Less than a Week before Dying

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 21 and Genesis 41 & 42

What would you do if you knew you would die in less than a week? Is there anywhere you would want to go? What changes would you make in your schedule and priorities? Less TV, pinterest or social media? More meaningful interactions with those who mean the most to you? Would your tone change? Would you give more hugs? Are there any difficult conversations you wouldn’t put off any longer? If there was anything you could do to prolong your life would you do it?

Jesus was in a very unique situation as he was coming into Jerusalem in Matthew 21. He knew he was quickly approaching both the time and place for his agonizing death by crucifixion. Many would run in the other direction. Maybe if he laid low and avoided Jerusalem longer the chief priests and leaders of the law would forget about him and find some other religious teacher to get mad at and crucify. Think of how many more people he could heal and teach if he could stay away from them just another month? Wouldn’t it be worth it?

But, Jesus didn’t hide or try to dodge the bullet. If anything he boldly intensified his work and purpose. Previously he had mostly stuck to the smaller towns and villages rather than camping out in Jerusalem – the holy city of all Jews. Often he had told those he healed to be quiet about it. He was never trying to draw a crowd – but the crowds still had a way of finding him anyways. Now, as he made preparations to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy) he knew the crowds couldn’t be held back any longer. On this day they would shower Jesus with shouts of praise, but in a few days they will cry out for crucifixion.

We don’t know the day or hour or location of our death. We also don’t know how long the tomb will hold us. But, like Jesus – and because of Jesus’ resurrection and God’s promise to send Him to earth again – we can be sure of a resurrection to come. How will that impact the intensity of your ministry today – how you spend your time, what conversations you have, what passion you have for the Father’s work and will?

May we not be like the fig tree that had life but failed to bear fruit for Him.

May we not be like the son who said he would do the Father’s work – but then didn’t.

-Marcia Railton

Jesus Talks with a Samaritan Woman

John 2-4

You may be familiar with the story of the “Good Samaritan”.  But do you know the story of the “Bad Samaritan”?  You might know this better as the story of the woman at the well.

In Jesus’ day, Jews thought very little of Samaritans.  It may not be an overstatement to say the Jews hated the Samaritans.  The origin of this animosity dated back to the Assyrian invasion of Israel around 721 BC.  The Samaritans were of mixed race, partially Jewish, and partially who-knows-what.  They weren’t welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem, so they worshiped in their own temple in Samaria.  And, as Jesus pointed out, they worshiped what they didn’t even understand.

In John 4, we find Jesus arriving at a well near Sychar around noon.  Jesus waited at the well, while his disciples went into town to buy some food.  As Jesus waited, a woman came up to draw water.  I’ve heard this would have been a very unusual time to draw water – and she probably came then to avoid having to interact with others – because even the people in town would have looked down on her.

Anyway, Jesus started up a conversation with the woman, asking her for water.  In doing this, Jesus cut across all the social norms of his day.  First, Jesus was a Jew, and the woman was an “inferior” Samaritan.  Second, as I understand it, men of the day felt superior to women, and again, wouldn’t typically strike up a conversation.  Finally, Jesus was holy and the Samaritan woman wasn’t.  And religious leaders of his day felt superior to common sinners, and wouldn’t associate with them.  Jesus cut through all of those norms to interact with this woman.  The obvious reason given was because Jesus was thirsty, and the woman could draw water from the well.  I believe the ulterior motive was to share salvation with this woman and ultimately with the whole city.

Right from the beginning of the conversation, the woman was surprised that Jesus would even talk with her, since he was a Jew.  Jesus pointed out that if she understood who it was she was talking with, He could offer her something amazing – water welling up to eternal life.  Jesus told her to get her husband, to which she replied, “I don’t have a husband.”  When Jesus told her that she had had 5 husbands and that she wasn’t married to the man she was living with then – she recognized Jesus was a prophet. She said, “I know that Messiah is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Jesus told her directly, “I who speak to you am he.”  The woman left her water jug and immediately went into town to tell everyone that she had found the Messiah.  The whole town came out and ultimately believed – first, because of the testimony of the woman, then eventually because of their experience with Jesus.

Often, when we read a story like this, we associate with Jesus.  We may think, “I should follow Jesus’ example, break social norms, and associate with those who are “inferior” to me.”  

While this may be true, I’d like to focus on the woman, and see what we can learn from her.  Although presumably “unworthy”, and probably a social outcast, Jesus revealed Himself to her – little by little.  She first recognized he was a Jew, then a prophet, and finally the messiah.  Once she recognized that Jesus was the messiah, the savior, she immediately dropped what she was doing to go tell everyone about her experience with Jesus. Then she literally led the people of the town to meet Jesus.  Think of how little theology she knew – how few spiritual truths.  But she had found the Lord, and she wanted to tell everyone. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to tell others of her experience with the Lord puts us to shame. 

When you were introduced to Jesus, what was your reaction?  Did you tell everyone you knew about Jesus, and what he had done for you?  Did you do everything you could to bring as many people as possible to encounter Jesus?

Jesus pointed out to his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”  He wasn’t talking about agriculture, he was talking about a crop for eternal life – people needing to come into a saving relationship with the Lord.

I challenge you to first, truly develop a relationship with Jesus.  And once you do, tell everyone you know about the good news, so they can be saved too.  The consequences are literally life and death – for eternity.  What are you waiting for?

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 2-4

Tomorrow we will read Mark 2 as we continue Seeking God, Growing our Faith, and Increasing our Love on our 2020 Bible reading plan.

Seduced by Temptation

Proverbs 7

Proverbs 7 25 26

The first five verses of this chapter again talk about how important it is to have wisdom.

My son, keep my words
And treasure my commandments within you.
Keep my commandments and live,
And my teaching as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
And call understanding your intimate friend;
That they may keep you from an adulteress,
From the foreigner who flatters with her words

This is re-iterating what a lot of chapter 1 talks about.  It is not enough to just know the commands and teachings.  You must consider them as some of the most important things you know.  Following the commands and having wisdom will allow you to live.  This implies that a lack of wisdom will bring death.  The rest of the chapter details how this can lead to serious harm, and death.

The rest of the chapter can be a literal case of a man being seduced by a woman, or it can be symbolic of any person being tempted and falling to that temptation.  This shows a pattern of falling.  The first step is going to a place where the temptation is found.  This is in verse 8 where it talks about passing near her corner, and then going all the way to her house.  Wisdom would show that we should avoid going around things where we know we will be tempted.

Then, verse 9 says that this is being done in the darkness, or when we don’t think people can see us.  In most cases, if we are going to sin, it is going to be when people are not watching, or at least people that we know would be bothered by what we are doing.  Again, if we are wise, we will surround ourselves with people who will help us avoid temptation and stay away from those who draw us in to sin.

Then, when we are close to temptation, the sin can look very appealing, and it appears that we won’t get caught – so it is okay.  Verses 17-21 are showing this when talking about the couch and bed being adorned, and when it talks about the husband being gone for a long period of time.

With all of this, the man being talked about in this passage falls into temptation and sins.  He does not know this will cost him his life according to verse 23.  This is not saying that falling into temptation once and sinning means death, but when we fall into a temptation and are not wise enough to run from that in the future, we are going to fall into that same temptation again and again.  Then, we will escalate the sin, and get sucked into it until it is a lifestyle.

Wisdom, specifically Godly wisdom, is critical to both avoiding unnecessary problems in this life and in having eternal life in the kingdom.  This can only be accomplished by treasuring scriptures and a relationship with God.

Andrew Hamilton

A Job to Do

2 Corinthians 5

2 Corinthians 5 19

 

I recently watched Finding Hope Now (also more recently titled Streets of Hope) based on the true story of the ministry of Roger Minassian and his book Gangs to Jobs: Faith-Based Gang Intervention for Your City.  At 53 Roger left his comfortable pastorate to create a ministry to gang members (something he knew nothing about at the time – except that they needed help – even though they often didn’t want it).  I won’t share too much about the movie because I hope you see it for yourself.  But at one point a gang member is before a judge who has the power to convict the young man for crimes he did commit and deliver him to a punishment he did deserve.  But, Roger was there at the teen’s side – even though this kid had personally caused Roger much personal pain, heartache and property damage.  Roger was speaking for the troubled teen.  Telling the judge of the change he saw – the old was gone, the new had come.  Roger was deep in the ministry of reconciliation – both to reconcile this young man with the court system and his community – as well as to reconcile him to God.  Now, you have to watch the movie to see what happened next.

 

Reconciliation is “the restoration of friendly relations”.  And, the world is much in need of it – particularly as it pertains to restoring a relationship with God.  Paul says it best here:

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.                   (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 . NIV)

 

 

God seeks restoration and “friendly relationships” with His creation.  So much so that He sent His sinless Son to carry our sins to the cross so we could become new, righteous creations who could draw near to God.  Previously our mountain of baggage and sins we were carrying was keeping us from embracing God.  But God made a way for us to set it all down – at the foot of the cross.  Because Jesus spoke for us God is not holding our sins against us – if we are in Christ – and have asked for forgiveness, accepted Jesus as Lord, been baptized to demonstrate the putting off of the old self, and are living a life of obedience.

 

If you aren’t there yet – in Christ – why not?  “We implore you on Christ’s behalf.  Be reconciled to God.” (vs. 20).  Please talk to your pastor or Sunday School teacher or youth group leader or Godly parents or me.  You don’t have to wait until you are perfect or you know the whole Bible – none of us Christians fall into either of those categories.  You just need to be ready to put the old behind.  Drop the junk you are holding onto, accept the sacrifice the Son made for you as he was speaking to his Dad for you and put on a new friendly relationship with God.  Be reconciled to God.

 

If you are there – in Christ – Congratulations!  Best choice ever!   Daily enjoy that friendly relationship with God that was opened for you by Christ.  And, get to work – you have a job to do!

 

“God has committed/given to us, the ministry/message of reconciliation.” (vs. 18 and 19).  Saying it once wasn’t enough for Paul.  So, I will repeat it, too.  “God has committed/given to us, the ministry/message of reconciliation. (vs. 18 and 19)”.  Do it!

 

If you’ve got the priceless gift of reconciliation with God through His Son – give it to others.  It won’t subtract what you have, but it will only multiply as you follow God’s command.   Maybe you will bring the message to gang members and in the process save a whole town!  Maybe you will boldly speak to a neighbor, family member, friend, co-worker, or church youth and be instrumental in that priceless person’s decision to be reconciled to God.  And all of heaven will rejoice with you.  Pray for God to show you where to start – and then start!

 

People are listening.  People are looking for hope in a hurting world.  Yesterday my heart hurt to hear of a girl in Malaysia who posted an Instagram poll – should she live or die?  Tears are falling as I type that she received a 69% response to die – and she took her own life.

 

The enemy is alive and well and we have a job to do!   Spread life and hope and reconciliation.  You won’t convince everyone.  Paul didn’t.  Roger didn’t.  But they did change lives because of their ministry of reconciliation.  And, we can, too.  People need reconciliation with God – even if they don’t know it yet.  How will you share it?

 

In Christ and Reconciled With a Job to Do,

Marcia Railton

Treasures in Jars of Clay

2 Corinthians 4

2 corinthians 4 5

It’s a beautiful chapter – make sure you give it a read, it won’t take long.

While I read, various people came to mind as Paul was describing his ministry.  People I know who have – and are currently – serving faithfully, carrying on the work Paul had given his life to 2,000 years ago.

One of the key repeated themes in this chapter is the task of pointing others to God, rather than to ourselves.  It requires humility and relying on God’s strength and mercy.  It means realizing that this priceless treasure of the message of God’s glory is housed in our plain, everyday, unglamorous, and sometimes frail bodies.  As Paul says: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (vs. 7). It’s not about us – it’s about Him and His greatness.  It involves letting God’s light shine through us – so others will see God when we share about His Son.  After a conversation with others, do they know more about me – or about my God and my Lord?

And – it’s about the work of being a servant to those you minister to – for Jesus’ sake.  Growing up as a pastor’s kid I was privileged enough to see the beauty of servanthood Pastor Ray Hall lived out daily.  Numerous weekly Bible Studies at church, at the adult foster care homes or at the breakfast restaurant with the men’s group.  Countless counseling sessions in his office, at the jail, or the hospital or even in the garage. Up extra early to drive the man in need of a fresh start to his new job, writing and delivering sermons and SS classes, taking breaks to fix the neighbors’ bikes or paint a welcome home sign for returning snowbirds, teaching the little kids’ VBS class and taking all the late-night phone calls.

Being a servant doesn’t leave a lot of time for piddly pursuits.  In fact, it can be downright demanding, and sometimes discouraging.  Paul knew.  He writes, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…so then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (vs 8, 9 & 12).  In order to share the life-giving message with others – it was going to require taking up his cross and dying to his own will – just as Jesus did.  It would be hard, but not without help (God’s power at work) or hope. “Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.” (vs. 14).

Even as Paul was following in Christ’s footsteps, he was encouraging those who would follow in his own footsteps with these words (repeated twice in this short chapter) – “We do not lose heart.” (vs. 1 & 16).  God needs people with heart – and lots of it!  You don’t have to be a full-time pastor to be taking on the role as a servant for Jesus’s sake.  Some of the people I thought of when reading this chapter were not pastors but full-time mothers and dedicated Sunday School teachers or amazing pastors’ wives.  Whether you are a student or a mother or a plumber or a truck driver or a teacher – you can also be called to be a servant – for Jesus’ sake.

On the sad flip side, other faces and hearts were brought to mind when Paul wrote about those for whom the gospel was veiled – those who were perishing.  Some family.  Some friends.  Some from years of church and youth work.  Indeed, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel.” (vs. 4).  Satan is still very much alive and kicking.  The battle is real.  And real lives are perishing – unbeknownst to those with blinded minds.  Pray for veils to be yanked off.  Pray for our families to flee Satan.  Pray for the light of the gospel to shine through the darkness.

Thank God for the light.  Thank God for those who have been a servant to you to show you the light.  Pray that through you God’s light will shine.  Pray that you do not lose heart.  Pray that you will be worthy of the title of servant – for Jesus’ sake.

Thankful and Praying,

Marcia Railton

 

 

 

What’s that Smell?

2 Corinthians 2

2 Corinthians 2 14

 

My brother (cool uncle that he is) gifted my daughter with a unique board game called P.U! -The Guessing Game of Smells.  Players try to guess what smell is radiating off of each scratch and sniff card.  Some are deliciously delightful and you don’t want to put the card down – like freshly baked cookies or peppermint.  And others – such as skunk, burnt rubber and doggy doo-doo – leave quite a lasting impression in the opposite direction.

 

Smells are powerful and memorable – and perhaps that is why Paul uses this powerful analogy in 2 Corinthians 14-16 (NIV).

 

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.

 

Picture the streets in ancient Corinth (a busy seaport in current Greece) lined with the crowds which came out to see the Roman Emperor (God) and his general (Christ) leading their captives (those belonging to God and following Christ).  The Roman Emperor and general are powerful, awe-inspiring and triumphant.  The obedient, orderly, well-kept captives are clear witnesses to the superiority, majesty, might, and care of the emperor and general.  They indeed spread the knowledge of the triumph of Christ.

 

It is interesting to note that many versions remove the “captive” phrasing which might be seen today as a negative connotation for Christ’s followers.  The NASB for example says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ”.  In that day and age, the military image would have been very well understood.  But perhaps today we could imagine the owner (God) of the triumphant Super Bowl Championship football team at the head of the parade leading the football team (those who belong to God) who are testifying everywhere to the ‘sweetness’ of their football coach (Christ).

 

Either way – God is pleased at the witness and sweet smell of those who belong to Him.  He loves to see them show homage to their Christ/general/coach/His Son.  Others see this as well – and respond – one way or another.  Those who belong to God and are trophies of Christ’s victory are to be the pleasing aroma of Christ EVERYWHERE – both to “those who are being saved and those who are perishing”.   Our victory parade route should not stay within our church parking lot.  We need to let that sweet aroma waft through the entire city and countryside.  Even knowing that when some people smell it – they will smell death.  The losing football team (Satan’s) still has some very vocal, die-hard fans.  Sometimes when those who are perishing smell death they can react in very hostile ways.  We can, and must, still expect this today.  But don’t let it cancel your parade.  Carry on with the sweet smell of Christ – it brings life to those who will let it in.

This is so much more than a scratch and sniff board game.  More than a football play-off.  This is for life – or death.  Carry the sweet fragrance of Christ everywhere you go.

-Marcia Railton

There is a Time

 

ecclesiastes 3 11

Ecclesiastes 2:17-3:22

And now another exciting episode from the book of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Here we find Solomon, as cheerful as ever, saying that he “hated life” and all the work that he had done. Not only does it not bring lasting satisfaction but anything that lasts beyond our life will likely end up going to some schmuck who does not deserve it, has not earned it, and will not appreciate it. A great misfortune indeed!

Verses 22-23 are kind of an “ah-ha” moments though. He uses the phrase “anxious striving” and states that “all his days” there is “pain and grief” and at night “his mind does not rest.” Solomon is talking about the drive that pushes many of us. It is a drive to provide a “better” life, to have more, to do more, and to never be … satisfied. This drive causes anxiety, pain, and grief. What does it get us though? We are never satisfied because we are never where we want to be and we never will be. Not here in this world at least. It frustrates our days and disrupts our nights. Think about it. When you set a goal, where you want to be or accomplish in a year, what happens once you have met that goal? You set another goal! “A chasing after the wind.”

Now Solomon is not condemning ambition or general goal setting. As a matter of fact he says in verses 24-25, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” He goes on to say that the godly will be granted wisdom, knowledge and happiness. To the sinner… a consolation prize of fruitless labor! He will not have satisfaction in his work and may not even see the fruits of his labor. We see examples of this type of judgment throughout Scripture as well as in and around our lives. This is a temporal judgment though, in the here and now. A giving and taking away of that which will ultimately perish.

Then Solomon says “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” He says activity for a reason and it is because an activity is something deliberate. It is a willful act and so for every willful act there is a time, a point in time, and a season, a duration. This opening line gives way to a poem on fourteen opposites, each of which happens in its own time. He illustrates this in a multiple of seven, which is the number signifying completeness. Additionally, he utilized polar opposites in a poetic form known as merism that suggests totality. In this way Solomon affirms that all activities, both constructive and destructive, and all responses to all things happen in their time. Too deep? Then let me break it down.

The poem begins with life and death, the beginning and end of life. Two events over which we have little to no control over. He continues with deliberate acts of one who begins and ends plant life, takes and saves human life, and constructs and destroys buildings. All concepts of life and death. From these thoughts he writes of our responses to such events: weeping and morning and their opposites, laughing and dancing and all of the joy found in them. He then switches from life and death to man’s interest in things and his affections towards people. This is followed with a period of mourning and the completion of the mourning, when one would begin again to move forward in life. Of course it all ends with concepts that are as significant as the ones he began the poem with. They are two of life’s basic emotions with war and peace being the most poignant expression of each one.

Truly, the burden laid upon us is that we have knowledge and understanding. We see this great big world around us and realize its satisfactions are too small for us. He has placed within us knowledge of eternity but we cannot fully grasp it yet. We know that we likely play a role in God’s plan but do not fully understand what God’s plan is for our lives. Despite this we can trust that He will “make everything beautiful in its time.” This is the burden God has laid upon us.

For those who do not know God, they may see Him as arbitrary but Solomon described the nature of God’s plan and what the appropriate response of men should be. He has seen it all from beginning to end. He knows the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. And to all will come His righteous judgment. For the wicked and the righteous, for the just and unjust, a time will come.

“But he says that we are like animals? That we have no advantage over them?”

We were all dust and have received life from God. To the dust we will all return so in that he is correct. We are like animals with no advantage. Verse 21 however shows us a difference. The fact that we are capable of contemplating what happens to our spirit is an advantage. This awareness is an advantage. To wonder at the awesome power of God and to be inquisitive enough to seek after Him. Again though, it is an advantage that is also our burden. To ask why we are here? What is our purpose in His plan?

The answers to all of this will come … in its time.

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

Decisions, Decisions…

Deut 30

Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 has become one of my most often used passages. It is talking about our decision and the true choices we have. I think these verses need be used in all of our decisions. Deut. 30:15-20   “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

These are the choices that God has set before us “life and prosperity, or death and adversity”, is that a difficult choice. Who would willingly say, I would like more death and adversity in my life. But we are saying that when we choose to live in a way that is anti-God. When we choose to go against the will of God, we choose those things. Then he says, the Lord wants to bless us in our lives, but he only blesses us when we choose to love Him and walk in His ways and follow His commands. But all of His commands are for our own good and leads to a much better way of life. It’s not really a hard choice but it is one that we have to make everyday! Choose Life – the choice is ours but there’s really no comparison, and we can ask ourselves which one leads to the best results. There is only one choice that makes sense.

Sherry Alcumbrack

good choice bad choice

We are His Tools

Ezekiel 3 17

How many of you like to watch something. The home that I’m working at this week has tons of bird feeders. The owner is constantly making sure the feeders are clean and full of food and then she sits back with binoculars and watches. I have to admit I’ve been watching too, especially the hummingbirds, and I usually don’t have time to notice. Ezekiel 3 tells us that we are a watchman for each other. The job of a watchman was to stay alert and sound the alarm to save his people. In fact our job is a matter of life and death. This may make some uncomfortable, but today in this world of live and let live or judge not least you be judged, we still have a responsibility from God.

Now let’s set some parameters: 1) The Bible is clear that we must do everything in love. I’m convinced that the care shown to the woman at the well was Jesus showing us how to be truthful and loving.  2) Jesus also instructs us to take the log out of our eye so we can see clearly to inspect someone else’s eye. 3) We need to have biblical solutions and be willing to help. If we keep these in mind, then look around and see who God has put in your line of sight. God is clear that he wants ALL to come to salvation through Jesus and we are his tools to make that happen. During the 200 years after Jesus had established his church, the Romans took note of something. Tertullian reported that they said ” Look how they love one another”. If our goal is to watch, love, and help like Ezekiel says then others will notice. Today, pray that God will purify us to be a watchman for his kingdom and to glorify the one who can save.

-Joseph Partain