October 4 – Poverty

Revelation 4; Nehemiah 5:1-7:4; Psalm 99

The Jews in exile, while they were mostly allowed to live freely, were still under the rule of foreigners. Many were slaves whose families had been captured during Nebuchadnezzar’s conquering of Judah. One of the things that the return to Jerusalem brought for the Jews was a chance for some autonomy. They were still subject to taxation. They still had to follow the king. Now, however, they had some space to breathe.

There was a problem, though. A drought arose and those who were on the lower end of the economic scale soon needed to do something to pay their bills – especially the tax to the king. So, they sold lands and borrowed money from those who were wealthy. Soon that wasn’t enough and they ended up selling themselves or their children into slavery to make ends meet. They not only had no money, they had no means to make money and they were caught in an endless cycle of poverty and enslavement.

They cried out to Nehemiah. “Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” (Nehemiah 5:5)

Once Nehemiah heard this, the fix was in. He worked with the nobles and the other wealthy to get them to stop charging exorbitant interest and return the lands so that they had a means of caring for themselves. There is a two-pronged message here: 1) care for the poor to help them survive; 2) give the poor the ability to create income and restore their dignity as human beings. It is a reminder to us today as we seek ways to care for the poor and help them maintain the dignity that God has given to all human beings.

My God, there are so many in poverty today. Help us care for those in need in a way that will restore their dignity as Your children.

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October 3 – Wealth

Revelation 3; Nehemiah 4; Psalm 98

Wealth tends to be associated with God’s blessings. When you look at the Old Testament story of Job you see a wealthy man who loses everything. The previous wealth was associated with God’s blessings; his losses were a sign to many that God had forsaken Job because of his sins. All is made well at the end, though, because Job’s wealth is restored. And so we have the paradigm for the belief that wealth means that God is blessing you and poverty means God is punishing you.

Only, Job didn’t suffer because of God’s punishment. He suffered because God trusted him. That thought would not sit well with many in the Church today – at least in the United States. We have exemplified this idea that wealth is a sign of blessing. We add great wealth to some who proclaim the gospel while we look down on those in poverty. Megachurch pastors are exalted while those who work among the poor are swept to the side.

God reminds us that we need to get back to His way of doing things. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) If our wealth can be turned to gold, we are merely exalting heavenly paving material. More than monetary wealth, we need spiritual wealth and strength from God. Throughout the New Testament we see a call from God not to material wealth, but to spiritual strength through service.

Our call from God is not to a life of luxury, but a life of service. We are the footwashers. We are the servants who make sure the master eats before we even think about it. We bring a message of hope to those in despair; a message of healing to those who are hurting. Oh how sad it would be indeed if we appeared before God and all we could show Him for our work on earth is a fat wallet.

Lord God, it is so easy to be blinded by the glitter of gold; to be taken in by the blessing of wealth. While money is not evil and can be used for good, help me to focus not on material wealth, but the spiritual wealth that comes from following You and ministering to others.

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October 2 – First Love

Revelation 2; Nehemiah 3; Psalm 97

You know when a person is just going through the motions at work. They’re supposed to welcome you to the establishment so you hear them say, “Hi welcome to our store,” as you walk in. There’s no smile, no enthusiasm in the voice. Words come out without meaning. It’s almost a mockery of the intent to make everyone feel welcome the minute they walk into the store.

The church at Ephesus had gone through a lot of persecution. The members had endured the hardships and were working hard to stay faithful. But in that process, they had forgotten something very important. “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:3-4) The Christians at Ephesus were going through the motions. They knew how they needed to live to “be holy” and so they lived like that; their enthusiasm, their love for God was gone.

It’s so easy to think about the things we need to do because we are followers of Christ that we forget about why we follow. We get our checklists out and read our Bibles, pray the required number of minutes, submerge our feelings and act nicely towards others, go to church, give exactly the right amount of money, and do all the things that show we are Christians to other people. The problem is that we have made our relationship with God a bunch of boxes checked on an envelope.

Where is the love in all of that? Where is the relationship with God that we had when we first realized His love for us. When we came to Christ we were excited because we realized that God had forgiven all our sins. We lived in gratitude for His mercy and grace. Forget the checklists. Forget worrying about what other people will think about you. Jesus reminds us to return to that relationship that was established on God’s love, mercy and grace. Experience the love and the joy once again.

Lord, in my attempts to prove how much I love You, I have lost that love for You. Restore the joy of my salvation today. Restore that experience of love as I experience Your mercy and grace anew today.

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October 1 – Sing!

Revelation 1; Nehemiah 1-2; Psalm 96

There is a power to music. It soothes the soul. It help us focus and clears our minds from distraction. It sets an atmosphere. Have you ever gone into a store that wasn’t playing some kind of music? Did you know that the style of music changes in some stores by the time of day in order to induce you to shop more? Music has power.

The longest book in the Bible, Psalms, is a music book. We are encouraged to sing throughout the book of Psalms. “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:1) As followers of Christ, our songs should ultimately focus on God. Our songs should reflect our joy and our sadness; they should be songs of praise or lamentation. They should express our emotions and sometimes they should help us change our emotions.

While we sing the songs of praise we hear on the radio or learned in church, we should also sing new songs to God. Songs that reflect what we are going through. Songs that reflect our circumstances. Turn your prayers into songs. If you think about it, many of the Psalms are prayers that the people sing. Don’t worry about your voice – no one else has to hear. Sing your new songs in the car and people will just think you’re singing along with the radio.

The call from God is to sing to Him. Take the time today to sing your feelings in a new song and don’t worry about what anyone else may think. God relishes the songs of His people.

Lord, I don’t always feel like singing but You always enjoy hearing my songs. Let me sing to You in a new and special way today. Let my praises be pleasing in Your ears.

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September 30 – Finding Joy

Jude 1; Ezra 9-10; Psalm 95

A friend of mine recently talked about her child who had given a rundown on all the bad news in the area where she lived.  She decided that she needed to stop watching the news with him around. As I write this, the nation is dealing with the terrible news of mass murder in Oregon. The stories are still swirling about and nothing is completely confirmed, but it appears that the shooter targeted my brothers and sisters in Christ.

When I think about that possibility; when I think about the persecution of my brothers and sisters around the world – many dying for their faith, it would be easy to give in to despair. Where is the hope? Where is the joy? “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95:1) As followers of Christ we have a deep, enduring joy in any circumstance because of our relationship with God.

Sometimes that joy comes with tears, as it does now. Sometimes that joy doesn’t show as we deal with horrific circumstances. Joy doesn’t always mean happiness because how happy we are depends on our circumstances. Our joy comes from a deeper, underlying faith that reminds us that no matter how bad circumstances may seem, God is in control. God will find a way to bring peace.

We live in a world marred by sin. We will suffer through tragedies caused by people acting out of their sinful desires. In the midst of the tragedies, though, we have our God, the Rock of our salvation, upholding us and strengthening us. We continue to have joy not because of circumstances created by sin; we continue to have joy because of the presence of God in all circumstances.

Oh most holy God, we have been reminded again of the sinfulness of our world. Speak to us. Comfort us. Give us the ability to see Your presence in a difficult time and let us rejoice in Your presence.

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September 29 – Reputation

3 John 1; Ezra 7-8; Psalm 94

What do people say about you? I don’t mean the people who don’t know you who start gossiping about you behind your back. I mean the people who know you well. The people who see you every day. If your spouse, or parents, or children were being honest about you – what would they say?

John reminds one of his dear friends what people are saying about him. “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.” (3 John 3) Perhaps these words were unsolicited because those who spoke of this friend knew that John was concerned. Perhaps they were responding to John’s question. In any case, note the glowing praise that John has to relate to his friend!

Gaius, the friend, is faithful to the truth. When John talks about truth, he is talking about living under the leadership of Jesus Christ. He is not a Sunday morning Christian who lives his faith in church and then abandons it so that he can get along in the world. He continues to walk in the truth. He lives each day showing his love for God and people recognize that.

I pray that were people to see my pastor, my wife, or my family that they could say the same about me. May I always live in faithfulness to the truth of Jesus Christ. That’s the reputation I want to have – not only with family and friends, but also with God. How do you want people to remember you?

Lord God, Your way is always the best way. Help me to find Your way, the truth, in any and all situations and give me the grace to live according to the truth no matter what the consequences may be.

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September 28 – Grace, Mercy, Peace

2 John 1; Ezra 5-6; Psalm 93

I sometimes wonder if people who don’t believe in God have chosen to take that stand because they believe that for some reason they can never be accepted by God. It’s probably not fair to make that speculation; I know that there are many reasons that people become atheists or agnostics, but I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t even a little resentment towards people of faith for believing that we can have a relationship with God.

I continue to be reminded that my relationship to God is not dependent upon the fact that I have special abilities or any quality of goodness that makes me better than anyone else; my relationship with God is based solely on His grace and mercy. John’s words to the church ring true. “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.” (2 John 3)

I am a follower of Jesus Christ not because I have done anything good or righteous; I am a follower of Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and mercy. He forgave my sin and drew me towards Him in His grace. He shows me mercy each and every day by not giving me what I deserve as I sin in spite of my desires to live a life pleasing to Him. It is because of His grace and mercy that can’t be taken away by any person that I can have peace in my everyday life.

Perhaps this belief might come off as a touch arrogant. Think about it; I’m claiming that I have peace because the maker of the Universe has granted me grace and mercy. ME. In truth, though, it is a mercy available to all people who will turn to Him. It is grace and mercy that comes not because I am arrogant enough to demand it from God because of who I am, but a grace and mercy that comes because I recognize my weaknesses and failures and offer them up to God seeking His forgiveness. It is a peace that comes because of who God is in spite of who I am.

Lord God, I come before You now and offer up my weaknesses and failures as a husband, father, and teacher. Where I have failed my wife, children, and students I seek Your forgiveness and ask for Your grace and mercy to give me the peace I need to be the person each of them deserves to see.

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September 27 – Confidence

(Yes, I know that today is the 29th. I’m still two days behind, but will catch up as soon as the crunch of grading is over!)

1 John 5; Ezra 3-4; Psalm 92

In conversations with people who tell me that they’re Christians sometimes the talk will turn to eternal life and our future in heaven. I don’t know if it’s humility or lack of knowledge that causes a person who claims the name of Jesus to say something like, “Oh, I hope I’m going to heaven.” I have to admit…I cringe when I hear that.

John reminds us not only that we have eternal life (which actually begins the moment we commit our lives to Jesus) but that we can know it. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) Eternal life is not a hope or a wish; it’s a certainty for those who believe in the name of Jesus.

That certainty gives us the opportunity to show God’s love more and more each day. I don’t have a quota of God’s love to share so that I can maybe have eternal life. Can you imagine how fake that sharing would be? I don’t have to worry that I’m going to do something so bad that God will take His love away from me. Think about it: what could be worse than being part of the team that crucified Jesus? Still, Jesus forgave them from the cross.

That certainty gives us a confidence so that we can share God’s love in the everyday interactions we have. We can also be confident that if anyone we share God’s love with commits their heart to Jesus they too can know that they have eternal life as well. Our hope – our confidence – is based not on our ability or our good works, but on the amazing love and grace of God.

Lord, help me to do a better job of sharing Jesus. Let me reflect Your love and grace to others. Let me help others to have the confidence that they also can enter eternal life with You because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

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September 26 – Go Team!

1 John 4; Ezra 1-2; Psalm 91

You may have seen a commercial like this: a man and a woman meet eyes across a crowded room. It looks to be love at first sight. They fight through the crowd so they can meet. When they can finally look at each other from head to toe, the romance is over. They are wearing jerseys from rival teams. They walk away sadly.

This is the attitude that John has in mind when he reminds his readers that there are two sides in this world. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” (1 John 4:4-5)

As followers of Christ we should be listening to God to lead us and direct us. This allows us to overcome the world. The message of the world is “me first,” “personal pleasure,” “get all you can,” “don’t get mad, get even,” or “look out for number one.” How many other clichés could we add? The message of God for Christians is “sacrifice,” “God forgives you, you forgive others,” “care for others,” and “love one another.” Too often we as followers of Christ confuse those messages and act as if God loves us so we can have personal success. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ gives us a message that overcomes that worldly thought.

We have an opportunity to deliver a clear message of God’s love and forgiveness to a world that needs to know of His grace. We can’t do it by wearing the other team’s jersey and focusing on ourselves. We need to wear Jesus Christ and live His message. We are to love fellow Christians and show those in the world the power of His grace.

Lord, let my life reflect Your love and grace. May I always share Your forgiveness with those caught in sin and let me always remember how much I have been forgiven.

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September 25 – God’s Standards

1 John 3; 2 Chronicles 36; Psalm 90

John speaks often of the love of God, but he reminds us that our love of God is reflected in the way we live. “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9) If we truly have been born of God, we will not continue in a lifestyle of sin – God working inside of us won’t allow it. We will be guilty and miserable until we repent and do things God’s way.

What kind of sinning is John talking about here, though? Some interpret these words to mean something like “sinless perfection.” If God truly lives in us, we will never commit one single sin. That understanding goes against not only the language here, but also the whole message of the book of 1 John. John is speaking of a lifestyle where someone claims to be a child of God and yet continues in known sin and either seeks to justify that sin or feels no guilt over it.

Let’s think about an example: a man living in an adulterous relationship claims to be a follower of Christ. He is living in a lifestyle of sin. He might seek to justify it by noting that he doesn’t feel any guilt about it and even that he’s prayed about the situation and God has allowed him to live that way. What foolishness! God has set objective standards by which we should live in His word: The Bible. Our relationship with Him is not subjective – based on feelings or the popular opinions of the day.

The message is simple: we need to align our lives with God’s standards. If we are not listening to Him; if we are not following His ways, how can we call ourselves His children?

Lord, examine me. Show me where I follow my own way instead of Your way. Let my life reflect Your plans and Your guidance. Let me be an example of obedience and love to others.

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