Our God is an Awesome God

Isaiah 41-42 and 1 Timothy 2

Good morning! (Or afternoon, or evening…)

Our God is an awesome God, and He has no problem telling us that!  Isaiah 41 is all about God telling the nations who is in charge.  In certain places, it can seem a little harsh… calling the Israelites weak worms, putting them in their place knowing that their work is worthless compared to God, etc.  HOWEVER, there are also multiple verses where God’s comforting love shows through as he reminds the Israelites not to fear, and that He is there to help and strengthen them (v. 10, 13, 17).  While the passage can be blunt at times, it ultimately is God simply speaking truth to a group of individuals that He cares deeply about.  He wants them to understand how great He is, and how much He cares for them!

In chapter 42 God provides a little more reasoning behind his passionate words towards the Israelites, He reminds them that they are a chosen people dedicated to being a light to the nations (v. 6).  Isaiah has been tasked with sending this message to the Israelites despite the way they continue to reject God.  I can almost feel his exasperation as he does his best to help them understand that they have a purpose, that God has a plan, and that they keep ignoring it! (v. 20) Do you ever feel like Isaiah trying to convince people that God has the best plan for their life?  It can be difficult to speak truth into the lives of others who are not receptive, and it can be hard to see them ignore the need for God in their life.  We must know that it is not our job to convince individuals they need God, He can do that all His own!  Our job is to share the information, model how God can change a life, and continue to pray for their eyes, ears, and hearts to be opened to the truth.

In reality, I think we end up being most like the Israelites ourselves!  We continue to disobey, ignore, or rebel against the purpose God has for us even though we may know exactly what God wants from us.  We all have sin in our lives.  It looks different in everyone!  That is why it is so incredible that God still includes us in His chosen people, and that we all have the same opportunity for salvation and an eternal life with Him in the Kingdom. 

Unlike Isaiah, we are fortunate to live in the time that we don’t have to just tell people salvation is yet to come; we get to share that a Savior has already come, already been put to death for our sins, and has already rose from the grave with a promise of eternal salvation!  We are told in 1 Timothy 2 that God wants everyone to be saved, to come to the knowledge of the truth (v. 4) and that Jesus was a human who gave himself as a ransom for all (v.5-6).  Who can you share some knowledge with today?

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 41-42 and 1 Timothy 2

Deception

Isaiah 35-36 and 2 Thessalonians 2

Hello again!  Thanks for joining me for another day!

Isaiah 35 depicts a joyful return of the redeemed of the LORD.  There is singing, gladness, no sorrow, and healing (v. 5-10).  What an incredible celebration to be part of!  I certainly am looking forward to our day of celebration with God.  Unlike this celebration, ours will be one that lasts forever and ever, and never has the possibility for someone else to come and bring us back to a broken place.  No one to come and scare the righteous and try to deceive them! 

In Isaiah 36 the king of Assyria tries to overtake Judah and Jerusalem.  Interestingly, the king here is not only using physical tactics to try and capture the cities, but he is also using some mind-game strategies to create doubt in the people and offer a false hope in his own strength.  The king tries to convince the people that by surrendering to him they will have security and a new, prosperous land (v. 16-17).  He uses the language the people are familiar with and attacks the character of their current leader who follows YHWH.  He creates doubt in God’s promises that are not immediately present and begins to offer the easy way out of the situation with empty promises of independent success, security, and familiarity.  We see these same types of empty promises coming from politicians, employers, and even our own friends or families at times today.  While they may not be empty in what is being offered, they will never satisfy whatever our wants or needs are as they are not promises from God.  I believe that Satan consistently tries to use different tactics to pull us away from God and His promises, and people surrounding us can be lead astray on empty promises of what will make them happy, secure, or comfortable. 

Throughout the Bible we see a common theme is a warning not to fall for the deception of the current age, to not fall for empty and unsatisfying promises offered by man.  This is because no matter what time period, the only promises that will ever fill someone up are those that come directly from God!

Our passage in 2 Thessalonians discusses deception from the ‘lawless one’ who is coming with false miracles, signs, and wonders set out to deceive all those who do not accept the truth (v. 9 – 10).  Paul is writing to a church that seems to already be doing a good job of continuing to follow God’s promises despite attempts at deception.  He is writing to encourage them to STAND FIRM in what they already know (v. 15).  We can know that the promise that Paul writes about (the coming of Jesus) is not one that is empty because he does not write it with the purpose of his own gain, or the purpose of leading us astray from what Jesus himself preached!  In general, this is a pretty good standard to judge promises made by others… does it match with what Jesus said?  When we use this standard to gauge the reliability of promises we are guaranteed to experience less disappointment and confusion! 

I pray over you today and this week that “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourages your hearts and strengthens you in every good work and word” (v. 16 – 17).   Life is hard, full of empty promises, deception, and brokenness.  Praise God we have grace and an everlasting promise that is still coming!

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 35-36 and 2 Thessalonians 2

In That Day

Isaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, that’s not all!

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

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

-Marcia Railton

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

Crumbling Walls and Stumbling Blocks

Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8

It was just a week ago, at the close of summer school, when a student poignantly asked me if I had ever been a bully. Hmm.  My gut answer was immediately, “No.”  Well, at least I don’t think so.  Right?  Then he referenced a sheet of paper he read outside the door to my classroom that stated “Mr. Winner is a bully, but in a good way.”  Truth. I remember seeing this phrase as I freshly hung up papers from my former students to my incoming classes.  The forms they filled out were entitled “10 Things to Know about Mr. Winner’s Classroom.” While the more consistent items were “Mr. Winner will throw things at you,” or “Mr. Winner will make sure you won’t go hungry,” or “Mr. Winner really cares,” there were two people who listed “Mr. Winner is a bully” but with the comforting caveat “in a good way.”  I literally scratched my head as I tried to dissect the information in front of me for a moment.  Maybe I am a pusher? Or do I tease the students too much?  Or bully the bullies creating some ironic form of verbal justice? I didn’t come to a clear conclusion, but I reflected a bit more on my past and present.  I responded, “I think I’ve been a bully before, but I am doing my best not to be.”

Like all of us, I often think before I speak.  This happens significantly less at 36 than a half of a lifetime ago at 18, but my words can be quite cutting when my pride is wounded.  I have a rapier wit sharpened through the first-world sufferings of low self-esteem and some extra weight in high school (and at other points in my life too).  While some mighty say that my rebuttals to ridicule were simply justified self-defense, I know I have often lost control and engineered shock-and-awe offensive assaults.  At several points in my life, my tongue has been an unbridled mess (James 3).  While there is more restraint over words today, neither can I stop craving the attention they give, nor can I shake the overwhelming urge to be right.

Now out of the dark recesses of psyche and into today’s reading.  In the Old Testament (Nehemiah 3,4), we get a detailed look at the many groups who return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under the direction of Nehemiah.  They are faced with two named nemeses, Sanballat and Tobiah, who openly criticize what they deem as futile work.  In the New Testament (1 Corinthians 8) Paul deals with the issue of food, specifically food that isn’t deemed clean by the conditions of the Law, and speaks to the nuance between licensed actions and actions of the conscience.  Both beg the question of what our response should be when faced with open criticism to what we know is correct.

“Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at <Sanballat’s> side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones” – Nehemiah 4:3

“Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.  So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” – Nehemiah 4:4-6

It is easy to be distracted from an important purpose to respond to bullies who are critical because of their own malice, jealousy, or ignorant nay-saying.  If you are shaken by their words, then your next step should be to consult God through his Word and in prayer before continuing.  If he approves, then being despised by the right people can truly be a wonderful thing (James 1:2-4 — said by someone who also loves to be liked).  What arrows will find their mark if God is on your side? Let God handle the frustrations (v.15) and land the blows. Save your wit.  Hold your tongue. You won’t cross the finish line running your mouth; you must use your feet to run his race.  “Yes” and “no” are sufficient replies, (Matt 5:37), and it’s okay to be on your guard, (v.22), but you must continue your efforts to build His kingdom.

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9

But should we ever care about what others think?  Paul, inspired by God, says we MUST consider the feelings of our brothers and sisters in Christ (and those who we are speaking the words of God to).  Culture and maturity play roles in what is and what is not perceived as permissible. While we may have license or liberty to enjoy certain things, like dancing, indulgent foods, clothing trends, worship music styles, or maybe a glass of wine, not everyone is on the same page about all of these things.  You may very well have the scriptural support that gives you the greatest of freedoms, but if they are not requirements to be a follower of Jesus, they are discrections NOT worth causing a divide in the body of Christ.  You are not justified in bullying someone into your belief or preferences (again, if it is a permission and not prescription). In fact, Paul adds , “(12)When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” So being “right” by the law, but wrong by the heart is the most ironic form of sin. See: legalism.


Circling back, in the context of my classroom, I hope the words “bully in a good way” are just a lack of expression of some more positive quality that I possess that is a little more like Jesus and a little less like the man I am trying to flee from. However, in the context of our reading, being a bully, even if it is in a good way, doesn’t get a ringing endorsement.  God wants us to work diligently to fulfill his calling.  Some days it is as simple as denying ourselves a certain privilege for the sake of unity. Other days it can be a bit more difficult, carrying on big callings while being openly criticized and attacked.  In either instance, God wants others to see more of him and less of us as he works to rebuild the biggest of crumbling walls and remove the smallest stumbling blocks.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8

Overcoming Apathy

Reading for Today:

Nehemiah 1-2 … 1 Corinthians 7

The story of Nehemiah begins in about 445 B.C.  The same ruler of Persia, Artaxerxes I who had sent Ezra to Judah thirteen years prior, was still emperor of Persia. We don’t know a lot about Nehemiah, but we do know that he was a Jew who had risen to be the cupbearer to the king (1:11).

The cupbearer’s job was a position of considerable importance. That Nehemiah was in such a position shows that some of the Jews who had been exiled rose quite high in the ranks of the governments where they had been resettled.

Living in the lap of luxury, Nehemiah may never have even known of the plight of his fellow Jews. And once he found out, he could have easily ignored it. But we will see that he did hear of it and he did act on what he heard…even being willing to leave his high position in order to serve.

Some people prefer not to know what’s going on in the world because information might bring obligation. There’s an old adage that says, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” but I think we all know that’s not true.

Nehemiah knew what was going on in Jerusalem because he asked.

“And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem…” (1:2)

When we truly care, we want to know the truth, no matter how difficult it may be. Aldous Huxley said, ‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’  Closing our eyes and ears to the truth could be the first step toward tragedy for ourselves as well as for others.

Are we like Nehemiah, anxious to know the truth even about the worst situations? Are we the kind of people who care enough to ask?

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4)

Once Nehemiah heard of the plight of the Jews in Jerusalem, he was burdened.

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (1:4)

He heard of the condition of Jerusalem’s wall and knew the situation was desperate. Without a wall, people returning to Jerusalem after years in captivity would be unprotected and vulnerable to attack.

Nehemiah was brokenhearted, but he didn’t tackle that problem immediately. This is something I love about the book of Nehemiah. He prays. A lot.

The state of Jerusalem’s wall reflected the condition of the people’s relationship with God. Disobedience had left their city and their lives in disarray. So, before Nehemiah could fix the brokenness surrounding the city, he asked God to fix the brokenness inside the people of the city. This was the foundation everything else would be built on.

Then he took action on the wall.

This is a pattern that would be wise for all of us to copy, I think.

  • Actively seek out need.
  • Feel the burden.
  • Pray. A lot.
  • Take action.

We’ve had a couple of different people present at our church in the past year on the travesty of child sex trafficking. The latest statistics show that around 2 million children are currently being trafficked into sex slavery. Every 26 seconds a child is trafficked.

According to one perspective, child sex trafficking is the worst atrocity we’re facing today.

While looking simply at sheer numbers, abortion may affect more children, but as I heard it aptly stated, “There are worse things than death.” In fact, one of the draws of human trafficking is that people (unlike drugs) can be sold and resold–used and reused. Every 26 seconds.

You’ve heard.

Do you feel the burden?

If you would like some specific ways to pray and perhaps take action, here are a couple of resources you can check out:

Operation Underground Railroad
https://ourrescue.org/

Destiny Rescue

The Storyteller Café (this local project is in my community, just 5 minutes from our home!)

https://www.storytellercafemn.org/

You can also check out the online shop here:

https://www.storiesfoundation.org/store

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 7

So that you may know…

the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

1 Chronicles 1-6

The very last class of my undergraduate education taught me something I’ve remembered for years. I was finishing up my minor and taking my last sociology class. I made a statement during a class presentation that earned me a grade that pushed me into a new academic rank that I thought was impossible to achieve. The presentation was on being a voice for change in society. “If we want to bring about societal change, we need to make some noise!”

I’m going to sound a tad irreverent here. I used to cringe every time a modern agent of societal change preached “Fact-check!” My disdain from the message grew with each passing day that the seemingly one-sided social sermon that I immersed myself in on an almost daily basis, was made light. The noise was bringing change but to me, it was not warranted change.

At first, noise is all I ever allowed myself to hear from the opposing side’s communication. My mind went straight to the need for taking the stick out of the opposing side’s eye. There may have been a beam in there too.

I had to turn off the noise and get myself immersed in something else because I wasn’t helping the situation. I was supposed to be the light that brought change, not the opposing societal view. Right around this time, I started digging into the various things Jesus was called. In the quiet I reacquainted myself with The Light of the World.   

Through my continued immersion in the word, I did something I had rarely done. I actually took the time to read the genealogies of Jesus, the boring stuff, in the beginning chapters of Mathew and Luke. It dawned on me.

In the quiet, I realized that the words so often skipped over were God’s fact-checks! Through these, he made certain we knew who the Messiah was, the one who would bring about the right change. It was all in there waiting to be discovered. The Messiah is exactly who God said he’d be and exactly who Jesus said he was. There are facts that lead to him in the genealogies, the lineages, the “begats”, the “in the lands of-s”, the “in the times of-s”, through the recordings of kings of kingdoms, in the astronomical signs of the times, etc. All fact-checks leading to Jesus Messiah.

The genealogies of Jesus were written by eyewitnesses of his ministry. I love the beginning of Luke:

“Since many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting to me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in an orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” -Luke 1:1-4

I took a little more time today reading through the genealogies recorded in 1 Chronicles chapters 1 – 6. They’re fact-checks. They can help us to be prepared with an answer to anyone who questions our faith.  

Through this experience, I have begun to listen to the opposing side before opposing them completely. I have come to value the opposing side’s pleas for fact-checking. They are right. We need truth. But we need to fact-check society as a whole – all sides.

I’m still a bit put off by the societal noise and social pressures of our time. Although it may be true that making noise may lead to societal change, it may not be what God wants for us. There were times when Jesus spoke softly and times when Jesus rebuked. There were times when Jesus was offensive and there were times when Jesus remained silent. He always did whatever he heard from his father. If I’m going to be the light of the world like Jesus, desiring to cause societal change, I need to hear Jesus and heed his statements. I need to do it his way. His way is often the unpopular way but it is the only way that’s going to bring about change that matters. 

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 1-2 and Proverbs 17

Do Your Homework

Eagerly Examine Every Day

Acts 17

Do you do your homework? This may seem like an odd question to be asking but that’s exactly what the people in Acts 17 were commended for doing. When Paul and Silas went to a place called Berea they were teaching the word of God to people in the synagogues. The people had never seen the scriptures in the light that Paul and Silas were teaching it to them, they had never recognized the truths that were being shared. So rather than just believe what they heard they went ahead and studied it in the scriptures for themselves to see if what Paul and Silas were saying was true. Essentially they were ‘doing their homework’. They found that what was being taught was true and so came to salvation. We refer to them as the Bereans. The term may sound familiar to you as many church youth groups have held the name Berean in their names. This is a reference to that noble group that studied the scriptures for themselves to see if what they were being taught was true.

In our society today there do not seem to be enough people who display Berean like qualities of ‘doing their homework’. Why were the Bereans noble – because they searched for the truth and they found it! Truth is important to us, but today the truth seems more, and more difficult to unearth. There are many newscasters, commentators, teachers, and yes preachers too who would all benefit from doing a little more homework before presenting information to the public. This would prevent a whole host of misinformation from circulating about. Many people would be better able to discern the truth if they did their homework. If you know the truth of a matter then you will less likely fall for anything false. We should all strive to be like the Bereans and desire to know the truth for ourselves, through diligent research especially when it comes to the word of God!

-Pastor Merry Peterson

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 15-16 and Acts 17

Truth Matters

1 Samuel   5-6 & John 18

I was a teenager when the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark first hit the theatres.  It instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies.  I love the Indiana Jones character and this particular adventure, searching for the Ark of the Covenant, was especially cool to me because it drew from Biblical themes.  The Ark of the Covenant was a real thing containing real power.  What would happen if it was found and fell into the wrong hands, like the Nazi’s?  It was a great story.  It got pretty intense toward the end when they tried to open the Ark.  Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for the Nazi’s.

The Nazi’s in the story should have spent less time plotting the genocide of the Jews and global domination and more time reading their Bibles, because the story of the Ark in 1 Samuel 5-6 should have discouraged them from having anything to do with the Ark. (I know, Raiders of the Lost Ark is fiction- but what happens to the Philistines in today’s reading is True).

One thing we know from reading the Bible is that God doesn’t like to share His glory with idols.  God is the one True God and He alone created everything, gives life, sends rain to produce crops and blesses people with fertility.  God takes it very personally when people build statues for other “so called” gods and give them credit for sending rain or helping babies to be born.

I find the story of the Philistines stealing the Ark of the Covenant and bringing it in the temple of their “god”  Dagon humorous.  Dagon was the main god of the Philistines and they offered sacrifices to Dagon so that they could have fertility- their cattle, and their wives.  They wanted lots of cattle to feed their bellies, and they wanted lots of sons to grow up and serve in the army to fight their enemies.  So they prayed and offered sacrifices to Dagon so that Dagon would make their cows and their wives fertile.

We might excuse the ignorance of the Philistines because maybe they didn’t know any better, maybe no one told them the Truth about the True God.  But God made it quite clear to His chosen people, Israel, that they were to worship and serve God alone.  But they were often tempted to worship other gods.  Several stories in the Old Testament show how God was superior and defeated other “so called” gods.  Elijah called down fire from heaven and defeated the prophets of Baal.  Samson’s last act after he had been captured and blinded was to push down the pillars of the temple to Dagon and kill a bunch of the Philistines.    And here, when the Ark of the Covenant is brought into another temple of Dagon,  The statue of Dagon falls down the first time, then falls down again breaking the idol  into pieces.  The Philistines of that town are afraid so they send the Ark to another town.  There, everybody gets tumors and they end up in a panic.  Everywhere the stolen Ark is taken trouble comes to the Philistines, so finally they bring the Ark back to Israel along with a guilt offering (golden tumors and rats, what a thoughtful gift).

The Philistines had trouble discerning fact from fiction- the true God, YHWH, the God of Israel, vs. Dagon, a statue that was quite brittle when it fell to the ground.

Truth matters.  In today’s reading in John 18, after Jesus is arrested and brought to trial, he appears before Pilate, who is the highest representative of the Roman Empire in the region who ultimately decides all capital cases, who lives and who dies.

Pilate is a politician caught between his boss, Caesar, who has tasked him to keep the Jewish people in line and the Jewish people who can turn on him and cause trouble.  He has to carefully consider the political implications of what he’s being asked to do.  Like many politicians and people in charge, he is more of a pragmatist than anything else.  What is going to work out to my best interests here?  He asks Jesus some questions and Jesus gives an answer that he finds quaint.  Jesus answered: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 

Truth?  How naïve.  You might imagine the amusement (or scorn) in Pilate’s response when  he asks Jesus: “What is Truth?” 

If the idea of truth was a quaint notion to a first century Roman politician, it’s become reviled and scorned by 20th and 21st century intellectuals.  We live in a time of Postmodernism.  Absolute truth has been replaced by relativism.  Truth is whatever the people who have the power to control government, the news, the arts and higher education say it is.  Truth is what Facebook, or Twitter, or Google’s “fact checkers” say it is. 

Whether you and I like it or not we are in the midst of a culture war.  It’s the same one that’s been going on since the serpent tempted Eve to question God.  It’s the same one that was going on in the temple of Dagon when the stolen Ark  was brought in, it’s the same one that was going on when the Jewish leaders lied about Jesus and brought him to Rome to be condemned and executed, it’s the one that was going on when Pilate asked, “What is truth?”  It’s going on today in a society where the things we’ve always believed about God and virtue,  right and wrong, and pretty obvious things like basic human biology, are all being questioned and redefined.  Gender isn’t about biology it is a social construct.  If you start introducing facts or science or Truth, you will receive as much scorn as Jesus received from Pilate.  But it is a culture war and Jesus told Pilate  that there are two sides: one side is false and the other is true.  Jesus said that if you are on the side of Truth you listen to Jesus.  Pilate chose his side, and so he did what was politically correct and had Jesus crucified to appease the Jewish people.  The question you and I must ask ourselves is whose side am I on?  Am I on the side of Truth, that listens to the words of Jesus?  Pick a side.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here 1 Samuel 5-6 and John 18

Friend or Foe?

Don’t be Deceived!

Joshua 9-10

The lessons for us today just keep coming in the book of Joshua! In the last few days we’ve learned from Joshua: arm yourself daily with God’s word for strength and courage and success; God’s will, way and day leads to victory; and stop blaming God when we ought to be dealing with the sin amongst us which will then help us to overcome defeat.

Today we learn valuable intel on how to distinguish friend from foe, how to guard oneself from being deceived, and the all important how to get more hours added to your day. The answer to all three – Ask God. Don’t try to do it on your own. Trust His way and His understanding and His power, not your own.

The Canaanite neighbors have heard how Joshua and the Israelites have destroyed Jericho and Ai (on the second attempt). Some are ready to fight. Others find it easier to deceive. The sly Gibeonites, who live just over the next hill, came to Joshua. Pretending to have just made a long journey from a far off country, with worn-out clothes and old food, they convince the Israelite leaders to make a peace treaty with them. Three days later the Israelites learn they have been tricked. They have just signed a treaty protecting the lives of those who should have been their next targets.

What went wrong? They had been so careful. They had even tasted the Gibeonites’ stale bread! All their senses and intuition and prior knowledge told them this was safe and trustworthy and reliable and in their best interest. Scripture tells us, “The men of Israel sampled their provisions, but did not inquire of the Lord.” (Joshua 9:14 NIV).

I believe it is even harder today to distinguish friend from foe. Satan would love to have the world believe that what and who is actually an enemy of God is harmless, trustworthy or far-off. When actually this danger is at our doorstep, dressed in a disguise. And, since it looks good and convincing and seems to make sense Christians take the bait and sign the peace treaty and align themselves with the enemy. Because they did not inquire of the Lord.

Deception abounds on so many fronts. Who is God? Who is Jesus? What happens when you die? What is the value of a life? Who really has your best interest in mind? Who can be trusted? Who is on God’s side? And who is not?

God knows. And He wants to reveal the answers to you. Ask Him – not your own heart. Seek His wisdom – not man’s. Read His word. Spend time in prayer. Listen – to the Lord. Don’t sign the treaty without His okay.

Our reading in Psalms includes many great verses that would have been great refrigerator verses for the Israelites at that time – if only they had refrigerators.

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock, and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1

“My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:7-8

Don’t be deceived. Trust God alone.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Joshua 9-10 and Psalm 62-64

The Truth Will Set You Free

In Exodus 23 and 24 God continues to lay out the laws that will help provide a stable foundation for Israelite society, and there are a couple that really catch my eye.

Exodus 23

“You must not pass along false rumors. You must not cooperate with evil people by lying on the witness stand.

2 “You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you are called to testify in a dispute, do not be swayed by the crowd to twist justice. 3 And do not slant your testimony in favor of a person just because that person is poor.

I really think that this can speak to us today in a powerful way, and maybe convict many of us.  I have heard it said that we are living in a “post truth era”, a time when objective facts are not as impactful to people as appeals to emotion and personal beliefs.  Many times these emotional appeals are used to push a political agenda or the narrative of a social movement.  

Every day our society is making judgements on people, and these opinions can move at the speed of light on the internet, and it can be very easy to follow the crowd and help spread a narrative about a person, but we need to be very careful.  If we are passing on unresearched false claims, or choose to ignore facts because they do not fit with the narrative of a movement that we like then we are only spreading lies.  

Proverbs 12:22

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth.

As followers of God we need to value the truth very highly, because God is the God of truth, and in the end it does not matter how society judges something because God is the great judge and  we will be judged by God.  It is important to remember that the ends do not justify the means, even if a group has a good message, if they spread it with lies and misrepresentations of events they completely undermine any impact their message would have had.

I have heard a lot of people saying things like “you have to go find the right facts”, and usually they say that because the facts do not match their opinion of how something should have gone, and they are searching for somebody who will confirm their feelings.  This is called confirmation bias when we look for information and interpret facts to all agree with what we already think.  Fundamentally this mindset assumes that we are right about everything and do not need to learn anything new.  We need to be humble and realize that we can easily be wrong about things and look forward to searching out the truth.  As a person who loves knowledge and being right I can tell you that it is not easy to learn that you are wrong about something, but I have had many mentors in my life that have told me many thousands of times that I am wrong about things, but at this point I am ok with that, because accepting that you are wrong is the first step to learning new things and growing.  

In Exodus and Mark we have seen God at work in a mighty way to change his people from the broken people they used to be into his followers. Moses brought them out of Egypt where they turned from God and worshiped the gods of Egypt, and gave them the law of God that would define their society and customs around a worship of God alone.  Jesus broke the Israelites out of their wooden and heartless following of the laws of Moses and taught them to change their hearts and love the way God loves.  We need that message just as much today since we live in a very broken world, and lots of people are pointing out those issues and trying to tackle them, but these social movements will not bring ultimate peace, they may improve some things, but they can also be deeply flawed and do not have an emphasis on truth that God values and we should value as well.

If we wish to remain in a peaceful and stable society, then we need to put truth first and be quick to listen and slow to judge.  We need to learn to see people the way God sees them and humbly submit ourselves to his judgement and not worry about how the world will judge us.  

Thank you for reading along with me this week.  I hope that these scriptures spoke to you and I hope you will stick around for the rest of the year in this series, because if you do there is a ton you can learn.

Chris Mattison

Links to today’s Bible reading – Exodus 23-24 and Mark 9