march 2017


March 1: A Bold God and a Bold People

Numbers 1:1–46; John 11:1–27; Psalms 1:1–6


Imagine a God so bold that He would say, “Take a census of the entire community of the children of Israel according to their clans and their ancestors’ house … from twenty years old and above, everyone in Israel who is able to go to war. You and Aaron must muster them for their wars. A man from each tribe will be with you, each man the head of his family” (Num 1:2–4). It wouldn’t be easy to hear God tell you that you must be ready for war. Yet our daily decisions to follow God are not so different than the decisions and preparations Moses had to make. Every day we have opportunities to choose God—or not. It’s easy to agree to this as a principle, but living it is an entirely different story. How often do distractions deter us from actually hearing God? Yet if we can’t hear Him, we can’t obey Him. It’s also easy to be distracted by sin, but following sinful ways will only make us like “the chaff that the wind scatters” (Psa 1:4). We must be a people constantly seeking God instead—a people that makes His law our “delight” (Psa 1:2). We must “meditate” upon it “day and night” (Psa 1:2). We’re also distracted by wicked people prospering. It’s easy to think, “Why is that person moving up in the world while I seem to be falling back?” But we must remember that this world is not “the dream,” and God will bring justice: “for Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psa 1:6). What’s distracting you from listening to God and following Him? What are you going to do about it? JOHN D. BARRY



March 2: The Power and the Glory

Numbers 1:47–2:34; John 11:28–57; Psalm 2:1–12


In our day-to-day life, we acknowledge God’s power and encourage others to believe in it. Yet sometimes it takes a trial for us to realize the extent and reality of our confession. The disciples misunderstand Jesus’ reference to death and resurrection (John 11:11–12), so He displays His power through a trial and a miracle—the death and raising of Lazarus. Before Jesus has raised Lazarus, Mary and Martha express, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). While their statement is a confession, it reveals their limited view of Jesus’ power. The crowd echoes Mary and Martha’s sentiment: “Was not this man who opened the eyes of the blind able to do something so that this man also would not have died?” (John 11:37). Yet, they don’t realize that Jesus has been planning for this moment to provide them with a chance to believe. (Of course, Jesus knows He could have come earlier; He chose not to so He could use this as an example.) Jesus uses this miracle to challenge and encourage them while showing them that He is the source of life. The question He poses to Martha should be one we all consider: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die forever. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26). What trials has God used to show you that He is the true life? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 3: It May Seem Bland

Numbers 3:1–39; John 12:1–19; Psalm 3–4


Let’s just admit it: genealogies and lists, like the one in Num 3:1–39, are the most boring elements of the Bible. But they do something for us that other formats cannot—they give us a sense of history and lineage. With a genealogy, we can do more than just trace people; we can map their relationships to others and to the events that happen through those relationships. We can also determine who was involved in those major events. Genealogies and lists give us a small glimpse into God’s providential work, even though we may not recognize them as such. God worked among the people in those lists. He chose to use them. They didn’t deserve to be used by God in mighty ways, but they were. Some of the people in Num 3:1–39 were given seemingly insignificant tasks: “The responsibility of the sons of Merari was the supervision of the frames of the tabernacle, its bars, pillars, bases, and all its vessels and all its service,” among other things (Num 3:36). If most of us were given this assignment, we would probably think it lame and ask for another. But the sons of Merari likely understood that anything God asks of us should be followed through with honor. The people listed in Num 3:1–39 were likely selected because they believed they would see God’s glory. God may ask us to do things that seem insignificant or crazy, but if we don’t, we will miss out on seeing His glory. What is God asking of you that seems insignificant or crazy? JOHN D. BARRY



March 4: A Prayer for Guidance

Numbers 3:40–4:49; John 12:20–50; Psalm 5:1–12


When we feel downtrodden, it’s easy to lash out at those around us. Too often, caught in the injustice of our circumstances, we might begin to feel an unhealthy amount of self-justification. It’s difficult to see where the lines of right and wrong fall when anger and hurt overwhelm us. The psalmist presents an alternative to this: turning to the God of justice for guidance, protection, and insight. Psalm 5 records a heartfelt cry. This cry is directed at the God who acts justly in a world where evil seems to win (something not always easy to comprehend). Before making a judgment, the psalmist says, “I will set forth my case to you and I will watch” (Psa 5:3). Rather than push forward with his own agenda, he calls out for God’s justice because Yahweh is “not a God who desires wickedness” (Psa 5:4). The psalmist acknowledges God’s sovereignty and love, which is the basis for his confidence: “through the abundance of your steadfast love I will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you” (Psa 5:7). Before calling out the evil actions of his enemies, he prays for direction: “lead me in your righteousness because of my enemies; make straight before me your way” (Psa 5:8). The psalmist prays; then, he acts with God’s justice in view. In John 12, Jesus states that utter and complete devotion to God and His kingdom should be the focus of our lives: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor” (John 12:25–26). How can you pray for guidance in a world that often seems cold and uncaring? How can you trust God to lead you to act in ways that please Him? REBECCA VAN NOORD


March 5: Oddities that Make Sense

Numbers 5:1–31; John 13:1–20; Psalm 6:1–10


Some of the Old Testament laws seem so odd they’re difficult to understand. It’s easy for us to see why, in a day before medicine, God would send people with “a rash … a fluid discharge, and everyone … [who had touched] a corpse” outside the tribe for a period of time to prevent infection (Num 5:2). But why would God severely punish people caught in sins not (or hardly) related to possible medical issues (Num 5:5–31)? I think it’s because God understands that a culture that allows for amoral behavior will become a culture that promotes such behavior. Considering that Jesus had not come yet and sin was not graciously atoned for, there was a need for a ritual that symbolized religious purity. We are meant to hate the things that people in this life condone—things that may even seem right to us at the time—for the sake of loving God’s work. When evil was present among His people, God had to take drastic measures to combat it—thus, He gave specific instructions. While today we have Christ, we must still devote ourselves to following God’s calling and changing our evil ways for the sake of the gospel. In what ways are you loving evil things instead of hating them? Be honest with yourself and God. JOHN D. BARRY



March 6: Signs and Satire

Numbers 6:1–27; John 13:21–38; Psalm 7:1–17


The images of judgment in Psa 7 are sometimes hard to take. We are so acquainted with a God of love that it’s difficult to understand a God who blinds eyes, hardens hearts, and “has indignation every day” (Psa 7:11). While these passages paint a picture of a judging God, they also emphasize how foolish and evil people can be—specifically focusing on those who push the boundaries of God’s mercy and thus eventually find themselves outside of it. In Psalm 7, God is preparing to judge the evil man. Suddenly, the psalm switches focus to the evil man’s situations: “See, he travails with evil. He is pregnant with trouble, and he gives birth to deception. He makes a pit and digs it out, then falls in the trap he has made” (Psa 7:14–15). The evil man’s folly is directly correlated to God’s just judgment. God is ready and willing to forgive those who repent. But the evil man dwells in evil—he conceives it and is intimately connected to it. He gives birth to it. What’s more, he is willingly walking into his own punishment. His actions of digging a pit and falling into his own trap expose his foolishness—that he has effectively judged himself, as “His trouble comes back on his head, and his violence comes down on his skull” (Psa 7:16). The same sentiment is expressed in the Gospel of John. “But as many signs as he had performed before them, they did not believe in him” (John 12:37). While they had ample opportunity to believe Jesus’ words, the Jewish people depicted in the passage chose not to believe in Jesus. They had even seen miracles. But because of their unbelief, they brought about their own judgment. And although they had an opportunity to believe, they abandoned it; thus, it was “taken away.” These passages illuminate the folly of the decision to disobey. The judgment brought on those who disobey is really their own doing. It’s all the more reason to believe in the just God whose sacrifice defines what love is all about. Are you hesitant in your commitment to Jesus? What is keeping you from devoting totally to Him? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 7: Concerning Knowledge and Eating Meat

Numbers 7:1–47; John 14:1–31; Psalm 8:1–9


It’s easy to equate knowledge with faith and then look down on new believers. Although we might not voice it, those who are less knowledgeable in their faith can seem weak. And sometimes, instead of practicing patience, showing love, and speaking carefully about the hope within us, we enroll them in Bible boot camp for dummies. But Jesus shows that love is what leads to growth in faith: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and will take up residence with him. The one who does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:23–24). Paul echoes this in his letter to the Corinthians: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows anything, he has not yet known as it is necessary to know” (1 Cor 8:1–2). In reality, the opposite of what we believe is true: anyone who lacks love actually lacks faith (1 Cor 8:3). Love defines our relationship with God and with each other. Christ died for both the knowledgeable and the weak, and both are caught up in His sacrifice (1 Cor 8:11). God has love and patience for the people whose own search for knowledge led us away from Him. And this should give us all the more love and patience for each other. How can you practice humility and love with those who haven’t been in the faith as long as you have? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 8: The Vine and the Branches

Numbers 7:48–89; John 15:1–16:4; Psalm 9:1–7


Jesus isn’t simply a high priority or even the highest priority of our lives. He is the source of life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches the disciples that they need to depend on Him for their very lives—both in the present and for eternal life. “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him—this one bears much fruit, for apart from me you are not able to do anything. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and dries up, and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:5–6). We rarely think in these terms today. However, the disciples faced persecution and even death on account of their faith in Jesus. Our lives, like theirs, will be held to the same measure. They are being held to the same measure. Today, when you look at your life, and the lives of those closest to you, do you see fruit and abundance? Or do you see another picture? Are you like a dried-up branch, devoid of any good works that speak of a godly source? Do your relationships suffer because you are at the center, not Jesus? Throughout the trials you face—whether big or small—cling to Jesus as the source and giver of life. May you remain in His love. And may His love fill you with abundance and cause you to bear fruit for His kingdom. How does your life bear fruit? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 9: Profound and Confounding

Numbers 8–9; John 16:5–33; Psalm 9:8–20


God’s provision in our lives is often hard to see. There are times when we follow His commandments and we’re able to visibly see His work. Such times are profound to the believer but can be confounding to the unbeliever. The ancients practiced remembering these events. They built memorials (usually a stack of stones) in places where God had shown Himself to them, such as when He offered them a covenant or gave them a revelation of some kind. They also had recurring holidays for remembering God’s providence in their lives. These types of traditions are nearly lost on us. Easter and Christmas are intended for this purpose, but they have become about something entirely different instead: bunnies and eggs, or a man with a red suit. Syncretism quietly sneaks into our lives, even though we would love to believe we would never let it happen. In Numbers 9:1–14, we see God’s command that His people celebrate the day He saved all the firstborn of Israel while issuing a punishment on Egypt. The Passover event was profound to the Israelites, but it was confounding to those who suffered the punishment: the Egyptians. Yahweh wanted them to remember what it was like to believe and to remember that He will rise up against those who oppress His people. All the commandments about the Passover occur just prior to Yahweh visiting them again (Num 9:15–23). Yahweh intends to dwell among them. We as believers are called to know the wisdom of Yahweh: He sent Christ to be crucified for us and we can have new lives in the Spirit as a result (1 Cor 2:6–16). This event must be remembered among Christians, continually and daily, and we must live a life that honors God’s work through Christ. Rather than synchronizing our lives to the calendars and objectives of those around us, we must show the profundity of Christ’s message. We must let it be known that His work is confounding—until you believe. How is Christ profoundly affecting your life, and how should you react as a result? JOHN D. BARRY



March 10: Jesus Christ (Meant to Be) the Superstar

Numbers 10:1–36; John 17:1–26; Psalm 10:1–18


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, is certainly incorrect (and rather heretical) in its portrayal of history, but it got one thing right: Jesus is meant to be the celebrity. He—no one else—is the Savior, the Christ, the Lord. And that’s why the celebrity pastor movement is quite frightening. I don’t say this as a cynic, and it’s not that I’m primarily concerned with how these teachers are marketed (although that, too, can be scary at times); I’m worried about the way they’re received. Certainly there are people who can be trusted more than others, and popularity is by no means a measurement of trustworthiness. But automatically agreeing with everything a teacher says puts the disciple in a bad position with the God they worship. It also puts the teacher in a position similar to an idol. Teachers who truly follow Christ would never desire such glory for themselves. In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus glorified by the Father. Jesus was obedient to the Father, even to death, which is why He alone is worthy of our worship. “I have glorified you on earth by completing the work that you have given me to do. And now, Father, you glorify me at your side with the glory that I had at your side before the world existed” (John 17:4–5). True teachers of the gospel want commitment—not to themselves, but to Christ and His cause. Jesus prayed: “Righteous Father, although the world does not know you, yet I have known you, and these men have come to know that you sent me. And I made known to them your name, and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I may be in them” (John 17:26). In what parts of your life is God asking you to make a statement similar to Paul’s? What teachers are you adoring too much? JOHN D. BARRY



March 11: In the Moment of Weakness

Numbers 11–12; John 18:1–24; Psalm 11–12


All leaders have their moments of weakness. But without such times, they wouldn’t stretch themselves (and that would mean they weren’t really in God’s will). It’s not that these moments shouldn’t happen, but we should turn to God when they do. Moses dealt with more than his fair share of people getting upset with his leadership, and he felt weak as a result. He didn’t always handle these situations correctly, but in Num 11 we see a glimpse of what an amazing leader he really was. The people were upset because they didn’t have meat to eat and were (once again) wishing they were back in Egypt. They were considering going against God’s will, and at least with their words, they were already doing so. Moses responded by telling God about his frustrations: “Moses heard the people weeping according to their clans … Then Yahweh became very angry, and in the eyes of Moses it was bad. And Moses said to Yahweh, ‘Why have you brought trouble to your servant? Why have I not found favor in your eyes, that the burdens of all these people have been placed on me?… If this is how you are going to treat me, please kill me immediately if I find favor in your eyes, and do not let me see my misery’ ” (Num 11:10–11, 15). God uses moments of weakness to create strength. He took the burden of leading off Moses alone and divided it among the people. In doing so, He made all the people accountable together for their actions (Num 11:16–23). God may have been angry about their disobedience, but that didn’t stop Him from listening to His servant, Moses, and graciously responding. God wants to interact the same way with us when we bring our burdens to Him. In what ways are you feeling weak as a leader? What would God have you do? JOHN D. BARRY



March 12: Cry Out Like the Psalmist

Numbers 13:1–33; John 18:25–19:16; Psalm 13:1–6


We often read the very bold psalms of the Bible without really reading them. We’re used to their cadence, their cries, and their requests. They seem appropriate in contexts where war, death, and enemies or mutinous friends were a daily reality. For that reason, these cries don’t always resound off the pages and fill our own lips, even when they should. “How long, O Yahweh? Will you forget me forever?” says the psalmist (Psa 13:1). “Consider and answer me, O Yahweh my God” (Psa 13:3). Often, when going through the difficulties of life, these cries should be our own. Instead, we try to lean on our own strength. We rely on the bravery and wisdom that we think rests deep inside us. We try to muster courage. We engage the fear. The psalmist acknowledges that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be: “How long must I take counsel in my soul, and sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psa 13:2). Instead, we should be crying out with the helplessness that is closer to our true reality. The next time you feel anxious, stop and pray. Turn over your cries to the one who can do something about them. When you do so, acknowledge that God is your God (Psa 13:3). Acknowledge His steadfast love (Psa 13:3). He will hear you and answer you. And, as the psalm states, He will deal bountifully with you (Psa 13:6). How are you trying to resolve the problems of your life? How can you turn to God in these moments? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 13: Nostalgia: My Old Friend

Numbers 14:1–45; John 19:17–42; Psalm 14:1–15:5


Regret and nostalgia can destroy lives. They are mirrored ideas with the same pitfalls: neither can change the past, and both keep us from living in the present. When we live wishfully rather than interacting with the present, we’re bound to miss out and hurt others. Since other people don’t necessarily share our feelings about the past, they feel less important to us here and now. And indeed, we’re making them less important. We’re concerned instead with how things could have been or used to be. This is precisely what happens after the Israelites flee Egypt: “Then all the community lifted up their voices, and the people wept during that night. And all the children of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and all the community said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt or in this desert!’ ” (Num 14:1–2). As usual with regret and nostalgia, these words were said in frustration but born out of fear: “Why did Yahweh bring us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little children will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt” (Num 14:3). And their fear even takes them to the next level of disobedience against God’s will—they will overthrow Moses’ leadership: “They said to each other, ‘Let us appoint a leader, and we will return to Egypt’ ” (Num 14:4). Nostalgia is dangerous: it causes us to forget the wretchedness of the past and exchange it for fond memories. We begin to focus on the good things and drift away from obedience in the process. Regret, too, is dangerous, as we wish we had never ended the good times but kept on living the life that was never good for us to begin with. This scene in Numbers illustrates a profound point: collective memory enables regret and nostalgia to create mob rule instead of God rule. What memories are you holding too dearly? How are they holding you back from the life God has for you now? JOHN D. BARRY



March 14: A Psalm of Confidence

Numbers 15:1–41; John 20:1–31; Psalm 16:1–11


“You are my Lord,” the psalmist acknowledges. “I have no good apart from you” (Psa 16:2). We know that God is everything we need, but somehow the details still get in the way. We want to alleviate our troubles through other means—that vacation, the position that will bring recognition, or the spouse who will complete us. The psalmist says that anyone who places their desire in anything other than God will only increase in sorrow (Psa 16:4). It seems radical and difficult to live out the psalmist’s simple confession. The ancient practice of idol worship is alive and well in our modern-day culture and in our own hearts. (Just look at the magazine rack or TV shows if you think I’m wrong: what is worshiped there?) We are just like the Israelites—unfaithful and prone to “hurry after another god” (Psa 16:4). For the psalmist, however, “Yahweh is the portion which is my share and my cup” (Psa 16:5). He is all the psalmist ever needs: “I have set Yahweh before me always. Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken” (Psa 16:8). God brings the psalmist hope, and He can do the same for us. We just need to turn to Him. Today, pray the words of Psalm 16: “You are my Lord. I have no good apart from you.” How can we remind ourselves that He is all we will ever need? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 15: The Power Struggle

Numbers 16:1–50; John 21:1–25; Psalm 17:1–15


Every leader faces power struggles—from those who follow the leader and from those the leader follows. If there isn’t some sort of struggle, the leader probably isn’t doing his or her job well. It’s simple: those who make everyone happy probably aren’t pushing people to be better, and pushing will—at times—frustrate both the leaders and the followers. Moses regularly experienced leadership struggles. In Numbers 16, Korah—accompanied by 250 men who were leaders in Israel—calls Moses and Aaron’s leadership into question, saying, “You take too much upon yourselves! All of the community is holy, every one of them, and Yahweh is in their midst, so why do you raise yourselves over the assembly of Yahweh?” (Num 16:3). They’re using Moses’ words, spoken on behalf of Yahweh, against him here: “you will belong to me as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6). But they made one faulty assumption in doing so. Yahweh had prefaced these words by saying, “if you will carefully listen to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be a treasured possession for me out of all the peoples, for all the earth is mine, but …” and then He continued with the line Korah quoted (Exod 19:5–6). Surely Moses knows this, and he is well aware of their folly. But rather than answering the fool according to his folly, he responds by prostrating himself—an act of worship toward God and humility toward those he serves: the people of Israel. He then says, “Tomorrow morning Yahweh will make known who is his and who is holy, and he will bring him near to him, whomever he chooses he will bring near to him” (Num 16:5). It appears that in that moment of prostration, Moses prayed and was immediately given an answer. He insists on bringing the matter before God Himself. Moses could have defended himself by insisting upon the special nature by which God had revealed Himself to him. Or he could have noted to Korah that he is only out of Egypt—and thus able to call Moses into question—because Moses was obedient to God. He even could have noted that Korah was only in leadership at all because Moses listened to God and appointed him. But instead, he insisted on bringing it before God. He did, though, follow up by telling Korah that he had plenty of authority and shouldn’t be so greedy (Num 16:8–11). This event demonstrates the kind of faith that we should all have in what God asks us to do. How do you respond when people question what God has asked you to do? How can your response in the future be more like Moses’? JOHN D. BARRY



March 16: It Will Seem Simple in Retrospect

Numbers 17:1–18:32; 1 Corinthians 1:1–31; Psalm 18:1–12


We’re all faced with difficult tasks. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was forced to confront their spiritual problems, which were slowly destroying God’s work among them. Paul was thankful for them (1 Cor 1:4–8), but he was also called to a high purpose as an apostle. His calling meant saying what people didn’t want to hear (1 Cor 1:1). There were divisions among the Corinthians that were going to rip their fledgling church apart, and Paul implored them to make some difficult changes: “Now I exhort you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that … there not be divisions among you, and that you be made complete in the same mind and with the same purpose. For … there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor 1:10–11). And here’s where something amazing happens that we often overlook. Paul, a confident man and a former Law-abiding Pharisee, could have stated why he was right and moved on, but he does something else: “Each of you is saying, ‘I am with Paul,’ and ‘I am with Apollos,’ and ‘I am with Cephas,’ and ‘I am with Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I give thanks that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that you were baptized in my name” (1 Cor 1:12–15). Paul sticks it to them, and he reminds them that Christ deserves all the credit. We all have moments like this, where we have the opportunity to take credit for someone else’s work—or even worse, for Jesus’ work. Paul had the strength and character that we should all desire. How are you currently taking credit for others’ people work or for Jesus’? JOHN D. BARRY



March 17: Letting Evil Burn

Numbers 19:1–20:13; 1 Corinthians 2:1–16; Psalm 18:13–30


“And Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying … ‘let them take to you a red heifer without a physical defect …. And you will give it to Eleazar the priest, and it will … be slaughtered in his presence. Then Eleazar the priest will take some of its blood on his finger and spatter it toward the mouth of the tent of assembly seven times. The heifer will be burned in his sight; its skin, its meat, and its blood, in addition to its offal, will burn’ ” (Num 19:1–4). This passage is so strange and gruesome, it is clearly symbolic. The heifer represents the perfect, unblemished sacrifice—which takes care of some (not all) of the purification associated with things Yahweh deemed unclean for the purpose of teaching His people obedience, and some of the results of sin (Num 19:9). Also, the heifer is burned because it has to be made into ashes. This beautiful creature becomes ashes. That’s the cost of an impure life: good has to become worthless. The only way to purge impurities is to burn them away. Then what has been purified through fire (and then water) can be used (Num 19:9–10). The passage goes on to describe several uses associated with this practice (e.g., Num 19:11–13). All of our lives include things that go against God’s will, and these things must burn. We must let the Spirit work in us to empower us to remove them. And there’s good news for this: Jesus has already done the great work of conquering sin in the world. There is no more need for the red heifer because Jesus’ sacrifice (His death) paid for our problems. He wasn’t the symbol of the sacrifice, like the heifer; He was the sacrifice itself. God calls us to the great race of running toward Him—for Him—in honor of what Christ has done among us. So let’s let the evil burn. What is God calling you to burn? JOHN D. BARRY



March 18: Is This “Bad” from God?

Numbers 20–21; 1 Corinthians 3:1–4:21; Psalm 18:31–50


God has granted us incredible grace in the salvation that Jesus’ death and resurrection offers, but that very grace is often used as a theological excuse. It’s dangerous to say that bad things come from God, but there are times when they actually do. What makes them good is how He uses them to help us grow. The great grace God offers doesn’t mean our sins go unpunished. We see God directly issue what seems “bad” in Num 21:5–7. First we’re told: “The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us from Egypt to die in the desert? There is no food and no water, and our hearts detest this miserable food’ ” (Num 21:5). Then, Yahweh sends poisonous snakes that bite the people, causing them to die (Num 21:6). Why would a good God do such a horrific thing? In Numbers 21:1–4, the people had experienced a miraculous victory against the Canaanites living in Arad—a people they were losing to, and should have lost to, until Yahweh intervened. Yahweh showed Himself to be loyal and true; yet, the people still rebelled. When Yahweh punishes the people with the snakes, it’s not because He wants to; it’s because He needs to. And the result is worth it. The people say to Moses, “We have sinned because we have spoken against Yahweh and against you. Pray to Yahweh and let him remove the snakes from among us” (Num 21:7). In their response, they show faith in Yahweh and His ability to change the situation. They also show faith in the leader He appointed to them: Moses. God sent this “bad” thing because He knew it would be a good thing (compare 1 Cor 11:30–32). This knowledge should make us boldly proclaim, as the psalmist does, “For who is God apart from Yahweh and who is a rock except our God?” (Psa 18:31). What currently seems “bad” that is really a result of God responding to your disobedience? JOHN D. BARRY



March 19: A Merciful Smackdown

Numbers 22:1–41; 1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11; Psalm 19:1–14


Sometimes, we’d rather not be teachable. When it comes to taking advice from people in my church community, it’s easier to keep an emotional distance than it is to listen. If I tread lightly on their sin, maybe they’ll tread lightly on mine. If we keep our problems to ourselves, we can maintain a certain understanding. This type of tolerance has deadly results. Unrestrained sin and pride doesn’t just hurt the one who is sinning—its waves affect everyone (1 Cor 5:6). This is why Paul takes such a strong stance against it in 1 Cor 5:1–13. In Corinth, believers were using their freedom to commit all sorts of sordid sins. And instead of being broken about their sin, they were filled with pride—they were boasting about their freedom. Paul knew he had to do something drastic to break through such thought patterns. His statement is startling for those who might practice tolerance for sin: “I have decided to hand over such a person to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5). This type of judging is not seen as casting someone to the depths of hell; rather, it is casting someone out of the Christian community with the purpose of helping them see their sin for what it is. (For Paul, the realm of Satan was everything outside of Christ; thus, everything outside of the Church was the realm of Satan.) We aren’t called to judge people who have no claim to following Jesus. Rather, we’re called to hold accountable those who, like us, believe the good news (1 Cor 5:11). Within the bounds of authentic Christian community and trust, we need to be ready to call each other out when sin and pride creep in—and we need to do it with loving intolerance. How are you reaching out to others who are struggling with sin? How are you making yourself approachable and teachable? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 20: We Don’t (Really) Mean It

Numbers 23:1–30; 1 Corinthians 6:12–7:16; Psalm 20:1–9


“I’ll pray for you.” We say it often, but how many times do we actually remember to do it? Our biggest downfall might not be a lack of compassion—it’s probably just not taking time to write down the request and not having a model of praying for others. Some of us might feel like we’ve mastered the art of the task list, but it can still be difficult to keep up with praying for our friends. It’s easy to think, “God knows their needs, so it’s fine.” But that’s not the New Testament view of prayer: we’re meant to pray always (Luke 18:1; 1 Thess 5:16). And Paul himself regularly asks for prayers. If they weren’t important, he wouldn’t ask (Col 4:3). For this reason, it would be helpful to develop a system to track what people need prayer for, like a prayer journal. But what about the model? When I pray for God’s will in my life, I’ve found that using the Lord’s Prayer works well when I’m having trouble praying. But I haven’t adopted a model for praying for others. Psalm 20 contains such a model, and the psalmist offers some beautiful words for others: “May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble.… May he send you help … May he remember all your offerings … May he give to you your heart’s desire … May we shout for you over your victory” (Psa 20:1–5). And then the psalmist goes on to proclaim God’s goodness and that He will answer (Psa 20:6). And this is the line I think I love the most: “Some boast in chariots, and others in horses, but we boast in the name of Yahweh, our God. They will collapse and fall, and we will rise and stand firm” (Psa 20:7–8). “They will … fall … and we will rise.” We must pray for our friends with this kind of confidence. And then the greatest challenge of all: we must pray for our enemies as well. How can you hold yourself accountable to pray for others? How can you use Psalm 20 as a model for prayer? JOHN D. BARRY



March 21: Sins of Omission

Numbers 24–25; 1 Corinthians 7:17–40; Psalm 21:1–13


There’s that moment when you’re asked to do something you know is wrong, but you feel like you should respond. It’s almost as fleeting as the decision to not stand up for what is right, even when no one asks for your opinion. Many wrongdoings occur in these moments—these chances for sins of omission. Being silent is as bad as committing the wrong action, which is why the American court system prosecutes all the people committing an armed robbery for murder when only one gunman pulls the trigger. Balaam, the prophet from Moab, had such an opportunity. After he was asked by Yahweh to bless the people of Israel—in opposition to his own king’s request (Num 22:1–6)—he could have done nothing at all. Or he could have made Yahweh like the gods of Moab—subjecting them to his will instead of their own—but he instead follows the orders of Yahweh and blesses the people of Israel (Num 24:3–9). The psalmist addresses what can happen when things go differently: “Though they have plotted evil against you [Yahweh], though they have planned a scheme, they will not prevail. For you will turn them to flight, you will aim arrows on your bowstrings at their faces” (Psa 21:11–12). We can hinder or help the work of God. Often this work can be done by much subtler means. Consider how you act or choose not to act in key moments, whether big or small. Today, choose to do the work that God has called you to do. What sins of omission are currently in your life? JOHN D. BARRY



March 22: Forsaken to Delight

Numbers 26:1–65; 1 Corinthians 8:1–9:27; Psalm 22:1–13


“My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you far from helping me, far from the words of my groaning?” (Psa 22:1). These are some of the darkest words in Scripture. It’s almost painful to speak them, to imagine a feeling of complete abandonment by God. These are also the words we hear Jesus say when He is hanging from the cross (Matt 27:46). When He utters them, He makes Himself one with this ultimate sufferer, this true lamenter, in Psa 22. He is essentially saying, “I am He: the one who has suffered the most for God’s cause and thus knows what it means to be human.” The plea in this psalm becomes even sadder, but then it is followed by a surprising affirmation of complete faithfulness in God: “O my God, I call by day and you do not answer, and by night but I have no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psa 22:2–3). The very nature of crying out to God, even in a time of feeling like He has completely abandoned you, is an act of faith. When we cry out in His name, we affirm His presence and the reality that He can intercede. Even if we’re not sure how He will intercede, crying out to Him is an act of faith. It is always the right solution; it’s what Jesus did in His time of greatest need and pain. The psalmist goes on to depict just how dire the situation is: “All who see me mock me. They open wide their lips; they shake the head, saying: ‘He trusts Yahweh. Let him rescue him. Let him deliver him because he delights in him’ ” (Psa 22:8–9). Jesus does precisely this: He trusts in Yahweh to be His rescuer. What the mockers—both at the cross and those depicted in this ancient psalm—don’t realize is that God is delighted in the suffering for His cause. God sees the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ suffering—the redemption of His people (compare Isa 52:13–53:12). And likewise, God sees the ultimate purpose of our suffering. He will delight in it when it is done for His purposes—His kingdom. This psalm is a model for us of what to do in those times. What are you currently suffering through for God’s purposes? How can you use Psalm 22 as a model for your response? JOHN D. BARRY



March 23: Reason: Not the Ultimate Power

Numbers 27:1–23; 1 Corinthians 10:1–22; Psalm 22:14–31


Reason is a gift from God, but that doesn’t make it a substitute for seeking God’s will through prayer. Moses appears to have been an intelligent man. He figured out how to flee Egypt after killing an Egyptian, how to survive in the wilderness, and how to make his way back without prosecution. He also transformed non-militarized men into a military and taught them to craft the weaponry necessary to win countless battles. But Moses didn’t rely on these abilities; he relied on asking God His will and waiting for His guidance. Moses relies on God’s will so often that I’m convinced that the actions that appear to come from great intelligence and reason—like his ability to escape and reenter Egypt and his ability to train people in combat—were based on God’s direct guidance. We see Moses seek God’s guidance in matters that he could have used reason to discern as well. In Numbers 27, when Moses is asked if a family should receive an inheritance of land (in the promised land) even though their father died without a son to inherit it, he could have simply said, “Of course; God is gracious. He won’t punish your entire family forever for your father’s sins.” (That was the reason they weren’t granted the land automatically.) His simple reason of “God is good” probably could have answered this for him. But Moses seeks God’s guidance instead. That’s the right answer. Our culture overemphasizes reason. Often, the people best at reasoning are promoted—in our workplaces, our churches, and our government—so it’s easy to see reason as the ultimate power. Instead, though, we should seek God in all things. His guidance is always needed. While He gave us our minds, He also gave us the Spirit; and while the mind can fail, the Spirit, if truly sought, listened to, and waited upon, cannot. What do you need to seek the Spirit’s guidance on that you are relying on reason for instead? JOHN D. BARRY



March 24: Green Pastures: They Require Action

Numbers 28:1–31; 1 Corinthians 10:23–11:16; Psalm 23


Love and complete reliance on God are interrelated concepts. When we discover what love really means, we want to praise God for it. When we learn to rely on God for all our needs, we see just how loving He is as He takes care of all aspects of our lives. And this love makes us want to show love to others. It’s those who don’t have who are most apt to come to Jesus. They’re most in need of love. For this reason, it’s hard for us who do have—a home, a car, enough food for a week—to fully understand reliance on Christ. It takes a different type of discipline. This is why it’s still shocking to me how many people absolutely love Psa 23. It’s comforting, I suppose, and that’s why: “Yahweh is my shepherd; I will not lack for anything. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by quiet waters he leads me” (Psa 23:1–2). I think so many of us love it, though, because we’re aware of how frail and vulnerable we really are. It could all be gone in a moment. Disease catches up to us, and death will eventually get us all. We often forget just how important love is in all this, and we fail to recognize why Psa 23 has a special place in our hearts. We are in the top percentile of wealth in the world. Many of our families own more than one car. Nonetheless, the death around us and the diseases we see show just how quickly it can be gone. And for this reason, we can recognize how crucial love is. Love carries people through hard times. It brings them to depend on God. Paul tells us we could have all sorts of incredible spiritual gifts, but if we don’t have love, there’s no point (1 Cor 13:1, 13). And when Paul speaks about love, he’s not talking about something we say or even feel; he’s talking about something we do. Love requires us to give all things; or in Paul’s words, it “rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:6–7). So, those of us who understand relying on Psa 23, even in our wealth, must help those who rely on its promises but are yet to experience them. They are people all over the world, waiting for us to “bear” their burdens with them. They are the hurting, the voiceless—the people who need us to show real love. How can you show love to the hurting and voiceless in the world today? God has called us all to action—that is what love means. So how will you act? JOHN D. BARRY



March 25: Thoughtless Iconoclasm

Numbers 29:1–40; 1 Corinthians 11:17–12:11; Psalm 24:1–10


When we learn something new about life and faith, it’s tempting to use our knowledge and freedom to tear down religious constructs and artifices—exposing truth in a way that’s not helpful or edifying. If we’re honest, pushing boundaries and living edgy and unfettered gives us a rush. Paul warns the Corinthian Christians against this attitude: “All things are permitted, but not all things are profitable. All things are permitted, but not all things build up” (1 Cor 10:23). Paul sets up a contrast, juxtaposing the clauses to set apart what should really be the focus of the Corinthians. Paul stresses that instead of flaunting freedom, we should be focused on what is helpful and constructive for the community. Seeking the good of the other person should be our first reflex. And it’s not simply limited to the Christian community. Paul states: “Therefore, whether you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God. Give no offense both to Jews and to Greeks and to the church of God” (1 Cor 10:31–32). This is a tall order in the internet age; when we don’t see someone face to face, it’s much easier to tear them down. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge ideas when the time is appropriate. However, it does mean we should carefully consider our audience and act in a way that will best communicate the message of the gospel. Whatever the case, we should “please all people in all things, not seeking [our] own benefit, but the benefit of man, in order that they may be saved” (1 Cor 10:33). How are you seeking the good of those around you? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 26: Grace and Favor

Numbers 30:1–16; 1 Corinthians 12:12–13:13; Psalm 25:1–22


Usually when we seek someone’s goodwill, we emphasize our own winning traits or accomplishments. Our supervisor, significant other, or family members are barraged with a list of our actions in an attempt to get the other to respond in kind. Often this results in a tug-of-war mentality, basing all we deserve on what we give. But our relationship with God doesn’t follow these rules. God’s mercy isn’t based on what we’ve done—it’s based entirely on His own goodness. The psalmist, realizing this, turns all of his attention to God’s mercy in Psa 25: “Remember your compassion, O Yahweh, and your acts of loyal love, because they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions. According to your loyal love, remember me if you will, for the sake of your goodness, O Yahweh” (Psa 25:6–7). In this individual lament, the psalmist reaches out to Yahweh with a cry for forgiveness and guidance. Instead of justifying his actions to obtain Yahweh’s favor, the psalmist turns the focus to God’s works and His faithfulness in the past. What he deserves isn’t what he gets—something he is altogether thankful for. God’s abundant graciousness extends far: from heaven down to earth, where Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sin. We can’t be thankful enough for that great act of mercy. It’s a reason for humility and thankfulness, as the psalmist expresses, and an act of faithfulness to us that we can never return. His mercy should completely transform our concept of what we deserve; it should alter us so much that we treat those around us not with expectations of who they should be for us, but with grace and love, as God treated us. How are you extending God’s grace to the people around you? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 27: Tongues, Prophecy, and the Thing We Call Love

Numbers 31:1–54; 1 Corinthians 14:1–25; Psalm 26:1–12


Nearly anything good can become unproductive if it’s abused or misused. Paul is all about embracing the side of spirituality that can seem a bit wacky to us today—gifts of tongues and prophecy, to name a few. But he is fully aware of the problems that can come from these gifts being used in a way that doesn’t fit within God’s will. And Paul’s primary concern is that spiritual gifts are used only within the bounds of love. Love is what it’s all about. “Pursue love, and strive for spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For the one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God, because no one understands, but by the Spirit he speaks mysteries” (1 Cor 14:1–2). By tongues, Paul is likely referencing the “tongues of angels”—some angelic language (1 Cor 13:1)—although elsewhere the term is used in reference to people speaking in a language they don’t actually know for the sake of ministering to others in their native tongue (Acts 2:3–4). Love—as manifested in Christ’s death and resurrection and in our living sacrificially for Him and others—is central, and spiritual gifts should support that cause. Paul goes on to say: “Now I want you all to speak with tongues, but even more that you may prophesy.… But now, brothers, if I come to you speaking with tongues, how do I benefit you, unless I speak to you either with a revelation or with knowledge or with a prophecy or with a teaching?” (1 Cor 14:5–6). Spiritual gifts are meant to indwell believers. Christians are meant to be driven by God’s Spirit and to do miraculous things in His name. But none of it matters if it’s not for the purpose of showing Christ’s love. What gifts do you resist using? How can you use the spiritual gifts God has given you to show love to others, and how can you correct your use of them if you’re not currently using them for this purpose? JOHN D. BARRY



March 28: Risk: Oversold and Underplayed

Numbers 32:1–42; 1 Corinthians 14:26–15:11; Psalm 27:1–14


The fears of the psalmist are not our fears today, and the fact that they aren’t should bother us. The psalmist remarks, “Do not give me over to the desire of my enemies, because false witnesses have arisen against me, and each breathing out violence. Surely I believe that I will see the goodness of Yahweh in the land of the living” (Psa 27:12–13). How many of us have legitimate enemies because of our faith? And how many of us experience violence because of the way we believe? There are many problems with Christianity today, but one of the most pervasive is the lack of willingness to take major risks for Jesus. Likewise, there is unbelief in God’s incredible ability to overcome all that we face. We may say that we affirm God’s power to beat all odds, but we don’t face the odds as if that were true. If we did, there would be far more world-changing Christians than there are. Instead, most Christians, at least in the Western world, are quite comfortable with a faith that generally allows for them to live a life of comfort rather than a life of being stretched for God’s causes. And when I use “them,” I mean that as “we.” We struggle with this, as a people and as individuals. I think our fear of taking risks for Jesus is directly connected to our lack of knowledge about what to do when they come along. The psalmist tells us, “Wait for Yahweh. Be strong and let your heart show strength, and wait for Yahweh” (Psa 27:14). Notice that the psalmist tells us to wait for Yahweh twice. Only something of grand importance would a poet state twice. Strength is found in Yahweh, and that strength should be shown in how we live. How can you take more risks for God? What are you waiting on, and how are you praying about that? JOHN D. BARRY



March 29: Prayer and Hope for the Anxious

Numbers 33:1–49; 1 Corinthians 15:12–34; Psalm 28:1–9


Anxiety, depression, and fear aren’t part of the Christian life—or the ideal Christian life, anyway. But for those who struggle with these emotions, this tidy concept isn’t helpful or true. What is helpful is hope and belief in the midst of tumultuous emotion. The writer of Psa 28 expresses deep anxiety, but even as he does this, he expresses trust in Yahweh: “To you, O Yahweh, I call. O my rock, do not be deaf to me. Or else, if you are silent to me, then I will become like those descending to the pit” (Psa 28:1). Though he feels like God is not listening, the psalmist doesn’t stop pursuing God. He worships and cries for help anyway. In contrast to the “workers of evil” who “do not regard the works of Yahweh, nor the work of his hands,” the psalmist puts all of his dependence and trust in Yahweh (Psa 28:3, 5). Halfway through the psalm, the petition turns to praise when Yahweh answers his prayer. The psalmist realizes his confidence is in the right place: “Blessed is Yahweh, because he has heard the voice of my supplications” (Psa 28:6). Even through dark times and bleak circumstances, God is faithful. He is never far from us, though emotions might dictate otherwise. He will “Shepherd them also and carry them always” (Psa 28:9). He saves, blesses, guides, and even carries us through all seasons. We are saved not according to our own works, but the work of Christ. In the midst of struggle, we can be certain that we are experiencing salvation now, in part. And we can be “convinced of this same thing, that the one who began a good work in [us] will finish it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). How are you trusting in God in the midst of struggle? How can you thoughtfully support someone who is suffering through a season like this? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 30: Taunting Death

Numbers 33:50–34:29; 1 Corinthians 15:35–58; Psalm 29:1–11


My best friend’s mother, a dear family friend, died of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Over the span of three years, the disease attacked her nerve cells, starting with her hands and feet and moving inward to her vital organs. Every time I visited her, she would be changed—her cane became a wheelchair, and her warbled words were muffled into silence. Although she was fully alert, she slowly lost the ability to communicate her feelings and needs. In the end, only her eyes displayed the tumultuous feelings underneath. Those who confront the reality of death or the death of a loved one don’t doubt their own fallibility. They are closely acquainted with the reality that so many strangely disregard. And they cling to the hope of the resurrection that Paul eloquently relays, and that the Corinthians were slow to understand and believe: “We will all be changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Cor 15:51–52). Christ’s death and victory over sin and death bring this life to those who believe in Him. His victory is the cause for Paul’s subsequent taunting of death—taunts that rip through with joy for those who realize Christ’s victory: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor 15:55–57). Lest we think we are any different, the process of death is happening to us and to those around us. Lou Gehrig’s disease is a fast-forward version of the human existence. Why, then, do we keep quiet about the hope within us? “So then … be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). How are you displaying and sharing the good news? REBECCA VAN NOORD



March 31: Gifts and Grace

Numbers 35:1–36:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1–24; Psalm 30:1–12


“Yahweh spoke to Moses on the desert plains of Moab beyond the Jordan across Jericho, saying, ‘Command the children of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their property cities to live in; and you will give to the Levites pastureland all around the cities’ ” (Num 35:1–2). The idea of giving is ancient. Before God’s people even enter the promised land, they’re commanded to help the Levites—who will be serving them as spiritual leaders—by giving them cities. Now that God has given to the people, He asks that they give back to His work. There is an opportunity for obedience, and this obedience will come with the blessing of continued spiritual guidance from the people to whom they are giving the land. But giving is not the only concept at play here. Shortly after this, God asks the people to provide refuge cities for murderers (Num 35:6–8). He institutes a system of grace—a type of house arrest. The idea that synagogues and churches are places where criminals can find refuge (sanctuary) likely finds its origins in this. This system of grace also manifests itself in types of hospitality. We see this several times in Paul’s letters. For example, Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians was on the rocks, yet he still requests hospitality for his fellow ministry worker: “But if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to fear, for he is carrying out the Lord’s work, as I also am. Therefore do not let anyone disdain him, but send him on his way in peace in order that he may come to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers” (1 Cor 16:10–11). God is gracious, and He calls us to be the same way—even when we don’t want to, and even when our sense of justice makes being gracious frustrating. Is God calling you to be gracious to someone? How are you going to give? JOHN D. BARRY

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