Requirements

Titus & Philemon

Did you panic a little bit when you found you had to read two entire books of the Bible today? As you have hopefully found now both Titus and Philemon are pretty short books. In fact, Philemon checks in as the third shortest book of the Bible (only 2 John and 3 John are shorter).

First, let’s talk about Titus.  If you owned a business and were looking to hire managers to oversee the company what would you require?  Would your job posting read that the applicant needed silky hair, mad four-square skills, and a deep love of chicken nuggets?  If so your company would probably not be in business for long because there would be no purpose behind the requirements you wanted. Hopefully, your requirements might be along the lines of:  must be self-controlled, honest and just.  If so you and God have those requirements in common except these are the requirements that God asks of the elders of the church which is a person who “manages God’s household” (Titus 1:7).

He also has requirements for those who aren’t elders.  In chapters 2 and 3, Paul outlines what God expects from everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ. It says in chapter 3 verse 1- 2 that we are, “to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign (which means to harm) no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”

Paul carries over the idea of being peaceable and gentle in the book of Philemon.  Paul writes to Philemon, who is a brother in Christ, concerning a slave named Onesimus.  It seems that Onesimus was full of passion for spreading God’s word so he ran away from his master Philemon to join Paul.  Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon and requested that Philemon would, “accept him as you would me” (vs.17).  Paul treats both parties with grace and love to resolve the issue at hand and so once again practices what he preaches showing that he is a fully committed follower of God just as we are to be.

-Lacey Dunn

Power in Weakness

2 Corinthians 11-13

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Sunday, June 25

Have you ever felt on top of the world because everything was going your way and there wasn’t a problem in sight?  I felt like this quite a bit when I was younger because all of my needs were met and I just didn’t have very many hardships.  Life seemed easy.  I have fond memories of my youth and I thank God for the way he blessed me back then.  However, when times are good, it is easy to forget that we still need to rely on God.  When all of our needs are met without even thinking about them, it is easy to lose track of who is taking care of those needs for us.  When life is sailing smoothly, it is hard to remember how much we need God because we think we can take care of ourselves.

I’m sure some of you can relate to this, but there are probably many others that grew up with much more difficult lives than I had.  I can also say that real problems did eventually find me and life doesn’t seem nearly as easy as it used to be.  I don’t think God causes all of the problems in my life, but he obviously allows the difficulties to occur.  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?  Have you ever wondered why God would let you get a bad cold right before a big exam?  Why would He let you get in a car accident and break a leg?  Why would He let you lose your job when He knows you have a family to feed?  Why would he let someone steal your phone?  Why would he let your house burn down?  It is easy to question how much God cares about you when your life is full of problems.

Paul could have definitely questioned if God was on his side or not.  In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul listed his hardships:  imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death, received 39 lashes from the Jews five times, beaten three times with rods, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, a night and day he spent in the deep, frequent journeys in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from his countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren, labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure, and the daily pressure on him of concern for all of the churches.  Why would God allow Paul’s life to be so ridiculously difficult???  This is Paul we are talking about here!  He was an extremely important piece in God’s plan to spread the gospel, yet God let all of these bad things happen to him.

Paul was also given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from exalting himself.  He prayed three times to have it removed, but the answer to his prayers was probably not what he expected.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  Paul responded by saying he would rather boast about his weaknesses so that the power of Christ would dwell in him.  He actually said he was content with weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake because when he was weak, he was strong.  This seems to make no sense at all, until you dig a little deeper.

When life is good, we tend to depend on ourselves more.  When life gets tough, we realize we aren’t as capable as we thought.  When life gets really tough, we can give up and throw ourselves a pity party or we can reach out to the most powerful being in the universe and ask Him for grace and a whole lot of power.  Remember, “Power is perfected in weakness.”  However, we need to come to the realization that the power is not our own power; it is POWER from God.  So be content in your weaknesses and all of the difficulties life will throw at you like Paul was so you can experience what true power feels like.  Ask God to fill you with His power and you will see that none of your problems are too big for God to handle.  Power can be perfected during the tough times you are experiencing.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit: https://www.primobibleverses.com/topic/II%20Corinthians%2011)

Some Hope for Your Hopelessness

Lamentations 2-3

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Friday, March 17

 

Lamentations 2 is recounting God’s anger, and in chapter 3 Jeremiah seems to be complaining that God is not listening to him. However, in spite of complaining, he does acknowledge that God gave the people grace in not dishing out as harsh a punishment as they deserved.

 

Despite the melancholy nature of the book, this portion of Jeremiah contains one of my favorite passages in all of scripture (ch. 3, v. 21-24):

 

“Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”

This verse is displayed in our living room, scripted on a photo that we captured of a radiant sunset over Alaska’s Kenai Fjord during our honeymoon. I appreciate the daily visual reminder that God is always faithful, and that each day is a new start complete with His fresh mercies!

 

With all that Jeremiah was facing, I am encouraged that he still dared to hope. Have you ever dared to hope? Right now I am facing a difficult situation with an ailing loved one. For many months, I’ve experienced an exhausting cycle – hopelessness followed by a rush of hope (that has instead usually turned out to be a false alarm), followed by hopelessness, and then another chance to hope. And just when I tell myself that I am not going to hope again, I am presented with another opportunity to hope that I just cannot deny because life without hope, is, well, hopeless. Sometimes hope is all that keeps us going. Hope helps us cope with the difficulties in life. So will you “dare to hope”?

 

Ultimately, our hope as believers is in Jesus Christ and our future in the Kingdom with God. The meaning of my daughter’s name inspires my soul every time I think of it. Her first name is Maranatha, which means, “Come, Lord Jesus” (but most people know her as Mara), and her middle name is “Hope”, which we chose because the coming of Jesus our Lord is our hope as believers. Jesus knows that we will have trouble in this world, but he reminds us to “take heart! I have overcome the world!” Now THAT is something worth our hope!

 

Pray about what it is that God may be calling you to “hope” for. (Think about the injustices that came to your mind during yesterday’s devotion and how you hope the situation could be different). What actions do you need to take to allow yourself to hope? How can hope drive you to make a difference?

 

-Rachel Cain

 

(Photo Credit: https://dailyverses.net/lamentations/3/22-23)

Giving Grace

Jeremiah 50-52

Jer 52

Wednesday, March 15

In Jeremiah 50-51, the writings describe the future defeat and destruction of Babylon. In the next chapter, the army of Babylon surrounded Jerusalem for 2 years and allowed no one in or out. Finally, the Babylonian army broke through Jerusalem’s walls and destroyed the city, taking the people captive.

Let’s look at the last few verses again, starting with 52:31 (this is from The Message version):
“When Jehoiachin king of Judah had been in exile for thirty-seven years, Evil-Merodach became king in Babylon and let Jehoiachin out of prison. This release took place on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month. The king treated him most courteously and gave him preferential treatment beyond anything experienced by the political prisoners held in Babylon. Jehoiachin took off his prison garb and from then on ate his meals in company with the king. The king provided everything he needed to live comfortably for the rest of his life.”
This pagan king – whose name literally began with “Evil” – chose to show extreme grace and mercy to his enemy. If someone who is not for God can show that kind of love, how much more do we, as children of God, need to extend God’s grace and mercy to those around us, both Christians and unbelievers!

As followers of Jesus, you and I are called to shine his light to the world. That includes extending his grace to others just as we have received his grace. We need to try to be peaceful with others (Romans 12:18), forgive others, and show Christ’s love to everyone, both believers and unbelievers. We all – myself included – are guilty of not always being gracious and merciful, and I pray for God to help me with this.
Practically, giving grace can mean…
* being extra patient with the new waitress who is having a difficult day. (Instead of docking her tip for poor service, how about tipping her over 25% with a note to say that you are thankful and praying for her?)
* not lashing out against your family members when they make a silly mistake – after all, haven’t we all made silly mistakes?
* forgiving someone when they have wronged you. This is very difficult, but is possible with the help of God!
* thinking and praying for wisdom before you say (or type) a response to someone that might be hurtful to them or to God. (Give them grace for their difference of opinion just as you would want their grace for your opposite opinion, and then carefully and prayerfully craft a God-honoring response).
There are a myriad of times when we do not extend grace and love to others… but then we can ask for, accept, and share God’s grace and forgiveness, requesting His help to be a true light in this dark world. 

-Rachel Cain

 

(Photo credit: http://biblepic.com/42/jeremiah_52-31.htm#.WMiy_RLyvVo)

Maggots! And Great Grace!

Job 22-26

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Monday, December 19

Job is repeatedly told by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that it is Job’s actions that have brought this wicked fate upon him.  In today’s reading, Bildad poses a question to Job, but really, calls into question the righteousness of every man.

 

How then can a mortal be righteous before God?  How can one born of woman be pure? – Job 25:4

 

The truth is that Job, his friends, you, and I have all suffered from the same condition.  We have sinned: an act of contempt against our Creator.  It doesn’t matter if we strayed for a moment or a lifetime, it separates us from a Holy God, and it makes us like maggots clinging to garbage; our righteousness is like filthy rags. (Job 25:6; Isaiah 64:6)

 

There is nothing that man can do to gain the grace of God.  It is a gift that no amount of church attendance, prayer, Bible study, charity, or good work earns.  Redemption comes only through our faithful Father’s plan of salvation.  (Ephesian 2:8)

 

The inverse of this is an equally powerful message.  No man with the breath of God in his lungs can lose His grace.  You cannot be selfish enough, you cannot hate enough, you cannot deny his existence enough, and you cannot curse his grace away; it is there faithfully following and patiently awaiting confession and surrender.  (Isaiah 59:1; Romans 8:38-39)

 

A small glimpse into tomorrow’s reading reveals our new attitude because of this:

Until then,

Aaron Winner

 

God’s Grace

2 Chronicles 30-32

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Friday, December 2

Just a couple quick things to notice in these readings. One is that our readings this week have covered more than 200 years of Israel’s history. To put it in context of United States history, George Washington would have been president when this week started and most of you will be retired by the end of tomorrow’s reading. Just imagine how much has happened that we know nothing about. If you remember your readings in 1 and 2 Kings, you’ll notice differences in the story. I was surprised that this account does not include the sun moving backwards as a sign of  Hezekiah’s healing, nor does it give as dramatic an account of the defeat of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.

I want to focus now on 2 Chronicles 30:13-22. The back story is that Hezekiah is determined to celebrate the Passover like it had not been done since the time of Solomon. He is not content to celebrate only with those loyal to David in Judah, but has reached out to the northern tribes, many of whom have already been defeated and carried away captive by the Assyrians. Many have refused to come, but Judah graciously welcomes those who do.

Notice verses 18-20. “For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good LORD pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the LORD the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people.”

We have noticed throughout our readings that God gave strict instructions as to how his feasts were to be celebrated. Yet here we see grace, first in inviting those who were outside the faithful of Judah to celebrate the feast, and then in pardoning their mistakes in celebrating the feast. God understands human weakness.

We might imagine a person visiting our church who does not know how to behave in church. Perhaps she doesn’t know how to dress, perhaps he uses language that many would consider inappropriate. They don’t know the words to the songs, don’t know when to stand, when to sing, when to be quiet, what communion is about. Can we be glad they are with us, rather than focusing on their mess ups? How can we gracefully communicate that we are glad they are with us, welcoming them as Christ welcomes us?

-Greg Demmitt

God’s Grace Brings Release (2 Kings 24-25)

Sunday, November 13

jehoiachin

Chapter 23 ended with Jehoiakim becoming king and doing evil in the eyes of the Lord just as his fathers had.  Then moving into chapter 24, Nebuchadnezzar comes onto the scene.  He invaded Jerusalem, and made Jehoiakim his servant, to carry out his orders over Judah.  After 3 years Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.  The Lord sent armies against him for the evil he had done and he is killed.  His son Jehoiachin became king and continued doing evil in the eyes of the Lord as his fathers did.  The cycle is continuing.

After Jehoiachin had ruled only 3 months, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem.  Jehoiachin surrendered and is taken prisoner.  All the treasures of the temple were taken, along with treasures from the king’s house.  All but the poorest people were exiled to Babylon.  Things were as low as they had ever been for Judah.  However, they kept getting worse, and Jerusalem was eventually destroyed.

This seems to just be a story of kings doing evil, and suffering consequences for it.  Fast forward 37 years and Nebuchadnezzar dies and Evil-Merodach becomes king of Babylon.  He releases Jehoiachin from prison and gave him a place of honor.  What a transformation overnight to go from prison to a place of honor with the king.

Have you ever felt that because of some mistake you made or some circumstances, that you can never get past it?  Have you felt that things are just going from bad to worse and you will never get past the problems you have?  I am guessing Jehoiachin felt that he was condemned to being in prison the rest of his life, and lacked hope at times.  However, his life turned around.  Doesn’t this sound like the grace of God?  There is nothing that shows Jehoiachin deserved this improved position, however he was granted it anyways.

Whether our problems are caused by our own mistakes or just circumstances we are in, we can have the hope of God’s grace, and have everything turned around.  We just need to accept God’s gift, along with repentance for our sins.

We can always have hope.

Andrew Hamilton