it. They still expect his kingdom to start soon in a grand and glorious manner.

The mother of James and John is planning ahead. She knows Jesus has a very special relationship with her boys so it’s time to secure their place at his side – how about the thrones on the right and left of Jesus when he becomes king? The boys agree they are ready for these places of honor. Jesus said if you are trying to be great – if you are trying to be first – SERVE OTHERS. Give up your life, your time, your pride and selfishness. Put the needs of others before your own. Just as Jesus did – over and over again – with his life and then with his death.

The world doesn’t need more Christians trying to be first and greatest. The world needs more Christian servants joyfully working in the vineyard and caring for the needs of others.

-Marcia Railton

Humility

Romans 11-13

I am a fairly humble fellow.  I do not stand out in a crowd.  I do not try to draw attention to myself.  In fact I don’t like attention.  I don’t consider myself arrogant and  I am very aware of my flaws.  And yet, there are still times when I allow myself to feel superior to others.  Maybe we all do that at times?

No matter how many flaws we have, all of us are better at something than someone else.  And in those moments where we take notice of that, it is easy to allow our egos to puff up a bit, isn’t it?  Maybe that is even especially true for those, like me, that are more keenly aware of our shortcomings than our triumphs.

Paul touches on humility several times in chapter 12, and typically when I read these passages, I instantly think about people that are very arrogant, and think, “this doesn’t really apply to me,” or “I’m doing fine in this area.”  But then (sometimes) I think about the thoughts that I opened with.

Beginning in verse 3, Paul says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

 There you have it.  Each of us should NOT think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  Well then how highly SHOULD we think of ourselves?  Frankly, I would say pretty high, because we are each pretty incredible creations of God.  And we have each been blessed with many abilities and talents.  But as Paul points out, we have all been given DIFFERENT abilities.  And it is key to remember that we have been given those abilities.  We didn’t do anything ourselves to acquire natural abilities.  Some people are born with great musical talent.  Others with sharp intellect.  Still others with amazing athletic skill.  Paul here is speaking primarily of spiritual gifts, but all abilities and talents are indeed granted by our Creator.  I really appreciate when I see gifted athletes giving credit to God for their abilities during post-game interviews.  I am not always sure how sincere they are, but the message is true regardless.

In verse 10, Paul says to Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one other above yourselves.  This is an outward extension of humility, and here, should be motivated by love.  How often do you honor others above yourself?

Finally, Paul comes back to humility again in verse 16.

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.”

We should not just be showing humility to the people we are comfortable being with, or the people that are “our kind of crowd.”  We should be showing humility to, and honoring above us those whom we would consider to be of low position. 

Again, this is the example Jesus left for us, and it is a humility that is motivated by love, which Paul sums up perfectly in verses 9-21.

So, think of yourselves very highly, as an amazing creation, but do not think of yourself more highly than someone else.  That is when you are thinking of yourself more highly than you ought.  It’s about recognizing that God has given each of us different gifts, to be used to His glory.

-Greg Landry

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Romans 11-13.

Tomorrow we will finish the book of Romans (chapters 14-16).

Boasting of the Best

2 Corinthians 10-13

We are going through our final chapters in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians!  Thank you for sticking with me through this last week and listening to my ramblings 😊

As Paul is finishing up his letters, he seems to talk a lot about boasting.  Boasting can be defined as possessing something as a source of pride.  Paul is possessing the knowledge of the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and what that means for his sinful life.  He takes pride in the fact that he belongs to Christ, and he wants others to be proud of that too (10:2).  He doesn’t want people to be proud of themselves or their own accomplishments, but only be proud of the Lord and being part of a group of believers (10:17).

In chapter 11 Paul talks about those who do boast about themselves and discusses how at the very most we should only be willing to boast about our weakness (11:30).  In order to be in a position that you are not only willing to share a weakness but are seeking to openly and proudly share a weakness, you must be truly dedicated and excited to be part of that movement.  Paul understood the impact that sharing his weakness, or his testimony, would have on believers because he got to experience first-hand the grace of God.

Paul didn’t always want to deal with the things that created his testimony, he calls them a thorn used to torment him (12:7).  He asked for the things that were difficult for him to be taken away, and Jesus told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (12:9).  Paul did not innately know that the things that were difficult, that were shaping his testimony, were going to be used for God’s glory.  But when he learned that his weakness would only more greatly reflect grace, he did not shy away and try to hide or change his weaknesses to present himself as higher than he was to the church.  All too often Christians can feel this pressure to hide the parts of their life that weren’t “pretty” in the eyes of other believers.  But most times, what we have gone through and come out of because of the grace of God is one of the most powerful tools in bringing people to Christ and encouraging believers.  We should be boasting in our weaknesses, in what God has brought us out of, with the purpose of growing and strengthening the Church.

Paul closes his letter by saying this: “Finally, brothers, rejoice.  Become mature, be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (13:11).  Part of becoming mature can include developing and sharing your testimony.  Being encouraged can happen when you share and hear about testimonies from other believers.  We are all of the same mind when we focus on growing and strengthening the Church.  And being at peace comes from knowing that each believer has that same focus.  When we are able to do all of these things, God will be with us and give us His strength to complete tasks we never thought possible. 

We make up the Church, and we are responsible for continuing to grow the Church and keep one another strong in the faith.  Paul’s letters are a great place to start when looking for ways to be part of the Church, but there is absolutely a level of personal communication with God that is necessary to know where He wants you to be.  I encourage you to take time today to reflect on your own testimony and to ask God who He wants you to share this testimony with.  You may be surprised where He leads you!

Thank you all for joining me through the Corinthians!  This week has been a great time for me to refocus on the mission, and I hope it was for you all as well.  Until next time, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

-Sarah Blanchard Johnson

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Corinthians 10-13

Tomorrow we begin a new week reading Acts 20:1-3 and Romans 1-3.

Deceived by Pride

Jeremiah 49-50

Jeremiah 49 16 NIV sgl

More sin, more judgment, more destruction, and a little more restoration – just like yesterday – only the names have been changed.  Yesterday we read about the judgment God was planning against Egypt, the Philistines, and Moab.  Today, we read what was in store for Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, Elam and the big one – Babylon.  God saw their sins and would be bringing judgment and destruction to their lands.

There is one sin that is mentioned again and again.

“Why do you boast of your valleys, boast of your valleys so fruitful? O unfaithful daughter, you trust in your riches and say, ‘Who will attack me?'” (Jeremiah 49:4  NIV).

“The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart have deceived you” (Jeremiah 49:16 NIV).

“See, I am against you, O arrogant one” (Jeremiah 50:31 NIV).

It may come by many names – boasting, pride, arrogance – but every time it is a sin worthy of judgment.

How could the pride of your heart be deceiving you?

A few weeks ago I was preparing a devotion for posting and I was looking for a background photograph for a verse referring to Hezekiah’s pride (2 Chronicles 32:25).  I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for – but figured I would know it when I saw it.  So I typed in that I wanted to see photos of pride and I started scrolling.  and scrolling.  and scrolling.  You of course are smarter than I and know what I ran across – over and over again.  I am pretty sure there were thousands upon thousands of options for gay pride – rainbows, couples, signs, and more rainbows, a lot of rainbows (when did they get to hijack the symbol of God’s promises?).  There was also the occasional national flag or beaming, proud parent pictured with her perfect child.  But, there was NOTHING there to indicate that pride is a sin, a deadly sin worthy of judgment.  Finally, I opted for the proud peacock as my photo background and shook my head at dismay over what we have become – a culture that celebrates and basks in pride.  Are we any different from the countries of Jeremiah’s day?  Arrogant, boastful, flaunting sin and deceived by pride.  Can we expect anything less than what Jeremiah foretold for these sinful nations?

What about on a personal level?  It can be overwhelmingly depressing to think about trying to fix all the evils of a nation – but what can I work at fixing about myself?  Where do I let pride puff me up so I no longer care for others or about what God says?  How is my use of social media contributing to the spiraling problem of pride?  How is pride connected to so many other sins?

It is time to see our pride and sin for what it is – and treat it as the deadly gangrene it is.  Don’t be led astray and deceived by pride.  Jump down from your high horse and humble yourself.  You aren’t as much as you think you are.  For God has promised judgment for the proud and arrogant.  He has also promised restoration and forgiveness for those who humble themselves  – “If  my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to here – Jeremiah 49-50

Tomorrow we will finish the book of Jeremiah with chapters 51-52 as we continue searching God’s Word in our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Discipline with Justice – then Restoration

Jeremiah 46-48

Jeremiah 46 28c NLT sgl

Today we remember that God is not just the God of the Jews – but the God of the world – all the nations.  And as God has watched the sins of these nations – so will He exact discipline on these nations.  Jeremiah writes what God tells him to write regarding the coming destruction that God will oversee and orchestrate against Israel’s neighbors.

Jeremiah uses vivid imagery to describe these events:

“The sword will devour till it is satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood.”  (Jeremiah 46:10 NIV)

“Moab is disgraced for she is shattered.” (Jeremiah 48:20 NIV)

His descriptions show not only how scary and total the destruction will be – but also what a sad state of affairs these societies had become.  The most powerful passage that got my attention was in the message against the Philistines, “Terrified fathers run madly, without a backward glance at their helpless children.” (Jeremiah 47:3b NLT).  Where have the strong, brave protectors and defenders of their families gone?

We would do well to pay special attention to the passages that point to the reasons for this judgment.  All of these neighbors are being punished for their mistreatment of God’s chosen people, as well as for their own sins. “Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive…We have heard of Moab’s pride – her overweening pride and conceit, her pride and arrogance and the haughtiness of her heart…In Moab I will put an end to those who make offerings on the high places and burn incense to their gods…Moab will be destroyed as a nation because she defied the LORD” (Jeremiah 48:7, 29, 35, 42 NIV).   How many similarities do you have to Moab – just one of the countries that would feel the burn of God’s discipline?  How do you treat God and His people?  Is your pride in check?  Where do you put your trust – in your job, your finances, your teachers, your doctors, yourself – or in God?  Do you offer your best and first time, talents and resources to God or to selfish pursuits and false gods?

After 46 verses of judgment against Moab, the final verse of chapter 48 says, “Yet, I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come.”   Hope and restoration is coming – at least for those judged worthy.  Amongst the condemnation of these chapters, Jeremiah includes a beautiful word from God for Israel as well,

But do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant;
    do not be dismayed, Israel.
For I will bring you home again from distant lands,
    and your children will return from their exile.
Israel[f] will return to a life of peace and quiet,
    and no one will terrorize them.
28 Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant,
    for I am with you,” says the Lord.
“I will completely destroy the nations to which I have exiled you,
    but I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you, but with justice;
    I cannot let you go unpunished.” (Jeremiah 46: 27-28 NLT)

God sees and will not let the guilty go unpunished.  But His deepest desire is to find and reward faithfulness in His children so He can live with them in peace.  God still judges in His love today – as a wise and caring parent.  There will yet be a time of unequaled punishment for those who appeared to get away with evil with a proud heart, relying on themselves and turning their backs on God.  This is discipline with justice.  And, then, there will be restoration and peace.  Come Lord Jesus Come – may He find us faithful.

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at Jeremiah 46-48.

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 49-50 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

The Problem with Pride

2 Chronicles 32-33

2 Chronicles 32 25 NIV sgl

There are many lessons that we can learn from reading these chapters in the Bible. One of these lessons is that a proud heart can cause much trouble. For both Hezekiah and Manasseh this was an issue. Hezekiah did not want to credit the LORD, while Manasseh disregarded the LORD.

It is easy for us too to fall into this. There are times where we pray for guidance. However, once we receive the guidance we asked for, we neglect to go back to God and we just continue with our lives. We do not take the time to acknowledge the LORD’s hand in what was done and we do not do so until we feel we are again in need of him. It is easy for us to forget what he has done. The reality too, is that sometimes we like to think that we found the answers on our own. However, we would not have been capable of finding such answers without God. This situation is similar to Hezekiah when he allowed his heart to be proud and did not credit God with the successes of Jerusalem. He wanted to receive the glory that was owed to the LORD.

Other times, though, we may be able to better relate to Manasseh. During these times, we may be in outright rebellion toward God as Manasseh was. We want to do what we want. We may feel as though we do not need to listen to God because we are proud and think that we know best. We may say, “I know what I am doing.” That is until we receive a wake-up call and realize that we were not so wise in our thoughts and actions. We come to understand that we didn’t have a clue as to what we were doing. What a humbling experience this can be for our proud hearts!

This actually reminds me of a time when I was packing for a several month stent of studying abroad in Ireland. I had limited space, so I was trying to pack as lightly as possible. Because of this, I disregarded my mother’s advice to pack a small towel. I thought I was being smart. I will just get a towel when I get over there. “I know what I am doing”, I thought. This disregard for guidance offered to me by someone older and wiser than me resulted in me having to use a t-shirt as a towel for several days. Turns out that securing a towel in an unfamiliar country is not always so easy.

While this example is small in comparison, I think it shows how easily we can turn to ourselves rather than to others, and more specifically God. Even though the downfall of both Hezekiah and Manasseh were great, God forgave them when they repented. Because of the love our God has for us and the sacrifice of his son on the cross, we have the ability to be reconciled to him. That truly is something to be thankful for.

Hannah Deane

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Chronicles+32-33&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Nahum 1-3 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan