A Pattern for Prayer

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 31 & 32 and Matthew 16

After Jacob had served Laban in Padan Aram for 20 years, God told him to go back home.  It was finally time for him to face his past.  Remember, he had cheated his brother Esau, and had run for his life.  He had about 500 miles to go to get home.  He sent some servants ahead to let Esau know he was coming home.  When the servants returned, they told Jacob that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men.  Jacob was terrified, and prayed a beautiful prayer that is recorded in Genesis 32:9-12.

He started, “Oh God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac…”.  In this section, I see Jacob acknowledging the history his family had with following God, ever since God called Abraham in Genesis 12.

He continued, “O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and to your relatives, and I will make you prosper’. ”  In this section, I see Jacob acknowledged what God had told him to do, and he had followed what God had told him to do. 

Next, he acknowledged his own unworthiness, praying,  “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.  I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.”  And he acknowledged what God had done for him, even though he was unworthy.

He continued, “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.”  In this section, he admitted his fear to God, and then he finally got around to begging God for what he needed help with – “save me”.   Note that he didn’t give God suggestions as to how God could solve the problem.  He just turned it over to God.

He concluded with, “But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’.”  He closed with reminding God of His promises.

In this prayer, I see a potential model for our own prayers.  It goes sort of like this:

  • Start by thanking God for his provision until now for our family, including for our ancestors.
  • Today, God speaks to us through His word.  I think it is important to be familiar with his word and follow his word.  And I think that’s a perfectly fine topic to bring up in prayer, “God, you said to …, and I have done that as you commanded.”
  • I believe we need to humble ourselves before God, and acknowledge that we don’t deserve all he has done for us.  I think it also helps to remind ourselves in our prayers what God has done for us.  (We don’t need to remind God.  He already knows.)
  • We should admit whatever we’re feeling to God.  (He already knows anyway, but it helps us maintain an open channel of communication with Him.)
  • We are finally at the point in our prayer where we should clearly lay out the problem we’re facing.  And we don’t need to offer God suggestions as to how He could solve our problems.  He can come up with solutions better than we can even imagine.
  • I think in the closing of Jacob’s prayer, he was not just reminding God of the promises God had made.  I think he was also looking forward to those promises himself.  We should do the same.

And I think it’s fine to pray something like, “God, you promised that everything works for the good of those who love you.  I don’t understand how that is possible in the situation I’m in right now.  Please open my eyes to understand that, or at least to accept it as truth.  I know you have promised that nothing can separate us from your love, not even death.  God, things aren’t looking very good from my perspective right now, but I’m holding on to your promise that when Christ returns, you will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  God, I’m really wanting that now.  Please keep me focused on you, and living for you.  And please send Jesus soon.  Amen.”

–Steve Mattison

Lessons from Jacob’s Dream

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 27 & 28 and Matthew 14

In Genesis 28, we find the story of “Jacob’s Ladder.”  Jacob had deceived his father, Isaac, and had “stolen” the blessing intended for Esau.  Jacob was on the run to move in with his uncle, roughly 500 miles away, so his brother Esau wouldn’t kill him.  That night Jacob had a dream with angels going up and down a ladder between God and Jacob.  When God spoke to Jacob, He didn’t condemn him for his trickery; instead, He extended the covenant to Jacob that He had made with Abraham and with Isaac.  God promised Jacob that he and his descendants would inherit the promised land, his descendants would be numerous, and all nations on earth would be blessed through Jacob and his descendants.  God also promised He would be with Jacob wherever he went.

When Jacob woke up, his first response was surprise and fear.  He named the place “Bethel” which means “the house of God”.  He set up this stone pillow as an altar and worshiped.  Finally, he dedicated his life to God.

According to “The Wiersbe Bible Commentary” by Warren Wiersbe, “The ‘if’ found in many translations of verse 20 can also be read ‘since’.  Jacob wasn’t making a bargain with God; he was affirming his faith in God.  Since God had promised to care for him, be with him, and bring him back home safely, then Jacob would affirm his faith in God and would seek to worship and honor Him alone.”

I see several applications for us.

As I understand it, the ancients believed gods (with a little “g”) were local, and if you left an area, you left the protection of the local god.  In this encounter, Jacob thought he had stumbled into the “house of God”, but found that God isn’t limited like that.  Since God would be with him everywhere, everywhere can be the house of God.  According to James 4:8, if we come near to God, God will come near to us.  

Once Jacob encountered God, his first response of surprise and fear quickly turned to worship.  When we first encounter God, we may also be struck with surprise and depending on the circumstance, fear too.  I think it is important for us to continue on to the worship stage as Jacob did.  Note that the altar he built wasn’t for offering sacrifices, it was really more of a memorial that reminded him of his encounter with God.  When we encounter similar milestones in our own lives when God has done something noteworthy for us, I think it is important for us to set up a memorial of some sort.  Ideally this is something physical, that we can look at and be reminded of what God has done for us.

Jacob’s next step was to dedicate his life to following God.  I think this step is imperative for us.  Given what God has done for us so far, our natural response should be, “Since you have brought me this far, and since you have made such great promises to me – the promise of eternal life if I remain faithful until Christ’s return, because of these things, I will live the rest of my life for you, God.”

As the story continues, Jacob had many hardships throughout his life.  Despite them all, God was still with Jacob. And Jacob remained true to God for the rest of his life.

Psalm 46:7 says, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”  God kept his promises to Jacob, and he will keep his promises to us.

The real question is, will you remain true to Him?

–Steve Mattison

To Die in Peace and Hope

The Death of Abraham
Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 25 & 26 and Matthew 13

After serving God for 100 years, “Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years”.  This fulfilled a promise God had made to him in Genesis 15:15, when God had promised Abraham that he would die in peace at a good old age.

In addition to a great quantity of life, I think Abraham had also enjoyed a great quality of life for all those years.  At the end of his life, he could look back with satisfaction, and even then could still look forward with anticipation to God’s promises.  Promises including: Abraham and his descendants would inherit the promised land forever, his descendants would be as numerous as the sand and the stars, and that all nations on earth would be blessed through him.

I suspect only a small minority of people can face death like this.  I’m guessing most look back at their life with regret, and look ahead with fear.

You may be wondering how Abraham could die in peace, with peace.  I believe it all comes back to his relationship with God.  We’re told that Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chron 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23).  In Hebrews 11, we’re told that Abraham died in faith, having not received what was promised, looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

You may be wondering how Abraham developed such a close relationship with God. I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t by following the law.  He died hundreds of years before God would give the law to Moses.  He didn’t become righteous by circumcision, because he was declared righteous years before he was circumcised.  Back in Genesis 15, God made a promise to Abraham, and in verse 6, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”  Abraham became right with God, because Abraham believed God.  And in so doing, Abraham became a model of how all of us can become right with God.  Paul used this example in Romans 4 to argue that all are justified through faith alone.

Ephesians 2: 8-10 tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In chapter 2, James used Abraham as an example to demonstrate the importance of proving faith by deeds.  We aren’t saved by works, but those works prove our faith.  And lack of works proves lack of faith.

Abraham left quite a legacy.  When God reiterated His promise to Isaac, as recorded in Genesis 26:3-6, we read, “…I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, BECAUSE (emphasis added) Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees, and my laws.”  Did you catch that? All of this was because Abraham was faithful to God.

The New Testament starts with, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  God had promised Abraham that all the world would be blessed through him, and God kept his promise.

I’d like to leave you with a few questions..

Have you thought about preparing now to face death when it comes?  Ecclesiastes 12 encourages us to start young.  Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”  Verses 13-14 go on to say, “Now all has been heard;  here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Are you living by faith?  Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  And are you demonstrating your faith by your actions?

Finally, what legacy are you leaving?  Exodus 20: 5-6 says, “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  

–Steve Mattison

Genesis 6-9 – The Great Flood!

This Week’s Devotion Theme – God Created – and Destroyed!

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 15-16 and Matthew 8

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. 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, multiple layers 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!

-Greg Landry

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 gregrlandry@gmail.com

The Birth of the Messiah

Matthew 1 and Luke 2:1-38

The coming of the Messiah is one of the greatest desires of pious Jewish people. The desire for the Messiah to come is encapsulated in modern times by a statement of the 12th century Jewish teacher, Moses ben Maimon (Rambam): “I believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah”. By the promise of God, the Messiah would be a descendant of King David.

Two Gospels, Matthew and Luke, record the birth of the Messiah (in Greek translation, “Christ”). As we saw in Luke 1, the birth of Messiah was proceeded by a visit from the angel Gabriel to a Jewish maiden, Mary (Miriam in Hebrew) in the Galilean town of Nazareth. Gabriel announced to Mary that her child would be the one to inherit the throne of David. Like Solomon, he would be called the Son of God. After the child was born, Mary was to name him Jesus, which is in Hebrew, Yeshua or Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves”.

The child was given this name on the day of his circumcision, the eighth day after his birth. The name Jesus is the name of the human being, the “man Christ Jesus”. “Jesus” is never the name of a pre-human divine being.

Matthew begins his Gospel by describing the genealogy, or in Greek the genesis or beginning or origin of Jesus the Messiah. Matthew traces Jesus’s origin especially to David and Abraham.

God had promised to Abraham that he would have many descendants, and that his descendants would inherit the Land of Canaan, that kings would come from him, and that he and his descendant(s) would be a blessing to all peoples on earth. God’s plan of redemption for the world was to come through a physical descendant of Abraham.

Some 800 years after Abraham, and 1000 years before Jesus was born, God chose a descendant of Abraham, David, and established the only perpetual divinely ordained monarchy on earth. God promised that one of David’s descendants would rule forever over God’s ordained monarchy. The genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel declares that Jesus is descendent of Abraham and David in whom God fulfills His promise.

The birth of the Messiah Jesus was accompanied with miraculous signs that were evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah of God. Somewhat parallel to the first man Adam, who had no earthly father but whom God formed from the dust, the “second Adam” Jesus was formed by direct divine activity. Angelic beings appeared both before and after Jesus’s birth, to announce the coming of this divinely appointed human king.

Jesus’ mother came to the temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth for purification according to the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22, Lev. 12:2-6). His parents brought the baby Jesus along. There was a righteous man in Jerusalem, Simeon, to whom God revealed that he “would not see death until he had seen the LORD’s Messiah. Simeon took Jesus up in his arms and uttered a blessing and praise. He knew the child Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to both Abraham and David:

“A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

-Bill Schlegel

Bill Schlegel is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas and general editor of the One God Report podcast.

Bethlehem in Judah

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 1 & Luke 2:1-38

Tomorrow we will read the rest of Luke 2 and Matthew 2 as we SeekGrowLove and follow along on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan. Print your own copy, read along and finish out the year 2020 strong!

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

Are You All In?

Jeremiah 32-34

Jeremiah 32 25 NIV sgl

The religious reformer Martin Luther once famously said: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

I thought about this quote as I was reading Jeremiah 32 today.  Jeremiah is being held in prison by Judah’s king, Zedekiah.  The city of Jerusalem was under siege by the powerful Babylonians.  To hold a city under siege means that you have it surrounded.  No one gets in, no one gets out.  More importantly, no FOOD gets in.  Hold a city under siege long enough and the people will get hungry, and some will come out voluntarily.  For those who hold out longer, they will simply starve to death, or become so weak that they are unable to fight.  It was a strategy of war that was used for thousands of years.

God had told Jeremiah the prophet to warn Zedekiah and all of Jerusalem that they were going to fall to the Babylonians, their city would be captured and destroyed.  Jeremiah had been warning them for over 2 decades.  They imprisoned him just to try to shut him up.  But here they were, surrounded by the Babylonians.  It was only a matter of time until the Kingdom of Judah would be destroyed.

So with all the doom and gloom what does God tell Jeremiah to do?  Buy a field.  Now, if you know that an enemy invader is about to completely destroy your nation does it make sense to perform a real estate transaction?  If an asteroid is headed for earth tomorrow, does it make sense to buy green bananas today?  If the Zombie Apocalypse has started, is it really a good time to order all of your Christmas presents early on Amazon?  If the world is going to go to pieces tomorrow does it make sense to plant a tree today?  Luther thought so.    Jeremiah, knowing that Jerusalem was about to fall to the Babylonians, went ahead and bought the field, signed the deed and put it in a clay pot for safe keeping.  Why?  because he trusted God.

God said that all that was about to happen to Judah, the destruction of the temple, the arrest and death of the king, the exile back to Babylon, it was all going to happen, but it was only temporary.  Eventually, they would come back, the Kingdom would be restored, the temple would be rebuilt, and a new King would be installed to reign.  So the question for Jeremiah is, do you trust God to keep His promise?  Do you trust enough to “put your money where you mouth is” and buy the piece of land, keep the contract safe so that your heirs will have a piece of land to rebuild a house on and plant crops, and maybe an apple tree or two?  How much do you trust God?  Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?

Jesus would later talk about the “pearl of great price”  a treasure so valuable that someone would sell everything that they had to buy it.

Some might say that right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and societal disruption it feels like we are under siege from uncontrollable forces.  I’m not acting as a prophet right now.  God hasn’t given me exclusive insider information about how all of this is going to end.  Maybe we discover an effective vaccine?  Maybe we figure out a way to restore racial harmony?  Maybe not.  I don’t know.  Maybe we have another civil war and the United States of America will be no more?  I don’t know what’s going to happen with these current crises.  God used the powerful and evil nation of Babylon to punish His disobedient children 2600 years ago.  Maybe God is using disease, division, death and destruction to punish his disobedient children today.  Or maybe this is the devil doing what he does – “steal, kill and destroy”.

There’s a lot about our current situation I Don’t know.  But what I DO know is that God is still in charge.  God is still in heaven.  God is still all powerful.  God is still good. God made a promise that one day he would send His Son Jesus to bring a final end to sin and death, there will be a final judgment against sin, and there will a renewed heaven and earth and finally God Himself will make His permanent home in our midst (See Revelation 20, 21 and 22).  I still believe that to be true.  If I were a betting man in Vegas I would push all my chips onto that hand, I’d be “all in”.  I don’t know how much time I personally have left before Jesus comes again or before I close my eyes in the temporary sleep of death and await the resurrection, but this I do know, I’m betting it all on God.  I’ll buy that field.  I’ll plant that tree. I’ll spend every day of my life telling people that God is faithful and God is good and that Jesus is coming again. I’m all in.  I hope that you are too!

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+32-34&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 35-37 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Judah Kicked Out of the House

Jeremiah 10-13

Jeremiah 12 7 NIV sgl

We all understand what it is to make a promise.  When you were a little kid did you ever do a “pinky swear” with your friend?  When I was in high school we used to “go steady” with that special guy or girl.  If it was really serious you let her wear your class ring or your letter jacket (my HS girlfriend wore both my class ring and my letter jacket).  To go steady was to make a promise, “I won’t date any other girl but you.”  (note, in the 70’s dating in 7th grade might mean walking her from her locker to class, possibly holding hands publicly, and dancing exclusively with her at the sock hop… I know, times have changed.)  When things got rough, you would “break up”.  There would be tears and drama.  After you broke up, it was understood that you no longer were going steady and were free to walk other girls from their locker or dance at the next sock hop.

Marriage is a more serious commitment.  You make a public promise to God and each other before witnesses to love and be faithful to each other until one of you dies.  That kind of promise is known as a covenant.

The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people.  God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants Isaac and Jacob (who later became Israel).  God promised to be their God, to protect them, to provide them with all that they needed:  productive land to live in, abundant children and animals, and protection from their enemies.  In return, God asked Israel to be faithful only to Him.  To worship only God and to follow God’s teaching, God’s instruction, God’s rules for living in community.  They were not to be unfaithful to God by worshipping false gods or man-made gods known as idols.  God warned Israel that if they were not faithful to their covenant with God, they would suffer serious consequences.  God might withhold rain, send plagues, or even allow their larger and more powerful neighboring countries to attack them and God would not defend them.  It was a covenant, a kind of marriage between God and Israel.  In fact, God referred to Israel as His bride.

The bottom line was clear- if you are faithful to God and to the covenant with God, you will be blessed, if you are unfaithful to God and to the covenant, you will be cursed (punished, not experience the blessings).  Throughout their history, Israel frequently went through periods when they were unfaithful to God and violated the covenant.  God would often punish them in some way, they would repent, which means they would turn away from whatever wrong they were doing and return to God, and then God would once again bless them.  However, as time wore on, Israel’s unfaithfulness grew worse and worse, God’s punishments grew harsher and harsher and Israel grew more calloused and disobedient.  Think of a toddler who absolutely refuses to obey his parents.  Usually, a swift punishment will result in repentance.  But after a long time, they had become rebellious teenagers who no longer repented, or as a better example, an unfaithful wife who continually cheats on her husband and doesn’t even bother to hide it from everyone.  Something had to change.

Several hundred years passed since the days of Abraham and later Moses and even King David.  Israel’s unfaithfulness to their covenant with God had grown more brazen as they worshipped Baal and other idols.  Finally, God had had enough.  God was sending his faithless bride into exile.

The prophet Jeremiah was one of several people God sent to Judah, God’s people who lived in the southern Kingdom, where God’s temple in Jerusalem was and from where God’s anointed King ruled.  God told Jeremiah to warn his people that the time had come for them to face the full measure of punishment for breaking faith with God.

Jeremiah 11:6-12

The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”

Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. 10 They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both Israel and Judah have broken the covenant I made with their ancestors. 11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.

This isn’t just, “I’m taking away your cell phone” or “I’m taking away your car keys for a week until you straighten up.”  This is “I’m kicking you out of the house because you refuse to follow the rules.”  It’s harsh punishment.  It’s called “tough love.”   Even loving parents are sometimes forced to have an “intervention” or in the South we say “come to Jesus meeting”.

To illustrate the point, in chapter 13 God tells Jeremiah to get a linen belt, go bury it near a river, then later go back and retrieve the belt, that by then was ruined, and then show it to the people as a visible illustration of what Israel did.  God joined himself to His people symbolized by the linen belt, it was pure and spotless, and yet his people ruined that covenant by their unfaithfulness.  Now, they must face the consequences.

If you are a Christian, you entered into a covenant with God as well.  It was a new covenant, not based on your birth as a descendant of Abraham, but through faith in God’s son, Jesus Christ.  Water baptism is a visible symbol of that covenant.  When you entered that covenant you promised to worship God alone and follow Jesus Christ and keep his instructions.  Have you stayed faithful to your covenant promise to God through faith in Jesus Christ?  Or have you treated your promises to God like that linen belt that’s ruined and worthless.  The good news is, if you’ve been unfaithful to your promises to God there is still time to repent.  What are you waiting for?  Will you do it today?  Pinky swear?

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 10-13, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+10-13&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 14-17 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

2 Chronicles 19-23

2 Chronicles 20 1 NIV sgl

If you have been to any youth ballfield, the mantra of even the most uninformed coach or parent to his/her child in most all situations is “keep your eye on the ball.”  Whether it is baseball, soccer, football, tennis, or basketball, knowing where the ball is at any given point in a game is the greatest predictor of success and will result in the highest probability of a favorable outcome.  In order to strike, kick, tackle, return, or rebound, you have to know where the ball is.  It seems simple enough; yet, anyone who plays any number of the ball-including sports at any level suffers from the occasional mishap that begins with losing sight of the most important object to the game.  Why?  We get scared.  We’re thinking about our next move.  We get caught up in the emotion.  Or it might simply get lost in the lights.

 

“If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” –   1 Chronicles 20:9,11b

 

In today’s reading, Jehoshaphat gives us an example of what it looks like to keep our eyes in the most important place.  Not all of us play sports, and if we do, we most certainly may not play them well (present company included), but we all have a part to play in the will of God.  Without your eyes on the Father, you might still have a bit of fun, but there is no purpose in the participation of it all.  You are simply existing, a benchwarmer staring off into the distance, oblivious to the wonderful plan that God has for your life.  Yet, keeping our gaze affixed to Him isn’t exactly as easy as it sounds.  Even the most professional ballplayers have blunders. Here are a few reminders of how to readjust our focus, to make sure it is in the right place, no matter what “level” we are playing at:

 

To keep your eyes on God, let Him take away the worry.

 

There is a ton of uncertainty in the air right now.  Disease, political unrest, economies, natural disaster, not to mention all of the “typical” fears we have about things like acceptance and loss.  Jehoshaphat had a vast army approaching, yet he remembered that God had promised Israel and Judah the land they possessed. Remind yourself of the simple yet immense promises of God – He will never leave you, nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), We know all things work together for those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28), Do not fear, for I am with you always (Isaiah 40:1; Matt 28:20). The promises purge us of the pressure to take the entire crushing yoke upon ourselves and hand it over to God.  In exchange He will give us peace in the restless situations (John 14:27).

 

To keep your eyes on God, remember He has planned the present.

 

One of the greatest defensive failings in baseball is thinking about throwing the ball before you have ever fielded it.  Time and time again, the baseball zips “through the wickets” or is fumbled as it is being removed from the glove and falls flatly to the ground.  Jehoshaphat could have spent his time sending messengers to form alliances.  He could have armed the remaining men, women, and children to increase the size of his army. He could have sent out terms of surrender to try to salvage the lives of his people.  He didn’t do any of this.  He kept the most important thing as the most important thing; his gaze never faltered. He didn’t “throw the ball” before He fielded God’s response (as we saw yesterday).  Don’t forget to serve God now because there is a bigger, better plan you have made to serve Him down the road.  He is the God of tomorrow, but before then, the God of today.  Seek first the Kingdom of God. Don’t worry about tomorrow, for it will take care of itself (Matthew 6:33,34). He may call us to things that inconvenience, disrupt, or even abort the plans we have made down the road, but when those days come, or if they don’t, He has planned those days too.

 

To keep your eyes on God, make him the judge.

 

One of the most frustrating things is a competitor who doesn’t play fairly or feeling we are the victim of unjust treatment.  What’s even more frustrating is an umpire or referee who fails to see it or worse, lets it persist.  Our God doesn’t turn a blind eye to us; He sees the struggle.  He isn’t deaf; He hears the petition.  When we want to take matters into our own hands, be reminded that you too are a trespasser but also an unfair recipient of favored treatment. This more than anything, should make us compassionate and ready to forgive others.  We will be called to be God’s facilitator of forgiveness many times more than we will be judicator of justice.  Jehoshaphat made the appeal, but was also seemingly ready for whatever answer came his way. We must trust God, let Him be the judge, and maybe the hardest thing, be ready, like Jesus, to be dealt injustice, yet still forgive for the sake of the Gospel and our message.

 

To keep your eyes on God, eliminate the distractions.

 

The lights can be blinding.  The hecklers can be loud.  The teams’ morale can be affecting you. Even seemingly good things like family and church can provide an incorrect context of focus if not filtered through the lens of their role in God.  When we work, provide, heal, love, carry on, feed, protest, or serve, constantly remind yourself you are doing it all for the Lord.  Take a lesson from Jehoshaphat’s army; worship God while you are in the battle (1 Chronicles 20:22).  It would be challenging to give into your pride when you sing “Oh Spirit come make us humble…” It would be tough to look at inappropriate material when you sing “We turn our eyes from evil things…” It would be difficult to spend Sunday morning after Sunday morning with your family at the ballfield while singing “Oh Lord, we cast down our idols.” Filling our mouth with praise, worship, and prayer prevents anything else from slipping out.  The same could be said of our eyes, ears, hands, and most importantly, minds.  Engage God with everything you have, and you will be ready and attuned to His movement no matter where on the field He takes you.

 

“You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles 20:17

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Chronicles+19-23&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be the short book of the “minor” prophet Obadiah and Psalm 82-83 as we continue keeping our eye on the Father through our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Unworthy of His Greatness

2 Samuel 7 & 1 Chronicles 17

2 Samuel 7 21 NASB

Sometimes I feel like I keep beating the same drum but when we talk about David and the Psalms I have such a difficult time getting away from his heart. The heart of this man is extraordinary and I think because of this God made him into someone extraordinary. God molded him into someone that we are still talking about to this day. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here we go.

When we talked about David’s ability on Sunday, we talked about how he looked after God’s people and put their desires above his own. Today we will look at how David continued to be an impressive man after God’s own heart.

I want to look at the entire incident in 2 Samuel 7. In the opening paragraph David recognizes what he sees as injustice. The injustice being that though he lives in a house made of cedar, the ark of God dwells in a tent. David’s heart here is pure. He sees that what represents the presence of God for the nation of Israel is dwelling in a measly little tent while he is living in a full-blown swanky house made of cedar. He recognizes that this just doesn’t seem right. It seems very wrong that the maker of heaven and earth, the God of this nation, the reason for this nation’s success, the reason they even existed, the God who had blessed them and literally done everything for them didn’t have a proper dwelling place. He did everything from singling out Abraham and blessing him and all his descendants after him, saved them from oppression in Egypt by sending the plagues, delivered them out with Egypt’s spoils, parted the Red Sea as they walked between walls of water on either side, saved them from their enemies by collapsing that sea on the army seeking to kill them or enslave them. I could go on and on and on about all that God did for the nation of Israel. David didn’t forget any of this. He looked back in gratitude and decided that his God should at least dwell in a place as nice as the one he had. That gratitude sparked a desire in David to take the action of wanting to build a house for the ark.

God’s reaction to David wanting to build a house for him is quite interesting. He says, “Did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” God had never before asked someone to build him a house. Have you ever wondered why God never asked anyone to build him a house? Maybe he didn’t want one. Gods of other nations had physical temples. So why wouldn’t the one true God? When you look back in the history recorded in scripture it seems like God was hesitant to have a physical representation on earth that could be misconstrued. This was not without cause since in the time of the temple when God’s people had drifted away from him, they claimed that they couldn’t be taken over because of the temple. It seems like God’s focus is on his people believing in him and not becoming preoccupied with something that simply represents him. This is continued in the New Testament with what is defined as the church. God defines the church as his people and tells us that we are all the building blocks of his temple as the body of Christ. That is so awesome and mind blowing to me! The thought that I would be a building block of his temple is an overwhelmingly beautiful thought.

Let’s keep going with this passage, though. God continues to speak to David and tells him He would make a great name for him, plant his people and help to leave them undisturbed, give him rest from his enemies, make him a house, allow his children to build him a house, establish his child on the throne, love that child and discipline him as a father, establish his throne, house and kingdom forever. Dang, that is a list, right? Those are some amazing promises! For you girls, if a guy promises you the world – don’t believe him. But if God promises you all that, I would believe him. Utterly blown away is how I think I would feel if I were David.

David responds in the best way ever. He responds in the only way someone who was qualified to receive these promises should. Who am I and what is my house that you have brought me thus far? David didn’t let being king get to his head rather David knew that he was nothing without God. David knew without God he would still be that shepherd in that field. He felt unworthy of all that God had already done for him. Here is the thing, he totally was unworthy. David recognized he deserved none of these things. He recognized that there were better and smarter. David recognized how undeserving he was of the grace and love that God extended to him.

David’s response continues as I think he is lacking the words to even handle this and he says as much in verse 20. He continues to acknowledge and praise God throughout this response where he speaks about God’s knowledge of his heart, his greatness, how none is like him, praising him for raising up the nation of Israel, and stating that because God spoke those promises they would surely come true.

I think it would be too easy to disassociate from this passage and say “God never promised me any of those things” and in doing so we would miss the very heart that David had.

God sent his son to bear your sins. God has made the whole earth and it is all his. I didn’t make anything and yet I still have everything I need. My actions and my sin without the cross mean I don’t deserve a relationship with God, life or breath. My first sin should have been the end of my life and yet the Lord still gives me life and breath. He still wants me and a relationship with me. He is continually extending his grace to us EVERY SINGLE DAY. I don’t even want to think about what my life would look like without God’s grace.

In this way all of us should be responding every single day “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)

 

Daniel Wall

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Samuel+7%2C+1+Chronicles+17&version=NASB

Tomorrow’s reading will be Psalm 25, 29, 33, 36 & 39 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan