Still Not Alone

1 Kings 20-21

1 Kings 20 13 NIV sgl

I neglected to mention at the end of yesterday’s “You are Not Alone” devotion that one excellent way to battle the weary, lonely depression that sometimes falls upon those who speak for God is to find a partner in ministry – work together with one you can mentor.  At the end of chapter 19 Elijah found Elisha.  Some Bible scholars suggest they worked together about 6 years, but I found another that thought it could have been closer to 23 years.  Regardless of the length of time, I believe it is safe to say the apprenticeship was a mutual blessing to both Elijah and Elisha – and likely multiplied the work that either one could have done on their own.  Elisha will have a very long and powerful ministry for the LORD, but what would it have looked like if he had not had the opportunity to serve under Elijah?  Who are you serving under?  Who are you mentoring?

It is interesting that in the next chapter neither Elijah nor Elisha are mentioned, but at least twice a prophet or son of a prophet speaks to evil King Ahab – once to tell him how to be victorious over the attacking Ben-Hadad of Aram, and once to reprimand him for being too leniant on Ben-Hadad when God delivered him into Ahab’s hand.  This is further proof that Elijah was indeed not the only one left to stand for and speak for God.  And proof, that while Elijah had very faithfully performed many deeds and sermons for God – God did not need Elijah.  The Almighty can call any man or woman – or rock – to work for Him.  I do believe when the city walls fall down on 27,000 fleeing enemy soldiers God’s rocks were at work – perhaps others would have merely called it a coincidence or an earthquake (1 Kings 20:30).

It can truly be amazing who and what God uses – even the evilest king who had ever lived.  Sure, enough, when God wanted to show HIS strength against the advancing foreign army – He tells Ahab the winning battle plans through a prophet and Ahab somewhat surprisingly listens and follows along – to a point.  And, in the last chapter of today’s reading we will even see Ahab repentant – for a time.  There is no heart God can’t soften and change or use for His glory.

But, you are just asking for trouble if you choose to hang out with the bad girls (or in Ahab’s case, his wicked wife).   They have done a lot of evil things but how many commandments do they manage to break when Ahab decides he would love to have a vegetable garden for his second palace?  Once, again, sin snowballs.  One leads to another and it grows larger and larger. With serious consequences.

Following the violent murder of innocent Naboth and the stealing of his property, Elijah is sent to condemn Ahab and Jezebel and foretell their own violent deaths – only partially put on hold by Ahab’s repentant spirit.  Isn’t it good to know that God still sees the  cruelty and injustice of the world today and His timeline is put in place to make all things right.  There will be a time when all humanity meets their judge and will be held accountable for all their deeds and the condition of their hearts.  Until that day may we faithfully carry His word – knowing that we are not alone!

Marcia Railton

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Kings+20-21&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be 1 Kings 22 & 2 Chronicles 18 as we continue the seekgrowlove.com 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Making a Differing People : Lex Talionis and the God of Justice.

Leviticus 24-25

Leviticus 25 55 NIV
Depending on your source, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both believed that “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
While we know from our reading and devotions that Jesus completes the laws of the Old Testament, and specifically changes the interaction of Lex Talionis, or the Law of Retribution, in Matthew 5:38-42, we must also not pass over the laws given in Leviticus 24 and 25 too quickly.
For example, the year of jubilee is fascinating, not least because we don’t have any concrete evidence ANYONE EVER practiced it! The idea was that the poor who sold themselves into slavery should be freed. I want to be very clear : SLAVERY IS WRONG. Morally, it is repugnant, and praise God it is outlawed around the world and being fought against by many organizations. However, in the time of the Israelites, slavery was practiced, especially as a way to pay off massive debts owed for any and all reasons. While we should be rightfully repulsed, in Leviticus 25, God drags humanity forward in the midst of their issues by giving some fascinating commands : If your countryman becomes so poor and has to sell himself, treat him as a hired man. (25:39-40) And no matter what is sold or bought, it all goes back in the year of Jubilee, (25:13) so you may all be equal, and in that year the slave must be set free. (25:54)

 

God takes a terrible institution, and begins to create boundaries around it. Remember, if this law had not been given, ALL slavery would be morally justifiable and ALL treatment of slaves would be unimpeded. But starting in Leviticus, God begins to prune this terrible human sin, begins to eradicate it among his people. God is taking barbarous humanity and forcing it to be graceful and merciful, to a degree.
Add to that the law of ‘an eye for an eye’ and we begin to see where God directly challenges the law codes of other nations.
In Leviticus 24:19-20, we read, “If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted upon him.” Of course, Christ changes this law, but in the day it was given this was REVOLUTIONARY.
First, God is trying to stop something: exactly what happens in the life of Samson, specifically in chapter 15. Samson wants to go to his wife, but her father gave her to another man. Samson, in a rage, ties 300 foxes together in pairs, puts torches on their tails, and they burn the crops. Then the Philistines learn who Samson’s family is and burn his family. And then he slaughters the Philistines… OK, so God wasn’t trying to stop EXACTLY that scenario, but trying to stop the PRINCIPLE of that scenario. In our world, before the Law of God or without Law, violence is cyclical and escalating. Samson gets ticked off, so he burns crops, so the Philistines burn his wife, so he slaughters Philistines. It’s not pretty but it is the pattern of humanity. You attack my tribe and kill one person, we attack back and kill five people and you attack back… until we are all dead. Among the Israelites, God was saying, “when someone harms you, you only get to harm them back to a certain degree; namely, the way in which they harmed you.” This is a massive leap forward in our cultural and social interactions.
Of course, other national law codes were doing this at the time of the Jews, such as the ancient Babylonians (and possibly the Ancient Egyptians). But, while they may have grasped a portion of God’s truth, the Babylonians specifically missed a small but crucial detail. Leviticus 24:22 says, “there shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native.” In the Babylonian Law code, punishment was meted out based on the different classes of people involved. Men who owned land were above free men who were above slaves. If a man who owned land harmed a slave, financial compensation may have been owed, but if a slave harmed a landed man, then the slave could lose his hands or his life.
Not so with the people of God. Men were respected across socio-economic lines or boundaries. If a priest killed a peasant, the priest would die. In a law about punishment, God actually gives one of the strongest cases for the equality of all men (and women!) in Old Testament scripture. Whether or not the law was followed perfectly is quite beside the point; in principle, all people were equal.
This is why taking our time with the texts of Leviticus is so important. As you have seen this week, instead of getting stuck in “boring” and “confusing” laws, we are seeing God create a different people, a better people, a holy people. Praise God that we don’t have to follow all the Old Testament codes, but praise God even more that in these laws, he began to create a people who were BETTER, who were more CIVILIZED, more mature, more conscious of their place before each other and before God.
In Leviticus, God creates a people who are differentequal and free. As all people should be.
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+24-25&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be the final two chapters of the book of Leviticus as we progress through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

More Love, Less Conflict

Prov 10 12

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.
Proverbs 10:12 NIV
https://bible.com/bible/111/pro.10.12.NIV

One verse, one sentence that says something we all already know. It’s so obvious and yet we struggle to act in love in so many situations. Today, there is a run off election for 2 different state positions here in Georgia. As I voted today it made me think of all the election ads and speeches given just over a month ago. Very few of those were rooted in love, but many were negative. Is it any wonder our nation is so divided? Do we even need to question why people are becoming increasingly violent? It’s because instead of love, which covers wrong, we spread hatred, breeding conflict toward one another.

The only way to create positive change in the community around us is through love. If you’re a Jesus follower, then you know this principle already. It’s why you changed and are still changing. It’s God’s love for us, that we experience in all sorts of ways, that drives us to become better. It steers us away from hatred, it helps us see the potential in others and inside of us. The next time you find yourself disgusted about a person or situation, instead of complaining or pointing out what’s wrong, try focusing on how you can be loving anyway. That’s the only way things will get better, so we might as well stop wasting time with hatred that breeds conflict, and use our energy to show love that covers all wrongs.

-Jerry Briggs

How Do You Crown Your King?

John 18-19

PastedGraphic-1

Friday, June 2

(This is a longer post. Please give yourself ample time to read it and pray over the questions at the end.)
Interesting trivia: the Greek Orthodox Church fasts every Wednesday and Friday. Every single one. Why? There are reasons to believe the Jews began this practice of fasting and that they carried it on. Beyond that, they also add a religious and theological reason: on Wednesday Christ was betrayed and on Friday Christ was killed. Every single week they remind themselves that they are in some way responsible for the Son of God hanging on the Cross.
These are the chapters we read this week in John 18-19. They tell the story of Jesus’ betrayal, torture, crucifixion and death through the eyes of John. What can we learn from this?
First, Jesus said, “Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” (John 18:11) Jesus accepted that this was the way that God had given him, and did not want to resist this way with violence. We can be so much like Peter, who cut off the ear of Malchus. We can be so  quick to violence. But Jesus, even with these men sent to kill him, his worst enemies on earth, was about peace, love and healing. Luke 22:51 expounds the story by finishing up the scene. “But Jesus responded, “No more of this!” And touching his ear, He healed him.”
That’s because Jesus is not focused on the injustice of what is being done to him. He is not looking for his personal justice. Jesus is, instead, focusing on his God-given destiny and duty. When being questioned by Pilate, he says “You say that I’m a king.” Jesus goes on to say,  “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”(John 18:37) Jesus is focused, in the middle of supreme injustice and false imprisonment, on why he was born, the reason for his existing. And what is that purpose? Not to disparage any evangelical preacher, but Jesus did not merely come to do three days’ work. Instead, he came to “testify to the truth.” The truth is humans need to be saved from their sins, he is that salvation, he is the only way to salvation, eternal life and the spirit will be given to those who seek this truth.
In the midst of this, we also see a picture of the world. Now, I’m of a specific bent that says God does not control every facet of the universe. God does not predetermine or force my hand and only make me act as he wants me or wills me to act. However, this does not mean that the world is completely and utterly out of control. In a way that is completely unknown to me, a way that I daresay we should call a mystery, God controls certain events, outcomes, or situations. Here, Jesus seems to take comfort in the fact that his own torture and death is not outside of the plan of God. God knew, “If my Son goes among the Jews and tells them the truth, they will crucify him. I will give humanity the authority to do so.” God isn’t wringing his hands in heaven saying, “I wish I could do something, but I’m not strong enough!” Nor is God a puppet master with all the strings making his marionettes dance. He is working out his will inside the real, free, true choices of humanity.
Interestingly, Pilate may have gotten it. Pilate, according to all the history books was a brutal and bloodthirsty man ready to squash any rebellion with the slightest whiff. But I think he understood who he was talking to in Jesus and what the Jews were asking of him. He seems to have answered his own question “What is truth?” And he answers it with the inscription above Jesus’ head “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” written in every common language. The truth is that in this suffering, we see the ultimate juxtaposition. A savior killed like a slave, a righteous man made wretched, a King on a cross. THAT’S the symbol we gravitate toward. That’s the symbol that defines Christianity. It is a cross that shows the greatest moment of humanity, depravity and sin, and the greatest moment of the God-granted mercy, compassion and love.
Then, Jesus dies. There’s no fanfare in the book of John. It is interesting that what happens in the other gospels, the earthquake and the darkness and the resurrection of righteous ones, are summarily overlooked or forgotten. They pale in comparison to the fact that the King of the Jews, the bread of life, the water of life, the SON OF GOD is hanging dead on a cross. This man, who only loved, who only wanted the best. Who demanded that the pharisees live the same life they demanded of everyone else. Who said “turn the other cheek” and “do not judge unless you are ready to be judged”. Who said “blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted.” This man who lived a life of perfect relationship and obedience to God, is hanging limp on a cross, covered in blood and bodily fluids. His arms and legs are no longer straining against the nails because he feels the pain no longer. His body bears the marks of scourging. His face is beaten beyond recognition, and above the bruises and laceration that disfigure the face of the Messiah, sits a crown of thorns, a gift from humanity to inaugurate our King.
There are many questions to ask of ourselves after this.
Do you treat your enemies with love and respect?
In times of trouble do you rest secure in the knowledge that you have a larger purpose than simply existing for today?
Do you even know what the larger purpose of your life is? Do you know specifically what the goal of your life is?
Do you rest secure in the knowledge that God is ultimately in control, whatever that might mean?
But above all of this is: what does it mean, FOR YOU, that the Son of God died on a cross? What does it mean for you that Jesus was tortured unjustly by a religious institution that couldn’t handle the fact that they were, in fact, broken and messed up and needed some saving? What does it mean for you that you were just as much responsible for the death of Jesus as Pilate and Caiaphas?
What will you do? We’ve place the crown of thorns of his head.
Will we cast our crown before him and acknowledge that Jesus is not only the King of the Jews, but the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?
Will you commit to making him YOUR Lord, the Lord of every part of your life?
In Christ,
Jake Ballard

Awful Choices (I Samuel 21-24)

Saturday, October 15th

terr-sat

by:Terrence Raper

In the chapters we read today, the violence between Saul & David continues to increase. There are a lot of lives taken by both sides out of vengeance and fear. We have a term for all this extra violence “casualties of war”. What a strange way of putting it. As strange as “friendly fire”.

 

Back to David and Saul. Both of these men were ordained as king at some point. We know that David was ultimately the true king, and a man after God’s own heart. However, there had to be behavior during these chapters that even David was ashamed about. I have really been struggling to add some positive takeaways from these chapters in 1 Samuel. I feel like it is important as a historical account of what happened, but I would really be reaching to make a connection our personal experiences in 2016.

I do think it is important for us to consider the way in which we go about achieving our goals. It is easy to look at Saul, and even David in these chapters, and realize that they made some awful choices out of necessity, or desperation. We have heard the term “the means justify the ends”. I believe this to be helpful for those people who are driven, and don’t want to be bothered with caring for others on the path to conquering their goals. However for Jesus followers, we know how important people are to God. God cares about how we treat others. So as followers of Jesus, and a people obedient to God-we must adopt a more Gandhi-esque approach. Gandhi taught the means must express the end that we desire.

(By the way the Gandhi (1982) movie is certified fresh at 88% on rotten tomatoes… I haven’t seen it.)