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!

It’s Time to Get the Heck out of Dodge

Revelation 14-18

Dodge City, Kansas made the perfect background for many of the early westerns that hit the silver screen. Any title character was the game-changing lawman who took on the town that was historically and notoriously known for its gunslingers, reckless living, violence, and pretty much the hub for all things unabiding and uncouth.  Dodge became the epitome of frontier lawlessness, and those who resided there were in a collective agreement: every man or woman for himself.  What initially seemed like a good time, a get rich quick plan, or a temporary set of circumstances became a way of life for most those who stayed, and ironically for many, that is exactly what it cost them to stay in Dodge: their life.  Those few that escaped the cruel fates of this city, these ethical outsiders who found themselves living inside its “walls”, could see the turn of the tide, and knew it was time to get the heck out of Dodge.

Dodge City is not alone for its notoriety as an evil city.  Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family hailed from Sodom and Gommah, cities God destroyed with sulfur and fire because of their wickedness.  God also gave instructions to Joshua to destroy the seven nations that were descended from Canaan (who did equally despicable things including child sacrifice).  Additionally, a once-blessed Babylon is handed over to Darius which would lead to an idiom in its own right, because God spoke through the “handwriting on the wall.” In each of these instances, God provides opportunities for the inhabitants of the places to get the heck out. (Angel’s warning and Lot’s escape (Genesis 19); Jericho’s march and Rahab’s salvation (Joshua 6); Jeremiah; Israelites spared (Daniel 5)

As we see in the prophecy delivered in Revelation, there is a new nation that is forming/formed that is not the Babylon of old, but a new one represented by an adulterous woman (Rev 12) There are definite similarities in the wickedness that is taking place in the future and that of Babylon’s past.  This new Babylon is a place of great excess which results in every opportunity to do evil (including the destruction of God’s prophets), and possibly a physical location to the events that are taking place near New Jerusalem (although some think it may be a western civilization like the United States) soon to be established by Jesus.  So what is the word given for those who reside in this place?  That same warning delivered by Jeremiah 600 years prior:  Flee from Babylon!  Run for your lives! (Jeremiah 51:6)  

We do not need to be able to pinpoint on a map where this new Babylon is in order to make plans to run in the direction of God.  He will deliver those who follow his perfect and pleasing will, making a way for those who choose Him.  While the United States or the Western World may or may not be the Babylon spoken of here in this text, with some quick conjecture, there are striking similarities in the way our culture is rapidly shifting in the last half-century or so.  The quest to be the source of  knowledge is valued more than faith in God Almighty. Our wealth and standard of living continue to increase, but so do our distractions and devices. Lawful and unlawful wickedness occurs even to the point that lives of children are being destroyed.  So, does this mean that we should flee to a new country?  Probably not. And it isn’t our physical location that is the primary issue.  It is the heart. We need to make distinctions about our citizenship – it is kingdom bound first.  We are simply in this world, not living for it.

So where have you made your encampment?  Just outside of Sodom?  It won’t be long before you are inside the city walls (Genesis 13:12).  Is your indulgence a constant? Then it is not a vacation home — it’s where you live. Run away from Sodom!  Flee from Babylon!  Get the heck out of Dodge!  This is a cry to myself and to you.  Keep yourself from getting tangled in the web of fulfilling your every whim, pursuing knowledge that gives you some sort of power or position, and desiring things that have nothing to do with God’s kingdom. Your diplomas, your clothing, your dwelling, and your status are the commodities of moths.  Bridle your body so your hands and feet are available to do the work of God or physically move if you must (FLEE! 2 Timothy 2:22) Only then can we be saved from the fate of Babylon and live in the fullness of the new city worth taking up residence.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 14-18

Tomorrow we finish the book and the year with Revelation 19-22.

Stay tuned for the big unveil – SeekGrowLove’s Bible Reading Plan for 2021!

Remind Me: Whose Side Am I On?

Revelation 9-13

The Hebrews watched as the plagues of Israel consumed the whole of Egypt.  They watch God lead them in a cloud by day and a fire by night.  They watched the Red Sea part and swallow the advancing armies hoping to kill or reenslave them.  Yet, fresh off the heels of all of these things, they lost their nerve when Moses, their leader and messenger from God, had been gone for a few moments longer than expected.  In the place of God Almighty, they erected a golden calf to worship saying these were the true gods that brought them out of Egypt.  An enraged Moses came down from the mountain to see utter chaos.  Aaron fumbles through his excuses and the people of Israel are punished.  Moses declares that each person must pick a side – You are either for the Lord or against him. (Ex 32:26)

So much destruction occurs in these few chapters of our reading today as angel ominous trumpeting announces another terrifying event on earth.  Cities are destroyed from earthquakes, fire, sulphur, and smoke destroy a large percentage of the population, and a plague occurs that tortures to the point of death, but never comes. It isn’t a pretty site – unleashed by ultimate permission giver.  It will be an understatement that many will have their faith tested during these times, and begin seeking any answer to the misery they see unfolding before them.  When there is no great parting of the Red Sea proclaiming the Lord is in this moment, so many will begin to look to new creatures, whether literal, people, or nations, to follow for immediate comfort or distraction.  In fact, war will be raged against anyone who tries to serve the Lord during this time or who shares the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). The only way to survive it seems, is to worship a beast and take its mark so you may buy or sell.

“The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.” – Revelation 9:20

“The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom.” – Revelation 13:15-18a

There is much to study in these scriptures about what the unfolding of these events may look like in our coming world, but the implications of these passages are as simple as the charge from Moses. When I struggle, whose side am I on?  If there isn’t immediate relief from the pain, whose side am I on?  If it keeps me from my dreams, whose side am I on?  When it costs me my reputation or position, whose side am I on?  If it costs me my friends, my family, my children, or my life, whose side am I on?  Even if you don’t live long enough to set your eyes on the terrifyingly terrific events laid out by the trumpets, you must make a decision before you cross the path of the lesser trials in your own life.  A claim must be laid for the Lord in your heart, and you must begin setting yourself apart. Otherwise, your faith will be crushed at the first crosswind of complication.  Indecision will place you in the queue of those ready to receive their mark on the path of least resistance.  You may receive a momentary benefit from your idol, but it ultimately places you opposite of God.  Much like the fate of the Israelites who stood against Moses, destruction comes for those who stand against the Lord Almighty.  Draw a line. Pick a side. Ready yourself for the fight of your life.

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matt 5:29,30

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 9-13.

Tomorrow we continue with chapters 14-18.

Do Not Weep

Revelation 4-8

There is much to take in with today’s reading as John describes the throne room of heaven and the events that unfold, marking the Kingdom of God being set into motion.  There are angels, horsemen, and elders, each executing and exacting the will of God.  If you are a bit overwhelmed by today’s reading, you are not alone. John, who spent more time with Jesus than most, is still awestruck by the worship of God happening before him, and he is doing his best to describe heavenly things for which there is no earthly vocabulary (something important to keep in mind as we examine the remainder of this book and prophecy).  With a resounding question, John’s attention is drawn to the hand of God:

“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Rev 5:2-4

John weeps, for the content of the scroll could very well never be known.  Salvation’s plan locked inside this scroll with no one on heaven or earth who is worthy of removing the seven seals that keep it shut.  This is seemingly the end of the road.  Without a Savior, life on earth has no redemption.  This is most definitely worth a weep, knowing that for some, their story stops here.  They have put everything in what they alone can achieve, yet they are like every other creature in heaven and on earth.  Without the hope delivered in the next verses, all that would remain is remorse and regret (Luke 13:27,28).

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Rev 5:5

Salvation is a gift of God, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8,9).  In the moments when we are overcome with great grief, sense the defeating drift of sin, are lost or lonely, feel pressed or persecuted, let Jesus Christ step forward. Do not reach deeper into empty stores, pour out of a broken vessel, or pick up the shattered pieces; let him do what we cannot.  We need only lift our heads – to pray, to seek, to take heart – as we listen to the words of the elder that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has triumphed.  He will step forward and unfurl a new banner, renewing and restoring the purpose of our life. He alone is worthy to open the scroll, yet we are indeed the beneficiaries of the prize of his propitiation.

And they sang a new song, saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Rev 5:9

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 4-8.

Tomorrow we continue with chapters 9-13.

The Time is Near

Revelation 1-3

It is very likely that at the time of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, he was the last living apostle of Christ.  In his final days, he was banished to the Greek island of Patmos for his preaching and prophesying, both viewed as ways of stirring up unwanted rebellion in the Roman Empire.  It is here that he is delivered a vision of final days before the return of Christ.  Of the men that followed Jesus, John may have had the least cruel fate. According to scripture or historical accounts, all had been killed – stoned, clubbed, crucified, beheaded, and speared – preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, doing everything in their power to fulfill their commission (Acts 1:4-8) and reach the ends of the earth before the return of their friend and Savior. The disciples preached the Kingdom of God as something that would be seen by the generation they spoke to or the coming one. There was an extraordinary emergency to their message. And yet, 2000 years or so later, here we are.

I am reminded of my internal adolescent rebuttal when hearing Christ was coming soon — “If Jesus Christ has not come in the last 100 generations, why should I think that he will come in mine?” Through our reading this week, we will unpack the message of John and, like many before us, apply his words to the time and place that we live in.  We live in interesting times, but so have many generations before us.  They each had their own political unrest, plagues, and natural phenomenon.  With all the challenges of this year included, to live in the United States as a Christian is still pretty easy by comparison to many places in the world today, and most definitely effortless compared to the challenges faced by apostles of Christ.  For many of us, our ease of living has led us to share (or not) a complacent gospel.   This was already happening in the days of John; a symptom shared by many of the churches in Revelation 2 & 3.  As you read this week, consider the following to renew your sense of urgency to the Gospel message and reinstate Christ’s Kingdom as the centerpiece of your daily purpose:

1.   You are always a single breath away from the Kingdom of God.  No person knows the day or hour of his/her death. We must live our life to be found in Christ, not wait for signs of his return and scramble our way to grace.  The thing is, if you’re waiting for signs before you live out the Gospel, you will be distracted, diverted, or disconnected (Matt 25:1-13, Parable of the Ten Virgins).  “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:13,14

2.  No one, except the Father, knows the day or the hour Christ returns.  The days before Christ arrival will be as in the days of Noah (Matt 24:38) –  people will be married, there will be parties, children will be born, parents will send their teens to college, couples will be building their dream homes, and many will be working hard to retire early (v.40-42).  Despite the best efforts of John to deliver his prophecy, many will be caught unaware of the harbingers of Christ’s return. Because of this, it is imperative we deliver the Gospel message wherever our feet are on the daily. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:36,37 

3. Many of the dramatic events that unfold in Revelation will happen within a single generation.  God has been working on His salvation plan since the foundations of the world (Col 1:16) with the culmination being (spoilers ahead) the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth.  According to the words of Jesus and the vision of John there are compounding and intensifying events as seals are opened and the wrath of God being poured out. Natural wonders, dramatic plagues, famines, wars, and a global political climate will feed off one another and spur along the intervention and return of Christ.  If this year has taught us one thing, it is how fast the world can change with some of these elements aligned; however, the ignition point for the return of Christ is already set.  There will be a fire that follows and it will consume quickly; the temperature need only rise a bit more. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things <Matt 24:14-33> take place.” – Matthew 24:34

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Revelation 1:3

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 1-3

Tomorrow we continue Revelation with chapters 4-8.

Renovating the Temple

2 Kings 12-13 and 2 Chronicles 24

2 Chronicles 24 13 NIV sgl

 

A century after Solomon, both the people of Israel and the Temple had become a metaphor for one another. Both had grown to be a shadow of their former glory. The borders of Israel were shrinking along with the people inside.  Many had moved from serving the One True God to idol worship, and the holy relics inside the temple had been refashioned for use in Baal worship. No one seemingly cared, and it showed.  Enter Joash.  Made king at only the age of seven, yet he showed wisdom beyond his years.  Even if you’re a king, you haven’t truly found your ego at such a young age, which was much suffered by his predecessors.  In fact, psychologically speaking, your sense of right and wrong is never more attune and concrete than at this time in your life.  Just the king Israel needed at this moment. Joash is considered a “good” king because he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, including temporarily restoring the Temple and the precious things inside – not the holy relics -the people of Israel.

 

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses a similar metaphor in our transition to become more like Christ. He compares our old-self to a shack, and the new man/woman to a castle.  I would dare say, with Lewis most likely agreeing, that God’s first move is not to take a bulldozer and knock our shanty to the ground.  When we hear Paul assert  “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” he is not implying such a thing either. Isn’t there some salvageable part that God made if he stitched me in my mother’s womb with a purpose? I believe the context of Paul’s words are more directed at building with a Christ-centered motivation, instead of using the law as we see fit (yesterday’s devotion – read Galatians 2 for context). Everything we do, from tying shoes to tithing, must go through a process of being purposed for God.

 

This means every wall must be inspected for integrity.  Every space designed with the intentions of the Father using it.  Yes, the sin, the junk, the addiction, the clutter, must go; however, when we do this, there are pieces – traits, relationships, gifts – that might be salvageable.  The “bones” might be good in a spot or too, but God simply isn’t looking to paint the walls and hang a few pictures.  He is using the most select pieces, making elaborate extensions, and has a detailed blueprint for more than we could possibly ever imagine. It is an extreme home makeover that begins with bringing Christ on the job-site. The home becomes more unrecognizable, yet with each phase, it is moving towards how it was intended to be.  There is a shadow, a glimpse, of what stood there before, but there is much that has been changed, added, removed, all having the mark of their Maker.

 

Construction – quality, enduring, sizable construction – takes time.  Joash did not restore Solomon’s temple overnight.  Your renovation from a shack to a castle will take God and you a lifetime to complete, and it will require a day-in-day-out dedication to get there. Most beautifully, alongside our metaphor is a literal Kingdom with Christ at the center.   This hard work is not without a promise.  We truly are looking ahead for a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  I desperately hope we see each other there.

 

Thank you so much for letting me be a part of your week.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+12-13%2C+2+Chronicles+24&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 25 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Use Caution, Christian

2 Kings 9-11

2 Kings 9 20b NIV sgl

Be forewarned, today’s reading gets a little gory. Jehu is charged with wiping out the festering family of Ahab across Israel, and he does his job handily, even going above the call of duty.  He not only kills the children of Ahab, but also anyone who serves them.  One of Ahab’s most notorious endeavors was introducing Baal-worship to Israel, most famously remembered in the battle at Mount Carmel. Jehu doesn’t simply knock down the altars built to Baal, he goes as far as setting a trap to ambush every last Baal worshipper in Israel.  God is pleased with Jehu for fulfilling the prophecies of Elijah, yet the line of Jehu, according to Hosea, is cursed for the massacre (Hosea 1:4).  How could God be upset with someone for doing his bidding?  Or for even doing more than what was required of him/her? We should always be careful when we are in a position of authority, entering social circles, or making a public declaration of God’s will that we are people above reproach and we are closely sticking to God’s script. Too often, Christians live out the most convenient version of their faith, editing or elaborating to their own tastes.  If we are not seeking God fully, especially during the most critical times, we could make curseable, long-term missteps similar to the failings of Jehu.

 

A Proud Heart

 

“Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart.” – 2 Kings 10:31

 

Jehu was crowned King.  That was kind of a big deal. This gave him the right to do pretty much anything he wanted to do politically, although not the permission to do so in the eyes of the Lord.  It was most likely arrogance that caused him to stumble, to think he could carry out the specific sovereign will of God, yet not keep the moral will of God for his life.  No matter what position we assume, we are never above God’s calling for our life, and we are to remain humble, obedient, and as a servant.  Everything we have or will ever be belongs to God.  Do not get caught up in the title, or the big thing that God has called you to do.  Pride does indeed come before the fall, and just as what was intended for evil, God can use for good, what was intended for His glory, can becomes the shoplifted source of our own.

 

A Sly Mind

 

“But Jehu was acting deceptively in order to destroy the servants of Baal.” – 2 Kings 10:19b

 

Jehu acts if he is ready to hand Israel over to Baal worship only to bait and destroy those who came out. While God certainly has no problem with Jehu ending Baal worship, God does take issues with the lie, and most concerningly, these deaths were not justified in the eyes of the Lord as they were called a “massacre” in later scriptures.  Jehu used God as an excuse to rid himself of any political opposition that remained.  When we think the end justifies the means, we live in a very dangerous territory.  We lack principle or order; chaos and anarchy reign.  Anything goes. We are essentially saying we know more than God, that the fruition of a thing cannot happen by following His law for our life (there’s a reason!).  A simple measurement we can use – if we have to lie to get there, it’s not a God thing.  Additionally, if our primary motive is for personal gain, we need to stop and deliberate with God because our mind has become infected with the intentions of our heart.

 

A Blind Eye

 

“So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.” – 2 Kings 10:28,29

 

Jehu extinguished one specific area of sin while allowing another area, either by omission or encouragement, to continue. Idol worship was still happening in Israel, just the kind that was okay with Jehu. Christians are often guilty of making the same mistakes.  We condemn homosexuality, yet remain silent as we watch couple friends divorce in the church.  We are quick to call for the end of abortion, but don’t lift a finger to help a needy mother or harbor hate in our hearts, also known as murder according to Jesus. Christians will turn their back on someone who has been imprisoned for a crime, but allow all kinds of things on their screens because it is “entertainment”. Now, I am stereotyping, lumping every Christian into a single pot, but this, too often, is the criticism of those on the outside of our faith.  We are hypocrites, specifically the type that are turning a blind eye out of convenience or to afford our own brand of vices, not the more generic kind we all are as sinners.  Either remain silent or call it all out. Don’t turn a blind eye to any sin, especially if it lives inside you.

 

Examine your heart.  Inspect your mind and motive.  Watch with both eyes open.  Be vigilant in these self-inspections to remain faithful to God.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+9-11&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 12-13 and 2 Chronicles 24 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

One Hand Washes the Other

2 Kings 5-8

2 Kings 5 16 NIV sgl

Over the course of the past few months, it would not be presumptuous to say that many of us have amended our handwashing technique; however, we have most likely been using one hand to wash the other for quite some time (hopefully with warm water and soap, too).  It is a mutually beneficial relationship, which makes both hands equally clean, each part repaying the debt to the other. This has become a beautiful analogy for many who do favors in expectation of a return. No matter how you say it, “one hand washes the other” or “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” (which you will definitely need to wash your hands if you scratch someone’s back), going out of our way and doing the right thing can be advantageous to a relationship, a caching of IOUs, or marking our debt paid. Handwashing itself is definitely a biblical, Levitical principle, but is this tit-for-tat the way God works?  Should we expect a return when we have lived out the moral will of God? Should we be cleanly rewarded because we have taken a risk on someone else’s mess?

 

Today’s reading challenges us to think differently about the expectations of doing a good deed.  Naaman is healed of leprosy by the instructions ordained through Elisha.  Naaman was indeed searching for a cure, but as the many who came up to Jesus looking for healing, he had a curiosity about the God of Israel.  Overwhelmed by the healing, he asked Elisha if there is anything He can do in return? For a moment, think of your hospital bill if you were healed of a flesh-eating disease that could ultimately take your life, much less the deep appreciation you might have for your new quality of life.  Both would be truly astronomical.  Elisha could have asked for enormous amounts of wealth, power or favor in Syria, or even asked for a vow of protection from an enemy captain.  He wanted part of no such thing.  His whole purpose in helping is so that men, specifically Naaman, would know and confess “…Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel…” – 2 King 5:15.  If we needed any further confirmation of this truth, Elisha’s servant is struck with leprosy after turning back to essentially say Elisha had changed his mind and would be happy to take a few things in return (2 Kings 5:26,27).

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message of hand washing hand.  It is a message of hands washing feet. We are to be servants of God, and in turn, servants of those He loves, people.  We do not do these things because we can earn our spot in the Kingdom of God, or buy our way into his favor (Rom 6:23).  Our debt is so enormous, we could never repay it.  We become the beneficiaries of this gift when we humbly accept the healing instructions God offers us; that we would be made clean by the waters of baptism and know and live that there is no other god in our life, except the living, one true God of Israel.  When we act as God, meaning, when we act as an agent of His attributes (love, kindness, patience, truth, faithfulness, forgiveness, grace) we are not offering something that is from us.  We are offering God.  God’s terms have already been agreed upon; we do not have any additional conditions to bring to the table.  We are not owed, nor should we expect a return on such an investment we make with our life or provisions. God is the rewarder. Every good and perfect thing flows down from the Father (James 1:17).  Ultimately, we should not ever extend our hands out to expect a reward from God or anyone else. As we serve the Lord in whatever capacity he has called us to, we should extend our hands upward to give Him the praise because He is rewarding us in a literally astronomical way that will reshape the structures of heaven and earth.  We may lose all we have or be thought of as fools as we try to serve like Jesus, but we can truly never settle the score, or wash the hand of God, and that is an awesome, powerful, wonderful thing.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+5-8&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 9-11 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan