Friday, March 31, 2017

March 31

Deuteronomy 16:1-17:20; Luke 9:7-27; Psalm 72:1-20; Proverbs 12:8-9

I am a celebrator. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, the first day of Spring – you name it, I like to celebrate it. And I love that God does, too. In today’s passages, we see several instances of God’s party-lovin’.

In Deuteronomy 16, God tells his people to keep the Feast of Weeks – seven weeks after the first harvest, they are to “rejoice before the LORD [their] God” (16:11); just a few verses later, we read about the Feast of Booths, a seven-day period of time when they also “rejoice in feasting” (vs. 14) so that they “will be altogether joyful” (vs. 15b). Did you notice that? Seven days of rejoicing, feasting and being joyful. That sounds like a great party, if I’ve ever heard of one! I’ve thrown some big shin-digs in my day but never one that lasted a whole week! I love the lavish, abundant celebration God plans for his people, “because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands” (vs. 15a).

As we keep reading, we find in our New Testament passage the feeding of the 5,000. We’ve already read an account of this story in both Matthew and Mark, but, reading it again today, I’m once more struck by the hugeness of this miracle. The throngs have been waiting for Jesus and when he comes down from the mountain, they are crowded around, anxious for him to teach and heal them. All day they are with him, listening to him teach about the kingdom of God and seeing him restore health and wellness. As the day comes to an end, the disciples tell him to send the people away to get food. But Jesus wants to bring abundant blessing (a party!) to these people he’s been with all day, and so he takes five loaves of bread and two fish and feeds thousands. Incredible! The text says there were 5,000 men – if each of those men had a wife and even just two kids with them, then Jesus is actually feeding 20,000 hungry people by multiplying two fish and five loaves. If each person eats (modestly) 1/3 of a fish and 1/3 of a loaf, we’re talking about almost 7,000 fish and 7,000 loaves – that’s a lot of fish and bread!! Again, what a demonstration of the abundant and lavish way God provides for his people. And you’d better believe those 20,000 folks were celebrating at an unexpected and miraculous dinner!

What ways does your family celebrate the lavish goodness of God? Do you have a specific time of year where you “rejoice before the LORD your God” and where you spend dedicated time “being altogether joyful?” I’m reminded of our family tradition to spend a week each summer in Mexico, basically partying all week long. My parents rent each family unit a condo right on the water, in a gated community that has two pools, tennis courts and a grassy area for the kids to run and play. (No one is paying me to say this, but if you’re looking for an affordable getaway, can I just recommend Mexico?) Every morning my dad makes an abundant breakfast: pancakes with syrup and whipped cream, or breakfast burritos with 10 different toppings, or waffles with fresh peaches sliced on top. After breakfast each day, we play in the sun, slathering babies in sunscreen and hitting the pool or beach. In the afternoons, we walk from condo to condo, rounding up people for a game of Settlers of Catan or Rook, while we snack on lavish treats like mini Twix bars and fruit roll ups (can I get an amen for vacation snacks?). In the evenings, after a delicious dinner that we take turns cooking, we round everyone up for family activities, like Charades or “Grass Olympics” or kick ball or our now famous Talent Show. If I haven’t convinced you yet, let me just say, it’s a non-stop party. And throughout the whole week, we are reminded of God’s goodness and we consistently take time to thank him for his lavish gifts.

If your family doesn’t have a “Feast of Booths” in place yet, let this year be the year you start. It’s never too late to celebrate what God has done!

- 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, March 30, 2017

March 30

Deuteronomy 13:1-15:23; Luke 8:40-9:6; Psalm 71:1-24; Proverbs 12:5-7

On New Year’s Eve this past year, my husband and I were trying to kill a little time while waiting for the ball to drop in New York Times Square, starting the official count down to the new year. So we did something we almost never do – we channel surfed. We ended up on Trinity Broadcasting Network and started to watch some of the interviews and highlights that had been on the show over the past year. Despite some of our stereotypes or previous opinions of TBN, we ended up being so encouraged by the testimonies we heard. In the past, both my husband and I had sort of discounted the “health and wealth” gospel that seemed to be preached on TBN. Yet, when I read today’s Scripture (and really much of Scripture), I can’t help but think there is actually a lot of truth in the “health and wealth” gospel.

Three times in today’s reading, the Lord promises to “bless [us] in all the work of [our] hands” when we generously and consistently tithe our produce and income (Dt. 14:29; 15:6, 15:10).  When we trust the Lord and don’t hold our wealth to ourselves, but instead give to the needy and the poor, and make our offerings and sacrifices, the Lord will bless in our work and “everything we put our hands to” (15:10). Every command to give is followed with a promise of blessing. And we are to celebrate as we give. We celebrate because we remember and rejoice in how abundantly good God has been to us.

My parents are such an amazing model of this kind of abundant and generous giving, and then receiving the Lord’s blessing in return. I have been astounded at how much money they have given away to the Lord’s work, to the poor or marginalized, and to each of their kids over the years. Sometimes I turn to my siblings and say, “Where did they get all this money from?" It’s like the oil from the widow’s jar (from the time of Elijah) that never runs out no matter how much they keep pouring from it. I mean, my dad has been a pastor or in ministry all of my life. My mom, a stay-at-home mom for most of her life. How can they have so much money to give away? My answer is: generous and consistent tithing and giving. There is my example of the validity of “health and wealth” gospel.

Does that mean Jesus’ people will always have it good and easy? No. In Psalm 71: 20 we read, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” When we stay faithful to him and show our trust in him by giving our money to him, even when it doesn’t seem financially sound, he provides for us. He takes care of us. Our giving is a testimony of our trust and confidence in Him as provider, not our own hands.

In our Luke 8 reading, we see someone who has much trouble and bitterness in her life. But I love this bleeding woman’s sheer desperation for Jesus. She just needs a touch of his cloak. She is confident that he can heal. Her trust and faith and willingness to risk all for Jesus - they truly pay off.

We have the same choices today. Where is our trust? In our money? In our own hands and skills? In doctors to heal? No, I trust in Jesus. I trust him to provide for me when I give generously to his work and to others. I trust him to heal me and restore me when I am sick and in want. Our Father delights to bless those who chose to follow his ways and commands.

- Mary Matthias

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 29

Deuteronomy 11:1-12:32; Luke 8:22-39; Psalm 70:1-5; Proverbs 12:4

God offers so much.  We take him up on his offer or not.

Moses conveys this offer; so does Jesus.  Did you notice?

Fruitful land, abundant water, possession of the area, enjoyment of food, celebration.  Life will be so good in Israel that the people will “rejoice before the Lord [their] God in everything [they] put [their] hand to” (Dt. 12:18).  Moses elaborates goodness upon goodness upon goodness.

Jesus brings sanity, safety, dignity, community, and wholeness to the demon-possessed man in the region of Gerasenes.  He offers these same gifts to the people of the entire region.  

They ask him to leave.

Why would they decline such abundance?  Why would we?

What’s difficult for them – and us! –  about this offer from the Lord is the set of responsibilities that come with it.  It’s not a “free ice cream” coupon or a “get out of jail free” Monopoly card. In fact, it’s not free at all.  It’s lavish and it’s good and it’s unfathomable blessing, but we must agree to the terms.  It’s tremendous, incredible gain, but we must follow through.  “Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always” (Dt. 11:1).  At least five more times in this one chapter, Moses will entreat the people of God to love God and to obey him.  In the New Testament, we have seen that Jesus is always ready to heal and preach the good news.  Now this new area has the chance to see the kingdom of God at work!

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the Old Testament will describe the slow and painful failure of Israel to do just what Moses pleads.  The people in the Gerasenes region are “overcome with fear” (Lk. 8:37).  Both groups are unwilling to submit, to be dependent on God’s goodness and provision.  It’s costly and it’s uncertain.  They (like I, all too often) would rather muddle along, getting more and more broken, than choose to “carefully observe all these commands…to love the Lord their God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him” (Dt. 11:22).

On the other hand we have today’s psalm.  The writer knows his need for God – he desperately requires the Lord’s intervention.  Urgency underscores his words: “hasten,” “quickly,” “poor and needy,” “quickly” (again), “do not delay” (Ps. 70:1, 5).  He is utterly dependent; he knows that goodness can come from God alone.

Oh God who loves me like a father loves his children, I do not want to forfeit the grace that could be mine (Jonah 2:8).  You offer me so very much.  Teach me to walk in dependence before you, loving you and following your good plan for life.

- 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, March 28, 2017

March 28

Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22; Luke 8:4-21; Psalm 69:19-36; Proverbs 12:2-3

Three times in today's reading in Deuteronomy we see Moses going to "lay prostrate before the Lord" during which he "neither ate bread not drank water" (9:18, 25 and 10:10) for 40 days and 40 nights. Each time he was interceding on behalf of the Israelites. He was asking the Lord not to destroy Israel, to remember his covenant with them, to forgive their stubbornness and willfulness in their sin. Moses was appealing to God's mercy, that Israel would not get their due consequences, but that instead God would hear his plea and forgive. And God does. In at least two of the instances we see that "the Lord listened to [Moses] that time as well," and turned away from his wrath (9:19, 10:10).

40 days and 40 nights is a long time to fast from food and drink. I can barely make it one day, and when I do, I feel like it's a big accomplishment. What would feel severe or important enough to cause me to fast and pray for that long? Maybe the well-being of an entire nation? I don't know if I'm on that same spiritual level as Moses yet.

But there are times when I want to do more for the kingdom of God. There are days when I look around at our nation and the political happenings of our time and worry. Sometimes I feel like things are going from bad to worse. All around me the world is in decline with wars, destruction, and immorality abounding. Even now, the current political environment of our nation really makes me fear for the path America will be on over the next decade. 

Today's Scripture reminds me to fast and pray more over all these things. To not let fear and worry rule my heart. To remember that "to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it" (10:14). To circumcise my heart, to fear the Lord my God, to walk in his ways and serve him only (10:12). 

As I read, I am also reminded of family and friends who have time and time again turned away from the Lord, on whom I feel like the Lord should probably have given up by now. In years past, I have fasted and prayed on their behalf (never even close to 40 days at a time), but I grow weary in my seeking of the Lord for their sake. Their hearts just seem so hard towards God still. But recently I have sensed God asking me to do this again. I know that there is nothing I could directly say or do for these family and friends to bring them back to the Lord. It is going to take a work of his power and might and mercy. Something likely only brought about by prayer and fasting. So I will offer my meager petitions on their account. He is "the great, the mighty, the awesome God," and he can recall their hearts to him just as he did for Israel over and over and over again (10:17).

- 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, March 27, 2017

March 27

Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20; Luke 7:36-8:3; Psalm 69:1-18; Proverbs 12:1

In the ten years surrounding my birth, Title IX was passed, offering previously unknown opportunities for females to engage in athletics; Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed the first woman Supreme Court Justice; and Sally Ride went into space.  I grew up thinking that to be female was no different than to be male; anything my brothers could do or wanted to do, I felt that I could do as well - "as well" meaning both "also" and "as good as."

It's strange for me to realize how recent and Western a phenomenon this is.  A literal hundred years ago, I could not have voted.  In another country, I might not be educated enough to read my One Year Bible today or to write this post.  And certainly, in ancient times, my value would be largely determined by the three sons I have birthed and not the two daughters.

And yet, here is Jesus, engaging so tenderly with a woman!  My contemporary American self says, "Well, of course."  But that is no foregone conclusion.  Jesus lives in a patriarchal society, and he is a man of some status and influence.  He doesn't need to spend time on or with women, and yet he does.  As my mom wrote yesterday, Jesus' "heart went out" to a grieving widow (Lk. 7:13); today he figuratively embraces the sinful woman, giving her forgiveness (vs. 47) and sending her in peace (vs. 50).  "Peace" was the Hebrew idea of shalom, which meant more than quiet or lack of strife.  This shalom included the idea of wholeness and health and life.  With such did Jesus bless this woman; so deep is his care for her.

And, just a few verses later, we see the deeply personal and specific account of the women who follow and serve Jesus.  Mary, Joanna, and Susanna among others (Lk. 8:1-3).  These women matter!

In our future readings of Luke, we'll see another version of Jesus' healing of the bleeding woman and his raising to life of a dead girl (8:40-56).  We'll watch Jesus in the home of Martha, teaching her sister Mary (10:38-42).  We'll marvel, along with the people, as Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath (13:10-17).  We'll hear parables where a female is the protagonist, we'll meet the widow with her tithe again, and we'll encounter Jesus' death, burial and resurrection with women.

Amazing.  Jesus gives dignity and value - through the coin of time and attention - to a swath of people under-regarded by the culture of the time.  Over and over again, Jesus raises up women, seeing their utter and complete worth in God's eyes.  No wonder these women followed him!  What an unusual God they, and we, serve!

Thank you, Jesus.

- 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, March 26, 2017

March 26

Deuteronomy 5:1 – 6:25; Luke 7:11-35; Psalm 68:19-35; Proverbs 11:29-31

In today’s OT reading Moses is reviewing the Ten Commandments for the nation Israel. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell speech to his people—all the things he wants them to know and to remember so they can faithfully follow their God. I remember teaching through this book with our women at Ev Free Fullerton and understanding one of the foci of Deuteronomy is the simple word ‘obedience.’ Moses is imploring his people to obey their God.

The sixth commandment is “honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 5:16). The NT reading today seems to comment on that commandment. Except that, well, the son can’t honor his mother because he has died. He was an only son and in that time, around 30 A.D., and in that economy this meant he had been the sole financial support of his mother because she was a widow. Now that her son has died she is apparently destitute. And it is just about then that the large funeral procession encounters Jesus. Luke 5:13 says, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, 'Don’t cry.'”

I love every word of that sentence. The Lord Jesus saw her—he saw her misery and her sorrow and he understood her enormous loss. And his heart went out to her—so much tenderness and concern in those words. And he said, “Don’t cry.” Again, compassion and kindness in his words; he identifies with her loss.

Isn’t that comforting to you? It is to me. Jesus saw one of the most un-seeable people in the Bible—a widow. Widows ranked low among the low; they had no status or worth in their culture. So it says to me, that if Jesus saw her, He sees me, too. And He cares about my sorrows and my loss. And His heart goes out to me, not when I feel sorry for myself, but in times of genuine loss and pain—when my parents died, when my sister-in-law died, when my brother died, and when I see my children facing heartbreak. He offers me comfort.

And He sees you. And He offers you comfort, too.

But Jesus doesn’t stop with words of comfort and kindness for this dear widow. He touches the coffin and resurrects the dead man. “The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother” (Lk. 7:15). And the people rightly understand what Jesus has done, “God has come to help his people” (vs. 16b).

And now the young man can do what the sixth commandment says: he can honor (this word means to financially care for one's parents, especially in their old age) his widowed mother. We can only imagine the joy they experience.

This is our God, my friends—caring, loving, saving. “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death” (Ps. 68:2).

- 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, March 25, 2017

March 25

Deuteronomy 4:1-49; Luke 6:39-7:10; Psalm 68:1-18; Proverbs 11:28

A way out.  Even before there's a way in, God provides a way out.  We saw this in the beginning chapters of Genesis, we'll see it in the future with Solomon and the temple, and we see it again in today's reading.

It's almost P-Day, Promised Land Day.  The older generation has died out; the new nation of Israel has had some spectacular successes in recent military battles; they're camped on the edge of the land.  Moses delivers his final sermon.  The initial three chapters, along with the first half of chapter 4, are a history lesson, reminding the nation of the past forty years.  Then, starting in verse 23, Moses looks forward: "Be careful not to forget the covenant..."  Moses knows - Moses has seen, time and again - that the fledgling nation will be susceptible to idol-making.  They will be tempted to wander away from the one true God.  And Moses wants the people to understand what the consequences of such idolatry will be: "You will not live there long....The Lord will scatter you...only a few of you will survive..." (Dt. 4:26-27).  If the nation forgets their portion of the covenant, the logical consequences of death and exile will come into play.  Clearly, the best possible course would be to keep the covenant, avoiding the suffering entirely.  But God knows the human potential for self-destruction.  And so he provides a plan for redemption.

"If from there [that is, exile] you seek the Lord your God, you will find him....for the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers..." (Dt. 4:29, 31).  The way back to God is already in place, already set.  How good God is to provide an "opt-back-in" clause!  There is no sin so great that God cannot call his people back from it, no damage so severe that God cannot breach it, no self-implosion that God cannot restore.  Hallelujah!

As we move toward Easter, I'm glad for this reminder.  Even in the darkest hours of sin and despair (our own or our loved ones'), God has a path of healing open for us all.  For the nation of Israel, it was offered through repentance in exile.  For us, it is offered again and again through the work that Jesus did for us on the cross, saving us from our sin and selfishness.  And it is always available, always open, always ready.

Praise be to God!

- 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, March 24, 2017

March 24

Deuteronomy 2:1-3:29; Luke 6:12-38; Psalm 67:1-7; Proverbs 11:27

Four blessings matched by four woes. The greatest commandment of all time. The Golden Rule. What rich instruction God’s Word offers us today!

If you’ve been around the Bible a time or two, then you’re familiar with the “Sermon on the Mount.” In fact, we read Matthew’s version earlier this year in Matthew 5-7. Here, it’s a “Sermon on the Plain.” Did you notice that? Luke says that after being in the mountains, Jesus “came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…” (6:17). On this plain, Jesus gives the crowd four blessings and four woes.
  1. Blessed are the poor.
  2. Blessed are the hungry.
  3. Blessed are those who weep.
  4. Blessed are those who are persecuted (my summary of v. 22).
Probably every person in that crowd felt that all four of those descriptions applied to them. Many were downtrodden and oppressed by Roman rule, and those who were sick or lower class or female had been cast to the outskirts of society and marginalized. So Jesus’ words rang true for them and were extremely comforting, for each of these blessings came with a promise – that the kingdom of God was theirs, that they would be satisfied, that they would laugh and that their reward would be great in heaven. Definitely worth holding out for!

On the flip side, I’m willing to bet that for many of us, probably at least 3 out of the 4 of those attributes have never really been experienced.  (We’ve probably all had our share of weeping, but have we truly ever been hungry? Or poor? Or persecuted like it’s described here?)

So we’re forced to read on and face what is ahead in the four very pointed verses that follow:
  1. Woe to the rich.
  2. Woe to those who are full.
  3. Woe to those who laugh now.
  4. Woe to those who are liked by everyone (my summary of v. 26).
How many of those statements accurately describe me? Yikes. Here Jesus turns the tables. He takes four states of being which are universally accepted as desirable (then and now!) and shows the danger in them. I usually read these verses as a warning, like Jesus is about to torpedo me because my life is easy and good. But I love what Leon Morris says in his commentary: “It is an expression of regret and compassion, not a threat.” Jesus isn’t towering above me, waiting to drop the hammer; rather he’s showing his great compassion and concern over the things he knows stand in the way of my coming to him.  

I see this compassion even more clearly in the fact that Jesus follows these woes up in the next section with a sermon on love. He talks about loving those who are unlovely, those who have no visible merit, those who make it difficult for you to love them. I’m so thankful this section follows the four woes, because there are definitely times that I am unlovely and yet Jesus’ care for me is unconditional. Thank you, Jesus!

- 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, March 23, 2017

March 23

Numbers 36:1 – Deuteronomy 1:46; Luke 5:29 – 6:11; Psalm 66:1-20; Proverbs 11:24-26

You know that I have daughters. Yes, Sarah, Mary and Esther. Precious daughters. And I’ll just sneak in the fact that I have 9 granddaughters, too, ages 16 to 2. Pretty cute, every one of them. Well, I’d like to say more about my granddaughters but let’s press on.

So for a long time I have loved the story of Zelophehad’s intelligent and resourceful daughters. We read about them, and Sarah blogged about them last week on March 18. Their father, Zelophehad, dies before the nation reaches the Promised Land, leaving no sons to inherit his portion of the land. These five sisters go boldly to Moses with a request: to inherit the land that would have belonged to their father since there are no sons (Num. 27:3-4).  And the answer is, yes. Israelite women may inherit from their father if there are no sons.

But in today’s reading a problem arises—the tribe of Manasseh (which is the tribe of Zelophehad’s daughters) is concerned that it may lose the land these five women will inherit. If these daughters choose to marry outside of their tribe, they take their inherited land with them. And that would be bad for the tribe because they would lose some of the land they had been given as a whole tribe.

And so the Lord clarifies the five sisters’ inheritance in this way: they must marry within their own tribe so that the land remains in the territory of Manasseh and doesn’t pass from tribe to tribe (Num. 36:6).

I love this next part. These resourceful, independent women submit to this new ruling! They don’t argue or resist; they accept the limitations imposed on their inheritance. “So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses. Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah—married their cousins on their father’s side… and their inheritance remained in their father’s clan and tribe” (Num. 36:10-12).

You may not love their names, but you gotta love their attitudes! May we each be daughters of Zelophehad—strong enough to ask for what we think should be ours and meek enough to accept the limitations God imposes on our lives.

Then Psalm 66:10-12 (which is speaking of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt) will be true of us: “For you, O God, tested us; You refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our back. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but You brought us to a place of abundance” (emphasis mine).

- 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, March 22, 2017

March 22

Numbers 33:40-35:34; Luke 5:12-28; Psalm 65:1-13; Proverbs 11:23

Not too long ago, my husband showed me a Facebook post that said, "Four years ago..." and showed a picture of one of our children doing something.  That one image, with its accompanying words, brought back a host of memories.  Also not too long ago, a friend sent me a photo of us from college, when we were traveling abroad together.  Another onslaught of memories.

This is what we see in the end of the nation's travelogue in Numbers 33:40-49. (Mary wrote more about this yesterday.) "This is where you were. This is what you did.  This is how God moved and carried and provided."  It's a summary of all their years, a reminder of their past as they're on the brink of their future, which is sketched out in the following chapters.  "Remember how I led you," God says, "so that you will live long in the land that I'm giving you at last."

Part of that "living long" involves a tremendous respect for the value of life.  We see it on both sides of the coin - the value of the person who is killed, but also the value of the person who has done the killing, intentionally or not.  Life is precious.  My sister is at a funeral today, where the all-too-brief life of a young mom is remembered.  The Israelites have watched an entire generation die; they know how tenuous a thing life is. So do the people attending this woman's service.  God places enormous worth on human life.

We see Jesus value life, too, both physical and spiritual.  I was reminded of Esther's post on Sunday School flannel graphs (see here) as I read the story of the friends who let down the paralytic through the roof!  Both this man and the leper find physical relief and freedom - wholeness of life in the body.  Sins, too, are forgiven.

These examples of restoration are Jesus' kingdom breaking into the world.  Esther challenged us at the beginning of January (see here) to pray each day that God's will would be done on earth just like it is done in heaven.  These healings are such events, such moments.  So is the calling and response of Levi, who "got up, left everything and followed [Jesus]" (Lk. 5:28, just like the fishermen yesterday!).  Oh, that my son Levi - and I!! - would do the same.

Lord, you are a God of great provision.  You forgive (Ps. 65:3) our sins; you care for your creation (vs. 9-10); you "overflow with abundance" (vs. 11).  May our desires align with your will, ending only in good (Pr. 11:23).  For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  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, March 21, 2017

March 21

Numbers 32:1-33:39; Luke 4:31-5:11; Psalm 64:1-10; Proverbs 11:22

Today is one of my daughters’ birthday. Last night we had a party for her and we decorated with pictures of her at various stages of her life up to this point. We celebrated her life and all that God has done in it. We had visual and verbal reminders of God’s goodness to us in her life. The Israelites do much the same, recounting God’s goodness and provision to them. Many times throughout Scripture they remember God’s faithfulness in the past through stories and the retelling of their history. Today we see them creating a sort of map of all their travels thus far. Starting in Egypt, they make a recording of every stop they made, until they come to where they are now. I fully believe this act of recounting and remembering is key to our spiritual health today. It gives us perspective. It cultivates a heart of gratitude.  It reminds us that God has acted on our behalf, that he will continue to act on our behalf.

When I read through the New Testament reading for today, I am struck by how prevalent and powerful the healing acts of Jesus are. What would it have been like to witness those amazing healings? What would my response have been? And what about Peter and James and John? Their response to Jesus’ miracle of the huge catch of fish was that they “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed” (Lk. 5:11). I love the definitiveness of their actions. They knew they had met someone amazing, someone with authority, someone with power to change their lives. So they docked their boats, walked away from their entire livelihoods, and followed Jesus. Often times when I read this, I feel some small twinges of guilt. Have I pulled my boat up? Have I left everything? Do I follow him? I mean, I have young children, I can’t leave them. I have a mortgage, a husband, a steady job. Do I love these more than Jesus?  Where are you asking me to follow you, Lord? How does that look in my life?

When we ask those questions, I believe the Lord is so faithful to show us where we need to pull our boats up. He shows us just what it looks like for each of us to leave everything and follow him. It’s different for each of us just as it was different for people back in Jesus’ day. Jesus didn’t tell Simon’s mother-in-law to leave her house and family to follow him. She simply served him where she was. We don’t know what the man in Luke 4:35 did after the demon was cast out of him, but we do know that the “news about [Jesus] spread throughout the surrounding area” (Lk. 4:37). Maybe he went around recounting the amazing and miraculous work of God in his life right there in his hometown and in surrounding villages.

Lord, I do want to follow you, with all my heart. Show me what that means, how that looks. Help me to daily recount your past and present faithfulness in my life. As I do that, I know that I also help to spread to good news about you to those around me.

- 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, March 20, 2017

March 20

Numbers 30:1-31:54; Luke 4:1-30; Psalm 63:1-11; Proverbs 11:20-21

I love the Old Testament.  I always have.  I grant you that part of the reason is that I am a rule-maker and rule-follower, so the black-and-white nature of the Hebrew Scriptures appeals to me.  I appreciate the emphasis on holiness and uniqueness God placed on his people as representatives of himself.  I love the justice of God, but I also love the way his mercy is displayed over and over.  I love the Old Testament!

So does Jesus.

Look at Luke 4.  It's rife with Old Testament quotes and references.  Nearly every word out of Jesus' mouth in this chapter comes from the Word of God.  Here, at the very beginning of his ministry, when he could have taught his disciples to pray (as he does later in the Lord's Prayer), when he could have given directions for living life according to God's kingdom (as he does in the Sermon on the Mount), when he could have told stories that illustrated what life is like under God's rule (as he does in the parables) - instead he uses the words of Moses and Isaiah and refers to Israel's great prophets.

Consider the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  Each time Satan comes to him, Jesus answers from throughout Deuteronomy.  Even when the enemy uses Scripture against him, Jesus relies on the strength of God's Word to respond.  These private moments, which could only have been revealed by one of the two participants, show how deeply the Hebrew Scriptures were ingrained in Jesus.

When Jesus returns to his hometown, although it is not the beginning of his teaching ministry (this is referenced in Lk. 4:16), his first recorded sermon comes out of the prophets.  Jesus quotes from Isaiah, and then points to himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy.  And what good things this passage promised to God's people: good news, freedom, sight, an end to oppression, the year of the Lord's favor!  Such a beautiful picture of God making all things new, and Jesus proclaims he will bring that description into reality.  In fact, he already has done so: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk. 4:21).

It's not just in his private moments, though, or in his sermons in the synagogue that the Old Testament oozes out of Jesus.  It's in his on-going conversations, too.  Even when it riles up a community against him (see Lk. 4:28-29), Jesus uses the examples from Scripture to give extra validity to his actions.  If the nation of Israel would laud Elijah and Elisha, even though those men did precious miracles for men and women outside the chosen people, then how could the same nation be angry at Jesus for not displaying God's power in Nazareth?  Did not God have the prerogative to choose when and where he would act?  Rather than defending himself on the merit of his own decisions, Jesus calls as witnesses those great men of old.

Three different portions of the Old Testament - the law of Moses, the prophetic writings, and the historical (narrative) ministry of the prophets - are used by Jesus to protect, to reveal himself, and to justify.  Jesus knows the breadth of Scripture and applies it to diverse situations.  Clearly, Jesus sees the Old Testament as beautiful and useful.

It would seem I'm in good company.

- 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, March 19, 2017

March 19

Numbers 28:16 – 29:40; Luke 3:23-38; Psalm 62:1-12; Proverbs 11:18-19

I like holidays. They are times set aside for something special, different from the routine of life. Special foods and decorations, special customs reserved for each holiday—fireworks on July 4, Easter egg hunts on Easter, and turkey on Thanksgiving. A change of pace and the time to be with family and friends for the day—it’s refreshing.

I like knowing that the new nation of Israel has its own holidays and customs. In addition to the daily sacrifices, and monthly sacrifices for the new moon, there will be three holidays in the Jewish calendar. We have seen them before in Leviticus 23. And they are all listed in today’s readings.

The first one is Passover, a spring festival, which is followed by a Week of Unleavened Bread (Num. 28:16-17) and concludes with a sacred assembly, a day when no regular work is done (vs. 25).

Next, is the Feast of Weeks, celebrated in early summer when the first grain is harvested (Num. 28:26). This seems to have been a one-day festival.

The final festival is the most elaborate of the year. It begins with the Sounding of Trumpets for the New Year (Num. 29:1; The Bible Knowledge Commentary; The Kregel Pictorial Guide to the Bible), is followed by the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month (autumn), and ends with a whole week of celebrating—the Festival of Booths. More details about this festival are given in Leviticus 23. But here in Numbers, we learn that there is much sacrificing, culminating in seven bulls being offered.

In our Luke reading, we see Jesus’ earthly genealogy through Joseph. Though many of these names occur only here, we see the detailed records that were kept, going all the way back to Adam.

I believe the Lord wants us to see two things in today’s reading: one, that He initiates and endorses and provides time off for celebratory events; and two, that He is a God of detail and record-keeping. From this I learn that I can, and should, have holiday celebrations with family and friends—time to be refreshed with a change from the routine, and time to be encouraged by meeting with others to remember God’s goodness. And two, I learn that He is with me in the details of life. I need to pay the bills and write the payments in the checkbook ledger. I need to keep up with family records. Meticulous record-keeping is part of being made in the image of God. 

“Surely You will reward each person, according to what he has done,” says Psalm 62:12b. Thank you, Lord, for your reward of holidays and the benefits that record keeping brings, too.

- Nell Sunukjian

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March 18

Numbers 26:52-28:15; Luke 3:1-22; Psalm 61:1-8; Proverbs 11:16-17

Isn't today's reading chock-full of good things?  I love it when my OYB reading is like this: every portion of the reading feels meaningful and beautiful.  I know that all Scripture is God's word and is, therefore, useful to me, but I really enjoy it when my emotional response matches that absolute truth!

Did that section on Zelophehad's daughters surprise you?  Aren't they bold, to go before Moses and demand that he "give [them] property among [their] father's relatives" (Num. 27:4)?  And the Lord responds immediately in their favor, not merely granting this particular group of five women the right to own property, but establishing a precedent in Israel for the inheritance of women.  "If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter" (vs. 8).  I've been reading Regency novels recently (I love myself some Jane Austen!), and as recently as 200 years ago, males and property were strongly linked, pushing women to the periphery.  Yet here's God, through Moses, thousands of years ago, giving women the right to own land.  Amazing!

Isn't Moses so tender?  You'd think after all the frustrations and even the consequences of his own rashness that Moses would be glad to be done with his leadership.  Instead, Moses is worried about the people after he's gone, petitioning God for a new generation of leaders.  His concern that the nation have someone "to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in" (vs. 17) is very fatherly.  As a parent myself, I can only imagine how I'll feel upon my deathbed, concerned for the on-going welfare of my children.

The historicity of the Bible always catches my attention, too.  Luke's gospel is clearly grounded in a historical context.  We've seen it before, in the beginning of Ch. 2, and here again in Luke 3:1-2.  Luke gives political reference points as well as religious ones.  I wonder why this specificity is so important.

And isn't the practicality of John's preaching awesome?  I'm the daughter of a preacher, and I know the value and necessity of an application piece in any sermon.  John has an answer for each group listening to him: generosity to the poor; honest tax collection; rightful use of power, rather than abuse (see Lk. 3:11, 13, 14).  And isn't it interesting that Roman soldiers have followed John into the wilderness?  The message of "repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (vs. 3) appeals to everyone.  It's too beautiful to be limited.

Last in my crazy quilt observations today: the "kindhearted woman [who] gains respect" (Pr. 11:16).  The Hebrew word translated "kind-hearted" literally means "gracious."  I'm challenged by those words, and I'm curious about why this stellar woman gains respect and not love.  I'd love to be characterized by any of those words.

God's word is so full of good things.  I hope you experienced that today.

- Sarah Marsh

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

March 17

Numbers 26:1-51; Luke 2:36-52; Psalm 60:1-12; Proverbs 11:15

As I'm sure I've said before, I am a mother to three small children. Reading the account in Luke 2 about Jesus staying behind in temple is like reading my worst nightmare. Granted, my children are 5, 3 and 1 (and not 12, as Jesus is here) but I can still well imagine Mary and Joseph’s panic when they realized Jesus was not with them. Just picture the scene – they’ve come to Jerusalem from Nazareth to celebrate the Passover, which Luke says they did every year. When the celebration is over, they load up their belongings and other children and begin to head home. From the text, we know they are in a group, traveling together as everyone heads back to their various towns. Most likely, at the end of each day, the parents round up their children to serve dinner as a family and wind down the day. It is at this point that Mary and Joseph notice Jesus is not among the group. Can you imagine their panic? Here they’ve already traveled a whole day and Jesus is nowhere to be found. They must have been terrified! I would be beside myself, unable to think about anything other than finding that child.

Speaking of trying to find the child, this is one of the things that has troubled me about this passage. How did it take them a whole day to discover that Jesus was missing? As I often do when something is troubling from Scripture, I turned to my commentaries to see what help they could offer. Leon Morris suggests in his commentary as part of the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries that in a large caravan, it would have been quite easy for parents to not know exactly where their kids were. In fact, the women and smaller children often walked together and the men and older boys often walked together, so it’s possible Mary and Joseph each thought Jesus was with the other.

Well, that explains that. But then what about the “after three days” business in verse 46? If I had lost a child and was frantically searching, 3 days would seem an impossible amount of time. Again, commentaries can be helpful here as well. Morris says that the three days means total days since they first missed Jesus – one for the day they traveled out of Jerusalem, one for the day they traveled back and the third for the day they found him. Jerusalem wasn’t that large at this time, and Jesus wasn’t exactly hiding. So it was probably very easy to find him once they returned to the city.

But why does Jesus do it? We can tell from the text that Mary is upset (understandably so!) and asks Jesus, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (vs. 48). Why does Jesus stay behind without telling them? And why does he not show more remorse when they do finally find him?

Clearly, it’s a surprise to Jesus that there was an issue at all. He says, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (vs. 49). Perhaps it’s possible that Jesus, being so caught up in learning and listening to the teachers, did not even know his family had left? Perhaps he felt they should have known what he was about, given that he was now reaching Jewish manhood and was by this time certainly aware of his mission for humanity? We can see from his words, the very first recorded words of the Messiah, that Jesus was already aware of God and his relationship to him. He must have felt he was just on the brink of his true purpose on earth and that Mary and Joseph should understand this.

Regardless of the reason, Luke is careful to show us in the following verses that Jesus went with them as soon as they found him and “was submissive to them” (vs. 51). And we also see that Mary “treasured up all these things in her heart” (vs. 51). Perhaps she was starting to see more of the picture unfold.  Perhaps, instead of being angry with Jesus for causing her heartache, she began to see that he was not her son at all, but the Father’s, sent to heal the world.

- 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, March 16, 2017

March 16

Numbers 24:1-25:18; Luke 2:1-35; Psalm 59:1-17; Proverbs 11:14

I want to do something a little different today. If you read today’s reading, particularly Luke’s beautiful (and probably familiar) nativity account and were just longing for some reflections on it, then I am sorry to say I will be disappointing you.

But I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I wanted to talk about it before we got too much further into our year together. Today, I want to talk about Scripture – its preservation and transmission. I promise not to get into too many academic details, but I think this topic is important. We talk in this blog about the power of God’s word to change us and how necessary being in God’s word is, and I want to underscore that with this additional truth: Scripture is an ancient text that is well preserved and well proven.

Here’s a quick background on the Old Testament and how it came to be:

The very first form of writing begins with the Sumerians toward the end of the fourth millennium B.C. It was basically pictographic, meaning that it was all signs. From there, the Addakains took over, sometime in the middle of the third millennium B.C. They used signs as well but also adopted vowels and “open” and “closed” syllables, as well as ideograms (like how we use the $ today). The next major adopter of the written language was the Egyptians, who used hieroglyphics, though their symbols were different than the Sumerians a millennium before. The final stage in the history of writing is the development of the true alphabet – there is evidence of the Phoenicians being the ones to first adopt it, sometime around or even before the 10th century B.C. All of this predates Moses by at least 1,500 years, meaning that by the time Moses (and I use him as an example because he is the earliest writer of Scripture) began recording God’s word, it is well within reason to suppose that anyone reared in Pharaoh’s court would have known how to read and write, not only one’s native language (in Moses’ case, Hebrew) but also Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Still with me? I’m sort of excited about this topic (in the academic world, it’s called textual criticism), so my apologies if I’m geeking out too much on you guys. I’ll try to keep this brief. But I really do think it’s important to feel confident in our Scriptures and know they have been well preserved and carefully passed down!
In we go again…if we hold to the traditional view the Old Testament was produced from the time of Moses (1,400 B.C.) to Malachi (400 B.C.), that means that each book, as it was written, then had to be repeatedly copied by hand. And this hand copying continued until the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. Did you do the math? This means that the oldest parts of the OT were transmitted by hand copying for 3,000 years. These copies were painstakingly made, labored over and reviewed for errors. (Information gathered from Ellis Brotzman’s Old Testament Textual Criticism, a Practical Introduction.)
We actually have record of some of these ancient manuscripts. For centuries, our oldest manuscripts dated back to the 9th century (which is still pretty old!), but things changed drastically with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. Found in the caves around Qumran, Israel, these scrolls produced six to eight hundred manuscripts dating back to the 3rd and even 1st century AD. There is a ton that could be said about the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’ll just make one quick comment. On these scrolls, there are corrections in some of the margins or between the lines. Most scholars agree that these corrections indicate proofreading changes based on something else the scribe was reading, namely, an even older version of the Old Testament. Mind-blowing! (This paragraph synthesized from the work of Paul Wegner in his book, Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods and Results.)

Well, this is getting super long and I didn’t even get started on the preservation and proof of the New Testament! I guess I’ll save that for another day. But I hope you’re encouraged and that your confidence in God’s word and its preservation throughout the years has been boosted. God gave his words to human authors, thousands of years ago, and it’s been protected and passed down all this time, so we can know God, his love for us, and his plan for the future of humanity. Take heart as you read more in the coming months!

- 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, March 15, 2017

March 15

Numbers 22:21-23:30; Luke 1:57-80; Psalm 58:1-11; Proverbs 11:12-13

Isn't Zechariah's song beautiful?  Full of praise for the deliverance of God, represented by John's birth, and full of blessing prayed over that son, that he would preach salvation and forgiveness and "the tender mercy of our God" (Lk. 1:78).  I have prayed these verses for new moms and babies.

And, as an English major, I can't help but be caught by the image of "a slug melting away as it moves along" (Ps. 58:8).  I love the earthy, grounded reality of Scripture.  What a strong picture of the psalmist's frustration and desire for justice!

But Balaam's story most compels me this morning.  It's high drama, full of divine beings and talking animals, almost like children's fantasy.  This narrative made me ask myself several uncomfortably real questions, however.
  • What folly am I too blind to see in my life?  How am I persisting in my own will, my own way?
  • When have I chosen ridiculousness over righteousness?
  • Am I attentive to the Lord's efforts to deter me from my errors?  Am I missing his work to keep me from sin?
  • Balaam knows the Lord (he uses God's personal name [Num. 23:3]), but he either doesn't know God's will (which seems unlikely, because of God's speech to him in 21:12) or doesn't let it guide his life.  Do I substitute knowledge of the Lord for obedience, for life with him?
  • Where am I trying to get my own way against the express (and expressed) will of my God?
  • Where do I want to follow my feelings and wishes against his revealed Word?
Lord, you are a consistent, unchanging God (see 23:19).  Teach me what it means to listen for your voice and listen to your voice.  Give me joy in obedience.  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, March 14, 2017

March 14

Numbers 21:1-22:20; Luke 1:26-56; Psalm 57:1-11; Proverbs 11:9-11

Once again we read about the Israelites speaking out "against God and against Moses" (Num. 21:5).  It's not the first time they have complained about their circumstance, and I know it won't be the last.  If you're like me, you wish they would get over it already and learn that it doesn't do any good to grumble and complain against God, nor try to do things better their own way. It never works. Never. Yet once again, they complain, and so this time God sends snakes that bite people and kill them. So, once again, the Israelites realize their mistake and want God to fix it. God tells Moses to "make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived" (Num. 21:8). Wow, not the response I was expecting from God, right? Doesn't it seem like that has a huge potential to become an idol for them?  I admit, I am surprised God used an image crafted by man to be a point of salvation.  Sounds a lot like an idol.

Yet we know this isn't what's happening, at least at this point in time. Somehow, it's different.  In John 3:14, Jesus himself quotes this passage and says, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life."  Jesus likens himself to the bronze snake. He is the one who can save us when all else seems lost, we only need to look and believe in him.  Isn't our God a good God, who always provides a way out? He always provides salvation for those who are willing.

When we come to the New Testament in our reading today, it was fun to read about the announcement of this ultimate savior coming to earth. I absolutely love this passage in Luke with the angel talking to Mary and her response to him.  It's so beautiful. And what a contrast her response is compared to the Israelites'. There is no grumbling or complaining, or saying, "This isn't going to work, God." Her words are, "I am the Lord's servant...May it be to me as you have said" (Lk. 1:38). She believed the angel when he told her nothing was impossible with God. She believed God would do what he said he would do. She believed God's way was good. She rejoiced and magnified him. She shared the good news with others. What a beautiful response. I smile every time I read it.

What will I do? How will I respond to God with what is happening in my life? Will I be like the Israelites - grumbling, complaining, wishing God would do things differently? Or will I be like Mary - humble, grateful, ready to be his servant? Make no mistake: what God asked Mary to do was no easy task. It would change her entire life completely, and not necessarily for the better in the eyes of the world. Yet she accepts, rejoices, and hurries off to share the good news. 

My name is Mary, and I think this passage may have been influential in my parents’ minds as they came to name me (one of the other reasons I love this passage). I pray that I can live into that namesake and be a woman who says, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as [he] says." Yes, Lord, we say yes. Amen.

- 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, March 13, 2017

March 13

Numbers 19:1-20:29; Luke 1:1-25; Psalm 56:1-13; Proverbs 11:8

Don't you just feel for Moses?  Doesn't Numbers 20:1-12 feel like "the same song, second verse, same as the first"?  The Israelites complain about water; God provides.  Yup, we know this story.

Except we don't.  The Israelites are fussing about water, but it's a reasonable desire.  They have flocks and herds, and they've come to Kadesh which was "normally a well-watered oasis" (according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary).  They could - and did - expect the much-needed water.  But it's not here.  And, all of a sudden, death by plague or fire from heaven sounds better and better (see Num. 20:3), at least compared to the slow death of dehydration.

So God provides.  He doesn't chastise Israel for their complaint, nor does he decry their lack of faithfulness.  He doesn't indicate a desire to wipe out the nation and start over.  God's glory appears and he speaks to Moses.  He will give the essential water.

Then the story takes a hard turn.  Moses takes matters into his own hands.  He's got to be so frustrated by this group of people (he calls them "rebels" in vs. 12) and likely grieved by Miriam's death.  Rather than operate by God's instructions, Moses cuts to the chase and strikes the rock twice.  Water comes forth, but it appears to have come by Moses' action and agency, not God's.  Moses, like so many before him, has failed to take God's holiness seriously.  "You did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy" (Num. 20:12).  Such sad, sad words.  What a consequence for Moses' impetuosity.  

Zechariah, too, doesn't take the message from God as certain as God means it.  "How can I be sure of this?," he says in Luke 1:18. Gabriel offers his credentials (can you imagine challenging a heavenly being?), and declares a sentence for Zechariah's lack of faith.

A recent sermon hinged on Peter's words to Christ: "Where else do we have to go? (Jn. 6:68)"  "We have left everything to follow you" (Mk. 10:28). I was uncomfortably reminded of how I'm always looking for something else to help me achieve a good goal.  Something besides just God and his word.  Something other than speaking with honor at all times.  Something other than turning the other cheek.  I'm willing to leave almost everything to follow Jesus.  Everything except financial security.  Everything except my right to choose how I use my body.  Everything except what I look at on the computer.  

Moses relies on the spirit of God's provision.  Zechariah wants proof and certainty before he believes the angel.  In each case, these men are looking for somewhere else to go, some other way to do it, some iron-clad guarantee, rather than simple obedience and trust.

Guess I'm in good company!

- 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, March 12, 2017

March 12

Numbers 16:41 – 18:32; Mark 16:1-20; Psalm 55:1-23; Proverbs 11:7

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

“The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled again Moses and Aaron” (Num. 16:41). That is not what I expected to read today.

I thought the whole Israelite community would be in awe of the God who judged Korah, Dathan and Abiram, whom Moses had called “wicked men” (Num. 16:26). The nation had just witnessed a sinkhole swallow these wicked men, and I’m astonished that they don’t fear God!

I know people who don’t fear God. And I’m sure you know some, too. Even some people I love, even some people in my family say they don’t fear God. They live as if He doesn’t exist, as if He doesn’t judge sin. How dare they ignore God!

I feel angry with the Israelites who grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and I feel angry with people who defy the living God. Yet the examples of Moses and Aaron show that they want to save as many lives as they can when the Lord sends the plague.

“Aaron offered incense and made atonement for them, and he stood between the living and the dead and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died…” (vs. 47-49).

And then God once again validates Aaron’s ministry when his staff not only buds and blossoms, but it also bears almonds overnight while the staffs of the other 11 tribes stay dormant. And God Himself says about the grumbling of the Israelites, “I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you [Aaron and Moses] by the Israelites” (17:5b).

The Israelites' reaction is again not what I would have expected. “We will die! We are lost, we are all lost!” (vs. 12). Again, they misunderstand what God is doing. Yes, they will die if they act as priests instead of the Levite tribes, but this seems like an easy law to obey.

Proverbs says “When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his power comes to nothing” (11:7).

But the psalm offers us hope when those we love turn away from our God who loves them so much -  “Cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall” (Ps. 55:22). As we sorrow for their unbelief, we can cast our cares on the Lord, knowing He will sustain and encourage 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, March 11, 2017

March 11

Numbers 15:17-16:40; Mark 15:1-47; Psalm 54:1-7; Proverbs 11:5-6

Whew.  This is a heavy day.  We've got the destruction of the innocent families of guilty men on the Old Testament hand and the trial, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus in the New Testament reading.  Rough going.

I don't feel uncomfortable with the punishment God metes out to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  These men challenge the religious authority of Aaron (Korah's claim as a Levite disputes the priesthood of Aaron and his sons) and the political authority of Moses (Dathan and Abiram are from the tribe of Reuben, which might argue for leadership of the nation as the tribe of Jacob's oldest son).  They make a plot, they diligently recruit for it, and they speak against God's representatives in an insulting manner.  They get what was coming to them.  Nor do I balk about the fire from heaven that comes, once again, to devour those offering unauthorized incense (remember Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10?).  These 250 leaders, who should have held firm to God's established hierarchy, instead allow themselves to be persuaded into revolt.  They've seen God's fierce protection of his holiness and yet they come before him.

It's the "wives, children and little ones" of Numbers 16:27 that unsettle me.  Were they involved in the rebellion somehow?  Did their knowledge of it make them complicit?  Are they judged because of the patriarchy of the day?  What about the declaration of God that the children are not responsible for the sins of the father and vice versa?  Would the rebellion and judgment of the fathers have given their offspring a resentment that would result in future dissension?  Why does Moses say that "only one man sins" (vs. 22) as an attempt to stop God's destruction of the entire assembly?

These are the same questions I'll ask when I get to Joshua and Judges.  Why are the nations' "innocents" killed along with the men and warriors?  Why are the animals and possessions, even homes, destroyed?  And I've got to be honest - I don't have easy or tidy answers.  I try to hold in tension God's self-description, which Moses used to persuade God away from killing the nation just yesterday (see Num. 14:18), especially as it provides for the punishment to the third and fourth generation.  I try to remember that any other tribe or member of the nation could have spoken in defense of Moses and Aaron, but apparently did not.  I try to understand how intensely God views his holiness and that he was creating a people who would live distinctly.  I try to remind myself that rebellion (Korah, Dathan, Abiram) and wickedness (the Canaanite nations yet to be encountered) cannot go unchecked and must be weeded out completely.

But the brutality of it is still hard for me.

And so it was in our reading in Mark.  This reading puts Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to shame.  A farce of a trial, the rejection by the same crowd that cheered him only days earlier, the physical torture and psychological mockery of the soldiers, the long journey to the cross.  Awful, awful, awe-full.  There's such attention to detail in the lead-up events - the information about Barabbas, the color of the robe, the name of the place - and yet the moment of crucifixion is understated.  "And they crucified him" (Mk. 15:24).  So brief and small a statement for the climax of the situation.  I wonder: Do the gospel writers avoid detail about the crucifixion because it is simply too dreadful to describe?  Is it because the execution was so well-known that early readers wouldn't need any extra information?  Or is it to highlight all that came before that moment and all the suffering that Jesus still had ahead of him?

I have so many questions when I read Scripture.  Many of them will go unanswered.  I'm okay with that.  In fact, I don't want to be able to understand fully why God works the way he does.  If I could, that would reduce him to a human level.  (And let's be honest, how many of us look at our spouses or children or neighbors or friends or colleagues and say, "I really don't understand how he/she/they could do ______."  We cannot comprehend the humans closest to us.  Why expect that from God?)  Instead, I return to a passage we've yet to read, from Deuteronomy.  Shortly before his death, Moses will deliver one last sermon and, in it, he will tell the Israelites that "the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law" (Dt. 29:29).  The secret things - all my unanswered questions - are not my responsibility.  Rather, what do I do with the portions of Scripture that I do understand?  Do I forgive?  Do I give to God's church?  Do I use my tongue for growth and life?  Does my sexuality glorify the Lord?  Do I rejoice in evil?  While the unresolved (and, likely, unresolvable) questions are worth asking, these latter questions are where I live and wrestle and show that I follow Jesus.  Or, all too often, where I don't. 

- 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, March 10, 2017

March 10

Numbers 14:1-15:16; Mark 14:53-72; Psalm 53:1-6; Proverbs 11:4

Fourteen years ago, Eric and I were in the throes of the great question all parents-to-be face.  What do we name this child?  In our case, we needed to prepare two names; since we only found out the gender of our fifth child, every other baby has had a girl name and a boy name ready.  This first time, the girl name was easy - Hannah Joy (who joined our family third) - but the boy wasn't certain until the very end.  We waffled between Caleb Eric or Noah Sunukjian for the name of our eldest son.  We loved both names so much - how to choose?  (Especially since you're never guaranteed to have another chance to use a good name.)

Ultimately, we chose Caleb first, continuing the family precedent of using the father's name as the eldest son's middle name.  But today's reading was part of the reason 'Caleb" was even on the list all those years ago.  Caleb is one of the men chosen by Moses, through God, to search out the promised land.  He's a leader of the Israelites (see yesterday's reading, Num. 13:3), strong and bold and utterly convinced of God's power and faithfulness.  He stands firm against the nay-saying of the ten other spies, and "silence[s] the people before Moses" (Num. 13:30) when the nation falls into loud despair.  God grows angry with Israel's lack of trust and decrees judgment, both for the next forty years (on the people, see Num. 14:29-34) and in the immediate (on the faithless ten spies, see vs. 36-37).  Caleb, however, is singled out: "My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly" (vs. 24) and therefore he will live to enter the land of milk and honey.  What a commendation God speaks over Caleb, one that we've prayed over our son time and time again.  We want him to follow the footsteps of his namesake: to believe, to walk in faith, to hold firm, to have a heart devoted to Jesus, to live with abandon for him.

It's such a contrast with what we see from Peter in today's New Testament reading.  Peter doesn't just refuse to claim Jesus as an acquaintance.  He denies Jesus, once, twice, and then damns himself the third time: "He began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, 'I don't know this man you're talking about'" (Mk. 14:71).  

And his faithlessness reaps an immediate consequence, much like Caleb's faithfulness had an immediate reward.  Peter "broke down and wept" (vs. 72).  Overwhelmed with the anguish of seeing Jesus arrested, fearing for his own life, he must have been horrified to realize his own betrayal.  Peter did not stand firm; he did not speak in Jesus' defense; he failed.  While we know that redemption - and restoration - is ahead for Peter, his faithlessness is still here.  It's recorded for all believers of all time since.  We can't skip ahead to the meeting with Jesus on the beach unless we've spent time sitting in the desolation of Peter's dark night.  He's a human man and his failure, though it never defines him, stands.

All of our children bear names from the Old Testament; my brothers and sisters and I from throughout Scripture; a number of my nieces and nephews are from those pages, too.  Many of these men and women have mixed histories - Peter, David, Sarah, Noah, Levi, Naomi, Jonah.  Some have purer stories told - Caleb, Hannah, Jeremiah, Abigail. I'm grateful for both sets.  I'm grateful to see God's redemption of Peter and how the tribe of Levi overcame their bloody ancestor to serve in God's tabernacle.  But I'm grateful, too, for the examples of long-lived faithfulness, men and women who believed and acted rightly even when confronted with difficult situations.  The first group reminds me that I'm loved by God regardless and that he will work through even me; the latter group sets a goal before me.

- 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, March 9, 2017

March 9

Numbers 11:24-13:33; Mark 14:22-52; Psalm 52:1-9; Proverbs 11:1-3

When I first read today’s Scripture reading, I thought I was going to post about the never-ending grumbling that God’s people are always doing. We see it in the complaining about the manna and the desire for meat (which God grants with the quail, but then turns it sour in their mouths), the talking against Moses by Aaron and Miriam, and the statement from the spies that “we can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (Num. 13:31). Grumble, grumble, grumble.

And then we turn to the New Testament and we see God’s people leaving Jesus in his greatest hour of need. Three times he pleads with them to pray with him for the “spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mk. 14:38). What happens next? “Then everyone deserted him and fled” (vs. 50).

What I actually see in today’s reading, besides the grumbling and deserting, is the great heart of our God for us. Time and time again, his people say or imply with their actions that His ways are not right for them. He is offering them goodness, and they only see what is lacking. But that does not deter Him. He still continues to offer goodness and blessing.

We, too, doubt God’s heart towards us. We doubt his goodness. We cannot see the God who, time and time again, approaches us with good things: food, good spiritual leaders, a safe and plentiful land, a chance to walk with Jesus. Instead we, too, abandon God and search for our own ways to make life “good.” Surely following Jesus doesn’t have to look like that, we say to ourselves. 

How come it’s so easy for us to see this absurdity in Scripture, but so hard in our own lives?

In my life, I’m rarely asked to enter lands filled with giants, or stay with Jesus when an army comes to arrest him. My grumbling and doubt take a much subtler form. So often my grumbling is a matter of my mindset. Do I see a God who is constantly offering me good in my life? Or do I see a God who never quite gives me what I want? If I just had a little more money, more recognition, more tenderness and love from others, more certainty about the future…

Lord God, forgive me for my complaining and my mindset of scarcity. In truth, “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God….I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good” (Ps. 52: 8-9, emphasis mine).  May I spend today speaking words of praise and thanksgiving, seeing the abundance of your never-ending, undeterred love for me.

- 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.