Bible Reading Blog
It is Worth ItTuesday, April 18, 2023
BIBLE READING: Matthew 13.44-46
Every year, millions of people immigrate to the United States looking for a better life. For some it may take years as they order their lives to find a way here. To do so, many sell everything they own because they are convinced that being here is better than anything they had before.
In some ways they are right. Having lived in the US my whole life, I didn’t understand this until I visited Ethiopia several years ago. Seeing 3rd world conditions first-hand is shocking, but what made it worse is the lack of opportunity. Even if someone wanted a better lifestyle, social constructs and government regulations often do not allow them the chance to pursue them freely. Ethiopians often look at Americans as though we have it all; one even commented to me that he imagines America is what heaven is like.
From this side of the world, we know the US is far from the perfection of heaven; but we do have many more comforts than the rest of the world. This often numbs us to the desire for something better because we are just comfortable enough where we are. Like the brethren in Laodicea, many would say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…” but what does Jesus say to them? “[You do not realize] that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3.17). The comforts of American living will fail everyone, but the riches of heaven will not. Do we believe that?
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13.44-46)
God’s word reveals the value of God’s kingdom, but many will not see it. There are too many things that demand their attention… how could something intangible be more valuable than my paycheck... my possessions... my securities?
Does that describe you, or are you buying what God has revealed to us about his kingdom? It is a place of peace, security and comfort. All things are provided for because God is there. If we believe in the value of his kingdom, shouldn’t we order our lives to get there? Shouldn’t we be willing to give up anything and everything? Perhaps our apathy is the result of ignorance. Perhaps it is our failure to grasp the great disparity between the now and the not yet. Either way, belief in the greatness of our king and his kingdom should be central to our everyday walk of faith. We must be seekers who deny temporary comforts (Matthew 16.24), abstain from the desires of the flesh (1 Peter 2.11) and give up anything (Luke 15.24-33) with the hope of experiencing God’s eternal kingdom. It is worth it.
From Present Distress to God's PresenceTuesday, April 11, 2023
BIBLE READING: Psalm 46
How would you feel if the ground beneath your feet started giving way? What if you looked out the window and things were crashing down around you because of the quakes? What if even a giant mountain in the distance was starting to crumble from its very foundations? This is definitely not a picture of peace.
When natural disasters occur, we see chaos and instability. These are forces beyond our control. And yet Psalm 46.1 states, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The juxtaposition of God’s presence with earthly chaos takes us back to the scene of Genesis 1 where God brought order to the chaos with just a word (Genesis 1.2-3). With power and simplicity, God made things “good”. In similar fashion, Jesus spoke a word and calmed the storm his disciples thought would kill them (Matthew 8.23-27; Mark 4.36-41; Luke 8.22-25). They rightly asked, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8.25).
We fear what we cannot control, and yet God is consistently revealed as One who both controls and commands the natural world. “He utters his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46.6). No human kingdom or force can compare to God’s sovereignty. Even the greatest kingdoms, as stable as they may seem, totter and come to an end; But God is not moved (46.5-6). In fact, he is often the source of their failing (46.9). As citizens of God’s eternal kingdom, we are called to “behold the works of the LORD” (48.8). Our God is both stable and sure, bringing order to the most intense chaos.
Not only that but both natural and national forces will be harnessed in exaltation of God (Psalm 46.10). He will bring order to the chaos. So we must learn to shift our focus from present distress to God’s presence by being still (46.1, 7, 11). To know that God is God is to know his Lordship of nature and history. He is Sovereign over all things both globally and personally. He knows the number of our days and the hairs of our head. But more importantly, he does not wield this knowledge against those who seek his kingdom. Instead, he is a refuge and strength (Psalm 46.1); a presence of safety to secure our hearts with peace. But we must be warned and be wise (Psalm 2.10-12). We must learn about our king and seek his kingdom first. We must “serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2.11). “The Lord is good to those who seek him (Lamentations 3.25), and “blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2.12).
“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90.2)
“So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”” (Hebrews 13.6, cf. Deuteronomy 31.8)
Appeal to God's RighteousnessTuesday, April 04, 2023
BIBLE READING: Psalm 9
“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”
And the [Jesus] said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you; he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18.1-8)
Jesus’ kingdom is marked by justice toward the oppressed. The pervasive image of Psalm 9 is of the king on the throne executing judgment against wickedness (Psalm 9.4, 7-8, 16, 19). He will make things as they should be. Hence the admonition of the psalm to appeal to God’s righteousness. “…those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9.10).
The challenge is we often desire immediate retribution and reprieve. We want to see others get what they deserve, and for us to be vindicated. But if we really thought that through, we might think twice. We all deserve something we don’t want to pay for (Romans 3.23; 6.23). Our sins are worthy of immediate consequences, BUT GOD has patiently endured in hope of better things. We must not presume upon God with our frustrations towards his ‘slowness’ (2 Peter 3.9). His timeline towards the wickedness in this world is often in hope of their repentance, which we either can’t see or don’t want to see (consider Jonah 3.10-4.2).
We must not put ourselves in his rightful position. He is the king who sits on his throne to judge. He will execute judgment on the unrighteous and offer hope to the oppressed, in his time. That is not our role. If we learn nothing else from the parable of the unforgiving servant, it is that God expects us to show mercy and not judgment towards our fellow man (Matthew 18.33). He will do what is right (Psalm 9.7-8). As citizens of the kingdom, we must always humbly differ our passions and appeal to the king and his righteousness.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12.19-21)
Practical Ways to Seek God FirstTuesday, March 28, 2023
BIBLE READING: 1 Chronicles 28.9; 2 Chronicles 7.14; Lamentations 3.22-25; Psalm 34.4-10; Psalm 27.4-8
How do we seek God first? This week’s readings give us practical direction:
- By humbling ourselves and turning from wickedness (2 Chronicles 7.14). First and foremost, we must be willing to accept God’s holiness and our unworthiness. We must fundamentally change our minds about what is important and what we will allow to direct our lives. We must seek God with our “whole heart and a willing mind” (1 Chronicles 28.9). You are not seeking God if you are unwilling to call out your sin and practice humility.
- By waiting for the LORD (Lamentations 3.25). We often think of seeking in terms of action, and this seems contrary. But waiting on the LORD is an activity of restraint and development. We are stretching our limits by waiting for God’s time. To seek God often requires we experience his consistency despite our lack of control. We must learn to calm our spirits and wait as we seek him.
- By responding to God’s calling (Psalm 27.8). If you’re playing a game of ‘Marco-Polo’ you wouldn’t run away from the voice of the person. Instead, your next move is determined by what you hear from them. In the bible, this defines obedience. People who sought God listened and obeyed, right away.
- By crying out to God (Psalm 34.6). This is a manifestation of humility as it declares our helplessness and need. Seeking God is a promotion of his ability and our insufficiency. We often fail to cry out to God because we think we’re got it covered. The fact is, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28). We seek God first when we understand our utter reliance upon his mercy to both protect and sustain us.
- By taking refuge in him (Psalm 34.8). “God is a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46.1), and yet we are not always so quick to involve him. Sure, we run to God when we run out of options, but we must not seek God only as a last resort. Without him, we are destroyed by chaos, uncertainty, and fear. But God “is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30.5).
- By fearing him over all others (Psalm 34.9). This is yet another act of humility that elevates God in both our hearts and activities. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12.29), characterized by holiness, patience, justice, mercy, love and so many other things. And yet he is accessible although Divine. We have no right to presume or degrade him with apathy or negligence. Instead, we should bring our own “holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7.1).
God has not left us to wonder how to seek him first. But we all know this is complicated because of our selfishness and desires. So, fundamentally we seek God first when we die to self and enthrone him as king. There is nothing more fundamental to seeking God first than putting to death our wants and living as new people who are citizens of HIS kingdom.
A Necessary Way of LifeTuesday, March 21, 2023
BIBLE READING: Nehemiah 1.1-4; 2.1-8; Daniel 9.1-3; Matthew 10.38-42; Luke 19.1-10; Acts 4.23-31
The common idea in this week’s reading is what it looks like to seek God first. As soon as Nehemiah heard about the trouble in Jerusalem, he “wept and mourned for days, and… continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1.4). When Daniel wanted clarity about what he was reading, he “turned [his] face to the LORD God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9.3). Following the release of Peter and John from prison, they met up with their friends and “lifted their voices together to God” (Acts 4.24).
Prayer is obviously a key element to seeking God first; but notice how quickly these people engaged God. They didn’t allow their thoughts or emotions an opportunity to take over without bringing God into the picture. Almost immediately, and without pretense, they made God prominent.
Notice the persistence of Nehemiah: he fasted and prayed for days. His efforts were not a single moment of last resort but an ongoing search for God’s favor. Seeking God first was a daily activity. Notice the humility of Daniel: he plead for mercy with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. He understood his limitations and the need for God’s wisdom. Notice the trust the NT believers had in God’s word. They quoted scripture with praise and hope. They understood this is what God had promised because his word was in the forefront of their minds.
These were not decisions made in the moment, but outflows of people invested in seeking God. When we make spiritual disciplines as a habit, seeking God first moves us to action and positions us to receive God’s blessings. In Luke 19, Zacchaeus was set on seeking Jesus, so he climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of him. The crowds surrounded Jesus… what do you think Zacchaeus expected? Surely, he didn’t expect Jesus to invite himself over! His efforts were rewarded by the presence and salvation of Jesus (Luke 19.9).
The activities we read in these episodes shouldn’t surprise us, but how often is seeking God your top priority? Do you run to him for refuge and strength or is he a last resort? Seeking God first is an activity and not just a thought in our minds. It is a determination of the will founded in our belief that God is real and Jesus is our king. If we call ourselves Christians we must “not be sluggish but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise” (Hebrews 6.12).
In Matthew 10, Jesus taught this priority as a necessary way of life for believers who want to be rewarded by God (Matthew 10.35-42). There is no greater relationship we can value. There is no greater activity we must desire. There is no greater life we can live than to die to ourselves and seek to follow Jesus. If we are not willing to put our natural responses to the side and seek Jesus first, we are not worthy of him (Matthew 10.38).