Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 30

Judges 11:1-12:5; John 1:1-28; Psalm 101:1-8; Proverbs 14:13-14

Can you imagine God living next door to you?

I have longed all my life to have been the woman who lived next door to Mary and Joseph. What would it have been like to watch this amazing child Jesus grow up—to witness him playing in my yard and sharing toys with my children, to occasionally eat dinner with my family, then to see him grow up into a sinless adult who treated every person He met with respect and love? John tells us “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). Imagine that, God Himself, became a man and He really lived next door to someone!

The New Testament reading is filled with joy as John recounts the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

But the Old Testament contrasts. Jephthah is a man without a past and now, because of his foolish vow, he is a man without a future. (I give credit to my husband for this phrase.) Jephthah is not born from a legal marriage; his mother was a prostitute. And so his half-brothers drove him away from their home because he was not part of Gilead’s legal family. He has no past that he can connect to and be proud of; his half-brothers want nothing to do with him! That is, until they need him to fight against the Ammonites on their behalf.

Jephthah displays an accurate knowledge of Israelite history as he recounts to the Ammonite king why the disputed land belongs to Israel and not to the Ammonites (Judg. 11:14-27). The king of Ammon pays no attention to this letter, war ensues, and Jephthah makes an unneeded vow to the Lord, “If You give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house… will be the Lord’s” (vs. 30-31).

To his horror, it is his only child who comes out to greet him after his victory (vs. 34-35). But, honestly, who did he think might come out the front door to greet him after battle? He made a foolish vow—the Lord was already committed to Israel retaining the land He had promised them.

Biblical scholars are divided on what Jephthah does to his daughter. Some believe that he literally sacrifices her on an altar because of the words “burnt offering” in verse 31. That is hard for me to believe because there is no other evidence in Scripture of Israel practicing human sacrifice and God had absolutely forbidden it. Yet the common Hebrew word for "burnt offering" is the one used here.

Nevertheless, I think that instead Jephthah confines her to a life of no marriage—“she wept because she would never marry” (v. 37) and would have no children which in Israel would perhaps have been worse than death. And because of this Jephthah will have no progeny. Something he would have wanted most in the world—grandchildren to carry on his name and to care for him in his old age. A man with no past and no future.

Well, as it turns out Jephthah doesn’t have an old age. He dies six years after this (see 12:7), perhaps of a broken heart. His lineage and his name cease forever.

But as we read on in John we will find that another Sacrifice has come—One who would literally give His life as a sacrifice on a cross, not an altar. He would die so we would live.

Jesus will die, but His life and lineage are forever, eternal.

- 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, April 29, 2017

April 29

Judges 9:22-10:18; Luke 24:13-53; Psalm 100:1-5; Proverbs 14:11-12

Our pastor recently preached on this portion of Luke's gospel, and I'm going to shamelessly crib from him.  (Thanks, Mike!)  It was such a good sermon and made me think about the encounters Jesus has with his disciples in a new way.

I've heard preaching about the disciples on the road to Emmaus; I've known women who did an "Emmaus walk" as a kind of stay-at-home retreat/spiritual pilgrimage; and I've encountered articles that describe that walk as an archetype of the journey every Christian walks.  Those are all valuable applications of this text, but most of them focus on the disciples and not on the risen Christ.  Jesus is the central player in this narrative and, combined with the subsequent interaction with the Eleven and others, shows us what Scripture is really all about.

Basically, an encounter with the risen Jesus is so significant that it re-writes the disciples' understanding of the whole of Scripture.  Twice in this brief passage, we see Jesus re-framing the Torah, revealing what was truly meant and how he himself is the fulfillment of those ancient words.  And we also see the effect it has on his hearers.  Jesus shows how all of Scripture - and not just the red-letter verses - are about him.

"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Lk. 24:27).  All of Scripture points to Jesus.  All of the books that we've already read - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy - all help us understand the Messiah.  Those books that are ahead of us - Isaiah and Jonah and Malachi and all the others - all will help us understand the Messiah, too.  It all "concerns" itself with Jesus!  And just verses later: "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" (vs. 44).  Wow!  Even the Psalms show us who Jesus is!  And when we read Scripture in this way - when Jesus "open[s] [our] minds so [we can] understand the Scriptures" (vs. 45) - then we can say, like the two walking to Emmaus, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he...opened the Scriptures to us?" (vs. 32)

What does this mean to me, to us?  I've encountered the risen Savior.  Do I let Jesus be who is revealed?  Do I submit myself to this fuller picture of who God is?  How does that change the way I look at God's Word?  Does it gain preeminence over every other writing, or do I give it the same weight and significance that any other moral text or teaching might have?  Do I let it affect and infect the way that I live, following the hard and narrow road of obedience, or do my desires and my specific circumstances influence my behavior?  Do I forgive and turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute me, or do I hold grudges and spread my side of the story and nurture resentment?  Do I live like the Jesus shown in Scripture, or do I live like myself?

Oh, how I want to re-read all of the Bible in the light of who Jesus is and what he did!  I want my heart to burn while God's Spirit opens the Scripture to me!  I'm a step ahead of the disciples in one sense - I have the New Testament to remind me continually of who Jesus is.  I know the end of the story even when I'm reading (and shaking my head) in Judges.  But I need to remind myself to let that knowledge change my thinking, change my understanding, change everything I ever thought I knew.  And, of course, everything I think I know now, too.

- 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, April 28, 2017

April 28

Judges 8:18-9:21; Luke 23:44-24:12; Psalm 99:1-9; Proverbs 14:9-10

I’ve been behind in my One Year Bible. Have you been keeping up? It’s hard, isn’t it, to read it every day? And if you’re like me, and you let a few days go by, all of a sudden it’s a big job to get back on track! But I’m finally there. There is a tendency when I’m behind to rush through the readings, just to get caught up. I had to fight that, especially today.  In our New Testament reading, we’re reading this account for the third time already this year, so it’s especially tempting to just blaze right through.

But then we miss powerful words like these: “And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Lk. 24:2-3). In just a few words, Luke announces the resurrection of Jesus. Did you catch that as you read today? Or were you in a hurry, like me, and almost missed what is being announced in those simple, few words – Jesus is alive! Jesus rose from the grave!! Death could not hold him!!! Hallelujah!

This is mind-blowing, not just for us but also for those women who first discovered it. Luke says they were “perplexed” (vs. 4). I’ll say! Even though Jesus tried to prepare them that he would suffer, be crucified and then rise on the third day, it clearly didn’t sink in with them. And I’m sure it wouldn’t have with me either. Nothing had every been seen or heard like that before (or since!), where someone predicted his own death and resurrection and it happened. So these women are confused and scared and, as they rush back to tell the Eleven what has happened, they are also mystified. Peter goes himself to look and he comes home “marveling” (vs. 12).

Do we still marvel at the resurrection of Jesus? This past Easter season, were you struck afresh by what Jesus did for you on the cross? Did you stand back in awe of the price he paid so you could be free? Did you wonder at the sorrow and beauty of the cross? If you didn’t have time to properly dwell in the truth and victory and power of the resurrection, do it today. Do it now. Stop reading this and meet with Jesus (and then come back later and finish it up). Jesus went to the cross to save us from our sins and to give us life, both now and eternally. And not some kind of half-life that we buckle down and just get through – life abundant, full of his grace and mercy and joy. A life where we rejoice in his resurrection daily, gratefully embracing the freedom he won for us.

“They went to tomb and it was empty” – praise 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, April 27, 2017

April 27

Judges 7:1–8:17; Luke 23:13-43; Psalms 97:1–98:9; Proverbs 14:7-8

Today’s reading about Gideon, interesting though it is with men lapping water (Judg. 7:5-6) and a dream about a loaf of bread demolishing a tent (vs. 13), pales in comparison to the reading about Jesus and the cross. In Luke 23, Jesus has been tried by Pilate who reluctantly acquiesces to the rant of the crowd and surrenders Jesus to the bloodthirsty crowd who desire to crucify Him (Lk. 23:23-24).

Women are among those who are following Jesus. They draw His attention by their wailing and mourning. He turns to speak to them, tenderly calling them, “Daughters of Jerusalem.” He says they should not mourn for Him but reserve their pain and sadness for themselves.  A dreadful time is coming when the barren woman, previously scorned in Israel, will be envied because she has no children to lose and therefore doesn’t experience the sorrow of loss as the mothers do when their children die (vs. 29-30).

He goes on to say in verse 31 that if when He is present with them (i.e. “the tree is green”) and they are set on crucifying Him, how much worse the situation will be when He is not present (i.e. “when it is dry”). Jesus is speaking prophetically of the judgment that will come on the nation of Israel when Jerusalem falls to Titus in 70 A.D.

This passage is one of many in Luke where he notes the role of women in Jesus’ ministry. I’m always interested when women appear in the Bible. I teach a class at Talbot School of Theology on Biblical Women. Perhaps you, too, noticed references to women that emerged as we read through Luke—1:39-56; 2:36-38; 7:11-15; 8:1-3, and more.

Jesus is crucified at the place call the Skull (vs. 33) along with two thieves. Even as He is dying Jesus speaks words of forgiveness, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (vs. 34). The thief on the cross says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus, faithful to His mission right up to His death, says, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (vs. 42-43).

Jesus is doing what our psalm writer says in Psalm 98:1: “…The Lord… his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” His death on the cross accomplished our salvation.

Maybe there is a connection with Gideon. Gideon’s story is one of reversals, God taking the weak and using them as if they were strong, using a loaf of bread to crush a tent, using a handful of men against an army of over one hundred thousand soldiers. Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate story of reversal—He died that we might live, He who made the universe submitted Himself to those who scorned His might and power. He died, but that’s tomorrow reading.

“Thank you, Lord, for the power of reversals. We think we can count on the strong, but you work through the weak. And through your own ‘weakness’ which you took on Yourself at the cross, we become strong through the salvation You give 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. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26

Judges 6:1-40; Luke 22:54-23:12; Psalm 95:1-96:13; Proverbs 14:5-6

This is the third time we've read the account of Jesus' trial.  Really, though, we're looking at trials in the plural.  Matthew and Mark both tell us of the trial before the high priest and the trial before Pilate.  Luke, however, adds the trial before Herod.  I was struck as I read today by how much strain Jesus had to endure before he ever got to the cross.  Questioning by his own religious leaders, the examination and exoneration by Pilate, and now the intrusive curiosity and mockery of Herod.  (I see both the Pharisees and Herod in our readings from Proverbs today, by the way.)  Jesus "gave him no answer" (Lk. 23:9), though the high priest and associates spoke "vehemently" (vs. 10) against him.  So much strength.  So much suffering.

It's hard then for me to transition to the jubilation of our psalms. "Shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation" (Ps. 95:1); "declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples" (96:3).  I've just walked with Jesus through tremendous psychological distress; it's difficult to feel this kind of praise.  

But as I think about it more, I can reconcile these two extremes.  We're actually seeing the salvation, the marvelous deeds, mentioned in the psalms hundreds of years earlier.  This willing sacrifice on the part of Jesus is what allows us to "come before him with thanksgiving" (95:2), what proves that he "will judge the world in righteousness" (96:13).  Surely such great love, demonstrated by the events leading up to and including the cross, shows that we can trust him.  Surely such mercy calls forth our praise.

"Great King above all gods" (95:3), today as we read of your sacrifice, we praise you for your love.  We cannot help but thank you for the mercy you extend to us over and over.  "[You are] our God, and we are the people of [your] pasture, the flock under [your] care" (95:7).  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, April 25, 2017

April 25

Judges 4:1-5:31; Luke 22:35-53; Psalm 94:1-23; Proverbs 14:3-4

When I was in college some years ago, I wrote a song to Judges 5:27. It was a popular thing to do, and still is, putting Scripture to music. Well, I am no great musician and my song is no great song. If you doubt my honesty, reread Judges 5:27. Yes, it's an odd verse to make into a song. I thought I was pretty funny at the time, and my sisters still roll their eyes at me when I talk about it or try to sing it again. I set the verse to all minor chords and tried to make it a dark, foreboding-sounding song to match the story in which it's found.

I do actually love this story found in Judges 4-5 because for the first time in Scripture, and one of the few times, we have women as the primary heroes of the story. Most of the time, we see women playing supporting roles. But here the women get the limelight and the men are more of the background players.

First, we have Deborah, "a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, [who] was leading Israel at that time" (Judg. 4:4, emphasis mine). Wow, this is definitely the first (and I'm pretty sure only) time we see a women identified as leading Israel. She is confident, strong, and discerning; all come to seek her wisdom. She is sure of who God is and that he will do what he says he is going to do. Her actions show her belief. 

Barak is in the supporting role. He's the commander of 10,000 men (that's a lot of men), but afraid to go into battle without this one woman. And then comes along the other man in this story, Sisera. His opposing army consists of "900 iron chariots and all the men to go with him" (vs. 14). So far, this has all the makings of an epic battle. Can't you just picture the scene the movie producers could make with this line up?

Yet the Lord does not deliver the Israelites on the battle field in the armies of men, but rather in the lowly tent of a woman. We meet our second heroine, Jael, known only as the "wife of Heber the Kenite" (vs. 17). She kills this great warrior through cunning, wisdom, courage, and pure gruesome force. It's quite dramatic and almost too bloody to write about. We don't find this story in any of our Sunday School books. 

So, what do we do with this story (besides make silly songs about it in college)? Firstly, I think we can take encouragement that God is always at work and is going to accomplish his purposes, no matter how unusual the way may be. We can be like Deborah, ready to join him, or we can be like Barak, who doubts and holds back, and thus misses an opportunity to be great for the name of the Almighty God. Secondly (for those of us who are female), we can rejoice and embrace being women who are confident, strong, and wise in our faith. We can be bold and speak up and do mighty actions in the name of Christ. We don't need to leave all the leading roles to the men. Finally, we also see that God can use anyone who is willing. Even ordinary, everyday tent-dwelling women.

Lord Jesus, may I be a woman of strong, confident, powerful faith and action like Deborah and Jael. Use me as you will to accomplish your kingdom purposes.

- 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, April 24, 2017

April 24

Judges 2:10-3:31; Luke 22:14-34; Psalm 92:1-93:5; Proverbs 14:1-2

Normally, as I read my One Year Bible, I interact with the text in an on-going journal, noting connections or asking questions or praying Scripture.  When it's my day to post, I read a bit differently: I do the above, but I also think about what would make for a post.  Sometimes the off-hand questions about matching accounts or the personal prayers wouldn't be quite right for an entire blog entry!

Nothing jumped out at me today in the Old Testament (other than the fact that Israel must have failed spectacularly at the whole "teach your children" thing - see Judg. 2:10).  Nothing caught my attention besides the symbolic beauty of Communion in our New Testament reading, and the only bit of the psalms that really made me think was Psalm 92:12-15, which I prayed for our parents this morning (actually, I prayed that it would continue to be true in our parents' lives, since it's patently apparent already!).

And then, BAM!  Proverbs 14:1: "A wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down" (emphasis mine).  Oh, boy.

I remember the story of the wise builder, building on a foundation of stone, and the foolish builder who built on sand.  I remember the admonition "unless the Lord builds the house, [then] the builders labor in vain" (Ps. 127:1)  And I remember the parable in Luke where the wealthy man tears down his storehouses to build bigger and better storage for his crops, only to die that very night.  

I'm home full-time with our five children.  I've been an occupational homemaker for nearly fourteen years now, and I've got three more years before our youngest is in school full-time.  I've done diapers and dusting and hundreds of meals.  Additionally, Eric and I bought what the real-estate market euphemistically calls a fixer-upper (we'd call it "stripped before it got repossessed by the bank"). We've done two additions, a kitchen renovation, and three patio conversions.  We've tiled and demo-ed and painted and sewed and refinished and scraped ceilings.  You name it, we've probably done it. (Not electrical or plumbing, though - we hire those out!)  Lots and lots and LOTS of house-building, both in the physical and metaphorical sense, both structure and infrastructure.  House and family.

But I'm forced to ask at this moment whether I'm a wise woman or a foolish woman.  How often do I slap something together on a foundation of sand?  How often do I identify and labor over a "really-important" task that the Lord hasn't set before me or, worse, isn't in at all?  How often do I focus on the future and my grandiose plans only to forget the present?  Foolish building.  How often do I use my words to lacerate a child, sinner though he or she is?  How often do I tend to my own desires rather than live out the sacrificial love of Christ?  How often do I want to be the greatest, rather than choose to be the one who serves (see Lk. 22:27)?  Foolish builder indeed.

I don't want to be that foolish woman, tearing my house apart bit by bit.  I want to be the faithful laborer, working diligently, prepared like Jesus described in Luke 21.  I want to have a strong, sturdy home (again, physically and metaphorically) marked by safety and certainty.

To some extent, that's what my on-going investment in Scripture pushes me toward.  I'm continually being shaped by God's word.  Keeping the house-building imagery alive, daily time in the Bible sands away my rough edges, chiseling me into a more useful and more beautiful structure.  But oh!  How many splinters and gouges and cracks still need work!  It helps when I surround myself with godly women - like my mom and sisters, like the women of my small group - who aren't afraid to show me when I'm tearing down my house with my own hands.  It helps when I put myself under the teachings at church.  And Eric, of course, as my partner in all my house-building, is a tremendous resource and sanctifying force.

Your house is different than mine.  You may be male, or single, with grown children, or even living at home yourself still.  Regardless, you are a builder.  What you craft today, either wisely or foolishly, becomes part of your house's history.  

Jesus, "establish the work of our hands for us" (Ps. 90:17) as we build like wise builders.  Keep us from tearing our houses down with our own hands.  Amen.

- Sarah Marsh

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23

Judges 1:1-2:9; Luke 21:29-22:13; Psalms 90:1-91:16; Proverbs 13:24-25

When each of our daughters married, we were so happy to give them a beautiful wedding and a good start on their married life. And later, we were able to help several of our children buy a home. Parents like to provide good gifts for their children. Today we’ll see a dad giving his daughter a good wedding gift, too.

As we begin the book of Judges, we need realize that it is a difficult book. It has been described as being a book of cycles, with each cycle a little worse than the one preceding it, so that by the end of the book we see the Israelites in great need of God’s provision and protection, yet resisting His ways and disobeying Him again and again. The tribes are mostly acting independently from the other tribes and by the time we come to I & II Samuel next month, we will almost understand why Israel wants a king to organize them and defend them.

In today’s reading, Caleb (of the tribe of Judah) is leading the charge for his tribe to take the territory allotted to them. Caleb, the oldest man in the nation, has promised his daughter Acsah’s hand in marriage to any man who can take the territory of Kiriath Sepher. Othniel is motivated by this offer, and he succeeds and marries Acsah.

And Caleb gives her a wedding gift—land in the Negev. The only trouble with this gift is that it is desert land—it doesn’t have a water source. Acsah, however, is resourceful. She knows they need a water source to properly use their land and so she urges her husband to ask her father for more land, adjacent land that has springs of water.

He must have said, “He’s your dad; you ask him,” for Judges 1:14-15 records that she rode her donkey to see her father and to ask him for more land with springs of water. And her dad gave her both upper and lower springs, a generous gift to help his daughter and her husband prosper.

Caleb is an example of God’s goodness and generosity to us—He not only gives us land as our inheritance, but He gives us springs of water. He is an unstinting and good God.

I’m indebted to my husband, Don Sunukjian, for these thoughts about Caleb and Acsah. Don is a man who, like Caleb and our God, delights in being generous with his children.

- 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, April 22, 2017

April 22

Joshua 24:1-33; Luke 21:1-28; Psalm 89:38-52; Proverbs 13:20-23

No matter how many times I read the story of the poor widow, I am blown away. I love this story in Luke 21, told in just 4 simple verses. But those 4 verses reveal so much about the rich, the poor and how Jesus feels about giving. Let’s break it down.

Jesus is in the temple teaching those who have gathered around him and he observes two groups of people giving of their finances to the work of God. The first group is “rich” – we aren’t told more than that about them, simply that they give out of their abundance. The second is a poor widow, who puts in “two small copper coins” (Lk. 21:2). The Greek word used here is “lepta” – a lepton was a Jewish bronze or copper coin worth about 1/128 of a typical day’s wage - and she gives two. If a typical day’s wage today is about $200, we’re talking about putting $3.13 in the offering plate. It’s a very small amount of money. But Jesus is more impressed with what she gave than all the others. Neither group appears overly showy in their giving, nor overly humble. We’re just told that they approach the offering box and give. And yet Jesus draws everyone’s attention to the poor widow because “she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (vs. 4). Jesus says she put in the most, because what she gave actually cost her. The rich may have given generously, but they didn’t feel it. The poor widow gave all the money she had, giving up resources that might have instead paid for dinner and clothing and shelter. She gave out of poverty, all that she had.

I come from a church background. If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ve probably picked up that my dad was a pastor for most of my growing up years. To say we are a church family is an understatement; and if you are a church family, you give to God’s work. This has always been clear in my mind, even as a young child. So I’ve always given to the churches I’ve attended. In college, even when I wasn’t making much, I gave on a consistent basis. As I graduated from college and went into seminary, where I was paying my way through and working as I could, I still gave. Then as I got my first real job, I was so excited to be able to give more. As I transitioned jobs and got raises, I was able to give more. I truly do love giving to God’s work and feel very cheerful now when I see that automatic deduction come out of our checking account.

But I can say, with absolute certainty, that I have never given like this woman. I am the rich man in this story. I give, but it doesn’t really cost me anything. Sure, if we didn’t give we could go out to eat more, or even buy a second car so my husband didn’t have to ride his bike to work. But that’s not at all a comparison to what this woman gave. She gave out of her poverty. Truthfully, I’ve never really been poor. Even in college and grad school, when money was tight, I never worried about my next meal. So I’ve never had the opportunity to give out of my poverty. But I’ve had the opportunity to be so generous that it hurt and I can’t say that I’ve ever really done that.

We know from other places in Scripture that how we spend our money reflects what is really going on in our hearts. I want to be open-handed with my money; I want my money to go to God’s work first, knowing that he will provide for me and my family. I want to be so trusting of his goodness and provision that I’m able to give like this widow. And I have a long way to go. But every step we take is a good one, one in which Jesus is pleased as we loosen our hold on our money, slowly but surely.

- 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, April 21, 2017

April 21

Joshua 22:21-23:16; Luke 20:27-47; Psalm 89:14-37; Proverbs 13:17-19

I wrote two weeks ago about Moses’ parting speech and what an impact it made (see post here). He passed the torch off to Joshua, who then began his long journey as the leader of the Israelites. And here we are, many years later, and now it’s Joshua who is at the end of his life and leadership. He’s led the people through the conquering of Canaan – for 7 years they fought and for 7 years they settled in the land. Now, “a long time afterward, when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years,” (Josh. 23:1), he has some final words for the people he has led so faithfully. Can you imagine the death and destruction he’s seen? And the hope and promise he’s experienced? Truly amazing. Through it all, he never loses sight of God’s plan and what the Israelites should do in response. Look at what he says:

“Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right or to the left, that you may not mix with these nations…but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day” (vs. 6-8).

These are timeless words, aren’t they? We still need to be very strong today. We still need to do all that God asks of us, not being led astray by various temptations. And we still need to be careful how much we mix with the nations around us. It’s a thin line we walk, isn’t it? To be in this world but not of it. We are called to be with our neighbors, not to withdraw and set up our own communities, but we also have to take care not to mesh so much that we lose our saltiness and end up being no different than our non-believing friends. As Joshua said all those years ago, we need to cling to the LORD.

How are you doing with that these days? Is your life distinct, marked by the Spirit of God living in you? It’s good to take stock and ask ourselves some basic questions. Do our co-workers know we love Jesus and are striving to follow him? Do our neighbors see us being generous in a way that can only be explained as radical love? Do our non-believing family members know how important and life-changing our relationship with Jesus is?

Help us, Lord, to be set apart for you while we love the ones you have put in our lives. Amen.

- Esther McCurry

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 20

Joshua 21:1-22:20; Luke 20:1-26; Psalm 89:1-13; Proverbs 13:15-16

I LOVE Joshua 22.  It gives us a picture of the kind of faithful, passionate living the nation of Israel was designed to experience - fierce, wise, distinctly different, following God at any cost.

Start with me in verse 10.  The two-and-a-half tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh have done their due diligence on the east side of the Jordan.  They've helped their brothers defeat the inhabitants of the Promised Land; they've gone to war and fought and killed to establish the inheritance of the other eight-and-a-half tribes (Levi's tribe didn't inherit land).  And now they get to go home, but the first thing they do is to build "an imposing altar" (Josh. 22:10) next to the river.  The rest of the nation hears about it and assembles "to go to war against them" (vs. 12).  What?  Why?  What's the big deal?  Isn't there already an altar by the Jordan to commemorate the initial crossing (see Josh. 4:8-9)?  What's one more?

It is a big deal.  The two-and-a-half tribes appear to be disobeying God's explicit command that he be worshiped only in "the place the Lord would choose as a dwelling for his name" (Dt. 12:8-14, among others).  Building this altar could be the start of idol worship by the western tribes.  God has warned against this kind of treacherous slide into false worship, commanding his people to root out any flickers of idolatry with ruthlessness (see Dt. 13:6-9 for an example).  God takes it seriously and wants his people to do so as well.

AND THEY DO.  Woo-hoo!  Way to go, Israel!  Even after months and months of warfare and bloodshed and death, even though all the nation wants is to settle down into their inheritance, they rally as one ("the whole assembly" [Josh. 22:12]) to defend the holiness and honor of Yahweh.  They are willing to go against their brothers.  They are willing to continue fighting.  They respond, immediately, in the prescribed manner.

But they don't just rush in willy-nilly and start killing their fellow Israelites.  Instead, they send a deputation ahead, comprised of priests and leaders, to ask the two-and-a-half tribes about the altar.  The eastern tribes want to make sure that they've got the facts straight: "How could you break faith?  How could you turn away?  Don't you remember our nation's history?  Are you now turning away from the Lord?" (See vs. 15-18.)  They remind the western tribes of the consequences of idolatry and plead with them to stay faithful.  They even - and this is so beautiful - offer to share their own inheritance on the other side of the Jordan (vs. 19).  Anything to keep their brothers from sin and destruction!

So, so great!  The larger part of the nation, though sick of war, is ready to fight for the purity of God's worship, but first seeks to understand and be certain.  As we'll see in the coming weeks of reading the rest of Joshua and then Judges, Israel will fail again and again.  But here - for this shining moment - they get it right.  And (spoiler alert) they get it right on both sides of the Jordan.  Awesome!

- 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. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April 19

Joshua 19:1-20:9; Luke 19:28-48; Psalm 88:1-18; Proverbs 13:12-14

God's word is full of real situations and real people, real places and real emotions.

For example, I love the unpolished aspects of the lot divisions: "east toward the sunrise" (Josh. 19:12); "passing Cabul on the left" (vs. 27); "the large tree in Zaanannim" (vs. 33).  It reminds me of the way I need directions given to me: "Turn at the street just past the little donut store and drive up and then down that hill."  Earthy and real, and not neat and tidy.

On a more sober note, I was struck by the emotional cost of the Passion Week.  In today's reading alone, there's the jubilant celebration of Palm Sunday, a minor conflict with the Pharisees, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, and the cleansing of the temple.  Joy, tension, sorrow, anger - so many, so varied feelings.  I feel emotionally depleted merely reading it!  How exhausted Jesus must have been by the end of the week, and still with his greatest task still ahead of him.  

Couldn't Psalm 88 have been spoken by Jesus by the end of this seven-day period?  Did not his companions desert him (Ps. 8, 18)?  Did not God turn away (vs. 14)?  Was not he despised and derided and isolated (vs. 3-6)?  This psalm is almost painful to read in its raw cry.

And couldn't Proverbs 13:12a have been spoken by the disciples at the cross?  Their hope was more than deferred; their hearts were more than sick.

God knows our emotion.  He feels his own emotion.  The Bible reflects these truths.  Messy and painful as emotions can be, I'm glad to know and be known by a feeling God.  Only such a God could love.

- 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, April 18, 2017

April 18

Joshua 16:1-18:28; Luke 19:1-27; Psalm 87:1-7; Proverbs 13:11

I often think that many of today's evangelical Christian churches don't look too different than the culture around them. We seem to have taken on so many of the American culture's values, beliefs, and rules of life. We are so afraid of offending people, or being labeled narrow-minded, that we oftentimes lose sight of the clear guidelines God has set up for our blessing and protection. I mean, how could you have read this far into the One Year Bible and not seen how seriously God takes sin? And how badly things go for his people when they make light of it and do not keep themselves as a holy people?

Yet in our reading today in Luke 19, we see Jesus doing something almost unimaginable for a religious person to do in that day's Jewish culture. Jesus has "gone to be the guest of a 'sinner'" (vs. 7). We all know this Sunday school story well. How Zacchaeus climbs up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, and how Jesus stops where he is, looks up and him, and calls him to himself. It seems like such a mild, happy story on paper, but I have often missed the implications of this story in my own life today. 

For some time, I have been struggling with how the church should look today. In the city where I live, there is a huge homosexual population, there are unmarried men and women living and sleeping together, there are divorced and remarried people, there are those who let greed and the love of money rule their lives, and so many more such lifestyles. Where is the place for them? Is there a place for them in the church? What will happen to the church if all those people start coming? 

Maybe these are some of the same questions the Jewish community was asking in the time of Jesus. Maybe they were trying to preserve the call to holiness and the observance of the law as was commanded clearly in Scripture. Yet I am challenged with what to do about these "sinners." I am uncomfortable with their lifestyles, and I want them to leave their lifestyles before entering the church. But is that what Jesus does? Here in this Luke passage we see him come to Zacchaeus, stop where Zacchaeus is, look at him and call to him. Jesus then goes to his house and is clearly seen among "sinners." Jesus says, "I came to seek and to save what was lost" (vs. 10). Jesus goes to meet the sinners where they are, and then calls them out of their sin. 

Should all this happen outside the church? How can they truly be called out of sin and into the way of life if they are not in regular fellowship and worship with those who know, and now represent, Jesus? I don't have all these things figured out yet, for sure. But I do know this, I will be a little slower to judge, I hope. I will be a little quicker to have compassion on those who are lost. I will be a little more open to inviting them into, and also entering myself, a space where "sinner" and saved can fellowship together. Only there can Jesus call them out of their sin and into himself.

- 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, April 17, 2017

April 17

Joshua 15:1-63; Luke 18:18-43; Psalm 86:1-17; Proverbs 13:9-10

The Psalms are a profound collection.  They're full of passion and truth and uncomfortable pronouncements against enemies and obscure references to geography.  They are comfort to us, and they unsettle us.  And we're not always certain how to read them, how to understand them.  If you haven't read any poetry since your freshman lit class, you may even be uneasy about the very format of the writing.  In the spirit of full disclosure: I have a degree in literature; I taught high school English; I have a collection of poetry anthologies that I dip into and out of (usually while brushing my teeth).  Yet even so, the Psalms can be hard for me.  They're ancient and they don't rhyme and they're structured differently.  Ack!

One of the (many) advantages to growing up in a preacher's household is the little bits of "how to read the Bible" that get squirreled away.  One such nugget helped me read today's psalm.  You see, some of the psalms are structured in an X, starting at thought A and moving to the crux of the psalm, thought M/N, and then moving back out in parallel to thought Z (which echoes or amplifies thought A).  This format is called a "chiasm" after the Greek letter chi, represented as our X.  In other words, in a ten-part psalm, verses 1 and 10 would parallel, verses 2 and 9 would parallel, verses 3 and 8 would parallel, verses 4 and 7 would parallel, and verses 5-6 would be the main point, the central idea, the meaty portion of the writing.  Make sense?

Psalm 86 falls into this chiastic structure.  Here's my breakdown.  It's not verse 1 = verse 17, but the thoughts move inward to the point and then outward in equal measure, like an hourglass.  Look at the movement:

  • Vs. 1-4 - (Thought #1)  The psalmist makes a request of God: "I need something, God, and here's why I approach you; I can't do it, but you can; be merciful; I'm turning to you."
    • Vs. 5 - (Thought #2)  The psalmist declares truths about God's character: "You are forgiving, good, abounding in love." (Notice the echoes of God's self-revelation to Moses - see Ex. 34:6.)
      • Vs. 6-7 - (Thought #3)  The psalmist makes a plea for God's aid in the midst of his trouble, but the trouble is unspecified.
        • Vs. 8-10 - (Thought #4)  The psalmist proclaims God's uniqueness: the nations (as a community) will praise; God is worthy of everyone's worship; God is great and does amazing things, generally speaking.
          • Vs. 11 - (Main point)  The psalmist realizes what he most needs: to know God's way more fully.  He pleads with God, not for change in circumstance nor for revenge, but for the transformation of his own life so that he may live rightly before God.
        • Vs. 12-13 - (Thought #4, restated, elaborated and/or amplified)  The psalmist has moved to individual praise: God is worthy of his worship; God is great and does amazing things for him.
      • Vs. 14 - (Thought #3, restated, elaborated and/or amplified)  The psalmist now specifically states his trouble.
    • Vs. 15 - (Thought #2, restated, elaborated and/or amplified)  The psalmist again lays out the truth of God's character: he is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.  (This doesn't just echo Exodus - it is almost the exact words of God's self-description.)
  • Vs. 16-17 - (Thought #1, restated, elaborated and/or amplified)  The psalmist ends where he began, expressing a need for God: "Be inclined toward me; be merciful, respond to me and save me; show me your favor."

And then, the beautiful coda: "You...have helped me and comforted me."

As I was mapping this psalm out, I was struck by the seeming incongruity of the main point - why, in a psalm about how much he needs God, would there be this portion?  It doesn't seem to be in keeping with the rest of the "help me" of the psalm.  But upon reflection, I think that's exactly why it's the main point.  Yes, the psalmist is in trouble.  His difficulty appears to be physical threat; ours may be illness or financial hardship or relational strife.  Yes, he needs God's intervention, since only divine help will suffice.  That is true for us in our difficulties, too.  Yes, God remains the same.  His character is still and always loving and faithful and gracious and compassionate - to and for the psalmist, to and for us.  But what the psalmist most needs - what we most need - is not God's intervention in our circumstances.  We most need God's truth.  We most need God's ways.  We most need the moving of God's Holy Spirit in our innermost parts, to change and transform our hearts.  To make us more like Jesus.  To shape us into holiness.  

So in the midst of all the other needs and truths, the psalmist has structured his writing to latch on to the most fundamental of all needs: our need to live in accordance to God's good ways.  "Teach [us] your way, O Lord, and [we] will walk in your truth; give [us] an undivided heart, that [we] may fear your name."  Amen.

- Sarah Marsh

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16

Joshua 13:1 – 14:15; Luke 18:1-17; Psalm 85:1-13; Proverbs 13:7-8

On this Easter morning, I’m remembering an old hymn that begins with these words:

Revive us again, fill our hearts with your love.
May our souls be rekindled with fire from above.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory, hallelujah amen.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory, revive us again.

The words of that song are true; only the Lord can revive our souls. Listen to what the psalm writer says in 85:6: “Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you?” I memorized that verse for Christmas about fifteen years ago because I liked it and I needed reviving. It reflects the fact that we are dependent on the Lord for our vitality and even for our ability to rejoice in Him. The next verse explains a bit more: “Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation” (v. 7). Yes, we have been granted the Lord’s salvation and we rejoice in it at Easter time.

In the Old Testament, we read about Caleb—a man who exuded vitality. He describes himself as strong at 85 as he was at 45 and as eager to take the land as he was when he spied out the land 40 years earlier, declaring that the nation could triumph over the inhabitants of the land (Josh. 14:7-12). Caleb is the oldest man in the nation (with the possible exception of Joshua) but despite his age, he is the most eager to take the land and conquer it. The God of Israel did this revitalizing in Caleb because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly (and that’s why my second oldest grandson is his namesake—his parents’ prayer is that he will follow the Lord wholeheartedly, too—see that post on March 10 here). Caleb held nothing back when he was a young man spying out the land —“let’s go in and conquer,” he had said — and as an old man, he is still ready for the fight.

As I’m nearing old age (and some might even say I’m in old age), I realize how dependent I am on the Lord to revive me again, to keep me vital and caring about His work and His kingdom, to keep me from just coasting along and refusing to stay in the fight. I like Jill Briscoe’s words quoted from the If Gathering 2017: “You go where you’re sent, and you stay where you’re put, and you give what you’ve got until you’re done.”

I pray that God would give each of us the courage and tenacity to keep on giving what we’ve got until we’re done. Revive us to that end on this Easter Sunday, we ask, dear Father, in Jesus’ name.

- Nell Sunukjian

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

April 15

Joshua 11:1-12:24; Luke 17:11-37; Psalm 84:1-12; Proverbs 13:5-6

Psalm 84 is so, so beautiful.  It's good theology and good poetry all rolled up into one - the perfect mixture for worship.  

There's such a longing, a spiritual ache of sorts ("my soul yearns, even faints" [Ps. 84:2]), as the psalmist is trying to get as close to God as possible.  He envies the sparrow and the swallow for their proximity near God (vs. 3); they have a place the psalmist could never hope to occupy.  Their place is safe and secure, a home.

The psalmist, too, longs to live with God.  "Blessed are those who dwell in your house" (vs. 4), and even just one day in God's presence is better than a lifetime in any other place (see vs. 10).  In fact, so passionately does the writer desire to be with God that the place of a servant takes on new attraction (vs. 10).  (Is anyone else reminded of the prodigal son's decision to present himself to his father as a hired hand [Lk. 15:19]?)  God is so great and so good and so compelling that anything - any role, any position, any occupation - is worth being near him.  No pride here, just a yearning that must be satisfied.

Why?  Why does this man aspire to such closeness to God?  Why sacrifice power or prestige or wealth or circumstance?  Why make extravagant declarations?  Well, he knows the truth.  He knows that the Lord Almighty is King (vs. 4) and "a sun and a shield" (vs. 11).  He knows the history of God's relationship with Israel and his faithful promise-keeping (see vs. 8).  He knows that blessing is possible only within God's presence, as he remembers to trust God (see vs. 5, 12).

Truly, Lord God, it is better to spend one day in your presence than a lifetime anywhere else.  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.

Friday, April 14, 2017

April 14

Joshua 9:3-10:43; Luke 16:19-17:10; Psalm 83:1-18; Proverbs 13:4

I’m glad to be sitting down to write this post today. My middle son’s asthma has been acting up, so it’s meant lots of breathing treatments with a nebulizer strapped to his face, including in the middle of the night. This makes both of us cranky – he doesn’t like coughing all the time and I don’t like missing my precious sleep. I can tell I’m a little short with my kids (and even my husband, truth be told) and I need the break that being in God’s word and meditating on it provides. Hooray for the routine and discipline of the One Year Bible to pull me out of myself, just in the nick of time.

I was struck today by Luke's telling of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, particularly of the rich man’s pleas to Abraham that he send Lazarus from the dead to warn his brothers of their coming peril if they don’t repent. Abraham says they should listen to the prophets, but the rich man says, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Lk. 16:30). Sounds like a pretty convincing plan, huh? The rich man is worried that his brothers are going down the same path to hell that he used, and so he wants a miraculous intervention to bring them to their knees. Judging by how miserable the rich man is in hell, you can’t blame the guy for trying.

But Abraham surprised me in his reply, as he says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (vs. 31). I say I was surprised because, at first glance, it seems crazy that someone wouldn’t believe a messenger from the dead. These brothers had probably dined at the rich man’s house frequently, so they likely knew of Lazarus and would recognize him should he return from the grave with a warning. How could you deny the validity of that claim and not repent?

And yet, as I look around our world today, I actually see so much of the same thing. I’ve definitely thought before that what God really needed to do to get people’s attention was a huge, miraculous sign. Like having the sun stand still, or parting a huge ocean, or speaking through a well-known celebrity. But as I get older and experience more of the world, I see now that people whose hearts are hard will always find a way to “explain” away God. They might call it Mother Nature or a freak coincidence, or label a person as mentally disturbed or confused or a liar if that person shares an encounter they had with God. If our culture isn’t willing to accept the truth of Jesus as presented in God’s word and the very testimony of creation, then they won’t believe it if God arranged the stars in the night sky with the words “God loves you” either. They would explain it away with astronomy charts and graphs.

Help me, Lord, to have a soft heart, a heart that sees where are you working, in both the big and small ways. Amen.

- Esther McCurry

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

April 13

Joshua 7:16-9:2; Luke 16:1-18; Psalm 82:1-8; Proverbs 13:2-3

Sometimes being a follower of the One True God can be a little disorienting. We know that character of God, and yet there are times when he doesn’t seem to act within that character.

In our Joshua passage today, it appears like God is acting contrary to the characteristic mercy he usually shows. Instead of granting mercy and pardon to Achan when he confesses his wrongdoing and sin, the nation instead takes him out and stones him (see Josh. 7:20-25). This doesn’t sound like the God I know and trust.

And yet, God IS being true to his character, just maybe not the characteristic I would have liked. He is being true to his justice and holiness trait. God wants a people who turn away from sin. A people who know what it means to fear God and serve him only. I don’t understand why Achan had to die, but I do know God is always good and always true to his loving character.

Are there times in our lives when God appears to act contrary to what we know his character to be? If you’ve been alive for more than, oh say, 3 months, then you know the answer to be yes. And when he does we often become disoriented and discouraged. We see this in Joshua as he is trying to make sense of this whole incident with Achan.

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…’” (Josh. 8:1). The Lord knows and remembers that we are dust and that we don’t see clearly. He knows when we need just that little bit of encouragement, reminding us that he is still good and still going to do what he said he was going to do. The Israelites were still going to go into the land and conquer it. They were still on mission.

I have recently had a time of some disorientation in my life. I have been praying and looking for the power of God. His word is so full of power, and Jesus seems to promise that same power of good works, healing, and spreading of the gospel to his followers. Yet, when I look around at the church and Christians around me, I just don’t see it. So I pray. I ask God to move. I ask him to show me how I can participate in bringing in his kingdom in the power of word and deed. Yet, he has seemed silent. I see Christians struggling with living the “abundant life” that is promised in his word.

What do I do with this time of disorientation? I press more and more into him. I do not grow discouraged or afraid. I believe his promises. I live into them even when I can’t see them at work. That is faith. One of my favorite quotes comes from Corrie ten Boom, who lived through more horrific persecution and loss than most of us could ever imagine. She re-orients me to truth in her words, “Faith is simply trusting the character of God even when life gives you reasons not to.”

We are still on mission and we are going to conquer.

- 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, April 12, 2017

April 12

Joshua 5:1-7:15; Luke 15:1-32; Psalm 81:1-16; Proverbs 13:1

Man, I got the good stuff today!  There's no way I can touch on it all, so I want to just draw the scene a bit for our readings.  

Jericho is another one of those flannelgraph stories.  I tried to slow down as I read it today - really looking at the tension and the obedience and the drama and the outcomes.  Imagine the men of Israel - 40,000 strong (see Josh. 4:13) - marching silently around the city's walls, accompanied only by the wails of rams' horns, observed by the warriors of Jericho.  Eerie.  Imagine the beginnings of fear among the city's inhabitants (which likely included people from the surrounding villages who had fled there for shelter from the approaching Israelite force) as this ritual was repeated day after day.  Imagine the Jericho army as its complacency was shaken when the pattern changed on the seventh day.  Their false sense of security would have been shattered by the deafening cry of 40,000 soldier-voices.  Imagine walls that one source indicated could withstand a year of siege simply disintegrating into dust.  Poof.  And the army sweeps in and obeys God (with the exception of Achan); their discipline and training, which have kept them quiet until now, contain what could have been a rioting, looting, pillaging army within and under the control of God's dictates.  So very unexpected.  And, yet, just as God said.

And our New Testament: the parables of the lost sheep, coin, son.  Our four-year-old recently had the lost sheep as a Sunday School lesson.  She told me the whole story, missing sheep and searching shepherd and the celebration.  It was so great!  I've always read these stories primarily from the standpoint of me being a sheep, a coin, a son.  But imagine the Lord.  He is the shepherd, he is the woman, he is the father.  What do you learn about his love for you?  See how intent he is, how deliberate.  See how consumed he is with finding his lost item.  He takes dramatic steps to reclaim his sheep, his coin, his son.  He is fixated on them.  That is us, my friends.  He is intent upon us, deliberate toward us, consumed with love for us.  And he wants everyone to know.  "Rejoice with me," he says twice (Lk. 15:6,9); "we had to celebrate and be glad," the father exclaims (vs. 32, emphasis mine).  What a wonderful set of pictures to help us see how much our Mighty God loves us.

Lord, thank you for your love.  Thank you for the word pictures that you gave us so we could begin to imagine it.  Thank you for the immense dedication you have toward us.  Thank you for the power you displayed at Jericho and continue to demonstrate today.  How grateful we are that you are all-loving and all-powerful. 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, April 11, 2017

April 11

Joshua 3:1-4:24; Luke 14:7-35; Psalm 80:1-19; Proverbs 12:27-28

I love how the Old Testament and the New Testament are tied together. I was particularly caught by the theme of humility and exaltation in both passages in today's reading.

First, in the Old Testament, we see God say to Joshua that he will "begin to exalt you [Joshua] in the eye of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses" (Josh. 3:7). God tells Joshua the miracle he is about to do (the parting of the Jordan), and Joshua believes him. Joshua believes God will do what he says he is going to do; his trust is an act of both faith and humility. And then God exalts his own name in the eyes of this next generation of Israelites. Every single one of the older generation, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, who watched God in a pillar of fire and walked across the parted waters of the Red Sea, has died. Now, this new generation is going to have a miraculous sea parting story of their own to hold on to that will remind them of God's power and glory and exaltation.

Second, we see these words of humility and exaltation in Jesus' teaching about not sitting in the place of highest honor at a table, but rather taking the lowest place. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk. 14:11). Jesus then goes on to talk about how all the lowliest in the land will be invited to the "great banquet" while many of the upper crust of society will miss out. Jesus often takes what the Jewish culture considers to be the norm and switches it all around. He does that again here. He shows us what true humility looks like. It looks like carrying our crosses and following him, giving up everything (see Lk. 14:27, 33).

Yet how my flesh cries out against humility and self-surrender. How I long to be exalted in the eyes of men. I want to follow Jesus, but I also want to be significant and admired in the eyes of those around me. I'll follow him as long as I don't have to do anything crazy, or come off too much like a weirdo in the society around me, right? But then I read the words of Jesus in verse 34: "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" Oh, Lord, help me to be salt and light to the world around me, to stand out. Help me to be different, like Joshua, committed to exalting your name and doing your work. No matter what the cost. I want to be a faithful and humble servant.

- 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, April 10, 2017

April 10

Deuteronomy 34:1-Joshua 2:24; Luke 13:22-14:6; Psalm 79:1-13; Proverbs 12:26

God is so good!

Do you see the mercy he extends here to Moses?  Though Moses has been reminded that he "will see the land only from a distance" (Dt. 32:52), as he waits for his death, the entire land is shown to him.  This is likely a vision - this intimate, far-reaching, beautiful glimpse into the Promised Land, moving counterclockwise from the north.  God owed Moses nothing, but gave him this comfort before death.  Additionally, Moses is affirmed as the "servant of the Lord" (Dt. 34:5), and his grave is a place known only to God.  Intimacy, indeed.

Then, though Moses in death doesn't know it, God proves his mercy to Moses once again, this time through an affirmation of Joshua as leader.  It's encouragement to Joshua, certainly, but we see God keeping his promises to Moses as well.  And what sweet reassurance for Joshua (Josh. 1:5)!  What more could he want from God than to have God's presence in the same measure as Moses did?  Joshua, as Moses' aide, has spent the last forty years seeing firsthand the relationship between God and his servant - he knows what a gift this promise from God is.

The people, too, assure Joshua of his leadership: "Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you" (Josh. 1:17).  (Then again, considering the waywardness of this group of wanderers, Joshua may not have been comforted by their words!)

God's plan continues, even though his servant Moses has died.  Mercy and faithfulness and goodness.

Jesus, too, extends mercy upon mercy.  Though he knows of the trap laid for him by the Pharisees (see Lk. 14:1-4), Jesus heals the man suffering from dropsy, a painful swelling we'd now see diagnosed as edema.  Giving freedom and wholeness to a broken man is of far greater value to Jesus than following the Sabbath 'rules.'  God's goodness, Jesus affirms, isn't limited to particular days (Lk. 14:5) or particular people.

I'm so glad.  Aren't you?

- 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, April 9, 2017

April 9

Deuteronomy 33:1-29; Luke 13:1-21; Psalm 78:65-72; Proverbs 12:25

I had traveled many miles to see family and friends. I knew I would face sadness at my first destination, and would I even be welcomed? I was delayed at the rental car desk, traffic was terrible, and I felt my anxiety rising. Finally, I made it to my first stop where I did the grocery-shopping for dinner, cooked it and got the children to bed. The next morning I drove them to school and attended an all-day track and field event. 

That night I set out for my second destination and got lost in the dark trying to find my friends’ house. I called them, they helped me find their house, and when I arrived, how welcomed I felt! There were kind words and hugs. A room prepared for me. A sweet rose stood in a small vase beside the freshly made up bed.

A kind word cheered me up. My anxiety dissipated. Just as the Bible says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (Pr. 12:25). I felt inordinately grateful to my friends for their kind words and their warm welcome. I slept well and we enjoyed time together in the morning.

In our other OT passage, Moses is speaking words of blessing to the tribes as he prepares to depart from them forever. He speaks words of kindness and truth, preparing them for what is ahead. They must have felt much more anxious than I did as they contemplated entering the Promised Land without their leader. They had never known life without Moses—how would they manage?

Listen to Moses’ reassuring words.

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun....The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you....So Israel will live in safety alone; Jacob’s spring is secure in a land of grain and new wine where the heavens drop dew. Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places” (Dt. 33:26-29).

Aren’t those kind words?

And, in the NT, Jesus speaks the kindest of words to the woman bent over with a spirit for eighteen years, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity” (Lk. 13:12).

Lord, I thank you for my friends’ kind words to me when I needed them. Thank you for the truth of your Word. May I, too, speak kind words to others so that their hearts may cheered up.

- 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, April 8, 2017

April 8

Deuteronomy 32:28-52; Luke 12:35-39; Psalm 78:56-64; Proverbs 12:24

(It's a gloomy, gray and cool day at my house, which I'm LOVING, since all the sun and temperate weather of Southern California can make me long for seasons.  Perfect for time in God's word!  It is nice, though, to have a short reading...)

Our Luke text today unsettles me, raising a ton of thoughts.  I mean, how shocking that the master "will dress himself to serve, will have [his servants] recline at the table and will come and wait on them" (Lk. 12:37)!  These servants, whose job it is to be ready, are rewarded for doing their duty with excellence and diligence.  My 21st century self loves this - it's the American work ethic of effort-and-effect at play.  Consider, though, the nature of the reward: they are honored in a manner that would likely discomfit them, throwing their routines and expectations upside down.  If it were me, I'd rather have some cash money or an extra day off!  But this master is a proxy for Jesus, so we can learn something about how we are to relate to him and about his heart for us.  Our obedience, our service, does not go unnoticed and is not taken for granted.  Jesus will reward us when he finds us "ready [though...he came] at an hour when [we did] not expect him" (Lk. 12:40).

Then, of course, I worry about whether I'm like the manager in the next parable.  How many times to I say to myself, "My master is taking a long time" (Lk. 12:45) to do X, and so take matters into my own hands?  I may not "beat the menservants and maidservants and eat and drink and get drunk" (Lk. 12:45), but don't I shade the truth to look a bit better on my resume, sure that Jesus won't provide the necessary job with the necessary salary?  Don't I contemplate dissolving my marriage vows, sure that Jesus will never be able to turn my spouse around and restore my joy in that relationship?  Don't I speak sharply or jealously or maliciously, sure that Jesus doesn't have the time to be concerned with the petty overflow of my heart?

And I'm positively stopped in my tracks with the words, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded" (Lk. 12:48).  I have been given much, but I'm afraid of what that might require.  I've got a little bit of my Puritan ancestors in me - worried that my good things might be taken away if it seems like I'm enjoying them too much.  Is the axe just waiting to fall on me or my loved ones?  Or what if I'm not capable of the "much" that God will demand of me?  What if I let him down?  What if I don't want to go live in the uber-urban areas of Los Angeles and send my children to schools where violence is rampant and test scores are down?

This is no sweet baby Jesus.  This is no gaunt scholar, teaching esoteric truths.  This is a firebrand, come to bring division rather than peace (Lk. 12:51).  This is a prophet, calling out the blackness in our hearts and exhorting us toward change with words like iron.  I'm unsettled, but I'm stirred, too.  I'm caught by Jesus' passion and his vision.  I want to be the wise servant, the faithful manager, the person who reads the signs correctly (Lk. 12:54-56), the man who reconciles on the way (Lk. 12:58).  These words in Luke are not meant to frighten or browbeat us; they are a call to action, like Moses' words in Deuteronomy.  "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day....They are not just idle words for you - they are your life" (Dt. 32:46-47).  Take and eat, friends.  These words are our 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.