You Have Heard it Said

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 7 & 8

Psalm Reading: Psalm 6

New Testament Reading: Matthew 5


I bet on more than one occasion you’ve heard the famous English proverb, “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from making his bread.” or more likely the abbreviated version, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  More than one study confirms that people who consistently eat apples are more likely to be heart healthy, but in its literal application, adding one apple to your diet, even before bedtime, won’t do much. Sure, the fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants will benefit your body, but the dose within a single apple is far less than what your body requires to maintain peak performance. Additionally, the method of which you take your apple provides an important caveat.  If you are eating an entire apple within a cobbler or pie, you might be doing more harm than good to your body.  Those who consume whole raw apples are far more than likely to ingest other vitamin rich foods that collectively are making an impact on their overall health. In this way, we follow the spirit of this wisdom, more so than the verbatim message, so we can truly benefit from the richness of adages.

Jesus addresses the rules given to man in the Old Testament in a similar fashion in the second half of the Sermon on the Mount. While God’s law never changed, Jesus points out problematic observances of rule-following, apple-pie-eating, ill-intentioned Jewish culture of His time. Simply fulfilling the letter of the law is no longer the bar. God demands we go further than what has been said, or maybe “heard”.  You shouldn’t murder, but likewise, you shouldn’t wish your enemy dead. You shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage, but lust shouldn’t find a home in your eyes and heart. You only have permission to divorce out of marital infidelity, not simply because it is no longer convenient.  Additionally, keeping oaths, giving consequences, and loving your neighbor, all are presented in a new light.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. – Matthew 5:22

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:28

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matthew 5:32

But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. – Matthew 5:34, 35

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  – Matthew 5:39, 40

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44

If our intention is the Kingdom of God, then the motives for our actions are equal to the actions themselves. Being “good” receives us the praise of men, but the battle that matters to God is the one happening within. As stated previously in this week’s devotions, we do not serve a God of chaos, but of intention and order. We stick out like a sore thumb when our purpose differs from our action. He knows the motivation of our heart, and he can easily identify whether it is ego or altruism that is guiding the course.  He is not looking for us to consume a few bushels of apples. God is looking for the holistic, sacrificial worship of handing our lives over to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. He is asking we look beyond the letters and the adages, and take on the fullness of His diet.  Consuming God in every moment will lead to fulfilling the law (no murder, no adultery, no vanity), but truly I tell you, fully filling the spirit of them means we love our neighbors and enemies, our word is our bond to others and God, and we go the extra mile for the opportunity to speak Christ in word and deed, increasing the company traveling along the straight and narrow.

-Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. What were the problems with how the Old Testament law had come to be interpreted and lived out? Do you see any of those problems in your own actions and heart?
  2. Jesus clearly states he didn’t come to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17-19) – how would you describe what Jesus did instead? And why?
  3. Which of the new updates poses the biggest challenge to you? Why do you think Jesus included it?
  4. In your Bible reading today what does God (who gave the law to Moses, and also gave authority and ministry to His Son Jesus) reveal about Himself?

Getting Ready for the Storm

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 5 & 6

Psalm Reading: Psalm 5

New Testament Reading: Matthew 4

In some circles, to say you don’t like the beach is blasphemy.  What?!?! You don’t like the sea? the sun? the sound? the sand?  I do. I like them all individually, but something about the collection of all those things alongside the umbrella, towels, bathing suits, etc. just isn’t my thing. Sorry if I have offended you.  Don’t worry, more offense to come.  This is why I have never understood why people want to live along the coast, especially in the Southeast United States. Year after year, hurricanes pound the Gulf and Atlantic coastline one after another.  The scenes of destruction are played over and over again, with very few structures standing after the wind blows, the rains come down, and the surge amasses. However, in the age of technology, there is most certainly time to prepare for the storm. Days and sometimes weeks out, the predictions come and the readying begins. The evacuation notices go out, priorities are readjusted, the search is on for the supplies needed, windows and doors are boarded shut, and then you must wait. None of these actions stop the storm from coming, but they will assure you will see the other side of it.

Unfortunately, not every challenging life circumstance comes with an evacuation warning, but there are sometimes when we can anticipate the storm. It may be a move to college, rearing your children through their teens, a long battle with an illness, or even some pleasant “storms” like marriage and the welcoming of an infant into the world.  When we know the season is coming, whether it is forty days or a hundred years away, the examples of Jesus Christ and Noah tell us we should prepare for the moment we are called to.  There may be testing, trials, temptation, frustration, and outright rejection, but we can ready ourselves with the tool God has called, the word of God, an ark, or a cross for whatever is in the forecast.

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” – Matthew 4:4

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” – Genesis 6:22

In Matthew 4, Jesus takes a getaway to catch some sun and put his feet in the sand, but it is far from a vacation. He is led to the desert by the Holy Spirit to prepare for His ministry.  He denies himself food and water, to be focused solely on God. The spiritual discipline of fasting can take many forms, but it is traditionally done with the things we cannot live without: food and drink. Imagine for a moment if you committed to fasting for a single day. If you found a place physically removed from your demands, how much time could you spend focused on preparing yourself for God’s calling? Depending on how much you scan your pantry, the amount of food prep involved, and how well you chew, it is possible to gain a couple of hours.  Where else could you gain a similar amount of time? Could you lock away your phone, remote, or computer for a day and read scripture during your unwinding time? Could you deny yourself an hour or two of sleep once a week to get up and pray? While literally impossible to make every day a fasting day, it is the practice of someone who is preparing to weather whatever spiritual or physical battle is coming their way. There is no doubt that the rain is coming for you. The flood is rising to meet you.  Are you putting in your hours on the boat? Are you making time to fill your mind with the Word of God? If not, adjust your priority, and get rid of even physical necessity. Reinforce all the openings with His Word. Make sure to make God the first thought or the only thought through fasting sooner rather than later and frequent rather than seldom. And the house on the Rock will stand firm against any squall long after the storm subsides.

“The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because its foundation was on the rock.” Matthew 7:25

-Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. Who did the tempter recognize Jesus as? What three things did he tempt Jesus with? How did Jesus respond each time? How do you respond to your temptations?
  2. How did Jesus prepare for the storm? (Matt 4:2,4) How have you previously prepared for storms (if at all)? How can you try the Jesus method?
  3. What are some similarities, and differences, between Jesus and Noah: their characteristics, their focus, the world around them, the task before them, etc…
  4. What do we learn about the God of Jesus and Noah? Is He interested in more than making you happy and comfortable (removing storms)? How does He provide and empower you to weather the storms?

Rest in Peace

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 3 & 4

Psalms Reading: Psalm 4

New Testament Reading: Matthew 3

Cheese. If I had to pinpoint a single food that will assure tossing and turning, vivid dreams, and even a bit of snoring, all it takes is a serving size before bed and a restless night is almost guaranteed. Nevertheless, if cheese alone caused distress in my sleep, it simply would take some discipline in my diet to cure this issue. My resting is subjected to more interruptions. The rumblings of my mind often disturb the counting of sheep more than the rumblings in my gut. Thinking about the stresses of work, school, family or reliving the failings of my day can be the late night double feature playing inside my head. Without the perspective that comes from God, it is hard to find rest.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7

“Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.” Psalm 4: 4,5

Like Cain, the source of this restlessness often stems from some type of disconnection from God. We are hanging on to something that the eternal God has made clear is His area of reckoning.  Our past. Our future. Our sin. Our fear. Our stress. Our anger. All of these are the cheese that is gumming up the works of the rest we can find in God even when we are weak and heavy laden. Continually turning towards the issues provides anything but relief, further stalling your slumber.  Furthermore, sin is waiting outside our door when we choose to act without the “green light” of God’s will. Instead of searching your finite mind for an answer, humble yourself and seek the face of the infinite God. 

This works well beyond the confines of your covers. It can be found behind a steering wheel when you are driving away from another argument, sitting at a desk reminded of the endless list of things that you won’t get done today, or kneeling behind a closed door drowning in depression of loss. The solution is the same in all situations: worship God Almighty.  When we are reminded of who He is, we don’t have to hold the answer because He has readied one and is holding onto us. While it’s possible to receive revelation in these moments (James states that our God gives wisdom generously to all without finding fault), the answer we may receive is His presence into our mercy, fears, and shortcoming, which is the relief we so desperately need to quiet our minds and catch a few winks. The silence is not rejection or a stalling tactic. The silence is the peace that comes from trust in the Lord so you can rest in peace.

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

-Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. Where could your life use a little more peace? Where have you looked for it?
  2. What do we learn from the narrative of Cain and Abel regarding peace, and also the lack thereof? What do we learn from David’s example in Psalm 4?
  3. In your Bible reading today, what do you discover about God and his character? Thank Him for it.

The Beginning

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 1 & 2

Psalm Reading: Psalm 3

New Testament: Matthew 2

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Genesis 1:1-3

The origin of the universe is a topic of serious debate in both Christian and secular culture.  There are many who spend their entire lives, tens of thousands of hours, dissecting chapter one of Genesis or looking for clues through a telescope of how we came to be.  While I hope to shed some “light” and context to today’s reading, you will be disappointed if you are looking for a detailed outline of theory or a presentation of observable evidence; you have the wrong blogger.  What has become apparent to me in my last couple of readings of Genesis is the simple significance of verse one of our sacred scripture.  Whether you argue the lifetime of the universe or the age of earth is thousands or billions of years old, God wanted you to know the understatement of eternity: He created the heavens. He created the earth.

The newest estimates place the universe somewhere at 93 billion lightyears across.  This space is  filled with roughly two trillion galaxies, each containing millions of stars. It’s incomprehensible, without description, unfathomable to our miniscule minds.  While there is “universal” truth when we look to the heavens (Psalm 8:1-4), it is no wonder God doesn’t bog us down with the details. The focus of this revealed narrative is on Earth; the light, the sky, the lands, the seas, the moon and sun, the animals, and finally, us. This makes perfect sense when we consider it was deliberately made for you and I to inhabit for eternity, not just for the handful of breaths that are in life as we know it. 

“Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:26, 27

While all creation gives glory to God, much of it inspiring awe and wonder, we are the only creation that is directly made in the likeness of the Creator (Gen 1:26). The two-billion galaxy creating Heavenly Father has exalted you as the highest and most purposeful creation. Each one of your 100 trillion cells carry 3.2 billion pairs of unique DNA coding that makes you, you. Again, these are pretty profound and puzzling figures, speaking to the deliberate nature of God Almighty. Because we are made in his likeness, and through Christ are adopted as children of the Light, we have access to the God of the infinite expanse.  And He is not only the God of initial creation, but the God of new creation. The same power that raised Christ from the dead, can be the power that lives in each one of us (Eph. 1:18-21). Jesus has let it be known that there is a place that is being prepared for us according to this new covenant, so we may not only have access to God, but to fully dwell with our Father, God and His son, Jesus Christ. Hallelujah – this is the plan from the beginning.

–Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you see God’s amazing qualities in His creation?
  2. What does it mean to you that you are made in His image?
  3. How would you describe the new creation (through Jesus)?
  4. Today is a really fun day to ask – What does God reveal about Himself to you in Genesis 1 & 2? What difference does that make in your relationship with God? Throughout the rest of our Bible reading this year, take note each time God’s creating is mentioned, it might be more than you think. You can create a marking, such as a C in a circle, to add in your Bible margins or journal pages whenever you find reference to God creating.
  5. Praise and thank Him for being the God he is!

(Editor’s Note: If you find yourself unsure of God’s creating – or enjoying more “proof” to share with others – keep searching. There are many scientific and well-researched articles with evidence pointing to the Creator of Genesis 1. You might be interested in starting with a series of devotions written for SeekGrowLove in January 2021 by Greg Landry. Click here for the first one.)

When a Father Believes

Tuesday, January 3, 2022

Psalm/Proverb Reading: Psalm 2

New Testament Reading: Matthew 1

While it might seem that Christmas is far behind us in the rear view mirror, technically we are on the tenth day of Christmas, when the lords are leaping. Today’s reading crosses paths with the humble, yet noble beginning of our Savior that we have been well-seasoned in.  The genealogy presents Jesus as the rightful heir to the kingship of Israel.  What is peculiar about Matthew’s opening, our first reading of the gospels, is the line which he chooses.  Jesus is presented as heir to the throne through his adopted earthly father, Joseph. Unfortunately, during our advent season, the role of the Son of Man’s early father is often downplayed, as the screen time is often given to Mary, the shepherds, the wise man, John the Baptist, even Simeon, yet the story of Joseph is often skipped or scrapped as much as the the genealogies.  I think there is much we can learn from his story.

The first lesson we can learn from the narrative of Joseph is God wanted Jesus to have an earthly Father. It is sad to see and say, but that the role of the father in our present day and age has been reduced to the punchline of a sitcom.  Dads are important. The statistics show that when a mother alone attends church with her children, the chances that her children will grow to be a regular attender is a one in fifty chance.  However, when the father attends, the effect is fiftyfold. The statistics are baffling but speak to the point of the subtle, yet intentional role of the father’s influence on the family. From the scriptures we can see that Joseph took his family to synagogue. From the intentionality in God’s plan, I don’t think it would be farfetched to say that Joseph did even more for the spiritual upbringing of Jesus, going beyond giving him a ride to church and providing a model and example of a life dedicated to God.

Next, in the face of disgrace, Joseph showed compassion. Joseph didn’t need to take a paternity test to know he wasn’t the father. By His measure, he had not done anything dishonorable. It was well within his right to expose Mary, and not only break their engagement, but to have her stoned to death.  While there isn’t much to this part of the narrative, so we don’t know all the nitty-gritty details, we can see that Joseph made it a point not to disgrace Mary. We can empathize with Joseph because he didn’t have all the facts or at least was confronted with a moment which required great faith.  It is likely that he doubted and refused to believe, but he didn’t give into his anger, instead choosing a merciful course of action to deal with what he thought was sin.  As people who experience mistakes, either done to us or by us, let us show grace.

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” – Matthew 1:24

Finally, God spoke directly to Joseph, and he immediately took action. When an angel of the Lord delivers the life-changing message to Joseph, he changes his course to follow the Lord’s direction.  He takes Mary as his wife.  He waits to consummate the marriage. He names his son, Jesus.  In tomorrow’s reading we’ll see he moves on direct instructions in the middle of the night in order to protect his wife and newborn child. He then again waits and listens for the voice of God before he returns home. I am positive that Joseph continued to listen for the voice of God long after the toddler stage of Jesus. Joseph became closely aligned to his Heavenly Father by listening for His voice. We too, have the same opportunity.  The Word of God has been delivered to us.  We simply need to open our Bible, click on a link, and the words are as clear as an angel’s voice in the midst of our dreams. If we are seeking God, we must allow ourselves to be convicted: to change course and take action.  While we may not be rearing the adopted Son of God, we all have an opportunity to speak with our lives to those adopted through Jesus Christ, as mothers and fathers of faith.

-Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you think Jesus may have learned from Joseph, his earthly father?
  2. To whom, and how, can you be a mother or father of faith?
  3. In my Bible reading today, I found God to be________________.

And, as an extra little bonus, in preparation for adding in our Old Testament Bible Reading tomorrow, beginning with Genesis 1&2 – here is the…

Introduction to the Book of Genesis

The book of Genesis is probably the most important book ever written.  The word Genesis means “origin.”  The book of Genesis contains the history of the origin of:

  • the universe
  • the solar system
  • the atmosphere
  • life
  • man
  • marriage
  • evil and death
  • languages
  • government
  • culture
  • nations
  • religion
  • God’s chosen people

No other book of the Bible is quoted or referred to as often as Genesis – in other books of the Bible.  I have read that there are at least 200 quotations or allusions to Genesis in the New Testament.

If Genesis were eliminated from the Bible, the rest of the Bible would be impossible to understand.  For example, look at these comparisons between the first few chapters of Genesis and the last few chapters of Revelation:

Genesis Revelation

Division of light and darkness (1:4) — No night there (21:25)

Division of land and sea (1:10) — No more sea (21:1)

Rule of sun and moon (1:16) — No need of sun or moon (21:23)

Man in a prepared garden (2:8, 9) — Man in prepared city (21:2)

River flowing out of Eden (2:10) — River flowing from God’s throne (22:1)

Gold in the land (2:12) — Gold in the city (21:21)

Tree of life in the midst of garden (2:9) — Tree of life throughout city (22:2)

Precious stones (2:12) — All manner of precious stones (21:19)

God walking in garden (3:8) — God dwelling with HIS people (21:3)

Cursed World (Genesis) Eternal World (Revelation)

Cursed ground (3:17) — No more curse (22:3)

Daily sorrow (3:17) — No more sorrow (21:4)

Thorns and thistles (3:18) — No more pain (21:4)

Sweat on face (3:19) — Tears wiped away (21:4)

Returning to dust (3:19) — No more death (21:4)

Evil continually (6:5) — Nothing that defiles (21:27)

Coats of skins (3:21) — Fine linen, white and clean (19:14)

Satan opposing (3:15) — Satan banished (20:10)

Kept from tree of life (3:24) — Access to tree of life (22:14)

Banished from garden (3:23) — Free to enter city (22:14)

Some suggest that Genesis (at least the first 11 chapters) are an allegory, and not historically accurate.

If Genesis were not historically trustworthy, then neither is the rest of the Bible, including what it says about Jesus.  If Adam is only an allegory, then by all logic, so is Christ.  Genesis is not a collection of myths and legends, but a factual record of real events and real people, possibly even diaries of those people at the beginning of history.

The book of Genesis is written in the form of narrative records of historical events.  Biblical parallels to Genesis are found in such books as Kings, Chronicles, Luke, and Acts.  In all of these, the writer either collected previous documents and edited them (e.g. I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles), or else recorded the events which he had either seen himself or had collected from others who were witnesses (e.g.  Luke, Acts).

Moses actually wrote Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Moses likely compiled and possibly edited the material in the book of Genesis, with the Holy Spirit guiding him in this process.  The original material may have been passed down, from father to son, via the line of the patriarchs listed in Genesis.  It may be that Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah, and others each wrote down an individual account of the events which had occurred during his own lifetime.  These records presumably were kept in such a way that they would be preserved until they finally came into Moses’ possession.

It is probable that these original documents can still be recognized by the key phrase:  “These are the generations of…”  The word “generations” is a translation of the Hebrew word “toledoth,” and means “origins” or “records of the origins.”

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” Gen 2:4

“This is the written account of the generations of Adam” Gen 5:1 (This suggests these were written)

“These are the generations of Noah” Gen 6:9

“Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah” Gen 10:1

“These are the generations of Shem” Gen 11:10

“Now these are the generations of Terah” Gen 11:27

“Now these are the generations of Ishmael” Gen 25:12

“And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son” Gen 25:19

“Now these are the generations of Esau” Gen 36:1

“And these are the generations of Esau” Gen 36:9

“These are the generations of Jacob” Gen 37:2

An understanding of Genesis is vital to an understanding of the eternal plan of GOD.  Strap yourselves in as we prepare to read through God’s word again this year.

-Steve Mattison

Sit, Stand, Step

Psalm 1

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a leading researcher in the field of body language, estimates that over half of our social communication is done through nonverbal cues.  Where we place our hands and feet, how or where we choose to stand or sit, the angle at which we hold our head, or even in the position of our eyebrows communicate our desires, our emotions, and our confidence (or lack thereof). Additionally, about one-third of how we send our message is with the tone and inflection in our voice, not the words themselves.  In fact, less than 10% of our social cueing has to do with our spoken word choices. The conclusion of the study is similar to the first verse of Psalm 1: where we choose to sit, where we choose to stand, and where we choose to step communicates our posture to our Heavenly Father and the world around us vastly more than words alone.

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers. but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” – Psalm 1:1-3

There is a good chance that today holds a contrast to where your feet landed yesterday.  Most likely, this Monday represents a return to work, school, or some other social role you will have to step into, stand up in, or sit through. As you enter the threshold, who or what are you walking towards or away from? Where and what are you standing beside or standing in the way of? How and who do you find yourself sitting beside, dwelling with, and meditating upon? Take note not only of the words you say aloud, but the thoughts and signals you send with your body because God doesn’t want a tithe of lip service; He desires the whole of your soul as a living sacrifice.

There is a blessing for living close to the commandments of our Creator.  Those who put their roots down with God are the direct recipients of the Living Water He provides. When we walk in His ways, when we stand on His promises, when we sit and meditate on His statutes, it completely changes our body language. We don’t wither, but we become confident in the hope we have. We are not empty vessels filled with cliche Christianism, but we bear the fruit of the Spirit for others to see.  We can simply sit and delight in the joy of the Lord because we serve a God of promises and follow-through.  Our posture, our actions, and our words stem from the refreshing source from which we draw life more abundantly. Wherever we step, stand, or sit, let the Living Water flow and the Kingdom of God flourish.

– Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. Compare and contrast the person in Psalm 1:1-3 to the person in verses 4-5? How would you describe each and what makes them different?
  2. Who or what are you walking, standing, sitting amongst? What do you find delight in? What are you meditating on? Are there any changes that ought to be made in order to be where you want to be at the end – of 2023, or of this life?
  3. What do we learn about the LORD God in Psalm 1? Mark it in your margins, journal it, pray to the God of Psalm 1.

AND -in preparation for tomorrow, when we will begin a chapter by chapter New Testament reading – here’s a little…

Introduction to the Book of Matthew

Before we introduce the book of Matthew, let’s quickly contrast it with the book of Genesis and the whole Old Testament.

The book of Genesis begins the Old Testament (and the Bible).  The theme of the Old Testament can be summed up in Genesis 5:1, which says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam…”.  The rest of Genesis 5 has another recurring theme, “… and then he died”.   The Old Testament was the story of Adam, his sin (and the consequences of that sin), and his descendants.  It illustrates the truth that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).  The Old Testament contains many of God’s promises – waiting for fulfillment.

The book of Matthew begins the New Testament.  Matthew starts with, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  This begins the story of Jesus, and reveals “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)  The New Testament describes the fulfillment of God’s promises made in the Old Testament.

Matthew was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, whom Jesus called from being a tax collector (read hated outcast) to being in the inner circle of the Savior of the world.  Many years after Jesus’ ascension, Matthew wrote the book of Matthew to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus was (and is) the Messiah – God’s chosen and anointed deliverer for His people – who fulfilled so many of the prophecies in the Old Testament.

Even though the Bible doesn’t contain anything that Matthew himself said, the book of Matthew which he wrote reveals Jesus as the Messiah promised and sent by God.  May the book of Matthew speak to you and reveal God’s great gift, Jesus the Messiah, to you in a whole new way as we seek to grow in Christ together this year.

-Steve Mattison

Download and print the 2023 Reading Plan below. You can choose to follow along in 1,2 or 3 readings a day. If you read all three you will read through the whole Bible in 2023.

The End

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Psalm 119

Welcome to the first post of our 2023 SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan! We are beginning the year with a little time in Psalm 119, and in the next couple days will add in the other Old Testament and New Testament readings. You can download and print the whole plan found at the end of today’s post. Every time we begin a new book of the Bible, we will include a little introduction written by Steve Mattison.

Introducing the Book – Psalm

The book of Psalms was Israel’s songbook.  It contains a collection of psalms (or songs) that primarily focus on praising God for who he is and for what he has done.  The Hebrew title is, “the book of praises.”  Most of these psalms are prayers to God written by King David, although other authors, ranging from Moses, to Solomon, to the sons of Korah also contributed.

The book of Psalms teaches us to seek God with our whole heart, to tell Him the truth and to tell Him everything, and to worship Him because of who He is, not just because of what He has done.  It contains a range of topics, from people crying out to God from the depths of their despair, to those praising God with jubilation from the depths of their hearts.  

The book of Psalms has spoken to me in my lowest lows as well as in my highest highs.  May the inspired words in this book resonate well with you as you read these psalms this year.

Psalm 119 Devotion

Who in their right mind is thinking about the end right now? Really? Terrible title. TERRIBLE. This is the time of fresh starts! New beginnings! Redos! Our mind focused on the brief novelty of this moment’s pants kicking; the annual motivation for improvements we have put off for weeks, months, or even years. While we might commit to a dream today, I would say there is little thought given to the realities of December 31st, 2023: 365 calendar days away. Whether it’s gym memberships, nicotine patches, cauliflower pizzas, saving accounts, or even bible reading plans, have we bought into the idea that we are preparing ourselves for a full year of commitment in our resolutions? Look at your Google Calendar or your bank statement: what have you planned and paid for in a full-year upfront knowing that it will change your life by the end? Or is your resolve more like the free 7-day trial, leaving one foot in 2022 in case you want to make a getaway?

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:9-11

I will go ahead and say, it is not fiscally responsible, or even logically feasible, to pile up a year’s worth of cauliflower pizza into a deep freeze, but our commitment level to any life-changing resolution, should count the cost of sacrifice with the end in mind.  This is an echo of what our Heavenly Father has done through Jesus Christ. Paul speaks to this in Colossians 1:16 when he states “For through [Jesus] were all things created, things that are in heaven, and things that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” Our eternal God has dictated to us the rules, plans, and ordinations of his personal and universal will that will lead us to a relationship with Him, which has ended the penalty of sin with the blood of Jesus Christ and leads to the big finale, the Kingdom of God. Knowing the end, it is much easier to keep to and dictate the decrees of each day.  Without the end in mind, we are just tragic creatures of toil, mindlessly moving from one task to the next.

“Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.” – Psalm 119:33

Our God is not a God of chaos (1 Cor 14:33). He works in logic and rules that are shared with us because WE as heirs according to the promise are included in the end. We don’t have to feel out the way, make up the path, or bump down the lane.  God has made his moral law clear. It is not just a list of “thou shalt nots” but enhancements and boundaries provided for our own physical safety, societal responsibility, psychological well-being, and the eternal enhancement of the connection and relationship between the Heavenly Father and his children. He is not a part-time parent, nor can we be part-time children. You can’t periodically pause your subscription or ghost your way out of the membership. Our life is better lived, today and eternally, when we are resolute to learning and practicing His ways that are forged in the ultimate love and truths. We become devoted.

That devotion begins with finding a way to be connected to the Word of God every single day.  It could be found in this blog. It could be found in personal study, podcast, prayer time, or all the above. What I propose, if we truly are wanting to grow in the word of God this year, to engage and act upon His message that is delivered through His word, you and I must set alarms, write in on our mirrors, put it in our checklist and calendars, and make it priority.  Being here to read every day provides an opportunity to do that alongside others who are also seeking out a devoted life to Christ. If our end of life is found in 2023, if Jesus returns, or the Lord tarries for another year and He still gives us life, how much more abundant will December 31st, 2023 be if we have committed ourselves fully to understanding the precepts, the statutes, the laws, the understanding, and the wisdom of your heavenly Father? Let’s be committed to the end, even if we are at a loss of where to begin our year.

“May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees.  May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.  May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight.  Let me live so that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.” -Psalm 119:171-175

-Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. In reading through Psalm 119 what do you see of God’s character – how does He show who He is through His inspired word? This is a question we will be asking regularly this year (sometimes phrased differently). We think you will find great benefit in journaling, or making notes in your Bible margin, on how you see and what you learn of God and His character from His written word every day this year.
  2. What are your favorite verses of Psalm 119? What words are used in Psalm 119 to name God’s law or directions for life? What are the benefits given for knowing, following, loving these words of God? What do you find about the results of neglecting these words of God? How would you rate your knowledge of and then, love for, the words of God?
  3. Where do you want to be at the end of 2023? What steps will help you get there? Spend some time in prayer to the God of Psalm 119.

A NEW Bible Reading Plan for 2023

What will God reveal about Himself today?

What an exciting time of year!  Who is ready for 2023 and a NEW SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan?  

At the bottom of this post you will find the new schedule!  Wouldn’t it be great if 2023 was the year you daily read the Bible more than ever before?  

What does God want to reveal about himself to you – every day of 2023?  Come along on the journey with Seek Grow Love to find out!  

This year the Seek Grow Love reading plan includes 3 daily readings.  Choose 1, 2 or 3 of the readings to complete each day – if you do all three everyday (or get caught up if needed) you will read through the whole Bible in 2023. 

  – The Old Testament reading is 2-3 chapters a day and takes you through the entire Old Testament, with the exception of Psalms and Proverbs.  

  – In the second column, one Psalm or Proverb is assigned to each day and through the year each will be repeated.  

  – The New Testament column is typically one chapter of the New Testament each day.  The gospels are spread out throughout the year, Matthew is at the start and end of the year, and Acts will be read after Luke in the spring, the rest of the New Testament is mostly in order.  A few weeks will be devoted to a theme related to a holiday season, FUEL theme, or a doctrinal topic.

You may find benefit in spreading out the readings through your day and praying through the Psalm. Perhaps one or more of the readings will work well to do together with your family.  You may also find it helpful having an accountability partner, or even creating a small group to share what you have been reading and learning.

Visit SeekGrowLove.com to read daily devotions based on this reading plan, and on the website you can sign up to have the devotions emailed to you every morning.  Each devotion will include reflection questions.  This year, we specifically challenge you to search everyday for what God is revealing about himself throughout His Scriptures.  It would be a great year to start a little journal (or note in your Bible margins or online Bible notes) and record daily what you have read and what you learn about God, His character, His power, His love, His Son, etc… in that passage. 

You can also follow on our Facebook page (Seek Grow Love) and Instagram (seekgrowlove).   

God bless you as you seek the LORD and read His words this year!

Best Day Ever

Luke 24

Saturday, December 31, 2022

            It was frustrating writing about the way Jesus was tortured and killed, but I get to end the year by writing about the number one very best day in human history.  No other day could have been more exciting, felt so good, and impacted so many people, including you and me.

            Sorry, but I need to start off by dissing a bit on those who loved and supported Jesus throughout his ministry.  Were they not paying attention to what he said?  He told them he was going to die and be raised in three days.  Did nobody remember that fairly critical piece of information?  I could understand them being a bit skeptical and not totally believing that he was going to come back to life until they saw it with their own eyes, but it seems like the ladies that were going to visit the tomb should have been going there to see if it really happened on the third day.  Instead, they were convinced that he was still dead; moreover, they were perplexed when they didn’t find his body there.  Suddenly, two dazzlingly dressed dudes appeared to them and reminded them about the three-day thing.  They did remember at that point they had been told he was coming back to life, so they went back and reported what they had seen to the eleven apostles and others.

            Certainly, the apostles, of all people, would remember what was going to happen.  They had seen many amazing miracles with their own eyes, so of course, they would have enough faith to believe it could have happened, but no; they thought the story was nonsense and didn’t believe the women.  Peter does get some credit, though, because he bounced up, ran to the tomb, and marveled at what had happened.  He believed Jesus was alive before he actually saw him with his own eyes.

            Strangely enough, their sad state of mind made the day that much sweeter for them when they finally saw it was true that he was alive.  They had believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but when he was killed, their hope of him saving the day vanished.  They incorrectly thought he was there to redeem Israel during that time.  They assumed he would get rid of the Roman government and save the world then – not later.  They were truly heartbroken and depressed when they saw Jesus die.

            Think about someone you loved dearly that died.  Perhaps, you saw them laying in the casket and then buried.  A few days have passed, and you are still raw with emotions, experiencing the sting of death.  Then picture the doorbell rings, you answer the door, and that person is standing there with a big smile on their face.  Whoa!!  How doubly incredibly happy you would be!  I think that’s how people felt when they saw Jesus alive again.  It had to be the best day ever!

            You may think it was a bit cruel for me to have you dwell on one of your loved ones that has died.  I am sure you are still missing them.  It still hurts.  However, the fact that Jesus was resurrected on that day a couple thousand years ago can be a promise about the future of your loved one.  If they accepted salvation in their lifetime, they too will come back to life and greet you with a big smile if you also are saved.  What an amazing day that will be – like the amazing day Jesus came back to life.  Jesus was the first to come back to life forevermore, but you or any of your loved ones that die before his return can be next up.

-Rick McClain

Time to ponder:

Do you agree that the resurrection of Jesus was the best day ever?  Can you think of a better day?

Most of Jesus’ closest followers soaked up every word he spoke and were convinced he was the Messiah, but their faith faded fast when something seemed to go very wrong.  Is your faith strong enough to make it through the tough times?

Jesus’ resurrection can give people great hope about the future, but only if they believe.  The story is absolutely meaningless to those who haven’t made the decision to follow God.  Is there a loved one in your life that needs to hear about the good news?

The Mob

Luke 23

Friday, December 30, 2022

            I’m just going to put it out there.  Luke 23 really frustrates me.  There is so much wrong with what happened to Jesus, and it should have been obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense, but “the mob” got their way because they were the loudest and most obnoxious.  Has anything changed in 2,000 years or is the mob still getting their way?  Why did God allow the mob to get what they wanted?  Why didn’t He protect His son?

            My first point of frustration is that the people wanting to kill Jesus were not the ones that didn’t believe in God; they were the ones who supposedly had devoted their lives to God.  Apparently, “Thou shall not kill” was too difficult for them to understand.  They also weren’t too bright about recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah that they had been told would be coming.  It is true that Jesus rocked their world a bit by telling them they needed to reevaluate their laws and their hearts, but it is amazing that their response to that was that they believed Jesus should be killed.  I am trying to picture an elders’ meeting today at our church where we had to talk about someone stirring up the congregation in a way we thought was inappropriate.  I can’t imagine someone would suggest, “We need to kill them.”  (Although, I guess I did just imagine that or I wouldn’t have written it.)

            The most frustrating part of this chapter is reading about how an innocent man was sentenced to death.  Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty and he tried to convince the mob of such.  They weren’t having it, so Pilate sent Jesus to Herod because he didn’t want any part of condemning an innocent man.  Herod also could not find anything that Jesus had done wrong, so he sent him back to Pilate.  Pilate pleaded with the people again, but the people wouldn’t listen.  Pilate tried one last time to get Jesus released with the rule about letting a prisoner go free.  Instead, the mob said they wanted an insurrectionist/murderer released.  Again, if the mob had one shred of common sense, they would have freed Jesus.  This was so wrong!

            Lastly, it was ridiculous enough that they put Jesus to death, but it is extremely frustrating to read about how they did it.  Why did they have to choose the most torturous, horrific way of killing someone?  The pain Jesus felt had to be excruciating and it lasted way too long.  I get mad thinking about what they did, and they did it to the one person who literally never did anything wrong to anyone.

            This was a terrible act by the people, but why did God not stop it?  Strangely enough, it was always a part of God’s plan.  Think about what would have happened if God had not allowed Jesus to die on the cross.  I suppose he would have gone on teaching, healing, and revealing the kingdom, and at some point, Jesus would have died of old age.  No crucifixion.  No resurrection.  Nobody paying the price for our sins.  God allowed the most terrible act in history to happen because it was also the most wonderful act in history.  There has never been an act in all of time that was greater than what Jesus did for you and me on that day.

            I am sorry to say that the mob is still alive and well.  I am continually frustrated by all the things I see today that happen because the mob gets what it wants.  Christians are losing many battles today, just like Jesus lost to the mob back then.  I feel like the women and acquaintances that were mentioned in verses 27 and 49.  They too were watching the injustice from a distance, knowing they couldn’t stop the mob.  However, I think about what Jesus said while he was dying on the cross.  He asked his Father to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing.  I believe the mob today truly believes that what they are doing is right; they just don’t understand what they are doing.  And we should ask God to forgive them as well, the same way Jesus did while he was being tortured and killed back then.

-Rick McClain

Time to ponder:

Take some time to remember what Jesus went through on that horrible day so that our sins could be forgiven.  Also, think about what it must have been like for God to watch His son die in that way when He had the power to stop it at any time.  Do you love someone enough that you would make your son take their punishment of death or would you decide that they should take the punishment themselves since they are the one who committed the crime and deserve it?  Thank Jesus and God for that incredible loving act.

Are you frustrated today when you see the loudmouths get their way, especially when it is against Christians?  Are you willing to forgive them?

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