Thursday, March 01, 2012

Daily Devotional Thursday 1st March

“A song of ascents. I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me.” Psalm 120:1 NIV
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Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon

Morning

"Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out."
Song of Solomon 4:16

Anything is better than the dead calm of indifference. Our souls may wisely desire the north wind of trouble if that alone can be sanctified to the drawing forth of the perfume of our graces. So long as it cannot be said, "The Lord was not in the wind," we will not shrink from the most wintry blast that ever blew upon plants of grace. Did not the spouse in this verse humbly submit herself to the reproofs of her Beloved; only entreating him to send forth his grace in some form, and making no stipulation as to the peculiar manner in which it should come? Did she not, like ourselves, become so utterly weary of deadness and unholy calm that she sighed for any visitation which would brace her to action? Yet she desires the warm south wind of comfort, too, the smiles of divine love, the joy of the Redeemer's presence; these are often mightily effectual to arouse our sluggish life. She desires either one or the other, or both; so that she may but be able to delight her Beloved with the spices of her garden. She cannot endure to be unprofitable, nor can we. How cheering a thought that Jesus can find comfort in our poor feeble graces. Can it be? It seems far too good to be true. Well may we court trial or even death itself if we shall thereby be aided to make glad Immanuel's heart. O that our heart were crushed to atoms if only by such bruising our sweet Lord Jesus could be glorified. Graces unexercised are as sweet perfumes slumbering in the cups of the flowers: the wisdom of the great Husbandman overrules diverse and opposite causes to produce the one desired result, and makes both affliction and consolation draw forth the grateful odours of faith, love, patience, hope, resignation, joy, and the other fair flowers of the garden. May we know by sweet experience, what this means.

Evening

"He is precious."
1 Peter 2:7

As all the rivers run into the sea, so all delights centre in our Beloved. The glances of his eyes outshine the sun: the beauties of his face are fairer than the choicest flowers: no fragrance is like the breath of his mouth. Gems of the mine, and pearls from the sea, are worthless things when measured by his preciousness. Peter tells us that Jesus is precious, but he did not and could not tell us how precious, nor could any of us compute the value of God's unspeakable gift. Words cannot set forth the preciousness of the Lord Jesus to his people, nor fully tell how essential he is to their satisfaction and happiness. Believer, have you not found in the midst of plenty a sore famine if your Lord has been absent? The sun was shining, but Christ had hidden himself, and all the world was black to you; or it was night, and since the bright and morning star was gone, no other star could yield you so much as a ray of light. What a howling wilderness is this world without our Lord! If once he hideth himself from us, withered are the flowers of our garden; our pleasant fruits decay; the birds suspend their songs, and a tempest overturns our hopes. All earth's candles cannot make daylight if the Sun of Righteousness be eclipsed. He is the soul of our soul, the light of our light, the life of our life. Dear reader, what wouldst thou do in the world without him, when thou wakest up and lookest forward to the day's battle? What wouldst thou do at night, when thou comest home jaded and weary, if there were no door of fellowship between thee and Christ? Blessed be his name, he will not suffer us to try our lot without him, for Jesus never forsakes his own. Yet, let the thought of what life would be without him enhance his preciousness.

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Shemaiah [Shĕma ī'ah]—jehovah is fame, jehovah has heard or obeys the lord.

Evidently this popular name was shared by many Bible men, and at times two of the following may be the same individual. It is not an easy matter to identify them exactly.

  1. A prophet sent by God to prevent Rehoboam from warring against the house of Israel. His part in the revolution and history are clearly defined ( 1 Kings 12:22; 2 Chron. 11:2; 12:5, 7, 15).
  2. Son of Shechaniah and father of Hattush, descendant of Zerubbabel (1 Chron. 3:22).
  3. Father of Shimri, perhaps Shimei, and head of a family of Simeon (1 Chron. 4:37). See verses twenty-six and twenty-seven.
  4. A son of Joel, perhaps Shema of 1 Chronicles 5:8, and head of a family of Reuben ( 1 Chron. 5:4).
  5. A Merarite Levite dwelling in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 9:14;Neh. 11:15).
  6. A Levite, father of Obadiah ( 1 Chron. 9:16). Called Shammua in Nehemiah 11:17.
  7. Head of the Levitical Kohath clan who assisted in bringing the Ark from the house of Obed-edom (1 Chron. 15:8, 11).
  8. The son of Nathaneel, a Levite, who recorded the priestly office in David’s time (1 Chron. 24:6).
  9. Oldest son of Obed-edom, a Korhite Levite and a gatekeeper of the Tabernacle in David’s reign (1 Chron. 26:4 , 6, 7).
  10. A Levite, commissioned by Jehoshaphat, to teach the people in Judah (2 Chron. 17:8).
  11. A son of Jeduthun who helped in the purification of the Temple under Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:14).
  12. A Levite in Hezekiah’s time who was over the freewill offerings of God (2 Chron. 31:15).
  13. A chief Levite in the days of Josiah (2 Chron. 35:9).
  14. A son of Adonikam who returned with Ezra from exile (Ezra 8:13).
  15. A chief man under Ezra sent to Iddo to ask for ministers. ( Ezra 8:16).
  16. A priest of the family of Harim who married a foreign wife (Ezra 10:21).
  17. A person who helped to repair the wall (Neh. 3:29).
  18. A son of Delaiah hired by Sanballat and Tobiah to intimidate Nehemiah (Neh. 6:10).
  19. A priest , one of the twenty-four courses of priests that with Nehemiah sealed the covenant (Neh. 10:8; 12:6, 18,34, 35).
  20. A singer who took part in the dedication of the wall (Neh. 12:36).
  21. Another, or perhaps the same person as the previous one, who gave thanks at the dedication (Neh. 12:42).
  22. The father of Urijah the prophet who was slain by Jehoiakim for prophesying against Jerusalem and Judah (Jer. 26:20).
  23. A prophet called “the Nehelamite” who in captivity was actively engaged in reproving or opposing Jeremiah (Jer. 29:24-32).
  24. The father of Delaiah, a prince of the Jews to whom Baruch read the roll he had written under Jeremiah’s direction ( Jer. 36:12).
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February 29, 2012

Take This Job and Love It!

Mary Southerland

Today's Truth

"Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16, NIV).

Friend to Friend

We all want to be successful in our work. Your office may be downtown or just inside your front door. Your work clothes may be an elegant suit or ragged jeans and a stained t-shirt. You may be paid in cash or with crayon drawings and sticky kisses. It doesn't really matter because none of these things alone makes us successful in the work place.

Many people never experience success in their work because they are in the wrong work to begin with. Not me. As a high school student, I knew exactly what I wanted to be – a nurse. My mother was a nurse and I wanted to be just like her so I signed up to be a student volunteer at the hospital where my mother worked. When I told her the good news, she thought for a moment and then simply said, "That's great, honey. You'll make a wonderful nurse."

On my first day, I eagerly donned the required red and white striped uniform and reported for duty. The head nurse welcomed me and explained that I would be checking each patient to make sure they had water to drink, magazines to read and a listening ear. That sounded simple enough. "Oh, and one more thing," she continued. In retrospect, I should have instantly recognized the danger in those words and run for the nearest exit. In my ignorance, I stayed. "Since we are short-handed, I may ask you to do just a few things to help the other nurses on duty," she said. "No problem" I assured her.

At that precise moment, a scream pierced the air! The head nurse calmly looked at me, smiled and said, "Could you check on that, please?" Surely, I had misunderstood her. "Now!" she continued. Taking a deep breath, I headed in the direction of the scream, praying that that it was nothing more than the celebratory cry of someone who had just won a million dollars.

As I neared the room in question, a bedpan flew through the doorway in front of me, landing at my feet. Furthermore, the bedpan was not empty. I decided right then and there that nursing was not for me, turned in my candy cane apron and raced for the nearest exit. Mama was waiting for me as I stepped off the elevator. She smiled, handed me the cars keys and simply said, "See you at home." Fortunately, I had a wise and wonderful mother who knew me well and from that day on encouraged me to be the teacher God created me to be.

I truly believe many people are living stress-filled lives because they have never sought and discovered God's plan and are trapped in jobs and careers that simply do not fit. Every day, they feel like the proverbial round peg being jammed into a square hole – a painful and frustrating process.

What does fit is God's plan. In Psalm 23:3 , David writes, "He leads me in paths of righteousness." In this verse "righteousness" simply means "right things." The Shepherd has a plan for His sheep. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. The difference is that God's plan is filled with the "right things" He shaped and created us to do while the agendas of others tend to service their own purposes instead of God's. God empowers His plan, but when we step into our own agenda or a plan created by anyone else, we are stepping into and relying upon our frail, limited strength. Soon, we will be empty and stress will flood in, filling the emptiness with anxiety and tension. Don't waste another day just doing the "next" thing. Take a long, hard look at your work, your job, and your agenda to make sure you are in the right place - doing what you were created to do in this world.

You have probably heard the statement, "I climbed the ladder of success, and when I reached the top, I realized it was leaning against the wrong wall." Not long ago, I came to a crossroads in my life that made me question the path I was taking in ministry. I asked God to either change me and the way I was doing ministry or change my ministry. He did both! Once again, I realized that God wants the highest and best things for my life. That really is His plan. Don't settle for anything less.

Let's Pray

Father, I want to follow Your plan for my life. Help me to walk in daily obedience so that Your unique and perfect plan for my life will naturally unfold before me. And when I am discouraged or stressed because of the work I am doing, give me Your peace and the assurance that I am in the right spot doing the right things You created me to do.

In Jesus' name,

Amen.

Now It's Your Turn

The amazing truth is that more than we want to know God's plan for our life - He wants us to know it and stands ready to guide us. God always reveals His plan to an obedient and seeking heart. Are you willing to do whatever God asks you to do?

Read Jeremiah 29:11 and record it in your journal. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (NIV).

Seek God and ask for His direction.

Seek His will by searching His Word.

Pay attention to the passion of your heart.

Realistically evaluate your abilities.

Take into account your natural talents.

Consider the advice of those who know you best.

Then step out in faith, trusting God to help you make the right choice.

More From The Girlfriends

God gives us His truth to learn and then to apply. God has a unique plan or "recipe" for each one of us. Our greatest opportunity for success is to live that plan. I believe God tucks into our very soul a discontentment with anything but His life "recipe." If we approach each day searching for His handprints in every situation, choosing to walk in obedience to His Word, we will surely find ourselves right in the middle of God's purpose and plan.

Mary's Bible Study Take This Job and Love It, offers six principles from the life of the Proverbs 31 woman that will help you be successful in your work, no matter where you work or what your job may be. Study guide included.

It's not too late to enroll in Mary's weekly online Bible Study, Light for the Journey, and have access to all of 2011 studies. The current topic is When I Am Afraid. Learn how to face and deal with your fear so you can live in peace and victory.

Need a friend? Connect with Mary on Facebook or through email.

Seeking God?
Click here to find out more about
how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Girlfriends in God
P.O. Box 725
Matthews, NC 28106

info@girlfriendsingod.com
www.girlfriendsingod.com

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Renee Swope

February 29, 2012

Just the Right Words
Renee Swope

"A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." Proverbs 25:11 (NIV 1984)

Has someone ever spoken words that helped you see something valuable or unique about yourself that you had never seen before?

That's what happened between Jill and Leanne. They met when Jill was coaching a Jr. High basketball team and Leanne's 13-year-old daughter, Shelby, was on her team. Years later, when she was in high school, Shelby got seriously injured and Jill reached out to her with encouragement, prayers and notes that spoke just the words that Shelby needed to hear.

One day, Leanne sent a letter thanking Jill for the difference she was making in her daughter's life. She described the qualities of a great coach she saw in Jill and called her a "bright light" that shined in many lives, including theirs.

Leanne didn't know that months later Jill would go home one night to an empty apartment plagued with doubt, questioning her purpose in life. Battling clinical depression and living under the weight of feeling worthless, Jill had contemplated suicide. That night as she pondered her fate, she opened her journal to write in it and a piece of paper fell out. Opening the note, she read Leanne's words again.

God used Leann's words to show Jill she did have a purpose and that life was worth living. They were just the right words at just the right time.

When someone speaks encouragement into our hearts, the course of our lives can be changed forever. And when we believe in someone else, God uses us to build confidence and security in a heart that may have otherwise been paralyzed by doubt and insecurity.

I'll never forget my friend Janet thanking me for words I'd penned from my heart to hers in a thank you card. To me it was only a thank you, but to her it was more. God touched her heart deeply through something I said. And in response, she encouraged me to write more than notes. Her prayers and confidence inspired this insecure young mom to eventually write a Bible study.

And God used that tiny Bible study, written over 10 years ago, to uncover His plans and develop the future "writer" in me. He used a woman who believed in me more than I believed in myself to help me take the first step.

Just the right words at just the right time.

Perhaps you need to hear them. If so, listen and let God speak them over you today through His promises:

"But you are a chosen [woman], a royal priesthood, a holy [daughter], God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." Isaiah 43:1 (NIV)

"For [you] are God's masterpiece. He has created [you] anew in Christ Jesus, so [you] can do the good things he planned for [you] long ago." Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

"In all these things [you] are more than [a] conqueror through him who loved [you]." Romans 8:37 (NIV)

Just the right words at just the right time.

When we read and believe God promises, they settle into places in our hearts that need to know we are lovedÖby Him and others. I pray you receive and believe them today, and then ask Jesus how you might share them. Perhaps there is someone in your life who needs them now more than ever.

Dear Lord, I need Your encouragement each day. Lead me to promises in Your Word that will strengthen me when I'm weary and build me up when I feel torn down. Help me see and believe what You see in me, and then share it with others. I pray You would give me just the right words at just the right time. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Renee's website/blog where she shares practical ways you can position your thoughts to hear and live in God's promises every day. Also, she's giving away a "Living in God's Promises" gift pack. Enter to win here!

A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself and Start Living in the Security of God's Promises by Renee Swope

Letting God Fill the Empty Places in Your Heart message on CD by Renee Swope

For daily reminders of God's love and promises, follow Renee on Facebook.

Reflect and Respond:
How often do you listen to and live in your self-doubts? How often do you fill your mind with God's words of encouragement? Do you realize the power of your words to speak hope and encouragement into the lives of others, as well as into your own life?

Make a list of five people who could use your words of encouragement this week and then send them a note, text or phone message.

Power Verse:
Isaiah 50:4, "The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught." (NIV 1984)

© 2012 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries
616-G Matthews-Mint Hill Road
Matthews, NC 28105
www.Proverbs31.org

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The Standard of Perfection

Matthew 5:43-48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (v. 48).

Note the authority with which our Lord teaches in Matthew 5:21-48. When He says, "but I say to you" (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39,44), He makes use of the personal Greek pronoun ego, which is used with verbs only for emphasis. In other words, we might better translate Jesus' "I say to you" as "I myself say to you." Christ is emphatically declaring Himself as the one doing the teaching, which is necessary only if He wants to exalt the worth and binding nature of His own words. After all, Jesus' audience on the mountain does not need to be reminded that He is the one doing the teaching.

Our Lord's authority does not lie in the newness of His instruction; what He says is not unknown in the Old Testament. Instead, His teaching is authoritative because He alone - not the scribes and Pharisees - determines the true meaning of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus' authority reveals His deity; only the divine lawgiver Himself knows the full meaning of His own Law.

By this same authority, in today's passage Jesus says our neighbor includes everyone on earth, even those who hate us (Matt. 5:43-47 ). Our Savior's contemporaries have misconstrued the old covenant command to love our neighbors (Lev. 19:17-18) to mean that we must likewise hate our enemies, a notion found nowhere in the Old Testament. However, true children of the Father will imitate Him and love even their enemies. If God does good to those who hate Him, how much more should we who are His sons and daughters do the same (Matt. 5:44-45 )? Believers, John Calvin comments, desire that "the wicked should return to a sound mind, that they may not perish; and thus they endeavor to promote their salvation." The love Jesus commends is not primarily a feeling. It is an action wherein we do good for those who hate us, even to the point of sacrifice, though this command does not tell us to stand aside as others are harmed or to remain always in situations where we face grave danger.

Christ's exposition of the Law penetrates to the heart, demanding of us the impossible - God's absolute perfection (v. 48 ). Thankfully, we stand before Him on Jesus' righteousness alone, but let us always aim to imitate our Lord.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

John Calvin also writes regarding today's passage: "Christ assures us, that this will be a mark of our adoption, if we are kind to the unfaithful and evil." Just as God's love for His enemies does not mean He loves them the same way He loves us, so too will we love our enemies differently than we love our fellow Christians. Nevertheless, we are to do good to those who hate us in imitation of Jesus' love. Do a good deed for an enemy today.

For further study:

1 Samuel 24:1-7

The Bible in a year:

Numbers 36-Deut. 1

INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

Subscribe to Tabletalk magazine and receive daily Bible studies & in depth articles from world class scholars for only $23 per per year! That's only $1.92 per month. And you can try it out for three months absolutely free! Bringing the best in biblical scholarship together with down-to-earth writing, Tabletalk helps you understand the Bible and apply it to daily living.

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TT_Coramdeo_ttlogo

The Standard of Perfection

Matthew 5:43-48

John Calvin also writes regarding today's passage: "Christ assures us, that this will be a mark of our adoption, if we are kind to the unfaithful and evil." Just as God's love for His enemies does not mean He loves them the same way He loves us, so too will we love our enemies differently than we love our fellow Christians. Nevertheless, we are to do good to those who hate us in imitation of Jesus' love. Do a good deed for an enemy today.

For further study:

1 Samuel 24:1-7

The Bible in a year:

Numbers 36-Deut. 1

Coram Deo from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

Subscribe to Tabletalk magazine and receive daily Bible studies & in depth articles from world class scholars for only $23 per per year! That's only $1.92 per month. And you can try it out for three months absolutely free! Bringing the best in biblical scholarship together with down-to-earth writing, Tabletalk helps you understand the Bible and apply it to daily living.

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Everything New - A Weeekly Devotional

ON REVERENCE AND RESPECT

If you are looking for a set of values that will give dignity to your life, that will connect you with the life of God, and that will work at a practical level, you need not look any further than these: reverence and respect.

Reverence is what is supposed to happen in our hearts when we are exposed to the power and majesty of God. Reverence (Latin, reverentia) means awe. Wonder. Esteem. Even fear. Reverence is the prophet saying "Woe to me... I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). It is the newly-called disciple of Jesus saying "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8). It is the submissive apostle saying: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33).

The purpose of worship is for us to be awe-filled (different from aw-ful!) to the point that we are driven to submission to God. The main word for worship in the Greek New Testament means "to bend the knee." So every act of worship: praise, prayer, offering, the reading and exposition of Scripture, baptism, the Lord's Supper, are all most effective when they lead to awe. And that awe is not confined to a church building. We can, and must, stay bowed before God in the workplace, at school, in our families. Even a professional football quarterback may go down on one knee when he feels grateful to God for being able to his job well-even though the brief act of submission will bring derision and ridicule down on him. People just don't get it. In our culture we like it when our leaders strut and brag. Reverence makes people uncomfortable.

And then we turn to the horizontal. Reverence (for God) leads to respect (for people).

The most important thing you can do for the people in your life-your family, your friends, your co-workers-is to treat them with respect. The reason we love is because we respect. We react to God's greatness with reverence, and then we turn around and look at these amazing creatures God has made in his own image (in his own image!)-men and women, boys and girls-and we treat them with respect because they are made in God's image. The alternative is unthinkable: to slap the image of God in the face is to slap God in the face.

One thing every person wants, is respect.

If we want people to grow-we will respect them. If we hope people will find security and confidence-we will respect them. If we long to see the people in our lives have a life-giving connection with God-we will respect them.

Respect is a choice we make. It does not come naturally to us. The easy thing is to use or abuse other people. After all, we're busy, we have things to do, places to go, goals to achieve. How dare other people get in our way or make our lives complicated. The word "respect" literally means to take another look. "Re-spect"-to look again. That has to be intentional.

Given the coarseness of our culture, it is time to stop and take another look.

It is never too late for us to take another look. To say to God: give me a new vision of the people around me. Help me to see them as you see them.

It is the reason Jesus said the whole Law is summed up in one simple truth with two parts: "Love the Lord your God [reverence]... and love your neighbor as yourself [respect]" (Luke 10:27). Jesus said: "do this, and you will live."

This does cost us a great deal. Looking at God with reverence takes away all our bragging rights (which we never had in the first place), and respecting people-taking another look-means our treatment of others will have to be more careful, more discerning, and more generous than we ever imagined.



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About The Author - Mel Lawrenz serves as minister at large for Elmbrook Church and leads The Brook Network. Having been in pastoral ministry for thirty years, the last decade as senior pastor of Elmbrook, Mel seeks to help Christian leaders engage with each other. Mel is the author of eleven books, the most recent for church leaders, Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement.
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At Issue - God’s Word

Psalms 1:1-3

Without strong roots, a tree won't grow and produce fruit. Deep roots are a source of sustenance and an anchor in storms. You need to be strongly rooted in God for the same reasons. So, how do you develop roots? Absorb God's Word daily. As life gets busier, this may require creativity. During your child's soccer practice, memorize Bible verses you keep on cards in your purse. Use your lunch hour to read your Bible. Listen to the Bible on CD while you drive. Look for every opportunity to soak up God's truth and send down those roots.

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True Identity: The Bible for Women
by Zondervan


The Bible that helps you see yourself as God sees you! Find your true identity in Christ through your relationship with him.
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A Change of Heart and Mind

Today's reading: John 21

Whatever happened to the "Son of Thunder"?

John 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

The disciple John had been favored to share private moments with Jesus. As part of an inner circle of three, he saw Jesus transfigured, watched him bring Jairus's daughter back to life and waited for him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

After Jesus was arrested, John witnessed the sequence of his trials. He was the only disciple mentioned as being near the cross at Jesus' death and one of the very first to learn of Christ's resurrection. Somehow, this process changed John.

From Thunder to Love

John bore an amusing nickname, "son of thunder" (see Mark 3:17), and several incidents in the Gospels hint that this name reflected his stormy personality. John jealously resented competition from rival miracle workers (see Mark 9:38), and he insisted on the best seat in the kingdom of heaven for himself. Once, he wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a hostile town (see Luke 9:54).

Somewhere in his life, the thunderclouds broke apart. Eventually he got a new nickname: "the apostle of love." John's books-this Gospel and the letters John wrote later-are marked by a recurring emphasis on love.

Naturally, John's spiritual pilgrimage influenced his written record of Jesus' life. His changed personality may provide a clue to his unique style of telling Jesus' story through a handful of poignant episodes. Perhaps these few scenes are the memories of Jesus that finally convinced John himself that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God.

Life Question

Getting to know Jesus changes a person. How have you been changed?

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Today's reading is from the
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A proven, common sense approach to studying the Scriptures appeals to high school and college readers (and students of all ages).


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Day 8

Imagine if you were introducing the Savior of the world. Wouldn’t you make it a gala event? Call in the media? Spotlight the attending celebs? Give the Savior the red-carpet treatment? Get people’s attention?

God doesn’t work that way. He planned his Son’s introduction using a scruffy bohemian prophet called John the Baptist. John, the son of Mary’s relative Elizabeth, was the one who had been foretold to precede the Messiah “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” John was unique among the prophets. He lived outside of the mainstream religious culture, yet his message was more timely than any other.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

What purposes did Jesus' baptism and temptation serve?

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Today's Lent reading: Matthew 17-18 (NIV)

View today's Lent reading on Bible Gateway
The Transfiguration

1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy

14 When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [21]

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time

22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.

The Temple Tax

24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Matthew 18

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Causing to Stumble

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

The Parable of the Wandering Sheep

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11]

12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Dealing With Sin in the Church

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[j] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

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Today's Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, who commanded us to love our enemies and all those who insult and hurt us, and to pray for them and forgive them; you yourself prayed for your enemies, who crucified you. Give us, we pray, a spirit of Christian reconciliation and meekness, so that we may forgive every injury and be reconciled with our enemies. Grant us Christian meekness and true love of our neighbor. Give to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins; and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith and sincere conversion. Help us to repay evil with goodness. -- adapted from the Orthodox "Prayer for Enemies"

Today's Scripture Reading: Psalm 25:3-9

3 No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.

4 Show me your ways, LORD,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, LORD, are good.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.

Today's Quote

Today's quote is from the famous Easter hymn "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended," a powerful reflection on our own guilt and role in Jesus' crucifixion. You can learn more about this hymn at the Center for Church Music.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty--Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
'Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life's oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Something to Think About

Forgiveness is an integral part of the Easter story. Who in your life needs to be forgiven today? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? This week, consider extending the hand of forgiveness to somebody who needs it.

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