God Has Answers

Isaiah 5-8

Isaiah 8 20 NLT sgl

Today’s reading contained some pretty grim and possibly confusing stuff. In some sections it seems the people of Judah are completely doomed for destruction, while other parts tell of a coming protection. If you have come here today looking for an explanation and clarification on all that took place in these chapters – I’m sorry to say, I haven’t got one. Mainly because one perfect answer doesn’t exist. Scholars, theologians, historians, have all made attempts at understanding biblical prophecy. There has yet to be one universal agreed upon interpretation. The language barrier is one reason, as is the lack of context and historical gaps. If you want to know more about today’s reading and other prophecy, I encourage you to do two things. One, reach out to your local pastor with your specific questions. He or she would love to help you digest the Old Testament. Many have a wealth of biblical knowledge and bookcases stocked with resources. Plus, during this Covid time, many pastors are feeling a disconnect with their congregation, unable to meet under normal circumstances. They would welcome your questions and this opportunity to serve.

My second bit of advice is to follow that in Isaiah 8:20, “Look to God’s instruction and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark.” (NLT) Isaiah goes on to describe the type of darkness these people experience as a sort of wandering aimless search for answers. He paints a picture of people looking at the sky and shaking their fists at God. These people sought psychics and other mediums for answers, instead of seeking the LORD’s instruction. Whenever you are reading scripture and stumble upon a passage that confuses you, look to what you know to be true about God. Some of these Old Testament passages can be tricky and may produce the picture of God as being only angry and vengeful. Be sure to look to ALL of God’s instructions and teachings. Personally, when reading doom and gloom in the Old Testament, I try to keep in mind what God says about Himself as being “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;” (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV). I love this verse in Isaiah, because right in the midst of confusing prophecy, he gives us an answer, encouraging us to seek “God’s instructions” known to us through scripture.

This advice from Isaiah can also be applied to other aspects of our lives when searching for answers. I would say all aspects, except I’ve not yet found the part in scripture that explains calculus. Math aside, when we face difficult or confusing challenges, wandering in unknown darkness, we as believers are encouraged to seek God for the answers. We can approach God through our wonderful redeemer, Jesus Christ. Whether these answers are revealed to us by understanding scripture, receiving peace, or prayer, answers exist. I am experiencing some personal challenges in my life right now. A couple weeks ago, one of my best friends sent me a text reminding me to seek answers from God during this trial. Her encouragement applies also to you, and whatever your current struggles may be. The last part of Isaiah 8 reminded me of her words. I want to share some of them with you as a closing thought.

“It may seem like the pain, loss, confusion, and hole in your heart, are the only things you will ever know, but please remember, the Lord has a plan for you and He is there to listen to you, He is there to listen to your cries of anguish and despair. And He will console you, but you have to ask Him for His help. Please don’t shut yourself out of His sweet  and divine presence, my dear friend. Ask Him to give you guidance for what you should do next. How you should proceed with your life. Ask Him for His wisdom so that you can understand what lesson He wants to teach you, how He is trying to mold your character. And also maybe think of what He wants you to ask Him. What is HIS will?”

Emilee Ross

 

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

Tomorrow we begin another prophet writing at a similar time – Amos, chapters 1-5 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

God’s Jealous Love

Isaiah 1-4

Isaiah 1 4 NIRV sgl

 

Today, we begin the book of Isaiah. This book is full of poetry, prophecy, but also includes some narrative sections, as we will see tomorrow. Isaiah speaks of the coming judgment and future restoration upon the nation of Judah. The book contains lament over the nation’s sin, warning against God’s wrath, and the promises of a wonderful future for the faithful. As I read through the first four chapters, a single theme stood out to me. These passages reminded me of God’s passionate love and desire for our hearts. Like in the song “How He Loves” God is jealous for us.

The verses in Isaiah 1:10-15 express God’s disgust at the people’s empty rituals and sacrifices. While they may be executing all the correct religious actions, they are done without sincerity. Simply going through the motions. This is something we can fall privy too, as well. Routine worship. While Covid may have interrupted our usual routines, it is important to keep our worship sincere, in whatever form it may take.

While a rather grim verse, the verbiage in Isaiah 1:28 hints at a key factor regarding God’s love. Isaiah claims, “But rebels and sinners will be completely destroyed, and those who desert the LORD will be consumed.” Those who desert the LORD. It does not say those the LORD has deserted. God does not walk away and leave us. He is always ready to accept a repentant heart. At a time when you may be feeling particularly lonely, remember, God is always ready to receive you.

Finally, Isaiah 1:22 struck me as bittersweet, but very true: “Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are frail as breath. What good are they?” Don’t misunderstand, Isaiah and I are not advocating for hermit life. There are plenty of verses in the New Testament, whole chapters written by Paul, that explain the need for church community. Our faith is not something we are meant to go about alone. However, this verse tells of one of the most important life lessons: people will fail you. The only ones we can truly depend upon is the LORD and His son, our redeemer. In fact, it is when we live from a place of securely trusting in God, we can have better human relationships. When our trust and hope is put in God alone, we become more ready to accept and forgive the failures of those around us.

The themes of God’s overwhelming jealous love for us are evident throughout the first four chapters of Isaiah. God’s anger over the people’s worship of idols, promises of a bright future, and redemption for the faithful exemplify God’s desire to be our number one priority. God knows the worship of idols and sin led lives will not fulfill us. That is why his anger burns so strong against His people in scripture like today’s. For He knows what is best, and they are not listening. He is not a narcissistic God who is angry and pours His wrath out in a desire to be right. He is a God of mercy who longs to bring His people to Him so they may experience true and abundant life.

Emilee Ross

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+1-4&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s passage will be Isaiah 5-8 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

True Repentance

2 Kings 15 and 2 Chronicles 26

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Today’s reading might have seemed a bit repetitive. Going back to the history books, we are reviewing the reigns of King Uzziah of Judah and several kings of Israel. Did you notice a pattern? Nearly every king is described as having done, “what was evil in the LORD’s sight.” While there could be many ways in which these kings sinned, I noticed every time the phrase “evil in the LORD’s sight” was used it was immediately followed by, “He [the king] refused to turn away…” It seems to me the author is trying to get across a point. The refusal to turn from sin is just as evil and displeasing to God as the sin itself. What God desires, and what none of these kings had is a true repentant heart.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we are human. He knows we are going to make mistakes. That’s why he sent us Jesus, a way for us to be redeemed. God knows we are going to sin. He is not shocked by our mistakes, while we might be. We might find ourselves in a place we never thought we would be, walking down a road of darkness we never thought we would find. We may see ourselves as too dirty to present ourselves to God, and so continue down a path of sin. Perhaps we find ourselves unworthy of forgiveness and so decide God must feel the same. We keep ourselves from God, and by doing so, remain in sin.

When you sin, what God requires is full repentance. To completely turn away from sin and enter a life of freedom. True repentance means recognizing our sin, turning away from it, and no longer allowing it to define our lives. This last part is key. Do not act as your own judge and jury. God has already forgiven you. He forgave you before you were even born. According to the passages read today, not repenting, continuing to live in guilt, can have just as many negative consequences.

Emilee Ross

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+15%2C+2+Chronicles+26&version=NIV

Tomorrow we begin the book of Isaiah (chapters 1-4) as we continue hearing from God’s word on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Jonah

Jonah 1-4

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The story of Jonah is a strange one, isn’t it? Never mind the whole getting swallowed by a whale thing, Jonah himself is not a particularly estimable character, yet we have a whole book in the Bible named after him. I love the VeggieTales song “Jonah Was a Prophet” from their first theatrical movie Jonah. The chorus sums up the story quite nicely:

Jonah was a prophet

oo-ooh!

but he really never got it

sad but true!

and if you watch it you can spot it

a-doodley-doo!

he did not get the point!

 

Jonah just might be the world’s most famous hypocrite. He was shown mercy from God and rescued. He later rebukes God for being too merciful towards the people of Nineveh. I usually read this story with a sort of warning, “Don’t be like a Jonah,” someone who misses the point. But what made Jonah do these things? I don’t believe Jonah was just simply unintelligent. We are told he was a prophet. He must have been somewhat learned or at least skilled in communication for God to have chosen him to be His mouthpiece. So, while Jonah acts stupid throughout most of this story, he surely must not have been stupid.

What is it that changed for Jonah? What made him become so blind to God’s truth. Looking over the story, I think there are two things: pride and disappointment. In the final chapter of the book, when it becomes evident God is not going to destroy the city of Nineveh, Jonah becomes angry with God. He basically tells God he knew God wasn’t actually going to destroy the people and accuses God of wasting his time by sending him there (verse 2).  It seems Jonah forgot his place as God’s servant. In the following verse, Jonah expresses disappointment. Jonah had hoped the Ninevites would be destroyed and becomes so wrought with this lost hope he fades into depression. Jonah’s pride and disappointment blinded him from seeing the truth about God’s compassionate mercy.

Are you a Jonah in your own life, right now? Has your pride or disappointment prevented you from seeing God at work? Our lives have undergone many changes over the last several months. With so much cancelled and shut down, disappointment almost seems like the new normal. Pride can also take hold during these pandemic times as we can become jealous of those whose lives seem to go on relatively unscathed. I have felt both these things, especially the disappointment. It can be blindsiding and out right devastating when something we have hoped and planned does not happen. While I have not the magic words to make the pain disappear, I do know I must not let it blind me from God’s truth. Remember where our hope and treasure truly lie, in the coming Kingdom of God. Fix your gaze upon those everlasting promises and don’t be a Jonah.

 

Emilee Ross

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah+1-4&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 15 and 2 Chronicles 26 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

A King with a Divided Heart

2 Kings 14 & 2 Chronicles 25

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Today’s reading looks at King Amaziah.  2 Kings 14:3 explains, “Amaziah did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight, but not like his ancestor David” (NLT). In 2 Chronicle 25:2, we are again told of Amaziah’s faith as he “did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight, but not wholeheartedly” (NLT).  The literal Hebrew translation for the phrase wholeheartedly means with a loyal heart. So, King Amaziah served the LORD, but not with a loyal heart. Sometimes he obeyed God, as explained in 2 Chronicles 25:5-10, by heeding the prophet’s warning to not use the troops from Israel. Other times, he forgot God and chose to worship idols. His heart was not loyal. He was a king divided.

The idea of serving with a divided heart reminds me of a sermon I preached last summer on Philippians 4:2-9. This passage begins with the ever popular “Do not be anxious about anything” verse. I conducted a closer word study over this passage and discovered what Paul is really saying is not “don’t worry” but not to be divided. The Greek translation for the word anxious is merimnate. The root word merimnaó actually means to be divided, not to be whole. Paul is asking believers not to let their hearts and minds become divided, but to invite God into all aspects of our lives doing this through “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.”

While worry is one thing that can divide a heart, it is not the only thing. Right now, living in pandemic times, it is easy to be distracted by many feelings. Despair, anger, depression, grief, uncertainty, doubt, and loneliness are all feelings that can be developed during this time. All very reasonable feelings, considering all that is happening. The key is to not let these feelings divide our hearts or keep us from serving God. I believe the best thing we can do to ensure we serve God with a loyal heart, despite our circumstances, is to invite God into our feelings.

Share with Him the things troubling you. Do not keep your worry to yourself, tell God about it. Tell Him when you are lonely. Tell Him when you are angry and doubting His sovereignty. Tell Him when you are sad. Invite God into your struggles so your heart will not be divided. It may not change your circumstances but unlike King Amaziah it will help keep our hearts loyal.

Emilee Ross

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+14%2C+2+Chronicles+25&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be the (short) book of Jonah as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan .  What can we learn about God or about ourselves from this prophet in the belly of the big fish?

Make a Difference

Col 3 23

Lois and Eunice show us how God can use people wherever they are at in life to make a big difference. In today’s story, one small boy teaches us to give what we can in service of God, no matter how little we may think it is.

In the story where Jesus feeds the 5,000 (found in all four Gospels) a little boy offers his lunch, five loaves of bread and two fish, for Jesus’ disciples to feed the crowd. I wish we knew more about this boy, who he was, who he grew up to be. All we know is that this boy heard that Jesus needed food. I can’t imagine the disciples ransacking everyone’s bags looking for food. I think they must have been asking around, searching the crowd for anyone with food and this boy heard them. He saw a need, spoke up, and offered what he could. He was willing to do what needed to be done and it’s this willingness I want to focus on today.

In Colossians Paul writes “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (3:23). As we go throughout our day to day lives, we need to be willing to contribute what we can to further God’s kingdom. We already know from Lois and Eunice that seemingly small acts can make a difference. The little boy from today’s story reminds us that we first must be willing to let God use us.

-Emilee Ross

What You Have in Common with Lois

Luke 9 48 a

For some of you, dropping everything and going on an adventure like Abram is not possible. You may already be settled in your life, married, with kids. Maybe you’ve got a steady job that you can’t leave. Many of you may feel stuck trapped by your responsibilities. It’s when we get stuck in this rut that we start to believe the lie that we’re useless to God.

Today, we are looking at two important women of the New Testament: Lois and Eunice. We don’t know much about their everyday lives, but what we do know is that they were responsible for introducing Timothy to the word of God. Timothy, the author of 1 and 2 Timothy, is Paul’s young apprentice. From the time Paul met Timothy, he took a special interest in cultivating the church leadership skills within the young man. Paul eventually came to think of Timothy as a son. But, there would be no Timothy if there was no Eunice, and there would be no Eunice if there was no Lois.

Lois first taught the scriptures to her daughter, Eunice. Eunice in turn taught the scriptures to her son, Timothy. Timothy, with Paul’s mentoring, brought many people to Christ and eventually wrote two books of the Bible. Those two books of the Bible have encouraged generations of people in their faith. It’s a domino effect, but it would not have started were it not for Lois and Eunice.

Maybe you can’t move to Africa to be a missionary. Maybe you aren’t called to lead a church. Lois and Eunice may have also been missionaries or great leaders, but that is not why they are remembered. What was important in their story was that they took the time to share their faith with the children in their lives. That is something that you can do today.

Listen, you are not stuck. Wherever you are in life, God wants to use you. Let him.

P.S. Go listen to the song “Dream Small” by Josh Wilson while you get ready for the rest of your day today!

-Emilee Ross

Unknown Endgame

Gen 12 1

“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1). This is what the LORD said to a man called Abram, later known as Abraham. He was promised to be the father of many nations, while also told to adventure out unto the great unknown to a land that God would show him. Not tell him. In this verse, the word used is raah which in Hebrew means “to show”. It’s important to note here that God would not tell Abram where to go, but show. This means that at the time Abram decided to leave, he didn’t have an endgame. Only God did, and God promised to reveal it to him at the correct time.

Abram was not the first and most certainly not the last to be called by God to travel to unknown territory. I can testify to this.

In January of this year, at a college gathering for a Christian group, I was extremely convicted by the speaker’s message to reexamine my life, specifically my future plans. At the time, I had narrowed down three graduate school fellowships I was going to apply. Eventually, the goal was to settle down somewhere as a college professor and teach Literature. This had been my plan for a couple of years now, though in the back of my mind, something always felt a bit unsettling. As important as I thought Shakespeare may be, I wanted to do more with my life then teach Hamlet. Deep down, ever since I was a young girl, I knew I would end up going to Atlanta Bible College. As I sat in that seat during the sermon, it became clear to me that the time was now. While he was still speaking, I pulled out my phone and applied right then and there. I knew that if I waited till I got back to my dorm, I would have chickened out. That night was the start of my unknown.

I did a lot of praying, a lot of back and forth with God, but all along, I knew the answer was to move to Georgia and attend ABC. I don’t have an endgame, only possibilities, but I’m trusting God that he will show me my path when I get there.

When I started to tell people about my decision, I got more support than I thought I would. I was worried about the stigma that came with going to a Bible College, but as it turned out, many of my peers and professors respected and were excited about my decision. Not all of them, though. I won’t ever forget the way one of my English professor’s face fell in disappointment when he asked about my future plans. It was right after I presented my honors project and he was encouraging me to pursue graduate school. He looked at me as if I was wasting my potential.

My mother and step-father were not supportive and are still getting used to the idea. I know that deep down, their concern is out of love, but it still hurts and strains our relationship. Their biggest issue is that I don’t have an end goal. They want to know why I’m going down to ABC, what it is exactly I hope to gain from another bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately for them, and for many others in the world, “God will show me when I get there” doesn’t work. But right here with Abram, we’ve got proof that it does. We know the end of his story. We know that God did follow through, that God did show him the way. As a result, when we are called out unto the great unknown, because we know Abram’s story, we know the end of our stories, too.

-Emilee Ross

Bitterness

Ruth 1 5

Happy Tuesday and thanks for sticking with me this far!

I’m leading a Bible Study this summer on the book of Ruth using the study guide Ruth: Discovering Your Place in God’s Story by Eugene H. Peterson. One of the reoccurring themes that has come up during our discussions has been Naomi’s role in the story. If you are not familiar with her story, I encourage you to go ahead and pick up a Bible and read at least the first chapter of Ruth before finishing this post.

There are different ways one can read Naomi’s character. Some people within my group thought of her as sympathetic, down on her luck, trying to make the best of a bad situation. Others, like myself, view her as more selfish, bitter, and self-centered. Regardless as to how one chooses to read her, there is no denying the fact that in the first chapter, she is a complainer.

She complains:

“Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow.  I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my     back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined       me.” Ruth 1:20 & 21 MSG.

Bad things happened to Naomi. She lost her husband and then both her sons. But there are lots of people in the Bible who had bad things happen to them, yet, they did not turn on God, nor were they led to believe God had turned on them. Take Joseph, Jacob’s son, for example. His whole story was one whole roller coaster ride of ups and downs, trials and triumphs, yet he never stopped trusting that God had a plan.

Naomi’s story presents us with a different sort of Biblical character. She believes God no longer cares for her. All the while, right in front of her, God has left her with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Eventually, because of Ruth and the kindness of a man named Boaz, Naomi’s faith in God is once again restored. In the second chapter she declares: “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” (2:20 MSG).

Here are the two takeaway lessons from Naomi. One, Naomi is an example of how our bitterness can keep us from seeing God’s blessings – even when they are directly in front of us. God never forgot or abandoned Naomi. He had a plan. He gave her a loyal daughter-in-law and orchestrated events for her to meet Boaz. The second lesson we can learn is that even when we complain and are bitter, God doesn’t give up on us. Even when we are fickle and only trust God when things are going well, like Naomi appears to be doing, it doesn’t make us tarnished. God’s grace covers us, liked it covered Naomi.

-Emilee Ross

 

The Underdogs

used by God

Moses is one of the most real people in the Bible. What I mean by this, is that in reading his interactions with God, often times, his responses are not ultra-spiritual, but rather down to earth and matter of fact. For example, when God tells him he has been chosen to free his people from Egypt, Moses tells God “nope, sorry! You’ve got the wrong guy! I don’t do public speaking, I’m shy…find someone else.” (paraphrasing Exodus 3). Moses does this time and time again throughout his story . What’s so great, is that God puts up with Moses. In fact, he made him one of the most famous people in scripture. That knowledge reassures me that God can handle whatever sass I may throw at him. That when I am angry and fed up with him, that I can be just as real as Moses was. That when I pray and talk to God, I don’t have to act like I’ve got it all together and sound super spiritual. I can just be me. God will not reject me when I doubt or complain. He may be a bit annoyed with me, but he won’t abandon me. I’ll never be too much for him. That’s the first lesson we can learn from Moses.

The second thing that Moses teaches us is that our weakness does not limit us in our ability to serve the LORD. Several years ago, a bunch of contemporary Christian artists got together to make an album called The Story with songs designated for each major Bible story. Bart Miller, the lead singer for MercyMe sings “It Must Be You” a song for Moses. Right now, go open up a new tab in your browser and type in “It Must Be You the story” click on the first video that pops up and listen to that song.

Moses’ life in itself is a miracle. He was supposed to die as a baby – murdered by the pharaoh, not taken in to be his ward. Moses was a stutterer and afraid. He wasn’t supposed to lead an entire nation – and yet, through God’s power, he did. God sees something in each and every one of us. Potential to do great things for him and through him.

I know this because I see God at work in my own life. You see the chorus to that song “It Must Be You” is my life’s anthem. I wasn’t supposed to succeed. In second grade I was diagnosed with ADHD and tourettes. In fifth grade, I was diagnosed with OCD. My OCD and tourettes were so bad, I was taken out of public school and homeschooled. I could hardly go into public places without freaking out. I was scared of germs and scared of soap. It was completely debilitating.

But somehow by the grace of God, I recovered. I defeated tourettes, I learned how not to let it control me. I graduated high school seventeenth in my class of 586. I went to college on a full tuition scholarship. I picked up a minor in speech communication and found how much I enjoy and how good I am at public speaking. I recently graduated with high honors. Now the little girl who would freak when a stranger touched her arm has plans to attend the Bible College this coming August.

The story of Moses teaches us that with God there are no limitations. In fact, we serve a God that invites the challenge. When we succeed, he wants to ensure that people know it was because of him. That’s why he picks the underdogs, the Moseses. It’s why he’s chosen you.

-Emilee Ross