Inviting Chicago to Feast on the Love of Jesus

All Reflections

1 JOHN 1:1-2:2, PSALM 146

| 12/05/18 |

“We write this to you to make our joy complete”. (1 John 1:4) There are joys that must be shared. We could think of many experiences that are better enjoyed with others: a stunning lunar eclipse, unique ice formations, the breaching of a humpback whale, fourth of July fireworks, or our favorite rock concerts. A feast, also is just too much food when it is only for one person. But when others are gathered around the table, a party ensues and your best dish delights friends, and we are gladdened in their delight. As a witness of the beauty of Christ, John, in similar fashion, cannot remain satisfied to have seen Jesus and leave others in ignorance about “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” (1 John 1:1). Jesus, as the “Word of Life”, when genuinely encountered cannot remain an isolated “personal relationship”. Though we do delight in our individual experience and knowledge of Jesus the Messiah, there are some wonders that are just too much for us to take in and appreciate by ourselves-we must share in delight in Jesus' “peculiar excellencies: because contentment in a moment of fulfillment becomes discontment when those we love don't share the same love for the Savior of the world. So complete your joy this Advent season and tell the world “Come let us adore HIm.” We will be dissatisfied with anything less.

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2 Peter 3, Psalm 144

| 12/03/18 |

Many critical New Testament scholars last century argued that the first Christians believed Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Part of their theory requires believing that Peter could not have written 2 Peter, for embedded in this letter is the acknowledgement that while scoffers question the return of Jesus, believers should understand “the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise.” (2 Peter 3:9) Immediately before this statement, Peter makes the statement “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8) Obviously Peter wants the reader to know that just because God seems to be taking time to send Jesus to rescue the church, that doesn't mean our Lord isn't keeping promises. Scholars believe this teaching must have been a later development and certainly wouldn't have been written by Peter, one so confident in seeing Jesus' imminent return. Like many critical theories there is a circularity to their rationale.This is how the argument goes: 1) Since there are teachings in the New Testament to be prepared for Jesus' return, there must have been confidence that Jesus' second coming would happen before many of Jesus' original audience died. 2) As Jesus did not return like expected, later Christians adapted and taught that we need to be ready at all times, like tomorrow or two thousand years from now, like we see in 2 Peter. The problem with this argument is called “begging the question”, meaning the conclusions supply the rationale for the argument. The faulty belief is that the early Christians couldn't believe both Jesus' return was imminent and that it could happen at any time (these scholars seem to lack experience waiting for internet companies to fix their service). They assume one cannot genuinely believe both Christ can return at any time, tomorrow or a thousand years from now. Therefore teachings like in 2 Peter or even those from Jesus: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 16:24) are treated by these academics as later additions. As an aside, the belief that this statement of Jesus is a later revision goes uncomfortably with another bad argument from many of the same scholars that Jesus' divinity was also a later invention. For why would Christians after the apostles' time put such words about Jesus' agnosticism regarding His return in the mouth of our Lord, if that makes it appear like he wasn't divine like the Father? The answer is, they wouldn't. Back to our original, the argument I mention are the very sort of thing Peter warns us against. In these last days, that is the time between Jesus' ascension and second coming, there will be those that scoff at our King's return. However complicated (convoluted) the arguments might be, Peter, for it was Peter warned the reader against taking such mockery too seriously. Jesus will return, rest assured.

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2 Peter 2, Psalm 143

| 12/02/18 |

It would be difficult to find a group of people that that the New Testament epistles oppose more than false teachers, especially those instructing under Christian guise. I guess the devil would be the closest competitor. Peter, like Paul does not mince words about the fate that awaits those who act as messengers of Christ yet in some way “deny the Sovereign Lord who bought them.” Yet my anecdotal impression of how contemporary CHristians relate to our teachers and preachers is by taking extreme positions. I see Christians, especially on the internet, but also in our Bible schools who seem to accuse everyone but themselves of being heretics that are “blots and blemishes” (2 Peter 2:13). On the other hand there those who are so exhausted by theological debate that they are willing to indulge all kinds of theological lunacy. We must be careful to avoid either pit, for one refuses to listen and in so doing displays a lack of loving obedience; while the other ignores the seriousness of the maxim “ideas have consequences”. I am not arguing for balance, per se, for Peter has an extreme tone against actual false teachers. Rather, what I desire is that we learn to distinguish between simply mistaken beliefs as opposed to doctrines that place someone outside the bounds of Orthodox Christianity. For example a particular view on baptism or on which (biblical) atonement motif is most central to the Gospel's presentation might make one mistaken, but not a heretic. In the spirit of Christian fellowship, we should gladly disagree with a person without quoting “Blackest darkness is reserved for them”. (2 Peter 2:17) Whereas if someone denies the divinity of Christ or that salvation comes through Jesus alone, we do not hesitate to denounce such beliefs as mistaken and incredibly dangerous, not to mention leaving the teacher of such heresy open to judgement. Be extreme in your opposition to heresy like Peter, but don't be extreme in calling your family heretics. That is not the point of the ongoing warnings against false teachers in the New Testament.

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2 Peter 1, Psalm 142

| 12/01/18 |

My seminary education culminated when at a graduation ceremony I walked on a stage to receive a diploma certifying receipt of a “Masters of Divinity”. While working towards this diploma I would regularly tell people I was “mastering the divinie.” If I were not being transparently ridiculous, it would have been sacrilegious. God is alone divine, and there is no mastering the Master of all things. Peter says something peculiar and hotly contested about divinity in our passage. Due to the actualization of the promises of God we are now able to “participate in the divine nature”. (2 Peter 4:4) What does it mean to participate in the divine nature? It means many things. First, Christ is in us through the Holy Spirit and now In Jesus we are seated at the right hand of God like Paul has already taught us. But to be a participant in the divine nature seems to imply that while remaining distinct from God, our being found in Christ makes some alteration of who we are in essence. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer ruled by sin's power, nor are we incapable of having genuine fellowship with God. We do not become divine, but our natures are altered by the divine as we are made into new images of God, through Christ. Though Peter is using different language than Paul, and this verse has been used to blur the lines between Creator and creation, we can appreciate how beautifully these words convey God's transformation in our lives. Because of this great renewal, we are to, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 2:5-7) Our radical change by the power of Christ is the impetus for us to walk in the goodness God expects for all that have been mastered by the divine.

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1 Peter 4.12-5.14, Psalm 141

| 11/30/18 |

By Kesny St Louis Peter wants us to prepare to suffer so we won't be “surprised” by it (1 Peter 4:12). Suffering exists, but our salvation is more real. Two realities, yet one is greater than the other. Pain is real, but it's nothing compared to our glorification. Peter goes on to do the same thing (1 Peter 5:10). Scripture not only gives us the reality of suffering in hardship in this present world, but it also provides us with some guidance on how to respond to those hardships and trials (1 Peter 4:13). We are to rejoice. God carries you where you cannot cross. He is with you even more because as 1 Peter 4:13 says, you are sharing Christ's suffering; because of this you can rejoice. Any suffering can become meaningful by becoming Christ's suffering. This means you must face suffering with the right attitude…. according to God's will 1 Peter 4:19). We need to leave revenge to God (Psalms 141:3-4). God comforts his people when they are suffering. He will walk through the fire with you to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10). Suffering throughout Scripture is always treated in light of the redemption history. No glory without suffering. We are to follow Christ model of suffering and prepare not to be surprised by it.

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1 Peter 3:8-4:11, Psalm 140

| 11/29/18 |

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the chief end of man is to “glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Assembly, 1986). It is easy to think of Christianity as a list of “do's” and “don'ts” such as those listed in 1 Peter 4:3: Don't live in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” But what we are called to is so much greater than that. Christians aren't told in this passage to be prepared to tell people why they are “good” but to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [them] for a reason for the hope that is in [them] (3:15). How is it possible to have hope in the midst of our own suffering and the suffering of others? We have a Savior who has suffered for us to “bring us to God” (3:18). Because of His love for us and His power over death and sin we can always have hope. Therefore, we should serve and love others, not simply because we are supposed to, but out of love for our Savior and “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (4:11).

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1 Peter 2:11-3:7, Psalm 139

| 11/28/18 |

In repetitious fashion Peter informs that the Christian life is a life of submission. We are all to submit to governing authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14) and those placed in authority over us while we work (1 Peter 2:18-21). Wives are challenged by Peter to submit to their own husbands (1 Peter 3:1-6). Though husbands are not challenged to submit, elsewhere the apostle Paul calls for mutual submission for both husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22). Christians are to live ordered lives with appropriate relationship to and respect for the role of leaders to make our lives more peaceful. Cooperation and submission are the bedrocks for harmonious societies, and Christians should lead the way in service with humility. However, in a disordered world, living orderly lives leads to suffering, for there are many that are evil who will take advantage of those who don't cut in line or don't always have the power to defend their rights. So how do we draw courage to live in cooperation with authority figures? The strength that we have for living peaceful lives in a harsh and cruel world comes from Christ who “when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23) Since Christ has endured evil at the hands of human authorities, we now can join Him in vindication over evil powers. So we do not need to lash out when mistreated, but we instead have all reason we need to “suffer for doing good” (1 Peter 2:20).

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1 Peter 1:13-2:10, Psalm 138

| 11/27/18 |

By Mollie Hassett Holiness in the highest sense belongs to God. Several passages in scripture call us to be Holy. (Leviticus 20:7, 26; Rom 12:1, 1 Peter 2:9) “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” The desire to be holy is a response to this call of God on our life as we enter into the daily process of sanctification. Through His grace alone we have our blessed salvation. Peter encourages us to fix our hope on the truth of His imperishable Word. To dedicate ourselves to God and turn our hearts to Him; this is holiness. Do we have a settled conviction concerning divine truth? This is of great value as we grow into a royal priesthood, a chosen people, set apart to be obedient. His Word tells us that we are worthy of mercy in His eyes. Christ has delivered us from darkness into His marvelous light. It is His work as the cornerstone of our faith, who brings our salvation to fruition. We do not find him a stumbling block or a rock of offense. We believe! Personal holiness is a gradual and intentional life dedicated to proclaim the excellency of Christ through our conduct of faith. We testify to this by our perseverance, prayers and love to a world that does not believe that they may come to know and glorify God with us on the day of visitation.

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1 Peter 1:1-12, Psalm 137

| 11/26/18 |

By Kesny St. Louis Many of us may not experience persecution like Peter's original audience, but we all are suffering in some way. 1 Peter is written in the context of suffering to offer hope to the persecuted Christian of his time. This world is broken, and we need hope to live in it. 1 Peter gives us a tangible hope for living in times of suffering in 1 Peter 1:3. Just after Peter greeted his audience he breaks into praise. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” There are few reasons for having up and thus perseverance in times of suffering. First, we are “elect.” We have been chosen. This means we have special status. Second, “grace and peace” will follow us if genuinely ask for it. Third, we have “incorruptible and defiled inheritance awaited us.” ” All our suffering and discomfort in this life has purpose in this life. 1 Peter 1:7 tells us, “the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus.” The suffering is to test the genuineness of our faith. You do not truly know someone until you see his response to suffering, until she is broken. The reflection of our faith is display in how we deal with suffering of our lives.

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James 4:13-5:20, Psalm 136

| 11/25/18 |

By John Bruggers James covers a lot of ground in this section. He starts with a clear message for believers to understand the insignificance of our lives and how little control we have over it (4:14-15). Why? So we can flip the behavior we're so prone to: me first then God. We must reject that and adopt a God first perspective “If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.” (4:15) While James follows this with an admonition of the rich who misuse the power they wield, it is important to note the lead in to Chapter 5. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them.” (4:17) What we find is rebuke for those following the path of willful rebellion against God. The oppressive rich are an obvious example James uses to illustrate his point. 5:7-19 reminds those suffering that God has given them tools for enduring: blessings for those who persevere for Christ, and the power of prayer. Let us then use what talents God has given us for good, and not forget what God promises us during our suffering.

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James 3:1 – 4:12

| 11/24/18 |

By Brandon Ash With the same mouth we pray to God and praise His mighty works yet curse the work of His hands and the people He has created. The tongue is said to be a world of evil among the parts of the body and we are encouraged to be wise in the words we speak. How often does our tongue get away from us? Too regularly I'm sure. Instead of cursing our brothers and speaking evil we are to exhibit wisdom in how we speak and are encouraged to be a blessing to all. A challenge for us each day that often has a relative degree of success. However we can find success in the Lord Jesus and His work! He was a blessing for us all while we cursed and jeered Him on the cross. The more you dive into this reality the more amazing THIS sort of love becomes. He left an example of humble submission when He blessed us in such a way. It's through our submission to God that we come to find the success that we are craving. It is through the act of humbling ourselves that we are blessed with knowledge and understanding to move forward in our life with wisdom. Submit to God and He promises to respond. Make yourself low and He will lift you up.

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James 1:19 -2:26

| 11/23/18 |

Brandon Ash Do we half-heartedly listen to the Lord or are we actively seeking to put into action all that we have heard? We are bombarded by messages daily telling us to buy, consume, and hoard; yet Scripture tells us to listen to the message that gives freedom and life. We are regularly told to love our neighbors as ourselves but what does that look like in our lives? Do we ignore the unkempt individual on the train yet fall all over ourselves to get the attention of the person in the $2,000 suit? As the people of God we ought to be putting into action the great love that we ourselves bear witness to in our own lives. Do we love unconditionally or are we continually putting requirements on to whom and how we love? Because the truth of the matter is that only love full of mercy and grace will do. This great love that Jesus shows us each day anew is one that we are called to respond to in faith and in deeds brothers. To hear the call of the Lord and respond with radical, transformative love is our aim each day. Giving our time, our love, our attention, or simply giving a helping hand to those we call neighbors is our call; to follow through with our faith in the Lord and to help transform lives and the world through our deeds.

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James 1:1-18 & Psalm 133

| 11/22/18 |

By Scott Arnold James begins his letter by talking about difficult truths. Consider it joy when things are difficult and painful! The man with much should embrace humiliation, and the man with nothing should boast in exaltation. If you think back on your life, remembering your highs and lows, you should realize the beautiful truth in this passage. The time I grew the most was one of the most difficult times in my life. I went from a place of having much, to having very little. In this, though, bulwarks of pride and envy were broken down. God gave me not the wisdom I imagined but the wisdom I needed. James wants us to embrace trials, and to endure them well. He cautions us not to blame God for them, nor to doubt that God will carry us through. There is an end to every trial. Even if the trials endure every second until your final day, there is the crown of life and final, glorious rest in God when Jesus returns to judge the earth. Today, pray for wisdom, and rely on God's strength to keep running the race in front of you.

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Hebrews 13, Psalm 131

| 11/20/18 |

By Dennis Hong To obey is better than sacrifice I don't need your money I want your life And I hear you say that I'm coming back soon But you act like I'll never return -Keith Green It is interesting to note that the subtitle in my Bible for Hebrews 13 is “Sacrifices Pleasing to God”. This chapter mainly focuses on how we are to conduct our behavior in different spheres of life. Verses 1-3 lay out how we should treat those we interact with others. Verses 4-6 addresses our private lives. Verses 7-9 details the religious arena of our lives. All three section direct our service of Christ. As we follow our Lord, we are to live a righteous life, love, and bless those around us. Jesus calls us to hospitality, to purity, and to live for God. We are called to focus on Christ and to become like him. In doing this, we find the strength to offer fitting sacrifices. It is walking by faith like this that God is pleased, “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (v.16)

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Hebrews 12, Psalm 130

| 11/19/18 |

By Laura Herrick Hebrews 12 is filled with beautiful imagery of how we are to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (1) here on earth and keep in mind the “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (28). As there is more talk about how parts of the US, especially large cities, are becoming more secular, it is encouraging to look to scripture to see reminders that we are not alone in our faith. In this chapter we are encouraged to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (1) since “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (1) and “looking to Jesus” (2). Towards the end of this chapter we are reminded that in heaven there are “innumerable angels in festal gathering”, an “assembly of the firstborn” and “spirits of the righteous made perfect” (23). When we begin to feel alone in the race and are tempted to “grow weary or faint hearted” (3), we should consider Jesus, “who endured from sinners such hostility against himself” (3) and we should “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (28) as we keep in mind an entire “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (28).

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Hebrews 11, Psalm 129

| 11/18/18 |

By John Bruggers Chapter 11 has a clear starting premise that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1 ESV). This then leads into a buildup where the author goes on to flesh this idea out more by illustrating notable people in Jewish history that lived by answering God's call to faith. There are so many examples that the writer remarks that “time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (11:32 ESV). All of the historical figures mentioned “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (11:13 ESV). They didn't have the New Testament, and knowledge of how our salvation would play out, but they had faith in God's promise. On that alone they accomplished so much. It is with that thought lingering in the readers mind that this bomb is dropped: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (11:40 NIV). What can we, armed with the knowledge of Christ accomplish?

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HEBREWS 10: 19-39, PSALM 128

| 11/17/18 |

By Mollie Hassett It seems impossible that after all we have done that there should be any hope. I imagine countless believers have felt this way. We get distracted, we don't measure up, just stuck and overwhelmed. The world we live in is difficult. We forget that Jesus has done it all as our redeemer and priest. We are part of a grand and beautiful narrative. It's a compelling reality! The author of Hebrews calls us to remember. This epistle is profound, it stirs our imagination to see the tabernacle and Jesus as our high priest, the curtain is open, we are invited to draw near to God. These words are an immeasurable comfort to me; such a sense of belonging and grace. I kneel in gratitude for the love of Jesus. I am encouraged by the command to hold fast to my confession and to consider the strength and power of community bound together by faith. The book of Hebrews elevates all who submit to its exhortations. Our faith deepens as we face personal and corporate challenges amid a world steeped in apostacy. This is our heritage. God has provided what we need: we are loved, we have received the truth and therefore must persevere. We are to stop sinning, look to our Savior, the one who has made all things new “We are not those who shrink back but those who have faith and preserve our souls” Jesus is with us, praying over us and standing faithfully by our side.

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Hebrews 9:1 – 10:18, Psalm 127

| 11/16/18 |

By Scott Arnold I could never imagine what it was like to be a priest. Daily, one would offer sacrifices for themselves and the people. Not only did they have to sacrifice for the sins you knew, but the sins you'd have no clue about! It would feel like an endless struggle, with no victory. Yet it was symbolic, pointing toward the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. The author of Hebrews shows us how the old tabernacle (which the recipients would have been very familiar with) was an image of what had now come in Jesus. The blood of goats and calves could only purify for some time, but Jesus' blood purified us forever. The earthly tabernacle and the old covenant were not useless wastes of time. Those that were faithful were rewarded with physical blessings, but more importantly, also a picture of what Christ would do. The beauty of God's work is that everything that is done by God points us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, an act of will that was not mandated nor deserved. Take some time to look up the earthly tabernacle and meditate on how Jesus revealed the perfect one.

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Hebrews 8, Psalm 126

| 11/15/18 |

God is perfect and always remains the same. It seems odd, then, to suggest that some of God's works in space and time have been improved upon. The covenants given to Israel through Abraham and David, not to mention the law given to Moses were good. Yet those good gifts are inferior to the new covenant given through Christ. The law distinguished Israel from surrounding nations, but the Lord recognized their distinction as a people did not lead them to live Holy lives as God requires. Thus God's promise quoted in Hebrews as fulfilled and given through the prophet Jeremiah that our Lord will “put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10) is truly transformative. There is a difference between such a law written on the hearts of those that love God and everyone's God given conscience. For God to write laws on our hearts doesn't mean that we now know what we didn't know before about right and wrong, Rather, our desires and inclinations to obey have been changed. The heart is the seat of human desires. So for the law to be on our hearts means that before Christ, the people of God obeyed for primarily for blessings or out fear of curses. Today, that is in this age after the cross-resurrection event, we obey out of love. For we are both aware of being objects of sacrificial love which leads us to delight in reciprocating the Agape of God. This particular work of God in Christ, is unlike those that have gone before. It will not be improved upon by another covenant, for the covenant of the cross is God's supreme work in history.

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Hebrews 7, Psalm 124

| 11/14/18 |

By Scot Martin So many questions! Why so many animal sacrifices for sins for so many centuries? If we're familiar with the New Testament, we may take it for granted that because Jesus bore our sins as a sacrifice on the cross, animal sacrifices are now useless. But Jews in Old Testament times were immersed in a God-established system of animal sacrifices that stretched for generation after generation, with no clear end in sight. Would this go on forever? God meant the sacrifices to raise questions in their minds, questions that would prepare them to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, whose death would answer their longing. Imagine a young girl talking with her mother. “Mother, why do we have to keep offering our animals to God for our sins?” “My daughter, we keep sinning, so we have to keep sacrificing.” “But Mama, why do we keep sinning? Will a time ever come when we'll never sin?” “I pray so, my child. That would be relief beyond words.” “But our animals seem like such small sacrifices for our great sins. Could there ever be one sacrifice great enough for all the sins of all people of all time?” “If there is ever to be such a wonder, God will have to provide it.” “Who could offer such a magnificent sacrifice? All the high priests who have served and led our people through the years have sins of their own to offer sacrifices for. Eventually they die and another must take their place. Will there ever be a high priest who has no sins of his own, who will never die and be replaced?” Hebrews 4-10, and especially 7:23-28, assure us that Jesus has answered all these longing questions.

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Hebrews 4:14-6:20, Psalm 123

| 11/12/18 |

By Scot Martin Does Jesus know what it's like? “Jesus, how can You possibly understand what I'm going through?” Ever felt like that? Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus is able “to empathize with our weaknesses” because He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Every way? Really? How can that be? Jesus clearly didn't face every exact temptation, test, or trial (The word translated “temptation” can mean all of these.) that anyone has ever faced, but He did face every category of temptation, test, and trial. Physical: hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and abusive treatment (torture and death). Relational: from His enemies, harsh words, rejection and hatred; from His family and followers, half-hearted devotion, misunderstanding, and even betrayal. He also lost loved ones to death (John the Baptist—who was murdered, and probably Joseph, His adoptive father). Emotional: He experienced anger, sadness, and even dismay (in Gethsemane and on the cross—see Matthew 27:46). In Gethsemane He felt an agonizing desire to avoid an awful experience (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22). On the cross He was exposed, abused, pierced, and shamed. (Those crucified were typically naked.) He also bore our sins, and with them, our guilt. (See the last few chapters of each Gospel; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24) Mental: He knew what it was like not to know something. “He grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52) and He did not know the hour of His return (Mark 13:32). He had to depend on His heavenly Father. Spiritual: Satan tempted Him to disobey Scripture and therefore God the Father. (Matthew 4; Luke 4) Whenever we are tempted, tested, or tried, we can ask Jesus how He felt and how He responded in similar situations. In the words of Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Hebrews 2, Psalm 122

| 11/11/18 |

By John Bruggers Why is it that God should make the founder of our “salvation perfect through suffering” (2:10)? The author answers this by pointing out that “He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (2:17). I want to draw attention to the words “in every respect”, because this is key to both the theme of priesthood and suffering. The high priest's relationship with Israel in regards to sin was reciprocal. As the representative of his people before God, the sin of the people was his and his sin was the sin of the people (Leviticus 4:2-3). The priest's identity and function was tied up with his people. Therefore Jesus, to be perfected as our high priest, had to be inextricably tied to us. To be made human. In doing so experience and suffer all that we would. He suffered to the point of death so that through it “He might destroy the one who has the power of death” (2:14). Let us rejoice that we have a perfect high priest! Who is one of us, suffered as us, and rescues us from temptation! (2:18)

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Hebrews 1, Psalm 121

| 11/10/18 |

“Jesus is the foundation and ground for all true knowledge.” That is a strong claim, but hardly bolder than when the author of Hebrews states, like the apostle Paul, that Jesus is the one “through whom also he (God) made the universe (Hebrews 1:2) and is now “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Certainly this tells us that Jesus is the foundation for all we know, for without Him, nothing would exist or persist, including our brains. But Jesus is also the one that makes sense of all that we see. For though God spoke in days gone by through prophets, burning bushes, and angels, our God has spoken definitively in our age through Jesus the Son (Hebrews 1:1-2a). God speaks clearest, best, and perfectly in Jesus while all other divine self-disclosure prior to the Incarnation was foggy compared to the clarity we have in Christ. Since Jesus is the foundation for what we know and the lens through which we interpret our knowledge, then to be without Jesus is to be genuinely lost. Positively, Jesus helps us to understand the meaning of everything. Light, life, water, bread, law, peace, words, and even existence itself finds truest definitions in relationship to the eternal Son of God. To connect this to author of Hebrews' intent, I hope you are gladdened by the clarity that Christ our King offers us in a confusing and chaotic world. If you ever get lost and have forgotten what life is supposed to be about, just turn to Hebrews 1 and return to the love of Christ, for that love makes sense of everything else, even the “Agape” of God.

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Philemon, Psalm 121

| 11/09/18 |

Reflection from Laura Herrick Paul calls Philemon in this passage to not only free Onesimus because he “ought to” v 8 but out of love for both Philemon and Onesimus. He chose to help Philemon have the chance to get to know Onesimus as a brother and someone made in the image of Christ. Part of my job is to teach elementary school students the concept of empathy through helping the children to share more about themselves with their classmates and learn to listen to each other. It compels them to find commonality and be less likely to bully each other or say something without thinking about its impact on the other person. Through calling Philemon to view Onesimus as a brother in Christ, Paul helps him to view him as a human, made in the image of God, breaking down the slave/master relationship and helping him to develop empathy towards Onesimus. Christianity calls us to love each other when it is difficult and tells us to expect nothing in return. Loving each other, however, often gives us the chance to learn from our brothers and sisters and encourage each other to become more like Christ.

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Titus 3, Psalm 119

| 11/08/18 |

Paul isn't prone to flattery. In our age of “positive thinking” and incessant reminders to work on our self-esteem, Paul takes a different approach. When reminiscing about the work of the Gospel in his and Titus' life, Paul reminds his disciple (i.e. student) “ At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3) I doubt anyone has ever introduced themselves to you in a such negative light as Paul's self-description above. As poorly as Paul portrays himself, it gives him opportunity to celebrate how Jesus rescued them both“ not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:4) There is no room for self-congratulation with Paul's Gospel. You cannot be saved from the penalty of sins by righteous performance. We cannot be rescued from our guilty consciences through positive thinking. Certainly we cannot overcome death simply through having a hopeful outlook. Paul is no flatterer because he wants us to understand our need for salvation, for without grasping our need we will never enjoy this salvation. If the apostle were simply trying to build a platform or sell books, he might tell us that we are awesome and that we need merely unlock the potential within us. Paul would rather see you spared the justice of God. We can praise God for such a clear voice that speaks to us from 2,000 years ago to ignore focusing on our greatness and to rather delight in the wonder of a savior that makes us “heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7)

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Titus 1-2, Psalm 118

| 11/07/18 |

Paul commands Titus to straighten out what is “left unfinished” by appointing elders for the churches on the small Greek island of Crete. As Paul describes the qualities he expects of elders, after reading 1 Timothy, we might anticipate his description of godly leaders as “self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8). Perhaps we don't expect the portrayal of an elder as one guarding the Gospel by “refuting those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) Paul goes on to add that some disruptive people “must be silenced” (Titus 1:11) and even “rebuked sharply” (Titus 1:13) This does not mean an elder should be temperamental. Instead they should respond with strength and boldness in rooting out opposition, false teaching, or disruptive behaviors. To summarize how Paul guides elders to engage conflict: elders should have self-controlled strength in the word of God for the good of the church. At times this strength might come across to wicked teachers and agitators as aggressive. This direct and confrontational approach is only that the Gospel might be honored and God's people protected, but never to puff up an elders ego or that they might display machismo. This protection of the body is necessary to enable the teaching and learning environments that Titus chapter 2 portrays so wonderfully; for elders to equip other older men and women to train up the next generation. May God give us the sort of leaders and churches Titus 1-2 portrays.

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2 Timothy 3:10-4:22, Psalm 116

| 11/05/18 |

Every pastor needs to hear from the apostle Paul, especially Paul's pastoral letters. Almost 2,000 years removed from Paul's life it is easy for us to attach a mystique to Paul that doesn't take seriously his self-representation. In the letters to Corinthians, he presents himself as weak and mistreated, and write to the Galatians about his many opponents. I marvel at how resolute Paul is as he exhorts Timothy to similar courage, even while describing himself as one “being poured out as a drink offering” whose “departure is near” (2 Timothy 4:6). This does not sound like the best endorsement for pastoral perseverance. Paul does, though, declare that he has “finished the race” and has in store “the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8) This is what compels Paul, along all that will make disciples throughout church history, to grind on in excruciating difficulty. Christianity in Paul's day was hardly more than a small cult facing incredible opposition, and Paul was not yet famous for these letters found in the world's most famous book. From a human perspective, he seemed like any other religious extremist. But we believe that Paul was right in his confidence that he was going to be brought by Jesus “safely to the Kingdom of God.” All of us that follow will join Paul in the kingdom. We need this confidence in our dark days. Tonight I heard heartbreaking news about a pastor that lost hope. All of us can go to dark places in our minds, and despair. Let's keep running the race, for we do not suffer without promises greater than our pain.

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2 Timothy 2:14-3:9, Psalm 115

| 11/04/18 |

Paul is adamant that Timothy neither indulge nor tolerate quarrels and silly arguments. If you choose to watch CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC you will view plenty of quarrelling over political matters. If you watch ESPN, there are constant silly arguments over sports. In fact there are entire TV programs dedicated to questions like “Who would win in battle?: Samurai or Viking?” Much of our TV, radio, and by extension print entertainment involves perpetual silly banter. Oh, did I mention social media? You get the picture. Our larger culture is mired in the talk Paul cautions Timothy to avoid. As Christians we are dedicated to the truth, but we are not always the most discerning over what is worth fighting over, and who we should engage in disagreement. To disagree is one thing, but to quarrel is to accuse, assume, mistreat, and malign. Besides dishonoring God, this is exhausting and pointless. Paul knows the human propensity to waste time with words without wisdom. Next time you feel like starting up an online disagreement, or rehashing an old frustration, consider Paul's guidance to Timothy.

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2 Timothy 1-2:13, Psalm 114

| 11/03/18 |

Paul commands Timothy” to fan into flame the gift of God.” (2 Timothy 1:6) What could this gift be besides fire, if it is to grow into a conflagration? Fire, like air and water is a great gift of God, but what Paul has in mind is the “Spirit of God” that “gives us power” ( 2 Timothy 1:7). Though God's Spirit is a gift, it can be unleashed in our lives to various degrees. Besides power, we would expect to see this Spirit grow our love while destroying our timidity. Our Holy Spirit wants to unleash these gifts in our lives. Do you believe you have a fire, the power of God within you? Do you believe the Spirit wants to, metaphorically speaking, engulf you and ignite passion for God's beauty in others? Dear brothers and sisters, fan this fire into flame, for the Spirit of God within us is often compared to flame (Matthew 3:11-12, Acts 2:3-4). The flame does not come from you, but like a campfire needs wood to provide warmth, so we are called to give fuel to the Spirit in our live by giving ourselves daily and completely over to the Spirit's work of warming the world with God's glory. Family fan that flame into wildfire! Spirit consume us so that others cannot mistake your flame for mere emotion, charisma, or temporary zeal. Amen.

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1 Timothy 6:2c-21, Psalm 113

| 11/02/18 |

Most of us have heard about how “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) We nod with intellectual agreement with any preacher that quotes this verse, all the while hoping we can become like the “rich in this present world” Paul insists that Timothy teach “not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth” (1 Timothy 6:17). Most of us acknowledge that loving money is at the heart of many vices, but still believe we would be the sort of person that could relate well to acquired riches, and of course “be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18) The truth our hearts and heads are unwilling to bear is, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9) Note this warning isn't for those seeking to get rich or working to get rich, but for those that “want to get rich”. Even the desire alone can plunge people into ruin and destruction. I have seen far too many people, both the actually rich and the wannabe rich, destroyed by their successes or longings. Still, my heart longs to be comfortable like those with large houses and beautiful boats, for I trick myself with the illusion I could have many possessions while maintaining generosity with and detachment from them. I am quite good at make believe. So I pray that instead of pursuing riches, God would burden my heart to “lay up treasures…as a firm foundation for the coming age” (1 Timothy 6:19), instead of pursuing these treasures that I “cannot take out” (1 Timothy 6:9) of this life.

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1 Timothy 5:1-6:2b, Psalm 112

| 11/01/18 |

You have probably heard someone say something like, “All sins are equal.” Paul takes exception with that statement. For anyone who doesn't provide for their household (i.e. nuclear family), Paul declares that person “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). To have the means, yet refuse to provide for one's immediate family, not to mention if possible widowed mothers, fathers or even extended family members in need shows one to be especially wicked. For Paul neglecting to provide for loved ones is an egregious sin. Of course all sins fall short of the righteous demands of the law and leave us all equally in need of salvation. That doesn't mean that the sin of say, being angry in your heart towards one that mistreats you is viewed by God as absolutely the same seeing your children in need of food but using your sparse money towards a gambling or booze addiction. Certainly all sins can grow and lead to more heinous sin, but we all understand that there are sins with much greater consequence than others. This is why Paul makes clear, failing to provide for one's family also reveal a person that more openly “rejects the faith” (1 Timothy 5:8). Don't think I am making a Biblical claim based on one unclear passage. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul tells us sexual sin is uniquely troubling because it is sin against the Christian body, which is a temple of the living God. Jesus tells the predominantly Jewish towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida that their sin rejecting Jesus is far worse than the sins of cities of majority Gentile cities who never encountered Jesus' work (Luke 10:13). So be grateful that the cross places us all in need of humility for our sins, but don't be fooled that some sins aren't especially dangerous or grotesque. Maybe you didn't need to be told that, for most of assume this is the truth. I just want you to know the Bible in fact teaches something different than the little slogans we bandy about.

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1 Timothy 3:14-4:16, Psalm 111

| 10/31/18 |

If someone told you to beware liars whose teachings are informed by demons and that have “seared consciences”, you might imagine a prototypical person with a list of vile traits. This list of characteristics might include: abusive, sexually immoral, and cruel. How does Paul, however, describe the actions of people with a consciences out of whack? They are those that, “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods”. (1 Timothy 4:3) Besides calling such people “killjoys” most of us would not suggest these are the sorts of people who have their consciences mangled. To Paul, however, people like this are peculiarly perverse because they believe their little behavior adjustments can cover over their own evils, which are far greater than desiring marriage or eating bacon. The person who commands such self-denying practices does so hoping to ensure good standing with God through pathetic sacrifices, while ignoring the need for salvation from the penalty for wrongdoing. Paul wants nothing to do with any teaching that substitutes our need for our great substitute, Jesus. The idea that our pretentious deeds are sufficient to satisfy the just demands of our righteous God is unconscionable. One really must have a distorted conscience to believe that we are morally upright on our own. So, as bad as it is to be bad, it is worse to think that we are good in spite of all contrary evidence. Of all the evidence, the strongest proof of our unrighteousness should come from our God-given consciences alerting us to the horrors we note in our hearts and actions. To believe we are truly good reveals a conscience ripped apart.

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1 Timothy 2, Psalm 109

| 10/29/18 |

If you the believe scripture is the living word of God, chances are you have examined 1 Timothy 2 to understand a controversial topic. If you have ever been taught to pray for a political leader you dislike, someone certainly appealed to 1 Timothy 2:1-2. For those that have disputes over how God's sovereign election and predestination relates to our Lord's love, then the fact that “God wants all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4) is necessary for that discussion. Absolutely, if you have ever had an argument over the proper role of women in the church, you have interacted heavily with 1 Timothy 2:11-15. It is a shame that a beautiful chapter on the need to love our political leaders through prayer, not to mention one that celebrates the love of God in salvation, and examining male and female complimentary is utilized only for theological disputes.Though this chapter is important to study and discuss while we disagree on our various positions, let us remain united by the one who “gave his life as a ransom for all people.” (1 Timothy 2:6) For Paul equips Timothy and leaders for all times on both the importance of key doctrines and the need to live as one. These key doctrines intend to help us live together in the household of God, which is the church (1 Timothy 3:15). Doctrines matter, yet they are intended to be studied as the family of God earnestly seeking to live out our faith together rather than as casual students.

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1 Timothy 1, Psalm 108

| 10/28/18 |

Since Christianity's beginning, there have been many disputes concerning the proper role of the law in the believer's life. Complicating this discussion is the lack of consensus on how one uses the word “law”. For some use that word as shorthand for the laws found in the Torah (i.e. Genesis-Numbers), while others use it for any command meant to obeyed by Christians today. One verse seems to demonstrate the law has a vital place for Christians is found in 1 Timothy 1:8 where it says, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” So there it is. If we just use the law correctly, then it is good for us. This one verse would be a great object lesson for the problem in quoting a sentence without understanding the paragraph. For Paul immediately follows by telling us that those needing the law are murderers, even those who murder their parents, the sexually immoral, and slave traders. So, it seems that the law might not be for Christians after all, at least not the Christians many of us know. Again, we shouldn't be so hasty. For Paul makes clear that he was formerly a blasphemer and violent, for indeed he was a murderer of Christians. Prior to Paul's conversion, the law demonstrated Paul's need of a savior. So, yes the law (Old Testament) has a purpose in demonstrating the unrighteousness of the sinner, and in helping us comprehend Christ's work. These purposes do not cease the moment we believe, for the laws of God shows the righteousness of God. This is true whatever one means by the word “law”, for none of us keeps even the New Testament commands. Let me land this plane and briefly address questions about the laws use in leading us to actually obey. Whatever we think about the law's place in believers lives' (here I mean the commands found in the New Testament), Paul makes clear there is a way of life, and a set of doctrines that conforms to the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:11). All of us can can acknowledge the Gospel makes demands upon us greater than any law can mandate (see Galatians 5:18,22). Perhaps this is what a later author would mean about laws written upon our hearts (Hebrews 10:16). For the Gospel centers our hearts on Christ, and his demands though great, are worth following all the way home.

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2 THESSALONIANS 2:13-3:18, PSALM 106

| 10/26/18 |

The fourth of the famous ten commandments tells us to work six days and rest on the seventh day of the week (Exodus 20:8-11). If U.S. Christians play fast and loose with the importance of any of those famous commands today, I believe we do with this Sabbath command. Note this command, which is better called a “word”, is actually two commands: work and rest. Some of our difficulties with work and rest comes from trying to comprehend the Sabbath's significance after Jesus' fulfillment of the law through obedient life, sacrificial death, and destroying death's power. The New Testament, as we will see, teaches that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath law by giving us perfect rest. Many Christians in church history, like me, don't believe that someone is now compelled to rest from their work on the actual sabbath day. However, I also believe our God-given gift of one-day rest from productive work is a glorious discipline to be maintained for all times. The flip side of this command is that we should actually be working enough so that such rest is significant! Paul insists upon this at the end of 2 Thessalonians when he chastises the “busybodies” who should be “busy” at their work (2 Thessalonians 3:11). Though we cannot be certain exactly how they busied their bodies, it seems they bided time being mostly unproductive and even mischievous. As a model to them, Paul refused to take money for his own work. Paul also insisted on the need to work by devising a rule Thessalonians unwilling to work shouldn't eat. That doesn't sound gracious to us. Consider, however, if work is part of how we are made to glorify God, the opposite of grace would be to teach by word or deed that remaining idle is of no consequence. Experience, and scripture teaches us that refusing to work has devastating consequences. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with calling idleness sin or at least addressing it personally with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. However, as Paul concludes this second letter to Thessalonians, we also must conclude that the early church leadership had zero tolerance for able-bodied people not working at something important for family and community. May our people have a similar posture.

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2 Thessalonians 1, Psalm 67

| 10/25/18 |

Many people have rejected any notions that God's justice is punitive, believing that punishment is beneath God's good nature. Justice is a more readily accepted category for many modern westerners. Though justice is more apparent in the Bible as the rationale for God's final assize, punishment is also included in this judgement. Twice in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 the word punishment is used to describe what our Lord will do to those who know not God nor obey the Gospel of Jesus. This punishment is “everlasting destruction” and bars one from “the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might.” Paul, without a doubt, portrays God's justice as having punitive dimension. One clarification is necessary. Just because God's justice is punitive, that doesn't mean God delights to punish. It just means that God's justice doesn't exclude punishment simply because God is love, for God is also Holy (see Isaiah 6:1-6). Wrath against evil holds one accountable for their sins (justice) via punishment meted out by our God that would prefer to show mercy. The cross proves that God's desire is to help us avoid our just punishment. But if we would rather earn our righteousness and provide our own salvation, we will face the punishment due our sins not to mention rejecting God's abundant kindness. This isn't popular, and I do not personally delight in the necessity of God's punishment. Our discomfort doesn't, however, mean we can redefine the meaning of God's actions. For those that know the pains and punishments inflicted by evildoers, the idea that God's justice wouldn't punish is truly beneath the God of justice

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1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, Psalm 66

| 10/23/18 |

Everyone wants to know God's will for their lives. I don't know why we just don't read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Actually, I do know why people would prefer to gloss over these verses when addressing the “God's will” question. The answer to this question is both simple and impossible. God's will for our life is simple, that is easy to understand and uncomplicated. Pray like you breathe, that is without ceasing. Give thanks for the millions of good things in life. Delightfully bask in the beauty of God. This is simple. At the same time, it is impossible. The trajectory of a human life often makes us more proud, self-dependent, cranky, thankless, joyless, and harsh. Without intervention the vicissitudes of life leave us beleaguered, frustrated, and very distant from God's standards for our lives. Following God's will is difficult. God's will for our lives is to address our hearts before ever directing our circumstances. As Americans, and probably as people, we want to know what God wants us to be doing, where as God wants us to focus on what we are becoming. Believe it or not, this is harder work than deciding whether to ask someone out on a date or whether to apply for another job. You see, we can always run from commitments, jobs, or relationships but we cannot run from ourselves. We are stuck with ourselves and God's main work in us is for us, that is to transform us for God's glory. Thus, God wants us to understand His will is bound up with transforming our character and via this transformed character, cooperating with continual prayer, to lead us in paths that are pleasing. So, if you ever want to know God's will for your life, I recommend turning to 1 Thessalonians 5 for redirection.

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, Psalm 102

| 10/22/18 |

Paul's most detailed explanation of our future, save in 1 Corinthians 15, occurs at the end of 1 Thessalonians. It seems the Thessalonians have been confused about those “in Christ” who have already died. Paul assures them that anyone who has died believing in CHrist, will return like their Lord when Jesus shouts with a loud voice for the already deceased saints to enjoy Christ's reign with the righteous that remain. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) Paul wants these believers, better, his brothers and sisters, to be encouraged by this news. At the same time, he also wants them to be patient. Like Jesus before him, the apostle insists that Christ's return will occur without announcement or obvious fanfare in the moments preceding this final victory. So instead of trying to look for signs, it is better to be ready no matter the time of day, season of life, or what year our calendar reads. Be encouraged that we will be with Christ, and also remember brothers and sisters to be watchful, for at any time our Master can return for our rescue.

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1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Psalm 101

| 10/21/18 |

As mentioned in yesterday's devotional, Paul treats these Thessalonians as mature believers. In fact he knows that they have been taught by God “to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:10) and they are also walking in obedience. Still Paul wants them to do more. What could be more than loving the family of God? The answer is: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) That doesn't seem too ambitious until we understand that this means that people are to remain faithful in their work without being recognition seekers. It is the paradoxical reality that we showcase the goodness of our Gospel when we seek to be noticed least. Love for our neighbors outside the church often means that we don't spend our time working for their accolades, but quietly do what is best for our communities. In working faithfully, Paul still sees that this is the best way “win the respect of outsiders”. (1 Thessalonians 4:12) So, as Paul would say to the Thessalonians, dear brothers and sisters, turn your hands to good work this week without desire for praise and in so doing show the sufficiency of your Christ.

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1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13, Psalm 100

| 10/20/18 |

One feature of Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians that I find shocking is that it reads like a typical letter. I do not intend to call the seven Pauline epistles we have already read something besides letters. However, beside the greetings and salutations in those books. they don't read like many letters I have read outside the Bible. But Paul's ongoing talk to the Thessalonians about shared friends, “pleasant memories” (1 Thessalonians 3:6) and wondering how he can “thank God enough for you”, shows a different level of cordiality than what we have read together from Paul previously. I do not imply that Paul didn't care for the Galatians or Corinthians when he was rebuking them. No, my point is simply that part of how we can teach fellow believers, as I have tried to show in the last two devotionals is with friendliness, gentleness, and even appropriate familiarity. For these responses can be just as helpful as rebuke, challenge or exhortation in many situations. Paul's tone is commensurate with his message of encouragement to these Christians to labor on in the obedience they have already demonstrated. Why does this matter? I believe a great number of Christians need encouragement today. We are those that read the scriptures, pray often, serve Christ's bride and show much mercy, yet attended by suffering and hardship. So today, I want you all to know as my brothers and sisters that I have love and appreciation for you all. You have served faithfully, so let's continue on in this direction, for Christ is at work even in the hard places of our lives.

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1 Thessalonians 2:1-16, Psalm 99

| 10/19/18 |

Note how many times the word “Gospel” is used in our short reading today. There are four uses of this word not to mention frequent referral to the “word of God” which is about “Christ”. Then consider how Paul clarifies how this Gospel is presented. Paul says he was like “young children” which I take to mean to humble and also like a “nursing mother” which conveys a nurturing attitude. Paul adds he how much he loves these believers (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Again, Paul calls these Christians brothers and sisters and informs that he treated them like a father would their own children. Our Gospel must be presented with help from the Holy Spirit, like we learned yesterday. I would add when the Spirit is at work with our Gospel proclamation it will produce pastoral hearts, kindness, and incredible love. There is a particular posture that is fitting for our Gospel presentation and it is gentleness. As we let our Gospel dwell richly among us as we learned in Colossians 3:16-17 to do, let us also have tenderness attend that beautiful message.

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1 Thessalonians 1, Psalm 98

| 10/18/18 |

How does the apostle Paul know that the Thessalonians are “loved” and “chosen” by God (1 Thessalonians 1:4)? Simply, when the Gospel was presented to them it was attended by the Holy Spirit, not to mention power and conviction. (1 Thessalonians 1:5) God has given us a great message (the Gospel) and a Helper beyond compare (the Spirit). For the Gospel to be the power of God (Romans 1:16), the Spirit must be at work through the presentation of that very good news for it to be effective. For where Gospel and Spirit are together, the love of God shines in our hearts. Thankfully the Gospel is the Holy Spirit's favorite message, for the Spirit loves to focus us on Jesus (John 14:26) . At the same time, we need to be humble even with the Gospel and trust that its power to save and sanctify still depends on God being at work. So by all means, preach the Gospel, and as we do, let us pray for God to intervene. Paul does a great in his writings to the Thessalonians to highlight the need for focused prayer. So if we want to see people rescued by God's saving message, let us beg the Spirit to intervene and attend our message. Truthfully may God send the Spirit to attend anyone who preaches this beautiful word from God with the power from on High!

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Colossians 3:12-4:18

| 10/16/18 |

Let's end our reflections on Colossians by paying close attention the words found in 3:16-17. Vs. 16 reads: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” First we must ask, what is the message “of” Christ? That could mean either the message about Christ, or the message from Christ. If it is the second, that will include the first since Jesus' message could be boiled down to, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In other words, the message from Jesus is about Jesus. The fact this church is told that they need to let this message “dwell among you” means its possible to kick this message out of their midst like a host does an unwelcome guest. For something to dwell somewhere, it must live there. Paul wants them to let this message about Jesus live amongst them as a people and to do so “richly” suggesting that it is to be abundantly present. So all of our talking, singing, encouraging, and addressing one another needs to be done with the word about Jesus at the center of all that is said. This means advice, insight, challenge, and every other thing we might offer someone needs to revolve around what Christ has done. More than this, to make room for this message, we learn to do everything according to the name of Jesus. To do everything in Jesus name means we seek the honor and live according to the desires of our Lord and savior. (Colossians 3:17) So, Agape Chicago, let's make sure that if there is anything that dwells in our midst always, and does so richly, let it be the message about Jesus Christ.

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Colossians 1:1-2:5, Psalm 94

| 10/15/18 |

Jehovah's witnesses are one modern group that claims they believe the authority of scriptures, but yet deny that Jesus is God. If you have ever come across resources teaching you how to engage these folks standing in front of our bus stops, you have almost definitely been told to point them to Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus is the one that Paul says this about, “in him all things were created.” (Colossians 1:16) The choice of the word all implies nothing was created apart from Jesus, even Jesus Himself. Thus it serves to reason Jesus couldn't have been created. Yet there is one problem with this; in Colossians 1:15 Jesus is called the “firstborn over all creation”. Lest we dismay as those who believe adamantly Jesus is the one though “veiled in flesh”, through Him “the Godhead” is seen, we should remember that the firstborn is the one in charge over all that is the Father's. Paul isn't saying Jesus was created and then not created, but rather that Jesus is the one who owns all that belongs to the Father. That makes sense because Paul would immediately tell us thereafter that in Him all things hold together and he is one who makes reconciles of all the universe to God possible. I would say Jesus is deserving of all the rights of the firstborn, for the Father was please to have “all His fullness dwell in Him”. Amen.

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Philippians 4:4-23, Psalm 92

| 10/12/18 |

Rejoicing in the Lord isn't an option for the believer. For emphasis, Paul tells the Philippian church to “rejoice” twice (Philippians 4:4). If you think joy is an option in following Jesus, then you are quite mistaken. But how can we have joy when life is awful? We learn in another Biblical book that joy drove Jesus in the worst of circumstances. For our Lord could endure even for the cross with willingness because of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Joy isn't circumstantial, but it is glad. Paul also declares that he had learned in both “plenty” and “need” how to be “content”. Certainly joy is more than being content, but it is never less. Paul knew that both having joy and its necessary companion, contentment, in all circumstances is humanly impossible, for “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8) Our sinful disposition is mired in discontentment and dissatisfaction. So how then does one attain such joy? For Paul the answer is simple, “I can do all this through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) I would argue that the reason that we are commanded to rejoice is because Jesus is joyful to the core. Additionally, to genuinely rejoice demands constant dependence on our Lord and Savior. So Paul commands such joy because it is the same as commanding us to remain true to Jesus. Likewise, remaining true to Jesus is reflected in our joy. Lest we think this is simply positive thinking, Paul is writing from a prison. Let that sink in and remember this when you think joy is impossible in your circumstances. Wherever Jesus is worshipped, whether in prison, trial, hardship, peace, success, or any situation in life; there joy will be found.

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Philippians 3:1-4:3, Psalm 91

| 10/11/18 |

Could you imagine Michael Jordan declaring his basketball skills and athletic performance “garbage?” Or how about Bill Gates declaring his riches “loss”? The apostle Paul would say all those “gains” and many more would be insignificant in comparison to the value of possessing Jesus as Lord. We have heard this truth that we should “consider all things loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7), and perhaps have grown numb to this fundamental truth. How would I suggest we can know if we are taking Jesus for granted? There are many ways to evaluate if our hearts have grown hard to Jesus' worth, but one of the ways to know if Jesus is your all-surpassing delight is to consider how you relate to those that cannot say “in the arms of my dear savior, there are 10,000 charms.” Note how Paul is both honest and compassionate about the plight of those who reject Jesus as Lord. First we see the honesty when Paul states, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.” (Philippians 3:19) Paul refuses to flatter human egos that believe our rejection of the crucified Lord is innocuous, for rather such people live as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). At the same time, Paul can declare he has “tears” for those who live this way. Honesty and compassion can go together, and our world needs the church to demonstrate this attitude We don't have to succumb to the habit of so many that minimize indifference to our Lord, nor the opposite tendency of treating Jesus' enemies as those we hate. A mature person in Christ can be empowered by the one who, while dying for sinners, could say about his mockers, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) When Jesus is truly our treasure, we will be able to relate to those in darkness with HIs truth and mercy.

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Philippians 1:27-2:30, Psalm 90

| 10/10/18 |

Many action movies contain scenes where the hero is held hostage by a villian who must be stopped before causing catastrophic trouble. In those scenes, the protagonist often evinces great self-assurance in spite of all odds. Of course, it is easy for actors, not to mention a full set of make-up artists and lighting specialists to convey this incredible confidence. The apostle Paul suggests that people in real life, believers in Christ, can show bona fide courage in the face of harmful opposition (Philippians 1:27). When Jesus' followers show steadfastness against oppression, it presents to their abusers “a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved.” (Philippians 1:28) Better than a movie actor, a Christian genuinely believes that if anyone actually takes their lives, they still will be rescued by God. Through faith in Jesus we are able to keep our very souls (Mark 8:36). So, when mistreated we are not only to handle persecution well because God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28) or because suffering produces perseverance and maturity (James 1:2-4). Of course this is great news. But we also have opportunity to demonstrate our confidence that whatever harm someone can do to us in the body, God will spare us while our attackers remain very much in danger. If someone does evil to us, they will see God's power at work, and that is great news to those that love the Lord and want our world to know the majesty of the Lord Most High.

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Philippians 1:1-26, Psalm 88

| 10/09/18 |

It is astounding that some of the most important work in human history was done in a prison. As Paul writes to the church in Philippi, though he is “in chains” (Philippians 1:7), he sees this situation as an opportunity to “advance the Gospel”. Truly, Paul had no idea just how right he was. For Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written from behind bars, and the global church, not to mention the world has never been the same. It is one thing to boldly assert that “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20) Still, it is another thing altogether for us to bear witness to how Christ has exalted the name above all names through the most impossible circumstances. Most people in the U.S. church see success as having large auditoriums filled with people holding lattes and belting out glad tunes, usually the newest CCM hit. What if there the work of Christ is happening just as fruitfully in detention centers, nursing homes, and the places where so many Christians refuse to go? I would suggest that Paul's example teaches us our Lord delights in advancing the Gospel not as much through our seeming successes, but through our supposed failures. Of course God can use both, but our Lord delights in showing power where all we see is frailty. Cling to that truth today, you weak and weary ones who love our meek and mild Savior.

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Ephesians 6:10-24, Psalm 87

| 10/07/18 |

Paul ends Ephesians with the clearest call for Christians to go to war in all scripture. Our war, lest anyone should mistake, isn't against people, also known as “flesh and blood”, but against “spiritual forces” (Ephesians 6:12). How do we fight against an unseen enemy? The extended spiritual armor metaphor tells us that our battle is won precisely in putting on the protection God gives us. In fact, every piece of armor to fight is a gift of God including: truth, righteousness, salvation, and the sword of God's Spirit which is the scriptures. Even faith, as we learned earlier in Ephesians, is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). So when we fight a powerful, unseen enemy, we take up the weapons given us our more powerful God who dwells in the heavens. From beginning to end, Ephesians is saturated with the grace (charis) of God that gives us more gifts than we know. Thus it should not be surprising that whatever battles we have to face, and here we learn the most important are spiritual battles, we have been given ample weaponry by God for the fight.

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Ephesians 3:1-4:16, Psalm 85

| 10/05/18 |

Our little church that sings out of tune and often finds itself on Sunday morning with unfulfilled volunteer needs is but one church in our Lord's global church through whom “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10). How exactly God is displaying His wisdom to spiritual beings in the heavenly realms is probably not perfectly answered in this passage, but I think Paul gives us a clue to how he sees God's wisdom made manifest. First, Paul acknowledges the wisdom of grace which allows us to “approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:11), though we have no right at all to stand before our Holy God. God demonstrates wisdom through the church by proving that unmerited kindness has unique power to draw out glad-hearted worship. Secondly, God has so ordered the church with leaders (Ephesians 4:11-12) that help us reach full maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:12) as we build each other up in love (Ephesians 4:16). All this work God intends to do through the church doesn't require an awesome worship band, world-class preaching, a nice coffee bar, and people with their stuff together. It simply requires a people captivated by God's kindness and committed to Jesus' work to make us mature, even when it seems futile or painful. Even our part in this, that is being captivated and maturing, is really God's work (Ephesians 2:10). We shouldn't be surprised, for the idea that Agape Chicago, or any church for that matter, demonstrates wisdom from the maker of the stars strains belief. Even if it is hard to believe, it is true, so let's continue to be the church that loves our Father, grows together, and proves God's wisdom.

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Ephesians 2, Psalm 84

| 10/04/18 |

“But” can be a beautiful word. Paul details how the Ephesians, and by implication everyone is completely powerless to overcome sin's power and are thus subject to God's righteous wrath against wickedness. This is very bad news. Then Paul uses that word, “but” (Ephesians 2:4). This conjunction is followed by an even better explanation “because of God's great love for us.” Every other good declaration that Paul makes in Ephesians 1 gets reiterated as an expression of God's great loves for us while still more blessings are explained. For example: even while we were dead in sins, we have now been made alive and are seated with Christ. We are currently spoken of as “saved” in the past tense (Ephesians 2:8). Add to this that we are God's “handiwork” through which our Lord intends to do good in this world (Ephesians 2:10). Thank goodness for this “but” that shows perfectly how God transitions us from the pit of former misery to the heights of heaven where our blessed Savior dwells. For where our Lord is, because we are found “in Christ”, Paul speaks as if we are found there already even while still physically here on earth (Ephesians 2:6). This demonstrates once again, without God's love, we are nothing, BUT with God's love no good thing is withheld from those who receive our Lord's love in faith.

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Ephesians 1, Psalm 83

| 10/03/18 |

Maybe you have heard the joke about how the right answer to any question in church is “Jesus”. Whether or not you find that humorous, we must agree it would be almost impossible to ask a question about Ephesians 1 where Jesus isn't the answer. Jesus is the chosen one in whom we are also chosen (Ephesians 1:4) not simply that we might enjoy forgiveness, adoption, and holiness; for whatever spiritual blessing we enjoy it is, “in Christ”. Those two little words in English (and Greek) are found everywhere in Paul's writings, but especially in the letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians will make plain, every good thing is found “in Christ”, and if you are not “in Christ” you have nothing truly good. Just like Paul emphasized how being one with Christ gives us the Spirit, we are made a promise “in Christ” that we have the Spirit as a “deposit” guaranteeing our inheritance. Just like when a landlord asks us for a security deposit to guarantee we will rent out their unit or suffer financial consequences, so Jesus gives us a deposit, guaranteeing His intentions to purchase us forever. So if you have the Spirit, you have Jesus' proof of purchase, and thus belong forever to our Lord. So though Jesus is the right answer, the Spirit of Christ is always right there with Christ doing great things for us until we see our Lord face to face to “to the praise of His glorious grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)

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Galatians 5:13-6:18, Psalm 81

| 10/01/18 |

Our scriptures are filled with many great promises. For a person wearied by sin's ongoing power in their lives, and longing to freely walk in ways that honor our God, there is hardly a better promise than what Paul makes in Galatians 5:16. There Paul guarantees, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” This is a 100% guarantee and there is no fine print. If you really want to quit your “sexual immorality,…jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition,…and envy” (Galatians 5:19-20) then live according to the reign of the Spirit. This sounds great. However, the only way to enjoy this benefit is “to have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) All of the gifts given to us by God, three-in-one, are secured when by faith we place ourselves completely under the Lordship of God as represented by the metaphor of having crucified the (sinful) flesh. The flesh is the reign under which we lived before we were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). Having crucified our flesh's lordship always precedes keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). Such surrender is the first of a lifetime of instances where we relinquish allegiance to self that we might live for God. Just because the promise of never gratifying sinful desires is great, that doesn't make the action of walking in the Spirit easy. Indeed it can be very hard in a broken and evil world where the path of least resistance is often marked by neglect or outright rejection of God's clear will for our lives. So walk in the Spirit, and know that though there are great promises, there is also hardship that comes with living according to the reign of the Spirit. No matter, for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), and suffering while a free person is always better than enjoying comfort while remaining a slave (Galatians 5:1).

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Galatians 4:21-5:12, Psalm 80

| 09/30/18 |

Paul's comparisons between Hagar and Sarah, as well as Mt. Sinai and the heaven above make up one of the most controversial claims from all of his letters (see Galatians 4:21-31). This argument isn't hard to understand if one recognizes Paul's major subjects like Sarah, Hagar, the Mosaic covenant, and living by faith should be placed in two separate and opposing categories: “by promise” or “by flesh”. Just like Hagar gave birth through natural means to Ishmael, so what is born of through effort trying to keep God's law always amounts to flesh-based religion, and therefore cannot give eternal life or freedom. In contrast, Sarah gave birth to Isaac through promise and miracle. So in the same way our inheritance in the heavenly Jerusalem only comes through the miracle done in those who trust Jesus by faith. What is provocative about this argument is that that Paul is pitting obedience to the laws of Moses, the covenant given at Sinai, and even the city of Jerusalem which hosted God's Holy Temple against God's promises. Certainly most Jewish people of Paul's day would not take kindly, being children of Isaac, in being told they were actually children of Hagar. No matter, Paul's entire letter hinges on declaring how God freely gives us salvation before, and even in spite of, the stringent demands of maximum human effort, or superb quality of character are met. Paul insists that God chose to bless Sarah, and through Sarah a people by miraculous promise, even when they didn't deserve it. More importantly, the heavenly Jerusalem belongs to those who have been born of a better promise, the guarantee bought by the blood of an indestructible life. Since it is only by promise that we are saved, and not by law keeping that we can embrace the truth, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6) Truly, nothing else but faith making itself apparent through our love for God and others matters in the least. … [Message clipped] View entire message

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Galatians 3:1-4:20

| 09/29/18 |

For the first few hundred years after the apostolic age, Christians constantly grappled with the doctrines about Jesus' incarnation and the Holy Trinity. Generations of believers were simply following the example of the first Christian leaders in seeing the practical importance of these teachings. The incarnation is the ground of our salvation, and the Trinity provides the logic of our redemption. This is made clear in Galatians 4:4-6 where Paul teaches, “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” The incarnation, meaning that God the Son became humans, ensures that all those born of woman, who have failed to keep God's law can be rescued by a human representative that perfectly obeyed God in everything. Without God becoming man, we couldn't enjoy fellowship with God through adoption. Jesus' life, the incarnation, is the means of our salvation. The logic, or the necessary aspects of our salvation all necessitate the three infinite persons that are equally God. The Father sends, while the Son Redeems, and the Spirit makes us children that call out to God the Father as father because we are made children in the family of God. Doctrines like these are not merely theoretical discussion pieces for seminary classrooms, but are essential truths to help us know our place in the world, not to mention the character of the Lord over all creation. More than simply being important, these doctrines make concrete the truth that “God is love”. For God's love is best demonstrated in that Christ came and gave up His life (John 15:13). We experience God's love through participation forever in the love God enjoys as Father, Son, and Spirit. Let us then magnify, that is pay closer attention to, these beautiful truths. Doctrine should be a beautiful word.

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| 09/28/18 |

To the church in Corinth, Paul addressed pride, sexual licentiousness and cliquish behavior. The Galatians have a different problem. This church is being tempted to believe “another Gospel” (Galatians 1:8-9). As this letter unfolds, it becomes clear Paul's warning against a different religion isn't because the Galatians have rejected the story of Jesus' perfect life, atoning death, and victorious life. Rather, the Galatians are being tempted to believe, if they have not completely succumbed to the idea, that one must become culturally Jewish to be right with God. Due to this belief, some are even preventing Gentiles from enjoying full Christian fellowship. When Paul addresses the Galatians, he challenges a universal problem. This idea, that we must do something to earn someone's favor, even God's, is deeply ingrained in all of our mindsets. Moreover, even many Christians fail to treat others as if Jesus' grace towards all, especially those with struggles or habits we don't understand, truly makes us brothers and sisters through faith. Consider how Peter reacted to Gentile believers when leaders in the “circumcision group” arrived (Galatians 2:12). Though Peter knew better, he withheld glad welcome of Gentiles and thus confirmed in practice a latent belief that something was missing for these Christians who had not been Jewish prior to conversion. Paul wants link the truth of salvation by faith in Christ with the need for welcoming Gentiles without added stipulation. He could not have done so more powerfully by declaring that through faith he had been crucified with Christ yet was still living on! (Galatians 2:20) The point Paul makes is that when someone believes in Jesus they are so identified with Him that their ethnic heritage isn't definitive, but our union with Christ truly defines everything about us. The doctrine of justification by faith alone extends beyond just describing the means of our salvation, for it also helps us grasp the power to live as family, like equals, across culture, status, and all of the things that often prevents relationship.

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2 Corinthians 12-13, Psalm 76

| 09/26/18 |

As we finish 2 Corinthians, I want to stress Paul's unique use of words throughout both letters to this church. The key to Paul's meaning is his paradoxical idea that in Christ, weakness is strength. This colors our comprehension for common words he uses often like “boast” and “wisdom”. For Paul, boasting is only reserved for what someone else, specifically God has done. Wisdom is foolishness and if we want to be wise, we must behold the cross which is folly to Jew and Greek. For this church in Corinth that had a Greek mindset elevating philosophical wisdom as one of humanity's great cultural achievements, Paul's insistence on being a “fool” before the Corinthians is but another example of how Paul portrays the upside down nature of the Christian message. Paul certainly has wisdom, knows God's power, and even has had special revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Though Paul has reason to boast in his wisdom and strength, he will only boast in his foolishness and weakness. If you read 2 Corinthians without properly understanding Paul's intentional use of words to provoke, then you will completely misunderstand him. Boasting is of course bad, except when boasting in weakness, and weakness is of definitely strength, you see. When we grasp this from the onset, we are better prepared to follow Paul's central arguments against undue adulation for human leaders. When we have come to such realizations we can find good news in God's message to Paul that states, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) If we are to become vulnerable, that is weak, we can have comfort that the grace of God can meet every affliction we face with greater strength than we possess.

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2 Corinthians 10-11, Psalm 75

| 09/25/18 |

When Paul writes about his great sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, it would be easy to read this list as if Paul were touting his personal resilience. Though Paul notes his endurance in hardship, at the same time it would be beside the point to call such strength his. Paul's entire discussion is aimed at discrediting the mindset that celebrates physical strength and individual greatness. The reason Paul tells us about all of his troubles isn't to show that Paul is great, but rather that Paul's life, from one perspective, is disastrous. Moreover, Paul acknowledges that he is limited in terms of personal gifting (2 Corinthians 11:5). Paul's point in sharing all of this information isn't that we would marvel at his toughness, but that we would see the supernatural strengthening he is experiencing and therefore trust him as a messenger from Christ. In fact, Paul could not make this any clearer than when he states, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30) Why would he boast in weakness? Precisely because Paul's weakness reveals Christ's unique strength given to Paul for the honor of God. Paul is not like Sampson, chosen from birth to be a great warrior, but rather someone chosen by God as an unworthy and weak vessel that God might reveal His gracious power. After the cross of Jesus, the Christian should expect that this is the way God prefers to work. Our Lord doesn't need superstars, but those willing to be weak, from the point of view that celebrates false strength, that God might show the world supernatural power. Just as Paul has already stated, we are to bear in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Christ might also be revealed. Paul is unwavering in this core connection between the Gospel about Jesus and the transformation it accomplished in our own lives. May we then join Christ in weakness, that His strength may be displayed in us.

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2 Corinthians 8-9, Psalm 74

| 09/24/18 |

Requesting financial offerings often requires explanation. Though the Corinthians have already made a large pledge to help the suffering church in Jerusalem, Paul understands the need to offer sufficient explanation on not just the need to give, but also the motivation and attitude attending what he calls “service” (2 Corinthians 9:1). Not only should the Corinthians give, but Paul desires they do so willingly (2 Corinthians 8:10-11), which is the only appropriate attitude for Christian offering. If a gift is compelled by any force but love for God, then even that gift requires repentance, for God doesn't need our money, yet still desires our hearts. In fact the attitude (willing) we are to have while giving is powered by the motivation. This motivation is explained this way: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) To be sure the motivation Paul intends behind their giving isn't payback. Rather Jesus' generosity is both a model and also reaffirmation of our Lord's character who gave us the best, even at great sacrifice. That means even giving away money can be good for us, if that is what Jesus requires. We can know this because Jesus became poor that we become rich, and wealthier every day in the currency that matters, riches in heaven and deep communion with God. So when we give, lets give willingly, just like Jesus gave Himself willingly that we might have riches forever. Anything lost here, is not lost forever, and this empowers our giving.

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2 Corinthians 7:5-16, Psalm 73

| 09/23/18 |

Paul spends not a few words addressing the difference between “godly sorrow” and “worldly sorrow.” Besides the assertion that one type of sorrow leads to life and the other death, how can we know the difference between these two types of sorrow? Simply, “godly sorrow” leads to repentance spurred by indignation at one's own evil; while worldly sorrow is self-protecting. As some have suggested, worldly sorrow is concerned with consequences, while godly sorrow is concerned with conviction of sin. If I steal, am I more grieved that I was caught or more upset that I did such a thing? Godly sorrow hates the action for it dishonors our maker, while worldly sorrow only worries about who noticed. Paul wants his reader to experience a godly sorrow that is unwilling to tolerate one's own sin. In fact Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, which we just finished, is marked by outrage over sin and its many forms. By God's grace, many Corinthian Christians received Paul's rebukes with grief over their wicked behavior and thus were changed. In response to Paul's teaching here, I find it helpful, when dealing with personal sins to ask myself a few questions that reveal this distinction between godly and worldly sorrow: “What does God want me to change moving forward?” “How did I get here, and how can I leave?” “How does my sin reveal a comfort with being distant from God?” There are more questions that could be asked, but I think when we sin and feel guilty, it is crucial to assess if our disappointment is rooted in worldly or godly sorrow. This difference not only affects our maturation, but is the difference between life and death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

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2 CORINTHIANS 5:11-7:4, PSALM 72

| 09/22/18 |

To be in Christ means that we are completely new creatures. We are not greatly improved versions of ourselves, but something better and different altogether. In the grace of Christ, we are not building our lives around an old foundation that is deteriorating and falling to pieces. Rather, Jesus is our new foundation ensuring the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Upon becoming new we are also reconciled with God. Our Lord's kindness doesn't stop at making us new or at bringing peace. As former enemies we are also made ambassadors of the God who rescues us. In God's wisdom such ambassadors should be most gracious for we know our own troubles best and the grave problems attending being being at war with God. Such experience with both the old sinful and new Holy creation compels us to offer our Lord's grace with compassion. As ambassadors of heaven we don't proclaim that people primarily need to be better, but rather be reconciled to one who, committing no sin, became sin that we might own His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Just like we don't deserve God's gracious, bestowed righteousness, we don't deserve to be given such an important stewardship of God's mission either. Rescuing fools in their folly is one thing, but God's choice former enemies entrust the ministry of reconciliation is not, as Paul would say, “worldly wisdom”. Family, do you believe, against all odds, that God intends for his salvation to be made known through you? Do we trust that God is in fact rescuing the world through the appeals of broken but new ambassadors? Our Lord's work seems upside down, doesn't it. I often believe God has better people on his team and many with a message more powerful than what I ever convey. Yet none of this negates God's will to work in all of us. In fact, God is right now reconciling the world through Christ, and through Christ making His appeal to a lost world through this old creation made new.

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Corinthians 4:7-5:10, Psalm 71

| 09/21/18 |

Paul describes himself and others as “wasting away” due to their intense suffering (2 Corinthians 4:16). How does he change his tune and say such afflictions are “light” (2 Corinthians 4:17)? Part of the answer lies in the fact that even though he is wasting away on the outside, his more crucial inward person is being strengthened daily. Paul can have confidence that in spite of a decaying earthly body, he will have a new heavenly “tent” that has a greater weight both in terms of longevity and excellence. Paul's burdens are light because though his body is weakening, Paul is strengthened in his soul beyond belief by Jesus. Our perseverance in this short life through trials that comes from being allied with the Christ will bring a much greater honor, that is glory, than the dishonor we face in this life. Dear brother and sister, your perseverance in your daily difficulties is assuring you a blessed joy that cannot be compared to any miseries you know today. So through Jesus, hold fast!

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2 CORINTHIANS 2:14-4:6, PSALM 70

| 09/20/18 |

Martin Luther noted that many Christians preferred a theology of glory to a theology of the cross. That is, they prefered to focus on the victory, resolution, and hope of the Christian life while neglecting the suffering, rejection, and injustice. I can relate, and I am sure Luther would find our days of lower mortality rates and growing prosperity to be characterized by increasing disdain for a theology of the cross. Christians tend towards wanting the resurrection's benefits now, without accepting the cross' call on our lives to “endure hardships” (2 Timothy 2:3) until we receive our resurrection bodies. Hundreds of years before Luther, the apostle Paul declared that the two most defining moments of Jesus' ministry must be regularly represented in our lives for the sake of the world. For he states, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:10) Paul constantly makes the connection of union with Jesus with being crucified and risen with Christ (Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:1-4). In the aforementioned verse, Paul focuses on how we reflect Jesus' suffering through a willing embrace of God the Father's will for our lives, especially when suffering for following our Lord. If we freely embrace the sufferings that come from following Jesus, then the life that Jesus supernaturally offers believers will also be revealed in and through us. As those that invite others to feast on Jesus' love, we recognize Christ is revealed to our friends and family when we suffer well, for we cannot do this by living according to our sinful flesh. When our lives demonstrate hidden strength, we have great opportunity to declare the life and death of Jesus. This opportunity only comes when God provides Christ-like strength. May we receive this gift today and live as reflections of our crucified and risen savior. Let us embrace a theology of the cross.

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2 Corinthians 1:1-2:13, Psalm 69

| 09/19/18 |

Don't waste your pain. These directions from a counselor of mine suggests there is something from all of our sufferings, whether they are self-inflicted or results of living in a twisted world, that can be gained. In all of our hardships, the God of comfort desires to be our refuge. When we find God as our rock and redeemer, the comfort our Lord brings is a comfort we can then pass along to other sufferers. In fact, as believers we are to willingly share in the sufferings of Christ and in this way enjoy the comforts of Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:5). Sharing Jesus' suffering doesn't necessarily mean we are crucified or treated with grave injustice, but it does mean we will use our power sacrificially to help others. Such sacrifice often is met with disappointment, frustration, backstabbing, and even harm. So when we experience difficulties like this, we are always learning how to deal with the inevitable struggles that attend “life under the sun”. Due this, we are able to become what one has called “wounded healers”. As we read this second letter from Paul to the church in Corinth, we recognize that Paul has a great interest in helping these Corinthians see the benefit their sufferings can offer to a hurting world. May we then comfort with the comfort we have received from God.

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1 Corinthians 16, Psalm 67

| 09/17/18 |

Paul's letter to the Corinthians addresses a number of their problems including: pride, tolerance of sexual immorality, and a lack of confidence in the resurrection. One issue Paul confronts from the onset is the presence of factions aligning themselves with their favorite preacher, which for many of them was either Paul or Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:8-9). As Paul ends the letter we can be certain that Paul held no ill-will against Apollos, for not only were they on good terms, I infer that Apollos' unwillingness to visit the Corinthians was likely that he shared Paul's concern to avoid reinforcing this immature church's adoration of mere human teachers (see 1 Corinthians 16:12). Paul's unity with Apollos is one example in this final chapter of 1 Corinthians that demonstrates Paul's interdependence and love for other Christian leaders. Like Romans, 1 Corinthians ends with Paul encouraging a church to celebrate other godly leaders like Timothy, Stephanas, and Fortunatas. This shows that the humility Paul preached, he practiced. From the onset Paul attacked the pride found in the Corinthian church by celebrating the humble folly of the cross, which is God's wisdom. Paul's love for and co-laboring with other believers shows me, as one who knows the difficulty of cooperation with other Christians, especially the gifted ones, that Paul obeyed the way of the cross. For the cross wasn't just marked by suffering, but abject humility willing to be mocked for our good. As we end this letter, may we cling to the wisdom of the cross, and join Paul in striving for unity, even in the times where our pride is injured or when working with those gifted to do what we can't.

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1 Corinthians 12-14, Psalm 65

| 09/15/18 |

Spiritual gifts are not just strengths individuals use to bless one another (1 Corinthians 12:26), but are also given by God (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) with the specific purpose of the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). We are to desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1), while also pursuing something more essential (1 Corinthians 12:31). Of all the gifts from God, the greatest gift of all is love (1 Corinthians 13:13) This gift orders all of God's blessing. The absence of love causes disorder even where there are other powerful gifts from God (1 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Corinthians 14:9). Love's foundational nature is made apparent when Paul tells us it is possible to give oneself as a martyr and even have earth-shaking faith but still be displeasing to God for neglect of love (1 Corinthians 13:3-4). As a church named after the most commonly used word for love, 1 Corinthians 13 should always guide our paths. At our church, there are many with various gifts that demonstrate God's astounding handiwork. Though I often pray for more gifts to increase in church, like administration, leadership, and musical ability we need to pray that love would be our ever-present posture towards one another. For love is God's greatest gift and we cannot gift it to one another without our Lord. By the gift (grace) of God, we have received the best of love from the incarnate Christ. But that love was given that God might keep showering us with more love. May we then seek this gift together with every ounce of energy we possess.

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1 Corinthians 11:2-24, Psalm 64

| 09/14/18 |

Paul's teaching on head coverings, not to mention gender expectations in the first extended section of 1 Corinthians 11 requires so much comment, I will just encourage the reader to read that section several to grasp Paul's ideas there (1 Corinthians 11:2-15). Since I passed on the first section, I want to comment on the rest of the chapter. Much of this teaching is read all over the world on SUndays as the global church prepare to take communion. Two verses in particular are worth mentioning: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28). In isolation, many hearers imagine that this passage commands some measure of introspection on the nature of our hearts leading to confession of sin. Certainly this is a legitimate application of this verse. However, Paul's original intent is clarified by the subsequent warning of judgement for failure in “discerning the body.” (1 Corinthians 11:29) The major problem Paul is addressing is a failure to recognize the realities of Christ's bodily sacrifice as represented by bread and wine, for the people of God, also known as the body of Christ. Paul addresses a church's failure while gathering to eat to consider the needs of one another above their own. Many have been eating their meals accompanying the Lord's Supper without waiting for their brothers and sisters, so that some are left empty while others feast (1 Corinthians 11:21-22). Paul certainly wants us to consider sins of the heart, but more immediately wants us to remember when we eat and drink of the Lord's body and blood symbolized in bread and wine, that we remember we have been made one in Christ. So to eat in an unworthy manner primarily means to do so without love for the family of God. Thus we do well to pause before we partake, seek reconciliation, pursue peace, and keep each other's interests above our own.

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1 Corinthians 10:1-11:1, Psalm 63

| 09/13/18 |

“The chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This summary statement about the meaning of life finds great justification in 1 Corinthians 10:31. We are told that “whatever we do” we are to do that for “the glory of God.” If you haven't heard in our church that this is why you exist, to make your every breath about honoring end enjoying your creator, then let me remedy that today. Our work, our relationships, our interactions, shoe-tying, and cooking are all to be done with an eye towards celebrating the King of the universe. Thankfully, the inclusion of the first verse from 1 Corinthians 11 in our reading connects this essential teaching about glorifying God in all things with Paul's command to “follow my example, as I follow the example of the Christ”. Now it is interesting enough to consider that Paul was bold enough, but not proud, to call people to imitate him. Certainly the command to imitate Paul is necessarily grounded in Paul's willing imitation of Jesus. So though Paul commands imitation, it is precisely in imitating Christ than anyone is ever able to say what Paul said. Now, the point I wanted to make is that in imitating Christ, Paul would absolutely be doing all things for the Glory of God, albeit imperfectly. Jesus honored the Father in everything. Thus the imitation of Christ means we are following the way of Jesus in making life about God the Father. Our obedience to the Way of Christ would indicate a worthiness to be imitated, not based on our perfection, but founded on an orientation that seeks the both delight of God and adoration for God. May we live out our purpose in life, and become those that can honorably say, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

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1 Corinthians 8-9, Psalm 62

| 09/12/18 |

Paul's willingness to become foolish in the world's eyes and so reflecting the folly of the cross is demonstrated in Paul refusing the right to eat meat and receive pay as a minister of the Gospel. Out of love, our Lord gave His body up to death that we might receive life. For Paul, this crucial event shapes our every practice. Even though idols are nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4), a mature Christian should be willing to refuse to eat meat sacrificed to false gods, even if that means refusing meat altogether (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). This certainly is considerate, but Paul's extended justification for paying ministers of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 8:7-14) is flipped on its head when Paul declares he would rather die than have the opportunity to preach the Gospel freely, without pay, taken away (1 Corinthians 9:15-18). To many, working for free is the ultimate madness. Paul certainly had his needs met through various churches, but for this particular church he knew their struggles with vacillating between the extremes of licentiousness or pride in hyper-spirituality. Thus Paul wants nothing to do with reinforcing the idea that his work has anything to do with filling his pockets, or propping himself up as a super apostle. Rather, this Gospel about Jesus was so precious to him, that he did not want its value to be demeaned (2 Corinthians 9:16). That helps us understand why Paul foolishly made himself a slave/servant (in Greek doulos can mean both) to all peoples so that he would win many to Jesus. Again, Paul doesn't mean anyone literally owns him, but that he is willing to make great sacrifices to demonstrate the power of a seemingly foolish but cross-shaped life that makes sacrifices so that others might receive life forever.

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1 Corinthians 7, Psalm 61

| 09/11/18 |

Paul continues to address sex, marriage, and divorce. The discussion that open 1 Corinthians chapter 7 about whether ““It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” reminds us of the apostle's response to Jesus' teaching about divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19:1-12. There Jesus taught that no one should divorce except in cases of sexual immorality. To this teaching the first apostles responded, “it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). In similar fashion Paul's instructions in 1 Corinthians 5&6 likely led some to question whether it is best to swear off sex and marriage altogether. However, Paul acknowledges that since people desire sex, married couple should freely enjoy this gift from God. In fact, Paul tells husbands and wives that their own bodies belong to one another such that couples should not deny one another their “rights”. This doesn't mean Paul thinks everyone should get married. On the contrary, he wishes more were like him, being willing to deny oneself the joys of marital intimacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God. No matter, Paul realizes that this gift of singleness & sexual abstinence is not for everyone. Instead of questioning whether being married is good or bad, we must discern God's work in or lives. So, no matter whether you are married or unmarried, slave or free, fundamentally we need to remember again (1 Corinthians 6:20) that we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 7:23). That price, the precious blood of Jesus, conveys how God values us, but also the weight of our redemption. No matter how God has wired us or established our paths, our basic orientation in sex, work, and marriage is to live as those belonging body, soul, and mind to Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.

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1 Corinthians 5-6, Psalm 59

| 09/10/18 |

We likely find it very strange that Paul had to tell a church not to be proud as one of their members engaged in ongoing sexual relations with his mother-in-law (1 Corinthians 5:1-4). I hate arrive at too many conclusions, but the sheer fact this problem was, as the some have begun to say, “a thing”, suggests that the church in Corinth had major cultural baggage preventing them from grasping basic Christian teachings. As we know from Acts 15, the early church leaders felt it was essential to emphasize to Gentiles not to engage sexual immorality. In the same way, Paul spends a great deal of time in today's reading explaining the gravity of sexual immorality. The fact our bodies are temples of God's Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) is one of the foundational reasons we should not only abstain from sexual immorality, but “flee” from it (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sexual sin has such a corruptive and enticing power that we are not to treat it in any way but as dangerous. Perhaps this is why Paul caution's this church so often against pride when addressing the Corinthians lack of seriousness in dealing with the aforementioned incestuous relationship (see 1 Corinthians 5:1,6). Paul declares that sexual sin is destructive, but this message doesn't jibe well with cultures then or now asserting that sexual fulfillment is essential for human flourishing. Pride always leads to treating the beauty and gravity of sex as if it simply were a means of pleasure or self-actualization. The Bible teaches sex is meant to convey God's love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33), and that love isn't self-seeking. We must decide, then, whether we believe that freedom to enjoy sex without commitment or constraint is key to our joy. I recommend instead walking in gladness that we are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20) so that we have a wholeness in Christ that no sexual encounter or relationship can provide. To choose joy in being Christ's we must realize as temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Jesus' body we are to loathe any desecration of what God has sanctified.

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1 Corinthians 3:5-4:21, Psalm 58

| 09/09/18 |

Like the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18), so we are to live foolishly according to the world's standards (1 Corinthians 3:18). What does such foolishness mean? It means to stop putting our trust, allegiance, and confidence in human leaders (1 Corinthians 3:20-21). Jesus is the one who ensures we have everything we need, so that even Paul and Apollos, not to mention eternal life are gifts to us from Christ. Thus it is sad that Christians seem to be, as one pastor put, “looking for mini-popes” to get excited about. We desire to have people that we can rally around in such a fragmented world, whether those are leaders in the church, or even movie stars that boast in the name of Jesus. This adoration is often justified with too much hope placed in those we desire to “make great kingdom impact.” Don't imagine I am minimizing the importance of those God has chosen for unique positions in government, entertainment, sports, or the marketplace. Rather, I am criticizing our tendency to reflect the world's tribalistic adoration for seemingly incredible individuals. All of our leaders, whether they be missionaries, pastors, governors, and all of the famous in athletics, film, or music ought be appreciated, but never worshipped. Paul knows the world wants its Caesars, but there is only One fit to rule over all. So let's be foolish in the way Paul means and treat our leaders, or those with influence, with due respect. This means we have proper recognition that whatever good they have, they received it from God (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

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1 Corinthians 1:1-3:4, Psalm 57

| 09/07/18 |

The wisdom and power of this world is rendered foolish and weak by the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-23). Any serious reflections on Paul's insistence that the cross demonstrates God's strength and wisdom will acknowledge how improbable, not to mention revolutionary, this teaching would sound to Paul's hearers. For the Gentile peoples, the cross was meant for complete extermination of a person. Of course a crucified person is executed, but a crucifixion also by the nature of its brutality and shame intends to rid someone of any honor or acknowledgement that they should be treated as humans. For the Gentiles the cross was the Roman government's way of saying, “watch this naked person suffocate, writhe in agony, and forever forget about being like them.” To the Jewish person, the person who hangs on a tree is accursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23). For Jesus to die on the cross would have been initially understood the Jews or Gentile as the final verdict of God, state, humanity, or the gods that this man could not have been worth much. For Jesus was treated as if he weren't even human. For Paul intends to revel in the cross' triumph over our wisdom and power, for again the cross in particular was uniquely necessary for us to realize the folly of both. If we begin to see Jesus' death in this light, we recognize how the cross has singular power to render the wisdom of human judgement foolish, for human wisdom believes such a horrific execution was fitting for the Lord of the Nations. Also the power of humanity in attempting to wipe the memory of the Creator of the universe off the planet is proven ineffective. Of course both God's wisdom and power are validated not just by Jesus dying, but also by our Savior rising from the grave. The two must go together. Still, Paul's main line of argument insists that the cross as the particular means of Jesus' atoning death is necessary to confound our wisdom and power and compel us to rely on God's power. Let us then see our power and wisdom in light of the cross and agree “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

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Romans 16, Psalm 55

| 09/06/18 |

When Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, he had still yet to make his fateful voyage to Rome written about at the end of Acts. As Paul leaves final salutations to the Roman church by way of commanding greetings and encouragement for other saints, we understand those names represent many who brought the Gospel to Rome before Paul. Though not as famous as the apostle writing this letter, at least today, these individuals are each commended for a particular strength they have demonstrated or service they have provided. The reaching of peoples and building up of the church isn't just for the superstars, it is also for the Phoebes, Priscillas, and Aquilas of this world not to mention those like Narcissus, Mary, Andronica, and Junia. Our history is full of people that serve like this, but with forgotten names nevertheless written in God's great book (Revelation 21:25). For their service on the earth they may never receive due acknowledgement. Yet these are the ones who gladden the hearts of brothers and sisters, and are essential in seeing churches thrive. Also by and large it has been through the work of these forgotten ones who see maybe 3-5 bona fide converts from their personal ministry that over the centuries helped the church be so successful in her mission. As problematic as it is to put it this way, even when it comes to evangelism the math is simple. Would you rather have one person that reaches 50,000 people for Jesus or 30,000 people that each reach three? Truthfully, I would like both, but we see the importance for the church in insisting that we not rely on paid professionals, the super gifted, or even those with apostolic authority to do all the ministry. For our Lord gives gifts to all the faithful (Romans 12:3-7) who will together one day have Satan crushed under our feet (Romans 16:20) that our Lord might be forever glorified in us. So let us as one serve faithfully in ways and with gifts that the Lord has given without letting our egos, pride, or discouragement take our eyes off the prize.

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Romans 12-13, Psalm 53

| 09/04/18 |

Since God has shown us such great mercy we are to be “living sacrifices” that do not conform to the world's pattern and are constantly being transformed through having our minds renewed (Romans 12:1-2). This transformation means that we are committed to using our gifts to build up the family of God (Romans 12:3-14), and are to be steadfast in showing love to enemies in absence of revenge (Romans 12:15-21). This transformation also shapes us to cooperate with our governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7) and to refuse to owe any debts except our perpetual debt to love others (Romans 13:8-14). Lastly, as opposed to those living according to sinful flesh, the world; we are to live aware that our time in history necessitates being awakened by the nearness of Jesus' salvation (Romans 13:11-14). This summary demonstrates what many have considered a clear connection between all the rich theology found in Romans 1-11 and the “therefore” (Romans 12:1) that links those chapters with all the commands we see in chapters 12-13. We would be wrong, however, to assume that Paul ever wanders too far from proclaiming the wonders of Jesus into making commands isolated from God's work. Rather, we see that Paul constantly keeps the ongoing work of Jesus linked to how we should live. We build up another with the gifts given to us by God (Romans 12:3,6). Our lack of vengeance is rooted in the fact God alone metes out perfect justice (Romans 12:19). We submit to governing authorities, not because they are perfect, but because God has good purposes for our rulers (Romans 13:4). Our debt to love is found in the fact loving our neighbor fulfills the laws of God (Romans 13:8,10). Lastly we wake from our sleepy sinful practices by recognizing the day of our salvation has come and is coming to us through the Christ who came, died, and rose from the grave (Romans 13:11,14). Christian practice should always be deeply rooted in and connected to rich theology. Paul would not leave such an important work, the task of our obedience up to us alone. For all of our obedience is grounded in the character and work of our Lord and God. In fact as we clothe ourselves with Christ, this is the very action that enables us reject gratifying the sinful flesh (Romans 13:14). By the way, that one little verse is what St. Augustine read when he supposedly heard a child sing Tolle Lege, (take up and read) and for the first time felt powerfully God's salvation had visited to him. My we also wake up to how by putting on Jesus, we might find strength for every good work.

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Romans 11, Psalm 52

| 09/03/18 |

One of my delights in pastoral ministry is to be in the midst of writing a sermon, or even one of these very devotionals, and be so thrilled at what God is teaching me that I have a desire to fill my writings with exclamation marks, preach immediately, and sing for joy! God's goodness is so transparent that I just want people to join along in the thrill of declaring God's praises. I imagine Paul is experiencing something like this as he ends Romans 11 with an Old Testament laden declaration of the unknowable and deep wisdom of God. Prior to this outburst of praise, Paul has a back and forth discussion spanning Romans 11 concerning the repetitive rejection of God's prophets by the majority of Israel, culminating in many Jewish people rejecting God's messiah. This back and forth is concerned with answering the question: “Did God reject his people?” To this question, Paul answers confidently that God will welcome back many of His chosen people born in the line Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by making them jealous of the grace demonstrated towards the Gentiles at the cross of Christ. Paul can hardly contain himself seeing the wisdom of God throughout history in confounding Jewish pride, ensuring the Gentiles see their need for salvation, and thus extending grace to all the disobedient (Romans 11:32). To celebrate what God is teaching us in this theological tour de force that is Paul's letter to the Romans, lets exclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33)

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Romans 9:30-10:21, Psalm 51

| 09/02/18 |

Paul occasionally weaves together many ideas from his letters in a few words. Romans 10:4 offers such a summary when it says, “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” A person is the culmination, the end, the goal, the pinnacle, the all-encompassing direction for the laws of God; and that person is Jesus. The purpose of the law is to prepare us for our complete need of Jesus and Jesus ensures all that believe, Jew and Gentile, can have the righteousness God demands. This summarizes much of what Paul has wanted to say about the Gospel, which is the power of God (Romans 1:16). In response to this Gospel we learn, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) What I just presented is a shortened version of what others call “The Romans road to salvation” playing on the old saying, “all roads lead to Rome”. This method of teaching the Gospel rests on the confidence that if someone were to believe the message of Romans, especially encapsulated in those few verses they could receive God's salvation through our Lord Jesus. On one level, this sort of presentation can be offered in a way that comes across as salesy or conveying to someone they can do a bare minimum of things and go to heaven forever. For those looking to pad their salvation and baptism statistics, this sort of presentation is very dangerous tool. On the other hand, it is good to have a scriptures readily available to help people understand that it genuinely is just faith, a faith that places one's hope completely in Christ's work while submits our lives to the reign of God, that saves us. To you, I simply say, it is good to have some scriptural references memorized if not the entire verses to either quote or reference for someone one has genuine desire to know what to do in response to the Gospel. In such situations Romans is always a good place to help someone start their journey of lifelong trust in the righteousness of Jesus.

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Romans 9:1-29, Psalm 50

| 09/01/18 |

Though Romans 9 is famous for its defense of God's right as Sovereign of all the universe to “have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Romans 9:14), Paul is not primarily defending God's justice in predestining some for mercy and others for wrath. Rather, the main argument Paul takes up in this chapter is that we should not be surprised that God chooses to, give salvation to many Gentiles. Romans 9 begins with Paul telling us that he wishes he could be “cursed” so that His people, the Jewish people, could receive God's salvation en masse (Romans 9:2). Then Paul declares that God's promises haven't failed the Jewish people by arguing, yet again, that the true children of Abraham are “not the children by physical descent who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise.” (Romans 9:8) This means both Jews and Gentiles can receive the promised blessing to Abraham through faith. But if you put yourself in Jewish shoes, as one who has been “faithful to the the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises” (Romans 9:4), you might wonder if God is unjust just to welcome Gentiles completely into the covenants without a more extensive purging of years of evil. Yet Paul explains that just like God was completely just to show favor to Jacob the second born over Esau, the oldest, so God has the right to bless a people by the blood of Jesus that have been lost for hundreds and thousands of years. God's mercy is the ultimate point Paul wants to drive home to an audience probably suspicious of so recklessly welcoming Gentiles into full fellowship. God's grace is always held in contempt by the perverted notions of justice we hold, for so many of us take for granted our own righteousness while recognizing the evil of others. Paul wants to insist no one deserves such lavish mercy and promises, so why be upset with God when our Lord shows kindness to anyone. For indeed we can cry Hallelujah that God has mercy on whom the Lord will have mercy, for we know we would be lost without our God's kindness.

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Romans 7:8-8:39, Psalm 50

| 08/31/18 |

Today will be the first and only time I make this complaint: I do not understand why our Bible reading plan broke down today's Romans reading like this. Many have suggested Romans 8, at the heart of Romans, also best conveys the heart of Christian theology. Why then, would an important discussion on doing “what I do not want to do” in Romans 7 be included in the reading for Romans 8? Romans 8 alone could be broken into two rich readings. So, let me leave this digression behind and suggest, if you can read Romans 8 without being richly blessed as a believer, just read it again, and again. No words of mine could come close to helping the heart unmoved by Romans 8. The main point of discussion, then, for today is the famous dilemma in Romans 7 about Paul being “ in my mind a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” The main issue with those words is, when we read Paul describing himself as having a similar tension: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15), we realize this sounds very different than Paul in Romans 6. Paul in Romans 7 tells us the reason he does bad works is “it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it”. (Romans 7:16) This doesn't sound like the same Paul in Romans 6 that said he has been made dead to sin and alive to Christ. Thus many have suggested Paul is talking about a hypothetical person under the law, prior to the freedom made possible by the blood of Jesus. The traditional reading, or at least from my vantage point, the typical reading of Romans 7 believes Paul isl describing a genuine internal war between himself as man redeemed by Jesus yet one who is still prone to live according to his old slavemaster, the power of sin. So we have two options. Paul is either speaking in the present moment about an ongoing struggle he and all CHristians face, or about a hypothetical person weighed down by the sinful desires the good law excited before grace came (Romans 7:11-13). No matter which interpretive choice you make on that matter, the key to understanding the central point of this passage is the exclamation, question and answer at the end of our chapter: “ What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Both a Christian wrestling with some residual effects of the power of sin and a person under the law before Jesus can declare that Christ alone can deliver us from our misery and death, as Romans 8 will so beautifully declare.

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Romans 6:1-7:7, Psalm 49

| 08/30/18 |

Repetitious referral to sin reveals Paul's desire to explain sin and our new relationship as believers in Christ to this power that infects all humanity. To comprehend Paul's message about being dead to sin, we must understand what Paul means by that “s” word. To Paul sin has the power to enslave us (Romans 6:7), reign over our desires (Romans 6:12), and kill us (Romans 6:23). Additionally, what Paul calls “the realm of the flesh” is a specific state of being ruled by sin as opposed to God's Holy Spirit. What's key to understand is that sin in the singular is treated as an adversarial power to Jesus and His righteousness who now is our master, ruler, and life-giver. When we are in Christ, then, a willing choice to sin conveys we prefer the slavery of sin that leads to death over being mastered by the righteousness of Christ which is life-giving. Sin (singular) also has the power to work in conjunction with a good thing like the law to arouse “sinful passions” (Romans 7:5). Clearly we can say “sin” isn't simply the bad things we do like lie, cheat, and steal, but a rather the all-encompassing description of the power in every human that makes us by nature insurrectionists in God's Kingdom. Having said all of that, Christ has neutered the power of sin in our lives such that we have been made dead to sin (Romans 6:6,11-13) and no longer live under its power to rule (Romans 6:14). In short, we are told repeatedly in our reading that we are no longer under the power of sin like we once were (Romans 6:2,7,11,13,14). That doesn't stop Paul from commanding us to refuse to live under sin's reign. Romans 6 would leave us less with a command to “stop sinning” and more with the command, live as those who have been freed from a hostile master. We are free indeed, so let's live as free people.

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Romans 5:12-21, Psalm 48

| 08/29/18 |

Paul compares the results of Adam's transgression and Jesus' sacrifice to show the superiority of our salvation to the fall of humanity. These comparisons, however can be difficult to comprehend. In vs. 15 where we are told that “many died by the trespass of one man”, Paul immediately follows with this statement “how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Romans 5:15) On the face of it, if this were a sheer numerical comparison, then the number of people that die because of Adam's sin is greater than the number of people that receive the benefits of Jesus' crucifixion. For the way to be saved is believe in our hearts and declare that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10). Everyone dies, but not everyone finds life in Christ. So how does this comparison work? One point of comparison is that only one sin led to condemnation for all, but the the gift, on the other hand overcomes many sins (Romans 5:16). Since Jesus' death brings a declaration of innocence where there is guilt, that is a far superior work than one that leads to guilt for evil deeds. Also, the blessings offered to the recipients of Jesus' grace is superior to the death brought by Adam. For life in Jesus is eternal (Romans 5:17). Death came from Adam, but our eternal death comes for rejecting God's grace in Jesus. So Jesus' work ultimately is greater in power and effect than Adam's work. This is good news for those that everywhere see the marks of Adam's rebellion in the death of loved ones, the hostility amongst peoples, and the futility of our work. Let the faithful say, “Amen, the work of the new Adam is stronger than the misdeeds of the first Adam!”

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ROMANS 4:1-5:11, PSALM 47

| 08/28/18 |

Paul has already clarified that he is not anti-obedience, anti-works, or even anti-law. The laws of God, given to Israel are affirmed as vitally important by Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20), are loved by David (Psalm 119:16), and will be called “holy” by Paul later in this letter (Romans 7:12). However, Paul will teach in Romans 4, and many other places, that the promise given to Abraham is superior to the law given to Moses. Yes God gives both the promises and law. Paul still stresses the promise given to Abraham takes priority based on the fact it is older than the law (Romans 7:11-13) and alone can draw out the faith that justifies us before God (Romans 4:13). The greatest thing about the promises, if we read Paul's logic, is that it is completely dependent upon God's goodness which brings the type of certainty human righteousness could never achieve, as the law reveals. God's promise is superior because its stipulations rest entirely on God's righteousness and unchanging nature. As we see, God fidelity in spite of our lawbreaking is most epitomized by Jesus dying for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). God's promise doesn't come with contingencies, and it is not given based on peak performance. In fact the greatest kindness came to those mired in the greatest evil, our rebellion against our God and maker. We can with glad hearts say that the promises of God are invaluable, beautiful, and reveals God's holiness in ways even the law doesn't. For there is no law that can compel such lavish love. The love of God is unique, it is Holy.

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Romans 3, Psalm 46

| 08/27/18 |

As noted in the last two days of reading Romans, Paul highlights the evils of disobedience, especially Jewish disobedience to the laws given by God to Israel. Thus pleasing God is straightforward. Lets just obey God, trusting that our Lord wants us to thrive and would command only that which is best for us. If life were only so simple! For we are told today that “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) When Paul quotes the Psalms, he isn't simply making a statement about what we do, but rather what we are (not) capable of doing. Namely, we are incapable of refraining from sin, for sin is a power that infects all of us and even the larger system (aka the world) in which we live. Paul in fact calls sin a “power” (Romans 3:9) that rules over us, Jew and Gentile, such that our evils are great, one and all. So what then can we do? Where can we find hope? Paul tells us, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:25) That one word atonement answers the question of what has been done about our disobedience. Our former sins are covered over, and in Christ, we can trust whatever we do will not seperate us from God's love. On the cross, the one obedient man bore the penalty of our sins that through faith we might be justified and made righteous (Romans 3:22). The significance of those two concepts: “justified” and “made righteous” is too great to discuss at length on this blog. We do well to remember that justification and righteousness are given to us as gifts through faith. So what we need most is not something we can achieve, namely the obedience that puts us at peace with God. Our peace with God is given us because of the execution of our beloved Savior, to whom be all praise, glory, and honor forever. Amen.

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Romans 1:18-2:29, Psalm 45

| 08/26/18 |

Like I mentioned yesterday, obedience to God plays a prominent role in Romans. Paul claims the main reason we disobey God is idolatry, and idolatry is simply a choice to worship creation above the creator (Romans 1:21-31). The consequences for “following evil” is the wrath of God (Romans 2:8), while those who persist in doing good will inherit eternal life (Romans 2:7). Paul insists that obedience, even to the common law given to everyone via the conscience is superior to merely being a recipient of God's laws (Romans 2:13). Paul reiterates that those circumcised (Jewish males) who disobey God might as well be uncircumcised, while the uncircumcised (Gentiles), in doing what their God-given conscience prescribes (Romans 2:25-27), prove obedient to God. Perhaps it is shocking for us read Paul's next words, the one who so often declares we are saved by faith, that “it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Romans 2:13) Certainly Paul will explain how it is faith that actually saves us, but in this section Paul sounds like obedience also is salvific. That is not exactly right. Paul is simply saying those who obey God are those that show they have faith in God as opposed to those who truly rely on their pedigree or ethnic identity for God's favor. Those who are justified are those who obey, because those who genuinely have faith that saves, will obey God. Faith is the means of salvation, but obedience reveals our faith is bona fide. Such genuine faith is possible for both Jew and Gentiles as they respond to the Gospel. Romans is famous for its lofty and brilliant theology, but we miss its main message if we think we are only supposed to understand the truths found in this letter. We are to obey the Gospel, for though it is a message of Jesus' works, it still makes demands upon our lives.

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Romans 1:1-17, Psalm 44

| 08/25/18 |

The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome, and today we begin our meditations on Paul's famous letter to the church in Rome, likely written from Corinth, on his second missionary journey. The contents of this letter are regularly credited for Augustine and Martin Luther believing the Gospel unto salvation. Speaking of “the Gospel”, note the importance in our reading of that one word, which reveals the power of God and provides salvation to all. The Gospel, which means “a declaration of great news” is given to us by faith for faith (Romans 1:16-17). This Gospel informs Paul's mission, means, and methods. Paul, speaking of Jesus, the centerpiece of the Gospel, tells us, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to obedience that comes from faith for his name's sake.” (Romans 1:5) The mission is to call Gentiles to obedience. The means for Paul to achieve this mission is by calling them to believe the Gospel. The purpose of all this for the glory of God's name, that people would delight in the mention of God! This one little verse (1:5) establishes so many of the priorities found in the letter to the Romans. Certainly the Gospel is going to be key to Paul's famous letter. Paul will take great care to explain what Jesus accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection. Gentile and Jewish people being made one in that Gospel will also be prominent. Paul also places clear emphasis in Romans 1:5 on the primary place of obedience as the natural fruit of faith. This connection between faith, the Gospel, and proper obedience will prove crucial to what remains in this famous book.

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Acts 28:17-31, Psalm 41

| 08/22/18 |

When Jesus told the first apostles that they would be his witnesses in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), Paul wasn't present. Without a doubt, some of those apostle would go to places far beyond where Jesus traveled during his 33 or so years on earth. No place, however, would represent power more than the city where Paul is staying as the book of Acts ends. Rome was where Caesar, the ruler of what many argue is still the most powerful empire relative to contemporaries the world has ever seen. But Rome was not only the seat of the pinnacle of political and military power. Commerce, innovation, and education were concentrated in this great city. Paul has seen many great opportunities to bear witness about meeting Jesus, but none from a human perspective compare to this opportunity in Rome. Like usual, in this great city Paul addresses a Jewish audience first. Also like in other cities, some Jews believe that God's chosen messiah came without the expected fanfare and overthrow of the presiding Roman Empire, and in a shocking turn died the most unthinkable death, on a cross, only to be vindicated by being the first in the great resurrection to be declared righteous by God. So some Roman Jews become followers of Jesus However many more Jews seem to reject Paul as revealed by this guarantee, “Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen.” (Acts 28:28) Paul is part of bearing witness to Jesus in places far beyond Jerusalem. Acts finishes with Paul's hope that a great number of Gentiles will come to faith. Paul will be proven right after his death, for in the second century there will be almost as many Gentile Christians as Jewish. By the third century, Christianity becomes a majority Gentile religion. Jesus' promise to the first apostles that they would be witnesses throughout the world likely seemed incredible when Jesus left them on earth with a simple promise of the Spirit. Jesus knew the power of the Spirit for those first apostles, and that same Spirit intends to continue to make us witnesses in the earth. For Jesus is still our risen King, and we know this because His Spirit lives inside of us. Jesus is still making us His witnesses.

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ACTS 27:1-28:16 PSALM 40

| 08/21/18 |

You might have noticed before today's reading how, when narrating the journeys of Paul, the author has often spoken of “we” to inform that Paul's traveling friends included the writer. Even before Paul set sail for Italy, we see that Paul had Luke as a witness to much of what has been written in the back half of the book of Acts. Today, Luke drives home the point that all of the journey from Jerusalem to Italy included Luke as an eyewitness to Paul's great feets on sea and land. There are a number of interesting insights that come from this fact alone. Certainly Luke's great interest in telling the entire story of Jesus and the early apostles in both Luke and Acts would have been ignited in regularly hearing Paul preach. Also, based on the fact Luke would have been more immediately familiar with the ministry of Paul, I wonder if Luke had already written down much of the content found in Acts before writing our third Gospel with a view to highlighting the many parallels between the life of Jesus through the Spirit and the life of the early church in the Spirit. I cannot know for certain the exact processes Luke undertook to write these marvelous books, yet Luke certainly wanted to make it clear that Jesus is doing similar ministry at the Father's right hand through the early apostles (the book of Acts) as what He did in during His ministry on earth (Luke's Gospel) . Besides being interested in how Luke formed the two largest books in the New Testament, the fact that he was so often present with Paul reflects Luke's willingness to stake his own credibility before his initial reader (Theophilus) on claiming Luke saw these things with his very eyes. Where Luke didn't see something with his own eyes, he spoke with eyewitnesses. Christianity stands and falls on historical events, specifically those of Jesus living, dying, and rising. Luke takes great pains to emphasize implicitly that if the stories he is telling are not true, then you can go about your business safely ignoring the claims of Christians. But if they did happen, everything changes. This is true for those who are not yet believers, but also for the faithful. Since Luke is telling the truth about what God is doing in our world, this should transform our lives, even right now.

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Acts 25&26, Psalm 39

| 08/20/18 |

Paul “could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32). These final words from our reading sound like an unfortunate “what if” scenario for Paul. If Paul had just been patient, maybe he could have been released from prison. From the perspective of Paul's audience his imprisonment was a hindrance. To the writer of Acts, though, Paul's circumstances bring great opportunity to preach the Gospel to governors and Kings. Since Paul does appeal to Caesar, he will go stand trial before the most powerful person in the world. This is not a bad thing! The scriptures have consistently told a story that upends our views of personal circumstances and how God works. Joseph, the one with 11 lousy brothers, was sold into slavery and wrongfully imprisoned en route to becoming number two in all of Egypt. Israel fulfilled her vocation as a light to Gentiles more successfully in exile than they did under the Davidic monarchy. The early Christians were imprisoned, but even under lock and key saw dramatic conversions from prison. Much of the New Testament was written from behind bars. Yet as a pastor I constantly have to remind myself and others that our circumstances or current frustrations alone are not sufficient evidence of our being either inside or outside of God's will. Often I will tell people their hard circumstances might be the very means God intends for great use. No one wants to experience such vulnerability and difficulty. Though we do not wish it, we must not over spiritualize our troubles and run away from them at all costs. Dear reader, your current hardship might be the very place God wants to shine His light for others. Paul taught this, even from a position similar to the one he is in during today's reading (see Phillipians 4:11-13). Let's hold fast to the truth that our God does not need our comfort or ease to work in our midst.

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Acts 22:30-24:27, Psalm 38

| 08/19/18 |

You have at this juncture seen the words “Pharisees” and “Sadducees” quite often in our New Testament readings. Today's scripture features both of these groups accusing Paul of various misdeeds. Though Paul initially appeals to the shared belief in resurrection between he and the Pharisees, such goodwill is short lived as the Pharisees in particular grow in hostility towards Paul to the point of having many in their midst vow to take Paul's life. Considering their respective importance in the New Testament, it is worthwhile to answer the question: “Who are the Pharisees and Sadducees?” Just like Christians include Protestants and Catholics, so there were different groups within the Judaism of Jesus' day like the two already mentioned, not to mention others like the Essenes and Zealots. Jesus and the early Christians seem to have interacted most with the Pharisees who, like the early Christians, believed in angels, the resurrection from the dead, and were known to hold to more supernatural readings of the Jewish scriptures than their Sadducee counterparts. In short, the early Christians would have read the Old Testament much more like the Pharisees than the Sadducees. One of their points of common ground, like already mentioned, is the resurrection of the dead. Both Christians and Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees believed God would bring everyone that has ever lived out of their graves at the end of time to judge the righteous and the unrighteous. Now I have gone over this before by emphasizing how Christians believe Jesus kickstarted the resurrection, that the final judgement in space and time by rising from the dead and ensuring all found in Christ are already declared righteous. This will come up often in Paul's writings. What I think is interesting is that though the Pharisees and Christians have more in common than the Christians and Sadducees, there were many reasons the Pharisees were more opposed to followers of “The Way”. In fact, these disagreements, though smaller on one level, were so great the Pharisees wanted to see the Christians wiped out. Many today are weary of religions placing such emphasis on beliefs that they harm one another. Certainly as followers of “The Way” (John 14:6), we should remember our forebears suffered greatly at the hands of their opponents and reject a faith that calls for violence against those with different beliefs than ourselves. At the same time we recognize Paul and early believers thought Jesus worth dying and bleeding for as ambassadors. We do not inflict suffering in following Jesus, but by following the Way, we will be recipients of mistreatment. In light of the resurrection reality which makes us alive with Jesus now, we should like those who have gone before us be willing to suffer for the Name above all names.

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Acts 21:1-22:29, Psalm 37

| 08/18/18 |

Luke is meticulous in demonstrating the parallels between the ministry of Jesus and that of the early apostles. One common experience shared by Jesus and all the apostles is mistreatment. In particular, both Paul and Jesus were slandered in similar ways. If you recall Jesus was accused of threatening to destroy the temple, when in fact Jesus simply claimed that if the temple was destroyed He could rebuild it. Even then Jesus was primarily referring to His own death and subsequent resurrection. In today's reading, Paul is accused of welcoming un unclean foreigner named Trophimus into the temple, even though the accusers had only seen Paul with this man outside of the temple (Acts 21:28-29). So they accused Paul of defiling the holy temple. However, Paul certainly would have been careful, for numerous reasons, to show due regard for temple customs. The truth did not matter to the some Jewish leaders and their following when they had a man they wished to punish. As readers who are trying to find our place in the story Acts is telling, that is, trying to learn how to apply these Biblical stories 2,000 years later, we need to realize that holding fast to the Truth will not always be met with equity and justice. In staying true to Jesus you might be accused of believing things you don't, and saying things you have never said. Why do I point this out? As they say, “knowing is half the battle”. My goal in this devotional is to remind you that in proclaiming Jesus we need to be ready for opposition, even unfair opposition; unfair in how we are represented and in how we are treated. Don't be surprised when your positions are misrepresented or your character misunderstood. For in the same way we have treated our Lord. Take heart and know as you suffer, Jesus is there with us in the fray.

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Acts 19:21-20:38, Psalm 36

| 08/17/18 |

Paul prepares the Ephesian elders for his departure by reminding them to imitate his leadership and warns them to beware of dangerous infiltrators that will seek to undermine the work of the Holy Spirit. In Paul's moving address, there is one line that I think all leaders in the church, especially elders, do well to memorize and embrace. Paul tells the overseers there, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) The connection is simple to understand. Jesus owns those He purchased. As Jesus rules over all that are His, our Lord chooses some to lead as undershepherds. Elders are called, then, to take care of those Jesus entrusts into their care. What I want us to remember isn't simply Jesus' ownership of all believers. Rather, I desire us to remember the incredible value Paul places on the work of caring for Jesus' sheep by pointing out how all believers are purchased. Our Lord suffered the inhumanity, ridicule and death of cross so that we can be saved. These few words mean everything for Paul as he places incredible value on our protection in Christ. Protection is about staying true to the Lord more than anything else, for that is eternal protection. That is the point Paul is making to those elders. Jesus paid such a high cost. That should transform the way we relate to all in the family of Jesus. No matter how little you respect someone, or how irritable you find them, Jesus bled, and more, bled on a cross that they be with Him forever. The gravity, the weight of every brother or sister in Christ could not be greater. How, then, would you live differently if you saw every person in your local church as someone purchased by the blood of Jesus? Take a moment to consider and respond, even in writing. However you answered, if you believe our Gospel, then walk in faith this week by treating your family in Christ as if they are worth more than money can buy. For the Gospel declares they are worth more than silver or gold.

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Acts 18:1-19:20, Psalm 35

| 08/16/18 |

One thing I neglected to mention from the onset of our devotionals is that though the book of Acts is typically designated, “Acts of the Apostles”; others have said it would be better called, “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Certainly wherever we see the apostles succeed, it is because of the Holy Spirit. One question that we didn't ask in Acts 2 was, before the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles in power on the day of Pentecost, were those same apostles considered innocent in God's sight? Maybe you didn't know this was a quibble. For many, since Paul declares in his letters that the person who has the Spirit has Jesus and vice versa (see Romans 8:1-17), it seems to be justifiable to believe that before someone has the Spirit of God, they are not declared righteous by God. Perhaps then, even the apostles were not genuinely saved before they received the Spirit on Pentecost? At least that is how the argument goes. This discussion becomes pertinent when we read today about the situation in Ephesus where people have been baptized in John's baptism, but have yet to receive the Holy Spirit because they have focused on John's message about repentance without understanding the necessity of belief in Jesus. Now, a straightforward interpretation suggests the Ephesians were not genuinely rescued by God's grace when Paul preached in their midst because they hadn't believed the Gospel. Still asking important questions about the meaning of the Spirit's pouring out on the Ephesians helps us grasping the significance of the Spirit filling the apostles in Acts 2; not to mention Acts 8 when the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit after having already believed in the name of Jesus. I argue the events in Acts 2 & 8 are different from Acts 19 (Ephesus) in important ways. In Ephesus, the people had yet to believe in Jesus, and so were in need of the Gospel. In Jerusalem and Samaria, the special blessing of the Spirit had been previously withheld from bona fide believers in order to, at the appropriate time, commemorate the appointment of leaders from regions in historic Israel to go to the ends of the earth. So in short, in Jerusalem and Samaria, I believe that the believers in Jesus were already made right with God by faith, but in those unique points in salvation history, received the Spirit as God's declaration of the importance of those moments in our history. In Ephesus, for whatever reason, those folks had just believed in John's message about repentance, but had not grasped the importance of faith in Jesus alone. This all means that I do not believe today there is a time where people live with faith in Jesus, but lack the Spirit. Rather, when we trust Jesus today unto salvation, we become dwelling places for God's Spirit like Paul emphasizes so well in the book of Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians.

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Acts 16:6-17:34, Psalm 34

| 08/15/18 |

Two days ago I promised to compare Paul's message to a predominantly Gentile audience with how he preached before a mix of Jewish and Gentile listeners. When Paul preached at the Areopagus in Athens, most of the audience would have been non-Jewish polytheists who still showed by their reverence of “An Unknown God” (Acts 17:23) concern about whether their pantheon actually appeased all possible gods. They didn't want to take a chance and omit worshipping an important deity. Certainly this doesn't sound like a problem that Pharisees and Sadducees shared, since they believed in the one God of heaven and earth. So it is no surprise to see some of the following differences in Paul's two sermons. First, Paul built common ground in Athens through addressing their belief in an unknown god and proclaimed that the God of Israel is the God of all. Paul claimed the one they overlooked was the only One that mattered. Paul established that creation and providence belongs in the hands of Israel's Lord alone. Secondly, Paul pays short attention to the crucifixion in Athens in comparison to in Antioch. This leads to the third point about how Paul tells the Athenians they are primarily culpable for their ignorance of God rather than their guilt or disbelief. As I noted previously, when Peter preached in Jerusalem, he held those in Jerusalem morally responsible for Jesus' crucifixion and preached about their need of forgiveness for guilt. When Paul preached in Antioch, however, their moral responsibility was to believe, and so disbelief would have been their great danger (Acts 13:38-41). But ignorance requires a penitent heart just as much as guilt and disbelief. Hear Paul's words: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) When sharing the Gospel, we should remember that ignorance demands repentance just like guilt and disbelief. Whether we feel like we are dealing with those who realize their guilt, ignorance, or disbelief, all of people need to repent of what keeps them from God. Believing the Gospel, that is the truth about the life, death, and resurrection gives us adequate knowledge of God, reason to trust the Lord, and cleanses us of all unrighteousness.

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Acts 14:1-16:5, Psalm 33

| 08/14/18 |

I occasionally realize while writing these devotionals that in the past I have misunderstood and even taught passages of scripture incorrectly due to overlooking important details. For example, let me speak to how I have misunderstood the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and its great ramifications for churches at all times.Those who believe Christianity is a system of rules propped up by belief in a great deity should find the contents of Acts 15 refreshing yet challenging for its simple prohibition for Gentiles “from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:29) What in interesting list! The problem with my past reading wasn't in noting the brevity of this list or emphasizing that everything except sexual immorality is hardly a temptation for most people in the 21st-century western world. Nor was I wrong to harp on the concern revealed in the entire discussion at the council to ensure that the Gentiles didn't believe they could be saved by obedience to the law. The detail I overlooked is that these Gentiles were being taught the law of Moses already. This one fact shapes our response to this decisive and first recorded council in Christianity. We learn these Gentiles were hearing the law of Moses on the Sabbath (Acts 15:21), yet they were told by some that to be genuine Christians, they must be circumcised and keep the entire law (Acts 15:5). Why does this matter? It means that the concern of both the Christian leaders and the Gentile audience wasn't about whether we should obey God and take the Old Testament seriously, but rather how to follow the Jewish scriptures. That means, no Gentile Christian would believe that if they were just avoiding blood sacrificed to idols and adultery, this proves they would automatically be right with God or doing all that really matters. No, rather, what they would understand by this prohibition is that they did not need to become culturally Jewish to be Christian. Certainly those Gentiles knew they should keep Jesus' great commands to love God with all of their might, not to mention our neighbors as ourselves. Those commands, plus many of Jesus' other teachings were understood. What they didn't know was just how many of their old customs they would have to leave behind and how many Jewish practices they should adopt. This council clarified that fact. The Jerusalem council is not anti-obedience or even the Old Testament. Rather it intends to clarify that Jesus' work accomplishes many of the goals of the Jewish law so that what matters isn't cultural change, but heart change. Both sexual immorality and sticking with the old idolatrous practices put Gentiles in danger of living with a divided heart. That was then, like always, a preeminent concern for the leaders of God's people.

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Acts 12:25-13:52, Psalm 32

| 08/13/18 |

Acts gives us access to what are, very likely, brief summaries of sermons by the early apostles. It would be hard to imagine in an oral culture that these preachers would be so brief. So we generally accept that what we read in these Biblical passages are just the highlights. Today is our first encounter with one of Paul's sermons. Soon enough we will compare Paul's sermons before a majority Gentile audience with his other sermons to primarily Jewish audiences.It is interesting to compare all the sermons in the book of Acts especially those of Peter and Paul. However, today I want to note just one difference and one similarity between Paul's sermon in Acts 13 and Peter's initial sermon in Acts 2. First, let's note difference. While both of these men focused their attention on the injustice Jesus faced in the crucifixion, Paul speaks about those responsible for Jesus' crucifixion in the third person. He speaks of “the people of Jerusalem and their rulers”, and regularly uses the word “they” (Acts 13:27-28). Peter, however spoke to those in Jerusalem in the second person saying, “and you….put him to death.” (Acts 2:23) I think on one level this makes obvious sense considering both the physical and temporal proximity to Jesus' death when (50 days after the crucifixion) and where (Jerusalem) Peter spoke. Also there is a likelihood some of his listeners actually were, even in small ways, involved in the conspiracy to crucify Jesus. Though the Bible clearly teaches Jesus died for the sins of all, and thus all are directly responsible for His death, that would take lengthy explanation. Paul decides to forego this explanation in his presentation of the Gospel. We would do well to remember this when proclaiming the Gospel to the uninitiated. The similarity I note between the two messages is the way they explain the connection between a psalm of David that declares to God, “You will not let your holy one see decay” (Acts 2:27, Acts 13:35, also Psalm 16:10) and Jesus rising from the dead to live eternally. Both Paul and Peter clarify the fact that David is dead and his body decayed long ago. Jesus, though He died, now lives and will never meet corruption. Like all early Christians, they transparently affirmed the centrality of the Hebrews scriptures (the Old Testament) and saw Jesus as the point of all Jewish history and writings. Also, the cross and the resurrection are non-negotiables in any sound sermon.

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Acts 11:1-12:24, Psalm 31

| 08/12/18 |

There are two important truths found in Acts 11:25-26. First, we see Barnabas went to Antioch to look for Saul. I emphasize the fact it is Saul that Barnabas seeks and not Paul. What is my point, for aren't they just different names for the same man? Certainly, it is the same man. However, it is commonly taught that Saul changed his name to Paul upon conversion, but that is just not the case. Rather, Saul is the name this man would use when doing ministry with the Jewish people, but Paul would be the name used when reaching Gentiles. Paul is not a name given to Saul upon conversion, but rather a name he had always had, that he chose to use to make himself more accessible to the non-Jewish peoples he would serve. Secondly, we note that the disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch, for they were formerly called followers of “The Way.” As some have suggested, this suggests that non-believers in Antioch began to differentiate believers from its Jewish roots and didn't see it as simply a Jewish sect, but an altogether new religion because of its emphasis on Jesus as the Christ (or Messiah). We see the missionary work of the Holy SPirit in both of these details. Paul realizes by using a name more familiar to Gentiles he will be more effective. The designation of Christians as their own unique group reveals the Spirit is on the move in powerful ways. To this we pray, God fill your church with people that have sensitivity to ministry like Paul and give us fruit like the church in Antioch, Amen.

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Acts 9:32-10:48, Psalm 30

| 08/11/18 |

Soon, Acts will focus on Saul of Tarsus (aka Paul), but there is still more of Peter's story to tell. In our reading Peter performs two additional miracles that resemble miracles of Jesus (see John 5:1-8, Luke 7:11-17); by telling paralyzed Aeneas to arise and well as bringing a widow from death to life. One crucial difference between Jesus at the pool of Bethesda and the healing of Aeneas lies in the fact Jesus just made a command for a paralytic to get up and walk, while Peter says, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” (Acts 9:34) That line is strange if you are not accustomed to the Bible. How does Jesus Christ heal someone when He isn't present? The answer is, of course, that Jesus is present, and even though Peter is the mouthpiece, Jesus through the powerful Holy Spirit is able to heal even when unseen by mortal eyes. We cannot say this enough, whenever a miracle is done today, Jesus is doing this miracle through the Holy Spirit. Healings are never done by some preacher, nor some miracle-worker, but always Jesus. Whenever someone does a healing by the power of Jesus, they should be quick and hasty to give Jesus the credit. In fact, if one pays attention to the example of the apostles, performing a miracle or having a miraculous gift should humble a person instead of puff them up. These times always should be an opportunity to bless Jesus' name. Why then, does it seem so many are willing to assert their own greatness when accomplishing some miracle in Jesus' name? Do not understand me as cautious about the possibility of miracles. Rather, I am concerned about any miracle worker is willing to take any credit, explicitly or implicitly, when it should be obvious to them and everyone else that they are dust of earth. But when Jesus decides to heal, our Lord does, and for that Jesus deserves all honor, glory, and praise!

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Acts 8:1-9:31, Psalm 29

| 08/10/18 |

Remember that Jesus told the first apostles they would be His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).Though the early church has witnessed and performed many great deeds by the power of the Holy Spirit, before Stephen was executed they had yet to inch their way past Jerusalem and Judea. The outbreak of an early widespread persecution, led by among other, Saul of Tarsus, forced the early Christians to leave Jerusalem for safety. In this first Christian diaspora, we read that the early Christians bring the Gospel to those in Samaria under the spell of a sorcerer, and to an Ethiopian Eunuch seeking hope in the Jewish scriptures. These events certainly tell a great story, but they also give us reason for hope in our difficult times. Many churches want Acts 2:42-47 to break out in their midst, but the truth is the early church was fulfilling their mission just as much in their seeming defeat and failures in Acts 8. Most of us think fruit looks like Acts 2:42-47. What if fruit isn't just about number (3,000 converts, plus new people daily), but also reaching new peoples, even if it's just a few? Let me put in another way. What if the perceived growing hostility against Christians in the United States will prove very fruitful for us? What if many that were formerly on the fence about Christianity who are now leaving our churches by the droves indicates we never should have been so comfortable in a world where so many despise our Lord? I know those are big questions. But think about it. We know there is something hard and strange about these last few years for our churches. Even if we can't easily pin it down in a few sentences, the days where being a Christian in the United States was met with little contention is mostly over, especially in our largest cities. What if that is a good thing? What if this will help us become more desperate to accomplish Jesus' mission in our days without the illusion that we will ever be at home in this life? That is exactly how I would want us to see these times.

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Acts 6:8-7:60, Psalm 28

| 08/09/18 |

A common instruction to preachers and teachers goes something like this: “Tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” The idea is that clear teaching often regularly clarifies the main point(s) being conveyed. Stephen's message before the Sanhedrin, at least what we have of it in Acts, seems to have rejected this insight. As Stephen tells the story of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon, it isn't easy to find a common thread. Though with Joseph and Moses, we see their rejection by others (e.g. Joseph's brothers and those brought out of Egypt), it is hard to see persecution or mistreatment in Stephen's portrayal of David and Solomon building the Temple. However, Stephen does make clear the major role of mistreatment in his narrative by asking this question, “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (Acts 7:52) Yes, persecution against God's chosen prophets especially the killing of “The Righteous One” is the main idea of Stephen's message. But I would add that Stephen's last words about seeing “The Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), emphasizing Jesus' victory and continued love for Israel, combined with Stephen's last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) adds clarity to meaning of this sermon. Yes Israel rejected her prophets. Those same mistreated prophets would on regular basis seek God's favor for their adversaries. Joseph hugged his brothers, Moses begged God not to send Israel out alone, and of course Jesus cried out “Father forgive them.” This sermon highlights rejection, but also the love that fills God's chosen leaders for the Lord's people. This sets the stage for the first verse in tomorrow's reading. There we begin the story about a man chosen by God to kickstart the Christian movement among the Gentiles. This man will be used mightily even though he was a part of seeing Stephen murdered. This side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, even murderers of God's holy ones can be forgiven and used mightily for God's purposes.

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Acts 5:1-6:7, Psalm 27

| 08/08/18 |

Many times our Old Testament readings showcased the relentless grace of God towards Israel in spite of her many rebellions. Often I would emphasize God's grace in the Old Testament to reject the centuries old habit of pretending the Old Testament and its description of God necessarily conveys a different God than what we see in the New Testament. Many have said things like, God in the Old Testament is angry and blood-thirsty, while in the New Testament God is portrayed as loving and kind. So when we read about the swift wrath of God against Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, we see that God isn't portrayed as some cosmic teddy bear in the book of Acts. Even in the Gospels, Jesus certainly didn't talk about a God without wrath, either (Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:23). In today's narrative, Ananias and Sapphira pay the ultimate price for trying to deceive the apostles by presenting a partial gift for the sell of their home as if it were all of their proceeds. Though we can dispense of notions that in the New Testament God lacks wrath against sin, just like we know God in the Old doesn't lack grace, that still doesn't prevent us from asking: why is God so harsh in this situation? God is doing something beautiful for the world in building and empower the early church. In that day, the Holy Spirit is moving in power in ways that supersede even the works of God's tabernacling presence in ark and temple in the Old Testament. The Spirit's presence is exciting, but it is also dangerous, just like the Shekinah glory was powerful and fatal if taken for granted. God loves this work of making a new people. Such miraculous works and the SPirit's demonstrable presence must be protected against perversion or confusion. For love necessitates wrath against anything that would destroy the good and true. It is better to say in the New Testament, that God's love conquers the power of human evil by the blood of Jesus. But that doesn't immediately end the need for God to destroy all wickedness. No, in fact, God still will do more to punish evil once and for all(Revelation 19:11-21).

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Acts 3-4, Psalm 26

| 08/07/18 |

Like their Master before them, Peter and John stood and answered antagonizing questions about their source of authority to perform a merciful healing. The insinuation is that God is not the authority behind the healing the lame man, but rather some evil spiritual power. The Sanhedrin, struck by the clear, courageous refutation by these two lead apostles, and desiring to minimize damages, commanded them to cease preaching about Jesus. Peter and John offer a response that lays the foundation for any God-honoring civil disobedience. They state, “Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20). Many times, especially in the New Testament letters, we are encouraged to obey different authorities in our lives. This includes governing authorities, parents, and elder leadership to name a few. The default of the Christian life is to follow different authorities God places in our lives. John and Peter's response above clarifies the exception: when an authority demands us do something contrary to God's will. For those called to live a peaceful life, we should desire to cooperate with those placed in authority over our lives. A simple rule of thumb moving forward is that the only time we are to disobey directives from authorities in our lives, is when they call us to disobey or dishonor our King.

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Acts 2, Psalm 25

| 08/06/18 |

Acts 2 describes events fifty days after Jesus' crucifixion. When Jesus died, His followers were mostly scattered and afraid. Fifty days later, the man who denied our Lord three times preached a sermon that led to the dramatic conversion of over 3,000 people. Not only were those listeners cut to the heart by Peter's sermon, they were deeply converted as evidenced by a radical reorientation of their lives. Acts 2:42-47 sounds almost unbelievable to those that serve and labor under the normal circumstances of church ministry. In that famous passage where people gather regularly for prayer, hearing God's word, breaking bread, and even collecting offerings to help the neediest of believers, we see a glimpse of the way heaven can change us here on earth while we await the coming messiah. Such faithfulness, though often considered radical, is really just evidence they believed God truly saved from the grave consequences of their sins. For they began to enjoy God and their blood bought family in transparent and common ways. When the Holy Spirit breaks in, yes, there is revival. One of the key marks of revival is the free and joyful response that obeys God in everything, especially in the everyday. So, when I pray for revival, I pray for the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit and I recognize that this will help us live very ordinary lives infused with greater clarity on what really matters. The most essential calling on our life is attending to our friendship with God, fellowshiping with the Lord's people and joining the Spirit in the crucial mission as witnesses of Jesus' death and resurrection. It is no surprise when this is the normal way of life people were added to their number daily (Acts 2:47). May God do something similar in our day!

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Acts 1, Psalm 24

| 08/05/18 |

The book of Acts is written by the same author as Luke's Gospel (Luke), and picks up after the empty tomb. The risen Jesus is preparing to ascend into the heavenly realm. Jesus' disciples wonder when the Kingdom of Israel will be restored. In response, our Lord tells them, in effect, to leave the timing of this restoration to God. Then Jesus gives them the priorities that sets the course for all that will unfold in this book, “Acts of the Apostles”. Jesus declares, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The rest of Acts unpacks how Jesus' words become true. It is surprising that Jesus upends their expectations and is about to seemingly leave them to figure out how to achieve this massive mission. How will these apostles, who still don't seem to be on Jesus' wavelength, become effective witnesses? Jesus, as the Gospel of John says, is not leaving the disciples alone, but simply sending His Holy Spirit to them. Though these apostles are not ready, Jesus can say, “you will be my witnesses.” This is indicative, not imperative, meaning this is a declaration, not a command. When the Spirit fills us and we obey, we can do nothing else but bear witness the risen Messiah. Jesus doesn't leave the work of seeing the salvation of the world up to the ingenuity or even the understanding of the apostles, but to the power and work of the Spirit. Jesus doesn't leave our work to us alone either. If you are walking in the Spirit, you will be Jesus' witness. That is truth, not a command.

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John 21st, Psalm 21st

| 08/02/18 |

Jesus reinstates Peter at the end of John's Gospel by thrice asking Peter if he loved our Lord. Peter affirmed love for the risen Messiah each time, and in response Jesus commands Peter to “feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) This reinstatement recalls when Jesus promised to use Peter mightily to build the church, but also echoes the three times Peter denied Jesus on the night before the crucifixion. We see the Lord's incredible love and grace towards Peter in the reinstatement. We also get a glimpse of Peter's ongoing struggles when Jesus warns Peter of the hard future that lies ahead. After hearing Jesus warn Peter about a future of being led to places he would prefer not go, Peter questions Jesus about John the writer of this Gospel. Jesus reminds Peter that it is Jesus' prerogative alone to determine what He will do with a servant. Peter's ongoing struggles to grasp all the necessary implications of Jesus' work is well documented (see Galatians 2:11-15, Acts 10). Peter is such a mess. Yet Jesus' love for Peter overcomes a great betrayal, constant misunderstandings, and frailty. Many highlight Jesus' love for the tax-collector, prostitute, and thief. For me, Jesus' patience and love for Peter and the other disciples is even more astounding. It is one thing to have compassion for those who have sinned against others, or those whose sins that have affected you indirectly. But these disciples abandoned Jesus at his most vulnerable hour, regularly fail to grasp Jesus' plain and repeated teachings. Even after Jesus rises from the dead, the issues with Peter and Thomas are well-documented. No matter, the grace of Jesus is great and revealed clearly in moments where he is patient even with sinful wounds from friends. “To Him be glory forever, Amen!” (Romans 11:36)

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John 20th, Psalm 20

| 08/01/18 |

Why is the Gospel of John written? It is written, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) One could say the rest of the New Testament, and even the Bible has the same purpose. The goal of all scriptures is to help us believe in Jesus that we might live blissfully forever with the Lord of Heaven. There is a special blessing for us, 2000 years removed from the events of Jesus' earthly life (for Jesus still lives), as indicated at the end of Jesus' interaction with Thomas. Famous for being a doubter, Thomas, refused to believe that Jesus had risen, even though Thomas' eleven intimate friends vouched they had seen Jesus with their own eyes. In fact Thomas said he wouldn't believe unless he could see and touch Jesus' scars. When Jesus appeared and indulged Thomas' doubt-filled requests, he also gives us hope for a better blessing than Thomas. For Jesus states, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) In these few verse our Lord provides great news for all that believe today, and even doubters. First, if you believe Jesus without seeing HIm with your own physical eyes, then our Lord calls you blessed. But Jesus' condescension and patience with Thomas, not to mention the commission of this same apostle who would bring the Gospel to India (according to early church tradition) shows the incredible patience our King has with our questions. Our Lord welcomes doubters, and is willing to chase after them. Why Jesus offers such unfair love to us is beyond belief. But by all means, we should believe it, that we might be blessed!

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John 19th, Psalm 19

| 07/31/18 |

Pilate proves he suffers from self-delusion by asking Jesus, “Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you? (John 19:10) With one word Jesus could have wiped the memory of Pilate off the earth. Though Jesus' power is well established, His response to Pilate's question is puzzling. Our Lord says, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:11) Jesus' first sentence simply means that God gives Pilate authority and thus Pilate's belief that he is in charge, instead of Jesus, is mistaken. That part is easy to understand. However, the connection is unclear between the truth that God appoints Pilate and Jesus' declaration that another has a greater sin. Who does Jesus have in mind? Certainly not God, for God does not sin. Is it Herod, or Jewish leaders like Caiaphas, and perhaps even Judas? Since Jesus first mentions God vesting Pilate with governing authority, the connection suggests another ruler is in mind, since God establishes all leaders that they might execute justice and protect peace (Romans 13:1). Thus, I am inclined to believe that Jesus intends Caiaphas, the great high priest. This Jewish leader is mentioned a few times for consistently plotting to see Jesus crucified. (John 11:49-53, John 18:23,38). This does not absolve Pilate of course, but shows that there is an authority with more culpability than governing officials. In God's view, a high priest has a greater responsibility to perceive, support, and celebrate God's messiah, especially when the Christ is God the Son Himself. God expects a great deal out of the leaders chosen from and for His people. It was true for Caiaphas and it is true today. As God's people let us pray for all leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), but also pray that God would give the church shepherds after the Lord's own heart (Jeremiah 3:15). Certainly, in Jesus' day, the governor proved foolish and cowardly, while the high priest was morally detestable. When wise leaders for the state and righteous leaders for God's people are absent, the worst of human evil is unleashed as we witness in Jesus' trial.

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John 18th, Psalm 18

| 07/30/18 |

John wrote of the Pharisees and soldiers falling down at Jesus' words “I am he” (John 18:5). The reason for relaying those details isn't to convey the raw power of Jesus. John has already told us that Word, who is Jesus, made everything that was created (John 1:3). Our Lord's power is indisputable. What John wants the reader to know from this dramatic moment is that the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus happen only because the King of Kings allows it. Jesus chooses this moment. This is crucial for our understanding of the meaning of the cross. God the Father isn't simply making terrible demands of God the Son from His heavenly perch. Rather, from before time began, our God three-in-one, knew this moment would happen, and in unity as One chose this work so that humanity might see the glory of God, especially in the face and work of Jesus. There can be no ridiculous talk of “divine child abuse”, for Jesus willingly made this sacrifice to atone for sin. Though Jesus is the lamb that was slain, he still had the power of a lion that could devour all opponents, if He wished. Jesus chose all of the upcoming insults and suffering. This matters a great deal, for love requires a willing response and Jesus' choice to die proves a love that coerced suffering cannot accomplish. Our reflections on the love of Jesus can truly never completely convey the wondrous love of the Son, the crucified King. Declare the love of Christ with me, then, today.

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John 17th, Psalm 17

| 07/29/18 |

We know from the other Gospels that Jesus prayed the night before His crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed in agony that the “cup” might pass from Him, but still resolved to do the Father's will. John 17 conveys, as we learn from John 18:1, a prayer that occurred immediately before Gethsemane. That means Jesus' prayer in this chapter is still the night before Jesus' death. In the prayer from today's reading, Jesus asks that God would be glorified through Jesus' faithful endurance of suffering. Jesus continues by praying that the first apostles (save Judas) would be protected from doing evil. The prayer ends with requests by our Lord for all believers throughout history; our Lord prayed for you and me along with followers before us, and after us. In John 17, we are able to overhear God's concern and love for us. In that great love, Jesus prayers for our unity, and that this oneness be based in our union with Father and Son. This is what Jesus wants for our us. The fact that Jesus is praying for this very thing right after asking for strength to endure a brutal crucifixion shows such unity will not come easy. Since Jesus prays for this, we should see such unity will not come of our own strength. We can then take both courage and challenge from this prayer. The challenge comes from the fact Jesus prayed for this, meaning this is what God wants. The encouragement comes from the fact that Jesus prayed for this, and God will answer all Jesus' requests. May we then be challenged and encouraged as we seek unity with one another within the church.

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John 16, Psalm 16

| 07/28/18 |

By God's grace, lot of attention is being paid to the one Jesus calls in John's Gospel “The Helper” (aka Paraklete). This word paints a clear picture of how the Spirit works to help Jesus, the Father, and us. The Spirit, as we read in Luke enabled Jesus' ministry. The Spirit takes Jesus' message and gives it to the disciples (John 16:13). Jesus is even glorified, meaning made to look wonderful in the eyes of many, with the Spirit's help (John 1614). When people love Jesus like Jesus deserves, God's Spirit is involved, for the “eyes of sinful flesh thy glory may not see.” So when people claim to be Spirit-filled, their love of Jesus and holding fast to Jesus' words like a life-preserver should mark their lives. The Spirit even takes what the Father gives to Jesus to present to us, thus the Spirit is helper to both Father and Son. Without a doubt, then, we should desire to be Spirit-filled, and recognize that worship will be the ultimate evidence of the Spirit's presence in our lives. This worship will be fostered by and drenched with the words of our Lord that give life and freedom to all that believe. For “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17) as the Spirit is the one who gives life (Romans 8:2).

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John 14-15, Psalm 15

| 07/27/18 |

What good thing can from Nazareth? In John 14 & 15 Jesus' teachings reiterates much the central teachings in John's Gospel. Jesus' self-referential teachings make our Lord very distinct from the likes Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and every other religious leader the world still respects. They taught us virtues, Jesus said He alone is virtuous. Certainly there have been less popular cult leaders who made incredible claims about themselves. Even as unsound as some of them have been, it is hard to easily recall someone, even the nuttiest leaders claiming something as incredible as Jesus does when he states “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) or “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through me.” (John 14:6) As our world grows increasingly secular, one positive is that people are properly put off by Jesus like He intended in the first place. People didn't have the sort of middling responses to Jesus' message so characteristic in the West due to rampant innoculation against the radical nature of Jesus' words. Familiarity has bred not contempt, but indifference. However indifference can only be present in the person who remains at a critical distance from Jesus' person and message. May we find ways to help people hear Jesus afresh, that they might choose whether they are for Him or against Him. There is no middle-ground. Jesus was either deluded, a grand deceiver, or Lord of all things. That is why we feast on His love.

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John 13, Psalm 14

| 07/26/18 |

Gnosticism is a form of heretical Christianity with many faces and teachings, but defined by emphasizing special “”secret” knowledge supposedly given by God to elites. Some have accused John of writing an early Gnostic Gospel for a few reasons, including emphasis on Jesus going to secret places that cannot be found, or the introduction that utilized Greek philosophical categories (i.e. focusing on Jesus as the Word, in greek Logos). Some also emphasize Jesus' coded and secretive language to argue this same point. The problem is, Jesus' words, though often at times confusing, were never meant to conceal for an extended time. Consider these interesting words after Peter insisted upon being completely washed from head to toe after Jesus taught the importance of being washed to enjoy fellowship with Jesus. Jesus answers Peter's desire for a complete rinse with, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” (John 13:9). Those words are transparently not true on one level. No one thinks simply by having their feet washed that their whole body is clean. Jesus confirms the disciples as belonging to Jesus through this servant-like demonstration, indicating who Jesus is (servant) and how they are to live (in service). Jesus' last words, that though they have been all washed by this simple act, not all of them have been washed, points to Judas. Though the disciples didn't immediately understand the meaning of Jesus' words about Judas, they would recall it later and comprehend. Though Jesus might use veiled teaching in John, like he does with parables elsewhere, that doesn't mean Jesus was keeping secrets or speaking in riddles. Rather, Jesus' words invited Judas and the other eleven to think deeply about what was taking place in their midst, and the role they would each play in the Messiah's work. No book could be plainer in the way of salvation than John has been in teaching: believe in Jesus and enjoy eternal life. No secrets, and no hierarchies can be justified from this great gospel.

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John 12:37-50, Psalm 13

| 07/25/18 |

John reiterates Jesus' purpose is not to condemn the world but to save the world. In fact, Jesus claims that Judgement ultimately belongs to the Father. That doesn't mean Jesus and His teachings can be taken lightly. In fact, the Father's judgement really will boil down to whether or not we receive Jesus and His teachings (John 12:48). Jesus also doubles down on the teaching that to witness Jesus is to see the Father “who sent me”. What could that mean but that when we behold Jesus, we absolutely are gazing at God? Though Jesus preserves the distinctions between the two of them, for He speaks of the Father and Himself, we also see that Jesus constantly talks of their oneness. For as long as I can remember, people have treated discussions on the Trinity and the oneness of God as too difficult or not important enough to teach extensively. Some even deny it with little repercussion for their ministry, to our great shame. If we take Jesus' own words as a cue for what we should discuss, emphasize, and seek to understand, we must take seriously the work of grasping that He and the Father are one, yet different. Out of that understanding comes a world of riches for the follower of Christ to recognize. For out of that relationship we can begin to understand a great deal about what it means to be God's image-bearers (anthropology), God's eternal character (theology), why God wishes to save us (missiology), and how God is saving us (soteriology). The truths of the Trinity genuinely transform everything we believe and do. To that end, I encourage you, if this seems to difficult for you, pray for understanding. If you think it is unimportant, ask for forgiveness then follow Jesus' direction in grasping the importance of understanding the eternal Father-Son relationship.

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John 12:1-36, Psalm 12

| 07/24/18 |

July 24th: John 12:1-36, Psalm 12 Before a seed can give birth to life, it must go away. Jesus wasn't giving a scientific description of what happens to wheat seed, for in fact the seed does not technically die, but rather gives way to a grand plant that will birth many more seeds. Jesus' image first refers to Himself, for He is the seed that will die and give life to millions and billions more seeds. Jesus then pivots to call all disciples to learn to walk in the cruciform pattern of their Master. Jesus wants all to understand that our lives, unless we embrace Jesus' call to rule us, will ultimately be taken away. Why is this? Jesus' Father honors those that serve the true King (John 12:26). We have adjusted as a Western culture through thousands of years of Christian influence to overlook the shocking nature of all these statements. God's messiah and appointed King must die. Like Him, we must also give our lives up for God's purposes by following Jesus. If we don't give up our lives, we cannot inherit eternal life, no way, no how. Let Jesus' words shock you afresh, that you may then insist on them with similar force in your thinking, talking, and living.  

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John 11, Psalm 11

| 07/23/18 |

When Jesus said those three little words, “Lazarus, come out”, the Lord of Life forever transformed our world. Do I claim this because Lazarus was raised from the dead? No, Jesus along with even Elijah and Elisha performed similar miracles before. Is it because Jesus showed the great authority he had over death in speaking to a dead man as if living? Certainly it would be hard to argue any of Jesus' signs demonstrated greater than this, but Jesus' authority is hardly novel. Rather, in raising Lazarus, Jesus helps us to reinterpret the events leading up to the moment Lazarus shook off death like a long night's sleep that we might view all events since in their light. Remember, “Jesus wept”, more accurately translated, “Jesus agonized” in grief over the tears of Mary, one of Jesus' beloved disciples. People have reflected for millennia on why Jesus would cry right before showing death whose boss. The most persuasive reason is that Jesus wept over the grief of a suffering loved-one. In no uncertain terms, the Man who has power over life and death genuinely suffers with us. In fact the one who suffers with us calls Himself, “The Resurrection and life.” Jesus affirms both his future intentions and HIs life-transforming power in that very moment. To a Jewish person, the resurrection referred to what we would call the Judgement. Based on visions found in Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12 along with other Jewish writings, the expectation in Jesus' day was that God would bring everyone that has ever died out of the grave for judgement, and declare us either righteous or unrighteous. For Jesus to say He is the resurrection is to say the future has broken into this moment, and one can see with their own eyes God's good intentions for those that know Him. The future has become now, and all that know Jesus, or are known as His will be judged righteous now and can find the freedom that comes from knowing that death will be like sleep. That should help you start off the week. The Resurrection and Life has power for the rest of your days.

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John 10:22-42, Psalm 10

| 07/22/18 |

Jesus makes some interesting comments about gods while justifying His own claim to be God. This happens, after the Pharisees recognize, again, Jesus is claiming to be equal with God. In turn, they wish to stone our Lord to death. In response Jesus reminds them of Psalm 82, where human rulers are ironically called “god”. Or at least Psalm 82 describes humans as “gods' in similar sense to how we use the word lords, with the lower-case. Jesus' point isn't that all people are somehow divine. Rather, Jesus points out that the scriptures give special designation even to wicked human authorities. Therefore, Jesus declares how much more willing they should be to receive Jesus as equal to God given that Jesus is the unique Son of God chosen before the beginning of time. Jesus' argument is a bit circular. Perhaps it is better to state Jesus isn't really making an argument, but highlighting how blind their rage makes them, and how they refuse to believe both God's word and God's Word. However, there were also those who believed in Jesus in that day (John 10:42). May we also be those that believe in Jesus as God of all things. For that is what it means to believe in Jesus, to believe in His person and in what He claimed about Himself.

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John 9:1-10:21, Psalm 9

| 07/21/18 |

Jesus heals a man born blind. In response the local Pharisees interrogate this man with recently acquired sight, not to mention his parents. As the Pharisees accuse formerly blind man of dishonestly, we witness a great difference between those already hostile to Jesus and those lacking prior biases. What interests me most today, however, is the earlier question Jesus' disciples ask about the origin of the man's blindness. They ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The underlying assumption is that no one who experiences serious disease or illness does so without culpable sin from the sufferer or their ancestors. This belief find's solid ground on God's word. God said this to Moses, for example, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:7) The disciples read this and assume all suffering comes about because of particular sins. Jesus wants them to understand there is some suffering, one might argue most suffering, due to inherited sin, that is our innate propensity to rebel against God that brings all of creation under the curse (see Genesis 3, Romans 8:18-23). In other words, we can always say suffering is due to the fallenness of humanity, but we cannot always say someone suffers because a person or some recent ancestor sinned. In fact, Jesus doesn't even answer the philosophical question about why this person was born blind. Jesus just wants these disciples to know the concrete truth, God intended this suffering for this moment where the Messiah would rescue one from lifelong blindness. Seen from this vantage, all of our sufferings can be perceived as an opportunity for Jesus to deliver us from bondage that we might know God's loving power.

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John 8, Psalm 8

| 07/20/18 |

John 8:1-8 will likely be italicized or in parentheses in your Bibles. What is the meaning of all this? Simply put, the earliest and best manuscripts we have of John's Gospel don't contain this passage. In fact, no manuscript reliably dated before 400 AD has this famous event where Jesus cleverly protects a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death. So, what then are our options for how to treat this story? One option is to believe those who copied the manuscripts that have this passage accessed earlier and more reliable versions of John's Gospel than the manuscripts we possess today. That is possible, but certainly tenuous. Secondly, someone later down the road decided to invent this story, and later versions of John's Gospel copied down the revised narrative into different sections of John's Gospel (the manuscripts that have this story, place it in various locations in the Gospel). I do think this is more likely. How does this change the way we view this scripture, and the scriptures? Well, John's Gospel everywhere shows Jesus' brilliance, and we are very familiar with Jesus' ongoing disagreements with the Jewish religious leaders. In fact, even the rest of John 8 is an extended disagreement over Jesus' identity and the origin of the Pharisees opposition to the true Son of God. Jesus declares His opponents are children of the Devil and that is why they don't receive Him. So, John 8:1-8 isn't incredibly unique in its message. Also, just because there are a very few portions of our Bible (see also the ending of Mark's Gospel) that we are unsure are part of the books written by the original authors, doesn't affect our confidence in what is original. Also, like already mentioned, this particular passage really has minimal to no extra impact on our theology and practice. Every reasonable principle or application one could derive from this event is found elsewhere in scripture. If anything, the fact that Christian scholars look at the evidence, weigh it, and are willing to tell us the truth about a difficult text like this should give us all the more confidence in scriptures not in italics or in parentheses.

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John 7, Psalm 7

| 07/19/18 |

John declares and illustrates Jesus' credibility as God, messiah, and the Bread of Life in spite of questions and concerns about Him being a regular Jewish man from Nazareth. Jesus' opponents make a novel argument in John 7 for why Jesus cannot be Messiah. Since they actually know where Jesus is from, He cannot be the Messiah. For the Messiah must come from some unknown place (John 7:25-27). You might have a hard time wrapping your mind around what that means. Was the Messiah supposed to appear out of thin air? This shows when someone is committed, in spite of evidence, to remain entrenched in prior held convictions, they will invent a rationale for their beliefs. No matter, Jesus knows that though a day in court will come that will lead to humanity's greatest crime, for now those that misrepresent Him and wish to kill Jesus (John 7:1) can do nothing to the One who will pour living water in people's hearts by giving the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit might seem like it comes from nowhere, ironically comes (is sent) from the man born in Nazareth who is the light of the world (John 7:38). This will all happen because this Messiah will go to a place where His opponents cannot find Him (John 7:36). Thankfully those that believe on the name of the Messiah from Nazareth, can have both the living water provided by Jesus and go to place where our Lord may be found. We can know where Jesus came from, and go where He is going through faith.

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John 6, Psalm 6

| 07/18/18 |

Jesus sure knew how to gain a following. After performing a miracle of feeding many thousands of people with five loaves and two fish, we gain extended insight into Jesus' self-understanding. Like God delivered daily food for Israel in their wilderness wanderings, Jesus gives food miraculously as well. However, Jesus doesn't intend to perform such miracles daily, but instead intends these disciples would learn to see Jesus Himself as the daily provision of food from God (John 6:48-51). Certainly, Jesus even used language that would sound eery in the ears of audiences then and now. Our Lord speaks of it being necessary to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life. As we progress through John's Gospel we will see Jesus is speaking about union with Christ in God (see John 17). In the immediate situation, however, this large crowd leaves Jesus by the droves. Some of Jesus' teachings are just too hard for people to swallow. Note that what caused the crowds to leave wasn't their unwillingness to obey some incredibly high demand, but their refusal to seek out the deeper meaning of Jesus' strange teachings. So when the events of John 6 are said and done, Jesus looks around and the crowd that remains with Him is essentially the same as those before he performed the miracle. In this moment, our Lord asked the first apostles if they would abandon Jesus as well. May our response be, when others want to abandon Jesus for greener pastures, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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John 5, Psalm 5

| 07/17/18 |

Is there anything of significance that can come out of Nazareth? If Jesus is to be believed, and of course He is, the One all Jewish scriptures are about comes from this small town (John 5:39). The fact that Jesus of Nazareth can heal the blind is not of great significance when compared with claims of being God's Son, doing the same work as God. What's so special about this, for aren't we all God's children? Jesus' claims, according to John, were received as, and intended to be claims that Jesus is equal to God (John 5:18). In that day, the Father-Son link, especially in terms of vocation, was very intimate. If papa is a carpenter, then so is junior. In the same way, because Jesus is the Son, the very works He was doing in healing the blind and proclaiming the truth about Himself is also the Father's work. Jesus is the Son, but is the Son that is God, doing the work of the Father. Jesus' claims here would be outlandish even for the greatest King Israel had ever known. How much more incredible they sounded from the lips of  an upstart messiah claimant from Nazareth. C.S. Lewis' famous quote is worth considering here: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”

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John 4, Psalm 4

| 07/16/18 |

What good thing can come out of Nazareth? We know the messiah comes from Nazareth (John 4:25-26). This messiah is not only going to do great works for the Jewish people, but for all people that will worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24). When Jesus meets this woman, the regional conflicts between Samaritans and Jewish people to to the south make it strange Jesus and the disciples actually passed through Samaria en route to Galilee. Typically Jewish people from Judah would take the long way around Samaria to avoid the people there altogether. However, Jesus wants to make a true worshipper out of this woman so many neighbors considered vile, given her serial divorces. For this woman to worship, however, she must learn what it means for Jesus to provide water that will never run dry, a drink superior to that from great Jacob's well. In fact Jesus intends to give God's Spirit even to Samaritans who will believe in the Messiah's message. God's Spirit will not be confined to location or nationality. The Lord's power power will not be bound by prejudice and longstanding hostility. Jesus, the man from Nazareth, makes worshippers out of peoples from around the world. Amen.  

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John 2:13-3:36, Proverbs 3

| 07/15/18 |

What good thing can come out of Nazareth? John 3:16 answers that question definitively: God's Son and the Savior of the world did come from that small town. For one to be saved, they must be born again as Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:3). To be born again and avoid the condemnation of God, one must believe in the Son (John 3:17-18). John 3 needs to be in every Christians strategy for sharing the Gospel. I would argue no one chapter in the Bible explains more, in simple terms, how we can enjoy God's salvation. Today, I encourage you to read this chapter again and imagine how this chapter could be useful in sharing the Gospel. Many of us would do well to have a few chapters in the Bible that we could open up, to have a neighbor read and discuss.  Consider having someone who is far from God to read this chapter to you, explain it for you and see if they might find the rebirth that grants us access to the Kingdom of God and eternal life. Since God loved the world in this way, by sending the one and Only Son, let's show the world that Son through the word.  

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John 1:19-2:12, Psalm 2

| 07/14/18 |

One little question causes literary tension that will be resolved over the course of John's Gospel: ““Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46) The reason for this question is that there was a world of difference between residents in the tiny town of Nazareth, and the powerful that resided in larger metropolises, even like Jerusalem. That question about Nazareth shows bias against a rural area, and really is just but one question that demonstrates John is concerned with proving Jesus' value in spite of His seeming lowly credentials. Like Philip responds to this question about Jesus' bona fides with “come and see”, so John the writer invites us to come and see just who Jesus is through reading about this Man's life and ministry. As we read John's Gospel, come and see this unique description of Jesus' ministry and person unfold and find that the God who created all things became Man. In fact, he was a small town nobody. You have to see this to believe it.  

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John 1:1-18, Psalm 1

| 07/13/18 |

John 1 intentionally recalls two events spelled out in the Old Testament, the creation in Genesis 1, and God speaking to Moses in Exodus 33 & 34. By beginning this Gospel with, “In the beginning” we are reminded of the first words of the Bible. John doesn't focus first, however, on what God does by creating the world like Genesis. Instead the focus on who God is and was. God is the one with the Word, who is the Word, who together with the Word was present at the beginning. As this masterful introduction unpacks the identity of this Word and we see that Jesus of Nazareth is somehow the one that was with God and is God, we are reminded that, though many of us (humans) have seen Jesus, no one has seen God. Moses couldn't even behold the glory of God full of lovingkindness and peace (John 1:18), but we were able to see the Word of God in the flesh full of grace and truth. Beloved as Moses was, what he saw in the sea being parted, the burning bush, and even having God's glory pass by him was inferior to what a poor peasant beheld on the streets of Jerusalem when Jesus walked past. John calls the Word's appearance, “grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16) Amen, this gift of God is light to our darkness, love in our hate, and hope in our misery and a better kindness than all of God's preceding gifts. Jesus comes to bring new creation, a superior Exodus, and to show us God's glory undiminished. May we marvel at these things.  

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Luke 24, Proverbs 30

| 07/10/18 |

When the risen Jesus appears to two unnamed disciples, we learn a great deal about the mindset of Jesus' closest followers in the days immediately following the crucifixion. We learn that Jesus has been demoted in their minds, as we see them call Jesus a “a prophet” (Luke 24:19), while acknowledging Jesus' seeming failure of meeting the messiah's job description to “redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21). Also, either Jesus looked very different in His resurrection body, or these disciples have so thoroughly written Jesus off, they cannot imagine they are talking to their master. Either way, their lack of recognition of Jesus until the very end of their discussion shows yet another example of discipleship failure to perceive God's work in Jesus, that flowed from a hard heartedness against Jesus' message about His own necessary death. Let me state it again, the cross wasn't initially the beginning of the hopes of the early followers of Jesus, but what they saw as the end. These writers convey embarrassing details that implicates all but a few women, who probably had little to fear in showing their devotion to the crucified messiah. Unless we see this, we are unable to grasp just how revolutionary the resurrection is, especially when paired with the crucifixion. Jesus' rising, and the early church calling this event “Resurrection” was so far off the map of Jesus' followers, that even when they saw Him face to face, they didn't notice their Lord. There is the beauty of life in those details. All of the oft-uttered cliches, and poetry in human history, that has sought to testify to how deeply transformative this great event is only scratches the surface of how much this event truly changed our world. I delight in the fact there is always more beauty in this story, now matter how many times I read it.  

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| 07/09/18 |

Jesus promised to bring division (Luke 12:49-53), and the crucifixion is the ultimate divider. We see in this one event just how those that encounter Jesus, the real Jesus, always choose worship or hatred.  That is the only option for those that meet the crucified King. Indifference is only possible when we have no knowledge of this God-Man, crucified like a criminal. In Luke 23, the Jewish leaders finally get their wishes, to see the true Messiah snuffed out. Other pretend rulers like Pilate and Herod, knowingly execute our innocent King rather than operate with justice. On the other hand, we see two thieves being executed next to our Lord, one reviling, and the other worshipping Jesus. After Jesus breathes a final breathe, a centurion, that is a Roman soldier that leads 100 others, glorifies the true King. Luke ends this crucifixion chapter with Joseph of Arimathea, a rare member of the Jewish authorities along with the women disciples proving their devotion until the end. Why do we have such different responses to Jesus? It is in many ways a mystery. Certainly, part of the reason is that Jesus chooses to die on a cross as the necessary means for GOd's victory. In our natural, proud, way of thinking, the cross is ludicrous. It takes eyes of faith to believe Jesus knew what He was doing, and trust that the cross was the only way humanity could truly be rescued. To make the claim that Jesus was saving the entire world through His own execution is divisive. However, the reason it the cross remains divisive today is because of the empty tomb we read about tomorrow, which validates the claims of the cross to save.

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Luke 22, Proverbs 28

| 07/08/18 |

Critics of Christian theology, especially Protestant theology, will ridicule the notion of giving the Bible such great authority, given the existence of a variety of competing Biblical interpretations. In response, we always insist that individual passages can be reasonably interpreted differently, but the main themes and doctrines of scripture should bring unity amongst believers. Today's reading presents an obvious scripture that has conflicting readings by those committed to the Bible's authority, while without undermining scripture's grand narrative. After Jesus delivers an extended warning to His closest disciples that the time of their great protection is over, there is a brief exchange between teacher and students. I quote here the NIV from Luke 22:38, “The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That's enough!” he replied.” That exclamation mark makes quite the difference in interpretation. Traditionally, other translations don't make Jesus' two words here exclamatory. Thus after Jesus has warned the disciples about need to sell cloaks to buy swords and prepare hard times, those two words, “That's enough”, is simply answering their question. However, if we see Jesus making an exclamation, he is saying, something like my extended paraphrase here: “Why will you keep misunderstanding my teachings, I am simply warning you of danger, not telling you that you need to be ready for physical battle!” Now obviously, I took incredible liberties there to highlight the difference I see in how the NIV translation understands this dialogue. Part of the reason the NIV does this is because of the larger story of the disciples misunderstanding Jesus' teachings, asking wrong questions, and of course the fact they are not known to defend themselves at all after Jesus' resurrection. Either way, the only practical implication with the NIV's rendering is you have a slightly more pacifistic teaching from Jesus. But the fact Jesus is going to the cross, that the disciples will be scattered, and the fact other will followers of Christ will suffer isn't altered in the least. This is how we navigate the truths of scripture. Our interpretations need be grounded in sound reading, theology, and scholarship. But some of how read individual passages must be tentative, with recognitions that sound like,“It seems to me Jesus is saying this.” There are other scriptures, on other hand, that are unequivocal in their meaning. Certainly the great teachings of scripture are plainly repeated so that, in the midst of many interpretations of particular passages, the great truths of scripture, and the great Truth of the Gospel is abundantly clear and not up for reasonable debate.  

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Luke 19:45-21:38, Proverbs 27

| 07/07/18 |

If Jesus was a writer instead of the world's Savior, He undoubtedly would be the best. I don't say this simply because of our Lord's many parables, such as the one about tenants and a vineyard (Luke 20:9-19). What I have in mind is Jesus' ability to respond to friends and opponents in ways that force them to lean into Jesus words to understand His multilayered meanings, and dwell on what they have just heard for the rest of their lives. Jesus' answer to the question about paying taxes to Caesar shows Jesus' ability to challenge without about being overly direct, and to teach without being pedantic. Of course these Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus in either a Pro-Israel message of refusing to pay taxes (alarming Roman authorities), or a Pro-Roman message of maintaining the status quo (agitating Jewish neighbors). In a masterful stroke, Jesus shows He is no zealot seeking to amass a rebellion against Rome, while He also undermines the totalitarian claims of Caesar's regime. Jesus will pay taxes, while recognizing that both Ceasar and Rome's coins exist in God's sovereign realm, where Jesus as King is breaking in to usher His rule, not by military might, but by dying a sacrificial death so that all captives might be set free. But God will also place Ceasar and all other rulers under the feet of the Lord risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). So indeed, give to Caesar what is Caesar's, like coins that will rust, and give to God what is God's namely everything we have. Today my hope is you see I have just scratched the surface of Jesus' teaching on paying taxes. Jesus' mastery of words to constantly transform our understanding of, well everything, is one of many reasons to be amazed at our glorious King.  

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Luke 18:31-19:44, Proverbs 26

| 07/06/18 |

Zaccheus demonstrates the life-changing power of Jesus. Famous for his short stature, Zacchaeus climbs a tree just to see the One one others are calling Messiah. Jesus always has an eye out for those like Zacchaeus  that others exclude, for besides being small, he is also a hated-tax collector. Tax-collectors have never been popular, but I assure you they were particularly reviled in Israel during Jesus' day. Collectors were seen as traitors, for they would collect exorbitant taxes for enemy Rome and often add incredibly high fees for their work. Their work was crippling, and for many Jews that looked towards the day Rome would be overthrown, those like Zacchaeus were considered spineless examples of the failure of God's chosen people. So for the messiah to offer to come eat with Zacchaeus would be a shock to this reviled man, and infuriating to those who detested him. Obviously the fruit of Zacchaeus' reversal in giving such great sums to the poor, more than compensating for losses, shows Jesus' power to change hearts. This so validates Jesus' affection for the worst of sinners. So do not grow weary in loving those others reject, for we cannot always see clearly what Jesus will do through a sinner that repents.  

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LUKE 17:11-18:30, PROVERBS 25

| 07/05/18 |

Every single time I read Jesus' parable about the widow demanding justice (Luke 18:1-10), our Lord challenges my faith. This woman will not stop pestering a lazy and indifferent judge who eventually relents because of his desire to be a left alone. Jesus ends this story with a brief challenge when He asks, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8) That is the point of the entire story. This question works like a piercing gaze from our master cutting through two millennia, leaving us to wish that we could answer, “Yes, there will be faith, if you come today.” Jesus is calling the church in every generation to have a posture towards God of relentless requests based on the words of Jesus. We are to pursue God like this widow pursues justice, but with greater confidence and trust in God's goodness. So today the question is, “If the Son of Man came today, would our Lord find faith in us?”  

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Luke 16:1-17:10, Proverbs 24:23-34

| 07/04/18 |

As we celebrate the 4th of July, I want to briefly discuss one of Jesus' most puzzling teachings. When Jesus tells the parable (Luke 16:1-8)  of a soon to be fired financial steward who goes and decreases the debts owed to his soon to be former boss, one expects punishment for this manager. However, we are told the master praised this steward for his shrewdness. We need to be clear, it is obvious that that the manager was “dishonest” and thus he isn't an example for this reason. The master praises him, rather, because he knew the importance of winning favor with others. Parables usually convey one point, and this is all about dealing with others in a way that reflects an understanding of Jesus' kingdom message. So that helps us understand one difficulty. But when Jesus plainly states the central call of this passage to, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” we are again perplexed. It is obvious that this story conveys how to win favor by acting shrewdly, but what does this have to do with being welcomed into eternal dwellings.  Jesus is  absolutely not teaching that “people of the light” receive salvation through shrewdness. To gain Jesus' intent, we must remember that Jesus and the Jewish audience hearing HIm didn't imagine a completely discontinuous future, where in the next life we lose all personality and connection with our current lives. Rather, we will be known by others who have eternal dwellings through faith, like ourselves. Though we will have new spiritual bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-49), we will still be ourselves. So Jesus is calling His disciples to be considerate and wise in dealing with others, especially in the family of God and to keep a mind towards our future riches and welcome, instead of having narrow focus on the here and now.  

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Luke 14-15, Proverbs 24:1-22

| 07/03/18 |

The three parables that make up Luke 15 are some of our favorites, as they should be. The picture of a Father running to embrace the Son who demanded his inheritance early, thus implicitly suggesting it wouldn't matter to this prodigal if his father were dead, affects our hearts deeply. For this is love that we cannot imagine having for someone. It moves us because Jesus is claiming that this love, like that of a woman for a lost coin, or a shepherd over a lost sheep being found is a dim reflection of the very love God has for us. As we celebrate the truth of these stories, remember they appear in the midst of Jesus' ongoing confrontations with Pharisees over their lack of concern for the lost sheep of Israel and amongst the foreign nations. These Pharisees haven't yet grasped why Jesus is so insistent on mingling with the outcast and the lawless. Jesus wants these religious leaders to understand God's heart to see how they have been like the older brother in this story, who hopes to please his Father to secure his own blessings, without having a clue about his father's pleasure. You see, the so-called Prodigal doubted the father would welcome him as a son, but the elder brother never delighted in the love of the father. S0 Jesus is inviting these Pharisees to find delight in the Father's rescue, and prepare to enjoy the banquet the Father will throw for the righteous at the resurrection (Luke 14:14).    

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Luke 13:10-35, Proverbs 23

| 07/02/18 |

Since Jesus is the most interesting person in history, there have been many portrayals of the “real Jesus.”. One common depiction of this singular Man is that of Him being rebel against the status quo, especially of the religious elite and the laws of Israel. The truth is, this picture is both wrong and right. Jesus certainly opposed the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other teachers of the law. Jesus, however, did not oppose them as they were faithful to the law, but because they were faithful to their misguided interpretations and practices of the law. I would argue that this is most obvious in how Jesus' opponents related to the Sabbath. Jesus' healing of the “bent” woman demonstrates how much God's fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) had been misunderstood. When Jesus heals her, and questions these religious leaders whether it is good to heal on the Sabbath or not, one would expect an honest person to shut their mouth in awe at Jesus' wisdom. Instead, like cantankerous old fools, they suggest this disabled woman should come for healing on any day but the Sabbath, showing they have misunderstood the plain fact the Sabbath is given by God for our rest, healing, and enjoyment of our Lord's creative power. Jesus affirms the Sabbath, but desires everyone to understand the purpose of the Sabbath is rest, that is physical rest, and resting in God's love. It is hard to rest better than someone who can lie down in comfort after 20 years of having a broken body. Jesus indeed has come to bring good news!

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Luke 12:1-13:9, Proverbs 22:17-29

| 07/01/18 |

Someone, I have forgotten who, suggested the hardest of Jesus' commands to obey is the one that goes: “do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and after that do no more.” (Luke 12:4) It is kind of funny that we fear people, even when they are not trying to do anywhere near the harm Jesus mentions. We fear bosses will fire us, friends will ostracize us, or that neighbors will make our lives difficult. Certainly, if we thought someone wanted to take our lives, we would probably find it difficult to keep fear at bay. So, how does Jesus intend us to live without fear of people? Such fear seems as common to us as buying groceries. Jesus has an answer to this question embedded in the original command. He continues, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Now, you might say, wouldn't it be nice to fear neither. The truth is, you will choose whom to fear. If God is not worth your fear, then people control the keys to your happiness. If God is Lord over the living and dead, then only our Lord is worth our utmost concern. More than this, we are told that God values us more than Jesus will quantify in dollars and cents (Luke 12:6-7). So, if you live with a crippling concern for the opinions, decisions, and whims of others, remember God is on the throne, and loves you with great love. The more you believe this, the more you will be free from fearing others.  

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Luke 11:14-54, Proverbs 22:1-16

| 06/30/18 |

We do well to use our imaginations to make mental pictures of events described in scripture. This is true of past events, but today I invite readers to imagine Jesus' promised future judgement. When Jesus promises no sign but the sign of Jonah, he alerts his audience that both Jonah's Ninevite audience and the Queen of Sheba, who traveled great distance to see Solomon, will rise up to declare the wickedness of the Jesus' contemporaries for rejecting the Messiah. To envision this, we must imagine a greater number of people in one place than human history has ever, or will ever see, before this moment. At this great event, God will be at the center. As an aside, if you accuse me of letting my imagination run loose, I will accuse you of not taking Jesus literally enough. But seriously, I think it likely Jesus promises at the last judgement, before the throne, scepter, and gavel of God, peoples from all nations and times will make accusations against other for how they have refused to believe. Jesus' point is plain, Jonah and Solomon had nations willingly receive inferior messages and messengers to those being taught in Israel by Jesus and the apostles. Thus the nations will ask, “How could you?” Though Jesus is plainly talking about people in His day, we are those with the scriptures, the testimony of the church, and living on the right side of history, that is, after the cross and resurrection. To clearly imagine the final judgement, we should consider what other generations would say to us and our generation. Thankfully, the resurrection of Jesus validates, whatever is said in that final judgement, our final verdict can be “innocent” and “victorious.”  

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Luke 9:51-11:13, Proverbs 21

| 06/29/18 |

Jesus teaches the early disciples often how to be ready for opposition and difficulty. Our Lord anticipates that following Him as a disciple will make us like “lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3) One of Jesus' central preparations for followers is that we aren't to retaliate to evil with similar evil. When going up to Jerusalem, the apostles saw their messiah ridiculed and they asked Jesus if they should call fire from the sky, Jesus forbids such action. Even with unlimited power, Jesus refused the temptation to use such power to do harm to the wicked, at least at this stage in ministry. When we follow Jesus, be prepared for opposition, and to meet such antagonism with love. Of course the cross paves the way for us in such behavior as Jesus saves us as our King willingly faces human persecution and injustice to give life and peace forever.

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Luke 9:1-50, Proverbs 20

| 06/28/18 |

So far, Jesus has done a great deal in fulfilling promises to set captives free and declare the year of the Lord's favor. As Luke 9 begins, Jesus commissions the apostles to do similar works (Luke 9:1-2). Like with their Master, these disciples will learn that many will receive their good news and good-ness with gladness, even while others will remain opposed. Unlike their master, their ability to grasp, teach about, and walk according to the burgeoning Kingdom of God is complicated by personal sin, struggles, doubts, and divisions. These apostles lack faith in God's abilities (Luke 9:10-14), are unable to perform commissioned miracles (Luke 9:37-43), misunderstand Jesus' teaching about His imminent death (Luke 9:44-45), and are embroiled in competition.  No matter, Jesus is with them, and that is always what matters most. For whenever Jesus is moving for a group of people, everyone is amazed (Luke 9:42-43)! This is true, even when we have painful, embarrassing, or frustrating shortcomings.  

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Luke 7, Proverbs 18

| 06/26/18 |

Jesus' interaction with a sinful woman and the Pharisee at a dinner party teaches us something profound about Jesus' mission. The woman, we are told, lived a sinful life, and many have inferred she was therefore a prostitute. Her wiping Jesus' feet with her hair at a dinner, which was likely an open air event with some people coming and going, was an incredibly intimate gesture. For a Middle Eastern culture, the head was the most honorable part of the body, and the feet the most dishonorable. For her to wipe Jesus' feet with her hair was to express extreme devotion. When Jesus tells his story about a great and small debt to let the Pharisee know why Jesus is honored by this woman, we miss the point of the story if we think these words of Jesus tell us the Pharisee is only guilty of small crimes: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Jesus' point isn't that the prostitute has a much greater debt, but that she sees her debt as great, and is therefore thankful. Like Jesus promised in Luke 4, he has come to proclaim liberty to the captives, and this woman shows her immense devotion. May we as the church hope that all of us with great debts would come to Jesus with such radical devotion as these.

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Luke 6:12-49, Proverbs 17

| 06/25/18 |

Christians adore Jesus for more reasons than could be stated in thousands of pages. Jesus' life was unique in all of its perfections. He was good to the outcast, healed the hurting, and offers life to all that will believe. Certainly Jesus is more than an example, but certainly He is the model for all humanity. Consider then how important time with God the Father was for Jesus, and thus ought to be for those who follow Jesus' path. Luke 4 tells of how Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness praying, while in the midst of a great temptation. I wonder if perhaps those who have tried to labor in prayer for some time come to avoid extended praying in isolation because they have learned the great temptations and battles that come from focused prayer. Certainly Jesus' wilderness prayer and temptation seem very different than our ideals of praying in serenity near a calm lake, or some other similar ideal of “quiet time”. Jesus again, in our passage, spends important time in prayer, this time on a mountain for an entire night before choosing 12 disciples, from amongst followers, to be apostles. Though Jesus could easily access the necessary knowledge to make these picks, our Lord wanted time with the Father. Do we want time with God like this? Better, do we really want to be like Jesus? Our time attending to prayer, a prayer that is sometimes loud and filled with temptations, is necessary for our walk with God.  

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Luke 5:1-6:11, Proverbs 16

| 06/24/18 |

Jesus calls both Levi and Peter out of their occupations in Luke 5, respectively as a tax-collector and a fisherman into a life of Jesus' foundational apostles. Jesus' call of Peter is most interesting, of course, because Jesus calls a fisherman to become a fisher-of-men. Jesus demonstrates from the first moment with Peter His intention to reorient Peter to God's true purposes for this blue collar fella. As Peter learns, Jesus reveals not only God's purposes, but also the power to deliver as Jesus helps this seasoned fishermen catch more fish than he could ever have hoped. Jesus is paving the way for Peter to perceive how much God would deliver on making Peter a fisher of men. When God calls us to something, and God has called us all to make disciples, the Lord will deliver.  

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Luke 4:14-44, Proverbs 15:30-33

| 06/23/18 |

After Jesus is strengthened by the Spirit in the wilderness, He is empowered by the same Spirit to inaugurate a great ministry in Galilee (Luke 4:14). Jesus, quoting Isaiah declares, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” This year of the Lord's favor would remind Jesus' audience of the Jubilee year commanded in Leviticus 27, a celebration year that as far as we know Israel never kept. Disobedience to the laws of giving land rest, like the Jubilee would be punished by exile (Leviticus 26:27-34), and so it was. So when Jesus  brings good news to the poor AND set the oppressed free by the power of the Spirit, He is also in an important sense leading Israel out of their punishment and exile. As we see in the rest of the chapter, Jesus immediately goes about healing many with great sickness and disease. Jesus' proclamation sets the stage for the purpose of the rest of his ministry as through His life he will constantly be releasing those captive to disease and infirmity. Most importantly, he will set those captive to sin free and give all life through the resurrection. After this declaration, Luke doesn't keep emphasizing the Spirit as it should be clear, everything Jesus does in terms of setting the captive free is done because the Spirit of God is upon Him, just like Isaiah promised.  

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Luke 3-4:13, Proversbs 15:1-29

| 06/22/18 |

June 22nd: Luke 3:1-4:13, Proverbs 15:1-29 When Jesus goes up into the wilderness to fast and pray, the Holy Spirit is the one leading (Luke 4:1). Since we are told Jesus is full of the Spirit, that suffices to strengthen One empty of food. When Jesus is first tempted to make the stone into bread, Jesus refuses to indulge his physical hunger and prove His powers. Satan tempts Jesus in two more ways according to the scriptures, but many have suggested these are three paradigmatic temptations and only part of what would have been an array of other temptations. Forty days, after all, is a long time. Unlike the first humans, Adam and Eve, who fell into sin while tempted in a garden full of all the food they could desire, Jesus could not be tempted though at the extremes of human hunger and destitution. The first and third temptations don't seem obviously evil, while Jesus' opponent even quotes the Psalms to encourage the suggested miracles. However, Jesus full of the Spirit, knows how those passages are being twisted and misused, and so refutes these wiles with quotes from Deuteronomy. Jesus is also showing how, unlike the children Israel that complained against God and Moses for not providing enough food after the Exodus, Jesus will trust God in the worst of moments and leave this wilderness as God's bona fide representative. Books are written about the temptation's relationship to Jesus' ministry, and I am but scratching the surface. This event is Jesus' initial triumph (through the Spirit) over the Evil One, and foreshadows Jesus' ongoing victory in this great conflict.  

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Luke 1, Proverbs 13

| 06/20/18 |

When Luke promises Theophilus to lay out an “orderly account” that gives certainty to what has been taught about Jesus, Luke immediately demonstrates a very different focus than Matthew and Mark. Mark doesn't address Jesus' childhood, and Matthew's treatment of Jesus' birth is briefer, focused on Joseph and Jesus' birth and flight to Egypt. Luke focuses on the miraculous births of both John the Baptist and Jesus, while also going into detail about angelic visitations preceding both births. The angel's promise of John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15) before birth introduces one of Luke's main themes, the considerable presence of the Spirit in and around Jesus' ministry. When Mary would question Gabriel about how she could give birth as a virgin, the Holy Spirit will be the one who will give special birth to Jesus, making Him truly Son of God, while raised by Joseph. As we continue to read through Luke I will note the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' life and ministry. Remember Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles and pays great attention to the Spirit's presence with the early church. These are not accidents, for Luke wants to make a strong connection between the ministry of Jesus and church through the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit empowering the Lord can and will also empower us.  

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Mark 16, Proverbs 10

| 06/17/18 |

Every Easter churches declare “He is Risen” with great joy, reflecting hope found in Jesus' victory over the grave. I love Mark's bare-bones description of the empty tomb. The “young man” dressed in white who greeted the women at Jesus' tomb told these women not to be afraid. This didn't do the trick, as the ending of Mark leaves us clear about only the fact these women were frightened to the core. This leaves us asking the question, why were they so shaken? We underestimate how completely crucifixion shaped the imaginations of the world during Jesus' day. Jesus bringing back a girl alive moments earlier seemed like an altogether different sort of miracle than rising days after a crucifixion. Crucified people, even in the Jewish mindset, were those accursed by God. Add to this that Jesus was the victim, and the idea that He had risen was not in the realm of possibility on Saturday. So these women were twice shaken in a matter of three days, no doubt exhausted from the events that had taken place. The first guests at the tomb reflect the tremors this singular event would cause throughout the world. These tremors would not always leave people comforted and at peace. Our world is still, open-ended, waiting for a savior and full of bewildered people. Even the first act of the resurrection (Act 1: Jesus, Act 2: Believers) doesn't end our tensions or anguish. Mark of course treats Jesus' resurrection a transformational moment that gives the world hope. But this account leaves, above all, the impression that before we meet Jesus with gladness, sometimes we must meet His greatest works with appropriate trembling. The resurrection of Jesus means there is a judge, who we crucified, and before whom we must stand or fall. May we tremble at this, we can even tremble with gladness in our redemption.  

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Mark 15, Proverbs 9

| 06/16/18 |

Mark is the shortest and least detailed of all the Gospels, and this second crucifixion narrative is similarly short. The most horrific day in human history, that is before the resurrection would days later transform the crucifixion's meaning, is told in the space of what would be about 3-4 of these blog posts. Mark had no desire to do anything but give bare facts that demonstrate the shame of this day: that Pilate and the Jewish officials would be so blind, that people would heap such abuse on Jesus. One thing Mark pays careful attention to mention is how Magdalene, Mary, and Salome were present to watch Jesus' worst moments, while the 12 are nowhere to be found. Since most people believe Mark to have been Peter's traveling companion the fact that Peter and the twelve are shown to be missing in Jesus' worst moments is absolutely astonishing. Why portray them in such a bad light if this isn't how it happened? The original apostles have completely abandoned Jesus. Thankfully Jesus will not abandon them, or us.  

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Mark 14, Proverbs 8

| 06/15/18 |

The pinnacle of discipleship failure occurs in Mark as Judas betrays Jesus, and Peter denies the Lord of nations. Judas would kill himself, while Peter would become a foundational apostle for God's church. Instead of discussing their unbelief, I want to highlight the fidelity of the woman anointing Jesus' head in Bethany. We are told that this jar of nard is very expensive and that she is questioned about the price tag. Of all the people surrounding Jesus this reveals she paid most attention to the teachings about the impending death of the Son of Man. Putting Jesus' teachings together she senses that Jesus' death is near. So she shows Jesus radical and extravagant hospitality. The disciples worry that this woman could have sold this perfume to help the poor. Jesus, however, notes this woman of all people will be remembered for recognizing the King by anointing Him with fragrant oil. Others we see tomorrow will be remembered for their evil by mockingly anointing Jesus “King of Jews” with a crown of thorns. May we like this woman pay careful attention to the words of Jesus that we too might be honored  by Jesus with eternal crowns of our own in due time (see Revelation 4:10-11, Revelation 3:11, James 1:12). Then we, like this woman, will pay Jesus honor by giving those crowns back to the only true Lord.

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Mark 12:41-13:37, Proverbs 7

| 06/14/18 |

There is tension in Jesus' prediction about the end of days, stating there are obvious signs when Jesus will return (e.g. the Gospel preached in all nations, famines, wars, etc.), juxtaposed with recognition that even, in some way “not even the angels, nor the Son” know the date of the second coming (not enough time for that discussion here). The Bible elsewhere points towards events that forecast the end of days, but also tells us to be prepared to see Jesus, for we don't know the day or the hour our King comes to bring us home. It is easy to become bewildered, caught between the extremes of over-analysis of numbers, dates, and meteorological phenomena, or treating Jesus' words as simple metaphor and hyperbole. Caught up between those poles, we often mistakenly just say all that matters is being faithful to Jesus till He returns. You might think my last statement too extreme. My point is, calling for simple faithfulness only responds faithfully to the teachings about the unknown day and hour of Jesus' return, yet downplays Jesus' signs that predict the end. Jesus is telling us that even creation will continue to go through birth pangs until the redemption of the sons of God (see Romans 8:18-22). We are to pay attention to the fulfillment of these warnings, while also holding fast to hope that the Gospel will be preached in all nations. If you consider those promises were made almost 2,000 years ago, it is quite incredible that we are so close to that promise being reality. Selfishly, world-wide Gospel proclamation also will prepare Jesus' imminent return, and what could be better news in such a broken world. Be faithful and get excited for the day is near!

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Mark 11:27-12:40, Proverbs 6:20-35

| 06/13/18 |

Jesus' parable of the tenants helps us to understand how Jesus sees the role of the Old Testament prophets. They are the ones, in this parable, that the vineyard owner (representing God) sends as emissaries of the Lord's rightful interest. They are mistreated and even killed. These prophets had been mistreated throughout much of Israel's history to the shame of God's chosen people and Israel's leaders. But the worst deed will come when Jesus' audience will slay the Jesus, the Son of God Himself like all the prophets that went before Him. How bold Jesus was to warn those who would seek to kill Him! He is becoming more transparent about His ultimate purpose to larger audiences as the time of the crucifixion nears. This last and most terrible act of Israel's leaders will not go without pardon, as the parable states. Certainly God will move in judgement against all those who reject and revile the messiah.. Thankfully, Jesus states that new tenants will replace the original ones (Mark 12:9). God will give stewards to a people not only in Abraham's biological line, but a new group of tenants from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). But this gift to the nations happens because the Son of God is unjustly slain, and has now become the cornerstone on which God is building up a new people, the church.  

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Mark 10:46-11:26, Proverbs 5:1-6:19

| 06/12/18 |

If we take seriously the task of meeting Jesus and His words in faith before the potential buffers of Christian books, commentaries, reflections, and even pastor's blogs we will face periodic discomfort. Consider Jesus' bald words, “Have faith in God,…Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them” (Mark 11:22-23). Before we throw out all of our caveats about asking for things in the Lord's name, that is according to the character and will of God, let us be moved by Jesus' point here. God wills to do the impossible through the faith of Jesus' followers. Yes it is true, we are to pray according to God's will, but before we say that, let's just remember that God's will is that we have robust trust in our King's strength and majesty. We are to believe God can do the unbelievable. We are to live with expectation that God will fulfill promises unexplainable by mere cause and effect. Today, may that truth call us to greater faith in the God who throw the mountains into the sea.  

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Mark 9:30-10:45, Proverbs 4

| 06/11/18 |

   When Jesus teaches against divorce (Mark 10:1-11), He does so on the basis of the creation order given by God when making male and female. Intentionally, Jesus doesn't argue the law of Moses, for he says the law allowing a certificate of divorce was given because of hard-heartedness, as a concession for sin. Jesus looks past the law, chronologically speaking, and notes a deeper truth written by God into the fabric of our created order and spoken to our first parents in Genesis 2. This will not be the last time those that follow Jesus note how, good as Moses' law is, there are events and scriptures preceding the law in time that can teach us even more about how we are to live before God. Pau,l for example, would argue that the promise to Abraham precedes the law given to Moses and is thus more binding on how God brings righteousness, peace, and salvation (see Galatians 3:14-25). I point this out to note that Jesus transformed the way we read the law and Old Testament scriptures, as of course they ultimately prepare us and train us to receive Jesus. Less importantly, but just as true, we are also taught to see God's truth for living not just in the commands found in the back half of Exodus and the book of Leviticus. Rather, we can even find what pleases God by looking all the way back to the garden of Eden.  

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Mark 8:22-9:29, Proverbs 3

| 06/10/18 |

The theme of discipleship failure in Mark is more complicated than simply showing a bunch of incidents where the disciples fail. For example, Peter is the first to declare Jesus as “messiah” (Mark 8:29) proving Peter's clarity on Jesus' person. But when Jesus foretells the crucifixion, Peter attempts to rebuke Jesus for having such foolish notions of how to behave as messiah. Jesus declares such behavior Satanic. Still Peter would soon be given access to Jesus in glory at the transfiguration, yet become hasty in wanting to lead the proceedings in this great unveiling. Discipleship is complicated, full of growth and clarity mixed with major sins and issues along the way. In all of this, Jesus is with these disciples, guiding them, teaching them, helping them learn from their mistakes and celebrating their faith. It is not all failure, for Jesus is at work. However, even with Jesus, this work takes time. When we are making disciples, we must be willing to take time with one another, trusting Jesus is still teaching us patiently through the Spirit. Jesus is still working with complicated folks, to the praise of God.  

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Mark 6:6b-8:21, Proverbs 2

| 06/09/18 |

Mark''s Gospel emphasizes a number of themes, one of them being “discipleship failure.” Today's reading plainly highlights this theme. Jesus multiplies bread to show kindness to the crowds but incidentally challenges His' disciples lack of faith in the process for desiring to send the crowds away (Mark 6:37-44). These future apostles show their lack of understanding in more transparent ways. When Jesus performs a near identical miracle after the disciples respond to Jesus' call to help feed another large crowd by stating the logistical problems of such a demand. Jesus will later rebuke the disciples for not understanding how He is able to provide a superior bread and is a superior provider of bread than the Pharisees. But why point out discipleship failure? Interestingly, the reason we have our Gospels is that these very disciples either wrote or empowered others to pass down the good news about Jesus. They wouldn't have made stories up about their abject failure unless these events happened and mattered in teaching future students (aka disciples). All disciples will need to learn Jesus' patience with us, not to mention that He alone is the hero of this story. There are more reasons they highlight discipleship failure, but there also more blog posts to consider this theme.  

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Mark 4:35-6:6a, Proverbs 1:8-33

| 06/08/18 |

Psalm 139:12 tells us that dark is like light to God. In Mark 5:39, Jesus shows us that death is like sleep to Him. In fact when Jesus has been told the girl is already dead and declares she is merely asleep everyone around ridicules the Lord confident that she has flat-lined and been dead some time. They are not laughing long, for when Jesus goes into this dead girls room and says, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” this corpse wipes off the sleepies and obeys the voice of the Lord of Life. Jesus has shown such authority the disciples become afraid after the stilling of a storm, crowds are amazed at the expulsion of powerful demons, and the family of this girl was astonished. These are fitting responses to one who does such things.

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Mark 1, Psalm 149

| 06/06/18 |

Reading familiar passages with unfamiliar translation choices can force us to pay attention to the details. Mark 1:41 tells us about Jesus' emotional state before performing one of many miracles revealing His character and purpose. The only problem is, our translations disagree on exactly what Jesus feels. Typically the versions (e.g. ESV, HCSB, NASB) translate Jesus' emotional response to the leper's request for healing as, “moved with pity” or some other approximate translation. The NIV, however translates it, “Jesus was indignant”. That is a pretty significant difference. I don't have space to adjudicate the reasons for the translator's choices (both have good rationale), and I also don't have time to explore what Jesus would have been indignant about. Certainly the fact Jesus did the healing shows that he wasn't indignant at the leper, but at something else. Additionally, however we translate this word doesn't change the meaning of this verse as much as we might think. Compassion (literally “to suffer with”) often means indignation at whatever is causing the suffering for the ones we love. For Jesus to have compassion or mercy on this man, means that he is serious about ridding him of the leprosy not to mention a deeper hatred for the sin that unleashed this leprosy in the first place. It is possible, and some theorize Jesus is angry about additional matters. What matters most to me is to remember Jesus is perfectly capable of holding both anger and compassion together without sinning (like he did before raising Lazarus). This is but one more indication in the first chapter of Mark that Jesus is peerless.

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Matthew 28, Psalm 146

| 06/02/18 |

Matthew 28 demonstrates quite the contrast between true and false authority, as well as the difference between those with reason to fear with ones having confidence from true authority. When the angel of the Lord rolls back the stone, the soldiers have reason to be afraid, yet the women who follow Jesus are comforted with words not to fear. In fear the Jewish authorities devise a lie for their authority to stop Jesus' work has run dry, while soon thereafter Jesus tells all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him. The story invites us to see the importance of the mandate to make baptized disciples who obey Jesus in all things. Being on Jesus' side as a disciple is the difference between experiencing fear with no authority versus hope with derived authority. The capstone of the entire book tells us how these disciples and all future disciples are able to live with such authority and great confidence. Let those words of Jesus encourage you today, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  

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Matthew 27, Psalm 145

| 06/01/18 |

The folly of human wisdom, leadership, and judgement is most transparent at Jesus' trial and crucifixion. Note how the priests and elders refuse Judas' money initially because it is blood money, but have no scruples about putting this same money used to betray God's eternal Son towards purchasing a field.  Those same conscience-driven people are willing to have Jesus' blood on their hands, while Pilate, the person who is given power to free Jesus, tries to wash his hands of the incident. Yet innocent blood is still on his hands, for Pilate frees a known insurrectionist while perfection incarnate is executed. The soldiers that beat Jesus, mocking Him with the title “King of Jews” in moments will tremble in fear calling Him “Son of God”. Finally, we see Pilate has zero insight to what has happened, for he fears Jesus' followers power to influence instead of Jesus Himself as risen King as shown by his command to have soldiers guard the tomb. The King of Kings is executed, while everyone else is playing at justice, courage, and morality. The apostle Paul would later see this event as proof of the wisdom and power of God and the folly and weakness of human wisdom and power (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). One cannot take the account of Jesus' crucifixion seriously without coming to grips with a dire view of the human predicament. Jesus, best among us, is the one we would treat like this. Lord please, do have mercy.  

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Matthew 26; Psalm 144

| 05/31/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest writer Ralph M. One of the lines from the most recent Star Wars anthology film Solo that resonated with me today was delivered by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson): “Assume everyone will betray you, and you will never be disappointed.” Indeed, in the final hours of Jesus' life, it was one sort of betrayal after another from His closest friends and apostles to the Jews who had the opportunity to first hear about the Gospel. In the hours of loneliness and darkness that His soul was heaving with, what was His antidote to that? It was prayer. Long hours of emotional, intimate prayer with God. It seems like after He was done with his marathon prayer, He faced His accusers silently and watched His friends walk away from Him in silence. Was His prayer of the cup of suffering being taken away from Him granted? It wasn't. Was His resignation signified by His silence? Perhaps. But in the midst of the emotional turmoil and suffering He was experiencing, He knew one thing: without His suffering, those who have caused Him harm, suffering, pain and betrayal will not have any means of being reconciled to God. If that was the case, then even people in the past and the future will not have any means of reconciling with God, consigning themselves to eternal damnation in hell. It is in these multiple complicated layers of emotions and stakes that we find the human-God Jesus facing the Sanhedrin. On one hand, He can command His angels to slaughter them, asserting His dominance over humanity. On the other hand, He can stay silent and experience the most gruesome torture humanity can ever inflict on a human being. In His hour of extreme need, He chose not to run away or self-medicate, but rather chose to commune with God, letting Him know how He felt despite knowing that God's plan will not change just because He said a magic prayer. Even though He did not expect God to grant His wish, He still prayed. That is the hardest thing to do as a Christian; when all hope is lost and all you can do is pray. But this is exactly the next step in our relationship with God: when we pray even though we know that God may not grant our prayer, just because we know that we have to bring everything to Him in prayer, warts and all. That kind of faith will help us weather the suffering and storms of lives, even the betrayal of our closest friends and family, as well as the future of pain and suffering. 

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Matthew 25; Psalm 143

| 05/30/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest writer Ralph M. As Christians, we probably all know by now that like any other relationship, the initial honeymoon phase turns into the gritty reality of maintaining that relationship. The initial spell of appreciating all that God has blessed us with opens up to the ups and downs of a relationship, each of which can either make or break the relationship. Being a Christian does not shield us from the darkness and brokenness of this world. We can get hurt. We can suffer. Pain and brokenness is fair game, and allegiance to a religion does not seal us off from experiencing such. In such days, months or even years when it seems like the Lord has turned His back on us, or is seemingly putting everyone else ahead of us, what do we do? When darkness is swooping in like mad and it seems like all hope is lost, what good can knowing God's mercy or grace or righteousness be? This is when the writer of the Psalm calls out for God's help and mercy. This is the time when the spell of a new relationship is over and he calls for help, for companionship, for a way out. Though we do not know if God ultimately gave him what he expected as help, we know that God can hear us, even if He seemingly does not do anything to alleviate our suffering. For many people, it seems cold and distant, but as the master of time and space, we are not privy to what God will do in the future. Sometimes, alleviating our suffering may not be the answer that God is giving us. Sometimes, that suffering may not be alleviated in this life. That is the realization that this world is not our home and that our eternal fulfillment may not be seen by the naked eye until we come home. This is one of the crosses that we are to bear everyday for the rest of our lives, a lifetime of hurt and suffering that may or may not be alleviated until He comes again. In this thought of despair, let us lift up our eyes to God and pray that we will be given an eternal and heavenly perspective on our suffering rather than our hope and faith be choked by the thorns on darkness, evil and earthly suffering. It may be hard, but it gives us a light to look forward into the glorious future we have in Jesus.

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Matthew 23-24, Psalm 142

| 05/29/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is Jon R. As Christians, how we live out our lives in front of those who reject our beliefs is far more powerful than the words we speak. Of course, the gospel is the very power of God and is spoken by God's servants, but how we live our lives and treat others is proof that we believe it. In Matthew 23:1-36, Jesus pronounces seven woes over the Pharisees. This group of religious folks made it a practice to tie heavy burdens on others, without lifting a finger to help anyone (Matthew 23:4). Jesus continues to call them out for practicing a works-based salvation that is contrary to the message of the gospel. He calls them out for practicing their tithes, and doing religious things to be seen by people. They were missing the point, Jesus said that they neglected the most important matter: justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Jesus transitions to the next chapter by painting a picture of how the world will be before His return. He uses examples from nature and other illustrations to warn all who believe in Him that His return will be at a time we do not expect (Matthew 24:42). As we see the world spiraling further toward Christ's return, and the signs become clearer than ever before, let us live out our faith in front of a culture that is desperate and dying. Not simple pointing out their sin and living perfectly, but walking as joyful, thankful recipients of a grace that we do not deserve. As Psalm 142:7 says, we have been brought out of prison by Jesus, and by living a life in thanks and praise to Him, will produce a life attractive to those who are dying without Christ around us.

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Matthew 19-20

| 05/28/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah is guest writer Mollie H. We find Jesus and his disciples beginning their final journey together to Jerusalem. They are followed by ever-increasing crowds, eager to hear, to be healed as so many have been throughout the Galilean region. Jesus continues to teach the values of God's kingdom and his desire for us. He describes what a life committed to a faith community looks like. He begins by reminding us of the value of integrity within our relationships, particularly marriage. He pulls us back to Genesis, reminds us of the divinely-inspired Word of God; lifelong, sacred, and faithful. Obedience to His Word and humility, as that of children, are postures God honors. We believe He is generous and kind and we can trust Him completely. He shows us what servanthood is all about; sacrifice and compassion. Is being a servant a priority in your personal world? It's simple, really; to love God with all our hearts and to love others as we love ourselves. That's living in His kingdom on earth; today! Reading Matthew 20:17; the deliberate redemptive work of Christ, overwhelms any double mindedness and wavering allegiance. The question Jesus asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” sears my heart! What is it that binds me and somehow holds me back from the fullness and delight God has prepared for me? I want to be alive to God, always. What do you want Jesus to do for you? Can we allow Him to heal our hearts and open our eyes to Him alone?

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Matthew 16-17

| 05/25/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Audrey E. Matthew 16 and 17 are rich with theological significance but none as great and profound as Peter's confession, “You are the Christ; the Son of the Living God.” (Matt. 16:16). This truth is the foundation of all Christianity and the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:15). Peter is not the rock upon which Christ builds His church. The Church is built upon the confession Peter made and it is still the same, universal confession the Church holds to today. Jesus is “the Christ; the Son of the Living God.” Only Christians can claim this truth. Anyone can attend a church service but not everyone is the Church. We are a people of His own choosing; set apart to glorify Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:19). We aren't a social club doing good works for the community. We are the Church called to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), living out the Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:29-31) and holding to this great confession (Matt. 16:16) proclaimed for centuries. This confession is what Christ builds His Church upon and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Let us pray for His Church today to stand strong and centering all we do around Jesus.

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Matthew 13:53-15:39, Psalm 137

| 05/24/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest writer Josh L. Jesus was rejected in his hometown because the people did not believe that someone they had grown up with could speak and do miraculous things (Matthew 13:53-59). Jesus left the area he was in, but because of the miraculous things Jesus was doing, Herod heard about him. Herod believed that John the baptist had raised from the dead because Herod had John arrested and beheaded due to a promise he made to Herodias' daughter (Matthew 14:1-12). Jesus withdrew to a quiet place but had compassion on the people who followed him. This lead to him feeding five thousand using only two fish and five loaves of bread (v. 13-20). Peter steps out onto the Sea of Galilee in faith, but loses his focus on Jesus (who was already walking on water) when a storm arrives (v. 22-36). The Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking why his disciples are allowed to break the commandments (Matthew 15:1-19). Jesus reveals the Canaanite woman's faith when she asks for her daughter's healing (v. 21-28). Jesus feeds four thousand and provided more than enough food for all the people there (v. 29-39). The underlying theme for this passage is faith. We have seen clearly throughout the text that Jesus can do miraculous wonders. Where in your life do you need to ask God for faith?

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Matthew 13:1-52, Psalm 136

| 05/23/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Jon R. Pastors frequently use stories and illustrations in their sermons to enable us to visualize an important point from the passage being taught. Illustrations and stories enable us to attach mental pictures to situations and help us to make biblical truth applicable to our everyday lives. During His earthly ministry, Jesus taught using parables, or earthly examples to convey spiritual truth. In Matthew 13:10, the disciples ask Jesus why He taught in parables, and His response separates those who accept Jesus' teaching and those who do not. In verses 11-16, Jesus explains to them that those who accept His teaching will understand the parables, and those who reject it will not. For the believer, parables illustrate and provide a memorable explanation of biblical truth, but for those who reject the truth, it leaves them confused. Jesus goes on to say that His parables fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah which told of people who would reject His message. After each parable, Jesus would follow-up with an explanation so that the disciple could understand fully. In these parables Jesus focuses on a few key points: reception of the Word of God, and the nature of God's Kingdom. His parable of the sower illustrates quite well the varying responses of people's hearts when they encounter God's word. Then He focuses on the nature of the Kingdom of God and how believers and nonbelievers will be separated in the Day of Judgment. Verses 44-46 are personally convicting, as Jesus illustrates that those who value the Kingdom correctly are willing to give up everything to obtain it. Let us value His Kingdom and His Righteousness above all things because as Psalm 136 says twenty-six times “for His steadfast love endures forever.” When we see all that He has done for us and realize that we are perfectly loved for all eternity, His infinity value becomes clear and transforms our hearts and lives.  

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Matthew 11-12, Psalm 135

| 05/22/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Jonathan S. Have you ever come across a child or adult who thinks he is entitled to everything? Perhaps you were irritated by this behavior or you even found it to be your own. We all have run into those people at customer service, all bent out of shape about being ripped off or mistreated. Even though Jesus did not have the stereotypical “entitlement attitude” the Pharisees had it out for him. Jesus was often criticized for acting in ways that were contradictory to the Law and his occasional claims to be equal with God probably didn't help this. Though Jesus had the right to entitlement, He was anything but entitled in how He acted. In chapters eleven and twelve of Matthew, we see Jesus effectively doing ministry in the face of tough questions from the Pharisees. In chapter 11, Jesus is asked by John's disciples, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus answers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus does not respond saying outright one way or another but He simply states His actions as proof to who He is. In this way we should be able to hold up our actions as proof of Christ's work in us. In chapter 12, Jesus is accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by possession of them. Jesus refutes this ferociously saying that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Throughout the chapter, Jesus answers the Pharisees honestly and with truth. In both actions and words Jesus meets questions and opposition with truth and we must do this as well. When faced with these same things, we must first check our attitude. Are we acting or feeling entitled? Then we must check if our actions are truthful and lastly we must check if our words are truthful. If all these check out, then continue to respond in truth, but if not it is important to repent before trying to respond in truth. God is faithful in all He does. Throughout history, this can be see and appreciated. Take a moment after reading Psalm 135 to think about how God has been faithful to you this last week.

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Matthew 10

| 05/21/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Josh L. In Matthew 10, Jesus tells his twelve disciples to do the things he has done. After the explanation of who each disciple was (v. 2-4), Jesus gives his disciples clear instructions to “…go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons (v. 6-8).” Next, Jesus explains that for his namesake they will be persecuted, but will be saved if his disciples continue to remain in him (v. 16-23). Jesus continues to encourage his disciples in verses 24-31 by saying neither to be afraid nor to fear the enemies of God who will try to persecute them due to their faith. Lastly, Jesus tells his disciples if they are to follow him they must give up everything (v. 34-39), and all who welcome Jesus into their life also accepts the Father (v. 40-42). As followers of Christ, persecution will come our way when we speak about Jesus, but that does not give us an excuse to ignore what Jesus commands his followers to do in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20). During times of persecution we must remember not to be afraid, but as Psalm 134:1 says, “To praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord.”

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Matthew 8-9, Psalm 133

| 05/20/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Jon R. Today, in our pragmatic culture, the supernatural is often cast to the side in place of modern medicine and psychology. While these have a place in balance, it is easy to lose sight of the sovereignty Jesus demonstrated over the things that afflict the world in these chapters. These two chapters demonstrate two great pillars of the Christian walk: the power and authority of Jesus over all things, and faith. Here, Jesus demonstrated power over sickness, death, demonic possession, and creation. When the oppressed came to Jesus, their faith was what set them apart from the rest. In Matthew 27-31, two blind men cried out to Jesus for healing. Before healing them, Jesus asked them a penetrating question, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Earlier, Jesus raised a little girl from the dead and told her, “Take heart daughter, your faith has made you well.” We can see here that faith is the necessary component to receive healing from Jesus. When sickness and affliction invade our lives, who do we turn to first? Hebrews 4:13 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”, and Jesus is still willing to heal us today. Let us come to Jesus with child-like faith believing that our Dad has absolute sovereignty over all things. God will absolutely use the things of this world for His purposes, but how much more exciting is it to step out and ask Him for something incredible, supernatural, and impossible. Psalm 133 speaks of unity amongst believers, and how wonderful it is. When we all agree in faith that God can do the impossible, people will be set free and we will come to the “unity in the faith” (Ephesians 4:13).  

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Matthew 6:19-7:29

| 05/19/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Mollie H. Jesus is bringing His stunning discourse on kingdom living to a conclusion. He has instructed us how to live in truth and power. The kingdom changes everything about our everyday world. He illustrates an alluring idea; that of a treasure at once set aside as a promise and as a reality living within us. It is precious and of great worth. Think about what you treasure.  We make choices every day. Jesus tells us to pay attention to what governs our life. Perspective — how we see our lives — mean everything to God. Pursuing security in earthly treasures leaves a sense of lack that only His love will satisfy. He draws us to a vision of lilies, wild poppies of the East. Those who have seen a field of poppies dancing and swaying in the breeze will appreciate the sense of freedom, relaxation and joy that Jesus had in mind as being our true birthright. (E. Fox p103) How contrary to the worry and anxiety of the lesser things that steal our hearts! We must respond to His kingdom here and now. He beckons us to take the narrow road, cautions us about those who deceive us and bids us to remember we belong to Him for eternity.  Let us be faithful above all else; He has told us that we are His treasure!  

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Matthew 4:12-6:18

| 05/18/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Audrey E. Violently rejected and kicked out of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30, Matt. 4:12-16), Jesus then begins ministry in Capernaum (Matt. 4:15-17) and settles there (Mt. 4:13). Along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus encounters Peter and Andrew, then James and John; all successful fishermen with businesses of their own.  He calls, they follow.          The Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-12) show us the character of those who will inherit the kingdom. In relation to the world, the repentant are the “salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13) and “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14-16).  In relation to the law and personal relationships Mt. 5:21-43, Jesus confirms and stresses the law's deeper, spiritual meaning. He reveals what living out the law looks like when obeyed from a pure heart.  In relation to righteous deeds, whether giving (Mt. 6:1-4) or praying (Mt. 6:5-6) or fasting (Mt. 6:16-18), if done sincerely from the heart, it is to be between the believer and God alone and not for show. Anything else is idolatry. People will see “how wonderful” we are but we won't be rewarded from God (Mt 6:5). I'd rather be rewarded from Him, wouldn't you?  Let's seek to guard our hearts against hypocrisy.  Let's trust God; Take Him at His Word; Seek for His glory, and rest in Him (Ps. 131; Ps. 62:5). He will honor those who honor Him (First Samuel 2:30).  

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Matthew 4:1-11

| 05/17/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Scot M. Who's your worst enemy (besides yourself, of course), and how would you like to be armed when you face him (Satan, or his demons) in battle? In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is reenacting Israel's wilderness wanderings (40 years for them, filled with rebellion against God; 40 days for Him, filled with faithful obedience), so He repulses each of Satan's temptations with verses which Israel knew, but didn't obey (from Deuteronomy 6 and 8). To each temptation, Jesus responds, “It is written,” followed by Scripture. For Jesus, those words, “It is written,” are His bedrock assurance of God's authority, truthfulness, and direction. There is no higher authority than God's own words, properly understood and properly applied to life. Yet Satan also says, “It is written,” as he tempts Jesus with Psalm 91:11-12, where God promises to protect those who trust Him (but not those who put Him to the test for their own purposes!). James 4:3 says we sometimes do not receive what we pray for because we ask with wrong motives, that we may squander God's gifts for our own pleasure. We must be careful how we claim God's promises as we pray. Ephesians 6:10-18 describes the armor God gives us to withstand Satan's assaults. Our only piece able to repel is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17). In Paul's language, “word” here means God's words we speak aloud. We have a sword. Let's keep sharpening it.

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Matthew 1-2

| 05/16/18 |

Substituting for Pastor Jeremiah today is guest blogger Scot M. Have you ever read a phone book for fun? Me neither. (If you don't know what a phone book is, ask someone your parents' age.) Matthew 1:1-17 is a long list of largely unfamiliar names (skipping some generations, which was common). Is there a way to read this passage that can actually get us excited? Those named here are real people, playing their part in God's unfolding plan to redeem the world (including you!), through Jesus. I can imagine early Jewish Christians, as they read or heard this list, reliving the long wait of their ancestors, saying eagerly to themselves with each name, “Closer. Closer to the Savior's birth. Closer.” One thing sets Matthew's genealogy apart from all others in Scripture: his mention of 5 women, each connected to some sexual scandal. For Tamar's (v. 3) complicated story, read Genesis 38 and look up “levirate law (or marriage)” online or in a Bible dictionary. Rahab (v. 5) was a prostitute (Joshua 2, 6). Ruth (v. 5) while wonderfully devoted (See the book of Ruth), was from Moab, a nation birthed from father-daughter incest (Genesis 19). Bathsheba (v. 6), not mentioned by name, is King Solomon's mother and the former wife of Uriah. 2 Samuel 11-12 recounts King David's adulterous relationship with her. Mary (v. 16), while guiltless, became pregnant with Jesus before marrying Joseph. God can bring eternal triumph and joy through misunderstood circumstances, like Mary's pregnancy, and even through the most sordid of our or others' sins.

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Malachi 3:6-4:5, Psalm 126

| 05/13/18 |

Today as we end Malachi and the Old Testament, we do so in a week when a famous pastor made derogatory comments about the Old Testament, suggesting that it carries a contrary message to the New Testament, especially to the radical hope found in the resurrection of Jesus. I hope you see find this a terrible mistake, as such a belief pays little attention to the contours and development of the story of God's people. Malachi ends his prophecies on a note of hope, that one like Elijah will turn hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents. Genesis to Malachi is filled with incredible hope and promises, in spite of the fall of humanity, as well as the ongoing evil and disobedience of Israel and the nations. From beginning to end, this first Testament sets the stage for Jesus' ministry. I insist that when you encounter Jesus in the Gospels over the next few weeks that you will see how essential the Old Testament is to understand the message and work of our King. All the hopes of the Old Testament, for example, that one day we will frolic in fields like calves (Malachi 4:2) find fulfillment and realization in what Jesus accomplished. But we cannot appreciate the hope Jesus offers till we can see all the problems he addresses, and the Old Testament lays the groundwork to comprehend the great scope of Jesus' salvation! Having read the Old Testament, you will better be able to appreciate the breath of life Jesus offers when He comes to make His blessings known far as the curse is found.  

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MALACHI 1:1-3:5, PSALM 125

| 05/12/18 |

Malachi warns against some of the Israel's familiar problems like spiritual adultery, injustice and priests dishonoring the name of Levi. Malachi presents two unique problems in Israel, at least unique among the Old Testament prophets. I first mention Malachi's denunciation of divorce. Though other prophets certainly would have been against this practice, it isn't mentioned in those books. Notably in Malachi, God's anger at divorce is leveled while discussing Israel's men marrying foreign woman and living in infidelity towards God. These two, spiritual adultery and divorce go hand in hand. Secondly, God also addresses the wickedness of Israel's giving defective sacrifices, their worst animals, to God. As noted in former reflections, there has been this developing tension surrounding sacrifices. We are told elsewhere that God doesn't desire sacrifice but other virtues (Psalm 40:6, Psalm 51:6). So why make such a big deal out of these sacrifices. God is not opposed to sacrifices as Malachi makes plain, for they are part of the Lord's covenant with Israel. Rather, God is opposed to sacrifices devoid of faith, trust, and love. In Malachi, both the faith, trust, and love along with the appropriate sacrifices are missing. Due this evil, God warns against the day when a messenger will arrive to purify the Levites like silver and gold and make Israel's offering acceptable (Malachi 3:1-4). We know that this messenger is none other than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10). Israel was incapable of returning to and maintaining adequate fidelity and sacrifice. So when John the Baptist arrives proclaiming the coming of Jesus the messiah we know that God is purifying Israel and making her whole.

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| 05/11/18 |

Since the Day of the Lord has been mentioned often in the prophets and the end of Zechariah prepares us for that day, I want to note two important aspects of this event. This day is both cataclysmic and uniting.  We are told about the cataclysmic nature of the day when Zechariah says, “On that day there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness. 7 It will be a unique day—a day known only to the Lord—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light.” (Zechariah 14:6-7) The world as we know it will be altered as the Lord sends plague, famine, and strikes most of the earth in judgement for iniquity. When God does brings such upheaval the world will unite in recognizing God is Lord, for “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” (Zechariah 14:9) Whether or not people worship God now, on the day of the Lord the whole earth will only have one name they can utter in praise or petition. Instead of waiting on that day, maybe go ahead and make God's name the one we praise above all others….  

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| 05/10/18 |

Riding on a donkey doesn't seem cool to us, but when Jesus fulfilled Zechariah 9:9 on the first Palm Sunday, not only were there many Old Testament resonances in view (see 1 Kings 1:33-44), Jesus is showing that he is in charge. You wouldn't expect a president to roll into town on a tank, but rather a limousine. In the same way, Jesus, the true King of nations, rolls into town as Zechariah promises on a donkey, like Solomon before him. Jesus is demonstrating His ability to “proclaim peace to the nations” and “rule from sea to sea.” Ephraim might need chariots, and Jerusalem warhorses (Zechariah 9:9), but our King doesn't need to prove His power. Donkeys are humble, but in riding this beast into town in the so-called “triumphal entry”, Jesus is showing the sort of King He is, not one that comes with false victories, insecurities, and in need of a show. Rather, Jesus comes into town with nothing to prove, for he knew, “because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners.” Zechariah 9:11  

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| 05/09/18 |

In the fall of 2005, John Perkins, civil-rights activist and community development expert, visited Trinity's campus in Deerfield. I can still remember a few of the highlights of his message on Zechariah 8:4, where God promises to bring the exiles back to a Jerusalem where children would play in streets in the presence of the elderly. I can recall his painful stories of urban blight, but he was most troubled describing the absence in our inner cities of intergenerational interaction and harmony. Perkins said it is no accident that an description God used to help envision a better day for Israel is one of peace in the streets and strongs bonds between age groups. He argues in urban communities, those two go hand in hand. When the elderly are invested in the next generation, and the next generation listens to those that have gone before, wisdom prevails. Thus those that typically are involved in conflict, generally youth, learn to resolve conflict as the elderly invest in guiding them down better paths. At Agape Chicago, we have a mix of generations. Maybe God will use us to help Rogers Park see better days, one where the elderly sit on park benches and children are free to play without fear?  

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Zechariah 3-6, Psalm 121

| 05/08/18 |

Before there were the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Zechariah had four chariots with multi-colored horses. Their presence in both Zechariah and Revelation reveals God's designs to judge the world, especially in this situation, wicked Babylon. Consider, at the time Israel is in exile and God is bringing comfort to a people that need to see beyond what their eyes show them. God's visions given through Zechariah bring comfort through promises to defeat Babylon and draw the exiles back home. After this revelation of chariots going to the four corners of the world, we see that God reinstates the priest Joshua and calls him to rebuild the Temple. These days of shame under the yoke of Babylon have come to an end. God will dwell Israel again, and therein lies the best promise for the Lord's people.  

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Zechariah 1-2, Psalm 120

| 05/07/18 |

Zechariah, like Haggai, writes during the life of Darius king of Persia. The Lord communicates through Zechariah the will to bring Israel out of Babylonian exile. Zechariah hears from the Lord through a vision (perhaps a dream since it was at night), where an angel presents God's comforting words that the nations have overstepped in their treatment of the Jewish people. So Israel will be brought out of those nations and rebuild the house of the Lord. Though God already opened this book with a call to Israel to “return to me” so that “I will return to you (Zechariah 1:2), the Lord has already promised to return Israel to the land. So it will happen. Just as God's “word and decrees” did overtake Israel's ancestors in coming to fruition long after they passed, so the Lord's word of mercy will overtake this generation in bringing God's people back to Jerusalem to restore the temple of God. That is the double-edged sword of God's word, it cuts and convicts with judgement that will reign over all generations, but also cuts our hearts with the undeserved mercy that will benefit God's people for generations untold. Praise God that His word overtakes and endures beyond all ancestors.  

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Haggai 1-2, Psalm 118

| 05/05/18 |

Haggai's prophetic ministry takes place as God is preparing to restore Israel towards the end of Babylonian captivity in the year 520. We have exact dating because of the clear relationship between Haggai's ministry and Darius' reign over Persia (Haggai 1:1). So, Haggai's ministry is much later than the prophets  we have read before, save Daniel, who likely died a few years before Haggai's prophecies. Today I want to note that one of the most powerful Old Testament statements on the vanity of our pursuits of wealth is found in Haggai 1:6. In fact, reading it was like a splash of cold water to my face. The idea of drinking but still being thirsty, eating and being hungry, and making money that will one day be lost has echoes of Ecclesiastes. God then declares not only the emptiness of those pursuits, but why in judgement the Lord takes away rain and vegetation: the Lord's glory has been ignored while Israel pursues wealth for themselves. God is angry that His people care so much about erecting their own houses, while the Temple meant to be a sign of God's wonder before the nations lies in ruins. May we see grace in God withholding produce, for God is teaching the centrality of pursuing God's glory over accumulating barns or cars for ourselves. All of our wealth will fade, but the glory of God will shine forever.  

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Zephaniah 2-3, Psalm 117

| 05/04/18 |

Yesterday I reflected on the difficulty of reconciling Zephaniah's warnings that God would destroy all the inhabitants off the earth with other scriptural promises of a remnant God would spare. Today, Zephaniah resolves this question himself. First Zephaniah describes how God will judge Cush, Philistia, and Assyria with great devastation. Then the Lord promises to do the same to Israel. So far, so bad, at least for the nations God will destroy. Still, what hope is there for the world? God answers by promising to “gather you” and “bring home” remnant “exiles” and “lame” that have proven faithful from amongst Israel. Zephaniah resolves our questions internally. Like in the days of Noah, God will judge the whole earth in cataclysmic fashion, but those who have remained true to God will be rescued. Not only will God rescue those that have proven true from Israel, the Lord will “take great delight in you;  n his love he will no longer rebuke you,but will rejoice over you with singing.” Can you imagine a world where the One who gave the morning stars songs, fills creation with a song for us? Such is the grand promise of God's restoration for those that remain true.  

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Zephaniah 1, Psalm 116

| 05/03/18 |

Of all the harsh judgements found in the prophetic writings, those warnings found in Zephaniah 1 are some of the most dire. One respected study BIble hardly comments on verse 2, when God promises to sweep away everything from the earth, or on vs. 18 when God promises to make a sudden end of all the inhabitants of the earth. Even many other writings that do reflect on these verses ignore questions about how this squares with the book Revelations prophecy about Jesus returning to judge the earth and rescuing a faithful remnant. I have seen one spiritualized interpretation that suggest Zephaniah is seeing God wiping away all those that are found in Adam to complete the judgment due those not found in Christ. I choose instead to see such sweeping warnings as an aspect of how this genre works to portray the cataclysmic nature of the Day of the Lord. This day will be like no other for our earth, this judgement will be so transformative that even the flood will seem comparably inconsequential. It will be as if God took our planet, shook it viciously to purge evil once and for all. However we square this chapter with our larger views of the final days, the clear picture is that Israel, the church, and everyone in between should heed these words with fear and trembling at the mighty hand of the Lord. This side of the cross, we can also tremble with gladness at the cataclysm Jesus faced in our place.  

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Habakkuk, Psalm 115

| 05/02/18 |

Habakkuk twice questions God on the justice of letting the righteous struggle, while the prosperous prevail. Babylon is Habakkuk's main concern as they conquer Judah. God has different priorities in answering the question. God affirms that Babylon will be held to account, just like every other people that does evil (Habakkuk 2:6-12). But the Lord wants Habakkuk to see that what's most important isn't what God does with the folly of human evil, for their works are only going to be destroyed and will prove that evildoers have exhausted themselves for nothing (Habakkuk 2:13). God's main desire is that His glory fill the earth like water the seas (2:14). When you look around and see the wicked prospering, yes it is good to remember the justice of God. More importantly, we should remember that God's glory, and our satisfaction will one day push out every evil deed, and through faith we will inherit the beauty of seeing God's majesty. Let's not be worried about the successes of evildoers, but be obsessed with God's glory being known, for our satisfaction comes when God's mission is our delight.  

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Nahum, Psalm 114

| 05/01/18 |

Nineveh plays a major role in the message of the books by Jonah and Nahum. The difference in tone between these two books towards this city, the capital of Assyria, could be not more stark. While Jonah prophesied in the mid-8th century B.C. (700's), Nahum is widely considered at the mid to late 7th century B.C. (600's). In Jonah, Nineveh represents a soft-hearted people that hear God's warning of judgement and repent. In Nahum, Nineveh will be destroyed by the jealous God of wrath (see Nahum 1:2). Though God is gracious, as Nineveh should already well know, God will not endure their evil, to the comfort of their neighbor's Israel. It is interesting how quickly a city can change for good or for ill. Nineveh had been incredibly evil during Jonah's day, yet in a matter of days turned to God and was spared. In just a few generations, Nineveh became so wicked God intends desolation and ruin to come swiftly (Nahum 2:10). The messages of Jonah and Nahum give us reason for humility in our spiritual victories, for we see how easily and quickly sin infects a people, but also optimism for what God can do in an even shorter period of time through even mediocre proclamation, like Jonah's. May we relate to Chicago with both radical hope in the God that saves, and proper fear that our people, the church, would forsake our God. It only takes a generation. So may we be like the generation of Ninevites that turned to God upon the hearing the word, instead of those that took God's words for granted.  

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Micah 6-7, Psalm 112

| 04/29/18 |

We find one of the Bible's most famous affirmations of how to live in Micah 6:8. Before we are told what pleases God, we read what is incapable of satisfying God's righteous demands. It will not be animal sacrifices, or even the sacrifice of a first-born child, of course. For God doesn't celebrate the mere giving up of valuable possessions. Rather, we are to, “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) God doesn't desire a set of rote offerings as much as the Lord wants a people that know the difference between justice and mercy, for mercy requires justice. Then we must walk with a desire to demonstrate both. Most importantly, God wants people not to see sacrifices as a convenient way to occasionally get God off their back, but rather that know life is found in living in communion with our God. That means, before we ask the question: “What resources of mine does God want me to share or use for kingdom purposes?”, we should ask the question, “How can I continually live in fellowship with our Lord?” The first question isn't bad, so long as it follows and demands the first.  

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Micah 4-5, Psalm 111

| 04/28/18 |

Though I am not a farmer, one of my favorite promises in the Bible is that the nations “will beat their swords into plowshares” (Micah 4:3). Planting, watering, and tending vegetables isn't my favorite pastime, but the thought of all the spilt blood on battlefields and city streets being replaced with a better food supply gets me excited. What's more, this promise doesn't come with stipulations or contractual obligations, but is simply describing what God wills to do, and thus will do. The Lord will put an end to all wars, bet on it. The Ruler to come out of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) will be instrumental in bringing this peace that God's flock might dwell securely (Micah 5:4). In this peace the lame and exiles gathered back by God (Micah 4:6) will sit under their own vine (Micah 4:4), enjoying the fruit of their labors, or better the fruits of God's work. In the meantime, church lets put away our swords and all instruments of war, that we might be fruitful in bringing peace, love, and joy through the Spirit to a world living at war.  

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Micah 1-3, Psalm 110

| 04/27/18 |

You might have heard someone make a statement like, “I don't believe in a God that judges harshly”. Surprisingly, during the days of Micah, while there were other prophets declaring God's judgement for Israel's sin, people were making similar claims. Micah's contemporaries were asking, “Does the Lord do become impatient?” and “Does He do such things?” (Micah 2:7) in response to warnings of prophesied disgrace. Did Israel forget how God judged Egypt, or the Canaanites, or the Philistines? Maybe Micah's audience believed those were just metaphors, or perhaps had spiritual amnesia. Either way, they doubted Micah or any prophet that declared God's righteous disdain for Israel wickedness. Today, people claim to trust the scriptures, but doubt God judges sin. Maybe we disbelieve the scriptures or ignore the prophets?  

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| 04/26/18 |

Jonah's story is a microcosm of Israel's history. God chooses Jonah for a vocation that, as the story unfolds, is clearly meant to benefit a people ignorant about YHWH. Instead of choosing to accept this call from God, Jonah runs and tries to ignore God's voice. No matter, God chases Jonah, just as God pursues Israel. Though Jonah halfheartedly proclaims Nineveh's need to turn to God, Nineveh benefits from this less than joyfully delivered message and turns to God. Just like God takes Israel and blesses Babylon and Media-Persia through the faithful Jewish exiles, so the Lord uses a reluctant Jonah. Still, Jonah is dissatisfied with his role and the way God uses him to bring Nineveh to repentance. Israel would often have disdain for their neighbors instead of a Holy love to see the wicked come to repentance. At the end of the story Jonah is still running from God, while God still chases. This ending prepares us for the day Jesus would tell a group of people seeking miracles that the only sign they would see is the one from Jonah. What was that sign? When Jonah preached, Nineveh repented. So Jesus was saying, not that God in flesh stands before the people of Israel, they should now repent and turn to Jesus like Nineveh did with Jonah. God, in Jesus was chasing wayward Israel, like God had chased Nineveh and Jonah. Praise God that he is the King that pursues us over and over again.  

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Obadiah 1, Psalm 108

| 04/25/18 |

Since Obadiah is the shortest of all Old Testament books, I have to briefly comment. It is good to remember that Edom is the land inhabited by the descendants of Esau, older brother to and perpetual rival to Jacob, aka Israel. It seems that Edom, or Esau, gloats at the demise of Judah at the hands of Babylon. Obadiah is a contemporary of Jeremiah writing after the fall of Jerusalem (587) before the fall of Edom (553), so he is well positioned to comment on Edom's treatment in this time. Consider, then, just how long lasting the family feud between Jacob and Esau lasted. The apostle Paul will comment heavily on God's choice of Jacob over Esau (see Romans 9), but I did think it especially interesting to note that many people believe that Herod, the opponent of John the Baptist and Jesus, was an Edomite (credit Ray Stedman). The ongoing disputes between Israel and Edom reflect God's freedom in choosing one nation to bless in spite of birthright position and strength. In our passage, Edom is charged with pride, envy, callousness, and a lack of love. Though God judges Israel harshly  for her disobedience, consider the grave fact God will wipe the seed of Esau out (Obadiah 1:18). Interestingly in light of that prophecy, Herod would be instrumental in seeing Jesus crucified, but now it is the descendants of Abraham through faith that grow in number today. Herod is forgotten except that he is connected with the events of Jesus' life. God keeps promises and fulfills judgement. Amen.  

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Amos 8-9, Psalm 106

| 04/23/18 |

Like other prophets, Amos mostly writes about Israel's evil, and God's requisite wrath. Amos, also spends a few words writing about Israel's hope of returning to their land after exile. The truth is, though Amos ends his book with promises from God for Israel's restoration, the majority of the book isn't so gladenning. Such was the world before Jesus. There were hundreds of reasons to be dour and few reasons to be optimistic for the future. God's revelation, at least as understood in time and space, was that Israel through covenant faithfulness with YHWH should have reflected the glory of the God of the universe. This plan seemed to be a tragic failure. Still, in audacity, these prophets could name all of Israel's problems, and still confidently proclaim God's desire to restore Israel. As we finish Amos, we can learn what God loathes far removed from the punishment for such crimes and also appreciate that we are heirs of the promises of God. We are also heirs of the lessons Israel learned, and the warnings given by God through faithful servants like Amos. Praise be to God.  

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| 04/22/18 |

Amos' words, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14) have become famous words used by many claiming authority comes not from birth nor station in life, but our calling by and knowledge about God. Amos, after speaking about God's plumb line of judgement is denounced by Israel's wicked king Jeroboam as being a nobody. Amos doesn't deny it. Instead, he claims his authority has nothing to do with the fact he isn't a prophet and was only a lowly shepherd. Rather God gives authority to Amos by speaking through Him. Whatever authority we have comes only because we stand on and are formed by God's words. When we stand on this authority, we can bring the great news that scripture offers. But as Amos shows, we also have the authority to declare God's judgement, so long as it is God's judgement. So, this week, it doesn't matter if you are a prophet or the son of a prophet, you can still declare God's counsel with authority, for true power is conveyed by God alone.  

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Amos 5-6, Psalm 104

| 04/21/18 |

Rampant evil in Israel is described this way: “There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.” (Amos 5:12) Those in power are dangerous, and the righteous are vulnerable. In this situation we are given a description about how to live in such days. The scripture says, “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” (Amos 5:12) In one sense, this is absolutely true, whenever evil reigns, it is better for decent people to stay off the grid when possible, to avoid harmful quarrells or difficulties. Prudence directs one thing, while courage demands yet  another. For there are better things than to avoid an unfair fight, as we are told, “Seek good, not evil, that you may live.” (Amos 5:13) Prudence avoids being brought into unnecessary controversies with wicked people, but to enjoy life, we must pursue and do what is good. This tension is felt especially in days that are evil. What fights do we fight and which fights do we avoid? In our wicked days where so many are wrongfully mistreated, let's pray that God will help us to know when to be prudent and when to be courageous.  

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Amos 3-4, Psalm 102

| 04/20/18 |

If rap battles existed in the days of Amos, he would have easily had a “drop the mic” moment in Amos 4:1. Calling wealthy Samaritan women by the name of the local well-fed cattle communicated God's disdain for their indulgence. We assume God also had wrath for their complicit husbands, for they grew fat and filled their pockets at the expense of their poor Hebrew brothers and sisters, whose best interests were protected by God's law. As noted before, but worth repeating, God's anger against Israel's sins could be broken down into two main accusations: idolatry and injustice. Of course those two are the inverse of the commands to the love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is the insistence of scripture these sins go together, for one would never do what these Samaritans did to their neighbors (injustice) if they had love for the God of Israel (idolatry). In fact, this passage goes one step further. These “cows of bashan” are growing thick at the expense of others, that are presumably working hard yet mired in destitution. Justice isn't simply about laws, but asking how has God called us to serve and seek the best interests of our neighbors, rather than solely satisfying ourselves. May our lives be mindful, for we would not want a prophet in the vein of Amos to stand on the word of God and “drop the mic” about our evil indulgences while so many around us suffer.  

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Amos 1-2, Psalm 103

| 04/19/18 |

Amos, though a minor prophet like Joel, is unlike Joel in that he is clear about the era when he writes, sometime between 790 B.C. and 739 B.C.. The biggest event in Israel's history in that century is the Assyrian captivity that happens right around 722 B.C. While warning about Assyria's imminent victories over and humiliation of the northern kingdom are in view, Amos wants to clarify to Israel that it is in fact God judging this people. In fact, God begins to speak through Amos, a shepherd and unlikely mouthpiece,the Lord's impending  judgement against Israel's neighbors. God judges Israel's neighbor nations, as one commentator wisely puts it (see ESV study Bible notes), for breaking laws that would have been widely understood, whereas God punishes Israel for breaking Torah. For example, it is common understanding that tearing open the wombs of pregnant women is worthy of terrible punishment (Amos 1:13). Right and wrong, good and bad, and ultimately God's justice and judgement isn't just for a select group of people alone. In fact God has shown us what is right and wrong, even apart from special revelation (Romans 1:32). God's judgement isn't arbitrary or capricious, but based on revelation, specific and general. Therefore we can say, that righteousness and justice are the foundations of God's throne (Psalm 89:14) forever and ever.  

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Joel 3, Psalm 100

| 04/17/18 |

The general experience for a person in the United States is to have moderate levels of abundance, at least when we consider human history and our entire globe. Most of us don't worry whether we can buy groceries this week, albeit for various reasons. Thus it is hard for us to get as excited about promises for mountains to drip with wine, and having hills flow with milk (Joel 3:18). After all, our grocery stores flow with these things. The message of Joel, to a people that could be devastated by a bad crop, was that after their time of devastation due Israel's wickedness, those days of scarcity would be a distant memory. We can relate to this hope, as we still worry about paying the bills, and whether our job will  be available next year, or whether we will enough retirement saving. Joel promises all such concerns will be far removed from the conscious of those that have been faithful to the Lord. Though the final day of the Lord comes first, our hope is steadfastly fixed on the day where milk and wine will flow on God's mountain  

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Joel 1&2, Psalm 99

| 04/16/18 |

Joel 1&2, Psalm 99 Joel, out of the prophets, is very difficult to date accurately, for he doesn't obviously refer to particular events. However, many see negative references to Edom as evidence that this work was written some time in the mid-500's B.C. reflecting the Edomite mistreatment to Judeans during the Babylonian captivity. In today's reading, Joel refers to God's judgement over Israel. This is not a novel topic in our recent readings. However, note how when Joel speaks of the day of the Lord, which often has connotations of negative judgement, there is a promise of God performing gracious miraculous deeds, mostly due the Spirit being poured out on people, leading to prophecies and dreams. Of course Peter, hundreds of years later in Acts 2, saw the day of Pentecost as fulfilling this prophecy from Joel. The evidence that Peter is correct is shown when Peter preached that same day and 3000 people came to faith in Jesus, thus fulfilling the promise that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Joel 2:32). Let's recognize that in Joel the promise of God's dramatic work is closely associated with the day of the Lord, and also note the reality that Pentecost was impossible apart from the crucifixion and resurrection. This is significant, for that world changing two-part event prior to Pentecost is a signpost of the final day of the Lord, as it shows us what God values most on the final day of Judgement. This event also shows us out how anyone can have hope in the final day of the Lord. God values the name of Jesus, and anyone who calls on that name, the name of Jesus, will be saved.  

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Hosea 14, Psalm 96

| 04/13/18 |

Twice in the first two verses, Israel is told to return to the Lord. This returning is the same as what we call repentance, that is turning away from idolatry and evil, while moving back towards God. As one writer has pointed out, faith and repentance are flip sides of the same coin. To turn towards God, we must turn away from what the Lord says is evil. Just as someone traveling to downtown Chicago called to visit their friend in Evanston must turn away from going downtown to go back to Evanston, so the two actions of faith and repentance are one. Today, may faith and repentance mark our lives.  

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Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 94

| 04/11/18 |

God declares love for Israel expressed in founding her as a nation and calling her out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). We know that God called Israel as a people through Isaac and Abraham to fulfill a vocation to make God known and thus be a blessing to the nations. Yet Israel failed in this calling just like Adam and Eve before the fall of creation. Hosea 11:2-11 highlights Israel's many evils, intentionally contrasting their deeds to God having called them out of Egypt by great works. The particulars of Hosea 11:1-11 are important to remember when we read in the Gospel of Matthew the direct quote from Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I Called my son” (Matthew 2:15) In Matthew, Joseph took Mary and Jesus as a child to Egypt to avoid Herod until Herod's death. So when Matthew claims that scripture is fulfilled in Jesus going down to Egypt we need to understand something of what it means for Jesus to fulfill scripture. In Hosea, Israel is the son God takes out of Egypt prior to set aside for the work of making God's glory manifest. So in Matthew, Jesus is being intentionally portrayed as doing and being what Israel refused to do and be. God called Jesus out of Egypt just like Israel, but Jesus would not fail to bring the light of God to the nations. Praise be the Lord.  

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Hosea 9:10-10:15, Psalm 93

| 04/10/18 |

Hosea 10:1 tells of that Israel was fruitful and prosperous, which led to them using their prosperity for idolatry and wickedness. In a few words we are presented with a revelation that has been proved over and over in human history. We don't handle prosperity very well. Though many of us assume while we are in our struggles, like financial hardships, or difficult workplaces that if God would just put us in a better spot, we would do more to honor the Lord. The truth is, as Israel shows, it takes great grace to handle times of plenty and remain true to our God. Sure, poverty doesn't necessarily do us any favors either (Proverbs 30:8). But to stay on point, we must abolish from our mind any idea that good circumstances leads to greater faith. On the contrary, our tendency in times of success is to give ourselves credit for what God has done. Since it is true that prosperity doesn't lead to stronger faith and vital obedience, let us pursue God, or rather receive God's pursuit with joy no matter how much is in our piggy banks or how well we like our neighborhood.  

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Hosea 8:1-9:9, Psalm 92

| 04/09/18 |

The Biblical statement you reap what you sow is made more terrifying with the words, “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7) God is making plain that Israel has sown idolatry and wickedness, thus evil and destruction is imminent for them. This reaping and sowing principle is absolutely true. If you spend your life smoking cigarettes, lung cancer is likely. If you neglect your children, chances are they will neglect you or disrespect you when older. The Bible teaches this principle, and everywhere assumes its reality in the fabric of creation. That doesn't diminish that we don't reap all that we sow, nor does all that we sow lead to the whirlwinds we deserve. God ultimately trumps the reaping and sowing principle with grace. Though our sins were scarlet, God will make us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). As we read about the sowing principle, we delight in the obviousness of its truth, while still marveling that often and in the most important ways God intervenes to circumvent this principle, most definitively on the cross. Though we sowed the wind, Christ endured the whirlwind of human evil that we might be rescued, to the praise of our glorious God and Father. Amen.  

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Hosea 5:8-7:16, Psalm 91

| 04/08/18 |

If you stopped midway through Hosea 6:1 you would read, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces.” Not the best argument. However, we know that there is more to be said as Hosea continues, “but he will heal us; he has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds.” Though hope is embedded in this plea, lets notice that Hosea doesn't have a simplistic view of God that states, “God would never do us harm.” Hosea recognizes that the judgement that falls upon Israel, leads them to exile, and culminates in shame and ruin has all been done by the Lord's hand. Still, if God is responsible for their calamity, there is only one hope for safety and bona fide protection. Like Israel, we only have one refuge where we can turn in trouble and heartache. So whatever God has done in your life, let us turn to the Lord, for our King alone has healed us “by His wounds.” (Isaiah 53:5)  

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Hosea 3:1-5:7, Psalm 90

| 04/07/18 |

Infidelity is the theme of our reading today. Rather, infidelity in light of painstaking fidelity is the main focus. Hosea's call from God to take Gomer back at cost to himself from out of prostitution sets the stage for God's descriptions of Israel's infidelity and the patience the Lord will show. Many are offended at the depiction of disloyalty and comparing it to prostitution, but the Old Testament writers do not hesitate to draw this parrallel. Even today, in our sexually promiscuous culture, the idea of a woman who has sufficient finances prostituting herself while married to an honorable and good man with whom she has children would still be considered by many a great evil. It always been seen this way, by the grace of God. Also by the grace of God, the Lord communicates how great our evil is through this imagery, that we might see the grace of our King. Like Hosea brings Gomer back, so God will bring those called by His name into right relationship with Him.  

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Hosea 1-2, Psalm 89

| 04/06/18 |

God has asked prophets in past reading to take dramatic action to demonstrate the Lord's work and character before the eyes of Israel. Jeremiah carried his yoke, and Ezekiel laid in the same area for an extended period of time. God hasn't asked anyone to do what YHWH asks Hosea to do. God calls Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman, someone who is unreliable and unfaithful. So Hosea married Gomer, and together they had children. Then God calls Hosea to give names to his three children that would be a sign to Israel of how YHWH relates to them. But what it would it be like to go to school and be called “not loved” and “not my people”? Through Hosea's family and the particulars of these dramatic actions, God is showing Israel who have they have been (unfaithful) and how God should relate to them (without love and rejecting them as a people). But like Hosea could name a child “not loved” and still show her love, so God will show Israel love even though she doesnt deserve it. Wrapped in God's harsh words, are words of tenderness and provision for the future. Though none of us would like to be called to do what Hosea does, he does get a unique perspective on the radical love of God.  

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Daniel 12:5-13, Psalm 86

| 04/03/18 |

Daniel wonders after seeing many visions, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled.” (Daniel 12:6) The man clothed in linen responded with a message Daniel didn't understand about “a time, times and a half time” which prompted one last question about the outcome of these visions. This conversation concludes with directions to Daniel to go about his business, for these events will certainly transpire, even if he can't understand their meaning in entirety. The question Daniel first asked about a length of time is a question we have been asking as a church since Jesus first ascended to the right hand of the Father. We, with the Psalmist cry out, “How long oh Lord” (Psalm 13:1), and with the martyrs of Revelation that say, “How long, Sovereign LORD, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10) Like Daniel, we see the upheaval God guarantees in scripture and the ending of all wars and we long for the days of judgement to come and go so we can be fully restored. In the meantime, let's go about our business of walking in fidelity with God.  

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Daniel 10-12:4, Psalm 85

| 04/02/18 |

From Daniel's vantage point, all that was prophesied in chapters 10-11 would happen in the future. Many writers will have lengthy disagreements in identifying the particular kingdoms of those chapters. No matter those disagreements, everyone believes Daniel 12:1-4 looks towards what still lies in our future today, towards the final resurrection. What Ezekiel 37 spelled out through describing dry bones taking on flesh, so Daniel here describes a day when God will raise all the dead for judgement, and some will enjoy everlasting life while others will experience everlasting condemnation. To reiterate what I said in Ezekiel 37, this is one of the first times in scripture that God clearly reveals what happens after death. That doesn't mean God changed his plan, or people didn't have questions about death, but rather that God chose to reveal certain aspects of redemption in steps. This is called by theologians “progressive revelation.” This concept has its pitfalls, but understood properly accurately conveys that the Bible tells us a story, and like any good book, doesn't give away everything at first. Certainly, because of Daniel 12:1-4 and Ezekiel 37 many faithful Jews came to believe in what is called “the resurrection”, that is God's day of ultimate judgement. In fact the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus' day had lengthy arguments about whether this event would take place. Early Christians were in the Pharisees' camp on this matter. Now, after Jesus' rising from the dead, we actually believe this event predicted in Daniel has already in a sense begun. Jesus is the first to rise from the dead, proving God's judges Him righteous, and now all those that place their faith in Him will enjoy that same judgement. Jesus is always the end (goal) of the story.  

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Daniel 7-9, Psalm 84

| 04/01/18 |

Daniel's visions in chapters 7-9 are the stuff of end times conferences, eschatological musings, and prophecy study Bibles. Parsing the details of all the particulars in Daniel is worth the effort, but all conclusions about what particular kingdoms Daniel's visions refer to must remain tentative, unless we are specifically told in the text (like with the Media-Persian empire). However, what is certain from our reading is that identity of the figure like a son of man in Daniel 613-14 who would reign over the nations became the source of major theological discussion in second Temple Judaism. Of course, many believed that this character would be the messiah, but others wondered why this figure is called “one like a son of man”, for doesn't that imply that this person simply appears to be human? Into the sorts of questions Jewish leaders had about the son of man approaching the Ancient of days, Jesus in his fateful mock hearing before the Jewish leaders on the night he was betrayed answered the question if he was the messiah with a rattling response. Jesus said, “ “I am….And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62) Like Daniel's vision of the ancient of Days is a guarantee that the nations will bow to the true King one day, Jesus is warning those trying Him for blasphemy that they will see God's vindication of Jesus, the Son of man the nations will worship. Years before Jesus, Daniel's dreams disturbed him as he could not make sense of it all. Today, we are better positioned to put the pieces together, and when we all see the son of man coming on the clouds, we will finally know the meanings of all these visions. Until then, the big point stands, God reigns over all, and God has handed the nations over to this Son of man to rule, so let us worship the one that will come on the clouds.  

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Daniel 6, Psalm 83

| 03/31/18 |

When Daniel is in the den of lions, God sends his angel to protect Daniel. Now if you will recall, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a furnace, there was a fourth person in the fire with them. It serves to reason that Daniel's angel would have been the same person, and very likely the “angel of the Lord”. Of course, if that is the identity of the one in the fire, then that seems to exclude the possibility that a pre-incarnate visitation of God the Son occurred in Daniel 3. We must not move too fast. If you will recall, when we read earlier in the scriptures about the angel of the Lord, we noted that some speculate even this angel is actually a pre-incarnate visitation of the second person of the Trinity. The word angel simply means a messenger of God, and of course could refer to one among the spiritual beings, angels. Elsewhere, though, angel can refer to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10) and church messengers (see Revelation 1-3). Why make mention of all this? Because I think it is interesting, and even speculation, so long as we acknowledge it is speculation, helps us make some sense of the pieces of the Bible. No matter how we piece together the angel of the Lord and the figure(s?) that appear with the exilic Jewish leaders, we can note that God is with His people “in the fiercest trial and storm.” Even if we disagree on some details, the story of scriptures main drive is to send us back into the Father's embrace through the blood shed on Calvary. Let us heed the word then, and enjoy that God is with us, even in the fire and even in the den of lions.  

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Daniel 5, Psalm 82

| 03/30/18 |

If you have ever wondered about the origin of the phrase “The writing is on the wall”, then look no further than today's reading from Daniel. Of course this phrase now refers to any ominous signs that misfortune awaits someone. In Daniel 5, the writing on the wall was present before there was any writing on the wall. We see that Nebuchadnezzar's son is drinking wine at a large party from the goblets God allowed Babylon to ransack from Israel's temple. Before the king sees this hand writing words of warning Daniel will soon interpret, the reader knows this is a terrible mistake. Though God is using Babylon as a means to judge Israel and teach the chosen people problems that comes with dishonoring God, that doesn't give them impunity to act as they please. Such desecration of God's sacred objects is not tolerated, and even after Belshazzar responds with deference to Daniel's interpretation of the writing on the wall, his days, actually his minutes are numbered. He dies that very night. No matter one's lofty position, or even how God intends to use a particular people, no one can ignore God's holiness without grave consequences. Praise God that this warning serves as writing on the wall to call us away from evil and to reverence of God's holy name.  

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Daniel 4, Psalm 81

| 03/29/18 |

God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Sometimes, the proud benefit greatly from such opposition. That is the case with Nebuchadnezzar. Though he had a dream, interpreted properly by Daniel to predict his humiliation, Nebuchadnezzar did not heed Daniel's warning to repent and show kindness to the oppressed. Thus Nebuchadnezzar, in arrogance, declares the work of his own hands wonderful and the kingdom under his stewardship evidence of his personal greatness. God immediately fulfills the warnings Daniel interpreted and expels Babylon's king to live as a beast with the animals for seven times, which likely means seven years. During this time, the king is insane, and who knows how the kingdom is governed. Whatever the situation during this time, when the king is restored, his eyes are open to the true majesty on high and declares God's goodness and reign over the entire world. Nebuchadnezzar is in a much better situation than before. My response to Nebuchadnezzar's story is this: if God's goal in humbling my pride is to draw me into richer fellowship with the Lord, then by all means, humble away!  

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Daniel 3, Psalm 80

| 03/28/18 |

Yesterday, I pointed out that Israel's difficult days in exile demonstrates hard times can be a great time of strengthening for God's people. Today's reading also shows us that persecution with great opportunities. This story of Jewish exiles threatened with a fiery furnace if they refuse to bow down to the Babylonian KIng's idol demonstrates the opportunity to reflect God's light in dark times. When threatened one last time with execution, these three men confidently says to Nebuchadnezzar that they will not bow down because they are confident God would rescue them. It doesn't matter if God will not rescue, however, they will still not bow. These three gave great testimony to their confidence in God, and thus a great witness, even before we know what God will do. This is important, because not all that must make this choice are spared by God. But everyone that is mistreated for Jesus' name can reflect God's glorious greatness by refusing to bend the knee to false idols in spite of possible consequences. You see, these three men, who took on the Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to assimilate culturally, never assimilated religiously. They knew there was one God, and not matter what YHWH chose to do with their life, they were not going to back down and betray the King. Can we say the same?  

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Daniel 2, Psalm 79

| 03/27/18 |

The organization of the Old Testament can throw off our chronology. Remember, for example, that Daniel's early years in Babylon precede the events of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. If we keep this in mind, we can start to note a pattern after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. In many ways, the Jewish people become more faithful after the fall of their kings than before. Instead of relying on military strength or roaring success, these exiles learn to trust in the Lord their God while suffering. Daniel is in quite the precarious position in today's reading, from a human standpoint, since he is facing imminent execution. That makes the control Daniel exudes in his situation remarkable. Confident in God's provision, even provision of hidden dreams, Daniel delivers both Nebuchadnezzar's dream and interpretation, along with a stunning description of God's Lordship over all things. Dear church, do not miss the point. God's people do well, often better, when we don't have power, when we can't rely on popularity or riches. In days where the church's influence has diminished in the West, and apathy, if not disdain, towards Christianity has grown, we don't have to see our time as irredeemably bleak. Certainly Daniel's situation was far worse than any of us regularly face or likely will endure. No matter, God was on the throne then. like now. That should make us confident that whatever the waves of history's ebbs and flows cast in our direction, God will be our strength.  

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Daniel 1, Psalm 78

| 03/26/18 |

In seminary and academic circles, there is a fancy word for locating the meaning of the Biblical texts and that word is “exegesis”. This word derives from the Greek word for interpretation, and the main job of exegesis is to do the hard work of determining an author's meaning and intentions. Daniel 1 has a history of being interpreted in ways that fail in this fundamental task. For example, many people have made a big deal out of the diet of Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1:8-16). Though we should not be surprised that modern food science supports Daniel's diet as very healthy, that is not what the author is trying to do in Daniel 1. This chapter is written to show the favor God's faithful servants in exile have when true to God, even when going against the Babylonian King's commands. Pre-exilic Israel had been mostly an unmitigated disaster save a few loyal prophets, priests, and Kings. Now in exile, we see the way God sustains Daniel and those who will trust in YHWH alone in the worst of times. In fact, Daniel and his friends are a microcosm of what Israel should have been all along, that is a blessing to the nations. So, in celebrating Daniel's diet, let us decide to make Daniel's main direction the focus of our readings.  

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Ezekiel 47-48, Psalm 75

| 03/23/18 |

Ezekiel 47 begins with a description of a river flowing from the promised future temple, which gives water to vegetation capable of healing disease. This imagery at the end of Ezekiel is also present at the end of our Bible, in Revelation 22. There, a river flows from the throne of God and nourishes the tree of life growing on all sides of the river, which gives healing to the nations. The point is clear in both Ezekiel and Revelation. Where God dwells with the prince, where a new temple (God and the Lamb) will be a place that extends healing beyond its walls. Restoration will characterize the new throne of God and the blessings of God's presence will reach everywhere this water goes. Ezekiel is painting a global picture of Israel's future, promising that one day they will enjoy all the promises God has made to their people and the world will enjoy God's promises kept. The best promise of all is that this city, Jerusalem restored, will be called by a new name: “The Lord is There”. Nothing could be better, for as we see, problems come from Israel when God's presence can no longer endure human evil. In this temple, God's presence will drive away evil and its necessary consequences for good. Ezekiel ends like our Bible, with promises of our eternal good if we will trust in the Lord.  

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| 03/22/18 |

The word apocalypse is the greek word for revelation. Though the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, many scholars argue by the time of the exilic prophets and throughout the time of second Temple Judaism, many Jewish writers and teachers were steeped in what has been called an apocalyptic mindset. That is, many believed God's revelation about the future and God's hidden work in the present moment revealed in various ways absolutely transforms our everyday lives. Consider how this way of thinking is reflected in God's revelation of the prince and other princes that will dwell in the new temple without oppressing anyone (Ezekiel 45:8). Immediately after God reveals the future prince's work, God beckons Israel's current “princes” to lead in justice. Since God's great messianic prince will rule in righteousness and equity, so Israel's current leaders should follow suit, or better, precede the better prince's work by walking according to his ways. As believers, we should adopt the same mindset. For example the apostle Paul tells us we are already seated in the heavens at the right hand of the Father, in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7). In one obvious sense, we are still here on earth. But in another more powerful sense, because of Christ in us, we are given the same access to the Father in prayer, by the power of the Spirit that Jesus enjoys. God's revelation of Jesus' work and the revelation of our future, absolutely transforms our lives today. May we live today in light of God's various apocalypses about God's delight in Jesus and the consummation that awaits us at the end of all things.  

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Ezekiel 43-44, Psalm 73

| 03/21/18 |

As we approach the end of Ezekiel, let's recall how God's glorious presence left Judah's temple in the early chapters of the book. God's Holiness wasn't respected, and the temple had become a place characterized by idolatry. The Lord would not tolerate this evil, so God abandons the temple built by Solomon. As Ezekiel sees a vision of a temple where only the prince (the Davidic messiah of Ezekiel 34:23-24 and Ezekiel 37:24-25) can enter through its front gates, we learn that God's presence will forever reign in this new temple. There, Israel will throw off all of its evil practices and goodness will reign. One must ask the question, however, what will have changed in that new temple to make such a difference. Though God with us is the hope of all the scriptures, God's presence had already been manifest in Solomon's temple. Yet Israel rebelled. So it is reasonable to wonder why anything would be different the next time God's presence abounds in the temple Ezekiel envisions. Of course a big part of the answer to the difference revolves around the work of this prince, the one that will lead Israel and will be part of God's purposes to give Israel a new heart. Without this transformation, Israel will bring their sins and evil to the new temple that Ezekiel envisions. As we learn in the New Testament, we will truly dwell with God in a place where a temple is unnecessary because God will be our temple, and we will be people that have been temples for God's Holy Spirit. We see as scripture unfolds the centrality of God in our salvation, in every respect. Praise be to our glorious Lord.  

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Ezekiel 41-42, Psalm 72

| 03/20/18 |

Interpreters almost universally agree that Ezekiel's visions of God's restored temple points towards our future. What is questioned is how Ezekiel's descriptions fit into the Bible's depiction of the millennial reign and the new heaven and new earth. In particular, some of the details Ezekiel foresees would seem to be obsolete, especially the sacrificial system and the priesthood at the end of days. The writer of Hebrews, for example, goes to great lengths to tell us that the sacrificial system and priesthood that are mentioned Ezekiel 42:13-14 should be unnecessary this side of the cross. Jesus as our true high priest in the order of Melchizedek has laid down his life as final and ultimate sacrifice that should make both the Levitical priesthood and Old Testament sacrifices superfluous, if not contrary to the Gospel. There are some matters of interpretation on this passage about which am uncertain, specifically questions about how precisely symbols of this new temple correspond to our future reality. Whatever we make of Ezekiel's vision of the temple and whether it describes the millennial reign or new heaven and new earth, I believe with confidence the sacrificial system he foresees merely conveys the continuity of God's future temple with the Old temple and tabernacle. Animal sacrifices will not still take place, but rather, Ezekiel is letting his Jewish audience know, God will dwell in this new temple which will be Holy as before, because of God's presence.

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Ezekiel 40, Psalm 71

| 03/19/18 |

Just as Ezekiel's prophecy about Gog and Magog looks toward the future, so today's vision of a temple restored looks forward to God's better future. If you will recall, at the beginning of this book, G0d transported Ezekiel to see a vision of God departing the temple in judgement against Judah and her wicked leaders. Now Ezekiel will begin to detail at the end of his book what the restored Temple will mean for God's people one day. Over our next few readings, I will analyze a few options for what Ezekiel's descriptions mean for Israel's future, but let me just say today that as judgement against evil nations is part of God's future plans, so God's restoration also includes grace and mercy forever. After chapter upon chapter of judgement against those peoples that have established themselves as God's enemies, let's rejoice that as friends, God also has restoration and peace in mind for us.

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| 03/18/18 |

Interpreting Ezekiel 38-39 has always been contentious because the identity of Gog and Magog is widely debated. Usually, when reading prophecies, we can understand what eras are meant when the writers speak of “latter years” (Ezekiel 38:8) because we know what nations are being described. Since we don't have this information and these two chapters speak to a definitive return of Israel to their land and blessings for all the remnant (Ezekiel 38:25-29), I prefer to see Gog and Magog as describing a still future nation or people that will be led by Satan at the end of time (see Revelation 20:7-9). Thus the events being described in these two chapters are still yet to happen, and these nations aren't the Greeks or Romans, but a people not yet identified. These two chapters of Ezekiel prepare the way for the prophecies of ultimate judgement on evil nations as in both Ezekiel 39:17-20 and Revelation 19:17-21 speak of birds feasting on the carcasses of God's defeated enemies. Part of how God will make things right will be through definitively defeating enemies. May we continue to love this God of righteousness and judgement!

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EZEKIEL 36:16-37:28, PSALM 69

| 03/17/18 |

We have been reading the Bible together now for almost 15 months. Up until now we haven't seen anything like Ezekiel 37:1-14. This scriptures offers more than the promise of Israel's restoration after the Babylonian captivity. In fact, this prophecy looks beyond Israel's years and for the first time in scripture speaks concretely to life after death. Up until now, many of scripture's writers have been mostly unsure of what happens to us after we die. Even David, who seems to hope in life after death (2 Samuel 12:23) often will declare in the Psalms that the dead cannot praise God. God reveals to Ezekiel that this is mistaken. God will raise the dead some day and establish Israel in the land. Since the Bible will say much more about the day when God will give flesh to bones, I will wait to flesh out the details of this event. Even Daniel, the next Book Bible, will give us some more clarity on the particulars about when God brings people from the grave. For now, I want to focus on how the Bible reveals truth progressively. As the scriptures unfold, God reveals more truth to us, about the God's nature, our future, and thus how we shall live. In the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we see a great deal of ignorance about the identity of the true God. Though in Ezekiel's day there is plenty of Trinitarian truth left to unpack, the core attributes and character of God has already been manifest. Still, a great deal of God's plans for Israel and humanity were left uncertain. Ezekiel 37 is the first place where God unequivocally shows our future includes life after death. I believe this is significant for two reasons. One, this shows just how important this life is to God. For God patiently and progressively reveal resurrection plans to us, means God wants us to understand the value of our current bodies, world, and lives. Secondly, we can be thankful that this life isn't all that matters to God. Since we die, we need a hope that extends beyond our few days here. Praise God that even this is a matter over which the Lord is in control.

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EZEKIEL 35-36:15, PSALM 68

| 03/16/18 |

In ancient cosmology mountains were a region's holy place and considered representative of a people's power. So when the Bible speaks of Mt. Zion, it is often seen as a place where Judah draws special strength from God. So when God commands Ezekiel to speak against Mt. Seir and promises blessing for the mounts of Israel, God will reverse the fortunes of both nations represented by these mountains God will strengthen the people of Israel whose entire land and even their mountains have been utterly ransacked. Mt. Seir, on the other hand, representing the pride of Edom will be desolate and the people brought low. God's eschatological work is described at times in scripture is laying the hills low (see Isaiah 40:4). Mountains are God's creation and are beautiful places. But they also can represent our pride. The judgement of God God will confound the pride of every people or nation that places its trusts in anything, even the strength of their mountains, above the Lord of the nations. May we draw our the true King of Zion, whose heavenly mountain cannot be leveled and has infinite and abundant strength (see Romans 11:26).

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Ezekiel 34, Psalm 67

| 03/15/18 |

When God indignantly speaks of Israel's lack of good shepherds, the Lord is referring to Israel's kings, priests, and prophets. All of the people that should lead Israel in justice and righteousness were simply selfish. Because of the wickedness of Israel's leaders, God makes two promises of great consequence. The Lord promises, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord” and “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.  I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken”. (Ezekiel 34:15 and Ezekiel 34:23-24). God will be Israel's shepherd and so will God's servant David. Of course God doesn't mean David will come back from the dead, but rather God speaks of the messiah in David's family line. These promises accentuate the words of Jesus years comparing His ministry to that of the Pharisees years later in John 10 when He says, “14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus is God the Son and David, caring for His sheep by laying down His life. God is fulfilling all the promises of Ezekiel 34 through Jesus. With that in mind, I encourage you to re-read Ezekiel 34 and take time to read John 10 to see all the ways those two chapters overlap to paint a picture of God's great purposes in rescuing HIs sheep, in rescuing us from the jaws of our enemy.

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Ezekiel 33, Psalm 66

| 03/14/18 |

Our world is in need of so much security of various kinds that we don't relate  to the idea of one or two watchmen keeping eyes on the horizon for invading armies. We have, border control, radar, cyber-security and a million different fail safes in place. Still, think about how horrible it would be for someone working in air traffic control to say nothing after noticing two planes are on a collision course because of miscommunication.  Even that would be less evil than to be a watchman and to fail to warn others of impending doom. God tells Ezekiel he is like a watchman, knowing the truth of Judah's evil and the judgement God will bring. Ezekiel must speak the truth, Ezekiel must warn. The truth is, we are ambassadors of God's reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) and have a greater truth to share than even warning of invading armies. For us, telling the truth about God's creation purpose for humanity and desire to give us life everlasting is at stake, not to mention divine punishment. We are God's watchmen (and women). Let us take seriously the task of alerting the world to God's good news.

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Ezekiel 31-32, Ezekiel 65

| 03/13/18 |

Ezekiel's words to Pharaoh tells of foreign Assyria's greatness by describing them as a towering cedar. However, this cedar will be felled by “the ruler of the nations” (Ezekiel 31:11).  Ezekiel then makes clear that Egypt will fall like Assyria. This “ruler of the nations” is Babylon as we know from context and other similar biblical statements about Babylon's identity in this era. Jeremiah and Ezekiel spend a lot of time prophesying the destruction of these nations. So what do we do with this seeming onslaught of God's prophesied judgement? First, we repent of our pride, refusing to believe we have impunity from God's judgement as a people. We must also reject any hope outside of the grace of God that we will meet a different fate than these nations. Sin will be judged, and God will not be mocked. Finally, we must praise the Lord God almighty that Jesus bore the sins of all the world (Colossians 1:18-20). For divine judgement is what we deserve, but reconciliation is what we receive.

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Ezekiel 29-30, Psalm 64

| 03/12/18 |

When we list the powerful nations in the last few hundred, a few countries usually are mentioned: Russia, China, Japan, Germany, England, France, and of course the United States. No one would mention Egypt. Of course, this did not used to be the case. Egypt was one of the world's first superpowers and an empire that struck fear in the hearts of surrounding nations for about a thousand years. God promises to destroy Egypt at the hands of Babylon because of their evil and their association with evil Judah. God will make Egypt a “lowly kingdom” and “the lowliest of kingdoms” (Ezekiel 29:14-15). What God promised to do, God did, and Egypt has been a lowlier kingdom now for over 2,500 years. Nations, leaders, powers, and authorities seem great to us, but they are all only on a leash. God alone remains enthroned forever. May we as individuals bow the knee, and may our nation view itself with proper humility, recognizing that like any other great and powerful people, our country is far more vulnerable to implode and weaken than we think. Having said that, we pray, God protect us from ruin, but protect us most of all from as your people, the church, from rejecting your purposes in our lives. Amen

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Ezekiel 28, Psalm 83

| 03/11/18 |

The King of Tyre, like many ancient rulers, has been deified by himself and his people. That of course doesn't mean he is actually a god, just that he claims divinity. This is the height of presumption, though we see many other nations do this sort of thing in history, like the ancient Egyptians and Romans. That leaves one to wonder how any nation's propaganda machine could spin the defeat of a king's armies in battle, or worse, a King's humiliating death. This is the problem God promises to inflict on Tyre's king and people in Ezekiel 28. This king has elevated himself, and God will humble him in the sight of his people. God even mocks this king a bit when he asks this rhetorical question, “Will you then say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you?” (Ezekiel 28:9) On top of affronting the God of the universe, this king deludes himself and the people of Tyre. Such pride destroys people, for when any leader pretends to be more than human, eventually people will see through the facade. This leads to disillusionment and distrust, whether such pride comes from government officials that over promise and under deliver, or pastors that pretend like they are holier than they are. In response to all of this, let's affirm in our hearts the Biblical refrain that God shows mercy to the humble, but opposes the proud.

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Ezekiel 26-27, Psalm 62

| 03/10/18 |

Tyre is a port city that juts out into the Mediterranean in modern day Lebanon, which is north of Israel. God promises to bring nations against this city, “like the sea casting up its waves.” (Ezekiel 26:3) This imagery would be readily accessible to a people used to fearing strong winds and waves along with the repetitious beating of the sea against the shore. Tyre would be hit again and again by God's waves of destruction and judgement. But God still tells Ezekiel to write a lament for Tyre mostly highlighting how important Tyre was to trade for surrounding nations. It is interesting to me that God commands Ezekiel to lament a city God will destroy, and that this lament is mostly pre-occupied with Tyre's business. Perhaps I should not be surprised, for the scriptures constantly affirm God's love for even those the Lord judges. Moreover, the Lord pays attention to the work of humanity and does not treat work, civilization, and culture as unimportant in the story God is writing. Tyre's fall, while justified, is grievous, for God does not delight in punishing the wicked as we will see in Ezekiel 33 and because Tyre's destruction has brood consequences for many people. God's love is there even for the wicked, and our Kin has concern for the affairs of humanity. Let our hearts be in tune with God's in these matters.

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Ezekiel 25, Psalm 61

| 03/09/18 |

God always levels the playing field. Judah, and to a lesser extent Israel, have been the focus of God's warnings of gloom and doom. These children of Abraham have rejected their responsibility as God's people and God will not suffer such rampant rebellion. As the Lord judges the people chosen as a blessing to the nations, the surrounding peoples scoff. Though God is judging Judah and Israel, this doesn't mean those nations are off the hook. In fact, God deplores their insults of His chosen people. Like Ammon, Moab, and Edom, it is easy for us to imagine when others are suffering for their sins that they deserve scorn. For those that understand how the cross levels the playing field, seeing someone suffer for wrongdoing should do the opposite. We all deserve to suffer for sin and our particular sins, but we do not bear their weight as justice would demand. So when we see the misery of sin in others, let that not be an occasion to scorn or be proud, but to grieve the consequences of disregarding our Lord. Were it not for the grace of God, we would all be ruined. So we pray, God, let that truth seep into how we relate to sinners as God's church, full of sinners saved by grace.

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Ezekiel 23-24, Psalm 60

| 03/08/18 |

How do we reckon with the Bible's graphic imagery? Often related to this question, are discussions on whether the Bible's sometimes graphic nature justifies consuming most entertainment. In today's reading we have both graphic sexuality and violence (see Ezekiel 23:3,20, and 25). If I were to do a sound expository sermon on Ezekiel 23, I would have to give parental warning in advance. So why do Christians get so concerned about graphic entertainment when such imagery is in the Bible? Before I give two answers to that question, let me just remind that the main point of Ezekiel 23 is to explain just how horrendous Israel and Judah's evil has been. So that brings me to the first point. The Bible's graphic imagery exists to cause us to hate evil (like in Ezekiel 23) or delight in the good (like Song of Solomon causes us to delight in sex within marriage). Entertainment often, on the other hand, uses graphic imagery, descriptions, sounds, or effects to encourage us to delight in sin and despise the good. Secondly, and somewhat related, the Bible's descriptions are not superfluous. In Ezekiel 23, God is describing the vileness of spiritual adultery and explaining the real life consequences of such treachery. Entertainment typically could tell its story just as easily without any graphic images at all, or at least could tell its story better by showing us the gravity of its graphic imagery. There are a few good examples of graphic imagery in entertainment that I would argue has helped portray something powerfully, gravely, and arguably necessarily. Such artistic expression, I would argue is a fitting response to the way the Bible portrays its subject matter. It never delights in nor encourages sin, but when it describes sin it does so in a way that accentuates its gravity. Or when art celebrates the beautiful, it does so in a way that discourages misuse. I hope those thoughts lead to some healthy conversation. Do not be afraid to drop me an email to discuss these ideas.

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Ezekiel 21-22, Psalm 59

| 03/07/18 |

I fear for any generation that believes justice is possible without worship of the true God. Typically I don't take up this blog with social or philosophical discussion because I have such small space to make or defend controversial arguments. My argument isn't that an atheist has to care little about justice, but rather that whenever we see idolatry in scripture, injustice is always there as well. Ezekiel 22 is made up of God listing many of Israel's grave sins against each other interconnected with idolatrous practices. We should not be surprised to see, for example. priests reject God and mistreat widows, for such disregard of God leads to disregard of God's image bearers. For sure, people can, for different reasons, have a fairly reliable moral compass that leads them while having very mistaken views about the Lord. However, scripture is clear that without the Lord's intervention even the best of us, believer or non-believer, has a default concern to make ourselves #1 in the universe which leads subsequently to injustice towards others. So it isn't just the non-believer that needs to beware of idolatry, but the believer as well. This is shown by Israel's propensity to fall into injustice the minute they forsake their God.

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Ezekiel 20, Psalm 58

| 03/06/18 |

We have all heard the timeless wisdom, “To kill them with kindness.”  God intends to, in a sense, do this very thing to Israel. Ezekiel 20 is a message from God to Israel's elders largely reviewing Israel's history through the lens of God's fidelity juxtaposed with Israel's spiritual adultery. The end of this chapter promises God's deliverance of the exiles from foreign nations to vindicate the Lord's name. However, there is a dual purpose in God's rescue. Immediately after God promises to prove faithful and restore Israel to their land, the Lord says, “There you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done.” (Ezekiel 20:43) There is nothing like kindness to make us hate the evil things we have done, and God wills Israel to hate their evil deeds. Most have known the power of good deeds in response to bad deeds, love in the face of hate. It convicts and chastens. God knows what love can do and God loves Israel. There is no greater love than the love which gives its life for us. Though we loathe the evil that led Jesus to give His life for us, we must not stop there. May we be glad that Jesus doesn't repay us with evil, but with love and follow in his footsteps!

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Ezekiel 19, Psalm 57

| 03/05/18 |

Ezekiel 19 is a lament, we are told (Ezekiel 19:14). What is the writer lamenting? In a few words, the inadequacy of the leaders of Israel in the days of Ezekiel. We have been following Israel's history, and so the illustration of two cubs becoming strong lions that are taken to Egypt and Babylon respectively, is easy to understand. But the vineyard illustration, where Israel, the mother, has vines whose strength are taken away drives at the main point. We are told at one time there were branches that were worthy of a King's scepter (Ezekiel 19:11). Now the days have come where, “No strong branch is left on it fit for a ruler's scepter”. (Ezekiel 19:14) As bad as exile and humiliation is, their plight is worsened by the lack of leaders in Ezekiel's day fit to reign. Of course David's line will be removed from the throne shortly, as we learn from other books we have read. Still, there is great reason to lament when something much worse than bad circumstances has occurred. There are no leaders present to help the people see their way through these hard times; to show Israel how God is on the throne and to return in confidence to the Lord their God. Lament is the only appropriate response in such days.

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Ezekiel 17-18, Psalm 56

| 03/04/18 |

When Jesus told his disciples that a blind man was born without sight not because of this man's sins or the sins of his parents, this challenged the disciples understanding of generational sin and punishment (see John 9:1-3). Hundreds of years before Jesus, God taught Ezekiel a similar truth. Ezekiel 18, in repetitious fashion makes clear that a person is ultimately accountable for their sins, and their sins alone. This does not diminish God's promise to visit the sins of parents upon their children (see Deuteronomy 5:8-10). What it does is clarify that the way a parent's sins are visited upon their children is through passing on sin patterns and the general repercussions of evil. If a parent is ruthless with their children, chances are, apart from God's grace, that child will be harsh. If a mother is profligate with money, her child will be destitute. Both the consequences of sins and the patterns of sin can be handed down from one generation to the next. That doesn't mean I am responsible for my grandfather's adulterous ways. As Ezekiel 18 ends be declaring God's justice, we see yet again that God's justice is nuanced. God's ways are not easily explained in 140 or 280 characters (the length of tweets for those unfamiliar with social media). For teaching purposes it is always good to simplify truth, but that doesn't mean all truths are always so simple.

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Ezekiel 15-16, Psalm 55

| 03/03/18 |

Ezekiel 16 would be an obvious example of the Bible using extensive metaphor. In fact it is intentionally so. God does not intend to convey that he both adopted a biological baby girl then married her. Rather, the point of the extended imagery is to emphasize Israel's mistreatment and abandonment by the nations on the one hand, and God's lovingkindness on the other. The multiple metaphors allow God to drive home the depths of Israel's lechery. Consider these words, “You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.” (Ezekiel 16:17) Like a husband that gave his wife money for food and found she turned around and gave it her lover, in similar fashion Israel has been unfaithful to God. God's metaphors strike at the heart. That doesn't make them untrue, or merely emotional, rather they accurately describe Israel's evil in a way that mere description can't accomplish. Ezekiel, as a mouthpiece of God wants us to behold God's grace rejected and be appalled that anyone could do such a thing. To the degree we are appalled, may we turn our eyes on our own infidelity and have similar disgust.

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Ezekiel 14, Psalm 54

| 03/02/18 |

We see more repetitions in Ezekiel with a phrase used often in Ezekiel 14. When God speaks of the wickedness of idolatry God describes idolatry with this phrase: “set up idols in their hearts”. When I read this I questioned if God is implying that the idols these elders and other Israelites worshipped were merely spiritual and not physical. No scholar I read commented on that phrase, so I am left to guess a bit, but I think that the answer is beside the point. Physical idols and idols that we worship in our minds can captivate our hearts, the center of our will and desires. The problem with any object of worship that is not God comes when it captures our hearts. There is nothing less suitable to God's creatures, and especially God's chosen people than that their hearts be supremely captivated by anything made by the Lord of Hosts. The evil of such idolatry is so great that it brings the harshest judgement from God. In our world, where so many people treat religion as a personal, mostly innocuous choice, as God's people we must show in our worship and invitation the necessity of worshipping YHWH alone.

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Ezekiel 12:21-13:23, Psalm 53

| 03/01/18 |

Repetition tells us a lot about the main intent of a particular book of the Bible. One repetition that has already been mentioned in Ezekiel are the many variations on the statement, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” I see this variation three times in today's reading (Ezekiel 13:9,14 , 23) What if I told you God's wrath could bring knowledge similar to the insight gained from God's love? Both can lead us to know that God is Lord. In fact, justice, mercy, righteousness, and grace can all be agents of God to display that God is the Lord. When God punishes Judah, it isn't simply punitive. Rather God intends that as a people they would recover the knowledge given them through law, temple, and revelation that there is one Lord of all. Though it is God's kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), there are many ways that God makes it clear that there is only one Lord. The repetition of God's desire that Israel know God is the Lord shows the main priority of this book. May we recognize that experiential knowledge of God as Lord isn't simply important in Ezekiel, but the goal of God's entire book, the Bible. You were made for no greater or different purpose than to lovingly know and glorify your Lord. Keep it simple today, for it is that simple.

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Ezekiel 11:1-12:20, Psalm 52

| 02/28/18 |

No matter how bleak the prophets become, they always offer hope. Ezekiel sees evil men doing evil things and is told by God to prophesy judgement and doom. Ezekiel obeys and the cycle continues. But God also brings words of comfort through Ezekiel to those in exile. The Lord promises to bring the exiles back to the land. But this wouldn't be a good enough promise on its own, because Judah could return to the same idolatry and subsequent punishment again. God ensures Ezekiel this time, things will be different. The Lord say,s “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). God will bring Israel back to their land and perform open heart surgery. Their new hearts will not be the same type of heart, but rather represent a remade person with desires bent towards God. Ezekiel declares God's intentions that we now know only come to fruition through the sacrificial death of Jesus that cleanses us and by the sending of the Holy Spirit to regenerate hearts. This is Ezekiel's version of the same promise given through Jeremiah that God would write the law on our hearts. Both prophets do not see the day God promises, but they are given hope by the God who comes through even when all seems lost.

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| 02/27/18 |

2 Chronicles 2-7 is essential  to understand the significance of Ezekiel 9-10. In 2 Chronicles Solomon begins building God's temple according to patterns established by the previous tabernacle. God's glory descends upon the temple in a cloud such that this presence prevents the priests from accomplishing their duties. In this moment God's special sovereign presence has come so that heaven collides with earth when the people of God have a unique representation of God's heavenly throne in their midst. So when God judges Judah in Ezekiel 9 and begins to hover above the cherubim en route to leaving the temple in Ezekiel 10, we realize that what is promised in 2 Chronicles 7 is coming true. I quote at length: “This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?' 22 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.'” (2 Chronicles 7:21-22). Ezekiel's vision in yesterday's reading showed what was happening in God's temple The idolatry warned against has become rampant, and prior to God's allowing Solomon's temple to be destroyed, God's presence leaves the temple. First God abandons the temple, then the temple will follow. This situation pictures life without God, it cannot last, physically or spiritually. Judah will soon see the terrible repercussions of their choices. May there predicament warn us about taking lightly the temple that was destroyed and rebuilt in three days or the kindness of God in making us temples for God's Holy Spirit. Paul applies the presence of God's Spirit in our lives clearly in Ephesians 4:30 when he tells us, “ And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”.

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Ezekiel 8, Psalm 50

| 02/26/18 |

Ezekiel 8 would make great film. While in captivity in the land of Babylon, Ezekiel is visited by what has been translated as “a fiery figure”. This figure transports this prophet in “visions of God” to see Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:3). In this vision Ezekiel sees what is actually taking place in Jerusalem, hundreds of miles from Ezekiel's actual location. What Ezekiel sees is very straightforward, for Jerusalem is full of rampant idolatry. This apex, or rather the nadir, of Ezekiel's vision is when people in the temple of God choose to face away from God's Holy Sanctuary and worship the sun. God then asks Ezekiel a question, effectively asking if such massive disregard for God's Holiness in worship alongside of widespread violence should be met with indifference by God. The answer to this question is clear and shows why God is right to ignore Judah's prayers, “even if they shout in my ears” (Ezekiel 8:18). The point is clear, God is not one, among many deities, that can be called upon in time of trouble. As the famous line says, “If God is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” This basically gets at the point, that God will not be mocked by idolatry, overlook evil, and then be one lifeline among many in times of trouble. However, the truth is, like we learn in Jeremiah, when people are this far gone, they don't seem to truly come back to God at all. Rather, they would rather stay proud, ignore God and never cry out. Lord, forbid that we would ever become so blind to our great evils. Amen.

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Ezekiel 6-7, Psalm 49

| 02/25/18 |

Both Ezekiel 6 and 7 end with this line, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Both of these chapters describe God's promises to move in wrath against Judah including descriptions of this judgement. God's blessings for Israel wasn't enough over the centuries for them to pursue knowledge and fidelity with their Maker. So they will find out about God's character the hard way. I always tell people, “There are children that learn fire is hot by believing their parents, and there are children that find out by touching the fire.” Israel is going to learn that God is not mocked by playing with fire. God's wrath against evil is pure and good, for evil must be addressed by any truly loving God. That much is straightforward. Like fire keeps us warm, and helps us cook food, so God's fiery wrath against evil will protect our world from being plunged into disarray. With that in mind, we pray, “God allow us learn through faith the blessings of trusting You at your word, rejecting the power of sin, and experiencing your goodness through obedient trust!”

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Ezekiel 4-5, Psalm 48

| 02/24/18 |

Ezekiel's theological theater is not the first time one of the prophets act out God's messages. We remember Jeremiah's ox yoke, for example. But it is hard to remember a more extreme picture than that what is painted in Ezekiel 4. First Ezekiel draws on stone a picture God's impending judgment on Judah. Though the disaster Ezekiel draws is graphic, what Ezekiel does next is just gross. It is not that the food God commands Ezekiel to eat that is gross, though it certainly isn't appetizing. Rather, the thought of Ezekiel being told to lie on his side and portray the bearing of sins for Israel and JUdah during a 430 day period leaves one to question much about this situation? Did Ezekiel get bed sores? How did Ezekiel use the restroom? These questions are beside the point as the scarcity of details indicate. Ezekiel is so humbled by the vision of God's glorious presence, everything God commands is completed. However, after hearing that God tells Ezekiel to cook bread over human excrement to emphasize the defiled food Israel will eat, Ezekiel begs God not to make him eat defiled food. God grants this request for Ezekiel as he is still beholden to God's laws, simultaneous to desiring fidelity to God. As bad as Ezekiel's drama will appear to his audience, it will be nothing compared to the destruction faced by those in Judah like Jeremiah's contemporaries. God's will, spoken or acted out, will come to pass. Even if we don't always like what we read, we must take the scriptures message seriously, for their is no more serious message.

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Ezekiel 2-3, Psalm 47

| 02/23/18 |

All of the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) have a “call from the Lord. Jeremiah began his book describing his call, whereas Isaiah prophesies for five chapters before being called while seeing God unveiled in glory. Ezekiel sees a vision of God's glory in chapter 1, then his call is in chapters 2-3. One unique aspect of Ezekiel's call is the strong warning against not delivering God's warnings. In fact, if Ezekiel fails to deliver the message of God's impending judgement, then Ezekiel will be held accountable. As the scripture says, God will “hold you (Ezekiel) accountable for their blood” (parentheses mine). In line with the theme of God's holiness that permeates this book, God expects this prophet to be Holy and true. As God's appointed mouthpiece, in and of itself a great honor, Ezekiel cannot deviate from this call without repercussion. Additionally, when Ezekiel warns anyone against sin, irregardless of their response, Ezekiel will save himself (Ezekiel 3:19, 21). Though the motivation for this call on Ezekiel is very different than both Jeremiah and Isaiah, God reveals Himself to and through Ezekiel just like the other prophets. Consider how God's unique interactions between the these different prophets shows the various ways God communicates. God, like any good parent, knows the differences in these prophets and what will motivate or inspire them. Without a doubt this has pastoral implications for us all, suggesting even God doesn't have a one size fits all approach to ministry and calling. May we then celebrate the multi-faceted wisdom and insight of the different ways scripture challenges and teaches throughout its many pages. They all work to build up the distinct people of God, to the glory of our God and King.

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Ezekiel 1, Psalm 46

| 02/22/18 |

We are told that Ezekiel receives his introductory vision in the fifth year of the exile of Jehoiachin. Remember, the book of Jeremiah ended with Jehoiachin being released from prison. Though roughly a contemporary of Jeremiah's, Ezekiel's location, and thus his messages will be directed at a very different group of people. The year of this vision is 593 B.C. and we know that since Ezekiel was near the Chebar Canal. Though he already in Exile in the Babylon's empire, he was not in the city of Babylon itself. This beginning vision is perplexing. To help, remember that Ezekiel speaks about his vision with phrases such as, “looked like”, “like”, and “appeared to be”. That means Ezekiel is doing his best to tell you how this vision struck him, not that he was literally looking at “burning coals” or a “vault” made of crystal. Ezekiel is doing his best to describe the indescribable. Ezekiel is witnessing the glory of God (Ezekiel 1:28) in the midst of a foreign land, far removed from the soon to be destroyed Temple of God. Ezekiel's extended vision will remind Israel of the glory of the one they have abandoned, but also provide hope that the Lord of the whirlwind is greater than their oppressors. This opening chapter sets the stage for the priestly Ezekiel to emphasize the glory of God and the need to be Holy to approach such a wonderful Creator.

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Lamentations 5, Psalm 43

| 02/19/18 |

That last chapter of Lamentations begins with a list of humiliating experiences God's people endure in their captivity and exile. This shows the multitude of problems that God has brought on Israel. This list crescendos into one insult, “for Mount Zion, which lies desolate, with jackals prowling over it.” (Lamentations 5:18) We can easily miss the point. Mount Zion is God's holy mountain, the place where King David was to dwell, and God's rule made known. These insults that God has brought upon Israel, as the writer is inferring, also brings insult upon God. This ending plea for the everlasting God to relent and show favor once again is founded upon the seriousness of the honor due the Lord of the Universe. Lament comes from a heart broken, but like all Bibical prayers, makes petitions based on God's character. God will not be mocked, and if those who experience mockery due the hand of God see how God's goodness and name are at stake with the tragedies around them, it makes complete sense to bring this to the Lord's attention in prayer. When we lament, cry out, or ask God for favor, we ultimately rest our pleas on the scriptural insistence that the glory of the Lord must be honored. So we pray in our evil days, especially for the church that God would see our internal destruction and our external derision and move to purify us from within by the Holy Spirit to display the glory of Jesus. Our days are evil, but we pray, “Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old.” (Lamentations 5:21)

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Lamentations 4, Psalm 42

| 02/18/18 |

Life is rough when you believe your people would have been better off if fire from the sky had obliterated your city. To suggest that God's punishment on Judah is greater than that of Sodom is to suggest this very thing (Lamentation 4:6). Images of gentle women boiling their children alive and children not having water to drink certainly lend credence to this claim. There is a greater suffering in a slow, humiliating suffering, than a quick and decisive end. Words cannot easily describe the horrors this writer witnessed. What Lamentations shows is that even horrific suffering need not lead us away from God, though we know God is author of our many afflictions. In fact, turning from God is what caused their trouble in the first place (4:13). God will punish sin, but God will also bring an end to Judah's suffering. So this writer implicitly invites the readers then and now to turn to God and away from the sin that brought these ultimately brings great suffering. May our suffering, just or seemingly unjust, cause us ever to turn to God and never turn away from the one who suffered in our place!

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Lamentations 3, Psalm 41

| 02/17/18 |

How could the person who says about God, “Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help” (Lamentations 3:10-11) claim just a few sentences later, ““The Lord is my portion;  therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:24) Waiting doesn't seem like such a good idea if God is going to mangle you like a bear! Occasionally the Psalms will hold both the heavy hand and the graceful hand of God together in tension, but nowhere quite like in Lamentations 3. Also, I don't know a place in scripture more clear in stating all that is good and bad under the sun happens by the work of the Lord. Add to this how deeply personal these words are, for the writer speaks in the first person both about God's afflictions and promised blessings. So when we hear the claim, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentation 3:38) we know this is not some disinterested, abstract claim about a distant sovereign. These words come from the mouth of one who has learned to shed tears of anguish when God's load is heavy, and tears of gladness when God's favor shines. As I tried to place myself in the shoes of the writer, and read this chapter from inside their eyes, reading that destruction and delight  both come from God, I cannot help but me moved to tears in reverence. Whatever God sends may we worship in complete surrender the Lord of all the earth.

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Lamentations 2, Psalm 40

| 02/16/18 |

Though Lamentations 2 describes the Babylonian invasion and exile, you will not find Babylon mentioned. Why is this? The entire perspective of this lament is that God is the active agent bringing the grief and desolation of Judah. The Lord even gives the altar into Babylon's hands that these enemies might celebrate in the house of the Lord (Lamentations 2:7). If one takes times to read this lament, and consider from the eyes that view children gasping for breath in the city streets and the elderly crying to the heavens for mercy, we might share in the writer's weeping  (Lamentation 2:11). Yesterday, I noted that biblical lament includes recognition of sin. I would also add that Biblical lament acknowledges God's agency and hand in all that happens under the sun, fortunate or destruction. This lament doesn't have a simplistic theology that teaches, “This isn't what God wanted.” In fact, this is exactly what God is doing and the writer is coming to terms with this truth. The chapter ends with an accusation against God that the Lord struck down the loved ones of this writer. It is clear that God is the one treating Judah like this (Lamentations 2:20). When God's ways hurt us, anger, bitterness, and hopelessness are emotions that attend . We see hints of all three emotions in this passage. We do well to read, and reread this chapter to learn how to sit and talk to God in times of disappointment and disillusionment.

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Lamentations 1, Psalm 39

| 02/15/18 |

Though the author of Lamentations is believed by many to be Jeremiah, we cannot be 100% certain who wrote this book. Whoever wrote it, their first chapter is often written from the perspective of Judah, personified as an individual. Judah laments what has been lost. The city of Jerusalem's desolation is compared to the experience of a widow, and going from being a queen to a slave (Lamentation 1:1). Biblical lamentation doesn't just lament what has been lost, but also the reason for such loss. There are several allusions to the sins of Judah. We see her “lovers” (Lamentations 1:2) mentioned, which are idols of foreign nations. Also the link between exile and transgressions is plain in several places (e.g. Lamentations 1:5,7,8). It is not only sin that this lamentation acknowledges, but also God's supreme righteousness in keeping faithfulness while Judah rebelled (Lamentation 1:18). Lamentations gives us a voice when much has been lost. We do well to lament in times of grief. Additionally, Lamentations shows we also do well to grieve sin's power to undo what is good. When we lament, the Bible shows part of our lament should rage at sin like is done this first chapter, even if it is one's own. Sin, the sins of others, or own sins, and ultimately the power that is called sin in scripture has ruined many good things. So when we lament what is lost, we lament the continuing presence of sin in life.

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Jeremiah 52, Psalm 36

| 02/12/18 |

The Old Testament is full of high and low points. The lowest point of not only Jeremiah's book, but perhaps the entire Old Testament is found in Jeremiah's last chapter. After many years where kings in David's line reject God's call upon their lives, Zedekiah ends that reign in humiliation. His sons are cut down before his very eyes, before his eyes are cut out as well. Solomon's Temple, the glory of Israel, that years earlier had been built of the best material, in meticulous fashion, is destroyed in reckless ways. Judah's nobles are deposed, and the city is desolate. However, we end Jeremiah reading that Jehoiachin, the king first exiled by Babylon is shown kindness by his captors. This is an intentional contrast to Zedekiah, Babylon's appointed King that is humiliated. Beyond this contrast serving as a measure of vindication of Jeremiah's prophetic witness against Zedekiah and for cooperating with Babylon, there is more at stake with Jehoiachin's release. The hope implicit in the final verses is clear. Even after Babylon defeats Judah, it is still possible King will come to rule over Israel and restore peace even after Babylonian destruction. Even in our lowest points, as long as God rules, there is still hope, and we must cling to this hope even when we cannot see reason for such confidence.

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Jeremiah 50, Psalm 34

| 02/11/18 |

Babylon is God's instrument of  judgement on Judah. Now God promises Babylon will be defeated by armies from the north. When this happens the people of Judah will make their way back to Jerusalem. If nations rise up, only to fall, why do we invest so much in civilizations, governments, and ordering our lives in societies? God is not against nations or civilizations because they are inherently evil, but because civilizations and nations show a tendency, especially in times of victory and dominance to work evil and ignore God. So it is not against civilization, government, and nation-building that we should invest our energies, but rather that gradual tendency individuals and peoples have to neglect such a great God along with such a great salvation. As the church, we have the special responsibility of guarding the truth about God and the Gospel.  May our focus remain preserving the truth of and proclamation about the Gospel. That is the best contribution we can make to whatever nation or civilization to which we belong.

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Jeremiah 49, Psalm 33

| 02/09/18 |

God's cup, especially when mentioned by the prophets, represents God's wrath against wickedness. The imagery conveys God has been holding back deserved action against sin, like a cup holds wine, until God refuses to relent any longer. So at appointed times, God's wrath overflows and is poured out on transgressors. It seems God, when addressing Edom, acknowledges some imperfection in the justice of this cup when the Lord says, ““If those who do not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, why should you go unpunished?” (Jeremiah 49:12) This question presupposes that some will taste God's wrath even though they don't deserve it, at least in the way God's opponents deserve wrath. Truthfully, this world is not a fair place, and there is a sense in which sin, as a power, causes trouble for everyone simultaneously, the wicked and the righteous. We cannot escape all the problems of the fall, the cheating of large businesses, the dishonesty of government officials, or an abusive parent. That is, some of us face consequences in life that cannot be fairly traced to our particular misdeeds or sins. That doesn't negate that we are all transgressors and have lived without proper regard to God as creator and Lord. Nor do I mean that all of your negative circumstances can be properly called God's wrath. Rather, I am pointing out that we understand how someone consequences due the evil of another can impact us greatly. So when God pours out wrath on wicked people, some that haven't deserved such wrath will also experience consequences. God's justice will prevail, for no wrath in the short-term compares to God's wrath against evil and the perfect justice that will be given to all at the end of time. In the meantime, we can trust that our circumstances, fair or unfair are not decisive. We can leave recompense in the hands of God, who is gracious and does not give us what we deserve, but gives us inconceivably great blessings in Jesus, through faith.

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Jeremiah 46, Psalm 31

| 02/07/18 |

Occasionally when God speaks judgement against nations, it sound like taunting. This is especially the effect of Jeremiah 46:3-12. At first, this section seems to be encouraging Egypt to prepare for battle (Jeremiah 46:3-4) only to show how rising up for war will merely spell defeat. Egypt is ridiculed for her pride and told to charge into a battle that they will lose at the hands of God, the Lord Almighty (Jeremiah 46:9-10). This rhetoric is deserved as we find that Egypt had been a nation to taunt other nations, believing they would, “rise and cover the earth” and “destroy their cities” (Jeremiah 46:8). God will never overlook pride, bullying, or meanness on the earth. Even the greatest superpowers, and the largest forces of darkness will be laid low below the might arm of God. Such judgement is good news for the vulnerable and defeated of this world. May we delight in the God that can protect the mistreated.

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Jeremiah 41:16-43:13, Psalm 29

| 02/06/18 |

Just the name of Egypt and the humiliation of going back to the place where God's people were enslaved 400 years would make many a proud person prefer death over such a fate. Instead, our story tells us that God's people were too proud to trust God and more than willing to enter the land of their former slavery. The Bible isn't bashful about declaring our willingness to endure slavery, not to mention pestilence and sword rather than enjoy the liberation that comes from trusting God's wisdom and leadership. Sadly, Johanan and Judah's remnant could have stayed in the land of promise even while many of their brothers and sisters were exiled if they would have just trusted God's voice like they promised Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 42:1-5). When first reading about Jeremiah's words of promise, there is a glimmer of hope that the people will listen. However, Jeremiah immediately warns about the punishment they will receive for doing what is in their hearts, thus the reader learns in advance what these people will do. Even after promising blessings, the Lord knows the intentions of Jeremiah's audience. Through Jeremiah God warns of grave problems, literally, these people will face by continuing according to plan. Let this be a word of challenge to us today if we are operating in any facet of our lives according to our plans while ignoring God's wisdom. Living like this is like choosing slavery and the sword.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 39:1-41:15, Psalm 28

| 02/04/18 |

God metes out His wrath against Zedekiah and Judah through the Babylonians, who capture Zedekiah and kill his sons. It is easy to overlook, but justice also comes for those in Judah who were mistreated under Zedekiah's reign. For example, Nebuzaradan not only left the poor in Jerusalem, but also gave them vineyards and fields to tend (Jeremiah 39:10). Jeremiah and Ebed-Melek (the king's Cushite servant) are also protected and treated with better kindness by the Babylonian captors. The narrative point is clear: God is intentionally using the Babylonians as instruments of wrath and justice to reveal God's immediate will for Judah. Like grace and mercy are not completely distinct but complementary, so God in His wrath against evil also works justice to address wrongs and maintain rights. This is key for Jewish interpretation of the events surrounding the Babylonian exile. Unlike other nations in defeat, the Jewish people did not believe the gods of their enemies won, but rather that Israel's God is working through the enemy Babylon to purify and protect, as well as punish. The story also indicates that God, irrespective of our situations, always turns a compassionate eye to the broken, mistreated, and vulnerable. More than this, God will rectify all evils and enact justice on those who do wrong (Romans 12:19).

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 37-38, Psalm 27

| 02/03/18 |

Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern while King Zedekiah refuses to stop the attackers. To the king's shame, his servant Ebed-Melek, whose name means “king's servant” in Hebrew, proves to be much more faithful to God's messenger than Judah's leader is. Add to this, we are told that this servant is a Cushite, someone from the region that corresponds to modern-day Ethiopia. This Cushite's righteous protection of God's spokesperson, while a king in the line of David lets the mob do as they will, sheds light on just how far those in the biological line of Israel have fallen. At the same time, we also see in this Cushite a thematic link to people like Rahab the prostitute, the Queen of Sheba, and even Melchizedek, who were not biological children of Abraham. However, through faith they were truer to God's righteous call than many people in the line of Jacob. Many view the Old Testament as an account of God blessing one ethnic people to the exclusion of others. Instances like this point to the continuity between the Testaments, making obvious God's delight to welcome followers from every nation, tribe, and tongue. This also prepares the way for what Paul will elaborate years later: true children of Abraham are made by faith (Galatians 3:7-9, Romans 4:9-23), not primarily by biological descent. Paul's message doesn't reveal God's new purposes on this side of the cross. Rather, Paul sees that Jesus's cross uniquely draws all peoples to God, fulfills the Jewish sacrificial system and so makes a global church possible, and reveals the righteousness of God in way Israel and her kings never could. Praise God that representatives from the nations delighted in God's righteous character before the cross, disproving any notions that God changes in character.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 36, Psalm 26

| 02/02/18 |

Kings, especially kings in David's line, should protect as they lead. As the scribe Baruch delivers Jeremiah's words of warning by way of the Lord, many of Judah's officials are shaken by the message. Jehoiakim, King of Judah does not share their concern. As Jehoiakim listens to the words of the scroll, he symbolically clips them into the fire, acting as if those words had never been spoken. This king seals not only his fate, but also the fate of the thousands trusting him to heed the word of God. Though he destroyed God's word with fire, God simply has the same words written on a different scroll. Jehoiakim however, will only be remembered for his foolishness and the great harm he caused Judah, when he could have been used as instrument to bring God's mercy. We might question the fairness of one person having such a say in the fate of so many. The truth is, their fate had been sealed long ago, from a human standpoint. However, we have already seen God decree the death of Hezekiah during the days of Isaiah, only to show kindness at Hezekiah's petitions. Judah did not have the sort of king who had learned to bow to God in the days of Jeremiah. So, off the people of God go to exile when they were formed to radiate God's saving power to the nations. This story warns us as God's people both to choose our leaders wisely and to recognize we are ultimately creatures of God's word. We may ignore it, but like Jehoiakim, we are nothing without it.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 34-45, Psalm 25

| 02/01/18 |

When God gives the law to Moses in Exodus, God first gives the so-called ten commandments (better named “ten words”). Secondly God instructs about idolatry and alters, then follows that with strict rules against indefinite slavery for fellow Hebrews. When Jeremiah calls upon Judah to repent, King Zedekiah calls upon Judah's people to release fellow Jewish slaves who had been kept in bondage for some time. Obviously, God's people had been ignoring the covenant before Jeremiah's prophetic denunciation of the practice. Unfortunately, soon after doing the right thing by releasing brothers and sisters in slavery, former slave owners changed their minds, bringing their former slaves back into captivity. Jeremiah's harsh words reiterate that because God brought the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt they were never to repeat practices that enslaved. Since God's people didn't want to enjoy the freedom God gives, including the freedom to take care of the family of God, God will give these people a new freedom. This freedom is conveyed with a sarcastic bite, for Jeremiah promises a freedom to, “‘fall by the sword, plague and famine” (Jeremiah 34:17). God offers us similar freedom, to enjoy freedom that comes from loving God and neighbor in faith (Galatians 5:1-6) or the freedom to be enslaved by idols or by the power of the law to condemn (Galatians 4:8-11). True freedom must liberate us to fulfill our God-given purposes. False freedom invites us to try and enjoy liberation apart from God's purposes, only to offer us freedom to enjoy the destructive consequences of refusing to be true image bearers of God on earth. Freedom can be ours, but it comes as God's gift, through God's will being embraced.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 32-33, Psalm 24

| 01/31/18 |

Symbolic gestures have been commonplace in Jeremiah's ministry. Consider the yoke he carried representing the rule of Babylon, the potter's clay, or the linen belt that was ruined. God communicates through word but also communicates to the eyes the message we should hear. So what should Jeremiah's audience hear when he purchases the field from his cousin Hanamel? It would seem foolish to buy a field under Jewish law when the Babylonians would soon establish their reign. God wants Jeremiah's audience to, as one Old Testament writer puts it, “hear with their eyes” God's promises that “I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety” (Jeremiah 32:37). The Bible is full of words about images God uses to convey meaning (e.g., baptism, Lord's supper, and even the cross) that affect our thoughts and imaginations in ways that simple descriptions cannot. As ministers (yes, all of us) of the Gospel, we do well to consider how we can take the stuff of our world, art or even symbols derived from scriptures, to explain truths from God. For example, imagine teaching children the idea that for a “kernel of wheat to give birth, first it must die” (John 12:24) and connecting that with the cross; we could easily bring a seed of any plant, along with the plant it grows, to show how soil transforms the seed (transformation is what Jesus means when he speaks of seeds dying, for Jesus wasn't giving a scientific explanation). This brings to life the idea that Jesus must die to transform into the resurrected king who will transform His followers into in the likeness of His image (Philippians 3:21). As a pastor, Jeremiah's ministry is a challenge to me to use illustrations and even sometimes living illustrations to help people hear with their eyes the word of God.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 30-31, Psalm 23

| 01/30/18 |

God promises to restore Israel and make a new covenant. This covenant will differ from the first. Instead of a law written on tablets, God will make this covenant with a people whose hearts have been inscribed with God's statutes. Also, this new covenant will mean more widespread knowledge of God's character. God promises that this new covenant will secure the fate of “the offspring of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:36). In the book of Hebrews, these new covenant promises are plainly connected to the sufficiency of Jesus' atoning sacrifice. In Hebrews, we are told that Jesus' work to bring this new covenant exists because “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). Notice how that works: Jesus has already made perfect those whom Jesus is still in the process of making holy. The sacrifice Jesus made at Calvary has the power to inaugurate a new covenant, make us perfect, and yet in ongoing and renewing fashion, make us holy. Just as we cannot measure the heavens above (Jeremiah 31:37), we cannot measure the breadth and value of Jesus' death for our rescue. Though we can never exhaust investigation or explanation of Jesus' death, we can say with thanksgiving that our sins and iniquities will be remembered no more (Jeremiah 31:34).

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 29, Psalm 22

| 01/29/18 |

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most oft-quoted scriptures today, especially to encourage people that God has purpose for their lives. In response, some Bible nerds will point out that these words were written to people in exile from their home country, and thus we should be careful not to make a universal application today. The truth is, however, this verse does apply to us today; yet those who suggest we will misapply this verse if we ignore the context are correct as well. This promise is a guarantee for God's chosen people that believers today can appropriate and trust. God certainly has plans for our eternal future, but this was not an individualistic promise. To use modern concepts, God was not guaranteeing that a person will one day have their white picket fence, two kids, and a dog. Rather, this was a promise for a nation of God's covenant people. God will bring the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem and continue to fulfill the promises made to Jacob's children. God also has plans for us, the church, today, to rescue us from this present evil age and to deliver us from evil. The problem with how people treat this verse isn't that they try to apply it, for all scripture has some current application, but that many misapply it by ignoring the original meaning of the verse. May we rejoice not simply in God's concern for our individual goals being met, but also that God has a much bigger picture in mind to do good for an entire family washed in the blood of the Lamb.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 27-28, Psalm 21

| 01/28/18 |

Prophetic ministry is a word-based ministry; prophets speak the words of God to an intended audience. Occasionally signs accompany those words, like when Jeremiah carries a yoke to demonstrate the rule and authority which Babylon will wield over Judah, along with other nations. After such powerful demonstration, I have thought it strange that Jeremiah so quickly and willingly ceded ground to Hananiah's prophecy that Babylon will not prove victorious, especially after Jeremiah warned the people not to listen to this very kind of prophet (Jeremiah 27:16-17). To be fair to Jeremiah, he responded to Hananiah's prophecy by reminding that few prophesies of peace come true, thus suggesting Jeremiah was uncertain. Still, it seems to this reader that Jeremiah likely hoped to be wrong, hoped that Hananiah had received a “newer word” from the Lord that He would indeed relent instead of bringing promised punishments. I think it likely that in those moments Jeremiah wished God had chosen a more favored prophet to promise mercy to Judah. This indicates the love Jeremiah had for Judah and his hope that justice and true worship of God would be restored other than through the purifying furnace of Babylonian exile. Unfortunately for Jeremiah and the people, Hananiah was false and paid dearly for lying about God. The story of Jeremiah continues with him proven right in a way that feels so wrong to him. Tomorrow God brings great promises to Judah through the prophet, which serve as a prophetic oasis of grace in a desert of judgement.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 26, Psalm

| 01/27/18 |

In our first blog post on Jeremiah, where I contrasted the ministries of Jeremiah and Isaiah, I made the point that Jeremiah's prophetic ministry is closely connected with his sufferings. Unlike Isaiah, much of Jeremiah's word from God has proximate and negative consequences not just for Judah, but also for the so-named “weeping prophet.” Jeremiah suffers for the message and is very much part of God's people as he warns of judgement that will ruin his hopes for Judah as well. In today's reading, Jeremiah has a brush with death due his declaration of doom for Judah. It is no wonder that Jeremiah often agonized over the message God brought through him. For Jeremiah, to prophesy was to bring his own disappointment, his own shame, and his own danger. But like we read in Jeremiah 20:9, it is impossible for this prophet to hide the word of God, regardless of consequence. The few wise folks left in Judah recognized that Jeremiah had nothing to gain and everything to lose by bringing the words of God to the people, and that is why he was spared. Though we certainly never want to be in Jeremiah's predicament, may God grant us the boldness to show fidelity to God's words when we have little to gain and much to lose.

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| 01/26/18 |

70 years is how long God's people would be in exile. That is a lifetime. Actually, in that day, this would probably be longer than the average life expectancy. Though God promises to punish Babylon and bring the Jewish people back to the land, this exile in Babylon is humiliating in every sense of the word. There is no king to reign on David's throne, and even the throne will be desecrated and leveled. Oddly enough from our perspective, God chooses to risk ridicule to the cherished name of the Lord due to Babylonian victory over Judah rather than endure ongoing ridicule because of the evil practices of the Jewish people. Certainly, God is in control of these circumstances, and so we must be careful about deriving too much application from these choices by God. However, let me say this: if God's choice here is any indication, our King has a strong preference to give holiness to those called by the Lord's name over strength and victory. In fact, often enough victory and strength, in their truest forms, come in the process of God's work of making us holy. True victory is walking in faith with the God who defeats the grave and the strength that empowers people to love even in face of suffering. In that day, God wills to bring the people back to the land. As we have seen in our sermon series in Nehemiah, God gives measures of strength and victory upon the return from exile. Still, what we see in Nehemiah isn't a people characterized by great military might, but rather strong faith and joy in the Lord. May the priorities of God become our priorities today as we prefer holiness over temporary victories and illusory strength.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 23-24, Psalm 18

| 01/25/18 |

How different YHWH is than the gods of the nations. It would be strange for a god unique to a particular people group or region to fight against her own worshippers in favor of other nations, right? Jeremiah, however, tells us that the God of Israel will, in a unique situation, punish Israel through the people of Babylon. YHWH cannot be ruled or even co-opted by those called by the Lord's name when they are rampant in practicing evil and injustice. Add to this that God, unlike the invented gods of human design and hands, fills heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:24). Much scriptural teaching about God's omnipresence is corroborated in that little verse. God is everywhere present, not as creation, but upholding all of creation (we even say that Jesus was begotten, not made). We typically say that water fills the sea instead of the sea is filled with water to convey it is unimaginable for a sea to exist without water. So also, God's language conveys that it is unimaginable for any part of creation heaven and earth to exist where God isn't. That doesn't mean that God is a tree, or an angel, any more than that we say water and the sea are the same. Rather God's presence is always distinct, yet filling and upholding every square inch of existence. Given this truth, how foolish it to hide sin in what we think are “secret places”. In God's universe, as a character from C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce declares, “There are no private affairs.” Praise God, we are beckoned not to hide from God in shame but to run to God in glad reception of fellowship through the blood of the Lamb. For God, unlike the gods of the nations, is free to judge but even happier to pardon. I am glad this God, YHWH, alone fills earth, sky, and sea.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 21-22, Psalm 17

| 01/24/18 |

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God has this to say about the deceased king Josiah: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” (Jeremiah 22:16) On a few other occasions in scripture such tight associations are made between caring for the poor and knowing God. Two proverbs make these connections in similar plain terms. We read, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31), and “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7). In the New Testament James puts it bluntly: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Of course, the scripture reiterates over and over the need to care for the rights of the poor. But what does it mean that knowledge of God and thoughts for the rights of the needy are so intertwined? Must we care for the poor prior to knowing God? I offer a few of many possible answers. As those who have been saved by the rich mercies of God when we were broken and wrecked by sin, to show contempt toward or ignore the poor reveals we little understand our plight without Jesus. Moreover, when we know God and the grace of Christ, we learn to embrace their regular provision and identification with the poor. Without such movement towards those materially, emotionally, relationally, and psychologically impoverished, we reflect little movement in following the will of God. Let us pray, “Father of the broken, heal what has been destroyed, find what is lost; and do this through us today. Amen.”

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 20, Psalm 16

| 01/23/18 |

Have you ever felt conflicted about God's role in your circumstances? We see that Jeremiah is disappointed in constantly bearing terrible news of judgement (Jeremiah 20:8). Still, Jeremiah cannot help but proclaim God's words; in fact, he cannot hold them in (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah recognizes that neighbors are against him, while God is for him. This leads Jeremiah to praise God, but only for one verse of song. Jeremiah ends our reading cursing the day he was born and the person who announced his birth. This back and forth of emotions, thoughts, and evaluations leaves the reader confused as to what to make out of Jeremiah's raw and sporadic expressions. Jeremiah, like the book of Psalms, provides us with words and a range of feelings which we can appropriate in our times of distress, mixed with worship, alloyed with depression. We all know that kind of experience, when life seems to toss us around like a shirt in a dryer. Jeremiah is beloved by God and faithful, but that does not exempt him from the chaos of our world. Jeremiah shows us that when in chaos, we must stay our minds on the King of peace. Even if we can only sing one verse in worship, that can be sufficient solace in those days when we wish we had never been born. Even if we don't like to admit it, those days come, and may God use the scriptures to ready us for such times.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 18-19, Psalm 15

| 01/22/18 |

God is the potter and Israel the clay. What God has created from nothing, a large nation from a man and woman beyond the years of child-bearing age, God can still refashion. At the time of Jeremiah's writing, Israel had proven faithless time and again. God intends to judge them, but this judgment, if we are to follow the logic of God, isn't primarily for destructive purposes, but for reformation. When God makes this illustration, Jeremiah has been so mistreated that, after having earlier in the book interceded desperately for Israel, he is now ready to have God strike this people in full wrath. Why does Jeremiah feel this way? As the old saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished,” and Jeremiah feels as though his previous prayers for Israel have only been met with disproportionate mistreatment and ridicule. How does one go from praying desperately for a people's protection one minute, then next wishing God to punish them severely? Jeremiah gets a sense of the profound evil of His people, the weight of their sins as he has experienced the crushing weight of their injustices. So, he wants payback. Thankfully for them, as we see, God intends His judgement to work to strengthen the work of the Lord's hands. Israel will be re-shaped but not thrown away. God of justice, we thank you today for your mercy!

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 16-17, Psalm 14

| 01/21/18 |

In paradoxical fashion, we learn that it is possible to make gods that “are not gods” (Jeremiah 16:20). Jeremiah introduces in simple language something the apostle Paul will explain in depth to the church in Corinth hundreds of years later. Jeremiah and Paul agree that idols, to use the language of Christopher Wright, are “nothing, but we making them something.” First, they are nothing, for the gods which humans invent or craft are unable to fulfill their promises. They are weak and impotent. YHWH is less threatened by idols than I would be that my wife would fall in love with her niece's drawing of my face. Idols are genuinely nothing, but we make them something. In Jeremiah's days, people constructed idols and made sacrifices, even human sacrifices, to handmade gods that supposedly could provide rain, crops, sun, fertility, military success and so on. Even today, God is not threatened by the person whose esteem controls your actions, but to you that person is something. God is not threatened by our upward mobility or buying power, but we spend all of our resources at their service. Idols are genuinely nothing, but we make them into something. God doesn't simply judge this because it is evil, but God also builds into the practice of idolatry misery and disappointment. God is gracious in ensuring the futility of idolatry and even the attending judgement against it. Both are strong invitations to find our home in a powerful “refuge in time of distress” (Jeremiah 16:20).

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 14-15, Psalm 13

| 01/20/18 |

Many have noted that God's imposition against Jeremiah praying indicates just how far gone Judah has become and how determined God is to bring justice for their sins (Jeremiah 14:11). Very few have noted how Jeremiah prays anyway, interceding for God's people by appealing to God's name and jealousy for His glory (see Jeremiah 14:13, 15:16). In hope of procuring mercy, Jeremiah speaks to the fact that false prophets have deceived the people. In response God says that even if some of God's most faithful were alive to intercede, that would not be enough to stay the Lord's judgement (Jeremiah 15:1). This presents a problem. If Moses and Samuel couldn't even appeal to God to spare God's people in their times of rebellion, how can there be hope that the cycles of repentance, restoration, disobedience, judgment, repentance, repeat will not go on forever? This problem finds its resolution when we find someone to intercede for us in a way that permanently stays God's judgement (see Hebrews 7:25) and doesn't simply bear God's name like Jeremiah, but is God and knows the mind of God (Romans 8:26-27). Jeremiah's intercession will not be enough to prevent the judgement and exile that await Israel. Jesus' intercession will be enough to take us out of our exile (see tree of life in Revelation 22) and stay God's judgement against our sins. Hallelujah, what a savior!

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 13, Psalm 12

| 01/19/18 |

Psalm 12 gives us a glimpse of what Judah was probably like in Jeremiah's time. “The faithful have vanished,” “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor,” “the poor are plundered, the needy groan.” Take a minute to reflect on just how strong the images in this passage are. Filthy underwear, left to rot and decay after being worn. A drunken brawl that tears Jerusalem apart, sparing not a family. The Israelites' sleaze, filth, and evil utterly exposed to the world in humiliation. Sometimes, I read passages like this and wonder why the Israelites didn't just go back to God and avoid all this. Yet every time I am answered by the scope of how evil and awful God's chosen people were. If even God's chosen people, who God called over and over again to worship and follow him, did not obey him, who among us possibly could? Jeremiah 13 ends with a rhetorical question: “When will you clean up your act, Judah?” We, the readers, know the answer: “They won't.” We are in the same situation. Apart from God, our sins, our evil, our depravity is like the ugly, rotted loincloth. Yet in the loincloth image God describes what his people should be - clinging on God to glorify God and to be God's beloved. Today, let these images remind you of the filth of sin, and give praise for Christ's work, in which the free gift of God is to have our evil cleansed.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 11-12, Psalm 11

| 01/18/18 |

God has determined that the time for judgment is near! His covenant with His people has been shattered. Their worship and allegiance to Baal is beyond shameful. Jeremiah's message of repentance and obedience is met with a conspiracy to kill him. They want him silenced. The Lord's message, ”Obey My Voice,” was stubbornly ignored as Jeremiah faithfully called out to God's people. They had no ears to hear or hearts to respond; they would have none of it! Jeremiah is told not to pray for the people; disaster is at their doorstep. He recognizes that God is righteous, that He acts out what is fair and correct, but his situation overwhelms him, and he laments and complains to God. Everything is coming to ruin. The evildoers believe that God will not see their end (12:4).  Their arrogance is astounding. They are determined to survive on their own. An amazing statement from the Lord ensues: ”I will abandon my heritage.” The impact of how that unfolds is devastating. Wrath is never God's final word to His covenant people. He will pluck Judah from the land, but in time He will have compassion on them and will restore not only their heritage but all those nations who will listen and learn His ways. Psalm 11 reminds us: “The Lord is in His Holy Temple…the upright shall behold His face.”  

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 8:18-10:25, Psalm 10

| 01/17/18 |

Whenever we read a portion of Scripture, we should first ask, “What does this passage tell me about God?” In today's reading we see the following characteristics of God: ·         God is just (9:24) ·         God is powerful (10:12) ·         God is righteous (9:24) ·         God is sovereign (10:12-16) ·         God is true (10:10) ·         God is unequaled (10:6) ·         God is wise (10:7,12) ·         God is wrathful (10:10) Today's text is the end of the prophet's public ministry at the temple gate to a deluded people deceived by idols (Ch. 7:1-10:25). Jeremiah and the Lord mourn over the future judgment, which is exile (8:18-19a). Insensitive to their sin, the people feel abandoned by God (8:19:b). God explains why there's the distance between them (8:19c). Remember He doesn't move; we do (Isa. 59:2): He is faithful; we are not. But we can always return to Him by way of the cross.        Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet (Jer.9:1,10). Weeping for God's people steeped in idolatry; Weeping, knowing the Lord will follow through on His judgment of exile. Next, Jer.9:10 pictures the countryside abandoned, without humans or animals, because of exile. 9:17-18 refers to women who are semiprofessional mourners called to lead people in mourning a death. Some Jewish families still practice this social rite today.      Jer. 9:3 (NKJV) says, “And they do not know Me, says the Lord.” God delights in our knowing and understanding Him (Jer. 9:23-24). And how do we do that? He has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures. Jeremiah Chapter 10 alternates between the emptiness of idols and the greatness of God. As you read, find attributes of God, and praise Him for Who He is.  

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Untwisting Idolatry — Jeremiah 7:1-8:17

| 01/16/18 |

I have a worship disorder. So did the Jews of Jeremiah's time. So do we all. In Jeremiah 7, God calls the Jews' idols “deceptive” and “worthless” (v. 8) and warns them that they pursue these idols to their “own harm” (v. 6). An idol needn't be a statue. It's anything that competes with God for room in our hearts. In our twistedness we run after substitutes for God, wanting to satisfy our desires or numb our pain, on our terms and timetable as we strive to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways, at illegitimate times. We can untwist our idolatry by working to meet legitimate needs (as God defines legitimate) in legitimate ways, on God's timetable. One legitimate need is for belonging, especially belonging to a loving family. (It's awful to feel like we don't belong!) In our attempts to convince ourselves that we belong to a group (whether to family, friends, coworkers, etc.), what do we inappropriately sacrifice to gain their acceptance? God intends earthly families, especially Christian families, along with a community of believers (the family of God), to meet this need as we speak and live the truth in love (though we do so imperfectly). Our need for belonging will find its ultimate, joyful satisfaction in heaven with God our Father and His perfected family. As we identify our true and deepest needs and embrace God's ways and times to meet them, we can progressively find relief from our twisted, self-destructive idolatry.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 6, Psalm 8

| 01/15/18 |

By now, you know why Jeremiah was predicting God's judgement on Israel. This chapter is probably one of the most vivid pictures of the destruction that is awaiting Israel: the destruction of her fortresses. God has warned Israel endlessly that if they did not repent from their sin, He would punish them. They did not listen, and God finally sent other nations to destroy them. In this particular chapter, the nation God chose to punished is already in the land. Jeremiah continued to warn them to flee (Jeremiah 6:1-8). They chose not to listen. They are indifferent to God's word, and His word offends them (6:9-15). Our world is not too different from Israel. They hear the message of Hell and remain indifferent. They say Hell does not exist, or say that the Christian message is offensive. They don't fear because they don't believe it's true. They are not ashamed of their sin (6:15). They would rather listen to the wrong message. God never gives up. He is still pursuing them (6:16). Israel were supposed to be in awe of God holiness and power; instead they were stubborn in their ways. God warns us against sin. We must be in awe of God's wonder and run from sin. When we sin, we offend God and hurt ourselves. David reflects on God's character and says “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4). How can a God who is so majestic, mighty and holy care so much for sinful man? We must think on that. Unlike Israel and like the psalmist we should be in awe of God's glory. We should fall on our knees and worship.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 4:5-5:31, Psalm 7

| 01/14/18 |

Apocalyptic literature reveals through cataclysmic imagery. Film communicates the weight of traumatic events by showing someone's vision of their outer world going out of focus, while sounds become dulled and life is experienced in slow motion. Similarly, apocalyptic literature conveys the indescribable judgement of God through hyperbolic descriptions. For example, when Jeremiah envisions God's judgment on Jerusalem and describes the earth as “formless and empty”, this is literary technique to describe the chaos that comes with God's judgement. Certainly, the world will not go back to pre-creation form. Rather the imagery intends to convey that the judgement of God will be so extreme it will be experienced as world-changing, in a bad way. Another powerful image Jeremiah uses to convey the judgement of God on Israel is bringing together two images which likely stir memories from the Exodus: “He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind.” When God delivered His people from the chariots of Egypt, God led them to Sinai and made His gracious presence known through a moving cloud. This time, God will move against HIs people to punish. Still, like we saw many times in the book of Isaiah, when God judges Israel, there remains hope that God “will not destroy you completely” (Jeremiah 5:18). Even when God judges His people, it is never the end for them, but rather an opportunity to purify, rectify, and empower them to be faithful to God once again.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 3:6-4:4, Psalm 6

| 01/13/18 |

Eschatology is the study of scriptural teaching about the end of human history. Apocalyptic literature in the Bible unveils or reveals God's surprising plans to judge, to heal, and to restore all things. From the standpoint of Jeremiah and his original audience, Jeremiah 3:14-18 would serve as an “apocalypse” that would inform their eschatology. As Jeremiah reveals, God intends to issue a day where the two kingdoms of Israel would be reunited, other nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor God, and there will be no need for an Ark of the Covenant. Moreover, God promises to give His people shepherds after his own heart. In a number of passages in the New Testament, church leaders (elders) are called to shepherd God's people (for example Acts 20:25-28). In fact, Peter himself charges elders to “Be shepherds of God's flock” while we await the appearing of the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:1-2). Why is this interesting to me? The abovementioned revelations of God's ultimate purposes, like a restored northern and southern Kingdom, as well as the nations gathered in Jerusalem to worship, haven't occurred yet. At the same time, part of God's apocalyptic revelation through Jeremiah is being fulfilled now. The early apostles declared that, due to the cross and resurrection, we are living in the last days, in a new era where God is unveiling His purposes in Jesus, and those decisive events are kickstarting God's future plans. Back to Jeremiah- God giving His people shepherds after his own heart reveals, like the first budding of flowers in a spring garden, the sign that all of His promises are coming true. This bestows hope as we await the nations bringing glory to God and living in a day where God's presence is obvious to all throughout the entire world.

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In Case You Missed It — Jeremiah 1, Psalm 4

| 01/12/18 |

Notice how differently Jeremiah responds “to the word of Lord” than Isaiah responded when seeing God surrounded by angels' praise (see Isaiah 6:1-10). God tells Jeremiah that the Lord foreknew Jeremiah's prophetic purposes before he was conceived (Jeremiah 1:5). Unlike Isaiah, who experienced God's majesty and responded to God's call for a mouthpiece with a willing heart, Jeremiah is unsure how God could use a prophet with speaking problems and inexperience (Jeremiah 1:6). This shows us, along with other important info, that it pleases God to use very different people to speak the truth. As we will see, Jeremiah's life will be much more bound up with his message than Isaiah. While reading Isaiah, very little info about Isaiah's life was given, but Jeremiah's struggles will be part and parcel of how God speaks to Judah. Though I have emphasized their differences, I want to note that both prophets have their mouths “touched” by God (technically an angel of God touches Isaiah's mouth) to purify, prepare, and enable their words as messengers of heaven to Israel. No one speaks for God unless God empowers, and despite Jeremiah's hesitation, God intends this work to be done for Jeremiah. I look forward to showing you how God enables Jeremiah not “to be terrified by them” and more importantly to “stand up and say to them whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:17-19).

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 65:17-66:24, Psalm 1

| 01/08/18 |

Isaiah is the first person in scripture to reveal God's intent to make a new heaven and new earth. We have already noticed that much of what is revealed in Revelation 21-22 has already been disclosed in snippets throughout Isaiah 56-66. However, there are different emphases from time to time in those two sections of scripture which best inform our imaginations concerning our future home. For example the peace between animals found Isaiah 65:25 showcasing the complete healing of creation isn't prominent in Revelation. Let me redirect, though, and end our reflections on Isaiah by examining a different emphasis from Isaiah which prepares us for New Testament teaching. Isaiah returns to one of his favorite themes: God can look with disdain at Israel carrying on prescribed worship, offerings, and sacrifices. In fact God makes plain His frustration that those who do not tremble at holy scripture with humility are like those who murder, even when they obey God's commands (Isaiah 66:3-4). This shocks us, but also prepares us for the New Testament, framing sin primarily as a power of darkness which dominates us, from which we need rescue (Colossians 1:13). Our hearts are captured not by sins, but by Sin, a power that compels us to make our hope something other than God. Sins are the symptom, Sin is the disease. Thus it is very possible to attempt to address sins, through sacrifices in the Old Testament or through behavior modification today, without addressing the real problem. Our very best deeds can actually be stained with sin, with false motives and untrue allegiance. This is one of the most controversial aspects of Christian teaching. Isaiah is one of the first Biblical writers to put forward truths which will cause much trouble for Jesus and the early apostles, who will assert that it is not what goes into a person (i.e., through food or defilement) that contaminates a person, but what comes out (i.e., from our hearts, the seat of our desires) that corrupts us (Matthew 15:1-20). May we then attend to our hearts, for that is what God cares about most.

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| 01/07/18 |

On occasion scripture presents us with expressions unfamiliar to us. When God warns of judgement for wickedness, the Lord uses an unfamiliar saying about grapes: “'As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes and people say, “‘Don't destroy it, there is still a blessing in it,” so will I do in behalf of my servants; I will not destroy them all'” (Isaiah 65:8). Though we have never spoken about blessings being found in grapes, we get the point; God will judge Israel, but some will receive the blessings promised to God's people (showing they have a “blessing in them”) and others will be excluded. This prepares the way for the teachings of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostle Paul years later when they warned that not all children of Abraham are true children of Abraham, resembling him in character and faith (see Romans 9:7-13). God doesn't rescind the promises of a remnant of Jacob's line that would receive His blessings (Isaiah 65:9); instead He considers as children of Jacob both his physical descendants characterized by faith, and the faithful who are not physical descendants. John the Baptist paints it clearly and stands obviously in Isaiah's tradition when he says, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:9-10). Faith is the only pleasing response to God's kindness, forbearance, and kingdom. May we be glad that Christ was bent on rescuing a remnant and welcoming in more children of Abraham that we might have life.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 63:7-64:12, Proverbs 31:1-9

| 01/06/18 |

Christians have long debated the doctrine of God's impassibility. Discussions around this topic are made more difficult because of how this doctrine has been differently defined and redefined. For our purposes, the doctrine of God's impassibility is the belief that God isn't affected by human circumstances, nor does he experience emotions like humans. Like I have already suggested, this definition isn't going to satisfy everyone. Whatever one's definition and belief, those who believe in impassibility must have satisfactory answers to how Isaiah can appeal to God's compassion (com, with; passion, suffering) or even acknowledge God's former compassion (see Isaiah 63:15, 63:7). For the person who believes in extreme impassibility, explaining Isaiah's words, “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them” proves difficult (Isaiah 63:9). God's ways are certainly not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and even when the Bible speaks of God by ascribing emotions to the Lord, we must be careful not to project human emotions onto God. Still, whatever our doctrinal formulations, we must make sense of how prayers like Isaiah 64:1-12 move God on some level. Certainly Isaiah expects God to hear this prayer, often seen as a “prayer for revival”, and respond with favor, even the blessing of God's very presence in space and time. Any doctrine that nullifies the Bible's straightforward calls to action or the foundational truths which spur us to respond, like prayer and the fact God answers our prayers, must be reconsidered in light of the plain meaning of scripture.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 62:1-63:6, Proverbs 30

| 01/05/18 |

Twice in the first two verses of Isaiah 62, Isaiah speaks of Zion's “vindication”. What does Isaiah mean by choosing this word? The nations have ridiculed both Israel and God during their times of exile under the Assyrians and the Babylonians. When Isaiah speaks of Zion's vindication, of course he means that Zion will one day prove to be God's bride (Isaiah 62:5). At the same time, God will also vindicate both the Lord's power and love in rescuing Zion from her mockers. This vindication will include reward for Zion, but also judgment for the mocking nations (Isaiah 63:3-6). The book of Revelation takes this image of God treading the “winepress of the nations” and vindicates Jesus, the lamb who took the judgment of our sins, as God's servant who will move in judgement against opposing nations and kings. Ultimately, Jesus will be vindicated by God in resurrection, will Himself vindicate God's faithful, and thus vindicate God's saving purposes in the world. For this reason, we delight in the name of God, for in it comes our protection and ultimate vindication for trusting in Christ in “this present evil age” (see Titus 2:12).

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 60-61, Proverbs 29

| 01/04/18 |

Isaiah 60 portrays God's future kindness to Israel by promising to fill the earth with true light and drawing the nations and many kings of earth into the Lord's kingdom. We know that a few of the promises of Isaiah 60 haven't yet come to pass (see Isaiah 60:11,18-19 and Revelation 21:22-27). Though we await the day when, as God's people, we will live in our world where our “sun will never set again” (Isaiah 60:20), some of Isaiah's prophecy has already found partial fulfillment. Consider the beginning of Isaiah 61 and how Jesus, years later, would speak Isaiah's words to demonstrate the manifestation of the “year of the Lord's favor” (see Isaiah 61-1-3, Luke 4:16-19). Jesus's ministry brings good news to the poor in healing and rescue. Jesus also in bears on the cross the shame and ridicule in solidarity with of all the world's poor. Jesus has come to ensure that the “brokenhearted” will be made into “oaks of righteousness” through faith (Isaiah 61:1,3, see Matthew 5:1-11). When we read Isaiah, it is essential to read his promises in view of Jesus's unveiling of His true identity. In Jesus, Isaiah is either already proven true or will be proven true, and the differences aren't always hard to sort out. For example, Jesus's work fulfilled the promise in Isaiah that “you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6). Only Levites could be priests to God in Isaiah's day, but in our day, Jesus has “set the oppressed free” and made them into a “royal priesthood” for God (1 Peter 2:9), to the praises of God's glorious grace in Christ Jesus.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 58-59, Proverbs 28

| 01/03/18 |

Imagine this: you go to a worship service, and most of the congregation are lifting their hands in praise. But you notice something strange: everyone singing has blood on their hands, and these aren't farmers. This unlikely scene would strike fear into anyone's heart. In Isaiah 59:3 tells us that Israel as a nation of worshiping people has blood on their hands while they make offerings and sacrifices. This blood is not from the sacrifices. Rather, this blood represents their business practices that destroy (Isaiah 59:5), robbing the innocent of their rights and acquitting the guilty (Isaiah 59:4), and violent acts (Isaiah 59:6). God chastises Israel for crying out in frustration for God's lack of deliverance from their evil foes while Israel have become evil themselves (Isaiah 59:1-2). God's justice isn't just about rewarding moral rights and punishing moral wrongs, but rather about making and pursuing a just society. God's justice rectifies wrongs, and he intends for His people to be instruments of such justice. Instead they prefer shallow worship, fasting, and prayers while they mistreat their brothers and sisters whom God loves. Isaiah began with a call to focus on justice over fasting. As we wind down this marvelous book, let's remember that pursuing justice is part of being God's people, lest we find our hands stained with blood.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 56-57, Proverbs 27

| 01/02/18 |

Hundreds of years after the book of Isaiah was written, an Ethiopian eunuch reads about Isaiah's suffering servant who, “was led like a sheep to the slaughter” (see Acts 8:32-33 and Isaiah 53:7-8). This prompted the eunuch to ask Phillip, one of Jesus' apostles, to explain the identity of this servant. Why is this eunuch so interested in the identity of the servant? He had at least two very good reasons. First, without this servant, Isaiah 56:3-8 doesn't happen. In that brief passage, this Ethiopian, whose genitals, and thus child-bearing potential, have been destroyed for empire-building, finds hope in the promises of greater honor that comes through having many sons and daughters. Second, and more significantly, Isaiah's servant will welcome foreigners into God's house, for it will be called “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). Without this servant, the Ethiopian eunuch and all those from other nations have no hope; however, Philip teaches that because of Jesus, nothing prevents us from being baptized in the name of the Servant, Jesus the Christ, and receiving the benefits of all His promises (Acts 8:34). May all who have had hope destroyed, who have been crushed or looked down upon find great comfort in the savior who suffered a shameful death in order to turn our misfortune upside-down.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 54-55, Proverbs 26

| 01/01/18 |

Because of God's servant the “barren woman” can “shout for joy,” for “more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband” (Isaiah 54:1). God will give children to those who have no children because the servant of Isaiah has borne our iniquities and took our punishment. Now, barren women will have spiritual children of their own as they lead others to the true Servant for atonement who will “see his offspring and prolong his days” after being crushed (Isaiah 53:10). These children will benefit from the servant's work in many ways as they are promised: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). Since the grace of God and the sacrifice of God's Servant make this possible, let us heed these words: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1). Such lavish grace cannot be earned, so just receive it with gladness this new year.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Proverbs 25

| 12/31/17 |

Imagine you are faithful worshiper of YHWH living in the 5th century B.C., reading Isaiah's various descriptions of God's servant. You are encouraged by powerful lines like, “and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand” (Isaiah 52:15). God is going to bring truth and light into the world through this servant. But as you read, some problems confuse your understanding of Israel's ability to fulfill God's call upon this servant. How can this servant be made “an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10), for only a spotless lamb or animal without blemish or defect can be made an offering for sin? You might read that this servant is called “righteous” (Isaiah 53:11); you love your people, but you know that the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have been anything but righteous. How can Israel as a people offer atonement when they need atonement themselves? How will Israel change such that they can bring this wonderful knowledge to the nations where they have failed before? In short, you believe that Israel is God's servant, but you cannot imagine how Israel can live up to this calling. Something has to change; something new has to occur. God's servant must be transformed, or else it cannot be the servant who “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” in order that “the punishment that brought us peace” could be laid upon Him (Isaiah 53:5). It is for this reason that the early church saw Jesus as the best fit for God's servant from Isaiah. The church didn't just find ways to prove Jesus was the servant; rather, the church found that they finally could only make sense of God's descriptions for the servant being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Only Jesus could be satisfactory sacrifice and, and as uniquely God and man, able to give understanding to the world. Jesus alone suffered, on the cross, but with a significance no other death could carry. Let us be amazed at the scandal that our King would suffer as God's chosen servant, to bring us life forever. It was foretold long ago, and now we see God's good plan. Indeed, let our weary hearts rejoice.

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In Case You Missed It —  Isaiah 51:1-52:12, Proverbs 24:23-24

| 12/30/17 |

Do you feel poor, rejected, overlooked, or mistreated? If so, then “Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn” (Isaiah 51:1). Isaiah tells Israel, his readers, to look to Abraham in their times of desolation and frustration to remember how Abraham had nothing in terms of possessions, riches, or notoriety when God made him into a special nation. What is the point? Simply this: if God was able to give Abraham so much when he had so little, know that God does the same for the rejected and despised who trust in Him. As He did for Abraham, God will give us more than we could deserve or hope. As believers in Christ, we have a better rock from which we were hewn to look to for encouragement. As we will see tomorrow, our King was despised and rejected by man, but now he reigns over the universe as King. Do not take your momentary afflictions with undue seriousness, for you will like your King experience the joy of God's pleasures and riches or mercy forever. Look to the rock from which you were cut, and the quarry from which you were hewn.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 49-50, Proverbs 24:1-22

| 12/29/17 |

God promises vindication, fruitfulness, and exaltation to His servant. We have already mentioned that though Isaiah had Israel in view when discussing God's servant, God intends this servant to refer ultimately to Jesus Christ. However, there are some interpretative questions to answer if this servant is Jesus. For example, this passage speaks of numerous descendants who will have kings and queens bow down before them (Isaiah 49:23). When it comes to questions about Israel's relationship to Jesus and the church, there is no shortage of disagreements. Still I can confidently say that the descendants mentioned in this passage include those who will believe in Jesus Christ. National Israel will not be the only ones to benefit from God's vindication and exaltation. Another truth is certain while reading Isaiah. The scope of human history that Isaiah foretells spans thousands of years. Some of his prophecies find fulfillment in the 700's, 600's, and 500's B.C.; others, in the life and ministry of Jesus; and others are still yet to come to completion. They will find it in the new heavens and new earth. Until then, let us be those who believe these words: “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23).  

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 48, Proverbs 23

| 12/28/17 |

“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). God's bald statement does not include caveats or exceptions. The wicked will have no peace. On the face of it, God has just been describing His complete opposition to those practicing evil, so He could simply mean that there is no peace for the wicked with Him. This is certainly true and the most important part of what God means. One could also say that there is no internal peace for the wicked, and no peace with others for the wicked. The wicked cannot be trusted and are unable to trust others, for they often fear that others are just like them. Add to this that God has given us consciences that make us feel appropriate guilt and shame when we do wrong, and we see that a person cannot be at peace with themselves while behaving wickedly. Truly we can have no peace while pursuing evil. Thus, God is kind to call us to pursue righteousness, that we might know the peace that He gives. Today, pursue the kindness of God by enjoying the peace of a clear conscience, washed in the blood of the lamb.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 46-47, Proverbs 23

| 12/27/17 |

Isaiah 46:1-7 succinctly presents the problems with placing our hopes in anyone or anything but God. Of course, this passage speaks directly about the making of wooden or stone images that would be worshipped. Making them, carrying them, and sacrificing to them would cost energy, time, and resources. Unfortunately, the work involved in this idolatry would not be met with reciprocal compensation. These gods could not save in times of trouble. The truth is that placing our time and energy into our jobs will inevitably frustrate; our riches will certainly be left to another, or our images will unfortunately be impossible to maintain. Basic theological economics tells us that only one person is worthy of our sacrifices: the God who is no burden at all but can carry all of our burdens. Though this might seem simple, for some reason we prefer to the costlier, disappointing route of idolatry. Why are our hearts prone to such folly? Sufficient answers to this question are beyond today's post. It is enough to say: let us turn our hearts in faith to the True God, who alone can carry our burdens.

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In Case You Missed It —

| 12/26/17 |

December 26th: Isaiah 44:24-45:25, Proverbs 22 Two days ago, while linking Isaiah's servant to Jesus' servanthood, I cited Philippians 2:5-7, where we are told that Jesus, while being God, still lived as servant. Today Isaiah continues to speak about this servant of God whom he calls “Jacob,” that is, Israel. Interwoven with God's promises for this servant is God's guarantee of His own vindication: “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.” Years later, while discussing Jesus' servanthood, the apostle Paul would declare, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Jesus is both the servant of Isaiah and the God who would be vindicated. When Isaiah wrote, there was an expectation that God would call His servant to bring great news to the world, yet be attended with sufferings. At the same time, expectations were that God would vindicate His own name by rescuing this servant. Paul and the early Christians saw in Jesus that both the vindicated God and suffering servant were the same person, the man Jesus Christ. Since our savior and King came to serve us, today let us gladly bow the knee and confess with our tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 44:1-23, Proverbs 21

| 12/25/17 |

Today we celebrate a birth. This birth is the dawning of a new age. Isaiah 44:1-3 spells out that, in this new age, God will give life in the midst of death and will multiply the descendants of Israel to fill the earth like grass fills a meadow. In fact, people will just claim the name of God's people and it will be so, irrespective of their lineage. The birth of Christ gives birth to the age where God pours His spirit out upon His people, and through their message the Spirit is poured out on others to believe in Christ. Today, God's people fill the entire globe from China to Canada, from Ghana to Guatemala. Even by the most conservative estimates, there are likely ten times more Christians in the world today than there were people on the planet in the day of Isaiah. God has been faithful to fulfill his promises. The story of God filling His planet with His worshippers is not yet complete, and so we continue to rejoice today, in the age where we are recipients of the Spirit poured out. As the Spirit of God gave birth to Christ at Christmas (Luke 1:35), so Christ sends the Spirit into the world to teach us about Christ (John 16:5-7). Though it is a cliché, Christ truly did give us the gift promised in Isaiah that keeps on giving. Merry Christmas to the world.

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| 12/24/17 |

When Isaiah speaks of God's “servant” in whom God will delight and place His Spirit (Isaiah 42:1), remember that Isaiah's original audience would have understood this servant to refer to Israel. Isaiah 42:6-7 makes plain who God is addressing immediately when it says: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Israel is God's servant, the light to the nations. Hundreds of years later, however, the early apostles started seeing the servant mentioned several times in Isaiah 40-54 as Jesus Himself. When Isaiah wrote, the audience wouldn't have thought this servant would be the messiah per se, for much that is said of the servant will include great suffering prior to vindication. Yet it is precisely because of Israel's failure to be the light to the gentiles that when Jesus came as “light of the world” (John 8:12) to “set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18), his disciples began to understand Isaiah's words about God's servant to refer ultimately to Jesus. Consider this for your Christmas Eve reflection: one of the most profound descriptions of Jesus in the Old Testament is that of the servant found in Isaiah. Your King came as a baby to serve you (Philippians 2:5-7). With that in mind, I give you a hearty Merry Christmas Eve!

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 40:12-41:29, Proverbs 19

| 12/23/17 |

God is not like other gods, and He is certainly superior to humans. We are told that unlike us, God “will not grow tired or weary” (Isaiah 40:28). Even when we are in full bloom of youth, we become exhausted (Isaiah 40:30). Note, however, that there is an exception to this rule: “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31, emphasis mine). God gives unique strength to those who trust in the Lord. This passage doesn't explain how such strengthening happens or how it works, but rather just asserts that it is true. Understanding such supernatural strength doesn't come through explanation but through experience. We must trust to understand. Certainly, I have never flown like an eagle, wings included. But I can say from experience that there is a strength to love in a hateful world that comes from God alone. God alone is able to give us hope in our darkest hours. Let us hope in Him, that we might not grow weary!

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 40:1-11, Proverbs 18

| 12/22/17 |

Isaiah 40 brings words of hope amidst the Babylonian exile. God has punished Jerusalem for her rebellion, and God's recompense has been paid. When Isaiah speaks of “A voice of one calling” to “prepare the way for the Lord” that “the glory of the Lord may be revealed,” Isaiah is seemingly that voice (see Isaiah 40:3,5). Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist claims to be the voice which Isaiah promised would will bring great hope to Jerusalem in her ongoing exile (John 1:23). In that same gospel, we are told that those that witnessed Jesus have seen “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Isaiah's declaration of good news to Israel in her exile is taken up by John the Baptist as even better news to a world exiled from beholding the glory of God (see Genesis 3:24). Isaiah looks to a day when all the valleys will be elevated and the mountains made low so that people can easily approach the glory of God, even in our deserted places. John the Baptist declares the day has come because God's glory has been revealed. Thus, every mountain has been made low and every valley raised, for through God's Spirit we can behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). May we treasure this greatest gift of Christmas and bask in the truth that God's glory has been revealed and His promises through Isaiah fulfilled!

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 38-39, Proverbs 17

| 12/21/17 |

Does God change His mind? No, the Lord doesn't change. Does God know the future perfectly? Absolutely, our Father knows everything, both real and possible, through infinite knowledge and wisdom. Does God lie? God will not be untrue to His righteous character. If all of this is true, then why does God respond to Hezekiah's prayer by seemingly changing His mind, or appearing to have been less than forthright with Hezekiah in warning his impending death? How God could have been sincere in warning Hezekiah about imminent death while also knowing that Hezekiah would pray, leading to longer life, is beyond my understanding; God's secret counsel is always hidden to us. What I can say is that God could genuinely communicate that Hezekiah's time was up while also choosing to respond in mercy to Hezekiah's request without having to give away any of the essentials (i.e. God's immutability, righteousness, and omniscience). How do I reconcile this? One possibility among many is that God could tell Hezekiah “you will not recover” (Isaiah 38:1) without actually saying, “unless you pray earnestly for recovery” because Hezekiah should know the possibility of God's mercy. Hezekiah plainly believed that God would consider his plea, thus it is reasonable to assert that God's openness in giving Hezekiah further days is implied even in the act of communicating through Isaiah. Whatever explanation you find most satisfactory, doctrines about God must take seriously the entire scope of scripture. When God relates to us in time and space in ways that confuse us, study the text more rigorously, consult theologians sincerely, and seek the counsel of believing friends humbly. Such is how we grow in understanding God through sacred scripture.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 36-37, Proverbs 16

| 12/20/17 |

You have heard this story before. Hezekiah faces off versus Sennacherib and the Rabshakeh. This account appears twice, albeit in different forms, in the historical books (see 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32). Why such Biblical repetition of these particular events? For one, Isaiah is directly involved in prophesying protection for Jerusalem against Assyria, so it makes sense for Isaiah to repeat this story in the book he authors. This encounter with Assyria also drives at the heart of the story about Israel's God, YHWH. The mockery distilled in the Rabshakeh's false witness about God and his evident disregard for the power of YHWH shows the hubris of the kingdoms of humanity. The Assyrian Kingdom at this time was great and expansive. Still, God decisively reigned over them even then. Every day, we need to know that. Moreover, God's promise to bless Israel when they turn to Him in obedience finds fulfillment in this story as Hezekiah calls upon the name of the Lord for salvation. This story emphasizes God's self-revelation through His people. God can rescue Israel from hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands. When we read stories like this, I want us to perceive God's strength and listen to Isaiah's words to Hezekiah: “Do not be afraid” (Isaiah 37:5). Whatever strikes fear into our hearts— failure, loneliness, pain, or poverty— we have a God who is Lord of all. Let us then heed both Isaiah and the message from angels to shepherds 2,000 years ago to be not afraid because of the great tidings of joy in Jesus Christ (Luke 2:8-12), God of the nations, come in the flesh. He has come to bring salvation to the world!

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 34-35, Proverbs 15:30-33

| 12/19/17 |

Isaiah 34 & 35 present a vision of the end of the world. God will defeat His enemies (Isaiah 34:4); all nations will be summoned to judgement (Isaiah 34:1-2), and many will face grave consequences (Isaiah 34:3). On the other hand, those who have been overlooked, the weak and the oppressed, will find strength in the judgments of God (Isaiah 35:3). Jesus alludes to this passage when questioned by John the Baptist's disciples about His identity as messiah (see Luke 7:18-23). Jesus intends for John the Baptist to understand that He is indeed the messiah to come, having proved it by healing the blind, sick, and lame. Still, Isaiah 34 & 35 await complete fulfillment in the next age. In the meantime, let us delight and hope as a humble people who will wear everlasting crown of joy for our heads (Isaiah 35:10). As opposed to judgement overtaking us, we are promised “gladness and joy will overtake them.” If I am to be overtaken, let it be with joy and gladness. Amen.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 32-33, Proverbs 15

| 12/18/17 |

Isaiah often weaves messages of hope and promise very closely with warnings of destruction for wickedness. Consider the beginning of Isaiah 32, which promises rulers who will bring safety to their land and where even those with personal weakness will find strength (Isaiah 32:1-4). Immediately after such a hopeful message Isaiah reflects on the nature of the wicked and ruthless. Isaiah immediately warns women who have become complacent in trusting the strength of Israel that they will see desolation. This desolation will give way to a time where the Spirit will cause the land to be filled with fruitfulness, and God's justice will return. Such is the back and forth nature of Isaiah's prophecies that read somewhat like the Psalms of lamentation like Psalms 13 & 22. God's relationship towards us reveals a great deal about His character. God is just and righteous, so the Lord will not tolerate sin. God is loving and merciful, thus He is willing to show kindness to those He loves. Some skeptics suggest that such a God is far too mercurial to be believed. I would argue that this is normal behavior for a God who loves what is good. God isn't all over the place emotionally, but rather unified in His love of good and hatred of wickedness. They are closely bound, and we experience God's unity in character as if God were sporadic only because we vacillate between love and faith, between disdain and distrust. God does not change, but we do. Thus, God reveals His intention to judge our wickedness, while also being willing to show us mercy. Such unity finds its most perfect expression in the unity on the cross between Father and Son in opposition to sin coinciding with the grace to forgive it. The Bible holds judgment and mercy tightly together because our world needs both the assurance that wickedness doesn't go unpunished, and the hope that when we have rejected the good, there is still mercy for us. Thank God for both His justice and mercy.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 30-31, Proverbs 14

| 12/17/17 |

The irony of Israel seeking help from Egypt is obvious to us by now. Years before Isaiah's generation, YHWH delivered Israel from Egypt's yoke through mighty wonders. Now God's people intend to turn to Egypt for strength and protection against Babylon. Isaiah will not be the only prophet to warn Israel of the folly of placing their hope in Egypt, for Jeremiah and Ezekiel will also warn against such misplaced trust. The problem isn't simply Egypt's inability to offer troops or strength, for from a human standpoint Egypt could improve Israel's military strength. Rather, God is angry that Israel still hasn't learned to place her trust in God. God has proven stronger than Egypt, the Philistines, the Moabites, and every nation Israel has faced. God could send a small legion of angels or even the angel of death to destroy Israel's opponents. Still, they do not call on God's name. What's the big deal in God's mind? Truly, everything is at stake in this one sin: distrust. Our first parents failed to trust God by doubting His commands and trustworthiness. The original sin is repeated by us daily. God is constant in trying to drive out our distrust in Him. So, when we notice ourselves trusting money for safety, or friendships for power, or our wisdom to determine truth, I call us in sight of our God and Father to turn to God for all that He intends to provide. For “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

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| 12/16/17 |

God's promised judgment on the people of Israel in Isaiah 28-29 is sweeping and fierce. God will rally foreign nations against Israel, confound the teachers and prophets, and act in justice against all oppressors. Let me pause and reflect today on the reality that the book of Isaiah made it into the Hebrew scriptures, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is well attested in ancient history that other nations would predominantly publish propaganda or write histories that focused on their glorious achievements while omitting their dark side. It is hard to imagine more forceful denunciation of Israel during the days of Assyrian and Babylonian captivity than we see in Isaiah. Still, it is one thing for a prophet to say and write these things. It is an entirely different matter for descendants a few hundred years later to decide to preserve this book in their “canon” (canon means rule or norm). Those who embraced Isaiah as God's words believed that God had truly judged Israel as a nation and people for the evil things they had done. Future generations chose to trust that God had spoken through Isaiah and removed them from power due their wickedness. Interestingly, the authority of Isaiah as prophet and of the book as holy scripture would be inconvenient for the religious leaders in Jesus's day when he warned the Pharisees, “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). Jesus forcefully reveals that not much had changed in the few hundred years since Isaiah (see Matthew 15:8). Jesus consistently referenced Isaiah, as this book prepared the way for God to bring both His ultimate judgement and His mercy to Israel through Jesus's life and ministry. We thank God that Isaiah was preserved as scripture that we might fully appreciate Jesus' place in the history of Israel and our world.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 26-27, Proverbs 12

| 12/15/17 |

In yesterday's reading, Isaiah celebrated God's future reign, where death's stain would be removed and God would fill the bellies and hearts of all who love Him. Isaiah 26 begins with a song that will be sung in those glorious days. One stanza works as a promise for us today. We are told God keeps, “him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). Perfect peace sounds really nice. Can one really experience perfect peace in the midst of our war-torn world? When God's past work to redeem us through Jesus, His present presence through the Holy Spirit, and the inauguration of the future kingdom become central in our thoughts, we will have peace irrespective of circumstance. This song is unblushing in its insistence that a man wrongfully imprisoned (like Joseph in Genesis), or a people in exile (like those in Babylon), and even someone about to die an unjust death (like Jesus in the garden), can find true peace through keeping their hearts and minds laser-focused God and His goodness. You might say, “didn't Jesus sweat blood in the garden?” For sure, Isaiah isn't promising that at all times our emotions and even our physiological reactions to stressors or pain will always be calm like a smooth river. Rather Isaiah is promising confidence, in our hearts and minds, that all things will be alright if our mind is directed towards God, even in great suffering. True peace, as Cornelius Plantiga pointed out in a great book called Not the Way It's Supposed To Be: A Breviary of Sin is not primarily the absence of conflict, but rather holistic relational wholeness between humans and God, self, nature, and one another. Such peace is only possible when God “whose name and remembrance are the desire of our soul” (Isaiah 26:8).

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 24-25, Proverbs 11

| 12/14/17 |

After delivering oracles concerning God's judgments against various peoples, Isaiah delivers a message about equality from God. This is not the kind of equality we like. God promises to judge equally all the nations of the world: man and woman, rich and poor, high and low. This judgment will mean a loss of mirth and gladness in the land. Oddly enough, Isaiah calls such judgement “wonderful” (Isaiah 25:1), reasoning that such judgment means “cities of ruthless nations will fear you” (Isaiah 25:3) and that God will prove for the poor a “shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat” (Isaiah 25:4). Isaiah looks beyond the days where God will judge the whole world justly for their evil toward a day where God will refill the entire earth with the gladness formerly taken away. In addition to removing the scourge of death and the tears from the bereaved, God will fill His holy city with a grand feast. The parties that we have thrown in our days will seem like children's tea parties in comparison to the celebrations where we receive the best from the hand of God. Isaiah sees a day where we will feast on God's love as one. This vision from Isaiah (as well as Isaiah 55) of God's future for His people is one of a few passages that is instrumental in the language of our mission: “Inviting Chicago to feast on the love of Jesus.” Certainly, the vision of Isaiah promising no more tears or death still awaits us now (see Revelation 21-22). At the same time, Jesus Himself is heaven's greatest prize and He offers Himself freely that we might enjoy eternal life right now by feasting on His love (see John 6:35-51 and John 17:3). God's great future, where the shroud is lifted, has broken into today if we will gaze at Christ with eyes of faith. And as we do, we will see in faint glimpses what we will see and know perfectly one day (1 Corinthians 13:12). I cannot wait for God's party in HIs Holy City with His Holy Son as our host and home! In the meantime, let us make God our refuge in the storm.  

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 21-23, Proverbs 10

| 12/13/17 |

Isaiah delivers an oracle against Babylon, Tyre, and Sidon, but let me note one section of Isaiah's oracle against Jerusalem. In Isaiah 22:8-14 we see how horizontally focused the people of God had become. During the days of Hezekiah, when foreigners invaded, the people of God evacuated homes, diverted reservoirs, and sought protection from the armory of Israel. Still they failed to acknowledge God, who had given them strength and provision. Rather, they turned to partying and revelry, saying foolish things like “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Years later, Paul the apostle repeats this line to describe a state of misery and hopelessness that should never characterize those who know the Lord's power (1 Corinthians 15:32). This is precisely the problem; God's people had ceased to live as God's people, forgetting His greatness and ignoring HIs laws. Thus, they have lost hope, and they now face a greater judgement. The truth is, however, that this judgement is better for the people as a whole than being allowed to continue in such faithlessness. It is better for them to suffer exile and learn to hope in God again than to have their own nation while they forget their God and maker. In our difficult days as the church in the United States, it is worth asking if our hard days are not better seen as an opportunity to return to bona fide confidence in God just as much as time to grieve what seemed like better days in our past.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 18-20, Proverbs 9

| 12/12/17 |

God defeated Egypt during the days of Moses, and He promises future judgement through foreign oppressors. These warnings are similar to the warnings from other oracles by Isaiah. What strikes me is the hopeful imagery of Assyria, Egypt, and Israel united in worship of the true God (Isaiah 19:16-25). This will not come until after Egypt faces hardship due their trust in false gods (see Isaiah 20). God's beautiful promise offers good news to Egypt; the very nation that represented oppression to Israel for hundreds of years will be the recipients of God's great peace and reconciliation. At this time of year, the radio plays songs about how the beginning of peace is to rid ourselves of the notion of God (consider John Lennon's “So This Is Christmas”). The Biblical writers are unblushing in their insistence that the only one who can bring such peace is YHWH, the “Lord of Hosts”. Additionally, we now know that the one who ensures the “Egyptians will know the Lord” is the same one who brings peace to the earth (Luke 2:14). God's peace has come to the nations. May we extend that peace to others this Advent season.

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| 12/11/17 |

Though the oracles about Moab and Damascus demonstrate God's compassion even on those who receive wrathful judgment, I want to focus on the oracle against Philistia. This oracle occurs when Ahaz dies (710 B.C.), after the Assyrian invasion. Philistia mock their former rivals, for Philistia were Israel's great enemies during the time of Joshua, Judges, and the reign of David. Israel defeated Philistia during David's reign, so when Isaiah warns against rejoicing over the rod that broke you, he is speaking about Philistia rejoicing over Israel's recent defeat at the hands of Assyria. Isaiah warns Philistia: “for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent” (Isaiah 14:29). This imagery conveys that Assyria will give birth to a greater foe to Philistia than Israel. God has given Israel over to Assyria, but Isaiah communicates that Philistia should be careful not to delight in the evils faced by another, for Philistia will face similar evils themselves. On the flip side, Isaiah declares that God will continue to care for the afflicted whom Philistia mock through God's chosen city, Zion (Isaiah 14:32). God will also vindicate His own people, unworthy as they might be of such kindness. What does this teach us today? Simply, we ought be careful to render ultimate verdicts about God's favor or delight based on the temporary circumstances in our lives. Our suffering can be vindicated, and our times of peace can give way to times of misery. Ultimately what really matters is God's favor upon us, and as God's children united to Him through Jesus, our vindication is ultimate, and our hardships are temporary.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 13:1-14:27, Proverbs 7

| 12/10/17 |

Isaiah speaks with authority about Babylon's fate at the hands of the Medes (Isaiah 13:17-20). If you recall, Isaiah began his book speaking about events that transpire in 740 B.C. Some modern scholars have argued that Isaiah could not have written all of this book because the destruction of the Babylonians foretold in today's reading happened two centuries later, around 539 B.C. This of course assumes that Isaiah did not actually prophesy events based on the revelation of an all-knowing God. In other words, to those who believe that miracles such as accurate prophecies about the future cannot happen, Isaiah couldn't have actually written these details about Babylon's demise. As believers, part of embracing the trustworthiness of scripture means we embrace the trustworthiness of the authors of the particular books. Isaiah claimed to write the entire book, and the New Testament authors treat Isaiah as the author as well. This is important to remember.   One last note: the word “Lucifer” is used to describe Babylon in a way that many have interpreted to also reflect Satan's fall from heaven. A straightforward reading of this passage could simply reflect Babylon's pride and destruction. However, it would be very much in line with the rest of scripture for Babylon to also refer to the reign of Satan.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 11-12, Proverbs 6:20-6:35

| 12/09/17 |

Isaiah continues to prophesy the coming messiah in terms that gladden the hearts of those who hope God will put an end to their misery. This messiah will comfort the meek and the afflicted, while judging the evildoer. God's messiah will also draw the nations that have formerly rejected God and His ways into obedient relationship. Consider the constancy of God's global mission from the days of Abraham, when God called his servant to be a blessing to the nations. God doesn't change, nor does He change His purposes or mission. Thus, it is fitting that God's messiah will not only bring peace for Israel, but also brings redemption for the Assyrians and Egyptians; for black, white, Asian, and Hispanic. To Isaiah, hoping in the messiah meant delighting in God's redemption and love for all peoples, irrespective of the boundaries of geography or nationality. To be lukewarm about God's salvation and embrace of all peoples is to reject God's salvific thrust. Advent isn't a season where we simply rejoice in God's personal salvation for us. Rather it is a time to renew our gladness in the grace that spans oceans and opposition. At Advent we ought to take time to rejoice in a God whose love is genuinely wider, greater in breadth than we realize in our times of superficial tolerance and token multi-culturalism. To celebrate Advent appropriately, we must embrace difference, for this is what it means to embrace God's redemption and His messiah's work.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 9-10 Proverbs 5:1-6:19

| 12/08/17 |

Advent means “arrival” or “coming” and is the name of the four-week season leading up to Christmas when the church focuses on the benefits of the Incarnation and looks forward to Jesus' return. Our readings this week in Isaiah fit this season very well. As Isaiah prophesies much doom and gloom, we find occasional interruptions of hope. While Isaiah tells us of increasing destruction for Israel, we also read about a child to be born who will be called “Wonderful Counselor” and upon whose shoulders the government will rest. Israel is promised that this child will oversee unending peace that attends the reign of King David's throne. Isaiah is looking forward to the messiah, for much trouble will precede the messiah. Even now, some of the promises for the messiah's reign occur after Jesus' return. The day where, “every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” still awaits. Oh, we wait with joy for that day! My encouragement is for us to spend a moment today imagining the new world our King will bring when he returns. Such is a fitting a way to respond to this reading during the Advent season.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 7-8, Proverbs 4

| 12/07/17 |

The New Testament quotes Isaiah more than any other Old Testament prophet. Jesus applies Isaiah's prophecies to Himself (e.g. 4:17-19), and Jesus's Jewish disciples learned to share how Jesus accomplished all Isaiah foretold. One verse the apostle Peter applies to Jesus is found in Isaiah 8:14 (see 1 Peter 2:8). In Isaiah God is properly the object of fearful reverence, worthy of obedience. Those who make God their Lord will find YHWH to be a sanctuary; those who oppose God will find Him to cause trouble and failure. Jesus is like God in this regard. Jesus is both the one in whom the faithful find their rest and in whom the wicked find their most decisive judgment. For all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved (Romans 10:13), but all who make themselves enemies of Jesus meet destruction (Philippians 3:19). We shouldn't overlook the fact that Isaiah is speaking of God, the unique creator of all things, while years later Peter, understanding Isaiah's meaning, intentionally equates Jesus with the stone of stumbling in Isaiah 8. Early Jewish readers of 1 Peter certainly would have grasped this and other not-so-subtle suggestions through which the apostles claimed Jesus is messiah and God. Whatever we think about the boy born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, we cannot think the early apostles taught that Jesus was anything but the eternal, divine author of all things. May we embrace this claim and find Jesus as our eternal resting place.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 6, Proverbs 3

| 12/06/17 |

Isaiah 6 paints a beautiful picture of God's majesty. After King Uzziah died in 740 B.C., about 18 years before the Assyrians would conquer the northern kingdom of Israel, Isaiah saw the true King magnificently surrounded by angels. Isaiah is stunned at God's Holiness and his own sinfulness. In response Isaiah confesses his own sins and the sins of the people. Isaiah receives the comfort of atonement and responds to God's invitation for someone to go as His representative to the people. When Isaiah accepts the invitation, God gives a message of judgement to proclaim to Israel, which I would paraphrase: keep ignoring your senses. How have they ignored their senses? They have ignored the warnings of prophets, their moral declension, and the ways their internal strife has weakened them as a nation. Isaiah wants to know, then, how long he will have to carry such an antagonistic message. God informs Isaiah his task will be long, and much sorrow will accompany his work. Cities will be destroyed, houses vacated, and God's people exiled until a remnant set aside to continue God's purposes will be all that remain. Isaiah is tasked with delivering terrible news to the people he loves. It will be Isaiah's vision of God's glory at the beginning of this chapter that sustains Him in this labor. Let me ask, then, “Do you have clarity about the greatness of God's glory?” Such clarity and wonder at God will sustain us in hard times and in any hard work God gives us.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 4:2-5:30, Proverbs 2

| 12/05/17 |

Isaiah begins chapter 5 with a song about God as the “beloved” who owns a vineyard. This vineyard's fruitlessness represents the waywardness of Israel. When a vineyard produced little fruit in Isaiah's day, there was little one could do but tear down the vineyard and use the land differently. In the same way, God intends to bring judgement to Israel for rejecting God's great grace. God promises to judge those “who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Isaiah lists the characteristics of God's chosen people which bring their judgement, including acquitting the guilty for a bribe (Isaiah 5:23) and rejecting the laws of the Lord (Isaiah 5:24). Israel has proven fruitless and even to have produced bad fruit for God, the owner of the vineyard. This picture of God's people being part of a vineyard extends into the New Testament also (John 15). Everywhere this imagery appears in the Bible, God is teaching us our need to depend upon the Lord to fulfill our created purposes. May we start out today with a desire to bear good fruit, thus leading us to renewed dependence on our God and King.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 2:6-4:1, Proverbs 1:8-1:33

| 12/04/17 |

God is going to judge Judah and Jerusalem. The social problems of this judgement are spelled out in Isaiah 3. One particular aspect of this judgment is worth considering. God promises, “I will make mere youths their officials, children will rule over them” (Isaiah 3:1). The Bible makes it abundantly clear that youth often have greater moral integrity than their forebears. So why is it a problem for young people to lead if they are better suited? Ideally, a society would be full of virtuous people, young and old. In such idyllic times, it is always better to have those with wisdom gained through experience to guide, train, and prepare the next generation to lead. God isn't downplaying the gifts or skills of the young by promising this judgement. Rather, God is warning that Judah will have no effective leaders from older generations, for they will either have been defeated or unfit for leadership. This is bad for a nation, and it is bad for the youth that need guidance. Switching our focus to the church, I argue we should celebrate the gifts of youth, but we need older, God-fearing people to be involved in supporting and leading the next generation. If such leadership were to disappear or be negligent, there will be negative effects on the generations to follow. May we be a people who affirm the gifts of the youth, but have the safety net of wise counselors in our midst.

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In Case You Missed It — Isaiah 1:1-2:5, Proverbs 1:1-7

| 12/03/17 |

God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, informs the people of Judah that their sacrifices and offerings are abominable (Isaiah 1:10-15). This is difficult to understand, knowing the importance God placed in Leviticus on the sacrificial systems, calendar, and liturgies. Why does God make strong statements against obeying the Lord's laws? To gain insight, see that God prefers that His people, “Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). God's people became accustomed to going through the motions of the sacrifices to atone for sins without actual concern for their sins or for the God they sin against. Besides this, they are obviously mistreating one another. God didn't give the sacrificial system to Israel so that they would go on sinning, but rather that they might know God is Holy and enjoy access to God's great grace. Christians today can make the same mistake. Years later, the apostle Paul warns in Romans 6 against sinning in order that God's grace might abound. The grace of God compels us not to continue to live in sin, but rather consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to righteousness (see Romans 6:1-14). Before Jesus, God delighted in Israel's sacrifices made with pure and obedient hearts. But when those religious rites acted as subterfuge to gloss over sin, then God took no pleasure in them. In the same way God takes no pleasure in our looking at Jesus' finished work simply as a “get into heaven free card” while we neglect God's call to love. Such actions miss the point of Jesus' grace just like Israel missed the entire point of the sacrificial system—to enjoy sweet, obedient, communion with God.

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In Case You Missed It — Song of Solomon 6:4-8:14, Psalm 148

| 11/30/17 |

The woman and her beloved continue to speak in evocative images about their love for one another. Two sections of our reading stand out as in need of explanation. First, the chorus of friends briefly speak about their sisters whose “breasts are not yet grown” (Song of Songs 8:8-9). The chorus is responding to the oft-repeated admonition from earlier not to awaken love before it desires (see 8:4). This response conveys that the daughters of Jerusalem understand the importance of chastity before marriage by promising to honor this sister with silver if she is virtuous when she is older (like a wall that cannot be entered) or to protect her (with cedars) if she proves unchaste (like a door). The second section immediately follows (Song of Songs 8:10-12). I believe this brief discussion surrounding the difference between Solomon's vineyards and the woman's vineyard informs the main point of Song of Songs. As this woman compares her vineyard to Solomon's, she is comparing her monogamous matrimony to Solomon's polygamy. Vineyards and wine have frequently symbolized the body and sex in this book. This woman suggests that Solomon cannot actually care for all of his 1,000 vineyards (see 1 Kings 11:1-4 for Solomon's wives and concubines). Yet this woman can tend her own vineyard (body) and chooses to give herself to her beloved for his delight, whereas Solomon keeps his vineyards for selfish gain. At this point, I tip my hat to my seminary professor Dennis Magary from Trinity, though any failure to summarize his main arguments is my fault. My recollection is he argued that Song of Solomon could be better titled “Song against Solomon”. The entire book has been devoted to the dreamy delight a Shulammite woman and her beloved shepherd have for each other. Solomon is mentioned in this woman's dreams from chapter 3-6 as revered by many, standing as a figure who reflects her desires for the shepherd to be similarly respected. While awake, the only mention of Solomon is negative, where she contrasts his approach to marital love with her own. One is the wise approach, which even Solomon elsewhere advocates (Proverbs 5:18-23), the approach of monogamous matrimony. The other is the folly of polygamy, which Solomon actually practices. Thus, the entire book has been about the wonders of romance for husband and wife and how different that is from the selfish polygamy engaged in by Solomon. I know that interpreting this book in this way is historically unique, but it is the interpretation that has made the most sense to me. If you have questions about this, reach out to me!

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In Case You Missed It — Song of Solomon 5:2-6:3, Psalm 147

| 11/29/17 |

Today ends the Shulammite woman's dream. How do we know she is still dreaming? Well, she tells us again that she “slept” but that her “heart was awake” (Song of Songs 5:2). In this dream, she again imagines having her beloved approach her at home, only to find him missing when trying to let him in. This time, as she goes seeking her beloved, she is beaten during the search (Song of Songs 5:7). After this strange event, which reflects her inner fears of losing the love or relationship with her beloved, she tells the daughters of Jerusalem to help her declare her passion for this man. As a chorus, they ask about why this guy is so great. To this she ends her dream describing why he is so dreamy. Sorry, I had to say that. Anyway, again we see how much romantic love can fill one's minds with both thoughts or emotions that are hopeful or irrational, excited or fearful. Love is complicated, and this woman's dream reveals a great deal about her hopes and fears. I find her thoughts and feelings relatable. But what does this have to do with the message of scripture about God and the world's salvation? Song of Solomon helps us consider the way God wired us with sexual drives that reflect to us something of God's delight in us and vice versa. There is still a lesson that this book has been driving at, that I believe will become clearer in tomorrow's reading.

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In Case You Missed It — Song of Solomon 4:1-5:1, Psalm 146

| 11/28/17 |

As the woman continues to dream, her dreams are about the beloved delighting in her and her body. Simple allegorical interpretations of the meaning of this passage break down. This woman is specific in describing her dream of being the apple of her beloved's eye. We are left to wonder about the purpose of such sexual imagery in the Bible. We can say the writers of Song of Songs intend to portray the intensity and excitement surrounding romance and marital sex. I would add that this particular chapter has some important insights for men in general, but husbands particularly. This dream reflects a normal feminine desire to be cherished completely by her beloved. Husbands need to remember that it is important, in every single way, to make their wives feel valued and cherished. Men and women are different, and most women feel loved most when their spouse is exuberant about them. This chapter conveys some of the importance of the whole book for modern audiences. Song of Solomon is a helpful teacher for men and women in how to relate romantically and maritally. Thus, the wise listen to what it teaches.

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In Case You Missed It — Song of Solomon 2:8-3:11, Psalm 145

| 11/27/17 |

The metaphors continue in Song of Songs, picturing the love of the betrothed couple. There is a change, however, as the ideas of “foxes” in a vineyard and the beloved “leaping over hills” indicate that there are obstacles to their enjoyment of love. These hindrances might be family and friends that disprove of the marriage, or maybe distance. We cannot be certain of the reasons for their trouble. It does seem like this trouble gives the woman a nightmare, which lasts until Song of Solomon 6:3. We know she is in a dream because we are told she is trying to find her beloved in “bed at night” (Songs 3:1). At the beginning of the dream, she imagines being unable to find her beloved; when she finally does, she absolutely must have him forever in marriage (Songs 3:4-5). At this point, her dream makes a seemingly strange jump as she imagines Solomon the great king surrounded by his subjects. This dream revealed through song conveys her desire that others would view her and her husband like she does-majestic like Solomon. To make sense of what I am saying, understand that Solomon represents her beloved in this dream, not because she desires Solomon, but rather because her dream reveals that she believes she is as good as a queen. This is how much she delights in her beloved. Romantic love makes one dream constantly of the one they love, while seeing even themselves differently because of who loves them. For this reason, married couples or even engaged couples have found Song of Songs helpful in expressing their passions. But applying Song of Solomon also requires applying its most direct applications to readers, that we not “stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 3:5). Wisdom demands that we guard our hearts and emotions in our relations with the opposite sex until we enjoy the greatest freedom to express our passion in matrimony.

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In Case You Missed It — Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7, Psalm 144

| 11/26/17 |

Interpreters struggle to piece together the parts of Ecclesiastes into one coherent whole. For most of church history, Song of Solomon has proven even more difficult to interpret. Some unifying interpretative frameworks for this book seek historical support, with an allegorical interpretation portraying love between Israel and God. Other methods tout academic support; the anthology interpretation colors this book as a collection of love songs, and the shepherd hypothesis argues for a story about Solomon seeking to steal a man's betrothed. I find problems or difficulties with all these frameworks, but points of agreement with most of the common interpretative motifs. You've been warned; Song of Solomon has always been one of the hardest books for me to interpret. We begin today's reading with three characters: a woman, a chorus of onlookers, and the woman's beloved. What can confuse initially is her insistence on calling her beloved “king”, which will complicate matters when we encounter Solomon in chapter 3. I will wait to explain that difficulty, but for today, the choice this woman makes of calling her betrothed beloved “king” is the choice to declare her delight in and reverence for this man. We see in our reading that he returns the favor when he declares, “her eyes are like doves” and that she is “like a lily among thorns.” In summary, today we see the mutual delight of an engaged couple, with the voices of a chorus of onlookers interacting in this song to praise the wonders of each individually and to invite us to enjoy the delights of their love.  

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, Psalm 141

| 11/23/17 |

It is hard to piece together the various contrasting parts in Ecclesiastes, so it is very nice that the author ends with something akin to a moral for the entire book. This main idea, “To fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13), is familiar because it really is the point of all the wisdom literature. But how does the seeming vanity of much of life point us to the importance of obeying God? Since everything in life apart from God's pleasure is ultimately fleeting and even incapable of fulfilling our never-ending appetites, we should focus on what truly matters. God judges all, according to the end of Ecclesiastes. Since this is true, let us turn our hearts afresh to God with reverence and a desire to obey Him in all things.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8, Psalm 140

| 11/22/17 |

In our youth we are more prone to be charmed by the vanities of life, often chasing after the wind. As we grow older, our appreciation of the simply gifts in life grows as well. Solomon appeals to the young to focus on God in their youth. This is because everything that we find pleasure in without proper regard and love for our creator is meaningless. To Solomon, our youth isn't the time to “sow our wild oats” and then return to our God when life is more boring and drab. Rather, God is worth all of our love as soon as possible, because God is delightful. Solomon has pursued all the riches, fame, and honor this life can afford and he calls it “meaningless”. Knowing God in all our days is the one thing Solomon considers a worthy pursuit.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 11:1-8, Psalm 139

| 11/21/17 |

“Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.” This famous wisdom is very much like that which Solomon offers us to begin today's reading. If you are a farmer, don't put all of your hope in a good corn crop, but diversify. If you invest money, don't put all your hopes in one company or one type of company, but diversify. Solomon begins our reading with an admonition to invest in seven to eight ventures, and ends with a call to work hard in many areas, because we cannot know what will succeed. Additionally, Solomon wants us to realize that we do well to focus on our work, and not spend all the hours of our day worrying about factors we cannot control in our work (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4). Really, Solomon's advice about not watching the sky predates the famous serenity prayer which says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” In summary, we do well to work hard at many things, keeping our focus on the works of our hands rather than what is out of our hands.

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| 11/20/17 |

Ecclesiastes 10 sounds a lot like the Proverbs, much of which Solomon also wrote. Before Solomon makes his familiar contrasts between wisdom and folly, he tells an interesting story. In a veiled fashion, he recalls a wise man who somehow prevented his tiny city from being destroyed by a great king on a rampage. Though we would love more details about how this wise man did such a thing, the point of Solomon's story isn't merely to tell it but to use the story as an example of wisdom's superiority to power, which prepares the theme of the next chapter. Power, raw and brute, is no good if one doesn't know how to use it well. Thus, wisdom with little strength is superior because weakness moving in the right direction is better than power in the wrong direction. By all means, brothers and sisters, pursue wisdom, for it is far superior to precious jewels and the powers of great armies.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 9:1-12, Psalm 137

| 11/19/17 |

Do you remember Job's friends and their repetitious insistence that Job's sufferings were the result of some sin, whether obvious or secret? Solomon begins today's reading by eviscerating this notion in telling us that our fates, good or bad, have almost nothing to do with our moral integrity; we all die no matter how good we have been (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3). Surprisingly, however, Solomon seems to change his tune about the superiority of death to life (see Ecclesiastes 4:2). In telling us that a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 4:9), Solomon, without losing sight of the pains of life that are so common, Solomon also acknowledges the delight of hoping to enjoy future days. He thus offers the same kind of wisdom as before: to enjoy work, food, and our relationships since our lives will be over soon. It is important to remember that Solomon is not calling us to hedonism or debauchery, for he has already written repeatedly this is vanity. Rather he is calling us to enjoy the simple pleasures which come from hard work and faithful love in this life. Even if this wisdom comes with a grim backdrop, it offers hope and meaning to our lives.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 8, Psalm 136

| 11/18/17 |

Today I begin with the ending of our reading, “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it” (Ecclesiastes 8:17). In college I read the book Pilgrim on Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. This book is essentially the author journaling while watching nature by a creek side. Dillard noted how one could see peace and serenity in nature, like dew on a leaf or the calm ripples of a river. At the same time, chaos abounds in nature. Consider the hawk devouring a mouse, or heavy rainfalls leading to mudslides. Dillard's point is that by watching nature, you would note design and chaos. Thus, the interplay between design and chaos makes airtight interpretations through observation about the purpose or nature of creation impossible. I think Solomon is saying something similar here. The idea is that apart from God's revelation, even the most observant cannot gain certain enlightenment on the nature or purpose of things. We need more than just wisdom and insight to perceive the truth. We need God. May our wisdom be always grounded in the truth God alone gives.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 7, Psalm 135

| 11/17/17 |

How do we make sense of the wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 7? For those of you who have been at the hospital for a birth and at the funeral of a loved one, the comparison, “the day of death better than the day of birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) seems obviously untrue. Solomon persists, telling us, “Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). To me, this differs from James' pointed wisdom years later when he calls us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). We may understand when the Bible tells us that suffering can produce good virtue in us, but to assert that sadness is good for my health, physical or spiritual, is hard to stomach. How do we make sense of wise Solomon's strange wisdom? When parts of Ecclesiastes are hard to grasp, it is key to remember how this entire book has been shaping us. If someone asked me to summarize Ecclesiastes with one word, I would choose “perspective”. Solomon has been helping us develop a proper perspective on our world, our lives, and our future, thus inviting us to value what is important and reject the vain. Part and parcel of such perspective is to have circumspection about our hopes and honest appraisal of our common fates. Such perspective helps moderate our emotions in the ups and downs. With such perspective, we are off of life's emotional roller coasters, which is good for our hearts and blood pressure.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12, Psalm 134

| 11/16/17 |

Is there a more powerful renunciation in literature of our endless pursuit of wealth or possessions than in today's reading? I will let the more well-read answer that question, but I find two sentences particularly insightful. Solomon states, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Later, he echoes the theme with a focus on appetites saying, “Everyone's toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied” (Ecclesiastes 6:7). Some readers that have never had much money might be incredulous at the idea of the wealthy being dissatisfied with their financial portfolio. Even so, all of us experience the regular rise and fall of our appetites and thirsts. So when Jesus tells a Samaritan woman hundreds of years later that he offers water to people that will cause them never to thirst again (John 4:13-14), He is expressing the intention to break this cycle of never having enough possessions, wealth, or even future bodily needs. Before Jesus' arrival, Solomon, seeing how difficult it is to satisfy all our appetites—financial, physical, or sexual—again encourages the enjoyment of hard toil that enables a good night's sleep. I will say a hearty Amen to Solomon's idea that a good night's rest is a great gift (Ecclesiastes 5:12), so enjoy working hard today unto the Lord and the peaceful sleep that comes from serving our God and King with all of our strength (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Psalm 133

| 11/15/17 |

Solomon's focus on being sparse in speech when entering God's temple seems like an abrupt change. The entire book has been a lengthy reflection on the nature of human existence, followed by brief admonitions to focus on what is truly important and reject vain pursuits. Now Solomon tells us that those who would enter God's temple, which Solomon helped build, with a rash desire to speak will prove to be fools. God's greatness should cause worshippers to reflect on the meaning of their words when they go to the place God dwells on earth, the temple. This of course applies to us today, though our temples are our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit of God, and Jesus Christ Himself. Additionally, it is certainly foolish to make false promises to God. This passage also indicates that we are unwise when we seek to worship God in prayer and spend little time in silence or reflection. As Solomon's father heard from the Lord, we need to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 40:10). May we take time to pause and sit in silence to remember God's goodness and greatness today.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 132

| 11/14/17 |

We all know that people worldwide face a great deal of sadness and injustice. The recent round of sexual harassment scandals is a severe reminder that women have historically faced the threat of violation at the hands of men. These events have reaffirmed Solomon's words that “on the side of their oppressors was power” (Ecclesiastes 4:1). Men, especially the rich and powerful, often get away with their abuses. So once again, Ecclesiastes paints a picture of great sadness that, if nothing else, we must admit is brutally honest. However, once again we find some hope in these verses, particularly for those who find friendship; friends will have help in times of trouble and strength against opposition (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). If we were to summarize how to enjoy this life under the sun according to Solomon, we should eat and drink with friends and enjoy our work because it is a gift of God. Bleak as Ecclesiastes might be, it helps us to consider what truly matters so that we might turn away from vain pursuits. Such is wisdom, and such is why Ecclesiastes, harsh it can sound, is part of God's wisdom literature.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 131

| 11/13/17 |

The first two chapters of Ecclesiastes paint a mostly bleak picture of human existence, but Ecclesiastes 3 is mostly hopeful. Solomon tells us that even those seemingly pointless things like “war” and “hate” have their purpose. Additionally, the admonition to eat, drink, and enjoy one's toil is repeated in this chapter (Ecclesiastes 3:13), and this enjoyment is hopefully characterized as a gift of God. That expression is not new. What is new is the hope that nothing God does will completely fade away (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Thus, God's work in and for us will endure. Now, that is interesting because Solomon seems to be agnostic on the future fate of people (Ecclesiastes 3:21). It is important to remember that at this time in redemption-history, Solomon's father, David, seemed to some to have a hope in eternal life (2 Samuel 12:23), but God does not inform the hope of the resurrection until later in time (e.g. in Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12). Solomon still seems conflicted about the purpose of our lives. On the one hand, God gives us work and joy that should last somehow since God's work lasts forever. On the other hand, Solomon appears to question whether humans, God's chief work, will last. This tension will affect our ongoing reading of Ecclesiastes. Solomon's book shows us the difficulty of living without a hope in the living God and life eternal. May we rejoice and be glad in our hope that Solomon and others longed to see (see Hebrews 11:39-40).

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:25, Psalm 130

| 11/12/17 |

“Ignorance is bliss” finds counterpart wisdom in Ecclesiastes. Gaining wisdom, to wise Solomon, is like a “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17). Why is this? Because the one gaining wisdom and knowledge also receives “vexation” as well as “sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). To be sure, Solomon claims wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:13). This still brings Solomon little comfort, for the fate of the wise is the same as the fool. So what comfort is there in wisdom? So far, the only comfort is that it is temporarily better than folly. Even if we agree with Solomon's wisdom that we should enjoy the fruit of our toil as God's good gift (Ecclesiastes 2:24), we still learn that even this is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:26). This forces the reader to consider exactly what Solomon would have us do with the seeming purposelessness of life. While we are forced to wrestle with how much energy we invest in the temporary gains in life, we are left to ask, “To what end is the book driving us—despair, depression, or something else?” Thankfully, for answers to that question, this book and its reflections continue on.

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In Case You Missed It — Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, Psalm 129

| 11/11/17 |

A few years back, I went to a pastor's event to study the book of Ecclesiastes with other pastors in case any of us desired to preach this book. One question that helped us put together the main themes found in the book was: “Is Ecclesiastes pessimistic or optimistic?” If one were to stop reading the book at chapter 1, we would decidedly choose to call the book pessimistic. We are told that everything is “meaningless” (also translated as futile or vanity, or even breath). Solomon begins his dour reflection by noting how hardly anything changes on this planet in spite of all of our efforts. People come, and people go. Generations don't remember their ancestors. All of our lives are built around working for that which will not last. This is why some people translate that famous Hebrew word hebel as a vapor. Everything seems to go away. This causes even our very senses to be wearied by their futile tasks (Ecclesiastes 1:8). So, if all this true, then we are left to ask, what is the point of life, or anything, really? Ecclesiastes will vacillate between words that could be construed as pessimistic or optimistic, but it is good to consider moving forward what fundamental hope is offered with respect to such a bleak picture of human existence.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 42:7-14, Psalm 125

| 11/08/17 |

The book of Job has a happy ending. Job is rebuked but vindicated; God's righteousness is maintained. Job's three friends, with the notable absence of Elihu, are chastened by God and ordered to make sacrifices. Finally, Job has riches and family restored to him. At the risk of constantly rehashing an important theme, let us remember as we finish this book that Job never receives a rationale from God for Job's great suffering. If you are looking to Job for a philosophical treatise on how an all-loving and all-powerful God could still allow evil to befall us, then you will be disappointed. Honestly, the Bible as a whole is similar to the book of Job in many ways. Though the entirety of scriptures gives us greater clues into God's providential purposes in our suffering, the Bible teaches us a lot more about the greatness, mystery, and love of God without trying to parse all the particulars about our many troubles. More importantly, scripture teaches that suffering is temporary for those who will trust God like Job. Lastly, scripture shows us that God enters our fray and is exposed to the worst suffering imaginable, the wrath of human jealousy against goodness, and the wrath of God's decided hatred against sin. Like Job, the story of scripture invites us not to comprehensive understanding of God's ways, but to worship and love. Let us end the book of Job with appropriate affection for the God who taught the morning stars to sing and laid the foundations of the earth.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 40-42:6, Psalm 125

| 11/07/17 |

Many like to guess at the identities of the Behemoth with a tail that “sways like a cedar” or the species of Leviathan that has “flames stream from its mouth.” Though questions pertaining to these creatures are interesting, ultimately the most important question arising from this passage is when God asks Job, “Would you discredit my justice?” (Job 40:8) This question gets at the real conflict in the book of Job. Was God just in allowing Satan to attack Job's family and afflict Job's body? Is God right to do such a thing to one righteous like Job? After God answers with more questions, we see Job's answer: “Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me” (Job 42:3). Job doesn't get an answer, and he doesn't mind. Job has seen God, and he recognizes that, in light of God's majesty, even the suggestion that God does injustice is a thought to be despised. It turns out Job didn't need an answer per se, but needed to hear from God. It is important to remember, that Job is not a book with all the answers, but is about an arrival, an appearance of God to speak to Job in his suffering. In our own predicaments, the best answer to our suffering isn't a defense of God's goodness in light of such massive suffering, but rather the arrival of a Savior for us and with us. God's best answer to questions about our suffering is His suffering in our place. Jesus's coming similarly isn't an answer to our suffering per se, but Jesus is certainly God speaking to us. May we, like Job, close our mouths whenever we go through prolonged questioning of God's justice, especially in light of the injustice of the cross.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 38-39, Psalm 124

| 11/06/17 |

Job finally gets his trial before God. Job is on the stand as God begins with a number of questions. It is important at the outset to note that God mentions absolutely nothing about the behind-the-scenes wager between God and the accuser. Of course, God doesn't even begin to explain to Job how the Lord is both good and allows evil. Instead of accusations, God's questions cause Job to marvel at the One who creates and upholds the universe. Job will also have nothing to say in response. God's defense isn't a defense; rather, His barrage of questions invites Job (and us) to surrender our pretension of deep wisdom and understanding. We certainly haven't seen “the gates of death” (Job 38:17) or “the way to the abode of light” (Job 38:19). Nor do we give strength to the horse or “clothe its neck with mane” (Job 39:19). God is not insulting Job or the reader, but rather inviting us into deeper appreciation of how little we comprehend in order to fully value God's infinite wisdom. Job is left grasping for words, but God still has more to say.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 36-37, Psalm 123

| 11/05/17 |

Elihu reverts to some basic health-and-wealth concepts about God's justice in today's discourse (Job 36:6-9). This should cause the reader to wonder, one last time, why Elihu isn't rebuked by God in the end. I argue that Elihu demonstrates mistaken ideas about God in some particulars, but he is enchanted with God's total splendor. Elihu, as opposed to Job's three other friends, talks not as a detached speculator about God's majesty and power, but speaks as a worshipper. As Elihu calls Job to, “stop and consider God's wonders” (Job 37:14), we see that Elihu loves the God responsible for, “spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze” (Job 37:18). Elihu has a few mistaken ideas about God, but he does not fail to revere and love God. As we will see, God will indirectly correct some of Elihu's theology. In the meantime, it is important to consider the relationship between love and knowledge with respect to God. They both are necessarily linked, but I would argue that the one who genuinely loves God will be consistently filled with greater knowledge about God. This is so because love must pursue greater knowledge about one's beloved. However, it is very possible for someone to have knowledge about God without having love for Him. Considered in such light, may we avoid the danger of disinterested or dispassionate responses to God.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 34-35, Psalm 122

| 11/04/17 |

When God appears to Job later in our book, the Lord rebukes all of Job's friends except Elihu. Biblical students have argued over God's silence towards Elihu for many years. Simply, I believe Elihu does improve upon the counsel of the other friends, even if still imperfect in many ways. Elihu makes a point of great strength, which was basically absent from the other's thoughts, in Job 35:10-11: “But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than he teaches the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?' ” Basically, when we are disappointed in God, we are accustomed to asking, “Why does God allow bad things?” Yet very few of us will ever ask, “Why does God give us so many blessings?” or “Why is such suffering rare?” Elihu makes a valid point that Job ought to consider. Job is right to assert his desire to please God, but what right does Job have to expect all of God's blessings? One might say, well Job is a good man. A true response is that this still doesn't mean we deserve anything from God. Life itself is a good gift that God has prerogative to give or take away. Job said something similar at the beginning of the book when he says that “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). Elihu's thoughts simply add that God has authority to give and take away without making him unjust. Amen.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 32-33, Psalm 121

| 11/03/17 |

The reason Job's old friends no longer respond to his defense is “because he was righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1). Being called right in one's own eyes is not complimentary in scripture (Proverbs 21:2, Proverbs 31:12). We are left to guess whether the author of Job intends this statement as negative. We can be certain, however, that Elihu doesn't realize the irony of his statement, “For I am full of words” (Job 32:18). As readers, we already are discovering that Elihu is verbose. Elihu will continue his speech for four additional chapters beyond today's reading, but we are left today to wonder if he will add any significant insight to the previous discussions. A positive indication is Elihu's expressed desire to have Job answer his questions, “for I want to vindicate you” (Job 33:32). This statement should cause us to re-evaluate what Elihu is doing in his speech, especially in contrast to the other friends. Elihu's frustration is due the fact the other friends, “found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him” (Job 32:3). With these two passages guiding us, it seems that Elihu either wants to help Job uncover secret wickedness or acquit Job of wrongdoing. The difference is subtle, but it seems that Elihu doesn't want to begin with the assumption of guilt without evidence. This is an important improvement, and the next two days will show us how Elihu, while still problematic as counselor and friend, does provide better guidance prior to Job “taking the stand” in trial.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 31, Psalm 120

| 11/02/17 |

Job's final speech ends with a defense of his righteousness in a number of areas. There would be no “#metoo” campaign if more men related to women like Job, a man who refused to lust (Job 31:1). Job ensures his servants receive their rights (Job 31:13) while his poor neighbors receive mercy in the form of bread and clothing (Job 31:16-20). Job trusts in God and refuses to hope in possessions (Job 31:24), or to make special petitions for blessings from creation (Job 31:26-28). Long before Jesus says to love enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), Job loves his opponents (Job 31:28-29). Job didn't need the author of the Book of Hebrews to encourage appropriate hospitality (Job 31:31-33) in hopes of accidentally showing kindness to angels (Hebrews 13:2). Job gives his powerful last defense and then declares that he looks forward to an opportunity to stand before the Almighty in His courtroom and make the same defense. In short, Job believes he has done nothing wrong and wants to see God in order to plead his case (Job 31:35-37). Shortly enough Job will get his wish. Before he does, he will have to listen to a new accuser. Let's see if any new accusations shed light on what Job has done to deserve all of this.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 29-30, Psalm 119

| 11/01/17 |

It is sad to read while Job recollects his better days; especially difficult are the details of his righteous deeds before his great suffering. Job remembers how he “rescued the poor who cried for help” and that he “made the widow's heart sing” (Job 29:12,13). For Job and other Biblical writers, living by faith isn't simply about avoiding bad things, but about pursuing justice and showing mercy to others. Many believe that obeying God is all about what we should avoid, like illicit drugs, immoral sexual activity, or laziness. While it is important to avoid evil, a righteous person does better than simply avoiding evil by seeking good for their neighbor. Job paints a powerful picture of his righteousness, reflecting the Jewish ideal of caring for the weak, oppressed, and fatherless. The righteous shall live by faith for sure, and this faith leads the righteous to be good news people to all peoples. May our hearts be moved to action by the picture and description righteousness of Job. More importantly, may we be gladdened to recognize how much more our Savior, who rescued us while we were poor, causes us to sing. Because of Job, we have a picture of what righteousness means; because of Jesus, we have been rescued from the penalty due for our lack of righteousness. May we see that we were widows and orphans and thus be moved to love the widow and orphan in our life like Job.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 28, Psalm 118

| 10/31/17 |

Job poetically questions how to find wisdom. Since people go digging inside of the earth for precious jewels, Job wonders how we can gain wisdom, something more valuable than rubies (Job 1:18). Though Solomon is much more famous for similar reflections on wisdom, one might wonder whether Job influenced Solomon's thoughts. One thing is for certain: they both agree on the definition of wisdom, “To fear the Lord” (Job 28:28, see also Proverbs 9:10). We can search far and wide for wisdom, but Job teaches us that the only way to find it is through reverence and awe at God's greatness. In speaking of wisdom this way, Job teaches his friends that he is no fool and that they would be very wrong to accuse him of lacking a healthy fear of God. May we learn from Job and seek wisdom today by asking God to show us both His majesty and the depth of our dependence on Him.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 27, Psalm 117

| 10/30/17 |

Job expends a great deal of words describing the fate of the wicked. Job shows he understands well the folly of even becoming rich through wicked means. Before he describes the ironies that befall the wicked, such as, “However many his children, their fate is the sword” (Job 27:14), Job makes one simple point about his own goodness. In our translation Job states, “I will never admit you are in the right” (Job 27:5). However, I like the way the ESV captures Job's rationale for such a refusal as it reads, “Far be it from me to say that you are right” (Job 27:5). Why is it far from Job to say such a thing? His point is that he doesn't even have the authority to agree with his accusers when he knows they are mistaken. To agree with them would be to lie or take up a judgement that God alone could make about secret or unknown sin. Job refuses to indict himself because he believes such authority belongs to God alone, and so Job waits for his trial before God to hear what God has to say. Before Job sees God at trial, Job continues to maintain his innocence of sin worthy of his terrible fate. Interestingly, Job even shows integrity in maintaining integrity, for he refuses to lie to appease his accusing friends.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 25-26, Psalm 116

| 10/29/17 |

* Pastor Jeremiah is taking a break for this week in writing the daily blog to accompany your reading. Ralph M. is our guest writer for today's blog post. One of the big narratives that we have been told about the story of Job is that his friends wanted to blame Job for all of the suffering that have happened to him. Job, on the other hand, wanted to get an answer from God as he continued to claim his innocence. As people removed from the situation in the text, we know that God is on a cosmic challenge with Satan, Job and his friends were not aware of this. We were all taught from a young age in Sunday school that Job's friends were wrong and Job was right. It is not as black and white as it seems, however. Job's friends, like Job, acknowledged God's power in the situation in verses 1-3; a very positive trait: Dominion and awe belong to God;     he establishes order in the heights of heaven. Can his forces be numbered?     On whom does his light not rise? In reading the Scriptures, it is easy for us to see people as black and white. This leads us to take out good qualities in bad people and bad qualities in good people. When we talk of Job's friends, we see them as misguided and bumbling idiots who cannot comfort a grieving friend. However, when we see these characters as three-dimensional human beings, we see that they probably have a deeper theological understanding of who God is and what He can do. We can see them as ourselves, especially during times of crisis needing comfort. You may have caught yourself comforting someone who had lost someone with the words “He is in a better place now,” or “It is time,” rather than keeping silent, as what we usually shout at Job's friends when we read the book. When we see Job's friends for the entirety of who they are based on the Scriptures, we might see far more familiar characters: our very own selves.

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| 10/28/17 |

* Pastor Jeremiah is taking a break for this week in writing the daily blog to accompany your reading. Scot M. is our guest writer for today's blog post. God “does whatever he pleases” (Job 23:13). Does that frighten you? It “terrified” Job (23:15), understandably so, for he was in agony because of God's choices, though he didn't know why. Yet he had no intention of running from God, like the frightened Israelites in Ex 20:20. Instead, he searched for Him persistently, even though God seemed unreachable (Job 23:3-9). Can you trust that God was doing the best for Job, and that what He pleases to do is the best for us, even when we hurt, and that we are His treasures, not His puppets? We shouldn't expect God to always make sense to us. His ways are beyond what we can comprehend. Can we let it be enough that God's ways make sense to Him, and that He is always righteous and good and doing what is best for us? When we are dismayed by our suffering, as Jesus was dismayed in Gethsemane by the prospect of bearing our sin (Mt 26; Mk 14; Lk 22), “we are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us: we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be” (Letters of C. S. Lewis).

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In Case You Missed It – Job 20-21, Psalm 113

| 10/26/17 |

* Pastor Jeremiah is taking a break for this week in writing the daily blog to accompany your reading. Scott A. is our guest writer for today's blog post. Why do good people suffer, and why do evil people succeed? Zophar provides a simple answer in Job 20. To him, Job's destruction is from Job's sin. Earlier, he implored Job to repent of it, yet he just won't! Eloquently and viscerally, Zophar describes how God punishes the godless person with wrath and destruction, and Job's lot right now only proves that he's a bad guy. It's certainly an easy answer, isn't it? It's wrong, though. In Job 21, Job reminds him (and us!) of the reality of the world. The wicked sometimes do prosper. It is safe to say we probably know someone who has had great fortune but is just an awful person. God's grace is deeper and greater than what we think it should be. Don't lose heart, though. Justice may feel delayed, but it is coming. The wicked will receive the cup of God's wrath on the final day. Praise God that he gave us Jesus to save us, whom were of the wicked! Today, invite your friends and family who don't know Jesus to feast on His love, that they avoid this judgement and enter into God's love.

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In Case You Missed It – Job 19, Psalm 112

| 10/25/17 |

* Pastor Jeremiah is taking a break for this week in writing the daily blog to accompany your reading. Audrey E. is our guest writer for today's blog post. The “you” in Job 19:2 is plural. Job's plea is to all his friends, not just Bildad. “Ten times” in verse 3 figuratively represents ten speeches by friends so far. Verse 6: God is the hunter with Job in the net. Verse 7: God is an unsympathetic passerby ignoring Job's cries for help. Justice escapes Job (19:5-12). Verses 19:13-20 detail three kinds of relationships turned against him. His subordinates now show contempt. Guests who once received Job's kindness refuse to show the same to him. Lastly, friends and family abandon him. Everyone he thought he could count on treats him with disdain. In verses 21-22, Job makes a plea to his friends for pity, then turns from them to His Redeemer. Now the crux of the passage unfolds with Job's declaration, “I know my Redeemer lives…” Job believes his Redeemer is his witness in heaven and will vindicate him as in a court of law. “In his flesh” (Job 19:26) is a reference to a resurrected body. Job clings to truth and fills his heart with faith. His words were written down as he desired and have reassured countless suffering believers through the centuries with hope beyond the grave. See Dan. 12:2; Isa 26:19.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 16-17; Psalm 110

| 10/23/17 |

* Pastor Jeremiah is taking a break for this week in writing the daily blog to accompany your reading. Mollie H. is our guest writer for today's blog post. Job has had enough of his exasperating friends! He is turning away from their perspective and towards the God who holds his life. His lament to God is agonizing; he spares no details as he describes to God the effects of what He has done to him. His assertion of innocence is unwavering. Job pours out his heart to God in grief and pain, begging for vindication. His idea of a mediator who hears his cries and will be his witness, of course, reminds us of the Lord Jesus. His emotions switch from God, the adversary, to God, his pledge and security.  Job struggles to deal with God, and in this section, he seems to be seeing God in a new way as he desperately appeals to Him. Job's friends think he is bound for the grave but he refuses to be robbed of hope.  “Where then is my hope? Who will see my hope?” God sees Job and hears his lament! It is a matter of trust in the character of God that holds us and Job together!  

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In Case You Missed It — Job 15, Psalm 109

| 10/22/17 |

It would be wrong to say we should never confront someone the way Eliphaz does when he rebukes Job in our reading today, but if you ever do, you'd better be right, and the one you correct had better be very wrong. Eliphaz accuses Job of being unwise (Job 15:1), a foolish talker (Job 15:2), deceitful (Job 15:4), and led astray by sin (Job 15:5). Oh, and Eliphaz also suggests Job is unwilling to listen to the wise, while implicitly suggesting Job is a man wicked (Job 15:20-22) who rebels against God (Job 15:25-26) and who will shortly see the futility of his past riches (Job 15:27-35). Eliphaz, as the phrase goes, rakes Job over the coals. Now if these accusations were true and Eliphaz could know this with certainty, his words wouldn't be so problematic. Unfortunately, we know that Eliphaz, in his presumption, assumes something false about God, i.e., God would only allow the guilty to suffer. Because of this assumption, Eliphaz speaks terrible falsehoods against Job. No wonder Job calls these folks horrible physicians who should just heal themselves. Confrontation in love is important (Ephesians 4:15), but when we confront, we'd better have our facts straight, and our theology ought to be sound. If not, we risk sounding as harsh and foolish as Eliphaz.

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| 10/21/17 |

Job succinctly describes the problem with his friends' counsel when he claims, “You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” (Job 13:4) Those lies have been about both Job and God. After saying this, Job makes plain what he ultimately longs for, namely an opportunity to make his case before the throne of God. In confidence, Job declares his innocence and his confidence in God's justice. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him” (Job 13:15-16). Job believes it is impossible for the guilty to desire a hearing with God, for that would only lead to greater shame and destruction. Job is essentially saying, “Why would I want to stand before God if I were guilty?” Indeed, that would only be a fool's desire. What Job really wants is for God, whom Job loves, to tell him why the Lord has afflicted Job and his family. This does not mean Job doubts God's existence or character, but that he does not understand God's hand at work. So, Job wants to hear directly from God. I think we all have been there from time to time. Again, Job shows us authentic suffering before God, without denying His trust in the Creator of all things. When suffering comes, may we know the righteousness that is ours in Christ and boldly seek God for insight, for God loves to give knowledge to His children.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 11, Psalm 107

| 10/20/17 |

If you have ever triggered someone with your words, then you can relate to Zophar's response to Job. Something Job said so aggravated Zophar that he didn't even hear Job clearly. Zophar claims Job has said something like, “My beliefs are flawless, and I am pure in your sight.” (Job 11:4). Of course, Job said nothing of the sort in yesterday's reading. Job insisted God alone is righteous. Thus, Zophar is a great example of failing to fully understand a sufferer or the frustrated. We could call Zophar's response an example of “talking past” someone. Zophar is responding to an argument which Job never makes, with claims Job doesn't deny. How is such an approach helpful? The truth is, we know Zophar is not helpful at all. At the same time, we make similar mistakes when we are not careful to listen to the concerns or frustrations of those around us. It doesn't matter whether someone is struggling with doubts about God, frustrated with us, or trying to make a point; we all should do our best, for the relationship's sake, to attend to what our loved ones actually say rather than what we imagine they are saying.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 9-10, Psalm 106

| 10/19/17 |

Job becomes feistier with his friends today and more accusatory towards God. Job's basic line of argument today is that God should, “Turn away from me so I can have a moment's joy.” Why should God do this? Job's argument works like this: God is more righteous than Job, so Job cannot hope to claim complete innocence before God. God is also wiser than Job and would win any argument. God is stronger than Job, thus he cannot defend himself physically against God. Finally, there is no one who can mediate or arbitrate a disagreement between Job and God, so Job is basically helpless in his suffering. Since this all is true, Job wonders why God would do such a thing to one whom God created. Job just wants God to give some relief, and he appeals in hope that God will love His creation enough to cut some slack. Through this entire speech, Job demonstrates heightened frustration with God. One question from Job gets at the heart of the matter: “Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked?” (Job 10:3) We will have to wait for Job to receive some clarity on this question.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 8, Psalm 105

| 10/18/17 |

Eliphaz proved pastorally insensitive when addressing Job. Today, Bildad lies about God. Besides the harsh insinuation that Job's children's sin was the reason they died, Bildad says something theologically troubling: “If you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state. Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be” (Job 8:6-7). This is what we call today “health and wealth theology,” the idea that those who do right will prosper and those who do wrong will suffer. However, the Bible teaches that this line of thinking is completely mistaken. For example, Jesus teaches often that his followers will suffer for following Him (e.g. Matthew 24:9, Matthew 16:24). The New Testament is about a crucified perfect man and His persecuted followers. Considered in light of God's scriptures, Bildad proves to be a terrible source for insight about God's works. Job certainly does not gain help in understanding his predicament.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 6-7, Psalm 104

| 10/17/17 |

Job says a lot today. He confirms that his frustrations are justified by wondering out loud if a donkey will “bray when it has grass” (Job 6:5). Of course, it doesn't, and in the same way Job doesn't question God for no reason. Job also wishes to have God strike him down so he can perish as one confident he has been true to God. After this Job speaks of how horribly his friends are treating him. However, the most dramatic part of Job's speech comes when he begins aiming his questions at God. Job wonders what he has done and why God cares so much. Finally, Job wonders why God, if Job has in fact sinned, will not just forgive him. After all Job as a mortal will be dead soon. Job still has little insight into what God is doing in his situation. So we see a gamut of thoughts and emotions, all of them revealing a great deal of Job's character and his search to make sense of God's work. This is why, in times of suffering, Job has always been a faithful friend to those who will study his words. Job endured great suffering, and he can be a great ally in whatever suffering we face.

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| 10/16/17 |

In the first of many responses from Job's friends, Eliphaz demonstrates what will become an unfortunate habit of Job's friends. Eliphaz says true things about God which miss the point, for Job doesn't deny their truth. For example, Eliphaz speaking of evil people's claims, “At the breath of God they perish.” Job never suggested anyone died except by God's choice. Eliphaz asks the rhetorical question, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God?” (Job 4:17) Has Job ever suggested a mortal is so righteous? One last instance makes my point: when Eliphaz declares, “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” (Job 2:9). Job would, if we were listening to a preacher give a sermon, intellectually agree with all of Eliphaz's points. That does not help Job make sense of the peculiar suffering he is facing, especially given Job's prior obedience before God. There are many problems in Eliphaz's approach, but one of them is that his arguments depend heavily on assuming Job has forgotten the truth. However, as we read in chapter 2, Job has not credited evil to God and so has shown no evidence of abandoning faith. Job's friends will be unhelpful for many reasons. One of them is that they don't really understand their friend.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 3, Psalm 102

| 10/15/17 |

“I wish I had never been born.” “I wish I could just go ahead and die.” These are the sort of phrases we hear when helping the extremely depressed loved ones in our lives. However, when we read about Job asking, “Why did I not perish at birth” (Job 3:11) or suggest he is like, “those who long for death that does not come” (Job 3:21), it is easy to be caught off guard. Many of us, accustomed to happy endings, are uncomfortable with the Bible showcasing such unresolved frustration like we encounter in Job 3. During our trek together through the scriptures, we have read similar brutal honesty from the likes of David while reading his psalms. We have learned that it is good for people to bring their concerns to God in authentic fashion. Now, in Job's circumstances, his words increase our awareness of the narrative tension. We are left to wonder: What answers will Job receive? Will God tell Job the meaning of His suffering? or Will Job find comfort? Job 3 is important, just like the two previous chapters in framing the forthcoming discussions between Job and his friends.

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In Case You Missed It — Job 1-2, Psalm 101

| 10/14/17 |

An adequate reflection on Job 1-2 would take pages. I want to simply note today that though “The Accuser” (Satan) is the instigator of Job's troubles, we must deal with the uncomfortable fact that all Job's hardships are due God's choice and actions. Why do I say this? First, this Accuser must ask God's permission to afflict Job (Job 1:8-12, Job 2:4-7). Secondly, even as he afflicts Job, the accuser recognizes that ultimately it is God's hand still at work (Job 1:11, Job 2:5). Third, Job acknowledges implicitly God's work when he responds to his wife that he should be willing to accept both good and evil from God (Job 2:10). This brings up the incredible tension: if God does all of this, then has God done something evil? Job answers clearly that, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). Immediately after we are told Job did not “charge God with wrong.” How can that make sense? To Job and the reader, God has absolute rights as creator and sustainer to give and take away. Yes, God takes everything from Job. Yes, what Job loses reflects the evil of the fall of humanity. No, God in taking away Job's good gifts, did not do evil. In the readings ahead, Job and his friends will attempt to make sense of God's actions. Our readings today tell us important truths that frame the remainder of the book of Job. God did no evil and Job did no evil. Once we understand this, the conversations that lie ahead can be better appreciated.

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In Case You Missed It — Esther 9-10, Psalm 98

| 10/11/17 |

Yesterday I argued that the Jews, in exile, often showed God's greatness to the nations better than they did under the Davidic monarchy. The end of Esther reiterates the extent to which one Jewish man showcased God's work in his life while serving a foreign king. Mordecai is the focus of Esther 10. We are told that his story is written in the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. This is a big deal. Many of Israel's leaders have their names in Israel's chronicles, but Mordecai has his name listed among the great leaders of one of history's great empires. Mordecai has performed his duties so well that he would forever be remembered among Persian kings. Mordecai and other Jews, like Nehemiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shined like stars in the midst of their foreign rulers. God called them into difficult situations, and they stepped up by working hard, yet unto the Lord. In exile, the Jews learned to faithfully follow their God while excelling at their vocations, so as to win favor from their neighbors. There is good reason why so many Christian leaders see the exiled Jews as a great example for how we should engage our culture(s) in all times.

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In Case You Missed It — Esther 8, Psalm 97

| 10/10/17 |

A sentence can make us pause and reread a few times to reflect on its meaning; Esther 8:16 made me pause and reread. It says, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.” This is a fairly straightforward sentence except for the usage of the word “light”. Light can mean, in this context, that the Jews had knowledge, for light is often symbolic of knowledge, but I don't know whether that fits this passage best. Light could refer to how the Jews possessed the favor of the nations, which God promised their predecessors. Truly God had called the Jews to be a light to the nations in Isaiah 49:6. Or perhaps it means God gave the Jews clarity as opposed to confusion; clarity is often associated with light. The truth is, I don't know for sure the intended usage of light in this passage. My best guess is that it means favor, since the surrounding verses stress the way others began to favorably view the Jews. If that is the case, then it is strange, as one commentator has pointed out, that God's people accomplish their vocation to bring good news and light to the world better as exiles than they did during a majority of their time as a monarchy. As the scattered church today, we do well to reflect on what this might mean for us in difficult times.

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In Case You Missed It — Esther 6-7, Psalm 96

| 10/09/17 |

Esther lived in the days between the beginning of Ezra and the end of Nehemiah. In those two books, a common phrase for God's favor is “the hand of the Lord”. Today we see God's hand at work for Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews. King Ahasuerus chooses to read the chronicles which recall Mordecai protecting the king from his treacherous eunuchs. To others, this might have seemed like coincidence, but we should recognize the Lord's hand in it. When Haman is asked what to do for the man the king loves, he is blind to the fact that Ahasuerus is speaking about Mordecai. This too is God's hand at work. The King adores Esther, and of course this is God's hand. Lastly, the timing of Haman approaching Esther to beg for mercy all worked out by God's hand to bring justice to a man who initiated attempted genocide. When we read the word of God, it reminds us that we might find ourselves in situations that seem more like Esther 2-3 rather than Esther 7. The truth is that God's hand is always at work in our world, and we must cling to this truth for joy in our hard times.

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In Case You Missed It — Esther 4-5, Psalm 95

| 10/08/17 |

It is strange to think that a king would know so little about the queen he loves that he would issue a decree to exterminate her entire ethnic group, yet this is the situation in which Esther finds herself. When Esther asks her cousin and adoptive father Mordecai about the problem he faces, he tells her the entire story. Note how Mordecai sees the hand of God and communicates this to Esther. First, Mordecai confidently asserts that God will deliver the Jewish people somehow. Secondly, Mordecai helps Esther to see the need for her to take the risk of asking the king to change his mind. Mordecai declares it possible Esther has “come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Mordecai sees God's hand at work and calls Esther to courage lest she and her family die. Esther will not automatically find favor in the king's eyes; if she fails to please the king, she might die. Through prayer and fasting, Esther is strengthened to see that this is her moment. She is given wisdom on how to act, and God uses her to combat the complete destruction of her people. To God be the glory for raising up people in the right times and places.

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In Case You Missed It — Esther 2:19-3:15, Psalm 94

| 10/07/17 |

Every one of us grew up learning about the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazis' desire to exterminate the Jewish population in Europe. Sadly, human history is filled with mistreatment of the Jews, even by Christians. Long before the time of Jewish ghettos in large European cities and the persecutions of the mid-1900's, another tyrant desired to exterminate the Jewish people. Haman's hatred for Mordecai in our reading leads to the king making an edict to have all the Jews in the Media Persian empire destroyed. After the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon, it would have seemed that life could not have been much worse for the Jews. Yet when King Ahasuerus makes this decree, the worst potential fate for God's people seems near at hand. Today's reading shows the work of Satan at its finest, for Satan is a great deceiver. Even after Mordecai spares the king's life, the same king is duped into making an edict killing Mordecai's people due to Mordecai's convictions. The rest of the book of Esther will showcase how God is at work in this story to thwart the plans of Haman, and thus the devil.

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In Case You Missed It — Esther 1-2:18, Psalm 93

| 10/06/17 |

I hate to begin a blog post with a caveat, but I really must say something. I have never watched “The Bachelor”. Still, as I was thinking about the process for replacing Queen Vashti, my mind reflected that this show could have looked to Ahasuerus and his officials for a script. It is shocking to me that we live in a culture where the process of replacing Vashti would be deplorable to many of us, yet we endure entertainment built on the same principles. In any case, Esther's situation reveals that God's people find themselves in the midst of a wicked people. Esther and Mordecai must navigate the evil days in which they live, as exiles in a foreign land. We do well to pay attention in the upcoming readings for cues on how to live as exiles in confusing and evil times. As the church, we live in a world where “The Bachelor” and all of its misogynist and perverse trappings seem normal to so many. To that end, I pray that we are helped by Esther and Mordecai as we consider how they were shining lights in their dark days.

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 13, Psalm 90

| 10/03/17 |

Very often, even after the hard work is done, there is still work left to do. Nehemiah has led his people to rebuild the walls which protect the holy city. They have found a measure of safety and order. Still, after Nehemiah goes back to Artaxerxes for a time, not a few of Judah's leaders begin to do dishonorable things in Jerusalem with God's tithes. Nehemiah has faced incredibly hard work leading a people in the midst of external opposition; upon returning, Nehemiah must work still to prevent internal corruption. When God does a great work for Israel, the important issues of addressing sin, systemic injustice, or corrupt leadership don't always go away. God has brought order and blessings for His people, but maintaining these blessings will take virtue. Virtue doesn't happen accidentally, for we must work in faith to cultivate a love for whatever is noble, good, and true. Thus, no matter the level of external opposition we meet with in our lives, nor the number of struggles we as a church will face, there will always be important work to do, individually and corporately, for we must continually grow virtuous by grace.

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 11-12, Psalm 89

| 10/02/17 |

After rebuilding the walls, the leaders, in addition to ten percent of returned exiles began to live in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:1). Why are only ten percent of the people asked to live in Jerusalem? For one, the walls had just been rebuilt, and the city was still very vulnerable; those who stayed in their towns were thankful for those ten percent who moved to Jerusalem. Secondly, it is likely that Jerusalem would require a few more years to establish the infrastructure necessary to handle a large population. Remember, even after all of this rebuilding in Nehemiah, there is still much work left to be done. Jerusalem is by no means in possession of their former power or even their former plumbing. God has been faithful, yet there is still a great deal of work to be done to make the city habitable for a growing number of returned exiles. Thus, it is best that the leaders oversee the rebuilding of this city and also take the risks inherent to the task. Throughout Nehemiah, these details offer great insight into God's relationship with our daily lives and clue us in to how God provides. God is not distant, and He does not consider the particulars of our lives between waking and sleeping irrelevant. Rather, God is pleased to provide intimately and thoroughly for His people.

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 10, Psalm 88

| 10/01/17 |

Nehemiah, the Levites, and other leaders seal a covenant with their signatures to begin Nehemiah 10. This covenant commits to the stipulations found in the Mosaic law. For today, consider that these leaders “assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree” (Nehemiah 10:3). This idea of “firstfruits” plays a prominent role in scripture, representing the gift of their best to God, since He is the giver of all things. Though He delights more in a contrite spirit than in sacrifices and offerings, at the same time, a contrite spirit stirs them to give God their best. How is your spirit before God? What you give to God in terms of time, resources, and passions will reveal a great deal about your spirit's posture before Him. Importantly, God frees us to give our firstfruits precisely because God gives us His first fruits: Jesus, Son of God (1 Corinthians 15:20).

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 9, Psalm 87

| 09/30/17 |

For the second time in the book of Nehemiah, confession of sins plays a predominant role for an entire chapter. What does this tell us about the importance of confession? There are some obvious truths we all understand about confession. For example, we can't change if we don't know what we have done wrong. Also, confession acknowledges to the offended party we understand our responsibility. Most importantly, Biblical confession starts from a perspective well represented by the words of Judah's leaders: “ In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:33). Confession understands who is right and who has been wrong all along. This is why confession is an important response as we are saved by faith (Romans 10:9-10). Faith recognizes that God alone can save us, and confession recognizes that we have been trying to save ourselves, albeit to no good end. Thankfully, in God's grace, if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 8, Psalm 86

| 09/29/17 |

Ezra makes his first appearance in the book of Nehemiah while Israel celebrates the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). The regulations for this 8-day festival are spelled out in Leviticus 23:33-44. Nehemiah and Ezra call Israel to follow those stipulations, and Israel goes above and beyond in their obedience. Those following Nehemiah's leadership listen to the law and the scriptures being read for hours and hours. In our day, where many people demonstrate the traits, even if they don't have the disorders, of attention deficit problems, this is hard to fathom. Truthfully, in any age, when people are interested in the scriptures to this degree, this is great evidence that God is at work. In fact, the passage makes Judah's enthusiasm clear when it says that this festival had never been celebrated in this way since the times of Joshua. Though the Festival of Booths had been observed, the passion and zeal for God's glory makes this instance special. It seems like revival. May God cause such love for His word in our midst today.

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 7, Psalm 85

| 09/28/17 |

Before Nehemiah registers the families that have returned from exile, he places someone in charge of Jerusalem and the shutting of that city's gates. This person, Hanani, is placed in charge because “because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.” Character mattered to Nehemiah. He could not imagine charging someone with great responsibility unless they had great integrity and feared God. In the New Testament, when we read about the qualifications for elders in the church, the only competency mentioned is ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9). Otherwise, all the qualifications relate to the content of the leader's values and practices. Sadly, in many churches, skills, competency, and charisma often trump character when people choose their leaders. The church desperately needs to recognize and recover God's priorities for leaders, for we become like those we follow and esteem.

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 5-6, Psalm 84

| 09/27/17 |

When the exiles return to rebuild, some of the wealthier Jews are charging their neighbors interest on loans taken to purchase food. Charging interest to a fellow child of Israel is forbidden in Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36-38, and Deuteronomy 23:20-21. For a devout Jew, charging interest should be a black and white issue. Instead, Nehemiah has to call these wealthier individuals to repent of their greed and understand the price everyone has paid to come back from exile (Nehemiah 5:6-8). I have heard many argue based on passages like this that church folks should never charge interest to brothers or sisters when giving a loan. Now, I would hate to make a law that binds the consciences of people since the New Testament does not explicitly prohibit charging interest to a brother or sister. However, I do think that sound arguments exist that this would be a very natural application of many New Testament teachings (e.g., Galatians 2:10, James 2:1-13). Additionally, I think the laws God gave to the Jewish people to ensure justice with one another give great insight into how he we should relate to each other in the family of God, the church. Personally, I am all for people in the church loaning money to one another to help in times of struggle, but I would encourage our people not to charge interest. Such generosity would at least be a dim reflection of the goodness of Christ who gave up His riches to help poor beggars like us.

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 3-4, Psalm 83

| 09/26/17 |

Those little phrases “next to him” and “after him” repeated so often in Nehemiah 3 paint a picture not simply of walls being rebuilt, but of a human wall doing the work. Nehemiah 3 vividly describes how many different hands are involved in the task of rebuilding. God isn't just using these people to rebuild a great structure; as they labor, God is also making them strong together. God delights in using our collaboration and teamwork to build what He calls good. In Nehemiah's situation, it was good to build walls and gates; in our day, God is building His church. May we do this work next to one another, with one another, and for one another's ultimate good through Christ.

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In Case You Missed It — Nehemiah 1-2, Psalm 82

| 09/25/17 |

Ezra ends with the people fasting and turning to God in confession; Nehemiah begins with the main character, Nehemiah, fasting and confessing Israel's sin, which led to their exile. If you want to know when God is on the move and at work in His people, look for confession of sin and genuine repentance. The truth is, whenever sinful people encounter a Holy God, the fitting response is confession that leads to repentance. Confession alone is not enough, and no one will repent if they do not understand their wrongdoing. Both must go together, and Nehemiah begins with confession as he leads the returning exiles of Judah in a book-long repentance of their failure to trust the God of the universe.

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In Case You Missed It — Ezra 9-10, Psalm 79

| 09/22/17 |

In early high school, I heard a sermon on Ezra 9 that moved me deeply. One of the preacher's main points was that Ezra so identified himself with Israel that he couldn't help confessing sins in anguish which he did not personally commit. Ezra didn't intermarry with women from foreign nations, but that does not prevent Ezra from speaking of “our sins” and “our guilt” (Ezra 9:6). Why does Ezra confess sins not his own? We cannot easily escape the fact that Ezra, as a leader of Judah, wants to take some responsibility for the sins of his brothers as one of the returned exiles. Not long ago, I actually wrestled with a counselor's thoughts with this passage in the back of my mind. Most of western psychological thinking suggests that it is dangerous and harmful to take responsibility for any actions but our own. Seeing how abusers prey on those who take responsibility for others' evil and take blame not theirs, I must admit I have some difficulty with what Ezra says today. Re-reading this passage helps me place Ezra's words in a different light than the way I heard them years ago. Ezra doesn't give a pass to those who actually sin themselves; Ezra 10 is full of atoning sacrifices and reparations which he and the leaders demand. However, Ezra sees himself as part of an evil generation that has rejected God unnecessarily, and as a leader, he takes responsibility for the sins of his fellow Jews. This is what loving leadership pictures-it shares in the blame, but doesn't absolve from guilt or reject the need for followers to repent. Christ Himself would lead by dying for our sins without ever sinning, but still demanding repentance in order to have life. Thus, Ezra's confession of sin reflects and prepares the way for some of Jesus' leadership.

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In Case You Missed It — Ezra 7-8, Psalm 78

| 09/21/17 |

“The hand of God” is upon Ezra and his companions who returned from exile (Ezra 7:28, 8:31).  God's favor is stressed twice in today's reading by the imagery of God's guiding hand. Since God's provision, however, is often a major theme in our readings, today I simply note and appreciate some of the cultural distance we experience from many of the Biblical writers by looking at Ezra's genealogy. Consider how many prior generations are mentioned in Ezra's lineage (Ezra 7:1-7). Seventeen generations are traced all the way back to Aaron, Moses' brother. How many of us could easily access the info on our family from five generations back? If you are reading this and know thenames of two of your great-great-great grandparents, I dare say your familial knowledge is exceptional. What is the point? In addition to the fact that God inspired our scriptures, our Bible is recorded by authors reared in the ancient Jewish culture, uniquely skilled at making written records that we still read and trust today. We have good reason to trust the Biblical writers and the stories they tell.

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| 09/20/17 |

God, working through King Cyrus of Persia, brings many Jews back to Jerusalem to build the temple, but that doesn't mean finishing the work is a foregone conclusion. Yesterday and today we read of ongoing opposition by Persian leaders that slander Judah's returned exiles. These opponents deceive Artaxerxes, the new king, by persuading him that the continual rebuilding of the temple means God's people will then refuse to pay taxes. Of course, this is untrue, but Artaxerxes initially responds with alarm and calls Judah's leaders to stop working on the temple; their work stops until Darius takes over for Artaxerxes. Early in Darius' reign these Hebrews begin working again, and they send word through Tattenai, a governor, that in fact Cyrus had commissioned this work. Thankfully truth is on the side of God's people. After enquiring for and discovering Cyrus's decree, Darius encourages the ongoing building of the temple. When God intends to accomplish some work, it is God who ensures its completion from beginning to end.

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In Case You Missed It — Ezra 3-4, Psalm 76

| 09/19/17 |

Explaining someone else's emotional response is difficult enough. Trying to venture a guess at why someone in the Bible wept thousands of years ago is a fool's errand. Even so, many have guessed at why these elders and spiritual leaders of Judah weep upon seeing the foundations of the new temple (Ezra 3:10). It could be because the new temple's foundation seemed small in comparison to the old one, or perhaps there is sorrow for what has been lost. I tend to think it is a little of both. Either way, amid a time of reason for gladness, Judah has still fallen so far from former glories that a celebration is obviously tinged with a great measure of sadness. I cannot overstate how much the Babylonian exile shapes Israel's self-understanding moving forward. Similarly, we recently remembered as a nation the events of 9/11, just sixteen years ago, and we will recognize the events at Pearl Harbor in a few months; certainly, we can empathize with the way the life-altering exile could profoundly shape a people's self-understanding. Most importantly, the exile and return will form the backdrop for Israel's future hopes for God's kingdom and His Messiah.

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In Case You Missed It — Ezra 1-2, Psalm 75

| 09/18/17 |

2 Chronicles ends with a description of Babylon ransacking Jerusalem, and we know that they destroyed Solomon's temple in 570 BC. Not too many years later, in 539 BC, the Persians would defeat the Babylonians, and the very Cyrus we read about today is the victorious Persian king. When we begin with Cyrus' desire to build a new temple in Jerusalem, we can historically locate Ezra's narrative very easily: in 538 BC Cyrus freed many Hebrews to return to Zion. Those that were in their 20's and 30's when the Babylonian captivity occurred are now in their 50's and 60's. God is graciously working in the heart of a foreign king to show kindness to the chosen people. Ezra is a book about God's continuing favor on His people even after all seems lost. Still, there are many obstacles internally and externally for Israel to overcome in the days after the exile. Those post-exilic obstacles will be the major focus of the next three books we read, including Ezra.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 35-26, Psalm 72

| 09/15/17 |

Jeremiah writes lamentations over Josiah's death (2 Chronicles 35:25). These are not the lamentations that make up an entire book of the Bible; those lamentations, which we will read in the future, are written in response to the events described in 2 Chronicles 36. After Josiah passes, Judah's kings grow evil again and lose their power until they are eventually exiled by Babylon. Judah has seemingly lost the throne that God promised to David and his descendants forever. Israel as a whole has been ransacked. They will never again return to the power they once knew as a nation. In addition to Lamentations, much of what remains in the Old Testament references these events through prophetic warnings about the Babylonian captivity or insight into Israel's experiences with their judgement. Even the Old Testament's post-exilic events indicate how much Israel as a whole, north and south, have been altered by these events. God's curses have come upon Israel and they will move forward trying to understand how to be a people that have seemingly lost much of what God promised them. Most importantly, Israel will be waiting for a King to sit on David's throne…

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 33-34, Psalm 71

| 09/14/17 |

Josiah embraces the law as the unique commands and covenants from the God of the universe. Upon hearing the law read and tearing his robes, Josiah feared the consequences due to generations rejecting God's laws. Josiah enquires of God's prophets about Judah's fate. Unfortunately, Judah, like Israel, has sealed their fate long before Josiah's time. Josiah will be spared the destruction due Judah, but ultimately, they will face the promised curses for spiritual adultery. Even Josiah's repentance and what is likely a more widespread returning to God cannot allay Judah's fate. This does not, however, negate God's favor towards Josiah. God tells Josiah the truth through the prophet Huldah. Still, Josiah is so upright, even with bad news from God, he refuses to dishonor His Creator. May we have a similar posture, that we would love and obey God even when we know this will not change God's mind to act in ways for our preferences. Such is the way the righteous live.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 31-32, Psalm 70

| 09/13/17 |

I have been redundant in underlining how the Chronicles emphasize their main theme. These books intend to convey through Israel's history the principle that obedience to God leads to national blessings and that disobedience leads to curses. 2 Chronicles 31 effectively illustrates the positive side of this principle. Consider the words of the priest about the great blessings Israel enjoys and thus offers: “Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the Lord has blessed His people, and this great amount is left over” (2 Chronicles 31:9).

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 29-30, Psalm 69

| 09/12/17 |

If you have any Jewish friends, chances are that they celebrate their holidays. Passover is still a big deal to even non-religious Jews. Today as we read about Hezekiah's many reforms, he majorly emphasizes Israel's call to celebrate Passover as one people. They have gone years without observing one of their central celebrations due to lack of emphasis, and one can infer from the passage that a lack of priestly leadership played a role (see rationale for delaying Passover one month in 2 Chronicles 30:3). Hezekiah recognizes the importance of Passover observance not just to obey, but also to turn hearts back to God, and the king throws a massive celebration in God's honor. Christians, when we gather to celebrate God's goodness, we do so in obedience (see Hebrews 10:25), but also to be formed as a people.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 27-28, Psalm 68

| 09/11/17 |

Sometimes it is good when others say little about us. 2 Chronicles 27 has few words to offer on the life of Jotham, King of Judah. 2 Chronicles 27:6 gives a fit summary of his life: “Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God.” After these words, we are not told about his moral failures, rejecting God's prophets, or worshiping gods of the foreign nations. May we live such simple and God-honoring lives that very little else needs to be said about us when we have passed than “she loved God and neighbor, proclaimed the Gospel, and died.”

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 25-26, Psalm 67

| 09/10/17 |

At Agapé Chicago we often talk about how idolatry is not simply about worshiping figures made of sticks and stones. No, idolatry means replacing worship of God with ultimate love or allegiance for anything else. Take note then of these words from a prophet to Amaziah, “Why do you consult this people's gods, which could not save their own people from your hand?” (2 Chronicles 26:15). To translate this question, we might say something like, “Why do you trust in money to bring you happiness when so many have failed to find joy this way?” or, “Why do you seek a romantic relationship to bring you completion, when so many report a lingering incompletion?” No other god but God can save us from ultimate misery, utter defeat, and destruction. So why trust in other things that cannot deliver?

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 23-24, Psalm 66

| 09/09/17 |

Yesterday's reading made a big deal out of Ahaziah and Joash surviving enemies from both outside of Judah and inside of the royal family. Today we see some of the resolution of those narratives. God has providentially preserved David's lineage. In sparing David's line and giving the throne to Joash, God raises up through Joash's leadership short-term spiritual vitality in Israel. Unfortunately, after Joash returns Judah to proper worship in his youth, he yet again turns from God in his latter days, honoring idols and persecuting God's prophet Zechariah. The cycle of Judah's growth and declines goes on and on. This leads me to ask a few questions: “What does it take to for God's people to turn as one to God with heart, soul, and mind?” “When God's people finally return to God in holy worship, how can this posture be maintained for generations?” These questions do not find easy resolutions in the scriptures. As we live with the tension of wanting to honor God, see others love Jesus, and to pass our love onto future generations, let's pray for God's grace to sustain His church in Chicago.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 21-22, Psalm 65

| 09/08/17 |

No one wants to hear the words, “I wish you were dead”, but these words likely reflect Judah's thoughts towards Jehoram during much of his reign. We know that no one was sad to see Jehoram die, and he was not honored like the kings of Judah's past (2 Chronicles 21:19-20). In fact, it seems when Jehoram passed, people were happy. This shows that in addition to Jehoram's idolatry, injustice characterized his rule. Idolatry and injustice always go together, and in Jehoram's case, his evil practices made him not only an enemy of God but also despised by those he ruled. Given how much those in authority can cause either grief or gladness for those they lead, let us remember to pray for our leaders in the days ahead.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 19-20, Psalm 64

| 09/07/17 |

When the Moabites and Ammonites come to attack Jehoshaphat and Judah, the king calls his people to fast and seek God's face. Israel, at its best, knew that fasting from food as recognition of their dependence upon God was their wisest course in hard times. Do we have such wisdom? Jesus taught His disciples both then and now how to avoid hypocrisy while fasting (Matthew 6:16-17) and that we ought fast between His ascension and return (Mark 2:19-20). When was the last time you fasted from food to seek God's face? I encourage you that when practiced in scripture, this discipline is met with favor for those fasting. Most importantly, when we fast, we feel in our body how much we need God and also how lost we would be without His provision. Church, avail yourselves of the gift of fasting that you might feast on Jesus' love.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 17-18, Psalm 63

| 09/06/17 |

I used to read statements like, “Some Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and silver as tribute, and the Arabs brought him flocks” (2 Chronicles 17:11) as incidental to the Biblical story. However, through careful attention to the promises of God, lines like this prove instrumental in grasping the implications of Israel's moral progression or regression. Ideally, Israel's obedience and faithfulness would reflect God's worth to the surrounding nations. Often enough, like in today's reading, when Israel reflects God's greatness, and so blesses the nations, they return the favor by blessing Israel. Israel is unique because of God's work, and when God's work meets with faith, everyone benefits, especially Israel. Unfortunately, Israel often rejects God's plans for them and fails to bless the nations, while the nations repay the favor through war and conquest. Life is not always so simple as “do good and blessings will flow,” or “do bad and curses will come,” but in many ways Israel's ultimate fate, role, and outcomes were decreed to be this straightforward. God has only one plan (what theologians call God's “secret” or “hidden” will), but the plan he has given Israel for their flourishing is one Israel often rejects (what is called God's “revealed” will). Though we cannot know all God's “hidden will” for us as individuals, as a church, or as a nation, God's “revealed” will is plain. Like Israel, we do a disservice to ourselves and everyone around us when we reject God's revealed will for us.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 14-16, Psalm 62

| 09/05/17 |

For many of us, finishing strong will be the most important part of the legacy we leave behind. Asa's faithfulness to God in his youth gave way to distrust in God's power at the end of his life. After calling Judah and even some of Israel back to God (see 2 Chronicles 15:9), Asa in fear of defeat makes an unholy alliance with the King of Aram. God is displeased because Asa witnessed God's ability to defeat great enemies in the past (2 Chronicles 16:7-8) and yet would rather trust the strength of men over the strength of God. Add to this, after Hanani the seer confronts Asa on his failure to trust God, instead of repenting, Asa punishes Hanani. What a shame Asa chose this route. We witness another king of Judah end his life with a major stain on his record because of a poor ending. God help us all to live in ways that will help us to finish well.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 13, Psalm 61

| 09/04/17 |

The scope of 500,000 casualties is hard for us to fathom, but that is how many Israelites died in a war against their fellow Hebrews from Judah. Now, it is important to remember that ancient Near Easterners rounded their numbers and that no one in the original audience would have read this as a dishonest reporting of casualties if, say, 498,532 people actually had died. It is important to remember our doctrine of inerrancy claims that scripture is without error in what the original writers intended to claim, and the writer of Chronicles is not claiming an exact number. Now that we have some understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy, let me just conclude by reflecting on how tragic this event is in Israel's history. In essentially one to two generations, Israel has endured a mighty fall from their heights during Solomon's reign. Imagine one out of every six people in Chicago killed, and we gain a sense of the tragedy contained in 2 Chronicles 13. Brother slays brother, all because one part of Israel has rejected God and His purposes for them in the line of David. Israel's story continues to often prove tragic.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 10-12, Psalm 60

| 09/03/17 |

Solomon's death isn't even described in 2 Chronicles. In fact, we aren't even told how Israel came into the leadership mess of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. The reason is the Chronicles are telling a story not of characters but of the importance of character. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam are lacking in this regard. Rehoboam is introduced to us as ignoring the wisdom of his elders and former confidantes of wise king Solomon, joining the folly of his fathers by having many wives and concubines. As bad as Rehoboam is, Jeroboam and his idolatrous ways are presented as more troublesome. Not only does Jeroboam erect high places for the worship of false gods, but his rule also represents the rejection of David's family by many of Israel's tribes (2 Chronicles 10:18-19). Considering the covenant made to David about his throne and his family, this is a signal that Israel has lost touch with God's promises and also with obedience. As you might expect, this will spell disaster.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 9, Psalm 59

| 09/02/17 |

Today's reading continues to paint the picture of Solomon's vast wealth and power at the height of his reign. Additionally, foreign leaders seek to understand Solomon's secrets to greatness. Besides the queen of Sheba (from modern-day Ethiopia), “all the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God put in his heart” (2 Chronicles 9:23). Not only is God fulfilling HIs promises to bless Israel when they walk in obedience, God is also fulfilling His promises to Abraham to bless the nations through his offspring (Genesis 22:18). God is keeping His promises, but the promise of blessing the nations through the seed of Abraham still will be fulfilled in even more profound ways in Jesus than in Solomon (Galatians 3:16). Since that is further down the road, let's take today and pause to see God's faithfulness to Abraham, Moses, David, and other servants to accomplish what had been promised years in advance. God is faithful!

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| 09/01/17 |

Do you remember when Solomon prayed for wisdom instead of great riches or might? Today we see that God, in addition to wisdom, has entrusted Solomon with the wealth and strength he did not pray for. 2 Chronicles 8 relates that Solomon conscripted servants of other nations (8:7) and that Israel had enough people to rebuild fortified cities that could house horses and chariots (8:5-6). Solomon has enough wealth to build a home for his wife, Pharaoh's daughter, so that the ark of God is respected. Solomon has even mustered people to sail with foreign nations and bring back wealth from afar (2 Chronicles 8:17). Solomon has gained incredible riches, and his reign marks a high point in Israel's military power and comparative wealth. Here God is showing how much he is able to bless those who honor YHWH. May all readers take note of what God can do, and also what he willed to do for Israel in their times of obedience.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 7, Psalm 57

| 08/31/17 |

In the 19th & 20th centuries, non-believing academics, or even those with secular, miracle-denying worldviews, rejected God's authorship of the scriptures. Accordingly, they hypothesized various possible sources from which we might have derived the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) and the theology of later Old Testament scriptures. One famous theory suggested that much of the Pentateuch had four different sources of authorship. To be brief, one of these four was called “Deuteronomistic,” supposed to have been responsible for any teaching that included Israel's receipt of blessings for obedience or curses for disobedience. Certainly the theology of 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 would be considered full of “deuteronomistic theology,” developed by people in Josiah's day to rationalize Israel's experiences in exile. The problem is, when we approach the scriptures with suspicion, we have to come up with theories that inadequately explain the nuanced stories, not to mention theological teachings, found therein. A straightforward and receptive reading makes better sense of the parts. I do not see any reason to believe that Israel would invent a collection of stories that cast them in such horrible light, as people who have been consistently given great promises for obedience only to choose the curses of God. I rather think it much more likely that these stories are the truth about God's historical dealings with Israel, and today's reading is simply God reiterating his covenant promises to Solomon. My prayer is that you will also, with spiritual eyes, see that God is the author of the story we are reading daily.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 5:2-6:42, Psalm 56

| 08/30/17 |

In a few words, Solomon captures helpful insight into God's omnipresence when he marvels, “But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18) God is present everywhere, and no place can contain God, but God manifests His presence in unique ways in space and time. Solomon recognizes the unique manifestation of God in the cloud which visits the temple in 2 Chronicles 5. Still, Solomon calls on God to hear prayers offered “towards” the temple from heaven, God's dwelling place (2 Chronicles 6:21). God's presence everywhere of course means that his everywhere presence is simultaneous, yet God still dwells in heaven (the realm, not the sky) in ways distinct from how God dwells on earth. This framework is key for understanding both the nature and attributes of God as well as foundational to making sense of the incarnation, God becoming man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The meaning of God's presence with us is important from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, so it is always good to understand as best as possible what God's omnipresence does and does not mean.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 3:1-5:1, Psalm 55

| 08/29/17 |

There are many similarities between the temple Solomon builds and the tabernacle built by Moses. Let's consider the presence of the golden cherubim (see Exodus 25:18-20, 2 Chronicles 3:10). These creatures represent the angelic beings that circle God's throne. Their presence in both tabernacle and temple communicates that heaven and earth meet in this place as God dwells in the midst of His people. This is but one example when the particulars of the temple, like the tabernacle before it, communicated God's choice to uniquely bless Israel through His holy presence. Contrary to the popular idea, the devil is not in the details, for it is the details of Israel's temple that help us to understand more of God's grace to His people. May we attend to the details of scripture not simply for information, but that we might see God in the details.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Chronicles 1-2, Psalm 54

| 08/28/17 |

Solomon makes a great offering before YHWH in the tent of meeting, and God commands Solomon, “Ask me for whatever you want me to give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7). Solomon chooses to ask for wisdom rather than riches or military might, and God commends this choice. Even for us, wisdom is something God is pleased to offer freely to those who ask (James 1:5). Have you considered asking God for wisdom in light of the promises of God? Today I encourage you to petition God for wisdom in your prayers.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 29, Psalm 51

| 08/25/17 |

David's famous prayer of contrition for his treachery against Uriah contains this line: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (Psalm 51:16). In the last chapter of 1 Chronicles, however, David delights to make very expensive offerings to help when Solomon builds God's temple. If God doesn't delight in offerings, why does David make these incredible offerings? In that same psalm, David answers immediately that God values, “a broken and contrite heart.” (Psalm 51:17). It is not that God despises offerings or that God would reject our gifts, but that God prefers that any sacrifices we make would flow from desires to honor and please Him. It is very possible to give with false motives; we might hope for the praise of others or even that God will bless us more if we give. Giving is very good—that is, when it comes from a heart that delights in God. When God mesmerizes someone and, in following His will, they sacrifice of their resources, we know that God receives this with pleasure.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 27-28, Psalm 50

| 08/24/17 |

God forbids that David build His house because David has “shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). What is the significance of this statement, and how does Solomon get a pass for some of the sins he will later commit? Recall that the book of Leviticus draws a great deal of attention to blood. Blood is the life of the body (Leviticus 17:14), a woman's bloody menstrual discharge makes a woman ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 15:19), and by blood alone is atonement made (Leviticus 17:11). Also remember that these laws focus on how Israel is to live with God's tabernacling presence in their midst. Blood can defile, but innocent blood can make clean. Israel's tabernacle must remain unstained by blood yet be perpetually cleansed by blood. Years later, at the time of our reading, as God chooses to permanently dwell in this temple, the indication is that war and the shedding of a great amount of blood have defiled David and made him unfit to build the temple. It will take a different king who has not shed the blood of others to build a fit habitation for God. Of course, God chooses Solomon for this work, but ultimately the temple Solomon builds by God's call will prove inferior to the one a much greater King will build by shedding his own innocent blood (John 2:19).

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 25-26, Psalm 49

| 08/23/17 |

What is the importance of naming the musicians, gatekeepers, and treasurers in 1 Chronicles 25-26? Most of our names will never line the history books, which will focus on the likes of Obama and Trump, or Gates and Zuckerberg. Certainly, David and Solomon are the famous names at the end of 1 Chronicles. But God's call to Israel to be a nation of worshippers that invites the nations to worship YHWH demands hundreds of thousands of people to do the work of building a nation and culture. Even though we will not remember these names, they were instrumental in accomplishing tasks essential to temple worship, managing finances, and protecting God's people. God values their work, and these scriptures corroborate their importance to God's great plans. Today, most of us will go to work doing the essential tasks of providing for ourselves, families, and improving the fortunes of our employers, church, and nation. We will do so without much fanfare or recognition. Our work, however, is seen by God, and that is far more important than having a famous name.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 23-24, Psalm 48

| 08/22/17 |

Sinatra represented me when he sang, “Chicago is my kind of town.” I love our city. But I have less reason for such enthusiasm about my city than the sons of Korah did for theirs when writing Psalm 48. David's military successes and the subsequent material glory of Solomon's reign in Jerusalem form the backdrop for this psalm. More importantly, God's love for and power on behalf of David enables one to sing that Jerusalem is the “joy of the whole earth.” The sons of Korah sing of their gladness in God, who fills their citadels and is Himself their fortress. Consideration of God's favor on David and his royal city gladdens their hearts to marvel that God's name and praises reach the ends of the earth. Jerusalem and the temple embodied God's particular love for Israel, David, and his heirs. No earthly city besides Jerusalem can lay claim to having been the unique place where God's glorious and holy presence dwelt for hundreds of years. It is for this reason Psalm 48 gushes with Jerusalem's praise. Having said all of this, we have more reason to gush, even if it is not about the greatness of our city. Chicago is now home to many different temples of the Lord (meaning all believers in Christ), and so we sing about the grace given by God choosing to dwell in us. Our bodies are now the temple where we can day and night “meditate on your (God's) unfailing love.” We meditate in these crumbling temples of flesh while we wait for the city where God Himself will be our temple, the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-2, 22-23).

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 22:2-22:19, Psalm 47

| 08/21/17 |

To help you appreciate reading the Chronicles, I have been returning often to what I consider the major theme from these books. David's words to his son Solomon encapsulate this theme well: “Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” (1 Chronicles 22:13) This is the very message the writer is hoping a Jew living after the Babylonian exile would embrace. To go forward as a people, Israel must go back to its roots in the laws and story of Moses. Israel must learn to see the difference between what they have been and what they could become by obeying God. Keeping the author's main purpose for writing in mind is essential to understanding our fitting response to the Chronicles today.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 20-22:1, Psalm 46

| 08/20/17 |

David foolishly calls for a census, and many Israelites pay the price with their lives (1 Chronicles 21:14). After David witnesses the destruction of the sheep of Israel and beholds this angel of death, he recognizes his guilt. In fact, David questions why the sheep should die when the shepherd is responsible for protecting them (1 Chronicles 21:17). When David asks to die to bear the punishment of his sins and thus abate God's anger, God refuses his offer. He does not give His rationale for sparing David, but some speculate that God refuses David's offer since He intends that only the Good Shepherd will lay down His life for His sheep. Others simply see God's grace toward David. Since we are not told God's thought processes, we should only note that David is still commanded to offer sacrifices to atone for his sin; something else dies in David's stead. As great as David is, he is not permitted by God to die to save Israel, and he cannot even atone for his own sins. As David's reign dwindles to an end, we see how insufficient David is as king even while being a man after God's own heart. Israel and the world need a better king.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 18. Psalm 45

| 08/19/17 |

In light of yesterday's reading on God's promise to David to fill his throne forever, it is fitting that today we turn to Psalm 45, which memorializes a wedding. Many suppose the occasion is Solomon's wedding to the daughter of Pharaoh, though we cannot be certain. We do know without a doubt the king is in David's line, for the Sons of Korah were devoted to the southern kingdom, Judah. Whatever the case, this particular psalm has quite the history of interpretation because of verses 6-7. In the middle of praising the newly married king, this psalm turns to praise God and His eternal heavenly throne. Therefore, some have suggested that this song was intended in the first place to celebrate the Messiah dwelling on David's eternal throne. The author of Hebrews certainly applies these two verses to Jesus (Hebrews 1:8-9) and Isaiah looks forward to a Messiah who will be called “Everlasting” (Isaiah 9:6). Even though we can look back at this psalm and see an application to the greatest in the line of David, that does not mean the psalm did not initially focus on one of David's heirs. Remember that all scripture prepares us for Jesus. Some scriptures do so by speaking of characters who some teachers call “types”, those who give a picture of who Jesus is in totality. This psalm declares of this king that “grace is poured upon your lips” (Psalm 45:2), and certainly this is most true of our savior.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 17, Psalm 44

| 08/18/17 |

1 Chronicles 17 repeats much of the content in 2 Samuel 7. God's promises to David, given through Nathan, form the foundation for Israel's future prayers. When Israel, and especially Judah, cry out in prayer years later during their subsequent tragedies, they appeal to God's promises to David, which remind Israel that God's reputation is still at stake in delivering, purifying, and strengthening Israel to fulfill them. Moreover, 1 Chronicles 17 reveals God's will for Israel. Here I use the word “will” to mean something like bestowing an inheritance. The writer of Chronicles intends to call the original audience to remember all that God wants to give them and do for them that they might be inspired to live as God's people. God's will for Israel invites them to be a generation that returns to God to receive His blessings. Returning to God requires hope for a good result, and 1 Chronicles 17 lays out the good results God intends for David's line and the people of God. Today, we also receive promises about turning to God in repentance. For example, by returning we will be in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, Ephesians 4:30), and we are able, even now, to experience a taste of the eternal life offered us in fellowship with Jesus (John 17:3). God's “will” for His people is still clear. Agapé, let us hear God's will for us, and let that be an opportunity to return to Him in faith and repentance today.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 15-16, Psalm 43

| 08/17/17 |

God's chosen people certainly had music of their own before David arrived. However, David established music as a central feature in the worship of YHWH. Even in the New Testament when the apostle Paul encourages the church in Colossae to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with grace in their hearts, Paul does so as a Jew formed by the songs of Israel written by David. When he commissions Asaph and his associates to make music, David's charge could be read as a charge for all musical artists, for all times, who write songs about God (1 Chronicles 16:8-36). In fact, David's charge to Asaph includes categories for content that would fill the book of Psalms and shape the posture of those who make such music. Praise flows from being amazed at God; thus, David directs the gaze of Asaph and company to God's goodness. David also speaks of God's past works in saving Israel so that His former deeds might strengthen Israel in the present and give them godly hope for their future. Though we still sing the Psalms, when we started Agapé Chicago, I prayed that we would be a church that would make new music to God. We have made two or three new songs in our church's brief history, and our songs come from the cultural line of David and his work. In the future, when God puts conviction in hearts to write new songs unto Him through our family, 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 offers us solid direction for both musical content and artistic character for this work.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 13-14, Psalm 42

| 08/16/17 |

God strikes down Uzzah for touching the ark, seemingly just to keep it from falling. This might seem an excessive punishment for seeking to protect the ark, but we must understand that Uzzah is breaking at least two commandments related to its proper care. First, Israel should have been carrying the ark with the poles that were part of the entire apparatus (Exodus 25:14-15) instead of pulling it behind the oxen (1 Chronicles 15:15 attests that David and Israel learn this lesson). Secondly the ark, when in the tabernacle, was not be seen except by the high priest once a year, and when moved, it was to be protected by three-layers of cloth (see Exodus 26:33, Numbers 4:5-6). Even looking upon the ark as Uzzah and others did was foolish enough, let alone directly touching it. Formerly, God uniquely manifested His holy presence on earth via the ark. Uzzah is trusted with guiding the ark (1 Chronicles 13:7), and he of all people should have known exactly how to transport God's earthly dwelling place. Charged with proper care of such a wonderful gift, Uzzah's neglect makes him culpable. In like fashion, we as believers are now God's chosen vessels on the earth. May we have appropriate reverence for the trust we have in our own bodies as those crucified and risen with Christ. We do so when walk in a holiness that reflects the Holy Spirit in us.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 11-12, Psalm 41

| 08/15/17 |

Every word of scripture is beneficial to our growth, sustenance, and worship (2 Timothy 3:16), but we don't enjoy reading all scriptures the same way. I discipline myself to reflect on the genealogies of 1 Chronicles because it helps me understand God's story, and thus my story, better. In contrast, I have a blast reading the stories of David and his mighty men. These individuals are larger than life and reflect God's providential hand upon David's reign in surrounding him with such allies. With these stories, I am glued to the page. Even as I enjoy reading, I cannot help but reflect that a much greater king would be surrounded by not-so-mighty men. Years later, when Jesus is in need of aid, his closest friends desert Him. When Jesus lacks water on the cross, only enemies surround Him to offer vinegar and gall. As favored as David is, Jesus is God's shining star. Why, then, such a contrast in the friendly support these two receive? God provides what David lacks by surrounding Him with mighty men, without whom David would certainly be lost. With Jesus, God shows us what we all lack in courage and constancy and thus provides the true mighty Man for us. Instead of mighty men, Jesus is surrounded by traitors, deserters, and the faithless so that all of us could be rescued by the one able to save from the death, the one and only Almighty Jesus. Now Jesus is surrounded by men and women that he is making mighty in the Spirit, including us, so that Jesus will have even a greater victory. When we worship as one, we do so with brothers and sisters who are weak in the body, but in Christ are made mightier than the mighty men of David. Instead of defeating Philistines, in Christ, we have victory over Satan and sin, and even death will not take us in the end. Thank God that we have in Christ not mighty men, but the Almighty for us, with us, and in us.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 10, Psalm 40

| 08/14/17 |

The writer of Chronicles tells us, “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 10:13). Does that imply that if Saul had been faithful, he would have lived forever? No, the point is that Saul could have enjoyed the victory and blessings due an honorable king of Israel and thus he would have died in peace. Instead, the idolatrous Philistines kill his sons, and Saul commits suicide rather than being taken and executed. All of this happens that God might take the kingdom away from wicked Saul and give David the throne. Chronicles will tell a repetitive story of leaders ruling and dying, one that we should have some familiarity with at this juncture. The reason this story is repetitive is because human sin, rebellion, and wickedness go on and on and on. The names may change and the details vary, but the temptation towards disloyalty to God remains the same, as do its consequences. Every time they read about a king that rises up like Saul, the post-exilic Jewish readers are receiving a warning. In the midst of the repetition, remember that this is our story, too. Let it cause us to humbly seek God's protection from the evil practices of leaders and generations that have gone before us.

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| 08/13/17 |

2 Kings ended with the leaders of Judah exiled in Babylon along with but a few from the southern kingdom. 1 Chronicles 9 details in brief what the book of Nehemiah will explain in detail. Israelites, Levites, and others charged with caring for temple worship return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. As 1 Chronicles has not been chronicling Israel's story in chronological order just yet, everything written in this book until today gives a preview of where the writer of the Chronicles is leading us. Tomorrow we will begin a more chronological but different version of many of the same events already covered in the books of Samuel and Kings. The Chronicles will end with Cyrus, King of Persia, encouraging the people of Judah to go back home and rebuild what has been destroyed. The first readers of the Chronicles would have been those living after the exile. This original audience would read the Chronicles as a story of Israel's history, triumphs, and tragedies, persuading them to avoid the sins of their wicked ancestors and embrace the God worshiped by their righteous ancestors. This history is given as a warning and an encouragement that God has been true to His promise at the end of Deuteronomy to both bless obedience and curse disobedience. The message which Chronicles gives to Israel also beckons us to see the misery of prevailing sin and the blessings of obedience. Even if the blessings and curses are different for us, the people of God rescued from the ends of the earth by the blood of Jesus, Chronicles invites us still to embrace the blessings that come from being true to YHWH.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 7-8, Psalm 38

| 08/12/17 |

David prays in anguish and credits (blames?) God for the suffering he faces in our psalm reading. David declares that God's “hand has come down on me,” and “because of your wrath, there is no health in my body.” God isn't the only one David recognizes for his suffering, as he confesses, “My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly.” There is no contradiction when David sings both of God's judgement and discipline upon him as well as of his own culpability in his suffering. Both are true. Though David realizes his role and God's in this suffering, David also declares that only one person can grant relief as he cries out, “Come quickly to help me, my Lord and Savior.” We might get ourselves into a pit while God's hand places us there, but there is only one person who can relieve the torments we face. Instead of leaning on your strength and ingenuity if you are in pain, frustrated, bewildered, or losing hope, today cry out to your Lord and Savior to rescue you. Your sins, the sins of others, or the suffering due a sinful world all operate under God's control and form part of our frustration. God and God alone can operate on our behalf to give us the salvation, love, and safety we all need. Seek Him today, for God alone can give.

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In Case You Missed It – 1 Chronicles 5-6, Psalm 37

| 08/11/17 |

Israel (Jacob) had twelve sons, and those sons were the biological pillars for Israel's twelve tribes. As 1 Chronicles recounts the genealogies for the twelve sons, I have always found it helpful to remember that each tribe had specific places attached to their names in the promised land. (Note: the Levites lived amongst all the tribes, and Manasseh and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph, had elevated status.) These tribes represent not only family names and genealogies but also the regions within the land of Israel, and this helps us to make sense of divisions that occur between the northern and southern kingdoms as well as other conflicts along the way. It might be helpful to equate these tribes to “Iowa”, “Ohio”, or “Illinois”, or truer to scale, “Cook”, “Lake”, “Dupage” and so on. To better visualize the implications, let me give an example from our reading. When we are told that the Assyrians captured Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, we get a sense of how Assyria attacked (1 Chronicles 5:26). Though all of these tribes lived north of Judah, their most important connection is that they are the three tribes that settled east of the Jordan river. Sadly, at the writing of 1 Chronicles, these tribes were still exiled in a foreign land. Understanding the geographical connection between tribes and their lives helps to see what is at stake in these brief genealogies. People are forced from homes, settlements are destroyed, and places families have called home for hundreds of years are left behind. The Bible tells the story of a world that is our own, and we do well to pay attention to all the ways this world is unveiled that we may dive into the dramatic story scripture is telling.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 3-4, Psalm 36

| 08/10/17 |

In the year 2000, The Prayer of Jabez, based on the brief prayer found in 1 Chronicles 4:10, was published. This book sold millions and made millions simply by dissecting four aspects of this prayer and teaching people to recite Jabez's words daily. We know that this book found commercial success, but was it successful in showing fidelity to God? God answered Jabez positively in 1 Chronicles 4:10, so isn't it obvious that something about the prayer must be pleasing? Not so fast! This notion fails to attend to one basic fact given by 1 Chronicles 4:9, that “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.” This means that Jabez was virtuous of course, but more importantly that he was true to God. Jabez offered a prayer from his heart to a God whom he knew intimately. The secret sauce wasn't in the prayer, but in the love and faith towards God. The prayer is simply Jabez's natural response to God and God's words. In Jabez's time, God made promises to Israel of blessings for obedience; Jabez knew this, so he simply asked God for what God promised. Today, we also are promised blessings—blessings in Christ. At the same time, we are promised persecution for following our King, Jesus the messiah (Acts 14:22, John 15:20, 1 Peter 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:12). Many preachers are fond of saying, “Be careful of praying for blessings; God just might give them to you the hard way.” In our day, after Jesus's death and resurrection, that humorous comment indicates a more responsible way of understanding blessings than simple rote memorization and recitation of Jabez's famous prayer. Blessings are ours if we seek them. That does not equal land and prosperity in our day, but rather access to the pleasure of God through Jesus Christ in life and in death.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Chronicles 1-2, Psalm 35

| 08/09/17 |

While reading the selective genealogies found at the beginning of 1 Chronicles, take some time to reflect on how much scriptural ground you have covered. Many of these names should be familiar to you because you have invested the time to attend to God's story. Also, use this reading to brush up on what you might have forgotten (e.g., “Oh right, Canaan is a son of Ham”). The names and people groups are important in order to remember what has gone before, but these also prepare us for what lies ahead. The more we understand about the peoples in the ancient Near East, their family divisions, and their hostilities, the more the stage is properly set for our readings in the prophets and the New Testament. Through these genealogies, we recognize God's work over a thousand years of history. When we read these names, they rise and fall, but God is the one constant. And God is still constant for us today, working history out to satisfy His people. This is a list of people with messy stories, with many chaotic events along the way. God's constancy in working redemption remains. As we read history in the Chronicles we do more than learn; we are given reason to be thankful that God is in charge amid the vicissitudes of history.  

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 23:26-25:30, Psalm 32

| 08/06/17 |

Babylon takes Judah captive, and the line of Judah's kings comes to an end. 1 & 2 Kings end with one former king of Judah, Jehoiachin, enjoying Babylon's kindness after he spends significant time in prison. This happens after Jehoiachin's successor and the Babylonian-appointed final king in Judah, Zedekiah, is brutally murdered along with his sons for insurrection. Judah's temple has been destroyed, and Israel's great riches completely plundered. Like so many nations before them and after them, Israel is humiliated and ravaged by their neighboring superpower. But Israel (north and south) doesn't represent just any nation. This is God's chosen people, the ones to whom God promised kings forever to sit on David's throne. These are the people through whom God promised to establish a light for the nations. These are the descendants of Abraham, who was promised kings in his line and uniquely great blessings for the world. These promises to Judah go way back! After this defeat, the prophets and leaders up until the time of Jesus will try to make sense of what God has done to Israel and Judah. And make no mistake, it is God, not Babylon, who ruined Judah; Babylon is just God's instrument. The end of the books of Kings invites us to ask if God will establish another line of kings for Israel and how God will work to keep His promises. Thankfully, the story of God and His people continues with surprising answers to those questions.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 22:1-23:25, Psalm 31

| 08/05/17 |

Oh, that more people would respond to God's word like Josiah! When Josiah has the words of the law read to him, he knows exactly what to do. God's laws have been disobeyed, the covenant dishonored, and Judah faces judgement at the hands of God. Josiah responds with conviction and destroys all of Judah's idols and all remnants of their spiritual adultery. Really, this is how any rational person should respond to the words of God, the One who delivered Israel out of Egypt and brought them to the land of promise. However, many kings and many children of Israel before Josiah did not heed God's law in this way. Today, many people claim to believe that the Bible is the word of God, but they do not read it, and if we read it we do not obey it. Our hearts are not stirred by the scriptures, and we do not cry out for mercy and respond with repentance at revelation of sin. Today I pray that God would move hearts to heed God's word at Agapé Chicago like Josiah responds to God's law. Might God move us with conviction of sin and with desire to rid ourselves of all infidelity towards our God and King.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 21, Psalm 30

| 08/04/17 |

Manasseh rules Judah in detestable ways, in stark contrast to how his father, Hezekiah, ruled. However, based on Hezekiah's actions towards the end of his life, we might have suspected this would happen. In yesterday's reading, after Isaiah warned Hezekiah that Babylon would take all the temple valuables, Hezekiah foolishly revealed his relief that this would not happen in his lifetime: “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?'” (2 Kings 20:19) Hezekiah shows in his response his lack of care for Judah's future beyond his own rule. His son's actions are the fruit of such disregard. Don't hear me blaming Hezekiah for Manasseh's sins, for Manasseh is solely responsible for all his own evil. Rather I am blaming Hezekiah for his lack of foresight, his disregard for Judah's long-term status in light of God's promises to David, and by inference his failure to raise his son in the knowledge of the Lord. Might Manasseh have rejected his father's teaching? Certainly, we cannot say for sure. Still, I think it more likely that the scripture preserves two of Hezekiah's main faults in self-preservation and failure to fulfill the role of King in preparing an adequate replacement. Father-son dynamics are always tricky to assess without lots of information. Regardless of how well Hezekiah reared Manasseh, we can say for certain that Hezekiah did not share God's heart for Judah's best, and that is enough to understand Hezekiah's culpability in the events of today's reading.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 19-20, Psalm 29

| 08/03/17 |

When God denounces Assyria through the prophet Isaiah, He identifies intimately with Judah. God begins by saying “Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you” (2 Kings 19:20). This is a poetic way to say that Jerusalem, the home of Zion, wants nothing to do with Assyria. Why is this? God says to Assyria, “By your messengers you have ridiculed the Lord” (2 Kings 19:23). In threatening Judah, Assyria has ridiculed God and His power; God will not stand for this, and He will protect Judah because they are His. Judah does not mock Assyria because they themselves are more powerful or greater than Assyria. On their own, Judah would be eradicated by Assyria's great armies. Rather, Judah mocks Assyria because Assyria has mocked God. Like David, the great king of Judah, Hezekiah trusts in God's strength to deliver. God delights in such trust and comes to the rescue. This leads me to offer a prayer today: God may you find us, your church, enjoying our communion with you today in order that we might also rest in the fact that you are on our side. You are for us and not against us. Whatever opposition or difficulty may come, nothing can separate us from your love, and we ask to gladly hope in this truth today. Amen.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 18, Psalm 28

| 08/02/17 |

After the northern kingdom, Israel, has fallen to Assyria, Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, wishes to defeat Judah in the south. The leadership of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, pleases God, but this does not prevent Hezekiah from having to face the insults of Assyria's chief prince, the Rabshakeh. Hezekiah's initial actions to bargain with Assyria are disappointing, but Assyria will not accept anything short of complete surrender anyway. The events that follow, including the insulting speech by the Rabshakeh, are so important that two other books of the Bible record them (Isaiah and 2 Chronicles). As 2 Kings tells this story in different words, I simply want to note one of the Rabshakeh's lies. In his extended speech demanding that Hezekiah and Judah surrender, the Rabshakeh declares, “The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it” (2 Kings 18:25). A few years back it occurred to me that this blatant deception has the ring of demonic influence. As we will soon see, this is an outright lie delivered as complete truth by someone who cares little for and believes little in YHWH, God of earth and heaven. The Rabshakeh's disregard and disrespect for Israel's God echoes the serpent of Genesis 3. It is important to sense that this conflict is not just between Judah and Assyria, but is rather a confrontation of demonic powers against Hezekiah, inviting him to distrust God and thus pit YHWH against Judah. Will God and Hezekiah become enemies due the Satanic deception of the Rabshakeh? Stay tuned for your answers.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 17, Psalm 27

| 08/01/17 |

You have heard the famous line, “You are what you eat.” Long before this became a popular phrase, the Israelites learned, as G.K. Beale says, “we become like what we worship.” When Israel (the northern kingdom) loses its last king, along with any vestiges of its former power, we are told in succinct fashion what has gone wrong: “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless” (2 Kings 17:15). Israel became like what they worshiped. If we worship sticks and stones, we are completely powerless like them. Or if we were to worship gods that we think command us to sacrifice children to appease them, we would very likely be mistrustful and harsh. But people today worship other “gods” that don't typically go by that name. Some worship prestige, and their emotional lives are marked by the ups and downs that come with being captive to the praise of others. On the flip side, if we worship the true God, the God who is love, we will become more loving the more we are dazzled by God. If our hearts are enamored by the holiness of God, we live increasingly in light of His good statutes. We become like what we worship for ill, but also for good. If we wish to become truly good, then we must worship the only true and good God.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 15-16, Psalm 26

| 07/31/17 |

The Assyrians begin their captivity of Israel (the northern kingdom), and the king of Judah, Ahaz (over the southern kingdom), wishes to receive protection as a loyal vassal territory under Assyria. Long gone are the days of David and Solomon, along with Israel's great power and strength. Though the Assyrian captivity is only described in brief detail in our passage, the tragedies of this time will shape Israelite identity in ways similar to Egyptian slavery and the subsequent Babylonian captivity. For example, the disdain that the northern and southern kingdoms already have towards one another will only increase because of Samaritan assimilation with their Assyrian captors. When we read the new Testament about Jesus and his followers having to navigate long-standing tensions with Samaritans, many of the root causes for the animosity can be traced to the times of Assyrian captivity. Assyria will also be the first of a long line of foreign captors to humiliate and harm the Israelites. This will cause confusion for Israel relating to the temple, God's promises to David, and how to live faithfully to God in the midst of more powerful and idolatrous foreigners. These events will also begin to shape and inform the belief that a messiah will return Israel to its past glories by defeating these foreign invaders. Without a grasp on these two chapters, much of what we will read in the prophets and even in the Gospels will make less sense than if we grasp what is at stake when the Assyrians take power.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 13-14, Psalm 25

| 07/30/17 |

Some people are known for their kindness or goodness. Names that come to my mind are Harriet Tubman, William Wilberforce, and Corrie ten Boom. More often it seems, people like Hitler, Stalin, and bin Laden are remembered for their evil. Jeroboam, son of Nebat is remembered throughout Israel's history as the pattern for kings who do evil. In our reading today, Jereboam is referenced four times as a comparison to a new king who maintains Israel's idolatrous practices. Unfortunately, it is no surprise to find Jehoash names his own son Jeroboam. Jeroboam the second is like the first, and so the name Jeroboam is further defamed. For Jews and Christians this name is still associated with evil and only the cruelest of parents would name their child Jeroboam. More to the point of the reading, we note that the kings of Israel (that is, the northern kingdom) have become so accustomed to evil that they imagine good to be evil, and evil to be good. At the time of Jeroboam II's birth, Israel's royals view the first Jeroboam positively. This name choice is enough to see the desperate confusion of Israel in that day.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 11-12, Psalm 24

| 07/29/17 |

It is hard to imagine a grandmother being much worse than Athaliah, willing to kill her grandchildren and gain power for herself. Israel's sovereigns and royal families were genuinely messed up. To me, it is fascinating to see the Israelites record in such detail their shameful history instead of only the events of which they can be proud. For one, we don't have access to as much ancient history as we would like, so it is amazing to get this much detail of events that happened over 2500 years ago about any nation. Secondly, most recorded histories during this time in history by other nations rarely cast negative light on their own people and their own histories. Yet 1 & 2 Kings is a lengthy record of embarrassing family narratives like with the family of Ahab and the dangerous Athaliah. Though I have said it before, it bears repeating: the Bible is very human, meaning honest and thus, authentic. If you think the stories of Israel's royalty unusual, just read up on the monarchs of England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Or you could read about the French royalty in different eras, and even some of the great Chinese dynasties to find similar dysfunction. The difference between Israel and all other nations is their high and unique calling. As Israel fails to live up to this calling, we readers are privileged to read their story and ponder how these lives invite us to live up to our high calling as Christ followers during our few days. May we desire our lives' stories be more like that of Joash than Athaliah.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 9-10, Psalm 23

| 07/28/17 |

Why do people fall into sin after God uses them to do great things? Consider Jehu, a man whom God uses as an instrument of judgement against the house of Ahab. After God works clearly on Jehu's behalf, we read these unfortunate words, “Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord” (2 Kings 10:31). Time after time this happens to leaders in Israel. God does mighty deeds for them, through them, and before them, then they fail to obey God's laws. The reasons why certainly vary from person to person. From the history of Israel and their repeat disloyalty to God, we may glean that we are not all rational as we imagine. If someone were to ask Jehu if YHWH is God alone and superior to the gods of the nations, he would certainly say so and believe so. Jehu knows the right answers and has solid reason to trust God's power and right to judge. Yet Jehu behaves wickedly. Jehu's actions as well as those of many before and after him invite the reader to agree with the prophet Jeremiah's words, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 7-8, Psalm 22

| 07/27/17 |

Imagine yourself in Elisha's shoes, answering the future madman Hazael. Elisha knows Hazael will murder the present king Ben-Hadad along with many others. In the past, Elisha has used great power to stop evil and evildoers, but God is not commissioning Elisha to stop Hazael in this instance. I think many of us in Elisha's place would be tempted to take matters into our own hands with violence. Hazael will lead with evil and his reign will produce carnage. Even pregnant women will have babies ripped out of their wombs due to Hazael's whims. Elisha has not only great powers to do good, like he does for the Shunamite woman, and to oppose evil leaders, like Joram; but Elisha also carries the responsibility to tell a murderer he will do evil, and then walk away without lifting a finger to stop him. Such a calling and work require great faith in God's goodness and wisdom. Though we will most likely never face circumstances like Elisha's, we often must wrestle with God's choice to allow evil which He obviously can stop. In that wrestling, the greatest help we have is our knowledge and experience of God's goodness in days where our course of action would be different. Certainly, there is no greater way to know this goodness than through knowing Christ, the crucified King. When we wrestle with evil which God does not stop, we must also wrestle with the fact that God does not stop the death of his own eternally beloved son for us. This will not stop all our wrestling, but it unquestionably proves God's love and goodness even when we can't make perfect sense of the particulars. Elisha is given strength to carry on with his work only by faith in God's goodness. In a similar manner, God's goodness is our strength to carry on with our work in confusing days.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 5-6, Psalm 21

| 07/26/17 |

Naaman, the man Elisha healed of leprosy, seems to his peers to be self-made. His successes on the battlefield have earned him great honor and the favor of the king (2 Kings 5:1). In spite of all Naaman's successes, he still has leprosy. Like everything else in his life, he believes that if he is going to enjoy a cure, he must make it happen himself. That is why Naaman feels it necessary to pay Elisha for his miraculous work and is so disappointed when offered too simple a cure. Naaman prefers earning over receiving unmerited kindness. I don't think Naaman is that unique. When we read about Naaman's riches being refused and Naaman rebuked for his sadness over a simple cure, the scripture challenges us alongside of Naaman. In contrast to Naaman, we ought to receive God's good gifts in humility by putting away our persistent belief in the necessity of earning. Much of what we enjoy in life we did not earn, and the best of God's gifts—for example, salvation and communion with God—cannot be earned. Let us put away our tendencies to try to earn everything, so that we might begin receiving God's free kindness with greater gladness.

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| 07/25/17 |

Before Elijah departs to heaven, Elisha asks to receive a double-portion of Elijah's spirit (2 Kings 2:9). In addition to receiving a double-portion of Elijah's spirit, Elisha receives much of Elijah's ministry. Elisha opposes Joram like Elijah before him opposed Joram's parents, Ahab and Jezebel. Elisha blesses a woman afflicted by grave sorrows as Elijah did before him. Even though we are in the second of two books named “Kings,” it really is this transition of these two prophets that provides an essential lesson about the eras of the kings in both the north and the south, from the time of David to Jehoiachin. Good kings pay close attention to God's true prophets the way Jehoshaphat listens to Elisha. Kings need to hear from God, and God is willing to communicate truth to them in these days, but unfortunately many of them are too wicked to obey. Leaders need the truth, and the book of Kings pays much attention to the differences between those who will heed the truth from prophets and those who choose to ignore their words. Today when we read about the prophets and kings, let us learn to pay careful attention to all God says, lest we become wicked like Israel's kings, preferring false voices over the truth.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Kings 1-2, Psalm 19

| 07/24/17 |

God takes Elijah to heaven as one of two people who never died (Enoch is the other). Most religious Jews still believe Elijah will return as a precursor to the messiah. Jewish teachers have always had solid reasons to do so; Malachi 4:5-6 claims this very thing. That passage states, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Years after this prophecy, Jesus is transfigured before his closest disciples' eyes, and Elijah appears with Christ. Immediately after this miraculous event, Jesus responds with puzzling words to a question about whether Elijah will come as preparation for Jesus' work as messiah. “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.' Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” Elijah is still alive, but Jesus proclaims that John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi's prophecy. By implication, Jesus is claiming the prophecy means Elijah is the prototypical persecuted prophet and thus Malachi does not mean Elijah himself will lead the way. John the Baptist, like Elijah before him, does prepare the way for some Jews to trust in God. At the same time, Jesus suggests that rejecting this new Elijah's message, specifically the call to repent and believe in Jesus, will result in the total destruction predicted in Malachi. Many of Jesus' contemporaries held fast to the promises found in Malachi, but Jesus wants his disciples to see God's fulfillment of this prophecy in positive and negative ways. The time of the messiah means redemption for the world, but immediate judgement for those who reject John the Baptist like Israel rejected Elijah. Let us then heed the call of this prophesied Elijah when he cries, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 22, Psalm 16

| 07/21/17 |

What makes a prophet false? I would argue it is more than just lying or an incorrect prophecy. Fundamentally, prophets are false when they speak without God's commission. That is, a prophet could be false if, in speaking God's true words, they do so without God's sanction. This reflection comes in response to seeing four hundred so-called prophets tell Ahab to go into battle only to have Jehoshaphat retort, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” (1 Kings 22:7) Note that Jehoshaphat is not immediately questioning the veracity of the prophetic word, but questions who actually masters these prophets. Jehoshaphat proves insightful as we learn later that angelic spirits are using these prophets to deceive Ahab. You might ask, “So what?” Here is my basic point. Today, regardless of your position on the continuation of prophecy, we all believe that disciples are called to be ambassadors and spokespeople who faithfully represent truth from God. Still, I would add that to be true as God's representatives, we don't simply need God's word; we also need God's spirit at work in us. There are times when we can speak the truth falsely, without sensitivity to God's timing and purpose. This never happens to the person being led by God's Holy Spirit. Let us then remember that our responsibility to be true in our proclamation requires both the truth of scripture as well as the truth of God's abiding presence. Both are essential as we follow God in our present days.

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| 07/20/17 |

Why does God use a wicked king like Ahab to defeat foreign enemies? Today's reading gives one answer. God speaks through a prophet these words: “Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord” (1 Kings 20:28). God uses Ahab so that both Ahab and the nations will know the identity of the true God. It really is that simple. God's true power being known is of greatest significance and more important than swift justice. Ahab will pay for his crimes in due time; for now, God wishes that more of the wicked nations know the truth of YHWH's greatness. Even though Ahab does not turn to worship God in complete devotion, that does not mean God has not shown Himself to Ahab and others. God desires everyone to know that God is uniquely Lord and will use even the wicked for a time to ensure this happens, even if the wicked refuse to recognize Him. Praise God that He is willing to show Himself to the wicked as well that we might come to repentance.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 18-19, Psalm 14

| 07/19/17 |

Immediately after Elijah embarrasses Ahab and the prophets of Baal by calling fire to consume a water-drenched altar, Elijah despairs. Discouraged, he laments, “I am no better than my ancestors” in a moment where he feels so defeated he wishes to die. This, on first blush, seems incredibly strange considering Elijah's recent tremendous feat. Even though God is ultimately responsible for this miracle, Elijah has been God's chosen instrument for many incredible deeds. So why such a response? No joke, Elijah is just tired and hungry. Immediately after wishing for death, Elijah finds some shade and goes into deep sleep (1 Kings 19:5). Twice after this an angel wakes him up to feed him before his long journey (1 Kings 19:6-9). Elijah is God's worker, but he is also human with the limitations of a human body that we all experience daily. Food and rest are important for even the most righteous. We do well to remember the prophet's frailty in this story and embrace the limits of time, space, and energy that we all experience. God wants to use us as ambassadors, but God also wants us to remember that we are children in need of all God provides. We remember our Father well when we rest and trust the God who never sleeps.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 16:21-17:24, Psalm 13

| 07/18/17 |

Elijah performs the first reanimation in scripture for the son of the widow from Zarephath. Reanimation and resurrection are distinct, as will be explained in later readings. Instead of focusing on this great miracle, I want to note God's surprising choice of Zarephath as the location for the extraordinary signs we read about today. Zarephath was located in Sidon, a place characterized by Baal worship. This widow would not have been Jewish. While Ahab, the king of Israel is afflicted by drought for worshiping Baal, this woman accustomed to Baal worship will receive grace from the true God, YHWH. Elijah brings God's grace to a foreigner while many Jews in Israel suffer. Jesus makes the same observation about this event years later when describing his mission to bring good news to the sick, weak, and poor (Luke 4:16-126). Jesus' point notes God's free choice to bless those outside of the covenants and ethnic lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not to mention those afflicted by extreme hardships in life. In Elijah's encounter, Israel is facing consequences due their sins, and God is still showing His compassion to the poor, regardless of ethnicity or even false worship practices. In the same way, when Jesus references this event, He is declaring that He will bring His good news to whomever will receive it: poor or rich, Jew or Gentile, monotheist or idolater. At the same time, Jesus' audience infers that even those that have the right pedigree can be excluded from the blessings God would give if they choose the wrong path. The wrong path for Israel is idolatry in Elijah's day or rejecting the true King hundreds of years later. The miracles of Elijah demonstrate grace as well as a warning to those attending to scripture's grand story.

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In Case You Missed It – 1 Kings 15:1-16:20, Psalm 12

| 07/17/17 |

In chapter 15, we pick up the story with the ascension of Rehoboam's son to the throne of Judah. Tragically, we learn that Abijam followed in his father's footsteps, walking “in all the sins that his father did before him” (15:3). Despite this family legacy, however, Abijam's son Asa “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (15:11) and began an aggressive campaign of reform. Asa banished cultic prostitutes and abolished idolatry, even removing his own mother from her royal position for fashioning an idol. Asa presided over 41 years (2 Chronicles 16:13) largely characterized by peace and prosperity. Meanwhile, we watch as Israelite leaders continue to embrace the sins of Jeroboam, dragging the nation through years of chaos culminating in an assassination and military coup that brought Israel to the brink of civil war. This study in contrasts demonstrates the impact that one man's choice can make. Despite his family history and the prevailing culture, Asa honored the Lord, and the people of Judah reaped the benefits for generations. We can be encouraged that in spite of personal baggage or societal pressures, our choice to remain faithful can profoundly influence the course of our families and communities.

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In Case You Missed It – 1 Kings 14, Psalm 11

| 07/16/17 |

My father and I look very similar. So similar that on two separate occasions I have been in public and people have walked up to me and said, “You are Bill's son.” Indeed, I am. You can imagine my surprise of being identified in a moment that I was not expecting. Now put yourself in Jeroboam's wife's shoes. She has traveled far from home and disguised her appearance. She arrives to her destination and a blind man, who has never met her, calls out her name upon hearing her footsteps. That blind man was a prophet of the Lord named Ahijah and he informs Jeroboam's wife that her son will die upon her return home. This is a result of the house of Jeroboam following other gods instead of the Lord. The Lord is slow to anger, but the fastest way to kindle His anger is idolatry. To the people of Israel, the events in 1 Kings 14 might seem like an untimely death and political instability, but as readers, we have the understanding that this is the direct judgment of God on the nation for idolatry. Meanwhile, His direction is clear: follow Him and Him alone. The Christian life is not so much about what you do, but that you are faithful to God in whatever you do.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 12-13, Psalm 10

| 07/15/17 |

Since the time of the Judges, there was tension between the northern and southern tribes. So, Rehoboam chooses an historically sacred city, Shechem (Joshua 24), for his inauguration ceremony to appease those in the north. When Jeroboam and the assembly of Israel request their heavy yoke be lightened, Rehoboam tells them to return in 3 days. Rehoboam rejects the counsel of the elder statesmen who served his father, Solomon (1 Kings 4:1-6) and grandfather, David (II Sam. 8:15-16), and at 41 years of age (1 Kings 14:21), Rehoboam follows the poor counsel of his peers; he answers Jeroboam harshly. Our lesson: We know that Proverbs 15:1, when applied on a personal level, can persuade opposition. Here we see the result of a harsh response: an entire kingdom divided—Jeroboam, king of Israel, the northern kingdom, with Samaria the capital; Rehoboam, king of Judah, the southern kingdom, with Jerusalem the capital. God king of all fulfills His word (1 Kings 11:29-36). Godless Jeroboam fears that the people will leave and stay in Jerusalem if allowed to go there to worship. He creates a false religion with altars in Bethel and Dan, institutes festive days, and makes an unholy priesthood, leading the north into idolatry. They never recover until the time of Jesus (See John 4:19-24).

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 10-11, Psalm 9

| 07/14/17 |

In our time in Proverbs, we saw that wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord, from dwelling in the Lord's words and statues. I find the progression from 1 Kings 10 to 11 ironic and deeply humbling. In chapter 10, the Queen of Sheba is so utterly astonished by Solomon's wisdom that she delivers gifts upon gifts to him and Israel. Solomon has been richly blessed with knowledge, fortune, and fame beyond imagination. Surely, he of all people would remember how God has blessed him and not go astray! Yet even with all his wisdom, Solomon collects foreign wives, despite God's warning that they would lead him away from God. Unsurprisingly, he pursues foreign gods, and the golden age of Israel begins to crumble. We are not brought to faith in Christ by our own plans or deeds, but by the grace of God alone. Like David in Psalm 9, we need to continually remember the Lord's work, praise Him for his wondrous deeds, and ask for His grace in sustaining our faith. Only in this can we avoid Solomon's folly. Today, take some time to remember God's provision and majesty, and praise Him.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 8-9, Psalm 8

| 07/13/17 |

One of the major theological motifs that we find in this portion of scripture is Covenant. This divine-human covenant is seen clearly in 1 Kings 8-9 as the ark of the covenant returns to its prescribed home, met with an atmosphere of gratitude, hope, worship and celebration! This reality of divine-human relationship is a concept we find throughout the biblical record. It never ceases to amaze and humble me. When I read Solomon's prayer of benediction, I find it beautiful and holy, everything it was meant to be, and honoring the character and majesty of God! Can you imagine the joy of the people to see the ark, a physical representation of the wilderness experiences of their ancestors 400 years ago! This ark is their heritage of God's promises to Israel: the Law given to Moses to set a people apart for His purposes, to belong to Him. What a privilege! The unsettling truth we find here after eight days of worship and the prayers to live according to His statutes is God's second appearance to King Solomon. He reminds Solomon that if they do not live with integrity and righteousness, obeying God's Word, if they abandon their God and fall into idolatry, all will be lost. This consecrated people will face disaster and be cut off from the God who has loved them faithfully! It's a somber note on a magnificent day! 

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 7, Psalm 7

| 07/12/17 |

Solomon has built his temple, and in 1 Kings 7:13-51 the author describes all the items that will furnish it. Just as the temple was meant to be an earthly representation of God's heavenly dwelling, so everything in it was designed to illustrate God's holiness, glory, and supremacy. It is interesting, though, that the author divides the descriptions of the building of the temple in chapter 6 and its furnishing in the latter half of chapter 7. Between these accounts is a summary of Solomon's building of his own palace (1 Kings 7:1-12). The grandeur of the temple of the Lord is juxtaposed with the grandeur of Solomon's home. This has been a matter of interest for many commentators. Some have suggested that this part of the narrative of 1 Kings shows that Solomon's loyalties were divided between God and his own “secular interests.” As you meditate on the passages for today, think about where your priorities lie. Are your loyalties divided like Solomon's? What areas of your life do you need to trust God with?

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 5-6, Psalm 6

| 07/11/17 |

The hearts where Yahweh lives are beautiful. David had wanted to build a temple for God for many years, a sacred place where Israel could worship God. He desired for his people to intimately experience Yahweh. God promised David that his son would build the temple. David died leaving the nation in peace for his son's reign, and Yahweh marked this new era with Solomon building the temple. Solomon built the temple to display God's glory. He wanted the nations to see the incomparability of the Israelites' God, a place where Israel could worship, pray, and meet Yahweh. The beauty of the temple would be beyond description, with a glory only Yahweh, who lives among his people, could deserve. That was the big idea. The most important thing for Yahweh, though, is the hearts that build the temple. As the text tells us, the word of the Lord came to Solomon: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel (1 Kings 6:11-13).” The temple could be built, but all its beauty would mean nothing if Yahweh was not being worshiped in Israel's heart. Have you built a beautiful temple for Yahweh? Yahweh wants your heart to be His temple. We can bring forth His glory in our lives. Like the temple, people could wonder at God's radiance in our life. We can pray, cry, and worship Yahweh wherever we are. He is with us. We are God's temple, where there is love, peace, joy, and kindness. May we live today as God's holy sanctuary.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Kings 3-4, Psalm 5

| 07/10/17 |

I was curious about the Bible as a child, but one of its first stories that made me uneasy was the dispute involving two women and maternal rights to a living child. Solomon resolves this problem by offering to cut the child up so both women could have equal parts. Of course, we know how the story ends. As a youth, I couldn't believe that some woman would be willing to see a child chopped to pieces just for simple mathematical justice. As I grew older, I maintained my incredulous posture towards this event because it just seemed so far-fetched for anyone to have such a mixture of foolishness and evil. After years of spending time around adults who were caught up in the throes of intense grief over loss, witnessing jealousy from those who have lost someone or something dear, I believe this story makes perfect sense. A woman has just accidentally killed her own child. Stricken with grief and jealousy over the woman whose child still lives, she snatches the baby not out of love, but out of desire gone awry. In her jealousy, it is not surprising to believe that she would care little for this woman's baby. In her mind, she might even think, “If I have been robbed of a child, why should anyone have a baby?” Grief over loss, when mixed with inordinate desires, results in a dangerous combination. Thankfully Solomon's wisdom wins the day. For me, there is a sober realization that some of our best instincts, like motherly instincts, can be harmful to us and those around us if unchecked by allegiance to God. When God is not our priority, even our sense of right and wrong can easily go out the window.

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In Case You Missed It – 1 Kings 1-2, Psalm 4

| 07/09/17 |

Israel reached the height of her power during the reigns of David and Solomon, though the transition between these two kings was not seamless. On top of having a rebellious son try to usurp his authority again, David has to deal with prior injustices once and for all. David commissions Solomon to deal wisely with Joab and Shimei and to ensure they experience just retribution for their crimes before they die. In all these events surrounding the sad end of David's life, I want to ask as an aside: Can any person handle power well? David's rise to kingship was good for Israel, but ultimately the crown seemed to corrupt David. Solomon will get his chance with great power and wealth without the same level of opposition his father faced. As king, Solomon promotes equity and justice at first. But will he be corrupted by the crown like David? Perhaps more importantly, is it even possible for any person born of human flesh to rule well without being tainted by power's corrosive work? Answers to the first question will appear in future chapters, but the answers to the second question will take some time to resolve as we read the story of the Bible.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 24, Psalm 1

| 07/06/17 |

Since the details of David's census will be revisited in 1 Chronicles 21, I want to focus today on some of the last words in 2 Samuel. When David comes to build an altar and make sacrifices at Araunah's threshing floor, David refuses Araunah's gift of animals for the sacrifice with these words: “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). After seeing the ups and downs of David's life, we see David again at his best. David recognizes God is the author, creator, and sustainer of all things. In refusing to take Araunah's offer, David says through word and action that God is worthy of our best. David recognizes that as a leader he must lead in giving his own best to God. The truth is, one of God's foremost intentions in commanding sacrifices is to encourage the demonstration of faith. In addition to atoning for sins and removing guilt, sacrifices were an opportunity for God's people to demonstrate trust in God's faithfulness. When a person makes a sacrifice to God, they are saying they believe God will provide other animals for their well-being. In the same way, David knows God's kindness and wishes to show Araunah and others that when it comes to God he will not serve only when convenient or easy. David will not offer a costless faith, but faith that is willing to pay the price for the God who is not short on generosity.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 23:8-39, Proverbs 31:10-31

| 07/05/17 |

Proverbs focuses on wisdom and often personifies wisdom as feminine. Thus, it is fitting this book ends by discussing feminine wisdom in the “wife of a noble character.” Proverbs 31 has always been a favorite of women in the church. Paying attention to the message therein challenges our inattention to and cluelessness about what it means to be feminine. Though not all women are wives, all women can be nobly wise in working unto God. This particular woman is shown to be wise because she seeks the best for her household and puts her hands to work inside and outside of the home. This woman is kind to the poor and is respected by neighbors. All women can manage their affairs with such wisdom and express God's image in uniquely feminine ways. Proverbs 31 certainly does not paint a picture of a wife who is only barefoot in the kitchen.  Rather, Proverbs 31 shows that women that live wisely are able to bless all those in their sphere of influence in transforming ways. Many modern women do not imagine doing some of what this woman does, like buying a field and making a garden out of it. Still, all women are-like men-called by God to work. Proverbs 31 inspires women to demonstrate noble character in their work. There is great praise for the feminine desire (nature?) to accomplish what many call the domestic arts. Yet if Proverbs 31 is any clue, domestic arts are not about where we work (e.g. only in the home), but about who women work to serve. Truly a woman that works to serve God, family, and neighbor is more valuable than rubies or any jewel. Such a woman has sound priorities and that is something money cannot buy.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 22:1-23:7, Proverbs 31:1-9

| 07/04/17 |

Have you ever heard someone say the Bible is mostly metaphorical? I hope none of us would say something that does such injustice to the scriptures we have been reading. David does, however, write an extended metaphor to describe God's actions on behalf of Israel. Note what a metaphor actually looks like. We read lines like, “Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth.” David is using this imagery to describe God's powerful work in delivering Israel from enemies through works that confound simple explanation. In Israel's battles, we do not read of the events found in 2 Samuel 22:7-20 precisely because David is not trying to explain literal space-time events. Rather, David is reflecting on the greatness of God and how God's intervention from heavenly realms might appear to human eyes if we could behold all that God does. Take time to re-read 2 Samuel 22:7-20 and enjoy David's imaginative descriptions of God's mysterious power and works-a power that has delivered David despite all odds. David is obviously enamored with God's greatness. I pray for Agapé Chicago to be likewise mesmerized by God.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 21, Proverbs 30

| 07/03/17 |

How many of us would ever pray like Agur does about wealth? I cannot fathom ever saying to God, “give me neither poverty nor riches” (Proverbs 30:8). Of course, I would pray against poverty, but my assumption is that I would do just fine with riches, thank you very much. The truth is, however, in acquiring wealth or through having wealth, God is relegated to an inferior priority in the vast majority of cases. While gaining wealth, many work longer hours, increase their pace, and neglect most everything save their goals for upward mobility. Those that have wealth-either by gaining it through work or kind circumstances-learn to depend upon themselves. Though I might want to simply pray for God to give me neither poverty or ill-gotten riches, I think it is important for me to assess often how much I live for money. I think we all need to take a step back on regular occasions and reflect on our relationship towards wealth. As we do, way we see the wisdom in recognizing the spiritual benefits for our lives of enjoying moderate amounts of money and possessions.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 19-20, Proverbs 29

| 07/02/17 |

If we thought all would be well for David and Israel after Absalom's death, it is obvious we were mistaken. Joab has gone out of control. Since Absalom's rebellion, others like Sheba rebel, and Israel's internal friction escalates again. David's authority has deteriorated from the days Israel enjoyed great internal peace and power over their enemies. Many still disrespect David and his throne. As we read the proverbs of Solomon (David's son), one can know some of the experiences that likely give birth to these words: “By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down” (Proverbs 29:4). Certainly, David has experienced the harm that power struggles and even devious attempts at gaining wealth or prestige have caused Israel. Additionally, David's lack of justice in Uriah's murder demonstrates how everything crumbles when leaders act unjustly. God's promise to David about establishing his throne forever still stands. Unfortunately, David's remaining days will be marked by seeing more suffering and division than he ever imagined at the peak of his power. As followers of Christ, we have been given similar promises of a great future, but we can also face immediate consequences for injustice and negligence. As a leader, reading about David-as well as his son Solomon's insights-humbles me to strive for the immediate benefits given to me in Jesus Christ by walking in obedience and justice.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 17-28, Proverbs 28

| 07/01/17 |

Proverbs 28 begins with this puzzling proverb: “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Why would someone flee when there is no danger? Simply put, wicked people often assume everyone else is like them. Someone who covets others' possessions and even steals believes that their neighbor also wants their stuff, so they live in fear of what others might do to them. Wickedness breeds distrust. On the other hand, the righteous earn good reputations and are those that neighbors wish to see thrive. When a righteous person prospers, the city rejoices (see Proverbs 29:2). Having such good favor with neighbors and with God emboldens a person to live with confidence in life. Righteousness has additional benefits other than simply the joy of doing good. Wickedness breeds more and more consequences.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 15-16, Proverbs 27

| 06/30/17 |

Absalom chases David out of Jerusalem, and as David flees he has a few interesting encounters. Today I will focus on David's interaction with Ittai the Gittite. A Gittite is someone from Gath, the very home of Goliath himself. As David is forced out of town by his son Absalom, you would think that the Gittites would revel in David's shame. Yet these foreigners show a loyalty to David that reminds us of the loyalty which Ruth, a Moabite, showed to Naomi as she returned to her homeland. These examples demonstrate ways in which God is using his people, like Naomi and David, to draw the nations to His glorious light and truth. David ruled the Gittites with equity and justice, which in turn caused them to show devotion to David as God's anointed. Even in David's humiliation, this devoted response shows David's positive leadership over Israel. God intends for Abraham's descendants to be a light to the nations, and under David's care even former enemies become loyal. This great theme of God using his people as a light which draws the nations to Himself is prevalent from the first book of scripture to the last . Even in David's failures God is gracious to accomplish his good purposes for the nations through this God-fearing but faulty man. May God use faulty people like us to draw the nations to Jesus.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 13-14, Proverbs 26

| 06/29/17 |

As David witnesses the beginnings of Nathan's prophecy about his own household bringing calamity upon him, I want to focus on an interesting coupling of proverbs. First, Proverbs 26:4 reads, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” This idea is simple: if you try to correct a fool or get into a disagreement with a fool over their foolish actions, you might just prove to be a fool yourself. Getting into a disagreement with a fool often is a waste of time and certainly only going to raise your blood pressure. Yet immediately after comes Proverbs 26:5: “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” This proverb presents a kind of “on the other hand” type of wisdom. If you do not correct a fool they will go about patting themselves on the back, thinking that they are wise. If we pass on correcting a fool we allow them to persist in their foolishness. These two proverbs intentionally lead the reader into a sort of catch-22 situation where wisdom becomes necessary. There are troubles that come from correcting a fool and troubles that come when you don't correct a fool. Which trouble will you choose? The wise person recognizes both possibilities in every situation and acts accordingly. This is another instance of Proverbs not telling us how to act in every situation, but giving us insight into our world to help us live wisely in all situations.

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In Case You Missed It – 2 Samuel 12, Proverbs 25

| 06/28/17 |

Nathan's prophecy against David exemplifies a kind of wise confrontation that I believe is similar in many ways to Jesus' parables. Consider the artfulness of Nathan's rebuke of David's behavior. Nathan tells a story that outrages David. In David's incensed state he learns from Nathan that the story is actually about his own behavior against Uriah. David has lost all wiggle room to be defensive and justify his actions. David exclaims that this made-up wealthy man, who has stolen a poor man's only lamb to show hospitality, is worthy of death. Yet David's actions were far worse. Nathan has placed David in a state of ironically pronouncing his own death sentence. Though God wills to spare David, David will face a lifetime of domestic opposition, and the child born out of his adulterous encounter will face David's curse through death. Could Nathan have simply told David about God's judgement? Certainly, but David likely would not have seen God's justice quite so plainly. Nathan brings David through story into clear understanding of his wickedness against Uriah, Israel, and God. As God's people today, may we remember that we are called to admonish sin when we see it in our brothers and sisters in the faith. Better still, when we admonish, may we do so wisely and artfully to win people over to understanding of their wrongs like Nathan does with David.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 10-11, Proverbs 24:23-34

| 06/27/17 |

Over the years, I have heard many sermons which focus on all of David's sins in 2 Samuel 11 leading up to his treachery against Uriah. Many note David sending Joab to battle for Israel instead of doing his duty as king. Others focus on how lust gets the better of David, and he transgresses against the commandment against adultery. The list continues, of course. Today I want to suggest that we have known for some time that these events would been coming. David relates to women and wives just like the kings of the nations that do not know YHWH. David's polygamous ways have shown that he expects to have as many women as he desires. Though today we read the first clear biblical statement about God's displeasure with David (2 Samuel 11:27), this is not the first time we have seen David's proclivity towards sexual sin. What we would call egregious sin does not simply happen overnight. David's heart had become fixated on sexual satisfaction, and his power could get him his heart's desire. This is a terrible combination for a king called to lead God's people. It is also terrible for David and his relationship with God. What will God do about David going off the rails? Tomorrow we will find out.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 8-9, Proverbs 24:1-22

| 06/26/17 |

The writer tells us twice that Mephibosheth is lame in both feet. Why is this important? Before the story of Mephibosheth, in 2 Samuel 8, David conquers his strong enemies and their great armies. Still, David's greatest enemy thus far proved to be the former king, Saul, who sought to kill David, but David refused to kill him because of Saul's position. If David wanted to finally get revenge against Saul's family, nothing could signal Mephibosheth's powerlessness to defend himself against David more than being forgotten, as well as his lame state. Mephibosheth is completely neutered of power. Yet David made a covenant with Jonathan years before to care that they would seek other's best interests (1 Samuel 18:3). Though we are not told the details of David's obligations to the covenant, we understand later that he felt obliged to care for Jonathan and his offspring. Mephibosheth, in spite of seeing himself as little more than a dog, is the recipient of David's lavish kindness and thus, God's lavish kindness. Like Mephibosheth we all have things about us, sins or characteristics, that make us feel unworthy of kindness or hope. Yet God has made a covenant to seek our best long before our birth (Ephesians 1:3-10), just like David made a covenant long before Mephibosheth could enjoy its benefits. Now we, like Mephibosheth, look forward to eating at the true King's table even though we are powerless to protect ourselves from death. Praise be to God for showing us such lavish kindness.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 5-7, Proverbs 23

| 06/25/17 |

God makes an unconditional covenant with David reminiscent of the ones made to Abraham on a few occasions in Genesis. When David desires to build a house for the ark of God, God's prophet Nathan warns against such an action. Speaking the words of YHWH to David, Nathan explains that God has never asked for a house to be built for Him. Rather, God intends to build a house for David instead, one that will last forever; David's house will not be a building, but a lineage of kings. 2 Samuel 7:17 summarizes this covenant well: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” For God to work out this promise, at first glance, must mean that kings will forever spring up from the line of David. There is another option, however. God could also place one king in David's line on this throne forever. In the New Testament, even before Jesus is born, this is the very thing God intends. When Gabriel visits Mary to tell of her child to be born, he promises her that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). God's promise to David shaped Israel's self-perception, and their lack of kings on David's throne during their days in exile would have caused crises of faith and understanding. Jesus is God's response to such question and fulfills God's promise to David in unexpected ways. God did not intend to promise an infinite succession of kings, but a king whose session is infinite.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 3-4, Proverbs 22:17-19

| 06/24/17 |

David will not tolerate vigilante justice against his foes. When David is brought Ish-Bosheth's head by Rekab and Baanah, he has them executed for murder. Upholding justice is a key part of being a righteous king over Israel. In the face of much antagonism, David has been unwavering in his devotion to the crown and to Saul's family. Now David will take over as one who has shown commitment to upholding justice towards all fellow Israelites. There are still flaws, however, in David's character. 2 Samuel 3 makes clear that David now has six children by six different wives, and Michal, David's first wife, is set to join the family. Though David's virtue is evident in most areas of his life, his polygamous ways foreshadow problems. No matter what problems we see with David, Israel is in better hands with their new king than they ever were with Saul.

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In Case You Missed It — 2 Samuel 1-2, Proverbs 22:1-16

| 06/23/17 |

As Israel continues to have an authority crisis at the beginning of 2 Samuel, I would like to focus elsewhere for a belated Father's Day post based on a famous proverb. Proverbs 22:6 states, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” For years I have heard people question their past parenting because they have witnessed their own children abandon faith in God and deviate from virtue. One of the more painful aspects of this questioning from the faithful is their familiarity with the verse above. If raising children in the way they should go means as adults they will not depart from it, then it seems like many have failed to raise their kids on the right path. I would argue that though this is possible, a better understanding of what the proverbs intend to communicate would help assuage parental anguish over the chosen direction of their children. The proverbs are not unconditional promises but statements about how the world works and how to live wisely in the world. Generally speaking, if you want your child to grow into virtuous people you need to raise them to that end. Do virtuous adults come out of disastrous households? Absolutely, that does happen. Are some children raised with emotionally, physically, and spiritually supportive homes as well as discipline, only to reject their parent's ways? Of course, this happens. This proverb is not telling us what will happen in all situations, but telling us in all situations the most likely way to produce the hoped-for goal of raising up wise, God-fearing adults. It is far more likely to happen in homes led by wise, God-fearing adults. The proverbs are less like promises and more like directives for living wisely in our complex world.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 30-31, Proverbs 19

| 06/20/17 |

Our world has been at war for some time now. The end of 1 Samuel is about the first two kings of Israel waging war on two different fronts. 1 Samuel 30 tells of David and his followers going back to Ziklag to find their property and their families, which were raided by the Amalekites. David eventually overtakes the Amalekites and recovers all property for his people. 1 Samuel 31 briefs us on Saul and his sons being defeated by the Philistines. The Philistine response in victory over Saul is to humiliate the fallen king by nailing his body to a wall along with his sons'. We see in all of these instances just how ruthless Israel's neighbors are in war and in victory. 1 Samuel ends with Israel suffering a humiliating defeat and all of a sudden kingless while living in a war-ravaged land. This is neither the first nor the last book of the Bible to end on a low note. In a world of happy endings, I find the Bible incredibly honest about our predicament and the frustration of a world in conflict. As I write, a mosque has been attacked in London and a terrorist attack in Paris has been foiled. Last week a man from Illinois opened fire on Republican officials, harming one. These stories are just the ones large scale news companies deem interesting. Daily, people throughout our world face great violence. The Bible paints a realistic picture of the power struggles and the consequences humanity has always faced. Thankfully 1 Samuel isn't the end of the entire Bible. It just ends on a similar note to most of our days. The end of 1 Samuel invites us to look at our world and hope for a better one. Scripture will inform that hope as we continue.

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In Case You Missed — 1 Samuel 28-29, Proverbs 18

| 06/19/17 |

The witch of Endor conjuring Samuel on behalf of Saul has always been interesting to me. How does a witch, whom God opposes, conjure Samuel, who is dead? What does this tell us about the afterlife? Before the events of our reading there is little said in the Old Testament about what happens to people when they die. This story suggests that people continue in some fashion after death. Jesus later confirms this truth while arguing for the resurrection of the dead by calling God the “God of the living” because he is “God of Abraham and David” (Mark 12:26-27). That means God is ultimately the one who preserves Samuel's life. To me, this also means God alone could allow access to Samuel because Samuel had died. But why would God allow a witch, who is performing acts God hates, to have such access? Remember that Saul is partially responsible for this witch's actions. My argument is that though this woman has been working in the realm of the demonic, God takes this unique opportunity to warn Saul of his impending doom in dramatic fashion. I know that this is hard for many to stomach, but I cannot ascribe Samuel's conjuring simply to demons, because we are led to believe this is actually Samuel based on the message and the witch's reaction; she is shocked and feels duped, and Samuel's message in death is consistent with his message in life. This event is one of the first to show that people clearly continue after death, and it also shows that God is on the move to accomplish His purposes even while using human evil.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 26-27, Proverbs 17

| 06/18/17 |

David is a war hero made to feel unsafe in his own homeland. Saul continues to pursue David even after being spared. In 1 Samuel 26, David refuses to kill Saul again, out of principle, for he does not believe in killing God's anointed. It is no wonder God delights so much in David. God loves great character, and today I want to call us as a church to reflect on how it takes similar character to fulfill Proverbs 17:9. This verse reads, “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Just like David had opportunities to physically destroy Saul, so often we have the opportunity to destroy people's reputations or by gossip to tarnish trust between friends. Like David we can choose to protect our neighbor, not by lying for them or minimizing sin, but by protecting them from undue reaction to their sins. Many times, I have been spared from shame and embarrassment for foolish things done or said. Those who loved me still admonished me privately, but did not let the damage spread. I felt spared. May we spare one another by refusing to speak ill of each other, even of our sins. Though it seems less extreme than sparing the life of another, refusing to spread gossip still comes from a merciful heart.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 24-25, Proverbs 16

| 06/17/17 |

I have had several disagreements about whether the Bible clearly denounces polygamy. Today, I will keep my response to such arguments by simply focusing on David and the fact that God loved him so much in spite of his polygamous ways. Long before David was born, God spelled out expectations for a king in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. These included “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray” (Deuteronomy 17:17). Though our passage does not clearly condemn David for taking Abigail as his wife as well as Ahinoam, we have already read much of Israel's history in which neither God nor the writer condemns each evil practice when it occurs. God does not lay out his disappointment in David because God has already spoken. Our reading even makes a point to note the strange events where Saul gives away his already married daughter to another man (1 Samuel 25:44). David is beloved by God and different than Saul, but they both relate to women, sex, and marriage in ways that reflect the practices of foreign kings rather than God's best. The fact that God doesn't condemn or punish David immediately doesn't mean God approves. David will soon enough face significant consequences for attempting to enjoy being a lover and husband to many women. As we read the Bible, let's be careful to pay attention to what the writers and God are trying to communicate rather than by reading too much into silence. I would argue that the original Jewish readers would already see problems with David's actions in 1 Samuel 25:41-45 which prepare us for problems he will face as King. Stay tuned to see how this unfolds.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 22-23, Proverbs 15:30-33

| 06/16/17 |

Saul's unwillingness to kill Ahimelek as well as the guards' refusal should have been enough to give Saul pause before killing God's priest. Yet Saul's blind rage has led him to join forces with a man named Doeg, an Edomite. An Edomite is someone from the region south of what is now Israel. Doeg would have known nothing of YHWH and shows little respect for God's priest and the town of Nob, even killing women and children. Again, a leader of Israel strikes a pledge with a foreigner, and the people of Israel suffer. Saul would have done well to meditate on our reading from Proverbs: “Wisdom's instruction is to fear the Lord” (Proverbs 15:33). Saul has abandoned the fear of God for fear of David and has rejected counsel from his guards, proving that Saul is not “at home among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31). May we all have hearts to fear God and heed discipline today.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 20-21, Proverbs 15:1-29

| 06/15/17 |

Perhaps David coined the phrase, “You're driving me crazy.” Well, probably not, but he certainly would have been right to speak the Hebrew version of that phrase to Saul. Saul, on the other hand, has much to be thankful for in David. David has played music to cure Saul of wicked spirits and has defeated many Philistines in battle, including Saul's great enemy Goliath. David is husband to Saul's daughter Michal and best friend to Saul's son Jonathan. Oh, and David is loyal to Saul even while Saul tries to kill him. Today we see David worn down. He lies to Ahimelek the priest to get bread. David also flees to Gath, where Goliath came from, because he thinks he is safer in the land of his great enemies than among his own people, Israel. David even reaches the point where he pretends to be insane for self-protection. The former strength we have noted in David, like the confidence he had before fighting Goliath, has worn thin. We might call David shrewd in evading the priests and the Philistine king, but he is certainly not as confident and courageous as before. David needs to recuperate. Unfortunately, this is normal when people who should be our allies make themselves our enemies. Such antagonism weakens us, hurts our resolve, and breaks our confidence. Even the strongest of us are not immune to the harm done by those we wish to trust. Everyone should take Saul's bad example to heart. When people trust us, we must honor that trust with even greater diligence to seek the good of those in our confidence. If we are not careful, we can do great damage with our power.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 18-19, Proverbs 14

| 06/14/17 |

Today I want to step away from Israel's history and the starkly different first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. Though we have been reading the Proverbs for some time, one set of proverbs allows me to show in part how to read this book. Proverbs are sayings of wisdom that will reflect how the wise understand the world to generally work. These proverbs are meant to help us live with care. Proverbs 14:20-21 tells us, “The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends. It is a sin to despise one's neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.” The first proverb tells us the truth about how people relate to the poor and rich. If we stopped at verse 20, we would only have wisdom about how the world is. Verse 21 takes us a step further and helps us see what God thinks of the common partiality to the rich and the neglect of the poor. God views such partiality, especially disdain of the poor, as sinful. Additionally, God honors those who care for the poor. There is a way the world works, and there is a way God works. The wise person understands both God and their world. Our world is still characterized by disdain towards the week and needy, but God honors those who live differently towards the marginalized. May we walk with wisdom towards our neighbors in the days ahead.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 16-17, Proverbs 13

| 06/13/17 |

Like in a typical sermon, I want to make three points from our Samuel reading today. First, God prioritizes the heart. I will just let God's words to Samuel teach us about priorities: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). As a pastor, I can never emphasize enough the fact only God's opinion truly matters. It is good news that God values something which is not simply a product of genes or our social environment. God celebrates those who value goodness. Secondly, we need to come to grips with the fact that God is in control of demons. We see several times the emphasis that the spirit afflicting Saul is “an evil spirit from God” (1 Samuel 16:14,16). We must be careful with that word “from”. It is enough to say, whatever God's relationship is with evil spirits that God opposes evil spirits, yet is also sovereign over them. I am inclined to simply say in this situation that God gave the evil spirit wishing to afflict Saul permission. Most importantly, I insist that God does not do evil, but God is also not in a power struggle with evil, for He is Lord over all that is good and bad. Third, God alone provides the greatest victories. David defeats Goliath because David fights “In the name of the Lord Almighty” (1 Samuel 17:45). That means God's power and authority on David is the reason for this unlikely victory, not David's courage. Sure, David is courageous, but God's name is the cause of David's courage, not his own skill or will power. We do well to remember this when we hear someone tells us to conquer “goliaths” in our lives. We certainly should take courage to do what pleases God, but this story doesn't give us a blank check to try the insurmountable either. David and Goliath's battle is not about behavior first and foremost, but about the strength God gives those that know Him. Before you think about conquering anything, focus your attention on knowing the name and character of God.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 14:49-15:35, Proverbs 12

| 06/12/17 |

As Saul contends for his good intentions in today's reading, Samuel's reply leads with the question, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:22) As Samuel answers his own question, we learn something essential about relating to God. Obedience to God is valuable in and of itself, but sacrifice isn't. The only reason animal sacrifices were valuable to God is because He commanded them for Israel to show them the consequences of sin and the value of atonement, among other reasons. Obedience in faith is far more valuable in the sacrificial system than the killing of animals. In our story God commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites and their animals, and nowhere commanded sparing the animals in order to make sacrifices. Instead Saul relates to God as if appeasing God is more valuable than right relationship with God. Often in scriptures, God emphasizes this same preference for us to know Him and His ways over having us give things up. On this same theme, years after Samuel speaks, Jesus doesn't simply say “Deny yourselves daily”, but chases with “and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). If we stop at sacrifice or self-denial we miss God's best: getting to know God better through the benefits of faithful obedience. God created us not to take away good stuff from us, but to give the best to us. If we sacrifice anything without attending to God's commands, we go against the grain of our created purposes. If we sacrifice because God commands, we do so trusting that God is giving us, now or later, something better than what we lose.

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| 06/11/17 |

If it were possible, Saul would have done well to reflect on the Psalms of his successor David. One line in particular stands out as a great caution against Saul's behaviors: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Saul just could not be patient. We first encounter Saul's impatience in his disobedient sacrifices following Samuel's delay (1 Samuel 13:8-14). In response God tells Saul that he loses out on an incredible reward, the opportunity to have his kingdom established forever, because he could not wait a few hours. Later Saul makes a rash curse against anyone who eats, followed by a rash vow to kill whomever has caused God's silence on directing ongoing warfare with the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:39). Without knowledge of his father's curse, Saul's son Jonathan ate some honey, and thus is responsible for God's refusal to answer. When Saul discovers this, his impatience causes him to nearly take his own son's life. This sad situation should remind the reader of Jephthah, the judge who vowed to kill the first thing that greeted him upon returning to battle, only to sacrifice his daughter. Thankfully in this situation, through the wise warriors with Saul, God spares Jonathan the grave punishment of his father's impatience and self-will. How many troubles do we meet when we are in a hurry to do something instead of being eager to wait on the Lord?

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 10-12, Proverbs 10

| 06/10/17 |

A funny thing happens as Samuel chooses by lot Israel's new king. Samuel picked the tribe of Benjamin by lot, then the clan of the Matrites by lot, until finally Saul son of Kish was selected to be the new king. There is only a small problem: Saul has decided to hide. In fact, we are told in 1 Samuel 10:22 he is hiding in the “supplies” (also translated baggage or equipment). Saul so fears being king that he hopes to escape his new role by playing adult hide-and-go-seek. In one sense, Saul is showing wisdom, for the task of being king is too great for anyone, especially without God's complete favor. On the other hand, this action foreshadows how ill-equipped Saul is for the responsibilities that lay ahead. We could call Saul a coward from this incident, or we could call him wise. Either way, he would not escape from God or Samuel and his particular calling. Saul is the king, and now he must lead. In the days ahead, we will see more of the character flaws foreshadowed through this hiding incident. We will also see evidence that Saul had insight when he chose to hide. Above all else, we will see the problems that arise when Israel desires anyone but God as King.

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 8-9, Proverbs 9

| 06/09/17 |

When Israel demands that Samuel find them a king, they have a mixture of good and bad intentions. Samuel's sons are not worthy to rule, so Israel rightly expects Samuel to refuse passing leadership to his children. Yet in diagnosing this leadership problem, Israel chooses a faulty remedy by demanding a king immediately. If God had not spoken to Samuel against Israel's longing for a king, the astute student of scripture might see little problem with Israel desiring a king to establish law and order. After all, God promised Abraham centuries before that some of his descendants would be kings (Genesis 17:6). But Israel's problem does not arise from desiring good or godly leadership, or even from hoping that God would fulfill promises about kings. Israel's error is desiring to choose the first king themselves. The people believe they need a person to lead their wars, a king like the nations that surround them. The worst part of their desire for a king is the mistaken notion that such a king would “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20), the very thing God has done and promised to do time and time again (e.g. Deuteronomy 31:8, Exodus 13:21, Exodus 14:14). It becomes clear that Israel doesn't just want a king, but God's promise of a king without needing to trust God alone. In short, Israel wants to replace God. God will grant Israel their wish for a king, but not before warning that this ruler would use Israel for personal gain at great expense to them (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Reflect on these questions: How do you attempt to replace God with other rulers? What are the costs?

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In Case You Missed It — 1 Samuel 6-7, Proverbs 8

| 06/08/17 |

When the Philistines decide to return the ark to Israel, they consult their priests and prophets. These Philistine spiritual guides plan to discern whether YHWH's judgement has caused all their problems with tumors and deaths. They tie the ark plus their offerings onto a cart pulled by inexperienced and directionless calves to see if YHWH will guide these calves back to the people of Beth Shemesh and Israel. How did the Philistine priests come up with this plan? Why does God choose to honor this wisdom? We are not really told the reasons, but we are to safely assume that this story reflects God's desire for the Philistines to know who YHWH is, in order that they not trifle with His glorious presence. God is patient with the ignorance of the nations when they pay proper attention to God's works and character. These Philistines even had appropriate respect for God's deliverance of Israel out of Egypt generations ago (1 Samuel 6:6). Did God tell these Philistines to do exactly what they did through their diviners and priests? I find that unlikely, and certainly we are not told God says anything like this. Still, God honors their curiosity and their attempts at respect. When the ark returns, Israel shows that they must learn hard lessons about respecting God's presence like the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:19). Only a superficial reading of scripture leads one to believe that God has different standards for Israel than He has for other nations. If anything, God choosing Israel means that His standards for this people are higher. Let this message instruct the church of Christ to consider how essential it is to know God as those who have been called God's beloved. May we also consider God's kindness and patience toward those who do not know God so that we might reflect God's character to our neighbors.

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| 06/06/17 |

June 6th: 1 Samuel 2:12-4:1(a), Proverbs 6:20-35 Aaron's chief priestly descendants have become deeply wicked. The sons of Eli disregard laws about proper sacrifices to God, intimidate objectors to their dishonorable practices, and have illicit sexual liaisons right outside the tent of meeting. God's priesthood and his tabernacle are being actively desecrated by these “scoundrels” (1 Samuel 2:12-25). It is no surprise that God intends to put these evil men to death. Add to this how troubling it is that Eli does little to curb his sons' treacherous behaviors. No matter, God is raising up Samuel, born of a faithful Ephraimite woman named Hannah, to take over the job Eli and his sons fail to accomplish as part of their Levitical heritage and as direct descendants of Aaron (1 Samuel 2:26). Again, those chosen by birth for a job are replaced in God's mercy by those who formerly did not receive such an honor. This is grace for Samuel and also grace for Israel. It might seem like I just keep making the same points about God's grace and Israel's failure, Sadly, for Israel's foreseeable future, this repetition of events will continue. This leads the reader of the Old Testament, especially those reading chronologically, to ask, “What can break this cycle of salvation first, then sin, followed by misery, and ultimately replacement and rescue?” Perhaps God will raise up a King to help Israel reject this ongoing pattern? Stay tuned to see how Samuel's plays his part in Israel's ongoing habits of being poor recipients of God's great mercies.      

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| 06/05/17 |

June 5th: 1 Samuel, 1-2:11, Proverbs 5:1-6:19 A number of clues in our 1 Samuel reading signify something special in Israel's history is about to take place. First, we encounter Hannah, a barren woman who longs for a child, hearkening back to Sarah before giving birth to Isaac. Secondly, we see that Hannah is a favored wife like Rachel was with Jacob, likewise unable to have the child see longs to see. Lastly, God grants Hannah's prayer and gives her a child that she in turn dedicates to God's service. All of these cues prepare us for the importance of Samuel, Hannah's son. Samuel will prove very important in the next phase of Israel's history, the time of the Kings. In the meantime, I encourage you to slowly read Hannah's prayer a few times and consider the humiliation she faced as a barren wife in the house of a man with another fertile wife. Place yourself in her shoes, even for a moment, and consider the monthly reminder, that presumably occurred for years, that something bodily is particularly preventing Hannah from being a mom. A vast majority of adult women throughout history have desired motherhood, so barrenness has always been painful for couples. In iron Age Israel, especially in a polygamous situation, barrenness certainly came with unique sorrows hard to grasp in our individualistic culture. As Hannah prays recognizing God's protection and vindication of the weak, one feels the depths of her former pain as well as the heights of her gladness in God's kindness.  

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In Case You Missed It — Ruth 4, Proverbs 2

| 06/02/17 |

Whoever wrote Ruth undoubtedly had the ending of the story in mind as they begun penning this brief book. It demonstrates themes like lovingkindness and the benefits of obeying God's laws. Still, the great Biblical significance of Ruth and Boaz has to do with their great-grandson, King David. Yes, God provides for destitute Naomi and Ruth, and yes, Ruth shows hesed to Naomi. Of course, Boaz fulfills the obligations of a goel in a time where many Israelites dabbled with idolatry. Most notably, in the time of the Judges when everything is falling apart for Israel, off the beaten path of land battles and leadership failure, the small-town story of Ruth is shaping Israel's future—and our future—forever. Through Ruth, God is raising up a King. Note I used the capital “K” because this story isn't ultimately just about David. At the beginning of Jesus' genealogy, Matthew goes to great lengths to clarify that Boaz's mother is Rahab, a Canaanite, and his wife is Ruth, a Canaanite (Matthew 1:5). Through Rahab and Ruth, the genealogy leads to David, but ultimately to Jesus Himself. Ruth is a story about how God is moving to bring salvation and hope while so many Israelites are toying with that which brings bondage and misery. It is God's pleasure to work through the faithful, whether Israelite or Moabite, to bring His salvation, which benefits all people. The beauty of the ending in Ruth is that while Israel is destroying each other because they do not have a king, God is working to raise up a king to helpfully guide Israel in the near future, and also a King to guide the nations for all time. Ruth is a small-town story with world-changing implications.

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In Case You Missed It — Ruth 3, Proverbs 1:8-33

| 06/01/17 |

God does not have a speaking part in the story of Ruth. I use this as an excuse for my past under-appreciation for the character and wisdom of Boaz. God does not speak about Boaz's positive traits the way He does in the scriptures about Abraham, Moses, David, and Job. Our reading today, along with Boaz's role in the big story of the Bible, are enough to see God's favor toward this man. In today's reading, Boaz wakes up to find Ruth at his feet, requesting that he redeem her as kinsman redeemer. This is quite a request! If Boaz agrees, he has another mouth to feed and marital responsibility to an already married woman. We mistakenly read this passage if we believe it is a given that Boaz would redeem Ruth. As we will see tomorrow, another kinsman redeemer wants nothing to do with Ruth's situation. Boaz adds kindness to Ruth by being thankful that she did not desire younger men. Lastly, Boaz wisely sends Ruth home with barley in her shawl to assure Naomi of his intention to fulfill the obligations of a kinsman redeemer. Some have also suggested that Boaz sent Ruth home with a shawl full of barley so that no one who saw her at such a late hour might get the impression she was up to lewd misconduct. Boaz represents an Israelite man at his best, for he is obedient to God, has concern for his responsibilities, is wise, and regards the poor. I hope that when many of us think of heroes in scripture, Boaz would certainly receive due appreciation.

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In Case You Missed It — Ruth 2, Proverbs 1:1-7

| 05/31/17 |

Since our Ruth reading is fairly straightforward, I want to focus on the significance of a rare word that reveals the significance of Boaz's actions. That word, goel, translated “kinsman redeemer” is found in Ruth 2:20. A goel has legal expectations to care for their kinsmen who have fallen on hard times. Since Boaz was part of Elimelek's (Ruth's deceased father-in-law) clan, he knew his obligations as kinsman-redeemer. When Boaz treats Ruth with such kindness and provides for her, we need not imagine Ruth's story as some steamy romance. Rather, this chapter signifies the beginning of God reversing the fate of Ruth and Naomi and also an oasis of faithfulness in the desert of Israel's treacherous behavior during those days. Boaz and his workers live like God's people should, and this is refreshing to read. Boaz's generosity also provides refreshment for the destitute women returned from the land of Moab. Ultimately Ruth and Boaz do become more than just kinsmen, but at this point in our reading, Boaz is just being obedient to the obligations for a goel. Naomi recognizes this proper action and thus begins to see hope due to God's laws being kept. If we miss this, we miss a major part of Ruth's story.

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In Case You Missed It — Ruth 1, Psalm 150

| 05/30/17 |

During the time of the Judges, a family went from Bethlehem (meaning “house of bread)” to the land of Moab. Elimelech (meaning “God is my King”) and Naomi (meaning “pleasant') left the land of promise because of a famine. Bethlehem did not live up to its name. In the story of Ruth, misery immediately attacks this family in Moab. Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving three women without husbands, and thus incredibly vulnerable. Naomi indicates the depths of her bitterness by suggesting she change her name from “pleasant” to “bitter”. In the midst of this horrid situation, we see a surprising turn. Ruth, the recently widowed Moabite daughter-in-law, shows uncommon devotion to both Naomi and YHWH in spite of Naomi's mocking attitude towards Ruth's loyalty (Ruth 1:11-13). Still, Naomi returns to Bethlehem a childless widow with only a daughter-in-law to help her face her distress. Unlike the book of Judges, the book of Ruth begins with misfortune and misery. Unlike the book of Judges, a Moabite shows a kind of openness and devotion to God that reminds us of Rahab during the days of Joshua. Tomorrow we will begin to see how God is up to great good during the evil days of the Judges in this story of broken and hopeless women.

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In Case You Missed It — Judges 20-21, Psalm 147

| 05/27/17 |

Consider just how differently we feel about our Revolutionary War against Britain and our Civil War. We celebrate our independence yearly on the fourth of July with ice cream, watermelon, and fireworks. At the same time, our Civil War and the reasons for that division still contribute to our great shame. At the beginning of Judges, Israel enjoyed a clear purpose: to gain land and freedom for themselves. Israel ends Judges by waging a massive civil war, treating one another without regard for their common ancestry and kinship. In Judges 20, the people react with righteous anger to the sins of Gibeah in raping the Levite's concubine. However, they wrongly fail to seek a just trial. When the rest of Israel goes to the tribe of Benjamin without seeking a trial, the people of Benjamin fail to punish the wicked men in their midst for rape and murder. This lapse of justice eventually leads to a civil war, causing thousands and thousands of deaths on both sides. Thankfully, in our reading some tribes seek God's insight into waging war against Benjamin. Like in the rest of Judges, this spiritual insight does not last. Instead of seeking God's wisdom for how to preserve the tribe of Benjamin, Israel leans on their own wisdom and strikes the people of Jabesh Gilead for not showing up to their appointed assembly. Sadly, Israel attempts to solve the problem through more civil war and strategic rape (Judges 21:20-24). The tragic summary that ends the book stands as an exclamation point. It invites us to reflect on what happens when we do what seems right to us instead of what God commands. Truly, God's rule leads to freedom, but our will leads to bondage. God wanted freedom for Israel; they chose civil war.

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In Case You Missed It — Judges 19, Psalm 146

| 05/26/17 |

A few years ago, as we prepared to focus our preaching on Judges, I thought about calling the series “Breaking Bad: Israel in the Time of Judges”. Like in the famous TV show about a chemist gone bad, Israel grows increasingly evil from beginning to end. So many failures found in Judges are repeated in what we read today. Yesterday we read about a Levite abdicating responsibility as God's priest, and today we encounter another evil Levite. Today a father fails his daughter like Jephthah failed his daughter. There is no sign of a judge to rule and save Israel at this juncture. Male-female relationships have become extremely complicated. Our story reflects Israel's battle of the sexes as God's chosen people reach new depths of evil. In an event that hearkens back to those which preceded the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, men in Gibeah desire sex with the Levite, but willingly and brutally rape a woman instead. On top of this horrific act, the murdered woman's husband treats her with contempt. As the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah has come to Israel, we must ask: what will the judgment be for God's chosen people? Tomorrow's reading will answer that question and close out the time of the judges.

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In Case You Missed It — Judges 17-18, Psalm 145

| 05/25/17 |

Micah and his mother have a very strange interaction. We would think it odd for a mother to be pleased with her son simply for returning silver he had stolen, but that is exactly how she responds. She even takes more than a tithe of that silver to construct an idol for Micah to worship. The following line concerning Micah's idolatry fittingly captures one of Judges's themes: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6). Whenever some variation of this line appears throughout the rest of the book, we should read it as brief reflection on the evil depicted. For the writer of Judges, there is clear connection between Israel's lawlessness in these days and the lack of a godly king to lead Israel to follow God. The underlying teaching is that Israel fails to obey the covenant with YHWH because it lacks a king to prevent such wanton evil. Whether it turns it out be true that kings will guard Israel from evil is yet to be seen. What is certain is that the age of judges has led to continual moral disintegration.

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In Case You Missed It — Judges 15-16, Psalm 144

| 05/24/17 |

Judges 15:20 tells how Samson led Israel for 20 years during the times of the Philistines. Unlike past judges, who galvanized Israelite armies and invoked the name of YHWH on their behalf, Samson engages in minor skirmishes. These include tying foxes' tails together with torches for revenge. These fights have less to do with military strategy and more to do with Samson's playboy ways. Samson has greater physical strength than any person in Israel's history; God promised to use him to deliver Israel from the Philistines, but unfortunately, Samson would prefer to hang out at brothels rather than lead Israel. I have used the word “tragic” to describe many events found in the book of Judges. Samson's time as judge, especially in light of what could have been, definitely qualifies. Judges 16:30 captures well just how tragic were Samson's life and leadership in light of opportunities missed: “Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.” For a man born and raised to deliver Israel from the Philistines, this description puts the final nail in the coffin for the story of Samson's embarrassing leadership.

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In Case You Missed It — Judges 13-14, Psalm 143

| 05/23/17 |

Samson is born to lead Israel's deliverance from the rule of the Philistines (Judges 12:5). The sheer strength Samson demonstrates in killing 30 men by himself (not to mention many more to come) at the end of our reading shows the sort of leader he could have been. Instead the character issues that plague Samson's life will end up preventing him from winning anything m