Wednesday, March 3, 2021

March 3 - Luke 15

Today's reading in our daily plan is Luke 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?)
  • Once again, the Pharisees were criticizing Jesus for hanging out with "sinners." So he tells them a series of three parables that all have the same meaning. The stories reveal that God is searching for people who are lost. When they are found, he rejoices with them and a party breaks out in Heaven.
  • The parable of The Lost Son would be particularly impactful for Jewish readers (to whom this letter was written), for a few reasons:
    • When the son asks his father for his share of the inheritance, he was basically saying, "Dad, I wish you were dead." The father had every right to reject his son, but the father in the story, and our Heavenly Father, is patient with us.
    • After the son squanders the inheritance, he becomes poor and finds a job feeding pigs. In the Jewish law, pigs are considered unclean (Leviticus 11:1-8). His job feeding these animals would have been frowned on in their culture. He had hit "rock bottom."
    • The son decides to return home and beg his father to hire him as a servant. Upon returning home he can’t even get the words out before his father runs to meet him and hug him. In their culture men did not run; it was considered undignified. According to the law, the son deserved death by stoning (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) but the father instead gives him a hug.
    • The father puts a robe on his son’s back, a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. The ring was a sign of sonship, the robe represents acceptance back into the family, and the sandals show that he wouldn’t be a slave.

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Jesus came for the lost, not the righteous.
  • You are a treasure to God, and he will do anything to help you come back home.
  • Every person you meet is also important to God and treasured by him. We need to do whatever we can to help God's other lost children find their way home to their Heavenly Father.
  • God gives us free will to make our own decisions, but his desire is for us to be with him so he can treat us with grace.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Do you believe that you are a treasure to God, and have you personally accepted and experienced his love and grace? If not, what do you think is holding you back from that? What could you do about that?
  • Are you living as (what we call at Verve) a "grace wholesaler"? Are you showing people God's grace, helping them to see that they are treasured by God and can come home to him? If you've said yes to relationship with God, your life's mission is to help others find relationship with God. Who could you help this week?

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

March 2 - Luke 14

Today's reading in our daily plan is Luke 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?)
  • Jesus is invited to the house of an important religious leader where he proceeds to, once again, break the religious laws and traditions. First, he heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (which would have not been allowed because of their laws prohibiting "work" on the Sabbath). Second, when he notices guests vying for the best seat at the table, he quickly uses the opportunity to discuss the importance of humility over honor. 
  • Jesus then tells a parable (a story with a spiritual point) about a man who hosts a lavish party. When wealthy invitees fail toe how up, the man instead invites the sick and the poor. 
  • Jesus was surrounded by large crowds of people everywhere he traveled. He knew that they were mesmerized by his healing, teaching, and feeding people. They thought they could get something for nothing. However, Jesus stops and tells them this is not so. Anyone that truly follows him must be willing to hate their family members or themselves. Jesus is not speaking literally; the Bible is very clear that we are to love everyone. His point is that God should be such a high priority in our lives that, in comparison, it almost looks like we hate everything else.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • We need to show mercy and love to everyone, not just those in prestigious places.
  • We need to act in humility and service to all. 
  • Jesus invites all of us into his great banquet. Some will reject and others will accept. But we are all given a chance to enter. 
  • God loves us no matter what and offers us grace, but that does not mean there isn't a cost for following him. Jesus makes it clear that we must be willing to sacrifice anything and give up everything to be his disciples. Anything or anyone that comes before God is an idol.
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • How can you show mercy and love to someone this week who may not deserve it?
  • Is there a way that you can serve God that you have been avoiding? Be humble and accept the job that he has asked you to do.
  • Do you love God more than anything or anyone? Are you willing to do or give up everything for Jesus? That is the cost of being a Christian. But it's a cost that is totally worth it, because God is worth everything, and gives us everything we really need. Don't settle for anything less than "all in" when it comes to following Jesus.

Monday, March 1, 2021

March 1 - Luke 13

Today's reading in our daily plan is Luke 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?)
  • As the chapter opens, Jesus is asked if bad things, like the gruesome massacre of the Galileans, happened because they were evil. Jesus emphatically says no. Bad things happen because we live in a world that's messed up by sin, and we're all victims.
  • Jesus also teaches that his followers are like a fig tree. After planting and fertilizing, the tree should bear fruit. (See Galatians 5:22-23 for more on what "fruit" Jesus might be referring to.)
  • Jesus heals a woman, on the Sabbath, which was forbidden by religious law at the time. The religious leaders become very angry, but Jesus calls them out on their hypocrisy. He reminds them that even they offer their donkeys water on the Sabbath. So, how much more would God the Father want to provide healing for his children on the Sabbath?
  • Some of the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod plans to kill him. He, once again, responds by predicting his death and resurrection.
  • Jesus shares parables (stories) about the kingdom of God. He says that God's kingdom is like a mustard seed and yeast. A mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds but it grows fast and furious, and can take over a garden or field quickly. Yeast is used in bread as a rising agent. It only takes a tiny pinch of yeast to work i's way through an entire loaf of bread. 
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • Jesus teaches that God does not cause bad things to happen to us. Some of us will live to 100, while others will die of disease before age 40. Neither outcome is a reflection of our faith or our sinfulness. We live in a broken world that ultimately ends in death for all. However, we can control the choices we make. He tells us that we need to repent and stay on the narrow path to God.
  • The religious leaders implemented rules that kept people from God (see verses 10-17) but Jesus' mission was to help people come to God.
  • Just as yeast and mustard seeds grow quickly and permeate everything around them, God should permeate everything we say and do. 
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Many people think they are on the narrow path to God. It's easy to "like" Jesus, but it's another thing to "follow" him. Are you bearing fruit like the fig tree? Are you consistently trying to share about the kingdom of God with others? Do you consistently choose to turn away from sin and toward God? Make that choice right now. Repent (turn away from sin) and determine to live your life for him today, and every day. 
  • Does your life help spread God's kingdom like a mustard seed? Do you desire to live for Jesus with your whole being? Can you honestly say that God's love permeates everything you do? If not, ask for God's help today. He wants to help you live a transformed life and help transform others. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

February 28 - Genesis 18

Today's reading in our daily plan is Genesis 18. 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’s an interesting dialogue between Abraham and God in the first part of this chapter. 
  • God reiterates to Abraham that within a year he will have his promised son even though he and his wife are very old.
  • Then we see that Abraham was clearly a good man. God said he was going to “investigate” the wickedness of a nearby town to see if it should be destroyed, and Abraham has the nerve to confront God and ask him to spare the city. Abraham asked God 6 times not to destroy the city. That took a lot of guts.
  • How God is acting might strike you as strange because it almost is like he’s walking around looking for someone who's messing up so he can wipe them out.

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)

  • You might be wondering who the other two men were that God was walking with. Honestly, we don’t know for sure. We find out that it’s two angels, who later visit Sodom, but we don’t know their names.
  • The bravery on Abraham’s part for people he didn’t live with shows his heart for other people. We can tell by Abraham’s “apologetic” requests that he feared God may kill him just for questioning him but Abraham couldn’t stand by and not speak out for the people of the city. How God responded to Abraham showed that Abraham had found favor in God’s eyes because God gave Abraham his requests. Maybe if Abraham would have asked once more, God would have spared the city altogether; we don’t know.
  • Most often we see God in the Bible be patient with our sins, so we can only assume that God had been very patient with these cities but they refused to turn back to God. The other thing we can assume is that, because of the depravity of these cities, they were causing people a lot of pain. So maybe that also had something to do with why God intervened.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)

  • This should leave us with a question: Would we be willing to confront God to save the lives of people we don’t know? 
  • A more cutting question: Would our lives be righteousness enough for God to listen to us? 
  • How close are you walking with God right now? Is there anything you need to talk to him about that you haven’t been? 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

February 27 - Genesis 17

Today's reading in our daily plan is Genesis 17. 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?)

  • In this chapter we read about how God restores Abram’s faith. God meets with Abram face-to-face to restore Abram's confidence in his promise to give Abram children.
  • Then God gives Abram a rather harsh command. God tells Abram he wants Abram to circumcise himself and all males in his household as a sign of their covenant with God. Talk about scary! 
  • God renames Abram (meaning "father") to Abraham ("father of nations"). This must have been very hard for Abraham to hear. God promised him a son -- and now he’s 99 years old and God promises that he still will give him a son. To top it off, God renames him “Father of nations.” 

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)

  • You might be thinking, “What in the world?!?” The reason for this command by God was to set Abram “apart” from others so that there would be some physical reminder of his relationship with God. This would be a moment he would never forget. This must have been a hard thing to commit to, especially being almost 100 years old. And imagine what all the other males in Abram’s household must have been thinking. But Abram trusts God and goes through with it all.
  • In their culture, the meaning of names was a really big deal, so as a childless 99-year-old Abraham surely faced a lot of shame and embarrassment for having his name changed to something that meant "Father of nations."

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)

  • Have you ever had a difficult time trusting God? It probably couldn’t be nearly as hard as what Abraham was having to trust God for. It’s easy to doubt God when we can’t see him or audibly hear him. But let's learn from Abraham’s faith. Walking with God isn’t a passive thing. We have to actively have faith in God’s promises and love for us. Ask God to help you trust him more. What step of trust can you make in your relationship with God today?

Friday, February 26, 2021

February 26 - Luke 12

Today's reading in our daily plan is Luke 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?)
  • In the last chapter of Luke, we saw Jesus warns Pharisees because of their hypocritical lifestyle. Jesus continues to drive this point home in today's chapter when he refers to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as a yeast. Yeast is a fungus that grows rapidly under the right conditions. Jesus also reminds the disciples that nothing is hidden from God. 
  • Jesus goes on to encourage the crowd not to fear rejection or death.  He knows they will face persecution for their belief. They may face a hostile world, but loving God and standing up for what really matters. And just like God cares for a simple bird, he will care for them in time of trouble.
  • The Bible talks about money more than almost any other subject, and this chapter is no exception. Jesus is asked to settle a financial dispute, but instead reminds that greed is dangerous and will not lead us where we really want to go.
SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • God knows us inside and out. He knows our thoughts, our secrets, and our heart. Nothing can be hidden from him. He also knows our worries and our fears, and he cares for us and knows what we need.
  • God wants us to choose what we care about most. If we are to follow him whole-heartedly, nothing else can come first. Not money, family, or even life on this earth. We must let go to pursue Jesus. 
NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Honesty time: Is God the number one priority in your life?
  • The question is not do you believe in God? or Do you go to church? Even the Pharisees did these things and were told they would not enter the kingdom of God. The question is whether God is your ultimate priority and comes first for you in everything. Your family is important, but does God even come before them? Your job really matters, but is God an even higher priority? Do you obey God with your money? Your sexuality? In the way you treat other people? Remember, it's an honest moment. So: Is God central in your life?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

February 25 - Luke 11

Today's reading in our daily plan is Luke 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?)
  • The chapter opens with what a lot of people call "the Lord's Prayer." Jesus teaches his followers how to pray and assures them that God is a good father who wants to give them good things.
  • When Jesus casts a demon from a man, they claim his power must come from Beelzebub (another name for Satan). Jesus points out that it would be absurd for Satan to work against himself. Why would the devil cast himself out?  He reminds them once again that he is doing the work of God the father, and the miracles are evidence of God's promised redemption. 
  • In verses 29-32, Jesus is angry that the people beg for a miraculous sign. He has done countless miracles among them, yet the people following him around still doubt his power.
  • Jesus then turns to the image of light. Why would anyone light a lamp and then hide it? He shares that light can only do good when it is seen. 
  • When Jesus has dinner at the Pharisee's house, in verses 37-54, the Pharisees get upset because Jesus doesn't go through the ceremonial religious washing before the meal. Jesus explains to them that God isn't concerned with the outside of us, but the inside. What matters is our hearts, and our hearts need to be about loving God and loving people.

SO WHAT? (What are the underlying principles?)
  • When Jesus teaches about prayer he is not giving us magic words or a magic formula. The idea isn't that we pray the exact words of the example prayer he provides, but that those are the kinds of things we should pray for. And when Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you," he's not saying that God is a magic genie here to do our bidding. He won't answer yes to every request because he is a good father who loves to give good gifts to his kids, but is also too wise (and too loving) to give them something they may want but isn't for the best.
  • Jesus says, "He who is not with me is against me." This makes it clear that we cannot follow him apathetically, nor can we choose a "moderate" position when it comes to loving God. We must make a choice. Are we on God's side, or are we the opposition? As Bob Dylan said, "Gotta Serve Somebody." 
  • Jesus compares the eye to a lamp. The eye is a metaphor for our heart and soul. We need to be careful of the things we let into our heart. Is it full of light, or are there pieces of darkness hiding?
  • Jesus harshly criticizes the Pharisees at the end of the chapter. They all have one thing in common. They all deal with the sin of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the act of pretending to be something you aren't. The Pharisees cared deeply about their external appearance, and wanted to create the illusion that they were holy and righteous, but they didn't actually love God.

NOW WHAT? (How will you personally apply this passage?)
  • Just like the people who watched Jesus miraculously cast a demon out of a man, we must make a decision. We must take sides. Are we going to go with God? Or are we going to go the other direction? We all serve somebody. Who do you choose to serve?
  • If you are a Christ follower, do you let your light shine, or are you afraid of letting people know what you believe? Jesus reminds us that a hidden light is pointless. You have a great hope in God. Don't be afraid to spread his light.
  • Are you more focused on the inside or the outside? Do you spend more time worrying about how your life appears to others or about really loving God? Do you spend more time thinking about the impression you make on others or on how you can better love others? What practical steps can you take to make your life more about the inside than the outside?