Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lose Your Life to Find It

Today's Reading: 
Nahum 1:1-3:19 
Mark 8:11-38 
Proverbs 26:23-27:4
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Mark 8:34-38 
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." 

What would I be willing to trade for my life? Jesus says that following him requires denying myself, but it’s a self-denial that will result in finding true life. There is a way to put myself in first place and end up with nothing. There is a way to deny myself that results in great blessing.

The path to real personal gain looks like loss from a worldly point of view. Giving my best time and energy to gain money, success, security, status and possessions is really the road to loss. Putting Christ first, following in his footsteps, and heeding his commands might look like loss from an earthly perspective, but it actually results in attaining the richest and most satisfying life possible.

Response and Action:
I need to put Christ Jesus first, to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Seeking and knowing Jesus must be my highest priority. Following his example and valuing the things he values is the substance of faith. If I truly believe in Jesus, I must entrust my life to him and give up ownership of myself. If he is truly my Lord, I must deny every rival to his authority. The more I do this, the more I will experience and understand that this "loss" is actually great gain.

O God, help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Give me the wisdom and the will to put Jesus first. Give me eyes to see the great benefit of seeking him first. Give me eyes to see the emptiness and loss of materialism and self-gratification. Help me delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your name. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Matthew 6:33
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

The Divine Conspiracy
by Dallas Willard

Friday, August 26, 2016

He Has Shown You What Is Good

Today's Reading: 
Micah 5:1-7:20 
Mark 7:24-8:10 
Proverbs 26:13-22 
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Focus Verses: Micah 6:8 
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 9 Listen! The LORD is calling to the city—and to fear your name is wisdom— "Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.

Micah prophesied during the final days of Israel. The northern kingdom had turned away from God and would soon be overrun and destroyed by Assyria. The southern kingdom would not last much longer either. Micah predicted the fall of the northern kingdom's capital, Samaria (1:5–7), and also foretold the coming desolation of Judah (1:9–16).

If only the people of Israel and Judah would have walked humbly with God, acting justly and loving mercy, they could have survived as a nation. Micah's prophecy called the people to open their eyes and recognize that the troubles they were facing were the result of spiritual and moral failure. He urged them to open their ears and listen to what God was saying to them through the troubles they were now experiencing.

Response and Action:
I want to avoid the hardships and troubles of life that are caused by indifference toward God. I want the wisdom to see the connection between sin and the consequences of sin. If I face hardship, I want it to be for doing the right thing. I want to act with justice—to treat others with goodwill and integrity. I want to love mercy—to be gracious, patient, and forgiving when others act wrongly toward me. I want to walk humbly with my God—to trust him to protect and provide, and to honor and obey him.

O God, thank you for your grace and mercy. Give me a heart and mind that delight in your will. Help me to walk in your ways with a humble spirit. By the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, teach me to act justly and to love mercy. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.
Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 Peter 2:20
20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian
by Gary Haugen

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Liars and Listeners

Today's Reading: 
Micah 1:1-4:13 
Mark 7:1-23 
Proverbs 26:3-12 
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Focus Verses:
Micah 2:11 and 3:5 
2:11 If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people! 3:5 This is what the LORD says: "As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim 'peace'; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him. 

Anytime someone is being paid to teach or preach or prophesy, the listener should beware. This is true in all spheres of life, including religion, politics, business, media, and academics. When a person's livelihood is likely to be impacted adversely by what she/he says, it stands to reason that there will be a strong temptation to adjust the message for self-serving purposes. When truth-telling results in hardship or loss for the teller, strong character, courage, and integrity are necessary.

The "prophets" Judah would listen to were the ones who said exactly what they wanted to hear. If you're willing to pay, there is always someone willing to say what you want to hear. Micah declared God's condemnation of both the false prophets corrupted by money, and those who were paying them off.

Response and Action:
I need to be careful about who I listen to and who I believe. When a preacher or politician or celebrity make truth claims, I need to consider how personal gain figures into their motives for their message. I must be a person of integrity and be a truth teller. I must not allow my personal interests or opportunities for gain allow me to compromise my motives or my message.

O God, help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Help me to love truth and walk in truth. Give me the courage and integrity to speak the truth. Give me the heart and spiritual maturity to speak the truth in love. Give me the honesty to consider my motives for who I listen to, and who I believe. Give me the wisdom and discernment to recognize self-serving lies when I hear them. I ask all this in the name of Christ Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Titus 2:7b-8 
7b In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Who You Are When No One's Looking
by Bill Hybels

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

He Had Compassion on Them

Today's Reading: 
Jonah 1:1-4:11 
Mark 6:30-56 
Proverbs 25:21-26:2 
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Focus Verses: Mark 6:31-34
 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

With the news of John's death and the relentless press of the crowds, Jesus decided to retreat to a solitary place with his disciples for rest. There was no escape. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds anticipated his arrival and were waiting for him.

Instead of being completely upset with the crowds and telling them to leave him alone, Jesus had compassion on them. Jesus saw how desperate they were for guidance and truth. And so, instead of sending them away and guarding his own needs and agenda, Jesus began to teach them many things and sent his disciples to find food for them. When only a small amount of food was found, Jesus multiplied that food and fed the crowd.

Response and Action:
Jesus' love and compassion for others is compelling. I am thankful that he sees our needs and extends his grace and provision, putting our interests and well-being above his own. I will give God thanks for the grace upon grace I receive from Christ. I will follow Jesus' example and look beyond my own interests to the interests of others. Like Jesus, I want to have compassion and care for others who may interrupt my plans. I want to be willing to serve the needs of others, even if it means upsetting my schedule and delaying the fulfillment of my own needs.

O Father, thank you for Jesus who although he existed in the very form of God did not regard that equality as something to be grasped, but emptied himself for us. Thank you for the sacrifices Christ Jesus has made for us and for our salvation. Help me to follow him and, strengthened by his Spirit, to be ready and willing to empty myself and make sacrifices for others. Give me compassion and mercy for others. Through Christ, I pray. Amen. 

Spiritual Formation Verses: Psalm 103:13-14
 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Kingdom Come: How Jesus Wants to Change the World
by Allen M. Wakabayashi

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't Look Down on Them

Today's Reading: 
Obadiah 1:1-21 
Mark 6:1-29 
Proverbs 25:11-20 
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Focus Verses: Obadiah 1:12-13 
12 You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. 13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.

Obadiah prophesied against the people of Edom, who were the descendants of Esau (Gen. 27:41–45; 32:1–21; 33; 36), and therefore relatives of Israel. Instead of grieving over the destruction of Jerusalem, the Edomites had gloated with delight. They saw Israel's demise as an opportunity to ridicule and plunder them. Obadiah declared that Edom would face punishment from God for their open hostility and arrogance toward Israel in their time of need.

Response and Action:
It is not good to gloat over the demise of others. It is arrogant and obnoxious to delight in the suffering, punishment, and judgment of others. God will judge those who consider the misfortunes and failures of others to be opportunities for personal gain and smug self-satisfaction.

I will be careful to not delight in the troubles or pain of others. Even when others are experiencing the consequences of their own wickedness and moral failures, I will look on them with compassion and sorrow. If God does not take delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ez. 18:23), how much less should I! When others experience judgment for sin, I will humble myself, knowing that it is only by the grace of God that I am not experiencing the same.

O God, give me a humble and gracious heart. When others experience hardship at the hands of others, give me compassion and move me to action. When those who are wicked experience painful consequences for their wickedness, give me the humility to empathize with them, and the grace to help them. You have shown mercy to me, O God. Give me the attitude of Christ Jesus that I might be a testimony and instrument of that mercy to everyone around me. I pray in the name of Jesus, my merciful Savior. Amen.
Spiritual Formation Verses: Romans 12:14-17a 
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ
by Dallas Willard

Monday, August 22, 2016

I Am Setting a Plumb Line

Today's Reading: 
Amos 7:1-9:15 
Mark 5:21-43 
Proverbs 25:1-10
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Focus Verses: Amos 7:7-9; 9:14-15 
7:7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 7:8 And the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Amos?" "A plumb line," I replied. Then the Lord said, "Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 7:9 "The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam." - - - 9:14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. 9:15 I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them," says the LORD your God.

God could no longer spare Israel from the consequences of their sinfulness, self-deception, inhumanity, and disregard for justice. If a builder discovers the entire foundation of a building site is not level, he may be forced to destroy what is there in order to start over. In the same way, God held a plumb line up to the nation of Israel and saw no way to fix the problems without taking everything down and starting over.

The good news was that the destruction and judgment of Israel was something God intended to use to create a new start. His ultimate purpose wasn't to tear them down, but rather to rebuild—to plant vineyards and gardens, and to do this all so well they would never again be uprooted.

Response and Action:
What things in my life need to be dismantled and thrown out in order for God to help me rebuild something good and lasting? I need to recognize that there are some things in my life that must be put to death before I can experience true life. God doesn't want to merely reform me, he wants to tear down the old self and make me new. He wants to build my life on the foundation of Christ Jesus.

O God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I realize there are so many ways I fall short of what I can be in you. I know that I have so far to go, but I also know you love me where I am. Help me to put to death every sin and evil desire that would turn me away from you. Help me to keep my eyes on Jesus who has begun a good work in me. By your grace and power, build me into the person you want me to be. Amen. 

Spiritual Formation Verses: Matthew 7:24-25
24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

Counterfeit Gods
by Tim Keller

Sunday, August 21, 2016

How Much the Lord Has Done

Today's Reading: 
Amos 4:1-6:14 
Mark 4:26-5:20 
Proverbs 24:23-34 
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Focus Verses: Mark 5:17-20 
17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

The man Jesus healed was an outcast from society. His condition had driven him away from family and friends and left to fend for himself among graves and near pig herds. It's completely understandable that he would want to leave his past behind and go with Jesus. The prospect of a new start in a new place must have seemed more desirable than going back to broken relationships and a shattered reputation. Yet Jesus told him to go home to his family and friends, and to show and tell them how much God, in his mercy, had done for him.

What a shock and wonder it must have been to family and old friends to see him healed and restored to his right mind. How much more healing and renewal did the man experience as a result of going home? What a powerful testimony it must have been to all who heard his story!

Response and Action:
I must look to Christ for the healing and renewal I need. Following Jesus is not is not about withdrawal from my world, but rather the sharing of my experience and story. I must tell my family and friends about how God's mercy is restoring my life and what God is doing for me. My changed life can be a meaningful message of God's saving power.

O God, by the power and grace of Christ Jesus, make me new. Forgive my sins, heal the wounds of my failure, take away the guilt of my transgressions, strengthen me in my weakness, free me from my bondage to sin, and restore my life. Give me the courage to be honest about my problems and needs, and help me give witness to the ways you are helping me to overcome them. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.
Spiritual Formation Verses: Ephesians 4:22-24 
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
by C. S. Lewis

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Reading Schedule for August 21-27

Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2015-16

Sunday, August 21 -
Amos 4:1-6:14 / Mark 4:26-5:20
/ Proverbs 24:23-34

Monday, August 22 -
Amos 7:1-9:15
/ Mark 5:21-43 / Proverbs 25:1-10

Tuesday, August 23  -
Obadiah 1:1-21
/ Mark 6:1-29 / Proverbs 25:11-20

Wednesday, August 24  -
Jonah 1:1-4:11
/ Mark 6:30-56 / Proverbs 25:21-26:2

Thursday, August 25 -
Micah 1:1-4:13
/ Mark 7:1-23 / Proverbs 26:3-12

Friday, August 26 -
Micah 5:1-7:20
/ Mark 7:24-8:10 / Proverbs 26:13-22

Saturday, August 27-
Nahum 1:1-3:19
/ Mark 8:11-38 / Proverbs 26:23-27:4

Family: Whoever Does God's Will

Today's Reading: 
Amos 1:1-3:15 
Mark 3:31-4:25 
Proverbs 24:15-22
Click on Text Link to Read Online 

Focus Verses: Mark 3:31-35
31 Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." 33 "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." 

When Jesus’ family heard the constant reports of crowds, miracles, and his run-ins with religious authorities, they feared he was losing his mind . They thought it was time to do a family intervention and take him home so he could regain his senses and get back to a normal family life. Instead of going outside to meet them, Jesus looked at the people sitting around him and said, "These people around me here are my real family! My family is comprised of those who do my Father’s will.”

I wonder if Mary heard an echo of Jesus’ voice as a young boy in the Temple saying, “Why are you searching for me? Don’t you know I have to be in my Father’s house?” His Father’s house—his true family—is made up of everyone who does his Father’s will. It's a revolutionary way to think about family. God’s family must be regarded as of even more importance than earthly family. Kingdom family relationships are deeper, more profound, and more enduring than flesh and blood relationships. Spiritual kinship is more important than physical DNA.

Response and Action:
I want to hold my relationship with Christ above all others. I want to love him more than father, mother, son, daughter, and self. I want to embrace my family of Christian brothers and sisters. I will value and cherish the gift of Christian friends.

O Lord, thank you for adopting me into your family. Help me to do your will. Thank you for my Christian brothers and sisters, and for all they do to help me grow in my relationship with you. Thank you that so many of my earthly family relatives are also part of my Kingdom family. Help me to live in a way that draws people into the family of faith. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.
Spiritual Formation Verses: Matthew 10:37-39 
37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship
by N. T. Wright

Friday, August 19, 2016

I Will Pour Out My Spirit

Today's Reading: 
Joel 1:1-3:21 
Mark 3:7-30 
Proverbs 24:5-14 
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Focus Verses: Joel 2:28, 31-32 
28 "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. - - - 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
The prophet Joel compared the destructive invasion of Israel by its enemies to a devouring plague of locusts. They would utterly consume and destroy everything in their path as judgment for rejecting their God.

Joel also had a message of hope and restoration for the remnant of repentant people who were steadfast in their faith in God. They were promised restoration of their land and their lives. They were also promised a new outpouring of God's Spirit and salvation on the final day of judgment.

Jesus' disciples appropriated the promises of Joel's prophecy. They saw the Day of Pentecost as the beginning of fulfillment of his promise to all who would "call on the name of the Lord." They believed they were seeing the long-awaited outpouring of the Holy Spirit and salvation given to all who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Response and Action:
I want to experience salvation and to live in the hope and power of the Holy Spirit. I will call on the name of the Lord. I will hold on to faith through every circumstance, believing that God will sustain and save me.

O God, save and protect me from the things that threaten to consume and destroy me. Help me to look to you in faith in all circumstances. Thank you for Jesus, my Lord, who for my sake and my salvation came down from heaven. Thank you for the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who has spoken through the prophets. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

Spiritual Formation Verses: Acts 2:21-23
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' 22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 

Hope Has Its Reasons
by Rebecca Manley Pippert

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Break Up Your Unplowed Ground

Today's Reading:
Hosea 10:1-14:9 
Mark 2:13-3:6 
Proverbs 23:29-24:4
Click on Text Link to Read Online 

Focus Verses: Hosea 10:12 
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. 

The call to righteousness is a call to soften and open your heart. Like soil that needs to be tilled and broken up to receive seed and produce a crop, our hearts must be made ready to receive God's word and to produce righteousness as God nurtures that seed by the showers of his grace and provision.

Response and Action:
I need to be softhearted toward God. I need to break up the soil of my life and receive the word of God's truth. I need to sow seeds in my life that produce righteousness and integrity.

O God, by your grace and mercy, help me to soften my heart. I seek you with all my heart. Make the field of my life ready to receive your truth and your guidance. Nurture and sustain me that I might grow strong in faith and be productive in life. Help me to honor you in all things. Amen. 

Spiritual Formation Verses: Galatians 6:6-8 
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Revolution of Character: Discovering Christ's Pattern for Spiritual Transformation
by Dallas Willard and Don Simpson

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Let Us Return to the Lord

Today's Reading: 
Hosea 6:1-9:17 
Mark 1:29-2:12 
Proverbs 23:19-28 
Click on Text Link to Read Online 

Focus Verses: Hosea 6:1-3
1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

In today's reading, Hosea describes the ways Israel's unfaithfulness to God mirrors the unfaithfulness he has experienced from his own wife. Israel had turned to false Gods, borne illegitimate children, and prostituted itself. Its religion had become empty, its priests corrupt, and its leaders unjust. They had ignored God, rejected knowledge, and exchanged what was beautiful for something disgraceful.

Hosea calls out to them, "Come, let us return to the Lord." He pleads with them to "acknowledge the Lord." If they would turn to God, blessing and forgiveness would come "as surely as the sun rises." Tragically, like Hosea's wife, the people were unresponsive. And as Gomer left Hosea, Israel rejected God.

Response and Action:
I want to turn away from darkness and be responsive to God. I do not want to exchange the truth of God for lies. I will acknowledge God in all my ways and be wise. I will commit myself to seeking God's will and living by it. I do not want to be lost in the sleep of sin and weakness; I want to wake up from the things that lead to death and let the light of Christ shine on me and fill me.

O God, help me to turn away from what is wrong and to do what is right. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Thank you for the light and hope I have in Christ. Thank you that your forgiveness is as sure—even more sure—as the rising of the sun. Forgive me of my sins and raise me up to walk in your truth by your grace. Help me to press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. And as I press on, teach me to acknowledge you in all my ways. Through Christ, I pray. Amen. 

Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 Peter 2:24-25
25 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions
by Albert Haase

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Kingdom of God Is Near

Today's Reading:
Hosea 4:1-5:15  
Mark 1:1-28 
Proverbs 23:10-18
Click on Text Link to Read Online 

Focus Verses: Mark 1:14-15 
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" 

Jesus proclaimed the good news of God. He declared that the kingdom of God was near. His authority and message were demonstrated and confirmed through the amazing miracles he performed. He cast out evil spirits and healed the sick. God's power to save and redeem and transform had come close by in the person of Jesus. The Christian hope of an eventual reconciliation and renewal of all things is rooted in the message and ministry of Jesus—the promise that one day the kingdom will come in all its fullness.

Response and Action:
The nearness of the kingdom of God is good news. I want to receive and experience the good news of God. I also want to bless others and change my world by living out the good news. I will recognize Jesus' authority and follow him. I will come to Jesus for healing and hope, and I will point others to Jesus. I will cultivate an awareness of God's presence and work in the world. I will commit myself to God, that he might use me to bring his kingdom to earth.

Our Father who fills the heavens, holy is your name. I long to see your kingdom come—your will lived out on earth as in heaven. Give me the wisdom to recognize Jesus' authority. Help me to follow him and to make every effort to advance his kingdom agenda. Help me to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Through Christ, Amen. 

Spiritual Formation Verses: Matthew 6:9-13
9 "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' "
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
by N. T. Wright

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Lord's Redemptive Love

Today's Reading:
Hosea 1:1-3:5
Matthew 28:1-20
Proverbs 22:28-23:9
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Hosea 3:1-2
1 The LORD said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes." 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley."

God instructed the prophet Hosea to illustrate God's great love and faithfulness to his people by taking a wife who would be unfaithful to him. Hosea's actions and responses to his wife's unfaithfulness would be a graphic real-life demonstration of God's actions and responses to the nation of Israel.

Hosea's wife was unfaithful to him, she prostituted herself, had children by other men, and eventually left Hosea for someone else. After all that, Hosea one day found her abandoned, destitute, and being sold as a slave. God told him, "Show your love to her again." Hosea paid the price to buy her back—he saved and redeemed her. He didn't just save her; that was just the beginning. Astonishingly, Hosea brought her home to be his wife! He restored his relationship with her and said, "You are to live with me in faithfulness, and I will live with you."

Response and Action:
God loves, redeems, and restores his people. God wants to save me from unfaithfulness. He desires to restore me to a right relationship with him. I need to turn away from sin and turn to God. I need to recognize the ways I am unfaithful to God and, by God's grace, put those things aside. I want to be responsive to God's love and receive the restoration and renewal he offers. I want to honor him with my life, and to learn how to "live with him in faithfulness."

O God, thank you for your love. Look upon me in mercy and redeem me from my unfaithfulness. Thank you for Jesus, who has purchased me by laying down his life, and for your Spirit who is renewing and restoring me. By the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, lead, teach, transform, shape, and strengthen me that I might delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your name. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Luke 15:17-18
17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
by Timothy Keller

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Saving Others, Not Himself

Today's Reading:
Daniel 11:36-12:13
Matthew 27:32-66
Proverbs 22:17-27
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Focus Verses: Matthew 27:39-42
39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.

Ironically, those who mocked Jesus on the cross were inadvertently making a profound observation when they said, "He saved others, but he can't save himself." Jesus emptied himself and freely laid down his life in order to save others. If he had saved himself, he could not have saved others.

Christ's death opened the door for “reconciliation to God” (Romans 5:11). By his death he destroys the power of death and frees us from bondage and the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14,15). Instead of saving himself, he saves others.

Response and Action:
Jesus gave himself freely in order to save others. His death on the cross was the means to salvation for all who look to him in faith. I want to take hold of the new life Jesus died to give me. I want to follow Christ's example of faithfulness to God and personal sacrifice for the salvation and life of others.

O Lord, thank you that Jesus saves. Thank you for the great sacrifice he made in order to save me. Help me to be responsive to him, and to love him with all my heart. Teach me to follow his example, to give of myself, and to lay down my life for others. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 John 3:16
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way
by Eugene H. Peterson