Resolution 5: Make Healthy Choices

Malachi 1-2 and Revelation 21

I think we all have flirted with the “best by” dates on food products.  Some of us have done it out of necessity, others maybe more out of laziness, but there is no doubt that some are more sensitive to these subjective guidelines .  I personally give it a sniff and stir test.  Looking for foul odors or curious textures before giving it a taste.   The level of craving or hunger often determines how much flexibility I will give.  At work, I still haven’t lived down a tub full of moldy hummus I ate because I didn’t want to waste it.  I should have just kept my mouth shut (well open really, I was eating), but alas, here I am telling another audience. Surely, the carrots, celery, and apple I was enjoying with the hummus offset any of the negative consequences.  I am willing to eat leftovers, perform sniff tests, down some soft grapes, because when I do this, I give my family an opportunity to buy healthy fresh foods, and treat them to a pleasing sit-down meal from time to time.  This Outback Dinner was brought to you by the goat cheese that sat on the bottom of the meat drawer for weeks and the awful cauliflower-something dish that no one else would eat. Nevertheless, it would seem a bit more detestable if I only treated myself alone and made my family eat the stuff growing hair in the back of the fridge.

 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. – Malachi 1:8

Now to frame these choices into a different context.  Is this the way we are treating our relationship with God?  Are we giving him the leftovers, the surplus of our pantry, or the rejects of our storehouse?  Is there an allotted time that you are giving God each day for prayer?  Or do you pray when you have time.  Or if you get up early.  Or when you’re in the car alone.  Are you only tithing what you have left after you pay your bills?  And that is only if there is anything left.  Or maybe not this month because things are tight.  Are you filling the church with single-ply toilet paper when you have triple-ply at your house?  Or bringing your recipe-gone-wrong to the potluck?  Or going to church only when it’s convenient to your and your kids schedule?  Or donating things because you didn’t like the style anyways? If you answered yes to any of these, what you are giving God is going to require a sniff and stir test; your offering may be lame. Your discipleship is growing mold and diseased.  When we are talking about God, we give him the firstfruits.  The unblemished.  Simply the best we have (which still is the equivalent to nothing) but it is fragrant to God and His desires.  He acknowledges the sacrifice when we bring it with a merciful heart. He sees the effort we are making to have a relationship with Him. Our offering is not animals or crops, it is our time, our effort, or energy, our money, and our stuff.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:32

God didn’t skimp on salvation.  He didn’t provide someone who was expendable.  He didn’t choose someone who was already terminally ill. He didn’t choose a criminal.  He picked the firstfruits, or as Colossians 1 says the firstborn of all creation, meaning before it all, God had already set aside the sacrifice of His son for our sins.  He picked the best.  The only man unblemished by the disease of sin.  This is our example of what sacrifice should look like.  Even though we don’t live in the age of sacrifice, giving first, going without, but most importantly showcasing with our very best effort our desire for God is still a beautiful way to show our love for Him and our request to receive the magnificence of his mercies.  He doesn’t require our sacrifice, but he desires our worship.

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

On a final note, the best of God’s plan is yet to come.  The richness in store for us is beyond anything we would do without now.  Again and again, as you read the blueprints of the Kingdom in Revelation 21, you will be blown away by the preparations God has made.  The God outside of time has taken all of His time to make something beyond all fathom, wealth, and existence.  Wow!  Consequently, when your sacrifice is from the healthiest choice, you are going to miss some fun.  You will have to wake up early or stay up late.  You will have to do without some luxuries, or even believed necessities.  There is still a greater inherent blessing from knowing, serving, and honoring God in the reheated stuff that this life is made of in a corrupt, sinful world.  But God…Oh, how God! He is pouring His very best into what is to come.

-Aaron Winner

Read or listen to the Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Malachi 1-2 and Revelation 21

Which Fate will You Choose?

Revelation 14 – 15

Even though Revelation 14 was part of yesterday’s reading, I waited to comment on it until today so we could contrast the fate of those who submit to the antichrist from Revelation 14 with the fate of those who resist the antichrist in Revelation 15.

Rev 14: 9-12 tells us, “…If anyone worships the beast [the antichrist] and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.  He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.  There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”

In a nutshell, no matter how bad it will get for Christians, including being martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus, the punishment for the wicked will be infinitely worse.  This will call for patience and endurance on the part of Christians – when given the choice between “the good life” of following the antichrist, or torture and death for remaining faithful to Jesus.

By contrast, we read in Revelation 15:2-3, “And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name.  They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the lamb:  “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.””

Every one of us has a choice to make.  Usually these choices are in little things – would God approve of this or that that I’m doing?  As we consistently choose to live for God, it gets easier to make the right choices.  Eventually, making the right choices will be really tough.  If we don’t develop the discipline now, we’ll never be able to endure when times get tough.

This reminds me of Moses’ challenge to the Israelites just before his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 30:15, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

Which will you choose?

-Steve Mattison

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Zechariah 1-2 and Revelation 15

More and More

1 Thessalonians 4

Paul fits so much into the 18 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4. The chapter is probably best known for laying out the great hope Christians have of the coming of Christ when the dead in Christ shall rise from death to meet their resurrected Lord Jesus at the trumpet call of God. (Remember, “a great trumpet sounding” and a fabulous reunion on God’s holy mountain was also mentioned in yesterday’s reading of Isaiah 27). This indeed will be a moment in time like no other – a celebration like never before – ushering in a Kingdom beyond what we can imagine! Today is a great day to be reminded. Today marks the 6th year that my dad, Pastor Ray Hall, has been dead in the ground. We miss him greatly. But we do not grieve as those with no hope. We look forward to the day of Jesus’ return when the graves will be opened and the dead in Christ will rise to new life! And those believers who are still alive will join in the party. It is a great day to look forward to!

And in the meantime, there is work to be done. Paul cautions against idly waiting. He says stay busy, work with your hands, mind your own business, support yourselves, so you will be a good witness to outsiders – those who currently have no hope for the future, dead or alive.

And, there’s more…in fact, twice in the first ten verses Paul uses the phrase, “More and more”. Do it again. Over and over. An ever increasing spiral. More and more.

The first time Paul uses the phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 is in connection to how we are “to live in order to please God”. Do it more and more. This was my dad’s goal. Even up to what would be the last week of his life, from his hospital bed, when the nurse asked him what his goal was for the day, his goal was to please God. Good answer, dad! I’m guessing it’s not an answer she heard much. People want to be comfortable and pain-free, they want good health, they want good food, they want companionship, they want freedom to pursue personal pursuits, they want to get out of the hospital. But how would our lives look different if our very first and most pressing goal was to please God? And, not just once in a lifetime, or on Sundays, or when convenient, or when you have free-time, or when you feel well, but to strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and to do it more and more.

If pleasing God is our goal, it becomes very important to know what pleases God. We obviously don’t have time in this devotion to list everything possible, and nor did Paul in his letter. But he did take time to write about the importance of avoiding sexual sins, controlling lusts and living pure, holy lives, for there is punishment coming for those who don’t.

The second thing Paul wanted to see more and more from the Thessalonians was brotherly love. He commended them for learning how to love from the best lover and teacher of all time – God himself. (Isaiah also wrote about God instructing and teaching the right way – Isaiah 28:26. How and what are you learning from Him?) I am still working on learning how to love from God and the loving Christian earthly (but far from worldly) parents He gave me – all 4 of them. Dad did teach some great lessons in brotherly love – making time for people (even when you are tired or had other plans), showing grace and second chances (because grace has been given to us), providing for needs (whether it might be a ride to work, a meal, or a visit) and teaching God’s word (because without it, people will perish and have no hope).

More and More. Live to please God.

More and More. Love others.

It’s a great way to spend our time while we wait in eager expectation for the trumpet to announce the arrival of the King, the resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 29-30 and 1 Thessalonians 4

What Would You Do For God?

Isaiah 19-20 and Colossians 3

I really just wanted to talk about Colossians today. But, I couldn’t. I try to avoid embarrassing discussions of nakedness. But, today I can’t.

Isaiah 20 is an incredibly short though (at least for me) difficult chapter to read. And it is one I definitely don’t remember learning in Sunday School class growing up. We learned about Isaiah, the faithful servant of God who had a powerful calling from God. When he saw a vision of God’s majesty he crumbled in unworthiness and guilt, but then God cleansed him with a burning coal to his lips and Isaiah boldly declared, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). We knew Isaiah wrote lots of chapters with many warnings and some beautiful passages of the promised Messiah. But, we didn’t know about the humiliation of chapter 20.

Today we read, “At that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, ‘Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.’ And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.” (Isaiah 20:2 NIV). No, argument is recorded. Just obedience. “And he did so.” And, it wouldn’t just be for the day or even a week – but for three years! Commentaries kindly mention he would still have had a loin cloth (a.k.a – underwear). But that’s not too reassuring to Isaiah, his family, or his readers today.

It is natural to ask WHY, God? There has to be a reason why a loving God would ask His faithful servant to go through this embarrassing and painful object lesson for three long years. In this case I believe God was having Isaiah dramatically get the people’s attention to remind them just how degrading and dehumanizing their lives would be as prisoners of war (who were often marched around in such fashion). And, that is what they will become if they choose to forsake the Lord and put their trust instead in foreign ungodly allies like Egypt and Cush.

It makes me wonder – what am I willing to do for God? What amount of personal pain, sorrow, and humiliation am I willing to endure in order to be doing what God has asked of me? Am I more concerned about what men will think of my service to God, or what God would say? Certainly Isaiah would have never lasted for three nearly naked years if he held in greater regard the approval, understanding or encouragement of his peers over pleasing God.

Could I have done what Isaiah did? I think when faced with God’s awesome majesty I could say, “Here am I. Send me!”. After all, it sounds like pretty good resume material to be a messenger for God – I bet it’s a job that comes with some great benefits, too. I would even name my baby boy Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (meaning quick to the plunder, swift to the spoils) just as Isaiah did for God. That is an object lesson I feel I would willingly participate in, even though others might laugh and ridicule my choice. But, is there a cut off line where my loyalty and devotion to God would end? Is there a job He could ask of me that I would say ‘no’ to? I hope not.

Too often when we sign on for a position working for the Almighty, we try to choose what it will look like. “I will go here for God and do this for God.” And everyone will be amazed. But, sometimes, God has different plans. Bigger plans. Sometimes, more confusing plans. Sometimes, plans that will take you far out of your comfort zone and even into the midst of personal pain, loss, turmoil, and ridicule.

While the apostle Paul never faced the exact same jobs Isaiah endured, he also gained a lot of experience facing trials and difficulties, misunderstanding and persecution while following God, and His Son Jesus. He wrote in Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We can learn a thing or two from both Paul and Isaiah about serving the Lord.

What would you do for God?

-Marcia Railton

Maybe, you are interested in writing a day of devotions? This week was going to be covered by a young pastor from Indiana, but instead…he is anticipating a slightly early arrival of his first son – so if anyone would like to write for a day -contact Marcia at mjmjmrailton@gmail.com. And, remember the growing Paul family in your prayers.

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 19-20 and Colossians 3

The Part Where the Bible Flirts with Nihilism

Ecclesiastes 1-2 and Galatians 1

Often I think that mowing the lawn is pointless. Why do we mow lawns? Who decided for all of us that it is just something we have to do? Wouldn’t the grass and weeds exist happily without being cut down every week during the warmer months? How does it really benefit me or anyone to mow the lawn? Also, it’s time consuming, and costs money for gas and to maintain the mower.

Yet, I cave to societal expectations and take reasonable care of my lawn. It isn’t so bad. Often it is enjoyable, and can be therapeutic or meditative. It’s a chance to sort out my thoughts. But still, there are so many things on the list of things I’d rather be doing.

We could all come up with lists of what we think is pointless. It would be an easy project. The harder project would be to see what is left over. What actually matters? What has true significance?

This is the question brought to the table by the book of Ecclesiastes. Our Qoheleth (Hebrew for teacher) is beginning to let us know about all the things he thinks are pointless, and there are a lot of them. All the work we do is pointless, because you can’t take the results with you when you die. Someone else gets all of it (2:18). The pursuit of wisdom is pointless because “in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow” (1:18). The pursuit of pleasures is pointless too, like chasing after the wind. He tried all of them, and gained nothing from it.

Are these things bad? The teacher doesn’t say that. Surely working is something we have to do, otherwise we can’t provide for ourselves or our families. Wisdom and knowledge are positive things. Isn’t it beneficial to understand things? Pleasure is a good thing given a few healthy boundaries. We all need opportunities to appreciate and enjoy the good things in life.

The teacher does mention a few things that might be worthwhile: eating, drinking, and enjoying your work. They are from the hand of God, he says. Also on the list of not-so-pointless things is pleasing God. This is a good start. If we think about it long enough, maybe we can figure out what the essence of something meaningful is. Could we decide what is meaningful or not based on a set of criteria? I currently don’t have a good method of deciding this, but I’d like to get better at recognizing what is meaningful and what is not.

What if we spent more time thinking about and pursuing things that are truly meaningful? Doesn’t that allow us to focus our efforts on things that will actually benefit us and others? If only it was easy to know what those things are. We constantly have to prioritize the many options for how we could spend our time, whether we consciously think about it or not. The teacher is not giving us a complete guide for what should take priority, but he is challenging us to think about it.

Looking at Galatians 1, we might be able to pick out a few things the apostle Paul thinks are pointless. Perverting the gospel, being a people-pleaser, persecuting the church, and climbing up the ladder of Judaism all could make his list. What does Paul think is worthwhile? Serving and proclaiming Christ! As we continue on through Ecclesiastes and Galatians, maybe we will get more insights into what these authors think is important, and by doing so, improve our understanding of what God thinks is important.

Seek ye first…

Jay Laurent

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

Detestable Prayers

Proverbs 28

As Marcia mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, many of us were at Midwest Family Camp last week, where the theme was “Stand Firm”.  In a nutshell, if we don’t have a relationship with the Lord, it is critical that we repent and come into a relationship with Him. If we already have a relationship with the Lord, we need to strengthen that relationship, and stand firm in the faith – no matter what.

In today’s reading in Proverbs 28, there are a few verses that jumped out at me which reinforced that message.  The first is found in Proverbs 28: 9, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.”  This proverb tells us that if we’re not doing everything to live the life God called us to live, if we’re not following his rules, then He won’t listen to our prayers.  Since many of our prayers are about asking for God’s help with various things, if we selfishly want Him to answer our prayers, then we need to obey His rules, and live for Him.  As we grow in relationship with Him, we come to long for an even deeper relationship with the Lord. Then we learn that prayer is powerful, and we don’t waste it just asking for superfluous things.

Proverbs 28:13 goes on to say, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”  This is saying if we pretend to be Christians, we won’t prosper (you can’t fool God).  But if we confess and renounce our sins, and turn completely to God, we will receive God’s mercy.  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have His mercy than to have Him holding me back from prospering.

As we continue to read through this chapter, we get to verse 20, which says, “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.”  I’ll take a detour here and comment on the health and wealth teachings we often hear from people who don’t know better.  The theory goes sort of like this… “if someone follows God, God will bless every aspect of their life.  They will be rich, healthy, and blessed.”  Many people who call themselves Christians subscribe to this false belief.  Jesus told us in John 16:33, “…In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  We have to remember this life isn’t our reward.  This life is the test to see what reward we will receive when Jesus returns.  If we are faithful to the Lord now, we will enjoy peace with God now, and eternal life when Jesus returns.  If we are just trying to get rich, we are actually worshiping money, not God — our reward is in this life, and we will forfeit eternal life.  

1 Tim 6:9-11 says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and have pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.”

Instead of trying to get rich, we need to follow the advice given in Proverbs 28:27, “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.”  Again, I think the idea is that if I’m greedy, wanting to keep all my money for myself, I’m not trying to please God, I’m just greedy for money, and God will curse me for not following Him.  But if I’m generous with the things God has given me by giving them to the poor — this mimics God’s generosity to me.  When I am imitating God, God loves that.  In fact we’re commanded in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.”

So the bottom line is this.  We need to do everything we can to reconcile ourselves to God.  We need to confess and renounce our sins, obey His laws, be faithful, and be generous.  All these things are required to live in close relationship with God.  And if we live in a close relationship with God, we will have peace with God in this life, and an amazing reward in the life to come.  In Rev 21:4, we’re told, “He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…”   Rev 21:7 goes on to say, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

How well are you imitating Dad?

Stand Firm.

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 23-24 and Proverbs 28

Funhouse Mirrors

Luke 23:1-25

Have you ever looked at yourself through the mirrors in a funhouse? Maybe they made your legs appear shorter or your figure much rounder. Of course, just because the mirror makes you look one way doesn’t mean that you actually look like that. Sometimes people seem to see us through funhouse mirrors; they get a distorted image of who we actually are. 

Jesus, too, was often seen through funhouse mirrors. Many people perceived him to be a traitor and criminal. Yet, standing in front of the mirror was actually the begotten Son of God, the promised Messiah. 

After Jesus’s arrest, he stood before government and religious officers, as was customary. Jesus was beaten by the guards, accused by the leaders, and ridiculed by the crowds. It’s a disgustingly difficult chapter to read because of the undeserved nastiness towards Jesus.  

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. (Luke 23:3)

Jesus didn’t deny Pilate’s allegations. If I were Jesus, I would probably burst into tears shouting, “It’s not fair!” After all, he had never sinned, nonetheless committed a crime worthy of death on a cross. Yet, he continued to refrain from defending himself. 

He (Herod) plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. (Luke 23:9)

Jesus’ goal wasn’t to appease man but to please God. God already saw the real Jesus, the one standing in front of the mirror. Let us learn from Jesus’ example: You don’t have to get the last word. It’s okay to be misunderstood. There’s no need to get even. You have nothing to prove. 

Because God sees you—the real you. 

I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful—I can’t take it all in! (Psalm 139 from The Message)

-Mackenzie McClain

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGatewayDeuteronomy 31-32 and Luke 23:1-25

Blind Guides

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 23 and Genesis 45 & 46

Yesterday we got to spend our whole devotion thinking about a great party and the thrill of receiving an invitation from God to honor His Son. Today – no such fun. The parties and parables are gone and today, in Matthew 23, we read only of strong warnings, harsh words, and blasting condemnation. This is the last recorded time in the book of Matthew that Jesus addresses the crowds. This is what he is going to leave with them – too important to not say. Anyone who believes Jesus would never condemn because he just loved people no matter what, just full of overflowing forgiveness and love, could benefit from a little sit down with Matthew 23.

It is clear that Jesus was not happy with these Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts by warning the crowd to not be like the Pharisees as he begins describing them: they don’t practice what they preach, they make it harder for people to be godly, they love being honored by men and they pridefully exalt themselves. And then, speaking directly to the Pharisees and teachers of the law he lets loose on what has become known as the “7 Woes”. Six times he will begin with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” and once with “Woe to you, blind guides.” Jesus uses some choice language to describe these men: son of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men (notice a pattern?), snakes and brood of vipers.

So, what in the world were these people doing that was so bad to receive this 7 part hellfire sermon. After all, we know Jesus often responded to people’s sins with mercy, grace and forgiveness and the all-important chance to start over. He hadn’t called the lying cheating thieving Zacchaeus a son of hell? What was different here?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were supposed to be the ones to guide people to God. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary suggests there were about 6,000 Pharisees at the time – mostly middle-class businessmen who had devoted themselves to being separate – becoming the religious leaders who would show the Jews how to please God. And, some were indeed authentic in this quest (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are two named in Scripture). The crowd gathered was likely shocked to hear Jesus speaking of and to the Pharisees in this way because they had been taught (at least by the Pharisees themselves) to revere the position and spiritual leadership held by this Jewish sect.

What started out as a good goal became warped and ungodly. As the Pharisees kept puffing themselves up there was no room left for what really pleases God. They had become blind guides. And it is obviously very dangerous to follow a blind guide. They could lead you straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. And that is exactly the warning Jesus was giving the Pharisees and the crowd. “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV).

The Pharisees loved the law and specialized in knowing and enforcing each and every little detail of a long long list of do’s and don’ts. This, they thought, would make God happy. But all the while they neglected the larger heart issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They mastered in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, but failed to see that the novel they were writing with their lives was tearing down every attempt others were making to please God. They were quick to point out other’s errors, but saw none of their own. It became most important to them to look good before man. So important that they forgot about how to actually look good before God. They were puffed up and proud, greedy and selfish.


It is easy to read this chapter and shake my head and point my finger and say, “Boy, I’m glad I am not like one of them.” But, in so doing – I become like one of them.

Dear God, help me to do what is right – with a heart that is right. May I see the error of the Pharisee’s ways – and my own – and work to clean up my own insides. Help me be humble and not seek the honor of men. Open my eyes to who you are and what truly pleases you. Open my ears to the teachings of your Son, to not just know it but to live it. Help me guide others to you, not armed with a legalistic checklist, but with a heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness. In your precious Son’s name, I pray.

-Marcia Railton

“That’ll do, Pig.”

Daily reading: 1 Peter 1-5

When Jesus told Peter to ‘Feed my sheep,’ he was commissioning him as a shepherd. And in the book of First Peter, we see a part of the fulfillment of that commission.

There are believers (the Lord’s sheep) scattered throughout Roman provinces in Asia Minor, and Peter is writing a letter to be routed amongst them.

There was a movie out in the 90’s about a pig that herded sheep. When the sheep dogs on the farm did their job, they demeaned and scared the sheep into submission. But sweet little Babe the piglet just asked them nicely and off they marched in lines for him.

Sheep of a different flock, however, didn’t know this sweet pig, and saw no reason to listen to him. That is, until, Babe received word from his pasture back home of the secret words to tell these new sheep that he was on their side. ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’

We are an individualistic bunch of sheep, I think. 

Maybe it’s just me. Reading the book of First Peter with the eyes of a flock, a group, instead of reading it just for me, I see it somewhat differently.  There’s a definite theme coming through it all that it seems Peter wanted these sheep in his scattered pasture to remember:

There’s more than this.

  • Seek the holiness of sincere love for each other, because you’re like perishing blades of grass and God’s ways endure. There’s more than this way of loving.
  • You might feel rejected, but you are chosen. There’s more than this world’s acceptance.
  • Live to please God not the society you live in. There’s more than this wisdom.
  • God cares about how you treat your family. There’s more than your own perspective.
  • Compassion and humility never go out of style. There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.
  • Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and you need to be ready. There’s literally more than this world coming one day.

Peter may not have needed to say ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’ to unite the scattered sheep of his day, but perhaps we need a reminder that we, too, are a scattered flock.

Friends, there’s more than this.

Do you feel the sincere love of the body of Christ? No? Don’t wait for someone else to ‘do something’ about it. Everyone else is a perishing blade of grass just like you. Authentic love doesn’t start with a social media campaign; and it doesn’t start with the whole church, it starts with a few individuals. Be those few.

There’s more than this way of loving.

Have you felt rejected? Alone? Broken? Empty? Peter’s response to the scattered flock on this issue was to remind them about Jesus, and of this: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

It seems that acceptance begins with mercy. Mercy comes after repentance. Repentance comes after we own up to our sin. This world tells us to own our sin. Big difference.

There’s more than this world’s acceptance.

Along those lines, if the wisdom of this world affirms all of your choices, you might want to question if God would. Living to please God rarely aligns with the wisdom of this world.

There’s more than this wisdom.

Perspective is a powerful influencer, and seeing our family solely from the lens of our own perspective is not only selfish, but dangerous. We can fall into the trap of living for ourselves even while fooling ourself into thinking we are part of a team. How lonely. How unfulfilling. And definitely not God’s best for us.

There’s more than your own perspective.

Suffering is difficult and hard and it stinks. Anyone who says to say ‘Praise God!’ for suffering is a liar or a robot (or a lying robot, perhaps?). Jesus didn’t even want to suffer, he asked his Father if he could avoid it if possible.

Finding peace in the midst of suffering, finding joy in God’s provision during times of suffering, and praising God during suffering are all very different than praising him FOR the suffering.

There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.

Peter quotes a Psalm and tells these scattered sheep that they must seek peace and pursue it.”  Compassion, humility, gentleness, sympathy, blessing… these are all active. A person who is actively pursuing peace, especially when suffering abounds, will stand out. Maybe that’s why Peter suggests it?

People loving differently, repenting of sin, showing mercy, treating their families differently, being the most kind, compassionate, gentle, humble, easy to get along with group of people anyone ever met…yet not compromising God’s standards, not backing down, standing strong against the roar of evil around them, refusing to be devoured — Those people would garner attention.

There’s literally more than this world coming one day.

Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and we need to be ready.

-Susan Landry

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

Tomorrow we begin the book of Hebrews (chapters 1-6)

The Great Debate

Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Do you know who I would love to see debate in a globally televised event? Jesus and the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus could take on the whole crew of them. For people who had so much in common, they sure were polar opposites.

What did Jesus and the Pharisees have in common? They were from the same family. They could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They were Jews born at the same time in history. Both Jesus and the Pharisees knew well and deeply appreciated the Old Testament scriptures. They both knew the importance of the coming Messiah the Jews anticipated. They both spoke of how to please God and urged people to follow the way they laid out in order to be saved in the life to come. They had so much in common. Imagine what they could have done together for God’s work – if only the Pharisees hadn’t been so pharisaical.

The Pharisees loved the law of Moses so much (as well as the additions they added to the Law to make themselves look even more saintly) that they were blinded to the true Messiah in front of them. In the end they were much more interested in making themselves look good (and pointing out others’ shortcomings) than in doing what God actually desired – and that is a dangerous place to be.

In today’s reading we come across a few topics that would surely come up in our much anticipated debate between the Pharisees and Jesus.

The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity and his displays of God’s power. But, rather than accepting him for who he was showing himself to be – they preferred creating lies and rumors for something they didn’t fully understand. So, when the crowd was amazed at Jesus’ healing of a demon possessed man, the Pharisees tried to explain it away by saying Jesus must be working with Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 & Luke 11:15). I don’t think I would take that very well, but Jesus calmly rebuttals that if indeed Satan were working at driving out Satan, his house wouldn’t be standing for long. He goes on to say that from evil you can expect evil, but from good you can expect good – for what is stored up in a man overflows for all to see and hear. And, he reminds them that there is a day coming when all will be judged for “every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)

But, they fail to realize the wisdom and truth and warnings Jesus spoke. So, the debate topics continue. They notice Jesus didn’t wash his hands before he ate (this definitely sounds like a debate topic that could be used today against a political opponent – times never change). Jesus counters with a truth stinger – the Pharisees spend so much time making sure they look good on the outside, but they neglect the more important work of cleaning up their own greed and wickedness on the inside. They are so busy harping on the itty-bitty showing-off, do-good outside acts (like tithing on the produce from their herb garden) and expecting praise for their goodness – but they completely overlook the weighty matters of justice and God’s love. In trying to make themselves look holy, they have neglected to care for others. And Jesus was telling them that is a dangerous place to be. Judgment will also be coming for today’s Pharisees.

Thankfully, there is another option. Jesus laid it out. Be his family – accept who Jesus is – do the will and work of his Father in heaven – not your own selfish agenda, or what will make you look good in the eyes of today’s twisted Pharisees who try to tell us how to be godly but have totally missed the boat themselves. Draw closer to Jesus than you ever have been before so you can tell the difference between the truth that he offers and the lies of the Pharisees. Your life depends on it – as well as the lives of those who are watching you.

There will be a time coming when the whole world will see and know who is the clear winner of this debate.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as we continue on our…

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