A Prideful Warning

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Pride goes before the fall.  It is warning given to us by our elders, many times in our youth when we think we have it all figured out, and is based in one of Solomon’s proverbs (Proverbs 16:18-19).  Just when we think we are on top of the world with our wealth, education, social status, or even our religion, we are undoubtedly a gut-wrenching moment away from being put back in our place.  And unfortunately for us, the bigger the man, the harder the fall.

In Matthew Chapter 3, John the Baptist is sent out to prepare the way for Jesus.  He is the “voice of the one crying in the wilderness”, and man dressed in camel hair (although I don’t think it was cashmere turtlenecks), and a diet based on what he could find around him in nature.  No doubt, this man sent to prepare the way was a bit of a spectacle, but not deliberately. John gathered many followers, baptizing them for the forgiveness of their sins. John was taken aback when he saw who was in the line – Pharisees and Sadducees.   Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were caught up in outward observance of religious law. They might pray in the streets (Matt 6:5), openly announce their giving (Matt 23), ask many religious, pious questions (Act 23), becoming spectacles themselves, yet still they only abided by the laws that conveniently roll off the tongue and fit their interest.  These men were highly regarded for their piety. They were key members of the religious community. Their roots were in the church. Yet, time and time again, John, then, Jesus see these men for who they are: prideful hypocrites.

It is no wonder they come to John to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, something common with Jewish culture even before Christ, because this was an outward observance of faith, and really the one enduring public expression that remains today.  For them, it was another way to add another tassel, place another feather, earn another merit badge to showcase their devotion (to their pride) on their whitewashed tomb (Matt 23:27-28). John calls out this action for what it is and begins to cut these men down to size, pleading with them to work on the inside: true repentance and bearing fruit (Matt 3:8).  Then he warns them that God himself will cut these men down to size if he must, not simply pruning (John 15), but cut at the very root, and throwing their fruitless mess into the fire once and for all (Matt 3:10).

As we are reading today, let this be a warning to us, especially those of us who are “church folk”. We may study the Bible, hold a position of leadership, or make eloquent confessions of faith, but to whose purpose do we do these things?  Are we lining up so we can receive our reward in full today (Matt 6:4)? Earn our badge, sticker, or tassel? I know I constantly battle my pride as I check more boxes of serving God.  As I articulate and expound on deep theological questions, cast judgement in situations of others, or feel like I have shared a great message, I can’t help but think, “Wow. Good thing God has me on His side.” How arrogant. How prideful.  How ashamed am I. The things I share, that I might selfishly revel in, that are so wonderful, so grand, are not my own, but God’s! Doing things “for Him”, like we ever could, does not assure our place in His kingdom (Matt 7:22; Eph 2:9-10). Only repentance and bearing fruit. Everyday we must fight for altruism in our lives, to die daily, to fall a little, and be consumed by God’s kingdom message.  I’d rather be eating locust and wearing camel skin, than have God bring justice to me later – but today, it is a warning – Church, check your pride.

-Aaron Winner
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Lessons from the Wilderness: David

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #3: When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.

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At the heart of our lessons from the Israelites and Elijah is a focus on trust. We need to trust that God knows best for us and will lead us in the right direction as the Israelites learned. And, we need to trust that God will provide and protect us according to his will like Elijah learned. Elijah, in our previous lesson, was not lead into a wilderness season by any failing on his part. Instead, the wilderness for him was because of circumstances outside of his control. By looking to God and remembering those past successes with God, he was able to overcome trying circumstances.

The wilderness story that we will look at today also concerns a man that could remember past successes with God. In his story, he had stood against giants, mad kings, had been through the wilderness once and overcame it. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). We see in the book of 1 Samuel David’s victories. He was blessed by God, and because of this blessing, he was able to overcome his enemies. The book of 2 Samuel then describes what happened to David after he overcame these things and became King of Israel. During the first 10 chapters, David is set on the throne and receives the Davidic covenant, where he is told that Jesus will come from his lineage. If David could have just stayed in these moments where his focus was on God, he would have dwelt securely in the land and set up his children to do the same.

Instead, we see David drifting down a path that led him to devastation in 2 Sam. 11. In this chapter, we see the story where David, without questioning his actions for how they would reflect God, sleeps with Bathsheba and sends her husband to her death. After this, David is told that he would lose the baby Bathsheba just bore and that his house would be destroyed. David’s actions here lead toward the hurt that he faced with his son Absalom in 2 Sam. 14-15. The first sin that we see in these chapter 11, lusting after Bathsheba, began the sin cycle that led David into a wilderness period that was a time of intense pain that David never really got over.

So how did David get to this point? During this time, he had stayed back at his palace idle instead of going with his armies to fight in the wars he wanted them to engage in. At this moment, his desires began to be misaligned from the desires of God. And from here, his actions lead him away from God.

We see some of David’s reactions in 2 Samuel as he mourns his son and repents of his sin. But, at this time, we don’t see his feelings about this time in the wilderness. In Psalm 38, a psalm written by David, we see the danger that comes from drifting too far from God. We see the desperation in David’s voice as he says, “There is no health in my body because of Your indignation; there is no strength in my bones because of my sin. For my sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:3-5). Because of David’s sin, he had to experience terrible pain, a trying wilderness experience. We can look back at the lessons of the Israelites to realize this time in the wilderness was for purification, but still, if David had aligned the desires of his heart with the desires and character of God, he could have saved himself from this pain.

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The wilderness is not always caused by our sin, as we’ve seen. But, at times, it is. And during these times, we can look to David’s example to see how to overcome those moments in the wilderness that were caused by our sin. Psalm 38 is an example of a penitential psalm, that shows both David’s true repentance and his desire for God in his life. Psalm 51 is another example of David writing in repentance. He says, “Be gracious to me God, according to your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot away my rebellion. Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You – You alone – I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence. You are blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:1-4). In this psalm and the other psalms, we see how David takes responsibility for his sin and also recognized what is required from him if he sins. He needs to be purified with a new heart that reflects the desires of God to be placed within him. This is key to accomplishing what David asks God in v. 12: “Restore the Joy of Your salvation to me and give me a willing spirit.” When we are in a wilderness of cause by our sin, we may be tempted to harden our hearts in anger against God. But, that is the path that leads us away from God and further into the wilderness. When we truly repent, we can receive back the true joy that comes from the salvation of God. After we have made it through the wilderness, we can use this time to bring others back to God (v. 13). If you are in this time today, choose the right path and come back to God. It may be painful to soften your heart and feel the weight of your sin, but that we’ll lead you towards the true joy that comes from God.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Lukewarm Caterpillars

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A few weeks ago, we got to experience an up-close view of a bit of a twist on the classic caterpillar to butterfly spiritual analogy. Maybe you’ve heard the classic version in youth group, Bible School, or a devotion book….the idea that we are all new creations if we are Christians. That we start as these creepy, crawly, fuzzy little beings and then as a gift of God, through faith in Christ….voila….we are made completely new into creations of beauty and wonder like a butterfly.

Thanks to our friend, Terri Tschaenn, and her milkweed stash….we have gotten to watch this truly amazing experience of God’s creation several times, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. We’ve gotten to feed those adorably cute little caterpillars as they grow at amazing rates each day. We’ve watched the miraculous chrysalis formation, and we’ve gotten to hold brand new monarch butterflies on our pinky fingers before they fly off. It is amazing. It is beautiful. And, it certainly is representative of the hope of new life and transformation God tells us about in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

But. . .does every caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Hmmm.

Terri told us the unfortunate story of one of her baby caterpillars that accidentally met a predator while she was trying to keep it safe in her school classroom….and….chomp. All gone. No butterfly.  And, recently, we watched our caterpillar which we had been watching grow for several weeks, for some unknown reason, never develop his chrysalis at all. Instead, he slowly wasted away and died. It was rather depressing to watch. He had eaten milkweed like all the rest, had gotten to full size, and had looked “just right” to us from the surface. But, inside….something was wrong. He never experienced the stage of transformation. And, instead of achieving beauty and new life, he died a caterpillar. It is common. It is sad. And, it is also certainly representative of what God tells us about in scripture whether or not it makes for as many Sunday School craft ideas on Pinterest.

The Bible warns us about the Christians who look like Christians, but who haven’t experienced a transformation through repentance and faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. These Christians are lukewarm. Just like the caterpillars who die, they lack something inside. But mind you, these aren’t atheist caterpillars or caterpillars who don’t go to church. These are Christian caterpillars. Ones who look just like us. Ones who go to church with us. Maybe us. They haven’t achieved the transformation of repentance and faith in Christ which leads to obedience. And their demise if they don’t repent? “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16, NASV).

Truth can hurt, but it matters. It matters because God and Jesus love us. And true love includes speaking honestly and intentionally. It also matters because unless we repent, at the judgment day, we do not become “butterflies” to live eternally with God and his son Jesus in the kingdom of God. The alternative to that option is death. Today, we live in a world telling us that almost any belief imaginable is “Christian”, and it can get quite confusing as we seek to be on the narrow road and not in the lukewarm masses. It requires diligent searching of scripture and faithful prayer on our parts. We cannot rely alone on our teachers, our families, our churches, and traditions of men. We must not just believe “in” God and Jesus, but know what they say and apply those words to our lives. So, if we find ourselves lukewarm and amongst lukewarm believers. . .what does Jesus say to us?

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:19-21, NASV).

Let’s seek and pray to be more than lukewarm this week and to be victorious in Christ.

-Jennifer Koryta Hall

 

 

God’s Timing: God’s Patience: God’s Love

2 Peter

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I normally like to focus these devotions on verses we sometimes don’t pay too much attention to. 2 Peter sure has a lot of those verses. But today, I want to focus on a verse we have read a dozen thousand times.
The verse is, of course, 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”
The Lord does not delay His promise. The promise of God is that the Kingdom will be restored to Israel and that sin will be eradicated on the earth. God is not slow in bringing that about. He is not delaying it just because he is putting it off. He is not waiting till the last minute by divine fiat alone. Instead, God is patient with US. With each and everyone one of us. He is waiting for us to come to him. He is waiting for us to repent, but he is also waiting for those who are far off. He is waiting for repentance to be found the world over. Why is he so patient, even now, 2000 years after Jesus walked the earth, 2000 years of church history and many hundreds of years of corruption and war and poverty and hate and greed and problems and sin even after the death of Jesus on a cross?
Because God doesn’t want any to perish. He does not want a single person to miss out on the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom, the gift given through Jesus. He doesn’t want any to perish, but he wants them all to come to repentance. Will they? No, this verse doesn’t say all will come to God. He does say that any who come to repentance, any who turn from the ways of sin to do righteousness, will not perish, but will experience true life.
I don’t have much more to add to that. If we remember this verse, lock it away, hide it in our hearts, it reminds us that God is love. That God cares about every person. That every person is a step away from salvation. That the time we have waited for Jesus is the patience of God made evident to a waiting world.
May we remember this verse and come to repentance to have life.
-Jake Ballard

Resurrection and Loyalty

 

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In today’s section we’ll look at verses 20-28 of I Corinthians 15. Did you know that you’re a king or a queen? So many blessings and riches are made available to us “in Christ” and in today’s section Paul speaks of another gift that comes with being “in Christ” – resurrection.

Paul begins by affirming that Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead, given the sad reality of if he hadn’t (v. 12-19). He then proceeds in verses 21-22 to compare Adam to Christ. Just as by a man came death, so to by a man came the resurrection of the dead. Paul clarifies this saying in the next verse by identifying the two men. In Adam all die but in Christ all live. This is a critical teaching of Paul about the dichotomy between Adam and Christ. By default all of us are in Adam, that is, we are identified and participate in the sphere of Adam which is rebellious and God hating. This inevitably results in death. But you and I can go from being “in Adam” to “in Christ”. When we are found “in Christ” that is our new identity (II Cor. 5.17) and this inevitably leads to life, specifically, resurrection and immortality (II Tim. 1.10). The way we can go from being “in Adam” to “in Christ” is by repentance, acceptance of the gospel, and obedience to Jesus as Lord. For more on the Adam-Christ teaching read Romans 5.12-21 and all of Romans 6 for what it means to be “in Christ” (“in Christ” is a technical term found often through Paul’s epistles that is rooted in his understanding of Adam and Christ). But Paul specifies that there is an order to the resurrection: Jesus first then those who are his at his coming.

Then Paul says literally “then the end”, when Jesus hands over the kingdom to his God and Father when he has abolished all rule and authority. In other words, when Jesus comes back he will dismantle and overthrow every human authority and government and establish his Father’s rule and reign with him as king. Then concluding, Paul says after this happens Jesus will hand over the newly established rule to his God and father, being subjected to him, so that God may be all in all forever and ever.

To be “in Christ” means so much more than just ‘I’m saved’ it’s larger meaning is that we get to participate in the sufferings and victories of Jesus. Specifically, because Jesus was raised from dead, we will be raised from the dead (I Cor. 15.20,23). Because Jesus ascended to God’s right hand and has been given all rule and authority, we too are seated with Christ and share in Jesus’ power and authority (Eph. 1.20-21, 2.4-7). You are a king and queen in the making whom God is making ready to rule and reign through our Lord Jesus Christ by means of the resurrection!

-Jacob Rohrer

Warning: Lethal Wound

Psalm 38

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I am afraid we have an ugly topic to talk about today.  It’s no fun, but it has to be done.  It is more fun to talk about sunshine, knitting and fruit salad (see the last two days’ posts).  But when we don’t talk about this topic and acknowledge it and be on the defensive against it, it has a way of festering, oozing out of control and taking over by force – consuming ourself and others in its path of destruction.

I am talking about sin.  One verse toward the end of yesterday’s psalm about trials points to the seriousness of sin: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18) .  Ouch.  The All-Powerful God who loves and cares for me will not hear my prayers, my petitions, or even my praise if my sin is creating a sound-proof barrier between me and Him.  His holiness will not allow it.  Sin is serious and must be dealt with in order for me to be heard by God.

King David was a man who knew a thing or two about the devastating effects of sin.  In Psalm 38 he describes many consequences of sin: God’s anger and discipline, ill health, overwhelming guilt, searing pain, severe depression, social isolation, increased enemies, and confusion.  What other consequences can you find in this psalm?  He states, “My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly.” (Psalm 38:5).

The thing is…”sinful folly” sounds just a wee bit fun, doesn’t it??  Maybe it’s a glance at pornography, experimenting with friends doing drugs or alcohol, speeding recklessly down the interstate with some great tunes cranking out, making out with your significant other, or getting a good laugh out of the lunch crew when you share a great put-down.  It’s a little exhilarating – for a time.  And that’s the trouble with sin.  It can start by seeming like no big deal.  I highly doubt that King David woke up one morning and said, “This is the day.  I am going to go watch a woman bathe, and then commit adultery and that will lead to deception, murder, the death of my child, a plaque of violence on my family, and ….   No one plans to be sucked into a downward spiral of sin, deceit and pain.  Rather, it begins with small acts of selfishness – thinking of my own pleasure over and above what is right, pleasing to God and helpful to others.  And then the demon of pride enters and says we can handle this burning coal and we won’t get burned.  So, we say yes to that little urge of ‘sinful folly’.

Before we know it, we are facing festering wounds and a forest fire.  And the good-feeling exhilaration is long gone.  In it’s place is only pain, isolation, depression, guilt and confusion.

Sadly, this is not true for only adulterous murderers.  It is the same for me.  It is the same for you.  It is the same for the most saintly person you know.  In the New Testament James gives the same warning David does: “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15).  Sin is a big deal, and not just for the sinner, but for so many others who will be affected.

I was looking for a great picture of gangrene to open this devotion.  They were much worse than I had anticipated (as is the case with sin) so I will not include an actual visual.  But, imagine, blackened decaying flesh surrounded by raw, oozing, pain.  Death has set in – even while the rest of the body lives.  Sin, left unchecked and allowed to grow, is like this extreme infection.  It leads to death most certainly – if not treated.  Sin, too, must be treated, and the earlier the better.  Psalm 38:18 shares the first important step to restoration: “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.”  Tear down the sound-proof barrier your sins have built up between you and God.  Cry out to him in confession.  Thank God for the gift of His Son Jesus Christ who died so we might be forgiven when we come to the Father with a repentant heart, ready to be obedient in turning from our sins and seeking to live a holy life.

Even gangrene can be healed.  It requires hard dirty work (sometimes even using amputation or maggots) – a process of cutting out and destroying the old which causes death.  Maybe a friend who is a bad influence needs to be cut out, or maybe it’s a TV channel or social media.  And, then a lot of antibiotics and sometimes lifestyle changes are needed to return to health. God’s Word, prayer, a church body and healthy habits are great antibiotics for a repentant sinner.

Remember our memory verse for this week from Psalm 139:24 – “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Sin is serious – even when it starts small.  Don’t let sins fester.  Pray for conviction where conviction is due, and healing and restoration where that is needed.  And seek out the everlasting way.

-Marcia Railton

 

 

 

 

 

Because our God is a God of Second Chances

Luke 3

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“Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!” Luke 3:7-9

 

Luke chapter 3 advances us forward to the ministry of John as well as the baptism of Jesus Christ and brings to light many important topics including baptism in water and repentance.

 

Starting in Luke 3:7, John speaks to the crowds telling them of the importance of repentance and to “produce good fruit”. This speaks wonders to the crowds who begin to ask, “What should we do?”

 

Stop and think of all of all the times you have failed. We’ve all been there. We are who we are. What is so amazing is that we serve a God who allows us to ask him how we can redeem ourselves. Simply put, our God believes wholeheartedly in second chances.

 

So, as you read today, be encouraged. Keep your head up. We serve a God who never lets us down. And, we serve a God who meets us where we are. He is strong in our weakness. So never give up, keep running. And if you get lost… breathe, seek, and ask, “Father, what should I do?”

-Leslie Jones