Today’s reading is Hebrews 11.

Growing up, I always considered my father a true hero, and still do. As a member of the Illinois National Guard, I watched him live selflessly and sacrificially for the sake of his country and fellow Americans, and always admired the pride with which he served. However, living the life of a soldier left its mark on our whole family as well: we often went weekends, weeks, or on longer deployments, entire years with the man of the household away. Many important events and times together may have been missed, but the honor and rewards of his service were worth all the sacrifices we made.

One of the powerful tenets by which we express our beliefs as Christians is faith: the trust we have that in our sovereign God and His promise, sealed through the blood of His son Jesus Christ, that we will be greatly rewarded in Heaven for the lives we lead for Him here on Earth. Faith is something we exercise in our lives as Christians. As Paul aptly put in Galatians 2, “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” But in applying this faith to our daily lives, we can sometimes use guidance. Even the Jewish Christian to whom this book of the Bible was originally written needed encouragement and help in doing so. Mocked and persecuted by the Roman ruling armies, they often found their faith leading to difficult lives, something that has not changed these days either.

Like me with my father, there is a certain gift in having heroes to follow the good examples and actions of. In Romans 11, the author understands this value well. And like many of us, they point to many figures across the Old Testament as exemplary heroes who acted bravely and virtuously, all thanks to one common trait: their faith in God. Many familiar tales are recounted: Noah’s faith led him from the world gone astray and towards salvation. Abraham was led to new lands, fathered children when he never should have been able to, and trusted God even up to obeying commands to sacrifice his son. Moses endured the difficulties of his fellow Israelites and led them to freedom and glory. The walls of Jericho crumbled before those who believed! In the same way we look to these believers as examples of living faith, the early Christians here did as well. And as their faith is bolstered in reminders of the benefits of faith, we too are strengthened by the lessons we see here as to what true faith is.

First off, what true faith is not. It is not easily quantified, as we see in verse 1; faith is trusting in the unseen, what can not be measured or understood. Often we see that God is beyond understanding, not that we should not try to explain Him through reason, but that He is bigger and more profound than our feeble reasoning can grasp. We can never see or understand or reason with what will come to be, but through faith and trust in the Lord we know we will be rewarded for the trials and tests that come our way.

True faith is also not about immediate results, not trusting in a quick reward. We see that the trials these Old Testament figures were not short ones, but often lifelong battles and tests of endurance. As verse 13 says, “all these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” Although when we follow God we may not be immediately rewarded, we have heard many great promises from Him. We know living our lives in service to Him stores up unfathomable treasures in Heaven and glorifies Him above all else. Our faith lets us see that even we do not yet see the benefits of our actions, or often face adversity from the world because of them, God is pleased with us and is preparing great rewards for our faith beyond this life.

Of course, faith is also not easy. While the miracles faith has performed are listed in verse 32, the pains and heartaches inflicted upon believers are told as well. Living our faith may mean clashing directly with the ways of a broken world. We may see this most often as being teased, jeered, or called a number of despicable things for our belief, but many may experience exile, torture, and murder for being faithful. Despite the world’s crushing opposition, we know our God is unbreakable by any such trifle. Even when met with such trouble, these Old Testament figures live bravely and refuse to back down thanks to their faith. With trust in God, we can face these extremes as well knowing we too will be rewarded.

Now, these heroic tales also cast many uplifting reminders of what faith can do, which frankly is a much longer list than what can’t be done. We see here that faith is certain, as verse 1 says: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Even though what we believe in can not be seen or measured conventionally, our faith in the Bible as God’s word for us provides all reason one could ever need. We know through our faith that the examples we see in this passage are factual, actual depictions of God’s tangible work in our world. Our faith tells us we can be certain our God can accomplish all this and infinitely more.

Faith is clearly a testament of glory as well. In living out our faith, we act as living signs, pointing others towards the glorious God we serve. The God we know, as we are reminded here, is more powerful and radiant than comprehensible. The mighty acts we see here are all gifts from Him, as are the gifts of our own. Sure, in our daily lives we may not endure flaming furnaces and escape the mouths of lions as these Old Testament heroes, but in the small trials and tough choices we face, we act as living testaments to a living God when we abide in Him. In faithfully following Him in times that matter, we fully display His wisdom and glory for all to see.

Of course, above all else we hold dear, faith is worthwhile. When we keep our steady faith in the Lord our God, we can endure anything. As the end of this passage tells us, “God had planned something better for us.” All trials and temptations we may face, be it torture, or imprisonment, or death, could not compare to the eternal future God has planned for us after this life. In our faith, we know that this is true: that eternally dwelling with Him is worth any sacrifice. I pray that you may think about what problems you may face today, and think about how the Lord will be there to help you through. Through your faith, may you know that the Lord has promised you a bright and shining future with Him despite what may come. One day, we too can join these Old Testament heroes in God’s presence, and share the same gifts they have received beyond this life. So in times of need, run to Him for guidance, and in times of praise, thank Him for a promise you can faithfully abide in.

All Together Now

Today’s reading is Romans 12.

Something I’ve noticed hearing people say more often (or at least as far as I’ve noticed) is that they feel like they “aren’t where they should be in life.” In most contexts, this pertains to people comparing their own abilities and accomplishments to those of others who have achieved great things.

A few examples: my wife begin pursuing a Master’s degree, but decided for many reasons that she was called to a different path. Now, nearly three years later, she still wonders how much money or esteem she’d be gathering in her original field.

A friend of mine works in real estate acquisition for a large company in a fairly big city. They’re very smart, hardworking, and charismatic, but a classmate of theirs recently got accepted to a senior position similar to their own in Chicago, and now expresses how dissatisfied and far behind their potential they feel they are.

Another friend with a degree in sound mastering is an incredible musician who helps work the soundboard at their church. But they recently caught up with an old classmate who worked on a team of professionals who won a Grammy for their soundtrack work, and afterwards struggled for a long time with feeling inadequate in their craft.

This feeling of not being as well-off and fulfilled is not limited to my own circle of young professional friends and family. People of all walks of life can relate to these feelings of inadequacy or misplacement, wondering where their own special talents and recognition lies. But as Christians, we know our standards are not tied to our earthly status or what position we hold among men, but our value lies in our Lord and in our identity in Him. As Paul says in Romans 12, “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Even good Christians in Rome almost two millennium ago struggled with their worldly value and how they stacked up against mortal standards. But rather than pursuing value through the corruption and debasement of this life, Paul sees and celebrates the value instead in our position in the body of Christ: eternal and holy.

Further, he explains how “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body.” God designs and handcrafts a special position and role for each of us, as each part of our body functions as it’s own to benefit the whole. Every body part, no matter how small compared to the bigger organs, is vital in keeping our bodies running the way they do. Likewise, as a body of believers, each act of work and service displays the glory of God in an amazing way when done generously and cheerfully. Every act of service done this way is equally important and beautiful in God’s eyes, and it brings Him great joy to see us use his gifts so lovingly.

When your lot in life seems lesser than what you’d hope for, just remember that no matter your position here on Earth, your role adds a valid and important part to the body of believers who serve our Lord God. Every single person’s gift’s and talents, no matter what they are, are pleasing and good to the Lord. He lovingly designed a spot for you in His kingdom for you to fulfill, no matter where that may be. So in all you do, do so remembering that the generosity and kindness you display build up the kingdom of Heaven for all. In all you do, do it for the Lord, and you will be rewarded eternally with Him and in Him.

  • Ross B.

Unshaken Faith

Today’s reading is Acts 16.

Back in the winter of 2013, a friend and I took a ski trip to Hidden Valley, a small ski hill shortly outside of St. Louis. The entire evening experienced heavy snowfall, which led to fantastic ski conditions. Unfortunately, this led to unsafe driving conditions as well, coating the hilly exit roads with thick black ice. Long story short, after finding our way from the bottom of a large ditch to a police car full of blankets followed by a long tow truck ride, we ended up stranded at a Steak n Shake at 3 a.m., waiting for a ride home.

The one waitress working that evening noticed us visibly shaken and freezing cold, and decided to strike up a conversation (seeing as we were obviously the only patrons there at that hour). We spent the next hour and a half retelling the evening’s events, being offered a welcome comforting conversation, and milkshakes to boot! As we were preparing to leave, she informed us she covered our tab herself, and was glad she could help us out in a stressful time. We left a sizable tip as well as a quick note, in which I said she must have been our guardian angel, plus a simple “God bless you.”

Sometimes we find ourselves in strange, uncomfortable, troubling detours. But it’s never without purpose that God throws curveball moments into our lives, and hopefully we can share the love of God in small ways in those times, even if it’s planting a small seed of God’s blessing in someone’s heart. At this point in Paul’s travels in Acts, he is no stranger to troubling detours, ending up in this chapter in prison for the third time so far this book: this time, for exorcising the demons in a slave girl, interfering with some local businessmen’s income stream as a result (putting a quick buck over what is right towards God – too big a topic to talk about today).

Even then after being publicly beaten without a fair trial and tossed into prison, Paul sees the opportunity presented by God to preach to an unlikely listener. Deep in the night, when God uses an earthquake to open a path for escape, the guard for the cell has a panic moment. He sees the cell has been opened and figures the prisoners have escaped. With his head on the figurative chopping block, this guard sees no hope but immediate suicide. In this moment, Paul could let this guard die and guarantee an easy and quick escape from prison yet again. But instead, Paul sees this as God’s call to discipleship in action. In a moment of realization, humbled by the power of the Lord, the guard seeks advice, and Paul’s advice in this moment, in verse 31, is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”

It’s a simple answer, but eternally true and important to be reminded of – faith in Jesus, and Jesus alone, can offer salvation. In Romans 10, Paul says “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Having faith in the Lord in our hearts comes naturally, but what Paul displays here is how we can effectively share that faith in times of trouble. Here, and every time he finds himself in prison for spreading the word of the Lord, Paul looks to Him for strength, praying and praising Him, and is comforted and granted strength every time. In times of difficulty, God sees our faith and rewards our belief. And in those difficult times that the power of God is displayed, like how Paul can share salvation with the troubled guard, we can share the refuge found in the Lord’s presence with others. Every tough moment, no matter how big or small, is a gift from God – and in some way, we can find ways to exercise our faith in those moments. In doing so, we can demonstrate to the world around us how the Lord provides joy those who believe under any circumstance. Like so many of life’s greatest moments, our worst ones can also be used to fully display the glory of the Lord when we perceive our struggles as opportunity instead of burden. So let’s pray today for God to grant us wisdom and courage in those moments to demonstrate the unshakeable foundations of our faith. And, as always, that these moments would point to God and give Him the glory.

Ross B.

A Prayer for the Future

Today’s reading is John 17.

For how often we as Christians are instructed to display peace and trust in God’s future for us, it can be so easy to worry about the future. We’re told of the Lord in Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Again in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” the Lord says “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  In the Psalms, in Psalms 94:18, the author tells us “When I said ‘my foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” These are only a few examples of many, but we hear time and time again to take our worries to Scripture. Turning to the Lord in prayer and surrender is exactly what Jesus demonstrates in John 17.

On the evening before his execution, after spending the evening in fellowship with his disciples and teaching them, he knows that the time of his death is quickly approaching. In his final moments as a free man, rather than worry or be afraid or experience the other host of human emotions we’d feel knowing our death is close, he turns to God in prayer. And with this important and conclusive prayer, Jesus provides a timeline of his experience with the Lord, summarizing His past works, reflecting on the future, and sharing His hope for the future.

First, Jesus reflects on how His past experiences  have shown the glory of God. He recounts with thanks for the opportunities He has had to reveal God’s nature to the world, and tells fondly of how the world has come to  know God more through His teaching. He prays for all those He has encountered, that they belong to God, and that they would be protected. He says in verse 10, “glory has come to me through them-“ noting that through their learning, reverence, and celebration of who God is, they have glorified the Lord and shown that He is good and faithful. He concludes the reflective portion of this prayer by praying that as He kept his disciples and all believers safe from evil in His time on earth, that God might continue to protect His believers for all time to come.

Jesus proceeds to recognize the task at hand presently now – namely, His approaching death. He says in verse 13, “I am coming to you now,” fully admitting as He has many times before that the hour of His death is present. He compares His own detachment to this world to ourselves – “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” Just as the ways of the world went vindictively against what Jesus taught, the world around us may scoff at us for putting our faith in the eternal Lord. But Jesus, knowing this, prays not that we may avoid hardship in this world, but for strength despite the hardships we will face. In verse 15, He prays “not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.” Jesus prays that as we are sent out to the world to spread the word of God that He has shared, God would provide refuge from Satan’s counter-attacks against us.

As Jesus’s prayer continues, He next prays for those who will believe in Him – those in the future, who either have not yet turned to Christ or those not yet born. His prayer for the future emphasizes “that all of them may be one… just as you are in me and I am in you.” Just as Jesus and God are together, He prays for the unity and togetherness of all us and all to come, for togetherness and community in not only our spiritual lives, but all aspects. And Jesus prays that this unity that we share would point the world to the unifying and all-encompassing love the God shows for us.

In what must be a difficult time for Jesus in His human state, He instead takes this last opportunity to turn to God in prayer, praying specifically for us. Being at peace knowing that His work is complete and the world’s salvation is coming soon by His death, Jesus sets us a wonderful example to come to God when worries grow. His blessings continue as His prayers bless us with protection from evil, perseverance against the corrupt ways of the world, and strength in unity with our other believers. In Jesus’s example, we are reminded that when we are worried about the future and what troubles it will bring, God is ready to ease our hearts when we turn to Him in prayer, just as Jesus prayed we could do. Let’s give thanks today for the incredible God watching over us and providing salvation from the clutches of death. Let’s give thanks today for the God who saves and gives eternal life!

  • Ross B.

Jesus the Shepherd

Today’s reading is John 10.

In this passage, the Parable of the Good Shepherd, John’s interpretation of Jesus’s preaching in Jerusalem powerfully points straight towards a simple truth, one that echoes the base of our Christian beliefs. This parable is not the first time in the Bible Jesus spoke about us as lost sheep – like the Lost Sheep parable in Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7. But where Jesus speaks there about the joy in reaching new believers, he speaks towards all believers and his role in protecting them all.

Jesus describes how the shepherd looks after this sheep: tending the gate and leading them to and from the gate, The sheep in turn recognize only the sound of their shepherd’s voice and follow him out. He also describes the other people who may try to lead the sheep astray: the thief and the robber who climb in at night, the hired helper who runs away and abandons the flock at the first sign of trouble, and the wolf who attacks the flock and scatters it. In contrast, Jesus says that He is the good shepherd, who “lays down his life for the sheep.”

In verses 14 & 15, Jesus says this: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– just as the Father knows me and I know the Father– and I lay down my life for the sheep.” In saying this, Jesus summarizes the role He knows He will resolve for us and those after us for the rest of this world’s time: shepherd, protector, sacrifice. It’s an unfortunate truth that the world is full of those who would do harm: those who come in and destroy for the sake of ruination, those who come in and take away for their own gain, and of course Satan and his servants, who come to devour us and scatter us apart and drive us away from each other and from God. Even those who guard us with the best intentions and good in their heart, like the hired helper, ultimately reach a point where the burden of guiding others towards God and protecting is impossible or too dangerous to bear, and fail in that regards.

But only God’s appointed Son, who himself recognizes and preaches joyfully about his duty as protector of God’s flock, will never abandon us. He tells us how He alone is the shepherd who opens the gate and cares for us; that only He can open the door to eternal salvation and happiness, and that we can trust Him and run to Him always as He leads us. As the sound of those who would do us harm and drive us apart towards death surrounds and overwhelms, He will always call out and protect us, going so far as to lay down His own life to sacrificially ensure our everlasting safety. He demonstrates here, as He has already and will continue to do so, His understanding of His fate: to lay down His life in as a sacrifice for His flock. But the love and devotion with which He describes a shepherd feels towards their flock shows how He knows us and loves us, as He knows the Father and the Father knows Him. Only such a perfect and selfless shepherd as Christ Jesus could lay down His life in this way.

Let us give thanks today that the Lord our God would provide such a wonderful shepherd to provide safety for his flock, that Jesus will never abandon us when pain and death rears itself. Let us always run towards His voice and yearn to know Him more in the same way He knows us.

  • Ross B.

Jesus the Healer

Today’s reading is Mark 5.

My wife Paige was not feeling well this last weekend, so as one usually does when one feels sick, we went to the doctor. She was promptly diagnosed with strep throat, we were given a prescription for antibiotics, we picked them up, and went on our way. After a day of rest and medicine, voila – she felt healthy and well again. Not once did we stop along the way and say anything like “hey, I don’t know if this doctor fella really knows what’s up. It might not be worth checking with him, but why not?” Sure, there’s a lot of trust to place on our medical professionals, but when comparing their expertise against the possible consequences of not going to the doctor, putting trust in our doctors is easy to do.

We see Jesus in this chapter healing three people from a range of afflictions. One man is driven mad by a multitude of demons, A woman has uncontrollable bleeding, and a young girl sits on her deathbed of an undisclosed illness. The way Jesus handles these three different situations and brings healing contains some wonderful truths we see in our own lives. All three stories are equally important and worth your time, and we see Jesus wield supreme authority over all things – even beginning to prove to God’s people how death itself can not stand against Him. But for brevity’s sake – it would be way too easy to write for days about this whole passage – I want to specifically focus on a single moment of this scripture that stood out & moved me: when the sick woman approaches Jesus.

In Mark 5:25-28, as Jesus travels towards Capernaum after crossing the Sea of Galilee, a large crowd congregates around him of people excited to see the Jesus they’ve heard so much about. Among the masses is a meek woman, suffering from some medical issue that had caused her to discharge blood for twelve years. The terror and agony this woman’s affliction has wrought her must be tremendous, with no end to her frustration. The passage says “she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” So for a dozen years, this woman had been seeking care for her illnesses, and with no answers to show for it, she had only continued suffering and nothing but dwindling funds to show for it.

So when this woman takes a chance and pushes her way through the crowd, just for the opportunity to graze Jesus’s clothing knowing that her troubles would be over, we see an incredible display of faith. Mark describes her train of thought simply: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” No “maybe”, no “might as well try”, just “I will be healed.” It is the absolute certainty with which she pushes through the crowd to share that moment with her Savior that relieves her suffering.

Now, it’s easy to see how amazing this display of physical healing is. A woman beset with illness for 12 years that no doctor could cure, healed in an instant by merely touching Jesus! Yes, this is amazing, and a miracle only our Creator could perform. But remember – this is all happening before Jesus died for our sins. At this time, the people of Israel were still living according to the Old Testament and the laws that God has commanded Moses to share with the Israelites. People in Israel at this time were very much under the constraints of purity and holy impurity – and Leviticus’s rules on what made someone ritually unclean. According to Leviticus 15:25, “If a woman has a flow of blood for many days… she is ceremonially unclean.”

This woman’s affliction went beyond physical pain and discomfort – she was exceptionally unclean. Unable to properly worship, and seen as impure in the eyes of those around her due to the suffering she was enduring. Worst of all, she endured ritual separation from God due to her impurity and her unrepentable sin. According to Scripture, only after the bleeding had ended and she could give a burnt offering would she be free to participate in worship and congregate freely. And in the daily life of the Israelite of this time period, worship was a lifestyle & a community, and being unclean meant being cast out from society. For twelve years, this woman was ostracized, forced out of her community, searching desperately for a cure. Even being near this crowd around Jesus and possibly making anyone there unclean as well could have caused an uproar.

In that brief moment that her fingers then could grace Jesus’s cloak, the Lord saw her faith in full display. The message Jesus’s healing sends here is overwhelming: Jesus was the Lord of all, and had complete power over all things. Even, in this instance, Old Testament laws that required animal sacrifice to make up for our sins, as Jesus would eventually go to take the place of Himself. Jesus has shown this woman and the world with this one touch that absolute faith in Him can cast aside any uncleanness and any sin like it was nothing, no matter the severity or duration.

After Jesus tells the woman in Mark 5:34: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering”, we can only imagine the joy in her heart and the weight lifted from her shoulders. But what we can relate to is the freedom Jesus offers. When we ourselves come to Jesus in moments of hope, when we ache for a freedom from our own illnesses of the spirit and only want Him, Jesus says those same sweet words to us every time: “Your faith has healed you, go in peace and be free from your suffering.” Jesus alone can provide the deep and meaningful healing our hearts need. As Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 17:14, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved.” What an amazing Savior we have, who would offer His son as a sacrifice when we need freedom from the suffering we can never afford ourselves! Let us give thanks today to Jesus the Healer, the only one who can save.

– Ross B.

Repaired & Restored

Today’s reading is Job 42.

There’s a centuries-old long-standing tradition in Japan called “Kintsukuroi”, or “golden repair”, that pertains to broken pottery. When a cup, bowl, vase, or other piece of pottery breaks into pieces, a craftsman will repair it by mending those pieces back together with a lacquer filled with golden powder. This results in a piece of pottery similar to the original, but covered in beautiful streaks of gold. This is done not only for practical repairs, but to highlight how something broken can retain its worth and usefulness, even taking on new beauty as its past flaws and damage are appreciated in a new light, and ultimately being more lovely than before.

Throughout the chapter of Job, we’ve seen one of God’s most faithful servants enduring overwhelming hardship and sorrow, fighting with anger at God and questioning his motives. We see his friends attempting to get Job to confess to whatever sins he committed to displease God and cast this fate upon himself. But after listening patiently for the Lord and learning to accept His will no matter what, Job finally realizes his need for repentance in this passage. He comes to God, admitting: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted”. Even after all the suffering he has endured, Job admits first and foremost that God is all-powerful and just, no matter what happens to him. And when he finally repents in this way, the Lord restores his lost fortunes to nearly double what he had lost.

Losing sight of God’s control tends to bring about a lot of questions. It’s easy to question how sovereign the Lord is or how good His plan is whenever difficulties present themselves: “Why would God let this happen to me?” “Is God punishing me for something I did?” “How am I responsible for this?” Even Job, about whom the Lord himself says “there is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil,” had to endure great suffering at Satan’s hands. And even then, after facing similar questions yet ultimately holding fast to his faith, Job knows and proclaims that the Lord alone knows what is right.

When difficult times overtake our lives, it’s easy to feel attacked or abandoned by God. People often pray for complete avoidance of all trials and perfect, blameless lives, then feel let down when they experience harsh realities instead. But unfortunately, we live in a world enraptured by sin, where bad things happen to both bad and good people alike. We can think of ourselves as righteous believers whom God is punishing and become angry or confused with Him, but the truth is all of us live in a fallen world where all people must deal with the consequences of humanity’s sinful nature. Let’s face it, we’ll never know for sure why He allows these bad things to happen: some things are just too infinite and complex for us to comprehend.

But as Romans 8:28 tells us, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We can rest assured that no matter what comes our way, God is working in our favor always. We know God uses our worst hardships and trials every day to create beautiful moments pointing towards His love and redemption. We become broken, imperfect, destroyed by sin, left tainted and worthless; mere pieces of God’s image of us. But in our struggles, when we proclaim that God is in control and He is righteous and just, He will take care of us and help us heal. Only in Him can our broken pieces, shattered and left imperfect by a sinful world, be mended into a beautiful reminder of how God will always make us whole. Job goes from a lowly sinner, ravaged by death and fire and illness, into a blessed and wealthy upright family leader. But his restoration to former wealth and beyond is not the focus; God could have rewarded Job with no earthly gifts and the ultimate reward of eternity with Him would be the same. And when we too surrender all control to God in our times of questioning and anger and sin, he repairs us and makes us whole, gifting us eternity by His side. We go from shattered remnants to beautiful vessels, yearning to be filled with the Holy Spirit. So when trouble comes your way, big or small, remember that God has a perfect plan that He is putting into action right now, where he will carry your through your toughest times and make you whole again in Him.

– Ross B.

Under Fire

Ah, Daniel 3. One of those classic Bible tales every kid still knows and loves. For good reason, it’s a classic tale of standing up for God and not allowing others to force you to bend your knee to them. Plus, after growing up attending Sunday school in the late 90’s/early 00’s, it’s impossible to ever get this tune out of my head:

In what is not his first attempt, nor his last, at attempting to place himself higher than God in the hearts of man, Nebuchadnezzar oversees the building & erection of a comically oversized and ornate golden statue of himself. The Babylonian King likely found inspiration from his dream in the previous chapter, where an enormous statue of his likeness was crushed by the rock of God, somehow missing the point of the dream. And, after Daniel had explained how the Kingdom of God will crush all other kingdoms on Earth, Nebuchadnezzar decided to go ahead and have everyone worship this statue of him anyway in an attempt to unite the people of the world under his own likeness. After declaring that everyone must bow down and worship this statue, his Israelites-slaves-turned-court-administrators Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to adhere. After inciting Nebuchadnezzar’s rage and being questioned by him personally on the matter, under the threat of death by fire, the three calmly explain:

  • “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

That’s it. No excuses, no groveling, no needing to defend themselves. Just faith in God and refusing to betray His trust. How easily do we lose our nerve and betray our faith, not even when death approaches, but in small everyday instances? It would have been simple for the three former Israelites to follow the examples some of their elder Israelites had set and denounce their God when it counted. They could have said any number of excuses, like “God knows we don’t actually mean it”, “We can just ask for forgiveness later”, “It’s just the customs of a foreign land, there’s no harm in taking part while we’re here”, or “Others have denounced him in worse ways.” There’s plenty more, but you get the idea. The three demonstrated their faith in God by refusing to take part in this idol worship, showing incredible bravery and trust. Most of all, they admitted it was up to the Lord whether he wanted them to live or die, and to accept whatever His will would be.

The example here of refusing to bow down to the idols we face and to not fear to speak God’s word is important and powerful. But I want to offer extra attention here pertaining to one factor I noticed that could help explain how these three stood up to Nebuchadnezzar: community. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had already endured a number of trials together. They had watched the Babylonian armies lay waste to their home in Jerusalem, besieging the city, stealing all their wealth, and taking a considerable number of their contemporaries and acquaintances captive. They had stood with Daniel against Nebuchadnezzar’s will and threats twice before, and had experienced the blessings of God’s favor repeatedly. These friends had shared their hardships and trials, and learned together how to trust in the Lord, but to also share in His love by encouraging and building each other up. When we strengthen ourselves with wholesome Christian brotherhood and sisterhood, we share the Lord’s love with each other and better build each other up to stand up against the Lord’s detractors. It’s not any one of these three that stand up for the Lord any more than the others, but all three together. So today, give thanks to the Lord for the other believers you have been able to share your joy with, and thank them for sharing in the Lord’s love and encouragement alongside you. And if you need that fellowship in your lives still, pray for guidance and accepting, loving hearts in your search for Christian community. With loving Christian fellowship to build up our faith and bolster our defenses against sin’s grip, you will be able to stand for the Lord when He calls you to do so.

-Ross B.

Jerusalem’s Adultery

In the time leading up to my own wedding last summer, my soon-to-be wife Paige and I spent a lot of time discussing different aspects of marriage, how to prepare our hearts for them, and how God would be working through us to use our marriage as a demonstration of His love. Naturally, in this day and age, one topic that arose was divorce. Being a part of the Blumhorst family, divorce has never been very realistic or present. One relevant moment that sticks out in my mind was on a family vacation around five years ago, when my grandparents, my mother and father, my father’s three siblings and their significant others were gathered together with all our families. Someone noted that in that room were about 150 years of marriages altogether, and that our family was built around never giving up on each other. That’s a small moment that’s been deeply ingrained in my beliefs as a man, and now as a husband.

Considering this, reading through today’s passage, Jeremiah 2, breaks my heart. Jeremiah has been called at the start of this book to prophesy to a broken Jerusalem, one that has entirely abandoned God. In his own words, The Lord says through him (Jeremiah 2:2-3):

“I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; Disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”

Knowing this, and how I feel about my own wife, the degree to which God describes how Jerusalem has turned away from Him is heartbreaking. Yes, it’s not appropriate to compare earthly love like ours to God’s, and imagining how much more pain God feels from such deeper offense is not within our capabilities, but one can only imagine. In this chapter, we hear all sorts of horrible treatment from what was God’s people: worshipping false idols, taking part in pagan ceremonies, flirting with the ways of the people of Egypt, crying out to their own imagined gods in times of need, and worst of all, claiming themselves to be pure and free of guilt. Further embodying the marriage relationship, Jeremiah says (Jeremiah 2:32):

“Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.”

Yet, despite the depth of their inequities towards the Lord, and His obvious displeasure, we see most of all that He still loves and will never forsake His people. As God further commands Jeremiah to tell the Israelites in the next chapter (Jeremiah 3:12):

“Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD. I will not be angry forever.”

This is something we see time and time again, no matter how little His people deserve it in our eyes: God forgives every time. God does not abandon us. And as we are called to mirror Him in our marriages, God will never walk away from us or hold forgiveness from us when we come to Him in need. In Hosea 2:19-20, as the LORD commands the prophet Hosea to command to sinful Israel:

“And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”

Again, as Ezekiel repeats what the LORD has said to him about faithless and transgressing Israel in Ezekiel 16:60:

“…yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant.”

No matter how often God’s people turn away from worshipping Him, or try to carve out their own futile wells of spiritual water only to end up thirsty, or forget the Lord’s past blessings and promises, God does not give up on those who repent and seek forgiveness. As a perfect example for us, God forgives and continues to love His bride, His people, at all times. And in this, He sets a perfect example for us of how to accept each other with open arms and love in our hearts, in and out of our marriages. I pray today that those of you with husbands or wives would pray for & with them, that you would always be able to look to God as an example of forgiveness and love and celebrate the perfect example He sets for you both. And for those without husbands and wives, I pray that you remember today that God is always ready with open and loving arms to accept you when you need, that you would be full of praise for our loving Lord, and that you would joyfully share the peace and love He brings you with those you encounter.

Ross B.

Parable of Love

Today’s reading is Hosea 1 & 3.

Marriage is one of the most sacred and wonderful traditions we take part in these days, an incredible way to mirror God’s love to the world. It can be difficult at times, especially in the case of marriages like that of Hosea, but one of the main tenets of this form of union is showing each other unconditional love, imperfectly as we may in comparison to God. He sees fit to demonstrate this poetically and powerfully through Hosea.

For generations at this point, Israel has taken up worshipping idols and false gods due to the influence of sinful leaders, nearly forgetting completely about God. In appointing a new prophet to remind the people of Israel about their one true God, He speaks to Hosea and commands him to marry an unfaithful woman of Israel. Hosea obeys, marries the suitable Gomer, and the two bear three children (presumably, to the reader, the fathers of whom may or may not actually be Hosea). In an effort to demonstrate how God feels about his treatment at the hands of Israel, he commands Hosea to name his children “Jezreel” (for Israel’s unwarranted massacre of the people there), “Lo-ruhama” (Hebrew for No Mercy, demonstrating how God will show no mercy for those who turn their backs to Him), and “Lo-ammi” (Hebrew for Not My People, for God considers the sinful Israelites to not be counted among His people). Tough names for the kids to bear, but God’s point is made: He is not happy with Israel. But soon the Lord commands Hosea further: he should rescue Gomer from her sins, who is trapped in a life of sexual immorality. Hosea pays off her debts accrued from her behavior (15 shekels of silver and 110 liters of grain). Redeemed and freed from her debts, God promises that as Gomer and her children of adultery are redeemed, he will show mercy to those who don’t deserve it and be with those who were not his people.

The symbolism here is clear and powerful: God, who loves the church as His Bride, has watched them run off to idolatry and hedonism. Knowing how much it hurts to watch our own spouses struggle with sin and turn away from our encouragement and from God, it must have pained God beyond imagination when His perfect love was similarly rejected. But Hosea refuses to abandon his wife, even when she has abandoned her freedom to sin and hurt him immeasurably, paying the toll for her freedom from sin. In this same way, God has paid for our sins through the death of Jesus Christ out of pure love for us.

Reading through this passage though, after a while, what really struck me was how familiar Gomer’s perspective sounded. Even all these millennia later, the same problems the Israelites dealt with concerning sin still saturate our culture and everyone in it. Gomer’s marriage to Hosea was likely completely arranged without her knowledge or consent, more of a transaction between Hosea and her father. She may have had wanted nothing to do with marriage at the time, and frankly, was probably not that into Hosea anyway. Her previous sins remained in her heart into marriage, as she refused to leave her promiscuity behind, simply changing the label of what it was into adultery instead. Even as Gomer remained faithful and followed God, Gomer kept sinning and sinning despite the incredible grace and restraint being shown to her. Is this sounding familiar to you as well?

We don’t know how Gomer got herself into her debts, what we do know is that the amount required to free her was pretty pitiable. If she was held captive to comparably about $30 and a bale or two of wheat, whatever actions inspired Gomer’s debt were probably not particularly noteworthy at all. But even such a small amount kept her indebted and enslaved. How low and worthless she must have felt. But even in such desperation and sadness, when all hope within has disappeared and she was ready for help, her husband Hosea would still bother to pay for her freedom after all the heartache and agony she had caused him.

When we get lost in our sins and spiral out of control into our own idols and away from God, we can easily get lost and feel abandoned. Following our own paths towards our own desires can often lead this way, and correcting our course can feel impossible. We can feel forgotten, unseen, and unloved. But in Genesis 16:13-14, Hagar summarizes beautifully: ‘”You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me”‘. No matter how deep in our sin we may have gotten, God will never lose sight of us and will never leave forget us. To God, the price to pay for our freedom and redemption and our relationship with Him is so measly in comparison to celebrating eternity with us, He would pay that price without hesitation. We never have to feel worthless or unable to remove our sins as Gomer must have felt with her debts, for the Lord is always ready for us when we are ready to repent of our old idolatrous ways. I pray today that you would be ready to rid yourself of the weight of sins and instead run with joy and praise to the God who has already payed the way to salvation for you and us all. God be with you all.

-Ross B.