Birth Pains

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 24 and Genesis 47 & 48

               I have never had a baby.  Shocker, I know!  As a male member of the human race the act of childbirth has and will forever elude my lived experience.  However, as a father of eleven Fletchers, I have spent many years of my adult life in the company of pregnant women, or more precisely, a pregnant woman.  I was there for all eleven births and I caught most of them (the last one came so quickly that I caught him solo).  All this is to offer to you my credentials that, although never directly experiencing labor, I have been present for enough births to recognize the various stages that women go through in childbirth.  Fun fact, for women who have more than one baby the Braxton Hicks contractions (otherwise known as false labor) can come several weeks or even months before the baby is actually born.  Braxton Hicks contractions are one way that the body prepares itself for labor.  It’s like an athlete doing warm up exercises before the actual event.   Muscles tighten and relax as they practice for the real thing when it comes. 

                Today’s devotion isn’t really about childbirth, it’s about being prepared for the return of Jesus Christ, the end of this present age and the preparation for the age to come, the Kingdom of God.  Matthew 24 is known as the “little apocalypse”.  Apocalypse is another term for Revelation.  In the Bible the book of Revelation is 22 chapters long and goes into a lot of detail about the end of this age and the coming of Jesus.  Matthew 24 is a condensed version, kind of a mini-sermon Jesus preached to his followers shortly before he went to the cross.  (You will run across parallel or “synoptic” passages when we get to Mark 13 and Luke 21 in just a few days/weeks).

                Jesus’ purpose here is to prepare his followers to be ready for times of great tribulation or distress that would come immediately prior to his return.  If you’ve ever read or heard a sermon about the apocalypse or the end of the world or Armageddon you probably are aware that Jesus warned that before things get amazingly better- ie. The New Heavens and the New Earth, Christ returning to rule over all the world bringing a final end to all sin and death and setting free the whole earth from the “curse” of death… before things get amazingly better, there will be a time when they become incredibly hard.

                A brief study of the history of the Church for the last 2000 years will show that Christians have gone through hard times a lot.  In the first 2 centuries the problem was the Roman Empire.  Followers of Jesus were often told that they had to renounce their loyalty to Jesus and declare their loyalty to Caesar alone.  When they refused, some of them were thrown to the lions or burned at the stake.

                Since Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire it has faced challenges in many parts of the world at different times.  In the 17th century Christian missionaries in Japan were killed for their faith.  In the 1930’s Christians in Germany who failed to support Hitler faced severe persecution and some, most notably Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were executed for resisting Nazism.  Christians in Communist China and the Soviet Union experienced incredible persecution during most of the 20th century.  There are places in the Islamic world today where Christians who attempt to proselytize Muslims face the threat of execution.

                Every generation of Christians since the first century could look at what was happening in the world and see the potential for the end of the world.  Jesus’ own disciples asked him right after his resurrection, before he ascended to God, “Is it NOW, Lord?” (Acts 1:6).

                2020 was a really challenging year with Covid, racial division, murder hornets, wildfires and hurricanes.  I had a lot of people asking me if I thought the end of the world was coming.  Perhaps you’ve wondered that yourselves.

                Matthew 24 is a great place to go when you start wondering if this is the end.  Like a woman who is going to have a baby, she may have “birth pangs” for a long time before the baby is actually ready to be born.  The same is true with the coming Kingdom of God.  I think every generation of Christians experience some amount of persecution or “natural” disasters or other tragedies that leave them wondering if the end could be near.  Just as Braxton Hicks contractions are God’s way of preparing a woman to give birth by having her muscles practice for the big event, God permits every generation to experience a certain amount of trials and tribulations to help prepare God’s people for the final “great push” that will occur right before Jesus returns.

                Jesus himself said that no one knows exactly when he will return.  He said that even he doesn’t know.  That is something that only God knows.  What Jesus does say to his disciples then and to us today is that we need to stay ready, we shouldn’t fall asleep in our faith.  He warns that as troubles and persecution increase and as the world becomes a less loving and more violent place that many of his followers would fall away:

                “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10-12).

                Jesus might come very soon. I can’t predict when.  All I can do is make sure that I’m ready whenever he does come.  I must make sure that I stay faithful and don’t turn away even if the persecution gets really bad.  I think Christians living in the United States are getting ready to face some real persecution in the near future.  In fact, I think we already are.  There is a lot of pressure to conform to the changing norms of society.  Cancel culture will not have any respect for Christianity.  Some of the things that the Bible teaches about how we are supposed to live, particularly in areas of morality, sexuality and gender norms are considered anathema by the current progressive climate.  As people place more value on becoming “woke” more followers of Jesus, young and old will be persecuted if they fail to change their values.  Remember, Caesar doesn’t like to be rejected as God, neither does the devil, and neither do the progressive elites.  In the wake of the coming persecution Jesus our Lord tells us to “stand firm.”

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

You are Invited!

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 22 and Genesis 43 & 44

What was the best party you have ever been to? How did you get invited? What was your relationship with the host? With the guest of honor? Who else was there? What did you wear?

Or, maybe there was a party you were invited to that you didn’t make time for? Perhaps you didn’t really know the guest of honor that well so you weren’t too interested. Or maybe you were mad at the host so you stayed away? Or you figured it would be boring since they didn’t have (insert hobby/entertainment of choice). But then, come to find out – you missed out on the party of the century.

Jesus knew we like to talk about parties. Wedding receptions are particularly exciting – and royal wedding parties top the charts. So what a perfect parable and analogy for the Kingdom God is preparing. God is the King – and as host of the party he decides who to invite to this event of all events which will honor His Son – Jesus.

The guest list starts out somewhat small and elite which is very fitting for a royal party. The Jews were the first to be invited to the party. They could trace their heritage back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the fathers of the faith. But, they ignore their invite and the God who sent it. They don’t even RSVP. God sends his servants out as messengers (the prophets and those who speak for God) to remind God’s people of the graciousness of their host and the splendor of the party. But, the potential guests of the party are too deep into other things – their fields, their businesses, their homes, their selfish pursuits, their false gods. Most just ignore God’s messengers – but some decide the best way to decline the invite is through violence. In rage they attack God’s messengers, even killing some. For a time they may have thought they got away with it. But, God knows and delivers judgment.

The guests didn’t show but the party isn’t cancelled. God sends his messengers again. They hit the streets with new invitations. “Invite them all,” says the host. It no longer matters who your great great great grandfather was. It doesn’t matter who you were or what you did. Old, young, rich, poor, men, women, children, black, white, and every color in between. You are invited! And all your neighbors in the world are invited! Let the party begin.

But, wait – that’s not yet the end of the parable or God’s expectations. The host has indeed invited all and is ready to receive all into His Kingdom Party. But, you must come dressed appropriately for the party so you aren’t tossed out. No, God won’t check to see if you have a designer label – but He will check to make sure you have clothed yourself with salvation. To accept your invitation accept God’s Son as the only way to salvation. And then put on the robes of righteousness – seek to live the life that will bring glory to the Father and the Son. There are many passages that continue the analogy of being properly clothed with righteousness, not stained with sin – some are Job 29:14, Isaiah 61:10, Jude 23, Revelation 3:4 and 19:8).

The greatest party ever to come is about to begin and you and all your neighbors are invited. Don’t turn down the invite because you are mad at God or don’t know Jesus well or are busy at home and work. Accept His invitation. Come to the party. But don’t make the fatal error of trying to sneak in unprepared. Accept His Son and clothe yourself with righteousness. Make sure your neighbors know they are invited and help them select their proper attire.

And then – let the party begin!

-Marcia Railton

Naked

Genesis 3-4 and Matthew 2

One of the more lingering adolescent experiences was changing for gym in the middle school locker room. I can still smell the dense body orders and feel the salty mist hanging in the air. I tried to get to the gym early, that way I didn’t have to skimp down to my drawers in front of everyone.  As a kid that was called “dough boy” in the last two years of middle school, I definitely had some heightened body image issues that directly correlated with my self-esteem.   Taking your clothes off in front of people (or having people take them off in front of you) can be pretty embarrassing to say the least.  Thankfully, I powered through those moments, but can say without a doubt that I didn’t like and still am not a fan of dressing out.

“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” Gen 2:25

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” – Genesis 3:7

The Garden of Eden was originally a nudist colony of two residents: Adam and Eve.  The thing is, they had no idea that they were even exposed.  I have thought about this a great deal (in a less picturing, more vicarious way), and came to peace with nakedness neither being the sweat-building, panic-inducing deal that it was in my middle school locker room, nor the lust-driven, eye-catching act that entangles many men and women (but especially men).  It isn’t a source of shame or sexuality.   If there is no sin, we are free to walk around naked.  Now this is not a call to rip off all your clothes and walk out into the world in your birthday suit.  Remember, you don’t live in Eden.  Sin still exists.

As we do everything we can to walk closer with God in his garden, We might expose ourselves in a different way.  First, we come before God honestly.  When we pray, let’s not hide or lie.  God already knows the truth.  It may be completely shameful what we have done.  We may field consequences from God, but isn’t open repentance much better than the persisting falsehood?  If we live a lie long enough, we will begin to believe it over what God is directly telling us.  Also, we can live more exposed in front of others. Again, clothes on.  Shame is the depressant that keeps us from forgiveness and moving forward.  Being vulnerable, sharing the most disastrous parts of your testimony, can be tougher than any middle school locker room.  You open yourself up to the loss of opportunities, ridicule, and even persecution.  It doesn’t matter.  God, who works all things together, will turn your shame into His glory, and in the process you will be restored.

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a groom puts on a turban, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. – Isaiah 61:10

Now, there may be a few pistons firing, making the connection that the Kingdom of God will bring about something similar to a second Eden.  If so, will we be naked?  Thankfully, there does seem to be some subtle statements about being clothed, at least with a crown and a smile, but the reality is it will not matter.  We will be made new and complete in the most ultimate version there is.  No sin.  No shame.  So, naked or not, here I come.

Thank you all for the opportunity to share my faith with you this week.  I pray that 2021 holds many blessings from God, and we all have the provision, strength, and wisdom to pursue whatever path he has laid out for our lives.

-Aaron Winner

SeekGrowLove.com Editor: Welcome to the Second day of our 2021 Bible reading plan! Print your copy below so you can mark and keep track of your progress. Most days we will read 2 Old Testament chapters and 1 chapter from the New Testament or Proverbs or a few Psalms. Every week we have a new devotions writer who will either write about the daily readings – OR – they may write all week on one Biblical theme they would like to pursue further. Tomorrow, we begin the first theme week as Greg Landry takes a closer look at Creation. We look forward to together Seeking God, Growing our Faith and Loving more and more this year!

Good Riddance, Best Riddance

Revelation 19-22

More than any year in recent history, people are looking forward to the closing of 2020.  There is no magical spell that will make our worries disappear as the zero turns to a one, yet for many there will be a great sigh; a new year brings a new promise.  There are some prognosticators who say the worst is yet to come, yet for some reason, I have a renewed sense of hope. I have longed for an eventual reprieve, rest, and relief from restrictions.  The whole world is longing to move forward, and see 2020 left on the side of the road in the rearview mirror, “Good riddance. Goodbye.” as we blow it a sardonic kiss. Mwwahh.

As we have seen in our time with Revelation this week, any break we have is temporary because the worst is yet to come <balloon pops>.  The pandemic we have seen up to this point will pale in comparison to the plagues preceding the Kingdom of God.  Although there has been some pretty intense weather and natural disasters this year, this isn’t even close to what is being forecasted for future calamities.  While many wars have waned in the wake of coronavirus, war will be truly inescapable, pressing in on all sides before the coming of Christ.  It is so true that grief, sorrow, exhaustion, frustration, and anxiety have been intensely felt in 2020, and I would never make light of that, but when compared to the longing of the earth that is to come, it will easily eclipse all we have felt this year.  The people, and the earth itself, will be longing more than ever for refreshing.

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:  Hallelujah!  For our Lord God Almighty reigns!  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. – Revelation 19:6,7

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:3,4

The best news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ultimate reprieve will come alongside our Lord and Savior. This will be the greatest of all welcomes and simultaneously, the best of all riddances.  While we can retain some small hope that our life will return to the way it was a year ago, was it not still filled with tears, death, mourning, crying, pain, the entirety of the whole old order?  To long for a return to 2019, or even a better version of the past, is similar to the cry of the children of Israel in the desert to return to Egypt because at least their bellies were full there (Ex 16:2,3).  Life as we know it (or even knew it) is marginally mediocre when we compare it to what is in store for us.  If we are to cry out, to groan, to bemoan, let us do so as people who are ready to be rid of our sin and the captivity it has placed upon us and the earth once and for all (Ex 2:23). Our present suffering, no matter how great, is nothing compared to the glory that awaits.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Rom 8:18-22

-Aaron Winner

If you have been reading along all year, congratulations! Today we read the final chapters of God’s Inspired Word – Revelation 19-22.

Tomorrow we begin a New Year and a New 2021 Bible reading plan! Every day we will read 2 passages – an Old Testament passage (usually just 2 chapters) and a New Testament or Psalms/Proverbs passage (often just one chapter or a few short Psalms). Our writers may write about one of the day’s passages, or some will choose to write all week on a chosen theme, giving us the opportunity to dive a little deeper into some relevant subject matter and what Scripture teaches on that topic.

Print your copy of our Bible reading plan below – and let’s see what God has to tell us in 2021! Seek Him! Grow Your Faith! Love!

Do Not Weep

Revelation 4-8

There is much to take in with today’s reading as John describes the throne room of heaven and the events that unfold, marking the Kingdom of God being set into motion.  There are angels, horsemen, and elders, each executing and exacting the will of God.  If you are a bit overwhelmed by today’s reading, you are not alone. John, who spent more time with Jesus than most, is still awestruck by the worship of God happening before him, and he is doing his best to describe heavenly things for which there is no earthly vocabulary (something important to keep in mind as we examine the remainder of this book and prophecy).  With a resounding question, John’s attention is drawn to the hand of God:

“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Rev 5:2-4

John weeps, for the content of the scroll could very well never be known.  Salvation’s plan locked inside this scroll with no one on heaven or earth who is worthy of removing the seven seals that keep it shut.  This is seemingly the end of the road.  Without a Savior, life on earth has no redemption.  This is most definitely worth a weep, knowing that for some, their story stops here.  They have put everything in what they alone can achieve, yet they are like every other creature in heaven and on earth.  Without the hope delivered in the next verses, all that would remain is remorse and regret (Luke 13:27,28).

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Rev 5:5

Salvation is a gift of God, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8,9).  In the moments when we are overcome with great grief, sense the defeating drift of sin, are lost or lonely, feel pressed or persecuted, let Jesus Christ step forward. Do not reach deeper into empty stores, pour out of a broken vessel, or pick up the shattered pieces; let him do what we cannot.  We need only lift our heads – to pray, to seek, to take heart – as we listen to the words of the elder that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has triumphed.  He will step forward and unfurl a new banner, renewing and restoring the purpose of our life. He alone is worthy to open the scroll, yet we are indeed the beneficiaries of the prize of his propitiation.

And they sang a new song, saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Rev 5:9

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 4-8.

Tomorrow we continue with chapters 9-13.

The Time is Near

Revelation 1-3

It is very likely that at the time of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, he was the last living apostle of Christ.  In his final days, he was banished to the Greek island of Patmos for his preaching and prophesying, both viewed as ways of stirring up unwanted rebellion in the Roman Empire.  It is here that he is delivered a vision of final days before the return of Christ.  Of the men that followed Jesus, John may have had the least cruel fate. According to scripture or historical accounts, all had been killed – stoned, clubbed, crucified, beheaded, and speared – preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, doing everything in their power to fulfill their commission (Acts 1:4-8) and reach the ends of the earth before the return of their friend and Savior. The disciples preached the Kingdom of God as something that would be seen by the generation they spoke to or the coming one. There was an extraordinary emergency to their message. And yet, 2000 years or so later, here we are.

I am reminded of my internal adolescent rebuttal when hearing Christ was coming soon — “If Jesus Christ has not come in the last 100 generations, why should I think that he will come in mine?” Through our reading this week, we will unpack the message of John and, like many before us, apply his words to the time and place that we live in.  We live in interesting times, but so have many generations before us.  They each had their own political unrest, plagues, and natural phenomenon.  With all the challenges of this year included, to live in the United States as a Christian is still pretty easy by comparison to many places in the world today, and most definitely effortless compared to the challenges faced by apostles of Christ.  For many of us, our ease of living has led us to share (or not) a complacent gospel.   This was already happening in the days of John; a symptom shared by many of the churches in Revelation 2 & 3.  As you read this week, consider the following to renew your sense of urgency to the Gospel message and reinstate Christ’s Kingdom as the centerpiece of your daily purpose:

1.   You are always a single breath away from the Kingdom of God.  No person knows the day or hour of his/her death. We must live our life to be found in Christ, not wait for signs of his return and scramble our way to grace.  The thing is, if you’re waiting for signs before you live out the Gospel, you will be distracted, diverted, or disconnected (Matt 25:1-13, Parable of the Ten Virgins).  “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:13,14

2.  No one, except the Father, knows the day or the hour Christ returns.  The days before Christ arrival will be as in the days of Noah (Matt 24:38) –  people will be married, there will be parties, children will be born, parents will send their teens to college, couples will be building their dream homes, and many will be working hard to retire early (v.40-42).  Despite the best efforts of John to deliver his prophecy, many will be caught unaware of the harbingers of Christ’s return. Because of this, it is imperative we deliver the Gospel message wherever our feet are on the daily. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:36,37 

3. Many of the dramatic events that unfold in Revelation will happen within a single generation.  God has been working on His salvation plan since the foundations of the world (Col 1:16) with the culmination being (spoilers ahead) the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth.  According to the words of Jesus and the vision of John there are compounding and intensifying events as seals are opened and the wrath of God being poured out. Natural wonders, dramatic plagues, famines, wars, and a global political climate will feed off one another and spur along the intervention and return of Christ.  If this year has taught us one thing, it is how fast the world can change with some of these elements aligned; however, the ignition point for the return of Christ is already set.  There will be a fire that follows and it will consume quickly; the temperature need only rise a bit more. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things <Matt 24:14-33> take place.” – Matthew 24:34

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Revelation 1:3

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 1-3

Tomorrow we continue Revelation with chapters 4-8.

Luke 14-15

I love enjoying Sunday dinner with others. Sharing a potluck or going out to eat together is great, but in our reading we see Jesus was invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee where he was being carefully watched. Some of the leaders had been listening very carefully to Jesus, but not to learn from him. They hoped to find fault with Jesus and to catch him in something he said then report him to the authorities. Imagine being a guest at this table. You have the opportunity to sit and eat with the Son of God. You have the chance to hear his teaching. But these leaders are so blind that they are trying to set a trap for Jesus. The leaders get their wish because a man who is suffering is there. Of course, out of compassion the Lord heals the man. Rejoicing should have happened around this table, but instead Jesus has to explain that healing on the Sabbath is doing good and it is acceptable.

Jesus noticed that these guests were picking the places of honor at the table. They were self-promoting and needed to learn the importance of humility that Jesus illustrates through a parable of taking the lowest position at a feast.  Explaining that “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  

Jesus then teaches that meals should be given for the less fortunate, which will result in the host being blessed and repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Someone at Jesus table said to him, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus then used a parable to explain that the “stuff of life” should never keep us from accepting the invitation we have received from the Lord to the great banquet He has prepared for us. When we count the cost of being a disciple, we realize that giving up the things of this life are a small price to sit at the Kingdom feast table. As Christ said “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom.” I love that he states that there are places for us at that feast (reserved seating). Each person is important to God as we see in Chapter 15. Stay close to our Heavenly Father and rejoice when those that are lost are found. Remember that we will one day celebrate like never before around our Father’s table at the Kingdom feast.

~ Rebecca Dauksas

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 14-15.

Tomorrow we will read Luke 16:1-17:10.

The Shepherd

Ezekiel 32-34

Ezekiel 33 and 34 cover leadership, how Ezekiel cannot be an effective leader and how God will one day lead Israel directly and be their shepherd. 

30 “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” (Ezekiel 33:30-32 NIV)

Ezekiel is a leader over God’s people, but he cannot lead effectively if they will not listen to him.  Ezekiel has been proclaiming God’s word to the people for a few years now and telling them of the judgements of God and the consequences of their actions, and they have been collectively taking his messages about as seriously as you would a street performer’s.  I think that a lot of people go to church today because they want to hear nice things from the pastor and they enjoy how energetic and uplifting the speaker can be, but unless you are being pushed to change your ways and grow closer to God and step outside of your comfort zone, then you might be like the Israelites here, with the word of God going in one ear and out the other.  Hearing the word is not enough, you have to listen and change.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-16 NIV)

I think that this looks forward to two different times.  First it looks to the time after the death of Jesus when the sins of mankind can be covered by Jesus’ blood and man can go directly to God, without the need for an earthly priest and a temple and daily sacrifices.  I think that Jesus was even alluding to this chapter when he told the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the one, basically telling the Israelites that God was ready to begin this new type of relationship with them that he had told them about during the time of Ezekiel.  

I think that this verse also looks forward to the Kingdom of God when he will reign as the perfect shepherd over all those who have believed.  At the time of Ezekiel this was very far away, and Jesus had not begun his ministry, and the Church was not yet established, but God still had a plan.

Revelation 21:3

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 

Thanks for joining us this week as we have been going through Ezekiel.  It is not a book that we know particularly well and we are glad that we have had this time to study it.

Chris and Katie-Beth Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ezekiel+32-34&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will be reading Ezekiel 35-37 as we continue our Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 35-36

Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

The book of Isaiah holds many judgments against Israel, Judah, and all the nations surrounding them. Page after page contains descriptions of how God will deal with these people, because of the sin that they commit. In the midst of this, there are glimpses of a wondrous hope to come and worship God in his future kingdom. We see the beautiful future that God has prepared for all those who love him despite the brokenness of our current realities. 

Isaiah 35 describes this future in a continuation of the prophecy beginning in Isaiah 34. In Isaiah 34, Edom’s eventual punishment and destruction is described: “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her soil into sulfur” (v. 9). In this place, jackals, hyenas, goats, birds of prey, and snakes will gather – all symbols of destruction and brokenness (v. 14-15). The very land has turned bitter and worthless under the consequence of sin. In contrast to this, Isaiah 35 describes the land of the Israelites as a desert that blossoms like a rose (v. 1). In this place, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness and streams in the desert; the parched ground will become a pool of water and the thirsty land springs of water” (v. 5-7). Unlike the land of Edom, in the redeemed land, “There will be no vicious beast, but the redeemed will walk on it” (v. 9). In fact, the places where the vicious beasts resided, like the lairs of jackals, will be turned into a meadow of grass, reeds, and papyrus (v. 7). A road will go through this land called the Holy Way; “the unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Even the fool will not go astray” (v. 8). This path will lead up to the mountain of God where the people will come to worship God. 

We live in an incredibly broken world that seems like it is full of vicious beasts and people bent on destroying themselves and others. We can see the consequences of sin in the hurt that is being done so carelessly to everyone, including our most vulnerable. We can rest in the hope that this will not always be the way the world will be. Those that would be overlooked by society and viewed as less than are the very people that God includes in the description of his future kingdom: the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. These are the people who lead the way for praising God’s redemption of the land. We will not always live in these broken times. We can trust that one day streams of water will flow through the desert and the whole world will blossom like a rose. In fact, through the Holy Spirit, we can begin to redeem our time here for God and be his hands and feet in this broken world. How can you bring the living water to those around you? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 35-36.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 23-27

God makes a way in spite of our brokenness.

Isaiah was a prophet in Israel during some very difficult times due to the fact that Israel had to a great extent departed from the true worship of God and were not keeping the commandments as God instructed.  Due to rebellion Israel was divided into two kingdoms.  The Northern Kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom was referred to as Judah in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah.  These two divisions were adversarial toward each other.  Isaiah was a prophet in Judah over 700 years before the birth of Jesus.  It might be mentioned that Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah later over 600 years before Jesus.  The sinful departure from serving God continued during the times of both prophets.  Perhaps the sinful conditions then were much like and to the degree of the sinfulness that is prevalent in today’s world.  God through these prophets warned Israel that there would be serious consequences of their sin, but they would be greatly blessed if they returned to faithful service to God.  Unfortunately, Israel did not heed the words of the prophets and made bad choices by continuing in their sinful ways.  Indeed, there were serious consequences resulting from their sinful behaviors.  We also have to make similar choices almost daily.  There are blessings when we make choices pleasing to God.  As previously stated, the sinfulness of Judah continued until about 600 years before Jesus.  God withdrew his protection and they were attacked by the Babylonians.  About 606 BC the Babylonians conquered and took the entire population of Judah from their homeland to the land of the Babylonians where they were to be servants of the Babylonians for 70 years.  After the fall of the Babylonian Empire they were permitted to return to their original homeland and to restore their worship of God.

In spite of all the sins of Judah, God never ceased to love them.  In Isaiah 27 God promises a brighter day for Israel when they will no longer be divided and when they are turned from their sinful ways to serve and obey God.  These blessings will happen after Jesus returns and establishes the Kingdom of God.

We can learn much from the experiences of Israel.  We all have sinned and that includes everyone.  Yet, God loves mankind so much that He gave his only begotten son as a sacrifice for our sins, John 3:16.  Today we live in a world with many problems and challenges.  This week we are not at FUEL because of a very serious and deadly virus.  There is strife and unrest in our nation often leading to violence. There are a number of wars in the world.  Although we live in difficult times, we like Israel are confronted with choices.  God has something better ahead for us if we choose to serve him today and accept his son Jesus – The Wonderful Kingdom of God is promised for us!

~ Joe James

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in 2 Kings 18:1-8 & 2 Chronicles 29-31 & Psalm 48 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.