Isaiah 31-34

The Lord gives victory to his anointed. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

One highlight of my year is going to South East Camp held on the mountaintops of the NC Blue Ridge. Years ago, we drove down the mountain to a center with a high ropes course. Everyone suited up with a helmet and a buddy and clipped their carabiner to the first level on the course. Now, I have some friends who are into rock climbing and would be happy to dangle off the top of a mountain just to get the adrenaline rush. However, I am not that person. As a child, I used to get weak knees going to the edge of the second floor balcony at my church. In fact, there are still some rides I refuse to go on at amusement parks, because the drop is just too much. I’ve gotten better, but I definitely am still scared of heights. Going back to our high ropes adventure, I made it through the whole course, including the more difficult parts, but then I came to the end where I needed to zip line down to the ground. 

Looking down off the ledge, I could already feel a tingling in my knees and my palms getting sweaty. At that moment, I felt like turning around and going through the whole ropes course again just to make it back down to the bottom, because I felt like that was something that I could control with my body. Even though my heart was racing, I paused to take a few deep breaths, and then I stepped off the side to zoom through the air. In truth, once I picked up my feet, I felt safe and secure in my harness. The obstacle I had to overcome was one of trusting that my harness would do what it was supposed to do. I had to trust in something that I couldn’t control, but was probably the quickest and safest way down. 

In Isaiah 31, we read about some trust issues that the Israelites had developed with God. They weren’t afraid of heights in this case; instead, they were afraid of the nations around them. Israel had chosen to rely on numbers of men and horses when they faced battle, and because of this, they had grown to depend on Egypt’s help. They thought that by controlling the amount of man- and horsepower they could bring to a fight they could ensure their victory. However, God reminds them that the “Egyptians are men, not God; their horses are flesh, not spirit” (Isaiah 31:3). God was so much stronger than anyone the Israelites would face, but they refused to see it. By not trusting in God, they paved the way for their own demise (v. 3). 

We also have a daily choice between trusting God or trusting our own flesh. It may come in the form of choosing to be obedient to God’s command, by giving away our money or time to someone in need, or by sacrificing a desire to make room for a deeper relationship with God. In those times, we may want to trust in our own minds or bodies, because we feel like we can control those things. But, remember, God is so much more mighty than we are. We can trust him in whatever situation that we face. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 31-34.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 35-36– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Put on Your Armor

Ephesians 6

6

Paul, the writer of Ephesians, was imprisoned in Rome, where he got an up-close and personal view of the Roman soldier’s armor. He encourages us to put on our own armor to deliver us from evil in our own spiritual battles.

Do you realize how often your faith is under siege? In the United States, you probably won’t be imprisoned, attacked, or killed for your faith, but don’t underestimate the battle you are fighting. Lies are infiltrating your mind and heart all day long. Consider how much information you take in each day that contradicts what the Bible teaches:

Do whatever makes you happy.

Truth is relative.

A fetus is just a clump of cells.

Sex before marriage? Go for it!

Billions of years ago…

You’re unlovable.

It can feel debilitating being surrounded by so many lies, but I have good news for you: God is the source of our strength. He wants to clothe you in His protection—His armor.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.(Ephesians 6:13-17)

God has supplied you with the armor, but it’s still your decision if you’re going to put it on. Sometimes we get too busy (or honestly just lazy) and neglect to take the time to put on our armor, but we should take every precaution possible because the consequences of losing our battles are severe.

What exactly does putting on your armor look like? First of all, you must know what the Bible says in order to recognize the lies. Never underestimate the importance of reading your Bible. Next, pray! Pray that God would open your eyes to His truth and would give you the courage to expose the lies.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.(Ephesians 6:10)

 

-Mackenzie McClain

5 Point Checklist

1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16 13 14

 

At first this chapter seems to be a hodge-podge mixture of final instructions and greetings regarding several people we don’t know in a church we’ve never been to.  And yet, could Paul really just as well have been writing to us regarding our church?  Where would he insert your name today?  Let’s see what we find…

 

Paul begins by instructing the Corinthians to each be setting aside a weekly gift offering (in accordance with their income) on the first day of the week (not just giving some left-overs at the end of the week – if there was anything left).  This money would then be collected when Paul arrived and sent with responsible men to the church in Jerusalem which was experiencing great poverty and famine as well as persecution.  Generous, scheduled/weekly, repeated giving to help the Christian brothers and sisters in need.  Are we called to do any less?   How are you and your Christian community giving to support a church in need?  I think immediately of the needs in Malawi and Mozambique which have been hit so hard with recent cyclones and flooding resulting in the loss of crops, homes, churches and lives.  http://www.lhicog.com/images/Africa_Disaster_Relief.pdf.

 

I was struck with the reason Paul said he was going to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost: “For a wide door for effective service has opened for me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Corinthians 16:9).  How exciting to have a WIDE door for EFFECTIVE service OPENED for ME!  Have you been testing doors to see which ones will open – even a crack?  I am quite sure Paul hadn’t been sitting on his couch watching Netflix when suddenly a door opened wide for him.  It often takes time, sacrifice, trials, perseverance, and ordering priorities to seek and find the open doors.  And when that door did open wide – it was still far from easy – in fact he found he had many adversaries!  But, rather than high-tailing it out of there and looking for an easier way – he was scheduling his priorities to stay where he was for that time because he saw how he could be used by God for effective service.  Would I recognize the open door?  Am I testing doors?  Am I not scared away at the possibility of gaining a few adversaries?  Let’s pray today (and daily) for “wide doors for effective service” to be opened for each of us – even if it comes with some adversaries.  And then – for the courage and wisdom to advance through the door.

 

Paul leaves a concise 5 point checklist for the church – of any century (vs. 13 & 14).

  1. Be on your guard

Watch for spiritual dangers – they are sneaky, real, powerful and deadly.  Apathy, busy-ness, worldliness, sin, a different gospel, and pride (to name just a few) can easily creep in when you aren’t standing guard against them.

  1. Stand firm in the faith

Remain steadfast in what matters most – your faith will be attacked (by others, by the enemy, by trials).  Keep it the priority.  Don’t be swayed.  Believe in God and the truth He gives.

  1. Be courageous

Troubles will come – be courageous – keep following God into the battle.  Gain courage knowing you are dressed for success with the Armor of God.

  1. Be strong

It will be hard– be disciplined in your spiritual training which will grow your spiritual muscle power.  Rely on His strength knowing you can’t do it alone. Stay connected to your church – there is strength in numbers.

  1. Do everything in love

In the midst of the spiritual battle, don’t grow cold-hearted – love, every time.  What does real love look like?  Self-sacrifice, giving, do onto others, sharing truth and the saving message of salvation, and love even when they haven’t earned it. (Refresh your love checklist with 1 Corinthians 13 again.)

 

These two short verses (Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love – 1 Corinthians 16:13,14) would be great to post on your bathroom mirror to see every morning as you prepare for the day.  Examine yourself daily – not just your hair, teeth and physical appearance.  How are you looking spiritually?  What do others see when they look at you?  What grades would you earn for your watchfulness, steadfastness, courage, strength and love of the day before?    What will courage look like today?  What spiritual dangers are lurking around the corner?   Who is God putting in your life to love in a special way?  Pray for these qualities in yourself and others, surround yourself with those developing and demonstrating these attributes so you can mutually encourage (and sometimes even admonish) one another.

 

Be the church Paul longed to see.

 

It’s not easy – but it’s always worth it.  (Refresh your resurrection recall with 1 Corinthians 15).

 

There are so many other great nuggets in this chapter.  Take the time to read it today and see where Paul would have put your name.

 

Praying for God’s Church,

Marcia Railton

 

The War We Are In and the Games We Play. 

John 17

John 17 3
It’s important to note that Christ cared about those who followed him. He called his disciples little children, he spoke with love and care to the women who supported his ministry. (See, for example, John 20:11-18.) In John 17, we get to see Jesus pray for himself, his disciples who followed him then, and for us, the disciples who follow him now.
I want to focus on some things he says early on in this prayer.
In the first part of the prayer we are greeted by a strange idea of the Son being glorified and how he had glory “before the world was”(NASB, KJV) or “before the world began”(NIV, NLT) or “before the world existed” (HSCB, WEB). What can happen in moments where we see some theologically interesting passages, we start chasing those discussions. And that’s good. I have spent the last four years engaged in exciting discussions about how to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis, how to read Revelation most accurately, what to do with discrepancies with Scripture, how to understand the state of believers after death. All these are IMPORTANT points that need to be addressed. In your own time, I encourage you to dive into the preceding ideas and verse five of John 17.
However, because I only have a limited time to write, I will assume that you only have a limited time to read. The key point Jesus made is not the interpretation of John 17:5, but John 17:3.
“This is eternal life:
that they may know You, the only true God,
and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.”
Read that again. And again. And again.
Commit that to memory.
While I understand and agree that theological discussions are important, I don’t want us to lose sight of the war we are in. We are in a battle against the temptations driven by our world and our culture, against the temptations that well up inside ourselves, and against demonic and Satanic forces that would like for nothing more than to destroy every human. But Christ gives us a clear picture here: eternal life is about knowing God and Jesus.
I try not to pit John 17:3 and 17:5 against each other, but I want us to see the bigger point.
17:5 provides us with an important and interesting theological discussion.
17:3 speaks to the very heart of faith.
17:5 is a game we play; an important, fun activity, with an interesting outcome.
17:3 is the war we wage; souls will live or die based on their understanding of Jesus as Messiah and Mediator to God.
I encourage you to think about how you stand in all this…
Is the most important conversation you have with someone to convince them that you know more about Scripture?
Or is the most important conversation you have with someone to convince them that Jesus is the only way to God?
Focus your energy, this Easter/Resurrection Sunday and the following weeks, into telling those who don’t know Christ that Jesus loves them and wants to connect them to God.
Fight the war you are in.
When you win the war, play the games later.
(Author’s Note: This article is purely the opinion of Jake Ballard and does not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Grow Bible Devotions.)
-Jake Ballard
(Grow Bible Devotion’s Note:  Preach it, brother! Let’s fight this war!  And, maybe someday in our foxhole I will get to hear your thoughts on John 17:5.  Thank you for writing!)

When Temptation Comes

Matthew 4

matthew 4 1

More than we would like to admit, we struggle with temptation.  No matter how great our will or sense of purpose in our life, it always seems to find a way to slither into our lives and rear its ugly head.  Ironically, we are caught most off guard and unaware, not when we are in the midst of a struggle with sin or a desperate time, but when things are at their best.  One minute we are walking close to God, doing his will, connected to His Spirit, loving His word, sharing his Gospel, and the next we are faced with an idea (James 1:13-14).  An awful idea. A wonderfully awful idea that will feed our selfishness, our human condition.

In Matthew 4, today’s reading, Jesus is led by the Spirit to the desert.  God, being the great storyteller he is, takes Jesus to the ultimate contrast of Eden, where the groans of nature longing for restoration can be most heard (Rom 8:22).  A setting that is far away from paradise, an allegory of the state of mankind, filled with the different, yet same challenge – temptation. Now, there are theological hairs you can split as you read this message today. Don’t do that. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Jesus’s  triumph begs the question, “How did He overcome temptation?”  Well, He was the Son of God, right? This is true, but an error in our thinking if we think this is the sole reason that Jesus wins the days.  He is the Son of God, but he faced temptation, “just as we are”, and did not sin (Heb 4:15). You might say, “He obviously had a special ability to resist.”  You are right. It is the same special ability we have access to: The Holy Spirit. God may take us to the desert to see what our faith is made of, but He will not give us something we can’t handle, and will actually empower us if we seek Him in that moment (1 Cor 10:13).

But careful. Careful we must be because when we are in the desert it is easy to see what is coming.   We might feel as though we have plunged a dagger into the heart of temptation, but we have not put it to rest.  We must remember, we are human. No matter how willing our spirit is to continue on day after day in the will of God, our flesh is weak (Matt 26:40-43).  We crave food. We seek power. We want to be known. Our eyes, the lamp into our soul (Matt 6:22-24), see a way we can instantly fulfill the desires that will be made complete by God and chases after them in selfish, fleeting moments.  Unfortunately, this often comes on the day we leave our armor at home, catching us off guard, not ready to do spiritual battle.

Deut 8 3Looking to Jesus, how can we be ready to do battle with temptation?  First, he knew the word of God. It is how He responds not only to the temptation, but even when the word of God is seemingly being used against Him.  How can you know the will of God? It is as ironically simple as losing weight: diet and exercise. Consume the right thing, His word, and practice it daily, so you will be spiritual healthy.  Next, do God’s business. Know that temptation can come at any moment, but comes easier when we are idle (Prov 16:27-29). Keep your eyes on God and your hands and feet busy to his work. Like the old adage, “if you’re going through hell, just keep going,”  Jesus faced the temptation, but immediately moves onto His ministry. Temptation IS NOT sin. No guilt required; pick up and move on. Finally, be on guard. Relapse can setback or even kill your spiritual life. Removing unnecessary temptation from our lives is a must.  Even if we are in the word every day, engaging in spiritual disciplines, or deeply involved in a ministry, at the very height of our endeavors, it only takes a moment to go back to sin and fall harder and faster than we ever did (the very nature of relapse). If you can’t hang out with your friends without getting drunk, then don’t hang out with them.  If you can’t be on the internet without looking at inappropriate sites, then don’t get on it. If you can’t use social media without bridling your tongue and speaking in love, then stop. Jesus uses hyperbole to illustrate the practical advice when he states, “it is better to cut your hand off” or “pluck your eye out” (Matt 5:29, 30) than to be lost to sin, and ultimately the kingdom of God.

It is imperative you know there is a way to overcome temptation, no matter how great.  We have access to the Father, power through His Holy Spirit, and our eyes on Jesus Christ not only as our example, but our mediator when we fall short. He speaks to the Father because Jesus knows what it is like, and encourages us to not give in or give up.  Study. Do. Guard. Repeat. Temptation may come, but sin will no longer find a foothold in you.

-Aaron Winner