Sunday, August 20, 2017

August 20

Esther 8:1-10:3; 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13; Psalm 37:1-11; Proverbs 21:23-24

Today we read about one of the most powerful women in the Bible.


“The same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews” (Es. 8:1). Do you remember that Haman was second in command to Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Cush (see 1:1; 3:1)? This means that Haman’s estate was enormous. In addition to being queen, Esther was now independently wealthy and politically influential.

Esther immediately appointed her cousin (possibly uncle) Mordecai to oversee the estate (Es. 8:2) and she asked her husband for yet another favor: would he prevent the destruction of all the Jews in his provinces that Haman had planned (vs. 5-6)? And the answer is, yes. Even the King cannot revoke the decree that plans for the annihilation of the Jewish people, but he can write another one to counteract it. In the new decree, the Jews may band together and form armies to attack their enemies (vs. 11-13). The fastest horses and couriers are sent to all parts of the vast kingdom that King Xerxes ruled to announce this salvation for the Jews (vs. 10 & 14).

Esther also asked for Haman’s ten sons’ bodies to be publicly displayed on gallows (Es. 9:13). She then used her authority to proclaim days of Purim that would occur annually to celebrate the Jews victory over their enemies (vs. 29-32).

This queen, taken as a young virgin from her cousin Mordecai’s care, to a life she had never known and most likely never wanted, came to the kingdom for such a time as this (see Es. 4:14b), to save her people. She was elevated to the highest position in the land except for her husband. She was not only queen, but she became an active and ruling queen who worked on behalf of her people, as did Mordecai (10:3).

God turned tragedy in triumph. A lowly Jewish maiden became the most powerful woman in the world. Amazing.

Isn’t that just like our God? Our psalm comments perfectly on this: “Do not fret because of evil men [make no mistake—King Xerxes was an evil man] or be envious of those who do wrong [Haman did wrong]; for like the grass of the field they will wither, like the green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the LORD and do good: dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.… a little while and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the earth and enjoy great peace” (Ps. 37:1-3, 10-11).

Will the LORD not do the same for us? Our circumstances are never too terrible for Him to deliver us. Do what you can to deliver yourself from the evil circumstances like Esther did. She had to act to save her people. And she needed urging by her cousin. But she did act. And God was faithful.

There are times when we, too, must act. Or we must urge others to act. Let’s look to the example of this brave young woman who saved her people by God’s gracious favor and we will find our own courage to act in the troubling times in which we live.

- 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, August 19, 2017

August 19

Esther 4:1-7:10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-26; Psalm 36:1-12; Proverbs 21:21-22

I'm reminded of Psalm 68:6 today: "God sets the lonely in families." Isn't that beautiful?  Our New Testament reading expands this concept.  As Paul writes these poignant words about the value and worth and connectedness of each part of the body of Christ, we're reminded that we are the family of God.  Over and over again, Paul stresses the "same"ness and the "one"ness of the body and its head.  It is the "same Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:4, 8, 9, 11), the "same Lord" (vs. 5), the "same God" (vs. 6).  It is a unifying Spirit (vs. 9, 11, 13), single itself and binding all of us together in unity.  We are loved.  We are accepted.  We are pursued and chosen by God.  We are all the same in his eyes.  We cannot do anything to make him love us more than any others; we cannot do anything to make him love us less.  We're all God's favorite, like children in a family.

And, yet, we're all unique and purposefully fashioned to be different.  For all the "same" and "one," we're also - again, just like a family - singular and discrete.  We are "many" (1 Cor. 12:14, 18, 20) in order to make the whole stronger.  I'm reminded of something Eric told me recently.  A friend (whose child had applied) had heard from Harvard that the university wasn't necessarily looking for well-rounded students; they were instead looking for a well-rounded student body.  That's what we are: we're not well-rounded parts; we're a well-rounded whole.  A single entity comprised of different bits that work together just right.

Because we're a whole, what we do and don't do matters.  Our joys are multiplied and benefit the whole body; our griefs and losses and sins affect more than just ourselves (see 1 Cor. 12:26).  This truth brings great strength, but also great responsibility.  We are not, after all, islands.

I'm part of multiple bodies: the Sunukjian clan (29 strong and hopefully still going); the Marsh clan (a wonderful group to marry into); the family of seven that Eric and I have created together (called by our children, for lack of a better descriptor, "our whole little family"); the body of Christ (past, present, and future).  In each of these families, there's both one-ness and distinctiveness.  In each of these systems, we laugh over new pregnancies and hold hands as we cry.  We have responsibilities to others and vice versa.  In addition, I have a body, and I know how a headache can affect every other aspect of my physical function.  An upset stomach touches all other portions of my self.  I can identify with Paul's comparisons and allusions.  His use of such vivid and personal metaphors make his words more real, more potent, more accessible, and more memorable.

Scripture amazes me.

- Sarah Marsh

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

August 18

Esther 1:1-3:15; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Psalm 35:17-28; Proverbs 21:19-20

Today we start the book of Esther. You didn’t think I was going to pass up the chance to write on that, did you?

In my family of origin, we all have Bible names – my brothers are Peter and David and my sisters, as you know, are Sarah and Mary. And then me, Esther. In the family I’ll building now with Ian, we’ve followed the same pattern – we have a Ruth, a Jonah and an Isaiah. We love names that mean something and hope by naming our children after some of God’s ancient people, that they will be encouraged to take their places in the kingdom, along these other great witnesses.

My parents, I think, had the same idea. I was given the name Esther and I’ve always loved my name. Part of the appeal is that my dad has this great sermon called My Name is Harbona, in which he acts out the story of Esther from the perspective of one of the king’s eunuchs, Harbona (we actually saw him listed in our reading today – Esther 1:10). He wrote the sermon when he was in seminary but he preached it every summer of my life at the family camp we went to in Colorado. I could practically do the dramatization myself, though not nearly as wonderfully as my dad.

Anyway, Esther is probably most well-known for the famous verse in chapter 4, verse 14, which we’ll read tomorrow: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I love that verse and maybe tomorrow someone will write about it, but today, I wanted to share with you my dad’s take on the book. First, did you notice in today’s reading that God’s name is never mentioned? When we read tomorrow, you’ll notice it’s not there, either. Or the day after. That’s because God is never mentioned in the entire book. Esther is the only book in the whole Bible that doesn’t mention God. But don’t be mistaken – God is clearly present and active throughout the book. As my dad describes it in his telling of Esther, it’s like the characters in this book are people in a dollhouse and the Father is looking down into the dollhouse, controlling the events but never actually stepping into the dollhouse himself. God’s purpose is very clear in this book, as he guides Esther and Mordecai and as he protects his people from annihilation. His hand is directing the people and circumstances to unfold at just the right time, so that everything perfectly falls into place for the Israelites. As we read and finish the book over the next two days, be in the lookout for that and see how carefully the loving Father moves the pieces of the dollhouse around.

And I encourage you the think about God’s role in your own life and how you view him. Do you see him as a loving Father who has your best in mind? Or do you (falsely) view him as someone waiting for you to mess up so he can stick it to you? Our God is careful and thoughtful with you and your life. Keep believing, and keep reading.

- 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, August 17, 2017

August 17

Nehemiah 12:27-13:31; 1 Corinthians 11:3-16; Psalm 35:1-16; Proverbs 21:17-18

Should godly women cover their heads when they come to church to worship?

Paul addresses this issue in the Corinthians passage today. Women have read this for centuries and wondered how to be obedient to God. Men traditionally take off their hats when they pray or enter a house of worship (1 Cor. 11:4), while women in many parts of the world cover their heads with a scarf when they enter a cathedral. Is Paul saying this is necessary?

Perhaps the primary teaching of the passage is not about head coverings but about headship. Paul says the head of the man is Christ and the head of the woman is man (1 Cor. 11:3). Man was created by God from the dust of the ground, but woman was created by God from the side of man.

Before I taught on this passage at Talbot, I read several scholars to help my understanding. Here is what Dr. Craig Blomberg says in The NIV Application Commentary: “Yes it is true that men and women are equal in Christ, but that does not mean that all differences between the sexes may be blurred. The events seem to proceed as follows. Because of their newfound freedom in Christ, women in the Corinthian church were praying and prophesying. Christian tradition from Pentecost on had approved of such practice. But these women were not merely speaking in worship, but doing it in a way that unnecessarily flaunted social convention and the order of creation. So Paul has to encourage them to exercise restraint."

Conservative scholars like Dr. Blomberg are agreed that head coverings in this passage are cultural to the first century and conveyed the symbolic idea of the headship of men and the subordination of women to men.

A man should not, in that culture, cover his head when he prayed or prophesied because as the glory of God, he was to look manly and covering his head would, in that culture, be feminine. His bare head shows his headship; the woman’s head covered shows her subordination. God is equally pleased with both.

Today, as then, the church should be characterized by a lack of rebelliousness against gender differences. Both men and women leaders should be true to their created status. The women are to be distinctly feminine (NOT sexy, but feminine); the men are to be distinctly manly. Androgynous hairdos and clothing are to be avoided—we are made in the image of God as male and female. Women are not to dress like lesbians or prostitutes or like men. Men are not to wear women’s clothing or be effeminate. We are not like the angels who are asexual; we are male and female and our clothing/head coverings/lack of head coverings, as we come to worship, should reflect that.  The angels (who are asexual) observe us and they know that our femaleness and maleness together are reflections of God’s glory.

This is such a profound teaching. Do you see that previous sentence? Being made male and female together reflects God’s glory.

So it’s not head covering that is really being talked about, but being truly male and female and letting those innate differences be known. I like Dr. Blomberg’s distinction of not blurring gender lines. Women are to be feminine in their worship and men are to be masculine in their worship, and their apparel, hairstyle and demeanor should reflect that.

Headship illustrates that there is a difference in being male and being female. It began at creation and it continues to this day. Men are vested with headship and women are vested with being the glory of men (1 Cor. 11:7). Paul writes interchangeably about the literal head of a man and a woman and figuratively about the man as head of woman and Christ as the head of man (vs. 3). Careful reading shows which is which. The point is taking our rightful role as worshippers as a woman or a man, acknowledging our gender differences.

I’m thinking of a woman who led worship last Sunday with her sweet smile and modest dress. The men on the platform looked quite different than she—they were in jeans and shirts. Though she may not have known it, she was wearing a ‘head covering’ as her dress and demeanor were appropriate to her gender.

And I believe that is what Paul is teaching.

- 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, August 16, 2017

August 16

Nehemiah 11:1-12:26; 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:2: Psalm 34:11-22; Proverbs 21:14-16

A few, unconnected thoughts:

It surprises me that they had to take a draft in order to fill the city of Jerusalem.  I suppose it just shows how very far the mighty have fallen.  This jewel of a city, polished and honed until silver was commonplace in Solomon's day, now so broken and decrepit that men would prefer to live in the open villages of an occupied land (see Neh. 11:1-2)...

I wonder what Paul means by communion as "a participation in the blood...and body of Christ" (1 Cor. 10:16)?  There is some element of "with-ness" between us and Jesus when we are taking the juice/wine and the bread/cracker.  

I love the beautiful freedom and exuberant permission for joy that we find in 1 Corinthians 10:31 - "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (emphasis mine).  All of life is available to us as an expression of praise to God.  Everything that is done for the glory of God is well done, worthy of rejoicing in.  Napping in the sunshine; playing with my children at the water park; eating that perfect peach; organizing the garage; engaging in that difficult conversation; giving to the church's building campaign; sending a care package to a discouraged friend; faithfully fulfilling my work's requirements.  How can I glorify God in each of those activities?

Many years ago, before kids, Eric and I drove over the northwestern parts of the country on a road trip vacation.  We camped in the Grand Tetons, drove through Yellowstone, stayed in a motel on the beach in Oregon.  It was a lovely, special, memorable trip.  One of the bits that we come back to most often, though, is a moment of hilarity when we were stopped along a two-lane highway in the dead of night (truly, it was almost midnight) in the middle of eastern Oregon.  There were no lights other than our headlights, no cars other than us, no Siri telling us where to go and how much further it was.  But we were stopped, waiting for permission to continue on the road-under-repair ahead of us.  Somewhere up in front of us, this two-lane highway was down to one lane and we had to wait.  So we waited...for 30 minutes, for a mid-sized white pickup to drive slowly toward us, turn around, and lead us cautiously back along the one lane.  On the back of this truck was a lighted sign: FOLLOW ME.  And, let me tell you, we did.  For 10 miles, at under 30 mph, we followed that sign.  We were barely coherent by the end of it - the absurdity of it all was overwhelming: the lights, the FOLLOW ME, the complete and total lack of other cars, the night, etc.  But we were safely through that oh-so-perilous road work.  Do you see where I'm headed with this story and 1 Corinthians 11:1?  We followed that truck, as it followed the road.  We were led by someone with greater knowledge, and we were protected from unknown danger as we followed.  How true to what we need in our journey with Jesus!  Do you have someone to follow, who can help you navigate the difficulties of the road ahead, who is committed to your safety and thriving?  Someone for you to walk behind as he/she walks behind Jesus?

Psalm 34 is just such a mid-sized white truck: "I will teach you the fear of the Lord.  Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.  Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it" (vs. 11-14).  Follow this, God's word says, through the dark of night and uncertainty.  Here are the directions; listen to the GPS voice of Scripture.  


- 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, August 15, 2017

August 15

Nehemiah 9:22-10:39; 1 Corinthians 9:19-10:13; Psalm 34:1-10; Proverbs 21:13

“You gave them kingdoms and nations…. But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs.…But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them… and in your great compassion you delivered them time after time” (Neh. 9:22-28).

It gets a little painful to read about this cycle of obedience, blessing, rebellion, oppression, repentance, obedience, blessing, etc. and etc. and etc. Seems like we read and reread so many accounts of the Israelites' history in this same cycle over and over again. But that’s what happened. Why couldn’t the Israelites learn? It can be easy to judge them from a distance.

But what about a little closer to home? What about in the teachings of Paul? Here he is in 1 Corinthians still exhorting the Israelites (and now followers of Jesus) to the very same thing: obedience above all else. Paul reminds his audience that their forefathers were all spiritual and even drank from the spiritual rock of Jesus, but God was not pleased with them. Paul tells his readers that “these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6).

They had to be reminded over and over and over again about the mistakes of the past, so that they wouldn’t commit them again in the future. Therein lies the problem: people forget. The ancient Jews forgot the sins of their forefathers. They forgot their own sins. They became arrogant, thinking it was by their own might that they received blessing.

We too forget. We forget what it feels like to live under sin. We forget that we need Jesus every second of every day to help us keep in step with his Spirit and walk according to his ways and not our own. We think we have it under control. We think that obeying God’s laws are not important anymore in this culture and in this age. We think we have a special circumstance that will allow us to live according to what is wise in our own eyes. We forget.

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:11-13).

This passage says it all. I couldn’t say it better. What a great, great exhortation to us today. Heed the warnings. Be careful. Don’t think you are all okay all the time. Don’t think your case is the exception to God’s clearly written laws. Don’t think you can walk right up to the edge of sin and not fall over the cliff. I know that may sound harsh, but it’s so clear in Scripture. Don’t have history repeat itself.

Instead, walk humbly with our God, knowing that he can deliver us from every temptation to stray from his ways. He will always provide a way to stay in obedience to him. Break the cycle. Remember. Heed the warnings and examples from the past. He is our deliverer. He will help us stand.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

- 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, August 14, 2017

August 14

Nehemiah 7:61 - 9:21; 1 Corinthians 9:1-18; Psalm 33:12 - 22; Proverbs 21:11-12

Time for another smorgasbord of comments on today's reading:

  • Don't you just love the immediate, tangible obedience shown by the people in Nehemiah 8:13-18?  They hear and they obey.  The previous day their response to the Scriptures had been "to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them" (vs. 12).  Aren't you reminded of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:34-39)?  He too didn't know, didn't understand, but when he understood, he obeyed with baptism and then rejoiced.  I love how we see different groups at different times respond to God in the same way.  Awesome.
  • Nehemiah 9:5-21 is a history lesson, a confession, and an extolling of God's generous goodness.  The Levites start at creation and rehearse the mighty acts of God in human (that is, Israelite) history (vs. 5-15), not shying away from the failures of their forefathers (vs. 16-18).  My favorite part, though, is the emphasis on God's extravagant giving - see vs. 10, 12 and 19, 13-15, 20, 21.  He sends and protects and guides and provides and gives.  In every way, he exemplifies his character: "a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love" (vs. 17).  Also, do you see how this passage is a section about God (""), followed by a section about Israel's failed response ("they...they...they..."), followed by a section about God ("")?  God is the great act-or, the great love-r, the great covenant-keeper, despite their faithlessness.
  • I Corinthians 9:17 prompts an observation and a thought.  Observation: Either way, the gospel is preached and God's purpose is furthered.  Thought/question: Should I not live by this also?  If I forgive voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am doing my duty.  If I am kind to my spouse or children or roommate, or am diligent in my work voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am discharging my responsibilities.  Either way, isn't the right thing done and God's kingdom upheld?
  • We sing a worship song at our church that expresses our need before God ("our eyes are on you," we declare).  Other places in the book of Psalms proclaim our expectancy before God ("our eyes look to the Lord" [Ps. 123:2]).  How much better is it that "the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine" (Ps. 33:18)?  To know that God is looking over me, keeping me always in his sight as a mother does her toddler in a crowd - amazing. 
  • Proverbs 21:11 is another expression of the ways, both direct and indirect, that wisdom can be gained.  I wrote about it a few weeks ago (see the post on July 22's reading), in reference to Proverbs 19:25.  So many really true things have to be said over and over and over again (I'm thinking of you, "quarrelsome wife") for us to start to catch them.
What struck you in your reading 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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

August 13

Nehemiah 5:14 - 7:60; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Psalm 33:1-11; Proverbs 21:8-10

I couldn't help but thinking about modesty when I read Paul's words in I Corinthians 8:9-13 today.  It's full into summer in LA, and the endless sunshine prompts the people here to shed clothes.  I've been to more than one beach and pool this summer, and I've seen far more skin than I wanted to see.  I have two sons on the cusp of manhood and a daughter who is extremely aware of fashion, not to mention the littles who, though still somewhat oblivious, always catch more than I realize.

I sometimes feel desperate to protect them all.  

Believers aren't exempt from the temptation to reveal more body than conceal.  There are Christian universities nearby and I drive to and from youth group.  I'm not naive and I'm not blind.

I worry about the young men growing up.  As the beautiful girls around them exercise their "freedom," how will my sons and their friends keep themselves with integrity and purity?  It will be difficult, if not impossible, to not see!  

I worry about the young women growing up.  As their peers' shorts grow shorter and shorter and their tank tops tighter and tighter, how will my daughters and their friends learn to value their bodies rightly and righteously?  It will be difficult, if not impossible, to choose otherwise.

I'll say it again: I sometimes feel desperate to protect them all.

I know Paul wasn't talking about modesty.  I know he was setting out guidelines on how to love fellow believers as they were coming out of paganism.  But I think the principle may hold true - or may at least be worth considering.

If our freedoms cause others to struggle, why hold to them?  Isn't the good of another person more important than my personal inclinations?  Sacrificial love means setting aside our preferences for the good of others.  It means taking unpopular stances and earning the disapproval of a teenaged daughter.  It means frank conversations and embarrassing questions with beloved sons. 

Jesus himself wanted to turn away from the cost of sacrificial love.  The gate is narrow, he told us (Mt. 7:13).  Living like Jesus was never supposed to be easy.

But, oh, like our psalm said two days ago, "How great is [his] goodness, which [he has] stored up for those who fear [him]" (Ps. 31:19)!  The abundance of God's goodness in exchange for me curtailing my 'rights'?  Seems like a very good deal.

- Sarah Marsh

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

August 12

Nehemiah 3:15-5:13; 1 Corinthians 7:25-40; Psalm 32:1-11; Proverbs 21:5-7

Friends of ours love the Lord and serve Him well. Their adult son and daughter-in-law also love and serve the Lord. Each family is regular in their church attendance and participation. Each family gives generously to their church and supports missionaries too. Each family has been on cross-cultural trips to share the Gospel with the needy. And each family earns their living in Christian ministry. But between these two sets of families a chasm has grown. It is now so wide it will be difficult to cross. On one side stands the elder couple; on the other, the younger couple. The elders have held out their hands, time and again, and asked, “What have we done to hurt you? How can we make it right?” The younger couple has named some stipulations; the elder couple considered them and did as asked, in the name of unity and family cohesiveness. But their efforts did not pay off in the hoped-for reconciliation.

So today, I prayed a hard prayer based on the reading in Psalm 32.

“Lord,” I prayed, “I ask that Your hand be heavy upon the younger couple until they repent and restore relationship with their parents. I pray that their strength will be sapped as in the heat of summer. I pray that they will repent of holding their parents away from them and will acknowledge and confess their transgression of disunity. This is a hard prayer, Lord, and I pray it in confidence that You hear and answer and that this is Your Will.”

And then I thought, “This is indeed a hard prayer. And, oh, how good it would be for all involved and for Your work, O Lord, if repentance should come.”

David explains the sweet reward of repentance and confession in verse 6, “You forgave the guilt of my sin.”

I prayed that my young friends would not be like the horse or mule which have no understanding but must be controlled by the bit and bridle or they will not come in obedience (see Ps. 32:9). I prayed that they would trust God and enjoy being surrounded by His unfailing love.

“Thank you, Lord, that Your Word directs us and counsels us how to live and how to pray. When I sat down to read today, I was not thinking of these friends, but You directed me through Your Word to them and to their needs and You showed me how to pray. Not an easy prayer, but a right prayer. And I trust You to answer it in Your time.


- Nell Sunukjian

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

August 11

Nehemiah 1:1-3:14; 1 Corinthians 7:1-24; Psalm 31:19-24; Proverbs 21:4

Today we begin a new book in the Old Testament. It’s sometimes easy in The One Year Bible to lose track of timelines and historical breaks, as we turn the pages from one book to the next. So, today, I thought I’d give quick overview of where we are in history.

There are 3 “returns” from Exile in Israelite history. After 70 years of captivity, the exiles come out to rebuild the temple in 538 BC, under Zerubbabel. This return lasts 23 years; then there is a 57-year gap (during which the story of Esther takes place) and then the second “return,” in 458 BC, where the people reform and follow God’s ways. This is part of the time of Ezra. However, it’s short lived; it only lasts two years and then we have another 12 years of unrecorded history.

After that time is when we pick up in Nehemiah, in 444 BC, when the wall is rebuilt, the beginning of which we saw in today’s reading (more on that in a minute). This rebuilding lasts 12 years and marks the final stretch of time until Malachi, after which God will remain silent in Israel for 400 years, right up until the pronouncement to Mary about the coming birth of Jesus. As a side note, doesn’t that just put into perspective how alarming and truly surprising the angel’s visit to Mary is? There hasn’t been a prophet or vision or any word from God in 400 years and then an angel appears to her to tell her she’s going to bear the son of God! Pretty crazy stuff. But I digress. Back to Nehemiah!

The beginning of Nehemiah is really amazing. He hears that his people, the remnant, are in “great trouble and shame” and that “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh. 1:3) and he is so moved by sorrow that the king (to whom he is a servant) notices his burden and asks him about it. When the king hears that Jerusalem lies in ruins, he asks Nehemiah what he wants to do. I love Nehemiah’s boldness and his faith – look at what he does: “So I prayed to the God of heaven and I said to the king…” Did you notice that? When the king asks Nehemiah what he wants, Nehemiah first prays to God and then steps out in boldness to ask if he can rebuild. Nehemiah is a servant in the palace of a powerful king; but he doesn’t let those circumstances stop him. He prays, gets direction from God and then courageously steps out in faith and asks to be released so he can go home and rebuild his beloved city.

King Artaxerxes agrees to this (because “the good hand of my God was upon [Nehemiah],” [Neh. 2:8]) and off Nehemiah goes. He gets the people organized and I love the verses that follow, showing all the family groups (some with fathers and daughters!) who build different portions of the wall. Pretty great stuff!!

I have no neat connection now to transition to the New Testament but there are verses here that deserve some attention. Look at 1 Corinthians 7:10 – “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” I know it’s unpopular these days to speak out against divorce and remarriage but if we’re going to read the Bible and say it’s God’s word, we have to read the whole Bible, not just the parts that are comfortable and fit neatly into our culture. And these verses really couldn’t be any clearer. God does not want us to get divorced, and if we do get divorced, he wants us to remarry only our original spouse. As Paul says, that’s not me saying that; it’s God’s word. And it’s up to us what we’re going to do with that information.

I’ll leave this post now with a few encouraging words from today’s Psalm: “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you” (Ps. 31:19). How abundant is God’s goodness, indeed! 

- 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, August 10, 2017

August 10

Ezra 10:1-44; 1 Corinthians 6:1-20; Psalm 31:9-18; Proverbs 21:3

I was going to start today’s blog post with an “I’m not gonna lie, I’m tired today” but I don’t know why I would be tempted to lie, since we all get tired and that’s okay. You don’t judge me, right? Some days you’re not in the mood to read your OYB (or this blog, I’m sure), so you feel me, I know. We are nearing the end of summer vacation, which is WONDERFUL and I dare not complain, but there are some days that all the “special” just wears me out. Does that happen to you? Do your kids have the same habit of mine, asking “what are we going to do that’s special today?” I’ve literally been walking out of Disneyland (DISNEYLAND – the happiest place on earth!) and been asked by my five-year-old what other special thing we’re doing that day. Sheesh! So about this time of year, I’m a little worn down by the entitlement and craziness that manifests itself in my children every summer. And the truth is, I want to watch a Hulu or Netflix episode and veg out while they are sleeping. But one of the benefits of the OYB is that it keeps me on track; it keeps me coming back, even when I’m not highly motivated, because I want to keep moving forward, and because I know others are with me on the journey. So thank you for keeping me accountable!

Anyway, as is always the case when we come to God’s word, I was struck by something new today, in the midst of my tiredness. Paul says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). In the past, I’ve read these words more like a threat; today, I read them as an encouragement.

I know why I’ve read it as a threat in the past – the text around it is pretty tough, coming down hard on various sins, and Paul is clearly right to do so, with this struggling, sinful church. (And, I dare say, he would say something very similar to our over-sexed, under-truthed culture as well.) Paul wants to emphasize to this church that they should be careful what they do with their bodies. So, yes, the command (even threat) is there. But there’s something else beautiful there that really struck me today. My body is a temple – the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Today, read that not as a warning, but as a promise. Thank you, Jesus, that my body is home for your Spirit, which has been freely given to me! What a wonderful truth. What a powerful proclamation to cling to. And what a motivator to use my body to do just as Paul says – to glorify God. The price was high, but Jesus was willing to pay it, and I am the beneficiary.


- 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, August 9, 2017

August 9

Ezra 8:21-9:15; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Psalm 31:1-8; Proverbs 21:1-2

"Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage.  He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia.  He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem" (Ez. 9:9).  

Ezra is well-aware of the circumstances regarding the exiled people of Israel.  They have no power; they have no homeland.  Their children have been taken from them; they are entirely dependent on the goodwill of an occupying enemy.  Their unique position of favor with God, symbolized by the temple, is in question.  Ezra sees truly.  He knows the seriousness of the situation.  But he also sees the hand of God truly.  He recognizes the faithfulness of God in the midst of these griefs.  The slavery to Persia isn't lessened or eliminated, but God is still active.  God is still good, and Ezra proclaims this.  Even in the face of one more great failure (the holy people taking foreign wives [Ez. 9:1-2]), he acknowledges God's mercy (see vs. 13).  

He is, in different words, praying portions of Psalm 31.  "Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me....For the sake of your name lead and guide me.  Free me from the trap that is set for me....You saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.  You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place" (Ps. 31:2, 3, 4, 7, 8).
We, too, can turn to God with words of truth.  Truth about our situations - our pain, our fears, our heartache, our discouragement - but also truth about who God is, in his steadfast loving-kindness and mercy.  All too often, our pain blocks our view of the Lord's continuing presence.  Can we pray like Ezra and the psalmist?
            "Though my children do not walk with the Lord, my God has not deserted me in this sorrow."
            "God has shown me kindness, even in the sight of the oncology nurses."
            "I have been granted new life to rebuild relationships with estranged friends and family, to repair those ruins."
            "God has given me a wall of protection, and I trust in him above my pension, my government, my husband."
            "Though I miscarried once again, and my cousin is pregnant once more, my God has not deserted me in this sorrow."
            "God has shown me kindness, even in the sight of the divorce lawyer."
            "I have been granted new life to rebuild from addiction, to repair the ruin of trust and health and sobriety."
            "God has given me a wall of protection, and I rest behind it from the attacks of my enemy upon my mind and emotions."
            "You see the affliction and anguish of my soul, but I am not handed over to destruction."

Teach me to pray with such dependence and faith, Lord.  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, August 8, 2017

August 8

Ezra 7:1-8:20; 1 Corinthians 4:1-21; Psalm 30:1-12; Proverbs 20:28-30

Do you have any of those “God stories” where you tell them and there’s no doubt that the hand of God brought something miraculous about? There was nothing you could point to that would attribute it to human working or intervention. It was purely just a God thing. Today’s reading in Ezra 7 is a story just like that. It confirms that God is the God of all and he will do whatever he plans and he will carry it out, regardless of man’s aiding or attempting to hinder that plan.

I am just amazed that this new King Artaxerxes would write the kind of letter he did and give the kind of freedom he did to these Israelite captives. We read in Ezra 7:6 that "the hand of the Lord his God was upon him [Ezra],” and “the King granted everything he asked for.”  Just a few chapters before, the whole reconstruction of the temple was shut down because the Israelites were deemed rebellious and untrustworthy.  And now, the king is sending them off with his blessing and his money!

God is at work. God is going to do what he is going to do. God changes the hearts of all mankind, whether or not they even acknowledge him as God. He never forgets his faithful remnant. 

This gives me great comfort. It takes the pressure off us to make things happen. God is always the initiator of great works. He starts them and he carries them out. It is his good work. But we too have a responsibility. Just as Ezra recognized he had a great responsibility because the hand of the Lord was upon him, we too should take courage and join God in his great works.

We can either be a part of this great plan he is carrying out, or we can sit on the side and miss out.  It does often take a great deal of courage to join him; may he grant that to us.

Where is God already moving the hearts of men towards his purposes? Who has been growing a soft heart towards him? How do you see him working around you in your everyday lives and in the world at large? Let’s join him. Let’s be like Ezra, well-versed and devoted to the ways of the Lord, calling others to join us as we move forward in His good works. 

- 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, August 7, 2017

August 7

Ezra 4:24-6:22; 1 Corinthians 3:5-23; Psalm 29:1-11; Proverbs 20:26-27

Remember my post from a couple of days ago? When I needed the reminder to wait for the Lord, to be strong, to take heart (Ps. 27:14)? Where God promises to deliver us as we wait for him (Pr. 20:22)? Well, today's reading in Ezra shows us the waiting and delivering in action big-time!
The book of Ezra falls into three chunks.  The first chunk, made of chapters 1-3, tells how the exiles returned to Israel - it's the why, the who, and the initial actions of the remnant.  The last portion (Ch. 7-10) has two emphases: Ezra's journey and arrival in Israel, and then his actions regarding the unfaithfulness of the exiles.  Both the first and last sections deal with the internal workings (both failures and successes) of the returned people.  These middle chapters in Ezra (Ch. 4-5-6), however, are more externally-directed.  The remnant are under attack from outside forces and thus require the intervention of outside forces to move forward.

Although we read yesterday about the successful letter-writing campaign to stop the building of Jerusalem, we see even more intimidation in today's reading.  Don't you just feel the adrenaline rush of "Who authorized you to rebuild?" and "What are the names?" (Ez. 5:3-4)? The administrators in Trans-Euphrates have elevated bullying to an art form!  Another letter goes out, but this time the return correspondence is firmly to the exiles' benefit.  Chapter 6 is their vindication.  They waited for the Lord, and while they waited, they were faithful.  They kept building; they kept trusting.

And God delivered.  The people of Israel "[did] not say, "[We'll] pay you back for this wrong!" (Pr. 20:22).  Through the prompting of God, King Darius permanently (see Ez. 6:11) and definitively rules in favor of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and compels the same administrators to support the construction logistically (vs. 6-7) and financially (vs. 8-9).  Talk about a turnaround!

I've never before seen the connection between today's reading and the wisdom literature portion of our reading on 8/5.  It staggered me today as I read.  I am so grateful for God's continued goodness as he reveals new beauty in Scripture.  This is why I read The One Year Bible year after year.

- 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, August 6, 2017

August 6

Ezra 3:1-4:24; 1 Corinthians 2:6-3:4; Psalm 29:1-11; Proverbs 20:26-27

Being disqualified when you have done nothing wrong.
A misunderstanding with the boss leads to being let go.
Building codes preclude adding a new building to your church until more parking is added.

Things in ministry or life or your job seem to be going well, and then screech….. the sound of brakes is heard. And the work comes to a complete stop.

That happened today in our reading of Ezra. King Cyrus of Persia sent back to Jerusalem any Jews who wanted to return with the goal of rebuilding the temple. Despite their fear of the people around them, they persevered with their building project (Ez. 3:3) and things were moving along well until they encountered sly enemies, Bishlam and his associates (4:7).  These enemies wrote a letter to the new king of Persia, Xerxes, and lodged a complaint against the Jewish temple builders. Xerxes believed their accusations and for twenty years the work on the temple was halted (Ancient History Encyclopedia online) until King Darius came to power (vs. 24).

Twenty years. That’s a long time. That’s how long it takes a baby to become an adult. The temple could have been rebuilt and then some. Solomon’s temple took only seven years to build.

God’s people, who have done nothing wrong and, in fact, are trying to do something very good, something God wants done, are at a standstill. They must wait for God to open the next door.

Remember the wait in yesterday’s reading and Sarah’s comment on it? David writes in Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” In Psalm 28:4, David says, “Repay them [the wicked] for their deeds and for their evil work; repay them for what their hands have done and bring back upon them what they deserve.”

Keep reading in Ezra. God will act in His time. He will repay the wicked.

And He will act in your life and mine. If He calls us to a task that has been derailed through no fault of our own, then He is in the waiting and at the proper time He will put the task back on track. The unfair disqualification may lead you to seek a different direction in life. Being let go from a job gives you the time to consider a new career that will be better in the long run. Building codes that require more parking can get changed, or the church will discover they really needed the extra parking.

God is not absent in the delays, though we fret over them.

Wait for the Lord. He is in the waiting.

- 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, August 5, 2017

August 5

Ezra 1:1-2:70; 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5; Psalm 27:7-14; Proverbs 20:22-23

I've got to be honest with you.  As I opened to today's reading, I was pretty sure my post would read something like, "Lord, show me how all Scripture is useful for teaching, 'cuz this list of the remnant returning to Jerusalem doesn't immediately strike me as useful."

And then, buried in this genealogical record, there's a reference to the line of Barzillai the Gileadite, a man who was faithful to King David even as the king fled from his usurping son, Absalom (see 2 Sam. 19:31).  That his name would have had such significance that both his son-in-law would have adopted it (see Ez. 2:61) and that it would be remembered generations later speaks to the weightiness of his actions during his lifetime.  My father is an excellent man, and Sunukjian is a very interesting name, but my husband Eric wasn't willing to take my name upon our marriage, nor do I anticipate that we'll be recognizable household names in even a hundred years.  Yet Barzillai, this very minor character in Israel's past, remains meaningful.  I'm sure he himself would have been surprised to know that his loyalty to his king - which should have been a foregone conclusion - had such a lasting import.  Where might my "foregone conclusions" have longer-reaching impact?  Where might yours?

Surprised by the train of thought found in Ezra (of all places), I kept reading.  Good stuff in our New Testament reading, but 1 Corinthians 2:2 caught my eye.  "I was resolved to know nothing...except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  Wow.  I mean, what would it look like in my life if the only thing I knew was Jesus as Lord?  If every action, every thought, every word, everything was based off that only thing?  Paul resolved to do this: he decided, he chose, he firmly fixed it in his mind.  It didn't just happen; he made it happen in his life.  How might I determine the same?  How might you?

I needed the reminder of Psalm 27:13-14, too.  We're on vacation and let's just say it hasn't gone according to plan.  It's a temptation to say (and, I must confess, I've already said), "What will go wrong next?"  But I am still confident of the goodness of the Lord and how I experience it in my life.  Wait.  Be strong.  Take heart.  Wait.  Trust.  God is good.  Wait.

Our reading in Proverbs echoes that last thought: "Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you" (Pr. 20:22).  I'm not fighting through abandonment (as the psalmist is), or returning from exile to a desolate land (as the Israelites are), or struggling to guide a church (as Paul is), but I, too, need to remember that God meets me.  In vomiting children and physical exhaustion, he is yet present.  In serious arguments with loved ones, he is present.  In uncertain financial and vocational periods, he is present.  Will I wait and look for his deliverance?  Will you?

Dear friends, be "confident of this: [you] will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord" (Ps. 27:13-14).  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, August 4, 2017

August 4

2 Chronicles 35:1-36:23; 1 Corinthians 1:1-17; Psalm 27:1-6; Proverbs 20:20-21

Today we get to start 1 Corinthians. It’s always exciting to me when we start a new book – it holds the promise of new insights and also shows our progress, two good things in my mind!

As I always like to do when we’re starting a new book, let me offer a little background on the book of 1 Corinthians.

This epistle, as you probably know, was written by Paul, sometime around 53 or 54 AD. This means it was written during his 3rd missionary journey, which included stops in Antioch, Galatia, Phrygia and Ephesus. Both Ephesus and Corinth were wealthy port cities steeped in pagan idolatry and philosophy. Corinth benefited both militarily and economically from its strategic location at one end of the isthmus that connected the southern Greek peninsula to the mainland.

As with all of Paul’s writings, there are several themes, but the basic one for us to look for as we read is this: “The Corinthian church, divided because of the arrogance of its more powerful members, should work together for the advancement of the gospel. They should repent of their rivalries, build up the faith of those who are weak, and witness effectively to unbelievers” (ESV Global Study Bible).

Many scholars divide the letter into 7 parts:
  • Salutation (1:1–3)
  • Thanksgiving (1:4–9)
  • Division in Corinth (1:10–4:21)
    • Facts of division
    • Causes of division
    • Cure for division
  • Immorality in Corinth (5:1–6:20)
    • Discipline an immoral brother
    • Resolving personal disputes
    • Sexual purity
  • Difficulties in Corinth (7:1–14:40)
    • Marriage
    • Christian liberty
    • Worship
  • Doctrine of the Resurrection (15:1-58)
  • Closing (16:1-24)
Since this church is struggling with with division, immorality, idolatry, and theological confusion, there are some parts of this letter that are hard to read – but there are also some truly beautiful parts, like the very famous “love” chapter, chapter 13. So hang in there. As always with God’s word, the payoff is worth it!

On a personal note, I love that Paul starts this letter with thanksgiving for these people, who we will come to read are not the easiest of people. He says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). The older I grow, the more I can appreciate (in myself and others) the ability to lead with the positive, even with a negative is coming. In my work as a property manager of vacation rentals, I find it so refreshing when a guest, even if calling with a complaint, says, “The place is so lovely, thank you; but would it be possible to have someone come look at the toilet?” rather than just launching into how the toilet is broken. So when we’re facing difficult people or situations, let’s take a page out of Paul’s book and lead with thanksgiving and positivity!

- 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, August 3, 2017

August 3

2 Chronicles 33:14-34:33; Romans 16:8-27; Psalm 26:1-12; Proverbs 20:19

If today’s text sounds a little familiar to you (as many of these texts in 2 Chronicles are bound to), that is a good sign that you are thoroughly reading your OYB every day. Way to go! It was just one short month ago on July 3rd that we read about this same story of Josiah in 2 Kings 22 and 23. My sister Sarah wrote an excellent post on his life and story, which you can read here. So as not to be redundant, and since there is not much I could say to better her post, I will focus on other aspects of today’s Scripture.

First, I am continually struck by how completely bent towards mercy and forgiveness our God is. Manasseh was probably the most evil king recorded in the Judah’s history, as we saw evidenced through the list of awful things he did in yesterday’s reading. And yet, God is moved to not bring the wrath that Manasseh deserves, but rather mercy. 2 Chronicles 33:19 tells us that when Manasseh humbled himself and prayed in repentance to the Lord, “God was moved by his entreaty.”

This gives me such great hope. It really challenges me to pray for ALL people. There is no one beyond God’s reach. There is no one whose heart is too hard. There is no one who has done too many abominable and evil things. All hearts are subject to humbling and repentance. All hearts can be moved to beg for forgiveness and begin to lead a life in keeping with repentance.

I needed this encouragement today as I have grown weary in my praying for the softening of hearts of those around me who deny God’s existence and authority. Jesus, have mercy and draw ALL people to yourself.

Second, I am challenged by the verses found in Romans 16:17-18. Paul exhorts his Roman readers to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in [their] way that are contrary to the teaching [they] have learned.  Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of na├»ve people.”

In recent years, I feel like the many churches and Christians have had a subtle shifting in their belief system in order to avoid be labeled “narrow-minded” and “intolerant of others.”  While it is true that we should show love and kindness to all people, I don’t believe Jesus calls us to show complete acceptance, no matter what, to all people. People who blatantly twist the truth of God’s word and cause confusion and division in God’s family should be avoided. Paul says “keep away from them” (Rom. 16:17)! We are not to keep accepting them into our midst. There is a great danger in allowing them to stay and do whatever they want, so we can avoid being “intolerant.” And that danger is that they will cause further damage by “deceiving the minds of naive people” (vs.18).  Their smooth talk will lead others astray and God’s people, his holy church, will be slowly broken apart.

As we have seen all throughout our OYB readings this year, God wants a people whose hearts are wholly committed to him in love and obedience. We obey his word so we can be a pure and holy priesthood, able to represent him in fullness of life to a world that desperately needs to hear the truth.

Lord, I confess that I am not wise and I don’t see well. I want to be like Josiah who has a passion to follow your laws in complete obedience, and then (like Manasseh) humble myself before you when I stray from them. “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth” (Ps. 26:2). May I be a person who challenges others around me to also walk continually in that truth.

- 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, August 2, 2017

August 2

2 Chronicles 32:1-33:13; Romans 15:23-16:7; Psalm 25:16-22; Proverbs 20:16-18

I like so much to see repentance.  We see it with Hezekiah, who is a shining example of a good king, when he "[repents] of the pride of his heart" (2 Chr. 32:26).  We also see it with Manasseh, who is the exact opposite of a shining example of a good king, who "[seeks] the favor of the Lord and [humbles] himself before the God of his fathers" (33:12).

I love to see confession and turning and the desire to follow God anew.

But that's not why I like so much to see repentance.  I like most to see repentance because of what it shows us about God.  When Hezekiah repents, God responds with kindness - "the Lord's wrath did not come upon them during the days of Hezekiah" (2 Chr. 32:26).  When Manasseh repents, "the Lord [is] moved by his entreaty and [listens] to his plea" (33:13) and brings Manasseh back to Jerusalem.

God is attentive.  He waits patiently for hard hearts to soften, for proud humans to humble themselves.  And when they do so, when they turn toward him in need and dependence, God always responds.  When we do so, when we turn toward him in need or grief or humility or confession, he always responds.

The psalmist, too, knows this.  He pleads for God's attention, knowing that God is his refuge and his only hope (see Ps. 25:20-21).  He expects that God will "turn and be gracious to [him]" (vs. 16), and we can expect the same thing.

May this attentive, responsive, warm-hearted God, this "God of peace be with you all.  Amen" (Rom. 15:33).

- 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, August 1, 2017

August 1

2 Chronicles 30:1-31:21; Romans 15:1-22; Psalm 25:1-15; Proverbs 20:13-15

There are days when I read Scripture and it doesn't seem at all like four different sections of a book, but rather one long interconnected story woven through thousands of years. And really, that is how Scripture should always feel, because that is what it truly is. Well, today it was easy for me to see it as that complete narrative story.

One of the connections I see so strong is between the psalms and the stories about all the different kings and rulers of Israel we have been reading about recently in Kings and Chronicles. I am sure all the kings had access to the prayers, psalms, and poetry that King David composed during his lifetime. I wonder how many of them read over them (or had it read to them). It seems like Hezekiah must have gained comfort through the words of David in Psalm 25:4-5: "Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." As Hezekiah was trying to carry out the proper way to celebrate the Passover, he probably made a similar plea to the Lord. His prayer in 2 Chronicles 31:18 echoes this desire to please God as he prays, "May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God-the Lord, the God of his fathers-even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary." He is wanting so much to head in the right direction, the right ways of God. 

What a breath of fresh air Hezekiah is! So many of the kings seem like they are bent on evil, or at least only halfheartedly following God. But Hezekiah goes out of his way to try to reinstate a practice of holiness and adoration and thanksgiving to the Lord. He calls those around him into it. He makes life harder by trying to do the right thing. He calls them to sacrifice and giving. He calls for unity and joy in following the Lord.

Again, I hear echoes of this desire in our Romans reading from Paul. "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:5-6). Like Hezekiah, Paul is calling this next generation of believers to follow God in unity as they seek and pursue him and his ways. He is calling them to "become an offering acceptable to God" (vs. 16). 

Show us your ways, O Lord. Guide us. Lead us. This is still our prayer today. This is still our desire, our petition, our plea. We want to follow you, God. We don't always know how. We might be going about it all wrong, but please, show us the right way. Guide us. Correct us. We want to glorify you. 

- 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, July 31, 2017

July 31

2 Chronicles 29:1-36; Romans 14:1-23; Psalm 24:1-10; Proverbs 20:12

What an exultant psalm!  It starts with a declaration of the supremacy of God:  "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Ps. 24:1).  I'm looking out on the Pacific Ocean as I write this, and right now it's easy to remember how true it is.  God, what a wonderful, creative hand you have!  How much beauty you call forth!  I'm reminded of Psalm 148, which describes the vast breadth of creation as it praises God: heavenly beings (both physical and spiritual); watery depths and inhabitants; the forces of nature; mountains and vegetation and animals and birds; all of mankind.  God is creator and sustainer and developer, and none can match him (see Ps. 24:3).

It's easy for me to forget this truth, though.  All too often, it seems like the earth has maybe gotten away from God. If it's his, then why the terrorism and the fear it creates? The refugees desperately searching for a home?  The cancer that turns already motherless children into orphans? The decisions of those in power and influence to create policies and practices that cause suffering for the less-privileged?  

And the people who live in God's world?  We're rude and selfish and out for our own financial interest.  We speak cruel words and run red lights and beat our children.  We drink too much, objectify others sexually, and live like our decisions don't have any impact beyond ourselves.  

Those are macro problems.  In my own micro life, too, I can easily forget.  I forget I belong to the Lord; I forget than the earth is his.  I forget that he has created every person I meet, every morsel of food I consume, every natural beauty I view.  I even forget that my ears and eyes are God's good creation (see Pr. 20:12).  I'm not alone, either - today's reading in Romans is a sermon to remind the church in Rome that all food is created by God and, therefore, clean (Rom. 14:14, 20).  We're prone to forget.  We fall so far short of the man described in Psalm 24:4.

Oh, how I want to be that man!  Clean hands, a pure heart, an honest mouth.  To stand in God's holy hill.  What a goal!  What goodness comes from a life lived like this (see Ps. 24:5-6).

We started this psalm with an exultation, and we end with one, too.  This is our hope.  This is the power that makes us into such a man.  "Who is he, this King of glory?," the question is posed, and you can almost hear the shout of response: "The Lord Almighty -- he is the King of glory" (Ps. 24:10).  We are not alone.  We are the Lord's, and everything in us (see vs. 1), and he is the King of glory.  Hallelujah!

- 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, July 30, 2017

July 30

2 Chronicles 26:1-28:27; Romans 13:1-14; Psalm 23:1-6; Proverbs 20:11

Since King Uzziah had such success while he was seeking the LORD, why would he ever turn away or stop seeking the LORD?

While he was under the instruction of the noble priest Zechariah, his kingdom was expanding. He triumphed against the Philistines at Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. God helped him against the Arabs and the Meunites, and the Ammonites brought him tribute. He was famous for his military success as far away as Egypt. He constructed towers for the defense of Jerusalem and built up the infrastructure of the country. In addition, he had a large and well-trained army mustered and ready at his command (2 Chr. 26:6-15).

Huge success.

But all this was not enough for Uzziah—he wanted what he was denied by birth—the right to burn incense before the Lord. This right was restricted by God to the Levites. No one else was allowed to enter the sanctuary. The courageous Levite priests of the LORD confronted King Uzziah and refused him entrance into the sanctuary. God validated their brave decision by inflicting leprosy on Uzziah. The advent of leprosy got Uzziah’s attention and he was glad to leave the sanctuary and the ceremonies there to the Levites.

The haunting words that end Uzziah’s successful reign are recorded in 2 Chronicles 26:16: “After Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.”

His pride led to his downfall.

Wow, that’s stunning.

We see in politics today prideful people who announce that they are the solution to X, Y or Z. It behooves them to remember that pride leads to a downfall. And it’s not just the rich and powerful who become prideful; I can be prideful, too, and think that my own merit or talent has earned me favor or given me distinction. Or worse yet, I can think that my birth or achievements somehow make me better than other people.

Paul adds this instruction in Romans 13:14,  “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” If I am clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ and his humility, I cannot spend my time thinking that I am better or above others. I can choose not to gratify my sinful nature by bragging about myself. I can clothe myself in the humble attire of Jesus Christ.

“Thank you, Lord, that you are able to humble those who walk in pride. Pride is offensive to you because it puts the praise on us and not on You. May each of us humble ourselves before You today, I pray.”

- 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, July 29, 2017

July 29

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28; Romans 12:1-21; Psalm 22:19-31; Proverbs 20:8-10

I've got to be honest here: I get lost sometimes in Paul's theological argument in the early chapters of Romans.  Perhaps it's because I never really enjoyed philosophy when I took it as an undergrad; perhaps it's because I've only read it as a single chunk once or twice and, thus, lose the train of his thought.  Regardless, I always breathe a small sigh of relief when we get to chapter 12.  Paul's words here are easily accessible, but no less difficult.

Over the last ten or fifteen years, I've come to this conclusion: Obedience isn't complicated.  It's not hard to understand or, really, even to figure out.  It isn't complex or terribly nuanced.  It is, however, extremely hard.  "Give to God's church" is a straightforward command, but it is painful for us to release our illusory control over the money we're given.  "Love your enemy as yourself" and "forgive as you have been forgiven" are easily comprehended, but so very difficult for us to do.  "Don't gossip" isn't unclear at all, but that doesn't make it any simpler to obey.  "Honor your wedding vows," even when your spouse hasn't.  Obedience isn't complicated; it's difficult.

I thought that again today as I read this passage of Romans.  A few examples:
    "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought" (Rom. 12:3).
    "Honor one another above yourselves" (Rom. 12:11).
    "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" (Rom. 12:17). 
Got it, got it, got it.  Ain't easy, ain't easy, argh!

Every year I read these words.  Every year I'm challenged to live more obediently, more faithfully, more like Jesus.  Did he not embody the above commands, as well as the others in our reading?  And every year, the command for living with God's people that I find most difficult to live out remains the same: "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18).  As far as it depends on me - those words force me to look at myself and my contributions in a disagreement.  I'm not absolved by believing that my opponent has the greater share of responsibility.  I can't hide under the guise of waiting for him/her to acknowledge the stuff he/she brought into the situation.

I cannot wait for my friend to apologize.  I cannot nurse the hurt and bitterness of my spouse's betrayal.  This is beyond turning the other cheek - this is moving forward and toward the person who has offended me.

I don't like it, and I don't want to do it.  Oh, I understand what Paul is telling me to do; it's not incomprehensible*.  It's just so, so hard, and I have to die a little (or larger) death to obey.  I don't like to die to myself!  It's easier to "wait for God to change my heart" or "pray that the other person will be convicted."  These statements absolve me of my responsibility to obey, which is what my flesh wants anyway.  I want God to make an exception in my case.  

His written word to me, and to you, still stands, though.

How will you respond to God's call to obedience?  Will you accept the easy-to-understand-but-hard-to-do words written here by Paul?  As happened to me this very morning, when you're in the shower and you're revisited by the hurts and injustices caused by a brother-like friend, will you forgive and absorb the death of your right to be right?  Will you sue the contractor from church whose bid was inaccurate and whose timeline is impossible?  Will you give generously to your local church, even though you can't see how ends will meet if you do?

Truly, it all comes down to this question: do I trust God to take care of me and my hurts and my future?

Lord God, obedience is hard without trust, but my trust will grow stronger as I obey.  Teach me to trust you and your good word to me.  Give me the honesty to accept your commands and the strength and courage to obey.  Thank you for your faithfulness; I can be sure that as I obey, you will not let me falter or fall.  You are a good, good God.  Amen.

- Sarah Marsh

* A rare case where double negatives work grammatically.  (grin!)

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.