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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31 - Ezekiel 16-17: Judah Corrupted Prostitution

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 16-17

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations! You have made it through eight months of reading through the Bible in a year! Only four more months to go! And we are officially at 30 days before we finish the Old Testament!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jerusalem became so corrupt, they corrupted prostitution. The nations around could not stand them.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message:
"I made Jerusalem, once an abandoned pagan baby, a stunning beauty. But you became a terrible whore—sacrificing your children to idols and paying your lovers, corrupting prostitution! I never even crossed your mind. I'll see to it your lovers see you as you really are.
"I will reverse Samaria's and Sodom's fortunes—and yours, too! I will make everything right."
Again God's Message:
"I took a cedar twig and it became a vine. Babylon took Judah's king into exile to keep them subdued but they rebelled anyway. I will make sure they are captured and punished."

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

Judah became worse than Israel and Sodom.

We know what happened to Israel and Sodom. Yet God says Judah has become worse than both of them. Beware idols—they can potentially make you worse than the people in lands God destroyed.

God would set things right between Himself and Sodom, Israel, and Judah.

What great God,
[Y]ou who have treated my oath with contempt and broken the covenant … I’ll remember the covenant I made with you when you were young and I’ll make a new covenant with you that will last forever. You’ll remember your sorry past and be properly contrite when you receive back your sisters, both the older and the younger. I’ll give them to you as daughters, but not as participants in your covenant. I’ll firmly establish my covenant with you and you’ll know that I am GOD. You’ll remember your past life and face the shame of it, but when I make atonement for you, make everything right after all you’ve done, it will leave you speechless. (16:59-63, The Message)
God wants to set all things right with His Chosen People—even when they treat Him with contempt and break His Covenant!

Has God set things right with you?

Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30 - Ezekiel 13-15: God vs. Israel's Prophets

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 13-15

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Judah would need to clear out their hearts and their houses to receive forgiveness.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God told me Israel's prophets would be punished, "I'm dead set against them. These women prophets are especially bad. They kill souls to become rich and famous. They will know I am God.
"Israel's leaders have idols in their hearts. When they remove them I will listen to their prayers. Otherwise both idolaters and prophets will be punished.
"Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were here they could not save this nation. Jerusalem will get four types of punishment—war, famine, wild animals, and disease. Then they will ask for salvation and you will understand why I allowed their punishment."

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

God will punish those who speak in His Name without consulting Him.

Israel loves prophets who speak only good things; therefore, these prophets knew their income depended on how positive they were. Consulting God would only lessen their income and ultimately cost their careers. Jeremiah did this and almost lost his life. God protected him, though, and would protect any prophet willing to consult Him, too. These prophets who told Judah to continue doing whatever they wanted, as long as they kept the contributions coming would be punished, thrown off their land, and shamed in public. Their advice would lead to death. God will not stand for people speaking for Him without first speaking with Him.

Israel has a heart problem.

God realizes the issue is not the physical idols set up in the city, the squares, and the Temple. The problem is that they have installed idols in their hearts. God will not listen to their prayers because they refuse to listen to His Command—be wholly God's. Our relationship with God is never severed because of a physical act. Our relationship with God is always severed by something becoming more important in our heart than God. The physical act comes as a result of the idol set up in our heart.

God wants everyone in the land to give up their gods.

God, though Ezekiel, while telling the leaders to take down the idols in their hearts He includes this:
To every last person from the house of Israel, including any of the resident aliens who live in Israel—all who turn their backs on me and embrace idols, who install the wickedness that will ruin them at the center of their lives and then have the gall to go to the prophet to ask me questions—I, God, will step in and give the answer myself. (14:7, The Message)
God's punishment would extend out to those who were not part of the Promise of Abraham. They were part of the punishment because God expects holiness from anyone who lives with His Chosen People. No one is excused.
What does this mean for today? If churches who have issues with holiness want to regain God's favor, they cannot allow people who are "living" with them to slide by. Everyone must be on the same page—even if they are not "members". What does "living" mean? It means anyone who wishes to be associated with them, even if they do not want to be affiliated with them.

No one could save Judah and Jerusalem—even Noah, Daniel, or Job.

What an interesting grouping. When you think of Old Testament stories of a person standing up to defend another I would think of Abraham or Moses, not Noah, Daniel, or Job. But these are the three God places together. What are they known for? I think they are known for steady, non-compromising faith. Because of their faith they prevented God from destroying their family, their people, or themselves. That is what makes this section so depressing—God's exclaims to Ezekiel that no single, steady, non-compromising faith could help Israel. They had gone so far away from God that they would be unwilling to learn from the example of a strong, faithful person. Beware idols which infiltrate the heart because they will eventually lead you past the point of no return.

God punishes with hopes of saving His Chosen People.

All along I have mentioned that God's Reputation is salvation and He punishes Israel to clean out bad influences from the land. In Ezekiel's vision God tells him,
When they come out to you and their salvation is right in your face, you’ll see for yourself the life they’ve been saved from. You’ll know that this severe judgment I brought on Jerusalem was worth it, that it had to be. (14:22, The Message)
God's punishment is meant to help us see how we can live better with God setting all things right.

Do you have idols installed on your heart?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29 - Ezekiel 9-12: God Separates the Good from the Wicked in Jerusalem

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 9-12

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God distinguishes between those wholly for Him and those not.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

During my vision, God had His followers marked. Then executioners killed many unmarked people without compassion, beginning in the Temple.
Next God charged me to challenge the ringleaders of Jerusalem. "These murders will be thrown out! I will return My Chosen People to the land with a new heart where they will obey Me alone, not some other god."
God told me to act like as though I were going off into exile. "Zedekiah will try to escape but will be caught and blinded. A few soldiers will survive to confess their wrongs."
Judah missed the point of my show.

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

God protects those who are ashamed at Jerusalem's deeds.

God brings executioners to Jerusalem and kills many who do not obey Him. He also protects those who cannot stand what goes on in the city. Notice, though, the stipulation was not those who did not take part in the evil, murderous plots. It was limited to those who were "in anguish over the outrageous obscenities being done in the city" (9:4, The Message). God's Chosen People cannot stand idly by while injustice goes on, blithely going about our business. We should challenge injustice where we see it—not outsource it to some other group, i.e. a governing body far away. God's Followers should feel pain when injustice is done.

God allows executions in the Temple.

God's Temple is not a place for peace at any cost. God's Temple is a place where things are set right—forgiveness for the repentant, justice for the innocent, and punishment for the guilty. We cannot think of God as a fluffy, friendly god who wants everything good no matter what happens. God will punish those who do not obey Him, especially those who want to be His Chosen People in name and blessings only.

Do you feel anguish when you see injustice?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28 - Ezekiel 5-8: God Indicts Judah for Un(w)holiness

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 5-8

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God proves His case against Israel in a rather convincing manner.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God told Ezekiel to show Jerusalem's fate through his hair clippings. "I will become your enemy without pity. Famine will overtake you.
"Mountains, I will destroy your shrines and people. Then they will know I am God. Death will engulf the land. It is the end, your fate happens now.
"Fear will paralyze the countryside. Their once-prized gods will be junked. There will be no peace or an answer to why."
God's second vision showed Ezekiel where God's Chosen People worshiped foreign idols in and around the Temple; therefore, God would no longer listen to their cries for mercy.

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

God has finished warning Jerusalem. Only punishment lies in store for them.

Jerusalem had become utterly corrupt like the nations around. God would show no pity. Death, destruction, and violence would shatter their once-peaceful existence. God alone must be honored among His Chosen People or they will be punished. Jerusalem would feel the harsh hand of God's discipline.

God is fully justified in brutally punishing Jerusalem.

Chapter eight provides an infuriating case against Jerusalem. They have not only built shrines all over the hills and cities, they went into the Temple in Honor of God and built shrines to their sex-and-religion gods! Nothing in their city was wholly for God (holy). Everything in their possession had been tainted with some unknown god. There is only frustration and anger when reading this section. Jerusalem cares little for God, why should they ever expect His unending Love and Protection? It is a wonder God did not destroy the entire lot!

Have you compromised every aspect of your life and left none wholly for God?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 27 - Ezekiel 1-4: God Calls Ezekiel to Send a Message to Israel

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 1-4

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Ezekiel is showing the exiles what Jeremiah wrote them.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God called me through visions. I saw four amazing creatures, each with four faces. Wheels inhabited with the creatures' spirits travelled alongside.
God called me, "I am sending you to a rebellious people. Do not be afraid of them or follow their example. Digest My Words to give My People."
"Ezekiel, if you hold back My Message, you will be responsible for their punishment."
"Lay siege against a model of Jerusalem and lay on your sides 430 days to bear the sins of Israel—one day for each year they have sinned. Soon they will be forced to be unclean."

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

Ezekiel is a prophet alongside an exiled nation.

Jeremiah was given the chance to either go with the exiles or stay. He chose to stay in Jerusalem. Ezekiel was not given that choice. He became the prophet to the exiles while living with them. This may have changed his style from direct to indirect, meaning the use of visions to get the message across instead of directly pronouncing judgment as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets did. A people in captivity do not have the freedom of expression those who live far away have.

The purpose of Ezekiel's prophecies is the message, not the visions.

Ezekiel is a very difficult book to understand. It has a multitude of visions and insider-language. Israel would understand the words but would not care for the meaning. So God presents it in a way they might find more pleasing—using grand visions. God's purpose for visions is to present a message otherwise lost, not provide fodder for conspiracy theories for millennia to come. Whether the visions happened or not, whether they represent current events or not, or whether we should know what they were detracts from the main focus—God is setting all things right with His Chosen People and will get their attention. This is also the reason God requires Ezekiel to do outlandish tasks such as sit on one side for 490 days and the other side 40 days while laying siege against a brick with Jerusalem drawn on it.

Ezekiel is responsible for getting the message to Israel.

God is up front with Ezekiel: Israel rejected God, they will most likely reject him. Then, when Ezekiel returns from his first awesome vision, he sits at home and stews for a week. God must come to Ezekiel and remind him that a watchman who fails to tell the city of threats would be held responsible for whatever happened. Therefore, Ezekiel can no longer sit by and watch as Israel's sin creates more and worse punishments for her. God's Chosen People (and His Chosen Messengers) must tell the Message God has given us or we will have blood on our hands.

Are you keeping God's Message inside?

Monday, August 26, 2013

August 26 - Lamentations 4-5: Judah Returns Control to God

Today’s Reading: Lamentations 4-5

The Message

English Standard Version

If you have a paper schedule, we deviated a little by reading all of chapter 3 yesterday. Lamentations brings us to 29 books read! Only 10 more to go in the Old Testament!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jeremiah understands the source of their plight—disobedience.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Oh, oh, oh …
God's prized people are now cheap, broken pottery. Our mistakes have brought us misery. Better to die in battle than this slow, agonizing death by starvation. Prophets once exploiting Judah were ridden out of town. God ignores them.
Gloat, you godless nations, but you'll soon be like us! Our exile is behind us, yours is ahead.
Remember, God, what we've been through. We are orphans and slaves because of our parents' sins. Everyone dishonored, music gone, and wisdom missing we wish we had never left You! God, why have You left us? We're ready to return!

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

Israel has hit bottom.

(Repeat of yesterday's thought)
Israel's and Judah's rebellions became such a stench before God that He had to act. First Israel went into exile then Judah followed. Jeremiah was present for the second and had a front-row seat. Now he lives in the remains of a once-proud city. God's Chosen People are not immune to God's Wrath. As horrifying as it may seem, God's Anger does not come lightly nor stay forever.

Judah has learned her lesson about deceiving prophets.

Judah once tried to kill Jeremiah for speaking against the Temple. Finally they turned their anger toward the ones who put Judah in exile. They rejected their message, rode them out of town on a rail, and marked them as against God. Eventually the people who obey false prophets to their own destruction will reject the false prophets.

Judah repents of leaving God.

In the very beginning I defined sin as taking control over God. Repenting, then, is just the opposite—returning control back to God. When Judah saw the cause of their great pain and anguish, they relinquished control and returned to God. When you are caught in a hard place, return control to God.

Have you decided to return control to God?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

August 25 - Lamentations 1-3: The Nadir of Ancient Israel: the Exile

Today’s Reading: Lamentations 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

If you have a paper schedule, we are deviating a little by reading all of chapter 3. It adds about 500 words to today's reading, but keeps a section together.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

A nation that once hosted God's Presence now in the pit of despair.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Oh, oh, oh …
The city cries herself to sleep—Judah is in exile because she rebelled against God.
The people were desperate to stay alive—even eating their babies. Oh, such pain!
My groans—no one listens! Israel was knocked flat by God's Anger. He wiped away their memories alongside His Temple.
Your prophets enabled your sinful lives. God's warnings came true.
I have hit bottom. I hope only in God's never-ending love. I'll stick with God!
When you feel helpless—pray to the Creator. I was done for and God brought me back!
God, make our enemies pay!

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

Israel has hit bottom.

Israel and Judah's rebellions became such a stench before God that He had to act. First Israel went into exile then Judah followed. Jeremiah was present for the second and had a front-row seat. Now he lives in the remains of a once-proud city. God's Chosen People are not immune to God's Wrath. As horrifying as it may seem, God's Anger does not come lightly nor stay forever.

God's Anger is not forever.

Jeremiah is in the depths of his sorrow. The only thing left for him is a hope—God's love never ends.
God's loyal love couldn’t have run out,
   his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
   How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
   He’s all I’ve got left. (3:22-24, The Message)
Even though God's Anger is real, His Love is equally as real. God loves His Chosen People—even in the depths of great sin and sorrow.

God's Hope is that we cry out to Him for help.

God gave Israel and Judah ample chances to change their hearts by protecting them from enemies. Unfortunately, what Judah learned was God would be there to perform miracles whenever they needed them. They never thought to change their hearts. God's purpose in making His Chosen People go into exile was to purge their places of worship, separate them from their homeland, and renew their need to obey Him. Jeremiah, on the other hand, cried out to God at every chance he had and was protected from his enemies.

Do you cry out to God when you reach your bottom?

Remember, it's the pit of despair, not the Pit of Despair.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24 - Jeremiah 51-52: Hurricane Persia Exacts Revenge for God's Chosen People

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 51-52

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations! You have reached the end of Jeremiah—book 28. The final chapter in Jeremiah repeats the story of Judah going into exile, told twice already; therefore, the summary and comments will only be about chapter 51.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Israel has not been left in the dark forever. God would return them to their homeland.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message against Babylon continues:
"Hurricane Persia will wipe Babylon out. Nothing will be spared.
"God is committed to His Chosen People though they sin. Get out of Babylon while you can!"
Israel and Judah praise God, "God has set everything right! Let's go home and tell everyone what happened!"
Our God is the creator. Stick-gods are nothing but foolishness.
"Nebuchadnezzar brutalized Judah. Now I will get Judah's revenge—Babylon's finished. Israel, remember God and Jerusalem in your exile."
Jeremiah had Seraiah read the letter in public and sink the manuscript into the river as a sign of Babylon's downfall.

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

Judah and Israel were not abandoned.

God punished the godless nations to show them how useless their gods were. Their gods could not protect them. They would be destroyed completely along with their gods—nothing would remain. Israel and Judah, however, were not abandoned by their god. He would seek them out and return them to their home. God will never abandon His chosen People.

God provides Israel's revenge.

Nebuchadnezzar's army committed terrible atrocities. Israel and Judah wanted revenge and God would provide it. God will bring revenge for His Chosen People in a just way.

Israel and Judah should tell the nations what God accomplished for them.

Most likely this was written before the events occurred; therefore, the section of Israel and Judah praising God and telling the nations is what God wanted them to do upon reentering their land. God wanted them to be lighthouses to the nations and this is how God wanted them to complete the task. When we praise God and tell of what He has done for us, we become God's lighthouses for the nations.

Are you God's lighthouse to the nations?

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23 - Jeremiah 49-50: God Punishes War Crimes

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 49-50

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Even Babylon, God's servant, would be punished for their war crimes.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message continues:
"Ammon, Esau, and Assyria—you will be destroyed because of your inflated egos.
"Babylonians will destroy Kedar and attack Hazor!
"Elam, I will break your weapons and scatter your people.
"A force from the north will make Babylon's gods look fraudulent. Then Israel, my lost sheep, will seek Me and return to Jerusalem. Hurry, before you get caught in Babylon's punishment!
"Babylon, look what you've become. Now you will taste your own medicine. Israel's guilt is gone. You get the hammer. I am your enemy. The news of your downfall will be heard all over the world."

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

God would punish these "godless" nations to prove their gods impotent.

(Repeat from yesterday's comment)
God wanted Israel and Judah to be lighthouses to the nations with hopes that these nations would give up their gods and follow the Creator. Instead Israel and Judah became examples of how not to follow God. Now God comes to each nation independently to prove their gods unable to save, just as Israel's gods were unable to save them. God is not being heartless and killing nation after nation. He is showing them they need a new god and Israel would be a great place to find Him. Everything God does is meant to set things right, even if it requires punishment.

God took away Israel's guilt.

Israel's and Judah's exiles were to punish them for worshiping other gods. Now God has forgiven them of their spiritual adultery and would return them to their land, an act that would be God's great deed they would remember. God removes His Chosen People's guilt!

God would pay Babylon for their war crimes.

Although God called Nebuchadnezzar and his army to defeat Judah, Egypt, Assyria, etc, their victory included terrible atrocities. God does not allow these to go by. All wrongs must be set right. Even God's Non-Chosen Servants must pay for their wrongs.

Do you think you can get away with your wrongs because you are God's Chosen People or outside God's Promise?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 22 - Jeremiah 46-48: God Shows the Godless Nations They Need Him

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 46-48

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would bring punishment on all the nations around Judah as well.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message to other nations:
"Egypt! Inside you shake with terror. You will not control the world. Exile will be your new home. Watch out—I'm going to show up your gods.
"Israel, however, I will return from exile. I'm not finished with you yet."
"Doom is coming, Philistines."
"Moab, your glory and your gods will be taken away. You will be an embarrassment to future generations. You laughed at Israel but were equally as bad. I will weep for you while I stop the sacrifices to your gods. Someday I will put things right; but first, punishment."

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

God would punish these "godless" nations to prove their gods impotent.

God wanted Israel and Judah to be lighthouses to the nations with hopes that they would give up their gods and follow the Creator. Instead Israel and Judah became examples of how not to follow God. Now God comes to each nation independently to prove their gods unable to save, just as Israel's gods were unable to save them. God is not being heartless and killing nation after nation. He is showing them they need a new god and Israel would be a great place to find Him. Everything God does is meant to set things right, even if it requires punishment.

Israel would be returned because God was not finished with them.

God comforts His Exiled People:
I’ll finish off all the godless nations
   among which I’ve scattered you,
But I won’t finish you off.
   I have more work left to do on you.
I’ll punish you, but fairly.
   No, I’m not finished with you yet. (46:28, The Message)
God is never finished with His Chosen People, even when they are finished with Him.

God would set Moab right.

Out of the three "godless" nations, Moab is the only one who receives a comforting message at the end. God would punish them because of their arrogance but he would bring them back in the end. God wants to set things right.

Are you finished with God?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 21 - Jeremiah 41-45: The Remnant Flees to a Dying Egypt

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 41-45

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The remaining Judeans believed their wood and stone gods blessed them and the cessation of sacrifices caused their problems.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Ishmael, a royal descendent, killed Gedaliah. He and his men fled to Ammon.
Johanan and his army headed toward Egypt. Jeremiah warned that they would survive only by staying in Judah. Johanan answered that Egypt had peace and prosperity. Jeremiah told them God would punish Egypt, too. Johanan called Jeremiah a liar and continued on. Little did he know Nebuchadnezzar—God's servant—was preparing to smash Egypt.
God asked those left behind to leave behind their old gods. The women and men told Jeremiah the Queen of Heaven gave their blessings, not God.
God warned Baruch that worse would come.

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

Judah's murderous past continued with those left behind.

Manasseh, Josiah's grandfather, left a culture of murder behind. This led to Judah's exile. Unfortunately, Ishmael and his men continue that legacy. Beware your legacy, it may lead to a terrible future for future generations.

God still wants those left behind to set things right.

Nebuchadnezzar left behind only the poor and those unworthy of the great city of Babylon. They were unwanted. But God still wanted them. He called them to leave their stones and wood behind and return to Him. He wanted to set their relationship right so they could prepare the way for the exiles to return. God's call never ends. Set things right!

Judah learned the wrong lesson from their defeat.

In an ironic twist, Johanan first asks Jeremiah for a word from his god then calls Jeremiah a liar when it comes back not in his favor. It may be understandable that they did not want to face the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar but they continued to have no faith in God. Even the lesson they learned from Judah going into exile was that their foreign gods, the pieces of wood and stone which could not move, protected and blessed them. The saddest part of the entire conversation is now they consider offerings to the Queen of Heaven as their tradition, not setting things right through the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Caution, traditions of your ancestors may or may not lead to setting things right.

Are you willing to set things right or do you blindly follow the traditions of your ancestors?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 2 - Habakkuk: Pagans Correcting God's Chosen People's Wrongs

Today’s Reading: Habakkuk

The Message

English Standard Version

Habakkuk brings us to 27 books.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Your foundation ultimately determines your fate.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God showed Habakkuk the problem:
"Look at these 'pagan' nations. They will punish you."
"God, you brought Babylonians to punish us? They will kill us like fish in a net!"
"Set your relationship right with Me and you will live a full life. Earn your living through wrong and you will eventually pay for it.
"What good is a silent idol? Behold, God-worship requires your silence."
Habakkuk's psalm:
"God is at work crushing evil nations to save His Chosen People, beating wicked kings, and scattering their armies. Even though our salvation is not here yet, I praise God."

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

Judah cannot believe God would use "pagan" nations to punish His Chosen People.

As we saw earlier, Judah wanted the benefits of being God's Chosen People—the Temple, land, fruit, etc.—but did not want the responsibility of being God's Chosen People—setting things right. So God would use "uncivilized" nations to punish Judah. In reality, neither nation wants to set things right. They are equally uncivilized. God can use anyone willing to do His Will—even if they are not His Chosen People.

Riches gained through evil will not last.

God richly blesses those who set things right. Those who do not and get rich off the backs of others will eventually be punished by those they trample on. Cities and companies built on murder do not last. People who exploit their neighbors for their own personal gain will eventually be shamed. Earn honest livings by setting things right. Then you will be established forever.

God-worship embraces silence.

God contrasts worship of idols to worship of Him. Idol worship consists of people crying out in loud voices and performing rituals to an idol which can never make a sound. Worship of God consists of His People being quiet before Him, listening for Him to speak. Maybe we should spend more time in silence before God instead of thinking our loud rituals of singing bring God to us. Worship the God who answers you when you pray.

Are you silent before God?

Monday, August 19, 2013

August 19 - 2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36: Judah in Exile; Their Land Rests

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36

The Message

English Standard Version

Today we finish two books, 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles! This brings us to 26 books read. Only 13 to go in the Old Testament!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jerusalem was taken over by the Babylonians then ransacked later because Judah never learned from their mistakes.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Egyptians took Jehoahaz into exile after three months.
Jehoiakim unsuccessfully rebelled three years later.
Babylonians took Jehoiachin into exile after three months.
During Zedekiah's reign Nebuzaradan took the Temple's bronze to Babylon. Judeans were murdered indiscriminately—even in the Temple. Then they razed the city. Judah went into exile.
Manasseh's murderous sins doomed Judah. All of Jeremiah's warnings came true. The land at last had its Sabbath rest.
Gedaliah, Babylon's appointed governor, was killed by the royal descendent Ishmael.
Jehoiachin sat at the king's table later in life.
Cyrus, the Persian king, urged God's Chosen People to return.

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

Judah's fall did not happen all at once.

Judah did not go into exile all at once. They had multiple chances to repent and change but instead ignored Jeremiah's warnings.

Babylon's war crimes would eventually catch up to them.

God would not allow Babylon to go scot free from their crimes. These are the crimes Isaiah (twice) and Jeremiah mentioned when they spoke of Babylon's sin. Babylon was called by God to punish Judah for their sin but instead committed worse acts.

The land enjoyed rest.

God told Israel to give the land a year of rest to test Israel's faith. God also warned that if they did not allow the land to rest He would give it to their enemies and then the land would have all of its Sabbaths at once. Israel and Judah never gave the land its rest. So for 70 years the land rested to make up for lost time.

King Cyrus allowed Israel to return.

We will get into this in the next month. Since the Chronicles were written to a post-exilic community, this section helped to bridge the contents of those books to the post-exilic history. It also showed that God's promises would come true. God's Warnings and His Promises come true.

Do you see how God set things right even when Judah went into exile?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 18 - Jeremiah 38-40; Psalms 74 and 79: Babylon Destroys the Temple and Takes Judah into Exile

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 38-40; Psalms 74 and 79

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

These chapters fill in the blanks from the previous chapters.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Zedekiah allowed Jeremiah's enemies to throw him into a cistern. The king rescued Jeremiah to ask for advice, promising not to kill him.
Jeremiah replied, "If you surrender to the king of Babylon you will live."
Nebuchadnezzar's troops broke through the walls. Zedekiah and his men ran. Babylonian troops caught them, killed Zedekiah's family, blinded him, and burned Jerusalem to the ground—including the Temple.
Judah went into exile, except the poor and undesirable. Jeremiah was protected and released. The remnant would live in peace if they were loyal to Babylon.
Many people returned to Judah. God blessed the land.

Psalm (P)Synopsis

Psalm 74

The exiles cry out to God because their Temple has been desecrated and burned. They ask God how long before the guilty are punished for their crimes. They ask God if He hears what is going on.

Psalm 79

Asaph cries out to God because the Temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed. They ask how long these atrocities will go on. Why has God allowed pagans to punish His Chosen People? God's Reputation is salvation! Why did He let them get away with this? Judah ask for pardon. Then they will return with thanksgiving and tell others what He has done.

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

Judah's leaders (other than those from yesterday) never listened to Jeremiah.

We do not know the timing of Jeremiah's conversation with King Zedekiah and Jerusalem's downfall, so it is difficult to connect the two closely; however, Jeremiah told Judah not to run. Yet when the time came Zedekiah ran and paid for it dearly. Some people will never learn. They will always go against God even if it means punishment.

The Temple in Honor of God was destroyed.

We read about this earlier, so I will not belabor that point here. The inclusion of these two psalms in the Bible is interesting. God has already told Judah exactly why He is destroying the Temple—they won't listen to Him. What is ironic about these psalms is that they cry out as though it was God's weakness that caused the Temple's destruction. So it seems wrong for them to ask why God allowed these things to happen.
After meditating on these words I believe something deeper is going on. The remnant cried out to God after the destruction of the Temple as an emotional response to a great injustice. I believe these psalms are included because God wants us to see that even when we are in the wrong the proper response is to cry to Him for justice. God has previously told Judah that Babylon would be punished as well for their crimes, which we read today. Emotional responses do not rely on logic or reason. They are raw. They are untamed. This is why I rarely take the responses by the mother of a known criminal serious. It is also why the responses the first two or three days after an emotional event should be held against the person later. They may regret it anyway. God does not censure emotional responses. Neither should we.

God protected Jeremiah.

God promised to protect him at the beginning of the book. Jeremiah was the only person protected. Jerusalem had the opportunity to go peacefully and live but declined. God protects those who obey Him.

Do you trust God to protect you—even in the face of your enemies?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August 17 - Jeremiah 35-37: The Recabites Embarrass Judah in Obedience

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 35-37

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Not everyone in Judah cared little to nothing for God.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Ten years earlier, Jeremiah met the Recabite community. They followed their ancestor's commands to the letter.
God lamented, "Judah, learn from the Recabites! You ignore Me. They will always be in my service."
Baruch delivered a scroll with God's message given through Jeremiah. He read it publically. The officials, upset, ordered him and Jeremiah into hiding. The king burned it, angering God. God would destroy his household.
Zedekiah, Babylon's puppet over Judah, ignored God. In return, God told him Jerusalem would burn.
Jeremiah was accused of desertion and jailed. Zedekiah called him back and protected Jeremiah on the palace grounds.

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

The Recabites embarrass Judah because they obeyed their ancestors while Judah lived the "high life".

The Recabites (also spelled Rechabites) were nomadic teetotalers. They were this way because their ancestors commanded them to be that way. Judah and Israel, on the other hand, were not nomadic teetotalers. Either lifestyle could set things right. The reason the Recabites were better than Israel and Judah was because they were willing to obey their ancestor's commands to the letter. Israel and Judah were not willing to obey the god who gave them the land, protected them from all enemies, and helped them create a nation that lasted hundreds of years. God can set things right with anyone willing to obey Him. The difference is obedience, not the specific commands each group was to obey.

Jehoiakim's actions cost him the throne.

Jehoiakim is unwilling to listen to any messenger from God. What a sorry excuse for a son of Josiah. What else could God do to get him to set things right? This is why God's message to Josiah was negative and why Judah went into captivity. Their leaders were too arrogant to need the protection of their Creator.

Not all of Judah ignored God.

I appreciate this section because it shows how some of Israel's leaders were willing to listen to God, even if their supreme leader was not. This also explains the origins of Ahikam's defense. They were greatly disturbed and wanted to both protect Jeremiah and heed God's warning. Unfortunately for them, Jehoiakim was unwilling to listen.

Zedekiah was not all bad.

One thing that we must see in scripture, and something I am not sure I have mentioned yet, is each person's depth. These are not straw men and women who were placed in these books for Bible school lessons. They were real people who were both good and bad. We must not flatten-out these people into black-and-white boxes—no matter how easy it is to do. People are neither all-good or all-bad. We are always in flux.

Can you see the good and areas that need to be set right in others?

Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16 - Jeremiah 32-34: David's New Shoot would Return Jerusalem to Normalcy

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 32-34

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would one day return Judah's life back to normal.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"I am God. You have provoked Me long enough. If you cooperate with Nebuchadnezzar you will survive.
"One day My Chosen People and I will live as one with an everlasting covenant. How wonderful it will be to do good for them once again! Everything will be restored. Celebrations will resume.
"A new shoot will come from David's tree. Judah and Jerusalem's motto will be "God has set things right for us." There will always be a descendent of David on the throne and a priest offering sacrifices. Only if I lose control of the world will My Promises fail."

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

God continues to use Jeremiah even while he is in prison.

It is a somewhat strange occurrence that Jeremiah is in prison but God still uses him to send messages to the king and the rest of Judah. It is as if God is telling Zedekiah that no matter how much he fights God, God's message is the same. Even when God's Messengers are punished for His Message, God still uses them to provide the same Message.

God would no longer punish children along with their parents.

This is a difficult line to walk. There is a strand of Calvinism which states that infants inherit the mistakes (sins) of their parents. This is not what Jeremiah means. Yesterday's reading included the following:
When that time comes you won’t hear the old proverb anymore,
   Parents ate the green apples,
   their children got the stomachache.
No, each person will pay for his own sin. You eat green apples, you’re the one who gets sick. (31:29-30, The Message)
Also, Jerusalem is under siege by an enemy because Judah's adults would not stop worshiping other gods. Children suffered because of their parents' mistakes. But God's New Covenant would be different. Each person would be responsible for their mistakes, not the mistakes of others. Children still suffer from the mistakes of parents, but not in the same way they did at this time. This is why I appreciate the Message's paraphrase of this verse, "You're loyal in your steadfast love to thousands upon thousands - but you also make children live with the fallout from their parents' sins" (32:18). Children may still live with the consequences of their parents' mistakes, but they no longer are punished alongside their parents.

God is purifying Jerusalem for its future inhabitants.

As I have mentioned several times in the Old Testament, God's purpose of punishing Jerusalem and Judah is to wipe out all of the Baal worship sites. This will remove the temptation for returning Israelites to worship other gods. Since He could not get the original inhabitants to remove them He had to use an outside group to forcibly destroy them. Once they are removed, Israel and Judah would re-inhabit the land and live in peace once again.

The Shoot of David's tree would set things right for Judah and Jerusalem.

He would run the country with honor, honesty, and fairness. His name would be God's Righteousness. He would restore the land and Israel would have their relationship with God set right. God would provide a leader to set all things right with His Chosen People. (You can also understand how Israel's understanding of the Messiah was very skewed toward the physical. This will be important when we read about Jesus.)

Is your motto "God has set things right for us"?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August 15 - Jeremiah 30-31: God Will Set Israel's Relationship Right

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 30-31

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Someday God would take away Israel's yoke and they could be free.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"My Chosen People will return to their land to serve an Israelite king. You will be My Chosen People and I will be your god.
"You are being punished for past mistakes. It is deserved, but temporary.
"My People will find a god looking for them. I will pay for their release. We will start over. They will weep for joy.
"I have heard your cries. Change your hearts!
"I make a new covenant with you. My Word will be written on your hearts. Everyone will know Me.
"Only if the world ends would Israel stop being My Chosen People."

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

God is not giving up on Judah.

If there ever was a time for this type of reading, today is it! God tells Judah exactly why they have lost their land and what He will do to set things right. God's encouragement is to have hope because He will give them their land back. Those who committed atrocities against Judah would be punished. God and Judah will be like nothing had ever separated them. They would be God's Chosen People and God would be their god. God wants to have a good relationship with us and will never give up on us.

Judah must go through its punishment to show their only friend is God.

God's punishment of Judah is tough love so Judah can know their new friends and their new gods care little for them and leave when the fun ends. Only God is there when the dust settles and Judah is in a foreign land. God's punishment may seem harsh but its end is love.

God would save Israel and Judah from captivity so they would become what they never were before: lighthouses for Him.

God wanted Judah and Israel to have a renewed sense of who He was and what He would do for them. He would pay a high price to return His Chosen People and the nations would see just how much God loves the world. Maybe they would throw away their gods and follow God as well. God saves so His People will go out and tell everyone how great their god is.

God's new covenant would be different.

God's new covenant with Israel and Judah would not require years of study. This covenant would be written on their hearts. It would not be a long list of commands. It would be one—follow what God has already given you! God's new covenant would be on our hearts.

God would never turn His Back against Israel.

We have seen how God would open the doors of the Temple to invite in the world. He would accept authentic worship from anyone. With that said, He would never turn His Back against Israel. They would always be His Chosen People, His Lighthouses to the world. God never turns His Back against His Chosen People.
What does this mean for us today? It means God will never turn His Back against the church. If we are God's Chosen People, it doesn't matter how corrupt we become; God will punish us, get rid of the bad influences, then return our relationship as though we never left. How awesome is our god!

"Expect love, love, and more love!" (31:3, The Message)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 14 - Jeremiah 26-29: God Weans His Lighthouses from Their Temple

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 26-29

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God gives Judah one more chance to repent.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God, through Jeremiah: "If you change your heart I will remove your punishment. If not, the Temple will be destroyed."
Judah's answer: "God won't destroy the Temple!"
Jeremiah was placed on trial. Ahikam assuaged the crowd.
"Nebuchadnezzar will be your ruler. Accept no alternatives. Go peacefully. The Temple will be rebuilt when it is time."
Hananiah challenged Jeremiah's authority. He died within a year.
Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to make themselves at home in Babylon and to pray for peace. Judah would return in 70 years and not a day less.
Shemaiah challenged Jeremiah's authority. His entire family was punished.

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

God does not want to punish Judah.

God gives Judah another chance to change their hearts. He is willing to remove their punishment if they would only change their ways. God's punishment is never set. He will remove it if His People will only change their hearts and ways back to His Way.

Judah cares more for the Temple than the Truth.

The trial against Jeremiah would shadow what would come in the future. We have seen how Judah cared more for being God's Chosen People than being lighthouses to the nations. Now when Jeremiah predicts God tearing down the Temple, as He warned Solomon on its dedication, the people freak out and want to kill Jeremiah. They want to protect the Temple—that building for that god they somewhat remember from their distant past and still give lip service to every now and then between sex offerings to the other gods who are more fun. But the Temple was their symbol of having God in their midst. They did not want to serve Him but they wanted Him around. Israel just doesn't get it.
To be honest, the comparisons to today's Christianity, especially in the USA, are equally disturbing. How often do we want to make sure we are worshiping correctly in the right place at the right time instead of encouraging, in Amos' words, rivers and oceans of setting things right. It may be too painful to discuss. Sometimes, we just don't get it, either.

Ahikam shows that not everyone in power misses God's Way.

I like Ahikam. He stands up for Jeremiah at the moment Jeremiah needs him the most. Ahikam gets it. He understands their hearts are the problem, not Jeremiah's denunciations. He stood in front of a crowd ready to kill and calmed them down enough to let Jeremiah go free. I hope we can have more and more like him in our leadership.

Jeremiah's enemies were punished.

Not many of Jeremiah's enemies were willing to stand before him and call him out. Sadly for them, neither fare well. They found themselves on the wrong side of God's Way. Wonderful for Jeremiah, God's promise was truthful—God saved Jeremiah from his enemies. God will punish anyone who stands in the way of Him setting all things right.

God's message to exiled Judah was to be lighthouses for Him in Babylon.

Judah was shocked and offended at Jeremiah's counsel to make themselves at home and work for Babylon's welfare. They wanted to pray for deliverance not peace. They wanted their vineyards in Canaan, not new gardens in Babylon. If they had understood God's purpose for His Chosen People all along they would have understood why God would want them to be His Lighthouses in Babylon. They were to be God's Ambassadors of His Goodness and Love. If they took His words to heart, maybe they could stop Babylon's punishment before it began. No matter where God's Chosen People may be they are to be God's lighthouses to the nations.

Are you trying to be a lighthouse for God even as an exile or are you trying to fight to hold on to a temple you care little for?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August 13 - Jeremiah 23-25: Judah's Prophets Lead Judah to Disaster

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 23-25

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would bring a true Heir to David's throne—one who could take the Promise of David and make it real forever.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"You who mislead My People will be punished. My People will be unified around a Leader known only for God's Righteousness.
"Can you believe Judah's prophets speak of peace? It's like they make everything up and pass it off as My Word. Don't listen to them! They don't know Me! If they did you wouldn't be in this mess. Ask each other what My Way is, don't pretend to know it. Question your so-called prophets."
Judah never listened to any of God's prophets.
"Judah will be in captivity 70 years. Then I will punish her captors. Prepare for the worst."

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

God's new Leader's name would be God's Righteousness.

Among a group of people who cannot trust their leaders a new leader who only judges based on God's Word would be a breath of fresh air. This is why Eugene Peterson paraphrased His Name as "God-Who-Puts-Everything-Right" and why the Jews wanted Jesus to revive the nation of Israel. They needed someone to set things right.

Judah's prophets are leading them to disaster.

Yesterday I mentioned how people like prophets who say nice things. Judah is now filled with them. Because God's news to Judah is "go into captivity," the so-called prophets have decided to make up news of peace and tranquility, approving all Judah wants to do. Unfortunately for the so-called prophets, God punishment will come down on them, too. Leaders are commissioned to teach the truth, no matter how difficult it may be.

God's advice to Judah is to question their prophets in small groups and not to take what they say at face value.

God's advice is important for today. Judaism and Christianity are plagued with people unwilling to seek God's Way. They want an expert to tell them which way to go instead of reading in a group and allowing God to bring His Way to them. To be honest, it's not as difficult as it may seem. In groups you will have people who know the Word (thinkers), people who want to do God's Will (doers), and people who can reflect God's Love to others (lovers). (Note – this is adapted from David Murrow's "A Coaching-First Church" on his site Church for Men.) When we have groups getting together to question the prophet (or preacher) we can understand the truth. If they know God, we can learn. If they do not, we must reject their message. The spiritual health of God's Chosen People depends on the spiritual connectedness of their prophets to God and His Way. God's Chosen People must check their connectedness to understand the Truth.

No one listens to God's prophets.

Even when taking the previous points into consideration, we must also see how God's Chosen People rarely listen to His Messengers anyway. We saw earlier how God's Chosen People only want the blessings of the title and none of the responsibilities. Even Josiah, the greatest king since David, could not get Judah to return. If you are looking for a mass revival back to God, it's not going to happen. God's Chosen People will never fully return to God. It has never happened in the past.

Those who bring God's Judgment on others are not exempt from God's Judgment.

Another part of Jeremiah that depresses readers is that even God's Chosen Punishers are not righteous. God mentions unspeakable horrors that would happen to Judah because of their sin, but these were not sanction by God! He cannot control what nations do. Just as Assyria would be punished for their sin, Babylon would be punished for theirs. No one is exempt from God's Judgment. No one.

Do you question prophets and preachers who purport to speak for God?

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12 - Jeremiah 18-22: The Potter Rejects the Clay

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 18-22

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

While God tries to encourage Judah to set things right, Judah wants to do away with Jeremiah.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God had two outcomes for Israel: if they repented or stayed stubborn.
Judah's valley of idols would become a sewer because they sacrificed children there.
Jeremiah was whipped for bringing bad news. He wishes he had never been born.
King Zedekiah wanted God to defeat Nebuchadnezzar. Instead, God would join Nebuchadnezzar's side. "Only those who surrender will survive My Anger.
"If you set things right the kingdom will survive. If not, rubble. Rich people do not set things right. Jerusalem, your disinterest in Me will be your downfall. Now you will never return. Jehoiachin is the last of the kings."

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

God treats us like clay—we are made into whatever we work with the potter to create.

We are different from a potter's clay in one aspect: we can decide to work with the potter or against the potter. Israel decided to go against God and instead of repenting when their mistakes were brought to them they became defiant. Judah is doing the same.

Judah loses patience with Jeremiah. Jeremiah loses confidence.

People like prophets who say nice things. Jeremiah has nothing good to say to Judah. They no longer want to hear it. They have gone so far to whip Jeremiah. Let's hope we never get to the point we whip those who call us to set things right.
Jeremiah suffers from depression. He knows God will protect him, but wishes God would remove him and let someone else bring the bad news. It's not easy being a prophet.

God would symbolically turn Judah's worship areas into sewers and trash pits because they offered sacrifices God thought reprehensible.

God's Chosen People have gone so far that they offer their children as sacrifices to a god they do not know. Child sacrifice is something God would never dream of asking His Chosen People to sacrifice. Therefore, God would turn their diabolically-sacred valley into what it is to Him—a place for filth and refuse.

The sin of Jeroboam has come to its final conclusion—the exile of all Israel.

Jeroboam's shrine-worship entered Judah around the time Israel went into exile. Even though Josiah removed the shrines, he could not get the people to stop worshiping these gods. Beware your legacy, either for good or for ill. How ironic that Zedekiah wants God to conjure up a miracle for them—a people who care nothing for God asking for a favor. What a horrible end to such a great house.

Even to the end God's message to Judah is the same—if you set things right you will survive.

You get the feeling God is the spurned lover who never gives up. Right before Judah goes into captivity God makes one last effort to get them to set things right. They would lose their land either way, but the house of David would survive. Unfortunately, they would not listen and were ultimately destroyed. God's call remains until the bitter end—if you set things right you will be protected.

Will you work with the Potter?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11 - Jeremiah 14-17: God is Beyond Convincing - Judah Must Repent or Perish

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 14-17

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

No one could convince God to spare Judah. Only Judah's repentance would save her.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"I will not listen to Judah's prayers."
Jeremiah pleads Judah's case.
"Jeremiah, no one can change My Mind. The northern juggernaut will expend my anger against you."
"Jeremiah, don't get married, have children, or mourn the dead. Someday, Israel will not remember the Exodus; they will glory in exiting exile. Yes, Israel will return. But first they must understand who I am.
"Judah's sin—shrines for no-gods everywhere. Cursed are those who think they are protected by humans. Blessed are the ones who trust Me. Celebrate the Sabbath My way. Then you will be a city for the ages."

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

God would no longer listen to words—He would only listen to actions.

Jeremiah channels his inner Moses and pleads for Israel. Regrettably, God no longer is willing to listen to anyone defend Israel. The days of a prophet saving Judah are gone. Judah has turned their collective back against God; therefore, God has no choice but to punish them.

Jeremiah is starting to lose faith.

Even Jeremiah cannot stand what is happening. He is starting to question his place in God's Plan. God would continue to protect Jeremiah, even when He did not protect Judah. What we should see is that God's spokespeople are not aloof. They feel pain when they bring bad news to God's Chosen People.

God's Reputation would no longer be based on the Exodus. It would be based on returning Israel and Judah to their homes.

To Judah, one problem with remembering God is that His most-famous deed was completed hundreds of years ago. Because of that temporal distance they would not take Him serious. So God would make a new famous deed—getting Israel and Judah out of exile. Unfortunately for the ones living at the time, they would be the ones punished, not the ones saved from exile.

If Judah observed the Sabbath correctly, God would save the city.

This is a strange section coming at this point. God has told Jeremiah that nothing can save Judah then tells Judah if they observed the Sabbath correctly with their heart instead of their brains they would have an everlasting city. The Sabbath was meant to be a day of rest, not a day to do the other things you didn't have a chance to do the rest of the week. By observing the Sabbath with their heart instead of their head they would show God they were serious about turning back toward Him. Even the smallest sign of return will set our relationship right. Would Judah give Him that sign? Unfortunately, no.

What is God's most famous act to you?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 10 - Jeremiah 10-13: God Reminds Israel of the Terms of Their Covenant

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 10-13

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God reminds Judah of the terms of their agreement made centuries ago.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God continues, "You envy nations that worship pieces of wood."
Why are we here? Because our leaders are too stupid to ask God for help! God, correct us who messed everything up.
"Remember from the Covenant that obedience leads to blessing and disobedience to curses. Nothing has changed. Watch out! Doom comes soon. You can't get out of this through more religion. The god of your religion sends the punishment!
"Jeremiah, don't get caught up in petty comparisons. You will be protected from Israel's judgment."
Israel would be rendered useless. Enemies prepared to attack. "They attack because you worship Baal."

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

Israel wants to be like nations that worship blocks of wood.

To be honest, God does have a point. These pieces of wood do nothing bad. The problem is they do nothing at all! The wooden gods have to be carried around. Yet Israel likes the foreign nations' worship and worships these gods when they have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. How does this make sense to anyone?

Israel's punishment is part of the Covenant.

We often overlook books like Jeremiah because they show the violent side of God's wrath. It makes God seem angry and trigger-happy. How could a God of love do such terrible things to His Chosen People? The answer is that He told them this would happen at the beginning and they accepted it. We cannot accept the blessings of being God's Chosen People without the responsibility to be wholly God's. If we shirk our responsibility God will punish us. It is as simple as that. The God who is Love must do this to uphold justice—even when it pains Him to do so.

God reminds Jeremiah not to get caught up on who wins and loses on earth.

Jeremiah asks the question we all ask from time to time,
Why do bad people have it so good?
   Why do con artists make it big?

How long do we have to put up with this—
   the country depressed, the farms in ruin—
And all because of wickedness, these wicked lives? (12:1, 4, The Message)
God's answer is interesting if not unsettling, "So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, / what makes you think you can race against horses?" (12:5). Jeremiah had forgotten that God ultimately wins in the end. The wicked may seem to have easy lives, but in the end they will not enjoy it. That does not mean we should sit back and wait for them to fall; but we should also not envy those who prosper from not setting things right. God will set things right in the end, no matter what happens in the interim. We are not to base our happiness on our physical blessings anyway. We are to understand that God's Way is higher than our way. Therefore, physical blessings are like icing on a cake. We love it, but the cake's the main part.

Do you want both the responsibility and the blessings of the Covenant?

Friday, August 9, 2013

August 9 - Jeremiah 7-9: God's Chosen People want the Rewards, not the Righteousness of being God's Chosen People

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 7-9

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God's Temple will only protect those whose hearts are God's.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God sends Jeremiah to the Temple:
"I will not live among a people serving other gods.
"Jeremiah, stop your prayers. Keep your offerings. My People only do what they want. Soon, their valleys will reek of death.
"I waited to save them but no one asked. They reveled in having My Word but had no ability to feel sorry. Nothing is salvageable."
Has God abandoned us? Is there no relief for this pain? I could weep forever.
"They refuse to know Me. They'll be scattered until nothing is left.
"Brag about knowing Me, your god who sets things right."

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

God will not protect His Chosen People regardless of their heart.

Judah thought that if they had the Temple in Honor of God and God's Revelation that He would be obligated to protect them from any and all abusers. What they did not realize is that God wants people to set things right, not worship Him. Worship comes as a response to God setting all things right. God told Jeremiah to stop praying. God told Judah to stop giving offerings. God warned them, "Only if you clean up your act (the way you live, the things you do), only if you do a total spring cleaning on the way you live and treat your neighbors, … only then will I move into your neighborhood" (7:5-7, The Message, emphasis original).
Today, if churches want to become more relevant, if Christians want to have an impact as God's ambassadors setting all things right, we must get beyond our association of worship and membership. Those who worship should be Chosen People and Chosen People should worship, but God cares more for how we act than how we worship. Do you want God to move back into your congregation or your life? Set things right with others. Then, and only then, will God return.

God's Chosen People never listen.

This part is difficult for me to read. I want to think, like Jeremiah, that my words are helpful in getting God's Chosen People to return to Him. I want to think my prayers for revival are listened to and heeded. Unfortunately, God's Chosen People care more for doing things their way than obeying God. They have never listened to God, even from the time they left Egypt. "I listened carefully / but heard not so much as a whisper. / No one expressed one word of regret" (8:6). God's Chosen People care more for having the title than obeying the God.

All that is left for Judah is punishment.

Since they are unwilling to listen, God will allow other nations who have no interest in setting things right to run roughshod over His Land. They will commit unspeakable acts, desecrating the bones of His Chosen People. Those who are living will wish for death. Since Judah will not respond in repentance, God will respond in punishment.

We should brag about knowing the god who sets all things right.

Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.
   Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.
Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.
   If you brag, brag of this and this only:
That you understand and know me.
   I’m GOD, and I act in loyal love.
I do what’s right and set things right and fair,
   and delight in those who do the same things.
These are my trademarks. (9:23-24)

Do you want to set things right as a lighthouse to the nations or do you want the title "Christian" or "Chosen Person of God"?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

August 8 - Jeremiah 4-6: God Sends Enemies to Destroy Jerusalem

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 4-6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God wants Israel back, but only if they are willing to stay religiously monogamous.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God warns, "If you want to return, fully return. No more non-god competition.
"Disaster is coming from the north and My Chosen People dress up to seduce the enemy!
The pressure weighs on Jeremiah.
"Search Jerusalem for a righteous person to receive forgiveness." Jeremiah found none. "Why should I bother? It's pruning time. I wanted to remind you of the One, True God. But you wouldn't think of dedicating your lives to setting things right.
"I have sent enemies from the north! You will reap what you sowed. Are you all too busy making money? Terror is on its way."

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

God would no longer stand for partial repentance.

Several kings in Israel and Judah removed some of the shrines. God would not stand for a king to remove only some of His no-god competitors anymore. He would not accept their half-repentance any longer. God will not accept our partial repentance. We must fully return to God to have our relationship set right.

Jeremiah cannot find a righteous person anywhere.

God chose Israel to be a lighthouse to the nations. Instead, He lowered the standard and settled for sacrifices to Him alone. Now Jeremiah cannot find a single righteous person in the entire nation. We must stay vigilant or our nation, too, will have a hard time finding one righteous person.

Destruction is not God's final word.

Every so often I'll have to bring this point out, especially in Jeremiah. God's reputation is salvation, not punishment. However, because this standard is so high, those who take His Chosen Person status must live up to that calling or face removal and punishment. God will set things right in His Nation, but not all of them will be punished. God can and will weed out the wicked from the righteous.

Would God have a difficult time finding a righteous person among your group of Chosen People?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August 7 - Jeremiah 1-3: A Young Jeremiah Trusts God's Protection

Today’s Reading: Jeremiah 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

Jeremiah may be difficult to read through because it is not organized chronologically. We will read accounts of Judah going into exile three times. Remember, Hebrew history was written thematically instead of by date. With that in mind, you will make it through the book.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God will make sure Jeremiah has what he needs to represent God.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message through Jeremiah during Josiah's, Jehoiakim's, and Zedekiah's reigns:
Jeremiah protested his calling. God responded, "I'll guide you; no one will touch you."
God called to Judah, "Traded in your real god for fake ones? How absurd! You were once a Chosen Nation. Now you feel remorse only when caught. You deny you've committed adultery while shacking up with any god who happens to walk your way."
God spoke to Jeremiah, "Judah is worse than Israel. But a time will come when I will be with you and Israel as one. I have practiced my opening lines."
Judah repents.

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

God gave Jeremiah his words and protected Him.

Jeremiah is self-conscious because of his age. God reassures him he would not suffer harm because of God's message. God would give him the words to say and the protection for him to say it. All Jeremiah needed to do was trust that God could do what He said He would do. This scene reminds me of Moses' calling. In both cases God's answer is the same: trust Me, I'll protect you. When God calls us to do something, He gives us what we need to do it and protects us from those who want to stop us. To the youth (and stutterers alike) – trust in God!

Judah has now outpaced Israel in going to other gods.

"Look closely. Has this ever happened before, / That a nation has traded in its gods / for gods that aren’t even close to gods?" (2:10, The Message). Isaiah spoke about the irony of making an idol out of wood and then acting as though it made them. Now God tells Judah that their punishment is coming and mocks them by suggesting they should run and beg their blocks of wood and stone for protection. If we wish to serve other things, God will allow it. He will also allow them to help us when we need our lives set right.

God will set all things right in the end.

God would bring Israel and Judah back together and would live among them instead of providing a symbol of His Reign. Although God's Law through Moses forbade remarrying a woman after she married another, God would remarry unified Israel, who spent generations worshiping other gods. God planned ahead to what He would say. There is no bitterness in His remarks. There is only love, compassion, and mercy. God wants to set things right between His Chosen People. We should listen and let Him unite us in obedience.

Do you struggle with feeling worthy of God's calling in your life because of something you lack?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

August 6 - Zephaniah: God's Awesome Judgment Sets Things Right

Today’s Reading: Zephaniah

The Message

English Standard Version

With Zephaniah we have read 24 books. Only 15 left in the Old Testament!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would purge His Land of all competitors and anyone who followed them.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message through Zephaniah:
"A full housecleaning for Earth—shrines, idols, and people.
"You may think I am not paying attention. Judgment day is when I repay good and evil."
Get yourself together, Judah! Seek God and live.
"I know what you've said about Me, Moab. Nineveh, no city will be safe."
Doom to the rebellious. They would not trust God.
"My punishment only delayed their evil schemes.
"In the end I will return My Chosen People and forget their past."
Celebrate God's judgment, it removes bad influences!
"I promise to set the sick, homeless, and maimed right. You'll see."

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

God will remove all other gods, their idols, and punish the people who worship them.

Zephaniah's message sounds intimidating—now we may know why Josiah took God's message serious and removed all of the shrines, idols, and killed the idols' priests. God will not have rivals—He will reign unchallenged.

God's Judgment Day will be awesome for everyone.

God's judgment of every person will be a day of mourning for those not willing to set things right and a day of great praise for people fully devoted to God setting all things right on the earth. Even when it seems God's Judgment will never come—the guilty go free while pinning the blame on the innocent—do not lose hope. God's Judgment Day is coming. Everyone will be in awe—some in praise and others in shame.

God will set all things right in the end.

It seems odd that at the end of a book dedicated to telling people who are guilty that they will be greatly punished God would speak of restoration. But, in essence, the two are inseparable. God's Judgment is meant to help His Chosen People clear the air of pollutants and rejoin Him in setting things right. We cannot see one without the other. The two are essential to setting things right.

Are you struggling to see how God will set your situation right?

Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5 - 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35: Josiah Changes Everything but God's Punishment

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's reading is very long, possibly the longest for the entire year. The two chapters in 2 Kings are the same events of 2 Chronicles. However, since Josiah is my favorite king in the Old Testament, you can't be my friend if you skip either one (just kidding). Enjoy!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Josiah removed all of the things separating the people from God, but could not make them return to Him.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Josiah reigned God's way, like David. He restored the Temple and found the Book of God's Revelation. However, God would still punish Judah after Josiah's death.
Josiah read the Book to Judah. He then purged the Temple, Jerusalem, and all Judah of their idols to other gods. He removed Solomon's and Jeroboam's shrines and went through Israel removing their foreign-god altars.
He observed the Passover unlike any since the judges.
Pharaoh Neco's army killed Josiah in battle.
Josiah's son Jehoahaz's power lasted three months. Neco took him away and placed Jehoiakim on the throne. Judah returned to their foreign gods.

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

Josiah removed all shrines, no matter how old or established they had become.

A few weeks ago we read how Josiah's great-grandfather Hezekiah removed most of the shrines. He did not remove Solomon's shrines or the ones in Israel (though Israel still inhabited the land when he came to power and would have objected). Josiah, on the other hand, removed Solomon's shrines, Jeroboam's shrines, and then went throughout deserted Israel and removed their shrines. God was pleased with Josiah's actions. God is pleased with His Chosen People when they sacrifice their heritage to obey Him.
What I love about Josiah, and why I named our first-born after him, are the implications of his actions for today. The Restoration Movement was begun by men and women dedicated to "the restoration of all things." For their time, they did a magnificent job, like Hezekiah. However, as we approach the 200th anniversary of the movement's beginning, we now see "shrines" that they did not remove—the center of Christianity being the church building; everyone sitting in pews facing the same way listening to a lecture; communion being a individualistic, private matter; a heavy reliance on rationalism and modernism for developing and teaching doctrine; and so on. (As a side note, some may question whether these "shrines" were there at the time or added later. When they arrived is not a matter I care to debate, at least not here and now.) Now we are at a moment when many young people are questioning whether they see Jesus in the church or not. So our challenge today is whether we can go through a "Josiah" moment and remove all of our religious shrines or are we content with our "Hezekiah" past, keeping the oldest, more established shrines in place. If we remove these obstacles and observe Christian community as long ago (as with Josiah and the Passover), we, too, can stem the tide of our decline, even if for one generation.

Josiah left his previous generation's sins behind.

Last week we read how Hezekiah's son and grandson (Josiah's grandfather and father) rebuilt shrine after shrine after Hezekiah tore them down. I commented that no matter how good a generation could be the next could squander all gained ground. Josiah, on the other hand, serves as a great example of the opposite side of that coin. No matter how bad your previous generation(s) treated God, you can change your life dramatically if you humbly put your trust in His Way.
It is here that we can gain encouragement from Josiah for our church culture today. We do not know how many old-timers Josiah had to convince to tear down Solomon's shrines, but what we know is that he succeeded. Before we abandon our congregations to die we should first attempt to be like Josiah. Once we have exhausted our patients (or theirs), we have done all we can do. I am not convinced all of our congregations are too far gone. They need help, but God wants to set things right. We should join Him.

Josiah could not stop God's punishment of Judah.

At first God's pronouncement to Josiah may seem cold-hearted. God does not bless Josiah with generation-after-generation of kings because of his work as with Jehu who did less. What we do not have written here is how well Josiah led the rest of Judah. It is possible that he had little effect on the commoner's heart. As we read earlier in Isaiah, religious observance does not guarantee God's attendance. Therefore, it is conceivable that Josiah had little sway on the people en mass. This could be why his son's punishment came so quickly and why he did not argue with God. He could see that his zealotry for God was not matched in the proceeding generations. Not all sinking churches can be saved by good leaders.

Are you willing to remove all of the religious shrines that prevent you from setting things right with God?