Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Generous Master

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 40:28-41:26
Matthew 20:1-28
Proverbs 17:15-24
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 20:13-16  
13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

The master of the vineyard was not primarily interested in pay, but rather in people and purpose. His main concern was to enlist people into the meaningful work of his kingdom. Some of the workers were more concerned about pay equity than about helping the others find employment.

It's likely that many of the last to be hired were in the worse condition; maybe they were less desirable or unable to compete or be as productive. In such a case, the mercy of the master is even more profound. Whatever the case, it's clear the master was motivated by his own generosity, not by the merits of his workers.

Response and Action:
God's grace is extended to everyone. I will rejoice in his generosity to all people and be thankful for his goodness to me. I will not waste my time by comparing myself to others. I will serve God with a thankful heart knowing that it is only by his grace that anyone serves. I will give thanks and praise for every new worker in the vineyard and pray for more to come.

O God, thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you for giving me a place to work in your vineyard. Your generosity and goodness are such a blessing. Serving you gives me hope and purpose. Keep calling more and more people to your vineyard, O Lord, and bless them with all good things. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Psalm 146:5-8
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, 6 the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the LORD, who remains faithful forever. 7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, 8 the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous.

Interpreting the Parables
by Craig Blomberg

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Reading Schedule for July 31 - August 6

Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2015-16

Sunday, July 31 -
Ezekiel 40:28-41:26 / Matthew 20:1-28
/ Proverbs 17:15-24

Monday, August 1 -
Ezekiel 42:1-43:27
/ Matthew 20:29-21:22 / Proverbs 17:25-18:6

Tuesday, August 2  -
Ezekiel 44:1-45:12
/ Matthew 21:23-46 / Proverbs 18:7-16

Wednesday, August 3  -
Ezekiel 45:13-46:24
/ Matthew 22:1-33 / Proverbs 18:17-19:2

Thursday, August 4 -
Ezekiel 47:1-48:35
/ Matthew 22:34-23:12 / Proverbs 19:3-12

Friday, August 5 -
Daniel 1:1-2:23
/ Matthew 23:13-39 / Proverbs 19:13-22

Saturday, August 6-
Daniel 2:24-3:30
/ Matthew 24:1-28 / Proverbs 19:23-20:4

It's Hard for the Rich

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 39:1-40:27
Matthew 19:13-30
Proverbs 17:5-14
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 19:23-26
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 26 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Wealth can be an obstacle to living with a "kingdom of heaven" perspective. The comfort, privilege, and power that accompany material possessions, are often in conflict with Kingdom values. You cannot serve both God and money. If Jesus is Lord of our lives, our money should serve his kingdom and his righteousness. This is difficult and counter to the prevailing attitudes of the world, but with God's grace and guidance, it is possible.

Response and Action:
I recognize that I am very blessed. I live in a wealthy nation and I have many possessions. I must be careful to never let wealth and blessing possess me. My money, my house, my car, and everything else I own must be used to serve and honor God. Following Jesus and living by his Kingdom values requires that I open my eyes to the needs of people around me. Good stewardship requires generosity and concern for others.

O God, help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Help me to seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness. Give me eyes to see all that I have as a gift from you to be used to honor and serve you. Teach me to hold on to Jesus with all my might, and to be open-handed and generous with my possessions. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Ecclesiastes 5:10-11
10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?

Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions
by Craig L. Blomberg

Friday, July 29, 2016

Can These Bones Live?

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 37:1-38:23
Matthew 18:21-19:12
Proverbs 16:28-17:4
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Ezekiel 37:3-6
3 He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' "

God has the power to restore life. He can raise the dead. Those who are dead in their transgressions are not beyond God's resurrection power. The messed up and broken world is not beyond God's power to revive and restore. God can take a dead end and turn it into a new life. By the power and grace of God's Spirit, death gives way to breath.

Response and Action:
I need to look to God for life and restoration. Can God raise these bones and give them life? Yes. I must not give up on life or on the possibilities of change and transformation. In situations where things seem as hopeless as a pile of dry bones, I must remember that God can raise even dry bones into a mighty army to serve his purposes.

O God, give me faith in your power to save and restore. Help me to remember that you are able to conquer death with life. My hope is in you. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who lives in me, the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: John 11:25-26
25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in an Everyday Life
by Eugene Peterson

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Become Like Little Children

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 35:1-36:38
Matthew 18:1-20
Proverbs 16:18-27
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 18:2-4
He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Humility is essential to entering God's Kingdom. To live with Jesus as King and to enter into his purpose and will on earth, we need to be honest about our weaknesses and needs. We need to see ourselves as children without power, status, or ability to provide for ourselves. People who are seeking God must also have a childlike capacity for wonder, learning, and the acceptance of help and guidance.

Response and Action:
I must be humble before God, honest about my needs, and ready to receive his mercy and provision. I must have a sense of wonder that moves me to seek out truth and learn how to live with joy and purpose.

Dear Father, I need you. Help me to seek you with a love and humility of a child. Help me to know you more each day. Strengthen and encourage me through your word, your people, your promises, and all that is beautiful and true. Amen.

 Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 John 3:1-3
1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

A Childlike Heart: How to Become Great in God's Kingdom
by Alan D. Wright

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Empty Applause: Hearing without Doing

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 33:1-34:31
Matthew 17:10-27
Proverbs 16:8-17
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Ezekiel 33:30-33
30 "As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, 'Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.' 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. 33 "When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them."

People would come to hear Ezekiel prophesy, but their hearing didn't move them toward doing. They would listen to him, they found him to be entertaining, even inspirational, and they invited others to come along with them. They would nod their heads in agreement and sing songs of devotion with great emotion.

At the end of the day, however, they would go their merry way without acting upon the things he had said. They enjoyed religion, but they were unchanged. They were okay with words and feelings, but these words and feelings were disconnected from the reality of their lives and their hearts. Only after they suffered the consequences of their inaction would they come to understand the practical truth and divine authority of Ezekiel's words.

Response and Action:
Jesus said that wise people not only hear his words, but also put them into practice. When I hear the word of God and fail to act upon it, I am deceiving myself. It is not enough to hear or say words, enjoy teaching, or sing Christian songs; my faith must be lived out in real and tangible ways. Hearing without doing is worthless.

O God, thank you for your word. Give me a receptive heart and give me the wisdom to put your word into practice. Help me to demonstrate my faith in the Bible in the ways I act upon what it says. I believe the Scriptures to be God-breathed and I believe they are useful. As I read and meditate upon your Word, give me the wisdom to be taught, corrected, rebuked, and equipped for every good work. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: James 2:14-17
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Faith Works
by Jim Wallis

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Who Do You Say I Am?

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 31:1-32:32
Matthew 16:13-17:9
Proverbs 15:31-16:7
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 16:13-17 
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" 14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

From the day of his birth (no, even before his birth), people have had many ideas about just who and what Jesus is. When Jesus asked his disciples to recount some of the things they had heard people say about him, they had no trouble producing a variety of answers.

"But what about you?" Jesus asked, "What do you say?"

Peter didn't have to go on hearsay and speculation; he had face-to-face, day-to-day experience with Jesus. This personal experience led him to conclude that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, God's anointed deliverer. He believed Jesus to be the only Son (sharing God's divine essence and authority) of the only true, living, and eternal God.

Response and Action:
Who do I say Jesus is? I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the World. I believe he is Lord, the only begotten Son of God—light from light, true God from true God, of one being with the Father. I will acknowledge him in all my ways. The way I actually live my life is, of course, the truest expression and testimony of what I claim to believe. Whatever I say about Jesus must be confirmed in my actions, choices, and attitudes.

O God, help me to follow your Son, Christ Jesus, with a whole heart. Help me to live out my faith in my words and in my deeds. Make my path straight as I make every effort every day to acknowledge Jesus to be my Savior and Master. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

The Incomparable Christ
by John Stott

Monday, July 25, 2016

Good Words at the Right TIme

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 29:1-30:26
Matthew 15:29-16:12
Proverbs 15:21-30

Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Proverbs 15:21-23 
21 Folly brings joy to one who has no sense, but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course. 22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. 23 A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!

Making sound decisions and charting a straight course isn't easy. The counsel of wise friends is a big help in navigating the twists and turns of life. It's good to get advice from a variety of friends because each of their differing perspectives temper the others. A plan is more likely to succeed if it is framed and discussed and critiqued by a number of thoughtful people. Even the interpretation and application of scriptural principles are best understood and applied in the context of community.

Response and Action:
When making plans, I will seek the counsel of others who have demonstrated wisdom and success in their own lives. I will ask God for wisdom and direction. In order to make sound decisions, I will prayerfully consider the counsel and opinions of godly friends who care about me and have proved themselves to be prudent in their own affairs. I will seek guidance from the Scriptures in the context of Christian community.

O God, show me your ways. Guide me in your truth and teach me. Help me to seek you first in all things. Grant me wisdom and insight for life. Bring good and wise friends into my life. Give me insight and understanding as I read the scriptures. Help me to trust in you with all my heart and not depend on my own limited understanding. Help me to acknowledge you in all my ways, and show me the straight and wise paths to follow. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: James 1:4-5
4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

The Spirit of the Disciplines
by Dallas Willard

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Things that Come from the Heart

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 27:1-28:26
Matthew 15:1-28
Proverbs 15:11-20
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20 
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. 11 What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' " - - - 17 "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' "

A life lived for God must flow out of a heart devoted to God. The regulations that accompany tradition and ritual are not able to transform the heart. Humility, surrender, reverence, and love for God are essential to being shaped by him.

Meaningful tradition and the observance of rituals must flow out of a heart that desires to honor and worship God. Jesus consistently warns against confusing rule-keeping with true righteousness. Those who are truly righteous don't even need rules because their hearts are already inclined to honor God in word, thought, and deed.

Response and Action:
I want to honor God in my thoughts, speech, attitudes, and actions. This "want" is absolutely necessary to such a life. God wants me to want Him. When I genuinely surrender my heart to God, seeking to be shaped by Him, my life will increasingly reflect His righteousness. When my heart is surrendered to his will, my life and habits will be directed by it.

I must never confuse adherence to rules with reverence for God. True discipline, self-control, and righteousness are only possible with God's transforming power and grace. If I seek Him first and love him best, a disciplined and righteous life will follow.

O God, help me to turn away from what is wrong and do what is right. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. By the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, lead me, teach me, and shape me. Give me a heart that is devoted to you, and a life that flows from your presence and your transforming work in me. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:  2 Corinthians 3:17-18
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Renovation of the Heart
by Dallas Willard

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Reading Schedule for July 24-30

Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2015-16

Sunday, July 24 -
Ezekiel 27:1-28:26 / Matthew 15:1-28
/ Proverbs 15:11-20

Monday, July 25 -
Ezekiel 29:1-30:26
/ Matthew 15:29-16:12 / Proverbs 15:21-30

Tuesday, July 26  -
Ezekiel 31:1-32:32
/ Matthew 16:13-17:9 / Proverbs 15:31-16:7

Wednesday, July 27  -
Ezekiel 33:1-34:31
/ Matthew 17:10-27 / Proverbs 16:8-17

Thursday, July 28 -
Ezekiel 35:1-36:38
/ Matthew 18:1-20 / Proverbs 16:18-27

Friday, July 29 -
Ezekiel 37:1-38:23
/ Matthew 18:21-19:12 / Proverbs 16:28-17:4

Saturday, July 30-
Ezekiel 39:1-40:27
/ Matthew 19:13-30 / Proverbs 17:5-14

You Give Them Something to Eat

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 24:1-26:21
Matthew 14:13-36
Proverbs 15:1-10
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 14:13-16 
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." 16 Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand is better known than the circumstances that led up to it. I think it is important to notice that this event took place at a time when Jesus was trying to get away from the crowds. Why? Because he had just been told about the murder of John the Baptist and wanted to be alone.

Instead of being indignant, when the unrelenting crowds managed to find him, Jesus was "filled with compassion." Rather than being upset with the people for their lack of regard for his needs, he focused on their needs—healing their sick and providing them with food.

Response and Action:
The selfless love Jesus displays in this event is more impressive to me than the miracle of multiplying a small amount of fish and bread. The way he was able to produce feelings and acts of compassion out a heart that was grieving and longing for solitude is, to me, a greater miracle than producing abundant food from a little boy's lunch.

Maybe that's the most important point of this story. None of us ever really have what it takes to meet the needs of others. We don't have the emotional strength, the time, the answers, or the patience to really meet needs. I need to depend on God to multiply the little I have. Through Jesus, I can be a blessing to others, even when my circumstances and limitations leave me with little to offer on my own.

O God, give me a heart to look beyond my own needs and to see the needs of others. Dear Jesus, bless and multiply my meager resources so that I can bless and help others. When I feel too empty or weak to share, fill my heart and hands with good things to give. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Psalm 145:15-18
15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. 16 You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. 17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Transforming Power: Biblical Strategies for Making a Difference in Your Community
by Robert C. Linthicum

Friday, July 22, 2016

Blood Is on Their Hands

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 23:1-49
Matthew 13:47-14:12
Proverbs 14:25-35
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Ezekiel 23:35-39
35 "Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Since you have forgotten me and thrust me behind your back, you must bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitution." 36 The LORD said to me: "Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then confront them with their detestable practices 37 for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them. 38 They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. 39 On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. That is what they did in my house.

Ezekiel uses the shocking and graphic metaphors of adultery and prostitution to describe the behavior of Samaria (the northern tribes of Israel) and Judah (the southern tribes). Even when they entered the Temple to "worship" God, they were perverting it through syncretism and the full embrace of pagan worship, child sacrifice, sexual ritual, and idolatry. They acted as though God was just one of many gods and that the holy temple was just one of many religious sites.

Response and Action:
God calls his people to be faithful to him. No amount of going to church, saying religious words, singing worship songs, or making claims of belief can make up for unfaithfulness. I need to be faithful to God and be on guard against duplicity. I must guard against confusing the worship of God with self-centered and self-serving forms of religiosity. I must not allow myself to be comfortable with disconnects between my behavior and my belief—saying one thing but doing another. I cannot claim to follow God while going my own way and chasing after other things. God will not settle for being part of my life, he demands all of me.

O God, help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Help me to honor you and to allow nothing else to rival my reverence and faithfulness to you. Save me from hypocrisy and duplicity. Give me a single-minded allegiance to you. Forgive me for my sins and failures, and save me by your grace. Lift me up, show me your ways, and give me the wisdom and the will to walk in them. Give me a mind that is quick to obey and a heart that delights in you. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 2 Corinthians 6:15-17
15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." 17 "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."

Pagan Christianity
by Frank Viola and George Barna

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It Takes Over Everything

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 21:1-22:31
Matthew 13:24-46
Proverbs 14:15-24
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 13:31-33
31 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." 33 He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

Once the Kingdom of God gets a little foothold in your life, it takes over. A mustard seed might be the smallest thing a gardener could plant, but eventually it dominates and becomes bigger than anything else in the garden. A minuscule amount of yeast in a large amount of dough will eventually work its way through the whole batch. It changes everything!

Response and Action:
I desire the mustard seed and the yeast of the Kingdom of God to take root and take over in my life. Like the gardener, I must exercise my desire by giving the mustard seed a place in my garden. Like the woman making bread, I must mix the yeast into the dough of my life. I am doing this through faith in Jesus, following him, praying, taking in the Scriptures, obeying, surrendering, thinking, applying, living, and seeking the Kingdom first.

If I am faithful to plant and mix, I will see the seed and the yeast (the truth and life of the Kingdom) become the most dominant and influential element of my life. The transforming power of the Kingdom of Christ will change everything.

O God, I long to be receptive and fertile soil for the seed of your Kingdom. May the power and grace of your Holy Spirit work its way through every aspect and dimension of my life. I want your ways to be my ways. I want my heart and mind to be controlled and shaped by your truth. Guide me, give me wisdom, and transform me that I might delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your name. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: Galatians 2:20
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time
by Tom Sine and Shane Claiborne

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Good Soil: Hear, Understand, Produce

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 20:1-49
Matthew 12:46-13:23
Proverbs 14:5-14
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 13:22-23
22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

Both worries and wealth—the burdens and the blessings—have the capacity to choke out the productivity of God's word in our lives. Problems and needs can lead to stress. Wealth and comfort can lead to apathy and half-heartedness. Those who are eager to receive God's word, ready to understand and respond to it, are like rich soil that welcomes a seed, letting it put down deep roots and push up a bountiful crop.

Response and Action:
I will be careful to not let the worries and concerns of life distract me from God's word. I will be just as careful to not let the comforts and blessings of life lull me into apathy toward God's word. God's word must be more important to me than worries or wealth. I must be quick to receive God's word and ready to respond to it.

Allowing God's word to take deep root in my heart and mind is what prepares me for hardship and gives me peace in stressful circumstances. God’s word planted in my heart helps me remember what is most important in times of comfort and blessing.

O God, protect from the worries of life. Do not let them distract me from your guiding and sustaining word. O God, protect me from the blessings and comforts of life. Do not let them cause me to trust in them or love them more than you. Give me a love and a hunger for your word. May it teach, rebuke, correct, and train me in order that I might live a fruitful life that honors you. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:  2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Transforming Bible Study:
Understanding Scripture Like You've Never Read It Before
by Bob Grahmann

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Turn Away from Sin and Get a New Heart

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 18:1-19:14
Matthew 12:22-45
Proverbs 13:20-14:4
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Ezekiel 18:30-32
30 "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Every person is accountable to God for his or her own sins. God does not condemn children because of the sins of their parents, and God does not condemn parents for the sins of their children. God judges "each one according to his ways."

The whole of chapter eighteen makes it clear that God is just. He looks at each person as an individual. He calls everyone to turn away from sin. He promises a new heart and a new spirit to those who repent. He takes no pleasure in condemning people, but would rather redeem and forgive.

Response and Action:
God deals with me as an individual. The sin I need to be most concerned about is my own. I do not need to worry about God condemning me because of the sins of others. The way I deal with my own sin is the chief concern in my relationship with God and my hope in his promises.

God does not take pleasure in condemning and punishing sinners; he would rather save and redeem them. Because of this, my primary image of God will be that of Redeemer and Savior. When I think of God as a judge, it will be as a benevolent judge who is reluctant to condemn, and who grieves over those he is judging.

O God, thank you for looking on me as an individual and for offering me hope and life. Save and redeem me. Help me to see my sins for what they are and to turn away from them. Lead me away from temptation, and deliver me from evil. Help me to walk in faithfulness to you. Grant me the wisdom and the will to guard my heart, feed my spirit, stimulate my mind, and care for my body. Help my life to be a praise to your glorious grace. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:  John 3:16-17
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Grace: The Power to Change
by James B. Richards

Monday, July 18, 2016

Time to Do What Is Right

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 16:42-17:24
Matthew 12:1-21
Proverbs 13:10-19
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 12:9-12
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" 11 He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

It is always right to do good. Jesus clearly counters any suggestion that God has more concern about rituals or laws than he has for the people they are intended to help.

Response and Action:
I need to be careful to notice anytime laws are moral precepts are used as a way to stop anyone from doing what is good. God's instructions and commands are not an end in and of themselves, but instead are intended to serve the very best interests of people. When applying and interpreting the commands of scripture, I will always consider what would be the most redemptive, caring, and helpful for all involved.

O God, help me to seek you and obey you with all my being. Help me to understand your word and to be obedient to your commands. Help me to grasp the spirit and heart behind your commands in order that I might apply and obey them for the right reasons and the right attitude with the right ends in mind. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: John 13:34-35
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What's So Amazing About Grace?
by Philip Yancey

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Keeping in Step with Jesus

Today's Reading:
Ezekiel 14:12-16:41
Matthew 11:7-30
Proverbs 12:28-13:9
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Matthew 11:27-30
27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

According to Jesus, no one knows God like he does. Those who want to know God need to know Jesus. He is the only one who can truly show us who God is, what God is like, what God wants, and how God leads. Jesus offers rest for the weary and burdened. He does not add to the burden of those he teaches. He is gentle and humble and gives peace.

Walking beside Jesus—being yoked with him—is the way to learn from him. Just as a young ox would have been trained for work by being yoked with an older well-trained animal, we learn how to live by keeping in step with Jesus. Knowing Jesus and following his example and instruction for life is the sure path to knowing God.

Response and Action:
I will read and study the Gospels closely to make sure I am deeply acquainted with Jesus' actions and words. I will give careful and prayerful consideration to how my words and actions compare to his. I will do my best to take on his "yoke" and walk in his ways. I will endeavor to keep his pace and match his stride, not rushing ahead or lagging behind. I need his strength, guidance, and experience. I'm thankful for his promise to share the load and burden of every step I take.

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God, my savior. My hope is in you all day long. Thank you for your son, Jesus. Help me follow his example, walk in his ways, and keep in step with his Spirit. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:  1 John 2:5-6
5 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God
Dallas Willard