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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

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mblaser4577

Promises and More Promises

Genesis 15:7-21

At the start of Chapter 15, God comes to Abram and makes the promise of all promises. God tells Abram that he will have a son to be his heir. God tells Abram to look up at the stars in the sky; the number of his descendants will number the stars in the sky. Have you ever been to a place where there is ZERO light pollution and seen the night sky? Here in the Joliet/Chicagoland area, we get the short end of the stick when it comes to night sky viewing because of night pollution, and yet there are still so many stars that we can see. But the number of stars in the night sky without light pollution is amazing, and there are thousands more stars that can be seen than what we get to see here. So keep that in mind when you picture Abram descendents. 

So fast-foward to verses 7-21, and you read that God doesn’t just stop at Abram having descendents. He also promises an area of land for his descendants. That area of land is currently occupied by other groups of people. BUT (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?) for a period of 400 years, those descendants will be enslaved in a foreign land and will be treated harshly. Of course we all know how that story works out, as this is a foreshadowing of the Israelites in Egypt. 

But after God punishes Egypt, which we know will involve plagues, one of which will kill firstborn sons of the Egyptians, Abram’s descendents will make it to this promised land. Well, they will get there four generations later anyway. At the end of the passage, God maps out all of the lands that Abram’s descendants will take over. 

Just like God made promises to Abram over 4,000 years ago, and then followed through on His promises, He also makes promises to us as well. We may not always know what those promises are ahead of time. But if you reflect on how and why you have had certain things happen in your life, you may realize that you were put in those situations, not because of complete randomness, but because of intervention from a much higher power. 

I’d like to also add that in this passage, keep in mind that God doesn’t only promise a whole bunch of great things to Abram (child, many descendants, land, riches, etc.), but he also promises hardship. 400 years worth to be exact. So as you reflect on your life so far and wonder why, if God promises all of these great things, why does he also allow bad things to happen, remember that sometimes hardships are part of God’s plan as well. We may not understand why while we are going through it, but God always knows what He’s doing and why. We just need to trust His plan. 

Abram in Egypt

Genesis 12:10-20

Yesterday, we learned about God’s promise to Abram, so Abram and his family set out to the land that God was to show him. Today, Noah makes it to Egypt. It should be made clear that at this point, Egypt wasn’t just confined to the area along the Nile River. As you can see in the map below, the Egyptian Empire at its height extended around the Mediterranean Sea into what is now the area we refer to as the Holy Land. 

So Abram and his family head to Egypt to avoid famine, and he fears that his bride is so beautiful that Pharaoh would have Abram killed and take Sarai for himself. So Abram convinces Sarai to say she is Abram’s sister so that Abram’s life would be spared. Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife, and he also gives Abram a huge flock of animals, as well as servants. Then God sends serious diseases to Pharaoh and his family (a plague of Egypt long before Moses), which leads to Pharaoh realizing that Sarai is actually Abram’s wife and not his sister. So Pharaoh sends Abram, his family, and his possessions on their way. 

If we circle back around to the first part of chapter 12 where God made a promise to Abram and his descendants, Abram never had anything to fear when he entered Egypt. God wouldn’t have made this promise to Abram and his family, and then lead him right into the lion’s den to be killed by the Egyptians for the sake of Sarai’s beauty. Abram needed to trust that God would protect him and his family. 

So, even though we mostly think about Abram as a faithful man, he too was a flawed human. He too faltered at times, and didn’t always place all of his trust in God. But yet God didn’t give up on Abram after this slip up, and still followed through on His promise. In the same way, God won’t give up on us either. He still has our back. We just need to trust Him and do our best to be faithful. Just like Abram. 

Babel

Genesis 11

Some of mankind has made their way eastward into a plain known as Babylonia. There they start building a large city and a tower to reach the heavens. It appears that these people aren’t engineering geniuses, even by the standards of their time, as they use tar rather than mortar to hold the bricks together. I can imagine that in the hot sun in what is now Iraq wouldn’t have cooperated too well with tar mortar. God comes down to see what His people are up to. 

I’ve always wondered when the Bible says “God came down” what exactly that looked like. Did he appear as just another random stranger? Could others even see Him at all? It is also important to note God says “let US go down.” Who is He with? I remember a long time ago saying I didn’t think the Old Testament was as relevant as the New Testament because the OT didn’t have Jesus. At that point, it was pointed out to me that Jesus was in fact present often in the OT. Everytime the Bible tells us that God said “let US” do such and such, the US is God and Jesus (and maybe the Holy Spirit as well?). I’m sure someone with more Biblical knowledge than me can comment on that. 

Anywho, God comes down and sees that people are doing human type things, and losing focus on what pleases God. Since they have advanced so far as a society because they could all easily communicate with each other, God spread them across the land and also confused their language to make things more challenging, and maybe slow down human progress. Thus became the reason we needed the Rosetta Stone to figure out what the Egyptians were saying, and why we have foreign language classes in school in modern times. 

The rest of Chapter 11 is the family line of Shem leading to the birth of Abram. At the very end of the chapter, we get introduced also to Sarai.  

The Flood

Genesis 7

A very quick synopsis of this chapter might go like this:

  • It’s going to rain for a long time. 
  • Gather your family along with male and female animals of all land species onto the boat that you need to build
  • Float on the boat for a few months

The story of Noah, the flood, and the ark is a story of trusting God at His word. As the story goes, up to that point, it hadn’t ever rained from the sky. So when God tells Noah to build a giant boat large enough to fit all of the animals of the Earth along with his family (and I assume food to eat for a few months as well), Noah looks pretty silly to the rest of humanity. But despite any ridicule he is facing, Noah still does as he is commanded by God. And therefore, when the floodwaters finally subside, the land animals are released back into the wild, while Noah and his family are responsible for re-creating the human race. 

I see this event as a second creation story of sorts, or the very least, a sort of resurrection of humanity. Humanity had fallen so far from God so quickly, that there was a need to reset the system. There were several other resets throughout the history of the Hebrew people, one major one of which was the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As we know, there is still at least one more reset to come when Jesus makes his triumphant return to Earth. 

So what do we walk away with out of all of this? As much as we would like to think we can control things…other humans…all of humanity even…only God is the one who has command. And it is because of this that we should spend most of our time trying to live our lives in a way worthy of Christ, while not trying to judge others for their life choices. It’s very challenging, for sure. I know I’m just as guilty as the next person in this area. But no matter what life choices we like to point our fingers at and condemn, there will always be plenty of fingers pointing back at us condemning our own sins. Remember that even Christ spent most of his time with those that the rest of society had ostracized because of their sins. So, as hard as it is for all of us, when put in situations where we are quick to judge, take a step back and place any and all of the judgment in God’s hands. 

Cain & Abel to Noah

Genesis 4

Genesis 5

In Genesis 4, we have the birth of Cain and Abel, and then the first recorded murder when a jealous Cain kills his brother. Following the murder, God sentences Cain to live in another land, which ended up being Nod. It is there that the family line of Cain comes to be known. And at the end of the chapter, Adam and Eve have another son, who they name Seth. 

Genesis 5 is Adam’s family line through Seth. This family line includes Methuselah, whose lifespan is the longest recorded in the Bible at 969 years old. This family line ends at Noah, who has three children after his 500th year. 

Some food for thought and discussion from these two chapters: 

  1. When God sentences Cain to live outside of Eden, Cain is worried that someone will find him and kill him. Who else would there be on the Earth at that point to cause him harm if up to that point, there was only Adam, Eve, Cain, and the now deceased Abel? 
  2. As I was working on this, I was reading a commentary that noted that Cain’s family line continued to be sinful. Lamech, Cain’s great-great grandson, married two women at the same time and maybe wasn’t very respectful of them in general. Also, he admits to murdering a man. 
  3. At the end of chapter 4, it is noted that “at this time, people began to call on the Lord.” In other words, it took until several generations later before people started worshipping God. 
  4. Through Seth’s family line, there was another Enoch and another Lamech. But this Enoch, it says, lived faithfully. Maybe we can assume that he passed that trait on to Lamech because then Lamech’s son Noah also was faithful. 
  5. One last thought that’s one of my own personal struggles with Genesis is the lifespans of people recorded here. It is incomprehensible that people lived so long at that time. 

 At the end of the day, what I always walk away with when reading these events from the beginning of recorded time is that I wasn’t there, so I don’t truly know what happened or how it worked. Instead, I just take it with faith that God created, it was good, and that some of the specifics, such as why would Cain be concerned about others killing him or how people lived so long aren’t the true message to walk away with from this historical book. 

Instead, in these chapters, and throughout the entire Bible, humankind screws up, God reprimands, teaches, and loves (always). It’s not for me to know exactly how all of the mysteries of the Bible actually work, as long as I just remember that God is God, and He loves me no matter what. The rest is just details. 

A Parent’s Love

Genesis 3:15-25

I’m late getting this published, but better late than never I guess. 

I think the basic message to walk away from this passage is that actions have consequences. God gave mankind free will, but our decisions also lead to things that happen to us as a result. God has set clear expectations for us, as He did for Adam in The Garden. But like any loving parent, God disciplines his children, not because he’s mean and vengeful, but because he cares and loves his children. 

As part of God’s consequences, we ended up with Mondays and the 40 hour work week. God placed man out in the fields to toil, and by the sweat of his brow, man cultivated the land to produce food to eat since The Garden was no longer accessible. Thanks guys for ruining it. We could all be hanging in The Garden right now, eating food given to us by God and having a great time. Instead, here we are…(ok, enough silliness). 

By the way, God placed a cherubim at the entrance to The Garden to guard it and see that no one enters. A cherubim is a high-ranking angel. So God sent some of His best to see to it that his consequences were carried out to their full extent. 

I’ve heard it before that the God of the Old Testament is the God of vengeance and the God of the New Testament is the God of love. But I disagree. Although God gets angry with His creation from time to time in the Old Testament and things happen a certain way as a result, I believe His consequences are the result of love for His creation. If He didn’t care or didn’t love creation, He would have just let it run rampant. But instead, He slapped creation on the wrist as needed to get humans back on track. God is and has always been love. 

The Whole Truth

Acts 25:1-27

We are in the home stretch of our study of Acts. Today, Paul is being brought before Festus and King Agrippa with accusations of crimes committed with the recommendation for execution. But the main sticking point was that the chief priests really couldn’t prove that Paul had actually committed any crimes. Paul’s argument is that since he obviously hasn’t committed any crimes against the Jews, he should not be handed over to them for execution. Therefore, he wants to stand before Caesar because he is the only person with the authority to hand Paul over. The purpose of bringing him before Agrippa was so that they could formulate any sort of plausible written charges against Paul.

I think this chapter is a 1st century version of our modern-day social media, don’t you think? We have a bunch of people who are calling someone out on the carpet based on assumptions and false accusations. The more people hear the story, the more people there are to add their two cents, even if what they have to say is completely fabricated just to support their claim. In the end, no matter what anyone wants to think or say out loud (or type with their thumbs on their electronic devices), it is God, and our Lord Jesus, who knows the actual whole truth. Paul knows that he has done nothing wrong, and God knows that Paul has been furthering His kingdom. Even though Paul faces death, he knows that God is with him and knows the truth. 

And just like God had Paul’s back, He has our back as well. We know that as long as we place our trust in God and the saving grace through Jesus, all will be well in the end. Trust Jesus. 

Paul in Ephesus

Acts 19:20-20:16

Paul has been in Ephesus, preaching, healing, and driving out demons. The spirit is so strong in him that garments of clothing that touched him were taken to people who were sick and they were healed. Jews who watched this happen began trying to drive out demons “in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches.” This didn’t work, but instead created a chaotic situation where they were beaten up by an evil spirit that knew they were imposters. Upon seeing this, many people quickly turned from practicing sorcery and converted. 

Ephesus was a center for trade and travel in Asia minor, and also home to the temple of Artemis. A silversmith brought fellow trades people together to create an uproar about how Paul and members of The Way were bringing a threat to their business of selling castings of the goddess Artemis. That stirred up a near riot that was eventually squashed by the city clerk. 

Paul continues his travels and ends up in Troas where he is teaching and breaking bread with some people. One of the people there was a man by the name of Eutychus, who fell asleep in a window opening and fell three stories to his death. But Paul brought him back from the dead. Paul made several more stops before setting sail to make it back to Jerusalem by Pentacost. 

In the story of driving out demons and the story of the near riot in Ephesus, you can see how easy it is to lead humans astray. It starts with one rabble-rouser who spreads some false information, and from there it can spread like wildfire. It is so important for us to not be led astray by human created sentiments and focus our energy on what’s most important. And that, to me, is to focus on where our salvation truly lies. In the grand scheme of life, when all is said and done, much of what we stress about will be unimportant when we meet our Creator. 

Paul at the Areopagus

Acts 17:22-34

This passage starts out with Paul acknowledging the Athenian people’s dedication to worship, but that worship is misled. In fact, their worship is so misguided that there is even an inscription on an alter “to an unknown god.” They are dedicated to praying to the gods, but they don’t even know who all of the gods are that they are worshiping. 

Paul gives them an alternative and a better God to send their prayers to. He introduces them to the One True God, Creator of All Things, the Living God. This God isn’t off in some distant place, but instead is with us everyday. He isn’t just found in temples dedicated to Him, but rather is with us everywhere. And one day, He will judge our lives through Jesus, His son. This speech that Paul gave in the Areopagus led to the conversion of several people, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris. 

I like to research the names mentioned in passages like these because the stories or traditions behind the names are usually interesting and also give insight to what the world was like 2,000 years ago. 

If tradition is somewhat accurate, then Dionysius was quick to convert after hearing Paul in part because of his experience as a boy living in Egypt at the time. It was at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, and as it states in the Gospels, the whole world came under darkness. It is said in tradition that Dionysius at the time thought the gods were mad at the world and caused the darkness. Later, when he learned that happened at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, that was all he needed to realize who God, and Jesus, are and became a convert. In fact, his whole family was baptized as a result, which quite possibly could account for the “and a number of others” mentioned at the end of verse 34. 

It is also worth stating that Damaris is a peculiar character in this story as well. Why, you might ask? Because in general, women were not allowed in the Areopagus meetings. However, if she were an upper-class prostitute, a Stoic, or a visitor to Athens, then she would have been allowed. From what I’ve read, she likely held some status with Dionysius or one of the other judges of the Areopagus, as in possibly the wife of one of the men. Either way, she had to be of some importance to those who ran the Areopagus to be mentioned by name in this passage. 

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