Standing in the Gap

Ezekiel 22-23

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Within chapter 22 of Ezekiel we see different messages that God is trying to send to us through His prophet that are about Judah and Jerusalem.  We see all the ways that they sinned and that God is going to punish them because of their sins.

 

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols,  you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made.” (Ezekiel 22:3,4)

 

In many ways our society does these same things.  The violence against minorities and the bloodshed in our streets in recent times has gotten to the point where many cannot take it any longer, and it is starting to rip our society apart.  The continued war against the unborn has cooled down compared to decades past, but continues to claim hundreds of thousands of innocent lives per year.

 

Our society also excels at creating new idols and finding things to worship besides God.  We have gotten so good at it that we dedicate whole tv shows to it.  Covid has helped to highlight some of the idols in our lives.  If the loss of a season of football or the delay of a tv show has you devastated, then that might be an idol for you.

 

In the day of Ezekiel God looked through the land for a person who could intercede for Israel before him, like Moses did when God saw the Israelites making the calf to worship and wanted to wipe them out.  Sadly this time God did not find such a person, Ezekiel was only there to record God’s word and pass it on to the people, so God’s judgement was poured out on the people when the Babylonians invaded.

 

 “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 22:30-31)

 

All of the Israelites welcomed sin into their lives and did not try to fight it, and in many ways our society today welcomes sin and chases after it.  If we follow their example and do not fight against sin then we will end up on the wrong side of things when God again pours out his wrath on the earth because of the overwhelming sin and corruption on earth. This is a call to action for us to stand firm on the battlements, even if we are alone, and fight against idolatry and evil, so that when Jesus returns he will find some righteous people left.

Chris and Katie-Beth Mattison

 

 

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at the Biblegateway site by clicking here – Ezekiel 22-23

Tomorrow’s reading will be Ezekiel 24-27 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Don’t Be a Hater

Proverbs 10-12

Proverbs 10 12 NIV sgl

I have a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling in my head after the death of George Floyd and all the events surrounding it afterward.  There is a lot to dig into and talk about, but I am going to keep this devotion simple by sharing some very pertinent verses from our reading in Proverbs today.

Proverbs 10:12 starts out by saying that hatred stirs up conflict.  Well, that has certainly been proven true.  If you want to dig to the core of this whole problem, racism, you will find hatred there.  People have chosen to hate someone based on the color of their skin.  Some of this hate is intense, and unfortunately leads to death at times, but there are also many people that carry with them a milder form of hate that still makes the problem worse even though it may not be so blatant.

So how should we combat hatred?  The second part of verse 12 says that love covers over all wrongs.  Love is what is needed to make this situation better.  Considering everything that has happened, you might not be feeling that right now.  There is a lot of anger out there, and it is ok to get angry sometimes.  Some things are worth getting angry over. However, that anger can’t last.  It will ruin you and those around you if you hold on to anger for too long.  There have been many wrongs through the years that can’t be undone, but love can cover those wrongs, and forgiveness needs to be part of that love.  The wrongs can be forgotten with forgiveness and love.

You have a choice to make.  Are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?  Proverbs 12:18 states, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  You can speak harshly and blame people for their wrongdoings.  You might even be accurate about what you are saying, but if your tone is cruel and insensitive, it is like piercing them with a sword.  A wise person’s words are softer, gentler, loving, and empathetic, which brings healing.

I think it is safe to say that most people have been feeling anxiety over what has been happening.  The first part of Proverbs 12:25 says that anxiety weighs down the heart.  I’m sure many of you have experienced that during these trying times lately.  The good news is that there is a cure for your heart.  The second part of verse 25 says a kind word cheers it up.  Again, you can choose to speak harshly to others about what they have done wrong and make the wounds worse, or you can say something kind to help make their heart glad.

Proverbs 12:20 goes one step further by saying those who promote peace have joy.  Peace feels so good and it is what most of us strive for.  If you can promote peace, even in very small ways, it will bring joy to your heart.  The only thing that will completely end racism is the return of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up until then.  I encourage you to make this world a better place one person at a time.  You can’t solve this whole problem by yourself, but you can make it better by being a light to the individuals you come into contact with in your daily life.

I am not saying we all need to pretend nothing happened and try to live happily ever after.  There are many conversations that need to take place and changes need to occur.  I am saying that we need to embrace the wise words from scripture and go into those conversations with love, not with hate boiling on the inside.  You also need to search your own heart to see if there is any hatred there, no matter how strong or mild it may be, and rid your heart of that hatred.  Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs.

Rick McClain

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+10-12&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 13-15 as we find more of God’s wisdom on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

This Can’t Be the End

Luke 23

Luke 23 38 NIV
What is it about cliffhangers that people enjoy so much? Writers of television series, movies and series of books know the power that a good story with a delayed ending has on an audience.
Several years ago I went to go see the movie “Catching Fire” the second story of the Hunger Games trilogy. At the conclusion of the very last scene, as the screen went to black, the lady that I was sitting next to exclaimed, “What!?! That’s it?!?” Even though I had read the books, I had forgotten how this particular book ended and I admit that I was also taken aback. So much so, that the next day one of my students was reading the book and I had to borrow it to reread the last chapter to confirm that the movie held true to the book.
Equally shocking was the ending of “Avengers: Infinity War”. How was the universe going to function after The Snap? I would have to wait an entire year to see how the story would come together in the final installment of the Avengers series in Endgame.
Neither of these experiences compares to the reality that people who knew and followed Jesus would have gone through at the time of his death. Was this it? What about the promised Kingdom? What about his anticipated rule and reign over all the earth? This couldn’t be it! But if we stop reading at the end of Luke chapter 23, then we put ourselves in the same position as those first believers.
But hang on just a minute. A really good story teller hides in his or her stories hints and clues of what’s to come. In “Infinity War,” Dr. Strange states that there is one scenario in which Thanos can be beat. It’s this single line that gives viewers a teeny tiny glimpse into what could come next.
Jesus is NOT that obtuse. Thank goodness!!! In fact, Jesus makes it crystal clear what will happen and the order in which it is to happen. In his conversations with his disciples Jesus plainly tells his disciples that he has to go, but that he will return for them. In John 14 Jesus reassures his men that what might seem like the end, is definitely not the end.
So when we read in Luke 23 verses 50-56 of Joseph of Arimathea claiming the body of Jesus and the women who had traveled from Galilee to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, we can take confidence that while it was a very dark day, the Light will shine once more, because Jesus really is KING of all.
Bethany Ligon

How Will You Answer?

Luke Chapter 12

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So much in this chapter keeps pointing back to the Kingdom.  It’s no accident. I have heard some Christians describe life as one big test.  Are you going to live your life in a way that honors God, and thus reap the reward?  Or are you going to live your life for yourself, and be judged accordingly?

 

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 

 

8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 

Luke 12:4-9

 

A young girl that was alleged to have been asked if she believed in God during the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, with the knowledge that answering in the affirmative could end her life, comes to mind when I read those last two passages.  She said yes. Around the world today, people are still being put to death for refusing to deny their faith in Jesus Christ. What would you say in these same circumstances?

 

A bit later, worriers (like me) are advised and encouraged NOT to worry.  Your Heavenly Father will provide what you need. You don’t need to be rich or famous, and in fact, those are huge detriments and distractions from your real purpose anyway.  Don’t let the worries and distractions of this world, which have no impact on your future inheritance, get you off track. Verse 31 says, “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”  God WILL take care of your basic needs. I know there are plenty of things to worry about in this life, but much of our worry ends up having been completely needless. Even when you do have very serious things to be concerned about, remember that no one and no thing can take away your inheritance in the Kingdom.  You need not worry about that.

 

Lastly we are encouraged to be vigilant, always ready to take ownership of the parcel designated as yours in the Kingdom, for we do not know the exact hour Jesus will return, or the exact hour that our time in this world will end.  NOTHING in this temporary world is worth risking your place in the coming eternal world.  

 

Greg Landry

 

Finally Home

 Revelation 21

Revelation 21 3 NIV

I was blessed to bring you this part of Revelation because this chapter means so much to me.
Go back to Revelation 21:3-4 and read it again. And again. And again. 
I don’t want you to read another sentence of this devotion until you dwell on the glorious truth of Revelation 21:3-4. 
 
 
God will be with us. 
 
That’s the goal. I don’t mean the goal of Revelation. The goal of EVERYTHING, everything collectively and every thing individually, is to be connected to the God who created it, who sustains it, who loves it. Everything God did was so that he could be among those who accepted him, so he could be their God. He would have every right to sit in the middle of the city, demanding we come and bow to him and confess our sins and honor and adore him without his speaking to us.
 
But the old order of things has passed. He comes to us. Instead of an unreachable, untouchable King far away and distant, He walks up to us.
 
He walks up to you
He walks up to me
and He wipes away our tears. 
 
 
Think of all the tears you’ve cried. I’ve cried so many. Relationships I’ve hurt. Trust I’ve broken. Loved ones who have been lost. Pain seen in the eyes of my wife and daughter. 
God will not remain distant. He will walk up to me, and he will say “My Son, the old

things are gone, the new have come. Cry no more.” God Himself, the creator of all things, will wipe away my tears.

Rev 21 4

God Himself will wipe away your tears.
God will be among us and be our God.

 

 
Everything else, the grand city, the streets of gold and the walls of precious stones, all these images of the glorified future, everything is icing on the cake. Without God it wouldn’t mean anything. Because God is there among us, it means everything.
 
My brothers and sisters, I can’t wait until your tears are wiped away. I can’t wait until the old is gone and the new has come.
May the Lord Jesus come quickly, prepare the way for his Father, and may God come and be our God. 
Jake Ballard
 
(Jake Ballard is Pastor at Timberland Bible Church in South Bend, IN. He lives in the Michiana Area with his wife and daughter. If you’d like to say hi you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336  You can also hear more teachings at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs_awyI1LyPZ4QEZVN7HqKQ Otherwise, he is available on all hailing frequencies, by using the Palantir, and via carrier pigeon, though it’s getting colder in South Bend. God bless you all!)

Baby Spit-Up – Really?

1 Corinthians 11

1 Corinthians 11 26

Transubstantiation.  It’s a big word that means the belief that when communion bread and wine are taken, they literally become the body and blood of Christ.  The Catholic church holds this view.

A friend of mine was sharing a story recently of a visit to a Catholic church in which he discussed this with the priest.  The priest explained how it was because of this belief that the Catholic church began the tradition of priests placing the communion wafers directly into the mouths of parishioners.

You see, if the bread literally is the body of Christ, how awful if it were to fall and break on the floor.  The lay people of the church did not want to bear this responsibility.  They felt more secure in only having priests handle such a precious treasure.  And thus began this now common tradition.

My friend went on to share how he had asked the priest how this played out when they administer the tiny morsel of communion bread to babies upon baptism.  What if the baby spits the bread up?

The priest has to eat it.

Yup.  Let’s just leave that there and read a couple of verses from our chapter in Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 11: 27-28

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.

Have you ever felt that taking communion can become rote?  Something you do without really thinking?

Clearly God cares that we take this exercise seriously.  But can we agree that we should find a happy medium between mindlessly consuming the bread and the cup and having to eat baby spit-up?

What this passage encourages me to do, and I encourage you to do, is to be mindful during the communion service.  How?

  • Always always always take a moment to pray and examine your heart before the Great God of the universe.
  • Humble yourself.
  • Be quiet.
  • Look around your church and ask God how you can build unity among the body (this instruction from Paul comes, after all, in a section of his letter instructing the Corinthian church on getting along at church).
  • Think about the fact that the last time Jesus participated in this it was the night before he died for you. Maybe thank him for that.
  • Realize that the next time Jesus participates in this he will have come again. Wow!  Maybe ask him how you can get ready for that.

 

-Susan Landry

The Cliffhanger

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Acts 28

Starting with the arrest of Paul in chapter 21, Luke has been steering his readers to a grand finale, where Paul will finally stand in front of the most powerful man in the world to give his testimony. The Apostle endured conspiracies against his life, corruption in government, and finally storms at sea to make it to Rome. Paul was willing to go through all this because he had a clear vision and purpose for his life and knew Rome was where God wanted him to be and the Emperor was who God wanted him to see.

But the conclusion Luke had been building towards is suddenly cut short with Paul under house arrest. We’re not told if he ever got the chance to defend his case before the Emperor, but we can be confident that he did since God said he would. Though exactly how it came about or what happened after is a mystery. There are traditions that say he was acquitted and then brought the Gospel to Spain, but Luke doesn’t confirm or deny it. He just closes his book with a cliffhanger.
So what are we to take away from this saga with the abrupt and unresolved ending and why would Luke decide to leave it the way he did?
Luke began the Book of Acts by reporting the last interactions Jesus had with his disciples before he ascended. He told them that they would be his witnesses in their local regions and then throughout the world. Luke then proceeded to show his readers how the disciples went about doing this. But he left his story open-ended, and he did all this for a reason.
The Acts of the Apostles is about how the disciples carried out the Great Commission and it is left unresolved because the story wasn’t supposed to end with Paul in Rome, it was supposed to progress with disciples continuing to fulfill the final instructions of Jesus. And it did. The reason you’re reading this now is that the witnessing has endured to this day. And it will continue so long as people like you and me keep spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
So don’t worry about this cliffhanger. The final resolution will come when Jesus himself returns to see the fruit of his disciples’ labor and to establish the Kingdom they represent. Until then, we must maintain the work that was started in Christ and continued with his disciples. May the perseverance and commitment of Paul and the rest of the Apostles act as an example for you on your journey and encourage you to remain faithful in the advancement of the Great Commission.
-Joel Fletcher

Investment 101

investment 101

Matthew 25

Jesus just finished telling his disciples to expect His return. Now he tells parables about how we should prepare for the return. It’s always nice to have concrete instructions. These ones are in the form of parables, but they aren’t terribly cryptic.

The first parable is about a wedding. There are a bunch of people waiting to meet up with the groom so that they can go to a feast with him. Initially, there are ten of these people patiently waiting. They were expecting him to arrive during the day, but on his way, he was delayed. Once the sun fell, only five of them stayed to wait for the groom because they were prepared for darkness. They thought ahead and brought extra supplies.

In this parable, Jesus is the groom and we are the virgins or bridesmaids waiting for his arrival. Notice that initially there were many who expected his coming. Most of us reading this believe that Jesus will come back. There have been times in the past when a biblical scholar has declared that he deduced the time at which Jesus would return (you can find a nice list of these occurrences on Wikipedia). I imagine many of the people who ended up believing these claims were disappointed when the proclaimed date rolled by without ushering the Kingdom of God. Many of them probably fell away from faith because they had expected their groom to show up during the day, yet they failed to wait through the night. The same is true now. Even if we don’t see an exact date for His return, we must continue to wait. We must be especially aware that soon the sun will set. Darkness will fall. But that doesn’t mean that the groom has forgotten his people and his feast. In fact, darkness will certainly precede His coming.

The second parable is about a hedge fund manager. This man gives his underlings various amounts of seed money and expects them to use it wisely. More precisely, he expects huge returns out of them. Two of his employees manage to achieve returns of 100%. The final employee merely broke even. Of course, the manager is happy with the first two. The returns that they managed are nearly unheard of. For example, to get a 100% return on your investment today, you would have had to invest in Apple stock 5 years ago (more precisely, April 17, 2014). The parable doesn’t tell us how long the manager was away, just that it was a long time. Long-term investment is one of the safer ways to grow your money and short-term investments are considerably riskier. Perhaps the third employee knew this and said, “Rather than take a loss on my boss’s money, I’ll just sit on it.” Perhaps this employee thought his manager would only be gone for 3 months. If he had invested in Apple stock three months ago, then he would have lost 27% of what he invested. That wouldn’t make the manager terribly happy, but the 0% gains that he presented still provoked the manager’s anger. The manager said that he would be gone for a long time, but the third employee didn’t take that to heart and decided to do nothing.

Shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers. The Holy Spirit is the investment that Jesus gives us. The Spirit gives us each special gifts. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists a few of them: prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leading, showing mercy. These are the talents that Jesus gives to us. He expects us to invest these gifts for the long-term. This might mean pursuing one person for years to show them the Love and Truth of Jesus. In can be risky to try to convert someone in a day, like a short-term investment. You win that person over, but you could also completely ostracize them forever. This short-term investment is certainly not ideal compared to the safer returns of long-term investment in people. Jesus wants to get returns on the gifts that he gives to you. So put them to use for the long-term.

The final parable is like the first two. Some will claim to know Jesus, and some will serve Jesus. Those who serve will be like the sheep, separated from the goats and placed at the right hand of the King. Those who never believed, or who believed but refused to serve, refused to make a return on the investment that Jesus gave them, will be tossed out. They will be tossed out just as the devil himself will be tossed out. But the righteous, those who invest wisely, will receive eternal life.

-Nathaniel Johnson

The Summer Is Near

summer is near

Matthew 24

We are in the middle of the winter right now. I live in Minnesota and we are supposed to see the coldest air temperatures since the year that I was born. We have a predicted high of -13F and a low of -29F. I think I’m just going to throw away all of my shorts and short-sleeved shirts. I’m going to get rid of my swimsuits and sunglasses, too. It will probably be winter for the rest of my life, after all.

Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be for me to do that? Of course, summer is coming, and I’m ready for it. The second coming of Jesus is the same.

Prophecy

“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another.” Jesus tells this to his disciples when they point out the buildings to him. They were probably trying to say how beautiful the architecture is with its gates, porticos and cupolas. Jesus had just said in Chapter 23 that Jerusalem is abandoned and desolate, so his disciples were trying to prove him wrong. Imagine that. Jesus had just gone through the tests and traps of the pharisees. He proceeded to tear them apart and use their behavior as a lesson for everyone else. And then His disciples decided to question Him too. He had to set them straight. He said “I tell you the truth.” He knew that Jerusalem was beautiful but he also knew that it would be destroyed. About 40 years later, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and that city was razed in the process. Josephus, a first-century Jewish scholar, said that over 1 million Jews were killed in that siege. Jerusalem truly did become abandoned and desolate. After this, Jesus’ disciples make another error; they assume that the temple will be destroyed at the end of the world and the return of Jesus. Jesus didn’t go back to the discussion of Jerusalem, but rather discussed the signs of the end of the age, as his disciples asked rather than as they intended.

Signs

There will be many false messiahs. There will be wars, famines and earthquakes. This is the beginning. We can see all of these things already. Just google “man claims to be Jesus.” You’ll find countless examples. There have been many wars, famines and earthquakes even in my short lifetime, but Jesus said that this is just the beginning of birth pains.

Christians will be persecuted, arrested, killed and hated all over the world. Sin will be rampant. We are starting to see this too. In some places more than others, Christians are being persecuted. According to Open Door USA, the worst countries to live in for Christians are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan. In North Korea, if it is discovered that you are a Christian, you can be deported to a labor camp or even killed on the spot. In China, if churches become too large, the government will raid the church and arrest member and leaders alike. In December 2018, a house church was raided by the Chinese police and pastor Wang Yi was arrested. He is a well-known pastor of the Early Rain Convent Church. Thank God that the United States is still largely free of Christian persecution.

But certainly, we are not in the worst of it yet. Jesus says that the anguish seen at the end will be greater than any the world has ever seen. We can think of many times when the world was in anguish greater than now. In the previous century there were multiple wars covering the surface of the Earth, causing widespread anguish.

The final sign will signify Jesus return. People all over the world will be able to see it and then Jesus will gather his people.

Exhortation

This final sign will be so obvious that you don’t need to believe in any of the false prophets coming before Jesus. It will be seen in the east and the west. But you must not be caught off Guard. Jesus uses multiple examples here to try to get that point across. No one expected the sky to open up and to flood the world. Neither will most expect the coming of Jesus. Live righteous lives. Love your neighbor. Repent. Await his return.

-Nathaniel Johnson

“O Holy Night”

O Holy Night

 

The Christmas carol, “O Holy Night” has a fascinating history.  It was first written as a French poem in 1847 by Placide de Roquemaure, and was set to music by Adolphe Charles Adams that same year.  In 1855, the Unitarian minister, John Sullivan Dwight translated the song into English.  The song was made popular in the United States by abolitionist during the American Civil War.  According to tradition, “O Holy Night” played a significant role in causing a Christmas day cease fire during the Franco-Prussian War.  And in 1906 it was the first song ever played over the radio.  You can read more details about the history of the song here, https://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/movies/the-nativity-story/the-amazing-story-of-o-holy-night.aspx, a reprint from “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” by Zondervan.

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees!

O hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine,

Oh night when Christ was born,
O night divine
O night divine.

            One of my favorite lines in the carol is, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”  Jesus came to bring us hope. Paul, in I Timothy 1:1, states that Christ Jesus is our hope.  Peter explains that hope further in I Peter.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (I Peter 1:3-4). “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (I Peter 1:13).  Our hope is in the fact that Jesus died for our sins, was raised back to life, and is coming back to Earth to live with us eternally.

Today, we are accustomed to talking about hope as wishful thinking.  I hope for a large, year-end bonus.  I hope one day the Lions will win the Super Bowl.  I hope to win a new car.  Each of these statements are just my desires or my wishes; they do not foretell the future. However, Jesus came to bring us an entirely certain hope.  A definite hope that cannot change.  The hope talked of in the Bible is not wishful thinking, but rather an absolutely true promise of things to come.  A hope that will never fail us, never disappoint.  We can choose to put our hope in our church, our job, our spouse, or other earthly things.  However, over the course of time all of those options will bring disappointment. On the other hand, living for the promise of the kingdom will bring us perfect, eternal life.

Everyone puts their hope in something.  Kyle Idleman suggests you can tell what you have put your hope in, by observing what you spend your time and money on, or what makes you worried or mad.  So what about you?  What are you putting your hope in?

 

-Jill McClain