Sunday, December 19, 2010

January 1 (Genesis 1; Matthew 1; Ezra 1; Acts 1)

All of these chapters point to the beginning of things. Acts deals with the beginning of the church; Matthew the beginning of the gospel of Jesus; Ezra the beginning of the returning exiles of Judah. Genesis 1, however deals with the beginning of all things. And at the very beginning of all things is … God! God made all things! And God made man to reflect His image (v.27). God made man for his glory! If we miss this crucial truth we miss the very reason we have our being.  It is good, therefore, at the beginning of the year to ask ourselves a very probing question: “Am I truly living for His glory?” A good subsequent question would be, “Is our church faithfully reflecting His image in our community and to the ends of the earth?” We must continually ask these self – examining questions both on an individual and corporate level. May 2011 be a year in which such questions are continually pointed at our hearts!

January 2 (Genesis 2; Matthew 2; Ezra. 2; Acts 2)

One of the most difficult things in life to do is cope with evil. The pain of suffering inevitably drives us to the “why” questions. We long to know the reason (s) for why we experience such heartache. This is especially true when one encounters tremendous pain and suffering. Often this leads many to speculate that God’s hands are tied and that the best He can do in those situations is try and clean the mess up a little bit for us. This is essentially the argument presented in Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, “Why do bad things happen to good people.” Many either explicitly or implicitly subscribe to this idea of a not so completely sovereign God.

The only problem with such an idea is the Bible! Repeatedly the Bible makes clear God’s absolute control in all circumstances and events of our lives, even the painful ones. In Acts 2:23 Peter declares this truth for our instruction. Speaking of the most horrendous atrocity that has ever taken place in human history (the murder of the Son of God) Peter says, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Notice what Peter affirms here. He affirms that this atrocious act was according to…God’s plan! He also, however, affirms that the deed is to be blamed on the lawless men who killed Jesus (see also ch.4:27-28). There is mystery here and our hearts should constantly feel the weight of that mystery. And while we may not be able to fully work it out in our own minds this side of eternity let us affix firmly in our minds the double truth of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

Those who killed Jesus were held completely responsible, while at the same time God ordained it to come about. These two truths are compatible and meditation of this double edged truth is the only thing that will serve as balm to our hearts as we seek to navigate the waters of suffering that are sure to come to us in 2011. If we relax the truth of human responsibility than God’s goodness could be easily doubted. If we relax the truth of God’s sovereignty than His control could be easily doubted. Both are vital in sustaining our hearts in the face of suffering. When the “bell tolls for you” this year, Think on this: God is good, God is wise, and God is in control. There is no other healthy way to respond!

January 3 (Genesis 3; Matthew 3; Ezra 3; Acts 3)

John the Baptist came preaching a “baptism of repentance” to the people of Israel. Those who submitted to his baptism were those who came “confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). We should probably understand this baptism to be both symbolic of the cleansing of sin to these “confessors” and of their passing through the waters of God’s eventual judgment. The question, therefore, that we must consider today is: “So if He was without sin why did Jesus get baptized?”

Indeed it seems that this is exactly what was on the mind of John the Baptist. Verse 14 tells us that John tried to stop Him and said, “I need to be baptized by you.” John recognized the spotlessness of Jesus and he certainly understood what his own baptism signified. So why is Jesus coming to him and getting baptized? The answer lies in the response of Jesus to John. He said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is a sweeping statement used by Jesus to convey the idea that He came to complete God’s great redemptive plan in every detail. He came to inaugurate the kingdom of righteousness within the hearts of His people.

The first step in the inauguration of this kingdom was the identification of God’s Savior with God’s people. In other words Jesus had to be made like us in every way for Him to be our faithful representative (see Hebrews 2:14-17).  Though He was sinless and remained sinless throughout His entirely earthly sojourn and for all eternity, yet the Son of God identified with sinful humanity. As one immerses himself in the waters of baptism so Jesus immersed himself in all of mankind’s weaknesses so that He might be able to save us to the uttermost! (See Hebrews 7:24-25 for further meditation)

January 4 (Genesis 4; Matthew 4; Ezra 4; Acts 4)

In Matthew 4 Jesus begins to advance His messianic kingdom. This chapter gives us a picture of what those initial steps in the kingdom advanced looked like. Amazingly we find that the initial steps are what should characterize kingdom advance even in our own day. So lets read this chapter today with the question, “What does kingdom advance look like?” According to this chapter there are at least three aspects to kingdom advance.

1) Victory over Satan (v.1-11) : In this section Jesus is tempted by the devil and in every temptation He fights with one weapon. That one weapon is the Word of God. It is the only weapon that will equip us in overcoming temptation. As you make the commitment to read through the word this year ask the Lord to continually make you more competent in wielding it as the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6::17) to fight against temptation.

2) Proclamation of the kingdom (12-17) : Notice the doorway Jesus stresses for entrance into the kingdom, namely, “repentance”. Let us commit this year in our personal evangelism to speak the truth in love to such a degree that we tell men and women what kind of response the Gospel requires. They must not only, “come to church” but turn their thinking, feeling, and willing away from sin and toward God!

3) Making of Disciples (v.18-22): Or we should probably say, “Disciple makers”. Notice Jesus is not only concerned with catching “fish” but making “fishermen”. Let us commit this year to personally disciple at least one person with the hope and intent and expectation that they would in turn disciple someone else. Kingdom growth is measured more by multiplication than addition.

January 5 (Genesis 5; Matthew 5; Ezra 5; Acts 5)

Genesis 5 tells us about a man named Enoch. Verse 24 says, “And Enoch walked with God and he was not for God took him” In other words he did not die, God simply snatched him up. What does this say to us? Perhaps many things, but at least it says that death is not necessary; there is an escape from it, but that escape is tied to a walk with God. The rest of the Bible will unpack this for us! Lets buckle up and keep riding!

January 6 (Genesis 6; Matthew 6; Ezra 6; Acts 6)

What is the primary responsibility of those who serve in Pastoral roles? Acts 6:4 gives us the answer, namely, devotion to the ministry of the Word and prayer. That’s it! That is what should take priority in the function of the Pastoral team here at Lake Gaston Baptist and at any local church body. Pray for your Pastors to reflect these priorities in their lives. Indeed, there are many other “good” things that can be done in service to the kingdom. Serving widows is a very “good” ministry and something not to be undone.
Sometimes, however, the “good” can very easily become the enemy of the “best” and if these good things interfere with the word ministry and prayer ministry than others must rise up to meet those needs. The Apostles recognized this and God blessed them as they properly prioritized their ministry and delegated duties. Indeed had they not prioritized thusly they would have found their ministry of mercy to soon run out of steam for it is only the ministry of the word and intercessory prayer that fuels any valid expression of mercy.

January 7 (Genesis 7; Matthew 7; Ezra 7; Acts 7)

Ezra 7:10 gives us a great model for how we should live! Study the Word, live the Word, and teach the Word! The order is important. Memorize this verse this first week of the year! ( By the way it would be a great goal to memorize at least one verse each week this year)

January 8 (Genesis 8; Matthew 8; Ezra 8; Acts 8)

Noah hops off of the boat (Gen.8:20) and the first thing he does is build an altar, make a sacrifice, and worship. Why? Well, God brought about the flood in the first place because “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen.6:5) After God wipes everyone out save Noah who found grace in God’s eyes (Gen.6:8) we might be led to think that the bad part of humanity has been dealt with, but that is not the case. Notice verse 21 from today’s chapter, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”.  This is almost the same indictment as in chapter 6. It seems that nothing has changed with man’s wickedness. He is still depraved to the core.

I think the lesson is this: the answer to the problem of man’s sinful heart is not a flood, but the blood. The flood is enough to judge but not enough to justify. Man needs blood for that. That is why Noah sacrificed. He knew that he and his boys were still dirty rotten sinners (as the next chapter will show us when he gets sloppy drunk). Only a blood sacrifice can do the heart washing that is needed for reconciliation with God. So, Noah sacrificed and pointed towards the ultimate sacrifice to come. What can wash away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus, What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. O, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus!

January 9 (Genesis 9,10; Matthew 9; Ezra 9; Acts 9)

No one, on their own, favors the new over the old that they know and love. We are hardwired to think that the old is better. A case in point from my own life is the cartoon Transformers. I grew up watching this cartoon and loved watching “Optimus Prime” and his “autobots” routinely battle the “decepticons.” It was good, clean action. When the Hollywood movies came out a few years ago I was extremely disappointed. (I am well aware that for most people reading this a “transformer” is something one finds on a telephone phone pole J. Nevertheless, the point is still valid, namely, This was not what I grew up with! )The old was so much better.

In Matthew 9:14-17 the same point is being made. Some folks ask Jesus why his followers are not fasting, since that seems to be the religious thing to be doing. Jesus responds by proverbially saying that one cannot put new wine into old wineskins. (In Luke’s version he adds that any who have tasted the old wine will always prefer it over the new). What did he mean by this?

He meant that with His coming everything has changed. Everything is new. He meant that He is the center of everything. What the people needed to understand was that fasting, and everything else, was instituted as a sign that ultimately points to Jesus in some way. The Old Fasting signified mourning and you cannot mourn when Jesus is in your midst. When Jesus is in your midst you must celebrate! The old ritual must take on the new meaning that the Son gives it. Christians still fast today, but the meaning is different. We fast today to say, “We long for you to come Lord Jesus! So much that we go without food for a time to punctuate our longing!”

It is such an encouragement to know that many participated in the “Fall Fast: hungering for God’s 20/20 vision for 2011”. I hope you experienced a measure of this “new” kind of fasting as you sought the Lord. Even if you did not why not make 2011 a year in which fasting becomes a common spiritual discipline in your life. What a joy it will be to belong to a people who love the Giver more than His gifts and demonstrate that both individually and in our corporate life.

January 10 (Genesis 11; Matthew 10; Ezra 10; Acts 10)

As we look around in our world we see corruption. We see terrorism. We see war. We see evil. And we see it getting worse. What stabilizes us in these times? I think Matthew 10:24-42 serves as a good balm. In such times let us remember:· Jesus our Master was hated before us (24-25)· In the end justice will be done and be seen to be done (26-27)· Proper fear of God will reduce our fear of man (28)· God is sovereign over every detail of life (29-31)· Following Christ is really finding life (39)· SOME will receive us (40)· The promises of eternal reward will not fail (41-42)! Rejoice and meditate on these good truths ( see: Philippians 4:8)

January 11 (Genesis 12; Matthew 11; Nehemiah 1; Acts 11)

Genesis 12 is a major turning point in God’s unfolding plan of redemption. From this point on God begins dealing not with scattered individuals but a collective people, a race of people that will become the Jewish people and eventually lead to the people of the New Covenant. In other words, this is the starting point for every current day believer in Jesus Christ. We are included in this promise made to Abraham 4,000 or so years ago. This is seen in the words God says to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (v.3) Lest we miss the importance of this the book of Genesis will repeat it (18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14) and the rest of the Bible will pick up on its theme. Indeed, The first preachers of the gospel saw the promises made to Abraham fulfilled in what Jesus of Nazareth accomplished. (Acts 3:25; Rom.4; Gal.3:8, etc.) This is what Acts 11 is all about today. Peter is telling how God saved Cornelius and his buddies. Pure Gentiles saved and brought into the kingdom. It may have lost its wonder on us but for the first believers this was amazing. “So then, God has granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life as well.”(v.18) It should still be amazing that we can sing, “Father Abraham” and know that we are one of his sons because of Christ’s work on our behalf!

January 12 (Genesis 13; Matthew 12; Nehemiah 2; Acts 12)

Here is one of the most beautiful verses in all the Bible, Matthew 12:20“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench…”One puritan by the name of Richard Sibbes wrote a whole book on this one verse. In it he describes a bruised reed as :

…a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken. He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy. This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man. This is such an one as our Savior Christ terms `poor in spirit' (Matt. 5:3), who sees his wants, and also sees himself indebted to divine justice. He has no means of supply from himself or the creature, and thereupon mourns, and, upon some hope of mercy from the promise and examples of those that have obtained mercy, is stirred up to hunger and thirst after it.

 If you have ever found yourself in such a mournful state, rejoice! It is the first step and then come to Christ who will blow on your dying embers and comfort you by His grace! He may wound, but He will always heal. He will never break to the point of destruction!

January 13 (Genesis 14; Matthew 13; Nehemiah 3; Acts 13)

Matthew 13 is “The Parable Chapter “ of Matthew’s gospel. After telling his disciples the parables He asks them if they understand what He has said. When they respond that they do He tells them, “every scribe who had been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (v.51-52).

What did He mean by this? I think he meant that true disciples will genuinely grow in knowledge. They will learn “new” things. But these genuine disciples will also see how these ‘new” truths fulfill and complement the “old”. He is saying that His followers will get both the old and the new testaments and will work and pray for wisdom to see how it all centers on Him! 

This is one reason why weekly walking through the Scriptures in the way we are doing it is so helpful. By looking at different sections of the Scripture simultaneously and side by side we are repeatedly seeing how all things are pointing to our Savior, Christ the Lord! This is what Paul showed the people of Antioch in Acts 13. He used the Old testament to point to Jesus and labored to show how, in Jesus, one is “freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (v.39) So keep taking the Old and New into your heart and constantly pray for the Holy Spirit to cause it to work therein!

January 14 (Genesis 15; Matthew 14; Nehemiah 4; Acts 14)

One of the obvious facts of life is that we do not naturally have the same perspective as God. We are finite and limited beings who live vapor like lives that are here for a brief moment and gone the next. One of our greatest needs in life is to strive and, through the Scriptures, gain God’s perspective on life and all things therein. This, I believe, is where faith comes in and Gen.15 is a hallmark chapter on faith, teaching us through the example of Abraham.

Abraham is an old man and knows he is about to die with no children. He feels like his time is running out. God sees the long view of a multitude of descendents coming from his line. He sees the entire course of redemptive history. Abraham needs faith to believe that God sees thusly and to align himself with seeing it as well. Verse 6 says he exercises that faith and God counts that as righteousness for him.
Here is what New Testament scholar D.A. Carson says on this verse:

 “Abram’s faith is simple and profound: he believed God’s promises, taking God at his word. And that faith, in God’s eyes, was credited as righteousness. This does not mean that he earned brownie points for deploying such a righteous faith. Rather, the idea is that what God demands of his image-bearers, what He has always demanded is righteousness – but in this sinful race what he accepts, crediting it as righteousness is faith, faith that acknowledges our dependence upon God and takes God at His word.

Lord give us such faith!

January 15 (Genesis 16; Matthew 15; Nehemiah 5; Acts 15)

Do you remember the “No Fear” T-shirts that used to be popular some years back? I think the reason those shirts were so popular is that there is an impulse within all of us to want to be so strong that we do not cower before anything. Well, the Bible tells us that there is a fear that is good, and that is the fear of God. In fact Proverbs 1:7 lets us know that this is the secret of being wise or of living the way we were intended to live.

Here is my question for us today. What are some ways we can know that someone is living a life that fears God? How can we tell if we really fear God? Well, the whole Bible is filled with answers to that question but Nehemiah 5:14-19 gives us one that we might not often think of.

In this passage Nehemiah is describing what he did as governor of the land of Israel in comparison with the practices of previous governors. Nehemiah says that he behaved differently from those other governors. The other governors required heavy taxes of money and food rations. Well, one might ask, was it not there right to do so? Yes, it was… and that is the point. Those who truly fear God are those who are willing to give up their rights in order to alleviate the suffering of others. Is this not what Christ did? So, what “rights” are you clinging to?

January 16 (Genesis 17; Matthew 16; Nehemiah 6; Acts 16)

In terms of personal evangelism one of the most beautifully encouraging passages for me is Acts 16. Paul had just received a miraculous vision indicating that he was to go West into Macedonia (God leads His people). In the first city they visit (Philippi) there is not even enough Jewish presence for a Synagogue to have formed. All Paul and his companions could find were some women coming together to pray down by the riverside. If it were me at this point I think I might start doubting that divine vision. I am thankful, however, that it was not I, but Paul.

Paul does something beautiful. He simply speaks the gospel to these women. Then the Lord does something beautiful to one woman there named Lydia. He “opens her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”(v.14) Incredible! Paul speaks, God opens, and Lydia responds. That is always the sequence. Simply beautiful! But it is also encouraging.

Do we realize that unless God opens a heart nothing we say will be able to pray it loose? If we really realized this we would be praying all the time (even as we are talking to people) for God to open the hearts of the people to whom we speak. God really is in charge of all things, even the impenitent hearts of those who reject Christ. Our job is to speak the message to them, pray for divine opening, and then trust that He does all things well!

January 17 (Genesis 18; Matthew 17; Nehemiah 7; Acts 17)

What really upsets you? Being late? Not being included? Your appearance? Your team losing? Having to do something you don’t want to do? Something else? I wonder how much in line our hearts are with the apostle Paul. In Acts 17:16 we read that Paul is in the mega city of Athens. There he sees the cities full of idol worship and such a sight, “provokes his spirit within him” (v.16). It made him upset. You see the Apostle Paul was so jealous for the glory of Jesus that when he saw people praising anything else it upset him.

The truth is that people will never be satisfied until they worship Jesus with all of their heart. This is how we are wired to function. Paul knew that and he also knew that Jesus was worthy of all worship. So when you get upset today ask yourself if you are really getting upset about the proper things, and ask God to make you so concerned for His glory that it bothers you to see others not living a life pleasing to Him.

January 18 (Genesis 19; Matthew 18; Nehemiah 8; Acts 18)

Genesis 19 tells us the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities were so wicked that God finally destroyed them with fire from heaven. It is a sad story. In fact chapter 18 tells us that there were not even 10 righteous people in the city. Read today’s chapter to find out how pitifully wicked the people were, but in the space we have I want to focus on one of the sadder elements of this story.

When Lot goes to his sons-in-law to tell them to flee the coming destruction verse 14 tells us “he seemed to his sons-in-law to be joking”. How terrible! Judgment is coming, the patience of God is done, the people are in a mess, and they think that the warnings are a joke.

Think about this in the context of the massive earthquake that hit Hati a little over a year ago. What a calamity! It should break our hearts on a number of different levels. It should also, however, cause us to think what God would have us to take away from this. Beyond the immediate reaction of the church being the body of Christ to the victims through aid and intercessory prayer I believe the Lord would have us think on even more personal terms. (See Luke 13:1-6 as Jesus responds to calamity).

One of the many lessons that I believe God would have us take away from Hati is that we are no different from the ones who perished this week. We deserve an earthquake everyday, every one of us, due to our sin and rebellion against God. We are all citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah! It is only by grace that any of us are, like Lot, rescued! The call to listen and heed to summons of the gospel are serious indeed! Life and death are at stake today. No joke.

January 19 (Genesis 20; Matthew 19; Nehemiah 9; Acts 19)

As humans we often become more and more proud depending upon how many different sets of folks know us. We like to be popular. When we boil it all done, however, it really does not matter how many sets of people know us. There are a few sets, though, where it does matter indeed. One of those sets might seem like an unlikely set. The set I am talking about is Satan and his demons.

Do the demons know who you are? Acts 19:11-20 tells us of the Seven Silly Sons of Sceva who try to cast out a demon using the name of Jesus as a formula and by appealing to Paul’s ministry. Read the story to find out what happens. They basically get their tail’s kicked! But before the whooping notice what the demon says to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (v.15) 

Here is what we should ponder today: Am I an effective kingdom servant? Is what I am doing for the Lord so full of impact that the demons take notice? Or am I so insignificant that they take no notice of me at all? IF they are going to take notice it will come not from reliance on our selves but on the “name of the Lord Jesus !

January 20 (Genesis 21; Matthew 20; Nehemiah 10; Acts 20)

“Not so with you”. These are the words Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 20:26. In the context of the passage He is talking about leadership. Some of the disciples were asking to be put in the highest positions of leadership. They wanted to have better seats than everyone else. This caused the other guys to get really mad and then an argument erupted as to who among them really was the greatest and deserved the best seats, so to speak.

Then Jesus said, “Not so with you.” What He was saying was, “You guys are acting like everyone else in the world. You are acting like you don’t even know me. You are acting like lost people. What you should be doing is asking how you can stoop and serve your friends. This is greatness in my eyes, in the eyes of God.”

So, do you want to be great? Don't look to Forbes for your model or to Hollywood. Look to Christ who, “though He was rich yet for our sake He became poor that we, through His poverty, might become rich.” (2 Cor.8:9)

January 21 (Genesis 22; Matthew 21; Nehemiah 11; Acts 21)

Genesis 22 is the incredible story of Abraham being willing to offer his son Isaac on the alter. Much can be said about this story but I want to mention one thing. Notice in verse 7 Isaac asks his father where they were going to get the sacrificial lamb needed for their act of worship. Oh, how we need to chew on the response of Abraham. He says, “God will provide for himself the lamb…”God did provide for himself. Not just in Abraham’s case. God provided another sacrificial Lamb many years later. It is the blood of this Lamb that cleanses us all from sin. Are you washed in this blood? God has provided and there is no other provision. Let us not disgrace this provision by trying to offer from our own resources anything else in its place.

January 22 (Genesis 23; Matthew 22; Nehemiah 12; Acts 22)

One of the best ways we can encourage one another as a church family is by sharing our stories of how we came to know the Lord. This was perhaps the most beneficial aspect about my time among you last month when I was separated from Katie and the kidos. I was privileged to be in your homes and in your lives hearing about what the Lord had done in and through you. I was privileged to hear your “testimonies.” Hopefully we will be able to incorporate some testimony time into our Sunday Night services this year. If called upon to give your testimony I wonder what you would say. If you can not readily think about what you would say perhaps you need to learn from Paul today.

There are about four different occasions in the book of Acts where Paul gives his testimony before various sets of people. In Acts 22 he is giving his testimony before an angry crowd that has just tried to kill him. Read the chapter and notice the three elements Paul uses in his testimony. 1) What his life was like before he met Christ. 2) How he met Christ. And 3) How his life is different now that he has come to know Christ. Does your testimony include these three elements? If not, why not? 

Some who came to know the Lord at a young age might not be able to point to an exact date in which they know they were converted. If that is you, don’t worry too much. The main thing to think about is your life now. Is your life now bearing fruit for the glory of God? Billy Graham’s wife (Ruth Graham) could not point to a date in which she was converted. Her words, however, are very encouraging. She said, “I don’t know when the sun came up but I know its shining.” IS the SON shining in your heart today?

January 23 (Genesis 24; Matthew 23; Nehemiah 13; Acts 23)

Jesus amazes me! He was and is omniscient. Right? Of course He is and was. He was and is and will always be God in the flesh. While He walked this earthly sod Jesus, still fully God knew all things that were to happen to Him. By the time we arrive at Matthew 23 He knew He was headed to a painful, bloody cross. He knew that His own people, the people He came to save would, by mob violence, demand He go to that cross. Furthermore He knew that hypocritical religious leaders would be the ones to spearhead the mob and incite the crowd to follow through on their deplorable desire. He knew all of this and more.

This knowledge of Jesus, however, is not what amazes me most. What amazes me most about Jesus is His disposition towards the very orchestrators of His death. Oh, He gives them plenty of rebukes, and harsh rebukes at that (v.1-36). But notice what v. 37 tells us is His fundamental posture towards even those who seek to destroy Him.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

Can you hear the lament in His voice? Luke 19 makes it clear that Jesus is weeping as He makes this lament. This is what truly amazes me. Jesus knows that these people are going to crucify Him in a few days and He…. Weeps for them! Truly the most mind-boggling aspect about the character of God has to be His love for us. While we were His archenemies Christ died for us!

Now here is the question that should occupy our thoughts: does our own heart beat thusly? When was the last time we wept over a lost loved one? When was the last time we wept over a lost enemy? I am typing to myself here! Some might balk at such a thought and tuck such an idea into the box of impossibilities. “Sure”, they might say, “Jesus had such love, but He was God. We are just humans. We can’t love like that.”

But then we hear from Paul in Romans 9:2 where he says that he “has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish myself accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my…kinsmen according to the flesh.”

When the love of God takes proper root in our hearts the fruit that sprouts as a result will have a hint of “anguish” flavor. We will have great sorrow for those who reject the truth.

*Father, break our hearts and make them like yours!

January 24 (Genesis 25; Matthew 24; Esther 1; Acts 24)

Matthew 24:14 is one of the verses that shapes the way I breathe. Jesus told His disciples in that verse, “this gospel of the kingdom must be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations and then the end will come.” There are about 14,000 “nations” (depending on how you define “nation”) in the world today. That word “nations” means “people groups”. About 6,500 of these people groups still do not have the gospel. So what? So, we need to do all we can to ensure that they get it if we want the end to come soon. And why should we want the end to come? Because that is when we get to see Jesus in all of His glory and dwell in His presence forever. This is what every true believer longs for. Do you long for that? If so, what are you doing to make sure the gospel spreads to those who have never heard?

January 25 (Genesis 26; Matthew 25; Esther 2; Acts 25)

It would have been very easy for Isaac to rest secure in the fact that he was Abraham’s son and not worry about following after God himself. In fact this is what many people do today. When asked the question, “Do you know Jesus” these people often answer with statements like, “My grand-daddy was a Baptist preacher” or “My mom has taught Sunday School for over forty years at this church” or some other nonsense answer like these. This is not enough! Each individual must repent and place their faith in the Lord Jesus. This is what John the Baptist meant when he said,

“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance and do not presume to think to yourselves ‘we have Abraham as our father’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3: 8-9)

Isaac had his own faith. He did not try to rely on the faith of his father. Genesis 26:23-25 records how the Lord met with him personally and how Isaac personally worshiped the Lord. Ask yourself this question today, “Is my faith in Jesus MY faith?” Is your faith in Jesus personal?

January 26 (Genesis 27; Matthew 26; Esther 3; Acts 26)

Matthew 26:6-13 records the story of how Mary anointed the head of Jesus with perfume. This was a picture of his coming death and burial and by anointing his head Mary was expressing her faith in what Jesus was going to do on the cross for her and all who trust in Him. It was also an expression of her love for Jesus.

This perfume was extremely expensive. In fact it was so expensive that some of the folks at the table got ticked off that she had “wasted” it and not sold it for a whole bunch of money and given the money to the poor. Jesus, however, rebuked those folks and told everyone that what Mary had done was so good that she would be honored everywhere this gospel is preached throughout all of time. Why did Jesus say this?

 Truly, the folks who got mad where right. If she would have sold the perfume there could have been a lot of money given to the poor. Mark 14:5 tells us that the perfume cost about 300 denarius, which is about a year’s amount of wages. In our day, even if we shot low in our average, that would be about $20,000 or $30,000. And she “blew” it all on Jesus in one night!

Here is the lesson. There are times for costly, extravagant acts of devotion to Jesus! He is worthy. What are some ways that you think you can show costly, extravagant devotion to Jesus today?

January 27 (Genesis 28; Matthew 27; Esther 4; Acts 27)

The book of Esther does not mention “God”, but God is all over this book. It really is an exciting read. This whole book is about how God saved the Jewish race from being annihilated by an evil man named Haman. One of the heroes in the story is a man named Mordecai. He is the uncle to Esther who happens to be the queen. Both of them are Jews and run the risk of being exterminated if evil Haman gets his way. Mordecai, therefore, tells Esther that she should go before the king and ask him to stop Haman. This is a very dangerous thing for Esther to do, for to go before the king without being invited could mean execution. Esther, therefore, is not sure she wants to do this.

That is where Esther 4:14 comes in. Speaking to Esther in her fear Mordecai says, “if you remain silent at this time relief and deliverance will arise from the Jews from another place, yet you and your father’s house will perish. Yet, who knows whether you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?”
 Mordecai was expressing two truths with this statement.

1) God is sovereign! He keeps His promises and no one can prevent Him from keeping those promises. He will protect His people from annihilation. This is why Mordecai can confidently say, “relief will arise”.

.2) God uses people to fulfill His purposes. The fact that He is sovereign should never prevent us from doing what we are supposed to do. God has put you on this planet for a reason. Yes, He is totally in control, but your friend needs to hear about Christ. Who knows whether you have come into the kingdom to be the one to tell them of Christ!

January 28 (Genesis 29; Matthew 28; Esther 5; Acts 28)

At the end of the book of Matthew we have the marching orders of the church given by none other than her Captain, the Risen Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). In these marching orders Jesus has instructed His followers to make disciples of every nation by bringing individuals together in a group that unashamedly identifies with His life, death, and resurrection (baptism); and by teaching this new community everything He has commanded them. What a truly “Great” Commission. It is both “Great” in the sense that it is a huge task, and “Great” in the sense that it is an incredible task. What makes the “huge-greatness” coalesce into the “incredible-greatness”, however, are the promises that surround this commission.

He, the Victorious Captain, is in control of all things (v.18) and intimately present with His people as they pursue this undertaking.(v.20)This is exactly what we have seen the followers of Jesus doing in the book of Acts all the way up to the last chapter (28). God’s people have begun making disciples of those in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and even the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The ministry of Paul serves as an exemplary expression of the disciple making process to the ends of the earth. The book, however, ends almost in an anti-climatic way. It ends with Paul incarcerated in Rome preaching the gospel to all he can, period. We never find out what happens to Paul or the rest of his companions. We never know what kind of reception the gospel gets before Caesar. We never know how (in this book at least) the churches founded by Paul fair in the next chapter of their existence. It is almost as if Luke ended abruptly; almost as if something else should come next.

I think Luke concludes his two-volume tome like this on purpose. I think he wants us to feel the incompleteness of the work. I think this is because he wants to see us as involved in the very story he records. The spreading of the gospel does not end in a Roman cell with Paul. It does not end with any of his companions or churches he founded. The spreading of the gospel continues until….. until now! We are a part of the story. This truth is the impetus behind one current, prominent evangelical ministry called “Acts 29”. This ministry gets Luke’s point. Though Acts ends at chapter 28, the real story goes on with every follower of Jesus until He returns. The only question to ask is, “Are you a part of the story?”

January 29 (Genesis 30; Mark 1; Esther 6; Romans 1)

Jesus was a very busy man while He was on this earth. Mark 1 tells us that He was very occupied with healing people pretty much all day. IF I were Jesus, I know I would be sleeping in after a hard day’s work like He went through almost every day. Verse 35, however, tells us that Jesus,

“rose very early in the morning while it was still dark, departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

Notice the three elements of Jesus’ practice. He rose early, he went to a desolate place, and he prayed. There is nothing magical about the early morning hours. God does not listen better during those times. In fact some people’s schedules might force them to use those hours doing other things.  The morning does, however, give us the benefit of quieting our souls before the hustle and bustle of the day starts. Try this week to get up 30 minutes before what you normally do. After you have splashed water on your face enough to properly rouse yourself go to a room or a place where no one will interrupt you, and then meet with your God. What happens in those 30 minutes might just cause you to want to do the same thing next week.

January 30 (Genesis 31; Mark 2; Esther 7; Romans 2)

“Do you have faith?” I hear that all the time. Or, “That guy is a man of faith”. Every time I hear these statements I want to scream out, “Faith in WHOM?” You see no one in this world will have a problem with you being a person of faith.  The problem comes when you specify that you are a person of faith in Jesus of Nazareth. That is what the world does not want to hear. 

Some however will agree with you and say something like this, “I too believe in Jesus.” Be careful when you hear this coming from the lips of one whose life does not match his profession. Too often people use the name of Jesus but, like a wax nose, make him into the Jesus they want him to be and not the Jesus that is revealed in the Scriptures.

This is what is happening all the way back in Genesis 31. In this chapter Jacob, a true follower of God, is making an agreement with Laban, his uncle. This is usually how people in that day resolved conflicts.  Laban was a pagan and did not follow the one true God. In verse 53 Laban says, “The God of Abraham (Jacob’s grandfather) and the God of Nahor (Laban’s daddy), the God of their Father, judge between us.” What was he saying? He was saying, “We worship the same God. He has been the God that our fathers have followed. I know my dad and your grandfather did not live in the same way, but still they followed the same God in their own way.” That is what many will say today. What did Jacob say? “So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.” Jacob wanted there to be no mistake by whom he was swearing allegiance to so he swore by his father’s God.

 It is the same today. People might use the same vocabulary but they do not always use the same dictionary. Be careful and be clear. You swear by the Jesus of Nazareth who was born of a virgin Mary, who suffered and died on a Roman cross, who was raised on the third day, and who is coming back one day in glory!

January 31 (Genesis 32; Mark 3; Esther 8; Romans 3)

What do you do when you come across a big word that you have no idea what it means? Well, sometimes you can gather the meaning from the context of what surrounds the word. In the sentence, “The arrogant person always talks about himself.”, one might not know what the word ‘arrogant’ means but by reading the whole sentence would probably pick up on the fact that an arrogant person is one who thinks so much of himself that that’s all he talks or thinks about.

But what do you do when you get to Romans 3:25 where Paul says that God “put Christ forward as a “propitiation” by His blood to be received by faith.” ? What does that word mean? Can we just skip over it? Not at all! This word is the very heart of the gospel!

 To propitiate someone is to turn someone’s anger away. So if I spill kool-aid on your shirt I might propitiate you by buying a new shirt for you. This is what Romans 3 is telling us. All of us have sinned and spilled an enormous amount of kool-aid on God’s holiness. He is angry and his wrath that we deserve is about to be poured on us. But Christ has come to bear the wrath for us! He has propitiated God by the shedding of His blood. Now all those who place their faith in Him will never experience that wrath but will enjoy the smile of God for all eternity.

Has your sin been propitiated? If you are trusting in Christ the answer to that is yes. If you are not…well you know the answer.