Grace and Discipline

Psalm 117 & 118 and Ezekiel 23 & 24

Read Psalm 118, or read it again. What is this Psalm all about? What is the refrain? “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” God’s people look back on what has happened in their past and speak of God’s grace goodness and love. The Psalmist says that “he” (we don’t know the psalmist, but we will use he as the pronoun) speaks from his own perspective. The people from all nations were against him, but GOD is for him. In verse 6 he asks the great question, “What can humans do to me?” If God is for us, then who or what could ever stop us? God will save and send protection and salvation. The author says that this does not only hold true for him but it’s true for ALL of God’s people. The community asks God to save. “O LORD, do save, we ask you!” And when God answers, salvation, grace, and protection are for both the individual and the community. Upon his people he gives light (v.27) and to the individual he has become his strength, his song, and his salvation. (V. 14)

Now, compare that with Ezekiel 24:15-27 (go read it). All the words God has said in Psalm 118 don’t seem to make sense in light of Ezekiel 24. Ezekiel is God’s servant. He is a “good man” speaking to the “bad people” of Jerusalem. So what does God do? 

God kills Ezekiel’s wife. 

You may say “Jake, that’s extreme. God doesn’t kill people. He just allows her to die.” I could agree with you, maybe, if all we had was Ezekiel 24:18. Ezekiel reports the fact that his wife dies and he wasn’t allowed to mourn. But just two verses earlier, God explains that HE is taking  Ezekiel’s desire with a blow. God killed her. An innocent wife of a good man, to teach bad and rebellious men. 

Does Ezekiel say, “His love endures forever?”

Do we expect him to?

How do we reconcile this?

First, let me start with the fact that Ezekiel, his wife, and all the prophets recognized that their life was totally forfeit to the God who had power over life and death. I don’t think we should think of Ezekiel’s wife as an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire, no matter how much her story may suggest it. Ezekiel knew that everything he owned and everyone he loved was ultimately owned by God and loved by him more. 

Second, YES love. The love of God is the most fundamental element of his being. “God is love.” “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son.” “What great love the father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God!”

“His love endures forever!” 

So, the primary text is not Ezekiel but the Psalm. The Psalm prescribes who God is in love. And even there, we get our answer for Ezekiel. 

“The Lord has disciplined me severely.” 

Words alone weren’t cutting it with the people. They had heard the voice of the prophets again and again to return to the Lord. In Ezekiel 24, God is done telling them what they will experience, but will show them WHAT he will do. He was going to take his own sanctuary away from the sinning, unfaithful Israelites. He was going to discipline them. But they were not going to mourn even the presence of God being taken from them. Ezekiel showed them that they were going to lose the presence and be totally OK with it. They needed to see it, because it proved that God is the one in control. 

Finally, we need to recognize that too often we are worried too much about this life. Ezekiel’s wife may not have wanted to die, but she trusted in the Lord, as did her husband. Psalm 118 itself reminds those of us who are faithful followers of Christ that this is not the end. The stone that the builders rejected that has become the chief cornerstone. That one is Jesus of Nazareth. This work of God is marvelous in our eyes. God has made our days, our night, our beginning, and our ending. But for the faithful, this life is NOT the end. God has promised that the one who came in the name of the Lord to the shouts of “Hosanna”, or “Save us”, that same Jesus will be the one who comes in power to raise the living and the dead and give the reward to those who love him. 

Life eternal.

Goodness for forever.

Since God’s love endures forever, he promises those he loves will endure forever. 

So, give thanks to the Lord for he is good. 

His love endures forever. 

-Jake Ballard

(P.S. Not part of the main devotional text, but for those who are going through or know someone going through pain, read on. 

This post may have made you uncomfortable. Let me add the following thoughts. 

Quick summary of my points:

  1. Ezekiel’s wife had given God her life
  2. God’s love, not his judgement or anger, defines his divine actions
  3. We limited humans are too worried about the short time here when we have eternity of joy through faith

However, let me be clear :  these are not the words you share with the hurting, nor will these be your first thoughts in pain. Death is an enemy that God will destroy. We are to weep with those who weep. Understanding Ezekiel in light of the Psalm 118 is our ideal, but it may take time. If you are not in a place of pain, do NOT tell the suffering to “just get over it”. Do NOT say that God took someone’s loved one away. If you are in pain, I am not saying God took your loved one or that their life did not matter.

Ezekiel’s wife’s situation is not the way scripture speaks about every death. 

But God loves everyone, and God wishes that none perish; God is a God of life, wholeness, and health. One day, creation will again reflect the life, wholeness and health of it’s Creator, but it’s not there yet. But God may use even his enemies, death, brokenness, sickness, and pain, to bring about a greater goodness in spite of their wickedness. If you are suffering, in need of someone to hear your story, just be with you in your pain, I would encourage you to reach out to a pastor or trusted friend and ask them to listen. If you need someone to listen who doesn’t know you from Adam, but is willing to walk through your pain, please reach out to the author (Jake Ballard) via https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336. You can also find his contact information at TimberlandBibleChurch.org

May God bless show his love to you in the midst of whatever pain you experience.)

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 23& 24 and Psalm 117 & 118

Remember

2 Peter 3

Have you ever played any memory or matching games? Our family likes to watch Braingames, where they discuss different scenarios that “trick the mind.” Some will use colors that play tricks on the brain, others will use shapes to make you think a longer line is actually shorter, still others will show you tricks to better remember something. 

We tend to forget things easily, as a result we have found that it is easier to remember if we recap our tasks at the end of a conversation or email. Our family emails will usually end with a bullet point list of the main points of the email. We have even begun doing this with some of the emails we send to those outside of our family as well. 

The third chapter of 2 Peter is kind of a bulleted list reminding his readers of the main points he has brought to their attention. He reminds his readers of the the importance of the words spoken by the prophets and the commandments of the Lord. This is the foremost reminder that he gives seeking for his readers to focus their lives on these. He says mockers will come and they will ask, “Is your Lord ever actually going to return?” If you have been a Christian for very long you have probably been asked a similar question, or even thought about similar questions yourself. Peter reminds us that God operates outside of our understanding of time. What seems like a long time to us is like a day to Him. He also reminds us that the apparent delay is not so much slowness as it is patiently waiting for as many as will to come to repentance and form a relationship of hope and love with our Lord. 

Remembering these things should cause us to think of the kind of person we should be. We should be people that are consistently looking for opportunities to further His Kingdom work and bring others to Christ. We should be living holy and godly lives while keeping our eyes on the things of God rather than the things of this world. I will never forget the many times I have heard Dr. Joe Martin proclaiming, “ITS ALL GONNA BURN” as he talks about the earthly things he dreams of (his Toyota Tundra). We all have material possessions that we hold dear and that we dream of one day having, the fact of the matter is that ITS ALL GONNA BURN and that’s okay! When it burns at the coming day of the Lord we will receive eternal life. We will be in the presence of our LORD and His Son! We will be seeing the new heaven and new earth! There is NOTHING in this creation that can compare with how amazing that will be!

REMEMBER:

  • The words spoken by the prophets. (Verse 2)
  • The commandment of the Lord and Savior. (Verse 2)
  • Mockers will come with their mocking. (Verse 3)
  • God is patient, NOT slow. (Verses 8 & 9)
  • Its all gonna burn! (Verse 12 & Dr. Joe)
  • We are awaiting something FAR BETTER!!! (Verse 13)
  • Be diligent in your faith and actions. (Verse 14)
  • Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. (Verse 18)

-Bill Dunn

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 13-14 and 2 Peter 3

Seek and Find

Jeremiah 29 & 30 and Hebrews 6

Have your parents ever planned a big surprise for the family. Maybe a big trip that everyone is excited about and looking forward to. They will do whatever is possible to make it happen. My mother would always say “Lord’s willing” on the off chance that something unforeseen would happen. With God, we don’t have to worry because if he says something will happen, it WILL happen. The Israelites should know this by now, but just like us, sometimes it’s hard to get things through to them.

Jeremiah 29 is a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. We all know Jeremiah 29:11, it’s on lots of items from shirts to artwork, because it has a great message, but continue to read on, the whole passage is just as meaningful. It’s like a love poem written to His children. It starts in verse 10 when He tell them he will bring them back after 70 years, just like He promised. Jeremiah 29: 11-14 says “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.”

Even after all that happened and the fact that they had followed after other gods, the one true God had not given up on His people and He had good plans ahead for them. They just needed to trust Him. We need to all learn to lean on and trust God during the times when we may feel like we are exiled and in captivity. God has good plans for His children. But we have to do our part, it says that we need to call on Him, seek Him, and search for Him with all of our heart. If we do that, He says “I will let Myself be found by you.” He is going to restore them and bring them back to their promised land. These chapters deal with the future prosperity of Israel that God has promised them. In Jeremiah 30:24b it says “Until He has performed, and until He has accomplished the intent of His heart; in the latter days you will understand this.”

We can rest assured that God’s promises will happen, just as He has said, and one of His promises is that He will give us a hope and a future. In Hebrews 6, we learn of better things that are ahead for all believers, we have assurance of our hope of salvation.  It tells us that Abraham waited for the promise of God to be fulfilled just like we must and it tells us to be imitators of those who persevered through faith and patience who will inherit the promises.  Jesus has gone before us as the first fruits of those resurrected to eternal life and is in heaven acting as our high priest. A better day is coming for all of us when Jesus returns to this earth to set up his Father’s kingdom.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 29 & 30 and Hebrews 6

Missing Jesus by an Acre

            In the book of Mark, chapter 10, we read this story about a devoted Jew, who understands that Jesus is someone special. He comes to Jesus and asks a really good question, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). We know, having the luxury of being able to look back on all of Jesus’ teachings, that following Jesus and devoting our lives to him is what gives us the right to become children of God and heirs to eternal life. This is exactly what Jesus wants this unnamed man to do.

            Jesus asks this man to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, and then to come and follow him. Imagine being this man. Imagine owning 1,000 acres of land, filled with livestock, fields, barns and equipment. All of which would be worth millions of dollars. I mean, this is everything you have, maybe you inherited it from your father and plan on passing it to your children. This could have been in the family for generations, and with what we know of inheritance of Jewish property in the time of Jesus, it most likely was. Then Jesus asks you to sell all of it and give the money to the poor! Imagine what you would have done in his situation? Better yet, imagine what you have to lose?

            I don’t want you to miss Jesus by an acre. By that I mean, I don’t want you to miss following Jesus because of something that you’re holding onto in your life. The sad and ironic things is, later in the chapter Jesus says these words, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for my sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). There is nothing this unnamed man could have given up that he wouldn’t have received multiplied back to him in kingdom. The same goes for us, anything this world can offer, anything we have, is not even worth being compared to the riches of the kingdom.

-Josiah Cain

Links to today’s Bible reading – Exodus 25-26 and Mark 10

The Opposite of God

Obadiah and Psalm 82 & 83

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In yesterday’s devotion, one of four bullet points focused on making God the judge. In today’s reading, there are calls from Obadiah and the Psalmist(s) for justice to come from on high.  To be clear, we are not appointing God to a position He doesn’t already command, and we aren’t necessarily persuading Him to intervene.  When we implore God to judge, we are inviting Him to rule in our favor by having a life-contrast or dichotomy that would allow Him to easily see we are for Him.  We are the wheat. We are the sheep. Whether he intervenes today or not, ultimately, “Come” will be the words of invitation we will hear from our King inviting us to dwell with God in love and in eternity.  Conversely, we are all declared guilty for the first death, but we can be condemned to a second and permanent death if we are not found covered by the innocent blood of Jesus Christ.  Those who remain are against Him. The chaff. The goats. “Depart” will be the words of condemnation to those who made themselves a stranger.  There is no invitation.  There is no love.  There is no eternity. God’s ruling is truly sovereign. There is no room for shades of gray.

 

Although the following isn’t a joy-filling thought to charge the beginning of your day, we need to be reminded there is a place opposite of God.  Sometimes those who dwell there actively and openly oppose Him (Obadiah 1:3). In fact, there are people in this world who would love nothing more than to imprison Christians, outlaw prayer, burn down churches, and try to expunge the name of Jesus Christ from existence.  Sadly, this happens quite a bit across the world today, and I dare say, at an ever-increasing pace in the United States. However, we must also remember, open defiance and apathetic faith are equally punishable in the eyes of God: women and men who prioritize their lives by accumulating wealth, try to make a name for themselves, acquire dizzying intellects, repeatedly give into vices, forget to take care of those who are hungry, thirsty, or imprisoned, or many other acts not listed here that do not center solely around God (Psalm 82:3,34, Matt 25:44,45). Apathy, complaisance, half-heartedness, and postponement can place us in imminent condemnation of God as plainly as open defiance.

 

To not share the name of Jesus Christ is to annul his message. To not lift up the church is to tear it down.  To not empower the weak is to place them in the hands of those who would do them harm.  Where is the contrast in your life?  Are you living for the finite or existing for the eternal? Are you with Him or against Him?  Yes, there is a place opposite of God, but let us pray that God uses these words we read today to convict us, bringing us closer to His calling as good and faithful servants.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Obadiah+1%2C+Psalm+82%2C83&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 1-4 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Live Together in Unity

Psalm 133

Psalm 133 1 NIV

Live together in unity.  It’s sweet.

I don’t know exactly how it is that we have such a short Bible reading today – but how timely.  It won’t take you long to read the 3 verses.  And I won’t take too much of your time telling you how important it is or how to do it or how not to do it.  Instead, I challenge you – take the time today to DO it!  Live together in unity with God’s people.

So many of our homes are finding they are doing a lot more “living together” than normal with the consequences of Covid-19 policiesRemember those in your home are God’s people and we are called to live together in unity.  How will you strive today to do your living together in unity?    Seek God together.  Compliment.  Communicate.  Celebrate together.  Listen.  Apologize.  Work together.  Ask good questions.  Extend grace.  Exercise together.  Accept differences.  Share burdens.  Laugh.  Sing together.  Plan together.  Serve together.  Create together.  Pray together.  Love.

Make sure you do much more than watch the screen together.  Or complain together.  Or criticize together.

You are not STUCK at home!  You have this beautiful opportunity to work more and more at living together in unity with the people of God you get to call family.

Also, remember the rest of God’s people that we can’t physically be with at this time.  How will we live together in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ when we can’t be together?  Check in with your church family.  Find creative ways to worship and fellowship and serve together from a distance or virtually.

How will you show the world the beauty of the unity of God’s people? Pray to see the needs and act together in God’s love for the lonely, the stressed, the over-worked, the unemployed, the nursing homes, the children, the starving, the lost.

Live together in unity with God’s people.  No one said it would be easy.   It takes desire, time, commitment, patience and sacrifice to overcome the many challenges to unity.  But keep at it, remembering, the rewards are great.  “For there the Lord rewards his blessing, even life forevermore.”  (Psalm 133:3)

Marcia Railton

Today’s short Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+133&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Psalm 106-107 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Bearing Fruit

Luke Chapter 13

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Jesus tells the following parable starting in verse 6 of Luke 13 –  “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

 

Some may think that this fig tree represents unbelievers, which would make sense as they would not be producing fruit.  But I think Jesus is actually talking about believers here. The fig tree is seen throughout scripture as being connected to and representative of Israel, in both the Old and New Testament.  In Mark 11:12-21, Jesus curses a fig tree that was not bearing fruit and it withers and dies.

 

The point here is that Jesus and his Heavenly Father are not satisfied if you have the knowledge of them and their sacrifice, and then only go to church on Sunday and stay awake during the sermon. That is not Kingdom living.  That is not bearing fruit.

 

Back in chapter 10 of Luke, Jesus said the way to gain eternal life was to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Is this love intended to be kept internal?  Goodness, no. If you truly love God with ALL of your heart, then that should overflow.  If you truly love your neighbor (simply others) as yourself, I think they would know.  

 

What sort of things do you do to serve?  What do you do to show the love of God to others?  How do you use your God-given talents to honor Him?  The answers to these questions are your fruit! If you can’t think of any way that you are bearing fruit in such ways, let the parable of the Fig Tree be a warning to you.

 

I know that DOING things sounds like Works, and we are told at times that it is Faith that saves.  But I believe that Faith lived out leads to the works that bear fruit.  In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

 

So, I go back to where I started, in Chapter 7.  The coming Kingdom is real! It will be amazing! It will last forever!  You and everyone you know will want to be there. So do everything you can to spread that news, and encourage and bless believers and non-believers in the meantime as well.  That is truly bearing the fruit which Jesus will be looking for.

 

Greg Landry

 

It’s All About Love

Luke Chapter 10

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The chapter begins by Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples with the order to spread the news of the Kingdom, and giving them specific instructions.  It is noteworthy that people that heard the message and rejected will be judged more harshly than people that did not.  

 

Later, starting in verse 25, “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

 

Those are basic concepts that we can share with others when we have an opportunity to evangelize.  Add to that the knowledge and acceptance of Jesus, and then maybe sharing the Gospel doesn’t seem so hard after all.  We want people to be saved. We want that because that is what God wants as well. As we follow the two tenants of loving God and loving our neighbor, we should naturally want our neighbors to be in a saving relationship with their Lord and Savior.  

 

Not many of us are going to evangelists on the scale of Billy Graham, but we can certainly each do some small (or medium) part.  If you are worried about failing, and so hesitate to get started, I am sorry to tell you that you are guaranteed failure by doing nothing.  Doing SOMETHING greatly increases your odds for success. And remember, God wants you to be successful? He will help, and then you just have to hope that at least some of the seed landed in fertile areas. 

 

Greg Landry

 

Healing Hope

Luke Chapter 7

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This chapter is rich in content, and many sermons and classes have been built around the Faith of the Centurion, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume, or Jesus’ discussion on John the Baptist.  All very good stuff.

 

But something else stood out to me today in this chapter.  Isn’t it interesting how often scripture speaks to us in different ways based on when we read it?  That should be a very good reason to be in the word daily.

 

We have a funeral this coming week at our church for a World War 2 Veteran who lived a full life and passed away peacefully, and yet Bob will still be greatly missed.  Last year around this time, my dad passed away unexpectedly. I really miss being able to talk to him. I know many people who are currently suffering from or have recently suffered from cancer.  Someone else in our church is still suffering through a migraine headache that started three months ago. Death and suffering stink.

 

With all of these things in mind, this chapter has been an encouraging reminder for me.  In the opening account of the chapter, Jesus fully heals the Centurion’s servant who was near death.  Then Jesus raises a widow’s only son to life, after he had recently passed!  

 

Later, in verses 22-23, it reads, “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’”

 

Wow.  Imagine the grief you would be feeling if you just lost a close loved one (some of us don’t have to imagine) and shortly afterward, the loved one is returned to us, fully healthy and alive.  Or imagine if you have never had the ability to see, and then suddenly you did! 

 

We are promised that there will be a Kingdom where the dead will have been raised back to life and where all suffering has ceased.  That is hard to imagine as well. But here Jesus offers the proof that it is possible. Not only did Jesus raise the dead and fully heal the sick here and at other times, but many dead were also raised upon Jesus’ death, and then Jesus himself was raised to life.  Of course only Jesus was raised to eternal life. The rest will have to wait until Christ returns.

 

Friends, we have access to that wonderful Kingdom that God has promised.  What an amazing opportunity and reward that is. It is good to be reminded about that continually, but even more so at certain points in our lives.  Do you known anyone else who could use that kind of encouragement? Do you know anyone else who doesn’t share that same hope for the future? If yes, then spread the Good News!

 

Greg Landry

 

Dragon at War

Revelation 12

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If the story through Revelation wasn’t strange enough, it gets even stranger in chapter twelve. Here we see a cosmic woman giving birth to a child, who are then attacked by a great, fiery dragon, but then is ultimately defeated by an angel army… What in the world is going on now? Once again, it is important to read the Scriptures for yourself and to discuss with other Christian teachers around you in order to gain deeper insights into the text. Never assume that I know what I’m talking about, or anyone else for that matter; always question and look up the answers for yourself to see if what is being said is true.

 

I assume that these descriptions are further insights into the contents of the Scroll that was eaten in chapter ten; however, I am not 100% sure on that, but will be going ahead with that interpretation for this discussion. We do gain information about the cosmic battle that is happening around the person of Jesus at his death and resurrection, as Satan (depicted as a dragon) is at war with the angels of heaven during this time. Satan is unable to conquer the cosmic woman that produces Jesus (whoever/whatever that is), Jesus himself, or the angels; Satan doesn’t have as much power as we think he does.

 

Through frustration, Satan begins to attack the rest of the woman’s children, which are those who “hold to the testimony of Jesus”. In other words, since Satan can’t beat anyone else, he is going to attack the Christians next. We definitely experience this today still, as Satan hasn’t been fully destroyed, although he has already been defeated through the cross. We are weaker than Jesus and the angels, and are susceptible to sin; is there any hope of beating Satan, or are we as doomed as he is?

 

Perhaps the most practical verse for us in the whole letter of Revelation is found in this chapter. In 12:11, we are given a description about how Christians can conquer Satan. The description is three-fold; we are able to conquer Satan through the blood of Jesus, the preaching of the gospel, and not loving our lives. This should give us great hope and encouragement! We have the power to conquer Satan when he rears his ugly head, if we would only trust in these three things; the blood/sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, the power of our gospel preaching, and the power of looking beyond this life to the eternal life that God has promised us.

 

I encourage you today to spend some time meditating on these three questions: Do I trust that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to pay for my sins? Am I faithfully spreading the good news to others around me? Am I truly looking forward to the life that God is bringing me in the future more than this life?

 

Talon Paul

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