Jerusalem’s Walls & Enemies

Nehemiah 6

March 26

Today’s reading (Nehemiah Chapter 6) begins  with these fellows you might remember being mentioned in yesterday’s reading:  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.  Who might these gentlemen be? In simple terms, enemies. But a little more context, gives us:

Sanballat:  A Horonite

Just this name makes me thinks of hornets, but apparently he was called this since he was from Beth-Horon, and  was a Samaritan leader in the Persian Empire. Samaritans had mixed Judaism with pagan beliefs and intermarried with pagan societies, and had some distinct conflicts with some Jews because of this.

Tobiah: An Ammonite

If you didn’t read about the Ammonite folks earlier in the week in our II Chronicles study, I’ll tell you they were not known for their warm fuzzy tendencies. They were created via an incestuous relationship of Lot and his daughter which didn’t start things well apparently, worshipped pagan gods including Molech, and were known for infant sacrifice and cruelty. Just who Nehemiah needed hanging around on the job-site I’m sure.

Geshem: an Arab

An ally of Tobiah and Sanballat, general antagonist to Nehemiah. Did not worship the one true God.

At the start of Chapter 6, things are coming along nicely with the wall rebuilding project in Jerusalem. In fact, it sounds like pretty much just the gates were left at this point. If success was going to be prevented for Nehemiah and the Jews, it was time to act.  

First, Sanballat and Geshem extend an invitation in verse 2 to hang out on the “plain of Ono.” Sounds nice enough. But, Nehemiah was able to discern this was not progressing God’s work and was a distraction at the time. He declined. And declined again. And again. And again. If a person declines your invitation to join them four times with practical reasons, you could take a hint….or ….you could disparage him or her on social media. 

And that seems to be the next tactic in verses 5-7. Before the days of the internet, there were these things called papyrus scrolls, and because of obvious reasons, they were typically SEALED prior to delivery. Ahh,but this time….Sanballat must have forgotten to seal it tightly. Almost like he wanted everyone to read it and start gossiping? Sounds familiar. And in this case it wasn’t just gossiping, but information in the untruthful message could have definitely gotten Nehemiah in trouble claiming there was another king in Judah. And I had to laugh at “Geshem says it is true” in vs. 5.  Certainly if Geshem “liked a post” it must credible?!  I love verse 8 when Nehemiah responds because it sounds like it could be completely fitting in 2022 as well “. . .you are just making it up. . .” Nehemiah denies the claim and calls out the lie. But, he doesn’t stop there, and he doesn’t let the lie distract him from the work or from the source of sovereign guidance He needs. 

 Being a man of prayer, we see him in a dialogue right away with God in verse 9. He discerns what is going on and the battles around him, and asks God to strengthen his hands.  (I’ve got to say, as a hand therapist, I really tried to work some fun analogy here….but I didn’t want to insert drivel into a meaningful text…and I got nothing other than. . .you want your hands strengthened, you need your upper arm/core strong to support it. If your hands are tired, you’d better make sure further up the chain is working because everything is connected. And in this case, Nehemiah knew how high up the chain to go. GOD would strengthen his hands and he didn’t even need to go buy a  stress ball.)

In verse 10 our troublesome trio seems to have acquired more assistance in their unrelenting efforts to mess up Nehemiah. And this time they involve someone close enough to have access to the temple.  Maybe a priest? We also see Tobiah mentioned toward the end of the chapter and get a feel for how “important” and influential he was in their community as he was actively seeking to intimidate Nehemiah also. What a mix of people, purposes, deceit, selfishness, and fear we see working against Nehemiah.  And yet, how easy it is for the “church” to get caught up into politics and popular agendas, for “Christians” to be bought out and deceived, for the things of God to be muddled by the plans of man. How essential it is that we demonstrate discernment, prayer, and scripture as the source of our truth and gauge for success and ambitions like Nehemiah shows us. 

Despite opposition, verse 15 tells us that in 52 days (minus Sabbaths I’d presume), the walls were re-built.  With modern technology and equipment, this still seems impressive. 

And while this story wasn’t my favorite to go out on with all its corruption and negativity, verse 16 is great stuff:

And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

Nehemiah’s re-built walls didn’t last either, and the Romans made sure to destroy them along with everything else they did. But, scripture tells us that the New Jerusalem, the city of God, will have walls and gates. If we seek first this city, this hope, living a life as a follower of Christ, we have a wonderful eternal promise of a city with streets of gold. And intact walls. 

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you ever been intimidated by others while you were at work for God?
  2. What can we learn from Nehemiah regarding how we deal with our enemies, those who want to stop us from doing God’s work?
  3. How do you seek first God’s kingdom?

Who Do You Talk to First?

Nehemiah 2

March 25

When the main character starts the story in tears and depression, you typically know you are not reading a comedy. And Nehemiah is not one for sure. Today’s reading (Nehemiah 2) starts with Nehemiah despondent, having been in tears the chapter before when he learned the news that Jerusalem’s wall and gates had been destroyed and the remnant of Jews who had survived the exile were in disgrace. Approximately 150 years prior to Nehemiah, King Nebuchadnezzar had violently charged through Jerusalem destroying the city, its walls, and countless Jewish lives, leaving it the heap of rubble and ruin Jeremiah had warned Judah about. Those still there were in affliction.

Sometimes we can mask our pain and sorrow. Sometimes we blast it on social media. And sometimes it is just too raw to hide from those closest to us. In this case, Nehemiah was at work and he was not himself. Many of us have had those days. He was working as cupbearer to the king which was the interesting career of being an entrusted, royal official charged with serving the wine, protecting it from those wanting to poison the king, at times tasting it first to ensure it was safe. And in this story,  the king, who was close enough to him to recognize a broken spirit, asked what was wrong. Nehemiah explained,

 “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3)

And then the king asks what he wants of him. All in all, it seems like the king was acting like a pretty good boss on this occasion. I’ve had the privilege of working for some wonderful bosses over the years, and it is so nice when they do recognize when things aren’t okay, listen to you, and ask how to help. Same with teachers, family, and friends. I was struck with Nehemiah’s response being a little different than I had remembered though.  For some reason what had stuck with me from different sermons and lessons on Nehemiah over the years was how Nehemiah had been willing to ask for specific things, and how he was bold yet humble, and how he rebuilt walls. All of those things are true and noteworthy in Nehemiah. But, what I forgot were the incredibly important few little words tucked away at the end of verse 4.

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king,

I personally don’t think it matters as much what Nehemiah said after that or how he said it, but rather what he did prior to making the request. He prayed to the God of heaven. Before expressing his own highly emotionally-charged thoughts on the subject, he prayed to God.  And in the chapter prior, when he learned of the state of Jerusalem, he wept and prayed to God.  Nehemiah is remembered for rebuilding walls, and our chapter today is the start of his journey to rebuild and restore. But, Nehemiah knows it wasn’t possible because he put on the just-right-amount-of-depression-and-attention-seeking face and earned the king’s sympathy, nor was it because he was very concrete in his request and willing to ask for just what he wanted. Nehemiah gets it. 

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests” (v.8).

How different the world could be if we each prayerfully considered our words, our requests, and our actions. If we trusted God most and sought God first. If we went to God with our concerns and problems before others, prayed before answering others, and lived a life consistently casting our cares on Him rather than casting judgment or personal opinions so flippantly.

Nehemiah was a rebuilder, a cupbearer, and he did ask for something specific in a humble way. But, let’s also remember that he was a man of prayer.  As was our Messiah.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Can you think of a time (or two) when you didn’t stop to think – and more importantly – pray before speaking and your words caused problems or weren’t received as you had hoped. How could pausing a quick moment to pray have changed what you said, how you said it or the response you received? How can you remember to pray next time?
  2. What do you generally do when you are in pain and sorrow? What helps? What does not?
  3. How can you be more aware of those around you who are hurting? What do you have that you can share with those in pain and sorrow (both material -a cup of coffee and a spot on my couch – and spiritual encouragement and support)?
  4. Would others know you to be a person of prayer? Does God consider you a person of prayer like Nehemiah? Any changes you want to make? How?

The Remnant Gets to Work

Ezra 3

March 24

Today, our reading is from a new book of Ezra. Interestingly, at the start of the year when I signed up for a random week to write for Seek Grow Love, I had no idea I would have just finished reading the book of Ezra with my daughter. I can’t say that means much though other than I am a little more knowledgeable on the history than I would have been a month ago. A few things to know about the book of Ezra are:

  • A Jewish man named Ezra wrote Ezra.  
  • Ezra was born in exile in Babylon into a Jewish priest’s family and lived the first part of his life there.
  • He was a scribe, writing the books of the Torah and the Prophets. So, he knew God’s law and instructions regarding the temple and sacrifices well.
  • Ezra was written before Chronicles (the books covered earlier this week) but the story itself took place after the stories retold in the book of Chronicles.
  • Time-wise, the book covers the period when a remnant of Jews in Babylonian exile are allowed to return to Jerusalem to start rebuilding the temple and the years following that.
  • Ezra means “help” or “helper” in Hebrew.

In Chapter 3 of Ezra, we see that the rebuilding began with the altar. This allowed the Jews to offer sacrifices for their sins again according to the instructions given in the law of Moses after so many years without them. Verse 1 tells us this started in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which was considered to be their most sacred month and included several important celebrations including the Feast of Tabernacles.  This feast is one Zechariah speaks of being celebrated in Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom after the return of Christ and some Christians celebrate it today. So, the time period for starting this project was a joyous one.

Verses 7-10 highlight the next part of the project, which was starting the rebuilding of the temple itself, and ends with men weeping and celebrating. We see mixed emotions of excitement, nostalgia, guilt, and hopefulness throughout this book, and we can certainly relate to this as Christians today.

With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (Ezra 3:11)

Despite opposition, the temple did get rebuilt. And while it was also destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins was not destroyed and will never be destroyed.  Just like the remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem from the exile, the New Testament speaks of a remnant who will be left when Jesus returns whenever that is. Nowhere does the Bible speak of the large masses of “anyone who tries to be a good person” being guaranteed eternal life. It does speak of things like a narrow road, the eye of a needle, and a remnant. Fortunately, no matter how many times we wander off the path, we will be welcomed back and forgiven like the people of Israel if we turn and seek.  Interestingly, there is still a “remnant” of the second temple in the temple mount in Jerusalem which now supports the holy Muslim site of the Dome of the Rock and is the source of some ongoing tensions. Ultimately, Jesus will return to reign in Jerusalem, and all nations, tribes, and tongues will worship him and recognize him as the Messiah, the begotten Son of God.  Bring on the Feast of Tabernacles. Bring on the recognition that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Let’s get this party started.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What stands out to you most in this chapter? What would God want you to learn from this chapter?
  2. What were the obstacles in the way of the remnant completing their task? Is there a neglected project for God that He would be pleased to see you attacking this week? What obstacles are in your way and how will you overcome them?
  3. Do a little research on the Feast of Tabernacles. What was the purpose of the celebration? Envision the remnant celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in the Kingdom with Jesus in Jerusalem. What similarities and differences will this celebration have to the one Ezra wrote about in Ezra 3?

Be Like Josiah

2 Chronicles 34

March 23

The one thing I always remember about today’s story of King Josiah is his age. Verse one tells us he was eight years old when he became king. Certainly noteworthy. But, what I never stopped to think about much before was what happened in the chapter just prior. His father had not humbled himself before God, did evil, and ended up assassinated by his own officials leaving Josiah to become king. Josiah came into power under those circumstances,  after years of the reigns of his father and grandfather who did not honor or obey God.  So, young Josiah comes into kingship during difficult times, and verse 3 tells us that at the age of 16 Josiah began to “seek the God of his father David. ” Thankfully, we are never too young, too old, or in too bad of circumstances to seek God.

Four years later at the age of twenty, he begins a big clean up project in Judah. The enemies Judah fought in yesterday’s reading appear to have been infiltrating the lives of God’s chosen people over the years. Some of the sinful customs they adopted were altars to Baal, idols, sacred poles or trees  used to worship a pagan goddess Asherah, and sacrifices (including ones of children Ezekiel tells us) to idols. Basically, they just acted like the people around them, completely disregarding what God called them to do and be.

Verses 8-13 highlight King Josiah’s efforts to repair and purify the temple that had fallen into shambles during the time of the disobedient kings. During this process, a priest stumbled across something exciting in the temple which was the “Book of the Law given through Moses”.  This book is also known as the Torah or the Pentateuch and is made up of the first 5 books of our Bible. The priest’s secretary took it to the king and read it in his hearing.  What a different time where Bibles  weren’t available on hundreds of apps, online, or printed across the world. Who knows when or if Josiah had heard these words last? Regardless, once he heard them, he was affected. He tore his robes and mourned for how far they had strayed from God’s desire for them.

Josiah wanted his people to know who they were and what they were called to be. He wanted them to experience not just guilt for all the wrong, but also the blessings coming from walking alongside a loving God. Verse 30 tells us he read from the Book of the Law to “all the people from the least to the greatest”.  God’s word isn’t just for pastors, priests, and the privileged. It is for everyone and we know from Hebrews 4:12 that it is living, active, and sharper than a two edged sword!

This passage reminds me of a friend of ours who loves God’s word and clearly seeks to apply it and obey it in his life. Though he grew up attending church and in a home with parents who believed in God, he said he never internalized it or cared about it whatsoever. He could “talk the Churchese language”, and said his parents and everyone at church told him he was “saved at 6”, though he quite passionately differs with that mindset saying he was not, because it meant nothing to him. Once on his own, he pursued his own interests/gain, and what would likely be considered normal/worldly success to those around him, but without a personal relationship with God playing any role in his life. After ~20 years of this “American individualistic lifestyle”, he said one day at work a coworker set a Bible on his desk. He picked it up, thumbed through it, started to read, and said it changed him instantly lighting a fire in him wanting to know more and know God. He says this entirely changed the course of his life, later impacting the family he has now. He often references the story of Josiah, and I love to watch him talk to people with such excitement for God’s word and living a life of obedience to it. It kind of amuses me to watch “Christian” people seem almost like, “Um, yeah, that’s nice that you like God and His word….” but you can tell….they are almost mystified by him and his Josiah-like attitudes. He has been a convicting blessing in our lives and we love to do Bible study with him and fellowship with his family.   How long has it been since we’ve been excited or grateful to read it? Excited to find it sitting in the same spot we left it last . . . .? Willing to actually do what it says? Because Josiah did not stop with reading it. He followed, removed sinful practices, renewed covenants, and obeyed His word.

Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors. (2 Chronicles v. 34)

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. After reading the chapter describe in your own words what Josiah did. What characteristics do you see in Josiah that you admire?
  2. What pagan, anti-God practices and ideas or centers for idolatry are found in your community? While you likely lack the authority King Josiah had to tear them down physically, how can you make a godly stand against them? What has crept into your own home and family life that God would be happy to see purged? Are you willing to do a deep cleaning of your home (calendar and heart) to remove ungodly influences?
  3. How do you rate your love of God’s Scriptures? What does it convict you of? How do you share it with others? How does it affect your decisions and actions? What can you do to increase your love for God’s word?
  4. Who did Josiah work with and in what supporting roles? Who is on your team as you work for God? How do you support others who are seeking God?

If My People

2 Chronicles 7

March 21

Today we are continuing along in Chronicles, jumping into the second book, II Chronicles 7. This one is a pretty packed-full chapter starting out with God showing up in a consuming fire, His glory filling the newly dedicated temple, and ending with a stern warning to Israel regarding rejection of Him and the resultant consequences.

Pausing, at verse 14, I’ll tell you that I have had a song stuck in my head ever since reading this one.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”

If you can’t guess the song, I am assuming you have not heard the song  “If My People”, and would encourage you to check it out if you are not familiar. While it stresses the old vocal cords (at least the version in the trusty brown hymnal) unless you are a canary, it is beautiful both in music and message in my opinion.  Though at times I think this verse is misused and tossed around out of context with various patriotic images, it provides such beautiful reminders taken in context. We are called by God. Called to humility, prayer, and seeking of His will and ways. Called to repentance when we fall and returning to our Father when we’ve strayed. We can always repent, call on His name, turn back to Him, and we are given Israel as an example time and time again.

This chapter also reminds us of the very important covenant God made with David. A ruler in Israel. A royal throne to be continued. And despite the years of mistakes and consequences to come after God’s reminders to Solomon, He did not forget his covenant. And this is what makes the Old Testament so essential to understand the way God works and the New Testament stories. Jesus didn’t just show up one day and claim he was God’s son.  Years of history, promises, and prophecies such as the ones in this chapter lead up to the gift of the Messiah and the promise of an eternal kingdom without pain, sin, or tears.

“As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, to do according to everything that I have commanded you, and keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to be ruler in Israel.” (2 Chronicles 7:17-18)

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What four attitudes and actions are God’s people to do for God to hear, forgive and heal their land? (2 Chronicles 7:14). Why each of the four? What grade would you receive in each of the four? How can you improve in each?
  2. And on the flip side, what options are available for the people (verse 19)? If the people act in this way, what will God do (verses 20-22)? Those were rather specific consequences, which indeed came to pass centuries later. What consequences might God consider for these actions in our day?
  3. How would you describe true repentance? When have you experienced this in the past? Is there anything you currently need to repent of? If you aren’t sure, ask God to show you, then repent.
  4. How can you help the people of God remember the important lessons of this chapter?

Keep These Desires

1 Chronicles 29

March 20

Our reading today of 1 Chronicles 29 is from a book in the Bible that I realize I have often overlooked and not fully appreciated for its historical significance. Because of where it falls in our Bible, if I am reading through the OT when I run into it, I find myself thinking, “didn’t I just read that?”  because of its retelling of some stories from 1 and 2 Samuel and I and 2 Kings.

Since I like history and context in what I’m reading, I thought I’d dig around for a little information to help me understand more as we jump into this last chapter of 1 Chronicles. While 1 Chronicles falls mid-way in our Old Testaments, in most Hebrew Bibles it forms the conclusion as the last book. 1 Chronicles was originally combined with II Chronicles when written in the 5th century BC , and it was written ~ 600 years after the stories it tells.  Time wise, that would be like me writing about what happened in the Middle Ages today. During that long period of time, some major things had changed in the world. The fall of Israel, the exile of the Jews, the growth of the Roman Empire and emerging development of the Greeks, and the eventual return of Ezra (believed by many to be the author of Chronicles) and some exiled Jews to rebuild the temple centuries later.

As Chapter 29 starts with verse 1, we are reminded that GOD does not choose people to serve Him as the world chooses, and the tasks He calls us to are great because He is worthy.

“Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God.”

As the chapter goes along, we get some of the details of the temple reviewed which are pretty noteworthy. Like umm….100 metric tons of gold! It makes me think a little more about what the kingdom will be like given what His earthly temple included.

Verses 10-19 are such a beautiful prayer of David in his later years, and we hear fatherly wisdom and child-like humility all at once.  In his prayer for his son, he understands what to ask for. Not health, happiness, security, peace, or victories, but what he knows matters most,

v. 19  “And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees. . .”

The chapter ends retelling the stories of Solomon being made king and his unprecedented level of splendor, and ends with David dying, to sleep with his fathers until the return of Jesus.

I am glad these parts were some of the ones chosen to be retold, and I can see why they were worth the reminder for the Israelites at that time. Despite everything else changing around them, God was sovereign. With or without a temple, God was sovereign. With or without a king, God was sovereign and had a plan to continue King David’s line forever through the coming Messiah. Thousands of years later, David’s prayer and hope is still applicable for all of us.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What changes have you seen in your lifetime? What has changed in the past 2000 years? How do you see a sovereign God over all history?
  2. David and the people gave generously a great amount of gold, silver, bronze, iron and precious stones for the building of the temple. David said, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” What has God blessed you with? How will you use it to honor Him?
  3. David prayed, “Keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.” What desires and thoughts was he referring to? Are these desires and thoughts in your heart today? Is your heart loyal to God? Are there areas you want to be more loyal to God? How?
  4. What do you most look forward to in God’s Coming Kingdom?

Being the Church Jesus Wants to Return To

My boss recently traveled to Turkey with his father who is a Biblical unitarian pastor to see some Biblical historical sites and came back with lots of stories. He did not bring me back any Turkish delight, but he provided a pretty neat church history lesson in the middle of our therapy department this week. He talked about Constantine, the Roman Catholics, church disputes and the historic structure he toured called the Hagia Sophia, that has apparently withstood centuries of empires/turmoils in what is now Istanbul. Though I know a little bit about Constantine and find history pretty interesting, this place he mentioned was completely new to me. Hearing it was from the 400’s and some of the history behind it had us all talking about the nature of conflict that is always a part of world history and church history. And some if it explains a lot.

Arguments and divisions are nothing new in societies or religious organizations. I use the term religious organization because sometimes I hate to even taint the word “church” more than it already is. As followers of Christ we are part of the greater church. The true church. Not the Sunday morning entertainment center or tax exempt non-for-profit club. We are part of the body of Christ/church family that transcends state lines, continents, races, and generations. And within that church we are to be unified in truth/purpose and actively loving one another more while serving ourselves less.

When we think of “church” today, any number of ideas might come to our minds, though I am not sure much of them are what the New Testament church would have hoped for centuries later. If anyone wants a very convicting laugh…..check out the YouTube video “Drive Thru Church”.  A friend shared this with me and it just rang so true. But, maybe we’d have less of a consumer-driven attitude if we, as the body of Christ, were consistently doing what we were called to do. And that calling is high, but worth it. There is a day coming sooner rather than later when it seems that the true church is going to need to become more and more distinct from those who slap that name on their seeker-sensitive organizations or lukewarm social gatherings Jesus tells us he wants to spit out of his mouth. But, this isn’t the time for the pot to call the kettle black. It is the time to ensure that each of us is prioritizing his/her relationship with God and His family, loving the “one another” of the church body, and together upholding the inerrant Word of God as representatives of His kingdom.

Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching”  Hebrews 10:25

“I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21

–Jennifer Hall

Keep at the Bible reading plan. Today’s passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Job 21-22 and 2 Corinthians 12

Bearing Fruit

A few years ago, my friend from church, Terri Tschaenn, gave me a single piece of a cactus that was broken off from her huge cactus plant. I put it in a small pot not knowing what to expect, and I have to say that thing has grown so many shoots and sprouts and whatever new chunks of cactus might be called…..I am now onto a third pot myself and it has been pretty cool to see that thing grow and spread! While I am still learning to be careful with the nasty little prickers, I can tell I am going to have cactus to share! So, if I gave one chunk of cactus to 12 friends, and in a few years they gave one piece to 12 more friends, imagine how fast Terri’s cactus could spread. In fact, she told me that several other people she knows have cacti started from her plant.

As Christians, we are called to remain in the vine and produce fruit. One way we see the evidence of fruit is in disciples. John 15:8  tells us:

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Bearing fruit to God’s glory is not found in the number of likes on a post that happens to have a Bible verse in it, not in the number of people who show up at our “church” event or the people who follow us/like us/or think we are really “nice”. Fruit isn’t measured the way society measures it at all. In fact, probably most numbers society uses for a gauge of success would demonstrate the exact opposite in the sense of bearing fruit that Jesus asks of us.

Jesus had his disciples. Paul had his team. Scripture speaks of a called-out body of people loving one another, teaching, edifying, building up, holding accountable, sharing, confessing sins, forgiving sins. We all have a circle of influence and relationships, and those relationships with followers of Jesus are the ones prioritized above all else in no uncertain terms.

Matthew 12:48-50

New International Version

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

If we are to call ourselves a Christian or follower of Christ, we had better seriously consider those we yoke ourselves with and recognize that our church family is our family. We all benefit from being discipled and from discipling and we have a responsibility to seek those with spiritual maturity and a shared relationship with God to grow alongside as brothers/sisters.

-Jennifer Hall

For those following along with the yearly Bible reading plan, you can read or listen to today’s Bible passages at BibleGateway here – Job 19-20 and 2 Corinthians 11

Current Events & Proverbs

When I first started reading my Bible regularly as a teenager, my youth pastor suggested reading a Proverb each day because they were full of wisdom and you can read one for each day of the month. Years later, I heard my pastor at the time, John Railton, suggest the same to his church. I have implemented that strategy intermittently over the years, and while I don’t do it every month,  I have come to learn that the book of Proverbs is a terrific source of reading for wisdom/comfort/practical teachings. I would definitely recommend reading words from “wise King Solomon” to anyone! And, no matter how many times I read them, I still find new lessons and comforts.

Just this week I was reading Proverbs 3, and found a few of them to be very relevant with what I had read a few minutes before in the current events of this world! In fact, if there is one thing that makes me realize how much I need to read the Bible more, it is reading the news these days. So, in case a few words of wisdom that brightened my day brightens yours, here goes. And there are lots more where these came from. Smack dab in the middle of your Bible. Or under “P” in your trusty Bible app.

Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.

And a few more wise words of comfort, verses 21-26

21 My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
    preserve sound judgment and discretion;
22 they will be life for you,
    an ornament to grace your neck.
23 Then you will go on your way in safety,
    and your foot will not stumble.
24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
    when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25 Have no fear of sudden disaster
    or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
26 for the Lord will be at your side
    and will keep your foot from being snared.

-Jennifer Hall

Keep up with that Bible reading plan – read or listen at BibleGateway here – Job 17-18 and 2 Corinthians 10

Little Magic Screens

If you had told me as a youth, when I was attending FUEL, that there would be these little boxes you held and talked to and they could tell you anything, connect you to anyone, and navigate/track you anywhere, I would have thought that sounded as futuristic as the Jetsons. Yeah, I remember the Jetsons. On our little black and white antenna TV that required you walking over to turn the knob to channels A, B, D, and some numbers too I think.

If there is one thing that has changed the world over its history, it has been technological developments! I remember my Great Grandma, who died at 103 in Oregon, Illinois,  telling us that when she was a child there were still wars going on with the American Indians over land and people rode horses to church…. and by the end of her life, people were flying across the world, driving cars with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, and going into space.  My family was really impressed to hear what had changed in her century. But, change has always been a part of life and always will be- just like Ecclesiastes tells us. Despite the advancements she saw, she never knew what a cell phone or the internet was, but when we went to visit her we didn’t bring work, Zoom meetings, social media, texts or ask her to take a selfie with us. She would have undoubtedly been fascinated with our magic screens and boxes and always loved to hear about current events. But, I think there is a very good chance if she told me them today amidst the stream of visual/auditory distractions and demands that are in front of me, I wouldn’t have truly heard them enough to remember them 30 years later.

There are pros and cons to technology and our culture/work/schools are built on technology which I am sure will continue to increase between now and Jesus’s return.  Technology isn’t inherently bad and I am grateful for many aspects of it. You are obviously reading this on some sort of device yourself. But, until the kingdom, we know there will continue to be deceit and intentional battles to draw us away from God and to the world, and those wars seem to be running rampant in our little magic screens and virtual worlds. We live amidst crafty deceivers. Enticing distractions. Ones sometimes masquerading as “neutral” when they are anything but, and instead are very effective at destroying spiritual minds and health.

As an occupational therapist, part of my job is working with children with sensory processing challenges. They are absolutely exploding in frequency, and the screen addictions, visual problems, learning/attention problems, and social/mental health challenges associated with too much technology/screen time are very very real. I am reading the book “12 ways your phone is changing you” by Tony Reinke and learned that the average American checks his/her phone every 4 minutes.   How often does the average American pray? Does the “average American” even pray? How often does the average follower of Christ spend time with God? Even think of God at all? The list of convicting questions could go on and on. As technology and culture continue to change, we have one source of constancy we are asked to hold onto. That can be very hard.  I don’t have the solution, but God does.  And we can be thankful that He never changes and doesn’t require an IT department to access.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  James 4:8

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Luke 5:16

-Jennifer Hall

If you’ve been working on the SeekGrowLove Bible reading plan this year – keep it up! You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 15-16 and 2 Corinthians 9

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