Hope for A Broken World

Isaiah 33-34 and 2 Thessalonians 1

Hello!

I am excited to dig deeper into God’s word with you this week as we go through some chapters in Isaiah, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy!  I have to be honest with you… I am never “looking forward” to writing these devotions when the time comes.  However, I am always so surprised and happy with how God speaks to me while I write to you, so each year when the wonderful Marcia asks for writers, I will never turn her down! I imagine that this year will be no different 😊

We are going to start this week off in Isaiah, chapters 33 and 34.  The first chunk of Isaiah is mainly discussing destruction, purification (not really a fun process), and God’s vengeance.  What I find so interesting about the prophecies of the Old Testament is that we often look at them through the lens of our current age, yet so many of these destruction prophecies seem to apply to our world across generations and generations.  People have been going through cycles of brokenness throughout all of existence!  These prophecies to broken people in Isaiah’s day applied in the moment just as much as they apply to our lives today. Thankfully, the prophecy of hope will also apply!

In chapter 33 Isaiah is describing a sad, sinful, and broken world.    There are destroyers, traitors, broken agreements, despised cities, no ways to travel, and human life has been disregarded.  Sounds pretty familiar to me.  In verse 10 God starts to speak, and OH MAN does it get exciting.  From this perspective Isaiah describes God essentially smack-talking the kingdoms of that day and putting them in their place, under Him, and shares how His people (the righteous) will be blessed and safe, also in their place as citizens to a just and majestic King.  We are told that everyone who dwells in this Kingdom will be forgiven of all their sins (v. 24).  Visualize that AMAZING day and tell me it’s not something you want to be part of!! 

In chapter 34 Isaiah explains all the emptiness and evilness that will be in Edom, a nation “set apart for destruction” (v. 5) after God has had His day of vengeance.  This idea can seem confusing, especially if we don’t take the overall context into account.  Here’s a quick recap of what we know about Edom based on the Bible: God had given the land to Esau, the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom were active enemies, Isaiah prophesied about Edom’s destruction (as we see here) and multiple other books of prophets describe the same eventual ruin, Edom was attacked multiple times, and this prophecy eventually came to pass when King Amaziah slaughtered the nation in 2 Chronicles, even though the people were not officially wiped out until King Herod (that guy that tried to kill Jesus as a baby) died.  While this still doesn’t completely answer my questions of “Why Edom?”, it does give that much more credibility to the prophets and to God following through with what He says he will do.  In my quick research of Edom to provide the recap, I came across some notes of people who had more recently traveled to the ruins of Edom and described the deserted space filled with ‘unclean’ wild animals, just as God says it will be forever, from generation to generation (v. 17). 

We also see God’s consistency in judgement in our verses from 2 Thessalonians today!  We are told that God will show vengeance to those who don’t know Him and to the people who afflict His righteous citizens (v. 6 & 8).  Our broken world has not changed, and neither has God’s opinion on how to handle it.

I am not going to pretend that God’s plans and purpose for the world always make sense to me.  But I am always convinced that God follows through on everything He says, and I do trust that it all has a plan and purpose, even when it doesn’t make sense.  Our world has always been broken (since the fall of man that is…), and God has always had a plan, and that plan has always included a way out for the righteous.  How lucky are we to be living in the age of brokenness that has the opportunity to experience salvation in such a grace-filled way?

The rest of this week we will continue to dive into scripture and see that our brokenness isn’t all that new, and our hope is closer now than ever!

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 33-34 and 2 Thessalonians 1

In That Day

Isaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

The phrase “In that day” is used at least 7o times in the Old Testament – NIV version. Over half of those times (43 times) it is used by the prophet Isaiah – and four of those times is in today’s chapter 27. Clearly, “in that day” is one of Isaiah’s favorite topics and we can’t really discuss today’s reading without knowing a little more about this phrase. It is interesting to look at all the references Isaiah makes to this time period, not a 24 hour day. Simply go to BibleGateway.com (or your favorite Bible study website) and type in “In that day” in the search bar. If you add in the slightly more descriptive phrase, “The day of the Lord” you will get additional passages listed. Out of curiosity I also checked the KJV and found even more “In that day” passages in this version, including several in the New Testament, used by Jesus and Paul (including in the Thessalonians which we are also reading this week). It appears in the NIV New Testament the phrase is often changed to, “ON that day”. So, it’s talked about a lot, throughout Scripture – but, what is it talking about and why does it matter today?

As you look through the list of “In that day” passages, you find a lot of doom and gloom as a result of God’s judgment and punishment. For example, “In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword.” (Isaiah 27:1 NIV). It also appears that pride is often the culprit that leads to the judgment, “The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” (Isaiah 2:11, and similarly in 2:17). Pride gets in the way and causes all sorts of trouble when we think we know better than God, when we forget about Him and His way and strike out in our own direction – towards destruction. Isaiah says it quite poetically in chapter 28, “You boast, ‘We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement…for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.'” (28:15 NIV) But they continue boasting and bragging, believing their lies as they get closer and closer to death. It seems they don’t even see the danger or care, they are so wrapped up in the lie that has become their false refuge.

Who do you see today who has boastfully made a lie their refuge? I have a few ideas, but what do you think?

I thought first of the movement who boastfully displays pride all over themselves as they try to hijack God’s symbol of hope and His sure promises while blatantly denying the truths of God’s creation: male and female. And, speaking of creation, what of those who make a lie their refuge as they turn from the Creator of heaven and earth and put all their trust in big bangs and chance mutations. There are also those who put great pride in the works of their hands, like the Israelites who were so proud of the capital city Samaria that they had built (and then indulged in the selfish and messy ‘pleasure’ of getting drunk in regularly). (Isaiah 28:1-4, 7-8). And, in their prideful lies they all miss Isaiah’s message that God’s judgment is coming…”in that day”.

And, while it is good to consider how these verses apply in our society, let me never forget to consider how it applies to ME personally TODAY. Where and when do I pridefully put myself and my wishes before God and His will? Do I allow pride in my Christian lifestyle or background to prevent me from loving others? How am I led astray by lies that I have put my trust in, lies about who God is or who He created me to be, what is right and what is wrong? When do I get so caught up in the busy-ness of today that I forget to remember what is coming…”in that day.

Remembering God’s righteous punishment that will be coming in that day can be good motivation to stop doing wrong. It can help me put away the pride and lies and selfish sins. The true threat of coming punishment can be powerful incentive. I know, I am a home-daycare provider. Sometimes it just takes mentioning time-out to make a child stop a moment, consider their actions and stop their misdeeds or tantrum.

But, that’s not all!

Rewards are a beautiful incentive to do what is right. As we look at the list of Isaiah’s use of “In that day” references, we see many exciting and glorious views of the future, following the punishment. Isaiah 27:13 says, “And in that day, a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” And in the next chapter, we read, “In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.” (Isaiah 28:5). It is such an encouragement to read through the passages describing the coming reward – the perfect Kingdom of God when He shall reign. In Isaiah’s “In that Day” passages of hope and a coming perfect joy and peace, he includes references to the coming Messiah and His role in his father’s Kingdom. (When you have time, it would be interesting to create a list of what other names and descriptions Isaiah uses for Jesus the Christ?) Rewards can sometimes do what threats can’t. It’s amazing to see how fast the daycare children focus on the work at hand and get all the toys picked up when there is the promise of a waiting treat.

We can be sure God’s threats are not empty, His punishments are just and the rewards He graciously gives we can’t earn but will be beyond all we can imagine! How will you prepare today for all that will come “in that day”? And, how can we help others to be prepared? Paul had some great ideas for the Thessalonians. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.   May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13 NIV)

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereIsaiah 27-28 and 1 Thessalonians 3

Rescue from the Coming Wrath

Isaiah 23-24 and 1 Thessalonians 1

As editor of SeekGrowLove, last December I created the Bible reading plan we are using this year. Each day we are generally reading two Old Testament chapters and one New Testament chapter. But, to fit it all into 365 days we’ve included Psalms and Proverbs in chunks throughout the year, taking the place of the New Testament reading. I didn’t pay much attention to what Old Testament and New Testament chapters were lining up together for each day. But, I have been amazed throughout the year at how often the two readings have complimented each other. It just goes to show how God’s scriptures are all connected, forever pointing us to the One Almighty God, His Son Jesus, and His plan of salvation and hope for the future. And, it’s been that way for all the generations who went before us, even for those who were reading His words as they were originally written by their writers.

Isaiah had been writing and preaching to the Jews around 740 BC. He was sharing many prophecies he’d received from God of what destruction was to come if the Jewish people and their neighbors did not repent and turn to God. Many of the things Isaiah wrote about did indeed come true within the next few generations. Some of the prophecies Isaiah wrote about (such as we find in Isaiah 24) were telling of a coming judgment further down the timeline – a time still in our future as well. We have not seen it all take place yet, but we can be sure that God’s words are true and just and will happen as He told Isaiah they would – perhaps in our generation or the next few.

In Isaiah 24 we read that God’s judgments will reach across the earth and affect everyone: priest and people, master and servant, borrower and lender, rich and poor. There are none who will be able to escape it because of their wealth or power or position. “The exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.” (Isaiah 24:4b-6a NIV). This will be the fate of the majority, those stuck in their sins without a Savior.

Isaiah also gives hope. To the Jews of his time he spoke of a remnant who would survive the destruction from the conquering armies and return to Jerusalem. This too, has already happened. And, regarding the judgment that is yet to come, Isaiah also has a word of hope and restoration for those who do trust in God in a world that doesn’t – the “very few” that are left after the harvest has taken place. (verse 6 and 13). We have not seen it take place yet, but we can be sure God’s words are true and just and will happen as He told Isaiah they would – perhaps in our generation or the next few.

Those who are left are shouting for joy, giving God praise and singing, “Glory to the Righteous One” (vs. 14-16). Isaiah warns it won’t be easy. This group will be targeted by the evil who tries to trap them. But, God is coming with power and justice. “In that day, the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon…for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously.” Satan, his demons, and all sin and evil and those who have turned their backs on God will face God’s judgment. And God will reign.

Truly, there are so many passages that line up so well with Isaiah 24 (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, Daniel 12, and Revelation just to name a few). For this is indeed a huge part of God’s story for the ages. It is what God wanted Isaiah to tell the nations nearly 3,000 years ago. And, it is what God wanted Paul to remind the church in Thessalonica less than 2,000 years ago. 1st & 2nd Thessalonians are often called the eschatological letters of Paul because of the many references to the end times (or, the end of this age and the beginning of the next). It was not enough for Paul to tell them how they ought to love and serve at the present, without preparing them for what was to come in the future, even if it wasn’t during their lifetime.

As we read 1st and 2nd Thessalonians this week and next, look for how many times Paul teaches, reminds, warns, and encourages the church with God’s perfect plans for our future. How does each chapter in 1st Thessalonians end? For a clue, let’s look at the end of chapter 1? “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 NIV). It is especially exciting reading of a part of the future that Isaiah was only able to allude to – the second coming of Christ Jesus, since Jesus had not come for the first time at the time of Isaiah’s writing.

May we read and heed the warnings of Isaiah and Paul as sent by God. May we be encouraged by God’s plan for the ages as displayed throughout His scriptures. And may we too turn, “to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 NIV).

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 23-24 and 1 Thessalonians 1

Which Will You Be?

Isaiah 21-22 and Colossians 4

Today we are going to look at two different groups of God’s people: those in Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah’s writing and those in Colosse at the time of Paul’s writing. Which will you be?

In many of the previous chapters of the book of Isaiah we read about God’s coming judgments on Israel and Judah’s neighbors and sometimes her enemies. It’s not all bad reading what disasters are coming to your wicked neighbors. Yay, God! Go get em! Show em who’s boss! But, it gets downright personal in chapter 22 as the prophecies of judgment and doom now center on Jerusalem, God’s Holy City. What did they do to deserve this? Well, much. Other scriptures tell of Jerusalem’s idol worship and shedding of innocent blood and even sacrificing their own children. But specifically in Isaiah 22 we are told of their pride and arrogance, their celebrations and their disregard for God. When they saw danger on the horizon they did everything in their own power to protect themselves, including tearing down houses to strengthen the wall and building reservoirs. “But, you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11 NIV). What would have changed if they had only called out to God for help?

God was waiting for His people to seek Him, to turn to Him, to cry out to Him, to confess and mourn and repent. But, instead, they were too busy. Busy with their preparations to save themselves. Busy with their sins. Busy with their celebrations and feasting and misplaced joy. Busy in their “town full of commotion…city of tumult and revelry.” (Isaiah 22:2 NIV).

They had abandoned God first. He was still calling out to them on that day (Isaiah 22:12). But, they were busy. They drowned out the sound of God’s voice with their sinful busy-ness and celebrations. So, His holy and righteous judgement was coming.

Contrast this tragic picture with what we read in Colossians 4 as Paul is closing out his letter to the church in Colosse with his final instructions and greetings. He urges the church, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2 NIV). And, while he’s got the people praying – he says pray for me, too. Paul requests prayers for open doors (not to physically get out of house arrests, but open doors to reach more people), for opportunities to proclaim Christ and for clear communication in his ministry. And further on, I love his description of Epaphras, “a servant of Jesus Christ…He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12 NIV). These people are busy, too – in prayer – in seeking God and in ministry . They are praying for their spiritual leaders and churches and those who will hear God’s message, and asking for prayer. Rather than ignoring God and drowning out His voice, they are seeking God regularly and whole-heartedly, coming to Him in prayer, always desiring to do more for Him and His Son.

Which group are you more like today?

Do you have see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Jerusalem? Are you surrounded with so much commotion that you miss God’s voice calling out to you? Is he asking you to mourn when you are busy celebrating and feasting? Are you so caught up in your self-preservation preparations that you have neglected to call out to God? Do you rely on yourself instead of on God? When you see trouble coming do you invest time in creating a longer to-do list, throw a party, or fall to your knees before God? What would be different in your life and in your community if you called on Him in prayer instead of trying to do it your own way?

Do you see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Colosse? Are you devoted to prayer, being watchful and thankful? Are you praying for open doors – not to get ahead or out of a jam – but to advance God’s gospel message? Are you busy praying for your Christian brothers and sisters and leaders and missionaries? Are you asking others to pray for your ministry? What would it look like if you spent time today wrestling in prayer?

Praying for you today – to Stand Firm in God’s Will, mature and fully assured

-Marcia Railton

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 21-22 and Colossians 4

It’s Time to Get the Heck out of Dodge

Revelation 14-18

Dodge City, Kansas made the perfect background for many of the early westerns that hit the silver screen. Any title character was the game-changing lawman who took on the town that was historically and notoriously known for its gunslingers, reckless living, violence, and pretty much the hub for all things unabiding and uncouth.  Dodge became the epitome of frontier lawlessness, and those who resided there were in a collective agreement: every man or woman for himself.  What initially seemed like a good time, a get rich quick plan, or a temporary set of circumstances became a way of life for most those who stayed, and ironically for many, that is exactly what it cost them to stay in Dodge: their life.  Those few that escaped the cruel fates of this city, these ethical outsiders who found themselves living inside its “walls”, could see the turn of the tide, and knew it was time to get the heck out of Dodge.

Dodge City is not alone for its notoriety as an evil city.  Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family hailed from Sodom and Gommah, cities God destroyed with sulfur and fire because of their wickedness.  God also gave instructions to Joshua to destroy the seven nations that were descended from Canaan (who did equally despicable things including child sacrifice).  Additionally, a once-blessed Babylon is handed over to Darius which would lead to an idiom in its own right, because God spoke through the “handwriting on the wall.” In each of these instances, God provides opportunities for the inhabitants of the places to get the heck out. (Angel’s warning and Lot’s escape (Genesis 19); Jericho’s march and Rahab’s salvation (Joshua 6); Jeremiah; Israelites spared (Daniel 5)

As we see in the prophecy delivered in Revelation, there is a new nation that is forming/formed that is not the Babylon of old, but a new one represented by an adulterous woman (Rev 12) There are definite similarities in the wickedness that is taking place in the future and that of Babylon’s past.  This new Babylon is a place of great excess which results in every opportunity to do evil (including the destruction of God’s prophets), and possibly a physical location to the events that are taking place near New Jerusalem (although some think it may be a western civilization like the United States) soon to be established by Jesus.  So what is the word given for those who reside in this place?  That same warning delivered by Jeremiah 600 years prior:  Flee from Babylon!  Run for your lives! (Jeremiah 51:6)  

We do not need to be able to pinpoint on a map where this new Babylon is in order to make plans to run in the direction of God.  He will deliver those who follow his perfect and pleasing will, making a way for those who choose Him.  While the United States or the Western World may or may not be the Babylon spoken of here in this text, with some quick conjecture, there are striking similarities in the way our culture is rapidly shifting in the last half-century or so.  The quest to be the source of  knowledge is valued more than faith in God Almighty. Our wealth and standard of living continue to increase, but so do our distractions and devices. Lawful and unlawful wickedness occurs even to the point that lives of children are being destroyed.  So, does this mean that we should flee to a new country?  Probably not. And it isn’t our physical location that is the primary issue.  It is the heart. We need to make distinctions about our citizenship – it is kingdom bound first.  We are simply in this world, not living for it.

So where have you made your encampment?  Just outside of Sodom?  It won’t be long before you are inside the city walls (Genesis 13:12).  Is your indulgence a constant? Then it is not a vacation home — it’s where you live. Run away from Sodom!  Flee from Babylon!  Get the heck out of Dodge!  This is a cry to myself and to you.  Keep yourself from getting tangled in the web of fulfilling your every whim, pursuing knowledge that gives you some sort of power or position, and desiring things that have nothing to do with God’s kingdom. Your diplomas, your clothing, your dwelling, and your status are the commodities of moths.  Bridle your body so your hands and feet are available to do the work of God or physically move if you must (FLEE! 2 Timothy 2:22) Only then can we be saved from the fate of Babylon and live in the fullness of the new city worth taking up residence.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 14-18

Tomorrow we finish the book and the year with Revelation 19-22.

Stay tuned for the big unveil – SeekGrowLove’s Bible Reading Plan for 2021!

The evil people will not gloat

Ezekiel 24-27

Ezekiel 25 6 7 NLT sgl

In Ezekiel 24-27 things start to get rough for Israel and then God starts handing out judgements for the enemies of Israel right away.

 

“In the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.”  (Ezekiel 24:1-2)

 

This occurred around 588 BC, when the siege of Jerusalem began.  This siege lasted between 18-30 months, and was horrific for those involved.  So that Ezekiel can understand how this feels for God to have his people destroyed completely, God allows Ezekiel’s wife to die.  This is very rough, but many people were dying in Jerusalem at this time.  While Ezekiel and God are going through some very rough times in the middle of this God starts to deal out judgments to the nations around Israel that were enemies and took advantage of Israel’s plight, and were happy to see Israel brought low.  Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, and Tyre are all mentioned as part of the curses in chapters 25 and 26.  These nearby nations would have known about the God of the Jews and would now be mocking him, since it did not appear that he could protect his own people.  For the sake of his name God will bring down harsh judgement on them so that they will not forget to fear him.

 

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet, rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel,  therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations. I will wipe you out from among the nations and exterminate you from the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 25:6,7)

 

This is a low point for Israel, and for the surrounding nations, and we will see that the bad times will only continue for some of these nations.

Chris & Katie-Beth Mattison

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 24-27

Tomorrow’s reading will be Ezekiel 28-31 as we continue with Ezekiel and our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

They Will Know

Ezekiel 5 – 8

Ezekiel 6 10a NIV sgl

According to chapter 1, God called Ezekiel on July 31, 593 BC (using our calendar).   Jerusalem didn’t fall to Nebuchadnezzar until 586 BC.  This means that the first 7 years of Ezekiel’s prophesying in Babylon overlapped the last 7 years of Jeremiah’s prophesying in Jerusalem.

 

In addition to foretelling Jerusalem’s destruction for her sin, Ezekiel adds another recurring theme – “then they will know that I am the Lord.”  This phrase occurs 70 times in the book of Ezekiel, so it must be important.  Ezekiel 6: 9b-10 is an example, “They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.  And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.”

 

7:3-4 says, “The end is now upon you and I will unleash my anger against you.  I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices.  I will not look on you with pity or spare you; I will surely repay you for your conduct and the detestable practices among you.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

 

And God pointed out through Ezekiel that He wouldn’t listen to their prayers, because of their sin.  We see an example of this in 8:18, “Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them.  Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”

 

As we read this, we may think, “They were sure idiots for not turning back to God.”  But I wonder what truths might apply to us today?

 

Some of their sins were: idolatry, greed, arrogance, and lack of mercy – and these infuriated God.  If we were compared with the ancient Israelites, how would we as a nation measure up?  How would I as an individual measure up?

 

You may want to ask yourself a few questions:

 

  1. Is God more important to me than anything and everything else?  (If the answer is no, that sounds like idolatry).  And to make sure we understand what it means to put God first, is He obvious in every area of life – including areas as diverse as finances, conversation, entertainment, and charity?

  2. Am I merciful?  If you answer yes, how are you demonstrating that?  For example, how are you helping resolve the racial tensions that seem to be tearing our nation apart right now?  How are you helping those less fortunate than yourself?

  3. Am I greedy?  If the answer is no, where and how are you giving your time and money to God’s work – and to others?

 

If I’m honest, I see that I may not be much more righteous than the ancient Israelites.  And we as a nation don’t measure up well at all.

 

Romans 15:4 reminds us, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

 

If these things were written to teach us, will we learn?  What will it take for us to know that God is the Lord?  Will we humble ourselves, confess our sins, repent, and turn to God wholeheartedly?

 

2 Corinthians 6:2 reminds us, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

 

Hebrews 3:15 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

 

What will you do?

Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to here Ezekiel 5-8

Tomorrow’s passage will be Ezekiel 9-12 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Why, God?

Habakkuk 1-3

Habakkuk 1 3 NIV sgl

It is a common question asked through the ages, “Why, God?”  Why do the wicked succeed?  Why do the violent survive?  Why is there injustice in the nation and even in the courts?  Why, God?  Why?

Habakkuk had the same questions.  He lived during the “end” days of Judah, before the Babylonian captivity we have read about the last 2 days.  He had a heart for God and sought to do what was right.  But, what about everyone else?  He was outnumbered, “The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:4 NLT).  And that can be a hard place to be.  Where right has become wrong and wrong has become right.  And, where was God?  Why was God not taking action to right the wrongs, punish the evil and make things right?

God answered Habakkuk, but it certainly wasn’t the answer he was expecting or wanting.  God did see the evil, violence and injustice. and he was taking care of matters – in His time and His way.  He revealed to Habakkuk that He was preparing the wicked, idolatrous Babylonian neighbors to the north to bring God’s judgment on Judah.  Wait, a minute, God – they are even worse than us!  That’s not fair!

If God had a penny for every time He heard that line – but, He owns everything already.

He doesn’t need your penny – or your advice.  God doesn’t need to be understood by His creation.  But we would be wise to accept His sovereignty, as Habakkuk did.  Even when faced with answers He didn’t fully understand or like, Habakkuk realized and accepted that God was in control.  He would punish Judah – and then Babylon – when and how He wanted.  And, He would show His power, His patience, His justice, His grace, and His love when and how He saw fit.  God’s people can rest in that knowledge.  There is a lot we don’t have to know or understand – a lot of “why’s” we can’t answer.  But we can rest in knowing that God knows.  He knows.  He sees.  He’s got this.  He is working out all things.  We can bolster our faith and reliance on God’s way by joining with Habakkuk as He proclaims:

I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:16-19 NIV

 

In our questioning, in our fear, in our uncertainty – yet we will wait patiently for God.  He WILL set things straight.  His perfect judgment is coming.  Until then, wait and rejoice in God our Savior – He is our strength.

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at Habakkuk 1-3

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 41-45 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

His Law & Love

Numb 5-6 CainPicture1

Right at the beginning of chapter 5 we continue the theme of supreme holiness.  This helps me remember that chapter and verse separations are not part of the original scriptures. For me, sometimes using verse and chapter markings can hinder my Bible study because I can see them as walls dividing different ideas or topics instead of a continuation of an idea.  That being said, we see God’s holiness carry over from chapter 4 to chapter 5. He wants His people to be so holy that He doesn’t even want unclean people in the camp. Of course, this could have medical benefits as well, which I think is another reason God instructed His people to leave the camp if they are unclean (verses 1-4).

In verse 6 there is something that grabs my attention. The NASB translation says, “Speak to the sons of Israel, ‘When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the LORD, and that person is guilty”. The word unfaithful is מַעַל (maal) in Hebrew. It is the same word that is used to talk about unfaithfulness in marriage. You will notice that the rest of the chapter deals with unfaithfulness in marriage. I think it is intriguing how God sees sin and idolatry as unfaithfulness in the same way that people see unfaithfulness within marriage. In fact, this is the premise of the entire book of Hosea. God uses the authentic metaphor of an adulteress wife to show how Israel acts towards Him. In God’s eyes, sin and marital unfaithfulness are one and the same.

Speaking of marital unfaithfulness, the majority of chapter 5 deals with an interesting situation that may arise in the lives of the Israelites. We are presented with a situation where there is a jealous man who thinks that his wife might have been unfaithful in their marriage, but there is no proof. No one saw her with another man; there is just suspicion. Now I think it is important to understand the world in which the Israelites live. Surrounding the time the law was given to the Israelites, there were other nations with other laws to deal with similar situations. Here is what the code of Hammurabi says about a woman accused of adultery, “If a man’s wife should have a finger pointed against her in accusation involving another male, although she has not been seized lying with another male, she shall submit to the divine River god for her husband.” This divine River god test pretty much consisted of her husband making her jump into a raging river and if she survived then the “god” ruled that she was innocent and if she died then she was guilty and her judgment was given to her. Keep this in mind as we go through Numbers 5.

If a Jewish man had suspicion that his wife was unfaithful, he didn’t throw her in a river to see what happened. Instead, he had to go to the tabernacle and see a priest. The couple would bring barley meal as a memorial offering and then the priest would set out the rules for the test that was to come. Essentially, the woman agreed to drink some water mixed with a little bit of dust and ink. A little bit of dust and ink isn’t going to have major adverse health effects unless there actually is some divine judgment involved in the situation. However, jumping in a raging river has been known to kill people even if they weren’t unfaithful in their marriage. This test takes the judgment out of man’s hands and squarely puts it in the hands of God to make the call. I know it doesn’t look like it at first, but this dust and ink water test is a major step forward for women in ancient history. No longer can a man choose to beat his wife or throw her in a river based on his suspicion. He must do the very public act of taking her to the tabernacle and allowing God to make a judgment. If you notice in verse 28, she is free if the judgment doesn’t come over her. This means the man can no longer bring this charge against her. Women weren’t treated this well in any other society on earth during this time in history. The Bible puts men and women on equal playing fields in value. God makes sure that His people cannot take advantage of women the same way other nations do.

Many people want to point a finger at the Bible and say that it’s misogynistic and oppressive to women. However, God’s law ensured that women were taken care of and given the same value as men. God doesn’t hate women; He made both men and women in His image. I think there are two major points we can pull out of Numbers 5. First, God sees sin as a spouse sees marital unfaithfulness and second, God values both men and women the same. God put into effect laws that protected both His holiness and the holiness of His people and He made sure the men of His people couldn’t abuse the women who are also made in His image. This is a true gift of the Bible. In every page, in every sentence, we see the heart of God coming alive to us. Even in obscure laws about obscure situations, we see God’s heart for His people.

Now let’s take a look at Chapter 6. The majority of this chapter is dedicated to explaining the Nazarite vow. A Nazarite vow is a special vow that a person can take to dedicate themselves to God. Notably, Samson partook in a Nazarite vow which is why he lost his strength after his hair was cut. A part of the promise to Samson was to keep his vow with God and once he broke that vow, his strength left him. If you wish to take a Nazarite vow, remember the wise words of Ecclesiastes 5:5, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” The Nazarite vow is so intense it even bars contact with dead relatives which would make a person unclean. Yes, if you were in a Nazarite vow and a close relative died, you wouldn’t be allowed to attend their funeral without breaking your vow. This is how serious the Nazarite vow is.

The last few verses of chapter 6 are an interesting section usually referred to as the Aaronic blessing (Aaronic referring to Aaron, the brother of Moses). The words of the Aaronic blessing are beautiful and tender. God asks for Aaron to make known how much God cares for His people.  In these words we see God’s heart. Later, there is a great promise that proclaims “they shall invoke my name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them”. Ultimately, God wants us to call out to Him in all seasons. When we see Israel go off track in the Old Testament, God desires for them to return to Him so that He can return to blessing them. We see this in Matthew 7:11 as we are reminded that God is our Father.  “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Don’t these words resonate so well with what we see in Numbers 6?! Our God doesn’t change – He still loves us and wants to bless us. If God didn’t change in the 1,400 years between the writing of Numbers and the words of Jesus, then surely He hasn’t changed between the time of Jesus and our time now. If you are a child of God today, God wants to bless you and wants to take care of you. Take peace and find rest in this truth.

 

Josiah Cain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+5-6&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Numbers 7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan (1) (1)

Avoid Sin, Rejoice in Justice

Revelation 18

Revelation 18 4 NIV
 
Yesterday our focus was on the identity of this Babylon the Great. Today our focus is on the destruction of Babylon. 
Babylon (Rome and other anti-God systems of the world) falls. The beast and the heads turn against her and devour her in the end of chapter 17. The nations, kings, and merchants of the world weep over the fallen city. They will no longer have the power, authority, or wealth she provided to them, and they are sorrowful for their loss, not really her destruction. All this happens in “one hour”, or an instantaneously short time. She will be brought low, but heaven is told to rejoice. 
What do we learn from this chapter? Those nations and systems that oppose God (like Babylon and Rome) will not last forever. Revelation shows us that God will bring them down. But what are we called to DO with that information? Two actions seem to be demanded of us in Revelation 18. In verse 4, the people of God are called to “come out of her”. Did this mean literally pack your bags and move? Maybe. But it most definitely meant to not participate in her sin. Don’t act like the ones who don’t know God in Babylon. Today, that is still the case. In the words of Jesus, we are in the world (that is, the world apart from God), and have not been taken out of it. We do business with those who don’t know God, we work with them, and go to school with them, and even try to love them. But we don’t act like them, we don’t participate in the sins the world, we are not “of” the world. So firstly, we must behave in such a way that we are more like Christ than our neighbors, more like Jesus than the Joneses. (Compare to John 15:19, 17:15)
Secondly, we are called to rejoice over the judgement of God. Many times the justice and severity of God makes me sad. I want all people to be saved and God wants that too! (1 Tim. 2:4) In the case of Babylon the Great, though, we are talking about a city that drank the blood of saints, and persecutes the people of God. Rejoice that God will not allow that to continue. God will not sit idly by forever, ignoring the cries of his people. There will come a day when justice will be poured out on to the heads of those who righteously deserve it. In the way that Babylon “paid” (by torturing, tormenting, murdering), that is the way she will be “paid”, the author says in 18:6. Wickedness will be eradicated, and only righteousness will remain. Praise God!
 
Avoid Sin, Rejoice in Justice. This is the calling of Revelation 18 upon the believer.
Jake Ballard