God’s message to the entire assembly of Israel was “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy”. (Lev. 19:1) As we move through Leviticus, we are seeing that God is giving very specific instructions to show the people and priests how to be ceremonially clean. He is setting them apart from the other nations. He is forbidding horrendous behavior (like child sacrifice) and presenting them with the idea of being holy. As followers of Christ, we are asked to be holy as well. As 1 Peter 1:15 states, “just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”. And Paul’s writings state that God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
When we think about God’s holiness, we might feel overwhelmed because He is so awesome. But let’s consider how God is Holy. God’s supreme Holiness sets Him apart from His creation. He is unique. He is the Only True God (Jn. 17:3). He is perfect in every way. He is the Creator and Giver of all that is good, He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving, just, God is Love…
So how could the Israelites become holy? The LORD tells them to consecrate themselves-turn their lives over to the LORD. He states that they should keep and follow His decrees. Most important He said that He is the LORD who makes them holy. (Lev. 20:7-8) This was true for the Israelites, and it is true for us today. He is the LORD who can make us holy.
We need to offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices (Rom.12:1) and accept God’s ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:10b and 10:14)
According to Leviticus 11, there are plenty of animals that are forbidden for God’s people to eat: pigs, rabbits, and bats are all in this list (who would want to eat a bat anyways?), along with plenty of other animals. However, if you are like me, you enjoy a side a bacon with your eggs in the morning, or enjoy a nice, grilled pork chop for dinner. For those of you who are concerned about breaking God’s food laws today, I will encourage you to look at Mark 7:19 and Acts 10, where these commands are no longer applicable for God’s people (Christians).
However, beneath the surface of these food laws is an important concept that does still apply to us today. The reason God gave these laws for His people is put simply in Leviticus 11:44: “For I am YHWH your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” The whole point of these food laws, and others in Leviticus, is to be holy for God. The word “holy” simply means “separate” or “different”, as God wanted His people to look, live, and behave differently than the rest of the sinful world that they found themselves in. Of course, this obligation to “be holy” still applies to Christians today (see Matthew 5:48).
What does it mean for Christians to be “holy” in 2021? At a simple level, it means that we follow God’s commands that were given through Jesus Christ, even when nobody else does. Specifically, it means that we do not pursue the sinful decisions and pride that we find all around us. Christians cannot sinfully enjoy the same things that the non-believing world does, like pornography, homosexuality, sex before marriage, drunkenness, drug abuse, gluttony, or any other form of behavior that goes against the commands in the Bible. Put simply, Christians must look, live, and behave differently than the rest of the sinful world that we find ourselves in. Although there is forgiveness when we fail in any sinful area, we cannot ignore the fact that it is sinful; we must seek repentance. You may face verbal or physical abuse, lose friends, or other forms of persecution for living differently, but our obligation is to please God and Jesus Christ above all else; that is the only thing that matters to Christians.
Fellow Christians, we need to stand out as a light in this world (Matthew 5:14), being different than everybody else. We can do this by pursuing holiness and purity, serving the poorest in our communities, and sharing the gospel message with those we love. We have our instructions: we need to be faithful to God and Jesus Christ in everything that we do. Let’s be holy; let’s be different.
After being taken out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, grumbling their way through the Desert of Sin and failing many tests, the people of Israel have made it to Mount Sinai where God is going to meet with them and establish the rules for them.
3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
Then, after Moses runs up and down the mountain several times, God gives the ten commandments to the people, and it was completely overwhelming.
18 When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.
19 And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” 20 “Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”
21 As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.
When the Israelites saw the pure raw power of God displayed before them they were terrified and realized that they had been disobeying and testing the one true God. But this encounter was very impactful and the Israelites stuck to the ten commandments and the rest of the law until the time of Jesus, but we do see that their teachers had really perverted the commandments by then.
In today’s New Testament chapter (Mark 7) Jesus is talking to some of the religious leaders, and they are mad because his disciples are not washing their hands before a meal, which is an old religious tradition from the time of Moses. Jesus is disgusted with them because of the cleanliness of their hands contrasted with the perversion in their hearts.
9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”
14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.
We have talked a bit about remembering what God has done for us, and having it in as obvious of a place as possible to remind us so that we do not forget about what God did for us, and this often leads to traditions, which can be very good to remind us. For instance we have Christmas as a time to remind us to celebrate and thank God for sending Jesus, but it has turned mostly into a celebration of consumerism and credit card debt. In all of this we need to remember that it is what comes out of our heart that is the most important.
I remember a song we used to sing in Sunday School:
“Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell J-O-Y!
Jesus and Others and You, in the life of each girl and each boy.
J is for Jesus for he has first place. O is for Others we meet face to face.
Y is for You in whatever you do. Put yourself third and spell Joy.”
It’s not just a sweet song with a catchy tune for little girls and boys. There is a lot of truth in those lyrics. And it comes to play in two passages in Matthew 19 – Jesus’ teaching on divorce and his conversation with the rich young man regarding materialism. Let’s look first at divorce.
Too often marriages start to crumble when the relationship becomes a ‘his side’ vs ‘her side’. Gone is the teamwork and working together and dream of always being together that brought them together in the first place. It is replaced with selfish goals and pursuits, quick tempers and irritations, and eventually seeing their mate tragically not as their better half but as their enemy. It is not a new thing – it was a problem 2,000 years ago as well. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason.” (Matthew 19:3). She doesn’t make me happy any more. He never picks up his dirty socks. This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be -it’s too hard. I think I love someone else. He’s changed too much. She never has time for me. He works too much – or not enough. Times have indeed changed, but people, not so much. We would do well to remember and put to daily use Jesus’ reply.
Marriage was created by God – for a male and female to become one – for life. What God created is good. Humans have a way of messing up his creation – including finding ways out of marriage. So how do we avoid the hard hearts that lead to divorce? Remember the proper order. Jesus-Others-You. As you and your spouse draw closer to God and His Son it draws you closer to one another so your spiritual health is a great place to start. And nothing breaks the viscous his side/her side battle like seeing yourself as one – the way God intended. It’s harder to go into attack mode when you are actually shooting yourself, or your other half. Before you know it – you are naturally putting him or her ahead of yourself because you realize the team benefit. And the JOY creeps back into your marriage – the way God intended.
And then we have the rich young man who wanted to know what he had to do to ensure eternal life. Jesus said start by following God’s law – that is the part about putting Jesus first since Jesus came to do and teach God’s will. The man was pleased to report he did that well – but what else could he do? Sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus – that is putting others before yourself in a big way. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:22). He lost his JOY because he was too attached to what he had amassed to keep himself comfortable. He boasted of how well he kept God’s commands – but it was too hard to love his neighbors like himself. He got himself out of order. That’s the trouble with wealth – it often makes us forget to put God and others first. Jesus didn’t say NO rich man would gain eternal life, but it would be very hard. Rather than solving problems wealth often creates more. It becomes harder and harder to keep priorities straight and in the proper order when you have more and more to juggle and prioritize.
Jesus – Others – and You. Put yourself at the end of the line because at the judgment, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30). It’s the order that leads to lasting life and joy.
I have watched just enough mobster movies to know the awful fate of those who anger the mafia boss and receive the “cement shoes” treatment. That is the vision that always comes to mind when I read of the seriousness of leading a child to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5,6 NASB) Jesus was giving a pretty heavy answer to the disciples who had asked who would be greatest in the kingdom. He answered that instead of trying to be great, they should focus on being childlike instead – not immature (we see enough of that), but humble, knowing that they don’t know everything and they need a Father and a Savior. And while the child is standing in their midst – Jesus commends those who welcome a child and blasts those who recklessly (or accidentally?) lead a child to sin. As a parent and a Christian this is a strong warning that I will be judged based on how I am spiritually leading and guiding God’s children. I do not know where the line will be drawn. We might be able to safely point out some cases that would definitely receive Jesus’ condemnation (those who exploit children and youth for sex trafficking, pornography, cults or gangs). But what of the parent who signs their child up for the youth sports, campouts and Sunday morning jobs knowing it will take them away from opportunities for God’s little children to grow closer to Him? I don’t know. But it seems wise to do my best to err on the side of caution. What else can I be doing to spiritually guide His children away from sin? Life is easier when you don’t feel the weight of a millstone around your neck or cement hardening in your shoes.
And, if that isn’t scary enough – Jesus broadens the picture next – to all people and sinners and the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep oneself from falling into sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). And then comes the gruesome cutting off of body parts that causes you to sin. This gives a strong mental picture of doing whatever it takes to hold oneself accountable and keep oneself from sin. If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, to save yourself from judgment and hell. This is definitely true in a metaphorical sense. We need to do all we can, even what would be considered extreme measures, to keep ourselves from sin. And, sometimes that will mean cutting off the influence some people hold over us – cutting off a friend or family member or social media/entertainment who entices us to sin. It’s a hard thing to do, just like cutting off your hand – but it could save your eternal life. And, we must watch ourselves to make sure we are not the ones enticing others to sin!
While I love the parable of the lost sheep and it hurts to skip over it…I am going to skip ahead to the next two passages in Matthew 18 which both deal with the brother who sins against you. Having just established the seriousness of sin, the consequences for those who lead others to sin and the extreme measures we are to employ to keep us from sin – it is easy to assume that the best course of action is to shun all sin and sinners. But, wait, what kind of cut off, silent, lonely, bitter world would that be? While we are all sinners – God gave us a way to be forgiven and to restore relationships. Jesus begins to explain it here.
First, if a brother sins against you – go and talk to him. Matthew 18: 15-17 goes through an important series of steps to work towards either resolution or healthy distance and cutting off -and it starts with talking to the “offender”. Too often when we feel someone has sinned against us we talk to others about it. I know I am guilty of this and need to do a better job of lovingly confronting the person I have an issue with – first. So the steps Jesus laid out are: talk privately to the person, if he doesn’t listen take 1-2 witnesses and try again, if he doesn’t listen tell the church, if he still doesn’t listen cut him off. The goal is always to win him back to ‘God’s saving side’, not to humiliate, point fingers or feel better about ourselves or peace at any cost. But, sometimes repentance doesn’t happen, and then we must be willing to cut the ties that would bring others down to sin as well.
So, let’s assume we correctly followed the steps Jesus left. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He thought 7 sounded like a lot. But Jesus said no – 77 or 70 x 7 or whatever number you want to use to remind yourself to keep forgiving – the same way you want others to forgive you. And the same way God has forgiven you. I think we can safely assume this is not the brother who was unrepentant and cast out of the church, but a brother who was repentant and seeking to live a godly life – but still tripped up – like you and me. And so Jesus lays out the powerful Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (make sure you read it again). Now the harsh words and judgment are not for the sinner who tripped up, or even the one who caused him to sin, but for the one who didn’t forgive. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34).
It isn’t that sin is nothing – and easily forgiven. Sin (of all kinds) is something huge and serious and able to block us from eternal life. If we could see how much our sin hurts others, handicaps ourself and damages our relationship with God we might more readily run from it. But we don’t always, and God in His mercy still lays out a way for us to restore a relationship with Him, ultimately it would cost Him the death of His Son Jesus. To accept the forgiveness offered to you, but not extend it to others puts you again in grave danger. Sin is a big deal – and so is mercy.
This world is a wicked place. We see evidence of that every day. It is so wicked, that one day, God is going to destroy this world with fire. But it will not be the first time that God has destroyed the Earth because of wickedness, or will it?
Sadly, many Christians think that the story of Noah’s flood is a myth, or at most was just a local flood, questioning the accuracy of scripture.
Let’s look at exactly what scripture says, and then take a look at real world evidence for a global flood.
Genesis 6:6-7 – The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”
Genesis 6:13 – So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.
Genesis 6:18 – I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.
Genesis 7:4 – Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
Genesis 7:23 – Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
These verses make it clear that it was more than just a local flood, declaring that humans and all animals on the face of the earth would be destroyed and the earth itself would be destroyed.
If that were not enough, in Genesis 9:11 God said, “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” If Noah’s flood was just a local flood, then God has broken His promise, because we have had thousands of local floods that have taken life since that time. But God is not a promise breaker.
Finally, both Peter and Jesus make reference to Noah’s flood as a historical event, thus tossing out the theory of it being a myth.
But what about real-world evidence? Can we point to real world evidence that there actually was a world-wide flood that destroyed all life on the Earth?
As a famous creationist likes to say, “If there truly was a global flood, what would we expect to find? Billions of dead things buried in rock layers, laid down by water all over the earth. And what do we find? Billions of dead things buried in rock layers, laid down by water all over the earth.”
You are probably all familiar with seeing rock layers like the ones below.
Many geologists claim these layers prove an old earth because they argue it should take a long time, millions of years in some cases for so many layers to build up. They also claim these layers are not evidence of a global flood (which has led many Christians to doubt the flood.)
But actually, the opposite is true. What you typically observe is a clear delineation between layers. If the layers took a very long time to accumulate, you should see evidence of erosion between the layers. But that is not the case.
The varied colors of layers indicate different types of sediment. But there is no known justification for uniformity of sediment supposedly for millions of years and then switching to another type. The truth is that these multiple layers were very obviously laid down quickly as a result of a large flood.
All over the world are examples of a phenomenon called folded strata, seen below.
Hard rock does not fold over like a blanket, it breaks instead. The only explanation for multiple layers being folded together like this is that the multiple layers were still soft. In other words, multiplelayers were all laid down quickly, together, in order for them to all still be soft and pliable.
Lastly, there is another phenomena called polystrate fossils, meaning many strata. See below.
These are fossilized that stand upright through many rock layers. But the tree would rot and collapse waiting millions of years for the layers to build up around it. The only possibility is that the tree and all of the layers were quickly deposited together in short order.
As for the billions of dead things, mentioned earlier, which would have resulted from the global flood, that is precisely what we find in the rock layers, whether it be plant and animal fossils, or fossil fuels that were once various living things.
The fact that we find so many fossils is itself evidence of a great flood, because fossils are only able to be formed when an organism is quickly buried, before it has time to decay or be scavenged. And in fact, any of the fossil beds found around the globe contain mixtures of many types of creatures all in one place, even mixtures of land and sea creatures.
There are many other objections to Noah’s flood such as the ark not being big enough to house and maintain the animals (research shows that it was) or that the ark wasn’t seaworthy (research again shows that it was). Some also argue there isn’t enough water to cover the face of the earth, but researchers believe they have recently discovered a vast ocean 400 miles beneath our feet that could fill our oceans three times over.
I hope you are beginning to see a pattern this week. What you read in scripture is reliable and is backed up by what we observe in the world around us. None of the alternate ideas of origins are able to stand up under scrutiny. And the great Biblical event of Noah’s flood, which should have left a lasting mark on our planet, actually did! The evidence is all around us.
2 Peter 3:3-6 – Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.
Don’t be a scoffer!
If anyone has any questions or comments they would like me to address on any of the devotions dealing with creation this week, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shortly after awakening this morning, your body started releasing cortisol, your fight-or-flight hormone, into your body to prepare for today’s stress. The concentration of these levels in our body might be higher today than most, as you feel the mounting pressure of the New Year. You are trying to recover from staying up too late, or trying to implement a new routine, or trying to rid yourself of some addictive behavior. Unfortunately, what you do today, and any stress that comes about, isn’t an isolated event. It is the culmination of a lifetime of rehearsed behaviors. If you are trying to shed a few pounds, you might be looking back to Thanksgiving or further as the culprit. If you are trying to read your Bible more, which is why you may have very well ended up here today, you may look back to some chaos that was introduced into your life shortly after the beginning of 2020. If you are trying to quit smoking/drinking, you may be looking back to college or high school years as its introduction. If you are trying to reduce your screen time, you may look all the way back to your childhood when your parents let you watch TV without any limitations. No matter the case, lasting change is hard to acquire. Over time we have fashioned (or maybe more like, warped) our true nature, mold, or patterns, making it so hard to change. Wow. Deflation complete. And another round of cortisol is released. Hang on – Don’t fly!
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17
Today, we revisit the beginning in a couple different fashions. Not the start of a behavior, but the origin of the heavens, earth,and man. Everything that has happened up to this point in the universe has its lasting signature of this single event. The complex ecosystems of the earth, sea, and sky, the hanging of stars, planets, and galaxies in the heavens, and the most beautiful and the reason that all these things exist, our salvation plan that comes through Jesus Christ, come from a single origin: God. All of them have their catalyst in the events that unfold in Genesis 1 and 2. Generation after generation, Matthew 1 tells of God’s alignment to move us from sin’s patient zero, Adam, in the Garden of Eden, in-and-out of lives of some very messed-up, still-sinning, trying to make their resolutions work people, to the Culminating Curer, Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” 2 Corinthians 5:17,18
There is more. The plan doesn’t stop there – You and I are part of it. Since Jesus Christ offered propitiation for our sins, we can enter into the nature, the mold, the pattern for which we are created, not that one that has been fashioned by all the paper mache forms we have haphazardly placed in our life. When we do this, we will find ourselves quite a bit more malleable than before because this is the form for which we’re truly made. We get into shape by the Great Shaper. When we renew our thinking in this way, maybe the pounds are not the priority, but our prayer life (but it’s okay to lose the pounds, too). Maybe we point our addictive behaviors in the direction of God to His worship and study. Maybe we linger at church and fellowship or pile in the car after school to serve somewhere, instead of coming home to a favorite show. And when you do not do these things, thank God, you can always go back to the beginning: salvation. We do not have to wait on a sacrifice, we no longer are slaves to these things awaiting a Redeemer, when we seek out God, we are offered an instant renewal through repentance and grace. Every day we have on Earth is the beginning, a New Year or season, and an opportunity to fight for a closer relationship with God than the day before.
Welcome to the FIRST day of our 2021 Bible reading plan! Print your copy below so you can mark and keep track of your progress. Most days we will read 2 Old Testament chapters and 1 chapter from the New Testament or Proverbs or a few Psalms. Some people like to do one reading in the morning and one later in the day, others like to do both at the same time. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or more – but hop back in so you don’t miss His words to you.
Stephen is a great hero of our faith who does not get a lot of limelight, as he is only covered at the end of chapter six and chapter seven. He is an honorable man we can all learn a lot from, as he was willing to lay it all on the line.
At the end of chapter six, Stephen was seized for preaching about Jesus of Nazareth. Some false witnesses ensured that he would get into trouble with the high priest and other Jewish officials. The high priest had Stephen speak for himself, and that is the majority of the content in chapter seven. In the first 50 verses of Acts chapter seven, Stephen provides a pretty nice summary from Abraham to King David. At the conclusion of this summary, he begins to rip into the Jews for being a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears,” (Acts 7:51).
The Jews did not take too kindly to the words of Stephen, so they decided to stone Stephen. I can’t even imagine the level of pain Stephen would have been going through, as he was being stoned to death. If it were me, I would have been so riled up in anger, and I would have wanted to retaliate. However, that is not the course of action that Stephen took. Just moments before Stephen’s death, he fell “to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep,’” (Acts 7:60). What a way to go out!
Stephen followed the example set by his Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, as Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the people who crucified him. There is so much to be learned in this short recording of the life of Stephen, a lesson of strength and grace.
At the same time that Stephen’s life comes to an end, we are introduced to the man who wrote nearly half of the books of the New Testament. It is an introduction that is only made for the movies (and, well, the Bible). This man proved to be a foundational piece in the spreading of the gospel message. He would go by the name of Saul.
Saul is introduced in the scriptures as approving the execution of Stephen, a hero of our Christian faith. Not only did Saul approve the execution of one man, but he “ravaged” the church. Saul went from house to house finding people who claimed to believe in Jesus. Once he found these people, he would send them to prison. Surely, this led to many of them having to die for their faith.
What an awful start to one’s life! Thank the LORD that Saul did not follow this course of action for much longer, as we will see in the coming chapters. We can learn from Saul that God is willing, able, and wanting to use anybody, no matter what someone has committed in their past.
Let this serve as an encouragement to you, as you may struggle with some choices you have made in your past. Don’t let decisions you made in your past prevent you from being an instrument of God’s work, as God was even willing, wanting, and able to use the likes of Saul, a man who persecuted many Christians. Praise God that we serve a forgiving God.
There’s a lot to learn here, as we take a look at the life of Stephen and the introduction of Saul. It’s my prayer that we all learn to have the strength and grace of Stephen, and we don’t let our past stop us from serving God like Saul.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Acts 7-8
Tomorrow we continue the story of Saul with chapters 9-10. Don’t miss it!
Election day is only a few days away. Every election cycle seems more divisive as the sides pick and choose what truths they want to adhere to from news media and officials. When we see each side yelling at each other and calling the other names, it can seem like it’s hopeless. How can we piece back together mutual respect and trust – despite the fact that we believe differently?
In our reading today, we read about Jesus’ triumphal entry, in addition to some parables. In Matthew 21, we get the story:
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, a sign of suffering, humility, industry, and peace rather than a horse, a sign of war and wealth, to show how his kingdom would be different. The people are sure to welcome him into the city and even drape their coats on the ground so that the donkey’s feet would not touch the ground. Even though the people warmly welcomed Jesus and gave him the honor he deserved, the Pharisees saw this and were jealous. After the triumphal entry, they began plotting against Jesus to kill him.
In the swirl of the election cycle, our focus can get hazy. As we’ve read this week, there is so much that can cloud our vision and cause us to stumble and fall in our pursuit of God. But, as we inch closer and closer to the day when our votes are counted for this country, we need to rest in the truth that this is not our home. We are a holy priesthood – a set-apart nation. We are the kingdom of God on earth, ambassadors of Christ. We are not waiting with bated breath for the winner of this election season to save us.
Our King rode in on a donkey 2,000 years ago. He is who we are waiting on, who we are trusting in. He is the one who saved us.
~ Cayce Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 20-21.
In Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, he describes the ways that we put other areas of our life in the role of ‘god of our lives.’ Though the handmade idols that the Israelites worshipped – like the Baals and Golden Calves – may not exist anymore, idolatry is still very present in our modern day life. Keller describes how we, as humans, have a tendency to make good things god things, and consequently, we allow those things to turn our focus away from God. Sex, marriage, money, wealth, (self-)righteousness, and status can all be good things, but these things cannot be the ultimate thing.
In today’s passage, we meet the Pharisees who were trying to trip Jesus up with a question about divorce. They wanted to know if Jesus was going to contradict the law of Moses by saying that divorce was not legal. After Jesus responded that divorce should not happen outside of sexual immorality, the disciples were amazed and said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (v. 10). Jesus agrees with them in v. 12 when he talks about the eunuchs who chose to live that way for the sake of the Kingdom.
Then, later on in Matthew 19, a rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what rule he needs to follow to get eternal life. Jesus tells him the thing that he needs to do is give his possessions to the poor. He “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). When Jesus tells his disciples that it is incredibly difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, they are amazed and asked “Who can be saved?” (v. 25). Jesus responds in v. 26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In Matthew 19, Jesus focuses on 3 areas of life, and in each case, he shows the disciples that they need to obediently follow what God says, despite how contrary it looks to the world. These 3 areas of life can be areas where we all easily fall into idolatry. They are good things – but they cannot be the ultimate thing. These things cannot be our god, but we try to put them in that place.
The pharisees (and the rich young ruler) struggle with self-righteousness. They wanted to be good enough to be their own god – so that in effect, they wouldn’t actually need God. Though no one in the story seemed to struggle with marriage and sex, the question the Pharisees asked brings up this next idol that so many people make an ultimate thing. Both of these marriage and sex are created by God, but so often, we do not act with obedience to God’s word in these areas, and we step out of God’s design for us. By doing so, we are making these things an idol. The last area is money and wealth. The rich young ruler had so much wealth that he went away grieving. We don’t know if he made the choice to act with obedience to what Jesus commanded him to do, or if he decided that his wealth was too important to him to follow Jesus and ‘enter life.’ What we do know is that he mourned for his wealth. The disciples were amazed that Jesus spoke so harshly of wealthy people. In a culture that values money and possessions (like our own), the pursuit of wealth always seems like a good thing. However, like we’ve read this past week in the book of Luke, money can become an idol in our life, and the Bible says plainly that we cannot serve two masters: God and money (Matt. 6:24).
When it’s so easy to fall into idolatry, who then can be saved? Jesus reassures us that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” If you find yourself in a place of idolatry – putting good things in the place of the ultimate thing, turn back to God. He is the one with whom all things are possible.
~ Cayce Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 19 & Mark 10.