June 1: What Wealth Reveals
2 Chronicles 1:1–3:17; Titus 1:1–4; Psalm 91:1–16
“What would you do if you won the lottery?” This question always seems to generate the same responses: There’s the person who devises an investment strategy, the dreamer who envisions ending global poverty, the individual who would travel the world, and the person who would buy the house, boat, or car they’ve always wanted. These responses tell us something about each person’s character and what fulfills them. The root of these desires reveals something about how they perceive their identity in relationship to their culture, family, and God. They feel “in their identity” or “most themselves” when they pursue happiness, others’ happiness, or the things they want. Solomon experiences an unexpected “wish” scenario. Like winning the lottery or being granted three wishes, Solomon’s response reveals what is important to him, the core of his identity, and how God responds to people who know what He desires. God says to the king, “Ask what I shall give to you” (2 Chr 1:7). Solomon replies with some of the most humble words ever spoken: “Now, give to me wisdom and knowledge that I may go out and come in before this people [an idiom for a type of leading], for who can judge this, your great people?” (2 Chr 1:10). In response, God reminds Solomon of all the great things he passed up in this moment, and how doing so showed his true character. As a result, God says that He will also bless Solomon with “wealth, possessions, and honor” (2 Chr 1:11–12). Solomon’s humility demonstrates what it looks like to have a godly identity that’s focused on others rather than ourselves. To combat selfishness, Paul regularly reminds himself and others that he is “a slave of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of the chosen of God and knowledge of the truth that is according to godliness” (Titus 1:1). He grounds his statement by testifying to God’s eternal work (Titus 1:2–4). The difference between present gain and eternal gain is focus: Are we working toward the eternal good of God’s work or the temporal good of our own success? When we align ourselves with who God created us to be, our desires become His desires. Our thirst for gain is quenched by God—sometimes surprisingly. We, like Solomon and Paul, should understand our role in God’s work and request what we need to fulfill that role, trusting that He will provide the rest. What would you do if you came into a large sum of money? How can you align your desires with God’s?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 2: Transformers
2 Chronicles 4:1–6:11; Titus 1:5–9; Psalm 92:1–93:5
Some people are like spectators in their faith communities—they simply watch while others interact, serve, and reach out. But Paul’s instructions to Titus about overseers show us that communities need people who will do more than just show up. “For it is necessary for the overseer to be blameless as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not violent, not greedy for dishonest gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, prudent, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast to the faithful message according to the teaching” (Titus 1:7–9). Titus was counteracting the harm false teachers had caused in the Cretan community (Titus 1:11). He needed the leaders’ assistance to succeed. At first, Paul describes this type of leader as someone who doesn’t commit certain actions—anger, desire for personal gain, drunkenness, or violence. But Paul also realized that leaders did need to take certain positive actions—showing hospitality, loving what is good, and holding fast to the gospel. Only by avoiding some behaviors and embracing others could they transform the community by being instruments of change. There will be periods in our lives when we’ll need to humbly accept the help of others. But there are also times for action, and our motives will be just as important as our conduct. The believers on Crete needed to be molded and shaped for godliness. Likewise, we need God’s word and His Spirit to provide us with wisdom not only to respond, but to do so with the right action—showing hospitality, loving what is good, and being committed to the good news of Jesus Christ. Then, as transformed people, we can be used to advance His kingdom. How is God prompting you to be used in your church community? How can you respond?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 3: Searching for Justice
2 Chronicles 6:12–8:18; Titus 1:10–16; Psalm 94:1–23
“Do you favor justice or mercy?” Trick question. Both responses are technically incorrect: God’s ways require mercy and justice. Mercy cannot be fully known without perfect justice, and justice without mercy is harsh and graceless. God’s mercy is a regular topic in Christian communities, but we often shy away from discussing His justice. This leaves us on our own to confront the injustices we commit against Him and others, those committed against us, and our own unjust nature. Carrying out God’s justice feels scary because it requires making large-scale changes in our world. But we can’t carry out His justice if we act only from the right purpose—we must also act in His way. The psalmist cries out for justice: “O Yahweh, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth. Rise up, O Judge of the earth.… They crush your people, O Yahweh; they oppress your inheritance. They kill widow and stranger, and they murder orphans while they say, ‘Yah does not see’ ” (Psa 94:1–2, 5–7). In this plea, we see that the psalmist both understands God’s nature and realizes His capabilities. The psalmist exhorts Yahweh to act. In doing so, he cites injustices against those to whom God’s people were called to show mercy (e.g., Deut 14:29; 16:11–12; 24:19–20). The widow, orphan, and stranger are also those whom Yahweh cares for and advocates (e.g., Exod 22:22–24; Deut 10:18). Ultimately, the psalmist is reminding Yahweh of His role. This request teaches us something fundamental about justice. Although the psalmist plays a role in the cause of justice, he is not the primary actor; Yahweh is. Justice is God’s work. How can you harmonize your views of justice and mercy? How can you act more justly today?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 4: Faithful Examples
2 Chronicles 9:1–10:19; Titus 2:1–8; Psalm 95:1–11
We cringe when we see other Christians exploiting the gospel, using it to advance their own personal or political agenda. Today, it doesn’t take much effort to do so—it’s as easy as posting a video or link online. In these situations, it’s tempting to respond with anger or frustration, but if we do so, we’re compounding the problem with our own behavior. We can learn a lot from an ancient Graeco—Roman context that really isn’t so different from ours. Paul had left Titus in Crete to help the Cretans learn what it looked like to live the gospel. Paul gives Titus instructions for each age and gender group to help the Cretan believers reset their old ways of being and avoid bringing the gospel message into disrepute. Paul realized, though, that the Cretans needed real-life examples to truly change. He set up mentors within the community. The elderly women were to teach younger women so that “the word of God may not be slandered” (Titus 2:5). Titus, a young man, needed to be a model of good works. His teaching needed to show “soundness, dignity, a sound message beyond reproach” (Titus 2:7–8). His works and his teaching were intended to be a model Christian living. The Cretan believers had to examine their old habits and behaviors, and we’re no different. All of us come from different contexts that have shaped the way we live out our faith—and sometimes we need correction. Although we’re quick to look down on other Christians when they inhibit the gospel message through their faulty applications, we’re often unaware when we do it ourselves. When we see others misusing the gospel, we need to wisely and lovingly confront them about their motives. Like Titus and influential Cretan believers, though, we also have to be open to the work of Christ in our own lives. We can do this by aligning our motives with the gospel and graciously and humbly accepting correction when it’s needed. Through living out the gospel, we can reflect Christ so that others are drawn to Him. How are you being a model for other Christians?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 5: When Words Are Enough
2 Chronicles 11:1–13:22; Titus 2:9–2:15; Psalm 96:1–13
It’s not often that words change the course of history. But Shemaiah, a little-known prophet, was given such an opportunity. We can easily pass over these life-altering moments if we’re not looking for them. Rehoboam had assembled 180,000 chosen “makers of war” to fight against Israel in hopes of restoring his kingdom. He was prepared to destroy a portion of God’s people in order to gain a temporary victory. Then Shemaiah—a “man of God”—came along (2 Chr 11:2). When Shemaiah spoke for Yahweh, Rehoboam backed down; he sent the 180,000 men home (2 Chr 11:1–4). You can imagine Rehoboam trembling in fear as he told this enormous number of warriors, “Thanks for coming out today, but Shemaiah just told me that Yahweh doesn’t approve, so we can start fortifying this city instead (see 2 Chr 11:5–12), or you can just go home if you want.” Trust goes both ways in this story. Rehoboam trusted that Shemaiah spoke the true word of Yahweh, and Rehoboam had the trust of his men, who chose to listen to him instead of independently heading into battle. All of the parties decided to trust Yahweh, whether directly through His oracle or indirectly through following the words of their leaders. When things seem out of control, we expect God to show up. But we often make that request without regard for the foundation we should have laid before—when things were calm. Times of rest and waiting are not times to be stagnant; instead, they are times to get to know God better so that we are prepared for what’s next. Shemaiah prepared for this situation by knowing God—the best kind of preparation. How can you establish the foundation for your future ministry experiences now?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 6: Being Made New
2 Chronicles 14:1–16:14; Titus 3:1–7; Psalm 97:1–98:9
We often fall into old habits that reflect the way we once were. Although we’ve been made new, we haven’t been made perfect, and sometimes it shows. People within our church communities might have one perception of us, but others may have experienced another side—one that can make us feel shameful about our witness (or lack thereof). While Paul spoke to Titus about relationships within the Cretan community, he also emphasized that believers needed to think about how their actions affected those outside the community. They needed to obey authority (Titus 3:1) and show perfect courtesy to all people (Titus 3:3). Although the Cretans had been told this before, Paul wanted Titus to remind them. He would later offer another reminder as well (Titus 3:14). We might be tempted to cultivate the impression that we’re better than we really are. But we have a responsibility to interact with all people in a way that reflects Christ. Paul tells us why: “For we also were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, enslaved to various desires and pleasures, spending our lives in wickedness and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the kindness and love for mankind of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not by deeds of righteousness that we have done, but because of his mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3–5). We haven’t earned anything through our own goodness—and we still can’t. But we have been forgiven for our old way of being. When we fail and then repent, we’re reminded of our need, Christ’s sacrifice, and His renewing work in us through the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). When we’re not honest with others—including those outside our faith communities—about our failures and our need for forgiveness, we’re projecting a false righteousness that turns others off from the gospel. Instead, by being honest and transparent about our weaknesses, we’re testifying to Christ’s righteousness and the work of the Spirit. Knowing this, we should examine all areas of our lives and all our relationships, seeking forgiveness and restoration where it’s needed. How have you failed people in your life? How can you reach out and seek their forgiveness?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 7: The Forgotten Christian Virtue
2 Chronicles 17:1–18:34; Titus 3:8–11; Psalm 99:1–100:5
An unfortunate effect of our emphasis on God’s grace is our dwindling focus on the connection between obeying God’s will and receiving His blessings. If we’re not living in the primary will God designed for us, then we will not be in the right place at the right time to do His work. And if we don’t show up in the right moments (as designed by God), we won’t be in a position to receive the glorious blessings of the good works He intended for us. We see the kind of obedience God requires of us in the beginning of King Jehoshaphat’s life. He is quick to align himself with God’s will and, as a result, God is quick to bless him (2 Chr 17:1–6). God extends blessings appropriate for a king—the right people to protect him and offer him guidance, as well as wealth and honor (2 Chr 17:12–19; 18:1). Based on this understanding of God’s desire to bless our obedience, Paul later encourages Titus to tell other believers to “be careful to engage in good deeds … [for they are] beneficial to people … [and] to avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and contentions and quarrels about the law, for they are useless and fruitless” (Titus 3:8–9). Although the Law (Genesis—Deuteronomy) is no longer the reigning force in our lives, God still requires obedience. When we’re obedient, we’re in God’s will, and when we’re in God’s will, we experience even more of His blessings. We realize what it means to be made in His image—to live as He intended us to live. It’s easy to take this connection too far, wrongly suggesting that people who seem blessed must be in God’s will or that wealth is a result of following God. This is rarely the case. King Jehoshaphat is a unique example of divine blessing, and the blessings he received aligned with his needs as the leader of God’s people. God’s blessings are usually far less tangible—they can be things like joy in Christ, a sense of peace that comes from being in His will, or the incredible feeling that comes from being involved when someone comes to believe in Christ or know Him more deeply. God’s blessings cannot be earned. They are experiences He gives us, often without merit. We can never be obedient enough to earn the goodness God bestows on us. But obedience puts us in the right place at the right time for experiencing God’s work. Every moment is a chance to be closer to Him, and obedience is our roadmap for the journey. How can you invite God and other believers to help you with obedience? What is one thing you can change (or work on changing) this week?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 8: Badly Aligned
2 Chronicles 19:1–20:37; Titus 3:12–15; Psalm 101:1–8
Like a car with bad alignment, we are prone to drift off course when we’re not focused on steering our faith. Often, we use intellectual pursuits to disguise our drifting. It’s easier to argue an opinion than to respond faithfully. It’s stimulating to have a theoretical conversation about a complex issue because there is no hard-and-fast application. When we drift, we might even succeed in convincing ourselves that we’re being faithful. New Christians often have a zealous faith and a desire to learn that make seasoned Christians take a second look at their own faith. In Psalm 101, the psalmist expresses this type of zeal for God. While his specific actions can seem strange to our modern ears, his desire to pursue God with his entire being is one we ourselves should adopt. He follows his repeated “I will” statements with promises to sing of God’s steadfast love and justice, ponder the way that is blameless, and walk with integrity of heart. He knows the danger of haughty eyes and arrogance of heart, and he determines to avoid people with these traits. Instead, he aspires to seek out faithful people who can minister to him (Psa 101:6). Complex faith issues don’t always have hard-and-fast answers. They require intelligent conversations and careful consideration. But most of all, they require humility and a committed zeal to follow God—whatever the outcome. We need to be humble and honest about our weaknesses. If we know we need help, we need to be like the psalmist and seek out mentors who can minister to us. And if someone calls us out as arrogant and haughty, we need to address where we’ve drifted. Take a look at your own heart. Where are you drifting?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 9: When God Doesn’t Act
2 Chronicles 21:1–23:21; 1 John 1:1–4; Psalm 102:1–28
“When Jehoram ascended to the kingdom of his father, he strengthened himself and murdered all his brothers with the sword, and even some of the princes of Israel.… And he did evil in the sight of Yahweh. But Yahweh was not willing to destroy the house of David on account of the covenant that he had made with David and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his descendants forever” (2 Chr 21:4, 6–7). Biblical stories like this teach us not only about God’s actions, but also about His decisions not to act. It must have been difficult for those suffering under Jehoram’s ruthless reign to understand why God would allow him to stay in power over them, His people. Yet God knew there was something even larger at stake: long-term, righteous reign over His people—and salvation itself. The people’s suffering could not outweigh the importance of preserving the line of David, which held the hope of God’s people. Salvation comes through David’s line, as Jesus, the great Savior of the world, is David’s heir (Matt 1:1). Eventually, John the evangelist was able to testify, “What was from the beginning [and thus existed even during the times of suffering we endured], what we have heard [being all that has been promised], what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched [because John actually knew Jesus and met Him in His resurrected form], concerning the word of life [being Jesus—God as both His Word and as His personhood].… [Now] our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1, 3). John saw the day when God would ultimately lift the suffering of His people and place it on His Son so that His Son could die as the ultimate sufferer for us (compare Isa 53:10–12; Psa 22). God does not cause suffering, but there are moments when—as much as it hurts Him—He allows it. If He has a saving act at work among us in the midst of these moments, they’re worth it. God will always make good on His promises, and He will always far exceed our expectations. What do you think can be accomplished through your current sufferings? Is there a hurting person in your life you could come alongside to offer them the hope of Christ?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 10: A God Who Is Present
2 Chronicles 24:1–25:28; 1 John 1:5–10; Psalm 103:1–14
It’s sometimes difficult to grasp that the Creator of the universe cares about us—that He bothers with miniscule people like us. Because we tend to forget about others and focus on our own tasks and needs, we’re prone to think that God isn’t concerned with the details of His creation—that He’s not intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. Psalm 103 presents a different understanding of God. The psalmist describes a God who wants to know us and wants us to respond to Him. He illustrates a responsive love. Because of God’s love for him, he declares, “Bless Yahweh … all within me, bless his holy name” (Psa 103:1). God doesn’t stop at forgiving our sins and redeeming us. He “crowns [us] with loyal love and mercies” (Psa 103:4). Although we have greatly offended Him, He doesn’t hold it against us: “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repaid us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). As a father, He knows where we fail, and He pities us: “For he knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust” (Psa 103:13–14). We can easily forget that God is concerned about our existence and jealous for our praise. If we don’t realize His work and thank Him for it, we’re not bringing Him glory. Ultimately, He has shown His love through His act of reconciling us to Himself. When we forget where we stand with Him, we can look to that great testament of His love. Then we can be like the psalmist and respond with praise. Do you doubt God’s love and care for you? Does this affect your praise for Him?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 11: The Danger of Success
2 Chronicles 26:1–28:27; 1 John 2:1–6; Psalm 103:15–22
Western culture is obsessed with success. Society places successful people on a pedestal, as if they’re somehow smarter or better than everyone else. Christians certainly aren’t immune to this trend, as is demonstrated by the growing celebrity-pastor following. The need to succeed can tilt a church out of balance when the leader or the donors with the deepest pockets become the focus, and ultimate authority, instead of Christ. Uzziah’s story demonstrates the danger of success. Most of the kings of Judah prior to Uzziah—who was appointed king at the age of 16—failed God and His people. They achieved success in their own eyes, but biblical history paints them as men who were spiritually weak and sought their own gain at the sacrifice of others. Success achieved through force may look like strength, but it’s actually weakness. The distinction of great leaders is their ability to rise alongside those they lead, not over them. At the beginning of his reign, Uzziah showed every sign of becoming a great leader: “And he did what was right in the eyes of Yahweh, according to all that Amaziah his father had done. And he began to seek God in the days of Zechariah who was teaching in visions of God. And whenever he sought Yahweh God made him have success” (2 Chr 26:4–5). Uzziah rose with his people, and he was willing to be taught by those he respected. But then King Uzziah became proud: “But on account of his strength his heart grew proud unto destruction. And he acted unfaithfully against Yahweh his God” (2 Chr 26:16). Uzziah went so far as to place himself in the role of the priests; as a result, God afflicted him with leprosy. Instead of following God’s will as he always had, Uzziah let success—and the desire for ultimate authority—become his guide (2 Chr 26:16–21). We should not judge success according to societal norms, but on our submission to God’s will and reign over our lives. We should question whether we are living up to our God-given potential and using our God-given gifts for His glory. And we should be cautious of pride—both in ourselves and others—so that we can discern whether confidence comes from self or from God, as it should. What do you feel proud of? How can you be better at helping others rise with you?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 12: Conflict Creators and Peacemakers
2 Chronicles 29:1–30:27; 1 John 2:7–14; Psalm 104:1–15
Conflict can be good. And in communities, it’s inevitable. The ways in which we respond to it can display and develop character. But what if we are the ones responsible for creating conflict with others? John addresses the root of chronic conflict in a letter to a church community. He tells them, “The one who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9–11). John was giving the church a way in which they could judge false teachers who created conflict and division. Those who were not walking in the light—who hated their brothers—were known by their contentious nature. Conversely, those who walked in light did not serve as a stumbling block for others. The light they dwelled in was shown in their love for other Christians. Love for other Christ-followers is not optional—it’s an outpouring of the love that God shows to us. The nature of our interpersonal relationships is a reflection of where we stand with Him. External conflict that has hatred at its root might point to our own internal conflict—one that can be defined by a disagreement between what we confess and how we live (1 John 1:6). What is causing conflicts in your relationships? If you are the one causing conflict, how can you seek peace—with God and others?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 13: For It Is Better
2 Chronicles 31:1–32:33; 1 John 2:15–17; Psalm 104:16–35
“If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you! For it is better for you that one of your limbs be destroyed than your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:30). We might struggle to relate to this outspoken Jesus; we prefer gracious Jesus, offering us a pardon from sin through His sacrifice. We like friendly, loving Jesus, who wraps His arms around us even when we act disgracefully. Jesus is all of these things, but He is also very serious about sin. One of the most tragic trends in church history is the increasingly casual attitude toward sin. We so badly want people to receive God’s grace that we’ve stopped expecting others—and ourselves—to fight against sin. Yet Jesus knew that fighting sin was necessary. In Matthew 5:30, He is not suggesting that we can be sinless by our own merit; salvation comes solely from the free grace He offers through His death. Jesus is telling us that we must rip sin out of our lives. Doing so is how we experience heaven on this earth that is, at times, nothing short of a hell. Jesus is building on what He knew about idolatry and the need for it to be completely abolished. When the Israelites were confronted with their idolatry, they ripped it out of their lives: “All Israel … went out and shattered the stone pillars, cut down the Asherahs, and destroyed the high places and the altars from all Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh to the very last one” (2 Chr 31:1). We must do the same. What are we idolizing? What is causing us to sin? We need to rip that idol out or rip that arm off. Otherwise our sins will continue to torment us and prevent us from knowing God. John the evangelist perhaps put it best: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because everything that is in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance of material possessions—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and its desire, but the one who does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:15–17). Let’s allow the things that are passing away to be destroyed so we can embrace what is eternal. What sins do you need to remove from your life? How can you do away with the things that are causing you temptation?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 14: Remembering
2 Chronicles 33:1–34:33; 1 John 2:18–27; Psalm 105:1–22
My mom discovered scrapbooking when I was a teenager. At first, the craft seemed time consuming and burdensome; paper scraps, pictures, and double-sided tape were constantly strewn over the kitchen table. But as the books came together, I began to appreciate her new hobby. A random photo would inspire a conversation about an event I had no memory of. The way she pieced the book together showed me a timeline of my parents’ sacrifice for my siblings and me. I had a deeper respect and a renewed sense of gratitude toward them. Psalm 105 reads like a record of God’s faithfulness to Israel—a scrapbook of His work in their lives. To help them remember, the psalmist details each memory, beginning with the great patriarchs with whom God initiated and renewed His covenant—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God didn’t choose these men because of their spotless lives. He was true to Israel, protecting, guiding, and reprimanding them when they were unfaithful and forgetful. Although the psalmist is remembering God’s work and encouraging others to do the same, he ultimately shows that God’s act of remembering should ignite our praise. “He remembers His covenant forever, the word that he commanded for a thousand generations” (Psa 105:8). We are wayward children who don’t deserve God’s love. We are forgetful and ungrateful, which often means we don’t praise Him like we should. Despite this, God has remained faithful—even reconciling us to Himself through the work of His Son. We shouldn’t live in ignorance of His faithfulness. Knowing that He’ll “remember his wonders that he has done” (Psa 105:5), we can live lives of thankfulness and praise. How do you praise God for His faithfulness to you?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 15: Encouragement and Positivity
2 Chronicles 35:1–36:23; 1 John 2:28–3:4; Psalm 105:23–45
If we were to make encouragement one of our main strategies, we’d see positive results in most situations. If we made providing for others one of our goals, the world would be a kinder place. King Josiah epitomizes both of these attributes in 2 Chr 35:1–19. Josiah’s actions mark not only a remarkable transition from being unfamiliar with God’s Word to living it out (2 Chr 34:8–33), but also a move from religiosity to compassion. Josiah could have coldly observed the Passover out of ritual, but instead he encourages the religious leaders and empowers them to do God’s work. His encouragement changes the outcome: The religious leaders embrace their task.
Josiah also provides for them, allowing them to make the necessary changes. He frees them up from their usual obligations so that they may help others (2 Chr 35:3); he takes care of their fiscal needs (2 Chr 35:7). His example inspires others to give as well (2 Chr 35:8–9). As a result of Josiah’s actions, we see God’s work being done: “So all the service of Yahweh was prepared on that day to keep the Passover and to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar of Yahweh, according to the command of King Josiah” (2 Chr 35:16). Our actions can either inspire others or discourage them. If we’re willing to develop a character of giving and encouragement—focusing on the positive rather than the negative—we’re more likely to be successful in carrying out God’s work. How can you encourage someone to follow God’s path for his or her life? How can you provide for someone today?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 16: Not Perfect?
Ezra 1:1–2:70; 1 John 3:5–10; Psalm 106:1–15
Sometimes sin can discourage us to the point that we loathe ourselves. At first glance, John’s letter seems to encourage this. Addressing a struggling church community, John seems to call for perfection: “And you know that that one was revealed in order that he might take away sins, and in him there is no sin. Everyone who resides in him does not sin. Everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him” (1 John 3:5–6). Does this mean that people who struggle with sin are unable to know God? In his letter, John is actually addressing the false idea that was rampant in the community he addressed—that Christ’s sacrifice had covered sin, and therefore it was permissible to keep sinning. This is an issue that Paul addresses in his letter to the Roman Christians: “Should we go on sinning then, that grace may increase? May it never be!” (Rom 6:2). John answers the same way. He’s not saying that any sin indicates an inability to know God—he’s addressing the heart of the practice of sin (1 John 3:8). Unchecked sin is an offense against God—it’s rebellion against Him and an attack on His character. Before we were brought into relationship with God, we were characterized by enslavement to sin. Through Christ’s sacrifice, we’re in relationship with Him, and our lives begin to reflect our new identity in Him. What should our lives look like now? John gives us an idea later in the chapter: “Everyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, namely, the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Instead of rampant disobedience, then, the practice of “the children of God” is righteousness and love for others. Though sin is still present in our lives, and we may be discouraged by it, we are no longer defined by it. Rather, we desire a new type of obedience and love, which God works in us. Does your perspective on sin need to change? How can your actions reflect your freedom from sin?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 17: Learning from Enemies
Ezra 3:1–4:24; 1 John 3:11–18; Psalm 106:16–29
If a new venture is really worth pursuing, it will probably be opposed. Some people will refuse to get on board, and others will intentionally get in the way. While these people may be trying protect their own interests, it’s more likely that they don’t like change—even if it’s for the better. God’s work among His people is not that different from innovation; after all, He is the Author of all good ideas since all ideas come from His creation. And just like new ventures, God’s work is often rejected. The difference between new ventures and God’s work, though, is that all people who oppose God’s work are opposing Him, their Creator; they’re choosing to put their own interests before His interests, which are only for good. Jeshua and Zerubbabel faced this type of opposition in the book of Ezra. After they had restored worship in Jerusalem, they began to organize the effort to lay the foundation of the temple—the place where God’s people were meant to worship. Then, the unexpected happened: Enemies arrived and began to cause trouble (Ezra 3:1–4:5). We often view such people as hateful, but in reality they were acting in their own interests. These enemies likely didn’t realize the land they claimed as their own had been stolen from God’s people in the first place; they probably thought they were protecting what was rightfully theirs (compare Ezra 4:6–16; see 2 Kgs 24–25). This is often the case in our lives as well: We think we’re doing what’s legally or morally right, but we may actually be opposing God’s work. Sometimes trying to act rightly can lead us to do the wrong thing. Rather than insisting on what seems or feels right, we must pause to pray about it. We must ask God what He is really doing. And if God is working through someone else, we need to step out of the way. He is innovating—are we willing to innovate with Him? In what ways is God innovating around you? How does He want to use you in this process? In what areas should you step aside to let His work happen?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 18: What Is Love?
Ezra 5:1–6:22; 1 John 3:19–24; Psalm 106:30–48
I find it easy to talk about myself. I like to get to the root of why I act the way I do. Sometimes this is helpful—it helps me nail down where I struggle. But this tendency also reminds me that I’m geared inward. The danger is that I often filter others through the sieve of my experience. Our culture encourages the mindset that other people ought to make us feel good about ourselves and help us fulfill our dreams. In this mindset, our relationships ultimately become about self-fulfillment. John squashes this idea. He tells the recipients of his letter, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). He’s not saying we should refrain from expressing love and care through words. But displaying love—putting others’ needs before our own—requires much more of us. John doesn’t go on to define love. However, he does describe the ultimate example of love: “We have come to know love by this: that he laid down his life on behalf of us, and we ought to lay down our lives on behalf of the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Love is best displayed in the cross, not in poetry and with eloquent words that demonstrate more about ourselves than actual, concrete care for others. The love displayed on the cross is a reminder that we aren’t meant to lead comfortable, self-focused lives. Jesus’ actions show us that love isn’t merely emotion—it’s sacrifice and self-denial. We live to love both God and others, and that’s best done with actions that serve. Are you really loving the people around you? How can you love them better?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 19: The Story behind the Story
Ezra 7:1–8:36; 1 John 4:1–6; Psalm 107:1–22
The Bible is full of unexpected moments. Some events seem almost coincidental, where people are in the right place at the right time. This is exactly the case with Ezra. In ancient times, it was unusual for a king to honor a foreigner with a decree. It was even stranger for a king to offer his own wealth to help such a foreigner. Yet that’s what happened to Ezra: King Artaxerxes of Persia sent Ezra, and any Israelite willing to go with him, to his own land (and the people living there) with the blessing of silver and gold (Ezra 7:11–28). The Bible doesn’t give the reason for Artaxerxes’ spontaneous generosity. He may have been motivated by politics, trying to gain the allegiance of the Israelites, govern the population in Babylonia, or inhabit a new land to control the native people there. Yet the most convincing reason for his actions seems to be that his heart was moved. While the text doesn’t explicitly say, it appears that Yahweh motivated Artaxerxes to do not only the right thing, but the selfless thing. For at least this brief moment, Artaxerxes was compassionate and empathetic. He understood that God’s people needed to practice their religion freely and worship Him in their own land. Ezra’s involvement in these events wasn’t a matter of chance. God intended for him to be there, in that moment, to do that work. His providential work was part of every step. How have you been intentionally placed to do God’s work? What influence can you use for His kingdom?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 20: Man vs. Nature
Ezra 9:1–10:44; 1 John 4:7–12; Psalm 107:23–43
As a teenager, I devoured stories about men and women at odds with nature. These man vs. nature struggles always told of a battle of wills. Nature was always at its most magnificent and most frightening: untamed, unwieldy, and heartless. The characters seemed to be living on the edge of human experience—they were not focused and resolute, anticipating the next turn of events like a typical Hollywood action film, but frightened and helpless before an uncaring force. If we read Psa 107, we’ll find this genre isn’t unique to contemporary novels. Biblical writers also used the man vs. nature theme to show battling wills. Psalm 107 reads like a riveting short story: “Those who went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the high seas; they saw the works of Yahweh, and his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and raised up a stormy wind, and it whipped up its waves. They rose to the heavens; they plunged to the depths. Their soul melted in their calamity. They reeled and staggered like a drunkard, and they were at their wits’ end” (Psa 107:23–27). When faced with uncontrollable forces, people make choices that mean life or death. In the stories of my youth, the characters were sometimes able to use their wits to get to safety. But most often, they died trying. The English idiom used in this psalm, “their wits’ end,” is actually a rendering of the Hebrew idiom, “their wisdom was swallowed up.” The men in this psalm weren’t just flustered; they were helpless. Their resources and smarts couldn’t battle this power. Yet the men didn’t meet only a cold, deadly force when they came to the end of their own strength. “Then they cried out to Yahweh in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distresses” (Psa 107:28). Submission in the battle of wills leads to Yahweh’s love and care. He is more than willing to guide us to the safe harbor (Psa 107:30). When faced with difficult circumstances, do you rely on your own strength, even when it’s insufficient? If you cry out to God, do you believe that He will answer?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 21: Position, Prayer, and Strategy
Nehemiah 1:1–3:32; 1 John 4:13–15; Psalm 108:1–13
Trying to make a difference in the world can be disheartening; it’s easy to feel like merely a drop in the bucket. When Nehemiah first heard about the suffering of His people, he could have been discouraged. When he learned that the returned exiles were “in great trouble and shame,” living in a city with no walls (Neh 1:3), he could have said, “I’d love to help, but what can I do from this far away?” Instead, he decided to take action (Neh 1:3), and he did so thoughtfully. Rather than making a rash decision, he prayed (Neh 1:4–8). He then volunteered to be the one to help God’s people (Neh 1:9–11), even though doing so meant risking his life. As the cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah recognized his unique place of influence and acted upon it (Neh 2:1–3). He chose to appear saddened before the most powerful man in the world by hanging his head. His actions could have been perceived as a sign of disrespect, which was punishable by severe beatings and even death. But God protected Nehemiah, and the king honored his request (Neh 2:4–6). Nehemiah’s initial actions show his character, but his later actions show his leadership. He moved from being a man of influence to a man of strategy. Immediately upon arriving in the city, Nehemiah inspected the city walls, found the craftsman, and began his work (Neh 2:11–3:32). He realized the urgency of his task; his people needed this wall to survive against the surrounding nations. Nehemiah’s story offers an example of identifying providence, responding to the pain of others through prayer, and acting strategically. It’s a lesson in what it means to be a leader who follows God’s leadership. Nehemiah stands as an example of one who takes action that is well-researched, strategic, and prayerful. What are some ways you are providentially positioned to do God’s work? How have you led while following His leadership?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 22: Love and Peace
Nehemiah 4:1–5:19; 1 John 4:16–21; Psalm 109:1–15
“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in you.” Augustine’s prayer, spoken so many years ago, is still poignant for us today. It appeals to our created purpose: bringing glory to God. When we’re living outside of that purpose, we try to fill that void through other means. In his first letter, John shows how the love of God and communion with Him ultimately brings a sense of peace and confidence: “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as that one is, so also are we in the world” (1 John 4:16–17). God Himself has addressed the great rift we created between ourselves and Him. Through the sacrifice of His Son, He has made it possible for us to abide with Him and find peace in Him (1 John 4:15). Those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God experience this love that brings peace and confidence. But this love isn’t merely an emotion or a feeling of fulfillment; it’s a growing desire to be like Christ. Because God dwells in us, we will become more like Him in love. We can be confident of His work in us when we display self-sacrificial love for our neighbor. How are you resting in God’s love? How are you loving others?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 23: Discernment and Prayer
Nehemiah 6:1–7:65; 1 John 5:1–5; Psalm 109:16–31
“For all of them sought to frighten us.… And now, God, strengthen my hands” (Neh 6:9).
While God calls us to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt 5:44), he also calls us to act with discernment and prayer. Loving others doesn’t mean we should be weak or passive. Part of loving others means discerning their hearts and motives. “Blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). When Jesus spoke about being meek, He wasn’t referring to weakness. Instead, He was teaching us to focus on others rather than ourselves. That doesn’t mean we should be passive toward those who wish to harm us. Part of practicing meekness is being aware of our enemies and dealing with them cautiously. Doing so successfully takes strength and discernment—necessary components of any godly work. Nehemiah demonstrates these traits in his interactions with his enemies. When his opponents ask him to meet with them, Nehemiah discovers that they actually wish to hurt him. He resists their attack—even calling them on their deceit (Neh 6:8). Too often we allow ourselves to live passively. We enter into situations without thinking things through or recognizing that we’re about to be hurt by others. Yet we as Christians are at war against the evil in the world—not just against people, but also the unseen forces of evil (Eph 6:12). When we feel oppression, we must resist the urge to be reactive. Instead, we must appeal to Christ, who can overcome it all. We must refuse to engage unless it’s on our terms, by the power of the Spirit and completely in His will. What battles are you engaging with that you should disengage from? Which situations in your life need discernment?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 24: It’s Simple
Nehemiah 7:66–8:18; 1 John 5:6–12; Psalm 110:1–7
I tend to complicate matters. Determined to understand the nuances of a problem, I spend more time constructing a solution than I need to. Often, delaying a simple solution is my way of avoiding action that requires me to be courageous, intentional, or perhaps admit I’m wrong. John’s first letter addresses a complication of the gospel message. False teachers were causing division in the community by spreading incorrect doctrines about Christ’s humanity and divinity. Without understanding that Christ is both man and God, some people in the community were in danger of diminishing Christ’s saving work and confusing the gospel. John spends the greater portion of the letter guiding his readers through the murky doctrines the false teachers had introduced. However, John’s climactic point at the close of his letter is far from complex. First John 5:11–12 contains a statement about belief that is both simple and decisive: “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has the life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” As John leads the doubting recipients of his letter back to the truth, he shows them the simplicity of the solution: Through the Son, God has provided a way out of sin. This simple truth requires a simple response: belief in the Son. Where in your life do you complicate an obedient response to God?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 25: From Concern to Action
Nehemiah 9:1–10:27; 1 John 5:13–16; Psalm 111:1–112:10
When I approach God, I often try to persuade Him that I am worthy of something or that He should act on my behalf. But there is no reason God should act on our behalf—none is worthy of His intercession. When we pray, we often need a change in focus. Ultimately, it’s not about our rightness or goodness; it’s about His. It’s about what He can do, who He is, and why we know He can do something about the situation we’re in. We should still be honest and open with God, telling Him how we really feel (even though He already knows), but instead of focusing on our own righteousness, we should focus on God and what He’s already done for us. When I shift my attention to God and His goodness, many of my previous concerns fade. Before I even begin to pray, gratitude reminds me of God’s care and provision for me, allowing me to move from what I think matters to what matters to God. Throughout the Bible, we see models of thankful prayers that emphasize God’s character. In the book of Nehemiah, the priestly group descended from Pethahiah (1 Chr 24:16) proclaims: “Stand up, bless Yahweh your God from everlasting until everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name that is being exalted above all blessing and praise! ‘You alone are Yahweh. You alone have made the heavens, the heavens of the heavens, and all of their army, the earth and all that is in it, the waters and all that is in them. You give life to all of them, and the army of the heavens worship you’ ” (Neh 9:5–6). The people go on to recite God’s history of caring for them, focusing on His goodness and reminding themselves of His faithfulness when they (as a whole) had failed Him (Neh 9:7–37; compare Psa 111). They end their sermon with an agreement to honor God. They move from thankfulness, to God’s story, to agreeing to be part of His work. By focusing on God, their attention shifts from ordinary concerns (Neh 7–8) to how they will respond to God. It’s this shift in focus that ultimately leads to righteousness. We also see this progression in Psa 112: the path of the righteous is marked by blessing God and acknowledging His work (Psa 112:1–2). After all, recognizing God is the solution to most of our problems. How can you incorporate thankfulness into your prayer life? How can you do a better job of progressing from concerns to being part of God’s work?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 26: A Famous God
Nehemiah 10:28–11:36; 1 John 5:17–21; Psalm 113:1–114:8
Fame can have startling effects on people. Those who attain power and influence suddenly become less available: They’re selective with the phone calls they take, the emails they answer, and the people they associate with. Those who receive their attention tend to feel special. When we call on God, we expect Him to answer us and help us. Sometimes, we are so confident that He will or should help us that we forget how amazing it is that He interacts with us in the first place. Psalm 113 reminds us that God is beyond our comprehension. The psalm praises the power and glory of God, who is “high above all nations.” God isn’t just ruling over the earth, though. His realm of power extends even “above the heavens” (Psa 113:4). Both earthly and heavenly powers are subject to Him. His power is astounding, but what is most confounding is His nature and character. Psalm 113 points out that even in His power, God is still concerned with the plights of those far below: “Who is like Yahweh our God, who is enthroned on high, who condescends to look at what is in the heavens and in the earth?” (Psa 113:5–6). And He isn’t just concerned with the powerful and mighty; He is concerned about the helpless and the needy. “He raises the helpless from the dust, he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to seat them with princes, with the princes of his people” (Psa 113:7–8). God is more majestic and powerful than we can comprehend. His fame exceeds that of any celebrity. Yet He still desires to help us—to lift us “up from the ash heap.” This alone should astound us, but there’s more: He cares for us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son to restore our relationship with Him. How are you astounded by God’s nature and His care for you?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 27: The Truth about Truth
Nehemiah 12:1–13:31; 2 John 1–6; Psalm 115:1–18
John the Evangelist’s letter to the “elect lady” presents a picture of joy and hope, as he “rejoiced greatly to find some of [her] children walking in truth, just as we were commanded by the father” (2 John 4). One word keeps reappearing in John’s letter, focusing his message: truth. John says that he loves the elect lady and her children “in truth” (2 John 1). He says that all who know the truth also love them. His reason is simple: “the truth … resides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2). When John speaks of truth, he’s referring to Jesus (John 14:6). After his initial greeting, John goes on to express his wishes: May “Grace, mercy, [and] peace … be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father in truth and love” (2 John 3). In acknowledging the source of truth, John acknowledges his connection to it. All believers live in truth because they are linked to God, who is the Truth. He is the source for all they do (that is godly), all they are (that is holy), and all that they will become (that is virtuous). In a few brief statements, John teaches us an important lesson: God is the source of all the goodness in the world. Even in acknowledging others, we must acknowledge Him. If we’re to discuss truth, then we must talk about Him. The elect lady that John addresses is not only truthful—she also leads others to the truth. When we act to encourage someone to work toward who they’re meant to be, we need to follow her example. We need to first lead them to truth: God. What is God teaching you about truth? How can you live it?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 28: Meet and Greet
Esther 1:1–2:23; 2 John 7–13; Psalm 116:1–19
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not speak a greeting to him, because the one who speaks a greeting to him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9–11). This passage is sometimes used as support for forming exclusive communities—ones that don’t interact with people who don’t believe in the gospel or who have a different faith. Based on this passage, some believe that we as Christians are not permitted to interact with nonbelievers. Is that what John is really teaching? John issued this warning during a time when false teachers were spreading confusing doctrines about Christ. He exhorted believers to “test the spirits” to see if these teachers were actually from God (1 John 4:1). They would know if these teachers were from God if they confessed the true message of Jesus Christ—specifically that He had come in the flesh and was from God (1 John 2:1). John wanted the community to be aware of false teachings so they wouldn’t become confused or weakened in their faith. We, too, need to be intentional about the teaching we adhere to. If we are weak and troubled in our faith, we should seek out mature believers who can teach and minister to us. However, if we are confident in our faith, we should be ready and willing to share the message of salvation with those who need to hear it—both inside and outside our communities. How are you sharing the gospel with those who need to receive it?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
June 29: Behind the Scenes
Esther 3:1–7:10; 3 John 1:1–4; Psalm 117:1–118:16
Sometimes life can look so bleak that it seems as if all hope is gone. This was the situation for Esther and Mordecai: “Letters were sent by couriers to all the provinces of the king to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children” (Esth 3:13). Genocide was upon Esther, Mordecai, and their people, and it seemed that little could be done. Yet God unexpectedly used Esther to do His work and made Mordecai a hero for thwarting the enemies’ plan to destroy God’s people (Esth 5–7). As a result, the people who wanted to kill Mordecai ended up dead (Esth 7:7–10). But these events depicted more than poetic justice; they provide an example of hope in the midst of adversity. This story shows that God is at work even when we don’t realize He is there—when even prayer feels like a waste of energy. While God is not a “character” in the book of Esther, His presence is implicit in every scene of goodness coming out of chaos. We may not see Him talking in a burning bush, but we feel His concern in the tension; we note His love and compassion through His orchestration of events. These actions aren’t credited to God directly, but that, too, shows something about His character. He doesn’t need the praise that we so often do, so we need to acknowledge how praiseworthy He really is. Even when we don’t know how to pray, or don’t pray at all, God can still answer. And that’s goodness, above all else. How is God at work in your life in ways you may not realize—even at this very moment?
JOHN D. BARRY
June 30: By Your Example
Esther 8:1–10:3; 3 John 5–15; Psalm 118:17–29
By nature, we are creatures of imitation. Children mimic the traits of their parents, and even in later life we are influenced by the habits of our friends. People naturally imitate, even if they don’t realize it or intend to. This is one reason why “lead by example” is such a powerful principle. It’s also why leaders can change the direction of a whole community—for better or worse (Jas 3:1). Diotrephes, an ambitious member of the early church who misused his power, was unwilling to heed the advice of John and others who reprimanded him. In his letter to Gaius, a church leader known for his faithfulness and love, John gives this advice regarding Diotrephes: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11). Throughout his letters, John emphasizes that people’s actions reflect their heart. Diotrephes’ actions told a dismal story. Whether he was a church leader or someone who battled for leadership, he was characterized by his selfish ambition: He wanted to be “first,” and he did “not acknowledge” those in leadership roles (3 John 9). He was also known for speaking evil words that undermined other leaders (3 John 10), and he spread contention by refusing to receive missionaries and intimidating those who wanted to (3 John 10). These actions didn’t reflect the work of the Spirit in his life. We’re not sure what happened to Diotrephes. Perhaps he left the Christian community. Perhaps he repented when John “call[ed] attention to the deeds he [was] doing” (3 John 10). His story, though, shows us that we shouldn’t imitate blindly. Instead, we should “test the spirits to determine if they are from God” and respond wisely (1 John 4:1). Where in your life do you need to be more careful whom you imitate? Where do you need to set a positive example?
REBECCA VAN NOORD