Spiritual Malpractice

Jeremiah 7-8; Psalm 96, 97, 98

            Over 100 years ago Eleanor Porter wrote the children’s novel, Pollyanna.  I like the version Disney did in the 1960’s starring Haley Mills as Pollyanna Whittier, a young girl, the daughter of missionary parents who both died.  She moved to a new town to live with her rich but stern Aunt Polly (Fun Fact, in the Disney Movie Aunt Polly is played by Jane Wyman, an actress who was President Ronald Reagan’s first wife- I have a lot of trivial information in my head, sorry).

Pollyanna’s minister/missionary father had taught Pollyanna to play the “glad game” as a way of coping with life’s challenges.  Essentially, she learned that no matter what happens, you should always look on the bright side.  Essentially, it’s a way of life that is exceedingly optimistic in every situation.  Throughout the story Pollyanna met neighbors in challenging situations and preached her gospel of positivity and as a result changed lives and made her town a much more positive place to live. 

In a particularly memorable scene Pollyanna brought her positivity message to the local pastor who, at her dour Aunt Polly’s behest, had been giving his congregation a steady diet of fire and brimstone, anti-positivity.  Pollyanna encouraged him to notice and begin preaching the “glad texts” of the Bible.  He, listened to her counsel, changed his preaching to become more positive, and everyone in the Church became much happier.  There’s more to the story, but that’s the part that is relevant to our conversation.

During the last 30 years there has been a revolution in psychology.  In the past, psychologists and counselors focused on psychological pathology, all the things that are wrong: anxiety, depression, shame, anger, addiction, poor relationships etc…  From Freud onwards psychiatrists were trained to dig into a person’s past to find the cause of their neurotic thoughts and behaviors. But positive psychology introduced the benefits of focusing on positive thoughts and behaviors like gratitude, hope and other glad things.  This corresponds historically with a more positive oriented approach to preaching.  Many pastors traded in fire and brimstone sermons warning people against sin and judgement for more positive messages. Norman Vincent Peale, founder of Guidepost magazine, wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking.”  Robert Schuller, famous TV preacher of the 70’s-90’s, preached a gospel of positive thinking.  Many preachers began preaching a prosperity gospel.  Joel Osteen is popular today because of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller and others like them. 

So the question at hand is, which is more biblical, the hellfire and brimstone preacher who speaks against sin and calls people to repent, or the positive thinking pastor who focuses on preaching all of the “glad texts” in the Bible and ignores icky verses that talk about sin and judgment?  I think the answer is both, or better yet, neither.

I like the old expression that says that the preacher’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  Solomon said it pretty well in Ecclesiastes 3- there’s a time and a season for everything.  Sometimes preachers need to say hard things and issue dire warnings to their hearers.  Sometimes preachers need to give words of comfort and encouragement.  Jesus gives examples of this.  Sometimes Jesus got angry and called his listeners, a.k.a. the Pharisees,  a “brood of vipers”.  Another time Jesus told a woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, while telling her also to not sin anymore.  Jesus showed that one can be both firm and compassionate as they speak for God.

Today’s reading in Jeremiah 7-8 has a clear absence of the “happy texts” that Pollyanna was so fond of noticing:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”

 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.” -Jeremiah 7:3-11.

            God criticized their priests:

“They dress the wound of my people
    as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
    when there is no peace.”- Jeremiah 8:11

            I love Pollyanna and her innocent joyful optimism.  We all need a good dose of Pollyanna to get us through hard times.  But at the same time, we need to balance that with a good dose of reality and hard truth as well.  We need to hear how important it is to be grateful and have hope, we need to hear how forgiving and merciful God is.  And… we need to be reminded that God absolutely hates certain things and is going to bring an end to sinful actions and that those who do not repent and turn away from pursuing a life in rebellion against God will face judgment.  Some of the priests in the time of Jeremiah were giving false assurance to the people.  They were wrongly assuring them that because they were God’s chosen people who worshipped at the right place, the temple, and came from the right family, descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac, that it really didn’t matter how they lived their lives, they were okay with God.  They were giving false hope and false assurance. “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” –Jeremiah 8:11.

            Part of my ministry is in the hospital.  Sometimes people who are in the hospital are sick and will probably get better.  Sometimes people who are in the hospital are sick and will probably NOT get better.  Sometimes the doctor has to tell people hard things like, “if you don’t quit your… smoking, drinking, injecting heroin, allowing your diabetes to go uncontrolled, etc… you will probably die sooner than later.”  Do people like hearing those things?  Nope.  But if the doctor simply said to them- “You’ll be fine, just keep doing what you’re doing” that would be malpractice.  Doctors need to tell people the truth.  So do pastors.  So do all Christians.

            So as you read through your Bible, I hope you will notice all of the “glad texts” like today’s Psalm 97:1 “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad”. 

And also pay attention to the “not so glad texts”  like “So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.”-Jeremiah 7:32-34

Thank you for reading both the glad and not so glad texts of the Bible with me this week.  I hope that God will use all of it to help you grow as a faithful disciple of Jesus.

Jeff Fletcher

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 7-8 and Psalm 96-98

Just One

Jeremiah 5-6;  Psalm 94-95

          There’s a story in Genesis 18 that is kind of amusing to me (and also tragic).  After God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age he basically tells Abraham, “I’m going to go destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great sin.”  That’s not the part that’s amusing.  Abraham knows that his nephew Lot and his family are living in Sodom and Gomorrah and he’s trying to persuade God not to destroy the whole city.  “What about the good people in Sodom? Are you going to kill them along with all the bad people?  What if there are 50 good people in Sodom, will you spare the city?”  God agrees with Abraham’s request, “If you can find 50 good people in Sodom I won’t destroy it.”  This is the part that I find amusing… Abraham starts to negotiate with God in the way someone might try to negotiate buying a used car. “What about 45 good people?”  God says “Ok, I won’t destroy it for 45 good people.”  Abraham keeps negotiating until he talks God down to 10.  If there are only 10 good people to be found in Sodom, God will not destroy it.  (Abraham is one fine negotiator)

          Sodom is so bad it can’t even reach that low bar.  God rescues Lot and his 2 daughters and everyone else dies (including Lot’s wife who turned back and became a pillar of salt.)

          In today’s reading we’re not in Sodom, we’re in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, the city of God where the Temple and all its priests and religious leaders worked.  Jerusalem, where the King and all his government served.  You would think that with all of these important leaders of religion and government there would be lots of good people in Jerusalem, and you would be wrong.  In Jeremiah 5 God says:

          “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
    look around and consider,
    search through her squares.
If you can find but one person
    who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
    I will forgive this city.”

          When I was a kid, back when music was great, Three Dog Night had a song called “One is the Loneliest Number”.  (Go ahead, if you’re under 50 go check out the song on You Tube, I’ll wait).

          Welcome back!  God is making an offer even better than the one he made to Abraham about Sodom.  1.  If you can find just one person in Jerusalem that is honest and seeks the truth, he will forgive the whole city.  That would be like today God saying “Go to Washington DC.  If you can find one honest person in the whole city, I’ll spare the city.”  Well, maybe we can imagine that.  So apparently Jerusalem was Washington DC level corrupt.  Now, with politicians we can kind of get it.  But this was also the religious leaders, the priests and heads of religion.  Surely they were all honest seekers of truth, right? (No, I’m not biased even though I’ve been a professional clergy for the entirety of my adult life, over 35 years).  Come to think of it…. “Houston, we have a problem.”

          There was not a king nor a priest nor anyone else who was righteous or cared about the truth.  And so Jerusalem was toast.

          But here’s the good news.  God sent His son, Jesus, to Jerusalem.  He was the one true and righteous king.  He was the one priest who cared about truth.  Of course, they killed him, but God raised him.  And Jesus is the only way that we can find salvation. He is our righteous messiah and holy high priest. (See Hebrews).

          Jeremiah paints a painful but honest picture of the brokenness of human beings.  It helps set the stage for Jesus as the true and only one able to save us.  Keep this in mind as you read Jeremiah 5-6 today.  It was bad, it may get badder, but one day all will be well again.

          I will end with a portion of Psalm 95 “Today, if only you would hear his voice, Do not harden your hearts…”  Seriously, don’t harden your heart, let Jesus in.

Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereJeremiah 5-6 and Psalm 94-95

Unfaithful

Jeremiah 3-4; Psalm 92-93

                Occasionally, in my work as a chaplain I  meet an older couple who tell me they have been married a long time.  A few say they’ve been married 50 years.  Still fewer 60 years.  I can only think of 1 or 2 that I’ve met that made it 70 or 75 years.  Think about what it takes to be married to the same person for 75 years.  You have to be married at a young age, you both have to stay healthy enough to live at least into your 90’s, and you have to be able to figure out how to get along with another human being for 75 years.  Those are no small feats.  Statistically in the United States only about 5% of marriages make it to 50 years and far less to 60 or 70 or more.  According to the US census the average marriage lasts 8.2 years and the percentage of divorce is somewhere between 40-50% for all marriages.

                Marriage is a covenant.  A covenant is a faith commitment between two or more persons and God.  God established the covenant of marriage to be between a man and a woman till death do them part.  Because of human brokenness and our propensity to unfaithfulness, God made a provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24.  Divorce is better than murdering your spouse.  Call it the lesser of two evils.  But it was never God’s intention for marriages to end in divorce.  It’s more of an accommodation to sin and brokenness than an ideal.

                Yet, even God had to divorce his unfaithful wife.  Woa, Nelly!  What are you talking about?  God never got married because, he’s… God, right?   Actually, God uses the image of marriage to describe His relationship with Israel.  God is the husband and Israel is His bride.  It’s an image that appears in today’s reading of Jeremiah and it appears in many other places in the Old Testament.  In fact, the book of Hosea is an entire book about this.  God uses the image of an unfaithful bride because it brings an immediate, visceral response to the reader.  Nobody like to be cheated on by the person that they love.  It’s one of life’s most painful experiences.  Go listen to Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats”.  That pretty well captures the rage that comes when someone you love is unfaithful.  Has anyone ever cheated on you?  If so, you know how much it hurts.  And God wants his people to understand how much they have hurt him by their unfaithfulness and idolatry.  Read Jeremiah 3-4.  That’s written from the perspective of a husband who found out that not only has his wife been cheating on him, but she’s a prostitute, selling herself out on the street.  Ouch!

                Jeremiah 3 begins: “If a man divorces his wife
    and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again?
    Would not the land be completely defiled?
But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—
    would you now return to me?”
declares the Lord.  -Jeremiahs 3:1

            Most men in that situation would say “heck no” (or something even stronger).

                And yet…even with all of that hurt and rage and betrayal and pain, God is still willing to take his bride back.

“If you, Israel, will return,
    then return to me,”
declares the Lord.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
    and no longer go astray,
 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
    you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
    and in him they will boast.” –Jeremiah 4:1-2

            That’s what you call mercy.  That’s what you call grace. That’s what you call undeserved favor.

            God called his people to a true change of heart. 

            The original sign of the covenant in Israel was circumcision.  God told Abraham and his descendants to physically circumcise every male born in Israel as a visible sign that they were part of the covenant people of God.  They were uniquely in relationship with God and offered their exclusive allegiance and worship to God.  But far too often these people who were in that covenant relationship with God had hearts that were far from God.

So God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.” –Jeremiah 4:4

Back in the time of Moses God spoke to Israel and said that they were to Love Him with all their heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  What does any husband want?  His wife’s whole heart.  Just as any wife wants her husband’s whole heart.  That’s why unfaithfulness is so painful and leads to so many broken hearts and broken marriages.  God wants those in a covenant relationship with Him to give Him their whole hearts.

God criticized Judah for failing to return to God wholeheartedly: “her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” (Jeremiah 3:10).  God is NOT interested in our half-hearted repentance, our half-hearted worship, our half-hearted service, our half-hearted relationship.  God wants our whole-hearted love.

God created us in His image.  We love, we hurt, we get jealous and angry. That means that God also loves, God hurts when betrayed, God gets jealous and angry.  Jeremiah shows us how heartbroken God was with his faithless bride:

“Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”

 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
    I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
    My heart pounds within me”- Jeremiah 4:18-19

And yet, God loves us so much, he invites us to return to Him.

“Return, faithless people;
    I will cure you of backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22

Have you been giving your heart to someone or something instead of to the God who loves you?

Of course we can love other people, parents, spouses, children, friends.   We can love our jobs and love our homes, we can love pizza and love a pet.  But no love should come before that one true love, that love above all loves, the one with whom we’ve entered a covenant, God.

David loved God and wrote many love songs to God.  Here’s one:

“It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.”  -Psalm 92:1-2

How will you love God today?

-Jeff Fletcher

PS- In November my wife and I will celebrate 37 years married- we’re almost halfway to 75!!

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here Jeremiah 3-4 and Psalm 92-93

Words Matter

Jeremiah 1-2; Psalm 90-91

This past Saturday women (and some men) gathered in front of the US Capital in Washington, DC and in state capitals across the United States to protest for women’s rights to choose to abort their unwanted babies.  One of the signs held up said “Rage, Rage Against the Denial of Your Rights”.

That’s a dangerous way to begin today’s devotions.  Some of you are likely offended or possibly even angry at me for what I wrote.  I referred to them as unwanted “babies” and not “fetuses” or “products of conception.”  Words matter.  If a person says “illegal aliens” referring to those who cross the border without proper documentation and not “undocumented aliens” we know that they have an opinion about the status of those who have entered the country.  “Illegal” sounds like a bad thing, like someone has broken a law and might be punished, whereas “Undocumented” sounds like some innocent mistake or a government slip up.  I forgot my hall pass on my way to the bathroom and so I’m undocumented.  That’s different than bringing a gun to school or taking drugs at school.  Those activities are illegal and should be punished somehow, but crossing over the border without proper authorization, that shouldn’t be illegal, right? (If your sarcasm detector is now going off then it’s working properly)

Words matter, whether you say “illegal” or “undocumented” or whether you say “unborn or pre-born baby” or “product of conception.”  If I refer to a “product of conception” that a woman has a right to dispose of, that’s no big deal.  But if I say that it’s a human baby that is alive and waiting to exit her mother’s womb, and that we are killing that baby, that sounds pretty awful.  No one wants to think about killing babies.  No one should have the right to kill babies, but every woman should have a right to dispose of an inconvenient or unwanted ‘product of conception”.

Words matter.  Jeremiah 1 wasn’t written specifically to address the issue of human life, and yet Jeremiah’s inspired words, given to him by God, are worthy of reflection and application to our context today. 

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

    before you were born I set you apart;

    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”- Jeremiah 1:4-5

Here, God is calling Jeremiah to be his prophetic voice to the people of Israel.  Jeremiah is an integral part of God’s plan to prophecy against His people Israel for their worship of other gods.  Before Jeremiah was even born, God had a plan for his life.  While Jeremiah was still in his mother’s womb, God set Jeremiah apart to be a prophet.  This is such a rich passage and we could reflect on it a hundred different ways.  It speaks about God and his omniscience (that’s a technical term that means God knows everything).  God is able to peer into the future and see that this tiny little cluster of cells which carries in it the DNA for a male human person who  probably has brown eyes, brown hair and olive skin, will grow up to be able to speak for God 20 or 30 years in the future and be a key part of God’s plan.

This little tiny cluster of cells in that young Jewish woman’s womb would  one day be born, grow up  and go in the name of God to confront an entire nation with its rebellion against God.  

“My people have committed two sins:

They have forsaken me,

    the spring of living water,

and have dug their own cisterns,

    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”- Jeremiah 2:13

It was this tiny pre-born human, who God would use to condemn his people because: “On your clothes is found  the lifeblood of the innocent poor.”- Jeremiah 2:34

God condemns Israel because her clothes are stained with the blood of the innocent and the helpless.  Again, in the context Jeremiah is not referring specifically to pre-born babies who have been unjustly murdered (aborted).  However, in our present context, those words have a clear application.  Who are the most innocent and helpless human beings in the world today?  It is the pre-born humans whose Mother’s don’t want to allow  them to live.  As thousands gather around the country to rage at the prospect of some states seeking to bring greater justice and defend the defenseless we must ask ourselves “How in the world did we get here?”

When God called Jeremiah it was to take a courageous stand against a wicked and corrupt nation.  Is God calling His people today to take a courageous stand?  I think so.

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.” -Jeremiahs 1:17-19

If you, like Jeremiah, accept the call to speak faithfully for God against the current culture of death, and in doing so invite the rage of those who don’t want their right to murder unwanted pre-born human babies, then put Psalm 91 in your back pocket and carry it with you wherever you go: 

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

    my God, in whom I trust.”-Psalm 91:1-2

The Lord be with you.

Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com hereJeremiah 1-2 and Psalm 90-91

How Will You Lead?

Isaiah 65-66, Philemon 1

                What is the best way to lead people?  You may be a leader in some area of your life, at school, at work, at Church, among your friends, on a sports team, in your marriage, with your children etc…  Most of us have had some experience being a leader and I’m going to guess that everyone has had the experience of having a leader, probably many, in your life.

                There are a number of leadership styles.  Authoritarian leaders impose expectations and define outcomes.  It’s a very top down approach.  It’s efficient and sometimes required, but doesn’t always create a great experience for those being led.  If you’re the parent of a 2 year old, it’s pretty much the only leadership style.  But what works with a 2 year old doesn’t work as well with a 16 year old, or with your spouse.  It might work okay if you’re the manager of a fast food restaurant with a bunch of first time teen-age employees, but probably not so well if you are managing a medical practice with a group of physicians.

                Participative leadership is more democratic and helps people feel more engaged, but it can be more time-consuming and lead to poor decisions if the employees participating lack necessary information or skills.

                Delegative leaders step back and let the members of the team set their own agendas, which in the right environment can produce a lot of creativity, but can also lead to disunity.

                Transactional leaders use a lot of carrot and stick, reward and punishment.  They give clear expectations and offer clear feedback and immediate rewards and punishments.  It works well getting a 7 year old to clean her room or finish her vegetables, but doesn’t inspire a lot of creativity in capable adults.

                Transformational leaders inspire with a vision and then encourage and empower followers to achieve that vision.  They act as a role model.  This type of leadership is not coercive and leads to high morale.  To learn more check out: https://www.imd.org/imd-reflections/reflection-page/leadership-styles/

                Great leaders adjust their leadership style to the appropriate context and situation.  The little book of Philemon is a wonderful case study on Christian leadership.  The Apostle Paul writes to his disciple, Philemon, about their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus.  Paul and Philemon were brothers in Jesus Christ.  Paul was responsible for Philemon coming to faith in Christ.  Now, Philemon was a leader in the Church and actually had a congregation that met in his home.  When he wrote the letter to Philemon Paul was in jail, probably in Rome awaiting his trial.  While in prison he met Onesimus.  Onesimus was a runaway slave who had been the property of Philemon.  It seems that Onesimus became a follower of Jesus Christ through Paul while they were in prison.  Onesimus had become a supportive helper to Paul.  Paul has a dilemma.  He has two Christian brothers, Philemon, a slave owner and Onesimus, a runaway slave.  Paul wants Philemon to release Onesimus from his enslavement and either welcome him back not as a slave but as a fellow Christian, or allow him to return to Paul and support him while he’s awaiting trial.

                So what leadership style does Paul use?  He could have played the authoritarian card and said “Philemon, I’m an Apostle, I met Jesus personally, I brought you to faith, and now I order you to release Onesimus.”  Under Roman law Philemon had the right to demand Onesimus’ return.  He was not legally obligated to release him.  Legally, under Roman law Paul had no authority to force Philemon to let Onesimus go.  Paul practiced transformational leadership.  He inspired Philemon and gave him a vision of how being a follower of Jesus Christ can transform a person and their values and relationships.  He gave him a vision of Onesimus as more than property or an asset, but as a person, a child of God, as a fellow heir of the kingdom of God bought from slavery to sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.

                In using this leadership style Paul creates space for the spirit of God to transform Philemon’s heart, and have a much wider impact on the Church (for nearly 2000 years).  Hopefully, other Christian slave owners saw Philemon’s example and also chose to release their slaves and welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

                Paul uses his personal relationship with Philemon to persuade and inspire him to recognize what Paul had done for him and what Paul was inviting him to do for Onesimus.  This is a great example of persuasive transformational leadership.  In times when God calls you to be a leader either at school, at work, in your family, at Church, in community, or wherever you might be called to lead, remember Paul’s great example of how to be a transformational leader.

                The passage in Isaiah also gives a glimpse of leadership.  In this instance. God is leading his disobedient and rebellious children, Israel.  God’s leadership style here might be interpreted as transactional.  God has punished Israel for their idolatrous and rebellious ways.  God also promises better days ahead for those who faithfully listen to God and walk in the ways of obedience.  Ultimately, God is a transformational leader calling people to look to the vision of a new heaven and a new earth to inspire them to faithfulness now.  God doesn’t enjoy punishing the disobedient.  It’s true that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”(Provers 9:10), but ultimately God wants us to respond to Him out of love- to love him with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5).  God always leads in exactly the way we need, because He is the perfect leader.  Let us follow Him and learn from Him just as Paul (and hopefully Philemon) did.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 65-66 and Philemon

Reminders

Isaiah 63-64, Titus 3

Life is so busy and complicated that I have to create lots of reminders for myself.  Fortunately, my phone and computer and watch all have features where I can set reminders for myself.  “Doctors appointment Tuesday at 3:00.  Take the garbage to the dump on the way to work in the morning.  Stop by the store after work and pick up some milk and bread.” I can even set reminders months or years in advance.  I can set alarms to remind me that in 2 hours I have a meeting.  In 1 hour I have a meeting.  In 15 minutes I have a meeting.  The Meeting is now starting.  Maybe I’m too busy or maybe I’m getting old, but I find myself more and more needing reminders.

Do you ever need reminders?  Little kids need to be reminded to brush their teeth, make their bed, do their homework.  What do you need reminders for?

The Apostle Paul thought reminders were important for Christians.  I guess he understood how easy it can be to forget what’s important when we are busy living life and doing  what’s necessary or urgent.  Do Christians ever forget important things about God, about Jesus, about how we are supposed to live?  Yep, we sure do.

In Titus 3 Paul tells Titus to remind the believers of some important things.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” -Titus 3:1-2

Those reminders were important in the first century when Christianity was brand new and people were still learning the basics, but it’s been 2000 years.  We’ve certainly got being a Christian all figured out by now, don’t we?  Do we really need to be reminded to obey people in authority?  Do we need to be reminded to always be ready to do good?  Don’t all Christians always do what is good?   Certainly we never  slander or falsely accuse someone of wrong doing.  I’m always peaceable and considerate and gentle toward everyone, aren’t you? (My tongue is in my cheek- that means I’m kidding).

To tell the truth, I still need to be reminded all of those things.  Just because I’ve been reading the Bible for over 50 years doesn’t mean I always remember to do good.  I still need to be reminded to be considerate and gentle, and so do you.  That’s why Christianity was never designed to be lived in isolation, but in community.  We need each other.  There’s a passage in Hebrews (a different book from today’s reading,  but important) Hebrews 10:24-25 says that Christians shouldn’t get out of the habit of meeting together, because we need to encourage (I think Hebrews says “spur one another on”, like a rider spurs on a horse) each other.  

Following Jesus is hard some times.  Being obedient to God is hard some times.  Remembering to do good and be gentle is hard sometimes.  I need help, I need encouragement to keep on doing what is right.  I need you, and you need me, we need each other.

I’ve read the Bible many times in my life and I need to keep on reading it to help me remember all the important things I need to remember.  Today’s readings in Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3 remind us both about God’s wrath and about God’s mercy.  God has both.  God hates sin, he hates it when his children are brutal to each other.  He hates it when his children fight and argue.  He hates sin because he loves us and he knows that sin hurts us.  We hurt each other when we sin.  No parent likes to see their children hurt each other.  We learned that from our Father, God.

So keep reading your Bible and keep coming to Church and meeting with other believers so that you can remind them and they can remind you to keep on following Jesus.

“Hey Siri  set a reminder for 7 a.m. tomorrow:  be considerate and gentle to everyone.”

“Alexa, remind me to get up for Church Sunday at 8:00.”

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3

Good News and Bad News

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.  Which would you like first?  If you’re like me, you’d prefer to rip the band-aid off and get the bad news over with and finish with the good news.  So let’s get to it.

The bad news.  Humans have made a pretty big mess out of this world.  Yes, we’ve done some amazingly good things too, but we’ve made an awful mess of the world.  One of my ministry settings is as a hospital chaplain.  When I visit with patients, a lot of them are there because either they, or someone else, has made a huge mess of their lives.  Sometimes it’s from drug or alcohol abuse, sometimes they are victim of crime, often they have not taken very good care of their bodies.  Sometimes they’ve been in such despair that they attempted to end their life by suicide.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time listing the ways human beings have made a mess out of the world, if you need proof, just turn on the news for an hour or two.

Here’s the thing about messes, you can ignore them, and they will simply get worse, or you can clean them up.  Usually when you clean up a mess you preserve somethings and you discard others.  You try to salvage what is worth saving and discard what isn’t.  That requires some decision making.  What to keep and what to discard.  If you want clean dishes, you have to discard the dirty stuff that’s on the dishes.  If you want a clean house, you have to purge the junk.  If you don’t ever throw anything out then you become a hoarder and that’s an awful mess and no way to live a flourishing and happy life.

In today’s first reading in Isaiah, Israel had made quite a mess.  They failed to be faithful to YHWH, the God who created them and called them to be His.  Despite warnings and pleadings, Israel worshipped other gods.  They failed to give YHWH their exclusive love and devotion.  After numerous attempts to get them to stop, God finally allowed them to face the consequences of their unfaithfulness.  God allowed their enemies to conquer them, destroy their beloved temple and city, Jerusalem, and they went into captivity for 70 years.  That was the bad news.

Now for the good news.  God was going to rescue them, restore them and return them to their beloved Jerusalem.  

Isaiah 61

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

Isaiah goes on to describe how much better things will be for God’s people.  He uses the image of a bride being rejoiced over by her groom.  God’s love for his people is great.

Toward the end of the section is the promise: ” ‘See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him”

Notice God’s rescue of his people is good news for some, and bad news for others.  It’s both the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance.  

Think about WWII for a minute.  When the Allied Forces defeated Hitler and his armies and came to the internment camps like Auschwitz, it was good news for the prisoners, but bad news for the German army.  Hitler chose suicide over the swift justice that was sure to come.  For the men and woman who were set free it was good news but for the perpetrators of injustice it was a day of vengeance.

Jesus is coming again.  In Titus 2 we are told:

“1For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

God’s purpose in allowing His people Israel to face judgement was his way of cleaning up the mess that they had made and giving them a chance to start fresh, free from the worship of idols.

God’s purpose in sending Jesus was to extend the opportunity of salvation to all people, again, to clean up the mess and rescue those who are willing to receive the grace of God.  While we are waiting for Jesus to come and all the mess to be finally cleaned up, God invites us in the name of Jesus to follow him and live Godly lives, rejecting the mess of the world.

The world is a mess and God is fully and finally going to clean it up through the coming of Jesus Christ.  For those who reject God’s grace and mercy it will be a day of vengeance.   While we wait, God is working in our lives to clean up our messes and put us to work doing good, helping point others to God.  Are you willing to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions?  Are you willing to be different (FUEL 2019).  Are you eager to do what is good?  God wants to purify you and put you to work.  Are you willing?

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at Biblegateway.com here. Isaiah 61-62 and Titus 2.

Allegiance to the King

1 Samuel 7-8 and John 19

            When I was a kid in public school back in the dark ages, we used to begin each school day by standing at our desks, placing our hand over our heart, facing the United States flag and pledging our allegiance to that flag.  We did it day after day, year after year.  I never thought much about it, it was just something you did.  In music classes we sang “God bless America, land that I love…”  Then in 6th grade we had a new kid in the class named John.  I didn’t like John very much- as an early bloomer I had actually been the tallest kid in the class for the previous couple of years (with the exception of Linda, a freakishly tall girl).  But among the boys I was the tallest which was a great help on the basketball court where I ruled during recess and after school.  But tall, lanky John was a good 2-3 inches taller than me.  Fortunately, his height did not translate into coordination and he wasn’t any good at basketball, so I still ruled supreme there, but it was still annoying that my height domination had been superceded.  (Fun fact, I stopped growing after 6th grade, so while I was a massively tall presence on the basketball court at 5’10” in sixth grade, by the time I hit 9th grade, still 5’10” I was too short, not quick enough and didn’t have a good enough outside jump shot so I didn’t bother to try out for the high school team.  Post-up skills don’t go very well with being NOT the tallest kid on the team). 

But I digress, back to lanky, uncoordinated taller John who wore clothes that looked outdated and never seemed to comb his hair, and was just a weird kid.  What really set this weird kid, John, apart was that when the rest of us stood by our desks to pledge allegiance to the flag every morning, John didn’t stand.  What is with this strange outlier among us?  Eventually, I discovered the reason for this.  John said he didn’t stand for the pledge of allegiance because he was a Jehovah’s Witness and it was against his religion.  His parent also didn’t vote, and they didn’t celebrate their birthdays or Christmas.  I was quite relieved that I wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness.  I got to celebrate my birthday and Christmas, I didn’t have to be the odd-ball sitting during the pledge,  and my parents got to vote for Richard Nixon as President.  (that didn’t age well, now, did it?).

It was at that time that I first became aware that for some religious people there was a connection between their religious faith, how they worshipped God on Sunday, and other parts of their life like politics.  It’s been nearly 50 years since I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses like John didn’t pledge allegiance to the flag, but I still remember that day I learned it.

What do we mean by allegiance?  Webster’s dictionary defines allegiance as:

“the obligation of a feudal vassal to his liege lord, the fidelity owed by a subject or citizen to a sovereign or government. Devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause. allegiance to a political party. Synonyms:adhesionattachmentcommitmentconstancydedicationdevotednessdevotionfaithfaithfulnessfastnessfealtyfidelityloyaltypietysteadfastnesstroth.”

That’s a lot to unpack but for our purposes look at some of those synonyms like commitment, devotion, faith etc… those are all clearly religious words.  For many people their flag represents their nation, their family, their people, their way of life, all that matters to them.  Particularly those who serve in the military often have a ferocious loyalty and allegiance.  The Marine Core motto is Semper Fi, Latin for Always Faithful.

What does any of this have to do with today’s readings?  In his books Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Gospel Allegiance, Matthew Bates makes the case that the Greek word “pistis”, which is often translated “faith” into most English translations of the Bible should more accurately be translated “allegiance.”  Salvation, then is transformed from simply faith in Jesus Christ to Allegiance to Jesus as Christ, or more precisely, Allegiance to Jesus as God’s anointed King.  What does it look like to place your allegiance in Jesus as God’s anointed King over the whole earth? 

In today’s readings in 1 Samuel and John’s Gospel the concept of king and allegiance come to the forefront of both narratives.  During the time of Samuel Israel transitioned from being led by various judges: Gideon, Deborah, Samson and others to a place where they demanded to be led by a king.  Their stated reason for wanting a king was interesting as they wanted “to be like all of the other nations.”  Think of the teenager who makes a request to a parent and when rebuked comes back with “but all the other kids are doing it.”   Samuel took the people’s request for a king as a personal rejection of his leadership, but God pointed out that HE had been their king since they left Egypt and that this constituted a rejection of Him, not Samuel.  God told Samuel to go ahead and give the people what they wanted, a king, along with a word of warning- kings require those in their kingdom to show them a high level of Allegiance, and if you get a narcissistic, proud man as king you will regret it as he will use his power to enrich and empower himself still more.  “Yeah, but we still want to be like everybody else.”

So begins the next phase of Israel’s history in the time of the kings and in coming weeks you will read about those king’s like Saul, David, Solomon and many others.  You will see how even the bravest and godliest, like David and the wisest, like Solomon, misused their power and privilege and eventually the kingdom split, then was taken into captivity and constantly battled the empires and kingdoms around them.  Having a sinful king was no better than a judge.  How much better it would have been if they had simply given their full allegiance to God as their king.

In the Gospel of John Israel gets a do over.  God has given them His own son, Jesus, the sinless human representative of God to be their king.  After Jesus is arrested and brought before Pilate to be judged and sentenced Pilate looks to persuade the Jewish people to change their minds about Jesus.  “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

In the account in Samuel, Israel rejects God as their king so that they can be like everybody else.  He gives them that choice.  In the Gospel of John, a thousand years after they rejected God as king, God’s son, Jesus,  is presented to them as their king, and once again they decisively reject God’s anointed King. Instead, they demanded that he be crucified.  They declared their allegiance that day to Caesar, I guess because they wanted to be like everybody else.  Not much changed in 1000 years in Israel.

2000 years and half a world a way we still have the same choice.  To whom will we give our allegiance?  Will we give our allegiance to the principalities and powers of this age.  Will we give our loyalty to trying to be like everybody else, going along with the crowd, whatever direction the crowd decides we should be going?  Or will we give our allegiance to God’s anointed king, Jesus?

            If you are a Christian living in this world you are a resident alien living in exile.  Your body may be in Ohio or Indiana or Virginia or India, but your citizenship is in Heaven because that’s where your King is currently living.  One day King Jesus will return from heaven to earth and reign right here on earth during the renewal of all things (See 1 Corinthians 15:20-24).  But for now, you and I are living in exile and while  living in exile we should strive to be respectful and law abiding in areas that don’t conflict with our primary allegiance to King Jesus (See Romans 13).  You can be a good citizen in many ways, but never forget that if you are a follower of Jesus, your allegiance is to him first and foremost, not to your country, or your family, or your friends, or your culture or fashion or whatever seeks to define you.  Your allegiance must be to Jesus.

            Can you be a Christian and still pledge allegiance to the US flag?  My childhood classmate John thought, “No, you can’t” and Christians may not always agree on these kinds of questions, but there should be no doubt in your mind as to whom your ultimate allegiance is due, Jesus Christ the King, and God our Father.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 7-8 and John 19.

Truth Matters

1 Samuel   5-6 & John 18

I was a teenager when the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark first hit the theatres.  It instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies.  I love the Indiana Jones character and this particular adventure, searching for the Ark of the Covenant, was especially cool to me because it drew from Biblical themes.  The Ark of the Covenant was a real thing containing real power.  What would happen if it was found and fell into the wrong hands, like the Nazi’s?  It was a great story.  It got pretty intense toward the end when they tried to open the Ark.  Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for the Nazi’s.

The Nazi’s in the story should have spent less time plotting the genocide of the Jews and global domination and more time reading their Bibles, because the story of the Ark in 1 Samuel 5-6 should have discouraged them from having anything to do with the Ark. (I know, Raiders of the Lost Ark is fiction- but what happens to the Philistines in today’s reading is True).

One thing we know from reading the Bible is that God doesn’t like to share His glory with idols.  God is the one True God and He alone created everything, gives life, sends rain to produce crops and blesses people with fertility.  God takes it very personally when people build statues for other “so called” gods and give them credit for sending rain or helping babies to be born.

I find the story of the Philistines stealing the Ark of the Covenant and bringing it in the temple of their “god”  Dagon humorous.  Dagon was the main god of the Philistines and they offered sacrifices to Dagon so that they could have fertility- their cattle, and their wives.  They wanted lots of cattle to feed their bellies, and they wanted lots of sons to grow up and serve in the army to fight their enemies.  So they prayed and offered sacrifices to Dagon so that Dagon would make their cows and their wives fertile.

We might excuse the ignorance of the Philistines because maybe they didn’t know any better, maybe no one told them the Truth about the True God.  But God made it quite clear to His chosen people, Israel, that they were to worship and serve God alone.  But they were often tempted to worship other gods.  Several stories in the Old Testament show how God was superior and defeated other “so called” gods.  Elijah called down fire from heaven and defeated the prophets of Baal.  Samson’s last act after he had been captured and blinded was to push down the pillars of the temple to Dagon and kill a bunch of the Philistines.    And here, when the Ark of the Covenant is brought into another temple of Dagon,  The statue of Dagon falls down the first time, then falls down again breaking the idol  into pieces.  The Philistines of that town are afraid so they send the Ark to another town.  There, everybody gets tumors and they end up in a panic.  Everywhere the stolen Ark is taken trouble comes to the Philistines, so finally they bring the Ark back to Israel along with a guilt offering (golden tumors and rats, what a thoughtful gift).

The Philistines had trouble discerning fact from fiction- the true God, YHWH, the God of Israel, vs. Dagon, a statue that was quite brittle when it fell to the ground.

Truth matters.  In today’s reading in John 18, after Jesus is arrested and brought to trial, he appears before Pilate, who is the highest representative of the Roman Empire in the region who ultimately decides all capital cases, who lives and who dies.

Pilate is a politician caught between his boss, Caesar, who has tasked him to keep the Jewish people in line and the Jewish people who can turn on him and cause trouble.  He has to carefully consider the political implications of what he’s being asked to do.  Like many politicians and people in charge, he is more of a pragmatist than anything else.  What is going to work out to my best interests here?  He asks Jesus some questions and Jesus gives an answer that he finds quaint.  Jesus answered: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 

Truth?  How naïve.  You might imagine the amusement (or scorn) in Pilate’s response when  he asks Jesus: “What is Truth?” 

If the idea of truth was a quaint notion to a first century Roman politician, it’s become reviled and scorned by 20th and 21st century intellectuals.  We live in a time of Postmodernism.  Absolute truth has been replaced by relativism.  Truth is whatever the people who have the power to control government, the news, the arts and higher education say it is.  Truth is what Facebook, or Twitter, or Google’s “fact checkers” say it is. 

Whether you and I like it or not we are in the midst of a culture war.  It’s the same one that’s been going on since the serpent tempted Eve to question God.  It’s the same one that was going on in the temple of Dagon when the stolen Ark  was brought in, it’s the same one that was going on when the Jewish leaders lied about Jesus and brought him to Rome to be condemned and executed, it’s the one that was going on when Pilate asked, “What is truth?”  It’s going on today in a society where the things we’ve always believed about God and virtue,  right and wrong, and pretty obvious things like basic human biology, are all being questioned and redefined.  Gender isn’t about biology it is a social construct.  If you start introducing facts or science or Truth, you will receive as much scorn as Jesus received from Pilate.  But it is a culture war and Jesus told Pilate  that there are two sides: one side is false and the other is true.  Jesus said that if you are on the side of Truth you listen to Jesus.  Pilate chose his side, and so he did what was politically correct and had Jesus crucified to appease the Jewish people.  The question you and I must ask ourselves is whose side am I on?  Am I on the side of Truth, that listens to the words of Jesus?  Pick a side.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here 1 Samuel 5-6 and John 18

Your Servant is Listening

1 Samuel 3-4 and John 17

When was the last time you were purposefully silent?  No headphones on with iTunes or Netflix playing in your ears?  No talking with someone else, just you in silence?

One respected Christian writer says: “Silence is a kind of substance in which we are able to experience eternity. It is a substance that enters into our souls and if we don’t have it, our souls become impoverished.”- Dallas Willard, Dmin. Lecture, Fuller Seminary 2012

We are constantly surrounded by noise, aren’t we?  In actual fact, I think most of us like it that way.  Having noise going on makes us feel less… alone.  Of course, we don’t like too much noise all the time.  We can also relate to The Grinch:

“For tomorrow, I know, all those Who girls and boys, will wake bright and early, they’ll rush for their toys, and then… Oh the noise! Oh the noisenoisenoisenoise! There’s one thing I hate: oh the noisenoisenoisenoise!”- The Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss.  

            We want enough noise to distract us but not so much noise as to irritate us.

My iPhone 12 now tells me when I’m being exposed to too much noise.  Yesterday, I was mowing my grass and decided that I would listen to a book on my iPhone’s  Audible program ( ironically the book I was listening to was about the spiritual disciplines including… silence) while I mowed with my headphones on.  In order to hear it over the loud noise of my lawnmower I had to have the volume turned up to full.  My iPhone didn’t like that and told me I needed to turn it down. (iPhones tell us when and how to do almost everything- when to wake up, how to get where we want to go, when it’s time get up and move around, and turn down that music- iPhones are now our nagging parent I guess).

I have eleven children, most are now adults, but when they were all small, noise was simply a fact in our house.  If I wanted quiet I had to go someplace else.  During that time I went to a monastery and spent several days in a silent retreat.  There was no noise. None.  We were not to speak to other people, not even a hello when you passed them in the hall, no chit chat at the dinner table.  Just 5 days of silence.  A strange thing happened to me during that time of silence.  For the first time in my life I really heard God speak to me.  Why did I hear God speak to me that week?  Because I had turned off all of the other noise, and I was really listening for God’s voice.

Can you really hear God’s voice?  A lot of people doubt that this is even possible because they’ve never experienced it.

            “The fact that we do not hear does not mean that God is not speaking to us… We know that messages from radio and television programs are passing through our bodies and brains at all hours of the day: messages that an appropriately tuned receiver could pluck from the very air we breathe… We are not attuned to God’s voice. We have not been taught how to hear it sounding out in nature — for as we read in Psalm 19, ‘The heavens announce the glory of God” — or in special communication directed by God to the individual.” (Dallas Willard- Hearing God p. 68-69)

            In today’s reading, young Samuel had to be taught how to listen for God’s voice.  As we saw yesterday Samuel’s mother, Hannah, gave him to God in gratitude for God giving him to her.  Samuel was brought to the House of God where he was being trained by Eli, the priest, to be a servant of God.   It’s interesting to notice that it says that at that time the word of the Lord was rare (3:1).  Apparently God wasn’t doing much talking, or, maybe the people weren’t doing much listening, you decide.

The priests at that time not only served in the temple they also slept in the temple. Picture the scene:  Samuel is in bed, it’s quiet, and everyone is trying to go to sleep.  Samuel hears a voice speaking in the silence.  Samuel assumes it’s Eli calling for him so he comes to Eli’s bed.  Eli says “It wasn’t me, go back to bed”.  It happens a second time, Samuel gets up and goes to Eli who again says “It’s not me, go back to bed.”  It happens a third time and Samuel again runs to Eli, who by now realizes that the boy isn’t trying to stall going to bed but someone really is calling him, and it must be the LORD.  So Eli trains Samuel in how to listen for God’s word.  Say, “Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.”  Samuel does as he is told, and God speaks and Samuel responds, “Speak LORD, your servant is listening”, and then God tells Samuel what is about to happen.  God is about to punish Eli and his family for their sin.

At breakfast the next morning Eli asks Samuel what God said and warns him to tell the truth.  Samuel delivers the bad news to Eli and the priest accepts this as being a true word from the LORD.  As the story unfolds, God backs up His word.  The Philistines defeat Israel in battle, they take possession of the Ark of the Covenant, where’s God’s glory resides, and Eli’s two wicked sons are killed.  When the report is given to Eli he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.  From then on God keeps speaking to Samuel.  Why?  Because his servant was listening. 

Samuel was faithful and took the words God gave them and shared them with the people.  Jesus did the same thing.  He listened for the voice of his father and he faithfully shared them with his people.  In John 17 Jesus says: “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.” (John 17:8)  The words that Jesus spoke were the words that came from his Father.  Jesus spent much of the first 30 years of his life studying the scriptures and committing them to memory.  He began his ministry by spending 40 days in the wilderness in solitude and silence.  His daily habit was to rise up early while it was still dark and pray- you can be sure that his prayers weren’t simply him telling God what he wanted, but included much careful listening.

The word of God was rare in the days of Samuel, was it because God wasn’t speaking, or was it because no one was listening for God’s voice until Samuel?

If it feels to you like the word of God is rare today ask yourself, is it because God isn’t speaking, or is it because we aren’t listening?  Try this… turn off the noise, find a place to be silent and place yourself before God and say, “Speak LORD, your servant is listening”.  God may speak to you through His written word, the Bible, or through His creation, or through a dream, or maybe even a still, small voice.  But you won’t hear God if you don’t shut off the noise and listen for Him.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 3-4 and John 17