One Perfect Donor

Hebrews 10

Have you ever known someone who needs kidney dialysis to live?  Your kidneys act as very efficient filters for ridding the body of waste and toxic substances, and they return vitamins and other vital substances to the bloodstream.  You need dialysis if your kidneys no longer remove enough waste and fluid from your blood to keep you healthy.  Dialysis is usually required if your kidney function is down to 10-15 percent. 

Hemodialysis is a procedure where a dialysis machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney are used to clean your blood.  For most patients, dialysis is needed three times a week for approximately four hours each session.  Most importantly, a dialysis patient needs hemodialysis for the rest of his/her life unless a kidney transplant is received.  A dialysis patient continues to live, but not what we would call a “quality” life. 

The example of kidney dialysis reminds me of verse 11 of our Hebrews passage today, chapter 10.  “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”  The Hebraic priests daily performed their duties, offering up animal sacrifices on an altar for the various sins of the people.  But the cycle never ended because God’s people then, like us today, continued to sin.  Sin needed to be removed by their offered sacrifices just as kidney dialysis removes waste from a patient’s body. 

In truth, the sacrifices were simply a reminder of the people’s sin.  This is explained in verse one of this chapter.  “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” Heb. 10:1 NIV

But Hebrews 10:12-14 NASB continues: “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet.  For by one offering He has PERFECTED for all time those who are sanctified.”

Praise to our Almighty, loving and gracious God.  And to His Son, Jesus, our Saviour, the sacrificial Lamb who died for each one of us, once and for all. Verse 14 says Jesus’ death on the cross made we, who have accepted that sacrifice and entered into a relationship with him, perfect!  Perfect!  Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we appear pure and without sin to God.

“Now where there is forgiveness of these things, an offering for sin is no longer required.”  Heb. 10:18 NASB. When we sin, we ask forgiveness of God, and through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are forgiven.  There is NO NEED for daily offering of animal sacrifices by priests. 

What then should be our response to this marvelous covenant (verse 16) God has given us? 

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV

  • Draw near, fully assured of our purity before God
  • Hold fast to our hope in God
  • Stimulate one another in love and good deeds
  • Assemble together regularly
  • Encourage one another

Remember our introduction about kidney dialysis.  When a dialysis patient receives the gift of a kidney transplant, from a donor, the regular three times a week dialysis ends. New life begins for the kidney recipient, a life of freedom to enjoy their loved ones, to travel, to appreciate each day.  A kidney recipient is no longer tied down to the once necessary dialysis regimen. 

Regular dialysis of the Hebrew people’s sins was no longer necessary with the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice.  He was their donor; he is OUR DONOR! 

Today, when we accept that gift through repentance and baptism, a cleansed and new life is “transplanted” within us.  Praise God for the freedom we have in Christ.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”  Romans 8:2 NASB

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Paula Kirkpatrick lives in Minnesota with her husband, and is a wife, mom, grandma, school librarian, and most of all, a child of God.

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 37-38 and Hebrews 10

Some NOT NICE things to say

Jeremiah 19-20

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” It’s a nice way to remind elementary students to stop calling each other names and using insults and put-downs to hurt others. Perhaps putting this common saying into practice could lead to a more peaceful classroom or sibling relationship. I am sure I have used it more than a time or two for those purposes.

But, it is not an effective rule for a prophet of God speaking God’s truth to a wayward, stubborn, forgetful, corrupt, sinful nation. Jeremiah has been given the task of speaking some very hard and difficult and “NOT NICE” things. He must confront the people with their many sins that have gotten them into trouble, very disturbing things like killing the innocent and burning their children in the fire as sacrifices to fake and foreign gods. And, he must show the people the terror of their coming destruction which God would send because of their wretched sins, awful things like death by the sword, human remains being left for the birds and wild animals to ravage, and starvation so severe they eat their own children’s flesh.

Jeremiah’s assignment from God was to speak and write these horrific things to his friends, neighbors, co-workers, countrymen, and perhaps even some family members, as well as the king and government officials and the priests and religious leaders. And the people didn’t like hearing it at all. I’m guessing he was probably not a real popular guy to have around and likely wasn’t invited to many parties. They would much rather listen to the prophets who prophesied lies – that all is well with the world, that God is not angry (I saw that on a church sign once), that God’s mercy will always triumph and there will be no judgment, that all will be whisked away to play harps in heaven with no fear of the Almighty.

In today’s chapter 20, those who should have been listening tried to silence him with a beating and a night in the stocks. It is much easier for us to read it, than if we were to endure it ourselves. Adding to the pain of Jeremiah’s trouble and torture – it was the priest of the temple who had ordered his punishment! This was the man who should have been on Jeremiah’s side. He should have been in tune with God and should have seen the sins for what they were and should have been speaking against the sinful people, not against the brave lone prophet of God.

I love Jeremiah’s heart after this painful experience.

“I am ridiculed all day long;
    everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
    proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
    insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.
10 I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!
    Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
    are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we will prevail over him
   and take our revenge on him.”

11 But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior…”

Jeremiah 20:7b-11a NIV

But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior! He was tired of the ridicule and insults (and physical pain) he received from speaking for God. It seemed so easy and tempting to walk away from it all or just start saying nice things the people wanted to hear. But, he couldn’t. God’s truth was bubbling up inside him and he couldn’t and wouldn’t hold it in. So, regardless of what people would think of him or do to him, he would speak for God, even when it wasn’t nice things to say. And he would have the confidence that God was with him like a mighty warrior!

I pray we may have that same courage, that same convicting knowledge of the sin in and around us that can’t be ignored, that clear vision of God’s mercy and judgment, that same willingness and unstoppable desire to speak God’s words that can’t be held back, and that same confidence that we have a mighty warrior God standing by our side.

Speak His Words,

Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 19-20 and Hebrews 1

How Will You Lead?

Isaiah 65-66, Philemon 1

                What is the best way to lead people?  You may be a leader in some area of your life, at school, at work, at Church, among your friends, on a sports team, in your marriage, with your children etc…  Most of us have had some experience being a leader and I’m going to guess that everyone has had the experience of having a leader, probably many, in your life.

                There are a number of leadership styles.  Authoritarian leaders impose expectations and define outcomes.  It’s a very top down approach.  It’s efficient and sometimes required, but doesn’t always create a great experience for those being led.  If you’re the parent of a 2 year old, it’s pretty much the only leadership style.  But what works with a 2 year old doesn’t work as well with a 16 year old, or with your spouse.  It might work okay if you’re the manager of a fast food restaurant with a bunch of first time teen-age employees, but probably not so well if you are managing a medical practice with a group of physicians.

                Participative leadership is more democratic and helps people feel more engaged, but it can be more time-consuming and lead to poor decisions if the employees participating lack necessary information or skills.

                Delegative leaders step back and let the members of the team set their own agendas, which in the right environment can produce a lot of creativity, but can also lead to disunity.

                Transactional leaders use a lot of carrot and stick, reward and punishment.  They give clear expectations and offer clear feedback and immediate rewards and punishments.  It works well getting a 7 year old to clean her room or finish her vegetables, but doesn’t inspire a lot of creativity in capable adults.

                Transformational leaders inspire with a vision and then encourage and empower followers to achieve that vision.  They act as a role model.  This type of leadership is not coercive and leads to high morale.  To learn more check out: https://www.imd.org/imd-reflections/reflection-page/leadership-styles/

                Great leaders adjust their leadership style to the appropriate context and situation.  The little book of Philemon is a wonderful case study on Christian leadership.  The Apostle Paul writes to his disciple, Philemon, about their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus.  Paul and Philemon were brothers in Jesus Christ.  Paul was responsible for Philemon coming to faith in Christ.  Now, Philemon was a leader in the Church and actually had a congregation that met in his home.  When he wrote the letter to Philemon Paul was in jail, probably in Rome awaiting his trial.  While in prison he met Onesimus.  Onesimus was a runaway slave who had been the property of Philemon.  It seems that Onesimus became a follower of Jesus Christ through Paul while they were in prison.  Onesimus had become a supportive helper to Paul.  Paul has a dilemma.  He has two Christian brothers, Philemon, a slave owner and Onesimus, a runaway slave.  Paul wants Philemon to release Onesimus from his enslavement and either welcome him back not as a slave but as a fellow Christian, or allow him to return to Paul and support him while he’s awaiting trial.

                So what leadership style does Paul use?  He could have played the authoritarian card and said “Philemon, I’m an Apostle, I met Jesus personally, I brought you to faith, and now I order you to release Onesimus.”  Under Roman law Philemon had the right to demand Onesimus’ return.  He was not legally obligated to release him.  Legally, under Roman law Paul had no authority to force Philemon to let Onesimus go.  Paul practiced transformational leadership.  He inspired Philemon and gave him a vision of how being a follower of Jesus Christ can transform a person and their values and relationships.  He gave him a vision of Onesimus as more than property or an asset, but as a person, a child of God, as a fellow heir of the kingdom of God bought from slavery to sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.

                In using this leadership style Paul creates space for the spirit of God to transform Philemon’s heart, and have a much wider impact on the Church (for nearly 2000 years).  Hopefully, other Christian slave owners saw Philemon’s example and also chose to release their slaves and welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

                Paul uses his personal relationship with Philemon to persuade and inspire him to recognize what Paul had done for him and what Paul was inviting him to do for Onesimus.  This is a great example of persuasive transformational leadership.  In times when God calls you to be a leader either at school, at work, in your family, at Church, in community, or wherever you might be called to lead, remember Paul’s great example of how to be a transformational leader.

                The passage in Isaiah also gives a glimpse of leadership.  In this instance. God is leading his disobedient and rebellious children, Israel.  God’s leadership style here might be interpreted as transactional.  God has punished Israel for their idolatrous and rebellious ways.  God also promises better days ahead for those who faithfully listen to God and walk in the ways of obedience.  Ultimately, God is a transformational leader calling people to look to the vision of a new heaven and a new earth to inspire them to faithfulness now.  God doesn’t enjoy punishing the disobedient.  It’s true that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”(Provers 9:10), but ultimately God wants us to respond to Him out of love- to love him with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5).  God always leads in exactly the way we need, because He is the perfect leader.  Let us follow Him and learn from Him just as Paul (and hopefully Philemon) did.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 65-66 and Philemon

Good News and Bad News

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  Which would you like first?  If you’re like me, you’d prefer to rip the band-aid off and get the bad news over with and finish with the good news.  So let’s get to it.

The bad news.  Humans have made a pretty big mess out of this world.  Yes, we’ve done some amazingly good things too, but we’ve made an awful mess of the world.  One of my ministry settings is as a hospital chaplain.  When I visit with patients, a lot of them are there because either they, or someone else, has made a huge mess of their lives.  Sometimes it’s from drug or alcohol abuse, sometimes they are victim of crime, often they have not taken very good care of their bodies.  Sometimes they’ve been in such despair that they attempted to end their life by suicide.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time listing the ways human beings have made a mess out of the world, if you need proof, just turn on the news for an hour or two.

Here’s the thing about messes, you can ignore them, and they will simply get worse, or you can clean them up.  Usually when you clean up a mess you preserve somethings and you discard others.  You try to salvage what is worth saving and discard what isn’t.  That requires some decision making.  What to keep and what to discard.  If you want clean dishes, you have to discard the dirty stuff that’s on the dishes.  If you want a clean house, you have to purge the junk.  If you don’t ever throw anything out then you become a hoarder and that’s an awful mess and no way to live a flourishing and happy life.

In today’s first reading in Isaiah, Israel had made quite a mess.  They failed to be faithful to YHWH, the God who created them and called them to be His.  Despite warnings and pleadings, Israel worshipped other gods.  They failed to give YHWH their exclusive love and devotion.  After numerous attempts to get them to stop, God finally allowed them to face the consequences of their unfaithfulness.  God allowed their enemies to conquer them, destroy their beloved temple and city, Jerusalem, and they went into captivity for 70 years.  That was the bad news.

Now for the good news.  God was going to rescue them, restore them and return them to their beloved Jerusalem.  

Isaiah 61

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

Isaiah goes on to describe how much better things will be for God’s people.  He uses the image of a bride being rejoiced over by her groom.  God’s love for his people is great.

Toward the end of the section is the promise: ” ‘See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him”

Notice God’s rescue of his people is good news for some, and bad news for others.  It’s both the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance.  

Think about WWII for a minute.  When the Allied Forces defeated Hitler and his armies and came to the internment camps like Auschwitz, it was good news for the prisoners, but bad news for the German army.  Hitler chose suicide over the swift justice that was sure to come.  For the men and woman who were set free it was good news but for the perpetrators of injustice it was a day of vengeance.

Jesus is coming again.  In Titus 2 we are told:

“1For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

God’s purpose in allowing His people Israel to face judgement was his way of cleaning up the mess that they had made and giving them a chance to start fresh, free from the worship of idols.

God’s purpose in sending Jesus was to extend the opportunity of salvation to all people, again, to clean up the mess and rescue those who are willing to receive the grace of God.  While we are waiting for Jesus to come and all the mess to be finally cleaned up, God invites us in the name of Jesus to follow him and live Godly lives, rejecting the mess of the world.

The world is a mess and God is fully and finally going to clean it up through the coming of Jesus Christ.  For those who reject God’s grace and mercy it will be a day of vengeance.   While we wait, God is working in our lives to clean up our messes and put us to work doing good, helping point others to God.  Are you willing to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions?  Are you willing to be different (FUEL 2019).  Are you eager to do what is good?  God wants to purify you and put you to work.  Are you willing?

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at Biblegateway.com here. Isaiah 61-62 and Titus 2.

Got Money?

We’ve talked about giving money to the church, but is there anything else we should be doing with our money?  I found several ways in the Bible that we should be using our money.

The first way is not necessarily the most important thing I learned during my study of money in the Bible, but it is the most surprising thing I found.  Jesus told us to use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves.  Yup, we are encouraged to buy our friends.  People have a hard time believing Jesus said that, but look at it for yourself in Luke 16:9.  I think he is trying to tell us that relationships are important, and buying someone a lunch may be the start of a friendship that could have eternal consequences in a good way.

It is not surprising to hear that we should provide for our relatives, especially our own household in 1 Timothy 5:8.  However, it is bit shocking that the verse tells us that we have denied the faith and are worse than a non-believer if we don’t.  Worse than a non-believer!  Don’t ignore the financial needs of your relatives.

1 John 3:16-18 questions if the love of God can be in someone who has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them.  The verse in Timothy was talking about our relatives, but notice that these verses are referring to our brothers and sisters in Christ, our church family.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 goes a step further by telling the Israelites that they should give generously to fellow Israelites who are poor.  This opened the giving beyond the church family to any poor people in their community.  In verse 9 it warns them that if they show ill will toward the needy and give them nothing, they will be found guilty of sin.  It’s not just a good thing to give to the poor, it is a sin if you don’t.

Along those same lines, Proverbs 21:13 states that whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.  Ouch.

Acts 4:32-35 is not a commandment for us to follow, but it is an interesting way that believers took care of each other.  No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own and they shared everything they had so there were no needy people among them.  They went so far as to sell their land or houses and give the money from the sales to the apostles so they could distribute it to anyone in need.  It mentioned that God’s grace was powerfully at work in them all.  Would you be willing to sell your house for a brother or sister in need?

I hope the verses we covered today were enlightening or a good reminder if you had heard them before.  I think Proverbs 3:9-10 sums up pretty well what we should be doing with our money.  It says to honor the Lord with your wealth.  I would feel pretty good about honoring the Lord, but wait, there’s more.  It says your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine if you honor God with your wealth.  And I think it is safe to say that some really nice blessings would be headed your way even if you don’t have a barn or a vat.

Got money?  Honor the Lord with it.

-Rick McClain

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 57-58 and 2 Timothy 4

The Under Pressure / I Will Survive Mash-up

Job 39-40

I’m intrigued by tardigrades. They are eight-legged microscopic animals that look almost like bears when they move, earning them the alternate name water bears. They can be found anywhere on earth, surviving the most extreme temperatures and pressures. Apparently it is no big deal for them to have no air, water, or food for a while. They can dehydrate in a water shortage and sit dormant for decades until more water comes along, and then rehydrate and continue their life as if nothing happened. They can even survive exposure to outer space unshielded from dangerous radiation. They have a resilience of almost mythical proportions.

Consider Behemoth (Job 40:15-24). He seems pretty solid. He makes me think of an elephant, hippo, or in the Harry Potter universe, an erumpent. Who knows what he is anyway? All I know is that I’d rather not cross paths with one. The most a tardigrade could do to me is crawl on me, and I wouldn’t notice it. Encountering a black bear could be scary, but they’d likely run away, especially if we are in a group. They don’t want to run into you any more than you want to run into them. But Behemoth doesn’t care. He’d trample you.

“Even if the river is turbulent, it is not frightened; it is confident though Jordan rushes against its mouth. Can one take it with hooks or pierce its nose with a snare?” (Job 40: 23-24)

Like the tardigrade, Behemoth is resilient. You or I would be swept away by the current, but not Behemoth. He makes his way through the turbulent Jordan and doesn’t lose his confidence. He knows the struggle is real, and the waters may even slow him down, but this is not the end of Behemoth. Not even close.

We’re of “small account” just like Job (40:4). We all have our struggles, our raging Jordans, that we are trying to make our way through. During the process, it’s fair to want to know why we have to struggle and suffer, and where all of it comes from. Is it from a broken world paying forward the hurt? Is it the natural consequence of our poor decisions? Does it come from God, like the author of Psalm 88 might suggest? Is it from evil forces trying to discourage us? Is it just general suffering we’re guaranteed to experience? Is it some combination of all of them?

But do you think Behemoth or the tardigrade worry about why they suffer? Probably not. They just try to get through it. Maybe while you are suffering, the “why” questions aren’t going to be the most important thing. You may only have the energy or capacity to react to the crisis and pick up the pieces later. Figuring out the deeper questions might be something you only worry about on the other side of suffering.

The ability to think about suffering is both a blessing and curse. If you think about your situation and realize that you are at least partly responsible for your suffering or the suffering of others, you have the ability to learn from your mistakes and avoid making them again. In that way, being able to avoid unnecessary suffering is a blessing. But it can seem like a curse to keep thinking about the purpose of your suffering when it comes from something completely beyond your control. This is the carousel of painful thoughts Job was on.

In that situation, it is fair to want to challenge God, like Job did. Where is his supposed justice? Go ahead and challenge God and have the wrestling match (Gen 32). He can handle it. Just be prepared to be challenged back. Be prepared for the possibility of injury. Be prepared to grow and receive a new name. Be prepared to be more resilient, more Behemoth or tardigrade-like.

To quote someone who voluntarily took on suffering for our benefit and was resilient through death itself: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)

-Jay Laurent

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 39-40 and Psalm 87-88

Little Magic Screens

If you had told me as a youth, when I was attending FUEL, that there would be these little boxes you held and talked to and they could tell you anything, connect you to anyone, and navigate/track you anywhere, I would have thought that sounded as futuristic as the Jetsons. Yeah, I remember the Jetsons. On our little black and white antenna TV that required you walking over to turn the knob to channels A, B, D, and some numbers too I think.

If there is one thing that has changed the world over its history, it has been technological developments! I remember my Great Grandma, who died at 103 in Oregon, Illinois,  telling us that when she was a child there were still wars going on with the American Indians over land and people rode horses to church…. and by the end of her life, people were flying across the world, driving cars with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, and going into space.  My family was really impressed to hear what had changed in her century. But, change has always been a part of life and always will be- just like Ecclesiastes tells us. Despite the advancements she saw, she never knew what a cell phone or the internet was, but when we went to visit her we didn’t bring work, Zoom meetings, social media, texts or ask her to take a selfie with us. She would have undoubtedly been fascinated with our magic screens and boxes and always loved to hear about current events. But, I think there is a very good chance if she told me them today amidst the stream of visual/auditory distractions and demands that are in front of me, I wouldn’t have truly heard them enough to remember them 30 years later.

There are pros and cons to technology and our culture/work/schools are built on technology which I am sure will continue to increase between now and Jesus’s return.  Technology isn’t inherently bad and I am grateful for many aspects of it. You are obviously reading this on some sort of device yourself. But, until the kingdom, we know there will continue to be deceit and intentional battles to draw us away from God and to the world, and those wars seem to be running rampant in our little magic screens and virtual worlds. We live amidst crafty deceivers. Enticing distractions. Ones sometimes masquerading as “neutral” when they are anything but, and instead are very effective at destroying spiritual minds and health.

As an occupational therapist, part of my job is working with children with sensory processing challenges. They are absolutely exploding in frequency, and the screen addictions, visual problems, learning/attention problems, and social/mental health challenges associated with too much technology/screen time are very very real. I am reading the book “12 ways your phone is changing you” by Tony Reinke and learned that the average American checks his/her phone every 4 minutes.   How often does the average American pray? Does the “average American” even pray? How often does the average follower of Christ spend time with God? Even think of God at all? The list of convicting questions could go on and on. As technology and culture continue to change, we have one source of constancy we are asked to hold onto. That can be very hard.  I don’t have the solution, but God does.  And we can be thankful that He never changes and doesn’t require an IT department to access.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  James 4:8

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Luke 5:16

-Jennifer Hall

If you’ve been working on the SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan this year – keep it up! You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 15-16 and 2 Corinthians 9

Set Apart – Together

Earlier this week we read about the importance of being set apart from the world as a follower of Christ. To be called out. Sometimes at work, I get “called out” of a meeting to talk to someone. Sometimes I help patients of mine by intentionally setting him/her apart from other distractions to complete a task. Since I work at a hospital, I frequently go to the waiting room to call out a name, asking that person to stand up and separate from the others to come with me.  Depending on your contexts in life, being called out or set apart might bring that visual of being alone or isolated from others. Maybe sometimes that might sound nice?  For sure at other times, that can sound scary and undesirable.

While we are asked to be set apart from the world in the spiritual sense, we are not created to live, love, worship, and serve in isolation. In fact, 2020 shed some light into the devastations that can be caused by being set apart….alone. That isn’t what Jesus was talking about. The Greek word most frequently translated as church in our Bible is “ekklesia” which means the idea of an assembly of called out people.  The church is called to be set apart from the world. Since our English language often associates the word “church” with building and not the group of people, it is easy to overlook the meaning of the importance of our calling sometimes. In the New Testament we see a group of people called out from the world…..TO GOD. A group asked to be set apart together.

Ephesians 3:16-21: 

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

He calls us out to love one another. To be mindful of other’s needs and meet them. To edify one another. To be unified. To bring glory to God and Jesus in what we do as an ekklesia. To come together in prayer. To find strength and function as one member of a greater body. 

As we navigate another season of viruses and news stories laden with fear and confusion, let us not do it alone. And let us also not find our church families looking and sounding just like the world. Instead, let us actively seek to be set apart from the world following Jesus in our own individual lives, to find the planks in our own eye, so we can best build up the ekklesia  as we await the return of His son.

We are the church.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”  Matthew 18:20

-Jennifer Hall

This week the devotions are on other passages reminding us of the importance of of being connected to God, Christ and the church, but if you are using the SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan keep enjoying the daily passages. They can be read or listened to here at BibleGateway Job 13-14 and 2 Corinthians 8

The Vine and the Branches

John 15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  2  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes [a]  so that it will be even more fruitful.  3  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  4  Remain in me as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can
you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  6  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is
thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

One of my favorite things about summer is the chance to have a garden and watch seeds grow from tiny seeds into plants taller than me sometimes. This summer I planted a spaghetti squash seed for the first time. The tiny seed I planted in the spring has now become a huge plant, growing into a vine so big that it keeps spreading into the neighbor’s yard and crowding many of
my other plants. At first I tried to wind it around our fence to keep it climbing there, but that vine continued to spread and really wanted to bear fruit next door too! It has forced me to really watch to see which branches have the flowers turning to fruit and which do not so that I can determine which to remove.


The branches I cut off are tossed away, turning brown and withering very quickly. While I have removed many branches and seen withered plants over the years, this particular squash plant has been so prolific with fruit (which not everyone in my household is thrilled about!) and grown into such a large vine, it has really been a good practical lesson for me regarding this passage.

Fruit doesn’t grow unless it is attached to the vine. But, flowers/branches attached to the vine can grow bigger and bigger producing exponentially more seeds than I started with in April. It is clear from the book of John that is true of us also. It is a nice picture really, but one we should take seriously considering what happens to the branches in verse 6. God is the perfect creator and gardener. He knew we couldn’t bear fruit alone and sent His son, Jesus, to be our mediator and through his sacrifice and forgiveness we are able to have a relationship with God and bear fruit for His glory. To bear fruit we must remain on the vine. If you read further in John 15 you will see some descriptions of what remaining in the vine involves. Keeping the commands of Jesus, laying down our lives for other followers of Jesus, and loving one another as we have
been loved.


But, we aren’t asked to do it alone. We are asked to bear fruit alongside other believers growing in love and obedience to Jesus together. And we aren’t told to do it just so we aren’t cast away and die. In fact, we are appointed to do it “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (v.11)”. God’s master gardener plan is to bring us joy, and that can be found nowhere but in Him.

-Jennifer Hall

Even when the devotions are on other great passages – you can keep on reading through the Bible plan – read or listen to today’s passages at BibleGateway.comJob 9-10 and 2 Corinthians 6.

What are you living for?

Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Job 7-8, 2 Corinthians 5

We began this week by asking the question ‘Why?’ Why do you do what you do? What motivates your actions? Knowing our why – the purpose behind our actions – can help us align our thoughts and actions with what we really find important. To help us find our why, we need to ask ourselves another question. This will be the question on which we are judged before we enter into the kingdom (or to the lake of fire). This is the defining question of our lives: “What are you living for?” 

The answer to this question will show us what our why is. When we are living for our next paycheck, every action that we do will lead us back to how we are going to make money. When we are living for attention from others, every action we do will lead us to how we are going to get more likes, more glances, or more applause from others. It’s so important to know what we are living for. But, hopefully, it’s not too hard to figure out that the thing we are living for is Christ. 

When we are raised to Christ, everything we do should be to live for him. Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “15 And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.” We live for him! 

What does living for him look like? Paul gives us the answer later in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 “18 Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 21 He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Christ began the reconciling work when he died for our sins, and now, we continue his reconciling work as we become more like him and inspire others to do the same. We can have the righteousness of God only because Christ did this reconciling work for us. When we are living for Christ, we become ambassadors. We become the hands and feet of Christ in this world, and at every moment, we should be pointing others back to who God is and what he’s done. 

What are you living for? Be the minister, the ambassador, you were called to be in Christ. Point others to who he is, because you live for him!

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 7-8 and 2 Corinthians 5 .