Have you ever read scripture and thought to yourself, “That is definitely me”? I know I have, and every time I read Mark 14 I get that same feeling all over again. In Mark 14:32-42 we find the scene were Jesus takes his disciples to Gethsemane to pray before his arrest. Jesus sets a few of his disciples on watch while he goes away to pray. When Jesus returns, he finds them sleeping and says these piercing words in verse 37, “’Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?’” Ouch! How bad would you have felt if you were Peter right then? Well, I’ve felt almost exactly like this once.
One night, while I was in high school, one of my best friends was doing a late night shift in a 24 hour prayer campaign. He had the duty of praying for an hour in the middle of the night. I can’t remember for certain, but it was something like 3am – 4 am. He asked me and one of our other best friends if we would be willing to stay up with him to help him pray and be alert during this shift. We both happily agreed! After all, how often does your best friend ask you to stay up and help him pray? This is something we could not turn down. So we are all hanging out, sitting on the couches in my living room, waiting for his shift to begin. The next thing I remember are my two friends walking inside after his prayer shift was over. In that moment, I felt a lot like Peter. I couldn’t even stay awake for one night to help my friend pray. To be honest, I was a little bit embarrassed and disappointed in myself. I can’t believe I had let my best friend down.
When I started my teaching career 24 years ago, I had no idea that I would spend two and half decades in the same district. I only agreed to the original interview because I thought that it would be good practice for interviews with school districts that were better funded and closer to where I wanted to live. But through the years, I have had amazing students, super supportive principals and supervisors, and colleagues who have become my closest friends.
There have been times where I sought other jobs outside my district. The crazy thing is that I have never had an invitation to interview for those other positions. Now either I have a highly inflated self-perspective of my skills, or I don’t know how to complete and submit an application, or just maybe, God wants me to stay where I am.
So I can relate a little bit to Paul in Acts 16 when he realizes that he’s not supposed to go into Asia but rather head up to Macedonia.
Can you imagine setting out on a road trip and not really knowing for sure where you’ll end up?
It makes sense to pray and seek wisdom and discernment before making major life decisions. But this is how God wants us to live our day-to-day lives too. Yes, dreaming up plans, setting goals, and creating task lists are good things to do, but it’s also important to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Asking God to help determine the best use of your time each week, each day, is a good way to practice your listening skills and hone your sensitivity to God’s direction.
As we go about this week, pause and think about what you already have on your calendar of things to do and places to be at and people to meet up with. Does any of that need to be revised? Does something need to be removed or added? Do you have enough margin in your day-to-day that you can spontaneously respond to God’s leading?
If nothing specific comes to mind or your days and week go pretty closely as you expected, that’s okay too. What really matters is that you sought God. You took time to listen and you were willing to act on his call. That’s the kind of heart God desires.
Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Acts 15-16
There were so many good topics from today’s reading, it was hard for me to pick just one for today’s devotion. But I finally settled on discussing what Jesus did immediately before calling the 12 apostles.
Jesus had many disciples following him. A disciple is a follower, an apprentice, someone who is learning. From among these followers, Jesus was going to choose his apostles – his chosen messengers with a special commission. We’re told in Luke 6:12, that before choosing his 12 apostles, Jesus spent the whole night in prayer. Did you catch that? Jesus spent the whole night praying.
Why would Jesus need to spend the whole night praying? First, opposition to him was growing – immediately before this story, we’re told the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. He knew this would eventually end in his crucifixion. I’m guessing he was praying for strength for the task that lay before him. Second, this was a turning point in his ministry. Until how, he had just been a one man show – a traveling preacher and healer. Now he was picking the men who would be the foundation of the church after he was gone. I’m guessing he was praying for discernment. Finally, according to John 6:64, Jesus knew from the beginning who was going to betray him, and He was going to pick him as one of His apostles. I’m guessing Jesus was struggling with emotions at that prospect; it was through prayer that He made this difficult choice.
We find many instances of Jesus devoting lots of time to prayer. Whether it was getting up before dawn to pray, or sending the apostles away in a boat so he could pray, or … You get the idea. But wait, Jesus was the Son of GOD! In John 3:34, we’re told that Jesus was given the Holy Spirit without measure. And He still spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer!
What should this mean for me?
For starters, I suspect I need God’s help far more than Jesus did. For one thing, I’m a wretched sinner, and Jesus was perfectly sinless. Also, Jesus had the Holy Spirit without measure, me – not so much.
From Jesus’ example, I see that I need to spend far more time in prayer, whether asking for strength, or for discernment, or struggling with emotions, or… for dealing with everything life throws at me. And that’s just the requests for my needs. Then, there are prayers for confessing and asking forgiveness. Then, all the prayer requests for people I care about. Then, there is honoring, praising, and magnifying God in prayer. And the list goes on. Bottom line – I need to spend more time in prayer.
What about you? Will you join me in committing to spending more time in prayer?
This will not only benefit me and you, it may benefit the whole nation. I’m reminded of one of my many favorite Bible verses, 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
So much work had already been done – the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – now they just needed to finish the gates. Surely this project was God-ordained and he picked the right leader for the job – Nehemiah. He was able to get everyone motivated and working together, and despite the opposition they were able to finish their job on the 25th of Elul (which appears to correspond to somewhere between Sept 15 and October 2). So, this week is a super time to celebrate the work that is accomplished when working for God.
So much good had been done already – but the work did not end and neither did the opposition!
Nehemiah was under attack. Satan (along with Tobia, Sanballat, Geshem and the rest of those fighting against God) were using every weapon at their disposal to bring this righteous leader down: lies, fear, wolves in sheep’s clothing, attempting to distract him from his work with other business, spreading gossip and accusations of sedition to either silence him or get him in serious trouble with the authorities, even hiring a false “prophet” to scare him into sinning.
But Nehemiah stood strong. We continue to see him turn to God in prayer. Asking for strong hands and asking for God to take care of those getting in the way of the Lord’s work. He obviously had a strong knowledge of God’s law to not be tricked into sinning. This gave him wise discernment in knowing who to listen to and what to do, and not do. And, he knew to fear God not men.
We can learn a lot from Nehemiah today because Satan keeps using the same ploys. Adolf Hitler wrote, “Mental confusion, contradiction of feeling, indecisiveness, panic; these are our weapons.” Evil men seeking to destroy God’s work have come and gone and yet remain today. It is indeed a vivid reminder that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). They love nothing more than trying to interrupt God’s work and if they can bring down a godly leader at the same time they probably get bonus points.
We see so much of this evil and oppression today. But like Nehemiah, we must not give up! We must turn to God again and again when faced with the lies and fears and Satan’s strong man tactics that would love to have us throw in the towel and take the easy way instead. Pray, fast, seek His word and His way, don’t fear man, resist sin, use discernment in knowing who to trust, what to say and do. Pray, too, for our leaders that they will have the wisdom and strong hands of Nehemiah
Satan has been running rampant and the result is a broken world. Keep at God’s rebuilding work – one brick at a time.
Speaking of our opposition, mental confusion, lies, panic, and pleasing man not God, reminds me of the life and death fight for the most innocent of God’s creations. Tonight would be a great time to watch See Life 2020 and #LoveEveryHeartbeat. And pray for strong hands – and hearts – to do the work God wants you to do.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 6-7
Tomorrow we will read Nehemiah 8-10 as we continue seeking God on our
Imagine that you are on vacation. You are searching for a special restaurant that you wanted to visit while in the area. However, you get lost and come to a crossroads. You don’t know which way to go. There are two clear options that you have. You can either look for guidance from your GPS or you could ask a local. The other option is relying on yourself to figure out the way even though you are at a loss.
There are many lessons that are taken out of Jeremiah 4-6, but perhaps the one that stands out the most is found in chapter 6. In verse 16 it talks of standing at the crossroads. It says that we should seek the ancient paths when at the crossroads of life. We need to seek the guidance offered to us.
There are many crossroads in life such as the one in the vacation example. However, the crossroads are sometimes not as material as the one in the example. The crossroads we face are not necessarily physical. Many times, they are mental and spiritual ones. Sometimes we feel lost and we do not know where to go next. We don’t know what decision to make, where we should go, or even if we should take that job, or go to that college. Life is full of decisions.
In these times of uncertainty, though, we do not have to find the right way on our own. God is there and if we seek him, he will lead us. He will direct our steps. If we go it on our own, more than likely we will take a wrong turn. We will end up feeling more lost and confused than we did in the beginning. If we rely on ourselves and our sense of direction in an area that is foreign to us, we could get in trouble. We could follow a road that would take us into the bad part of town or to a place where the bridge is out.
However, if we ask for guidance; if we seek the ancient ways, as Jeremiah calls it, we will be set in the right direction. The locals and the GPS have wisdom and perspective that we do not.
How do we seek these ancient ways? Reading the Bible, digging into that Word, and prayer is a great way to seek this guidance. I have come across many so-called crossroads. Some of them more confusing than others. These crossroads included times when I didn’t know where I should work, if I should serve in a certain mission field or not, what I should study in college, and figuring out how I should react in certain situations. I would always feel confused in these situations, but when I remembered to pray, it seemed to come into perspective. That guidance and comparing the aspects of the situation to the stories in the Bible helps me to make these decisions. By seeking the counsel of the LORD, I was able to know which way to go when brought to the crossroads. Prayer is a powerful tool that we have graciously been given access. So let us use what has been made available to us.
“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” ~ Is. 40:1-2
While the first 39 chapters of Isaiah consist of the judgment pronounced on Israel & Judah, the book of consolation begins in chapter 40 and continues for the last 27 chapters of the book (mirroring the set-up of the Bible itself). Isaiah 40-43 contains beautiful pictures of who God is and breath-taking prophecies of the future messiah. When we look at the story of the Israelites a central theme that we see is the forsaking of the true God for idols. Because they could see the idols and because other nations worshipped in the same way, they felt like it was more profitable to worship them. However, these idols always proved to be worthless and caused pain and destruction. If we see that we are worshipping idols, what should we do? How can we turn away from the worthlessness of these idols to the infinite value found in God through Christ.
Isaiah 40-43 gives us an answer to that as well. In Isaiah 40, Isaiah reminds us who God is. He asks the question in v. 18-19, “Who will compare God with? What likeness will you compare Him to? To an idol? Something that a smelter casts, and a metalworker plates with gold and makes silver welds for it?” Instead of worshipping a created thing, God points us to what he has created to show his power and to show us that he is the only one worth worshipping. In v. 26, he says, “Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; He calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing.” When we find ourselves looking towards idols for our value and worth – and in turn worshipping them, we need to remind ourselves of where our true value comes from. To do that, we have to turn our eyes away from ourselves and the things we think define us – whether that’s our relationships, money, career, or anything else – and turn them towards the only thing that really gives us worth. By focusing on God and basing our lives on his unchanging character, we can rest in God through the storms and trials of life. He is our firm foundation.
~ Cayce Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 40-43.
In Isaiah 36-37, we read more about the good king Hezekiah. Like we learned last week, Hezekiah worked hard to take down the idols in the land and point the people back to God. In Isaiah 36, Judah came under attack from the neighboring nation of Assyria. Hezekiah then undergoes a battle for the minds of the people as he argues against King Sennacherib and the people of the court. In these two chapters, the Rabshakeh, a high-ranking military officer, tries to convince the people to forsake their kingdom and God. In his three speeches, we may see some similarities between what he says and the way that we are tempted today. At the heart of all of his speeches is a desire to turn Judah away from trusting solely in God.
In the Rabshakeh’s first speech, he points out one of Israel’s insecurities. He says in Is. 36:4-6, ‘What are you relying on? Your strategy and military preparedness are mere words. Look, you are trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff that will enter and pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it.’ Israel and Judah had both sought protection and manpower from Egypt as we read about in Is. 31. Now the Rabshakeh was pointing out that weakness and mocking them for it! We’ve all experienced a time when we have had our insecurities pointed out. I’m a terrible volleyball player. When I would have to play volleyball in gym class, I remember one of the cute guys at my school saying to me ‘You just have to hit the ball like this. It’s not hard!’ You can imagine that in that moment – when a shortcoming of mine was pointed out – all I wanted to do was for someone to take that problem away from me quickly! In my gym class that meant sitting out the next game, but the Judeans didn’t have that option. The Assyrians gave them the option instead to give him 2,000 horses if they could supply riders for them (v. 8). Again, this pointed out the lack of manpower and ability for the Israelites to protect themselves.
At this point, we would probably say, ‘Well, that’s fine! Israel doesn’t need to protect themselves – they should trust in God!’ The Rabshakeh thought of that too. In verse 7, he says, ““Suppose you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God.’ Isn’t he the One whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You are to worship at this altar’?” The Rabshakeh twisted the actions of Hezekiah to make it seem like he had done something against God rather than something that God wanted. He even goes so far as to say in v. 10, “Have I attacked this land to destroy it without the LORD’s approval? The LORD said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’ In his second speech, the Rabshakeh describes how he had destroyed the gods of the surrounding nations, which would just show that God himself wouldn’t deliver the people either (v. 18-20).
This is some powerful psychological warfare! We know the Judeans had trust issues to begin with. Now, someone is coming and laying out all of their insecurities for the world to see (right before they try to march in and destroy their kingdom)! The heart of all of the Rabshakeh’s temptation can be summed up with what he said in Is. 37:10, “Don’t let your God, whom you trust, deceive you by promising that Jerusalem won’t be handed over to the king of Assyria.” He basically says ‘Did God really say that he would save you?’ which may sound eerily reminiscent of another ancient tempter (Gen. 3:1). At this point, if someone had tried to break our trust in God in this way, we may have caved and believed them. However, Hezekiah does what we all should do when we have people who try to break our trust in God. He prays and then reminds himself of God’s unchanging character.
God hears his prayer and we read about the victory that God brings in Isaiah 37:36-38 when an angel of the LORD strikes down the Assyrian army and the king is killed in the temple of his god, Nisroch.
When we face temptations and challenges that try to break our trust in God, we need to be reminded that he is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can trust in what the Bible says. We can trust in the promises of God.
We are currently living in a very crazy time – am I right?! COVID-19 has taken over our daily lives, the political climate is VERY sticky and people are turning against one another (even within Godly communities) to prove their point and/or push their ideas of what they believe to be true. We are continually becoming more and more divided with each passing day. It is scary. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Frustrating. And those are only a few of the many adjectives I could throw out there right now to describe what is going on around us.
Let’s be honest here… all of this is A LOT to balance…. And I know, personally, as a flawed human being who continually makes mistakes and cannot seem to ever fully pull it all together, I constantly fall short when attempting to manage all of these changing circumstances and emotions. In times like this, I always find it helpful (and encouraging) to look back on examples set before me of Godly men and/or women who have managed to handle things a whole lot better than I am.
Our readings for today bring Hezekiah into focus. In 2 Kings 18:1-8 Hezekiah (son of Ahaz) comes to reign as the king of Judah. Hezekiah was a king who had a very close relationship with God and he is an example of how the faith of one man can change the course of an entire nation. During his reign Hezekiah pursued God with his whole heart. Hezekiah remained faithful and diligent throughout the highs and the lows of his time – he repaired the Jewish temple that had been previously impacted by wickedness, removed false Gods from the land, destroyed places where pagan worship was still in practice and restored the Passover as a national holiday.
Because King Hezekiah put God first in everything he did, God prospered him. Hezekiah “held fast to the Lord and did not stop following Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses and therefore the Lord was with him and he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 King 18:6-7). In his time of need, Hezekiah came forth and prayed for relief, guidance and support from the Lord and the Lord was quick and gracious to give of these things and reward Hezekiah for his faithfulness.
The example that Hezekiah sets forth during his reign reminds us of the importance of remaining faithful and obedient to God and His word regardless of what is happening around us. I encourage all of us to follow the example of Hezekiah in the time we currently find ourselves in today. Pray. Remain faithful. Stay diligent. Honor God by doing the right thing…..
While things around us are ever changing and continually confusing, we can rest assured that God will remain faithful and reward our diligence just as He has promised.
Love and miss you all – stay safe and healthy. I absolutely cannot wait for the day where we are all reunited again and can honor God together.
Micah was a minor prophet who simply conveyed the truths of God to the people of Israel of his day and in just 7 chapters he spoke volumes! What I love most about his message was that he spoke of God’s judgement as well as God’s mercy.
His task at hand must have been very daunting to speak in a day of a divided nation (Israel and Judah) about their sins and the judgement of destruction it would bring on them.
Chapter 1 speaks of their Idolatry and looting. (Vs. 6&7) Chapter 2 refers to the schemes of the wicked oppressors and their evil plots and injustice to others. (1-3) Chapter 3 brings out that the leaders were corrupt and many were “paying off” false prophets to tell the people what they wanted them to hear. (Vs. 5)
Can we relate to a nation like this?
But in the midst of this we are told in chapters 4 and 5 of the Peaceful reign to come in “Latter Days”. Chapter 5:2-5 tells us of the baby to be born in Bethlehem and that this One (Jesus) will be our peace.
How refreshing is that?
In Chapter 6 God speaks of all He has done for His people. His words apply to us today as well. He requires our faith and obedience to Him over our sacrifices. We are told that we cannot justify our own sins by living wicked and then offer burned sacrifices to obtain salvation. (Giving up your first born is mentioned.) Thank goodness Jesus is now our atonement and our way to salvation! (Vs. 6&7)
The answer to what God requires of us is found in the verse I would like to highlight today… act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Our God (Vs.6:8). Do we show love, kindness and walk with Him?
The acknowledgement of the Prophet himself is what we find in chapter 7. He reflects on the mercies of God and how God is our Salvation and Light. He is quick to forgive, if we truly repent, and we are redeemed by His unfailing love and compassion. He will be faithful to His Remnant.
Thank goodness Micah bravely spoke truth in such a difficult day and time. The beautiful words we have from his message, along with Isaiah, Hosea and Amos’ as well, as they stood up for the ways of God despite the downward spiral of their society still speaks to us today.
Micah leaves us with the reminder that there is a final day of judgement coming for all the earth so we must stay faithful no matter what we are facing even in our uncertain present day. That false prophecy is ringing in our ears every day and we must ingrain ourselves in the truths of God’s word and stand up to a society where many are turning away from God. Jesus is with us in the midst of this and we are to follow him and look expectantly for his return. Our God is faithful and will remember those who have remained true to Him just as He did all those before us and all to come. Most of all God expects us to ACT JUSTLY, LOVE MERCY AND WALK HUMBLY WITH HIM. May the peace of Christ be with you today.
I am not where I planned to be today. You see for many years this weekend is when I have helped load vans, buses, SUVs and even a Volkswagen bug with a lively group of cheerful travelers as we start making our way to Northern Indiana. Our group is always made up of students and youth workers heading to a youth camp named FUEL. Weeks spent at camp are so incredible because we intentionally set aside time to focus on God. We worship, we learn, we laugh, we encourage, we grow, we pray, . . . This camp offers us the chance to spend some intentional focused time with God. We remember our ultimate life goals of loving God with all that we are and loving others as ourselves. We align our lives with these main goals. We determine our next steps and develop practical actions that show that we have a close, loving relationship with God through Christ and that we truly love others.
Unfortunately, we will not gather physically for FUEL this year, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking time to connect with God. Yes, He is in northern Indiana, but He is where you are right now (He is not far from any one of us Acts 17:27). God loves us so much that He wants to connect with us and He is always there to direct us as well. We just need to focus on Him.
Today we read about a King who did exactly that. He was Jotham. Jotham was the eleventh king of Judah. It was stated that he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. What a great way to be remembered. We are also told that He grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. Steadfastly-that could describe the way we order the habits of our lives! Walking resolutely, firm and unwavering because we are living our lives connected to God.
Jotham benefited from seeing what a king should and should not do from his father. He also benefited from being a contemporary with the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah. Praise God we have their writings available to us today! Just like the faithful kings we can read the message from God sent through these prophets. Isaiah (9-12) presents the coming of the Messiah, just judgment, the future rally of nations to Christ, the Lord’s glorious holy mountain, and the earth being filled with the knowledge of the LORD as waters cover the sea. What an amazing experience it will be to meet with those prophets and those kings that “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” in the Kingdom of God!
So even though we may have to be socially distant right now, we look forward to that perfect time. Isaiah (12) describes the people rejoicing on that day because the Holy One of Israel is among them. Today we can rejoice because the Holy One of Israel can also be with us!