Follow along with daily scripture readings and insights that will enhance your faith journey.
Follow along with daily scripture readings and insights that will enhance your faith journey.
Primary Scriptures: Ephesians 2:1-10
Book: Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living (Rueben P. Job)
PRAYER FOR GENERAL CONFERENCE (February 23-26, 2019) www.gc2019.iaumc.org
Gracious and loving God, who leads, teaches and guides, You who offer compassion, grace and mercy, be with us now. We passionately seek Your presence during challenging times and circumstances, and we trust that you are moving in and around our lives. We, as one part of your Body, the Church, go into the days and weeks ahead seeking to discern Your deep desire for us as The United Methodist Church. Give us courage as we continue to live and respond to Your invitation to be Your hands, feet and voice. We ask for a fresh wind of Your Spirit and guidance for each of us as individuals, for the faithful congregations, and for this global community of United Methodists. We ask for Your wisdom and presence for those among us who have been called to serve as delegates as the Special Session of General Conference gathers today. Grant them clarity and a discerning spirit as they seek to listen for You in their midst. Reveal to them Your deep desire for our future as a church. Give them and us the faith to lay aside our personal wants and needs so that we can be truly present to You, sit with You in reverence and awe, and listen deeply for the still small voice that woos us, comforts us, and invites us to that place where we can live fully and wholly into the Kingdom life that You desire for us. We lay all this before You as the deep desire of our hearts and minds in the name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
PRAYER FOR THE WEEK
Lord God, the apostle wrote that if I will open my heart to your Spirit, you will bear good fruit in my life. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control” sound like great steps toward doing all the good I can. I know I have inner blocks to these qualities, and some of those blocks are hard for me to even see. Sharpen my vision. I invite your gentle presence to transform me every day. Amen.
MONDAY 02.25.19 Psalm 37:1-11
At first, “do all the good you can” may sound like the way to a life of soaring popularity and grateful, devoted friends. This psalmist was deeply committed to living into this rule. But the psalm reflected challenges as well as joy. It said this way of life calls for patient trust in God, and a resolve not to fret when things don’t seem to work the way they should.
• The writer of Psalm 37 was a wise teacher (“I was young and now I am old”—v. 25) sharing a hard won outlook on life. Do you ever feel as if it’s the ones who do harm rather than good who prosper, gaining rewards you wish you could have? In what ways has your aim to do good required patience, and a willingness not to fret?
• Does it take “trust in the Lord” for you to do all the good you can, or not? How can patience and trust in God make the difference between an annoying “do-gooder” and a person whose presence genuinely blesses others? In what ways can being “still before the Lord” (v. 7) be a needed prelude to truly good actions?
TUESDAY 02.26.19 Galatians 6:7-10
“People reap what they sow”—that’s sobering! Paul was talking about relationships, about how we treat one another. He wanted his converts to sow good deeds as they blessed and helped one another. This important principle dealt with choices we control, not with natural disasters (e.g. devastating floods, tornadoes, earthquakes) or other tragic events nobody “sowed.”
• Verse 9 reminds us that doing good takes focused effort. “The first verb puts emphasis on losing interest (for example, “spiritless”) and the second on becoming discouraged or relaxing one’s efforts” (UBS Translator’s Handbook on Galatians). Have you ever gotten tired of doing good? If so, what helped renew your energy to bless others?
• The New Jerusalem Bible translates verse 10 with the phrase, “As long as we have the opportunity, let us do good.” Do you ever feel that your circumstances are keeping you from doing anybody any good, that you have no opportunity? How can the Holy Spirit’s presence help you find creative ways of doing good at any point in your life?
WEDNESDAY 02.27.19 Ephesians 2:4-10
We don’t do good to “get on God’s good side.” (That’s true of all three “simple rules.”) Through creation and salvation, God has already lovingly provided all we need for life now and forever. When we do good, we are simply living into the purpose for which God made us. (John Wesley dealt with
this issue in his sermon “The Scripture Way of Salvation.” If you’d like to read it, go to http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/43/.)
• What is your life’s purpose? (If you say “I don’t know,” that doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Even if you’ve never given it conscious thought, you make choices each day based on some inner vision of who you are and what you’re here for.) Spend some quiet time today reexamining your life’s purpose in the light of what this passage says.
• God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Have you ever been “doing all the right things” but missing the good God made you for? In what areas do you want God to help you more fully live out your “Christ life” today?
THURSDAY 02.28.19 Luke 6:27-35
Bishop Reuben Job asks, “Where are the boundaries?...what if my gift of goodness, small or large, is rejected? Suppose I were to seek compromise in conflict and my efforts were ridiculed? What if my efforts were seen as weakness and my concerns were overlooked?” (Three Simple Rules) Jesus said, “Do good to your enemies. That’s what God does.”
• List all the ways you can think of that God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Jesus said God’s example gives us a pattern to follow. What “enemies” or “ungrateful and wicked” people can you impact? Using your list, think of ways you might do good to them this week. Who might think of you as an “enemy”? Do good to them, too!
• Bishop Job’s book also notes that “taking appropriate care of self and living selflessly are not opposites….To love God with all of life and to love neighbor as self is not to denigrate, deny or devalue self.” What are some ways you have found of doing healthy self-care? How do these energize and empower you to do good for others?
FRIDAY 03.01.19 Galatians 5:18-25
Like John Wesley, the apostle Paul did not stop with “Do no harm,” but went on to focus on all the good fruit our lives can bear. We read the first part of this passage last week, listing the harmful “acts of the sinful nature.” But we don’t avoid harm just to leave our lives swept and empty (see Luke 11:24-26). The Holy Spirit bears superb fruit in open, yielded hearts.
• Think through the qualities listed as “the fruit of the Spirit.” What possibilities for doing good would each fruit create or magnify in your life? Which one or two of the “fruits” do you want to ask the Holy Spirit to bear in your life in the months ahead?
• “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Paul asked in Galatians 3:2. We can almost see the glint in the apostle’s eye as he noted dryly of the fruit of the Spirit that “Against such things there is no law.” Have you ever tried to earn God’s favor by “observing the law”? Have you found the spiritual freedom of living “by the Spirit,” and living in
SATURDAY 03.02.19 1 Peter 3:8-17
This passage makes little sense if we’re busy “climbing the ladder” and seeking power. When it was written, most Romans mocked Christians as weak. After all, Christians believed (as Pastor Steven Blair said recently) that a crucified man was God; Romans worshipped the mighty emperor! But Peter’s letter makes the God-given strength to do good (rather than to grab status or comfort) the basic standard of a life worth living.
• “Self-care,” writes Bishop Job, “begins with the acknowledgment and reminder that each one of us is the object of God’s love. Each one of us is embraced in the unlimited, saving and transforming love of God” (Three Simple Rules). How confident are you that as Psalm 34 (quoted in verse 12) said “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer”? In what parts of your life do you need that trust to keep you going from day to day?
Family Activity: Engage your family in “doing good” at home. Write each family member’s name on a slip of paper and place it in a container. Ask each person to draw a name. (Make sure no one gets his or her own name.) Encourage everyone to “do good” this week for the person whose name they chose. Good deeds could include helping with the other’s chores, coloring a picture or playing a game, giving hugs, and/or sharing supportive words. If a child is too young to participate on his or her own, assign a partner. At the end of the week, share a simple “do good” celebration. Then select different names and repeat each week. Thank God for the chance to “do good” in your own family as well as throughout the world.
Primary Scriptures: Romans 12:9-18; 13:8-9
Book: Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living (Rueben P. Job)
MONDAY 2.18.19 Exodus 20:13-17
In the saga of how God relates to people, the Ten Commandments came at a pivotal moment. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. They had learned the Egyptian culture, the brutal, dominating behavior of their masters. Now God called them to a very different quality of life, one that sought to avoid doing harm to others.
• Murder’s harmfulness is pretty clear. Think about the ways that adultery, stealing and giving false testimony against your neighbor cause harm. How have these behaviors harmed you, or someone you knew well? What kinds of things can we “steal” from others besides money or possessions?
• The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines “covet” as “to want to have something very much, especially something which belongs to someone else.” If you covet, who does that harm? In what ways can coveting open the door to some of the harmful behaviors named in the previous commandments?
TUESDAY 2.19.19 Leviticus 19:9-18
Jesus said Leviticus 19:18—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—is a vital life rule. An expert in the law asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In reply, Jesus told the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). But the expert could have known that Leviticus, in the verses before the command, already listed many “neighbors” God’s people shouldn’t harm.
• Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t leave any money on the table,” urging you to squeeze every penny out of someone else in a business deal? How did the commands in verse 9-10, 13, and 16 urge the Israelites to deal with others? How can you as a Christian decide whether guarding your interests does or does not harm others?
• “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” That saying may help a child cope with playground taunts, but as adults we know words can do great harm. Especially as the next election year heats up, what principles do verses 12-13 and 15-18 teach that bear on how we speak to one another, and about candidates for office?
WEDNESDAY 2.20.19 Romans 13:8-14
Paul sent this letter to a set of Roman house churches. In Romans 14-15, we see that these churches were very different. Some were mainly Jewish; others mostly Gentile. Their customs and standards of “righteousness” varied. It was all too easy for them to quarrel and tear each other down. “Love does no harm” was a big challenge, a crucial call.
• Bishop Reuben Job says “each of us knows of groups locked in conflict…the conflict is real, the divisions deep, the consequences often devastating. If…all involved can agree to do no harm, the climate in which the conflict is going on is immediately changed.” (Three Simple Rules) How might ugly religious conflicts (e.g. the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition) have been different if Christians had always aimed to “do no harm”? How can you stand for truths that matter to you without harming those who disagree?
• Which of the “deeds of darkness” Paul listed mainly harm the doer? Which of them harm others? In what ways does “do no harm” challenge you to avoid harming yourself?
THURSDAY 2.21.19 Galatians 5:13-21
In Three Simple Rules, Bishop Job asks if one reason we don’t choose to live into “do no harm” may be that “we are afraid of its consequences. To abandon the ways of the world for the way of Jesus is a radical step.” Paul called the Galatian Christians to let the Holy Spirit’s presence radically change their lives.
• Paul describes the way of life he’s talking about with the phrase “walk by the Spirit.” When have you experienced what we sometimes calls “inner nudges” that move you toward the right, or away from what is harmful? How can you learn to be more attuned to the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life?
• Who have you known whose life consistently followed the pattern of doing no harm to others? In what ways did that person’s life avoid the negative traits that Paul lists in this passage? What positive impacts did (or does) that person’s life have on you and on others?
FRIDAY 2.22.19 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Paul wrote that to reject whatever is harmful makes space for all kinds of beauty in life. He lived in the Greco/Roman world. Its people enjoyed violent gladiatorial fights and chariot races, practiced “sacred” prostitution, and worshiped scheming emperors as gods. In many ways, we face similar choices about our attitudes and entertainments today.
• How much do the positive qualities of life Paul listed in this passage (e.g. rejoicing, praying, being thankful) appeal to you? How can you nurture an inner appetite for the good? In what ways do you find that choosing harmful attitudes and actions (to yourself or to others) reduces your appetite for the good things God offers?
• “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire,” Paul wrote. In what different ways do you believe God can communicate with you, helping you to discern what is harmful from what is good and helpful? How can you give the Bible’s principles, prayer, and sharing with Godly friends a larger role in your decision-making?
SATURDAY 2.23.19 Isaiah 11:1-9
In Three Simple Rules, Bishop Job writes that “even a casual reading of the gospel suggests that Jesus taught and practiced a way of living that did no harm. His life, his way of life, and his teaching demonstrated so well this first simple rule.” Jesus is the biggest reason for us to adopt this approach to life. Isaiah wrote prophetically about God’s dream of a world restored through the Messiah’s work, a world where “they will neither harm nor destroy.”
• Imagine a world where people never purposely harm or destroy. If they unintentionally do harm, they quickly apologize and make things right. How much tension, fear and grief would a world like that have? What one step will you take today to make yourself more aware of any harm you may be doing to others, especially those you love? Ask God for help. Seek pastoral or professional help if you need to. Do no harm.
Family Activity: In all families, we say words that hurt each other. Read Proverbs 16:21. Create a family encouragement jar. Cut out 30-40 slips of paper. On each slip, write a word or phrase of love, support, care or hope. Think about what words lift you up and include those as a blessing to others. Place all of the slips in a jar. Any time a family member has spoken words of harm, he or she can then pull out a slip of paper, apologize, then say something encouraging. Better yet, work toward not speaking words of harm at all. When you need help, go to the jar for ideas and inspiration! Ask God to help you use your words for good.
PRAYERS FOR THE WEEK:
God of love, mercy and justice, it’s been said that “hurt people hurt people.” I’m sad when others hurt me, but I’m also sad when I hurt others. Heal my hurting self and transform me from the inside out. Teach me to want what you want, to love as you love, to do no harm. In the name of Jesus who did no harm to those who harmed him. Amen.
Pray for General Conference
February 23-26, St. Louis, MO
Pray for our Iowa Delegates
Diane Wasson Eberhart
Lilian Gallo Seagren
"Fear of Change"
MONDAY 2.11.19 – Praise to God, our dependable refuge and strength
Read: Psalm 46:1-3, 113:1-8
Sometimes we say, with a wry smile, that in today’s world “the only constant is change.” But many times this idea brings us, not a smile, but deep-seated fear. That didn’t just start. In the psalms (Israel’s hymnbook), we find mention of the world falling apart, mountains crumbling and the sea (an ancient symbol of chaos and disorder) roaring and raging. But we also find the confidence that God is high over all the changes that cause us fear. God is always our refuge and strength.
• The psalms were positive that God was present with us at any time of fear, “always near in times of great trouble.” That trust was based on the faith that God is eternal (i.e. outside of time), a God we can praise “from now until forever from now!” Have you wrestled with the mind-stretching idea that, unlike us, God is not limited by time or space, but can be with us any place and any time? In what ways is that a strong antidote to fear of change?
• What experiences have you already had that made it feel as though your world was falling apart? Did you allow your faith in God to provide you with a stable place to stand as everything else seemed to be crumbling? What makes it valuable to build your trust in God before the next time when everything seems to fall apart?
Pray: Lord God, I want to praise your name from sunrise to sunset because I genuinely trust that you are “high over all the nations.” Let my praise to you override my fear about any other realities. Amen.
TUESDAY 2.12.19 – God’s ultimate purpose: unshaken goodness for all people
Read: Psalm 23:1-3, 96:10-13
The familiar King James Version rendering of Psalm 23:3 is “he restoreth my soul.” Along with “still waters,” it may sound to us like a day at a peaceful spa. But “he keeps me alive” (the Common English Version’s translation) reflects the fact that for sheep, water and grass were not luxuries, but absolute necessities for survival. The Lord who ultimately rules over our world provides the things we need to keep our spiritual life always alive.
• Israel’s neighbors worshiped a “council” of Canaanite gods who, they believed, played favorites and ruled the world unjustly (cf. Psalm 82:5). Psalm 96:10 set the one creator God against that idea. “In contrast to the unjust rule of the gods…. God’s rule of justice and righteousness promises a stable and secure foundation.” * What helps you to trust that God’s eternal justice gives your life a stable and secure foundation?
• King David, who had been a shepherd (cf. 1 Samuel 17:34-36), likely composed Psalm 23. He described God as guiding him (and all God’s children) “in proper paths.” Living as we do in a culture that places great store on our freedom to choose our own path in life, how easy or difficult do you find it to trust God to point to the proper paths for your life? How can confidence that you are on the proper path reduce your fear of change?
Pray: King Jesus, truly, you rule! You rule the universe, including our world—yet you will rule my heart and life only if I ask you to. So please rule my life, and direct me in the proper paths. Amen.
* J. Clinton McCann, study note on Psalm 96:10 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 947 OT.
WEDNESDAY 2.13.19 – God: our place of safety even in the darkest valley
Read: Psalm 23:4-6, 46:4-7
The expression of trust in Psalm 23 did not promise that God’s people would never face painful, “dark valley” experiences. In fact, in common with other Biblical passages (e.g. Isaiah 43:3), it assumed that such times would come into all lives. The value the psalmists saw in trusting God lay not in being able to avoid pain and sadness, but in having God with us even in the darkest of times.
• Psalm 46:4 is poetry, not geography. “There is no river in Jerusalem. The river here is a symbol of life-giving power, in contrast to the threatening waters and waves of Psalm 46:3.” * How did that psalm set the stage for Jesus' dramatic claim: “On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, ‘All who are thirsty should come to me! All who believe in me should drink! As the scriptures said concerning me, ‘Rivers of living water will flow out from within him’” (John 7:37-38)? In what ways has Jesus quenched your inner thirst?
• We most often think something “pursuing us” is bad. Psalm 23 reversed that, saying, “goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.” Were there times when you, like so many of us, tried to ignore or avoid God’s presence? In what ways have God’s goodness and faithful love pursued you even if you were trying to get away from them?
Pray: Lord God, sometimes I forget you. Sometimes I try to ignore you. But I do not want to face this scary world alone. And I thank you for never giving up on me, but pursuing me with your goodness and faithful love. Amen.
* J. Clinton McCann, study note on Psalm 46:4 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 891 OT.
THURSDAY 2.14.19 – God: the unchanging “king of kings”
Read: Psalm 46:10-11, Revelation 17:9-14
The traditional King James Version translation of Psalm 46:10 is, “Be still.” But the Hebrew did not refer to going to a quiet mountain retreat. It was a call to say “enough” to our noisy inner fears, and with them silenced, to recognize God as our place of safety. At the end of the Bible, in visions packed with symbols, Revelation proclaimed Jesus’ final triumph over evil. In the first century, for Christians, the persecuting Roman Empire (Rome—the city on seven mountains, or hills) was evil incarnate. The vision gave Jesus a double title— “Lord of lords and King of kings.” It echoed a title Caesar often claimed. Jesus was king, not just over “little people,” but over all other kings, even over Caesar. He was, and is, “our place of safety.”
• “The basis for the Lamb’s victory in 17:14 is that ‘he is Lord of lords and King of kings’…. Just as the Babylonian king [in Daniel 4] was addressed by this title, so the king of latter-day Babylon (Rome) in John’s day was similarly addressed…. The Lamb exposes as false the divine claims of the emperor and others like him.” * Rome was hardly unique. Human rulers have often claimed divine approval or status (e.g. Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said, in German, “God is with us”). Many rulers today, formal or informal, claim exalted status for themselves. Do you trust that Jesus is “king of kings” over all of them? In what ways is that trust the foundation for the peace and hope in which we can live at all times?
Pray: Lord Jesus, you are the King of kings, you are the Lord of lords. I cannot fully grasp all the reach of that, but I can and do ask you to be Lord of my life, to make me the person you want me to be. Amen.
* G. K Beale and D. K. Carson, ed. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007, p. 1139.
FRIDAY 2.15.19 – God—our support and strength at all ages
Read: Isaiah 40:27-31, 46:3-4
Today’s readings likely came from a time when the Israelites were returning to their ruined land after decades in exile. There were no “Babylon to Jerusalem” flights—Isaiah 40’s references to “stumbling” and “walking” reflected the only way most exiles got home. So the Israelites were weary, and feared maybe God was too. But these prophetic texts said God never forgets his own. Israel (and we) could always hope and trust in God, because God has pledged to support us all our lives—and our God never grows tired like we do.
• Can you recall times when you have felt like the Israelites in Isaiah 40:27: “My way is hidden from the LORD, my God ignores my predicament”? Are there areas of your life that feel that way to you right now? In what ways can you reconnect with the Creator who “doesn’t grow tired or weary” of caring for you? What helps you trust God’s promise that “until you turn gray I will support you”?
• Isaiah wrote, “His understanding is beyond human reach” (40:28). Our need to control, our challenge with “letting go,” inexorably runs into our inability to control time. Even the best health and fitness programs cannot (honestly) promise to fully halt the aging process. How can really trusting in a God who’s vastly wiser than you are renew your strength by setting you free from the need to try to control life’s uncontrollable realities?
Pray: Lord God, when I’m worn out, you are still full of eternal energy. As I age, you remain the same creative, caring God you’ve always been. Help me learn more and more to trust your timeless love. Amen.
SATURDAY 2.16.19 – Hope in God’s unseen glory—greater than illness, age, death
Read: 2 Corinthians 4:6-10, 16-18
The apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians after a painful time, when many Christians in Corinth, biased by a set of false teachers, had turned against him. Later in the letter, he cataloged the many challenges he had faced in carrying out God’s mission (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Yet Paul did not let any of that destroy him. In verse 10, he tied his struggles to Jesus’ death, which seemed the worst defeat of all and yet became a victory when he rose from the dead three days later.
• When did you last feel confused, harassed or knocked down? What resources helped you avoid being crushed, depressed or knocked out? Have you ever seen, in yourself or anyone you know, the truth of “even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day”?
• We often tend to feel shame about the realities of illness or aging. We see them as a sign of weakness or failure. Paul faced those realities, but saw them differently. Are there disciplines (e.g. Bible memorization, meditation, prayer) that help you access God’s strength to keep your inner self moving toward victory even when your outer self is breaking down? How has the Bible’s teaching that our eternal life starts now shaped your view of your limitations?
Pray: Lord Jesus, on the days when life feels dark, when nothing seems to go right, help me not to be crushed or destroyed. Remind me always that “the worst thing is never the last thing.” Amen.
Family Activity: Many people struggle with change, sometimes even fear it. As a family, name the four seasons, then invite each person to share what they like and dislike about each one. For example, the summer brings about more free time, but often high heat. The winter offers snow for sledding and snowball fights, but unsafe driving conditions. Take a moment to imagine what life would be like if you only experienced one season every day, all year long. What would you like about that? What would you miss? Remind one another that even though change can be difficult, we can often find good in the new experience or situation. Read Lamentations 3:22-23 and Hebrews 13:8 aloud, then thank God for being faithful through all of life’s changes. Pray for a heart and mind open to positive and healthy change.
Fear of Failure
[The LORD said to Moses,] “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” … But [Moses] said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Exodus 3:10, 4:13
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, “… As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you… Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:1, 5b, 9b
God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
MONDAY 2.04.19 – Moses: lots of frightened excuses, world-changing success
Read: Exodus 3:2-4, 9-11, 13, 4:1, 10, 13; Deuteronomy 34:10-12
Moses had a safe, steady (if fairly boring) job tending sheep for his father-in-law. He’d long ago left his upbringing in Egypt’s royal palace behind. But God had other plans. God came to Moses as he did his steady, boring job (with little need to trust in himself or God), and kept calling as Moses offered excuse after excuse. In the end, Moses left his safe life to answer God’s call, and marched into history trusting God to guide him in leading Israel out of slavery.
• As you read all of Moses’ reasons for not doing what God was calling him to do, consider which of them most resonate with any fears you face. Ask God to day-by-day help you grow, as Moses did, into a person God can use to serve where you are—your home, workplace or neighborhood—or in a special mission you sense God calling you to.
• Moses seemed to think only a strong, important person could carry out God’s call. Was he really supposed to go as one man, with no army, and demand that Pharaoh let most of his slave labor force go just because God told him to? Do you ever fear that you are not strong or important enough to live as God calls you to live? God can help you shift your focus from your limitations to your strengths, the greatest strength being the fact that God will be with you.
Prayer: O God, you don’t call all of us to huge, historic missions like the one you gave Moses. But at times your call looks big enough that I get scared. Give me your strength to live for you beyond any of my fears. Amen.
TUESDAY 2.05.19 – God-given success when facing a scary giant
Read: 1 Samuel 17:4-11, 32-37, 41-45
This is the first story about Israel’s King David most children learn in Sunday School. Even in sports or business, we often talk about a “David and Goliath” story when a “little guy” takes on an established power. The Philistine giant, whatever his exact size (ancient manuscripts differ), was big enough to terrify King Saul and the whole Israelite army. But he didn’t scare David. For him, the size of the God he served mattered much more than the size of his enemy. (And, of course, the story goes on in verse 46 ff. to say the giant lost—badly.)
• When have you had to face a “giant” problem or person? Were your inner feelings (whether you showed them externally or not) more like those of Saul and the army, or like David’s? What role, if any, did your trust in God play in the way you faced the intimidating situation? Did you learn anything that helps you with giant problems or persons you face today, or may face in the future?
• Goliath was no doubt a veteran fighter, but he seemed to count as much or more on insults and intimidation as on his physical skill. As the Philistine poured out scornful insults toward David, the Hebrew young man wasn’t cowed or distracted. To what extent are you able to be “inner directed,” rather than overly sensitive to what others (especially any giants you face) may think of you? What makes that ability important when you’re tempted to feel afraid of failing?
Prayer: Lord God, giants don’t always have to be nine feet tall to feel that way to me. Teach me that you are bigger than any human “giant,” and help me “cut them down to size” by trusting in you. Amen.
WEDNESDAY 2.06.19 – A failure of nerve rooted in a failure of faith
Read: Numbers 13:27-33; 14:1-3
As Israel neared the Promised Land, Moses sent 12 men to scout the land (Numbers 13:1-3). When the scouts returned to give their report, ten of them focused on obstacles and problems, and were terrified. Long before David faced Goliath, they were frightened of the “huge men” they saw in the Promised Land. Only Caleb (along with Joshua—Numbers 14:6) focused on God’s promise and power, and pleaded with people to keep moving forward.
• This story shows two things about fear. First, it’s contagious—the 10 scouts’ fear spread to most of the people. Second, it clouds the ability to think clearly—once afraid, the people thought irrationally, “Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Can you think of times when fear has magnified a challenge you faced, or led you to a damaging response? How can you avoid being a source of contagious fear for others?
• Camped right on the borders of the Promised Land, Israel turned away because fear got the better of them. Are there any “frontiers,” spiritual or emotional as well as physical, you sense God might be calling you to cross? What fears arise in your heart as you think about where God may be calling you? How can you develop the kind of faith Caleb and Joshua showed?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, had you been governed by fear, you’d no doubt have stayed safely away from this broken, sometimes hostile planet. Please keep infusing your holy fearlessness into my heart and life. Amen.
THURSDAY 2.07.19 – A puzzle: the apparent success of the wicked
Read: Psalm 73:1-13, Daniel 8:12-25
Psalm 73 reflected a spiritual puzzle. People who completely ignored God seemed to be having success—no troubles at all (verses 3-5). If that was the case, maybe serving God was futile (verses 11, 13). Daniel 8’s apocalyptic vision pictured an evil power (probably, originally, the oppressive Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes). Three times it said he would “succeed,” but only in the short term. In the end, “he will be broken—and not by a human hand.”
• For this psalmist, it was “the prosperity of the wicked” that nearly caused him to give up faith in God. At what times in your life, if any, has the “success” of the wicked led you to ask, “Does the Most High know anything?” (v. 11) Whose position, possessions or prospects do you envy? How much does it matter to you how “success” is reached?
• If the evil power in Daniel 8:12-25 was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “daily sacrifice” likely referred to that king sacrificing a pig on the Temple altar in Jerusalem, deliberately trying to discredit Israel’s God. He was arrogant about his power— “in his own mind, he will be great.” But his army and title did not dethrone God. Can you think of other evil forces (e.g. Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich”) that crumbled after seeming success? Can you trust, as James Russell Lowell wrote in “The Present Crisis,” that “behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own”? *
Prayer: O Lord, give me more and more of your eternal perspective on success. Keep my steps from slipping at the times when I see the apparent success of the wicked. Amen.
* If you’d like to read Lowell’s entire classic poem (it’s long), visit http://www.bartleby.com/42/805.html
FRIDAY 2.08.19 – Young minister, tough situation, and a recipe for success
Read: 1 Timothy 1:3-5, 4:8-16
On his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul met a younger man named Timothy (cf. Acts 16:1-4). Timothy became one of his most trusted associates, one Paul trusted to lead some of the churches he planted, and to continue leading them after Paul was gone. Such a large responsibility must have frightened Timothy at times, especially in the light of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). But Paul urged him to lead with confidence and trust in God.
• In God’s sweeping story in the Bible, we see that God used people who might have been thought too old (e.g. Abraham, Moses) and others who might have been thought too young (e.g. Jeremiah, Timothy). If you are on the younger end of the age spectrum, do older people ever intimidate you, making you afraid to offer your gifts and insights? If you are on the older end of the spectrum, what helps you resist the urge to look down on younger Christians whose thinking or music may be different than you’ve been used to?
• What examples of either spiritual courage or timidity are parts of your family’s spiritual legacy? In what ways have parents, grandparents and other important people given you confidence to fearlessly value and use your God-given strengths? What effect have they had on you? How can you mentor and encourage someone who is younger than you are?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as I live in this age-conscious culture, remind me that from your eternal view, age is one of the least of your concerns. Empower me to live without fear, now and in all the years of earthly life that are left for me. Amen.
SATURDAY 2.09.19 – The divine definition of true success
Read: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:11
Rabbis debated who Isaiah’s fourth “servant song” was about. The first Christians had no doubt—they quoted this song more than any other verses to describe Jesus’ redemptive suffering. In Jesus, the early Christians saw, God’s servant succeeded by taking the world’s evil and hatred onto himself and through what looked like failure to human eyes changed it into a redemptive force. No passage in the Hebrew Scriptures spoke more eloquently to those early Christians—and to every generation of Christians since—about the meaning of Jesus’ death. As the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology said, “God’s power is at its greatest not in his destruction of the wicked but in his taking all the wickedness of the earth into himself and giving back love.” *
• Jesus set the stage for the way New Testament writers applied Isaiah 53 by quoting part of the passage and applying it to himself (cf. Luke 22:37). It all came true in Jesus’ saving death and resurrection, they said. What does Jesus’ way of succeeding in defeating evil as the Suffering Servant tell you about how God defines success? What kinds of evil have you faced? How can Jesus’ example guide you toward the path of genuine success at those times?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you succeeded through self-giving love, through suffering for others and giving your life to offer me life. Reshape any flawed notions of success I may have, and help me to truly succeed by the same divine standards that you did. Amen.
* T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, ed. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 222.
Family Activity: Collect a backpack, some large, heavy rocks and a few thick markers. As a family, invite each person to try on the empty backpack, and feel its lightness. Next, ask everyone to take two stones and a marker. Have each person think of something they are not very good at or something they have done wrong and write it on one rock. Pass the backpack around asking each person to share what they wrote and place it in the backpack. Talk about how the backpack is feeling heavier. Now, invite each person to take their second rock and write on it something they do well but can sometimes be difficult to do. Pass around the backpack again with each person sharing what they wrote on the second rock, and placing their rock in the backpack. Have each person try on the backpack again. Discuss how at times both our failures and our successes can feel heavy or burdensome. Read I Peter 5:7 and Matthew 11:28-30. Thank God for helping us carry our burdens.
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