Resurrection Changes Everything

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 28 and Exodus 5-6

                During the 20th century among the more liberal wing of Christianity it became fashionable to interpret the Bible in a less literal more metaphorical way.  The story of the resurrection of Jesus was regarded not as historical fact but something that happened inside the disciples of Jesus that gave them hope.  The Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong famously wrote of the resurrection of Jesus as a myth which opened the disciples’ eyes to the reality of God and the meaning of Jesus Christ. (whatever that means).

                John Updike is a well regarded novelist and poet, not a theologian, but he uses the tools of a poet to counter the theological attempts to reduce the resurrection of Jesus to a simple myth.  In his poem Seven Stanzas at Easter he writes:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.


It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/seven-stanzas-at-easter/

                What Updike so poetically states is that the resurrection of Jesus is no myth, no allegory, it actually happened.  Jesus’ dead corpse physically rose up from the tomb in which it had been buried.  Jesus was really raised to everlasting life.  The first disciples of Jesus would certainly have agreed whole-heartedly.

                Today’s passage from Matthew 28 is one of four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.  Each of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John include and omit different elements of the story.  This is always true of witnesses.  In a trial or a new article when multiple witnesses are interviewed they will tell the story in different ways and include and exclude data.  Each person sees and experiences things from their own unique perspective.  In fact, if all witnesses say exactly the same thing in exactly the same way it raises suspicions that they got together and colluded beforehand what their statement was going to be.  Eye-witness accounts should have different details.  But the overall story should be the same.  This is true with the story of Jesus’ resurrection.  Each of the Gospels gives different details and some alter the chronological order of events, but they are all in agreement of the important facts- Jesus physically rose from the dead and there were numerous eye-witnesses.

                Outside of the Gospels, the Apostle Paul also offers his own testimony.  In the book of Acts Paul encountered the risen Christ while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Church.  And later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the resurrection of the dead:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (I Corinthians 15:3-8, New International Version).

                Paul makes it clear that not only is the death of Jesus foundational to Christianity but so is his resurrection that was witnessed by more than 500 people including Paul.  According to the Old Testament Law it took two or three witnesses to confirm something as factual.  More than 500 witnesses is way more than necessary to confirm a fact.  Jesus really did rise from the dead.

                Paul then connects the resurrection of Jesus to the resurrection of all people.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:3-8)

Paul says here that if there is no resurrection of Jesus and no resurrection of the followers of Jesus, then we are wasting our time talking about faith.  The true, bodily resurrection of Jesus is no myth, it is central to our faith and it changes everything.

The Apostles certainly believed it was true.  They took up Jesus’ commission to go into all of the world and proclaim the good news that Christ has died and Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.  You and I are part of that same tradition.  We are called to pass along this same truth.  It is who we are.  Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead.  Jesus Christ really is coming again to raise those who have died and are asleep in their graves from death to everlasting life.  That is our hope and joy.  That is the foundation on which to live your whole life.

-Jeff Fletcher

In Despair

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 27 and Exodus 3-4

                As we move through the Gospel of Matthew one chapter per day it’s pretty amazing how quickly we move through the life of Jesus.  Matthew brings us through the entire earthly life of Jesus so quickly.  Think about it for a minute.  Less than a month ago we were celebrating Christmas and the birth of Jesus.  Just a week later we were celebrating the start of a new year, 2021 and we started the book of Matthew which summarized roughly 2000 years of Israel’s history from Abraham down to Jesus.  We heard the angels announcement to Joseph that Mary was going to give birth to God’s son.  We read of his birth, the visit from the magi and Herod’s attempt to have Jesus killed and his rescue to Egypt.  We fast forwarded to his 12th year visiting the temple and being precocious in his questions of the learned doctors of Jewish Law. Just like that Jesus is 30 and being baptized by John in the Jordan River and going into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  Then he’s calling disciples, performing miracles, preaching the Torah in a way that is more authoritative than the average rabbi.  Before we know it 3 more years have passed and Jesus is in Jerusalem having his last supper with his disciples and preparing them for his approaching death.

                Now, here we are reaching the climax of Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus is tried, condemned and crucified.  This was not how any of his followers or any of the Jews for over 1000 years imagined how the story would go.  They envisioned the son of David as a triumphant King leading an armed rebellion and  defeating the powerful and oppressive Romans and being free to finally worship God under the rule of God’s anointed King, descended from the great King David of old.  Instead, they get a meek and gentle man being falsely accused and  refusing to defend himself, being rejected by his own people and, despite his complete innocence, meekly suffering and going to his death in the most shameful way imaginable: beaten, stripped naked and nailed to an execution pole for all to see and mock and serve as warning to any who might dare to defy Rome’s hegemony over the whole world.

                For the Apostle Paul and most every Christian since that day, this is foundational to the entire Christian message and the central event in the history of the world.

Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:

15 Now, brothers, I must remind you of the Good News which I proclaimed to you, and which you received, and on which you have taken your stand, and by which you are being saved — provided you keep holding fast to the message I proclaimed to you. For if you don’t, your trust will have been in vain. For among the first things I passed on to you was what I also received, namely this: the Messiah died for our sins, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was buried; and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with what the Tanakh says; and he was seen by Kefa, then by the Twelve;

(Complete Jewish Bible Translation)

                Paul reminds his readers that one of the first things he passed on to his students was the death of the Messiah, Jesus, for their sins as a fulfillment of the teaching of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh or Old Testament).  Matthew tells the story more or less chronologically and it builds up to this.  But for Paul, this was among the first things he taught.  Whether it’s shared first as in Paul or toward the end as in Matthew, either way the death of Jesus and with it his resurrection, is the most important thing for Christianity.

                There is much for you to think about in this chapter but I will simply pause to name two and they both have to do with despair and death.  Matthew places side by side two men who have reached a crisis in their life, Judas and Jesus.  For both their crisis has brought them into great anguish and to the brink of death.

                Judas is in despair because he has betrayed his teacher and friend.  He sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.  One might try to get Judas off of the hook by suggesting that he didn’t really have a choice in the matter.  It was God’s plan.  I’ve even heard it suggested and even wondered myself if Judas wasn’t simply trying to force Jesus to go to war against Rome.  Judas was a Zealot and growing impatient with Jesus.  Maybe he assumed that when Jesus was arrested he and the other disciples would defend him and bring him into his Kingdom.  When Judas realized that his plan backfired and Jesus was going to die without bringing in the Kingdom he was overcome with guilt and despair.  Or maybe he was just greedy and sold out his friend for the money.  Or maybe some combination of things.  Sometimes we humans beings do things and we don’t even understand why we did it, but afterwards we are filled with shame and regret and despair of life. 

                Judas responded to his despair by taking his own life.  Suicide is the final act of despair.  The suicide rate in the US has been going up each year.  I imagine when the deaths related to Covid are finally tallied we will see a significant number of deaths were not from Covid but because of people’s despair over Covid and the Covid related isolation, economic losses, disenfranchised grief, increased substance abuse and loss of connection with faith communities and other sources of hope and meaning.  Judas’ story ends in a tragic death of despair.

                Jesus is also facing his own existential despair.  He’s been betrayed, denied, abandoned and rejected by his friends and followers and all his fellow Jews.  Jesus was beaten nearly to death and is alone on the cross and has all of the guilt and shame of the world heaped upon him.  In his agony and isolation he cries out to God in despair ,“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus is having the worst day of his life, just as Judas did and Jesus is in extreme pain, just as Judas was and Jesus was about to die, just as Judas did.  And yet, their deaths couldn’t be more different.  Jesus never lost his connection to and faith in his father, even at this point of greatest pain.  Even as Jesus cries out, he is praying and maintaining his connection to his faith tradition.  “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” is the opening prayer of Psalm 22.  This was a Lament Psalm.  The Hebrews were very familiar with suffering.  They had been slaves for over 400 years in Egypt.  They spent 40 years traveling in the wilderness.  They spent 70 years in exile in Babylon.  The Hebrews knew suffering and it was in suffering that God continued to sustain them and draw them back unto himself.  Every Psalm of lament, no matter how much hurt or pain they processed, no matter how angry or betrayed by God they felt, there was always a remembering of the ways God had been with them and helped them in the past, and there was the hope and trust that God would sustain them through the suffering and restore them to wholeness and joy.

                Jesus never lost his connection to the father, even in the depths of pain and despair.  He surrendered his life to God, but he did not take his own life as Judas did.  Judas’ tragic death ends with no hope for him.  Jesus’ tragic death ends with hope for him and for everyone.

                We all go through periods of hurt, pain, disillusionment, brokenness, anger, shame, guilt and pain.  When we go through those time we are in a moment of decision.  Do we give in completely to the despair and give up on God, or do we cling to faith, remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and hope in the future.  That will make all the difference in how our story ends.  It doesn’t have to end like Judas.  Jesus offers the path to hope and life.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Isaiah 40-43

He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” ~ Is. 40:1-2 

While the first 39 chapters of Isaiah consist of the judgment pronounced on Israel & Judah, the book of consolation begins in chapter 40 and continues for the last 27 chapters of the book (mirroring the set-up of the Bible itself). Isaiah 40-43 contains beautiful pictures of who God is and breath-taking prophecies of the future messiah. When we look at the story of the Israelites a central theme that we see is the forsaking of the true God for idols. Because they could see the idols and because other nations worshipped in the same way, they felt like it was more profitable to worship them. However, these idols always proved to be worthless and caused pain and destruction. If we see that we are worshipping idols, what should we do? How can we turn away from the worthlessness of these idols to the infinite value found in God through Christ. 

Isaiah 40-43 gives us an answer to that as well. In Isaiah 40, Isaiah reminds us who God is. He asks the question in v. 18-19, “Who will compare God with? What likeness will you compare Him to? To an idol? Something that a smelter casts, and a metalworker plates with gold and makes silver welds for it?” Instead of worshipping a created thing, God points us to what he has created to show his power and to show us that he is the only one worth worshipping. In v. 26, he says, “Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing.” When we find ourselves looking towards idols for our value and worth – and in turn worshipping them, we need to remind ourselves of where our true value comes from. To do that, we have to turn our eyes away from ourselves and the things we think define us – whether that’s our relationships, money, career, or anything else – and turn them towards the only thing that really gives us worth. By focusing on God and basing our lives on his unchanging character, we can rest in God through the storms and trials of life. He is our firm foundation. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 40-43.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 44-48 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76

I will defend this city and rescue it because of Me and because of My servant David._

In Isaiah 36-37, we read more about the good king Hezekiah. Like we learned last week, Hezekiah worked hard to take down the idols in the land and point the people back to God. In Isaiah 36, Judah came under attack from the neighboring nation of Assyria. Hezekiah then undergoes a battle for the minds of the people as he argues against King Sennacherib and the people of the court. In these two chapters, the Rabshakeh, a high-ranking military officer, tries to convince the people to forsake their kingdom and God. In his three speeches, we may see some similarities between what he says and the way that we are tempted today. At the heart of all of his speeches is a desire to turn Judah away from trusting solely in God. 

In the Rabshakeh’s first speech, he points out one of Israel’s insecurities. He says in Is. 36:4-6, ‘What are you relying on? Your strategy and military preparedness are mere words. Look, you are trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff that will enter and pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it.’ Israel and Judah had both sought protection and manpower from Egypt as we read about in Is. 31. Now the Rabshakeh was pointing out that weakness and mocking them for it! We’ve all experienced a time when we have had our insecurities pointed out. I’m a terrible volleyball player. When I would have to play volleyball in gym class, I remember one of the cute guys at my school saying to me ‘You just have to hit the ball like this. It’s not hard!’ You can imagine that in that moment – when a shortcoming of mine was pointed out – all I wanted to do was for someone to take that problem away from me quickly! In my gym class that meant sitting out the next game, but the Judeans didn’t have that option. The Assyrians gave them the option instead to give him 2,000 horses if they could supply riders for them (v. 8). Again, this pointed out the lack of manpower and ability for the Israelites to protect themselves. 

At this point, we would probably say, ‘Well, that’s fine! Israel doesn’t need to protect themselves – they should trust in God!’ The Rabshakeh thought of that too. In verse 7, he says, ““Suppose you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God.’ Isn’t he the One whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You are to worship at this altar’?” The Rabshakeh twisted the actions of Hezekiah to make it seem like he had done something against God rather than something that God wanted. He even goes so far as to say in v. 10, “Have I attacked this land to destroy it without the LORD’s approval? The LORD said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’ In his second speech, the Rabshakeh describes how he had destroyed the gods of the surrounding nations, which would just show that God himself wouldn’t deliver the people either (v. 18-20). 

This is some powerful psychological warfare! We know the Judeans had trust issues to begin with. Now, someone is coming and laying out all of their insecurities for the world to see (right before they try to march in and destroy their kingdom)! The heart of all of the Rabshakeh’s temptation can be summed up with what he said in Is. 37:10, “Don’t let your God, whom you trust, deceive you by promising that Jerusalem won’t be handed over to the king of Assyria.” He basically says ‘Did God really say that he would save you?’ which may sound eerily reminiscent of another ancient tempter (Gen. 3:1). At this point, if someone had tried to break our trust in God in this way, we may have caved and believed them. However, Hezekiah does what we all should do when we have people who try to break our trust in God. He prays and then reminds himself of God’s unchanging character. 

God hears his prayer and we read about the victory that God brings in Isaiah 37:36-38 when an angel of the LORD strikes down the Assyrian army and the king is killed in the temple of his god, Nisroch.

When we face temptations and challenges that try to break our trust in God, we need to be reminded that he is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can trust in what the Bible says. We can trust in the promises of God. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 40-43– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 35-36

Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

The book of Isaiah holds many judgments against Israel, Judah, and all the nations surrounding them. Page after page contains descriptions of how God will deal with these people, because of the sin that they commit. In the midst of this, there are glimpses of a wondrous hope to come and worship God in his future kingdom. We see the beautiful future that God has prepared for all those who love him despite the brokenness of our current realities. 

Isaiah 35 describes this future in a continuation of the prophecy beginning in Isaiah 34. In Isaiah 34, Edom’s eventual punishment and destruction is described: “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her soil into sulfur” (v. 9). In this place, jackals, hyenas, goats, birds of prey, and snakes will gather – all symbols of destruction and brokenness (v. 14-15). The very land has turned bitter and worthless under the consequence of sin. In contrast to this, Isaiah 35 describes the land of the Israelites as a desert that blossoms like a rose (v. 1). In this place, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness and streams in the desert; the parched ground will become a pool of water and the thirsty land springs of water” (v. 5-7). Unlike the land of Edom, in the redeemed land, “There will be no vicious beast, but the redeemed will walk on it” (v. 9). In fact, the places where the vicious beasts resided, like the lairs of jackals, will be turned into a meadow of grass, reeds, and papyrus (v. 7). A road will go through this land called the Holy Way; “the unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Even the fool will not go astray” (v. 8). This path will lead up to the mountain of God where the people will come to worship God. 

We live in an incredibly broken world that seems like it is full of vicious beasts and people bent on destroying themselves and others. We can see the consequences of sin in the hurt that is being done so carelessly to everyone, including our most vulnerable. We can rest in the hope that this will not always be the way the world will be. Those that would be overlooked by society and viewed as less than are the very people that God includes in the description of his future kingdom: the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. These are the people who lead the way for praising God’s redemption of the land. We will not always live in these broken times. We can trust that one day streams of water will flow through the desert and the whole world will blossom like a rose. In fact, through the Holy Spirit, we can begin to redeem our time here for God and be his hands and feet in this broken world. How can you bring the living water to those around you? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 35-36.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 31-34

The Lord gives victory to his anointed. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

One highlight of my year is going to South East Camp held on the mountaintops of the NC Blue Ridge. Years ago, we drove down the mountain to a center with a high ropes course. Everyone suited up with a helmet and a buddy and clipped their carabiner to the first level on the course. Now, I have some friends who are into rock climbing and would be happy to dangle off the top of a mountain just to get the adrenaline rush. However, I am not that person. As a child, I used to get weak knees going to the edge of the second floor balcony at my church. In fact, there are still some rides I refuse to go on at amusement parks, because the drop is just too much. I’ve gotten better, but I definitely am still scared of heights. Going back to our high ropes adventure, I made it through the whole course, including the more difficult parts, but then I came to the end where I needed to zip line down to the ground. 

Looking down off the ledge, I could already feel a tingling in my knees and my palms getting sweaty. At that moment, I felt like turning around and going through the whole ropes course again just to make it back down to the bottom, because I felt like that was something that I could control with my body. Even though my heart was racing, I paused to take a few deep breaths, and then I stepped off the side to zoom through the air. In truth, once I picked up my feet, I felt safe and secure in my harness. The obstacle I had to overcome was one of trusting that my harness would do what it was supposed to do. I had to trust in something that I couldn’t control, but was probably the quickest and safest way down. 

In Isaiah 31, we read about some trust issues that the Israelites had developed with God. They weren’t afraid of heights in this case; instead, they were afraid of the nations around them. Israel had chosen to rely on numbers of men and horses when they faced battle, and because of this, they had grown to depend on Egypt’s help. They thought that by controlling the amount of man- and horsepower they could bring to a fight they could ensure their victory. However, God reminds them that the “Egyptians are men, not God; their horses are flesh, not spirit” (Isaiah 31:3). God was so much stronger than anyone the Israelites would face, but they refused to see it. By not trusting in God, they paved the way for their own demise (v. 3). 

We also have a daily choice between trusting God or trusting our own flesh. It may come in the form of choosing to be obedient to God’s command, by giving away our money or time to someone in need, or by sacrificing a desire to make room for a deeper relationship with God. In those times, we may want to trust in our own minds or bodies, because we feel like we can control those things. But, remember, God is so much more mighty than we are. We can trust him in whatever situation that we face. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 31-34.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 35-36– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 28-30

Because these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip service - yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote

As we turn back to Isaiah in our reading, we read about the judgments pronounced upon Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. At the end of Isaiah 27, God had given the Israelites a picture of their hope – to return to Jerusalem. However, in Isaiah 28, we turn back to the reason why the Israelites had to be removed from the promised land in the first place. 

When I was in high school, every student that drove had to take a driver’s education class before they could get their parking pass. I was standing pressed against the glass at the DMV the day I turned 15 (the age we could get our learner’s permit), and I knew that I would do whatever it took to be able to drive to school as soon as I could. Along with the videos of car crashes and the several hours driving with the instructor, one activity we had to do was put on a pair of beer goggles to show the effects of driving under the influence. With the vision of someone who had way too many beers, we were supposed to catch a tennis ball. As you can imagine, almost all of us dropped the ball as we stumbled and swayed with the goggles on our face. With our vision clouded, there was no way that we were able to complete the task that we were given. 

We’ve been looking at the effects of idolatry over the previous days. This was not the Israelites only sin though. In Isaiah 28, God turns to focus on Ephraim’s drunkards and says woe to them. These priests “stagger because of wine and stumble under the influence of beer. They are muddled in their visions, they stumble in their judgments. Indeed, all their tables are covered with vomit; there is no place without a stench” (Isaiah 28:7-8). This presents a dire picture of priests turned alcoholics, which means they can’t do much good for anyone. We know how alcoholism and drunkenness itself can be dangerous, but what is so striking to me in this description is the way that it shows a parallel to all sin. All sin clouds our vision and judgments. All sin realigns our priorities. Ultimately, all sin separates us from God and leaves our lives defiled. 

When we are living under the influence of sin, we miss out on God’s purpose for our lives. The priests in this chapter were supposed to teach the people how to seek after God. Instead, they stumbled over their words while they instructed and caused their people to stumble in their everyday walk with God. Where do you see the effects of sin goggles in your life? Where can you take off the sin in your life so that you can have a clearer vision for how to serve God better? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 28-30.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 31-34– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Hosea 8-14

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you_ sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Reading through the prophets can be difficult. Just like the story of Gomer that we read yesterday, we may find ourselves wanting to reach through the pages across the span of time and just whip these people and nations back into shape. Because of our hindsight, we think (arrogantly) that we would have made better choices if we walked in the shoes of our ancestors. The Israelites downfall is that they always seemed to fall prey to idolatry, though that idolatry existed in many forms. Unfortunately, like we saw yesterday, we are quick to worship those same idols in different forms.

If we look back to the birth of the Israelites as a distinct set apart nation, we return to the infamous scene with the golden calf in Exodus 32. The Israelites had the choice to follow the word of God or follow the gods of the surrounding nations. While Moses was receiving the law, they chose to worship the golden calf. Hundreds of years later, the calf returned in 1 Kings 12:28-30. King Jeroboam of Israel created two golden calves and set up places to worship them, going directly against the laws of Moses that all of Israel has received. The Israelites had continued to worship the calf through Hosea’s time as we see in Hosea 8:5-6: “Your calf-idol is rejected, Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? For this thing is from Israel – a craftsman made it, and it is not God. The calf of Samaria will be smashed to bits.” For hundreds of years the Israelites worshipped the calf, and because of it, they started to resemble the thing that they worshipped. In fact, we see the qualities of the cow come out in the Israelites in Hosea 4:16 where it says, “For Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn cow. Can the LORD shepherd them like a lamb in an open meadow?” They had held the cow as an idol for so long in their life that they started to imitate that. This imitation led them directly away from becoming the people that God wanted them to be. 

Israel thought that they knew God and were seeking after him (Hos. 7:16, 8:2-3), but they were really seeking after their own hand-made idols. A life that seeks after God cannot be categorized as lustful, greedy, selfish, or prideful. If our life looks like that, we have begun to imitate those idols that we may follow. A life that follows after God will be full of love, joy, peace, and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit. If we follow after God and not idols, we will seek his righteousness all of our days. 

So, ask yourself: Who or what are you worshipping? Who or what are you imitating? 

“Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your unplowed ground. It is time to seek the LORD until he comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain.” ~ Hosea 10:12

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Hosea 8-14.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 28-30– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

 

Hosea 1-7

For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

When we think about the faithfulness of God, we tend to speak in terms that I would call fluff in the papers I grade in my English classes. We always say that we have a faithful God, but what does that really mean? When we describe the faithfulness of God and his faithful love, we can easily let these tired terms cause the meaning to get lost. Today’s reading snaps the striking, relentless love of God into sharp focus. In the book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea is commanded to marry a prostitute, named Gomer. She continues to be unfaithful to him, but Hosea is told to return to her each time. The relationship that Hosea has with Gomer is one that mirrors the prodigal love that God shows to the northern Kingdom of Israel. Israel pursues other gods and kingdoms, but despite this, God still calls them back to him. He still loves them. 

When I read these stories, I always question the characters’ motives. Couldn’t Gomer see how much Hosea loved her by the fact that he was always there for her? Why would she pursue other people? Hosea 2 gives insight to her reasoning. In Hosea 2:5, it says that Gomer would pursue other men because she thought they would give her “my food and water, my wool and flax, my oil and drink.” She pursued these men, because she thought they would give her what she needed to survive. Notably, these things are the basics of what she might need to live comfortably. Out of a lack of trust, she did not realize that she was actually missing out on the best things, because she was turning to these men to fulfill her desire for provision and possessions. In verse 8, it says, “She does not recognize that it is I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil. I lavished silver and gold on her, which they used for Baal.” Gomer never realized that the person who would take the best care of her and give her the best things was the person that she continued to leave for other men, Hosea. 

Too often, we follow in the footsteps of Gomer and Israel. We pursue other gods that seem like they could give us satisfaction and comfort, like our families, boy/girlfriends, work, money, education, or our beliefs and ideologies. We don’t recognize that the best things in our life actually come from the one who we continue to leave behind, God. James 1:17 says, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” God will continue to give us the best things in life, but we need to turn back to him. Don’t turn to other idols. God is infinitely better than anything the world could offer. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Hosea 1-7.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Hosea 8-14 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

2 Kings 18:1-8, 2 Chron. 29-31, & Psalm 48

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Hey everyone!

We are currently living in a very crazy time – am I right?! COVID-19 has taken over our daily lives, the political climate is VERY sticky and people are turning against one another (even within Godly communities) to prove their point and/or push their ideas of what they believe to be true. We are continually becoming more and more divided with each passing day. It is scary. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Frustrating. And those are only a few of the many adjectives I could throw out there right now to describe what is going on around us.

Let’s be honest here… all of this is A LOT to balance…. And I know, personally, as a flawed human being who continually makes mistakes and cannot seem to ever fully pull it all together, I constantly fall short when attempting to manage all of these changing circumstances and emotions. In times like this, I always find it helpful (and encouraging) to look back on examples set before me of Godly men and/or women who have managed to handle things a whole lot better than I am.

Our readings for today bring Hezekiah into focus. In 2 Kings 18:1-8 Hezekiah (son of Ahaz) comes to reign as the king of Judah. Hezekiah was a king who had a very close relationship with God and he is an example of how the faith of one man can change the course of an entire nation. During his reign Hezekiah pursued God with his whole heart. Hezekiah remained faithful and diligent throughout the highs and the lows of his time – he repaired the Jewish temple that had been previously impacted by wickedness, removed false Gods from the land, destroyed places where pagan worship was still in practice and restored the Passover as a national holiday.

Because King Hezekiah put God first in everything he did, God prospered him. Hezekiah “held fast to the Lord and did not stop following Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses and therefore the Lord was with him and he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 King 18:6-7). In his time of need, Hezekiah came forth and prayed for relief, guidance and support from the Lord and the Lord was quick and gracious to give of these things and reward Hezekiah for his faithfulness.

The example that Hezekiah sets forth during his reign reminds us of the importance of remaining faithful and obedient to God and His word regardless of what is happening around us. I encourage all of us to follow the example of Hezekiah in the time we currently find ourselves in today. Pray. Remain faithful. Stay diligent. Honor God by doing the right thing…..

While things around us are ever changing and continually confusing, we can rest assured that God will remain faithful and reward our diligence just as He has promised.

Love and miss you all – stay safe and healthy. I absolutely cannot wait for the day where we are all reunited again and can honor God together.

~ Kass Sipka

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – 2 Kings 18:1-8, 2 Chron. 29-31, & Psalm 48.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Hosea 1-7– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.