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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

July 2018

Love God. Love Your Neighbor. In That Order.

greatest-commandment

Isaiah 2; Psalm 89:1-26; Ephesians 2

Isaiah 2

All of our human arrogance will be humbled at the end of the age. Humankind will have to face the consequences of their actions and unbelief when the time comes.

Psalm 89: 1-26

Give thanks to God because all things have been created by Him, and by His hand, many great things have been done by faithful individuals. Those who are faithful and stick with God will have amazing return on their investment.

Ephesians 2

We are alive in Christ because we have been freed from the law. When we lived in the law alone (OT Times), there was no way that we could possibly keep all of the commandments and therefore were condemned to death. But God gave us the greatest gift of all; his grace. Because of Jesus, the barriers that separated non-Jews from God have been demolished. We all can be one in God through faith in Jesus.

Reflection

We humans can be pretty arrogant. For example, let’s take being a champion athlete of some sort. We will say things like all of the dedication and hard work that I put into this sport has payed off and THAT is why I am a champion. But we sometimes neglect to remember where we got the talent that allowed us to be able to do the hard work that got us to that point. All things that we have and are able to do come from God.

 

It was once that only the Jews were God’s people. And there was a long list of rules and regulations to live by, and rituals that needed to be performed to be close to God. But then things changed when Jesus came to this earth. All of the barriers that divided the Jews from the Gentiles were demolished, so that ANYONE who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior will have a place at the table. All of this is by the grace of God as long as we believe and trust in him who saves. Works alone won’t cut it so that we can’t grow arrogant about what all we have done.

Of course we still need to continue to live our lives by certain standards. But, as is written in the Bible, spoken by Jesus. The greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. All of the other rules?? Ya, they still are there. But if you can follow these two big ones, you will also be doing alright with the rest of them. To love God and your neighbors is to sort of put yourself on the back burner; it is humbling to put others before yourself. To think of others before yourself. And I think that if we want to look for a tie that binds all three of these scripture readings together, that is it. Humble yourself by living a life that follows those two commandments. Love God. Love your neighbor. In that order.

The Book of Ester

Ester 9-10     Psalm 88     Galatians 6

Review:  On the twelfth month, the thirteenth day of Adar, Xerxes decreed that the captive Jews be enabled to destroy their enemies throughout Persia (9:1-10)…Haman’s 10 sons are hung (9:11-14)…300 enemies are killed at Shushan (9:15)…With victory secured, the Jews rest (9:16-19)…To commemorate this victory the Feast of Purim is instituted (9:20-28)…Queen Ester confirms in writing the celebration (9:29-32)…King Xerxes makes Jewish Mordecai second in command over the kingdom of Persia (10:1-3).

Analysis:  Mordecai, by way of his contributions to the Persian empire. is the controller of this episode (9:4)..The Jew’s slaughtering of their enemies was done without any recorded resistance (9:5-10)…On three occasions the Jews went after their enemies, not their property (9:10, 15, 16) hinting at the morality of their actions vs. collecting their wealth.  It was a matter of self-defense…The execution of Mordecai’s decree (8:10-12) was Haman’s (3:9-11)…The public hangings (9:14) of Haman & Sons was to humiliate them publicly, as was typically done in antiquity…Understanding the Feast of Purim (9:16-32) begins with Diaspora – Jews away from Israel…That Jews are away from Israel, scattered even at the present hour, agrees with OT prophecy (cp. Duet. 28:58, Lev. 26:33, Jer. 9:16, Ezek. 36:19).  Yet they are still under Providential care (cp. Gen. 45:5-7, Deut. 10:14, Psalm 105, Isa. 52:12)…Xerxes raising taxes (10:1) references Xerxes and the power and reach of the Persian government.

Wishful Thinking and Spiritual Living

Esther 7-8, Job 30, Galatians 5 (NIV)

In Esther 7-8 we see Queen Esther continually approach the King for serious life and death conversations, something not done in those days. Normally, she would wait until the king approached her or sent for her to come into his presence.  But she risks her place to protect her people and serve God.

Hamon in his own wishful thinking planned to destroy the Jewish people.  He schemed and manipulated laws and circumstances to go his way.  And so for awhile Hamon had his day in the sun when the King trusted him.  But evil has a way of coming to light and through Esther’s truth telling to power; the King, Hamon’s harmful ways are exposed.

Now Hamon received his just due; he is put to death on an instrument of death planned for another who was innocent.  Justice sees the light of day and the story ends well for the Jewish people.

Job is at his wits end, in Chapter 30, his suffering has torn him apart, and he lets his friends know it. Job expresses his exasperation.  We are eight chapter away from God speaking into the situation to bring wisdom and hope.  Sometimes we must go through the darkness before the light dawns; something Esther understood.

In Galatians 5 we read of what it means to be in Christ and the freedom there is for us in the grace of God through faith in Jesus.  We are called to “walk by the Spirit” and not by sinful desires and behaviors, “The acts of the flesh.”  Hamon, in Esther 7, is a good example of what it is to live a life far from God and sinful desire.

Then there is life in Christ, living in the Spirit, “the fruit of the Spirit,” which is love, joy, peace, forbearance,” and so much more.

Read Galatians 5:13-26 and rejoice in the kind of life God through Jesus Christ offers us today and each day.  Celebrate life in the Spirit today and always.

Freedom or slavery….

Today’s Passages (all 1 link):  Esther 5-6; Psalm 87; Galatians 4

The book of Esther has always been a favorite of mine – one filled with government and political ambition, oppressed minorities, political intrigue, ethnic hatred and cleansing to name a few.  It is a book filled with intrigue…lies…revenge.  Some call Esther a fairy tale…I think it sounds more like the news reports of the day.

It is more like today in another regard.  Esther is  book that does not mention God…yet…do your best to convince me…or yourself, that God is not active throughout Esther.  Today, God is rarely mentioned in our culture and you are free to try as hard as you like to convince me…or yourself, that God is not active in our world today.

Esther had everything right – she was the queen…favored by the king and yet, she took on the establishment as it were.  She chose freedom for her, Mordecai and her people…against being enslaved because of her heritage.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the allegory of Hagar and Sarah also reflect the opposing realities of slavery and freedom.  Paul has been working very hard in this particular letter to deal with the churches of Galatia with regard to why they had fallen back into their old ways.  They have chosen to be enslaved – that circumcision would be the only viable way to belief.  Paul has been adamant from the start…”You foolish Galatians!” he says in Chapter 3…going on to emphasize that real freedom comes from faith in/of Jesus.

Friends…we are children of the promise…the promise made real in Jesus.  Paul tells us this clearly and Esther…she did save her people from ethnic cleansing.  Esther risked her life to prevent a great injustice and Esther was a rescuer…seems to me that Esther very much resembles the One who came to show us the grace and mercy of the Father and the One who is yet to come and deliver those into eternal freedom…for those who place their faith in him…Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Sunday Reflection: God as Victor

This past week I had the privilege of officiating the funeral service of a friend.  His name was Bill and we shared many special times over donuts at The Donut Den in Crest Hill.  Part of me says to each of you that I hope God graces your life so much that you, too, will have such a relationship with someone.  Another part of me is the one who is always humbled to proclaim at any funeral service…“Jesus defeated death forever”.  And…my friends who are reading this…I truly hope that you know at the very core of your being that one day you are confident to know that not only did Jesus defeat death forever…we are left us with the following promise from Jesus…from Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children…

The Victor is the One who created everything good in the beginning and the One who will restore, to all who believe in his name, everything good in the end.  Believe…in Jesus!


Readings this coming week:

7/16/18 Esther 5-6 Psalm 87 Galatians 4 Dale
7/17/18 Esther 7-8 Job 30 Galatians 5 Craig H.
7/18/18 Esther 9-10 Psalm 88 Galatians 6 Craig R.
7/19/18 Isaiah 1 Job 31 Ephesians 1 Karl
7/20/18 Isaiah 2 Psalm 89:1-26 Ephesians 2 Matt
7/21/18 Isaiah 3 Job 32 Ephesians 3 Bo

A Saturday Morning Challenge

Esther 3-4
Job 29
Galatians 3

Today’s readings come from some of my favorite books in the Bible!

About four years ago I was in an online Bible study and we read through the book of Esther. It was in this study that I learned SOAP for Bible Study notes. If you’re a journaler this method is one of my favorites for digging deeper into Scripture.

Scripture
Observation
Application
Prayer.

I want to challenge you to do this exercise for one of the following passages:

Esther 4:14
Job 29:2-6
Galatians 3:3
Galatians 3:14

I’ll do an example for you!

S: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. Galatians 3:26
O: In this letter to the church in Galatia Paul is concerned with how the people are relying on works instead of faith. He spends Galatians 3 reminding the Galatians that it is through faith that we are saved, not the Law.

A: I struggle with perfectionism in certain areas of my life. I worry quite often that I am not “enough.” Good enough, strong enough, smart enough, etc… But who am I not enough for? This world? For me? The way I am looking at this passage today I am reminded that my “enoughness” does not depend on anything because I am God’s beloved through my faith–not by anything I do. If it is by this free gift of faith that I am God’s beloved, then what am I trying to earn by being “enough” for someone else? Where am I looking to if I am afraid that I am not enough? I have a feeling it is not to the Cross nor to the Kingdom if I am worrying.

P: Father God, I thank You so much for this humble reminder and the opportunity to share Your grace and love. I ask, Papa God, that you be with me in the dark moments where I fear I am not enough. I pray, Lord Jesus, You strengthen my spirit and remind me that You are with me no matter the circumstances. I commit my work, and my life, to You. I pray you make my path very straight and guide me to hear Your voice above any other. I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made as Your daughter. I love You with all that I am and I pray with great thanksgiving and praise in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Many Blessings,
Karissa

Acceptance and Opposition

Esther 1-2 Psalm 86 Galatians 2

A queen that is banished, an apostle that is welcome into the fold – that can sum up our readings today. Conflict is part of our humanity. How we deal with it that is something that defines who we are as people of faith.

For King Xerxes pride and self-righteousness played an important role as he banished Queen Vashti. Yes, you can argue that along the way he consulted his most trusted advisers and that his decision was an informed one, but then again I can also argue that the advised he received was flawed and in many ways nothing close to what a good and moral king would do. Nevertheless, this conflict ended up with a Queen being banished from her position. In the long run, we will see how God uses this event to protect his people. So there is some redeeming power to this.

On the opposite side, Paul is finally accepted and recognized by the Church in Jerusalem. That in itself gives him an equal footing with the rest of the leaders of the church and also an opportunity to address some of the conflicts that were splitting the church. The main point of the conflict was related to Kosher- Jewish living versus Gentiles coming to faith bringing in their own customs and food habits. Paul is using this platform to address the issue, and he takes on Cephas- Peter the big cheese. But he does that in a way that is grace-filled and truth driven. As a result that conversation leads to what you can call the first reform in the church. So all in all a good day.

How do you deal with conflict? What drives your approach to a certain issue or another?

I pray that we can all be sensitive to conflict and be able to discern God’s heart in the heart if it. But also for us to have a heart that can be molded and lead by the spirit of God in a way that will benefit those around us.

Be blessed,

Bo M.

Seek Wisdom Through Study and Reflection

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Nehemiah 11-13; Job 28; Galatians 1

A Short Summary

In Nehemiah, we read about how the recently rebuilt city of Jerusalem is repopulated and some rules to live by in the city. In Job, we read about where to find wisdom. In Galatians, Paul begins his argument about “the one true Gospel.”

Reflections

There are many things that we are able to figure out because we are intelligent people. We once figured out how to tame fire and make tools from stone. We once figured out how to make the internal combustion engine. We were able to figure out how to put a man on the moon. We have figured out how to take a computer processor that once filled an entire building fit inside of a device that now fits in our back pocket. We even know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

But does all of this amount to true wisdom? I know a lot of people that I consider to be book smart, but lack what I refer to as street smarts, which could maybe also be referred to as common sense. I think Job is also talking about the difference between book smart and street smart, in a sense. There is the intelligence that helped the people of the time create and discover amazing things. But then there is the wisdom that comes only from one place…God. We need to read our Bibles on a regular basis to seek this wisdom. But not just read. Read, research/study, and reflect. Within the pages of your Bible is insurmountable wisdom waiting to be unlocked.

In Galatians, Paul introduces himself and greets the recipients of his letter; the churches of Galatia. He then starts in with his argument about what the Gospel is truly about. To do this, he tells of his journey from being a model Jew who persecuted Christians, to being blindsided (literally) by Jesus, to being arguably the most important apostle. As we continue through Galatians in the next few days, you will see how he is setting the table by doing this. There is a lot that is covered in this one chapter. There is a lot that is covered just within the last 3 paragraphs. But I want to focus on verses 15-18:  

15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me,[e] so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days;

Paul was a perfect model of seeking the true wisdom that can be found in the scripture. After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he didn’t just all of a sudden become a sage and start preaching. He went away for THREE YEARS! What was he up to during those years? No one really knows for sure, but one would speculate that he was partially running from his reputation as a Christian killer, but also to find solitude to meditate and study for his new purpose in life. I found this reference in my search for understanding:

We are not told his reason for going into Arabia, nor his employment when there. His mind would naturally long for solitude; and, in view of the work before him, he may have felt that by a season of calm contemplation, of prayer, of profound meditation on that new system which he had embraced, and which he had been so suddenly called to make known to the nations of the earth, he might be better qualified for his great mission. It may give some confirmation of this view to remember that the great Hebrew lawgiver, Moses, spent years in the desert of Midian before he was prepared for his great work of leading forth and delivering the people of God; that Elijah, the great prophet, wandered in such deserts before he came forth to his great work; that the forerunner of Messiah—John the Baptist—”was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel,” and there grew and waxed strong in spirit; and that the Redeemer himself was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” to be tempted and tried, after His baptism, and before He entered on His public work as the Messiah. (Conybeare and Howson, voL i. p. 94.)

So to summarize, set aside time on a regular basis to study and reflect on scripture. From my own experience, the first 35 years or so of my life, I was always involved in a church, but didn’t spend much time outside of the hour on Sunday thinking about or studying the Bible. It wasn’t until a Kerygma whole Bible study with Dale and the advent of this blog page that things changed for me. I’m not anywhere close to a Bible expert. Most days when it is my turn to write for this page, I struggle through my words because I have zero seminary experience. But, with the start of this blog, I first made an effort just to read the entry each day, which at the time was only written by the pastors. I also, as often as I could, tried to pick out one thought about the entry of the day and make a comment of my own as I reflected on what I had read. This led to being asked to write for a first time. And that is when, for lack of a better phrase, all hell broke loose for me. I eventually became a regular writer. And each time that I write, I am forced to read (skim really), then pick out one or two things to think more about. Then I try to figure out how those one or two things relate to my everyday life. And the I write.

What’s my point? It is what I truly believe is an important part of the learning process. Not just the seeking of knowledge, but also reflecting on the learning process. To think back on what I just read, and find that connection between what is being said and what I already think I know. That is where the true learning, and ultimately, wisdom resides. Seek it…often.

Reconstruction

Nehemiah 6-7     Job 27     2 Corinthians 12

Review:  Nehemiah’s wall rebuilding is opposed by Arabs (6:1-9)…More intrigue follows Nehemiah (6:10-14)…Hanani and Hananiah are put in charge of security of Jerusalem (7:1-4)…The genealogy of the first wave of returnee’s is enumerated (7:5-42)…As are the Levites (7:43-45)…As are returning Nethinim (7:46-56)…As are Solomon’s servants (7:57-62)…Priests that failed to make the cut (7:63-65)…42,360 Israelites, 7,337 servants and 245 make and female choir members released from Persia (7:66-67)…736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys (7:68-69)…All told, gifts amounted to 41,000 gold drachmas, 50 basins, 597 priestly garments, 4,200 silver minas (7:70-72)…In the seventh month, Israel repopulated its cities (7:73).

Analysis:  Like any building project of any significance at all, the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls is open to all forms of ridicule and outright lies (6:1-2, 6-9)…The phases of the project were the inspection (2:11-18), labor organization (3:1-32), Nehemiah rallies the workforce (4:4-8), wall security is set (4:10-17), and the job is completed (6:15)…What we have is Nehemiah’s personal reflection as project manager of the rebuilding…To me and my experiences as a project administrator, this text appears true to a constructors life.

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