Monday: March 17, 2014

READ: Psalm 150

THINK: I’m always overwhelmed when I read the creation poem in Genesis 2, especially when I come to verse 7 and read that “The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God created us out of his own sense of artistry and creativity – forming us from the dust of the ground – and then literally breathed life into us. That’s phenomenal to think about. We are the voice and the imagination and the breath of God wrapped in skin. He spoke and dreamed and breathed and we came into being.

And that breath, breathed into humanity by our Creator at the very beginning, continues to sustain life in us today. On average, we breathe 18 times per minute, 1,080 times per hour, 25,920 times per day. Think about that for a minute. 25,920 times! That’s 25,920 gifts that God gives us every single day of our lives to sustain in us the life that he created us for. And it’s 25,920 opportunities to worship him for who he is and how phenomenally he created the world and how ridiculously he loves the world and how lavishly he blesses us.

Psalm 150 beings and ends with the word hallelujah. Hallelujah is the Hebrew phrase that gets translated “Praise the LORD.” And in the middle of these hallelujahs, the Psalmist urges us to praise God everywhere by every means for every blessing. And Psalm 150:6 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible – it is the perfect summary for the entire book of Psalms and the best ending imaginable: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Hallelujah!”

So the question for all of us today is this: what will we do with the 25,920 opportunities for worship that we have today? Will we ignore God and chase the world? Will we forget that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Or that the breath that sustains our lives is literally the breath of God – breathed into us at the beginning? We can waste our lives away. And we can certainly waste our breath. But we are the voice and the imagination and the breath of God wrapped in skin and he loves us so much that he gave up his life to reconcile us. What’s not to worship!?!

PRAY: Today, worship God everywhere you are, with everything you’ve got, seizing every opportunity you have to do so. Let the word hallelujah – “Praise God our Yahweh” – define who you are today. Worship God in whatever way makes  you feel most worshipful – prayer, songs, journaling. Humble yourself today before the Almighty King and worship him with all you’ve got.

Sunday: March 16, 2014

This one is a re-posting of a devotion I wrote over a year ago. I was planning on doing Revelation 21 today, but as I was checking off all the boxes on the plan I realized that I’d already done it. I want to do it again today, though, so as not to skip over a major chapter as we’re finishing Revelation. It’s not a long one, but Revelation 21 is a powerful chapter worth re-reading. For today, we’ll re-read it. Tomorrow will kick off the final week of Through in 2! If you’ve been following along, thank you! In just over 2 years you’ve read and thought and prayed your way through the entire Bible (almost). 🙂

READ: Revelation 21

THINK: I have been overwhelmed lately with the brokenness of the world. The shooting at Sandy Hook. The 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. And the 53 million lives that were never given a chance. The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy. The fact that there are now more slaves in the world than there have ever been in human history. And so many of them are little girls. The innocent people whose deaths are treated as collateral damage by terrorists around the globe. And also by those using drones to hunt terrorists. The number of my friends who are far from God. Family members too. The billion people on a food-rich planet who are starving and malnourished.

There really aren’t words that can adequately express the depth of the darkness or the depth of the emotion that  it evokes deep within us. When our hearts are lined up with God’s we really can’t help but be shattered by all of it. And that is why I love Revelation 21. It is possibly the greatest message of hope in recorded history! I don’t have all the answers as to how, exactly and precisely, the end of the world and Christ’s return are going to happen (and I openly admit that I don’t think those details are anywhere close to the big idea of the book of Revelation). The big idea is this: Jesus is coming back and God is making all things new! Behold, He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making all things new…It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

Thank God for hope. Thank God for not leaving us in our brokenness, for not abandoning us in this mess that we’ve made. Thank God for the outrageous incredible picture of the future in Revelation 21. Thank God for the fact that he takes the shattered things and the shattered people and he makes ALL THINGS NEW!

PRAY: Take 5 minutes and listen to this awesome, hope-filled song. While you listen, let your heart be both broken for your world and yet, at the same time, filled with hope because of the promises of God. Maybe read Revelation 21 again. Maybe just use the time to praise God and ask how and where he wants to use you as an agent of renewal in your world. Close your prayer time by reflecting and confessing your own brokenness and saying, “Thank you God for making all things new!”

Saturday: March 15, 2014

READ: 3 John

THINK:For His name’s sake they went forth.” – 3 John 7.

Our Lord told us how our love for Him is to exhibit itself when He asked, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:17). And then He said, “Feed My sheep.” In effect, He said, “Identify yourself with My interests in other people,” not, “Identify Me with your interests in other people.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 shows us the characteristics of this love— it is actually the love of God expressing itself. The true test of my love for Jesus is a very practical one, and all the rest is sentimental talk.

Faithfulness to Jesus Christ is the supernatural work of redemption that has been performed in me by the Holy Spirit— “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit . . .” (Romans 5:5). And it is that love in me that effectively works through me and comes in contact with everyone I meet. I remain faithful to His name, even though the commonsense view of my life may seemingly deny that, and may appear to be declaring that He has no more power than the morning mist.

The key to the missionary’s devotion is that he is attached to nothing and to no one except our Lord Himself. It does not mean simply being detached from the external things surrounding us. Our Lord was amazingly in touch with the ordinary things of life, but He had an inner detachment except toward God. External detachment is often an actual indication of a secret, growing, inner attachment to the things we stay away from externally.

The duty of a faithful missionary is to concentrate on keeping his soul completely and continually open to the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. The men and women our Lord sends out on His endeavors are ordinary human people, but people who are controlled by their devotion to Him, which has been brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit.

– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

PRAY: Confess all of the external things that draw your attention and your passion away from God. And ask him to help you keep your soul completely and continually open to the nature of Jesus so that you might be used to draw those around you to him.

Friday: March 14, 2014

READ: Luke 23

THINK: This is a powerful passage to read during Lent as Easter approaches. I love the way the great preacher D.L. Moody describes it:

“The cross of Christ divides all mankind. There are only two sides, those for Christ, and those against Him. Think of the two thieves; from the side of Christ one went down to death cursing God, and the other went to glory.

What a contrast! In the morning he is led out, a condemned criminal; in the evening he is saved from his sins. In the morning he is cursing; in the evening he is singing hallelujahs with a choir of angels. In the morning he is condemned by men as not fit to live on earth; in the evening he is reckoned good enough for heaven. In the morning nailed to the cross; in the evening in the Paradise of God, crowned with a crown he should wear through all the ages. In the morning not an eye to pity; in the evening washed and made clean in the blood of the Lamb. In the morning in the society of thieves and outcasts; in the evening Christ is not ashamed to walk arm-in-arm with him down the golden pavements of the eternal city.

The thief was the first man to enter paradise after the veil of the Temple was rent. If we could look up yonder, and catch a glimpse of the throne, we would see the Father there, and Jesus Christ at His right hand; and hard by we would see that thief. He is there to-day. Nineteen hundred years he has been there, just because he cried in faith: ‘Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.’

You know Christ died a little while before the thief. I can imagine that He wanted to hurry home to get a place ready for His new friend, the first soul brought from the world He was dying to redeem. The Lord loved him because he confessed Him in that dark hour. It was a dark hour for many who reviled the Savior. You have heard of the child who did not want to die and go to heaven because he didn’t know anybody there. But the thief would have one acquaintance. I can imagine how his soul leaped within him when he saw the spear thrust into our Savior’s side, and heard the cry:

‘It is finished!’

He wanted to follow Christ. He was in a hurry to be gone, when they came to break his legs. I can hear the Lord calling: ‘Gabriel, prepare a chariot. Make haste. There is a friend of mine hanging on that cross. They are breaking his legs. He will soon be ready to come. Make haste, and bring him to me?’

The angel in the chariot swept down from heaven, took the soul of that penitent thief, and hastened back to glory. The gates of the city swung wide open, and the angels shouted welcome to this poor sinner who had been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. And that, my friends, is just what Christ wants to do for you. That is the business on which He came down from heaven. That is why He died. And if He gave such a swift salvation to this poor thief on the cross, surely He will give you the same if, like the penitent thief, you repent, and confess, and trust in the Savior.

Somebody says that this man “was saved at the eleventh hour.” I don’t know about that. It might have been the first hour with him. Perhaps he never knew of Christ until he was led out to die beside Him. This may have been the very first time he ever had a chance to know the Son of God.

How many of you gave your hearts to Christ the very first time He asked them of you? Are you not farther along in the day than even that poor thief?

Some years ago, in one of the mining districts of England, a young man attended one of our meetings and refused to go from the place till he had found peace in the Savior. The next day he went down into the pit, and the coal fell in upon him. When they took him out he was broken and mangled, and had only two or three minutes of life left in him. His friends gathered about him, saw his lips moving, and, bending down to catch his words, heard him say: ‘It was a good thing I settled it last night.’

Settle it now, my friends, once for all. Begin now to confess your sins, and pray the Lord to remember you. He will make you an heir of His kingdom, if you will accept the gift of salvation. He is just the same Savior the thief had. Will you not cry to Him for mercy?”

PRAY: Pray that you would take the cross seriously. Settle it now if you haven’t already done so. If, like the repentant thief, you have settled it then pray that God would let the cross so break your heart and change your life that you passionately share it with all those around you who are perishing. Ask God to bring the courage and conviction necessary to live a life shaped by the cross instead of a life shaped by the world that takes casually and lightly the death of Jesus Christ.

Thursday: March 13, 2014

READ: Revelation 18-20

BACKGROUND: There is a LOT in these chapters. And plenty of disagreement about exactly what it all means. As always, feel free to ask any questions that you have and I’ll get back to you. For what it’s worth – and you don’t need to read all of these unless you’re interested – here are some definitions of Biblical and theological terms that apply to these chapters:

Second ComingHebrews 9:28 – “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This is a general reference to the final coming of Christ from heaven to earth to establish his glorious kingdom. Revelation 20 goes into more detail.

TribulationA general word referring to the hardships and sufferings that God’s people will always have to pass through: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:22. Jesus refers to a time of “great tribulation” at the end of the age: “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of Man” – Matthew 24:29

Seven YearsThe belief that the great tribulation will last seven years is not a New Testament teaching. It comes from Daniel 9:24-27 where Daniel predicts “seventy weeks of years” for the accomplishment of God’s redemption. The arguments are incredibly detailed and involved it would take a lot to sort through all of them. But many argue that the seventieth week of Daniel is separated from the first 69 and begins with the appearance of the antichrist or man of lawlessness. This is where the idea of a seven-year tribulation comes from. Revelation picks up this idea several times in its references to 3 and 112 years in 11:3, 12:6, & 13:5.

Pre-Tribulational RapturePre-trib is the belief that before Christ returns in full glory, he will first return quietly to catch up the church and take us to heaven. This happens before the tribulation, and so the view is called the PRE-tribulational rapture. This implies that the Church will not be here during the tribulation. This understanding, though popular particular in the protestant west – America and W. Europe – over the last few centuries, is a relatively new belief which was not supported or held by the early church or by any major church figures during the first 1800 years after Christ’s ascension.

Post-Tribulational Rapture – Post-trib is the view that the rapture and the glorious second coming are part of one simultaneous event. The saints rise to meet the Lord in the air and accompany him back as the rightful king of the earth. This implies that the church will go through the tribulation on the earth – though Revelation does imply that believers will be shielded, in some way, from the full effects of the tribulation.

MillenniumThe period of time mentioned in Revelation 20:4 during which the God’s people “reign with Christ a thousand years.” During this time Satan is bound and thrown into a pit “that he should not deceive the nations till the thousand years are ended” – Revelation 20:3. So the millennial reign of Christ is marked by peace and prosperity for God’s people. After this time there will appear the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1, 2 Peter 3:13).

PreMillennialism – This is the view that the second coming of Christ will precede the millennium and that he will rule personally and bodily on the earth during the thousand years. The thousand years may or may not be a literal thousand years. The number “1000” could mean 1000 or it could very well signify a perfect amount of time.

PostMillennialism – This is the view that the millennium will come through the success of the gospel gradually converting the world to Christianity and ushering in a golden age of the church. After a long worldwide period of peace and righteousness there will be an outbreak of evil and Christ will come in person to win the victory.

Amillennialism – This is the view that the thousand years in Revelation 20 is symbolic of the church age in which we live, and the “1000” represents the perfect amount of time between Jesus’ first and second comings. There will be no earthly millennium as such. Rather the second coming will usher in the final state of the new heavens and new earth.

THINK: For all of the debate in theological and denominational circles about when and how the Millennial Reign of Christ will occur – for the record I don’t think it makes a bit of difference in the way God calls us to live our lives and share his gospel message right now…so I generally refrain from opining –  the imagery and message at the end of chapter 20 could not be more clear. The end is laid out explicitly: every single person who ever lived is going to be judged according to their deeds. And every single person who ever lived is going to fail that test because all of us are sinful. But those whose names are written in the book of life – those people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior – will be spared because – though 99.9999999% of their deeds may be wicked, the one deed that will be listed for ALL of them is: Jesus died for him. Or Jesus died for her. And that is enough. But those who have rejected God – who haven’t accepted Christ and followed after him – will be banished forever to the eternal torment of the complete lack of God’s presence in the lake of fire.

But those whose names are written in the Book of Life will live forever with God in the new heaven and new earth. And in this new heaven and earth – heaven and earth will be one. The place where God’s presence is most fully known and the place where humans live will be one and the same place.

So, as Christians, we have the blessed hope of knowing that death and evil and sin have already been defeated and that Jesus is coming back soon to crush them completely and that God is making all things new so we’ll live in perfection with him forever. This should do at least 2 things to the way we approach the world, I think. 1. It should give us hope and peace no matter what our circumstances. 2. It should inspire us to live all out for God and share our faith. Life & death, heaven & hell, eternity itself hangs in the balance for every person we meet.

PRAY: If you’ve never made Jesus the Savior and Lord of your life, consider doing it today. If you have, thank him for making things new. Thank him for the incredible hope that you have, in Christ, that at the end of all things you will be restored and made whole and reconciled and counted in the Book of Life because of what Jesus did. Check out this song and worship God today!

Wednesday: March 12, 2014

READ:  Acts 17

THINK:  Paul’s message to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Areopagus is one of the most concisely phenomenal theological statements and presentations of the gospel you’ll find anywhere. And it’s worth reading and rereading to equip yourself to share your faith with an unbelieving world. But the most phenomenal thing about it is the way that Paul contextualized his message, the way that he spoke in the language of the people who were there so that they could clearly understand his message whether they chose to accept it or not.

There’s something to be learned from Paul, here, about starting where people are at. At this point in time Athens was a once-proud city, now conquered by Rome and truly a shell of it’s former self with a fraction of its former glory. But its rich history meant that it was still respected, by Rome which allowed it to exist as a free state and by people and cultures all around, as a center of thought and philosophy. And it was highly religious, believing in a pantheon of gods and having active temples and altars to many of them.

So Paul walked in and used what was there. He used their openness to the idea of the existence of an “unknown god” – an ancient Athenian superstition – to introduce them to the existing God that they did not know. And then, to help them understand just who that God is, and how humanity relates to him, Paul quoted a few pagan philosophers. In verse 28, he quotes both Epimenides and Aratus. And by doing so he builds a cultural bridge in people’s minds. He uses words and images that are familiar to help them understand the truth about the God they desperately needed.

He put the gospel in a context that the culture surrounding him could grasp. And he set a phenomenal example for us. There are some in the church who are afraid of the word “contextualization.” They see it as watering down the message or altering it to fit the culture. They fear that it’s an attempt to make is simple and make it appealing while sacrificing truth. And they bang the drum that we should only use Scripture and words from the Bible to communicate the gospel, and never the words, images, songs, movies, or phrases of pop culture. A close friend of mine, whom I think is a pretty excellent preacher, was recently hammered by a colleague for preaching a sermon that included “only 5 minutes of directly reading from the Bible.” I’m glad that colleague wasn’t at the Areopagus cause he woulda really hated Paul’s speech. 2 quotes from pagan philosophers and 0 from Moses. :0 The truth is, if contextualization is a dirty word and we can only use direct quotes from Scripture to communicate then, well, we all better start hitting the Greek and Hebrew lessons hard because using the English language is…gasp…contextualizing the Bible. And history tells us that a lot of people died and got excommunicated for fighting to contextualize it by translating it into common languages.

Here’s the thing though, the big idea is NOT that we should forget about the Bible or fail to memorize and use Scripture passages in our conversations and our presentation of the gospel. That would be a horrible choice. The big idea is that we need to understand the culture we’re communicating to so that we can use imagery and language that make the message clear. Contextualizing the gospel is not at all about watering down the message to make it more palatable – “you are a sinner who is bound for hell unless you repent and find Jesus” is always gonna be offensive to our human pride. If we water it down we’re doing something else. Contextualizing the gospel is about making it explicitly and unapologetically clear.

So we need to be students of our culture. Paul couldn’t have quoted those philosophers if he hadn’t read them. He didn’t have Google on his iPhone back then. And he wouldn’t have been able to use the altar to the unknown god as a conversational entry point if he hadn’t walked around Athens and seen it. We need to understand our culture – it’s language, it’s sacred imagery, and it’s thought patterns – so that we can communicate well to the people who are a part of it. Whether they accept the message or not isn’t our burden – which is why we’re not about dumbing it down or making it easier. Most of the people at the Areopagus didn’t accept Paul’s that day. But everybody at the Areopagus understood what Paul was saying. And we ought to follow his example and speak Jesus to our world in ways that make sense.

PRAY: Pray that God would give you opportunities to share the message of the gospel with the people around you in your culture. And pray that he’d give you the courage to take advantage of those opportunities when they come. Also pray that he’d protect your heart and mind, that he would help you be a student of culture without being sucked in or drawn away from him by it.

Tuesday: March 11, 2014

READ: Luke 24 – Read the passage carefully, paying attention to the various characters and their responses to the events of the story.

THINK: Which disciple or follow of Jesus do you most identify with in this passage? What is it about that person that reminds you of yourself?

Read verses 1-12 again, this time putting yourself in that person’s position. What are your thoughts and feelings as you hear that Jesus is alive again? What runs through your mind in that moment? What are you thinking as you see others’ responses? What do you wonder about? Where do you go when you hear the news? What questions do you have? (Take some time to think well through all of these)

PRAY: Now picture the risen Jesus approaching you later that day, inviting you to spend time with him. How do you interact with him? What do you say? Talk to him about what all of this has been like for you.

LIVE: Reflect on your prayer time. You might again consider the person in the story you chose and why, or you could think about how your understanding of faithfulness and discipleship was deepened, challenged, or changed. Think about any changes this inspires in the way you follow Jesus, even if it’s as simple as deciding to be regularly more excited and amazed by the reality of what he accomplished with his death and resurrection.


– Adapted from Eugene Peterson in Solo

Monday: March 10, 2014

READ: Revelation 16-17

BACKGROUND: Tons of imagery in these chapters. Entire books have been written about it. Please feel free to ask questions as they come to you. Post them in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

THINK: More than 3 decades after his death, sales of Elvis Presley’s music, memorabilia, and licensing agreements still generate millions of dollars each year for his estate. His fame reaches far and wide, and his popularity spans both time and culture. As he rose to fame he was nicknamed “The King of Rock and Roll” but with time he’s become known simply as “The King.”

“The King” is an interesting nickname. And it’s a moniker that gets thrown around at other people as well, and not just royalty. Anybody who excels at something the world values is liable to be labeled “The King – or Queen – of ________” and most have a huge following. But the truth is that whether the “kings” of this world are celebrities, athletes, crowned heads, or tycoons, they come and go. Their influence may be immense and their followers fanatically loyal, but it doesn’t last forever.

Revelation 17, however, refers to Jesus Christ as the eternal King. The passage speaks prophetically of earthly kings who will fight to establish their authority at the end of the ages. Biblical scholars have debated the identities of these kings, but there is no mistake about the One they cannot overpower: “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14).

Jesus Christ is King, and he will reign forever. There is no greater privilege than to be a subject of the King of kings.

ASK: To what “king” or “queen” does my loyalty belong? Whom do I spend the most time and energy following – Jesus or someone/something else?

PRAY: Thank Jesus for the victory he has already won for all of his people. Humble yourself before him today and give him the kingly honor he is due.

Sunday: March 9, 2014

READ: Psalm 140

THINK:Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto Thy Name: the upright shall dwell in Thy presence” – Psalm 140:13

Oh, that my heart may be upright, that I may always be able to bless the name of the LORD! He is so good to those that be good, that I would fain be among them and feel myself full of thankfulness every day. Perhaps, for a moment, the righteous are staggered when their integrity results in severe trial; but assuredly the day shall come when they shall bless their God that they did not yield to evil suggestions and adopt a shifty policy. In the long run true men will thank the God of the right for leading them by a right way. Oh, that I may be among them!

What a promise is implied in this second clause, “The upright shall dwell in thy presence!” They shall stand accepted where others appear only to be condemned. They shall be the courtiers of the great King, indulged with audience whensoever they desire it. They shall be favored ones upon whom Jehovah smiles and with whom He graciously communes. LORD, I covet this high honor, this precious privilege. It will be heaven on earth to me to enjoy it. Make me in all things upright, that I may today and tomorrow and every day stand in Thy heavenly presence. Then will I give thanks unto Thy name evermore. Amen.

– Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon

PRAY: Echo Spurgeon’s prayer today, “LORD, I covet this high honor, this precious privilege. It will be heaven on earth to me to enjoy it. Make me in all things upright, that I may today and tomorrow and every day stand in Thy heavenly presence. Then will I give thanks unto Thy name evermore. Amen.”

Saturday: March 8, 2014

READ: Psalm 137-138

THINK: Luyada Gbuda, the president of his denomination in Zaire, was describing conditions in his native land in 1993. Again and again he used the word crisis.

Politically, the nation was in turmoil, and an outbreak of fighting was a real possibility. Economically, the country was caught in raging inflation. No one had money to buy what few goods were in the stores. Fuel prices were soaring. The nation was suffering.

Gbuda said that as he travels among the believers of Zaire, he proclaims a message of encouragement based on the words of David in Psalm 138. He challenges his listeners to think of God’s greatness and to praise Him as their true source of help (vv.1-6).

The psalmist was confident of God’s ability to rescue him even when trouble surrounded him (v.7). And he could look to the future with hope because he recalled how the Lord had taken care of him in the past (v.3).

We all face difficulty. Perhaps you are in a crisis situation right now. You’re hurting and afraid. Even so, you can sing praise to the God of power, love, and mercy. Pause to remember that He can be trusted. It’s the right thing to do—and keep on doing—in a time of crisis.

Our troubles seem smaller when we remember the greatness of the Lord.

– David C. Enger in Our Daily Bread

PRAY: Worship God today for his sovereignty and his presence in the midst of every situation in life, no matter how difficult.