Rest in Peace

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 3 & 4

Psalms Reading: Psalm 4

New Testament Reading: Matthew 3

Cheese. If I had to pinpoint a single food that will assure tossing and turning, vivid dreams, and even a bit of snoring, all it takes is a serving size before bed and a restless night is almost guaranteed. Nevertheless, if cheese alone caused distress in my sleep, it simply would take some discipline in my diet to cure this issue. My resting is subjected to more interruptions. The rumblings of my mind often disturb the counting of sheep more than the rumblings in my gut. Thinking about the stresses of work, school, family or reliving the failings of my day can be the late night double feature playing inside my head. Without the perspective that comes from God, it is hard to find rest.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7

“Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.” Psalm 4: 4,5

Like Cain, the source of this restlessness often stems from some type of disconnection from God. We are hanging on to something that the eternal God has made clear is His area of reckoning.  Our past. Our future. Our sin. Our fear. Our stress. Our anger. All of these are the cheese that is gumming up the works of the rest we can find in God even when we are weak and heavy laden. Continually turning towards the issues provides anything but relief, further stalling your slumber.  Furthermore, sin is waiting outside our door when we choose to act without the “green light” of God’s will. Instead of searching your finite mind for an answer, humble yourself and seek the face of the infinite God. 

This works well beyond the confines of your covers. It can be found behind a steering wheel when you are driving away from another argument, sitting at a desk reminded of the endless list of things that you won’t get done today, or kneeling behind a closed door drowning in depression of loss. The solution is the same in all situations: worship God Almighty.  When we are reminded of who He is, we don’t have to hold the answer because He has readied one and is holding onto us. While it’s possible to receive revelation in these moments (James states that our God gives wisdom generously to all without finding fault), the answer we may receive is His presence into our mercy, fears, and shortcoming, which is the relief we so desperately need to quiet our minds and catch a few winks. The silence is not rejection or a stalling tactic. The silence is the peace that comes from trust in the Lord so you can rest in peace.

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

-Aaron Winner

Reflection Questions

  1. Where could your life use a little more peace? Where have you looked for it?
  2. What do we learn from the narrative of Cain and Abel regarding peace, and also the lack thereof? What do we learn from David’s example in Psalm 4?
  3. In your Bible reading today, what do you discover about God and his character? Thank Him for it.

God’s Comfort for Us

Isaiah 40

Wednesday, October 25, 2022

There are many times in life when we feel alone, and without comfort. Times like grieving over death, or a spot in life that just isn’t going our way. In this chapter however, God’s comfort and hope are clear towards God’s people, just as it is today.

Throughout all of Isaiah, there were themes. Isaiah 1-35 deal with condemnation, Isaiah 36-39 are the historic chapters, the chapters with confiscation, and Isaiah 40-66 consolation. Consolation is the comfort people feel after a loss or disappointment.

Every story in the Bible has its sad parts, its broken pieces, but in the end, God provides comfort and peace.

            Isaiah 40:1-2

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.

The Lord is saying to Isaiah. Tell my people the battle is over; they don’t need to worry. Isaiah knew all about warning and instructing God’s people, but God also wanted His people to receive His comfort.

In any group of people waiting to hear from God, there are always a number of hurting hearts. It is important for us to hear words of comfort for God is comfort. Our purpose is to bring God’s comfort to other’s pain, just as others bring us the same comfort. God’s purpose for us is to love him and love others in our pain.

Our battle may not always be over, it was the same way for God’s people. The battle wasn’t over for Jerusalem when this was written, but God told them it would be over. That is where the comfort comes from.  Knowing the battle may not be over yet, but also knowing we have a mighty God who will bring us through it.

Our purpose is bringing others the Lord’s comfort in their battles too. Share in God’s hope and love.

-Hannah Eldred

Reflection Questions

  1. What characteristics of God do you find in Isaiah 40? Which one do you sometimes forget about? Which one means the most to you today?
  2. Who do you know who you can bring God’s comfort to this week? How will you do so?

Life and Love for All

Isaiah 11

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Have you ever been on a walk outside and been stung by a bee. I have, and it wasn’t the most pleasant experience ever. Animals such as bees use mechanisms like their stinger or teeth to protect themselves from threats, but what if they didn’t have to?

            In Isaiah 11, it alludes to the humble coming of Christ. Jesus comes to us from nothing. He comes from the dead stump of Jesse, and springs forth full of life and hope, bearing fruit. Jesus is full of wisdom and understanding for us, counsel and strength, and a spirit of knowledge and of fear.

            When Jesus commands all the animals will dwell together as it says in Isaiah 11:6-9.

The wolf will dwell with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the goat. The calf, the young lion and the fattened calf will be together, and a child will lead them. The cow and bear will graze, their young ones will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like cattle. An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit, and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den. They will not destroy each other on my entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water.”

            There will be no fighting among animals anymore. No more disagreements among us people either. Wouldn’t it be incredible for it to be like that today?

What if we all put our different opinions aside and loved each other with no questioning. The world would be an entirely different place.

That is the challenge for today. Think of a person who you may have had a disagreement with, and just reach out to that person. Let them know you care. Let go of the disagreements. Show each other compassion.

-Hannah Eldred

Reflection Questions

  1. What will the earth look like when it is “filled with the knowledge of the Lord”? How is it different from today?
  2. Reading through Isaiah 11, describe the reign of Jesus the Messiah. What are you most looking forward to and why?
  3. How can we live today to prepare ourselves – and others (even the ones we have disagreements with) for the reign of Jesus?

The Right Friendship

James 4

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Conflicts and violence are problems we humans have always dealt with. If only there were some insights in the book of James to help us understand why, and how we might be able to help the situation.

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3 NRSV)

James says the source of conflict is the cravings at war within us. We covet things that we don’t have, and perceive that there isn’t enough to go around, leading us to take what we want by force, many times at the expense of others. We’re wired so deeply for survival that the fear of scarcity often drives us to get what we need in whatever way we can. It’s both a blessing and a curse. 

The passage goes a level deeper into the investigation and explores why we don’t have what we need: It’s because we don’t ask. That’s something I’m not good at. I often feel uncomfortable asking someone else for something, because I think it’s my own responsibility to take care of it. By not asking, I’m underutilizing one of the biggest strengths of being part of family and community. There is more than enough to go around if asking and sharing happen freely.

There’s another layer to this. Sometimes when we ask, we don’t receive because we ask with wrong or selfish motives. By chasing after the wrong things, we are fueling the fire of conflict. James is prompting us to take inventory of our desires and motives. It’s not wrong to need or want things, but the challenge is to seek the right things with a pure heart.

James continues his train of thought by contrasting “friendship with the world” and friendship with God. When we seek things with the wrong motives, we make ourselves friends of the world, and therefore enemies of God. Instead, make yourself a friend of God by humbling yourself and submitting to the leading of his spirit that lives within us. Set aside your selfish desires, as painful as that may be, and ask for truly good things.

James is offering us an antidote to conflicts and violence, advocating for a more peaceful way—partner with God (“draw near” to him) by properly aligning your desires. Seek after and ask for the right things, and have enough as you share in God’s abundance and grace.

-Jay Laurent

Questions to consider:

1. What are some things you need or want, but don’t have?

2. Do you think these needs/wants are because of selfish desires, or are they good things to seek after?

To Wander or To Dwell

Philippians 4

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Our minds wander. We can’t help it. Our brain is processing hundreds or even thousands of stimuli a minute through our fantastic five senses. In the midst of a great conversation, a beautifully delivered sermon, the most engaging of lessons, or important advice, we can be interrupted by a stimulus that snowballs into full-blown distraction.  It begins with the slightest tinge of pain, a quick movement entering peripherals, a muted rapping, a whiff of a smoke, or an unexpected bitter flavor rolling across our tongue.  Our mind goes into troubleshooting mode.  It begins to play out all of the possible threads to a perceived threat and searches for the worst case scenario, so it can prepare the nervous system to react.  We place much trust in our senses but in turn, we create narratives that do not exist in order to protect our bodies from ill-perceived observation.

When we allow the responses to take over, we are experiencing, on some level, psychosis. The lines between what is fact and fiction begin to blur.  We begin to believe lies and have adulterated perceptions.  We begin to live in the dark and the undesirable.  We begin to worship terrible and disgraceful moments we have self-induced.  We think about such things, and replay them over and over again, fiction becoming “our” truth.   I know it because I have been there. On my darkest days, I contort and twist every action into a gospel of fear, pain, and anxiety.  Wandering minds, when not properly anchored to Christ, can be our undoing.  First, and foremost, if we are in this place, we must pray for God to guard our hearts and quiet our minds.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” 1 Philippians 4:7-9

Don’t take the bait.  Don’t respond to the stimulus.  Instead, plant your feet even deeper into the foundation of Jesus Christ and stay.  Dwell here, rent free.  What is true? You are first and foremost loved by God.  The Creator of the heavens and the earth is the Creator of your very life.  You declare God with your very existence because he has fearfully and wonderfully made YOU (Psalm 139:14).  What is pure? The blood of Christ has sanctified you.  While there may be sin in your life, you are washed white as snow through repentance.  There is no sin greater than the Lamb of God’s sacrifice.  (Romans 3:23-24)  What is noble? You have an inheritance that makes you a royal priesthood.  You are from an adopted bloodline that will reign alongside Christ. (Revelation 5:10)  What is lovely? How beautiful are your feet when you bring Good News, proclaiming that your God reigns and brings living peace in the midst of the tumult of life (Isaiah 52:7) What is admirable?  You have not laid your eyes on Jesus, and therefore, you are greatly blessed for your belief (John 20:29)  What is excellent and worthy of praise? On my worst days, God confronts me.  He loves and comforts me.  He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.  He doesn’t take His promises from me.  I can walk through the darkest valley.  Hit rock bottom.  And guess who’s there?  My God.  (Psalm 23) He doesn’t see me for my shortcomings. He loves the faithful, but equally loves the prodigal (Luke 15:22-24).  He is the shepherd to the ninety-nine and the one (Matt 18:12).  Do not be deceived by your senses or your wanderings.  Let your mind dwell only on these things.

-Aaron Winner

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. When has being led by your thoughts and feelings and senses led you into a troubled place? Do you often tend toward anxious thoughts? What has helped you in the past?
  2. How do you rate at bringing every situation before God in prayer and petition and with thanksgiving?
  3. What do you let your mind dwell on?
  4. What does the world say is the secret to peace? What does God say?

Peter was Sleeping!

Acts 12

April 30

Acts 12:6 – The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.

Have you ever been so excited about something that is scheduled for the next day that you couldn’t sleep? Or something that you were dreading that made sleep impossible?

Imagine for a moment that you were scheduled to be executed in the morning for a crime that you didn’t commit. Do you think that sleep would come easily?

I would probably not sleep a wink and yet, we read in Acts chapter twelve that this is exactly what Peter was doing. And to make the situation even more uncomfortable, he was sleeping bound with chains, to a man on his right and another man on his left. 

How was Peter able to rest so soundly the night before his scheduled death that an angel of the Lord had to strike him to wake him up?!?

This is what trusting in the Lord looks like. This is what peace that passes all understanding looks like. This is what believing in God beyond your current circumstances looks like. 

Peter had every reason to believe that he was going to be next on Herod’s list of disciples put to the sword. But Peter also had every reason to believe that the same God who rescued Daniel from the lions’ den was more than capable of rescuing him from barracks guarded by four sentries. 

The next time you are facing circumstances that appear beyond your control, remember that you serve a God who positioned a young shepherd boy to slay a giant with a slingshot, who parted the waters of the Red Sea and closed them back up again, who caused the lame to walk and the blind to see. And if God is capable of doing that…He is capable of seeing you through your trials too. 

Believe and do not doubt.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1 Is there a time when you were in a super stressful situation, but you were able to experience peace beyond understanding that comes from God? Thank God for His peace and presence. How can this be a part of your testimony of God’s greatness?

2. When sleep doesn’t come and you feel anxious or worried or stressed – what would God, or Peter, suggest you fill your mind with?

3. What happened to Herod? Why?

Give Thanks to the LORD!

Psalm 107

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His mercy is everlasting. The redeemed of the LORD shall say so…” (Psalm 107:1, 2a NASB2020)

We, the redeemed of the LORD, are to give praise to our God! This seems obvious when we think of the good things He has done for us. However, when we think of the struggles of life we tend to forget about the many blessings we have from above. It can be easy to get caught up in the stress of a job, the race of paying off debt, the chaos that is a college campus, the extra-curricular activities of high school, or even the pleasures of pet ownership. Some of these are good, some are not so good, and others depend on the day and context; but we find that anything that takes our eyes away from the LORD is a problem. The Psalmist here tells us that we need to give thanks in all situations. 

We will see that if we turn from the ways of the world and walk in the ways of God we will find peace and reason to give thanks! First, he says we are redeemed from the hands of our enemy and gathered from foreign lands. Although it is not as common now, in ancient culture it was quite common for citizens of defeated nations to be carried off and scattered to prevent the nation from rebuilding. This happened to Israel many times in the Old Testament; time and time again God promised he would gather His people and He did just exactly that. For this His people would give thanks to the LORD!

God also delivers His people from hunger, thirst, unjust imprisonment, foolishness, and even illness. This is not to say that we will always be delivered from these situations but we do find that God takes pleasure in caring for us. When we are in these scenarios we need to call to Him to deliver us and give thanks to Him for His goodness. 

There are certainly times that we can feel like we are tossed here and there as if by the waves of the sea during a storm. Your waves may come from any number of areas of life but what we hold in common in these times is that we can be found at our wits’ end as it says in the 2020 NASB. The Psalmist says that when we find ourselves here we can cry out to Him and He can cause the storm to be still and bring us to the end of our distresses. Once the wind and waves stop we must not be tempted to just think, oh the storm died down. We must acknowledge and give thanks to God for stopping the storm. 

In the last 5 verses of Psalm 107 we read of a concept that Jesus taught his disciples. Jesus said the first shall be last and the last shall be first, while here the proud will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. I find this to be encouraging because even when the world punishes us for doing what God has called us to do, we can have faith that God will raise us beyond the judgment of the world. For that we should alway give thanks to the LORD!

-Bill Dunn

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 15-16 and Psalm 107

In God’s Flow Zone

Lamentations 3-5

Accomplished athletes, musicians and artists alike are often asked what it means to be “in the zone”. In psychology circles, being “in the zone” is referred to a state of flow – when an individual is completely absorbed in doing a challenging, yet doable, task. They are somehow able to shut out all of the external noise and distraction to focus on the very present moment to do one thing. 

Performers and entertainers are not the only ones who are able to find their flow. Scientists and mathematicians; emergency responders; and everyday average Joes like you and me are able to concentrate so intently on a task that time just seems to slip away and we find ourselves doing something extraordinary.

As I meditated on Lamentations chapters three through five, I couldn’t help but be bombarded with how devastated the author was over losing their home, being held in captivity, and witnessing depravity all around him.

And yet, right in the middle of all those laments, there are these verses that stand out, that give hope and encouragement.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore

I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him;

it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:21-26

How is it that the author, in the midst of all the calamity, is able to break out these words of great expectation?

Maybe, the author was just for a moment, able to quiet his thoughts and instead of focusing on the turmoil he and the other captives were facing, meditated on God’s character. As he penned these words, he found himself in a state of flow of sorts.

Whenever we find ourselves in difficult situations, it is so easy to concentrate on all that is wrong; all that pains us; all that is overwhelming. 

But what if, instead, we were able to quiet our minds, to completely block out all of the negativity, and just simply rest in the quietness of God’s character: his love, his compassion, his grace and mercy, his forgiveness, his holiness, his faithfulness. 

This is the space where we are able to renew our hope, to find the strength to dig deep and do the hard things, to press on through the challenge having complete confidence that God is ultimately on our side; that He is bigger, greater, higher than anyone or anything that we may be facing. 

If you are in the middle of a difficult circumstance, you may be tempted to lament all day long to anyone who is willing to listen. Instead, I urge you to refocus your thoughts and “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”. (Colossians 3:2) Find yourself in God’s flow zone. Here you will experience the peace that passes all understanding.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Lamentations 3-5 and 1 Peter 1

Overcoming Fear with Trust

Reading for Today:

Ezra 1-2 … 1 Corinthians 2

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Here’s a bit of a set-up for the book of Ezra:

Assyria conquered Babylon, then the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

But then Assyria got conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire who went back and conquered Jerusalem.

Then Babylon got conquered by Cyrus of Persia.

Lots of leaders doing lots of conquering, making lots of decisions that affected lots of people.

Let’s talk about that a little.

This story has great implications for us today. In a world that can seem out of control, we can rest assured that God can move the hearts of leaders.

“A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand:
He directs it wherever He chooses.”
Proverbs 21:1

The book of Ezra begins…

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia…”

We know that Cyrus reigned from 559-530 B.C. and so can accurately date this book historically.

The book continues…

“the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing:

This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever is among His people, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. Let every survivor, wherever he lives, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.’”

Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah would be cut off from its land for 70 years (see Jeremiah 25:1-12 & 29:10), and here we see this prophecy being fulfilled.

Many people like to keep the Bible solely in the ‘religious book’ category. But today’s reading reminds us that it is far more than that. Scripture is an historically accurate account that we can rely upon. It is also an accurate prophetic tool (albeit one that we may wrestle to interpret at times.)

Trusting that God is in control brings a peace that no amount of managing things on our own can muster.

Trust doesn’t mean that we can see everything clearly. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning describes what I mean when he says,

“Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God…We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies that this is not the case.”

The youth at FUEL today are considering the idea of overcoming anxiety with peace, and focusing on Isaiah 41:10 which says,

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Do not fear…why?

Do not be dismayed…why?

No matter the circumstances of our private lives or our entire civilization, we can trust that God is with us, and that he is our God.

-Susan Landry

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

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Daily reading: Philippians 1-4

What’s that series of movies called? Mission difficult? Mission easy-peasy?

Ahhh…Mission Impossible.

Not possible. Can’t be done.

But somehow Tom Cruise always manages to complete the mission, doesn’t he? Somehow, with his resume of spy skills and his team to support him, he always gets the win.

Philippians gives us a few ‘Missions Impossible’… are you ready? Here they are:

-Consider others above yourself.

-Consider loss what you used to consider gain.

-Rejoice always.

-Don’t be anxious.

Before you turn the missions down because they are clearly impossible to accomplish, take a look at what’s in our arsenal:

I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

All of these missions, at their core, are a matter of perspective. And isn’t the best part of every spy movie the part where you go, “Ahhh! That’s what’s really been going on the whole time!”

That is what Paul is offering us here with this credo.

[Consider others above yourself.] Seeing ourselves through the lens of the one who gives us strength changes the way we see others and therefore can change the way we treat them.

[Consider loss what you used to consider gain.] Considering the value of what success really is from Christ’s perspective will likely equal a shift in our priorities.

[Rejoice always.] Viewing our everyday with the eyes of him who conquered the cross and is coming to reign can give us strength to find joy in the mundane and even a glimmer of hope in our pain.

[Don’t be anxious.] Looking in the eyes of the Prince of Peace as he takes our burdens and walks with us through our trials reminds us that we are not alone.

That is how we complete our mission. That is how we, like Paul, are able to do all things through him who gives us strength.

Tom Cruise may do all his own stunts, but Jesus can do all of everything…so, yeah…go ahead and take that mission. You’ve got a good team.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Philippians 1-4

Tomorrow we will read 1 Timothy.

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