Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January 23 - James 1

Today's reading in our daily plan is James 1. 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?)
  • Read James 1:2 again. If you read it quickly, you might have overlooked a very innocent, but important word. It's the word "whenever." James said "whenever you face trials," not "if you face trials." Being a Christian doesn't mean you get an exemption from suffering.  We are all going to face difficult times and situations. No one is exempt. However, James gives us a different way to approach these problems: he says we should consider them pure joy. James is not asking us to ignore reality, but to instead view reality as a test that creates perseverance and growth. If you understand that God is in control, and this life is just a preamble, then earthly comfort means nothing compared to growth in faith. 
  • Have you ever wished you were wiser? God says in verse 5 to just ask. The key to wisdom is asking God and having faith that he can and will answer.  
  • We learn in verses 13-18 that temptation never comes from God, but instead, from our own evil desires. Although temptation isn't a sin, acting on that temptation is, and it ultimately leads to death. James is not referring to physical death, but instead to death of the heart and the soul. The word death originally referred to being "separated." Our sin separates us from God. We are tempted because we think we need something that we don't.  We need to trust that God gives us "every good and perfect gift" we need.
  • Our culture encourages us to "speak our minds" whenever we want and however we want. But God says to be careful what we speak and reminds us that anger gets us nowhere.

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • The only way to grow in Christ Jesus is through tests of perseverance, which result in maturity.
  • We are reminded in verses 9-11 that wealth and riches aren't something that we can keep.  They will fade away.  You can't take it with you when you die.
  • We have no one to blame but ourselves for our temptations, and God can give us the strength to overcome them. God gives us all we need.
  • Every day this post has a "Now What" section, encouraging you to apply the day's reading to your life. Verses 19-26 shows why.  It's not enough to just read God's Word. We must do what it says or our faith is worthless. If we read the Bible but don't do it, we have deceived ourselves. "Now What" is the most important, but, often most ignored part.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • What trials are you currently dealing with? How have you viewed them? Can you consider them pure joy? Ask God to help you have a long-term, God-centered perspective on them. What might God be trying to show you through this trial? How can you grow from this difficulty?
  • Are you facing a situation in which you could really use wisdom from the Lord? Ask him today and do not doubt that he hears you and will answer.
  • It's so easy to get caught up in making money to buy that new better thing we want. But God reminds us that it's all fleeting.  You can't take it with you, so why obsessed with getting it? What eternal thing could you invest that energy and money into?
  • What is a recurring temptation in your life? Do you see how it might be unhealthy?  Could God meet the need that you have? Ask God to help you see your temptations from this perspective.
  • If you have been reading the Bible daily, but not taking the time to do what it says, make a commitment to change that starting today. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

January 22 - Mark 16

Today's reading in our daily plan is Mark 16. 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?)
  • Jewish custom did not allow a body to be embalmed on the Sabbath, so the women had to come back two days later to do so. When they did, they found an angel waiting to tell them that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they needed to tell the disciples. Naturally, they were afraid.
  • Jesus rose from the dead. This is critical to Christianity because prophecies in the Old Testament predicted God's promised Messiah would rise from the dead, and Jesus himself had claimed he would rise from the dead (see Mark 8:31;10:33- 34). Jesus raising from the dead was the ultimate proof that he truly was who he said he was.
  • The book of Mark ends with Jesus' last command for his followers: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." The disciples immediately followed.

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Back in Jesus' time, women were considered second class citizens; there were no such things as equal rights. The fact that Jesus appeared first to women was a powerful statement by God to show that Jesus really did come for all people, not just the powerful or the elite.
  • The fact that Jesus lived after death means that life on earth is not all there is. And those who choose to follow Jesus in this life will follow Jesus in defeating death and living eternally in Heaven. That truth changes everything. It means this life is a preamble, that nothing that happens in this life is the be-all end-all. There is eternity in a perfect place awaiting those who follow Jesus.
  • It is fascinating to see the quick transformation of the disciples from fearful, denying human beings to bold speakers about God's love over a matter of days.  The only clear explanation for this can be the power of the resurrection.  Seeing was believing.  They had once feared for their lives by being associated with Jesus, but now they did not care what happened to themselves because they saw and understood it was not the end. The fear of death was gone.
  • Jesus' command to tell everyone in the world that he came for us was his last command, and the command we all need to follow.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Think about the things you get worked up and stressed over. These often show what we really care about. What do your worries say about your belief in life after death? If you believed in and focused on the fact that Jesus defeated this life and you have eternity in Heaven coming, would you worry like you do? 
  • We see the transformation of the disciples from men of fear to men who boldly shared the gospel. Have you allowed the power of the resurrection to transform your life in the same way? The disciples lived with the fear of death and beatings for speaking about God. However, we live in a privileged country where we do not have to fear those things. What is keeping you from sharing boldly? Fear of being made fun of? Fear of losing your friends? Your job? Whatever it is, give those fears up to Jesus and remember he is more powerful than your greatest fears combined.
  • Jesus makes it clear that our mission is to share the good news. Who is a person God has put in your life that you could share Jesus with, or invite to come to Verve with you? Have courage today to share with them.

Monday, January 21, 2019

January 21 - Mark 15

Today's reading in our daily plan is Mark 15. 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?)
  • Although Roman law allowed the Jews to have their own court system, the Sanhedrin, they could not impose the death penalty on anyone. This is why they chose to bring Jesus before the Roman governor.  He was the only person with the power to permanently get rid of Jesus. 
  • We see Jesus proclaim one final time, before Pilate, that he is the Son of God.
  • Jesus then goes through a trial, is beaten by soldiers, and is ultimately killed by public crucifixion. Through it all, he never complains or defends himself against his accusers.
  • At the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain in the Temple was torn in half from top to bottom. This curtain was the barrier between the "Holy Place" and the "Most Holy Place." The Most Holy Place contained sacred articles of the Jewish religion and was off limits to everyone except the High Priest, who only went in once a year on the Day of Atonement. Entering this room was equivalent to meeting God face to face. In fact, before the priest entered the Most Holy Place, he would tie a rope around his ankle so that if he did something wrong and was struck dead by God, the body could be dragged out without anyone else having to enter the Most Holy Place. But when Jesus died, God literally rips the curtain open. This symbolized that, through Jesus' death, God had made a way for everyone to come into the presence of God. 

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • We see in this chapter that, even though Jesus is innocent, he does not jump to defend himself. So, to be like Jesus means to not be easily offended or quick to be defensive. 
  • Even Jesus cried out to God in his darkest moments.  And, just like us, he felt like God had forsaken him. However, we will see tomorrow in Chapter 16 that things are not always how they seem.
  • Because of Jesus' death, we can go to God directly with our thoughts, our hurts, and our prayers.
  • Jesus died a painful and humiliating death. He also took on the sins of the world, which was far worse for him than the physical pain and social humiliation of crucifixion.  He did all of that so you could have a relationship with God. 

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Do you find yourself becoming defensive if someone doesn't agree with you? Do you complain a lot that life isn't fair? Jesus calls us to a higher standard and asks us to let it go; to turn the other cheek, so to speak. Are you able to do that? If not, ask for God's help today.
  • It's okay to cry out to God when we are faced with a dark moment. But we must remember that he is there, even when it doesn't feel like it. 
  • Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we can approach God directly. Take time today to talk to God.
  • Do you really appreciate what the death of Jesus means for you, or is it something you take for granted? Take a few minutes to pray about it, asking God to fill your heart with gratitude for the sacrifice he made for you.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

January 20 - Ezekiel 8 & 9

Today's reading in our daily plan is Ezekiel 8 & 9. 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?)
  • Today’s two chapters are directed specifically toward Jerusalem and its leaders to show them that their sins are the reason for God’s coming judgment.
  • In Ezekiel’s vision he was carried from Babylon to Jerusalem where he saw an idol in God’s Temple. The people were worshipping many other gods and they were doing so inside God’s Temple. They thought they could do it because it was in the dark and God would not know; some even literally turned their back to God’s altar to worship other gods.
  • Before God began punishing the people for their sins, the men who were going to carry out the punishment were instructed to place a mark on those who had deep sorrow over the nation’s sins. These people were to be spared during the destruction. When the judgment began, the first to receive punishment were the leaders in the Temple.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • We see God’s justice and mercy in these chapters. The people of Israel were not punished out of spite or hatred, but rather they were disciplined for failing to follow God’s commands. God delivered justice to set his people back on the right path. God also showed mercy to the people who humbly grieved for the wrongs that were committed. God desires to be in relationship with all of his creation and he is quick to offer forgiveness to those who ask for it.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • What are the excuses you tell yourself to keep making the choices you do? It’s easy to talk ourselves into believing that no one will be hurt because no one will know. Whether it’s one more purchase on the credit card, one more hand at the poker table, one more flirty text to your colleague, one more candy bar. Today, take a moment to talk to God and tell him that you know there are no secrets that can be kept from him. Ask him to help you make good choices today.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

January 19 - Ezekiel 6 & 7

Today's reading in our daily plan is Ezekiel 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?)
  • Today’s reading is a two-part message. Chapter 6 explains that God’s judgement would be brought to the people of Israel because they chose to worship and serve other gods (this is called “idolatry”). Chapter 7 describes what God’s judgement will look like.
  • Ezekiel began this prophecy by speaking against the mountains of Israel because that was where the pagan shrines were built for the people to worship their idols. God’s message told the people how much pain it brings him to see his people treat him unfaithfully and that a small group of them would be spared destruction but they would still be broken-hearted (see verse 6:8-9).
  • The destruction described in Chapter 7 is total and complete. It would be seen in all directions (see verse 7:2) and would apply to everyone (see verse 7:13). The people would not be saved by their army (see verse 7:14) nor their money (see verse 7:19). The end of this passage reiterates what God had told the people many times before: the consequences they were about to receive were direct results of the actions they themselves had taken (see verse 7:27).
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • God’s anger is never unjustified. The people of Israel were chosen to be his people. God led them out of slavery and into a new life of freedom where he told them how to live a happy and peaceful life and promised they would be blessed by following His commands. Instead, the people chose to put their trust and faith in other gods and statues made by their own human hands.
  • God also desires purity in his people so that they may be close to him because he himself is perfect. He will examine their hearts and gives his people free will and many chances to follow him. If they choose to pursue a life of hypocrisy, deception, and insincerity, they are choosing an impure life and the consequences that result from it.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • We all know that daily life is filled with uncertainty. Where do you look for security and comfort in your life? When we place our trust in jobs, the economy, a political system, or military might for our security, we put God in the backseat. Today, take a moment to talk to God and ask him to help you see what foundation your life is built upon. Ask him to help you trust him more; it brings him great joy when you lean into him.

Friday, January 18, 2019

January 18 - Mark 14

Today's reading in our daily plan is Mark 14. 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?)
  • This chapter contains a lot of details about the last days of Jesus' time on earth.
  • Did you notice the woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus' head? Those watching were enraged at the amount of money she was "wasting" on such a silly act. What they didn't understand was that this action was symbolic of preparing his body for burial.  He was trying to tell them that he would die soon, but they could not understand how their leader, the Messiah, could leave them.
  • In verse 22, we read about what's called the "Last Supper," or communion.  Jesus was sharing with his disciples bread and wine as a symbol of his body and blood that was about to be shed on the Cross. Once again, the disciples did not understand what he was really saying.
  • Because the disciples considered themselves Jesus' closest friends, they didn't believe him when he said they would deny him when things got bad. 
  • The chapter closes with the arrest and trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, which was a group of religious leaders. Interestingly, they couldn't find any reason to put him to death until Jesus claimed he was the Son of God.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • The main thing that is clear in this chapter is that Jesus' death was necessary. Without his sacrifice, there would be no hope for us today.
  • We take communion at church as a way to continually be reminded of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us. 
  • Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane is one we should all take note of. Remember, Jesus had been predicting his death for quite some time, so it's easy to think that he was comfortable with it. But in verse 35 we clearly see this isn't true: He cries out "take this cup from me," meaning, "please don't make me go through this horrible death." But Jesus still had clarity to remember that this decision was ultimately up to God and his will.
  • Jesus clearly stated that he was the Son of God publicly.  This was considered blasphemy in Jewish law and was the ultimate reason he was put to death.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Oftentimes, when something bad happens in life, we get angry at God and ask why. But, even Jesus had to go through something extraordinarily painful in life. If you are going through something difficult right now, take the example of Jesus and tell God, "Please take this pain away if you can.  But, no matter what, not what I want, but what you want for me."

Thursday, January 17, 2019

This Weekend @ Verve!

It's really easy to live an isolated life because doing life with others can be messy and it takes time, but is that really how to live your best life? Maybe there is something to being in community with others. This weekend at Verve, join us for another Life Hack!