There’s a War Out There

Matthew 4

January 4

Deserts are dangerous places! Wild animals, extreme temperatures, lack of water, and don’t forget the devil, the tempter or Satan – he goes by many names – even in our short desert passage in Matthew 4 (vs. 1, 3, 10).

But, dangerous deserts aren’t his only hang-out. He was also spotted in an other-wise perfect garden giving a tantalizing advertisement for forbidden fruit. And, oh the trouble he caused there! The spiraling, echoing repercussions of which we can still feel and see and hear today. The darkness. The evil. The distance from God and His will and His way.

Don’t assume that if you don’t see a crafty red fellow with horns and a spiked tail or a wily talking snake that you are free from temptation and the spiritual battle between good and evil. Paul says it well in Ephesians 6:10-18. I encourage you to read the whole passage, but here I will include verses 11-14a

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”

Jesus shows us how to Stand Firm against the devil’s schemes. Adam and Eve show us how to crumble, reject God and His truth, listening instead to Satan’s lies and pursuing selfish gain and ultimately paying the consequences – which lasts for generations to come. Let’s not follow in Adam and Eve’s footprints as they take the serpent’s bait and then try to hide from God in their guilt.

Let’s look again at Jesus’ victorious example in Matthew 4:1-11.

It is interesting that Jesus had just completed a 40 day fast in the desert when Satan appears ready to tempt him with food. Certainly a fast of this length would make you hungry, so at first it seems maybe Jesus will be weakened by his current circumstances. However, keep in mind that a fast is NOT just not eating, an extreme diet plan. It is rather giving up typical food, schedules, conveniences, practices, self to instead focus on seeking God and drawing near to Him. 40 days of seeking God, sacrificing self “needs” to focus on His desires. Jesus’ stomach was empty but his spiritual tank was full up and ready for battle. He was armed with all the ingredients necessary for a successful stand against Satan. Truth. Righteousness. The gospel of peace. Faith to extinguish ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one. Salvation. AND interestingly the only offensive piece of equipment in the armor of God – the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. He was prepared to not just protect himself but he was also prepared to do battle with the forces that wanted to tear him from God and His will. He was armed with Scripture. He knew it well and he knew how to use it to rebuke Satan’s attacks.

That, is what I want. I want to stand firm in victory over Satan because armed with God’s armor and using God’s word has power over evil. I want to know and love and be practiced in God’s word so I can use God’s light from His words to scatter the darkness. And, that is what I want for you, too. Let’s suit up with the armor of God and His Word!

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. On a scale of 1-10 how aware are you of the spiritual battle being waged right now? In Scott Deane’s class on Daniel and Revelation for Atlanta Bible College, he often said, “What happens in the spiritual world affects what happens in the physical world.” Do you see evidence of this in Scripture? Do you see evidence of this in our world today?
  2. When do you feel weak against evil and Satan’s attempts to pull you from God and His will? When do you feel spiritually strong? How can you make changes to increase the amount of time you feel more spiritually prepared to face the devil’s schemes?
  3. What was Jesus’ message when he began preaching (Matt 4:17)? Where did we hear this before? (Matt 3:2) Do you think we will hear it again in Matthew? Is it a message we still need to hear today?
  4. Who did Jesus call to follow him and fish for men in Matthew 4? What did they give up to follow Jesus? What are you willing to give up in order to have more time and resources to follow Jesus and fish for men? How are your fishing for men skills? How can you develop them more? Who do you know who is currently in darkness and in need of being caught for Jesus? What can you do this week to share Jesus with them?

The Opening Act

Matthew 3

January 3

The prophecies foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament continue in chapter 3, but this time in regards to a man known as John the Baptist. Isaiah prophesied that there would be, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3, and original thought in Isaiah 40:3). This John is a relative of Jesus, born to Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth. See Luke 1 for more on his family and the events surrounding his own miraculous birth about 6 months before the birth of Jesus. Even as a pre-born baby in his mother’s previously barren and aging womb John reacted with joy at Mary’s greeting when she came to tell Elizabeth about her encounter with the angel Gabriel and the child she would carry. These young men, Jesus and John, have quite a connection. They go way back – not just to their days in utero, but going back 700 years to Isaiah’s prophecy.

John had a job to do. A job that had been waiting for him for 700 years – prepare the way for the Lord. He was the opening act. His job was to prepare the audience. Pump them up. Get the crowd ready to listen to and appreciate and adore the one who would come after him, the one who is greater than he is, the one who is the main act, the show stopper. He got to introduce the crowd to the one who could be their Savior.

John definitely had a way of getting people’s attention. But not in a flashy way at all. I don’t think he would be found in the mega church today. He was the preacher out in the desert. The one wearing weird, worn and outdated clothing and also known for his curious all-natural diet. He wasn’t about gaining popularity points or fitting in. He knew it wasn’t about him. It was about Jesus. And he had a job to do.

His message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). With Jesus’ earthly ministry now ready to start, it was time to make changes. They were closer to God’s kingdom now than they ever had been before. A kingdom needs a king and they were about to get their first look at the king chosen by God to rule His kingdom. But were they ready? No.

Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Stop using your religion as a show to look better than others. Stop relying on your impressive family tree for salvation. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. Start producing good fruit that shows you have changed. Start preparations for the coming judgment day. It’s closer than you think. Repent of your sins, turn your life around. For the Kingdom of heaven and the judgment day that comes with it is closer than you think. Let me introduce you to God’s chosen king – His Son Jesus!

-Marcia Railton

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. Repentance is not just feeling sorry or regret for doing wrong, but also a commitment and action for change, turning from your sins to do right. In what ways have you sinned and need to repent? What will it look like to turn in the opposite direction and do right? What good fruit is God wanting to see in your life?
  2. Jesus, even though sinless, was baptized by John to set an example for believers. Baptism is a physical act to show your need for repentance and your acceptance of a Savior. Have you been baptized? If so, what does it mean to you? If not, do you have questions about baptism you would like to discuss with a spiritual mentor or pastor?
  3. What was seen and heard at the end of Jesus’ baptism? What do you think Jesus was feeling or thinking at this moment? What do you think God was feeling or thinking at this moment? How do you feel, what do you think, as you envision this scene?
  4. Who has been a John the Baptist for you – someone who helped point the way and introduce you to Jesus? If you know Jesus now, who will you introduce to Jesus?

Fulfilled

Matthew 2

January 2

While I am greatly looking forward to this year’s reading plan, I must say I am a little sad knowing we won’t be in the Old Testament everyday as we were last year. There is a LOT of good stuff in the Old Testament! Thankfully, even our New Testament readings will often take us back to the foundations laid in the Old Testament. My NIV Study Bible notes say that Matthew quotes from various Old Testament authors at least 47 times throughout his book of 28 chapters. He obviously knew his Scriptures well and saw great value in them. Matthew, inspired by God, would use these Old Testament passages wisely to show the connections from the plans God set into motion while working with the patriachs, kings and His chosen people, the Jews in the Old Testament to the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming return of God’s Son the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One/Jesus! It is great fun reading through the Old Testament to find the clues leading to Jesus, and in the New Testament finding the prophecies fulfilled which had been spoken centuries before, pointing all generations and all peoples to this one-of-a-kind king that would show us God’s heart and purpose and plan like it had never been revealed before.

Two weeks ago the children and youth of our church performed a play called “Long Foretold”. It is a Christmas play from the Answers in Genesis organization which included not just the nativity but also many of the prophecies that would begin to see fulfillment with the birth of Jesus. The seed of woman that would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15). All nations shall be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 18:17-18). A child would come (Isaiah 9:6) – born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:13-14). A ruler would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2-5), from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), from the line of David (Isaiah 9:7). Kings from afar will bring gifts and worship (Psalm 72:10-11). Foretold in the Old Testament. Fulfilled in the New Testament. The Scriptures are all about Jesus who is God’s Son and God’s ultimate plan of redemption. God’s Scriptures are perfect in revealing this plan.

But what happens when traditions take over and God’s word is replaced bit by bit with human ideas and misconceptions. Errors occur. Then we get three kings bowing at the manger next to the shepherds. But what does Matthew 2 -the only Biblical account of the magi – say? It does not record how many magi had traveled from the east – only that they brought three gifts. We only know it was more than one but it could have been four, five or a much larger group of magi or wise men, never referred to as kings. We know that these learned men from the East (possibly Persia) saw a new star in the sky and recognized it as a sign that a new king of the Jews was born. They had heard amazing things about this king and wanted to worship and bring gifts and see him for themselves. So they traveled to Jerusalem, straight to the king’s palace, a likely place to find a child king. But King Herod the Great had heard no such news and was in no mood to welcome a child who would take his place. He wants more information so he calls in Jerusalem’s own “wise men” – the chief priests and teachers of the law. They are very familiar with the Scriptures and reveal that the long-awaited Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, a small town near Jerusalem. The magi’s journey continues and now they follow the star directly to the HOUSE and find the CHILD (not the baby in the manger).

While we aren’t told, it is interesting to think about where the wise men from a far away country to the east of Israel would have received this information that a star would signal the birth of a Jewish king that would be like no other. In the play “Long Foretold”, as well as many other sources, a possible link is explored between these wise men from the east and Daniel, the devout Jewish exile who was elevated to the role of lead prefect of the wise men of Babylon (also in the East) about 550 years before the birth of Christ. We know Daniel was faithful in serving and speaking for his God even in a foreign pagan country so it makes sense that he would have passed along Jewish knowledge to the wise men under him. We know Daniel prophesied about the coming Messiah. And we know that SOME information God gave him was to be sealed up and saved for a future time. Perhaps this was information saved for the generation of wise men that would see the star and travel to Jerusalem to welcome the Jewish child king. Perhaps there is yet more information sealed up awaiting the generation of wise men (and women) who will be on earth to welcome the return of this same king with a trumpet blast. Get all of the accurate information you can and act on it! You don’t want to be unprepared when the King comes into town.

-Marcia Railton

Reflection and Discussion Questions -pick and choose
  • How many times in Matthew 2 does Matthew quote or refer to what the prophets had said? What do you think he is trying to tell his readers? As we go through the book of Matthew this month take note of all the times he writes about the prophets and the Old Testament. Can you find at least 47?
  • Do a little research on King Herod the Great. Who was he? What motivated him? What is he known for? His death is recorded in Matthew 2:19, thus making it safe for Mary, Joseph and Jesus to exit out of Egypt and return to the land of Israel (sound familiar from anything in the Old Testament)? What members of Herod’s family will we see later in Matthew?
  • We are not told a lot of information about the magi. But from their actions, what can we learn about them? What characteristics found in the wise men would we be wise for us to work on today?
  • Look up or create your own list of Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and New Testament fulfillments of these prophecies. You can even create a matching game for family devotions or your small group. Why is it important to see the Old Testament connection? Are there some prophecies of Jesus not yet fulfilled? How does that make you feel?

Don’t Quit

Jeremiah 35 & 36

We sure could use a few more Jeremiahs today!  He was quick to follow God’s instructions, and he boldly spoke God’s truth even when it was quite unpopular.  And, he didn’t quit!

At the time of the events of Jeremiah chapter 36 the prophet had already been preaching to his Jewish brothers and sisters for over 20 years – warning them again and again of God’s displeasure and the coming wrath if they don’t repent and turn from their wicked ways.  Over and over again he has urged the people, the kings, the priests to stop sinning and return to God.  But as a nation, they don’t get it.  They revel in their freedom, follow after the gods of their neighbors and fall further and further from what God designed them to be – His chosen people who love Him and follow Him and are blessed by Him.

The 20 plus years of preaching hasn’t turned the hearts of Judah back to their Creator.  Maybe if it was ALL written down – would the people listen then?  God tells Jeremiah to write down all the sermons he has ever preached – every word that God has given him from the very start of his ministry.  God said, “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:3 NIV).  Even though God hates the sins of His people He still loves them and wants to give them another chance to come back to Him.  And so a great project begins.  Jeremiah dictates as his scribe Baruch writes it all down.  Perhaps the people will listen.  They spend over a year writing – God has said a lot.  How will the people respond to this book that lays it all out?

Since Jeremiah’s unpopular (but very Godly) message has already had him personally banned from the temple, Baruch is sent to read God’s words through Jeremiah to the people.  One who hears it, Micaiah, realizes the importance of what has been written and he arranges a reading of it with some of the royal officials.  “When they heard all these words, they looked at each other in fear” (Jeremiah 36:16) and they arrange for the king himself to hear the words on the scroll from Baruch, Jeremiah, and ultimately God.

Here’s the king’s chance.  He can hear God’s word and repent and lead the nation into a time of Godly reformation, thus saving them from God’s wrath at the hands of the Babylonians – just as his father Josiah had done years ago.  But King Jehoiakim thinks he knows better.  His arrogance and hardened heart don’t crack.  Instead, as the scroll is read to him in his chambers, he cuts it apart and burns God’s word, piece by piece.

Can you imagine the anger and defeat and perhaps fear Jeremiah and Baruch may have felt when they heard the fate of their scroll – God’s words?  To know the utter disrespect they (and their God) had received – and how their work was violated and destroyed.  And they didn’t even have a copy saved on their hard drive.  Totally lost.  Over a year’s work, gone.  But, God’s Word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).  So, when God tells Jeremiah to write it all down again – with an extra word for Jehoiakim – Jeremiah and Baruch get to work – and the second work is completed, more impressive than the first. And perhaps much of what we read today in the book of Jeremiah comes from this second labor of love and obedience and great persistence.

God’s Words are priceless.  Some will hear and respond and pass it on. Like Jeremiah they are motivated to live by, love and share God’s words in order to save themselves and their hearers  (1 Timothy 4:16).  But others will scoff, show no fear and even seek to destroy it.  It does not change the supreme importance and value of the words – or the God who spoke them.  Nations, kings, priests, people; past, present and future will be judged by how they respond to God and His Word.  The king who brazenly cut apart and burned the scroll paid with his life – and his children and country suffered mightily for it as well.  Jeremiah and Baruch had far from an easy life – but they didn’t give up.  They kept at it – writing, sharing, reading, speaking and living God’s Word.  They persistently worked striving to help save those in danger of experiencing God’s wrath.  Will you stand with them today and be a Jeremiah?

-Marcia Railton

Sorry we were late in sending today’s devotion out.

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 35 & 36 and Hebrews 9

Some NOT NICE things to say

Jeremiah 19-20

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” It’s a nice way to remind elementary students to stop calling each other names and using insults and put-downs to hurt others. Perhaps putting this common saying into practice could lead to a more peaceful classroom or sibling relationship. I am sure I have used it more than a time or two for those purposes.

But, it is not an effective rule for a prophet of God speaking God’s truth to a wayward, stubborn, forgetful, corrupt, sinful nation. Jeremiah has been given the task of speaking some very hard and difficult and “NOT NICE” things. He must confront the people with their many sins that have gotten them into trouble, very disturbing things like killing the innocent and burning their children in the fire as sacrifices to fake and foreign gods. And, he must show the people the terror of their coming destruction which God would send because of their wretched sins, awful things like death by the sword, human remains being left for the birds and wild animals to ravage, and starvation so severe they eat their own children’s flesh.

Jeremiah’s assignment from God was to speak and write these horrific things to his friends, neighbors, co-workers, countrymen, and perhaps even some family members, as well as the king and government officials and the priests and religious leaders. And the people didn’t like hearing it at all. I’m guessing he was probably not a real popular guy to have around and likely wasn’t invited to many parties. They would much rather listen to the prophets who prophesied lies – that all is well with the world, that God is not angry (I saw that on a church sign once), that God’s mercy will always triumph and there will be no judgment, that all will be whisked away to play harps in heaven with no fear of the Almighty.

In today’s chapter 20, those who should have been listening tried to silence him with a beating and a night in the stocks. It is much easier for us to read it, than if we were to endure it ourselves. Adding to the pain of Jeremiah’s trouble and torture – it was the priest of the temple who had ordered his punishment! This was the man who should have been on Jeremiah’s side. He should have been in tune with God and should have seen the sins for what they were and should have been speaking against the sinful people, not against the brave lone prophet of God.

I love Jeremiah’s heart after this painful experience.

“I am ridiculed all day long;
    everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
    proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
    insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.
10 I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!
    Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
    are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we will prevail over him
   and take our revenge on him.”

11 But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior…”

Jeremiah 20:7b-11a NIV

But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior! He was tired of the ridicule and insults (and physical pain) he received from speaking for God. It seemed so easy and tempting to walk away from it all or just start saying nice things the people wanted to hear. But, he couldn’t. God’s truth was bubbling up inside him and he couldn’t and wouldn’t hold it in. So, regardless of what people would think of him or do to him, he would speak for God, even when it wasn’t nice things to say. And he would have the confidence that God was with him like a mighty warrior!

I pray we may have that same courage, that same convicting knowledge of the sin in and around us that can’t be ignored, that clear vision of God’s mercy and judgment, that same willingness and unstoppable desire to speak God’s words that can’t be held back, and that same confidence that we have a mighty warrior God standing by our side.

Speak His Words,

Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 19-20 and Hebrews 1

Forgetfulness that Leads to Death

Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17 & 18

Forgetfulness is a common ailment. We all forget. We forget where we put the keys. We forget to send the birthday card, forget to get milk at the store and forget to pay the bill or finish the homework or return the library books. We climb in bed after a long day of remembering lots of things and realize we forgot to exercise and read our Bible and call mom. I have done it all. I am pretty much an expert forgetter.

Much of the time our forgetfulness is just inconvenient or unfortunate. It means we have to make an extra stop at the store tomorrow, pay the late fee on our bill, or receive a lower grade. Maybe one day we will learn there are consequences to our forgetfulness and it will help us remember to do what we had planned to do all along – until we forgot.

But sometimes a poor memory will actually lead to death. Tragic cases can occasionally be read in the news. Forgetting to take children out of their car seats and into safety. Forgetting to latch and lock the pool gate. Forgetting the once familiar route home. There can be dreadful, heartbreaking consequences for yourself or others which can lead to death when one simply forgets.

You can also read about the devastating effects of forgetfulness in the Bible. In fact, in both of today’s passages we find instances of forgetful people, with various results. In our Psalm for the day (106), we continue the history lesson of God’s people. In today’s lesson the Israelites are exiting Egypt and traveling through the dessert. Maybe the heat is getting to them because they seem to be having a hard time remembering some pretty big and important events that happened not so long ago.

Psalm 106:7 — When our ancestors were in Egypt,
    they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
    and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:13 — But they soon forgot what he had done
    and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Psalm 106:19-21 — At Horeb they made a calf
    and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
    for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
    who had done great things in Egypt

Sometimes the forgetful people are met with God’s mercy and yet another miracle they will also forget further down the road. Sometimes it’s more serious, and even fatal. Poisonous snakes, deadly disease, and the ground swallowing up those who forgot to remember God. What else could God do to help them remember?

Many generations later we see the same tragic forgetfulness recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 18:15 — Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths. 

They had forgotten the MOST important thing of all – the One who gave them life, the One who provided for all their needs, the One who had laid out blessings for those who follow, the One who had laid out curses for those who went their own stubborn way. They forgot God. And because of their repeated forgetfulness God was preparing the curses promised in his covenant: destruction, invasion, death.

It is easy to get so caught up in living our own busy lives, going our own stubborn ways, before we know it, we have forgotten our Life-Giving Teacher and all the lessons He was trying to teach us. And, instead, we face death and destruction.

Thankfully, there are ways to remember. With effort we can fight off this deadly tendency to forget. Here’s some ideas to build your memory.

How to Remember

Keep a thankful journal. Write down at least 3 things each day to thank God for. The act of writing helps you remember, and you will have the written journal to return to when your brain gets fuzzy on the details of how God has provided and cared for you – every day.

Clear an overly busy schedule. Trying to do too many other things that really don’t matter doesn’t leave time and space in your overbooked brain and calendar to remember God and do what is most important. You may even find some of those “extras” in your life that were getting too much of your time and memories were approaching, or at, idol status. Clear ’em out.

Get to church, Sunday school, Bible study, youth group, the church mens or ladies group, church camp, etc… Surround yourself regularly with those who are helpful for jogging your spiritual memory. When left alone brain connections can diminish leading to difficulty recalling. Instead, get to church. It’s a great place to overcome your own memory deficiencies – and it’s a great place where you can even help someone else remember God, His greatness and all He has done.

Add visual or auditory cues. What “tricks” will help you remember to keep God first. The Israelites were told to write it on their doorposts – maybe you need some Bible verses on your wall, mirror and refrigerator. Satan uses many schemes to erase God from people’s memory. Jesus found great power against Satan’s schemes by using God’s scriptures which he had committed to memory. Take out that Bible, the Sword of the Spirit, and use it daily to slash away cobwebs forming in your brain. Time and study and a love for God’s eternal word is the best cure I know for forgetfulness that leads to death.

Remember God and what He has done, is doing and will do!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17-18

God is My Teacher

Jeremiah 15-16 and Psalm 105

Yesterday’s Psalm (104) gave a history lesson on creation. Today’s Psalm (105) gives an overview of God at work during the years of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. God makes a great history teacher – He was there when it all happened and He knows clearly the lessons that ought to be learned to celebrate the good parts of the past and to prevent the tragedy of history repeating the ugly parts. The inspired Psalmist wrote: “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.” (Psalm 105:5). We would do well to remember and be in awe of the amazing miraculous ways God has worked in the past to help teach and provide for His children. And, we must not forget the times He has taught (and will teach) with punishment and judgment those who have turned their backs on Him.

Our passage in Jeremiah today speaks of God as a teacher. Unfortunately, it is at a time when, “Each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me.” (Jeremiah 16:12 – see the recurring stubborn heart problem we talked of earlier this week). Because of their disobedience and collection of false gods (one false god is too many) the lesson coming wasn’t going to be a pleasant one. God says, “Therefore, I will teach them – this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 16:21 NIV)

I love the idea of God being a teacher. We chose the name Moriah for our first born daughter, partly because of the reminder to always keep God first, even above our precious children (Moriah was the name of the mountain God sent Abraham to when He tested his faith and allegiance to Him). And, then when I found out Moriah means “God is my teacher” in Hebrew, it became an automatic favorite. This world tries to teach us many lies. I pray me and my family (and you and yours) will listen to and learn from God instead. And, if we learn the lesson well to put Him first and seek Him always, perhaps we will be saved the agony of the lessons He has reserved for those who have turned to false gods and neglect following His words. May we be busy listening to, and doing, what the Teacher says.

Jeremiah gives a good example of what kind of a student we ought to be. He says to God, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16) What teacher wouldn’t love having a student like this – one who listens, loves, devours, and receives great joy from the Teacher’s words and also takes pride in calling themselves the Teacher’s student. In fact, God told him if he repents (turns from evil) and speaks worthy not worthless words, he will use Jeremiah as his spokesman (Jeremiah 15:19 – perhaps a promotion to teacher’s aide?)

A good teacher knows the subject matter well – God does. He made the world and everything in it. He knows everything. He is the one and only omniscient being.

A great teacher must also know his students well – God does. What are the students’ strengths, their weaknesses, their needs, their fears? What motivates them, what distracts them, what do they already know, what do they still need to learn today, what do they need to be truly successful? How many hairs are on their head? God knows! In Jeremiah 16:17 God says, “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.” The all-knowing, all-seeing teacher doesn’t miss a thing.

And, of course, the very best teacher not only knows each student backward and forward, inside and out, but that teacher loves each and every child to pieces, and is willing to sacrifice for that child’s benefit – God does! He loved you so much that He gave His one and only Son so that you, His student, could have life. His love doesn’t mean punishments won’t be given when earned. After all, punishment is a powerful way to teach a needed lesson. But through it all, never doubt, He knows, He loves and He teaches.

If God is the teacher, what kind of student are you? Are you the child who is easily distracted and zones out during the lesson, missing what the Teacher wants you to know? Are you the one who is making jokes during class to gain the attention and praise of your classmates? Do you deserve several time-outs a day due to your lack of self-control – throwing pencils across the room and getting caught up in sin? Are you a student with a stubborn heart problem and way too many gods in your life? (Hint: the most important math lesson is – the correct number of Gods is ONE and He is the Almighty Creator and Teacher who gives the final grades.). Or, are you a student who is feasting on the Teacher’s words, seeking Him, repenting, and searching for worthy words in an effort to help other students hear His words, too?

Report cards are coming – for you, your family, your church, and all nations. What will the Teacher say about you?

“Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 15-16 and Psalm 105

My Creator God

Psalm 104 & Jeremiah 13, 14

Our family loves camping and finding new places to hike or kayak through God’s beautiful world. The variety of his creation is truly amazing! Desert, forest, plains, mountain, ocean. We love them all and the chance to explore a new little corner of His world we haven’t seen yet. And, along the way, trying to capture a photo to remind us of the beauty and creativity we had the privilege to see.

Psalm 104 is a beautiful poem of creation. I would love to make a photo book or photo wall with pictures from our family hikes and travels depicting each verse and phrase.

“He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (vs 2) – sunshine blazing in all His glory

“he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (vs 2) – expansive blue sky from horizon to horizon

“He makes the clouds his chariot” (vs 3) – white and multi-shades of gray amazing textured rolling clouds with shafts of sunlight shining through with the brilliant blue sky behind

“He makes springs pour water into the ravines” – hot springs bubbling from the ground and flowing down the mountain side

You get the idea. There would be photos of waterfalls, lightening, mountaintops, ocean waves on the shore, rainstorms, the moon, plants and animals, sunrises, sea creatures, and people. Each one accompanied with God’s text.

I recently taught a unit on creation to the adorable children in children’s church. And it was so much fun spending a week (or more) on each aspect of God’s amazing creation. We brought in shells and rocks and leaves and bird feathers to touch and play with. We matched plant photos to foods we eat and counted plant products in ingredient labels. (Do you know how many plants are in a box of Cheerios or mac’n cheese?) We classified plants and animals and brought in a bird expert. We watched videos and explored books on clouds and planets and sea creatures and the animal kingdom and the incredible human body. And all the things that we take for granted everyday.

Not only is God’s world a beautiful world – but so incredibly functional, too! He thought of EVERYTHING! The more I learn of science and the human body in particular, the more I am amazed at His creation.

I have never made anything nearly as intricate or useful as the smallest, tiniest, most simplistic, most ‘insignificant’ part of God’s creation. But, I do like to create quilts – little scraps of colored fabric (which came from a cotton plant) sewn together in patterns to make a cozy cover to bring comfort and warmth. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to meet someone who explained that those quilts just came to be one day – that it grew from nothing and became strings that wove themselves together and the fabrics cut themselves into the perfect shapes and even stitches magically formed just as they were needed to piece the top together and the materials used to create the final layered project appeared at just the right time and space and lined up just so to automatically go through the final steps to create my quilt. Foolishness. It is foolishness that leaves out the thought, intention, desire, creativity, vision, purpose and ability of me, the quilt creator. Or, equally painful – maybe they would give all the credit for the making of the quilt to another.

It makes sense that the Creator of the Heavens and Earth wants us to enjoy and admire His creation – and give Him all the credit He so much deserves. But, what happens when people don’t? What happens when they take away the glory that belongs to God and call it chance instead or give it to another? What happens when they refuse to listen to God’s words – the first recorded words being – “Let there be light”? What happens when they attribute God’s creation to another? We see in the book of Jeremiah. “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless!” Jeremiah goes on in today’s reading to describe the drought, famine and sword that will be used in judgment of those who have stubbornly turned from God. Jeremiah 14 ends with God telling Jeremiah to speak to the people, telling them to acknowledge their guilt and wickedness and sins against Him and ask God to remember His covenant. The final verse of chapter 14 says,

“Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
    Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, Lord our God.
    Therefore our hope is in you,
    for you are the one who does all this.” (vs 22 NIV)

Not only did Our Great God create this world for us – He made a covenant with us – He has power still today – and He holds out a blessed hope for those who acknowledge and worship Him for all He has done, is doing and will do.

Thank you God for your incredible Creation – help me see and appreciate each amazing part!

Thank you God for the rains today – help me see you at work today!

Thank you God for the hope you set before those who believe and worship you alone – a New Heavens and Earth that will be beyond all we can ever dream or imagine!

You are our hope – for you are the one who does all this!

-Marcia Railton

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 13-14 and Psalm 104

I Did it My Way!

Jeremiah 11-12 and Psalm 102-103

Have you noticed one of Jeremiah’s repeated themes yet? So far we have seen it in 3:17, 5:23, 7:24, 9:14, and in today’s reading in 11:8. It will surface again in 13:10, 16:12, 18:12 and 23:17. Chapter divisions were not included in the original writings of Jeremiah, but it’s interesting that throughout the first half of his book about every 2 chapters (or perhaps every column or two on his scroll), Jeremiah writes of the stubbornness of the people.

Jeremiah 5:23 – But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away.

Jeremiah 7:24 – But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.

Jeremiah 11:6-8 – The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”

I can envision some stubborn starved Hebrew men and women who have been shut up in Jerusalem as the enemy surrounds and destruction is eminent. And they are belting out Frank Sinatra’s hit song – “My Way”.

They had been determined to do what they wanted. They had shut their ears and their hearts to God’s call and His commands. They had refused to comply, agree to or give in to the terms of their Creator’s covenant. They had turned their backs on the Almighty and were going backward not forward. They had chased after pagan idols. In their pride they had elevated themselves, their pleasure, their dreams, their wants, their ways above God’s. Their evil hearts were caught up in sin. They were stubborn and rebellious and there would be a price to pay.

Do you have any stubborn streaks? Sometimes we prefer to use words like determined, headstrong, set in one’s ways. Got any stubborn children – or should I say – strong-willed and opinionated? How often do we remember that God’s opinion is the only one that matters? How often do we remember, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Funeral homes in the UK reported that the song “My Way” is the most often requested song for funerals. A lot of people would like to be remembered as the strong, bold, unbending trailblazer who did life his/her own way. Will you be one of them?

Or will you hear God’s voice calling, “Obey Me”? Stop trying to stubbornly do life your way. Your way leads to disaster and death. My prayer is that we may be a people who surrender to God’s will and way and can say, “I did it God’s Way!”

-Marcia Railton

As an interesting note, Frank Sinatra disliked his great money-making hit, “My Way”. Songfacts.com states: “This became Frank Sinatra’s signature song, but he couldn’t stand it, saying he “loathed” the song. In his later years, he described the song as “a Paul Anka pop hit which became a kind of national anthem.” In a 2000 interview with the BBC show Hardtalk, Sinatra’s daughter Tina said, “He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent. He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe.” Beware of turning your life into a catchy, popular, people-pleasing tune that is actually self-serving and self-indulgent. Thanks for the lesson, Frank.

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 11-12 and Psalm 102-103

Don’t Withhold the Cure

Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

The Old Testament prophets who spoke for God, including Jeremiah, were entrusted with preaching a lot of doom and gloom. Because God’s children had strayed from his commands, judgment would be coming and the people needed to know. I loved Jeff Fletcher’s illustration in his devotion yesterday of a doctor who could be charged with malpractice if he knew the sick condition of a patient’s insides and knew how to fix it and what changes the patient would need to make in order to cure the potentially deadly ailment, and said nothing. This would be like the Christian who sees the broken sinful world and pretends everything is okay. Don’t withhold the cure.

Jeremiah paints a very vivid picture of a world that is not okay. Chapter 9 opens with the prophet mourning the sinfulness of God’s people. He would love nothing more than to pack up and go to a desert retreat where he could get away from and forget this crowd of unfaithful people. Can you relate? But, rather than abandoning the people in their sin, Jeremiah continues passionately speaking truth for God, over and over, even though his words often seem to fall on deaf ears. He still must speak and write and hold out the cure to these wayward people.

God has had it, too. He aptly describes the situation this way:

“It is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3b NIV)

and again, “They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sining. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:6 NIV)

It sounds to me like God and Jeremiah are describing the sad state of affairs in 2021. So many lies and deceptions abound when attempting to justify and explain and even celebrate sin and sinful lifestyles that fester and grow when individuals and nations and societies have turned their backs on God.

It is as though God is left without a choice. “What else can I do because of the sin of my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7 NIV) “‘Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’ ” (Jeremiah 9:9 NIV). God had drawn up the rules long ago with blessings promised to those who followed and curses to those who stubbornly disobeyed. Many chances had been given. Prophets had been sent to remind the people of the deadly disease and of the cure – repentance, turning away from sin and turning back to God. But these were a very stubborn people who took delight in continuing in their sin and lies and more sin and more lies.

God had given mercy. God had given reminders. God had given prophets. God had stretched out the cure. But, to no avail. So, God says – it is time. It is time to teach your daughters how to wail – death and destruction is coming. (Jeremiah 9:20,21).

Towards the end of chapter 9 an interesting section seems almost out of place…

 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Perhaps it was written more for us who would be reading Jeremiah centuries later, to remind us of the choice we have. And, the great opportunity we have to boast about our God, our Creator, Our YHWH. He created the cure. His Son is the cure that was not yet available in Jeremiah’s day. Sin is the same and comes with the same consequences – death. People today need to know about the cure. They don’t need to hear you bragging about your dinner, your kids, your car, your job, your grades, your house, your ______ (on social media or at the checkout line). They need to know about the LORD our God who exercises kindness AND justice and always righteousness. The Psalms passages today have some great examples of boasting about our God while holding out the cure. How can you hold out the cure today to a nation and world that is unknowingly in the stages of the deadly disease of disobedience?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

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