Vulnerability and Everyday Miracles

Devotional from the Beyond Suffering Bible

“One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, ‘My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”What can I do to help you?’ Elisha asked. ‘Tell me, what do you have in the house?”Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,’ she replied. And Elisha said, ‘Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.’ So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim! ‘Bring me another jar,’ she said to one of her sons. ‘There aren’t any more!’ he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing. When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, ‘Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.’” 2 Kings 4:1-7, NLT

In life, we manage changing circumstances, losses, pressures, and ambitions that make us vulnerable. Our bodies are susceptible to disease, abuse, and accidents. Our minds regularly cope with a wide range of emotions such as confusion, fear, anger, and trust. All of these can increase our sense of vulnerability in ways that can affect the rest of our lives.

A father of a young daughter with Down syndrome fears that she will grow up in a harsh and violent world. While he can’t be with her every minute, he longs to protect her so she can become the sociable, funny, loving woman of faith that God created her to be.

In the story recounted in 2 Kings 4:1‑7, a husband’s death brought economic hardship, poverty, and suffering to his wife. She became vulnerable to creditors, and if she failed to pay, her two sons would be taken as slaves (4:1). There was no governmental assistance, insurance policy, or benefit system to save them.

She sought out the prophet Elijah, who offered help. He began by asking what she had in the house. He concentrated on what she had, not on what she lacked. She had nothing except a flask of olive oil (4:2). Next, he involved the close community around her by instructing her to borrow as many jars as possible from her neighbors (4:3). She filled the jars to the brim until there were no more jars left, and the oil stopped flowing (4:5‑6). Then Elisha told her to sell the oil, pay off the debts, and live on what was left over.

What God did for this widow happens often in the lives of his followers. When we’re stressed and filled with anxiety, God’s Word offers practical guidance. His miracles frequently make use of the resources we have right in front of us. Be careful not to miss the miraculous in the middle of the ordinary!

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The Character of God

Note from the Christian Basics Bible

“Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, ‘Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.'” Exodus 34:5-6, NLT.

While people often say that the God of the Old Testament seems so different from the God of the New Testament, nothing could be further from the truth. We probably already associate Jesus with compassion, but here in Exodus 32–34 is a story that clearly declares how God revealed himself as the God of compassion in Old Testament times too.

While Moses was up on Mount Sinai, Aaron had made a gold calf, which Israel worshiped in a wild party (Exodus 32:1-8). God was rightly angry with them (though his anger is not like our anger; it is the right and just response of a holy God to wickedness). They had broken a fundamental aspect of the covenant—to have no gods other than him—and so deserved his judgment.

Yet even here we see God’s compassion, mercy, and patience. In swift response to Moses’ prayer, God forgave them (32:14), and when he called Moses up Sinai once again, he showed him what he was really like: “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin” (34:6-7)—a revelation that utterly transformed Moses (34:29-35).

This absolute conviction that God was compassionate and merciful, always patient with his people, became an underlying theme of the Old Testament (e.g., 2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8-18; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

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Video Story: Immerse Brings Unity to Multilingual Congregation

One of the most beautiful aspects of being a part of God’s family is that no matter our background, race, culture, nationality, or education level, we are all children of God. The Bethesda Community Church in Fort Worth, TX, is a thriving multigenerational, multicultural, multilingual congregation. Though united in love for God and each other, the congregation of English and Spanish speakers were looking for a way to grow together in community as well as in understanding God’s Word. Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience was a perfect fit. With all six volumes and resources available in both English and Spanish, the Bethesda family is growing close to God and each other by studying his Word.

Hear from members of the Spanish congregation about their experience. (The video includes English speakers and has English subtitles when the speaker uses Spanish.)

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The Bible’s Story is for Everyone

by Glenn Paauw, Senior Direct of Content for the Institute for Bible Reading

At the heart of the Gospel is the stunning realization that God is creating a new worldwide family through Jesus. The First Testament is the story of Israel – the Family of Abraham. God launches his project to restore the world by making Abraham a big promise. “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. . . . I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Since their inception, the nation of Israel knew that they were God’s family.

This is the story that Jesus was born into – the long, winding, up-and-down story of Israel. Then surprisingly, shockingly, Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham by giving up his life for the life of the world. Israel’s story became everyone’s story. All people are now invited to join God’s family, and the boundary lines that formerly ordered society – nationality, language, economic status, gender – are now superseded by membership in the family of God.

This means the Story of the Bible is the story we’ve all been adopted into. It’s our Family Story.

This beautiful reality is why we at the Institute for Bible Reading believe everyone should be welcomed to the table to feast together on the Word of God. And we intentionally crafted Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience to allow for that.

We were thrilled to hear how Bethesda Community Church used Immerse to create unity between their Spanish and English congregations (watch video story). They used the Family Guide to invite families with young children to read and discuss together. They (and others) have used the custom Immerse Audio edition for those who struggle to read or simply prefer to listen.

We realize there’s still a long way to go: more languages, more resources, and more adaptability for every kind of context. But our vision is for everyone to have the tools to read big, read real, and read together. This vision for God’s new family to go deep into God’s Word is already beginning to happen.

The Kingdom of God is brown, white, black, young, old, educated, uneducated, healthy, disabled, rich, poor, and everything in between. We speak a multitude of languages. But we are united in Christ. What a beautiful gift it is to come together and feast on our Story.

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Retreat and Return

“About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, ‘Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. Then a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.’ When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” Luke 9:28-36, NLT

Peter, James, and John had such an amazing time with Jesus up on a mountain that they didn’t want to leave. Have you ever been to a youth retreat or had a time with God that was so cool you didn’t want it to end?

Being away from the reality and problems of our daily life can seem inviting. But we can’t stay on a mountaintop forever. Instead of becoming spiritual giants, we would soon become giants of self-centeredness.

We need times of retreat and renewal but only so we can return to help build up our family and friends. Our faith must make sense off the mountain as well as on it.

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Is It Ok To Talk to God About Our Anger?

Article from the Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition

Several psalms shock those familiar with New Testament teachings. The psalmists didn’t hesitate to demand God’s justice and make vivid suggestions on how he might carry it out. Apparently, no subject was unsuitable for discussion with God, but our tendency is to avoid the subjects of anger and vengeance in the book of Psalms.

To understand the psalm writers’ words of anger and vengeance, we need to understand several things:

  • The judgments asked for were to be carried out by God and were written out of intense personal and national suffering. The people were unable or unwilling to take revenge themselves and were asking God to intervene. Because few of us have suffered intense cruelty on a personal or national level, we find it difficult to grasp these outbursts.
  • These writers were intimately aware of God’s justice. Some of their words were efforts to vividly imagine what God might allow to happen to those who had harmed his people.
  • If we dared to write down our thoughts while being unjustly attacked or suffering cruelty, we might be shocked at our own bold desire for vengeance. We would be surprised at how much we have in common with these writers of old. The psalmists did not have Jesus’ command to pray for one’s enemies, but they did point to the right place to start. We are challenged to pay back good for evil, but until we respond to this challenge, we will not know how much we need God’s help in order to forgive others. There is a helpful parallel between the psalms of anger and the psalms of vengeance. The“angry” psalms are intense and graphic, but they are directed at God. He is boldly told how disappointing it is when he turns his back on his people or acts too slowly. But while these thoughts and feelings were sincerely expressed, we know from the psalms themselves that these passing feelings were followed by renewed confidence in God’s faithfulness. It is reasonable to expect the same of the “vengeance” psalms. We read, for example, David’s angry outburst against Saul’s pursuit in Psalm 59, yet we know that David never took personal revenge on Saul. The psalmists freely spoke their minds to God, having confidence that he could sort out what was meant and what was felt. Pray with that same confidence—God can be trusted with your heart.

Selected psalms that emphasize these themes are 10, 28, 35, 59, 69, 109, 137, 139, and 140.

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Reader Story:”It’s Like I’m Sitting Across the Kitchen Table from Jesus”

What joy to hear how the NLT is bringing people closer to Jesus. So close it’s like they’re sitting across the table from him. Read these thoughts from our friend Virgie as she shares what the NLT means to her.

I love the NLT! It was introduced to me back in 2010 when I recommitted my life back to Christ. I had been a fallen believer for almost 20 years, before I started hearing the voice of the Lord profoundly whispering in my ear, that it was time to turn back to my first Love, Jesus

At that time, I had fallen so hard I didn’t think I was worthy of His unconditional love, grace and mercy but He profoundly showed me one morning in the book of Psalms 147:3, “He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds.” NLT

I took this scripture and ran with it, holding it like a baton, everything that was broken inside me had been healed and He still binds up my wounds.

The NLT speaks to me, like I’m sitting across the kitchen table from Jesus, I love the NLT.
– Virgie C.

What God wants

by Joni Eareckson Tada, from the Beyond Suffering Bible

This is what God wants—hearts burning with a passion for future things, on fire for Kingdom realities that are out of this world. God wants his people to be aflame with his hope and to have an outlook of pure joy that affects the way they live their lives. God wants each of us to be “like a city on a hilltop” (Matt 5:14) and “a lamp . . . placed on a stand” (Matt 5:15) so that everyone around us will be encouraged to look heavenward.

A perspective like this doesn’t happen without suffering. Affliction fuels the furnace of heaven-hearted hope. People whose lives are unscathed by affliction have a less energetic hope. Oh, they are glad to know they are going to heaven; for them, accepting Jesus was a buy-and-sell agreement. Once that’s taken care of, they feel they can get back to life as usual—dating and marrying, working and vacationing, spending and saving.

But suffering obliterates such preoccupation with earthly things. Suffering wakes us up from our spiritual slumber and turns our hearts toward the future, like a mother turning the face of her child, insisting, “Look this way!” Once heaven has our attention, earth’s pleasures begin to pale in comparison.

What has suffering taken away from you? Don’t allow your heart to dwell on such earthly disappointments. God permits suffering to draw our attention to heaven where that which was lost—and more—shall be restored. Suffering forces us to look forward to the day when God will close the curtain on all disease, death, sorrow, and pain (Rev 21:4). Until then, we have work to do! Jesus says, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work” (John 9:4),

Lord of heaven, turn my heart toward you this day.
I set my mind right now on things above.

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