Lead Me! – February 11, 2019

Exodus 32.1-33.23; Matthew 26.69-27.14; Psalm 33.1-11; Proverbs 8.33-36

Days. Not months. Not years. Days Moses was gone and the people of Israel assume the worst, which for them would have been they have no one to lead them. Make us a God to lead us, they cry, we cannot bear to be without someone telling us what to do. Here’s a question: Just what exactly does it say about a people that in such a short span, they freak out without someone in a visible role to lead them? What does such action say about their understanding of God’s leadership? Can we say the same things about ourselves?

Questions:

Why do you think Moses’ request from God was that Moses be allowed to see God’s glorious presence?

What are ways we deny Jesus today?

The psalmist writes that, “we can trust everything [the Lord] does.” How do our lives demonstrate we believe this?

How does hating wisdom mean we love death?

Keep the Sabbath – February 10, 2019

Exodus 30.11-31.18; Matthew 26.47-68; Psalm 32.1-11; Proverbs 8.27.32

We are way too busy, as proven not only by our lack of “free time,” but also demonstrated by our overloaded calendars and underfunded saving accounts. (There is a reason someone once said: If you want to discover your true priorities, look at your checkbook and your calendar.) So there may not be a better time in history than now to hear to words of God in earnest: Remember to take time for Sabbath. It reminds you that I–not you, your schedule, or your ability to buy your way into contentment and peace–am your God. How are you taking Sabbath today?

Questions:

Exodus 30.15 is a great verse: The rich are not to pay more of a ransom payment than required, the poor are to pay no less. Why do you think such a principle would be important in this situation? How might it also be an important principle for us today?

What do we learn about the teachers of the law when we discover they came to arrest Jesus in the garden after the evening meal, rather than in the temple where, according to Jesus, they saw him every day?

Can you remember a time when you stopped trying to hide your sin and guilt, but rather confessed it? What was the result of that process for you?

How is there wisdom to be found in the creation of the world?

Never! – February 9, 2019

Exodus 29.1-30.10; Matthew 26.14-46; Psalm 31.19-24; Proverbs 8.14-26

Where do you fit in the story of Jesus’ disciples promising to never deny him? Are you Peter, front and center, making braggadocios claims of his allegiance? Or are you sort of like the extras of a movie, listed only with some description such as “2nd Person on the Street” or as Matthew puts it: “all the others vowed the same?” What does it take to be both front and center … and to actually refuse to deny Jesus as Lord?

Questions:

The sacrifices of the Old Testament were not a pretty picture–literally–and also seem so foreign to our faith today. What sort of understanding do you get about God when you read through this passage from Exodus?

When you hear the words of Peter (often times, not just this story!), you just want to say: Bless your heart. Why was Peter so good at quickly speaking up but not so good at following through? In what ways are you the same way?

Would you consider yourself “strong and courageous?” How does putting your faith in God help you be more that way?

If wisdom’s gifts are more precious than gold, do we seek them out? And if we do, once we get those gifts, how do we “spend” them?

On Your Behalf – February 8, 2019

Exodus 28.1-43; Matthew 25.31-26.13; Psalm 31.9-18; Proverbs 8.12-13

I love the picture we see of Aaron, in full priestly dress, with the names of the 12 tribes placed in several different locations on his garment. Whenever Aaron stood before God he did so with tangible reminders that THESE are the people for whom you minister. Who doesn’t love knowing that a leader somewhere acts on your behalf, speaking in your name to the powers that be?

Questions:

We are not without representation before God. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our high priest, standing on our behalf before the Father. Why is it comforting to you to know that someone represents you, speaking your name before God?

In what ways do we get so caught up making sure we care for others in the “right way” (which of course tends to be our way) that we miss the opportunities to care for someone in the first place.

How willing are you to put your future in someone else’s hands? In God’s hands? Why is this so difficult for us to do at times?

Do we hate evil or do we just assume that’s the way the world is so don’t get too worked up about it? How can we become more concerned about the evil that is in our world?

Time Away – January 22, 2019

Genesis 44.1-45.28
Matthew 14.13-36
Psalm 18.37-50
Proverbs 4.11-13

All throughout the gospels, we see the writers demonstrate a pattern in the life of Jesus that regularly includes getting away from the crowds and the busyness to stop and spend time in prayer.

Our reading today is an example of this. In Matthew 14.23, Jesus has sent his disciples on ahead of him and “he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.”

Question: Why did Jesus need to get away and spend time alone in prayer?

You would think that someone who was the Son of God would be so inherently connected to God that he would have a “built in” sense of knowing what to do and thus eliminate the need for prayer. (Such thinking may tell us more about our own view of prayer than Jesus’ nature, by the way.) Perhaps this is true, but I think there is more to it than that.

One might also make the argument that Jesus was providing an example for us to live by. Someone once said that the greatest single argument to pray is that Jesus prayed and this would certainly be an example of that. This also may be true, but it places prayer within a category of checklist items to be accomplished, which misses the point altogether.

No, I think the reason Jesus spent time alone in prayer, especially in Matthew 14, was that he needed to refocus or re-center his life so as not to be distracted by the distractions bombarding him at every turn.

Look at what all happened to Jesus within today’s reading:

  • He had just found out John had been killed
  • Crowds followed him to remote areas, even when he was trying to get away and be alone
  • He was faced with the challenge of feeding over 5,000 people
  • The crowds would continue to seek him out so that wherever he went, people were present seeking to be healed

It doesn’t take us long to figure out that Jesus’ schedule was overwhelming. He HAD to get away in order to maintain a focus on what was most important, otherwise the crowds would take over his time and efforts.

Stop for a moment to look at your calendar. How much “white space” is left on today? This week? How easy is it for you to refocus on what is really most important in your life?

Jesus gives you an example on how to accomplish that, by the way.

Questions:

Why do you think Joseph tells his brothers to “not quarrel about this along the way?” What did he know that perhaps we or his brothers did not?

How do you show compassion for people around you?

What can you praise and exalt God for today?

If someone asked you for the one key to life, how would you answer them? How does your answer compare to that of the Proverb writer, that his instructions are the key to life?

God Did This – January 21, 2019

Genesis 42.18-43.34
Matthew 13.47-14.12
Psalm 18.16-36
Proverbs 4.7-10

In today’s story of Joseph and his brothers, we see three different responses to a payment of money being “left” in a sack of grain.

First, Joseph’s brothers, returning from buying grain from Joseph (although they did not at the time know it was Joseph), discover the money that was to be a payment for the grain in their sacks of purchased grain. Their response: “What has God done to us?” (42.28)

Second, as they prepare to return to Egypt to purchase more grain, the brothers’ father, Jacob, reminds them to include money for a new payment, but also the old payment for: “it probably was someone’s mistake.” (43.12)

Finally, worried they were going to be imprisoned for stealing the money, the brothers immediately tell Joseph’s household manager of their plight upon their return to Joseph’s house. “Relax,” the steward replies: “Your God, the God of your father, must have put this treasure into your sacks.”

So, here’s my question: Which one of these reactions would you consider most accurate? Is God punishing the brothers? Was it all just an honest mistake, soon to be corrected by the return of the money? Is God blessing the brothers, even as they view it as a disastrous curse? Is it “D,” all of the above?

Does it surprise us that a steward of Joseph’s house understands the blessing of God? One can take a clue from the life of Joseph and his willingness to continue to have faith in God, even in the midst of his circumstances. Joseph is held out as a faithful hero in the midst of this story, so his life would certainly be an influence on others, such as those who worked in his house.

I think there is also a sense in which throughout the entire Joseph story, not only is God at work, but the twists and turns of irony surprise us. Who else BUT a servant of Joseph to remind not only the brothers, but also the readers: God is faithful and provides blessings for his people … even when they least expect it or have done anything to deserve it?

As you go through today and something happens to you or around you, ask yourself not just “Why did this happen,” but also: Where is God at work in this situation? Is his hand in this and am I just overlooking his blessing?

Questions:

How would you have liked to have been Joseph, watching the scene with his brothers unfold, seeing their reaction, and knowing everything they were saying? How do you think you would have handled this situation if you were in Joseph’s place?

We are told that Jesus did only a few miracles in his hometown of Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people. Why do you think their unbelief caused him to do so little here?

Rewrite Psalm 18 in your own words, expressing the things God has done for you as well as the life you have lived before God.

Who do you listen to for advice on how to live a good life? How helpful do you find their advice? Are there others who might be a better source of advice in your life? How can you listen to them more?

One Degree – January 20, 2019

Genesis 41.17-42.17
Matthew 13.24-46
Psalm 18.1-15
Proverbs 4.1-6

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread.”

You have most likely heard the saying “A little bit goes a long way.” Yet all too often, we live by the rule of: “If a little bit is good, a lot must be better.” Why have a regular size burger, fries, and drink, when you can value size it?

Certainly, there are times when more really is better, but the challenge is that we begin to think in an all or none mentality. Suppose you want to lose weight, let’s say 25 pounds. That process is not going to happen overnight. Simply skipping your value sizing today will not result in substantial weight loss tomorrow.

Or let’s say you have decided to run a marathon. Unless you have had a large amount of training up to this point or you are some freak of nature, your ability to complete a training regimen for running 26.2 miles will have to include many small, slow steps that build up to a large conclusion.

James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, discusses the importance of small steps in accomplishing a big goal. The analogy he uses to stress the importance of small changes is to discuss how just one degree of adjustment will make a large impact on a cross-country flight. If you were to move the nose of a commercial aircraft just one degree, the movement would be measured in a handful of inches, perhaps a couple of feet. But if you stayed on that setting throughout an entire cross-country flight, the difference would be miles, as in, you would end up miles away from your intended destination.

I think Jesus was alluding to this sort of idea when he says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast used in the baking of bread. You do not have to be a baker to know that the amount of yeast used in a loaf of bread is a very small portion compared to the amount of dough you have. Yet, that small amount of yeast transforms the entire loaf.

Many of us long to follow God better, yet too often we want it to be an all or none proposition. We want to decide today and act blameless with no struggles tomorrow. Perhaps our focus needs to be on the one degree of change that we can undertake today.

Remember, it may not seem like much, but even a very tiny amount can make a huge impact.

Questions:

Are we surprised that Joseph is described as one who is filled with the spirit of God? How does the Spirit help us face adverse situations like Joseph did in a way that gives glory to God?

Jesus tells a parable that the kingdom will be full of weeds, but those weeds will be dealt with when the harvest comes. How does this story impact your understanding of the world we live in and the challenges we face?

Does knowing God hears you affect the ways you cry out to him? What can you do this week to better understand the fact he hears you?

What specific steps can you do this week to gain spiritual wisdom?