What are You Looking For?

Seek the Lord!

Psalm 6, 8-10, 14, 16, 19 & 21

Add a subheading

Today’s reading contains my absolute favorite Bible Verse, Psalm 16:8, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand I will not be shaken.” I love this verse because of its beautiful reminder to seek the Lord daily. Growing up as a Christian my whole life, there is an added need to make my faith my own. And with that comes the importance of having a relationship with our Creator. But no matter what walk of life we are on, we all need to be striving to seek the Lord in all that we do. 

If you make God your main priority in life, He will see you through the rest. Although this doesn’t mean you won’t have any more problems, you can be reassured that God will be by your side the whole way. Continually seeking the Lord.  It’s so simple, and we have all heard it a million times yet its significance is still so important. So how do we continually seek the Lord?

 

Worship- As great as worshiping with other believers can be and is, spending time alone with God in worship can be just as beneficial, if not more. Whether it’s turning on worship music or meditating and praying Psalms, take the time to unplug from the world and plug into God. 

Psalm 95:1-2  “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

 

Reading the Bible – Dedicating time each day to read His word will realign your focus on God over and over again and is the best way to learn more and grow closer to God. God has given His word to you! Don’t leave him unread! 

 

Memorizing and meditating on scriptures-   Keep your focus in alignment with what is important. One way to do this could be to place a couple of your favorite Bible verses around your house to encourage you to continually seek the Lord throughout your day. Soon you will be thinking of Bible verses from memory. 

Joshua 1:8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

 

Pray- Just like any relationship between two people, there needs to be communication. Consistent communication. Turns out, the same is true for a relationship with God. When was the last time you talked to God, and I mean really talked, like spilled your heart out to Him? We have an amazing opportunity to talk with the Creator of the universe. And the most amazing part, he hears you. He’s waiting for you to open up your heart to him. 

Deuteronomy 4:7 “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him.” 

Psalm 27:8 “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’

 

Call on Him- The outcome of seeking God- he will uphold you. When you seek the Lord wholeheartedly, you invite Him into your life, and He will touch every angle of it. That is how our lives can be transformed into  living for Him and His glory. God’s plan for you starts with you looking to the Lord as your strength and foundation every day. .  

Jeremiah 29:”Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

James 4:8 “Come near to God and he will come near to you…”

Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” 

Psalm 91:14-15 “He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.”

Lastly, another verse from today’s reading, Psalm 10:4 “ In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. 

 

Let’s learn from this wicked man and not make the same mistakes he did. Make room for God in your lives, He can be found when we seek Him wholeheartedly. It’s our job today, tomorrow, and forever.

 

Makayla Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be found at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+6%2C+8-10%2C+14%2C+16%2C+19%2C+21&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 1 Chronicles 1-2 as we continue seeking God in His Word on our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

 

 

So Egypt Will Know

Exodus 7-9

Exodus 7 5 NIV

Moses does not believe that he can speak adequately, so what does God say? He does not tell Moses, “I am sorry. I picked the wrong man.” No. Instead He says, “I picked you for a reason. If you can not speak, then delegate that duty to Aaron.” God still says that He is going to speak through Moses, not Aaron. Once Aaron has received the words from Moses, then Aaron can speak them to Pharaoh. In fact, this is the way that religion is going to work for the rest of human history. God will pick a prophet, whether that prophet thinks he is capable or not, and will speak to the rest of humanity through that single person. God is also able to set up leadership through this prophet and the prophet can lead others and coordinate with them in order to achieve more and reach more people. This is what is established in the Levitical priesthood.

 

I recently heard an interesting interpretation on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. I have usually not been able to define the phrase “hardened heart” when I read it. This interpretation however, defines the hardening of a heart as making a man brave. Under this interpretation, God did not force Pharaoh to refuse to listen. Pharaoh first chose to ignore the words of God. Then, when he became fearful because of the plagues, he was willing to let the Israelites go. It is at this point that God makes Pharaoh brave, allowing the Pharaoh to hold to his original decision not to let them go. I think this interpretation has some merit and is interesting at least.

 

Why did God choose the plagues that he chose? Why did he turn the Nile to blood? He could have turned it to mud or dried it up or anything. Why did he send a plague of frogs? Why not crocodiles or giant river snakes or something a little more intimidating? Why gnats? Gnats are just tiny little things, a nuisance at worst. Well God is the mastermind behind all of this, so He must have known what he was doing. Let’s try to think about all of these plagues in the context of Egypt. We know that Egypt is full of sorcerers who have a handful of tricks. We also know that the Egyptians were polytheistic and had many zoomorphic gods. Finally, we know that the Pharaoh had been oppressing the Egyptians with hard work and even worse, had slaughtered all of their baby boys.

 

God could have just dried up all of the water in the Nile and it would have had the same effect. All the fish would die and begin to rot and stink. There would be no water to drink. Yet God chose blood. This relates to what I said yesterday about turning people by degrees. God is starting with a plague that the Egyptians think is mere magic. The same thing occurs for the frogs, but the magicians can not create gnats. There is definitely some symbolism to blood in the Nile, possibly referring to the Pharaoh’s slaughter of the newborns. I also think it has to do with the significance of the river to Egypt. That river was a large part of the economy for them, they relied on it. So God took it away. Man should rely on God because he is the source of life. Even at this point in history, people knew that blood is an essential part of life and thought that a person’s life was in their blood. Thus, by turning the river to blood, God is saying, “I give life and I take away life.”

 

The plague of frogs is a weird one for me. The way it is described makes it sound like an inconvenience; they are just everywhere. One commentator I read said that this was poking fun at the Egyptians gods Hapi and Heqt. God was directly challenging the gods of Egypt.

 

The gnats are particularly nasty. Have you ever been out on a run in the summer when all of a sudden your mouth is full of gnats? Maybe that is just me. It is one of the most unpleasant experiences. Now have you ever been in a dry, dusty field running around and kicking up dirt? That is also quite unpleasant. It gets tough to breath. One time I was in a situation like this and I had to keep blowing my nose until it stopped coming out black. Now replace the dust in this field with gnats. That is a nightmare.

 

I am going to stop there and ask that you ask yourself these questions and see if you can come up with an answer. Why flies? Why livestock? Why boils? Why hail? God has every tool imaginable at his disposal, yet He deems these to be the best plagues for this situation. Why is that?

 

 

Thanks everyone for starting this plan and sticking to it! If you started from the beginning, great job making it this far and if you are just joining, I hope that you are able to find a routine of your own or hop in with this one. There is nothing better for the mind than to focus on God’s word daily.

 

Thanks for reading,

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+7-9&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 10-12 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Agents of Hope

Psalm 37 37

Happy Saturday!  Some of you have been walking with me on this slow and steady journey through Psalm 37.

We started reading and chewing on and praying and resting with God in these verses on Sunday.  Hopefully you have found times when you were able to delight in God.

Today we come to the final portion of this magnificent Psalm.

Once again, let us read it Lectio Divina Style: Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.

1.  Read through verses 35-40 slowly, at least 3 times.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man

flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,

36 but he soon passed away and was no more;

though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;

a future awaits those who seek peace.

38 But all sinners will be destroyed;

there will be no future for the wicked.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;

he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,

because they take refuge in him.

2.  Meditate.  Choose a word or phrase and spend some time thinking deeply about what it says and what it means.

For me, two contrasting phrases stand out and speak loudest to me.  “A future awaits those who seek peace” and “there will be no future for the wicked.”

I have spent a considerable amount of time in recent months studying the phenomena of despair and the state of depression.  Life expectancy in the United States has declined for three consecutive years.  More younger people are dying from what has been labeled “deaths of despair.”  These are deaths that result from drug addiction, alcohol related deaths and suicide.  The rate of deaths of despair is massively increasing.  Despair can kill a person.

In the story, The Inferno, Dante has the gates of hell have a sign over it that says “abandon hope all ye who enter.”  Dante wasn’t really talking about an afterlife here, but more likely a state of being.  Hell is where people find themselves when they are living without hope.  The absence of hope is despair.  When a person lives without a meaningful hope for the future it is soul destroying.  As I see it, as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be agents of hope who are called to share that hope with a world of people who are in despair.

In a world in despair and hopelessness we bring with us a message of hope and with that, the opportunity to bring people into a state of shalom or peace.  People need not live in alienation from God, from others or from themselves.  People can be reconciled to God, to others and selves.  They can be made whole.  They can experience salvation/wholeness from God which results in healing and hope.  The Psalmist rightly says “the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord.”  Only God can save us, heal us, make us whole and bring an end to our existential despair.

God, I want to continue to be one who lives life with a hopeful future.  I want to be one who seeks peace/shalom.  Jesus was probably thinking about this Psalm when he spoke in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (See Matthew 5:9).

3.  Pray.  Whatever your meditation brings up, bring that to God in prayer.  For me I pray- “God, am I living as a peacemaker?  Am I acting as an agent of your shalom/healing/wholeness/salvation in this world.  Am I living life out of the deep well of hope?  In what ways do you still want me to seek peace in my home, in my church, in my workplace, in my neighborhood and community, in my country and in this world?

4.  Rest in God.  Living as a peacemaker and an agent of hope in this divided and despair filled world can be spiritually and emotionally (as well as physically) exhausting at times.  We need to draw our strength from the deep well of God’s love and mercy.  As you prepare for whatever the day may bring you as you prepare to be a peacemaker, spend a few moments resting in God’s love.

This concludes our slow and deep reading of Psalm 37.  We have divided the 40 verse Psalm into 7 smaller sections and, within each section we have read, meditated, prayed and rested in God.  I hope that you have come to appreciate how this form of reading and praying the Bible can deeply enrich your spiritual life as you seek to serve God.  I encourage you to practice Lectio Divina prayer/scripture reading on a regular basis and note how it helps strengthen your life of prayer with God.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

[Insert Your Name] Here

Psalm 37 31.png

We continue this intentionally slow journey through Psalm 37.  I use the word “intentionally” intentionally (see what I did there?)  Why intentionally slow?

            Maybe it is just my own personal preference.  Most of the time I’m more of a plodder.  I tell people “if you ever see me running, you should run too ‘cause something really bad must be about to happen and I’m trying to get away.”  When I walk with my wife I’m forever telling her to “slow down!” She has one speed and it’s always full throttle.  Someone sent me an article one time that said science has proven that people who walk faster usually live longer than people who walk slower.  If that’s the case my wife will be around for a long time.

            Walking fast may be better for your physical health, but when it comes to your spiritual health and reading the Bible, I find it pays to slow down.  Lectio Divina* forces you to slow down.  Think of it as a fancy, 5 course meal.  Don’t rush through it.  Take your time to slowly savor and enjoy each bite.

  1.  Read Psalm 37:30-34  slowly at least 3 times…

30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
and their tongues speak what is just.
31 The law of their God is in their hearts;
their feet do not slip.

32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
intent on putting them to death;
33 but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked
or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

34 Hope in the Lord
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

  1.  Meditate- choose a word or phrase that really speaks to you and spend some time ruminating on what it says and what it means.

As an example: As I was meditating on this portion of the Psalm, I saw it on one level as a prophetic picture of Jesus.  Instead of “the righteous” I insert “Jesus”.

      The mouth of Jesus utters wisdom.

      Jesus speaks with his tongue what is just.

      The law of God is in Jesus’ heart.

      Jesus’ feet do not slip.

      The wicked lie in wait for Jesus (think of the scribes and Pharisees, and Judas).

      The wicked are intent on putting Jesus to death.

But the LORD (YWHW) will not leave Jesus in the power of the wicked (Jesus was only temporarily in the grave under the control of the wicked.  God rolled away the stone and set him free to everlasting life.)

Or let Jesus be condemned when brought to trial (Remember, Pontius Pilate said “I find no guilt in this man.” Jesus had done nothing worthy of condemnation. His death was due to the sinful hearts of others, not his own guilt.)

Jesus hoped in the LORD and kept God’s way (without sin).

He will exalt Jesus (At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord)

To inherit the land (Jesus will rule as King over all the earth).

When the wicked are destroyed Jesus will see it (In the end, Jesus rules as King, the wicked come to their final judgment).

            As I continue to meditate on how Jesus fulfills every bit of this Psalm, I’m led to think about what Jesus calls me to be and to do.  Jesus says “follow me.”  Jesus says “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”  Jesus said to Peter “get behind me.”  I want to follow the path that Jesus laid out.  To be a follower or disciple (student) of Jesus means to hear his word and do what he says.  If I do that, then that which was prophetically spoken of Jesus here in Psalm 37 will also be true of me:

            “The mouth of Jeff utters wisdom”

            “Jeff speaks with his tongue what is just”

            “The Law of God is in Jeff’s heart.”

            “Jeff’s feet do not slip.”

            “The wicked lie in wait for Jeff and are intent on putting Jeff to death”

“The LORD will not leave Jeff in the power of the wicked or let Jeff be condemned when brought to trial”

“Jeff hopes in the Lord and keeps his way”

“God will exalt Jeff to inherit the land.”

“When the wicked are destroyed Jeff will see it.”

Now, it’s your turn.  Insert your name or personalize it…

The mouth of ________________ utters wisdom (or my mouth utters wisdom)

“_____________speaks with his tongue what is just”

 “The Law of God is in _______________’s heart.”

 “__________________’s  feet do not slip.”

“The wicked lie in wait for _________________ and are intent on putting _________ to death”

“The LORD will not leave _________________ in the power of the wicked or let __________ be condemned when brought to trial”

“__________ hopes in the Lord and keeps his way”

“God will exalt ____________ to inherit the land.”

“When the wicked are destroyed _________ will see it.”

See how reading slowly and savoring it opens up all kinds of new flavors?

What emerges for you as you meditate on this part of Psalm 37?

  1.  Pray- As you go through this reading, what does it stir up within you?  Thoughts? Questions?  Concerns?  Does it make you want to raise your hands and worship God?  Does it make you want to fall on your knees and confess your sin?  Does it drive you to go to Jesus and seek his mercy?  Does it make you want to follow Jesus more closely in your daily walk?  Bring those things to God in prayer.

  1.  Rest in God.  After you have brought these things to God in pray, simply enter into his rest.  Be present to God as God is present to you.

Now go follow in Jesus’ footsteps today.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

*If you are unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina method of prayer/scripture study please refer to the Sunday, August 11th devotion.

Launching Blessings

Psalm 37 23

 

My wonderful wife is a very frugal person about many things (good thing, because I’m more of a spendthrift- God knew what he was doing when he gave me her).  This is evident in the way she handles toothpaste.  She waits until every bit of toothpaste is squeezed out of that tube before she discards it and pulls out a new tube.  Sometimes, just brushing my teeth turns into a session in strength training as I try to squeeze a blop of toothpaste onto my brush before I’m allowed to throw it away and she rewards me with a fresh and easy squeezy tube.

            Lectio Divina* helps us to squeeze every drop out of the Bible.  There is some benefit to reading quickly through the Bible.  If you read about 4 chapters a day you can read through the entire Bible in a year.  My Dad used to read the Bible straight through every year using a different translation.  I’ve done that as well and there is benefit to doing that.

            About 30 years ago I really ratcheted it up and spent 2 full weeks reading the Bible 8 hours a day and writing a brief summary of each chapter as I read.  I was able to read the entire Bible Genesis to Revelation in 2 weeks.  It was a great experience and showed me the “big picture” and full scope of God’s salvation plan that anticipated the coming of his Messiah and the fulfillment of his coming and the hope of his future return and the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  Just absolutely wonderful!  But as good as that way of reading the Bible can be, I want to also commend to you Lectio Divina- slow, deep reading… squeeze every drop out of a passage of scripture.

            This week we’ve been going through Psalm 37.  Let’s squeeze the tube a bit more today and see how much is still in there.  Psalm 37:23-29

            Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.

    1. Read slowly through the passage at least 3 times.  Look for a word or phrase that speaks to you.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be a blessing.

27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.

Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed;
the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it forever.

For me, I chose thoughts from verse 23 and 26  “the one who delights in him [God]” and “their children will be a blessing.”

  1. Spend some time meditating upon the word or phrase you choose.  For me, I recall that on Sunday I meditated on vs. 4 and what it means to delight in God.  Here the Psalmist takes up that theme again and gives a kind of cause/effect relationship.  The one who delights in God will produce children who will be a blessing.

In vs. 25 the psalmist says “I was young and now I am old…”  He has lived long enough to gain some valuable perspective as he looks back on his life.  According to my teenage children I’m also qualified as old.  I guess when you’re 15 years old 55 seems ancient.  I’m old enough to also be able to look back and gain some perspective about those things that truly matter in life.

Compared to many successful people I haven’t accomplished that much in my life.  I didn’t invent Facebook like Mark Zuckerberg.  I didn’t turn Apple into a multi-trillion dollar business like Steve Jobs.  I didn’t change the retail world like Jeff Bezos with Amazon.  I’ve never been elected president and I don’t have loads of money in the bank.  I don’t pastor a 20,000 member Church and have a tv show like Joel Osteen and I don’t fly on private jets like Kenneth Copeland.  I’ve been a youth pastor and pastored a few small churches.  I served briefly as a missionary and Church planting pastor in England and didn’t have much success.  I’ve managed to go to several colleges and gotten several academic degrees and passed the arduous process of becoming not only a pastor but a board certified chaplain and a certified spiritual director.  I’ve helped a few people over 35 years of ministry.  And every Sunday I preach and the rest of the week I visit the sick, needy and broken and share the love of Jesus with them.  I hope that I live long enough and stay healthy enough to help a lot more people.  I’ve got ideas for 3 books that I’m currently working on and getting ready to pursue a doctoral degree.  I’m not ready to hang it up yet and want to stay active into my really old age. (I’d like to put in another 40 useful years of ministry).

With all that being said, what I feel best about in my life as I look back is continuing to delight in God.  I haven’t done it perfectly to be sure, but I have managed to stay connected to God, even during dark times, even when I’ve wrestled with temptation, sin and guilt, I’ve remained connected to God and continued to delight in God.  I’ve also stayed true to my promise to love my wife “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”  Trust me, I don’t take much credit for this because at times I’ve been a huge pain in the rear end to my wonderful wife.  But even during my worst struggles, I remembered that I made a promise to God and to her and stuck with it (and to her credit, she has continued to be a loving and faithful wife, even when she didn’t like me very much because I was acting like a jerk).  So I am blessed beyond measure and now enjoy the benefits of having gone through some rough times in marriage and find myself closer and more in love with my wife than I was nearly 35 years ago.

But the thing I take the most pride in is my children.  A few of them are still home and are still works in progress, but I can say that the greatest blessing of my life and the thing I take the most joy and pride in is that I have tried as a Dad to point them toward delighting in God and following Jesus.  At times I have failed miserably to be the kind of godly example that I wanted to be or should have been, but even when I’ve blown it I’ve tried to show them that God’s grace and mercy is there for us and not to give up on God.

Now most of my children are adults, several are married, several now have children of their own. I am able to see them in their various roles- one is himself a pastor, several lead worship in their churches, some have gone on mission trips, others sing in worship or teach classes and write devotions, and now they teach my grandchildren.  All are good workers.  They have become good people and I see them in their various churches and communities blessing others.  That makes me very happy and very proud.  This year at FUEL three of my sons were on the worship team, Joel was the worship leader who did a great job and even wrote worship songs to support the theme of FUEL, JJ was playing lead guitar with great skill and Jon was killing it on the drums.  I couldn’t have been more pleased and more delighted to see them blessing others by helping lead them in worshipping and delighting in God.

So as I meditate upon this portion of Psalm 37, that’s what comes to mind for me.  Even though I’m deeply flawed and have failed to do so much of what I may have hoped or dreamed I might do, I have given myself to delighting in God and I have been blessed by God with children who are now blessing others.  If I accomplish nothing else in my life, I can know that I along with my wonderful wife who has done 99% of the hard work, have launched some tremendous blessings into the world.

That’s what emerged for me as I meditated upon this part of Psalm 37.  What comes up for you as you chew on it?

  1. Spend some time in prayer.  What questions do you have to bring to God that emerged from your meditation?  Is there something you need to confess to God?  Is there something you want to change in your life as a result of what you have read and meditated upon?  Ask God what he wants you to know or do.
  2. Rest in God.  After you speak to and listen to God, spend some time resting in God’s love and presence.  Delight in God, God delights in you.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

*If you are unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina method of prayer/scripture study please refer back to the Sunday, August 11th devotion.

Tâmîym, ʼâbad, kâlâh and kârath

Psalm 37 22

            Today, we are in the middle of the week and we find ourselves in the middle of our Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading) of Psalm 37.* Today’s reading is a little more in-depth, so if you’re in a hurry you might wish to come back to this at a time later today when you can invest a few minutes into reading/praying.  My goal here is not just to give you a fish and feed you for a day but to teach you how to fish so you can learn to feed yourself for the rest of your life (and feed others).

            Remember, the purpose of Lectio is to draw us into God’s presence and rest through reading, meditating upon and praying with the Bible.  While the goal is not simply intellectual understanding, but relationship with God, it is still important that when we read and meditate we are doing so correctly.  We want to be as accurate as possible about the meaning of God’s Word.  We want to think about what it actually says and what it meant when it was written and what it means for us today.  It wouldn’t make much sense to spend a lot of time meditating upon something that was not correct.

            If you have internet access, there are some tools readily available which cost nothing and can help you.

            One tool is Bible Gateway.  I began working in a Christian bookstore when I was attending George Mason University back in 1982.  I became aware of a lot of different Bible translations that were available (beyond the King James).  I started building a library of various Bible translations and nearly 40 years later I have over 50 different translations on my bookshelves.  You can now get almost every one of those translations (and many more) on Bible Gateway.  Choose the text you wish to study, and choose which translations you wish to use and you can see a side by side comparison of the texts.  This can be helpful when you are studying a Biblical passage.  It can help you understand the nuances of meaning.  Some translations are more or less word for word, while others are more thought for thought.  There are also paraphrase versions which attempt to convey the meaning in modern contextual language.

            The second tool is Blue Letter Bible.  While the available translations are fewer than on Bible Gateway, BLB allows you to do a detailed analysis and word study of various words.  You can look up the original Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek words and see some of the various ways that word is used in the Bible and have a greater understanding of what the Bible was saying back when originally written and you bridge that into modern day language/ways of thinking and speaking.

            With that said, I’ve identified 4 key words that are used in today’s reading and give you a summary of the word meaning and usage in the Bible:

תָּמִים tâmîym, taw-meem’;  entire (literally, figuratively or morally); also   integrity, truth:—without blemish, complete, full, perfect, sincerely, sound, without spot, undefiled, upright, whole.

אָבַד ʼâbad, aw-bad’; to wander away, i.e. lose oneself; by implication to perish:—break, destroy(-uction), not escape, fail, lose, (cause to, make) perish, spend, be undone, utterly, be void of, have no way to flee.

כָּלָה kâlâh, kaw-law’; to end, to cease, be finished, perish, consume, destroy (utterly), be done, , expire, fail, faint, finish, fulfill, wholly reap, make clean riddance, spend, take away, waste.

כָּרַת kârath, kaw-rath’; to cut off, down or asunder, by implication, to destroy or consume; destroy, fail, lose, perish.

With that background in place, you are ready to proceed with today’s Lectio Divina reading of Psalm 37:18-22.

  1. Read.  Read through the passage slowly, at least 3 times:

18 The blameless (תָּמִים tâmîym, taw-meem’) spend their days under the Lord’s care,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

20 But the wicked will perish (אָבַד ʼâbad, aw-bad’):
Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
they will be consumed (כָּלָה kâlâh, kaw-law’), they will go up in smoke.

21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
but the righteous give generously;
22 those the Lord blesses will inherit the land,
but those he curses will be destroyed (כָּרַת kârath, kaw-rath’)

  1. Meditate.  Choose a word or phrase from the text to  meditate upon/ think deeply about.

For me, I chose 3 words- perish, consumed, and destroyed.  Those who are wicked will perish, be consumed and destroyed.  The Hebrew abad contains the idea of wander away, lose oneself, have no way to flee, be destroyed.

            As I think about what this means I’m reminded of the story of Christopher McCandless whose story is recounted in the book “Into the Wild” (and later movie) written by Jon Krakauer.  Chris was just a few years younger than me and grew up just a few miles from me in Northern Virginia.  After college he decided to ditch everything and walk into the wilderness of Alaska and live off the land.  Unfortunately, he did almost no preparation and he lacked the minimal survival skills necessary for such an adventure.  He crossed through a small stream and found temporary shelter in an abandoned school bus.  Unfortunately, within a short time the stream swelled to an un-crossable raging torrent and Chris was essentially trapped.  He spent weeks and months unable to escape that spot and soon ran out of food and was forced to forage.  He ended up dying of poisoning from eating poisonous berries.

            I tell that brief story because it illustrates the meaning of abad, kalah and karath.  He wandered away and got lost, trapped and had nowhere to flee to and his own foolishness ultimately destroyed his life.  That’s what the Psalm says is happening or will happen to the wicked.  I know that sometimes people have trouble thinking that a loving God would punish or destroy people.  As I think about this Psalm, the greater nuance emerges – God doesn’t choose to punish anyone.  Ultimately we end up punishing ourselves when we wander off the path that God has given us to life.  It’s a matter of cause and effect.

A few weeks ago I went hiking in Zion National Park in Utah.  A gorgeous place.  It had paths and the signs on the paths warned “stay on the path- it is dangerous and life threatening if you leave the path.”  I stayed on the path, it was difficult at times, but I remained safe and returned alive.  Had I veered off the path and ended up falling down a steep embankment to my death, then I alone would have been responsible for my destruction, not the park rangers, or God.

            This Psalm is like the sign on the path: stick to the path or you’ll destroy yourself.  But if you stick to the path, you’ll be blessed with a beautiful inheritance God has planned for you.

            As I personalize this reading I have to ask myself.  When have I gotten off the path God told me to stay on?  Have I ever wandered and gotten lost?  Isaiah 53 says that I, like everyone else, am like a sheep that sometimes wanders away.  How has Jesus, the good shepherd, come searching for me when I’ve wandered astray?  How does the Gospel reveal God’s merciful love and grace that sends his son to seek and save me when I’m lost.  How am I called by Jesus to do this same work of seeking those who are lost and leading them back to the path?

            You might choose a different word or phrase upon which to reflect, but that is an example of how my deep reading of a short part of this text raises some important issues in my mind and heart.

  1.  Pray– I pray a prayer of gratitude to God for loving me enough to go looking for me when I get off the path.  I pray a prayer of confession to God, for I am still “prone to wander” off the path.  I recognize the important mission that I’ve been given by God to join the search for others who have gone off the path and the responsibility I have to point the people in my care- my family, my Church, my co-workers, my community, to the one who guides them back to the right path and helps them stay on the path, Jesus.  I invite you to bring to prayer whatever you’ve been meditating upon.
  2. Rest in God.  I’m so grateful to God for his mercy and love.  I’ve been lost, but now I’m safely in the arms of my loving God.  I invite you to rest in God too.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

*If you are unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina method of prayer/scripture study please refer back to the Sunday, August 11th  devotion.

What’s Your “Jerusalem”?

Acts 1 8

“…you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  Acts 1:8

Today we are going to consider what is your Jerusalem and how do you witness there.  The disciples were told to be Jesus’ witnesses first in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was where they were at, their home town, their local churches.

What is your Jerusalem?  That is where you should start doing the Great Commission.  The mission conference I mentioned yesterday will help, but what can you do today to prepare?

To get started it is necessary that you know and are passionate for the message Jesus gave us to preach.  You should know this message so well that it just rolls off your tongue without hardly thinking.  But how does one get to that point?  It is just like any other area of study or favorite hobby.  You must read about it, talk about and talk more about it.  We do this naturally with things that we are interested in.  How many of you know all about your favorite musician or sports team and can recite trivia any time the topic comes up?

I have found that the more we talk about things, the more we know and internalize them.  What we put in will come out. What we invest our time and energy in, shows what we love.

What did the early church do to prepare for the kingdom work they were given?  “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Read Acts 2:37-47 to get a taste of the excitement and results of God’s spirit at work in the people after they heard a great sermon!  Be encouraged and dialog with other believers about what you read in the Scriptures.  This will put you on the right path to doing your part of the Great Commission in your Jerusalem and onward.

-Tracy Zhykovich

Read More of the Good Book

2Tim3 1617 (1)

Today’s common New Year’s resolution is to read more of the Bible. One reason people quit this resolution is that they get lost quickly, or they do not have a plan on how much they are going to read, or they are inconsistent or they do not have accountability to keep them on track. Whatever the reason people tend to start off with good intentions, but they often fall short of their goal.

The verses today are 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalms 19:9-11, and Luke 12:27-28

So why do people want to read more of their Bible? Why is it important to read the Bible? How do we stay true to our goal of reading more? How do we get started? These are all questions you may have, and they are questions that I myself have had in my life.

There are so many reasons to add “read the Bible more” to your New Year’s resolutions. Check out 2 Timothy 3:14-17. These verses tell us that we need to know the teachings and laws of God from a young age and that every word in our Bible, every scripture is inspired by God and can be used in numerous different ways. They are good for teaching and correction, seeking righteousness. Through reading the Bible we strengthen our knowledge of God which can help us strengthen our relationship with him. When our relationship with God is strengthened we are complete, and we can be empowered to do good works in his name and for his will. Another great reason to read the Bible is because knowing more about the history of our faith, the history of God, and his son and the people of God, can give us a deeper understanding of how truly amazing our God is. He is the creator of the heavens and earth, he hand-crafted every thing of this earth, and yet he chose to create you too. He took the time to create you and build his own plan for your life, and all of this is found in scripture. Jeremiah 29:11 says,” For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says Yahweh, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.” The Bible is full of stories and histories that are good for us to know, and they are good for us to draw parallels in our own lives.

Psalms 19:9-11 “The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring forever, Yahweh’s ordinances are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the extract of honey-comb. Moreover by them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” These verses tell us that God’s word is more precious than gold, and it is sweeter than honey-comb. God’s word feeds our spirits, and having this fulfillment does not happen if we do not know the ordinances and the word of God. This is such an awesome gift that God has created for us. We can see his love and his caring for all of his creation through his word, and we can see his true value of us through the Bible as well.

Luke 12:27-28 “Consider the lilies, how they grow. They do not toil, nor do they spin. Yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God does so clothe the grass in the field, which today is and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more shall he clothe you, O you of little faith?” These verses tell us how much God cares for us, and will take care of our every need. We live and breathe, we take care of other people, we help our neighbors, we take care of our families and friends, we worship God and in all these things we sometimes worry if our every need will be taken care of. In these verses we find assurance that even flowers and fields which serve very minor purposes are clothed in beauty, and we are so much more and God will take care of us. This is another reason to read our Bibles. When we are worried, sad or confused we can find solace and strength in the words the Bible has for us.

Today I want you to take this with you. The Bible is a great book that is useful in many contexts. It us useful for teaching others and yourself more about your faith. It is important for learning more about God and building a stronger relationship with him. It is a great comfort when we are in need or we are stuck in worry. The Bible was given as a gift to us, and we should treat it as this precious gift. We need to spend time in our Bibles. Going forward from reading this today, I hope that you can find a way to read more. Start by reading this blog, continue by using an app that sends you a verse of the day. You may even want to find an accountability partner to read along with you, or remind you to read. Being a Christian should not be a lonely venture. There are people out there who will support in your journey to God. I hope you’ve enjoyed today.

-Jana Swanson

Not As a Human Word

MONDAY

1 Thessalonians 2-13

Please read 1Thessalonians 2. My perspective in writing these devotions is that you are reading the scriptures. Nothing I write can be as important to you as what God can say to you as you read his word.

 

1Th. 2:1   You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

 

1Th. 2:9   You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. 11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

 

1Th. 2:13   We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.

 

1Th. 2:17   As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 Yes, you are our glory and joy!

 

I highlighted verse 13. We can ask ourselves, “how do I receive the word of God?” Do we see it from a human perspective, or is God speaking to us.

 

Let me add one thing right now. It’s likely that most of the people in Thessaloniki heard the word rather than read it. Only about 10 percent of the people could read. That means this letter was written to be read out loud. It also suggests that we might understand it better if we study it as a speech rather than a work of literature. For example, if we focus on the written word, we might spend a lot of time digging into the meaning of each word. If we take a rhetorical approach, meaning understanding it as a speech, we focus more on the impact of the words. Those who study rhetoric think that this letter sounds like a half-time speech given to a football team that is winning but needs to be encouraged to play hard in the second half. Paul doesn’t write as if the Thessaloniki Christians are messing up, but rather as if they need to be encouraged to keep doing the things that they have already been doing well.

 

Again we ask, “Do you hear this word as the word of the Lord?” What does it look like when someone hears the word of the Lord?

 

-Greg Demmitt

What to Do with Doubt

Mark 9:14-32 (Monday)

Mark 9 24

None of Scripture was intended to be read.  Although that may seem strange to us today, the ability to read was incredibly rare.  For today, it’d be like having a doctorate.  There are a number of professor’s out there, but you don’t run into them every day.  Reading just wasn’t something most people needed to be able to do to get through their day.  The agricultural and craftsman lifestyles didn’t need to keep many notes themselves.  As a result, the writings, when they were used, were usually read aloud in a collective setting – and this is key.  Because Scripture is meant to be heard – not read!  All those with EARS, let them HEAR.

Because of this, there weren’t any of the nifty little headings that we find in our Bibles today.  It was just one long story without breaks or chapters.  So, the nice breaks that we often get around stories didn’t exist except for the past few hundred years.  For today’s reading, both of these things are really important.

These two vignettes in Mark 9:14-32 (the healing of the child and the misunderstanding of the disciples) come back to back and would have been heard that way by Mark’s original audience.  So, what I’d like you to do is try it.  Take just a second to read these verses out loud. If you’re somewhere public, just try whispering if you want.  But read it out loud and see what sticks out to you.  I’ll wait here and I’ll do it too…

[waiting]

So, how was it?  Awkward? Weird?  Probably a little.  But when I did it something new really stood out to me about this passage.  In the first story, a man comes to Jesus asking for healing for his son. Jesus responds ‘oh you faithless people…how much longer do I have to put up with you.  Bring me the boy.’  The father, distraught over Jesus’ seemingly kinda cruel response, cries out – ‘I want to believe! Please help my unbelief!’  He wants to save his son and will do whatever it takes to save him.

The next story is between Jesus and his disciples.  He’s teaching them about what’s going to happen to him when he reaches Jerusalem.  But they don’t get it.  They don’t have belief/faith, just like the dad in the previous story.  However, instead of putting aside their pride and asking for Jesus to help their unbelief (lack of understanding), they stay silent.

Here, in these few verses, a man from “this faithless generation” reaches out, pleads, and finds Jesus meeting him in his unbelief while the ones who are part of Jesus’ own inner-circle remain unmoved in their faithlessness.  And this at a time when Jesus’s time with them was literally drawing short.

The problem with this is never unbelief.  The problem is how we respond to it.  We won’t have all the answers.  We will doubt and question.  Jesus doesn’t lament our struggle – it is one that he himself walked through (for he shared in all things but without sin).  Embrace the places where you are unsure.  Lean into the spots where the struggle is the most real and you are shaken like the son in the story.  Push forward and call out for a help, a grace that will fill us in our uncertainty and bring healing.

-Graysen Pack