December 1: The Calling of Jeremiah, Colossae, and Us
Jeremiah 1:1–2:37; Colossians 1:1–14; Proverbs 10:1–32
We all have trouble accepting our calling. When God asks us to do His work, we tend to wonder whether we’re able to execute His will. We are not alone in this—the prophet Jeremiah felt the same way. “And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you came out from the womb I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord Yahweh! Look, I do not know how to speak, for I am a youth’ ” (Jer 1:4–6). Jeremiah had been chosen by God before his birth, and yet he struggles. The issue at the heart of Jeremiah’s hesitancy is doubt about how it will all play out. A simple reframing of his call creates the reassurance he needs: “ ‘Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares Yahweh. Then Yahweh stretched out is hand and he touched my mouth, and Yahweh said to me, ‘Look, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I appoint you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy and to tear down, to build and to plant’ ” (Jer 1:8–10). After God reassures Jeremiah that He will be with him—that He will deal with all of his fears—Jeremiah is ready to be the man he’s been called to be. He goes on to become one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. Paul takes on a similar role as God’s mouthpiece to the Colossians, reassuring them of their calling: “We give thanks always to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you, since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope reserved for you in heaven, which you have heard about beforehand in the word of truth, the gospel” (Col 1:3–5). God has called the church at Colossae, and He is now moving them toward something greater—something more like what Jesus wants for their lives. Like Jeremiah and the church at Colossae, we must take hope in the calling God has given us. We must reconcile ourselves to His work in our life. We must realize that He will give us what we are lacking, whether resources, confidence, or skill. What do you fear? What do you need God to provide so you can better do His work? How should you go about acquiring this?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 2: The Mystery of God
Jeremiah 3:1–4:18; Colossians 1:15–2:5; Proverbs 11:1–12
“God wanted to make known what is the glorious wealth of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Paul’s use of the word “mystery” in this passage may strike us as a bit strange. How is the person and work of Christ shrouded in secrecy? And why would Paul present Christ as a mystery if his point is that God wanted to make Christ known? The answer is found in the culture of early Colossae, a city known for its infatuation with magic and the occult. Among the Gentile cults, “mystery” was often associated with a secret ritual that people must perform to create a relationship with a god. False teachers in the community at Colossae were promoting alternative ways to get to God—secret rituals that would lead to special knowledge for a select few. Paul contextualizes the gospel for the Colossians. He adopts this “mystery” language to show that Christ is the only way to God. The mystical path presented to the Colossians was a farce—a shell of what the Colossian believers had in Christ. It’s in Him that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Col 2:3). Paul wisely draws on language and tradition familiar to his audience to make the “mystery” of Christ known to all—not just a select few. Paul says he proclaims Christ so that “by admonishing every person and teaching every person with all wisdom … we may present every person mature in Christ” (Col 1:28). Because he was familiar with the culture of Colossae, Paul was able to acknowledge the challenges the believers faced, and then present the gospel as they needed to hear it: Christ is the only way. How are you resting in Christ as the only way to God? How are you thoughtfully revealing this “mystery” to those in your church and community? Do you look for other ways to get to God, like your own goodness or your own ability to earn favor?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 3: Facing the Storms on the Horizon
Jeremiah 4:19–5:31; Colossians 2:6–23; Proverbs 11:13–31
Having knowledge or insight into a situation and feeling helpless to act upon that information is one of the most frightening feelings we can experience. It makes us anxious, even pained. Jeremiah 4 describes an experience like this: “My heart is restless within me, I cannot keep silent, for I hear in my inner self the sound of a horn, the alarm of war. Destruction on destruction is proclaimed, for all of the land is devastated.… How long must I see the banner, and hear the sound of a horn? ‘For my people are foolish, they have not known me. They are foolish children, and they do not have insight. They are skillful at doing evil, and they do not know how to do good’ ” (Jer 4:19–22). How should we react in moments like these? How should we operate? There are no simple answers to these questions. But what is certain is that we must depend on God and His provision over our lives. We must look at the coming storms in our lives and the lives of others and recognize that Yahweh will be at work—regardless of the difficulties we encounter in the process. Like Jeremiah, we must speak up, but we must root ourselves in Christ as we do so. As Paul writes, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, live in him, firmly rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding with thankfulness” (Col 2:6–7). We must thank Christ for His work in us and live as He has asked us to live. If we are called to tell others about the ramifications of their actions, we must always be motivated by Christ’s love. For as the book of Proverbs tell us, “A gossip walks about telling a secret, but the trustworthy in spirit keeps the matter. Where there is no guidance, a nation shall fall, but there is safety in an abundance of counsel” (Prov 11:13–14). Let our counsel be godly counsel. Let our words be truthful. Let us see that God will guide us in the events we can change and those that we can’t. And let our actions proceed from thankfulness and love. What storm are you anxious about? How can you depend on God in that storm?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 4: Put Off, Put On
Jeremiah 6:1–7:29; Colossians 3:1–17; Proverbs 12:1–28
We often hear that being a good Christian means not doing bad stuff. This statement is true—but not exhaustive. In Colossians 3, Paul says, “Therefore put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustful passion, evil desire, and greediness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). He then lists other inappropriate behaviors: “anger, rage, wickedness, slander, abusive language” (Col 3:8). And he also lists new behaviors we need to “put on,” like “affection, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience” (Col 3:12). From this we can gather that, as Christians, our lives should look different. But is there more to this command than certain behaviors? We’re not supposed to put on new behaviors simply so that we can have polished, admirable lives. Colossians 3 opens with a statement: “Therefore, if you have been raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is” (Col 3:1). Believers identify with Christ—just like we’ve died with Him, we’ve also been raised with Him. He is life for us. And one day, we will be reunited with Him, and we’ll reflect Him perfectly. All of Paul’s teaching rests on this truth. And all of our actions should reflect this new life we have in Christ. We shouldn’t continue in the old behaviors that used to be common to us (Col 3:7). We are changing into His likeness. “You have taken off the old man together with his deeds, and have put on the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created him” (Col 3:9–10). Avoiding certain behaviors is part of being a Christian, but it’s hardly just that. It’s about a new life built completely on the foundation of Christ’s life-giving work. We should forgive one another because He forgave us (Col 3:13). We should love each other and strive for unity because He loved us and united us to Him (Col 3:14). We should strive for peace with one another because Christ has conquered chaos (Col 3:15). The message of Christ and our new life in Him should help us encourage and challenge each other as believers (Col 3:16). Does your life reflect this new life? How can you turn from simply avoiding bad behavior to seeking new life in Him?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 5: Do No Harm
Jeremiah 7:30–9:26; Colossians 3:18–4:18; Proverbs 13:1–25
Love can hurt. Many well-intentioned people have done more harm than good while attempting to care for others. This is especially the case in cross-cultural situations, as well-meaning people attempt to introduce change without understanding the local culture. But it can even be true in our homes. Paul’s words in Col 3:18–4:1 have been misused countless times by those seeking to gain or maintain power. Yet when we examine the passage closely, we find that Paul’s main goal is to teach the church in Colossae to help without hurting as he works toward seeing cultural norms in the light of the gospel. When Paul talks about wives “submitting” to their husbands, he frames it in light of the phrase, “husbands love your wives” (Col 3:18–19). The submission he speaks of is not about giving up will or freedom; Paul is acknowledging the cultural and economic realities of the time and encouraging the Church to operate within those norms. In Graeco-Roman culture, the idea of married women having their own livelihoods—and thus holding complete autonomy in decision-making—was incomprehensible. Women couldn’t own property or vote. Paul acknowledges that Christ’s work in making all people equal will radically reframe culture (Gal 3:23–4:7), yet in Col 3:18–4:1, he’s concerned that if the Church introduces radical changes, it will gain a negative reputation in Graeco-Roman culture. He wants the Christian work in culture to help, not harm. It’s for this same reason that Paul includes a provision for masters and slaves; however, as with men and women, he reframes the cultural norms to the extent possible: Masters are to grant their slaves “justice and fairness” (Col 4:1). Paul would have likely been alone in calling people to this standard. As his decision to subtly ask Philemon to free Onesimus shows, Paul likely wished to completely overturn slavery, but he also understood that doing so would take time (see especially Phlm 15–16). Paul’s charges to slaves and masters in Col 3:22–4:1 are meant to help until a more complete reform could take place. Paul sees the Church as first setting basic examples, then progressing to a more radical framework as culture itself is changed by Christianity. In Paul’s lifetime, a radical reworking was not feasible—it would have resulted in culture completely rejecting Christ, and thus ended the very work He was trying to make happen. Therefore, Paul creates provisions to help people during the process of the change. Love must work to change things that need to change. But ultimately, love must always avoid harm. What is God calling you to change? How can you do so without harming others?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 6: The Easy Way
Jeremiah 10:1–11:23; Philemon 1:1–7; Proverbs 14:1–14
There is a certain amount of freedom in being foolish. Foolish people don’t stop to reflect on their actions. Characteristically unimaginative, foolish people don’t stop to consider how their words and actions affect others. The scary effect of foolishness is that it’s contagious: “Leave the presence of a foolish man, for you will not come to know words of knowledge. The wisdom of the clever is understanding his ways, but the folly of fools is deceit” (Prov 14:7). There is an ease in self-deception because it’s our natural state. “There is a way that seems upright to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov 14:12). But the right way is not simply a more reflective, thoughtful life. We need a new way of life that can only be brought about in Christ—the one who reversed the power of death. Following the right way doesn’t mean relying on our own ability to be righteous through thoughtful actions. Rather, it means understanding our need for His righteousness. It’s God’s work in us, recreating us. It’s His Spirit, directing our ways and making us new in Him. The fool does have influence, but a life transformed has far-reaching influence because it’s not our own work—it’s God’s. This is the calling of which Paul reminds Philemon. Paul tells Philemon that he has “great joy and encouragement” because of Philemon’s love. Because of his love, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you brother” (Phlm 7). For this reason, Paul also holds Philemon to a high standard. Because of his great influence, he needs to be intentional about how he treats Onesimus, the redeemed slave who had wronged him. Pray for a transformed life, and pray for the work of the Spirit in your life, dividing the light from the darkness and the foolish, deceitful parts from the wise. He will help you understand His ways if you ask Him. He will make the darkness evident, and He will show you the way of wisdom—a life that reflects Christ. How are you praying for the Spirit’s ongoing work in your life, dividing the foolish ways from the wise?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 7: Relationship Will Change Us
Jeremiah 12:1–13:27; Philemon 1:8–25; Proverbs 14:15–35
Although God has granted us complete access to Him through Christ, we struggle at times to live this reality (John 17:15–17). The stale or frightening depictions of God in stained glass and Renaissance paintings have convinced us that He is distant, quick to anger, or disinterested. Nothing could be further from the truth; the Psalms remind us that He is caring, close, and listening (e.g., Pss 22; 23; 26), and He yearns for a relationship with us. Sometimes it helps to hear the words of others who have struggled with the same thing. Jeremiah provides us with such an example. He remarks, “You will be in the right, O Yahweh, when I complain to you. Even so, let me speak my claims with you. Why does the way of the wicked succeed? All those who deal treacherously with treachery are at ease” (Jer 12:1). Jeremiah knows that Yahweh is right in all He does, but this does not prevent him from freely expressing his concerns. If we really look into our hearts, we may find that fear is preventing us from entering into an intimate relationship with Him. We’re afraid of what He will say; we’re concerned that He may rebuke us. Indeed, this is what He does when Jeremiah speaks to Him: “If you run with foot soldiers and they have made you weary, then how will you compete with horses? If you have fallen in a peaceful land, then how will you do in the thickets of the Jordan? For even your relatives, and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you, even they call loudly after you. You must not trust in them, though they speak kindly to you” (Jer 12:5–6). Yet within this rebuke, we also find advice—and the advice is comforting. By openly communicating his concerns to God, Jeremiah now knows what he must do. He knows how he must act. There is joy to be found in knowing that we have a God who listens—a God who is not offended when we speak to Him but is eager for our company. What are we afraid of? After all, He already knows what’s on our minds. We need to grasp the idea that God is all about relationship. What would change about your life if you went deeper into your relationship with Christ? What should you be asking God right now?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 8: The Gospel for Barbarians and Fools
Jeremiah 14:1–15:21; Romans 1:1–17; Proverbs 15:1–33
It’s dangerous when we feel entitled. We may come to believe our communities are righteous while all those outside are not. This can even take place inside our faith communities—popularity or various achievements can create subtle feelings of superiority. We begin to believe it’s something we’ve done that brings us favor. As he writes to the church in Rome, Paul explains that it’s not anything we do, anything we are, or anything we obtain that makes us right with God. His calling verifies this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus I am eager to proclaim the gospel also to you who are in Rome” (Rom 1:14). Ethnicity was a big obstacle for the early church to overcome, as the church was now made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. God promised Abraham that through him “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Christ’s redemptive work had finally made this blessing a reality. God’s favor was no longer reserved for those who might be educated or wise. Paul emphasizes that God can redeem those who—to us—might seem unlikely recipients of redemption. But most important, our standing before God is not based on our goodness. Paul is eager to proclaim the gospel in Rome because it is belief in Jesus, the fulfillment of the promise, that makes believers righteous before God—“the gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Christ’s righteousness has become our righteousness. If anything, this fact should eliminate any sense of entitlement we might harbor and prompt us to walk in humility with believers and non-believers alike. Our relationship with God is intimately tied to how deeply we understand our need for God. The gospel frees us of any need to attain or achieve. For this, we should be incredibly thankful to God and live with humility for Him. Do you put stock in the things you think make you a “favored” Christian?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 9: Self-Evident Hope
Jeremiah 16:1–17:27; Romans 1:18–2:11; Proverbs 16:1–11
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all impiety and unrighteousness of people, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is evident among them, for God made it clear to them” (Rom 1:18–19). A statement like this could easily be taken out of context if we leave off everything after “people.” But when we contextualize this message, we find hope instead of hopelessness. Paul goes on to tell us that creation itself reveals God and His goodness to humanity, so there is no excuse for failing to understand God and the salvation He offers: “For from the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, both his eternal power and deity, are discerned clearly, being understood in the things created, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). We have all heard people who are concerned that salvation seems unfair: What about the people who won’t ever hear about Jesus? Yet Paul argues that everyone has an opportunity to witness Christ at work in creation itself. In Colossians he remarks that it’s in the “Son [Jesus] … whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because all things in the heavens and on the earth were created by him, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:13–16). All people have an opportunity to know God. No one has an excuse. God’s justice reigns in creation; it reigns in Christ; and it reigns in the lives of those who choose Christ. Christ is everywhere, in all things. The world is not condemned unfairly by a God of unreasonable wrath; instead, it’s ruled by a God of joy and empathy who is love. What misperceptions do you have of God? How can you correct them and work in the lives of others to do the same? How can you spread the empathy God wants you to display?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 10: Constructing Lives by the Law
Jeremiah 18:1-18; Romans 2:12-29; Proverbs 16:12-33
Dispensing good, helpful advice gets the benevolent juices flowing. As easy as it is to give advice, though, it often hits me with the irony of a cartoon anvil when I end up tripping over my own counsel. When this happens, I’m convicted to examine my motives for advice-giving. In his letter to the Romans, Paul challenges the superior mindset that was common among some Jewish people at the time: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve the things that are superior, because you are instructed by the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light to those in darkness, and instructor of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Therefore, the one who teaches someone else, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom 2:17–21). Paul is explaining why looking to the ot law for righteousness is futile. No person could perfectly keep the law. By holding to it, they were in fact condemning themselves. Paul even points out that some Jews thought they had attained a higher moral standing because of their knowledge of the law—and believed they were in a position to teach others. Yet they were still breaking the law. It’s easy for us to discard this as an early church issue. Yet we still sometimes take comfort in “keeping the law” today. If we cling to our own good behavior rather than the righteousness we have in Christ, we commit the same sin. We can attempt to live like a saint—we can cultivate a reputation for goodness and dishing out wisdom—but we’ll set ourselves up for imminent failure because we can never keep up the pretense of godly behavior on our own. However, if our “circumcision is of the heart”—if we trust in Christ’s sacrifice for our righteousness and the Spirit is working in us—then our hearts will be in the right place. That place is where we know we are great sinners, and where we are receptive to His transforming work to bring us into complete loyalty to Him. Then we will seek God’s favor, not the favor and superiority we crave from others. If our lives are truly changed, we will be motivated to love others out of the love God shows us. That will give us the right perspective for seeing the transformation that God is working in their hearts. And it will free us to give the best advice of all: Seek God in everything. What are your motives for giving advice?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 11: Faithful Decision-Making
Jeremiah 21:1–22:30; Romans 3:1–20; Proverbs 17:1–28
“I asked God, and He didn’t answer me.” When I hear people say this, I’m often tempted to reply, “Haven’t you read the prophets?” Because sometimes what people are really saying is, “I asked God to do something for me, and He didn’t answer in the way I expected, so He must not be listening or He must not care.” Yet the prophets repeatedly tell us the opposite. God is not human, so He does not make decisions like a human. Instead, He sees all possible outcomes and knows the best route. We simply struggle to understand the wisdom of His decisions. One particular event in the book of Jeremiah illustrates this point. When King Zedekiah (the last king of Judah) asks Jeremiah to intercede with Yahweh on behalf of Jerusalem against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah gives an unexpected reply: Yahweh has refused to do so. He will not intercede for His own people. Rather, He will make Nebuchadnezzar’s task easier (Jer 21:1–7). Before we view Yahweh as harsh and unforgiving, let’s recall that this occurs after God’s people have been rebelling against Him for hundreds of years. Even so, in Jer 21:8–10, God’s people are given a choice: They can remain in Jerusalem and die—for Yahweh has deemed that the city must fall—or they can enter what appears to be death but is actually life. Yahweh sets up a faith choice for them: “He who goes out and goes over to the Chaldeans who are laying siege to you will live, and his life will be to him as booty” (Jer 21:9). Even in the midst of unbearable circumstances, Yahweh offers a way of grace. Even when everything seems to fail, we can decide to choose faith. This story mirrors what we experience on our deathbed. It also mirrors the decision we face every day of our lives: Will we listen to the voices of the world, or will we listen to the prophets who proclaim honest indignation and faithful decision-making? Will we stay in the city, or will we go where God calls us—no matter how difficult it may seem or how improbable? Where is God calling you? What must you walk away from? What faith decision is before you?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 12: Forgiven and Forgiving
Jeremiah 23:1–24:10; Romans 3:21–31; Proverbs 18:1–24
Idioms are often unhelpful because their overuse has robbed them of meaning. But the idiom “putting up walls” has a twist in Proverbs: “A brother who is offended is worse than a city of strength, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortification” (Prov 18:19). The writer of this proverb gives us imagery that helps us understand how people react to offenses. Regardless of whether we intend to, we can raise a great structure, like a “city of strength,” in the gulf between ourselves and others. Such barriers make it difficult to reach those we have offended, which may suit us perfectly. But we’re called to live differently. None of us can live perfectly in this life, so conflict is inevitable. If we have the insight to see that “we all fall short of the glory of God”—and more specifically, how we have fallen—we’ll see we have no right to hold a grudge (Rom 3:23). When rifts develop in relationships, we need to own our sin and bring it to God. His forgiveness and His reconciling work make it possible for us to be vulnerable with others and seek their forgiveness—even if they have also offended us. When we choose to humbly admit our failings, we break down “the bars of a fortification” and create space for reconciliation. We might be spurned, or we might be forgiven. The other person may take responsibility for their fault, or they may not. But either way, we rest secure in God’s forgiveness. Have you offended someone? Have you neglected to confess your sin and seek forgiveness? Reconciliation is a picture of what God has done for us—He has returned us to Himself. Be like the peacemaker: Seek and offer forgiveness. Have you offended someone without asking forgiveness? If so, how can you step forward to confess your offense to God and the offended person?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 13: Sage Advice
Jeremiah 25:1–26:24; Romans 4:1–24; Proverbs 19:1–29
Proverbs is full of sage advice, and some examples deserve special attention. No words could better describe the concept expressed here: “Better a poor person walking in integrity than one who is perverse in his speech and is a fool” (Prov 19:1). When times get tough—especially when money runs out—integrity is often the first thing we sacrifice. Yet only those who have truly lived in poverty understand the trials it brings. We can’t begin to know how we would act if we had nothing. For this reason, we should mentally prepare for times of want. In doing so, we might better gauge whether we’re conducting ourselves appropriately in times of plenty. I heard of a man who chose to live as a homeless person so that he could understand their plight. It’s easy for the rich person to call such an act foolish, but how much did that man learn as he was challenged to maintain his integrity during hard times? Does the rich person own that wisdom? Proverbs 19:2 seems to hint at this idea: “A life without knowledge is not good, and he who moves quickly with his feet misses the mark.” Some people move so quickly in and out of circumstances that they don’t learn from their experiences. It’s better to move a little slower than normal and pay attention to our actions and their ramifications than to make a mistake and not learn from it. Likewise, we must have knowledge about our work and what we’re doing, or we inevitably fail. Let’s learn from people with integrity. And let’s learn from our mistakes, both in hypothetical situations and real ones. Let’s take the time to notice what went wrong and what went right. What situation is God using to teach you? Where should you slow down?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 14: Patient Endurance
Jeremiah 27:1–28:17; Romans 5:1–21; Proverbs 20:1–12
In theory, it’s easy to provide answers to difficult faith questions. But when we face real trials, everything changes. We gain a new perspective on the Bible passages we’ve memorized; the Christian maxims we’ve passed on to others reverse and hit us full force. We don’t have the option to talk in hypotheticals. Trials require heartfelt faith and total reliance on God. Suffering and trials are not punishment or neglect on God’s part. In fact, they’re quite the opposite. Paul describes how God works through trials to build us up in faith. And His work is not a quick fix or an easy answer. It’s a process, as Paul describes in his letter to the Roman church: “And not only this, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces patient endurance, and patient endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:3–5). In times of suffering, we aren’t meant to abandon mourning or put up an artifice of strength. We’re not supposed to conquer and overcome and become the next Christian success story. God uses these trials to work in us—a slow, evolving work that begins with endurance, creates character, and culminates with a hope that won’t disappoint. We don’t embark on such a process by ourselves. Throughout our suffering, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5). We will face trials and suffering in our lifetime—whether everyday difficulties or life-altering events. But affliction doesn’t separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:35). Indeed, God uses it to confirm His love for us. May Paul’s words give us comfort and perspective for the work God is or will be doing in us. What trials or suffering are you enduring? How do Paul’s words shed light on your trials?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 15: After the Storm
Jeremiah 29:1–30:24; Romans 6:1–14; Proverbs 20:13–30
As we blink and squint in the light that emerges after a storm, we marvel that the sun was there all along and we just couldn’t see it. The same is true during times of difficulty. When we’re in pain or worried, it seems impossible to find God, but in retrospect, it always seems obvious: God was there all along. Jeremiah prophesied to God’s people about their unraveling. The people heard words from Jeremiah’s mouth that must have seemed hopeless and full of despair. But in Jeremiah 29, we catch a glimpse of the light that comes after: “Build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and father sons and daughters … and multiply there, and you must not be few” (Jer 29:5–6). Even in exile, God will continue to guide His people. Because of their sins, they have endured (and lost) war and have been driven away from the land that God gave them; but God remains with them nonetheless. They may need to experience the pain of exile to understand the consequences of turning away from God, but God still plans to be good to them. He will provide for them. We witness a parallel picture in Rom 6. After describing the death that sin brings into the world and the current sad state of humanity, Paul presents a full vision of living without sin—of conquering the very problem that drove God’s people into exile: “What therefore shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, in order that grace may increase? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2). Even with the grace God has offered us, Paul encourages us to live the vision God has created through Jesus—one that strives to be sinless. Likewise, Jeremiah does not offer empty words without the command that God’s people follow Him with their entire beings (Jer 29:8–14). We have all made mistakes. We’ve all lost ourselves in the storms—in storms we caused and storms that came upon us for no apparent reason. But what’s certain in both instances is that God is with us and desires for us to be one with Him. What storm are you currently in, coming out of, or anticipating? What is God teaching you through it? What is He asking of you?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 16: Freedom
Jeremiah 31:1–40; Romans 6:15–7:6; Proverbs 21:1–12
We like to think of ourselves as autonomous. Our modern culture champions freedom and the right to pursue happiness. But if we apply the concept of rights when we think about faith, following Christ can feel like religion, dogma, rules—a type of bondage that requires us to think and behave in ways that make our autonomous selves bridle. Paul looks at the issue differently: “Do you not know that to whomever you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whomever you obey, whether sin, leading to death, or obedience, leading to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16). He uses another analogy in his letter to the church in Rome—one that draws on the practice of the slavery within his own culture—to highlight the opposite view. If we live without God, he says, we have a debt that binds us. We are a slave to sin, and it’s the type of bondage that leads to death. Yet, there is hope. Although we were slaves to sin, we can be redeemed from that slavery. Christ has paid the debt we incurred. He has set us free and brought us into a new bondage—not one that binds to death, but one that binds us to Him in life. If we believe this is true and put our trust in Him, we are no longer slaves. As redeemed people, we’re called to a new life. While we once charted our own independent path—one that led to death—we can turn and follow a path that leads to sanctification and eternal life, a path that God charts just for us. While our path required a toll—death—Christ has paid that toll so we can walk in new life: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). How have your old habits and patterns of behavior changed now that you’ve been set free? What still needs to change to reflect your new loyalty to Christ?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 17: Land and Deeds
Jeremiah 32:1–44; Romans 7:7–25; Proverbs 21:13–31
Those of us who have purchased a home know the frightening feeling of closing day—“Am I signing my life away? Am I binding myself to this building forever?” Imagine, on top of those feelings, knowing that the place you’re buying is about to be overrun by a foreign nation and may no longer belong to you. That’s what the prophet Jeremiah experienced. Yahweh tells Jeremiah that his cousin will arrive with an offer to purchase a field. So when Jeremiah’s cousin shows up, Jeremiah views it as Yahweh’s will that he purchase the land, and he does (Jer 32:1–12). Meanwhile, Jeremiah knows that the Babylonians are coming and that they will overrun the land of God’s people, including the land that he has just purchased. This is not a reckless act; this is a moment of faith. Jeremiah seizes the opportunity to proclaim Yahweh’s faithfulness. Turning to his assistant, Baruch, Jeremiah remarks in front of everyone witnessing the purchase, “Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase, the sealed one, and this opened deed, and you must put them in an earthenware jar so that they may be kept preserved many days.’ For thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land’ ” (Jer 32:14–15). Each of us has moments when we must do what no one else will do—and that includes saying what others are not willing to say. What “land” is God asking you to buy, and what is He asking you to proclaim about it? What deed is God asking you to do today? What are you to say about Yahweh’s faithfulness, and how are you to act upon it?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 18: Into the Family
Jeremiah 33:1–34:22; Romans 8:1–17; Proverbs 22:1–16
As people once bound to sin and destined for death, our ability to approach God personally—to call Him our Father—should astound us. Yet we sometimes forget to pray. We can take it for granted that He looks out for our every need. The concept of approaching God as Father would have been a radical concept for the Roman community. In his letter to the church there, Paul discusses how our former lives without God were nothing but slavery to sin and death, the wages of sin. Christ’s work has set us free from this trajectory: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself confirms to our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer together with him so that we may also be glorified together with him” (Rom 8:15–17). Paul’s audience would have used the term “Abba! Father!” only within immediate family relationships. To call God “our Father” would have been a shocking paradigm shift—especially for Jewish believers. However, Christ’s sacrifice made this relationship possible. He paid our debt and repaired the rift. Because of His work, and because we share in His Spirit, we also share in His relationship with the Father. We can call out to God, just as Jesus did. And the Father cares for us, just as He cares for His Son. We may forget our intimate relationship with God, yet the Spirit continues to work within us to bring our lives into accordance with this relationship with the Father. Pray for insight and gratitude for your new position because of Christ. When you call on God, relate to Him as a child would to a loving father—bringing all to Him and knowing He understands you and knows what is best for you. Do you neglect prayer? Pray that the Spirit would work to bring you a childlike faith and trust in God.
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 19: The Rechabite Saga
Jeremiah 35:1–36:32; Romans 8:18–39; Proverbs 22:17–23:18
We’re often slow to learn and quick to speak. We think we know God’s ways, but He can easily prove us wrong. Many of us have made this mistake: We think we’re living righteously, and then God slams us for our actions. He quickly deconstructs our worldview, calling into question our ethics, our way of being, our lifestyles. Why? Because even if we don’t think we’re breaking any rules, we might be living by our own choices rather than Yahweh’s will—and that is disobedience. The story of the Rechabites demonstrates this point. Yahweh had requested that the Rechabites shun alcohol and live in tents, so they did. They obeyed this request until Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah, which they inhabited with the rest of God’s people. Then Yahweh sent them one final test: He asked His prophet, Jeremiah, to prompt them to drink wine. They resisted—and passed the test (Jer 35:1–11). The Rechabites’ obedience stands as a model that shows the actions of the rest of God’s people reprehensible by comparison. Yahweh remarks to Jeremiah, “Go and say to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ‘Can you not learn a lesson to listen to my words?’ declares Yahweh. ‘The words of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, that he commanded his descendants to not drink, have been carried out, and they have not drunk until this day, for they have obeyed the command of their ancestor. But I have spoken to you over and over again, and you have not listened to me’ ” (Jer 35:13–14). God’s people had disobeyed Him by seeking other gods and committing other sins, but this line hints at the deeper problem: They had not carried out Yahweh’s basic commandment to listen to His will. God’s people thought they were in the right. They believed they were behaving correctly. But in reality, they had disobeyed His basic commandments and then disobeyed His very will. Are you, like God’s people, living in disillusionment, failing to acknowledge that you’re living outside of God’s will? Ask yourself: “Am I really on the right track? Is this really God’s will, or is it the manifestation of a false belief about my obedience that I’m creating?”
JOHN D. BARRY
December 20: Looking to God and Others
Jeremiah 37:1–38:28; Romans 9:1–12; Proverbs 23:19–35
We have a natural tendency to be concerned with our own condition. As redeemed people, God is transforming us from being self-centered people—concerned with our own ambitions—to other-centered people who want to see God’s work done in and around us. Sometimes even our spiritual concerns point us inward. But God’s work in us shouldn’t be just about us. Paul sets a startling example in his concern for those who hadn’t come to know Christ: “I am telling the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears witness to me in the Holy Spirit—that my grief is great and there is constant distress in my heart. For I could wish myself to be accursed from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my fellow countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom 9:1–3). Although he was called especially to be an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was deeply concerned about the spiritual state of the Jewish people—his own people. The promise of the Messiah was given to them, yet many refused to believe the fulfillment of this promise, the redeeming work of Christ. They weren’t aware of the fulfillment of that promise given especially to them. Paul was so grieved by their rejection of their salvation that he was willing to be accursed for their sakes. God is at work in us—transforming us for His purpose. We should be keenly aware of His work. But our gaze shouldn’t be fixed inward. We should be looking to God, amazed by His grace and His concern for people like us. As we are changed into His likeness, we should be caught up in caring for the things that deeply concern Him. We should care about the people He wants to be transformed to His likeness. He is molding and shaping us into His likeness so that we can be His instruments, His agents on earth. The people we meet and the situations we encounter are all opportunities to reflect Christ—not because we want to be holy examples, but because we have a task to do. How is God’s work transforming you to be deeply concerned about the spiritual state of others? Who can you pray for? Who can you reach out to?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 21: Expenses
Jeremiah 39:1–41:18; Romans 9:13–29; Proverbs 24:1–22
It’s important to pause occasionally to reflect on the cost of sin. If we don’t, we can find ourselves living in it without thought of the ramifications. Few passages illustrate the cost of sin more vividly than the fall of Jerusalem recorded in Jer 39. The fall of Jerusalem is brutal, depressing, and sadistic, but we can learn from Jeremiah’s account of the event. We could view Jeremiah’s depictions as merely historical, or we could recognize the theological lessons they offer: Sin is expensive. Sin will destroy you. Sin will bring a nation to its knees. Sin will leave you begging for mercy. Sin is death. That’s what God’s people learned from this event: Disobeying Yahweh is a costly action. It’s not that God wants His people to endure this pain, but pain is a natural consequence of their decisions. He cannot defend people who refuse to live as beacons of light—of goodness, beauty, and blessing—to the world. If they aren’t willing to live in His image, then He is not willing to be their defender. If Yahweh did not allow for Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem, the people would never learn. And the exile that comes in this moment is also a natural result of their sin. When we’re faced with the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem, we’re given a choice: Will we listen to the prophets of our age and respond accordingly? Will we hear God when He calls us back to obedience? Or will we continue to live in sin and suffer the consequences? As a side effect of the grace that God has given us in Jesus, many people assume that sin is somehow okay—that it’s okay to allow it to exist. God’s response is the opposite. The grace is unmerited, and we must respond with the only merited response: complete dedication and obedience to Him. We must see the death of sin and deny it. What sin is currently present in your life? What do you need to repent from? Have you asked God to direct you in this?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 22: A False Form of Righteousness
Jeremiah 42:1–43:13; Romans 9:30–10:21; Proverbs 24:23–34
Zeal can be treacherous if it’s misplaced. It may lead us to set and strictly follow standards that have nothing to do with God’s work—standards that make us feel like good people but that can devastate our lives and the lives of others. Paul addresses the misplaced zeal of many Jewish people in his letter to the Roman church: “Brothers, the desire of my heart and my prayer to God on behalf of them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For ignoring the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:1–4). Many Jewish people who had rejected the Messiah were attempting to make themselves right with God by keeping the ot law. In doing so, they missed God by seeking their own righteousness. Paul tells the Romans that these Jewish people ignored the “righteousness of God”—God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ. It’s only by submitting to God that they could be “right with God” through Jesus Christ. This lesson isn’t applicable only to the Jewish people and their relationship to the law. Jesus restored relationship with God when we couldn’t. We only have to believe in Him. Yet a dangerous zeal can still trip us up. If we rest in anything except Christ’s work and try to reach God by being good people, we are sure to miss Him. And in the process, we can become stumbling blocks in the lives of others. Are you trying to attain righteousness through your own effort? How does your life reflect humility because of Christ’s work in you? How can you lovingly point others toward the righteousness of God, found only through His son, Jesus Christ? What are you trying to attain? How can you focus your hope and the hope of others on Christ and the righteousness He has attained for you?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 23: The Rise to Power
Jeremiah 44:1–46:28; Romans 11:1–10; Proverbs 25:1–28
If you’re driven, you’ve probably worked very hard to get to where you are. Being driven is a good thing, but being driven at a cost to others or by elevating yourself by your own accord is detrimental. Proverbs 25 offers this warning from the perspective of King Solomon: “Do not promote yourself before the king, and in the place of the great ones do not stand. For it is better that he say to you, ‘Ascend here,’ than he humble you before a noble” (Prov 25:6–7). People tend to get nasty when power or money is involved. It’s uncomfortable to wait for that promotion, but God asks us to remain patient. At the end of the day, attaining leadership because you’re worthy is a much greater honor than obtaining it because you were louder than someone else or placed yourself in front of them. We should always take initiative and strive to succeed, but we need to remember that it’s not our place to decide our fates. We must place that in God’s hands, and we must wait to be asked to take the reins rather than snatch them ourselves. Many people would put themselves before others when given the opportunity; they would promote themselves at the cost of someone else. As Christians, we have to ward off such temptations. We must maintain our integrity. Proverbs speaks about this as well: “What your eyes have seen [in a king’s court], do not hastily bring out to court, for what will you do at its end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your argument with your neighbor himself, the secret of another do not disclose, lest he who hears shame you and your ill repute will not end” (Prov 25:8–10). Abuse of power is one of the most common leadership problems. People seeking and obtaining power when they’re not ready can be equally disastrous. As we seek to advance ourselves, we must be cautious with how we earn power—and with how we handle power when we’ve earned it. What “power” situations are you currently handling well? What must change in your current “power” struggles?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 24: You Should Do This, but Maybe You Shouldn’t
Jeremiah 47:1–48:47; Romans 11:11–24; Proverbs 26:1–11
We all know the feeling. When someone belittles us in front of others, we want to rail against them or make their lives miserable by filtering our rage through our best passive-aggressive behavior. When a friend continuously doles out inflammatory remarks, it’s easy to snap and say (or tweet) something inspired by the white-hot rage sweeping through us. We’d be better off turning to the book of Proverbs, which can offer wisdom for dealing with these situations. The book seems to deliver hard-and-fast rules for life we can easily apply—do this; don’t do that. Do this and you’ll prosper; do that and you’ll suffer for your foolishness. However, Proverbs 26 delivers statements that confuse those who live by the rules: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly lest you become like him—even you. Answer a fool according to his folly, or else he will be wise in his own eyes” (Prov 26:4–5). Do we answer the fool or leave him alone? The entire trajectory of Proverbs is the attainment of wisdom. The author of this proverb isn’t offering a simple rule. He’s giving guidance. Although it’s sometimes better to keep silent—when speaking would inspire us to be equally foolish—other times the situation might call for us to reprimand the fool. If the fool is misleading others, we need to gently correct them for their good and everyone else’s. The fool may be teachable, just lacking in instruction and discipline. We need discernment to know which response the situation requires. Pray for guidance in your interactions with others. Pray for wisdom from the Spirit, who can provide you with the discernment you need to answer in the right way. Just don’t be the fool and set the conversation ablaze with inflammatory words (Jas 3:5). How do you respond to foolish people? How can you, guided by the Holy Spirit, answer (or choose to remain silent) in ways that build up or challenge the fool?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 25: Laziness and Lions
Jeremiah 49:1–39; Romans 11:25–12:8; Proverbs 26:12–28
When we consider ourselves wise, we’re in danger of losing perspective on the truth and making others feel small. The Proverbs often discuss this problem, remarking, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov 26:12). This foolishness doesn’t just appear when we elevate ourselves or fail to consider others; it also shows up when we fail to consider our own needs. When we’re lazy or do less than we can, we’re actually sinning—we’re ignoring what God meant us to be and thus holding back His plan, not just our own productivity. One of the Proverbs says, “A lazy person says ‘A lion is in the road! A lion among the streets!’ … A lazy person buries his hands in the dish; he is too tired to return it to his mouth. A lazy person is wiser in his eyes than seven who answer discreetly” (Prov 26:13, 15–16). The Bible’s condemnation of laziness makes sense for hyperbolic situations like lions showing up or someone being too lazy to eat, but it is even more practical when applied to regular situations. If you consider many of the problems in our world—hunger, water, sanitation, or medical issues—it becomes clear that laziness and funds are often the obstacles preventing us from resolving them. If we stopped ignoring the lions and considering ourselves so wise, we would be able to help many people in need. We would also stop hurting those around us with our arrogance. God wants to intercede in our world. He wants to use us to do so—we just have to step up. What type of laziness are you excusing?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 26: Community
Jeremiah 50:1–46; Romans 12:9–13:7; Proverbs 27:1–27
She might be the one we tend to avoid—the member of a small group who always states the obvious or brings up topics unrelated to the discussion at hand. I’m always a bit impatient for her to finish speaking so that others can offer more insightful comments, but generally her comments are followed by only awkward pauses. Or, he’s the person we’re attempting to avoid after church and small group because he always repeats the story about his grandkids that we’ve heard more than just a few times. I hope someone else will be there for him. If I’m feeling extra congenial, I might chat with him—always good to earn some kindness points. I might approach community this way, but reading Romans 12:9–16 convicts me. The list of instructions on building up the community quickly reveals the selfish bent of my motives. Paul, who has just finished explaining that each member has specific spiritual gifts, shows what living in loving community is supposed to look like: “Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; be attached to what is good, being devoted to one another in brotherly love, esteeming one another more highly in honor, not lagging in diligence, being enthusiastic in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, enduring in affliction, being devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality. Bless those who persecute, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Think the same thing toward one another; do not think arrogantly, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own sight” (Rom 12:9–16). I’m not meant to approach my small group study as a support group to help me work out my problems. Faith communities are familial settings where the gifts I have are meant to be developed and worked out for the good of others. It’s where I’m called to serve people around me—even, and especially, people who are lonely or a little different than me. I can only do that with a heart that is devoted to others, highly esteems them, and looks out for their needs. It’s when I humbly serve that I learn things I didn’t know in passing—the death of her husband and her difficulty in finding the right words to convey her ideas and experiences. It’s there where I learn that his kids barely call, and he’s reciting the same information from the yearly Christmas card. It’s where I help when I can, and pray when I can’t. And along the way, through my service, I may learn a thing or two from people who have gifts I have yet to discover. Are you involved in a community? If you are, are you actually involved? How can you use your gifts to build up the people around you?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 27: Love Is Good News
Jeremiah 51:1–64; Romans 13:8–14:12; Proverbs 28:1–28
Love is good news for those seeking guidance. Love is the guide we need. Many first-century Jewish Christians faced the question of what to do with the Law (the first five books of the Bible), by which they had lived previously. Now that they had Jesus, what would they do with their traditions? Paul’s answer is based on love: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves someone else has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8). He goes on: “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are summed up in this statement: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not commit evil against a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:9–10). These are beautiful words, and I’m not saying that because they let me off the hook for keeping the law; they also answer the problem that the ot prophets addressed. The prophet Jeremiah, commenting on the sin of Babylon, notes: “All humankind turns out to be stupid, without knowledge. Every goldsmith is put to shame by the divine image. For his cast image is a lie, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of mockery. At the time of their punishment, they will perish. The portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the creator of everything, and the tribe of his inheritance. Yahweh of hosts is his name” (Jer 51:17–19). Jeremiah’s words teach us that we are lost without Yahweh as our guide. Without Him, we will, like Babylon, seek things as dumb as golden images. Yahweh, in His great love for us, guides us to Himself. In Him, we see love; in Jesus, we see His loving image made visible. In Yahweh, we see the way we should go; in Jesus, we see the way back to Yahweh. Are you seeking love or golden images? What law do you need to be free from? Are you fully living the good news?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 28: Unity
Jeremiah 52:1–34; Romans 14:13–15:7; Proverbs 29:1–27
Paul calls us to refrain from judging others (Rom 14:3). That’s easy enough to do when the people in our communities are the people we’d want to have over for dinner. What happens when those in our community don’t value (or disvalue) the things we value (or disvalue)? “Now may the God of patient endurance and of encouragement grant you to be in agreement with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that with one mind you may glorify with one mouth the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also has accepted you, to the glory of God” (Rom 15:5–7). In this portion of his letter, Paul asks the Roman believers to stretch themselves. For the Roman believers, judgment might have centered on the issue of eating the meat of unclean animals or the observance of Jewish holidays. Paul asks them to withhold judgment of one another because only God has that right (Rom 14:10). He also asks them not to “be a cause for stumbling or a temptation” for people who genuinely struggle with things from which others feel free. It’s easy to be in agreement when we’re in community with people of similar personalities, hobbies, and backgrounds. But when we need to be in agreement with someone who disagrees with the way we work out our faith, we feel inconvenienced. Here, Paul states that we not only need to be mindful; we need to be accepting. We can do so for one reason: “Christ also has accepted you” (Rom 15:7). We were reconciled to God while we were still His enemies (Rom 5:10). The great Peacemaker calls us to seek relationship with others because of His work. And His love puts our inconvenience in a whole new light. How are you seeking unity in Christ with those who don’t reflect the things you do (or don’t) value?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 29: The Grace of God Shines Through
Lamentations 1:1–2:22; Romans 15:8–21; Proverbs 30:1–33
I was once asked why the Bible is so brutal—why it depicts things like babies being killed and war. It’s true, the Bible has many moments of darkness and violence. But these depictions of the rawness of humanity—in all its ungratefulness and depravity—demonstrate how much people need God. And more than that, through these moments, the Bible shows how much people need a savior. The book of Lamentations is brimming with sorrow and gnashing of teeth. Little hope can be found in this book. The prophet weeps and moans over his fallen nation, over watching Jerusalem crumble. In this poetic work, we see people who don’t follow the God who loves them dearly and so badly yearns to see them return to Him. “How desolate the city sits that was full of people! She has become like a widow, once great among the nations! Like a woman of nobility in the provinces, she has become a forced laborer. She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears are on her cheeks; she has no comforter among all her lovers. All her friends have been unfaithful to her; they have become her enemies” (Lam 1:1–2). How can we process a passage like this? How can we handle this kind of depression? The first time I read the book of Lamentations, I wept. I had grasped a bit of what the prophet felt, and weeping was the only natural response. But it wasn’t just that. I saw myself as Jerusalem. I was her. I had walked away from God’s desire for my life, and I deserved destruction. Sometimes we must break before we can be rebuilt. Sometimes we must fall before we can rise to the greatness God has called us to. Are you Jerusalem? Call out to God like the prophet did. Tell God how you feel. Be honest with your mourning and your sadness. It may not make the fall easier, but it will surely make you more eager to accept the grace that God has offered. God wants you to experience His grace, including salvation in Christ. He wants you to live it. Are you in need of a savior? What are you requesting of God today? What grace do you need to receive?
JOHN D. BARRY
December 30: The Proverbs 31 Woman
Lamentations 3:1–66; Romans 15:22–33; Proverbs 31:1–19
A Proverbs 31 woman is hard to find, but it isn’t for lack of effort. She’s been the topic of more than a few Bible studies. She can be recognized by her many positive traits—strong, courageous, and trustworthy. She is hardworking, discerning, giving, dignified, business savvy, wise, and kind. If we’re looking for a vice or an Achilles heel, we’ll have to turn to another passage in the ot (we’re sure to find more failures than achievers within its pages). As we look through the list of qualities, though, it’s hard to check them all off, even for Type-A personalities. But the key to understanding the list of characteristics isn’t found in what we can attain. It’s found in the last verse—the crux of the poem. The crown of the woman’s wisdom isn’t her charm or her beauty or even her ability to “get things done.” It is her fear of Yahweh. This relationship with God guides all of her actions. If we’re trying to earn favor with God by being “the best version of myself” or “being the best me,” we’ll fail miserably. If we live to define ourselves by a task, or even a role, we’ll fall short every time. It’s God’s work in us—through Christ—that defines us. As redeemed people, we can strive to be wise and discerning thanks to the work of the Spirit. We can strive to be stewards of the time He’s given us. We can strive to live unselfishly in all of our relationships. When we fail, or when we fall short, we can trust that it’s not on our own merit that we find favor with Him. His favor extends from His enduring faithfulness to us. How do you rest in the “fear of the Lord”? How do all of your actions proceed from your relationship with Him?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
December 31: From Beginning to End
Lamentations 4:1–5:22; Romans 16:1–27; Proverbs 31:10–31
Endings are always difficult. But when they’re new beginnings, they’re revitalizing. At the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we not only see Paul the apostle, but Paul the empathetic and concerned pastor. Paul knows that if dissension or temptation rules over the Roman church, they will fail in their ministry, so he warns them (Rom 16:17–19) and offers them a word of hope: “And in a short time the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom 16:20). Here, Paul is echoing God’s words to Adam, Eve, and the serpent after the fall, when, instead of carrying out God’s request to bring order to creation (as He had done in the beginning), humanity turned from Him, defacing His image (Gen 1:1–2, 27–28; 3:14–20). But while Gen 3:15 merely depicts Satan biting the heel of humanity and being struck on the head in return (Gen 3:15), Paul depicts Satan as being crushed under the heel of the Church. Through Christ, people will be victorious over Satan. Christ did use, is using, and will continue to use people to restore order to the world. Paul sees the end as a time when Satan will no longer have control and Christians will be victorious through Christ. Satan is fighting a losing battle. His ravaging of humanity is temporary; likewise, in the ot, the prophet Jeremiah saw the other nations’ ravaging of God’s people as temporary. Jeremiah remarks: “You, O Yahweh, will sit forever on your throne for generation to generation.… Restore us to you, O Yahweh, that we will be restored; renew our days as of old” (Lam 5:19, 21). Yet Jeremiah must qualify his statement—he adds: “Unless you [Yahweh] have utterly rejected us, unless you are angry with us beyond measure” (Lam 5:22). Today, there is no qualification. Christ loves us beyond all measure. Satan has lost this battle. The ravaging of God’s people will come to an end when Jesus ultimately returns (Rev 22). The end is full of hope. The end is a new beginning. How can hope restore and revitalize your life?
JOHN D. BARRY