Take the Lowly Position

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 33 & 34

Psalms Reading: Psalm 19

New Testament Reading: Matthew 18

In our daily life we find ourselves interacting with others. It may have been less often over the last few years, but still we were created to be social beings. So it should come as no surprise that a lot of the teachings of Jesus would have to do with how we should treat those people when we come in contact with them. 

Here in Matthew 18 he begins by correcting his disciples over a fight they were having, on who would be the greatest among them, when they were in the Kingdom. So often we, like the disciples here, find ourselves trying to one up each other. We want to be the one in charge. We want to be the one who has the biggest slice of cake, the one who gets the best parking space, or the one who gets to be at the front of the line. I’m not saying that these things are bad. I’m just saying that in this culture we live in, where everyone is putting their wants and desires above everyone else around them, we are called to be different. We are called by God to put others ahead of ourselves.

I think one of the best examples of putting other people first comes from our greatest example, and who we are to model our lives after, Jesus. In Matthew 14 we find the story of one of the coolest miracles in the Bible. It is the time that 5000 men plus all the women and kids that were with them, were fed with only five loves of bread and two fish. But look at what happened right before this. The beginning of the chapter tells us that Jesus’ own cousin, John the Baptist had just been killed by King Herod, and Jesus got word of it. When he found out, Jesus decided to have some alone time, most likely to mourn for his cousin and to pray. So Jesus and his disciples traveled by boat to a solitary place. But the crowds seeing that he had left followed him. When Jesus arrived and found everyone waiting for him, he didn’t get mad at the crowds and tell them to go away so he can be alone. Instead, the Bible says, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matt 14:14) Jesus did take some time for himself, to mourn over John later that day, going up on the mountain, while the disciples headed back across the water. But he still put the needs of the crowd ahead of himself.

As you read Matthew 18 today, be sure to notice all the ways that Jesus teaches us to treat others: reaching the lost with the gospel, approaching other believers who have sinned and forgiving those who wronged you. And as you read Jesus’ teachings, think of the examples he set for us, in these regards, by the way he lived his life.

-Jonny Smith

Reflection Questions

  1. In what situations do you have a harder time putting the needs of others before your own? When is it difficult for you to happily and humbly take the lower position?
  2. In what ways is Jesus calling you to be different from the world? In what ways is Jesus calling you to be different from what you were last year?
  3. In what ways does Jesus’ example line up with his teaching?
  4. What can we learn of the Kingdom designer and Father of Jesus in your reading today?

Attention All Shepherds (and Sheep)

1 Peter 5

Tuesday, October, 11, 2022

Chapter 4 ends with verse 19: Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (ESV).

The suffering in the New Testament is related to living a life set apart from worldliness, which is opposed to God’s will. It is not God’s will that we should suffer, but when we follow in the ways that he has prescribed for us we will undoubtedly face opposition and ultimately suffer for the sake of the Gospel. We need to trust that our creator will ultimately use that suffering for good. There’s a popular song that we sing at my church that has the line “you take what the enemy meant for evil, and you turn it for good” (drawing on Genesis 50 for inspiration).

Chapter 5 then begins with Peter addressing the leaders of the church, specifically calling to mind the sufferings of Christ. Pastors/elders are to function in the role of shepherds for the congregations that have been entrusted to them in leadership. The verb that is translated as “shepherd” also can be translated as “feed” – does this directive remind you of any instructions that Peter himself received from Jesus?

In John 21 three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him (notice a correlation between Peter’s three denials of Jesus and the three affirmations that Jesus receives from him?) and three times tells him to feed his sheep (this is a different Greek word in John, but it means essentially the same thing). As the primary leader of the church Peter was to feed Jesus’ sheep, meaning Christians. The impetus for this spiritual leadership is not to be out of self-importance or in Peter’s case even that Jesus chose him to lead, but out of love for his master and savior (and friend!). When we see Peter lead, he is following in obedience to the one who called him out of the boat and invested in him and entrusted him to feed his sheep. Peter certainly was not doing this for gain or for an easy life, I imagine his life would have been much easier had he simply decided to go back to fishing full time, but he faced many trials and much opposition in his preaching the word and leading the church.

In the same way, those of us who are called to be pastors and elders (who are specifically addressed here, but anyone who holds an office in the church should take heed of this) should be using their love of Jesus as their motivation for leading. Presumably most church leaders start off this way, but it can easily go to one’s head. There are many public instances of pastors who have become controlling, power hungry, and abusive (quite often we see this in large churches with lucrative opportunities for pastors) – but even in small churches the desire to control can infiltrate the hearts of those who are called to lead or “run” the church. Elders (I’ll include pastors in this title from here on out) are to be willing and eager to carry out the work that they have been called to. With a calling to leadership comes responsibility – a significant thing to note is that we who are in authority (and who teach) are held to a higher level of accountability (James 3:1). Those who are in authority are to be an example to those who they oversee spiritually, and humility is one way in which we should be an example. Jesus stated that he was gentle and humble (Matthew 11:29), and we see in Philippians 2 that humility was essential in Jesus salvific work as God’s anointed one.

As Jesus was humble and as we who are elders (overseers) are to be humble (following Christ’s example), so then are the members of the body to exercise humility and submit to those who are in authority over them. If leaders are humble and operating as Jesus would expect them to, then humble Christians submitting to the godly authority that has been placed over them will thrive in their submission. We’re never going to agree on everything and that is why the decisions of local congregations are to be subject to the elders and not left up to the democratic will of a large collective. Elders absolutely can delegate responsibilities and set up clear roles for the body (Acts 6), but the authority over the church should lie with them.

We just added two new elders at my church yesterday. The process was not a short one… Myself and our other elders had many discussions on who we thought would be a good fit to assume these offices and eventually recommended that these two individuals be confirmed as elders. We don’t accept nominations for elders, but rather we look for men who meet the requirements of elders as listed in Titus 1, and then we have a confirmation vote. Other churches do things differently and may have boards structured in different ways or may be more egalitarian in the way that they define elders, I don’t condemn that, but we need to take seriously the guidelines that are listed in scripture and not be too quick to structure things in a way that is more reflective of the nation/society we live in than how the early church did things. Regardless of our views on church leadership one thing we need to be able to do is disagree with grace and love.

We need to make sure that whatever disagreements we have are dealt with in love and we need to not let them distract from what God would have us do and we need to make sure that we keep our minds clear (5:8, reaffirming 4:7), be on the lookout, and refrain from being anxious (cast those anxieties on God, see also Matthew 6), because the enemy prowls like a lion looking for someone to devour. When we allow conflict to take root or we allow anxiety to be prevalent in our churches, bad things will happen. We may often think about the enemy being on the prowl for individuals, but he’d also love to devour a local church and render it ineffective at making disciples or worse, cause it to die out (is that really worse?). I bet we could all think of examples of things we can (or do) divide over, one such argument could be what Peter means by “our enemy the devil”, but we need to take seriously the words of the author of Hebrews when he/she says: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:14–15 ESV).

-J.J. Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

1. For those of you in authority: do you do it willingly? Eagerly? Without being domineering? Sometimes we do have to be forceful and make unpopular decisions, but that can still be done in a graceful and kind way. Do you need to be humbler, or do you think you have that well under control? Do you have an individual in mind that has authority problems with whom you can practice extra grace?

2. For those of you under authority: Do you respect those who have been placed in authority over you? Do you easily submit to that authority? Do you gossip about the leaders of your church and cause problems that way? Do you stop attending church when changes occur, or decisions are made that you disagree with? Do you go church hopping and just stick around till someone ticks you off and move on to the next place (which might just be going back to a former church until the vicious cycle starts over again?

Podcast Recommendation: The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill (from Christianity Today). It can be difficult to listen at times, but it has lots of examples on how to do leadership wrong, which we can benefit from.

Walk in Humility

Philippians 2

Sunday, August 21, 2022

For many of us, the last few weeks we have been reestablishing our school time routines.  The lackadaisical jazz of summer has transitioned into the tight structure of a concert march. Alarms begin to sound once more and the the score begins. Many times, my day begins with a morning run.  I pride myself in the ability to time this run in such a way that I squeeze in all my other to-dos before the school day (like shower, pack, dress, eat breakfast) and be in the school building with a minute to spare.  Everything was again like clockwork – run, shower, pack, breakfast – until I had an important realization as I crossed the threshold of the school door and met the flow of air streaming from the vent:  I had not stopped sweating since my run.  My body still thought it was summer.  My shirt was now mostly covered in sweat, and it didn’t show signs of slowing.  I walked down the hallway, was questioned multiple times about the appearance of showering in my shirt, but I was committed to going about my day with a sweat-filled shirt and a pride-filled attitude.  Fortunately, through the insistence of an administrator, I took up the offer of a sweat-free replacement. I finally humbled myself, and let my pride go.

Humility comes easier when you are sweating through your shirt with nothing else to wear, but it is more difficult to be humble when you’re on top.  You’re in charge.  You’re the boss. You’re the expert. You’re the best. When you have a history of achieving or exceeding large and meaningful goals. We beam with pride because we feel we “are” or “have” something. When our ego wins, we make a case for why we are better than others. We expect God to acknowledge us more, and when he doesn’t, oftentimes, we deny Him completely, becoming our own god, roleplaying as the savior, the judge, and the ultimate source of “being” in our own life. Pride becomes our sweat-filled shirt – it’s not a good look.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit [vainglory]. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:3-5

If there was anyone to ever walk upon this earth with pride, it should have been Jesus Christ.  He is the closest to God a human will ever get, yet “being in the form of God, he didn’t see equality with God as something to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6) Here is the deepest of theologies about the nature and relationship of Jesus Christ to his Father.  Jesus Christ serves God Almighty alone, and we should do the same (see: the greatest commandment, Matt 22:37,38)   Jesus didn’t care he was viewed as an amatuer by many of the Pharisees. Who cares? He didn’t identify himself in the status in the company he kept.  Not on his radar  All he could lay his eyes upon was in his grasp. (Matt 4:8,9) He flatly refused.  He had a critical role to play for our Heavenly Father.  He chose humility, a life of service, knowing that His Father exalts those who humble themselves to His will, and also humbles those who choose to lift themselves higher than others (Luke 14:11; Phil 2:9-11)

Likewise, we are called and mandated to be humble. Less of me and less of you until only Jesus remains. How do we do this? In all our ways acknowledge Him (Prov 3:6), but are ready to give up time, effort, energy (life) for someone else (Matt 20:28) so they may know the Kingdom of God.  We can still be ambitious, but it must be driven by God, not simply a feather in the cap or degree on the wall. We can look for glory, but it is bestowed upon our heavenly Father, not to us. We must be on our knees, known more for the top of our head than the self-satisfaction of our face. We must minister to those who can give us no status or possessions in return, only a life given over to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are to walk in humility, no longer run away with our pride.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12,13

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection

  1. When does your pride and ego prevent you from being Christ-like?
  2. Would you rather humble yourself before God or be humbled by God?
  3. How can you fix prideful attitudes?

THE THORN

THAT REMAINS

2 Corinthians 12

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

In this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he shares with them about the thorn in his flesh. If you notice, we are not told exactly what this thorn is. He even mentions that three times he asked for it to be taken. But the LORD’s response was not that of immediate healing. Rather God left that thorn there, so that through this weakness Paul and others could see the power of God perfected. Paul began to view this thorn as something to keep him humble.

     Let’s think about this in a bit of a different perspective. Have you ever been out walking in the summer? Picture the trees and the birds singing, the warm air on your face and the peace of the moment. Everything is great, that is until you take that next step. Yep, there it is… Something is in your shoe.

     Imagine if it was out of your power to remove that nuisance in your shoe. You are stuck with it and now you have a limp. You cannot walk upright unless you lean on the sturdy walking stick you had brought with you but had been neglecting.

     This stone in your shoe has caused you to rely on something other than your own two feet. Paul’s thorn in his flesh gave him even more of a reason to remain humble and to rely on his God.

     We each have things in our lives that we struggle with. It may be a temptation we face, an insecurity we have, a sickness we carry or the pain of watching a loved one in agony. So often we think that God can only care for us if he is helping us fix these problems and removing these thorns. But scripture tells us that the LORD is near to the broken hearted.

     In Paul’s case, we know the LORD was with Paul. So even if your thorn is still there, it does not mean the LORD is not with you. In fact, that thorn may be the very thing that shows you that He is there. When that thorn gets uncomfortable, lean into the LORD as you would on that walking stick. And look with hope to the day when the LORD will wipe away every tear.

-Hannah Deane

Application Questions

  1. How can you be strong while you are weak? Is there a time you have felt this in your own life? When have you observed it in others?
  2. Why is God’s first priority not to give you everything you want to make yourself comfortable? What does He want instead?
  3. How does pride affect your relationship with others? How does pride affect your relationship with God? Where and how can you weed out some pride and replace it with humility?

Triumphant

John 12

April 9

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
    the King of Israel!”

John 12:12-13

The headings in our Bibles weren’t original to the text. I’m not sure who came up with the name “Triumphal Entry” for the portion of text we’re going to look at today, or when it was so titled, but it begs some questioning.

Triumphal implies the celebration of a great victory or achievement. And while on this day, crowds lined the streets with palm branches and shouted praises to him; within days of the hosannas, the crowd turned ugly, demanding His crucifixion.

You see, the people shouting ‘Hosanna’ had false expectations. They expected Jesus to restore Israel to its former glory, to establish God’s earthly kingdom with them at the top. What they didn’t know was that the true enemies that had to be defeated were not the Gentiles, but rather sin and death. And this could not be done on a white horse and with great armies. Instead, it took humility, a willingness to take the form of a servant and submit to the punishment that God’s people deserve for their sin.

Paul describes this perfect picture of humility in Philippians 2. He says that Jesus, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” and that he “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

Throughout Scripture we find that humility is the path to victory and exaltation. We don’t expect to find real strength in those who are humble. But God has a way of turning our expectations upside down. He has a way of showing his glory through things we revile.

As we near our Easter celebrations, let’s prepare our hearts by seeking humility in our own life. Let’s also seek to see Jesus as he really is. Immediately after He ascended into heaven in Acts 1:9, he was seated at the right hand of the Father. He was triumphant over sin and death, he lives in triumph now, and he will return one day to triumph forever over the evil of this world.

That is something to celebrate.

-Susan Landry

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. Do you ever think about asking God to correct you if you’re wrong in any of your beliefs?
  2. How can we grow in humility?
  3. Look up the following verses about Jesus being seated at God’s right hand and discuss: Colossians 3:1, Ephesians 1:16-21

Like a Child

Matthew 18

January 18

Sometimes, looking at today’s world it is apparent that people work so hard to gain acceptance, money, and higher position in jobs or in social groups.

I have experienced this when I was younger in middle school and high school. Let’s be honest, when we were all young teens, we all strived to achieve something like this. Whether that be within sports, a club, or our friend group. I have seen this today as an adult. We all want to have a good job, get good pay, and have a great reputation. We all want to grow up and be great in this world, to have our name remembered by society.

But look even further back. Look back to when we were young children. Young kids playing on the playground, digging in the dirt, or catching butterflies. That is what God wants us to be like still! Not that he wants us to dig in the dirt and catch butterflies, but he wants us to live life care free. He wants us to live life to the fullest, to have an almost childlike faith, full of wonder and love!

This weekend I had attended Refuel as a young adult and I experienced this concept. During our recreational time we went out to the lake behind Sarah Major where we had our worship sessions. I was out there with a few friends and we were just in awe of the beauty of the ice on the lake. We sat by the lake while talking and laughing, but it felt like we were children again reveling at the beauty of God’s amazing work. This is how life should feel everyday. It should feel exciting, beautiful, and full of love.

When Jesus’s disciples asked him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, they were asking him about how they would be viewed in the kingdom. They wanted to know what positions they would have in the kingdom. Jesus responded saying, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3).

Jesus did not come to set up a political order, or put anyone first. He came to suffer and die for our sins because of his love for us.

To be like a child is not about being mature, and wise. To be a child is to know that we are not in control of our own lives. To be a child in Jesus’s eyes is to depend on him and receive everything through him and his Father.

So, the greatest is to be the one who is a child. To be humble, aware that we all lack power, and depend on God to provide what we need. Love one another and live as children loved by God.

-Hannah Eldred

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Is there a place in your life where you are trying to control your circumstances? What is it, and have you talked to God about it? How can you let go of that thing or circumstance? How might humility play a part?
  2. What is your favorite memory from your childhood? Focus on that throughout the day and remember what it was like back then. Are there any qualities you had back then which Jesus would commend that you have since “grown-out-of”? How can you bring some of that back?
  3. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep Jesus shows the Father’s love and concern for the little lost sheep that has strayed from the shepherd’s care. Who do you know who has strayed and how can you pursue them with God’s love this week?

How-To-Do-It Manual

James 1

We begin a new book of the Bible today—James.  James is one of my favorite Bible books.  I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN.  More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.   

James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews.  He is blunt and forthright in his writing.

The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus.  Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.

In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.    

 “He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21

The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5

However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed.  He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.

The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches.  He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.”  This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution.  They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood. 

Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.”  Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out.  (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.)  Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.”  James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials.  It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive. 

Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

This is the joy we should have when trials confront us.  And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom.  (verse 4)

James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching.  I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers. 

If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it.  One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  (verses 5-8)

Blunt and to the point!  No commentary by me needed! 

Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12

“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out.  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom.  A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world.  Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers.  (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.)  Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”

James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.

“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver.  His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day.  God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes.  How blessed we are.  And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”

James continues with his direct approach in verse 19.  He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!)  Obviously!

Quick, Slow, Slow.  In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation.  Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice.  “When angry, count to 10 before you speak.  If very angry, a hundred.” 

Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it!  The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration. 

  • Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
  • Receive the word”
  • Prove yourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”

Don’t hold back, James! 

Here comes the explanation/story.  “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.”  (verses 23-25)

A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like.  This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God. 

However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life.  Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4.  Where do you start? 

James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27.  “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 

Simple love in action.  The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual.  We can’t just read it and not follow through.  James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation. 

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1

Big Bold Prayers

Isaiah 37-38 and 2 Thessalonians 3

Welcome back friends!

Today in Isaiah 37 we see a glimpse of Hezekiah’s prayer life and the boldness he has when asking God for deliverance.  This boldness is not in an outward appearance…when Hezekiah hears the King of Assyria’s threats he rips his clothes and wears sackcloth, both common practices for those who are mourning or in a vulnerable state.  While he seems unsure, Hezekiah is still willing to ask God for deliverance from this threat, even though we do not hear much regarding his faithfulness or attitude towards God until this time.  In my opinion, this makes his request even more bold because he seems to lack relationship with God!  And yet, we see a prayer for his city to be saved for the purpose that they know God is LORD (v.20), and God delivers!  God sends an angel to strike down the Assyrians and scares away the king (v. 36).  While the appearance of Hezekiah almost seems cowardly to human eyes, God saw Hezekiah’s humility and his acknowledgement of the one true God and rewards him for that!

In chapter 38 we see Hezekiah again boldly ask for healing from God.  This bold request for healing shows Hezekiah has confidence in God’s power and knows God can do amazing things.  It’s easy to think, “If I had experienced an answered prayer like Hezekiah I would always pray boldly!”, however, we experience answered prayers daily, but I know I am constantly reminding myself to pray boldly with the concerns I have!  Maybe it’s just me, but when I get caught up in the brokenness of the world it doesn’t always come as my first instinct to offer up a prayer.  Sometimes I may first try to find a solution on my own, other times I may just ignore the problem, or maybe I just sit in the problem!  Although it may seem unlikely, Hezekiah can be a great example of how to pray boldly and have complete trust in God’s power to answer those bold requests.

When we look at our passage in 2 Thessalonians, we see Paul’s encouragement to bold and consistent prayer.  In this chapter, Paul is specifically requesting prayer from the church to guard against the evil one and for the gospel to be spread and honored (v. 1 – 3).  Paul also asks and reminds the church to pray for them to have strength to carry on in good things such as spreading the gospel and working hard to provide for immediate needs.  These requests may not seem as bold as asking God to destroy an army, but I do find them much more relevant to our lives today, and still just as difficult to remember to pray for!  Spreading the gospel is an easy thing to say, but doing so truly does require great effort, dedication, and strength.  Asking for help in this is certainly a bold task, mainly because if you ask God to help you spread the gospel, He is going to put you in places to practice that!  Paul writes “Do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13), which tells me to expect that doing good will be wearisome.  In this letter we can see the benefit in not only praying bold requests for ourselves, but also praying boldly to encourage our brothers and sisters. 

You may not know, but the Church of God has over 600 fellowships of believers outside of the United States.  We have a LOT of brothers and sisters in Christ that can constantly use our prayers for strength, encouragement, and deliverance.  If you are interested in knowing more about our fellow believers, I encourage you to go to https://lhicog.com/ to learn more about what bold prayers you can bring to God on their behalf!

One thought I had (and maybe you did too) during today’s reading was ‘What about when prayers aren’t answered?’  I prayed about this thought, and here is what I felt based on our reading for today:  We must faithfully know that God’s purpose is greater than our own.  I do not believe there are UNanswered prayers, but rather prayers that have an answer yet to come or an answer we do not want to hear.  There are other stories in the Bible where bold prayers are not answered the way that people want or when they want…  I think of David and Bathsheba’s son dying after David prayed and fasted, Hannah diligently praying for her future son to be born, or Jesus himself who prayed to not have to go through the horrible crucifixion process!  We may not be able to comprehend the purpose God has, but we are always invited to pray with boldness and faith.  We are also invited to pray for “peace in every way” (v. 16) for ourselves and our fellow believers when the prayers don’t result in what we want or when we want them.  I look forward to a day when we will never have to bring another bold request to God because we will be living in a perfect Kingdom where all believers can constantly rejoice in God’s holy presence and perfection!  Until that day, let’s continue to boldly pray and praise our amazing YHWH.

-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 37-38 and 2 Thessalonians 3

The Joy of Christlikeness

Philippians

In response to yesterday’s definition of joy, you may be asking, “how do I get joy?” As the example definition says, it comes from hearing the gospel message, responding in faith, and receiving the Holy Spirit. There is a truth to the fact that salvation is a one time event, being transferred from the domain of darkness to his Kingdom of marvelous light. (Col. 1:13, 1 Peter 2:9) But there is also the truth that we are called to continue to grow in faith. We bring joy to ourselves and others as we pursue faith and Christlikeness.  

Philippians 2 is known primarily for the “Christ Hymn” in verses 5-11. These verses contain a powerful, beautiful, early Christian hymn sung to the glory of God in honor of Christ. We could spend a long time discussing the theology, christology and soteriology, but that would miss the MAIN POINT for why Paul wrote this section. He is trying to teach the Philippians to “live like Jesus.” Jesus, who had every right to think of himself as great and wonderful, instead lowered himself and followed God’s will. Because Jesus did this, we should not be selfish, vain, or arrogant, but should regard others more important than ourselves. (2:3) 

Paul tells the Philippians that being like Christ is going to fill them with joy. Verse one shows that if we seek Christlikeness, we can have encouragement in Christ, the consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and compassion. If we seek any of those things, we need to maintain love, be united, and intently serving God (2:2). Maintaining love, being united and intently serving are all descriptions of how Christ lived. If we want the joy that Christ had, the connection to God that allowed him to be joyful in the midst of what, by all accounts, was a tough life, then we need to live as Christ lived, obedient and following God. 

Which is why in verses 12-13, we are told to obey and work our salvation directly after the Christ hymn. Obedience leads to joy! So often we think rebellion, independence, being novel will lead to joy. But that may only be true if we are rebelling against wicked things and unjust systems. Rebelling against good and loving commands of God will only bring heart ache. God is working for our salvation, and we are to work alongside him. Along with the old hymn, we sing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!”

One final note, I said in the first paragraph that we bring joy to ourselves and others when we pursue faith and Christlikeness. When we obey the commands of God like honoring others over ourselves and taking care of their needs, he will bless us with joy. But how does that bring joy to others. Of course, we can and should expect it to bring happiness, which is a fine emotion in itself, but it isn’t the lasting joy we are talking about. But it’s not often the recipients of our blessings that are filled with joy. When we live like Christ, those who led and taught us the faith see and rejoice that we are more like the one they love. Paul asks the Philippians to “make my joy complete” in 2:2 by living like Christ. If the Philippians lived blameless and innocent lives, which they could do by the power of the Holy Spirit, then Paul could rejoice in their faith. In like manner, as we live in faith by the power of Spirit, our parents, grandparents, or spiritual ancestors will react in joy, knowing that we are going to be rejoicing together one day in the Kingdom with Christ. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, live like Christ through the power of the spirit, and by living with that humility, focus on others, and blameless innocence, that you bring joy to yourself and others. 

-Jake Ballard

(I know the days are off, but I needed to define joy yesterday. I am gonna focus mainly on joy and that will take over the first couple days of Colossians, too.)

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 11-12 and Philippians 3

Stand Firm against Deception

with Humility

1 Chronicles 21-22 and Proverbs 27

My family, several of my church family, and many friends and family from across the Midwest and beyond just returned home from a week of church camp for the whole family where the theme was Stand Firm. So, I am seeing Stand Firm everywhere. Sometimes good examples, sometimes bad examples, but always examples to learn from.

1st Chronicles 21 starts right off with “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.”

One evening at Family Camp our theme was Stand Firm against Evil and many warnings were given of the roaring lion who seeks to devour – not just nibble at your toe. I found it interesting that in this passage (which is one of the few Old Testament passages besides those in Job that uses Satan’s name) Satan’s target is not an individual but a whole country and his means of attack is through their leader. Thanks to Stephanie Schlegel, our writer last week, I know that Israel is about the size of New Jersey and I can much better picture this beautiful land that God chose for His people and that Satan wanted to bring down.

It reminds me of the importance of praying for our leaders who are in vulnerable positions and are themselves perfect targets through which an entire nation or church can be attacked by spiritual evil. And the laws and policies they put in place are sometimes actually brought about by the devil’s deception, as we see in the case of David.

In this case I believe Satan saw David’s ego as a possible chink in his armor through which Satan could attack a whole country. David, unprompted by God but deceived by Satan, decided it would be a good idea to number the fighting men in Israel. His army commander, Joab, tried to talk David out of it. He pleaded with David to be content just knowing that ALL the fighting men were loyal to him and God was watching over them, regardless of how many or few they were. But that wasn’t enough for a man deceived by Satan, he needed to know exactly how large and vast his kingdom had grown. It’s better for bragging rights to be able to say, “The nation I built has one million one hundred thousand fighting men.” But God wanted him to be content saying, “The nation God built is large.” God was disappointed in David and there was a price to pay – by the whole nation. One man’s sins can reap a punishment for a whole nation. And it is a sin to let your pride grow, especially when it grows greater than your trust in God.

The Proverbs have much to say about pride and humility, including Proverbs 27:1-2

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.”

How can you Stand Firm this week – in humility. Never get puffed up about how well you are standing firm, or how large your army or influence is. Resist the devil and his attacks. Don’t be deceived. Stand firm – trusting in God alone.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 21-22 and Proverbs 27

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