Hold ON!

Job 1-4

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Wednesday, December 14

The book of Job is an emotional rollercoaster. Rider/reader beware when you begin to venture this wild, scary, often windingly frustrating thrill ride. Pretty much everyone in the Book of Job dies except the main characters. But this story is about more than just mass destruction. Don’t get me wrong, the mourning rituals recorded after Job’s entire family dies are fascinating, but the physical destruction in the story leads to quite a collection of major philosophical ponderings that truly stick with the reader. Heavy, confusing stuff. You were warned.

 

The prologue places us in the land of Uz, not Oz, which is located far away from Israel. The unnamed author reveals no clear historical settings, and it seems as if all of the characters, except one, Elihu, are of any Hebrew origin whatsoever. The reoccurring themes throughout seemingly volley back and forth from the idea of suffering to justice. And by the way, don’t hold your breath, those questions will never get answered. Job will be pondering, reflecting, and VERBALIZING about how fragile and meaningless human life is in repeated fashion throughout.

 

The saga opens with the author declaring how awesome Job is, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.”(Job 1:3)  Wow. That is quite an endorsement. From this point we are ushered into the throne room of heaven in a very odd scene of sorts. The action resembles a court scene of sorts. God, the angels, and Satan are all present arguing the integrity and faith of Job. God gives Satan permission to test Job and the story gets very dark, real quick.

 

Pain is a central part of the human experience and there is no way around it. The book of Job covers all its pain bases: rashes, boils, and blisters, oh my! Not only does he experience physical pain but also emotional pain. Round that out with a heavy dose of spiritual pain and you can begin to see why Job finds himself at breaking points time and time again asking God why.

 

By chapter 3 & 4 we are introduced to Job’s “friends.” The reader will quickly discover that with friends like these you wouldn’t really have need of enemies.  The three bullies seemingly gang up on Job doing their best to convince him non-stop that he has sinned in some manner and God is simply punishing him for it. While Job is certainly down for the count, his consistent banter back and forth with the trio is mind boggling. Give it a rest Job? Just shut up and let them move on!

 

Remember how Job renounced God and became an atheist when his entire family died? No? Oh yeah, that’s because that’s not how it goes down. Nor will it ever be. Job makes it through Round 1 pretty successfully, but we find him getting more and more feisty when he finds himself with a rash and infuriating, obnoxious friends. And neither should we. Spoiler alert: God does not owe us explanations, and the sooner we come to terms with that timeless truth the happier we will all be. Tune in tomorrow as we observe the further unraveling of our besieged hero. I promise it will be worth the ride!

-Julie Driskill

 

 

 

 

 

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How It All Goes Down

Esther 5-10

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Tuesday, December 13

Esther is accepted by the king.  After the fasting and praying period, Esther went before the king, he raised his scepter, and he spared her life. Xerxes was eager to grant Esther what she wished. Instead of telling the king about her problem, she invited the king and Haman to a banquet. At the banquet, Esther invited the king and Haman to another banquet the next day. Haman was still upset at Mordecai, and through the encouragement of his wife, he made a 75 foot pole to hang Mordecai.

God gives the king a sleepless night.  The night between the two banquets the king couldn’t sleep. The king’s insomnia was no accident. This is actually one of the main turning points of the story. God made sure that Xerxes was up that night so that he would be prompted to remember when Mordecai saved the king’s life. It turns out that Mordecai had never been rewarded for saving the king’s life. The king resolves to reward Mordecai immediately. And he puts Haman in charge of the celebration! (Insert face palm here.)

At the second banquet, Esther told the king, finally, that she was a Jew, and that she would be killed because of the law that Haman wrote. Filled with anger, the king walked out of the room. Haman, meanwhile, pled for his life with Esther. When the king returned, he believed that Haman was attacking Esther. Haman was arrested and hung on the pole he created for Mordecai.

In order to save the Jewish people, the king allows Mordecai and Esther to write a law that saves the Jewish people. The Jews are authorized to defend themselves with the protection of the government. When the day comes, the Jews fight their enemies and are saved. As a result of all of this, Mordecai becomes second in charge of Persia after the king, and Esther is the glorious queen!

God works in your life through the ordinary. What did God do in the story of Esther? There were no miracles. There was no verse that said, “God…” and explained God’s actions. But certainly, God was at work in this story. After all, his chosen people were saved through a series of improbable events.  This demonstrates just exactly how God works in our lives. God accomplishes his plans through everyday, ordinary means. We need to see how God is working in our lives through his providence. Think about things that almost didn’t happen in your life. Maybe you almost went to a different school. Or, you almost never became friends with your best friends. But you did, and it changed your life. The story of Esther teaches us to see how God works in the everyday, ordinary parts of our lives and to trust God’s heart when we don’t understand His hand.

-Julie Driskill

For Such a Time as This!

Esther 1-4

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Monday, December 12

Esther occurs at an interesting time in Biblical history. The Jewish people had been living in exile in Persia. The Persian king, Cyrus, allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem. Many went back to Jerusalem, but some stayed behind in Persia. Esther is the fascinating story of those people who stayed behind in Persia.

At this time God’s people were basically controlled by a dictator.  The king of Persia is a guy named Xerxes. In Esther chapter 1, we see he threw a huge party for all of his most important officials that lasted for 6 months. In the last 7 days of the party, Xerxes expanded the party to include everyone in the city.  After seven days of getting drunk, Xerxes called for his wife, Queen Vashti.  He wanted all of his friends to view his wife and see how beautiful she was. But Vashti refused, which made Xerxes angry.  (Uh-oh.) Vashti is removed as queen, and all the wives of Persia are told not to be defiant like the queen!

 

Enter Esther.  In chapter 2, Xerxes decides to find a new queen. He’s not romantic, however. He’s a sick dictator.  He has his servants go throughout Persia to find beautiful virgins. They are brought back to the palace, and then they are to spend one night with Xerxes.  One of the women brought to the king is Esther. In chapter 2, we are introduced to Esther, and her cousin Mordecai who raised her because she was orphaned. Esther is taken into the king’s harem. And when it is her turn to be with the king, he falls for her. Esther becomes queen, but we learn that she doesn’t tell anyone she is Jewish. (Psssst.) It’s a secret.


It is also in this chapter that we learn that Mordecai found out about a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther, who told the king, and the perpetrators were executed. As chapter 2 ends, Esther is queen and Mordecai is responsible for saving the king. But remember, no one knows Esther is Jewish.
Chapter 3 introduces us to the true villain of the story -a man named Haman. He was the most powerful official in Persia after the king, and he was a jerk! Mordecai refused to bow to Haman. And Haman got mad. He didn’t just hate Mordecai, but all the Jews.  Haman came up with a plan to exterminate the Jews from Persia. He told the king that if he was allowed to kill this group of people, he would take their money and give it to the king. Xerxes agreed to this arrangement without hearing the details.


In chapter 4 Mordecai and the Jews began to be in mourning because of this decree. Esther wanted to know what was the matter with Mordecai, and why he was in mourning. Mordecai believed that Esther can help, but she was afraid to go before the king. If a person came before the king unannounced, they could be executed.

Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

Esther 4:13-14

God would save the Jewish people. He promised to do it in the Old Testament. But Mordecai saw that Esther might be God’s instrument of salvation for the Jews. You have to remember, neither Mordecai nor Esther knew how the story was going to end. Both of them could have been killed.

Finally, Esther decided to help, although death was a real possibility for her. She asked the Jews to fast and pray for her. This was a turning point in Esther’s life. She went from being a young woman who was at the mercy of the king and her cousin, to a person who was decisive and in control.

At the completion of today’s post I hope you realize that everyone faces turning points in their lives. Have you faced a turning point in your life yet?  Some possible turning points in your lives could be:

Will I cheat on this test or not?

Will I date a non-Christian or not?

Will I have sex with my boyfriend/girlfriend or not?

Will I let everyone know that I am a Christian or not?

Maybe you can see some turning points in your life where you didn’t follow God with your decision. There is good news. God forgives.

God uses unusual events to accomplish his plans. The story of Esther is like an elaborate chess board, and God is moving the pieces of the chess board into place to accomplish his purposes. He does this in our lives too. You might wonder why God allowed your parents to get a divorce, or why he allowed your family to move to a different state. You might wonder why God isn’t giving you the things you want in life.  He takes all of the experiences of your life and uses it for your good. As we continue tomorrow in Esther, you will say how this rings true!

-Julie Driskill

Hallelujah – Praise God – Amen

Nehemiah 11-13

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Sunday, December 11, 2016              

Today’s Bible reading wraps up some of the bleakest days in Israel’s Old Testament history due to the exile of God’s chosen people. Nehemiah’s courageous leadership prompted walls being restored and repaired to fortify Jerusalem. The precious contents of the temple could now be protected and temple service could begin again. A re-population of the Holy City was beginning to take place and the ancient promises of Yahweh were again being demonstrated to His people when they worshiped Him only.

The bulk of chapters 11 & 12 basically read as a holy “roll call.” While the inclusion of the long list of names do not make for much intriguing reading, (comparable to phone book reading for pleasure perhaps), it should prompt the reader to understand how a God of detail fondly remembers those who have been faithful to the cause, working to restore and revive His name.  These were brave families returning to a city in ruins, desperate to see God’s glory shine again in their land.

The end of chapter 12 sets the scene for one of the greatest days in the history of this holy community – a party of all parties! Imagine the pageantry of a redeemed people taking back their rightful place as they occupied the strategic places of Jerusalem and dedicated the walls. The atmosphere must have been electric and how the people must have rejoiced.

In chapter 13 it is apparent that Nehemiah returned to the king of Babylon for an undisclosed amount of time. Upon return to Jerusalem he finds that some of Israel’s enemies are residing and thriving within the city once again. He is outraged and leads a purging once again of foreign worship and mixed marriages. He institutes financial support of the temple and demands observance of the Sabbath.

He concludes the chapter and book by asking God to fondly remember him with favor for the work he has done there.

Reflecting over today’s reading this entire account reminds me of an upcoming event where new residents will move in, dedication and reforms will begin to unfold, and great service will be remembered in celebration. A “changing of the guard” of our own Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith headquarters will soon be taking place. Slated for the second week of January 2017, a new CEO, Chief Executive Officer, will begin to learn and assume duties as the leader of our General Conference and Bible College in Atlanta, Georgia. I am diligently praying for Seth Ross as he takes the baton from Dr. Joe Martin to lead our organization. I hope you are too.

The Book of Nehemiah provides a great illustration of how prayer and hard work can accomplish seemingly impossible things when a person determines to trust and obey God. Nehemiah was a man of responsibility, vision, prayer, action, cooperation, and compassion. Thank you, Dr. Joe, for displaying those same qualities over the years. We are excited about the future as Seth Ross, another dedicated leader, takes the reins to rightly divide the Word of Truth and the work of God in our conference. May it be our prayer that just as in Nehemiah’s day, many will hear and answer the call to follow as well. May you remember us all with favor, O God, as we long for your Son’s return and work for Your renown!

Julie Driskill

 

Julie Driskill is an encourager who celebrates the process of Divine pilgrimage wide open.  She’s never met a stranger and her distinguishable laugh is a dead give away in a crowded room.   

Receiving a B.A. in Education from the Clayton State University, Morrow, GA, she jointly attended Atlanta Bible College where she studied and worked for several years.  Julie’s philosophy of life revolves around service.  One of her favorite life quotes is “Service is the rent we pay to be living.  It is the very purpose of life….and not something you do in your spare time.” – Edelman

With the steadfast support of friends and family over the past twenty years she has pursued this goal of service by developing and implementing the work of Higher Ground Camp, an Ohio based 501 (c) (3).    

For the past two years Julie has expanded her duties to collaborate with Family & Youth Initiatives, of New Carlisle, Ohio, as an in-school educator for the Real Life Teen Choices Program. She teaches sexual risk avoidance curriculum to students in grades 6-12 in public and private schools in eight counties. Developing after-school leadership programs and peer to peer mentoring networks for at-risk youth has become her specialty.

 

Maybe I Should Apologize

Nehemiah 8-10

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Saturday, December 10

After the wall was completed the people gathered at the square which was in front of the Water Gate and they had Ezra read the books of the law to them and had them explained to them.  The people were so moved that they bowed down low and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.  Nehemiah and Ezra told the people not to mourn but to keep the day as holy to the LORD, to go and feast and be filled with joy because the LORD is their strength.  They were encouraged to make shelters of branches to help celebrate.  This was the custom that was known as the feast of booths or tabernacles that is celebrated to this day by the Jews.  Ezra read the law daily for the entire celebration lasting 7 days, and then there was a solemn service held on the eighth day.

After the reading of the scriptures something very interesting and dramatic happens.  The Jews separate themselves from any foreign people in their city and they fasted and smeared ashes and dirt upon themselves, wore itchy sackcloth, and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  Then in the hearing of the people the leaders told of the goodness of the LORD to the people throughout generations past.   Telling of all His mighty deeds.  Then the people all sign an agreement to follow the commands as God laid them out in His law, and to live holy and pleasing lives to the LORD from that time onward.  This national repentance and reconciliation was done in order to please the LORD.  Whenever God’s people do what pleases Him, His blessings are soon to follow.

What catches my eye about this is that the people hold a national time of repentance.  Could you imagine what would happen if we tried to do this today?  I’m sure the news stations would be all over it in an instant.  Watch out CNN!  The interviews could be quite interesting , and could lead to some very juicy gossip to be sure.    The point is that people today rarely apologize for anything.  They  find it even more hard to change their ways .  You may have some examples of  people you know who don’t apologize when it would be appropriate to do so.  You might also know people who say they are going to change their ways but find it difficult to set any new pattern in their behavior.  Personally, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a person struggling with addiction say they are going to quit – I would be very rich indeed!  I’m not saying that it is impossible for a person to change but it is in reality quite difficult for people to change their attitudes which are then reflected in their actions.

The Jews had this same difficulty.  They had a national time of repentance and even signed the document but as history unfolds we can see that they were not very good at keeping their promise to God.  It’s important to keep your promises to God.  Repentance is all about changing your ways.  It’s good to apologize to God when appropriate but even better is to change your behavior so that you don’t have to be in the situation where you need to apologize!  God wants us to be sincere in our words and our deeds.  Are there any of your actions that you need to apologize to God for, and change?  What do you think is the first step you can take to help change your ways so that they are pleasing to God?  God’s blessing follows true repentance.  What blessings do you think God might have in store for you when you are in right standing with Him?

-Merry Peterson

No Way! That’s Impossible! 

Nehemiah 5-7

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Friday, December 9

God really knows how to get things done.  As work progressed on the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah was appointed governor over the land of Judah.  He was made aware that many of the Jews were oppressing one another.  There were famine like conditions and many people were being exploited in their plight to supply food to their families by fellow Jews.  This was appalling to Nehemiah and he ordered the people to stop exploiting one another.  He also was very generous in making sure that the workers on the wall were receiving food portions.

Then another encounter with Sanballat and Tobiah comes along.  Sanballat plots to meet with Nehemiah  outside the city so that the work on the wall will be stalled or ceased.  But Nehemiah refuses to leave the city.  Then Sanballat further entices Nehemiah to come and meet with him by telling him that lies are being told about him that people  – especially other rulers will believe and come against Jerusalem.  Nehemiah tells Sanballat that his words are just that – a bunch of lies, no one believes because they are lies, and he refuses to leave work on the city wall.   Then in desperation Sanballat and Tobiah hire a false prophet to entice Nehemiah to come and hide in the temple, but Nehemiah sees through the false prophet and work on the wall continues.

The wall is miraculously completed in 52 days!  News of this spreads to the surrounding nations and they know without a doubt that God helped the Jews to accomplish this task.

Can you imagine how awesome it would be to complete a project that big?  In our day and age it would take much longer than that to build a wall around even one of our smallest cities.  Contractors would be arguing, funding would constantly be an issue – in short we could not do that same task today even with modern technology and machinery.  The reason that Jerusalem’s walls went up so quickly and efficiently is because God was in the work.  He was also in the heart of the worker.  Nehemiah was faced with what seemed like an impossible task, but we know that God loves to help do the impossible.  With God all things are possible.   Are you facing a huge test, or a difficult situation, or a relationship that is troubling you?  Have you given that impossible situation, test, or relationship to God for him to handle?  With God all things are possible.  He always provides the answers to our impossible situations in His timing, and His perfect way.  It may not always be the solution that we are expecting but He is able to make impossible situations possible.  God is still able to work miracles and loves to help his children who put their trust in His ability.   Key Thought:  Give your impossible situations to God and let Him handle them – He loves to do the impossible.

-Merry Peterson

 

Hand Me A Hammer, And Maybe A Sword Too

Nehemiah 1-4

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Thursday, December 8

If you have a toolbox, then Nehemiah is the book you should read.  Nehemiah is the story of Nehemiah who was the cupbearer to King Artexerxes.  He had been wondering how the city of Jerusalem was progressing since the captivity of himself and others.   When he heard that the city wall was in ruins and the gates were burned he was greatly distressed.  He was so distressed, and so favored by King Artaxerxes that Artaxerxes  allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem.  With letters of the King’s blessing with Nehemiah he travels to Jerusalem where he does a midnight tour of the damaged gates and places of the city.  Then in the day he proposes to the people of Jerusalem that they rebuild the city gates and walls.  This suggestion is opposed by two men who prove to be enemies of the work named Sanballat and Tobiah.

Work is begun on the wall and each branch of the Jewish families takes on a portion of the wall to rebuild or gate to be hung.  Some families even take on more parts of the wall or structures to repair and rebuild.  The work is going well and is being blessed by God in that all are working toward a common goal – to rebuild the protective wall around Jerusalem.

Sanballat was extremely displeased with the progress of the city wall and plotted against the people of Jerusalem.  He gathered an army of men to come and attack the people who were restoring the wall but the plot was uncovered and Nehemiah devised a plan of his own.  He stationed families with swords, spears, and bows by the wall so that they would be able to defend the city should they be attacked.  He also had all the workers who were working on the wall carry a spear with them from dawn until dark and set night guards around the city as well.  The enemies were discouraged by Nehemiah’s quick  protective thinking, and work on the wall continued uninterrupted by any enemies.

The people were able to accomplish a lot because they worked together.  Nehemiah comments that the people had a mind to work.  Isn’t it a great feeling when people are working together in harmony?  It makes the work seem easier and makes it go faster.  Even when the people had to hold a spear in their hand and continue working they still kept a common goal and interest in mind – the completion of the wall.  How often do we find ourselves working with a group of people with the same goal.  The people in Nehemiah all came from different family backgrounds and professions yet they were able to collectively focus to work on a huge task.  How important do you think it is to be able to work with others ?  Are you able to work towards a common goal with people who have different backgrounds or ideas of what is best than you do?  God wants us to be able to work together with people who are different than ourselves.  When we work together for God’s purposes in life He is pleased with us and will bless our work, just as he blessed the people of Jerusalem who worked together.  Key Thought :  How can I work with others to accomplish God’s purposes.

-Merry Peterson