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

The Victory

Sunday, August 1st, 2021

Esther 5-6, 1 Corinthians 15

I love summers because it seems like the pace of life slows down just a little. With camps, VBS, and simply more time, I feel like I can evaluate my priorities and reorient myself towards the things that really matter. Once August rolls around, my mind starts thinking about my classroom in the Fall, and I begin to plan out how I want my year to look. It’s helpful to think about those big priorities when planning out my next year. I want my life to be lived in light of my ‘whys’ – the reasons that I have for doing what I do.

If we are not intentional with our lives, the reason we have for living can range from getting our next meal, next paycheck, or next night out. These things can easily become what dominates our thoughts and our actions. If our lives are ruled by these things, we may end up going down a wicked path – as in the case of Haman. He wanted to get his next egotrip from everyone bowing down to him. When Mordecai didn’t, Haman didn’t stop at anything to destroy the Jews – which he thought would make him feel better. He thought it would make him have that feeling of pride (or being admired) again. Because his pride was his ‘why,’ all of his thoughts and actions led to how he can get that feeling of being admired again. This took him down a dangerous path that ultimately led to his destruction. 

In today’s passage in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul talks to the Corinthians about their ‘whys.’ The Corinthians had people who were trying to teach that there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul systematically goes through their arguments and refutes them. One main point of his argument is that if there is no resurrection from the dead, Christ was also not resurrected from the dead. And, if that’s the case, then, what was Paul doing all of this for?  At one point, he reminds them of their ‘why’: 

29 Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them?[f] 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I affirm by the pride in you that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord: I die every day! 32 If I fought wild animals in Ephesus with only human hope,[g] what good did that do me?[h] If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.[i]   ~ 1 Corinthians 15:29-32

If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, Paul argues, we should be pitied more than any other person. He would then be suffering only for a human hope. But, he reminds them later on: 

55 Death, where is your victory?

Death, where is your sting?[p]

56 Now the sting of death is sin,

and the power of sin is the law.

57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory

through our Lord Jesus Christ!

~ 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Paul knew he was living with the power that comes from Christ’s victory over sin and death. This was his ‘why’ and this helped him to endure whatever he faced – whether shipwrecks or angry men – and glorify God in the process. 

Our ‘why’ is the gospel. When we live in light of eternity – in light of this ‘why’ – we can face whatever battles come our way. We can have the victory!

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

Sharing Treasures

Godly Wisdom and the Coming Resurrection

2 Chronicles 9-10

Imagine the excitement as the very great caravan of the queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem. Envision the camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold and precious stones. The queen brought amazing treasures, but she was in search of a different kind of treasure from Solomon. She had questions and she wanted answers. Solomon was able to answer all her questions through the God-given wisdom he possessed. She experienced the blessings that God had given to this king and his people which made her feel overwhelmed. She offered praise to the LORD and understood that God loved Israel. She discovered that out of this love, God had provided the people with a king that could maintain justice and righteousness. Her encounter with Solomon, the people and her time of worship in the temple made a lasting change for this queen.

Even Jesus states that the queen will rise at the judgment with his generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon was there. Of course, that something greater was our Lord Christ Jesus. It is great to imagine meeting and talking with this queen in the resurrection. It is incredible to think of the people that have the opportunity to experience this resurrection because of sharing our love and faith in our God. Just as the queen encountered the LORD through the Israelites, we have the opportunity to share how amazing God is with those in our world today. What a celebration that will be when all of us are together at the resurrection!

-Rebecca Dauksas

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Chronicles 9-10 and Romans 4

Less than a Week before Dying

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 21 and Genesis 41 & 42

What would you do if you knew you would die in less than a week? Is there anywhere you would want to go? What changes would you make in your schedule and priorities? Less TV, pinterest or social media? More meaningful interactions with those who mean the most to you? Would your tone change? Would you give more hugs? Are there any difficult conversations you wouldn’t put off any longer? If there was anything you could do to prolong your life would you do it?

Jesus was in a very unique situation as he was coming into Jerusalem in Matthew 21. He knew he was quickly approaching both the time and place for his agonizing death by crucifixion. Many would run in the other direction. Maybe if he laid low and avoided Jerusalem longer the chief priests and leaders of the law would forget about him and find some other religious teacher to get mad at and crucify. Think of how many more people he could heal and teach if he could stay away from them just another month? Wouldn’t it be worth it?

But, Jesus didn’t hide or try to dodge the bullet. If anything he boldly intensified his work and purpose. Previously he had mostly stuck to the smaller towns and villages rather than camping out in Jerusalem – the holy city of all Jews. Often he had told those he healed to be quiet about it. He was never trying to draw a crowd – but the crowds still had a way of finding him anyways. Now, as he made preparations to enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy) he knew the crowds couldn’t be held back any longer. On this day they would shower Jesus with shouts of praise, but in a few days they will cry out for crucifixion.

We don’t know the day or hour or location of our death. We also don’t know how long the tomb will hold us. But, like Jesus – and because of Jesus’ resurrection and God’s promise to send Him to earth again – we can be sure of a resurrection to come. How will that impact the intensity of your ministry today – how you spend your time, what conversations you have, what passion you have for the Father’s work and will?

May we not be like the fig tree that had life but failed to bear fruit for Him.

May we not be like the son who said he would do the Father’s work – but then didn’t.

-Marcia Railton

John 11

In today’s passage, we read a familiar story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus has been preaching in the countryside, and he receives news that Lazarus is gravely ill and may not make it. Being close friends with the family, Jesus makes plans to go visit them, even though the people in Jerusalem were making threats against Jesus’ life. However, he doesn’t leave right away, and Lazarus passes away before he gets there. 

When Jesus arrives, everyone asks him the same question: ‘Why didn’t you get here earlier? Why did you try to hustle so that you could save Lazarus’ life?’ Jesus is deeply moved by the suffering, but the answer to these questions is that Lazaraus’ death was used to glorify God. Even more, Lazarus’ death shows still teaches us a profound truth that we can have comfort in today, 2,000 years later. 

While Jesus was walking into the town, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, comes out to meet him. She asks him the questions that I mentioned before, to which Jesus replied one of his 7 I AM statements found in the book of John. 

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

Jesus then goes and raises Lazarus from the dead, doing so so that the people would believe that he truly is the son of God (John 11:41-42). 

This story should give us comfort and hope as we face down our great enemy, death. By believing in Christ, we will take part in the resurrection. Not only this, we can live a ‘resurrected life’ now, being “dead to sin and alive in Christ” (Rom. 6:11). Jesus is the only resurrection and life. If we want to truly live life, we have to believe in the doctrinal truths that Martha tells Jesus: 

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

What do you believe? Do you believe in the resurrection and the life that comes from Christ?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 11.

Tomorrow we will read Luke 17:11-18:14.

A Messenger Reveals The End

Daniel 10-12

We’re now in the 3rd year of the Persian king Cyrus’s reign, after he has allowed the exiled in Babylon to go home. But it’s not clear if Daniel is hanging around to work in the Persian court somewhere or if he has gone home too. Maybe, he figures, what’s the use of going home if the restoration of his people is going to take 7 times longer than anyone thought. If I were him, I’d also be struggling to find some hope if angels keep dropping by in my dreams and giving me mostly horrible news about the future.

This is likely weighing heavily on Daniel’s tired heart as he is mourning and doing extended fasting. You don’t normally hear about people today fasting to hear a word from God, but it’s one of those ancient tried and true methods to use when you really mean business and something has to give. 

It works well for Daniel here because he receives another vision. He’s by the river and sees an angel that is described with language stolen right from Ezekiel. And the Bible is weird, because it sounds like this angel (Gabriel?) has been in an ongoing battle with a prince (angelic representative?) of Persia. And the angel Michael is there fighting in Gabriel’s place so he could come tell Daniel something very important. If I am understanding this correctly, this means angels engage in extended tag team octagon fighting on behalf of the kingdoms they represent, as if the balance of history depends on it in some way.

What follows in chapter 11 is an insanely detailed prophecy given to Daniel about the Persians and Greeks, leading up to our old friend, Antiochus IV, and his typical shenanigans. It is basically a much more detailed version of chapter 8 (remember the ram, goat, and the horns?), and we have the theme from chapters 2 and 7 about the sequence of kingdoms knitted into it. Not being an expert in history, and not wanting to overload too badly, I’ll keep this very high-level. 

I mentioned Alexander yesterday, who is our “warrior king” in 11:3, or the Greeks taking over the Persians. Alexander dies and his kingdom is split up among four generals. We eventually end up with the Ptolemies of the south (Egypt) and Seleucids of the north (Syria/Mesopotamia), who plague each other with failed alliances, invasions, deception, betrayal, assassinations, and the like. By verse 21, Antiochus (of the north) is on the scene, and by verse 30 we see him start his persecution of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple. By the end of chapter 11, we see his end.

Again, we are interested in patterns more than precise timelines. The north and south had been going back and forth with their conflicts but keeping each other in check. Antiochus comes on the scene and breaks the mold, crosses the line, and does what nobody before him does. And once he upsets the balance and asserts himself as a god, the true God brings an end to him. It’s the arrogant made humble again, like we’ve seen several times before in the book of Daniel.

But what of hope? What’s the point of this endless political drama and transfer of power? The messenger explains that at that point of deep anguish brought in by the king of the north, the people of God will be delivered. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” And the wise are said to have some kind of special reward. If we believe in a God of justice and restoration, the end game has to be that God, being the faithful God that he is, will make all things right, even by raising his “sleeping” faithful to life.

Surely the original audience of Daniel would be familiar with the dry bones of Ezekiel coming alive and how it symbolized the return from exile, since the ideas of exile and death in the Jewish mind are interlocked. But technically, when this new revelation is being given to Daniel, the people have already gone home, although their full restoration has yet to be seen. So is Daniel 12 metaphorically about the coming restoration of God’s people, or about an actual bodily resurrection? I think both are in play. This isn’t the New Testament yet, so nobody is really talking about resurrection as we know it. The Old Testament hints at something like resurrection maybe a few times before Daniel. This passage goes further than others in the Old Testament; it’s hard to deny or explain away the element of bodily resurrection. Still, by the time of Jesus, not all the Jews are sold on it. The Pharisees believe in a resurrection, but the Sadducees do not.

A quick word about verses 5-12, which seem to break the flow a little. It prompts us to remember 8:13 when one angel asks the other how long the “transgression that makes desolate” will be. In scope is the last of the 70 weeks described in chapter 9, but now we have another “How long” question: “How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” To summarize, it cryptically lays out two periods of 3½ years, before and after the people are essentially banned from worshiping. Interpreters struggle with making much sense of the differing numbers in verses 11-12, and I am happy to join them.

I’ve been suggesting how some of these prophecies have had a fulfillment in historical events moving up into the second century B.C. because I think it fits well, but hopefully I have also left the door open for you to envision other ways these patterns have been fulfilled, and even how they are yet to be fulfilled. Part of the joy of the book of Daniel is that it keeps inviting you to interpret. Sometimes it will hand you the interpretation, and sometimes you’ll have to chew on it. Making sense of the book of Daniel (and the rest of scripture) became an important pastime for God’s people, and it is no wonder why. It can provide us wisdom, encouragement, and hope while surviving in our Babylons, or enduring very tough times that never seem to end.

We are in a strange time in our world where I think all of us are asking every day, “How long is this mess going to keep going? When can things be back to normal?” It will probably take much longer than we had wanted or expected. And whether it is good or bad, we’ll probably never go back to what we thought of as normal. But the wise and faithful can enjoy the hope of a time of restoration and resurrection, in a kingdom that has no end, under the rulership of the true God who has finally set everything right.

Thank you so much for studying Daniel with me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Daniel 10-12

Tomorrow we will begin the book of Ezra (chapters 1-3) as we continue on our journey through God’s Word using the

A New World

Isaiah 64-66

As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.

God called Jacob and He made the descendants of Jacob his Holy people. These are the ones who call on the name of the Lord. Yet today, there are those in Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Morocco, Malawi, Russia, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, France, America, Canada, Samoa, the Philippines and all over the world who know the name of the same God who called chose Jacob so many years ago. Even though they were his chosen people, God said, “Here I am, here I am” to a nation that was not called by his name (65:1). God has called Christians to the same promise that he called the Israelites. Indeed, He says “I have come to gather all nations and languages; they will come and see My glory…I will establish a sign among them, and I will send survivors from them to the nations…and the islands far away—who have not heard of My fame or seen My glory” (66:19).

Eight hundred years later, God sent a sign by the name of Jesus. Jesus himself performed sign after sign, from healing the blind (John 9) to raising the dead (John 11). The final sign was being raised from the dead himself, but this was different from the sign that he performed by raising Lazarus, for Lazarus returned to the grave. Jesus never returned to the grave; to make sure there could be no confusion, Jesus was taken up into the sky in the presence of his followers (Luke 24). The fact that Jesus was taken up is key here because it signifies his resurrection to something new, just as Isaiah prophesied that the world will be transformed into something new.

The closing words of Isaiah state that just as the new earth will endure, so will we. We will endure from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath. That is, we will continue living indefinitely. But the final verse takes a turn from the uplifting words that precede it; it promises destruction to God’s enemies, those who rebelled against him. It does leave you with a few questions though, what does it mean for their fire to never go out? It might point to an eternal suffering of those rebels as is believed by many Christians. I am not entirely sure, but asking questions that make you examine your own beliefs is important for growth. We must always be humble and accept that these prophecies are complex, and we may never fully understand them until the end has come.

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+64-66&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 20-21 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Will You See God’s Face?

Psalm 17, 35, 54 & 63

Psalm 17 15 NLT

In Psalm 17:3, we see that David wholeheartedly sought God – “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.”  He goes on to say, in verse 5, “My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.”

 

Because David wholeheartedly followed God, he could then say with confidence in verse 6, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.”  Unlike Saul, David’s predecessor, who rejected God (and God rejected Saul), David longed to please God, and knew that God heard and answered him.

 

With this assurance, David then prayed in verses 8 and 9, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.”  David was literally running for his life, but was able to have an assurance that God was with him and would help him.

 

Finally, in verse 15, David acknowledged his ultimate rescue, “And I – in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”  David is looking forward to the resurrection, recognizing that at the resurrection of the righteous, all sin will be removed, and David will awake, and see God’s face – and will be satisfied.”

 

Ultimately, this is our longing too.  We must live a righteous life today, not only so God will answer our prayers now, but ultimately because only by living for God today, will we be resurrected to eternal life, and see God’s face – and be satisfied.  And this all starts with drawing close to God today.

 

I’ll close with Psalm 63:1-4, also from today’s reading, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name, I will lift up my hands.”

 

–Steve Mattison
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+17%2C35%2C54%2C63&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be 1Samuel 28-31 and Psalm 18 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Healing Hope

Luke Chapter 7

Screenshot 2019-12-08 00.42.58

This chapter is rich in content, and many sermons and classes have been built around the Faith of the Centurion, the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume, or Jesus’ discussion on John the Baptist.  All very good stuff.

 

But something else stood out to me today in this chapter.  Isn’t it interesting how often scripture speaks to us in different ways based on when we read it?  That should be a very good reason to be in the word daily.

 

We have a funeral this coming week at our church for a World War 2 Veteran who lived a full life and passed away peacefully, and yet Bob will still be greatly missed.  Last year around this time, my dad passed away unexpectedly. I really miss being able to talk to him. I know many people who are currently suffering from or have recently suffered from cancer.  Someone else in our church is still suffering through a migraine headache that started three months ago. Death and suffering stink.

 

With all of these things in mind, this chapter has been an encouraging reminder for me.  In the opening account of the chapter, Jesus fully heals the Centurion’s servant who was near death.  Then Jesus raises a widow’s only son to life, after he had recently passed!  

 

Later, in verses 22-23, it reads, “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’”

 

Wow.  Imagine the grief you would be feeling if you just lost a close loved one (some of us don’t have to imagine) and shortly afterward, the loved one is returned to us, fully healthy and alive.  Or imagine if you have never had the ability to see, and then suddenly you did! 

 

We are promised that there will be a Kingdom where the dead will have been raised back to life and where all suffering has ceased.  That is hard to imagine as well. But here Jesus offers the proof that it is possible. Not only did Jesus raise the dead and fully heal the sick here and at other times, but many dead were also raised upon Jesus’ death, and then Jesus himself was raised to life.  Of course only Jesus was raised to eternal life. The rest will have to wait until Christ returns.

 

Friends, we have access to that wonderful Kingdom that God has promised.  What an amazing opportunity and reward that is. It is good to be reminded about that continually, but even more so at certain points in our lives.  Do you known anyone else who could use that kind of encouragement? Do you know anyone else who doesn’t share that same hope for the future? If yes, then spread the Good News!

 

Greg Landry

 

The Books are Opened

Revelation 20

Revelation 20 6.png
You have a destiny.
It sounds like a movie or a great novel. I’m not Morpheus encouraging you to take the Red-Pill, or even a Wardrobe beckoning you to take your place upon the throne at Cair Paravel.
We are discussing something much more crucial: eternity. 
 
In Revelation 20, we are witness to two resurrections and therefore, two judgements. While Jesus in Matthew 25 tells us there will only be one judgement, with some sheep and some goats, Revelation expresses the security of the saved by expressing their own resurrection as separate. Instead of being raised and judged all together, all those who fought against the beast and his mark will reign with Christ and live forever, being raised in an earlier better resurrection, free of fear of the second death. Revelation then shows us that there will be those that, no matter what, will stand against God, and will march against the Lamb. God will smite them and Christ will judge them from the great white throne. There are many books opened, but there is one crucial book, the Book of Life. Those whose name is written in the Book will live, those whose name is not written in the book will die. Those whose name is not written in the Book will be like the goats of Matthew 25, who go off to shame and everlasting contempt.
 
A question we may ask ourselves is “which is the most accurate description of the final judgements? Is it all people into sheep and goats (like Matthew 25) or two separate judgements separated by 1000 years (Revelation 20)?” And that is a good question.
 
A good one, but the WRONG one.
 
The question we MUST ask is, “Am I a sheep or a goat? Is my name written in the Book of Life? Will I be raised in the first resurrection?” This is the correct question, because it is also the one we can answer with assurance. 
If you have believed in the name of Jesus, 
if you have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned, (Matthew 25)
if you have refused the mark of the beast, the authority of this world, (Revelation 20)
if you fought against the anti-God system of the world by speaking the message of Christ in love, 
THEN you have been promised by God Himself that you will be raised to eternal life. 
 
May you, my brothers and sisters, be among the sheep, raised in the first resurrection, and may you never need to fear the second death.
Jake Ballard