There is No Difference

Romans 10

May 26

One of my favorite childhood stories is The Sneetches by Dr. Suess.  It tells the tale of two groups of the same fictional creature that are cliqued together by the presence and the absence of a green star on their bellies.  Those with the stars participate in exclusive events, while those without are excluded. More conflict follows, and you’ll love how it ends — But don’t take my word for it. Be warned there may be spoilers ahead.

Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. – Romans 10:3-4

Christian of the 21st century have the tendency to be the star-bellied sneetches, or the modern-day pharisitical Jews. We are really good at identifying each other through our branding, participating in exclusive events together, and making sure others know they are not on the same level as us. We believe through family heritage, denominational existence, or culture perpetuations that we have increased in value and rarity like a fine wine. By comparison, we may look at others struggling with more physically or mentally identifiable sin, rolling in the hot mess of their struggles, and working through the consequences of poor choices, and keep them on the outskirts because they are a little too rough around the edges. Be informed. We all are the same sinful species.

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him – Romans 10:12

Again I say, woe to you, Christian.  You may be in a different position, but it is like comparing one steaming pile of muck to another. We are rotting stacks of stench that stink, stank, and stunk.  Polishing one pile of manure doesn’t make it more appealing than the pile to the left or right. However, one thing is true.  With age, compost makes some pretty fertile soil. In this process of breaking down, we come to terms with who we really are in Jesus Christ and can grow the seed of the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. – Romans 10:9-10

Our eyes shouldn’t be focused inward on our marshmallow roast, but rather outward, leading others to the saving conversations about the grace of Jesus Christ. There are so many who already know Christ but are ashamed to try to live more abundantly because of the odor their life is currently putting off.  It is good to remind them you’re a decaying mess too.  Love like Jesus. The bigger the trash-fire, the greater the compassion, cause Lord knows we need it too.  The same creatures with the same Lord.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What stood out to you most in today’s chapter and devotion?
  2. Have you ever been guilty of a “better than…” attitude? Is that a good way to attract more people to become followers of Jesus? How can you improve?
  3. How pretty are your feet? Re-read Romans 10:12-15. How and where can you take the good news beyond your saved little circle/clique to the hurting world who is just like you?

Death

Acts 13

May 1

As a pastor, I try my best to get out and visit the sick and elderly. I feel a constant tension when visiting an elderly or really sick person that I want to pray for their healing but I also acknowledge that everyone I know will, probably, die. I have had people in my life who are Christians die at an old age. Many people would comment that when a person has grown old and had a full life that death was more acceptable.

There is something in our minds that feels better when a person grows old and has experienced all of life and then dies. We say that they have lived a full life.

In our chapter of the day Paul is being sent out on his first missionary journey. He is sent out by the elders of the Antioch church and he makes a significant statement about death. He is asked to give a word of encouragement in the synagogue in Pisidia. As a side note, I love how Paul is geared up and just already has something on his heart to share with this group. As the text reads Barnabas and Paul are asked and then Paul just stands up and goes. As someone who preaches most Sundays I love the idea of no outline, just God speaking to you and you speaking to people. Paul was a man who was hooked up to the well and out flowed the things that God put there.

Now back to get back on track … Acts 13.36 “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption”

Paul says something implicitly about life that could be helpful for us. Paul says that David dies after he had served his purpose to God. Essentially after he had done what God wanted him to do David died. For some people this may seem like harsh treatment by God to his servant. Why wouldn’t God give David a long good life after how David served him? David gave his life to God. Shouldn’t God give David a retirement package? You know like 20 years where David could do what he wanted or do the things he hadn’t gotten to do because he was busy serving God.

I don’t think David was just living for the Kingdom. I think David’s primary motivation in this life was the glory of God. Once David had done what he was supposed to do for that purpose he died. You see this in elderly people quite often. As long as they have a purpose in life they continue to live but often when that purpose is removed their health tends to deteriorate. This could be part of how God made us.

I think we undervalue how great it is that we serve God according to a purpose that he gives to us. Purpose in this verse could also mean plan. God has had a plan for the world of redeeming it and glorifying it and making it new. The same way he has started this work of making things new by resurrecting Jesus and then started the process of making us new by giving us new hearts. We get to take part in God’s plan and purpose for this world that is millennium old and ends with everything made new and God properly glorified.

It feels all too fitting that once we have fulfilled our role in God’s purpose and plan that we would die. The intended purpose for our lives is God’s glory (Isaiah 43.7). It feels proper and good that when we fulfill our intended purpose that we would pass away whether that is young or old or somewhere in between.

I am not trying to be insensitive to people who have lost friends or family members young. I know that hurts and I’m sorry if you have. I’m trying/ hoping to reconcile life and death as a Christian.

-Daniel Wall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What do you think God’s purpose was in David’s life? In Barnabas’s life? In Saul/Paul’s life? In yours?
  2. How might God be preparing for you to serve Him? Where to go? Who to talk to? What words to speak? How can you prepare yourself for what He wants you to do?

Consumed with the Vision

Matthew 24

January 24

Do you know someone who had a quote or a phrase that they said so often that you can hear it in their voice? Maybe it’s Jerry Seinfeld’s “What’s the deal with…” or you can see a cute electric mouse and hear “pika-pi”. I think most people at Timberland Bible Church can hear these words in my voice : “That’s good news! That’s gospel message! That’ll preach! Can I get an amen?!”

I bring up this aural phenomenon because it happened to me while reading Matthew 24. Every time I read Matthew 24:14, I am transported back to my grandparent’s house. I am sitting at the kitchen table, and James Mattison, who I knew as Papa Jim, is telling me about his ministry in Africa. I had asked, “Why did you go?” right before we ate lunch. And he opened his worn down Bible, though he quoted the verse by heart. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” I can hear and see him, but I can also feel him : I still see his composure brimming with energy, I can still hear his confidence tempered with humility, but I FEEL his burning conviction. It was not someone else’s duty to speak this gospel to the world. It was his. Malawi, Mozambique, Africa needed the gospel of the kingdom of God to be preached to them. It was imperative, and Papa Jim knew it was his imperative.

James Mattison was consumed by the vision of Matthew 24. He knew it inside out and backwards. But most of all, he knew what it entails. Lots of Matthew 24 is worrisome. Things look bleak, destruction is coming, the end is scary. But that isn’t what Jim was focused on. Primarily he knew that the end had to come so that the perfection of the Kingdom could come.  He also saw in this teaching commands, commands that I want you to see. He was consumed by three truths of Matthew 24. 

  1. No matter what comes at the end, there is given to the faithful the strength to endure it all. Jesus says the one who endures (in Revelation, the parallel phrase is “the one who conquers”) will be saved. (24:13) But that enduring is not merely hanging on. 
  2. In verses 42-51, Jesus declares that he will return like a thief in the night, like a master on a long journey. The ready and alert won’t be caught off guard, and therefore they will keep doing what the master has commanded them. 
  3. And what Jesus has commanded each of us is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom. Technically, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands us to make disciples (more on that later), but part of that is to teach people to follow the commands of Jesus. Preaching the gospel of the Kingdom and teaching all Jesus commanded us is the call for Christians. Let us continue so that the master might find us working. 

You may not be called to Africa and in fact most of you AREN’T. You are called to where you are. To endure, to be ready, you need to be consumed by the vision that we see in Matthew 24. Will you listen to the call of Jesus, and tell others the gospel of the Kingdom?

-Jake Ballard

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Are you consumed by the vision of Matthew 24? James Mattison believed it was his imperative to preach the gospel to the world, especially Eastern Africa; to where are you called? Are you listening for the call of Jesus at all, and if you are telling others of your faith, do you tell them about the gospel of the Kingdom?
  2. Do you feel like you have been skimming by, enduring, or conquering the last year? Do you feel like you AREN’T enduring or conquering? How can you be empowered?

Jesus Has A Job for You

Matthew 10

January 10

One result of the covid pandemic that we find ourselves struggling with is the shortage of workers. Packages may take longer to be delivered, restaurants are slower and have shorter open hours (if they aren’t closed up altogether), hospitals and emergency crews are operating on a skeleton workforce. It makes life – and saving lives – hard. There is another life-giving job that also seems to have run into a worker shortage, beginning at least two thousand years ago.

In the final two verses of Matthew chapter 9, Jesus tells his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37, 38 – NIV) Immediately after this statement, we have the whole passage of Matthew chapter 10 in which Jesus is giving final instructions before sending 12 new recruits out into that harvest field. He’s preparing his disciples for what they will face in this new job. And, it’s a tough picture he paints.

First of all, let’s look at the job description given by Jesus. Their mission is to go to the lost sheep of Israel, preaching that the kingdom of heaven is near (which should be sounding familiar now as we have already heard this from both John the Baptist and Jesus). And, when they aren’t preaching they will, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:8) Simple enough – just doing a little raising of the dead in their spare time in between sermons. We may be starting to see why there’s a worker shortage. Much is expected and it is far from an easy job.

Before you start any job – easy or hard – it is important to know what the employer will provide to help you do the job well. Does the position come with a company car? What does the training look like? Did you catch the opening line in Matthew 10:1? “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” They were going to be well-outfitted to do this difficult job. These men weren’t acting on their own power alone. They had participated in an amazing on-the-job training program and they were stepping out armed with the authority of Jesus. They had been changed from their time with Jesus and now they were empowered to go and do likewise – to tell others about the coming kingdom and change lives. As Jesus said so well, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

A good employer will warn his new hires of the difficulties they will face on the job. Jesus certainly did. Isn’t it better to know what to expect, even if it’s not what you wanted. He warns his disciples of rejection, trouble with the local authorities, being beat up and arrested, deep family division and rebellion, hatred, persecution, and the sword. This is what it may look like to carry your cross on the narrow road. Preaching Jesus and the kingdom saves lives, occasionally at the cost of the preacher’s life. It’s a job hazard. That helps further explain the worker shortage. Even when the difficulties are not to the point of physical pain and death, being hated is hard.

But what about the benefits of the job? Surely it has some good ones to make anyone willing to take this job. Yes, let me tell you about the benefits! How about life, eternal life, salvation. Picture standing before God with Jesus at His Father’s side and Jesus introduces you as one of his faithful workers. The pain will all be worth it.

On the flip side, imagine the one who gave up on the job (or never started), the one who decided it was too hard, the job demanded too much, the one who turned his back on Jesus’ job and went the other way on the wide road, through the wide gate. Whoever disowns Jesus before men, will be disowned by Jesus in front of the Father. (Matthew 10:33)

There is a job to do. And, the worker shortage continues. Will you work for him? Will you tell others what he has done for you? Will you step up and be one of the faithful, regardless of the difficulties? In the end, it will be worth it.

“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection & Discussion

  1. If you have served as a worker for Jesus in the harvest field (carrying your cross and following him), what was the hardest situation you have been in? What did you learn from the experience? What do you think Jesus would say to you after this experience?
  2. Create a poster, advertisement or commercial for more workers in the harvest field. Don’t forget to include the great benefits and job training.
  3. What job can you do for Jesus today? How will you “preach”? How will you change lives? How will you take up his cross and follow him? What might you run into? What might it cost you? How have you been prepared and equipped? Pray before taking on today’s job for him.
  4. At the time of Matthew 10 the disciples were just to go to the lost sheep of Israel, not to the Samaritans or Gentiles. Why do you think these were the original directions? Did it change? If so when and how and why? (Hint: Matthew 28:16-20)

See Clearly

Matthew 7

January 7

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1 – NIV) Its a loaded statement. We don’t like to feel judged and told that we are wrong, so we won’t judge and tell other people they are wrong. And so this single verse is used to justify, and even demand, blind acceptance of others and all their deeds. You are free to be gay – I have no right to judge. You are free to have the right to an abortion – I have no right to judge. You are free to believe you are a woman when God made you a man – I have no right to judge. You are free to hook up with anyone anytime you want – I have no right to judge. And that is what some would have us believe a good Christian should do. Let them be them and accept them for it. Their way is just as good as my way.

Only trouble is – the rest of this passage continues.

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2 – NIV) If you use a yard stick to measure yourself but a meter stick to measure others, they will always be coming up short. It is not a fair and right judgment or measure. It is skewed in your favor to make others look less than. They just don’t measure up to your greatness.

Here’s a little true story example – I have been known to be put out and upset when someone I am waiting for is running late. How could they inconvenience me by not operating more according to my clock and my time schedule? Only trouble is, yesterday I was caught by a train (it happens here in northern Indiana – the crossroads of America) and I didn’t show up exactly when someone else was expecting me, but of course my tardiness was excusable, because it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t know a train was going to be coming, etc…. It is not my right to condemn, chastise, be upset with others if I am not willing to be measured in the same way. Late is late. And, in actuality, it’s not my clock or their clock that really matters anyway – but what does God’s clock or measuring stick or word say? That is what matters.

The passage continues, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the PLANK in your own eye?…You hypocrite, FIRST take the plank out of your own eye, AND THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3, 5 – NIV). If a brother has a speck in his eye and there was something loving you could do to help him get that irritating, painful thing out, wouldn’t you want to? Wouldn’t God want you to? But, how much help could I be in this delicate operation if my own eye has a beam sticking out of it? I can’t see clearly to help others out of sin when I am swimming in it myself. That sin in my own life is first priority. I must deal with it. Get rid of it. It may hurt like crazy to pull that beam out – but until I do, my usefulness to help guide and correct others is gone. Pull it out. Heal. See Clearly. Then, I can help others, with the same word of God, same guidelines, same measuring stick and same mercy and compassion that saved me.

It is very true I am not the judge and the jury. God is and He will share that job with His Son. But I DO have a responsibility to watch myself closely, to hold myself accountable to the Word of God, and to be very aware of what is happening around me – including the sin that so easily entangles.

All paths are not created equal. Some – the narrow ones that not many people are willing to stay on – lead to life. Others – the wide, easy, popular ones where the majority are – leads to destruction. It would be foolish of me to not be judging which path I am on at all times. See clearly the two paths.

We are told, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). This will require VERY keen eyesight and insight. We will have to be wise in judging what may at first seem right and true but in fact is cleverly disguised, dangerous, deadly lies which are leading many down the wrong path. Watch out! See clearly those who are deceiving and being deceived. Blind acceptance will take you somewhere you do not want to go.

Make sure you are not sitting in the house of the foolish builder as the wind picks up. Many in that house have heard the word of God. They may profess Christianity and call him Lord and even seek to serve him. But they are not acting any different from the world. They are not doing the will of God. They have grown comfortable with the plank in their eye. They have befriended the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They have failed to put Jesus’ words into practice. They are on the wide path approaching the wide gate that leads to destruction.

Get out and move to the house of the wise builder before the downpour comes! Hear Jesus and listen. Do what he says. Take the plank out of your eye. See clearly. Help your brother take the speck out of his. Don’t make friends with the wolf just because he dressed up like a sheep.

See clearly. All paths are not the same. All houses will not stand. All choices are not okay. All churches will not be saved. Some will lead to life. Some will lead to death. Use the same measuring stick – God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus. And put it into practice! See clearly. Judge roads and gates and houses and wolves wisely. Your life truly depends on this.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What was the difference between the wise and foolish builder? What fate awaited each? How can you put into practice the words of Jesus from Matthew 7 today?
  2. When we were introduced to John the Baptist and to Jesus we were told what they were preaching – see Matthew 3:2 and 4:17 to remember. Are any lessons from Matthew 7 connected to this preaching theme? If so, how?
  3. Is it easier for you to see your own sins or the sins of others? What advice does Jesus give? Pray to see clearly your own sins first so you can deal with them.
  4. How do you feel when you read Matthew 7:21-23? How does it relate to the rest of the chapter? How can we live now to avoid hearing these words from Jesus?

Resolution 1: Drink More Water and Less Kool-Aid

Revelation 17

The eternal feasting from Thanksgiving to Christmas has begun to catch up with me (it’s not just you, promise).  This pre-New Year’s week (and it’s bloating) is often cited by many as their week of revelation and insight into the preparations of what they might change in the upcoming year. While any time – month, day, or hour – is welcome to change, this week I will be focusing on some resolutions presented to us in the continued reading in the prophecy of Zecheriah, the Revelation of John, and the beginnings of Matthew.  While many of the passages are filled with prophetic, symbolic, end-time images, I will try to remain focused on the big picture: the message or warning presented in the passages.  Our eyes should be open, our ears listening, and our spirit attune to the world around us, not only because we become reflective as our year draws to an end, but because the drum roll quickens towards the end of this present evil age.  We should hasten our efforts, not to simply shed a few holiday pounds, start a new hobby, or get organized, but to make changes and to carry on efforts that will make lasting impacts in the Kingdom of God.

Speaking of eternal things, did you know, Kool-Aid, when stored properly, really doesn’t expire?  It is a seemingly innocent drink, yet there is a crushing idiom out there beckoning people not to partake in the consumption of this perpetual potion: You might hear an older generation say, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid ”.  This expression actually means don’t believe everything you hear, especially because it presents a very real threat.  It might seem that the origins of this phrase refer to the high sugar content, the unnatural color, or the artificial flavor of the name brand fruit drink of childhood and beyond.  It is true, there isn’t much wholesome about this drink (sorry, grape. I still love you tho❤️); however, this isn’t where our figurative turn of phrase is born.  Instead, the origin is far more tragic than the attack on our blood-sugar.  The notorious event is referred to as the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, where hundreds of innocent men, women, and children died by drinking, or being forcibly injected, with a combination of Flavor-Aid and poison.  This presents a more tragic history behind the coinage, but draws a parallel to today’s reading in both Zechariah and Revelation.  The words below remind me that there is a great coming (or even present) evil, or a more perilous and poisoned Kool-aid that is brewing and being passed as legitimate name-brand Gospel.

“I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” – Revelation 17:6

The prostitute on the beast paints an ironically sobering picture, becoming intoxicated on the blood of saints and lying with the kings of the earth.  Those who take part in this great debauchery against God, may do so willingly, but it seems many do so unwittingly, astonished and deceived by the spectacles of ungodly power (v.8) . There will be those who are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life who attend churches, have ministries, and even blog about Christ, but give-in to tinted truths, sweet lies, and god-like power, because it is a more “palatable” gospel, requiring less real change and more gratification.  The love, justice, mercy that take root in another source other than our Heavenly Father, may look pretty, taste sweet, and have some of the same notes, but it is filled with poison.  It will never quench your thirst.  It is just empty calories leading you closer to death.  Stop the endless following, swiping, and double-tapping – look up.  Turn off the continuous bombardment of the news cycle – look up.  Quit chasing after causes that don’t lead to the saving Gospel message of Christ – look up. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Now, this begs the question, what then should we drink?  Coffee!  Wrong. Tea? Still wrong.  Soda?  Getting colder.  Simply, water.  No beans, no leaves, no syrup, no colors, no nonsense straight-from-the-tap water.  It is what your body is craving, essential to every major function in your body, beginning at the cellular level.  Among many other things, water aids in digestion, stabilizes the heart, regulates blood pressure, flushes away the toxins, and provides protection to the day-to-day function of our organs and joints.  Such is true for our Living Water, the Gospel message and the Spirit of God present in our daily walk.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” – John 7:37-39

While there is a metaphor to be drawn for each of these literal benefits, there is an inherent advantage, understood or not, from consuming water.  Yes, we are trying to flush away perpetuated falsehoods, but drinking living water in and of itself is simply refreshing.  Make time for God’s Word.  Worship Him in your car.  Honor Him with your time. Live out the Gospel through actions and bear the testimony of Jesus Christ. Resolve to fill your tumbler and carry it wherever you go because there are so many ready to make the switch from the Kool-Aid to the quenching Living Water.

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at Bible Gateway here – Zechariah 5-6 and Revelation 17

In a Manner Worthy of God

3 John 1

In his final letter, John again expresses the joy he has knowing that young believers (“my children”) are “walking in the truth.” It is an important truth that godly parents want to see their children also pursuing the things of God. When we are young, we may think of all the accomplishments we could do in school, in sports, or in other extracurricular activities, but none of that can measure up to how proud a parent is when we do what pleases the Lord. We may not think that such things are all that meaningful when we are young compared to achieving awards, getting good grades, or winning a championship, but children who obey the Lord bring greater joy to their parents than all their other successes combined.

Another main point that John raises in his letter is the importance of hospitality, especially when it involves fellow believers. He instructs Gaius to continue to do what is “faithful” for the brothers and sisters, “even when they are strangers.” We don’t need to know who someone is in great detail before we offer them food, shelter, or aid. Christian believers should be apt to show hospitality to all people, but especially to those from the household of faith, even if they are strangers.

To be generous and hospitable toward someone whom you do not know and who is not able to repay you is a sincere demonstration of love. My father used to always say that I should leave someone better than when I found them, and I believe that is what John is expressing when he tells Gaius that he will “do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.” That means giving them the best treatment and going to the furthest extent possible to assist them and prepare them for whatever comes next for them.

Whether it is giving someone a ride somewhere, dropping off a home-cooked meal, or helping with homework or other assignments and projects, no matter what it is, if we do it wholeheartedly as if we were serving the Lord Christ, then we can be confident that we will be sending our fellow brother or sister on their way “in a manner worthy of God.”

-Jerry Wierwille

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 12-14 and 3 John 1

Courage to Be Different

Daniel 3-4

     Imagine living in a country where the wider culture is not sympathetic to your faith.  Perhaps, the world around you is even openly hostile to your Christian confession. At this very moment, there are countries around the world where it is dangerous to be a Christian.  You might face persecution.  You face social stigma and even penalties simply for being a believer.  The government may even scrutinize every thing that you say and teach.  Sermons would be submitted to government for their approval.  You might become the victim of mob violence.  These things where once isolated to countries on the other side of the globe.  Now, even in Western democracies, Christian beliefs are coming under increasing criticism.  Those who stand for truth are being libeled as “haters” and “bigots.”  It takes courage to stand alone for the faith, to stand for truth when the whole world opposes you.

     We are not the first to travel this road nor will we be the last.  Our story focuses upon the courage of Meshach, Shadrach and Abed-nego.  Along with Daniel, these three young men were taken from their home in Jerusalem to the city of Babylon.  They found themselves in a strange place with strange customs.  However, these young men wanted to honor the God of their fathers in this foreign land.  They refused to defile themselves with the “unclean” food provided to them and instead ate vegetables and drank water (Daniel chapter 1).  Because they made themselves an exception, they became exceptional young men.  Their abilities were obvious to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon and he appointed them to high positions within his empire.

   Nebuchadnezzar erected a large golden idol on a plain near the city of Babylon. It was rather large at 90 feet high and 9 feet wide.  It was covered in gold and glimmered in the sunlight.  Nebuchadnezzar’s own ego was wrapped up in this creation.  He arranged an elaborate event.  All of his middle managers, lesser and greater bureaucrats, and all his officials were commanded to come to this image.  It really became a test of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar himself.  It was a mandated gathering.  It was not optional!  It was a day of much pomp and circumstance.  When the orchestra began to play, it was the signal for all to bow down and worship this massive idol.  If one failed to worship, they would be thrown into a furnace of fire.  When it was discovered that Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-nego failed to bow down, Nebuchadnezzar, though angry, offered these three a second chance.  Nebuchadnezzar threatened in Daniel 3:15, “…what god can deliver you out of my hand?”  However, though respectful to the king, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-nego made it clear that they would not be unfaithful to the true God by bowing down to this vile image.  In Daniel 3:17,18, they reply, “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and he will deliver us out of your hand O King.  But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you set up.”  Whether they lived or died, they determined to be different than the rest.  They would honor God.  This is courage.  Of course, we know that these three were rescued from the fire by an angel.  Nebuchadnezzar did not have the final word.  He was not, as he had claimed, all powerful.  There is One who is greater than all.  We remember that the final judge is not the government, or the mob, or the culture in which we live.  God will always have the last word.  He rewards those who are faithful to Him.

-Scott Deane

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Daniel 3 & 4 and Psalm 139-141

Reminders

Isaiah 63-64, Titus 3

Life is so busy and complicated that I have to create lots of reminders for myself.  Fortunately, my phone and computer and watch all have features where I can set reminders for myself.  “Doctors appointment Tuesday at 3:00.  Take the garbage to the dump on the way to work in the morning.  Stop by the store after work and pick up some milk and bread.” I can even set reminders months or years in advance.  I can set alarms to remind me that in 2 hours I have a meeting.  In 1 hour I have a meeting.  In 15 minutes I have a meeting.  The Meeting is now starting.  Maybe I’m too busy or maybe I’m getting old, but I find myself more and more needing reminders.

Do you ever need reminders?  Little kids need to be reminded to brush their teeth, make their bed, do their homework.  What do you need reminders for?

The Apostle Paul thought reminders were important for Christians.  I guess he understood how easy it can be to forget what’s important when we are busy living life and doing  what’s necessary or urgent.  Do Christians ever forget important things about God, about Jesus, about how we are supposed to live?  Yep, we sure do.

In Titus 3 Paul tells Titus to remind the believers of some important things.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” -Titus 3:1-2

Those reminders were important in the first century when Christianity was brand new and people were still learning the basics, but it’s been 2000 years.  We’ve certainly got being a Christian all figured out by now, don’t we?  Do we really need to be reminded to obey people in authority?  Do we need to be reminded to always be ready to do good?  Don’t all Christians always do what is good?   Certainly we never  slander or falsely accuse someone of wrong doing.  I’m always peaceable and considerate and gentle toward everyone, aren’t you? (My tongue is in my cheek- that means I’m kidding).

To tell the truth, I still need to be reminded all of those things.  Just because I’ve been reading the Bible for over 50 years doesn’t mean I always remember to do good.  I still need to be reminded to be considerate and gentle, and so do you.  That’s why Christianity was never designed to be lived in isolation, but in community.  We need each other.  There’s a passage in Hebrews (a different book from today’s reading,  but important) Hebrews 10:24-25 says that Christians shouldn’t get out of the habit of meeting together, because we need to encourage (I think Hebrews says “spur one another on”, like a rider spurs on a horse) each other.  

Following Jesus is hard some times.  Being obedient to God is hard some times.  Remembering to do good and be gentle is hard sometimes.  I need help, I need encouragement to keep on doing what is right.  I need you, and you need me, we need each other.

I’ve read the Bible many times in my life and I need to keep on reading it to help me remember all the important things I need to remember.  Today’s readings in Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3 remind us both about God’s wrath and about God’s mercy.  God has both.  God hates sin, he hates it when his children are brutal to each other.  He hates it when his children fight and argue.  He hates sin because he loves us and he knows that sin hurts us.  We hurt each other when we sin.  No parent likes to see their children hurt each other.  We learned that from our Father, God.

So keep reading your Bible and keep coming to Church and meeting with other believers so that you can remind them and they can remind you to keep on following Jesus.

“Hey Siri  set a reminder for 7 a.m. tomorrow:  be considerate and gentle to everyone.”

“Alexa, remind me to get up for Church Sunday at 8:00.”

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3

Is it OK to be Rich?

More than a third of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day according to research done by the United Nations.  You might not consider yourself rich if you compare yourself to others in the United States (and many other countries), but most or all of you are probably quite rich when looking at the whole world.  Is it ok to be rich?

Let’s first consider Solomon, the richest king that ever was.  God gave him wealth, possessions, and honor such as no king before or after him (2 Chronicles 1:12).  God made Solomon rich, so the good news is that we have an example of someone who was very rich and it was ok in God’s eyes.

Being rich may be ok, but the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-24 received advice from Jesus that made him sad.  Jesus told him if he wanted to be perfect, he should sell his possessions and give to the poor.  He then told his disciples that it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom.  Jesus had more to say about the matter in Luke 6:20-26.  He said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  He went on to say, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”  Jesus was warning us that being rich could interfere with your salvation.

Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 says that whoever loves money never has enough, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income, and this is meaningless.  It also says that the abundance of the rich permits them no sleep.  However, it also says that it is appropriate for a person to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their labor during the few days God has given them.  It explains that it is a gift from God when He gives someone wealth, possessions, and the ability to enjoy them.

This may be a bit confusing to hear that wealth can be good or bad.  I think it all boils down to your attitude and how you spend your money.  If money is your master, you are always wanting and trying to get more, and you spend it all on yourself; that is bad.  If you realize that your money comes from God, is actually owned by God, and is not the focus of your life, it is fine to enjoy that gift from God from time to time.

I now want to change gears a bit here and talk about yesterday’s devotion on tithing a bit more.  I said it was not mentioned in the New Testament that we should tithe.  However, there are two verses in the New Testament (Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42) that talk about the Pharisees giving a tenth of their spices and Jesus scolding them for neglecting justice, mercy, faithfulness, and the love of God, and saying they should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.  I do not consider these two verses a mandate for us today to tithe ten percent of our earnings, although I can see how it can be interpreted that way.  These individuals were giving a tenth of their spices and Jesus said they should continue to do that.  If they had said they were fasting, I think Jesus might have told them to continue to do that, but I don’t think that necessarily means we all must fast today.

I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think the ten percent tithe is a specific rule we must follow today like the many rules they were required to follow in the Old Testament.  However, I definitely believe we should be giving money to the church, and I think it would be fine to look at what they were instructed to do and model that by giving ten percent of your earnings to the church.  I also believe it is possible that God wants some people to give more than ten percent.

Paul never discussed tithing ten percent, but he did talk about giving.  In 2 Corinthians 8:3, he said the Macedonians gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 he says, “Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he told them that they should set aside a sum of money in keeping with their income on the first day of every week (1 Corinthians 16:2).  I think if it was still a rule to tithe ten percent, Paul would have mentioned it, but instead he talked about giving with the proper attitude and according to your income.

-Rick McClain

Today’s 2021 Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 55-56 and 2 Timothy 3

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