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

Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30 - Malachi: God's Chosen People's Shoddy Worship

Today’s Reading: Malachi

The Message

English Standard Version

CONGRATULATIONS! You have made it through the entire Old Testament! Pat yourself on the back, give yourself a hug, whatever you do when you accomplish something awesome. Tomorrow we will begin the New Testament, so enjoy reading Malachi, the 39th and FINAL book in the Old Testament.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God, through Malachi, wants Israel to give Him more respect than they would their government officials.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's Message through Malachi:
"You sacrifice crippled, blind animals as sacrifices to Me. People from all over the world would love to worship Me. But My Chosen People? Bored.
"Priests, Levi stood in reverence. Teach the truth."
Why can't we live in peace? Religiously-foreign women who change Israel's allegiances. Holy marriage creates holy children. "I hate divorce. Do not cheat."
"Don't think I'm too nice to punish sinners.
"A messenger is on his way to scrub you clean and fit for service.
"I haven't changed. Test My Faithfulness by bringing the full tithe.
"Those who set things right are mine."

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

God blessed Jacob's descendents more than Esau's. In return, Israel ignored God.

As we close the Old Testament, it is fitting that God reminds Israel that He chose Jacob and not Esau—the main theme throughout the entire Old Testament. God cannot understand why Israel will not obey Him. He gave them everything they wanted and in return they grew tired of serving Him. The same sacrifices over and over again grew stale. Instead of giving God the best of their herd, they gave what they could not sell. It's a fitting summation of the entire Old Testament: God calls a people to bring His Light to the nations who instead enjoy His blessings and ignore His calling. God has people willing and waiting to be His Chosen People but instead is stuck (for now) with a group of people who couldn't care less.
As God's Chosen People, we are blessed more than those who are not. But instead of worshiping God fully and becoming His Lighthouses to the world, we follow our spiritual ancestors and enjoy the blessings of being Chosen without the responsibilities of being Chosen. We find worship boring. We only give God the scraps of time—when we cannot find a better thing to do. We give the leftovers of our income. God never changes. Unfortunately, neither do His Chosen People.

God would rather His Chosen People not serve Him than to play "religious" games.

God pulls no punches:
Why doesn’t one of you just shut the Temple doors and lock them? Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship. I am not pleased. The God-of-the-Angel-Armies is not pleased. And I don’t want any more of this so-called worship! (1:10, The Message)
God wants worship coming from obedience, not ritual.
This section is tough—especially for a person told from birth that how we worship is the most important part of who we are. God would rather we lock and board up all church buildings and stop holding meetings than keep "Sunday services". Worship that does not come as a result of setting things right is no better than sacrifices to a dead idol expecting a magical result. There is no magic in rituals. There is no magical style of worship, prayer, or teaching that obligates God to continue blessing us. Our songs, prayers, and praises must come from the heart or God does not want them.

God's Chosen Proclaimers must speak the Truth.

God tells His Chosen Priests that they must speak the Truth. They must put new life into the stale Covenant. They guide His Chosen People. They can either guide in God's Way or in the convenient way. One way leads to God cursing them. The other leads to people cursing them. Which do you fear?

God hates divorce but hates cheating spouses more.

Israel was God's (spiritual) wife. Every time they worshiped another god, they committed spiritual adultery. God hates divorce and does not want to separate from Israel, but He will not stand for their cheating. This is why Ezra wanted Israelite men to put away their foreign wives. Foreign wives turned Solomon's heart away from God and caused him to commit spiritual adultery. Spiritual fidelity is essential to obeying God.
The product of marriage is children. If you are in a spiritually-monogamous marriage, your children will be wholly for God. If not, your children will be torn between parents, between religions and may eventually give up on God completely. Don't risk your children's spiritual allegiance. Marry someone who is wholly for God setting all things right on the earth.

God is not a fluffy-pillow god.

God is love; however, love does not mean He accepts those who do not set things right. He does not punish using fluffy pillows.

God will be obeyed. The cliché "God loves the sinner but hates the sin" may be trite, but it is not far from the truth. God will punish people who do not set things right—Chosen or not.
Boy do we do not want to hear this today. Part of it (rightly) comes as a result of the "fire and brimstone", judgmental style of preaching we endured for generations. Yet, we must not go so far that we say God will not punish anyone regardless of how they lived because He loves everyone. God will not save everyone just because He's too "nice" to punish anyone. I would suggest you read through Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and the other prophets again to see if God is a pushover. People must set things right or they will eventually be cut off from God.

God wants Israel to test Him—by obeying.

In Deuteronomy God told Israel not to put Him to the test. But now He tells them to put Him to the test. The difference is in how it was done. Israel tested God's Patience by not listening and obeying. They wanted to see if God would punish them or not. God punished them. Now, God wants Israel to test whether He will bless them or not. Giving a tenth—especially when it is off the top, not after everything is paid and balanced—is a step of faith. God wanted to give Israel great blessings. He could not do that as long as they wanted to be in control. Instead, they skimped on their sacrifices and complained that God didn't bless them as they want Him to.
I wish we read this section more often when we ask for contributions. The impetus for our giving is neither from an outside force nor an expectation of blessings in the future. Our contributions are thanksgivings for our blessings and acts of faith that God will continue to bless us. If members of every church gave the full 10%—and then more as they wanted—we could receive a full blessing from God. Until then, stop complaining that your church isn't as blessed as it should.

God would send a messenger to prepare the way for His Judgment.

Remember this for the rest of the week. It's coming very soon.

What a grand adventure. See you tomorrow as we open the New Testament.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 29 - Nehemiah 11-13; Psalm 126: God's Chosen People Live Safe in Their Land; Battle for Holiness

Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 11-13; Psalm 126

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's reading has the names of the families living in Jerusalem. Scan down to 12:27 if you are short on time.

Finishing both Nehemiah and Psalms brings us to 38 books and only one day more in the Old Testament!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Nehemiah and Ezra work together to make sure Israel does not go against the Law.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Many families resettled in and around Jerusalem. Its walls were dedicated. The singers and guards were supported through donations.
Israel separated from foreigners when they read God prohibited Ammonites and Moabites from the congregation.
Nehemiah cleaned out Tobiah's rented storeroom in the Temple, made sure the Levites and singers were given daily food rations, stopped Jews from breaking the Sabbath while threatening merchants camping at the gates on the Sabbath, and made Jews swear not to marry foreigners in the future since Solomon's wives caused him to sin.
Nehemiah asked God to remember his dedication to setting things right.

Psalm (P)Synopsis

Psalm 126

The returned exiles cannot believe they are the ones who are happy once gain. They ask God to keep blessing them to lighten their hearts.

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

God's Chosen People once again lived secure in God's Chosen City.

God's promise through Jeremiah had come true. Judah returned and lived safe within their walls. What a difference in today's psalm and Psalm 137! God wants to set our relationship right and return our place in life.

Nehemiah fought a battle with Israel over their holiness.

Ezra and Nehemiah were holy—they want to obey God fully. Israel had more difficulty obeying God. Nehemiah had to advocate for the Levites, encourage Israel not to marry foreigners, and convince Israel not to work on the Sabbath. Even though Israel had come home, they were not fully willing to obey God.

Do you wish to be remembered for your zeal in obeying God?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

September 28 - Nehemiah 8-10: Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites Renew God's Covenant with God's Chosen People

Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 8-10

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Nehemiah and Ezra lead Israel to rededicate their lives to God.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Everyone gathered to hear Ezra read the Revelation of Moses. Priests and Levites helped everyone understand it.
Nehemiah and Ezra sent everyone home to celebrate a holy day with their neighbors.
Israel's leaders gathered to deepen their understanding of the revelation. Israel celebrated the Feast of Booths for the first time since Joshua's days.
Ezra read from Moses' Revelation daily.
A few weeks later everyone confessed their sins and broke ties with foreigners. A group of Levites retold how God blessed their ancestors though they would not obey Him. Israel pledged to obey God then signed and sealed the pledge.

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

Nehemiah and Ezra work together to "re-baptize" Israel's hearts.

This section is similar to Exodus 24 and Deuteronomy 27 where Moses and Aaron lead Israel to promise to obey God; Joshua 24 with Joshua's challenge to Israel; and the dedication of the Temple in Honor of God with Israel responding to Solomon's prayer. It is meant to re-center Israel on obeying God's Word found in God's Law—similar to how baptism centers our minds on our Calling. They wanted Israel to publically seal their part in the Law, like baptism publically seals our part as God's Chosen People. Public proclamation of God's Word centers a group on God's Way.

Nehemiah and Ezra station Levites to help Israel understand the Law while they read the Law.

Ezra knows that reading God's Law does not help a person become wholly for God. They must live a life of setting things right to be holy. To help Israel live God's Law they positioned Levites throughout the area to help Israel understand what was being read. Later they brought together the heads of each family and the civic leaders "to get a deeper understanding of the words of The Revelation" (8:13, The Message). It pays immediate dividends—they celebrate the Feast of Booths for the first time since the days of Joshua. When God's Chosen People seek to understand God's Word, they can set things right.
One of the reasons I wanted to do this Bible in a year project was because I had read through the Bible in a year twice but felt I did not understand very much. I did not understand how all the pieces fit together and wanted to spend time each day putting them together. Thanks to the Petaluma Church I've had a chance to do that. By providing this resource I hope you have understood more of God's Way as presented in God's Word.

The Levites retell the story of God's Love for His Chosen People—Israel—to give a common bond.

We have read the entire Spirit-led, written history of Israel in nine months. This is a period of over 1000 years. In addition, almost no one in Ezra's audience grew up in Israel's land. They needed something to remind them of God's faithfulness to Abraham's descendents. It reminded Israel of God's perfect Holiness and Israel's record of unholiness. They had a chance to distance themselves from their father's sins and renew their Covenant with God. God wants the Story of His Faithfulness to Abraham's Descendents to be known to keep our Covenant fresh in our minds.
I hope churches keep track of their congregation's history beyond sheer numbers and names. Seeing how God helped the congregation through one test after another, even when the congregation failed to stay holy to God, helps the members see how God is working in their church today. I am afraid we stay in a 2000+ year-old history lesson and give the impression all God cares for now is the number of people who walk into the auditorium each Sunday. Let's tell our story completely from the Abram until today. Don't stop with John and the Revelation. That history may not be pretty, but it's to show God's Faithfulness, not ours.

Do you know the full history of your congregation of God's Chosen People?

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27 - Nehemiah 6-7: Nehemiah's Solid Faith Leads to Jerusalem's Solid Walls

Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 6-7

The Message

English Standard Version

Nehemiah 7 has a list of names meaningful to the exiles but not for us. Scan down to verse 73.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Nehemiah and everyone helping him rebuilt the walls in 52 days. It took over 2 years before the Temple reconstruction restarted after it was unfairly stopped.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Israel's other enemies tried continuously to thwart Nehemiah's efforts. He refused their bait each time. They accused him of treason. He prayed for strength. They hired a "prophet" to lure him into the Temple. He prayed they would be punished. Nobles wrote scathing letters because of their ties to Tobiah. Nothing fazed him.
The wall was finished in 52 days. Now secure, Israel's enemies left them alone.
Nehemiah found the records from the first wave of exiles. They numbered 42,360 plus slaves and singers.
Several families gave offerings for the Temple.
Everyone found a place to live.

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

Nehemiah's accomplishments are a tribute to his leadership.

The fact that through constant insults, letters of reprimand, and schemes to kill him Nehemiah continued leading the effort to rebuild Jerusalem's walls and succeeded speaks volumes about his faith. The only thing that could have gotten him through this time was faith in God. When God's Chosen Leaders have full faith in God setting things right, great things happen.

God has returned His Chosen People to their land.

After many years, Israel now lives in peace in their homeland. They may not have a king like they had before, but their land is theirs again. God repeatedly promised they would be returned to their home and now it has come true. God's Promises come true.

Do you know a leader who accomplishes much because of steady, unswerving faith?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 26 - Nehemiah 1-5: Nehemiah Leads God's Chosen People to Rebuild Jerusalem's Walls

Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 1-5

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Nehemiah also guards his people's spirits along with their bodies.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Nehemiah prayed for God's intercession on Jerusalem's crumbled walls. Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah's request to rebuild them. Sanballat and Tobiah scoffed.
Nehemiah rallied support. Sanballat and Tobiah mocked.
The wall was rebuilt by many families. Sanballat and Tobiah insulted.
Sanballat and Tobiah led a cabal to attack. The workers learned of the plan and carried weapons. Nehemiah strengthened their resolve.
Some of the Jews complained about high interest. Nehemiah confronted to the nobles and they agreed to return the mortgaged land and interest.
As governor, none of Nehemiah's underlings fed off the people. Instead, he fed people from his own stock.

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

Nehemiah asks God to set things right through him (Nehemiah).

Nehemiah has a cushy job in the palace. He had no obligation to leave Susa and return to Jerusalem; however, when he learned of the city's plight, he knew he needed to take action. He wanted to gain permission from Artaxerxes to repair the wall. He asked God to bless him along with the others who want to honor God. When God's Chosen People pray to set things right, God sets things right through them.

The ones who built the wall endured insults and discouragement throughout the entire construction process.

Similar to the reconstruction of the Temple, the families that rebuilt the wall had to endure harassment from their neighbors. With Nehemiah's help, they endured. God's Chosen People will always have discouragement from those who do not want things set right. God may not remove the discouragement. He may ask that we endure to the end.

Nehemiah shows a great example of leading in discouraging times.

Unlike Zerubbabel and Jeshua, Nehemiah did not stop reconstruction because of the harassment of others. He encouraged Israel to keep working, to keep building. He stationed guards to protect the workers and eventually gave weapons to the workers when threats materialized. All the while he kept the same tone, "The God-of-Heaven will make sure we succeed. We’re his servants and we’re going to work, rebuilding" (2:20, The Message). By leading with conviction and courage, Nehemiah provided the right attitude for the workers and people in Jerusalem to mimic. Leaders set the tone for everyone's trust in God setting things right.

Loaning at crippling interest is no different than slavery.

In the Law, twice, God explicitly prohibited loaning with interest. The reason is that it prevents people from getting ahead of their debts. Because they cannot get ahead, they must sell their children into slavery to pay for their living expenses. Nehemiah points out the irony that he and others went to such trouble to free Israel from their exiled slavery while these nobles are selling them into slavery again. God's Chosen People do not loan to their brothers and sisters at interest.

Nehemiah's government workers never lived off their constituents.

The governors before Nehemiah lived off a portion of what the people paid in taxes to Artaxerxes. God blessed Nehemiah enough that he did not live off the people. He lived off God's blessings. I wish our government could do the same.

Are you an example of steady faith in the face of ridicule?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 25 - Ezra 7-10: Ezra Goes to Jerusalem; Israelites Separate from Foreign Wives

Today’s Reading: Ezra 6-10

The Message

English Standard Version

Ezra brings us to 36 books! Only 3 left.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The sin Ezra prays to God about is unholiness not interracial marriage.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

King Artaxerxes sent Ezra, a descendent of Aaron dedicated to studying, living, and teaching God's Word, to Jerusalem to restart Temple worship.
Ezra asked Levites to join the travelling party. They fasted and prayed for wisdom and guidance from God. When they arrived they offered sacrifices.
Ezra learned that some Israelites had married foreign women. Ezra ripped his clothes and prayed to God because they made ties with the people in the land.
Shecaniah suggested everyone remove their foreign wives and children and separate from the people of the land to honor God's Law. Israel agreed and did just that.

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

Ezra was sent to Jerusalem because Artaxerxes saw he was dedicated to God.

What a great description of Ezra. He was not only dedicated to learning God's Law, he was dedicated to living God's Law. Because of this God was with Him and Artaxerxes could see this. When God's Chosen People dedicate themselves to God's Law, the whole world knows God is with them.

Ezra sought God's guidance on his life.

The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem was not as safe as today; therefore, Ezra asked God to help him and the others arrive safely. They wanted God's guidance in how much to request in gold and assistance for the Temple. God's Chosen People should ask God for guidance in all areas of life.

The issue with foreign wives is a matter of allegiance, not race.

The last two chapters of Ezra are often ignored because they seem to bring a contradiction in something we will read next week. What we must understand when reading this section is that they are not suggesting divorcing these women because they want to keep Israel's blood pure. Back in the book of Exodus God told Israel
Be careful that you don't make a covenant with the people who live in the land and take up with their sex-and-religion life, join them in meals at their altars, marry your sons to their women, women who take up with any convenient god or goddess and will get your sons to do the same thing. (34:15-16, The Message)
Even though the translation of Ezra 9:2 could be "holy race" (as in the ESV), the emphasis is holy race. The issue is allegiance to God not racial purity. The reason these women needed to go was because they would tempt God's Chosen People to worship other gods—as they had with Solomon, starting a chain of events which sent both nations into exile. God wants His Chosen People to be fully devoted to Him and not to marry those who are not fully devoted to Him.
What does this mean for us today? Do not marry someone who does not have full allegiance toward God setting all things right. Remember, this is not about denominational or racial purity. Having split allegiances in marriage is difficult for the one fully dedicated to God setting all things right. If you are already married, Paul will have something to say to you, so I will leave the idea here and pick it up in 1 Corinthians.

Can people see God is with you because you are dedicated to studying, living, and teaching His Way?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September 24 - Esther 6-10: Esther and Mordecai Set Things Right for Exiled Israel

Today’s Reading: Esther 6-10

The Message

English Standard Version

Esther brings us to 35 books! Only 4 left.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

It's not often one gets to read a story where a man's evil scheme blow up in his face like Haman's. Enjoy.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

King Xerxes wanted to honor a great man. Thinking he was the one being honored, Haman gave grand suggestions. "Go and do it for Mordecai," the king ordered.
At the banquet, Esther asked Xerxes to protect her people from Haman's genocide. Enraged, the king hung Haman from the gallows Haman built for Mordecai.
King Xerxes authorized the Jews to attack their enemies, who were quickly defeated. Israel did not seize their possession, though.
This began the yearly feast of Purim where the Jews would eat and give gifts to each other and the poor.
Mordecai was given Haman's governmental position.

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

Mordecai was eventually rewarded for his good deed.

Mordecai foiled a plot to assassinate the king but was never rewarded for it until the right time—when Haman was about to ask for his execution. It may take a long time, but good deeds will eventually be rewarded. The question is, can you hold out until it happens?

Haman was hung by his own gallows.

In an example of David's psalms, Haman is hung by his own noose. Later, his supporters were killed on the day they were going to commit genocide. Evil people will fall by their own plans.

Things were set right in the end.

Whether you agree with how these events transpired or not, what the text makes clear is that God's Chosen People were protected from their enemies and many people respected them. When God's Chosen People are honest and set things right with others, they are protected. In this we see God's Plan at work, even though we do not see God by name taking part in the action.

How have you seen evil people thwarted by their own schemes?

Monday, September 23, 2013

September 23 - Esther 1-5: God's Chosen People Placed in Positions to Set Things Right

Today’s Reading: Esther 1-5

The Message

English Standard Version

Only one week to go in the Old Testament! Keep it up, you're almost there.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

As you read today and tomorrow, try not to judge by 21st century standards. This book is not on how to run a country. It is about setting things right.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

King Xerxes wanted to show off Queen Vashti's beauty. She refused. Xerxes banned her from his presence.
Esther replaced Vashti. No one knew she was a Jew.
Mordecai, Esther's uncle, won King Xerxes's favor by foiling an assassination attempt.
Mordecai refused to bow to Haman in reverence, inciting him to plot to a massacre of the Jews.
Mordecai asked Esther to intervene, "Maybe this is why you are queen."
Esther asked for a banquet for Xerxes, Haman, and herself only. After the banquet, she asked for a second, similar banquet.
Haman's friends convinced him to build gallows to hang Mordecai.

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

The story of Esther is about God's Chosen People setting things right.

One of the most interesting things about the story of Esther is that God is never mentioned by name. This book is about God's Chosen People using their God-given positions to set things right. Both Mordecai and Esther have opportunities to take an easy route and compromise their loyalty to God in return for a comfortable living. Instead, the story is about how God's Chosen People can set things right without direct intervention by God's Hand.

Wherever you may be, God wants you to set things right.

Esther had a difficult choice. She could either put her life in her hands by going in front of the king uninvited (a capital offense) or allow her people to be killed because of an evil man's grudge against her uncle. Through Mordecai's immortal words, "Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this" (4:14, The Message) she chose to risk her life to set things right for God's Chosen People. God places us in areas where we can set things right. We should be willing to set things right for Him no matter how difficult it may be because Mordecai was right—we are placed in our positions for a reason.

Esther asked for support from the Jews in her city.

In what may seem a small request, Esther asked for the people in her support group to join her fast as she made the difficult decision to put her life on the line. God's Chosen People should support and join other Chosen People in their time of grief and difficult choices. By doing this, we strengthen each other.

Be careful reading this story with 21st century eyes.

There is so much in this story that seems wrong to us. King Xerxes doesn't treat his queen like a queen, Vashti doesn't treat her king like a king, and their way of finding another queen does not fit our style of treating women. What we must understand in reading and learning from this book is that it wasn't meant to be a primer on marriage, the treatment of women, or what could happen when you do ________. It is a story of God's Chosen People setting things right when they go haywire. Reading into each action and trying to find the "moral" thing for each person to do misses the point of the story.

How can you set things right where you are placed?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

September 22 - Zechariah 8-14: God Gives Strength to His Reunited Chosen People

Today’s Reading: Zechariah 8-14

The Message

English Standard Version

Congratulations! You have made it through 34 books. Only 5 left! You also have read 265 days. That means you only have 100 days to go!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Judah's strength would come from God.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"I once punished My Chosen People. Now I will bless you. In return, set things right. The world will associate Jerusalem with peace and prosperity. Your king will ride a humble donkey. I will initiate a grand homecoming. I'll make you strong and you will live My Way."
"No more guidance for sheep who beg for slaughter."
Zechariah asked the people for his worth—only 30 silver coins. Insulted, he put them in the offering plate.
"Judah can only survive through My Strength. Then all foreign gods and their priests will vanish."
Soon God will rule over the entire world.

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

God asks for us to set things right in return for His Protection and Blessings.

God would return Judah from their exile and give them protection from the people who lived in the area and wanted to hurt them. They would also have bountiful harvests. What did God want in return?
Tell the truth, the whole truth, when you speak. Do the right thing by one another, both personally and in your courts. Don’t cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others. Don’t do or say what isn’t so. I hate all that stuff. Keep your lives simple and honest. (8:16-17, The Message)
God protects His Chosen People so they can set things right.

Foreigners would recognize Israel as representatives of the god who blesses.

In a great shift, Jerusalem would change from a place people wanted to overthrow to a place people would want to visit looking for a blessing. Judeans would be a popular group because God would bless them. The world would want part of God's Blessings. This is God's ultimate plan in the first place—people from all nations worshiping Him. When God's Chosen People set things right, the world wants to pray to our god.

God prepares His Chosen People for their Messiah.

As first seen yesterday, Zechariah uses many images which would be taken up later in the New Testament: a humble king riding on a donkey, the Good Shepherd, and thirty silver coins. These were meant to give Israel mental clues to look for when God sent the Messiah and used by John in the Revelation to pass on information that outsiders would not understand.

Judah could only survive if God was their strength.

God wanted to bring Jerusalem back to power, but this time with the right power—His Power. They would be famous because of their god: The Mighty Uniting God who brought His Chosen People back from their exile. What Judah needed to remember was their strength did not come from within but from God. Our strength comes from the Creator who gives the only strength built to last.

God would punish nations that did not observe the festivals.

This is an interesting passage, especially after yesterday's notion that God was not interested in religion but people. Why would God tell a group they were observing festivals only for themselves and then punish nations for not observing festivals? I believe the reason is that God wants festivals and religious observances which bring us closer to Him. Mourning the loss of a city that disobeyed God does not bring you closer to God. Observe religious times that help get us closer to God, not makes us feel more "religious".

Do you get your strength from God?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 21 - Zechariah 1-7: God's Message Stays the Same: Obedience, not Religion

Today’s Reading: Zechariah 1-7

The Message

English Standard Version

Remember these images. They will come up again later when we get to the New Testament, especially Revelation.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God defends His Chosen People from all opponents, physical and spiritual.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's Message through Zechariah:
"Generations have passed but My Message remains the same."
Zechariah had several visions:
The first two showed that God would bless Jerusalem and punish the godless nations.
In the third God moved back to Jerusalem.
In the fourth God purified Joshua in preparation to lead and judge Israel.
The fifth encouraged Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple.
In the sixth God prepared punishment for liars and thieves.
In the seventh God took the world's sins away.
The eighth soothed Israel's anxiety of being attacked.
Joshua would become priest and king.
"I am interested in people, not religion."

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

God's Message stays the same.

One of the chief reasons I wanted to do this project is because I have read and heard several people discuss how the Old Testament is either antiquated or unnecessary for us today. Some even questioned my plan to preach exclusively from the Old Testament while doing the project. I wanted to help myself and others realize what God told Zechariah—God's Message never changes. God wants to set all things right in the world and chose Abraham's descendents to be His Ambassadors and Lighthouses to the world. They become lighthouses by setting things right in their areas of influence through promoting rivers of mercy and oceans of justice. Israel and Judah ignored God's Chosen Prophets when they came to deliver His Message. Hopefully, we will not.

God would defend Israel from outside forces.

Three of the visions were about Israel's outside enemies. God wanted Zechariah to encourage His Chosen People to know they would not be harmed from nations stronger than they as long as they set things right within their borders. God would return to Jerusalem with mercy, forgiving them of their past. Jerusalem and Judah would be blessed again because God loves His Chosen People. God forgives and defends His Chosen People, especially when they obey Him.

God prepared Joshua and Zerubbabel for their leadership positions.

Zerubbabel needed encouragement and surety of protection. So God through Zechariah gave Zerubbabel the encouragement he needed.
Joshua would play a much larger role in the new nation. For the first time, God would merge priest and king. Israel would no longer have competing heads of their religion and state. Church and state would live in harmony because they would be lead by the same person—God's Anointed Leader. Joshua needed help to become worthy of both offices; therefore, God cleansed his body and his soul. When God calls leaders, He prepares them for their service.

God prepares His Chosen People for their Messiah.

Zechariah uses many images which would be taken up later in the New Testament: four riders on four types of horses, a lampstand with lamps, and a man named Branch who would build the Temple and reign as both priest and king. These were meant to give Israel mental clues to look for when God sent the Messiah and used by John in the Revelation to pass on information that outsiders would not understand.

God is interested in people, not in religions.

God does want His Chosen People to worship Him in His Temple (as we read yesterday). He wants religious people setting all things right, but God wants religious people, not religious people. Whether a person observes the festivals, offers sacrifices, or tithes is secondary to whether they treated their neighbor justly; loved their neighbors; had compassion with their neighbors; treated widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor justly; and did not plot and scheme against their neighbors. When the people in Bethel added to the festivals a day of mourning for Jerusalem, it was not because God wanted them to. They did it because they wanted more religion. God only accepts religion when it comes from people who set things right. To focus on religious rites without justice misses God's Message.
What does this mean for Christians today? Almost everything we discuss has to do with "religion". We wonder whether we are worshiping God correctly, whether other people worship God correctly, whether we should add to our religious observance, or if we should modernize our worship gatherings. Few times do we speak of God's Chosen People setting things right in our spheres of influence. If we wish to understand God's Message, we must stop spending time retooling our religion and re-teach how to set things right in our spheres of influence.

Have you missed God's Message?

Friday, September 20, 2013

September 20 - Haggai: Stingy Blessings for God's Stingy People

Today’s Reading: Haggai

The Message

English Standard Version

Haggai brings us to 33 books read and only 6 left to go! We are also 10 days away from finishing the Old Testament! Keep going!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Now we read what prompted Israel to restart Temple construction.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's Message through Haggai:
"My Chosen People live in fully-repaired houses while My House is in ruins. Honor Me more than yourselves."
Zerubbabel and Joshua (Jeshua) listened and led the reconstruction efforts. "I am with you!" God replied.
The next month God reminded everyone to work because He was with them. God would punish the godless nations and bless His Chosen People. The Temple would be more glorious than before.
Two months later, God added, "You still drag your feet at building My Temple.
"I am about to turn the world upside-down. Then Zerubbabel will have My Authority to rule."

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

Israel's discouragement outweighed their trust in God.

Yesterday we read how Israel endured 15 years of harassment from their enemies. Their enemies went so far as to write a letter to the king telling him Israel would rebel once the Temple was built. At that point they were barred from construction. Israel decided to go the easier route—give up on the Temple and focus on their personal lives. Unfortunately, discouragement is no excuse for not trusting God to set things right. God told them if they worked for Him, He would bless them. God would fill the Temple if they built it.
Yesterday I mentioned how Christians have a difficult time overcoming our enemies and discouragement. Some cannot stand the harassment and decide to stay home and focus on their own spiritual lives. Religion becomes a personal issue—just don't ask. Just like Israel could not stay home and live in their nice houses, we cannot stay home and tend to our spiritual houses. We must help to build God's Bride. (We'll read that metaphor in the New Testament.) Trust in God—He will set things right, even if our enemies resist.

God prevented Israel from flourishing because they were unwilling to obey Him.

God dried up the land and prevented Israel from bountiful crops because they would not rebuild His Temple—what they were commissioned to do by both He and King Cyrus. They worked and worked in their fields but received little. When they returned to Him and built the Temple, God blessed the land again. God is stingy with us when we are stingy with Him.
Many would think the only application of this principle Christians would mention is money. However, the Temple was rebuilt using Babylonian and Persian funds, not Israelite funds. God does not want them to give of their money. God wants them to give of their time. When we give God only scraps of our time, God only gives us scraps of blessings. Think about this: on Sunday, do you complain if worship goes longer than an hour? If someone wanted to talk about God on a Tuesday afternoon, would you feel put-out? Could this be a reason churches are not growing? When we give of ourselves to God, God fills His House.

Zerubbabel and Joshua were blessed for leading the construction.

Zerubbabel would become the next leader of Israel. Joshua (Jeshua is an alternate spelling of Joshua or Yeshua, meaning "God saves") would become High Priest. God blesses those who lead in setting things right.

Hearts that are halfway dedicated to God are not dedicated to God.

God gives two interesting analogies. First, something holy does not transfer holiness by touch. Second, something holy loses its holiness when it touches something unclean. From the first He wanted Israel to understand that being near something holy is not the same as being wholly for God. With the second, holiness is either complete or not there. There is no half-holy. Israel could not get by with being "near" the Temple and not set things right. They must be fully invested in God setting things right.
For us, being part of a church does not guarantee holiness. The purpose of a group of Chosen People getting together is to help each other be wholly for God. Showing up, not talking to anyone, and then leaving as soon as you can does not help you or anyone else develop holiness. Show up, participate, and help others while they help you.
We cannot accept half-holiness. Half-holiness means doing the right thing when it helps you but not when it inconveniences you. God is willing to show His full Holiness, we should be willing to be fully and wholly for God setting all things right on the earth. Be fully for God!

Are you using your discouragement to be stingy with setting all things right?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

September 19 - Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137: Israel Endures Harassment to Rebuild the Temple in Honor of God

Today’s Reading: Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Israel's enemies wanted to stop the Temple's construction. Instead, they condemned themselves.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Israel's enemies heard they were rebuilding the Temple. They harassed the builders 15 years. They wrote accusation letters to Artaxerxes about Judah's rebellious past and warned that the Temple was a ruse to rebel again. Construction was stopped.
Tattenai, the governor, asked Darius to find the order for construction. The decree from Cyrus was found. It warned that if anyone tried to stop Israel, they would be executed. Darius enacted the order fully.
The Temple in Honor of God was rededicated with a large feast. Everyone observed the Passover—exiles and locals alike. They enjoyed a sea of joy.

Psalm (P)Synopsis

Psalm 137

While the exiles mourn the loss of Zion their captors demand happy songs. How could they sing happy songs at a time like this? They will always remember Jerusalem. They cry for God to repay the Babylonians for what they have done!

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

Israel had to endure harassment 15 years.

When their first plan of sabotage was foiled, Israel's enemies settled in on the sure-fire way of working against Israel while not being punished—discouragement. This went on for 15 years. This type of psychological warfare may not stop the victim from trying, but it severely weakens their resolve to do something difficult. It is easy, cheap, and less risky than physical warfare. God's Chosen People must endure discouragement from people who do not care to set things right.
One of the hardest obstacles for Christians to overcome is discouragement. We struggle with our own doubts while having to listen to harassment by people who don't understand our faith, our trust, and our willingness to obey God. While some Christians are too quick to claim they are being persecuted, we must admit there are some who do not want to see Christians succeed. Some may have had negative experiences with Christians before. Others may have no reason other than wanting to see Christianity look bad. No matter what type of discouragement comes our way, we, too, should have faith that God will set things right and continue in our obedience.

Half-truths can only win if no one is willing to seek for the whole truth.

Israel's enemies sent a letter to the Persian king Artaxerxes detailing Judah's rebellions. They were historically accurate but telling only half the truth. They either did not know or knowingly omitted Cyrus' decree. The interesting part is that it took Israel at least two years to remind king Darius of Cyrus' decree. They almost allowed the harassment and half-truths to keep the Temple in Honor of God from being rebuilt.
Those who tell half-truths hope no one is willing to do research to question their assertions. We hear half-truths often. It may be difficult to go against them, but we must be willing to demand the whole truth to set things right.
At the same time, half-truths come in handy when they make ourselves look good; however, we cannot succumb to the low road. Beware half-truths and half-truth-tellers. They do not set things right.

God "plunged them into a sea of joy" (6:22, The Message).

At last, God has rebuilt the Temple to His Honor. Israel is now safe in its borders again (though not self-governing). The Levites and priests became ritually clean and everyone observed the Passover together, although the time for God to accept anyone into the Temple is still ahead. Non-Chosen People observing the Passover is nothing new, but a great thing to see—especially after 70 years of no one observing the Passover.

Psalm 137 is an emotional response to a great loss.

Psalm 137 may be the most difficult psalm to read because they cry:
God, remember those Edomites,
   and remember the ruin of Jerusalem,
That day they yelled out,
   “Wreck it, smash it to bits!”
And you, Babylonians—ravagers!
   A reward to whoever gets back at you
   for all you’ve done to us;
Yes, a reward to the one who grabs your babies
   and smashes their heads on the rocks! (vv. 7-9, The Message)
As I wrote earlier, we are not used to such emotional responses. Some take these sections to discredit the entire Bible. What I hope we get from this psalm is a sense that these people were real and were not dispassionate robots doing God's Will. God does not censure emotional responses. Neither should we.

How can we encourage you today?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 18 - Ezra 1-3: Cyrus Send the Exiles to Rebuild the Temple in Honor of God

Today’s Reading: Ezra 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

Ezra 2 gives the genealogy of the returning exiles. Scan through this chapter if you are behind or have little time today.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Daniel's positive influence on the king of Persia may have lead to the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

King Cyrus commissioned a return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple in Honor of God. He encouraged the exiles to give to the cause. Judah's, Benjamin's, and Levi's descendents went. Cyrus returned everything Nebuchadnezzar stole from the Temple.
Thousands of Judeans returned to their towns. A few families could not prove their lineage and were barred from priestly work.
Seven months later, Jeshua and Zerubbabel built the Altar to the God of Israel and began offering sacrifices on it. Seven months later, they laid the Temple's foundation. David's music rang in Jerusalem again—to loud shouts and cries of joy.

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

King Cyrus wanted to help Israel rebuild the Temple.

Jeremiah told Judah that God would return the furnishings of the Temple. God also told Judah that Cyrus would be the king to do it. God used Cyrus, a non-Chosen Person, to set things right for God's Chosen People. God will use anyone willing to set things right.

God protected the returned exiles.

When Jeshua and Zerubbabel began offering sacrifices on the Altar in Honor of the God of Israel they were worried their neighbors would attack. They were right to be worried, too. However, God protected them from Gog and anyone else who wanted to steal what they had. God will protect His Chosen People.

David's music was heard in Jerusalem for the first time in generations.

Jerusalem had been silent for 70 years. Before that the Temple had been used to house a plethora of gods. Only the oldest people remembered even seeing the building. In our readings, we have not heard a positive story about Jerusalem for 45 days. Finally, we have a group of people who are willing to serve God again. Their shouts of joy and weeping for joy were so loud no one could tell the difference because God had given them grace to return and praise Him again.

Praise God for His Mercy and Grace to allow us to praise Him!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

September 17 - Daniel 10-12: God Loves His Chosen People through Persecution

Today’s Reading: Daniel 10-12

The Message

English Standard Version

The end of Daniel marks the end of 32 books. Only 7 more to go! And you are less than 2 weeks away from finishing the Old Testament! Keep going! You're almost there!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

These visions are about the same time as yesterday's reading and set up the story of the Apocrypha (which I am not going to read or comment on).

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Daniel saw a vision about the future of Israel's exile.
The northern and southern kings would wage a long, protracted war. God's Chosen People would be persecuted to show an example of faithfulness.
The northern king would think he was a god—to his death. The southern king would attack and win. Tens of thousands would die.
Michael, the prince over Israel, would eventually deliver everyone for judgment.
Someone asked when these things would happen. "A time, times, and half a time." Daniel was told to seal the words for later generations. God would reward Daniel for constant, steady faith.

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

Daniel's vision would help the Jews understand why these things were happening.

The northern and southern kings would fight continuously. Their people would stage coups and rebellions. Israel was in for a very tumultuous time. God wanted them to understand that their difficult persecution was not meant to punish them but to make sure they stayed holy. God wanted Israel to know He would always care for them—even if they died in the process. God loves His Chosen People—even through death.

God would judge everyone, regardless of their power.

Even with the great persecution and trials coming Israel's way, God would eventually judge everyone's actions and separate them according to how they lived. Those who set things right would have eternal life. Those who did not would have eternal punishment. No matter how strong the world may be, God will judge in the end.

God's Judgment would come when you least expected it.

The phrase "time, times, and half a time" seem strange. Why not 3.5 years, months, days, etc? During university, I took a class by Kevin Youngblood who helped us understand that these are meant to help us pace when it would happen:
  • Time – This is the amount of time you think should occur before God acts.
  • Times – When you think it is time for God to act, it is not yet time.
  • Half a time – When you think God will never act—God acts.
God wants His Chosen People to understand that our timing is not His timing. God works on His Time, not on ours.

Do you trust God to judge everyone in His time?

Monday, September 16, 2013

September 16 - Daniel 7-9: God Wins in the End

Today’s Reading: Daniel 7-9

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God shows Daniel the future using grand visions with animals.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God told Daniel through a vision that although four countries would rule over them, God's saints would receive an everlasting kingdom. The kingdoms would fight Israel but God would win in the end.
Two years later Daniel had another vision of Greece defeating Media and Persia. Greece would fight Israel, but God would win in the end.
Daniel prayed to God, "We deserve shame. May Your Mercy and Grace deliver us. You will give us salvation only because Your Name is great."
Gabriel answered Daniel, "God will set your relationship right but first Israel must have its evil removed."

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

Daniel's visions tell of the immediate future.

Similar to Nebuchadnezzar's dreams and Ezekiel's visions, Daniel's visions were meant to deliver a message for his day. The visions foreshadowed the regime changes that would soon occur. Each small part of the vision would correspond to a distinguishing characteristic of each king to come. In the second vision, Daniel sees the rise and fall of Alexander the Great's kingdom. Both the four kings and Alexander the Great would fight God's Chosen People. God's purpose for Daniel's visions was to prepare His Chosen People for persecution.

God would win in the end.

At the conclusion of each vision, the same event happens—God defeats the beast(s). Since God's Chosen People would have difficult times ahead, God wanted to make sure they knew He would defeat their enemies. The four beasts and the ram would not get the final say against Israel. No matter the persecution, God will win in the end.

Daniel thanks God for His Grace and Mercy removing Israel's sin and punishment.

When Daniel realizes Israel would be returned in 70 years (as Jeremiah informed the exiles), he also realizes Israel has not become holy. They do not deserve to be returned to their land. God would return them, though, because God wants to set all things right with those with whom His Relationship is strained. He is willing to set our relationship right repeatedly hoping we will acknowledge His Mercy and Grace and set things right in our relationships with others. How awesome is our god! Our forgiveness is not dependent on our actions but on our acceptance of God's mercy and passing it on.

Do you trust that God will win in the end?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 15 - Daniel 4-6: Daniel's Steady Trust in God Inspires His Kings to Trust God

Today’s Reading: Daniel 4-6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

While the kings of Babylon were taken out of power because of disobedience, Daniel continued steady, non-compromising faith.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Nebuchadnezzar praised God:
"I had another troubling dream. Daniel said God would remove me from power because of my ego. Soon enough, I believed I created Babylon and lived among animals for seven years. God returned me and I praise Him!"
Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar, who inherited Babylon, outdid his father's arrogance. God presented a public vision against Belshazzar. That night he was killed and Darius took over.
Darius made Daniel a high leader. Daniel's enemies conspired to execute him. Darius was forced to throw Daniel in a lion's den. God protected him. Darius then decreed that God would be worshiped.

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

All three kings (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius) were caught by their egos.

All three believed they were gods. Two needed to be disciplined by God. The third would learn from his mistake because of its consequences. Beware of power—it can make you think more highly of yourself than you should.

Daniel's power came by giving glory to God for his great works.

Nebuchadnezzar knew Daniel was not the source of his power. He knew Daniel's power came from Daniel's God. Since Daniel did not claim God's Work as his own, God was praised. God greatly blessed Daniel and Babylon in return. When we give glory to God for our good work, others will understand God's Goodness and God will bless us all.

Daniel never tells the kings to stop worshiping their gods.

Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar after his god. Nebuchadnezzar was not fully dedicated to worshiping God; however, Nebuchadnezzar was not a Chosen Person. Daniel never told Nebuchadnezzar to become a Jew or offer sacrifices to God. He told the king to set things right in the kingdom and God would keep him in power. Why did Daniel tell the king to set things right instead of being circumcised? God wants to set all things right, not create religious people. Don't get me wrong—religious people setting all things right is God's ultimate goal. But he prefers people to set things right instead of being religious.

The kings praised God because they saw His Work through Daniel.

We saw part of this yesterday. Nebuchadnezzar tells a story praising what God did for him—including his punishment. Darius, after decreeing no one could pray to any god except him, told the kingdom to worship Daniel's god. Belshazzar made Daniel the third-highest leader in Babylon, although only for a few hours. When non-Chosen People see God's Chosen People giving credit to God, they praise Him, too.

Daniel's problems came because he was loyal to God.

Considering all of the problems Israel and Judah had with loyalty, Daniel serves as the complete opposite of his people. Daniel's loyalty gets him into hot water with the other governors. The entire plan was to kill Daniel. Notice that because of Daniel, Darius trusted in God to save Daniel from the lions, "Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this" (6:16, The Message). Loyalty to God does not ensure a quiet life. Loyalty to God ensures a life others cannot speak against.

Do non-Chosen People praise God because of His works through you?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September 14 - Daniel 1-3: God Sets Things Right for Those who Trust Him

Today’s Reading: Daniel 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah trusted in God even after seeing God's great punishment.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

King Nebuchadnezzar assembled exiled Judah's brightest for training. Daniel (Belteshazzar), Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego), proposed a developmental competition: their vegetable-and-water diet against the king's menu. The four became exceedingly-more helpful than their peers.
Nebuchadnezzar's dream deeply disturbed him. Daniel asked God for its interpretation. God told Daniel it forecasted Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom. Daniel and his three friends were highly promoted.
Nebuchadnezzar ordered his kingdom's leaders to worship his statue. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused. Nebuchadnezzar threatened them. They again refused. Nebuchadnezzar threw them in a furnace. They were unaffected—and joined by a god-like figure. Nebuchadnezzar blessed God.

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

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted God more than they feared their captors.

Before we look at this story we need to understand that Daniel and the three men with him have seen terrible atrocities in Jerusalem. They (presumably) had to watch their family and neighbors die horrible, agonizing deaths. Questioning, doubting, or rejecting God would be a reasonable response. Full faith in God even when given the opportunity to live a long, luxurious life in the king's palace would be unfathomable. This setting is what makes their test of a diet full of vegetables and water vs. the king's food and wine a test of faith, not a proof of the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. Although they were improved by not drinking the king's wine and eating all of his food, their test proved it was better to trust God than abandon Him—even in their exiled land. Trust God in everything and God will set things right in your life. You may not be rewarded as Daniel and his friends, but you will excel.

Daniel's trust in God soothed Nebuchadnezzar's nerves.

The king wanted the young men to learn magic and fortune-telling—two things specifically prohibited in God's Law. When his dream disturbed him, he called the ones who learned magic and fortunetelling to figure out and interpret the dream (and exposed fortunetelling as a fake practice of reading a person and telling them what they want to hear). Daniel and the three prayed to God to give them the interpretation. God gave Daniel both the dream's contents and its interpretation. Daniel blessed God. When Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar the dream's interpretation he gave God the credit. Nebuchadnezzar blessed God. When God's Chosen People trust Him, God can set things right for non-Chosen People.

God protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because of their trust that He would set all things right.

The great lesson from the three being thrown in the furnace is two-fold: 1. God will protect His Chosen People to uphold His Name; and 2. When non-Chosen People see God's Protection, they, too, will give praise to God. The three were unwilling to compromise their trust in God even in the face of death. Nebuchadnezzar saw God protect them and praised God for doing so. What an awesome God!

Are you willing to trust God to set all things right?

Friday, September 13, 2013

September 13 - Joel: God's Spirit for Everyone!

Today’s Reading: Joel

The Message

English Standard Version

Joel brings us to 31 books. Eight more to go.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would punish the ones who treated Judah terribly.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's Message through Joel:
"Tell future generations what has happened. Nothing will save the Temple. Nothing compares to God's all-encompassing Judgment.
"Everyone—no exception—fast and pray! Maybe God will remove our punishment!
"Celebrate! God has done great things! God will give us a Teacher. Every kind of person will have His Spirit. Everyone who calls for God's Help will receive it.
"'Yes, I will put the world back together. Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia, you sold Judeans into slavery. Prepare to be shattered!
"'Hide in Me and you will know I am your God. All things will be set right.'"

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

God's Judgment is serious business.

We often have difficulties accepting this aspect of God's Love. We want the John 3:16 god who loves us but we do not want the Joel 1 god who will punish us because we took matters into our own hands. But we must understand, the God who sets all things right does so by blessing those who set things right and punishing wrongdoers.

God continues to call Judah to return.

The same god who is punishing Judah greatly because they do not set things right also wants them to change their way of living. If they fasted, changed their clothes, and changed their lives God would consider changing their fate. We must include this aspect of God to understand the previous, difficult part. God always wants to set things right, even in the midst of punishment.

God would give His Spirit to ever kind of people.

All of the Old Testament prophets were Jewish men. Deborah was a judge but was still a Jew. God would one day no longer limit His Prophets to men. Women would join them. Old people, young people, servants, masters, men, and women would receive God's Spirit. Anyone who called on God would be helped, not just Israel. No longer would Israel have a monopoly on God's Spirit. God's Spirit is for anyone!

Is God your place to hide?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 12 - Ezekiel 46-48: God Parcels Israel's (Returned) Land

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 46-48

The Message

English Standard Version

We've now read 30 of 39 Old Testament books! We are less than 20 days away from finishing the Old Testament! Keep going! You're almost there!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The prince would be given more land and would be responsible for more of the offerings.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God continued, "The prince should supply the offering for everyone. Everyone except the prince should exit the opposite gate they enter.
"The royal family's land may be given to servants but must return at the Jubilee. The royal family cannot run any family off their land."
God showed me a river that would supply water and fish for the local people. Then God told me how to divide the land between the tribes and current residents of Israel. The Levites and priests would receive choice parts of the land for their pastures. There would be a new city, named "God-Is-There".

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

The royal family would be given a larger amount of land but a larger amount of responsibility.

The royal family taking land was commonplace in the area. Jezebel taking Naboth's vineyard cost Ahab his family's future. God wanted to make sure Ahab's situation never repeated. Princes were also charged with supplying animals for the corporate sacrifice. This responsibility would tie the royal family to the rest of the country. This arrangement would prevent the need for bribes and a blasé attitude toward Israel. God's way is for the leadership to have more possessions in return for more responsibility.

God gave land to the resident aliens among Israel.

This is a very big shift from the first time Israel settled Canaan. God would open His Temple to the nations and open His Land to people who will set things right. The reason He wanted the previous inhabitants to be driven out was because they worshiped other gods. God has not changed—the people living in the land have changed. God accepts anyone willing to set things right.

God prepares for His Chosen People to return.

Similarly to the first time God parceled out Israel's land, God wanted to make sure they knew where they were to go. For a god who punished His chosen People for disobeying Him, He cares enough to plan their return. That is the greatest comfort we can get from this book—God cares enough for His Chosen People that He will prepare their way when they exit their punishment.

What did you think of Ezekiel?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11 - Ezekiel 44-45: God Separates the Holy from the Common

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 44-45

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would only accept worship from people circumcised both physically and in the heart.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

We came to a gate. "God went through this gate. It must remain locked. The Prince may only sit and eat with God."
God's Glory filled the Temple. "Pay attention to My instructions for the Sanctuary. Israel broke my trust by bringing people uncircumcised in heart or body in to My Sanctuary.
"Only the family of Zadok can offer sacrifices to Me. They were the only family that did not abandon Me.
"The priests are to model the difference between unclean and clean. Tell the princes to stop taking advantage of My People. Honesty must reign.
"Observe the festivals."

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

Israel broke trust with God by bringing people who were not dedicated to Him setting all things right in to the Temple.

God makes it plain to Ezekiel that His Sanctuary is not for just anyone to come inside. His sanctuary is only for those who are willing to set things right. Physical circumcision does not necessarily mean a person wants to set things right but all of God's Chosen People must be circumcised. If they are not, they lose the tangible sign of the covenant and can forget who they are—as did the Israelites. Therefore, God reiterates that His Policy is only circumcised people—in heart and body—can be in His Presence.
What does this mean for Christians today? We do not have a "Sanctuary" as the Temple (we will read that in the coming months), but we do have people closely associated with churches (groups of Chosen People dedicated to God setting all things right). I would suggest that we should encourage people who lead worship to be "circumcised" in heart and body before coming. The body part is not as big of an issue anymore. Being "circumcised in heart" is what churches struggle with today.

God wants a clean break between "holy" and "non-holy".

God wanted only certain priests whose family never worshiped other gods to offer sacrifices. The priests were to wear separate clothes when they were doing "holy" acts. Alcohol was prohibited in "holy" areas and at "holy" times. They could only marry "unspoiled" women. All of these were meant to show Israel the difference "between the holy and the common, to show them how to discern between unclean and clean" (44:23, The Message). God wishes to be separated from "common" things. It was a sign that God's Chosen People should be different than the nations around by being wholly for Him.
What does this mean for us today? We should keep separate things that are dedicated to God and things that are not. We should not mix alcohol and worship. We should try to keep times to worship God separate from all other things we do. However, this does not mean we should separate church from life. When we do that, we are susceptible to dualism and making the church seem unnecessary.

Are you circumcised in heart and body?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 10 - Ezekiel 42-43: God Shows Ezekiel the Meaning of the Temple

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 42-43

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's and yesterday's readings chronicle Ezekiel's vision of the Temple in Honor of God-2.0. If you are behind, scan the first chapter and read the second.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God wants Israel to see how the Temple should be so they will change their lives and obey Him again.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The man lead me back outside into the courtyard. Last we measured the wall separating the holy from the not-holy.
At the east gate I saw the Glory of God! A voice inside the Temple spoke to me, "Ezekiel, this is where I will live with Israel forever. No one will ever set up shrines to no-gods in here as they once did.
"Ezekiel, remind Israel of the past so they can learn from their mistakes. Challenge them to live by both its design and its intent."
God showed me the altar and gave instructions on how to offer sacrifices.

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

God shows Ezekiel the Temple as it should be to help give Israel a goal.

Israel had not worshiped God properly in over 400 years. They eventually brought their other gods into the Temple. God shows Ezekiel how He wants Israel to rebuild the Temple. This goal for their worship center would be a goal similar to the Law of Moses was for their life. We work best when we have a goal we are working for.

God wanted Israel to obey the letter and intent of the Temple.

God's use of the Temple was meant for Israel to have a physical representation of His Presence with them. His Presence would help them understand they were lighthouses to the world. When they saw other gods they would reject them and worship God alone. They would set things right and the nations would give up their no-gods and obey God. The focus of the Temple was not on the physical design alone. God wants us to understand both the design and intent of His Law.

Do you want to obey the intent of God's Law?

Monday, September 9, 2013

September 9 - Ezekiel 40-41: God Shows Ezekiel the Temple 2.0

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 40-41

The Message

English Standard Version

Today's and tomorrow's readings chronicle Ezekiel's vision of the Temple in Honor of God-2.0. Tomorrow we will understand the meaning behind the in-depth notes of these two chapters (plus one tomorrow). Remember, you are not going to be tested over the details in these chapters. If you are behind, scan today's reading.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jerusalem has been demolished for 25 years and completely burned 14 years. Ezekiel may not remember what the Temple looked like.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Twenty-five years after God removed us from our land (14 years after Jerusalem was completely destroyed) God gave me a vision. In this vision I travelled back into Israel's land and saw a city. Inside the city was a man with a measuring stick who asked me to pay close attention to what I saw and to tell Israel everything I saw.
We began outside the Temple complex then moved inside. I took copious notes. Then he brought me into the Temple itself to measure and observe. I saw the table that stood before God in the Holy Place.

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

Ezekiel has never seen the Temple as it should have been.

When we read Ezekiel's vision we can remember when Solomon built the Temple in Honor of God. It has only been three months since we read this section. For Ezekiel, the Temple has not been used for this purpose his entire life. From the days of Rehoboam (Solomon's son), the Temple in Honor of God was stripped of its majesty and eventually used to worship other gods. God shows Ezekiel what the Temple in Honor of God should look like. Tomorrow we will understand why God gave Ezekiel this vision.

What do you see in all the detail?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

September 8 - Ezekiel 38-39: God uses Gog to Show His Holiness to the Nations

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 38-39

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Gog would show the nations that Israel's enemies are God's enemies.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"Ezekiel, when Gog tries to rob My Chosen People, My Holiness will be in view for everyone.
"Gog, years ago I prophesied that I would defend Israel when you attacked. You will help the world see I am God as I defeat your army. It will take seven years to burn your spears and shields and seven months to collect and bury your dead.
"Ezekiel, call the animals! They will feast on Gog's army. The nations will understand Israel's unfaithfulness was to blame for their exile.
"Once I return My Chosen People from their exile, we will live face-to-face."

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

Gog's demise would show the nations God's Power.

God is redeeming His Name, as we read yesterday. Gog wanted to exploit these weak people by attacking and stealing what they had. God would show His Holiness for Israel by standing by them and defeating their enemy. God defeating an army the size of Gog's would show how powerful He was. God's punishment of Gog would prove His Allegiance and Power.

God would defend Israel to remind the nations that unholiness does not pay.

God would defend Israel this time because they had been stripped of their other gods. The Exile forced them to reconsider who they would worship. When they returned to their land and started setting all things right, He would bless them again. The nations would understand that blossoming crime would lead to punishment and blossoming goodness would lead to blessing.

Can you see God defending you?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

September 7 - Ezekiel 35-37: God Remains Wholly on Israel's Side to Show the Nations His Holiness

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 35-37

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God would not restore Israel because of their righteousness but because of His Holiness.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"Ezekiel, Mount Seir thought Israel's and Judah's land could be theirs. I will demolish them.
"Tell Israel's mountains they will grow large populations and tell Israel's valleys they will give life again.
"Israel sullied My Reputation. I will rebuild My Reputation when the nations see that I give Israel a new, clean heart. Then everyone will regret years of disobedience."
God brought to life a valley full of human bones. Israel would likewise rise again.
"I will rejoin Israel and Judah to show the nations that I made Israel holy when I become the center of their lives."

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

God would stay wholly for Israel.

Mount Seir thought God's removal of Israel meant their land was free to anyone. So they attacked a vulnerable, weakened remnant and took over some of the land. What they did, though, was bring God's punish on themselves because they looted Israel's (abandoned) towns. God was not finished with Israel, though. He would give them the land again. God's punishment of a group of people does not mean they are abandoned forever. God is wholly for His Chosen People because God is Holy.

God gave Israel their land because of His Holiness, not theirs.

Israel dirtied God's Reputation from the time He saved them from Egypt. Isaiah also mentioned God's reason to restore Israel was based on His Reputation, not their merit. God wanted to reset His Defining Act from the Exodus to the return from the Exile. God wanted the nations to see His Holiness, Reputation, and Name. Restoring Israel would be how they would see this. God wanted to make sure Israel did not believe they earned their return. God's Chosen People are blessed to show the world God is Holy, not that we are holy.

The nations would see that God made Israel's and Judah's relationship right.

God would take Judah's and Israel's "unholiness" away. He would give them a new heart and His Spirit. Famine would be removed. All would be well. His Servant would reign in righteousness. United Israel would obey God and God would greatly bless Israel. God would return to His Place of Worship. All of this would show the nations how awesome He is. God wants to set our relationship right so the nations will see His Holiness.

God would retake His Place as the center of Israel's worship.

Israel's problem is their unwillingness to worship God alone. This brought in a host of problems ranging from bad worship acts to murder in the streets. God wanted to contrast that lifestyle with the one that has Him as the center. That lifestyle sets things right and makes people a lighthouse for the nations. When God is the center of our worship, His Promises come true! This is why Israel would regret their years of disobedience. It's not a guilt trip—it's sadness over a missed opportunity!

Is God the center of your worship?

Friday, September 6, 2013

September 6 - Ezekiel 32-34: God vs. Egypt, Silent Watchmen, and Israel's Shepherds

Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 32-34

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Ezekiel cannot sit and watch God's warnings come true. He must act or be held accountable for Israel's punishment.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

"Babylon will lead a nation of brutes to destroy Egypt. Egypt will be buried without honors."
"Ezekiel, a silent watchman pays for spilled blood. Tell Israel each person will be judged on how they live.
"Israel thinks they deserve land because they come from Abraham. How absurd. They must realize I make that decision.
"Ezekiel, prophesy doom to the shepherds of Israel who scatter My Sheep. They're fired! I will shepherd My Sheep and separate the sheep from the goats. The strong sheep will no longer wreak havoc on the weaker sheep. Then they will know I am God."

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

Nations who think more highly of themselves than they ought crash.

Today's first chapter finishes the part brought up in yesterday's reading. God does not rejoice over Egypt's downfall. He laments. The reason Egypt, Assyria, Edom, and Meshech-tubal were destroyed was because their pride took control and made them believe they were greater than they really were. They experienced success that went to their head. Beware success—it may lead to the fatal idea that you are self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, Israel was not immune to this pride. They believed their ethnic identity guaranteed possession of Canaan. What they did not understand is God's Blessings come to those who set things right, not those who live under the Promise of Abraham. Silly Israel. It's a good thing we do not think like this.
Okay, so we do. How many people do we know who go through the motions (or fail to worship God at all) simply because they have been baptized and feel entitled to God's blessings? We are not guaranteed God's Blessings because we are one of God's Chosen People. We are guaranteed God's Blessings when we submit ourselves to His Way and set things right!

Watchmen who do not speak are held accountable.

This is the second time God used the image of a watchman to remind Ezekiel of his job. God tells His Chosen Messenger to warn Israel and Judah of their coming punishment. If they would not listen to him, their blood would be on their heads. If he did not tell them, their blood would be on his head. If you have a person within your sphere of influence whom you do not warn that their actions would bring punishment you will be held responsible. Remember, this is not about convincing them to change; it is about warning them of punishment to come.

God does not enjoy punishing the wicked.

Although I mentioned this earlier, I believe this point is important enough to repeat. God wants everyone to set things right. Because God wants to set all things right, He will respond in-kind. A good person who sins will be punished. A bad person who sets things right will be rewarded. If we cannot get our heads around that, we will miss God's entire Message throughout Scripture.

God would punish Israel's shepherds.

God's anger against Israel's shepherds comes as a result of their unwillingness to promote righteousness and their willingness to oppress others. They were unwilling to do what God called them to do and therefore God would punish them. Leaders are responsible for setting the proper example of setting things right.

God would become Israel's Shepherd.

God would go after them. God would rescue them. God would bring them home. God would feed them. God would protect them from predators. God would not allow the strong to bully the weak. If God wants to set all things right and leaders set the example most people follow, God will be the leader to set an example of setting all things right. God wants to be our Shepherd and set things right in our flock.

Do you want God to be your shepherd?