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.

Solomon’s Temple

All of us, every day, are led and protected by God’s promises. In every struggle we face and in every trial we endure, we can carry through knowing God is close, watching and caring for us. And when we finally overcome our ordeals, all too often we forget to give God our first and foremost thanks and celebration. In today’s reading, 1 Kings 8, we get a picture of what has been a monumental hardship for the people of Israel finally being properly recognized and celebrated. And in reading this passage, we get a reminder of how glorious our God is and how wonderful (and easy!) it can be to come to Him in thanks.

King Solomon, finally inheriting the position of his father David and the promises God made to him, wants to make it known how grateful and thankful the people of Israel are to the Lord. Excited to fulfill a promise the Lord had made to his father in 2 Samuel 7: 12-15, Solomon has declared that a permanent temple should be built for the Lord, one to signify the importance of the land they had been delivered into as the Lord promised. The temple he had built for the Lord was a work of art by human standards, taking 20 years to build. Made of hand-carved stone and the finest cedar, decorated with hand-carved angels, and laid with more gold, silver, and bronze than imaginable, it was a piece of craftsmanship made by Solomon out of reverence and joy.

Once the temple was completed, it was furnished with holy furniture and finally, the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets signifying God’s promise of a home for Israel. After withdrawing, a wonderful phenomenon blessed the nation – an enormous cloud, full of the presence of the Lord, filled the temple, and finally God had His dwelling place within the land of Israel!

Solomon’s prayers of gratitude were full of joy that the Lord finally had a place where the Israelites could draw near to be with Him and thank Him. And in Solomon’s reflections, we gain a few reminders of our own reasons that we should be thanking God.

1. The Lord promised David that although he desired to build a temple in the Lord’s name himself, his son would be the one to glorify God in that way – and Solomon was filled with joy and awe that the Lord would use him to keep his promise. When we come to the Lord outstretch and reverent, he keeps his promise every time, as he has to Israel for centuries now and will continue to for centuries more after this and endless time to come.

2. Solomon and many craftsmen among the people poured decades of hard work into this temple as a sign of love, that the Lord would even consider dwelling among them. Solomon humbly says it himself: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” While symbolic in nature, demonstrating how God has dwelled among His people, God by His very nature can not be contained by or within anything – that he is everywhere and everything, simultaneously greater than the universe itself yet dwelling within each of our hearts. How incredible is our God!

3. Solomon has a simple request to God for the sake of all who follow Him – that they would turn to Him always. When a promise is made, when pain and pestilence befalls his people, when we are hungry or weary or lost, and when the enemies that belong to the world show up, Solomon prays that the people of Israel would come be in God’s presence, turning to him for strength. Even as physical temples come and go, God’s presence and glory still resides within us and around us, where we can always find Him and lift our hands and bow our heads in thanks. Never must we be without the presence of God.

Ultimately, the residence of God’s glory within Solomon’s temple is an act of love and appreciation by God. He does not need a temple to rest in, nor hand-carved stone and decorations or gold and silver and bronze. But He loves us and wants to dwell within our hearts! How blessed we should feel that the Lord of all creation, uncontainable and immeasurable, would always be present for us, always there to love, guide, and forgive us! Not all of us can build ornate temples out of wonder for God’s fulfilled promises. But we can do is listen to Solomon’s prayer, and come to God in prayer no matter what troubles befall us.

When Solomon finished praying to the Lord, he finished with a prayer over the people of Israel in 1 Kings 8:56-61, one I will end with by sharing with you. May Solomon’s words be true in your hearts as well today.

“Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the LORD our God be with us as He was with our fathers. And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that He may uphold the cause of His Servant and the cause of His people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by His decrees and obey His commands, as at this time.”


Overcoming Giants

Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 17.

Often times, you and I find ourselves daunted by gargantuan difficulties that stand in our way. We can only accomplish so much on our own before we find ourselves overcome with fear and sorrow at tasks we alone are incapable of overcoming. Such was the case for the Israelite army after encountering the rather infamously gargantuan Goliath.

Saul, anointed first king of the nation of Israel in 1 Samuel 10, has brought a tremendous fight to the Philistine forces for the sake of defeating those who would oppose God’s chosen people. But after sinning and openly disobeying God’s commands by sparing the tainted possessions of the Amalekites for their own purposes, the Spirit of the Lord has left Saul’s sinful heart. Now, when a tremendous hulking soldier personally raises a challenge to the Israelite army, offering a one-on-one fight where the winner’s army takes the loser’s as slaves, their king Saul sets an example for his people by being filled only with terror and despair. Unopposed and full of brash confidence, Goliath hurls insults and challenges at Israel’s army for forty days, while they can only cower in fear and wail at their complete inability to defeat such a prime soldier.

It’s not difficult to look back and find periods in our own lives where without coming to the Lord and relying on Him, we were paralyzed by fear or burdened by self-pity to the point where we could do nothing on our own. But rather than focusing on the despair invoked upon those who are without the Lord, let’s look rather at the contrast this chapter also provides: the assurance and confidence of those who know the Lord is with them. In our passage, we see it in the form of David: a young man from Bethlehem, sent from his usual duty of watching sheep to deliver grain to his older brothers serving Saul. This scrappy young man hears Goliath’s taunting in passing and is taken aback at how his fellow Israelites have not risen to this challenge when God’s people are being defied.

Throughout this passage, the focus of David’s speech shows clear intention: without a speck of doubt in his mind, the Lord is in charge of this situation. As those around him speak in matters of the flesh, David focuses on matters of the Lord. While the armies of Israel cry out in verse 25 how this Philistine “has come up to defy Israel”, David says instead that he has “defied the armies of the Living God.” While the soldiers speak of reward for “the man who kills him” being enriched and gifted monetarily, David asks of “the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach of from Israel,” focusing on the riches of God’s blessing. Without doubt and without fear, this boy rises up to the challenge Goliath provides, knowing “the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 12:37) You can almost hear Eye Of The Tiger playing in your head as you read this passage.

And with great confidence, standing face to face with this towering soldier hurling threats of death and curses at God, David coolly declares the battle belongs to the Lord, and loudly and confidently proclaims that victory will be earned in his name. And David, without hesitation or error, as if guided by the Lord, strikes down his opponent in one swift blow. It’s incredible: without showing the slightest bit of doubt, without even considering how he could possibly fail with the Lord on his side, without a moment’s hesitation in facing Israel’s foes and striking them down, David lives out his faith in the Lord confidently and loudly. When the overwhelming task in front of him stares him down with murderous intent, David remains steady in his confidence in the Lord, knowing He is in control.

In this young shepherd, we see incredible accomplishments being done in the Lord’s name without a moment of doubt in Him. The Lord is with each and every one of us: when we struggle with evils and sin that threaten to cut us down, we can be confident and boastful, not in our own capabilities, but in the amazing God we serve that has been, and never will be, overcome. I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite worship songs:

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.

We know we can be confident, not in our own intelligence and power, for those are as fleeting and momentary and we are. But we know we can boast in a Lord and Savior more powerful and more wonderful than anything else. Jeremiah 9:23 calls us to be proud and boastful in our Lord: “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understand and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” Be proud and boastful today of this steadfast and righteous Lord of ours that we belong to! I pray for opportunities for you and I to be confident in our Lord, declaring loudly and proudly all that he has done for you and I.

Ross B.

Open Mutiny

In today’s reading, Numbers 14, we catch up to the Israelites as they’ve first encountered the abundant land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey which God has promised his chosen people. We’ve been reading very frequently lately about how good things come to those who trust in the Lord. We’ve also learned how since they’ve been rescued from Egypt, the Israelites have established a track record of being really bad at trusting the Lord when it matters. Luckily, the faithful few among the chosen people have kept God’s favor, but we see this ever-splitting dichotomy come to a head in today’s reading.

Previously, God commanded Moses to establish a team of twelve leaders, one from each tribe of Israel, to report on whatever they could find in the land of Canaan. These men went and scouted out the area, finding fertile lands and rich fruit. However, they also found enormous walled cities and intimidatingly large men inhabiting these lands. Clearly God had promised that this land would belong to Israel, and that none of these obstacles could overcome His guidance. However, choosing instead to trust only their own fear and doubt, determined to avoid encounters with these difficulties, they simply return to the people of Israel and lie, spreading a negative report and discouraging further attempts.

This incites a rather ugly and violent outcry among the people of Israel, wishing that they would have died in the desert, and wishing to return to Egypt where they did not have to fear for their lives. When Joshua and Caleb, the two faithful of those who’d spied on this new land, encouraged those affected to trust in the Lord’s protection, the people discussed stoning them to death! At this point, the Lord’s anger is rightfully raised against Israel – this marks the tenth time in their short time of freedom when everyone has stopped in their tracks and raised arms against God due to lack of faith.

We too often raise arms against the Lord, lashing out against His plans. We are ensured during times of ease that God has promised us many great blessings and that no trouble could stand against Him. But when we meet challenges in our paths with fear – putting our fear of sturdy citadels and mighty opponents over confidence in the Lord – we suddenly see no way to approach these obstacles other than through our own volition. When dangerous and unfamiliar circumstances present themselves, we wonder how we can deal with the situation we’ve found ourselves in, not how He helps us to rise to these circumstances. 

This passage forces me to reflect on such times when I’ve rebelled against God, angrily crying out for simpler times and swifter trials rather than rejoicing in Him acting on his promises and praying for help. I think back to times I have moved to a new city, wishing for a return to my comfortable former life and those I knew back home, rather than thanking God for new opportunities and finding ways to glorify Him living in new places. I’ve gone out searching for work with fear in my heart from my own incompetence and inability, rather than trusting that He would have a plan for me to use my gifts in ways that please Him. As God rebukes and decides how to deal with the rebellious Israelites, I too am reminded of the despair I ensure myself whenever I try to achieve great things solely by my own merit.

God sends a very clear message to the Israelites after this: without trust in the Lord, there is certainly nothing but death that awaits you. Those of the spies who would spread lies to the Israelites were immediately struck down by plagues, and those who spoke against His plans were promised to spend the next 40 years wandering the desert, perishing before they would ever be able to set foot into the promised land. But Caleb and Joshua, the ones who spoke out for Him, are promised the chance to set foot in that land as reward. When we too reject God’s ways and cast doubt on Him through our actions, we doom ourselves to wander meaninglessly through our lives with no hope and no possibility of seeing the great future God has promised us. But exercise trust and mindfulness in the Lord, and he will keep every promise to reward us abundantly. Only through God can we ever hope for peace, purpose, and a worthwhile destination of the lands promised for us.

I would pray that you could see to the trials ahead of you not through the lenses of your own doubt, but leaning wholly on His promises and His works. I pray that you would have honest and difficult conversations through Scripture and prayer that help you rely on Him in the most hopeless looking situations, looking past your limited self, instead joyous at how these situations can be overcome with the help of a limitless God. Have a wonderful day.

-Ross B.

Jacob Gets the Blessing

Today’s reading is Genesis 27. We’ve been following the story of Abraham, seeing how God first promises great things to the progenitor of His chosen people and watching how miraculously God works through those who have faith in Him. Now Abraham’s son Isaac, having lived a long an accomplished life, is preparing to pass on his substantial birthright and inheritance to his son. But in what should be a celebratory family occasion in the blessed lineage of Abraham, we instead relate to a family struggling with selfishness and sin.

In Genesis 27:29-34, we see Esau, in a fit of feverish hunger, offer up his birthright to his deceiving brother Jacob in exchange for a simple meal of bread and lentil stew to sate his appetite. Again in Genesis 26:34-35, we see Esau marrying two Hittite brides, violating the laws of Abraham which forbid God’s people from finding brides among the local Canaanites. Not only does this endanger his legal claim to his firstborn birthright, but makes life “bitter” for his parents in the process, causing great stress and concern. While I’m sure this last sentiment may resonate with some readers, we see Esau tends to take as he wants in the moment, despite the blessing and direction of God.

In the climactic moment of our passage, as Isaac readies to pass on his blessing to his favored son Esau, his wife Rebekah attempts to control the situation through her own doing, fulfilling the promises God gave her: her sons would begin two nations, the older serving the younger. Taking advantage of her husband’s old age and loss of faculties, Rebekah creates a scheme of her own volition to instead pass the birthright to Jacob, her own preferred son. Dressing himself to more resemble his brother, Jacob tricks Isaac into believing he is in fact Esau, bringing his favorite meal and covering himself in goat skin to replicate Esau’s hairy skin. As Esau finds out about this injustice and cries out in bitter anger, he comforts himself with sinful thoughts of revenge and murder and his father passes.

Even as the tale of Jacob and Esau begins, I am convicted by how this passage forces me to confront my own sinful pride. We see it in Rebekah’s plan to bestow Isaac’s blessing upon Jacob. In an attempt to fulfill God’s promise through her own volition, she creates her own plan for transferring the blessing through deception and trickery. When Jacob learns of this plan, the only objection he raises is the fear of being caught and rebuked! I for one often find myself wondering what is right to do, and wondering how to do it in my own way under my own will. Not even the most fool-proof plan we craft could be more rewarding and gratifying than what God has planned for us, and he can do so in ways far more just and righteous we could plan. Rebekah was explicitly told by the Lord that she held the beginning of a nation in her womb, and had every right and reason to believe God would provide the means to enact His will. Yet she and Jacob attempt to do what they believe is “right”, without regard for honor or honesty, showing a lack of trust in the Lord’s work and unwarranted confidence in her own ability.

We also see our own pride and short-sightedness in Esau’s brash, upfront behavior. Esau was to receive the blessings and birthright of his accomplished father – a great responsibility as well as a magnificent gift. Without thinking of his future and without respect for his position, he tosses it aside for momentary satisfaction and physical fullness. He goes so far as to despise this wonderful birthright! Like Esau, we, as troubled sinners, are excellent at tossing aside the love and inheritance of our Lord without a second thought for a moment’s satisfaction. Without realizing it at the time, our clouded judgement forces us to focus on trivial, meaningless frivolities in an attempt to satisfy our hunger for more – a hunger only He can satisfy. We toss aside the incredible birthright God has given us in exchange for moments of sin and weakness. 

Ultimately, this self-reflection points us to the greatest truth we see in this passage: that God is greater than our pride and deception and short-sightnesses and bitterness. We have access to a priceless birthright: being the children of an incredible God whose plans are perfect and infallible, and who can use us, even in our most sinful moments, to further His kingdom. We know we never have to give up our inheritance into the kingdom of God for a moment’s happiness, for unlike Esau’s fleeting birthright, ours is eternal: the guarantee of our Lord and Savior being by our side for all time. We know we will never need a humble momentary meal to sate our appetites, for we now know as Jesus said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Today I will be praying for you, that when you are thinking of how to fill and soothe your own soul, that you would joyfully keep your mind and heart on your birthright, knowing that the Lord’s plans and gifts are far greater than fleeting pleasures. I pray that by spending time in the Scripture and in prayer when you are in need, that you would listen to the Lord’s plans for you and hold to the blessings He has planned for you. God bless.

-Ross B.