To Ground God Goads Gog

Ezekiel 38-39

Whenever we learn a pastor is going to be reading from one of the Prophets it usually means we’re going to hear something about Jesus or how a prophecy may be fulfilled soon (read: in our lifetime). Now, neither of these is a bad reason to look at the words God spoke through these chosen messengers, but I think there are other reasons we should read them and a mindset we should have when we do that more aligns with why they were written. Our reading for today will be a case in point.

In Ezekiel 38-39, we hear about Gog, a military leader, and Magog, the home of said leader. This guy Gog is someone who wants to go to blows with the people of God. And God will let it (or make it) happen, not because He doesn’t care about His people, but the opposite. God is going to send Gog to destroy Israel, but the tough guy and all who join him will meet their doom instead. Yahweh is going to reveal Himself to the world so that they know He really is God and He really does defend His people and care for them. Though they may be weak and outnumbered, Israel has the God of Angel Armies on their side and He will not be denied victory. The nations will see what happens to Gog and know it was God who put an end to him and his allies.

What Bible teachers and preachers usually do when expositing from these two chapters in Ezekiel, is to try to identify what current world nations are represented by the names mentioned in the text (e.g. Gog) and when these events will take place. This is an acceptable goal when trying to dig into the meaning of this passage and trying to see how it relates to other prophecies, especially if we think it might be fulfilled in our own lifetime. But I think the first thing we need to do (generally) when reading the Bible is try to understand what the purpose of the message was in the first place and then to see what it means for us today. We should have our minds be in a state where we’re hearing as the original intended audience heard it, then bring it to our own context and see how it fits there. Most of the Bible was written for Jewish people in an ancient Jewish context. We have to appreciate that and respond accordingly. One caveat is that just because a speaker doesn’t mention how a passage was heard in its original context doesn’t mean they didn’t think about it, it could be they didn’t have time to bring it up in their lesson/message. That being said, we should seek to regularly look at the original audience/context whenever we do our own study of the Bible.

Ezekiel 38-39 was written down by a Jew in exile for the Jews in exile. People who had a covenant with Yahweh but had repeatedly broken it. They had a relationship with the One True God but continued to cheat on Him with other nations and their false gods. They were being punished for their idolatry through exile. Babylon had conquered the Promised Land and they no longer could claim it as their home. God had revealed previously that He would restore Jewish people back to their home. He does again in this passage and says they will be living securely, in peace when Gog makes his move and is roundly defeated by Israel’s defender and the world is shown that Yahweh is the Holy One is Israel. This undoubtedly would have caused joy to the Jews who heard it, trust from those who believed it, and hope to the ones who thought about the future.

Bringing it to our own context, we may not be exiled from our native land, but we are awaiting a country of our own (Hebrews 11:14). We may not have worshiped false gods like Baal and Asherah, but perhaps we have elevated things or people to a place only reserved for God. We may not be a part of the Old Covenant which brought God to the defense of His rebellious people, but we are a part of the New Covenant which brought Jesus to take on the sins of rebellious people. How much more joy, trust, and hope should we have in Yahweh because of the New Covenant?

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+38-39&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 40-41 as we continue on our

All Glory to God

In Ezekiel 28 through 31 God continues to condemn all of the other nations around Israel for their evil.  He dedicates a lot of time to Egypt because they did not give glory to God for the blessings that he had given to them.

“9 Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord.“‘Because you said, “The Nile is mine; I made it,” 10 therefore I am against you and against your streams,”

The ancient Egyptians had stumbled upon and settled in one of the most fertile areas on earth and because of the natural flooding of the Nile river at the right times of the year had prospered and grown in numbers and in power in the ancient world.  For all of these blessings they did not thank God and instead had taken the glory for themselves, with their rulers counting themselves as one of the gods, and they took credit for the river and the life that it brought.  

Today we live in a blessed nation that has a history of being mostly God fearing and because of that history God has blessed us for many generations and that has led to us being the most powerful nation on earth.  We do not need to be afraid of foreign nations invading our borders because of the large oceans on either side of our continent, and we do not need to worry about having enough food because the fertile lands of the midwest grow an abundance of food and feed.  We need to remember our roots though, and always give glory to God for the blessings he has given us.  The Egyptians were on top of the world for many hundreds of years and might have thought that their glory days would never end, and likewise many in America feel like we are invincible, but if we stop serving God and giving him glory that can all dry up very quickly.  Covid has shown us how quickly jobs and health can be lost, and how quickly life can change in strange ways.  So let this be a wakeup call to us that we cannot be complacent in the good times, we cannot forget about the one who made the world and gave us all of the good things we have in life.  We can also take this slower time during Covid to dedicate more time to God and work on strengthening our relationship with Him.

Chris and Katie-Beth Mattison 

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.

Isaiah 31-34

The Lord gives victory to his anointed. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

One highlight of my year is going to South East Camp held on the mountaintops of the NC Blue Ridge. Years ago, we drove down the mountain to a center with a high ropes course. Everyone suited up with a helmet and a buddy and clipped their carabiner to the first level on the course. Now, I have some friends who are into rock climbing and would be happy to dangle off the top of a mountain just to get the adrenaline rush. However, I am not that person. As a child, I used to get weak knees going to the edge of the second floor balcony at my church. In fact, there are still some rides I refuse to go on at amusement parks, because the drop is just too much. I’ve gotten better, but I definitely am still scared of heights. Going back to our high ropes adventure, I made it through the whole course, including the more difficult parts, but then I came to the end where I needed to zip line down to the ground. 

Looking down off the ledge, I could already feel a tingling in my knees and my palms getting sweaty. At that moment, I felt like turning around and going through the whole ropes course again just to make it back down to the bottom, because I felt like that was something that I could control with my body. Even though my heart was racing, I paused to take a few deep breaths, and then I stepped off the side to zoom through the air. In truth, once I picked up my feet, I felt safe and secure in my harness. The obstacle I had to overcome was one of trusting that my harness would do what it was supposed to do. I had to trust in something that I couldn’t control, but was probably the quickest and safest way down. 

In Isaiah 31, we read about some trust issues that the Israelites had developed with God. They weren’t afraid of heights in this case; instead, they were afraid of the nations around them. Israel had chosen to rely on numbers of men and horses when they faced battle, and because of this, they had grown to depend on Egypt’s help. They thought that by controlling the amount of man- and horsepower they could bring to a fight they could ensure their victory. However, God reminds them that the “Egyptians are men, not God; their horses are flesh, not spirit” (Isaiah 31:3). God was so much stronger than anyone the Israelites would face, but they refused to see it. By not trusting in God, they paved the way for their own demise (v. 3). 

We also have a daily choice between trusting God or trusting our own flesh. It may come in the form of choosing to be obedient to God’s command, by giving away our money or time to someone in need, or by sacrificing a desire to make room for a deeper relationship with God. In those times, we may want to trust in our own minds or bodies, because we feel like we can control those things. But, remember, God is so much more mighty than we are. We can trust him in whatever situation that we face. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 31-34.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 35-36– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 28-30

Because these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip service - yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote

As we turn back to Isaiah in our reading, we read about the judgments pronounced upon Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. At the end of Isaiah 27, God had given the Israelites a picture of their hope – to return to Jerusalem. However, in Isaiah 28, we turn back to the reason why the Israelites had to be removed from the promised land in the first place. 

When I was in high school, every student that drove had to take a driver’s education class before they could get their parking pass. I was standing pressed against the glass at the DMV the day I turned 15 (the age we could get our learner’s permit), and I knew that I would do whatever it took to be able to drive to school as soon as I could. Along with the videos of car crashes and the several hours driving with the instructor, one activity we had to do was put on a pair of beer goggles to show the effects of driving under the influence. With the vision of someone who had way too many beers, we were supposed to catch a tennis ball. As you can imagine, almost all of us dropped the ball as we stumbled and swayed with the goggles on our face. With our vision clouded, there was no way that we were able to complete the task that we were given. 

We’ve been looking at the effects of idolatry over the previous days. This was not the Israelites only sin though. In Isaiah 28, God turns to focus on Ephraim’s drunkards and says woe to them. These priests “stagger because of wine and stumble under the influence of beer. They are muddled in their visions, they stumble in their judgments. Indeed, all their tables are covered with vomit; there is no place without a stench” (Isaiah 28:7-8). This presents a dire picture of priests turned alcoholics, which means they can’t do much good for anyone. We know how alcoholism and drunkenness itself can be dangerous, but what is so striking to me in this description is the way that it shows a parallel to all sin. All sin clouds our vision and judgments. All sin realigns our priorities. Ultimately, all sin separates us from God and leaves our lives defiled. 

When we are living under the influence of sin, we miss out on God’s purpose for our lives. The priests in this chapter were supposed to teach the people how to seek after God. Instead, they stumbled over their words while they instructed and caused their people to stumble in their everyday walk with God. Where do you see the effects of sin goggles in your life? Where can you take off the sin in your life so that you can have a clearer vision for how to serve God better? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 28-30.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 31-34– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Hosea 1-7

For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

When we think about the faithfulness of God, we tend to speak in terms that I would call fluff in the papers I grade in my English classes. We always say that we have a faithful God, but what does that really mean? When we describe the faithfulness of God and his faithful love, we can easily let these tired terms cause the meaning to get lost. Today’s reading snaps the striking, relentless love of God into sharp focus. In the book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea is commanded to marry a prostitute, named Gomer. She continues to be unfaithful to him, but Hosea is told to return to her each time. The relationship that Hosea has with Gomer is one that mirrors the prodigal love that God shows to the northern Kingdom of Israel. Israel pursues other gods and kingdoms, but despite this, God still calls them back to him. He still loves them. 

When I read these stories, I always question the characters’ motives. Couldn’t Gomer see how much Hosea loved her by the fact that he was always there for her? Why would she pursue other people? Hosea 2 gives insight to her reasoning. In Hosea 2:5, it says that Gomer would pursue other men because she thought they would give her “my food and water, my wool and flax, my oil and drink.” She pursued these men, because she thought they would give her what she needed to survive. Notably, these things are the basics of what she might need to live comfortably. Out of a lack of trust, she did not realize that she was actually missing out on the best things, because she was turning to these men to fulfill her desire for provision and possessions. In verse 8, it says, “She does not recognize that it is I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil. I lavished silver and gold on her, which they used for Baal.” Gomer never realized that the person who would take the best care of her and give her the best things was the person that she continued to leave for other men, Hosea. 

Too often, we follow in the footsteps of Gomer and Israel. We pursue other gods that seem like they could give us satisfaction and comfort, like our families, boy/girlfriends, work, money, education, or our beliefs and ideologies. We don’t recognize that the best things in our life actually come from the one who we continue to leave behind, God. James 1:17 says, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” God will continue to give us the best things in life, but we need to turn back to him. Don’t turn to other idols. God is infinitely better than anything the world could offer. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Hosea 1-7.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Hosea 8-14 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Don’t Step on Superman’s Cape

Romans Chapter 9 

In Romans 9 through 11, Paul deals with the problem associated with the condition of Israel. What does it mean that Israel has missed its Messiah? What does this say about God? What does it say about Israel? What does it say about our present position in God?

 

Paul first expresses his grief over his lost Jewish brothers who have rejected their Messiah.  It had to be very difficult for Paul to fully believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and yet see his brothers reject this truth and thereby reject the potential that accepting that truth held for them.

 

Do you similarly mourn for the lost today, especially people you are close to?  If so, have you ever attempted to share the life-changing good news with them?  If you haven’t, maybe you are the one God has always intended to share the gospel with that person.

 

Paul then responds to a concern that people then must have had.  If the Jews are God’s people, and yet they have seemingly been rejected by God, then how can the Gentiles have confidence that God will not similarly reject them.

 

Paul makes the point that the nation of Israel has not been rejected as a whole.  There has always been and always will be at least a remnant remaining.  Just because someone is a member of the nation of Israel does not not mean they are necessarily a follower of God.  Similarly, not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is truly following Christ.  If such an individual is missing out on the promises of God, it is not because God is a promise breaker.

 

Beginning in verse 14, Paul explores the topic of God’s mercy.  It is important to remember what mercy is. Mercy is to not get what we deserve. God is merciful to us every day that he does not smite us down for whatever sin we have just committed.  At the same time, God is never less than fair with anyone, but fully reserves the right to be more than fair with individuals as He chooses.

 

But if God uses the disobedience of someone like Pharaoh to fulfill his plans, then how can God still find fault with Pharaoh?   Did Pharaoh have freewill or not?

 

It is tempting to want to question some of God’s decisions.  How foolish.  There is an old song with the following chorus:

 

You don’t tug on superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger

And you don’t question God’s choices.

greg pic2

 

OK, I changed the last line.  But that is Paul’s response to the previous question of freewill.  I will expound upon that and say that indeed we do have freewill.  But God will allow the direction of our heart to be used for His glory, even if that direction is away from Him.  And He doesn’t need to explain himself.

 

We should all aim to be used for God’s glory due to the goodness of our hearts, not the hardness.

 

Greg Landry

 

 

HARD Hearts

Hebrews Chapter Three

Hebrews 3_15

Similar to chapter one, chapter three starts with Jesus being compared to someone else.  In chapter one, we saw Jesus being compared to both the angels and prophets.  The author raised Jesus above the angels and prophets.  In chapter three, the author compares Jesus to Moses.  Moses, above anyone else, was absolutely adored by the Jews.  He was the one, under God’s provision and guidance, who led Israel out of Egypt and delivered the law to them.  Moses is a central piece of the Old Testament.  The comparison between Moses and Jesus would have helped the Jewish Christians gain or keep their affection for Jesus.  Not only is Jesus compared to Moses, their hero, but Jesus’s given more glory than Moses by the author.

In verses three through six, we see a beautiful illustration by the author about a house.  There are four parts to this illustration: God built the house, Moses is the servant for the house, Jesus is the ruler of the house, and we are the house.  This illustration helps show how Jesus is counted more worthy than Moses.  We are God’s beloved creation.  Moses served the Israelites when he led them out of slavery and delivered the law to them.  He was a phenomenal help to them.  Christ is also a great help to us, but not only that, he is the ruler of us.

Verses seven and eight read, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.’”  First thing I want to point out is that the Holy Spirit is talking.  In verses nine through eleven, the Holy Spirit talks in first person as well using pronouns me, my, and I.  It is interesting to see that the Holy Spirit is talking here and talks in the first person.  It is something to mull over.  What I want to highlight though is the focus to not harden your heart.  This is repeated in verse fifteen.  The author must be trying to make a strong point that we are to not harden our hearts.  The Israelites who Moses led out of Egypt hardened their hearts, and they rebelled against God when God continually provided for them.  It was because of their hardened hearts that they did not obey God, and they had unbelief.  This caused their generation to not enter the rest in the Promised Land.  The author of Hebrews is urging us to learn from the Israelites, as they hardened their hearts.  If we harden our hearts, then we too will not be able to enter God’s rest.

The chapter ends at an awkward break, as the talk about rest continues into chapter four.  Personally I don’t understand the purpose of the chapter break between chapters three and four.  It’s important to note that the chapter and verse breaks were not included in the original writing.  Therefore, the author of Hebrews did not intend for people to stop reading at this section.  Therefore, you should stick around for tomorrow, as we continue the talk on God’s rest.

Have a great day!

Sincerely,

Kyle McClain

Thief

Jacob

A THIEF redeemed (1)

Read Genesis 27:1-37 and Genesis 35:9-12

 

My husband and I attended Atlanta Bible College when it was located in Morrow, GA and lived in one of the duplexes across the street from the college. One bright Saturday morning we decided that it would be a perfect day to ride our bikes. We went out to our patio so we could hop on our bikes and ride like the wind. However, wind was all we found on the patio and we quickly realized that our bikes had been stolen, never to be seen again. As a broke college student I remember feeling so angry that this had been taken from me because it wasn’t something that could be easily replaced at the time. Now imagine how you might feel had a bike or even something much more precious been stolen from you by a thief. It seems Esau had some rather strong feelings toward his twin brother Jacob after his blessing was snatched away from him.

Jacob was the favorite child of Rebekah and he was pretty cunning. We read in Genesis 27 that with the help of his mother, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that was meant for Esau. While Esau was out doing what Isaac had told him to do to prepare for his blessing Jacob was getting dressed up in goatskin so he could trick his father. He even went so far as to lie to his blind, on the verge of death father that he was back from hunting so quickly because God caused the animal to come to him (Gen. 27:20).

Although I’m sure God was not pleased with Jacob’s actions God didn’t strike him down or have the earth swallow him up but instead God eventually changes Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 35:9-12) and makes him a nation. Many times when God is mentioned in the Bible He is referred to as the “God of Jacob”. When doing a search in the NASB version of the Bible, Biblegateway.com brings up 353 results for “Jacob.

I’ll be honest, in the past I have found it difficult to be a Jacob fan because I would get hung up on his flaws; but thankfully, God sees things much differently than I sometimes do. Jacob was a thief and a liar in whom God saw potential. Instead of writing him off God redeemed him for His own and made him into a great nation.

-Lacey Dunn

Don’t Lose Heart

Revelation 13-16

beast_sea

Thursday,  July 20

Revelation 13-16 gives a continuation of God’s judgments and wrath which are poured out upon the earth.  We are introduced here to two beasts.  For those who are familiar with the Old Testament book of Daniel with it’s four beasts, this material will be familiar.  These beasts are ferocious looking images that represent some of the great oppressive empires of the ancient world.  The land which we today know as the nation of Israel has always been a strategically important piece of geography.  It is a point of convergence for three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.  It has been hotly contested for thousands of years.  All of the major world empires up to that time took turns occupying the land.  It was occupied by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans.  I’m sure that if you were a peasant trying to eek out your life living in a small village in Israel, you would look at these various invading armies as  monstrous beasts.  Suddenly, you were forced to follow a new set of laws and customs, and learn to speak new languages in order to understand your captors.  You would have to get used to new kinds of money in order to be able to negotiate your way in the new culture.  I imagine it would have been scary and overwhelming.
John foresees a time when these beastly powerful world empires who control all of life, will be brought to an end, to be replaced by God’s Kingdom.  Even though, for a while, it seems that they are all powerful and all controlling, this will not last forever.  Patience is required to live as a believer in this current world system, but one day, our patience will be rewarded.  Don’t lose heart.  While the mark of the beast would seem to protect you from temporary suffering by the powers of this word system, it is the mark of God, which we are given when we follow Jesus Christ, that will protect us from God’s wrath.  Which mark would you rather have?

-Jeff Fletcher

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.trackingbibleprophecy.org/revelation13A.php)