Pastor’s Thoughts

12 April 2021

Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven – Acts 1:1-11

  1. If you could take a trip somewhere far away, where would you go?
  2. What kind of reading material would you take along on a lengthy trip away from home?

Explore It

  1. To what “former book” was Luke referring? (1:1)
  2. Who was Theophilus? (1:1)
  3. What did Luke write about? (1:1-2)
  4. After His resurrection, how did Jesus spend His time with the apostles? (1:3-5)
  5. What specific commands did Jesus give the apostles? (1:4)
  6. What gift did Jesus promise to the apostles? (1:4-5)
  7. What did the apostles misunderstand? (1:6)
  8. How did Jesus answer the apostles’ question? (1:7-8)
  9. What task did Jesus assign the apostles? (1:8)
  10. Who would help the apostles get their job done? (1:8)
  11. How would the apostles be able to carry out the task Jesus gave them? (1:8)
  12. After speaking to the apostles, where did Jesus go? (1:9-11)
  13. How did the apostles react to Jesus’ departure? (1:10)
  14. Who were the figures in white? (1:10)
  15. How did the men in white encourage the apostles? (1:11)
  16. How will Jesus’ return be like His ascension? (1:11)

Get It

  1. After His resurrection, Jesus spent some forty days with His disciples; how do you think they felt about this time with Him?
  2. What Christian leader do you value spending time with? Why?
  3. What is the importance of Jesus’ final promise and command to you?
  4. When is a time you wanted to move on from a location, job, or difficult relationship but were held back by God’s leading?
  5. How do we know when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives?
  6. What specific means (abilities, opportunities, relationships) has God given you to carry out the task of being His witness?
  7. When you talk to a nonbelieving friend about Christ, what proofs of Jesus’ existence can you offer?
  8. How should the prospect of Christ’s return affect the way you live your Christian life?

Apply It

  1. When can you include reading the book of Luke in your Bible study this month?
  2. What steps can you take to be actively involved in telling others about Christ?
  3. How can you invite the Holy Spirit to guide you throughout this week?

 

1 April 2021 – Maundy Thursday

The Lord’s Supper – Matthew 26:17-30

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said so.”

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’[b]

32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

 Open It

  1. In what ways does sharing a meal bind people together?
  2. What names, dates, or events do you have a hard time remembering?
  3. If you were dying, what would you want for a last meal?
  4. How do you hope people will remember you after you are gone?

Explore It

  1. What was going on during the time of the incidents described in this passage? (26:17)
  2. What question did the disciples ask Jesus? (26:17)
  3. What instructions did Jesus give His followers? (26:18)
  4. What was the response of the disciples to Jesus’ instructions? (26:19)
  5. What did Jesus and His disciples do that evening? (26:20)
  6. What shocking statement did Jesus utter during His meal with the disciples? (26:21)
  7. How did the disciples react to Jesus’ announcement? (26:22)
  8. How did Jesus identify the one who would betray Him? (26:23)
  9. What sobering statement did Jesus make about His betrayer? (26:24)
  10. How did Judas respond to the words of Christ? (26:25)
  11. What did Jesus say about the bread on the table? (26:26)
  12. What remarks did Jesus make about the wine they were drinking? (26:27-28)
  13. When did Jesus say He would eat with His disciples again? (26:29)
  14. What did the group do after they finished eating? (26:30)

Get It

  1. In what ways might Christ be uncomfortable to eat a meal in your home?
  2. When we respond to Christ’s commands, do you think we tend to fulfill them completely, or only so far as we feel like it?
  3. How does it make you feel to realize that Christ’s body was battered and broken because of your sin?
  4. How do you feel when you remember that Jesus shed His blood on the cross for you?
  5. What do you imagine it would have been like to have been one of the participants at that first Lord’s Supper, to have heard those men sing a hymn, to have looked Christ in the eyes?
  6. Why do you think Judas asked if he was the one who would betray Jesus?
  7. What does Communion or the Eucharist mean to you personally?

Apply It

  1. What do you want to change about the way you participate in the Lord’s Supper the next time it is celebrated at Duckpool Road church?
  2. What do you need to do today (or stop doing) to be a fully obedient servant of Jesus Christ?
  3. How can you encourage a friend this week with the message of this passage?

 

27 March 2021

Easter 6

Jesus Before Pilate – Matthew 27:11-26

Open It

  1. What is the most ingenious or creative excuse you have heard someone give in an attempt to avoid responsibility?
  2. What is your opinion of politicians?
  3. What governmental customs or laws do you like best and least?
  4. How much stock do you put in dreams?

Explore It

  1. What title and position did Pilate have? (27:11)
  2. What question did Pilate ask Jesus? (27:11)
  3. How did Jesus answer the Roman authority? (27:11)
  4. How did Jesus answer the Jews when they made accusations against Him? (27:12)
  5. What did Pilate think of Christ’s silence? (27:13-14)
  6. What custom did the governor follow at this particular time of year? (27:15)
  7. Who was in prison at the time? (27:16)
  8. What choice did Pilate put before the crowd? (27:17-18)
  9. What message did Pilate’s wife send him? (27:19)
  10. How did the religious leaders influence the crowd? (27:20)
  11. What choice did the crowd make? (27:21)
  12. What did the crowd ask Pilate to do to Christ? (27:22)
  13. How did Pilate attempt to evade any responsibility in the condemnation of Jesus? (27:24)
  14. What ironic statement did the crowd make about Jesus’ blood? (27:25)
  15. What happened to the two prisoners—Barabbas and Jesus? (27:26)

Get It

  1. How would you rate Pilate’s performance?
  2. Why is it difficult not to defend yourself when people are saying mean and untrue things about you?
  3. What attitudes, emotions, or perspective must a person have in order to stay calm while being attacked?
  4. In what way is not defending an innocent person the same as condemning him or her?
  5. When might you be called upon to defend someone who is innocent?
  6. What risks are there in defending an innocent person?
  7. In what relationships do you need to trust more in the power and sufficiency of Christ?
  8. In what situations do you need to quit arguing and defending yourself?
  9. What decisions have you been putting off for fear of the responsibility?
  10. What helps you face your responsibilities?

Apply It

  1. How can you prepare yourself for the next time you have an opportunity to defend an innocent person?
  2. What decision do you need to make today and then take responsibility for?

27 March 2021

Easter 5

Jesus before the Sanhedrin Matthew 26:57-68

Open It

  1. What is the most famous “miscarriage of justice” you have ever witnessed or heard about?
  2. When in your life have you ended up suffering because you tried to help someone else?
  3. In what ways are lies and gossip damaging?

Explore It

  1. After being arrested, where was Jesus taken? (26:57)
  2. Who was assembled where Jesus was taken? Why? (26:57, 59)
  3. Who had followed Jesus at a distance? Where was he? (26:58)
  4. What did Peter do in an attempt to observe the proceedings against Jesus? (26:58)
  5. What were the chief priests and Sanhedrin hoping to find? (26:59)
  6. Who came forward to testify at this “trial”? (26:60)
  7. What did one witness claim to have heard Jesus say? (26:61)
  8. When the high priest first began questioning Jesus, how did Jesus respond? (26:62-63)
  9. What question did the high priest finally ask Jesus about His identity? (26:63)
  10. How did Jesus answer the high priest? (26:64)
  11. What prophetic statement did Jesus make in His defence? (26:64)
  12. How did Jesus’ claim affect the high priest? (26:65-66)
  13. What emotional and physical abuse did Christ endure at the hands of these spiritual leaders? (26:67-68)

Get It

  1. How is it possible for an innocent person to be accused and convicted of a crime?
  2. When have you been harmed by false accusers spreading malicious lies?
  3. How can we respond when attacked for no just reason?
  4. What is it like to be ganged up on?
  5. Why do you think Christ didn’t argue with his accusers and make some sort of defense?
  6. In what situations are we tempted to water down or soft-pedal the truth?
  7. What is it that sometimes causes groups of people to become vicious and cruel?
  8. What do you think about Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God?

Apply It

  1. In what group situations might you be able to act as a calming and peacemaking voice this week?
  2. In what situation this week do you need to tell the truth, even if it may cost you?
  3. To what friend(s) in trouble can you show support by your physical presence?

27 March 2021

Easter 4

Jesus Arrested – Matthew 26:47-56

Open It

  1. What is the fastest you have ever run in your life?
  2. What is one time your beliefs or convictions were tested?
  3. What types of situations tend to make your heart sink?
  4. What prompts some people to rescue others in trouble, while others are interested only in helping themselves?

Explore It

  1. What happened just as Jesus finished praying in the garden of Gethsemane? (26:47)
  2. Who accompanied Judas? (26:47)
  3. What kind of crowd accompanied Judas? (26:47)
  4. How did Judas greet Jesus? (26:49)
  5. What was significant about the signal Judas used to point out Jesus? (26:48)
  6. What command did Jesus give Judas? (26:50)
  7. What did the men in the crowd do when Jesus spoke? (26:50)
  8. What did one of Jesus’ disciples do in an attempt to protect his master? (26:51)
  9. What did Jesus tell the disciple who attacked? (26:52)
  10. What truthful “boast” did Jesus make? (26:53)
  11. Why didn’t Jesus take advantage of His disciple’s brave attack? (26:54)
  12. What did Jesus say to the crowd? (26:55)
  13. What happened when it became obvious that Jesus would be arrested? (26:56)

Get It

  1. What do you think the disciples were feeling as they saw the armed mob approaching?
  2. Why do you think this mob came at night to arrest Jesus?
  3. What is especially awful about the way Judas betrayed Jesus?
  4. What do you think would have been your reaction had you been in the garden that night?
  5. Whose trust have you violated recently?
  6. When are we tempted to take matters into our own hands out of “devotion” to God?
  7. How has your faith been tested recently?
  8. How can we stand firm when our faith is tested?
  9. How do you tend to react in frightening situations?

Apply It

  1. What can you do today to ensure that you will stand strong the next time your faith is tested?
  2. In what specific situations this week do you need to trust God instead of resorting to human wisdom and tactics?

15 March 2021

Easter 2

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial – Matthew 26:31-35

Open It

  1. Why is it dangerous to begin a sentence with the words, “I would never . . .”?
  2. Why is it possible for a mature believer in Christ to sin?
  3. What do you think about the expression, “Talk is cheap”?

Explore It

  1. What prediction about His followers did Jesus make on the Mount of Olives? (26:31)
  2. To what did Jesus compare Himself and His disciples? (26:31)
  3. What was significant about Jesus’ statement and His situation? (26:31)
  4. What did Christ predict about Himself? (26:32)
  5. Where did Jesus say He would go? When? (26:32)
  6. How did Peter respond to Jesus’ statement that all the disciples would abandon Him? (26:33)
  7. What prediction did Jesus make about Peter? (26:34)
  8. What did Peter have to say when Jesus said Peter would disown Him? (26:35)
  9. How did the rest of the disciples react to these depressing comments by Christ? (26:35)

Get It

  1. How committed do you think the disciples were to Jesus?
  2. How is the commitment of many Christians today much like that of the eleven disciples with Jesus in the garden?
  3. What is admirable about a promise never to abandon Christ?
  4. What is foolish about a vow never to abandon Christ?
  5. What situations might tempt you to be quiet or low-key about your relationship with Jesus Christ?
  6. If wide-scale persecution of Christians broke out in this country, as it has in so many others, how do you think many Christians would respond? Why?
  7. What do you learn about God from the fact that Jesus did not yell at His disciples or disown them even though He knew they would abandon Him?
  8. Why is human willpower inadequate to keep us from sinning?
  9. What vow have you made to God that you need to fulfill?

Apply It

  1. In what particular situation(s) this week do you need to make it clear—for the first time—that you are a follower of Jesus Christ?
  2. How can you encourage a Christian brother or sister who has recently denied Christ and is feeling discouraged?
  3. What first step in fulfilling your vow to God do you need to take this week?

 

8 March 2021

Easter 1

The Lord’s Supper – Matthew 26:17-30

Open It

  1. In what ways does sharing a meal bind people together?
  2. What names, dates, or events do you have a hard time remembering?
  3. If you were dying, what would you want for a last meal?
  4. How do you hope people will remember you after you are gone?

Explore It

  1. What was going on during the time of the incidents described in this passage? (26:17)
  2. What question did the disciples ask Jesus? (26:17)
  3. What instructions did Jesus give His followers? (26:18)
  4. What was the response of the disciples to Jesus’ instructions? (26:19)
  5. What did Jesus and His disciples do that evening? (26:20)
  6. What shocking statement did Jesus utter during His meal with the disciples? (26:21)
  7. How did the disciples react to Jesus’ announcement? (26:22)
  8. How did Jesus identify the one who would betray Him? (26:23)
  9. What sobering statement did Jesus make about His betrayer? (26:24)
  10. How did Judas respond to the words of Christ? (26:25)
  11. What did Jesus say about the bread on the table? (26:26)
  12. What remarks did Jesus make about the wine they were drinking? (26:27-28)
  13. When did Jesus say He would eat with His disciples again? (26:29)
  14. What did the group do after they finished eating? (26:30)

Get It

  1. In what ways might Christ be uncomfortable to eat a meal in your home?
  2. When we respond to Christ’s commands, do you think we tend to fulfill them completely, or only so far as we feel like it?
  3. How does it make you feel to realize that Christ’s body was battered and broken because of your sin?
  4. How do you feel when you remember that Jesus shed His blood on the cross for you?
  5. What do you imagine it would have been like to have been one of the participants at that first Lord’s Supper, to have heard those men sing a hymn, to have looked Christ in the eyes?
  6. Why do you think Judas asked if he was the one who would betray Jesus?
  7. What does Communion or the Eucharist mean to you personally?

Apply It

  1. What do you want to change about the way you participate in the Lord’s Supper the next time it is celebrated at church?
  2. What do you need to do today (or stop doing) to be a fully obedient servant of Jesus Christ?
  3. How can you encourage a friend this week with the message of this passage?

.

4 – 7 March 2021

Israel’s Sinfulness – Hosea 4:1-5:15

Open It

  1. If you were treated unjustly by someone in your community, how would you want to respond?
  2. How do you usually handle feelings of guilt?
  3. If you were to write your local newspaper about a thorny social problem, what would you write about and how would you like the issue resolved?

Explore It

  1. What charge did God bring against Israel? (4:1-2)
  2. What would result from Israel’s sin? (4:3)
  3. How were the priests implicated in God’s indictment? (4:4-11)
  4. How had God’s people sinned? (4:11-14)
  5. What warning did God give Judah? (4:15)
  6. What had hindered God from shepherding Israel? (4:16-19)
  7. To whom was God’s pronouncement of guilt addressed? (5:1-5)
  8. What would God withdraw because of Israel’s unfaithfulness? (5:6-7)
  9. Why would the sound of battle be heard among God’s people? (5:8-9)
  10. What was God’s charge against Judah? (5:10)
  11. How had the process of judgment against Israel already started? (5:11-14)
  12. What was the ultimate purpose of the Lord’s judgment on His people? (5:15)

Get It

  1. How should a Christian handle criticism or unsolicited advice from others?
  2. What commands from God are difficult for you to obey?
  3. When have you experienced God’s hand of discipline in your life?
  4. How is our society like rebellious Israel?
  5. How would you describe the spiritual health of your church community?
  6. In what way might the Christian church be partly responsible for the breakdown of morality in our culture?
  7. In what ways do you hold yourself accountable to other Christians?
  8. How has suffering helped your walk with the Lord?

Apply It

  1. This week what can you do in your community to show the love and righteousness of the Lord?
  2. For what Christian leaders in your community can you pray?
  3. In what practical way can you be involved in the spiritual restoration of Christians you know who have turned away from the Lord?

 

1 – 3 March 2021

Hosea’s Wayward Wife – Hosea 1:1-3:5

Open It

  1. If someone were to select a spouse for you, whom would you trust to make the best choice?
  2. What do you like about your name?
  3. What qualities do you cherish about the person who loves you most?

Explore It

  1. Who was Hosea? (1:1)
  2. When did the Lord speak to the prophet? (1:1)
  3. What did the Lord instruct Hosea to do? (1:2-2:1)
  4. What was the symbolism of Hosea’s family? (1:2-2:1)
  5. How did Hosea feel about Gomer? (2:2-13)
  6. What did God say to Israel through Hosea’s words? (2:2-13)
  7. What did the Lord plan to do to win Israel back to himself? (2:14-15)
  8. By what name would renewed Israel acknowledge her Lord? (2:16)
  9. What would God prohibit? (2:17)
  10. What would accompany Israel’s return to the land? (2:18)
  11. What would mark the new relationship between the Lord and Israel? (2:19-23)
  12. What commands did the Lord give Hosea? (3:1)
  13. How did Hosea respond to the Lord? (3:2-3)
  14. What did Gomer’s lengthy probation portray? (3:4)
  15. What would happen after Israel’s period of isolation? (3:5)

Get It

  1. What do you expect from God when you “betray” Him repeatedly?
  2. How do you tend to deal with a loved one who has wronged you in some way?
  3. How should Christians deal with people in the church who commit adultery?
  4. How is God’s faithfulness to us an example of the way we should treat others?
  5. What are the “idols” in your life from which you should turn away?
  6. What bruised or broken family relationship of yours needs the healing touch of the Lord?
  7. What does this passage say to you about the consequences of sin?
  8. In what ways do you think people’s attitudes toward morality have changed over the past ten years?
  9. How would you describe the influence of the church on the morals of our society?
  10. How can you intervene in someone else’s life to be a force of renewal?

Apply It

  1. What step can you take each day to help maintain your faithfulness to the Lord?
  2. What loyalties, things, or relationships do you need to hand over to God?
  3. How can you show love and acceptance to someone in your church in desperate need of forgiveness or affirmation?

 

 

26 February 2021

The Faithful Few – Malachi 3:16-4:6

Open It

  1. To whom are you most loyal?
  2. What upcoming event are you eagerly anticipating?
  3. What social events do you usually dread or not enjoy?

Explore It

  1. How did the Lord respond to those who feared Him? (3:16)
  2. What assurance was given to those who were faithful to the Lord? (3:16)
  3. Why did the people of Malachi’s time need to repent? (3:16-4:6)
  4. What promise did God give to His people? (3:17)
  5. What distinction did God make? (3:18)
  6. What will happen to the wicked in the day of the Lord? (4:1)
  7. What would the day of the Lord hold for God’s remnant? (4:2)
  8. What will the righteous do to the wicked? (4:3)
  9. Why did the prophet tell the people to recall the law of Moses? (4:4)
  10. What did God promise through Malachi? (4:5-6)
  11. What major theme of the prophets did Malachi’s last words reflect? (4:6)

Get It

  1. In what ways do we deserve the Lord’s judgment?
  2. How submissive to the Lord are you?
  3. How careful are you about the quality of your walk with the Lord?
  4. How do you feel like the Lord’s “treasured possession”?
  5. In what ways are you disobedient to the Lord?
  6. How are freedom and joy part of your spiritual experience?
  7. To what blessings and promises of the Lord do you look forward?

Apply It

  1. What can you do this week to demonstrate unswerving loyalty to the Lord?
  2. Starting today, how can you encourage one other Christian to remain faithful to the Lord?

 

25 February 2021

The Sinful People – Malachi 2:10-3:15

Open It

  1. How would your closest friend describe the kind of friend you are?
  2. In conversations do you tend to be a talker or a listener?
  3. When do you feel most thankful for your blessings?

Explore It

  1. How had God’s people broken faith with Him? (2:10-12)
  2. What was the consequence of Israel’s sin? (2:12)
  3. What was  additional evidence of a broken covenant? (2:13-16)
  4. What was God’s view of divorce? (2:16)
  5. What charge did God give His people? (2:16)
  6. How had Israel wearied God? (2:17)
  7. How were the people oblivious to their sin? (2:17)
  8. What warning did God give? (3:1-5)
  9. What was the basis for hope in God? (3:6)
  10. What did God require of Israel? (3:7-12)
  11. How had Israel sinned against God in the past? (3:7)
  12. What was the nature of the curse on the nation? (3:9)
  13. What did God promise? (3:10-12)
  14. How had Israel challenged God? (3:13-15)

Get It

  1. What is the extent of the price we pay, and possibly cause others to pay, when we knowingly disobey God?
  2. Why is it wrong for a Christian to marry an unbeliever?
  3. When have you clearly sensed that your fellowship with God was disrupted because of your sin?
  4. How would the prophet speak to the issue of divorce among Christians in our culture today?
  5. In what ways do we try to rationalize our sins?
  6. How have you been guilty of robbing God?
  7. For what blessings from God are you most thankful?

Apply It

  1. What personal unconfessed sin or negative attitude toward the Lord or others would you be willing to confront with a responsible Christian friend or small group?
  2. Starting this week, when can you set aside a few minutes in prayer with another believer, asking the Lord to help you become more faithful, obedient, and trustworthy in each of your relationships?

 

22 February 2021

The Sinful Priests – Malachi 1:1-2:9

Open It

  1. What unique relationship do you treasure?
  2. When you are displeased about something, how do you express yourself?
  3. When have you felt taken for granted or treated with disrespect?

Explore It

  1. To whom was the word of the Lord given? (1:1)
  2. What did God claim for Israel? (1:2)
  3. What was the judgment of Edom? (1:3-5)
  4. What was God’s complaint against Israel? (1:6-14)
  5. How were the priests implicated in contemptible worship practices? (1:8-10)
  6. What worship would honour the Lord Almighty? (1:11)
  7. What was the attitude of the priests in Malachi’s day? (1:12-13)
  8. How were the people cheating the Lord? (1:14)
  9. What was the warning to the priests? (2:1-4)
  10. What covenant were the priests expected to keep? (2:5-9)
  11. How had the priests failed in keeping and applying the law? (2:5-9)

Get It

  1. What is unique about your relationship with the Lord?
  2. When have you doubted God’s love for you?
  3. Israel was guilty of giving God leftovers. In what way do we sometimes give God leftovers in our worship? in our finances? in our time?
  4. How does God deal with you when you give Him less than your best?
  5. How are your church leaders like or unlike the priests in Malachi’s day?
  6. In your view, what areas might be temptations for your church to be unfaithful to God?
  7. When have you been misled by false teaching?
  8. When, if ever, do you feel you have passed along inaccurate biblical teaching?
  9. What does it mean to follow in the Lord’s ways?

Apply It

  1. What attitudes or actions can you change to show honor to the Lord?
  2. What would it take for you to start giving God your best in your worship, your finances, and your time?

 

18 – 21 February 2021

Messages after Completing the Temple – Zechariah 9:1-14:21

Open It

  1. What qualities do you admire in a leader?
  2. If you needed someone to take care of you, who would be the best person for the job?
  3. What preparations are you now making for the future?

Explore It

  1. What were the judgments on nations surrounding Israel? (9:1-8)
  2. How did Zechariah describe the coming and role of the Messiah? (9:9-13)
  3. How would Israel be empowered over her enemies? (9:14-17)
  4. How would the Messiah bless His people? (10:1-12)
  5. Why was there such sadness across the land? (11:1-3)
  6. What role did the prophet play in the life of Israel? (11:4-14)
  7. How did Israel reject the Shepherd-Messiah? (11:4-14)
  8. What were the consequences of rejecting the true Shepherd? (11:15-17)
  9. How did the prophet describe Israel’s physical deliverance? (12:1-9)
  10. How would Israel’s spiritual deliverance be accomplished? (12:10-13:6)
  11. What would become of God’s people? (13:7-9)
  12. What would be Jerusalem’s destiny? (14:1-3)
  13. What would characterize the coming and reign of the Lord? (14:4-21)

Get It

  1. What sorts of things can a person do that would characterize him or her as both gentle and righteous?
  2. How can a Christian promote peace at home, in church, and within the community?
  3. How does your church celebrate the hope of the Lord’s return?
  4. What are some of the sad results of poor or false leading?
  5. How is the Lord’s care and leading evident in your church?
  6. How are repentance and mourning part of the fabric of your church life?
  7. How are you preparing for the coming of the Lord?

Apply It

  1. In what ways can you be a peacemaker?
  2. What lurking leadership skills can you work on developing for the sake of God’s kingdom?
  3. What is one thing you can do to be ready for Christ’s return?

.

16 February 2021

SHROVE TUESDAY : DID YOU KNOW?

SHROVE TUESDAY, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is also called MARDI GRAS and although I hated French in school; I have learnt that Mardi Gras is French for ‘FAT TUESDAY’. Yet Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a celebration of feasting before the beginning of Lent, but of course it has now become secularised and tragically for most, it has been reduced to a day for partying and gross indulgence, and merriment, and I venture to say that this will continue with some, even during Covid?

The most famous celebration of Mardi Gras is in New Orleans and in South America where the comparable celebration is called carnival. Did you know that? I didn’t, and it indicates the huge gaps in my knowledge. However, as people celebrate  Shrove Tuesday, I hope they remember  the meaning of ‘Mardi Gras’ and the calories !

More importantly, I  hope that they remember the period of LENT as a whole, as eating LESS rather than MORE will by grace help them focus their mind and heart on the most momentous occasion in the Christian calendar  which is of course Jesus dying on the Cross in their and our place, and in Rising on the Third Day as proof that the Father accepted the Sin Offering. Blessed Day.

Thank God He is Risen, and by grace, that you have that peace of knowing that you are numbered amongst the Redeemed, as you sought forgiveness in Jesus name.

Pastor.

 

15 – 17 February 2021

Zechariah’s Words of Encouragement – Zechariah 6:9-8:23

Open It

  1. What was the best award you ever received?
  2. When have you ever rejected good advice?
  3. What is the best part of restoring a broken relationship?

Explore It

  1. What was  Joshua’s role in the symbolic crowning? (6:9-13)
  2. What important points were mentioned in the prophetic message? (6:14-15)
  3. What question was raised by the Bethelites? (7:1-3)
  4. What message of rebuke followed the question about fasting? (7:4-7)
  5. What was the nature of the second message from the Lord? (7:8-14)
  6. In His message of restoration, how did God describe Jerusalem? (8:1-8)
  7. What did God say to the people who heard His words? (8:9-13)
  8. How did God affirm His promise of blessing? (8:14-17)
  9. What message of rejoicing did Zechariah bring to God’s people? (8:18-23)

Get It

  1. How can we expect God to reward us for the quality of our Christian life?
  2. In what ways are we the temple of God?
  3. What traditions are an important part of your church worship?
  4. How does your church practice justice and mercy?
  5. How can you show compassion to the needy?
  6. In what crucial areas do you see the church turning a deaf ear to God’s Word?
  7. What kind of relationship does the Lord want to have with us?
  8. What can you expect from God when you are spiritually renewed?
  9. How do you celebrate God’s goodness to you?

Apply It

  1. What small step can you take this week to develop a closer walk with the Lord?
  2. In your work, worship, and witness this week, how can you show justice and mercy to those around you?

 

 

11 February 2021

Remember the story of Richard and Sabina

In reading recently about  Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand from Romania, I felt that it would encourage you as it encouraged me.

However,  let me explain that in Chinese the word for crisis is made up of two Chinese characters—one meaning “danger,” the other meaning “opportunity.” as Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand faced more than their share of crises and persecution during their lifetime—but they never failed to use these dangerous situations as opportunities to share the gospel of Christ.

Let’s take a walk with the Wurmbrands through a life of danger and opportunity.

Prior to 1937: In a village in Romania, a godly old carpenter named Christian Wölfkes prays for years to win a Jew for Christ. A young Jewish man and his wife arrive in the village. For hours the old carpenter prays for these Jewish strangers. He gives them a Bible and encourages them to read the story of “the most well-known Jew of all time,” Jesus Christ.

1938: The Jewish strangers, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, dedicate their lives to Christ.

1941: Romania supports Germany in the war against the USSR and is host to German forces. Richard Wurmbrand, now a pastor, engages in evangelistic activities with the occupying soldiers. During the Nazi terror, Richard and Sabina are repeatedly beaten and arrested. Sabina’s family perishes in the mass extermination of Jews in concentration camps.

1944: Communists seize power in Romania, and Russian troops pour into the country. Pastor Wurmbrand ministers to his own oppressed compatriots and to the Russians.

1945: Richard and Sabina attend the Congress of the Cults. As many religious leaders come forward to swear loyalty to the new communist regime, Sabina tells her husband, “Richard, stand up and wipe the shame from the face of Jesus.” Richard, knowing the cost, steps forward and tells the four thousand delegates that their duty as Christians is to glorify God alone. The mood of the crowd changes; the religious leaders begin to applaud. But from that day, Richard is a marked man.

1948: On February 29, as Pastor Wurmbrand leaves for church, secret police kidnap Richard and lock him in a solitary cell, designating him “Prisoner Number 1.”

1950: The Communists arrest Sabina and assign her to forced labor on the Danube Canal. The Wurmbrands’ nine-year-old son, Mihai, is left alone. During her three years of imprisonment, Sabina only saw her son for a few minutes.

1953: Sabina is released and continues her work in the underground church. She is told that her husband died in prison. Sabina refuses to believe the report and holds on to her hope of one day seeing Richard again.

1956: Richard is released after eight and a half years in prison. He was tortured and warned to never preach again. The bottoms of his feet had been beaten so often that he could barely walk. Throughout the rest of his life, he could only wear shoes for short periods of time. But once released he immediately resumes his ministry.

1959: Richard is betrayed to the authorities by an associate pastor in the underground church. He is rearrested and sentenced to twenty-five years. As he is hauled off in the police van, his last words to Sabina are: Give all my love to Mihai and to the pastor who betrayed me.”

1964: Richard is released from prison and resumes his work. Two Westerners cautiously make their way to the little attic home of the Wurmbrands. This is the first contact the Wurmbrands have with outside missionaries since their arrests.

1965: The Wurmbrand family is ransomed from Romania for ten thousand dollars, and Richard is again warned by the secret police to remain silent. In May, he testifies in Washington, D.C. before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee. As his story spreads rapidly across the country, he receives hundreds of speaking requests. The man who could barely walk continued to carry the gospel of peace.…

 

 

11 – 14 February 2021

Zechariah’s Night Visions – Zechariah 1:1-6:8

Open It

  1. If you were asked to help in a historic preservation project, what type of project would interest you and what role would you like to play?
  2. What would you consider to be a successful assignment or undertaking of yours that grew out of an insignificant beginning?

Explore It

  1. When did the Lord speak to the prophet Zechariah? (1:1)
  2. What word from the Lord did Zechariah bring to Israel in his call to repentance? (1:1-6)
  3. What did the horsemen report in the first vision? (1:7-11)
  4. What was the Lord’s response in the first vision? (1:14-17)
  5. How did the Lord explain the vision of the four horns and four craftsmen? (1:18-21)
  6. How did the Lord respond in Zechariah’s night vision of the surveyor? (2:1-13)
  7. What did God show the prophet in the vision of Joshua the high priest? (3:1-10)
  8. What was the explanation given concerning the golden lampstand and the two olive trees? (4:1-14)
  9. How did God explain the significance of the flying scroll? (5:1-4)
  10. What was described in the vision of the woman in the measuring basket? (5:5-11)
  11. How did Zechariah describe the vision of the four chariots? (6:1-8)

Get It

  1. In what ways do you need to be restored and comforted?
  2. How have you benefited in important ways from past mistakes?
  3. What spiritual “remodeling” or “rebuilding” needs to take place in your church body?
  4. How does the Lord’s charge to Joshua (3:7) apply to church leaders today?
  5. From what small beginnings in the life of your church do you expect God to accomplish great things?
  6. What ministry project are you involved in that you would like to see completed?
  7. How does God warn His people today?
  8. How is the Lord bringing peace to your life?

Apply It

  1. What do you need to do to complete an unfinished ministry project?
  2. What small steps can you take to be obedient to the Lord in new ways this week?

 

8 – 10 February 2021

Rebuilding the Temple – Haggai 1:1-2:23

Open It

  1. If you could have a house restored and money was no object, what kind of house would you want to restore?
  2. When do you procrastinate?
  3. When do you tend to own up to your mistakes, and when do you find it easier to make excuses for yourself?

Explore It

  1. What points did Haggai cover in the introduction to the book? (1:1)
  2. What excuse did the people make for not rebuilding the temple? (1:2)
  3. Why did the Lord rebuke the people of Judah? (1:3-6)
  4. What did the Lord challenge the people to do? (1:7-8)
  5. What had led to the people’s impoverishment? (1:9-11)
  6. How did the people react to the prophetic message? (1:12-15)
  7. What did Haggai say when he announced his second prophetic message? (2:1-2)
  8. How did the Lord promise to help His people? (2:3-5)
  9. What was God’s assurance concerning the temple? (2:6-9)
  10. How was Haggai’s third message introduced? (2:10)
  11. What contrast was made between God’s punishment up to that point and His future blessing? (2:11-19)
  12. How did the prophet introduce his final message? (2:20)
  13. What did God command Haggai to tell Zerubbabel? (2:21-22)
  14. What final promise did God make? (2:23)

Get It

  1. What effect might a luxurious life-style have on your spirituality?
  2. How do you handle tough experiences?
  3. What excuses do you make for not doing the will of God?
  4. If a respected church leader reprimanded you for your lack of commitment to ministry, how would you respond?
  5. What motivates you to do the work of the kingdom?
  6. Why do you need the Lord to give you courage to do His work?
  7. How has God’s discipline influenced your life?
  8. How has spiritual discipline changed the life of your church?
  9. On what future blessings of the Lord do you depend?

Apply It

  1. What steps do you need to take to stop procrastinating and get involved in ministry for the Lord?
  2. What do you want to remember the next time you are rightly confronted with a need to change?

 

5 February 2021

Why Does God Punish People?

Exodus 11–13; John 2:13–3:25; Song of Solomon 2:1–3

In regard to why a good God would punish people, I recently heard one homeless man wisely tell another, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world where God didn’t punish injustices and just freely forgave sin—without any request for someone to choose the salvation He offers back. Imagine a place where injustice was never punished and people never recognized their sin and need for salvation. That would be terrible and painful.”

We all want justice to reign. For a good God to be truly good, injustice must be punished. This is why it makes complete sense that Jesus had to die. There must be a payment for the evil we inflict on the world and one another. Jesus’ death epitomizes God’s mercy and justice—and it all happened in one act.

This also makes sense out of the Passover event (Exod 12:1–31). I usually hear this preached about as a saving act, which indeed it was, but it was also brutal: God kills firstborn sons in an act of justice against the people of Egypt for the suffering they inflicted on an innocent people. (It’s important to note that the plagues that came before Passover gave Pharaoh more than ample warning.)

Following this, evil finally loosens its grip, and God’s people are freed (Exod 12:33–40). None of us truly wants to have justice fall upon us because we know that true justice would cost us our very lives. We have all done wrong against a good God, bringing evil into the world. Thus, we all deserve to be wiped out. Instead, God offers grace. But He does so only after the wages of our sin are paid with Jesus’ life. Jesus makes this incredibly clear: “For God did not send his Son into the world in order that he should judge the world, but in order that the world should be saved through him” (John 3:17).

Jesus goes on to explain that salvation requires choosing God back: “The one who believes in him is not judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God” (John 3:18). Before we believe, we’re judged—we are regarded to be dead in our sin. After we believe, we escape that judgment. God’s faithfulness, shown in Jesus’ death and resurrection, allows for that. I want to live in a world of people freed in Christ through His mercy and grace; I’m sure you want to as well. Thus, we should no longer ask, “Why judgment?” but instead, “Why not?”

In what ways are you misjudging God’s motives? How can you change that perspective?

 

4 February 2021

Reminder to us all

Ephesians 6:13

“Therefore, take up the full armour of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

3 February 2021

Wisdom Can Quickly Become Folly

Exodus 7–8; John 1:35–51; Song of Solomon 1:8–14

What we need to hear and what we want to hear are rarely the same thing. Leaders who encourage honesty, allow for errors, and establish an environment of trust usually hear what they need to hear. A dictator, on the other hand, will never learn what they really need to know. People shield them or stay away from them; an environment of fear is only destructive. It’s with this point in mind that the story of Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh becomes even more intriguing.

Pharaoh surrounded himself with people who would tell him what he wanted to hear (Exod 7:22), not what he needed to hear: “You’re oppressing the Hebrew people and they will rise up against you. And furthermore, we’re afraid of their God and we can’t really do what He can do. We’re small-time dark magic; their God is the big time.” Instead of speaking this truth, Pharaoh’s advisors went on pretending and conjuring up cheap tricks.

Plague after plague hit Egypt, but Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. And this is where we don’t really know what happened: when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, was it already too difficult for Pharaoh to give in on his own accord? We don’t know the answer, but we do know that God ended up making an example of his foolishness.

Even when water turns to blood, frogs appear everywhere—followed shortly by gnats and flies (Exod 7:14–8:32)—Pharaoh didn’t listen. Instead of turning to Yahweh, he turned to the same sources: his gods, his belief that he is a god (common for Egyptians), and his ill-advised counselors. And that’s the lesson: if you surround yourself with “yes” people, they will say yes, and you will be ignorant. You will lose, and you will end up on the wrong side of God.

Who do you turn to for advice? Are your friends, mentors, and church leaders more apt to tell you the truth or say something that makes you happy? If it’s the latter, who can you turn to who will speak honestly to you about faith?

John D. Barry

2 February 2021

THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT TAKING GOD SERIOUSLY

March 16, 597 BC

The year 605 BC was a decisive one in the history of the ancient Near East. Nebuchadnezzar II, crown prince of Babylon, became commander in chief of the armies of Babylon. In the spring of 605 he marched to Carchemish and defeated the Egyptians and Assyrians. As a result, Babylon assumed control of Syria and Palestine.

From his victory at Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar led his armies to Judah and besieged Jerusalem. After the fall of Jerusalem, Jehoiakim became a vassal of Babylon (2 Kings 24:1). Nebuchadnezzar took a number of Jewish leaders hostage to Babylon, including Daniel (Daniel 1:1–6).

Jehoiakim, an evil king, remained loyal to Babylon for only three years, so Nebuchadnezzar, now king of Babylon, once again sent his armies to force Jehoiakim to submit. Jehoiakim then remained in subservience to Babylon until his death in 597 BC (2 Kings 24:1–6).

Jehoiakim was succeeded by his eighteen-year-old son Jehoiachin, who likewise did not follow Jehovah (2 Kings 24:8–9). He was so despicable that God said through Jeremiah: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘I will abandon you, Jehoiachin.… I will hand you over to those who seek to kill you, of whom you are so desperately afraid—to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the mighty Babylonian army. I will expel you and your mother from this land, and you will die in a foreign country’ ” (Jeremiah 22:24–26).

On March 16, 597 BC, three months into Jehoiachin’s reign, this prophesy was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar, after besieging the city of Jerusalem accepted the surrender of King Jehoiachin along with those of his mother, advisors, nobles, and officials.

Nebuchadnezzar took ten thousand people captive to Babylon, including the king and all who had surrendered. In addition, Nebuchadnezzar carried away the treasures from the Temple and the royal palace.

Eleven years later, Nebuchadnezzar returned a final time to destroy the city and Temple and to take all but the poorest of the remaining Jews captive to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1–21).

Eight hundred years earlier, God had declared in his covenant with Israel: “If you refuse to listen to the LORD your God and do not obey all the commands and laws I am giving to you today,.… the Lord will scatter you.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 64).

Judah refused to listen to God, and God did just what he had promised.

1 February 2021

MOVING ON WITH THE MINOR PROPHETS

Days of Wrath and Hope – Zephaniah 1:1-3:20

Open It

  1. In what way do you tend to be a pessimist or an optimist?
  2. What future event are you either dreading or anticipating?
  3. What in your life brings you the most joy?

Explore It

  1. Who was Zephaniah? (1:1)
  2. What was prophesied concerning Judah and Jerusalem? (1:2-18)
  3. Who were the objects of judgment? (1:4-13)
  4. What was the description of judgment? (1:14-18)
  5. What did the prophet summon the people to do? (2:1-3)
  6. What were the judgments on neighboring nations? (2:4-15)
  7. What did Zephaniah say about Jerusalem’s doom? (3:1-7)
  8. What universal judgment did the prophet foretell? (3:8)
  9. How would the nations be renewed? (3:9-10)
  10. What future blessings for God’s people did Zephaniah describe? (3:11-20)
  11. How would God remove sorrow from His people? (3:18-20)

Get It

  1. How does God bring judgment on rebellious nations today?
  2. What sin patterns are prevalent among Christians in our culture?
  3. How do we practice Israel’s crimes of idolatry, violence, and fraud today?
  4. What significance does “the day of the Lord” have for us?
  5. When have you experienced restoration and rejoicing after a period of rebellion?
  6. When has the Lord brought you out of sorrow and into joy?
  7. In what way are you blessed right now?
  8. In what way might you be a blessing to others?
  9. How can looking forward to future blessings in Christ provide hope and enthusiasm for our spiritual journey with Him?
  10. In your life as a Christian, what do you look forward to most?

Apply It

  1. In what areas of your life do you want to be more sensitive to God’s desires for you and less resistant of what He wants?
  2. What sad memories do you want to let go of in order to experience the joy of the Lord?
  3. How can you remind yourself (or others) this week of the future hope that God has planned for His people?

 

30 January 2021

Discipline

Genesis 49–50; Hebrews 12–13; Ecclesiastes 12:9–14

Rebecca Van Nordic says:

“ I was a stubborn child. When disciplined by my parents, I would sulk for hours afterward. I didn’t see discipline from my parents’ perspective—as something that would mold me into a mature, loving person.

Hebrews 12 has a lesson for people like me with a history of wallowing in self-pity when disciplined. Here, the writer of Hebrews tells us that God, a Father to us through the work of Jesus, disciplines us for our good. To emphasize this, the writer of Hebrews draws on the book of Proverbs, where the Father instructs His own Son. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, or give up when you are corrected by him. For the Lord disciplines the one who he loves, and punishes every son whom he accepts” (Heb 12:6; compare Prov 3:11–12).

The author tells us that being disciplined is a sign of God’s love. It means He is working and active in our lives (Heb 12:8). Like a chastised child, we might not always recognize God’s discipline this way. When challenged by our circumstances, we might struggle against events that are meant to shape us for holiness and eternity. We might even avoid subjecting ourselves to them because we don’t see God as the author of the event.

Sometimes our parents’ form of discipline gives us a tainted view of its purpose. Imperfect, like us, they disciplined us “for a few days according to what seemed appropriate to them.” It may have been harmful and destructive. But God disciplines us “for our benefit, in order that we can have a share in his holiness” (Heb 12:10). Because His intentions are perfect, we know that He has our ultimate good in mind. And we can approach discipline like a student, ready to learn how to better serve Him—and others—for His kingdom.

How do you respond to God’s discipline in your life? How can you change your attitude so that you view them as teachable moments and not a means to inflict harm?”

 

29 January 2021

The New Deal

Genesis 45–46; Hebrews 10; Ecclesiastes 11:5–10

“I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” These words were spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a speech which unveiled a series of economic strategies for ending the Great Depression.

We love newness because it holds hope. The same should be true when we look to the new covenant of Jesus. Although it may not feel quite as new as it did nearly 2,000 years ago—when it altered the spiritual landscape like the New Deal forced economic vitality into America—it still holds the same power today.

This covenant is first mentioned in Hebrews 8; and in Hebrews 10, we see the full implications of it: “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy.… Now where there is forgiveness of [sins], there is no longer an offering for sin” (Heb 10:14, 18). Prior to Jesus, there was a need for regular sacrifices for sins to be made, but since Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, that is no longer necessary.

I often forget just how radical this “new deal” is. In the midst of being busy, overwhelmed, or stressed, I neglect to acknowledge how much God has done for me. But every day, I live in His grace. Every day, I can be one with Him—no longer worrying about my past and future sins or shortcomings. And that is a day to be thankful for.

Have you thanked God today for the “new deal” He enacted through Jesus’ death and resurrection? What are some ways this gracious act can change or add to your interactions with God?

John D. Barry

28 January 2021

Carpe Diem

Genesis 44; Hebrews 8–9; Ecclesiastes 11:1–4

The Latin phrase Carpe Diem, means “seize the day.” Taking risks to make your life extraordinary is biblical, if done according to God’s plan and principles. The idea behind this comes from Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Eccl 11:1).

Bread acts as the symbol for substance in the ancient world; the author of Ecclesiastes is suggesting that we should follow God’s plan, even at the possible cost of our livelihood. He then suggests that what we give to God, He will return. This is opposite from a self-protection mentality. The “waters” in the proverb represent chaos, suggesting that in letting go of even the most chaotic circumstances, we learn about God’s ability to give what we need.

This is further illustrated when the author says, “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.… He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap” (Eccl 11:2, 4). In other words, there is no real way to calculate the return on investment. Things can always go bad. But with God, that’s not the case. He honors the work of those who diligently follow Him and give of themselves.

In the eyes of the world, not everything will work out perfectly for those who willingly give to God. But it will work out in the spiritual long haul. So, when God calls us to something, the answer is Carpe Diem. And the question we should be asking Him is, “What can I do for you and your kingdom?”

What risks are you taking for God right now? Have you asked Him what risks He would like you to take?

John D. Barry

 

 

26 January 2021

In witnessing recent world events this may resonate with many of us. As for me  the pandemic and in having COVID I have gained a heightened appreciation for the book of Ecclesiastes as I looked inward before casting my eyes on those around me and that includes our leaders.

A Little Folly

Genesis 41:38–42:28; Hebrews 3:1–5:10; Ecclesiastes 10:1–9

Like dead flies in perfumer’s oil, the writer of Ecclesiastes aptly proclaims that a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. Sometimes fools are elevated to positions of power, while those who are fit for the position are given no influence. The Preacher says, “I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (Eccl 10:7).

It’s not difficult to nod our heads and say “Amen” when we come to this example of an “evil under the sun.” We probably all have a story to tell about a leader who wasn’t fit for a position and about the injustices we endured under their authority. When a fool is set up as an authority figure, everyone suffers.

The Preacher gives a suggestion, though: “If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest” (Eccl 10:4). This doesn’t just tell us we should have a posture of humility and obedience before bad leaders. We should also teach them by responding with love and humility—something that may calm even the worst of fools.

In Hebrews, we find the context for this. We stand naked and exposed to God, who judges our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts. On our own, sin and guilt would condemn us. But we have a high priest in Jesus Christ. He intercedes for us, just as the Old Testament high priests interceded for the people of Israel. Our confidence is not in our own wisdom and righteousness, but in Him.

We can’t credit ourselves for our own wisdom. We stand before God on account of His Son’s righteousness and obedience. Jesus is the one who is able to withstand our folly. We stand in His righteousness, and we can learn from His obedience.

How can you respond to authority in a way that reflects God’s righteousness?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

23 January 2021

Pastors pen

First of all I would like to thank the church on behalf of Elaine and myself for your prayers during our recent illness, and to say that those prayers were of comfort, and powerful before the throne of grace. You prevailed before God and God blessed us.

With my operation I remind you of the miracle in that I was told that they would have to remove a part of my colon as the scan indicated that through being pinched, the blood supply had been cut and was dead. The only question that was as to how much of the colon would need to be removed. However, the surgeon was amazed that when she released the ‘dead’ pinched part of the colon from the hernia wall it revived. What a wonderful illustration of Gods saving grace that though we were once trapped and dead in our sins, God could and did revive and restore that which was dead and bring new life. The reviving agent was His blood which flowed freely for the remission of our sins.

Then of course, when I came home from hospital Elaine and I succumbed to Covid, and I also had another matter of concern which requires me going for a scan next week. We both struggled with Covid, and I was once again admitted to hospital as an emergency as I struggled to breath. Yet, I can only say it was more to do with total fatigue rather than the virus attacking my damaged lungs. I did not eat for the best part of two weeks and lost a lot of weight, but my lungs were protected from this insidious killer and it was as if God was saying to the devil that he could go this far and no further. God was in it all and through it all I saw Gods hand and knew his peace.

Elaine and I are now back together, and I thank God that we are both strengthening together, and I am at last starting to think about providing some teaching, encouragement and support to the church, but you have continuously remained in my thought, in my heart and in my prayers.

This new weekly study is from one of the  minor prophets (Habakkuk), and I hope that it will prove to be a blessing to one and all as we learn from the past; see its relevance as to the present, and apply its lesson to the future.

May God bless you as you continue to fight the good fight and encourage one another in the great hope we have in Jesus Christ who is LORD.

Phylip and Elaine.

 

 

 

25 – 31 January 2021

Habakkuk’s Complaints and Prayer

Habakkuk 1:1-3:19

Open It

  1. If you could talk with one prominent person, whom would you choose and what would you discuss?
  2. What about life has sometimes perplexed or frustrated you?
  3. When someone says nice things about you, how do you tend to respond?

Explore It

  1. What did Habakkuk receive? (1:1)
  2. About what was the prophet distressed? (1:2-4)
  3. How did God answer Habakkuk’s complaint? (1:5-11)
  4. Why was the prophet perplexed and bewildered? (1:12-17)
  5. What did the prophet do in anticipation of God’s response? (2:1)
  6. What did God tell Habakkuk to do? (2:2)
  7. What was God’s answer? (2:3-20)
  8. To whom were the “woes” addressed? (2:6, 9, 12, 15, 19)
  9. For what did Habakkuk ask God? (3:1-2)
  10. In his prayer, how did Habakkuk describe the person of God? (3:1-3)
  11. What did the prophet say about God’s power? (3:4-7)
  12. How did Habakkuk describe God’s actions? (3:8-15)
  13. How did Habakkuk react to his awesome encounter with God? (3:16)
  14. On what note of faith did the prophet conclude his song of praise? (3:17-19)

Get It

  1. When people suffer because of violence and injustice, how do you feel?
  2. God used the ungodly Babylonians to punish Israel. How does God speak to Christians through the actions of pagans nowadays?
  3. When have you been perplexed about why God allowed something to happen?
  4. When has God given you an answer to prayer that surprised you?
  5. What sins of this nation are deplorable to you?
  6. What “woes” might Habakkuk pronounce on our culture today?
  7. If your earthly sources of satisfaction and security were stripped away, how would you continue to hope in the Lord?
  8. What prayer of rejoicing and praise can you offer to God, your Saviour?

Apply It

  1. When can you take time this week to be open and honest with the Lord about some of your deepest concerns or frustrations?
  2. How can you start expressing your faith and hope in the Lord in refreshing, creative ways (such as in songs, poetry, or art)?

 

4 – 10 January 2021

The Temple and the Land – Ezekiel 47:1-48:35

Open It

  1. What sorts of conflicts have you seen, or would expect to see, surrounding the division of an inheritance?
  2. What particular recollections, positive or negative, do you have regarding rivers?

Explore It

  1. At the end of his tour of the restored temple of God, what did Ezekiel see coming out of the temple? (47:1-2)
  2. What happened to the stream of water as it got farther away from the temple? (47:3-6)
  3. What good effects did the river in Ezekiel’s vision have along its route? (47:7-12)
  4. What were God’s instructions for the division of the land among the tribes? (47:13-21)
  5. How did God instruct His people to regard aliens who had settled among them for legal purposes? (47:22-23)
  6. How specific were God’s instructions about which tribe was to receive which piece of land? (48:1-7, 23-29)
  7. For what purposes did God set aside the “special gift” of land at the center of the country? (48:8-22)
  8. What different groups were specifically provided for within the special sector of land? (48:8-22)
  9. How were the gates of the city of Jerusalem to be named? (48:30-34)
  10. How did the name of the city reflect its reason for being? (48:35)

Get It

  1. What do you think the river that flowed out of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision might represent?
  2. How does this passage show us that God’s blessings are not for a single ethnic group only?
  3. Why is it important for us to set aside portions of the blessings God gives to us?
  4. What conclusions can we draw from the characterization of the new Israel about the fairness and holiness of God?
  5. What do you think is the greatest privilege of any nation, city, or individual?

Apply It

  1. How can you set aside something from the material blessings God has given you in order to honour and thank Him?
  2. What source of help, inspiration, and power from God is available to prosper your daily life, and how can you take advantage of it?

 

 

4 – 10 January 2021

The Temptation of Jesus – Matthew 4:1-11

  1. What are some common food cravings?
  2. Why are some temptations harder to resist than others?
  3. Why do different people struggle with different types of temptations?

Explore It

  1. Who led Jesus into the wilderness? Why? (4:1)
  2. Where was Jesus led? By whom? (4:1)
  3. For what purpose was Jesus led into the desert? (4:1)
  4. What made Jesus weak at this time? (4:2)
  5. What three names are given to Jesus’ adversary in the desert? (4:3, 5, 10)
  6. What was the first temptation presented to Jesus? (4:3)
  7. How did Jesus respond to the first temptation? (4:4)
  8. Where did the devil take Jesus for the second temptation? (4:5)
  9. What tempting offer was made to Christ at the highest point of the temple? (4:6)
  10. How did Jesus answer the second temptation? (4:7)
  11. To what final destination did Satan take Christ? (4:8)
  12. What did the devil show Jesus from a very high mountain? (4:8)
  13. What did the devil promise Jesus in exchange for worship? (4:9)
  14. How did Jesus react to the third temptation? (4:10)
  15. What happened after Jesus had resisted Satan three times? (4:11)
  16. Who came and ministered to Jesus when all was said and done? (4:11)

Get It

  1. How would you define temptation?
  2. Besides physical appetite, what are some other sins of the flesh?
  3. What would have been appealing to Christ about the devil’s second temptation?
  4. What would have been appealing to Christ about the offer of all the kingdoms of the world?
  5. How can memorizing Scripture help us combat temptation?
  6. What role does the Word of God play in resisting temptation?
  7. What happens when a Christian consistently resists temptation?
  8. What situations make us especially vulnerable to temptation?
  9. In what ways can we make temptation more difficult to resist?
  10. What can we do to make temptation more manageable?
  11. What temptations are inevitable for most people?
  12. What temptations are inevitable for you?

Apply It

  1. In what specific area of your life is temptation the strongest these days?
  2. What steps can you take this week to resist the temptations you are facing now?

 

 

 

28 December 2020 – 3 January 2021

Rules Concerning the Temple and Worship – Ezekiel 44:1-46:24

Open It

  1. Would you prefer a world where faithfulness and hard work are rewarded or a world where good fortune is dispensed at random? Why?
  2. Why do you think society dictates that we dress up for certain occasions and not others?

Explore It

  1. What special instructions did the guide in Ezekiel’s vision have for the east gate to the sanctuary? (44:1-3)
  2. How did Ezekiel react when he saw the glory of the Lord? (44:4)
  3. To what instructions did God tell Ezekiel to pay particular attention, in order to correct God’s people? (44:5-6)
  4. What practice would God not tolerate in the restored temple? (44:7-9)
  5. Why were the Levites to be limited only to certain duties within the temple? (44:10-14)
  6. What group did God designate to serve as priests in the inner court? (44:15-16)
  7. What were some ways in which the priests were expected to maintain a greater degree of purity in their life than were the common people? (44:17-27)
  8. What provisions did God make for the sustenance of the priests? (44:28-31)
  9. How did God redraw the map of Jerusalem to provide for the temple, the priests, and the prince in an equitable way? (45:1-8)
  10. What abuses of power by prior rulers did God want to eliminate in the restored kingdom? (45:9-12)
  11. What sorts of offerings did God specify for special days on the Jewish calendar? (45:13-25)
  12. How was the opening and closing of certain gates to be a part of the temple ceremonies? (46:1-12)
  13. What were the required daily offerings? (46:13-15)
  14. How did God’s laws on inheritance insure separateness for His people and justice among them? (46:16-18)
  15. What practical provision was made in the temple since most of the sacrifices were followed by feasts? (46:19-24)

Get It

  1. What indications do you see in these three chapters of God’s expectations of those in leadership?
  2. Where in these chapters do you see God’s concern for the “little person”?
  3. How does God’s concern for accurate units of measure demonstrate His concern about our life?
  4. Why is it significant that the land set aside for worship was to be at the center of the restored city?
  5. Why do you think that purity is so often stressed in situations where human beings approach God?
  6. How did the temple rituals help the people understand what was important in life?
  7. How was everyday life brought into the worship of God in the temple?
  8. For whom do you think the feasts were designed primarily?
  9. How should believers conduct themselves with regard to some of the questionable practices of commerce or society?

Apply It

  1. What “weights and measures” or “rules and regulations” of daily life should you resolve before God to observe with greater faithfulness?
  2. How can you give worship more of a central place

 

28 December 2020 – 3 January 2021

The Baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17

Open It

  1. What are some initiation rites or affiliation procedures that organizations make new members go through?
  2. Why are transfers of power in some governments fragile?
  3. How would you feel if the world’s leading, most renowned expert in your field publicly solicited your help?

Explore It

  1. Where did Jesus come from? Why? (3:13)
  2. Why did Jesus leave Galilee and travel to the Jordan River? (3:13)
  3. How did John react to Jesus’ request? (3:14)
  4. What exactly did John say to Jesus? (3:14)
  5. How did Jesus respond to John’s reluctance? (3:15)
  6. Why was it important for John to comply with Jesus’ request? (3:15)
  7. What change took place in heaven after the baptism of Jesus? (3:16)
  8. How did the Spirit of God play a role in the baptism of Jesus? (3:16)
  9. What was the Spirit’s appearance? (3:16)
  10. What kind of voice was heard at the baptism of Jesus? (3:17)
  11. What was the relationship between Jesus and the Father? (3:17)
  12. What did God the Father say about Jesus? (3:17)

Get It

  1. Why do you think John felt awkward about baptizing Jesus?
  2. In what ways are many Christians concerned about “proper” behavior and striving for righteousness?
  3. What does this passage show about God’s triune nature?
  4. What do we tell the world by being baptized?
  5. If God spoke in an audible voice about you today, what might He say?
  6. What pleases God?
  7. How are you able to please God?

Apply It

  1. What could you do today for Christ out of obedience and respect for Him?
  2. What needs to change this week in order for you to see the Spirit of God work in and through your life?

21 – 27 December 2020 (Christmas bonus)

HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL AND WHATEVER OTHER NEWS YOU HAVE, PLEASE REMEMBER THAT UNTO US CHRIST IS BORN AND HE REMAINS ON HIS THRONE

EZEKIEL

The Glory Returns to the Temple – Ezekiel 43:1-27

Open It

  1. What kinds of places do you find most conducive to worship? Why?
  2. What do you think is the deepest, commonest human desire?
  3. Judging from your own observations, what does our society consider holy?

Explore It

  1. What did the man of bronze show to Ezekiel after he had toured the whole restored temple area? (43:1-2)
  2. How did Ezekiel describe the return of the glory of God to the temple? (43:3-4)
  3. Where was Ezekiel transported after his initial vision of the glory of God approaching from the east? (43:5)
  4. What did the voice from within the temple say? (43:6-7)
  5. How had Israel angered God and brought on their own destruction? (43:8-9)
  6. What response did God hope to produce in the people when Ezekiel related his vision of the temple? (43:10-11)
  7. How was Ezekiel instructed to preserve the details and dimensions of the temple God showed him? (43:11)
  8. How much ground was to be dedicated as holy ground? (43:12)
  9. How was the altar in the new temple to be constructed? (43:13-17)
  10. What specific instructions were given for a week-long dedication of the altar? (43:18-26)
  11. How did God promise to respond after the eighth day of sacrifices and offerings? (43:27)

Get It

  1. Why was the return of the Lord’s presence (described in Ezekiel 43) critical to the overall restoration of God’s people?
  2. What emotions do you suppose Ezekiel experienced as he watched the glory of the Lord return to the temple?
  3. When does a beautiful worship space help us worship, and when is it a distraction?
  4. Why were Ezekiel’s previous visions helpful to him when God showed him other things?
  5. How could the temple in its symmetry, beauty, and greatness cause the people to be ashamed of their sins?
  6. How can the beauty and perfection of the heavenly worship, communicated to us in the Bible, be an encouragement to us in our present trials?

Apply It

  1. Knowing that you are accepted by God, how can you reach out this week in His name to a person who may not feel acceptable?
  2. Where can you go for a brief retreat to remember God’s greatness and glory compared to your difficulties?

21 – 27 December 2020

CHRISTMAS IS HERE AGAIN, AND THERE IS PLENTY STILL TO DO; BUT TAKE THE TIME TO SIT AND CONTEMPLATE, AS TO WHAT GOD IS SAYING TO YOU.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way – Matthew 3:1-12

Open It

  1. What phrases, words, or images spring to mind when you hear the term “preacher”?
  2. What preacher has influenced you most?
  3. Why are many people uncomfortable with “fire and brimstone”-type preaching?

Explore It

  1. What famous preacher is described in this passage? (3:1)
  2. Where was John the Baptist’s “sanctuary” or “pulpit”? (3:1)
  3. What was John’s message? (3:2)
  4. Why was John’s ministry significant? (3:3)
  5. What did John look like? (3:4)
  6. What kind of unusual diet did John follow? (3:4)
  7. How did people receive John’s message? (3:5)
  8. Besides strong preaching, what went on at John’s “desert revival meetings”? (3:6)
  9. Where did John perform his baptisms? Who came? (3:5-6)
  10. What kinds of religious leaders came to listen to John? (3:7)
  11. What harsh name did John call the religious leaders? Why? (3:7-10)
  12. What was John’s message to the local “men of the cloth”? (3:7-10)
  13. What was the purpose of John’s water baptism? (3:11)
  14. How did John compare himself to the one who would come after him? (3:11)
  15. How did John describe the type of baptism Jesus would bring? (3:11)
  16. With what images did John describe Jesus? (3:12)

Get It

  1. Why is it that coming from a religious family doesn’t guarantee spiritual security?
  2. What does it mean to repent?
  3. Why do you think John lived such an eccentric life?
  4. Why was John the Baptist so harsh with the religious leaders of his day?
  5. What is the significance of the images “winnowing fork,” “gathering His wheat,” and “burning up the chaff”?
  6. What was John trying to communicate by using the word “fire” three times in this passage?
  7. What is the difference between God’s discipline and God’s punishment?
  8. What kind of “fruit” or character do repentant people produce?

Apply It

  1. What could you do this week to encourage your pastor or preacher?
  2. What first step could you take toward obeying God better today?
  3. What particular sin(s) do you need to repent of today?

Daily Reading 21 December 2020

Expenses

Jeremiah 39:1–41:18; Romans 9:13–29; Proverbs 24:1–22

It’s important to pause occasionally to reflect on the cost of sin. If we don’t, we can find ourselves living in it without thought of the ramifications. Few passages illustrate the cost of sin more vividly than the fall of Jerusalem recorded in Jer 39. The fall of Jerusalem is brutal, depressing, and sadistic, but we can learn from Jeremiah’s account of the event.

We could view Jeremiah’s depictions as merely historical, or we could recognize the theological lessons they offer: Sin is expensive. Sin will destroy you. Sin will bring a nation to its knees. Sin will leave you begging for mercy. Sin is death. That’s what God’s people learned from this event: Disobeying Yahweh is a costly action. It’s not that God wants His people to endure this pain, but pain is a natural consequence of their decisions. He cannot defend people who refuse to live as beacons of light—of goodness, beauty, and blessing—to the world. If they aren’t willing to live in His image, then He is not willing to be their defender. If Yahweh did not allow for Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem, the people would never learn. And the exile that comes in this moment is also a natural result of their sin.

When we’re faced with the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem, we’re given a choice: Will we listen to the prophets of our age and respond accordingly? Will we hear God when He calls us back to obedience? Or will we continue to live in sin and suffer the consequences?

As a side effect of the grace that God has given us in Jesus, many people assume that sin is somehow okay—that it’s okay to allow it to exist. God’s response is the opposite. The grace is unmerited, and we must respond with the only merited response: complete dedication and obedience to Him. We must see the death of sin and deny it.

What sin is currently present in your life? What do you need to repent from? Have you asked God to direct you in this?

 

19 December 2020

EZEKIEL

SATURDAY SPECIAL

A Prophecy against Gog – Ezekiel 38:1-39:29

Open It

  1. What character, historical or fictional, is the personification of evil in your mind?
  2. What is your favourite story of the triumph of an underdog?

Explore It

  1. To whom was Ezekiel told to address his next prophecy? (38:1-3)
  2. What gathering of the enemies of Israel would be accomplished by God “pulling them together”? (38:4-6)
  3. What great invasion would be plotted by Gog? (38:7-9)
  4. For what purpose would the various nations arrive at an evil scheme? (38:10-13)
  5. Why was God going to allow a great assault on Israel? (38:14-16)
  6. For what response would God be poised when Gog threatened Israel? (38:18-23)
  7. What did God intend to do to the homeland of the aggressors while they fell in battle on the mountains of Israel? (39:1-6)
  8. What is God prepared to defend in the great battle of the nations? (39:7-8)
  9. After God’s intervention in their behalf, what unusual provisions would Israel have for years to come? (39:9-10)
  10. How does Ezekiel describe the magnitude of the death and destruction wrought against the forces of Gog? (39:11-16)
  11. What gory “sacrifice” would the birds and wild beasts have set before them? (39:17-20)
  12. In this demonstration of His glory, what would the nations see and what would Israel understand? (39:21-22)
  13. Why did God want the rest of the nations to be clear on His reasons for turning against Israel in the past? (39:23-24)
  14. What are the various ways in which God will show compassion on His people in the future? (39:25-29)

Get It

  1. Where should the people of God turn for help in times of trouble?
  2. Of what nations of the earth is God the Lord?
  3. In what way is God the Lord of every nation on earth?
  4. What comfort can God’s people take in knowing how God will use evil for His purposes?
  5. How should we react if the enemies of God rise up to challenge blessings that He has given to us?
  6. Why would the land need to be cleansed after the great battle in which Gog is defeated?
  7. In your opinion, of all the blessings promised to God’s people in this prophecy, which is the greatest? Why?

Apply It

  1. How can you tell at least one other person this week of the Lord’s gracious blessings in your life?
  2. What frightening evil power in your life or in your world can remind you throughout the week to praise God for His omnipotence?

 

Adult Questions for LESSONMaker.

The Architecture of the New Temple – Ezekiel 40:1-42:20

Topics:  Details, Holiness, Listening, Prophecy, Separation, Temple, Vision

Open It

  1. What are some of the more impressive examples of architecture that you have seen?
  2. How difficult would it be for you to find your way around your home blindfolded?

Explore It

  1. What was the specific time of Ezekiel’s vision of the temple? (40:1)
  2. Whom did Ezekiel meet when God transported him to Jerusalem in a vision? (40:2-3)
  3. What instructions did the man have for Ezekiel before they set out on their exploration? (40:4)
  4. What was impressive about the wall that surrounded the temple Ezekiel saw? (40:5)
  5. What are some examples of how detailed Ezekiel’s description of the east gate area becomes? (40:6-16)
  6. What did the man do each time he stopped at the outer court, the north gate, and the south gate? (40:17-27)
  7. What sorts of rooms did Ezekiel see before he actually came into the temple? (40:28-47)
  8. What was at the center of the temple structure? (40:48-41:15)
  9. How were the internal parts of the temple decorated? (41:16-26)
  10. What important activity was to take place in the side rooms around the temple? (42:1-13)
  11. What specific regulations were given with regard to the priests’ garments inside and outside the temple? (42:14)
  12. How was the whole temple area kept distinct from the “common” parts of the city? (42:15-20)

Get It

  1. Why do you think the exiles to whom Ezekiel spoke might have “eaten up” every detail of his description of the temple?
  2. What point did the temple buildings and worship practices make by separating the holy from the common?
  3. In what respect was Ezekiel a “servant” of the exiled people of Israel?
  4. If someone could bring you a blueprint of heaven, what details would you want it to include?
  5. How would you describe heaven to someone unfamiliar with the Bible?

Apply It

  1. How could you express your gratitude for the care that has gone into the planning and maintenance of your place of worship?
  2. How can the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth inspire you in a specific problem you are presently facing?

Daily Reading 18 December 2020

Into the Family

Jeremiah 33:1–34:22; Romans 8:1–17; Proverbs 22:1–16

As people once bound to sin and destined for death, our ability to approach God personally—to call Him our Father—should astound us. Yet we sometimes forget to pray. We can take it for granted that He looks out for our every need.

The concept of approaching God as Father would have been a radical concept for the Roman community. In his letter to the church there, Paul discusses how our former lives without God were nothing but slavery to sin and death, the wages of sin. Christ’s work has set us free from this trajectory: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself confirms to our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer together with him so that we may also be glorified together with him” (Rom 8:15–17).

Paul’s audience would have used the term “Abba! Father!” only within immediate family relationships. To call God “our Father” would have been a shocking paradigm shift—especially for Jewish believers. However, Christ’s sacrifice made this relationship possible. He paid our debt and repaired the rift. Because of His work, and because we share in His Spirit, we also share in His relationship with the Father. We can call out to God, just as Jesus did. And the Father cares for us, just as He cares for His Son.

We may forget our intimate relationship with God, yet the Spirit continues to work within us to bring our lives into accordance with this relationship with the Father. Pray for insight and gratitude for your new position because of Christ. When you call on God, relate to Him as a child would to a loving father—bringing all to Him and knowing He understands you and knows what is best for you.

Do you neglect prayer? Pray that the Spirit would work to bring you a childlike faith and trust in God.

Rebecca Van Noord

17 – 18 December 2020

John the Baptist Prepares the Way – Matthew 3:1-12

Open It

  1. What phrases, words, or images spring to mind when you hear the term “preacher”?
  2. What preacher has influenced you most?
  3. Why are many people uncomfortable with “fire and brimstone”-type preaching?

Explore It

  1. What famous preacher is described in this passage? (3:1)
  2. Where was John the Baptist’s “sanctuary” or “pulpit”? (3:1)
  3. What was John’s message? (3:2)
  4. Why was John’s ministry significant? (3:3)
  5. What did John look like? (3:4)
  6. What kind of unusual diet did John follow? (3:4)
  7. How did people receive John’s message? (3:5)
  8. Besides strong preaching, what went on at John’s “desert revival meetings”? (3:6)
  9. Where did John perform his baptisms? Who came? (3:5-6)
  10. What kinds of religious leaders came to listen to John? (3:7)
  11. What harsh name did John call the religious leaders? Why? (3:7-10)
  12. What was John’s message to the local “men of the cloth”? (3:7-10)
  13. What was the purpose of John’s water baptism? (3:11)
  14. How did John compare himself to the one who would come after him? (3:11)
  15. How did John describe the type of baptism Jesus would bring? (3:11)
  16. With what images did John describe Jesus? (3:12)

Get It

  1. Why is it that coming from a religious family doesn’t guarantee spiritual security?
  2. What does it mean to repent?
  3. Why do you think John lived such an eccentric life?
  4. Why was John the Baptist so harsh with the religious leaders of his day?
  5. What is the significance of the images “winnowing fork,” “gathering His wheat,” and “burning up the chaff”?
  6. What was John trying to communicate by using the word “fire” three times in this passage?
  7. What is the difference between God’s discipline and God’s punishment?
  8. What kind of “fruit” or character do repentant people produce?

Apply It

  1. What could you do this week to encourage your pastor or preacher?
  2. What first step could you take toward obeying God better today?
  3. What particular sin(s) do you need to repent of today?

Daily Reading 17 December 2020

Land and Deeds

Jeremiah 32:1–44; Romans 7:7–25; Proverbs 21:13–31

Those of us who have purchased a home know the frightening feeling of closing day—“Am I signing my life away? Am I binding myself to this building forever?” Imagine, on top of those feelings, knowing that the place you’re buying is about to be overrun by a foreign nation and may no longer belong to you. That’s what the prophet Jeremiah experienced.

Yahweh tells Jeremiah that his cousin will arrive with an offer to purchase a field. So when Jeremiah’s cousin shows up, Jeremiah views it as Yahweh’s will that he purchase the land, and he does (Jer 32:1–12). Meanwhile, Jeremiah knows that the Babylonians are coming and that they will overrun the land of God’s people, including the land that he has just purchased. This is not a reckless act; this is a moment of faith. Jeremiah seizes the opportunity to proclaim Yahweh’s faithfulness.

Turning to his assistant, Baruch, Jeremiah remarks in front of everyone witnessing the purchase, “Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase, the sealed one, and this opened deed, and you must put them in an earthenware jar so that they may be kept preserved many days.’ For thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land’ ” (Jer 32:14–15).

Each of us has moments when we must do what no one else will do—and that includes saying what others are not willing to say. What “land” is God asking you to buy, and what is He asking you to proclaim about it?

What deed is God asking you to do today? What are you to say about Yahweh’s faithfulness, and how are you to act upon it?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 16 December 2020

Freedom

Jeremiah 31:1–40; Romans 6:15–7:6; Proverbs 21:1–12

We like to think of ourselves as autonomous. Our modern culture champions freedom and the right to pursue happiness. But if we apply the concept of rights when we think about faith, following Christ can feel like religion, dogma, rules—a type of bondage that requires us to think and behave in ways that make our autonomous selves bridle.

Paul looks at the issue differently: “Do you not know that to whomever you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whomever you obey, whether sin, leading to death, or obedience, leading to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16). He uses another analogy in his letter to the church in Rome—one that draws on the practice of the slavery within his own culture—to highlight the opposite view. If we live without God, he says, we have a debt that binds us. We are a slave to sin, and it’s the type of bondage that leads to death.

Yet, there is hope. Although we were slaves to sin, we can be redeemed from that slavery. Christ has paid the debt we incurred. He has set us free and brought us into a new bondage—not one that binds to death, but one that binds us to Him in life. If we believe this is true and put our trust in Him, we are no longer slaves.

As redeemed people, we’re called to a new life. While we once charted our own independent path—one that led to death—we can turn and follow a path that leads to sanctification and eternal life, a path that God charts just for us. While our path required a toll—death—Christ has paid that toll so we can walk in new life: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

How have your old habits and patterns of behaviour changed now that you’ve been set free? What still needs to change to reflect your new loyalty to Christ?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

Daily Reading 15 December 2020

After the Storm

Jeremiah 29:1–30:24; Romans 6:1–14; Proverbs 20:13–30

As we blink and squint in the light that emerges after a storm, we marvel that the sun was there all along and we just couldn’t see it. The same is true during times of difficulty. When we’re in pain or worried, it seems impossible to find God, but in retrospect, it always seems obvious: God was there all along.

Jeremiah prophesied to God’s people about their unraveling. The people heard words from Jeremiah’s mouth that must have seemed hopeless and full of despair. But in Jeremiah 29, we catch a glimpse of the light that comes after: “Build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and father sons and daughters … and multiply there, and you must not be few” (Jer 29:5–6).

Even in exile, God will continue to guide His people. Because of their sins, they have endured (and lost) war and have been driven away from the land that God gave them; but God remains with them nonetheless. They may need to experience the pain of exile to understand the consequences of turning away from God, but God still plans to be good to them. He will provide for them.

We witness a parallel picture in Rom 6. After describing the death that sin brings into the world and the current sad state of humanity, Paul presents a full vision of living without sin—of conquering the very problem that drove God’s people into exile: “What therefore shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, in order that grace may increase? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2).

Even with the grace God has offered us, Paul encourages us to live the vision God has created through Jesus—one that strives to be sinless. Likewise, Jeremiah does not offer empty words without the command that God’s people follow Him with their entire beings (Jer 29:8–14).

We have all made mistakes. We’ve all lost ourselves in the storms—in storms we caused and storms that came upon us for no apparent reason. But what’s certain in both instances is that God is with us and desires for us to be one with Him.

What storm are you currently in, coming out of, or anticipating? What is God teaching you through it? What is He asking of you?

14 – 16 December 2020

The Return to Nazareth – Matthew 2:19-23

Open It

  1. To what sources do people often look for guidance?
  2. What do you like most and least about your hometown?
  3. Why is it so difficult to move to another place?

Explore It

  1. What happened when Herod died? (2:19)
  2. In what manner did God communicate with Joseph? (2:19)
  3. Where were Joseph, Mary, and Jesus at the time? (2:19)
  4. What did the angel tell Joseph to do? (2:20)
  5. What was the reason behind the angel’s command? (2:20)
  6. How did Joseph respond to the angel’s instructions? (2:21)
  7. Who was reigning in Herod’s place when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus left Egypt? (2:22)
  8. Why was it significant to Joseph that Archelaus was ruling in Judah? (2:22)
  9. What was Joseph’s emotional response when he heard about Archelaus? (2:22)
  10. What did Joseph do when he heard the news of Archelaus’s reign? (2:22)
  11. To what town did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go? Why? (2:23)
  12. Why was it significant that Jesus’ family settled in Nazareth? (2:23)

Get It

  1. What modern-day forces threaten the institution of the family?
  2. How has your hometown influenced who you are?
  3. Why might God lead you to live in a certain area?
  4. How is your present location affecting your children?
  5. How can families reduce the stress and upheaval caused by a move or relocation?
  6. Which would you choose: a high-paying job in a big city that required long hours, or a lower-paying job in a smaller town that enabled you to spend more time with your family? Why?

Apply It

  1. What specific act of kindness can you do this week for a new family in your neighborhood?
  2. As you look back over your life and see how God has guided you, how can you show your appreciation?

 

 

Daily Reading 13 December 2020

Sage Advice

Jeremiah 25:1–26:24; Romans 4:1–24; Proverbs 19:1–29

Proverbs is full of sage advice, and some examples deserve special attention. No words could better describe the concept expressed here: “Better a poor person walking in integrity than one who is perverse in his speech and is a fool” (Prov 19:1).

When times get tough—especially when money runs out—integrity is often the first thing we sacrifice. Yet only those who have truly lived in poverty understand the trials it brings. We can’t begin to know how we would act if we had nothing. For this reason, we should mentally prepare for times of want. In doing so, we might better gauge whether we’re conducting ourselves appropriately in times of plenty.

I heard of a man who chose to live as a homeless person so that he could understand their plight. It’s easy for the rich person to call such an act foolish, but how much did that man learn as he was challenged to maintain his integrity during hard times? Does the rich person own that wisdom?

Proverbs 19:2 seems to hint at this idea: “A life without knowledge is not good, and he who moves quickly with his feet misses the mark.” Some people move so quickly in and out of circumstances that they don’t learn from their experiences. It’s better to move a little slower than normal and pay attention to our actions and their ramifications than to make a mistake and not learn from it. Likewise, we must have knowledge about our work and what we’re doing, or we inevitably fail.

Let’s learn from people with integrity. And let’s learn from our mistakes, both in hypothetical situations and real ones. Let’s take the time to notice what went wrong and what went right.

What situation is God using to teach you? Where should you slow down?

John D. Barry

 

Daily Reading 12 December 2020

Forgiven and Forgiving

Jeremiah 23:1–24:10; Romans 3:21–31; Proverbs 18:1–24

Idioms are often unhelpful because their overuse has robbed them of meaning. But the idiom “putting up walls” has a twist in Proverbs: “A brother who is offended is worse than a city of strength, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortification” (Prov 18:19).

The writer of this proverb gives us imagery that helps us understand how people react to offenses. Regardless of whether we intend to, we can raise a great structure, like a “city of strength,” in the gulf between ourselves and others. Such barriers make it difficult to reach those we have offended, which may suit us perfectly. But we’re called to live differently.

None of us can live perfectly in this life, so conflict is inevitable. If we have the insight to see that “we all fall short of the glory of God”—and more specifically, how we have fallen—we’ll see we have no right to hold a grudge (Rom 3:23). When rifts develop in relationships, we need to own our sin and bring it to God. His forgiveness and His reconciling work make it possible for us to be vulnerable with others and seek their forgiveness—even if they have also offended us.

When we choose to humbly admit our failings, we break down “the bars of a fortification” and create space for reconciliation. We might be spurned, or we might be forgiven. The other person may take responsibility for their fault, or they may not. But either way, we rest secure in God’s forgiveness.

Have you offended someone? Have you neglected to confess your sin and seek forgiveness? Reconciliation is a picture of what God has done for us—He has returned us to Himself. Be like the peacemaker: Seek and offer forgiveness.

Have you offended someone without asking forgiveness? If so, how can you step forward to confess your offense to God and the offended person?

Rebecca Van Noord

Daily Reading 11 December 2020

Faithful Decision-Making

Jeremiah 21:1–22:30; Romans 3:1–20; Proverbs 17:1–28

“I asked God, and He didn’t answer me.” When I hear people say this, I’m often tempted to reply, “Haven’t you read the prophets?” Because sometimes what people are really saying is, “I asked God to do something for me, and He didn’t answer in the way I expected, so He must not be listening or He must not care.” Yet the prophets repeatedly tell us the opposite. God is not human, so He does not make decisions like a human. Instead, He sees all possible outcomes and knows the best route. We simply struggle to understand the wisdom of His decisions.

One particular event in the book of Jeremiah illustrates this point. When King Zedekiah (the last king of Judah) asks Jeremiah to intercede with Yahweh on behalf of Jerusalem against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah gives an unexpected reply: Yahweh has refused to do so. He will not intercede for His own people. Rather, He will make Nebuchadnezzar’s task easier (Jer 21:1–7).

Before we view Yahweh as harsh and unforgiving, let’s recall that this occurs after God’s people have been rebelling against Him for hundreds of years. Even so, in Jer 21:8–10, God’s people are given a choice: They can remain in Jerusalem and die—for Yahweh has deemed that the city must fall—or they can enter what appears to be death but is actually life. Yahweh sets up a faith choice for them: “He who goes out and goes over to the Chaldeans who are laying siege to you will live, and his life will be to him as booty” (Jer 21:9).

Even in the midst of unbearable circumstances, Yahweh offers a way of grace. Even when everything seems to fail, we can decide to choose faith. This story mirrors what we experience on our deathbed. It also mirrors the decision we face every day of our lives: Will we listen to the voices of the world, or will we listen to the prophets who proclaim honest indignation and faithful decision-making? Will we stay in the city, or will we go where God calls us—no matter how difficult it may seem or how improbable?

Where is God calling you? What must you walk away from? What faith decision is before you?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 10 December 2020

Constructing Lives by the Law

Jeremiah 18:1–18; Romans 2:12–29; Proverbs 16:12–33

Dispensing good, helpful advice gets the benevolent juices flowing. As easy as it is to give advice, though, it often hits me with the irony of a cartoon anvil when I end up tripping over my own counsel. When this happens, I’m convicted to examine my motives for advice-giving.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul challenges the superior mindset that was common among some Jewish people at the time: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve the things that are superior, because you are instructed by the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light to those in darkness, and instructor of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Therefore, the one who teaches someone else, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom 2:17–21).

Paul is explaining why looking to the ot law for righteousness is futile. No person could perfectly keep the law. By holding to it, they were in fact condemning themselves. Paul even points out that some Jews thought they had attained a higher moral standing because of their knowledge of the law—and believed they were in a position to teach others. Yet they were still breaking the law.

It’s easy for us to discard this as an early church issue. Yet we still sometimes take comfort in “keeping the law” today. If we cling to our own good behavior rather than the righteousness we have in Christ, we commit the same sin. We can attempt to live like a saint—we can cultivate a reputation for goodness and dishing out wisdom—but we’ll set ourselves up for imminent failure because we can never keep up the pretense of godly behavior on our own.

However, if our “circumcision is of the heart”—if we trust in Christ’s sacrifice for our righteousness and the Spirit is working in us—then our hearts will be in the right place. That place is where we know we are great sinners, and where we are receptive to His transforming work to bring us into complete loyalty to Him. Then we will seek God’s favor, not the favor and superiority we crave from others.

If our lives are truly changed, we will be motivated to love others out of the love God shows us. That will give us the right perspective for seeing the transformation that God is working in their hearts. And it will free us to give the best advice of all: Seek God in everything.

What are your motives for giving advice?

Rebecca Van Noord

9 December 2020

ADVENT 4 THURSDAY-FRIDAY
Adult Questions for LESSONMaker

The Escape to Egypt – Matthew 2:13-18

Open It

  1. What are the pros and cons of fierce competition and rivalry?
  2. Why does the death of a child seem especially tragic?
  3. What was your most frightening brush with death?

Explore It

  1. What happened after the Magi left the home of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus? (2:13)
  2. How did God communicate with Joseph? (2:13)
  3. Where did the angel tell Joseph to go? Why? (2:13)
  4. How long was Joseph to keep his family in hiding? (2:13)
  5. Why was it necessary for Joseph to take his family and flee? (2:13)
  6. How did Joseph respond to the warning he received? (2:13)
  7. What event allowed Joseph to depart from Egypt with his family? (2:15)
  8. Why was the “escape to Egypt” significant in the life of Christ? (2:15)
  9. What was King Herod’s emotional state when he realized the Magi had tricked him? (2:16)
  10. What orders did King Herod give in an attempt to eliminate his competition? (2:16)
  11. Who prophesied the horrible episode of infanticide in Bethlehem? When? (2:17)
  12. What was the response to Herod’s mass execution of children? (2:18)

Get It

  1. How might our lives be different if Herod’s death plot against Christ had succeeded?
  2. What happens when people try to thwart God’s plan?
  3. Why is it important to listen to God?
  4. Why is it important to obey God immediately?
  5. What are some wise ways to handle anger?
  6. What is it about competition that makes us feel so threatened?
  7. What is the best response to “rivals” or “opponents”?
  8. How can Christians serve those who are the victims of senseless violence?

Apply It

  1. In what area of your life do you need to trust God more instead of being driven by competition?
  2. What action could you take today to minister to someone who is in mourning?

 

EZEKIEL 34

Shepherds and Sheep – Ezekiel 34:1-31

Open It

  1. What have you noticed about the changes in people’s lives when they add the responsibility of a child?
  2. Why do you think it is common for powerful politicians to live a substantially more comfortable life than the people they govern?

Explore It

  1. Why was God angry with the “shepherds” of Israel? (34:1-2)
  2. What comforts and privileges were the rulers taking for themselves? (34:3)
  3. What needs of the common people were being overlooked by their leaders? (34:4)
  4. In what condition did God find “His sheep” at this point in Israel’s history? (34:5-6)
  5. What did God promise to do on behalf of the helpless sheep? (34:7-10)
  6. How does God describe His care for the flock (that is, His people)? (34:11-16)
  7. Why did God find it necessary to judge some of the sheep? (34:17-19)
  8. How would the weak and strong sheep fare under God’s one shepherd? (34:20-24)
  9. What are the various forms of deliverance and blessing promised to God’s people? (34:25-29)
  10. What undeniable conclusion would Israel draw from God’s activity on their behalf? (34:30)
  11. How did God describe His relationship to Israel? (34:31)

Get It

  1. What responsibilities go along with the privileges of leadership?
  2. How do you think church leaders should demonstrate concern for the problems of the less fortunate in the community of faith?
  3. How does God view selfishness and inconsiderateness among His people?
  4. Why do you think God emphasizes that He will take ultimate responsibility for the weak and helpless?
  5. What will become of selfish and irresponsible leaders?
  6. What is appealing about the kind of care God gives His sheep?

Apply It

  1. Which practical needs in your immediate circle of influence might God want to use you to meet?
  2. What safeguard would you suggest to help Christian leaders remember the least of God’s sheep?

Daily Reading 9 December 2020

Self-Evident Hope

Jeremiah 16:1–17:27; Romans 1:18–2:11; Proverbs 16:1–11

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all impiety and unrighteousness of people, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is evident among them, for God made it clear to them” (Rom 1:18–19). A statement like this could easily be taken out of context if we leave off everything after “people.” But when we contextualize this message, we find hope instead of hopelessness.

Paul goes on to tell us that creation itself reveals God and His goodness to humanity, so there is no excuse for failing to understand God and the salvation He offers: “For from the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, both his eternal power and deity, are discerned clearly, being understood in the things created, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

We have all heard people who are concerned that salvation seems unfair: What about the people who won’t ever hear about Jesus? Yet Paul argues that everyone has an opportunity to witness Christ at work in creation itself. In Colossians he remarks that it’s in the “Son [Jesus] … whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because all things in the heavens and on the earth were created by him, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:13–16).

All people have an opportunity to know God. No one has an excuse. God’s justice reigns in creation; it reigns in Christ; and it reigns in the lives of those who choose Christ. Christ is everywhere, in all things. The world is not condemned unfairly by a God of unreasonable wrath; instead, it’s ruled by a God of joy and empathy who is love.

What misperceptions do you have of God? How can you correct them and work in the lives of others to do the same? How can you spread the empathy God wants you to display?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 8 December 2020

The Gospel for Barbarians and Fools

Jeremiah 14:1–15:21; Romans 1:1–17; Proverbs 15:1–33

It’s dangerous when we feel entitled. We may come to believe our communities are righteous while all those outside are not. This can even take place inside our faith communities—popularity or various achievements can create subtle feelings of superiority. We begin to believe it’s something we’ve done that brings us favour.

As he writes to the church in Rome, Paul explains that it’s not anything we do, anything we are, or anything we obtain that makes us right with God. His calling verifies this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus I am eager to proclaim the gospel also to you who are in Rome” (Rom 1:14).

Ethnicity was a big obstacle for the early church to overcome, as the church was now made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. God promised Abraham that through him “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Christ’s redemptive work had finally made this blessing a reality. God’s favor was no longer reserved for those who might be educated or wise. Paul emphasizes that God can redeem those who—to us—might seem unlikely recipients of redemption.

But most important, our standing before God is not based on our goodness. Paul is eager to proclaim the gospel in Rome because it is belief in Jesus, the fulfilment of the promise, that makes believers righteous before God—“the gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Christ’s righteousness has become our righteousness.

If anything, this fact should eliminate any sense of entitlement we might harbour and prompt us to walk in humility with believers and non-believers alike. Our relationship with God is intimately tied to how deeply we understand our need for God. The gospel frees us of any need to attain or achieve. For this, we should be incredibly thankful to God and live with humility for Him.

Do you put stock in the things you think make you a “favoured” Christian?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

Daily Reading 7 December 2020

Relationship Will Change Us

Jeremiah 12:1–13:27; Philemon 1:8–25; Proverbs 14:15–35

Although God has granted us complete access to Him through Christ, we struggle at times to live this reality (John 17:15–17). The stale or frightening depictions of God in stained glass and Renaissance paintings have convinced us that He is distant, quick to anger, or disinterested. Nothing could be further from the truth; the Psalms remind us that He is caring, close, and listening (e.g., Pss 22; 23; 26), and He yearns for a relationship with us.

Sometimes it helps to hear the words of others who have struggled with the same thing. Jeremiah provides us with such an example. He remarks, “You will be in the right, O Yahweh, when I complain to you. Even so, let me speak my claims with you. Why does the way of the wicked succeed? All those who deal treacherously with treachery are at ease” (Jer 12:1). Jeremiah knows that Yahweh is right in all He does, but this does not prevent him from freely expressing his concerns.

If we really look into our hearts, we may find that fear is preventing us from entering into an intimate relationship with Him. We’re afraid of what He will say; we’re concerned that He may rebuke us. Indeed, this is what He does when Jeremiah speaks to Him: “If you run with foot soldiers and they have made you weary, then how will you compete with horses? If you have fallen in a peaceful land, then how will you do in the thickets of the Jordan? For even your relatives, and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you, even they call loudly after you. You must not trust in them, though they speak kindly to you” (Jer 12:5–6). Yet within this rebuke, we also find advice—and the advice is comforting. By openly communicating his concerns to God, Jeremiah now knows what he must do. He knows how he must act.

There is joy to be found in knowing that we have a God who listens—a God who is not offended when we speak to Him but is eager for our company. What are we afraid of? After all, He already knows what’s on our minds. We need to grasp the idea that God is all about relationship.

What would change about your life if you went deeper into your relationship with Christ? What should you be asking God right now?

John D. Barry

 

7 December 2020

ADULT QUESTIONS FOR LESSON MAKER
ADVENT 3 MONDAY-WEDNESDAY

The Visit of the Magi – Matthew 2:1-12

Open It

  1. Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
  2. If you could give any gift to anyone, what would you give, to whom, and why?
  3. What prompts people to make great sacrifices for others?

Explore It

  1. Where was Jesus born? (2:1)
  2. During whose reign was Jesus born? (2:1)
  3. Who came to visit the young Jesus? (2:1)
  4. What external and internal factors prompted the Magi to search for Jesus? (2:2)
  5. What title did the Magi give to Jesus? (2:2)
  6. How did King Herod react to the visit of the Magi? (2:3-4)
  7. Why was a powerful king disturbed by the presence of a helpless baby? (2:3-6)
  8. Why is it significant that Christ was born in Bethlehem? (2:5-6)
  9. What were King Herod’s instructions to the Magi? (2:8)
  10. How were the Magi led to Christ? (2:9-10)
  11. What was the Magi’s reaction when they realized they had found the Christ? (2:10)
  12. Where was Jesus when the Magi found Him? (2:11)
  13. How did the Magi react upon seeing Jesus? (2:11)
  14. What gifts did the Magi bring to Jesus? (2:11)
  15. Why didn’t the Magi report back to Herod as he had requested? (2:12)

Get It

  1. How would you define worship?
  2. What sort of activities does worship involve?
  3. What are some various “presents” we might give to Christ?
  4. How does it feel to have a rival—to feel as though you are being overlooked or replaced?
  5. How can a competitive, prideful, or insecure spirit alter a person’s behavior?
  6. Why are many people reluctant to donate money to religious causes?
  7. What are some specific ways Christians can serve as “stars” and lead others to Christ?

Apply It

  1. What starlike, shining deed can you do today to point a non-Christian friend to Christ?
  2. What sacrifice do you need to make for Christ this week?
  3. What gift of time, effort, or money would demonstrate your love for Jesus this week?

 

Daily Reading 6 December 2020

The Easy Way

Jeremiah 10:1–11:23; Philemon 1:1–7; Proverbs 14:1–14

There is a certain amount of freedom in being foolish. Foolish people don’t stop to reflect on their actions. Characteristically unimaginative, foolish people don’t stop to consider how their words and actions affect others. The scary effect of foolishness is that it’s contagious: “Leave the presence of a foolish man, for you will not come to know words of knowledge. The wisdom of the clever is understanding his ways, but the folly of fools is deceit” (Prov 14:7).

There is an ease in self-deception because it’s our natural state. “There is a way that seems upright to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov 14:12). But the right way is not simply a more reflective, thoughtful life. We need a new way of life that can only be brought about in Christ—the one who reversed the power of death. Following the right way doesn’t mean relying on our own ability to be righteous through thoughtful actions. Rather, it means understanding our need for His righteousness. It’s God’s work in us, recreating us. It’s His Spirit, directing our ways and making us new in Him.

The fool does have influence, but a life transformed has far-reaching influence because it’s not our own work—it’s God’s. This is the calling of which Paul reminds Philemon. Paul tells Philemon that he has “great joy and encouragement” because of Philemon’s love. Because of his love, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you brother” (Phlm 7). For this reason, Paul also holds Philemon to a high standard. Because of his great influence, he needs to be intentional about how he treats Onesimus, the redeemed slave who had wronged him.

Pray for a transformed life, and pray for the work of the Spirit in your life, dividing the light from the darkness and the foolish, deceitful parts from the wise. He will help you understand His ways if you ask Him. He will make the darkness evident, and He will show you the way of wisdom—a life that reflects Christ.

How are you praying for the Spirit’s ongoing work in your life, dividing the foolish ways from the wise?

Rebecca Van Noord

Daily Reading 4 December 2020

Put Off, Put On

Jeremiah 6:1–7:29; Colossians 3:1–17; Proverbs 12:1–28

We often hear that being a good Christian means not doing bad stuff. This statement is true—but not exhaustive. In Colossians 3, Paul says, “Therefore put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustful passion, evil desire, and greediness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). He then lists other inappropriate behaviors: “anger, rage, wickedness, slander, abusive language” (Col 3:8). And he also lists new behaviors we need to “put on,” like “affection, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience” (Col 3:12).

From this we can gather that, as Christians, our lives should look different. But is there more to this command than certain behaviors?

We’re not supposed to put on new behaviors simply so that we can have polished, admirable lives. Colossians 3 opens with a statement: “Therefore, if you have been raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is” (Col 3:1). Believers identify with Christ—just like we’ve died with Him, we’ve also been raised with Him. He is life for us. And one day, we will be reunited with Him, and we’ll reflect Him perfectly.

All of Paul’s teaching rests on this truth. And all of our actions should reflect this new life we have in Christ. We shouldn’t continue in the old behaviors that used to be common to us (Col 3:7). We are changing into His likeness. “You have taken off the old man together with his deeds, and have put on the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created him” (Col 3:9–10).

Avoiding certain behaviors is part of being a Christian, but it’s hardly just that. It’s about a new life built completely on the foundation of Christ’s life-giving work. We should forgive one another because He forgave us (Col 3:13). We should love each other and strive for unity because He loved us and united us to Him (Col 3:14). We should strive for peace with one another because Christ has conquered chaos (Col 3:15). The message of Christ and our new life in Him should help us encourage and challenge each other as believers (Col 3:16).

Does your life reflect this new life? How can you turn from simply avoiding bad behavior to seeking new life in Him?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

3 December 2020

ADVENT 2: THURSDAY to SATURDAY

The Birth of Jesus Christ – Matthew 1:18-25

Open It

  1. What are the tabloid headlines this week?
  2. Why is our society so drawn to gossip and scandal?
  3. How do people typically react when facing embarrassing situations?

Explore It

  1. What happened to Mary while she and Joseph were engaged? (1:18)
  2. What do you think Joseph initially thought upon hearing this news about his bride-to-be? (1:18-19)
  3. What positive character qualities did Joseph possess? (1:19)
  4. How did Joseph plan to handle this delicate situation? (1:19)
  5. How was Joseph’s ancestry significant? (1:20)
  6. Why did Joseph change his plans to divorce Mary? (1:20)
  7. If Joseph wasn’t the actual father of Christ, who was? (1:18, 20)
  8. What did the angel command Joseph to name the child and why? (1:21)
  9. What significant mission in life would Mary’s child have? (1:21)
  10. Why is Mary’s virginal conception of Christ significant? (1:22-23)
  11. What does Immanuel mean? (1:23)
  12. How did Joseph respond to the angelic message? (1:24)

Get It

  1. How might you have responded in Mary’s situation?
  2. What would have been your reaction had you been in Joseph’s situation?
  3. How do you think a typical church might have handled Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy?
  4. How do you imagine the “grapevine” treated the Mary-Joseph situation?
  5. How does it feel to be the victim of unsubstantiated rumors and gossip?
  6. How does it feel to know that you are innocent and yet have people attacking your character and whispering behind your back?
  7. How does our desire for approval or acceptance keep us from doing the right thing?

Apply It

  1. What difficult, hard-to-swallow command of God do you need to obey today?
  2. How will you respond the next time someone begins to tell you a juicy bit of gossip?

 

Daily Reading 3 December 2020

Facing the Storms on the Horizon

Jeremiah 4:19–5:31; Colossians 2:6–23; Proverbs 11:13–31

Having knowledge or insight into a situation and feeling helpless to act upon that information is one of the most frightening feelings we can experience. It makes us anxious, even pained.

Jeremiah 4 describes an experience like this: “My heart is restless within me, I cannot keep silent, for I hear in my inner self the sound of a horn, the alarm of war. Destruction on destruction is proclaimed, for all of the land is devastated.… How long must I see the banner, and hear the sound of a horn? ‘For my people are foolish, they have not known me. They are foolish children, and they do not have insight. They are skillful at doing evil, and they do not know how to do good’ ” (Jer 4:19–22).

How should we react in moments like these? How should we operate? There are no simple answers to these questions. But what is certain is that we must depend on God and His provision over our lives. We must look at the coming storms in our lives and the lives of others and recognize that Yahweh will be at work—regardless of the difficulties we encounter in the process.

Like Jeremiah, we must speak up, but we must root ourselves in Christ as we do so. As Paul writes, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, live in him, firmly rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding with thankfulness” (Col 2:6–7). We must thank Christ for His work in us and live as He has asked us to live. If we are called to tell others about the ramifications of their actions, we must always be motivated by Christ’s love. For as the book of Proverbs tell us, “A gossip walks about telling a secret, but the trustworthy in spirit keeps the matter. Where there is no guidance, a nation shall fall, but there is safety in an abundance of counsel” (Prov 11:13–14).

Let our counsel be godly counsel. Let our words be truthful. Let us see that God will guide us in the events we can change and those that we can’t. And let our actions proceed from thankfulness and love.

What storm are you anxious about? How can you depend on God in that storm?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 2 December 2020

The Mystery of God

Jeremiah 3:1–4:18; Colossians 1:15–2:5; Proverbs 11:1–12

“God wanted to make known what is the glorious wealth of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

Paul’s use of the word “mystery” in this passage may strike us as a bit strange. How is the person and work of Christ shrouded in secrecy? And why would Paul present Christ as a mystery if his point is that God wanted to make Christ known?

The answer is found in the culture of early Colossae, a city known for its infatuation with magic and the occult. Among the Gentile cults, “mystery” was often associated with a secret ritual that people must perform to create a relationship with a god. False teachers in the community at Colossae were promoting alternative ways to get to God—secret rituals that would lead to special knowledge for a select few.

Paul contextualizes the gospel for the Colossians. He adopts this “mystery” language to show that Christ is the only way to God. The mystical path presented to the Colossians was a farce—a shell of what the Colossian believers had in Christ. It’s in Him that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Col 2:3).

Paul wisely draws on language and tradition familiar to his audience to make the “mystery” of Christ known to all—not just a select few. Paul says he proclaims Christ so that “by admonishing every person and teaching every person with all wisdom … we may present every person mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Because he was familiar with the culture of Colossae, Paul was able to acknowledge the challenges the believers faced, and then present the gospel as they needed to hear it: Christ is the only way. How are you resting in Christ as the only way to God? How are you thoughtfully revealing this “mystery” to those in your church and community?

Do you look for other ways to get to God, like your own goodness or your own ability to earn favor?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

1 December 2020

Ezekiel and the Fall of Jerusalem – Ezekiel 33:1-33

Open It

  1. How much interest do you sense in the people around you in talking about God, heaven, and hell?
  2. The last time you were one of the only Christians in a social, academic, or work setting, what expectations did people have of you because of that role?

Explore It

  1. In the event of a threat to a city, what is the responsibility of the watchman and the people? (33:1-6)
  2. What title and picture of his duties did God give to Ezekiel? (33:7-9)
  3. What result did God want from the warnings given by His “watchman”? (33:10-11)
  4. How did God say He would judge a righteous person who turns and does evil? (33:12-13)
  5. What concrete steps might a wicked person take to demonstrate true repentance? (33:14-16)
  6. What “argument” did God have with the exiles regarding justice? (33:17-20)
  7. At what point in his exile did Ezekiel receive confirmation of the fall of Jerusalem? (33:21)
  8. What restriction on the prophet was lifted at about the time of the fall of Jerusalem? (33:22)
  9. What assumption was made by those who were left in Judah after the first deportation from Jerusalem? (33:23-24)
  10. Why did God say that the remaining Jews did not deserve to possess the land? (33:25-26)
  11. What judgment did God pronounce on the remnant who had stayed in Jerusalem? (33:27-29)
  12. What did God inform Ezekiel that the people were saying about him? (33:30)
  13. What was the difference between what the people heard and what they did? (33:31-32)
  14. What did God say would vindicate Ezekiel in the eyes of his fellow exiles? (33:33)

Get It

  1. In what sense are Christians appointed “watchmen” for our world?
  2. Why does God focus on the current condition of our heart rather than on the good or evil we have done in the past?
  3. Who does God say is in control of each individual’s choice of spiritual life or death?
  4. What does God expect of every person who hears His Word?
  5. What indications do you see that our society likes to hear religious thoughts but does not want to put them into practice?
  6. In what way is God more interested in what we do in our daily life than in what we say we believe?
  7. What conflicting emotions do you imagine Ezekiel felt when the fall of Jerusalem, which he had predicted for so long, finally took place?

Apply It

  1. What creative way could you find to “sound the trumpet” of God’s coming judgment to nonbelievers around you who might not otherwise listen?
  2. What steps could you take to help insure that you don’t just hear God’s Word, but you also put it into practice?

 

Daily Reading 1 December 2020

‘My Lord and my God!’

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24–29, nkjv

Lord, in this blest and hallowed hour
Reveal Thy presence and Thy power;
Show to my faith Thy hands and side,
My Lord and God, the Crucified!

Josiah Conder, 1789–1855