Thursday, September 21, 2017

September 21

Isaiah 37:1-38:22; Galatians 6:1-18; Psalm 65:1-13; Proverbs 23:24-25

“O you who hears our prayer, to you shall all flesh come” (Ps. 65:2).

How do you respond to bad news? What do you do when something unexpected and catastrophic happens?

As the king of a large nation, Hezekiah received some pretty bad news in our Isaiah reading today. We have read this account twice before in 2 Kings 19 and 20, and then again in 2 Chronicles 32. But in Isaiah we really see into the heart and spirit of how Hezekiah responds to some really bad news.

Yesterday we read that Sennacherib king of Assyria had come into their land with plans to destroy it. This army had destroyed every nation it had attacked, and Hezekiah was facing the destruction of everything he held dear. His life and the lives of all of his people were being threatened by an evil, unstoppable force.

“As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself, and went into the house of the Lord” (Is. 37:1). He then called all the priests to join him in lifting up prayers to the Lord for God to somehow deliver them from this army. And as we read on, we saw that the Lord did in fact hear, and grant, his plea for divine intervention.

And then in the very next chapter, we read about how he became seriously ill. Isaiah came to tell Hezekiah that he would die from this illness, and as soon as he left, “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord…..And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (Is. 38:2-3). Again, we see Hezekiah, in deep distress and anguish over the news that was delivered to him, turn to the Lord and literally cry out to him.

How do we respond to bad news?

My dad tells the story of my great-grandfather as a new Armenian immigrant to America in the early 1900’s. My great-grandfather would get up each morning and go out to look for work for that day. If it was a good day, he would earn enough money to buy groceries on his way home to feed his family for that night. If it was a bad day, and no work was to be found, he would come home empty-handed. On one such bad day, he remembers walking through the front door and seeing all his kids gathered around the table hoping for some food to eat that day. When they saw him walk in empty-handed, they all burst into tears, knowing they were going to be left hungry. My great-grandfather just kept walking straight through that front room and went into the back room and shut the door, and fell on his knees, crying out to God, “How am I going to feed my babies?” He would spend his nights on his knees, pleading with God.

These men, Hezekiah and my great-grandfather, knew what to do when bad news came and tragedy hit. They knew what it meant to lay prostrate before the Lord, powerless to change anything in their own might, but confident that a powerful God could intervene on their behalf. Through bold and persistent prayers, they petitioned the Lord, audaciously asking for the miraculous to be done.

And God heard, and granted, their requests. God heard, and was moved to action by their supplication. We saw it in Hezekiah’s life and I saw it in my great-grandfather’s life. My grandmother, his daughter, died a rich woman. She was known for her generous table full of rich and delightful food to share with anyone who entered her home.

How do we respond to bad news? Let us walk straight through the turmoil, heading to our quiet space to meet with the Lord, and hit our knees, crying out, “O God, hear our prayer!”

“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation” (Ps. 65:5)

 - 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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

September 20

Isaiah 33:13-36:22; Galatians 5:13-26; Psalm 64:1-10; Proverbs 23:23

One of the qualities I love so much about Scripture is its consistency (Mom mentioned this characteristic earlier this week, too).  The same themes run throughout the Old and New Testaments; images are repeated; even words and phrases are used over and over.  Today's reading gives us several examples of this consistency.  Let's look at them:

Isaiah 33:15-16 reminds me of portions of Psalm 15, where the way of the righteous man is characterized by (among other things) a blameless walk, upright speech and aboveboard financial dealings.

Isaiah 35:5-10 develops the theme of reversals that we've seen before, like in Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2 or in Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1.  God takes that which is not and turns it into that which is.  Barren women give birth; deserts are filled with water; the blind and lame and deaf see and walk and hear.  God overturns the status quo, bringing life and health and wholeness and flourishing.

Galatians 5:14 is a direct quote, directing us back to Jesus and his conversation in the gospels (see Mt. 22 and Mk. 12).  In responding to the questions of the teachers of the Law, Jesus says that the second great commandment is "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mk. 12:31) - but Jesus himself is quoting from Leviticus 19:18.  Paul, quoting Jesus, quoting the Old Testament.  Talk about a repeated idea; clearly, this is an important concept!

Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruit of the Spirit) is offered in contrast to vs. 19-21 (the acts of the sinful nature).  Another example of "not this, but this."

Psalm 64:7-10 are the antithesis of vs. 3-6.  The plans of the wicked are upset and overturned; their own weapons of destruction are used against them.  Yet another example of the theme of reversals.

Even the idea of "get wisdom" (Pr. 23:23) has been seen before.  Look at Proverbs 4:5 and 7, which urge us to acquire understanding, wisdom, knowledge as a foundation for good living.

God recognizes how much we need to hear and see the same truths over and over again.  We are prone to forget, prone to think we've learned this lesson.  God's goodness and love for us know better; he gently reiterates these important concepts through the steady consistency of his word.  How good of him!

- 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, September 19, 2017

September 19

Isaiah 30:12-33:12; Galatians 5:1-12; Psalm 63:1-11; Proverbs 23:22

So many rich passages of Scripture were in today’s reading. So many that are familiar to us and probably some many of us have even memorized. Here are some of my favorite sections from today:

Isaiah 30:13-14 -“This sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be found.”
            I love this imagery and how completely it captures the nature of sin.  Sin gives the illusion of security (the wall) and completeness (whole pottery), but it’s not what it seems. Rather, sin cracks, collapses, shatters, and leaves complete devastation.

Isaiah 30:15- “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”
            Ahh, here is our security, strength, and completeness.  I memorized this verse a few years back. This verse is almost counterintuitive, but so true. Repentance is such a good thing, such a powerful thing.

Isaiah 30:18- “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.”
            What a tender and merciful God we serve. Thank you, Lord.

Isaiah 30:21- “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
            Another verse that’s great for memorizing. And, thanks to one of my Jr. High leaders who put this verse to music, it was easy for me to do. Thanks, Bob!

Isaiah 31:1- “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.”
            We may not look to Egypt or horsemen these days to find help or deliverance, but we certainly look to other sources besides our great God. We go to money or to our own hands to work harder to make more money. We trust in the multitude of our investments and provisions we have built up. We look to the government or institutions to keep us safe. Let us instead look to the Holy One, the God of all the earth.

Galatians 5:1- “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
            Love, love, love this verse. It is for freedom we have been set free! We are free! So walk in freedom. We don’t have to remain in sin; we have been set free to be free!

Psalm 63:1,5- “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water…My soul will be satisfied with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”
            This is not always my experience of God. I don’t always long for him like the psalmist describes, but I want to. I want to hunger and thirst for him beyond all else. Only he satisfies. He is so worthy of our lives and of our praise.

- 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, September 18, 2017

September 18

Isaiah 28:14-30:11; Galatians 3:23-4:31; Psalm 62:1-12; Proverbs 23:19-21

Rest for our souls.  Isn't that a beautiful idea?  I remember in high school when I was preparing a song for a vocal competition, a classical piece based off Jesus' words in Matthew.  "He will give you rest," I sang.  What a promise.  

Psalm 62 expounds this idea, giving us a peek into the psalmist's reasons for being able to rest.  Because the Lord is his rock and salvation, his fortress (vs. 2, 6), he can be confident.  We can only rest when we are safe.  Think of an injured child, who cries until held by her mother, but then quiets within the security of those arms.  Aren't we the same?  We can pause because we have a firm rock, a mighty fortress, as our salvation - our protection. The imagery here is very defensible: can't you see the towers of the castle rising?  The high ground (rock) from which all surrounding areas can be seen?  The place of safety implied by "refuge" (vs. 7, 8)?  Because these protective hedges are in place, because we can trust God, we can breathe.  We can rest.  

The certainty of this safe place is reinforced by repetition.  The repeated words and ideas in vs. 1-2 and vs. 5-8 remind us that we have placed our trust in him "at all times" (vs. 8).  He is trustworthy.  He is secure.  We can depend on God (vs. 6).

So on that foundation, we can build a layer of rest.  We can also build hope (a theme from yesterday's reading - like Mom said, Scripture is very consistent!).  Vs. 5 mentions hope specifically, but I think the declarations in the rest of that stanza confirm the idea.  And vs. 9-10 push us to look beyond what is immediately apparent as we wait for the action of God.

The conclusion of the psalm, vs. 11-12, is not only a strong summary of God's character, but also points us right back to the beginning of the psalm.  God is strong and God is loving.  God is loving, and so he desires to offer us salvation and rest.  God is strong, and so he can offer us salvation and rest.  He is willing and able.  Come unto him.

If you're interested and could use an audio reminder of Jesus' invitation, check out this YouTube link for "Come Unto Him," from Handel's "Messiah."  

- 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, September 17, 2017

September 17

Isaiah 25:1-28:13; Galatians 3:10-22; Psalm 61:1-8; Proverbs 23:17-18

Sarah, Mary, Esther and I have mentioned in this blog the consistency of Scripture. We’ve noticed that often the same truth will be in both the Old and New Testament sections of our reading.

And that is true today, too. One of the truths that permeates each passage is in Proverbs 23:18: “Surely there is a future hope for you and your hope will not be cut off."


Hope is a theme of Scripture that gives us life and vitality even when circumstances are tough. We see hope displayed in nature as the seasons change. It’s autumn now and, though it’s still warm here in southern California, even here the trees are shedding their leaves and the summer gardens are dying. In colder climates, snow and ice will come and cover the ground. But the dormant soil will become fertile again in the spring.

Our God is a God of hope.

Isaiah wrote, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; Your Name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Is. 26:8). Isaiah expressed hope in terms of waiting—there is joy in the way he waits for God to act during very dark times in Judah and when Judah is facing certain judgment. In fact, he writes with joy of the day to come when “on this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all the peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (25:6). Isaiah waits with hope, knowing that judgment and even exile are ahead, but they are not the end of God’s story.

The end of God’s story is always hope—hope that is based on God’s faithfulness and goodness and not on circumstances or even obedience. Paul makes a big point in Galatians of saying that we couldn’t obey the law; it couldn’t save us or bring hope. Instead, “what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22b).

Our hope is based on what Jesus Christ gives to those who believe.

“Jesus, we thank you that you are Hope and that our future is safe in Your hands.”

- 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, September 16, 2017

September 16

Isaiah 22:1-24:23; Galatians 2:17-3:9; Psalm 60:1-12; Proverbs 23:15-16

Paul writes about me and to me today.  "Are you [Sarah] so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal [of being more like Christ] by human effort?" (Gal. 3:3), he asks me.  "Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" (vs. 5)

Isaiah writes about me and to me, too.  "You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago" (Is. 22:11).

Both of these men, separated from each other by hundreds of years and from me by thousands of years, call me on the carpet for the ways I have forgotten that I am dependent on the Lord.

Paul sees that I don't want to receive.  I want to contribute, to produce, to add something to Jesus.  Yes, yes, I'm a sinner saved by grace, but really, really, God got a good one on his team when he picked me at recess.  Look at the way I give to his kingdom; look at the sacrifice I'm making to be home full-time with our children; look at my faithful attendance on Sunday; look at this blog I'm writing.  Yup, God made a smart choice.  Paul strips away this arrogance and foolishness, reminding me again that belief is what matters.  It's the being, not the doing.

Isaiah recognizes my problem, too.  He knows that I want to make my life through my own efforts.  I want to build my retirement, plan my children's futures, take credit for the ways my life flourishes.  I forget, all too easily and all too frequently, to look beyond myself to the Lord who makes the work at which I labor, the body I use to accomplish such work, the sun I enjoy as I work, the water I drink to replenish what my work depletes.

Both men reiterate that it is not I, but all God.  None of my belief is my doing; none of my thriving is my just due.  My plans come to fruition only through the grace of God to keep me strong and healthy in mind and body.  Even my ability to plan is a divine gift, setting humanity apart from all of the rest of creation!  These men, through the words recorded in Scripture, help me learn again (and again and again) that I am dependent on a loving God.  And maybe, because of their efforts, I've taken one more step toward a heart of wisdom (see Pr. 23:15).  

- 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, September 15, 2017

September 15

Isaiah 19:1-21:17; Galatians 2:1-16; Psalm 59:1-17; Proverbs 23:13-14

Don’t you find the story of Paul's and Peter’s conflict so interesting? I do. I’ve always wished I could have been a fly on the wall for the events conveyed in Galatians 2:11-16. Truth be told, I find a great deal of comfort in the fact that two of God’s most fruitful servants fought, disagreed and then reconciled over an issue. It makes them somehow seem more human, you know? And I find comfort in the fact that Peter seems to have struggled with being one way with one group of people and another way with a different group of people – that’s a very human problem, wouldn’t you agree? Sadly, it’s not just junior highers who are tempted to be one way with this group of friends and another way with a different group of friends.  

Anyway, in today’s New Testament reading, Paul begins to open up a topic that he will spend more time on the chapters to come, namely this: Peter (and, we’ll soon see, the Galatians) accepted a gospel that said Christ died for all, no matter their race; yet when a group appears with a different theology, one that says someone actually needs to be Jewish (i.e., circumcised), then Peter starts to separate himself from the Gentiles. Acting one way with one group, and a different way with another. Ah, Peter.

Paul confronts Peter for his hypocrisy and corrects him in front of everyone, basically saying that if Peter doesn’t even still keep the Jewish laws (in this case, the law Peter broke was eating with Gentiles), then how can he hold the Gentiles to the Jewish laws?

And then there are those beautiful words of verse 16: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” This theme, already present in Romans, will be hugely significant in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He wants them to know that it’s Jesus who saves, not circumcision, not clean hands, not food laws – not anything that the Jewish traditionalists (here called the circumcision party [see vs. 12]) would have the Gentiles believe. A faith in Jesus is what saves you, and Paul will spend the coming chapters restating and restating that fact to the believers in Galatia who seem all too eager to look for some reason aside from Jesus for their salvation.

Now on to the proverbs for today. If you don’t have kids, you probably didn’t think too much about it. But for those of us with small children, this proverb cannot be overlooked: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” Obviously, there are lots of theories out there about effective ways to discipline children and I’m not going to turn this post into a “to spank or not to spank” platform. Additionally, the proverbs are not promises – they are generalizations – meaning that if you follow the words of the proverbs, generally these outcomes will follow. But it’s not a guarantee. Still, these words force me to take a pause and consider my discipline habits. I don’t want to indulge my children, nor be reluctant to discipline them for fear that they won’t like me or something like that; I want to guide them and help shape them into kind, compassionate people who are able to think of others besides themselves. No small task, I know. But, thankfully, God is merciful (maybe especially to parents of young kids?) and so He allows plenty of grace as my husband and I navigate these waters.

Thank you, Jesus, not just for your grace, but for the truth that when it comes to salvation, it doesn’t matter who I am but who YOU are. Nothing - not race, culture, socio-economic class, occupation, gender, age – nothing affects my salvation, only my faith in you. Thank you!

- 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, September 14, 2017

September 14

Isaiah 15:1-18:7; Galatians 1:1-24; Psalm 58:1-11; Proverbs 23:12

Today we get to start Galatians. And you know I can’t pass up the opportunity to give some contextual background and theme information whenever we start a new book. So here we go with Galatians!

As you probably know, it was written by Paul. He likely wrote it from Antioch in 48 or 49, so fairly early in his ministry, definitely during his first missionary journey. As we’ll read in the next few days, Paul’s purposes for writing are pretty clear – to counter the threat to the Galatian churches (namely, false teaching); to defend himself and his ministry; to give a doctrine of law-free gospel (in this we’ll see some similarities to Romans); and to remind his readers of the dos and don’ts of Christian living.
This book has four major themes (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, 265):
  • Faith and freedom, both of which are found in Christ.
  • The centrality of the cross for salvation and the life of believers.
  • The role of the Holy Spirit.
  • An explanation of how the Old Testament example of Abraham points forward to Christ and his people.
When Paul writes in verse 2 “to the churches in Galatia,” this term encompassed a large area in Asia Minor, covering a large portion of modern day Turkey. He also writes in verse 7 that “there are some who trouble you” – there has been lots of discussion about who these trouble makers are. It seems most likely that these folks are the Jewish-Christian emissaries (maybe from Jerusalem? [see Gal. 2:2]) who are set on teaching that Paul’s gospel of faith alone (meaning no Jewish identity markers such as circumcision are necessary) is insufficient. Basically, they are conducting a smear campaign against Paul, which is why he has to defend his ministry (as previously mentioned as one of the reasons he wrote the letter). Paul will stand firm, though, in his commitment to a law-free gospel, a truth that we are beneficiaries of today.

So as we read Galatians in the next few days, let’s be on the lookout for these themes, and the truth that we are free, truly free, because of our faith in Christ.

I want to also comment briefly on the Proverbs verse: “Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge” (23:12). Isn’t that just what we’re all doing as we faithfully read the OYB each day? (Or in clumps, as sometimes happens to me when I get behind!) What we’re doing, day after day, week after week, month after month (and, hopefully, year after year!) has great meaning and such an amazing ability to form our hearts and shape our lives. I hope you’ve seen that already this year.

Press on!

- 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, September 13, 2017

September 13

Isaiah 12:1-14:32; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14; Psalm 57:1-11; Proverbs 23:9-11

As I dropped off a couple kids at a friend's house recently, I hollered at them, "Be a blessing!"  My 4-year-old then asked me what a blessing was, and I told her it was like a gift, a hope for something good to happen to someone, a way to bring good things to other people.  A bit simplistic, but workable enough for the preschool mind.

I thought about this idea of blessing when I read today.  Our previous church, home for nearly two decades, closed each service with a benediction (literally, a "good word"), a prayer of blessing that we all spoke over one another as we left.  For a long-ish period of time, that benediction was taken from 2 Corinthians 13:14.  We prayed: "May the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with us all."  I love the adjectives that were added to this verse - amazing, extravagant, intimate.

            Jesus' grace, his free gift of sacrifice on the cross, is amazing.

            God's love, creative and unchanging and boundless, is extravagant.

            The friendship of the Holy Spirit, a companion who resides within us at all times, is intimate.

What a prayer to pray over someone else!  Truly, could there be a better "good word"?

The psalm, too, recognizes these characteristics of God.  The writer praises God, saying, "Great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies" (Ps. 57:10).  Mercy and steadfastness are also mentioned (see vs. 1, 2); God's power (vs. 3) and provision (vs. 1b) are recalled.

What attributes of God have you experienced today, in just these few hours?  Have you breathed in grace, been aware of God's love, had sweet communion with the Holy Spirit?  Has God's faithfulness been impressed upon you in a new way, or did you receive mercy yet again?  Have you seen his power at work in the lives around you; have you seen him open his hand to take literal care of you?  Take a moment to praise the LORD.

"Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth" (Ps. 57:5).

- 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, September 12, 2017

September 12

Isaiah 10:1-11:16; 2 Corinthians 12:11-21; Psalm 56:1-13; Proverbs 23:6-8

At church on Sunday, our pastor put up a slide showing a refugee camp in Jordan. Some tens of thousands of people are living in this camp, having been displaced from their homes and their families. The country from which these people are fleeing is ruled by an oppressive and violent dictator and they are fleeing for their lives. They live in tents. They live in a foreign land. They live without much hope for the future. 

As I sat there looking at the slide, I thought, "This is why I am glad we serve a just God." Some people have a hard time with God's justice and judgment. Not me. I am inclined towards those traits myself (for good or bad), and I am actually really thankful we serve and live under a God of justice and judgment.

"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people... What will you do on the day of reckoning?...To whom will you run for help?....Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain" (Is. 10:1-4).

Your day is coming, the Lord says. Don't think you can get away with all this evil and injustice and not have some recompense. 

Everyone would agree that this side of God's justice is good. Everyone wants the bad guys to get some payback. And they will. But what about the subtler side of God's justice? What about the side that painfully disciplines us when we too walk astray? Are we glad for that? What about the natural disasters and huge atrocities happening to many nations today, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.? Are those harder to attribute to God's justice? Is that harder to accept?

But God is committed to wiping out evil in this world. And for that, I am glad. I want a just God. If you still doubt, keep reading.

Isaiah goes on to tell about how this justice is carried out and the positive side about what we can anticipate after judgment. Chapter 11 contains such a beautiful picture of who Jesus Christ is and what he will do. Jesus is the perfect and righteous judge, full of wisdom, understanding, and power. What an amazing picture of peace and tranquility he will create, portrayed in verses 6-8. After perfect and complete judgment, "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Is. 11:9).

When I hear about all the atrocities and crimes carried out by evil men (and women), I remind myself of these promises. We have hope. The whole earth has a beautiful future. We serve a good and just God.

- 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, September 11, 2017

September 11

Isaiah 8:1-9:21; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Psalm 55:1-23; Proverbs 23:4-5

Lord God,

Thank you for your Word.  Thank you for the timeliness it finds in our lives and for the work it does in our hearts.  You reveal yourself to us in these pages, and you demonstrate your faithful love for your people.  Thank you for the honesty of its writers and the truth of their words.

Thank you that today - especially today, as we remember - we do not need to fear what the people fear, but instead can revere you.  Thank you that you are and will always be a sanctuary for us (Is. 8:12-14).  Thank you that we do not need to fear our weaknesses, but can be secure in your strength (2 Cor. 12:9).  What we perceive as insufficient is proved to be enough because of your great love and mercy.  Though we experience grief and anger and betrayal (Ps. 55:2-5, 12-14), we can yet choose to bring our cares to you.  You will sustain us; you will not abandon us (vs. 22).  We trust in you (vs. 23).  Teach us to trust you to a greater degree every day, particularly with our futures and security.  Give us an understanding of the appropriate value of money (Pr. 23:4-5), and help us to live dependently on you.

You are a good, good God, and we are so grateful.

Here we are, we and the children the Lord has given us.  May we be signs and symbols from you (Is. 8:18), pointing the world toward you.  


(P.S. - Did you hear Handel's "Messiah" during our Old Testament reading today?  Didn't it whet your appetite for more and for Christmas?)

- 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, September 10, 2017

September 10

Isaiah 6:1-7:25; 2 Corinthians 11:16-33; Psalm 54:1-7; Proverbs 23:1-3

“I saw the Lord.”

Beautiful words.

What does it mean to see the Lord? Isaiah saw the Lord. A vision of God and His glory filled Isaiah’s mind and understanding. He was overcome by his own sinfulness in contrast with the LORD’s holiness (Is. 6:1-5). But from this encounter with God, he had the strength to minister to his people for over six decades while they refused to listen to God’s warnings.

Paul saw the Lord, too. We read about it on June 13. Paul was changed by his encounter with the Lord. His encounter with Jesus gave him strength to evangelize the Gentiles.  It enabled him to endure all that we read about today: “worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely…beaten with rods…stoned…shipwrecked…in the open sea…in danger from rivers…in dangers from bandit…I have labored and toiled and often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Cor. 11:23-27).

Two men who saw the Lord and their lives were forever changed. Their encounters with God gave them strength to fulfill His assignments to them.

Isn’t that what we need—an encounter with God? It’s the only thing that will keep us true to God through the trials that come to us. This is why we come daily to the OYB. We need to see God; we need to understand the magnitude of who He is.

I haven’t had an experience on the magnitude of Isaiah’s or Paul’s. But I have ‘seen’ the Lord in His Word and I’ve heard His voice in my heart many times. I’ve seen His glory in creation and in beautiful babies and children. I’ve felt His love in worship services and circumstances and relationships.

During a particularly difficult time in our lives, I remember ‘seeing’ the Lord every Sunday for at least six months. On the weekdays I met with the Lord in His Word and hungrily listened to Him. I often recorded in a journal the words from Scripture that God spoke to me. Then, as usual, I went to church on Sunday. And one of those Scriptures that the Lord had given to my heart during the week would be mentioned somewhere in the service. I felt a ‘hug’ from the Lord when this happened. After the first few weeks, I began to realize that the Lord was revealing Himself to me - showing me His favor toward me - by honoring me with these quiet encounters with Him. No one sitting near me could possibly have known what was going on in my soul as Jesus reassured me each week of His care for me, His love for me, His knowledge of my pain. I almost never mentioned this occurrence during those months; I knew it was a special encounter from the Lord that was intended to strengthen me for the trial I was enduring and not something I was supposed to talk about. But I anticipated this ‘hug’ each week and was not disappointed.

Keep coming to God’s Word. He will meet you there. Ask Him for a ‘sighting’ of Him and He will answer.

He doesn’t just do it for Isaiah and Paul and Nell Sunukjian. He will do it for you, too.

- 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, September 9, 2017

September 9

Isaiah 3:1-5:30; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15; Psalm 53:1-6; Proverbs 22:28-29

Esther mentioned yesterday that one of the themes Isaiah will visit over and over is "the day of the Lord."  We see that in our reading today, in chapters 3 and 4.  What's particularly interesting about this section is the contrast present.  One group of people will experience the day of the Lord in one way, and another group will experience it in a totally different (and much better) way.

Look first at 3:18.  "In that day," Isaiah writes to begin this section, and the prophet then goes on to describe the great devastation that will come: loss of property (vs. 18-23), loss of dignity (vs. 24), loss of life (vs. 25), loss of security and protection (4:1).  Later prophets, too, will describe the terror and destruction that comes with the day of the Lord (see Amos 5:18-20, for example).  These are uncomfortable prophecies, and we tend to skim right over them.  Truly, God's judgment is a fearsome thing.  To stand on the unrepentant side of it is to incur great debt. 

And, yet, right after expounding on the suffering of the haughty, Isaiah moves to a beautiful prose section on the redemption of God.  Look at all the nouns and adjectives and verbs of hope and renewal in 4:2-6: beautiful; glorious, pride and glory; holy; wash away; cleanse; create; glow; "the glory will be a canopy;" shelter; shade, refuge; hiding place.  Such incredible words!  In the midst of the loss, God will work great gain.

I love to read that section; this year I read it several times.  There's a tenderness along with the majesty, a protectiveness with the holiness.  What an image of God!  Is it not incredible that he can hold these great tensions within himself - to judge and yet extend mercy, to wound and yet bind up, to protect fiercely and yet love gently?  Amazing.

Several years ago, I marked vs. 6 particularly.  While recognizing the significance of the original context, I was struck with a desire to make these words true of the home I create and curate.  I'm thinking today that these words might be equally true of my calling to live as a follower of Jesus in this world. 

Lord, may your church and your people be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.  Thank you for being those things to us.  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.

Friday, September 8, 2017

September 8

Isaiah 1:1-2:22; 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; Psalm 52:1-9; Proverbs 22:26-27

Today we begin Isaiah. I have an Isaiah – our third born. He is wonderful (says the unbiased mother) and he is named after the prophet who wrote this book. We love this name because it means ‘the Lord is generous.’ Can I get an Amen to that? And while the Isaiah of this book certainly tells of God’s generosity (“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow”) (Isaiah 1:18), he also has some very serious words for Israel, as we’ll see over the next few weeks.

I’m going to focus this entry on some basic background info, as you know I like to do whenever we start a new book and it’s my day to write. So here we go!

Isaiah says in chapter 1 verse 1 that this book is the vision he saw during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Right of the bat, we’ve got some historical context for this book. Uzziah we read about in 2 Chronicles 26, Jotham in 2 Chronicles 27, Ahaz in 2 Chronicles 28-30 and Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 29-32 (and of course, they are also in 2 Kings). These men ruled over the divided kingdom of Judah, meaning that Israel had already split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Uzziah ruled in the middle of the 8th century BC, and the rest going forward from there. If you can remember back to the days earlier this summer when we were reading in 2 Chronicles, then you might remember that Uzziah, Jotham and Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” and that Ahaz “did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” So these are the kings that Isaiah is serving as a prophet for. Doing the math (which I didn’t do myself, I looked it up), that means Isaiah was a prophet for somewhere near 64 years. That’s a long time to try to tell a stubborn and stiff-necked people what God is saying to them!

A few other things about Isaiah – we gather from 8:3 that he had a wife (she’s called the “prophetess” probably because of their marriage) and they had two sons (7:3, 8:3) and while commentators vary (as they always do), most people feel like the major themes of Isaiah are:

  • Jesus Christ, his first and second comings (roughly 1/3 of the book)
  • Warnings and assurances to Israel and Judah (a large majority of the book)
  • The Day of the Lord (we’ll have to get into this more in a future post)
  •  The Kingdom of God (the actual term “kingdom” doesn’t actually appear in the book but this “future age” is described in many instances

Even in the verses we read today, we can see these themes beginning. Look at 1:19-20: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” I’d say that’s a pretty clear warning for Israel and Judah! And look at 2:2: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the “highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it…” That sounds very kingdom of God-ish to me.

Anyway, more to come. But hopefully this framing will help us all as we read further and deeper into one of God’s most faithful prophets.

Happy reading!

- 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, September 7, 2017

September 7

Song of Songs 5:1-8:14; 2 Corinthians 9:1-15; Psalm 51:1-19; Proverbs 22:24-25           

“Love is as strong as death, as unyielding as the grave… many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away” (Song 8:6-7).

My parents had a love story.

I never doubted the strong connection between my mom and dad. All their lives, my dad was the attentive spouse. He came home from work each day, looked for my mom and went to give her a kiss. I have no memories of my mom ever kissing my dad though I do recall that she often bathed in the afternoon and put on a clean housedress before he came home from work.

My mom was the more difficult one of the pair. She was easily offended, quickly angered, and she held a grudge. But despite this, my dad loved her. And she loved him in the ways that she could: his house was clean, his clothes were ironed, his lunch was ready for him to take to work each day, and a homemade meal was ready each evening. She loved him in the ways that she could.

Near the end of his life, my dad was in a nursing home and my mom was still in their home about 10 miles away. He was drifting away. And as he lay in that bed in the care facility, from their home she would get up and eat and get dressed to go the nursing home where he was. She was a bit aimless there. She didn’t have her usual supports of the kitchen, the garden—the places where she felt at home and in control. She often quarreled with the caregivers about his care. Yet she was drawn there each day because of love, love as strong as death.

Due to her oncoming dementia, their last years together had some rough moments when she became hostile toward him at times. Yet there she was, coming every day to the nursing home, to be discontent there, to fuss around when he didn’t even seem to want attention from her. Why? Love is as strong as death. She couldn’t let go of him until death claimed him.

I remember driving away from my dad’s nursing home and musing on this verse and knowing I had seen it in life.

Death is a magnet; it is drawing us unrelentingly. We cannot escape. The grave is unyielding; it will win. We cannot conquer death and the grave.

Love has the same magnetic quality. When we love someone we cannot turn away. Ask a wife whose husband has cancer. Ask a husband whose wife is dying. Love can’t give up; it won’t give up. Love is as strong as death.

May it be so in each of our marriages.

- 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, September 6, 2017

September 6

Song of Songs 1:1-4:16; 2 Corinthians 8:16-24; Psalm 50:1-23; Proverbs 22:22-23

Isn't our God good?  To put such a beautiful expression of sexual desire and intimacy into his revelation?  I can't help but think that so many of those detractors who pooh-pooh Christianity for its prudery have never read Song of Songs!  It's exciting, it's vivid, it's passionate, and it's holy - sanctified by God within the bounds of marriage.  It's real (they have fights and disagreements) and it's sturdy (they know how to reconcile well). What an example for us.

Paul, and his collection for the relief of the church in Jerusalem, is another such example.  Don't you find his words in today's reading stirring?  "We are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men" (2 Cor. 8:21).  Godly men making good decisions, determined to be above reproach.

The LORD offers himself as an example, too.  Look at the words of assurance he offers to his people through our psalm.  He invites his people to "call upon [him] in the day of trouble," promising to "deliver [them]" (Ps. 50:15) and citing his own self-sufficiency as support.  If God does not need a bull or a goat from them (vs. 9), if all the livestock in all the pastures are his (vs. 10), if every creature belongs to him (vs. 11), then God can abundantly provide.  If he is so full - to the point of never being in need at all - then his abundance can meet the needs of his people.  

Lord God, thank you for showing us the salvation of God (Ps. 50:23).  Thank you for providing examples of right living to guide us in our relationships, in our giving, in our dependence on you.  You are nothing like us (see vs. 21), and we praise you.  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, September 5, 2017

September 5

Ecclesiastes 10:1-12:14; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Psalm 49:1-20; Proverbs 22:20-21

How can you not love Ecclesiastes? It just cuts through all the messiness of life and gets straight to the point. Some people find this depressing; I find it very refreshing and encouraging.

"As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor" (Ecc. 10:1).

"If clouds are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie" (Ecc. 11:3).

How come no one memorizes these verses in Sunday School or Awanas? They are good little nuggets of wisdom if you think about it. They make me smile.

Just as my sister, Sarah, loves Ecclesiastes, so do I. However, I am not the "melancholic" temperament that she is, but this book appeals to me nonetheless. In different ways, it touches upon truths and deep wisdoms with which my soul can deeply resonate.

I am a doer. I love to be productive and take care of business. The more productivity I have had in a day, the better my day was. I like to talk and hang out (this is productive relationally to me), but I really love a task that has been completed. I'm not sure what temperament this falls under (I didn't get a chance check out that link Sarah sent us fully, but I plan to!), but as with most characteristics, valuing productivity can be both a strength and a weakness.

What I love about Ecclesiastes is that it puts all of life in perspective. No matter what your personality or temperament may be, Ecclesiastes hits on it at some point. Do you pursue wisdom for fulfillment in life? Meaningless. Do you pursue fun and pleasure for fulfillment in life? Meaningless. Do you look for riches and wealth to bring fulfillment? Meaningless. Do you think hard work will provide you with fulfillment? Meaningless. 

All of us pursue these things to some degree and to some level and all of us need these things to some degree and some level. But what I love is the perspective Ecclesiastes provides - those things are not IT. They will not fulfill. They will not bring meaning and purpose to life. 

So what does? Well, we get to the punch line in our reading today - "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecc. 12:13). That's it. After all this seeking of wisdom, all this searching for what is truly significant in life, that is it.

Fear God and obey Him.

Ahhh, what a breath of fresh air that is. How completely do-able. How completely freeing from all those other things that drive us in life, that try to give us our sense of identity. I am not bound by my productivity, by my intellect, by riches or success. If we are given those things, great!  Enjoy them, the Teacher says, but they are not the conclusion. 

The conclusion is: Fear God and obey Him. I can do that. You can do that. Let's do it today!

- 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, September 4, 2017

September 4

Ecclesiastes 7:1-9:18; 2 Corinthians 7:8-16; Psalm 48:1-14; Proverbs 22:17-19

There are so many beautiful words in our reading today: "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret" (2 Cor. 7:10); "for this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end" (Ps. 48:14); "so that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today" (Pr. 22:19).

I find these most beautiful of all, though: "It is now that God favors what you do" (Ecc. 9:7).  It is now.  God favors what you do.  Could there be anything more encouraging and sustaining than to know that God favors us?  And that his favor is now, always now?  How un-grasp-ably amazing!

The verses surrounding this profound statement of God's bias toward us are almost as wonderful.  The Teacher urges us to go, to eat and drink with gladness and joy, to dress in white (even today, white is a party color - think of Easter and weddings and summer picnics), to anoint our heads with oil (the "oil of gladness" [see Ps. 45:7]), to enjoy life with those nearest and dearest to us, to work with vigor (see Ecc. 9:7-10).

This is a call to live fully.  We're encouraged to be present to the goodness of our world, to enjoy all the many gifts given by an extravagant God.  These words push against the asceticism of our Puritan forebearers, but keep us from the excess and indulgence more common in our modern era.  We're reminded that our life comes from God (see Ecc. 9:9) and, therefore, is meant to be experienced.  Irenaeus, a second-century church father, once declared that the glory of God is man fully alive, and these verses show us how to be fully alive.

If we were to put these verses into a modern framework, would we eat the best chocolates and the ripest peaches?  Would we juice lemons to make lemonade and pour it into jam jars and drink it through colored paper straws?  Would we wear the white jeans, even to a backyard BBQ, even with tiny toddler hands reaching for us?  Would we buy a new flavored body wash from Bath and Body Works, and relish rubbing sunscreen into the back of a loved one?  Would we spend meaningful time with our spouses and children and friends, playing Charades or reading aloud or going on a drive in a beautiful place?  Would we work with deliberation, seeing our work as our lot in life, assigned by God, whether it is teaching children or healing bodies?

Ecclesiastes is a book of tension, where the writer explores the dissonance between our daily, ultimately insignificant, existence and the aspirational full experience of human life.  We're forced to look at our perspective, to see which of these two ends we will pursue.  Will we see only the meaninglessness, or will we embrace the fullness?

Lord, thank you for giving us this book in your Scriptures.  Teach us, as Moses once prayed, to number our days rightly that we might gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12).  Remind us of your very present favor toward us, and cause us to remember your great goodness.  Give us a true perspective on our lives, and bring us joy in our work.  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, September 3, 2017

September 3

Ecclesiastes 4:1-6:12; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:7; Psalm 47:1-9; Proverbs 22:16

I know some very good pastors. My husband has been a pastor for much of his life, my brother is a pastor and my son-in-law is a pastor. And I served as director of women’s ministries under the leadership of a good pastor. Each of these men displays the traits described in our reading today in 2 Corinthians 6 & 7.

Paul displays a deep passion for the holiness of the Church (2 Cor. 6:14-18). For the church to be holy, she must hold to the truths that God commands. “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols (vs. 16)?” The church must not be yoked together with unbelievers (vs. 14) for righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common. Dr. David Lowery writing in The Bible Knowledge Commentary says that though Christians often apply this to various alliances like marriage or business, its primary application was probably the church (p. 570). Paul was urging the Church to stay away from false teachings and to stay pure. (Also see the OYB July 13 post for Esther’s comments on the church and the LGBTQ movement).

Secondly, Paul wants the church at Corinth to understand that he meant them good in his actions and letters. He had lived honorably among them and before them. He had no secret sins against them. He had no fear of someone somewhere rising up to accuse him. Though he was not sinless, he had no known sins against his flock.

Third, he expresses great love for the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 7:6). We don’t often think of Paul as an affectionate man, but he does love the Church and, certainly, the Lord of the Church. And he says that in plain language.

What a good pattern for pastors to follow. A pastor should be concerned about the holiness of the church he shepherds. The church is to be separate from the culture we live in. “What do righteousness and wickedness have in common” (2 Cor. 6:14)? A pastor must teach the unpopular truths of the Bible. Righteousness has never been a popular agenda but it is the only appropriate agenda for the Church.

And it is right for a pastor to watch his actions carefully so he is able to say with Paul, “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one” (2 Cor. 7:2). I am proud of these pastors that I know well—these words are true of each of them. Thank you Don, David F., Eric and Dale for being trustworthy examples.

And thirdly, how appropriate for a pastor to declare his affection for and allegiance to his congregation. Paul does it unabashedly: “I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you” (2 Cor. 7:4). I like to hear a pastor tell his flock that he has deep love for them—they are happy and he is happy. Go ahead, pastors. Tell your congregations that you love them—they will thrive under your words.

Because I have a deep love and passion for the Church, I am delighted when the local church I attend is prospering. God’s plan for the present and the future will always include His Church. And His Church must stay true to the written Word of God.

May our pastors continue to lead us in this way.

- 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, September 2, 2017

September 2

Ecclesiastes 1:1-3:22; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Psalm 46:1-11; Proverbs 22:15

Yes!  I get to do a post on Ecclesiastes!  And, woohoo!, I'm doing another one in two days!  Yahoo!

I'm serious, people.  I have long wanted to do an in-depth study on Ecclesiastes.  That won't happen here (or today), but perhaps this post will be the final push for me to hunt down some commentaries and start researching.  

I've always been interested in this book.  Now, as I've established elsewhere and more than once, I love the Old Testament.  I love the history of it, the narratives, the faithfulness of God as he just keeps pursuing Israel.  I love the altar-building, the festivals, the questions and answers and songs that the nation uses to help it remember.  I love the various literary forms and watching for God to fulfill promises and prophecies.  Love, love, love the OT.

This book, specifically, catches my attention each year.  Part of the attraction is that I have a melancholic temperament (see this link if you're interested in more information, but take it with a grain of salt!), and this book with its questions and lack of optimism and searching sits easily in my soul.  Part of the attraction is that I've been a stay-at-home mom full-time for more than a dozen years, and every day/week often reflects the sameness, the ennui, that the Teacher describes in Ecclesiastes 1:5-10a.  I feel like the Teacher gets me, you know?  And part of the attraction is the thoughtfulness and intentionality of the Teacher as he explores the world around him.  He sees an area of inquiry, makes a plan, follows through, and reflects on the experience.  For a woman who has created traditions out of thin air, planned out a reading schedule a year in advance, and written a daily to-do list for years, this methodology speaks to me.  Lastly, I'm attracted to the hope that's inherent in this book.  Though he may grow discouraged, the Teacher time and time again remembers that life is good and that God is good.  Even though I'm a pessimist (see melancholic, above) about the minutiae of life, I have a long-term positive outlook because God is good, and God is in control.  I appreciate the reminders that Ecclesiastes brings.

Some of the many true things the Teacher says:
- "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief" (Ecc. 1:18).  The more invested I am in knowing and being known, the more observant I am of the world around me, the more pain and suffering I will be exposed to.  My husband and one of our sons are in Houston this weekend, and Eric says the outpouring of concern has been stupendous.  In conversation recently, we wondered if the tragedy of Katrina has made America more aware and, thus, more responsive.  We didn't know then, but we know now.
- "A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?" (Ecc. 2:24-25). If we can find such elemental joy in our lives, are we not fully blessed?  How great a thing it is to be hungry, and to satisfy that hunger with food!  And food of all sorts and flavors - bacon and peanut butter with chocolate and tortilla chips and sourdough bread bowls filled with soup and fresh fruit pies!  Richness!  Clear, clean, cool water when you're thirsty?  Heaven.  Not to mention the delight of loving the work that one does, of finding meaning and value in the many hours we devote to our occupation.  What a true thing the Teacher concludes - and he'll conclude it multiple times throughout the book (see 3:12-13, for example).
- Though The Byrds may have made the lyrical section in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 into an anti-war ballad, the philosophical explanation of the movement of life is so, so beautiful.  The Teacher sees the ebb and flow of life, the turn of season and situation, and accepts the variations - variations that are, at the same time, constant and consistent.  
- My favorite of all: "He has made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecc. 3:11).  Wow.  I mean, just wow.

I hope that you found both reality and beauty in our reading today.  I hope, too, that you found those same two truths present in your physical life today and in your experience of our God.  We live in the both/and of the time between the cross and the new kingdom, and Ecclesiastes gives a good voice to that world.

- 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, September 1, 2017

September 1

Job 40:1-42:17; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Psalm 45:1-17; Proverbs 22:14

Well, does God put Job in his place or what?

That’s usually my first response when I read today’s passage. And as I read it again today, I did have that same reaction. But a part of me was also a little frustrated with God. Did you feel that at all? Here God is, allowing Satan to rip everything from Job – his children, his wealth and his health – and when Job responds with questions, as any of us would, God answers back with about a hundred questions of his own. And did you see how they don’t answer Job’s question of how all this tragedy could have happened to him, but rather are rhetorical questions about Job’s power (or lack thereof)?

Of course, God is right. Job doesn’t “have an arm like God” (Job 40:9) nor can he “draw out Leviathan with a fishhook” (41:1). But I still feel for Job that his direct (and I believe valid!) complaints aren’t answered. Job asks God, “Why does this happen to me when I’ve been righteous and humble?” and God answers him, “Who are you to question God?” So Job gets an answer, but not the one he was looking for.

When I was doing a little bit of reading about Job recently, I was struck by one author’s theory. He wondered if we should view Job not as a book out why the righteous suffer, but rather, how the righteous suffer. As I read today’s passage, where God doesn’t actually answer the “why” questions of Job’s suffering, but rather reminds Job that he is God and Job is not, I think this author may be on to something. In Job, we don’t get a reason for suffering; we get a model on how to do it without turning our backs on God. We see an example of a righteous man who does not let his tragedy cause him to sin, but rather to pursue God. And it shows me that when we pursue God, we don’t always get the answer that we want. But we do always get God.

I don’t know what your situation is today. Maybe, like Job, you’re in the midst of a very serious crisis and you’re looking for answers. I pray, like Job, that you’ll hear the voice of God, and that you’ll respond as Job did – “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

I have to make mention, too, of the reading in 2 Corinthians. There are some really powerful verses in there, ones that I hope we’re all taking to heart. Listen again to what Paul says: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Cor. 5:14). That’s the gospel, folks. It doesn’t get plainer than that! And how about this one? “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (vs. 17). Paul is talking about us – about you and me and everyone who has put his or her faith in Jesus. We are NEW. Wow.

And one final verse that I just had to draw our attention to: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Again, that means me! That means you! For OUR sake, because God loved US so much, he put all our sin on Jesus, so that we would stand before God righteous and pure. Sometimes I can make things too complicated. In this passage, I feel like Paul is really saying, “Let me strip this down to the bare essentials for you,” and I’m so thankful for the powerful truth of this words. Thank you, Lord! 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, August 31, 2017

August 31

Job 37:1-39:30; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:10; Psalm 44:9-26; Proverbs 22:13

My firstborn started kindergarten yesterday. I’ve been dreading it for months – not just the sadness of her going off to school, away from me for hours each day, but also the loss of time with her brothers. And I’ve mourned the change to our schedule this brings, namely that we now have a schedule. And we now have less control over what happens to her. When I let myself dwell on it too much, anxiety starts to creep in. Will she have friends at her school? Will she be made fun of? Will there be bullies? And as the years go on, what bigger problems will she face? Will some boy take advantage of her? Will she get in with the wrong group of girls? When we send our kids out into the world, it’s a truly terrifying thing.

And then I read the words from Elihu today – “God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour” (Job 37:5-6). Here is a God who controls each snowflake, each raindrop, a God who does great things I can’t even comprehend. Sure, Elihu’s purpose in writing these words is to put Job in his place; but they also reveal the truth of who our God is – in control, good, and sovereign. I’m so thankful for that reminder as I send my precious babies into the unknown.

And now we come to the part in Job that everything pivots on – God’s response to Job. Don’t you love how the author puts it: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said…” (Job 38:1, emphasis mine)? Then God goes on to truly reveal himself and his omnipotence to Job in a series of questions that prove his power and authority. Here are just a few that really struck me:
  • "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)
  •  “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place…?” (vs. 12)
  • “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.” (vs. 18)
  • “Can you send forth lightings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?” (vs. 35)
In question after question, God reveals himself to Job. I know this passage is sometimes viewed as God squashing Job, but I don’t completely see it as that (though I’m sure there is some of that here). God also wants to remind Job that no matter what Job is going through, God is still sovereign. He is still the one calling the shots, still in charge, and still good.

What a great reminder to us as well, as we struggle to remain confident in the truth that God is good no matter what our circumstances say. It ties in perfectly with Paul’s words in our New Testament reading: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

This week, on what feels like the precipice of our family’s future, I’m thankful for these truths and God’s word, which so clearly reveals who he is.

- Esther McCurry

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

August 30

Job 34:1-36:33; 2 Corinthians 4:1-12; Psalm 44:1-8; Proverbs 22:10-12

There's a rigidity to the God Elihu describes, a narrowness that says "God must do this; God must be like that."  He seems to forget that he cannot understand or comprehend God.  God is so completely other, so totally mysterious, but Elihu implies that to himself, God is neither so other nor so mysterious.  There's an arrogance to his speech: "One perfect in knowledge is with you" (Job 36:4).

Yet portions of his speech are so beautiful.  Consider this name of God: "God my Maker, who gives songs in the night" (Job 35:10).  Isn't that sheer poetry?  Think of the times when you've sung songs in the night: birthday parties, a church worship service, lullabies at a midnight feeding.  It is only from celebration, from contentedness and deep joy that songs are sung in the night.  And such celebration, such contentment, such joy come only from God.

Consider, too, the invitation that Elihu ascribes to God.  "He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food" (Job 36:16).  There are echoes and foreshadowings here from the book of Psalms, from Revelation's Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  What a vivid - and accurate! - description of the "jaws of distress," and how beautiful that God woos us from such dark places and into freedom and life.  I wish so much (indeed, I prayed this very idea today) for those in darkness around me to respond to God's wooing and to find the "spacious place free from restriction," with its joy and celebration.

There are beautiful words in our New Testament reading, too.  Read them as encouragement and hope: "[You] are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Cor. 4:8-9).  You may feel hard pressed, but the Lord has promised that you will not be crushed.  You may feel perplexed, but you need not despair.  You may be persecuted, but the Lord has not abandoned you.  You may even be struck down, but you cannot be destroyed.  This is good news!

"Life is at work in you" and in me (2 Cor. 4:12), dear friends.  Praise the Lord!

- Sarah Marsh

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

August 29

Job 31:1-33:33; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; Psalm 43:1-5; Proverbs 22:8-9

If your husband happens to come home from the Redbox near you saying that he got a “heart-warming, feel-good movie that you are really going to like,” and that movie is Miracles from Heaven, don’t believe him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie, but if crying your eyes out and having your gut wrenching the entire movie is your idea of “heart-warming and feel-good,” then go ahead, watch it. My instincts were telling me to be wary and I should have listened.

Basically, the whole movie (spoiler alert!) is about this family watching one of their daughters suffer from an incurable disease and how awful an experience that is. They are believers in Jesus and the movie does a really good job of showing the struggle to keep your faith in the midst of such suffering and trying circumstances.  The mother, in particular, doubts and wavers in her faith. At one point she says that all too common line, “Why would a good and loving God let my innocent child suffer like this?” I kept thinking throughout the movie, she really needs to read Job. Job answers all those questions.

Job is one of God’s greatest gifts to us in Scripture. For me, it answers the “why” question. It answers the doubts and disbelief that God is there or even cares. In today’s reading, we see Job make his final case: “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign my defense - let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing” (Job 31:35). Earlier Job again makes his defense that he has done nothing wrong to deserve this kind of suffering. Job is bold with God. Job is completely honest with God. Job is disgusted with God and totally done talking about it.  He almost views God as someone who has unjustly afflicted him and has then turned completely silent, not willing to answer his cries.

This is the gift part of Job. How many of us have felt that way? In the midst of our suffering, we feel angry, confused, and alone. Job shows us that we can be bold with God. We can be honest with God. We can even be frustrated with the way we seem to understand him working. God can handle it. God did handle it with Job and he will handle it with us. But what Job also reminds us is that there are things going on in the heavenly realms that we have no idea about. There is a whole other narrative that is totally unseen on earth. Will we have the faith to trust that other narrative God is writing? Will we, like Job, refuse to curse or deny God? Will we hold onto our faith that he is a good God even when nothing around us points to that?

Why does God allow such suffering? I don’t know.  But God is always at work in the heavenly realms doing things that I can’t begin to comprehend the reasons behind. I do know that God is still aware and participating with what is happening (just as he did with Job). I do know that I am not alone, that Jesus is with me and lives in my heart and that he will one day make all things new. And I do know that he has good for me in the future just as he did (spoiler alert!) for Job. God is in the business of restoration.

Psalm 43:5 says, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

- 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.