God’s Heart for the Vulnerable

When the Old Testament talks about God’s justice, it often does so by highlighting His particular concern for those most vulnerable to injustice. Three particular groups are highlighted repeatedly: the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner (or, in different English translations, the stranger, alien, sojourner, or immigrant).

Not only does God love and provide for these vulnerable groups of people, He also commands His people to do the same. As we saw yesterday, God even instilled policies to ensure that these vulnerable groups has the means to provide for basic needs such as food.

Later, God sent prophets to rebuke those who had failed to protect these vulnerable groups. Jeremiah and Malachi warn of God’s judgment for those who failed to keep these commands, listing mistreatment of the orphan, widow, and foreigner alongside sins such as adultery, sorcery, lying, and shedding innocent blood.

The Bible also takes these three groups—widows, orphans, and foreigners—as metaphors for how God rescues each of us in the midst of our vulnerability. The Prophet Isaiah compares God to a husband, redeeming a widow. In Galatians, Paul describes our salvation in Jesus as a process of being adopted as God’s children. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that those of us who are Gentiles were once strangers and aliens to God’s covenant with the Jewish people, but that by Christ’s death, we can be naturalized in as citizens of God’s kingdom, reconciled to Him and also to one another.

God deeply loves the vulnerable—and, at least in a spiritual sense, that includes all of us.

Reflection Questions:

1. How could you practically serve and reflect God’s love toward those who are vulnerable in your community?

2. How might recognizing your own vulnerability—and God’s grace in redeeming us in the midst of it—inform how you respond to those who are vulnerable as widows, orphans, or foreigners in our society and around the globe?

Winning Life’s Battles with God’s Help

There is a life-long battle that is being waged over our lives. On one side is the influence of that old sinful nature – those old lingering tendencies, temptations and sins that have been difficult for us to overcome. Over time as we mature in our walk with God, the influence of the sinful nature weakens. On the other side is the growing influence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. These are two opposing forces as described in Galatians:

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Galatians 5:16-17

God’s word encourages us to “live by the Spirit.” In other words, we must allow the influence of the Holy Spirit to win over the influence of the sinful nature in our lives.

Many times, this is easier said than done. Our sinful nature prods us to make decisions to satisfy self-centered ambitions and passions. This is called temptation, and James describes it like this:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” James 1:13-14

Not until a decision on our part is made to give in to a temptation does it become sin.

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:15

Amazingly however, as a part of God’s profound love and grace extended to all Christians, God forgives us and cleanses us from all of our sins. We are absolutely 100% forgiven.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

But there is still a danger in allowing sin to go unchecked. While God forgives us and cleanses us, He does not necessarily eliminate the destructive path of consequences and circumstances sin leaves behind. While God will always help us through difficult times, even when brought on by our own decisions, our best course of action is to do all we can to avoid making those decisions in the first place.

I Corinthians describes two important aspects in effectively dealing with temptation and sin:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” I Corinthians 10:13

First is that we’re not alone in our struggle. You can know that there are other Christians, whether 30 days or 30 years into their walk with God, who still struggle with sin and temptation common to yours.

Second, is that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond a point where we’re unable to make a decision to avoid sin. He will always provide a way of escape. Our job, as challenging as it may be, is to find that way out in the midst of our temptation.

The following section provides a Bible-based strategy for effectively dealing with sin and temptation. Putting this plan into action is one more way of giving God first place in your life!

Doctrine: Jesus, the Image of God

When pastor Clark Cothern was a child, his mother was the dean of women at Grand Canyon College in Phoenix, Arizona. What he saw of college presidents, he saw from floor level, while he played beside his mother’s desk in the administration building. “I would watch as students walked down the hall toward the president’s office and stop. They would rub their sweaty palms on their pants or skirts, take a deep breath, straighten their shoulders, and knock. The door would creak open. That’s when I would catch a glimpse of the president’s shiny, black wingtip shoes. The student would then disappear inside the mysterious chamber known as ‘The President’s Office.’ It was terrifying.”

One day Clark was playing with his toy car in the hall outside the president’s office when the door opened. Then he saw them — those shiny, black wingtip shoes. Unexpectedly, President Robert Sutherland, dressed in his pinstriped, three-piece suit, knelt down and asked, “May I have a turn?” They played cars together, and President Sutherland asked young Clark to call him “Dr. Bob.” The result? “That’s the day my opinion about the college president changed.”1 In a similar way, God came to us in Christ to share his life with us and to reveal that he is not a distant and terrifying being but a loving Father full of grace and truth.

Changed

Being changed by Christ means understanding who you really are in Him. You are His disciple. Over the next four days, you will read from God’s Word about what a disciple is and explore the various things disciples do.

A great example of a disciple can be found in the early church as they worked towards carrying out the Great Commission of spreading the good news of Christ into all the nations.

Jesus’ parable of the vine and branches offers us a perfect picture of what being a disciple of Christ should look like.

As a disciple of Christ you will find a need and meet it, find a hurt and heal it, and Jesus will ask you to do a lot of things that won’t fit neatly into a point on a page.

As a disciple of Christ, it’s important that you publicly stand with Him in celebrating your new life, which is why baptism is a great first step for a new follower of Christ. Over the next three days, you will explore what the Bible has to say about the importance of baptism.

There is spiritual power in baptism. This spiritual power is experienced in the fact that you are publicly standing with Christ. You are being baptized into Christ’s death and you are also being raised into new life.

Baptism is a symbol of your being changed by Christ. If you have never been baptized, let these verses serve as encouragement to you in taking that very important next step.

Being changed means reading and studying His Word regularly. Over the next seven days, you are going to explore verses related to understanding what the Bible is, where it came from, the power of the Bible, the reliability of the Bible, and the importance of mastering the text and being mastered by it.

God’s Word is eternal and has and will continue to withstand the test of time. It is absolute and we must submit to His Word in the way the writer of Psalm 119 explains.

Where did the Bible come from and how do we use it? Paul answers these questions in 2 Timothy 3:10-17.

We know the Bible is reliable because it passes the internal test in answering the question do the writers of the Bible claim their writings are true? It also passes the external test in answering the question what does outside evidence say about the Bible? Finally, it passes the bibliographic test by answering the question how well were the original documents translated to today? Today’s scriptures give answers to these questions.

God calls us to master the Bible and to be mastered by the Bible. As a follower of Christ, we must read the Bible regularly so that we can learn what it says, understand what it says, and do what it says. More importantly, we must allow His Word to transform and change us.

In order for God’s Word to change us into what God desires us to be, we must read His word regularly. Today, you will learn what the Bible says about the importance of reading and studying His Word on a regular basis.

There are four things the Word of God brings us: power, healing, direction, and freedom.

Being changed means understanding who God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are and how they interact in your life. This week you will read passages that will help you understand more about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Today you will read about God being your spiritual father.

Not only does the Bible show us that God is our spiritual father, but it also illustrates three characteristics of His fatherhood: He is a patient father, a forgiving father, and an intimate father.

Jesus is Immanuel meaning God with us. God came in the form of His son Jesus to live among us so that He could ultimately provide us eternal life by dying on the cross. Today you will explore what the Bible says about Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.

Jesus is Immanuel, and as Immanuel the Bible tells us that He comforts the afflicted and He afflicts the comfortable.

God sent the Holy Spirit to be our counselor. Being our counselor also means that the Holy Spirit serves as our intercessor, our advocate, comforter, and helper.

The Bible says there are three things the Holy Spirit does for you: He comforts you, counsels you, and convicts you.

You are empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit gives you the power to share Christ boldly, gives you power when you are weak, gives you power to have hope in a hopeless world, and gives you power to experience all the fullness of God.

Being changed means you connect with God through prayer. Our relationship with God is like any other relationship we have. We must spend time and connect with God and we do this through prayer. Over the next seven days you will spend time reading what God’s Word has to say about the importance and the power of prayer.

How should we talk to God? The Bible shows us that we should talk to God with gut-level honesty and talk to Him about everything that matters to you.

How should we talk to God? The Bible also says we should talk to God continually and that we should listen for His response.

Not sure how to pray or where to start? Start with Jesus’ example that He shared with His disciples, which is known as The Lord’s Prayer.

What matters to God when you pray? The Bible says your relationships and motives matter.

What matters to God when you pray? The Bible says the way you live matters, your faith matters, and God’s will matters.

Jesus encouraged us to pray without giving up. He illustrated this through the parable of the persistent widow.

Being changed means supporting and regularly attending your local church. Over the next seven days, you will read what the Bible says about what the church is and how you should support the local church through serving and tithing.

The church is not just a building. We are the church and each one of us is called to be ministers.

God has called you to meet the needs in your church.

God has given you both talents and spiritual gifts to use in serving His church and in ministering to others.

We support the local church through the tithe. All throughout the Bible God asks us to give Him a tithe, which is 10 percent of our earnings. In fact, the only time God ask us to test Him in the Bible is related to the tithe in Malachi 3.

Not only does God ask for our tithe, but He also desires us to be cheerful givers beyond the tithe.

During His ministry, Jesus often discussed the importance of tithing and giving generously.

Being changed means engaging in Biblical community. God did not design us to do life on our own, which is why it is vital that we engage in Biblical community with other believers. You will conclude this reading plan over the next six days by reading about the importance of Biblical community from God’s Word.

You’ll never do all God wants you to do without the right people around you. You need people in your life that are with you heart and soul. A great example of this can be seen with Jonathan and the armor-bearer.

One of the benefits of Biblical community is being around other believers that help you grow both spiritually and relationally.

Biblical community comes in many forms, the most common of which is within your local church in the form of regular church attendance and in small groups.

One of the greatest benefits of being in Biblical community with other followers of Christ is having people that support you during difficult times.

Biblical community can occur within a group of believers or between two people. In fact, some of the strongest forms of Biblical community happen between just two people. It’s important that we have believers in our life that can mentor and counsel us, as well as keep us accountable.

On this final day, you will read about the life change that has taken place inside of you as a result of your accepting Christ as your Savior. You have been forever changed as a result of your decision to follow Christ. The old is gone, and the new has come!

New 2 Faith: “Be an Effective Witness”

Knowing how to be an effective witness in our everyday world begins with understanding what God wants others to observe in our lives. The short answer is of course, Jesus. But what does that mean?

Jesus provided a perfect example of how God wants us to live. While Jesus lived his earthly life in a world much different than ours’ today, He embodied the full character of God and provides a relevant example for our modern world.

It is God’s character that he desires to develop in our lives and to be observed by others. This is achieved only through our personal relationship with Jesus.

Just as a branch that remains in the vine it draws its life from will bear fruit, so it is for us who remain in our relationship with Jesus – we bear fruit – or demonstrate the character of God through our lives to others.

When God’s character is working in us and through us – His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control we become an effective witness living out our everyday lives.

Just as it was in Jesus’ day, the outward, active expression of God’s character through our lives – the fruit of the Spirit – is unmistakable. It draws the attention of both Christians and unbelievers alike, and it’s not uncommon for someone to inquire about it.

Be prepared. Someone may be observing and inquire of you when you least expect it. Your personal testimony of salvation and of God’s wonderful ongoing work in your own life is a great starting point. Invite them to your church or fellowship, and encourage them as they explore a relationship with God!

New 2 Faith: “He Builds Character to Help You Grow”

Good character is not something we just receive with salvation, but is learned and developed over time. Helping us build Christ-like character is one of God’s primary goals. The Holy Spirit helps us become more like Jesus by building and developing His character in us. The Bible calls this the Fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

In the midst of challenges, we sometimes try to overcome adversity by our own power. By doing so, we may even be tempted to compromise our Christian character to get past our difficulties, or “take a shortcut.” But when we call upon the power of the Holy Spirit, He helps us stay the course with integrity, truth and honesty, no matter the circumstances.

During seasons of success, the same biblical standards should remain intact. Self-serving pride and arrogance are in direct conflict with the Christian character God wants to develop in our lives. In fact, meekness is a requirement for every Christian to continue receiving promotion from God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

As we face both our challenges and successes with Christ-like character, we begin to grow in our walk with God. We even begin to recognize that operating in the Fruit of the Spirit works to our ultimate good and to His honor. The more we grow in our walk with God, the more God can entrust greater blessings into our lives!

Matthew Curious: Rock Bottom Faith

“It’s going to be so cool when I grow up and get fired from my job.”

“One day when I’m big, I’m going to get a divorce and declare bankruptcy!”

“I can’t wait to get married and be widowed when I’m 30.

Things no child has said EVER.

We don’t dream dreams about living at low points. When we drink of life, no one wants to spend it at the bottom of the barrel, at the end of the road, the place where everything sinks and seems to come to a halt. No person ever longs to hit rock bottom. But, if we are rethinking the movement of our faith and curiosity for more of God, then we need to also consider how far our theology will allow us to sink.

And for all the efforts we make to keep from sinking low, somehow, it seems that within each of our own lives, we still do.

What is “rock bottom?” It’s the core of the earth, the depths of a soul, seemingly the farthest point we can fall from grace. It’s the moment in life when a meth addict realizes that he hasn’t eaten in two weeks and is sleeping on the dirty floor of a cheap motel surrounded by 10 other people in the same mess. It’s the businessman who makes a few bad investments and declares bankruptcy, sells his house and cars, loses his family, and moves into an apartment on the other side of town. It’s the state of a soul after fighting for the life of a loved one, draining a bank account seeking medical solutions, and spending night after night on bent knees in desperate prayer for healing. But, only to kiss comatose lips goodbye one last time as a final breath exhales in this world.

But if we want to really live, then getting to the end of ourselves is really just the beginning.

So we define the bottom to shore up our theology, to give us space to move in curiosity. The end of the beginning is that our great God is good, and He is for us. He hung the moon and stars in the heavens, paints hills in afternoon sunlight, makes dying babies breathe, and absorbs brokenness on a cross so that we may become a new creation. If the lowest we ever allow ourselves to sink still proclaims a story of redemption, then even the deepest deep is a springboard for forward movement again.

The depths of emotional oceans, the end of ourselves, the roads that seem to lead nowhere, they all finish at the foot of a cross sunk deep into the bottom of a rock called Golgotha. And the man who met his end on that rock, Jesus, is the reason that we can all have a new beginning.

When that vantage point becomes the lowest we can ever sink, everything else will always look up. In dying to ourselves, we truly find life.