The Holy and the Common

Ezekiel 42-43

Why is it that older churches and cathedrals seem to have an aura about them that is missing from newer Christian constructions? There is a special reverence that is shown to these historical places of worship, but why? They appear to be more “holy” than modern church structures–are they really or is it just perception?

In our reading today, we get more details about the temple complex being shown to Ezekiel. As I mentioned yesterday, one intention for the prophet in giving specifications to all of Israel was so they could imagine what it would be like. Another reason, which flows from first is to draw attention to God’s holiness and, in turn, Israel’s sinfulness. But why would imagining the temple lead to recognizing sin? This question and the ones in the above paragraph are tied together.

The idea of holiness in the Bible is connected with being different, set apart, or sacred. The God of the Bible is called holy; He is without sin, He is all powerful, He is worthy of worship and adoration. Yahweh is distinct from His creation. Though humans are made in His image, they have sins which separate them from God, showing Him to be holy and people common. When humans encounter God’s holiness, it leaves them in awe of His majesty and with awareness of their own sinfulness (see Isaiah 6). When you see a dirty object–even one you think is clean–held up to something that is flawless, every little blemish is revealed. That is what happens when humans meet God.

When we see older churches or cathedrals, we are looking at something different, uncommon, a building designed to be set apart from other constructions. Older places of worship are usually taller, more distinctive, and, dare I say, were built by people more reverent than us. They have brilliant stained glass, magnificent architecture, and invoke a deep sense of beauty. Modern churches, by contrast, aren’t much taller than most middle-class housing and, in most cities, are located every few blocks. They look dull in comparison, with nothing extraordinary to offer. Older churches appear more holy because they stand out more, while modern ones seem all too common.

Older churches and cathedrals were built as the place where humans go to encounter God, much like Jews viewed the temple. Many modern Christians understand they don’t have go to a building to worship God, but for most of Christian history the church building has been the place where followers of Christ have gathered to worship their creator, which is why those older churches were so grand. They wanted the building to reflect the holiness of the God they worshiped. God’s holiness causes people to recognize their own sinfulness. It’s no wonder that the dulling down of Christian architecture has mirrored a more laissez-faire attitude towards sin.

What should we do then? Should we go back to designing and building grand places of worship?

No. When Jesus left the curtain torn, the separation between the holy God and sinful humanity was broken. This means striving after good works and the sacrificing of rams and bulls is not the way to achieve holiness. Instead, we put our faith (believe) in the one responsible for ripping the veil in half and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Because of the righteousness of the Messiah, we can be holy and the spirit of God can dwell in us, as we live as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16).

God’s holiness still causes us to recognize our own sin, but we don’t have to go to a grand building to see it. We encounter it through scripture, reading about God Himself or His son who reveals so much about Him. We see it in nature, looking through binoculars, telescopes, or with the naked eye. We see it when the Church (the people, not the building) acts as it was intended to. Thankfully God’s holiness doesn’t just reveal our sinfulness, but His love for us and willingness to forgive those who ask for it. What a holy, loving, and awesome God we serve!

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 42-43

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 44-45 as we continue on our

Better Things are Coming

Isaiah 59-63

Isaiah 60 2 NIV sgl

Isaiah 59 describes what it is like to be separated from God as we are now. Our sins are responsible for the barrier between us and God. Because of this barrier, there is sadness, there is depravity and there is a hope for something that cannot be attained. Everything in this world is touched by this separation. Our attempts at justice are a pale reflection of the true justice that God promises. In the American courts for example, there are instances where innocent men are punished, and guilty men go free. This is not justice, but it is the closest that we are able to get to it because of our human nature. We try to imitate true justice as well as we can, but we will always fall short. We even fall short in our pursuit of truth. Even when truth is proclaimed, there will be some who accept it and some who won’t. Truth is meant to have the power to convince anyone.

The following chapter speaks of what it will be like when that barrier is broken down, when God establishes His perfect kingdom. Everything that we love now, that brings us joy, will be replaced with something better. It says, “I will bring gold instead of bronze and silver instead of iron, bronze instead of wood and iron instead of stones.” If you had no possessions and someone asked you if you’d like $20, you would be excited and would gladly accept it. But if you knew that later someone was going to give you $1000, you would be grateful, but not nearly as excited. This is the way it is in God’s perfect kingdom. When thinking about the coming kingdom, we often lament the things that we will miss doing in our current lives if Jesus were to return today. “I can’t wait for the kingdom, but I’d like to finish college first.” Or, “I’d like to have children first.” There are so many things that we look forward to in this life, but here it says that the good things will be replaced with something better, and more than that, we will still have some of the good things that we already enjoy! It says that iron is replaced with silver, but also that stone is replaced with iron. When we think about our future in God’s kingdom, it can be hard to imagine, but we have to remember that God’s ways are not our ways and that he will give us something so much better than all of the good things we have now.

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+59-63&version=NIV

Tomorrow we finish the book of Isaiah with chapters 64-66 as we continue working through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Isaiah 28-30

Because these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip service - yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote

As we turn back to Isaiah in our reading, we read about the judgments pronounced upon Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. At the end of Isaiah 27, God had given the Israelites a picture of their hope – to return to Jerusalem. However, in Isaiah 28, we turn back to the reason why the Israelites had to be removed from the promised land in the first place. 

When I was in high school, every student that drove had to take a driver’s education class before they could get their parking pass. I was standing pressed against the glass at the DMV the day I turned 15 (the age we could get our learner’s permit), and I knew that I would do whatever it took to be able to drive to school as soon as I could. Along with the videos of car crashes and the several hours driving with the instructor, one activity we had to do was put on a pair of beer goggles to show the effects of driving under the influence. With the vision of someone who had way too many beers, we were supposed to catch a tennis ball. As you can imagine, almost all of us dropped the ball as we stumbled and swayed with the goggles on our face. With our vision clouded, there was no way that we were able to complete the task that we were given. 

We’ve been looking at the effects of idolatry over the previous days. This was not the Israelites only sin though. In Isaiah 28, God turns to focus on Ephraim’s drunkards and says woe to them. These priests “stagger because of wine and stumble under the influence of beer. They are muddled in their visions, they stumble in their judgments. Indeed, all their tables are covered with vomit; there is no place without a stench” (Isaiah 28:7-8). This presents a dire picture of priests turned alcoholics, which means they can’t do much good for anyone. We know how alcoholism and drunkenness itself can be dangerous, but what is so striking to me in this description is the way that it shows a parallel to all sin. All sin clouds our vision and judgments. All sin realigns our priorities. Ultimately, all sin separates us from God and leaves our lives defiled. 

When we are living under the influence of sin, we miss out on God’s purpose for our lives. The priests in this chapter were supposed to teach the people how to seek after God. Instead, they stumbled over their words while they instructed and caused their people to stumble in their everyday walk with God. Where do you see the effects of sin goggles in your life? Where can you take off the sin in your life so that you can have a clearer vision for how to serve God better? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 28-30.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 31-34– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Isaiah 23-27

God makes a way in spite of our brokenness.

Isaiah was a prophet in Israel during some very difficult times due to the fact that Israel had to a great extent departed from the true worship of God and were not keeping the commandments as God instructed.  Due to rebellion Israel was divided into two kingdoms.  The Northern Kingdom was known as the Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom was referred to as Judah in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah.  These two divisions were adversarial toward each other.  Isaiah was a prophet in Judah over 700 years before the birth of Jesus.  It might be mentioned that Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah later over 600 years before Jesus.  The sinful departure from serving God continued during the times of both prophets.  Perhaps the sinful conditions then were much like and to the degree of the sinfulness that is prevalent in today’s world.  God through these prophets warned Israel that there would be serious consequences of their sin, but they would be greatly blessed if they returned to faithful service to God.  Unfortunately, Israel did not heed the words of the prophets and made bad choices by continuing in their sinful ways.  Indeed, there were serious consequences resulting from their sinful behaviors.  We also have to make similar choices almost daily.  There are blessings when we make choices pleasing to God.  As previously stated, the sinfulness of Judah continued until about 600 years before Jesus.  God withdrew his protection and they were attacked by the Babylonians.  About 606 BC the Babylonians conquered and took the entire population of Judah from their homeland to the land of the Babylonians where they were to be servants of the Babylonians for 70 years.  After the fall of the Babylonian Empire they were permitted to return to their original homeland and to restore their worship of God.

In spite of all the sins of Judah, God never ceased to love them.  In Isaiah 27 God promises a brighter day for Israel when they will no longer be divided and when they are turned from their sinful ways to serve and obey God.  These blessings will happen after Jesus returns and establishes the Kingdom of God.

We can learn much from the experiences of Israel.  We all have sinned and that includes everyone.  Yet, God loves mankind so much that He gave his only begotten son as a sacrifice for our sins, John 3:16.  Today we live in a world with many problems and challenges.  This week we are not at FUEL because of a very serious and deadly virus.  There is strife and unrest in our nation often leading to violence. There are a number of wars in the world.  Although we live in difficult times, we like Israel are confronted with choices.  God has something better ahead for us if we choose to serve him today and accept his son Jesus – The Wonderful Kingdom of God is promised for us!

~ Joe James

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in 2 Kings 18:1-8 & 2 Chronicles 29-31 & Psalm 48 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Hey, Siri. What’s an ephod?

Wednesday – Judges 8-9

Judges Devotions-3

While Gideon is presented as a mighty warrior earlier in Judges, his legacy becomes more muddled in today’s reading. When you first learned about Gideon in Sunday School, your teacher probably didn’t tell you about his seventy sons (one of whom killed nearly all of his brothers) or the ephod he made out of gold.

If you’re like me, you’re asking Siri right now what an ephod is, but let me save you the trouble. An ephod is a sacred, decked-out, garment worn by the high priest that hung from his neck, similar-ish to a vest. After the Israelites invade the Midianite camp, Gideon requests that everyone bring him a gold earring from their share of the plunder. From the forty pounds of gold gathered, Gideon makes an ephod. He’s not Israel’s first leader to build something grandiose out of gold (we’re looking at you, Aaron).

Unfortunately, like Aaron’s golden calf, the Israelites begin worshipping Gideon’s ephod, which resided in his hometown. I’m not exactly sure why Gideon made the ephod, perhaps to mark Israel’s victory or assert his dominance as a leader. At any rate, I don’t think Gideon’s intent was to make something for the Israelites to bow down and worship. After all, he had just told the Israelites that there is only one king: God.

I think there are two valuable lessons we can learn from Gideon’s mistake:

1. You can hurt people even when you don’t “mean to.” Whenever I got in trouble as a child, my go-to phrase was, “I didn’t mean to.” However, even if I didn’t mean to hit my brother, he still had a bloody nose. My intent wasn’t to make my brother’s nose gush uncontrollably, but that was the impact of my actions. In the same way, Gideon didn’t intend to build something that would create a rift between the Israelites and God, but it did. It is important to take responsibility for our actions, even when they’re not premeditated. With urgency, deal with the hurt you may have caused.

2. Watch out for snares! The author of Judges describes the ephod as a snare to Gideon and his family. Be on guard, avoiding traps that try to rip you from God—maybe it’s a lie that keeps running through your head, a movie you know you shouldn’t be watching, or a friend who pressures you into something you’re uncomfortable doing. Also, be proactive in looking for snares that could trip up a brother or sister in the faith; the church works best when we look out for each other. If your roommate struggles with pornography, don’t let them sit alone on their computer. If your friend is a recovering alcoholic, don’t take them to the restaurants covered in beer advertisements. If your classmate is tempted to cheat during a test, cover your answers.

In a world where sin is often celebrated, let’s make sinning as difficult as possible.

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+8-9&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Judges 10-12 as we carry on with the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Blessings

Joshua 12-15

Joshua 14 8 NIV

Chapter 12 records all of the Kings the Israelites defeated in taking back the Promised Land to this point.  They did it with God’s help of course. Chapter 13 then describes the land that was still left to be taken.  But they would not need to fight for some of that remaining land.  God would do it for them.

 

A commentary on easyenglish.bible.com says, “This is like the Christian life. Jesus has defeated the enemy for us. He did this when he took the punishment for our sins on the cross. God still has other good things for us. He wants to give them to us. God promises all these things to us, my dear friends. So we must keep ourselves morally good. We must keep away from things that make our bodies or our thoughts morally bad.”

 

Thank goodness that Jesus removed the enemy of sin, so that we may be forgiven.  And he will ultimately defeat the enemy of death once and for all as well.  That will permit his followers to live forever with him.  But we need to be free of a lifestyle of sin in order to inherent that gift.

 

Verse 13 of Chapter 13 says, “But the Israelites did not send away the people from Geshur and Maacah. And so these people still live there among the Israelites.”  We know that God’s people had trouble down the road because they allowed traditions and religious symbols of other peoples to mix with their own.  They did not completely eradicate the things God had wanted them to, and paid the price later.  Similarly, we as Christians must defeat all of our enemies, namely sin in its many forms, in order to enjoy the full blessings of God.  Strive every day to do just that.

 

Encouraging verse of the day:

Isaiah 12:2

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

 

 

Greg Landry

 

 

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+12-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s passage will be Joshua 16-18 as we continue seeking God on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

If you’re not a sinner, you can skip this

Deuteronomy 21-23

Deut 22 21 b NIV 

What we’re pulling out of this text today and applying to our lives today may at first seem contradictory, but I don’t believe that it is.

Throughout these chapters, we see the phrase, “purge the evil from among you.”  In fact, many of the instructions God gave to the Israelites were for this very purpose.

Purging implies a complete eradication.  If my kids had lice, my goal would be a complete purge.  Mostly gone wouldn’t cut it.  That’s how God sees sin.

Purge sin completely

Paul gives a great analogy in 1 Corinthians 5, comparing sin among the body of Christ (the church) to yeast,

“Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

And in Ephesians 5 he uses that analogy again, and gives even more instruction on choosing God’s best (living by the Spirit) instead of choosing what comes naturally (the sinful nature).

Let’s come back to that thought after we look at our next principle.  Exclusion.

Come to the Table

In Deuteronomy chapter 23, we’re shown a list of those who are to be excluded from entering the assembly of the LORD.  Those of certain ancestry, illegitimate birth, or certain physical deformities were forbidden.

Instead of applying this principle directly to believers today, what strikes me is my gratefulness that Jesus changed all of this for us.

In Matthew 22 he tells a story of a banquet that the invited guests have declined to attend.  The host decides to invite everyone, even the ‘undesirables’.

“So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Paul addresses this as well in 1 Corinthians 6 when, after listing all of those who will not be a part of God’s kingdom….the sexually immoral, idolators, thieves, the greedy, the drunkards and more… he says to the church,

“And that is what some of you were.”

You might be thinking that these two principles give counter instructions.  After all, how can we “purge the evil from among us” if we are not excluding the wicked and sinful people?

Simply put, we are the sinful people.  God invites us to the table despite our wickedness, despite our illegitimacy. Once invited, the banquet changes us. As we indulge in the presence of God’s pure holiness, we are called to purge sin from our life and from our church body.  But let us never forget, like Paul writes in 1 Timothy, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXXxLwxfo0U

 

Susan Landry

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+21-23&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Deuteronomy 24-27 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Confess

Leviticus 5-7

Leviticus 5 5 NIV

Confession – yesterday we talked about Christ’s sacrifice replacing the Old Testament offerings. I also mentioned how we often take for granted the fact we no longer have to make the sacrifices. In those sacrifices, it was just that, a sacrifice – the people had to give something that they could have enjoyed because of their sin.

Even though there was a loss, the people had no clear way to alleviate the weight of guilt and find forgiveness in their lives. God has provided another way to help with that – Confession.

Confession is something that is hard to do. Many lie, deny and push blame on others just to avoid confessing. It is something that God asks of us not for his benefit but for ours. I remember being told often as a kid the only way to fix a problem  is to realize there is one. And that is what confession is.

Further, confession gives a proper view on sin, God and ourselves.

The punishment for sin is death – we need a proper view of sin. I have often heard of people talk about their sin as “Not that big of a deal.” Sin is just that, SIN. If it is wrong, we shouldn’t do it. Sin that is not confessed and not repented of leads to missing out on the Kingdom.

God cannot be in the presence of sin – we need a proper view of God. Our God is a holy God. He expects purity not just in our actions but also our hearts. (Matt. 5:8 says the pure heart will see God.)

We cannot do it on our own – we need a proper view of ourselves. We often try to fix our problems on our own. Sin is not something we can fix on our own or earn enough to repay the debt. We need a savior and Christ is willing to step in on our behalf.

A couple tips on confession:

Confess immediately – when you know you have done something wrong do not push it off. It is easy to push it off.

Confess specifically – I hear a lot of prayer that vaguely ask for all sins to be forgiven. Make it personal and specific.

Confess honestly – Take it serious and do not make promises you know you will not keep.

Confess to someone else – this is something I push in the church. For some reason people are afraid of letting others know about their sin. Most will acknowledge they are a sinner but would never discuss their struggles for fear of other’s judgement. Find someone you trust and create an open discussion and ask for accountability.

John Wincapaw

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+5-7&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Leviticus 8-10 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

The Struggle with Sin Continues

January 3 – Genesis 8-11 

Genesis 9 20 NIV.png

Genesis 8-11 is a story of great hope and promise, and also a tragedy that reminds us all of our brokenness before God. After the great flood that God brought on the earth to remove all the sinful people, He is now ready to start over with Noah and his family. God gives them the same commands that He gave to Adam and Eve: “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (9:1) The story appears to have taken care of humanity’s disobedience; unfortunately, that’s not the case. Noah apparently is just as sinful as everybody else, falling into a drunken stupor, and then something suspicious happens with his son, Ham. While we don’t know exactly what happened in this scene, we do know that it was sinful, as Ham’s son is cursed because of what took place.

 

This story should remind us all of just how broken we truly are. Although we have been redeemed by God through Jesus’ sacrifice and have escaped from the Final Destruction through his death, we still fall short and sin against our God. (Romans 3:23) The apostle Paul tells us his own struggle with sin, by stating that “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) He continues and says that, although his status is “in Christ”, his body still struggles to do the right things and falls into sin (Romans 7:18-25).

 

If you have accepted Christ, you are now experiencing a tension within yourself: the battle between the Spirit and the flesh (see Romans 8). Although you know that you have been saved by Jesus Christ, and desire to do the right thing, your “flesh” still struggles with sin. This is a constant struggle that we will face until Jesus comes back to finally deal with sin completely, in our hearts and in the world. This is a struggle that is painful and reminds us daily that “no one is righteous” before God (see Romans 3:9-12). However, it is a blessing, since God’s Spirit is working within us to clean up the areas where we are still dirty with sin.

 

Today, I challenge you to be aware of the decisions that you make. Is this something that is in line with God’s Spirit, or is it something that would be considered a “deed of the flesh”? (Galatians 5:16-25) Does the action I am about to take bring life or death? Does it build others up, or does it tear them down? Is it beneficial to my faith, or is it a barrier?

 

As you struggle along this journey of the Christian path, I want to encourage you that the hardship is absolutely worth it in the end! God loves you and is with you through this!

 

Talon Paul

 

 

Print your yearly reading plan here –  2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Read, or listen, to today’s passage here – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+8-11&version=NIV

The Cure for Death

January 2 – Genesis 4-7

Genesis 6 11 niv

The tragedy of the Garden of Eden continues, as we see the effects of the humans’ disobedience played out in a very real way. Brothers begin to kill each other, women are taken as “prizes to be won”, destruction throughout God’s creation grows exponentially, and even angels begin to break their commitment to God, coming down to mate with human women! (Depending on your interpretation of Genesis 6) God’s solution is to “clean the slate” and destroy humanity with a flood, starting from scratch with Noah and his family. It is surprising that things got this bad, right? Well, maybe it’s not as surprising as we may think…

 

We are told in 2 Peter 2:4-10 that this event happened “as an example” of what will happen when God returns to earth again; sinful humanity will be destroyed again, leaving only “the righteous” left on earth to inherit God’s Kingdom. In 1 Peter 3:18-22, we are told that we have the opportunity to be saved from this destruction through the sacrifice of Jesus and responding in faith by being baptized. Thankfully, we are also told in 2 Peter 3:3-9 that God is being patient with us all about bringing this destruction, desiring that everybody in the world come to repentance and faith in Jesus, so that they can be saved.

 

While this may seem like a very dark devotion, it should motivate us and make us appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus made even more. It is only because of Jesus’ willingness to die on our behalf that we have the opportunity at salvation in God’s Kingdom (see Ephesians 2:8-10), not because of anything we have done. God has been gracious and provided us a way out of destruction through His son, all because He loves us and wants to spend eternity with us.

 

This story should also motivate us to share this message with our loved ones, giving them the opportunity to be saved as well. If you had the cure for cancer, would you keep that information to yourself, or would you share with everybody that you came into contact with? This message is even greater than that; it is the cure for death itself, and a promise for immortality. Why are we not sharing with people every chance we get?

 

As you go about your day today, I want you to remember three things from this story:

  1. Your actions have real consequences, so think before you act
  2. God loves you and has provided a way for you to spend eternity with Him
  3. You need to love someone enough today to share the gospel with them, giving them a chance at salvation

 

As you consider and act on these three things, I will be praying for you!

Talon Paul

 

Day 2 of 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Today’s passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+4-7&version=NIV)