Strong-Willed for God

Proverbs 22-24

Proverbs 22 6 NIV sgl

If you are just jumping in now, I have been pulling out a few lines in Proverbs that stand out to me, but I encourage you to do the same – you will likely find different ones!

22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

My mom always tells these horror stories from when I was a young child about how I was a nightmare to deal with (I’m sure she exaggerates…), but that didn’t mean that she just accepted it.  She tells me she prayed and asked that God would turn my stubborn, strong-willed self to be stubborn and strong-willed for God.  I can’t say that I have done a perfect job, but I know I am thankful for the prayers my mom said.  I don’t hit people in anger anymore (or throw whatever is in my hand across the room when I get mad).  Though I sometimes struggle to stay on fire for God, I am trying to do what I can to stay faithful through it.  The attribute of being strong-willed has been put to use in staying steadfast even when I go through times of struggle.   If you are the child who was raised in the faith and is still in it, thank your parents!  If you are someone who has children or plans to someday, keep this in mind.  It starts young.

23:4-5 Saying 8

4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

Finding a balance between providing for life and accumulating wealth can be difficult.  Most of us want to have nice things in life, but it can consume us.  That first line stands out to me – “Do not wear yourself out to get rich;” If I am so focused on work that I am worn out everyday, or don’t have time to spend with my family, I don’t think that is right.  Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of other places in the Bible that tell us we should be hard workers and not to be lazy (see next section), but overworking yourself just to gain wealth doesn’t feel right.  You might not be able to get everything you want, but learning to be content with what you have is for the better.  Contentedness is something I have been working on the last few months. What I have is enough.

24:30-34

30 I went past the field of a sluggard,
past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
31 thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
32 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
34 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

Being lazy leads to an inability to thrive.  We have to find that balance of hard work, but not letting it consume us to where gaining possessions becomes our sole focus.  How are your priorities?  Where is God on that list?

We are moving out of Proverbs tomorrow, so enjoy these little bits of wisdom!

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+22-24&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow we jump from Proverbs (many of Solomon’s writings) to 1 Kings 5-6 and 2 Chronicles 2-3 to read some of the events of King Solomon’s life and reign.  We return to the rest of Proverbs next week on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Food & Stuff

matt 6 33 (1)

MATTHEW 6

Scrolling through the text messages I send to my wife, I realize there is a constant theme connecting about half of our communication:  food. “What are we having tonight?”, “Where do you want to go to eat?”, “Do we have any dinner plans?”, “What are you making?”, “I think I will have…”  I can only imagine if the Lord tarries for a few hundred more years, and they discover my phone in an archaeological dig, they will no doubt conclude that I was one of the hungriest people on earth.  The thing is I’m not. In fact, thank the Lord, I’ve never had to worry about a meal in my life, and truth be told, it probably would benefit me if I skipped a few meals. So why am I (and so many others) obsessed with food, or clothing, or money, or all of these things, the very things God assures over and over again he will provide what we need in exact proportions?

 

Today’s reading, Matthew 6, is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus takes the time to teach us how to pray, and then gives us the appropriate perspective on our food and stuff, to make sure our priorities are straight so our pursuits are fruitful.  How do we know what our priorities should be? Some say that the model prayer that Jesus gives is also a priority list (Matt 6:9-13). If this is true, then it is later confirmed when Jesus says “Seek FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33).  Kingdom first. Everything else, don’t sweat.

 

This reminds me of a recent discussion we have been having about theme in my classroom.  In fiction, the theme is the single most important factor that guides your story. Everything else is of significantly lesser importance.  The setting could be the United States, another country, space, or complete fantasy. Your characters could be people, animals, aliens, or inanimate objects. The conflict can be internal or external.  The main idea in these thoughts: you can tell the same story with a variance of characters, settings, conflicts, but the theme, or the central message, remains the same because it controls everything else.

 

When the theme of our lives becomes food and stuff, we become literal or figurative “packrats.”  Our pantries begin to overflow, we save for every eventuality and rainy day, and we have closets full of clothing for every season and occasion. To what purpose?  While it might be unwise to go to the grocery store to buy a single day’s worth of food, to not acknowledge retirement, or our only shoes to be flip-flops in Minnesota, is this really the side where most of us err?

 

The theme controlling our story should singly be the Kingdom of God.  It should be the driving force, controlling our story. It doesn’t matter who we are.  It doesn’t matter where we live. It doesn’t matter the challenge we face. We know the theme. It is the very reason Paul says he “can do all things through Christ who gives him strength” because rich or poor, here or there, famous or obscure, those are just the “all these things” of the story (Phi 4:13).  It is true that each day has enough trouble of its own, so don’t worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:34). The sun will rise. The birds will fly. The flowers will grow. You will get your food and stuff WHEN you acknowledge first, the Kingdom of God. Knowing this, use the details of your story – picking out your clothes, sitting down to eat, or making a purchase, to find a way to acknowledge, thank, and share God for or with your food and stuff.

-Aaron Winner

Your Mouth

Deut 6 7

We’ve heard it said that there are two things that demonstrate what a person really cares about: his checkbook and his calendar. This is definitely a very good point that resonates with most of us I would think. How much money did we spend this week on anything of spiritual value or eternal significance or even for anything other than ourselves? (And if we did give to some noble cause. . .did we do it humbly and privately or feel the need to “sound our trumpet” for the applause of men mentioned in Matthew 6:2?) How much time did we spend earning money, planning how to earn money in our future, talking or thinking about money? And okay, we could say the same for our calendars too. Clearly, as we can see from the general lack of church attendance in our society, a mentality that “church is a place you go to once or twice a week” versus a community of people in whom you are sharing life, and the increasing time demands of any secular activity, for the vast majority of us, our calendars are not going to indicate a priority of God or the church compared to work/school/hobbies/not to mention anything to do with electronic devices. In fact, we live in a world where people get repetitive strain conditions from too much screen time, we have conditions of workaholics, hoarders, internet search histories full of wasted time (or even worse), and the list goes on. Clearly, we often misuse or mindlessly use our checkbook and calendars.   And while this is an excellent lesson to prove the point that we need more decisions/thoughts/actions with God involved with our use of time and money. . . it does seem to overlook one area we have certainly found equally convicting. Our MOUTHS!

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45, NIV)

This verse reminds us that our words evidence what our hearts and minds are filled with. And if we are intentionally seeking to increase or develop our relationships which God graciously made possible through the gift of His son, Jesus, then we will find our words more filled with His spirit and grace and wisdom. But, not just speaking “kindly” and “politely” and those kinds of things. . .words indicating a care/knowledge/priority in thoughts of eternal significance. The older we get, the more we’ve noticed that there are some people who just stand out because their conversation topics and things they generally/casually talk about are centered around God in some capacity.  When we are at their house for dinner, we are asked about our faith, we hear different things about their church backgrounds and doctrinal thoughts, they tell us about some Creation Science information they ran across recently, and maybe even share books/DVDs with us of a spiritual value. We leave their house having learned something or having thought about something that matters without having heard a word of gossip or complaint. But, this really isn’t typical, is it?

Many of our conversations with Christians look and sound no different than if we were talking to anyone else. We hear/talk about the weather, sports, politics, school, camping, work, and Facebook threads (and whatever those other Social media things are for younger and cooler people than us). Sadly, we hear gossip, slander, anger, whining, and pride on a regular basis too. . .certainly even in church. And, the Christians who stand out as unique are the ones who make it clear that they actually think about God frequently. How sad. Aren’t we asked to meditate on Him daily (Psalm 1:1-3)? And, aren’t we awfully weak in this? We need to improve in this area individually, as families, and as a church. We need our hearts to be filled with God so our conversations naturally overflow with His spirit. We don’t need to have friends over and get out fifteen Bible study tools and sit and discuss Greek and Hebrew translations. We don’t need to talk about scripture itself all the time, and we certainly don’t need to eliminate friendly, relational talk of a variety of interests. But, we do desperately NEED to fill our hearts with more God and less of the world. When we do this, our church family will benefit, and our mouths will overflow with truth and love so that we are not just a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, NIV). After all, this isn’t a new idea:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, NIV)

 

–Brian and Jennifer Hall

 

Love God First

1 John 2

1 John 2 15

I love cats, ice cream, and succulents. I love big, comfy sweatshirts and the smell of old books. I love a lot of things.

You’re probably thinking, “Ok, that’s nice I guess… But what do old books and weird plants have to do with anything?”

We all have things that we love. Maybe you love coffee, sports, or your phone. Fill in the blank! Loving those things is not a bad thing. In fact, many of those things can be extremely helpful in our day to day lives – until they become worldly distractions and priorities.

When repotting my succulent becomes higher on my priority list than homework, there’s a problem. When I am engulfed in a book and lose sleep to read “one more chapter,” there’s a problem. When I eat massive amounts of ice cream every day, there’s a problem.

God should be the priority – not your facebook status, not repotting your succulent, not watching a football game. Those things are nice, and it’s great that you like them, but we find that when they are higher on our list of priorities than God, there is a MAJOR issue.

I mean, God can give us immortality. He, through Jesus, forgave us despite all of our imperfections, shortcomings, and sins. He loves us, and we, as Christians, love Him. But then we go and kill two days of our life on the couch binge watching a season on Netflix instead of using that time to pray, read the Bible, or glorify Him in general.

Catch my drift?

We need to strive to make God a priority in our lives and to love Him first. Because our stuff will break, get old, wear out, be replaced – but God will never break, get old, wear out, or be replaced. When we put God as our number one priority, everything else falls into place. So love Him first.

– Madison Cisler

1 John 2 17

E.R.

Psalm 119

emoyer-ER

 

E.R. debuted in 1994.  Each week, episodes were filled with exciting, heart wrenching and dramatic events based in a Chicago hospital emergency room.  The show often portrayed incredible measures taken as residents applied their medical school backgrounds to treat and save patients.   
Well, there are times we all find other things that we might put first in our day to day lives.  We may need some “healing” or “revival” in our own relationship with God.  Eleven times in Psalm 119 it mentions some sort of revival.  Terms like preserve, restore, spare, give, are mentioned throughout this chapter.  In the darkest of hours you may not feel like His Word is enough.  You may not feel like it is relevant to what you are going through or that God is near. You may have filled your time, your actions and your mind with everything but time in His word.  If this feels somewhat familiar to you consider this:  “Feelings follow correct behaviors and not the other way around”.  God’s word is a foundation for us all.  We need to turn to him and be in His word.  Don’t expect a quick fix. Instead, prepare to be transformed by him being more present in our life. So when we stumble, we need to get back up again, be dedicated to reading his word and trust on his strength for a full recovery in our lives.

-Emily Moyer

Living Simply

Luke 10

luke 10 2

In Luke 10 Jesus is appointing 72 of his followers to go out ahead of him and to spread the message and to see which towns will be open to his message.  Now I think that his instructions to this group of believers is unique to their purpose in aiding Jesus’ earthly ministry, but there are also some useful instructions for us today.  In verses 2 and 3 he tells them to pray that God will send his missionaries into the world, and then tells them that they are the ones that are being sent, but that it will be dangerous.  At that point in Jesus’ ministry I think that some of the disciples had been living in a bit of a bubble and hadn’t yet realized the kind of persecution that they would undergo in their lifetimes, and Jesus was preparing them for what was to come.  I think that similarly Christians in America, and especially those who have grown up in the church have been living in a bubble.  We have been a predominantly Christian nation for several generations, but our nation is quickly moving away from God and I personally believe that within my lifetime we will start to see a lot more persecution of the church.  So those of us that plan to be bold with our beliefs and plan on spreading them to those around us need to be ready and understand that there are dangers associated with being a Christian and being different from the world.

 

In verses 4-8 Jesus describes how they should move about and how they should act while they are staying in these towns they are visiting.  The summary of these instructions is that they need to move with haste and purpose and while they are staying as a guest in these towns they need to live simply and humbly.  They were to take whatever was given to them gladly and not complain about any food or accommodations.  I think that for us today we need to remember to live with a purpose and to not let ourselves be distracted by fancy living or money or other things of this world.  Our lives are relatively short and there is a great deal of work to be done for the Kingdom.  I’m not saying that we should go around without a wallet or purse or shoes like these disciples were instructed, but that we should lead simple lives so that we have more time for God.

 

At the end of Luke 10 in verses 38-42 we have the story of Mary and Martha, sisters who hosted Jesus while he was traveling and teaching.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to all that he said while Martha ran about getting food and things ready for all of the visitors.  Finally Martha had enough and told Jesus to tell Mary to help her with the housework.  Jesus replied.

 

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 

Again a lesson to live simply and to put spiritual matters ahead of physical issues in our lives.

-Chris Mattison

The Way Towards Unity

Philippians 2:1-11

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In Philippians 2 we find our memory verse for this week, in which Paul exhorts the church at Philippi towards unity: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2, NRSV). In the verses that follow, Paul gives the Philippians some instruction on how they can work towards achieving that unity.

 

Paul’s advice for the Philippians is to pursue humility in order to achieve unity. Humility is to hold one’s self or self-interest in a low or modest regard. In practicing humility, those in Philippi would be placing the interests of others and the agenda of God above their own desires and concerns. This lowering of one’s self would allow room for the Gospel to take over each member’s life and for the church to come together for the purpose furthering the Gospel in their community. In this, they would be unified.

 

But Paul doesn’t stop at giving them some ideal to chase after; he offers a model to copy—a perfect one. Jesus had more reason than anyone to pursue self-interests: he was like God. When tempted to have all the kingdoms of the world put under his rule without having to suffer first, he refused (Matt. 4:8-10). Jesus always subjected himself to God. God’s agenda was the only one he cared about—even if it meant torture and death. Paul called the Philippians to have this same mentality, and we should too.

 

Each one of us has objects we hold as valuable (physical and otherwise), some of them justifiably and others not. We have families and jobs, both of which are important and should not be neglected. We also have ideas, opinions, and agendas that we might say (or at least our actions would suggest) are just as important. What we must remember, and what our actions must mirror, is that all of the things we find value in must pale (greatly) in comparison to the worth we place on the Gospel—God’s agenda.

 

Can you image what the Church would look like if we were all unified around and living out this common idea? What a sight that would be…will be.

– Joel Fletcher

Is it Eternal or Eternally Useless?

2 Corinthians 1-4

All+that+is+not+eternal,+is+eternally+useless.

Thursday, June 22

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.            2 Corinthians 4:17-18

 

Each day is a new day to live, work, and accomplish new things. Everyone has goals and ambitions for what they would like to do and achieve. But it is important to remember that all our earthy success and money and goods are not long-lasting—they are not eternal. As C. S. Lewis remarked, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.” Now, is it true that money and goods and other physical things are completely “useless” in all respects? No, not exactly. But what Lewis is getting at is that when it comes down to what really matters—only eternity matters. And as such, only those things which will last for eternity are of any true significance.

 

Paul exhorts his readers to realize that everything we suffer and go through in this life is just the precursor to the beautiful glory that is to come. There is a glory that is “beyond all comparison” waiting for God’s people. Everything that is in this world is perishable and will be destroyed one day when a new heavens and earth will be formed in its place (2 Pet 3:11-13). And the glorious, resurrection bodies and heavenly city of Jerusalem that God has prepared for his people surpasses any imagination of such glory that we could ever have (Phil 3:21; Rev 21:10-11).
But while on this earth during the present age, what do we get from all the hard work we labor in? The author of Ecclesiastes has a rather pessimistic outlook on all the hard work of life.

 

Ecclesiastes 5:15-16

As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?

 

What do we get for all our “toils”? Ultimately….nothing! It would be a terrible mistake to make prosperity, success, or fame the goal to which you set you eyes in life. These things have no eternal value, everything we have earned and accomplished in this life will come to nothing in the coming age. 1 John 2:17 says, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

 

The popular slogan, “Live for Today!” has both truth and error in it. While we don’t want our mind to be anxious and preoccupied about tomorrow that we forget to live in the moment and enjoy what is happening in our lives “now,” the problem is if all a person ever does is live for the “here and now.” Life is ultimately not about the “here and now” but about the destination of where everything is going. If we never raise our eyes to the horizon, then we will never gain an eternal perspective on life and understand the final objective to everything in life.

 

We must work and live in this world, but that is only what we are doing now. Life is not only about “now” but also about “then.” And “then” is what is truly important and eternal. So while we “toil” in this life, let us keep our eyes on the horizon and realize what actually is the true meaning of life. It is not what we see, but what we do not see. The unseen is eternal. If we live by faith, and not by sight, we will come to know the everlasting glory that is beyond all compare to anything in this world. Look to the things that are unseen and the spiritual reality of the life we have in Christ, awaiting the “riches of the glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18).

 

-Jerry Wierwille

 

(Photo Credit: http://slideplayer.com/slide/6811229/)

 

Quit Something

Ezekiel 34-36

Ezekiel 34-36

Thursday, March 30

 

“It’s Thursday.  Quit being who you were.” – Bob Goff

 

Bob Goff, the author of “Love Does”, has a weekly ritual.  It’s called “Quit Something Thursday”.  Each Thursday, Bob Goff quits something to free up time or shake things up.  He has quit having an office.  He now works on a lobster boat he refers to as the Goffice.  He quit leaving phone messages to minimize the time that is wasted with the back and forth.  He throws away furniture, and has even resigned from the board of a non-profit charity.  Now the idea is not to back out of your prior commitments and become a wild-card liability for the people around you.  Instead, the idea is to give God room to show you something new. Bob Goff suggests quitting habits that keep us from being the best we can be.  On a more moderate scale, he suggests we might quit keeping score, quit sorting through our failures, or quit believing you are who you used to be.

 

So how does this relate to our reading today?  In Ezekiel 34 the sheep were scattered because the shepherd did not care for them; the shepherd only cared for himself.  However, we learn from Ezekiel 34:2-4 that it is the responsibility of the shepherd to care for the flock.  Instead, the shepherd “eat[s] the curds, clothe[s] [him]self with the wool and slaughtered the choice animals, but [he]did not take care of the flock. [He] did not strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bound up the injured.   [He has] not brought back the strays or searched for the lost” (Ezekiel 34:2-4).  The shepherds are too caught up in their own lives, their own ideas, their own health and fortune, that they lost sight of their purpose.  If not a shepherd, where is their identity? Thankfully God takes action and tells of the time when David (David’s line) will be the shepherd and God himself will be their God.  We see parts of the kingdom here on earth now, and we wait excitedly for the return of Jesus and the kingdom on earth.

 

We, too are shepherds tending to a flock.  As Christians who are no longer on milk, we have a flock to tend to.  We have a Church who needs us to show up in more ways than to simply fill a seat on Sunday.  As the shepherd cares for the flock, and strengthens the weak, we are called to do the same.

 

So the question becomes: what are you going to quit so that you can tend to your flock? Is your plate overfilled? How will you re-evaluate your obligations so that they align with your true priorities? It’s Thursday – quit something! I am going to quit washing my clothes because it takes up valuable time I could be investing in others…kidding mom, I really do wash my clothes.  But in all seriousness, I will quit placing so much emphasis on how others perceive me, and instead trust that the identity I have in Christ will carry me where I need to go.  What will you quit?

 

“We can’t change much if we don’t quit much” – Bob Goff

 

-Amber McClain

God First (I Chronicles 8-10)

Thursday, November 17

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We are coming to the end of the genealogy in 1 Chronicles.  It goes through chapter 9.  After 3 days full of genealogy, I was excited to have something to read and write about that wasn’t genealogy.  However, I was struck by the last chapter of this genealogy, and felt compelled to write one more devotion on it.

Chapter 9:1b-2 says, “The people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness.  Now the first to resettle on their own property in their own towns were some Israelites, priests, Levites and temple servants.”  The chapter continues by telling us that there were 1760 priests who returned, along with 212 gatekeepers guarding the Tent of meeting.  Four principle gatekeepers were responsible for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God.  Others who returned were responsible for the articles used in temple services.  Others were in charge of the temple furnishings.

The thing that struck me about this was that the first to return, the ones listed here, were dealing with the temple and the worship of God.  It wasn’t the masons to build a wall, or the warriors who would build the army to defend the city.  The Israelites were returning their hearts to God, and had their priorities straight:  worship God first and then deal with everything else.

How does this compare to us?  Do we prepare to worship God first?  I know it is very easy for me to get things backwards, get caught up in the busyness of life, and fit God in when there is time.  However, when I take time for God first, the busyness doesn’t seem so rushed and frantic, even when the circumstances stay the same.  Let’s focus on putting God first and worship him today.

-Andrew Hamilton