Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Sarah Marsh

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Mary Matthias

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Sarah Marsh

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

December 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Nell Sunukjian

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

December 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Esther McCurry

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

December 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Sarah Marsh

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Mary Matthias

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December 6

Hosea 4:1-5:15; 2 John 1:1-13; Psalm 125:1-5; Proverbs 29:9-11

Our relationship with God is inextricably connected to our relationship with our fellow humans.  We've seen this with Jesus' teaching on the greatest commandment: Love God and love your neighbor.  In our New Testament reading today, John talks about loving one another, a command "we have had from the beginning" (2 Jn. 1:5). But this love for each other is tied into obedience, which I find interesting.  Love for God and obedience to God have been linked together throughout our journey through the Bible this year, but John makes this love for others part and parcel of our obedience.  He seems to be saying that love for God is communicated as and through love for others, which is shown in our actions toward them.  Curious how John commands love, isn't it?  We think so often of love as involuntary, something we cannot help or create, but John reminds us that Jesus makes this demand.  It is an act of obedience to love those around us, to choose to engage on their behalf, to consider them above ourselves.

One way we can be obedient to love those around us is mentioned in our Proverbs reading. "A wise man keeps himself under control" though "a fool gives full vent to his anger" (Pr. 29:11).  Wow.  Proverbs doesn't pull any punches!  I'm reminded of the posts Esther did earlier this year about the benefit of a temperate tongue, and I can clearly think of the ways I've failed in this task.  But there are successes, too; I think of the un-learning I had to do early in our marriage, training myself out of sarcasm in order to love my kind-hearted husband.  So perhaps there is hope after all.

It's this hope that draws me back to John's letter.  Look at all the gifts of God that we have received: grace, mercy, peace, truth, love (see 2 Jn. 1:3).  What a power-packed set of qualities we have available to us as we seek to love others in obedience to Christ.  Of course there is hope!

As we're closing out this year, I can echo John's closing.  "I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete" (2 Jn. 1:12).  We've talked with some of you and gotten emails from others and read comments from still more, but I know that each of us bloggers would have loved the opportunity to sit down for a little chat with each of you readers.  Thank you for joining us as we have read through this adventure together.  May God's blessing - his grace, his mercy, his peace, his truth, his love - be richly upon you 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.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 5

Hosea 1:1-3:5; 1 John 5:1-21: Psalm 124:1-8; Proverbs 29:5-8

Today we read about another tragic love story. As my mom put it in her November 12th post about Ezekiel, it is a “sad, but beautiful, picture of marriage.” This time we see the Lord speak to the prophet Hosea and tell him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord” (Hos. 1:2). God is going to use the love story of Hosea and Gomer as an allegory for his love story with his people.

It really is a beautiful love story, and not just a tragic one either. This one has a happy ending. 

We see Hosea take Gomer as his wife, who then conceives three children whose names mean: "punishment is coming," "no mercy," and "not my people." Then, we see that their mother “has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink’” (Hos. 2:5).

Not a very good start to our love story. The mother is unfaithful and mistakenly pursues other lovers, men she thinks will better meet her needs. But here is where the good part starts.

Instead of Hosea casting her off, he pursues her. He woes her tenderly, he allures her (Hos. 2:14). He does not treat her as her sins deserve. He does not make her do the pursuing back to him even though she was the one who sinned. No, he goes and speaks gently to her, giving her gifts, and betrothing himself to her in love and compassion (Hos. 2:19). 

What a beautiful love story. We see that Hosea is faithful, patient, and forgiving, even when Homer is unfaithful. He woes her and buys her back, expecting that now she will be faithful to and intimate with him alone. How different our culture would look if more marriages adopted this model of forgiveness and pursuit.

Let’s go back to our allegory. This story reminds us of God’s great, great love for mankind. It reminds us of his pursuit of us no matter how many times we are unfaithful to him. In 1 John 5 we see that he also sends a child to remind us of something. But this child's name is not “no mercy" or "not my people,” but rather it is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 Jn. 5:11). 

God’s child sends the message that we are forever pursued, forever loved, and forever redeemed from our lives of sin. Isn’t God so good to remind us of that in all these different ways in Scripture? Let us walk and live in that love story today.

- Mary Matthias

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

December 4

Daniel 11:36-12:13; 1 John 4:1-21; Psalm 123:1-4; Proverbs 29:2-4

Can you feel the love tonight?  This refrain from Disney's "The Lion King" ran through my head over and over as I read this chapter in 1 John.  Starting in verse 7, every subsequent verse (except three) has the word "love" in it at least once.  In fact, it's used in some form or another 26 times in just 13 verses!

Such amazing things John has to say about love:
    - About God's love: This is the source and origin of all love (see 1 Jn. 4:7).  Love is an essential, integral part of God's character (vs. 8).  God's love is sacrificial and purposeful (vs. 9-10).  It is trustworthy and reliable (vs. 16); it brings freedom from fear (vs. 18).  It was before all things and it initiates (vs. 19).
    - Because of these true things about God's love, John speaks about our love, too: Our love is a response to God's love (vs. 11, 17, 19).  Our love for each other and the world reveals God himself and even completes his love (vs. 12).  How incredible that we then get to be a part of extending God's love to the world!  Our love shows that we are like God; we reflect his love-character (vs. 17).

John has some very sobering words to say about love (or the lack thereof), too:
    - If we do not love, it is evidence that we do not know God (1 Jn. 4:8).  On a day when we are short with our children, or yell at the drivers on the freeway, or use sarcasm on our roommates, what are we showing about our intimacy with God?
    - We are very definitely not the be-all-end-all of love.  It is clear that we are recipients, grateful and undeserving.  We were desperately needy and God alone provided, for no reason other than his love (vs. 9-10).  I need these continual reminders of my own brokenness before the Lord, lest I grow proud(er) in my heart.
    - What we say and how we feel matter on a real, eternal, important level.  The way we treat those around us - strangers, neighbors, family, friends - is of greater significance than what we say with our mouths or agree that we believe (vs. 20).  If I say God is merciful, but I do not extend mercy to others, what "truth" is really at work in my life?  If I say God cares for the poor, but I do not demonstrate such concern, what "belief" is displayed?

So, all in all, a chapter of challenge and comfort.  I find that much of John's letters fall into one or both of these categories.  And I find that as I write next to our Christmas tree, I see new meaning in the advent John described: "He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him" (1 Jn. 4:9).  What good news of great joy.

- Sarah Marsh

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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 3

Daniel 11:2-35; 1 John 4:1-21; Psalm 123:1-4; Proverbs 29:2-4

A woman I care about has been deeply hurt by a man. Yes, truly hurt. He was wrong. She, who knows and loves the Lord Jesus, has retaliated against him in many ways. Today I read in 1 John 3:15: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer… this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” I prayed for my friend today. I prayed that she would lay down her sense of justice and revenge and that she would offer him forgiveness. I prayed that she would bless him with the request he has made—one that would not cost her anything but pride—and that it would set her free from the bondage of carrying his guilt. And maybe her kindness and forgiveness would draw him to repentance.

And I prayed for the man who has hurt her. Proverbs 29:1 says, “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed without remedy.” I prayed that he would repent quickly and not remain stiff-necked against His Maker.

In Daniel 11, we read a difficult and complex chapter if ever there was one! King of the North and King of the South—what does it all mean? Rather than write a commentary on this complex chapter, I focused on the words in verse 32: “… the people who know their God will firmly resist him. Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered.”

This chapter in Daniel is focused on the big picture of what God is doing in the universe, while John is writing about individual relationships. Yet in both cases those who know their God will respond rightly.

Lord, give us grace to respond to You in obedience—in big ways by resisting evil leaders and in small ways by refusing to retaliate against those who hurt us and choosing to forgive them. Amen.

- Nell Sunukjian

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

Saturday, December 2, 2017

December 2

Daniel 9:1-11:1; 1 John 2:18-3:6; Psalm 121:1-8; Proverbs 28:27-28

It's Christmas-time.  We'll get our tree tonight, and the lights are already up on the house.  I've pulled out my sweaters (mostly wishful thinking here in SoCal), and the Christmas music is playing.  It's time for me to slow down and, like Mary, ponder the wonder of Jesus' birth in my heart.

Though we're far past the gospel accounts of Jesus' birth and though our Old Testament readings are full of dire prophecy, I can still be in a posture of awe at God's presence.  Immanuel.  God was born as man.  He came to be with and for us then, and he is so "with us" now.  I couldn't help think of this truth as I read Psalm 121 this morning.  What a psalm!

It can be prayed as a word of blessing over our children as they head off to college: "The Lord will keep you from all harm -- he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore" (Ps. 121:7-8).  Isn't this what we want as our children leave our immediate protection and venture off?

It can be prayed as comfort over friends in distress: "The Lord watches over you -- the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night" (P
s. 121:5-6).  For those in pain, for those in grief, this psalm offers hope that God sees them, hears them, covers and shades them.  They are not alone and unknown.

It can be prayed as self-talk, reminding us of truth: "Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth" (Ps. 121:1-2).  When we ourselves are in crisis or doubt, these words preach to us, reminding us to trust in God alone.  The following verses show his attentiveness; he can care for us so well because he "will neither slumber nor sleep" (vs. 4).  Nothing will catch God by surprise; nothing will throw him for a loop.

Though it isn't a Christmas text, like early chapters in the gospels or some of Isaiah's prophecies, this psalm beautifully illustrates what "God with us" means.  I didn't think about these Immanuel-implications the first time we read Psalm 121 this year.  I'm grateful today for the structure of The One Year Bible as I get the chance to read it again through the lens of Advent.  The Lord is come!

- Sarah Marsh

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

December 1

Daniel 8:1-27; 1 John 2:1-17; Psalm 120:1-7; Proverbs 28:25-26

First, I must do a little dance for the first day of December! Yay! Hooray! Hurrah!

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, let’s get started with today.

How are you hanging in there with the visions in Daniel? It’s a lot to take in, with the ram and horns and beasts and goats. And I am not going to try to make sense of all this various visions but rather offer a general insight/idea. Daniel is alarmed and doesn’t know what to make of all these visions; it can be overwhelming for us to try to nail down what each symbol in these visions is supposed to mean.  But I think it boils down to this major point: Behind each great kingdom is another kingdom; powers will come and go and there will always be the “next” great ruler ahead. But our trust isn’t in these powers but rather in God, who sets everything into motion, both completion and destruction. Gabriel tells Daniel that at the end will come the Prince of princes who will destroy, not by human hands, the last great ruler (Dan. 8:25). In the midst of uncertain times, it is all the more important that we remember who is the true ruler of all.

Now on to slightly more cheerful things – don’t you just love this chapter in 1 John? Look at all these gems:
  • “He [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2).
  • “Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (vs. 5-6).
  • “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (vs. 12).
  •  “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (vs. 17).
Really, I could have quoted the whole chapter, but where’s the point in that since you just read it? I love John’s gentle encouragement and the way he states things not to convict, but to convince. Look at this one: “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 Jn. 2:10). John’s readers probably knew that they didn’t love their brother perfectly, 100% of the time, but John is encouraging them (and also convicting them at the same time) to strive to reflect Christ well in the way they treat each other. It’s so simple and so beautiful and such a good reminder of who we are, too. If we claim to love Jesus, then we ought to walk as he walked. No complicated formula, no unclear burden we have to figure out how to bear. Just plain and simple truth: if we love Jesus, if we abide in him, then our lives should look like his – full of love, compassion and grace.

And how can we do this? Because our own sins have been forgiven, through his name and through his sacrifice. Because we’ve been set free. Because we’ve been covered in his righteousness. 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, November 30, 2017

November 30

Daniel 7:1-28; 1 John 1:1-10; Psalm 119:153-176; Proverbs 28:23-24

The words of John were refreshing water to my soul this morning. John writes from very personal experience; he tells us that he knew the Word of Life himself. John had heard Him, he had seen Him, he had looked at Him, and he had even touched Him. His knowledge of Jesus Christ was personal and intimate and that gives validity to the words he now writes to believers.

He says that the God we follow is light—He shines light on all who believe. And to those who believe, He shines light on our sin. That’s a rather uncomfortable thought. But what a good thought! For we are sinful and we need His cleansing. John cautions us against believing that we are not sinful and that we don’t need the cleansing light of God Himself.

A dear friend of mine once told me that she had no awareness of her own sin. I was stunned by this, and tried to say, “Well, we all sin. Ask the Lord to begin to reveal areas of sin in your life.” Her words were all the more shocking to me because she was well aware of sin in the lives of those close to her and she didn’t mind pointing out their sin. And she was right about the sin of others—those close to her were acting in sinful ways. But her area of weakness was self-examination. The Word of God says that we all sin. I encouraged her to look more at herself with the Light of God’s Word and less at the sin of others.

Yes, it’s easy to see the sin of others, even as it was easy for me to see my friend’s sin of declaring that she didn’t feel sinful! But God’s light is designed to show us our own sin so that we can deal with it! I say a sharp word to someone and the Lord shows it to me by a discomfort in my heart. I can ignore that—the words I said weren’t so bad and why does he need to be so touchy anyway! But if I ignore it, and I sometimes do, my heart gets hard in that place where I feel the unease. And it gets a little bit harder to see that sin the next time. God’s plan for us is to let His light reveal our moment-by-moment sins so we can confess and repent.

We often travel with a couple who are old friends of ours, and I’ve noticed that on each trip the husband usually comes to us at least once to say, “I was out of line in what I said yesterday and I want to acknowledge that. I don’t want anything between us.” We usually hadn’t really noticed, but what touches me is his heart to keep things clean and clear between us. That’s the light of God shining in his heart, encouraging him to confess places where his heart was wrong and where relationship may have been harmed.

“Lord God, thank you for the light You shine on us to expose our sin. May we be quick to respond to that light and make clean the areas You reveal. Amen.”

- 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, November 29, 2017

November 29

Daniel 6:1-28; 2 Peter 3:1-18; Psalm 119:129-152; Proverbs 28:21-22

I love the reading in Daniel today. Obviously, it’s a very familiar story. Perhaps, like me, you grew up in church and so have a flannel graph story board picture of the characters in this tale. It’s very dramatic, isn’t it? Bad guys who get jealous and set a trap; Daniel who gets caught; a cave of hungry lions as the punishment – it’s all there. But as familiar as the story is to me, I was struck in my reading today in a whole new way.

Have you ever noticed that this story is actually told from the perspective of the king? Growing up, I was taught about Daniel’s trust and bravery and, yes, those things are there. But, really, this is a story about King Darius. He is tricked into signing the injunction so the other leaders can rid themselves of Daniel. After Daniel is caught, he is in great distress (Dan. 6:14) and works all day to try to find a way out of it for Daniel. When his hand is forced (vs. 15), he commands that Daniel be placed in the den, but not until he gives Daniel some parting words: “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” (vs. 16). Then the night passes, but we don’t see how Daniel is faring with the lions; rather, we see how Darius’ night goes – he fasts, declines any distractions, and doesn’t sleep (vs. 18).

Morning finally comes, but again, instead of first finding out how Daniel is, we see the king arising at the “break of day” and going “in haste to the den” where he cries out “in a tone of anguish” (Dan. 6:19-20). Isn’t that amazing? All night this pagan king has worried over Daniel and has enough faith in Daniel's God that he calls out the next morning. And when Darius learns that Daniel is in fact spared, “he [is] exceeding glad” (vs. 23) and makes an amazing proclamation of faith: “In all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end” (vs. 26). These are incredible words for a pagan to say, let alone a powerful king. In a rare moment of humility and true perspective, King Darius sees how powerful God is. Isn’t that a great new way to think about the story of “Daniel and the Lions’ Den?”

As it turns out, we just recently finished a series in Daniel at church (don’t you love it when your One Year Bible lines up with church?), and I loved what my pastor said about Daniel in this passage. He pointed out that with Daniel’s three friends and the fiery furnace (Daniel 3), they were being persecuted for what they wouldn’t do – bow to an idol. In this passage, Daniel is being persecuted for what he won’t stop doing, namely praying to God three times a day. My pastor challenged us to think about the areas in our own lives, as believers, where we need to look different from the world around us. What are the things we will refuse to do? And what are the things that we will refuse to stop doing, because we love Jesus? Good questions for us all!

- 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.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

November 28

Daniel 5:1-31; 2 Peter 2:1-22; Psalm 119:113-128; Proverbs 28:19-20 

It’s nice to see the Israelites aren’t the only ones who didn’t learn from their forefathers’ mistakes. Well, maybe it isn’t nice to see, but it might give us a little more grace for them when we read about Belshazzar’s account in Daniel 5. He was guilty of the same pride and arrogance that led to his forefather Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall. But instead of learning from the mistakes of his forefather, he repeated them.

In fact, in all of Scripture, we see people having the chance to either learn from the mistakes of others before them, thus averting the destruction of their lives, or to repeat the mistakes and thereby ensure their own downfall. Even in our reading in 2 Peter 2:1-2, we see talk of false prophets whom “many will follow” in “their shameful ways,” thus “bringing swift destruction on themselves.” You would think Belshazzar, the Israelites, and those early Christians from 2 Peter would have chosen better when they had the examples and evidence right in front of them, right?

Lest we be the pot calling the tea kettle black, we should examine our own lives in this regard as well. Many of us struggle to overcome the sins of our fathers. Maybe we fall into the same patterns of sin our parents had - big or small. We may even blame them for making us “turn out this way.”

Over the last several years, I have watched firsthand how the marriage of two people very close to me was destroyed. While watching them interact, I became acutely aware of my own interactions with my husband. How did I speak to him? How was my tone? Did I blame unfairly or speak unkindness into his life? I became so aware of the little ways that small things and words can contribute to the destruction of a marriage. I had a choice: learn from their mistakes or repeat them. Lord have mercy, I did NOT want to repeat them.

Four years ago today, a great tragedy occurred in my life. In the midst of my acute sadness, I was aware that I would have a choice ahead of me in this process of grief. I had seen people ahead of me go through tragedy in their lives. It seemed like it either made them more bitter and angry inside, or, quite the opposite, they became more at peace, with an inner joy greater than before. I wanted to be in the second category. Whom would I follow?

Who will you follow? Do you know godly people in your life? People you admire and look up to? I am pretty sure they didn’t get that way by having an easy life and having everything go just right for them all the time. They probably had to choose over and over again to follow after Jesus, not what their own pride and comfort was choosing for them, nor the negative patterns of others set before them.  I think back to our Hebrews reading and the cloud of witnesses and how we should run with them after Jesus.

Oh Lord, we pray that you would “give [us] discernment that [we] may understand your statutes…because [we] love your commands more than gold” (Ps. 119:125,127). Help us to learn from the mistakes of others and always walk according to your perfect ways.

- 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, November 27, 2017

November 27

Daniel 4:1-37; 2 Peter 1:1-21; Psalm 119:97-112; Proverbs 28:17-18

I must confess.  I was behind until just a few minutes ago.  Only a day behind, but still.  However, and here is the point I'm going to make, reading two days of our One Year Bible gave me a chance to have Peter's words ringing in my ears as I read the story of Nebuchadnezzar.  

In his last chapter (our reading yesterday), Peter admonishes his hearers to be humble before the Lord and each other, quoting from Proverbs that "God opposes the proud" (Pr. 3:34).  Interestingly, this same proverb is quoted by James, too (see Jam. 4:6).

And then, today, we read about Nebuchadnezzar, whose self-satisfaction and aggrandizement ("Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" [Dan. 4:30, emphasis mine]) lead to his seven-year stint as a beast.  That is what I call opposition!  It is only when he "raise[s] [his] eyes toward heaven" (vs. 34), admitting his dependence on God, that his humanity is restored.  The right relationship is accepted by Creator and created through humility, forced or otherwise.  Nebuchadnezzar himself acknowledges the Lord's actions against his hubris: "Those who walk in pride [the Lord] is able to humble" (vs. 37).

While I don't like getting behind (that would be my perfectionism rearing its ugly head), I'm grateful for the way God worked in my tardiness.  I'm not sure Peter's words would have been as fresh in my mind had I read them yesterday.  I don't think I would have made the connections between Nebuchadnezzar's pride and Peter's exhortations to a young church hundreds of years later.  I would have almost certainly missed seeing another example of the continuity and consistency of Scripture. Instead, the Lord created an opportunity to reveal more about himself.  Just a small moment of grace extended specifically to me on this particular day.

Isn't God good?

- 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, November 26, 2017

November 26

Daniel 2:24-3:30; 1 Peter 4:7-5:14; Psalm 119: 81-96; Proverbs 28:15-16

I sat down to read the OYB today and there was Daniel.

Daniel—a young man with impeccable character who was a devoted follower of the God in heaven who reveals mysteries (Dan. 2:28). How did Daniel get this incredible confidence in the God of heaven? Where did he learn to resist the enticements of the culture in which he lived? How did he choose such good friends? Daniel was a Jewish lad living in exile in foreign Babylon. His entire life was thrown into chaos when Nebuchadnezzar defeated King Jehoiakim of Judah and sacked Jerusalem. Daniel was taken captive to Babylon where he lived for the rest of his life. Because he was a prince in Israel and intelligent, he was chosen to be developed for leadership in Babylon.

Back to my questions—where did he get the wisdom and fortitude he possessed? Judah had not been following their God for many decades, yet Daniel knows the law of his God.

I read this and stopped. I stopped to pray for my grandsons: Paul, Caleb, Noah, Joseph, Samuel, Levi, Daniel, Jonah and Isaiah. I prayed that they would become young men who follow the God of heaven as ardently as Daniel did. I prayed that they would have godly friends like Daniel did. I prayed that they would learn to resist the pull of their culture like Daniel did.

Then I read in 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is near. Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” Yes, that is what I want. To read the OYB and to pray as I read. As Psalm 119:81b says, “I have put my hope in Your Word.”

My hope is in God’s Word—not in the pervasive downward pull of our culture and not in any resistance to it that I can muster. My hope is in God’s Word. Somehow, in a time when his nation was apostate, Daniel knew God’s Word. And he knew the God of the Word. And he trusted Him his whole life and served him devoutly in a pagan culture.

Lord, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations (Ps. 119:20). I need not fear the godless culture around me. I can trust You to raise up godly men to lead like Daniel did. And I pray that my grandsons would be among those men.”

- 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, November 25, 2017

November 25

Daniel 1:1-2:23; 1 Peter 3:8-4:6; Psalm 119:65-80; Proverbs 28:14

I mentioned this briefly in my post on 5/27, but the Thanksgiving Eve service at our church made me think of it again.  We did a responsive reading of portions of Psalm 136, with the congregation repeating, "His love endures forever."  When I read these words in Psalm 119, I hear the same echo.  Just as Israel chose to declare God's love, so we, too, can choose to proclaim: "You are good, and what you do is good."  Thanksgiving may have been bittersweet this year (or even just bitter), but we can still speak this truth.

Though the diagnosis came back as cancer,
        You are good, and what you do is good.
As I live with the knowledge of betrayal in my marriage,
        You are good, and what you do is good.
When countries revolt and terror lurks,
        You are good, and what you do is good.
My children are rebellious and foolish, but
        You are good, and what you do is good.
I am alone and old and unwanted, yet
        You are good, and what you do is good.
The world seems to spin out of control;
        You are good, and what you do is good.
My future is uncertain and unknown;
        You are good, and what you do is good.
Friends and family are aging and dying; even so
        You are good, and what you do is good.
When deeply held dreams and hopes remain unfulfilled,
        You are good, and what you do is good.
When the phone doesn't ring,
    the bills mount up,
        the pregnancy test is negative,
            the company downsizes,
You are good, and what do you is good.

Thank you, Lord.

- Sarah Marsh

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

November 24

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35; 1 Peter 2:11-3:7; Psalm 119:49-64; Proverbs 28:12-13

Man, oh man, is our New Testament passage packed today or what? As I read 1 Peter, I kept thinking to myself, “I could write about this. Oh wait, I could write about this! No, this is what I’m going to write about!!” So here we go.

First, a general observation – this confident, bold, direct Peter is the same Peter who denied Jesus to the servant girl by the fire. Isn’t it marvelous to see how Peter stepped into his position as “the rock” of the church, leading with courage and truth? I am so encouraged by his transformation.

Now, onto the verses themselves –

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pet. 2:16).

This verse is very convicting for me, as it would have been for Peter’s readers. As first generation Christians, they were probably overwhelmed with the freedoms they now experienced – freedom from guilt, freedom from the law, freedom from the obligation of perfect obedience to please God. And Peter tells them to live into this freedom, to embrace it, to not keep acting as they did before Christ set them free. But on the other hand, he warns them not to take advantage of the freedom, to not let freedom in Christ become an excuse to do evil. This is true for us today – God wants us to be truly free, not hamstrung by the need to be perfect or earn his salvation or live by a restrictive set of laws that he never intended. But there are still boundaries because we are servants of God. Here’s a practical application for us today. Alcohol can be a sensitive subject when it comes to believers, and, for many years, it’s been viewed by Christians as evil. But our freedom in Christ teaches us that no food or drink in and of itself is evil; we are free to partake, to enjoy it as we celebrate the abundance of God’s goodness in our lives (much like the people at the wedding in Cana did when Jesus turned the water into wine). However, we can’t use our freedom as an excuse to drink in excess. We are still servants of God. Drunkenness is never pleasing to the Lord and is not a reflection of someone living as his servant.  

Onto the next profound verse.

“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (2:23).

This is SO hard for me to swallow. There have been a handful of times in my life where I’ve felt truly wronged, where I was falsely judged and the need to justify myself was STRONG. I want to be heard; I want to be understood. I want to tell my side of the story so that everyone knows I’ve been falsely accused. But the example of Christ is truly amazing – he did not retaliate, but he trusted himself to God, who is the true judge. Wow.

“Wives…do not let your adorning be external…but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (3:3-4).

Here’s another humdinger! What a challenge to us wives today. This is particularly striking to me as I live in Southern California (and am raising a daughter here). Outward beauty is very important in our culture – weight, teeth, skin, hair – everything is picked apart and evaluated. But God’s word tells us that those things aren’t what make us lovely to God (and shouldn’t be what’s important to our husbands, either). The person inside, the hidden person of gentleness, is what is precious to God. When I was in my 20s, those words “gentle and quiet spirit” used to really bother me. If you know me, I’m pretty much the opposite of that. I’m direct, bossy, not a people pleaser and not at all quiet. How then was I pleasing to God? But taken in their context of how a wife is to relate to her husband, they make a whole lot more sense. And I find them easier to apply. My husband, Ian, as is probably true for many husbands, is very tone sensitive. As the closest person to him in his life, I have the most power to hurt him, and very often this happens just through a tone. In our years of marriage, I have learned it really is a gentle and quiet spirit that helps my marriage thrive, and it’s surprisingly easy for me do, thanks to God’s grace in my life.

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (3:7).

Good – I’m glad they get their instructions, too. What a calling for husbands, to live with their wives in an understanding way. And what a consequence if they don’t – prayers that don’t get answered! So if there is a husband out there who has been praying for a job promotion while at the same time refusing to help his wife with household chores even though she’s been telling him she’s tired and overwhelmed and needs his help, perhaps he should reevaluate his decision!

But what about this “weaker vessel” business? What does that mean? At first glance, this can feel sexist, but upon further study, we see that it’s just the opposite. It is a frequent theme in the New Testament that God wants to affirm those whom society has disregarded (women, the lame, tax collectors, etc.) and here is another example. Peter is calling husbands to see the equality their wives have with them (“since they are heirs with you”) even though society has labeled them as weaker vessels. He calls them to honor their wives, rather than misusing the authority they have.

Okay, one more verse. Hang in there, because this one’s the best!

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (2:24).

That is the Gospel, people. The Good News doesn’t get any clearer than that! Jesus took our sins to the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. Hallelujah! If you ever wonder what God has done for you or doubt his goodness or generosity, remind yourself of 1 Peter 2:24. That is what Jesus did for you; that is how much he loves you. 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, November 23, 2017

November 23

Ezekiel 45:13-46:24; 1 Peter 1:13-2:10; Psalm 119:33-48; Proverbs 28:11

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope today is full of good conversation and good food with friends and family. I know I am anticipating a great day! And I’ll try to keep this short so we can all enjoy our holiday.

Now onto 1 Peter – wow, where to begin!? There’s so much rich and beautiful theology in this passage. I love how Peter starts this passage by affirming to his hearers (remember, this letter would have been read out loud at each church) who they are: “As obedient children…” (1 Pet. 1:13). They are struggling and they are being persecuted (vs. 6) but Peter calls them children, and not just children, but obedient ones; and he calls them to be holy.

And then look at what he says next – “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1 Pet. 1:18) – I love that word, ransomed. It’s not too common in our vernacular – it’s in some worship songs and has a negative connotation with kidnapping but most of us probably don’t use it daily – but the imagery here is amazing. To be ransomed from something means to be “released after receiving payment.” Peter’s listeners (and us!) were being held captive, but, through the work that Jesus did, their payment (and ours!) was made in full and they were set free from their foolish ways. And what was the work that Jesus did? How was the payment made? “With the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (vs. 19). Incredible theology. Pastors don’t just make this stuff up, people. We were literally saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.

In this passage, we get another amazing theological pillar: being born again. Did you catch that in verse 23? Jesus teaches that concept for the first time to Nicodemus in John 3 and there's no doubt that Peter, as one of his closest disciples, learned of that teaching. It clearly made an impression as he communicates more truth to these people about who they are: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:22-23). What incredible truths – we’ve been born again, this time for immortality, and that birth was through God’s word.

There’s more, too. The idea of the “good news” (1 Pet. 1:25), which is the way we now think about the gospel; the idea of being a “chosen race” (2:9); the idea of being “living stones” (vs. 4) and so on. But since I’m sure your turkey is starting to smell good, I’ll wrap things up. As we go through our day today and the weeks ahead, let’s remember who we are – obedient children, holy, ransomed. 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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

November 22

Ezekiel 44:1-45:12; 1 Peter 1:1-12; Psalm 119:17-32; Proverbs 28:8-10

I have loved this passage in 1 Peter for some time now.  Several years ago, our church was in the midst of what eventually became a church split.  It was a terribly painful and confusing time, for people on both sides of the issue.  As church staff, Eric and I felt attacked and maligned and persecuted and also called to sit meekly before the onslaught.

I memorized verses 2b through 9 during these days.  Peter's words to the church scattered abroad were - and are still - very comforting.  Our inheritance could never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pet. 1:4), though our job was certainly on the line.  We were shielded by God's power (vs. 5), and therefore did not need to manufacture our own rescue; we could wait on God's timing and activity.  We suffered grief in all kinds of trials (vs. 6), and it was reassuring to know that we were not alone in the history of God's people.

My favorite section of this passage, though, is verse 8.  "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Pet. 1:8).  (I thought about italicizing some words in that quotation, but realized that I'd basically end up emphasizing the whole verse, so refrained.)

Look at those words again:
            "Though you have not seen him" - this is me!  I have not seen our Jesus.
                        But "you love him" - yes!  Yes, I do.  
            "Though you do not see him now" - in the agony and uncertainty of our church situation, it was hard to see the presence of God.
                        But "you believe in him" - and this was what we clung to.
            You "are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" - this description of joy just overwhelms me.  "Inexpressible" - beyond my ability to articulate or understand.  "Glorious" - majestic, holy, powerful, awesome.  That's some kind of real joy, ladies and gents!

This section of Scripture became meaningful during a dark period of time.  You are probably not in the midst of a church divide, but you may be in the middle of a cancer treatment or a divorce or a job change and you feel this same sort of pain and uncertainty.  This is for you today:

"Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, [I pray that you will] believe in him [and be] filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy."  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, November 21, 2017

November 21

Ezekiel 42:1-43:27; James 5:1-20; Psalm 119:1-16; Proverbs 28:6-7

“You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (Jam. 5:5). 

Wow! These words are very piercing and convicting. There are many times I wonder if that’s just what we are doing in our comfortable middle class lives. Sure, I’m not the richest person out there, but I do very much live in luxury. I would like to be able to afford a few more full body massages, but I seriously do have pretty much every comfort I need and want. Am I fattening myself on the day of slaughter? 

I am extra sensitive to passages like these as we approach the holiday season. All around me are advertisements shoved in front of my eyes for stuff and more stuff. My kids grab all those Black Friday newspaper ads and plow through them updating me every 30 seconds with what they would like to have for Christmas. Am I teaching my kids to fatten themselves on the day of slaughter?

What is this passage really talking about? After reflecting on it and praying over it, here’s my take on it. No commentaries or Bible scholars were consulted, so take this for what it’s worth as my understanding of what Scripture is trying to say here.

Let’s look at the context this piercing verse is found in (I do remember something from my Bible classes!).  First, James is talking in the four preceding verses about how the rich people have “failed to pay the workmen who mowed [their] fields” and that their cries “have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (Jam. 5:4). James is condemning the rich because they have not treated the poor with justice and given them their due wages. That is how they have fattened themselves in the day of slaughter.

Secondly, the three verses following James 5:5 talk about how the end times are coming and we should “be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (Jam. 5:8). This shows us that the rich people in verse 5 were totally oblivious to the time in which they lived. Their priorities were all wrong. They were fattening themselves up, not knowing that on that very day they were going to be slaughtered. If they knew they were going to be slaughtered, do you think they would have done things differently? Absolutely!

These reflections cause me to ask some probing questions about my own life:
            -How am I treating the poor? Am I treating them fairly? Am I actively pursuing ways to help them in their livelihood? Do I try to help give them good work and purpose? How can I really do this in my middle class life and neighborhood? Oh Lord, show me. I want to love the poor like your Word commands us to over and over again. 
            -Am I aware of the signs of the times? Am I watching, preparing, anticipating your return? Am I more concerned with laying up my treasures in heaven than here on earth? Where does my energy go - to accumulating more and more, or to giving my possessions and myself to others? Lord, have mercy on me. May I have the eyes to see where you are at work and the desire to join you whole-heartedly.

- 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, November 20, 2017

November 20

Ezekiel 40:28-41:26; James 4:1-17; Psalm 118:19-29; Proverbs 28:3-5

Our chapter in James today is full of good, hard questions and commands, isn't it?

I couldn't help but think of the times I'm impatient with our children when I read.  "You want something but don't get it" (Jam. 4:2), and when I want order or quiet or efficiency and don't get it, I lash out at them.  Children are fundamentally disorderly, loud, and inefficient!  (And lovable.)

I remembered praying to make the cheerleading squad in junior high, telling God it would open opportunities for me to be the light of Jesus, but knowing I really just wanted to find my way into the popular crowd.  "When you ask, ... you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (Jam. 4:3).  Ouch.

"God opposes the proud" (Jam. 4:6).  Oppose is a very strong, set-against sort of word, just as pride is a very strong, set-against sort of attitude.

"Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom" (Jam. 4:9).  I don't understand why humility and happiness seem at odds.

"Who are you to judge your neighbor?" (Jam. 4:12)  I've made far too many comments about my literal neighbors and about my figurative neighbors.  (See "God opposes the proud," above.)

"All such boasting is evil" (Jam. 4:16).  I'm a planner.  I set a course and then list the steps to make it happen.  And then I congratulate myself when my actions result in a favorable conclusion.  I forget how much I owe to a physically strong body (courtesy of God), a strong impulse to save financially (courtesy of observing my parents), a democratic, capitalistic society (courtesy of the Founding Fathers).

And the most convicting of all: "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (Jam. 4:17). Oh, boy.

Nestled among these needed course-corrections, though, is encouragement beyond all hope: "Come near to God and he will come near to you" (Jam. 4:8).  What a beautiful truth!  As we humble ourselves and acknowledge our dependence, God is available and present to us.  

Advent is approaching, and I've been caught again and again by the incredible gift of the incarnation.  God became man and dwelt among us.  "Immanuel" - God is with us.  God's heart is always toward us; his presence is always intimately close by; his spirit lives within us.  God is already near to us - how can that not make us want to be nearer to him?  

Thanksgiving, too, is near, and I've realized again how thankful I am for God's Word.  It encourages me; it convicts me; it reveals truth about God to me and also truth about myself.  It is beautiful and powerful and such an incredible opportunity to know God, and, this year, it has been a way to interact with all of you.  I'm grateful.

- 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.