Today, If You Hear His Voice

Hebrews 3

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Having read the first two chapters of Hebrews, we have seen the author building up this case for belief and hope in Jesus as the Son of God. Now in chapter 3, the author is trying to bring us back to an example that the readers would have been familiar with to help us understand the necessity of our faith. He calls back to Moses, the prophet who first heard the name of YHWH, delivered the Hebrews from enslavement in Israel and performed many signs and wonders in the midst of the Jews (Exodus 14:31). This Moses that the Hebrews are so familiar with, who brought the law that they hold in such reverence, was faithful in God’s house. However, his faithfulness was to testify of the Prophet to come (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19), namely Jesus.

By conjuring up this image of the Old Testament prophet, Moses, we are reminded of the rebellion of the Hebrew people after they were delivered from Egypt. In only a matter of years, the people hardened their hearts and they were filled with unbelief even though they had seen the signs of God in their own lifetimes. Can you imagine witnessing the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of Cloud and Fire or the radiant face of Moses and yet still turn your back on the God who freed you from slavery? It doesn’t make sense to me at all. For some reason, the peoples’ hearts were hardened so that they couldn’t believe in God, even though they heard the voice of God.

Now this story isn’t just an example from the past, it is a story that represented the people to which this book is written. Many Jews believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah, but others refused to believe. Their hearts were hardened even though they saw all the signs and healings that Jesus performed. It is their unbelief that is their downfall.

I want to apply this story to today as well, while it is still called “today.” If I hear God’s voice, what will I do? Will I believe or will I harden my heart? I believe there are signs and works being performed today through the power of the Holy Spirit as it was promised by Jesus (John 14:12). If you don’t believe that there are still signs being performed to this day, ask a believer in your congregation if they have ever witnessed or performed a work through the Holy Spirit. More have than I think we realize.

The other part of hearing God’s voice today, is that the author of this book is re-presenting the words of God, the words of the Holy Spirit, words spoken Prophetically through David. This is the voice of God that you hear today. Encourage each other every day as long as it is called “today” (Hebrews 3:13). This should be your main takeaway from this passage. If you want to ensure that no one is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin so that they will enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 3:18), then tell someone the word of God today, while it is still called “today.” Speak the word of God in power, for there is certainly power in the word of God. We are given a message of hope that we can boast in (Hebrews 3:6). Pick up your phone and text a brother or sister in Christ and remind them of this hope. Get up and visit your brother and sister to tell them of this hope. If you believe in this hope, then let the whole world know and be a partner of Christ in his work of proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Hebrews 3:14).

-Nathaniel Johnson

APPLICATION QUESTIONS

  1. Who can I tell today about the hope that is found in Jesus?
  2. How often do I think about the hope that is found in Jesus?
  3. Ask a Christian, have you ever seen a sign or a work of the Holy Spirit?

A Deposit

Ephesians 1

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Living in Arizona, there is no shortage of Mexican restaurants. One of the best parts of eating at one is the delivery of warm crispy tortilla chips and moderately spicy salsa within minutes of being seated. Each restaurant’s chips and salsa are different and wonderfully delicious. You can get a hint of the caliber of your main entree by the quality of this appetizer. If the chips and salsa are especially tasty, I will fill up on that by the time my chicken chimichanga is brought to the table. 

As I read the first half of this first chapter in Ephesians, I am struck by this phrase in verse 14, “who (the Holy Spirit) is a deposit”. Wait…a DEPOSIT?!?! You mean there’s more to be expected? It’s a very crude comparison, but it’s almost like the chips and salsa…it’s so good all by itself. But I know that something even more wonderful is coming.  

I guess somewhere in my understanding, I have KNOWN that when the Kingdom is established on the earth, that it will be more than whatever it is that I can possibly imagine. But I hadn’t ever made the connection that the Holy Spirit is the deposit to my FULL inheritance in Christ.

Usually, a deposit is a fraction of the full amount in order to hold an item on your behalf. So if the Holy Spirit is a deposit to hold my spot in the Kingdom…how much more will the full experience of the Kingdom really be? 

Back in Acts 1, Jesus tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit will empower them to be witnesses. Likewise, as believers, we also are given the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can do great and mighty things for the coming Kingdom of God. This is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:20). 

Unlike eating chips and salsa, which I tend to not want to share, we are meant to do something for others with this deposit. We are meant to minister and serve. We are meant to teach and show hospitality. We are meant to impart compassion and discern wisdom. We are meant to pray for and encourage others. We are meant to give and sacrifice our time, energies, and resources. 

I recently wrote in my journal three questions. I’ll conclude by asking you the same as you consider this deposit of the Holy Spirit.

What should I continue doing?

What should I stop doing?

What should I start doing?

-Bethany Ligon

Application Questions

See above. 🙂

Led by the Holy Spirit

Acts 15

May 3

Acts 15 is a chapter of disagreements. Our first disagreement comes within the larger church and is about the rules for Gentiles regarding circumcision. Some of the church had been instructing new Gentiles to be circumcised and debate arose amongst the apostles and elders. Paul, Peter and James all make statements that are recorded in this chapter.

I’m going to bring up a couple of highlights from this chapter that may or may not be related. In verse 8 the marker that Peter uses that Gentiles are now welcome to the family of God is that the Gentiles recieved the Holy Spirit, the same way that the Jews did. The Holy Spirit being a marker for Gentiles is a significant statement about how critical the Holy Spirit is to Christianity. This statement shows that the apostles had a high view of the Holy Spirit.

At McGintytown we are currently revising our constitution. If any of you have been a part of one of these committees you know how much work it is. One of the questions that gets brought up is how much power should each individual person or group have over the church. Acts 15 is an interesting case study of this because of the scope of the decision being made. The decision the apostles and elders are making for Gentiles is going to affect ALL Gentiles. The apostles and elders are representing God for his people.

In verse 28 we have the reason provided for this decision. The apostles told the Gentiles that it seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit. If I were them I would want some sort of lighting bolt or some Gideon like signs or maybe having God rewind time like he did for Hezekiah. The apostles and elders feel good imposing only four rules on the Gentiles.

How could the apostles be so confident that they were doing what God wants? In Dallas Willard’s Hearing God he presents the idea that the same way that you may know what a friend or spouse or boss would want done in a situation, that as we progress in our spiritual lives, that we should know what God wants. This is why having a daily progressing relationship with God is so important. It is impossible to know what God would want if we don’t know God. This doesn’t mean God won’t continue to speak to us, it just means that we don’t need to be paralyzed by decisions. That is as long as you feel you know what God would want.

We encounter situations that the Bible doesn’t necessarily give us a direct command about. As long as we are spending time with God and have a sense of where he is leading us we don’t need to wait for some miraculous sign to make a decision. Being led by the spirit doesn’t mean having to pray what cereal to eat, what route to take to work or how to handle work decisions. We can lean in to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and proceed.

-Daniel Wall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In this chapter, what can we learn about handling disagreements that arise in the church? Consider how they handled the question of circumcision as well as the debate over John also called Mark.
  2. How do you tend to handle disagreements? What can you put into practice next time?
  3. Would you consider yourself more Spirit led, or self led? What’s the difference? When making decisions and living your life, how important is it to you to be doing what God wants? How do you work at knowing what He wants?

Devote Yourselves

Acts 2

April 20

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

One of the things the very first churches did was devote themselves to fellowship. Fellowship means holding all things in common. They would share everything. They began to know and to love one another. Here are 3,000 people suddenly added to a little band of twenty. Most of them probably were strangers before this time. Many of them had come from other parts of the world into Jerusalem for that occasion. They did not know each other. But now they are one in Christ, and they begin to love each other and start to talk to each other, to find out what each other has been thinking and how each has been reacting, and to share their problems and burdens and needs, to talk about these together and pray together about them. There was a wonderful sense of community, of commonality, of belonging to each other. That is the fellowship which is the intended life for the body of Christ.

If the body is not operating, then the life is not manifest. That means there is no power because the life of God is always power. The reason the church has been so powerless lately is that it has been so fragmented and broken. We have estranged ourselves from each other. In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul says, and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… (Ephesians 4:30). Then he lists the things that grieve the Holy Spirit: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

If that is not happening, then the Spirit of God is grieved. When the Holy Spirit is grieved, it does not act. There is no life. The church becomes dull and dead and sterile and mediocre. All this is manifest in an empty ritual, with no vitality in it. God intends that Christians should have fellowship, should share one another’s lives and thoughts and problems — bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. It is not an option; it is an essential. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit of God begins to move in any congregation, or in any assembly of believers, he starts at this point. He begins to heal the brokenness of their lives and their relationships one with another, to get them to admit to each other their malice and their anger and their frustration and their grudges, and to forgive one another. This is when life begins to flow once again through the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What can you do to have more fellowship with fellow believers?

-Andy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Look again at the list of things that grieve the Holy Spirit, as well as the positives we are to do instead. Slow down and prayerfully consider each one, searching your own heart, words, attitudes and actions. What do you need to ask forgiveness for? Who do you need to forgive?
  2. How can you use fellowship to then bear one another’s burdens?
  3. How devoted are you to fellowship with the body of believers? What can you do to have more? With whom? When? Where? How? And, of course, remind yourself why?

What is Your Act?

Acts 1

April 19

The first few verses of chapter one constitutes an introduction to the book of Acts, giving us the key to the book. Here we have revealed the essential strategy by which Jesus Christ proposes to change the world, a strategy which is the secret of the character of the church when it is operating as it was intended to operate. I strongly suspect that most Christians suffer from a terrible inferiority complex when we confront the world around us. We have bought the idea of many around that the church is quite irrelevant, an archaic group that is irrelevant today. That view is false. The church is the most important body in the world today because whatever happens in the world happens because of something that is, or is not, happening in the church.

Now, in his first statement here, Luke gives us the great strategy by which the Lord works among mankind. He says, “In my former book…I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach… ” The Gospel of Luke is the record of the Son of God. Jesus, the man, came to begin something, to do and to teach, and the record of that beginning is in the Gospels. But this second book is the continuation of what Jesus began to do. In a very real sense, Acts is not the acts of believers, but the continuing acts of Jesus. It is an account of what Jesus continues to do and to teach. In the Gospels he did it in his physical body of flesh. In the book of Acts he is doing it through the bodies of men and women who are followers of him and endowed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whenever God wants to get a message across to men, he does not simply send someone to announce it; his final way of driving it home is to express the message in flesh and blood. He takes a life and aims it in a certain direction and, by the manifestation of his own life through the blood and flesh of a human being, he makes clear what he has to say. That is the strategy of the book of Acts. It is the record of followers of Christ endowed in the Holy Spirit; men and women,  owned by him, and thus manifesting his life. That is the secret of authentic Christianity. Anytime you find a Christianity that is not doing that, it is false Christianity. No matter how much it may adapt the garb and language of Christianity, if it is not the activity of human beings possessed and indwelt by the life of Jesus Christ it is not authentic Christianity. That is the true power of the church, as we shall see in this book.

The book of Acts therefore is an unfinished book. It is not finished but is still being written. The book abruptly closes with an account of Paul in the city of Rome, living in his own hired house. It just ends there as though you might turn over the next page and begin the next adventure. What is your act?

-Andy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What is your act?
  2. How would you rate yourself as a follower of Christ? What role does the Holy Spirit have in your life?
  3. Looking at Acts 1 what do you find the disciples of Jesus doing? What is their mission? What is their hope? Is this an appealing group to be a part of? Explain.

Wrath and Reward

Revelation 16

If you’ve ever needed an incentive to remain obedient to God, read about the 7 bowls of God’s wrath as recorded in Revelation 16 – if a stick motivates you.

Bowl 1.  Revelation 16:2, “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.

This is a good reason not to worship the beast, better known as the antichrist.  But it gets better…

Bowl 2. The sea turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.

Bowl 3. The rivers and springs of water turned to blood.

Bowl 4. People were seared by the intense heat of the sun, which grew very hot.

Bowl 5. Darkness, and men gnawed their tongues in agony.

Bowl 6. Demons gathered the kings of the earth for the war of Armageddon.

Bowl 7.  An earthquake more devastating than any since man has been on the earth.  Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.  From the sky, huge hailstones of about 100 pounds each fell upon men.

This should give us the incentive to remain faithful to God in the midst of persecution from the antichrist.  But we can’t endure alone, we will need God’s help.  This brings us to a promise in Zechariah 4:6, also in today’s reading, which says, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”

We need to be completely dedicated to living wholeheartedly for God.  And when tough times come, He will give us the strength to endure, with the power of His Holy Spirit.

Personally, I’m more of a carrot kind of guy.  So I look more at the promises of Revelation 21:4, which says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

So whether you’re motivated by a carrot or by a stick, the important thing is to be completely dedicated to living wholeheartedly for God today.  Once the tough times come, it will be really hard to start serving Him then.

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 3-4 and Revelation 16

The Law of the Letter or of Life

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Job 3-4, 2 Corinthians 3

The Olympics are going on in full steam with the final days approaching this week. Though I’ve never been one to follow gymnastics, swimming, track, or fencing, when the Olympics comes around, I’m glued to the screen watching people strain towards earthly glory in the form of a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Today, I was watching the morning news, and Caleb Dressel was doing an interview. When asked about how he took care of his mental health, he said that the first thing he did when he got back home from a big event was to not think about swimming for at least two weeks. When he got home, he wasn’t a medal winning athlete; he was just himself. He said if he didn’t do this, the pressure would be too much. He would start to go after an unattainable goal that would ultimately lead him down a dark path. 

Though we can pursue earthly achievements in our careers, finances, homes, sports, hobbies, etc., we are called to live with eternity in mind as Christians. A gold medal, large retirement account, promotion, or degree is not the pinnacle of our life. The way that we live now is working towards that final goal which will come when the trumpet sounds. As I talked about earlier this week, we can rest in assurance that this goal has already been achieved. The victory is won, and we wait for Jesus to come. 

I can say that… but in my heart of hearts, sometimes it’s hard to live like that is actually true. I like to be in control, and for the things that I’m actually good at (which is not sports), I like to be one of the best. I will go all out. And, so in my Christian walk, I can fluctuate from being distracted and worried about the cares of the world and being so legalistic that I stifle the relationship that I’m trying to work towards. When I make it about me, I can go down a wrong path – just like Caleb Dressel. I can’t do anything to add to the accomplishments of Christ, and so all of my actions where I am trying to be the ‘best’ Christian ultimately burn me out and leave me empty – and they can actually leave me further away from Christ (like the Pharisees). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We don’t have to live by the law of the letter anymore. We can live in the freedom that comes from living in the Holy Spirit. We are not changing ourselves on our own power; we are relying on the power of God. And, God can do so much more than any man – Olympic medal winning or not. When we rely on him, we have the victory! Whose power are you living in?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3 .

The Early Church : The Message

John 20


I love the book of John, and I am so glad I get to lead us in this week, because John 20 is one of my favorite chapters. 


This week we are discussing the early church. We will be ending John and moving into Acts. While Luke shows us the crucifixion, resurrection, and later the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost as the beginning of the church, John shows us the beginning of the church here in chapter 20. 


In the opening verses, Jesus is RISEN! Jesus, in John, clearly laid down his life of his own accord, and clearly takes it up again. There is no doubt in the mind of Jesus or the author about what he was doing. Jesus was saving humanity! Jesus was giving the final sign that he is the Messiah, and 8th sign, signifying that he is creating something new. The disciples sprint to see the empty tomb but go away. Mary stays. Jesus sends her to let them know that his words were true, he had been raised, just as he said. He sends her out.


This sending of Mary is mirrored in what Jesus does to the apostles is verse 19. They are sitting in fear, but Jesus shows up and gives them his peace. Then in verse 22-23 we get a weird picture. Jesus breathes on his disciples, post-CoViD, masks, and social distancing, we may feel like Jesus was in their personal space. But he says, “Receive the spirit”. The Holy Spirit, the power, presence, and promise of God to those who would believe in the Messiah, is the very breath of Jesus. What John is showing is that this powerful spirit that shows up in Acts and shakes the city and changes the world, is the breath of Christ. He gives his disciples spirit for power, for forgiveness, for judgement. This is John showing us the birth of the church. 


However, the verses I want us to really see are the last three of the chapter. “Doubting” Thomas gets an unfair, if earned, nickname. Yes he doubted. But no one has ever brushed off a crucifixion before. No one gets executed and wakes up a couple days later. Jesus is the exception to the rule. But when Jesus shows up, Thomas believes, declaring “My Lord and My God.” Jesus recognizes the belief of Thomas and says “Because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”


My brothers and sisters, that is you. Jesus spoke of how YOU are blessed for having faith without sight. Jesus knows that it is a difficult thing to believe, to be the church. But, like Mary, like Peter, like Thomas, like John, we are called, in faith, to tell others the message of the early church, the message that is still true today. “These things (the book of John) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) If you believe, have faith without sight, that Jesus is the Christ, as John has been showing, as Peter and Paul declared, as Jesus himself testified to for 40 days on earth, then YOU have life in his name. That is the message of the early church, it is the message of the medieval church, it is the message of the contemporary church, and it will be the message of the church until the end of the age. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and we have life in his name. 


Let us, his breath-filled, Spirit-empowered followers, be his witnesses to the world. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here 1 Samuel 9-10 and John 20

The Spirit Speaking Through Us

Mark 13

            There are a lot of things going on in Mark 13, but I want to focus on verses 9-11 which say, “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.”

            There are two things that really stick out to me in these verses. The first being the word testimony. In Greek, the word is marturion, and it simply means witness, testimony, evidence or proof. To me, this is very exciting. Why does this excite me? Because it means that we can become proof that Jesus really is the son of God! When we are questioned about our faith we get the opportunity to become living and breathing evidence for Jesus! That, to me, sounds like the best thing I could ever be. Wouldn’t you want a chance to prove that Jesus is real? As an interesting side note, the word marturion is also tied to the word martyr, someone who dies for their faith. When someone dies for their faith, it is the greatest act of proof that someone can give. There is no greater sacrifice someone can make to prove their belief is real. Remember, whether you are talking to a friend, speaking in front of people or sacrificing your life, you will have an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus at some point.

            The second thing that really sticks out to me in these verses is the mention of the Holy Spirit. I recently finished doing a study on the Spirit and it blew my mind in how many ways it works in our lives. Giving us words to speak and teaching us what to say is just one of its functions. The good news is, with the Spirit working in our lives, we don’t have to rely on our own knowledge or ability to speak because the Spirit will help us when the time comes. This may bring you some relief. It brings me peace knowing that I don’t have to rely on my limited abilities to tell someone about Jesus. I just have to be sensitive to the moving of the Spirit in my life. This should really take the pressure off us as Christians knowing that God, through the power of His Spirit, will help us get His work done.

-Josiah Cain

Links to today’s Bible reading – Exodus 31-32 and Mark 13

Isaiah 35-36

Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

The book of Isaiah holds many judgments against Israel, Judah, and all the nations surrounding them. Page after page contains descriptions of how God will deal with these people, because of the sin that they commit. In the midst of this, there are glimpses of a wondrous hope to come and worship God in his future kingdom. We see the beautiful future that God has prepared for all those who love him despite the brokenness of our current realities. 

Isaiah 35 describes this future in a continuation of the prophecy beginning in Isaiah 34. In Isaiah 34, Edom’s eventual punishment and destruction is described: “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her soil into sulfur” (v. 9). In this place, jackals, hyenas, goats, birds of prey, and snakes will gather – all symbols of destruction and brokenness (v. 14-15). The very land has turned bitter and worthless under the consequence of sin. In contrast to this, Isaiah 35 describes the land of the Israelites as a desert that blossoms like a rose (v. 1). In this place, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness and streams in the desert; the parched ground will become a pool of water and the thirsty land springs of water” (v. 5-7). Unlike the land of Edom, in the redeemed land, “There will be no vicious beast, but the redeemed will walk on it” (v. 9). In fact, the places where the vicious beasts resided, like the lairs of jackals, will be turned into a meadow of grass, reeds, and papyrus (v. 7). A road will go through this land called the Holy Way; “the unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Even the fool will not go astray” (v. 8). This path will lead up to the mountain of God where the people will come to worship God. 

We live in an incredibly broken world that seems like it is full of vicious beasts and people bent on destroying themselves and others. We can see the consequences of sin in the hurt that is being done so carelessly to everyone, including our most vulnerable. We can rest in the hope that this will not always be the way the world will be. Those that would be overlooked by society and viewed as less than are the very people that God includes in the description of his future kingdom: the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. These are the people who lead the way for praising God’s redemption of the land. We will not always live in these broken times. We can trust that one day streams of water will flow through the desert and the whole world will blossom like a rose. In fact, through the Holy Spirit, we can begin to redeem our time here for God and be his hands and feet in this broken world. How can you bring the living water to those around you? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 35-36.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

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