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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

May 2017

Impatience, What’s It Good For?

 

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Psalms 102.1-17

Exodus 13.17-22

Acts 7.17-40

Starting with the passage from Acts, Stephen is giving his defense to the Council, who have authority over all things religious in nature.  He is explaining the history of the Exodus from Egypt, and the reality of Israel turning away from Jehovah, primarily because of impatience.   God was not acting fast enough, Moses was gone on the mountain too long to suit them, so they cried out for Aaron to make a statue resembling the gods of Egypt.  They resorted to the gods of their past, while captive in slavery, even though they were now set free by the mighty hand of Jehovah, who was still present with them.  The pillar of smoke was there by day and fire by night, they were still eating manna daily, yet they were unsettled as to whom to serve.

Exodus 13 tells the same story which again explicitly declares that Jehovah was ever present with Israel in this journey.  He never left them, always led them in safety, avoiding the way through Philistia, which surely would have sparked a war with them. He guided them through the Wadi Wadir to the Red Sea, which directed the pursuing Egyptians only one path of attack.  They took the bones of Joseph with them to again provide them with a presence of fulfilled prophecy that Jehovah was surely protecting and providing for them as a people chosen.

Psalms 102. 1-17.  The cry here from the writer shows again the frailness of our souls.  WE, as mankind, never seem to remember God’s presence with us.  We can’t remember His promises to us.  He describes his life like smoke that disappears so quickly, but might have referred more accurately to our memories of God’s care for us.  If God isn’t jumping up and down with a flag in front of us constantly we start losing hope in Him and feeling alone, and crying that He doesn’t care, or hear our prayers.  Job cried out, “how faint is the whisper” of His answers to prayer.  It’s almost like seeing the Israelites with their mouths stuffed with Manna, muttering “why isn’t God providing for us.”

Jehovah is the only true God of the heavens and earth.  He cares for you, He loves you, He provides for you, protects you, and is ever present with you.  Don’t forget that.  He has a direction for your life, unique for you.  He patiently directs your path, like He did for Israel, and is always hearing your prayers.  Sometimes we forget these truths, we get ahead of ourselves impatiently  wanting things right now.  It is so amazing to see God’s direction looking at the past of our lives, yet so hard to trust Him for the future.  Let’s not be like fickle Israel, unstable, self serving, and impatient.  Let’s be like a wise man who calmly waits upon the Lord, renewing our strength daily.

Karl

Captive Judah

Jeremiah 25-26

Review: “You have not listened” seems to be a recurring theme (25:3-8)…..Because of this devastation and desolation are the inevitable result (25:9-11)…..The 70 years of exile in Babylon (25:12) puts a limit on the judgement and exile due to Judah’s inattention…..The wine cup (25:15-29) symbolizes a lack of control, an inability to stand, which leads to a fall by the sword…..YHWH is more upset with the shepherds (25:30-38) than the sheep for the crisis…..Because of Jeremiah’s prediction, he’s put on trial (26:1-12)…..It is the religious leaders (26:8-9) most threatened by Jeremiah’s words during the reign of Jehoiakim…..He enjoys the support of the royalty and common people generally (26:10-16)…..An account is given (26:18-24) of two contemporary prophets to Jeremiah, Micah and Uriah, to compare his fate to Judah’s.

Commentary: One of Judah’s main transgressions, though not mentioned in the text, was their inability to keep the Sabbath (cp. Lev. 26:33-35, 2 Chr. 36:21)…..It’s interesting that Daniel, captive in Babylon, was well aware of Jeremiah’s “writings” (Dan. 9:2) as if he picked them up at a corner scroll store…..There were three deportations – in 604 , 597, and 586 BC…..Captive Judah was released from Babylon by the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-3)…..The predicted 70 years exile appears to be a round number – not exact…..Typically wine in the OT is a symbol of joy and gladness, not in this case, owning to the dual nature of this beverage…..God holds leaders more accountable than the public at large (Luke 12:41-48)…..The scope of Jeremiah’s prophecy isn’t simply limited to Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion, it leaps to all of us (25:29) with seemingly no escape (Joel 1:15, Rev. 19:17-19, cp. Isa. 2:10-22)…..The deal with the prophets Micah and Uriah…..Uriah attempted to run from the Babylonians and was killed for his flight…..Micah accepted Babylonian captivity, along with Jeremiah, and stayed alive…..For Jeremiah, it turned out that he had less to fear from Babylonians than from the officials of the Temple.

Loss and Triumph

Sometimes it takes the loss of one prominent figure or the end of one loved tradition to bring about an explosion of change.

In 1927, an animated character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was created by a young animator. Very quickly this Oswald character became one of the most popular cartoon figures in theaters across the country.  Oswald’s young creator traveled to New York City to make a deal with a large company that would give him the funds to create movies, serials, and an entire new universe around his Lucky Rabbit. Yet, when he arrived in the Big Apple, there was no deal. The company had instead sold the rights to Oswald to another set of artists. The devastation and injustice had to have been painful and completely defeating.

However, on the train back to his home town, the young artists began to sketch again. In the long hours after his humiliation and loss he began to rework and perfect the drawing of a colorful mouse. Little could that young man named Walt Disney have known that the demoralizing loss of one character, Oswald, would lead to the birth of a new one- Mickey Mouse. As we all now know, Walt’s loss actually led to triumph.

Our Scripture readings for today talk about the work of God in an unpredictable, often unjust, and regularly defeating world. In particular, it is the story of Stephen that asks us to consider how loss and even defeat can be the birthplace for amazing change. Stephen was the first martyr within the early Christian movement. The Bible says that he was so well-spoken and wise that the best his enemies could do was lie and convince the crowd that Stephen was trying to overthrow the teachings of the Old Testament. Unjustly, the crowd decided to end the life of an innocent Stephen by stoning.

If we stopped there it would seem as if public humiliation and death were the end to Stephen’s efforts. But, God had other plans. In the crowd that day was a teacher of the law named Saul. This Saul would experience the witness of Stephen, be struck down on the road by the Holy Spirit, become a tireless evangelist to the Roman world, write the majority of the New Testament, and help plant the foundations of the Christian church. Stephen’s death gave birth to a movement the likes of which he had never even imagined. Loss led to triumph.

Are you mourning the loss of something in your life? Have you faced humiliation, injustice, and defeat?  Then use Stephen as your guide. Look up to God. Believe that He is working. Expect triumph.

Will Ward

A real game-changer…

Today’s passage:  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 1:2)

Devotional Thought:  Greeters and greetings…sometimes I think we take them for granted. We talk about greeting people in Christian love. “Grace and peace to you…”  We talk about greeting someone we don’t know. When was the last time you talked with someone you did not know.

Don’t look past the opportunity to shake someone’s hand, give them a hug, say hello with a warm and genuine smile. The church has to be about relationships…deep and long-lasting relationships. For some, this is super scary, for others it is not. No matter the nervousness, it is a powerful part of the local church becoming a close family and is proof to a distraught world that there is a place for them in God’s healing home.

“Grace and peace to you…” It can be a game-changer for anyone……..

Covenant, is that an antiquated idea?

The Scriptures are peppered with covenants. In many ways covenants kept God’s story in the hearts of believers across cultures and history. But I have to ask: What made these covenants so real for so many people? There has to be something more than blind faith. Ezekiel records one of those covenants as it applies to the people of Israel and David.

Ezekiel 34:23-31 The Message (MSG)

23-24 “‘I’ll appoint one shepherd over them all: my servant David. He’ll feed them. He’ll be their shepherd. And I, God, will be their God. My servant David will be their prince. I, God, have spoken.

25-27 “‘I’ll make a covenant of peace with them. I’ll banish fierce animals from the country so the sheep can live safely in the wilderness and sleep in the forest. I’ll make them and everything around my hill a blessing. I’ll send down plenty of rain in season—showers of blessing! The trees in the orchards will bear fruit, the ground will produce, they’ll feel content and safe on their land, and they’ll realize that I am God when I break them out of their slavery and rescue them from their slave masters.

28-29 “‘No longer will they be exploited by outsiders and ravaged by fierce beasts. They’ll live safe and sound, fearless and free. I’ll give them rich gardens, lavish in vegetables—no more living half-starved, no longer taunted by outsiders.

30-31 “‘They’ll know, beyond doubting, that I, God, am their God, that I’m with them and that they, the people Israel, are my people. Decree of God, the Master:

You are my dear flock,
    the flock of my pasture, my human flock,
And I am your God.
    Decree of God, the Master.’”

The idea of the covenant starts with promises being made, promises that later on are solidified when the two parties get to know each other. On one side you have God that knows his people, and on the other side you have people that learn about who God is. It is that balance of knowing and learning that makes a biblical covenant lasting. As we continue to discover who God is, as we grow to know his character we learn to experience his promises. But a covenant will only be a covenant as long as the relationship between the two parties stays alive, as long as the two parties  stay faithful and strive to grow in that unity that a covenant brings.

Today I would like to challenge you to search your heart and see where are you in your own covenant with God. I know for myself, I am always challenged to see and believe the covenant laid before me. At times it is the doubt or the pressures that life brings time and time again. Other times my own insecurities that make me doubt about God’s promises. But at the end of the day one thing stands true: God is God, a God that knows who I am and what I struggle with, and with all that God will continue to be the God of the covenant that he made. So take time to remember who God is, take time to see God in a new light faithful to the promises He made, and faithful that they will be carried out because He is God.

Be blessed,

Bo M.

Who is the flock?

1 Peter 5:1-5

I’ve been there before many times in my lifetime. That place when I have tried to be good at something; no, not good, the best. And in my multiple attempts to be the BEST at that something, fallen flat on my face. Not once. Not twice. But more times than I can count. I think of Edison and his supposed 1,000-3,000 (depending on the source) attempts to create a incandescent light bulb, and his explanation that he had not FAILED 1,000 times, but found 1,000 ways how not to create a light bulb. I haven’t been nearly that adamant about being successful with anything, but I definitely have found many ways how not to do many things.

At times, I have needed to turn to others for advice on how to be successful at something. For example, I consider myself to be someone who is able to handle tools and have been known to fix a thing or two from time to time. But I do have a fair understanding of my limitations and who to call when I need support. However, I am much better at doing that when it comes to doing things like running electrical work than I am when it comes to asking for support through tough life events. Instead, I stubbornly think I can just muscle through it on my own with the thinking “this too shall pass.” When I hit those points in my life, those tough times last longer than necessary. I need to learn to find support from those around me.

This short passage from Peter is about just that. About the church being a support system for those around us. I’m guessing it would be easy to interpret these words as how we, the church, should be supporting each other, the members of the church. And, of course, we don’t have to look too far outside the walls of our church to find people who need that sort of support. But I would like to think that Peter is writing to us, the church, about supporting not only those within our walls, but also those outside our walls.

Just watch the news, or your Twitter or Facebook feeds, to see how people around town, our country, and world are doing. We just watched a news story on CNN 10 in my social studies class about how people in Thailand don’t even have soap for the luxury of washing hands or taking showers. Can you imagine?
How can we, THE CHURCH, be a support system to all of those around us? Are we, the church, the Christian people, WILLING to minister to ALL people, no matter their background? This passage challenges us to do this willingly, not because we have been prodded. How can we minister to people, not for our own gain, to get a better spot in heaven, but because it is the right thing to do? I know this is an area of life that I still need to get better at.

Yahweh Is My Shepherd

Psalms 23

Ezekiel 34.1-16

Luke 15.1-7

When teaching in the nursing homes a favorite topic to the attendees is to prompt them to study the scriptures on their own, to encourage them to continue in their faith.  I will ask them if any have memorized scripture, to which none will admit to remembering, until through some prompting they all seem to remember John 3.16, and Psalms 23.  I merely start reciting, “The LORD is my shepherd,” and watch out, they remember and take it from there.

The clear, revealing message from Psalms 23 is,  Jehovah cares for us like a shepherd cares for his flock.  The shepherd actually becomes attached to those he is to care for.  He knows their timidness, their fears, their limits, their abilities, their strengths and their weaknesses.  He protects, guides, leads, rescues, and provides for his flock.  This is an obvious metaphor for the way Jehovah reacts to those who are His people.  One of the most compelling lines in this psalm is “He restores my soul.”  In todays world it seems the focus is taking mankind away from the truth that we are spiritual beings that have a soul, an inner being, a spiritual part of us that needs attention. Our soul is so important to our health, our peace, our wellbeing,  and our relationships with others.  We all meet people who seem shallow, and fake, but so often the reason is they have no knowledge of this important part of their person, and that is they are spiritually unaware.  Jehovah reveals himself, calls to us, restores us, then He leads, provides, protects,  and cares for us.

Now comes the sticky part of this teaching from Ezekiel 34.   God has called men to be leaders, shepherds for His flock.  In this passage the Priests, and temple leaders are being called out.  These are the shepherds of Israel, that God has called and entrusted to care for His flock, and it’s being revealed that instead of caring for the flock they are feeding off of them.  A dire warning is given to the bad shepherds of Israel, and then it’s revealed that Jehovah, Himself will seek, find, and restore His people, binding the broken, and  strengthening the sick. This is a prophetic passage concerning the coming promised Messiah.

Luke 15.1-7 Jesus tells the leaders of Israels flock yet once again, in a parable this time, of Jehovahs plan to seek, find and restore the lost sheep of the world.  In fact, to the amazement of everyone He says He would leave the 99 in the open pasture to seek the one that was astray.  Often misunderstood, He is saying that the self righteous who are deemed to need no repentance, are not as favored as the one who has gone astray, and repented of their sin.

In conclusion it seems that Jehovah cares for us like a shepherd cares for his flock.  If you are called into leadership positions in the church, take it very seriously, peoples souls are at stake.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise God has made to care for us like a good shepherd.

Karl

Moses at Sinai

Exodus 3-4

Review:  The bush, fire, and the mountain of God are all linked forming a theophany at Sinai.  Moses removing his sandals expresses awe in the presences of YHWH (3:1-6)…..Moses is given the position of prophet or acting as God’s spokesman (see Jer. 1:7, 26:12-15)…..A divine response presupposes difficulty (3:7-9)…..Moses is directly sent to Egypt (3:10, 12-13)…..The “land flowing with milk and honey” (3:8) is already inhabited by other peoples…..This identification of YHWH (3:13-15) links His reality with history…..A commission is formed within Israel (3:16-17) for this venture out of Egypt and into Canaan…..God provides provisions, through the Egyptian, for their trip (3:21-22)…..Signs are given in the forms of Moses’ staff (4:2-4) and his healed leprous hand (4:6-8) to reassure Israel…..Moses needs his own reassurance due to his inability to publicly speak (4:10). To this, YHWH provides Moses with help (4:11-12) and a spokesman, Aaron (4:14-16)…..Moses and his family return to Egypt to deliver a prophetic message to Pharaoh (4:22-23)…..God seemingly attempts to kill Moses and is rescued by his wife’s (4:24-26) quick surgery on their son…..Aaron and Moses meet to deliver a message of Exodus to Israel (4:27-31).

Commentary:  It seems, although it proves nothing, that God moves on many fronts in grouping of three…..The meeting at the “burning bush” (3:3-4) happened because Moses sought it…..YHWH’s work with Moses identifies Himself to Israel and keeps promises made to Abraham’s posterity (Gen. 12:1-3)…..The leprosy (4:6-7) on Moses’ hand was caused by God to illustrate a point to Israel.  Moses covering his heart stands for what he is, his hand for what he does…..What we are, ultimately, we do (cp. Luke 6:43-45)…..The two signs, Moses’ rod and cleansed hand speak to his preparation for service to God.  The cleansed hand, done by a renewed heart (Isa. 52:11), holds the rod of God’s power…..Moses’ tentative response to God (4:1-7) is a typical human reply…..The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God (4:21) is both troubling and necessary for the Exodus…..The circumcision of Moses’ son reiterates forgetful Israel’s relationship with God (Gen. 17:9-14) and reminds one of Jacob confronting God and death (Gen. 32:24-32) prior to his journey to the same “land flowing with milk and honey” (Gen. 35:1-7)….  .What have I missed?

POINT OF NO RETURN

Do you have a former life?

By that I mean an old life, a life before change, a bad life you’ve left behind, maybe even “the miserable old days”.  Have you ever worked hard to create something new? Maybe you’ve sacrificed, stuck to the diet, worked the plan, saved the money…and then everything seems to fall apart. Really, remember the time you actually studied for the test and still the grade was, at best, a big fat D?

Today’s reading from the book of John is all about just such as time. It is the days after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but the disciples are anything but triumphant. They have just gone back to their old lives. They’re out fishing. Even though they have spent three years with Jesus, have seen him perform miracles, looked into the empty tomb, and witnessed him among them – they just go back to their old life. Fishing. The story of a resurrected Messiah just seems too out there, too unbelievable. So, the disciples just return to the same old, same old.  And, the real kicker is, now even that doesn’t seem to be working. They can’t even catch one fish.

The disciples had left their predictable fishermen’s lives to follow Jesus. They had left everything to follow hope, but they soon found out that hope is not easy. So they just hit rewind.

But, Jesus Christ cannot be gotten rid of so easily. He seeks them out. He greets them, feeds them, forgives them, and calls them.  Jesus Christ stands on the beach and says, “Remember me? I changed your life and now I am expecting you to change the lives of others.”  They know Jesus. They recognize that he is different, and that means that they old way of doing things just won’t work any longer. They have to let that go and cast their nets on the other side.

Will Ward

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