July 1: God Makes Good out of Trouble
1 Samuel 1:1–2:21; James 1:1–8; Psalm 119:1–16
God often shows His goodness to us through trials, making good out of human error. We see this principle in the lives of Elkanah and Hannah. Elkanah was prone to make mistakes. His first mistake was to marry two wives (1 Sam 1:1–4); his second blunder was to ignore his wives’ disputes (1 Sam 1:6). On top of that, he repeatedly imposed his own form of justice by giving Hannah double what he offered Peninnah, his other wife (1 Sam 1:5). In this story, however, the goodness of God redeems the mistakes made by fallible people. Despite Elkanah’s generosity to her, Hannah was deeply disturbed: Nothing Elkanah offered could compensate for her barrenness (1 Sam 1:8–10). In this period, women who had not borne children were often considered accursed and second rate, as demonstrated by Peninnah’s persecution of Hannah. In her distress, Hannah prayed to God at the temple, seeking redemption. Eli the priest recognized the sincerity of her plea and blessed her (1 Sam 1:15–18). God also recognized Hannah’s sincerity, and He answered her call by giving her a son, Samuel, who would grow up to be a great prophet (1 Sam 1:19–28). Hannah’s son offered her hope; in response, she delivered a beautiful piece of poetry to honor Yahweh’s goodness (1 Sam 2:1–11). This poem was so significant that Mary would later echo it in her own song of praise (see Luke 1:46–56). Through Hannah’s story, we see that God’s work among His people is so interconnected that He often chooses to answer not only our prayers, but also the prayers of others in the process. In scenes like this—where God not only makes good out of a bad situation, but also sets up a providential event in the history of His people—we see much of the framework for the Christian life. New Testament writers including James drew on stories such as Hannah’s when discussing the trials of God’s people. In the first century AD, James remarks in a letter: “Consider it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], whenever you encounter various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:2–4). Hannah’s story shows us that when we pray to God, He shows up. And in the midst of our dire circumstances, He answers the call of not one, but many people. Here, in the pain, we learn what it means to know our Lord and savior. What trials are you currently experiencing? What do you think God is doing through them?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 2: Conflict and Certainty
1 Samuel 2:22–4:22; James 1:9–18; Psalm 119:17–32
Conflict drives fiction and riveting movies, but if we had it our way, we’d live stable, stress-free lives. We might crave the excitement or change of a vacation, but we rarely welcome an unexpected complication. So when James says to “count it all joy … when you meet trials of various kinds” (Jas 1:2), we are tempted to dismiss his perspective as something that works on paper but should not disrupt our real lives. James shows us how to internalize a faithful response to unwelcome conflict. He starts by describing a negative reaction: When difficult times come, we might be like the person who prays and then doubts that God will provide him with wisdom for the situation. This person complicates the conflict by internalizing it with uncertainty and doubt. He is “like the surf of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed about” (Jas 1:6). The irony is that, although we only create more conflict when we doubt, we like to think we can trust ourselves. As long as we remain in control (we tell ourselves), we can avoid the storms of life. It’s tempting to manufacture an attitude of stubborn self-sufficiency—of inner strength. That’s the opposite of how we should respond. God wants us to meet the chaos by trusting in Him. We might feel tossed about by life’s events, but God provides us with wisdom for the chaos we encounter. When we ask Him and trust that He’ll provide us with wisdom, He gives generously and without reproach (Jas 1:5). Stability isn’t an inner strength, but certainty in God’s provision is. We can meet the uncertain with the certain when we trust God to help us work through the chaos. We can also remember that, at the end of the novel, the protagonist who endures conflict is changed by the experience. In the same way, God is working through the conflict in our lives to make us more wholly devoted to Him, since “testing produces steadfastness” (Jas 1:3). And there will be an end: We’ll “receive the crown of life that he has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12). How are you turning to Christ in the midst of difficult circumstances?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 3: God’s Unseen Work
1 Samuel 5:1–7:17; James 1:19–27; Psalm 119:33–48
We often fail to discern when and how it happens: God will work something out in our lives that seems virtually impossible. We get an unexpected insight into the workings of God in 1 Sam 5. After defeating Israel in battle, the Philistines stole the ark of the covenant, recognizing it as a powerful weapon of war. They didn’t realize that it couldn’t be wielded by human hands. They set it up next to the idol of their god, Dagon, unaware that the ark was the representation of Yahweh on earth. Yahweh does what He wills. In this case, He willed the ark to be returned to Israel, so He destroyed the idol and afflicted the people with disease. First Samuel notes, “The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people,” (1 Sam 5:6); in fact, it was so heavy that the Philistines wanted the ark gone. After seven months, they returned it to the Israelites (1 Sam 6:10–16). If the Philistines could recognize the work of Yahweh among them, you would think the Israelites could do the same. They should have responded to the ark’s return by praising God, rejoicing, and turning back to Him. But in their failure to discern God’s hand in the event, they continued to worship foreign gods until Samuel, their judge and prophet, demanded that they change their actions (1 Sam 7). This illustrates a problem with our perception of God’s work: We fail to see His work on our behalf and chalk things up to circumstance or coincidence. We stick with our idols because it’s easier than admitting the truth to ourselves—for the moment we acknowledge God is at work, we must turn away from the easy path of selfish ambitions and actions. When God’s people pray, He answers—often in unexpected and miraculous ways. While we don’t often see His hand at work, we do have an opportunity each day to look for God acting among us and turn away from anything we put in His place. Let’s do so today. Where have you seen God working in your life? What idols is He asking you to turn away from?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 4: Making Distinctions
1 Samuel 8:1–9:27; James 2:1–13; Psalm 119:49–64
We’re often entranced by those who have what we don’t—riches, popularity, position, and power. We want to befriend cool moms, hipsters with ironic mustaches, and supervisors who can get us to the next step on the corporate ladder. We relate to them differently, even though we know we shouldn’t. Our problem is one of perception. In his letter, James reprimands members of the early church community who were displaying partiality by honoring the rich and overlooking the poor. James shows them that they need to reset their standards because making distinctions in this way doesn’t reflect God’s nature, and it doesn’t reflect the grace He extends to us: “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (Jas 2:5). We shouldn’t act with partiality because God didn’t deal with us in that way. We don’t deserve God’s love, yet He, in His perfect holiness, chose to give it to the unpopular, the uncool, the dirty, and the undeserving—which is all of us. James shows us that the proper response to this grace is to love our neighbor: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (Jas 2:8). Brought into a new community of faith based on grace, Christ-followers aren’t meant to live by the judgment-based standards of their old way of being. The members of James’ community had to reset their standards, and that’s a message we still need to hear today. Do you make distinctions? How can you view others through the grace that God has shown to you?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 5: Discernment, Knowledge, and Action
1 Samuel 10:1–11:15; James 2:14–18; Psalm 119:65–80
We often wonder whether God hears our prayers. Even when we acknowledge that God deals with each petition we send His way, we experience doubt because we don’t understand how He has handled our plea. Yet instead of asking “Is God hearing me?” we should be asking God to help us grow closer to Him and gain a better understanding of His ways. We should echo the words of the psalmist, “You have dealt well with your servant, O Yahweh, according to your word. Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe your commands” (Psa 119:65–66). We often misunderstand the concepts of discernment and knowledge. Discernment allows us to know God’s will and perceive the decisions He would have us make. Knowledge helps us to understand God Himself, primarily His character. Both of these concepts are grounded in our relationship with God and others, both empower us to work for Him—and we are called to cultivate both qualities in our lives. Unless we know God, we’re incapable of successfully doing His work. We must be willing to talk to God honestly about our relationships, as the psalmist does in Psalm 119:69–72. The psalmist acknowledges that he needs God’s help in all matters of his relationship with God and all matters of his relationship with others. He understands that he cannot even begin to know God without the power of God helping him. We must be empowered for action, both in the intimacy of prayer and in the reality of relationships. And we must support what we believe with our works, as the letter of James call us to do: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:14–26). Reflecting regularly on how God has worked with us and is working in us allows us to recognize that everything in our lives has a purpose. God often works in others through us, and that great calling requires us to have knowledge of Him and discernment about His workings in our world. How are you discerning the great work of God in your life? How are you enhancing your knowledge of God?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 6: Faith
1 Samuel 12:1–13:23; James 2:19–26; Psalm 119:81–96
Sometimes it’s difficult to view our lives as a whole. We fulfill different roles as we interact with different people at school, home, work, and even church. In the natural donning and discarding of these roles, we might be tempted to compartmentalize our lives, yet we do so to the detriment of our faith. Even as we read our Bibles with intellectual vigor at home and participate in a small group at church, we might miss the mark of application. We forget to connect the dots, neglecting to treat our coworkers with kindness and our peers with love. We can know our faith intellectually but still miss out on the call to action and the response of obedience in our lives. But James shows us that belief and action are inextricably linked. When we think about them as separate entities, we develop a deep-rooted problem: “But do you want to know … that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith was working together with his works, and by the works the faith was perfected” (Jas 2:20–22). James wasn’t arguing that Abraham earned his righteousness before God; rather, Abraham was acting out of obedience as a response of faith. As people who have been redeemed by Christ, we can joyfully express our faith—we are enabled to do good works because of His work. Although we won’t attain perfect obedience in this life, we will desire obedience and love. We will desire to use our lives to apply what we know in our heads and feel in our hearts. Because of our faith, we will do good works. Real faith doesn’t sit still, but it doesn’t move on its own, either. We need to pray for God’s Spirit to ignite this desire in us, prompting us to act with love and obedience. In what area of your life are you missing the mark of application? How can you pray for wisdom in that situation? How can you act faithfully?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 7: Recasting Faith
1 Samuel 14:1–52; James 3:1–12; Psalm 119:97–120
Faith is often cast as a type of intellectual pursuit: It’s something our minds rise up to, conform to, or simply agree with. But in the Bible, faith is often portrayed as rather mystical: Jonathan somehow knew that God would act on his behalf if his enemies behaved in a certain way (1 Sam 14:1–15). We don’t know how Jonathan had this foreknowledge—prayer seems to be the only explanation for it—but we recognize that Jonathan had tremendous faith. Who else would take on a garrison of 20 men, armed with only one armor bearer and a hunch? Clearly God was at work. We see God’s work progress as the Philistines inadvertently turned on one another, and previous enemies of Israel joined in the charge against the Philistines (1 Sam 14:16–23). Jonathan’s simple act of faith served as the catalyst for victory. If he had analyzed his inclination and pursued faith without mystery, the Israelites likely would have failed in their campaign against the Philistines. Yet the real testimony of faith in this account belongs to the armor bearer. After hearing Jonathan’s plan, the armor bearer said, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul” (1 Sam 14:7). While the armor bearer was obligated to follow the king’s son on pain of death, when faced with what appeared to be inevitable death, he could have played his odds by saying no. This scene tells us more about Jonathan: He was known for his faith in God—so much so that his armor bearer took him at his word. I often wonder what makes a man heroic and others forever loyal to him. In Jonathan, we find the answer: a history of God working through your life and a dedication to follow the mystery of God’s work among us, no matter what stands against us. Is your faith primarily intellectual, or is it grounded in the mystery of God? How can you bring more of God’s mystical work into your life?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 8: Honor, Credit, and Godly Wisdom
1 Samuel 15:1–35; James 3:13–18; Psalm 119:121–136
We’re primed to seek validation. Earning “likes” on our social media outlets gives us a sense of self-worth. Getting kudos for a good idea at work makes us feel important. When this is how we derive our self-worth, the opposite will also be true: Being overlooked can crush us, making us angry and jealous if others have stolen the limelight. If we’re not careful, we can easily become ruled by our need for validation. James calls this mindset and behavior “earthly,” “unspiritual,” and even “demonic” (Jas 3:15). When we are guided by it, chaos reigns: “For where there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice” (Jas 3:16). We may be aware of how often we are tempted to follow our earthly responses, and we might try to practice restraint. We try to filter the forces at work inside us, but this won’t solve the heart of the problem, as James shows us. He contrasts human ambition with godly wisdom, which “comes from above” (Jas 3:15). He lists the virtues that display godly wisdom: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, obedient, full of mercy and good fruits, nonjudgmental, without hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17). We can’t attain these virtues on our own. When we’re tempted to follow our gut response, to protect and promote our own image, we have to examine our hearts and confess our earthly desires to God. Then, we should seek the wisdom from above—the wisdom found in Jesus. Only He can make us new, and His Spirit can enable us to intentionally follow Him and seek godly wisdom. How are you seeking and praying for godly wisdom?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 9: Moving Forward
1 Samuel 16:1–23; James 4:1–17; Psalm 119:137–152
Moving on after a person, a hope, or a dream has died can be one of the most difficult challenges of life. It certainly was for Samuel. The prophet Samuel believed that God had chosen Saul as king, but Saul failed God and His people (1 Sam 15:10–35). Now God was ready to select a new king, but Samuel was dragging his feet. Moving forward meant readjusting his expectations about the future and about God’s work in general. God called him out on his hesitancy: “How long will you mourn about Saul? I have rejected him from king over Israel! Fill up your horn with oil and go” (1 Sam 16:1). Samuel had to learn that things rarely play out the way we think they will. We inevitably end up on a different path than we planned—whether because of our own actions or because God’s route turns in a direction we never anticipated. The key is recognizing the changes when they occur and preparing ourselves for a new reality. Clinging to misguided expectations can drive us into the ground, effectively driving God’s work out of us. Unlike Samuel, Saul’s problem was not that God sent him in a new direction. Saul created his own situation when he chose a different route—he disobeyed, and God responded by taking away from Saul what was his to steward but not to own: a kingdom. Saul’s story illustrates James’ statement, “From where are conflicts and from where are quarrels among you? Is it not from this, from your pleasures that wage war among your members?” (Jas 4:1). But Saul’s ultimate responsibility did not lessen Samuel’s pain. All of us must be willing to realign our expectations. More important, we must seek to be aligned with God all along. We must move on from destructive behaviors and disobedience. Along the way, we must be mindful of the things God wants to create, and we must be ready to respond when God calls us to “Fill your horn with oil and go.” What do you think God is asking you to move on from today? What is He asking you to move toward?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 10: Oppressors, Victims, and a Just God
1 Samuel 17:1–58; James 5:1–12; Psalm 119:153–176
Contemporary culture is often pegged as self-indulgent: We live in a have-it-now world, and we don’t always think about the repercussions of our actions. But when we read James’ letter to the early church, we find that self-indulgence isn’t a modern phenomenon. In his letter James addresses two groups of people. First, he reprimands the self-indulgent rich who live without thinking about the repercussions of their actions, either for others or for themselves. The day is coming when they will have to account for all their evil deeds: “Come now, you rich people, weep and cry over the miseries that are coming upon you!” (Jas 5:1). James presents them with a harsh picture of what they have been doing: “You have fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter” (Jas 5:5). They have behaved like animals; their judgment will come. James also writes to a second group: those who are oppressed. He encourages this group to be patient “until the coming of the Lord,” to exhibit the perseverance of farmers who wait for “the precious fruit of the soil” (Jas 5:7). He recognizes that often, when we’re oppressed or hurt, it’s difficult to avoid living in those wounds—they color our world and our interactions with others. We become bitter and selfish. James tells the oppressed: “do not complain against one another, in order that you may not be judged” (Jas 5:9). Both oppressors and victims put themselves in danger unless they repent and focus on God, who will set all things right. Self-indulgent, self-seeking living appears even in the smallest decisions of our lives. Or we act from a place of woundedness, and we fail to move on to forgiveness. God loves justice, and He gives hope to those who hope in Him. Examine your life, abandon your self-indulgence and your grievances, and seek the one who makes all things right and new. How can you leave your hurts at the cross? How can you move from self-indulgence to trust in God’s ability to make things right?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 11: Best Friends Forever
1 Samuel 18:1–19:24; James 5:13–20; Psalm 120:1–7
This generation has more opportunities for communication than any before it, with email and social networking making it possible to interact with others 24/7. Yet suicide rates are higher than ever, and antidepressant medications have become almost standard fare. We have more connections than ever before, but they’re not relationships. We still feel alone. People need authentic community—a sense of communing with someone—to feel whole and healthy. The story of David and Jonathan portrays the true nature of friendship: “the soul of Jonathan became attached to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1). Jonathan could easily have been jealous of his friend; David was a great warrior and had just been brought into the household of Jonathan’s father, the king, as the king’s protégé (1 Sam 17:48–58; 18:2). Instead of being jealous, Jonathan responded with love and kindness, and the two became the most steadfast friends. Authentic relationship is built on trust, which often starts when one person sacrifices himself for the other. Jonathan made such a sacrifice: “Jonathan stripped off the robe that he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his fighting attire, and even his sword, his bow, and his belt” (1 Sam 18:3–4). Because Jonathan loved David as a friend, their relationship grew into a deep-rooted loyalty. When we share that deep trust and loyalty with a friend, we can grow in God’s will together. We all need someone we can rely on; David and Jonathan demonstrate how powerful such a relationship can be. They teach us what it means to follow Yahweh with someone else at your side. In the early Church, authentic relationships were not just an idea—they were a way of life: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the elders of the church and they should pray over him, anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord” (Jas 5:14). The early Church didn’t respond to sickness or pain by saying, “I’ll pray for you.” They actually prayed. Just as Jonathan, in one swift action, gave David the honor of being like the king’s son, so the early Church swiftly took care of their own. They made friends by being loyal, as Christ was loyal to them. They created community by showing love and kindness without requiring that kindness to be returned. But the return on investment was great: It laid the foundation for a worldwide movement. How can you show authentic friendship to others?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 12: Eternal Hope
1 Samuel 20:1–21:15; 1 Peter 1:1–12; Psalm 121:1–122:9
We don’t often realize where we put our hope. We can seek sustenance, energy, or relief in the most transient, innocuous things—from our morning coffee to a vacation we’ve been anticipating for months. These things are not bad in themselves, but if they constantly serve as minor fixes in our daily lives, they can shift our focus. We can end up trading God’s help for caffeine and a few days in the sun. The trouble arises when we fail to see the complexity in our motives. The psalmist helps us look beyond what seems comforting and shielding: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains; whence will my help come? My help is from Yahweh, maker of heaven and earth” (Psa 121:1). The psalmist uses the hills and mountains to point us beyond what we can see to the true source of help and protection. These stationary shields seem to offer protection, but God is the true source of help and refuge in our often chaotic circumstances. He is constantly present—“your shade at your right hand” (Psa 121:5). In his letter to the churches in Asia Minor, Peter addresses the “various trials” the early church faced (1 Pet 1:6). He encourages the church members to endure trials and persecution, telling them they are “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:5). In the midst of trial, their faith in the resurrected Christ gave them the ultimate security and strength (1 Pet 1:4). They had hope through suffering. We think of trials on a grand scale—sickness and persecution. But we need to meet even daily trials with this same eternal hope. We need to constantly find relief, energy, and hope in God. Where do you seek relief, energy, and hope?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 13: Unity in Adversity
1 Samuel 22:1–23:29; 1 Peter 1:13–19; Psalm 123:1–124:8
Distress can unite people. In difficult moments, in shared pain, we discover our true friends. When David fled from King Saul, his divided family was suddenly supportive of him, as was every man in the region who was distressed or indebted (1 Sam 22:1–2; compare 1 Sam 17:28–30). A shared sense of despair reveals the humanity in us all, helping us to get past our disputes and work together for one purpose. For a disjointed band of brothers to be united beyond initial circumstance, they must have one purpose. That’s precisely what David gave his motley crew: They would fight the Philistines (Israel’s greatest enemies) together (1 Sam 23:1–5). David took a terrible situation and turned it into an opportunity to do what needed to be done. As rightful king, David was obligated to protect Israel. Yet it still took outstanding courage and raw leadership to act upon that obligation. When most people would have been paralyzed by fear, David was prepared for action—and that marked him as Israel’s new leader. David’s strength in adversity enabled him to unite people for a cause, and his God-centered focus made him the ideal leader of God’s people. Peter’s remark in his first letter resonates with this idea: “When you have prepared your minds for action, by being self-controlled, put your hope completely in the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former desires you used to conform to in your ignorance” (1 Pet 1:13–14). The ignorance Peter addresses is sin. Although David was dealing with someone else’s sin, both he and Peter identify the same solution: Focus on God and His work. When things get difficult, we should be aware of how we are being subtly drawn away from God’s work. If we can stay focused on Christ, we can stay focused on God’s purposes. In return, we will find the ability to lead any motley crew toward redemption. Where is God calling you to lead? How can you shift your focus to be stronger in this task?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 14: Surprise Redemption
1 Samuel 24:1–25:44; 1 Peter 1:20–25; Psalm 125:1–127:5
We often fail to be amazed at redemption. Perhaps we’re only dimly aware of our own failings—or (worse) we are blind to how amazing it is that God has shown us grace at all. In Psalm 126 the psalmist describes the joy that should come as a response to God’s redemption. In the past God’s restorative work had cast Israel into a state of surprised shock—they “were like dreamers” (Psa 126:1). They were filled with laughter and praise. His glory was present, and His redemption was a mighty witness to both the Israelites and the surrounding nations (Psa 126:2). But the psalmist quickly reveals that Israel is still in need of restoration. Likely taken into captivity, the people live in hope and anticipation that God will restore them once more: “Those who sow with tears shall reap with rejoicing. He who diligently goes out with weeping, carrying the seed bag, shall certainly come in with rejoicing, carrying his sheaves” (Psa 126:5–6). In his letter to early churches, Peter speaks about the hope that the prophets had foretold and the things that angels were curious about—the grace prepared through His Son (1 Pet 1:10–12). Peter tells them that this savior “was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has been revealed in these last times for you” (1 Pet 1:20). This surprise redemption is unlike any other. Its hope—Christ’s sure resurrection—gives us incredible security: We have been “born again, not from perishable seed but imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). We should be awed by this incredible hope and respond with obedience, praise, and love for our neighbor (1 Pet 1:22). Are you awed by God’s grace?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 15: Reframe It
1 Samuel 26:1–27:12; 1 Peter 2:1–12; Psalm 128:1–129:8
“ ‘Too often they have attacked me from my youth.’ Let Israel say, ‘Too often they have attacked me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me’ ” (Psa 129:1–2). As these verses show, sometimes problems can be solved by simply reframing the issue at hand. Peter makes a “reframing” move in his first letter. He could have focused on the people’s sin and their general need to repent, but then their attention would be on the problem, not solving it. So he shifts the focus: “Therefore, ridding yourselves of all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn infants long for the unadulterated spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Pet 2:1–2). Peter calls them to approach their relationship with Christ like a newborn would milk. They must make Christ such a priority that He becomes something they need and long for. And as they long, their sinful behavior will be resolved. Similarly, Peter addresses the people’s conflict with their culture as an opportunity for God to make them strong, like the stones used to build strong foundations: “And you yourselves, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). We can always choose where to place our attention. Often, we turn our attention toward preventing something (sin) at the cost of actually doing something good (growing in the Lord). If we keep our focus on our relationship with Christ, we can rise above our circumstances and find victory. “The blessing of Yahweh be upon you. We bless you in the name of Yahweh” (Psa 129:8). Reframing our lives makes way for blessing—it gives God room to do transformative work. What is God asking you to reframe? Where is your focus?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 16: Jack-in-the-Box Pride
1 Samuel 28:1–29:11; 1 Peter 2:13–17; Psalm 130:1–131:3
It’s dangerous to become too confident in the maturity of our own faith. Our pride is like the spring of a jack-in-the-box: Just when we think it’s broken or that we’ve gotten the lid on tight, it springs back to life. It rears its ugly head, bobbing around like a circus fool. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own achievements—even when it comes to faith. We can grow in knowledge and then look down on others who still need to grow. The psalmist of Psa 131 presents the solution with a sure, succinct declaration. He fully submits to God’s order. He doesn’t wrestle with the things that don’t make sense—he is able to place these in God’s hand. His inner peace comes from total trust in God: “My heart is not haughty nor my eyes arrogant, And I do not concern myself with things too great and difficult for me. Rather I have soothed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like the weaned child is my soul with me” (Psa 131:1–2). Maturity of faith is found in childlike trust—trust that sees ourselves as small and God as mighty. Peter also speaks about peace that is a result of having faith that submits to God. Submission allows us to act wisely in a situation, all “for the sake of the Lord” (1 Pet 2:13). Doing good will silence the ignorant (1 Pet 2:15), and if we do good while enduring the mistreatment of others, God will show us His favor (1 Pet 2:20). Ultimately, it’s Christ who serves as the example of submission. Even while suffering and enduring abuse, Jesus “did not commit sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet 2:22). Instead, He “entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). Jesus’ act of redemption should be the focus of all our actions. While pride is rebellion against Him, forgiveness and grace through Christ are enough to drive us to the end of ourselves and send us into the haven of God’s love. His sacrifice eliminates the need to be prideful and self-seeking. It quiets our souls. How are you turning to Christ’s sacrifice in moments of pride?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 17: Emotion versus Logic
1 Samuel 30:1–31:13; 1 Peter 2:18–25; Psalm 131:1–132:18
Reacting is easy. What’s difficult is overcoming emotions in a time of adversity. Although emotions are not bad, they can lead us astray. At the same time, when we stray too far in the other direction and rely entirely on reason, we risk using logic without empathy. The answer to this conundrum is not to pit emotions against reason, but instead to pray. Throughout his life King David struggles to balance emotion and logic. Sometimes he is an emotional wreck; other times he is so calculated that he seems almost brutal. Yet in many moments in his life—especially in his early years—he seeks Yahweh when it would be more convenient not to. In 1 Samuel 30:1–6, David returns to the town of Ziklag to find that two of his wives and many of his warriors’ wives have been captured, and the city has been burned down. The text describes the emotional atmosphere of the discovery: “David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until there was not enough strength in them to weep.” The text also states that “it was very pressed for David”—meaning that David’s men are considering killing him because they view the situation as his fault (1 Sam 30:4, 6). Then we’re told, “But David strengthened himself in Yahweh his God” (1 Sam 30:6). This decision changes everything. By seeking Yahweh, David learns that he will be able to overtake the raiders of Ziklag and recover the captives (1 Sam 30:7–10). What happens next is amazing: David and his men show kindness to a stranger, who returns the kindness by showing them where the raiders are camped. David and his men then overcome the raiders and recover the captives (1 Sam 30:11–20). This is one of those “God works in mysterious ways” moments. But could God have worked in mysterious ways if David had allowed either hot emotion or cold logic to rule him? Probably not. His prayer made all the difference. We overcome the problems we face because God works in us, through His Spirit, when we seek Him in prayer. This is also how we can overcome our weaknesses and become more like Him. What emotions do you need to overcome through prayer? What tensions can be resolved through God’s work?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 18: When Kings Mourn
2 Samuel 1:1–2:32; 1 Peter 3:1–7; Psalm 133:1–134:3
No one can tell you how to mourn. You have to mourn as you see fit, making sure you don’t introduce sin into the grieving process. Several people who were dear to my heart have died. Each time, I processed it differently—immersing myself in work, weeping, or getting angry. If you’ve lost someone close to you, your experience with death is likely similar. But you may have noticed something else in the process: When someone passes away, we become weak and vulnerable to temptation. Wanting to vent our emotions, we may fall prey to sin. But loss is no excuse for sin; there is no excuse. King David, for all his strength, was always a very broken man when someone important to him died. Such brokenness is understandable, but a king must balance his behavior; he must be careful not to insult those who have loyally fought for him. David’s mourning over his best friend, Jonathan, was completely understandable (e.g., 1 Sam 18:1–4; 19:1–7; 20), but his sense of loss over King Saul was overwrought. We should never celebrate anyone’s death, but God had disowned Saul and anointed David (1 Sam 15:10–16:13). Saul had no right to his throne (see, e.g., 1 Sam 16:14–23). Furthermore, Saul had been trying to kill David and his men (1 Sam 19:8–24; 23:14–29). Yet while David’s overly dramatic mourning of Saul may have offended his supporters, he went well beyond offense and into sin: He killed the man who put Saul to death (2 Sam 1:14–16). In this time period, it was customary for warriors to kill fallen enemies who were dying a slow and painful death, thus making David’s reaction even more outlandish. We can learn many great things from David, but in this passage, he teaches us what not to do. Don’t let emotions control you in a time of pain, for those emotions could overtake you in temptation to sin. How can you rely on God during times of mourning? How can you ward off temptation?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 19: Vengeance versus Blessing
2 Samuel 3:1–4:12; 1 Peter 3:8–22; Psalm 135:1–21
Comparing the passages of 2 Sam 3:1–4:12 and 1 Pet 3:8–22 teaches us that all Scripture can be used for instruction: Some passages provide wisdom on how to become more like Christ, while others are best regarded as “things not to do.” Peter’s first letter tells us, “be harmonious, sympathetic, showing mutual affection, compassionate, humble, not repaying evil for evil or insult for insult, but [instead] blessing others, because for this reason you were called, so that you could inherit a blessing” (1 Pet 3:8–9). We can find the same lesson, told a different way, in 2 Sam 3:1–4:12. The violence of the war between David and Saul’s houses vividly portrays how acts of vengeance rob us of harmony and blessing. Some passages in the Bible are beautiful, while others are barbaric. Both teach us we’re not meant to live in vengeance, like the houses of David and Saul. While we realize these individuals often acted against God’s will, we should still recognize their love for God (when it’s present) and their desire to follow Him (when it appears authentic) and live in those ways. Jesus is the only leader in the Bible we can look to as a supreme example of righteousness. Every other person in the Bible is flawed in their humanity, but that gives us hope: God can use us, like He used them—despite their mistakes. If we could live up to Peter’s ideals of living in harmony and showing sympathy to others, the world would certainly be a better place, but we can’t do so without depending on God. In the midst of chaos, or when we give in to ego, it’s hard to live the way we should, even when we are people of faith. But when we learn to follow God in being compassionate, humble, and a blessing to people, we create opportunity for Him to bring harmony and sympathy. If David and Saul’s men had put vengeance aside to seek God, their story would certainly have been less barbaric and far more beautiful. How can you incorporate humility, compassion, and the practice of blessing into your life?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 20: Serving the Glory of God
2 Samuel 5:1–6:23; 1 Peter 4:1–11; Psalm 136:1–26
When we avoid community, we may develop an inflated opinion of our own character. It’s easy to think we’re kind people when we’re not held accountable to others. It’s easy to think we’re always right when no one disagrees with us. Conversely, it’s in our relationships that our true selves are often revealed. When we’re actively involved in a community, we face hundreds of instances where we need to make choices. These choices either serve others, or they serve our own desires. When Peter states, “Above all, keep your love for one another constant, because love covers a large number of sins” (1 Pet 4:8), he’s saying that choosing to love often sets all motives in the right place. It dispels our own pride and puts issues into perspective. When we are truly loving others, it’s not about our pride or “being right.” It’s about helping others grow in faith by using our God-given gifts. Peter goes on to show just what this looks like: “Be hospitable without complaining. Just as each one has received a gift, use it for serving one another, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as the oracles of God; if anyone serves, let it be as by the strength that God provides, so that in all things God will be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:9–11). When we love others and use our gifts for their benefit, our actions do more than serve the other. Since they find their origin in Christ’s love, they serve to honor and glorify Christ. Living in community with others may often be difficult. We’ll meet with challenging people and situations that will require us to continually pray to the giver of gifts for renewed strength and the ability to serve. We’ll face conflict that needs to be met with wisdom and love. Through prayer and the work of God in our lives, we can love and serve others with the love of Christ. How are you exerting your own pride in your relationships with others? How can you serve them with your unique, God-given gifts?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 21: Truth and Honesty Can Be Painful
2 Samuel 7:1–8:18; 1 Peter 4:12–19; Psalm 137:1–9
A commitment to honesty and truth often puts us in unexpected spiritual situations—something David experiences in 2 Sam 7. David thinks he will build God a great house—a temple—but instead God plans to build a house for him—a legacy. Because David seeks God, God does great things through him. Yet, as David discovers, being part of God’s work and living in His will isn’t without difficulty or pain. Consciously or subconsciously, we often cling to the notion that “If I do good works for God, He will owe me.” Isn’t that the assumption behind the statement, “I am loyal to God, but He has afflicted me with pain”? We frame our pain in light of God’s role. Instead, we should view it in relation to the sin of our world. We sin, just as people did in the past, so why should we not expect pain? Like David, Peter and his fellow missionaries experience a great deal of pain in doing God’s work. Peter encourages them by writing, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, when it takes place to test you, as if something strange were happening to you. But to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, rejoice, so that also at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice and be glad” (1 Pet 4:12–13). Peter understands that the persecution they face for Christ will be used for great glory. He reminds his audience that they shouldn’t be surprised. By committing themselves to following Christ, they will inevitably clash with those who are opposed to Christ. In response to David’s seeking God, God makes a covenant with David. Then as now, the central principle of covenant lies in God’s loyalty to us—because of Christ’s work on the cross to suffer and die for our sin—despite how much the world hates us. Has God taught you through persecution? In what ways is God’s covenant at work among you today?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 22: Showing Kindness to a Stranger
2 Samuel 9:1–10:19; 1 Peter 5:1–14; Psalm 138:1–8
When I was a teenager, I became serious about showing unsolicited kindness while working through a 30-day intensive devotional. The devotional required me to record an act of kindness each day. My efforts included things as mundane as taking out the trash before being asked and closing schoolmates’ lockers to prevent them from becoming the victims of pranks. Although the acts were simple, and mostly meaningless, the effort taught me a discipline. Kindness should be intentional, not random. But what if your kindness stems from guilt? In 2 Samuel 9, King David shows intentional kindness to Ziba, Saul’s servant, and Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, by offering them Saul’s land after Saul and Jonathan have died. It’s hard to know why David does this, especially since it puts him at risk—his association with the previous regime could anger his warriors, who fought against Saul. Is David merely being a good guy? Does he feel guilty because Jonathan, who had been so loyal to him, died in battle? Is he trying to establish that he is a merciful ruler? Does he have other political motives? The question of David’s motive evokes another one: Why do we treat others well? Peter addressed this question of motive in his first letter, in which he exhorts ministers to “Shepherd the flock of God among you [being the people of the church], exercising oversight not by compulsion but willingly, in accordance with God” (1 Pet 5:2). He points out that if we are moved by compulsion, our motives are probably wrong. There are times I wonder whether I treat others well because I subconsciously think that it will earn me points with them or with God. I battle this—it’s something we should all fight against. The state of the heart when helping others is every bit as important as the act itself. What motivates your acts of kindness? What pure, kind, and intentional act can you perform today?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 23: Finding God in Sheol
2 Samuel 11:1–12:31; 2 Peter 1:1–8; Psalm 139:1–24
We’ve all felt distant from God. Sometimes it’s sin that makes us feel separated from Him; other times it could be a lack of prayer. Either way, when we feel apart from God, God has not moved away from us. God never moves—we do. But we can find solace in the words of Psa 139: “O Yahweh, you have searched me, and you know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You understand my thought from afar” (Psa 139:1–2). We spend so much of life explaining ourselves to others. Trying to manage perceptions is a norm in our society—especially for those of us in fast-paced work environments. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as our motives are pure, we’re being honest, and we’re not obsessed with what others think. But it’s certainly comforting to know that with God, we never have to explain ourselves. He already knows. He has already searched us—and He is always present. The psalmist writes, “You barricade me behind and in front, and set your hand upon me.… If I ascend to heaven, there you are, and if I make my bed in Sheol [the ultimate symbol of darkness in the Ancient Near East], look! There you are. If I lift up the wings of the dawn, and I alight on the far side of the sea, even there your hand would lead me, and your right hand would hold me fast” (Psa 139:5, 8–10). God is in all places. We may accept these concepts intellectually, but our minds become distracted when we’re feeling alone. Loneliness is heart work, as Psa 139 portrays. Psalm 139 concludes with the words, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there is in me the worship of false gods, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa 139:23–24). The God who created the universe is waiting for us. He is ready to find our false gods and cast them out. He is ready to help us acknowledge His work of goodness and order in the world, and to alleviate the anxiousness we feel. Only He who is all-knowing and all-present can bring us ultimate comfort. Only He can close the gap we feel. What false gods are you fighting? What anxiousness do you need to ask God to cast out?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 24: Slaves to God, Equipped for Righteousness
2 Samuel 13:1–39; 2 Peter 1:9–15; Psalm 140:1–13
I used to think that I was powerless when it came to sin. Christ had saved me from my sinful state, but I was still wretched and helpless. Even though I knew I was no longer a slave to sin, I didn’t always think about what freedom in Christ really looks like. Peter’s letter sheds light on this. After listing both virtues and vices, he encourages early Christians to examine their lives and pursue the virtues that characterize faith: “For if these things are yours and are increasing, this does not make you useless or unproductive in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the one for whom these things are not present is blind, being nearsighted, having forgotten the cleansing of his former sins” (2 Pet 1:8–9). Peter shows us that Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t leave us helpless. We are not left alone to flounder until He returns. Earlier in his letter, Peter states that “[Christ’s] divine power has bestowed on us all things that are necessary for life and godliness, through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence of character” (2 Pet 1:2–3). We’re not slaves to sin. Our lives are not stagnant. We’re equipped and enabled to live a life pleasing to God. This isn’t pride in ourselves or vanity in our own abilities; it’s the opposite. It’s proof of God’s work in our lives that enables us to live and love as we should. As we grow in faith, praying for the work of the Spirit in our lives, we will look back and see how our lives are becoming more fully devoted to Him—all for His glory. In what areas of your life do you feel weighed down by your sin? How can you pray to God for help in this area of your life?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 25: The Difficult Issue of the Heretics
2 Samuel 14:1–15:37; 2 Peter 1:16–21; Psalm 141:1–142:7
Distinguishing between correct and false teaching has plagued nearly every church. We ask questions such as, “Are we venturing too far in that direction?” “Is this just my personal theological issue, or is this actually a big deal?” “Should I be concerned about that, or is it simply a matter of individual choice?” Thankfully, the NT clarifies many of these issues for us. Throughout Peter’s second letter, he addresses the challenge of warding off false teachers; he aims to defend the gospel and explain why the false teachers’ claims are incorrect. To do so, Peter hinges his argument on his own experience—on what he witnessed. In his case, arguing from personal witness makes sense: Peter actually knew Jesus. He writes, “For we did not make known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ by following ingeniously concocted myths, but by being eyewitnesses of that one’s majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice such as this was brought to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ ” (2 Pet 1:16–17). For Peter, orthodoxy comes down to the foundation of the claims being made about Jesus and whether Christ is being proclaimed as Lord and as God’s Son. Peter isn’t willing to put up with false prophecy, testimony, or teaching (see 2 Pet 2). To show how absurd the false teachers’ claims are, Peter proclaims, “every prophecy of scripture does not come about from one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke of God” (2 Pet 1:20–21). Correct and incorrect teaching can be distinguished based on the source of the words being spoken and whether they align with what was taught by eyewitnesses (like Peter). Although this isn’t a complete guide for distinguishing between what God approves and what He doesn’t, it gives us a good start to ward off basic false teachings and focus on the truth instead. Next time we come to the difficult question of “Is this heresy?” we can ask “What would Peter think?” What issues is your church struggling with? How can you help investigate them in light of the claims made by NT eyewitnesses like Peter?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 26: Courtroom Drama, Daytime TV, and Good Deity
2 Samuel 16:1–17:29; 2 Peter 2:1–11; Psalm 143:1–12
I remember old television courtroom episodes where people beg for forgiveness from a cynical judge when they should seek forgiveness from the person they’ve wronged. Usually these shows take the irony to the next level: The judge shows less mercy to those who beg, viewing their actions as further demonstration of their weak character. Thankfully, God is not this kind of judge, though we often falsely characterize Him that way. At the beginning of Psa 143, the psalmist remarks, “O Yahweh, hear my prayer; listen to my supplications. In your faithfulness answer me” (Psa 143:1). He then adds, “And do not enter into judgment with your servant, because no one alive is righteous before you” (Psa 143:2). The psalmist’s prayers are well spoken, but are they honest? The psalmist goes on, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; your Spirit is good. Lead me onto level ground” (Psa 143:10). This line demonstrates that he is not spouting rhetoric; he is living in reality. We’re often determined to convince God to see things our way. Instead, we should be determined to see things His way. God is not a judge in a courtroom drama. Furthermore, His Son has already paid the price for our sins—we have been pardoned through Jesus’ intercession. The only requirement on our part is to enter into a relationship with Him. We cannot justify our actions, for it is only by God’s goodness that we are able to do good, and it’s only out of severe disobedience and ungratefulness that we act poorly. We need to change our perceptions so that our conversations with God become holistic. We should not just ask; we must act. We should not just speak; we must listen. We should not just petition; we must enter into an honest relationship with God. In what ways do you falsely characterize God?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 27: The Tricks We Play on Ourselves
2 Samuel 18:1–33; 2 Peter 2:12–22; Psalm 144:1–15
A great deal of leadership is based on consistency. King David is a prime example: He struggled most when he was inconsistent. David’s son, Absalom, committed horrific acts against David and others (2 Sam 14–17). David repeatedly responded in a manner unbefitting a king, finally sending men out to destroy Absalom’s troops (2 Sam 18:1–4). As the troops headed out, he ordered his commanders—within hearing of the army—to “deal gently” with Absalom (2 Sam 18:5). With this order, David again acted beneath his role and duty as king: He asked for the leader of a rebellion to be spared—essentially using his own warriors as pawns in a game to regain his fallen son. Absalom didn’t deserve to be dealt with gently; he was a ruthless, terrorizing dictator and had opposed God’s chosen king. His time was up. For this reason, and perhaps others, Joab, one of David’s commanders, chose to kill Absalom (2 Sam 18:14). It’s unlikely any of us will ever be in a position like David or Joab’s, but their story presents some lessons in leadership. Joab demonstrates that sometimes the “right hand man” knows better than the commander-in-chief. David’s repeated inability to separate his emotions from the situation (he made this same mistake with Saul) could have resulted in his untimely death and the complete destruction of the kingdom God had given him to steward. If David was willing to be so merciful, he could have invited Absalom back into the kingdom. David’s actions show us that we should seek the advice of others, asking that they help us think through the full ramifications of our actions. If David would have sought advice from Joab or another of his trusted leaders, he probably would have made a wiser decision—and preserved his dignity as king. Based on David’s track record as a military leader, he would have dealt swiftly with any other uprising, but he ignored resistance from his own son to the point of peril. The events between David and Absalom don’t portray David as a man of love and mercy; instead, they reveal him as a man too easily swayed by conflicting feelings. Selfishness is David’s ultimate downfall. He wanted Absalom to live because it seemed best in his mind—it was the ideal future he envisioned. In making a move to create that future himself, David jeopardized everyone he should have protected. He even jeopardized his own reign, which itself was a gift from God. What are you currently being selfish about that has, until now, been deceiving you?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 28: I Will Laud Your Deeds
2 Samuel 19:1–43; 2 Peter 3:1–13; Psalm 145:1–21
I grew up in a family of stoics. Through example, my siblings and I were taught to keep our emotions to ourselves. Displays of excessive affection or sorrow were regarded with some suspicion, and this played out in our expressions of faith. Psalm 145 directly challenges such a mindset. The psalmist expresses why confessing God’s faithfulness is so important, especially to those we influence: “One generation will laud your works to another, and will declare your mighty deeds” (Psa 145:4). God’s mighty deeds were His redemptive acts—especially the exodus from Egypt. His greatness (Psa 145:6), His righteousness (Psa 145:7), His glory, and His power (Psa 145:11, 12) were expressed. Our praise should be centered on God’s ultimate restorative work through His Son—an act that has brought us back into intimate communion with Him. We can bring our sorrows and failures to Him: “Yahweh upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psa 145:14). He hears our desires and our cries when we call upon Him in truth (Psa 145:18–19). Calling on God in truth requires that we honestly examine our own emotions (Psa 145:18). When we bring our emotions to God, we should do so in either confession or praise. James emphasizes that free expression isn’t always a value. Since we stumble in many ways, loose talk can be dangerous and destructive in communities (Jas 3:2–6). Both speaking and silence require wisdom. When we are quick to talk about God’s work of redemption and His work in us, our words bring Him honor. What better reason to be mindful of how our expressions affect those around us—especially those who look up to us. How are you using expressions to honor God and uplift others?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 29: When It’s Really Urgent
2 Samuel 20:1–21:22; 2 Peter 3:14–18; Psalm 146:1–10
The urgency of God’s work is easily lost on us. But to the early church, Jesus’ return seemed imminent. We get a sense of this urgency in Peter’s second letter, where he writes that every moment between now and when Jesus returns is a moment of grace; therefore, believers must work harder than ever to bring others to Christ and grow in their relationship with Him. Peter remarks, “Therefore, dear friends, because you are waiting for [Christ to return], make every effort to be found at peace, spotless and unblemished in him. And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pet 3:14–15). God wants to see more people come to Him—that is why He has not returned. When we feel like Peter’s audience does, wondering why Jesus hasn’t returned, Peter’s explanation can help us refocus and remember that it’s not really about us; it’s about others. The Christian life is marked by a focus on God and our neighbors. The more we love Him, the more we learn to love our neighbors. And the more we love our neighbors, the more we become like Christ. We get closer to God with each act of love, and each act of love brings someone else closer to Him as well. Peter continues, “Therefore, dear friends, because you know this beforehand, guard yourselves so that you do not lose your own safe position because you have been led away by the error of lawless persons. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:17–18). For Peter, the major issue is whether his audience will stay focused on Jesus or be led astray by false teachers. If the false teachers are able to sway his audience’s beliefs, then perhaps they never believed at all. By disavowing the assertions of false teachers, enduring persecution, and dedicating themselves to Christ’s grace, his audience shows their true faith. The act of defying evil readies God’s people for His return. When all of our lives are focused on God’s eternal work, the questions about priorities, how we show love, and what matters to God suddenly have answers. God’s urgency becomes our priority. What priorities has God given you? Are you living as if the end could be around any corner?
JOHN D. BARRY
July 30: Destructive People
2 Samuel 22:1–51; Jude 1:1–16; Psalm 147:1–20
Some destructive people don’t realize the carnage they leave in their wake. Others intentionally cause rifts and pain, driven by selfish motives. Jude’s letter, which contains succinct prose, startling imagery, and a swift warning, is unlike anything we read in Scripture. The letter equipped early Christians to deal wisely with false teachers who had entered the church community. Today, it can provide us with wisdom to respond to some of the most difficult people and situations we encounter. The community that Jude addressed contained destructive false teachers “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). They did not respect authority, but acted out of instinct rather than conviction: “But these persons blaspheme all that they do not understand, and all that they understand by instinct like the irrational animals, by these things they are being destroyed” (Jude 10). Jude’s metaphors for these false teachers give us a sense of what to look for in destructive people: “hidden reefs at your love feasts, caring for themselves, waterless clouds carried away by winds, late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted, wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shameful deeds, wandering stars, for whom the deep gloom of darkness has been reserved for eternity” (Jude 12–13). He depicts people whose destructive, selfish behavior lacks conviction. Like wayward stars, these false teachers go off course, perhaps taking others with them. After these descriptions, we expect Jude to warn his readers to stay away from these types of people. But he does the opposite: Jude’s closing warning calls readers to interact with people of this sort—though they must do so with incredible wisdom: “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22–23). Interacting with people who doubt and wander requires a deep knowledge of our own weaknesses and failures. It requires maturity of faith. Jude gives three specific instructions: that we build ourselves up, pray in the Spirit, and keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21–22). This interaction requires the work of a God “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). How do destructive people in your life influence you? Based on how they influence you, how should you approach or end the relationship?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
July 31: Cosmic, Creation, Chaos
2 Samuel 23:1–24:25; Jude 1:17–25; Psalm 148:1–150:6
Psalm 148 is cosmic in scope and comforting in message. It’s a depiction of how Yahweh brought order to chaos in the very beginning. Yahweh put the heavens, heights, angels, hosts (His armies), sun, moon, stars, and waters in their place—each a sign of His rule over the universe (Psa 148:1–5). Yahweh rules over the elements commonly depicted as gods in the ancient Near East; He rules over the symbols of chaos. And this cosmic depiction is comforting. The version of the creation story we typically hear tells how things came to be, which is good. But when the story is cast like it is in Psa 148—where we see God as ruler and Lord over chaos—the message moves beyond an intellectual knowledge. If God rules over chaos, and has since the beginning, He can bring order to the chaos in our own lives. For this reason, the psalmist praises Yahweh both for His creation and for His work in his own life. The end of Psa 148 further reveals Yahweh’s intimate work with the worshiper: The psalmist declares Yahweh praiseworthy because “he has raised high a horn [the symbol of strength] for his people … for the children of Israel, a people close to him” (Psa 148:14). Yahweh’s work in creation proves that He is the most worthy partner in adverse situations. When things get tough, Yahweh will come through. Sadly, the message of God’s provision for us has become so cliché that it’s easy for us to take for granted. Perhaps that’s why it’s the central message of so many biblical books. For example, when Jude prays for protection for believers, he calls out to Jesus—dedicating his message to Him and His work (Jude 17–25). In doing so, Jude uses the words that would have traditionally conjured up images of God’s work in either creation or war—both of which parallel psalms like Psa 148. Jude declares that Jesus deserves “glory, power, and authority” (Jude 25) because He is the “savior” of people and the universe, both of which Yahweh created (Jude 24). Jesus is the one who came to earth to win the battle against chaos. Next time things seem to get rough, try replacing the cliché of “God is in control” with “God is Lord over chaos.” The tense here is important. God isn’t trying to be Lord—He is Lord. When God spoke, the chaos was subdued. Likewise, when God speaks truth into our lives, the chaos in our lives is subdued. Through Christ’s work, we have the opportunity for this intimate relationship with God. Through Christ’s efforts in us, we can become people who act with Him to subdue chaos. What chaos do you need God to subdue today?
JOHN D. BARRY