Right Place. Right Time. Right Action.

Esther 3-4

Yesterday, we began to read the book of Esther. Let’s quickly summarize what happened in the first couple of chapters to bring us up to speed for today’s reading:

Chapter 1: King Xerxes, King of Persia, is having a pretty awesome party.  He is serving up an endless buffet with unlimited refills.  He has a few too many refills and calls for his wife, Vashti, because he wants to look at her. She refuses.  He consults with his friends (who might have had a few too many as well),and they decide to execute her as an example to prevent disrespect throughout the kingdom.  Buzzkill. Proclamation in Caveman Voice: Men Strong. Women Weak.  

Chapter 2:  King Xerxes decides it is time for a new queen.  Hmm. What’s a good way to pick my next wife? Personality. No. Virtuous qualities? No. Oh! Beauty contest.  Proclamation in Caveman Voice: Send Pretty Women. Enter Esther – fits the bill. Also, she’s Jewish, although Xerxes doesn’t know, doesn’t care because that doesn’t affect her looks.  Another party.  Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, uncovers a plot to assassinate Xerxes. Mordecai tells Esther who tells Xerxes. Esther trusted. Mordecai trusted. Conspirators impaled.

Have your plot uncovered and being impaled? Unfortunate. But having the car ahead of me pay for my weekly McDonalds run?  Being seated in the section at the ballpark that receives a free loaf of bread? Sitting down at a restaurant and having a meal served on the house? All of this, and more, has happened to me.  I’m a pretty lucky guy.  It seems that I find myself at the right place, the right time.  It’s either that or people just really think that I need food. Being in the correct location at a critical moment is important.  Ask anyone who has ever been late for an interview, or ended up at the wrong Starbucks. But in many circumstances, those two factors are simply not enough.   An equally important prerequisite that isn’t always taken into account (and makes the expression way too long like in the title) is the right action.  Many times you must DO something in order to take advantage of the golden opportunity that is being presented.  Just existing in a place or a moment isn’t enough.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:12-14

Christians are already in some of the prime real estate for evangelizing.  Christians are in schools. Christians are in workplaces.  Christians are on TV and radio. They make TikToks and podcasts.  I would say that for most of us, we err on the side of being in the world a little more than not.  Having a presence in each of these locations, at this time in history, is not in itself a bad thing.  In a caveman voice: School good. Work good. TikTok, umn, me no say.  But when you sit on your hands and let the world continue to spin in the same way it always has, then you are in the midst of the right location, the right time, but the wrong action.  Simply being an elevated, passive Jew in the kingdom of Persia was not going to save her people from being put to death.  Xerxes, didn’t even know. Being a passive Christian in the same manner is equally reckless. They may not even know. THEY. MAY. NOT. EVEN. KNOW. This is most definitely the correct time. Heed Mordecai’s warning. You MUST become an influencer, not in a manner that will get you more clout or draw attention to yourself, but in a manner that draws attention to God.  You most definitely were made for a time such as this.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light…Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. – 1 Peter 2: 9,12

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 14

Tough Love

1 Corinthians 13

The simplest truth about human relationships is that if we just loved one another a bit more, we would have fewer problems.  I know, it is a bit cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Our focus would be consistently outward.  We would be ready to listen and meet the needs of others. God has made it pretty clear that the most hardened heart can soften by showing the quality that embodies who He is, yet it is a weapon we often leave unwelded.  We often list our harshness or judgements under the guise of “tough love”, and this may or may not be true on a case-by-case basis. However, we must stick closely to the prescribed path in 1 Corinthians 13.  It actually might be simpler to love “toughly”, but if you simply write people off, or find a way to punish them, or speak your mind without backing it up with the many other qualities listed here, you are a hollow box and a lot of noise.  What’s tough love, really tough love, is to love someone who isn’t concerned in the slightest with being like God at the moment, or even ever. Love never fails. So you must love. You absolutely must.  And your love must be like God’s love.  Below I reworded one of the most famous passages of scriptures (v.4-7) that coincides with our reading and, most likely, one of the last handful of weddings you attended.  My goal isn’t to add to the list, only to reword it to give it novelty in hopes to make it challenging or convicting instead of a rehearsal of familiar words.  If it helps tune your mind to God’s love, wonderful.  If it is a confusing mess, don’t read it.  My concern is that you know loving is tough, especially those whose actions betray your love.  That shouldn’t stop you.  But THAT is tough love.  And THAT is what God shows to each one of us on the daily.

For God to come in and change the “unlovable” (mind you, this can be and has been you), you must sit and listen. Listen to their problems and hear them say what they think, even if you don’t agree. You have to include them, share with them, and treat them with dignity, even if they are not concerned in the slightest about having any.  To love, you have to let others be great and cheer them on.  Sometimes this means the spotlight will come off of you, or you are treated as less important.  If you are loving, you’re not concerned with that, because in love, others come first.  Love holds back the insults, name-calling, and doesn’t attack a person made in the image of God.  True love can be shown without expecting anything in return and can be left unreciprocated.  On rare occasions, you can have angry love.  You can be mad at someone because they are doing some serious sin damage to others or even him/herself.  But you don’t start there.  You don’t live there.  You are truthful with someone, because lying is not loving.  But you retreat quickly from the fight, and fill the space with mercy, more patience, and more kindness.  That means love is forgiveness, and not holding grudges.  We can love those who have wronged us.  We can love those who have besmirched our reputation, injured our family through carelessness, or hate us because of our beliefs. We may know their wrong to us as a historical account, but not as an emotional one, and we thank God we have an opportunity to show love to them in such a way.  In fact, loving like God means that you would actually stand-up for this person who has done you the greatest harm.  Loving someone means that you are trusting without “but.” And that can be so hard. But trusting in God first and foremost allows you to do that.  Believe in people.  Never give up on people.  Much easier said than done. It’s tough. So tough. But don’t let it stop you from trying. Your efforts are to help others see God, and they will know His love because it has been extended to and shown through you.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 13

A Seemingly Small Part

of God’s work,

1 Corinthians 12

When we think of the ear, we most likely are thinking about those lumpy, peculiar bits of cartilage just on the outside of our head.  While their shape helps us to ping the location of the sound, the majority of the work is being done on the inside.  The eardrum is vibrating, creating the analog beating that is then turned to electronic impulses that our brain interprets.  But even just beyond the eardrum, there is great work happening that is equally important to the overall function and health of the body, although this is assuming you are not hearing alarming noises at the present. Enter the eustachian tube.  It is the gravity-driven country road between the other side of your ear and the top of your throat.  This little pathway is responsible for a couple of very key functions, which you may never be aware of if all is going according to plan.  It sends any junk the ear makes down and out.  It prevents bacteria and any other intruders from creeping up.  But finally, its primary function might just sweep you off your feet, literally.  The regulation of gas and pressure behind our eardrum is important to hearing, but even more important to balance.  If this is the slightest bit off, we may be experiencing a case of vertigo, an internal roller coaster that never leaves the station. The room will spin.  Sweat forms on our brow.  Our eyes jitter.  Our head pounds.  Nausea fills our belly until our body cannot take it any longer and we “blow chunks” as one might put it more indelicately. Oh, and yes, you may lose your hearing too.  All because a space less than a quarter of a square inch doesn’t have the right amount of pressurized gas.

In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of the ear, but also hands, feet, and eyes.  The metaphors for the functions of each part of our body are endless.  Physically, we can “survive” without some parts, but we recognize that functioning as a whole is disabled because something, or to Paul’s analogy, someone, is missing.  While it may be more obvious when a man or woman is missing an eye or a digit, it is equally important to recognize when we are missing the kidneys and a liver which are removing the poison, or the amygdala which is controlling our rage and lashing out, and yes, the eustachian tube which is providing a steady balance.  These parts are easily overlooked, and many times, the people fulfilling these roles are not only disregarded, but are themselves unaware they are doing them.  These aren’t the folks performing miracles, preaching in the street, or speaking in tongues.  These are the ones who watchfully discern, the ones who are unflinchingly faithful, who make and show perfect peace, and those who have an infinite amount of helping hands to extend.  These are of special modesty, but of equal concern (v.25).

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” – 1 Corinthians 12:18

Now, for the bit with application.  We often give much love to the “showier” bits.  Those who take on a responsibility during a worship service or teach a class, but for a moment, think about the hidden parts among your church body.  Who stands watch (physically or emotionally) at the door of your church?  Who finds a way to create harmony between a foot and a hand vying for the same attention? Who shares their faith when doubt is beginning to spread among the believers?  It is time to take notice.  To recognize. Find a way to show this part of the body some love today. A call, a text, a card, a small token, or a chore done.  It is a very important bit of “self” care. Chances are they will be modest.  They will say they aren’t really doing anything important.  The truth is, they might be the very part keeping the church on their feet, preventing potential headaches, heading off a building rejection of the stomach, or simply lending a listening ear.  If they suffer, so do we, BUT if they rejoice, so do we.  We absolutely need all the parts to be the church we are called to be.

“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.” – 1 Corinthians 12:22-24a

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12

The Overwhelming Compassions of God

Nehemiah 9-10

Everyone needs compassion. Our gracious God, the ultimate source of love and mercy, readily extends compassion to us when we face the great challenges in our life.  But it doesn’t stop there.  God is not “deservingly” showing compassion to us because we have made sacrifices for his namesake.  He overwhelms us with compassion when we deserve it the least.  When our ears have been deaf to his calling, when our back has been turned, when our eyes are glistening with selfish pride, that is when he is most compassionate.  It is pretty simple:  life is best lived in and by the design of God.  Anything else is to be pitied.  But we do not serve a God of overwhelming pity.  He doesn’t stop at, “man, that stinks, wish you would have made some better choices there, bud.” He picks us up in our filth, gives us the full concentration of his blessings, and turns our feet back on the path that leads to him.  Over and over again. Undeservedly. In today’s reading, we get a quick lesson in the history of compassion of Israel from Abraham to Nehemiah.  Draw some (rather easy) parallels to your own life as your study this account of the rich mercies of God.

“But they, our ancestors, were arrogant;  bullheaded, they wouldn’t obey your commands. They turned a deaf ear, they refused to remember the miracles you had done for them;…And you, a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, Incredibly patient, with tons of love – you didn’t dump them.” – Nehemiah 9:16 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even after you have been arrogant.  You can attempt to go it alone.  God doesn’t give up that easily.  When the miracles no longer come, when the blessing subside, and you decide to turn back, he doesn’t merely say, “told you so.” He says “turn around, I’m still here.”

“Yes, even when they cast a sculpted calf and said, “This is your god Who brought you out of Egypt,” and continued from bad to worse,  You in your amazing compassion didn’t walk off and leave them in the desert.”  – Nehemiah 9:18 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you don’t give him credit.  Oh, how we like to take credit. How scorned are we when we don’t get the little credit due to us?  And we haven’t really done anything.  It would be simple enough to say, “Good luck in the desert by yourself,” yet God hears the cries of his people and comes rushing in to, again, fight the battles.

But then they mutinied, rebelled against you, threw out your laws and killed your prophets, the very prophets who tried to get them back on your side— and then things went from bad to worse.  And in keeping with your bottomless compassion you gave them saviors: saviors who saved them from the cruel abuse of their enemies.  – Nehemiah 9:27

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you stab him in the back.  That’s right, literal stabbing of prophets delivering the word of God.  Maybe you are not guilty of such a crime, but openly denying the word of God delivered to you in your life is an equal abuse of the Word of God.  That’s pretty much what sin is.  But guess what?  Those who openly and defiantly deny the gospel, receive sanctification and redemption through Jesus Christ if they make him the Lord and Savior of their life.  Your confession is never rejected, if done so from the heart.

But as soon as they had it easy again they were right back at it—more evil. So you turned away and left them again to their fate, to the enemies who came right back. They cried out to you again; in your great compassion you heard and helped them again.

This went on over and over and over. They turned their backs on you and didn’t listen. – Nehemiah 9: 28, 29 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you when you return right back to your sin.  That’s right, we are almost cartoonish in our behavior sometimes.  Do the sin.  Ask for forgiveness. <5 min later> Do the sin.  Ask forgiveness.  Thankfully, we have a God of infinite mercies, BUT as Paul says our goal is not to exhaust the grace of God.  If you haven’t figured it out, somewhere in our sinful nature is the habit to turn back to sin, but we must try to actively stop or flee from it.  God is unfatigued with extending his compassions if we truly seek him through repentance.

You put up with them year after year and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; But when they refused to listen you abandoned them to foreigners. Still, because of your great compassion, you didn’t make a total end to them. You didn’t walk out and leave them for good; yes, you are a God of grace and compassion.  – Nehemiah 9:30,31 MSG

  1. If you’re reading this, God still has compassion for you.  You are not abandoned.  It may feel foreign because you have pitched a tent outside the wall, but there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Maybe you’re seemingly satisfied to be out there for now.  Man, that’s awful.  You will not receive even the pity of men if this is where you stand.  But God looks compassionately upon you, and leaves the gate open, giving every opportunity to be a part of his grace, love, forgiveness and hope.  There is a time limit though, an end game. Once you stop breathing, it’s over.  There are no guarantees when this will be.  An even more compelling argument than “no guarantees” is every moment you are not living in the presence of God, you walk around heavily burdened with sin, guilt, doubt, and shame because you don’t know His compassion.  He will take it all from you and cast it as far as the east is from the west.  Stop. Turn. Cry. Listen. Let go. It is time to let His compassion overwhelm you.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway – Nehemiah 9-10 NIV or – from The Message Nehemiah 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 11

The Shack of Your Choice

Nehemiah 7-8

Nehemiah’s vision is complete.  The wall of Jerusalem has been repaired and the Jews reestablished their home, yet there is much to contemplate.  It would be easy to focus on what isn’t present at this moment.  Generations have passed away in captivity and exile, to close their eyes in death as slaves.  The present state of a skeletal city is a reminder that there is still so much work left to do to bring Israel to its former glory.  There are fears of the future and the foes taking camp around a city that is trying to put itself back on the map.  Instead of being driven by doubt, regret, or worry, Nehemiah and the priest of Israel establish the completion of the wall as a time to celebrate the return of God’s people.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

As God’s timing would have it, the completion of the wall shared a seam with the Festival of Tabernacles of the Feast of Booths and the words shared from the Laws of Moses.  You may be familiar with this week-long celebration from your earlier reading this year, but this might be a good time to summarize the origin and purpose of this festival.  God had redeemed his people, the Hebrews, out of enslavement in Egypt.  He did this through sending a series of plagues to Egypt, parting the Red Sea, and giving his commandments.  There were a few bumps in the road.  The Jews spent a great deal of time wandering in the desert because of their lack of faith and disobedience, yet he remained with them wherever they were, and he still blessed them with receiving the Promised Land, the very place where Nehemiah and those who followed him out of exile had returned.

We don’t serve a God who is solely responsible for the harvest.  We don’t serve a God who is solely responsible for the rain. We serve a God who works in the harvest, and works in the rain, but also works on the days that are in between. We may endure a great deal of prosperity or adversity, but ultimately, we take count of the blessings and realize that compared to eternity and the Kingdom of God, we are just living in booths, moving, temporary structures built from our feeble attempts to gather a few sticks or a few bricks.  After a long journey, we may seek to call it home, but it won’t be, right?  It is only a place to eat a few meals and get some rest until we no longer want it, it is destroyed by the elements, or someone else is enjoying it because we are pushing up daisies. 

The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. – Nehemiah 8:17,18a

Therefore our home as we wait is not established in a certain location, but is rooted in the Word of God – in our Savior Christ Jesus, The Word and Cornerstone. Additionally, His Word, is the saving knowledge of the Gospel testified to by the Living Word, that is meant to be shared with all, especially those who have not prepared (v.10).  The harvest has not yet come, so we could be freshly stepping out of captivity, like the Hebrew or those returning from Babylon.  If this be the case, there is a lot to do to ensure our initial success – like create some solid boundaries.  Maybe we feel as though we are in exile, we are a far cry from the person who was once called Christian. Listen to God’s calling.  Recognize his blessings.  There is a promised land, even for those who wander (and truly, only for those who wander).  No matter the season, God is there, and the greatest of harvest is coming soon.  Enjoy this spectacular vista from the shack of your (but really, God’s) choice.

-Aaron Winner


Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 10

Beat into Submission

1 Corinthians 9

Just like many of you, the familiar John Williams Olympic anthem, “Daaa…Daaa…Da. Da. Da. Da.” has already rang through my ears a handful of times as I watched the opening of the summer Olympic games. It has always marked anticipation, but more so this year, an end to a long sigh created by the indefinite postponement of the Tokyo 2020 a year ago.  While there are no crowds in attendance, the athletes are masked, and there is some political drama that often surrounds countries in participation, the beating of those timpani drums and the blaring french horns help us to remember a place we’ve been before.  All of this solely from a spectator’s point-of-view.  How much more have the athletes participating in the games marked this moment?  A year of extra training and sacrifice to compete at the highest level on a global stage, doing so maneuvering through a world experiencing a global crisis.  These medals given this year are seemingly worth more because of the delay and extra challenges these athletes faced in their training. 

It is fortuitous that our reading befits this moment where we are consumed with this competition for medals and crowing of our victors:

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” – 1 Corinthians 9:26

So, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you are not one of the 15,000+ athletes competing in the summer Olympic or Paralympic games (although, we would welcome any Olympian to read).  You may be accomplished at a single sport, but you’re undoubtedly not at the next level.  You may be dedicated to a fitness program, but you are not sacrificing all of your playtime or rearranging your schedule for your athletic pursuits.  You haven’t hired a trainer.  You haven’t shaved your legs to remove a hundredths of a second from your personal best.  You may not even be inspired to any athletic pursuit simply by watching (although many future Olympians are).  Yet, by being a follower of Christ (not the games), you are being called, challenged, and elicited into a training that is more demanding, more exasperating, and more punishing than any Olympian has ever faced in the context of competition at the games.

While there are several paths of metaphors we could draw from, the one that is most striking are the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians. It is the most intense description, hyperbole that could very well be made literal in some contexts. Ultimately, we must slave away at becoming the most disciplined evangelist, with the purpose of preaching and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ or plainly face disqualification from the prize.

“No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:27

This is a scary thought.  That my faith must be trained and disciplined in such a way that it would be on that next-level, to compete for a prize that is longer lasting than precious metals.  My evangelism could be record-setting. My ministry could be to a worldwide audience. But what stands in the way is my greatest opponent. Who is it?  Me.  Because I must be willing to give up the life that I could have in order to live for the glory that I am supposed to attain. I must be willing to strike a self-blow, to cut off my hand, to gouge out my eye, and to die daily. Or more realistically, get off my phone, read and pray consistently, have uncomfortable conversations, be filled with the Spirit of God, and let my coach and my God call all the shots. This is what I must do in order to make gains, receiving the strength and knowledge that comes through Christ Jesus. While it must be an incredible experience for the world to see you lower your head to receive your medal as a victor, representing your people and country, how much greater will it be to receive the crown of life which represents a kingdom and people that are far more perfect than the ideals that guide the games we currently watch?  Whether you have started your training already, are coming out of retirement, or beginning your training today, take a good look at your opponent in the mirror.  Size him/her up. You ultimately will have to be disciplined enough to take him/her on, become enslaved to Christ, and with the grace of God, beat yourself into submission, so God can see you through to the victory.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 5-6 and 1 Corinthians 9

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

Naked

Genesis 3-4 and Matthew 2

One of the more lingering adolescent experiences was changing for gym in the middle school locker room. I can still smell the dense body orders and feel the salty mist hanging in the air. I tried to get to the gym early, that way I didn’t have to skimp down to my drawers in front of everyone.  As a kid that was called “dough boy” in the last two years of middle school, I definitely had some heightened body image issues that directly correlated with my self-esteem.   Taking your clothes off in front of people (or having people take them off in front of you) can be pretty embarrassing to say the least.  Thankfully, I powered through those moments, but can say without a doubt that I didn’t like and still am not a fan of dressing out.

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Gen 2:25

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” – Genesis 3:7

The Garden of Eden was originally a nudist colony of two residents: Adam and Eve.  The thing is, they had no idea that they were even exposed.  I have thought about this a great deal (in a less picturing, more vicarious way), and came to peace with nakedness neither being the sweat-building, panic-inducing deal that it was in my middle school locker room, nor the lust-driven, eye-catching act that entangles many men and women (but especially men).  It isn’t a source of shame or sexuality.   If there is no sin, we are free to walk around naked.  Now this is not a call to rip off all your clothes and walk out into the world in your birthday suit.  Remember, you don’t live in Eden.  Sin still exists.

As we do everything we can to walk closer with God in his garden, We might expose ourselves in a different way.  First, we come before God honestly.  When we pray, let’s not hide or lie.  God already knows the truth.  It may be completely shameful what we have done.  We may field consequences from God, but isn’t open repentance much better than the persisting falsehood?  If we live a lie long enough, we will begin to believe it over what God is directly telling us.  Also, we can live more exposed in front of others. Again, clothes on.  Shame is the depressant that keeps us from forgiveness and moving forward.  Being vulnerable, sharing the most disastrous parts of your testimony, can be tougher than any middle school locker room.  You open yourself up to the loss of opportunities, ridicule, and even persecution.  It doesn’t matter.  God, who works all things together, will turn your shame into His glory, and in the process you will be restored.

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a groom puts on a turban, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. – Isaiah 61:10

Now, there may be a few pistons firing, making the connection that the Kingdom of God will bring about something similar to a second Eden.  If so, will we be naked?  Thankfully, there does seem to be some subtle statements about being clothed, at least with a crown and a smile, but the reality is it will not matter.  We will be made new and complete in the most ultimate version there is.  No sin.  No shame.  So, naked or not, here I come.

Thank you all for the opportunity to share my faith with you this week.  I pray that 2021 holds many blessings from God, and we all have the provision, strength, and wisdom to pursue whatever path he has laid out for our lives.

-Aaron Winner

SeekGrowLove.com Editor: Welcome to the Second day of our 2021 Bible reading plan! Print your copy below so you can mark and keep track of your progress. Most days we will read 2 Old Testament chapters and 1 chapter from the New Testament or Proverbs or a few Psalms. Every week we have a new devotions writer who will either write about the daily readings – OR – they may write all week on one Biblical theme they would like to pursue further. Tomorrow, we begin the first theme week as Greg Landry takes a closer look at Creation. We look forward to together Seeking God, Growing our Faith and Loving more and more this year!

Back to the Beginning

Genesis 1 & 2 and Matthew 1

Shortly after awakening this morning, your body started releasing cortisol, your fight-or-flight hormone, into your body to prepare for today’s stress.  The concentration of these levels in our body might be higher today than most, as you feel the mounting pressure of the New Year.  You are trying to recover from staying up too late, or trying to implement a new routine, or trying to rid yourself of some addictive behavior.  Unfortunately, what you do today, and any stress that comes about, isn’t an isolated event.  It is the culmination of a lifetime of rehearsed behaviors.  If you are trying to shed a few pounds, you might be looking back to Thanksgiving or further as the culprit.  If you are trying to read your Bible more, which is why you may have very well ended up here today, you may look back to some chaos that was introduced into your life shortly after the beginning of 2020.  If you are trying to quit smoking/drinking, you may be looking back to college or high school years as its introduction.  If you are trying to reduce your screen time, you may look all the way back to your childhood when your parents let you watch TV without any limitations.  No matter the case, lasting change is hard to acquire.  Over time we have fashioned (or maybe more like, warped) our true nature, mold, or patterns, making it so hard to change.  Wow. Deflation complete.  And another round of cortisol is released.  Hang on – Don’t fly!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

Today, we revisit the beginning in a couple different fashions.  Not the start of a behavior, but the origin of the heavens, earth,and man.  Everything that has happened up to this point in the universe has its lasting signature of this single event.  The complex ecosystems of the earth, sea, and sky, the hanging of stars, planets, and galaxies in the heavens, and the most beautiful and the reason that all these things exist, our salvation plan that comes through Jesus Christ, come from a single origin: God.  All of them have their catalyst in the events that unfold in Genesis 1 and 2. Generation after generation, Matthew 1 tells of God’s alignment to move us from sin’s patient zero, Adam, in the Garden of Eden, in-and-out of lives of some very messed-up, still-sinning, trying to make their resolutions work people, to the Culminating Curer, Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” 2 Corinthians 5:17,18

There is more. The plan doesn’t stop there – You and I are part of it. Since Jesus Christ offered propitiation for our sins, we can enter into the nature, the mold, the pattern for which we are created, not that one that has been fashioned by all the paper mache forms we have haphazardly placed in our life.  When we do this, we will find ourselves quite a bit more malleable than before because this is the form for which we’re truly made.  We get into shape by the Great Shaper. When we renew our thinking in this way, maybe the pounds are not the priority, but our prayer life (but it’s okay to lose the pounds, too).  Maybe we point our addictive behaviors in the direction of God to His worship and study.  Maybe we linger at church and fellowship or pile in the car after school to serve somewhere, instead of coming home to a favorite show.  And when you do not do these things, thank God, you can always go back to the beginning: salvation.  We do not have to wait on a sacrifice, we no longer are slaves to these things awaiting a Redeemer, when we seek out God, we are offered an instant renewal through repentance and grace.  Every day we have on Earth is the beginning, a New Year or season, and an opportunity to fight for a closer relationship with God than the day before.

-Aaron Winner

Welcome to the FIRST day of our 2021 Bible reading plan! Print your copy below so you can mark and keep track of your progress. Most days we will read 2 Old Testament chapters and 1 chapter from the New Testament or Proverbs or a few Psalms. Some people like to do one reading in the morning and one later in the day, others like to do both at the same time. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or more – but hop back in so you don’t miss His words to you.

Good Riddance, Best Riddance

Revelation 19-22

More than any year in recent history, people are looking forward to the closing of 2020.  There is no magical spell that will make our worries disappear as the zero turns to a one, yet for many there will be a great sigh; a new year brings a new promise.  There are some prognosticators who say the worst is yet to come, yet for some reason, I have a renewed sense of hope. I have longed for an eventual reprieve, rest, and relief from restrictions.  The whole world is longing to move forward, and see 2020 left on the side of the road in the rearview mirror, “Good riddance. Goodbye.” as we blow it a sardonic kiss. Mwwahh.

As we have seen in our time with Revelation this week, any break we have is temporary because the worst is yet to come <balloon pops>.  The pandemic we have seen up to this point will pale in comparison to the plagues preceding the Kingdom of God.  Although there has been some pretty intense weather and natural disasters this year, this isn’t even close to what is being forecasted for future calamities.  While many wars have waned in the wake of coronavirus, war will be truly inescapable, pressing in on all sides before the coming of Christ.  It is so true that grief, sorrow, exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety have been intensely felt in 2020, and I would never make light of that, but when compared to the longing of the earth that is to come, it will easily eclipse all we have felt this year.  The people, and the earth itself, will be longing more than ever for refreshing.

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:  Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns!  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. – Revelation 19:6,7

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:3,4

The best news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ultimate reprieve will come alongside our Lord and Savior. This will be the greatest of all welcomes and simultaneously, the best of all riddances.  While we can retain some small hope that our life will return to the way it was a year ago, was it not still filled with tears, death, mourning, crying, pain, the entirety of the whole old order?  To long for a return to 2019, or even a better version of the past, is similar to the cry of the children of Israel in the desert to return to Egypt because at least their bellies were full there (Ex 16:2,3).  Life as we know it (or even knew it) is marginally mediocre when we compare it to what is in store for us.  If we are to cry out, to groan, to bemoan, let us do so as people who are ready to be rid of our sin and the captivity it has placed upon us and the earth once and for all (Ex 2:23). Our present suffering, no matter how great, is nothing compared to the glory that awaits.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Rom 8:18-22

-Aaron Winner

If you have been reading along all year, congratulations! Today we read the final chapters of God’s Inspired Word – Revelation 19-22.

Tomorrow we begin a New Year and a New 2021 Bible reading plan! Every day we will read 2 passages – an Old Testament passage (usually just 2 chapters) and a New Testament or Psalms/Proverbs passage (often just one chapter or a few short Psalms). Our writers may write about one of the day’s passages, or some will choose to write all week on a chosen theme, giving us the opportunity to dive a little deeper into some relevant subject matter and what Scripture teaches on that topic.

Print your copy of our Bible reading plan below – and let’s see what God has to tell us in 2021! Seek Him! Grow Your Faith! Love!