Who are You Imitating?

Matthew 5-7

Today’s reading comes from Matthew 5-7.  You may know this as “The Sermon on the Mount”, and this may be among the most well known passages in the Bible.  The Jews Jesus was teaching knew the Old Testament laws really well.  Jesus took this opportunity to focus on what God really requires – he focused on matters of the heart, not just following the letter of the law.

For example, the old law said, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”  Jesus took it further and taught, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”  This is a difficult teaching, but wait – there’s more.  

Then, in Matt 5:42-45, Jesus tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” – This is even harder to follow.

In this passage, Jesus is telling us more of the reason behind his new rules.  God loves even those who hate him, and he does them good – in spite of their hatred for Him.  And we should imitate this characteristic of God.  Jesus takes this even further in verse 48, where he said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  – Ok, now this isn’t possible to obey without some serious help from God.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  Basically, this is asking God to forgive me only to the extent I forgive others.  Jesus then told us plainly in Matt 6: 14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  – This is a pretty good reason to forgive others! – But still not easy to do.

Then, Jesus tells us in Matt 7: 1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  – Did you catch that?  I will be judged in the same way I judge others.  This is a pretty good reason for me to not condemn others!  This goes back to the old saying, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

As I read these passages, a couple things jump out to me.  First, I need to imitate God as much as possible. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at doing this, so I need to beg for His forgiveness.  Fortunately, He is loving and extends grace.  From His example, I recognize I need to be loving, and extend grace too.

Second, once I recognize I am a worthless sinner, saved only by the grace of God, it’s suddenly easier for me to be less eager to condemn others.  Then, if I can see them through God’s eyes – as other sinners in need of grace – that makes it even easier for me to extend grace to others.  And that grace may take the form of forgiving them, or of not judging them, or even turning the other cheek if they hit me.  On our own, this isn’t possible, but we can do these things with God’s help.  Ultimately, we can (again with God’s help) come to the point of loving or enemies, and blessing those who persecute us.

Jesus closes this section talking about the wise builder (who built on a rock) and the foolish builder (who built on sand).  The wise man was likened to someone who listened to Jesus’ teaching, and put it into practice – building his life on the rock.  The foolish man was likened to someone who listened to Jesus’ teaching, and didn’t put it into practice – building his life without a foundation.  In both instances, storms come.  But only the house built on the rock survived.  By analogy, only the life founded on Jesus’ teachings will not be destroyed.

So again, we find that today’s reading has implications for us today, and for eternity.  And just knowing these truths isn’t enough, we must put them into practice.  Please join me in taking this seriously.  Apply this to your life.  Ask God’s help living up to these requirements that are impossible to accomplish on our own.  Become an imitator of God.  The reward is eternal.

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 5-7.

Tomorrow’s reading will be Matthew 8:1-13 and Luke 7 as we continue on our Bible reading plan. SeekGrowLove.

God’s Return Policy

Zechariah 1-7

Have any of you ever bought something and then decided that you need to return it and you check to see what the return policy is before you take it back. In Zechariah, we will read about God’s return policy. The book of Zechariah begins in the 8th month of the 2nd year of King Darius of Persia. Babylon had destroyed the temple in 586 BC. The Jewish people finished building the new temple in 516 BC. This book takes place in 520 BC when Zechariah and Haggai, both contemporary prophets, urged the people to finish building the temple. God had made promises to Israel, and one promise was that the children of Israel would return to their land from exile and the Lord would return to His temple with them. Jeremiah 29:10: “For thus says the Lord; after seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good work toward you and cause you to return to this place.” In Zechariah, God was making good on His promises. Fittingly, the name Zechariah means “the Lord has remembered.” The children of Israel were returning to their homeland.

But Zechariah doesn’t just have messages for the children of Israel in 500 BC, it still speaks to us today. Chapter 1:3 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” This is a recurring theme in the Bible since the fall in the Garden of Eden, God, wants to have a relationship with His children, and He has promised if we turn to Him, He will turn to us. It continues in the New Testament, James 4: 8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” So often we, like the children of Israel refuse the offer of a close and personal relationship with the Lord of hosts. God used Zechariah to encourage the children of Israel in what may have seemed like an impossible task, rebuilding the temple. He wanted them to know that they could not do this task on their own but with His help, it would be done. In Chapter 4:6b it says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” When we have a task that we think we can’t accomplish, we may be right, if we are depending on our might or power. We need to rely on God, and His might and power, when we have difficult times in our life. This verse seems very appropriate for what our nation is going through today. Chapter 7:9-10 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien, or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.”  In these verses we find the heart of God and how He wants us to treat others. The world will be a better place when we all take these words to heart and show the love of God to all that we meet and have contact with in our lives. It’s good to know that God’s return policy has no restrictions or exceptions. “Return to God and He will return to you.”

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Zechariah 1-7

Tomorrow we will read Zechariah 8-14 as we continue on our

Joel 1-3: Minor Prophet, Major Message

12 Even now— this is the Lord’s declaration— turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. Joel 2:12-13 (HCSB)

Today we’re going to read the book of Joel (hey, that’s my name!). It is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament, so I’ll keep my thoughts on it brief. It was written as a wake up call to God’s people. As you’ve been reading through the Prophets, it should have been quite apparent that God wasn’t the happiest about the actions of His people. That’s why we have this particular section of scripture; if Israel hadn’t messed up so bad, God wouldn’t have had to tell them so. Joel doesn’t say much different than the other Prophets; he is just rehashing the same message because apparently, Israel still hasn’t learned its lesson.
Here’s the condensed version of the message: you’ve sinned and made God angry, but He loves you and wants you to live, so turn away from your wickedness. 


This message, which was proclaimed to the Jews first, is just as relevant today for us as it was then for them. Only today we have the added part: God loved you so much He sent His only begotten son so you can live eternally (John 3:16). We still live in nations full of wickedness, we still raise idols to a status reserved only for Yahweh, we still do wrong when we know what’s right, and we still let the ungodly have undue influence over us. The words spoken through the Prophets to the people of Israel still hold value for us, and I hope we will do a better job heeding them than the original recipients. 


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through Joel and the last chapters of Ezekiel with me this week.

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Joel 1-3

Tomorrow we will begin the book of Daniel (chapters 1-3) as we continue seeking God on our

Don’t Give Up Now

Jeremiah 35-37

Jeremiah 36 28 NIV sgl

We sure could use a few more Jeremiahs today!  He was quick to follow God’s instructions, and he boldly spoke God’s truth even when it was quite unpopular.  And, he didn’t quit!

At the time of the events of Jeremiah chapter 36 the prophet had already been preaching to his Jewish brothers for over 20 years – warning them of God’s displeasure and the coming wrath if they don’t repent and turn from their wicked ways.  Over and over again he has urged the people, the kings, the priests to stop sinning and return to God.  But as a nation, they don’t get it.  They revel in their freedom, follow after the gods of their neighbors and fall further and further from what God designed them to be – His chosen people who love Him and follow Him and are blessed by Him.

The 20 plus years of preaching hasn’t turned the hearts of Judah back to their Creator.  Maybe if it was ALL written down – would the people listen then?  God tells Jeremiah to write down all the sermons he has ever preached – every word that God has given him from the very start of his ministry.  God said, “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:3 NIV).  Even though God hates the sins of His people He still loves them and wants to give them another chance to come back to Him.  And so a great project begins.  Jeremiah dictates as his scribe Baruch writes it all down.  Perhaps the people will listen.  They spend over a year writing – God has said a lot.  How will the people respond to this book that lays it all out?

Since Jeremiah’s unpopular (but very Godly) message has already had him personally banned from the temple, Baruch is sent to read God’s words through Jeremiah to the people.  One who hears it, Micaiah, realizes the importance of what has been written and he arranges a reading of it with some of the royal officials.  “When they heard all these words, they looked at each other in fear” (Jeremiah 36:16) and they arrange for the king himself to hear the words on the scroll from Baruch, Jeremiah, and ultimately God.

Here’s the king’s chance.  He can hear God’s word and repent and lead the nation into a time of Godly reformation, thus saving them from God’s wrath at the hands of the Babylonians – just as his father Josiah had done years ago.  But King Jehoiakim thinks he knows better.  His arrogance and hardened heart don’t crack.  Instead, as the scroll is read to him in his chambers, he cuts it apart and burns God’s word, piece by piece.

Can you imagine the anger and defeat and perhaps fear Jeremiah and Baruch may have felt when they heard the fate of their scroll – God’s words?  To know the utter disrespect they (and their God) had received – and how their work was violated and destroyed.  And they didn’t even have a copy saved on their hard drive.  Totally lost.  Over a year’s work, gone.  But, God’s Word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).  So, when God tells Jeremiah to write it all down again – with an extra word for Jehoiakim – Jeremiah and Baruch get to work – and the second work is completed, more impressive than the first.

God’s Words are priceless.  Some will hear and respond and pass it on – to work to save themselves and their hearers  (1 Timothy 4:16).  Some will scoff, show no fear and even seek to destroy it.  It does not change the supreme importance and value of the words – or the God who spoke them.  Nations, kings, priests, people; past, present and future will be judged by how they respond to God and His Word.  The king who brazenly cut apart and burned the scroll paid with his life – and his children and country suffered mightily for it as well.  Jeremiah and Baruch had far from an easy life – but they didn’t give up.  They kept at it – living, writing, sharing, reading, speaking God’s Word.  Striving to help save those in danger of experiencing God’s wrath.  Will you stand with them today and be a Jeremiah?

Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passage, Jeremiah 35-37, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+35-37&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Jeremiah 38-40 and Psalm 74 &79 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

His Love & Discipline

Jeremiah 26-29

Jeremiah 26 2b 3 NIV sgl

I love God’s optimism.  Sometimes God reminds me of a Jewish mother, always looking for the best in her son.

“Three Jewish mothers are sitting on a bench, arguing over which one’s son loves her the most. The first one says, “You know, my son sends me flowers every Sabbath.

“You call that love?” says the second mother. “My son calls me every day!”

“That’s nothing,” says the third woman. “My son is in therapy five days a week. And the whole time, he talks about me!”

God is optimistic like that: “Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.” (Jeremiah 26:2-3).

God was more than ready to forgive them.  God had no desire to punish His people.  He gave them every opportunity to repent.  But instead of heeding the warnings of Jeremiah and changing direction, they wanted to kill the prophet.  Jeremiah was eventually spared, but the people still failed to listen to his warning and repent.  Babylon ultimately did conquer them and carry them back to Babylon in Exile.

Jeremiah warned that the exile would last 70 years.  Another “prophet” named Hananiah came back and said that in just 2 years they would all be back and everything would be okay.  Hananiah flat out lied.  He was spreading fake news (see yesterday’s devotion).  It ended up that Hananiah is the one who died and his prophecy did not come true.

Once the exile began there was no turning back.  But God had a plan for that time in exile.  It was actually to protect his people.  Just as their years of captivity in Egypt enabled Israel to grow from just a few people into a great nation capable of taking possession of the promised land, this time of exile was intended to be a time for God to both cleanse the land from idolatry and cleanse God’s people from their idolatrous ways.  While the exile might have felt like a punishment and a judgement, and it was, it was actually intended by God to help bring his people back to righteous living.

When a parent punishes a child, the healthy parent is not getting any joy from seeing their child suffer.  The old expression “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you” has a real basis in truth.  A loving parent punishes, or better – disciplines, their child out of love.  The child has been acting in ways that are ultimately harmful to themselves and they need correction.  After numerous warnings and Israel’s failure to heed those warnings and repent, God had to take bold corrective action.  But the intent and purpose is love.  They needed to be purged of their idolatrous practices which included sacrificing their children to the gods of the age.

The exile was intended by God to purge them of their idolatry and purify them as a people.  As they were living in Babylon they were to live as good citizens.  They were to “seek the peace and prosperity” of the place in which God had brought them (Jeremiah 29:7).  Babylon was certainly not a perfect place and had its own share of godlessness and evil, but God’s people were to live peacefully and seek the good of Babylon while they were there.

I would encourage you to read carefully the letter that God had Jeremiah send to the exiles in Babylon found in chapter 29.  This is instructive for Christians today.  As Christians in the world today, we are ultimately children of God, citizens of God’s coming Kingdom.  Our King is Jesus and he is currently in heaven, waiting for the day when he will return to earth and establish God’s kingdom.  So our citizenship is currently in heaven.  When our king comes and the earth is transformed, our citizenship will be here on the renewed earth.  Until that time, as we live here we are resident aliens.  I may be a US citizen in the United States in name, but ultimately, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom living here as a stranger and foreigner.  Peter calls us exiles.  You and I are exiles living here just as the Jewish people were exiles living in Babylon in Jeremiah’s time.

As exiles here we should practice the same things that Jeremiah told the Jews in Babylon to do as exiles there.  We should get married, have families, increase in number and pray for the place we are living.  We are to continue the creation mandate given in Genesis 1- “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it etc…”  As Christians living here in exile we use our gifts to make the place in which we are living a better place.  Babylon was not perfect, but the people of God living there were to contribute to it being a better place to live.  America or Canada or wherever you happen to live is not a perfect place, but you as a Christian should live in a way and use your gifts and energy to make it a better place, until Jesus comes again and we are no longer in exile but enter into the fulness of the Kingdom of God.

Note that eventually, God brought judgment against Babylon.  That empire fell to the Medes and the Persians, and it was the Persians that made it possible for the people of God to return from exile to the promised land.  Let us seek the best for wherever we live, but when God decides to bring judgment against that place, it is all part of his plan, and he will watch over His people who remain faithful to him wherever we are.  And in the end, all will be well.

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 26-29, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+26-29&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 30-31 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

God Has Answers

Isaiah 5-8

Isaiah 8 20 NLT sgl

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

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

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

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

Emilee Ross

 

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

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

 

 

God’s Jealous Love

Isaiah 1-4

Isaiah 1 4 NIRV sgl

 

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

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

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

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

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

Emilee Ross

 

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

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

 

 

Heal Our Land

2 Chronicles 6-7 & Psalm 136

2 Chronicles 7 14 NIV sgl

Solomon addresses the people of Israel, reminding them of how they got to where they are in regards to the building of God’s temple.  Then he offers a prayer of dedication of the temple.

In his prayer, Solomon knows that as great as the temple is, it isn’t great enough for God.  Yet he asks God to hear what is brought before Him in this house.

40 “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

41 “Now arise, Lord God, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
May your priests, Lord God, be clothed with salvation,
may your faithful people rejoice in your goodness.
42 Lord God, do not reject your anointed one.
Remember the great love promised to David your servant.”

 

God doesn’t have to hear us.  He doesn’t have to love us.  Yet he established a covenant with David that continued through the generations, that when it came to Jesus, was opened to everyone.  We should be so thankful to God for that!

God responded to Solomon’s prayer with fire and His glory filling the house.  And later, He appeared to Solomon.  One of my favorite verses is in this next section –

14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

I know this was directed to the people of Israel, but I’d like to think it can apply to us too.  Our land is so broken today.  I live in Minnesota.  These past few weeks we have been dealing with a huge mess of brokenness.  A police officer killed a man during an arrest.  Peaceful protests gave opportunists the chance to start violent riots with buildings being burned down, stores looted, people being sexually assaulted, kids going without food because the services that normally provide them with food are unable to operate amidst this, and much more.  And all I can think is how much our land needs to be healed.  And that is just in my little state.  I know there are problems all across our country, and our world.  If all of God’s people turned to Him and prayed, could our land be healed?

My comfort in this time is knowing that our land will be ultimately healed.  Jesus will return and the earth will be made new.  But until then, I do believe it is the job of God’s people to pray and to turn to Him and away from wickedness.

We’ll end today and this week with Psalm 136.

Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, His love endures forever.

If I counted correctly, that phrase “His love endures forever” is repeated 26 times in this psalm.

Thanks Marcia for putting this reading plan together.  What a timely reminder.  Whatever is happening in the world today, God’s love endures forever.

Come lord Jesus come.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Today’s beautiful and timely Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Chronicles+6-7%2C+Psalm+136&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Psalm 134 and 146-150 as we continue seeking God, and growing our Christian faith while learning to love Him and others better and better on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.   Now is a great time to start following along. Print your own plan (red link above) and subscribe to the daily devotion emails at https://seekgrowlove.com/

 

A Cheerful Heart in Difficult Times?

Proverbs 13-15

Proverbs 15 15 NIV sgl

Disease, murder, rioting, losing your job.  There is a lot happening in our country right now that weighs on the heart.  Those are a few things that are affecting the whole country, but don’t forget about loved ones dying, car accidents, fights, floods, financial strife, break-ups, and a whole host of other bad things that happen to people every day.  How can we possibly stay happy when so many lousy things are happening in our lives?

Proverbs 15:15 says that a miserable heart means a miserable life, but a cheerful heart fills the day with song.  You might think that the verse is only stating the obvious; if I feel sad, I am going to live a sad life, and if I feel happy, I am going to live a cheerful life.  However, this is a proverb meant to teach us, and it is trying to tell us that we have a choice as to how our heart feels.  You get to choose if you have a miserable heart or a happy heart.  You still might be thinking, dude, how in the world do you expect me to choose to be happy when my mother just died, or my best friend was just diagnosed with cancer?  That is some heavy stuff for a person to deal with, especially when it involves someone you love so dearly.

I was having a bad day some time ago because of something happening with someone I love, and then it hit me.  God loves this person even more than I do so I wonder what His day is like?  Then it hit me some more.  God knows and loves every person in the world and there are many millions of them dealing with bad stuff every day.  I was down in the dumps because of the one person in my life, so God must have been super-duper down in the dumps because of all the people He loves so dearly that were suffering in some way.  However, I knew that couldn’t be true.  I just don’t picture God moping around up in heaven.

So how does He keep a cheerful heart?  I know, I know, He’s God so He can do anything, and we don’t begin to have the capabilities He has.  Though, I think there are two main reasons He is not overcome with sadness and these are reasons we can also be happy when bad things happen.  First, He focuses on all the good things that are happening.  His heart is made glad when He sees someone feed the poor, go to church for the first time, be baptized, or when someone praises Him for all that He is.  In the same way, we can also choose to focus on the good things in life.  Second, He knows what is coming, a Kingdom on earth where there is no more pain and suffering.  There is not one bad thing that can happen to you that can take away your chance to be in the Kingdom if you have made the choice to accept the gift of eternal life.  That reward FAR outweighs anything that can happen during this very short lifetime.  All that bad stuff becomes quite insignificant when you realize it has no effect on your salvation.

Will you be sad if your mother dies?  Of course, but it is your choice if you want to mope around for months or years and continually dwell on her death.  Or you can appreciate the great memories you had with your mother and focus on what is good in your world.  Hopefully, you can also look forward to seeing her again in the Kingdom after she gets done with her long nap.  Those twenty or fifty years without her in this life may seem like forever, but that amount of time is insignificant when you consider you will get to spend infinity years with her in the future.

You may be thinking, what if my mother was not a Christian and will not be in the Kingdom?  There is more sadness when that hope for her is gone.  It seems like we will be sad when we reach the Kingdom and some of our loved ones are not there with us, but we know that there will be no sadness in the Kingdom.  How can that be?  My guess is that we will understand that justice needed to occur, and we will be ok with the punishment they received because they deserved it.

Bad things are going to happen to you and those you love, but you have a choice to be happy or not.  Don’t dwell on what makes you sad, think about what makes you happy.  Moreover, don’t let the bad parts of life rob you of the joy you can feel knowing that Jesus will soon return to establish the Kingdom for us for an eternity.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+13-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 16-18 as we begin a week of devotions with Stephanie Fletcher on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Stay in His Program

He is for you

2 Samuel 11-12 & 1 Chronicles 20

2 Samuel 12 8 9 NIV sgl

A couple of weeks ago I was working on my unit as a residential counselor for severely traumatized and troubled youth. There is a younger kid on my unit named Mike, for the sake of this story, he has a history of violent aggression and has anxiety issues which can lead to this violent aggression. In order to help him when he gets anxious to avoid his going into crisis and having a violent episode, we take him for safety walks or he can go for a walk outside by himself as long as there are no other youth outside.

Mike and I have a pretty good relationship and I have been able to calm him down and deescalate the situation to keep him from going into crisis. I have also helped him work through the aftermath of a crisis. At the current moment because the whole country is shut down my background check from Georgia has not come back. I am not allowed full clearance to be alone with any of the children until that clears, unfortunately. This has caused a lot of problems and has interfered with my effectiveness at work.

Mike was starting to get anxious a couple of weeks ago so he asked if he could go on a walk by himself. Unfortunately, there was already another child outside on campus going for a walk. So, the only way that I could get Mike outside for a walk was if he went with a staff member. Due to the restriction I couldn’t take him unless another staff member went with me. So, I start running around seeing if there were any additional staff to take him. I asked the supervisor who could take him and he told me to find another staff. In order to let Mike know I was working on it I went back to my original unit and let him know. Otherwise his anxiety levels would continue to rise. After that I went and found the staff member and asked them to take him for a walk. They said yes. So, I go back on to the unit and tell him they are coming, just give them a minute.

A few minutes go by and I can see his anxiety levels rising and could tell that he was about to hit the crash bar or emergency exit. The crash bar when its hit sounds an alarm and also means that the client is out of program and an incident report needs to be filed. This means that Mike would have consequences for leaving without a staff member. So, in a rush to try to keep Mike from the crash bar I go get the other staff and urge them along to try to keep Mike in program. I wanted desperately to keep Mike in program and to not have him suffer the consequences of acting impulsively by not waiting for a staff member.

I talk to the staff member and they grab their jacket and we walk on to the unit. Where Mike had literally just hit the crash bar and went outside by himself and out of program. All Mike needed to do was wait 15 more seconds. 15 more seconds was all that he needed for a consequence free walk.

This was so frustrating. I remember saying this is so stupid. It was so stupid. 15 more seconds. I was frustrated because I went running around talking to different people and he still went out of program. I wanted so badly for him to have another good day and stay within the rules.

This more than anything I think is the feeling portrayed by God in 2 Samuel 12.7-15. In my case, if Mike had waited 15 more seconds, he could have realistically been one more day closer to going home. I think we all know the story of David and Bathsheba. So, I am not going to rehash it.

I want to look at God’s response through Nathan.

“I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12:7-9)

Does God condemn David for his actions? Totally, but he also says something else here as well. God goes over all that he did for David to try to set him up for success. He saved him from Saul and anointed him and made him King over Israel, he gave him peace, gave him his wife, Saul’s daughter, back, and made him the beautiful covenant promises that we saw in 2 Samuel 7. Was there any more God could have done for David? Yet David still did this absolutely terrible thing. The last line in verse 8 really gets me. God tells David He would have done much more for David. If David had waited 15 more seconds and stayed in God’s program what would God have given him? God was actively rooting for David and trying to help him stay in his program. His program that gives life and peace and a relationship with God.

In verse 9 I can hear the sadness in God’s voice. Why did you despise my words? Why did you go astray and hurt yourself? Why did you hurt me, God, by doing this? Why did you have to make me see you do that? Why did stray from me?

I’m not framing it like this to heap grief on us for our sins. I am framing it like this because I want you to see there is someone actively working to help us follow Christ. The way that leads to peace, life, love, and grace. He is actively with us trying to help us keep on his way. I want you to know the depth shown in scripture of how the Lord cares for us and how he is seeking our good through righteousness. In our times of temptation, we have a loving God alongside us to ask for help. He is seeking our good far more than we seek our own. Fulness of life is found when we hold true to his way to love God.

Daniel Wall

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Samuel+11-12%2C+1+Chronicles+20&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Psalm 32, 51, 86 & 122 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan