Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 17 - Mark 13

Today's reading in our daily plan is Mark 13. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • Many Bible scholars believe that there are two interpretations of this passage:
  1. Jesus was referring to a literal event that happened in 70 AD, when the Roman Empire squashed an Israeli uprising, resulting in the destruction of the Temple
  2. He was also speaking of when he will come back to earth someday. The Bible teaches that Jesus is coming again, this time not as a human, but as God and in power, to end the world as we know it.

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • People try to use these prophecies to figure out when Jesus will return and the end will come, but Jesus makes it clear in verses 32-35 that we cannot know.  Instead, Jesus says that we are to live our lives in a state of alert readiness.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • If you knew Jesus were coming back tomorrow, how would you live today? Would you change anything? And if so, what?  Jesus teaches us that we need to live with that kind of attitude everyday. We should live in holiness and purity. When Jesus shows up, wouldn't you hate to be in the middle of sinning? We should also try to help other people know Jesus so they can go to Heaven with him when he returns. When Jesus shows up, wouldn't you hate for your friends to ask why you never shared your faith with them?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

January 16 - Mark 12

Today's reading in our daily plan is Mark 12. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • The chapter opens with Jesus sharing another parable.  The land owner represents God, and the vineyard is his kingdom. The tenants were the religious leaders, and the servants that came to collect payment represent all of God's prophets that came before Jesus, including John the Baptist (whom we just saw beheaded a few chapters ago). Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly sent prophets to tell people truth and point people back to God, but they were usually ignored and mistreated.
  • In today's passage, Jesus predicts his own death. Furthermore, Jesus speaks of God's coming wrath on those who kill his son. This angered the religious leaders because they realized he was referring to them. They were still determined to reject this truth and, ironically, plotted to kill him as he had just predicted.
  • Throughout this chapter we see the religious leaders trying to catch Jesus "in his words." An example of this is his discussion with the Sadducees.  The Sadducees, another religious sect, didn't believe heaven existed.  They thought they could prove this through a discussion on marriage.  However, Jesus surprises them by explaining that marriage is an earthly event that doesn't exist in heaven. 
  • Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. He states that it is to Love God with your whole life -- heart, soul, and mind. And the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Once again, in verses 38-40, we see Jesus warning his followers against the trappings of the religious leaders. He makes it clear that they love the fame of being noticed, not God.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Over the centuries, humanity has continually treated God's prophets and God's Son poorly. But God, in his love and grace,  has never given up on his creation.
  • If we say that we believe in Jesus, then we must follow his greatest commandments- love God and love people.
  • Jesus is looking for people who love God enough to sacrifice for him. The rich people gave exorbitantly, but it came out of their excess.  The poor widow gave only a few coins, but it was all she had. This was true sacrifice and Jesus commended her.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • How are you doing at loving God and loving people? What is a practical step you could take to be better? Maybe it's more private prayer time with God. Maybe it's helping your neighbor bring the groceries in the house. Let God guide you today on how you can honor him.
  • When you give to God, is it out of your excess or a true sacrifice? God is looking for followers who will make financial sacrifices for him. Is that you?

Monday, January 15, 2018

January 15 - Mark 11

Today's reading in our daily plan is Mark 11. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • As Jesus entered Jerusalem the people were excited and welcomed him with shouts of praise. But this was a very short-lived acceptance because Jesus wasn't the type of Messiah they were hoping for. They wanted a political leader who would overthrow the government; they weren't looking for a spiritual leader. Furthermore, the crowd was easily manipulated by the Pharisees, who were religious leaders of the day.
  • Back then, it was customary for people who worshipped God to offer an animal sacrifice when they entered the temple. Corrupt business and religious leaders took advantage of this practice by telling worshippers that the animals they brought with them were unacceptable for sacrifice. They would then sell them another animal at an exorbitant price. It was all a sham to make money, so Jesus responds with righteous indignation and drives them out of the temple.
  • Jesus reminds the disciples, through the example of a withered fig tree, that they can do anything through prayer in Him. 

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Jesus didn't meet the qualifications for Messiah the Israelites had in mind, especially when he takes unexpected action and casts people out of the temple because they were hindering the ability of others to get to God. Even today, people have specific ideas about who Jesus should be and what he should do. They have a difficult time accepting when the reality doesn't meet their expectations.
  • Jesus wants us to do great things with our lives. We need to ask Him to help us not let doubt get in the way. We need to pray, believing that God will answer. 
  • Just as God has forgiven us for all of our sins, so we must forgive those who hurt us. 
  • Jesus was very intense when he saw barriers on the path toward God. We need to be just as serious about eliminating those barriers that prevent us, or others, from seeing God for who he really is.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • What thoughts do you have about Jesus that may not be accurate? Is there some way God is not living up to your expectations? Continue reading the bible daily to gain a more full and accurate understanding of who God is.
  • Are you struggling with doubt? Have you given up praying for something? Don't! Keep praying today that the Lord will come through. And, if you have someone in your life who you haven't forgiven for hurting you, give that bitterness and anger to God today. 
  • What roadblocks are keeping you from getting close to God? How could you cast them out of your life? When (and how) will you do that?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

That's Gonna Leave a Mark: Not About Me

We provide questions each week based on the theme of our service for our Verve Groups to use. If you're not in a Verve Group, feel free to use them on your own.
This week we continued the series called That's Gonna Leave a Mark and talked about "Not About Me". If you missed it, you can listen to it here.
  1. What kind of weather do you prefer in the winter, freezing cold or warmer? Why?
  2. Who is someone who "left a mark" on your life? What was it about this person that had an impact on you?
  3. Have you ever witnessed a true miracle? If so, tell us about it. If not, what's a miracle you would love to witness?
  4. Mark 1:35 says, "Before daybreak, the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray." In this verse from the Bible, Jesus goes to an isolated place to pray. What are some steps you need to take to be intentional about isolating yourself to pray?
  5. Are you intentional about loving others? Why or why not?
  6. Do you have a fruitful life? If so, tell us how. If not, what's one step you could make to start having a more fruitful life?
  7. Do you know where God is calling you to have an impact? If so, where? If not, where do you think God could be calling you to have an impact?
  8. Do you see distractions as opportunities to serve? Why or why not?
  9. Weekly Check In Question:  What could we be praying for you this week? (Is there something good we could celebrate with you, or a challenge you need God's help with?)

January 14 - Isaiah 6 & 7

Today's reading in our daily plan is Isaiah 6 & 7. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • Isaiah shares a vision he was given. In this vision he is humbled before God and recognizes his own lack of righteousness when compared with the glory and majesty of God. 
  • Isaiah volunteers to speak to the people with God's message for them. He is available and willing to carry God's message. 
  • God says to Isaiah in verse 9, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'" The people aren't interested in God at this point in time, so this is God's judgement on them for turning their backs on him. 
  • We see a recurring theme in Isaiah so far. A God that has been abandoned by his people, punishing the people who abandoned him. 
  • In Isaiah 7, we see God speak to King Ahaz through Isaiah. He assures the king on, God's behalf, that God will not let his enemies win against him. 
  • Isaiah (speaking for God) directs King Ahaz to ask God for a sign. However, the king declines to do so out of unbelief. This infuriates Isaiah, as his refusal is really testing the patience of God at this point. We see that the King is among those turning their back on God and not really interested in what he has to say. 
  • In response to the King's disbelief, God offers up a sign anyway. It comes in the form of a prophecy, which is just a message from God delivered through a person. This prophecy talks about the future birth of Jesus, who will be called Immanuel (This means “God is with us”). He even goes on to assure this unbelieving King that before this child (who will be known as Immanuel (aka: Jesus)) is very old, the two enemies of King Ahaz will be dead. 
  • Despite God's assurances, King Ahaz refuses to trust in God and accept his help and instead forms an alliance with Assyria. This ally then turns on King Ahaz. 
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Isaiah’s humble approach to God is a great model for our own prayers.
  • God is trying to show love to his people, but they keep ignoring him so he keeps trying to get their attention. 
  • In Isaiah 7, we see the Immanuel prophecy which God declares is the sign he is providing to King Ahaz. We also see another example of someone wanting to ignore God. In this chapter, it's King Ahaz. 
  • Despite God's promise and assurance, King Ahaz chooses to do things his own way, ignoring the words of God. He pays a price for his disobedience in the form of an attack from Assyria. As we can see from the example here of King Ahaz, doing life without God has consequences. 
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • How can we listen to God's voice and his plans for us? Reading the bible and prayer are great ways to do this. God gives us some great examples of imperfect people just like us in the bible for us to relate to. 
  • If you haven't ever done so before, take some time to pray and talk to God. Confess your sins to him. Ask him for help and to strengthen you and guide you as you go through the day. Prayer can be in various forms. There's no right or wrong way. It can be quiet thoughts in your head, journaling in words or pictures, speaking out loud in your car, a quiet or loud place in your home, or a specific place that you feel connects you to God. 
  • Be available and be willing to be used by God like Isaiah was. This can look many different ways: helping a new family unload their moving truck, grabbing an item off the shelf in the grocery store for someone who can't reach, letting someone go in line before you in the store when they have less items than you do, feeding the homeless, volunteering at a local animal shelter, being a friendly face to your neighbors and making the effort to get to know them or plugging into one of the ministries here at Verve.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

January 13 - Isaiah 4 & 5

Today's reading in our daily plan is Isaiah 4 & 5. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • There is a shortage of husbands during this time. (Isaiah 3 tells us that warriors will be falling in battle, perhaps this explains the loss of husbands during this time and is a loss of security for the women who are now without husbands. Marriage provided protection and security.). 
  • After the judgement we learn that it will be splendid and glorious for those in Israel who have survived - the "righteous" (moral, justifiable). Those who remain will be called holy (set apart by God). 
  • For those who remain God will create over them the "brightness of a flaming fire by night, a shelter from heat by day, and a refuge from the storm and rain". 
  • God is comparing the people of Jerusalem and Judah to a vineyard that doesn't produce any good grapes despite all the work that God put into them to get them to be "good" fruit. God will wipe out the vineyard because it hasn't produced anything worth saving. (Jesus makes a similar statement about good fruit in the New Testament in Matthew 7:16 - 20: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”) [A recurring theme in Isaiah... the people are self focused, refusing to see the wonders that God has done before their eyes all around them. He is even speaking to them directly through a prophet and yet they don't change their behavior.]
  • God is holy (sacred) and as a holy God he is acting according to his righteousness, punishing the people who have willfully turned away from him. 
  • We can see here that God is "hurt" by those who turned their backs on him. He is a loving God who wants to love us and be in relationship with us
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • There are consequences for disobeying God and for turning our backs on God. 
  • We need to be careful to not take for granted the good things God gives us. For the people of Jerusalem and Judah we see many examples of the consequences of their disobedience in Isaiah 3. In this chapter however, we see how wonderful it will be for those who opt to do life with God. 
  • It's easy to focus on and even question the judgment of God... however we need to remember that God is a perfect God... but even so... he's not calling us to be perfect. He's asking us to love him and to pursue a relationship with him, put him first but not last.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • What are some ways that you can put God first? Maybe start reading the bible... remember that the bible is God's love letter to us. The more you read it, the more you learn about God and get to know him. Maybe start to incorporate daily prayer time into your days. Prayer is talking to God like you would talk to a friend. It can be done anywhere, anytime. Maybe today you can talk to God while you shop, or drive, or work. 
  • What are some ways that you can turn back to God if you have turned away from him? Come to him humbly in prayer and offer a simple apology for your lack of interest. Spend more time reading the bible (his love letter to us). Get  into a Verve group and plug in with others who can pray for you and use your prayers as well. Offer help, a kind word, or encouragement to those around you, coworkers, neighbors, friends, family
  • What "wonders" have you taken for granted? Today, find one thing in your life that you are grateful for, and express your gratitude to God. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

January 12 - Mark 10

Today's reading in our daily plan is Mark 10. Take a moment to pray, asking God to speak to you from this passage. Then read, using the following notes and questions to help you get everything out of the passage.

SAY WHAT? (What is the passage saying?)
  • Mark 10 begins with Jesus sharing God's original plan for marriage. He quotes Genesis 2:24 when he states that marriage is a gift between one man and one woman committed to each other for a lifetime. This idea was counter-cultural then, as evident by the disciples' reaction, and still is today. There are all kinds of reasons why it's easier to settle for something less than God's ideal, but we need to trust that God knows best and stay true to his Word. 
  • Back then it was believed that wealthy people were blessed with their riches by God. Some still believe that today. So the disciples were shocked when Jesus said it was hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. They asked, "Who then can be saved?" and Jesus explains that it is impossible for man to save himself. Only God can do the impossible and save us. This happens not through our effort, but through God reaching down to us.
  • The disciples argue over who is the greatest of them all.  Jesus reminds them again that the goal is not power and authority, but service to others.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Marriage is a gift from God not to be taken lightly. Just as God is committed to a relationship with us and will never give up on us, we should never give up on the partner that God has given us for life on earth.
  • It may be hard to believe, but, in Jesus' time children were considered trash, literally! If a child was born and you didn't want it, you could take the newborn to the garbage dump and leave it there to die. But Jesus says no to these travesties.  Instead he welcomed children with open arms, which would have been shocking to everyone. (If you want to learn more about God's attitude towards children, watch this message from a Verve series called God For The Rest of Us).
  • The rich man in verses 17-31 shows that he thinks following rules is enough to gain eternal life. But Jesus wanted more. He wanted the rich man's heart. And Jesus could see the young man loved money more than he loved God. This is why Jesus tested him to give it all away and follow Him.  Sadly, the man couldn't do it and simply walked away sad.
  • Jesus gives us a clear promise in verses 29-30 that whatever we give up for him will be given back 100 times over in this life and in the life to come. 
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Are you married and struggling? Pray today that God gives you the strength to love  unconditionally just as Jesus loves you.
  • Are you unmarried and looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right?  Pray for wisdom to find someone who can partner with you in faith and commitment to Jesus and one another.
  • Is there something more important to you than God? Is there something you don't feel like you could ever give up? Perhaps, like the man in this story, it's money. The Bible calls loving something above God idolatry, and it keeps us from him. How can you put God above all else this week? What practical steps could you take to make God the most valuable thing in your life?