Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 31

Malachi 3:1-4:6; Revelation 22:1-21; Psalm 150; Proverbs 31:25-31

The end of the year.


We are wrapping up our year together reading the OYB. It’s over. It’s been an interesting year for each of us. And how good it has been to journey with you. We’ve had joys and sorrows, haven’t we? New babies have been born and someone we loved has died. Life keeps changing even when things seem the same.

But our God is unchangeable. He will never change. He will continue to love and seek His people, to draw them to repentance (Mal. 3:2) and to offer them the river of the water of life (Rev. 22:1). He will continue to be worthy of praise from everything that has breath (Ps. 150:6). He promises that He is coming soon (Rev. 22:17) and we His people wait with expectancy.

There’s a little verse tucked in the middle of Malachi that draws my heart: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name” (Mal. 3:16). Isn’t that what we’ve done this year? We talked with each other, we’ve read His word and the Lord has listened and heard. He has written a scroll of remembrance about us—amazing! That we feared Him and honored His Name! He didn’t write down that we missed some days, read sometimes without appetite but merely out of duty, or that on some days we read distractedly. He wrote down that we feared Him and honored His name by honoring His Word. We came to His Word as seekers, knowing that He offers the water of life. There were days when we drank that water eagerly for we came with thirsty souls and desperate needs. There were days when we needed His cleansing. And every day we needed the nourishment of the Holy Word of God.

So thanks for coming with us. We’re women who won’t change the world—let’s be honest here—but we want to know the God who can and will and does change the world. After all, He created it.

We’ll be reading again next year. Want to join us? January 1 is the creation account and I can’t wait to read it again!

With love from each of us,
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, December 30, 2017

December 30

Malachi 1:1-2:17; Revelation 21:1-27; Psalm 149:1-9; Proverbs 31:10-24

This was a hard one today.  I didn't have time to read in the morning, as I usually do, so I read before bed.  Right after a huuuuge fight with Eric.  *sigh*  Definitely not the time I wanted to be reading about that Uber-woman in Proverbs 31.  *big sigh*  I do want to be that woman, just not tonight.  Even so, I still believe that Eric is confident in me and in my love: he knows I'm not going to speak ill of him here in this blog, or post my frustration on social media, or bad-mouth him to my friends.  We've made a commitment to only speak well of each other in public, and we hold to it.  This protects Eric and his leadership in our city and church (see Pr. 31:23).  In my failure tonight to ensure that Eric "lacks nothing of value" (vs. 11) - even in the midst of that conviction - I can yet see the encouragement of Scripture.  I am more like Christ at the end of the year; I fail, but I am growing and being changed by God's word.

To the meat of what I wanted to share about the rest of our reading: How beautiful is the Holy City of Revelation!  It shines with God's glory; it can only be described with superlatives; comparisons to the finest of jewels are inadequate in their splendor.  It is perfect.  The numbers used to describe it reflect this.  12 was a number of completion and fullness; so twelve 12s (144 cubits) and a thousand 12s (12,000 stadia) are the perfection of perfection.

It is a far cry from the deformed sacrifices and partial disobedience Malachi mentions. God rebukes his people for their lack of honor, their lack of reverence, their lack of faithfulness.  They don't take God's holiness seriously (Mal. 1:8-14); they don't fulfill his commands fully (2:14-16).  And they justify and defend their inaction at every turn (1:7, 2:17, among other examples).

The past of Israel all too often mirrors the present of the church today.  It's easy for me to get caught up in frustration or despair about how God's people fail to represent his holiness, glory, and power.  But, oh! what we have to look forward to!  "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4).  Hallelujah!  This present, with all of its brokenness and pain, with all of its beauty and pleasure, will yet be overwhelmed by the sheer joy and perfection that will come with Jesus' return.  I can only echo the words of John from tomorrow's reading: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (22:20).

- 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, December 29, 2017

December 29

Zechariah 14:1-21; Revelation 20:1-15; Psalm 148:1-14; Proverbs 31:8-9

How you holding up? Including today, we’ve got just three days left. Do you have the stamina for a fairly technical post today? If not, go think about something fun to do for New Year’s Eve (and then leave a comment telling me your plans, since I never have any good ideas and feel like our evening is always anticlimactic!) and come back to this post another time.

But if you feel like you can still push through to the finish line, then stay tuned. Today I’m going to do some hefty lifting in Revelation. I mentioned yesterday that I love Revelation and here’s one of the reasons why - when I was in seminary, I took a class called Daniel-Revelation; it’s exactly like it sounds. It explored the themes between Daniel and Revelation. My teacher, an end times expert (or as much as you can be on a topic such as that!), took us through each book, chapter by chapter, showing their parallels and the ways in which John, the author of Revelation, developed the eschatological (that is, "end times") theology that Daniel lays out. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to get that specific here, but in our passage today, John seems to refer to something out of Daniel 12 and I want to draw our attention to it. More on that in a minute.

In today’s New Testament passage, John tells about a vision in which he sees four key things: (1) an angel that binds Satan for 1,000 years; (2) thrones from which Christians reign and judge; (3) Satan being released after the 1,000 years are ended, which results in his final destruction; (4) a great white throne from which Jesus holds the Book of Life and judges the world. Tracking with me so far? This is some seriously prophetic stuff, I know. But I want to draw just one major idea out of today’s reading in Revelation. John seems to be presenting a theology here in Chapter 20 about “first resurrection” and “second death” (Rev. 20:5,6). The first resurrection follows physical death and the second death follows a second resurrection.

Let me say that another away. It seems John assumes all die a “first death” physically and all experience a resurrection physically but in two stages; the first stage of the resurrection is for those who rise to eternal life and the second is for those who will rise to eternal damnation, or a “second” death. Here is the part that refers to Daniel 12. Daniel writes, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people…at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found in written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:1,2). So, when believers die, we are present (i.e., our soul is resurrected) with the Lord but our body remains here on earth; in the second resurrection, when Jesus comes at the end of time, we will rise to join him in our perfectly restored human bodies, for eternal glory.

Sounds pretty good, right? Count me in! As it says in our psalm today, “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!” (Ps. 148:1-2). God has done, is doing, and will do amazing and incredible things and we get to be a part of it all. Praise the LORD, indeed! And Psalm 148 today tells us that because of what God has done in creation, it’s not just his people who praise him – the highest heavens, waters, sea creatures, mountains, hills, fruit trees, cedars, beasts, livestock, reptiles and bugs, birds, kings, all peoples, princes, all rulers, young men, maidens, old men, children – everyone and everything is called to praise him. “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven” (vs. 13). Amen!

P.S. If you want to learn more about my apocalypse teacher, Dr. Alan Hultberg, check out this article here that he wrote on the rapture.

- 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, December 28, 2017

December 28

Zechariah 12:1-13:9; Revelation 19:1-21; Psalm 147:1-20; Proverbs 31:1-7

Can you guys even believe how close we’re getting? Just a few more days and we will have read (or done our best) the whole Bible!! Way to go, us! I know we’ve said it before, but thanks for being on this journey with us this year.

Sarah started her post yesterday with a confession of being a minor prophets lover. Well, I’m Revelation lover, despite its complications and controversies. When I worked at a summer camp in college, I used to read to the girls in my cabin each night from Revelation, mostly about the new heaven and the new earth (look for that in our December 30th reading). But there are some great images in today’s reading, too, mostly connected with the worship of our God. Who can’t get excited about that?

Try to imagine the scene in today’s reading – a multitude (so a very large number) of heavenly beings cry out in a large voice these amazing words: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just” (Rev. 19:1). Sit in those words a minute this morning. Maybe even close your eyes if it will help you. Picture yourself among those declaring these great truths about our God. (If you didn’t already know, the word "hallelujah" means “God be praised,” which seems like a fitting way to start this section of Scripture!)

I think it’s easy to get lost in the “24 elders” and “four living creatures” and wonder what/who those are and what they mean/represent, but the bigger picture here is the worship of God. Don’t you long for the day when “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10)? I do. And trust me, my friends, when that does happen, it will be everything we’ve been longing for and more. Talk about a multitude!! I think we’ll be saying exactly what our reading today says: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).

And I love how we go from this chorus of praise to another one in our psalm reading: “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant and a song of praise is fitting” (Ps. 147:1). Indeed it is fitting!

Look at these gems today:
  • “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).
  • “He determines the number of the stars and gives to all of them their names” (vs. 4).
  • “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (vs. 5).
  • “The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground” (vs. 6).
Okay, I’m basically just typing out the whole chapter that we just read, so I’ll stop now, but you get the idea. In both our Old and New Testament readings, we see how great and worthy our God is. Let’s try to meditate on that today, as we go about our day and even as we think about the new year coming. Just one more to close, as I can’t resist: “Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving!” (Ps. 147:7). 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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

December 27

Zechariah 10:1-11:17; Revelation 18:1-24; Psalm 146:1-10; Proverbs 30:33

Hi, my name is Sarah, and I'm really enjoying the minor prophets this year. (embarrassed smile)

Whew!  That's out of the way!  Seriously, though, it does feel like a weird sort of confession - to be moved by the general doom-and-gloom of these books.  Here's why I'm relishing their words: because always and forever, there is planned restoration and redemption.  Yesterday, we saw it with the description of Jesus' far-off triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9), and today we see it tucked again in the midst of Zechariah's words.

"I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph.  I will restore them because I have compassion on them.  They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and will answer them" (Zech. 10:6, emphasis mine).

"I will strengthen them in the Lord and in his name they will walk" (Zech. 10:12, emphasis mine).

Even as the prophet describes the revoking of God's favor and the destruction of Israel's union (see Zech. 11:10, 14), there is always and always a plan for God to redeem and bring back his people.

I am so grateful for this.  I'm grateful for it in my own life, as I experience hurt and pain. I can know that God is yet good and trust in his desire and ability to strengthen me so that I might walk in his name.

I'm grateful for it in the world around me.  No matter how defiantly my loved ones resist the call of God in their lives, I can know that God is yet good and trust that he has not given up, not checked out, not resigned himself.  He is eager and ready to restore.

What good news!

- 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, December 26, 2017

December 26

Zechariah 9:1-17; Revelation 17:1-18; Psalm 145:1-21; Proverbs 30:32

The day after Christmas, how do you feel? Are you tired? Sad it’s all over? Or maybe you’re glad it’s all over. Well, if you are like me, you have a mixture of both feelings. Part of what makes Christmas so special is the seasonal nature of celebrating it.

Today we see both the constant and seasonal nature of the Lord in our reading from Psalm 145. Let’s reread a few of the verses together: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generation. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made” (vs. 13).  God is constant. He is faithful to all his promises and his kingdom endures through everything. God does not change.

What a good reminder for us after Christmas. Even though this Christmas season of rejoicing and giving is ending, it’s not really. It is God’s constant nature to be faithful and loving and good throughout all the seasons, both in nature and in our lives.

“The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Ps. 145:14).  Maybe this Christmas season was a hard one for you and you need to hear this message. You may feel bowed down with all the weights of worry and sadness and you need to be lifted up. All of us have seasons like that in life, and we wonder if, and when, God is going to act.

I believe he will.  He will lift you up.  But here is where we see the seasonal nature of God.  We see him acting at different times, according to the right seasons and rhythms of our lives.  He knows just the right time, or season, in which to act.

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15-16).

This imagery is so beautiful. It is one that has often brought me comfort as I am waiting for my God to lift me up when I feel bowed down. This imagery shows our complete dependency and need to trust. And it shows God’s complete goodness in providing exactly what we need at the proper time. He will satisfy our desires. I hope you believe that. I hope you wait for that.

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them” (Ps. 145:17-18).

This is who our God is. He is unchanging, yet he, too, is seasonal. He is always loving and always good. Let us cry out to him and then look to him alone. He alone will satisfy our desires in his perfect time.

- 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, December 25, 2017

December 25

Zechariah 8:1-23; Revelation 16:1-21; Psalm 144:1-15; Proverbs 30:29-31

Merry Christmas!  Isn't God good to us?  Truly, what joy to all the world...

Just a few quick thoughts today.

First, Jesus came as an expression of "God with us," which we see in Zechariah 8:23.  "God with us" is what the world wants, what the world needs.  The incarnation of Christ offered this presence to all the world.  In Jesus' birth, the psalmist's plea is answered: "Part your heavens, O Lord, and come down....Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me" (Ps. 144:5, 7).  He met us; he rescued us.

Second, because Jesus came, "Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets....[which] will be filled with boys and girls playing there" (Zech. 8:4-5).  What a beautiful image of the future: safety, security, peace, joy - for all people!

Third, sorry about the plagues in Revelation today.  Not very Christmas-y, I know.  But did you notice the strong parallels to the plagues in Egypt?

And lastly: "Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 144:15).  This is us; we are this people.  Blessed are we, for our God is the Lord.

Amen, and Merry 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, December 24, 2017

December 24

Zechariah 6:1-7:14; Revelation 15:1-8; Psalm 143:1-12; Proverbs 30:24-28

Today is Christmas Eve, and my husband will preach today on “’Twas the Night Before Christmas in Heaven.” His text is from Hebrews 10:7b - “I have come to do your will, O Lord" - which is a quote from one of David’s psalms, Psalm 40:7. 

At first glance the verses in the OYB today do not seem to reflect on Christmas Eve, but a closer look reveals the coming Messiah.  Branch is a name for the Messiah that Zechariah uses several times. In 6:12-13, Zechariah says that the Branch will “be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne.” Being both king and priest refers to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who indeed fulfills both of these roles.

And in Revelation those who had been victorious over the beast held harps and sang this song, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the ages” (Rev. 15:3b). So this is also speaking of the One who came on Christmas, the Son of God, our Savior Jesus. So maybe the Scriptures that we read today are about the Night Before Christmas.

Don and I will have a Christmas Eve rather quiet this year—we won’t see the grandchildren until Christmas Day. However, our son, David, is visiting us and we’ll try to persuade him to go to church to hear his father preach, and he’ll probably agree because we’ll add the bribe of going out to eat afterwards. We’ll sit in the festively adorned church and worship our Lord on the Night Before Christmas. We’ll sing the carols that speak of him,

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.”

We’ll listen to my husband’s sermon. And I’ll be praying that my son’s heart will be open to the Savior.

Merry Christmas Eve to you and your family. May each of your hearts be open to the Savior on this Night Before Christmas.

- 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, December 23, 2017

December 23

Zechariah 4:1-5:11; Revelation 14:1-20; Psalm 142:1-7; Proverbs 30:21-23

At the end of yesterday's reading in my OYB, there's a little sticky note, covered in names: Phoebe, Julia, Gideon, Jedidiah, Hope Nellie, Nathan, Boaz, Naomi, Lucy, Mae, and more.  I put that sticky there in May of 2012, as 12/22/12 was the due-date for our last child, and added names as I thought of them or read them in Scripture.  I never could talk Eric into Boaz - what a man to name our son after! - but that ended up being fine since we had a daughter.  Boaz would be a rough name for a boy in Southern California, but impossible for a girl!

Even after our Naomi Mae (see how handy that list was?) was born, I left this sticky note.  It is a beautiful, yearly reminder of her, and of the men and women in God's word who lived a life used by God.  As we come to the close of this year of reading The One Year Bible, I'm reminded to pause, to reflect, to thank God for his word, to remember Genesis through Revelation.  It has been an encouragement this year.

Okay.  Onto today's reading!  A smattering of thoughts:

- Don't you just love the idea of "the day of small things" (Zech. 4:10)?  The concept of rejoicing in the many small gifts of the Lord (like the plumb line in Zerubbabel's hand) - where can we celebrate and not despise?
- The image of the woman in the basket: Did you notice how the angel shoved "wickedness" back down and slammed the cover on it?  (See Zech. 5:8.)  I could not help but think of all the ways wickedness tries to escape - in my own life, in the culture around me, in the world we live in.  But even so, even with the woman's craftiness, God prevails and wickedness departs.
- There's a ton of conversation happening in Revelation 14.  The 144,000 praise God, the angels make three proclamations, there's a voice from heaven which the Spirit confirms, and then more angels speak.  God uses words to communicate his plans, both explicitly and audibly (as we see here in Revelation) and in the pages of his written word. As a word person myself, I am grateful that God speaks to, for, and with us.
- Psalm 142:3: "When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way."  What a declaration of trust.  "God, I am weary and uncertain, but how wonderful that you are not.  You are my refuge, my portion (vs. 5).  I am not alone."
- One item on the list in Proverbs 30:21-23 particularly struck me.  The servant who becomes king, the fool full of food, and the ill-placed maidservant can all be perceived by those outside the situation - everyone notices the mismatch, and the effects are more far-reaching.  To put it in vernacular, "it just ain't right" and everybody can tell.  But the last item on the list, the unloved woman who is married, is known only by the persons involved.  The man and wife alone can observe this disparity, and there's an element of subjectivity to it as well.  Of all the items on the list, this one seems the saddest to me.  Perhaps it's because I am a much-loved married woman, but the loneliness of it seems so palpable.

- 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, December 22, 2017

December 22

Zechariah 2:1-3:10; Revelation 13:1-18; Psalm 141:1-10; Proverbs 30:18-20

Do you think about your prayers very often? I confess, I don’t. I don’t really take time to reflect on my prayer life. I’m often in a hurry, quickly throwing out prayers while jogging or bustling around the house. When I do stop to think about my prayers, I frequently get discouraged, feeling like they are repetitive and uninteresting.

That’s why I loved our Psalm reading today: “O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (Ps. 141:1-2) I especially love the part about my prayers coming before the LORD as incense – isn’t that a great word picture? Our prayers, rising up to God, smelling sweet and beautiful to Him. Ponder that another minute – your prayers are lovely to God. They are refreshing and precious and desired. Isn’t that good news? Isn’t that reassuring and comforting? Doesn’t that serve to reinforce how loved we are? And while we don’t have evening sacrifice anymore (thankfully!) the way the Israelites did, the idea that it pleases God to see our hands lifted in praise to Him still rings true. I love worshiping God, wherever I can – in my car, in my kitchen, at church – wherever. And He loves it, too.

Since it’s Christmas time, I had on my Pandora station set to Christmas carols this morning as the kids and I drove over to my mom’s house. Handel’s “Messiah” came on and, man, was it beautiful. When they came to the part that goes, “And his name shall be called, Wonderful,” it got really loud and it was so powerful it almost brought tears to my eyes. Had I not been driving, I would have lifted my hands in praise. When the song ended, my daughter called from the back row of our Pilot, “That was my favorite song ever. I wish it could have gone on and on and on.” God delights in this; He rejoices over our praise.

As we head further into the Christmas season, let’s think of our prayers as incense, wafting up to the LORD as precious and beautiful aromas. He delights in us, especially as we delight in Him.

- 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, December 21, 2017

December 21

Zechariah 1:1-21; Revelation 12:1-13:1a; Psalm 140:1-13; Proverbs 30:17

Colored lights twinkle around the roofline of our house, Mary and Joseph are on the front porch with Baby Jesus, and the Christmas tree brightens our living room.  Gifts are under the tree and the smell of cookies is in the air. We are ready for Christmas.

But are we ready for Christmas? Are our hearts ready? Our reading today reminds us of what our God wants from us at Christmas and what He gave us at Christmas.

What does He want to receive from us? If we are far from him, he wants us to return to him. “‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zech. 1:3b). What words of hope at Christmastime as I wait for my sons to return to the Lord. My sons are welcome! All who return to Him are longed for and welcomed at His Christmas tree. No one who returns to Him is ever shunned. No, there is a joyful welcome prepared for each one!

For those of us who are following God, He wants simple gifts from us: obedience to His commandments and holding to the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17b). Amazing to know that our God longs for our obedience as our gift to Him.

What did He give us? Revelation tells us the dramatic story of Jesus’ birth in 12:5: “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” Though this chapter of Revelation is speaking of the nation Israel as the ethnicity through which the Messiah was delivered to earth, it is not too far of a stretch to see that it also speaks of Mary giving birth to Jesus.  Everything about the birth of Jesus seems fraught with danger—a young woman giving birth in a stable (not a clean or sterile environment). She is far from home and the support of family and friends, and her pregnancy itself is a disgrace. Yet she and Joseph were obedient to the commands of God given by His angel to each of them. And the Messiah, God’s Son, His gift to us, was born on earth—God’s gift to us.

This beautiful Christmas season may we not be distracted by the work of decorating, shopping and wrapping. Instead, may we see the true Christmas hidden amongst the tinsel and celebrate with our whole hearts, giving our Lord obedience and holding to the testimony of Jesus. May we pray for those who need to return to the Lord to do that today.

Eat a Christmas cookie, sit by your beautiful Christmas tree in the evening glow, and enjoy all that your Messiah came to give you—a Savior who loves you and who gave His life to forgive all your sin. What gift could be better than that?

Merry almost Christmas!

- 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, December 20, 2017

December 20

Haggai 1:1-2:23; Revelation 11:1-19; Psalm 139:1-24; Proverbs 30:15-16

Two messages, and we need to hear and believe both.

First, in this season of preparing to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, the so-appropriate reminder of Immanuel, God with us.  Three of our four readings rehearse this truth to us.  “I am with you,” God says through Haggai (Hag. 1:13, 2:4).  He continues: “My Spirit remains among you” (2:5); “From this day on I will bless you” (vs. 19); “I have chosen you” (vs. 23).  Words that declare God’s with-ness; we are not alone.  We are not unseen.  The psalmist, too, knows that God is present.  “You are there,” he writes (Ps. 139:8; see also vs. 9-10 and 12).  No matter where he goes or what he does, God is with him.  The loud voices in heaven repeat this truth, proclaiming that God is “the One who is and who was” (Rev. 11:17) and that his kingdom is over all the world (vs. 15).

A beautiful message of encouragement and hope and security, one we need to remember.

But there’s also another message given in today's reading. “Give careful thought.” Over and over in our Old Testament reading, Haggai speaks these words from God.  Haggai 1:5 and 7 and 2:15 and 18 (where it is said twice!) all give this sober warning.  “Give careful thought to your ways,” to the cause and effect you see happening as a result of your disobedience to the Lord.  “Give careful thought to [the] ways” you are honoring yourselves above God.  “Give careful thought” to the plans you have made, to see if they align with his plans.  “Give careful thought” to the reality of the world around you, and act accordingly. 

A message of challenge and warning, one we also need to remember.

Lord, as we go into this day, show us where you are with us. Keep us attentive to the Spirit who remains among us.  Bless us this day; let us rejoice that we are chosen.  May we know that you are the God of this world and you are present.  And teach us to give careful thought to our ways and to the world around us, responding with obedience and faithfulness.  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, December 19, 2017

December 19

Zephaniah 1:1:3-20; Revelation 10:1-11; Psalm 138:1-8; Proverbs 30:11-14

Zephaniah, another semi-obscure prophet of God, has come to warn Israel about the impending destruction and doom. Sounds sort of familiar, huh? But here’s what I love about Scripture, and the OYB format really helps us to see it: God is very, very clear. How could anyone miss the message all these prophets are delivering?  

We’ve been on this journey for almost a year. We see the same things of God throughout all the Scriptures. His character and purpose seem so clear when you look at the Bible as a whole. That’s why I love reading it in its entirety and not just in bits and pieces.

Lots of people like to quote Zephaniah 3:17 - “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

What an amazing message and truth that is. But when people quote that verse, I wonder if they have read all the verses around it as well. Or did they just pick that one out because it sounded like a happy, pick-me-up kind of message? While it may be those things, the real power of that verse comes from the preceding two chapters. Let’s look at some of the words found in the first two chapters of Zephaniah:

- “I will sweep away everything” (1:2).

- “Be silent before the Lord for the day of the Lord is near” (1:7).

- “Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth” (1:17).

- “Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger” (2:3).

The message is clear, destruction is coming. Yet God is with us. Just like Habakkuk, Zephaniah doesn’t find comfort only in the deliverance from trouble, but rather through the presence of the Lord in the midst of trouble. They know they are not going to be delivered, at least not immediately, but they find an amazing ability to trust and even to rejoice in the midst of this impending doom.

I can almost picture it like one of the great action movies where chaos is everywhere and stuff is exploding and everything looks like it’s going to be lost forever. Then the movie goes into slo-mo while our hero and his girl look at each other meaningfully and the music switches over to a calm, sappy song while bits of buildings and stuff fly all around them. Am I describing it right?

That’s the picture I get with Zephaniah. He’s in that slo-mo frame with the Lord. He’s not bothered by the debris that falling all around him. He’s being quieted by God’s love. He’s being rejoiced over with singing.

Can we do that today? Can the words of Zephaniah comfort us, not because we lack any kind of trouble, but because we know he is with us in the midst of it? Can we enter that slo-mo frame?  Can we wait and trust, knowing that one day we will too will be restored? God’s promise is the same for us - “'I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.…I [will] restore your fortunes before your very eyes,’ says the Lord" (Zeph. 3:20).

- 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, December 18, 2017

December 18

Habakkuk 1:1-3:19; Revelation 9:1-21; Psalm 137:1-9; Proverbs 30:10

As part of our church's Advent series, our pastor preached recently on hope.  He talked about Anna, who lived for years as a widow but kept fasting and praying, and Simeon, who lived for years in anticipation of seeing God's promise to him fulfilled.  I couldn't help but think of his sermon as I read Habakkuk today.

Habakkuk reminds me somewhat of Job: complaints to God, followed by responses from God.  Habakkuk is unhappy about the situation around him (the depravity of the nation of Judah - see Hab. 1:2-4), but also worried for the destruction coming from Babylon ("Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" [vs. 13, but see vs. 12-17]).  In his concern, he prays one of the most poignant pleas in all of Scripture, I think: "in wrath remember mercy" (3:2).

Yet this man writes such a powerful, profound statement of trust and hope at the end of the chapter.  Habakkuk 3:16-17 depict great devastation - emotional distress, physical weakness, economic ruin, lack of provision, bleak future - but are followed by a declaration that sweeps those realities away.  "I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights" (Hab. 3:18-19).  What trust!  What hope!  Habakkuk isn't Pollyanna-ing this away; he sees the terrible situation, but he knows that this current reality is not the end of the story.  It is not all there is.  Hope knows that God is still at work in us and in the world.  

Though my child is engaged in destructive behaviors, yet will I rejoice.
Though I'm alone and lonely this Christmas, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Though there are wars and rumors of wars and I am afraid, the Sovereign Lord is my strength.
Though the medical prognosis is bleak and the doctors have little hope, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer.
Though my stock market portfolio has tanked and I don't think Social Security will still be around when I need it, he enables me to go on the heights.
Though my spouse has filed for divorce, yet will I rejoice.
Though the chronic pain is ever-present and cannot be relieved, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Though someone I love has died and that hole cannot be filled, the Sovereign Lord is my strength.
Though I feel weak and discouraged and frustrated at my own sin, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer.
Though all around me seems bleak and hopeless, I will hope.  The Lord enables me to go on the heights.


- 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, December 17, 2017

December 17

Nahum 1:1-3:19; Revelation 8:1-13; Psalm 136:1-26; Proverbs 30:7-9

Nahum 1:8,9: The Lord is good—He cares for those who trust in Him.

Christmas is just one week away, and I want a nice Christmassy reading today from the OYB, like the Hallmark movies that are on TV every night. I enjoy those Hallmark movies though they are a bit silly. They have no depth and not much character development, but they are always wholesome and fun, with beautiful scenery and gorgeous Christmas decorations. And everything always comes out right in the end. Sigh. They are definitely Christmas ‘candy’! All right, admit it! You like them, too!

But our reading today is not Christmas candy and Hallmark movies. It’s all about judgment. Yes, with Christmas one week away we are reading about impending doom, both in Nahum and in Revelation. The prophet Nahum warns the people of Nineveh that though “the LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nah. 1:3). And though “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust him…” (vs. 7) yet “with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness” (vs. 8).

In Revelation 8:13 we read, “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth.”

Why did Jesus come to Bethlehem? Was it all for Christmas lights and presents under the tree and happy endings? Though there is so much joy in following Jesus, the fact is that he came as a righteous judge and he will judge the earth and all mankind on the appointed day. He came as a sweet baby, but he was endued with god-ness for he was indeed God in human flesh. Truly a reason to celebrate Christmas! There is no greater holiday for Christians except for Easter. We should enjoy and give presents and sing the wonderful old Christmas carols with zest.

But let us never forget why He came: He came to die so He could offer redemption from the coming judgment to each one who believes in Him.

As our almost-three-years-old Elizabeth Matthias says when quoting her Bible verse, God “gave His one and only Son.” Isn’t that Christmas?

Yes, these minor prophets who are speaking to us as Christmas approaches do speak of the coming Lord Jesus. They offer us a warning not to sit mindlessly while judgment comes.

- 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, December 16, 2017

December 16

Micah 5:1-7:20; Revelation 7:1-17; Psalm 135:1-21; Proverbs 30:5-6

Today's reading is shot through with a single theme, and I'm in awe once again at the consistency and beauty of Scripture.  (Esther mentioned this characteristic yesterday, too.) I'm grateful for the consistency because it allows me to rest in the unity of God's Word - it pretty much says the same things over and over and over, particularly about the character of God.  I can trust what it says, who it says God is.  This breeds confidence and security.  I'm grateful for the beauty because it answers a deep longing in our hearts for things to be "right," to be different from the brokenness confronting us every day.  I can hope for restoration and redemption, and I can rejoice in the life of God already at work in the world: sunsets, velvet, rainstorms, caramel, laughter.  God is good!

Which is part of the repetition running through our reading today.  God is good and great, bringing healing and wholeness, and deserving of praise.  Look at all the places we see this truth today:

- I'm sure Micah 5:2 was familiar (especially as we're only a week from Christmas), but look at the blessing this "ruler" will bring Israel: "He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they will live in security, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And he will be their peace" (Mic. 5:4-5a).  Micah is prophesying images of security and strength and safety and peace, of protection and comfort, all because the entire world will know the greatness of God.

- Micah 7:18-20: God forgives.  God relents.  God is merciful.  God is compassionate.  God offers salvation.  God is faithful.  He doesn't leave us to ourselves.  He never brings judgment without offering mercy.  Micah is picking up on the character reference God gives himself in Exodus 34:6, which is mentioned time and again by other Old Testament writers.  (We saw it just recently in Jonah.) "We can know this is who God is," they all write, "because he described himself thusly and we see these qualities worked out in relationship with us."

- Revelation echoes these characterizations of God.  Until the end of time, "salvation belongs to our God" (Rev. 7:10).  He redeems.  He restores.  He rescues us from our sin and selfishness, for we are powerless to save ourselves.  He is good, revealed through his desire to save; he is great, revealed through his ability to do so.  Because of this, "praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.  Amen!" (vs. 12).  That's a pretty comprehensive and amazing list, all due to our God.  Wow.  And look at what God offers those standing before him: provision ("spread[ing] his tent over them" and the following images of physical satiation [vs. 15-16]), access to himself ("the Lamb...will be their shepherd; he will lead them" [vs.17, emphasis mine]), and comfort ("God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" [vs. 17]).  Just amazing.

- Our psalm for today speaks to the relationship between God's goodness and our praise, too.  "Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good" (Ps. 135:3); "I know that the Lord is great" (vs. 5); "the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants" (vs. 14); "praise the Lord" (vs. 21).  The rest of the psalm is a history lesson detailing God's faithful provision for his people, bringing them out of Egypt and into the promised land.  "This is what God has done for us," the psalmist is saying.  "Praise is our response."

- Even Proverbs reinforces the idea of God as loving protector and security. "He is a shield to those who take refuge in him" (Pr. 30:5).  Safety, trustworthiness, and acceptance.

There's so much more in our reading today - the challenge of Micah 6:6-8, the warning found in Proverbs 30:6.  What richness and depth we continue to find in our reading of God's word, even with only 15 days left.

- 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, December 15, 2017

December 15

Micah 1:1-4:13; Revelation 6:1-17; Psalm 134:1-3; Proverbs 30:1-4

Just 7 more books in the Old Testament and then we are done. D.O.N.E.! That’s very exciting. Yay for us!

Today we read the first portion of book of Micah. Not much is known about Micah – he is quoted in Jeremiah (Micah 3:12 appears in Jeremiah 26:18) and we know that Micah is from a Judean town about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. He is a contemporary of Isaiah, and, like Isaiah, Micah prophesied about the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom by the Babylonians (Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, pg. 1475). He prophesied in the 8th century, during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Like many other portions of prophetic literature, the book is written in poetry form.

Micah’s book has three major messages, each taking a section of the book (Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, pg. 1476).
  • First Message: Judgment is Coming (chapters 1-2)
  • Second Message: Blessing Will Follow Judgment (chapters 3-5)
  • Third Message: An Indictment of Sin and a Promise of Blessing (chapters 6-7)
Similar to what my mom and sisters have said, while there is lots of doom and gloom in Micah, there is still the promise of blessing with obedience. God is nothing if not consistent, right? Yes, the theme of judgment is prevalent, but so is restoration, if only the people will choose God.

In our New Testament reading, we’re picking up again on the theme of judgment. The Lamb opens six of the seven seals and out of four of the seals come a horse and its rider, bringing various forms of judgment on the earth. The 5th seal reveals the souls of Christian martyrs and the 6th seal opens to reveal a great earthquake and a dead sun. If you’ve been around Christian culture for a while, then you know there is a ton of speculation about the horses and their riders. Does the phrase “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” ring a bell for you? Generally speaking, theologians agree that the four horses represent the following (in order of appearance): Conquest, Pestilence, War, and Famine. So I’d say we’re pretty heavy on the judgment side today. The last verse in our section today reads, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:17)

Obviously, this isn’t the platform for us to hash out and draw a hard line on what all the symbols in the book of Revelation mean. I’m not even sure such a platform exists. Some things are for us to know and some are for us to stand in awe and wonder at the great “otherness” of God. But I do know Jesus is coming back some day and I want to be counted among those who have been witnesses of God and his word (Rev. 6:9). Don’t you?

Help us to be faithful, Jesus, amidst all the distractions and temptations of this world. We know that you are the true Lamb of God. 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, December 14, 2017

December 14

Jonah 1:1-4:11; Revelation 5:1-14; Psalm 133:1-3; Proverbs 29:26-27

We named our first son (second child) Jonah. I’m not going to lie, we've had some interesting responses to it. I suppose it makes sense – at face value, his story is about disobedience. But as I read today’s reading, I was reminded yet again that Jonah’s story is actually a very human story. Which of us gets it right on our first attempt? Which of us obeys God the first time he tells us something? Which of us is not justice-oriented? (I was particularly struck by that theme this year – Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knows that God will forgive these wicked people and Jonah doesn’t want them to be forgiven. He wants them to get what’s coming to them – can I see a show of hands of those who can relate to that!?) Jonah’s story shows God’s forgiveness not just to a whole nation, but his patience with one man. Jonah’s story reveals very major miracles, but also very personal conversations between God and a human. It’s a profound, moving story to which we are proud to have our son connected.

Here’s a quick rundown on parts I found particularly striking:
  • The sailors on Jonah’s ship (headed toward Tarshish, the opposite direction from Nineveh) recognize that the storm is something divine. They don’t seem to make any attempt to understand it as a weather occurrence but rather as divine intervention; they each seek their god and then wake Jonah to seek his.
  • Jonah’s prayer in the beginning part of chapter 2 is amazing: “But I with steadfast voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (2:9). He says that from within the belly of the fish, without the knowledge that we have, that God is about to have the fish spit him up back on the land. What faith and trust! (As a side note, Jonah’s name means "God saves" – he uses his own name as part of his prayer!)
  • The reaction of the Ninevites is truly amazing. Chapter 2 verse 5 shows that as a people, they believed in God. In verse 7, we see that the king issues a decree for every single person and animal to fast.
  • The humor in Jonah’s complaint against God can’t go unmentioned: “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was angry…'Is not this what I said when I was yet in my country?...I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster'” (4:1-2). You would think those would all be good qualities, but Jonah’s sense of justice and fairness is so offended he can’t hear how ridiculous he sounds!
  • The lesson God teaches Jonah at the end of the book really hits home – Jonah is outraged by the injustice of a little plant dying and yet he couldn’t muster a little compassion for the 120,000 people in Nineveh. How often am I so wrapped up in my own comfort and agenda that I can’t see the hurting people right in front of me?
Jonah’s story ends with God’s question, presumably setting Jonah right once and for all. I’m so thankful for this story, for the God of second chances who doesn’t rule us out after a first failed attempt. God wants to use us, as he used Jonah, to tell people of his amazing salvation, and he will pursue us until we respond to his voice. Thank you, Lord!

- 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, December 13, 2017

December 13

Obadiah 1:1-21; Revelation 4:1-11; Psalm 132:1-18; Proverbs 29:24-25

A friend once told me that she got so tired of the "7-11" songs that they sang at her church.  "It's the same eleven words and we sing them seven times over."  Her not-so-implicit criticism revealed that she thought the more modern worship songs were a bit light on significance.  I smiled at her view, but I've never forgotten it.  I, too, like the old hymns with their great theological truths, harmonies, and weight.  

When I come to this passage in the New Testament, though, I'm forced to reconsider.  The four living creatures sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8).  Um, that's sixteen words, and some of those are repeated words.  That leaves only eleven distinct words!  And when it comes to singing those words seven times, the creatures have that beat: "day and night they never stop saying" (vs. 8) this profound truth.  So much for a 7-11 song having little or no substance!  It goes to show that the great old hymns (like the Israelites' liturgy, the Psalms) are valid expressions of praise, just as the contemporary songs (like the creatures' worship) are.  

And then, of course, there are the words sung by the twenty-four elders.  How I wish I could write music to go with such profound, powerful words!  This expression of praise echoes the gospel that John wrote before he received the vision that we now read as the book of Revelation.  "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (Jn. 1:3) says his gospel; "you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Rev. 4:11) sings his vision.  I love the cohesiveness of Scripture, and these writings by John are inextricably tied together.  How beautiful.  How amazing.

There is no better way for me to end this post today than by praising God.

"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Rev. 4:11). Amen and 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, December 12, 2017

December 12

Amos 7:1-9:15; Revelation 3:7-22; Psalm 131:1-3; Proverbs 29:23

I can't believe we are almost done with this year!! Christmas is quickly sneaking up on us. Are you enjoying this Christmas season? I know I am. I love all the decorations, lights, and yummy foods that this season brings. However, in the 20+ years that I have been reading the OYB, I have often lamented that the OYB readings did not better coincide with the Christmas season. It almost seems like our readings have nothing to do with Advent.  But God is so good in revealing himself to us. I am actually really enjoying the readings through the minor prophets, and even Revelation is growing on me just a bit. 

Let's look at today's passages and see if we can find some good truth and maybe even a little something that reminds us of Advent and the birth of our Savior. Let's start by looking at some common themes found in all the biblical prophetic writings and lives.

Amos is again warning Israel that their time of judgment is coming. "The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer" (Amos 8:2), says the Lord. We see Amos repeating this warning over and over again throughout this book – a call to repentance and a warning for those who persist in disobedience.

In the conversation between Amos and the priest Amaziah, we encounter another common theme among the biblical prophets – the reluctance to become a prophet of Yahweh. Amos basically states that he never sought out the office of prophet and was happy being a shepherd and caring for sycamore-fig trees (7:14). But God called an ordinary man to go and prophesy to his people, and Amos was obedient to do just that. 

Finally, let's look at one last common theme found in all the major and minor prophets -- the hope for eventual redemption and restoration.  At the end of Amos 9, we once again see the Lord promising to bring back his exiled people, to rebuild their ruined cities, and even to cause the land to flourish with fruit and goodness.

I can't help but think about the United States when I read these passages. They are so applicable to our post-Christian nation today. The Lord will use a plumb line on us as well. Will we line up or be found wanting? And what about the prophets and people who speak his hard words of truth to us today? Do we listen? Or turn away and tell them to stop saying these words? Do we think them ridiculous for their "old school" beliefs? We just want to skip to the part about the flourishing and blessing.

Honestly, I worry about our nation. I worry about myself. We read in Revelation, "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (3:17). Doesn't that just sound like so many of us today? We are so sure of our own right-ness that we are so blind to our true state of depravity. Lord, have mercy.

Okay, so far this doesn't sound too much like an Advent post, does it? Well, for me it is, and here's why. Jesus is the answer!! His birth and death answered all of the calls for judgment spoken by the prophets. He also, just like the prophets, brought a message of repentance and restoration. He, too, was an ordinary man with a message for all humanity. Am I stretching it? Maybe, but these are good truths. May we have the humility to accept them. May we, and all those in our great nation, actually listen, truly listen, to the message Jesus brings to us 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, December 11, 2017

December 11

Amos 4:1-6:14; Revelation 2:18-3:6; Psalm 130:1-8; Proverbs 29:21-22

Hey!  How fun for me!  I get to write posts on both of my sisters' birthdays!  Happy birthday, Mary!

Our reading today, both Old and New Testaments, shows us two paths.  Two outcomes that result from a choice: seek the Lord and live, or endure the day of the Lord.

Amos reveals the perils of rebellion and/or self-reliance.  Amos 5:18-20 gives a vivid image of how dreadful it will be to fall into the hands of an angry God.  This day will bring judgment and justice; those who think they are safe will discover their security is false.  They move from one danger to a greater one.  Their trust in wealth, their trust in foreign nations, their trust in their own lip-service -- all will prove meaningless.  Their unwillingness to turn and repent will be their downfall.  They have chosen wrath over mercy.

Though writing to the early churches, John expands this idea to communicate Jesus' concern over complacency: "If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief and you will not know at what time I will come to you" (Rev. 3:3).  This warning is the flip side of his admonishment earlier in that same verse.  "Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent."  If the exhortation is ignored, the consequence comes.

What an invitation lies before the hearers of Amos, the readers of Revelation, and us today!  The Lord entreats us all to "seek [him] and live" (see Amos 5:4,6), to remember and obey.  What good things are before us.  One path leads to death or to a lack of thriving; the other, to abundant life.  All we have to do is seek the Lord.

And what a God he is to seek.  I love the reassurance of Psalm 130.  This is the God to whom we can turn.  How wonderful that our God does not keep a record of sins!  Who, truly, could stand?  "But with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared [honored, revered, worshipped]" (Ps. 130:3-4).  The following verses speak of God's unfailing love, of the full redemption he freely offers.  He even promises that "he himself will redeem Israel [and us, too!] from all their sins" (vs. 8).  Israel's future tense "will" has become our present tense restoration because of Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection 2,000 years ago.  All that love and forgiveness and redemption is currently ready for us to receive.

Oh, what good things the Lord has in store for us.  Praise the Lord.

- 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, December 10, 2017

December 10

Amos 1:1-3:15; Revelation 2:1-17; Psalm 129:1-8; Proverbs 29:19-20

The Bible Knowledge Commentary is my favorite Bible commentary. And not just because my husband wrote the commentary on Amos! Although his contribution plays a part, too, in my choice of this two-volume set.

According to Dr. Don, the book of Amos was written during a time of prosperity in Judah and Israel around 762 B.C. In fact, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) was at the zenith of its power (pg. 1425). Amos, who modestly describes himself as a ‘shepherd’ (though the word used is ‘sheep breeder,’ which means he probably headed up a large sheep-ranching operation), is sounding a warning for Israel: judgment is coming. They are prosperous and they say that God is with them, but they have forsaken his ways.

We read in Amos 1:2 and 3:4 & 8 about a lion that roars and the Lord is identified as that lion. The lion proclaims judgment and the roar begins with the nations around Israel and Judah. Seven nations are proclaimed to be doomed, including Judah, and then Israel herself is the eighth and last (pgs. 1428-1431).

“The Lord always revealed His major plans in advance to His servants, the prophets. The prediction could precede the event by years or even centuries, but the fulfillment was always certain. Since the Lord has now roared His judgment like a lion, who could but fear the outcome? And since He had revealed His intentions to Amos, what could he do but prophesy God’s message?” pg. 1434.

Don wrote this commentary while our children were growing up in our large home in Dallas. He’d go to his large study where books were piled up on his desk and children were thronging in the nearby family room. Those were good days of work, both of us busy with what God had called us to do, running on parallel tracks. Not usually intersecting tracks, but parallel, heading in the same direction and with the same goal: serving the Lord side by side with him focused on the ministry of teaching and writing this commentary and with me focused on raising the children. These decades later, it makes me happy to read the Amos commentary and to see the fruit of what he was doing in that study.

“The lion has roared—who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken—who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8) Amos could not help speaking prophecy for the Sovereign Lord who had spoken to him. We are also called to speak and live for the Sovereign Lord—writing a commentary, raising children, serving in our churches and neighborhoods, telling others about our God, using our money for God’s glory, and living righteously in a sinful culture.

Lord, give us ears to hear when You roar. May we take your roar seriously for you are indeed a Lion and Your Word will come true.

- Nell Sunukjian

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

December 9

Joel 1:1-3:21; Revelation 1:1-20; Psalm 128:1-6; Proverbs 29:18

Today we start (and finish) Joel and we also start Revelation, our final book of the New Testament. I’d say that’s a pretty exciting day, wouldn’t you?

Joel is a little unusual, most notably because, unlike the other minor prophets, Joel doesn’t start his book by telling us the circumstances surround his prophecies. That leaves plenty of room for speculation regarding its date and historic events, and, with internal evidence that could point to several different dates, it’s impossible to be certain. But most scholars seem to think Joel was written sometime after the exile, possibly around 516 B.C.

Joel also has some interpretation difficulties – what kind of army is referred to in 2:1-11? Is it a literal army or a locust army, as detailed in chapter 1, or a foreign army of some kind? And how should we interpret Joel’s use of "the Day of the Lord?” According to The Bible Knowledge Commentary, the Day of the Lord is “derived from the idea, prevalent in the ancient Near East, that a mighty warrior-king could consummate an entire military campaign in a single day” (pg. 1412).  In the Old Testament, the phrase may refer to a particular historic event or to an epic end-times battle. In Joel, the reader must figure out for himself which way it’s being using.

Just so I don’t leave you with only questions, here’s a brief outline I found helpful (thanks to The Bible Knowledge Commentary) in giving an overview of the book:

I.                     Introduction (1:1)
II.                  The Locust Plague (1:2-20)
III.                The Coming Day of the Lord (2:1-11)
IV.                A Renewed Call to Repentance (2:12-17)
V.                   Forgiveness and Restoration (2:18-27)
VI.               Promises of a Glorious Future (2:28-3:21)

Now onto Revelation – if you’re like me, you’re probably a little bit intimidated by the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, church culture has created the impression that the book is uninterpretable, or, at the very least, best left to the professionals. But let’s not write off the rest of our December passages! As we’re reading over the next few weeks, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • John wrote this book for several reasons:
    • To prepare believers in Asia for the coming of Jesus
    • To expose false teaching and ungodly behavior in the seven churches
    • To show God’s judgment on the unrepentant
    • To encourage believers to persevere despite persecution and hardship
  • John’s major themes are:
    • God is the sovereign Lord of history
    • Jesus is the sacrificial lamb and is victorious over Satan and the world
    • The world system, as exemplified by Babylon and the two beasts, is opposed to God and his people
    • Believers who persevere will receive eternal rewards in the new heaven and the new earth
(Taken from Mark Wilson’s contribution to the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.)

So, as you’re reading along and perhaps getting bogged down by descriptions you can’t quite understand, I encourage you to see if you can make sense of it in light of John’s purpose and themes. And as I always says, if all else fails, grab a commentary and wrestle through it with some additional help!

Be encouraged, friends, and don’t lose heart. God intends for us to understand his word and be changed by it. Just by exposing ourselves to God’s word over the past year I know we’ve all experienced great growth and change. Here’s to ending the year right with a strong finish!

- Esther McCurry

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Friday, December 8, 2017

December 8

Hosea 10:1-14:9; Jude 1:1-25; Psalm 127:1-5; Proverbs 29:15-17

Children were all over the latter portion of our reading today.  Some good words about them, and some challenging words about them.  

Because I'm a melancholic in terms of temperament, I like to do the bad news first.  So let's look at Proverbs.  It isn't really bad news, either, just some general truths about cause and effect that can be hard to receive.  Maybe more of a challenge rather than a negative report.  Verses 15 and 17 are the same thought, but approached from two different directions.  

The former shows what happens when a "rod and a reprimand" are absent: the end result is disgrace for the child and, thus, the mother.  When the parent abdicates his/her responsibility to discipline the child, disaster follows.  I used to teach high school English, and I remember a mother once saying to me, "Well, I can't do anything with him."  I was so puzzled, because I am absolutely certain that if a teacher called home with a complaint about me, my parents would have taken me firmly in hand.  And I remember thinking that the parent "couldn't do anything" with a 14-year-old son because she didn't do anything when he was 1 and 2 and 3.  This truism encourages me today, as I continue to discipline our children, and it challenges me for the future, to remain consistent, to take the time, to extend the energy.  

The latter proverb shows the reverse outcome.  Peace and delight are the typical result of well-disciplined children.  It's not a promise, nor a guarantee, but in general, the more effort we put into shaping our children and teaching them to live well under authority, the more likely it is that we will enjoy them.  It's also more likely that our children will be a blessing to others, bringing peace and delight to more than just ourselves.

Now for the straight-up good news: Children are a gift.  Look at the words the psalmist uses to describe children - "heritage," "reward," blessing."  Wow!  They are our inheritance, our future.  They bring benefit (my dad once joked that his five children were his retirement plan) and protection (see the arrow imagery in Ps. 127:4).  They also bring honor.  These children reflect well on their parents; these mothers and fathers are confident as they approach parent-teacher conferences.  These parents feel sure that roommates and friends and bosses will speak well of their children.  In these verses, I'm reoriented to remember how my children are a treasure.  I am reminded that my quiver is full of good, strong arrows.  This is good, necessary news for me as a parent, but I'm also challenged to think about this psalm through the lens of being a child as well.  Am I a blessing, a reward, a heritage to my parents?  Do I bring honor to their names and lives?

It's Esther's birthday today.  She is.  She does.  And more than just my parents are blessed through her.  Love you, Esther.

- Sarah Marsh

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 7

Hosea 6:1-9:17; 3 John 1:1-14; Psalm 126:1-6; Proverbs 29:12-14

We are only a few short days away from finishing our One Year Bible for this year! Way to go and keep it up for next year! So, by now we should all be very familiar with so many of the recurring themes throughout the scriptures. One of the themes we are familiar with is the idea that life is cyclical and that there are all kinds of different seasons we will live through. We see this pattern in our different sections of scripture today.

First, Hosea calls the reader to “return to the Lord” (6:1). Hosea acknowledges that Israel has been in a season of rebellion, and the Lord has “torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our words” (6:1). Hosea knows that this season of rebellion can be over. “ As surely as the sun rises, he [God] will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” (6:3). Israel can leave the barrenness found in rebellion and enter the flourishing and beauty found with the new season and the life giving rains. How refreshing is the Lord’s pursuit and commitment to us!

Next, we encounter John commending Gaius, his dear friend and brother, for his “faithfulness to the truth and how [he] continue[s] to walk in the truth.” John knows that at first many people start out strong in their faith, but after a while, and in different seasons of life, they fall away. This was a common pattern in the early church and this is still a common pattern with believers today. But not so with Gaius, he is faithful in all the seasons and rhythms of life.

Finally, Psalm 126:4-6 captures beautifully the cycles of loss and restoration. “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” I absolutely love, love, love these verses. What an incredible picture of how God can take brokenness and sorrow and create something wholly beautiful and full of joy. But it takes time. The sorrowful one goes out carrying the seed to sow and then waits. He waits for the harvest season to come. He waits for the seeds to grow and mature. The waiting may be hard, but he doesn’t want to harvest them before the sheaves are mature. And then, in the right season, he gathers the sheaves and returns with arms full of bounty and goodness.

This understanding of seasons and cycles in life and history can encourage us as readers of scripture, both as individuals and as participators in the world at large.
We all experience cycles, patterns, habits, seasons of life. Sometimes it is difficult to even tell we are in a season at all. It’s all we know, all we feel, all we can fathom as our experience. This is especially true in times of loss, sorrow, or the Lord’s discipline. We may think we are going to be this way forever- that this is the new norm for our lives.

But it never is. It never was. And it never will be.

God has always been and always will be in the business of bringing restoration and healing. We see that over and over again in Scripture and we can be confident of that in our lives today. Let us stay faithful to him, as Gaius did, and to his truth. Press into him. Then it will be said of us, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Ps. 126:3).

- 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.