If You Love Your Kids, Obey God

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 25 & 26

Psalms Reading: Psalm 15

New Testament Reading: Matthew 14

Abraham was a man of incredible faith.  God made astounding promises to Abraham, and Abraham believed God – and this was credited to him as righteousness.  Abraham lived a long and faithful life of service to God, then, as recorded in Genesis 25, Abraham died.

We’re picking up the story in Genesis 26 – after Abraham was dead and gone.  Genesis 26 starts by telling about a famine in the land that was so bad that Isaac (Abraham’s heir) had to move to have enough food to eat.

Then we find this amazing encounter in Genesis 26:2-6, “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.’ So Isaac stayed in Gerar.”

God promised:

  • To give Isaac and his descendants all these lands
  • To confirm the oath God has sworn to Abraham
  • To make Isaac’s descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky
  • To bless all nations on earth through Isaac’s offspring (Jesus)

And did you notice why God extended all of these promises to Isaac?  “Why” is recorded in verse 5: “because Abraham obeyed me and did everything (emphasis added) I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”

Did you catch that?  Isaac was promised that he would receive incredible blessings because his dad had obeyed God and had done everything God required.  

A couple of years later, in Genesis 26:24, we read, “That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

Again, God extended blessings to Isaac because of Abraham’s faithfulness.

And oh yeah, most of that obedience to God was before Isaac was even born.

We’ve heard about the blessings for ourselves if we follow God – especially eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  We don’t often think of the blessings for our descendants because of our faithfulness to God. 

When I was young, my dad would have us memorize scripture.  One of those verses he had us memorize was Psalm 37:25 which says, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

I think the point my dad was trying to make was that we needed to be righteous, and God would never forsake us.  But I remember thinking something like this at the time: “I’m glad my dad is righteous, because in spite of my not necessarily being righteous, I will be blessed because of my dad’s righteousness.”

Now that I’m old, I recognize that the decisions I made, and the example I demonstrated had an impact (for good or for bad) on my kids.  As a result, they have picked up both some of my good traits and some of my bad traits.  I wish now that I had demonstrated more good examples and fewer bad examples – not only for my own benefit, but also for the benefit of my children.

Now let’s talk about you.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a teen, a parent, a grandparent, young, or old.  The most important thing you can do with your life is to obey God, and do everything He requires.  This will guarantee you eternal life in God’s coming kingdom, and may also give you many blessings in this life (not necessarily including health and wealth).  But in addition to your blessings, you may also pass along an inheritance of faithfulness to God to your kids – even those unborn.  And then they too can have incredible blessings.  

So, if you love your kids, obey God.

-Steve Mattison

Reflection Questions

  1. What are all the benefits/blessings you see to obeying God? Which have you already enjoyed? Which are you still looking forward to?
  2. How are you doing in the faithfulness department? Will God be able to tell your descendants that you obeyed Him, did everything He required, and followed His laws?
  3. What did God reveal about Himself to you today?

What Kind of Dirt Are You?

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 23 & 24

Psalms Reading: Psalm 14

New Testament Reading: Matthew 13

Genesis 2:7 tells us, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

In Genesis 3:18, God told Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

What kind of dirt are you?

Many years ago, our family built a house.  Once construction was done, we needed to seed the yard so we could have a lawn.  I tilled the yard and raked it out.  My son Chris (who was about 4 at the time) and I then broadcast grass seed.  Some of the seeds fell on the driveway, some fell under spruce trees along our property line, and some (most) were scattered on dirt. We talked about which seeds we expected to grow, and why.  I then told Chris a story Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew 13, about a farmer who scattered seeds.

In Jesus’ story, there were four places the seeds fell.  The first seeds fell along the path, and birds ate them up.  Jesus explained in Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”

The second example of seeds fell on rocky places where there wasn’t much soil.  It sprang up quickly but then withered.  Jesus explained in Matthew 13: 20-21, “The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

The third seed fell among thorns, that grew up and choked the seed.  Jesus explained in Matthew 13: 22, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”  (Luke 8:18 also includes “pleasures” causing choking.)

The final seed fell on good soil.  Jesus explained in Matthew 13:23, “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.” 

In Jesus’ story, the seed was the good news about the Kingdom of God.  In each of these examples, the seed was good; the difference in productivity was because of the soil. So I’ll ask again, what kind of dirt are you?

Do you understand the magnitude of the good news about the Kingdom of God and what that means for you if you follow God wholeheartedly?

Are you easily discouraged in your Christian walk when difficulties arise?

Are you distracted from wholeheartedly following God by worries? Or pleasures? Or wealth? Or the good things this life has to offer?

Or are you bearing a crop for God?  And if you are, what does that look like?  Here are some examples:

  • Winning others to Christ (Romans 1:13)
  • Giving money to further God’s work (Romans 15:25-28)
  • Doing good works (Colossians 1:10)
  • Growing in Christian character (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Continually offering a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15)

And if you are bearing a crop, how productive are you?  Are you bearing 100 times what was sown?  60 times? 30 times?  I think we all need to work on this.

In closing, since you’re just dirt, you might as well be the best dirt you can be.  Go bear much fruit.

-Steve Mattison

P.S. It was hard for me to decide what to focus on for today’s devotion.  Since I’ve previously written a devotion (How to get a Spouse) based on the Genesis 24 reading for today, I thought I’d focus on Matthew 13 instead.

Reflection Questions

  1. All four seed/dirt examples first required hearing the word. What are you doing to hear the word of God about the good news of His Kingdom?
  2. Examine your life – what type of dirt have you been previously and are you now? ON THE PATH -hears the message, doesn’t understand -evil one snatches it away ROCKY GROUND – no root – trouble and persecution – fall away IN THORNS – choked out by worries, deceitfulness of wealth and pleasures GOOD SOIL – hears and understands – produces a good crop
  3. What kind of dirt do you want to be? What will it require if you are currently a different type? What type of fertilizer and additives can you add to your dirt? What can be strained out and removed from your dirt to help you grow a better crop?
  4. What might Jesus have wanted us to learn about God, the ultimate giver of the Kingdom message, today?

Will He Provide?

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 21 & 22

Psalms Reading: Psalm 13

New Testament Reading: Matthew 12

God had promised Abraham, in Genesis 17:19, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

At this point, Abraham was over 100 years old, and had faithfully followed God.  In Genesis 12, Abraham obeyed when God told him to leave his country and family.  Abraham allowed Lot to take the lush land around Sodom in Genesis 13, and trusted God to provide for his own flocks and herds on barren mountains.  In Genesis 15, Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would have a son in his old age, and God counted that faith as righteousness.

In Genesis 22:2, we find God commanding Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

This doesn’t make sense.  God had explicitly promised that God’s promises to Abraham would be passed down through Isaac’s descendants, and now God was commanding Abraham to sacrifice him – apparently destroying the promise He had made to Abraham.

By this point, Abraham had developed a very close relationship with God.  In fact, we’re told 3 times in the Bible that Abraham was God’s friend (2 Chron 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23) – and as far as I know, Abraham is the only person in the Bible of whom this is said.

We’re told in Hebrews 11:19 that Abraham reasoned that God was able to raise the dead, and that He was going to keep His promise.

So early the next morning, Abraham took Isaac and 2 servants and left for the place God told him to go.  When they got close, Abraham told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there.  We will worship and we (emphasis added) will come back to you.”

As they got even closer, Isaac asked his dad, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Can you imagine how this must have broken Abraham’s heart, looking down into his son’s questioning face, knowing that in a few minutes he would be killing his beloved son, who would be the offering?  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb.”  (Actually, God had provided Isaac – as a miracle baby in his parent’s old age.)  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood, tied up Isaac, and laid him on the altar.  

As he was getting ready to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stopped him.  Abraham then saw a ram caught in the brush by its horns, and sacrificed it instead.  God then promised Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 22:16-18, “I swear by myself, declared the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

I could point out all the similarities of Abraham’s being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, and God being willing to sacrifice His Son, Jesus.  I could point out the significance of another quote from this chapter, “Jehovah Jireh – on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (This was the mountain where Soloman’s temple was built hundreds of years later.)  I could point out the importance of obeying God, and the benefits that result.

Instead, I want to comment on who, when, where, how, and why of God’s provision.  

Who:  God tested Abraham with a very difficult test even after a life of serving God.  We see that God provided the ram in this case only after Abraham trusted and obeyed God – even though it didn’t make sense.  Assertion:  God provides for those who trust Him and obey Him.  

When:  God provided for Abraham at the very last minute, not before.  We’re told in Hebrews 4:16 that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Assertion:  God provides precisely when we need something, not when we think we need it.  (i.e.  according to God’s timing.)

Where:  God provided for Abraham only after Abraham went where God told him to go, and after he obeyed everything God told him to do.  Assertion:  God will provide if we are where He wants us to be.  We should have no expectation of receiving God’s provision if we aren’t where He wants us to be. 

How:  God didn’t send an angel from heaven with an offering for Abraham to sacrifice, God provided a normal ram, caught in a normal thicket, by it’s normal horns.  And God didn’t send a whole flock of sheep, just one ram, because that was all that was needed.   Assertion:  God will usually provide in ways that are very natural – don’t look for miracles.

Why:  In times of testing, it’s easy to only think about our problems, and focus on, “why is this happening to me?”  I think there may be two general reasons why trials come.  First, we are told in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Note that this only applies if we are living according to His purpose.  Also note that trials are by definition difficult, and won’t seem to be beneficial at the time.  Second, ultimately, everything is for God’s glory.  Isaiah 43:7 says, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…”  We see an example of this with God destroying Pharaoh and his army for God’s glory in Ex 14:4, 17.  Assertion:  God allows trials and gives provision for our good and for His glory.

The bottom line is, if we are faithfully following God, times of testing will come.  If we remain true to God, if we are where He wants us to be, and if we are obedient to Him, he will provide what we need (not necessarily what we want), at the very last minute, usually through normal means – and this is for our good.  If we aren’t following God, the times of testing may just be to bring Glory to Him.  I’d rather be in that first group.  How about you?

–Steve Mattison

Reflection Questions

  1. Abraham’s thoughts and feelings aren’t recorded much in Genesis, what do you think he may have been thinking and feeling on that 3 day trip to where God wanted him – and after? What similarities do you find in Psalm 11?
  2. How and when has God provided what you needed? What did you learn about God from that experience?
  3. Is there anything that you may be holding onto too tightly, loving more than God? How can you practice trusting and obeying God and not withholding from Him?
  4. What did God reveal about Himself to you in your reading of His words today?

Dedicated to Prayer

Mark 1

Saturday, July 23, 2022

As usual, there are many areas we could focus on in today’s devotion.  I’d like to start with a very quick recap of Mark 1.

Mark 1 starts out with John the Baptists preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4) to prepare the way for Jesus.  Compared with the Old Testament sacrifices, this was revolutionary – introducing a new and better way to reconcile with God.  Confess sins, turn away from those sins, and be baptized for the forgiveness of those sins.

Mark 1 continues with Jesus’ baptism, when God declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.”  After which Jesus went into the desert to be tempted by Satan for 40 days.

After that, as Jesus performed miracles, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” (1:28)  After sunset one evening, Mark 1:33 says, “The whole town gathered at the door”, because Jesus was healing many who had various diseases and casting out demons.

Mark 1:35 gives some insight into Jesus’ prayer life, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.”  He was interrupted by his disciples, who said, “Everyone is looking for you.”  But Jesus left to go preach elsewhere because that was why he was sent.

Then, Mark 1:40-42 tells us, “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, If you are willing, you can make me clean.  Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  I am willing, he said.  Be clean!  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”  As a result of his healing, this man told everyone what Jesus had done.  Mark 1:45 tells us, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.  Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

The three things that stand out to me in Mark 1 are:

  1. Jesus’ dedication to prayer.
  2. Jesus’ compassion.
  3. Jesus’ popularity – because people couldn’t stop themselves from telling all that Jesus had done.

After staying up very late at night healing people who started to arrive after sunset, Jesus got up very early in the morning while it was still dark to go to a solitary place to pray.  Obviously, prayer was more important to Jesus than sleep.  I think there is a correlation between Jesus’ prayer life and his successful ministry.  How’s your prayer life?

Jesus healed so many people because he had compassion for them, and wanted to relieve their suffering.  I’m especially touched by his reaction to the man with leprosy who came to Jesus, begging to be healed.  Remember that leprosy made a person unclean.  According to the Old Testament law, such a person was an outcast, who had to stay away from people, wear a covering over their mouth, and yell “unclean”.  By coming to Jesus, this guy was breaking the law.  But he knew he likely had a terminal illness, and Jesus was his only possibility of a cure.  

And instead of shrinking back from this man, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  This man had probably not felt another human touch for years.  And Jesus deliberately touched him and healed him.

Do you recognize that your sins are a terminal illness?  Will you come to Jesus, and beg him on your knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”?  If you do, Jesus is still compassionate and will forgive your sins.

Finally, after Jesus healed people, and changed their lives, they couldn’t help but tell everyone what Jesus had done for them.  I can just imagine one of them saying something like, “You know this horrible problem I had?  Well, Jesus completely healed me and gave me a new lease on life.  I know you have some issues too, and I think you should go to Jesus to be healed like I was.  It will change your life too.”  – And as a result, Jesus’ fame and popularity exploded.  Because people couldn’t stop talking about what Jesus had done for them.

What has Jesus done for you?  How are you doing telling everyone you know?

In closing, I’d like to challenge you in a few areas.  First, step up your prayer life.  Give it a test.  Deliberately dedicate time early in the morning to pray, and seek God.  After a week, see what a difference it has made in your life.  If you see a great change, continue the practice.

Second, take all of your problems to Jesus (in prayer).  Your sins, your suffering, your concerns.  Jesus is still compassionate.  Sometimes, he grants physical healing, more often spiritual healing.  Give it a try.

Finally, once Jesus has done something for you, tell everyone you know how He has changed your life.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions –

Today’s questions came from the devotion – go ahead and give some more time thinking about, and acting on, them.

  1. How’s your prayer life? What could you give up to make more time for prayer? Try the prayer test this week.
  2. Do you recognize that your sins are a terminal illness?  Will you come to Jesus, and beg him on your knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”?  What will spiritual healing look like?
  3. What has Jesus done for you?  How are you doing telling everyone you know?

A Love Poem

Song of Solomon 2

Friday, July 22, 2022

Song of Solomon contains poetry written by Solomon.  Some people try to spiritualize it, suggesting it describes the relationship between God and a follower of God.  Those who think that have obviously not read it.  Song of Solomon describes the intimate relationship between a husband and a wife, sometimes a little graphically.  If you’ve never read the Bible before, the Song of Solomon just might pique your interest.  I’ll share a few verses from chapter 2.

SoS 2:2 says, “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.”  Husbands and future husbands take note.  Highlight what you appreciate about your wife, and make sure she knows it well and often. But the praise must be sincere.  And if it’s appropriate and if she would appreciate it, make sure you extend this praise publicly.  But don’t just stop with praise.  Treat her like she is precious because she is.

SoS 2:4 contains part of the wife’s response, “His banner over me is love.”  All by itself, this sounds pretty weird.  I think this is saying that her husband is publicly proclaiming his love for her – sort of like writing it on a flag, and waving it around for everyone to see.  He is not ashamed to acknowledge her publicly.  Again, husbands take note.

In SoS 2:6, the wife goes on to say, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.”  I’ll leave it to your imagination to consider their position and presumed activity.  Husband’s again take note.  If you shower your wife with love.  If you make her a priority, and she knows it.  If she knows you’re never ashamed of having her at your side.  Things will go a lot better with your love life.

She goes on to say in SoS 2:7, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”  I would say that differently.  I would say “save sex for marriage” – and then, it is a wonderful blessing from God for both husband and wife to enjoy to the fullest together.

In his reply, in SoS 2:15, the husband says, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom”.  I think the idea here is that there are always little things that can attack the relationship, and these things need to be caught and stopped.  Some examples may include selfishness, pride, never admitting that you are wrong, finding fault, unforgiveness, mistrust, etc.  All of these have to be dealt with and removed in order for the love to blossom and flourish.

In SoS 2:16-17, the wife says, “My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.  Until the day breaks and the shadows flee…”.  She is talking about how exclusive the marriage relationship must be.  (Unfortunately, Solomon didn’t do very well in this regard.  Maybe she should have said, “my lover is mine, and I am his and a thousand other women are his.”  Can you imagine how that would make your wife feel – if this wasn’t an exclusive relationship?  Husbands, again take note.

And you have to love that part in verse 17 where she says, “until the day breaks and the shadows flee…”.  It sounds like she is talking about being intimate all night long.  So, husbands, if you want verse 17, you have to have to practice verses 2 and 4 and 7 and 15.  In other words, if you want a great sex life in your marriage, adore your wife.  Let that show in everything you do and in every way you treat her, and you will see results.

Oh yeah, and do the same with your relationship with God, and you’ll see great results there too – both now and forever.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. If you aren’t married yet – what is the greatest take-away you found in Song of Solomon 2?
  2. If you are married – what is the greatest take-away you found in Song of Solomon 2?
  3. Why do you think God included Song of Solomon in the Bible?

What to do with the Difficult Times

Ecclesiastes 3

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Whether you know it or not, you’re probably familiar with the first few verses of Ecclesiastes 3:

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3  a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

4  a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6  a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7  a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8  a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I like about half the things listed, and would rather not have the other half, but life just doesn’t work that way.  We have to take the bad with the good.

I was at a funeral last Saturday when these verses were read.  It seems like this passage is mostly referenced during difficult times – because we don’t need to be reminded about these things during happy times.  When someone is born, we don’t want to be reminded that they will eventually die.  But when someone dies, we need to be reminded that this world has both good and bad, and we can’t just pick and choose what happens in life.

Verse 11 goes on to say, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…”.  

Does this mean that death is beautiful?; that cancer is beautiful?; that problems are beautiful?  No, not in themselves.  But the rest of the verse goes on to say that God has set eternity in the hearts of men.  I think that means these experiences make us long for the time when these problems will be a thing of the past.  When there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain – in the Kingdom of God. 

We mentioned Romans 8:22-23 a couple of days ago, which says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

In addition to pain and suffering being consequences of the Curse (Genesis 3) as a result of sin, I believe God uses these to help us long for His coming kingdom.  This longing helps us refocus our lives on following Him.  It also helps us not place too much importance on the temporary things this world has to offer.

James 1: 2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I believe this points out that difficulties we face in life can produce perseverance, helping us mature in our Christian walk, and helping us become more persistent in living for the Lord.  And if we finish strong – living our lives for the Lord – we will be in His kingdom, experiencing delight for eternity.  

So because difficulties can draw us closer to God, which will cause us to live more dedicated lives for Him, with the ultimate result of being in His kingdom, in this sense, everything works together for our ultimate good, and is therefore beautiful.  Even though it might seem like something stinks at the time, it can be beautiful – but only if it makes you long for the Kingdom of God and then live your life devoted to following Him.

If difficult times make us resent that God permitted these times, and if we reject God as a result of this, then we can look forward to Ecclesiastes 3:17 which says, “…God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked…”

I’d like to challenge you to let the difficult times draw you closer to God.  But it’s entirely up to you how you respond.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. What difficult times have you been through? What good times have you enjoyed?
  2. What can be learned through the good times? What can be learned through the difficult days (and seasons)?
  3. Looking back on your own life (or the example of someone else) can you see times when the trials and hardships have prompted spiritual growth and perseverance and a re-focusing on what truly matters, including of course eternal life with God and Jesus in the coming Kingdom of God?

Chasing after the Wind

Ecclesiastes 1

Solomon was the wisest person who ever lived (see 1 Kings 3:10-12). He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes to probe the meaning of life.  It’s widely believed that he wrote this toward the end of his life, after he had experienced much of what life had to offer.

Let’s look at some of the treasures of wisdom Solomon wrote down:

  • Ecc 1:2, “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher.  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”
  • Ecc 1:11, “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.”
  • Ecc 1:14, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
  • Ecc 1:17, “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this too is a chasing after the wind.”
  • Ecc 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

We’re only covering chapter 1 here, but chapter 2 goes on to point out the uselessness of pursuing wealth or pleasure or accomplishing great things.

What’s going on here?  Does life just stink?  

Solomon is pointing out the futility of living this mortal life to the fullest – apart from God.  If all we have to look forward to is death, life is indeed meaningless.  It doesn’t matter how much we pursue pleasure, wealth, or anything else that our hearts desire – our life will be unfulfilled, without satisfaction, without joy, without purpose, and without hope.

When my wife was dying after a four-year battle with cancer, we could both take comfort in the fact that we have the hope of the resurrection, and eternal life to look forward to.  Even in death, we have hope of future joy.  Living a life for God gives us hope.  Our life can be fulfilling, with satisfaction, purpose, and joy.

It takes a lot of people a very long time to figure this out.  My challenge to you is to carefully consider the meaning of your life today.  Choose a life of submission and service to God, and your life won’t be meaningless.  Or go your own way, and identify with Solomon’s Ecclesiastes.

–Steve Mattison

Question Application

  1. What do you spend a lot of time (effort, or money) on that Solomon, or God, might consider “Meaningless”?
  2. Have you found anything that gives life satisfaction, purpose and joy? Where would you look?
  3. What will last?

Which Will You Be?

Proverbs 10

Monday, July 18, 2022

In Proverbs 10, we see several contrasts between a person with Godly wisdom who lives a Godly life versus someone who doesn’t.  I thought it might be nice to summarize those contrasts here.

A person with Godly wisdom and who lives a Godly life:

  • Brings joy to their father (v1)
  • God doesn’t let this person go hungry (v3)
  • Hard-working (v4, 5)
  • The memory of this person will be a blessing (v7)
  • Accepts commands (v8)
  • Their mouth is a fountain of life (v11)
  • Love covers wrongs (v12)
  • Wise and discerning (v13)
  • Receives life (v16)
  • Holds their tongue (v19)
  • Delights in wisdom (v23)
  • Desires will be granted (v24)
  • Stand firm forever (v25)
  • Adds length of life (v27)
  • Has joy (v28)
  • Will not be uprooted (v30)
  • Mouth brings forth wisdom (v31)
  • Knows what is fitting (v32)

A person who doesn’t:

  • Brings grief to their mother (v1)
  • God thwarts this person’s cravings (v3)
  • Lazy (v4, 5)
  • Violent (v6, 11)
  • Name will be cursed (v7)
  • Fool comes to ruin (v8)
  • Hatred stirs up dissension (v12)
  • Punished (v13, 16)
  • Conceals hatred (v18)
  • Spreads slander (v18)
  • Their heart is of little value (v20)
  • Finds pleasure in evil conduct (v23)
  • What they dread will overtake them (v24)
  • Swept away (v25)
  • Their life is cut short (v27)
  • Hopes come to nothing (v28)
  • Will not remain in the land (v30)
  • Only knows what is perverse (v32)

Which list would you like to describe you? If you see some attributes in the second list that may be used to describe you, you can change.

Hebrews 3:8 says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”.  If something here got your attention, take action.  Don’t let this moment pass.

2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  Now is the time to act.

James 4:4-10 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  … That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. … purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

You can be a friend of the world, and fall into the second list, or be a friend of God and fall into the first list.  But in order to be a friend of God, you first must submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to God.  You must humble yourself before God, only then He will lift you up.  Only then will the first list fully describe you.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. What 2-3 points do you find most appealing from the first list for the Godly life?
  2. What 2-3 points do you find most distasteful or disturbing from the second list?
  3. Both lists include some actions/attitudes as well as consequences. How do your choices now determine your future? How often do you remember this?
  4. If you choose to humble yourself before God and submit to Him, what will that look like for you today? How will you work to remove something from the second list to replace it with something from the first?

Trust

Proverbs 3

Sunday, July 17, 2022

There are so many great nuggets in Proverbs 3, each of which could have a devotion centered on it.  Some of these include:

  • Proverbs 3:3, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you…”
  • Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
  • Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.”
  • Proverbs 3:11-12, “.. do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
  • Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.”
  • Proverbs 3:33, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

Today, I’d like to focus on Proverbs 3:5-6.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

It’s easy to praise and thank God when things are going well.  And when life is sailing along smoothly, its hard to even think about having to trust in (rely on) God.  But when times get rough, that’s when the rubber meets the road for our faith.

So what does it mean to trust in God when you face financial hardships?  When you’ve lost a loved one?   When you face serious health problems?  When life seems to just stink? When you’re dying?

1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I know from personal experience that it is easy to, “Cast my anxiety on Him” by crying out to God, telling him all my problems, asking Him to solve them, and asking Him to give me peace.  I also know it’s hard to not pick up those problems again and try to shoulder them myself.

In other words, this passage is easy to acknowledge as right, but very hard to really put into practice.

Jesus passed along some wisdom about how to accomplish this in Matthew 6:24-34.  This section starts with Jesus telling us not to worry about our lives, what we’re going to eat, or wear, or anything else.  And the reason he gave was:  God knows what you need, and will take care of you.  Instead, Jesus gave us something else to focus on in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

So the trick to not focusing on our problems is to instead focus on God’s promises.  In Revelation 21:4, we’re told that in the Kingdom of God, God himself ‘… will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Think about the Kingdom of God and the conditions there.  Obsess over it.  Long for it.  Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and then live your life in such a way as to be in God’s kingdom.

I have learned from personal experience that the closer we draw to God during our tough times, the more he seems to lift us up and help us through – in situations where it seems we couldn’t have gotten through on our own.

And while we’re talking about problems, have you ever thought that God may allow problems in our lives to help us focus more on Him and his kingdom?  Romans 8:22-23 says,” We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

So, while you’re experiencing loss and pain, focus on God and on his kingdom.  Long for it.  Draw close to God.  In doing this, you will learn to trust in the Lord with all your heart.  And then He will direct your life.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. How has God shown Himself to be trustworthy so far – in the Bible? In the lives of people you know? In your own life?
  2. How does remembering God’s promises help get you through tough times?
  3. What does it mean to you to not have to rely on your own understanding?
  4. Would you like to be known as a person who puts their trust in God? How can you work towards increasing your trust in God?

Passing on the Mantle

2 Kings 2

March 15

Today’s reading starts out, “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind…” And to think, some people say reading the Bible is too boring.  Sorry, I can’t agree.

Elijah and Elisha did a lot of walking that day.  They started at Gilgal, walked to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan River.  Each time they moved on, Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha would not be separated.  When he promised to follow Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:20, he meant to follow him to the end, and he was going to.  Elisha was dedicated.

They walked through areas of spiritual significance.  It had been at Gilgal that the Israelites first camped when they had entered the promised land, and it was there they were circumcised, and officially became “sons of the covenant” (Joshua 4:2-9).  Bethel had been the place Jacob had a dream with a stairway to heaven, with angels going up and down; and where God had promised to be with him wherever he went (Genesis 28:11-19).  Jericho had been the site of Joshua’s amazing victory as a result of just obeying God by walking around the city – no matter how ridiculous that seemed (Joshua 5-6).  And the Jordan River was where the river parted before Joshua and the Isrealites on their way into the promised land.  Elijah and Elisha walked down memory lane together.

In their travels, they visited two schools of the prophets (Bible Colleges), where the students told Elisha that Elijah was going to be taken away from him that day.  It seemed like everybody knew what was about to happen, and it broke Elisha’s heart.  

When they got to the Jordan River, Elijah hit the water with his cloak, the water divided, and they walked across on dry land.  It was then that Elijah asked Elisha if there was a parting gift Elijah could leave to Elisha.  Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”  Interesting.  The thing Elisha wanted most in this world was to be closer to God than even Elijah had been.  Elisha had his priorities right.

Elijah told Elisha that if he saw Elijah being taken away, he would receive his wish.

2 Kings 2:11-12 then says, “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out …” 

Now Elisha couldn’t rely on Elijah’s help anymore.  He was alone…  or was he?  God was still on His throne.

Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak.  I think this is significant in that he was picking up the mantle of Elijah’s ministry.  But now Elisha was stranded on the East side of the Jordan River.  How was he going to get across?  You guessed it. Elisha struck the river with Elijah’s cloak, the water separated, and he walked across on dry ground.  God was with Elisha!  And the 50 Bible College students that were watching knew that Elisha was now the new head prophet.

Elijah then went on to Jericho, where he healed the water and land around Jericho (which Joshua had cursed in Joshua 6:26).  

The final miracle in this chapter is a little gruesome.  Elisha went to Bethel, where a bunch of punks mocked Elisha, saying, “Go on up, you baldhead!” repeatedly.  Presumably, they were saying that Elijah had been caught up to heaven and they were rid of him, now they wanted to get rid of Elisha’s godly influence (and condemnation) too.  Elisha called a curse down on them, and two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of them.  We’re not told that they were killed, so I assume they were scarred and maybe disfigured for the rest of their lives as a living testimony to what may happen when someone rebels against God.

After that, Elisha went to Mount Carmel, where Elijah had initiated the “god contest” that we talked about in yesterday’s devotion.  Then, Elisha started his own ministry.

So how can we apply stories from this chapter to our own lives today?

Elisha was committed to spending as much time as possible with Elijah – to learn as much as possible from him – as long as he had the opportunity.  I think it is important for less mature Christians to learn as much as they can from more mature Christians, while they have the chance.  I also think more mature Christians need to seek out those they can mentor in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2).  And while we’re on the topic, I also have to wonder if Elijah intentionally visited those Bible Colleges to encourage those students one last time before he was taken away.  What are you doing to learn from those more mature and to share with those less mature?

Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?

Elisha’s greatest desire was to be even more godly than Elijah had been.  And it was granted.  (By my count, God performed 8 miracles at Elijah’s request, and 16 at Elisha’s request.)  What is your greatest desire?

Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you?

And how often do you grumble against your preacher?  Remember those 42 mauled hoodlums. 

Elisha revisited places where he had treasured memories of Elijah, then struck out on his own to start his own ministry.  We can’t live in the past either (although I personally would prefer to).  We need to be looking forward to what God still has for us to do, and we need to take action.  How are you doing on that front?

Finally, while we can’t expect to be caught up to heaven in a whirlwind like Elijah was, we do have this promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”  But this only applies to the righteous.  When Christ returns, will you rise to meet the Lord in the air?  I hope to. I hope you do, too.

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are you doing to learn from those more mature in the Christian faith and to share with those less mature? Why is each important?
  2. Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?
  3. What is your greatest desire? What else gets in the way? How can you be more devoted to your greatest desire?
  4. Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you? What do you think God still wants you to do for Him?
  5. Do you grumble against or put-down the leaders God has put in place?
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