Identity: From Death to Life

If I’m honest, today left me feeling weary, burdened, and frustrated along with bit of grief. I know we all have days like that from time to time as it’s just part of living in a broken world. As easy as it is to fall into a pattern of lamenting about how awful our day was and wondering if it’ll ever get better, God wants us to respond by giving Him our burdens, worries, grief and concerns. It’s much easier said than done, but if we have faith that God has created us in His image, instilled purpose in us and loves us to the point of adopting us as His children, then can’t we trust Him with our day-to-day struggles, too? Not only that, but as children of God, we believe in the hope of eternal life in the Kingdom where there will be no more trials, pain or obstacles because Jesus overcame them all!

Matthew 6: 31-34

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (CSB)

This passage is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Jesus, God’s son, is telling us that God knows exactly what we need and will provide accordingly. This isn’t limited to just physical needs such as food and drink; rather God will always take care of us in all aspects.

John 3: 1-6

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 “How can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. (CSB)

Once we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior and submit to God’s authority over our lives, the Holy Spirit starts to work within us and we then become a child of God. If we are a child of God, Galatians 4:7 tells us, “So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.” (CSB)

The word “slave” is referring to being a slave to sin. We are no longer bound by sin’s punishment of death, but instead we are redeemed through Jesus and therefore able to inherit the gift of the Kingdom! (Romans 6:23)

God’s redeeming grace brings us from death to life. How incredible is that? I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on what has been weighing you down lately. What burdens have you been carrying that you need to surrender? Maybe a circumstance where you don’t have all the answers and don’t know how you’ll make it through? Maybe a strained relationship? Maybe a pattern of sin that you need God’s help to break? Whatever the situation may be, we know that the same God who fulfills His promises (Joshua 21:45; Numbers 23:19) is the God who made us. And because He never fails, we can rest in Him until the end of the age when we inherit the gift of the Kingdom.

-Caitie Wood

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 3-4 and Ephesians 5

How to Discipline

Proverbs 19

My last devotional for this week comes out of Proverbs 19:18. It says, “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death.” After doing this for a week now, the first portion of this passage made me immediately think about Amon. Remember him? He was that king of Judah that was murdered by his servants after reigning for only 2 years. He did evil in the sight of Yahweh. His father, Manasseh, also did evil in the sight of Yahweh but eventually repented and renewed his status with God. I had commented to myself on paper, thanking God for repentance – as there’s still time for it. What if you don’t have the time like Amon? What if you don’t even know that repentance is an option? This is why we are commissioned! Find those Josiahs and let them know the good news!

Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death… Why would any good parent desire their child’s death? My studies this week have also led me to some wisdom, I think, regarding the latter portion of this verse in Proverbs. I don’t think I would have understood the latter part if I hadn’t immersed myself in the word for a week. Words mean something. This is a wise, powerful statement that lets us know we DO desire our children’s death if we don’t take action to discipline them. We’ve got a great commission in our own homes if we are parents.

I have been wanting to do a study on child-rearing for a while now. Since I desire that my children live, I started by looking into discipline as it is demonstrated in the word. I found that my idea of discipline was nothing like what discipline actually meant in the bible.

Look at the Old Testament and how God, through Moses, disciplined the children of Israel in comparison to the New Testament and how God, through Jesus disciplined.

Deuteronomy 11:1-13 (NIV)

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done.

Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—

Let’s go through this passage carefully. Through Moses, God disciplined the 12 tribes of Israel (the children of Israel). He disciplined them by first showing them his majesty, or who he was (Yahweh God!). Who he was could be recognized by the works he did (e.g., signs, miracles, plagues). He rescued them (from Egypt) and defeated their enemies (Egypt in the red sea). Along their journey to the promised land, he performed miracles to sustain them in the wilderness (e.g., manna, water from a rock). He got rid of the people among them who were insolent and tried to usurp Moses (i.e., Dathan and Abiram; Korah).

He then disciplines the children of Israel by telling them to obey the commandments they were given (i.e., obey the law of Moses) so that they would have strength to enter the promised land. He entices them to obey the law of Moses by describing how wonderful their hope is. In it, they will have long life and it will be well with them. In it, they will have good things (flowing with milk and honey). It is a land they won’t have to tend themselves (like they did in Egypt) to receive the good things in it. The good things will be sustained through heaven. To me, the last verse shows God’s heart. He cares so much about that land that he desires to give to his children.

Now let’s look at the New Testament and the discipline of God through Jesus. He pretty much does the same thing but gives greater honor and authority to Jesus since Jesus literally is the one who rescues the people.  

In the New Testament, Jesus disciplined the 12 disciples by showing them who he was (is) (The Son of God! The Messiah – pretty much described throughout the whole book of John). Who he was (the Messiah) could be recognized by the works he did in their presence. There were some pretty distinctive works he did that pointed to himself as the Messiah (i.e., Isaiah 35:5-6a “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.).

It is Jesus himself who rescued them from their enemy (sin and death) by his death on the cross. Once seated at the right hand of God in heaven, it is Jesus who sustains them along their journey to the Kingdom of God (KOG). Post resurrection, it’s up to them (and us) to do these final things to enter into the KOG through Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life and he is the rock of our salvation who provides living water. He chastens us by pruning us along our journey (e.g., If your right hand offends you, cut it off – get rid of the people and things in your life that try to usurp Jesus as Lord of your life because they’ll prevent you from entering the KOG).

Jesus disciplines us by telling us to obey the Law of Christ (i.e., Love God and love people like Jesus loved). We need to obey these commandments so that we will have strength (through the receiving of the holy spirit) to enter the KOG.

The love of Christ compels us to obey by enticing us with the good things in the KOG, our hope. In the KOG, we will live forever with Jesus (and eventually with God himself). God will wipe away every tear from our eye; sin and death will be no more (the incorruptible crown; the crown of life). In it, we will be rewarded with good things, positional rewards based on how we built upon the foundation that was laid for us (built upon Jesus) (the crown of rejoicing; the crown of righteousness). If you’re an elder in your church, you’ll receive a crown of glory!

Once there, we won’t have to labor like we do now to enjoy the KOG. There will be a river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and from the lamb. In it will be the tree of life on either side of the street with 12 kinds of fruit. The leaves of the tree will be for the healing of the nations. I realize that this may not all be literal. All I really know is that it will be unimaginably good and that God and my Lord Jesus will be there, so I’d like to be there too.

And then for my correlation of the last verse. I can only imagine the joy Jesus must have when he thinks about the coming KOG. It is his reward. He’ll be ruling the whole world from the new Jerusalem. I think this was God’s plan all along, with Jesus in mind as the king of his kingdom before the foundation of the world, to a people whose desire is for them whom they love.        

Going back to the Old Testament passage, we see that not all of the children of Israel were witnesses to God through Moses. Therefore, he instructs them to discipline their children who were not witnesses. An example of discipling for the children of the children of Israel who were not direct witnesses was laid out for us in Deuteronomy 11.  

Similarly, not many of us were direct witnesses to Jesus’ ministry on earth. Therefore, he instructs his disciples to discipline the rest of us who were not direct witnesses. I believe that through the power of the holy spirit however, we too can be called witnesses of Jesus, and are therefore also commissioned to discipline our children and others (the Josiahs). An example of discipling for us is laid out in the new testament, beginning with the gospels.

Can you say amen?

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 5-6 and Proverbs 19

Restored!

2 Kings 7-8


Our God is a God of restoration. There will ultimately be a full restoration, but full restoration can only happen when the world is once again the beautiful, perfect place God created it to be, when His Kingdom is established on earth. Partial restoration, however, has been happening ever since the beginning of time. We read about restoration countless times in the Bible, and if you look, you can see it in our lives today, too. God constantly restores what has been lost to His people, whether it be a physical ability, such as sight, or movement, or a spiritual restoration, such as that of faith, or even the restoration of life.


Today, we read in 2 Kings chapter 8 about a Shunammite woman who lost everything she had during a 7 year famine, but because of her faith in God and willingness to obey, it was restored to her. Now this woman was not new to witnessing God’s ability to restore what was lost. In chapter 4 of 2 Kings, we read about how Elisha rewarded the Shunammite woman’s kindness with fertility, and she bore a son. Sadly, the son later died, but she had faith in God’s power, so she sought out Elisha. Elisha came, and the son was brought back to life; he was restored.


It is clear that this woman had remarkable faith. Perhaps this is why Elisha warned her about the famine that would come on the land for 7 long years, and advised her to leave. So without question, she and her household left their home and stayed in the land of the Philistines for 7 years, until the famine was over. When they returned, she had to appeal to the king to get back her home and all her land. The crazy thing is, right as she was coming to appeal to the king,
Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, (who in chapter 5 was cursed with leprosy, and left Elisha… so it can be assumed that these chapters are not necessarily in chronological order) was telling him the unbelievable story of the miracle Elisha performed in the resurrection of the son of the Shunammite woman. The woman, who just happened to show up during this particular story
time, also gave an account of what happened, and the King was so impressed that he instantly granted her the land and all that she left 7 years ago.


This story speaks volumes of God’s perfect timing, and adds to the common theme we see throughout the Bible of God’s willingness to restore what has been lost to those who are faithful. Look closely at the different ways in which God restores things in your life, and let it remind you to live everyday for the ultimate restoration that’s coming.


-Isabella Osborn

Today’s Bible reading devotions can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 7-8 and Proverbs 8

God Gives Victory

2 Kings 3-4


You know the feeling you get when you meet up with a couple of fellow kings, who aren’t really your fellows, but you have a common enemy, so you march on together in friendship and harmony, despite the odds that are against you, when you come to the devastating realization that your combined armies and cattle are on the road to dehydration, so you suggest finding that one
prophet dude who can maybe help out in this situation, and the other kings agree, so you find the prophet dude and it miraculously turns out, yes! He, or more accurately God through him, helps you out with your water dilemma, (it’s “but a slight thing in the sight of the LORD) and not only that, but he also says that he’ll assist in the defeat your enemy!! Eeeeek, I’m practically bursting
just thinking of it. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve actually experienced the aforementioned occurrence, but I have felt the amazing emotion that fills your heart with complete, unmatchable joy when you are assured that the most powerful, capable, fierce, wisest Being in the universe, loves you and has your back.


In 2 Kings 3, this is exactly what we see happening. Jehoram, the king of Israel, comes together with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, along with the king of Edom, and together they avoid dying of thirst, and totally crush the Moabites. Their epic victory wasn’t of their own works, though. It was God who provided water, and delivered Moab into the hands of the three kings. More often than we ever realize, God works in our lives too. Every single undeserved blessing, every single little victory we celebrate, is our Father’s loving presence. He is continually showing us how much He cares for us, and how deeply He loves us. He demonstrates this love not only in our lives now, but in the amazing promises He’s made to us. Promises of a perfect Kingdom in a beautiful land, where we will live eternally in absolute contentment and happiness
with our wholly perfect and wholly good Father.

Notice, however, that Elisha clarified in verse 14 of chapter 3 that he would not even be seeing them if it wasn’t for the presence of the godly and faithful king Jehoshaphat. This king trusted his God, and knew to go to Him in his time of need. Back then, they had to go to God through a prophet, like Elisha, or Elisha’s predecessor, Elijah, but Jesus has since then connected us to our
God, bridging the gap as a mediator between God and man. We have the ability to speak directly with God and form the relationship He so desperately wants with us, despite our utter imperfection and His divine perfection. Hold on tight to that gift, never forgetting how awesome it is that we can be so massively loved by such a great God; that He would care for us at all, even in our sin and weakness. Hold on tight to the unimaginable promises He’s made to us, and live
everyday aware and thankful for the countless blessings He provides for us.


What a feeling, to know that you have such an awesome God on your side.

-Isabella Osborn

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – 2 Kings 3-4 and Proverbs 6

The Early Church : The Mission of the Church


Acts 1

On Sunday, we discovered the message of the early church. This message is two pronged. It is the message from Jesus and the message about Jesus, it is the Kingdom and the King. The message of the church is the message of Jesus himself, “The Kingdom of God has come near! Repent and believe the good news!” The Kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God, is breaking out among his people, and will one day be over the whole earth. The way we enter that kingdom now, and are given the resurrection to eternal life in the Kingdom in the future, is through the King, Jesus the Messiah, who died to take away our sins and make us righteous. If we believe in this good news, we can be saved. That is the message of the church, both the early church and today. 


But just what was the mission of the church? We know now what they said, but what did they do? Jesus tells us in Acts 1:8. After being empowered by God’s Spirit they would “… be [Jesus’] witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That’s seems pretty big. What does it mean? In this case, a witness was one who would tell of the truth of what they had heard and seen. They were to go tell others about the Messiah. Even more than that, they were called to live in accordance with that message as a witness to the Messiah Jesus. And they were to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the Earth. 


My friends, this is our mission still today, at least in principle. Have you experienced the love of God? Tell others. Have you experienced the forgiveness of God? Show others. Have you found the people of God? Invite others to join! That is what it means to be a witness, to tell, show, invite others to experience what you have. If you are still searching for this love, forgiveness or people, keep searching. But they are there, and I am inviting you in to a God who has changed me. This starts in our own local area. Jerusalem was where the church already was. We need to give the message to our neighbors before we worry about the rest of the world. Does everyone you know know you love Jesus? They should! Once they do, it spreads out to our broader locations. Our state, country, even our enemies. And then, we take it with us to Africa, Asia, South America. But sadly, America is a mission field. We don’t need to go halfway around the world to find large populations who don’t know God. Sometimes, it’s fifteen minutes from our house! 


Ask God to lead you in your mission. Be a witness for Jesus today, to your neighbors, your family, your friends. And maybe someday, even today, he will use you to reach the “ends of the Earth!”

-Jacob Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 13-14 and Acts 1

Little Decisions, Lasting Consequences

Ruth 1-2 and John 14

  Have you ever looked back on an event or person in your life that, at first seemed very inconsequential at the time, but when you looked back you realized that that person or event profoundly impacted your life?  I have.

            When I was about 16 my brother-in-law, Dale, who was a pastor but also drove a charter bus part-time asked if I wanted to go with him on a trip to the city.  He was bringing a group of young people from across the country on a Youth Caravan into nearby Washington DC to tour the national landmarks.  He thought it might be fun for me to come along and spend some time with other young people from the Church of God.  So I said, “sure”.

            This Youth Caravan had been together and had travelled cross-country for several weeks bonding and were coming to the end of their trip.  I didn’t know any of them well and I was a bit shy so I sat up in the front of the bus near my brother-in-law, Dale, while they sat in the back and visited with each other.  Then, one of them left the safety of their group and came up and sat next to me and we had a friendly chat.  We ended up spending the day touring the Smithsonian museums and other famous DC landmarks.  Making a new friend was nice but also nice is that through that friend I was able to make several more friends among that group.  After the day spent sightseeing they gave a concert at our church and then they headed out for their next caravan stop and I went back to my normal life and didn’t think a whole lot more about it, other than grateful for making some new friends who lived around the country.  This was before social media, texting, snapchatting etc… so staying connected wasn’t easy, but we did write a few letters via snail mail over the next couple of  years.

            A couple of years later this friend’s brother became my new pastor at my church.  This friend came to visit him at our Church and we briefly reconnected.  The friend was getting ready to attend Bible College and I was going to a local university.  By the following summer I made the decision to also attend Bible College and during National Church Camp I reconnected with that friend.  By the end of that camp we decided to be more than just friends and just over a year later my friend Karen and I were engaged and then married.  37 years later we have 11 children, 12 grandchildren and have served in ministry side by side in 4 states and two countries. 

            All those initial little decisions- to accept my brother-in-law’s offer to ride on the bus, her decision to leave the group and come up and talk to me, her brother’s  decision to come and be the pastor at my Church, my decision to attend Summer Church Camp and Bible College- and almost 40 years later the impact those initial decisions had not only on our lives but our children, grand-children and future generations.  Who knows how many lives will ultimately be impacted by those first little choices.

            Ruth is that kind of story in the Bible.  It starts with some little choices that were made- An Israelite man and his wife and two children are living in a time when there’s a food shortage so they leave their country to go to a place to find food.  They are refugees looking for a place to live.  They make the choice to go to Moab- outside of Israel.  There the sons make choices to marry women from among the Moabites- who are not their people.  The man dies and both of his sons die.  This leaves his wife a widow living with no family in a foreign land with no one to provide for her.  She makes the decision to go back home to Israel to see if her family will help her- another small decision.  She tells her two young daughters-in-law who are also widows to go back to their families and find new husbands while they are still young.  One daughter-in-law goes back home, but the other, Ruth, refuses to leave her mother-in-law.  She is steadfastly loyal to her deceased husband’s mother and will not abandon her.  Ruth makes the choice to leave Moab with her mother-in-law and go to Israel and she herself becomes a stranger in a foreign land.

            While in Israel an extended member of Ruth’s husband’s family chooses to be kind to her and makes sure that they have enough food and other provisions.  Again, a simple decision to be kind by Boaz. 

Where do all of these little decisions lead?  Ultimately, they lead to Jesus.  As you will see in tomorrow’s reading- Boaz and Ruth eventually get married.  Ruth becomes the grandmother of a man named Jesse who was the father of David who later becomes King of Israel, and eventually one of their descendants was Jesus (when you look at Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1 you will see Ruth’s name).

God takes little decisions that at the time we might not pay much attention to, and uses them to make amazing things happen that have lasting consequences.  God is always at work, even in ways that we don’t see at the time or fully understand.  God is at work in ways that we sometimes don’t realize until long after the fact.  Trust that God is at work in the day to day choices you make.  Should I go to church today or stay home?  Should I talk to this new person or should I stay in my comfort zone?

In today’s reading from John 14 Jesus affirms that we should not “let our hearts be troubled.”  Jesus says he’s going to prepare a place for us.  Jesus is working behind the scenes getting everything ready for the day when he will bring to earth his father’s Kingdom forever and ever.  We don’t always recognize the importance of  our choices or events as they are happening in real time,  but if we trust God to be a loving Father and Jesus Christ to be a faithful savior and king, we can trust that they are working every day, often behind the scenes in seemingly small ways, to bring about a future when everything will be as it should be. 

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ruth 1-2 and John 14

Creating a Nation

Psalm 65-66 and Joshua 11-12

Joshua and the Israelites are getting things done and cleaning up Canaan land. Piece by piece, city by city, town by town, they are accepting their inheritance – the Promised Land that God has been preparing for them the past 430 years.

Beginning with the promise made to Abraham, the old man with no offspring, that if he followed God he would be made into the father of a great nation that would occupy the land. The promise was passed down to Isaac his miracle child, and given again to Isaac’s son Jacob, the father of 12 sons/tribes. It was these brothers that were saved by Joseph when he brought his family to Egypt to survive the famine in their land. A new pharaoh brought the Israelites into slavery and for the next few generations their numbers continued to grow in Egypt. Then Moses entered the scene with the 10 Plagues and “Let My People Go”.

This hasn’t been the easy way to grow a nation. But, God doesn’t have to go the easy route. He was not just creating any nation, but creating a holy nation that called on Him and relied on Him and followed Him.

In Joshua 11:15-16a it is recorded, “As the LORD commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses. So Joshua took this entire land…”

The work passed on to the next generation and the promise passed on to the next generation. And here they were, back in the land where Abraham had pitched his tent. They were seeing the fulfillment of so many years of waiting and watching to see how God would make His promises come true. They had seen the waters of the Jordan stop flowing at flood stage so they could cross into this land. They had felt the ground shake when the walls of Jericho came down. They had witnessed the sun standing still! This was not a usual way to create a nation, because they did not have a usual God!

I love that this same awe of God is found about 200 years later in the writings of David. David is still writing about when God “turned the sea into dry land” (Psalm 66:6), as well as His majestic creation, His forgiveness, His care through rain and crops, and His “awesome deeds of righteousness” (Psalm 65:5).

I especially love a passage from yesterday’s Psalm reading – Psalm 62:11-12

“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard;

that you, O God, are strong,

and that you, O Lord, are loving.

Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.”

We serve a strong and loving God who rewards his faithful children. It is not enough for God to just be powerful (that could be scary). It is not enough for God to just be loving (that is also scary if you consider a loving but powerless God). But a loving and powerful God is the one I want to follow. He will have good things for His children and the strength to deliver them. Just as He delivered in mighty ways for the children of Israel as they entered the Promised Land under the outstretched arm of Joshua, God is now preparing the fulfillment of all His promises in the Coming Kingdom of God which will be ushered in at the return of His Son Jesus. And that is an event you don’t want to miss.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Joshua 11-12 and Psalm 65-66

The Not Last Supper

Luke 22:1-38

God is an epic story-teller. One trick up every story-teller’s sleeve is repetition, only each new repetition brings a new twist. The story in today’s chapter is titled, The Last Supper, implying that other suppers preceded it. 

The first meal of this kind is found in Exodus; the Israelites were captive to Pharaoh in Egypt, who worked them ruthlessly.  God sent a series of plagues to convince Pharaoh to let His people go, which would culminate in the death of all firstborn sons—people and livestock alike. To save the Israelites from this horrific plague, God gave specific instructions to Moses and Aaron:

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12-13)

The Israelites with the blood of the lamb slathered on their door frames were safe, as the angel of death passed over their houses. God ordered the Israelites to commemorate the day God saved Israel, and they did so every year. 

Over one thousand years later, in the week leading up to Jesus’ death, Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem. This time, there was a new twist. Jesus gives new meaning to the emblems eaten that meal: 

And he (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20).

Jesus’s body was given for you, his blood poured out for you. His sacrifice marks a new covenant in which Jesus’ death atones for the sin of the world: 

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Have you ever read a story in the Bible with a hint of jealousy, wishing you, too, could have witnessed that moment? I know I have. I had a seat at that table with Jesus, eating and drinking, hearing his wisdom, and honoring his upcoming sacrifice. The good news for us is that “The Last Supper” isn’t really Jesus’s last supper: 

And he (Jesus) said to them (the disciples), “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

It’s another feast with another twist. This time we’ll be eating and drinking in physical communion with Jesus, but in the Kingdom of God. I am excitedly awaiting that day, but in the meantime we have the honor of commemorating Jesus’ sacrifice regularly through Communion. The next time you take Communion, do it in remembrance—and in sweet anticipation—of all Jesus has done and is yet to do. 

-Mackenzie McClain

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Deuteronomy 27-28 and Luke 22:1-38

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