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Daily Bible Study

EXPLORE THE WESLEYAN UNDERSTANDING OF SALVATION THROUGH GRACE. In The Wesleyan Journey: A Workbook on Salvation, beloved pastor and author Maxie Dunnam invites readers to spend time every day exploring Wesley’s understanding of salvation through prayer, study, and reflection. Based on John Wesley’s theology and the Bible’s teaching on what it means to be saved, this workbook will help readers consider anew God’s ever-present grace, the experience of acceptance, pardon, and forgiveness, and the lifelong journey to become more Christ-like. Through eight weeks, each with seven days of content for prayer and self-reflection, Dunnam leads us through Wesley’s understanding of salvation in the Bible, helping us see that full salvation is not a one-time experience of redemption but a lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus every day.

Life

Spring 2020

Learn more at AbingdonPress.com/WesleyanJourney

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Daily Bible Study Spring 2020 • Vol. 38, No. 3

A Word From the Editor

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Our Writers for This Quarter

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Introduction to the Study

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  Sue Mink

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April 27–May 31 • Sue Mink

To order copies of this publication, call toll free: 800-6721789. FAX your order to 800-445-8189. Telecommunications Device for the Deaf/Telex Telephone: 800-227-4091. Automated order system is available after office hours. Order through Cokesbury.com. Use your Cokesbury account, American Express, Visa, Discover, or MasterCard. For permission to reproduce any material in this publication, call 615-749-6421; or write to Permissions Office, 2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, Tennessee 37228-0988.

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March 30–April 26 • Michael Whitcomb-Tavey Unit 3: Grace

Daily Bible Study is designed to help adults better understand the biblical message for their lives.

Copyright © 2019 by Cokesbury.

February 24–March 29 • Clara Welch Unit 2: Salvation

Administrative Team    Rev. Brian K. Milford, President and Publisher    Marjorie M. Pon, Editor, Church     School Publications

Daily Bible Study (ISSN 0742-065X) is published quarterly by The United Methodist Publishing House, 2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228. Periodicals Postage Paid at Nashville, TN. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Daily Bible Study, 2222 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, TN 37228.

Life Unit 1: Wilderness

Editorial and Design Team    Jan Turrentine, Editor    Tonya Williams, Production Editor    Ken M. Strickland, Designer

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Scripture quotations are taken from the Common English Bible, copyright 2011. New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ are used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. From the Revised English Bible, copyright © Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press 1989. All rights reserved. Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (Second edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Cover photo: Shutterstock

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A Word From the Editor Maturity provides us with the wonderful perspective of understanding that not all endings mean “the end.” Many endings do, in fact, pave the way for new beginnings, things that would otherwise not have happened had a door not slammed shut in our faces. A newspaper editor once fired Walt Disney because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”1 The billions of dollars Disney merchandise, movies, and theme parks bring in each year certainly disprove that assessment. After struggling in school, Winston Churchill was defeated in every election for public office that he entered until he became England’s prime minister at the age of 62. Twenty-seven different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book before it was published. He went on to write and illustrate more than 60 books that still entertain children today, almost 30 years after his death. Young Ludwig van Beethoven’s teachers thought that he was hopeless as a violinist and a composer, but he wrote some of the best-loved symphonies of all time, five of them after he had completely lost his hearing. Tom Landry, the late coach of the Dallas Cowboys, led the team to no victories his first season and to only five or fewer victories the next four seasons. His teams later won two Super Bowls and five NFC Championships.2 As we move through life and face losses, setbacks, and defeats, we often recover and discover something of great value along the way. That is a blessing in and of itself, but faith provides us with something deeper. Faith enables us, not just to see new beginnings when they arrive, but to anticipate that they will come even as we sit in the bleak darkness of despondency. SPRING 2020

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Faith assures us that the wilderness in which we walk is not the entire landscape, that the dry desert will come to an end in a stream of clear water just around the bend. Faith encourages us to keep the taste of cool, refreshing water in our mouths, even though we are surrounded by nothing but dry dust. “New life,” Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us, “starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”3 Rachel Held Evans observed, “It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair.”4 The consistent message of Scripture is that wilderness, exile, suffering, and defeat provide the context for hope and salvation for God’s people. It is that hope and salvation we celebrate this season, our faith allowing us to see what we otherwise could not. “Look! I’m making all things new. . . . To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring” (Revelation 21:5, 6).

Jan Turrentine Editor From budbilanich.com/50-famous-people-who-failed-at-their-firstattempt-at-career-success/. 2 From budbilanich.com/50-famous-people-who-failed-at-their-firstattempt-at-career-success/. 3 From goodreads.com/quotes/1319228-new-life-starts-in-the-dark -whether-it-is-a. 4 From goodreads.com/work/quotes/42042272-searching-for-sunday-loving-leaving-and-finding-the-church. 1

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Our Writers for This Quarter Sue Mink

Sue Mink is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary and Carnegie-Mellon University. She has her home near Charlottesville, Virginia, but she’s often not there! She and her husband, Allan, a retired Air Force officer, have arranged their lives so that they can work entirely online. With that flexibility, they live in other cities around the world for three-month time blocks twice a year. In the past few years, they’ve lived in Florence, Italy; York, England; Krakow, Poland; Bocas del Toro, Panama; Barcelona, Spain; and Taipei, Taiwan, with many more places planned to visit. Sue and her husband have two adult children, Jessica and Rob, and one grandson. She’s been writing for Cokesbury for over a decade and loves studying and researching God’s Word. Clara Welch

Clara K. Welch is an ordained deacon in the North Georgia Conference. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania; a master’s degree in Christian education and church music from Scarritt College in Nashville, Tennessee; and a master’s degree in theological studies from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia. Currently, Clara serves her local church in the areas of pastoral care and Christian education. She and her husband, Brian, have one daughter, Rebecca Jo. As they adjust to life as emptynesters, Clara and Brian enjoy gardening, trying new recipes, hiking, and listening to their daughter’s stories about the life of a veterinarian. Michael Whitcomb-Tavey

Michael Whitcomb-Tavey is senior pastor at Parma Christian Fellowship Church in Hilton, New York. He has a BA in psychology from Southern Wesleyan University and an MDiv, with a specialization in biblical studies and biblical languages, from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael is married to Karissa and has three children: Noah, John, and Alithea. Outside of church and family, his hobbies include comic books, video games, reading, hiking, and playing chess.

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DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Introduction to the Study Every quarter, the readings in Daily Bible Study concentrate on a theme of our faith. Sometimes it’s the love of God or the concept of grace. Sometimes it’s specific parts of the Bible. But the theme for this quarter is the very basis of our hope and our faith. It’s the huge, stunning, lifechanging power of salvation. Salvation means to save, but from what? What is it that we are being rescued from? Simply put, salvation is a defeat of all that keeps us away from a true relationship with our Creator God. It’s liberation from anything that destroys our wellbeing and wholeness. It’s release from anything that isn’t in God’s original plan for creation. Salvation is an attack on anything that ultimately results in human suffering. This quarter’s readings begin on the first Sunday in Lent. Traditionally, Lent is a time for Christians to consider their relationship to sin and to come to terms with the part they have had in the suffering of others. Our first group of readings examines suffering in the Scriptures: the causes, human reactions to pain, and God’s response. Every time we see the news, we hear about suffering. The world is full of it, to the point that we can begin to feel numb. We hear of children starving, terrified migrants escaping war and violence, sickness, and natural disasters. We also know of those in our communities struggling with poverty, loneliness, and broken relationships; it can seem overwhelming. But whether it’s a tragedy affecting thousands or one lonely person suffering in silence, all of these stories are about real individuals with names SPRING 2020

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and faces who ache with pain that is unique to themselves. In suffering, every person is distinct. Each person in pain represents a new tragedy. We live in a world created by a God of love. For centuries, people of faith have questioned why a God of grace and mercy allows suffering. Certainly, some of it is because we live in a sinsick world, and the pain is a result of humankind’s disobedience to the will of God. Our actions create consequences. But even that doesn’t explain away all of the agony. Suffering remains a mystery, but we do know that God works through human pain to bring people into relationship with God. It can be through repentance, through requests for help, or through traveling through the pain to a place of new understanding. However we deal with suffering, God is with us in the journey. In creation’s most amazing act of grace, God’s response to human suffering was the offer of salvation. In a hurting world, God opened a door never before seen, calling us through. God didn’t invite us into a place without suffering, but welcomed us into a place that is never without help. It’s a place of hope and promise, where a vision of a healed and whole world is on the horizon. Salvation is a way through the suffering, a path of restoration and a road to living to our full potential. The second group of our readings, which begin on Palm Sunday, offers a new look at the glory of salvation and what it means to us in a sin-soaked world. They tell of new beginnings and 3

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new life. They speak of the incredible story of God come to earth as Jesus Christ to rescue and restore humanity. As we celebrate Easter, we will celebrate the wonder of salvation and the gift of grace. But this leaves us in a curious place. We have the benefit of salvation and a glimpse of hope for humanity, but we’re still in and of the world. So how do we benefit from this gift of grace today? How do we navigate all the difficulties of the world once we’ve become people of God? Our final group of readings speak of God’s grace for us, the citizens of heaven who still dwell on earth. They speak of the promise of what the world will be when grace finally wins and the world is made whole. They examine how God provides for us, in ways we see and don’t see, and in ways we want and maybe don’t want. They tell about the promise of a heavenly home. And they celebrate the gift we have of the

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Spirit, guiding and comforting us here on earth. They highlight Scriptures that are a roadmap of hope, helping us to navigate the difficulties of living. And so the story has a joyful ending. God recognizes our pain and has made a way to navigate through it to an abundant life. We have the rock-solid promise of a healed world, and the Spirit to guide us in our individual healing. We are not abandoned to wander through a life of difficulties; we have the sure and steady hand of God to shepherd us. God has given us a pragmatic and realistic vision of the world, but one that is full of hallelujahs, too! Salvation is a rescue, but it’s also a restoration. It’s the path to Eden, to the way that God created us to live. It’s a welcoming back to the original covenant relationship, a shaking off of the influence of sin and evil in our lives and the promise of eternal life with our Creator and Savior. Hallelujah!

DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Monday

24 February

Psalm 104:24-30

Brand-New Again

How do you experience God’s ongoing (Psalm 104:24), he added, “And then there’s the sea” (verse 25). Was he skepacts of creation? tical of God’s wisdom in creating the “You make the surface of the ground sea? The ancient Hebrews were frightened brand-new again,” the psalmist proclaimed of the sea, believing it to be the entrance (Psalm 104:30). It was a proclamation of hope in God’s ongoing work of creation. to the underworld and home to the sea When our daughter was born, my hus- monster, Leviathan. When the New Tesband and I found ourselves on brand- tament writer John proclaimed, “Then new ground. Our tiny baby was a new I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” he creation, and we excitedly embraced our added, “and the sea was no more” (Revroles as parents. We cherished our daily elation 21:1). But even Leviathan is one life together and celebrated holidays, birth- of God’s creations (Psalm 104:26). The psalmist said “all . . . creations wait for” days, and graduations. Then, all too quickly, we were attend- God (verse 27) for sustenance. When God ing her graduation from veterinary school takes away their breath, then “they die and helping her pack to move to another and return to dust” (verse 29). Perhaps we have all experienced times state for a new job. I felt sadness and loss as I accepted the fact that our fam- when we felt God was absent from our ily life was changing. But as the moving lives; but through Christ, we know that van pulled away from the house, I real- God is always with us. God’s breath ized I was also feeling something else— (also translated “wind” and “spirit”) was excitement and joy for her as she started present at the time of Creation (Genesis 1:2) and continues to be a creative presthis new adventure in her life. The house felt empty as I walked back ence in the world. As we move from one physical place inside. My husband commented that we were on our own again. While God to another and from one life stage to was moving with our daughter to new another, God moves with us. When we ground, God was making “the surface of feel we have come to a dead end or an the ground” my husband and I still lived empty house, we can trust God’s creative work in our lives. God offers us on “brand-new again” (verse 30). The psalmist praised God for divine what we need “on time” (Psalm 104:27). blessings, proclaiming, “The earth is God continues to “make the surface of full of your creations” (verse 24). He the ground brand-new again” (verse 30), expressed the sentiments of Proverbs covering it with possibility and hope. 3:19: “The Lord laid the foundations of the earth with wisdom, establishing the Creating God, thank you for the new heavens with understanding.” After the psalmist noted that God has opportunities and hope you offer me in “done so many things . . . so wisely” each stage of my life. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Tuesday

25 February

Genesis 3:1-7

A Prohibition and a Promise

Notice where the woman began to In what ways does focusing on God’s promise of life help you remain obedi- focus. The snake tempted her to desire ent to God? the “delicious food” she saw on the tree and the wisdom (verse 6) the snake promJohn 3:16 beautifully states what is at ised she would gain by eating this food. the heart of the gospel: “God so loved She was no longer focusing on God and the world that he gave his only Son, so the promise of life. The text indicates her that everyone who believes in him won’t husband also willingly ate the forbidden perish but will have eternal life.” God’s fruit. plan for creation is life, not death. Jesus asked his disciples, “Why would The first book in the Bible offers a people gain the whole world but lose description of the beautiful garden God their lives?” (Matthew 16:26) After eatcreated to be home for the first man and ing the fruit, the woman and the man woman. God gave the first humans a gained wisdom in that they “saw clearly” vocation in the garden: “to farm it and to (Genesis 3:7). We do not know what they take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). expected this newly acquired wisdom to God gave them abundant blessings, say- offer them, but we can be certain they ing, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s did not anticipate the shame and brokentrees” (2:16). God also gave one prohiness they experienced. The punishment bition, one specific command to obedi“you will die” (verse 3) was not immeence: “But don’t eat from the tree of the diate, but it was now their future. Their knowledge of good and evil, because on act of disobedience destroyed the perfect the day you eat from it, you will die!” relationship that had previously existed (2:17). But there is a blessing in this prohibition, the blessing of life! It might between them and God. We do not always understand why God have been worded, “Do not eat from this sets certain boundaries, but we can be tree, and you will live!” We are not told why the snake initiated assured that God has our best interests in his fateful conversation with the woman mind. When we choose the path of obein the garden. What did he hope to gain? dience, we are choosing the path of life He already held the status of being “the God desires for us. most intelligent of all the wild animals” (3:1), but this intelligence did not stop him from contradicting God. First, the snake told the woman she would not die if she ate from the forbidden tree. Second, he cited a perceived benefit of disobeying God: “God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, Merciful God, help me remain focused knowing good and evil” (verse 5). on you and your promise of life! Amen. 6

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DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Wednesday

26 February

Genesis 3:8-19

Among the Weeds and Thistles (Ash Wednesday)

Where have you experienced hope in the will experience pain as he farms the land and provides food for himself and midst of hardship? his family (verse 17). But in the midst When have you uttered the words “If of these punishments there is hope. The only”? If only I had not spoken such woman will bear children. The man and angry words. If only I had stopped to woman will know the joy of having a listen. If only I had not disobeyed. The family. Life will go on. Yes, “weeds poet John Greenleaf Whittier captures and thistles will grow” (verse 18) in the the feeling we have when we think “if fields, making farming difficult; but in only.” He wrote, “For of all sad words of the midst of the weeds and thistles, there tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It will be plants to eat and grains from might have been!’ ”1 which to make bread (verse 19). I wonder if the characters in this ScripHumankind continues to experience ture passage from Genesis 3 were think- pain and hardship. We may sometimes ing “if only.” believe the “weeds and thistles” growing “If only the snake had not tempted me.” around us will take over. But when we “If only my wife had not offered me look closely among the weeds and thisthat fruit.” tles, we will see new life sprouting up. “If only my children I placed in the We will see that God continues to sustain garden had not disobeyed me.” us and offer us life! When the man and woman acknowlVerse 19 reminds us of words the minedged their nakedness before God, it was ister may say during the imposition of impossible for them to deny their wrong- ashes on Ash Wednesday: “Remember doing. Instead of accepting responsi- that you are dust, and to dust you shall bility for their actions, they chose the return.” The minister may also say, popular defense of blaming another. “Repent, and believe the gospel.”1 Notice that God issues only two curses It does not matter how you complete in this story: the first to the snake who the sentence “If only.” When we repent started the chain of disobedient acts of our sin, God forgives us. We have the (verse 14) and the second to “the fer- sure hope of eternal life through Jesus tile land” (verse 17). The man and the Christ. woman were not cursed. Remember, “God created humanity in God’s own image” (1:27). In spite of our sin, we are From “Maud Muller,” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1856) (barnot cursed. God continues to call us to tleby.com/102/76.html). be the bearers of the divine image in the The United Methodist Book of Worship; page 323. world. The punishments for the woman and Merciful God, help me always to be man seem harsh. The woman will expe- mindful of your love, even when I feel rience pain in childbirth (3:16). The man surrounded by weeds and thistles. Amen. 1

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Thursday

27 February

Genesis 3:20-24

Sent Out of the Garden With Love

This text clearly shows that only God is In what ways do you experience God’s immortal, in contrast to humans who are love and protection in your daily life? mortal creatures. God took the human The first man and woman broke the from “the fertile land” (verse 23). Our trust that originally existed between their mortal lives could end as the author of Creator and themselves when they ate Ecclesiastes suggests: “All are from the from the forbidden tree. Having given dust; all return to the dust” (Ecclesiastes into temptation once, what was to keep 3:20). But as followers of Christ, we know them from disobeying a second time and eating from the tree of life? We may inter- that dust is not the future God intends for pret God’s act of putting the first man and us. The Gospel writer John proclaimed, woman out of the garden as punishment “God so loved the world that he gave his for eating the forbidden fruit, but it was only Son, so that everyone who believes much more than that. The text gives the in him won’t perish but will have eternal deeper reason: “so he doesn’t stretch out life” (John 3:16). Eternal life is a gift of God’s love and his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever” (Genesis 3:22). grace. It is not something we can attain In response to the human being’s act on our own (and certainly not something of disobedience, “the Lord God said, ‘The we can grasp by eating the fruit of a forhuman being has now become like one bidden tree!). When we place our faith of us, knowing good and evil’ (verse 22). in Christ, we accept our mortality and “Us” refers to “the assembly of heavenly anticipate the gift of everlasting life. Paul wrote, “Since we have been made beings believed to assist God in governing the world and communicating with the righteous by his grace, we can inherit the human race.”1 As we noted in the read- hope for eternal life” (Titus 3:7). Paul ing for February 26, this newly acquired assures us that this “hope does not disknowledge of good and evil changed the appoint us” (Romans 5:5, NRSV). God way humankind related to God and the protected the first man and woman from world. It also led to their expulsion from eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of life. Through Christ, God protects us their home in the beautiful garden. At first reading, God’s response may from the consequences of our sin and seem harsh, but God’s love for human- offers us salvation and eternal life in kind is evident throughout this story. God God’s kingdom. made clothing for “the man and his wife” (verse 21) before sending them out of the garden. God “stationed winged creatures From The CEB Study Bible, Old Testament; page 6. wielding flaming swords to guard the way to the tree of life” (verse 24) to pro- Loving and merciful God, thank you for tect them from the temptation to return the gift of my mortal life and the promise of eternal life through Christ. Amen. and eat its fruit. 1

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DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Friday

28 February

Ezekiel 28:11-19

Expelled From God's Mountain to Dust

In what ways have you been tempted sanctuaries (verse 18). When the king to exalt yourself and turn away from put his own interests ahead of the interests of his people, he lost everything. exalting God? God “expelled [him] from God’s mounI am writing this on the day after mid- tain” (verse 16). Ezekiel was speaking in metaphor term elections, which saw a record number of voters go to the polls. In a news here. His audience would have associclip I saw, one person told the interviewer ated “God’s mountain” with the garden that she voted because she wants things of Eden. The king of Tyre is depicted to remain the same. Another voter said as “a winged creature . . . installed as a she cast her ballot for change. Regard- guardian” (verse 14) on the mountain. less of who we vote for and why, we This imagery reminds us of the winged hope the candidates we support will ful- creatures God “stationed . . . to guard the fill their promises to act with justice and way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24) in the best interests of their constituents. after the first man and woman were sent We know, however, that even people out of the garden. The king of Tyre became enamored with the best of intentions may become sidetracked by the lure and acquisition with his beauty and exalted himself instead of God (Ezekiel 28:17). As a of power and wealth. Power and wealth can be helpful tools result, he was “expelled . . . from God’s for government leaders and servants of mountain” (verse 16), and he lost his Christ. A person of wealth has the means relationship with God, the one who gives to build schools and hospitals, fund busi- and sustains life. Ezekiel’s prophecy nesses that employ workers, and support indicated that the words of Ecclesiastes mission outreach programs. A person 3:20 would ring true for the king of Tyre. with power can be influential in work- God said, “I will turn you into dust on ing for justice and initiating change that the earth” (Ezekiel 28:18). The secular world beckons us to honor benefits humankind. But as the Scripture text for today demonstrates, individu- ourselves. God calls us to give all honor als may choose instead to exalt them- and glory to God. When we do this, God selves, a decision that can bring harmful offers us abundant life, here on earth and in God’s eternal kingdom. consequences. The Lord instructed Ezekiel to “sing a lament for the king of Tyre” (Ezekiel 28:12). The king had been “the image of perfection” (verse 12) until he committed the sin of exalting himself (verse 17) instead of God. The king’s self-centered Eternal God, help me remain focused interests led to “oppressive business on you and live my life in a way that practices” (verse 16) and impurity in the brings honor to you. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Saturday

29 February

Ezekiel 31:2-13

Plentiful Water

What helps you stay rooted in God?

Ezekiel noted that the top of the tree “went up between the clouds” (verse 3). God warned, “Consider the fate of those who tower high!” (verse 10). The risk was that they would become arrogant (verse 10). When we grow arrogant, we forget our need for God and turn away from the source of our life. Verses 11-13 describe the fate of Assyria and the coming demise of Egypt. The birds and animals continued to come to the tree. But they did not come to give birth to new life, as they did in verse 6, but to take advantage of what was left of the broken branches and decaying trunk. Ezekiel noted that the other trees in Eden envied this most beautiful tree in the garden (verse 9), just as the nations envied Assyria and Egypt when they were at their most powerful. These arrogant nations did not heed Ezekiel’s prophecy against them; and as a result, God banished them (verse 11). We are called to be like the tree that “became beautiful . . . because it took root in plentiful water” (verse 7). But like the tree, we need to guard against arrogance. What helps you remain rooted in God and mindful of life-sustaining gifts? How do you resist becoming arrogant? In what ways do you offer thanksgiving and praise to God for the plentiful water that gives you life?

Do you have a favorite tree? If so, what makes it a favorite? I remember the pecan tree that grew in our front yard when I was a little girl and the many happy afternoons I spent with my family gathering the pecans that fell to the ground. I remember a majestic maple tree that sported flaming yellow leaves in the fall and provided shade when I took our baby daughter for a ride in her stroller. Now my favorite tree is the cherry tree in our front yard that is covered with beautiful, delicate, soft pink blossoms in the spring. As in our reading from yesterday, in today’s text, Ezekiel uses imagery from the garden of Eden as he prophesies against the nations. He compared the king of Tyre to a fallen winged guardian (Ezekiel 28). In this text, he compares Egypt to the greatest tree. He did so in a roundabout way, as he compared Egypt to Assyria and Assyria to the tree (31:3). Assyria fell in 612 bc, 25 years before this prophecy. Some of Ezekiel’s hearers would have remembered Assyria’s demise. The tree in the garden of Eden had “beautiful branches,” provided “dense shade,” and had “towering height” (verse 3). It was nourished by water that was easily accessible and plentiful (verse 5) and grew to be incomparable in beauty. The great tree supported the life of birds and other animals, just as Egypt provided benefits for the nations that were its allies Loving God, help me stay rooted in you (verse 6). As you read the description of the tree, and find nourishment in the plentiful did you sense that Egypt was in trouble? water you provide for me. Amen. 10

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DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Sunday

1 March

Revelation 2:1-7

The Tree of Life for Us (First Sunday in Lent)

What helps you faithfully endure chal- Ephesus had “not grown weary” (Revelation 2:3, NRSV). In fact, the letter lenges and hold fast to Christ’s love? mentions the church’s endurance twice The day after I graduated from col- (verses 2, 3). Yet, in the midst of all these lege, I set out for Red Bird Mission in the compliments, there is a “But” (verse 4). Before I went to Red Bird Mission, mountains of southeastern Kentucky to teach music in two elementary schools. my mother cautioned me, that with My excitement for this new adventure time, my initial excitement about this was contagious, and I felt the support of new adventure would fade; and one day, family and friends. As I settled into my I could wake up and feel as if I were new life at Red Bird Mission, I found the heading off to a routine job. I remember wise words of one of my music educa- when that happened, when driving over tion professors to be helpful. He spoke narrow mountain roads and teaching with me after the college graduation music to 30 rambunctious first-graders ceremony and reminded me to always seemed more tiring than exciting. I am thankful that Mother prepared me for remember who I follow. The text for this lesson is a letter from that day, because when it came, I was Christ to the church Paul founded in ready, and I knew what to do: remember Ephesus, the capital city of Asia Minor. who I follow! Christ told the Ephesian Christians that, Christ complemented the “works . . . labor, and . . . endurance” of the Ephe- on the surface, they were doing things sian Christians (Revelation 2:2). The right; but they had “let go of the love” letter acknowledges their faithfulness in (verse 4) and forgotten “the high point” the midst of challenges, specifically evil- (verse 5), when they first came to know doers, false apostles, and persecution. Christ. Have you ever felt this way? Christ called the Ephesian Christians The Ephesian church could not “tolerate evildoers” (verse 2, NRSV); and it did to “change [their] hearts and lives and do not listen to false apostles who were, in the things [they] did at first” (verse 5). In other words, we are called to remember truth, liars (verse 2). The Nicolaitans (verse 6) may have Christ’s love for us and our love for Christ been false apostles. (Historians have not as we seek to live as faithful followers. been able to identify them with certainty.) When we do this, we will “emerge vicThe letter does not mention details about torious to eat from the tree of life, which the persecution but acknowledges that is in God’s paradise” (verse 7). the church “put up with a lot” (verse 3). Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Galatia, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap Loving God, let me hold fast to your at harvest time, if we do not give up” love so I may eat from the tree of life in (Galatians 6:9, NRSV). The church in your paradise. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Monday

2 March

Psalm 61:1-5

God Listens

The psalmist’s image of “the rock that In what ways have you received assurance that God is listening to your is higher than I am” (verse 2) refers to prayers? a place of refuge. It may have been a reference to God, for God had been “a When I was serving as a music teacher tower of strength” (verse 3), or it may at Red Bird Mission in Kentucky, I wanted have been a reference to the Temple or the students to listen to a variety of types another safe place as described in verse 4. of music. I taught a unit about opera Psalm 27:5 proclaims that God “will music for the upper-elementary classes shelter me in his own dwelling during and played a recording of Amahl and the troubling times; he will hide me in a Night Visitors, by Gian Carlo Menotti. secret place in his own tent; he will set The students were quiet during class, me up high, safe on a rock.” The psalmand the girls listened with enthusiastic ist cried out to the Lord with confidence attention. One day, I asked the boys if that God was listening to him. In verse 5, they liked listening to the opera. One of he affirmed that God had heard and them honestly replied, “Oh, we’re not answered his prayer. listening to it!” In what ways is this psalmist’s prayer The ancient psalmist cried out, “God, similar to your prayer? What images listen to my cry; pay attention to my would you use to describe how it feels prayer!” (Psalm 61:1). This is a familiar to be separated from God? What images plea in the psalms: describe the ways God has been a refuge “Listen to my prayer!” (4:1). for you in the past? “Hear my words, Lord!” (5:1). When we are overwhelmed with respon“Listen closely to my cry for help!” sibilities, frightened about a medical diag(39:12). The psalms also affirm that God lis- nosis, or troubled about another situation tens. One psalmist declared, “The Lord in our lives, we long to feel sheltered in will hear me when I cry out to him” (4:3). God’s loving presence. From Old TestaAnother psalmist proclaimed: “I waited ment times to the present, God’s people patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me have witnessed to the truth that God is listening to us. We can pray with conand heard my cry” (40:1, NRSV). The author of Psalm 61 had experi- fidence that God will indeed hear and enced God’s action on his behalf in the respond to our prayers. past as a “refuge, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy” (61:3). Now he felt separated from God, for he cried out “from the very ends of the earth” (verse 2). We do not know if he felt separated spiritually or if he was physically Merciful God, thank you for listening to some distance from his homeland or the my prayers and sheltering me in your loving presence. Amen. Temple. 12

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DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Tuesday

3 March

John 17:1-5

Jesus Prays for Himself

How do you give glory to God the Father can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. . . . This is the reason and Jesus the Son? I have come to this time. Father, glorify This week, we will remember Jesus’ your name!” (12:24, 27-28). Jesus knew suffering on the night of his arrest as his glorification called for self-sacrifice. Jesus defined eternal life for the benhe prayed in the upper room and in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed, efit of his listeners: “to know you, the “Father, the time has come. Glorify your only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Son, so that the Son can glorify you” you sent” (17:3). God’s glorification of Jesus the Son will call forth the people’s (John 17:1). Glorify! What a magnificent word! praise and worship of God the Father. The Gospel of John opens with the Synonyms for the verb glorify include honor, praise, exalt, and revere. When proclamation that God the Father and we think of glory, we think of radiance Jesus the Son are one. John writes, “In and light—the brilliance of fresh snow or the beginning was the Word and the shimmering water glistening in sunlight, Word was with God and the Word was for example, or the glorious colors of a God. The Word was with God in the sunrise or a sunset splashed across the beginning” (1:1-2). In this prayer with sky. In the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, his disciples, Jesus acknowledged his Matthew writes that Jesus “was trans- oneness with God the Father, saying, formed in front of them. His face shone “Glorify me in your presence with the like the sun, and his clothes became as glory I shared with you before the world was created” (17:5). white as light” (Matthew 17:2). How do you give glory to the Father At first glance, Jesus’ request that God and the Son for the gift of eternal life? glorify him may seem a little out of character for the humble, self-giving Jesus To rephrase the question with synonyms we come to know in the Gospels. But from the first paragraph, how do you even Jesus’ request to be made glorious honor, exalt, and praise the Father and was for the sake of others. He accepted the Son? We can worship with music the purpose for his life, “so that he could and prayer. We can honor God by caring give eternal life to everyone [God] gave for those in need and who are lost. What him” (John 17:2). Jesus gives us eternal opportunities do you have each day to give glory to your Lord and Savior? life through his death and resurrection. After Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival, he said, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified” (12:23). He was speaking about the painful death he would endure on the cross, saying, “I assure you that unless a grain Holy God, let my words and my actions of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it bring glory to you every day. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Wednesday

4 March

John 17:6-19

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

How do you feel when you know some- He knew his time on earth with his disciples was rapidly coming to an end, and one else is praying for you? he would not be physically present to Who knew that a text message could protect them. enhance our prayer life? Jesus prayed to the Father, “I’m no I sent a text to a friend to let her know longer in the world, but they are in I was praying for her and her husband as the world, . . . When I was with them, they anxiously went to a doctor appoint- I watched over them in your name, . . . ment. I exchanged texts with another couple and I kept them safe” (verses 11-12). as they faced difficult medical decisions, Now Jesus beseeched God to “watch assuring them they were in my prayers. over them in your name, . . . Keep them When my dad went to the hospital, it safe from the evil one” (verses 11, 15). was comforting to share our situation We ask this for ourselves when we pray with several prayer friends via text and the Lord’s Prayer: “And don’t lead us to receive their encouraging messages into temptation, but rescue us from the back, letting me know I was not alone, evil one” (Matthew 6:13). and Dad and I were in their prayers. Just as Jesus did not belong to this Praying for others is a holy act of wor- world, his disciples did not belong to ship. We are drawn into a closer relationthis world (John 17:16). They, like Jesus, ship with God and one another when we were sent into the world (verse 18) to lift one another up in prayer. witness to the truth of Christ and to make Imagine how the disciples felt when disciples. Jesus prayed for them. He was their Yesterday, we considered Jesus’ prayer, friend, yes, but their relationship went beyond friendship. In his prayer, Jesus “Father, . . . Glorify your Son” (verse 1). referred to them as “the people you gave Jesus is glorified and made holy through me from this world” (John 17:6). Jesus his sacrifice on the cross “so that they “gave them the words” (verse 8) that also would be made holy” (verse 19). God had given him so that the disciples The disciples were made holy because would know Jesus as God’s Son and be “they received . . . and . . . believed” prepared to carry that good news into the (verse 8) the word of God proclaimed in Jesus. world. We are made holy when we believe the When our loved ones go out into the world, we are concerned for them. truth of God’s word proclaimed in Jesus. Whether we are seeing our children off We share in Christ’s holiness when we for the first day of kindergarten or the follow Jesus’ example and pray for others. first day of college, we are aware that we will not be with them to protect them. We pray that God will watch over them. Holy God, thank you for drawing us into Jesus prayed this prayer on the night he a holy relationship with you as we pray was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. for others and ourselves. Amen. 14

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Thursday

5 March

John 17:20-26

Jesus Prays for Those Who Believe in Him

Jesus prayed for a continuing relationHow do you respond to this prayer of Jesus for his believers, which includes ship with God’s people after his earthly you? life. He prayed, “I want those you gave me to be with me where I am” (verse 24). One Saturday afternoon, my husband He prayed that God’s people would see and I helped our daughter pack her car his glory, know God’s love, and experiand then stood at the end of the drive- ence oneness with God and Christ. Jesus way as we waved goodbye and watched also promised to continue to be involved her drive off down the street. She was on in the life of God’s people, saying “I’ve her way to our conference church camp made your name known to them and will to serve for a month as a counselor-incontinue to make it known so that your training. Then she would return home to love for me will be in them, and I myself pack for her first year of college. Tears sprang to my eyes as I real- will be in them” (verse 26). When we accept the call to make disciized what had just happened. The years of our family of three sharing our daily ples for Jesus Christ, we invest ourselves lives together in the same house had just in the lives of others. We share the love come to an end. Yes, our daughter would of Christ with our children and families, return home for visits, but this was the with the people in our church families beginning of her going out on her own–– and communities, and with others God to camp, to college, to vet school, to places in our path. When our children marriage. God had entrusted her to our grow up and leave home, when our stucare. We had given her roots, and now dents graduate, or when our jobs take us we were giving her wings. We prayed to new places, we pray for the ones God and trusted God to be with her. has entrusted to our care, as our paths As Jesus looked ahead to the end of his diverge and we follow new paths. time on earth, he prayed for the people God had given him. He prayed first for his disciples (John 17:6) whom he had sent into the world (verse 18). Then he said, “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word” (verse 20). It’s awesome that, as Jesus faced the cross, he prayed for us! The disciples who had known him during his life on earth responded to his resurrection with a powerful witness. Believers through the generations have continued to wit- Holy and ever-present God, thank you ness to the truth of God’s word and make for inviting me to be one with you in disciples of Jesus Christ. Christ. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Friday

6 March

Matthew 26:36-39

“Not What I Want”

How do you pray in times of suffering? feel sad and anxious” (verse 37). Other translations read “grieved and agitated” I was not prepared for the surgeon’s (NRSV), “sorrowful and troubled” (NIV), recommendation that my husband have “sorrowful and very heavy” (KJV). six weeks of radiation treatments followJesus said, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m ing surgery. He has a rare form of cancer, dying” (verse 38). Other translations read, and we see doctors at a medical center “I am deeply grieved” (NRSV). “My over 600 miles from our home. I was soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” (NIV), not looking forward to being away from “My soul is exceeding sorrowful” (KJV). home that long. I contacted a friend who These are strong emotions. We find had a similar experience when she trav- comfort in knowing that, when we expeeled with her son for surgery at another rience these emotions, Jesus knows medical center. She encouraged me by exactly how we feel. Jesus prayed, “If reminding me that we were doing this to it’s possible, take this cup of suffering save his life. away from me” (verse 39). We pray When we are suffering, we turn to God similar prayers as we ask God to take in prayer. Our desire is that God take away the causes of our suffering. It takes away the cause of our suffering. It can be courage to continue our prayer as Jesus difficult to pray the phrase in the Lord’s prayed, “However—not what I want but Prayer, “Your will be done” (Matthew what you want” (verse 39). 6:10, NRSV). God did not take away Jesus’ cup of After the Last Supper, “Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Geth- suffering. God gave Jesus all that he semane” (26:36) on the Mount of Olives, needed to stay the course. The end result a place where he and the disciples had was life––life for Jesus as our risen gathered before (24:3). In Hebrew, Geth- Christ and eternal life for us as redeemed semane means oil press. This olive grove children of God. God gives us all that we need to was on the other side of the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. Jesus may have endure suffering. When we trust God’s looked down from the garden and seen loving and faithful presence, we experience new life in Christ, even in the midst the courts of the Temple.1 On this particular night, Jesus asked of suffering. his disciples to stay there while “he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons” (26:37) deeper into the garden with him. Peter, James, and John had witnessed Jesus’ From The CEB Study Bible, New Testament; page 51. transfiguration. Now they would be with Jesus as he prayed a most difficult prayer. Merciful God, thank you for your faithJesus knew his time to finish his work ful love that sustains me through times on earth had come, and “he began to of suffering. Amen. 1

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Saturday

7 March

Matthew 26:40-46

“Let It Be What You Want”

How have you prayed about the difficult wants us to trust that we will receive the things you felt God calling you to do? courage, strength, and wisdom we need when the road ahead of us is frightening Jesus prayed three times: and difficult. “My Father, if it’s possible, take this Jesus shared his feelings of deep sadcup of suffering away from me” (Mat- ness with his disciples and asked them, thew 26:39). “Stay here and keep alert with me” “My Father, if it’s not possible that (verse 38). We hear Jesus’ disappointthis cup be taken away unless I drink it” ment when he found them sleeping and (verse 42). asked, “Couldn’t you stay alert one hour “He . . . again went and prayed the with me?” (verse 40). This was not the same words for the third time” (verse 44). We hear the plea in Jesus’ words: “Take finest hour for Peter, James, and John! We may find that our friends disapthis cup of suffering away from me.” Do we also detect a question? “Is there not point us when we are struggling. The reassuring words of the psalmist come to another way?” Jesus made his plea three times. Have mind: “The Lord . . . will not let your you ever done that? Have you ever asked, foot be moved; he who keeps you will just one more time, with the hope that not slumber” (Psalm 121:2-3, NRSV). When we are suffering, we can cry the answer will be different? Do we really need to go? out to God about our suffering, because Surely, there is another way. Jesus did. We may never understand why Heavenly Father, take this suffering suffering is part of our lives, but we can away from me. always trust God to be with us. God is We noted in yesterday’s reading that faithful; and, yes, God remains awake! it took courage for Jesus to pray his next We are called to follow the example of words. And, again, he prayed them three Jesus and place our faith in God every times: day through all circumstances. “However—not what I want but what you want” (verse 39). “Then let it be what you want” (verse 42). “He . . . prayed the same words for the third time” (verse 44). God’s will was for Jesus to respond faithfully to fulfill the call for his life. Jesus trusted God’s presence and wisdom. And in so doing, he found the cour- Loving and faithful God, thank you for remaining awake and listening to my age to face the cross. It is God’s will that we remain faithful prayers. Thank you for your faithful in the face of suffering and hardship. God presence every day of my life. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Sunday

8 March

Luke 22:39-43

Divine Strength (Second Sunday in Lent)

When has God given you strength to face and Matthew in that it does not say that Jesus called Peter, James, and John to a frightening or difficult experience? go with him further into the garden, and On the night before my husband’s he approached his disciples only once first cancer surgery, I had trouble falling to find them sleeping. Luke’s account of asleep. I had taken my concerns about Jesus’ prayer is consistent with that of this surgery to God in prayer, and I had Matthew and Mark: “Father, if it’s your received peace about the procedure. But will, take this cup of suffering away from on this night, another concern came to me. However, not my will but your will mind, a fairly insignificant concern com- must be done” (verse 42). Our hearts go out to our Savior as we pared to everything else we were facing, but still it was keeping me awake. read, “He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly” (verse 44). We I prayed and gave this concern to God can only imagine what the disciples along with all the others. Peace came were thinking and feeling. While they over me, and I slept. did not fully understand what was hapAs I write this, I am thinking about pening until after the Resurrection, they friends who are undergoing chemother- had been Jesus’ companions in ministry apy and radiation treatments, my family for three years. Surely, they sensed that as we grieve the death of my aunt, my something was different on this night. dad who is now in hospice care. When Luke says they were “overcome by grief” we are facing times of crisis, we may (verse 45). feel afraid and unsure and grow weary. God did not take away Jesus’ “cup of We can find comfort and reassurance in suffering” (verse 42). God also did not Paul’s words to the church in Philippi: leave Jesus to endure his suffering alone, “I can endure all these things through the for “a heavenly angel appeared to him power of the one who gives me strength” and strengthened him” (verse 43). It is (Philippians 4:13). interesting that Luke records that the On the night of his arrest, Jesus shared angel strengthened Jesus before Jesus his last supper with his disciples. He “prayed even more earnestly.” broke bread with them and shared the We learn from Jesus the importance cup, saying: “This is my body, which is of honest prayer. We can ask God to given for you. . . . This cup is the new strengthen us to express our heartfelt covenant by my blood, which is poured anguish and fear in prayer. We can trust out for you” (Luke 22:19-20). that God will hear us and give us all that Jesus’ time of ministry on earth was we need to face challenges and suffering behind him, and the cross was before that may be before us. him. He went to the Mount of Olives (verse 39) accompanied by his disciples Grant me strength, O Lord, to pray my and prayed. Luke’s account of the story deepest anguish to you, trusting that differs here from the Gospels of Mark you will hear my prayer. Amen. 18

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Monday

9 March

Exodus 17:1-7

Water in the Wilderness

When have you asked, “Is the Lord with them: “Why are you testing the Lord?” (verse 2). God had tested the Israelites’ me?” faith by calling them to obedience. Now When I stopped by the church one the people were testing God’s faithfulafternoon, two friends on the staff noticed ness to provide for them. Moses called my to-go cup and commented that I must that place Massah, which means “test” have eaten lunch at a favorite local res- in Hebrew, and Meribah, which means taurant. I said, “No, I just stopped by for “argument” (verse 7). Have you ever wondered if God was a snack. Uunsweet tea and fries.” One friend was surprised I chose unsweet tea. testing you? It is an understandable ques“I just can’t drink it” she said. “It’s so tion when we are suffering. Have you ever felt that you were testbitter. If I was stuck in the middle of the desert and it was the only thing to drink, ing God, waiting to see if God would indeed remain faithful? I still couldn’t drink it.” It has been said that the opposite of I had been writing this reflection at the time, and I wondered if the bitter water faith is not doubt, but disobedience. at Marah tasted similar to unsweet tea! During those times when we find it hard The Scripture texts this week take us to to trust and be hopeful, we can remain the Old Testament wilderness as we con- faithful by praying, reading Scripture, tinue to explore the theme of suffering. attending worship, and staying conAfter their escape from Egypt, the Isra- nected to our faith community, no matter elites “traveled for three days in the des- how difficult this may be during uncerert and found no water. When they came tain times. to Marah, they couldn’t drink Marah’s God promises to provide healing for water because it was bitter. That’s why our suffering. Healing may not come in it was called Marah. . . . Moses cried out the form or the timeframe we hope for. to the Lord, and the Lord pointed out Healing may not come in this lifetime a tree to him. He threw it into the water, but in the promise of eternal life in our and the water became sweet” (Exodus heavenly home with God. God remained 15:22-23, 25). God provided sweet, heal- faithful to the Israelite people in spite ing water and also tested (verse 25) the of their testing and arguing, and God faith of the Israelites, calling them to remains faithful to us. God does hear our obedience in return for healing. cry for help and faithfully provides water In this text from Exodus 17, the in the desert and everything else we need availability of water is again the issue. as we journey ahead in faith. Instead of trusting God for provision and healing, “The people argued with Moses” Healing God, help me remain faithful (verse 2) and demanded water. Notice and obedient, even in times of great the turn in Moses’ question back to thirst. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Tuesday

10 March

Numbers 14:1-4

Faithfully Facing Fear

What helps you face your fear and step the hand of the Egyptians in a land that was familiar to them. into the unknown with faith? But they had experienced God’s faithSeriously? The Israelites wanted to go ful love many times over: in their escape back to Egypt? Here they were on the from bondage, crossing the sea on dry brink of the Promised Land, and they land, the provision of manna and water wanted to go back to their former lives in the desert. Why could they not trust God to take them safely into the land of of hard labor and oppression? When the Israelites reached the land promise? They allowed their fear of sufof promise, God instructed Moses to fering in the unknown to overpower their “send out men to explore the land of faith in God, so much so that they were Canaan, which I’m giving to the Isra- willing to return to their former experielites” (Numbers 13:2). When the men ence of bondage in Egypt. The Israelites suffered severe consereturned, they reported that the land was “full of milk and honey” (13:27) and quences for their lack of faith and disbeautiful fruit. They also reported the obedience. God said, “None of you . . . who complained against me, will enter presence of “powerful people who live the land in which I promised to settle in the land” (13:28). you” (verses 29-30). Their children setThe Israelites found the report of powtled the land 40 years later. erful people to be alarming. Caleb said, We may at times be tempted to accept “We must go up and take possession of familiar suffering rather than step into it, because we are more than able to do the unknown. For example, a person may it” (13:30). The men who accompanied remain in a job that is comfortable but Caleb on the scouting expedition did not no longer satisfying out of fear of suffershare his confidence and said, “We can’t ing failure in a new endeavor. A couple go up against the people because they are may accept the status quo of a relationstronger than we are” (13:31). Unfortu- ship out of fear of counseling and honest nately, the Israelites gave in to fear and conversation. rebelled against God and Moses, saying, God promises to be with us through “Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to our fears. God calls us to step out in faith Egypt” (14:4). and trust the divine promises. We can’t blame the Israelites for being afraid. They were a nomadic people, weary from journeying through the desert and without a trained military. In their minds, Faithful God, help me to trust you when they were making a choice between suf- you call me to new opportunities. Let fering at the hands of unknown inhabit- my faith in you be stronger than my ants in an unknown land and suffering at fear. Amen. 20

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Wednesday

11 March

Psalm 78:12-22

Rebelling Against God

The psalmist listed the ways God proWhen have you been tempted to rebel vided for the Israelites’ needs in the wilagainst God? derness (verses 13-16) and then declared Irving Berlin tells the story of the the Israelites’ disobedient response: “But time he complained to his doctor about they continued to sin against God, rebelhis insomnia. His doctor suggested he ling against the Most High in the desert” overcome his insomnia by counting his (verse 17). They sinned and rebelled blessings. This gave Berlin the idea for “because they had no faith in God, because his popular song “Count Your Blessings they didn’t trust his saving power” (verse 22). (Instead of Sheep).”1 We live in a broken and imperfect world, I remember feeling discouraged after and sometimes we experience great sufa church I was serving had a financial fering and frightening challenges. We setback and laid off several part-time have the same choice the Israelites had: staff people, including me. As I was con- We can blame God for our circumstances sidering my next steps, I thought about and rebel, or we can trust God’s presence the ways that God had been present and and provision in all circumstances. opened doors for me in the past. I felt When we find it hard to trust God, we an overwhelming sense of comfort as can count our blessings of God’s faithfulI recalled these blessings of God’s faith- ness in the past. We can seek out Christian fulness. This gave me courage to face an friends who will support and encouruncertain future with faith. age us. An ancient psalmist declared, Psalm 78 is an historical psalm. It “Because God’s faithful love toward us recalls God’s faithfulness and Israel’s is strong, the Lord’s faithfulness lasts disobedience. The psalmist wrote the poem so that future generations will forever!” (117:2). This is a truth we want “never [forget] God’s deeds, but [keep] to remember and share! God’s commandments” (verse 7). The psalmist noted in verse 5 that he was obeying God’s command in the Law: “Be on guard and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things your eyes saw and so they never leave your mind as long you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9). The text for this reading begins with the psalmist recalling the wonders, or plagues, God inflicted on the Egyptians, which influenced Pharaoh to let them go (Psalm 78:12). “Zoan” (verse 12) was a city in Egypt. SPRING 2020

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From “Behind the Song: Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” (singingthesonginmyheart.com/count-your-blessings-i nstead-of-sheep/).

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Ever-present God, help me remember that your faithfulness is forever and that I can trust you to provide for my needs in all circumstances. Amen. 21

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Thursday

12 March

How much is enough?

Psalm 78:23-30

Craving More God gave the people just enough of what they asked for (Exodus 16:4). The psalmist reported that they “were completely satisfied” (Psalm 78:29); but instead of thanking God for these provisions, “they didn’t stop craving (verse 30). Unfortunately, the object of their craving was their own self-satisfaction and not God’s will. We see in this text that God was also “craving.” God desired a relationship with the people, so much so that God never gave up on the rebellious Israelites, so much so that God gave “his only Son” (John 3:16) to suffer for the sins of the world for our salvation. God desires that we crave a relationship in return. Deep down, don’t we long for a relationship with God? We can trust God to give us enough of what we need, whether it be courage, wisdom, sustenance, comfort, or something else. We can also share with God our craving for more: more time in prayer, more ways to offer our praise and thanksgiving, more awareness of God’s presence and faithful love. We experience God’s faithful presence in the bread and cup of Holy Communion. It is enough to assure us of God’s love. At the same time, it can instill in us an even deeper craving for God.

One Sunday morning when I was serving Holy Communion, I held the bread, and the minister next to me held the cup. As each person came forward, I broke off a piece of bread and gave it to him or her; then the person dipped it in the cup and ate. One woman accidentally ate her bread before she dipped it in the cup. “Would you like another piece?” I asked her. She surprised me with her answer. “No, thank you,” she said. “I’ve had enough.” The author of Psalm 78 proclaimed God’s mighty acts of delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt and providing for the people’s needs in the wilderness (Psalm 78:12-16). He then described Israel’s unfaithful response, their rebellion against God, and their lack of trust in God’s saving power (verses 17-22). After God answered the people’s cry for water, they did not respond with words of thanksgiving but with more demanding questions: “Can he give bread too? Can he provide meat for his people?” (verse 20). We hear the skepticism in their voices. In spite of their unfaithfulness, “God gave them exactly what they had craved” (verse 29). The psalmist described with poetry (verses 23-28) what the author of the Book of Exodus recorded in prose: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. . . . In the evening a flock of quail flew Holy God, thank you for providing enough down and covered the camp’ ” (Exodus and for answering my longing to experience more of your faithful love. Amen. 16:4, 13). 22

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Friday

13 March

Numbers 21:4-9

The Bronze Snake

Where do you look for God’s healing?

The KJV and the Revised Standard Version describe these snakes as “fiery serpents.” The Israelites confessed their sin and asked Moses to pray for God to “send the snakes away from us” (verse 7). Notice, however, that God did not send the snakes away. Instead, God offered healing from the venomous bite. When we face hard times, it is natural that we pray for God to remove the cause of our suffering. We know, however, that while God does not always remove the source, God provides help and healing in countless ways. God grants comfort in the midst of grief, courage to face surgeries and medical treatments, and guidance to face uncertain paths. Where do you look when you need to be reminded of God’s healing power? For these Israelites in the wilderness, it was to a pole holding the likeness of a poisonous snake. For us it may be the cross in a church, the beauty of God’s creation, a memory of God’s past faithfulness, the Bible on our bedside table, or a statue of Christ in a hospital rotunda. Evidence of God’s faithful love and presence is all around us. All we need to do is place our faith in God and look (verses 8-9).

A statue called “Christ the Consoler, Christus Consolator” greets patients, families, and visitors as they enter the rotunda of the original administration building at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The Carrara marble statue shows the risen Savior with outstretched arms. The inscription on the base reads, “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”1 (Matthew 11:28, KJV). The statue reminds patients and families of the presence of the healing Christ and draws them toward God, who is the source of healing and hope. In this text from Numbers, we see that the Israelites were at it again, complaining about the lack of water and food in the desert. We know that God did provide food and water, but the Israelites were not thankful for the simple sustenance and declared, “We detest this miserable bread” (Numbers 21:5). It is interesting to note that these Israelites were not the original “exodus generation”2 that refused to enter the Promised Land for fear of the people who already lived there (see reading for March 10). Verses 1-3 recount the story of this new generation of Israelites faithfully facing the Canaanite king of Arad From “ ‘The Divine Healer’ Hospital: The Representation of the Consoler in Hopkins Lobby Still Offers Hope,” by Fred and claiming victory. But like the gen- Christ Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun, October 13, 1996 (baltimoresun. eration before them, they complained com/news/bs-xpm-1996-10-13-1996287233-story.html). From The CEB Study Bible, Old Testament; page 233. “against God and Moses” (verse 5). From The CEB Study Bible; page 233. This time “the Lord sent poisonous snakes” (verse 6) with a deadly bite. The God of healing and hope, thank you for Hebrew word translated here as “poison- always responding faithfully to my needs. ous” may also be translated “burning.”3 Amen. 1

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Saturday

14 March

John 3:9-15

“How Are These Things Possible?”

How have you experienced heavenly asked a question of his own, “If I have things you do not understand? told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell Have you ever asked Nicodemus’s ques- you about heavenly things?” (verse 12). tion, “How are these things possible?” Remember, Nicodemus initiated his con(John 3:9)? versation with Jesus by acknowledging Nicodemus “was a Pharisee [and] a the miraculous signs he had seen. But he Jewish leader” (verse 1). As a Pharidid not quite grasp the meaning of being see, he knew the Law to the letter and reborn in the Spirit, something he could the prophecies concerning the promised not see. Messiah. As a Jewish leader, he was a Jesus recalled a symbol from the Isramember of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin. The court had the authority to rule elites’ history that Nicodemus would on issues related to the Law and Jewish be familiar with, the snake that “Moses lifted up . . . in the wilderness” (verse 14). life. As a group, the Pharisees were antag- Jesus stated that he too would be lifted onistic toward Jesus because he was not up (verse 14). The snake represented the Messiah they expected or wanted. God’s healing power for the ancient Nicodemus was not so quick to dismiss Israelites. Jesus’ death on the cross is a Jesus. He went to Jesus privately, under visible sign of God’s healing power and the cover of darkness, and stated what he the promise of eternal life for “everyone had seen: “Rabbi, we know that you are who believes in him” (verse 15). a teacher who has come from God, for Where have you seen miraculous signs no one could do these miraculous signs and glimpses of God’s kingdom on earth? that you do unless God is with him” Perhaps you have witnessed healing in a (verse 2). Jesus knew Nicodemus was broken relationship, an answer to prayer searching, and he responded by saying, “Unless someone is born anew, it’s not for guidance and wisdom, or “the peace possible to see God’s kingdom” (verse 3). of God that exceeds all understanding” “Born anew” may also be translated (Philippians 4:7) after giving your wor“born from above.”1 Nicodemus ques- ries to God. “How are these things postioned how it was possible to be born sible?” They are possible through God’s a second time. Even after Jesus’ expla- Spirit and Jesus Christ who was lifted up nation of new birth through the waters (John 3:14) for us. of baptism and God’s Spirit (verse 8), Nicodemus was confused. He asked again, From The CEB Study Bible, New Testament; page 176. “How are these things possible?” (verse 9). Jesus knew that Nicodemus was edu- Loving God, thank you for the promise cated in the Jewish faith. Was he sur- of eternal life through Christ who was prised by Nicodemus’s question? Jesus lifted up for me. Amen. 1

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Sunday

15 March

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Warning From the Wilderness Generation1 (Third Sunday in Lent)

How does the faithfulness of former gen- things exist through him, and we live erations help you remain faithful? through him” (8:6). With this in mind, he wrote that the spiritual rock that proThe Old Testament prophets and psalm- vided water in the wilderness was Christ ists recalled the story of Israel’s escape (10:4). from Egypt and sojourn in the wilderness Paul’s tone quickly changed in verse 5 as they reminded the people of God’s when he recalled the disobedience of faithfulness and called them to repentance the wilderness generation. He warned and renewed commitments to obedience. the church in Corinth not to “crave evil Paul recalled Israel’s wilderness story in things” (verse 6), “worship false gods” his letter to the church in Corinth. Even (verse 7) “practice sexuality immoralthough he was writing to a mostly Gen- ity” (verse 8), “test Christ” (verse 9) or tile Christian audience, he referred to “grumble (verse 10). For the wilderness the ancient Israelites as “our ancestors” generation, the penalty for these sins (1 Corinthians 10:1), showing that the was death. story of God’s people in Old Testament The Corinthian Christians faced the times is part of our story as Christians. temptations of idolatry and faithlessness In this passage, Paul compared the role of Moses to that of Christ. God worked because they were “worried about losstatus or assistance from through Moses to save the Israelites. God ing their social 1 works through Christ to bring salvation unbelievers.” Paul encouraged them to remain faithful and trust God to “supto all people. Paul’s images remind us of the sacra- ply a way out so that you will be able to ments. The Israelites passed through the endure it” (verse 13). God remained faithful to the wilderwaters of the sea, miraculously not getting wet, on their way to a new life of ness generation, and the Israelites who freedom. The waters of Christian bap- remained obedient lived to enter the Promised Land. Through Christ, God provides tism symbolize new life in Christ. The manna and water that nourished a way for us to enter God’s kingdom. the people in the wilderness was real God is present with us and supplies what food and drink they could touch and we need to resist temptation and remain taste. Paul called them spiritual food faithful. and drink (verses 3-4) because God provided them. This bread and water, like the cloud (verse 1), reminded the people of God’s presence. We are reminded of the bread and juice of Holy Commu- From The CEB Study Bible; page 321. nion, real food and drink that symbolize Thank you, God, for your eternal faithChrist’s presence. Earlier in this letter, Paul proclaimed, fulness to each generation. Supply me “And there is one Lord Jesus Christ. All with what I need to follow you. Amen. 1

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Monday

16 March

Proverbs 1:10-17

Do Not Follow the Way of Sinners

What helps you remain focused on fol- 11-12) and (2) stealing “wealth” and “money” (verses 13-14). These sinners lowing the way of God? do not obey God’s commandment to love. When I was a teenager, I received an They seek to satisfy their self-centered archery set for Christmas. I spent many cravings at the expense of others. The afternoons in the backyard practicing. Dad author voices the instruction again, often joined me, and together we devel- “keep your feet from their way, because oped our skill and shared our excitement their feet run to evil” (verses 15-16). as our arrows came closer and closer to The Israelites in the Old Testament the center of the target. wilderness (the theme of the readings One afternoon, it finally happened! last week) endured suffering until they My arrow flew straight to the bullseye. learned to run to God and follow God’s I was so excited! I wanted to share the way. The readings this week prepare us news with Dad, but he was out of town to enter a New Testament wilderness that week at a conference. So I sent him where Jesus suffered temptation from a postcard with four simple words: “I hit the devil who tried in vain to “entice” the bullseye.” He told me his associate at (verse 10) him to turn away from God. the conference wondered at the odd mesWe “miss the mark” when we follow sage; but Dad knew the significance of the way of sinners. We “hit the bullseye” the accomplishment, and he was happy when we follow the way of God. We to receive the news. know that only Jesus was able to follow In Proverbs 1, the Hebrew word for God’s way perfectly. To borrow imag“sinners” (verse 10) may also be trans- ery from archery, there will be times lated “one who misses the mark.”1 In when we don’t quite hit the bullseye and this context, sin is “to miss the mark” of sometimes we may miss the target all being who God calls us to be.2 The author together! Yet when we place our faith in of Proverbs 1 had in mind “professional God and crave God’s will for our lives, sinners”3 who have chosen a way of life we can trust God’s forgiveness when we that is in opposition to God’s will. miss. We can look to God for guidance Many of the Proverbs are addressed to and know that our lives are secure in “My son” (verse 10), indicating young God’s faithful love. men in that day who were preparing for adulthood. Today, in our culture and context, we interpret these words of wisdom to be for everyone. The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 4 (Abingdon Press); page 787. The message is simple: “don’t let sin- From From The CEB Study Bible, Old Testament; page 1007. ners entice you. Don’t go when they say: From The Interpreter’s Bible; page 787. Come with us” (verses 10-11). The sinners’ goal is twofold: (1) to have “fun” Loving God, steady my aim, and guide causing the “innocent” to suffer (verses me as I follow your way for my life. Amen. 1 2 3

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Tuesday

17 March

Matthew 12:43-45

Vacant, Cleaned, Decorated

How do you keep sin from moving into he had cautioned the people against practicing their “religion in front of people to your life? draw their attention” (6:1). He criticized I love this time of year, when colorful the practice of making a public show spring flowers replace the browns and when giving to the poor (6:2-4) and grays of winter. As I write this, much praying in public places “so that people of our front yard is pink, covered with will see them” (6:5). When practiced cherry blossom petals that have fallen in these ways, these religious acts are from the tree. Never mind that the floor merely decorations in a person’s life that of our foyer is also pink with petals that satisfy his or her self-centered desires. have been tracked in. They bring glory to the person, but not My husband is the gardener in the to God. family; but at this time of year, I find John the Baptist announced, “Change myself thinking about digging in the dirt your hearts and lives! Here comes the and planting a few flowers. I have dis- kingdom of heaven!” (3:2). It is not enough covered though, that once the ground has to rid our lives of sin. We must change been cleared of weeds, the flowers need our hearts and lives and fill our houses to be planted soon, before weeds once (12:44) with love for God and neighbor. again overtake the space. When we do this, our religious practices, Jesus told a parable about “when an including generosity and prayer, are no unclean spirit leaves a person” (Matthew longer decorations. They are genuine 12:43). The unclean spirit in this parable expressions of our devotion to God. represents sin. Just as weeds can return Just as we must tend a flower garden and take over a cleared garden plot, sin to keep out the weeds and encourage can return and reclaim a person’s life. In Jesus’ story, the unclean spirit healthy plant growth, we must tend our “wanders through dry places looking for own hearts and lives to keep out sin and a place to rest” (verse 43). Finding none, grow in our relationship with God. If the it returns to its former dwelling. The person in Jesus’ parable had done this, unclean spirit must have been delighted the unclean spirit would have found a to find the home was not only “vacant” no-vacancy sign when it returned to its but also “cleaned up, and decorated” former dwelling. (verse 44). It moves back in, bringing “with it seven other spirits more evil than itself” (verse 45). We can imagine the unclean spirits making the dwelling a party house for sin, while the “person is worse off at the end than at the beginMerciful God, help me clean my heart ning” (verse 45). This story is a warning to “an evil and of sin, and fill my heart with love for unfaithful generation” (verse 39). Earlier, you. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Wednesday

18 March

James 1:2-4, 13-15

Joyful Endurance

We recall the woman in the garden In what ways have you relied on God to help you endure hardship and temptation? of Eden who craved the forbidden fruit and the Israelites in the wilderness who When my husband was diagnosed with craved the foods and security they had a rare form of cancer, I did not respond known under Egyptian bondage. James with joy. I cried and felt frightened. Why warns that “once those cravings conwould James, writing to Jewish Chris- ceive, they give birth to sin; and . . . tians, instruct his readers to “think of the death” (verse 15). This proved true for various tests you encounter as occasions the man and woman who were expelled for joy” (James 1:2)? Doesn’t that seem from the garden of Eden and the disobecounterintuitive? dient Israelites who died before reaching The Greek noun for “test” in this pas- the land of promise. sage has two meanings. In verse 2, it James affirms that God is the source signifies an “external hardship.”1 We are of “every good [and] perfect gift” and all faced with external hardships that God’s character never changes (verse 17). can range in scope from minor inconve- God does not test or tempt us with evil niences to major crises. James instructs (verse 13). Instead, God promises to be us to view these hardships “as occasions with us through all the tests and temptafor joy” (verse 2) because “the testing of tions we face. [our] faith produces endurance” (verse 3). When we place our faith in God, we As my husband and I persevered find courage to turn away from sin and through the confusing layout of medical strength to endure every hardship. Our center hallways and the frightening world faith grows stronger as God remains of cancer and treatments, we trusted with us through these challenges. James God to be with us. We felt our ability to is right. We do experience joy in the endure grow stronger as we continued to midst of difficult circumstances as we look to God to help us. James concluded receive God’s tender mercy and rest in this section of his letter, declaring that steadfast love. “those who stand firm during testing are blessed” (verse 12). What blessings have you received as you have endured various external hardships? In verse 13, James has another meaning in mind for the Greek word for “test.” He is no longer writing about an external hardship but an “inner impulse to evil.”2 From The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12 (Abingdon Press); page 21. James was quick to say that this “inner From The Interpreter’s Bible; page 21. impulse to evil” is not from God. The source of this temptation is a person’s Merciful God, we thank you for your con“own cravings” (verse 14) to fulfill his tinuing faithfulness and your gift of joy, even in the midst of hardship. Amen. or her self-centered desires. 1 2

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Thursday

19 March

IDeuteronomy 8:1-10

Not by Bread Alone

The text says that, in order to live the How do your past experiences of God’s faithfulness help you continue to walk life God desires for us, we also need in God’s ways? God’s word. The Word calls us to obedience so we may know God’s blessings I have shared with friends that I order (Duteronomy 8:1). God’s commandment my groceries online, and they are deliv- (verse 1) instructs us in the way we are ered to our house. What I mean by this is to live in relationship with God and one that I email a grocery list to my husband, another. The Word calls us to depend on and he picks up the groceries on his way God in all circumstances and to trust the home from work! divine promises of presence and proviAs I read this text from Deuteronomy, sion, healing and hope. I started thinking about adding some Throughout Israel’s story of disobediitems to the list: “wheat and barley,” figs, ence and wavering faith is God’s story “pomegranates . . . olive oil and honey” of steadfast love and forgiveness. Moses (Deuteronomy 8:8). Did your mouth start encouraged the people to “remember the to water as you read this text? Moses long road on which the Lord your God proclaimed, “people don’t live on bread led you during these forty years in the alone. No, they live based on whatever desert so he could humble you, testing the Lord says” (verse 3). you to find out what was in your heart: As we have seen, the Israelites learned whether you would keep his commandthis the hard way during their journey ments or not” (verse 2). Moses offered through the wilderness. They believed assurance that God would indeed fulfill their survival depended on having all their the promise of bringing them to the wonphysical needs met, including the needs derful land. In response, the people “will for food and water. In truth, their survival depended on God and God’s word bless the Lord” (verse 10). During challenging times, we may for them. God spoke, and water poured out from a rock and manna appeared concern ourselves with meeting our so that all could eat and have enough. physical needs and forget to listen to God spoke a promise to the Israelites: what God is saying. When we open our God would bring them “to a wonderful hearts to God, we often find that it is in land” (verse 7), where there would be no the midst of trying times that we experishortage of food and no lack of anything ence God’s grace and love more deeply. (verse 9). But at times, the Israelites lost Moses’ words to the Israelites so long faith in this promise and sinned against ago ring true for us today! God with their disobedience. This text does not say that we do not need bread to live. When speaking about Loving and faithful God, help me live food and clothing, Jesus said, “Your according to what you say to me. Thank heavenly Father knows that you need you for your abundant gifts of mercy them” (Matthew 6:32). and love, figs and honey. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Friday

20 March

Deuteronomy 6:10-19

The Lord Is Present and Passionate

What helps you continue to revere and journey. They would need to remember serve the Lord when you are tempted that these gifts of stability and abundance were from God and not the fruit of to turn away? their own labor, for they didn’t build the When we have a change in circum- towns and they didn’t plant the vines and stances, we may find ourselves facing trees (verses 10-11). How easy it can be a whole new set of temptations that can to take such gifts for granted and forget draw us away from God. For example, to give thanks to God. Moses warned the Israelites that they if we are laid off from a job, we may grumble against God for allowing this would also encounter “other gods, those misfortune. In contrast, if we receive a gods of the people around you” (verse 14). raise in our job, we may be tempted to He told them to resist the temptation to give credit to ourselves for the promo- test (verse 16) the Lord against these tion and place our trust in our increased “other gods . . . because the Lord your God, who is with you and among you, financial resources instead of God. God called Moses to lead the people is a passionate God” (verses 14-15), or out of bondage and through the wilder- as the NRSV translates, “a jealous God.” Today, as in ancient times, these other ness. God also called Moses to prepare the people for their new life in the Prom- gods, whether they be figures carved ised Land. In this text, Moses warns the in stone and metal or idols like wealth, Israelites of the new temptations they power, and popularity, have no feelings will face in the land God promised to and no ability to move about on their their “ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and own and remain among us. These other gods are not jealous for our attention and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 6:10). Moses said, “Watch yourself! Don’t for- are not passionate for us. Do we want to get” (verse12). We can imagine modern- devote our lives to things that care nothday parents saying these words to their ing for us? Moses called the people to “Revere . . . children as they drop them off at elementary school, as they help them move into serve . . . and take [their] solemn pledges a college dormitory, as they wave them in [God’s] name” (verse 13). In these off in a car with a sign that reads “Just ways, they would show their allegiance Married.” We need to watch ourselves, to the Lord. In what ways do you show especially in new situations, and not for- your gratitude and loyalty to our everpresent and passionate Lord? get God’s call for our lives. The Israelites would find established towns, well-stocked houses, and an abundance of food in the new land (verse 11). These would be welcome changes after the Thank you, God, for living among us makeshift dwellings, limited resources, and remaining with us. Thank you for and simple menu of their wilderness your steadfast love. Amen. 30

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Saturday

21 March

Hebrews 4:11-16

One Who Is Tempted as We Are

How do you find comfort in knowing is not a reference to the Scriptures but that Jesus can sympathize with your to the “rich Jewish traditions about the weakness? logos. . . . God’s word that accomplishes God’s will in the world.”2 Humans are Are there stories from your past that not able to hide any disobedience from family and friends just won’t let go? God, “because God’s word is living [and] What about the time you forgot the pic- active” (verse 12). God’s word penenic cooler or knocked over the Christmas trates and judges “the heart’s thoughts tree while hiding a present behind it? and intentions” (verse 12). We might have been more careful if we One reason the story of Israel’s dishad known these stories of our mishaps obedience in the wilderness has been would be shared (often with laughter at retold through the generations is because our expense) through the generations. humankind continues to face the temptaWe may wonder if the Israelite wilder- tion to disobey. The author of Hebrews ness generation would have behaved dif- offers encouragement by reminding his ferently if they had known the story of readers that Jesus also faced temptation their failure would be repeated to future and is able then to “sympathize with our generations by Old Testament prophets weaknesses” (verse 15). and New Testament writers, including Just as God remained faithful to the Paul (see the reading for March 15) and Israelites and led them into the land of the author of Hebrews. Of course, the promise, God remains faithful to us. story of the rebellious wilderness gen- Through his Son, Jesus, “we can receive eration is not told with good-natured mercy and find grace when we need laughter but as a stern warning of the conhelp” (verse 16). God sees our disobedisequences of disobedience toward God. ence. God also sees our struggle and our The author of Hebrews referred back repentance and responds with mercy and to Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7-8, 11. In grace. the psalm, “rest” refers to the Promised Land. For the author of Hebrews, “rest” (Hebrews 3:11) has two meanings: “Believers enter God’s rest every ‘today’ and then enter God’s sabbath rest when they reach their final destination of God’s coming kingdom.”1 As Christians, we make a choice every From The CEB Study Bible, New Testament; page 438. “today” about our obedience to God. The From The CEB Study Bible, New Testament; page 439. author of Hebrews graphically points out that there can be no fudging on our Thank you, God, for your mercy and part because of the nature of God’s word grace. Help me align my thoughts and (4:12). In this context, “God’s word” intentions with your will. Amen. 1 2

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Sunday

22 March

Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus Faithfully Resists Temptation (Fourth Sunday in Lent)

How does Jesus’ experience of tempta- himself, instead of trusting God to protion in the wilderness help you remain vide for his physical needs. Second, the tempter told Jesus to throw himself off faithful? “the highest point of the temple” (verses Israel sojourned in the wilderness for 5-6) to test God’s promise: “I will com40 years. Then, “the Lord gave to Israel mand my angels concerning you, and all the land he had pledged to give to they will take you up in their hands so their ancestors. . . . Every promise was that you won’t hit your foot on a stone” fulfilled” (Joshua 21:43, 45). Joshua (verse 6). Third, the tempter offered Jesus said, “So now, revere the Lord. Serve worldly kingdoms and glory (verse 8) in him honestly and faithfully” (Joshua exchange for Jesus’ worship. 24:14). Moses gave these same instrucJesus resisted the tempter’s demands tions while the Israelites were still in the and quoted instructions God gave the wilderness (Deuteronomy 6:13-14; see Israelites in the wilderness: “People won’t the reading for March 20). live only by bread, but by every word We, like the Israelites, are tempted to spoken by God” (verse 4). “Don’t test turn away from God’s will. We find com- the Lord your God” (verse 7). “You will fort in knowing Jesus understands our worship the Lord your God and serve temptation firsthand. Matthew writes, only him” (verse 10). “When Jesus was baptized. . . . he saw It is not easy for us to resist temptathe Spirit of God coming down like a tion. Sometimes we may feel too weak, dove and resting on him. . . . Then the perhaps from hunger. Sometimes the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so pull to satisfy our self-centered desires that the devil might tempt him” (Matthew and embrace the world’s secular values 3:16; 4:1). “The tempter” (verse 3) is the is strong. We find comfort in knowing source of temptation. Matthew identifies Jesus experienced these same temptathe tempter as the devil, “a Greek term,” tions and knows how we feel. and Satan, “his Hebrew name.”1 When we share our struggles in prayer, Matthew notes the repetition of the we are pouring out our hearts to One who has number 40. The Israelites sojourned in walked this road before us. We trust God the wilderness 40 years. Moses “didn’t to provide us with courage and strength eat any bread or drink any water” during so we may follow his Son’s example and the “forty days and forty nights” he was resist the tempter’s influence. on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). Jesus “fasted for forty days and forty nights” From The CEB Study Bible, New Testament; page 10. (Matthew 4:2). The tempter tested Jesus’ obedience to Holy God, thank you for Jesus, who lived God in three ways. First, knowing Jesus among us and knows the temptations “was starving” (verse 2), he told Jesus to we face. Help me follow his example perform a miracle and create bread for and remain faithful. Amen. 1

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Monday

23 March

2 Kings 23:34–24:7

Trouble in the Promised Land

When have you witnessed pain and loss kings who “did what was right in the Lord’s eyes” (2 Kings 18:3; 22:2): Hezekiah that occurred as the result of sin? (715–687 bc)4 and Josiah (640–609 bc).5 You would think that the people of Unfortunately, two kings who “did what Israel would have learned a lesson or two was evil in the Lord’s eyes” (21:2, 20), about obedience and faithfulness from Manasseh and Amon, ruled between them. the sinful wilderness generation. The Manasseh was so evil that “the Lord story of the “poisonous snakes” (Num- didn’t turn away from the great rage that bers 21:6; see the reading for March 13) burned against Judah on account of all should have been enough to convince that Manasseh had done to make him them to watch their step, literally and angry. The Lord said, ‘I will remove spiritually! Judah from my presence just as I removed These past two weeks, we have exam- Israel’” (23:26-27). ined Scripture passages about Israel’s King Josiah died in battle against the journey toward the Promised Land. This Egyptians, and his son Jehoahaz was week, we look at Scripture texts about anointed king. Pharaoh Neco took Jehothe people’s exile from that land. ahaz prisoner, “imposed a fine on the After King Solomon died, the Hebrew land” (verse 33), and made Jehoiakim monarchy was divided into two king- king (verse 34). Unlike his father, Josiah, doms: Israel in the north and Judah in the Jehoiakim “did what was evil in the south. Jeroboam I became the first king Lord’s eyes” (verse 37). He submitted of the Northern Kingdom in 922 bc.1 to Pharaoh Neco and then to Babylon’s The ancient historian writes, “The Isra- King Nebuchadnezzar. When he later elites continued walking in all the sins rebelled, the Lord was not with him “on that Jeroboam did. . . . the Lord finally account of all the sins that Manasseh had removed Israel from his presence. That committed” (24:3). When Jehoiakim died, was exactly what he had warned through the nation of Babylon controlled the Promall his servants the prophets. So Israel ised Land. was exiled from its land to Assyria” Sin has painful consequences and leaves (2 Kings 17:22-23). us feeling separated from God. But sin Rehoboam became the first king of does not need to be the end of our story, Judah, also in 922 bc.2 Under his leader- as God accepts our true repentance and ship, “Judah did evil in the Lord’s eyes” forgives us. (1 Kings 14:22). Some of Judah’s kings were obedient to the Lord; for example, Judah’s third king: “Asa did the right From The CEB Study Bible, Old Testament; page 543. things in the Lord’s eyes, just like his Merciful Lord, thank you for your forfather David” (1 Kings 15:11). 3 After Israel fell to Assyria in 722 bc, giveness. Help me do what is right in the kingdom of Judah was ruled by two your eyes. Amen. 1-5

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Tuesday

24 March

2 Kings 24:8-17

Leaving the Promised Land

When have you or someone you know 24:14). They did not have the resources experienced closed doors and lost oppor- to rebuild the city and posed little threat tunities because of sin? of retaliation. Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled Isaiah’s prophJosiah was one of Judah’s faithful kings ecy when he took Judah’s treasures from and “did what was right in the Lord’s the Temple and the palace (verse 13). Years eyes” (2 Kings 22:2). When his sons, earlier, after King Hezekiah had shown Jehoahaz and then Jehoiakim, succeeded him as king, they “did what was evil in messengers from Babylon “everything in his treasury” (20:13), Isaiah prophesied, the Lord’s eyes” (23:32, 37). Judah lost control of the Promised saying, “Listen to the Lord’s word: The Land after Josiah’s death. First, Pharaoh days are nearly here when everything . . . Neco took control; then “King Nebu- will be carried off to Babylon” (20:16-17). chadnezzar of Babylon attacked” (24:1). After this first deportation of the people of Jehoiakim kept the peace and “submitted Judah, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Jehoito him for three years” (verse 1) before achin’s uncle, Zedekiah, to be king of rebelling. Judah. After Jehoiakim died, his son JehoiThe people of Judah associated God’s achin became king. Three months into presence with the Temple in Jerusalem. his reign, “the officers of Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem and laid To their way of thinking, they were lossiege to the city” (verse 10), probably in ing land and God’s presence when they were exiled to Babylon. What were they retaliation for Jehoiakim’s rebellion. A Babylonian document, Chronicles thinking as they walked away from Jeruof the Chaldaean Kings, gives the exact salem to an unknown land? Were they date as “March 16, 597 bc.”1 In an effort remembering God’s promises? Were they to save Jerusalem, King Jehoiachin sur- remorseful about their sin against God? rendered, “along with his mother, his Sinful actions can lead to broken relaservants, his officers, and his officials” tionships and lost opportunities. This text (verse 12). When Assyria took the north- from 2 Kings 24 does not include words ern kingdom of Israel, they deported of hope. We will see, however, that God everyone. In contrast, when Babylon did not turn his back forever on the peotook Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar exiled only King Jehoiachin’s family and “the ple. With God there is always hope! officials . . . military leaders . . . skilled workers and metalworkers . . . the land’s elite leaders [and] warriors” (verses 14-16). The prophet Ezekiel was also among these exiles (Ezekiel 1:1-3). Nebuchadnezzar “left behind . . . the poorest of the land’s people” (2 Kings 34

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1

From The Introduction to the Bible, Hayes; page 203.

Holy Lord, “Cast me not away from thy presence. . . . Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (Psalm 51:11-12, KJV). Amen. DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Wednesday

25 March

2 Kings 24:18–25:7

Judah's Last King

What do you do with undeserved sec- his sons, and taken away from the Promised Land in chains. ond (and third) chances? We learn in 1 Samuel 8 that God We pick up the story of Judah’s exile wanted the people of Israel to honor God with the reign of King Zedekiah, Judah’s as their king. Before God granted their last king. The prophet Ezekiel, who was request for a human king, God warned taken to Babylon with the first group of them about the risks. Yes, a few of the exiles, spoke the Lord’s words concern- kings walked in the ways of the Lord, but most of them did not obey the first ing Zedekiah (Ezekiel 17:12-15). This prince, King Zedekiah, followed commandment: “You must have no other in the footsteps of Jehoiakim and Jehoi- gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7) or achin and “did what was evil in the Lord’s the commandment to “love the Lord eyes” (2 Kings 24:19). Even though he your God with all your heart, all your had witnessed God’s judgment against being, and all your strength” (Deuterhis people, he ignored the prophets and onomy 6:5). Still today, we see the suffering that refused to turn his heart and the hearts occurs when these commandments are of the people of Judah back to the Lord. broken, when people act out of hatred He ignored the prophets, that is, until he instead of love, when people worship needed something from the Lord. various idols instead of God. King Nebuchadnezzar left Zedekiah in What helps you remain obedient to Jerusalem with “the poorest of the land’s the commands to love and honor God? people” (24:14) and limited resources. How can you encourage others to remain In spite of the fact that he was power- faithful to God? less to defend Jerusalem against the Babylonian army on his own, Zedekiah rebelled, believing the Egyptian army would help him. Zedekiah sent messengers to the prophet Jeremiah with a plea for the Lord: “Please pray for us to the Lord our God” (Jeremiah 37:3). The Lord’s response was not what Zedekiah wanted to hear: “Pharaoh’s army that came to assist you is heading back to Egypt. The Babylonians will return and attack this city. They will capture it and burn it down” (Jeremiah 37:7-8). Zedekiah was captured during Loving God, I offer you my undivided the battle, forced to witness the death of worship and my faithful love. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Thursday

26 March

2 Kings 25:8-21

Destruction, Desolation, Departure

When have you felt separated from God? historian also recorded that, at the time these articles were crafted, “due to the What objects and furnishings adorn the very large number of objects, Solomon worship space in your church? From what didn’t even try to weigh the bronze” materials are they crafted? Which items (1 Kings 7:47). are simple in design? Which items are Nebuzaradan exiled the remaining peoornate? ple in Judah, with the exception of “some In our church sanctuary, the cross and of the land’s poor people” (2 Kings candlesticks on the altar are brass, the 25:12). If any of the exiles looked back chalice and the plate that hold the Com- as they were being forced to leave, they munion elements look as if they have been saw their Promised Land and holy city molded from clay, and the altar table and of Jerusalem in ruins, smoldering and pulpit are wood. These items are special desolate. because they point to God. We treat them When the Temple was built, God promwith reverence because they draw us into ised to live among the people if they faiththe presence of our holy Lord. fully obeyed the commands. The people King Solomon oversaw the building of chose to distance themselves from God the Temple and the palace in Jerusalem. through their disobedience. As a result, He started construction of the Temple God sent them away from the Promised 480 years “after the Israelites left Egypt” Land. Did the exiles see any hope for and “built it in seven years” (1 Kings 6:1, 38). He completed building the palace in reconciliation? We read this story as post-Resurrection 13 years (1 Kings 7:1). Solomon also Christians. We know that, yes, God offers oversaw the work of making all the equipment for the Temple, which is described us opportunities for repentance and reconciliation with God. in detail in 1 Kings 7. After Zedekiah was exiled, the commander of the Babylonian guard, Nebuzaradan, was given the task of destroying Jerusalem, including the Temple, palace, and Temple equipment. “The Sea” (2 Kings 25:16) was “a tank of cast metal . . . circular in shape, fifteen feet from rim to rim , seven and a half feet high, forty-five in circumference” (1 Kings 7:23). It held roughly 12,000 gallons of water and was From The CEB Study Bible, Old Testament; page 529. used for rituals of purification.1 It is interesting to note the historian’s comment that “the bronze . . . was too God of hope, thank you for offering me the heavy to weigh” (2 Kings 25:16). The gift of reconciliation with you. Amen. 1

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Friday

27 March

2 Kings 25:22-30

Undeserved Mercy

When have you experienced God’s mercy Nebuchadnezzar’s son became king, he and compassion? freed Judah’s king, Jehoiachin, from prison and treated him with kindness. Did this The Israelites’ history of kingship came mean God had not forgotten the people full circle when the remaining leaders and that their suffering in exile would in Judah met Gedaliah in Mizpah. Gen- come to an end? erations earlier, the Lord revealed God’s Perhaps the exiles remembered God’s choice of Saul as Israel’s first king at Miz- promise to David: “Your throne will be pah. At that time, the Lord also pointed established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). out Israel’s disobedience in requesting Perhaps they remembered Joshua’s words a king, saying, “I brought Israel up out to their ancestors in their early days of Egypt. . . . But today you’ve rejected in the Promised Land: “Choose today your God who saved you from all your troubles and difficulties by saying, ‘No! whom you will serve. Choose the gods Appoint a king over us!’ ” (1 Samuel whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates. . . . But my family and 10:18-19). It is interesting, too, that after Geda- I will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). liah’s murder, the Judeans fled back to As exiles in Babylon, they were now livEgypt where the Israelites’ story of deliv- ing beyond the Euphrates. Perhaps they found hope in the proerance began. They feared retaliation from Babylon for the death of Gedaliah, since phetic words in Deuteronomy: “You will King Nebuchadnezzar had been the one seek the Lord your God from there, and to appoint him governor over Judah. you will find him . . . you will obey his Before they went to Egypt, they asked voice . . . God is a compassionate God. the prophet Jeremiah to pray on their He won’t let you go” (Deuteronomy behalf, saying, “May the Lord your 4:29-31). God show us where we should go and As we observe our world today, we see what we should do” (Jeremiah 42:3). the suffering that occurs when people Jeremiah prayed and then shared God’s follow their own way instead of God’s word: “If you live in this land, I will way. We, like the exiles of Israel and build you up . . . I will be merciful to Judah, may find hope in the prophetic you” (Jeremiah 42:10, 12). They chose not to trust Jeremiah’s report and God’s words of Deuteronomy: God is compaspromise of mercy. They “departed for sionate and won’t let us go. When we Egypt because they were afraid of the seek God, we will find God. Chaldeans” (2 Kings 25:26), in spite of the Lord’s warning that, in Egypt, they would “die by the sword, famine, and Merciful God, forgive me for rebelling disease” (Jeremiah 42:17). Do we detect a glimmer of hope in the against your will. Thank you for your closing verses of 2 Kings? When King compassion. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Saturday

28 March

2 Chronicles 36:17-21

An End in Sight

How have you experienced God’s gifts Babylon for seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11). God also said through Jeremiah, “When of hope and rest? Babylon’s seventy years are up, I will Two of our most precious gifts are come and fulfill my gracious promise hope and rest. Old Testament Scriptures to bring you back to this place” (Jertell us of God’s call to rest. The Creation emiah 29:10). Second Chronicles 36:20 story proclaims that, after God created was written after the nation of Persia the heavens and the earth, “God rested conquered Babylon and the exiles had from all the work that he had done” (Gen- been allowed to return home. The writer esis 2:2). God called the Israelites to mentions the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s make rest part of their lives by observ- prophecy and the completion of the seving a sabbath day of rest on the seventh enty years (verse 21). day of the week (Deuteronomy 5:12-14). The Old Testament Scriptures witness God even proclaimed a time of rest for to God’s steadfast faithfulness in spite the land, saying, “You will plant your of the people’s continuing disobedience. fields for six years . . . in the seventh year In addition to the lists of blessings and the land will have a special sabbath rest” punishments in Leviticus 26, we find this (Leviticus 25:3-4). promise from God: “If they confess their Leviticus 26 describes the blessings and their ancestors’ guilt . . . I will not the people would receive if they lived reject them” (Leviticus 26:40, 44). faithfully (Leviticus 26:1-13) and the God’s words to the exiles bring compunishments they would endure if they fort to us today: “I know the plans I have disobeyed (Leviticus 26:14-39). One of in mind for you, declares the Lord; they the punishments was exile from their are plans for peace, not disaster, to give home and the devastation of their land. you a future filled with hope” (Jeremiah God said, “While it is devastated and 29:11). We do not always know how you are in enemy territory, the land will long a time of suffering or trial will last, enjoy its sabbaths . . . it will have the rest and at times, we may be able to see only it didn’t have during the sabbaths you disaster ahead of us. God promises to lislived in it” (Leviticus 26:34-35). ten and be present (Jeremiah 29:12, 14). Second Chronicles 36 reports that dur- We can trust God’s promise of hope, and ing Judah’s exile, “the land finally enjoyed rest in that steadfast love. its sabbath rest” (2 Chronicles 36:21). This statement offers hope as it leaves open the possibility that the exiles will return home after this season of rest is From The CEB Study Bible, Old Testament; page 721. over.1 The prophet Jeremiah spoke God’s word of hope concerning the Exile, saying, Thank you, God, for your promise of hope “These nations will serve the king of and your steadfast love. Amen. 1

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Sunday

29 March

Ezekiel 36:33-38

Like the Garden of Eden (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

What images symbolize hope for you?

would allow the people to repopulate the land and increase so they would again be “the holy flock” God initially called them to be (verses 37-38). In this way, God would show the house of Israel and the nations that God is the Lord (verses 23, 37). We find many symbols of hope in a garden, especially in the spring, as colorful blossoms and green foliage transform barren winter landscapes. For God’s people in exile, the garden of Eden was a symbol of hope. Isaiah prophesied, “The Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her ruins. He will make her desert like Eden and her wilderness like the Lord’s garden” (Isaiah 51:3). Garden imagery is included in descriptions of heaven in the Book of Revelation. Christ promises “the tree of life . . . is in God’s paradise” (Revelation 2:7; see reading for March 1). Just as God delivered the people from exile and brought new life to their devastated land, God delivers us from our times of suffering and offers us new life with new opportunities. Where do you see signs of God’s healing and hope? How have you experienced God’s merciful love and faithfulness?

This is the last reading in this unit that focuses on suffering. We started in the garden of Eden where the first man and woman suffered shame and expulsion from the garden. We read about the suffering the Israelites experienced as they journeyed across an Old Testament wilderness toward the Promised Land and the suffering they endured when they were exiled from that land to live among foreign people. In all these instances, the people brought the suffering upon themselves because they refused to obey God. We have also read accounts of Jesus’ suffering: first, in the garden of Gethsemane where he prayed with sadness and anxiety (“If it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me,” Matthew 26:39) and, second, in a wilderness where he suffered hunger and temptation. Jesus’ suffering was also brought about by disobedience, but not his own! Jesus is without sin. Jesus willingly suffered and accepted punishment for the sin of all humankind so humankind may know salvation. After the people of Judah were exiled to Babylon, the Promised Land “seemed a wasteland to all who passed by” (Ezekiel 36:34). Ezekiel proclaimed God’s promise to the people in exile that God would cleanse the people of their guilt and “cause the cities to be inhabited” (verse 33). God would allow the people to return to the land of promise, to rebuild and to Holy and merciful God, thank you for farm, so the desolate land would “become beautiful gardens and your amazing gift like the garden of Eden” (verse 35). God of hope. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Monday

30 March

Psalm 22:1-11

All Alone?

How do your feelings affect the per- (1 Samuel 18–31)? Was it when he was ception of your reality and shape your usurped as king of Israel by his son Absabeliefs about God’s relationship with you? lom (2 Samuel 14–18)? Was it when David’s newborn son died due to David’s Perhaps you have faced a difficult time sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the and it seemed that God had abandoned murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel you to face the circumstances alone. Or 11–12)? Regardless of the historical setting, perhaps it was during a time in which you no longer felt connected to God. It David was in distress and believed that is easy during these moments to believe God had abandoned him. However, accordthat God has left us. This is due in part to ing to Psalm 22:3-5, 9-10, David recogthe role that our emotions play. Our emo- nized that, despite his personal feelings, tions inevitably affect, in positive and negative God had not abandoned him. First, in verse 3, David rightly recways, how we understand relationships. Quite often, we consume media and ognizes that God is holy. Regardless of entertainment that reinforce the perspec- David’s circumstances or his relationship tive that good relationships are built on with God, God remains holy. Second, in good feelings. Romantic movies, for verses 4 and 5, David makes an implicit example, suggest that raw, passionate statement regarding God’s trustworthilove is enough to keep couples happily ness. He explains that God is worthy of together, despite the reality that they his trust because God has proved to be trustworthy in the past. He states that bicker and disagree constantly. Anyone who has been married for a his ancestors trusted God, and in their substantial amount of time understands despair, God delivered them. Finally, in that “feelings,” although important, are verse 10, he emphatically declares that not strong enough to carry a marriage into God has been with him since his birth. In maturity. Consequently, when we base other words, regardless of the many cirour relationship with God on the premise cumstances in which David found himthat feelings or circumstances are a valid self or the feelings associated with those indicator of our standing with God, then circumstances, he knew that God had not we can erroneously assume that God has forgotten or abandoned him. Such a message is informative for our abandoned us when those feelings or cirown walk with God. God’s salvation, cumstances seem to indicate that. David seems to suggest that he went enacted on the cross, proves that God through a similar experience. According has neither abandoned us nor forsaken to Psalm 22:1-2, 6-8, David felt aban- us. Be encouraged. God has not forsaken doned by God because of the difficult you! circumstances in which he found himself. The context of the psalm does not Dear Lord, there are times in my life identify the historical setting for David’s when I feel as though you have abangroaning. Was it when Saul consistently doned me. However, I know that you and constantly sought after his life have not. Thank you. Amen. 40

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Tuesday

31 March

Psalm 22:12-18

God Is Faithful

How did God respond to Jesus’ death God forsook Jesus on the cross due to humankind’s sins. However, standard on the cross? Jewish practice was to use one or two As we noted in yesterday’s reading, this lines from a passage of Scripture to point psalm is a reflection on King David’s to the entirety of that passage. Thus, life. It focuses, ambiguously, on the many in this case, Jesus was pointing to the trials and tribulations he faced. Today’s entirety of Psalm 22. Considering that verse 24 is an affirtext does the same thing, only from a more subjective and poignant stance. mation of God’s faithfulness when the In the original context, Jewish readers afflicted cried out to God, Jesus’ words would have understood this passage as affirm God’s faithfulness toward him hyperbolic. Instead of a literal applica- rather than God’s rejection of him. As tion, they would have understood the such, Jesus’ words declare victory over psalm to present an overexaggeration in his oppressors, who brutally tortured and order to highlight the despair David felt. crucified him. Although Psalm 22 begins with despair, Many Christians have read into this psalm reflections of what Christ endured it ends with a declaration of God’s faithon the cross, in physical torment and fulness. As the Easter season approaches, emotional pain. Although the psalm does I encourage you to reflect on Psalm 22 as not explicitly point to the cross, we draw a psalm of victory, not a psalm of defeat. comparisons between it and the Christ event. For example, Psalm 22:14, 17 recalls for us the suffering Jesus endured during his flogging and his subsequent carrying of the cross (Matthew 27:2426, 31). The Bible does not record how many times Jesus was flogged. But considering that the Romans had no set limit for such a scourging, it is quite possible that during the flogging, Jesus’ muscles and bones were exposed. Interestingly, Jesus himself pointed to this entire psalm while he was on the cross. When Jesus uttered, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” (Matthew 27:46), he was pointing to this psalm, Dear God, you are faithful. Even in the midst of what appeared to be the ultiwhich begins with that same thought. People sometimes misunderstand these mate defeat, Jesus was victorious. words, believing that they indicate that Praise God. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Wednesday

1 April

Hebrews 9:1-12

Direct Access

What grants you access to God?

a sanctuary curtain covered the entrance into this location, separating it from the inner and outer courts of the Tabernacle. As such, only the high priest had direct access to God, whereas the rest of Israel was denied access. Like Americans peering at the White House door, these Israelites could only peer at the curtain. Jesus changed all that, however. Hebrews 9:11-12 describes Christ “securing our deliverance for all time.” The fallible high priests before him had to make continual sacrifices on behalf of the people (Hebrews 9:1-10). These sacrifices were imperfect. Christ, however, who is the perfect High Priest, offered himself up as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity. This sacrifice was so perfect, so complete, that there is now no need for any further sacrifices (verses 26-28). Moreover, due to this perfect sacrifice, the sanctuary curtain was torn in two (Matthew 27:45-51). From that point on, nothing prevents access to the Most Holy Place for the people of God. All of God’s people now have direct access to the dwelling place of God. Therefore, all of God’s people, due to the sacrifice of Christ, can have close and intimate relationship with God.

In order to gain access to the president of the United States of America, a person must receive special permission to do so. We cannot simply walk to the White House door and demand an audience. This reality reflects the type of exclusivity involved with presidential meetings. Only a select few are granted audience, while the vast majority of Americans are allowed just a view at the White House door. The former group is allowed access into the White House, while the latter group is denied such access. The Israelites understood this unique reality in their cultural context. They, too, experienced the exclusive nature of “meeting.” Only a select few were allowed access to God’s sanctuary. In the days of Israel’s nomadic youth, before they were a kingdom, Israel related to God via the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle represented God’s presence among the people. The Tabernacle had three parts to its structure, with each part representing closer access to God. First was the outer court, where any Israelite could enter and interact. Next was the inner court. Only Israelite priests had access to this location. Then came the Most Holy Place, which represented the closest point of contact with God, otherwise known as the dwelling place of the Most High. The Most Holy Place contained the golden altar of incense and the covenant chest. Each year, only one priest, Dear God, thanks to Christ, I have access known as the high priest, had access to to you. I have relationship with you. Thank this part of the Tabernacle. Furthermore, you. Amen. 42

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Thursday

2 April

Mark 15:22-32

Insulted and Taunted

Were you ever convinced of a belief disciples refused to believe him. Peter about God that you later found out was even attempted to rebuke Jesus, telling wrong? Jesus, “This won’t happen to you” (Matthew 16:21-22). Being fully convinced On April 12, 1633, The Roman Catho- of this theory, the disciples were simply lic Church accused Galileo Galilei of her- dumbfounded at the idea of the messiah esy. Galileo had stirred up controversy, being defeated and dying. In more pithy claiming that the earth orbited a star, terms, Jesus was not the messiah that the known as the sun. He further claimed Jews had expected. that the earth was not the center of the Thus, when Jesus was crucified, many universe. According to the scientific and of the Jews, especially those of the relireligious elites of the time, however, the gious elites, mocked Jesus. The Romans earth was the center of the universe, with hung a sign over his head, sarcastically all other heavenly bodies orbiting it. We proclaiming his kingly authority over now know that Galileo was right. But Israel. Furthermore, they taunted him, during that time, everybody “knew” that exclaiming that he could not save himGalileo was wrong. self, despite the fact that he had saved Similarly, during the days of Jesus, everyothers. Such mockery was an attempt to body “knew” the proper identity and expose Jesus as a false messiah. role of the messiah, the anointed one. Such mockery, however, was rooted One of the most prominent and prevailin a complete misunderstanding of the ing theories of the messiah was that a peridentity and role of the messiah. The New son, being appointed as a divine agent by God, would come to earth as a conquer- Testament reveals that the true role of the ing king. He would overthrow the Roman messiah was to reconcile humanity into government, defeat all of Israel’s ene- right relationship with God (for exammies, and reestablish the Davidic king- ple, Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; dom (the kingdom of Israel). He would Colossians 1:19-22). As a result, through create order and peace throughout the the death and resurrection of Jesus, there world, with Israel being the nation above is peace between God and humanity. all other nations. This was a messiah who conquered with a sword and who had an army of unbeatable soldiers. This belief is one of the reasons why, quite often, the disciples were so confused about things Jesus said. Jesus claimed he was the messiah. And, quite consistently, Jesus stated that he would Dear Jesus, through your death and resdie and be subsequently resurrected. urrection, I have been reconciled to God. But despite his insistence on this, the Praise you! Amen. SPRING 2020

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Friday

3 April

Mark 15:33-37

A New Reality

What good did Christ’s death accomplish? to sin (Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15), and it brought about forgiveness of sin. Death is inevitable. Everyone, sooner Jesus’ death on the cross released us from or later, will die. I will die. You will die. the just penalty of the Law, which was Sometimes, the death of certain individ- established by God. These new realities uals creates inspiration and new realities. make it possible for the people of God to For example, in 1980, Cari Lightner was live holy lives (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3; 1 Peter killed by a drunk driver. She was only 13. 1:16), as well as approach God in confiIn response to her death, her mother, Candy dence and peace (Hebrews 4:14-16). However, these new realities are not the Lightner, founded Mothers Against Drunk summation of salvation. Christ’s death Driving (MADD). Since its founding, MADD has helped brings about reconciliation between God shape tougher legislation against drunk and people. Reconciliation means “the driving. It has also educated thousands restoration of friendly relations.” In other about the dangers of drunk driving. words, by Jesus’ death, we have become Thanks to MADD, a new reality was friends with God. We no longer need to created, and deaths as a result of drunk be estranged from God. As a result, the driving have decreased markedly. But it we can enjoy unmitigated peace with all started, tragically, with the death of a God. Right relationship is thus restored between God and people due to the death 13-year-old girl. Mark 15:37 is stark and explicit: that Jesus Christ suffered upon a cross. “Jesus let out a loud cry and died.” The Greek word is more forceful than the English translation, stating that Jesus breathed his last breath, or “expired.” The Bible is quite clear throughout its pages that Jesus Christ died on a cross. For example, Paul commanded the church to emulate the example of Christ, who, although, was fully God, became human and submitted himself to death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). He also stated that, through Jesus’ death, we can have life (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). Additionally, Peter said that Jesus’ death is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins (1 Peter 3:18). The death of Christ created a new reality: Dear God, I have been forgiven, and I can salvation. Jesus’ death and resurrection live a holy life. I have relationship with freed us—saved us—from enslavement you. Thank you! Amen. 44

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Saturday

4 April

Mark 15:38-41

A Surprising Confession

In what ways can religion blind you God. The fourth time it appears is in this passage. Interestingly, then, only one perfrom recognizing God? son confesses Christ as the Son of God In the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting, throughout the entire Gospel of Mark. Unlike Matthew, where an Israelite 20-year-old Will Hunting is a self-taught genius who works as a janitor at  MIT. professes Jesus as the Son of God (MatOne day, he anonymously solves a diffi- thew 16:16), Mark presents a Gentile as cult mathematics problem Professor Ger- the one who recognizes and professes ald Lambeau had posted as a challenge Jesus as the Son of God. And he was not to his graduate students. This stuns the just any Gentile, but a Roman centurion, students and Lambeau. The premise of whom the Israelites would have despised the movie’s introduction is quite simple: because he represented the Roman govSometimes the most unlikely of sources ernment, which oppressed the people of discovers and proclaims truth. In Mark’s Israel. This profession boldly creates a conGospel account of Jesus’ crucifixion, the centurion’s proclamation, “This man trast in the Gospel of Mark, where the was certainly God’s Son,” came from a people of God are consistently unable to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. most unlikely source (Mark 15:39). During the days of Jesus, a centurion Instead, it is a despised Gentile who is was a professional officer of the Roman able to recognize him as the Son of God. army. Typically, a centurion had author- That plot point challenges the people of ity over a century, or around 100 infan- God. Sometimes, those able to recognize God trymen. These soldiers were known as legionaries. Additionally, such a century most clearly are the despised, outcast, might have multiple centurions, each and disenfranchised. Sometimes, the with different levels of seniority within people unable to recognize God are the ranks of the soldiers. Generally, cen- those blinded by their own religion. The turions of lower seniority were tasked Gospel of Mark challenges us to make with the responsibility of execution. sure our religious presuppositions do not Thus, the centurion mentioned in this blind us to the truth and personhood of passage was most likely one of lower Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. seniority. His confession is an important declaration in the Gospel of Mark. The phrase “God’s Son” or “Son of God” appears four times in Mark’s Gospel. It first appears at the beginning of Mark as an explanation of its plot (Mark 1:1). It then appears in Mark 3:11; 5:7, Dear God, open my eyes to see you. Let where the focus is on demonic spirits not religion blind me. You are the Son acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Son of of God. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Sunday

5 April

John 19:31-37

Witness at the Cross (Palm/Passion Sunday)

What is the foundation of your faith and also gave a clear reason as to why he was reporting these events: “so that you also life as a Christian? can believe” (verse 35). That is, so that High-profile court trials sometimes people might believe in Jesus Christ as capture national attention for extended Lord and Savior. It is likely, given the reports that Jesus periods of time because there are no eyewitnesses to testify on behalf of or against still lived after the events of the Crucifixthe accused. Eyewitness testimonies are ion, that some might have claimed that important because they can validate or he never died in the first place. In fact, invalidate a claim. Moreover, such testi- church history is rife with individuals monies can strengthen the reliability of a who have claimed this. In response to these claims, John particular claim. The eyewitness account in the Gospel of John detailing the events boldly reported the death of Jesus, which of Christ’s crucifixion helps validate the would then validate the claims of his resurrection. His eyewitness testimony claim that Christ died. In this passage, the religious elites is important because it corroborates the asked Pilate to expedite the death of the claim that Jesus was raised from the crucified individuals by breaking their dead. And Jesus’ resurrection hinges legs (John 19:31). This was based on upon his death. Jesus could not be raised Mosaic law, where anyone hung on a from the dead if he had not died. And it scaffold-type structure was to be taken is by Jesus’ death and resurrection that down before nightfall (Deuteronomy people are saved (Hebrews 9:23-28). In 21:22-23). Pilate granted their request fact, Paul states that the cornerstone of and gave the order for the three individu- Christian faith is found in the Resurrecals to have their legs broken. This would tion (1 Corinthians 15:14). Thus, in some ways, the Christian faith have hindered their ability to push up upon the cross with their legs, thereby also hinges upon the death of Christ. pressurizing their chest cavity. This, as a In other words, your faith and life as a result, would kill the men via asphyxia. Christian are made possible by the sacriDespite the order to do this, Jesus’ fice Christ made on the cross, a sacrifice legs were not broken because he had that killed him. already died (John 19:33). John’s report that a soldier pierced Jesus’ side causing blood and water to flow out further validates this fact. After detailing these events, John stated that he had seen this actually happen; that his testimony was trustworthy; and that no matter what Dear Lord, you died. My faith and life anyone else claimed, he was being hon- as a Christian are possible because of est about these events (verses 34-35). He that. Thank you. 46

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Monday

6 April

Psalm 118:1-9, 14-18

Praise the Lord

What does the psalmist mean by unwavering. It does not, and will not, the phrase “God’s faithful love lasts change. Therefore, it is better to trust in the Lord than in “any human leader” forever!”? (verse 8). The phrase “lasts forever” can also When I took an exegesis course in seminary, my professor told me to always be translated as “endures forever.” The pay attention to repetition in Scripture. former indicates that God’s faithful love Writers use repetition to highlight an will remain in existence for all time. The important point. Such instruction should latter carries with it the same connotation not be foreign to us. Parents use rep- but also implies patient suffering as well. etition to emphasize important behav- In other words, the psalmist claims that ioral expectations for their children. In God’s steadfast love will remain consistoday’s passage, the psalmist uses repeti- tent, even if it brings about suffering for tion to emphasize an important theologi- God. The implication, then, is that God’s steadfast love is not conditioned upon cal message. The first four verses in this psalm the behavior of the people. As Paul suggests elsewhere in Scriprepeat the phrase “God’s faithful love lasts forever” four times, one time for ture, God’s steadfast love for the peoeach verse. This psalm also ends with ple will put up with all things and will the same phrase (Psalm 118:29). The endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). repeated phrase is important because it Thus, the psalmist boldly declares that helps set the tone, give meaning, and pro- God’s unconditional favor of the people vide evidence for the rest of the psalm. is resolutely firm and unwavering and That is, the reason this particular claim will endure unto eternity, regardless of is valid is because of the foregoing mate- their behavior. That reality is evidenced rial in the psalm. Thus, for example, the by the cross (John 3:16, 17; 1 John 4:10). reason this claim is truthful is because That reality applies to God’s people. “the Lord is for me—as my helper” That reality applies to you. Praise God, (verse 7). The Lord is also “my strength indeed! . . . protection . . . saving help” (verse 14). So what does the psalmist mean by writing that the faithful love of the Lord endures forever? First, the love of the Lord connotes God’s goodness and kindness to the people. It also refers to God’s loyalty to them. Mostly, however, it describes God’s unconditional favor. Second, “faithful” can also be rendered as “steadfast.” The implication, then, is Dear Lord, your steadfast love for me that God’s love is resolutely firm and endures unto eternity. Praise you! Amen. SPRING 2020

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Tuesday

7 April

Matthew 27:57-61

Exceptional Devotion

Third, this was no mere purchase of How did Joseph show devotion to Jesus a burial plot. According to Matthew after he died? 27:60, this was a “new tomb, which he We sometimes see pithy sayings related had carved out of the rock” (verse 60). to faith and Christianity on car bumper In other words, he provided the finances stickers and perhaps wonder about those and resources to cut out a new burial inside the car. What do they believe? Do tomb. Such an undertaking would have they go to church? How does the faith been quite costly. Such an undertaking was also an extravtheir bumper stickers proclaim affect the agant act of devotion. Jesus was not only way they live every day? Less frequently do we see exceptional unrelated to Joseph, thereby making him acts of Christian devotion. Today’s pas- a stranger, but he also had been consage challenges us to consider what it victed of treason. The text reveals that means to be exceptional in our devotion Joseph was motivated beyond mere conventional piety and obedience to Mosaic to God. The text begins after the events of law. Instead, he was motivated by an Jesus’ crucifixion. Typically, those who suf- extreme sense of loyalty and dedication fered crucifixion were left to hang upon to Jesus, for he “had become a disciple their crosses, where their corpses would of Jesus” (verse 57). His example should inspire us all. How slowly decompose and be devoured by vultures until all that remained was willing are we to go beyond simple piety sinew and bones. Afterward, the bod- based on conventional standards of Christian ies would be removed and then thrown worship? Are we willing to go beyond into a pit. In execution and burial, these mere obedience to the Law? Are we dead individuals received neither honor willing to show “exceptional devotion” nor dignity. By contrast, therefore, if to the Lord? Are we willing to go above someone were to provide burial plots for and beyond words and move to actions them, it would be due to an exceptional and attitudes that confirm them? If so, amount of charity and respect. Joseph of how would that demonstrate itself in your Arimathea showed this type of charity life? and respect for Jesus. At the very least, he followed Mosaic law by providing a burial place for the crucified Lord (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Second, according to Jewish custom, it was an extreme act of charity to provide a burial plot for someone who had no provision for it (Tobit 1:16-18). This was especially true if the individual was Dear Lord, help me grow in my devoa stranger to the provider. tion to you. Amen. 48

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Wednesday

8 April

Matthew 27:62-66

Guard Duty

Second, verses 65-66 indicate that Pilate If Jesus’ disciples had kidnapped his body after his crucifixion, what would sent a guard of Roman soldiers to protect they have had to do? the tomb from tampering. Such a guard would have consisted of two to four In the 1983 movie Return of the Jedi, Roman soldiers who would have been Luke Skywalker defeats the villainous well-armed and quite efficient at killing Darth Vader. This movie is lauded by their enemies. many Star Wars fans because it tells an Therefore, for someone to believe the underdog story. However, realistically, rumor about a fabricated resurrection, the it is doubtful Luke would have defeated disciples would have had to accomplish Vader. Vader not only had years of Jedi two feats. First, the untrained disciples force and lightsaber training, he also would have had to overcome and defeat served time as a seasoned officer in the a highly skilled, trained, and efficient clone wars. Furthermore, he had learned Roman guard. Then, in order to enter the the ways of the dark side of the force. In contrast, Luke was a newly trained tomb, they would have had to unseal the Jedi novice. Thus, it is more likely that tightly placed boulder securing the tomb Vader would have defeated him in the and then push the heavy boulder up an final act of the movie. Some stories, no incline. Even if all 11 disciples attempted matter how well told, are just unbeliev- to execute this plan, it is highly improbable. Luke defeating Vader is one such able, if not impossible, that they would story. So is the claim that Jesus’ disci- have succeeded in accomplishing it. The tomb of Jesus, being sealed by ples kidnapped his body. The second-century Christian apolo- a boulder and guarded by soldiers, gist Justin Martyr acknowledged that emphatically highlights the significant there was a rumor that Jesus’ disciples triumph of the Resurrection. Despite had kidnapped his body and fabricated every human attempt to prevent the Resthe Resurrection story.1 Today’s passage, urrection, even the slightest hint of a fabhowever, offers details that make that ricated one, Jesus rose from the dead. almost impossible. First, Matthew 27:64 indicates that the tomb holding Jesus’ body was made secure. This was done by sealing the tomb with a disc-shaped or corkscrew boulder. These boulders could weigh anywhere from one to two tons. Boulders From Dialogue With Trypho, by Justin Martyr (Beloved Publishwere inserted into a sloped groove at the ing LLC, 2015); pages 226-227). entrance of the tomb. They would then be sealed by a stone wall, which was Dear Lord, nothing can prevail against used to fit the boulder into the opening you. Victory is always in your hands. of the tomb. Christ is risen indeed! Amen. 1

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Thursday

9 April

Matthew 28:1-10

Jesus Defeats Death (Holy Thursday)

What enemy did Jesus defeat and con- 2 Kings 4:18-37; John 11:1-44). However, these individuals eventually sucquer? What problem did he solve? cumbed to death and remained dead. In 2007, the New York Giants faced No person has ever definitively defeated the undefeated New England Patriots in death in such a way that they remain the Super Bowl. They were a 12-point alive. That is, no person other than Jesus. underdog against the Patriots. Whereas When Jesus died, he did not remain the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl dead. And when he was raised from the with a 16-0 record, the Giants made it dead, he remained alive, never to face the there as a wildcard team. Surely, the threat of death again. He even ascended Giants stood no chance against the Patri- into heaven alive. In every way conceivots, right? able, Jesus conquered death. As Paul With only 2:39 left on the clock, the wrote, “Death has been swallowed up by Giants completed a 32-yard pass. This a victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Thus, catch eventually culminated in a win- we might translate Matthew 28:6 as “He ning touchdown by Plaxico Burress. isn’t here, because he’s been raised, for That day, the Giants defeated the Patri- all time, from the dead.” ots with a 17-14 victory. Sometimes, the Part of the good news found in the favored victor is defeated. gospel message is that, although ChrisIn this passage, Jesus defeats a favored tians will eventually face death, they too victor: death. One definition of defeat is will be raised similarly to the resurrecto overcome. To overcome is to be suction of Jesus. Christians will eventually cessful in solving a problem. In reference to competition, to overcome is to be raised, for all time, from the dead be victorious. It is to stand as the supe- (Revelation 21:1-4). And in that new rior force. Therefore, death is not only a life, they will spend eternity with God in problem to solve but an opposing enemy relationship. to conquer. In fact, death is described more as a great foe and enemy than as a problem to solve (1 Corinthians 15:26). The problem Jesus faced after the Crucifixion was death. The great foe he battled was death. This great foe is the enemy all people face. Every person who has faced death in a competition has lost. All people, since the Fall described in Genesis 3, have died. Granted, there have been stories in the Bible where death Dear God, Jesus conquered death! One was temporally halted. Some people were day, I will be raised, for all time, from raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; the dead. Thank you. Amen. 50

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Friday

10 April

Matthew 28:11-15

The Power of Truth (Good Friday)

Why did the religious elites seek to sup- told that they did it. However, it is highly press the truth of Jesus’ resurrection? probable that their motivation was rooted in a desire to hold on to the power and Occasionally—too often, it seems— wealth they possessed. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew porwe hear about people with wealth, power, and position who pay others not to tell trays Jesus as a consistent threat toward truths about them that would expose the power, elitism, and wealth the relitheir wrongdoings. Should such facts gious leaders possessed (Matthew 5:17–6:18; come out, they reason, their power and 21:12-17; 23:1-36). It seems, therefore, prestige would surely be threatened, and that in an attempt to remain powerful, their reputations would be damaged. The esteemed, and wealthy, the religious religious elites in Jesus’ day reacted in a elites sought to conceal the truth. This passage reveals an important similar way when they learned that Jesus reality. The religious leaders in this story had been raised from the dead. According Matthew 28:4, the guards knew the truth because the soldiers had at Jesus’ tomb were so terrified when an reported it to them. However, instead of angel appeared to them that they fainted. accepting the reality of that truth, they They reported this incident to the reli- chose to suppress it. Have you ever done gious leaders at the time. Interestingly, that? Our walk with God will inevitably these leaders were primarily concerned with hiding the truth the guards had lead to truth. Eventually, God will reveal certain truths to us. In those moments, reported. Matthew portrays the chief priests as we have a choice. Do we suppress that uninterested in the report of the angel, truth? Do we ignore it? Or do we accept or the report of Jesus’ potential resurrec- the reality of whatever truth God is tion (they surely would have heard that revealing and allow it to shape us into he had made such a claim). Instead, they the people God desires us to be? When were interested in deceiving the masses God inevitably reveals truth to you, what from believing that Jesus Christ was will be your response? raised from the dead (Matthew 27:64). This is evident by the “large sum of money” they gave the soldiers, the command for them to lie about the veracity of the event, and their willingness to protect them from punishment by bribing the governor if needed (28:12-14). Matthew gives no indication or explanation as to why the religious leaders Dear Lord, thank you for revealing truth went to such extremes to keep the truth to me. When this happens, give me courhidden from the masses. We are merely age to accept it. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Saturday

11 April

John 20:19-23

Peace Be With You

But instead of the Romans appearWhy were the disciples afraid of the Jewing, Jesus did. And he came with a mesish authorities? sage: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, When I was younger, I was afraid of 21). This message has a double meanlightning. Every time a storm appeared, ing. First, it assuaged the fears of the I would hide in a corner of the house and disciples. They need not have worried start shaking. I was terrified I would be about being arrested and executed. Secstuck by lightning and die. I did every- ond, they could have assurance of victhing I could to keep it from happening. tory in Christ. Jesus’ resurrection proved Similarly, the disciples, out of their own that not even death could defeat him. He version of fear, hid in a room and sought proved that reality by revealing scars to hinder what they believed might be from the Crucifixion to his disciples. the onslaught of their own death. Even though Jesus died, he was not According to John 20:19, the disciples defeated. He was raised from the dead, had locked the doors in the place they had just as he said (Matthew 16:21). His gathered “because they were afraid of disciples, then, could also walk in that the Jewish authorities.” These Jews were victory. If death could not defeat their the religious leaders who had taken part leader, then it would not be able to defeat in Jesus’ execution. They had had Jesus them either. Thus, even if the Romans executed under the pretense of treason. showed up to arrest and execute them, They painted him as someone who posed they too would stand victorious. a threat to the empire. They accused him That reality applied to the disciples, of being a usurper of the throne. This was the accusation that Pilate referred to and it also applies to us. Like the disin Matthew 27:13, when he questioned ciples, we too can fear death. It may not Jesus. Such an accusation was a serious manifest in the form of Romans arresting and executing us, but it does manifest in charge. Many times, the Romans would pub- various ways. And like the disciples, lically execute groups of people they we can, out of fear, “lock the doors” of deemed as traitors and potential usurp- our lives. But Jesus stands in our midst, ers. It was not enough to merely execute speaking peace to us as well. We need the leader. In order to stop any possible not fear death, for he has conquered it. takeover attempt, it was essential to ter- And as his disciples, we can stand victominate the entire group. In other words, rious over death as well. if the Romans executed Jesus as usurper, it was quite possible they would seek to execute his followers as well. Thus, the disciples locked the doors. They feared Lord, you stand in my midst speaking that the Roman government might arrest peace. You defeated death. As such, and execute them as well. death will not defeat me. Amen. 52

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Sunday

12 April

Revelation 1:13-18

Don't Be Afraid (Easter Sunday)

Verse 16 describes Jesus as being able What do these verses tell you about Jesus? to speak out a “sharp, two-edged sword,” and also as one who holds the seven When we describe something, we try stars. The sword signifies Scripture. In to label it with all or part of the charac- other words, he is the author of Scripteristics and qualities of that thing. Police ture, and his words can pierce one’s soul do this when searching for a suspect of as a sword does the body. a crime. They attempt to record all relThe seven stars are the angels watchevant information about the suspect, ing over the seven churches (verse 20). including a physical description. They This signifies his authority over angels. choose appropriate labels for the person, Verse 16 ends with a description of his such as his or her height, weight, race, face, which shines like the sun. This age, and so forth. Throughout the Book most likely is an allusion to John 1, of Revelation, John repeatedly used this where Jesus is described as the one who same technique, the art of description, to illuminates humanity with moral and paint a particular picture of Jesus Christ. divine truth (John 1:1-9). These verses, along with the rest of Jesus is also described as the one who Revelation, are full of metaphorical sym- holds “the keys of Death and the Grave” bolism with deep meaning. Verse by verse, (Revelation 1:18). Some translations use we learn something significant. These the word “Hades” instead of “Grave.” particular verses describe Jesus Christ as This is significant, for it reveals that the Messiah who stands victorious over Jesus has authority over hell (Hades). death. By rising from the dead, he defeated and First, John describes Jesus as the “Human One,” or “Son of Man,” as many conquered hell and now has authority translations render it (Revelation 1:13). over it. We need not fear hell, for Jesus is in This phrase refers to Jesus throughout the Gospels and points to his identity as control. As followers of Christ, we will a human being who is also the Messiah not wallow in hell for all of eternity. We who ushers into existence the kingdom will experience life everlasting in relaof God, the person who saves God’s tionship with God. people. John also describes Jesus as being surrounded by seven golden lampstands, which symbolize the seven churches mentioned in Revelation to whom Jesus speaks (verse 20). This points to the reality that Jesus is in the midst of his church. These verses also describe Jesus Dear Lord, you have conquered hell. You in majestic terms, pointing to the reality are in control. I need not fear death or that he is God Almighty. hell. Thank you. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Monday

13 April

Ezra 1:1-11

God at Work

This theological perspective is so sigHow easily can you look back and see God’s hand in events and circumstances? nificant that the author highlights it within the first verse of Ezra 1, stating, “The History books are extremely objec- Lord stirred up the spirit of Persia’s tive. They explain what happened in any king Cyrus.” The author of Ezra further given historical time period and the rea- expounds on this idea by claiming that sons why those events took place. What the only reason Persia had authority over history books do not detail are the spiri- all the nations of the known world was tual elements and forces that affected because the Lord had granted it. In fact, the author is so bold that Ezra claims those historical realities. For example, there is historical evi- Cyrus himself admitted and accepted dence pointing to the existence of an this reality (Ezra 1:2). Thus, from the beginning, the author Israelite kingdom. Many history books explore their story. However, only the of Ezra attributes the Israelites’ return Bible attributes the rise of this nation to their homeland to the Lord almighty. to the working of God. The presence of The entirety of Chapter 1 is written in God working in the midst of historical that context. That reality can bring us comfort and moments is a belief we find in many biblical stories, including today’s passage. challenge. We need not fear the threat of We can view the Book of Ezra in nations, their decisions, or the laws they two lights: the Israelites’ return to their enact. This applies to our own nation homeland and the restoration of the and to other nations. No matter who sits kingdom of Israel. This return and res- in authority over those nations, God is toration takes place in a postexilic time always in control. And this realization period. Due to the Israelite’s bad behav- forces us to acknowledge that our hope ior and idolatry, the Lord raised up the does not lie in any one political figure Assyrians and Babylonians in order to or movement, but rather in the Lord destroy Israel and exile a remnant of the Almighty, who controls all nations. We are kingdom citizens first and forepeople to Babylon for 70 years (Ezra most. Therefore, we act within our respec5:12). Now, after the completion of those 70 years, the Lord restored Israel tive nations according to Kingdom in placement (land) and function (king- principles. We follow and obey God almighty. dom). Such is the claim of Scripture. This belief is beautifully captured in Psalm 22:28: “Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord, he rules all nations.” This verse reflects one of the essential theological points of this passage: God caused Cyrus to legislate the return of Lord, you rule the nations. I am not the Jewish people to their homeland. afraid. I will trust and follow you. Amen. 54

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Tuesday

14 April

Ezra 3:8-13

Foundation for a New Beginning

This is the reason that all of Israel When has a gracious new beginning resulted in happiness and in sadness and praised God (Ezra 3:11). However, according to the next verse, some of the older regret over past actions? Israelites wept at the sight of the Temple. I remember being spanked quite often They wept because the restored Temple as a child. At the time, I hated it. How- was not as glorious and grand as the origever, as I grew up, I realized that such inal Temple Solomon had built. Thus, on discipline was never permanent. My par- one hand, the Temple restoration syments always “restored” me. Restore means bolized the restoration of Israel and the to “bring back, or return, to a former condi- mercy of God upon the Israelites. On the tion.” In other words, although I was dis- other hand, however, it also was a sober ciplined, my parents always reinstated reminder of the consequences of their my livelihood to its former condition, past sinful behavior. This story challenges us and comforts even in the face of the consequences I might have had to bear. In some sense, us. It can challenge us by reminding us I experienced the same reality that the Isra- that, even though God will restore us, we elites experienced when they returned still may have to bear the consequences of our actions, taken apart from God’s from exile. Ezra 3:8 tells us that the Israelites will and direction. At the same time, “made a beginning,” specifically the res- however, this passage can comfort us. toration of the Temple. This was highly God is a God of mercy. Yes, God may significant. A foreign, Gentile army had discipline us, but it is always for our destroyed their nation and their Temple, good (Hebrews 12:10). Furthermore, God’s mercy is always and they had been exiled into Babylon for 70 years (2 Kings 24–25; 2 Chroni- new. So no matter how many times we cles 36). As a result, the Israelites came mess up, we can always return to God’s to believe that God had abandoned them immeasurable and eternal grace. God is a God of restoration. And just like the (see the Book of Lamentations). So when Cyrus announced that God Israelites in this story, we too can return had instructed him to legislate the return to grace and be restored. of the Israelites to their homeland and to allow them to rebuild their kingdom and their Temple, there was great cause for celebration. Such a declaration announced that God, indeed, had not forgotten them. Such a declaration announced that God was choosing to have mercy on Israel, despite their past Lord, you are a God of restoration. history of idolatry and wicked behavior. I return now to your grace. Please restore God was restoring them. me. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Wednesday

15 April

Haggai 1:1-8

Right Priorities

When have misplaced priorities resulted lay in rebuilding a physical structure. But in drought or neglect in other areas of that was not the case. The Temple (or lack thereof) was not your life? at the core of their suffering. Rather, it I live in the greater Rochester area was their priorities. God and the Temof New York. Before the digital age ple were less important than their own changed the world, the Kodak company houses and interests. The reason Haggai brought great economic wealth, health, called for the rebuilding of the Temple and stability to this area. However, once was not because it had some magical the digital age manifested, Kodak was intrinsic force, but because it represented unable to make the transition. They went the presence of God among the Israelbankrupt, resulting in economic ruin and ites. The restoration of the Temple would devastation to the area. It took a couple represent the restoration of relationship of decades for the area to recover, and between God and the people and would the company itself is still in recovery remind the people that God was present mode. That event reminds me of what with them. This event from Israel’s history may the Israelites faced during their restoraraise questions for us about the connection period. Today’s passage takes place during tion between prosperity and the presence this time. God had called Haggai and of God. The larger lesson here, however, Zechariah as prophets to the Israelites is about priorities. “Take your ways to during this restoration period. This par- heart,” God told the people through the ticular passage can be separated into two prophet (verses 5, 7). Remember what sections. In verses 1-6, Haggai details is most important: the covenant relathe ways Israel was suffering, including tionship between God and the people. It insufficient food, clothing, and income. doesn’t matter how hard you work, the In verses 7-8, Haggai explains the reason prophet said. You will not be satisfied why the Israelites suffered: misplaced until God is once again at the center of priorities. They had made no attempt your lives. The prophet’s message to Israel is to rebuild the Temple of God, although God’s message to us as well: God first. they had rebuilt their own homes. Verse 8 declares the implied solution to their predicament: “Rebuild the temple.” This seems to suggest that if a ruined Temple brought suffering to the Israelites, then a restored Temple would God, remind me that nothing is more reverse their suffering, and they would important than my relationship with experience prosperity and relief. Given you. Show me what stands in the way that implication, it would be easy to of that relationship, and help me to assume that the solution to their problem remove those things. Amen. 56

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Thursday

16 April

Haggai 2:1-9

Be Strong. Don't Fear.

How do outward circumstances affect That idea might have comforted the older your faith and your relationship with Israelites, who wept at the sight of the restored Temple (Ezra 3:12). According God? to them, the former glory of Solomon’s In the story of the hare and the turtle, Temple was greater than that of the the hare races the turtle. The hare, along restored Temple. So this word from God with everyone else, assumes the hare will would have challenged the paradigm win. Hares, after all, are fast. And turtles, by which they framed their worldview. after all, are slow. However, appearances They would have learned that outward are not always as they seem. The hare appearances do not always indicate the learned that when he lost the race. The degree to which the Lord is present. That challenge has profound implicaIsraelites, too, learned this lesson during tions for our lives. Like the older Israthe restoration period. The message of Haggai 2 likely elites within this story, we too have to addressed the events described in Ezra learn the same lesson. Often, we believe 4:1-5. That passage provides Ezra’s expla- that good fortune and success are indicanation that certain individuals who opposed tions of the God’s pleasure with us, and the rebuilding of the Temple had com- that misfortune and failure are indicamitted several acts that were intended to tions of the God’s displeasure with us. We may tend to gauge the level of God’s hinder the restoration process. They discouraged the people, bribed officials, and presence based on outward appearances and circumstances. But good times are intimidated the Israelites (Ezra 4:4-5). Interestingly, Ezra exclaimed that not an indicator of God’s pleasure any this discouragement existed until King more than difficulties are an indicator of Darius inherited the throne from King God’s displeasure. Both are simply realiCyrus. This, no doubt, contributed to the ties of living in the world. We must be reason why the Lord rebuked the Isra- careful not to interpret God’s presence elites in Haggai 1. Although the time by outward appearances. Be obedient. Have faith. Follow God. frame is not specified, it is probable that this halt in progress existed for quite Strive for these things. Regardless of the some time, probably years. In response way things seem at a given moment, God to their distress, the Lord called the peo- is pleased when we live this way. ple to rebuild the Temple (Haggai 1:8) and encouraged them by telling them not to fear, for the Lord was with them. One of the more interesting aspects of this passage is that God declared that the Lord, thank you that you are present in glory of the restored Temple would be my life in all seasons and all circumgreater than the glory that filled the for- stances. Help me live faithfully and obemer Temple Solomon had built (2:9). diently. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Friday

17 April

Zechariah 1:12-17

Kindness and Compassion

How do you experience God’s compas- told about the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15). In each case, the owners sion in your life? dropped everything and searched relentOne of the primary themes throughout lessly until they found what was missthis week’s readings is the restoration ing, celebrating with friends that what and rebuilding of the Temple of God. was lost had been found. Jesus told these The Temple represented the presence of stories to illustrate the extremes to which God among the people. This idea also God will go to seek and find us. That type of zeal is present in this pasconnects to the broader theme of our readings: God’s salvation. For where the sage. Zechariah declared that the Lord presence of God abides, so too is salva- has a great amount of enthusiasm in purtion. Thus, the restoration story we have suit of the people. Such zeal explains been examining thus far deals more why the Lord declared that prosperity with the experience of salvation than it would return to the people (Zechariah does with simply rebuilding a Temple 1:17) and that the people would experience salvation from their foes (verse 15). structure. Throughout Scripture, we read of how Thus, the Temple represented not only God seeks us, even chases after us because God’s mercy upon the people but also God seeks to save us (Luke 19:10; John God’s zeal for them. That truth applied to the Israelites dur3:16-17). We find that particular idea in today’s passage, too. Zechariah declared ing the restoration period, and it also that the Lord cared passionately for the applies to us. God has a great amount of zeal for is. God exudes energy in seekIsraelites (Zechariah 1:14). Although this phrase captures well the ing after us (Matthew 18:10-14). God is essence of its translational meaning, the enthusiastic about pursuing us and takes original Hebrew language is much more pleasure in seeking after us, and God vivid and explicit in describing how much goes to great lengths to seek after us. God passionately cares for the people. The cross is proof of the zeal the Lord The Hebrew word used for this phrase has for us. Take comfort, this day, in that is usually translated as “jealous,” but an reality. even better translation is “zealous.” To be zealous is to have great enthusiasm and intense passion for something or someone, to exude great energy in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Have you ever lost something valuable to you? Most people, upon losing something valuable, seek after it with great Lord, you pursue me with great zeal. passion and energy. They show great zeal You care about me passionately. Thank for it. You may recall the parables Jesus you. Amen. 58

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Saturday

18 April

Ezra 4:24–5:5

A Courageous Stand

When have you stood firm in the face throne and then reissued the original legof opposition in order to do what God islation given by King Cyrus (1:1-4). Moreover, the king exonerated the called you to do? defiant Israelites and issued protection Captain America represents freedom. for them and the rebuilding process. He adheres to that principle no matter Eventually, the fruition of their efforts the cost and no matter who he has to culminated with the rebuilding of the defy. He follows an ideal that is greater Temple (6:13-18). Such a thing may than human authority. He believes in that never have occurred had the Israelites ideal so much so that he defies the gov- not made a critical decision. They chose ernment. Similarly, the Israelites believed to defy a king and follow God’s direcin God’s direction to the extent of defy- tion. Their obedience to God eventually resulted in their vindication, and they ing a king. Today’s passage takes place within were able to experience the joy of seeing the middle of a particular subplot (Ezra the Temple rebuilt. Their story inspires and encourages us 4–6). Chapter 4 recalls how certain individuals sent a letter to King Artaxerxes in to be strong and courageous and faithful order to convince him to legislate a stop to what God calls us to do. Granted, we to the city’s restoration. Their attempts have to be vigilant and ensure that what worked, and the king ordered a stop to we understand to be God’s direction is the rebuilding. This did not stop the Isra- actually that. But once we are certain that God has spoken to us and we know elites, however. In Chapter 5, we learn that, in an act God is directing our lives toward a cerof sheer defiance of the king’s com- tain direction, then we can confidently mand, they continued the rebuilding pro- follow God, no matter the cost. cess. Such an act was extremely risky and dangerous. Defying the orders of the king would most likely lead to their punishment. Given that the king halted the process because he viewed the kingdom of Israel as a threat to Persian sovereignty (4:19-22), this defiant act would have been ruled as treasonous and therefore would have resulted in the people’s execution. But despite this threat, the people remained steadfast and courageous. They continued to rebuild. The subplot ends with the Israelites Lord, give me the courage to follow being vindicated. The first half of Chap- you faithfully and confidently, in spite ter 6 tells us that King Darius took the of opposition. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Sunday

19 April

Ezra 6:13-22

Celebrations With a Purpose

What do you do to mark special events promised to remain devoted to them. Both parties in the covenant, in their own and occasions? unique roles and positions, promised to Like many couples, when my wife and remain faithful toward each other. God I married, we celebrated the occasion promised to be their God, and they promwith family and friends. Likewise, when ised to be God’s people. Therefore, these I graduated from seminary, my family feasts celebrated not only deliverance took me out for a celebratory meal. Most but also creation. They commemorated people love to celebrate accomplishments the Lord’s deliverance of the people and and events, and these celebrations often also reminded them of the covenant they made with God. include a meal. Each successive generation of IsraelThe same was true for the Israelites ites was called to observe Passover and during the restoration period. After the Temple had been rebuilt and restored, the Festival of Unleavened Bread (as they dedicated it to the Lord with a puri- well as other festivals and feasts) so that fication offering and then “set the priests they, too, could remember how the Lord in their divisions and the Levites in their delivered their ancestors from slavery, sections for the service of God in Jerusa- oppression, and exile. These observances lem” (Ezra 6:18). Then they “celebrated were also opportunities for them to renew the Passover . . . [and] also joyfully cele- the covenant made at Mount Sinai. In brated the Festival of Unleavened Bread other words, in celebrating these meals for seven days, because the Lord had and festivals, the people remembered made them joyful by changing the atti- God’s deed of deliverance in the past, tude of the king of Assyria toward them declared God’s presence and working so that he assisted them in the work on among them in the present, and renewed the house of God, the God of Israel” their commitment to God. Those three aspects are also present (verses 19, 22). Both celebratory meals are important in Communion. When we partake in the feasts. They commemorate the libera- Eucharist, we remember the work God tion of the Israelites from the Egyptians accomplished for us on the cross through (Exodus 12:1–13:10). The feasts were Jesus; we declare, seek, and experience instituted so that future generations God’s presence among us; and we renew would remember how God had delivered our commitment to God. The next time you partake of this holy meal, remember, the people. Such deliverance eventually led to their declare, seek, experience, and renew. creation as the people of God, for God would later make a covenant with the people on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19–20). Lord, you saved me. You are present in In that covenant, the people promised my life, and I renew my commitment to remain devoted to God, and God with you. I love you. Amen. 60

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Monday

20 April

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

God Speaks Peace

What helps keep you hopeful in times “God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him,” and that the Lord gives of despair? that which is good. All of these aspects When my first wife divorced me, I was reflect one underlying theme: The Lord’s devastated and felt as if my life was over. future salvation is near. Thus, although I became depressed and hopeless. What the psalmist was experiencing a trymade my emotional state more painful ing time, he or she could remain hopewas that I had contributed toward the ful. Instead of wallowing in despair, he events of the divorce. Like the Israel- announced the coming salvation of the ites, I had committed wickedness in my Lord to those who follow and honor God. life and was now experiencing the conIn essence, this was the message that sequences of those actions. Those con- John the Baptist proclaimed (Mark 1:1-3; sequences drove me toward repentance John 1:29). John the Baptist declared a and a return to God’s grace. During message of hope and salvation. He called that time, I learned an important truth. the people to metaphorically make a way Although I was currently going through for the Lord, for salvation was at hand. a tough time, I could remain hopeful, for Similarly, this is our message as well. God is near us. In this world, there will always be trouble Psalm 85 is written from three vanand hardship. There will even be times tage points: past, present, and future. that we may experience God’s judgment First, the psalmist recalled the past ways and discipline. But we need not walin which God had delivered the people low in despair or allow such a reality to (Psalm 85:1-2). Second, the psalmist viewed his present reality and asked God depress us, for “God’s salvation is close to be merciful toward Israel (verses 3-7). to those who honor him.” Therefore, Perhaps this psalm was written during remain hopeful. Make way for the Lord, the exile. Or perhaps it was written dur- for salvation is near! ing another time in which God brought judgment upon Israel for some of their wicked deeds. While we don’t know the historical context of this psalm, it’s clear that the psalmist believed that God had brought judgment upon the people and asked God to be merciful toward them. The psalm ends with hope. In a pattern typical in many of the psalms, the psalmist declared that the redemption of the Lord will eventually transpire (verses 8-13). In these verses, the writer declares Lord, I will not wallow in despair. Your that God speaks peace to the people, that salvation is near. Thank you. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Tuesday

21 April

Malachi 3:1-4

Refined and Clean

If you were to have a spiritual make- consequences they would face for failing to maintain this relationship and their over, what would that involve? relationships with one another. They Whenever we go to a jewelry store and were in need of a spiritual makeover, and look at the various rings, pendants, and Malachi knew that God is the only one earrings, we probably don’t think about who could purify them and make them the fact that the gold from which these into the people God wanted them to be: are made underwent rigorous processes refined, cleaned, purified, and “[presented of refinement before being crafted into as] a righteous offering” (Malachi 3:3). beautiful pieces. The gold did not origiYou may have encountered verses 1-4 nally look the way it now looks. Gold is during Advent, as it is a reading during purified by heating it to a high temper- this season in some lectionaries. The ature or by exposing it to chemicals, a Gospel writers identified the unnamed multistep process that eventually results “my messenger” of verse 1 with John in the pure and flawless objects we see. the Baptist (Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:27; The prophet Malachi had this concept Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76). In this interprein mind when he addressed the people tation, verses 1-4 are reread in the light of Israel in this text from Malachi 3. We of John the Baptist, who announced the don’t know anything about this prophet; coming salvation of Jesus Christ. Malachi means “my messenger,” so that Malachi announced a “messenger who likely reflects the prophet’s role rather will clear the path before me” (Malachi than his given name. 3:1). John the Baptist was a messenger Malachi’s prophetic ministry followed that of Haggai and Zechariah. The Tem- in the sense that he cleared a path for the ple had been rebuilt and rededicated for coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is worship in 515 bc, and that was supposed the messenger and the message of our to have served as a catalyst for God’s salvation. Jesus cleans, purifies, and people to rededicate themselves as well, refines us, making us into the people renewing their commitments to God and God wants us to be. to one another. Instead, immorality and corruption, even within the Temple and among the priests, abounded. Malachi’s prophecies, which appear as conversations between God and the people, reveal that God was paying close attention to what the people were saying and doing and was not pleased. The priests and people had fallen far short of Lord, cleanse, purify, and refine me so God’s expectations. Malachi was concerned with the peo- that I am the person you want me to ple’s covenant relationship with God and the be. Amen. 62

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Wednesday

22 April

Isaiah 40:3-8

God's Word Lasts Forever

What promises do you find hard to doubt because he sees nothing that endures: “The grass dries up and the flower withbelieve? ers” (verse 7). In other words, he struggled to believe Isaiah 40 begins what most Bible scholars refer to as Second Isaiah (Isa- the voice and prophecy because there iah 40–55). These chapters of Isaiah deal was nothing in life that seemed to valiwith the end of Babylonian control and date the previous hopeful claims. Still, the people’s exile in Babylon and offer though “the grass dries up” and “the hope that those who had been exiled flower withers, . . . our God’s word will would return to Jerusalem and resettle exist forever” (verse 8). When all else perishes and decays, God and the divine there. While God sent numerous prophets promises endure. God’s people then, at various times with messages of judg- and we today, can take comfort in these ment and warning, God also sent dec- words in spite of circumstances that larations of hope and comfort through might suggest a different outcome. God the prophets. The people of God may will bring salvation. We can trust in the enduring promises experience earthly hardship or divine judgment, they assured, but God is long- and truths of Scripture. And not only can suffering, patient, and kind. God’s mercy we take comfort in these promises and and restoration will eventually occur, in truths, we can boldly declare them to a spite of troubling circumstances. There- watching world. Take comfort from this fore, even in the midst of trouble, we can passage and believe its promises. Whattrust in the Lord, for the Lord will be ever your present circumstances, trust the faithful promises of God to bring merciful. That concept is the essential message deliverance and salvation. In the words of Isaiah 40:3-5. The prophet’s reference of the prophet, “the word of our God to “the desert” (Isaiah 40:3) symbolized endures forever.” Israelite hardship, oppression, and exile. But these obstacles would be removed: the way cleared, the highway leveled, valleys raised, hills and mountains flattened, and rough terrain and uneven ground made smooth. “The Lord’s glory will appear,” the voice promised, proclaiming a message of hope and salvation (verses 4-5). After- Lord, your word endures forever. Help ward, the prophet describes hearing a me to believe and trust you when my voice telling him to “Call out!” while faith is weak, and help me declare your another voice asks, “What should I call faithfulness to others who need this out?” The prophet seems to respond with assurance. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Thursday

23 April

Luke 1:67, 76-80

Prepare the Way

What do you need to do in order to pre- but he also calls to us with the same pare the way for Christ to live in and message. John the Baptist points to and declares that in Jesus Christ we find salthrough you this day? vation. And the same challenge John When local governments install new gave the Israelites, he also gives to us: roads, they must first prepare a way for How shall we respond? Will we receive those roads to be built. They must work this coming Christ? Of course, you may be thinking. I am to pass the right legislation. They have to obtain the correct permits. They must already saved. But how do we receive seek out and hire the right people and Christ into our lives every day? What companies to install the roads. Eventu- do we need to do to make room for ally, the ground has to be dug out, lev- Christ? What do we need to get rid of eled, and paved before it is functional. so that Christ can fully and completely It takes a lot of time for these tasks to be live within us? How does Christ’s prescompleted. A road does not just appear. ence in our lives change the way we think, speak, and act? How must we prePeople must prepare the way for it. Zechariah, the father of John the Bap- pare our hearts each day to receive what tist, prophesied that his son would “go Christ wants to give us so that we can before the Lord to prepare his way” and live the way Christ wants us to live? Prepare your heart this day to receive “tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77). Christ as your Messiah, your Savior, A prophet is a person who speaks on your Redeemer, your Lord, your Guide. behalf of God, interprets the will of God, Ask God to use you in giving “light to and declares the Lord’s will to the peo- those who are sitting in darkness” and help guide them “on the path of peace” ple of God. As God’s prophet, John the Baptist (verse 79). declared the coming salvation of the Lord, grounded and rooted in Christ, and called the people to make ready their hearts to receive Christ as the coming Messiah who would inaugurate into existence the coming kingdom of God. Thus, John the Baptist was not pointing to a concept, but rather to a person. When John the Baptist told the people how to be saved, he was teaching them about the coming Messiah, about Jesus Christ. He prepared a way for the Lord. God, thank you that you prepared a way John not only called the Israelites to for Christ. Help me to prepare for you in prepare for the coming of the Messiah, my life every day. I receive you. Amen. 64

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Friday

24 April

Mark 1:1-8

Changed Hearts and Lives

“I baptize you with water,” John told If you have been baptized, what does the people, but “one stronger than I am that experience mean to you? . . . will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” Have you ever taken a long, hot shower (verses 7-8). Interestingly, the same word after a time of intense physical exercise used with reference to water baptism is or hard work? You no doubt lathered also used to refer to the baptism of the yourself with soap and drenched your- Holy Spirit. That is, Jesus Christ fully self in the cleansing feeling of the hot immerses a person in the Holy Spirit. water. Most likely, you stepped out of In doing so, true cleansing occurs, true the shower feeling refreshed and clean. purification occurs, and true devotion When we bathe or shower, we cleanse occurs. Paul reflected that concept when he our bodies of dirt and impurities and make ourselves presentable again. It is stated that we “were sealed with the not hard, then, to understand why water promised Holy Spirit because [we] became such an important symbol in believed in Christ” (Ephesians 1:13). religious practices, even before the time Being immersed in the Holy Spirit proves that we are God’s children (Romans of Jesus. One qualifier people use to identify 8:16). Being immersed in the Holy Spirit and label John is “the Baptist,” or “Bap- purifies and sanctifies us (1 Corinthians tizer.” This is because a large part of his 6:11). Being immersed in the Holy Spirit ministry involved baptism. The word also empowers us to remain devoted used for baptism in this passage means and committed to God, living out God’s to dip repeatedly, to immerse, or to sub- “good purposes” (Philippians 2:12-13)). merge. John called “for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins” (Mark 1:4). They wanted to stand before God pure and clean. Their act signified penance, repentance toward God, and devotion and commitment to God. Mark’s Gospel tells us that “everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins” (verse 5). John’s baptism was symbolic of the inner changes in people’s hearts and lives. The act in Lord, you baptized me with the Holy Spirit. and of itself had no real power to cleanse I am cleansed. I am purified. I devote or purify, and John explained why. myself to you. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Saturday

25 April

John 1:19-28

John's Witness

How do you define or describe yourself? baptism was different from the one who was to come, the one, he proclaimed, When I was a child, I wanted every- “who takes away the sin of the world!” one’s attention. What made me so annoy- (verse 29). John was a way-maker. Once the Mesing was that I would do anything to garner it. To a certain degree, a lot of children siah appeared on the scene, it was time are like that. Perhaps you were like that. for him to exit out of the limelight and As we grow into adulthood, it is easy allow Christ to take center stage. It was to maintain that mentality, especially if time for his ministry to cease, so that the we have careers that naturally put us in ministry of Jesus could flourish. Those the limelight. John the Baptist had just who had been attracted to John’s messuch a career, one that caused him to sage now needed to turn their attention attract a lot of attention. That was what and loyalty to Jesus and follow him. he needed to do. He was “a voice cry- John essentially pointed to Christ and ing out in the wilderness, [Making] the said, “Don’t look at me. Look at him.” Such humility is inspiring. We may at Lord’s path straight” (John 1:23). He times want the attention of others and was preparing the way for Jesus. The response of people to John’s call enjoy being in the limelight. We can all to repentance and baptism was great, as be self-centered. When our positions or we learn from other Gospel accounts. careers naturally put us in the limelight, So great, in fact, that the Jewish lead- it can be easy to expect that attention all ers became concerned and demanded to the time. John’s example in this passage, however, challenges us. Will we point to know, “Who are you?” (verse 19). John was clear in his response: “I’m Christ? In all that we do, will we turn not the Christ” (verse 20). But the priests the gazes of others toward Christ? How and Levites questioning him wanted do we live in such a way that others see answers. “Then who are you? Are you Christ, not us? Elijah? . . . Are you the prophet? . . . Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (verses 21, 22). John was none of these people, but he knew clearly who he was and what God had called him to do. He was merely the one who was preparing the way for the Messiah. Then why do you baptize people “if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Lord, remind me of who I am and who prophet?” the priests and Levites further you want me to be. Use me to point othchallenged him. John explained that his ers to you. Amen. 66

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Sunday

26 April

Acts 19:1-7

Way-Makers

Who has been like John the Baptist in your these disciples. Moreover, the preaching and baptizing of John had prepared them life, preparing you to receive Christ? for such a time as that. This event reveals two important theoConcerts are usually designed according to a framework of anticipation. Less logical truths. First, baptism in Jesus popular bands open for the last band, results in changed hearts and lives. Secwho is the focus of the entire show. With ond, God is always at work, even today, great anticipation, the crowds await this preparing people to receive the salvation and the Holy Spirit. last band. Even before we are aware of it, God The disciples Paul found at Ephesus were like a hungry crowd awaiting the is at work in our lives, drawing us ever appearance of the last band. They had closer to Christ. And since we were received John’s baptism, but they had saved and baptized in the name of Jesus, “not even heard that there is a Holy God has been at work in our lives, transforming our hearts and lives for God’s Spirit” (Acts 19:2). Somehow, John’s message of repen- purposes. Like John preparing the way for Christ tance and baptism had reached Ephesus. Since John preached about the com- in the lives of these disciples, certain ing Messiah, they most likely were still way-makers have also come into our waiting on the coming of the Lord’s lives, helping us get ready to receive the anointed one. With John’s baptism, they good news of salvation. God has been, is, were baptized into the realm of penance, and will always be at work in our lives. as a sign of repentance, and as a show of And God wants to use us in preparing humble expectation of the coming salva- the way for others to receive salvation. tion grounded in the coming Messiah. Imagine their great joy and happiness when Paul declared “the one in whom they were to believe. This one is Jesus” (verse 4). Their decision to be baptized in the name of Jesus, which symbolized complete fidelity to Christ, resulted in the miraculous immersion of the Holy Spirit, whereby spiritual gifts manifested in their lives: “they began speaking in other languages and prophesying” (verse 6)! Some people get so focused Lord, thank you for bringing way-makers on such manifestations that they miss the into my life and continuing to work in point of the passage. Baptism in Jesus my life. Help me be a way-maker for resulted in changed hearts and lives for others. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Monday

27 April

Psalm 36:5-10

The River of Pure Joy

What is God’s desire for those who love to base our lives on our own accomplishGod? ments. But this psalm reminds us that if we live that way, we are blind to God’s Every day, we can pick up the news- great gifts of life and light itself that God paper and read about tragedies in the gives us every moment we exist. God world. We can learn about corruption wishes for us go so much farther than and hatred and the ways in which people survival! God wants us to feast at tables hurt other people. It’s easy to become groaning with food. In a parched land, discouraged and to believe that the best God not only tells us to drink to our fill, we can hope for in a world of sin and but to drink from a river of delight and pain is just survival. Even for that, we a fountain of joy! God wants to protect know we need God’s help. us and shelter us and overwhelm us with But that’s a deeply pessimistic view of the goodness of all life has to give. God’s great creation! Despite the evil in In this psalm, God is the indulgent parthe world, God has given us the gift of ent, showering the people with all they life within hesed, God’s always faithful, could want or desire. What an incredible everlasting, all-encompassing love. God! The difference between the wicked This psalm assures us that the most and those who enjoy divine graces is real and reliable thing in the universe is that we realize our dependence on God’s the love of God. It’s God’s hesed, faithgoodness and the richness God’s characfulness, and righteousness that keep the ter adds to our lives. Along with God’s world spinning and allow us to take each never-ending love for us, God’s dependability (or faithfulness) and desire for breath. The world is a scary and dangerharmony and integrity (righteousness) ous place at times, but ultimately God’s create the possibility for meaningful and love and will are paramount. We don’t have to fear. God’s love will prevail over fulfilling lives. This beautiful psalm describes God’s all! attributes by comparing them to creation. As the hymn “How Great Thou Art” tells us, we can see God’s grandeur and grace in the mountains, the heavens, and the depths of the seas. Just as the mountains anchor the land to the sea and the sky, so does God’s righteousness anchor the world in goodness. Just as the seas are immeasurable, so is God’s justice, never coming to an end. It’s easy to wake up every morning thinking of what we need to get done and 68

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Lord, help me always to remember the great blessings you have given me, and keep me from doubting that your love will prevail! Amen. DAILY BIBLE STUDY

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Tuesday

28 April

Psalm 46:1-11

A Place of Refuge

What sustains you when you feel as possibly written for his friend Leonthough everything around you is fall- hard Kaiser, who was martyred. Many since that time who have been perseing apart? cuted and martyred for their faith have Have you ever been in a disaster? I’m sung it. What a statement for those brave fortunate that I have not, but at the very people to make! Even though everything least, we’ve all seen before and after else in the world had failed them, they photos of places that have been devas- knew that God ultimately stands strong, tated by fire, flood, earthquake, or even and they could face their fate with confiman-made disasters such as bombs. The dence and trust, knowing that, no matter landscape can be completely changed. In what might happen to them, their souls some cases, little is left, making it diffi- were safe with the Lord. In yesterday’s and today’s psalms, we cult for people even to get their bearings. I’ve heard stories of people getting lost read about a life-giving river. In both, it’s in their own neighborhoods because all a symbol of God’s provision in the worst of circumstances. This is the same living their familiar landmarks were gone. Psalm 46 describes such a disaster. The water that Jesus promised the Samaritan mountains, which the ancients believed women in John 4. It’s the very essence held up the skies, sink into the sea. Gov- of life, our ultimate protection and our ernments come crashing down, and war most profound hope and joy. Even in the is all over the face of the earth. Every- midst of earth-shattering chaos, the river thing is desolation, and all landmarks are flows to satisfy all our thirst. When all is destroyed around us, we gone. It makes me wonder how anyone can find their way in such destruction have a landmark to keep us from being lost. God’s kingdom is a refuge and a and confusion. But despite this horrific setting, Psalm 46 place of safety that triumphs over everyis a hymn of praise! There is one con- thing else. As Martin Luther wrote, “Let goods and kindred go, this morstant, one landmark that never changes. tal life also; That, of course, is God: our refuge, our The body they may kill: God’s truth strength, and our help. When all is fallabideth still, ing apart around us and all that we have His kingdom is forever.”1 relied on is gone, God remains strong, secure, and reliable. This psalm states that God is our fortress and cannot be breached by any enemy! The United Methodist Hymnal, 110. Psalm 46 was a favorite of Martin Luther, who used it as inspiration for Oh Lord, may I always seek your refuge his hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our when disaster strikes, and may your God.” Written in the early 1500s, it was living waters satisfy my needs. Amen. 1

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Wednesday

29 April

Ezekiel 47:1-12

God's Glorious River

What does it mean when something God. The path of the river was through goes viral, and how does the process land called the araba, dry wasteland that begin? is only inhabited by dangerous, wild animals. God’s water of life transformed it Just a few days ago, my daughter posted into a paradise. a powerful commentary on her blog about What a beautiful metaphor for the encouraging diversity in technology. transformative power of God’s blessWithin hours, it had multiple hits. By ings! When have you seen someone who the next morning, some newsfeeds had has been in a desolate place in life and picked it up; and by the end of the day, has found the life-giving waters of the she’d had thousands of hits. Her little Lord? What barren and hopeless parts of post had gone viral. your life could be transformed by God’s Ezekiel 47 describes a river that “goes healing waters? God has the ability to viral.” It was just a tiny trickle as it left turn lives that seem meaningless into the Temple. The word used to describe it, great treasures. The dead areas of our mepakkim, is the same word to describe lives and of our society can once again the gurgling sound of water coming out become teeming with hope and purpose. of a bottle. But as Ezekiel and his guide And what a beautiful metaphor for walked the length of the river, it went how God’s blessings increase! From a from ankle-deep to thigh-deep to waisttiny trickle, God’s love can become an deep without any tributaries. Soon, it was unstoppable torrent! People who drink so deep and wide that it was impossible from God’s life-giving waters and are to cross. Thick vegetation grew on either side, and it supported a huge variety of transformed then have the ability to lead others to the same life-giving waters. As crops and animals. At the end, the river emptied into the healing takes place, all that touches them Dead Sea, and it was so robust that it become healed as well. Think how the one life of Jesus Christ cleansed the salty water to the point where the Dead Sea supported teaming life. transformed the world! As people of God, Fishermen cast their nets there, and trees we can become part of this river, allowwere laden with fruit throughout the ing the current to take us places we never entire year. Even the leaves of the trees thought possible and being part of a miscould heal. This tiny stream transformed sion of wholeness, justice, and mercy for all of creation. a nation! Ezekiel’s vision was a prophecy for Israel in the midst of exile. It was a picture of hope for those who longed to return home again, but it was also a vision of Lord, may I be part of your glorious river a thriving world watered by the word of of healing and hope! Amen. 70

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Thursday

30 April

Revelation 21:9-14

God's Desire for the People

What is God’s ultimate plan for creation? the prophecies is that the earth will be blessed, healed, and whole; and God’s The Book of Revelation can be confus- hesed—everlasting love—will be the force ing, difficult to understand, and perhaps that rules the earth. The description of the city is highly even a little scary. For as long as I can remember, I have heard people preach symbolic. It has 12 gates and foundadoomsday messages based on political tions, 12 being the number of totality or events that were said to be mentioned in perfection. Each gate is inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, symRevelation. The Left Behind series of books is just bolizing the beginnings of the relationone example of taking an extremely literal ship of God with the people. Each foundation of the city has a name approach to biblical prophecies as events that will happen exactly as described. of one of Jesus’ apostles, symbolizing They lean heavily on descriptions in Rev- the people of God who were transformed elation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and other books. by Christ’s death and resurrection. The According to those who interpret the entire city sparkles like a jewel, precious writings of end times in Scripture liter- as God’s people are to God. This glorially (called “premillienial dispensation- ous city is a symbol of utopia, Eden come alists”), scores of believers will rapture again, the perfect place for the beloved to the heavens, an anti-Christ will vie for people of God. It’s wonderful to know that a world humanity’s loyalty, and the world will be of healing and hesed is God’s ultimate ravaged by disease and war. How much of this should we take lit- desire for us. This new city on the hill, erally, and how much are metaphors? the new Jerusalem, is the end goal for Different people have differing views, creation. It’s a vision of the kingdom of but there’s one thing about the Book of God come to earth, promised to us by Revelation that everyone agrees with: In Jesus Christ himself. However it comes to pass, we know this is God’s desire for the end, God wins! And this is the most important lesson us, and we have the firm and sure hope of apocalyptic (end times) Scripture. The of God’s goodness and love one day final vision in the Bible is that of the New healing all of creation. Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, come to earth. In this passage, John is taken to a high hill to watch the city descend from heaven. God’s dwelling place and humanity’s home become one and the same, heaven comes to earth, and God’s Lord, may I be comforted by the vision vision of a whole, just, and merciful soci- of your hope for the world. Come, Lord ety is finally realized. The promise of Jesus! Amen. SPRING 2020

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Friday

1 May

Revelation 21:15-21

A City of Astounding Beauty

The city is enormous, about 1,400 miles Where is the most beautiful place you’ve on each side and just as tall. For people ever been? whose only transportation was by foot, Recently, my husband and I visited these figures were overwhelming! The the eastern coast of Taiwan. It was one world will be covered by this gigantic of the most beautiful places I could ever city! The shape of the city, a huge cube, imagine, with turquoise oceans, marble is the same shape as the innermost part cliffs, and jungle flowers. Everywhere of Solomon’s Temple. This city will be I turned, the spectacular scenery took my the most awe-inspiring, stunning, and breath away. I don’t think I’ve ever taken most beautiful thing ever seen by human so many pictures before in my life. But eyes. It will be God’s glory visible to all even that gorgeous natural beauty will people. The incredible thing about this text be nothing compared to the spectacle of is that the city comes to earth, meaning God’s holy city come to earth! This city is the New Jerusalem (Reve- that God will share the holy place with lation 21:2), God’s dwelling place come God’s people. Because this is the Kingto earth. Jerusalem right now is a specific dom, there will be justice and mercy, and city on earth referred to as God’s special, every person will have the opportunity blessed place because the Temple of to live to their full potential. Sin will no God is located there. It is often referred longer have a foothold anywhere in the to as Zion and was God’s city on the hill world. For the first time, humanity will that was the seat of Hebrew kings. But live as God intends: in righteousness and throughout the Scriptures, Jerusalem has responding to the will of God. also been a name for a spiritual state that And what could be more beautiful symbolizes righteousness and relation- than that? Every human will have digship. Of course, God is not tied to a spe- nity, and all will join together in praising cific place, and so the New Jerusalem, God. When every person lives with comdescribed in these verses, is actually passion and grace for one another and in God’s heavenly kingdom, not the earthly gratitude and obedience to God, golden city. streets won’t be the most beautiful part Precious stones make up the 12 foun- of the city. The true beauty will be in the dations of the city, and the city’s main hearts and souls of the whole and healed street is made of pure gold. People have people of God. assigned symbolism to the various gemstones in this description, and they mirror the stones on the high priest’s breastplate in Exodus 28; but the key point is that it is a place of indescribable beauty and of Oh Lord, I long to see your holy city! Come, unimaginable worth. Lord Jesus! Amen. 72

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Saturday

2 May

Revelation 21:22-27

A City of the Presence of God

How would the world need to be trans- of God will fill the city. Every corner will formed to make it worthy to be God’s glow with the glory of God! This neverhome? ending light of God will be the guiding force of the world. All the nations will Some of my favorite places to visit follow the will of God. when we travel are the great cathedrals That’s why there will be no more war in Europe. There’s a sense of grandeur and no more oppression. God’s way will and peace in them that is difficult to rep- finally become the way of humanity. licate. I find it easy to worship when I’m There will be some who are excluded, surrounded by such beauty inspired by but they will be those who don’t strive our Lord God. for righteousness and who have allowed Because of that, I found it surprising their fear and their own desires to superto read in John’s vision that the New Jeru- sede the will of God. The ones who are salem would have no temple or house of left outside the doors are those who will worship. This huge city––1,400 miles choose the glory of human structures, long!—would have no designated place wealth, and power over the glory of God. for people to go to praise God. My immeThe New Jerusalem will be God’s diate thought was of all the beautiful symbol of all that earth was created to churches and cathedrals where I had worbe. It is the culmination of creation, with shiped; I was sad that the New Jerusalem a new society, a new community, and would have no such place to reflect on new people all with new hearts that are God’s glory and wonder. But churches, attuned to God. This is our hope and our temples, and cathedrals are sanctums of holiness in this world. They are conse- promise as Christians, that the world crated places for worship, set aside for will one day be transformed into the world that God created it to be before sin the glory of God. The reason they will not be necessary entered. One day, God’s presence will be so in the New Jerusalem is because the entire city will be holy. Every inch of this huge infused into every moment, every place, and glorious place will be infused by and every heart that there will be no the presence and power of God. Instead more room for darkness, no more place of separate temples, churches or cathe- for pain, and no more specter of death. drals, the entire city will be one glorious Heaven and earth will be one, and our cathedral to God’s grace and glory, built hearts and minds will be one with God. not by human hands, but by the vision of God. God will not be distant but will be alive, knowable, and present in every Lord, help me to live as a worthy inhabcorner of the city. For the same reason, there will not be itant now of the New Jerusalem that sunshine or moonlight because the light will be. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen. SPRING 2020

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Sunday

3 May

Revelation 22:1-5

Seeing the Face of God

What would it be like to gaze on the perfect environment for beings created in face of God? God’s image. But sin entered the picture, and the relationships and the environWe would be hard-pressed to think ments were soiled. In these last chapters of anyone who has ever lived, save for of Scripture, the world comes full circle. Jesus Christ, who was closer to God than Eden is recreated, and people can for the Moses. Only Moses was rescued from a first time look into the face of God. Just murderous Pharaoh and chosen to free as in Genesis, the Psalms, and Ezekiel, God’s people from slavery. Only Moses here we read about a crystal river of life could climb Mount Sinai to talk to God. that flows through the New Jerusalem Only Moses received the Torah and the from the base of the throne of God. Fruit Ten Commandments. trees blossom and bear on either side. But when Moses asked to see the face The Book of Revelation is about a of God, God refused: “You can’t see mighty battle, but more important, it is a my face because no one can see me and battle that God wins! All through his life live” (Exodus 33:20). The light of God’s on earth, Jesus spoke of the day when glory would be too overwhelming. The God would defeat sin and death, a day very essence of God would be more than whose dawn was Easter morning. a human being could survive. The best We struggle now and wait in certain that Moses could do was to hide in the hope for the dream of the New Jerusacleft of a rock and catch a glimpse of the lem to arrive in full. Revelation tells us back of God as God went by. It was all that the hope and joy of Easter will conthat a human being could withstand. But Revelation 22:4 says that the tinue into eternity as God’s light will inhabitants of the New Jerusalem will never fade, the crystal river of life will see God’s face. They will be able to flow forever, and all of God’s people can withstand the glory of God and for the shine in the light of the glory of God, first time in human history, have a face- gazing on God’s face. to-face relationship with the Creator of the cosmos, more intimate than ever before. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8, NRSV). The residents of the New Jerusalem will have the purity that God desires, and the stain of sin won’t destroy them as they gaze into the eyes Lord, cleanse my heart so that I may be of God. This is the relationship God wanted worthy one day to see your face. Come, with the first humans. Eden was the Lord Jesus! Amen. 74

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Monday

4 May

Psalm 115:9-18

God Is Our Help and Shield

What is God’s desire for humanity’s rela- originated here in this psalm. It’s important to realize what this phrase means. tionship with God? All that is in the world was designed Some years back, we took an exchange and created by God, the ultimate artist. student to a football game. Having never Every creative thought of humans origiseen a football game before, she was nated with the creations of God, and the confused about the rules, so we tried to entire framework of our understanding explain the game as simply as possible. of the world is based on structures that Like many games, there is an offensive God designed. Colors, emotions, tastes, team and a defensive team, we told her. perceptions of beauty, and everything The offense tries to make things happen, else in the cosmos––all were crafted by and the defense tries to keep things from God and then given to humanity. What happening. You need both in order to we call creativity as humans is a pale shadow of the magnificence of God’s win! I thought of this explanation when work. It’s crucial to remember we are also I read the repeated chorus in this psalm: “God is their help and shield.” God is part of this created realm. God created offense and defense, helping things to us in God’s image, but sometimes we happen and also keeping things from seem to create God in our image. Martin happening. Because of this, the psalm Luther once lamented that his thoughts states that Israel, the house of Aaron (the of God were too human. However, priests), and those who honor God (all God is not like us; God is beyond our who follow God’s commandments) can understanding. trust in the Lord. The first half of Psalm 115 warns Trust is defined as confidence or faith, against idol worship; and if we reduce a sense of security and safety, physically God to our own understanding, we are and emotionally. When you trust some- diminishing God to an idol, even if it is one, you don’t have to worry about his or not wood or stone. We were created by her reliability or motives. So these verses the mysterious and powerful Lord God are saying that those who follow God as earthly beings to praise and to serve don’t have to worry because God will God here while God dwells in heaven. be on the front lines making good things As verse 18 reminds us, our place here happen for them, and also be protecting and now is to praise God while we have them from bad things. What a wonderful breath in our lungs, ever grateful for assurance! God’s blessings, help, and protection. And a greater thing is that this God of protection and blessing is none other than the maker of heaven and earth! This Mysterious and powerful Lord, thank familiar phrase from the Apostle’s Creed you for your help and your shield. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Tuesday

5 May

Psalm 40:11-17

God, My Help and My Rescuer

How can we trust that God will save us? and will do something about it. The cry of pain is a cry of faith that believes that Psalm 40 is unusual. First, Psalm 70 God is there despite suffering. The psalmist tells us two reasons why is nearly exactly the same as the last five verses of Psalm 40. Second, Psalm 40 he can continue to praise God, even seems to read as a “backward” psalm. while he suffers. The first is the aforeThe first ten verses praise God and tell mentioned fact that God had helped him of God’s innumerable blessings. The in the past. The second is that the psalmpsalmist is righteous, God is good, and ist knew the character of God. Verse 11 mentions God’s mercy, hesed all is right in the world. But the last six verses, our reading for (or steadfast love), and righteousness. today, speak of overwhelming trouble. Mercy is a love that responds in unexThe psalmist has more problems than pected or undeserved ways. It’s a love hairs on his head! It’s a strange turn- that forgives and strives to right wrongs around when most psalms start out with beyond just being fair. Hesed is a love trouble and then end in praise because that never ends. It has no bridges that could ever burn and no limits to its sacthe Lord has come to the rescue. But life isn’t stuck on happy endings, rifice. Righteousness is a love of faithis it? Just because some troubles have fulness. Because God is righteous, God ended doesn’t mean that more won’t always keeps promises and is completely come later. We’re never safe from bad trustworthy. things happening; and even if we’ve And it’s because of God’s character been delivered by God, there’s always that we can cry out in trust and confisomething new around the bend. We are dence when the world turns against us, never in a place where we don’t need too. We know God’s history, and we also God’s help. know that God is merciful, loving, and Even when we find salvation, mean- righteous. Armed with this knowledge, ing, and purpose through our relation- we can cry out in our pain, not concerned ship with Jesus Christ, our lives are that we affront our Lord with our need, not free of problems. Salvation doesn’t but secure that God hears, cares, and is end sin. Grace doesn’t end grief. Hesed pleased to save. doesn’t end heartache. But what we do have is a certain knowledge that the Lord of all knows about our pain, and it matters. It’s precisely because God helped the psalmist in the past that he feels confident to call on God now. The call of Lord, may I have the confidence of the anguish is also a call of trust, made in psalmist, trusting in your mercy, hesed, certainty that God will hear, will care, and righteousness. Amen. 76

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Wednesday

6 May

Jonah 1:4-17

A Big Fish

How do people respond when God asks you read about Assyrian torture meththem to do something they don’t want ods, death by drowning sounds good, but Jonah didn’t trust God to protect and to do? care for him. He would rather have died We all are asked or expected to do by his own methods than obey God, risk things we don’t want to do at times. I, for going to Nineveh, and fall into hostile one, am never excited about cleaning the Assyrian hands. We know the story that follows. Jonah bathroom. When I was a teacher, I rarely had a student who actually wanted to do was thrown into the sea, but a great fish homework. Sometimes we go out of our swallowed him and then spit him out way to avoid an unpleasant task, but few on Nineveh’s shore. God didn’t let him get away with running away. Jonah was go to the lengths of Jonah! God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, successful despite himself, and Nineveh then the capital of Assyria, and preach repented. God used an unwilling “seragainst it. At that time, Assyria was a vant” to achieve God’s goals, even though huge, wealthy city, and it was known Jonah fought God every step of the way. Jonah didn’t obey God and didn’t trust for its brutal subjugation of its neighbors and its creative and grisly means of in God’s protection. He chose his own torture. We can understand why Jonah course to save himself and condemn the people of Nineveh. But God set up didn’t want to go there. So he got on a ship going the opposite guardrails to keep him on track despite direction. It wasn’t long before a great himself. God’s goodness and protection storm threatened to destroy the ship. prevailed and saved not only Jonah but While the sailors were frantically throw- the inhabitants of Nineveh. ing items overboard to lighten the load, When God gives us clear direction, Jonah was sleeping in the deck below. we can trust God’s provision for us as He didn’t seem concerned or even aware we obey. Our tasks may be difficult or of the problems he had caused. The cap- even terrifying, but God’s protection and tain woke him, hoping he would pray to grace surround us in our obedience. his God as well, in an attempt to save the ship. When, after casting lots, the sailors found out that Jonah was the cause of the storm, he offered to throw himself overboard in order to stop the storm. That sounds altruistic of him, until we realize that all he had to do was to obey God at that point. God’s purpose of the storm was to get Jonah to obey, and he Lord, give me the courage to do the chose death rather than obedience. If things you ask of me. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Thursday

7 May

Revelation 12:1-6, 13-16

A Safe Place

How do people keep themselves safe completely vulnerable state, but found safety with God. from harm? After the birth, the dragon continued Apocalyptic literature is strange and to pursue her, following her into the desdifficult to understand, but we can better ert. There, God gave her wings to escape, understand Revelation 12 by knowing and the earth swallowed up the flood the some of the cultural background John dragon sent to drown her. The woman, symbolizing the faithful and righteous referenced. Ancient Rome used their mythology people of God, was protected from evil as propaganda to idolize their emperors. and kept safe from harm. Ultimately, like the woman, we need Many emperors took on the names of Roman gods and had statues and coins to rely on God for safety. There’s nothmade of themselves to look like their ing we as humans can do to completely chosen gods. Caesar, Augustus, and protect ourselves from harm. In the end, Nero all took on the persona of Apollo, the very things we may rely on for selfa god who was born of a woman who protection, such as stockpiling wealth or was threatened by a dragon. Apollo then segregating ourselves from others, can saved his people by killing the dragon. begin to destroy our integrity and draw But John took this myth and turned it on us away from God’s true protection. its head, making the hero the people of Only as the people of God do we have God and the villain, the dragon, Rome God’s sure promise of eternal life and itself. eternal safety. In Revelation 12, the woman in labor In the end, what will keep us safe is is a sign of hope and life. Even though boldly following the way of Christ. It she was vulnerable in the midst of labor, may seem dangerous to those watching she didn’t capitulate to the dragon but and holding fast to their possessions. It stood firm until she gave birth, then fled may seem foolish to choose the right to God’s protection. Throughout Scrip- instead of the cautious way. But if we ture, the dawning of the kingdom of God trust in God and call ourselves people of is compared to giving birth. God, then we can trust in the promise of Paul said that the “whole creation is light, love, and life eternal for those who groaning together and suffering labor follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. pains” (Romans 8:22). Therefore, here Our true safety is with him. she symbolizes the struggle to bring the kingdom of God to earth, as evil, the seven-headed dragon, lay in wait to destroy it. Before the dragon could kill her and her newborn, she was rescued, cared for, Lord, may I trust always in your protecand nourished by God. She was in a tion of my soul. Amen. 78

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Friday

8 May

Matthew 6:25-34

Lessons From Birds and Lilies

What are the treasures people value the treasures of a life well lived: a sense of purpose and worth, being loved and havmost in their lives? ing loved well, of integrity and of living Let’s be honest. This is one of those a life that is pleasing to God? These are passages that you know and love, but the investments that are secure. So this passage is a call to reorient when you actually try to put it into practice, it doesn’t seem pragmatic. It would ourselves. It asks us to reassess what is be great to be a carefree bird, but they important in life, and to base our lives don’t have a mortgage or rent due. Lilies around those things. That is a life filled don’t have grocery or medical bills. To with riches that will lessen anxiety instead say that God will provide doesn’t cut it of increase it. How wonderful it is that the exact life with the creditors. But Jesus wasn’t saying we should be that gives us the best that the world has like birds or flowers; rather, we should to offer is the same life that God desires learn from them. Jesus was telling his for us? It’s no accident. God designed disciples to consider and study the world creation and lovingly cares for it. We’re that God has created, where seemingly part of that creation, enfolded into God’s inconsequential birds and flowers are so provision, and we’re designed to be haplavishly cared for. And then trust. This piest and most peaceful when we live in doesn’t mean that we can quit our jobs pursuit of the riches of God’s kingdom. and wait to win the lottery. It means that The checkbook may still not balance, God sees us, knows our concerns, and and, yes, that is a concern. But to know loves us; and if God cares for little things that you are a beloved child of the Creso much, we’re cared for as well. We can ator of the universe holds solace. And let the anxiety go and do the best we can, to know that there’s a place for you in trusting on God to do the rest. God’s glorious kingdom is a wonderful A large part of this rests on the kind of comfort indeed. life we are seeking to live. Reevaluating the treasures we are accumulating in our lives is one of the things we can learn from the birds and the lilies. Are your treasures things you need to lock up and hide away from others? Are they things you are afraid of losing and need to protect from theft or disasters? Are you spending your time and your Lord, help me to orient myself to seekefforts to accumulate things that don’t ing your treasures and not being anxmatter in the end? What possessions do ious about the treasures of the world. birds or lilies treasure? Or do you collect Amen. SPRING 2020

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Saturday

9 May

Genesis 4:1-9

Cain and Abel

Of course, Cain did not master it. He What does it mean to be your brother’s keeper? gave into sin and murdered his brother. When God asked him where his brother The story of Cain and Abel is one of was, he responded in one of the most the most familiar and also one of the most famous lines in the Bible, “Am I my theologically rich passages in Genesis. It brother’s keeper?” (NRSV). But Cain speaks about our responsibilities to God; was much more than Abel’s keeper or our free agency; and for the first time in guardian. He was bonded to Abel so Scripture, our responsibilities to others. Its insight into the human psyche is pro- profoundly that when he destroyed him, he destroyed part of himself. Cain was found, disturbing, and also uplifting. We don’t know why God preferred Abel’s blood, his brother. Cain violated the bond of brotherhood Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s (Genesis 4:4-5), and it’s not important to the story. and sisterhood that God has created The key part is Cain’s anger at the slight among all of humanity. By murdering and what he did with it. When God saw Abel, he cut himself off from the very that Cain was jealous, God responded earth. (In Hebrew, the word for “earth,” in Genesis 4:7, a complex and difficult adamah, is firmly linked with the word verse that has many possible transla- for “humanity,” adam.) God banished tions. God told Cain that sin was lurking Cain and sent him out of Eden. at his door. This is the human condition. When we hurt our brothers and sisWe have to deal with the fact of sin: our anger, jealousy, greed, and focus on our- ters, we are giving power to the sin that selves. But the second half of that verse crouches at our door and destroying the bond that God created among all of reads, “But you must rule over it.” John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, East of humanity. God gave us as a gift to one Eden, is based on the translation of the another. We are more than our brothers’ second half of verse 7. The story of two and sisters’ keepers. We are joined in warring twins ends with their father heart and soul, flesh and blood. breathing the Hebrew verb of verse 7, First John 2:9 reads, “The one who timshel, on his deathbed. claims to be in the light while hating a In most translations, this verb is ren- brother or sister is in the darkness even dered, “you must” but it is also possible now.” God designed the world so that to translate it as “you may” (master sin). our bond with one another is our joy and In other words, God has given humanity our responsibility. We are one another’s agency over sin. We have the choice to deal with the sin that desires us by con- brothers and sisters because we are all quering it or by succumbing to it. It’s the children of our Lord. core struggle of humanity to face the sin and temptation in our lives and to decide Lord, help me to master sin so that if we will give up or if we will fight and I may cherish my brothers and sisters. master it. Amen. 80

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Sunday

10 May

Genesis 3:21; 4:10-16

God's Care for Adam, Eve, and Cain

How does God respond to our sin?

God would watch out for the sinner, for the murderer. Cain was given a chance to succeed after all. And this is how we, as sinners, live today. We are all marked by sin. We all have the scars of disobedience and willful behavior marked on our souls and psyches and we can’t escape it. Humanity’s sin has seeped into the soil and pollutes the earth with war, oppression, and discrimination against our brothers and sisters. But our relationship with God is defined by grace. Despite our failure to fight off the sin that lurks at our doors, we are held in the palm of God’s hand, protected and cared for. Broken and exiled from Eden, we are still God’s beloved, and we still have the promise of eternal life before us. God created us for Eden but equips us for the sin-filled world. Eden didn’t require clothing, but when Adam and Eve left, God sewed skins together for them. I can’t imagine God’s sorrow as God prepared them for life tainted by sin. Cain was marked by murder and mercy. Our journey back to Eden, the kingdom of God, is a journey of shamed and broken people, shepherded by grace and mercy.

I taught in an alternative high school for students who were failing in their other schools. Suffice it to say, the students were challenging, and a large part of what I taught was not my course on ancient history but on learning how to be responsible. Students often did not do their work in class. I would remind them of the work needed to be done, but if they ignored me, I let it go. However, at lunchtime, I’d march into the cafeteria with my clipboard and take the students with work due into my classroom and sit with them during lunch while they did their work, as many times as needed until the work was done. The stigma of being taken out of the cafeteria was a powerful deterrent to goofing off during class time. It was a punishment for the students to be taken out of lunch in front of their friends, but I also worked with them during lunch so that they could pass their classes. I refused to let them fail, even though they deserved to. I called them out for their offenses but then gave them a place to correct them. You could say this is how God dealt with Cain. Cain gave in to sin and deserved to die. God cut him off from the land because the blood of his brother had polluted it. God exiled him from his family. But God gave Cain a way forward. He put a mark on his forehead that reminded him that he was his brother’s murderer, but it also protected him from any harm. Gracious God, forgive me for my sins It was a punishment and a sign of mercy. as I rest in your mercy. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Monday

11 May

Numbers 11:4-9, 21-23

Meat in the Wilderness

How do people tell the difference between worry, and empty of time with those we love because we’re chasing the things what they want and what they need? we think we want instead of the things My grandson is like most children. He we need. The Hebrew people complained because loves macaroni and cheese and isn’t too fond of vegetables. Often, when his par- manna was not enough. They wanted ents serve him veggies, he refuses to eat meat. Even though Moses doubted that them and asks for macaroni and cheese the thousands of people who were marchinstead, even though he knows that ing through the desert could be fed meat, vegetables are much better for him. He God proved that the divine power has doesn’t ask for what he needs; he asks no limits and sent huge flocks of quail, more meat than they could eat. But those for what he wants. When Moses took the Hebrew people who ran out of the camp—the place of out of Egypt, they wandered in the desert God—to harvest the meat, sickened and for 40 years. In order to feed them, God died. The place of true nourishment was sent manna from heaven. Today, we’re within God’s realm. This passage is a call to reassess our not sure exactly what manna was, but it was able to sustain the Hebrew people lives and consider what sustains us and during their journey. In the manna, God makes us happy. What are you chasing gave them what they needed. But we that could be destroying the life that God read in this account from Numbers that has given you? they grew tired of it and wanted someOften our wants are within our reach, thing else. They rejected the nourish- and God has the ability to give them to ment that God sent and went out to look us. But are they the things we should for something different. be chasing after? Are those the things What do we want that isn’t what we that help us to grow strong in our spirineed? Scores of websites exist to teach tual lives, build our relationships, and people the difference between want and become people of God? Can you realign need. Our houses are crammed with your wants to be the desires of God for things we thought we wanted, to the your life? That’s where the true nourishpoint where many have outside storage to ment is, because in the end, the desires accommodate everything. Marie Kondo of God for your life are the things that has made a business of teaching people you need. how to Tidy Up and rid themselves of things they once thought they needed. Maybe it’s not material goods we think we need, but social prestige, a fat bank Lord, realign my desires to be your account, or the perfect job. Our lives desires for me, because that is where become crowded with stuff, stressed with I will find abundant life. Amen. 82

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Tuesday

12 May

Psalm 105:37-43

God's Lavish Gifts

The earth’s rich soil gives us crops, the What gifts from God are particularly oceans teem with fish, and animals prowonderful? vide meat. Just think for a moment on the Psalm 105 is a hymn of praise for God’s vast variety of foodstuffs in your local goodness throughout the beginning of market. There are foods for every taste, Israel’s history. It starts with an image season, and mood. There are over 2,000 of Abraham looking at the stars, contin- varieties of fruit alone in the world! We ues with Jacob, tells of Joseph and the certainly don’t need that many different Pharaoh, and then recounts the story of things to eat, but God lovingly crafted Moses bringing the people out of Egypt. each one, with its own specific tastes, The history is selective, omitting the only to delight us. We have sunshine and rain, trees for times when the people rebelled against God. Instead, it’s a joyful retelling of the shade and shelter, a stunning variety of ways that God provided for the Hebrew animals for domestication and to enjoy people until they reached the Promised their exquisiteness, and stunning natural beauty. We have the love of family and Land. Therefore, it tells only half the story. friends and the joy of companionship. Psalm 106, the companion to Psalm 105, God’s gifts are gloriously lavish. God made every one of these things tells about the rebellion of the people and God’s great disappointment when for us to enjoy. This psalm tells us how they turned from God to pursue other God cared for the Hebrew people, givthings. When read together, the two ing them shelter from the searing desert psalms stress the shocking nature of dis- sun, light at night, and plenty of water, obedience to God after all that God had besides manna and quail. God gave them done for the Hebrew people. Reading the all those things in love for their comfort psalms together explains why Psalm 105 and sustenance because they were God’s addresses only God’s abundant response. people. It follows the Exodus version where the Psalm 105 is a joyful thanksgiving for quail was a gift like the manna was, with all these gifts from God. God gives us no damaging consequences. the blessing and the challenge to use So often, God gives us more than we these gifts wisely. We should use what need, and this psalm praises our abun- God has given us in God’s great generdant blessings. God doesn’t withhold osity and love and share it with care and the opportunity for us to enjoy things. compassion for others. In fact, God gives us the riches of the world in incredible profusion; the failure of poverty is human unwillingness and inability to distribute and share that Lord, may I see your love in your gifts bounty. that surround me every day. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Wednesday

13 May

Exodus 16:2-8

Slavery or the Wilderness?

When we claim the freedom of the How does following God take people into uncomfortable places? salvation of Jesus Christ, it means that we are starting a risk-taking adventure. It In Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi, a zoo means going out into the figurative wilin India was struck by a ferocious storm. derness away from comfortable living to The wind blew all the fences down, and challenge ourselves, not only in our own the animals were set free. But when Pi personal growth in faith, but in loving and his parents entered the zoo after the our neighbor (which is every person God storm, they were surprised to see most created) as ourselves. It means recogof the animals still in their compounds. nizing and then challenging systems of Even though they were free to leave, oppression and discrimination as Christ they preferred to stay in captivity. It did. was where they were safe and fed. They It means living as Jesus Christ—a life wanted familiarity and security. Life was that often “bucks the system” and can easier there. feel like being in the wilderness. It’s The animals in Pi’s zoo were not understandable that at times, we would much different from the Hebrews in this want to go back to the comforts of Egypt, passage. Moses had rescued them from a place where we don’t have to worry oppression and captivity and brought about the call of holiness. them out into the desert. But the wilderBut God hears our grumbling, and in ness was a scary, unfamiliar place. They grace and in mercy, gives us unexpected didn’t have food or water. As horrible nourishment in the desert. We are not left as it had been in Egypt, they knew what would happen to them there, and that’s to our own devices. When we become where they felt secure. They grumbled followers of Christ, we may be in unfaand complained, asking to return to the miliar territory, but we are never alone. God gave the Hebrew people the manna reliability of slavery. Some stories in the Gospels make the in the desert so that they would know same point. In John 5, Jesus asks a man that God was with them and caring for by the pool of Bethesda if he wants to them on their journey. Through amazing be healed. As he was, broken and help- miracles and everyday blessings, God less, no one expected anything of him. walks with us on our Christian journey. He could wait by the waters every day, and no one would criticize him. But if he were healed, he would have a new life. It would be much better, but he would have to do something with it. So before Jesus healed him, he asked if that was what he Lord, thank you for my freedom in you, wanted. Did he want to take the respon- and help me to trust your provisions sibility for being whole? for me. Amen. 84

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Thursday

14 May

Exodus 16:9-15

Unexpected Answers to Prayers

What a familiar reaction! How often When has God answered your prayers in ways you did not anticipate? does this happen when we pray to God to help us with a need? We may have the When the Hebrew people grumbled solution exactly in mind, and we inform in the desert and said they were hungry, God what to do. We’ve got it all figured God sent them manna. We don’t know out and know just what we need to make exactly what manna was, but Exodus everything work. 16:31 said that it was white, like corianBut God has other ideas that will solve der seed, and was sweet. It was on the our problems in ways we never thought desert floor every morning and melted about. When God answers our prayers in the heat. It attracted insects and could in ways we don’t expect, our response not be stored. is often to ask, “God, what is this stuff?” Scientists have suggested that manna We might not even recognize that our was a secretion of an insect that still prayers have been answered because God’s exists on the Sinai Peninsula. It eats the response is nothing we’re familiar with. fruit of the tamarisk tree and then disBut when God answers our prayers, it’s charges a liquid that congeals in the exactly what we need. Moses answered cold and looks like white flakes on the the Hebrews by telling them that the ground. The secretion melts in the sun manna was the bread that the Lord had and attracts ants. It is nutritious, has a given them to eat. Think how perfect it sweet taste, and is still gathered by resiwas! Usually, bread is a high-labor food. dents of the area who bake it into bread. You need to grow, hull, and grind the Whatever manna was, the Hebrews were not familiar with it. The word in wheat, then bake it. The manna came Hebrew for “manna,” man hu, literally ready to eat on the desert floor. Grain means, “What is this stuff?” It was some- would be heavy and difficult to carry thing they’d never seen or experienced across the desert. The manna appeared before. When they dreamed of the food every day and couldn’t even be gathered that they’d left behind in Egypt, manna in excess. It was the perfect food for their wasn’t on the menu. It was something time in the wilderness. We need to trust God to answer our completely new. So when they complained, grumbled, prayers in the best possible way. We and prayed about getting food, they cer- may respond with a questioning: “What tainly did not ask for manna. God’s pro- is this stuff?” But God’s provisions are vision for them was perfect; it was tasty, exactly what we need. plentiful, and nutritious. But it wasn’t what they’d thought they’d get. When they saw it, their response was not grateful praise but a confused question to one Lord, open my eyes to your unexpected another: “What is this stuff?” answers to prayer. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Friday

15 May

Exodus 16:16-21

Gathering Manna

If they tried to gather more than they Why do people keep more than they need of something? needed and hoard it, “it became infested with worms” and was worthless (ExoYears ago, my mother had a cross-stitch dus 16:20). Those things we have that and knitting shop. When she got ill and we don’t use are worthless, too, just as closed it, my dad showed up with boxes the craft supplies I had that I could not and boxes of unsold stock and dropped it use were of little worth to me sitting in off at my house. I love to craft, but this my closet. When I shared them, others was ridiculous! However, I dreamed of were able to use them to make beautiful all the beautiful things I could make, so things. we stored it all so that I could someday Hoarding any of God’s gifts lessens use it. their worth. Talents and skills unused are When we decided to sell our house and wasted. Goods unused take up space and downsize, I finally recognized I never aren’t enjoyed. Even money can often be would use it all and advertised free craft- used in more beneficial ways than saving supplies to people who could not ing it. God has given all to us, and it is afford them. People were thrilled to be our responsibility to see that the things given the supplies, and I got some beauwe’re given are used in the most productiful photos of finished projects. I felt tive ways. badly that I had been hoarding things, This passage also teaches us to trust in unused, that could give people such joy God’s provision. Every night the Hebrew and become so beautiful. people went to bed with no food in their The story of manna in Exodus confronts our desire to horde and have more camp but woke every morning to find than we need. God told the people to that, once again, God had provided for gather as much manna as they needed for them. They wandered in the desert for that day, and that day only. Everyone had 40 years, and as long as they needed exactly what they could use. Those who manna, God sent it. It was daily care gathered a lot used it all, and those who that became quite routine, but God’s care gathered little had enough. It was a beau- often comes in routine ways. Through tiful illustration of a community work- this care, we can see God’s love for us ing together to fulfill everyone’s needs. and the need for us to use God’s gifts Every morning when they woke up, wisely. there was more bread. Every evening when they went to bed, the bread was used up or spoiled. There was no need for anxiety because there was enough for all, and God would provide for them. The manna was a clear and daily reminder of God’s Lord, may I trust in your care enough to provision for them. live with an open hand to others. Amen. 86

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Saturday

16 May

Exodus 16:22-30

The Sabbath Rest

Why did God give us the sabbath?

In fact, if they went out on the sabbath to gather manna, they would find none. If they tried to work, it would be ineffective. God designed the world for our best life possible, and that includes time for us to recover from work and to focus on that which is important in our lives— our relationships with God and with one another. But ironically, taking time to rest means planning and preparing for that time. God’s provision of extra manna the day before taught the Hebrew people “time management” skills so that they could effectively rest without anxiety. By spending the time gathering extra manna the day before, they were prepared for the sabbath the next day. We can always do more. But God’s call to sabbath tells us that filling our lives with work and things we must do isn’t the way we were created to live. The provision of manna teaches us about trusting God with our needs. The provision of the sabbath manna teaches us to trust God with our time. In both instances, the result is not less, but more—more of the riches in this life that count. It’s the riches of relationship with God and others and of freedom from the slavery of anxiety and fear.

Every day, God provided manna for the Hebrews in the desert. But the sabbath was a day of rest. They were not to gather the manna on the sabbath, and the Lord would not provide it. Therefore, the pattern of manna in the morning to provide for just that day was broken once a week. The people were told to gather twice as much on the sabbath eve, and it would not spoil that night so that their food would be provided for the next day. While the Hebrew people were in Egypt as slaves, they didn’t have a day of rest. Sabbath was something new to them, even though it had been decreed by God since creation. Their Egyptian slave masters required them to work every day. Teaching them about sabbath was a way of God reclaiming them as the people, bringing them into the way of life that God had intended for them. It brought them into the rhythm of creation. In today’s world, where time is money, the idea of an entire day of rest can seem unrealistic. More and more people work not only at their jobs but also at home, as we’re now all connected by internet and phone. The delineation between work and leisure time is blurred. Sabbath rest is something that seems to be outdated and impractical. But when we think about taking sabbath in our own lives, this passage is an important insight into God’s provision. Sabbath was not a burden to the Hebrew people because God gave them extra Lord, help me to value rest in my life manna the day before. They could rest and teach me to adjust my life to accomassured that their needs would be met. modate it. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Sunday

17 May

John 6:26-35

Bread From Heaven

When have you failed to recognize a there was another miracle standing right in front of them: the miracle of spiritual miracle when it happened? salvation. And while the feeding of the Jonathon Kozol’s book Ordinary Res- body is crucial for survival on earth, the urrections is about his time working in food that Jesus was offering them then elementary schools in the South Bronx. was even more important. It was food for It tells of the tiny, daily miracles of these the soul that would nourish eternal life. But like the Hebrews in the desert who children’s lives as they struggle with extreme poverty. The blessing of Mr. saw the manna and grumbled, “What is Kozol is that he recognizes these mira- this stuff?” the people crowded around cles for what they are—not chance hap- Jesus didn’t understand the blessing and penings or happy coincidences but the provision God had given them. They hand of God in the lives of these chil- didn’t understand that God’s great gifts dren, subtly shifting their lives toward were there for the taking, asking Jesus what works they had to do to earn God’s the grace and power of God. How often do we miss the miracles favor. The only thing Jesus required was that surround us? In John 6:30, a crowd that they recognize the miracle that was of people surrounding Jesus asked for a before them and then believe in him. Like the manna in the desert, Jesus sign so that they would know that they should follow him. As a reader now, that was like nothing the people had ever request seems incredible, because this is seen before. He was a new and unexpected the same crowd of 5,000 Jesus had just answer to their prayers of spiritual salfed with five barley loaves and two fish. vation, perfectly suited to humanity’s They had just witnessed an amazing mir- needs. And like the manna, Jesus answers acle, and they didn’t even see it! I can’t prayers in new and unexpected ways. even imagine how frustrated Jesus must From enabling the insights of impoverhave been! ished children in the Bronx to the epiphThe crowd asked Jesus for a sign like anies of kings, Jesus’ nourishment is the the manna from heaven the Hebrew people bread of life, the sustenance of our souls, had gotten in the desert. Manna was not and the path to eternal life. only a symbol of God’s loving provision for the people, but it grew to become a metaphor of God’s wisdom, or the Torah. So when Jesus responded that he was the bread of life, he was saying that he was sent to them by their loving Father in heaven to feed them through God’s Lord, may my eyes always be open to grace and wisdom. They had not under- your miracles in this world, especially stood his miracle of physical feeding, but the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Amen. 88

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Monday

18 May

Colossians 1:9-14

Praying for Spiritual Maturity

How should you pray for your church?

will of God is a great gift to any congregation. This knowledge would help them be worthy of claiming the name of God and enable their works to strengthen the kingdom of God on earth. Next, Paul prayed that they would be strengthened by God. Notice that they would need the power of God in order to be patient and endure in the faith. It’s not a matter of self-discipline but a gift of divine power. Patience in faith is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit. The next part of the prayer is praise for God’s great gifts. Because of God’s intervention in each of our lives, we’re able to live as children of light, joined together with the holy people and saints who have come before us. In this passage, every believer has been lifted out of darkness into God’s kingdom of light! Through the acts of Jesus Christ, we live in a new world. No wonder we need to praise him! It’s a gift to pray for others. But prayer can and should go beyond requests for physical health, comfort, and happiness. Prayers to know the mind of God and the strength to live a life of God build us up as people of faith who can work toward the kingdom of God on earth. By possessing this knowledge and the will to live out the demands it entails, we can take our places beside the saints and angels in Christ’s kingdom of light.

Every church service I’ve attended has had a pastoral prayer. As a child, I thought it was the most boring part of the service, because it was often a list of names and various ailments that we were directed to pray for. Those prayers made it seem like God was the great “fixer” we went to when we wanted problems solved. While those simple intercessory prayers were certainly a legitimate and important part of praying, in this passage, Paul prayed not for healing for the Colossians but for empowerment as people of Christ. Paul didn’t know the Colossians. He had only heard of their conversion through the slave Epaphras and was concerned that their faith would be polluted by false teachers. Paul’s prayer was for a knowledge of God that results in spiritual maturity. His concern was for spiritual health and the strength and power to live as blessed and beloved followers of Jesus Christ. Paul began by praying for the Colossians to have knowledge of God’s will. What an important prayer! Misunderstanding of God’s will is perhaps the greatest divider of Christians. Disputes between denominations, and even within denominations, come from a lack of perception of God’s vision for us all. Without an understanding of God’s desires, it’s difficult to live a life that is pleasing to God. Lord, may all those who follow you disThe ability to discern between our own cern your will and be strengthened in desires, opinions, and prejudices and the your work. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Tuesday

19 May

1 Peter 1:17-23

Liberated by Christ's Blood

What is the consequence of salvation?

a deliberate choice God made for us. The entire Passion event, from Jesus’ birth to his death to his resurrection, was orchestrated from Creation, and so, as recipients of such a profound and incredible gift, we are bound to obedience to God. Peter says, “Your faith and hope should rest in God” (1 Peter 1:21). The first responsibility that Peter lists as a recipient of Christ’s salvation is to love one another. This is not a casual friendship but a deep, sincere affection for fellow believers. One of the most important consequences of our salvation is becoming a part of a community of believers who are responsible for one another’s physical and spiritual needs. That’s because, as God’s children, we’re all in this together, not only in this life on earth, but for all eternity. Becoming a Christian is not an exercise in consequence-free living where our sins are forgiven and we can go on as we were. Instead, it’s a transformation from a life of irresponsibility to one of obedience to the word of God and commitment to our fellow believers. Our salvation was bought at an incredible price. Our calling then is to live a life of holiness befitting Christ’s sacrifice for us.

The Canadian folk band Great Big Sea recorded a song called “Consequence Free.” It’s a catchy tune about wanting to join in all the joys of growing up and trying new things but without the responsibilities. What a great thing, they sang, if nothing needed to matter. You could slip off the edge and never worry about the fall. But of course, that’s not the way it is. Everything has responsibility connected with it. The epistle of 1 Peter starts with the joys of salvation through Christ. But in this passage, Peter tells us there are responsibilities, too. We can’t claim salvation and then live consequence-free, even though we are forgiven. If we claim Jesus Christ, we are then called to pursue holiness. God knows and loves us, but that doesn’t mean that, if we do evil things, God will look the other way. It also doesn’t mean that we can just ask for forgiveness and continue on as we were. We are to live as holy people in an unholy, strange land. The consequence of salvation is obedience to God’s will. Salvation is incredibly costly, not in terms of the things humans think are valuable, like silver or gold, but because it was bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. There couldn’t be a higher price! And so our responsibility when we accept this salvation is high indeed. Our salvation was an intricate plan laid Lord, may I embrace the responsibiliat the beginning of time. Jesus’ death was ties of holy living in obedience to you. not an accident or a political mistake but Amen. 90

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Wednesday

20 May

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

God Made Us Righteous

Jacob, Joseph, and King David were How racially, economically, and socially integrated are most churches today? not the oldest sons. Many of the disciples came from humble origins. Even Exclusive! It’s the final word in luxury. Jesus was born to peasants and slept his Exclusive resorts, vacations, clothing, first night on earth in an animal’s feeding and restaurants are all the best. When trough. The uneducated, humble, and something has exclusive on its label, you rejected were the first choice for God know it’s the most elite in its class. But to bless. Therefore, one’s background, the definition for exclusive is “not admit- education level, employment, or status ting of something else; omitting from mean nothing to God. For those in the consideration or account; shutting out all church to elevate themselves over others others from a part or share.” If something because of any of those things is against is called exclusive, it suggests that there the very heart of Christ’s teachings. are those who aren’t “good enough” to If a Christian is to boast about anyhave it. thing, it’s what God has done for them, The Corinthians were concerned with Paul wrote, because nothing else matexclusivity and status. Social rank was ters. All their attitudes about wealth, everything, as business was absolutely family, and culture were not Christian based on who you knew and what you in nature. Their praise should go not to could do for them. Unfortunately, this inconsequential things but to God and attitude was even affecting the church. how God has changed them. People of all social strata were in the These are difficult words for today’s congregation, but those of importance or status were running the show. The churches, who tend to be highly stratimajority of the congregation, the poor fied. How many churches today are racially, and slaves, were treated as less impor- socially, and economically mixed? Even tant. It had even gotten to the point where if the Corinthians had difficulties in seepeople were sent to different rooms with ing everyone as equal, at least they wordifferent meals for the Eucharist, based shiped together! This passage is a call for the church to on their social importance. Most commentators believe that, in this open its doors to all, mindful of the gifts passage, Paul was writing to those who and blessings that every person called of had become pretentious in the church, God has to offer. Together, let us boast of especially the newly rich, of which there what God has done for us! were many in Corinth. Paul’s words to them reminded them of the entire history of God interacting with humanity. God Lord, may I see others the way you see often chose the least and the last for spe- them, not as the world would see them. Amen. cial blessings. SPRING 2020

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Thursday

21 May

2 Corinthians 12:1-6

Pride in the Lord

What parts of spiritual life do people Paul had had numerous visions. This one take pride in? would have been after his most wellknown vision, his conversion experience, For the Corinthians, the church was but there were other times he mentioned strongly at odds with the culture. The mystical experiences with God. Corinthians were happy to call themPaul related this story in the third perselves believers, but they didn’t always son partially because he had just conadopt and apply Jesus’ teaching. In the demned self-praise, and he didn’t want letters we have that Paul wrote to the to sound boastful. He worked hard to fledgling church, he sometimes resorted walk the tightrope between humility and to irony, self-ridicule, and parody to get making himself credible. He told this his points across to them. Today’s pas- story to relate how close his relationship sage is part of Paul’s “Fool’s Discourse,” was with God and that, as a person who where he used tongue-in-cheek self- experienced such mystical insights, he ridicule to make his points about humility. was qualified to teach them. God showed The problem was not that the Corin- him the third heaven, or Paradise, usuthians didn’t believe in Jesus. The prob- ally thought to be the garden of Eden. lem was that they didn’t want to adopt With credentials that strong, they cera life of discipleship, especially when it tainly should listen to him! entailed servanthood. In a culture with a But he told this story in the third perlot of nouveau rich, they were concerned son without details, because he didn’t with status, social appearance, and repuwant to be judged by visions or mystitation. Thus, the letters to the Corinthians were not about theology as with Romans cal experiences (2 Corinthians 12:6). He or Galatians. They knew what they were refused to gain credibility the same way supposed to believe. Their problem was the Corinthians did. What was imporcommitting to the Christian life, and that’s tant was the way he lived his life. That’s where his authority came from, and that’s what Paul wrote to them about. Before this passage, Paul spoke about how they would know that he was a man boasting only in Jesus Christ. Calling of faith. If he wanted to play the game himself weak and foolish, he reiterated of boasting, he could out-boast them all; that he himself was nothing to boast but Paul’s point was that visions, spiriabout, a direct contradiction to accepted tual gifts, or anything else that one could Corinthian culture, where self-promotion brag about are inconsequential when it was commended and accepted. Instead, comes to the way one lives day to day he told a story about a man he had life. known 14 years before. Every commentator states, and certainly his readers Lord, keep me focused on how I live for knew, that he was talking about himself. you. Amen. 92

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Friday

22 May

Acts 7:54-60

Stephen Sees Paradise

How could the vision of Jesus transform It was Stephen’s welcome into the company of his Savior and his last testimony someone’s life? to those on earth. Like Abraham who saw People can become invested in their God, and then Peter and later Paul, Steideas, and then it can be nearly impos- phen’s witness was blessed and affirmed sible to change their minds. Often, facts by his vision of Jesus. His last moments don’t matter in those situations. Even were bathed in the certainty of his faith seeing things with their own eyes doesn’t and the knowledge of his salvation. This is why he was able to pray for his make a difference. Those who challenge others’ cherished beliefs are often ridi- murderers as he died. Like Jesus on the culed and hated because it’s easier to cross, his last thoughts were for the souls hate the messenger than to reexamine of those who killed him. By crying out what we believe. That’s why the Phari- to God for their forgiveness, he undersees reacted so strongly to Stephen’s scored his own innocence and demonstrated his righteousness. profession of faith in Jesus. His cries of joy at seeing Jesus Christ The Pharisees dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death because and his calls for his executioners’ forthey couldn’t accept what Stephen was giveness had a profound effect on one saying about their disobedience to God’s of those present. Saul, later known as laws. He was challenging them with a Paul, was holding the cloaks of those new way of understanding, and to accept who stoned Stephen. It would take years Stephen’s ideas would have threatened before Paul had his own vision of Jesus, their way of life. but Stephen’s vision and prayers must The people believed they were the have impressed Paul enough to make emissaries of God and felt they acted in him think. authority for God. But instead of respondCertainly, God heard Stephen’s prayers ing to Stephen in a godly way, they “began for forgiveness, and Paul became Jesus’ to grind their teeth,” and then they “bat- greatest apostle, responsible for the salvatered him with stones” (Acts 7:54, 59). tion of great areas of the ancient world. (Throughout the Psalms, the action of The God of second chances worked grinding one’s teeth is used to identify through the prayers of a martyr to save the wicked.) While they stoned him, Ste- an accessory to murder who then witphen prayed for them. It is one of the nessed to much of the world. starkest contrasts between righteousness and evil in the New Testament. As he faced the furious crowd, Stephen had a vision. He saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, the place of tes- Lord, comfort me with the certain knowltimony, in defense of Stephen in heaven. edge of my salvation. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Saturday

23 May

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

An Eternal Home

What will it be like to have a heavenly When we can shed it and be transformed, we’ll be with God, which is our true home. body? We’ll leave behind all the pain and limiI’m not a fan of camping. I like strong tations of our earthly body and be alive walls between me and the weather. I want like never before in the presence of God. While we’re on earth, we can be things to be trustworthy and sturdy, unlike a tent that can collapse in brisk winds or assured of the wonders that are to come. Believers can be so confident of this leak in heavy rain. But according to Paul in this passage, promised transformation that Paul says we’re all living in tents, at least for the we can walk by faith, not by sight, and time being. He compared our physical know that this gift is waiting for us. In bodies to fragile and unreliable tents the meantime, our goal is to please God. The physical body isn’t something to that will ultimately fail us all. Happily, we have better things to look forward to. be hated, even if it’s fragile and pales in We’re promised a heavenly dwelling, a comparison to what is to come. Rather, new body, that will be eternally reliable. the physical body is our place of action, We don’t know what these heavenly the place where we can do things to help bodies will be like. All we can know to bring about the kingdom of God on about them is that they have the ability earth. Our physical bodies are where to bring us into the spiritual realm with we labor for God before we rest. In so God. Paul said that, when we leave our doing, we can stand before Jesus at judgphysical bodies, if we didn’t have our ment, knowing that we’ve spent our time heavenly bodies, it would be as though on earth striving to do the work of God. we were naked. Our spiritual beings And so, even though our bodies can would be exposed and then conquered be slow and painful and limiting, every by death. moment within them is precious. Each But because of the promise of eter- moment we live on earth, we can be nal life, when we die, our physical body doing God’s work, affecting other lives will be covered over by our resurrection and changing the nature of the world. It’s body, and all that is mortal will be swal- what we were put on earth to do. And lowed up in life. We’ll have nothing to when this body finally wears out and fear, and we will be more alive than ever like a tent, it blows off in the breeze, we before in a new kind of body, which Paul will step into our new home, a heavenly called a heavenly dwelling. dwelling, that will surround us with life, In fact, this heavenly dwelling is going love, and glory. to be so great that when Paul wrote this passage, he was wishing he was already Lord, guide me to use my time on earth there! Compared to what will come, the to your glory, so that I may rest in your earthly tent, our physical body, is a burden. glory in heaven. Amen. 94

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Sunday

24 May

Luke 23:32-33, 39-43

Jesus Forgave the Dying Thief

How could a person die surrounded by a contrast with the desert landscape of Israel! Every kind of food would be there what could save them? for the taking, and the beauty would be About ten years ago, David Buschow indescribable. All that was given to the was hiking in the Utah desert for wilder- criminal, scorned, broken and dying, for ness survival training. He had drunk all recognizing salvation in the man hanghis water, and the day was blazing hot. ing next to him. All that can be given to us as well. When he was only about 100 yards from a cave with a freshwater pool, he fell There are many alive today who ridicule face down in the desert sand and died. the idea of salvation and eternal life, Amazingly, his guides also had water rejecting the saving grace of Jesus. Like with them but didn’t realize how desper- the criminal on the cross, the path to eterate Buschow had become. He died of nal life is right before them, but they will thirst, surrounded by water. All he had die as a result of their cynicism. There to have done to save his life was to ask.1 are others who recognize their own sins. At that moment, on the cross, Jesus When Jesus was crucified, a criminal was also broken and bleeding, suffering. hung on either side of him. Both of them were dying, but all they had to do to gain But instead of suffering for his sins, as eternal life was to ask. One, hanging the other criminals, he was suffering for next to the Savior of the world, hurled the salvation of humanity. The second insults at him. The other cried out for criminal saw his sacrifice and claimed mercy: “Jesus, remember me when you his part. To those who call for Christ, come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). the gates of heaven swing open. Paradise Jesus assured him that “today you will awaits! The great irony of humanity is that be with me in paradise” (verse 43). When Jesus began his ministry, he so many forfeit eternal life while it is so said that he had come to “preach good freely offered to us. To leave this world news to the poor, to proclaim release without the salvation of Jesus Christ is to the prisoners . . . and to liberate the like the man who died in the desert just oppressed” (Luke 4:18). In Jesus’ last steps away from fresh water. And those moments on earth, he did exactly that who have salvation are called to share for one of the most desolate people on it, unlike the guides who were carrying earth. While Jesus was being ridiculed water and didn’t realize the desperation of and hanging in agony, he still was doing the dying man. May we all drink deeply the work of salvation. He promised the of his saving grace! criminal a place in paradise, which was From archive.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2007/ usually thought of as the garden of Eden. 05/02/man_dies_of_thirst_during_survival_test/?page=1. Hebrew descriptions tell of a richly lush parkland full of ripe fruit and flow- Jesus, remember me when you come ers, well-watered and fragrant. Such into your kingdom. Amen. 1

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Monday

25 May

Numbers 11:24-29

The Lord's Spirit Placed on Them

Where are some unexpected places God all of them, and they began to prophesy. But a bit of that Spirit seeped back into can be found? the camp, falling on two men, Eldad and The Spirit of God has a way of slip- Medad, who also began to prophesy. ping out through the cracks. It doesn’t This was concerning to those in the camp stay only where many say it belongs, in because they were in the “wrong place” churches, in Bible studies, or in Sunday to catch the Spirit of God. They weren’t schools. It seeps out onto the streets, supposed to get this power! It was God into everyday conversations and com- let out of the box. Moses wasn’t concerned. Instead, he mon interactions. It flavors our lives like salt; we can’t always taste it, but if it’s encouraged the men in the camp. The not there, we know something is miss- power and presence of God should be ing. It’s not something that’s meant to be promoted wherever it’s found! It was no reflection against Moses that God’s contained. This rogue Spirit of God shows up in Spirit leaked out of the meeting in the unexpected places. Last time I had my desert. Instead, Moses wished that every car serviced, the mechanic gave a pow- person was filled with the Spirit of God. That’s how the power of God works. erful witness to me about how God had found him as a drug addict and changed It’s not controlled by human rules or his life. Many of the homeless I met on boundaries and doesn’t pay attention to the streets of Washington, DC, had a faith whether someone is “qualified” or not. story that would rival the best preachers As followers of Jesus, we need to be in the world. Sometimes the wisdom of open to the Spirit wherever we might children speaking about their faith brings see it. We need to keep our eyes and ears me up short. God doesn’t stay in a box. open to the surprising places we see God The Spirit is out there, opening ears, at work. We need to be willing to listen and to learn from those who might not opening hearts, and transforming lives. Moses was brimming over with the have the “right” credentials. And we Spirit of God, but he was exhausted. Shep- need to be willing to be vessels of the herding argumentative Hebrews through Spirit ourselves, boldly speaking God’s the desert for 40 years was a difficult job! word when our hearts are touched by the And as he was their spiritual leader, he power of the Holy Spirit. asked God for help. Couldn’t God pass some of the divine insight and power around to others and give Moses a bit of a rest? God complied, asking Moses to take Lord, open my eyes to see you in unex70 elders out into the desert for a char- pected places and my heart to accept ismatic event. The Spirit of God fell on your power. Amen 96

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Tuesday

26 May

Joel 2:28-32

Call on the Lord and Be Saved

How can we be sure our prayers for deliv- Pentecost. The power and presence of erance will continue to be answered? God’s Spirit has been an integral thread that has woven itself throughout the hisAn elderly man once wrote to Billy tory of God and the people, so it’s no Graham, concerned about his family. surprise that it would be quoted at Pente“I pray every day for them,” he wrote, cost and would also be a sign of the end “and God has answered my prayers. But times. Joel also spoke of cosmic signs. Blood, what will happen when I die? Will God continue to answer those prayers, even if fire, and smoke are signs of God’s presence and power. During the last days, I’m not here to pray them?” Billy Graham responded that God does our physical world will be turned upside not see time as we do. God sees the entire down, and all that we’ve known about breadth and depth of human existence the earth will change. But as terrifying in one scope, and God answers prayers as this sounds, Joel reminded the people across that entire spectrum. In other of Israel that this is a time of salvation words, prayers can affect the far future; and deliverance. Just as when the locusts destroyed and, yes, those prayers will continue to their crops, when the people called on be answered. In the passage before today’s text the Lord, they were saved. They could from Joel, Israel had been devastated by count on this again and again and again a swarm of locusts. The people prayed until the end of the earth. The prayers for deliverance, and God destroyed the for help, salvation, and deliverance are locusts and promised rich harvests. But never forgotten, never irrelevant. They in today’s passage, Joel promises that continue on through time, catching up these prayers for Israel’s deliverance all the people who pray them. And so our prayers never stop being will continue long after the harvests are effective, either. When we call on the brought into the fold. They will continue after all who prayed them have passed Lord for help, God is never done with from the earth. God will continue to the task of saving us until the world itself deliver Israel right up until the end of the is done. God’s relationship with the people runs through all of history; and we world. This passage is eschatological; in other can rest in God’s holy power, confident words, it’s about the end times. It talks that all who have called on the name of about the final salvation of God’s peo- the Lord will be saved. ple. It’s a salvation that will encompass everything, not just saving the Israelite’s crops from locusts! Joel wrote that God’s Spirit will be poured out on all the people. Joel 2:28-29 has a rich history in the Christian tradition, Oh Lord, thank you for your promise as Peter quoted these words to explain of salvation that follows your people the presence of God’s Holy Spirit at through all the ages. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Wednesday

27 May

Romans 8:12-17

Living Within the Family of God

What does it mean to be part of the Abba to the English word Dad. How incredible is that! Despite our failings, family of God? despite our mistakes, the Spirit beckons One of my friends lived on the streets us into the family of God where we can of Washington, DC, for 18 years as an call the Creator of all the cosmos Abba! As children of God, we are also heirs addict. During that time, he lost all connection with his family. At first, they were of God. Paul spoke of adoption, a confrustrated with him and their inability to cept that especially related to Roman life. help, but then he became embarrassed The Romans often adopted even adults and turned from them himself. When he into their families if they were especially got clean and off the streets, his happiest talented and capable to carry on the fammoment was being reunited with them. ily name and legacy. For those who were They joyfully took him in and loved him adopted, it meant giving up their previas if he had never left them. He became ous family for a better life and future. But for Christians, adoption into the part of a family once again. We are part of the family of the people family of God means that all the gifts of God, but there are things that estrange of salvation and eternal life are now our us, too. Paul spoke of being obligated to inheritance. It also means, however, that the world. That’s a confusing concept, we give up our place as people of the but it speaks to our loyalties. Are we wor- world, so things won’t always be easy. ried about “rocking the boat” if we fol- The world stands in opposition to those low the word of God? Are we concerned things that it does not understand. But to be part of the family of God is a about being rejected? Like my friend, is there something that’s harnessed you to gift well worth the challenges. To stand within the church beside all our brotha destructive way of life? Paul said that concerns like that will ers and sisters who have been called by ultimately harm us. Instead, our obliga- Christ is an amazing gift. The ability to tions are to live by the strength and guid- call Abba! to the Lord of all creation is ance of the Holy Spirit. When we accept an incredible blessing. And to look forthe Holy Spirit as guidance for our lives, ward to eternal life within our holy famwe can live boldly and confidently in ily is a gift like none other. our membership in the family of God. The Spirit itself will assure us that we are beloved members of God’s family, allowing us to call God Abba. Abba is the same word for God that Jesus used at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer and is a call to God as Father, an inti- Abba, thank you for my place and my mate name of love. Some have compared inheritance within the family of God. Amen. 98

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Thursday

28 May

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Called to Be God's People

What are the attributes of a strong and treasured by God than others. Love, Paul would tell them, is key. That is the greathealthy church? est gift of all. Paul then stressed the connection they How do you start a discussion when you know you have to present hard facts? The had with God and with Jesus Christ. Corinthian church was having serious Christianity is not just following the teachproblems socially, ethically, and theologi- ings of Jesus but living in an active relacally. They needed to take a good, long tionship with him and the Holy Spirit. look at how they were behaving, and Paul’s There’s work to being a Christian, and letters to them covered uncomfortable they needed to depend on their relationtopics. But like any good counselor, Paul ship with Jesus to stay holy and strong in started out on a positive note, telling the faith. So Paul’s masterful introduction stressed them what they were doing right, while the special relationship that Christians also stressing what was important in the have with God. As a dedicated worldChristian life. Every sentence Paul wrote was dense wide community, set apart from the domwith meaning, even in this introduction. inate culture, we are defined by our love First Corinthians 1:2 tells us two impor- for one another and for the world. We are tant things about the Christian life. Because also in partnership with the Creator and Christians are sanctified (which means the Savior, striving toward holiness. Our “set apart”) and are dedicated to Jesus transformation from people of the world Christ, we are not part of the dominate to people of God is entirely a gift of grace culture of the world. Christians simply and has nothing to do with social status, don’t act like other people. Our standard past history, or ethnicity. This is what it means to be the people of behavior is dictated by God, not by society. And because we are together of God, the church. We are to be defined with those in every place who call to by love for one another and the world, Jesus, we are part of the worldwide fam- not by eloquent preaching or charismatic experiences. We are to be in an alliance ily of God. Paul then thanked God for the knowl- with God that results in grace for the edge, testimony, and spiritual gifts of the world and a personal increase in holiCorinthian Christians. He addressed all ness. And we are to be ever thankful for these things later in the letter, because, the transformative power of the salvation while they were blessings, they were of Jesus Christ. misused and misunderstood by the Corinthians. They equated wisdom and knowledge Lord, help me to be a Christian who of Jesus Christ with spoken eloquence, is defined by love, in partnership with and they believed that those who spoke you, and ever thankful for your salvain tongues or had visions were more tion. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Friday

29 May

1 Timothy 2:1-7; John 3:16

God Wants All People to Be Saved

Who could be turned away from the sal- from any exclusive club—those who are not already believers or righteous people. vation of Jesus Christ? Kosmos refers to the broken people, Groucho Marx famously sent a resig- the rebels, the people on the outside who nation letter to the Friar’s Club in Bev- are often rejected by others. While Christ erly Hills, saying that he didn’t want to came to save all, these people are the ones belong to any club that would accept him who receive special emphasis here. The as a member. Exclusivity is seen as an door is not closed to anyone for any reaasset in our status-prone society. But the son. God welcomes all to claim Christ most wonderful group to belong to in all and eternal life. And so those of us who claim memof the history of all the world is open to bership within the family of God are everyone. It doesn’t matter our background, eth- to welcome all whom God welcomes. nicity, economic status, or identity. God There is no room for exclusive behavior. gave the world the amazing gift of grace Every last person on earth has blemishes through Jesus Christ, and all anyone or sins that would be sufficient for God needs to do to be part of the family of to reject them as they stand before God’s God is to believe and claim the salvation throne. Instead, we have Jesus Christ who acts God offers. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encour- as our mediator. Anyone who can claim aged his readers to pray for all people so salvation can claim it only by the grace that they might all be brought into the of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is the family of God. That’s God’s strongest only one who can stand in as the ransom desire, to have every person God created for all. It’s the wonderful, joyful, and aligned with Christ and the Holy Spirit. incredible news of the gospel because it After all, if God would seek out Paul, means that you and I and everyone else the “biggest sinner of all,” then certainly can dare to claim salvation. It also means the door to salvation would be open to that every person, even those we might everyone. In this passage from Timothy, be uncomfortable letting “into the club,” Paul especially asks for prayers for kings belong to the family of God, too, and can and those in authority because all people also claim the salvation of Jesus Christ. would benefit from a government run by As family members, our call is to welcome all with open arms and open hearts. godly people. How do we know that God wants everyone to be brought into the family of God? It’s because God gave Jesus Christ Lord, thank you for being my mediator to the world. In John 3:16, the word used for salvation. May I welcome all with for “world” (kosmos) can be translated the same love with which you welcome to mean those who would be excluded me! Amen. 100

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Saturday

30 May

Acts 2:1-13

The Spirit Comes to Jesus' Followers

What are some of the ways the Holy Spirit about communicating the power of the Spirit to all people and removing all is evident in the world? barriers to that understanding. It was a Sometimes it seems as if the line between miraculous demonstration that the good heaven and earth is strong and solid, like news of the gospel is open to all people a barrier that little gets through. But the and that God can and will enable everyHoly Spirit crosses that barrier like water one to be part of it. It also demonstrated through a sieve, bringing our prayers and how God would enable Jesus’ followers our concerns to God. The Holy Spirit to spread the good news of the gospel. It also brings the power of God to earth, was an explosive birth of God’s church. But imagine yourself among those sometimes with incredible intensity. The Day of Pentecost was heaven breaking crowds. Galileans, known to be poor in into the human world, disrupting the learning other dialects, entered the street idea of a tame and controllable faith and proclaiming God in many different lanexposing the force behind Christian dis- guages. They were full of the Spirit, and it showed. It must have been disconcertcipleship and the church. The disciples had been expecting this, ing to the crowds. The best way they but even they didn’t know what form found to explain what they saw was that it would take. Before he ascended to the disciples were drunk. The power of heaven, Jesus told them that “in only a God bursting through heaven’s barriers few days,” they would be “baptized with could be explained away only by new the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). They were wine. The Holy Spirit isn’t of this world, gathered together when they all experiand displays of the Spirit can look othenced this powerful moment. Often, we think of the Holy Spirit qui- erworldly. It doesn’t make sense. It can etly visiting individuals during times of even look foolish. But it’s the power that contemplation and prayer. Sometimes breaks down barriers, that inflames the that happens, but this was an event that hearts of believers, and draws people blasted all the senses: a rushing sound, into the saving grace of Jesus Christ. the sight and presumably heat of flames, It’s the hope of creation and the strength and the strange ability to suddenly speak of those who obey the call of Christ multiple languages. There was nothing throughout the world. subtle about it! The ability to speak in various languages here was not the ecstatic glossolalia or “speaking in tongues” that Paul spoke about in later epistles. Glossolalia isn’t Lord, fill me with your Spirit, so that a known language and needs a simi- I may proclaim your church in word larly inspired translator. Rather, this was and deed. Amen. SPRING 2020

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Sunday

31 May

Acts 2:14-21

Peter, Filled With the Spirit, Preaches (Pentecost)

How did Joel’s prophecy relate to change with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are now Pentecost? living in the time of tension between the Prophecies are tricky things. They sound dawn of the kingdom of God and the straightforward, but throughout Scrip- complete victory at Jesus’ return. Many, including Peter, thought this time ture, when prophecies have been fulfilled, people have been puzzled. It was just not would be short and anticipated the end what they expected! From the prophe- times during their lifetime. But again, cies about Joseph to those about Jesus, prophecy can be tricky! We’re still waitpeople have been surprised and stunned ing for that glorious day of the kingdom when events played out in ways they of heaven coming to earth to reign. But when Peter quoted Joel in front never thought they would. As much as people try to figure out exactly what proph- of the crowds, he was reminding them ecies mean, when they have actually come of the unbroken line of faith from earlier times. While this outpouring of the Holy true, it’s astonishing. And so when the disciples began speak- Spirit was something new, it was also ing in various languages, filled with the something familiar. They had been told Holy Spirit, the people on the streets didn’t about this before. This was a moment recognize what was happening. They connected to their own faith tradition, thought the most logical reason for the even though it took them by surprise. When Peter called the crowds to lisdisciples’ behavior was that they were drunk, even though it was only nine in the ten, he used an unusual term that literally morning. Peter interrupted their specula- means “let me place the word of God in tions by quoting Joel’s prophecy to them. your ears.” When the Spirit speaks to us, This wasn’t new wine! It was the Holy it is God in our ears, our hearts, and our minds, transforming us into new people, Spirit they were seeing! Joel’s prophecy sounds familiar because the people of God. The Spirit may come we read it just last week. While Joel’s in surprising places and unexpected prophecy spoke of end times, it also spoke times; but as God’s people, we have been of the workings of God’s Spirit through- assured of salvation and that “everyone out history. Like a thread that is woven who calls on the name of the Lord will be throughout the story of humanity, God’s saved” (Acts 2:21). Spirit appears again and again in the fabric of history. Joel’s prophecy also spoke of a cosmic shift to a new relationship of the earth with heaven, a relationship that is made known by the presence of the Spirit. Lord, may your word be in my ears and The alignment of heaven and earth did your Spirit be in my heart. Amen. 102

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DAILY BIBLE STUDY

10/9/19 10:22 AM


Coming Next Quarter Summer 2020 Community

This summer, Daily Bible Study presents a series of readings supporting the theme “Community.” Readings come from Old and New Testament texts. These daily readings, which prepare us for the 13 lessons in Adult Bible Studies, are written by Sue Mink, Mark Malcolm, and Randy Cross. New Creation The daily readings in this unit begin by helping us understand why God’s people needed a fresh start. God charged ancient Israel to keep the commandments, but the people failed to keep the commandments and subsequently faced divine judgment. The message of restoration that God announced through the prophet Hosea was most welcome to God’s people then, as is the promise of new creation for us. People of God While the Lord invites all to be people of God, the Old Testament is essentially the story of God’s dealings with a specific group of people, the Israelites. The readings in this unit give us an opportunity to look at key stories related to those dealings: God and the remnant, the community’s connection to God, God’s care for the people in a time of great stress, and how God’s love for the people continued despite their unfaithfulness. All of these stories have applications for us as God’s people today, but we begin to learn about God’s ways with the people through biblical stories about God and the Israelites. Neighbor The daily readings in this unit challenge us to enlarge our understanding of the word neighbor. We will read several incidents that directly involve Jesus, as well as look at a parable Jesus told expressly to show what it means to be a neighbor, the parable of the good Samaritan. Each of these readings reminds us of Jesus’ summary statement of one of the two most important commandments: “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

SPRING 2020

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Daily Bible Study

EXPLORE THE WESLEYAN UNDERSTANDING OF SALVATION THROUGH GRACE. In The Wesleyan Journey: A Workbook on Salvation, beloved pastor and author Maxie Dunnam invites readers to spend time every day exploring Wesley’s understanding of salvation through prayer, study, and reflection. Based on John Wesley’s theology and the Bible’s teaching on what it means to be saved, this workbook will help readers consider anew God’s ever-present grace, the experience of acceptance, pardon, and forgiveness, and the lifelong journey to become more Christ-like. Through eight weeks, each with seven days of content for prayer and self-reflection, Dunnam leads us through Wesley’s understanding of salvation in the Bible, helping us see that full salvation is not a one-time experience of redemption but a lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus every day.

Life

Spring 2020

Learn more at AbingdonPress.com/WesleyanJourney

9781501862120_CVR_DBS2020.indd All Pages

10/9/19 10:39 AM

Profile for Abingdon Press

Daily Bible Study - Life - Spring 2020  

Daily Bible Study - Life - Spring 2020