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.

Dem Bones…Can They Live?

Ezekiel 35-37


It would probably be blasphemous to suggest God asks silly questions, so I won’t. But I would imply that the creator of the universe makes inquiries which His creatures wouldn’t. I don’t think most of us, upon seeing a valley full of human bones, dried out by years of the sun beating down on them, would think to ask: Can these bones live? No, I think the first question would be: “What on earth happened here?” Followed by: “What’s the quickest way out of this place?” But that is not what happens in chapter 37 of Ezekiel. No, Ezekiel doesn’t get to ask a question, instead, one is posed to him by God, “Can these bones live?” And he responds with either the biggest cop-out of an answer there is or the wisest: “Only God knows.” I would lean towards wisest. God’s not trying to learn something from Ezekiel; He is trying to reveal something to the prophet so Ezekiel can relay it to the people of Israel, which is why he doesn’t try to guess at an answer. Ezekiel doesn’t care to have his opinions heard by God; he wants to know what God has to say. We would do well to learn this trait from the prophet–you could say it would be quite profitable (sorry!).

While Ezekiel doesn’t provide a yes or no answer to the question, God does: yes, these bones will live again. These bones, representing the house of Israel, who have been cut off from their land, and whose hope is gone, will live again. God’s people who, time after time, have rebelled against Yahweh and received mercy only to rebel further, will once again experience the grace of God and return to the Promised Land. This vision, like all those received by the prophets, is first for the Jews. It concerns God’s People and it is for God’s People, but there is much for us, as Christians, to learn from the words of the prophets today.

A few things we should recognize from this particular revelation and meditate on are (1) God’s relentless love for His people, despite their blunders, foolishness, and obstinate ways (to put it mildly). (2) That God can (and does) redeem those who have been abused, discarded, and forgotten. (3) We can (and should) have hope and trust in Yahweh, despite any and every problematic, perilous, or pernicious situation we may be in. The God we serve does not cower at death, does not withhold second chances, and does not fail to love the unlovable. Neither should we. 

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – ht

tps://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+35-37&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 38-39 as we continue on our

Poor in Spirit

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3

Matthew 5 3 niv

Having just finished Revelation I thought it would be beneficial to revisit Jesus’ teaching for the next six days. There really is no better place to do this than the Sermon on the Mount. In my opinion this is the most important teaching that Jesus gave us. We will be expanding on six of these beatitudes over the course of the next week. Hopefully, a beatitude a day will keep the doctor away and make us spiritually healthy. And yes, my corniness knows no bounds.

So today let’s explore the first beatitude found in Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s start with this first word “Blessed”. What does blessed actually mean? The debate over this topic is varied but I think we can generally assume it simply means happy. I don’t think it means momentary happiness. I believe what Jesus is aiming at here is long term, lasting happiness, the kind of happiness where you know all you are doing and being is worth it.

Now, for the command “poor in spirit”. For the longest time, like longer than a decade, this phrase left me confused. I have talked to all sorts of different pastors and people seeking an explanation but always walked away unsatisfied. I was left feeling like their definition was somehow incomplete. Finally, I heard it defined as spiritual brokenness and this finally made sense. But what does that really mean, right? This story may help.

When I was twenty years old my sister and I swapped vehicles because I was doing a lot of driving and had a truck with terrible gas mileage. My little sister wasn’t driving a lot and she wanted to drive my truck because well, it was really awesome. It was jacked up with a wicked exhaust system. Basically, it was every teenage boy/country girl’s dream truck. One super early Saturday morning my dad woke me up saying “There is something wrong with your truck” and hands me his cell phone with my sister on the line. He then left the room and probably went back to bed.

Much to my surprise on the other end was my now “frantic and scared for her life” sister. She explained to me how the truck had just stopped moving. Even though the engine was still running. Now this probably wouldn’t have been an issue if it was a normal situation but it wasn’t. The truck broke down during the middle of morning traffic on one of the few bridges that stretches for miles across the Hudson River with no shoulder or pull off at all. Even this would have been fine if it had been bumper to bumper traffic which is typical in New York City but it wasn’t. Traffic was moving well, really well actually and cars were flying past her at 60+ mph. She was stuck in the right hand lane of traffic literally praying to God that they would miss the truck.

In this moment she was experiencing the hopelessness of my truck’s brokenness with danger coming fast directly behind her. It is the same way with spiritual brokenness. Without God we are spiritually broken and helpless. The honest truth is that we are in danger and that without God and Christ our “trucks” are not moving on the middle of a highway, that if we were to stay there – it would end in our deaths.

We adopt this attitude of being “poor in spirit” when we realize how much we need God, his son’s sacrifice and how broken we are without him. We acknowledge God’s holiness and that we don’t deserve his grace or his love. We realize there was/is nothing we can do to earn any of what he has done for us. This isn’t condemnation for the sake of making ourselves feel ashamed or worthless rather it is acknowledgement of how much we need him and all that he has done for us. You can look at your sin and say “I suck” or you can look at your sin and say “I have a great, merciful God who loves me more than I understand.”

This is summarized well in the quote “Those who feel their spiritual need.” by Goodspeed.

So, let’s adopt this attitude of brokenness and helplessness before God because not only will we be happy but we will also have the kingdom of God as well.

 

Dan Wall

You’re Being Watched

Titus 2

Titus 2 7a

Yesterday we got a glimpse of some of Paul’s “good works”. Today we are going to focus more on our own good works.

 

Verse 7 says – ¨In everything set them an example by doing what is good.¨

This is a good reminder that people are always watching, and looking to you as their role model. By always doing good you will be encouraging others to do good as well.

 

Moving further into the chapter in verses 11 & 12 we learn that the grace from God helps teach us to live godly lives. My Bible’s footnotes for these verses says, ¨This same grace instructs us that our salvation should produce good works.¨ (Zondervan, NIV Study Bible) 

 

Verse 14 brings up another good point – we should be, ¨eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14).  Because of the grace that God has given us we should want in our hearts to do good works as a way of thanking Him. God’s grace gives us a chance to start over and live a life that pleases Him. Which, as you might have guessed, includes good works. 

 

Take a minute and meditate on the chorus of the song Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath.   Ask God to open your eyes and show you some good works that need to be done. 

 

Give me your eyes for just one second

Give me your eyes so I can see,

Everything that I keep missing,

Give your love for humanity.

Give me your arms for the broken-hearted

The ones that are far beyond my reach.

Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.

Give me Your eyes so I can see

 

Ephesians 2:10 – ¨For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.¨

 

-Makayla Railton

 

We need to open our hearts to figure out what God wants us to do for him. 

 

1 Timothy 5

Fri Devo

“Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden.” 1 Timothy 5:25

In 1 Timothy 5, Paul changes his focus to how those in the church should take care of those in need. In the early church, the church created a support system for widows who could not take care of themselves (because of cultural norms and their age). This support system was an important part of the church’s ministry and testimony. In fact, James says, “Pure and undefiled religion is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). Paul does give requirements about which widows to serve in this chapter, but a central truth here is that we should be serving those who are in need now.

As we look at the modern-day church, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing for those in need now. We’ve talked this week about how our faith will be shown through our actions. When we are following Jesus, we should show gentleness as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5). According to this passage, we should also be showing kindness and goodness through our generosity and hospitality. If you look at your life and find this is not the case, think of ways you can begin to serve those around you, whether in a church ministry or one you create yourself. This type of service should be an outpouring of your strong relationship with Jesus. 

Just like Jesus cautions in Matt. 6, when you serve, you need to ask yourself what you are doing this for. If you are serving to try to save yourself, you can stop and rest. God’s gift of grace is the only thing that saves us. If you are serving to gain glory from others, you should stop and ask for humility. As Jesus says over and over again, when you are applauded for your actions by man now, you’ve gotten the reward for your actions. We should serve, because we want to love our brothers and sisters in Christ just like Jesus loved us. And, “your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).

~ Cayce Fletcher

Heart Test

2 Corinthians 13

2 Corinthians 13 5

I’m picking up here on the last chapter of 2 Corinthians.   Thanks to Marcia Railton & Kayla Tullis for the first 12 chapters in this book!

One thing I love about these devotion blogs is that you get something a little different each week with different people contributing.  My style is pulling out some verses that stand out to me, doing some summarizing, and adding some of my own thoughts.  I hope that there is something this week that you can learn and/or grow from.

Chapter 13 picks up right where chapter 12 left off.  Paul is writing to tell them of his coming third visit.  And he isn’t going to be quite as nice.  They have gotten a couple of warnings, and now he is cracking down.

Grace is an amazing concept.  But if you use grace as an excuse to continue sinning, it cheapens God’s gift, and Jesus’s sacrifice.  So do this:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.

We may be weak at times, but if Christ is in us, we can rely on his strength and be fully restored – thank you God for this gift!  Because if we had to do it on our own, we simply couldn’t.

Paul finishes his letter with good advice:

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

It can be hard to live at peace with our brothers and sisters if we aren’t at peace with God.

The past couple of weeks in our ladies class at church, we have been talking about our testimonies, and this reminds me of mine.  I grew up in the church and always knew I needed to accept Christ as my Savior to fully experience his and God’s love, but for some reason, I just hadn’t.  I believed everything, I had the knowledge, but it just hadn’t made a connection in my heart.  Then one Sunday, a lady in our church who was struggling with cancer shared how in her darkest time at the hospital, she had felt so far from God feeling almost abandoned.  Yet after feeling that, God blessed her with a deep sense of peace that passed any understanding of her circumstances.  And she knew that whatever happened, she would be ok whether in this lifetime, or in the coming Kingdom.  That got to me.  That gave me that heart connection I was missing.  I remember going to my pastor after church and telling him that I wanted to know that peace – I was ready to make my decision.

 

So if you have made your decision already, I am so happy for you!  I hope that you can live in peace and feel God with you.

And if you haven’t, I encourage you to consider it.  Maybe you are like me and know the truth, but just haven’t felt that connection in your heart.  If this is the case, I hope that you will spend time talking to God and ask Him to give you that connection so that you don’t have to miss out.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

His Perfect Power

2 Corinthians 12

2 corinthians 12 9

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

For when I am weak, then I am strong. Let this verse pour over your heart today. How encouraging is it to know that no matter what circumstance we walk through, we can stand firm in the grace of God. His power is made PERFECT in our weakness. All of our fears, worries, troubles, sorrows, and pain may be put to rest. We can lay them all down and know that our God is greater. I’ve said it many times while writing this week, and i’ll continue to say it over and over again, our God is so very good. May we cling to Him, not only as we continue our Bible reading plan, but cling to him throughout the entirety of our lives. Wishing you all the best and I hope to see you this summer at FUEL!

-Kayla Tullis

Giving!

2 Corinthians 8

2 Corinthians 8 4

 

“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”

2 Corinthians 8:7 ESV

 

 

“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”

2 Corinthians 8:12 ESV

 

 

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV

 

Wow. Pause and read this again. So very powerful. Let’s let this one sink in.

 

 

“And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.”

2 Corinthians 8:19-21 ESV

 

Throughout 2 Corinthians 8, it is evident that this chapter is explaining the collection that Titus was sent to receive for the Lord’s people. In starting out today’s reading, I decided to highlight a few key verses (as listed above) to read before we move onto a deeper discussion.

 

So often in this life, I feel as if it is ingrained into our society to accumulate more and more so that we may be perceived as the richest, having the most glamor, and being considered high in status. Many popular songs today even send out the message to seek after selfish ambitions– more money, more things, seeking after unhealthy relationships, and the list goes on and on. However, it was so refreshing to dig into this chapter today as it speaks truth onto the matter of, not only having, but also giving. Moreover, this chapter highlights the importance of recognizing what you have, and with responsibility, using a portion of it to present it as an offering unto the Lord with willingness. I love that Paul writes about the importance of being diligent and being invested in your faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, and love, but also writes that presenting an offering is indeed an act of grace.

  • You don’t think you have anything valuable to offer? Think again! One of the best parts about presenting the Lord with an offering is that you do not have to have a lot to be able to give/carry out an act of ministry, contributing to the furtherance of the kingdom. An offering for one person may look completely different than an offering for another person and that’s okay!

Question:

Ask yourselves, “What do I have to offer today?”

  • Maybe it’s: time, a financial donation, investing in others, offering words of encouragement, acts of service, praying for others, etc.
  • There are several ways that you can contribute!

 

My biggest take away from this chapter is that we have a God who sent His only son to sacrifice everything on our behalf to pave the way to eternal life. It is my hope that we can present our lives as an offering to God and let His work truly come to life within us! We have the chance to do something very special to honor God and further His kingdom unto others. Are you willing to be a part of it? With grace, I encourage you to present an offering to God– today, this week, this month, this year, or all the above. Whatever that may look like in your life, seek after it. Let’s set our selfish ambitions aside and really focus on the things that matter. My friends, you are so loved! We serve a good good father. Have a great day and be sure to join back again tomorrow for our next daily devotion!

-Kayla Tullis

More Grace?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6

In the past couple of chapters, we looked at how we are justified by faith, and being saved while we are sinners.  So, the natural question is whether it matters if we sin.  I love the way Paul answers this question after he asks it.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

In my head I hear this with a lot of passion in it.  Then Paul says basically the same thing in verse 15:

15 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!”

Again, I hear so much passion in this statement.  This is obviously an important point, and something that needed to be talked about when Paul wrote this letter.  It is something that needs talked about and understood now too.  I am confident that Paul spent this much time on this topic because it is so easy to think that “this” sin will be okay.  I’ll be forgiven, and then I won’t do it again.  Then, the next time it is again easy to think that doing it one more time won’t hurt.  I’ll be forgiven again.

That is an extremely dangerous place to be.  It is easy to cross the line into sin, and can be very difficult to cross back.  We need to stay as far away from that as possible.

16 “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”

We are either slaves to sin or to obedience resulting in righteousness.  We each must make that choice.  We are justified by faith, and then that faith should lead to obedience.  It is all really summed up in the last verse of chapter 6:

23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Andrew Hamilton

Grace for a Sinner

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5

Have you ever felt like you need to get things straightened out in your life before you can ask for forgiveness?  Or before you can pray?  Or before you can draw near to God?  I know I have felt that way.  Is God waiting for us to get everything straightened out before we seek forgiveness or start a relationship for him?  Let’s look at a few verses that I think answer this question:

6 “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

 8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

All three of these seem to show that God is reaching out to us and desiring us to reach out to Him while we are still messed up.  These verses say, “While we were helpless”, “while we were yet sinners”, and “while we were enemies”.  This sure doesn’t sound like “after we got straightened out”.

I still feel at times that I need to fix something myself before turning to God and asking for forgiveness.  I also know that sin causes problems in a relationship with God.  However, if we are justified through our faith as we saw in Romans 4, and if we look at chapter 5 closely, we have our order wrong.  We need to turn to God immediately.  We need to accept his grace, and then focus on Him to straighten out whatever our problems are.

Paul closes the chapter with this:

20 “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

No matter what sin we have, no matter what laws we have broken, no matter how far we have turned away, the grace of God is sufficient if we will turn back to Him.  God is seeking us out, and we need to seek Him also, whether things are going well, or everything is falling apart.

– Andrew Hamilton