All Glory to God

In Ezekiel 28 through 31 God continues to condemn all of the other nations around Israel for their evil.  He dedicates a lot of time to Egypt because they did not give glory to God for the blessings that he had given to them.

“9 Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord.“‘Because you said, “The Nile is mine; I made it,” 10 therefore I am against you and against your streams,”

The ancient Egyptians had stumbled upon and settled in one of the most fertile areas on earth and because of the natural flooding of the Nile river at the right times of the year had prospered and grown in numbers and in power in the ancient world.  For all of these blessings they did not thank God and instead had taken the glory for themselves, with their rulers counting themselves as one of the gods, and they took credit for the river and the life that it brought.  

Today we live in a blessed nation that has a history of being mostly God fearing and because of that history God has blessed us for many generations and that has led to us being the most powerful nation on earth.  We do not need to be afraid of foreign nations invading our borders because of the large oceans on either side of our continent, and we do not need to worry about having enough food because the fertile lands of the midwest grow an abundance of food and feed.  We need to remember our roots though, and always give glory to God for the blessings he has given us.  The Egyptians were on top of the world for many hundreds of years and might have thought that their glory days would never end, and likewise many in America feel like we are invincible, but if we stop serving God and giving him glory that can all dry up very quickly.  Covid has shown us how quickly jobs and health can be lost, and how quickly life can change in strange ways.  So let this be a wakeup call to us that we cannot be complacent in the good times, we cannot forget about the one who made the world and gave us all of the good things we have in life.  We can also take this slower time during Covid to dedicate more time to God and work on strengthening our relationship with Him.

Chris and Katie-Beth Mattison 

Isaiah 40-43

He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” ~ Is. 40:1-2 

While the first 39 chapters of Isaiah consist of the judgment pronounced on Israel & Judah, the book of consolation begins in chapter 40 and continues for the last 27 chapters of the book (mirroring the set-up of the Bible itself). Isaiah 40-43 contains beautiful pictures of who God is and breath-taking prophecies of the future messiah. When we look at the story of the Israelites a central theme that we see is the forsaking of the true God for idols. Because they could see the idols and because other nations worshipped in the same way, they felt like it was more profitable to worship them. However, these idols always proved to be worthless and caused pain and destruction. If we see that we are worshipping idols, what should we do? How can we turn away from the worthlessness of these idols to the infinite value found in God through Christ. 

Isaiah 40-43 gives us an answer to that as well. In Isaiah 40, Isaiah reminds us who God is. He asks the question in v. 18-19, “Who will compare God with? What likeness will you compare Him to? To an idol? Something that a smelter casts, and a metalworker plates with gold and makes silver welds for it?” Instead of worshipping a created thing, God points us to what he has created to show his power and to show us that he is the only one worth worshipping. In v. 26, he says, “Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing.” When we find ourselves looking towards idols for our value and worth – and in turn worshipping them, we need to remind ourselves of where our true value comes from. To do that, we have to turn our eyes away from ourselves and the things we think define us – whether that’s our relationships, money, career, or anything else – and turn them towards the only thing that really gives us worth. By focusing on God and basing our lives on his unchanging character, we can rest in God through the storms and trials of life. He is our firm foundation. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 40-43.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 44-48 – as we continue the 2020 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 31-34

The Lord gives victory to his anointed. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

One highlight of my year is going to South East Camp held on the mountaintops of the NC Blue Ridge. Years ago, we drove down the mountain to a center with a high ropes course. Everyone suited up with a helmet and a buddy and clipped their carabiner to the first level on the course. Now, I have some friends who are into rock climbing and would be happy to dangle off the top of a mountain just to get the adrenaline rush. However, I am not that person. As a child, I used to get weak knees going to the edge of the second floor balcony at my church. In fact, there are still some rides I refuse to go on at amusement parks, because the drop is just too much. I’ve gotten better, but I definitely am still scared of heights. Going back to our high ropes adventure, I made it through the whole course, including the more difficult parts, but then I came to the end where I needed to zip line down to the ground. 

Looking down off the ledge, I could already feel a tingling in my knees and my palms getting sweaty. At that moment, I felt like turning around and going through the whole ropes course again just to make it back down to the bottom, because I felt like that was something that I could control with my body. Even though my heart was racing, I paused to take a few deep breaths, and then I stepped off the side to zoom through the air. In truth, once I picked up my feet, I felt safe and secure in my harness. The obstacle I had to overcome was one of trusting that my harness would do what it was supposed to do. I had to trust in something that I couldn’t control, but was probably the quickest and safest way down. 

In Isaiah 31, we read about some trust issues that the Israelites had developed with God. They weren’t afraid of heights in this case; instead, they were afraid of the nations around them. Israel had chosen to rely on numbers of men and horses when they faced battle, and because of this, they had grown to depend on Egypt’s help. They thought that by controlling the amount of man- and horsepower they could bring to a fight they could ensure their victory. However, God reminds them that the “Egyptians are men, not God; their horses are flesh, not spirit” (Isaiah 31:3). God was so much stronger than anyone the Israelites would face, but they refused to see it. By not trusting in God, they paved the way for their own demise (v. 3). 

We also have a daily choice between trusting God or trusting our own flesh. It may come in the form of choosing to be obedient to God’s command, by giving away our money or time to someone in need, or by sacrificing a desire to make room for a deeper relationship with God. In those times, we may want to trust in our own minds or bodies, because we feel like we can control those things. But, remember, God is so much more mighty than we are. We can trust him in whatever situation that we face. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 31-34.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 35-36– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 28-30

Because these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip service - yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote

As we turn back to Isaiah in our reading, we read about the judgments pronounced upon Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. At the end of Isaiah 27, God had given the Israelites a picture of their hope – to return to Jerusalem. However, in Isaiah 28, we turn back to the reason why the Israelites had to be removed from the promised land in the first place. 

When I was in high school, every student that drove had to take a driver’s education class before they could get their parking pass. I was standing pressed against the glass at the DMV the day I turned 15 (the age we could get our learner’s permit), and I knew that I would do whatever it took to be able to drive to school as soon as I could. Along with the videos of car crashes and the several hours driving with the instructor, one activity we had to do was put on a pair of beer goggles to show the effects of driving under the influence. With the vision of someone who had way too many beers, we were supposed to catch a tennis ball. As you can imagine, almost all of us dropped the ball as we stumbled and swayed with the goggles on our face. With our vision clouded, there was no way that we were able to complete the task that we were given. 

We’ve been looking at the effects of idolatry over the previous days. This was not the Israelites only sin though. In Isaiah 28, God turns to focus on Ephraim’s drunkards and says woe to them. These priests “stagger because of wine and stumble under the influence of beer. They are muddled in their visions, they stumble in their judgments. Indeed, all their tables are covered with vomit; there is no place without a stench” (Isaiah 28:7-8). This presents a dire picture of priests turned alcoholics, which means they can’t do much good for anyone. We know how alcoholism and drunkenness itself can be dangerous, but what is so striking to me in this description is the way that it shows a parallel to all sin. All sin clouds our vision and judgments. All sin realigns our priorities. Ultimately, all sin separates us from God and leaves our lives defiled. 

When we are living under the influence of sin, we miss out on God’s purpose for our lives. The priests in this chapter were supposed to teach the people how to seek after God. Instead, they stumbled over their words while they instructed and caused their people to stumble in their everyday walk with God. Where do you see the effects of sin goggles in your life? Where can you take off the sin in your life so that you can have a clearer vision for how to serve God better? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 28-30.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 31-34– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Hosea 8-14

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you_ sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Reading through the prophets can be difficult. Just like the story of Gomer that we read yesterday, we may find ourselves wanting to reach through the pages across the span of time and just whip these people and nations back into shape. Because of our hindsight, we think (arrogantly) that we would have made better choices if we walked in the shoes of our ancestors. The Israelites downfall is that they always seemed to fall prey to idolatry, though that idolatry existed in many forms. Unfortunately, like we saw yesterday, we are quick to worship those same idols in different forms.

If we look back to the birth of the Israelites as a distinct set apart nation, we return to the infamous scene with the golden calf in Exodus 32. The Israelites had the choice to follow the word of God or follow the gods of the surrounding nations. While Moses was receiving the law, they chose to worship the golden calf. Hundreds of years later, the calf returned in 1 Kings 12:28-30. King Jeroboam of Israel created two golden calves and set up places to worship them, going directly against the laws of Moses that all of Israel has received. The Israelites had continued to worship the calf through Hosea’s time as we see in Hosea 8:5-6: “Your calf-idol is rejected, Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? For this thing is from Israel – a craftsman made it, and it is not God. The calf of Samaria will be smashed to bits.” For hundreds of years the Israelites worshipped the calf, and because of it, they started to resemble the thing that they worshipped. In fact, we see the qualities of the cow come out in the Israelites in Hosea 4:16 where it says, “For Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn cow. Can the LORD shepherd them like a lamb in an open meadow?” They had held the cow as an idol for so long in their life that they started to imitate that. This imitation led them directly away from becoming the people that God wanted them to be. 

Israel thought that they knew God and were seeking after him (Hos. 7:16, 8:2-3), but they were really seeking after their own hand-made idols. A life that seeks after God cannot be categorized as lustful, greedy, selfish, or prideful. If our life looks like that, we have begun to imitate those idols that we may follow. A life that follows after God will be full of love, joy, peace, and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit. If we follow after God and not idols, we will seek his righteousness all of our days. 

So, ask yourself: Who or what are you worshipping? Who or what are you imitating? 

“Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your unplowed ground. It is time to seek the LORD until he comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain.” ~ Hosea 10:12

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Hosea 8-14.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 28-30– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

 

Hosea 1-7

For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

When we think about the faithfulness of God, we tend to speak in terms that I would call fluff in the papers I grade in my English classes. We always say that we have a faithful God, but what does that really mean? When we describe the faithfulness of God and his faithful love, we can easily let these tired terms cause the meaning to get lost. Today’s reading snaps the striking, relentless love of God into sharp focus. In the book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea is commanded to marry a prostitute, named Gomer. She continues to be unfaithful to him, but Hosea is told to return to her each time. The relationship that Hosea has with Gomer is one that mirrors the prodigal love that God shows to the northern Kingdom of Israel. Israel pursues other gods and kingdoms, but despite this, God still calls them back to him. He still loves them. 

When I read these stories, I always question the characters’ motives. Couldn’t Gomer see how much Hosea loved her by the fact that he was always there for her? Why would she pursue other people? Hosea 2 gives insight to her reasoning. In Hosea 2:5, it says that Gomer would pursue other men because she thought they would give her “my food and water, my wool and flax, my oil and drink.” She pursued these men, because she thought they would give her what she needed to survive. Notably, these things are the basics of what she might need to live comfortably. Out of a lack of trust, she did not realize that she was actually missing out on the best things, because she was turning to these men to fulfill her desire for provision and possessions. In verse 8, it says, “She does not recognize that it is I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil. I lavished silver and gold on her, which they used for Baal.” Gomer never realized that the person who would take the best care of her and give her the best things was the person that she continued to leave for other men, Hosea. 

Too often, we follow in the footsteps of Gomer and Israel. We pursue other gods that seem like they could give us satisfaction and comfort, like our families, boy/girlfriends, work, money, education, or our beliefs and ideologies. We don’t recognize that the best things in our life actually come from the one who we continue to leave behind, God. James 1:17 says, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” God will continue to give us the best things in life, but we need to turn back to him. Don’t turn to other idols. God is infinitely better than anything the world could offer. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Hosea 1-7.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Hosea 8-14 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

2 Kings 18:1-8, 2 Chron. 29-31, & Psalm 48

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Hey everyone!

We are currently living in a very crazy time – am I right?! COVID-19 has taken over our daily lives, the political climate is VERY sticky and people are turning against one another (even within Godly communities) to prove their point and/or push their ideas of what they believe to be true. We are continually becoming more and more divided with each passing day. It is scary. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Frustrating. And those are only a few of the many adjectives I could throw out there right now to describe what is going on around us.

Let’s be honest here… all of this is A LOT to balance…. And I know, personally, as a flawed human being who continually makes mistakes and cannot seem to ever fully pull it all together, I constantly fall short when attempting to manage all of these changing circumstances and emotions. In times like this, I always find it helpful (and encouraging) to look back on examples set before me of Godly men and/or women who have managed to handle things a whole lot better than I am.

Our readings for today bring Hezekiah into focus. In 2 Kings 18:1-8 Hezekiah (son of Ahaz) comes to reign as the king of Judah. Hezekiah was a king who had a very close relationship with God and he is an example of how the faith of one man can change the course of an entire nation. During his reign Hezekiah pursued God with his whole heart. Hezekiah remained faithful and diligent throughout the highs and the lows of his time – he repaired the Jewish temple that had been previously impacted by wickedness, removed false Gods from the land, destroyed places where pagan worship was still in practice and restored the Passover as a national holiday.

Because King Hezekiah put God first in everything he did, God prospered him. Hezekiah “held fast to the Lord and did not stop following Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses and therefore the Lord was with him and he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 King 18:6-7). In his time of need, Hezekiah came forth and prayed for relief, guidance and support from the Lord and the Lord was quick and gracious to give of these things and reward Hezekiah for his faithfulness.

The example that Hezekiah sets forth during his reign reminds us of the importance of remaining faithful and obedient to God and His word regardless of what is happening around us. I encourage all of us to follow the example of Hezekiah in the time we currently find ourselves in today. Pray. Remain faithful. Stay diligent. Honor God by doing the right thing…..

While things around us are ever changing and continually confusing, we can rest assured that God will remain faithful and reward our diligence just as He has promised.

Love and miss you all – stay safe and healthy. I absolutely cannot wait for the day where we are all reunited again and can honor God together.

~ Kass Sipka

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – 2 Kings 18:1-8, 2 Chron. 29-31, & Psalm 48.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Hosea 1-7– 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.

Too Distracted – Isaiah 18-22

Distractions

I have been known to burn a few things in the kitchen. Bread, green beans and carrots have all fallen victim to the heat of my stove.  In fact I made pancakes last week and one of the batch was charred. I wouldn’t recommend that cooking method, it wasn’t very tasty.  My husband rarely has this problem because he sets a timer for everything he cooks. I try to follow his example and it really has cut down on my incinerated dishes. You might wonder why I have this problem. I become distracted! The door bell rings, the phone rings, someone is looking for something,…I try to multi-task and get this last little thing finished…that’s when I smell smoke. Life is full of distractions. Do you know that sinking feeling you get when you are supposed to have that assignment in and you are running out of time? I do.

I think the people of Isaiah’s time were the same way. They had full lives with lots of things to distract them from the messages that God was sending through His prophets. God had Isaiah use some extreme actions in order to issue a warning. He had to go around barefoot and stripped down for 3 years. Even though Isaiah was probably wearing his undergarment as the law required him to practice modesty, you would still think that was embarrassing for him. Yet his warning was witnessed by the people and his prophecy did come true.  This proved that he was speaking for the LORD.

Even though we do not have the physical presence of Isaiah with us today, we do have his messages. His messages along with all the other writings composing the scriptures should get our attention.

I asked some of our youth workers what they consider distractions and as you can imagine, the answer was “anything can be a distraction”.

Our challenge today should be to remove some of those distractions. We should truly focus on God and spending time in the scriptures. We should look at the example of Christ and the early Christians, learning how to interact with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

~ The Guthrie Grove Youth Ministry Team

 

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

Tomorrow, we continue reading the history of Israel in Isaiah 23-27 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan