Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 31 - My Feet Had Almost Slipped

Today's Reading:
Judges 17:1-18:31
Romans 1:18-32
Psalm 73:1-14
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Focus Verses:
Psalm 73:1-3; 16-17
1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. - - - 16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

Insight:

I truly appreciate how the songwriter, Asaph, was so honest about his feelings and doubts. He believed that God is good and does good for his people. He believed that those who are pure in heart can count on God's goodness. He admitted, however, that his faith was on slippery ground. His foothold was shaken when he saw the prosperity of the wicked. He found himself beginning to envy them. "What good does it do me to have faith in you God?" he asked. "I don't understand what's going on!"

It became oppressive to him as he tried to reason through the whole philosophical and theological problem of how God can be good while the world is so evil. It was only when Asaph began to worship God that he began to see and understand. Worshiping the eternal God gave him an eternal perspective. Temporal prosperity lost its shine and allure in the light of eternal destiny.

Response and Action:Like the Psalmist, I am tempted at times to feel like faith in God isn't getting me anywhere. I can envy the wicked. The sight of people prospering and succeeding with no regard for God can cause me to lose sight of God's faithfulness and eternal promises.

Worship is the way to hold on to perspective and faith. Worship gives me focus and reminds me of what is eternal and what is temporal. I will worship God, believing he is good and faithful to his people–to those who seek him with pure hearts.

O God, help me to turn away from what is wrong and to do what is right. In your faithfulness to me, do not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear. Lead me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Thank you for your goodness to those who seek you. Give me humility and the wisdom to not envy the arrogant. Give me the perspective and discernment to know what is true and what is real. Deepen my understanding of life and meaning as I worship you and praise you. Amen.
Spiritual Formation Verses:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Resources:
Learning to Pray Through the Psalms
by James Sire

Monday, December 30, 2013

December 30 - Mutually Encouraged

Today's Reading:
Judges 15:1-16:31
Romans 1:1-17
Psalm 72:1-20
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Romans 1:8-12

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you. 11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.

Insight:

The first chapter of Romans is so loaded with important statements and profound theological concepts that we might overlook Paul's relationship with the people he is addressing. He had a deep pastoral affection for them, he thanked God for them, he constantly remembered them in prayer, and he longed to be encouraged by them. He was eager for an opportunity to see them face-to-face and to spend time with them. He wanted to encourage them in their faith and impart a spiritual blessing to them.

Response & Action:I want to have meaningful and precious relationships with my Christian brothers and sisters. I will cultivate my Christian friendships by following Paul's example. I will thank God for my Christian friends and be intentional about praying for them. I will seize opportunities to spend time with them. When we are together, I will consciously look for ways to be a spiritual blessing to them. I will make an effort to encourage them in their walk with Christ and look to them for encouragement. I will also communicate my affection for them in my words and actions.

Thank you, loving God, for the Christian people you have placed in my life. Bless them and help them to grow stronger in you with each passing day. Help me to be a true friend and blessing to them. Help me to encourage them and make the most of every opportunity I have to spend time with them. May our life in you and our walk with Christ Jesus be enriched by our times spent together. Amen.
Spiritual Formation Verses:
Hebrews 10:24-25
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Resources:
Making Friends and Making Them Count
by D. Mason Rutledge

Sunday, December 29, 2013

December 29 - Declaring the Kingdom

Today's Reading:
Judges 13:1-14:20
Acts 28:1-31
Psalm 71:19-24
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Acts 28:23-24; 30-31

23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. - - - 30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Insight:

When Paul arrived in Rome, just as God had promised he would, he was encouraged and thankful. He was enthused and invigorated with his sense of mission. He believed God had brought him safely to Rome for the purpose of proclaiming Christ. He believed that his chains and his imprisonment in Rome were being used by God to advance the Gospel. He saw purpose in his circumstances because he saw them as part of God’s plan and the "hope of Israel."

Paul evaluated every bit of his life and circumstances in the light of God's work in the world. Whatever his situation, Paul considered how God might use it to advance the hope and truth of the Gospel. His faith was intense; his life was focused; his testimony was genuine; and his preaching was bold.

Response and Action:It is dangerous and easy to think of my life in self-centered terms, and then try to fit God into my plans and wants. Paul thought of his life in Christ-centered terms, and then tried to see how his life and circumstances fit into God's plans and purposes. This is what made it possible for Paul to be thankful, and to have hope, purpose, and boldness in any situation.

I want to live like that. I want to see my life in the context of Christ's Kingdom. I want my perspective about what I do, what I have, where I go, what I suffer, what I need, and what I want to be centered and framed by God's will and purposes in the world.

O God, I want to find my life in you. Help me to lose my life and self-centeredness for the sake of Christ, and find myself in you. Help me to live a life that is motivated, focused, and guided by your purposes and ways. Help me to see every circumstance and blessing in the light of your will. Help me, by faith, to do the good things you've prepared in advance for me to do. Help me to be bold, alive, faithful, and fruitful as your child and servant. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
Romans 1:16
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

Resources:
Growing Your Faith By Giving It Away: Telling the Gospel Story With Grace and Passionby R. York Moore

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reading Schedule for Dec. 29 - Jan. 4


Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2013-14

Sunday, December 29 -
Judges 13:1-14:20 / Acts 28:1-31 / Psalm 71:19-24

Monday, December 30 -
Judges 15:1-16:31
/ Romans 1:1-17 / Psalm 72:1-20

Tuesday, December 31 -
Judges 17:1-18:31
/ Romans 1:18-32 / Psalm 73:1-14

Wednesday, January 1 -
Judges 19:1-20:48
/ Romans 2:1-24 / Psalm 73:15-28

Thursday,
January 2 -
Judges 21:1-25
/ Romans 2:25-3:8 / Psalm 74:1-9

Friday,
January 3 -
Ruth 1:1-4:22
/ Romans 3:9-31 / Psalm 74:10-17

Saturday,
January 4 -
1Samuel 1:1-2:21 / Romans 4:1-12
/ Psalm 74:18-23

December 28 - Keep Up Your Courage

Today's Reading:
Judges 11:1-12:15
Acts 27:21-44
Psalm 71:9-18
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Acts 27:22-25

22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.

Insight:

Though he was a prisoner, Paul made himself useful to the crew and passengers during the harrowing storm and shipwreck experience Luke describes. Even in difficult and unusual situations, Paul sought and received God's guidance. Wherever he found himself, and whatever his circumstance, he looked to God for guidance, purpose, and promise.

Response and Action:In every situation, I will look for ways to serve others and honor God. My faith and hope in Christ make it possible for me to be helpful and find purpose regardless of the circumstances. As a follower of Jesus, I want to honor God and be used by the Spirit to do what is beneficial and redemptive for others.

O God, prepare me for every circumstance. Give me peace in my heart. Give me wisdom and clarity of thought. Make me ready to serve and encourage others in difficult situations. Give me a strength and hope that stands strong through storms and hardship. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
1 Thessalonians 5:14-15
14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Resources:
The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love
by James Bryan Smith

Friday, December 27, 2013

December 27 - You Have Been My Hope

Today's Reading:
Judges 9:22-10:18

Acts 27:1-20
Psalm 71:1-8
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Psalm 71:5:-7, 14-16

5 For you have been my hope, Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. 6 From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. 7 I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge. - - - 14 But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. 15 My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. 16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.

Insight:

Hope and worship go together; they reinforce each other. God is to be praised for his righteousness, mighty acts, justice, truth, and power to save. When these words of praise are the firm conviction of our hearts, we have reason to hope, and our lives become a sign to many of God's faithfulness.

Response and Action:
I will worship God for his righteousness and mighty acts. I will praise him for his justice and truth. I will thank him for his promise to save through Christ Jesus. I will persevere in hope.

O God, help me to see you for who you really are, and fill me with a sense of hope as I worship you. Show yourself to me in new ways today. Encourage me, by your Spirit, through your word, your people, your promises, and all that is beautiful and true. Save me and grant me the confidence to persevere in life because my hope is in you. Amen.


Spiritual Formation Verses:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Resources:
Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts
by Harold M. Best

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December 26 - True and Reasonable

Today's Reading:
Judges 8:18-9:21
Acts 26:1-32
Psalm 70:1-5
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Acts 26:25-27
25 "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do."

Insight:

When Paul testified before King Agrippa, he explained that his belief in the possibility of resurrection did not contradict his Jewish beliefs or background. Even as a Pharisee Paul would have accepted the possibility of resurrection. He admitted that early on, he too opposed the Christians, and was, in fact, obsessed with opposing them. One day, however, he came face to face with the resurrected Jesus himself.

Paul told Agrippa that he had become convinced that the suffering, death, burial, and resurrection were exactly what Moses and prophets said would happen. What's more, Paul said, he was sure Agrippa was already familiar with the accounts of Jesus' resurrection, since none of the things he was describing were "done in a corner."

Response and Action:
What could turn a Pharisee who opposed the followers of Jesus into a believer and bold ambassador for Jesus? 1) his realization that Jesus' resurrection was consistent with his faith in God; 2) his discovery that the suffering and resurrection of Jesus were actually consistent with Jewish prophecy; 3) his face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Jesus; and, 4) the wide-spread testimony of so many others who had also seen and encountered the resurrected Christ.

My faith and confidence in the resurrected Jesus grows stronger: 1) as I am discovering that it is reasonable and not inconsistent with other forms of knowledge; 2) as I am testing and proving my faith through my practice and daily life; 3) as I am finding the claims of Jesus and the Apostles to be consistent with the hopes and promises of the Hebrew Scriptures; 4) as I consider the experiential and historical testimony of so many others who have considered the claims of Christ.

O God, I believe that you have the power of life and death. Resurrection is not too difficult for you. I see from reading scripture that Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection are perfectly consistent with prophecy. My own walk with Jesus has confirmed and strengthened my faith. The countless testimonies of people throughout history and around the world serve to increase my belief. May the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead raise and transform my life. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
Hebrews 12:2
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Resources:
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics
by William Lane Craig

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 25 - Claims about Christ


Today's Reading:
Judges 7:1-8:17
Acts 25:1-27
Psalm 69:29-36
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Acts 25:18-21

18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 When Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar."

Insight:
The veracity of the resurrection story has always been at the heart of the Christian message. To accept that message is to accept the resurrection of Jesus. Luke's frank account of Paul's testimony before Festus and Agrippa illustrates this. Festus understood that Paul's entire message and worldview hinged on his claim that "a dead man named Jesus" was now alive. Such a claim was seen to be a threat by the Jews of his day, and as superstitious by the Romans.

Paul did not make this claim and expect people to make a blind leap of faith. He reasoned with them, gave testimony, and made a case for why he believed that accepting the resurrection of Jesus was perfectly sensible.

Response and Action:
I must grapple with the claims of Jesus' resurrection. Everyone who encounters the message of Jesus must deal with this incredible claim. It may seem threatening, unreasonable, or anti-intellectual to believe such a thing, but it must be faced head on. If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is also dead. If he is alive, then Christianity is alive.

The hope of transformation and new life offered by Christianity is dependent on the resurrection of Jesus being factual and historical. I must give serious and careful consideration to the resurrection claims of Christianity. I will not dismiss it out of hand. Is it reasonable to believe such an amazing thing? Is there enough evidence and/or substantive testimony to make faith in the resurrection an honest and reasonable choice? I believe there is. Even as a believer, I will continue to scrutinize and think about this central claim of Christianity. I will encourage others, both Christians and non-Christians alike, to do the same.

O God, I believe that, for my sake, Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. I believe that he suffered death, was buried, and rose again, in accordance with the scriptures. Help me, like Paul, to think clearly about the resurrection and to have reasons for what I believe. Help me to be able to discuss the resurrection in clear and reasonable ways with others who are wrestling with whether or not to believe. And most of all, O Lord, transform me and teach me to live through the resurrection power of Christ. It's in his name that I pray, Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 
Romans 8:10-11
10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Resources:
Resurrection
by N.T. Wright

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

December 24 - Cut Down and Build Up

Today's Reading:
Judges 6:1-40
Acts 24:1-27
Psalm 69:13-28
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Judges 6:25-26
25 That same night the LORD said to him, "Take the second bull from your father's herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father's altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering."

Insight:
Gideon wondered, "If God is with Israel, then why has he let us be overpowered by the Midianites." The reason was Israel's unfaithfulness to God. Instead of worshiping God alone, they had worshiped the gods of the Amorites.

The first step toward deliverance for Israel was to destroy the pagan Baal altar and Ashtoreth pole that had been set up in his town. The road to restoration and deliverance begins with tearing down what is false and instead offering up worship and devotion to the One True God.

Response and Action:
When I face difficult situations in life, I find myself asking a question similar to Gideon's-- "If God is with me, why is this happening?" Before questioning God's faithfulness, I should examine my own faithfulness to God. I need to recognize the ways my family, my church, my town, my state, my country have failed to acknowledge God.

Honest reflection is needed if I am to recognize the idols we have erected and the ways we have let them distort and diminish our devotion for God. There is no God but the One True God. Any rivals for wholehearted commitment to and reverence for God must be torn down.

O God, free me from everything that oppresses and diminishes. Help me to turn away from what is wrong and to do what is right. Lead me away from temptation and deliver me from evil. Provide for my needs today. Protect me from discouragement, and encourage me, by your Spirit, through your Word, your people, your promises, and all that is beautiful and true. Give me the honesty to recognize the false ideas and idols in my heart, and give me the courage to tear them down and cast them aside in order that I might worship and follow you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
Proverbs 4:23-23
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips."

Resources:
Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters
by Timothy Keller

Monday, December 23, 2013

December 23 - Save Me from the Rising Waters

Today's Reading:
Judges 4:1-5:31
Acts 23:11-35
Psalm 69:1-12
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Psalm 69:1-3

1 Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. 3 I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.

Insight:
David begins this psalm with a crisis cry for rescue. He's up to his neck in flood water, sinking in the mud, tired to the bone, his throat dry from shouting for help, his eyes strained and weary from constantly scanning the horizon for some sign of deliverance. Fears and enemies threaten to drive him to despair and defeat.

Response and Action:
This psalm is more than just a page from David’s private journal; it’s a page from Israel’s official book of worship. Songs of faith and worship can and should include expressions of doubt and fear. Honestly wrestling with doubt is essential if my faith is to be genuine. Voicing fear is a necessary part of growing in confidence.

Because I want my faith to have integrity, I will be honest about my doubts, questions, and fears. True faith doesn't ignore doubts; it reaches beyond them. Genuine worship doesn't internalize fears; it voices them along with a hope that God is able to calm them. Real trust doesn't avoid asking the hard questions; it asks them in the firm belief that God is faithful and able to answer.

O God, I believe you want me to have a real faith in you. And if my faith is going to be real, then I too must be real in my prayers and worship. I cannot be real if I pretend to have no doubts. I cannot be real if I never voice frustration and fear. I cannot be real if I do not voice the questions that wear down my spirit and threaten my faith. Thank you, Father, for your readiness to hear my cries. By your grace and mercy, help me to ask every question with reverence, to voice every complaint with faith in your goodness, and to confess every fear with a confidence in your faithfulness to save me. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
Romans 15:4 
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Resources:
When God Lets You Down: Trusting Again after Pain and Loss
by Alex Gee

Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22 - Resurrection Hope

Today's Reading:
Judges 2:10-3:31
Acts 22:17-23:10
Psalm 68:28-35
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Acts 23:6-8

6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)

Insight:
Is resurrection possible? Is the resurrection of Jesus true? Is it provable? Is it reasonable to believe? If Jesus is the Christ and he did indeed rise from the dead, what does it mean for the way we live, and the way we view the world? For the Apostle Paul, it meant being attacked and imprisoned. His belief in the resurrection challenged the beliefs and power structures of the Jewish community. It created all sorts of social, religious, civic, and political controversy.

Faith and hope in the resurrection of Jesus was seen by many as threatening and divisive. It was also transformational, fulfilling, life-giving, and motivational to those who believed.

Response and Action:
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I believe he is the Christ, the son of the living God. I believe he is alive and that he is at the right hand of the Father. I believe he will come again to judge the living and the dead and that his Kingdom will have no end.

My faith in Jesus is central to the way I see the world, the way I live my life--my values, my hopes, my motivation, my actions, my ethics, and my beliefs. My view of the resurrection is a dividing line. It makes me different socially, politically, and religiously from most people in the world. It also makes me more hopeful, more alive, and more motivated.

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus is outrageous and seismic in its implications. I should not be surprised when it causes division, friction, strain, or controversy.

O God, thank you for Jesus who, although he existed in the very form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but instead emptied himself. He took the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of humanity. He was humble and obedient to the point of death--even death on the cross. You raised him and exalted him and have given him a name above all names. I bow my knee to you, O Resurrected Christ, and my tongue confesses that you are Lord. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 
1 Corinthians 15:14-15 
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
Resources:
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
by N. T. Wright

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reading Schedule for December 22 - 28


Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2013-14

Sunday, December 22 -
Judges 2:10-3:31
/ Acts 22:17-23:10 / Psalm 68:28-35

Monday, December 23 -
Judges 4:1-5:31 / Acts 23:11-35 / Psalm 69:1-12

Tuesday, December 24 -
Judges 6:1-40 / Acts 24:1-27 / Psalm 69:13-28

Wednesday, December 25 -
Judges 7:1-8:17 / Acts 25:1-27 / Psalm 69:29-36

Thursday, December 26 -
Judges 8:18-9:21
/ Acts 26:1-32 / Psalm 70:1-5

Friday, December 27 -
Judges 9:22-10:18
/ Acts 27:1-20 / Psalm 71:1-8

Saturday, December 28 -
Judges 11:1-12:15
/ Acts 27:21-44 / Psalm 71:9-18

December 21 - The Next Generation

Today's Reading:
Judges 1:1–2:9
Acts 21:37–22:16
Psalm 68:21-27
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: 
Judges 2:10-14
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.

Insight:
The new generation of Israelites born in the Promised Land did not remember or appreciate their history. Did their parents fail to teach them? Did they simply not listen to their parents? Somehow they forgot their heritage and turned away from God to worship the idols and false gods of the people around them. This resulted in conflict, war, and bloodshed.

They were caught in a tragic cycle. They would forget and forsake God. Then, they would fall prey to their enemies. Next, they would cry out to God for help. Then, God would deliver them and restore them through chosen leaders (the judges), and they would prosper. As they prospered and things were going well, they would once again plunge into error—forgetting and forsaking God.

Response and Action:
I intend to face each new day with a fresh resolve to choose God and follow Christ Jesus. Every morning I will renew my commitment to Christ, turn to the Scriptures for guidance, and set my heart on walking in the ways of Jesus. I will make an effort to know and remember the works and ways of the Lord. I will do my best to pass on my knowledge and faith to my children and grandchildren.

O God, you are my God. Earnestly I seek you. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Help me to tell the stories and speak the truth of your faithfulness in meaningful and convincing ways so that my children and their peers might know you and find their hope and purpose in you. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:  
James 1:22-25 
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

Resources:
Never Beyond Hope: How God Touches and Uses Imperfect People
by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom

Friday, December 20, 2013

December 20 - Choose for Yourself

Today's Reading:
Joshua 24:1-33
Acts 21:18-36
Psalm 68:15-20
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Joshua 24:14-15
14 "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Insight:

There are many alternatives to being faithful to God and serving him. Living for God requires choice and commitment. Joshua knew that many people would be unfaithful—that serving the Lord would not be desirable to everyone. He knew that many would choose the false gods of their father's or the new gods of the land they were entering. But as for Joshua, his choice was made. He and his family would serve and seek the Lord.

Response and Action:
I choose faith in God over everything else. I want to faithfully seek and serve the one true God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I will not choose the false gods and failed pursuits of the world around me. I will seek first the Kingdom of Christ and his righteousness.

O God, help me to live for you and through you in thought, word, and deed. Help me to turn away from what is wrong and do what is right. Help me to love you with all of my being, and to love my neighbor as my self. 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. Help me, by faith, to do the good things you've prepared in advance for me to do--to be faithful, fruitful, and effective as your servant, through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you ad the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 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.

Resources:
Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters
by Timothy Keller

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December 19 - Ready to Die

Today's Reading:
Joshua 22:21-23:16
Acts 21:1-17
Psalm 68:7-14
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Acts 21:10-14

10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”


Insight:
Acts chapter seven is where we find the first mention of Paul (Saul) in the New Testament. There, he was so opposed to the Jesus followers that he approved of killing them. By Acts 21, the Apostle Paul had himself become such a committed follower of the Lord Jesus that he was ready to face imprisonment or even death for him. As a committed follower of Jesus, Paul's primary concern was not his own freedom or safety, but rather God's will. If doing the things he believed God wanted him to do resulted in hardship, he was willing to do them. Jesus had suffered and died in order to accomplish God's will, and Paul was willing to follow that same path if necessary.

Response and Action:
Am I willing to follow Jesus into hardship? If following Jesus means loss, am I willing to lose? If loving as he loves means suffering, am I willing to suffer? If living out the grace and generosity of Jesus means giving up possessions and living with less, am I willing to let go of things? If forgiving as he forgives requires sacrifice, am I willing to suffer loss? If obedience to God requires the faith to face death, am I willing to die?

I want to love the Lord, my God, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I want love Jesus and follow in his steps. I will press on to know Christ more and more—to be so committed that I not only believe in his promise to bless, but also find myself able and willing to share in his suffering. I want to embrace the Christ life so fully that I am willing and able to die to myself.

O God, help me to find my life in you. Give me a faith that makes me able to commit all things to you. Give me a heart for your will and your purposes. Shape and strengthen me to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Whether by life or death, may Christ be exalted in me. Help me to press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. It's in his name that I pray these things. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 
Philippians 1:20-21
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Resources:
The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling
by John Stott

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 18 - The Lord's Good Promises

Today's Reading:
Joshua 21:1-22:20
Acts 20:1-38
Psalm 68:1-6
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: 
Joshua 21:43-45
43 So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. 45 Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

Insight:
God keeps his promises. Israel's obedience and faith brought them to a place where they experienced God's promise and provision.

Response and Action:I need to trust God and obey him. I will commit myself to knowing his word, understanding his will, and following his commands. The testimony of Scripture is that those who trust in the Lord will never find that trust to be misplaced. I will trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. I will acknowledge him in all my ways, trusting that he will make my path straight.

O God, you have promised to deliver and sustain me. You have promised that I will find life and hope in you. If I will surrender to you, you promise to protect, provide, forgive, renew, empower, transform, lead, strengthen, and deliver me. Help me to trust in you completely and to live out that trust in every day and in every way. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 
Matthew 16:24-25
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Resources:
Praying
by J. I. Packer

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 17 - No Gods at All

Today's Reading:
Joshua 19:1-20:9
Acts 19:13-41
Psalm 67:1-7
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: 
Acts 19:23-27
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."

Insight:
Luke gives an account of Paul's efforts to take the message of Jesus to the people of Ephesus. There he encounters a wide variety of opportunities and opposition. In the short span of chapter nineteen we see him in the synagogue (religious Jews), in the lecture hall (academics and philosophers), confronting those who practiced sorcery (superstitious), opposed by those who were followers of Artemis (pagan worship), and by those who profited from the followers of Artemis (commercialism). The message of Jesus was dangerous, according to Demetrius the silversmith, because it would subvert their world.

Response and Action:
Demetrius worded his opposition as a defense of the goddess Artemis, but it seems pretty clear that his greatest concern was the lost profits he would suffer if Artemis worship were to stop. I need to remember that opposition to the message of Jesus might be worded in one way, but actually be rooted in something altogether different.

The message of Jesus is dangerous. To accept the truth of Christ may indeed require the loss of profits, the change of career (Demetrius), the burning of a book (sorcery), the risk of seeming less than intellectual (lecture hall), and the rejection of long-held traditions (synagogue).

Almighty God, help me to recognize the false and selfish "reasons" I may be using to justify half-hearted discipleship. And as I share the message of Jesus with those around me, help me to remember that it may not sound like good news—in fact, it may sound dangerous and threatening as it challenges lifestyles, beliefs, and practices. Help me to respond to the real reasons people oppose the message of Jesus, not necessarily the spoken reasons. In all conversations, give me grace and charity. Give me the humility and integrity to be honest about the ways Jesus challenges and threatens me as well. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 
Matthew 16:24-25
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Resources:
Six Dangerous Questions to Transform Your View of the World
by Paul Borthwick

Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16 - He Was a Great Help

Today's Reading:
Joshua 16:1-18:28
Acts 18:23-19:12
Psalm 66:13-20
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Acts 18:27-28

27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Insight:
Apollos was from Alexandria, Egypt, the second most important city in the Roman Empire, a center of academic excellence, and home to a large Jewish population. He was very educated (v.24), a passionate speaker (v.25), and a skillful debater (v.28). He would have certainly been conversant in Western thought, Hebrew Scriptures, and dominant world-views of his day. His education and ability to communicate effectively and persuasively made him a "great help" to believers.

Response and Action:
Christians who are well-educated, critical thinkers, strong communicators, knowledgeable of scripture, and instructed in the way of the Lord Jesus, can be a great help to other believers. I am very thankful for the wonderful help I have received from intelligent and articulate people—teachers, authors, pastors, artists, philosophers, theologians, historians, and scientists.

I want to grow in my understanding of the world, the scriptures, religion, philosophy, history, and theology. I will make learning a priority in my life and make sure I keep reading, listening, thinking, and searching.

O God, you know all things. All truth and understanding belong to you. Reverence for you is the beginning of wisdom. Help me to love you with all my mind. Strengthen my faith through learning, and give me wisdom and insight that I might be a great help and encouragement to others. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 15 - Shout with Joy!

Today's Reading:
Joshua 15:1-63
Acts 18:1-22
Psalm 66:1-12
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses:
Psalm 66:1-5, 16

1 Shout with joy to God, all the earth! 2 Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! 3 Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. 4 All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name." 5 Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man's behalf! - - - 16 Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.

Insight:
The psalmist is absolutely exuberant with praise at the thought of all God is and all God has done. So many of the psalms are filled with appeals for God to do something, but this psalm is simply a celebration of all God has done.

Response and Action:
I spend a lot of time asking God to do things for me. I want to spend more time reflecting on all God has done and the many blessings he has provided. I will lift up my needs to the Lord, but I will also lift up enthusiastic shouts of praise for the awesome deeds he has done on behalf of humankind—the awesome works that have blessed me in so many ways.

Not only will I praise God, I will make that praise glorious and unrestrained. I will tell anyone who will listen of the great things God has done for me. I will celebrate and tell others about the things God is doing in my life. I will delight in the great things God has promised to do.

O God, thank you for hearing my prayers. Thank you for the love you have not withheld from me. Give me a mind to recount my blessings. Give me a heart to offer up thanks. Give me a mouth that is quick to sing praise. Give me an eagerness to tell others of all you have done for me. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
Ephesians 5:18-20
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Resources:
Reflections on the Psalms
by C. S. Lewis