Plans

FREE THEME WEEK

Jer 29 11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I find that this verse above is often misinterpreted in a way that says that every step that we take has been planned out by God, but this interpretation does not recognize the free will that God has gifted us.

 

God has this beautiful plan for our lives.  He wants to see us succeed and no harm to come upon us and He wants to give us hope and a future.  Part of that future and the hope that we can cling to is entering His perfect Kingdom and living with Him forever.  However, God gives us the free will to choose how we are going to live our lives.

 

I think sometimes we can get so caught up in what exactly God wants for us to do with our lives, but ultimately He wants to see us making wise choices towards His coming Kingdom.  Outside of accepting Christ, there is no one right path for your life. We all need to be living our lives for Him and making those choices that are going to help us grow closer to Him.

 

Within our everyday lives between school, our families, and our jobs that we are not taking the time that we need to search for God’s wisdom to make our decisions so that we can prosper the way that he wants us to prosper.  We can become so focused on our fears, anxieties, and stress that we are not giving God the time or energy that he deserves. Instead we are putting it into these things that we should not be wasting our energy on. When you really let go and let God lead your life there is so much comfort and peace that can be felt.

Katie-Beth Fletcher

(This week we have a free theme week and we look forward to hearing from various writers during the week.  If you would like to write for one day we still happen to have some days available, please contact the editors at Grow16BR@gmail.com for more information.)

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Not Worthy of Them

Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11 1

There is that word again.  I liked it before but not so much now.  The word is “confidence”.  We read it before in Hebrews 10:22 where we discovered that we could confidently enter into the very presence of God because of Jesus, where we could get close to God and be His child.  I like the idea of being a child, having child-like faith.  That sounds safe and secure.  That feels comfortable and peaceful.  But now Paul is using that word “confidence” again, but this time it does not sound at all safe or smart.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11: 1

Faith is confidence in what we hope will happen, and assurance about what we can’t even see?  Hoping something will happen and believing it will happen even if we can’t see anything? Really??  Quite frankly, this sounds a little crazy and unnerving.  It sounds a lot like stumbling around in the dark, not seeing where we are going, not knowing where the light switch is, not knowing when the big, bad boogie man is going to jump out at us.

  “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” Hebrews 11:3

As I keep reading this chapter, things seem to get worse. We are told that the whole universe which we can see with our eyes, was not made out of stuff that we can see.  Quite frankly, that does not make any sense.  How can you make something out of nothing? Who would believe such a thing?

The answer to my question is that Abel did.  Enoch did.  Noah did.  Abraham and Sara did.  Isaac did.  Jacob did.  Joseph did.  Moses did.  The walls of Jericho did.  Rahab did.  Women did, and a whole lot of other people did.

None of these people saw the end result of their faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises…” Hebrews 11:13. They simply lived their faith.  They were confident that if they lived their faith, that God would be faithful. “and were persuaded of them (the promises) and embraced them” Hebrews. 11:13. They believed that they were making something out of something even though they could not see it.

This chapter of Hebrews is full of action words.  Abel offered, Enoch pleased, Noah moved, Abraham obeyed, Sara received strength, Jacob worshipped, Joseph gave instructions about his bones, Moses endured, the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab perished not, women received their dead back to life, and others were tortured. They were all confident that they were making something out of something that the world thought was nothing.  That something that the world thought was nothing was God’s promises.

All these people mentioned were giants in the faith.  They all judged God faithful simply because He promised. They endured hardships, were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, tormented, afflicted, and wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  The world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:37-38).

Now that I have read to the end of this chapter, all of this still does not make any sense to me, but for a different reason.  Even though you and I will probably not experience the hardships that these giants endured, yet we will be right there with them when God fulfills His promise of the Kingdom. That does not make sense.   We are so not worthy of them.

“God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Hebrews 11:40

 

-Luke Elwell

A Mountain of Confusion

Mark 9

Mark 9 7

When I realized later that I had volunteered to write a blog over this chapter I winced. Oh, dear. There is so much confusion out there about the transfiguration. Some say it confirms the “deity” of Christ. Some say it confirms that there is no “soul sleeping” because if there were, then Elijah and Moses could not have been there. I don’t have all of the answers, of course, but I would have a couple rebuttals to each of these assertions.

I don’t see the “deity” of Christ at all for two major reasons. It’s true that Jesus is transfigured and is shown in a new and powerful way on that mountain. He is glorified, radiant and shining, and wearing shockingly white clothing all of the sudden.  However,

  1. Peter had just previously acknowledged who Jesus was. In Mark 8:29 Peter says, “You are the Christ.” The Matthew account of this has Peter saying more, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) It seems very unlikely that Peter, James, and John thought Jesus was God.
  2. Then there is the cloud and the voice out of the cloud saying, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7) They didn’t think Jesus was in the cloud. And the voice in the cloud did not say, “This Jesus is also your Father in heaven.”

I still don’t have a problem believing in “soul sleep” either. I believe Elijah and Moses were resting in peace (RIP) and were awakened for this transfiguration.

  1. We are told in Deuteronomy 34 that Moses died and was buried. And we see at the end of Hebrews 11 that Moses, and many others including Elijah, have not received what was promised yet “so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”
  2. In 1 Samuel 28 we see that Samuel was “disturbed” after dying and being buried because Saul wanted to chat with him. In that chapter we see that he came “up out of the earth.” There is no mention of his soul floating down from heaven to meet his body coming out of the earth. And he would need his soul to have a conversation with Samuel. Just as Elijah and Moses appeared with bodies and souls.

What I would like to know is what Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus about! And another thing that I find interesting is that Peter, James, and John seemed to recognize Elijah and Moses right away. It doesn’t look like Jesus introduced them. I suppose this is how it will be in the kingdom. 🙂

Melissa New

 

1 Timothy 4

Thurs Devo

“But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” ~ 1 Timothy 4:7-8

I’ve always had the dream of running a marathon. It’s something that I put on my bucket list in high school. At times, I’ve gotten closer to this dream by keeping up with a running plan and completing 5Ks and 10Ks. Other times, like now, that dream is definitely in the distant future as my running shoes collect dust in the back of my closet. 

As Christians, we have a dream as well. Our dream, or our goal, is to live in the Kingdom of God. This hope should give us the strength to aspire to live righteously. We should be pursuing godliness with our lives with the same passion that an athlete would pursue their sport. However, my pursuit of Kingdom-living can sometimes be like my goal of running a marathon. Instead of inspiring me or causing me to take actions towards that goal, I just add it to the list of things that I might do in the future. This goal doesn’t push me to live in a godly way. It becomes a dream that never affects my reality.

Though running and other sports can have positive benefits, we should be actively training ourselves in godliness. Like Paul says, “Godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (v. 8). Like running can help me to feel better in my daily life as well as help me to finish a future race, godliness helps us to live abundantly now and in the Kingdom. Importantly though, as Paul describes it in this chapter, godliness isn’t a switch that you can flip on and off. After baptism, you don’t just emerge out of the water a new person who will always make good, godly decisions. Godliness is something that requires training. How do we train in godliness? We follow the example and teachings of Jesus who reveals godliness to us (1 Tim. 3:16, 4:6). So let’s put on our training shoes and get to work! 

~ Cayce Fletcher

***If you would like to read some more about how to train yourself in godliness, check out this article about the topic: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2018/02/11/train-sport-godliness/ 

 

Paul Exercised His Privilege And So Can You

image (2)

Acts 25

In chapter 16, we found out that Paul was a Roman citizen. Being a citizen of this vast empire was a great privilege. There were only two ways to gain Roman citizenship; you could either purchase it (something only the rich could afford to do), or be lucky enough to inherit it from your parents when you were born. Paul was born a Roman citizen.
The reason why you would want to be a Roman citizen in the first century is that they were given rights others were not guaranteed. The rights to marry another Roman citizen, to sue and to be sued, to have a legal trial, and to not be crucified were just some of the benefits offered to those privileged enough be Roman citizens.
As we saw in chapter 21, Paul had already used his citizenship to get out of being flogged (Romans, legally, could not be tortured or whipped). In chapter 25 Paul exercised another of his rights–the right to appeal to Caesar. Paul knew that if he was brought back to Jerusalem, the men that had pledged to kill him would probably succeed. He also knew that he had to get to Rome to testify there. Thus Paul used his privilege to get to where he needed to go, so he could do what he was required to do (though, as we shall see in the coming chapters, this journey would not be an easy one).
If you were born in the West (especially the United States), you, like Paul, are privileged. You have rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. But there are many parts of the world today where these rights that are taken for granted are only the ideals of dreamers. There are Christians throughout the world who have to look over their shoulder as they travel to church (if a public place of worship is even allowed) and others who are worshiping with the knowledge that every gathering may easily be their last.
There is another privilege you share with Paul: you are a citizen of Heaven. This citizenship cannot be purchased or inherited. It is not exclusive. The Kingdom of Heaven (or, Kingdom of God) is open to anyone. The poor and the rich, the weak and the strong, the lost and the found are all welcome. The cost of this privilege was paid for by God with the blood of His Son. It is offered to any who will receive it.
Paul was first and foremost a citizen of Heaven. He lived his life devoted to advancing the Kingdom and the One who will establish it in its fullness. The rights his Roman citizenship granted him were nothing compared to those his Lord did. That being said, Paul exercised his privilege as a Roman in order to promote God’s Kingdom as a Christian. He wanted to make sure as many people as possible would become citizens of the Kingdom. You also can use your rights as a citizen of your country to further the cause of the Kingdom. Exercise your earthly privileges in a way that leads others to receive heavenly ones.
-Joel Fletcher

God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

Don’t Give Up on Them

Matthew 20

for the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus gives a very interesting parable about a landowner who hired some people to work on his land. He hired one man early in the morning, one at 9:00 am, one at 12:00 pm, one at 3:00 pm, and another at 5:00 pm. At the end of the day, all of them received a day’s wage, which they had all agreed to. Understandably, the one who was hired first was upset that he received the same pay as the person who started at 5:00 pm. The landowner simply told him that he agreed to work for that day’s wage and wasn’t being unfair.

 

This parable is talking about people’s salvation. There are some people who have been saved for many, many years; they have dedicated their life to Jesus, served in the Church for years, and made many disciples through their lifetime. Then there are people who come to faith at the very end of their lives, sometimes repenting on their deathbeds. However, in the eyes of God, both those people have the same reward waiting for them: life in the Kingdom of God.

 

There are at least two things we should learn from this parable. The first is that it does not matter when someone comes to salvation; we should rejoice that they came to faith at all! We shouldn’t view them differently than we view someone who has served for years in the church. Everyone who accepts Jesus has received the same salvation, according to Romans 10:9-10. We need to be happy for that individual, not jealous or bitter towards them.

 

The second lesson we learn here is that we should never give up on people. As long as there is still breath in their lungs, we have a shot at blessing them with the gospel. Just because a friend or family member that you know has rejected the gospel right now, doesn’t mean that they will never accept it. There is always an opportunity for their salvation in God’s eyes. Our job is simply to try and plant a seed in their life, and allow God to cause the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). So do not give up on that person you have been working with, no matter how hopeless the situation may seem; you do not know what God could be doing in their hearts.

 

-Talon Paul