Friday: March 7, 2014

READ:  Deuteronomy 32

THINK:The Lord’s portion is His people.” – Deuteronomy 32:9.

According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”- Ephesians 1:4.

We do not become God’s property when we consecrate ourselves to Him, but only awake to see that we are already His, and assume that manner of life which they should live who are not their own, but have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The three symbols of God’s care of His own, as enumerated by Moses in his Song, are exquisitely beautiful.

He kept him as the apple of his eye” (v.10) Almost instinctively we raise our hand to protect the eyes if anything threatens us, and it is thus with God’s care to us. How carefully the eye is preserved from impurity and evil by the strong bony socket in which it is set, by the eyebrows and lashes which catch the dust and grit, by the eyelid closing over, and the tear-water washing it. Thus the soul which God loves may pass through the evil of the world without taint or soil, because of His gracious keeping power.

As an eagle” (v.11) When the young eaglets are able to fly, but hover about their nest, unwilling to venture from the cliff, the mother-bird breaks up their eerie home, drives the fledglings forth on to the air, compels them to use their wings, flutters beneath to catch them if they are inclined to fall, and bears them up on her strong wings until they can fly alone. So it is in life that sometimes God has to break up the happy conditions to which we have been accustomed from our birth, and drive us forth. But it is for our good since only so can we acquire the glorious powers of sustained flight on the wings of the wind.

The Lord alone led” (v.12) God teaches us to go as a mother her little child; His hand leads and guides our tottering steps (Hosea 11:3-4).

The Epistle to the Ephesians gives us a list of the blessings, like a string of pearls, which God our Father, the Owner and Lover of our souls, heaps upon us, and is waiting for us to appropriate and use (Deuteronomy 1:3). His love to us is no passing fancy, but the carrying out of an eternal purpose. He redeems us from the love and power of sin; He abounds towards us with the riches of His grace; we are kept and sealed by the Holy Spirit; and ultimately shall be presented before Him, without blemish, to the praise of His glory.

PRAY: What can I lack if I have Thee, Who art all Good? Verily, the heart is restless, until it rest in Thee alone. AMEN.

– F.B. Meyer

Thursday: March 6, 2014

READ: 2 John

THINK: If you’ve spent any amount of time in the church, you know that love is a critical ingredient in the life of a follower of Jesus. This ingredient may seem elementary, and believers often talk about love. But that’s for a good reason: love is the very nature of God! John reminds us, “This is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), how would you rank your “love quotient”? How might your friends rank your love quotient? What is needed for you to grow in your understanding and expression of love to others?

What would your life look like, and it what ways would it look different, if you were diligent in living out the truth of God’s love?

PRAY: Ask God to help you see the direct correlation between love and following his commands.

LIVE: Love God. Study his commands. Follow them.

– Adapted from Eugene Peterson in Solo

Wednesday: March 5, 2014

READ: Psalm 79-80

THINK: How amazing that in the middle of the Bible – where you can’t possibly miss it – is this huge book called Psalms. And how amazing that the writers are just completely honest and forthright and transparent about their concerns and their feelings and their expectations and even their disappointments with God. When I read Psalms like those in these two chapters, I am almost afraid for the writer…kind of like, “You had the nerve to say that to God? And then remind him of his promises? And bring up the past?”

For many years I had the opportunity to teach school in Davenport, Iowa. The high school had all the problems that you might imagine in an economically challenged community. And many times these problems caused some pretty intense stress and disagreement among the staff and especially between the teachers J & administrators L. During our monthly meetings, tensions occasionally boiled over and some brash soul would decide to stand up and vent their feelings, their expectations, and their disappointment with just how awful they felt things were going. In those moments, the weaker and more silent among us, would turn pale, try not to gasp, and stare with wide-eyed wonder as we waited to see just what would happen next. As a recovered (mmmm…still recovering) big-mouth, I was always completely relieved it wasn’t me doing the talking!

During those years in the classroom, I was sometimes on the receiving end of an honest, forthright, and disappointed student. Once every so often, such a student would decide to give voice to these feelings in front of the entire class. Maybe the assignments were too long, the test too hard, the instruction too vague…etc. Depending on the situation, I either listened quietly and offered an apology or extra help or made an adjustment…or threw the kid out, backpack first!

I think reading the Psalms lets us know that it is totally okay to be upfront and honest with God! That does not mean our opinions are always right. It does not mean that God will immediately decide to do things our way. It definitely does not mean we are ever allowed to be disrespectful or unmindful of the fact that we are talking to the Sovereign LORD of the Universe.

But I think it does mean this: God knows; God cares; and God listens to the honest cry of our hearts. I think it does mean that he wants us to remind him that we are waiting for him to forgive us, to save us, to redeem us, to restore us, to vindicate us, and to give us the joy that only He can give.

PRAY: Be reverently open with God today! Remind him of what he has done for you in the past and what you are depending on him to do today! Remind him of his great glory, his everlasting love, and his faithfulness. Ask Him to hear your cry today and to wipe every tear from you eyes! Remember, God already knows us through and through and he invites us to talk to him! He will be faithful to deliver us!

– By Deb Howard

Tuesday: March 4, 2014

READ:  Psalm 129

THINK: Many a time have they afflicted me: yet they have not prevailed against me.”

What a wonder it is that Satan and man do not prevail against the saint! There is no way of accounting for it, except in God’s love because God has called us to Himself, and redeemed us at great cost, He cannot afford to hand us over to the will of our enemies. He may allow our backs to be furrowed by the heavy scourge, because the servant must be as his Lord; but He will cut our cords in the day selected for our execution, and let us go free from the hand of our foes. So it was with Peter, and many a time with Paul.

Let us then walk with God. Fellowship with Him should be the daily bread of our souls. If we cultivate the fresh sense of fellowship with Him, we shall not yield to fear, be our foes never so venomous and their plans never so insidious. A close walk with God is the sure way of escaping them. “The man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; and the king of Israel sent to the place that the man of God told him and warned him of; and he saved himself not once nor twice.”

This daily fellowship is only possible through the blood of Jesus, by which we draw nigh unto God; and it only be maintained, by constant watchfulness in little things. Let us be very zealous over ourselves for the Lord, watching against the least shyness between the soul and Himself. Where there is much love between friends, a cold look is a matter of complaint.” When least inclined to pray, we need to pray the more. When least conscious of Christ’s nearness, we need to be most eager, like the old covenanter, to wrestle for access. If the King have not sent for thee these many days, await Him in his court.

– Adapted from F.B. Meyer

PRAY: Thank God for protecting you and sustaining you in his love. And commit yourself to daily fellowship with him.

Monday: March 3, 2014

READ: Psalm 119

BACKGROUND: Fun fact about Psalm 119 – and the reason it’s so long: It is an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet. Each one of its 22 stanzas corresponds to a letter of the alphabet – in order – and the first word in each stanza starts with that letter. Some of your Bibles may have the stanzas labeled as Aleph, Beth, Gimel, etc. Those aren’t words with any specific meaning; they’re transliterations of the letters of the alphabet.

THINK: A short thought after a long Psalm:

Every year our youth group goes on a fall retreat at a camp in northern Minnesota. It is a rustic camp, and that’s part of the appeal. But late at night I find that the rustic flavor really loses it’s appeal for me personally as we all attempt to trek back to cabins after the chapel service. Why? Because there aren’t any lights. And the trails are muddy and full of holes. And sometimes those holes are full of water. And sometimes those “trails” are full of trees because you lost the trail in the dark.

It can be a hazardous trek. And back in the day before everyone had an LED flashlight on their smartphone – which was only a few years ago believe it or not – it was easy to step in holes, twist your ankle, get your shoes all wet and muddy, or walk into tree branches. Now, it’s not so dangerous. The trails are still pitch-black but a bunch of LED cell phone lights help everyone to see the perils that lie ahead.

Psalm 119:105 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible for a reason. That reason is this: it’s pretty accurate. God’s word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Anyone who’s ever walked a dark path knows how valuable light can be. And ALL of us ought to know that life can be a dark, treacherous, perilous journey filled with obstacles and potholes around every turn. God’s word lights the way for us so that we can avoid those and live the lives we were created for.

We cannot possibly overvalue the importance of the Word of God in our lives. How are you making it a priority in yours?

PRAY: Thank God for his Word today! Thank him for lighting the way and guiding us through the darkness.

LIVE: If you haven’t done so already, memorize Psalm 119:105. If you already know that one by heart, pick a different verse out of Psalm 119 to memorize (you have plenty to choose from).

Sunday: March 2, 2014

READ:  Revelation 14-15

THINK: If you’re anything like me, you kind of missed the Olympics last week after spending entirely too many hours during the previous few weeks watching people from all over the world do things that normally you don’t care about at all – like jumping really far down a hill on skis or throwing large circular rocks down some ice towards a bunch of other large circular rocks or sledding.

Every few years, especially after Winter Olympics because I am a snow and cold hater, I end up asking myself once the closing ceremony has finished, “What was so compelling about that? Like, seriously, I know that those people are incredible athletes who have put hours into perfecting their craft and I know that I like to watch sports, but I spend hours of my life sitting in front of a TV watching people skate really fast in a circle. Why did I do that?”

I think there is something to be said for watching the athletic spectacle of it all. It’s amazing to see people do incredible things and push their bodies to the limits. But I don’t think that’s the reason that billions of people around the globe tune in to the Olympics. At least not the biggest one. Because the truth is that those people participate in those sports year-round. They dedicate their time and their passion to them. And for the better part of every four years the same billions who are glued to TV sets during the Olympics care so little that the sports and competitions that are being held never cross their minds.

So why are the Olympics compelling? I think, above all else, it is because the whole world is there. It is because people from every tribe and nation, from every continent and every country, from every language and background come together to pursue a common purpose. And something about that blows our minds. It is simply amazing to see the world come together and to see everyone connect across the many barriers that usually prevent us from doing so. That’s why so many people watch the Opening Ceremony. It isn’t exactly compelling TV compared to what else is out there. It’s hour upon hour of people walking into a stadium. Sometimes all of the rings don’t even expand and light up properly. But billions of people tuned in to watch people walk, because it is so cool to see everyone coming together.

And I’d like to argue that part of the reason it’s so cool is that we were created for it. There’s a part of us, deep down inside, that is drawn to those moments and appreciates the fact that there is meaning to them because there is a part of us, deep down inside, that feels like that’s how things were meant to be. Maybe we’ve never been able to identify it before. Maybe we’ve never really stopped to think about it at all before. But there’s something about that connection across the boundaries of culture, language, and space at the Olympics that feels right.

It feels right because it is right. It is a glimpse, though a deeply imperfect one, of what God created the world to be. Before the fall, before sin entered in and drove wedges into our relationships with God and with one another, God’s perfect design was for all of his people – every single human on the planet – to live in community with one another. And then we messed it up. And now, other than the temporary illusion of that community we get with the Olympics, we are separated and divided.

But one day we will unite again. God is at work to set all things right and make all things new. And the book of Revelation gives us a picture of what it will look like one day when God restores things. One day, every person who has put their trust in Jesus from every tribe and every nation and every culture and every language – across the time and space that have so long divided us – will untie and worship God together in perfect community in the flawless new Jerusalem. God will reconcile relationships and we will live the way we were meant to live once again.

I don’t know about you, but that really pumps me up! I am excited for that piece inside of me that longs to experience community and connection to be filled up. I am excited to worship God alongside brothers and sisters from every country in the world in every language in the world. One day it will happen. That’s God’s promise. He is setting all things right.

PRAY: Thank God for the fact that you’ll one day get to experience community in the way you were designed to experience it. Praise him for his work to reconcile people to himself and to one another. And pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe – many of whom are facing far more difficult situations than we are – that God would encourage them and lift them up as they spread the gospel where they are.

Saturday: March 1, 2014

READ: Psalm 135

THINK: I had iTunes on shuffle to provide some light background noise while I was working earlier today. It had been on about an hour, playing quietly, and I hadn’t really stopped and noticed a single song – which is, I think, the point of background noise. But then a song came on and immediately stopped me, distracted me from the work that I was doing, and sent my thoughts on what ended up being a really encouraging and uplifting rabbit trail.

The song was a Spanish-language worship song entitled Temprano Yo Te Buscaré * that is often played around 5:30am at Morning Prayer gatherings in the church my youth group has partnered with in South Texas over the last five years summers. Hearing it took me immediately back to the church and the surroundings and began bringing up memories of past trips, of all of the incredible and miraculous things that I have seen God do in people’s lives. And I spent time looking back at some of the remarkable changes I’ve seen students make because of how he moved in them, the countless ways in which he has provided for us, and the many people who have encountered Jesus and invited him into their lives through the testimony of our teams.

It was a really powerful time of reflection. But it was particularly powerful because of the irony of the moment. I was working on a project about the future vision, direction, goals, and mission of my ministry. In the middle of looking and thinking forward a song interrupted and forced me to look back. And it lifted me up! I was, admittedly, feeling a bit burnt out and overwhelmed by the weight and the scope of all the vision for the next year, and I was getting sick of typing the plan to turn in next week. As much as I love thinking about the future, at the end of a rough and busy few weeks for me personally, I was just feeling a little beaten down.

And then I remembered what I have seen God do. I looked back at who has been and how he has shown himself faithful in my life. I looked back at the goodness of the Lord I have seen in the land of the living. I looked back at the miracles he has worked in my life. I looked back at the things I felt overwhelmingly privileged to have seen and been a part of. And every square-inch of my soul was filled up again with peace, and hope, and wonder, and amazement, and praise. It changed the game for me. It changed my day. It altered the course of my visioning in a God-ward direction. And it forced me to come to grips with a powerful realization: I do far too little looking back at how God has worked in my life.

I think in the hustle and bustle and crazy busyness of life we often fail to make time to remember all the God has done for us. We forget to stop and be thankful. We get so focused on what’s next that we fail to hit pause every once in a while and allow ourselves to amazed all over again at what God has done. And we get beaten down by the world. We feel overwhelmed and frustrated and broken and empty sometimes and we wonder why. But the truth is that we have a deep well of encouragement – the story of God in our lives – to draw from if we’ll just stop to remember.

One thing I love about Psalm 135 is that, in the midst of a charge to worship God – it begins and ends with hallelujah which is literally the command “all of you praise God!” – there is a remembrance of what God has done. The Psalmist is saying, “He is the God who delivered Israel from Egypt. He is faithful. We know he is. And we know he will be. Because we know he has been! Remember. Remember what God did.”

I think we would do well to heed those words, especially in the difficult seasons of our lives. Whenever you’re feeling lost or lonely, broken or beaten: remember. Remember and let God fill you up with praise and wonder and worship. There is no other response that will lift you out of the pit the way that worship will. Hallelujah!

PRAY: Take a little time today and remember what God has done for you and the things that he has given you over the last year. Then say a prayer of worshipful thanks for the way he sustains you.

*Here’s a link to the song. It’s a good one. 🙂 And one that fit the theme of what God was doing in me today pretty well. It roughly translates – to the best of my limited knowledge: “Early in the morning I will seek you, I am near to you, my soul thirsts to see your power and your glory. I have found relief in the shadow of your wings, I will seek you, my soul is attached to you because your right hand sustains me, oh your right hand sustains me.”

Friday: February 28, 2014

READ: Luke 11

THINK: How many times in your life have you prayed, said, or recited the words “Give us this day our daily bread”? If you’re like me and you grew up in the church then you probably can’t even count the number. Even if you found Christ later in life – or you are reading this now and haven’t ever put your faith in him – chances are that phrase rings familiar and has crossed your lips more than a few times.

My interest, though, isn’t nearly as much in the frequency with which you utter it as it is in what you mean when you make the petition. That is to say, my real question is how many times have you really meant it when you asked for daily bread? The Greek word that we translate “daily” is epiousion. “Daily” isn’t a bad translation by any means, but we lose something if we fail to understand that the thrust behind it is “just what I need to survive right now.”

We live in the midst of a radically materialistic and unprecedentedly affluent culture where concerns about food security – literally not knowing if you’ll have the food you need to eat tomorrow in order to survive – are relatively non-existent. Concerns about the size of our retirement accounts, the amount in our savings, and the diversification of our investment portfolio, however, are rampant. As are concerns about the size and quality of our homes, our vehicles, our wardrobes, and our televisions, among other things.

And it occurs to me that American Christians, collectively though this doesn’t ring true for everyone individually, have no shame in twisting the words of Jesus as we pray. We don’t want to pray for daily bread because actually praying that and actually meaning it would mean asking God to provide far less than the riches to which we have grown accustomed. It would mean taking a leap of faith, believing that he really will keep his promises instead of being a liar who doesn’t come through for us, and putting ourselves in a position where we have to trust him more and trust ourselves less. Gasp!

I know the objections. I’ve made them. Correction, I make them. And I know that the few words I’ve written here are highly uncomfortable. In part, they’re uncomfortable because they chip away at the enculturated foundation of materialism and meritocracy – the idea that I’m not so sinful I deserve nothing and ought to be grateful, but instead I am so special that I’ve earned every last thing I ever got and I owe God no debt of gratitude because I worked for it – that we’ve been surrounded by all our lives. In part because when we really read the Bible and pretend that God sometimes means what he says then this little part of us worries that, well, we ought to willing to give more – a lot more – whenever God tugs our hearts even if it means having to trust him completely rather than trusting ourselves and our money and then calling it “stewardship” to pretend like we really are trusting God for the future more than the number on the bottom line of the letter Wells Fargo sends us every month.

Daily bread is how God provided for Israel for 40 years in the desert. They couldn’t collect more or it spoiled. They had to wake up every morning and trust that God would provide. And he did. And God constantly calls us, over and over and over again, to be generous in the way that we give. He calls us to give to widows, and orphans, and the poor. And yet, we live in abundance while millions around the world starve. Consider the following words written by one of my all-time favorite church fathers – one the great 4th-Century Cappadocian Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa:

So we say to God: Give us bread. Not delicacies or riches, nor magnificent purple robes, golden ornaments, and precious stones, or silver dishes. Nor do we ask Him for landed estates, or military commands, or political leadership. We pray neither for herds of horses and oxen or other cattle in great numbers, nor for a host of slaves. We do not say, give us a prominent position in assemblies or monuments and statues raised to us, nor silken robes and musicians at meals, nor any other thing by which the soul is estranged from the thought of God and higher things; no — but only bread! …

But you go on business and venture out upon strange seas; you go on a voyage every year only to bring back flavorings for your food, without realizing that … [it] is above all a good conscience which makes the bread tasty because it is eaten in justice …

‘Give Thou bread’ — that is to say, let me have food through just labor. For, if God is justice, anyone who procures food for themselves through covetousness cannot have his bread from God. You are the master of your prayer if your abundance does not come from another’s property and is not the result of somebody else’s tears; if no one is hungry or distressed because you are fully satisfied. For the bread of God is, above all, the fruit of justice.

PRAY: Pray the Lord’s Prayer today. Take some extra time, afterword, and ask God what it will mean for you to trust so completely that he will provide for what you need that you can give generously to the poor and the hungry and the needy people in the world.

Thursday: February 27, 2014

READ: Psalm 114

THINK: Back and forth, back and forth go the pounding waves of the sea. From ages past, the continents have been separated by the mighty oceans. Man has learned to travel over them, to descend to the bottom of them, and to travel through them—but their immensity and the relentless force of their waves remain untamable. Rocks are crushed, shorelines are changed, and even experienced sailors can be driven aground or sent to the bottom of the sea. The combined genius of man and the most powerful equipment can do little to conquer the oceans.

They are no problem for God, however. The One who created the mighty oceans does with them what He wishes. Psalm 114 refers to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13-31) to describe God’s great power. The psalmist wrote, “The sea saw it and fled” (Ps. 114:3). Then he asked, “What ails you, O sea, that you fled?” (v.5). The answer is implied: The seas were obeying the command of God.

When the turbulent seas of adversity are threatening, we need to remember the awesome power of God. As the seas fled before Him, so too can the obstacles that seem so overwhelming to us. They have no more resistance to God’s power than water in a teacup! The power of God within you is greater than the pressure of troubles around you.

– David C. Enger in Our Daily Bread

PRAY: Lift up whatever situation you’re in right now to God. Trust that God has the power to help you, and surrender to him.

Wednesday: February 26, 2014

READ: Deuteronomy 30-31

THINK: Elisabeth Elliot knew very personally that following God’s call to obedience sometimes comes at great personal cost. Her husband Jim was killed in 1956 while following God’s call to bring the gospel to the Huaorani tribe of Ecuador. She could have gone running back to the United States. She could have held a grudge against the tribe and let bitterness fester in her heart. But she prayed. And God called her to go to the Huaorani. She went, along with her baby daughter Valerie, and spent two years sharing Jesus with the very people who murdered her husband and saw countless lives changed by God’s grace.

Later in life, she wrote these words about the message in Deuteronomy 30-31:

“In order to get to a place called Laity Lodge in Texas you have to drive into a riverbed. The road takes you down a steep, rocky hill into a canyon and straight into the water. There is a sign at the water’s edge which says, ‘Yes. You drive in the river.’

One who has made up his mind to go to the uttermost with God will come to a place as unexpected and perhaps looking as impossible to travel as that riverbed looks. He may glance around for an alternative route, but if he wants what God promises His faithful ones, he must go straight into the danger. There is no other way.

The written word is our direction. Trust it. Obey it. Drive in the river and get to Laity Lodge. Moses said to Israel, ‘I offer you the choice of life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life and then you and your descendants will live; love the Lord your God, obey him, and hold fast to him: that is life for you.’

When you take the risk of obedience, you find solid rock beneath you–and markers, evidence that someone has traveled this route before. ‘The Lord your God will cross over at your head… he will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not be discouraged or afraid’ (Deuteronomy 30:19-20, 31:3, 8). It’s what the old gospel song puts so simply: ‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way; To be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.’”

PRAY: Ask God to help you trust and obey him today – to help you surrender to his leading and follow him no matter how scary or uncertain things seem, trusting that he is in control.