God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 31 - Isaiah 59-63: Israel's Mistakes Prevents Communication with God

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 59-63

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations! You have finished reading through seven months! Only five to go!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God wants to reach Israel. What prevents Him is their inability to see His Way.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Israel's mistakes keep them apart from God. No peace is on this road. God will bring justice on Israel—no escape.
Isaiah's exclaims, "Jerusalem, wake up. God brings light through a Son. Things will become what they should be in God's Land."
Isaiah's mission is to speak God's Good News that He is setting all things right. God will put righteousness and praise on display for everyone to see. No one will scoff at her, the Bride of God.
God continued to bless Israel long after Abraham died. But now, in the midst of punishment, it seems God forgot them.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Our sin and mistakes prevent God from hearing us and helping us.

Isaiah's message here is troubling. When we feel God never listens to us or never helps us we want to immediately question His Love for us and His Ability to help us. Surely a god like God could never be limited. However, the problem is not in God but in us. God can always hear, but when we take over for God we barely talk to Him. God can always help, but when we take over for God we barely ask for or receive His Help. God is not too limited to hear or help. He is limited because He respects our boundaries, especially when we decide not to ask Him to help.

Isaiah's message is good news.

Isaiah's entire message does not sound like good news. Yet all of it is meant to be good news. The good news is not God will overlook our mistakes so we can continue not setting things right. Good news is we messed things up but God will set it all right again, if we allow Him to do it.

God is famous for His Mercy and Compassion.

Israel cannot feel God's love and compassion because they have forsaken God. When they call out to God they ask for His world-famous love and mercy. They do not recognize the god who punishes. They know the god who brings His Chosen People into a land flowing with milk and honey. God's fame is not punishment. God's fame is mercy, compassion, and salvation.

Are you limiting God's ability to hear and help you?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30 - Isaiah 54-58: God Opens His House to the World

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 54-58

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would no longer distinguish between Abraham's physical descendents and others. Anyone could become His Chosen Person.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"Sing," God decrees, "for the Redeemer is Israel's god.
"Your exile, like the Flood, means no more attacks.
"Listen to David's Promise. Be my witness to the nations. My Word always fulfills its purpose.
"Everyone who sets things right is equal. My House will be a house of prayer for everyone."
Israel doesn't notice good people exiled. "Some Chosen People you've turned out to be," God replies. "I was angry but decided to heal Israel.
"Tell everyone they are too busy being religious. You fast but do not set things right! Stop doing unfair things. Then you will be blessed."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God will never take away His Promise.

Like the Flood, when God promised He would never punish the world all at once, God decided He would no longer punish His entire nation of Chosen People all at once. The surrounding nations equated that with God abandoning His Chosen People and therefore breaching the Promise. Israel happened to be the beneficiaries of God's want to be respected by their neighbors. God will never punish all of His Chosen People all at once or take away His Promise.

All nations would join God's Chosen People to worship God as equals.

God begins to expand the definition of His Chosen People. From around the world worshipers would flock to Jerusalem because of their god. Each would observe God's Sabbath correctly. Each would pray in God's House, previously reserved only for those who were clean and not deformed among Israel's community. God's message through Isaiah represents a radical shift in what Israel thought God wanted. In essence it does—but not for the typical reason. God only wants those who set things right to enter His Prayer-House. He tried by calling an ethnic group. That did not work. Now He expands it to the entire world.

Israel's fasting was ignored because they did not take a break from hurting others.

God is very clear—religious observance is not "separate and apart" from the way the observers live.
The bottom line on your "fast days" is profit.
   You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
   You fast, but you swing a mean fist. (58:3-4, The Message)
We cannot expect God to set things right between us when we refuse to set things right between ourselves. Instead, God tells us what He wants.
This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
   to break the chains of injustice,
   get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
   free the oppressed,
   cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
   sharing your food with the hungry,
   inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
   putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
   being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
   and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
   The GOD of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, GOD will answer.
   You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, "Here I am." (58:6-9)

Search for God while you still can!

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29 - Isaiah 49-53: God's Reconciling Servant

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 49-53

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God woos Isaiah by sending a Servant to take their punishment.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Listen, God called Israel to globalize salvation.
God comforts His exiles, "You are my children and I will never abandon you. Did I divorce you? No way!"
"You who want to set things right, consider Abraham, your ancestor. My Promises never fail."
God, save us!
"Why are you afraid of mortals?"
Wake up from your hangover, Jerusalem!
"I will restore My Chosen People to restore My Reputation."
How beautiful are those who bring good news!
Look at God's Servant. He isn't much to look at, but He carries our punishment in silence. He will be the final sacrifice for sin.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God will return Israel when the time is right.

God has not "divorced" or "sold" Israel. They were taken away into captivity because they would not be God's lighthouses. Therefore, God would bring them back with hopes that they would return to their stated purpose and make God's salvation global. God will not punish His Chosen People forever. Why would they be returned? Because of the Promise.
What does this mean for Christians today? No matter how bad it may seem, we will be returned if we repent and set things right with God. We may not be the center of the culture or returned in the exact way we were before, but God will bring us back when we are ready to make God's salvation global.

We should not fear mere mortals.

What can mortals do to God? Absolutely nothing! So why fear them? The only thing fear can do is separate us from God. Do not fear people. Respect God and He will set things right.

Israel would be restored to defend God's Reputation.

God's reasoning for restoring Israel was not because they had earned His love and respect again. It wasn't because they repented and turned back to Him. The reason God brought Israel back into Canaan is because the nations began questioning His Power. God's Reputation is not punishment. God's Reputation is Salvation. This reasoning is similar to Moses during one of Israel's many rebellions against the God who took them out of Egypt. Do not think our salvation comes because of our righteousness. It comes because of God's.

God would bring Salvation through the least-likeliest person—a servant who did not command attention.

Who would believe such a far-fetched idea of a servant coming and bearing the sins of His People? You would expect a god to come down in great fanfare, create a large feast where he or she pronounced all sin removed. Not our god. He was considered disfigured, undesirable, and mocked. But God took that scourge and made Him the most important person to setting things right. His Reward came because He had complete faith in God and died on behalf of those who did not like Him. Jesus came to take away our punishment and guilt!

Are your feet beautiful?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 28 - 2 Kings 18:9-19:37; Psalms 46, 80, and 135: Hide in God

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 18:9-19:37; Psalms 46, 80, 135

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's reading in 2 Kings repeats the stories of Israel going into exile, Judah under attack by the Assyrians, and God's punishment of Sennachreib. Since it virtually repeats the readings from 2 Chronicles and Isaiah, I will skip the summary and discussion of that text and point you to the other posts.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God's Chosen People call out to the one they know will save them and He does!

Psalm (P)Synopsis

Psalm 46

The god who wrestled Jacob is a safe place to hide because God protects and fights for His Chosen People. War cannot touch them.

Psalm 80

Asaph calls on the tribes related to Joseph to wake up, God is on His way! They call out to God, "How long before you save us? Remember when life was good? We will never turn our backs to you again. Just your smile will be enough!"

Psalm 135

Hallelujah! Praise God, everyone, because God chose Jacob! Look how great God is! He punished Egypt and slew the Canaanite kings. His name is eternal, more than any no-god who is served in the marketplace by buying and selling trinkets. Bless God, the Protector of Jerusalem! Hallelujah!

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God is a safe place to hide.

God provides refuge for those who need help. When an entire city obeys God they live safe lives. Everyone sets things right. Then God fights for us and not against us.

God will protect us when we repent because of our common history.

Asaph reminds God of the good-ole days when God brought Israel out of Egypt. By that point (if this is a correct placement in the timetable) both Israel and God needed to remember these days because Israel and Judah were punished for serving other gods. However, if they remembered the time when God protected Israel maybe they would repent and return to God. Then God would spare their nation.

Family of God, bless Him! Hallelujah!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

July 27 - Isaiah 44-48: The Lunacy of Idol Worship

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 44-48

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Israel spends hours crafting an idol so it can deliver them from their enemies. How silly is that?

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"Israel, compare My Blessings to no-blessings from no-gods."
This is how idol worship works: a man shapes a piece of wood from a tree; burns some of the tree to cook a meal; and then prays to the stick of wood!
"Remember what I've done," God calls sweetly. "Which helped you escape Egypt: wood or the god of your ancestors? Your no-gods are "with" you because they can't move!
"Babylon, you were to discipline My Chosen People but you exploited them. Your reward will come. Good luck finding luck.
"Judah, you are here because I am longsuffering. Listen and learn."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Animism boggles God's mind.

Of course, God is the Creator of the universe. Anything people use to create idols and/or gods was created by Him. He mocks them by showing how silly they are for thinking these pieces of wood would protect them. How silly, right? We wouldn't do anything like that, right? Aren't we lucky not to believe in spirits who require us to do the exact right thing at the exact right time to get what we want? Maybe I should go and knock on wood to make sure my karma is in check.
So we do have silly beliefs, too. We do not call it "idol worship" or "animism" per se, but we do speak of things like luck and superstitions. Why do we do this? Maybe it is because we cannot see God and so we substitute other causes behind our outcomes. Either way, God's Chosen People do not rely on "spirits" or "luck" or put their faith in items to bring good fortune. We rely on the source of our spirit and the Creator to bring good fortune.

God wants us to compare Him to other things taking our allegiance, not follow Him blindly.

God never tells us to blindly follow Him. He wants His Chosen People to put their entire faith in His Way but part of that is allowing them to see the so-called competition. If they realize their "no-gods" are nothing but carvings in wood animated only in their hopes and dreams then they will be reminded to return to God. Test those who want your allegiance. Do they bless more than God? He realizes no other suitor could match His Blessings and Mercy. Go on, He'll still be there when you realize His awesomeness.

Things created do not complain to their creator.

We love to second-guess God. If we were in charge, the Canaanites would have lived; Israel would have been a better country with freedom instead of law; etc. However, nothing looks back on its creator and says, "I could have done that better," except humans. How ironic that the highest and greatest part of God's creation looks back at their creator and exclaims, "I don't need you. I'm better than that now."

God works behind the scenes but is open for all to see.

One of the reasons faith in God is so difficult is that we do not get the full-page banner ads or amazing, "Look at me!" spectacles to see God's work. God works within, using His Creation for His purposes. In a scientific age, this is seen as superstitious. Unfortunately, God's Works are often mistaken for self strength or attributed to animist gods. God's Work sets up everything that exists and works today. Give praise and credit to Him, not yourself or some no-god.
At the same time, we do not need to search for God in some dark, secluded place. There is no need to sail across the ocean, climb tall mountains, or descend dangerous caves. God is everywhere and can be seen by all, if they desire to seek Him.

Babylon did not obey God's orders.

Similar to Isaiah's earlier complaint against Babylon and Assyria, they took their power from God and claimed it for themselves. Unfortunately for them both God would punish Babylon and Assyria, too.

If you wish to be God's Chosen People, you must act like God's Holy People.

God set Israel aside from the entire world for them to be lighthouses to the nations. They were to do this by being holier than the nations around them. Cultural isolation would prevent bad influences. Instead, Judah imitated those around them. Therefore, they had their special-nation status revoked by God. If we wish to be God's Chosen People living under His Love and Mercy, we must live lives worthy of that calling. If not, we will find ourselves, our churches, and our nation removed from their place in God setting all things right.

Are you hard to help?

Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26 - Isaiah 40-43: God's Lighthouses to the Nations

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 40-43

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God wants Judah to compare gods, not blindly follow the one they have known from birth.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God speaks, "Your punishment is finished."
Spread the good news—"God is near!"
There is no god like God. Judah, you know He cares for us.
"You are My Chosen People, descendents of Abraham. Through My Spirit you will set everything right—a lighthouse to the nations."
Sing to God! Echo His praise from coast to coast!
Pay attention! You are my Messengers! I depend on you. Will anyone pay attention?
"You're mine. I am your Savior. I am, have always been, and will always be God.
"But you give me nothing in return. Therefore, you are rejected."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

At last, God wants to remove Judah's punishment.

God punished Israel and Judah to remove those who were bad influences. Now their punishment is over and God looks forward to reconciliation. God wants to remove our punishment as quickly as possible.

God is much greater than any other so-called god.

God muscles His way into Judah and reminds them of two essential truths: 1) God is the Creator, Director, and Judge over all earth; and 2) other gods may look nice, decorated with gold and other precious items, but they are manufactured by people not the other way around. Judah has heard these stories all their lives and yet they struggle to believe it. God is greater than any and all other things that vie for our love and respect.

God calls Judah to spread the Good News to the entire world.

Once God removes their punishment, He calls them to spread the Good News of His Reign to the world. In the clearest version of this call yet, God tells Israel:
I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
   I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe.
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
   and provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
   opening blind eyes,
   releasing prisoners from dungeons,
   emptying the dark prisons. (42:6-7, The Message)
God's greatness is not easily seen by those who are not His Chosen People. That is why they must present the good news to the world—God is near, setting all things right. God calls His Chosen People to shine for the world to see Him.

No matter how much God tells Israel of His greatness and how other gods are unworthy, they will not listen.

The end of the reading is depressing. God has removed Judah's punishment, reminded them of His Greatness, called them to be His Ambassadors to the nations, and they still will not listen. Instead, they worship their manufactured gods and oppress the poor. God brings down the standard—just offer sacrifices. They won't bother with that. God had a great role for them to play and they botched it. Therefore, the only response God has is to remove them as His Chosen People. When we are unwilling to do even the bare minimum to obey God, He will remove us.
How does this translate to today? The Church is God's lighthouse to the nations. We get to be the ambassadors to the world for the Creator! However, many churches have difficulty getting their members to do the bare minimum—offer sacrifices of money and time to God. What has God done? God has removed the Church as His central Ambassadors to the world because we cannot be bothered to do the bare minimum to obey Him. Is this universal? Absolutely not! That being said, Christianity is losing its place in our culture not because the world has rejected God but because God had a massive, awesome plan for Christians to help set things right in the world but could not get us to fulfill the basic minimum—setting things right within ourselves.

Are you setting things right in the world or trying to see how little you can do for God and still remain His Chosen Person?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

July 25 - Isaiah 37-39; Psalm 76: God Answers Hezekiah's Prayers

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 37-39; Psalm 76

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Hezekiah prays to God for protection and a longer life. God listens and grants both.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Hezekiah, distressed, appealed to Isaiah. He replied, "God will protect you and King Sennachreib will die."
The Sennachreib mocked God, "No god can protect you. Surrender!"
Hezekiah prayed, "You are the True God! Save us!"
God retorted, "Sennacherib, I will ride you like a horse back home. Hezekiah, in three years life will return to normal."
God killed 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib ran home and was quickly assassinated.
Later, Hezekiah prayed for health from a deadly illness and received 15 extra years. Hezekiah praised God greatly.
Babylon spied Hezekiah's treasures. Isaiah told Hezekiah someday his children would be exiled to Babylon.

Psalm (P)Synopsis

Psalm 76

Asaph praises God, the famous peacemaker. God brings warriors to their knees—who could survive His wrath? Asaph calls on Judah to sacrifice to God, the justice-bringer.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Hezekiah makes the right decision—relying on God.

We cannot read the story of Hezekiah without understanding his context. His father, Ahaz, ransacked the Temple to placate Assyria and then worshiped Damascene gods thinking they would protect Judah. Israel has been taken into captivity because they would not obey God. Hezekiah must rely on only one thing—faith. His faith would provide the impetus for his actions. So he relied on God in every case. When we rely on God, He helps us make the right decision.

Hezekiah diagnosed the other nations' problem—relying on "no-gods".

Hezekiah understood why the myriad of other nations had been destroyed by Assyria. They worshiped works of their hands, not the Creator. Hezekiah will not make that mistake. He will rely on God, the One, True God. When we rely on no-gods, we get no-help.

Hezekiah's friendliness would spell disaster on Judah.

Unfortunately, Hezekiah was all too trusting with the Babylonian messengers. He allowed them to see everything he had. Part of me wants to think Hezekiah became old and a little senile, since his answer to Isaiah does not sound the same as his previous answers. However, he also may have seen his sons and knew what would happen in the next few years. Either way, his willingness to reveal all he owned brought Babylon calling in the next few generations. Beware of spies who come dressed as messengers of good news.

God brings peace by crushing those who wage war.

Sometimes, God's only way of showing someone they should stop doing what they want to do is by doing it to them. Sennachreib would only cease occupying Judah when his army was decimated. Let us hope and pray we do not need our sins pointed out to us in that way!

Trust in God—He will give you wisdom.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 24 - Isaiah 35-36: Assyria, on Assignment from God, Missed the Message to Stop

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 35-36

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God tells Judah to believe in Him. The Rabshekah tells Judah no god has protected their people. Which will Hezekiah listen to?

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's creation praises Him for setting things right. Soon an exclusive highway will usher God's People home in safety.
During Hezekiah's reign, King Sennachreib of Assyria sent a large force into Judah to capture it. A "Rabshekah" met three of Hezekiah's men. He arrogantly asked who they trusted since Hezekiah removed their god's shrines. Sennachreib would help them fight out of pity. Besides, God told Assyria to go.
The Rabshekah cried out, "Hezekiah is lying to you about God. Make peace with Assyria. Think about it, no god has defeated Assyria. Why is yours different?"
Hezekiah's men returned without answering.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

After the carnage of yesterday's reading, God's Creation praises Him for purifying it.

God removes evil from His Creation because He does not want it to spoil His Chosen People or the land. After the earth reabsorbs their bodies it praises God for its purity. Everyone who survives praises God for setting things back to the way they should be. God's creation praises God for its purity.

Sennacherib came to Israel and Judah by authority of God; but, they do not have faith in God.

A few days ago we read how Assyria was God's rod for punishment. Israel did not repent and was taken into captivity. Judah, on the other hand, repented under the leadership of Hezekiah. Assyria was not willing to give up their conquest, though. Because Assyria believes their strength came from within instead of from God, they stand before Judah as arrogant imperialist, not righteous fighters for justice. God's weapons for justice do not always follow His Ways.

The Rabshekah wants Judah to surrender, not repent.

At no point does the Rabshekah suggest the correct action is to repent. He has his facts—God sent mighty Assyria into lowly Judah for a good, punishing blow. Judah could take their resettlement quietly or fight a futile war. The Rabshekah must have found it odd that Hezekiah would tell his people to trust in the same god who sent Sennachreib to punish them. It shows something very important—those outside God's Promise do not understand God's ways.
What does this mean for today? We should not expect those who are not God's Chosen People to understand why we do things like worship God regularly, openly confess our faults to each other, and give money to help each other in times of need. They may think these are crutches which only help because of the placebo effect. We should not expect them to understand exactly how God works to set things right. They need to see that it works instead of being told to believe it.

Take courage, God will set things right in the end.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 22 - Isaiah 31-34: God's Way vs. the Way of Punishment

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 31-34

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Nothing can protect Israel from God's punishment.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Large armies can't outmuscle God. Only repentance ensures protection.
Listen! In one year the righteous and the wicked will be separated.
God, protect us from our enemies! You are our greatest treasure!
God reassures Israel, "See how mighty I am? Sinners quake in their boots."
How can our nation survive? Set things right. When God runs this place, we are safe and guilt-free!
Everyone, hear this: God will soon punish the wicked. No one is exempt. Their land will be polluted with their remains. Chaos will rule and the earth will clean up the mess. Get ready—it's coming.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Only repentance can protect against God's wrath.

When God is angry there is nothing we can do to buy our freedom or a pardon apart from humbling ourselves to ask for forgiveness and a clean heart. No army, political structure, or business can protect you from God's punishment. When you make mistakes, repent. That is the easiest and only way to return God's blessings.

Isaiah gives the easiest answer to how we should live.

The answer’s simple:
   Live right,
   speak the truth,
   despise exploitation,
   refuse bribes,
   reject violence,
   avoid evil amusements.
This is how you raise your standard of living!
   A safe and stable way to live.
   A nourishing, satisfying way to live. (33:15-16, The Message)
Many people are discussing how to grow the middle class. We hear government programs, schemes, and taxes that will grow jobs and help the middle class. No one mentions the obvious, when people set things right, everyone benefits. Then, mistakes made by others will stand out and people can either correct, remove, or punish the person for making them. Last—the best reason—when we set things right, we live guilt-free. No one complains of mental anguish due to their sin when they set things right. We have inner peace.

No one escapes God's punishment.

The last chapter is difficult to read. Mass executions, desecration of corpses, and animals bringing God's punishment on the wicked are never things we enjoy hearing (well, maybe it's tolerable when our enemies are the victims). However, if you remember yesterday's reading, along with the story of Nineveh, God's threats of punishment are not meant to come true. They are meant to help anyone reading understand there are two options—one easy (repentance, no matter how humbling it may be), and one hard (punishment through the ways God mentioned). Today's reading would shock a person living in Edom. They have seen the acts happen before but not to this extent. God's punishment is meant to show how easy repentance can be. Why would anyone not do what God has asked?

Do you see the difference in God's way of living and the way that leads to punishment?

Monday, July 22, 2013

July 22 - Isaiah 28-30: God Teaches Ephraim the Basics Again

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 28-30

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Israel's worship is backwards. It comes from a need to be seen as righteous instead of real righteousness.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God speaks to Ephraim. They need to relearn the basics.
"Zion's foundation will be justice. Unrighteousness will be destroyed without insurance. You will be a magnet for disaster. Time to sober up!"
Jerusalem would be drowned by foreigners and natural disasters. Only numbness would suffice.
"Judah, you worship a god you care nothing about. That's backwards! In the blink of an eye, your punishment will be lifted and the Promise restored. Then worship will continue.
"You make plans without consulting Me. Your 'protectors' need protection. Bite the bullet and return. Then throw out your so-called 'gods' and reconcile our relationship."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God must return to the basics for His Chosen People.

Israel has been God's Chosen People for centuries. Unfortunately, righteousness is not inherited genetically from generation to generation. After 1200 years of being God's Chosen People they must be taught the basics again—the foundation of God's Chosen People is righteousness. If God's Chosen People do not pass on the Promise, righteousness will not survive.

Worship should come out of devotion to God, not the other way around.

Israel wanted the world to know they were God's Chosen People through worship rituals and other "religiousy" acts. Outside of their religious ceremonies they continued to do whatever they wanted. If they kept the ceremonies correct, they could claim God as their god. The world would see them as "righteous" even though their acts were completely opposite. God could be whatever they wanted Him to be—Lord, philosopher, cultural symbol. No commitment to real change was necessary. This is backwards! Inner devotion to God does not come through outward worship. Outward worship comes as a result of seeing God's Plan work from the inside.

When we walk down God's Road, all other gods look like trash.

Consider what God has to offer: righteousness, purity, holiness, reconciliation, and a community of people dedicated to these things. No other god can compete. All other gods are not pure evil, but none surpass God's ability to set things right. This is why they look subpar. None of them can compete with perfection!

All of God's threats of punishment end in calls for repentance.

God has to remind Israel of their sin and what will happen several, several times (virtually all of the prophets have this at their thesis). However, every time He speaks of punishment He ends with what would happen if they returned. It is difficult to humble yourself before God and admit that you are powerless to set things right in your life. This is why Israel does not want to do it. Fortunately for them, repentance is much easier than enduring punishment. God desires clean hearts purified through repentance. God's threats are meant to remind us that sin is worse than humility.

Do you worship from a devoted heart or by force of habit?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July 21 - Hosea 8-14: Religious Highs vs. Wholeness with God

Today’s Reading: Hosea 8-14

The Message

English Standard Version

Moving along! We're now at 21 books and counting!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Israel is reaping what they sowed.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God through Hosea continues:
"Israel ignores God in everything. Ephraim even built altars to worship bad acts. Someday you will wish you could worship God.
"At harvest time your wild oats are not acceptable.
"Israel always had a short attention span. Now they pray to imaginary gods. I should destroy my child, but I cannot—it's too painful! So I offer reconciliation.
"They once stopped worshiping gods but now are twice as bad! I, your god, am still here!"
Hosea concludes, "Israel! It's not too late! Repent and return to God—He will heal you! God's Way sets things right."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Israel acknowledges God—when they need Him.

Hosea is not an easy book to read. For centuries Israel has taken advantage of God and now their relationship is being threatened. Israel thinks by calling out God, their father, He must protect them, His Children. Once He saves them, the cycle will repeat. Unfortunately, this time God is the cause of their calamity. The way to be protected now is to throw out their idols and fall in line with God's Law. The proper response to punishment is to ask God for salvation after your heart has returned to Him.

Israel worships these gods because they provide a greater high than worshiping God. Soon they will realize the high will not last.

I believe what God is fighting against when contending for Israel's heart is not these other gods. In the end, the gods are not what Israel wants to keep. Israel wants to live without the moral restrictions God's Law requires. That is why in The Message Eugene Peterson writes "sex-and-religion shrines" throughout the Old Testament. The gods provide an excuse for them to feel their actions are legitimate. Israel wanted to keep their sexual pleasures more than they wanted to keep their God. And they paid for it dearly. They learned in captivity what it was like to not have their high and the true God. Beware highs that do not come from holiness. Not only will they eventually end, they may alienate you from the One who is Holy.

As Israel forsakes God, their cities become less and less safe.

When religion becomes more about a high than holiness people focus more on getting high than getting holy. This leads to social breakdowns. Ephraim and Israel suffer high murder rates because they seek religious highs instead of religious holiness. When we seek highs apart from holiness our society falls apart.

Even the thought of destroying Israel completely is detestable to God.

God has destroyed nations in the past for lesser things than Israel has done. Israel's was called, chosen, and gifted to be one with God and a light for the nations. Instead, they became one with the nations and fell into the darkness of sex-and-religion worship. However, God would not destroy them,
But how can I give up on you, Ephraim?
   How can I turn you loose, Israel?
How can I leave you to be ruined like Admah,
   devastated like luckless Zeboim?
I can’t bear to even think such thoughts.
   My insides churn in protest.
And so I’m not going to act on my anger.
   I’m not going to destroy Ephraim.
And why? Because I am God and not a human.
   I’m The Holy One and I’m here—in your very midst. (11:8-9, The Message)
God will not completely destroy His Chosen People because He loves us!

If you want to live well, learn from Israel's mistakes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 20 - Hosea 1-7: Hosea Models God's Love for a Prostitute Nation

Today’s Reading: Hosea 1-7

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God punished Israel and brought her back.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message through Hosea:
Hosea married Gomer, a prostitute. Their children's names forecasted Israel's punishment. Someday, God would set things right in Israel and Judah. But not now.
Hosea called to Gomer, "Return to me! You are alone! Let's rekindle our love like our first date. We will be one again."
Hosea bought his wife back. He told her, "No more cheating. We are one."
God spoke to Israel, "Eventually you will learn, hopefully before you take Judah down with you.
"Ephraim, you break covenants like eggs. You make sin-marks faster than I clean them. Ridicule is on its way."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God presents Israel's worship of other gods in a way they can understand—a wife cheating on her husband.

In Hosea's day, wives were fully protected by men. They had physical protection and political protection. By cheating on their husband, they risked the removal of their protection and execution. This is similar to Israel's relationship with God, so He tells Hosea to marry a prostitute. Their three children are named to tell Israel their sin (Jezreel - the place where they committed their sin), their fate (no mercy), and their shame (not my people). By showing Israel this dysfunctional family with unusual names he hopes they will learn and return to Him. God uses any way to help us understand His love for us.

God will punish Israel for their sins.

This section of Hosea is difficult to read. We do not want this view of God. However, Israel has not only worshiped other gods they have forgotten His Law. They no longer set things right. Therefore, God must punish them. God will and must punish those who do not set things right. His hope is that Israel's punishment will happen before Judah is brought down with them.

Israel's punishment would not be permanent.

I wrote earlier how God's punishment of Israel was meant to purify the people. Today we get a different view—God's love is so great for Israel that He would buy her back from her slavery again. They would become one like a husband and wife, not a servant/master. God will go to any length to set our relationship right, with no love lost.

Do you believe God wants to buy your life back?

Friday, July 19, 2013

July 19 - 2 Kings 18:1-8; 2 Chronicles 29-31; Psalm 48: Hezekiah Reinstates God's Reign over Judah

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 18:1-8; 2 Chronicles 29-31; Psalm 48

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Hezekiah removed most (but not all) of the things Judah used to worship other gods.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Unlike his predecessors, King Hezekiah removed the Asherah shrines. He destroyed Moses' bronze serpent. Hezekiah trusted God and was greatly blessed.
First, he restored the Temple in Honor of God. He knew God's wrath came because they worshiped foreign gods. Hezekiah wanted to set right their relationship with God.
The Levites and priests carried out Hezekiah's orders. They rededicated the Temple with sacrifices and music. Everything returned to normal!
For the first time since Solomon's rule the Passover was celebrated fully. Hezekiah asked God to accept those who had clean hearts. Out of joy, they extended Passover for a week.

Psalm (P)Synopsis

Psalm 48

The sons of Korah praise God because He has made Jerusalem safe. God protected it from many kings. They call Judah to dance because God would protect them long enough to tell the next generation the story of God.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Hezekiah removed the shrines that had become part of their culture.

I love Hezekiah. He is a man I can respect and appreciate. He reinitiates God's reign over Judah. His willingness to remove not only his father's idols but also the shrines laid by Jehoram and Ahaziah centuries earlier shows moral courage. Then he did the unthinkable, he removed Moses' bronze serpent
more than a thousand years old! These shrines had become normal to Judah and taking them out may have caused quite a stir within the country. "We've always worshiped this way! Why are you changing it?" However, Hezekiah was not willing to let this stop him from obeying God. He knew these foreign gods caused God to punish Judah and Israel. He saw them take something from their past (Moses' bronze snake) and worship it instead of the God who healed Israel. He had seen with his eyes what happened when God's Chosen People do not worship Him. We must be willing to remove all things which prevent us from setting all things right with God, even if it is centuries-old and the only way we know how to do it.

Hezekiah invites Israel to join in the celebration of the Passover.

Hezekiah does not want Israel to be left out of the reinstitution of the Passover. He wants them to worship God again. Unfortunately, they are too far gone to return to their god. They mock Hezekiah and ignore his requests. We know how that ended.
Unfortunately, not all people will join in worshiping God, especially some of His Chosen People.

Hezekiah prays for the ritually unprepared to be forgiven.

I love that Hezekiah gives mercy to the priests and Levites who are unclean during the Passover. They have been lazy. They procrastinated preparing until it was too late. So Hezekiah prays that God would overlook the literal conditions stated in the Law of Moses. Guess what, God healed the people! Why did God do this? God cares more for the heart-state than the physical-state.
What does that mean for today? We should not worry about crossing every "t" or dotting every "i" when we think to worship. We should first fix our heart, try our best to be acceptable to God, and then ask for forgiveness for anything else. If our hearts are clean, eventually the rest will become clean. Until then, God will overlook our uncleanness.

When God's Chosen People worship God correctly with clean hearts, they do not want to quit.

One more thing I enjoy reading in the life of Hezekiah is their enjoyment of the first Passover. Hezekiah had offered so much food to the celebration (most likely because he expected Israel to join them) they decided to extend it another week. There was so much joy at finally worshiping their god with a clean heart that no one wanted to go home. So they all stayed. When we have clean hearts, we never want to stop praising God! Think about that the next you start looking at your watch when the service is going long. Is it because you have somewhere to be or because you feel exposed before a God who can see your unclean heart?

Are you ready to reinitiate God's reign in your life?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 18 - Isaiah 23-27: God Purifies His Chosen People and His Earth

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 23-27

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God punished Israel to take their guilt away.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Tarshish would return to a bankrupt city along the sea.
Tyre's earnings from prostitution would go to God.
No green leaf would survive. Polluted by its people's sin, the earth would be silent.
Some praise God, but not in Israel's neighborhood.
"God, my god, how wonderful is Your Name! Your enemies are in ruin! The poor will stand in comfort before You."
God's people will praise Him for their salvation!
God's people sing of the easy path for God-followers. The dead are gone, but God makes the living larger than life.
Israel would return—their punishment took their guilt away.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Earth would be purified from human sin.

In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam to take care of His Earth. When humans take dominion over the earth, it becomes like us—righteous or polluted. God told Israel the earth would join Him in removing the Canaanites. Now the earth is joining God once again, this time against Israel. When we sin, the earth is polluted. Eventually, it will be punished along with us.

"When your decisions are on public display, / everyone learns how to live right" (26:9, The Message).

We have recently lived through the controversial verdict of a very public trial. Although the debate is highly emotional and there are too many unsettling details which will never be fully known, one thing remains sure—when the world sees God's justice, it understands righteousness. There will be no arguments against God's decisions. All learn how to set all things right through them.
What does this mean for us today? We do not need to "defend" God's decisions to those who do not like or appreciate them. If we publicize God's decisions to the world, they will know how to set all things right. However, we must separate God's decisions from our own. How can we tell which is which? If it is plain in God's Word, it is God's decision. If we have to use logic or reason to get there (or a few verses here and there), it may be ours.

Israel has their guilt taken away.

Israel's enemies were punished and wiped out completely. Israel, however, was purified of their sin. They had a harsh punishment, true, but they were able to live and stand before God once again. God's Chosen People will never be completely destroyed. God will purify them to take away their guilt. We should stand before God as purified people, not beggars hoping for a handout! Our guilt is gone!

Are you showing everyone God's decisions?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 17 - Isaiah 18-22: God Brings a Savior to Egypt

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 18-22

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God wanted Egypt, Assyria, and Israel to worship Him together as equals.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Isaiah spoke doom to the Egyptians. Civil war would throw them into chaos. Their gods would fail, their river dry, and Pharaoh's wise men would become stupid. The name "Judah" would cause massive panic.
Then, several cities would replace their multitude of gods. Assyria and Israel would join them in worshiping God. God would bless all three nations.
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Babylon fell.
Judah rebuilt their destroyed places but never sought God. He bitterly complained against their joyous parties in a time of mourning.
God would replace the steward of the king's house to someone who would respect the position.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God has dominion over even the strongest nations.

The god of the Israelites cares for the entire world. Egypt is one of the superpowers of its age. Israel's god would punish and destroy Egypt. No one is beyond God's influence.

Egypt's punishment would leave a group who would follow God.

God's punishment of Egypt would not be the final word for them. A remnant would not only survive but they would begin to worship God alongside Assyria and Judah. God would send Egypt a savior who would protect them. No one is beyond God's love and protection. Unfortunately, God's vision for Egypt, Assyria, and Judah never come true. Judah doesn't learn from God's punishment.

Judah looked to everything but God for their salvation.

How sad that God's Chosen People have decided to "make the best of the situation" instead of repenting in sackcloth and ashes. God's punishment is not meant to help you develop patience and joy in times of sorrow.

These are the collected visions of Isaiah, not one, singular vision.

Today may be confusing. Egypt will be punished. Then God would send a savior. Then Egypt is punished. Egypt, Assyria, and Judah would come together to worship God. Then Judah is punished. The reading gives an example of the difficulties in placing Isaiah's visions in chronological order. When the collection was put together the visions did not include references to the historical books. We do not know how long it took for all of these things to happen or if they happened in order which makes readings like today seem strange.

Are you being a good steward to God's people?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 16 - Isaiah 13-17: God's Punishment of the Surrounding Nations

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 13-17

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would deliver Israel from their captives because He still loves them.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

To Babylon via Isaiah: God will destroy you as judgment against your evil deeds. No mercy will be shown. Your land will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God is done. Nomads will avoid it.
Israel, though, will be restored. They'll taunt you, their former slave masters by giving praise to God, "Babylon, attempting equality with God brought your downfall!"
Moab would be destroyed because of their arrogance. Judah would mock their fall.
Aram would be destroyed.
Someday, Israel would shrivel and others would look to the Holy One of Israel. Why? Israel forgot God and served other gods.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God's judgment came down on all of the nations in the region.

Earlier, Isaiah spoke of God's punishment of Assyria because they took God's task of punishing Israel and morphed it into their own wrongdoing. Babylon fell into the same problem. They took their strength and attempted to be equal with God. Now, Babylon's fate is the same as Assyria's. God's punishment is for all—no matter how He intended to use you.

God would reinstate Israel because of His Love.

Yesterday we read about Israel going into exile because of their sin. Today we read an encouraging (at least at first) tale of God bringing them back and giving their enemies as helpers to finish reviving the land. The kingdom would be restored and a king similar to David will take the throne. God never removes His Promise forever. Punishment is only to purify His Chosen People.

God's plans are irrevocable and unavoidable.

The only thing that can make God's plans fail is if He wants to use humans to accomplish it. When it comes to destroying a city, though, no nation will object.

Israel's reinstatement would not be final.

Unfortunately, Israel would once again disobey God and go after other gods. In an ironic twist, they would go off into captivity and people from other lands would replace them. These people will see the futility of their idols, altars, rituals, and religions and return to the Holy One of Israel. Israel, however, would wilt away. God will protect only those who seek Him.

Are you seeking God?

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15 - 2 Chronicles 28; 2 Kings 16-17: Judah is Defeated and Israel Taken into Captivity for Abandoning God

Today’s Reading: 2 Chronicles 28; 2 Kings 16-17

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Israel forgets God to the extent that they sacrifice children to other gods.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

King Ahaz worshiped Baal gods, sacrificing a child. Aram and Israel defeated Judah.
Oded scolded the Israelite army and the captives were returned.
Assyrian troops attacked and humiliated Ahaz. Panicked, Ahaz ransacked the Temple.
Ahaz worshiped Damascene gods. He died and Hezekiah reigned.
In Israel, Hoshea ruled only slightly better than his predecessors. Assyria took Israel into captivity.
These things happened because Israel acted as the Canaanites. They refused to listen to God's prophets. They followed Jeroboam's sin. God denied their place.
Assyria's king sent a priest to help the remnant honor and worship God. The exiles worshiped other gods.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Ahaz never learns from his defeats.

A few days ago, we read Isaiah's and Amos' harsh indictment of Judah and Israel for not understanding God's punishment. This is what Amos referred to. Ahaz first thought his allies were not strong enough. When he sought stronger allies he was roundly defeated again. So he began worshiping the gods of Damascus. The only thing that could have saved his reign, the one thing he needed to do was the furthest from his mind—ask God for salvation. Therefore, he was punished. Go to God when you feel alone and weak. He will help.

Ahaz ransacked and boarded up the Temple.

What a sad day for Israel. In less than 400 years the Temple David envisioned to honor God, the building that represented God's presence with Israel, which ushered in the pinnacle of Israel's existence has now been abandoned and boarded up by the people who have a perpetual throne in Jerusalem. Sin will ruin even the greatest and most important parts of our existence. Stay away from other gods!

The sin of Jeroboam (the Older) has reached its conclusion—Israel's exile.

Jeroboam erected two golden calves to prevent Israel from returning to Judah to worship God. It was meant to keep the division between Judah and Israel set and Jeroboam (the Older) in power. What it did instead was place the split nation of Israel (and later all the children of Abraham) on a path to being removed from God's Promise to Abraham. Beware your small faults today. They can turn into huge stumbling blocks for future generations.

Israel's obituary consists of one line—they would not listen.

Israel no longer has a country of its own. They are scattered within Assyria. The cause of death: abandoning their god. The symptoms: repeating the sins of the Canaanites who came before them, who God casted out because of sins such as child sacrifice. God tried to help them see the truth of their actions but they were too stubborn to listen. God's prophets were ignored or killed. God's attempts at shocking them into seeing their precarious condition only caused them to seek outsiders as allies. Israel would not listen and therefore must be punished.
"Don't honor other gods: Don't worship them, don't serve them, don't offer sacrifices to them. Worship God, the God who delivered you from Egypt in great and personal power. Reverence and fear him. Worship him. Sacrifice to him. And only him! All the things he had written down for you, directing you in what to believe and how to behave - well, do them for as long as you live. And whatever you do, don't worship other gods! And the covenant he made with you, don't forget your part in that. And don't worship other gods! Worship God, and God only - he's the one who will save you from enemy oppression." (2 Kings 17:35-39, The Message, emphasis original)
Learn from Israel's mistakes! Do not worship other gods!

In a moment of momentous irony, the king of Assyria has to send a priest back to Israel to teach the remnant how to worship God again.

To add insult to captivity, the king of Assyria had to send a priest back into Israel to teach them how to honor and worship God again. "The people … don't know what's expected of them from the god of the land, and now he's sent lions and they're killing people right and left because nobody knows what the god of the land expects of them" (17:26). Someone will honor and worship God. Either His Chosen People or strangers who occupy His People's place will worship Him.

Don't worship other gods!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 14 - Micah: God Indicts His Chosen People for Their Salvation

Today’s Reading: Micah

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations, you have read 20 books of the Bible! That means 46 to go.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The proper response to God's indictments is not more sacrifice.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message through Micah during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah:
"God takes the stand to witness against Samaria and their shrines to other gods.
"'I will destroy Samaria with her gods, you people who dream of evil. You have polluted the land with your wrongs, yet you think you are righteous.'
"The truly righteous will be with God soon."
Later, Micah adds, "What happened to justice? Where is God's message? Someday, people will flock here for God's message. You couldn't hear it if it was piped into your homes.
"God will remove our sins and reinstate the Promise."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Israel is in denial about their wrongdoings.

Israel seems surprised that God would fight them. Their first instinct is to question God's reaction rather than their actions. They actually believe God is overreacting! What arrogance and outright lunacy! They have polluted their land with their sins, similar to the Canaanites. Their wrongdoings caused the separation from God.
Yet, I cannot read this without thinking of what I hear in churches today. One reason we do not like reading the Old Testament is because we do not like the portrayal of God as an angry, vengeful god. If someone came and warned us of God's impending punishment, we would suggest their view of God is too "harsh." We must come to grips with our hearts and actions. God is always just and when we fight Him we are always on the wrong side. It is hard to read this section without thinking of examples of each bad thing Israel was doing. Oh, that we would repent and come to see God's Way!

Israel misses the irony that the entire world will flock to Jerusalem to learn of God's Way.

The irony in this situation is that God cannot pay Israel enough to obey His Commands when there are people from around the globe who would journey far over dangerous roads just to sit and learn how God sets things right. These sojourners will become peaceful and sit in luxury while Israel, the Chosen Nation, slaves away in captivity. God's Chosen People must listen and obey to continue in God's great blessings.

God wants Israel to repent—not by sacrificing their goods but by sacrificing their wills.

God does not enjoy "religious" acts as Israel thought. King Saul had this misunderstanding. David wrote on this theme. Solomon, too. God does not want violent sacrifices to rectify wrongs. He wants hearts who want to set things right!

Micah's final message to Israel—stick around, God will make it right.

In a book full of anger, wrath, and correction, we would expect the book to end with a warning. Instead, it ends with praise. There will be punishment; however, that punishment is to remove all wrongdoing and wrongdoers from God's Chosen People. Once that is over, God is once again with His People. Their sins are now at the bottom of the ocean! The Promise of Abraham still stands! Hallelujah! Praise God because He removes our wrongs and takes wrongdoers away from our presence!

Stick around, God will make things right.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 13 - 2 Chronicles 27; Isaiah 9-12: God's Final Solution to Violent Punishments

Today’s Reading: 2 Chronicles 27; Isaiah 9-12

The Message

English Standard Version

The chapter from 2 Chronicles repeats Monday's reading; therefore, I will summarize and comment on the Isaiah passage only.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Neither Israel nor Assyria understand their role in setting things right.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

A child named for boundlessly good works will vindicate the righteous. He will return the world to God's favor.
God's punishment missed its intended target—Judah's heart. Their wickedness was out of control.
God cries, "Assyria, you forgot you were my tool for justice. Your punishment is coming, too. When my Chosen People return to me, they will destroy you."
David's tree will bud and God will set all things right through Him. There will be no need for fighting. Refugees from everywhere will return when He is lifted up.
Then we will praise God, the Holy One of Israel!

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God's punishment missed its mark: Judah's heart.

The last time we discussed Isaiah, God pronounced punishment on Judah and Israel for worshiping other gods. Unfortunately, the punishment was met with indifference. So God was forced to bring worse and worse punishment, but that did not convict their hearts. Their addiction to evil blinded them to the god who wanted their hearts. God's punishes only with the intent of bringing His People to repentance. God is not a bloodthirsty, revenge-seeking god. He is a loving and merciful god who punishes only when all other options are exhausted.

God wanted to use Assyria as a lesson to Israel, but they rejected His purpose for their own aggrandizement.

God used Assyria to punish Israel. Regrettably, Assyria got the wrong message and thought they had strength on their own. Thus, He needed to punish Assyria, too. It shows not only is God's Punishment universal, it also shows no one on earth understands their role. Everyone takes strength from God and believes it came naturally. This problem is not limited to Israel. Everyone believes they are the source of their strength and forgets God.

God begins revealing the final solution—peace on the entire earth.

These are some of the most famous prophecies of Jesus' coming. In this section alone we know Jesus will vindicate the righteous and rule the world in overwhelming goodness and justice. Through God's Spirit He will bring wisdom and understanding to the entire world. Because of his righteous judgment, all nature will no longer feel the need to fight. God would no longer need to punish anyone with war and desolation. People will flock to be with Him when He is lifted up. Then they will come together and praise His Name—Emmanuel! God's problem is clear—no one cares about setting things right on the earth. Jesus would come to bring the final solution to God's problem through setting things right between God and humans.

Is God able to use you or do you take His credit?

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12 - Amos 6-9: God Will Sift the Nations and Protect the Righteous

Today’s Reading: Amos 6-9

The Message

English Standard Version

Today we finish Amos (book 19). Don't worry, it gets less violent and more hopeful near the end.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

On God's Judgment Day no righteous person will be punished and no wicked person will be rewarded.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Amos continues God's warnings against Israel, "You who think you are strong, wake up. Disaster is right around the corner. Your luxurious life will vanish instantly.
"God will wipe out your arrogance using pagan armies.
"God prepared calamities against Judah. I begged for mercy and He relented. Instead, He will destroy the shrines and kill Jeroboam's family."
Amaziah confronted Amos. Amos replied that God's punishment would come whether Amaziah heard it or not.
God warns that Judgment Day is coming. All fake-god worshipers will be killed. Israel will be sifted. Worldwide, the righteous will be protected and the wicked punished.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God uses irony to show Israel their significance on the earth.

Israel has enjoyed peace and prosperity for so long they now believe they brought peace through their own strength. Now they boast in their strength and luxurious goods. God reminds them of their surrounding countries and mocks Israel, "Compared to them, you’re not much, are you?" (6:2, The Message). Instead of protecting Israel from their technologically-advanced neighbors, He will use these "pagan" armies to destroy Israel. Israel was to be God's example of righteousness to the world. Instead, they became just as corrupt as the nations around them. Since they forfeited their significance, God would show them how strong they were on their own. Our significance does not come from our strength or advanced culture/technology. Our significance comes from our advanced righteousness.

Israel will be sifted and the righteous and wicked separated—just like every other nation.

I have already written on how God's punishment extends to everyone. What Israel would find insulting about God doing such a thing is God's lowering of Israel from Chosen Nation status. Israel thought of themselves as higher, better, and more civilized than the other nations. God would not throw them in a sieve with the rest of the world. Israel was God's perfect nation. The other nations had no redeemable qualities. God, on the other hand, will put Israel through because He knows there are wicked people in His Chosen Nation of Chosen People. He will separate the righteous from the wicked in every nation. Your status as "righteous" or "wicked" is not dependent on your status as "Chosen" or "non-Chosen."

God will put everyone under His Influence into the same place and protect them forever.

Everyone under God's Influence, whether part of the Promise of Abraham, the promise of David, or outside the Law of Moses would be under God's hedge of protection. They would live the luxurious life Israel thought they were currently living. Everyone under God's Influence will one day be under the protection of God's Promise.
This is most likely a reference to the Church coming which would unite people from all countries throughout the world. However, it is a reference to what will happen in the end as well. Individuals from the Church, under the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ (the phrase from Romans), will only be protected by the Promise if they are under God's Influence. Those outside the Church are under the same conditions—righteousness leads to God's protection. Wickedness leads to God's punishment. Things are always the same with God! Only the names are changed as time goes by.

Are you under God's Influence or do you trust in your Chosen status?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11 - Amos 1-5: God's Chosen People in the Hands of an Angry (but Forgiving) God

Today’s Reading: Amos 1-5

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God chose Israel from the entire world. God expects more from them.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The message of Amos during Uzziah's and Jeroboam (the Younger's) reign:
"God roars from Zion.
"'Aram! Gaza! Edom! Ammon! Moab! Judah! Israel! That's it! We're through!
"'Israel, I picked you, and in return you persecute the poor and delight in evil? We're going in different directions.
"'I swear your judgment is coming. You were too hardheaded to understand my messages. Now you'll listen!
"'Set things right and live. Otherwise God's punishment is coming—and it's not a pretty picture.
"'Here is what I want—rivers and oceans of setting things right. Or take your so-called gods with you into captivity.'"

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God is angry. He will be heard.

These chapters are difficult to read. They drip of anger, fury, rage, and exasperation. God looks down on His Chosen People and what does He see? War crimes, slavery of God's Chosen People, promise-breaking, murder, desecration of corpses, rejection of His revelation, and persecution of the righteous and the poor. Now, God will be heard or they will wiped off the face of the earth. Beware: Anger God and your punishment will come.

Israel thanks God for taking them out of slavery by selling others into slavery.

God has given Israel all it needs: deliverance from Egypt, safe passage through the wilderness, a land flowing with milk and honey, prophets to deliver His messages, and destruction for their enemies. Israel has regressed slowly but surely away from God's influence. Now, they must repent or die. Why has this happened? They forgot what God had done for them. They stopped training their young people to set things right. This is what happens when we ignore God's direction to teach the next generation what God has done. We must always remind our children how God delivered and blessed us.

God tried to communicate His Message, but they never listened.

Before we write Amos off as a harbinger of bad news, God reminds Israel that He tried to remind them of their God by taking away what Canaan gave them. Their so-called gods could not give them bread; yet they never hungered for God. What a sad, sad statement when God called out for His Chosen People to return, but they couldn't care less. If you lack something you desperately crave, it may be God's way of telling you that you are asking the wrong source for it. Ask God and He will respond.

God, through Amos, gives this message: Come back! I don't want to punish you!

It is easy to write Amos' presentation of God off as an angry man ready to strike at the first good opportunity. Unfortunately, we have often pictured the God of the Old Testament, especially the Minor Prophets, as a beast and the God of the New Testament as a fatherly, genteel god. Conversely, the presentation of God in the Old Testament is just as gentle and fatherly as the New Testament. God wants Israel to "Seek me and live" (5:4, The Message).
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
   When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
   I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
   That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
God wants worship that comes from setting things right, not religious grandstanding.

Are you singing to the God who sets all things right or placating an angry God bent on destruction?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10 - Isaiah 5-8: God Guarantees Victory; Judah Ignores Him

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 5-8

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God purifies Isaiah when he is unworthy of being God's prophet.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God gave Israel everything but they only produce bitter fruit.
Doom will come to those who do not set things right. They call good "evil" and evil "good".
Isaiah saw God on His Throne, the angels singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy!"
God purified Isaiah and sent him to proclaim His message.
Judah would not trust God when attacked. He gave them a sign: a virgin would give birth and by his 12th year, war would cease. Judah didn't learn; therefore, they would be captured and sent away—their prized vineyards overgrown.
God warned Isaiah to trust Him better than Judah.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

God will punish those who do not set things right.

God gave His Chosen People all they ever needed to thrive but instead they turned to other gods and spiritists. This is why God uses the vineyard analogy. He has given Israel everything they needed: freedom from oppression, expansive and fruitful land, and physical reminders of His Presence in the Temple. But they do not want to obey Him. God has no other alternative—they must be punished. God expects those who receive His Blessings to set things right on the earth.

God makes Isaiah worthy to be His prophet.

God's treatment of Isaiah shows God's great mercy. Instead of punishing Isaiah for his blasphemy, God purifies him then sends him on his way. God will use anyone willing to set things right on the earth. If you are not worthy, He will make you worthy.
What does this mean for us today? If you do not feel worthy of setting things right, let God purify your spirit. Let go of the guilt that prevents you from being with God. He desperately wants you! He needs you!

It is better to consult living Scriptures than dead spirits.

Israel has been substituting spiritualists for God since before Saul. They seem more "in touch" with the spirit world than words on paper. However, they cannot help because the spirits are dead. The words on paper are the Living Word of God. They can help! When you feel you cannot go on, go back to God's Word!

Have you begun producing fruit?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9 - Isaiah 1-4: God Speaks Through Isaiah - Stop Playing the Religious Game

Today’s Reading: Isaiah 1-4

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's reading begins the last major section of the Old Testament, the Major Prophets. They are called "major" because each book is longer than the 12 "Minor" prophets. Since Isaiah lived during the reign of four kings, this book will be interspersed with the historical narratives of their lives.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

When Judah stops playing the religion game and obeys God, then He will heal their land.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The visions of Isaiah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah:
God says, "I have decided to give up on Israel. They don't want me anymore.
"Don't go through the motions of religion. Set things right!
"Let's talk—I'll wipe your sins away!"
Isaiah chimes in, "Someday the entire world will worship and serve the God of Peace. Let's do it now!
"Your imitation gods will be destroyed. God will empty Judah. No one will turn it around. Only the righteous will survive.
"Everything that gives you pride will vanish. Then the land will be God's once more."

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Israel has forgotten their god. God will "forget" them.

God's relationship with Israel has always been tenuous. Now, no matter what God does, His Chosen People will not stay faithful to Him. It is a sad moment when God's Chosen People are willing to create a god out of stone, wood, gold, and silver instead of obeying the one who freed them from Egypt. Since Israel has turned their collective backs against God, He will no longer protect them from their enemies.

God does not delight in religious actions. He delights in clean hearts.

God is direct,
Quit your worship charades.
   I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—
   meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
   You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,
   while you go right on sinning. (1:13-14, The Message)
God wanted them to change their actions:
Go home and wash up.
   Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
   so I don’t have to look at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
   Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
   Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
   Go to bat for the defenseless. (1:16-17)
I cannot read this without thinking of our weekly Sunday meetings, mid-week meetings, small-group meetings, gospel meetings, VBS, etc., etc., etc. Could God complain that our churches meet for "religious" times but continue sinning? God does not want your church to hold weekly meetings. God wants your church to clean up its collective and individual acts!

God desperately wants to talk.

I love God's message to Israel. He is forcefully against their sin but is equally forceful about His mercy and forgiveness,
If your sins are blood-red,
   they'll be snow-white.
If they're red like crimson,
   they'll be like wool.
If you'll willingly obey,
   you'll feast like kings.
But if you're willful and stubborn,
   you'll die like dogs. (1:18-20)
God is willing to forgive and heal if you are willing to speak and listen.

People from everywhere in the world want to worship God.

To us, this seems normal. People from all over the world worship God every day. However, to Israel, these were surprising words. The god of Abraham was their god and no one else could worship Him. I alluded to this at the reading of Jonah. The reason the entire world will want to worship God is simple: God sets all things right. There will be no need for war when God sets all things right. When the entire world knows God, they will want to worship Him.
What about today? It is here, but not yet. What does that mean? Everyone in the world can worship God; however, not everyone chooses to worship God. At the same time, we, the Chosen People of God, also struggle with the concept that God is for all. Someday, this will happen!

Do you play religious games?

Monday, July 8, 2013

July 8 - 2 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 26: The Corruption of Uzziah

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 26

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Azariah/Uzziah outlived his love for God.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Amaziah's son Uzziah (also named Azariah) governed Judah for 52 years as a good king, though he left the shrines. God helped him defeat several kings. He earned a great reputation for defensive towers and his massive army.
His power eventually corrupted him. He sacrificed on his own, not waiting for the priest. God struck him with leprosy and he died in seclusion.
Jotham reigned similar to his father's early life.
In Israel, they went through one disastrous king after another: Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, and Hoshea. Assyria invaded much of the land and took the people into captivity.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

Power does not give an excuse to do as you wish.

God blessed Uzziah (Azariah) greatly. He was a strong king who earned a great reputation for having a strong army. Unfortunately, his power corrupted him. He became unwilling to submit to God and ultimately died with leprosy. Beware: power corrupts because it makes you believe you can do whatever you wish.

God is relaxing his protection over Israel.

The story of Israel gets worse and worse. Each king cares less and less for God. Although they did not go to the extreme as Ahab, none of them tried to come back to God. Because of this, Assyria began taking land from them and taking the people off into captivity. Unfortunately, the story does not get better. God will need to send a prophet to help the people understand why they are going into captivity and help them look forward to returning to God and their land once again.

How have you seen power corrupt?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

July 7 - Jonah: God's Mercy Includes All, to His Chosen People's Chagrin

Today’s Reading: Jonah

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's reading is the entire book of Jonah (book 18). It is the story of God's great mercy and His Chosen People's stubbornness and unwillingness to share their God.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Don't focus on the fish. Focus on the man in the fish.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God asked Jonah to tell Nineveh their sins were great. Jonah ran the opposite way to the sea.
God caused a great storm, destroying the boat. After much debate, the men threw Jonah overboard. A large fish ate him.
Jonah asked God for forgiveness. He received a second chance.
Jonah told Nineveh they would be destroyed. The entire city repented: from king to peasant. God removed their destruction.
Jonah angrily yelled at God's Mercy. A plant shaded him. The next night it died. Jonah was irate. God told Jonah that emotions change quickly. That is why God changed His Mind.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

No one is exempt from God's Punishment or Mercy.

Nineveh was not part of the Promise. They had no special covenant with God. Yet God told Jonah their lives had become so bad He could no longer ignore them. There is no excuse, no one is exempt from God's punishment for their mistakes.
However, when the entire city repented God changed His Mind and decided not to destroy them after all. God did not protect them because He had a promise to uphold. God protected them because no one is exempt from God's mercy; anyone who repents will have their relationship to God set right.

Jonah never understood God's mercy.

I would love for the story of Jonah to be a redemptive tale of a man who learned God's mercy for others and glorified God. Unfortunately, we get a story of a spoiled man who only wanted to preach to Nineveh because God stopped him from going the opposite way. When God removed Nineveh's punishment, Jonah furiously cried out for death. God's Chosen People naturally forget God has mercy on others.
Regrettably, Jonah's story sounds too familiar. Our first reaction when we see a person stuck in a bad lifestyle is to run. However, when we can no longer run and God sets things right in their life we feel His Mercy is being diluted. That is not true at all! God's mercy is awesome because it covers everyone!

Jonah may have feared reprisal if he had returned home.

Reading through the Bible in a year helped me put this story into context. Jonah is the same as yesterday's Jonah. He lived during the age of Jeroboam the Younger (or right before). The people did not like God and hated their neighbors even more. If Jonah had returned and told everyone the people in Nineveh were saved because he preached to them, He may have been executed as a traitor. This may be why Jonah was so angry and asked God vociferously for death. What great irony! The very people God called to be a light to the nations now become angry when God forgives non-chosen people. God's Chosen People often focus on being chosen instead of why they were chosen.
It is sad to see that we can become so comfortable being God's Chosen People that we forget we are called to set things right in this world. It is also sad to see we forget how God set things right with us and allow other things to make us blind to His influence in our lives. We are called to set things right on this earth, not revel in being "better" than the rest of the world.

Do you glorify God for His Mercy or become jealous at God including others?