10/20/16 “Of Critics and Servants” (Daily Bible Reading: Mark 13-15)

“And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they criticized her sharply” (Mark 14:3-5).

Remember John Steinback’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men”? It tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place trying to find work during the depression era in California. The book describes how during adversity some men rise to act like men while others fall and act like mice.

When it comes to our service to God, are there some who rise up to act like men while others of us fall to act like mice? Better yet, are there some of us who go about focused on doing our best to serve God, while others sit back and act as critics as they pass judgment on those who do serve?

As the opening verses above indicate, shortly before His arrest, a woman comes to Jesus and pours fragrant oil of spikenard upon His head (Mark 14:3). She had done this in faith as she was anointing His body in preparation for His burial following His death (Mark 14:8). Jesus praised her forth this: “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:9).

However, there were some among the disciples who began to act like “mice”. Instead of seeing the good she was doing in serving the Lord, they began to place themselves in positions of judgment and started being critical of how something better could have been done. They felt like she had “wasted” the oil (Mark 14:4). They thought the oil could have been sold and the proceeds from it could have been given to the poor (Mark 14:5). The apostle John tells us the real reason Judas had said this. It was because he was a thief and took money out of the money box (John 12:4-6).

Jesus strongly rebuked them for criticizing her: “"Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always” (Mark 14:6-7). In His ministry, Jesus stressed how we have not been called to be critics, but we have been called to be servants: “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).

It is tempting to sit back and make suggestions how another person could better serve God. However, we act like “mice” when we give into such temptations and act this way. It is far better to act like “men” and focus on finding our unique service we can do for God and use our energies in carrying it out to His glory. Today, I do not want to be a “critic”. I want to be a “servant”. I will follow this godly lady’s example and do what I can to serve the Lord!

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18).

10/19/16 “Comprehending the Depths of God’s Word” (Daily Bible Reading: Mark 10-12)

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?’ ” (Mark 12:24).

How well do you know God’s Word? Do you find you are constantly discovering new things about God and His Will each time you study it or has do you find your Bible gathering dust because you feel like when you read it your just not getting anything more out of it that is applicable to your life?

As Jesus arrived in Jerusalem towards the end of His ministry, He begins to be questioned by those who oppose Him. Different groups come to Him trying to test Him hoping to “catch Him in His words” (Mark 12:13). One of these groups were the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Mark 12:18). They come to Jesus reciting the law of Moses’ teaching if a man’s brother died and left behind a wife with no children, the dead man’s brother was to marry her and raise up children on behalf of his dead brother (Mark 12:19; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5). Then the Sadducees use an outlandish illustration about a man who died and whose wife had no children. His brothers each die after, in turn, having married this dead man’s wife. After all of this, she dies still having had no children (Mark 12:20-22). They finish this story with a question that they are sure will stump Jesus and prove their point that there must not be a resurrection of the dead. They ask, “Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife" (Mark 12:23).

What is interesting is these folks could “quote” the Word of God, but did they “understand” or “comprehend” the Word of God? As the opening verse above shows, Jesus rebukes them and tells them they were mistaken for two reasons: (1) They did not “know the Scriptures”, and (2) they did not know the “power of God” (Mark 12:24). They had failed to dig deep enough into God’s Word to comprehend its depth of teaching and they did not have enough faith in God’s power that He can perform things which are far beyond our human experience or understanding.

After stating that following the resurrection of the dead people will not be married (Mark 12:25), Jesus refers them to another Scripture they should have considered before reaching their false conclusion that there is no resurrection. God’s Son says, “But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?” (Mark 12:26). Please note: Jesus expected them to take note of the verb tense in that verse (i.e. “I am the God of…” not “I was the God of…”) and to draw from this passage the conclusion that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive and would be raised from the grave! Jesus then adds the conclusion they should have reached if they had made more effort in trying to comprehend all the Scriptures: “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken" (Mark 12:27).

God’s Word is a well from which we can keep drawing out more and more spiritual insights about God and His Will for our lives if we will take the time to be diligent to study it (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). We need to ask God to help us to understand His Will as we study His Word (cf. Psalm 119:34). It is no wonder we are encourage to desire God’s Word as a newborn babe desires it’s mother’s milk (1 Peter 2:2). Today, I will strive to look into the depths of God’s Word and comprehend the awesome guidance and understanding it brings to me about God and His Will for my life!

“I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word” (Psalm 119:15-16).

10/18/16 “Fighting the Wrong Fight” (Daily Bible Reading: Mark 6-9)

“Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’ But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest” (Mark 9:33-34).

Have you ever got into a fight or dispute with someone over something that turned out to be rather trivial? During such times, did you later look back and regret fighting over such things?

As Jesus gets nearer to the end of His earthly ministry, we see his disciples beginning to fight with each other and even other people over trivial things. For example, as the opening passage above indicates, they began to dispute with each other over which of them would become greatest in Jesus’ kingdom (Mark 9:33-34; cf. Matthew 18:1). Sadly, this was not the only time they would fight about this. Later, as Jesus and his disciples are heading to Jerusalem shortly before Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, James and John create a dispute among the disciples by asking Jesus to give them a high position in His Kingdom and let them sit down one on His right hand and the other on His left hand (Mark 10:35-37; cf. Matthew 20:20-24).

In His response to the first instance above, Jesus reminds his disciples that they need to focus on serving one another and having the humility of a young child. “And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’ Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 10:35-37).

However, the disciples were not done finding things about which to fight. John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), tells Jesus of another dispute into which they had gotten themselves: “Now John answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us’ ” (Mark 9:38). For no other reason than that person was not a part of their “group”, John, and the other disciples who were with him, were spending their time picking fights with others who were doing a good work for God!

Again, Jesus has to correct His disciples for their divisiveness. “But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea’ ” (Mark 9:39-42).

Throughout the centuries Christians have, at times, found themselves fighting with each other in the wrong fight. Our fight is to be against Satan and his allies, not with each other (Ephesians 6:10-12). Today, I will guard against picking the wrong fight and not fight or be divisive with my fellow brethren who are trying to serve God. Instead, I will strive to be united with my brethren because they are my fellow allies in Christ. I will fight the good fight by standing with God against my adversary the devil!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

10/17/16 “Do Not Fear, Only Believe” (Daily Bible Reading: Mark 2-5)

While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue's house who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not be afraid; only believe’ ” (Mark 5:35-36).

How do you react when you hear bad news? Do you react by trying to maintain your faith in God to guide and deliver you or do you succumb to fear as your heart is filled with worry and uncertainty?

In the opening passage above, Jesus encourages Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, to react by keeping his faith in God even upon hearing the terrible news of his daughter’s death (Mark 5:22, 35-36). Earlier, Jairus had begged Jesus to come, lay hands upon, and heal his daughter as she lay at death’s door (Mark 5:22-23). He had placed his faith in Jesus’ power to save his beloved daughter.

Jesus went with the man to his house to lay his hands upon the child (Mark 5:24). However, before arriving, some come from the house indicating that the ruler’s daughter is dead. Those who came from Jairus’ home had given up their faith in Jesus’ power to save this girl. They did not see the point of bothering Jesus any further (Mark 5:35). Can you imagine how you would have felt if you were in this father’s shoes? You had placed your faith in God’s power to heal your beloved child only to hear the dreadful news that she was now dead? Was there any point in troubling Jesus any further?

Jesus knew this was a critical moment in Jairus’ faith in God. The ruler needed to maintain his faith in God at this precarious junction. Jesus had the power to deliver Jairus’ daughter from death, but only if Jairus kept his faith in God. Later, when Jesus goes to his home country, He would be limited on the mighty works He would do there because of the lack of faith of the people (Mark 6:1-6). Jesus could not raise the ruler’s daughter from the dead if Jairus chose to abandon his faith and succumb to his fears and uncertainties. Thus, Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:36).

All indications are that Jairus kept his faith in Jesus as the throng made their way to his house. As Jesus arrives at the house and sees the people wailing over the death of the little girl, He enters the house and says, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping?” (Mark 5:37-39). Jesus was trying to show the people, the child was only temporarily away from them, as when one is sleeping. How do the people react when they hear this statement of Jesus? They ridiculed Him (Mark 5:40). Like those who had come from the ruler’s house bearing the bad news of Jairus daughter, they too have given up their faith in God’s power to deliver at this point!

However, Jairus still clung to his faith in Jesus even as he was surrounded by those who were filled with doubt. After putting the doubters outside of the house, Jesus takes the mother and father and enters the child’s room and says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:40-41). The little girl arises from the dead. Everyone is overcome with amazement (Mark 5:42). This shocking event was made possible not only by God’s great power, but also by one’s man determination to cling to his faith!

It is much easier to have faith in God when everything is going well in our lives. It is much more difficult to maintain our faith in Him when we hear bad news that tempts us to let our hearts become filled with fear, doubt, and worry. Today, even when others may abandon their faith, I will strive to follow Jesus’ encouragement during such troublesome times: “Do not be afraid, only believe”!

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

10/16/16 “A Higher Calling” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 27-Mark 1)

"And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (Mark 1:16-18).

Remember being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”? Often the answer we give to that question is a response about into what kind of career field we want to enter. For example, we may respond by saying, “I want to be a doctor, football player, accountant, etc.” There is nothing wrong with striving to enter into a particular career field, but is there something more we should desire to be when we are grown up that just having a career?

In the opening passage above, we see Jesus encountering Simon (i.e. also known as Peter) and Andrew and pointing them to a higher calling than just their career (Mark 1:16-18). The theme or main message of the book of Mark is captured in a single verse: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Chapter by chapter, the book unfolds the dual focus of Christ’s life: service and sacrifice. However, as the book opens not only does it speak of Christ’s service for us, but encourages us to think about our service to God and man.

Simon and Andrew had been fisherman. It appears they had a successful fishing business as they were partners with James and John (Luke 5:7-10). They were also spiritual individuals who were followers of John the Baptist (John 1:35-42). Furthermore, we know that Simon was a family man who had a wife and children (cf. Mark 1:30; 1 Peter 5:1, i.e. Peter was an elder, elders had to have children, 1 Timothy 3:1-4). Many would consider that Simon and Andrew had reached the pinnacle of their calling in life. They had a family, a successful career, and were spiritual men seeking to worship God and pursue His Will for their lives.

However, did God have a greater purpose for their lives than just this? Yes, He did! As the opening passage above states, Jesus encourages them to follow Him and He will make them to become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). God had far greater goals in mind for Peter and Andrew to pursue than just worshipping God, having a family, and having a successful career. God called them to a far noble purpose as they were to be trained by God’s Son to be used as instruments of God to reach lost men with the good news of Christ. To Peter and Andrews credit, when Christ called them to this higher purpose, “they immediately left their nets and followed Him” (Mark 1:18).

What is my purpose in life? Is there something God has in store for me than just having a career, raising a family, and worshipping God on Sunday morning? Yes, there is! God has called all of us to serve in some way to be “fishers of men”. While all of us may not be teachers or preachers, all of us have been called to ministry to serve both God and man in the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). This is not meant to be a guilt trip. We should not serve Jesus out of guilt, but out of love. It can be exciting to think “to what higher purpose has Jesus called me?”? I will remember that I have been called to a higher purpose. Today, if I have not discovered my particular ministry, I will seek it. If I have found my ministry, I will seek for opportunities to serve others as I seek to glorify God (Matthew 5:16)!

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended : but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

10/15/16 “Watch and Pray, Lest You Enter into Temptation” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 23-26)

Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, ‘What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ ” (Matthew 26:40-41).

One of the realities of living in this world is facing temptation. Even Jesus faced temptation (Hebrews 4:15). How do you cope with temptation? How to you brace yourself from giving into temptations?

Knowing that He was about to endure the cross, Jesus would face many temptations on the road that led to His own death such as how He would react when falsely accused, spit upon, mocked, and ultimately crucified. In fact, He was tempted to forego having to face the cross altogether. However, Jesus was not the only one facing temptation during these times. His disciples faced it as well. They faced the temptation to deny knowing Jesus and of abandoning Him in order to save their own lives. Jesus had warned them, “"All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered’ ” (Matthew 26:31).

How did the disciples react to knowing they were going to be facing temptation? They boasted that they would never deny Jesus: “Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble’ "(Matthew 26:33). Jesus again tries to bring Peter back to reality and get him understand the magnitude of the temptation he will be facing as he tells Peter, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34). However, Peter and the other disciples refused to acknowledge the difficulty of the temptations they were about to face: “Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And so said all the disciples” (Matthew 26:35). No doubt these are bold statements by Peter and the other disciples, but we know that ultimately they did fail the Lord and succumbed to the temptations they faced that night as they all forsook Him and fled (Matthew 26:56, 69-75).

On the other hand, how did Jesus face and brace himself for the temptations He knew were coming to Him? He didn’t deny the power of the temptations which lay before Him; He acknowledged them. He told His disciples, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me” (Matthew 26:38). He then cast His cares about the temptations He faced upon His Heavenly Father (cf. 1 Peter 5:7). As the opening verses above indicated, He prayed about it. In fact, He prayed the same prayer 3 times (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). While He prays He gains strength as He moves from asking God “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39) to “If this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matthew 26:41).

Jesus had encouraged His disciples to pray as well regarding the temptations they were facing, but, instead, they chose to fall asleep (Matthew 26:40, 43, 45). While He had prepared Himself for the trials He faced by praying about them, His disciples found themselves totally unprepared to brace for the temptations they were about to endure because they were only relying on their own strength. Today, I do not want to be unprepared or boast of my own strength regarding facing temptations, but I will turn to God in prayer relying on His strength to brace me for the trials which may come my way.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).

10/14/16 “What Keeps Me from God” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 19-22)

“The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:20-22).

How do you feel about your relationship with God? Hopefully all of us feel great about the relationship we have with God. But, if you feel your relationship with God isn’t what it needs to be, how would you answer this question: “What is the one thing in my life that is keeping me from having the kind of relationship with God that He wants me to have?”?

Towards the end of His earthly ministry as He departs from the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee and heads towards Judea and Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1), Jesus has an interesting encounter with a young man. This young man is described as being a ruler (cf. Luke 18:18), yet when he came to Jesus he showed great humility as he knelt before Jesus (Mark 10:17) and asks a great question: “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).

In His response Jesus reminds the young man about keeping God’s commandments (Matthew 19:17). Interestingly, the young man answers, “Which ones?” (Matthew 19:18). Jesus mentions several of the commandments he should keep (Matthew 19:18-19). Regarding these laws, the young man states he had kept all of them from the time he was a youth (Matthew 19:20). It appears this young ruler was strong regarding keeping the commandments to not murder, commit adultery, steal, or tell a falsehood. It also appears he was faithful when it came to honoring his parents and loving his neighbor. Wherein did his weakness lie?

His weakness is seen when he asks one more question: “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20). As Jesus gives His answer, Mark reminds us, “then looking at him, Jesus loved him” (Mark 10:21). Jesus loved this young man enough to give him an honest answer as to what was lacking in His relationship with God. Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21).

How does this young man, who had been humble enough to bow before Jesus earlier, respond to Jesus’ diagnosis of his heart condition? “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). The cost of following Jesus now became too high for this young man to pay and he turned away. Jesus understood the power of this temptation upon the young man (Matthew 19:23-24). He also understands the power of the temptations we face (Hebrews 4:15). Like this rich young ruler, there are many things we are tempted to place before God.

It is humbling to think how well Jesus knows what is going on in my heart. He knows when my heart is right with God and He knows when I have allowed other things into my heart and placed them before God. However, nothing is impossible with God. With God we can overcome these temptations we face (Matthew 19:25-26) and enjoy manifold blessings if we are willing to leave the things we “think” will bring us happiness and pursue the things which God “knows” we bring us joy (Matthew 19:27-29). I understand there are many things which I can allow to come between me and God. Today, I will remove those things which are coming between me and my relationship with God!

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

10/13/16 “When Jesus Tells Us What We Don’t Want to Hear” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 16-18)

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’ " (Matthew 16:21-23).

How do you respond when God gives you a command through His Word that is difficult to accept or understand? How do you react when God tells you something you really don’t want to hear?

As Jesus continues His ministry, He journeys with His disciples into the region of Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13). While there, Jesus asks His disciples a question about who they thought He was (Matthew 16:14-15). Peter responds by telling Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). After blessing Peter for drawing this conclusion, Jesus adds, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus was going to build an everlasting kingdom, the church, and Peter would play a key role in leading people into that kingdom when He would be privileged to preach the first gospel sermon following the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 16:19; Acts 2:14-41). Peter must have thought this was great news to hear from Jesus!

However, as the opening verses above indicate, Jesus also had some news that His disciples did not want to hear. After leaving Caesarea Philippi, Jesus would be heading to Jerusalem where He would suffer, be killed, and be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21). How would you have reacted if you were in the disciple’s shoes upon hearing this from Jesus? Remember, they had left all to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:19-20; 19:27). The news that Jesus was going to leave them left them sorrowful (cf. Matthew 17:22-23). In fact, this message was so difficult for Peter to hear that he rebuked Jesus saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus strongly rebuked Peter saying, “"Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).

How do I handle it when I come across a command of Jesus that is painful to hear? Am I mindful of the things of men or the things of God? The ability for me to deny myself is essential to being a follower of Jesus. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). We have to learn to let go and even lose our wills and our desires and embrace God’s Will for our lives; otherwise, we can end up losing our souls because of our desire to cling on to our own stubborn will: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

The gospel message of how Jesus came to die for me that I may be forgiven of my sins, place my faith in Him to guide me, have a church family to encourage me in my walk with Him, and cling to the hope I have of heaven is certainly news that I love to hear. However, Jesus also gives me commands to follow that are not always easy to hear and He warns me of the persecution I will face in following Him. Today, I will embrace both the news that is a joy to hear from Jesus and the news that is more challenging to hear from Jesus as I seek to be a friend to Jesus as He leads me!

“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14).

10/12/16 “A Sinking Faith?” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 14-15)

“And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ " (Matthew 14:28-30).

How strong is your faith? How well does your faith endure the storms of life? Do you find your faith is able to stand up to these test or does it sink and fade during the trials?

After learning about the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:13-14), Jesus performed a great miracle in which He had fed five thousand men (Matthew 14:15-21). Following this, Jesus sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee in a boat while He sent the multitudes away and to take time out to pray (Matthew 14:22-23). Christ then walked on the water to meet His disciples in the boat as they crossed the sea. They were astonished to see Him and thought He was a ghost. However, Jesus assured them: “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:25-27).

Now something else amazing happens. Peter, the disciple who seems to always stick his foot in his mouth, displays great faith in Christ as he says, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Would you have been willing to attempt to walk on water? Peter displays great faith and trust in Christ and His power to enable Peter to do this.

Jesus tells Peter to “come” and Peter begins to walk on the water to go to Jesus (Matthew 14:29). Peter got to do something that no one else has besides Jesus. He got to walk on water. Faith in God enables us to do great things. It is not through our power, but through God’s. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Peter was living out that verse!

However, now something dreadful happens. Peter takes his eye off Jesus and begins to look at the obstacles around him: “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ " (Matthew 14:30). By failing to keep his focus on his faith in Jesus, Peter allowed the circumstances in which he found himself to sink his faith.

Can you relate to Peter? Often we begin a task by praying about it and trying to place our faith in God. We start off with a strong desire to let God lead us and direct our paths as we place our trust in Him. However, then the obstacles and circumstances in which we find ourselves begin to appear. Like Peter, we often find ourselves taking our eyes off God and begin focusing in on the difficulties we face instead of the One who has the power to enable us to overcome these obstacles. Instead of our faith “standing up” through the trial, we find our faith “sinking” in the face of adversity.

However, this was only a momentary set back in the life of Peter as he continued to strive to be faithful to the Lord. There would be other disappointments with his faith as he later denied the Lord (Matthew 26:69-75) and had to be rebuked by Paul for an act of hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-21). On the other hand there was also great triumphs in his faith like when he boldly proclaimed the gospel on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40) and stood up before rulers for His faith (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). Like Peter I know there will be momentary times in my life where my faith may sink and waiver, but, today, I will strive to have a faith that stands up by keeping my eyes on Jesus!

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

10/11/16 “What Kind of Soil Am I?” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 11-13)

And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: ‘Behold, a sower went out to sow’ (Matthew 13:2-3).

Have you ever tried to grow a plant in poor soil? It can be very frustrating to imbed, water, and provide sunlight to a particular type of plant only to watch it die because it was planted in poor soil?

Jesus taught a powerful lesson as He compared our hearts to different types of soils in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9; 18-23). As described in the parable, the seed that is implanted in the soil (i.e. which represents a person’s heart) is the Word of God (Luke 8:11). As I consider this parable, it is good to ask, “Which kind of soil am I?” when it comes to how to I receive God’s Word.

As the sower went to sow, some seed was cast by the wayside where the birds of the air devoured them (Matthew 13:4). Jesus explains who this represents: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside” (Matthew 13:19). This describes the person who never makes the effort to understand God’s Word, so it never takes root in their life.

Other seed fell upon the “stony places” where seed sprang up, but because its roots were unable to penetrate deeply and get to the nourishing water, the plant withered away in the sunlight (Matthew 13:5-6). Again our Lord sheds light on the type of person this soil symbolizes: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21). Although God’s Word sounds great to this type of person, they fail to heed God’s teachings to the extent that it impacts their lives (cf. Matthew 13:13-15). Thus, when persecution arises because of God’s Word, they wither away.

Additional seed was sown among thorns where it sprang up, but the thorns which also grew in the same soil choked the newborn plant and it never was able to flourish (Matthew 13:7). Christ describes the kind of person of whom this is indicative: “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). This describes the person who is so wrapped up in the world and its desires that they fail to heed God’s Word and His desires for them!

Finally, some seed fell on “good ground” where not only did it survive, but it flourished! Why? It “yielded” to the Word of God (Matthew 13:8). Jesus states, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). This is the person who makes the effort to not only “hear” the Word of God, but also to “heed” the Word of God. They allow God’s Word to penetrate deep in their heart and soul and it transforms their life (cf. Romans 12:1-2).

As I look at these types of soils I can relate to all of them. I realize I am tempted to close my ears to God’s Word as did the wayside soil, fail to let it sink deeply in my life as did the stony soil, or let God’s Word be choked out of my life because I get to wrapped up with the of this world. However, today, I will choose to heed the Word of God that it may produce a bumper crop in my life!

“As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

10/10/16 “Calling Us to Repentance” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 8-10)

“And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” ‘For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ " (Matthew 9:11-13).

What is repentance? Repentance has been defined as a change of heart, brought about by godly sorrow, resulting in a change of life (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10). How do I feel about talking about my need to repent? Is it a negative subject or do you view it as a positive subject to discuss?

Jesus came to save sinners as He said: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). God’s motive for sending His Son was His love for the world (John 3:16). Paul understood this as he wrote, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

However, as indicated in the opening verses above, in order to save us from our sins Christ came to call us to repentance (Matthew 9:13). In the context of this verse, Jesus had been eating with some tax collectors which many viewed as the worst of all sinners (Matthew 9:9-11). However, Jesus makes the point that all of us have the same need to repent of our sins. Before God can save us, we have to understand we are sinners and are lost in sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23). We have to have a heart that wants to change! When we understand that Christ had to die because of our sins (1 Peter 1:18-19), we should want to quit the sinning business. In fact, knowing how much God loves us should motivate us to turn from a life of sin. Paul questioned those who failed to remember how God’s goodness should affect their lives: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Christ himself had rebuked the people who failed to repent in those cities in which he had preached and carried out his ministry. Matthew records, “Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you’ " (Matthew 11:20-24).

Jesus still offers us His compassionate call for all men to come to Him: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). I rejoice that I had the opportunity to heed that call by obeying the gospel (Mark 16:15-16). These verses remind me that part of the gospel of Christ is my need to repent of my sins. This is not a negative thing, but a positive thing as I choose to allow God to work on my heart, turning me from a desire to let sin rule and reign in my life to remembering His great goodness in saving me from my sin and motivating me to serve Him (Romans 6:11-14)!

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

10/9/16 “Having the Right Attitudes” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 5-7)

“And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ ” (Matthew 5:1-3).

Viktor E. Frankl, who endured the Nazi death camps and survived, stated, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way”. As the opening passage above indicates, Jesus understood the importance of our choosing to have the right attitude in any given situation. As He began the Sermon on the Mount, what attitudes does Jesus think we should have (Matthew 5:1-11)?

First, Jesus teaches that we need to be “poor in spirit’ and to “mourn” (Matthew 5:3-4). In developing a proper attitude to live life, we need to understand our weaknesses. We are totally dependent upon God to save us from our sins (cf. Romans 3:23; 5:8). Throughout His sermon, Jesus stressed that a right relationship with God involves not only “doing” the right things, but also “thinking” the right thoughts. For example, it is not good enough to simply not commit murder or adultery, one must not hate their fellow man or lust after the opposite sex (Matthew 5:21-28). When we understand our own weaknesses and mourn over our own sins, only then will we reach out to God and seek His help to enable us to become all He can make us to be for His glory. Thus, we will strive to have a “pure heart” that seeks to act out of pure motives which helps us to be able to “see” God (Matthew 5:8).

Second, Christ said we must have an attitude of “meekness” (Matthew 5:5). Meekness is “strength under control”. How different this was from the attitudes of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who, instead of displaying meekness and humility in their service to God, tried to “show off” before others their service to God in their charitable deeds (Matthew 6:1-2), prayers (Matthew 6:5),  and fastings (Matthew 6:16). One who is meek is not concerned with “showing off” to please men, but is concerned only that God sees and is pleased in their service to Him (cf. Matthew 6:3-4, 6, 17-18).

Third, our Lord stressed how we need to “hunger” and “thirst” for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) even to the point of enduring persecution for trying to serve God (Matthew 5:10-12). In His sermon, Jesus spoke about the “hunger” and “thirst” people have over material things (Matthew 6:19-21). Many people allow their drive for material things to consume them and it fills them with worry (cf. Matthew 6:25-32). Jesus stressed we need to seek first His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33), be careful about following the paths our piers are choosing (Matthew 7:13-14), and to build our lives upon His teachings as we “hunger” and “thirst” for His guidance and direction in our lives (Matthew 7:21-27).

Finally, Jesus encourages us to be “merciful” in our dealings with others (Matthew 5:7). Our Lord understood how tempting it is for us to begin to look down on others and judge them while failing to consider our own weaknesses (cf. Matthew 7:1-5). A gracious and merciful attitude towards all those around us enables us to be the influence God would have us to be (Matthew 5:13-16). Thus, we can better be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and even learn to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44-48).

I rejoice in the guidance and direction Jesus gives me in His teachings about the attitudes I should have in my life. Today, I will strive to have a beautiful attitude by applying the “Beatitudes” to my life!

"The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22).

10/8/16 “Quoting and Applying God’s Word” (Daily Bible Reading: Matthew 1-4)

“Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,” and, “In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” '.  Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” ' " (Matthew 4:5-7).

Do you memorize certain Scriptures from the Bible? What is the benefit of memorizing God’s Word? Should we commit God’s Word to memory just to impress others with our knowledge of the Bible or is there a far greater benefit to our acquiring this degree of understanding of the Scriptures?

The psalmist wrote, “Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments” (Psalm 119:73). Fundamental in our understanding of why we need to study and apply God’s Word to our lives is the simple fact of our acknowledging that since God is the one who created us (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), it is He who knows best how to lead us in the way we should live. He gives us this direction in the Scriptures found in the Bible. Again, we see this was the attitude of the author of Psalm 119 as he looked to God’s Word for guidance on how he was to life his life: “Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors” (Psalm 119:24). He adds, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). He placed great value on this direction that God gave him through His Word: “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:72). Unlike most people today who hunger and thirst for more and more wealth, the psalmist craved for the guidance of God’s Word in his life!

When one seeks God’s Word for guidance in their life, they will seek to commit God’s Word to memory because by doing so, they will be able to recall the guidance God gives them when faced with various challenges and temptations which come before them in their lives. Again, the psalmist wrote, I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life” (Psalm 119:93). He adds, ““My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (Psalm 119:148). Moreover he states, “Behold, I long for Your precepts; revive me in Your righteousness. Let Your mercies come also to me, O Lord-- Your salvation according to Your word. So shall I have an answer for him who reproaches me, for I trust in Your word” (Psalm 119:40-42). The author notes how God’s Word helps him when faced with temptations and trials: “The wicked wait for me to destroy me, but I will consider Your testimonies” (Psalm 119:95).

It is interesting that in the opening passage above both Jesus and the devil quoted the Scriptures. Both of them knew what the Scriptures said. However, while the devil twisted the Scriptures in such a way as to tempt Jesus to sin against God, Jesus properly applied God’s Word to deliver Himself from the temptations Satan had placed before Him (Matthew 4:5-7). Proper application of Scripture is essential for our being able to withstand the “wiles of the devil” (cf. Ephesians 6:11).

We are encouraged to desire God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Today, I will remember to use the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God as I battle against Satan (Ephesians 6:17: Hebrews 4:12). I rejoice that God has given me guidance through His Word and I will seek to meditate on it and properly apply it to my life!

“With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:10-11)!

10/7/16 “Giving God Our Second Best” (Daily Bible Reading: Malachi 1-4)

‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence?’ Says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. ‘Yet you say, “In what way have we despised Your name?” You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, “In what way have we defiled You?” By saying, “The table of the Lord is contemptible.” And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?’ says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:6-8).

Would you like to eat something that was left on another person’s plate that they were unable to finish or would you prefer to have your own plate? How would you like “hand-me-down” underwear?

The prophet Malachi prophesied about 400 years before the birth of Christ during the days Nehemiah. Physically, things were going better for God’s people as they rebuilt the temple of God and the protective walls around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3; 6:15). However, spiritually they were not doing so well as they questioned God’s love for them (Malachi 1:2), were mistreating their wives by divorcing them and marrying foreign women (Malachi 2:11-16), and, as the opening verses indicate, were growing cold in their relationship with God by offering to God their “second best” as they offered to Him the sick, the lame, and the blind animals in their sacrifices to Him (Malachi 1:6-8).

How did God feel about being given their “leftovers”? God was disgusted with their sacrifices to Him. In fact, the Lord wished someone would shut the doors of the Temple so that they would not offer such sacrifices to Him: “ ‘Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,’ Says the Lord of hosts, ‘Nor will I accept an offering from your hands’ ” (Malachi 1:10). God states that His own people, whom He had delivered from Babylonian captivity, had begun to view the worship of God as a “weariness” and felt contempt in having to worship God. God adds, “ ‘But you profane it, in that you say, “The table of the Lord is defiled; and its fruit, its food, is contemptible.” You also say, “Oh, what a weariness!” And you sneer at it,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?’ Says the Lord” (Malachi 1:12-13).

Would God continue to tolerate being treated in such a way by His own people? God expects His name to be honored: “ ‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11). But, it was not too late for His people. God encourages them to repent: " ‘But now entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, will He accept you favorably?’ Says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:9). However, God does warn, “ ‘But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished-- for I am a great King,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and My name is to be feared among the nations’ ” (Malachi 1:14).

I pray that my heart never grow cold and lead me to view the worship of God as something that is a “weariness” and contemptible. Today, I rejoice in the Lord and what He has done for me. I refuse to give God my leftovers. I want to give God my best both in my offering and in my service to Him!

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).

10/6/16 “Behold, Your King Is Coming to You” (Daily Bible Reading: Zechariah 9-14)

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

During a period of hardship in your life, have you found yourself longing for “better days”? Did the hope of a brighter day ahead help you to endure the challenging times that were before you?

The prophet Zechariah ministered to God’s people following their return from Babylonian captivity. They had gone into captivity because of the sin and rebellion against God. However, now things were looking brighter. Cyrus, King of Persia, had released them to go and rebuild the Temple of God at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4). Through a series of visions and prophesies, God had sent the prophet Zechariah to encourage them to finish this great work.

However, although things looked brighter for God’s people as they were being given the opportunity to rebuild God’s Temple, things were by no means perfect. God’s people were still under the rule of another nation. They still did not have their own king to lead them.

As the opening verses above indicate, to encourage His people, God through Zechariah gives them hope of “better days” to come for them. Their King, the Messiah is coming (Zechariah 9:9). In other parts of the book of Zechariah we see references to the coming of Christ. For example, when Joshua the High Priest is given an elaborate crown, Zechariah is told, “Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: "Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord; yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” ’ " (Zechariah 6:12-13). From the New Testament we clearly see this is a reference to Jesus as we see Jesus would build His Temple, the church (Matthew 16:18), rule on His throne (1 Corinthians 15:25), be a priest on His throne (Hebrews 8:1-2), and provide the “counsel of peace” (Ephesians 2:14-17).

However, while God’s people could look forward to “brighter days” when their King, Jesus Christ, would come, Zechariah also prophesies of the pain and agony Jesus would have to endure for them so they could enjoy these blessings. Zechariah foretells how Jesus would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12; cf. Matthew 27:3-10) and how Jesus would be “pierced” as he endured the crucifixion: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).

God was providing “better days” for His people, but it was not without cost. His own Son would have to pay the great cost for His people to enjoy happier times. Today, I rejoice because Jesus paid the great cost for my sins as He endured the cross for me so that I might enjoy better days, not only on this earth as I rejoice over the forgiveness of my sins, but as I look forward to my home in Heaven!

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

10/5/16 “Focusing on Past Pain and Failures” ” (Daily Bible Reading: Zechariah 6-8)

Now in the fourth year of King Darius it came to pass that the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chislev, when the people sent Sherezer, with Regem-Melech and his men, to the house of God, to pray before the Lord, and to ask the priests who were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and the prophets, saying, ‘Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?’ " (Zechariah 7:1-3).

Have you ever had difficulty letting go of a past failure you committed? During what should be happy times in your life, do you find yourself continuing to focus on your previous mistakes?

The prophet Zechariah ministered to God’s people following their return from Babylonian captivity. They had gone into captivity because of the sin and rebellion against God. However, now things were looking brighter. Cyrus, King of Persia, had released them to go and rebuild the Temple of God at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4). Through a series of visions and prophesies, God had sent the prophet Zechariah to encourage them to finish this great work.

However, as the opening verses above indicate, as the people are engaged in this noble work, they send some people to inquire of the priest of God about whether or not they should continue to observe certain “fasts” which they had begun (Zechariah 7:3). During these “fasts” the people would refrain from certain foods as a way to express sorrow and to call upon God to show them attention.

What were these fasts and why were they instituted? The people had begun this fast in the fifth month because, 70 years before, it was during the fifth month that the previous Temple of God in Jerusalem had been destroyed (2 Kings 25:8-9, Jeremiah 52:12-13). Furthermore, the people had instituted “fasts” during the fourth, seventh and tenth months of the year as well (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19). Why? It was during the 4th month prior to the destruction of the Temple that the wall protecting the city of Jerusalem was breeched by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:3-4; Jeremiah 52:6-7). It was during the 7th month following the destruction of Jerusalem that the governor Gedaliah had been murdered (2 Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 41:1-3). Moreover, it was during the 10th month of the year that the siege of Jerusalem began (2 Kings 25:1-2; Jeremiah 39:1; 52:4-5).

To say the least God’s people of Zechariah’s day seemed to be focused on these negative events. They had a hard time of letting go of the past. In His reply to their question about whether or not to continue to keep these “fasts”, through Zechariah God states that what He wanted was for the people to simply obey Him (Zechariah 7:4-11). God reminds them of His zeal for them (Zechariah 8:1-2). The Lord promises them a bright future where they will rebuild the ruins of the city as His blessings fall on them (Zechariah 8:3-8). God will turn these times of mourning and fasting into times of joy and celebration: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah. Therefore love truth and peace’ ” (Zechariah 8:19).

God doesn’t want me to be stuck focusing on my past failures. He wants me to walk with Him, obey Him, and to experience the joy only He can bring to my life. Today, I will let go of my past mistakes as I ask for God’s forgiveness and celebrate His love and rejoice in the blessing He gives to me!

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

10/4/16 “Take Away the Filthy Garments” ” (Daily Bible Reading: Zechariah 3-5)

“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes’ " (Zechariah 3:3-4).

Have you ever had stains in clothing that were so bad there was nothing else to do but to throw away the garment? If we view sin as stains on our garments, can we simply wash them to get rid of them or do we need to throw them away and get new garments?

The prophet Zechariah gives us a picture of how God views sin as stains which cannot be removed easily from our garments. As Zechariah continues through the 8 visions he has in the same night, which were designed to encourage God’s people that God was still zealous for them even though they had endured the Babylonian captivity because of their sins, Zechariah describes the vision he has of Joshua the High Priest of his day (Zechariah 3:1-10).

In this vision, in what type of garments is Joshua pictured? Why is he pictured in filthy garments instead of the regular clean priestly garments (cf. Zechariah 3:3; cf. Exodus 28:1-43)? As the High Priest of God, Joshua was the representative of the people before God. He offered sacrifices on behalf of the people in worship to God. In the current situation with the people just returning from Babylonian captivity, Joshua, as the representative of the people before God, is pictured with filthy garments representing the people’s sins.

However, the Angel of the Lord says, “Take away the filthy garments from Him”. He also adds, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes” (Zechariah 3:4). Joshua is also told that he be given a clean turban (Zechariah 3:5). Later, the High Priest Joshua will also be given an elaborate crown indicating God’s restored favor upon Himself and Israel (Zechariah 6:11).

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). All of our attempts to be righteous before God fall woefully short when we try to do it our own way and based on our own merit. The apostle Paul described his desire to be found righteous before God: “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). To become righteous, we must be made righteous by God which involves placing our faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us because of our sins, submitting ourselves to God’s Will, and doing those things which God tells us to do to become righteous in His sight.

When we obey the gospel of Christ, our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ as we are immersed in the waters of baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Furthermore, we are baptized “into” Christ where we contact His precious blood that has the power to forgive our sins (Galatians 3:27; Matthew 26:28). However, like Joshua the High Priest of Zechariah’s day, we too are promised to be clothed in some new garments when we get to heaven. Today, I rejoice that God has forgiven me of my sins through the precious blood of His Son and I look forward to receiving my new garments in heaven!

“He that overcometh , the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5).

10/3/16 “I Am Zealous for Zion” (Daily Bible Reading: Zechariah 1-2)

“So the angel who spoke with me said to me, ‘Proclaim, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I am zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great zeal. I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease; for I was a little angry, and they helped--but with evil intent.’ “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And a surveyor's line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem’ " (Zechariah 1:14-16).

What motivates you to do the things you do in your service to God? Are you motivated by the guilt you feel over your own failures or by God’s incredible love for you as expressed at the cross of Jesus? Are you motivated by fear of what you feel will happen if you don’t obey God, or are you motivated by your desire to want to please God because of what He has done for you?

Like the prophet Haggai, Zechariah ministers to God’s people following their return from Babylon. God’s people had come back following the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia, to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:8-10; Ezra 1:1-4). However, 16 years following their return from Babylon, the temple had still not been completed. God’s people had been busy rebuilding their own houses while the temple of God lay in ruins (cf. Haggai 1:4).

Zechariah is tasked getting God’s people to finishing God’s Temple. To do this, Zechariah begins by telling the people to repent of their sin: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Return to Me,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.’ " ‘But they did not hear nor heed Me,’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 1:3-4).

As Zechariah encourages the people to repent and get back to the work of rebuilding the temple, Zechariah will not use the guilt of their failures to motivate them to action. Instead, as the opening verses above indicate, Zechariah will attempt to stimulate them to move by reminding them of God’s zeal for them (Zechariah 1:14). God had been angry with His people because of their sin against Him (cf. Zechariah 1:15), but that did not change the fact that God still had great love for His people and was zealous to return them back to Jerusalem, show mercy to them, and see their capital city restored once again to them (cf. Zechariah 1:16).

Zechariah will share with God’s people eight visions which God reveals to him all in the same night. His visions of the rider and the horses (Zechariah 1:7-17), of the four horns and the four craftsman (Zechariah 1:18-21), of the man and the measuring line (Zechariah 2:1-13), of Joshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3:1-10), of the gold lampstand and the two olive trees (Zechariah 4:1-14), of the flying scroll (Zechariah 5:1-4), of the woman in the basket (Zechariah 5:5-11), and of the four chariots (Zechariah 6:1-8), were all designed to show the zeal God has in restoring His people to their land. God still cherished His people even though He had chastened them because of their sins. God still viewed His people as the “apple of His eye” (cf. Zechariah 2:8).

God is still zealous for His people today. Although there are times when God’s people should feel guilty for having fallen in sin, guilt alone should not be our only motivation for everything we do for God. Like Zechariah, I will use the fact that God loves me and is zealous for me to motivate me in my service to Him. Today I rejoice that God views me as the “apple of His eye”.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; with great fervor I am zealous for her’ ” (Zechariah 8:2).

10/2/16 “Earning Wages to Put Into a Bag with Holes” (Daily Bible Reading: Haggai 1-2)

“Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes’" (Haggai 1:5-6).

How foolish would it be to keep putting your money, which you had labored to earn, into your pocket knowing that your pocket had holes in it? It would be far wiser to first repair the holes in your pocket before you continue to put any more money into it.

As the opening verses above indicate, during the ministry of Haggai the prophet, God challenges His people to “Consider your ways…” because they were earning wages and putting them into a “bag with holes” (Haggai 1:6). Haggai ministered to God’s people following their return to the Promised Land after they had endured the Babylonian captivity. They had come back following the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia, to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:8-10; Ezra 1:1-4).

However, following their return to Jerusalem, God’s people had become distracted with doing other things and had failed to follow through with rebuilding God’s temple. In fact, 16 years had passed and God’s temple was still not finished. Why? The people were busy rebuilding their own lives and their own houses and had neglected the work of God. Through Haggai, God asks, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?" (Haggai 1:4).

Because of their neglect in doing the work of God to rebuild His temple, God had brought curses and not blessing upon His people’s efforts to enrich themselves: “ ‘You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?’ says the Lord of hosts. " ‘Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands’ " (Haggai 1:9-11).

After being rebuked for what they had done, the people of God begin rebuilding the temple (Haggai 1:12-15). Following their repentance, God promises to restore His blessings upon the people: “Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid--consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you" (Haggai 2:18-19).

As I consider these events from the ministry of Haggai, I am reminded I need to “consider my ways”. It is so easy in life to get distracted in “making a living” that I fail to make a meaningful life with God. Today, as I consider my ways, I will strive to place my service to God and prioritize the things I need to do to maintain and grow my relationship with Him (e.g. by prayer and Bible study) above the material things that may temporarily appeal to my eye or ego.

“ ‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’ ” (Malachi 3:10).

10/1/16 “Settled In Complacency” (Daily Bible Reading: Zephaniah 1-3)

“And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency, who say in their heart, 'The Lord will not do good, nor will He do evil.' Therefore their goods shall become booty, and their houses a desolation; they shall build houses, but not inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine. The great day of the Lord is near; it is near and hastens quickly…" (Zephaniah 1:12-14).

Have you ever felt like you were “stuck in a rut”? Being “stuck in a rut” is an idiom going back to the days when people traveled by horses and buggies. The wheels of a buggy traveled in the ruts worn into the ground by other buggies making it easiest to go exactly the way all the other buggies have gone before. We use the idiom “being stuck in a rut” to refer to a type of boring, habitual behavior.

Spiritually, do you find yourself being “stuck in a rut”? Do you find yourself not growing spiritually, but instead just “going through the motions” in your walk with God?

The prophet Zephaniah prophesied during the days of King Josiah of Judah (Zephaniah 1:1). King Josiah was a righteous king who instituted many great reforms in trying to bring Judah back to the Lord’s ways (2 Kings 22:1-23:25). It is believed by many scholars that the ministry of Zephaniah helped to encourage these reforms by King Josiah.

However, King Josiah’s father, Manasseh, had done much evil and provoked God’s wrath as he worshipped idols, engaged in child sacrifice, and even had the audacity to set up idols in God’s Temple at Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:1-9). As the opening verses above indicate, during Manasseh’s reign God’s people had become “settled in complacency”. They no longer respected or feared God, but said in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will He do evil” (Zephaniah 1:12). Through Zephaniah’s ministry God was going to make it very plain to them that they were dreadfully wrong in their thinking.

There was a “great day of the Lord” that was soon coming where God was going to show forth His terrible judgment upon those who had become complacent in their hearts (Zephaniah 1:14-18). God warns His people that they had better seek after Him before this event happens: “Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together, O undesirable nation, before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before the Lord's fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger comes upon you! Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger” (Zephaniah 2:1-3).

Some, like King Josiah, would heed this warning and be hidden from this great day of the Lord’s wrath. Not only would these be hidden from God’s wrath, but they would be part of a remnant of God’s people that would once again enjoy God’s blessings: “In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing’ " (Zephaniah 3:17).

I want the Lord to “rejoice over me with gladness”, not to be disappointed with me because I have become “settled in complacency”. I acknowledged it is very easy to become stuck in a spiritual rut. This is why it is essential that I strive daily to renew my mind spiritually (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Today, I will strive to not travel in the ruts into which others may fall, but allow God to direct me in His paths as I travel on the road that leads me closer to Him (cf. Jeremiah 6:16; Psalm 119:105).

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19).