September 1: An Unusual Portrait
Hosea 1:1–2:23; Acts 1:1–26; Job 15:1–9
“At the beginning when Yahweh spoke through Hosea, Yahweh said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife and children of whoredom, because the land commits great whoredom forsaking Yahweh.’ So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son” (Hos 1:2–3). God’s people had prostituted themselves to other nations by seeking their help instead of Yahweh’s. Hosea’s act, which dramatized the rebellion of God’s people against Him, is one of the oddest in the Bible. God loves His people with passion and jealousy. He has little tolerance when they seek alliances with other nations and put false gods before Him. At times, He takes shocking measures to get their attention. The act He requires of Hosea not only depicts Israel’s unfaithfulness, but it also reveals God’s own feelings of betrayal. Many of us can empathize. At such moments in the Bible, it’s hard to understand how God uses such behavior to further His plan. But within the view of biblical theology, desperate situations like Hosea’s are transformed into redemptive scenes. Such is the case when we open the book of Acts: “I produced the former account [of the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day he was taken up, after he had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen, to whom he also presented himself alive after he suffered, with many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking the things about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1–3). Jesus came to redeem a people who sought refuge in the arms of false gods and other nations. When we see Hosea’s story in the light of Jesus’ acts and the subsequent acts of His apostles, we learn that God can indeed bring even the most wretched of people to righteousness. We also learn that sometimes it takes a vivid, if odd, real-life portrait for us to understand the truth about our false ways. Are you seeking refuge in the wrong places or the wrong ways? What are you placing before Yahweh and His work in your life?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 2: Only the Very Beginning
Hosea 3:1–5:15; Acts 2:1–41; Job 15:10–20
Beginnings are exciting. The freshness of a new project or a new relationship sharpens our senses. When that novelty diminishes, though, it’s difficult to maintain the same level of excitement. Acts 2 is all about beginnings. In this passage we get an inside view of how God worked to gather a new community of believers to Himself. Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit signaled a new era and produced a new community, as both Jews and “devout men from every nation under heaven” converted to the Christian faith (Acts 2:5). From where we stand, it’s easy for us to see Pentecost as the pivotal moment in the history of the Church—an unparalleled event that changed the world forever. Magnificent things happened. Peter gave a moving testimony. Three thousand people came to faith. When we celebrate the holiday of Pentecost, however, we are remembering the firstfruits of the harvest—the coming of the Holy Spirit and the original community of believers under Jesus Christ. Firstfruits are only the start of a harvest; they hint at future abundance. The wonders that began at Pentecost are still happening today. God is active and present in our lives, just as He was gathering His Church then. We need a fresh perspective. We need the motivation and the boldness of Peter. We need to rekindle our original excitement when announcing that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, because He is at work, in us and around us. How are you sharing this hope?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 3: The Discomfort of Scripture
Hosea 6:1–7:16; Acts 2:42–3:26; Job 15:21–35
Most of the Western world operates in the spirit of individualism. Christianity does not, though we often attempt to adapt it and make it more comfortable. It’s much easier to think about “God’s role in my life” than to reflect on “my role in God’s plan” to help others and share the gospel. When we attempt to shape our faith to fit our needs, we’re bound to run into Scripture that makes us squirm. Some people perform interpretive backflips to wriggle out of passages such as Acts 2:42–47. Verse 44 says, “And all who believed were in the same place, and had everything in common.” A fear of socialism serves as a convenient excuse to sidestep this verse, but it doesn’t speak to socialism. It speaks to voluntarily joining a movement of people who care more about the betterment of the group than they do about their individual gain. The truth is that God’s Word should make us uncomfortable because we are the ones who need to conform. None of us wants to accept Acts 2:44 unless the Spirit has worked within us. Acting out our faith means we must be willing to donate what we have to help others: time, material goods, money—whatever God calls us to give. Self-sacrifice is not easy for anyone, but it becomes easier when the Spirit prompts our hearts to see the needs of others as more important than our wants. Most people in the Western world choose the sin of selfishness over selfless service to others. Do we need to buy a coffee every morning, or could we make a cup at home? Do we need to live in a larger house, or could we downsize? Nearly all of us can find ways to give more by living with less. And we might find the motive we need when the Spirit speaks to us through the discomfort of Scripture. How can you give what you have to help others? What sacrifice can you make today, this week, or this month? Who do you know who’s in need?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 4: Utopian Truth for Today
Hosea 8:1–10:15; Acts 4:1–37; Job 16:1–9
Wealth often tempts us to materialism, as our possessions make us feel secure, valued, and comfortable. But sometimes the lack of these assets allows this temptation to exert even more power over us, driving us to spend our lives chasing the higher salary, the bigger house, or the new car. Our pursuit of this illusion makes it easy to dismiss passages like Acts 4 as utopian fantasy—ideal for difficult times, perhaps, but hardly realistic. “Now the group of those who believed were one heart and soul, and no one said anything of what belonged to him was his own, but all things were theirs in common. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. For there was not even anyone needy among them, because all those who were owners of plots of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds of the things that were sold” (Acts 4:32–34). We too easily find ways to distance ourselves from the selfless acts of the early believers. Sell plots of land or houses? Give it all away? That doesn’t seem reasonable. Won’t people take advantage of us? Won’t they grow lazy and begin to feel entitled? The early church responded differently. They responded to the testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with concrete acts of faith. They saw Christ as Lord over all they previously regarded as their personal possessions. They were so united in purpose and prayer that the things they owned mattered little unless they could be used in service to others—in doing the work of Christ. No matter where we stand financially, we need a new mindset. If it’s difficult to imagine changing our lifestyle to help someone in need, then we need to examine our hearts. If we cling to the belief that our possessions give us security, value, and comfort, then we need to examine our faith. Either way, we have to assess our possessions, talents, and time, consider the people in our lives, and make decisions that are governed by the values of a new kingdom. How can you better use your money, possessions, time, and talents to serve others?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 5: I Loved You; I Love You Now
Hosea 11:1–12:14; Acts 5:1–42; Job 16:10–22
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1). This line is beautiful if read alone, but it is sad when read in context: “When I called them, they went from my face. They sacrificed to the Baals, and they sacrificed to idols” (Hos 11:2). It’s incredible how quickly we forget God’s mercy and provision. All too soon we return to putting our desires before His. When we put things in front of God’s will—false gods and our own misguided ways (Baals and idols)—we thwart His will not only for our lives, but also for the lives of others. For each of us, God has a tremendous plan that also affects others, for His glory and for the betterment of the world. When we fail to seek His will, we neglect our faith and operate by our own agenda, setting His work aside. Our missteps can have terribly painful consequences: “The sword rages in [my people’s] cities; it consumes [their] false prophets and devours because of their plans. My people are bent on backsliding from me. To the Most High they call, he does not raise them at all” (Hos 11:6–7). We endanger ourselves when we backslide. Sin tears at our very souls. Yet God is loving. Unlike us, He doesn’t act out of vengeance but out of His perfect will: “I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; because I am God and not a mortal, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come in wrath. They will go after Yahweh; he roars like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the sea” (Hos 11:9–10). God’s goodness is not an excuse for our poor behavior; it’s the reason to run back to Him—our great lion. Let’s let Him roar against the darkness that seeks to capture our desires and our hearts. Let’s let Him push back. Let’s call upon Yahweh. What circumstances in your life prompt you to call on Yahweh today? What are you battling against?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 6: Faith for Every Moment
Hosea 13:1–14:9; Acts 6:1–15; Job 17:1–16
Sometimes it’s tempting to imagine ourselves as the hero of a dramatic scene where we’re called upon to give an account of our faith. But in real life, every action and every moment of our lives is a witness—even the ordinary ones. Stephen, a leader in the early church, knew this to be true. Stephen was appointed by the apostles to care for widows in need because he was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). People recognized his witness because he was faithful when no one was watching. His devotion brought him to a place of influence and leadership in the community. But Stephen didn’t limit his witness to one area of leadership. In the next verses, we find him witnessing about Christ by performing great wonders and signs. That’s when he came under fire, and his response was above reproach: “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). His opponents could not find a way to accuse him, so they resorted to spreading rumors (Acts 6:11). But even when Stephen stood accused before the Sanhedrin, he remained firm. Luke describes him as having “the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15), signifying that a sense of peace permeated his witness, where others might have been fearful or defensive. It’s easy to think our witness matters only for world-changing events, but we’re in the spotlight all the time. Knowing this, we should be intentional about the way we interact in the small things and in the present time. Pray to be faithful, wise, and full of the Spirit for every moment. How do you need to change your perspective on your witness?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 7: God Rides to Battle
Joel 1:1–2:21; Acts 7:1–53; Job 18:1–21
God is good, but in the words of C.S. Lewis, “He is not tame.” When it comes time for evil to be purged from the world, He is not timid, and when He acts, He rarely holds back. We see such a scene prophesied concerning the Day of Yahweh—the day He will return to the earth as Christ—in Joel 2:1–11. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of Yahweh is coming—it is indeed near. A day of darkness and gloom, a day of cloud and thick darkness, like the dawn spreads on the mountains, a great and strong army! There has been nothing like it from old, and after it nothing will be again for generations to come” (Joel 2:1–2). When God charges into battle, He seizes control of all that must be yielded so His purpose is not hindered. He then performs great and mighty deeds on behalf of His people. As Joel says, “There has been nothing like it.” So why, then, has God not done this already? What is He waiting for? Why is evil allowed to continue if God can end it? We find our answers in Joel 2:12–17. God, in His mercy, is allowing a time of repentance: “ ‘And even now,’ declares Yahweh, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, and weeping, and wailing. Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to Yahweh your God, because he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in loyal love, and relenting from harm’ ” (Joel 2:12–13). Indeed, God’s trumpet will sound, but even with that time approaching, He is a compassionate God, and His call is simple: “Come back to me.” What do you need to turn from today? What makes you hopeful about God’s coming?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 8: Resilient Hope and Red Herrings
Joel 3:1–21; Acts 7:54–8:25; Job 19:1–12
The death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, must have crushed and discouraged the early church. But in this event Luke shows us glimmers of hope. He reminds us that God is working behind the scenes. Facing death, Stephen prayed for his persecutors, asking that God “not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). God answered that cry of mercy in a generous way. As we watch Stephen being forced out of the city and stoned to death, Luke introduces us to another character present in the crowd: “The witnesses laid aside their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:54). This detail seems like a red herring, but by introducing Saul (later Paul) to us before his conversion, Luke gives his readers hope in desperate circumstances. Saul was determined to squelch this dangerous new sect coming out of Nazareth, but soon Paul would become its greatest advocate. By placing Stephen’s death alongside Saul’s persecution, Luke shows that the church is resilient. Stephen was a source of encouragement and godly leadership for the church. Similarly, and in spite of his beginnings, Paul would expand the influence of the Church far beyond the expectations of its first followers. In the end, Paul’s presence at Stephen’s stoning is not an irrelevant detail at all. God already had plans to use Paul’s life to further His kingdom work beyond Jerusalem and into the nations of the world. Paul’s conversion would be one of the greatest testaments of God’s saving work, demonstrating that God works to gather His community in ways we might not see. Even when circumstances seem grim, He is active behind the scenes, ready to use characters in His grand narrative for His good purpose. How can you turn to Jesus for hope in your hopeless circumstances?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 9: As the Lion Roars
Amos 1:1–4:5; Acts 8:26–9:19; Job 19:13–29
“Surely my Lord does not do anything unless he has revealed his secret to his servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who is not afraid? My Lord Yahweh has spoken, who will not prophesy? Proclaim to the citadel fortresses in Ashdod and the citadel fortresses in the land of Egypt and say: ‘Gather on the mountains of Samaria and see the great panic in her midst and the oppression in her midst!’ ” (Amos 3:7–9). It’s easy to make excuses when we don’t know or understand something, and it’s equally hard to admit why. Amos declares that God’s plan and His work in the world are known to us—if we wish to learn. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’re not trying hard enough to learn about Him and His work. God speaks through His prophets and through His Word in the Bible, so there is no reason for us to be unaware of how He is working and how He wants to use us in the process. What was true for the ot prophets was also true for the apostles. Through Philip, we see how God intimately involves people in His work. An angel tells Philip, “Get up and go toward the south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26). It took great faith for Philip to do as the angel instructed. The last part of verse 26 adds, “This is a desert place.” Few people have encountered an angel, as Philip did, but each of us has the opportunity to experience direction from our Lord. If we ask, God will answer. If we seek to learn how God is speaking, our path will become clear. Often we make this idea more complicated than it should be, but the work of the prophets and the early church demonstrate otherwise: Amos continued to tell of a fate that indeed came to pass, much of it in his lifetime. Philip took that desert road and led an Ethiopian man to Jesus. There is great, enduring hope for us to be part of God’s work if we’re willing to seek His will, listen, and act in faith. What does God wish for you to know today?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 10: God Doesn’t Promise Ease or Invisibility
Amos 4:6–5:27; Acts 9:20–43; Job 20:1–11
As Christians, we might be tempted by the lure of invisibility—the fabled cloak or ring that gives us the power to walk undetected among our friends or enemies. Although it is true that “making much of God” means making little of ourselves, we sometimes use this truth as an excuse to avoid proclaiming God’s work in our lives. Living under the radar is much more comfortable. Paul never chose the comfortable route. As a former persecutor of the Church, Paul knew the danger of preaching Christ in the open—the chief priests had once empowered him to imprison all who publically professed Christ (Acts 9:14). Yet as a new convert, Paul loudly proclaimed the name of Christ to anybody within hearing distance: “And he was going in and going out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was speaking and debating with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they were trying to do away with him” (Acts 9:28–29). Most of us know that life as a Christian won’t be a life of ease. But what is our image of a life of ease? Is it overstuffed chairs, butlers, and bulging bank accounts? Is it remaining silent when we should confess the name of Christ? Or is it judging from afar when we should be coming alongside people in their pain and brokenness? If we follow Paul’s brazen example, we will boldly and wisely share Christ in every possible circumstance. Are you choosing invisibility? How can you boldly and wisely proclaim Christ?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 11: Bad Things, Good People, and Grace
Amos 6:1–7:17; Acts 10:1–33; Job 20:12–29
We often wonder why God allows bad things to happen. We’re not unique in this; people have asked this same question since the beginning of time. Job struggled with this question after he lost everything. Job’s friends strove to answer it as they sought to prove that Job had somehow sinned against God and brought his terrible fate upon himself. At one point, Job’s friend Zophar offers up the common wisdom of the time: “Did you know this from of old, since the setting of the human being on earth, that the rejoicing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless lasts only a moment?… [The wicked man] will suck the poison of horned vipers; the viper’s tongue will kill [the wicked man]” (Job 20:4–5, 16). Zophar is right about one thing: Eventually the wicked will be punished. The rest of Zophar’s words prove his short-sightedness. The wicked are not always punished immediately. And God does not allow evil to continue without end. Instead, He chooses to intercede at certain times to ensure that His plan stays on course. Furthermore, bad things happen because people are bad—not because God allows or causes evil to happen, and not necessarily because the afflicted people are somehow evil. Evil powers are at work in the world, seeking to thwart God’s plan. We, as humanity, chose our fate when we went against God’s will that first time and every time since. God has good news for us. As Peter tells his Gentile audience in Acts, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.… They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day … [and] everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:38–40, 42 esv). There is redemption to be found in His Son, who will return to earth to make all things right. Every moment between now and then is a moment of grace. How are your beliefs about evil closer to Zophar’s than to the truth? How can you find a new perspective?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 12: Diversity in the Church
Amos 8:1–9:15; Acts 10:34–11:18; Job 21:1–16
In our comfortable and familiar church homes, we sometimes fail to see the Church as a community of ethnic and cultural diversity. When I returned from a year in South Korea, I was surprised when my family and friends made thoughtless generalizations about people I had come to know and love—some of them fellow believers in Christ. Most of these comments contradicted the multicultural picture of Christianity presented in the book of Acts. Peter and the Jewish Christians in the early church underwent a shift in cultural perspective. When Peter came to Jerusalem after meeting with Gentiles, the Jews were shocked that he would eat with “men who were uncircumcised” (Acts 11:3). For so long, they had associated their religion with their identity as a nation and as a people group. Although they knew that God was extending this hope to the Gentiles, they needed to be reminded that Jesus was the Lord of all. Peter tells them, “if God gave them the same gift as also to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” (Acts 11:17). The hope they expected had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Now Gentiles were being added to their number. Peter testifies, “In truth I understand that God is not one who shows partiality, but in every nation the one who fears him and who does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34). Strangely, Peter’s speech still needs to be heard today. We tend to confine our faith within comfortable borders—cultural, regional, or racial. We need to be challenged to see people from other ethnicities and cultural backgrounds as fellow followers of Christ. If God does not show partiality, then neither should we. The reign of Jesus extends over all people; God will draw His children from all corners of the earth, and there will be no “foreigners” in His kingdom. How does your view of the Church need to be challenged?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 13: Who Can Bring Me Down?
Obadiah 1:1–21; Acts 11:19–12:25; Job 21:17–34
“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of a rock, the heights of its dwelling, you who say in your heart: ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ ” (Obad 3). Pride is an especially dangerous sin because it deludes us into elevating ourselves above everyone else. It can even lead us to betray or hurt other people. In this passage Obadiah addresses the Edomites, who lived in the hills above Judah. The Edomites should have helped Judah when they were attacked, but instead they conducted raids. They believed that they were superior to and had been wronged by the Judahites and that their actions were therefore justified. This type of pride puts us in a precarious position. No wonder the Bible addresses it often. Pride can get the best of us when we place ourselves in the “clefts” above others. It usually emerges from one of two places: Either we believe that we’re as important as people tell us we are (the folly of the celebrity), or we believe that we’re better than everyone else and that others just don’t understand us. Either way, pride is dangerous. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Pride always means enmity … not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.” Job is also accused of pride—but unjustly. He confronts his persecutors about retribution related to pride: “How often is the lamp of the wicked put out, and their disaster comes upon them? He distributes pains in his anger” (Job 21:17). Job recognizes the ultimate source of pride: a refusal to fear Yahweh. It’s difficult to maintain a superior position when we realize that everything we have comes from Him. When we fear Yahweh—when we acknowledge that He created and reigns over all things—we discover our rightful place. We can then lift Him back to the place He deserves—as ruler over us, our master. What are you prideful about, and what can you do to remedy the problem?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 14: Going Your Own Way
Jonah 1:1–4:11; Acts 13:1–12; Job 22:1–13
I work hard to make my disobedience socially acceptable: “I have a stubborn streak,” I explain, or “I’m just like my dad.” But the truth is that my weaknesses aren’t cute or transitory—and they’re not anyone else’s fault. Instead, my disobedience is a deep-rooted, rebellious tendency to follow my own path when I should be humbling myself, seeking wisdom, or obeying leaders who know better. The book of Jonah illustrates these opposing responses to God’s will. We can easily identify with Jonah’s stubborn character. When God tells Jonah to warn Nineveh of its coming judgment, Jonah not only disobeys, but he sets off in the opposite direction. As Jonah’s story progresses, however, we see God orchestrate a reversal. In His incredible mercy, He breaks Jonah’s stubborn streak and replaces it with humility. God also has mercy on the Ninevites—a “people who do not know right from left”—and they repent in sackcloth and ashes (Jonah 4:11). It’s easy to diminish or rationalize our persistent faults. Yet when we’re faced with circumstances or people who hold up a mirror and show us who we truly are, we have the opportunity to change. God is molding us into people who want to follow His will, and He’ll provide opportunities to shape us to that end. We just have to respond to His calling. How are you stubbornly insisting on your own way? How can you respond in a way that honors God?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 15: The Pain of Idolatry
Micah 1:1–3:12; Acts 13:13–14:7; Job 22:14–30
Idolatry causes pain. If this truth were present in our minds each time we placed something before God, we would make different decisions. Micah’s account of the sins of Samaria makes this fact painfully and dramatically clear: “So I [Yahweh] will make Samaria as a heap of rubble in the field, a place for planting a vineyard. And I will pour down her stones into the valley and uncover her foundations. Then all her idols will be broken in pieces, and all her prostitution wages will be burned in the fire, and all her idols I will make a desolation. For from the wage of a prostitute she gathered them, and to the wage of a prostitute they will return. On account of this I will lament and wail. I will go about barefoot and naked. I will make a lamentation like the jackals, and a mourning ceremony like the ostriches” (Mic 1:6–8). Throughout this section, God and the prophet’s voices intermingle, a common occurrence in prophetic literature. This device creates a sense of empathy, both for God’s perspective on idolatry and for the people’s pain as the consequences of their idolatry bear down on them. Micah’s position is one we should emulate. When we understand what God feels, we begin to see the world from His perspective. When we feel what others feel, we’re able to meet their needs and learn to love them as fully and radically as God loves us. Micah’s depiction of idolatry—how God views it and what it does to us—should be a wake-up call. When God takes second place in our lives, we inflict pain on Him, ourselves, and others. We shove Him out of His rightful place and thus move ourselves out of relationship with Him. But when He is the focus of our lives, we have an opportunity to empathize with others and to love them—and our idols dissipate like smoke. How are you combating idolatry in your life? How are you showing love to people who love idols?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 16: Freedom and Response
Micah 4:1–6:16; Acts 14:8–15:21; Job 23:1–17
Freedom from sin gives us the power to love. But freedom from poverty or oppression or guilt sometimes makes us complacent. We forget our inclination to wander away from God’s will and pursue our own, and we overlook that God will eventually call us to account. Although Micah prophesied during a time of prosperity in Israel, it was also a time of spiritual deficiency. The powerful were oppressing the weak (Mic 2:1–2; 3:2–3) politically and economically. Micah holds Israel to account in this passage. The prophet paints a courtroom scene with God judging His people for their unfaithfulness: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does Yahweh ask from you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8). The mountains and the hills listen as Yahweh accuses Israel, and the evidence He presents is startling. God has been active and present in His people’s lives, turning what was meant for evil into good. He brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt. When Balaam tried to curse Israel on behalf of Balak, the Moabite king, God turned that curse into blessing. We know where we stand in the courtroom drama. Our sins condemn us, but God has provided new evidence that changes our fates. What prosecuting attorney becomes a defender of the accused—a mediator claiming their cause? Through His Son, God frees us from our sin. Indeed, we should say with awe and humility, “Who is a God like you?” Our story should be a response of humility and love for God. What story will your life tell?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 17: What Shall Be Done?
Micah 7:1–20; Acts 15:22–16:5; Job 24:1–11
How should we respond when those around us seem to be not only falling short of the glory of God, but actually abandoning God’s work? What should we do when we witness neighbors or friends tolerating or even justifying acts of injustice, oppression, greed, or idolatry? We live in such a time. So did the prophet Micah: “Woe is me! For I have become like the gatherings of summer, like the gleanings of the grape harvest, when there is no cluster of grapes to eat or early ripened fruit that my soul desires. The faithful person has perished from the land, and there is none who is upright among humankind. All of them lie in wait; each hunts his brother with a net. Their hands are upon evil, to do it well; the official and the judge ask for the bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; and they weave it together” (Mic 7:1–3). Micah did what should be done—he spoke up; he told the truth. When we find ourselves in evil times among evil people, we must do the same. God may be calling us to be a voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:19–25; compare Isa 40:3). By boldly proclaiming the truth, we may make a way for others to come back to God. Much of the world is corrupt, and it is our job as Christians to fight such corruption, to stand above it, and to help others find the better way—God’s way. The brokenness of our world is not simple. How many people are led astray unconsciously? How often does money or power trump the rights of the vulnerable? Do we recognize injustice when we see it? Do we have the courage to speak up, even when it hurts? Micah provides an example here, too. Although he spoke vividly about God’s coming judgment on Samaria, he also told us where we would find the Savior who would heal our brokenness once and for all—in Bethlehem. How are you standing against the evils of our age?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 18: Another Take
Nahum 1:1–3:19; Acts 16:6–40; Job 24:12–25
What do we risk when we know of God’s forgiveness and then become complacent and return to our sinful ways? What happens when we turn our back on God—treating Him like an insurance agent rather than a savior? The short, shocking book of Nahum shows what happens to those who disregard God. Where the book of Jonah displays God’s mercy and Nineveh’s repentance, Nahum proclaims God’s judgment on the same Assyrian city. The city’s deeds catch up with it, and the judgment is harsh—unrelenting. “There is no healing for your wound; your injury is fatal. All who hear the report of you will clap their hands for joy concerning you. For who has not suffered at the hands of your endless cruelty?” (Nah 3:19). The empire responsible for conquering cities, displacing and enslaving people, and looting wealth would eventually meet its end—defeated by Babylon. Jonah shows us that God will eagerly dispense mercy, but the book of Nahum—wholly dedicated to God’s judgment of Nineveh—reminds us that His mercy cannot be taken for granted. It’s a sobering but necessary reminder to respond to God’s mercy with faith and trust. It’s also a reminder to recognize God’s full character: He delights in steadfast faithfulness, but He is also a burning fire. Don’t tread on His mercy. Respond to it. How does the idea of a God who sets all things right bring you both awe and comfort?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 19: Honestly Questioning God
Habakkuk 1:1–2:5; Acts 17:1–34; Job 25:1–6
Many people are afraid to be honest with God—which is odd, considering that He already knows what we’re thinking. The biblical authors certainly told God how they felt, and they did so eloquently and often. The prophet Habakkuk remarked, “O Yahweh, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? How long will I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab 1:1–2). Habakkuk felt that God was not answering his prayers—that God was ignoring his petitions. He reminded God of the desperate need for His intercession. In doing so, Habakkuk reminds us that wrestling with God is a healthy and necessary component of following Him. Habakkuk went on to make more desperate, even angry, pleas: “Why do you cause me to see evil while you look at trouble? Destruction and violence happen before me; contention and strife arise. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice does not go forth perpetually. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice goes forth perverted” (Hab 1:3–4). Habakkuk’s honest questions reveal the state of his heart. He was not afraid to tell God what he felt because he understood that God already knew. He also believed that God could be persuaded to intercede. Yet it’s not language or skillful rhetoric that causes God to intercede—after all, He is a free being who can do what He wills, and He will not be manipulated. God wants to use us for His work, and He longs for us to acknowledge what He is doing. When we pray, God listens; when God acts in response to our prayers, we know that it is His work. We must pray honestly, and we must acknowledge God’s rightful place and acts. What are you praying about? What are you honestly confessing to God?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 20: Measuring Out God’s Goodness
Habakkuk 2:6–3:19; Acts 18:1–28; Job 26:1–14
Although we don’t usually question God’s goodness, we do make assumptions about how He should act in the world. We expect God to use us in His work and to intercede on our behalf—and rightfully so, since those promises come from Him. But when we find ourselves in messy or uncertain situations, we sometimes run ahead of God. Frustrated with the waiting and the unknown, we risk making judgments about how well He is running the world. As Habakkuk watches the destruction, violence, contention, and strife in Israel, he turns to Yahweh and makes bold demands: “Why do you cause me to see evil while you look at trouble?” (Hab 1:3). But by the end of the dialogue, he has changed his mind. He will rejoice in Yahweh “though the fig tree does not blossom, nor there be fruit on the vines; the yield of the olive fails, and the cultivated fields do not yield food, the flock is cut off from the animal pen, and there is no cattle in the stalls” (Hab 3:17–18). Did Habakkuk merely give in to a hopeless situation? He didn’t gain any more information about God’s motives. But after his dialogue with God, his entire posture changed. The confidence in Habakkuk’s final prayer hinges on his acknowledgment of Yahweh’s power and His anger at the evil of those who disregard His ways. God has the situation under control; Habakkuk must simply wait. We often associate waiting with inaction, but waiting is faith in action. Habakkuk chooses to rejoice and trust God in spite of his circumstances, and that decision shapes his new perspective: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab 3:18–19). Like Habakkuk, we are called to come before God in humility, waiting in faith on His timing and trusting in His goodness. How are faith and trust in God motivating all your thoughts and actions?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 21: Throwing Caution to the Flood
Zephaniah 1:1–3:20; Acts 19:1–41; Job 27:1–23
Words are powerful. They can restore and heal; they can also be used as deadly weapons. When we interact with one another, we know to choose our words carefully to avoid being misinterpreted or inadvertently causing harm. But Yahweh speaks words of daunting ambiguity—proclamations that can easily be misunderstood or that are frightening beyond measure. Consider Zephaniah 1:2–3: “ ‘I will surely destroy everything from the face of the earth’—a declaration of Yahweh. ‘I will destroy humanity and beast; I will destroy the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks with the wicked. And I will cut off humankind from the face of the earth’—a declaration of Yahweh.” Does Yahweh actually intend to destroy everything on the earth? Why is He speaking so boldly? The phrase “face of the earth” appears twice in this passage; it encloses a miniature narrative that references the story of the flood in Gen 6:7 and 7:4. This story is used as a metaphor for why Yahweh will destroy Judah: “And I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal, and the name of idolatrous priests with the priests, and those who bow down on the rooftops to the host of heaven, and those who bow down, swearing to Yahweh but also swearing by Milkom” (Zeph 1:4–5). Yahweh plans to destroy Judah because they have sought other gods. In other words, Judah has acted just like the evil people who caused the flood. The startling images of destruction and death that Yahweh’s proclamations evoke seem shockingly blunt. Yet these bold statements remind us that using audacious language is sometimes necessary, and evoking stories of the past can make the point more powerful. We must still take caution when choosing our words, but when we must speak an uncomfortable truth, we can turn to the example that Yahweh sets here: Live boldly for Him and speak the truth. How can you be more bold in your words about Yahweh?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 22: Keep Us from Distraction
Haggai 1:1–2:23; Acts 20:1–38; Job 28:1–11
It’s easy to get distracted from the good work God intends for us to do. Competing forces vie for our attention; we’re sidetracked by fear or selfishness. We start living our own stories and lose sight of the greater narrative, of which our lives are just one thread. The Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem had begun the work of reconstructing the temple, a symbol of God’s presence among His people. In the rebuilding of the temple, they gathered up the remnants of their broken identities and together formed a collective identity as Yahweh’s people. They had their priorities in order. Then they got distracted. When they started putting their own needs and security first, Yahweh sent the prophet Haggai to remind them of their true purpose: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your houses that have been paneled while this house is desolate?… Consider your ways! You have sown much but have harvested little. You have eaten without being satisfied; you have drunk without being satiated; you have worn clothes without being warm; the one who earns wages puts it in a pouch with holes” (Hag 1:6). The work that the Jewish exiles did outside of God’s purpose for them had no lasting effect or real merit. Because they were neglecting their first calling, their frantic attempts to meet their own selfish needs were doomed to fail anyway. Outside of Yahweh, there could be no blessing. God used Haggai to speak this truth into the lives of the Jewish exiles, but He also encouraged them with His presence: “I am with you” (Hag 1:13). Listen to the words of Haggai. Speak truth into fear and selfishness—either your own or others. Remember that you’re not meant to travel through life on your own, outside of this great narrative or apart from the presence of God. What is the priority in your life right now? How can you shift away from priorities that aren’t part of God’s grand scheme for your life?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 23: Beyond Measure
Zechariah 1:1–2:13; Acts 21:1–26; Job 28:12–28
When we say, “God is gracious; God is kind,” do we fully comprehend the extent of God’s graciousness and kindness toward us? We glimpse it in Zechariah: “You must say to them: ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts: “Return to me,” declares Yahweh of hosts, “and I will return to you,” ’ says Yahweh of hosts” (Zech 1:2–3). An astounding reversal is hidden in these words, couched in a dialogue expressing how terribly God’s people have treated Him (Zech 1:4–6). By relying on their ancestors’ wisdom, God’s people are marching toward their own destruction: “Your ancestors, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?” (Zech 1:5). Instead of wiping them from the face of earth or banishing them from relationship with Him, however, God acts graciously: “Return to me … and I will return to you” (Zech 1:3). It’s an incredibly generous offer, one that the people accept (Zech 1:6). But this is not the end of the journey. Zechariah’s vision goes on to illustrate painful times on the horizon before moving once again to hope (Zech 2:1–13). Ultimately, Yahweh remarks: “Many nations will join themselves to Yahweh on that day, and they will be my people, and I will dwell in your midst. And you will know that Yahweh of hosts has sent me to you. And Yahweh will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and he will again choose Jerusalem” (Zech 2:11–12). The one “that Yahweh of hosts has sent” is likely a reference to the Messiah. Here Yahweh moves from welcoming only the people of Israel to welcoming all people into His kingdom. Anyone can return to Him or come to Him—because that is what He desires. His graciousness and kindness are truly beyond measure. What graciousness and kindness are you grateful for today?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 24: Speaking the Truth with Love
Zechariah 3:1–5:11; Acts 21:27–22:21; Job 29:1–12
Read today’s headlines and you might conclude that Christian boldness is a thin disguise for defensiveness, anger, and demeaning behavior. Believers who feel voiceless in their society sometimes respond by becoming adamant “defenders of the faith” in ways that can be destructive. In an age of instant electronic communication, our potential for good or harm has increased exponentially. But if we lay claim to special rights as Christians, we have forgotten that we’re supposed to be like Jesus. We need wisdom and spiritual maturity to share our faith with love. Paul serves as a model for using influence in a Christ-like way. In Acts 21–22, Paul encountered an angry Jewish mob that wanted him dead. He could have responded to the crowd self-righteously, looking down on them from his enlightened position. Instead, Paul confessed that he was once a persecutor of “this Way” (Acts 22:4). He could have used his status as a Roman citizen to his own advantage. Instead, he testified about the “Righteous One” to people who vehemently opposed him. Paul came from a place of humility. He appealed to the Jews by telling them his own story—simply, boldly, and honestly. He emphasized his transformation: He was once a persecutor of the Church, but now he shared the work of Jesus in his life. We should be ready to do likewise, to spread the gospel by speaking the truth in love, without insisting on our rights or using our influence in self-serving ways. We should be like Paul, but mostly we should be like Jesus. We should be ready to preach wherever and whenever we can and trust that God will work out the rest. How are you sharing the gospel with both truth and love?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 25: Visions, Revelations, and Questions
Zechariah 6:1–7:14; Acts 22:22–23:22; Job 29:13–25
The prophets of old had visions and dreamed dreams. They experienced apocalyptic nightmares and witnessed breathtaking scenes of beauty. Perhaps most fascinating, though, is how they reacted. Zechariah provides us with an example of both the revelation and the proper response. “I looked up again, and I saw, and look!—four chariots coming out from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of bronze.… And I answered and said to the angel that was talking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ And the angel answered and said to me, ‘These are the four winds of the heavens going out after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth’ ” (Zech 6:1–5). Zechariah could not have understood what he was seeing, but he paid attention, and he asked questions. Although we may not experience visions as confounding as Zechariah’s, we certainly have the opportunity to be perplexed by God. Our response should be modeled after Zechariah’s: Ask questions and then act. Zechariah’s life was marked by asking and responding, and it made a difference for his generation. People came to God because Zechariah was willing to be God’s instrument. How many people experience incredible revelations from God and then fail to respond? How many people come near enough to glimpse God’s plan but never pay close enough attention to receive it from Him? How much are we losing as individuals, and as people, because we don’t care enough to ask God for the answers? What confusion or uncertainty can you overcome by asking questions?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 26: Unexpected Opportunities
Zechariah 8:1–9:17; Acts 23:23–24:27; Job 30:1–15
When we are busy doing the work of the kingdom, how do we respond to obstacles that get in our way? Do we expect God to blast a path straight through so that we can proceed? We might read the drama of Paul’s life through this lens, waiting anxiously for God to open the way for Paul to continue his spectacularly successful work. Instead, God allows Paul to be imprisoned and put on trial. But as Paul defended himself before Roman officials, he recognized that God was using him in ways he hadn’t expected. The conflict and rejection Paul encountered from the Jews provided him with the opportunity to share the gospel with some of the most influential Gentiles he would ever encounter. God used Paul’s trials to expand his ministry from the Jews to the Gentiles. Through Paul’s life, God displayed His power to bring about the growth of the Church and the spread of the gospel message far beyond Israel. God is working in and among us to bring the good news to those whom we don’t have in our field of vision. We should reconsider our attitude toward the conflicts and disappointments in our lives, instead seeking God’s providential hand in them. How can you pray for wisdom to see God at work in all the circumstances of your life?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 27: The True Source of Leadership
Zechariah 10:1–11:17; Acts 25:1–27; Job 30:16–31
When leaders latch onto power, considering it their right, it’s destructive. God holds leaders to a higher standard because their words and actions cause others to rise or fall. When leaders of corporations, churches, or other organizations take their authority for granted, entire communities may end up fighting against God rather than with Him. Such was the case for the Israelites in Zechariah’s lifetime. The context suggests the people were mistakenly relying on Baal (the storm god) rather than Yahweh. Yahweh responded by reminding them and their leaders that He is the one who sends rain: “Ask rain from Yahweh in the season of the spring rain—Yahweh, who makes storm clouds, and he gives showers of rain to them, to everyone the vegetation in the field. Because the household gods speak deceit, and those who practice divination see a lie, and the dreamers of vanity speak in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted because there is no shepherd” (Zech 10:1–2). Based on what happened next, it appears that the leaders were the ones suggesting that Israel should rely on household gods. Although Yahweh was upset with His people, He directed the main force of His anger against those in charge: “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders, because Yahweh of hosts watches over his flock, the house of Judah; and he will make them like his majestic horse in war. From them the cornerstone will go out, from them the tent peg, from them the battle bow, from them every ruler, all together” (Zech 10:3–4). Israel’s leaders had to change their ways first—the horrific behavior (the battle bow) came from them. How many professing Christian leaders lean on themselves—their unearned “battle bows”—instead of being the kind of leaders Yahweh has called them to be? Even Christian leaders tend to locate the source of their power in themselves or in this world rather than Yahweh. These misguided shepherds may achieve a temporary victory, but their work will eventually bring suffering to themselves and those in their care. How should you lead? What aspects of your leadership should you change?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 28: Turning the Tables
Zechariah 12:1–14:21; Acts 26:1–32; Job 31:1–8
When Paul presents the gospel before King Agrippa, we expect him to be defensive. But Paul is ready to shift the spotlight. He offers a surprisingly simple explanation of recent events and a testimony of his faith, and then he describes how the resurrection of Jesus changes everything. He deftly turns the tables and gives the king the opportunity to believe. Paul describes the gospel as something that was intended all along—it is nothing new: “Therefore I have experienced help from God until this day, and I stand here testifying to both small and great saying nothing except what both the prophets and Moses have said were going to happen, that the Christ was to suffer and that as the first of the resurrection from the dead, he was going to proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23). Paul respectfully tells Agrippa that his testimony should come as no great surprise. Agrippa knows of the Jewish faith, and he has heard about recent events. Now Paul challenges him by presenting him with the only possible explanation—Jesus, the first of the resurrection of the dead, for whose sake Paul is now imprisoned. This faith is consistent with the Jewish belief in God. Now it is not reserved for the Jews, but also available to the Gentiles. Paul’s words put everyone else in the spotlight. He earns responses from the Roman leaders—a rebuke from Festus (Acts 26:24) and a question from Agrippa: “In a short time are you persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul responds with faith: “I pray to God, whether in a short time or in a long time, not only you but also all those who are listening to me today may become such people as I also am, except for these bonds!” (Acts 26:29). His constant witness and his trust in God’s power to turn people’s hearts to Himself give Paul confidence and assurance that his words will bring about a response (Acts 26:18). If a man facing trial can present the gospel so respectfully, when he is most defensive and vulnerable, why can’t we? We should have such courage. How are you looking for opportunities to witness to others about the hope that is in you?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
September 29: Rebuilding Is Not Always Wise
Malachi 1:1–2:9; Acts 27:1–44; Job 31:9–22
Who can rebuild what Yahweh tears down? The prophets articulate this message again and again. Yahweh tears down evil things; evil people rebuild them; the prophets insist that He will just tear them down again. God tolerates evil for a time, waiting for people to repent, but when His patience is up, it’s up. “ ‘I have loved you,’ says Yahweh, but you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is Esau not Jacob’s brother?’ declares Yahweh. ‘I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated. I have made his mountain ranges a desolation, and given his inheritance to the jackals of the desert.’ If Edom says, ‘We are shattered, but we will return and rebuild the ruins,’ Yahweh of hosts says this: ‘They may build, but I will tear down; and they will be called a territory of wickedness, and the people with whom Yahweh is angry forever.’ Your eyes will see this, and you will say, ‘Yahweh is great beyond the borders of Israel’ ” (Mal 1:2–5). This scene seems brutal upon first reading. If you’re on Jacob’s side, you’re fine—Yahweh loves you even though you don’t acknowledge it. But if you’re on Esau’s (Edom’s) side, you’re left wondering why God hates you so much—unless you know the backstory: Edom ravaged the lands of God’s people and committed atrocities against them in their greatest time of need. When foreign nations invaded Israel, Edom preyed on its brothers instead of coming to their defense. This is the reason for Yahweh’s anger—and why He will tear down whatever Edom builds. How often do we try to excuse ourselves as Edom did—to defend our behavior as justifiable retribution for previous offenses? What does God think about the state of our hearts and the actions we take against others as a result? How must your plan of action change, today, in light of God’s will and His standard?
JOHN D. BARRY
September 30: Key Players and Main Narratives
Malachi 2:10–4:6; Acts 28:1–31; Job 31:23–40
The book of Acts ends on a somewhat unsatisfying note. After all that Paul has been through—imprisonment, trial, shipwreck—we expect a showdown with Caesar or mass conversions of the Jews. Instead, the plot seems to sputter out. Paul arrives in Rome and appeals to the Jews living there. He quotes Isaiah to the Jewish leaders: “You will keep on hearing, and will never understand, and you will keep on seeing and will never perceive” (Acts 28:26). When they fail to respond, Paul determines to reach out to the Gentiles. “They also will listen” (Acts 28:28) and will respond differently. The poignant end of this book leaves Paul “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Facing either rejection or reception, he continues proclaiming the good news to both Jew and Gentile. Paul is a key player in the Church that is being gathered by Jesus Christ, but the drama cannot end with Paul. Jesus is the main character in the story of humanity’s redemption. The book of Acts leaves the ending open so that we can pick it up and carry it forward. The work of Jesus, through His Church, continues to the present day, and Jesus is using both you and me in His grand narrative. How do you see your life as a story that honors God as the key player?
REBECCA VAN NOORD