Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 31 - Torn Curtain

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 31
N.T. - Mark 15 - 16

Focus Verses: Mark 15:37-38
37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

Insight:
The story of Jesus' crucifixion is interwoven with strange and interesting little details that have large significance. Here Mark reports that at the moment Jesus breathed his last breath, the curtain in the Temple, which served as a separating barrier to the holiest place, was torn from top to bottom.

The phrase "top to bottom" seems to indicate and symbolize God's initiative toward man--heaven reaching down to earth to end humanity's separation from God. It brings to mind the words of Hebrews 10:19-20: "...we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body."

Response and Action:
God has taken the initiative to save and redeem mankind through his only son, Jesus Christ. My faith and hope are in him. I have confidence that Jesus has opened the way to a new life and reconciliation to God. I will draw near to God with confidence because of Christ's sacrifice and the promises he has given to those who believe in him.

Thank you, God, for loving me and working for my salvation before I was even born. Thank you for sending your son Jesus into the world, that all who believe in him might not perish, but instead have eternal life. Help me to love others in sacrificial and redemptive ways. In the same way that you took the initiative to love me before I knew you, help me to take the initiative to serve and love others before they have done anything to earn it. Amen.

Proverbs: 31:8-9
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Resources:
The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary
by N.T. Wright

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

May 30 - Seeing Myself

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 30
N.T. - Mark 14

Focus Verses: Mark 14:69-72
69When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." 72Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

Insight:
Peter must have been shocked at his denials of friendship with Jesus. His readiness to deny his association with Jesus came with a strength and swiftness he never could have imagined. He had told Jesus, "Even if all fall away, I will not" (14:29). But now, even to a servant girl, he found himself completely unwilling to be identified as a disciple of Jesus.

Peter was coming face to face with his own limitations and weaknesses, and he wept at the sad realization. He was not the strong friend and unfailing comrade he imagined himself to be. Now he could now see that he was merely Simon the fisherman, not Peter "The Rock." This was a terrible and unexpected discovery for him, but not for Jesus. Jesus had known exactly who and what Peter was from the first day he called him. He knew the fragile stuff Simon was made of, but he also knew how strong Peter would be when he reached the end of himself and began to really find his strength in God (John 21).

Response and Action:
I need to recognize my weaknesses and limitations. I need to remember that though my gifts and abilities are given by God and can be used to God's glory, they are not the reason God has called me. My strength and faith must be in Jesus, not myself. I need to live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. Realizing I am weak and limited is an important insight for life. Realizing that by God's grace and power I can rise above those weaknesses and limits is the next important insight. God delights in using weak things and weak people to accomplish his will. It's a testimony to his goodness and power.

Thank you, O God, for your grace and salvation. 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. Help me to remember that I am you workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works you have prepared in advance for me to do. Amen.

Proverbs: 30:5
"Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him."

Resources:
Self-Esteem: The Cross and Christian Confidence
by Joanna McGrath and Alister McGrath

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 29 - Stronger than Stones

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 29
N.T. - Mark 13

Focus Verses: Mark 13:1-2, 31-33
1As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" 2"Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." - - -

31
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 32"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Insight:
The prophet Isaiah said, "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." Here, Jesus takes that well-known promise about God's word, and uses it to describe his own words. The implication of this claim is amazing in and of itself, and even more so in light of the context of the conversation. The disciples are commenting on the stability and impressiveness of the temple and the surrounding buildings of the Holy City. Jesus says, "None of this is eternal. My words are eternal, I am the hope for eternity."

Only Jesus is worthy of our hope and trust. He claims to have the words of eternal life. He promises that his truth will outlast every hardship and struggle. He assures us that if we follow him, he will save and preserve us as we trust in him and take him at his word.

Response and Action:
I will be careful to see the structures and powers of my world for the passing and fading things they are. I will not put my trust in buildings, governments, armies, corporations, political movements, or institutions. Not even religious ones! I will put my hope and trust in Jesus. I will invest my heart, my time, and my effort to knowing Jesus, being attentive to his words, and following his ways.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever more! My trust is in you, O God. Only you are worthy of my all, and only you can give me a stable life and a hope for the future. So many things in the world give the appearance of firmness and security, but only you are steadfast forever. My life is but a vapor that passes, but a thousand years in your sight are like a day gone by. Teach me to number my days and to commit each one of them to you. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Proverbs: 29:18
"Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law."

Resources:
The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer, and the Witness of the Spirit
by Gordon T. Smith

Monday, May 28, 2007

May 28 - Giving More

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 28
N.T. - Mark 12

Focus Verses: Mark 12:41-44
41Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

Insight:
Giving and sacrifice are proportional. What makes a sacrifice or gift great or small is how it relates to the giver. Some large gifts cost the giver very little. Some small gifts cost the giver a great deal. Jesus says that God’s view of a gift is formed by the giver’s heart and circumstance.

Response and Action:
I want to be a cheerful giver. I want to give in a way that reflects my heart for God and my trust in him. I want to give freely and joyfully at a level that requires faith in God. I do not want give in a way that costs me nothing.

O God, you have given so much to me. You have blessed me and I want to be a blessing to others. Help me to honor you and trust you by giving cheerfully to meet needs and to advance the work of your Kingdom. Amen.

Proverbs: 28:6
“Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.”

Resources:
The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power
by Richard Foster

Sunday, May 27, 2007

May 27 - Forgive

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 27
N.T. - Mark 11

Focus Verses: Mark 11:25
25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Insight:
Our relationship with God is connected to our relationships with others. If we ask God for forgiveness, we should be prepared to offer forgiveness to others. God's grace toward us should result in our graciousness toward others. Lack of forgiveness toward others is a hindrance to our prayers.

Response and Action:
As I look to God for grace and forgiveness, I need to be ready and willing to extend that same graciousness to those who have trespassed against me. I do not want my relationship with God to be diminished or hindered by poor relationships with others. I will forgive others instead of harboring any grudge or resentment toward them.

O God, thank you for the mercy and grace and forgiveness you have given to me through Christ. Give me a heart to forgive others as you have forgiven me. Help me to treat others as I would want to be treated. May the attitudes of my heart, the words of my mouth, and the works of my hands be a witness to your grace and goodness to me. Amen.

Proverbs: 27:19
"As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man."

Resources:
Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope
by Everett Worthington

Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 26 - Joined Together

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 26
N.T. - Mark 10

Focus Verses: Mark 10:5-12
5"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." 10When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

Insight:
So much of what separates husbands and wives is for petty and hard-hearted reasons. God's intent for husbands and wives is to be joined together in the depths of their beings--no longer two, but one.

Response and Action:
I need to guard against self-centered, petty, hard-hearted, self-gratifying influences and attitudes that threaten oneness with my wife. To allow those things to separate us runs counter to God's will for us. Pettiness and self-centeredness are akin to adultery. I must honor my covenant with my wife, grow in my love for her, stand by my commitment to her, and defend our relationship, with God's help, from anything that would separate us.

O God, thank you for the gift of marriage. Houses and lands can be inherited or earned, but a good spouse is from the Lord! Give me the wisdom and the will to guard my relationship with her, to nurture my love for her, and to mature in service to her. Help me to be a true friend and a faithful, loving companion. Amen.

Proverbs: 26:12
"Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him."

Resources:
The Mystery of Marriage
by Mike Mason

Friday, May 25, 2007

May 25 - A Little Faith

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 25
N.T. - Mark 9:2 - 50

Focus Verses: Mark 9:21-24
21Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. 22"It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." 23" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." 24Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

Insight:
"Everything is possible for him who believes." Really? What an outrageous thing for Jesus to say! Who can blame this poor father for struggling with belief? His son's life, and his own, had been terrorized by a self-destructive illness that was violent and demonic. Even after prolonged suffering and years of hopelessness, the man was somehow open to the possibility that Jesus could do something. I don't think Jesus was scolding the man; I think he was saying, "Don't stop believing in what God can do! No matter how hopeless it seems, hold on to what is possible with God."

Response and Action:
I identify strongly with this man. So many things in life make me cry out to Jesus, "If you can do anything, take pity on us." But even my cry is a expression of faith. Even my "if you can, God" is evidence of my hope in the face of doubt. The size of my faith is not what matters. What matters is where that faith is placed. I will put my faith and confidence in Jesus, believing that he is able to do all things. I believe that he will save and deliver me from evil. My hope is in Jesus.

O God, I believe. Save me from unbelief and increase my faith. My faith is in you. Your strength and your goodness are not diminished by the size of my faith. Even a mustard seed of faith can move mountains, if that faith is in you. Bolster my spirit, O God, and give me confidence, as I trust you with all my heart. I will not lean on my own understanding, but will instead acknowledge you in every need, and every circumstance of every day. Amen.

Proverbs: 25:25
"Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land."

Resources:
Getting Honest With God: Praying As If God Really Listens
by Mark Littleton

Thursday, May 24, 2007

May 24 - Trade Off

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 24
N.T. - Mark 8:1 - 9:1

Focus Verses: Mark 8:34-38
34Then 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. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If 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."

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

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.

Proverbs: 24:3-4
"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures."

Resources:
Simply Jesus and You: Experience His Presence and His Purpose
by Joseph Stowell

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

May 23 - Hearts and Hands

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 23
N.T. - Mark 7

Focus Verses: Mark 7:5-8; 14-15
5So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" 6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." - - - 14Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' "

Insight:
True righteousness is not a matter of external constraints but rather internal transformation. Rules that control a person outwardly are not able to change the heart. Holiness starts with a person's heart and flows out through that person's thoughts, words, and deeds. Hearts surrendered to God and shaped by God truly honor God.

Response and Action:
To become the person God wants me to be, I must surrender my life to him and allow him to renovate my heart and renew my mind. I do not want to merely reform and restrict my behavior, I want a changed heart that desires to do God's will, a heart that wants what God wants.

O God, by the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, lead, teach, transform, shape, and strengthen me, that I might delight in your will and wand walk in your ways to the glory of your Name. Grant me the wisdom and the will to guard my heart, feed my Spirit, stimulate my mind, and care for my body. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Proverbs: 23:26
"My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways. . ."

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

May 22 - Drawn to Jesus

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 22
N.T. - Mark 6

Focus Verses: Mark 6:54-56
54As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Insight:
When people recognize the presence and the power of Jesus, they come running to him. It seems to me that so many Christians and churches act as though Jesus needs to be marketed, promoted, and sold to get attention. But in Mark's account, I see Jesus doing the very opposite. He tries to get away from the crowds, he withdraws for prayer and rest, and yet the crowds seek him out wherever he goes. When people recognize Jesus, they are drawn to him. They don’t need to be pushed toward him.

Response and Action:
I want to experience the power and presence of Christ Jesus. I will seek him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. If Jesus' power and presence are at work in my life--shaping, guiding, and transforming me--I will not have to figure out ways to tell people about Jesus. I want Jesus to be recognizable in me. I will lift him up in my life by following him and living for him.

O God, help me to grow in my knowledge and experience of Jesus. Help me to recognize him and to follow him. Transform me and shape me by his power and grace. Make my life a testimony of his love and mercy, that others might recognize Jesus at work in me. Amen.

Proverbs: 22:4
"Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life."

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

Monday, May 21, 2007

May 21 - Going Home

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 21
N.T. - Mark 5

Focus Verses: Mark 5:18-20
18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus 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." 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Insight:
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. But Jesus tells 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 of Christ's power it must have been to all who heard his testimony.

Response and Action:
I must look to Christ for the healing and renewal I need. I must tell my family and friends about how God's mercy is restoring my life and what God is doing for me.

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.

Proverbs: 21:16
"A man who strays from the path of understanding comes to rest in the company of the dead."

Resources:
Speaking of Jesus: How to Tell Your Friends the Best News They Will Ever Hear
by J. MacK Stiles

Sunday, May 20, 2007

May 20 - More Light

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 20
N.T. - Mark 4

Focus Verses: Mark 4:21-25
21He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? 22For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." 24"Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."

Insight:
When a light is lifted up an placed high, it illuminates the entire room. Hidden things are revealed. Things that would not have been seen or found are now "brought to light." Jesus words are truth and light. The more they are lifted up in a person's life, to more they reveal and disclose. When Jesus words are known and understood and taken to heart, they bless the learning listeners with greater insight about themselves and greater understanding about the world they live in. The more we listen, the more we gain in understanding. If we refuse to listen, we will become even more confused and darkened in our minds.

Response and Action:
I want to listen closely to Jesus. I want his words to help me know myself. I want his words to give me wisdom and understanding about my world and my place in it. I want the truth of Christ's words to give me insight about my culture and my times. I will commit myself to knowing and thinking about Jesus' teachings, and to study the words of Scripture, that they might lead me into truth, purpose, and meaning.

O God, help me to live for you and through you in thought, word, and deed. Help me to know your word and to hide it in my heart. Open my eyes to see the world by the light of your word. Help me to hold my life, my choices, and my actions up to the light of Jesus. Shine, Jesus, and show me who I am, and what you want me to be. Amen.

Proverbs: 20:12
"Ears that hear and eyes that see—the LORD has made them both."

Resources:
Discipleship of the Mind: Learning to Love God in the Ways We Think
by James Sire

Saturday, May 19, 2007

May 19 - Family

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 19
N.T. - Mark 2:23 - 3:35

Focus Verses: Mark 3:20-21; 31-35
20Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."- - - 31Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32A 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. 34Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Insight:
When Jesus’ family heard the constant reports of crowds, miracles, and his run-ins with religious authorities, they feared he was losing his senses. They thought it was time to do a family intervention and take him home so he could get back to a normal family life. Instead of going outside to meet them, Jesus looked at the people sitting around him and said, "Here is my real family! 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/family is made up of everyone who is doing his Father’s will. God’s family must come even before earthly family. Kingdom family relationships are deeper, more profound, and more enduring than flesh and blood relationships. Spiritual DNA 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.

Proverbs: 19:18
"Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death."

Resources:
God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation
by Andreas Kostenberger and David W. Jones

Friday, May 18, 2007

May 18 - Old Clothes

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 18
N.T. - Mark 2:1-22

Focus Verses: Mark 2:21-22
21"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins."

Insight:
Jesus healed a lame man and pronounced forgiveness for his sin. The teachers of the law asked, "Why does this guy talk like that?" Jesus spent time with ordinary people caught up in the sins, snares, and struggles of life. He gives them hope and calls them to follow him. The Pharisees asked, "Why does he eat with sinners?" Jesus and his disciples ate and drank and did not withdraw from world. This was unlike the teachers, prophets, and religious groups they were accustomed to. It was even different from John the Baptist. So the curious people asked Jesus, "Why don't you and your disciples fast?"

Jesus was not trapped by tradition, religion, or the expectations of the people who were. Jesus' words and actions were always stretching people and tearing them away from conformity to old ideas and practices that fell short of true Kingdom values and perspectives.

Response and Action:
I cannot follow Jesus--doing what he says and living as he lived--without ripping myself away from comfortable conformity with the world or with religion. I need to break from empty traditions and fruitless routines that may seem acceptable and righteous but, in actuality, are keeping me from living the life Jesus calls me to live.

O Lord, give me the courage to be different. Help me to hold on to Jesus and leave behind empty habits and practices that become a hindrance to authentic faith and life. Give me the wisdom and grace to recognize the routines and traditions that feed my spirit and serve to help me know and follow Jesus. Show me your ways, O God, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Amen.

Proverbs: 18:15
"The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out."

Resources:
The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others
by Scot McKnight
The Spirit of the Disciplines
by Dallas Willard

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17 - Place and Time for Prayer

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 17
N.T. - Mark 1

Focus Verses:
Mark 1:35-37
35Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"

Insight:
The demands and distractions of life make it hard to have consistent and uninterrupted prayer times. Jesus made it his practice to pray early in the morning before most people were up. He also found a quiet and private place to pray.

Response and Action:
I will set aside time for prayer and find a place where I can be alone with God. If Jesus needed to commit himself to prayer, how much more I do!

O Lord, thank you for hearing my prayers. Thank you for the ways Jesus teaches me to pray and models commitment to prayer. Help me to make daily prayer a priority. Help me to be consistent and wholehearted in my prayers. Help me to find the right times and the right places for prayer. Amen.

Proverbs: 17:24
"A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth."

Resources:
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God
by Dallas Willard

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May 16 - Some Doubts

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 16
N.T. - Matthew 28

Focus Verses:
Matthew 28:16-19
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Insight:
Faith and doubt live closer together than most people think. In fact, they actually depend on each other. You cannot wrestle with doubts unless you are considering what to believe. You cannot have faith unless you wrestle through the doubts and questions that surround it.

Here at the conclusion of Matthew's gospel, the disciples worship Jesus, but some have doubts. Who can blame them? They had seen Jesus beaten and crucified and his lifeless body buried in a tomb. It must have been absolutely mind boggling--almost unbelievable--to now look into his face and hear his voice.

I'm glad Matthew included this important detail and didn't hide their doubt from us. As the disciples accepted Jesus' authority, obeyed his command, and experienced his ongoing presence in their lives, their doubts seem to have faded and their faith increased.

Response and Action:
I will be honest about my doubts. It is possible to be with Jesus and worship him and still have doubts. Like the disciples, I can wrestle through my doubts and grow in my faith as I worship Jesus, accept his authority, live in obedience to him, and cultivate my awareness of his presence in my life.

O Lord, increase my faith. Thank you for your mercy to those who doubt. Show yourself to me in new ways everyday. Confirm the truth of your word as I live by it. Guide me and give me a growing awareness of your abiding presence. Help me to discover the solid ground of faith as I put your words into practice. Amen.

Proverbs: 16:20
"Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD."

Resources:
Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith
by Alister McGrath
Embracing the Mysterious God: Loving the God We Don't Understand
by James Emery White

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May 15 - Selfless to Save

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 15
N.T. - Matthew 27

Focus Verses:
Matthew 27:39-42
39Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and 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!" 41In 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.

Insight:
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. His 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 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 reponsive 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.

Proverbs: 15:24
"The path of life leads upward for the wise, to keep him from going down to the grave."

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

Monday, May 14, 2007

May 14 - The Christ, God' Son

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 14
N.T. - Matthew 26

Focus Verses:
Matthew 26:63-66
63...Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." 64"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." 65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered.

Insight: If Jesus did not believe himself to be the Christ, the Son of God, or had been misunderstood, or misrepresented, his trial before the high priest would have been the perfect time for him to set the record straight. Instead of backing away from the questions, Jesus says, "Yes, I am the Christ. And you will see me in my glory at the right hand of God the Father." It's clear that the high priest and the crowd understood Jesus' words to be a clear affirmation of his claims to deity and Messiahship because they considered them to be blasphemy.

Response and Action:
I believe Jesus' claim to be the Son of God. I accept his authority. I believe he has risen from the dead.

Thank you, O God, for Jesus, your Son who came to live among us, full of grace and truth. Help me to grow in my relationship with him. Help me to follow him wherever he leads. Amen.

Proverbs: 14:15
"A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps."

Resources:
The Incomparable Christ
by John R. W. Stott

Sunday, May 13, 2007

May 13 - Brothers of Jesus

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 13
N.T. - Matthew 25

Focus Verses:
Matthew 25:34-40
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Insight:
While leaving a restaurant just a couple nights ago, I was approached by a homeless person. His wife, who looked to be about eight months pregnant, was standing on the sidewalk a ways down the street. They had two small children with them. He was begging for money to buy them a meal, and bus fare to Madison, WI. His eyes had a milky glaze to them, and I wondered if he might be on something. He told me how embarrassed he was to be begging for money, and he really did look like the whole pathetic situation was a crying shame to him. As he spoke, I looked him directly in the eye and suddenly realized I saw Jesus. I gave him some money.

Response and Action:
If I am really a follower of Jesus, I cannot be blind or closed to the needs of others. When I see "the least of these"-- the poor, the addicted, the homeless, the hungry, the hopeless--I need to be generous and softhearted. More than giving a few bucks here and there to the occasional beggar who approaches on the street, I need to be active in my community and my church to work for solutions to the broader issues that are causing need and poverty.

O Lord, make me an instrument of your grace and a vessel of your blessing. Give me a heart of compassion for the many people in this world who are suffering overwhelming need. Help me to find practical and meaningful ways to share, to love, and bless others. Amen.

Proverbs: 13:23
"A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away."

Resources:
Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America
by Ron Sider

Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 12 - Keep Watch

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 12
N.T. - Matthew 24

Focus Verses:
Matthew 24:42-46
42"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. 45"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

Insight:
Jesus describes his coming on the final day with clear claims to divine power (coming on the clouds in power and glory) and with apocalyptic urgency. The exact time of his coming is not possible to know, but there are enough signs to have a sense of urgency and to keep watch and to be ready.

Response and Action:
I believe that Jesus rose from the dead in accordance with the Scripture, and that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. I believe he will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end. I will heed his commands and walk in his ways every day, in order that I might always be ready for his imminent return.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and establish your eternal Kingdom. Help me to be your faithful servant. Strengthen and guide me in your ways for the glory of your name. Even as I wait for your return, help me to live as a citizen of your Kingdom today! Make me and my world ready to welcome you on the final day. Amen.

Proverbs: 12:28
"In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality."

Resources:
Jesus, Paul and the End of the World
by Ben Witherington III

Friday, May 11, 2007

May 11 - Two Faced

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 11
N.T. - Matthew 23

Focus Verses:
Matthew 23:27-28
27"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

Insight:
In reading this chapter, it's easy to stand on the sidelines and watch with smug satisfaction as Jesus comes down hard on the teachers and Pharisees. We might even catch ourselves chiming in, "Yeah, take that you hypocrites!" Of course, the minute we do, we betray our own duplicity. It's easy to read Scripture and apply it to others before applying it to ourselves. How quick we are to see the sins of others, but blind the same failings in ourselves! Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and all the more because they refused to recognize it. What should we expect Jesus say to us when we refuse to see our own hypocrisy?

Response and Action:
I need to identify and acknowledge the ways I am a hypocrite. I do not want to say one thing, but do another. I want to be honest, real, and consistent. I do not want to present myself as better than I am. I want to be more concerned about how I truly am and what I truly need, than how I appear to others or what others think about me.

O God, have mercy on me, a sinner. You see all my hidden faults and know all my secret sins. I've got a long way to go in my pursuit of holiness. Thank you for loving me where I am and giving me the grace and guidance to rise above my weakness and failure. Help me to live with humility before you and before the people around me. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Grant me integrity that my life might be a proof, not a pretense, of my devotion to you. Amen.

Proverbs: 11:2-3
"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity."

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

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 10 - Everyone is Invited

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 10
N.T. - Matthew 22

Focus Verses:
Matthew 22:8-10
8"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Insight:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast where everyone is invited. The invitation is sent to palace dwellers and street people, to the good and the bad alike. The invitation is not given on the basis of merit or status; it springs from the king's heart to celebrate and honor his son.

There are several ways to disrespect the king's invitation. The first is to be too busy (Mt. 22:5) to accept the invitation--to not consider the invitation important enough for your time and attention. The second is to have utter contempt (Mt. 22:6) for the king and his invitation--to just rob and abuse his messengers. The third disrespectful response is to accept the invitation, but refuse to do what is expected (Mt. 22:11) of the king's guests--refusing to wear the special white wedding clothes the king provides.

Response and Action:
I want to accept God's invitation to celebrate and honor his son, Jesus. I realize that I do not deserve to be invited to such a celebration; I consider it an awesome privilege. Nothing in my life is more important than my wholehearted response to this invitation. As I accept the invitation to join in the Kingdom, I will also accept the King's expectations for those he has welcomed. I want to be transformed, to put on Christ, to be renewed and clothed in the righteousness the King offers me.

Thank You, O God, for inviting me to the party! Thank you for your gracious invitation to everyone. Help me to celebrate and honor your son, Jesus. By the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, clothe me in the new garments of Christ's righteousness. 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.

Proverbs: 10:22
"The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it."

Resources:
Kingdom of God Is a Party
by Tony Campolo

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

May 9 - Don't Stop Singing

Today's Reading:
O.T. - Proverbs 9
N.T. - Matthew 21

Focus Verses:
Matthew 21:14-16
14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant. 16"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"

Insight:
Jesus' authority was unlike the oppressive authority people were experiencing at the hands of government and religion. Jesus did not demonstrate his authority by lording over people, but rather by defending people from exploitation and by healing the blind and lame. The children praised Jesus in celebration and thanks for the wonderful things he was doing. This annoyed the priests and teachers of the law because the children were singing a well-known song of praise (Ps. 118) thanking God for the messiah and the salvation he would bring.

Jesus' response to this criticism was to make an even bolder claim to authority. He said that the children were simply fulfilling the words of another song they knew, Psalm 8. That psalm is a song of praise that addresses God directly. By saying this, Jesus was making a clear claim to deity; he was allowing words of worship normally reserved for God to be directed toward himself.

Response and Action:
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father. God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. I believe Jesus is the Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I look to him for salvation. I acknowledge his authority and deity. I will praise him. I will live my life for him. I will seek to follow him and honor him.

Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name and power and authority of the Lord God.
O Jesus, you have promised those who love you wonderful things that surpass our understanding. Pour into my heart such love toward you, that I might love you in all things and above all things, and in doing so, may obtain your promises which are far greater than all I can imagine or desire. Amen.

Proverbs: 9:10
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

Resources:
Jesus, the One and Only
by Beth Moore and Dale McCleskey