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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 31 - Revelation 19-22: God Sets Everything Right in the End

Today’s Reading: Revelation 19-22

The Message

English Standard Version

Today is the last reading. What a journey! Tomorrow I will post a few thoughts on reading throughout the year. But today—let's finish this!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Curse is lifted and people who have set things right reign with God forever!

Summary in 100 Words or Less

A rider called "the Word of God" defeated the Beasts, the Dragon, and their followers.
A thousand years later, the Dragon and his army stood for one last, epic battle. God burned them all in a flash.
The world was judged by how they lived.
God moved into the neighborhood with His Children forever.
I, John, saw a bejeweled city without temple or sun. The curse was lifted!
Blessed are the ones who wash their robes! Drink of the Water of Life!
Warning: additions and subtractions to this book will be punished.
Come, Jesus! May His Grace be with you.

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

God set everything right in the end.

John offered solace to a group of people under great persecution. The Dragon and the Beasts symbolized Caesar and his rulers while their followers were people who wanted easier lives by going along with emperor worship. John wants Christians in Asia to know Caesar will not win in the end. God will defeat him. The epic battle, a thousand years in the making, turns out to be a slaughter of all evil while God loses not a single soldier. No group will ever defeat God. God will always defeat His Enemy.

God sets everything right in the end.

The followers of the Dragon and the Beasts are defeated alongside their icons. The world stands to hear God's Judgment. God judges the world based on how each person acts. The ones who set things right reign with Him forever. The ones who do not are thrown into the (metaphorical) lake of fire. Whether it is a literal lake or not is unknown—and unimportant.

God will set everything right in the end.

The vision of the new Jerusalem and the perfected Earth are so wonderful we can only hope they are as close to reality when the time comes. A city decked in jewels, with gold so abundant the roads are paved with it; a place where there are no places an enemy can attack; a city with no tears, pain, sickness, or sorrow. There is no temple or sun because they are unnecessary—God lives with His People and is their Light! The Tree of Life is back—the curse is lifted! The story starts anew, but this story will never have a serpent. God will set everything right and live with His People forever! Amen!

Come, Lord Jesus! Come!

Monday, December 30, 2013

December 30 - Revelation 12-18: The Dragon and the Beasts Mimic God with Disastrous Results

Today’s Reading: Revelation 12-18

The Message

English Standard Version


Thought to Guide Your Reading

God's Enemy mimics God, gains a huge following, and is defeated handily.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

A Dragon attempted to kill a Woman giving birth to a Child. The Dragon was thrown to Earth and chased the Woman.
Two Beasts appeared and gave their followers a mark: 666.
The Lamb appeared for His Hour of Judgment between God's and the Beasts' followers.
Seven disasters would finish God's Wrath. God's Faithful Followers sang praises.
The Beasts' followers refused to honor God.
God's enemies were defeated in an instant at Armageddon.
I, John, learned the meaning of the visions. People will wage war against God's Chosen People but be defeated.
Babylon and all her followers will be defeated!

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

The Dragon and the Beasts mimic God.

The Dragon knocked stars out of the heavens. The Beasts had heads which were brought back from the dead. They all mimic the Lamb of God and the Angels of God. They perform magic tricks which lure their followers in. They try to look like God though they speak against Him in every way possible.
This vision shows an important way God's Enemy tries to defeat the world. If God's Enemy can appear to be like Him, He can take unsuspecting and ignorant followers into whoring and other terrible acts. It presents a difficult problem for us—how can we tell the difference in God's Messengers and the Beasts'? Those who are willing to publicly confess that Jesus is resurrected are God's Messengers. To John's readers, the designation is clear—Nero(n) Caesar is God's Enemy, the Antichrist. To us it is less clear but easily testable.

The Dragon and the Beasts amassed a large harem.

Since these people do not want to honor God, God's Enemy becomes very popular. So popular, in fact, that he can control the economy and blacklist people unwilling to get his mark. Many people will flock to join God's Enemy.

God defeats our Accuser.

What makes God's Enemy's defeat wonderful for God's Chosen People is that he is also our enemy. He stands before God telling how we do not set things right. God doesn't defeat him to squash a mosquito. God defeats His Enemy, the Accuser, to set our relationship right!

The Beasts' followers never wish to honor God.

Before we feel sympathy for the people who suffer the seven plagues, remember that each plague is meant to lead them to change and return to God. God does not want to punish them but they give Him no choice. He must have things set right and anyone against that will be punished.

How would it feel knowing you have no prosecuting attorney against you?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

December 29 - Revelation 6-11: Seven Seals and Seven Trumpets Show God's Power

Today’s Reading: Revelation 6-11

The Message

English Standard Version

Two days to go!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God shows His Dominion over the earth.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

The Lamb removed the first seal: a conqueror.
The second seal: peace ceased.
The third seal: famine.
The fourth seal: death to a quarter of the earth.
The fifth seal: martyrs cried for vengeance.
The sixth seal: pandemonium. God's People were marked for protection. Crowds washed in Jesus' Blood praised God.
The seventh seal: silence.
Seven trumpets unleashed devastation. The fifth killed one-third of the earth. The survivors continued without a thought. God would allow His People to be killed but would raise them from the dead. The sixth trumpet.
The seventh trumpet brought God's peaceful Reign to the earth.

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

God shows His Dominion.

In one last-ditch effort to show the world His Power and Might, He opens seven seals and has seven trumpets blown to usher in the awesome signs of His Ability. These are acts done so the world can compare His Rule to the angel of the Abyss, as seen in tomorrow's reading.

The world continues on blithely dismissive of the acts they see.

Tucked away in the passage is a short snippet where John writes how people in the world never changed their way of life or their objects of worship. They were too stubborn change anything.

The seventh seal and trumpet brought God's Rule.

The first six seals and trumpets brought death and destruction to the world. The seventh brought peace. The seventh brought God's rule. God's Rule means peace and tranquility!

What would it take for you to take notice and change your life?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

December 28 - Revelation 1-5: God will Set All Things Right in the End so Endure Until Then

Today’s Reading: Revelation 1-5

The Message

English Standard Version

We've read 65 books! Only one to go which will last four days!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Don't focus on the numbers or the visions. Focus on the message.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God's message through John to Asian churches:
Glory to Christ, eternal Priest! No one will escape His Return.
While on Patmos, Jesus compelled me to write what I saw and heard in a vision.
To persistent Ephesus: return to Me. Listen!
To libeled Smyrna: never give up. Listen!
To bold Pergamum: remove saboteurs. Listen!
To impressive Thyatira: change and receive a reward. Listen!
To dead Sardis: stop napping. Listen!
To steadfast Philadelphia: keep going. Listen!
To lukewarm Laodicea: buy from Me. Listen!
I saw the Throne-room of Heaven where every living thing praised God. The resurrected Lamb opened God's Scroll.

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

The purpose of the Revelation is to tell Christians that God will set all things right in the end.

Welcome to the playground of most conspiracy theories and off-the-wall theologies known to Christianity. We cannot blame them, since the Revelation (not RevelationS—pet peeve alert) does have quite a lot of imagery which seems ripe for picking and using in whatever idea you have cooking. Yet they—and Christians in general—focus on the wrong part of the book. The Revelation is not a book of encoded messages for readers thousands of years in the future. The Revelation is a letter to Christians to let them know their current persecution will last only so long before God sets it right. John uses imagery, visions, and other circuitous routes to bypass his Roman guards. To spend time on the numbers, the images, and John's commentary divorced from the overall message misses John's purpose. They had meaning to the original audience (24 = 12 Apostles + 12 tribes of Israel, many illusions coming from the the Prophets, etc.), which we will discuss a sampling, but the meanings are meant to help them realize that Caesar is not God. He will not win in the end and God will bring him to his knees:
Riding the clouds, [Jesus] will be seen by every eye,
   those who mocked and killed him will see him,
People from all nations and all times
   will tear their clothes in lament.
   Oh, Yes. (1:7, The Message)
Governments and other individuals/groups that grow in power and (self) importance eventually rival God. The message of the Revelation stays the same for us, though we should not look for a play-by-play description of what will happen in the near future. Some of the broad patterns repeat but the specific images are not the same.

The seven churches suffered different issues and were successful at varying degrees.

We should take heart that these groups had some things right, some things wrong, and Jesus wanted them to get better. No matter how bad we think of ourselves, God can still use us if we are willing to submit to Him.

Jesus has a level of Holiness all His own.

John wept when he realized no one was pure enough to open the Seals. Yet John was wrong—there was One worthy to open the Seals—Jesus! The amazing animals which had amazing power sang praise to the weak, resurrected Lamb. Only Jesus is worthy of our honor, praise, and glory!

Remember the vision of Jesus at the Throne of Heaven.

In the next few days we will read how the enemy mimics God in order to supplant Him.

How do you need to see that God is going to set all things right in the end?

Friday, December 27, 2013

December 27 - 2 John; 3 John: Loving and Inviting Christians into Your Home

Today’s Reading: 2 John; 3 John

The Message

English Standard Version

You have been reading the Bible now for 360 days. Only five to go! What a journey through Scripture!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

John wants both groups (or tells the same group twice) to be careful of people who do not love their neighbor as themselves.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

2 John

The Elder to my dear congregation: Everyone in the Truth loves you.
May grace, mercy, and peace come through truth and love from the Father and Son!
I am thrilled that you live the Truth. Conduct your lives in love. You know this already because it never changes.
There are many who deny Jesus was human. They are the Antichrist! Don't be influenced by them. If you stop believing in Jesus you stop believing in God. Don't let them in!
Let's speak face-to-face soon. Everyone here greets you.

3 John

The Elder to Gaius:
I love you, friend! I pray for your fortune, health, and soul. News of my children's faithfulness always brightens my day.
Hospitality shows your faith—a good work worthy of God. By helping passing Christians when unbelievers wouldn't you joined in their work.
Diotrephes questions my advice. He will answer for spreading rumors and throwing out travelling Christians. Don't join this evil! They know nothing about God.
Good for Demetrius, he excels in the Truth.
I'll have more to say in person.
Peace and greetings from us to you.

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

We obey God by loving others.

Just as John wrote, there isn't much new in this book. There isn't much new for me to comment on, either. We know loving is how we obey God from several sections already. It is the basic command that never changes.

To deny Jesus as human and divine is to walk away from God.

Yesterday we read how the Antichrist is someone who denies Jesus was divine. Today John adds that a person who denies Jesus was human is anti-Christ. We cannot choose what we want from God. We must have all of Him or none of Him.

Don't invite people who deny Jesus' humanity or deity to teach—no matter how interesting they may be.

The reason is simple—we do not want their influence on our lives. That doesn't mean we stay away from them completely, though. We simply do not give them a place of influence. That is very different than having conversations as equals.

Hospitality is very important to God.

John has nothing but good things to say about Gaius' hospitality. It is worthy of God's Work. God's Chosen Messengers deserve to be taken care of by His Chosen People. The world will not do it, so it is our job to do it. Diotrephes had a lot to answer for because he showed no hospitality to God's Messengers. Show hospitality for God's Chosen People travelling through. They deserve any support we can give them.
I have stayed in many Christians' homes, sometimes for extended stays. Their willingness to share part of their lives with me can never be taken away from them and I will always stay grateful of their sacrifice. May it continue!

Have you any stories of great hospitality shown to you?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

December 26 - 1 John: Want to Commune with God? Love Each Other

Today’s Reading: 1 John

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

John is not afraid of the "s-word", but he also does not want people to confuse it with the "l-word".

Summary in 100 Words or Less

We saw the Word of Life. If we walk in God's pure Light our sins—brought into the light—are taken away. You are in God when you obey. Warning, the world separates you from God.
Antichrists deny Jesus is Divine.
God's True Children, like Jesus, sacrifice themselves for each other. Practice real, non-condemning love.
Believe only teachers who openly confess faith in Jesus.
God's Spirit is greater than the world's.
Reflect God's Love. Walking God's Way proves we are His.
Everything points to Jesus as God—stop doubting. Boldly and freely interact with God. Guard against all imitation gospels.

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

We seek to experience communion with God.

John's first letter centers around being in and with God. We tend to see his letter as a strange, esoteric foray into spirituality. Though when you read it as a whole you realize that is is more theoretical than esoteric. There are practical ways to do what John encourages these people to do. John doesn't mention them because he expects them to flesh them out. All of them center around one point—communing with God. We want to be in God's presence. We want God to acknowledge our presence. The way is not found in losing everything, emptying our minds, and giving up all urges.

Communion with God is found by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Okay, I'm mixing Jesus' Words with John's. The point is still the same—communion with God is found when we love others, not when we hate ourselves. The tests all involve love. The world separates us from God because it teaches selfish love. God is pure Light—Love. There is no darkness—hatred—with God. We cannot hate others and say we are in the light. When we love our neighbor as our self we commune with God.

God wants to remove barriers to communing with Him but we must be willing to put them up for his removal.

The reason stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge sin prevents communion with God is that we are not willing to let the barriers go. If we let them go, God will remove them. The Light will shine on us again and we will be purged of our mistakes. God wants to set your relationship with Him right. Give up the barriers by bringing them to the light.

The Antichrist is anti-Christ.

We love to make complicated, Hollywood-style dramas out of the Bible. The Antichrist or antichrists has been blown so out of proportion that most influential people are eventually called the Antichrist by their enemies. The Antichrist and antichrists are easy to spot. There is one, simple test: Do they publically confess that Jesus is God? If they do, they aren't. If they won't, they are. The important thing—and the part most people ignore—is that anyone can be antichrist. All you need to be is anti-Christ.

The person who acts right is right.

Christians have an epidemic of doubt. This doubt is not doubting whether God exists, Jesus is God, or if God will actually set all things right—though many do doubt these things. The epidemic of doubt is if we are righteous or not. It comes from the fear that since we cannot earn back our relationship with God, we can never know if that relationship is right or not. John sets that doubt and fear aside by writing that those who act righteous are righteous. Their righteousness still comes from God and we have not "earned" it. But we are righteous nonetheless! If you want to know you are righteous, do righteous things. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Then you will know you are righteous. The opposite is true, as well. You can never be righteous when you do not love your neighbor as yourself.

God's Spirit is greater than any other spirit.

The concept of God being greater, stronger, and longer-lasting than anything people want to defeat Him will be the central driving force behind John's Revelation. There is nothing that can prevent you from being in communion with God. Nothing can separate us from God's Love. God's Spirit is too strong.

Those who commune with God have great prayer-power.

God will act when people who commune with Him—by loving their neighbor as their self—ask Him to act. This isn't magical, it's based on the fact that as we submit to God we pray for His Will. As we pray for His Will to be done our prayers are answered. Those who pray against God's Will are the ones who think God will somehow be magically forced to grant their wishes because they are God's Chosen People.

Has the Message sunk deep into your life?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 25 - 2 Peter, Jude: Building God's Chosen People to Resist Dangerous Teachers

Today’s Reading: 2 Peter; Jude

The Message

English Standard Version

Merry Christmas! I hope today brings you with family you love or a job which is helpful to those you serve.

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Both Peter and Jude warn against people who want to infiltrate God's Chosen People with bad intentions.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

2 Peter

Peter to people with God's life-changing experiences:
Keep answering God's Invitation to know Him. Each quality you install leads to a better one. I'll never stop reminding you of this.
Everything we—firsthand witnesses—write is from God.
Not everyone is this honest. These people are absolutely the worst. They promise Life but provide enslavement.
Ignorant people will mock God waiting for the world to prepare for His Return. At that point everything will change lightning-quick.
Live wholly for God. Paul mentions this, though he is misinterpreted by the hooligan teachers.
Grow in grace and understanding. Glory now and forever!


Jude, James' brother, to those God loves and protects in Christ:
Keep fighting for the faith that sets our relationship with God right. Some are replacing God's Grace in Jesus. God punished people who did that in the past and will do it again with these teachers.
I'm sick of their underhanded methods! They are warts on our group. Sorry teachers have been around since Enoch. They lead people down paths of destruction through lust, selfishness, and cynical joking.
Build yourself for real Life, going easy on people's mistakes.
To Jesus be glory, majesty, strength, and rule forever and ever!

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

Peter and Jude write to people who have had life-altering experiences with God.

We do ourselves a disservice when we make obeying God such a head-knowledge affair. God's Way is meant to be lived, not understood. Both of these writers want to encourage their readers to continue growing by living, not by reading and studying. Peter wants them to develop lives that live the Message by adding dimensions of faithfulness. Jude tells them to build themselves in faith through prayer, ready to receive God's Mercy. We should do the same.

Scriptures are not for our interpretation. They are the writings of people who were there.

The most reliable testimony comes from people who were present when the events took place. Scripture was written by people who were there when Jesus lived, died, returned from the dead, and ascended to be with God. We should not question their understanding or think we have more information which makes our opinions better than theirs. Scripture should be read and taken for face value. The writers had help from God's Spirit and their firsthand knowledge to write the truth. Any outside aid (like this one) should help us understand the text for today, not give reasons we should disregard it and act in a different way.

God will punish teachers out to make their name great at the expense of God's Name.

Peter has to boldly denunciate these people as exploiters because they are unwilling to teach people to set things right. Instead they try to make their name great, turning people into slaves to their doctrines. Both Peter and Jude warn that these teachers will be punished like God punished in the past. The teachers may not receive their comeuppance while living but they would when they died. They are different than Paul's opponents because they preached Christ. These people teach people to do whatever they want under the name "Jesus". Beware people who teach a doctrine of anything goes or strict adherence to rules. Neither help you set your relationship with God right. However, before we completely write them off as kooks who most people would disregard, remember that their message of doing whatever you want with God's approval is more popular than the discipline of God's Way because people want to do whatever they want to do. These ministers may want larger paychecks, more notoriety, and the earthly satisfaction that loose lifestyles bring.

God takes a long view of time.

God's timing is not the same as ours. Paul and Peter thought Jesus would return within their lifetimes or shortly after. Two thousand years later we are still here. One of the greatest struggles Christians have with belief in God and faith that He will set things right in the end is the fact that Jesus has still not returned. Yet Peter warns us that God does not work on our time. God's View is long-term—He wants the entire world to obey Him before Jesus returns.
There are groups of Chinese Christians who take an interesting view of passages such as these. They note the westward expansion of the Gospel—from the Middle East to Europe and Africa, to the Americas, then to Asia. They wish to return the Gospel to the Middle East by sending Christian workers from Asia into countries that would not allow missionaries and/or would be suspicious of Europeans. By doing this, they feel they will have completed the cycle—back to Jerusalem—and will facilitate Jesus' Return. Whether or not their goal will happen based on their work is unknown, but their means are laudable. Either way, the truth remains that God wants the entire world to obey Him before Jesus returns. We pray that that will happen soon!

What life-altering experiences with God have shaped your life?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

December 24 - 2 Timothy: The Prisoner Prepares His Son to Pass on the Message

Today’s Reading: 2 Timothy

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

This may have been Paul's last letter. He writes as a person who is resigned to his fate and making sure his work continues through his spiritual descendants.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to Timothy, my son:
I miss you. God has worked in us through Jesus. This is the Message. Guard it well. Pass it to people who will pass it on. It always stays the same. Warn against nitpicking and promote walking the talk.
Run to maturity, patient with the immature.
Soon people will be outwardly religious but not set things right but they will not last long. Scripture is God-breathed and fully prepares us for God's Tasks.
Never give up teaching the Message.
I'm ready to die as an offering to God.
Come soon.
God's Grace be with you.

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

The Message of Jesus is that He is working in us all the time.

God doesn't work only in people who are Christians. He works continuously in everyone in the world. He worked in Saul before he changed to become Paul, the Ambassador to the Gentiles. God worked in Timothy through his mother and grandmother. God wants to set all things right and is working now. Our job is to help people acknowledge God's Work in them and live accordingly.

Paul encouraged Timothy to pass on the Message to people willing and able to pass the Message on.

In church-planting movements the goal of a church planter is not to plant many churches. The goal of a church planter is to find people willing to pass on the Message and to teach them. They are the ones who plant churches. If they are unwilling to share the Message with others the church planter moves on to someone else. The reason is because people unwilling to pass on the Message will not keep God's Message alive. It dies with them. God's Message reproduces when people are willing to teach others willing to teach others.
One of the biggest issues churches have today is the fact that most members, though they think passing along the Message is important, keep the Word inside. This leads to a dilemma for preachers—do we continue teaching people who are sponges or do we leave them alone and find people willing to share? I would love churches to hold people accountable for passing on what they learn from the Bible. It is a great help for both the teacher and the learner.

God's Chosen People do not get caught up in worldly affairs or nitpick on doctrine.

We concentrate on setting things right for God the best we can. If we walk in that way, we will be truly religious.

Many people will never mature in God.

Paul's final warnings to Timothy are for him to watch out for people not content with the Message. It sounds too simple for many. They want a conspiracy, rules, a fun story, or an excuse to do whatever they want. Paul wants Timothy to watch out for these people and hold firm to the simple Message. He is to be mature, even when other people are not.

2 Timothy is a very humanizing book.

Earlier I wrote how these epistles are letters, not doctrinal statements. Nowhere in the New Testament is this truer than 2 Timothy. Paul is alone and knows his execution is coming. He wants to give Timothy one final encouragement before it comes. He doesn't know if they will ever see each other again. This is why he is steadfast about Timothy holding strong to the Message in the face of opposition. He knows that Timothy will soon be without his spiritual father. These words are meant to motivate Timothy to defend the Message for the rest of his life.

John Mark redeemed his work.

The first time we meet John Mark he was picked up by Paul and Barnabas but abandoned them on their first trip. Paul was so against working with him later that Barnabas and Paul split up on their next trip. Yet in Paul's last letter he tells Timothy to bring John Mark because he will become Paul's assistant. If this John Mark is the same as Mark found in 1 Peter, Peter considered him a son. He may have been the one to write the Gospel of Mark. When we trust God, God can mature us to great works even if we have a bad start. What a great redemption story!

How is God working through you?

Monday, December 23, 2013

December 23 - Hebrews 11-13: Faith in God and God's Discipline

Today’s Reading: Hebrews 11-13

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God's Discipline is meant to help us stay focused on faith.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Faith, trusting the existence of something or someone we cannot see, distinguished our ancestors because they knew their home was in Heaven. Set your eyes on Jesus, the one who finished the race first.
God's Discipline is for His Children. Embrace His Training and help each other through it. He removes what separates us because He cares for us.
Love and help each other as much as possible. Honor marriage and keep it holy. Be content with your possessions. Respect your leaders. Be "outsiders" to the world. Worship God through helping others.
Pray for us.
May God bless you.

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

Faith is trusting in something that we cannot prove.

One of the coolest parts of teaching in China was the fact that even though we grew up on the other side of the globe from each other, no one rejected this definition of faith. When they realized that their beliefs in science, economics, Chinese cultural facts, etc. were based on faith they realized that religion wasn't so strange after all. Everyone has faith in something. The proper question is not "do you have faith?" The proper question is, "What do you have faith in?" What your faith is in will ultimately decide how far you can go. When we put our full faith in God, nothing is too difficult.

Without faith in God it is impossible for God's Chosen People to please Him.

This is the concept that got Israel in trouble for so many generations. They thought as long as they kept the rituals it didn't matter if they had faith in God. God wanted them to realize that concept was the opposite—God cares not for what we do ritually but if we have faith in Him. This is essential for the church to understand. Unless we realize that we must fully trust God to set things right we cannot fully please Him.

The faith of our (spiritual) ancestors are connected to ours.

We have a tendency to turn Bible characters into demigods whose faith and actions we could never match. The issue is that although their lives were extraordinary, their faith was not. They cannot have more faith than us. The difference between them and others in their age is that they were willing to keep going in their faith even though it meant strange or painful outcomes. If we keep our focus on God we can be connected to our spiritual ancestors—including Jesus! It is this connection which keeps us running toward Jesus even when it is difficult. It is this connection which makes us want to take off our training weights and excess fat to run the race better.

God disciplines us because He loves us.

Christians have a difficult time accepting God's Discipline. We want to lie, cheat, steal, and do all of the things the world gets away with. In reality, this is the most difficult, yet important aspect of obeying God. Having the right words, the right intentions, and the right teachings mean nothing if we do not act on those words, intentions, and teachings. When we mature we realize God's Discipline was preparing us to live with Him all along. Parents prepare their children for grownup lives through discipline. God prepares us for grownup faith-lives through discipline.

God removes everything that separates us from Him.

I have written on this more times than I care to look up and link. God wanted His Chosen People to have a direct link to Him. He shook the earth, removed the barriers between us, and removed all of the religious buildup which we hid behind to shield ourselves from God's Discipline. I believe this is what is happening now. We have a large number of people leaving churches and going back to the source—God. Our challenge is to be challenged by them and help each other set things right.

Leaders deserve respect and should have things made easier for them.

Church leadership is often voluntary or part-time work. Making things harder by arguing, going behind their backs, or not complying with their decisions shows a lack of faith in God, not discernment on the part of the member(s). Remember, God does not want elders to lord over their flock. God also does not want the flock to lord over their elders.

Whose faith give you inspiration to set things right?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

December 22 - Hebrews 7-10: Jesus Made Our Intimate Presence with God Possible

Today’s Reading: Hebrews 7-10

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus provided the religious sacrifice which ended all religious sacrifices, thus ending the rule of religion and starting His Rule.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Melchizadek, the priest of unknown lineage, who gave Abraham a blessing in return for 10% of his spoil, models Jesus' Priesthood. Jesus' Sacrifice set things right for everyone. He now resides alongside God.
Jesus' new Plan is written on everyone's hearts. We know God firsthand. With Jesus there is no longer ritual separation. Everyone dies once but only Jesus' Death set everything right.
Therefore, confidently approach God. Push each other to set things right during times of worship. God's Judgment is no walk in the park if we give up on Him.
Keep trusting God as you did at first.

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

Jesus is our High Priest based on merit, not lineage.

There is no nepotism with God. Jesus is our High Priest because He lived a blameless life. Jesus is our High Priest because He was willing to become the sacrifice offered to set things right. No animal sacrifice is needed with Jesus. He is the sacrifice. Because of Jesus' willingness to sacrifice His perfect Life He has become our High Priest.

God's Plan is written on our hearts.

The Law of Moses required passing from generation to generation because it was a works-based religion: sacrifices, festivals, "clean" vs. "unclean" items, etc. Jesus' Law is not based on actions; it's based on the heart. Everyone knows they should set things right. The problem is that we decide to suppress that Truth to the point that it no longer guides us. So we need people to help guide us back to God, to remove the barriers between us and God. We do not need people to tell us God's Plan.

We can come right into the Presence of God!

The Tabernacle and Temple were erected so Israel would know there was something between them and God—as they requested. Now we need no barriers between us and God. Jesus serves as the translator between us. It should lead us to realize God cares so much that He invites us into an intimate relationship with Him.

Jesus became the one Sacrifice for our mistakes so we would stop focusing on them.

The problem with sacrifices was that they constantly reminded Israel that they did not keep the Law of Moses. Because they were reminded so often it caused them to continue to break the Law. This was the major weakness with the Law of Moses. Jesus' Sacrifice became the sacrifice for our mistakes. We no longer need to focus on what we have done in the past. They are gone. We are free!
Some may question that idea and suggest that we should be reminded of what we did wrong so we will not forget and repeat our errors. I think the writer of Hebrews would suggest that we will never fully mature until we are willing to stop shaming ourselves for what we did in the past. The author wants us to move past dead works and into Life with Jesus. We can only do that once we realize Jesus has fulfilled them all and sets us free to live in Him.

Our meetings are meant to be opportunities for us to push each other to love and good works, not prevent each other from dead works.

As a member of a church—especially as a member of the churches of Christ—I had Hebrews 10:25 pounded into my skull. We should not, under any circumstance (except sickness) miss worship services. If we did we were sliding towards unfaithfulness and could sin. I read a book (I don't remember the title) where the author boasted that the only time he had ever missed Sunday worship was the day he graduated from basic training and was physically prevented from going. Even then he felt bad because he knew he should have been worshiping somewhere. It wasn't until university that I started reading this passage in its context and read Hebrews 10:24. Through that verse I realized the purpose of meeting together is not to go through our rituals (dead works). The purpose of meeting together is to help each other love and do living works. When I realized we were meant to challenge each other I changed my entire view on worship. I no longer felt like missing meant I was backsliding into turning my back on God. I realized that missing meant I was turning my back on the other people who needed me to bring my ideas and experiences of loving and doing good works to help them find new ways to love and do good works. What I have realized, however, is that we almost never do this. We are so focused on dead works—stopping what leads to death, convincing people to be baptized, and warning sinners of the coming Resurrection and Judgment—that we almost never talk about how we set things right in the past week. Push everyone you know to love and to do good things for others. Stop splicing Greek words to figure out if something is a sin or not. Invent new ways to set things right through innovation teams at your church.

Do you boldly come into God's Presence?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December 21 - Hebrews 1-6: Focus on Jesus, the Only One Worthy of Our Focus

Today’s Reading: Hebrews 1-6

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus is greater than all that came before Him. The writer of Hebrews wanted us to see the different things Jesus is superior to.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

God spoke through Jesus who rules next to Him forever. We must hold this Message: Jesus released us from the fear of death.
Jesus is the centerpiece of our beliefs. Listen and obey Him! That is the only way to get His ever-renewing Promise of Rest.
God chose Jesus because He humbled Himself to set everyone's relationships right.
This sounds complicated because you won't listen! Nothing can be done for a person who turns their back on God.
God made a Promise to Abraham and backed it with His unshakable Word. We hope to never let go of that Promise.

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

God spoke through Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews is contrasting Jesus with what many people replaced Him with. Today's reading looked at angels, Moses (the Law), and the high priest. God spoke through Jesus because He was greater than all of these: exalted (unlike the angels), gives rest (unlike the Law), and was perfect (unlike the high priests). Jesus deserves to be the focus of our faith because He is greater than any other focus we could have.

Jesus is in charge of setting our relationships right.

This is important for two reasons: 1) We need not look anywhere else to set our relationship right with God; and 2) we need not try to figure out who has their relationship right with God or not. The second is the most important because, as I alluded to yesterday, it frees us from having to make public proclamations of who is "saved" and who is not. If a person asks you, only answer if they are willing to do an honest self-examination.

Our biggest problem is not listening.

We are in good company, though. No entire group has ever fully listened to God—even the people God took out of Egypt eventually lost faith in Him. The writer has to repeatedly remind them that we must listen to join in the Promise. Listen to God and receive the Promises!
It is this problem that leads churches and preachers to preach the same topics over and over again. Because people do not listen, the congregation cannot get beyond the elementary doctrines. Let's not be that way! We should be people who get beyond convincing people to have faith in God to set things right and talk strategy to join Him in setting things right!

If a person experiences God's Goodness and still turns their backs to Him, there is nothing left for God to do.

This section scared me growing up. I was afraid I would be baptized, make a mistake, and God would punish me for eternity. That isn't what this means at all. If we realize that it is another example of people hearing God and rejecting Him as mentioned earlier, we understand that the reason there is no hope for this person is because God has given the person everything He has and the person rejected it. What does God have left to give? He gave Jesus! It is similar to a farmer who tills, fertilizes, and irrigates the crop on a plot of land only to have it grow weeds. We can't blame the farmer for that sorry land. He did everything he could to make it grow. We should not blame God for people tasting and seeing Jesus and rejecting Him to their own peril.

Are you ready to get beyond lessons on how to trust in God to set things right and help other Chosen People set things right?

Friday, December 20, 2013

December 20 - 1 Peter: Expect Persecutions for Living the Life of Christ

Today’s Reading: 1 Peter

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Suffering because you did something wrong is justice. Suffering because you do something right is expected.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Peter to the scattered:
Resurrection makes life worth it. Persecutions refine faith.
Live differently than before. Join the living Stone as God's Instruments.
Be good citizens. Use your freedom in Christ to do good.
Wives, develop inner beauty. Husbands, treat your wives well.
Suffer for being good, not bad. Baptism cleanses your conscience, not your body.
Leave your old life and love like nothing else.
God is there in difficult times but has high standards.
Leaders, please God and stay content with your current power.
The Devil wants to pounce, so stay alert. It won't last forever.
Embrace God's Truth!

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

Persecution refines our faith.

Peter assures the dispersed Christians that their persecution is neither above God's Ability to save His Chosen People nor does it hurt their faith. Instead, their faith becomes stronger because it is tested. We learn through persecution what is essential to obey God and what is a rule we have added to "help" us get there. The refining power of fire makes us better people and more likely to set things right.
I would like to mention a pet peeve of mine, though. Some of the persecution Christians receive comes from our somewhat strange idea that we should proclaim every belief we have on everything topic to every person in the world. Our quest to make theology simple and thorough has led us to come out and tell people outside our sphere of influence every little belief we have about Jesus, God, the church, and everything else. Why do we do this? I can understand a group presenting their views to a visitor who wants to know, but I don't understand why Christians want to go on television and tell the world their particular view on a subject. It is unnecessary and only leads to more persecution—this time for angering others for having the wrong beliefs, not for setting things right. We should be persecuted because we help too many people, not because we decided to broadcast our views on communism, socialism, family values, homosexuality, racism, etc. to people who don't care about us. Tell these views, but keep them to your sphere of influence. The purpose of the Kingdom is to spread God's Influence over the entire world. That is not done by going on network news and complaining about the political topic de jour. We must learn to keep our opinions to ourselves unless around people within our sphere of influence. It is harder for a person to reject you and Jesus if a friend agonizes over a controversial stand right in front of them. We should expect persecution when we do give an answer to our hope, but we should not walk around goading others to persecute us.

We are in an enviable position.

As humans we have the limited ability to see God. We have faith that He exists. We live with the understanding that we can be wrong. The angels do not have that luxury. They are with God the entire time and thus will never experience faith. Living thousands of years after the events of the Bible took place helps us realize how much we need to trust God that what is here is His Way.

God is our Father—for both blessings and punishment.

God will not punish us for doing good. He will also never allow us to get by with doing evil. God has a high standard. This is why we go to the world and proclaim His Message. We want the world to live up to His Standard. We, too, will be held to that standard.

We live up to that standard for more than Heaven.

Some people obey God because they want to be in Heaven. Others obey because they do not want to go to Hell. Neither of these is a sufficient reason alone. We set things right because God paid for our punishment. We set things right because God is Love. We set things right because we should never tire of doing good. We set things right so our enemies will never have the ability to complain. We set things right to become instruments of God, shining light into dark places. Heaven will be a great place, no doubt, but we set things right for much greater reasons than that.

We should be fine, upstanding citizens, workers, and friends.

We are to respect authorities. We obey our managers/masters regardless of their respectability. We should use our freedom to exploit loopholes in laws to set things right, not for selfish gains. By doing these things we will bring honor to God and shut our enemies up. They won't be able to speak against us because many people will defend us—even godless people!

Baptism clears our conscience.

Baptism is meant to help us get past our past and become one of God's Ambassadors to the world. When we think of baptism beyond the magical binding-God-to-save-me act we realize it was meant for us, not us for it. Should God's Chosen People be baptized? Yes! Does that mean every single person in the world that has not been immersed is condemned to be forever without God? No.

Leaders are shepherds, not lords.

They are to help lead everyone to God's Way, not drive us in their way. They use tender words to sweetly push us to the right way. They do not give ultimatums or speak in "my way or the highway" language. God's Chosen Leaders show God's Way through example and encouragement, not pushing and threats.

Have you ever experienced an unexpected ally because you set things right?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December 19 - Titus: Paul Pushes Titus to Instruct in Life-Giving Practices

Today’s Reading: Titus

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul wants Titus to lead the congregation into a group that sets things right, not one that argues over religion.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to Titus:
I point the way to God's Life.
Appoint worthy leaders in Crete, not rebellious people who add unnecessary rules but break God's Rules.
Show people a disciplined life—young and old, men and women—so enemies become friends.
Slaves, show God through your character.
God shows everyone how to live a godly life, getting us ready for Jesus' Return.
Be firm on directing everyone's thoughts to essential doctrines, not the fine print. Cut off dividers.
Help everyone learn to work well so they will have enough for themselves and the needy.
Greetings and grace to everyone there.

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

Titus, like Timothy, had to deal with people teaching religion instead of God's

Paul's insistence that he taught God's Life at the beginning of the letter is not by accident. He compares it to those who add rules upon rules, increasing sin. Paul wants Titus to model, teach, and force the churches in Crete to observe God's Life. He even wanted Titus to cut off people who would not stop nitpicking doctrine. He has very many things to call them and none of them are good. Stay away from people who want to argue over religion!

"Solid doctrine" is not about worshiping right.

All of the things listed are character traits, not actions. Sound doctrine is about lives that set things right, not doing the religion right.

Older women should mentor younger women to be good wives. Older men should mentor younger men to be better men.

Paul wanted the older women to mentor younger women in how to love their husbands and be good wives. Older men should help younger men develop discipline. We have often split ministries and classes into age groups. I believe that split—provided there is not a separate time dedicated for mentoring—hinders older and younger men from gaining an equal respect for each other and helping each other set things right. Although class time is not sufficient on its own to mentor, it does send a message that we should stay with only people our age who are going through similar issues. It also cuts off access for younger and older people to mingle and get to know each other more. Mentor younger people one-on-one to live godly lives. Many of our teenage dropout rates could improve if we simply took the time to give them sufficient time to develop godly practices. Paul mentions one extra side-effect—our enemies will get to know us and see we're not as bad as they thought.

God's "readiness to give and forgive" provides the foundation for our courage.

Who could argue with a god who loved His Creation so much that He would call us when we were unwanted and mentor us into living His Life so that we could easily transition into His Kingdom? This god sacrificed Himself to set our relationships right. That god gives us courage! That god provides us with enough assurance to withstand uncomfortable situations and help others set their relationships right.

What mentoring have you seen/experienced?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 18 - 1 Timothy: Paul Warns Timothy of Troublesome Times

Today’s Reading: 1 Timothy

The Message

English Standard Version

We are down to two weeks! Only 14 days left before we finish reading the Bible in a year!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul tells Timothy to prepare for a battle against people teaching religion instead of God setting all things right.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to Timothy:
Defend against people who teach religiosity.
I want people to pray to God, not fight enemies; humble, not fashionable.
Men and women have different roles.
Leaders and servants must live holy lives to lead God's Household well.
Some will give up faith for rules.
You were given a ministry by your leaders. Mind your character and teaching and your maturity will shine.
Show respect. Take care of widows without family so they can pray.
Treat leaders well—monetarily and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Confront sin without favoritism. Appoint leaders slowly.
God's Grace keep you.

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

Timothy would soon be challenged with people preaching different gospels.

Timothy’s youth caused his confidence to wane. Paul wants to make sure he knows that his faith and trust in God are about to be tested. People will come with gospels of rules, “spiritual” tales, and caste systems. Some will come and prohibit eating certain foods and marriage. People who prohibit holy things are the problem. Timothy’s job is to defend the Message of Jesus’ Love.

Paul is an example of the Message of Jesus the Messiah.

Paul serves as an example of the Message of Jesus the Messiah because God’s Love and Jesus’ Grace called him to rekindle their relationship. They trusted him with the Message for the purpose of sharing it with the Gentiles. God did not ask him to teach the Law of Moses. God did not want him to replace the Law of Moses with another rule-based law. God wanted him to teach that He sets relationships right and we should respond by setting things right. Moral guidance is important but not in “thou shall” and “thou shall not” formats. They lead to more sin and more death. Paul had his relationship with God set right by love and grace, not law and ritual.

Men and women have different leadership roles.

Similar to the last two times we read Paul's thoughts on women and men, these words are quite controversial today. Like I wrote before, Paul does not mean women have no intelligence or voice. He means women should have a default state of submission. Men should not lord over women. Women should neither be forced into leadership roles (either by women or men) nor should they be silenced even when their gifts are to teach. Each congregation should look at their women and find the appropriate way to use their gifting.

Leaders and servants should be holy managers, not good managers.

Paul suggests that the leaders and servants of the congregation be wholly for God. They should be good managers, yes, but their most important traits are their character. A leader who is not holy is a ticking time bomb, waiting to blow up a congregation.

Maturity comes through making good choices over time.

Timothy's age prevents him from receiving full faith from the congregation. Paul wants him to know that although he should not let anyone bully him because of his youth, his maturity will shine if he continues growing in Jesus. When we grow in maturity, people will eventually see.

Widows without families of their own can dedicate themselves to prayer with the church's help.

In our constant need to debate the roles and qualifications of elders and deacons we completely neglect widows. There is only one congregation, the North Boulevard Church of Christ in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that I know of that has any form of a widows ministry where they will support widows so they can dedicate themselves to prayer. This is a largely untapped resource for churches. Widows have the time and ability to pray. Churches should help widows without a family spend their time in prayer. How much better could our congregations be when the widows spend their time praying for each member of the group instead of reminiscing over the old times?

How has your maturity shown during the years?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 17 - Philippians: The Prisoner Chooses Life to Focus on the Resurrection

Today’s Reading: Philippians

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul doesn't care why a person preaches Christ. All that matters is that they point to Christ. God will do the rest.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul and Timothy to Jesus-followers in Philippi:
I thank God because of your help. My imprisonment leads people to Jesus. Some preach for self-gain. So what? They preach Christ.
I desire a reunion with Christ but you need me more.
Just as Jesus became human for us, love each other sacrificially.
The usual: Believers live in God's Spirit. My religious credentials are rubbish. Focus on the Resurrection.
Euodia and Syntyche, get along. Syzygus, help them.
Celebrate God always! Fill your minds with good things.
I am always content. I have all I need—your help.
Receive and experience Jesus' Grace.

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

God used Paul's imprisonment to set relationships right.

In Daniel, God told Israel that they would be persecuted so the world would see an example of faithfulness. Paul is another fulfillment of that prophecy. His chains have not shaken his faith in Jesus as the Messiah ("Christ" is the Greek version of the Hebrew word "Messiah"). Because of Paul's faith, his guards know all about Jesus and Believers have had their faith assured. God uses persecution to show the world true faithfulness. If you feel persecuted and chained because of your faith, keep going. God may be showing the world how He works.

No one can preach Christ and point to themselves.

Paul's discussion of the people who preach for their own gain is interesting. He seems to think their motivations may be bad, but who cares! They preach Christ! God will have His Will done regardless of what they say. All they are doing is preventing their own reward, not the reward of people who are listening to them. No one can point to Christ and themselves at the same time. They either point to Christ and not themselves or to themselves and not Christ. Because of this Paul cheered them on. Better have more people know Jesus than bicker about someone's motivations.
Boy is this important for today! It almost seems the worst thing a preacher can be is popular and/or rich. Popular preachers get excoriated in every facet of their words, actions, lifestyles, incomes, and ministries. Rich theologians are considered an affront to the Gospel. We search for that one thing we disagree with and that blog post which becomes viral. We do such a great disservice to Christ when we discourage people from preaching the Gospel because they are afraid the platform will expose them to Christian snipers. Lighten up, people! Christ is being preached! I wonder what unchurched people think when they see Christians complain about preachers getting rich off of their teaching.
This brings me to the so-called "health and wealth gospel" I hear about. (Notice: Everything I write here will be ignorant and oversimplified. I have never sat down and listened to their programs for two reasons: 1. growing up I was indoctrinated that we do not watch other groups who teach the Bible in error—meaning anyone not "churches of Christ", and 2. I get bored easily watching sermons. Both of these are personal issues which limit my exposure to their teachings.) Unless they preach that their ministry/ministry head can save they point people to Christ. Do they have bad motives? Yes. Will they answer to God for those motives? Yes. But remember—we aren't their judge because we are not their master. Stop complaining about Christian preacher's motivations. They preach Christ!

In unity we defeat our real enemy—people who do not want to set things right.

The second reason Paul does not complain about the motivations of others is because we are to be united around Christ. We cannot defeat our enemy—this is war!—when we continue to wound each other. Paul uses Jesus as our example to emulate. He was God but died as a human to set our relationships right with God. By unifying the entire world behind His Sacrifice, He defeated our greatest enemy—death. When we are unified we can outlast our opposition. His humble obedience gave Him the Highest Seat where everyone in the world will one day bow before Him. One day, we can join Him if we humbly obey God.

Paul wants to be with Jesus but needs to stay with God's Chosen People instead.

Out of context, Paul's discussion of his want to die could sound like a person giving up. But instead it is a person who desperately wants to stay because he has more work to do. He exemplifies the Christian dilemma—living or dying are both great choices!

Real believers are those who live in God's Spirit.

Real believers are not the ones who worship God because they are God's Chosen People. Real believers are the ones who worship God because they see His Work in them and through them. It's not about baptism, church attendance, Bible memorization, or teaching ability. It's about living ability. Do you set things right? You are a real believer. Paul's religious upbringing and all he accomplished in the religious world he considered dog [censored]—the literal word used—because of Jesus. Don't hold on to the inferior brand of righteousness. Trust Christ, the embodiment of God's Righteousness!

We are citizens of Heaven waiting for God to take us home.

I love Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's famous quote, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience" (The Phenomenon of Man, 1955). Our goal is not for people to have healthcare, good jobs, nice houses, a strong, healthy church, or the right beliefs on a myriad of subjects—although they are nice to have. Our goal is to help each other keep our eyes on the goal—a new body when Christ returns. We must be ready for that body when it comes.

Paul is content anywhere he is.

What gives Paul a sense of happiness is that God is still with him and that his work still gives glory to God. When we are working for God, no physical lack or physical blessing can phase our happiness.

What are your motivations for living a godly life?

Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16 - Ephesians: God's Adopted People Walking Down God's Way

Today’s Reading: Ephesians

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Jesus broke down the barrier between God and the Gentiles. The appropriate answer is walking in faith down God's Way.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to the believers in Ephesus:
Long ago God decided to adopt us through Jesus. God embraced us when we wanted the world. Through Jesus' Sacrifice everyone has an equal claim on "Christian"—which angers some Jews. God can do anything!
Run God's Road as one. Live honest, temperate, and forgiving lives. Love like Jesus. Expose the darkness. Sing loudly because of the Spirit, not alcohol. Treat each other well, especially wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, and masters.
Be God-Strong in this life-and-death struggle over our souls. Use all of God's Equipment. Help each other.
Jesus' Grace be with everyone.

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

God's Plan to set all things right was set before Adam and Eve brought death into the world.

How awesome to serve a God who wanted to set things right even before they needed to be set right! God's Plan is awesome because God knew He would die because of our mistakes and yet created everything anyway.

The Church is Christ's Body on Earth.

Our purpose is to show Jesus to the world. We want to help them set their relationship right with God by being ambassadors of God.

God brought outsiders in—which angered His Chosen People.

Paul is in prison because the Jews were angry that he taught God's Message through Jesus to Gentiles. They wanted an exclusive claim on God and would not share. Yet Jesus treats everyone as equals. There is now one group.
We love splitting everyone into two groups—the church and the world. However, there is no difference between the two. The world can be part of the church. This is why Paul mentioned that the church is central to the world. There may be many who do not want anything to do with God but it is their decision, not God's.

The answer for being sought by God is to walk down His Road.

In chapter four Paul transitions from theoretical to practical. Since we are all included, we should be unified as we walk down God's Way—in the same direction, not looking and acting alike. We must mature or be left behind. This means we must get rid of the old life. The truth is, we already know what we need to do to set things right. We must choose to do it.

Wives must respect husbands like the church respects Jesus. Husbands must love wives as Jesus loves the church.

A few weeks ago we read how husbands have authority, not priority. Adam was created first but men now are born to women. We are interdependent. Today Paul uses the church's relationship with Jesus as a template for marriage. Jesus gave Himself for the church, His Body, to set its relationship with God right. The church, in return, respects and submits to Jesus. No husband should beat his wife because Jesus would not beat Himself. No woman should disrespect her husband because the church would not disrespect Jesus. We cannot argue against the first without also arguing against the second.

Children and parents have a responsibility to make sure children become mature Christians.

Paul does not put the onus on children or parents alone. They share responsibility. Children must honor their parents. Parents must guide their children with gentleness.

We are in a battle for our soul.

Paul uses warfare imagery at the end of the letter. He wants to make sure we understand that this is not a pleasant, intellectual discussion. This is war. We must be prepared with both defensive armor and offensive weapons. Both come from God.

Behold the awesome mystery of God!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 15 - Colossians; Philemon: Religious Rules Distract from Oneness with God

Today’s Reading: Colossians; Philemon

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul warns the Colossian Christians not to be led by people who make things off-limits.

Summary in 100 Words or Less


Paul and Timothy to the Christians in Colosse:
We thank God for your steadfast faith. The Message never weakens or changes! We pray you won't, either.
We see in Jesus God setting everyone's relationship right. Be confident in Christ. Stay away from human traditions and spiritual superstitions. Baptism is ritual enough. If you are serious about Christ's Resurrected Life, live it! Focusing on labels misses Christ.
Set things right. Help each other live the Resurrected Life—wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, and masters alike.
Pray. Help outsiders set things right.
Many with me send greetings. Echo our greetings to Laodicea.


Paul and Timothy to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the church in your house:
I pray your faith continues.
I have a favor to ask. I realize I have God's Authority to command you to do it, but I prefer to ask. Onesimus is no longer the runaway slave you once had. I have sent him to you at a great pain to my work because it is right. Please accept him as our brother. I will pay for any damages he caused—but remember the debt you owe me!
I hope to see you again.
People with me greet you.

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

Our work is directly tied to God's Work.

In Colossians, Paul wants to make sure they realize that their focus should be on God's Work, not on religion. As they focus more and more on God's Work they will be closer and closer to God's Life. As they set things right as God sets things right they will be set free from darkness and death and live a rich life with God. Until we recognize and join God's Work, we will never have a truly righteous life. The great thing about God's Work is that the entire world fits His Way. We can understand the world by understanding God.

We preach Christ, not religion.

It is Jesus that set all things right through His Death. Humans are incapable of setting things right because we are easily distracted by physical things—either for selfish reasons or for "pious" reasons. We focus on doing or not doing things instead of God's Work. When we focus on what we should or should not do or touch or when we focus on spirits, angels, and horoscopes we add to the message we send. The Message is simple—all things are set right though Jesus!
Reading from The Message helped me realize that Paul is not mentioning some unnamed group of Gnostics who are troubling these Christians. He is talking about the Jews who are trying to get the Gentile Christians to go along with the Law of Moses. Growing up, I never put the two together. Now I realize the things I was taught were important—baptism, no musical instruments in worship, no alcohol, etc.—were simply distractions from the Message of Jesus. They are not helpful in growing intimacy with God and Christ. They are, as Paul put it, "pretentious and infantile religion" (2:20). They may sound impressive but in the end only make ourselves look important. Baptism is tolerated because it helps tie us to God. It is a ritual which is not magical, but is important because it gives us a physical tie to God—similar to circumcision for Jews.

Our old life is dead and our new Life focuses on setting things right.

As mentioned earlier, the freedom we receive in Christ is not meant to be a blank check to do whatever we wish. Paul wants God's Chosen People to remember that we have a new Life, one that does not sin. We have a life shaped by God, not by physical urges. Some may consider these comments distractions based on the previous point, but in reality our old life takes us away from God and our new Life brings us closer to Him. The exact way I pray/sing/take communion does not necessarily bring me closer or farther from God. If I lie to my brothers I am going away from God. That is why God wants to make sure we do not lie. We want God's Clothing. To do that we must take off our old, dirty clothes and put on His new, holy Clothes. We sing to help push each other to clothe ourselves in Christ.

The story of Onesimus is the story of his relationship with God being set right.

Onesimus ran away from Philemon, most likely with stolen money or property. Yet he has changed to the point that Paul does not want to send him back. Onesimus is too valuable to Paul to allow him to leave. But Paul must do what is right. What a grand transformation—from fugitive slave to essential worker for God. When God sets our relationship right, we can overcome any problem we had.

Paul tells Philemon to no longer see Onesimus as a physical being anymore but as a spiritual brother.

Paul's letter to Philemon is very interesting. In it he does not advocate for the abolition of slavery but instead Paul advocates for the abolition of seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ as physical beings. Paul reminds Philemon that he owes his spiritual life to Paul and should take that into consideration before punishing Onesimus. Onesimus deserves justice. He should receive mercy because everyone deserves justice but God gives us mercy.

Do you distract others by teaching them religion instead of how to set things right?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

December 14 - Acts 27-28: Paul, Shipwrecked on the Way to Rome

December 14
Today’s Reading: Acts 27-28

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul's faith in God saves both him and everyone on the boat with him.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul, the other prisoners, and their guards set sail to Rome.
The captain ignored Paul's bad-weather warnings at Crete. Storms plagued them for a fortnight. Paul assured the crew they would live. They crashed the ship outside Malta and swam ashore.
In Malta, Paul was bitten by a snake and survived. He healed many people there.
After wintering in Malta, Paul and the rest made it to Rome. He spoke to Jewish leaders about Jesus. Some believed. Others argued. Paul reminded them of Isaiah's prophecy that they would listen but not hear God's Word. Paul would therefore teach the Gentiles.

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

Paul never lost faith through his hard times.

In the entire book of Acts, we read some of the things Paul went through, mentioned in 2 Corinthians. He was held captive even though he committed no crime, had to appeal to Caesar out of fear for his life, and became shipwrecked because the captain would not listen to his advice. Yet through all of it he held to his trust that God would set all of it right. May we all have faith like Paul!

What have you overcome with your faith intact?

Friday, December 13, 2013

December 13 - Acts 24-26: Paul, Prisoner because of the Resurrection

Today’s Reading: Acts 24-26

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul will not let himself be martyred by the Jews.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Tertullus, a Jewish lawyer, accused Paul of leading a seditious sect.
Paul defended himself since he was arrested while praying in the Temple.
Felix kept Paul under house arrest. After two years, Porcius Festus became governor.
Paul refused a Jerusalem trial and appealed to Caesar.
Festus asked the visiting King Agrippa to examine Paul and to find a charge against him that would stick.
Paul recounted his conversion story to Agrippa. He was a prisoner because he believed in the Resurrection and they did not like him teaching the Gentiles. He pushed Agrippa to consider becoming a Disciple of Jesus.

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

Paul would not let go of the Resurrection even though it kep him in prison.

Depending on the timing, Paul had already written how the Resurrection is the only doctrine worth dying over. Paul lives up to his words. He is willing to stay in prison for years because of his belief.

Jesus called Paul to be a lighthouse to the nations.

I’m sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I’m sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me. (26:17-18, The Message)

Would you be willing to stay in prison wrongly for over two years because you believed in the Resurrection?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December 12 - Acts 20:4-23:35 - Paul Braves Persecution to Set Things Right

Today’s Reading: Acts 20:4-23:35

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul wants to keep the peace between himself and the Jews, but they will not allow it.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul continued travelling. The Jews continued plotting against him.
Paul met Ephesian elders one last time and charged them to guard their flock. They prayed and cried together.
Agabus prophesied that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem. Paul held his resolve.
In Jerusalem, Paul purified himself in order to quell dissention; however, he was arrested in the Temple. On trial, Paul told of his conversion and commission to teach the Gentiles. He stirred up controversy by mentioning the resurrection of the dead before the High Council.
Paul's nephew uncovered an assassination plot against Paul. Paul was sent to Felix.

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

Elders are appointed to both lead the flock and guard against bad influences.

Paul's teary-eyed meeting with the Ephesian elders gives us a moment to look into the purpose for elders. Paul wanted them to continue helping their flock set things right and also to prevent bad influences from creeping in and taking members away. Listen to your elders. Their job is to protect you from influencers that might lead you to (spiritual) death.

Paul's attitude portrayed a person dedicated to setting things right in God's Name.

Paul is being told by his friends and travel partners that if he went to Jerusalem he would be arrested—something that could lead to his death. Paul, though, will not listen to their warnings because to him, "The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience" (21:13, The Message). We, like Paul, should be willing to go through trials and suffering because God might be able to work through us.

Paul wants to keep the peace between Jews and Christians but ultimately fails.

Many people may criticize Paul for attempting the Nazarite vow. They think he is caving in. However, I think Paul is living out his philosophy of being subject to the Law of Moses around Jews and not when around Gentiles in order to save both. The Jews think he is denigrating the Law of Moses, so Paul will show them he still respects the Law by going through with a vow. Unfortunately, the Jews do not allow that to happen and he is arrested anyway.

How can God work through you?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 11 - Romans 14-16: Don't Judge Others Based on Your Beliefs

Today’s Reading: Romans 14-16

The Message

English Standard Version

Only three weeks to go! You've almost made it! Keep going!

Thought to Guide Your Reading

Paul wants to make sure the Roman Christians get along by not judging the other according to their own beliefs.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Tolerate and don't criticize Believers who think differently than you. Jesus is our Master. Whatever you do, do it for God not yourself. Share God's Life.
Help anyone you can. Then we will all sing with one voice—outsiders and insiders together!
Please do not think I am criticizing you. I'm proud of God's Work through me.
Pray my travel and work in Jerusalem goes well.
The churches of Christ greet everyone.
Watch for those who are too selfish to work with. Stay alert.
All praise to God who brings the truth to the world. Praise to Jesus!

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

Disagreements about religion are okay.

What a liberating passage! We don't have to agree on everything! We don't really need to agree on much! What is important is that we do what we do because we believe it is right, not because someone else forces us to do it. It's not what we eat that God cares for. I would also suggest it's not how we sing or worship God that God cares for, either. God wants us to do things that set things right. We cannot set things right if we violate our conscience. So Paul's instructions were to do as we believe, "each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience" (14:5, The Message). We will be judged by God, not by each other.
I am very disappointed that I never learned this passage when growing up. The churches of Christ are known for doing just the opposite of this. We argue over so many small details about how to live a Christian life. Jesus died to "free us from the petty tyrannies of each other" (14:11). I needed to know that.

Everything is holy unless we treat or talk about it in an unholy way.

It is this part of Paul's argument which all churched and unchurched people need to remember. Churched people should realize we have more rules than we need but those rules are not superfluous. They help us. Unchurched people should realize these rules are not wrong but they are not required to follow them. Each can do as they want—as long as they are setting things right. We should treat each other with love, not judgment.

Fights do not stop us from being God's Chosen People.

After all Paul has against the Jews and Gentiles in Rome, he wants to make sure they do not take him the wrong way. He is proud of their faith because it reflects well on God and the work God does through Paul. We should also remember, even through our petty fights over religion and our judgments of each other, God continuously wants to work through us. We are always God's Chosen People.

Be wary of people who only use pieces of truth for their own gain.

Paul's warning was something I struggled with when contemplating this project. I did not want to force every passage into my narrow focus and become what he is warning against; however, I wanted to do this project because I knew this idea of God setting all things right went throughout the entire Bible. I do not think I have had to "force" passages into a narrow tunnel.
Not all people have that plan, though. They want to take a small detail and make it sound like the entire Message of God. The way to tell if a person is doing this is to read the entire Bible. They are mostly likely running away from some passage they don't want to study. Stay away from people like that!

Do you judge each other or help each other set things right?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December 10 - Romans 11-13: The Gentile and the Jew-Man Should be Friends

Today’s Reading: Romans 11-13

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

God accepted the Gentiles in order to make the Jews jealous so they would be with Him, too.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Has God irrevocably rejected Israel? No. God will never irrevocably reject Israel. When they rejected God they opened the door for the Gentiles.
Gentiles, remember that God grafts in and cuts off. God added you, not the other way around. The Jews remain God's Oldest Friends. God wants a people who understand why they are with Him. How awesome is our God!
Be a living sacrifice for God, unified as a body. Set things right. Be an upstanding citizen because God gives the state power to punish. Love others as you love yourself.
Don't waste time, it's a precious resource.

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

God did not permanently remove the Jews from being His Chosen People.

This section of Scripture is one of the most complicated and misused concepts in the entire Bible. Paul is trying to help mediate a feud between the Jews and the Gentiles, caused when the Jews were kicked out of Rome but let back in later. In the previous reading Paul wrote how God wanted the Jews to obey Him but they would not. Therefore, He called the Gentiles to be His Chosen People. The reason is multifaceted, but the effect was that the Gentiles were added to God's Chosen People and Paul hoped Israel would become jealous and claim God as their god instead of their cultural symbol. God had not rejected Israel for good but to set things right. The Gentiles may have joined the Jews as God's Chosen People but they had to set things right to keep their place. God wants people who understand why they are His Chosen People to be His Chosen People.
In viewing the Jew/Gentile debate in Romans in the 21st Century, I have put forward the idea that churched and unchurched people are the Jews and Gentiles from the first century. Many churches today are dying. We can trace their deaths to several things all stemming from one major issue—not realizing why God chose them in the first place. God wants us to be His Ambassadors to the world. Many Christians want to be the rulers of the world. So God now calls those who are outside the church to set things right. This is why many people see outsiders as better givers, better philanthropists, and better humanitarians than Christians. Christians must see that these things are happening not because God no longer wants us but because God wants to make us jealous so we will return to Him and set things right. What about unchurched people? They have their relationships set right with God. Everyone wins!

The Gentiles and the Jews should work together to set things right.

Before the Gentiles look with distain at these Jews who rejected God, Paul reminds them that God could just as easily remove them from the tree. The Gentiles had nothing to boast over because they were there because of God's Grace and Mercy, too.
This is Paul's message to unchurched people today. Don't hate the church. See it as the Gentiles saw the Jews—God's Old Friend. We can challenge each other to set things right (see chapter 12).

We have nothing to add to God's Righteousness.

The Jews thought they could figure this setting-all-things-right business out on their own. They no longer needed God to help. They were wrong. What they got instead was God's punishment, rejection for a time, and a loss of their exclusive status as God's Chosen People. Do not try to outdo God's Righteousness. There is no way we can be more righteous than God.

The government has a mandate to bring justice to the world.

When we discuss the government and what ways we should obey it, we must read Paul's instructions regarding the Roman Empire. Paul does not want the Christians to either live as hermits and rebel against Rome or go along and worship the emperor as a god. Paul reminds them that the government is only a terror to those who do wrong things, not those who set things right. Then he says something that sounds strange—God gives the government their authority. God gave Rome—a brutal dictatorship who had little to no knowledge of human rights—the right to bring justice to the world. The government has the sole authority to bring justice on criminals. The church should not focus on punishment but on setting things right.

The Gospel in a word is love.

Jesus said the two foundational commandments for the entire law were about love: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Paul echoes that by stating the Message of Jesus can be summarized in one word: love.

What is your relationship with churched/unchurched people like?