More than a pinkie promise

The entire Bible is really the story of God blessing mankind by sending his Son Jesus to rescue us from sin and wickedness.

66 books. Over 40 authors. One story.

The Old Testament is the set-up of God’s plan to send Jesus. The New Testament is the story of Jesus’ arrival, and the aftermath of that arrival.

To put it another way, the Bible is the story of God making and keeping a big promise.

After Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s command and brought death into the world, God immediately gave them a promise of rescue. He looked directly at Satan and told him that he would send someone to crush him and his evil rebellion: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15, NIV).

In Genesis 11, we read another account of God promising to bless sinful mankind. He tells Abraham and his descendants that they would serve a great purpose in the world. They would be God’s messengers to mankind, and God’s way of shining light into a very dark world.

Most importantly, one of Abraham’s descendants would become the one to fulfill that promise made previously to Eve that one of her offspring would crush Satan.

Do you need someone to help you crush Satan’s power and influence in your life? If you read Abraham’s story, you’ll see that he needed it. And so do we.

That’s why God promised a Savior from the very beginning. And that’s why God delivered on that promise. He delivered so that you and I could be blessed with forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

And that’s way more than a pinkie promise.

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. ‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you'” (Genesis 12:1-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, January 6, is Genesis 11:10 – 13:18, Matthew 5:21-42 and Psalm 5:1-12.

Header image based on "Promises" by Ditaputratama, CC by-SA 2.0

Tired of All the Rules?

Some people in Jesus’ day clearly thought that Jesus had come to abolish all the rules. For some, I’m sure, this was great. Because they were feeling horribly burdened by the rules.

I might empathize with this. In the 3rd century AD, the rabbi Simlai is said to have counted 613 various commandments that had been given to the Israelites by God. These covered various aspects of moral, ceremonial and civil law.

One can imagine that some thought it would be really, really nice to be done with knowing, tracking, and especially feeling responsible to obey that many laws.

But in his well-known Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples and the onlookers gathered around them that he did not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it.

I don’t know if you realize how big that statement is. It’s huge.

It’s Jesus saying there’s a whole different approach to lifting the burden of keeping all the rules. It’s Jesus saying, “I’ve come to do it for you.”

In other words, I’ll be your substitute. I’ll take care of it. I’ll obey all the laws, and you can simply take home the benefit and blessing of my obedience for you.

That’s really good news. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fare so well when it comes to keeping even 10 commandments.

I appreciate it when someone takes care of something I have no clue how to do myself. I absolutely love it when someone goes ahead and does a job I know I’m completely powerless to do.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, NIV).

Thank you, Jesus, for coming not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Thank you for lifting the burden of obedience, and the load of guilt and shame that often comes with having to carry that burden all by ourselves. You carried it for me, and for that I praise and worship you as my Savior!

Our Bible reading for Monday, January 5, is Genesis 9:18 – 11:9, Matthew 4:23 – 5:20 and Psalm 4:1-8.

Header image based on "Torah" by Cate, CC by 2.0

Broadcasting Repentance

Once Jesus settled into a base of operations in Capernaum, he began to do what he came to do: broadcast the news. And the news that he came to broadcast was not the evening news. (Thank goodness. Have you ever noticed how relentlessly bad the evening news can be?)

The news Jesus came to announce was very good news. The news was that he is the Light of the world and Life to those living under the shadow of death (Matthew 4:16).

As the light and life of the world, Jesus had wisdom that needed to be heard. But to be received this wisdom would require a change of mind on the part of people.

By nature, people’s minds are not on a receptive track, as Moses clearly indicates in the book of Genesis: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5, NIV).  

Jesus wants to get people back on track, receptive to God and to God’s loving plans for them. And he knows that getting on track begins with the fear of the Lord: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV).

So what’s the best characterization of Jesus’ teaching? Matthew tells us what it is: Changed minds. Changed hearts. Changed lives.

Repentance, in other words. Receptiveness. Because when Jesus comes near, his kingdom comes near, too. That’s why wise people tune in when Jesus is broadcasting.

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near'” (Matthew 4:17, NIV). 

Lord, change my mind and heart. Make me receptive to you and your wisdom. Get me back on track by shining the great light of your salvation into every corner of my mind and heart. May listening to you give me a repentant mind and heart. You are my Savior. You are my Lord. You are my light and my life.

Our reading for Sunday, January 4, is Genesis 7:1 – 9:17, Matthew 4:1-22 and Proverbs 1:1-7.

Header image based on "Radio" by Godber, CC by-SA 2.0

Life In a Bubble

Christian, did you know you live in a bubble? Well, at least according to what King David says, you do.

It’s an interesting bubble because we still sometimes feel anxiety and worry, even though the bubble shields us from harm. The bubble may even at times allow some pain in, just to remind us of what life is like without the bubble.

The promise of the bubble is great, however. Even if tens of thousands of people or problems attack us, we have no reason to fear.

The most interesting fact about the bubble is that it is not a thing. It’s not a force, either. It’s a person. And the person’s name is Jesus, the Son of God.

As you’ll see from what David says about him, he’s certainly no ordinary person. And as a result, his protection is no ordinary protection.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side” (Psalm 3:3-6, NIV).

Thank you, Jesus, for being the “bubble” around me. It’s good to know that I have a constant shield to protect me every day. I can rest easy. And wake with confidence to go about my business each day. No fear. Because I live in the bubble—and that bubble is you, Jesus!

Our reading for Saturday, January 3, 2015 is Genesis 4:17 – 6:22, Matthew 2:19 – 3:17 and Psalm 3:1-8.

Header image based on "Yume-no-Shima Tropical Greenhouse Dome" by Vellut, CC by 2.0

How to Be a Wise Man (or Woman) in 3 Easy Steps

What in the world are “magi”? Strong’s Concordance defines the word this way: a magus; the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.

It’s a pretty broad job description, isn’t it?

Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, writes about the wise men: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'” (Matthew 2:1-2, NIV).

Something in their education and experience told the wise men that this particular star was unusual, and the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy about the birth of a king.

Whatever it was that told them this, they dropped everything—their schedules, their jobs, their families, their friends, their familiar places of living—and went together to find Jesus.

Why? Because they knew the most important thing they could do in this moment of their lives was just that. Find Jesus, the king, and then worship him. But they also knew that their destination was far. And as the old saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Wise men, indeed!

What if you grabbed another person or two this year and did the same? You’re just three steps away!

Step 1: Commit to someone. Ask your spouse to pray and read the Bible together with you in 2015. In my humble opinion, way too few marriages feature spouses that pray and read the Bible together daily. Just saying. Alternatively, you could do the same with your children, or a buddy from church or your growth group. If you’re feeling particularly outreach-minded in 2015, you could even select someone from work, or school, or your neighborhood.

Step 2: Commit verbally. Say to the person(s) you have selected “Let’s do this! Let’s go search for Jesus, the King, together. We’ll pray with each other each day, share our SOAP journals, and go together to worship Jesus every day this year.”

Step 3: Commit the time. Put it on your calendar. Block out a daily opportunity with your fellow “wise man” when you can meet (even over the phone or via text) and share your thoughts about the King. Don’t forget to clear a space for prayer together daily, too.

Lord, help me to find you daily in the gospel. Help me to find someone with whom I can share this daily journey. And then, put your Spirit in my heart so that we may respond—mind, body, heart and soul—with worship.

Our reading for Friday, January 2, is Genesis 2:18 – 4:16, Matthew 2:1-18 and Psalm 2:1-12.

Header image based on "Orion Nebula" by Familiar, CC by 2.0

A Stark Contrast

Know your path, the Bible teaches us. Because there’s a stark contrast in the two paths we can follow in life. One is well-worn, one traveled lightly.

The destinations differ too. One leads to emptiness and destruction. No, that emptiness and destruction does not always arrive in this life. But, yes, always at some point it does.

The other path, less-frequented, runs beside the “brook” we call the Bible. That path, the author of Psalm 1 declares, leads to fulfillment, hope, and most of all, life.

That’s because that path leads us to Jesus, to the cross, and ultimately, to the empty tomb.

And finally, the company we travel with will differ. One path has people who trust what they read in the Bible. Sometimes they trust boldly, but often meekly. 

The other path has those who do not trust. Sometimes they doubt quietly and respectfully but often, sadly, they doubt with derision and contempt.

Where will you walk in 2015?

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lordand who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (Psalm 1:1-6, NIV).

Guide my steps and the steps of the ones I love along the path that runs beside your word. Help me to delight in your law, O Lord. Most of all, may 2015 be a year of meditating on your grace as you reveal it to me in the gospel.

Our reading for Thursday, January 1, is Genesis 1:1 – 2:17, Matthew 1:1-25 and Psalm 1:1-6.

Stay Thirsty in 2015

One day soon, it will happen (Revelation 22:10). We’ll ring in not just a new year, but a whole new universe (Revelation 21:1-2). Everything we see now, every possession we hold dear in this life will disappear.

But—and here’s the best news—it will be replaced. It will be replaced by something and Someone far more beautiful, and way more perfect.

And this will come along with every blessing imaginable. In fact, it will come with every blessing unimaginable as well.

How do you participate? Jesus says you’re invited! The ticket in is his gift to you. And drinks are on him!

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17, NIV).

Stay thirsty, my friends! Stay thirsty in 2015.

Lord Jesus, you are the water of life. Keep me thirsty for you in 2015. Thank you for the free gift of eternal life, and for the invitation for all of us to join you there.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 31, is Malachi 1:1 – 4:6, Psalm 150:1-6, Proverbs 31:10-31 and Revelation 21:1 – 22:21.

Placed in the Fire

When we go through periods of testing, when life takes us through the fire, this is a time to call on God’s name in prayer. And we can do that remembering that God uses those trials to refine our faith.

No matter how serious the trial, no matter how critical the test, God hears and answers our prayers. And Jesus walks with us in the fire. Even if the fire is very, very hot, we can be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:13-20) and say, “The God we serve is able to deliver us. But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods or worship your man-made idol.”

Rest assured, because of Jesus, God hears both our bold prayers and the confessions of faith that accompany them. When we hear God say, “They are my people,” our Spirit-inspired response is to confess boldly, “He is our God.”

As God says through the prophet Zechariah, “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9, NIV).

Lord Jesus, walk with me through the tests and trials. Refine my faith in you, so that I confess you boldly as my God and my Savior.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 30, is Zechariah 12:10 – 14:21, Psalm 149:6-9, Proverbs 31:1-9 and Revelation 20:1-15.

The One to Focus On

Have you ever suddenly gotten a compulsion to worship someone or something? Maybe you didn’t think of it as worship. But you knew you were drawn to them and admired them–whatever (or whoever) it might be.

Whenever this occurs, we tend to sink ourselves into seeking. Or we invest major time and energy into pursuing. In John’s vision in Revelation, John himself gets a sudden compulsion to fall down at the feet of an angel. Maybe you’ve at some point, literally or figuratively, fallen down at the feet of someone or something.

The angel’s response is instructive. “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you.” To paraphrase, “As amazing as I may seem to you,” the angel tells John, “Jesus is the one to focus on. I’m nothing more than his servant.”

That’s why Jesus is the one we talk about. He is the one we glorify. He is the one we praise and worship. He is the one we testify about and he is the one for whom we bear witness. Everyone and everything else is designed to serve him: “Then I (John) fell down at his feet to worship him (the angel), but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10, ESV).

Lord, as the angel reminded John of who is at the center of our worship and our proclamation, please send your Spirit through your word to remind me of the same!

Our reading for Monday, December 29, is Zechariah 10:1 – 12:9, Psalm 149:1-5, Proverbs 30:32-33 and Revelation 19:1-21.

He Alone Is Great

When someone makes a claim that’s going to affect me, I want to know what I’m going to do about that claim. The claims of the Bible are sometimes counterintuitive. But they are the claims of the Bible. It’s important we understand them clearly.

The Bible, for instance, makes some exclusive claims for God, such as in Psalm 148, where we hear the Psalmist say, “For his name alone is exalted.” Some may find a claim like this hard to swallow. But when you think about it, claims like these go along perfectly with other ideas presented in the Bible.

Just one example. One of the most well known words in the Bible are the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2, NIV). If God truly is one-of-a-kind, unique and stand-alone in our universe, isn’t he someone with whom you would want to be acquainted? Isn’t he someone whose friendship you would want to enjoy? And ultimately, if this claim is true, isn’t God someone we would want to worship and praise?

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (Psalm 148:13, NIV).

Lord, send me your Spirit, so that I can understand your claims in the Bible, and know what to do about them.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 28, is Zechariah 7:1 – 9:17, Psalm 148:7-14, Proverbs 30:29-31 and Revelation 18:1-24.