Friday, June 23, 2017

June 23

2 Kings 4:18-5:27; Acts 15:1-35; Psalm 141:1-10; Proverbs 17:23

There’s a ton in today’s reading – Elisha raising the Shunammite’s child; the story of Naaman, commander of the army, who is healed from leprosy and makes a dramatic proclamation of faith; and the false teaching in Antioch from the Judeans, that you have to be circumcised in order to be saved.

But we’re also coming oh-so-close to the halfway point. On July 2, we’ll be halfway through 2017. And you know that that means? In just one week, we’ll be halfway through the Bible (more, technically, since we’ll have read all of Psalms and will begin to re-read them come July 3). That’s something to celebrate! Way to go, you! Way to go, me! Way to go, us!!

I feel led to take some time now to just pray for us, as we continue on in this journey.

Our Dearest Father,

Thank you for helping us make it halfway! Regardless of whether we’ve hit each day on time or had to skip ahead to catch up, we’ve come a long way and we’ve learned a lot about your word. And we’re so thankful – thank you for preserving this wonderful, mysterious and life-changing book. Thank you for providing us the means to have it not only in our language and in our own homes, but also the many tools we have to help us understand it better and grow more in our knowledge of you. Thank you for the people who developed the One Year Bible and all the thought and effort that went into it.

And I thank you for the people who have journeyed with us thus far on this blog, reading your word every day and pursuing ways to have it impact them more deeply. I pray you would bless them: I pray that their marriages would thrive, that their children would walk with you, that they would find success and fulfillment in their work, and that they would know their place in helping your will and your kingdom come on earth. Grant them perseverance as we come soon into the second half of the year.  Help us all to be diligent and faithful in our reading, and also grant us grace for ourselves when we just can’t keep up. Thank you that you have revealed yourself in the pages of this book; help us to know you more deeply and grow in our love for you and for others.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

- Esther McCurry

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22

2 Kings 3:1-47; Acts 14:8-28; Psalm 140:1-13; Proverbs 17:22

I find the exchange between Joram and Elisha so interesting. Joram, fresh out of sheep from the uprising Moabites, goes out to war with his allies, the kings of Judah and Edom. But while they are in the wilderness, they run out of water. So Jehoshaphat suggests they ask a prophet if they’re even on the right track; Joram agrees and goes to Elisha. But Elisha asks, “What have I to do with you?” (2 Ki. 3:13). Basically, Elisha is telling Joram that he owes the king of Israel nothing  - Joram is loyal to Baal (Elisha refers to him as the prophet of his mother and father), and Elisha mockingly implies that he should look to this false god for help. This forces Joram to admit that it’s really the LORD who is in charge, and because of Jehoshaphat, Elisha is willing to seek God’s wisdom on their behalf. I love that Elisha is not pulled into Joram’s schemes (but knows the truth that the kings are all wandering in the wilderness because of Joram’s own initiative not God’s direction), but that he also fulfills his role as a prophet and delivers the words of God.  And what a result! The Moabites are tricked into rushing headlong into their enemies and ultimately surrender everything but the city of Kir Hareseth.

In our Acts reading, it’s easy to read quickly along, so much so that you might even miss something like “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19). What?! Aren’t these the same crowds that were trying to worship and offer sacrifices to them? How fickle the crowds are! And how blandly Scripture reports the stoning of Paul. Can you even imagine being stoned to the point of death? Obviously this is very far from anything most of us have ever experienced.

But what’s really amazing is what follows – on the next day, Paul “preached the gospel” and “made many disciples” (Acts 14:21), and then we see city after city in which they preach the gospel. We read it as a list of deeds and geographical references, but what we’re really seeing is the movement of the Christian church. This is how it all began, folks. This is how the word of God eventually got to you and me. Paul and other Christians like him traveled around and spread the word. As it says at the end of our reading, “he opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (14:27). Amazing. Truly amazing. Let’s pause today to thank God for the spread of our faith and the men and women who came before us who made that possible.

That also makes me want to pause and pray for the current missionaries, who, like Paul, are going to the ends of the earth to tell people about Jesus. What an amazing calling!

And I love how the psalm ties into that theme too: “I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted and will execute justice for the needy” (Ps. 140:12). In many of these remote places, injustice runs rampant; victims are afflicted and it can seem like no one cares. But this psalm reassures us that God sees and that he’s working for their justice. Please, Lord, may your justice come speedily to those in need!

If you have some time today and you feel like an extracurricular Three65 activity, how about contacting a missionary you or your church support? Maybe send them an encouraging email or text, just to say you’re praying for them and you believe in their work of bringing the gospel to all the peoples. Just an idea!

- Esther McCurry 

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21

2 Kings 1:1-2:25; Acts 13:42-14:7; Psalm 139:1-24; Proverbs 17:19-21

Today, these bits of Scripture caught my attention:

- 2 Kings 1:13-14: The humility of the third captain as he approaches Elijah through the smoldering remains of two men who caused the deaths of one hundred more.
- 2 Kings 1:16: These are almost exactly the same words as the message God sent via Elijah via the messengers of the king (vs. 3-4).  God's word and plan are steady.
- 2 Kings 2:3 and 5: I hear Elisha's grief.  He can hardly bear to contemplate the loss of Elijah.  So human, so poignant.
- 2 Kings 2:17 is such an interesting verse.  Why should they persist?  It seems clear that the company of prophets did not see the chariot and horses of fire, but they should still recognize that something miraculous has happened.  And why is Elisha "too ashamed to refuse"?
- 2 Kings 2:23-24: !!!??? What?  Really?  Mauling by bears for juvenile taunting?
- Acts 13:43: Paul and Barnabas "urged them to continue in the grace of God."  What a beautiful exhortation.  To continue, meaning they were already in the midst of it.  The grace of God, his mercy and love and provision and acceptance and blessing.  Wow.
- Such perseverance and courage on the part of Paul and Barnabas.  Time and again, we read of them speaking boldly (Acts 13:46, 14:3), withstanding persecution (13:45, 50; 14:2, 5), and always preaching the good news (13:44; 14:1, 7).
- Psalm 139 is an expression of awe and wonder from a creation to his Creator.  How much it says to us of God's love for us and how we can view ourselves in the light of this love.
- Our verses in Proverbs show the high cost of anger, lying, and folly: the ruin of self, of relationships with others, and of a relationship with God.  Sobering words.

What caught your attention?

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June 20

1 Kings 22:1-53; Acts 13:16-41; Psalm 138:1-8; Proverbs 17:17-18

After finishing 1 Kings, our psalms readings begin to make more and more sense. Today as we read Psalm 138, we can really understand why David would write these words - “before the gods I sing your praise,” and “all the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth,” and “you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies” (Ps. 138:1,4,7). Those are just a few of the verses, but really the whole psalm could be applied to what we have just read through in the sagas of all the kings.

We do, in fact, see David, as well as subsequent kings, sing and speak praises to the Lord in the midst of the idols and false gods around the nation of Israel. We see a few of the kings of Judah refusing to follow after them and staying true to the One True God. We also see a number of them not staying true and being led astray.

All the kings of the earth truly did hear the words of the Lord, mostly through David’s son Solomon. As we read last week, kings and queens and rulers from all over the earth would come to sit and hear Solomon’s great wisdom. Wisdom that had been given by the One True God. Wisdom that contained His truths for how to live life well according to His ways.

And numerous times we see the Lord stretch out his hand and deliver his people from their enemies. Even when the kings leading Israel or Judah are not good kings, God still delivers his people during the battles and many wars they face over the various reigns of the various kings.

So, David is remembering, as well as proclaiming what is to come, in this psalm. Our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is on high, yet he regards the lowly (Ps. 138:6). He fulfills his purpose for us (see vs. 8). Just as he did for David, just as he did for Israel and Judah and all their kings, he will do for us. He is a good and faithful God.

I take great comfort in these truths. It's easy for me to think the Bible is disconnected or narrow or old-fashioned. But so often I can see many common threads of truth running throughout it. Even today we must fight false gods and rulers and enemies who would set themselves up against the Almighty. We take confidence in his regard for the lowly and ask to join him in his work of salvation and redemption for all the peoples of the earth.

- Mary Matthias

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 19, 2017

June 19

1 Kings 20:1-21:29; Acts 12:24-13:15; Psalm 137:1-9; Proverbs 17:16

Ahab is weak-willed.  He is, by and large, under the influence of his very evil, very pagan wife (see 1 Ki. 21:25).  But he yet understands the purity and holiness of God.  See how responsive he is to the words of the prophets.  He relies on their words (I Ki. 20:13-17), and smarts under their rebukes (vs. 41-43; don't you just love the childishness of Ahab's reaction: "sullen and angry"?).  Though his repentance seems to be only temporary (I Ki. 21:27) - he is, after all, the worst of Israel's kings (see vs. 25-26) - it is genuine.  God is not fooled by false humility, so there must have been true contrition.  What a merciful, forgiving, patient God.

(Jezebel, however, never indicates any remorse or conscience.  She goes from bad to worse to deplorable.  Her underhanded deception and murder of Naboth for the sake of a piece of land is, truly, appalling.)

There's an interesting contrast in today's reading.  I Kings 20 is a dramatic battle scene, but it's almost entirely played between unnamed characters (Ben-Hadad is probably a title-name, like Pharaoh, not an individual name).  Ahab is referred to almost exclusively as "the king of Israel" and the prophets are never named.  The real actor in the situation is Yahweh himself (note that his personal name, written as LORD, is used repeatedly throughout the chapter), strategizing and encouraging and defeating.  The lack of human names pushes us toward the Most High God.

And then in our New Testament reading, we're on the opposite end of the spectrum: inundated with specific names and places.  We've got personal names for John, Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul/Paul; actual physical locations like Antioch, Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis, Paphos; more people in Bar-Jesus and Sergius Paulus; more locales in Perga, Jerusalem, and Pisidian Antioch.  These were real people, in real places, doing real things.  I love all the detail!   The labor and travel and boldness and physicality of these men and places reveal their passion to see the world won for Christ.  All this specificity also pushes us toward the Most High God. 

How were you pushed toward this same mighty God today?

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 18

June 18

I Kings 19:1-21; Acts 12:1-23; Psalm 136:1-26; Proverbs 17:14-15

Although I have read the One Year Bible almost every year for over twenty-five years, I took a break in the middle of those years to do a different kind of reading of the Bible. I decided to take a ‘long, slow’ read through the Bible, cover to cover, just moving my bookmark each day. If a passage spoke to me or intrigued me, I lingered over it. That journey took me three years, and then I returned to the OYB.

When I came to this passage in I Kings I lingered. I read it for three days, trying to understand what was happening: why was Elijah so discouraged and what was God saying to him and what was God saying to me. I was discouraged at this time, feeling unappreciated by the church we were serving, and a bit like Elijah, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty… I am the only one left” (I Kings 19:10, 14). Sounds pretty self-righteous, doesn’t it? Sometimes ministry leaves one depleted and I think that is what left Elijah vulnerable to Jezebel’s threats, and me vulnerable to self-pity.

I observed how tenderly God cared for Elijah. When Elijah ran away from Jezebel and prayed, “I have had enough, LORD,” he said, “Take my life” (vs. 4b), God doesn’t argue with him but lets him sleep and sends an angel to minister to Elijah with food, rest and then more food. That strengthened Elijah to proceed to his destination—Horeb, the mountain of God (vs. 8b). I noticed that Elijah, in his despair, focuses his energy on reaching the mountain of God. In his deep depression and trouble, he runs toward God. That speaks to me. I don’t understand all that happens to me and to those I love, but I do know from Elijah’s example that the answer is to run toward God, to put all my energy in seeking Him to find the answers to life dilemmas and trials.

When Elijah arrived at his destination, God met him and asked what he wanted. Elijah explained his complaints—legitimate complaints—and his fear that he would be killed. Then God demonstrated his power in the cyclone, the earthquake and the fire but His voice came in the gentle whisper that followed. He told Elijah to “Go back the way you came” (vs. 15) and assured him that he still had future ministry for Elijah. He then reassured Elijah that there were, in fact, seven thousand faithful followers of Yahweh in Israel. And, He gave Elijah three very specific ministry assignments. We’ll see in the days ahead that Elijah himself will fulfill only one of those assignments—anointing Elisha to succeed him as prophet—and the other two tasks will be done by Elisha.

I read this until I felt encouraged, until I understood that ministry can be very depleting, even if our ministry was nothing like the scale of Elijah’s magnificent defeat of Baal on Mt. Carmel. I understood that God knows our weaknesses and cares about our body’s needs. And I saw that God wasn’t finished with Elijah—he had ministry ahead for Elijah. From that I believed that God would bring me through the discouraging time we were in and that He would provide a meaningful life and ministry ahead. He didn’t plan for me to sit under the broom tree for the rest of my life.

And now, many years later I can look back and see how God so fully fulfilled that in our lives. He is a good God, giving us purpose in life, encouraging us along the way, showing us his power at times, but speaking in a gentle whisper to keep following him. I was encouraged by the simple words, “Go back the way you came” in vs. 15. We can retreat to the wilderness to find God, but we can’t stay there. Go back the way we came—go back to the unfruitful ministry and wait for God to change it, go back to the diapers and sick babies, to back to the ungrateful church members. And then do the next thing! Take a risk for God. Take the next assignment from God; He is not finished with you so stay in the fight.

“Thank you, Lord, that you don’t expect more from us than our physical bodies can do. You provide rest and restoration. And then You graciously entrust us with another assignment for Your Kingdom. May we each accept that assignment with joy.”

- Nell Sunukjian

Saturday, June 17, 2017

June 17

1 Kings 18:1-46; Acts 11:1-30; Psalm 135:1-21; Proverbs 17:12-13

Ooooo.  This is a good one.  I have to say I flipped ahead to see if this would be my day to write a post - and, huzzah!, it is.  I knew I wanted to write about Acts, but then the OT reading caught me, too.  Isn't Scripture great?

I'll start with Acts.  Chapter 11 is the THIRD time we've heard this story now.  We saw it happen as it happened in the first half of Ch. 10, and then we heard Peter tell what happened to Cornelius (who is just an amazing character in Scripture, by the way), and now we read Peter's public explanation/defense of what happened - three virtually identical tellings of the same story, all in less than 80 verses.  I hope you noticed.  (Did you have a bit of deja vu?  Groundhog Day?)  I hope you asked yourself "why?"  

This situation parallels what we find in the Gospels, where the same event or teaching is told multiple times.  Surely the repetition highlights the significance of the moment.  We hear this story in Acts so many times because it's important.  Really important.  For me, this is the pivotal moment in my conversion story.  Without it, I would not even have a conversion story because, you see, I am a Gentile.  The graciousness of God in showing the vision to Peter - again, three times to emphasize its importance and unshakeablilty (Acts 11:10) - is graciousness extended to me.  Though I was "impure...God has made [me] clean" (vs. 9).  The seeking of Cornelius and the timing of the arrival of the men from Caesarea - that's the same cry of my heart: "We are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us" (10:33).  This man and his household didn't even know why Peter was there, but their hearts were prepared.  I want to be this kind of follower, full of faith and eager to hear what God has to say.  And the gift of the Holy Spirit (11:15) is the same gift I have today.  It's so par-for-the-course today, for a non-Jew to come to faith in Jesus.  But this event was the radical beginning to an outpouring of evangelism to the Gentiles.  It was no longer a Jewish religion that some outsiders happened into (like, perhaps, the Ethiopian eunich); now this group of Christians (see vs. 26) was clearly designed by God to be both Jew and Gentile.

And just a quick shout-out for Barnabas.  Not only was he bold enough to disciple Saul in his early and uncertain days (see Acts 9:27), we read today about his commitment to  the church and his further investment in Saul (11:22-23, 25-26).  God himself gives the greatest commendation for this admirable man: "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith" (vs. 24).

Obadiah is the same sort of man.  Though a very highly placed official, he jeopardizes his political career by supporting the priests of an unpopular religion.  Even as the queen who holds his national allegiance sets upon a killing spree, Obadiah risks his job, his fortune and even his life to protect the prophets of Yahweh (1 Ki. 18:4).  This major undertaking must have required enormous planning and secrecy, not to mention financial outlay.  Truly, Obadiah was "a devout believer" (vs. 3).  He demonstrates his faith even further in his conversation with Elijah.  He justifiably fears that Elijah, though the latter has summoned Ahab to a meeting, will fail to appear, thus putting Obadiah in an untenable position.  Obadiah has the choice of risking his life on the word of an unpopular hermit-of-a-prophet or refusing to act as the messenger of the one true God.  Obadiah chooses to live into the uncertain-yet-clearly-expressed mission, and that, my friends, is faith.  Obadiah does what God requires, and God comes through.

Lastly, how can we forget about Ahab?  No, he's no follower of God the Father or God the Son.  No, he doesn't live a life of faith and tenacity.  No, he's not even a good man.  But he still knows who is in control.  Though king of Israel, when Elijah - as God's mouthpiece - says "jump," Ahab only needs to know "how high?"  Elijah says "come," and Ahab comes (1 Ki. 18:16).  Elijah says to summon the people, and "Ahab sent word through all Israel" (vs. 20).  Elijah sends Ahab home, and "Ahab went off to eat and drink" (vs. 42).  Though Ahab may have done "more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him" (I Ki. 16:30), he cannot help but recognize - and obey - the voice of God.

So many interesting men in our reading today: Obadiah, Ahab, Elijah, Peter, Cornelius, Barnabas, Saul. 

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Friday, June 16, 2017

June 16

1 Kings 15:25-17:24; Acts 10:24-48; Psalm 134:1-3; Proverbs 17:9-11

I know Sarah mentioned in this post that up until a few years ago, she wasn’t a huge fan of the book of Acts. I have to say, I’m the opposite. I’ve always loved Acts. I love Acts because of passages like today’s. Whereas Jesus can be vague and confusing (“I have food to eat that do not know about” [Jn. 4:32] – he knows the disciples don’t know what he’s talking about! Why does he say that?), Acts is straightforward and clear. And after five months of nothing but the Gospels, I was ready for straightforward and clear.

Just look at these verses: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses…to him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:39b-41a, 43). It doesn’t get clearer than that. Those who believe in him receive the forgiveness of sins through his name. Amen!

Don’t get me wrong. Of course the Gospels are important, and Jesus' words are wonderful and beautiful and worth meditating on. But are you, like me, just a little frustrated with Jesus when Pilate asks him if he’s the King and he answers, “You say that I am a king” (Jn. 18:37)? I sometimes wish Jesus would just say, “Yes. I’m the King and the Savior and I’m about to die on the cross for your sins, so believe in me to be saved.” Wouldn’t that be nice?

Well, that’s what we get in Acts. All the clarity and confirmation we need that Jesus is the Son of God, come to save the world from our sins. I love how many times Acts recounts the history of Israel, leading right up to the point at which they crucified Jesus on the cross – Peter tells the story, Stephen tells the story, and Paul tells the story. And each time they declare with such boldness that Jesus is the Christ. I love it. These are the verses I cling to when other parts of Scripture seem unclear.

And what about our Proverbs reading? This one cuts right to the heart of the matter: “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Pr. 17:9). Talk about not beating around the bush. How convicting these words are! Do I do that? Do I pursue love over being right? Or do I tell everyone and anyone the ways I’ve been wronged, spreading the matter among my family or friends until everyone is worked up and in a tizzy?

Thank you, Lord, for these words of truth. May my life be formed by both of them - the truth that I am saved by your death on a tree and the truth of the power of my words and what I do with them.

- Esther McCurry

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 15

1 Kings 14:1-15:24; Acts 10:1-23a; Psalm 133:1-3; Proverbs 17:7-8

When our daughters (Sarah, Mary and Esther of OYBthree65) were in high school and junior high, they attended a Saturday conference called “Walk Thru the Bible” with the youth group from church. And they learned a quick and accurate history of the whole Bible that has contributed to their knowledge of the Bible to this day. I remember them practicing at home “Israel’s kings: all bad. Judah’s kings: some good, some bad.”

“Israel’s kings: all bad.” What a dreadful commentary. Not one good king for two hundred years.

Today’s reading focused on Judah’s kings and events that cover over sixty-one years. We learn that Judah and Israel were constantly at war with each other during the long reigns of Asa (a good king) in Judah and Baasha (yes, a bad king) in Israel (1 Ki. 15:16). This period, often called “The Divided Kingdom,” will last just over two hundred years until Israel is taken captive by Assyria. Judah will endure another one hundred fifty years before being taken captive by Babylon. All the hard work of the Exodus, the conquest of the land, and the glorious kingdom of David will come to an end as Israel and Judah consistently refuse to obey the LORD God.

A kingdom is dying.

In Acts 10 we see the opposite; a kingdom is thriving. A devout Gentile named Cornelius, who is a high ranking military officer in the Roman government, is about to learn from Peter, who is just understanding this truth himself: that Jesus died for all the people of the world, not just the Jewish people (see Acts 10:43 in tomorrow’s reading), and that “anyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Peter experiences a vision of a large sheet with all kinds of animals and reptiles in it, and to be sure he understands it, the vision is repeated three times. There’s no mistaking the fact that the Lord is communicating a truth to Peter! He is told, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” While he is still pondering the meaning, men come from Caesarea and ask him to come to the house of Cornelius (vs. 22).

Things are about to change in the advancing Kingdom of God. Peter and Cornelius will lead the way in the fledgling church’s understanding that the Law is no longer needed; Jesus’ lifeblood erased the distinctions that formerly existed.

This new kingdom cannot end; it is growing to this day over two millennia later.

“God’s Kingdom. One King. Always good.”

- Nell Sunukjian

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 14

I Kings 12:20-13:34; Acts 9:26-43; Psalm 132:1-18; Proverbs 17:6

I've been asking God a bunch of questions recently.  Some friends lost their only son in a tragic car accident just about two months ago; his death came while we were celebrating Easter Sunday.  Death and resurrection, all in one emotional day.

There was no folly involved in that accident, no reckless teenage driving, no drinking, no drugs.  There was only an "accident" and then - death.  I was angry (I am angry still) about this young man's death.  Nineteen!  Characterized by all who spoke at his service as kind and sweet and loving, committed to Jesus.  His uncle wrote and prayed a lament, one that echoed all the pain and suffering and frustration of the Israelites' worship songs, the Psalms.

And our Old Testament reading today makes me ask some of those same questions again.  Why, Lord?  This prophet was doing your work, was faithful, was bold.  Why punish him for the lies of another man?  Why allow the encounter at all?  How was he supposed to know that the old prophet was not telling a true prophecy?  And then why use the lying prophet to cast judgement on him?  And, oh!, the hypocrisy of the old prophet to weep over the body whose destruction he caused (I Ki. 13:30).  It just seems unfair.  It seems wrong.  It doesn't seem like God's playing by the rules.  Unjust.

Did you feel any of those emotions?  Did you wonder why the Lord spared Dorcas (Acts 9:36-41) and not the prophet?  Could you think of families where Proverbs 17:6 is definitely not an accurate description of the parent-child relationships?  

Though I'm asking all these questions, I'm actually deeply grateful today.  Our God is sturdy enough to handle my anger.  He's strong enough to let me ask these questions.  He's mysterious enough to work in ways I don't comprehend.  He is loving enough to allow my confusion, and compassionate enough to understand my frustration.  God is faithful enough to make right all these grievous wrongs.  As I write, I realize that God is faithful enough to have already addressed these injustices.  The day our friends' son died, we proclaimed the truth of God's triumph.  I don't see all things made new yet, and my heart aches for people in such loss and sorrow.  God's will is not yet done on earth as it is in heaven, and I watch folly and deception destroying lives still.  But (and that is the operative word) - but! - redemption is at work.  Saul's conversion and growth in Christ (Acts 9:27-30) are evidence.  The funeral for this boy, such a powerfully God-honoring worship service, is evidence.  Our daily decisions to live in ways that glorify God are evidence.

Lord God, I trust you.  Even in the midst of pain and bewilderment, your goodness is unchanged.  Thank you for your constancy and faithfulness.  Bring comfort to the hurting and truth to the deceived.  Amen.

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

June 13

I Kings 11:1-12:19; Acts 9:1-25; Psalm 131:1-3; Proverbs 17:4-5

I am a happy woman right now. I've got my cup of coffee next to me and some worship music playing in the background as I sit here to write about the words of life given to us today. We had a busy weekend with two family birthday celebrations, a high school graduation, and an all church picnic. We have much for which to be thankful. I am also in need of some quiet downtime and a little re-centering with my Jesus. 

"There is power in the name of Jesus..." That is the line from a song I am listening to right now from the Jesus Culture Awakening: Live from Chicago album. The second half of the line says " break every chain."  I can't help but find this song especially true and powerful as I couple it with today's reading in Acts. We see a huge act of Jesus to completely change the life of a man most people thought would never bow his knee to the name of Jesus. The Damascus road conversion of Saul is a well-known Bible story. We can have a tendency to read over it without connecting to the incredible act of mercy, power, and miraculous healing that took place.

Today the part that caught me most was Acts 9:9 - "For three days he [Paul] was blind, and did not eat or drink anything." Three days is a long time when you are completely in the dark, with no food and no water. How completely disorienting and almost grave-like that must have been. What was happening with Paul in this time? Was he praying and seeking Jesus? Was he believing in Jesus at that point, or was he struggling to find the truth? Were the 3 days that followed the blinding light encounter with Jesus when the real conversion took place? Maybe he was recounting the Psalms and Scriptures he had memorized from his training as a Pharisee. 

"My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too lofty for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul...put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore" (Ps. 131:1-3). I can see how those words would have been very apt to his situation,  just as they are in our lives when we read them today.

I am glad for the dramatic conversion story of Saul. Even though my own conversion story is nothing like it, it gives me hope for those around me who seem so hardened and closed to the gospel. They've heard it all before, they have baggage from the church, they tried Christianity and it didn't work for them, they don't want to live under such rigid "rules" - these are all reasons they may give. It seems almost impossible for the good news of Jesus Christ to break in.

But it can. It did. It will.

There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain! There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain! There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain! Praise the name of Jesus. 

- Mary Matthias

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 12, 2017

June 12

I Kings 9:1-10:29; Acts 8:14-40; Psalm 130:1-8; Proverbs 17:2-3

I've always loved the story of the Ethiopian eunich (Acts 8:26-39).  It's such a perfect meeting of "coincidence" - Philip, running alongside at just the right moment (vs. 30), hears the eunich read just the right words from the prophet Isaiah (vs. 28, 30, 32-33).  He asks just the right leading question (vs. 30), to which the eunich responds eagerly (vs. 31) as they just happen to come alongside a body of water (vs. 36) - and boom! a conversion, a baptism, a new nation opened to the good news of Jesus.

This eunich is a powerful man - he's a direct advisor for the queen of Ethiopia, and he manages her treasury (Acts 8:27).  He's trusted by his queen (else why have control of the money?), and his decisions about spending affect his whole country. He's a wealthy man, too, as seen by his personal chariot and the scroll that he owns.  But he's also an outcast - he's forever barred from the most fundamental of adult relationships, that of marrying and fathering children.  His ability to serve was ensured by castration, but so was his ostracization.  He's neither fish nor fowl, having tremendous political power but not really considered a true man.  On top of this isolating issue, he's a follower of Yahweh (vs. 27).  Somehow, he has heard about the God of the Jews, and he has chosen to worship the one true God.  Even in Jerusalem, though, he would have been excluded.  Not only is he a foreigner, but the Law forbade anyone with damaged testicles from worshiping Yahweh directly (Dt. 23:1).  This man is definitely on the outside.

Not with God, though.  Just before this story, we see the Jesus movement stretching into Samaria; for the first time, non-Jews come to believe in the Jewish Messiah.  Now the next steps are taken with this man.  He, of all the Gentiles in the world, is the first convert.  He, though excluded from community after community, is welcomed into the new covenant under Jesus' blood.  "Why shouldn't I be baptized?"  he asks (Acts 8:36) and no answer comes.  For the first time, there is no reason to prevent him from belonging.  Neither his race, nor his physical mutilation, nor his political position matter.  He is completely acceptable and accepted.  Incredible!

And what is the result of this miraculous inclusion?  JOY (Acts 8:39).  The eunich never sees Philip again, but his life is changed forever by his encounter with the man who revealed Jesus to him.  What a story!

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11

I Kings 8:1-66; Acts 7:51-8:13; Psalm 129:1-8; Proverbs 17:1

As King Solomon prays and dedicates the temple with a beautiful prayer, it’s hard for me to read it and not think of the future ahead of this king who had it all. He had wealth, power, position, yet he will throw it all away on 700 wives and 300 concubines. We will read about them in the days to come, and we will read of the altars Solomon built to foreign gods, altars that his wives worshipped at and, presumably, sacrificed at. And their gods demanded human sacrifice! Not a pretty picture of what is ahead. But as my husband told me years ago when one of our sons’ youth leaders had been unfaithful to his wife, “It doesn’t invalidate the good ministry he had with our sons prior to that.”

So today Solomon sacrifices and prays. “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your love” (I Ki. 8:23). Solomon knew who God was. He knew he was the God above all gods. He knew God had the power to forgive (vs. 30).

Solomon finished his prayer and then turned to the people and blessed the people with these words: “May He turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers…. Your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands” (I Ki. 8:58-61).

This reminds me that all I have to follow Jesus with is today. On that day Solomon was following the Lord. I must choose to follow him today,  to read his word, to obey his word, to speak of his love to others, to give of my money to His work, to care for the poor and dying. I have only today. If I allow my heart to grow cold and indifferent for even just one day, I am in danger of walking away from the Lord, being lured away from His love, as Solomon eventually was by all his wives and concubines.

“Oh, Lord, may we - the older generation - finish well. I pray that Don and I and our older friends would finish strong, not counting on our past ‘successes’ or ministry positions or personal accomplishments, but having a heart to follow You, dear God, and to walk in humbleness of heart, with repentant spirits. And I pray this for the dear ones who read this blog, too, that each one may serve you today and thus finish well by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

- Nell Sunukjian

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

June 10

I Kings 7:1-51; Acts 7:30-50; Psalm 128:1-6; Proverbs 16:31-33

What an interesting reading!  There was so much that caught my attention, and not much unifying thread, so I'm going with the bullet points again today.

* Why does it take seven years to build the temple (see I Ki. 6:37-38) and thirteen years to build Solomon's palace (7:1)?  Is it because his attentions were divided, and the lion's share was given to the temple, so the palace lagged behind a bit?  Is it because - as I fear - the palace was more important to Solomon and thus its elaborate design and extravagant decoration were given more time?

* Was Huram's mother married twice, once to a Naphtalite man who died and then to Huram's father, a man from Tyre?  Or is this verse saying that she herself was from the tribe of Naphtali and then married Huram's father who has since died, making her a widow?  And why is her status as a widow included at all?  So very specific... (see I Ki. 7:14.)

* I Kings 7:15-37: Such an attention to detail.  Every aspect of the temple is adorned and beautified.  God is aware of beauty (see Gen. 2:9) and commands that his people serve him in beautiful ways (think of the colors and richness of the Tabernacle in Ex. 35-38).  This permanent structure is no different: it reflects the majesty of God.

* I Kings 7:21: Jakin probably means "he establishes" and Boaz probably means "in him is strength."  Great names, especially for pillars marking the entrance.

* Stephen's sermon amongst the Sanhedrin is really a history lesson.  He hasn't directly answered their charge ("Did you speak against the temple and the Law [that is, Moses]?" [see Acts 6:13-14]), but he's reminding them of their past.  He puts Moses in his proper place - a mighty prophet, yes, but subject to a much-mightier God (7:32-33) - who himself experienced rejection and rebellion.  We can clearly extrapolate that Jesus, as the son of God, is mightier than Moses, though he experienced rejection and rebellion.  And Stephen also points out that God is not tied to a specific physical place, quoting both Isaiah 66 and referencing a portion of Solomon's prayer that we'll read tomorrow!  This history lesson addresses the two charges, but also points out the narrowness of the Pharisees' interpretations and the supremacy of Jesus.

* I LOVE this psalm.  I freely admit that I love it in part because we have a quiver full of children (see Ps. 127, from yesterday), but I am so drawn to the poetic imagery of the fruitful vine and the olive shoots around the table.  I looked at our teenage son this morning and realized how he is springing up and stretching out.  Even if I buy shoes with taller heels, I'm not able to stay ahead of him!  What a benediction this psalm is.  What a blessing it gives those "who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways (Ps. 128:1): satisfying work (vs. 2); contentment in marriage and strong children (vs. 3); peace (vs. 5); long life and many descendants (vs. 6).  Amen!  Let it be so in my life, Lord.

* Silver is appearing in my hair, quite noticeably against the dark of my Armenian heritage.  Guess I'm living the righteous life (Pr. 16:31)!  (Though maybe this is just wishful thinking - the silver indicating a righteous life, that is.  The silver itself is definitely not wishful thinking.)

* Proverbs 16:32 is so unexpected.  Think about the historical context of the time.  Strength in battle was an imperative for any ancient society, as raiders and foreign invaders could appear at any point.  David, in fact, is praised for his battle prowess (see I Sam. 18:7) - his strong leadership at the head of his army inspired his men and led to military success and, ultimately, peace.  Yet "a patient man...who controls his temper" is better "than a warrior...who takes a city."  That is an incredible statement, and a significant challenge. 

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Friday, June 9, 2017

June 9

I Kings 5:1-6:38; Acts 7:1-29; Psalm 127:1-5; Proverbs 16:28-30

I so love how the Bible weaves together. Today, we have the building of the temple, then the first portion of Stephen’s sermon which basically recaps our January readings and then our psalm, which brings it all back together: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

The desire to build a house for God was one of David’s greatest wishes, but God granted it to his son instead, since he wanted his house to be built in a time and by a man of peace. Solomon does not take this privilege lightly but rather spends seven years and all the best materials and all the best laborers to make it happen. Can you even imagine a project on this scope? Every time Ian and I do a house renovation project (and by “do” I mean hire people) we must say a dozen times, “Wow, this is so much more work and money than we thought!” Just imagine the temple – 60 cubits long by 20 cubits wide by 30 cubits high – in case you’re not up to date on your cubits, that’s 90 feet by 30 feet by 45 feet, not counting the vestibule and other structures attached to it. So it was about a fourth of the size of a football field – that’s pretty impressive architecture for that time period!  And this temple lasted from Solomon’s time (970-931 BCE) until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar (587 BCE).

Because of the political and religious unrest and sensitives in that area, there haven’t been any excavations in modern times of the remains of Solomon’s temple, so we don’t have access to the artifacts we might have otherwise. But there are still plenty of historical renderings that are helpful in giving us a picture of what it might have looked like:

Ah, that just makes me wish I could go to Israel and see these amazing ruins and historical sites!

Before I wrap it up, I wanted to comment on a few other verses: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (Ps. 127:3-5). Between my brothers and sisters, we have 18 children. Clearly, we’ve taken this psalm seriously and then some! But truly, children are a blessing and the babies in our family, whether 19 like my oldest nephew or 19 months like my son who is the youngest, are loved and cherished as a heritage. A warrior needs his arrows in order to be victorious and successful; we need children to teach us about God’s immense love and to shape us to be more selfless. This is, I will readily admit, sometimes a painful process – as my 5-year-old daughter said to me yesterday, “It doesn’t really help us get dressed faster when you yell, Mom.”  Parenting is not always easy nor does it always bring out the best. But parenting transforms us and blesses us and I’m so grateful for my children.

May your day today be full of God’s goodness and blessing!

- Esther McCurry

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

June 8

I Kings 3:4-4:34; Acts 6:1-15; Psalm 126:1-6; Proverbs 16:26-27

What wonderful stories about two amazing men of God! Didn’t you just love reading about Solomon and Stephen?

This is really just the beginning of Solomon’s story – there is much to come. But today’s passage is beautiful and encouraging. God comes to Solomon in a dream and offers him anything; Solomon responds in humility and gratitude and asks only for “an understanding mind to govern your people, that [he might] discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this great people?” (I Ki. 3:9). This pleases the LORD, and he gives Solomon his wish and so much more. We see evidence right away of Solomon’s wisdom as he uses great discernment to figure out which mother is telling the truth. All of Israel is amazed as their wise king.

And they also benefit as a nation because of Solomon’s reign – look what it says in the next chapter: “Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy” (1 Ki. 4:20). After the months of bad news about Israel, isn’t it nice to read such a good report?

Then we turn to our New Testament reading and meet Stephen, “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8). There’s a problem in the early church – the Greek-speaking Jews, the Hellenists, criticize the Hebrew-speaking Jews (though both groups are Christians) for leaving their widows out of the daily food distribution. This obviously needs to be resolved, but the disciples want to be freed up to focus on their calling of evangelism; so they appoint the first deacons, men they say need to be “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (vs. 3). Everyone agrees this is a good idea and the problem is solved (oh, for ministry and church disputes to be so easily worked out today!). More and more people come to Christ, even some of the priests. Of course, this growth threatens the religious leaders of the synagogues and they want Stephen dealt with. Sadly, we will see in the days to come what happens to this righteous man. But for today, we’re able to see a beautiful picture of the body of Christ taking care of each other, growing in strength and in faith.

Hopefully, you’re encouraged, as I am, to see God’s people work together, knowing what to ask God for and loving each other well. God blesses them and they prosper. May the same be true for us today!

- Esther McCurry 

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June 7

I Kings 2:1-3:3; Acts 5:1-42; Psalm 125:1-5; Proverbs 16:25

The verse from Proverbs is so appropriate to the rest of our reading that it almost seems like Aesop's fables.  "And the moral of the story is..."

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Pr. 16:25).

Adonijah, asking for Abisihag the Shunammite's hand in marriage - an underhanded method of seeking to usurp the throne from Solomon - earns himself death (I Ki. 2:25).

Joab, a man steeped in bloodshed (murder, really) - who had killed as a warrior, but also to protect his position as commander of David's armies - contracts a death sentence pronounced by David upon his own deathbed.  Though he clings to the altar of the Lord, he is struck down and killed because of his self-serving ambition (I Ki. 2:34).

Shimei, caller of curses - pardoned by David, but not exonerated - agrees to Solomon's restrictions but foolishly (willfully?) pursues two slaves at the cost of his own life (I Ki. 2:36-46).

Ananias and Sapphira, early members of the fledgling church in Jerusalem - desiring to be honored by the community, but wanting to have their cake and eat it, too - receive the judgment of the Lord in the manner of immediate, divinely-appointed death (Acts 5:5, 10).

The wicked of Psalm 125, asserting their self-serving wills, are "banish[ed] with the evildoers" (Ps. 125:5) away from God's presence.

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Pr. 16:25).

If there's a way that seems right to a man, but ends in death, then doesn't it make sense that there's a way that seems right to the Lord and ends in life?

The psalm hints at this: "The Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore" (Ps. 125:2); "do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart" (vs. 4).

And the rest of the reading in Acts confirms it further.  See how the apostles, jailed unjustly, are protected and freed and affirmed and commissioned (Acts 5:18-20).  See how they are used mightily in miraculous ways (vs. 12, 16).  See how, refusing to abstain from preaching in Jesus' name, they receive help from an unexpected quarter, from a Pharisee himself (vs. 34-40)!  Though they were flogged (definitely not a way that seems right to a man), they "[rejoiced] because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (vs. 41).  Life.

Lord, so many of my ways seem right to me.  Show me the ways that seem right to you, that I might pursue life with abandon and determination.  Amen.

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June 6

I Kings 1:1-53; Acts 4:1-37; Psalm 124:1-8; Proverbs 16:24

I am having trouble deciding what to write about for today's Scripture reading. Some days, God's Word really pops out at me and I can get a clear sense of what he might be speaking to me. Other days, our Scripture is harder to apply to our personal lives and we might be tempted to think it doesn't relate to us for that particular day. On days like that, I am reminded that God's Word is alive and active. Each day we can see and rehearse, through our Scripture readings, who God is and who he calls us to be. 

So, let's do that today. First, who is our God as portrayed in Scripture today?

He is a God who fulfills his promises and let's us see those promises fulfilled. David praises him in I Kings 1:48 saying, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has allowed my eyes to see a successor on my throne today."

Our God is a God who does miraculous healing. Peter and John do a miraculous healing in front of the crowds of Jewish people and leaders and proclaim that it was "by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed" (Acts 4:10). 

Our God uses ordinary people to do amazing things. Peter and John are seen as "unschooled and ordinary men," but the leaders take note that "these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).  These men perform healings and speak boldly in front of rulers and authorities. These ordinary men pray and are "filled with the Holy Spirit [to speak] the word of God boldly" (Acts 4:31). 

Our God is our protector, who keeps us from getting swept away by evil men and their evil schemes. "He has not let us be torn by their teeth....Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth" (Ps. 124:6,8).

I could go on. As I look to see who God is, more and more of his character begins to pop out at me. But let's move on to asking the question of who God calls us to be.

God calls us to be parents actively involved in our children's lives, rebuking, correcting, and training them in the way they should go. David made the mistake of allowing too many of his sons to live according to their own devices, never asking, "Why do you behave as you do" (I Ki. 1:6)? As a result, he has much trouble with wayward sons. The incident with Adonijah is just one more example of that. 

God calls us to carry out the oaths and commitments we have made to him (see I Ki. 1:29-30).

God calls us to obey him rather than seek approval in the eyes of men. Peter and John choose not to worry about their earthly reputation or well-being. Instead of being quieted by the Jewish rulers of the law, they instead challenge them to "judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God" (Acts 4:19).

God calls us to live counter-culturally, sharing our possessions, giving our money to his work  and distributing it to the needy (see Acts 4:34-35).

God calls us to unity and frequent gathering with the believers to pray and seek his face (see Acts 4:23-37).

God calls us to speak pleasant words to one another, "sweet to the soul and healing to the bones" (Pr. 16:24).

I could go on and on. Praise God that his Word becomes alive and active in our lives each and every day. He is a good God and he calls us to a good life of following him and his ways.

- Mary Matthias

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, June 5, 2017

June 5

II Samuel 23:24-24:25; Acts 3:1-26; Psalm 123:1-4; Proverbs 16:21-23

While reading, I knew I wanted to touch on today's Proverbs reading.  I like the Proverbs - they're pithy and wise and so accurate to what I see in human nature.  I've been struck throughout this year by the wise/foolish proverbs.  They continue to hit close to home as I think about some loved ones.  I find, though, that I am quick to apply the proverbs to other people and less quick to see their application and truth in my own life.

Until these last couple weeks, with all their talk of words and lips and tongues.  Ouch.  I clearly need these reminders for my daily encounters.  So today's reading was a call to action.  Yes, I want to speak "pleasant words [that] promote instruction" (Pr. 16:21).  Yes, I want my heart to "[guide my] mouth" (Pr. 16:23).  Yes, I want to speak with thought and wisdom and kindness and gentleness and prudence.  Good show, Proverbs.  You're right, and let's do this again next week.  I finished my reading, on board and committed.

And then my children came home from school.  Every noble intention went out the window.  My words were not pleasant; my heart was not discerning; instruction did not fall from my lips.  Fail.  Fail.  Epic fail.

I think of James and his description of the power of the tongue (Jam. 3:6, 8).  I am not "a perfect man, able to keep [my] whole body in check" (vs. 2), and this corruption is seen most clearly in my speech.  The speeches to my nearest and dearest are particularly susceptible to angry, hurtful words (and tones).

Lord, I want to be wise and discerning.  I want the Spirit who resides within me to guide my mouth.  I want to speak pleasant words; I want my speech to promote instruction.  I am far from this point.  My mouth reflects the impurities of my heart and mind.  Change the inner parts of me so that "the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart [are] acceptable" (Ps. 19:14) to you, God.  Amen.

- Sarah Marsh

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

June 4

II Samuel 22:21-23:23; Acts 2:1-47; Psalm 122:1-9; Proverbs 16:19-20

“With my God I can scale a wall” (II Sam. 22:10b) are words that speak of a seemingly impossible feat. I don’t see how anyone can scale a wall, much less I who am chubby and neither dexterous nor flexible.

But I do remember learning to scale down a wall when we lived in Austin. We were having Survival Camp on our new church property. The beautiful seventy-five acre plot of virgin land hadn’t been cleared yet and it was the perfect opportunity to bring our elementary kids onto the property and provide some adventures for them and some Bible lessons. We laid out a map of the property as a facsimile of Israel’s conquest of the land of the Philistines. We gathered as tribes on the first morning of Camp, and together we ‘crossed the Jordan River’ which, OK, I admit, was a small stream on the land, but hey, it was water and we all crossed it on our way into the ‘Promised Land’.

One of the adventures we offered for the 5th and 6th grade kids was rappelling. Two trained college men who had led rappelling at another camp were in charge of this.  We thought that some of us leaders should try rappelling first, before we asked the kids to use their courage and try it. And that is how I came to be at the top of a cliff in a harness, anchored to the top, and terrified to scale a cliff in reverse, by traversing down the vertical drop.

Little did those around me know that I was facing a wall in my own life that I needed to scale. I needed courage, just as we were going to teach the kids at Camp. Down I went with my heart pounding.

The wall I faced that day was the unwelcome task of moving 1500 miles away from our home and church in Austin to an unknown future in La Mirada, CA. I needed God to “arm me with strength” and “make my way perfect”. I knew He was the only one who could “make my feet like the feet of a deer” and “enable me to stand on the heights” (II Sam. 22:33-34).

I have called on this verse again in the several decades that have passed since I rappelled that limestone cliff. I have found obstacles that seemed too big to conquer, yet as I prayed these words and took courage from them, with God’s help I learned that I can scale a wall. The wall may be sorrows in my children’s lives, and the truth is that I can’t change their choices nor can I not suffer when they suffer. But I can endure. I can even have victory as I climb the wall of fear and doubt with God’s help.

The wall that you are called to climb may be suffering, it may be financial stress, it may be an incurable illness or the loss of a spouse or even the loss of a child. It may be an unsatisfying job or an unresponsive spouse. To climb the wall, we start with this truth: “It is God who arms me with strength and make my way perfect” (II Sam. 22:33).

Then we will be in the mode of David’s mighty men like Josheb-Basshebeth who killed 800 men with his spear in one encounter! Or the three men who risked their lives to bring David water from his favorite well which was behind enemy lines. Or Benaiah who braved a lion in a snowy, slippery pit to save the water supply of the city (II Sam. 23:8, 16, 20). These men risked their lives by their brave actions to honor David their King.

“Lord, may we be willing to risk our lives, our comfort, our futures to honor You, our King. May we be like the early church in devoting ourselves to Your Word, to fellowship and prayer, and to selling out possessions to give to those in need (see Acts 2:42-45). Give us courage to scale the wall that is before us today, I pray in the Name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.”

- Nell Sunukjian

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

June 3

II Samuel 20:14-22:20; Acts 1:1-26; Psalm 121:1-8; Proverbs 16:18

I graduated from a Christian university where each student earned, essentially, a minor in Biblical studies.  As part of our 30 units of Bible, we took a class on the book of Acts.  One whole semester of sermons and journeys and sermons and journeys followed by more sermons and journeys.  As you can probably tell, I didn't enjoy that class very much.

Several years ago, however, as part of a Bible-reading program at our church, I read Acts in very small chunks, no more than 2-3 paragraphs a day.  And God worked in my heart that year: I fell in love with the drama and power of Acts.  So much happens in its pages!  So many conversions and conflicts and resolutions, and so many men and women unshakably committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It inspired, rather than bored, me.  What a good gift from the Lord, to allow me to experience a very familiar section of Scripture in an entirely new way.  Perhaps you may encounter the Acts of the Apostles in a like manner this year, or maybe it will occur with another portion of our readings throughout the rest of this year.  I don't know; I only hope and pray that you will receive such a gift.  I'm personally excited to read through Acts once again!

But that enthusiasm is dampened somewhat by our Old Testament reading.  Don't get me wrong - I love the Old Testament (as you may have deduced from the number of posts I write on it).  Today's reading is hard, though.  I just can't help but feel like it's all wrong.  Why should the nation suffer for Saul's sin?  Why three long years of famine?  Why didn't God reveal the root problem sooner?  Why allow the Gibeonites (remember them from Joshua 9?) to ask such an awful price (II Sam. 21:6)?  And why, oh why, would this tragedy bring healing on the nation (see vs. 14)?

As a person who veers toward justice on the mercy-justice continuum, I want there to be recompense for these Gibeonites.  Saul, likely trying to recoup some of God's favor, willfully and sinfully broke a covenant with them.  He did wrong; there should be justice.  But as a mother, I'm horrified that innocent men died for the actions of a long-dead king.  I'm moved by Rizpah's actions.  What grief and yet what nobility - to brave such conditions to give her sons and relatives the little blessing and dignity she could, despite the manner of their deaths (II Sam. 21:10).  David himself is impressed by her actions.  Cold comfort, I'm sure.

The story of God working in the grand narrative of human history is a complex one, full of both uncomfortable episodes and blistering glory.  The story of God working in the small narrative of Sarah Marsh's history is a complex one, containing the same.  This small bit of Scripture is a reminder to me that I am finite and created and therefore unable to comprehend the workings of an infinite God.  Even so, this God cares deeply and intimately for me.  "He will not let [my] foot slip,....the Lord watches over [me],....the Lord will keep [me] from all harm--he will watch over [my] life; the Lord will watch over [my] coming and going both now and forevermore" (Ps. 121:3-8).

- Sarah Marsh

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Friday, June 2, 2017

June 2

II Samuel 19:11-20:13; John 21:1-25; Psalm 120:1-7; Proverbs 16:16-17

I want to jump right in to today’s post by focusing on the John passage. I’ve thought a lot about this passage and even taught it earlier this spring at a women’s breakfast event.  I’m hopeful that this will be clarifying for others of you out there who may have found parts of this passage troubling, as I have in the past.

In our section, we see Peter, Thomas, Nathanael and two other unnamed disciples all together. This isn’t surprising that they are together – it’s been a disorienting time for the disciples, as Jesus was betrayed, tried and crucified. Remember what we just read -  the disciples abandon Jesus; even Peter, who swore he would never betray Jesus, denied any association with him three times on the night before his death. The disciples are confused and disoriented and desperately needing to be together – so they go fishing. This may seem like a pretty harmless activity – to us, fishing is probably a leisure activity – but we know from earlier Gospel passages that Peter was a fisherman by trade.

So the disciples have returned to fishing, yet with no success. Jesus enters the scene, though the disciples don’t know it’s him. Jesus asks them if they’ve found any fish and, when they reply that they haven’t, he instructs them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. That’s when something astounding happens - their nets are now overflowing, though miraculously, not breaking. They haul the fish to shore and have breakfast with Jesus.

This is the stage to the scene that I really want to focus on today – Peter’s conversation with Jesus. This is the famous scene, the one where Jesus reveals to Peter his purpose for Peter’s life. If you’re like me, perhaps you’ve read this conversation before and found some parts of it strange. Yes, it’s wonderful that Jesus reinstates Peter after his failure and it’s wonderful that Peter is able to assert his love for Jesus. But there are some troubling parts as well.

Why does Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Who is he talking about? Is it some kind of competition about who loves Jesus the most? Is Jesus talking about the other disciples? If so, isn’t that a little rude? I wouldn’t turn to my daughter and ask her, “Do you love me more than your brothers love me?” Why does Jesus ask it three times? And what does Jesus mean when he says to Peter, “Feed my sheep?”

I want to unpack these verses, and I want to start by tackling the question of what Jesus means when he asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” There are several interpretations out there about who or what Jesus is referring to.  I don’t remember a particular time when I was taught that Jesus was referring to the other disciples when he asks Peter this, but somehow that was always my understanding. But as I’ve researched it more, I’ve come to believe that this is not what Jesus meant. I now believe that Jesus is actually talking about fish.

Does that surprise you? Does it seem strange that Jesus would ask Peter if he loves Jesus more than he loves fish? Let’s take a look back at the context.

First, note how many times the word “fish” is used. I count eight – and one of those times, in verse 11, it is a description of how many fish there are and how big they are. Fish are ALL OVER this account. Imagine the scene - the men are rushing off the boat, hauling in all the fish, of which we are told there are 153.  They sit down to eat fish and bread, only six of them including Jesus, so it is probably unlikely that they ate all 153 fish.  So, they’re by the seashore, with the remains of the fish they just ate all around them, plus their nets and boats and the many fish they didn’t cook.  That is the scene in which they’re sitting when Jesus approaches Peter.  As they are finished eating, a meal of fish, it actually makes sense that Jesus would continue the theme and ask Peter, as he perhaps even motions to the fish by the fire, “Do you love me more than these?”

But why would Jesus ask Peter if he loves him more than fish? Clearly, there is something deeper going on here. We know that Jesus is not really asking if Peter loves him more than he loves fish, but rather what they represent, namely Peter’s life before Christ.  The fish in this story are a symbol of the life Peter led before Jesus came into his life. As we’ve already seen, after Peter’s betrayal and Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter goes back to fishing – we can assume that he actually had a fairly successful fishing business, if it still existed for him to go back to, after being away from it for three years. So maybe he’s had employees or family taking care of the business for him, but when he is at his lowest, lost for any sense of direction, longing for something secure and comfortable, he returns to this former career. With no clear direction from Jesus, and his betrayal fresh in his mind, his only plan is to go back to his old way of life – life before Jesus, life before being a disciple, life before his denial.  It’s in this moment that Jesus comes to Peter and asks him, “Peter, do you love me more than you love your old way of life?” Jesus comes back into Peter’s life to lay claim to it again. It’s as if he’s telling Peter that he’s not going to let him go back to his old way of life.

And Jesus asks this not just once but three times. The parallel is beautiful – just like in his betrayal, where he denied Jesus three times, here Peter is able to declare three times his love for Jesus. And at the same time, Peter receives his calling – feed the flock.

That’s the final reason that I believe the “these” refers to fish in this passage – do you see the consistent use of the animal imagery occurring here? Fish and sheep were the most common animals in that day, so it makes sense that Jesus uses them in this supremely important conversation with Peter. Jesus says to Peter that instead of returning to this job in which he provides literal food (fish) for people, he is instead to provide spiritual food for the people of Jesus (sheep, flock, lambs). “Feed my sheep,” Jesus tells Peter. Don’t go back to your old way of life, to these fish – go forward, reinstated, as the leader of a new movement that would become Christianity.

And what is Jesus’ claim on your own life today? What is Jesus calling you to? Like Peter, let’s walk with boldness into the plans that God has for our lives.

- Esther McCurry

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

June 1

II Samuel 18:1-19:10; John 20:1-31; Psalm 119:153-176; Proverbs 16: 14-15

Were you like me, quite struck by the gamut of emotions displayed in today’s Scripture readings? Almost every section contained a story with extreme emotion and feeling contained within it. Let’s look at some of them.

-In II Samuel 18:33-19:4, King David shows deep grieving and mourning for his son Absalom who has been killed in battle by David’s men. When a parent loses a child, no matter how rebellious the child may be, that death is always deeply painful. David is in despair.

-In II Samuel 19:5-8, Joab displays his frustration and indignation towards David for his mourning. In fact, he is so outraged over David’s emotions that Joab goes in and rebukes David in righteous anger. Joab's hard and exhorting words are a kindness to his king and friend, and save David from further trouble.

-John 20:11-16 tells of Mary Magdalene’s confusion and upset. She can’t understand why Jesus is not where they left him. She thinks someone has moved him and can’t figure out why. She is so disoriented, she is not asking the right questions and can’t even see the answer right in her face.

-Again we see strong emotion in the disciples in John 20:20 as Jesus comes to stand among them and shows them his hands and side. His disciples are “overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

-John 20:24 also shows the strong feeling of doubt in Thomas who struggles to believe in something he has not seen or experienced.

-Finally (although I’m sure there are more), Psalm 119:169-176 exemplifies a holy hunger and passion and desire for the Lord and for walking in his ways.

Grief, anger, disorientation, joy, doubt, and longing are all parts of our lives today. We may experience them all in one day, or we may be in a long season of just one emotion. But here’s what I love about our God - he is with us in them all! The Lord allows them all. The Lord shows himself faithful and loving throughout all our different emotions and feelings.

Let’s look quickly how he does that in our reading today. When David has grief, the Lord provides a friend to give good counsel and comfort. When Joab is angry, he is able to express it in a way that brings about change and right action in another. Joab doesn’t have to stuff his frustration about seeing something wrong. No, he acts on it and is used by God to save a friend and nation from further trouble.

In John, Jesus is so patient and loving towards all the different emotions he encounters. In Mary’s disorientation, he allows re-orientation. He quietly calls her name and causes her eyes to focus on him. In the disciples' joy, he is present and rejoicing with them. And in doubt, Jesus doesn't rebuke or show disappointment in Thomas, but lovingly provides what he needs to have his faith and belief restored.

Which of these people or emotions do you identify with today? Will you allow Jesus to enter it with you? Will you allow him to gently provide exactly what you need in the midst of it? He is a personal and tender God. I hope you see his mighty hand as he moves in and through you. Our God is so good.

- Mary Matthias

How did God speak to you in Scripture today? Click here to share your reflections on God's word or read past posts. We'd love to hear from you.