Saturday, December 16, 2017

Reading Schedule for December 17-23

Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2017-2018

SUNDAY
Deuteronomy 34:1-Joshua 2:24
Acts 13:16-41
Psalm 60:1-4

MONDAY
Joshua 3:1-4:24
Acts 13:42-14:7
Psalm 60:5-12

TUESDAY
Joshua 5:1-7:15
Acts 14:8-28
Psalm 61:1-8

WEDNESDAY
Joshua 7:16-9:2
Acts 15:1-35
Psalm 62:1-12

THURSDAY
Joshua 9:3-10:43
Acts 15:36-16:15
Psalm 63:1-11

FRIDAY
Joshua 11:1-12:24
Acts 16:16-40
Psalm 64:1-10

SATURDAY
Joshua 13:1-14:15
Acts 17:1-34
Psalm 65:1-13

I Will Sing in the Morning

Today's Reading:
Deut. 33:1-29
Acts 12:24-13:15
Psalm 59:9-17
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Psalm 59:16-17
16 But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. 17 You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.

Insight:
Though his life was filled with problems, threats, and enemies, David put his faith in God. He believed that there would be a morning of blessing that followed the dark night. He believed that God was reliable. He considered the Lord to be his refuge. He was so confident in the Lord   that he sang songs of praise even in times of trouble.

Response and Action:
I want to have a faith in God that exceeds my fear of trouble. I will give praise to God even in the dark times of hardship, believing that the morning of his blessing will come in due time

O God, be my refuge in times of trouble. Be my strength in times of weakness. Be my refuge in the storm. Show me your grace and love as I strive to honor and serve you in a world dominated by hate and selfishness. Make me an instrument of your peace. Make me a witness of your goodness. Help me to sing songs of praise until the final morning dawns and you set all things right. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 
Jude 1:24-25
24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Resources:
Learning to Pray through the Psalms
by James W. Sire

Friday, December 15, 2017

Astonished by Answered Prayers

Today's Reading:
Deut. 32:28-52
Acts 12:1-23
Psalm 59:1-8
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 12:12-15
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!" 15 "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

Insight:
I'm always encouraged by how surprised the believers praying for Peter were when he showed up at their door. When the servant girl went to answer the door during the prayer time and returned with news that Peter was standing at the door, they practically told her to stop bothering them. They were too busy praying for Peter to expect an answer to their prayers. They told her, “You’re crazy.” They told her she had probably seen an angel. It’s almost funny to see a group of people praying so fervently to God for Peter's release, and yet so unprepared for their prayer to be answered. I'm like that too!

Response and Action:
The amount of my faith is not as important as the object of my faith. It's good for me to pray for all my concerns, even though I may not be able to grasp or expect the way God will answer my prayers. God can and may do more than I am able to ask or imagine. Prayers are not dependent upon the mind of those praying, but rather upon the will of the God to whom they pray. I will lift up my requests and petitions to God, knowing that he may answer my prayers in ways I am not expecting.

O God, thank you for your power to answer prayer. Give me the faith and boldness to come to you with every need and concern. Thank you that your answers to my prayers are not dependent upon my ability to anticipate what they will be. Give me eyes that are ready to recognize your answers to my prayers, and give me a mouth that is ready to give you praise for them. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 Ephesians 3:20-21
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Resources:
The God Who Hears
by W. Bingham Hunter

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Reminder for Rebellious Hearts

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 31:1-32:27
Acts 11:1-30
Psalm 58:1-11
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Deuteronomy 31:24-27
24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: 26 “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!"

Insight:
Here, at the end of his life, Moses is less than cheerful and optimistic about Israel's future. After reminding the people of the importance of seeking and obeying God, after stressing the importance of knowing and teaching God's word to their children, and after writing all the words of the Law in a book, he tells them to put the book beside the ark of the covenant as "a witness against them." He basically tells them, "Here's God's word. Put it in a sacred and special place so it can remind you of how rebellious and disobedient you are."

While Moses faithfully communicated the Law God revealed to him, he had absolutely no confidence that the Israelites would be able to follow it. He said, "I know you are corrupt and that you'll turn away from the things I've taught you." Moses gave the Law, but he understood that the future of his people would depend completely on the grace of God. Even Moses knew that the Law was unable to change people or save them.

Response and Action:
Knowing what is right and true is good, but knowledge cannot make me righteous. Knowing what is wrong only serves to show me how easily I am prone to do it. It highlights my inability to overcome the corruption and rebellion at work in me. It shows me that I need God's grace. Only by the grace of God and the power of his Spirit can I be transformed and strengthened to do his will.

I will seek to know the Scriptures and to humbly follow the instructions and precepts it reveals, but my confidence will be in God's grace, not in my ability to follow instructions. I will listen to the teachings of Jesus and make every effort to obey them, but my hope is in Him, not in my ability to obey him. I know how stiff-necked and rebellious I can be, so my hope is firmly fixed upon God's grace and his resurrection power to transform and shape me.

O God, help me to turn away from what is wrong and to do what is right. Help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. 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. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.


Spiritual Formation Verses: John 1:14, 16-18

14 
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. - - - 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Resources: 
Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us
by Scot McKnight

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

God Doesn't Show Favoritism

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20
Acts 10:24-48
Psalm 57:7-11
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 10:30-35
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

Insight:
God accepts anyone who has faith in him and reverence for him. Faith and reverence are lived out through honoring God and doing what is right. The testimony of all the prophets, Peter said, is that "everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Through this amazing God-ordained encounter, God was not only showing himself to Cornelius and his household, he was also helping Peter to know and understand him more fully.

Response and Action:
 I am so glad that God's mercy and love are available to everyone regardless of ethnicity, language, nationality, or religious background. Those who believe in God and humbly seek him will find him.

My faith in God and reverence for him must be lived out in my daily life. I will seek God with my whole heart. I will continue to expect God to help me know him more completely and deeply. I will be ready and willing to help others know and respond to God. I will also be ready to learn new things about God. The more I know Christ the more I will be able to share him with others. The more I share Christ with others, the more I will know him.

O God, thank you for loving us and for making a way for us to have forgiveness and life through Jesus. You have promised that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. May all who seek you find you, O God. May all who know you freely and boldly share your love with everyone around them. Help me to know you more and more each day. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 1 John 5:11-12
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Resources: 
One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches
by George A. Yancey

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Heart Is Steadfast

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 28:1-68
Acts 10:1-23
Psalm 57:1-6
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Psalm 57:4-7
4 I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. 6 They spread a net for my feet—I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path—but they have fallen into it themselves. 7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.
See 1 Samuel 24 to read the story behind the Psalm.

Insight:

The Psalms in today's reading are filled with descriptions of perils juxtaposed with expressions of praise. In one breath David described the tongues of his enemies as sharp swords, but then in the next breath David's tongue began to praise his God. He thought of his enemies and described the trap they had spread for his feet, but his next thought was the recognition that his enemies would be the ones to ultimately trip and fall.

Many things were crumbling down around him, but David's heart was steadfast. He was confident that by God's grace he would not be brought down, and so he lifted up his voice in songs of praise.

Response and Action:
When I think of the fears and challenges in my life, I will lift them up to God in prayer. And as I cry out for help, I will also sing songs of honor and trust. I will punctuate my pleas for help with shouts of praise. Every problem I recount to God will be accompanied with an expression of hope and adoration. Every time I think of the things that threaten to bring me down, I will give thanks to the Lord who has promised to hold me up.

O God, I live in a world of danger, but you are a God of deliverance. There are things that scare me, but you have promised to save me. Traps have been set to pull me down, but your truth has been given to hold me up. In the face of every peril, I will give you praise. Thank you for Christ Jesus who has both promised and proved that you are the faithful God who has defeated every enemy—even death. Nothing can defeat those who have placed their confidence in you by trusting in your Son, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit--one God now and forever. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 2 Timothy 1:12b
12b I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

Resources:
Faith and Doubt
by John Ortberg

Monday, December 11, 2017

Believing God Can Change People

Today's Reading:
Deut. 26:1-27:26
Acts 9:26-43
Psalm 56:1-13
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 9:26-27
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Insight:
It's difficult for people to change. Saul's encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus was a traumatic point of change. He was confronted  with the truth of Christ and was radically turned from a zealous opponent to fearless believer. This change was not easy for others to deal with.

Those who wanted Saul to persecute the church now saw him as a threat that needed to be eliminated. Those who had experienced persecution now found it difficult to believe that Saul had truly become a follower of Christ. Barnabas, whose name means "encourager," accepted Saul. He came alongside Paul, gave him support, and helped the Christian community recognize the dramatic change in his life.

Response and Action:
I need to remember how hard it is for people to change. People who put their faith in Christ often experience pressure and animosity from people who don't want them to change. Sadly, they may also feel a lack of support or acceptance from Christians who are skeptical about them. I want to be a Barnabas.

I want to be welcoming, accepting, and supportive of new believers. I want to come alongside them, encourage them in their faith, help them form relationships with other believers, and help them overcome the pressures and threats they feel from those who do not want them to follow Christ.

O God, thank you for the men and women who have supported me and helped me follow Christ. Thank you for the changes you have brought to my life. Thank you for the transformation and renewal I am experiencing by the grace and power of your Holy Spirit. Help me to be an encouragement and friend to new believers as they begin their new life in Christ. Help my church to be a welcoming community that believes in your power to change and renew lives. Through Christ, I pray. 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 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Resources:
Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction
by David G. Benner

Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Chosen Instrument

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19
Acts 9:1-25
Psalm 55:12-23
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 9:13-15
13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.

Insight:
Saul not only rejected Christianity, he vigorously opposed it. He was doing everything within his power to wipe it out. From his perspective the claims of Jesus and his followers were lies and blasphemy. His hostility toward Christianity was rooted in his faith and devotion to God. Only through his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus did he come to recognize Jesus as the very God he was trying to serve and honor.

After he put his faith in Jesus as his Lord and Savior, the energy and passion Saul/Paul had formerly directed toward persecuting Christians was redirected toward helping others become Christians. The man who was once the most feared opponent of Christianity became the greatest evangelist, ambassador, and teacher of the early church.

Great adversaries have the capacity to become great advocates. Those who are zealous in their opposition to God, may be chosen instruments he intends to use to reach others. When those who thoughtfully and honestly oppose the gospel come to recognize Jesus for who he truly is, they can become the most believable, passionate, and effective witnesses for Christ in the world.

Response and Action: 
When God directed Ananias to go to Saul, he was hesitant and perhaps a little fearful. He had heard about Saul's hostility toward Christian faith and the harm he had inflicted upon followers of Jesus. Ananias saw a threatening enemy, but God saw a passionate servant.

I want to be faithful and obedient to God as I relate to people who reject Jesus and are hostile to Christianity. I want to be a loving and thoughtful witness to those who are struggling with honest questions, those who oppose faith for good reasons, and even those who strenuously oppose Christianity because they think it's a lie.

I need to remember that these opponents have the potential to reach and influence more people than I ever could. Their opposition to Christ might be the very thing that will lead them to one day recognize Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. They may be God's chosen instruments for helping others come to faith in Christ.


O God, make me ready to minister to others, and obedient to your call. Help me to see the promise and potential people have in Christ. Give me a love and generosity for those who deny and oppose you. Give me the wisdom and understanding to answer the questions of honest skeptics. Remind me that you are at work in the world to help seekers find you. Give me the grace and integrity to live a Jesus-shaped life that bears witness to the truth of the gospel. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 2 Corinthians 5:20
20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Resources:
Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential
by Gordon T. Smith

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Reading Schedule for December 10-16

Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2017-2018

SUNDAY
Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19
Acts 9:1-25
Psalm 55:12-23

MONDAY
Deuteronomy 26:1-27:26
Acts 9:26-43
Psalm 56:1-13

TUESDAY
Dt 28:1-68
Acts 10:1-23
Psalm 57:1-6

WEDNESDAY
Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20
Acts 10:24-48
Psalm 57:7-11

THURSDAY
Deuteronomy 31:1-32:27
Acts 11:1-30
Psalm 58:1-11

FRIDAY
Deuteronomy 32:28-52
Acts 12:1-23
Psalm 59:1-8

SATURDAY
Deuteronomy 33:1-29
Acts 12:24-13:15
Psalm 59:9-17

Do You Understand What You're Reading?

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 21:1-22:30
Acts 8:14-40
Psalm 55:1-11
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 8:30-32
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth."

Insight:

Philip was able to meet and help the Ethiopian because:
1. He received direction from the Holy Spirit (vv. 26, 20).
2. The Ethiopian was already seeking God through worship (v. 27) and the scriptures (v. 28).
3. He knew the scriptures so well that he could recognize what the man was reading and could explain how that scripture pointed to Jesus.

Response and Action:
I need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading. I need to open my eyes to see others who are seeking. I need to be willing to approach and connect with people who are different from me. I need to be grounded and growing in my own faith in order to help those who are seeking truth. I need to be very familiar with the Scriptures if want to be able to help those who have questions. I want to be ready and able to explain how the message of the Bible points to Jesus.

O God, thank you for reaching out to humanity. Thank you for revealing yourself through your son, Jesus, through the Scriptures, and through your people. Please lead me into paths where there are opportunities to help others find you. Help me to recognize those who are seeking for the truth that is found in Jesus alone. Help me to know, understand, and remember the Scriptures. Give me the words and ability to explain the good news of Jesus. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 Romans 10:14-15
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

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

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Adversary Saul and the Apostle Paul

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 18:1-20:20
Acts 7:51-8:13
Psalm 54:1-7
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 7:59 - 8:3
7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Insight:

As Stephen was martyred for his faith in Christ Jesus, a man named Saul was in the crowd giving his full approval. The event sparked the beginning of an intense campaign of persecution against Christians, and Saul became a zealous champion of a crusade to destroy the heretical movement he believed Christianity to be.

What a shocking beginning to the story of the Apostle Paul! He began as a passionate antagonist intent on obliterating Christianity from the earth, but he became the passionate missionary devoted to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. He began as an angry man who approved of killing those who believed in Jesus, but he became a gracious man willing to lay down his life for Christ.

Saul was a self-righteous Pharisee, but Paul became a humble pastor who saw himself as “chief of sinners.” The enemy of the church, Saul, doesn't speak a word in Acts 8, but he became the great Apostle who wrote much of the New Testament—committing his life to establishing, expanding, and edifying the church. Saul, who stopped and silenced Stephen, would become Paul who mentored and inspired young men like Timothy and Titus to become Christian leaders.

Response and Action:
Dramatic change is possible with Jesus. Passionate opponents of Christianity can become enthusiastic advocates of Jesus. I need to remember that Jesus and transformation go hand in hand.

It is impossible for me to know just how God may be using what seems to be loss and defeat in order to accomplish gain and victory. Stephen's faith and boldness in the face of death may have been the very thing that inspired the Apostle Paul to later write: "Whether by life or by death, may Christ be exalted in my body."

I will ask God to use and change me as I follow Christ. I will pray for those who oppose Christ, believing that they could by God's grace become wholehearted ambassadors for Christ.

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 to do what is right. Help me to turn away from what is false and to love what is true. Help me to turn away from confidence in self and, instead, turn to you with a humble recognition of my need and my sin. By the power 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.   Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Resources: 
Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions
by Albert Haase

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Resisting the Holy Spirit

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 16:1-17:20
Acts 7:30-50
Psalm 53:1-6
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 7:51-53
51 "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."

Insight:

Stephen's ministry in the early church had attracted the attention and opposition of the Sanhedrin—the ruling council and highest authority in   ancient Jerusalem. His preaching and his persuasive arguments about Jesus were especially unacceptable to them. When Stephen was called to stand before them and defend himself, he gave a brief review of Hebrew history with an emphasis on the many occasions when the Israelites had been slow to obey God or recognize God's leading. He challenged them to consider their rejection of Jesus, framing it as the latest misstep in Israel's long history of disobedience and disbelief.

Response and Action:
In the face of abuse and opposition, Stephen stood firm in his faith. Instead of defending himself or arguing for his own release, Stephen boldly challenged the Sanhedrin to consider their own history and to give careful consideration to the claims of Jesus. They were cold and cruel to him, but he was gracious and forgiving toward them.

O God, give me eyes to see the work of Jesus in my world today. Help me to experience and understand your work and presence in my life. Help me to stand firm in my faith—to be a bold and effective witness for Jesus in my world and in my time. If I face disapproval from others, help me to be gracious to those who oppose me. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 1 Peter 3:14-16
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Resources: 
Living Gently in a Violent World
by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Open Hands and Generous Hearts

Today's Reading:
Deut. 13:1-15:23
Acts 7:1-29
Psalm 52:1-9
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Deuteronomy 15:7-11
7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

Insight:
One of the truly astounding aspects of the Mosaic Law is its concern for the welfare of the widow, orphan, slave, and alien. God expected his people to live with compassion, concern, and generosity toward those who were in need. Those who were doing well were to see their well-being as a blessing from God. They were expected to give "without a grudging heart" and to be "openhanded" to the poor. There will always be someone in need, so those who are in a position to help must always be ready and willing to do so. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).

Response and Action:
Do I have concern for those who are in need? Do I have compassion for those who are in circumstances that lead to poverty? If so, how do I demonstrate this compassion and concern?

I must be ready to pitch in and give when someone around me is in need. I should also encourage my church family to be ready to meet practical needs within our fellowship and in the community around us. I can also be an advocate for social programs on the local, state, and federal level, that are directed  toward meeting the needs of the poor and the alien.

I must be realistic about poverty; it is persistent and ongoing. My concern for those in poverty must likewise be persistent and ongoing.

O God, you have been so gracious and generous to me. Give me a heart like you -- compassionate toward the poor and generous to the needy. Give me the attitude of Christ Jesus, who emptied himself for my sake. Help me to be cheerful and openhanded as I share the blessings you've given me with those who are in need. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses: 1 John 3:17-18
17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Resources: 
Practical Justice: Living Off-center in a Self-centered World 
by Kevin Blue

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Teach Your Children

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 11:1-12:32
Acts 6:1-15
Psalm 51:10-19
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Deuteronomy 11:1-2, 18-21
1 Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm...
18
 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

Insight:
The Israelites were finally taking possession of the land God had promised. As they settled down and established their new lives, they would need to be intentional about preserving and telling the stories of God's deliverance. They would need to live out their faith and be careful to pass it on to their children. They would need to tell the stories of wonders and miracles experienced, of hard-learned lessons, of God's faithful provision, of how God had given them the Law through Moses. They would need to live and teach the principles and practices that shaped their faith and worship.

Response and Action:
I want to be intentional about sharing my faith with my children. They don't know everything about my history. They haven't lived my life journey. I will be faithful to communicate the things God has taught me. I will make every effort to share stories, songs, experiences that have shaped and strengthened my faith. I will live out my faith in practical, visible, unavoidable ways that can be understood and copied.

O God, help me to know you and to live in truth. Make me aware of your presence and provision in my life, and help me to tell that story to others. By your grace, help me to share my faith with others–especially my children and grandchildren. Give me the clarity, the dedication, and the intentionality I need to nurture and strengthen the faith of those you would have me teach. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 1 Peter 3:15
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...

Resources:
Hope Has Its Reasons
by Rebecca Manley Pippert

Monday, December 04, 2017

A Broken and Contrite Heart

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22
Acts 5:1-42
Psalm 51:1-9
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Psalm 51:6,10,17
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. - - - 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. - - - 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Insight:
When Samuel rebuked King Saul and told him the kingdom would be taken away from him (1Sam. 13:14), he said the Lord had "sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people." That man was David. In Acts 13, the Apostle Paul also makes reference to David as being "a man after God's own heart" who "would do everything God wanted him to do."

How can it be that David is described as a man "after God's own heart?" He was every bit the sinner that Saul was. In fact, David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (one of his most faithful soldiers) might surpass any of Saul's sins.

Obviously, "having a heart after God" does not mean being without sin. David and Saul were both sinners, but David was quick to recognize his sin, humble his heart, ask God for cleansing, and turn his heart back toward following and obeying God.

Response and Action:
I want to have a heart after God. This does not mean that I will never sin or make mistakes. It does mean, however, that I am seeking God. It means that I am humble before God and ready to recognize my sin and my need for forgiveness. It means that I desire to obey and serve God. It means that I will look to God for direction, for cleansing, for purpose. It means that I acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and that I will seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

O God, create in me a clean heart -- a heart that is after your heart. Search me and try me to see if there is anything hurtful or sinful in me. Forgive me, purify me, and lead me in your everlasting ways. Put your truth and wisdom in my inmost parts. Help me to delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.

Spiritual Formation Verses:
 2 Corinthians 7:9b-10
9b ...your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

Resources: 
A Heart for God: Learning From David Through the Tough Choices of Life
by Rebecca Manley Pippert

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Astonishing Ordinary People

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20
Acts 4:1-37
Psalm 50:16-23
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 4:13-14
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note  that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.

Insight:

The religious leaders who seized and jailed Peter and John were astonished. How could such unschooled and ordinary men perform a miracle, preach with such clarity and conviction, and be so confident when confronted?

Three things in the text explain the extraordinary effectiveness of such ordinary people. Peter and John had been with Jesus. The miracle they had performed in the name and power of Jesus was undeniable (the healed man was standing right there with them). The growing community of believers was faithful in prayer for them.

Response and Action:
I'm an ordinary person, but my devotion and fellowship with Christ Jesus can produce extraordinary results in my life. I will seek him first. I will commit myself to daily time in the scriptures and in prayer. I will set my heart and mind to follow him. I will cultivate an awareness of his presence and sensitivity to his Spirit. I will be open about my faith in Christ. I will give Jesus the honor for every good thing I am able to do by his power and grace. I will not be afraid of those who do question or oppose the cause of Christ. I will live in Christian community, depending on my Christian friends for prayer, encouragement, and help.

O God, thank you for your love and mercy for all people. Thank you for Jesus who came to seek and save all who come to him in faith and humility. By the power and grace of your Holy Spirit, lead, teach, transform, shape, and strengthen your people for effective service in your kingdom. May the weakness and ordinariness of our lives be an astonishing reminder and testimony to all that the good we say and do is the result of your presence and power within us. Amen.


Spiritual Formation Verses:
 Romans 8:39-39 
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Resources: 
Make Your Job a Calling by Bryan J. Dik and Ryan D. Duffy

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Reading Schedule for December 3-9


Tips for Bible Readers
Reading Schedule for 2017-2018

SUNDAY
Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20
Acts 4:1-37
Psalm 50:16-23

MONDAY
Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22
Acts 5:1-42
Psalm 51:1-9

TUESDAY
Deuteronomy 11:1-12:32
Acts 6:1-15
Psalm 51:10-19

WEDNESDAY
Deuteronomy 13:1-15:23
Acts 7:1-29
Psalm 52:1-9

THURSDAY
Deuteronomy 16:1-17:20
Acts 7:30-50
Psalm 53:1-6

FRIDAY
Deuteronomy 18:1-20:20
Acts 7:51-8:13
Psalm 54:1-7

SATURDAY
Deuteronomy 21:1-22:30
Acts 8:14-40
Psalm 55:1-11

Times of Refreshing

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 5:1-6:25
Acts 3:1-26
Psalm 50:1-15
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 3:19-21
19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Insight:
Peter preached that Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham. He gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He declared that the miracle he performed was done by the power of Jesus. He called people to turn from sin and put their faith in Christ Jesus. He promised that this would result in refreshment and restoration in their lives, and eventually all things would be restored and renewed by Christ.

Response and Action:
I believe that my hopes for forgiveness and renewal are in Jesus. I believe that only Christ can give me the refreshment and strength I need for life. I believe that Jesus will one day restore and renew all things. I will turn away from sin and seek him with my whole heart. I will follow and obey him. I will put my faith in him and build my life on the foundation of his words and his example. I will trust him to restore all things as I look toward the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

O God, thank you for the redemption and restoration you have made possible through Christ. Help me to seek him and follow him with all my being. Give me hope and refreshment as I walk in his ways and obey his commands. Restore and renew me today and make my life a testimony of your power and promise to ultimately restore and renew all things. Help me to live by faith and to be a shining demonstration of your power to save and restore. Amen.


Spiritual Formation Verses: Isaiah 40:29-31
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Resources: 
Surprised by Hope
by N. T. Wright

Friday, December 01, 2017

All Things in Common

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 4:1-49
Acts 2:1-47
Psalm 49:1-20
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 2:42-45
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Insight:

The two short passages in today's reading are long on challenging things to think about. The community described sounds so intense and radical, just the way I would expect the beginning of something as amazing and explosive as Christianity to be. But what of these experiences of the early church should be a part of my church experience today?

A wedding day is one thing, but living out a marriage over years and decades is quite another. Similarly, the first days of the church are not the same as living out Christian community over many centuries and across many cultures. When I attend a wedding service, the songs, vows, scriptures, promises, and the faces of a young couple make me think about my thirty-some years marriage. In the same way, reading Luke's description of the first days of the church helps me think about being part of the church two thousand years later.

Response and Action:
I can and need to be devoted to the apostles teaching. By reading and studying the New Testament scriptures, I can follow the instruction and the example of the apostles. I can follow the patterns and precedents of the early Christians. I can and need to be devoted to fellowship. By faithful and self-giving involvement in Christian community, I can help, support, and encourage others. I can and need to look back to the early days of the church with awe and wonder. And today, I can still expect God to be at work in my life and my church in miraculous ways that inspire and amaze.

O God, thank you for your church. Help me to seek you with all my heart, to share my life with others in generous, authentic, and meaningful ways, and to serve others in the power and grace of Jesus. Thank you for the church. Help the church of today be a shining testimony of your truth and grace. Help me to be a devoted and giving member of the Christian communities I'm a part of. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.


Spiritual Formation Verses: Psalm 133:1
1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

Resources:
Life Together
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Story Continues...

Today's Reading:
Deuteronomy 2:1--3:29
Acts 1:1-26
Psalm 48:9-14
Click on Text Link to Read Online

Focus Verses: Acts 1:1-5
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

Insight:

In just a few words of introduction, Luke says some very big things as he begins his account of the early church. Acts begins where The Gospel of Luke left off. Presumably, it was written with the same care and attention to detail as his first book (see Luke 1:1-4). Luke then tells us that Jesus' instruction to the apostles was inspired by God. Next, he explains that the apostles were chosen by Jesus. He then goes on to say that Jesus spent significant time with these apostles after his resurrection—40 days of proofs and teaching. Finally, Luke tells us that Jesus instructed the apostles to remain in Jerusalem. Their ministry would begin there when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit from God.

Response and Action:

Luke's account of these events is carefully assembled and is written with eyewitness perspective. The writings and practices of the early church are received from the apostles, authorized by Jesus, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The apostles and, by extension, the New Testament have authority because of their relationship to the Risen Christ.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. He has spoken through the prophets. I accept the authority of Jesus the Christ, the teaching of his apostles, and the scriptures. I seek you, Lord, with all my heart. Don't let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against 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 man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Resources:
Acts for Everyone, Part 1
Acts for Everyone, Part 2
by N. T. Wright