Job

Today’s reading is on Job (Job 1-2).

Today, we come into one of the most personally convicting stories in the Bible, the tale of Job. Here is a man who has it all: A happy family, enough wealth to live in great comfort, fields of thousands of livestock, more than enough servants to take care of them all, and respect and prestige among his people. Above all, he was a man who prized his Lord above all. The Lord Himself even rejoices in Job’s faith, saying in verse 8, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Then how much more painful all that happens to Job: his livestock slaughtered, his servants killed, his family crushed in a freak accident, and his very body consumed by horrible, agonizing sores across his entire body. In the blink of an eye, this man’s life hand in life has gone from plentiful to torturous. While we know this was the work of Satan from our perspective of the text, Job can see no fault in what he’s done. From what he’s experienced, the greatest torture he had to endure I can only imagine must have come from within his own mind, thoughts whispered from the Devil: What had he done to deserve this? How had the wronged the Lord to earn such overwhelming retribution?

But never once does Job harden his heart against the Lord: as he speaks over the course of this book, we see the heart of one who has truly given all he has to God. Although he may curse his own life and beg for death, never once does he speak out against or doubt the Lord or His plan. What a feat this must have been: for all the pain he had gone through, never once did Job lose faith.

One of the biggest questions people have always had for Christians is “why do such awful things happen to good people?” There is no true answer we can give: not one of us in this life will understand the nature of God. But in Job’s story, we see one reason: Satan attempting to undermine our faith and the refuge we can find in the Lord. From Job’s perspective though, he does not know what transpired to affect his life in this way. He will have to endure the rest of his time on earth not knowing why the Lord had not prevented this from happening. But never does his steadfast faith fade.

When tragedy befalls you, how do you handle it? Do you look outward for answers from others and the world around you, look inward to your own actions and behaviors and wrestle with guilt and anger towards the self? Do you look to the Lord for answers and demands, or do you surrender yourself to Him and follow His plans for your life in even your darkest seasons, knowing He has plans for you and will bring provide no matter what? In times of intense grief and unbearable pain, we can look to Job for answers: how will God provide? How can we go on? We may never know, but we know the Lord is powerful and sovereign, loves us deeply, and will never leave us.

Scripture reminds us of this: Isaiah 41:10 says “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  When we find faith difficult to muster over our desperation and questions for God, Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” And of course Psalm 23:4 reminds us that God looks out for us even amidst our darkest times: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.”

Job experiences it firsthand here, and we learn as well: God is always with us, especially when we are crushed by heartbreak and surrounded by death and despair. Even though we can’t provide answers for the trials we face, we know the Lord enables our capability to withstand any storm. All we must do is trust wholly in Him and his unshakeable shelter and protection. For just as God surely knew during Job’s ordeal that his faith would keep him going, God knows any suffering we could ever go through, He has already ensured we He will see us through. Preparation to turn our hearts to God in times of ease and plenty can often be overlooked – if you’re in that period of life today, pray for your heart to be strengthened in the Lord now. And pray for those of us who may be winding our way through the valley of death as it were – be ready to offer a helping hand and the encouraging word of the Lord to those who may need it more than ever.

From Geha-A to Gehazi

Today’s reading is on Elisha’s servant Gehazi in 2 Kings 5.

You know when you take a bite of something delicious, immediately followed by a rotten, disgusting one? Or when some pleasing scent passes by your notice, only to be replaced in the next moment by the smell of old garbage or sewage? That foul sensation, made all the more unpleasant from the contrast provided by the enjoyable one beforehand, reminds me a little bit of Gehazi in this passage. Elisha, having been passed the Lord’s blessings that resided in his master Elijah, was in his own right showing the miraculous power of the Lord. 2 Kings 5 tells of the meeting of Elisha and Naaman, a powerful army commander stricken with leprosy, asking for help. After obeying Elisha’s guidance and declaring how he has seen the Lord’s power for himself, Naaman offers payment to the prophet as reward. Elisha refuses, Naaman offers allegiance to God and goes on his way.

Enter Gehazi. Not able to hold his own tongue when the opportunity presents itself, he follows after Naaman, asking for two talents of silver in his master’s name. Two talents of silver – the wage of a few dozen people for about two months – is a huge amount for one person to ask for, much less for something they themselves didn’t do. After profiting off of God’s work enacted through his master, Elisha instead decides to pay Gehazi’s inequity with the leprosy Naaman had removed. Through receiving judgement for his actions this way, we see a few sobering reminders of how easy it can be to misstep in our faith.

  • At this point, Gehazi has witnessed a number of miracles in service of Elisha, including raising the dead. He is personally witnessing incredible displays of God’s command over all things, yet still fails to recognize the levity and weight of what he’s seen. I admit to being guilty of this – there are miracles the Lord performs every day that I might see and jump to assume “oh, that’s just how the world is” or “how lucky that happened to that person.” We must train our minds at all times to look for and rejoice in the miracles the Lord provides, so that in a moment of weakness, we too won’t find ourselves affronting God’s instructions and desires.
  • Elisha states in verse 16, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” To put something as temporary and fleeting as monetary gain above the Lord is foolish – how much more to put it above sharing the word of the Lord with those who need it. As Christians, we know salvation comes through faith alone, not buying our way into Heaven. Likewise, we should not look to gain anything from others for sharing our faith as Gehazi attempted, but should find joy in our Lord and sharing His gospel.
  • Most of all, the Bible is very clear about our relationship with money, and Gehazi’s behavior is a demonstration of how not to behave with it. Matthew 6:24 puts it best: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Putting money in the forefront of our thoughts is easier than ever to do these days. Not that it’s bad to be mindful of your finances either – love of money is the root of all evil, not money itself. But in all manners, including financial, put God first.

All these reminders together help us realize, even if Gehazi was pretty boneheaded in this moment, he was generally righteous in action. He was a prophet’s servant, giving his life to helping advance the Lord’s work in Israel and spreading His message. But ultimately his heart was not devoted to the Lord, and in one opportune moment, Satan slipped into his heart and sin prevailed. Gehazi was not some storybook villain – just an ordinary guy who’s heart was not 100% trained on God. So take this as a reminder today: above all else, we must keep our hearts trained on God at all times. If not, sin is sure to take hold in those moments of weakness. But luckily we serve a forgiving God, and when we do slip up, He will be willing to forgive us when we ask Him with all our hearts. The important part then is to learn from our mistakes so we may better serve the Lord when next these moments arise. I pray that in time in Scripture and prayer today, you may learn a little more how to train your heart on God always, so that you may hold fast on God’s teachings against temptation.

Eli

Today’s reading is about Eli (1 Samuel 2:12-4).

Coming back to the books of Samuel, it was difficult for me to remember much of Eli’s tale beforehand. He himself acts as sort of a footnote in the origin story of the wise prophet Samson, last in the line of Judges who ruled over Israel in their more tribal days, high priest and target of Samuel’s servitude. This line of judicial rulers reflected as a darker period in Israel’s history, where their reflection of God’s will towards His people and the strength of leadership were at historical lows.

At a glance, Eli’s work as spiritual leader is just as one would expect the high priest to be. He is a reverent family man who performs his duties well and fathers a new generation to engage in spiritual leadership for Israel. His main downfall though, and the driving force of this passage, is his handling of his “wicked sons”. His sons, priests and direct servants of God in their own rights, steal undue portions from offerings from the Israelites before offering them up to God, threaten and bully the Israelites into compliance, and sleeping with the women serving at the tents of worship. Not great examples for God’s people. When hearing about this himself, Eli confronts them and asks them to stop, but pursuing the issue no further after trying once.

This passage contains valuable insights into the love displayed by the Lord’s gentle rebuking of our wrongdoings. Ultimately though, as someone young enough to not have children of my own, yet old enough to realize how wise my own father(earthly and heavenly) was and how difficult we could make it for him to properly discipline us, I realize I lack expertise and knowledge in this form discipline. Yet this passage offered valuable insight into where and how I equate my relationship with God to the world around me.

When Eli’s sons Phineas and Hophni carry off the Ark of the Covenant into battle, the very presence of the Ark incites the Israelites’ joy and the Philistines’ fear. However, God had considered the men wicked and it was His will that they would be put to death for their wickedness. Eli (before his untimely death, at least) and the other Israelites likewise mourn the loss of the Ark after battle, claiming the Lord has left them, when He’d told them it was their own wicked ways that would cause disdain for Eli and his lineage. Throughout this passage, the notion becomes more and more plausible that the Israelites have more respect and concern for the Ark itself than the God who it should have reminded them of. With no regard to their own relationship with the Lord, these people celebrated the presence of the Lord’s symbol and mourned the loss of it, not concerned with what the Lord Himself had said.

In this train of thought, I have found much self-reflection. How easy is it for me to put what reminds me of the Lord in front of the Lord? Out of reverence and tradition it can be easy to store our Bible neatly on the shelf when not in use, when it should be close by instead, turning to Him and His word whenever a moment of weakness strikes. How easy it can be to get caught up in a beautiful song, or a touching story, or someone’s testimony, rather than consider the Lord it glorifies. I’m not saying it’s wrong to enjoy these things; celebrating and glorifying the Lord in the way you can best is good. But it can be easy to forget that beyond and above the rituals, symbols, and feel-good moments, the God we worship holds a very personal relationship with each of us. There is nothing we can or should put above the Lord; even good things that point to God can become idols if we forget Who they symbolize. As Eli and all the Israelites fixated on the symbolism of the Ark instead of God, it is possible for us to fixate on our religion instead of our relationship. God wants you to know Him for who He is – as He knows and loves you for who you are – not the temporary things we use to represent an Eternal Lord. I pray that God alone can reside in your heart today, that you could think along with me about why and for whom your thoughts and actions are for.

Listening and Going

Today’s reading is on Moses (Exodus 5:1-6:13, 14:5-31).

“Imposter syndrome” is something I hear about in my office or on LinkedIn every once in a while these days. It is the internalized fear, often completely misguided, that someone hasn’t really deserved any of their accomplishments, that they have gotten by solely on luck, and could be exposed as a “fraud” at any point, made out to appear foolish. Even among people who do great at their jobs, some of us just can’t see our own true strengths and abilities. We can doubt ourselves, compare ourselves to those around us who appear so collected and composed, and consider ourselves lesser options for our position.

In Exodus, a young Moses experiences something similar when confronted by God. Often, when we too are suddenly confronted with an arduous task by God, we immediately launch into cycles of doubt and fear. Over and over again, as God reveals Himself to Moses and commands him to go to Egypt and demand the Israelites be freed for a feast of worship. This is, by logical accounts, an impossible request. Leading the Israelites out of Egypt would require going up to Pharaoh, a direct link with the gods in the eyes of the Egyptians, a man of immeasurable wealth on Earth, and ask him to let his nation’s slaves go for three days to worship their God. It would look to be an impossible task to anyone, but as 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “we live by faith, not by sight.”

Yet instead of acting in faith when confronted by Creator of the Universe and Lord over all, Moses asks “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And again, when given direct instructions from Go of what to say to the Israelites there, he asks “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, The Lord did not appear to you?” Yet again, when told how to perform miracles as a sign of God’s power, Moses complains “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.” Even as God gives him the most explicit of directions, Moses considers himself unskilled, untalented, and unable to do God’s work.

Even though Moses’s eventual journey to Egypt and plea to Pharaoh does not go easily, and Pharaoh instead makes life even more miserable for the Israelites, God’s plan fails to cease. When Moses cries out in doubt, the Lord answers in chapter 6. The Lord ensures He will lead His people out of Egypt safely. What His answer begins and ends with is simply yet truthfully “I am the Lord.” And over the next few chapters, as God unleashes a host of vile plagues as retribution against Pharaoh and ultimately leads His people out safely, Moses continues following His word and acting upon it.

Moses may not have believed himself to be capable or the most qualified for God’s plan, but in the end he follows what the Lord has to say. When we focus on our shortcomings and how we can fail to do anything in the situation provided for us, we should instead listen to what God has to say here. We may be weak, and unbecoming, and not very eloquent, but God is Lord. We may fall short in our own subjective measures, but God is Lord. We are only human, but God is Lord! Rather than succumbing to imposter syndrome in our own callings, it is important to remember that God has chosen us to fulfill the role He has placed us in, and that is what matters here. Just look at Moses here: yes, he may have been afraid, and had trouble standing up against Pharaoh on his own. God provided him his brother Aaron and a loving family to encourage and help him, and through his tribulations Moses finds courage and strength. Rather than looking inward to what you need in the moment to accomplish something, look around and take stock in what the Lord has given you to help you learn and grow. Rather than simply making us perfect for our position from the get-go, it brings Him glory and praise when we look to Him for guidance and wisdom along our journeys.

You might hear God calling you to go out and live for Him in some way today. That calling may be intimidating, and it may seem impossible. It can be easy to count ourselves out, to look at our negative qualities and how they will only hamper our progress moving forward. But God is not calling us to do these things in a vacuum: he has surrounded us with ways to find strength and grow in faith to live for Him. Remember today that He is Lord, and as He lifted his hand against Pharaoh and guided the Israelites out of captivity into their promised rewards, He will guide you out of your own troubles. More so, He will accept you just as you are, and you will succeed in any endeavor you are called to, so long as your faith and trust in Him guide you.

Eve

Looking back to the beginning of the Bible now as we study the people of the Bible, we look at Eve. Helper to Adam, mother of all humanity, and archetype of the biblical woman, she can offer a view into God’s infallible knowledge of our hearts. But through her temptation and introduction of sin into humanity, we can also get our first glimpse of God’s great grace.

 

In Genesis 2:18, the Lord, in the midst of his creative phase, sees fit to provide a helper for Adam. But in all the creatures of the world that he creates, he sees nothing fit to satisfy the deep, personal connection man needs. So in Adam’s sleep, he pulls out a rib and crafts in into Eve, whom he presents to Adam to great appreciation.

 

Adam’s declaration of thanks in Genesis 2:23 paints a good picture of what this means to Adam. He says, “This at last is the bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. Not just an ordinary “thank you” or “woah, cool!” Adam here immediately understands what Eve is; thoughtfully and personally designed by God to provide assistance beyond simple help, but Godly love. He exclaims “At last!”, recognizing that God has provided a spiritual partner, a deeper support and love, more fulfilling and gratifying than possible with any other creature on Earth. Of course, this points to the magnificence of the Lord that marriage mirrors, but even beyond that for those who may not be married, Eve is a symbol of God’s deeply intimate knowledge of us. He knows exactly what help we need, and exactly how we can be provided to best suit us individually and most effectively.

 

But as chapter 3 begins, we see not even God’s symbol of covenant love is exempt from human error. As Eve is tempted by Satan and shares in her temptation with Adam, they become aware of their human nature and become ashamed with the sin they have newfound knowledge of. Instead of coming to God and confronting their sin, they instead try to hide and obscure their shame from the Lord.

 

I always have the imagery here of a toddler playing hide-and-seek, standing behind a curtain with their legs visible, or with just a pillow held in front of their face as an attempt at hiding. And as we walk around, humoring them by asking wherever they might have gone to, we can see them clear as day. I imagine that is similar to how the Lord sees Adam and Eve hiding here: very poorly hiding their shame, yet very clearly visible to Him. How could they imagine that hiding behind some bushes, fig leaves crudely sewn together to make a makeshift covering, would fool the Lord of all creation, powerful enough to have just crafted everything from nothing?

 

We ourselves often try to hide our shame and sin from the Lord. We receive instructions for every walk of life, every difficulty we come across, all in the form of Scripture. Yet when we find ourselves living errantly against what God wants for us, do we find ourselves obeying Scripture and surrendering our sins to Him, or do we convince ourselves that we can hide it away, keeping it from the Lord, not having to confront our own sinful nature? The Lord is just and fair in disciplining us when we fall and refuse to confront him, but when Adam and Eve come forward, we see Him clothing and sending them on their way. In Eve’s actions, we see here the first example of God’s grace and forgiveness: that no matter what, when we come to Him to ask for forgiveness, even if we may be rebuked for our sins, He will always pick us up, clean us off, and help us back on the path towards Him. For he loves us beyond the bounds of sin and death.

 

From Eve, we can see the beginning of a beautiful, God-ordained relationship between man and woman, one of the most beautiful gifts of this life, pointing towards His love and glory. But we also see a fallible human, vulnerable to sin and temptation as the rest of us. Ultimately, Eve acts as a reminder to all of us of the beauty of grace, that the Lord’s love and care for us endures no matter our actions. So pray today for discernment in understanding when we have sinned and the wisdom and strength to confront our sin and come to the Lord immediately, without hiding and without shame, as we learn from Eve.

 

-Ross B.

Faith

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.