Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thursday, September 29: Nehemiah 1-4 ~Cameron

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Nehemiah 1-4

It's easy to focus on Nehemiah's grand story that begins with him hearing the news of Jerusalem's fate, rebuilding the walls of his ancestral city, and becoming the leader of a nation. But I want to highlight the last verse of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2, verses 1-8.

"Now I was the cupbearer to the king." - Nehemiah 1:11

Nehemiah introduces himself as the cupbearer to the king. He was not performing menial work. He served in the king's court, a fact that undoubtedly helped him once he began leading others.

"..I took up wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence." - Nehemiah 2:1-2

Nehemiah had not been sad in the king's presence. He did his duties cheerfully and dutifully. He must have been an exceptional servant for the king to notice that he was a) not himself, b) not sick, and c) saddened.

"And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me." - Nehemiah 2:5-8

Think of the goodwill Nehemiah had to have built up with the king to even ask for the following:
- Send his servant to Jerusalem
- Issue letters to governors authorizing safe passage
- Authorize the use of royal timber to rebuild the walls, the gates, the temple, and Nehemiah's own house

It is easy to think of God performing a miracle and compelling the king to grant these requests. But when we see how Nehemiah manages the rest of his story, I think we can be confident that Nehemiah has built up substantial goodwill with the king from how Nehemiah managed his affairs in the years leading up to these requests.

Do we work at our jobs with such fervor that we would even dare ask for such things? Even if we are never in a position to leverage the goodwill for something great, we will still be noticed and that can be a testimony in itself.





Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage: Nehemiah 5-7

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wednesday, September 28th: Ezra 4:7-23, Ezra 7-10 ~ Nathan

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is  Ezra 4:7-23, Ezra 7-10

Our reading today in Ezra 4:7-23 reminded me of how those who don't know God, and are against Christians, have some fear in them and respect for God's power, demonstrated in their hatred for God.

Here Rehum wrote to Artaxerxes the king about how the Jews (early use of the term "Jews" here, mostly men of Judah) came back to work on and rebuild Jerusalem, and how he wanted them to stop now before they got too far, because the Jews would go on their own then and have no need for King Artaxerxes.

King Artaxerxes followed through and wanted the work to stop, before the Jews grew powerful again.

Even those that don't live for Christ can see His power at times, and are fearful of Him. This complaining from Rehum was really fear and therefore respect of God's power. He thought they should stop it now, because it would get out of his control.

Do we realize and respect the power God has and uses? Is there anything that can stop God? He is in control at all times.

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Ezra shows that he is a man of God, and leads the Israelites back, with King Artaxerxes blessing. Two things stood out to me about Ezra, and how he humbly trusted in God for protection as he lead the Israelites away. They normally would have needed armed guards for protection as they crossed dangerous territory, but Ezra was ashamed to ask for help from King Artaxerxes, and God still protected Ezra.

The second thing was how ashamed Ezra was at the sin the Israelites returned to, shortly after getting a huge break in King Artaxerxes allowing them to leave for their homeland. The Israelite men then gave up their foreign wives and children, which couldn't have been easy, but showed a commitment to God.

Ezra's story reminded me in some ways of Moses story. Both men weren't perfect, but lead God's people to a better land, and had to deal with followers that couldn't help themselves and sinned along the way to a better place.

A good reminder of how Jesus sticks with us sinners along the way of life, we are far from perfect, but He forgives. Makes me thankful for a wonderful saviour.


Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage:  Nehemiah 1-4

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday, September 27th: Esther 6-10 ~ Danae

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Esther 6-10

In these chapters today we see the culmination of Esther’s obedience.
We see how God rewarded her obedience in both the punishment of Haman as well as the deliverance of the Jews.

Esther had to step out in faith, while feeling completely inadequate for the job (not to mention risking her life), trusting that God would intervene & bring justice.

When we are faced with something, we have to choose how we will respond. Are we going to pray for God's guidance & trust him, knowing our perspective is limited? Or do we demand, expecting God to follow us/our way?  Do we trust & obey, knowing God is in control even when the circumstances seem to us that he is no? Or do we despair, doubting that God can/will deliver us?

If Esther had not turned to God & trusted him to provide a way & to work things out, the outcome would likely have been very different. Even to the point of being willing to give up everything.

Do I have that kind of faith?  That I could step out, willing to take that kind of risk, trusting God to see me through?

Only when we have that kind of faith will we get to see that kind of response from God. It's like they say: “If you believe little you will see little.”



Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage:  Ezra 4:7-23Ezra 7-10

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday, September 26: Esther 1-5-by Pamela

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Esther 1-5

I found this commentary with some insight into the book of Esther:

Did you know that Esther is mentioned more times in the Bible than any other woman? Did you know that the book bearing her name in the Old Testament does not mention God even once? What lessons can we learn today from studying the book about this very remarkable woman?

Background to the book of Esther

The story of Esther takes place in the Persian Empire during the reign of Ahasuerus, known more familiarly to us by the Greek form of his name, Xerxes I. He was the son of Darius the Great and reigned from 486-465 B.C. He ruled over a vast empire that extended from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1:1).
Esther was a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin, which had been part of the kingdom of Judah. Her ancestors were among the Jews who had been carried captive to Babylon nearly 100 years earlier. There were many Jews who didn’t return to Jerusalem when it became possible, preferring to continue living where they had settled around the Persian Empire. After the death of Esther’s parents, she was raised by Mordecai, an older cousin (Esther 2:7), who served in the Persian ruler’s palace.
The author of the book of Esther is unknown, though some attribute the work to Mordecai.
The popularity of the story of Esther is great. Listen to this description in The Five Megilloth, a Jewish commentary published by the Soncino Press: “Esther is, among the generality of Jews, the best known of all the Books of the Bible” (p. 193).
There are many reasons for this popularity. The book of Esther tells a compelling story, dramatic and exciting, with clearly defined heroes and villains. It also reveals deep and abiding spiritual truths about God’s power to deliver us from danger and oppression, even when despotic rulers plan to do evil to God’s people. Though God’s name or a direct reference to the divine does not appear in the entire story, nonetheless, God’s presence and deliverance of His people is clearly felt and implied throughout this story.


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5
It is interesting that the book of Esther does not mention God. However, just because the name of God is not mentioned, that dies not mean that He is not an integral part of the story.

One of the things that stood out for me was the last verses in the reading:
And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. 11 And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. 12 Then Haman said, “Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. 13 Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.14 Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows[p] fifty cubits[q]high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.” This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.
(Emphasis in bold is mine)

How unfortunate it is that sometimes we can be consumed by our own pettiness that we cease to see all of the things that are good in our lives. Here was Haman--invited to a solo banquet with the King and the Queen and all he could focus on was the anger he felt towards someone who didn't do what he asked. Haman even goes so far as building a gallows for Mordecai--not knowing that it would be Haman himself using it.

We too can become consumed with our anger and our resentment that it causes us to overlook the good things in our lives. We become blind and can't see the goodness before us. If only Haman would have seen beyond his hatred towards Mordecai, he would have been able to enjoy his position of power instead of becoming greedy with power and having the desire to kill all of the Jews.

God is in control whether he is at the forefront of the story or working behind the scenes. We can trust Him to place the right people in the right place at the right time for such a time as this.

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage: Esther 6-10


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunay, September 25th: Zechariah 12-14, Ezra 6:15-22, Ezra 4:6 ~ Jay

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is:Zechariah 12-14, Ezra 6:15-22, Ezra 4:6 

As I was reading through today's passages I tried to picture myself listening to the prophet back when this was written. Prophets, including Zechariah were tasked with communicating God's message that could apply to current aspects of their intended audience's faith that needed to be corrected or encouraged, descriptions of near term future events (Temple being re-built), medium term events (Christ's coming), and long term promises that even today have not yet been fulfilled.  We have the ability to look back at the Bible and history to see the fulfillment of the short and medium term promises, which provides assurance of the promises yet to be fulfilled.  We can be assured that just as God delivered on His short and medium term promises...there are many yet to come and He is faithful to His commitments.

Zechariah 14:1-   "A day of the Lord is coming," This is one of the key long term promises that we must keep in mind every day.  Do we truly believe this? There are many references in scripture to the day of Christ's return...."Thief in the Night...", "No man knows the hour or the day..." I challenge myself to bear this in mind and if I began each day with this thought around Christ's return (today could be the day)....how differently would I prioritize and conduct myself?

The other key thought I took away from today's reading was around the fact that God can change the hearts and thoughts of even His fiercest enemies to fulfill His promises. In Ezra 6:22- "For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread,because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel."   We cannot fully comprehend the power of God's Spirit, and we must remain faithful even in the midst of fierce opposition ...as God is faithful to His promises and demands that same faithfulness from us. Strong individuals who oppose us are no match for a God who has the ability to change people's hearts, to accomplish His will.

Prayer- Thank you Lord for your faithfulness and commitment to fulfill your promises in spite of our inconsistency. May we be reminded every day, that this could be the day of Your return and live accordingly.    


Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday, September 24th: Ezra 5:3-17, Ezra 6:1-14, Zechariah 7-11 ~ Tammy

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezra 5:3-17, Ezra 6:1-14, Zechariah 7-11

The portion of our passage that stood out to me today was Zechariah 11, the section about the good and evil shepherds.

Zechariah acting out the role of shepherd demonstrated how God would reject His people because they rejected him, and how God would let them fall into the clutches of evil shepherds.   The shepherd staff named "Favor" was broken to show that God's covenant with His people was broken, and the staff named "Union" was broken to show that the unity between Judah and Israel was broken. It wasn't long after this that the Jews began to divide into many different groups - Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, and Zealots - a broken union indeed!

I appreciated the prophetic significance of v12-13.

v12 speaks about paying the shepherd 30 pieces of silver - which was insulting.  It's the same price paid to an owner for a slave gored by an ox (Exodus 21:32), but it's also the same amount of money Judas received for betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:3-10).  As my Life Application Bible says: The priceless Messiah was sold for the price of a slave.   

In v13 the 30 coins are thrown to the potter in the Temple of the Lord. In Matthew 27, Judas' 30 coins were returned to the temple and used to buy a potter's field.

And, of course, this passage reminds us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and that He is the one we should follow.

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year PassageZechariah 12-14, Ezra 6:15-22, Ezra 4:6

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday, September 23rd: Ezra 5:2, Haggai 2:20-23, Zechariah 1:7-6:15 ~ Conrad

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is: Ezra 5:2, Haggai 2:20-23, Zechariah 1:7-6:15

"The angel said to those who were standing before him, 'Take off his filthy clothes.'  Then he said to Joshua, 'See, I have taken away your sin, and I put fine garments on you.'"  Zechariah 3:4

How often do we judge someone by the way they are dressed and the clothes they are wearing?  I remember when I first started to work in retail sales, I was encouraged to try to see what kind of vehicle the customer drives and to take note of the clothes and jewellery they wear, and to just overall take note of how well they took care of themselves.

I can also recall a time when I was in junior high and someone in my class would tuck in their shirt only in the place that exposed the expensive brand name of the jeans they were wearing.

Quite often the clothes we wear can change how we psychologically feel about ourselves.  For us, clothing is something we wear and typically provides a perception for which social status group we belong to.

Clothing in the Bible is often more than something to wear.  For example, Joseph's coat of many colours was pictured as a "favoured" place in the family.  Even priests would wear special garments to perform their duties.  Kings would wear purple robes to display their wealth and power.  People even tore their robes and sometimes put on sackcloth to express grief.

Clothing in the bible is symbolic.  One of the most important pictures for God's forgiveness and salvation is that of putting on new, clean clothes.  To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and receiving Him, is like putting Him on as a garment.

We like to dress to impress, but who are we impressing?  Are we dressing with brand names so we can impress friends, family or strangers?  Or are we dressed with the Holy Spirit so we can impress our God and Saviour?


Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage: Ezra 5:3-17, Ezra 6:1-14, Zechariah 7-11

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday, September 22: Daniel 12, Ezra 4:24-5:1, Haggai 1:1-2:9, Zechariah 1:1-6, Haggai 2:10-19 ~Cameron

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Daniel 12, Ezra 4:24-5:1, Haggai 1:1-2:9, Zechariah 1:1-6, Haggai 2:10-19

A smattering of versus with a scattering of thoughts:

"Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to sham and everlasting disgrace." Daniel 12:2

A note in my commentary caught my eye. The specific Hebrew phrase "everlasting life" only occurs here in the Old Testament. The concept of eternal rewards is a fascinating study, especially as it is alluded to on the Old Testament. It is an item on my bucket list of things to study deeply.


"But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end..." Daniel 12:4a

I love a good story and here is a plot idea that I'm sure has already been made into a novel. Reading these early verses, Daniel does what he is told and writes what he is supposed to write. That could mean Daniel wrote another book, one that has been sealed and hidden to be found when it is needed most. Sounds like a best seller to me.


"...when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase." Daniel 12:4b

I don't subscribe to the end times are imminent paradigm. Verses like this have been referenced through history as a sign the end is near with no fulfillment. But it is an alluring idea that soon things will be complete, and we will see the Almighty return in Power and Glory. For all the wonders we can see with physical eyes, nothing will prepare us for that moment if we are blest to experience it.



Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage: Ezra 5:2, Haggai 2:20-23, Zechariah 7-11

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday, September 21: Ezra 3:1-4:5, Daniel 10-11 ~ Danae


Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Ezra 3:1-4:5, Daniel 10-11

Two verses spoke to me today. Each different & yet common in that we need to keep our focus on God. When things don't go as planned, when we get impatient or when we think that maybe God isn't even listening, we need to be confident in Him & in the work he has set out for us.  We need to pray harder, never ceasing & trust that when we are within His will, no matter what comes at us, He will help us to succeed.


Ezra 4:4-5-
Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah & make them afraid to go on building. They hired counsellors to work against them & frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia & down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.

There were people specifically hired to cause problems for the people of Israel as they worked to rebuild the temple. I can't imagine the frustration! Not just for a day or two, or even a week, month or year. They worked to frustrate their plans for likely 30+ years. I don't know about you, but I think I would have given up well before even a year was up!

Satan works to bring down God’s children & his work. We can even expect this.  However, we need to keep our focus on why we are doing what we are doing & keep pressing on. I think, as believers, this is also a great example of how we need to work together towards the common goal & encourage each other. The Israelites didn't give up & just like them, when the going gets hard (even if it's for 30 years), we can't just pack it in, but rather dig in our heels, roll up our sleeves & tough it out.


Daniel 10:12-14-
Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding & to humble yourself before God, your words were heard, & I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

We live in a culture that is so instant & so self-gratifying. We get upset if we can't get/do something right away, when we want it & how we want it. This is in such contrast to how God works. He knows the right timing. When we feel frustrated that we don't get an answer right away, it's not that he hasn't heard us.

The imagery in these verses of the battles going on in the unseen world fills me with awe. It makes me feel small; not in a bad way, but to recognize who I am (& what I think is important) in the grand scheme of things.  It makes me recognize the importance to pray faithfully & earnestly until we receive our answer & to expect an answer from God, but in his time not mine.


God doesn't promise us that everything we do (even if it's for Him) will be easy, but we need to keep going. That doesn't necessarily sit well. In fact, it goes against everything this world tells us. But God hears us & knows what we need. He will provide for us, enable us, & give us His strength to keep going, even if it comes only in the amount we need just to get through each day. God is always faithful.



Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage:  Daniel 12, Ezra 4:24-5:1, Haggai 1:1-2:9, Zechariah 1:1-6, Haggai 2:10-19

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tuesday, September 20th: 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1-2, Psalm 126, Psalm 147 ~ Emma

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1-2, Psalm 126, Psalm 147

Scripture
Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. Psalm 126:5

Observation
In my Bible, this verse has a little cross beside it which points me to a different passage (Galatians 6:9) which reads: So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.
Application
When life isn't going our way, and the answer to our prayers seems so distant, we need to not give up. We need to keep doing what is right and honourable in God's eyes. As my wise mother told me once, you can either be a slave to fear, or a slave to Christ. One brings hopelessness and destruction, the other brings love and hope. We may not get our reward here on earth, but we can be sure that if we do what God would find right and honouring to His Name, we will get our reward in Heaven.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, help us to never lose sight of Your love. Help us to trust in You, the Author of our stories, even when we can't see anything but the troubles around us. Help us to always hope, always trust, and always persevere. Help us to remember that You are good all the time. Bless us today as we walk in a world that does not follow you, and help us to never forget the joy that is coming for the ones who fear You. Amen.

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage:  Ezra 3:1-4:5, Daniel 10-11