Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 31

Exodus 12:14-13:16; Matthew 20:29-21:22; Psalm 25:16-22; Proverbs 6:12-15 

You know how you repeat the things that are important?  Like celebrating birthdays, or marking an anniversary by re-reading your vows, or establishing Christmas traditions?  I often think that God does the same things in Scripture - the really significant things show up again and again.

This repetition is in today's Old Testament reading.  In Exodus 12:14-20, we see God giving the command for Passover (or the Feast of Unleavened Bread), outlining how it should be celebrated, and when.  (God gives the rationale for the Feast in the previous verses of ch. 12.) Then Moses speaks to the people in 12:21-27, passing on God's guidelines and setting a ceremony up for the perpetuation of the celebration.  I love vs. 26 and 27 - "And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them..."

Notice that there's an expectation: that it's when, not if the children ask.  Children love to ask and ask and ask, often the same questions over and over.  They are curious and want to understand, and they want to be part of whatever's going on.  Knowing why and how the celebration will go brings the children into the group "in the know."  Now they belong.  

Notice, too, that it's a question these children ask of the parent(s), to know more of why this feast is part of their life - so personal, so specific.  These children want to hear what it means to the most important person(s) in their lives.  It's not just what does it mean, but "what does it mean to you, Daddy and Mommy?"

Exodus 12:43-49 spells out more rules for the Passover, and then, in chapter 13, Moses gives a fuller explanation of the reasoning behind the Passover, including another role-play moment for when the children ask their questions (see 13:14-15).

The purpose of all this repetition, all this restating, all this explanation is found at the end of our first reading: "It will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought [you] out of Egypt with his mighty hand" (Ex. 13:16).  God is marking his people.  He is redeeming them, and he sets up a way for this wayward group (just watch to see how many times they want to return to Egypt in the coming days and weeks!) to remember his goodness and his rescue.  And God wants this story to be told and retold throughout Israel's history.  Every year, a new child will ask the question "Why?" and every year, the adults will need to remember and rejoice anew.  God designed a constant cycle of questions and answers to keep his people near to him.

I'm reminded of the post I wrote on January 15 (here) about the signs and symbols that mark the faith journeys of individuals and nations in Scripture.  We are people, prone to forget God's goodness and provision, prone to doubt that he'll show up for us once again.  This truth in my own life is one of the reasons I love the Old Testament so much - it is a constant reminder to me of how God has been faithful and how he continues to love even amidst grumbling and rejection.

Lord, let me see today your constant presence and goodness.  How can I weave reminders of these truths into my on-going life?  Teach me to remember.  "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love.  Here's my heart, o, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above."  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. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 30

Exodus 10:1-12:13; Matthew 20:1-28; Psalm 25:1-15; Proverbs 6:6-11

There is much in the texts today about sons—Egypt’s firstborn sons dying, Israelite’s firstborn sons being saved from death by blood brushed on the doorposts, and grown sons who desire a position of prominence in the Kingdom of God.

I have two sons. I love them dearly. They are my first and second born children. Each is smart and well educated. Each has talents and abilities. And I have been ambitious for each of them to excel. I will gladly corner you in the grocery store and tell you about my sons’ successes: one’s score on the LSAT or the other’s ability to tell a story and make the listeners laugh, how they both have advanced degrees and have excelled in their fields of study and interest.

So I identify with the story of the mother of Zebedee’s sons—a mother who is longing for her sons to be successful!  She boldly asks Jesus for her sons to sit at the right and left hands in the Kingdom of God. She wanted the best for them—the very best—that they should be at the top of the ladder when Jesus establishes His kingdom! I would have done exactly the same thing if I had been walking around in Israel over two thousand years ago, watching my sons become acquainted with the rising young rabbi in Israel. I would have thought, “Hey, my sons are the best and the brightest! They are the most qualified to be second in command to the leader!” I can just imagine me foolishly rushing to Jesus to give Him this information, just like Zebedee’s wife did.

Imagine her horror when she learns that the positions of authority in the Kingdom of God will be given to the most humble persons, the ones most willing to serve others, the ones who will lay down their lives. Where’s the glory in that?

I have learned this, too, at the feet of Jesus. He will exalt whom He will exalt. He sees the heart; He looks for “the humble and guides them in what is right” (Prov. 25:9). He loves my sons, but He does not honor them for being smart or being well-educated or being decent and kind men. He honors those who seek the Kingdom of God and serve it like a slave, doing whatever the Master asks.

Oh, God, when will I learn that the door to greatness is a small and lowly door of service to others? May that be my ambition for my sons.

- 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. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29

Exodus 7:25-9:35; Matthew 19:13-30; Psalm 24:1-10; Proverbs 6:1-5

God is a God of the unexpected; he's a reverser, an upside-down-er, a status-quo-changer.  Look at the difference between Jesus' response to the children and the disciples' response (Mt. 19:13-15).  Jesus is no smooth-talking, baby-kissing politician here.  He's going completely counter-cultural in his notice and acceptance of these "little children," and his welcome extends likely into blessing (remember how placing hands on a person preceded a blessing in our recent OT readings?).  This is radical switching, where an ultimate good (heaven) belongs to the least significant recipients (these children).  And Jesus goes even further.  Not only are these children inheritors of the kingdom, if the adults want to inherit the kingdom, they, too must "change and become like little children" (Mt. 18:3).  An uncomfortable thought for these grown men, who have finally established themselves as acting agents in their world, gaining power and the right to speak by virtue of their gender and age.  Yet Jesus calls them to such an idea; he challenges them to turn their lives upside down, to take what is not and turn it into what is.  It's very much a reversal of what would be commonly understood.

Today's New Testament reading ends with another expression of this expectation: "Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (Mt. 19:30).  Hasn't Jesus ever seen a race run?  Doesn't he know that the first are...well, first, and that the last are last?  How can he say such a crazy thing?  Jesus not only says this oxymoron, but he lives it.  He, the great master, will wash his followers' feet.  He, the creator of the world, will die the death of a criminal.  He, completely holy and pure and righteous, will eat and spend time with tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus's life, just as much as his words, shows us that God loves to use the unexpected to work out his will.

I'm so grateful for this.  I need these reminders, bogged down like I can be in my own failures and uncertainties.  I need to remember that God loves to flip things upside down.  It gives me hope for repair in broken relationships between friends, for renewal in marriages darkened by betrayal and bitterness, for restoration of communication between estranged parents and children.  It lets me believe that miraculous cures are possible, that addicts can recover.  It means that the war and sex trafficking and famine that garner so much press - the brokenness of this world - are not all there is.  It reminds me that God is making all things new and that I can rejoice and hope.  Thank you, Lord, for working this way!

- 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. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

January 28

Exodus 5:22-7:24; Matthew 18:23-19:12; Psalm 23:1-6; Proverbs 5:22-23

Wow! Where to begin today? As I was reading through today’s Scriptures, I thought, “This is what I’m going to write about,” at least 4 or 5 times. I guess it’s a good problem to have, when you feel like everything is important and worthy of reflection! Since it’s clearly going to be a doozy, let’s get started!
If you’re like me and you grew up in the church in the 80's, then you are probably familiar with the idea of a flannel board. In fact, you may have a very visceral reaction to the item. For those newer to church, let me explain – a flannel board was used in many Sunday School classes throughout the nation to depict popular Bible stories. Characters made of flannel could be stuck to a board made of flannel as a teacher (possibly even wearing flannel!) told tales of David and Goliath, Joseph and the Many Colored Coat and so on. In today’s reading, you may have been reminded of the flannel board story of the Ten Plagues. And so perhaps you’re very familiar with this story, and its impact even rolls right off your shoulders. But let’s take a step back and look at this. Moses has a staff that becomes a snake; his hand turns leprous and then clean again; the Nile River turns to blood – BLOOD. The Nile is 4,258 miles long. That’s a LOT of blood. Can you picture the scene? “There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (Ex. 7:21b); “the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile” (Ex. 7:21a). This is a God who is serious about getting the attention of Pharaoh, serious about telling his people he has not forgotten them. “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Ex. 7:5); “I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves and I have remembered my covenant” (Ex. 6:5). This is just the first of many signs, but oh what a sign! Sort of blows the flannel graph two-dimensional story out of the water, doesn’t it?
Then we get into our Matthew reading and if you’re like me, you’re immediately convicted by the story of the unmerciful servant. He’s forgiven a great debt – Matthew says it’s ten thousand talents, which is about 20 years’ wages. In today’s money, assuming you make around $60,000, that’s $1.2 MILLION dollars. That’s a lot of money! So this man is spared – and what does he do? He finds his fellow servant, a man who owes him hundred denarii (in comparison, this is about $16,500) and throws him in prison until he can pay the debt.
How often do I receive mercy from God? Every. Single. Day. And yet how often do I hold others to an impossible standard? Man, does the Bible know just how to cut to the heart of the matter or what? And you know what I particularly love about this passage? The man begs at the king’s feet for more time to pay the debt. But the king doesn’t agree to the additional time – “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt (Mt. 18:27).  

Jesus, forgive me for the times I am like that unmerciful servant, willing to take advantage of your abundant mercy but unwilling to extend a small amount of grace to my husband, children, co-workers and neighbors.
And how can I not talk about Psalm 23? It is the quintessential psalm. Throughout the generations, we’ve painted this psalm, memorized it, made greeting cards and cross stitch out of it, and hung it up in our houses. And there’s a reason – it’s a beautiful, lavish, poetic reminder of God’s goodness to us. Green pastures, still waters, paths of righteousness, cups that overflow, goodness and mercy that follow us all the days of our life – 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. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

January 27

Exodus 4:1-5:21; Matthew 18:1-22; Psalm 22:19-31; Proverbs 5:15-21

Do you want to see God’s power? I do. Maybe you feel like you see God’s power at work in our world today, but I think you are probably in the minority. Most of us feel like we want to see so much more of God’s mighty work and deeds in our lives and in the world around us.

In our Exodus 4 and 5 reading, we see Moses interacting with God the day after the burning bush. Moses just saw the God of his fathers do some pretty amazing and powerful stuff, and yet here he is again asking for more signs and proofs of who God is and what he is going to do.

Sound familiar? I know it does for me. Just as Moses wants to make sure the Israelites and the Egyptians really have proof of God’s existence and abilities, I want the same things for today. Sometimes I don’t understand why God doesn’t just act in miraculous and amazing ways so that people will believe in him more. My prayers go something like this, “God, if you will just do _______, then _________ will believe in you. They will see how powerful and real you are. Why don’t you do it? It’s a good thing I’m asking for after all. I just want you to move in power so there will be no more doubt.”

This is a good prayer, but just as Moses’ motives are mixed in asking for God to do miraculous signs, so are my motives mixed. Yes, I do want him to intervene and do mighty works for the sake of his name and the unbelief of those around us, but I also want it for my own belief and my own comfort. Moses needed the constant reassurance of God's presence in these early days of his ministry. And God is so gracious and patient, truly patient, in giving that to him and the Israelites over and over again. God is patient with us today too. He does not grow weary in our supplications to him.

Will you join me in asking God to move in some powerful ways this year? I believe we are on the verge of some major shifts in America, within our Christian churches, and in the very essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I believe God wants to use his Holy Spirit to move in power. I pray for this in my own life. I pray for him to overcome our unbelief and complacency. I want to see a mighty work, like that of Moses and the exodus, so let’s start by asking God for some miraculous signs and wonders.

Lord, we want to be like the little children, humble, yet doing great things for your kingdom (Mt. 18:4). We, like Moses, are unqualified leaders. But use us, Lord. Use us to do and see mighty deeds done in your name. Holy Spirit, come and move in power.

- 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. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

January 26

Exodus 2:11-3:22; Matthew 17:10-27; Psalm 22:1-18; Proverbs 5:7-14

There was a time when I might have thought that the way to get started in ministry or in a career was to excel in seminary, to become an excellent teacher, or to author a book that would make the best-seller list.

Moses may have thought that the way to get his start in ministry or in a career was to be a hero and to defend his people who were slaves of the Egyptians. He thought he was doing a good thing when he murdered the Egyptian man who was abusing an Israelite slave. But, unknown to him, he was observed by another Hebrew who challenged him on his ‘heroism’ and mocked the deed he had done.

Moses left Egypt hurriedly, abandoning the training he had received as an adopted prince and leaving behind his wealth and importance. He became a fugitive from Pharaoh’s law (Ex. 2:15) and fled to Midian. There he found refuge with a wise priest named Jethro and married one of his daughters, Zipporah, with whom he eventually had two sons (Ex. 2:21-22).  And he took up a new career: shepherding.

One day, while watching his sheep, he had an unexpected encounter with God through a burning bush (Ex. 3). God explained to him that He wanted Moses to enter ministry His way, saying, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:10). But by now Moses felt inadequate for the task. Many years of solitude in the desert had quenched his thirst for heroism and he tried politely to decline saying, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11).

But God was persistent. And on this first day of Moses’ new calling, God told him the end of the story: the Israelites would leave Egypt and they would leave wealthy. (Notice who would gain this wealth for the nation of Israel—it’s the women! More details on that will follow as we continue reading in Exodus.)

I love that it is God who calls us to ministry. None of us will be a leader like Moses. He was one of a kind, used by God in a unique way. But we will be called to ministry, and often not until we have given up our ambitions and our need to be a hero.

I went to Bible College longing to go into Christian ministry, and I did serve for many years as a volunteer co-worker with my husband in his pastorates and raising our five children. But along the way I had to set aside some of my ambitions. And that was probably a good thing.

And then, when I was in my fifties, God called me into ministry as the pastor to women in a large church. And I got a paycheck for it! It wasn’t quite a burning bush experience, but it was pretty important in my life.  And I think my time there was useful to God’s Kingdom.

God has an assignment for you, too. You may still be shepherding in the desert (raising children can feel that way at times); there are often delays in our timeline. God will make clear what, and when, your next assignment is.

And the delays we experience are often part of the training for our new assignment, just as it was for Moses. Everything he has learned from shepherding recalcitrant sheep will be put to the test as he leads God’s people to their new home in the next few weeks of our reading.

Hang on! And expect delays.

- 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, January 25, 2017

January 25

Genesis 50:1- Exodus 2:10; Matthew 16:13-17:9; Psalm 21:1-13; Proverbs 5:1-6

Life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, good times and bad times. Our own lives attest to this, as well as the Scriptures. Throughout all of history, mankind has been in constant flux and change. Sometimes we have good days, moments of glory, and seasons of flourishing. And then, without any real warning or apparent reason, we have those bad days, moments of shame and regret, and long seasons of dryness. There doesn't even seem to be a rhyme or reason to it all. 

In light of this, some may even question, "How can a good and omnipotent God allow all these bad things to happen to good people?" I would ask in response, "Have you read the whole story? Or did you stop after the bad part? Keep going, because my hunch is, it gets better. Our God is going to turn the ugly into something beautiful. And I want to be there to see it when he does."

Today’s Scripture reminds us of this roller coaster nature of life. How quickly it can flip from wonderful to awful and back to wonderful, and so on again and again. But through all of this, God is working his eternal, unchanging good. Joseph reminds his brothers of this attribute of God in his famous declaration in Genesis 50:20 -"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Joseph's life had gone from good to bad to good so many times we almost lose count.  Even at the very end of Genesis, we see the Egyptians honoring Israel with a burial of much pomp and ceremony and glory.  Yet, in the very next chapter, or in this case the beginning of Exodus, we see this same Egyptian nation reviling, shaming, and debasing the Israelites.  How quickly things changed.

Again, we see the shift from glory to shame and back again when we look at the story of Peter in Matthew 16 and 17.  One moment Peter is the rock Christ will build his church on, the next moment Jesus is making his actions akin to the work of the Satan, and then in the next chapter Peter basks in the glory of Jesus during the transfiguration.  What a whirlwind week that must have been for Peter.

Can you relate?  Do you have weeks, days, or even moments like that? Do you feel bounced back and forth between joy and sadness, hope and despair, fullness and emptiness? Or maybe it's a more general sense that things are going right or not so right? Or maybe you have just had some major tragedy in your life. Something you don't know if you will ever recover from. To you I say, I’m sorry. Jesus is sorry and he weeps with you. But don't stop reading. Don't give up. The story is not over. Take encouragement and hope from today's reading (it's actually a theme throughout all of Scripture). Jesus can take what was meant for harm, what might seem totally bad in our eyes, and use it for good. He can make it into something beautiful. Stay with him. Whatever chapter your life may be in right now, stay with him. Psalm 21: 7 reminds us that a "[man] who trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High, he will not be shaken." Through all the ups and downs of life, and all the different chapters we go through, we can be confident in the author and perfecter of our lives.  We know how the story ends, and it's a good one.

- 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. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 24

Genesis 48:1-49:33; Matthew 15:29-16:12; Psalm 20:1-9; Proverbs 4:20-27

I've been looking for a family blessing for some years now - something to pray over our kids on birthdays, special events/accomplishments, new beginnings.  I've marked verses all over Scripture (one, years ago now, in today's OT reading: Jacob's blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh in Gen. 48:15-16 - so great, for sons especially).  But I don't think I ever considered Psalm 20 as an option until this morning.

This psalm could be read as either petition or as blessing, it seems.  It could be something we pray for ourselves or others when we or they are in need, desperate for God to "answer [us] when [we] are in distress" (Ps. 20:1) and to "send [us] help from the sanctuary" (vs. 2).  It could be both plea and promise ("We will shout for joy when you are victorious" [vs. 5]).  And it can also be read as a declaration - "Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed" (vs. 6) - a statement of what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

But what a beautiful thing to pray as a blessing over someone at moments of success or beginning!  Rather than waiting for the distress and desire to arrive, why not take these words and offer them to a child or sibling or spouse or colleague?  In the Old Testament, blessings were not simply good wishes for good things to come.  They called out the deep truths of who people were and pointed them toward the way God could use them and their traits in the future.  

When we married, my father prayed a blessing over Eric and me.  "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26).  He prayed that for each of his children at their weddings, and it was prayed over my mother and him at their 50th wedding anniversary.  It was prayed, not because we needed to feel the Lord's graciousness at those points.  If anything, we were already aware of God's abundance to us at those high, special moments.  Rather, it was prayed for all of us for the future, for the times to come, for what was (and is) ahead.

And so, this morning, not knowing your stories and needs, I'm praying this for each one of you who reads these words.  "May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.  May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.  May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.  May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed....May the Lord grant all your requests"  (Ps. 20:1-5).  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. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

January 23

Genesis 46:1-47:31; Matthew 15:1-28; Psalm 19:1-14; Proverbs 4:14-19

I was buying gifts for two of my grandchildren’s birthdays when the clerk asked how many grandchildren I had. When I replied, “Eighteen,” she answered with a huge smile, “I’ve never heard of that before!”

I paused when she asked me her question because the response I get to that familiar question is not always as positive and cheerful as hers was. Many people say, “How do you keep them all straight?” I usually reply that it’s easy because I care about each one of them.

Some people are politely horrified at our large numbers. Big families are not the norm in the USA.

But big families were the norm in the Bible, or at least, they were the desired norm. Larger tribes were better because then there were more people to be connected to, more people to care for you and more people to watch out for the general welfare of the community.

The Bible makes much of individuals and of genealogy lists. We may read this and wonder, how can we keep all this straight? But it is there for a reason—so that we may know the history of the nation of Israel, and so we may know the human lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of Jacob’s descendants are listed as he leaves the land which of Canaan, and I like that! We are told exactly who made the journey. And we learn just how old Jacob is when he arrives and when he dies. He lives in Egypt for 17 years and enjoys the presence of all his sons, especially Joseph.

Being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is important in the Bible. But what are we to make of the Canaanite woman living in the region of Tyre and Sidon? Her daughter was suffering terribly from demon-possession and yet when she asks Jesus for mercy, he says that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt. 15:24). Jesus seems to exclude her on the basis of lineage. What is that about?

Jesus had come to bring blessing to the Israelites first. But when He sees the faith and trust of this woman, He answers her prayer.

Every individual matters in God’s kingdom. He cared about the Canaanite woman’s demon-possessed daughter in Matthew 15:28. And he cares about each of us. He cares about each of my 18 beautiful grandchildren—he knows each name and birth weight. He knows how many hairs are on their heads. He does not have the least bit of trouble keeping track of each of the 18! He wants each of the 18 (and us) to follow him, so that our “path is like the first gleam of the dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Prov. 4:18).

- 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. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22

Genesis 44:1-45:28; Matthew 14:13-36; Psalm 18:37-50; Proverbs 4:11-13

I was away this weekend.  My husband was home - by himself - with our five children.  I escaped on a "Sarah weekend" to my parents' house.  I left Thursday night after the younger kids were in bed, and I returned home last night at dinner time.  Eric and I have discovered that this time to hunker down and sleep and read and be in the quiet is an excellent restorative for me, enabling my introverted self to continue mothering and wife-ing and living.

It is a huge gift, one that comes from my husband's self-denial.  He gives up what would be easiest or safest or best for himself in order to benefit a larger system.  Eric does what he can to ensure the flourishing of others, even at cost to himself.  This weekend, I spent part of the time reading Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey.  I've been pricked by his depictions of the self-denial and self-sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Paul Brand.

I see the actions of all three of these men (to varying degrees) in today's Scriptures.  The life of a follower of God is a continual call to lay down one's life for the other.

Look at Judah, approaching this powerful Egyptian lord, to plead with him for Benjamin's release. Judah puts himself on the line ("Let [me] remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy" [Gen. 44:33]) to fulfill the promise that he made to his father Jacob (Gen. 43:8-9).  He is willing to give up his own freedom to preserve Benjamin's, and his courage is the final catalyst for Joseph to reveal himself.

And then Joseph - he sets aside the pain and suffering of his years in Egypt.  He recognizes that God had used the bitter loneliness "to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Gen. 45:7).  Somehow - miraculously - Joseph is able to see.  The self-denial enforced on him for the preceding years (at least 11 - see vs. 6) has been reframed by the good that it did for others.  Many lives were saved, not just those of Jacob and his family.  Joseph is living out the blessing that God gave to Abraham - all the peoples of the world will be blessed through Abraham's line.

Jesus, the epitome of self-sacrifice, sets aside his own agenda and desires.  After the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, he withdraws, privately, to a solitary place.  I can only imagine that he grieves, and that he desires to be alone in his sorrow.  But the people follow.  Instead of sending the interlopers off on their ways, Jesus "had compassion on them and healed their sick" (Mt. 14:14).  He sets aside what would be good for him and moves toward what would be good for others.

Lastly, there's the anonymous (in Matthew's gospel, at least) donor of the five loaves and two fish (Matt. 14: 17).  Though the disciples deride the food as "only," emphasizing its inadequacy for the crowd, someone gives up his or her meal.  It would be enough for that individual.  Though the rest of the crowd might hunger, this person has the foresight to plan ahead and will be satisfied.  There is no reason to expect him or her to broadcast the existence of the meal, and even less reason to sacrifice it for the greater community.  What possible good could such provisions do for such a gathering?  And yet God takes this willingness and multiplies it.  Jesus turns this offering - small in the eyes of the crowd, but enormous in the eyes of the one who lets it go - into such an abundance that twelve baskets full of food are left over (Mt. 14:20).

We don't know where our willingness to be useful might lead.  Some of us may be called to greater self-sacrifice than others.  It is doubtful that we will become a martyrs for a cause.  Nor are we likely to rescue a nation from starvation.  But as we deny ourselves, as we take up our crosses and walk with them behind Jesus, who knows what good God may work of our glad self-giving?

- 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. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 21

Genesis 42:18-43:34; Matthew 13:47-14:12; Psalm 18:16-36; Proverbs 4:7-10

I’m tired today, I’m not going to lie. I’ve got 3 children five and under, one of whom still puts everything in his mouth, one of whom is obsessed with potty talk and the other who wants to “do something special” every single day. My days are busy and full with the going-ons of small people. For the most part, it’s wonderful; every so often, I’m worn out. So today as I sit down to read my One Year Bible, I’m afraid I’m not at my best. But isn’t it amazing how the Lord can speak to us anyway?
I was very moved today by Joseph’s emotions. I’ve always loved this story, but today I was struck by how touched he is by seeing his brothers. I’m one of five (the youngest, actually) and I love my siblings a great deal. The five of us are very close, particularly my sisters and I, and I cannot image being separated from them for years on end.

When Joseph sees that his brothers regret their decisions which led to his life in Egypt, he weeps (Gen. 42:24), though he is careful to not let them see. (As a side note, I love how Joseph has a great master plan which unfolds in the days following.) Imagine how he must have felt, all these years, some of which were in prison, wondering if his brothers were sorry, if they even ever thought of him. And now, out of the blue, he is thrust back into contact with 10 of his 11 brothers, and discovers that they do in fact deeply mourn their sin. It is no surprise he is overwhelmed. He must have wondered if that day would ever come and played out how it would unfold over and over in his mind.

But his emotions don’t stop there – in fact, it just the beginning. When his brothers return again for more grain, this time with Benjamin, Joseph is so overcome with emotion that he has to leave the room so he can weep (Gen. 43:30). Not just cry, but weep! You’d better believe I would be hysterical if I thought I’d never see my brothers and sisters again only to have them come unexpectedly back into my life.

Isn’t it amazing how good God is, not just to Joseph but to his brothers? If we’re Bible readers, then we know what ‘s coming in the next few days – the famous “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph has a clear understanding of God’s design on his life, and he’s a willing participant. But there’s redemption for his brothers as well, which is just one example among many of God’s abundant goodness. They don’t have to live the rest of their lives in guilt and dismay, but instead are restored in right relationship to Joseph and are blessed beyond measure in a new life in Egypt (spoiler alert for tomorrow’s reading!). That’s the kind of God we serve, a God who loves us and is for us. Praise God!

- 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. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

January 20

Genesis 41:17-42:17; Matthew 13:24-46; Psalm 18:1-15; Proverbs 4:1-6

The word of God often contains hard and/or confusing things.  Situations like Joseph's response to his brothers (harshness [Gen. 42:7], attack [vs. 9, 12, 15], and incarceration [vs. 17]).  Words like Jesus' parable of the weeds (Mt. 13:24-30), which speaks of the destruction of "everything that causes sin and all who do evil" (vs. 41). It's so tempting to focus on these difficult bits, haranguing at God for being unfair or unclear.  

(As an aside, I sometimes think that those who quibble with God or Scripture deal with such a small portion of God's revealed word, losing the much, much bigger picture of a God who is loving and just.  Imagine looking at 10-15 lines from Shakespeare and ignoring the rest of his body of work! Pardon my digression.)

Though ambiguity remains, so much of Scripture is yet specific and certain.  Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams reveals "that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon" (Gen. 41:32).  The kingdom of heaven is highly desirable and produces great joy (see Mt. 13:44-46).  The pursuit of wisdom "will protect you...[and] will watch over you" (Prov. 4:6), paving the way to a rich and full life.

Clear, comprehensible words from God.  Doesn't that offer security?  Like a child who thrives with boundaries or an employee who flourishes when she understands the expectations of her boss, we all long for sturdy, consistent direction. 

Look at Psalm 18 again.  See how God is described: my strength (vs. 1), my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, giver of refuge, my shield, the horn, my salvation, my stronghold (vs. 2).  Look at how God responds: he hears (vs. 6), and he has an emotional reaction (vs. 7-8) to the distress of his people.  And look what God does: he shakes the heavens on behalf of the psalmist (vs. 9-10), involves himself actively in the world (vs. 11-13), and takes up arms in defense of his loved one (vs. 14). Tomorrow, we'll see the tenderness of the Lord's direct interaction with the psalmist and also the provision he gives for the writer's future.

That is serious involvement.  This is the God who desires relationship with us, who is for us, and who is with us.  We will never comprehend all of God; we will not understand why he did/does/will do what he did/does/will do.  But we can be confident in his love for us; we can know that he hears our voices (Ps. 18:6).  And we, too, can thus declare: "I love you, O Lord" (vs. 1).

- 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. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 19

Genesis 39:1-41:16; Matthew 12:46-13:23; Psalm 17:1-15; Proverbs 3:33-35

The theme of fruitfulness is a common one in the Bible. It begins in Genesis when the Lord God instructs the first couple to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Here God means physical increase of progeny, but the idea of increase is everywhere in the Bible. God is a God of fruitfulness Himself and He looks for it in His people.

We see the theme of fruitfulness in today’s readings about Joseph in prison, Jesus telling the parable of the sower and the seed, and in the Psalms and Proverbs passages.

Let’s begin with Jesus. In Matthew 13, He tells a parable to instruct those who are truly listening—parables are not for the casual hearer. Parables are designed to cause thoughtful consideration so that whoever hears them will ponder and understand even more.

The sower throws the seed on good soil and it brings a huge harvest. Some seeds yielded 100 percent, meaning every single seed sprouted and produced a plant.  And other seed produced a sixty or thirty times harvest (Mt. 13:8). That is an enormous increase. As Jesus explained the parable, He said that “he who hears the Word of God and understands it...produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (13:23).


What about Joseph, in prison for something he did not do? Does he experience fruitfulness? Not at first glance! After all, he is in prison. And there he does a good deed of interpreting two dreams, and then asking to be remembered when the cupbearer to the king is released as Joseph has predicted. Yet he is forgotten by the cupbearer and Joseph languishes in the prison for two full years. The Bible is clear on the time line. But God is a God of increase; Joseph will not be in prison much longer. The king of Egypt has had a puzzling dream about plenty and want, and Joseph is being sent by God to reveal the meaning to him.

Fruitfulness is coming.

Even when we don’t see fruitfulness in our lives -- when the job seems mundane, the children seem to play in the mud and then track it in the house, school seems tedious, and will there ever be enough money? -- even in those times, when we are ‘in prison,’ we can be sure that God plans for eventual fruitfulness in our lives. We may stay in the dry season for “two full years” or more, but God will bring us through and there will be fruit.

King David agrees in Psalm 17:14, “You [Lord God] still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.” Money was sometimes tight as we raised five children and sent them to college. But, by God’s grace, we saw all of them graduate from college without debt. They were able to enter adulthood unencumbered by student loans. This fruitfulness involved money as our sons and daughters had “plenty.”

God has brought fruitfulness in ministry to my husband and to me. We’ve been able to see people come to faith in Jesus, to encourage and prepare young men and women in ministry, and to see them flourish as pastors, missionaries, parents and leaders.

How fully I agree with Proverbs 3:33: “The Lord… blesses the home of the righteous.”

Fruitfulness—the legacy of every believer in Jesus.

- 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, January 18, 2017

January 18

Genesis 37:1-38:30; Matthew 12:22-45; Psalm 16:1-11; Proverbs 3:27-32

Sometimes the Bible can be, well, a little disturbing. I don't know which passage of scripture I read today most disturbing. Is it the part where a man's own brothers beat him up, plot to kill him, but sell him into slavery instead? Or maybe it's where a father-in-law unknowingly sleeps with his daughter-in-law, thinking she is a prostitute, and she becomes pregnant? Or it is the part when Jesus heals a man who is blind and mute and the observers contribute this good work to the work of Satan? All this passages of Scripture are a little hard to read. Why are they included in the Bible and given such detail? Sometimes I think it's just so we know the Bible is real and historically preserved. I mean, who would make this stuff up and then expect people to believe and follow?   

When we finally get to Psalm 16, it's like a breath of fresh air. Ah, at last, something cheerful and "edifying." But for me, the real pivot point of all these passages is Jesus' statement in Matthew 12:34-35 in which he says, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." We see this played out in all the different scenes in today's Scripture readings.  

First, Joseph's brothers are discontented and ungrateful in their hearts. They feel second-best, tossed aside, disregarded by their father. They aren't getting their due in their own minds.  They are jealous of the gifts of the father to another. So they grumble and complain and plot evil in their hearts. The ingratitude and resentment overflows out in their actions. Second, we see Judah refusing to trust God and taking matters into his own hands. He worries in his mind that his last son may die too. He makes, as Scripture seems to indicate, the unrighteous choice. He lets worry and fear dictate his choices. Third, the Pharisees don't want Jesus to come in and disrupt the way of life they have always known, so they try to find ways of explaining away the power of Jesus. Their desire for control blinds them to the life changing power of Jesus. Finally, in Psalms, we see David's heart of gratitude and contentment. His "heart is glad and [his] tongue rejoices" (Ps. 16:9); he is filled with joy in the presence of the Lord.

"Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."  What is coming out of my mouth, my actions?  What is the fruit by which my tree is recognized?  Is it discontentment, jealousy, complaining, grumbling, controlling, anxious thought, or blindness to the truth of God's power?  What comes out of me is always a good barometer of what's going on inside.  When the yelling at the kids seems to be more frequent, when I find myself brooding over the places I don't get what I "deserve," when I just seem out of sorts with the world around me, I need to look at my heart.  More importantly, I need to stop what I'm doing, and spend time with Jesus, reorienting to the truth of who he is, who I am, and who he's called me to be to others. I need to cultivate a heart of gratitude and thankfulness.  
Holy Spirit, fill me from my inside so that more of you flows out of me each day.

- 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. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 17

Genesis 35:1-36:43; Matthew 12:1-21; Psalm 15:1-5; Proverbs 3:21-26

"The Lord will be your confidence..." (Prov. 3:26).

What a possibility! What a promise! Living wisely - with "sound judgment and discernment" (3:21) - will bring safety and security and freedom from fear.  Too good to be true; I'm all for it; sign me up!
And if we just look at the benefits from wisdom, it's easy to get carried away by the results.  This passage in Proverbs details out the logical (although not absolute) outcomes of living well.  Who doesn't want feet that don't stumble?  Who doesn't want sweet sleep? 

It's all too tempting, though, to just look at the promises, and not recall what is required beforehand.  I'd rather think about the rewards of my work than the work itself.  I'd rather sit in these verses from Proverbs than look at the psalm just preceding them.

Psalm 15 is a FAQ - it asks a question and then provides an answer.  "Who is able to come into God's presence?" verse 1 poses, and the rest of the psalm responds.  But such difficult answers!  

Who is holy?  Well, the man who lends money freely and does not accept a bribe (vs. 5).  Check, and check.  Doing good!   The man who has a blameless walk and does what is righteous (vs. 2).  Those descriptions are vague enough that I might finesse them to fit myself.   The man who does his neighbor no wrong (vs. 3).  Oh, my neighbors love me.  It's the people in my house whom I wrong.  The man who speaks truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue and casts no slur on his fellowman (vs. 2-3).  Hmmm...what did I say about that driver on the freeway yesterday?  The man who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord (vs. 4).  Oh, ouch.  I remember going along with the conversation at work when we envied the promiscuous starlet and poked fun at the John 3:16 man behind the uprights.  The man who keeps his oath even when it hurts (vs. 4).  I give up.  

This is the man who will never be shaken (vs. 5), who sleeps sweetly, who is not afraid (Prov. 3:24-25).  That description is a hard one.  Nothing in it is easy.  There is work and self-denial.  Living that way will make us look weird; it will definitely set us apart from the rest of the world.  I'm so far from meeting the standards of Psalm 15, but the gains of our passage in Proverbs today are so weighty, so attractive, that I'm encouraged to try again. 

Jesus, I want to set my face like flint in the direction of Psalm 15.  I want to live on your holy hill, to never be shaken.  Show me where I need to see my sin.  Bring me to confession and repentance as I fall short of your desire for me.  Remind me, even as I fail (drat those freeway drivers!), of the beautiful rewards of Proverbs 3:21-26.  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. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16

Genesis 32:13-34:31; Matthew 11:7-30; Psalm 14:1-7; Proverbs 3:19-20

There is so much in today’s passage – Jacob’s reunion with Esau, Dinah’s mistreatment and her brothers’ response, Jacob’s reaction to the brothers’ actions – and that’s just the Old Testament. In Matthew, we have these beautiful verses – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). What promise those words of Jesus hold for us!

But today, I actually want to focus on the very first part of the reading, when Jacob wrestles with the “man” until the break of day (Gen. 32:24).

For most of my life, my dad has been a pastor. And during the years when he wasn’t preaching, he was teaching preaching at either Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas or Talbot School of Theology in California. So I’ve heard a lot of my dad’s sermons. I think he’s a wonderful preacher and there are many sermons that I can still remember, even decades later.

Not too long ago, my dad preached on this passage. This was one of those sermons I remember, because I’ve always wondered at this passage. Why does God disguise himself as a man? Why does he wrestle with Jacob? Why does God have to make Jacob lame – can’t he win the wrestling matching fair and square? And why does God ask Jacob his name – doesn’t He know? Then once Jacob says his name, why does God rename him? Why doesn’t God want to give his name to Jacob, who clearly knows who he is? So many questions!

As my dad was preaching through this passage, he shared how his own understanding of this passage has changed as he has grown in his walk with the Lord. When he was younger, he couldn’t make sense of it because he didn’t understand himself or God. But as the years passed, it became clear to him what it means to wrestle with the Lord and truly surrender, as Jacob did. He calls it Jacob’s “magnificent defeat.” Jacob wrestles and wrestles and finally is forced to surrender to God when the Lord cripples him. Jacob faces the question of whether it will be his way or God’s way. And he chooses God’s way. And, in that, there is great blessing.

And what about why God asks what Jacob’s name is?  This is not because he doesn’t know, not because he’s looking for information, but because he wants Jacob to say out loud who he is, to make an admission on his character – he is Jacob, heel-holder, supplanter, con-man. But God removes that label from Jacob and instead tells Jacob, “You will no longer be a manipulator but instead you will be called Israel – he who strives with God and prevails” (see Gen. 32:28).

At some point, each of us must face the true presence of God and decide if it will be his way or our way in this life we live. For some of us, God will have to break us, like he did with Jacob. Others of us might be able to surrender to God more peacefully. But no matter the way we concede and acknowledge that God is in charge of our future, the result is always the same – blessing. As my dad said in his sermon, “Defeated, magnificently defeated, but forever blessed.”  

- 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. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 15

Genesis 31:17-32:12; Matthew 10:26-11:6; Psalm 13:1-6; Proverbs 3:16-18

The Statue of Liberty.  The Eiffel Tower.  The Taj Mahal.  The Great Wall of China.
They are all symbols, markers.  They are witnesses to a time or a faith or a dynasty or a nation, built to last through time and to be a reminder of the initial reason for their creation.  They are meant to cause people to remember and to act accordingly.  

In Genesis 31:44-52, Laban and Jacob build just such a memorial.  Jegar Sahadutha (Aramaic) and Galeed (Hebrew) both mean "witness heap."  This group of stones and pillar served as the evidence of the agreement the men make, sealing their pact of honorable behavior and peace.  The new name of the place reveals the new significance of the place.  

Just verses later, Jacob encounters the angels of God again and names the place Mahanaim ("two camps"), acknowledging once again the presence of God (Gen. 32:1-2).  Earlier, we saw Jacob build a pillar and rename Luz to Bethel to give voice to his vision of the house of God (Gen. 28:1-22).  And we'll continue to see God's people use names and stones as ways of remembering God's work and presence in their lives.

I struggle with remembering God's goodness and faithfulness.  It's so easy for me to forget, to doubt.  I've often considered setting up a pile of stones, or installing a mezuzah (a parchment attached to Jewish homes as a way of reminding them of their connection to God and their heritage), or even getting a tattoo - something that would be an on-going reminder of who I am in Christ.  I hate forgetting, and yet I desperately need help remembering!  I haven't acted on these impulses because I realize that any of these physical witnesses would do the job only temporarily.  Much like my wedding and engagement rings, they'll be a remarkable memory-goad for a time, but then familiarity and constant exposure will numb the prompting.  The significance of the symbol isn't lost, but its ability to spark memory is diminished.

Perhaps an answer for my faltering memory isn't something physical.  Perhaps Jesus' response to John's disciples in Matthew 11:5 is a better place to look for reminders. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."  These are the markers of God's on-going presence and activity - the change from brokenness to health.  I can look at the blind pride in my own life turn to humbling sight; I can notice the deadness of adulterous relationships raised to new life because of Jesus; I can hear the good news preached to me ("the poor") through Scripture.  While tangible monuments might lose their power, these more-intangible witness heaps remind me of the work of God going on all the time, all around me.  God is good, and I have proof, and perhaps these "pillars" will help me remember just a little bit longer.

- 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. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

January 14

Genesis 30:1-31:16; Matthew 10:1-25; Psalm 12:1-8; Proverbs 3:13-15

How well I remember the day my husband, who was preaching through the life of Jacob, said to me, “I think the Lord has said to me, ‘Return to the land of your fathers' (Gen. 31:3)."

“Surely not,” I replied, unlike Rachel and Leah who quickly supported their husband’s plan to move them about six hundred miles to a land they had never visited. “Do whatever God has told you,” they said to their husband in Gen. 31:16b.  I was, hmmm, less supportive.

My husband replied, “It seems the face of our employers has turned against me, and as I studied this passage in Genesis, I sensed the Lord saying the same thing to me that He said to Jacob. Our parents are old. I believe we should return to the place where we met and married, and see them into their graves. And I believe God has meaningful employment for me there.”

The Lord confirmed His word to my husband by providing a teaching job for him at Talbot School of Theology, a job where he has taught hundreds of students and encouraged them to follow God and where he has flourished. His flocks have increased and “the man grew exceedingly prosperous” (Gen. 30:43). We now have 18 grandchildren, most of whom live within a 30 mile radius. And my husband and I have had a long and prosperous ministry.

We did see our parents into their graves. They lived into their 80’s and 90’s and one by one, they left us and entered into the presence of Jesus. My sister said, “I’m glad you came back. I couldn’t have done it by myself.”

My journey of following my husband was not as easy as Rachel and Leah’s seemed to be—I tried to reason my husband out of his decision. “We’ve built this beautiful home on an 800 acre greenbelt.  Our sons are in college and graduate school here and they probably won’t move with us, though our daughters will because they are younger. I’m sure you can fix what is wrong at the church.”

Eventually, however, I said, “I will go where you go. You’re the head of this house and I’ll follow your leadership, though I probably won’t do it very well.” And I didn’t do it very well—there were some days when I cried, other days when I saw nothing ahead for me (though I knew it was going to be good for my husband).

Now, over twenty years later, I look back to that day when my husband heard God’s voice. And with all my heart, I thank God for speaking to my husband, for moving us back to California. He has constantly blessed us here.  Our daughters had the opportunity to go to Biola University with a faculty discount, two of our children went to Talbot, and I went to seminary, too. God used my education to open a door for me to serve for over a decade in women’s ministries at a large church. Our daughters found their godly husbands here and established their families.

The proverb says, “Blessed is the man finds wisdom, who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better return than gold” (Prov. 3:13-14).

The Scriptures are written for our understanding. They are written for our profit. We are to search them and sit under them—they instruct us; we do not instruct them. We are to listen as we read, test what we think we hear, and then follow what God is saying. He is committed to leading us in the way of wisdom with all its resulting joys. 

Even when it means a re-location.

- 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. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

January 13

Genesis 28:1-29:35; Matthew 918-38; Psalm 11:1-7; Proverbs 3:11-12

Such stories of sibling dysfunction, aided and abetted by conniving parents!  We see the fallout from yesterday's reading when Jacob deceived Isaac and "stole" Esau's blessing: Esau acts to spite his parents by taking foreign wives (Gen. 28:8-9).  We also see the seeds of the troubles that will come to Joseph from his brothers in the future: the rivalry between Leah and Rachel for the attention and love of their mutual husband (see Gen. 29:30).  What trouble these generations stirred up for their children!

And God yet confirms his choice of Jacob, appearing to him in a dream and promising great blessing (Gen. 28:12-15).  He also grants Jacob immediate success in finding the wife of his father's wishes (see Gen. 28:2 for the desire and chapter 29 for the fulfillment).  Clearly, the Lord is at work even amidst all these messy human relationships.

"Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it" (28:16), Jacob says.  Couldn't that statement be true of more than just Bethel?  Surely God was in the deception of Isaac, in the trickery of Laban, in the future discord between Joseph and his ten brothers.  These men and women, these players in Scripture, were often not aware of the Lord's presence and activity - though God's plans were not thwarted by their ignorance.

Jesus, too, is not hampered.  Though disbelief surrounds him, he still restores the dead girl to life (Mt. 9:24-25).  Though blindness confronts him, he still gives sight (vs. 29-30).  Though demons confront him, he still brings healing and freedom (vs. 32-33).

The wisdom writers know this truth also.  "The Lord is in his holy temple" (Ps. 11:4), the psalmist writes, resting in the knowledge that God is attentive and active.  There will be justice; God will make it right.  "Surely the Lord is in this place" could be said by the writer of Proverbs about the Lord's discipline.  Though it looks - and is! - painful, God is yet "in this place" though we are often "not aware of it."

Look around today at your life, at the world around you.  Where is the Lord surely at work and you've not noticed?  Are co-workers becoming more responsive to the gospel?  Are children growing in maturity and self-control?  Are you experiencing a measure of freedom in a particular aspect of your life?  Are coincidences falling into place?  Are difficulties besetting you from all sides?  God is surely at work.  Let us be aware of it.

- 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. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

January 12

Genesis 26:17-27:46; Matthew 9:1-17; Psalm 10:16-18; Proverbs 3:9-10

"I want the truth!"

"You can't handle the truth!"

Classic movie lines, revealing tension: two sides, two realities, two desires, two "truths." Enter Abimelech, asking to make a treaty.  Isaac is, understandably, reluctant and suspicious: "Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?" (Gen. 26:27). There's the truth.  We saw it yesterday in God's word, and Isaac repeats it here.  

Abimelech has a different story, however.  His party line, and he's sticking to it, is that "we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace" (Gen. 26:29).

Did not molest you?  Treated you well?  Sent you away in peace?  Isn't this the same Abimelech who - in yesterday's reading - envied him, stopped up the wells of Abraham (part of Isaac's birthright), and essentially pushed Isaac out of the area (Gen. 26:14-16)?  How can Abimelech claim that as truth and expect Isaac to agree and act on the mis-represented reality?  Abimelech did molest Isaac.  He did not treat him well or send him away in peace.

But Isaac doesn't contest Abimelech's story.  "Isaac made a feast for them, and they ate and drank....The men swore an oath to each other....and they left [Isaac] in peace" (Gen. 26:30-31).  He fed them and honored their request and sent them off with good wishes.  Isaac denied himself the satisfaction of telling the true truth; he allowed Abimelech the dignity of acceptance.  And Isaac moved the relationship forward.  Imagine if Isaac had stonewalled and insisted on his version of the story.  Imagine the continued friction, the underhanded well-stopping, the potential for war that could have resulted from Isaac attempting to prove his point.

Instead, Isaac allowed the false reality, not out of passivity or resignation, but out of an awareness of what really mattered.  He didn't agree to Abimelech's version; he didn't assert his own rightness.  He saw what was at the heart of the situation (a treaty for mutual protection and security) and could allow Abimelech's story to stand in order for that purpose to be accomplished.  Isaac acted for the greater good.

I find this difficult.  I don't like people not seeing my "truth," my version of reality.  I want people to 'fess up to their wrongdoing and acknowledge it as a step toward future relationship.  I want to be right, and I want everyone else to know that I'm right.  I want them to admit it!  Here's a challenge from Scripture, though: Isaac chose to be in right relationship rather than be right.  He'd rather have God's blessing for righteous living than God's mercy for selfish insistence. 

The very day that Abimelech and his retinue left, Isaac's men discovered more water.  God's gift of a good, uncontested well - what need did Isaac have to be proven right in front of Abimelech?  The Lord knew the truth, and the Lord gave blessing accordingly.

It is hard to humble ourselves before the story and desires of other people.  It is hard to let them tell their reality and not to assert our own right back at them.  But if we move toward those people, if we offer a feast or an oath, if we send them on their way with peace, what might God have for us?  The Lord knows the truth, and the Lord gives blessings accordingly. 

- Sarah Marsh

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