Surrender, Sacrifice and Serve

Mark 10

Monday, August 1, 2022

Yesterday, we discussed how we are called to recognize that what we want may not be what God has in store for us. It is up to us to give up our false understanding and lean on the trust we have in God. Today’s passage drums a similar beat. It contains examples of Jesus fulfilling the old law, God’s desires for us, those who will receive this message, and what can happen if we but give ourselves over to Him.

Chapter 10 begins with some Pharisees approaching Jesus on the law concerning Moses. I believe this was yet another one of their attempts to trick Jesus into going against the law of Moses, and thus giving them a reason to condemn Him. He responds by telling them that “it was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law” – Mark 10:5 (the law that a man is permitted to write a certificate of divorce if he so wishes.) He then continues with, “But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” – Mark 10:6-9. I especially love the verbiage of not letting man separate what God has joined, because God’s way is ultimately the only way that matters, and his say is the final word.

Adding to what God has set forth, Jesus rebukes the disciples for hindering children from hearing what Jesus had to say and His blessing. (Side note: this chapter is full of teachings concerning children, which is quite important.) In Mark 10:14-15 Jesus says “… Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Not only has God set forth that the kingdom of God belongs to the little children, but also that it is the ultimate end-goal for every person to reach. It is not, of course, only for the children, but it is a metaphor for the childlike innocence and earnestness of the heart that we should have in our attempt to reach salvation. Not out of spite or a fake face that we put on to appear like we love God.

The second part of this passage ties in well with yesterday’s takeaway; our call to give up from ourselves so that we may gain so much more in return. A beautiful verse expressing this idea is Mark 10:29-31 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” That, my brothers and sisters, is a very difficult task to complete. Would you be able to give up everything in your life for your faith?

Fortunately, it is not without reward, for as much as we give, we will be rewarded 10 times 10 fold over! Perhaps the best way to think of it is that no riches we gain on earth matter in the end, because an eternal life with God is unfathomably more valuable than anything in this life. We must, however, do these things with an earnest heart and not from a realm of bitterness. What’s more is that this principle is not given without an example – Jesus’s sacrifice.

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Even Christ, the most holy of any human to walk this earth, gave of Himself for the sanctity and salvation of others.

The first step towards an eternal life is to trust that God is in control even in the most unsettling or confusing of times. The next step is to then give everything you have to Him, and to be prepared to do so for His glory every day.

-Mason Kiel

Application Questions

  1. Jesus gave many lessons in Mark 10. Looking through the chapter, which one is the biggest challenge for you right now? Why is it difficult? What do you think Jesus would say to you regarding this challenge? What steps would Jesus have you work on to grow closer to what God wants you to be/do.
  2. How does remembering the reward help when it is hard to surrender, sacrifice and serve?
  3. Who and how will you serve today?

A Love Poem

Song of Solomon 2

Friday, July 22, 2022

Song of Solomon contains poetry written by Solomon.  Some people try to spiritualize it, suggesting it describes the relationship between God and a follower of God.  Those who think that have obviously not read it.  Song of Solomon describes the intimate relationship between a husband and a wife, sometimes a little graphically.  If you’ve never read the Bible before, the Song of Solomon just might pique your interest.  I’ll share a few verses from chapter 2.

SoS 2:2 says, “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.”  Husbands and future husbands take note.  Highlight what you appreciate about your wife, and make sure she knows it well and often. But the praise must be sincere.  And if it’s appropriate and if she would appreciate it, make sure you extend this praise publicly.  But don’t just stop with praise.  Treat her like she is precious because she is.

SoS 2:4 contains part of the wife’s response, “His banner over me is love.”  All by itself, this sounds pretty weird.  I think this is saying that her husband is publicly proclaiming his love for her – sort of like writing it on a flag, and waving it around for everyone to see.  He is not ashamed to acknowledge her publicly.  Again, husbands take note.

In SoS 2:6, the wife goes on to say, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.”  I’ll leave it to your imagination to consider their position and presumed activity.  Husband’s again take note.  If you shower your wife with love.  If you make her a priority, and she knows it.  If she knows you’re never ashamed of having her at your side.  Things will go a lot better with your love life.

She goes on to say in SoS 2:7, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”  I would say that differently.  I would say “save sex for marriage” – and then, it is a wonderful blessing from God for both husband and wife to enjoy to the fullest together.

In his reply, in SoS 2:15, the husband says, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom”.  I think the idea here is that there are always little things that can attack the relationship, and these things need to be caught and stopped.  Some examples may include selfishness, pride, never admitting that you are wrong, finding fault, unforgiveness, mistrust, etc.  All of these have to be dealt with and removed in order for the love to blossom and flourish.

In SoS 2:16-17, the wife says, “My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.  Until the day breaks and the shadows flee…”.  She is talking about how exclusive the marriage relationship must be.  (Unfortunately, Solomon didn’t do very well in this regard.  Maybe she should have said, “my lover is mine, and I am his and a thousand other women are his.”  Can you imagine how that would make your wife feel – if this wasn’t an exclusive relationship?  Husbands, again take note.

And you have to love that part in verse 17 where she says, “until the day breaks and the shadows flee…”.  It sounds like she is talking about being intimate all night long.  So, husbands, if you want verse 17, you have to have to practice verses 2 and 4 and 7 and 15.  In other words, if you want a great sex life in your marriage, adore your wife.  Let that show in everything you do and in every way you treat her, and you will see results.

Oh yeah, and do the same with your relationship with God, and you’ll see great results there too – both now and forever.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. If you aren’t married yet – what is the greatest take-away you found in Song of Solomon 2?
  2. If you are married – what is the greatest take-away you found in Song of Solomon 2?
  3. Why do you think God included Song of Solomon in the Bible?

Our Bodies Belong to God

1 Corinthians 7

June 8

1st Corinthians chapter 7 presents us with Paul explaining to the church the importance of Christian liberty in marital relations. This chapter is all about the importance of the Christian concept of marriage and how it needed to be established in the early church.

            In Paul’s letter he writes about the principles of marriage, but he also writes about singleness, in 1st Corinthians 7:4 Paul says,

            “A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does.

In a marital relationship, the husband and wife belong to one another, just as we belong to God in our relationship with him. We can also see this in how Elihu speaks to Job in Job 33:6.

            “Look, you and I both belong to God. I, too, was formed from clay.

We all belong to God in everything we do. We are to trust God in his decisions for our lives and the places we are to go, just as our spouse is to rely on us in our relationships.

            Paul also speaks of singleness in chapter 7. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 7:8-9, and verses 32-35.

            “I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am. But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, since it is better to marry than to burn with desire.

            “I want you to be without concerns. The unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord. How he may please the Lord. But the married man is concerned with the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The unmarried woman is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But the married woman is concerned with the things of the world, and how she may please her husband. I am saying this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is proper and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction.

Paul isn’t saying we shouldn’t be married or have relationships, but he is saying, that when we are in them it is important to not lose sight of your faith, and to devote yourself to God first. Sometimes our seasons of singleness are God’s way of pulling us closer to him, and that is one of the most important periods in our life. We have an opportunity to be devoted to only God and spend time learning who he wants us to be.

This is where I have been in my life lately. I’m realizing that my relationship with God must come first before I am able to have a relationship with someone else, so that we can strengthen each other through our faith in Christ. God wants a relationship with us, and for us to trust in him first and foremost.

-Hannah Eldred

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Whether you are single or married, how can you deepen your devotion to God?
  2. What is the person to do who is married to an unbeliever? Why?
  3. If you will be choosing a spouse, what does Paul say he/she has to be? Why?
  4. If you are married, how can you work (ideally, together, with your mate) at keeping God first?

Heartbreak

Hosea 1,2

      Have you ever had a broken heart?  Perhaps, your first experience with a broken heart was as a child.  That first crush was a “crushing” experience.  You gave your true love a note: “Do you like me?  Check yes or no.”  The answer was “no” and you were devastated.  Your heart was broken.  However, broken hearts are not just for kids or teens. (How many of you parents had to console your teenager who was just dumped?)  Broken hearts are for big girls and big boys too.  I remember hearing the story of a woman.  Her husband came home from work one day and simply announced, “I want a divorce!”  There was no warning or reason given.  His mind could not be changed.  She was devastated.  I also had a friend who arrived home to an apartment that appeared ransacked.  He discovered that his wife had taken all her stuff and anything else that was valuable and left without a word.  A few days later he learned that she had actually moved to another state.  The divorce papers arrived in the mail.  It is no wonder that there are so many country songs about heartbreak.  In heartbreak, it is not only the pain of separation.  It is also the message that you are not loved, that you are not good enough, and that you are not valuable to the one that you love.  It is a personal injury and It hurts… bad!  Did you know that God feels heartbreak?

     Hosea was a prophet.  Hosea had a message for the wayward people of Israel.  However, his message did not merely take the form of words.  Hosea’s message was found in his tragic life of heartbreak.  God commanded Hosea to marry a wife of harlotry.  In other words, Hosea was to marry a prostitute!  He married Gomer, however, it was not marital bliss.  Gomer was not a woman who was in the habit of being faithful.  She pursued other lovers.  In fact, Hosea had reason to doubt if the children born into marriage were even his.  Eventually, Gomer ran away and became enslaved. The names of their children not only reflect the tumultuous relationship between Hosea and Gomer, but they also represent the strained relationship between God and Israel.  The children are named “Jezreel” (a place of a massacre and symbol of the violence in Israel), Lo-ruhamah (No compassion) and Lo-ammi (not my people).  The relationship between Hosea and Gomer was a parallel to God’s relationship with Israel at the time.  For Israel had been an unfaithful wife to the LORD.  The nation of Israel had forgotten their one true God and went off in pursuit of idols.  They had broken God’s covenant by indulging in all sorts of immoral acts and by embracing violence and by allowing injustice.  God was heartbroken.  Hosea, in his sorrow, could see the heartbreak of God.

    Now, if Hosea and Gomer were your next-door neighbors, what advice would you give to Hosea?  You would probably sympathize with Hosea.  You would say, “Forget that woman.  Move on with your life!”  However, the surprise in the book of Hosea is that God commanded Hosea to seek Gomer out and rescue her from her enslavement.  In a strange twist of fate, Hosea “redeemed” or bought his own wife out of slavery and brought her back home.  In the same way, God has not given up on us sinners.  He seeks us out.  He has sent His son to die on the cross for our sins that we might be redeemed.  Also, we begin to appreciate the hurt and sorrow that God feels over the human race.  For we have broken His heart.  Yet, God still loves you.

-Scott Deane

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Hosea 1-2 and 1 John 2

Unfaithful

Jeremiah 3-4; Psalm 92-93

                Occasionally, in my work as a chaplain I  meet an older couple who tell me they have been married a long time.  A few say they’ve been married 50 years.  Still fewer 60 years.  I can only think of 1 or 2 that I’ve met that made it 70 or 75 years.  Think about what it takes to be married to the same person for 75 years.  You have to be married at a young age, you both have to stay healthy enough to live at least into your 90’s, and you have to be able to figure out how to get along with another human being for 75 years.  Those are no small feats.  Statistically in the United States only about 5% of marriages make it to 50 years and far less to 60 or 70 or more.  According to the US census the average marriage lasts 8.2 years and the percentage of divorce is somewhere between 40-50% for all marriages.

                Marriage is a covenant.  A covenant is a faith commitment between two or more persons and God.  God established the covenant of marriage to be between a man and a woman till death do them part.  Because of human brokenness and our propensity to unfaithfulness, God made a provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24.  Divorce is better than murdering your spouse.  Call it the lesser of two evils.  But it was never God’s intention for marriages to end in divorce.  It’s more of an accommodation to sin and brokenness than an ideal.

                Yet, even God had to divorce his unfaithful wife.  Woa, Nelly!  What are you talking about?  God never got married because, he’s… God, right?   Actually, God uses the image of marriage to describe His relationship with Israel.  God is the husband and Israel is His bride.  It’s an image that appears in today’s reading of Jeremiah and it appears in many other places in the Old Testament.  In fact, the book of Hosea is an entire book about this.  God uses the image of an unfaithful bride because it brings an immediate, visceral response to the reader.  Nobody like to be cheated on by the person that they love.  It’s one of life’s most painful experiences.  Go listen to Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats”.  That pretty well captures the rage that comes when someone you love is unfaithful.  Has anyone ever cheated on you?  If so, you know how much it hurts.  And God wants his people to understand how much they have hurt him by their unfaithfulness and idolatry.  Read Jeremiah 3-4.  That’s written from the perspective of a husband who found out that not only has his wife been cheating on him, but she’s a prostitute, selling herself out on the street.  Ouch!

                Jeremiah 3 begins: “If a man divorces his wife
    and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again?
    Would not the land be completely defiled?
But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—
    would you now return to me?”
declares the Lord.  -Jeremiahs 3:1

            Most men in that situation would say “heck no” (or something even stronger).

                And yet…even with all of that hurt and rage and betrayal and pain, God is still willing to take his bride back.

“If you, Israel, will return,
    then return to me,”
declares the Lord.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
    and no longer go astray,
 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
    you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
    and in him they will boast.” –Jeremiah 4:1-2

            That’s what you call mercy.  That’s what you call grace. That’s what you call undeserved favor.

            God called his people to a true change of heart. 

            The original sign of the covenant in Israel was circumcision.  God told Abraham and his descendants to physically circumcise every male born in Israel as a visible sign that they were part of the covenant people of God.  They were uniquely in relationship with God and offered their exclusive allegiance and worship to God.  But far too often these people who were in that covenant relationship with God had hearts that were far from God.

So God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.” –Jeremiah 4:4

Back in the time of Moses God spoke to Israel and said that they were to Love Him with all their heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  What does any husband want?  His wife’s whole heart.  Just as any wife wants her husband’s whole heart.  That’s why unfaithfulness is so painful and leads to so many broken hearts and broken marriages.  God wants those in a covenant relationship with Him to give Him their whole hearts.

God criticized Judah for failing to return to God wholeheartedly: “her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” (Jeremiah 3:10).  God is NOT interested in our half-hearted repentance, our half-hearted worship, our half-hearted service, our half-hearted relationship.  God wants our whole-hearted love.

God created us in His image.  We love, we hurt, we get jealous and angry. That means that God also loves, God hurts when betrayed, God gets jealous and angry.  Jeremiah shows us how heartbroken God was with his faithless bride:

“Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”

 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
    I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
    My heart pounds within me”- Jeremiah 4:18-19

And yet, God loves us so much, he invites us to return to Him.

“Return, faithless people;
    I will cure you of backsliding.” Jeremiah 3:22

Have you been giving your heart to someone or something instead of to the God who loves you?

Of course we can love other people, parents, spouses, children, friends.   We can love our jobs and love our homes, we can love pizza and love a pet.  But no love should come before that one true love, that love above all loves, the one with whom we’ve entered a covenant, God.

David loved God and wrote many love songs to God.  Here’s one:

“It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.”  -Psalm 92:1-2

How will you love God today?

-Jeff Fletcher

PS- In November my wife and I will celebrate 37 years married- we’re almost halfway to 75!!

You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here Jeremiah 3-4 and Psalm 92-93

Matthew 19 & Mark 10

In Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, he describes the ways that we put other areas of our life in the role of ‘god of our lives.’ Though the handmade idols that the Israelites worshipped – like the Baals and Golden Calves – may not exist anymore, idolatry is still very present in our modern day life. Keller describes how we, as humans, have a tendency to make good things god things, and consequently, we allow those things to turn our focus away from God. Sex, marriage, money, wealth, (self-)righteousness, and status can all be good things, but these things cannot be the ultimate thing. 

In today’s passage, we meet the Pharisees who were trying to trip Jesus up with a question about divorce. They wanted to know if Jesus was going to contradict the law of Moses by saying that divorce was not legal. After Jesus responded that divorce should not happen outside of sexual immorality, the disciples were amazed and said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (v. 10). Jesus agrees with them in v. 12 when he talks about the eunuchs who chose to live that way for the sake of the Kingdom. 

Then, later on in Matthew 19, a rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what rule he needs to follow to get eternal life. Jesus tells him the thing that he needs to do is give his possessions to the poor. He “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). When Jesus tells his disciples that it is incredibly difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, they are amazed and asked “Who can be saved?” (v. 25). Jesus responds in v. 26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

In Matthew 19, Jesus focuses on 3 areas of life, and in each case, he shows the disciples that they need to obediently follow what God says, despite how contrary it looks to the world. These 3 areas of life can be areas where we all easily fall into idolatry. They are good things – but they cannot be the ultimate thing. These things cannot be our god, but we try to put them in that place. 

The pharisees (and the rich young ruler) struggle with self-righteousness. They wanted to be good enough to be their own god – so that in effect, they wouldn’t actually need God. Though no one in the story seemed to struggle with marriage and sex, the question the Pharisees asked brings up this next idol that so many people make an ultimate thing. Both of these marriage and sex are created by God, but so often, we do not act with obedience to God’s word in these areas, and we step out of God’s design for us. By doing so, we are making these things an idol. The last area is money and wealth. The rich young ruler had so much wealth that he went away grieving. We don’t know if he made the choice to act with obedience to what Jesus commanded him to do, or if he decided that his wealth was too important to him to follow Jesus and ‘enter life.’ What we do know is that he mourned for his wealth. The disciples were amazed that Jesus spoke so harshly of wealthy people. In a culture that values money and possessions (like our own), the pursuit of wealth always seems like a good thing. However, like we’ve read this past week in the book of Luke, money can become an idol in our life, and the Bible says plainly that we cannot serve two masters: God and money (Matt. 6:24). 

When it’s so easy to fall into idolatry, who then can be saved? Jesus reassures us that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” If you find yourself in a place of idolatry – putting good things in the place of the ultimate thing, turn back to God. He is the one with whom all things are possible. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 19 & Mark 10.

Tomorrow, we will read Matthew 20-21.

Love and Marriage

Ezra 7-10

Ezra, who was from the lineage of Aaron the high priest came up from Babylon. He was skilled in the Mosaic Law. King Artaxerxes gave the children of Israel the right to return to Jerusalem if they chose. In 7:10 it says, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel”. A letter was given to the ones returning from the king. Interestingly enough, this would have been the stepson of Queen Esther. Maybe he had heard about God through her. He starts out “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven:” He allowed the Israelites who wanted to return to go back, they were given gold and silver from the royal treasury, and then they were urged that if they needed anymore, that they were to pay for it from the king’s treasury. Ezra said in 7:27 “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.” It sounds like Queen Esther must have talked about God to her family, and the king acknowledged that he was the God of heaven, and he did not want to have the wrath of God on him or his sons.

In chapter 8 they list those who returned, I love 8:21 “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.” They fasted and prayed to God before making any decisions, just like we read in Esther as well. It is important that we follow these guidelines in our lives before we make decisions, pray about it and ask God to lead us in the direction that He would have us take.

In Chapter 9, we see the beginning of some problems, the children of Israel had taken pagan wives for some of their sons and daughters, even the religious leaders were included in this sin. Ezra was very upset at this and he prayed and wept before God because of their sin. They had been forbidden in Deuteronomy 7:3, to take foreign wives. Now, this was not a matter of being racist, because the foreign people could convert to Judaism, but the ones they married were pagans, which meant that they continued to worship idols. In 1 Kings 11:2b “the Lord said to the children of Israel “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your heart after their gods. Solomon clung to these in love.” V.4 “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.” This was when their idolatry began which eventually led to the kingdom being conquered by the Babylonians. It is a fact that if we marry outside our faith it makes it more difficult to love God with our heart, soul, and might. That’s why we are told in 1 Corinthians not to be “unequally yoked with an unbeliever.” I believe who we choose to marry is one of the most important decisions we can make in our lives. I have a friend who said that of her four children, only one remained in the faith. She said it was who they married that made the difference. One married someone who was an active participant in church, two would go on occasion, and one married an atheist. When we marry, we are to be one, and it works best to be in accord with one another, and to both be pulling in the same direction. You will not get very far if the two oxen are trying to go in opposite directions.

The assembly decided that they would put away the pagan wives and children that they had with them. They confessed their sin and repented of it. Ezra 10:2b “We have trespassed against our God and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this.” 10: 10b-11 “You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and to do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.” There was hope when the people repented because God will always accept us back when we return to him.

That is what is so encouraging to us as we read the history of the Old Testament. None of our patriarchs were perfect but God is able to use imperfect people to accomplish His will. We all need to be willing to let God use us in our imperfections. When we sin and make mistakes, that isn’t the end, if we return to God, he will return to us as we read earlier this week.

-Sherry Alcumbrack

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezra 7-10

Tomorrow we will begin the book of Nehemiah (chapters 1-5) as we continue on our

Launching Blessings

Psalm 37 23

 

My wonderful wife is a very frugal person about many things (good thing, because I’m more of a spendthrift- God knew what he was doing when he gave me her).  This is evident in the way she handles toothpaste.  She waits until every bit of toothpaste is squeezed out of that tube before she discards it and pulls out a new tube.  Sometimes, just brushing my teeth turns into a session in strength training as I try to squeeze a blop of toothpaste onto my brush before I’m allowed to throw it away and she rewards me with a fresh and easy squeezy tube.

            Lectio Divina* helps us to squeeze every drop out of the Bible.  There is some benefit to reading quickly through the Bible.  If you read about 4 chapters a day you can read through the entire Bible in a year.  My Dad used to read the Bible straight through every year using a different translation.  I’ve done that as well and there is benefit to doing that.

            About 30 years ago I really ratcheted it up and spent 2 full weeks reading the Bible 8 hours a day and writing a brief summary of each chapter as I read.  I was able to read the entire Bible Genesis to Revelation in 2 weeks.  It was a great experience and showed me the “big picture” and full scope of God’s salvation plan that anticipated the coming of his Messiah and the fulfillment of his coming and the hope of his future return and the fullness of the Kingdom of God.  Just absolutely wonderful!  But as good as that way of reading the Bible can be, I want to also commend to you Lectio Divina- slow, deep reading… squeeze every drop out of a passage of scripture.

            This week we’ve been going through Psalm 37.  Let’s squeeze the tube a bit more today and see how much is still in there.  Psalm 37:23-29

            Read, Meditate, Pray, Rest in God.

    1. Read slowly through the passage at least 3 times.  Look for a word or phrase that speaks to you.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be a blessing.

27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.

Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed;
the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it forever.

For me, I chose thoughts from verse 23 and 26  “the one who delights in him [God]” and “their children will be a blessing.”

  1. Spend some time meditating upon the word or phrase you choose.  For me, I recall that on Sunday I meditated on vs. 4 and what it means to delight in God.  Here the Psalmist takes up that theme again and gives a kind of cause/effect relationship.  The one who delights in God will produce children who will be a blessing.

In vs. 25 the psalmist says “I was young and now I am old…”  He has lived long enough to gain some valuable perspective as he looks back on his life.  According to my teenage children I’m also qualified as old.  I guess when you’re 15 years old 55 seems ancient.  I’m old enough to also be able to look back and gain some perspective about those things that truly matter in life.

Compared to many successful people I haven’t accomplished that much in my life.  I didn’t invent Facebook like Mark Zuckerberg.  I didn’t turn Apple into a multi-trillion dollar business like Steve Jobs.  I didn’t change the retail world like Jeff Bezos with Amazon.  I’ve never been elected president and I don’t have loads of money in the bank.  I don’t pastor a 20,000 member Church and have a tv show like Joel Osteen and I don’t fly on private jets like Kenneth Copeland.  I’ve been a youth pastor and pastored a few small churches.  I served briefly as a missionary and Church planting pastor in England and didn’t have much success.  I’ve managed to go to several colleges and gotten several academic degrees and passed the arduous process of becoming not only a pastor but a board certified chaplain and a certified spiritual director.  I’ve helped a few people over 35 years of ministry.  And every Sunday I preach and the rest of the week I visit the sick, needy and broken and share the love of Jesus with them.  I hope that I live long enough and stay healthy enough to help a lot more people.  I’ve got ideas for 3 books that I’m currently working on and getting ready to pursue a doctoral degree.  I’m not ready to hang it up yet and want to stay active into my really old age. (I’d like to put in another 40 useful years of ministry).

With all that being said, what I feel best about in my life as I look back is continuing to delight in God.  I haven’t done it perfectly to be sure, but I have managed to stay connected to God, even during dark times, even when I’ve wrestled with temptation, sin and guilt, I’ve remained connected to God and continued to delight in God.  I’ve also stayed true to my promise to love my wife “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”  Trust me, I don’t take much credit for this because at times I’ve been a huge pain in the rear end to my wonderful wife.  But even during my worst struggles, I remembered that I made a promise to God and to her and stuck with it (and to her credit, she has continued to be a loving and faithful wife, even when she didn’t like me very much because I was acting like a jerk).  So I am blessed beyond measure and now enjoy the benefits of having gone through some rough times in marriage and find myself closer and more in love with my wife than I was nearly 35 years ago.

But the thing I take the most pride in is my children.  A few of them are still home and are still works in progress, but I can say that the greatest blessing of my life and the thing I take the most joy and pride in is that I have tried as a Dad to point them toward delighting in God and following Jesus.  At times I have failed miserably to be the kind of godly example that I wanted to be or should have been, but even when I’ve blown it I’ve tried to show them that God’s grace and mercy is there for us and not to give up on God.

Now most of my children are adults, several are married, several now have children of their own. I am able to see them in their various roles- one is himself a pastor, several lead worship in their churches, some have gone on mission trips, others sing in worship or teach classes and write devotions, and now they teach my grandchildren.  All are good workers.  They have become good people and I see them in their various churches and communities blessing others.  That makes me very happy and very proud.  This year at FUEL three of my sons were on the worship team, Joel was the worship leader who did a great job and even wrote worship songs to support the theme of FUEL, JJ was playing lead guitar with great skill and Jon was killing it on the drums.  I couldn’t have been more pleased and more delighted to see them blessing others by helping lead them in worshipping and delighting in God.

So as I meditate upon this portion of Psalm 37, that’s what comes to mind for me.  Even though I’m deeply flawed and have failed to do so much of what I may have hoped or dreamed I might do, I have given myself to delighting in God and I have been blessed by God with children who are now blessing others.  If I accomplish nothing else in my life, I can know that I along with my wonderful wife who has done 99% of the hard work, have launched some tremendous blessings into the world.

That’s what emerged for me as I meditated upon this part of Psalm 37.  What comes up for you as you chew on it?

  1. Spend some time in prayer.  What questions do you have to bring to God that emerged from your meditation?  Is there something you need to confess to God?  Is there something you want to change in your life as a result of what you have read and meditated upon?  Ask God what he wants you to know or do.
  2. Rest in God.  After you speak to and listen to God, spend some time resting in God’s love and presence.  Delight in God, God delights in you.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

*If you are unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina method of prayer/scripture study please refer back to the Sunday, August 11th devotion.

Divorce

Mark 10

Mark 10 8b

There are many things that man has come up with that God really didn’t create us to do. The Pharisees loved to bring the complicated subjects up to Jesus and see what he said. They were always comparing his teachings to the teachings of Moses. So the Pharisees go to Jesus and start discussing divorce. Jesus says for them to go ahead and tell him what Moses commanded.  They say that Moses said it was okay “to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Jesus admits that this is true, but reminds them that the Hebrews Moses was dealing with were a rebellious and ungrateful people. This was not the best way. In the beginning God wanted man and woman to “become one flesh” and stay that way. In Mark 10:9 Jesus says “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Jesus’ disciples wanted to make absolutely sure that they understood Jesus on this subject. So later they bring it up again. In verses 11 and 12 Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.” They knew without a doubt that adultery is wrong. It’s one of the ten commandments. “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14

We might ask “Why is this so?” Ultimately we have to trust that God knows what is best and wants what’s best for us. We can look at divorce in our society and see some of the ramifications of it and see for ourselves that it’s hard on families. Does God want us to be happy? Without a doubt, YES! Read Psalm 37:3-5 God wants to give us the desires of our hearts. We need to trust Him, be committed to Him and His ways, and do good.  Our Father will take care of the rest.

Melissa New

 

 

Ahhhh, Love

1 Corinthians 13

1 corinthians 13 4

I Corinthians 13.  The ‘love’ chapter.  Has any passage of Scripture been read at more weddings?

Let me ask you, what’s the difference between the wedding and the marriage?  We typically spend years planning and orchestrating one to be perfect and we waltz into the other without a thought and expect it to go off without a hitch.  And that’s sad.

It’s sad that this passage that so eloquently captures what real love should be is relegated to a romantic poem.

This description of love is raw.  It is get your hands dirty, give up your ‘rights’, lay down what you want, doesn’t feel good kind of real.

Patient

Kind

Trusting

Humble

Not rude

Not selfish

Not angry

Doesn’t bring up past wrongs

Protective

Never gives up

Who wouldn’t want to be married to THAT person?!  Right?  But being that person, well, that’s a big ask.

I think it’s great if you want to read this passage at your wedding.  (Pro tip if you do: Rehearse)  But remember to take the time to dig in to each one of these descriptors that Paul gives us.  You know which ones are hardest for you.

Think about how many hours you put into wedding planning.  Does your marriage deserve any less?

Check out this post that includes some helpful resources for building a strong marriage as well as advice from a number of married couples that have stood the test of time:  https://thesparrowshome.com/marriage-resources-advice/

 

-Susan Landry

 

 

 

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