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Friday, September 30, 2016

Children of Abraham (Matthew 3:7-9)

"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our Father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham."

Who are the children of Abraham?
The Pharisees and Sadducees believed their righteousness came from their heritage. The more clearly they could trace their genealogy to Abraham the more righteous they believed themselves to be. John preached a message of repentance to the most religious people of Israel. While they could see easily that fishermen, tax-collectors and other sinners have need for repentance they were blind to their own standing before God. In their minds they had nothing of which to repent--they were the most religious among the people.

John preached his strongest message to those who needed it the most but they couldn't hear his message due to their own self-righteousness. While they were indeed biological descendants of Abraham, they were spiritual descendants of "the wicked one." Abraham understood that salvation came by placing personal faith in God's promise of a coming one who would save His people from their sins. Paul confirmed this truth,
"Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed" (Galatians 3:7-8). Abraham simply believed God and God accounted it unto him as righteousness. His faith in God did not leave him in sin but lifted him by redemption.
The wonder of the Gospel is that He saves guilty sinners. Morally good people don't see their need for salvation, therefore, they are condemned and lost in their moral self-righteousness. Only children of faith are spiritual children of Abraham.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading: Matthew 2; Luke 2:41-52; Mark 1:1-8; Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-20; John 1:1-28

Matthew 2
  • What does Lord do to meet the traveling needs of Mary and Joseph? What does this tell you about how God works?
  • What events does God use to fulfill His prophesies about Jesus? What does this tell you about God?
Luke 2
  • Why are the children of Israel supposed to celebrate the Feast of Passover every year?
Mark 1:1-8
  • How does the beginning of Mark's gospel differ from that of Matthew and Luke?
  • What is the focus of John the Baptist's message?
Matthew 3:1-12
  • How does John the Baptist respond to the Pharisee's curiosity?
  • How does he describe the one who is to come?
Luke 3
  • What do the Pharisees rely on for salvation?
  • How does John define repentance?
  • What makes the people wonder if John is the Christ?
  • Why does John rebuke Herod? What does this tell you about John?
John 1
  • How does the beginning of John's gospel differ from Mark's and Luke's?
  • What contrast does the Apostle John make between John the Baptist and Jesus?
  • How does John describe Jesus' entry into the world?
  • Why does the Word become flesh?
  • How does John distinguish between the coming of Moses and the coming of Jesus?
  • How does John respond to the questions asked by the priests and Levites regarding his identity?
  • Upon what does John base his authority?
Turning truth into prayer
The Lord only justifies guilty sinners. Thank Him for providing a way for guilty sinners to experience the forgiveness of sins.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

King of Kings (Luke 1:1-4a, 5a)

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor over Syria? And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went register with Mary..."

God's rule in the affairs of world rulers and their decrees is seen in the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Caesar Augustus issued a decree that moved one small family to Bethlehem. Like most governmental decrees this one inconvenienced the poorest of the poor. This decree forced a young husband to travel with his very pregnant wife to a very crowded little village. (Can you imagine having to carry out a census without the aid of computers?)

This is not the first time (or last) in history that God used political leaders to accomplish His own purposes. Throughout Israel's history God raised up one nation after another to oppress Israel with the hopes that this stubborn nation would cry out to the Lord on bended knee and heart. 

That God works within government was evidenced during Israel's exile period when He raised up one official after another to bless Israel and those living in exile. Nebuchadnezzar was one such king. After being humbled by God for His foolish pride, King Nebuchadnezzar praises God for His sovereignty in human affairs, "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:34b-35) Nebuchadnezzar met the "King of kings".

In 1995 the Lord used the Zimbabwean government to stamp our work permit as "non-renewable" and to move our family back to the U.S. We were happy in our work and had no plans for returning. We knew, however, that God was in control, not the Zimbabwean government. Our high view of God comforted us during this tumultuous period in our life.

Just as God used a seemingly arbitrary decree to move Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, so God may be using the government that He has put over you to accomplish purposes that you cannot see. Our God is the King of kings, so you can choose either to trust the sovereignty of your great God or live in fear of a government that does not seem to have your best at heart. Your view of God will determine whether you live in peace or turmoil. How big is your view of God?

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Matthew 1; Luke 2:21-40
  • What does God do to protect Mary and to fulfill the Word which He had spoken to her?
  • What fears does Joseph have to overcome as he walks in obedience to God?
  • What does God use to accomplish His plan to have Jesus born in Bethlehem? What does this tell you about God? Governing officials?
  • What happens that causes the shepherds to leave immediately for Bethlehem?
  • Which three women are named in the genealogy? Which one remains unnamed? What does this tell you about the women in Jesus' lineage?
  • Review Genesis 3:15, 4:25. The NKJV version of Genesis 4:25 reads, "God has granted me another seed in the place of Abel." The Luke 3 genealogy reveals Jesus as the promised seed.
  • Why does Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem?
  • What does this tell you about them and their relationship with the Word of God?
  • Why was Simeon waiting in the temple and what does he recognize and prophesy about Jesus Christ?
  • Why do you think the Lord was revealed to Simeon and Anna rather than to the "religious" leaders of the city?
Turning truth into prayer
"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Pray for our governing officials. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

For Want of a Baby (Luke 1:7, 13)

"But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years . . . But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John."

What do Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Tamar, Manoah's wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth have in common? They all wanted a baby, but God had so much more than a baby in mind.

Sarah wanted a son while God desired a people (Isaac's seed contained a people whose number exceeds the number of stars in the sky)
Rebekah wanted a son while God intended two nations (Jacob and Esau)
Rachel wanted a son while God planned for a deliverer (Joseph)
Tamar wanted a son while God intended a future king for Israel (King David)
Manoah's wife wanted a son while God purposed a judge (Samson)
Hannah wanted a son while God wanted a prophet (Samuel)
Elizabeth wanted a son while God appointed a forerunner (John the Baptist) for His own son (the Lord Jesus Christ)

Perhaps has these women not struggled with barrenness they would not have understood the significance of their child when they did finally conceive. In fact, none of them realized during their lifetime the full impact their son would have in their generation or in the generations that would follow. Each woman received not only the son of her dreams but the son of God's providence and promise. Each child silenced, in some way or other, the enemy.

Sometimes God withholds, for a time (or in Elizabeth's a VERY long time), what you desire because He has so much more in mind than what you could ever imagine. Women's desire for sons mirrors God's desires for judges, prophets, kings, and spiritual statesmen. What a great God is our Jehovah!

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Luke 1
  • What reason does Luke give for writing his Gospel account?
  • Why was Zechariah serving as priest on that particular day? What does this tell you about faithfulness?
  • Which prayers does the angel of the Lord refer to? What does this tell you about prayer?
  • What instructions does the angel give to Zechariah regarding the child?
  • What does Zechariah ask the angel? What does the angels answer tell you about Zechariah's question?
  • Describe the difference between Zechariah and Mary's response to the news from heaven.
  • What answer does Gabriel give Mary that satisfies her question?
  • How does she respond to the angel's announcement? Verses 46-55 are quotes from 25 different OT passages --What does this tell you about Mary?
  • Read Romans 10:17. What produces or builds faith?
  • Read Hebrews 11:6. What does God look for in any man or woman?
  • Describe Mary's view of God.
  • What do Zechariah and those around him understand is taking place?
(Zechariah had no idea that when his name was drawn to serve in the temple that day nine months before that his life would never be the same. What would that require of Zechariah as a dad?)

Turning truth into prayer
Choose to thank the Lord when He denies you the desire of your heart. Know that you can trust Him with your life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Love So Amazing (Joel 1:2-3)

"I have loved you," says the LORD. "But you ask, "How have you loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" the LORD says, "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals."

Over a thousand years have passed since the LORD comforted Rebekah during her pregnancy with twin boys. The LORD set His affection on Jacob in spite of his scheming and deceitful ways. His descendants were no better:
  • They rebelled against His prophet Moses.
  • They disobeyed the LORD at every turn and spent forty difficult years wandering in the wilderness.
  • Even then the LORD fulfilled His promises to Abraham and brought them into the promised land.
  • They worshiped the idols of the people they were supposed to conquer and married their daughters.
  • The LORD allowed them to be oppressed by their enemies until they humbled themselves and cried out to Him.
  • They rejected the LORD as their king and cried out to God for a king like all the nations around them.
  • Most of their kings rebelled against the LORD and He raised up prophet after prophet to urge them to return to the LORD. But they would not.
And they dare to ask Him how He has loved them! His love for Israel is an an unrequited love.
Israel pictures the heart of all mankind. Quoting Psalm 14:1-3 Paul says, "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God" (Romans 3:10b-11). He later describes this stubborn love, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Love so amazing, so stubborn!
People today question God's love. God's love has never been the issue; rather man's stubborn rebellion prevents him from seeing and experiencing God's love.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Joel 3:1-21
  • What will happen when God restores the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem?
  • How will all of creation respond to the outpouring of God's judgment upon the nations?
Malachi (Malachi contains six oracles. Oracle comes from the word massa meaning burden, or message of a threatening nature)
  • How does the first charge differ from all of the following charges?
  • What is the first charge God brings against His people and what evidence does He use to prove His charge?
  • How do today's priests/preachers compare with those in Malachi's day?
  • What is the nature of the second charge God makes against His people?
  • What does God expect from the marriage relationship?
  • How do marriages of people in our churches compare to the marriages in Malachi's day?
  • How does God describe the justice of God in His answer to the third charge?
  • How do people today compare with those in Malachi's day in this area?
  • What evidence does the Lord give to prove His fourth charge against the people?
  • What evidence or proof does He use to back up His fifth charge against Israel? What does this tell you about God?
  • What promise does God make regarding righteous and wicked people?
Turning truth into prayer
Thank the LORD for His stubborn love! Pray also for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for Israel. The LORD loves them still!

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Rat in the Temple (Nehemiah 13:4-5a)

"Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense . . . "

While Nehemiah was carrying out his duties back in Babylon the priest allowed Tobiah a room in the temple to carry out his business. Tobiah couldn't prove his Jewishness but his marriage to a Jewish woman and his son's marriage to a Jewish woman gave him strong ties to the leaders of Jerusalem. He used those ties to establish a business within the storerooms of the house of God. What were those circumstances in Jerusalem that allowed him to take up residence in the temple?
  • Nehemiah, who provided spiritual oversight, was "out of the country" therefore there was no accountability among the priests to protect the temple from outside influence
  • The nobles of Judah desecrated the Sabbath day
  • The city gates were unguarded
  • The men of Judah married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab, as a result their children were pagan.
Upon his return Nehemiah rebuked the priests, kicked Tobiah out of the temple, and closed the city gates on the Sabbath. He effectively removed Tobiah from his place of influence. The enemy sets up shop in believer's lives today. Lack of accountability, disobedience, and engagement with the world permits the enemy to camp out in our lives. He only leaves when he is forced out, when the gates are shut, and man repents of his disobedience.

Paul warns believers about giving the enemy a "room" or "place" from which to work in one's life with the words, "nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27). The word "place" in the Greek means "room" or "opportunity". Tobiah captures this picture well. Circumstances in Jerusalem allowed him to sneak in unaware and establish his influence from within the temple. Just as Nehemiah had to take strong measures to rid the temple of this rat and re-establish true worship so believers may need to take strong measures to rid their lives and churches of rooms of opportunity for rats to enter their temple.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Nehemiah 13:1-31; Joel 1:1-2:32
  • What do the people discover about themselves as they hear the Word being read?
  • What does this tell you about the reading of God's Word?
  • What do they do with what they hear?
  • What happens while Nehemiah returns to Babylon?
  • What is Tobiah's relationship with Eliashib the priest? What does this tell you about the priest?
  • Who are the people who are desecrating the Sabbath and how are they desecrating the Sabbath?
  • What is Nehemiah's response to the men of Judah who married foreign women?
  • Why is Nehemiah so harsh with the men? What does this tell you about Nehemiah?
  • Who is Sanballat and what is his relationship with Tobiah and the priest? (see also 4:1-2)
Joel 1:1-2:32
  • What event is described at the beginning of Joel?
  • What response does the Lord demand from the drunkards? farmers? priests?
  • How is the Day of the Lord described?
  • What kind of response should this warning bring from the people?
  • What attributes of God are described that should encourage the people to repent?
  • How will the Lord respond to people who cry out to Him and repent?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to reveal areas in your life where the enemy has moved in to set up an operation in your life. God promises imminent judgment upon those who refuse to repent but He promises restoration and blessing upon those who turn to Him. Ask the Lord to use the shaky financial situation in American to bring about repentance toward God for our depending upon our institutions and government instead upon Him.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Joy, Joy, Joy, In My Heart Is Ringing (Nehemiah 12:31, 43)

"I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks . . . the two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God . . . And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away."

I've a confession to make as a pastor's wife. There have been times when I have not looked forward to going to church and if I had not been married to the pastor I would have stayed at home. Nevertheless, I went. Out of habit. Rather, my body went but my heart remained at home. Loss of joy does that. Joyless people avoid those who have joy.

Ezra placed Israel's leaders upon the walls of Jerusalem along with choirs who were placed there to sing. Then they went into the house of the Lord and sang some more. Why? Because God had given them joy. Joy is a gift given to those who know captivity and have experienced release. Joylessness then, indicates spiritual captivity or exile, distance from the Lord.

A happy heart has to be cultivated. Recalling former days of captivity has a way of stirring up joy in the heart and putting a song upon the tongue. But, sometimes you sing because you should. As you sing out of duty the Holy Spirit often focuses your attention upon a phrase or a thought that captures the heart once again.

Great joy characterized the returning exiles. So much so that their songs were heard for miles. What characterizes your life?

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
1 Chronicles 9:1b-34; Nehemiah 12:1-47
  • What reason does the writer give for Israel's captivity?
  • What specifically does the job assignment of being a gatekeeper involve?
  • What all was involved at the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem?
  • What does singing and rejoicing do for the people? What does this teach you about singing to the Lord?
  • How do the people respond to the Levite's leading out in ministering to the Lord?
Turning truth into prayer
Is joy a marked characteristic of your life? Ask the Lord to show you what keeps you from experiencing joy with the people of God.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Responding to the Word (Nehemiah 9:38)

After teaching those who had returned from exile Ezra called out to the leaders in Judah to be the spiritual leaders in their homes and communities. They responded positively by declaring, "In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it (Nehemiah 9:38)."

Hearing the Word of God calls for a response. Ezra listed at least eight different areas that the leaders were to commit themselves:
  • Protect the the sanctity of marriage by not marrying people who weren't Israelites
  • Honor the Sabbath by not buying and selling on that day
  • Honor the seventh year by not working the land and by canceling debts owed by others
  • Pay temple tax
  • Share in the responsibility for contributing wood for the altar
  • Bring the first fruits to the house of the Lord
  • Consecrate the firstborn sons and animals to the priests
  • Not neglect the house of God (upkeep and worship)
In other words, make the LORD the center of your life.

This narrative teaches us a number of simple truths about the Word and the LORD:
  • God convicts of specific sin; therefore, people must deal with sin specifically.
  • Reading the Word of God out loud brings conviction upon its hearers; therefore careful attention must be given to personal and communal reading of God's word.
  • God raises up leaders to assist people in creating and implementing an action plan; therefore, leaders must be proactive in holding their people accountable and people must respond positively to their leadership. 
When read and taken seriously the Word of God restores people to where they should be. Its standard never changes. Its Author ever seeks to bring His people back to Himself. And His Word is the vehicle that does just that.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Nehemiah 9:38-11:36
  • What does Ezra lead the leaders, Levites, and priests to do as a result of their national repentance?
  • Why is Ezra concerned that a strong representation of the people live in Jerusalem and how does he resolve the issue? (see 10:9)
  • What does this require from the people?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to enlarge your view of His Word, to increase your appreciation of His Word, and to embolden you in the verbal proclamation of His Word.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Outdoor Bible School (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

"So on the first day of the month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law."

Good intentions of reading the Bible through, for a lot of people, begin in Genesis and end somewhere in the early chapters of Leviticus where they quickly bog down in the dietary laws. And that is a shame. It is at that point that God's interest in the physical well-being of His people becomes extremely apparent. And then there is Numbers which describes the forty-year of wandering in the wilderness and then, Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy covers a lot of ground:
  • Several battles
  • The giving of The Ten Commandments
  • Instructions regarding communal interaction (sexual behavior, cities of refuge, inheritance, rebellious sons, marriage
  • Instructions regarding anticipated future events in the life of Israel
  • Prophecies regarding the Messiah
  • Statutes regarding worship (feasts, offerings, etc.)
  • Principles governing warfare, captives, etc.
  • The blessings and cursings
  • Moses' goodbye speech
  • Ordination of Joshua as Israel's new leader
Many in church pews today know a bit about the Gospels and Paul's epistles but little of "the Book of the Law of Moses". Larry Crabb, commenting on the need to know God's story, says, "In 2006, after knowing Jesus for half a century, after years of active involvement in church, I realized I knew bits and pieces of Bible truth, lots of principles and lots of doctrine, but I didn't know the story it told." He further describes the dangerous consequences of not knowing the Bible and the story it tells, "Without story truth, I'll flirt with atheism, struggle with unbelief, pray without passion (except maybe anger), remain devoted to my story, and continue in hopeless addiction to myself." That's exactly what happened to Israel!

Ezra led Israel in a crash course, a massive Vacation Bible School, in Bible literacy. For seven days Israel stood and listened to the reading of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. As they listened they began to weep as they understood God's promises to His people, their history of rebellion, and God's mercy. God's story is that powerful!

Few today know God's story. And our culture suffers from our lack of Bible literacy. It is time once again for the people of God to open their Bibles and learn His story.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Psalm 146
  • Why can't trust be placed in man?
  • What has God revealed about Himself and done that should create trust?
Psalm 147
  • How does the Psalmist illustrate the Lord's greatness?
  • What delights the heart of God?
  • What has God done for Jerusalem and how does this instill hope in today's believer?
  • What distinguishes Israel from all other nations?
Nehemiah 7:73b-9:37
  • What happens on the first day of the month?
  • How long do the people (and who all were involved) listen to the Word being read?
  • How do the people show their respect for the reading of God's Word?
  • What role do the Levites have?
  • How do the people respond to what they are hearing?
  • As the daily reading continues what do the people discover that they had been neglecting to do for many many years? How do they respond?
  • What happens on the 24th day of the month (three weeks have passed since Ezra began the public reading of Scriptures)?
  • Make a list of the events Ezra records in his praise message.
  • What does Ezra say about God?
  • What role does the Holy Spirit play in what is taking place? What does this tell you about the Holy Spirit?
  • What happened to Israel when reading and teaching of the Book of the Law was overlooked?
  • What does this reveal about the Word of God?
Turning truth into prayer
Determine before the LORD that you will learn His story and be able to tell His story to others. Ask the Lord to plug you into His story in such a way that people will ask "Who is your God? We want to know Him!"