January 15: I Understand How They Felt
Genesis 26; Matthew 19:1–20:16; Ecclesiastes 6:1–4
“Allow the children, and do not forbid them to come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:14).
This is the type of Jesus I want to know. It’s easy for me to think of Jesus as a man I see in film or in Renaissance paintings—to make Him somehow distant in the process—but this Jesus is very compassionate and close. This Jesus takes the lowest members in society, outside of slaves, and promotes them to the ultimate status of equality: members of the kingdom of heaven, being God’s kingdom.
The disciples didn’t understand this yet; instead they rebuke the people bringing their children to Jesus (Matt 19:14). The people bringing their children simply wanted Jesus to lay His healing hands on them and pray for them; the disciples saw a threat to Jesus’ image. The image Jesus wanted to portray was the opposite.
It seems more often than not that I find myself worrying about the concerns of what others think, when I should be concerned about simply doing what these children were doing: scrambling to be close to my Lord, Jesus.
And that’s precisely what the young man in the next passage learns: Jesus wants him to be willing to give up everything and follow Him (Matt 19:16–30). The man knows what he needs to know, but he doesn’t feel about God the way Jesus desires for him to feel. Like the disciples, and like me, he is still in the process of recognizing what it means to follow Jesus.
For this reason, I’m seeking complete surrender to God—knowing that it’s not what gets me into the kingdom, but what makes me live life in a way that honors the kingdom.
In what ways is God asking you to obediently follow?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 16: Save Us!
Genesis 27, Matthew 20:17–21:22, Ecclesiastes 6:5–12
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matt 21:9). Idiomatically, this means: “Save [me], I pray, the Son of David. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Yahweh! Save [me], I pray, by the highest!”
When the people shout these words about Jesus as He enters Jerusalem, they affirm His divinely appointed role and His ability to save them. And the original psalm that this phrase comes from is about their God, Yahweh. Perhaps the people understood Jesus as one with God (Psa 118:25–26).
As He enters Jerusalem, Jesus’ actions align with Zech 9:9, which foretells of a savior-king who will enter on a donkey (Matt 21:5).
For first-century Jews, everything lined up to affirm Jesus as God’s way of bringing salvation, and they responded to Him as such. This prompts several questions: how often do we see the alignment between what’s happening and God’s plan? How many parallels or opportunities do we miss? And how often do we forget to say “save me”?
Whenever possible, and just like the whole city of Jerusalem during Passover, we should be stirred to ask, “Who is this?” (Matt 21:10).
What do you currently need Jesus to save you from? In what areas of life could you be missing out on Jesus’ presence? How can you make Him part of those areas of your life again?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 17: Cheer Up, Preacher
Genesis 28–29; Matthew 21:23–22:22; Ecclesiastes 7:1–5
Things are getting serious for the writer of Ecclesiastes (“the Preacher”), and sometimes confusing for us, as we follow him through the labyrinth of his discourse on the meaning of life. Death is better than birth, mourning is better than feasting, and sorrow is better than laughter? What happened to his “eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil” statements from earlier (Eccl 5:18)?
The Preacher might sound like he’s contradicting himself, but the twist in his argument is meant to show us exactly what folly we may be inadvertently embracing. It’s easy to brush over these verses while thinking in terms of standard, run-of-the-mill folly, or obvious sins.
But folly can even look like a daily routine: goals, successes, and our happy, fulfilling lives. It can take the form of anything that skims the surface of life, but keeps us from confronting our greatest need and the reality of eternity.
When life is good, it’s tempting to gloss over our need for God. Everything is going as planned, and it’s easy to rely on ourselves—not on Him. But the Preacher wants us to address this temptation. It might take death, or times of extreme pain and sadness, to help us realize the truth. Only when we attend a funeral or lose a family member does the veneer start to chip; then, we get a glimpse of the turmoil bubbling under the surface. Only when we’re convicted of our great need can we admit that we truly need a Savior.
Are your successes causing you to diminish your need for Christ?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
January 18: Giving Up Control
Genesis 30; Matthew 22:23–23:36; Ecclesiastes 7:6–12
We are born bent on our own ambitions. It’s in our nature to control and compete. And pride—often the source of this behavior—keenly notices the pride of others. Often, we want to point out the failing of the equally prideful and impose our own wills on them, while neglecting to see these traits in ourselves.
In Genesis 30, we find a myriad of characters who are bent on obtaining favor and selfish gain—often at the expense and exasperation of others. Rachel foolishly demands a son of Jacob (Gen 30:1) and then—because the family dynamics weren’t complicated enough—she has her handmaid bear her a child via Jacob. When she finally obtains a son, she is not joyful—she is triumphant: “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed” (Gen 30:8). Leah uses bribery and her own handmaid to gain the attention of her neglectful husband, while Laban and Jacob continue circling, using and manipulating one another (Gen 30:16, 25–36).
Though the battle is often with the other, ultimately the battle of wills ends with God. When we are bent on our own way with others, we don’t think about the one who leads and directs our lives. In Genesis 30, God is the one who is in control of events. Only when He “listened to Leah” or “remembers” Rachel do they bear children (Gen 30:17, 22–23).
Our wills are actually battling His, not theirs. The Great commandment in Matt 22 presents another approach and mode of operation: “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” If we first submit to this, the second will be easier: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
When we are right with God and we realize how patient He is with our weaknesses, we can learn to be patient with others.
How are you fighting for control of your life and the lives of others? How can you seek to submit your own will to God in humility?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
January 19: The Million Dollar Question
Genesis 31, Matthew 23:37–24:28, Ecclesiastes 7:13–21
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” This is an ancient question, though often asked as if it’s new. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says, “There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (Eccl 7:15).
Answers to this age-old question do exist, the simplest is that since people gave into temptation near the beginning, havoc—caused by humans and by evil spirits—has taken hold. The time between now and when God takes full control of the world again is just grace; the moment He does is the end for all evil, including those who have not chosen Christ as their Savior.
The only way to fix the world is to rid it of all evil, but the Preacher doesn’t offer this deductive explanation. Instead, he notes that life is a series of balancing acts, and he uses hyperbole to make his point (Eccl 7:16–17).
The Preacher goes on to say, “For the one who fears God shall come out from both of them”—that is, the bad and good experiences (Eccl 7:18). The real answer to that age-old question is as profound as the original: learn to respect God.
We won’t ever truly understand the complexities of good and evil, or the interactions of light and darkness—just like we will never understand our ever-changing universe—but there is solace in the knowledge that in the end, it’s about respecting God. And the first step towards doing that is having a relationship with Christ.
In what ways are you currently not respecting God’s role in your life? How can you change that?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 20: While You Are Waiting
Genesis 32–33; Matthew 24:29–25:13; Ecclesiastes 7:22–29
Jesus’ instructions to His disciples about His return have inspired many to incorrectly predict His second coming. But if we read His parables, we find that they’re not so focused on the future. Jesus prepares His disciples for His absence, and for the end times, because He wants them to be hopeful, expecting His return. He wants them to be ready and watchful. But He wants them to do all of these things by being fully engaged in the present, readying His kingdom.
Jesus’ parable of the Wise and Wicked Servants demonstrates this attitude. While the faithful and wise servant provides for the master’s household during his absence, the wicked servant uses the time flippantly: carousing and beating his fellow servants. When the master returns, the faithful servant is promoted for his service, and the wicked servant is punished. The parable presses the disciples to use their time wisely during Jesus’ absence by doing the work they were called to do.
The same exhortation goes out to us. Will we act like lone Christians—content to live life disconnected from God’s kingdom? Instead, we should be filled with hope, expectation, and overflowing with the good news. We should be willing to build up those around us, and attract those who have no hope.
As easy as it is to forget the eternal in our everyday lives, we can just as easily forget what God’s work right now means for eternity. Being actively engaged in the present means spreading the good news, and being involved in His work—using our gifts to nurture His coming kingdom.
Are you busy and active in God’s kingdom now? If not, what is keeping you from becoming so?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
January 21: Power, Authority, and Its Result
Genesis 34:1–35:15; Matthew 25:14–26:13; Ecclesiastes 8:1–9
“For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Eccl 8:6).
We all struggle with the future and the vast uncertainty it creates in our minds. It’s rarely the present that keeps us awake at night; it’s our concerns about what will happen if the present changes for better or worse.
But unlike other places in the Bible when we’re told not to worry, the words of Ecclesiastes 8:6 are set in the context of a request to obey the king of the land. This is not because the king is offered as a solution to the problems, although he could potentially help, but because like many other things, there is nothing that can be done about him. Why worry about that which you cannot change?
This situation is equated to life and death itself: “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the way of death” (Eccl 8:8). The Preacher of Ecclesiastes then goes on to reflect the cultural reality of the time: “There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.” Again, what can you change about it? If the king is corrupt, it will destroy him, like it will destroy others—it’s only a matter of time. Wickedness has no power to deliver; only the power to destroy.
And this is most pressing for reflection: Sin is often cast as an escape from life’s pains and sometimes feelings of meaninglessness, yet it really destroys life. (If only this reasoning was present in our thinking every time we were tempted.)
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes begins to draw his thoughts to a close by telling us: People’s power over one another is “hurt”—it’s painful (Eccl 8:9). Here in a passage about the need for people to be governed (that’s likely written by one in power), we see the author admit that power will inflict pain, or more literally “evil” or “badness.”
This startling reality forms another realization: In a world that was meant to have God as its king and ruler—in a world where that power only shifted after people sinned and were no longer allowed in the presence of their creator—it makes sense that power would corrupt. But we’re told: what can we do about it? The only thing we can do is to be people who choose to follow the good—the good God—and work toward the overthrowing of evil and the battle against corruption. But we must, along the way, realize that worry and anxiety will only paralyze, not help.
What do you need to pray about that is a worry or anxiety of yours? In what ways can you be an agent of change in the world, without succumbing to the pains it can bring?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 22: Be Vigilant
Genesis 35:16–36:43; Matthew 26:14–56; Ecclesiastes 8:10–17
Faith doesn’t always come to bear until we are faced with our own fallibility. When we “enter into temptation,” it often means we haven’t been vigilant—that we’ve stopped pursuing the God who has pursued us. In the aftermath of temptation, we recognize our spiritual laziness. We become wise—but remorsefully.
Vigilance and complacency are illustrated in the garden of Gethsemane. In His last moments, Jesus requests that His closest disciples stay awake with Him (Matt 26:38). But while He repeatedly prays, they fall asleep. What seems like a request for moral support gets defined a few verses later: “Stay awake and pray that you will not enter into temptation” (Matt 26:41). Staying awake is associated with spiritual awareness. And their sleep is costly. Because of their spiritual sleepiness, they’re not prepared for His end, even though He had repeatedly prepared them for His death. They abandon Him, and they even deny Him (Matt 26:56; 75).
But in this same passage, we get a picture of what vigilance looks like from the Son of God. Jesus anticipated His imminent suffering and death. “Deeply grieved, to the point of death,” He turns to the Father in prayer. Jesus boldly requests relief from suffering; when it is not granted, He submits to the Father’s will.
Being vigilant means seeking guidance and refuge from the God who provides it. He has provided refuge, but we must seek it out. This means asking for His Spirit to equip us for discernment. While we don’t know the challenges and temptations we’ll face, He does. And if we ask Him, He will provide us with all we need to face them.
Are you seeking God’s guidance today? No matter what your situation may be, pray for His Spirit to provide you with strength and discernment.
REBECCA VAN NOORD
January 23: Pride in Disguise
Genesis 37; Matthew 26:57–27:31; Ecclesiastes 9:1–6
Sometimes recognizing our sin for what it is can throw us into deep shame. In Matthew, we find that two of Jesus’ disciples experience this moment of remorse—Judas after he betrays Jesus, and Peter when he denies Jesus. From their responses, we learn what true repentance looks like.
Judas is remorseful when he realizes the enormity of his betrayal. But he doesn’t move from remorse to repentance. He tries to absolve his guilt by returning the payment he received for betraying Jesus—an attempt to buy back his innocence. And when the “blood money” is refused and he is unable to eliminate the guilt, Judas hangs himself (Matt 27:5).
Peter, the disciple with an impulsive, childlike loyalty to Jesus, denies his Lord when questioned by a mere servant girl. When Peter remembers Jesus’ prediction, he leaves, “weeping bitterly.” However, the Gospel of John tells us that Peter glorified God in his death (John 21:15–19).
When sin is exposed, stopping at realization and remorse is tempting. Reveling in self-hate and self-loathing can seem fitting—we feel like inflicting punishment on ourselves will somehow absolve our guilt. But this is simply another form of relying on ourselves—it is pride in disguise. We diminish the sacrifice that Christ has completed. We deny the freedom from guilt and shame that Jesus has bought for us at a costly sacrifice.
It’s only when we reach the end of our self-reliance and pride that we can look to the one who actually bore the guilt for us.
How are you holding on to guilt and shame?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
January 24: Undue Favor
Genesis 38–39; Matthew 27:32–28:20; Ecclesiastes 9:7–10
Genesis 38 interrupts the climax of the Joseph narrative with another tale: Judah and Tamar. Switching protagonists is surprising enough, but the tale itself shocks us. We’re hardly given time to process the strange cultural practices of the ancient Near East, prostitution, deception, and the sudden death of those who displease God before we’re returned to Joseph’s struggles in Egypt.
The story is additionally confusing because it seems to lack a hero. Judah uses Tamar, as his two sons did—though he at least acknowledges his actions. Tamar uses her wits and risks her life to secure a future for herself, but she does so through deplorable means.
Attempts have been made to justify the characters and put it all in perspective, but there is no neat packaging. The characters in this story face dire circumstances and a unique cultural context—one that is nearly impossible for modern readers to understand. But we don’t need a lesson in ancient Near Eastern cultural studies to see that they are fallible, and that they exploit others for their own ends. And we don’t need a history lesson to be able to identify with them. An honest look at ourselves reveals our own sins—subtly deplorable, and respectably wrapped.
So, why is this story in the Bible? Why this tale of woe? Surprisingly, there is a hero. As we read, we see that God also uses people for redemption, not exploitation. Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, is one in a long list of names that will lead to the birth of Christ. Through unlikely characters like Judah and Tamar, God prepared a way out of the sin that defined us.
Just like these characters, we are unlikely recipients of His favor.
How can you be thankful for God’s faithfulness in your life?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
January 25: Radiance
Genesis 40:1–41:37; Hebrews 1–2, Ecclesiastes 9:11–18
When I was a boy, my dad took me to his construction site, and told me, “Don’t look directly at the welding light; it can blind you.” But a welding flame is cool and dangerous. As my father was talking with the foreman, I fixated on the light. I saw spots for the rest of the evening, but didn’t tell anyone. I secretly feared that the radiance had actually blinded me.
The radiance of Christ is blinding—it was for Paul (Acts 9:1–31). In an epic hymn about the work of God’s Son throughout history, the author of Hebrews calls Jesus “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the representation of his essence, sustaining all things by the word of power” (Heb 1:3). It’s easy to wonder if sustainability is possible, if the world will one day crumble and fall. But in Christ, there is hope.
Jesus is much like the sun. You don’t always notice its power, warmth, or even that it’s there. That is especially the case for the cloudy days. We forget that without the sun, there would be no life. It’s easy to forget that it is warming us even through rain and clouds.
The same is true for Jesus in our lives. It’s easy to forget Him until we desperately need Him. It’s easy to overlook the daily miracles, such as life itself, when searching for something extraordinary. But the extraordinary is always present. It’s here in the work of Christ, every day. His radiance shines upon us, even when we don’t realize it.
What miracles can you recognize today?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 26: A Little Folly
Genesis 41:38–42:28; Hebrews 3:1–5:10; Ecclesiastes 10:1–9
Like dead flies in perfumer’s oil, the writer of Ecclesiastes aptly proclaims that a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. Sometimes fools are elevated to positions of power, while those who are fit for the position are given no influence. The Preacher says, “I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (Eccl 10:7).
It’s not difficult to nod our heads and say “Amen” when we come to this example of an “evil under the sun.” We probably all have a story to tell about a leader who wasn’t fit for a position and about the injustices we endured under their authority. When a fool is set up as an authority figure, everyone suffers.
The Preacher gives a suggestion, though: “If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest” (Eccl 10:4). This doesn’t just tell us we should have a posture of humility and obedience before bad leaders. We should also teach them by responding with love and humility—something that may calm even the worst of fools.
In Hebrews, we find the context for this. We stand naked and exposed to God, who judges our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts. On our own, sin and guilt would condemn us. But we have a high priest in Jesus Christ. He intercedes for us, just as the Old Testament high priests interceded for the people of Israel. Our confidence is not in our own wisdom and righteousness, but in Him.
We can’t credit ourselves for our own wisdom. We stand before God on account of His Son’s righteousness and obedience. Jesus is the one who is able to withstand our folly. We stand in His righteousness, and we can learn from His obedience.
How can you respond to authority in a way that reflects God’s righteousness?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
January 27: Revenge Isn’t Sweet
Genesis 42:29–43:34, Hebrews 5:11–7:28, Ecclesiastes 10:10–20
It’s easy to revel in vigilante justice, be joyful in the irony of someone getting “what’s coming to them,” or feel satisfied when “bad Karma comes back around” to others. The colloquialisms around the subject alone demonstrate our infatuation with justice. Joseph is similarly impassioned; he schemes against his brothers who sold him into slavery. At the beginning of Gen 43, Joseph’s brothers must go back to Egypt to request food from him—their younger brother, whom they do not recognize. Joseph waits for the youngest, Benjamin, to join them. What Joseph intends to do when he does, we’re not told.
When Benjamin and the other brothers arrive, Joseph is either moved with empathy or chooses to act upon his original plan of revealing himself in front of all his brothers (Gen 43:16, 29). Joseph even helps them financially, signaling that he somehow still cares for them (Gen 44). Yet it doesn’t seem that Joseph has forgiven them yet, because in Genesis 44, more evil schemes emerge.
The thought of others feeling the same kind of pain they have inflicted can cause us to feel remorse. But we’re always aware of the choice; we can choose to fight our instincts. We can recognize that instead of lashing back, the best answer is turning the other cheek. This may be easy for some, but for others—especially those who have been deeply hurt—abandoning the urge to inflict injury will require spiritual strength, prayer, and self-control.
Whom do you currently desire to see hurt? How can you let that feeling go? How can God help you release the situation to Him?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 28: Carpe Diem
Genesis 44; Hebrews 8–9; Ecclesiastes 11:1–4
The Latin phrase Carpe Diem, means “seize the day.” Taking risks to make your life extraordinary is biblical, if done according to God’s plan and principles. The idea behind this comes from Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Eccl 11:1).
Bread acts as the symbol for substance in the ancient world; the author of Ecclesiastes is suggesting that we should follow God’s plan, even at the possible cost of our livelihood. He then suggests that what we give to God, He will return. This is opposite from a self-protection mentality. The “waters” in the proverb represent chaos, suggesting that in letting go of even the most chaotic circumstances, we learn about God’s ability to give what we need.
This is further illustrated when the author says, “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.… He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap” (Eccl 11:2, 4). In other words, there is no real way to calculate the return on investment. Things can always go bad. But with God, that’s not the case. He honors the work of those who diligently follow Him and give of themselves.
In the eyes of the world, not everything will work out perfectly for those who willingly give to God. But it will work out in the spiritual long haul. So, when God calls us to something, the answer is Carpe Diem. And the question we should be asking Him is, “What can I do for you and your kingdom?”
What risks are you taking for God right now? Have you asked Him what risks He would like you to take?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 29: The New Deal
Genesis 45–46; Hebrews 10; Ecclesiastes 11:5–10
“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” These words were spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a speech which unveiled a series of economic strategies for ending the Great Depression.
We love newness because it holds hope. The same should be true when we look to the new covenant of Jesus. Although it may not feel quite as new as it did nearly 2,000 years ago—when it altered the spiritual landscape like the New Deal forced economic vitality into America—it still holds the same power today.
This covenant is first mentioned in Hebrews 8; and in Hebrews 10, we see the full implications of it: “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy.… Now where there is forgiveness of [sins], there is no longer an offering for sin” (Heb 10:14, 18). Prior to Jesus, there was a need for regular sacrifices for sins to be made, but since Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, that is no longer necessary.
I often forget just how radical this “new deal” is. In the midst of being busy, overwhelmed, or stressed, I neglect to acknowledge how much God has done for me. But every day, I live in His grace. Every day, I can be one with Him—no longer worrying about my past and future sins or shortcomings. And that is a day to be thankful for.
Have you thanked God today for the “new deal” He enacted through Jesus’ death and resurrection? What are some ways this gracious act can change or add to your interactions with God?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 30: Difficult Definitions
Genesis 47–48; Hebrews 11; Ecclesiastes 12:1–8
As an editor, I love definitions. The field of lexicography can be complex, but when a definition is finally solidified, there’s comfort to be found. It becomes something stable. This is also the reason I love the book of Hebrews: the author is keen on definitions, clarifying terminology, and using analogies to prove his points.
“Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the proof of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). In this succinct definition, I have perspective on the essence of faith. There is no room for doubt or error. The hope referred to is Jesus. And the proof is in an assurance that even though we cannot see Him, we have confidence in His work both presently and in the future.
The author goes on to say, “For by this [faith] the people of old were approved [by God]. By faith we understand the worlds were created by the word of God, in order that what is seen did not come into existence from what is visible.… By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out to a place that he was going to receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:2–3, 8).
Abraham, whose story is an exemplar of actions reflecting faith, shows us that belief is about hoping in God’s work in Christ. And in acting on that which He has promised but we are yet to see. That’s lexicography we can all depend upon.
How does this definition of faith (or belief) change your perspective on living a life that is faithful to Christ?
JOHN D. BARRY
January 31: Discipline
Genesis 49–50; Hebrews 12–13; Ecclesiastes 12:9–14
I was a stubborn child. When disciplined by my parents, I would sulk for hours afterward. I didn’t see discipline from my parents’ perspective—as something that would mold me into a mature, loving person.
Hebrews 12 has a lesson for people like me with a history of wallowing in self-pity when disciplined. Here, the writer of Hebrews tells us that God, a Father to us through the work of Jesus, disciplines us for our good. To emphasize this, the writer of Hebrews draws on the book of Proverbs, where the Father instructs His own Son. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, or give up when you are corrected by him. For the Lord disciplines the one who he loves, and punishes every son whom he accepts” (Heb 12:6; compare Prov 3:11–12).
The author tells us that being disciplined is a sign of God’s love. It means He is working and active in our lives (Heb 12:8). Like a chastised child, we might not always recognize God’s discipline this way. When challenged by our circumstances, we might struggle against events that are meant to shape us for holiness and eternity. We might even avoid subjecting ourselves to them because we don’t see God as the author of the event.
Sometimes our parents’ form of discipline gives us a tainted view of its purpose. Imperfect, like us, they disciplined us “for a few days according to what seemed appropriate to them.” It may have been harmful and destructive. But God disciplines us “for our benefit, in order that we can have a share in his holiness” (Heb 12:10). Because His intentions are perfect, we know that He has our ultimate good in mind. And we can approach discipline like a student, ready to learn how to better serve Him—and others—for His kingdom.
How do you respond to God’s discipline in your life? How can you change your attitude so that you view them as teachable moments and not a means to inflict harm?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
February 1: God’s Ideas: More than Good
Exodus 1–3; John 1:1–18; Song of Solomon 1:1–4
It’s exciting to see ideas take shape and then become reality. Even more exciting, though, is when God’s ideas take form. The Bible shows us these events repeatedly. As the reader, we’re given glimpses into what God is really doing—events the characters are unaware of. Or we have a hint all along that God is up to something unexpected, and that He will make good out of the evil that’s happening.
The story of Moses is like this. God’s people are terribly oppressed, but they are many (Exod 1). And we all know there is power in numbers. When baby Moses comes along, we’re ready for something amazing to happen. It will be from this unassuming moment that God will do the least expected (Exod 2:1–10): He will help those on the underside of power. Our suspicion is confirmed when Moses is willing to kill for justice (Exod 2:11–12). Moses flees, and then God hears Israel’s complaints about the pain they’re enduring (Exod 2:23–25). He answers their cry by calling Moses (Exod 3:1–22). Moses is hesitant because he can’t speak well, but God will (as we thought) use this unexpected turn of events (Exod 4:10–17).
Like Moses’ story, we see behind the veil at the beginning of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word … And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:1, 14, 17). God gave Moses His law, and He gave Moses the opportunity to guide His people from oppression to the wilderness and almost to freedom. But He gave Jesus grace and truth.
And that’s the message of the testaments: from cry to freedom cry, from calling upon God to salvation, and from merely men guided by God, to God in a man guiding men. Our love for God should be every bit as great—and far greater—than the love shown by the chorus of people in Song of Solomon. We must say about our God, like they say about people, “Let us be joyful and let us rejoice in you; let us extol your love more than wine. Rightly do they love you!” (Song 1:4).
We are called to see God’s work in our everyday life. We must recognize His story. He’s involved. Are we?
Are you worshiping God with your entire being—seeing His workings in your everyday life?
JOHN D. BARRY
February 2: The Problem with Power
Exodus 4–6; John 1:19–34; Song of Solomon 1:5–7
Grasping for power is one of the easiest sins to fall into. At first it looks like ambition, then it looks like success, and then it quickly becomes about your success and your power. This can be costly—not just to you, but to all the people you hurt in the process. If anything is done for the purpose of power, it’s not worth achieving. And don’t let the snazzy word “influence” fool you; it’s just a synonym for the same empty desire.
John the Baptist is an example of ambition; he is fueled by passion but constantly checked by God’s calling. He is firm in his words, confident in what he must do, but humble in his understanding of his relationship to God. He is not in it for himself, but for Jesus. When asked, “Who are you?” (a leading question, since many believed him to be the Messiah the people expected), he replied, “I am not the Christ!” (John 1:19–20). When further questioned, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” (the supreme prophet besides the Messiah), he says, “No!” (John 1:21). When asked again about his identity, he finally responds, “I am the ‘voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’ just as Isaiah the prophet said” (John 1:23).
John affirmed his identity as prophet, but he assumed nothing. He didn’t even assume what ended up being the truth: that he was a type of Elijah, as Jesus would later say (Matt 17:12–13). When given the opportunity to reach for power, to be known as the Messiah, John said no. He would not claim authority that had not been given to him.
And this is where affirmation can be a scary thing. Just because other people think you’re something special doesn’t mean you should go along with what they say about you. Doing so is dangerous. John the Baptist’s humility sets the stage for Jesus, and he ends up getting one of the greatest gifts of all: the chance to baptize Jesus.
The road between affirming God’s calling and grasping for power is narrow and rocky. But when you’re on the right path, you will feel it in your bones, and the Spirit of God will affirm it.
How are you grasping for power? How is ambition throwing off the alignment of your calling?
JOHN D. BARRY
February 3: Wisdom Can Quickly Become Folly
Exodus 7–8; John 1:35–51; Song of Solomon 1:8–14
What we need to hear and what we want to hear are rarely the same thing. Leaders who encourage honesty, allow for errors, and establish an environment of trust usually hear what they need to hear. A dictator, on the other hand, will never learn what they really need to know. People shield them or stay away from them; an environment of fear is only destructive. It’s with this point in mind that the story of Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh becomes even more intriguing.
Pharaoh surrounded himself with people who would tell him what he wanted to hear (Exod 7:22), not what he needed to hear: “You’re oppressing the Hebrew people and they will rise up against you. And furthermore, we’re afraid of their God and we can’t really do what He can do. We’re small-time dark magic; their God is the big time.” Instead of speaking this truth, Pharaoh’s advisors went on pretending and conjuring up cheap tricks.
Plague after plague hit Egypt, but Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. And this is where we don’t really know what happened: when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, was it already too difficult for Pharaoh to give in on his own accord? We don’t know the answer, but we do know that God ended up making an example of his foolishness.
Even when water turns to blood, frogs appear everywhere—followed shortly by gnats and flies (Exod 7:14–8:32)—Pharaoh didn’t listen. Instead of turning to Yahweh, he turned to the same sources: his gods, his belief that he is a god (common for Egyptians), and his ill-advised counselors. And that’s the lesson: if you surround yourself with “yes” people, they will say yes, and you will be ignorant. You will lose, and you will end up on the wrong side of God.
Who do you turn to for advice? Are your friends, mentors, and church leaders more apt to tell you the truth or say something that makes you happy? If it’s the latter, who can you turn to who will speak honestly to you about faith?
JOHN D. BARRY
February 4: What Type of Savior?
Exodus 9:1–10:29; John 2:1–12; Song of Solomon 1:15–17
It’s tempting to operate life on our own terms and only call on God when we hit a crisis. If we’re not busy studying how God has worked in the past and relying on the work of the Spirit in our lives, we can easily fall into the pattern of calling on Him to meet our desires rather than realizing that He is the first to deliver what we need.
In John 2, we get a sense of what this was like for Mary and the disciples at the wedding in Cana. While Mary wants Jesus to save the day—and save the bridegroom from certain ruin and humiliation—Jesus shows her that He is no magician. His soft rebuke reminds her that His plan of salvation exceeds what she can perceive: “What does your concern have to do with me, woman? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). (This phrase seems derogatory to our modern ears, but it actually would have been normal language between a son and mother in the first century AD.) However, after doing so, He willingly and liberally grants her request.
Those who were closest to Jesus didn’t yet understand the role He came to fulfill. This miracle, the first in a series in the Gospel of John, helped Jesus’ disciples believe in Him (John 2:11). But even throughout His ministry and the witnessing of other miracles, they would struggle to fully understand why He came. He constantly needed to remind and correct them.
God knows our need, and He made a plan to meet that need. His glory was displayed at Cana, but His purpose for coming—for redeeming both us and them—would be revealed at another event that would confound human understanding: the shame and glory of the cross. He fulfilled that need. And today, we can go to Him for all of our needs. If it is in His will, He will grant it.
How do you rely on Jesus to fulfill your deepest need?
REBECCA VAN NOORD