As For Me and My House (Apr 22)

quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

April 22

As For Me and My House

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 58:1-11 | Josh 24:1-33 | Luke 21:1-29 | Proverbs 13:20-23

Today’s Scripture Focus: Joshua 24:1-33

“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:14-15 NIV).

They had, more or less, conquered the land. Nearing the end of his life and time of leadership, Joshua calls the people together. First he reminds them of the way God has been with them in giving them this land. He doesn’t hesitate to go into details. He concludes his review of God’s intervention on their behalf: “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (24:13).

After reminding them how God had fulfilled his promises and had been faithful to the covenant, Joshua calls them to commitment: “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (24:14-15).

Already many had forgotten the law and the covenant; many had already fallen into idolatry. Joshua calls them to wholehearted devotion to God. As a good leader, he makes the first commitment; “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD!” Yet he gives them the choice.

The people declare their intention to follow the LORD. But Joshua slows them down making sure they carefully consider their choice. He even taunts them, “You are not able to serve the LORD!” Joshua wants to make sure they understand the consequences. Still the people reaffirm their commitment to serve the LORD.

Then Joshua reminds them of the conditions of the covenant. He once again has the law read in the hearing of the people. Then he has a reaffirmation ceremony. He set up a stone of remembrance—a witness to the people of their commitment to God.

It is good to remember the blessings of God—to retrace our paths to see the footprints of God. It is good to seriously consider the cost of commitment. It is good to set up memorial markers (some record of our commitment). Most importantly, we must choose wisely and follow through on that commitment with God’s grace in the power of the Holy Spirit. Choose this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD!

Faithful God, let my heart be filled with gratitude because of your faithfulness to your promises. May gratitude lead to renewed commitment to follow you, to trust you, to obey you. Give me the grace I need for this day and the days to come. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord! Amen.

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Every Promise (Apr 21)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

April 21

Every Promise

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 57:7-11 | Joshua 22:21-23:16 | Luke 20:27-47| Proverbs 13:17-19

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Joshua 22:21- 23:16

“You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you,  if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God” (Joshua 23:14-16 ESV).   

“Not one word of his promise has failed–they have all been fulfilled.” With these words, Joshua reminds the people of Israel of the faithfulness of God. God has been with them. He has fought for them. He has given them the land he promised.

God’s dealing with the Israelite people is a reminder of the trustworthiness of the promises God makes to his people. Despite the ups and downs of the people’s obedience, God’s promises do not fail. They are fulfilled.

This text is also a reminder that the promises have conditions. Failure to meet those conditions has consequences. “But just as all the good things have been fulfilled, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things . . . if you transgress the covenant.” Promises may appear to be unfulfilled, but often God is waiting for conditions to be met.

God never fails and his promises can be trusted. But we do often fail. Our procrastinated obedience or deliberate disobedience can make it seem that the promises are not being fulfilled. How quickly we forget the conditions of the promise. How often we “turn to the right or the left” (6). Delays may also be the result of other people who have yet to meet the conditions of obedience.

Through his promises, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4)–everything. But we often forget that God’s promises have conditions–and those must be met.

Love God and walk in his ways, don’t turn to the right or the left but do exactly as he says. Then plead the promises and pray with expectation. You will find that all his promises are faithful–and all his words will be fulfilled.

Faithful God, thank you for your commitment to uphold your promises. Help me to walk in obedience and not turn to the right or the left. Help me to to remember your promises and trust you to fulfill them. Fill me with hopeful expectation when a promise seems far from fulfillment. Amen.

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Rest (Apr 20)

April 20

Rest

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 57:1-6 | Joshua 21:1 -22:20 | Luke 20:1-26 | Proverbs 13:15-16

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Joshua 21-22

And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands.  45 Not one of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:44-45).

God promised that if they would obey him, he would give the children of Israel the Land. While their obedience was far from perfect, God fully fulfilled his end of the bargain. Not one of all his good promises had failed; they all came to pass.

How like us, our obedience is usually far from perfect, yet God is always faithful. His promises are true. He never fails.

After years of struggle and battle in taking the land, now they were given rest in the Promised Land: rest from the battles, rest from the journey, and rest from their striving. They were finally home and at peace, now they can rest.

Jesus too, calls us to give up our striving and find rest in our relationship with him. Hear his words:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Finding our home in his grace, we can stop striving in your own strength and power. Finding our security in being his dearly loved child, we are free to take up his yoke and learn from him. Giving up on our futile self-effort, we find rest; rest for our souls.

Heavenly Father, help me to stop striving in my own strength and find rest for my soul. I am weary and tired of carrying a heavy burden. Jesus, I take up your yoke and long to learn from you and your humble and gentle heart. Spirit, empower me that I might indeed find that the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Amen.

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Robbing the Purpose (Apr 19)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

April 19

Robbing the Purpose

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 56:9-13| Joshua 19:1 – 20:9| Luke 19:28-48| Proverbs 13:12-14

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Luke 19:28-48

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. [46] “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer;’ but you have made it ‘a den of robbers'” (Luke 19:45-46 NIV). 

The temple was designed by God to be a place of worship and prayer for all of God’s people. It was to be a house of prayer for all nations. But somehow it lost its focus; it was robbed of its purpose. Jesus cleared the temple and declared that the house of prayer had become a den of robbers. So, how does a “house of prayer” become a “den of robbers?”

In part it was because of pride and prejudice. The Israelite people saw to it that their needs were being met, but lost sight of God’s concern for the nations. They began to think that God only cared about “people like us.” So the court of the gentiles seemed unnecessary–and it became a place to sell merchandise to make their lives easier. Personal convenience became more important than God’s heart for all people.

In part it was because of personal agendas. Some were motivated by money and saw the opportunity to turn the temple into a place to make a profit. Others were motivated by convenience. Instead of carrying the animals for sacrifice from their home, they could just buy what they needed right in the temple. Whatever the agenda, it was not Gods.

Like the people of Israel, people in churches today, sometimes place personal convenience ahead of God’s purpose. They begin to think that the church is only for “people like us.” When churches cease to care about reaching out to new people–when they forget about God’s heart for all nations–the church loses focus and purpose.

When personal agendas are more important than God’s agenda, when our personal convenience is more important than the needs of the lost, we fall prey to the same temptation. When my personal preferences are holding the church hostage to God’s design to reach out effectively, then the church has been robbed of its purpose for existence. The house of prayer becomes a den of robbers.

Dear Heavenly Father, give me a heart to pray for the broken and the lost, to be concerned and care. Give me the humility to set aside my personal comfort and agendas so that my church can become a house of prayer for all people. Amen.

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Who Do You Eat With? (Apr 18)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

April 18

Who Do You Eat With?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 56:1-8 | Josh 16:1-18:28 | Luke 19:1-27 | Proverbs 13:11

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 19:1-27

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10 NIV).

Who do you eat with? Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. This was a major problem for the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Jesus seemed more than willing to fuel the fire of their accusations that he was a “friend of sinners,” and someone who “eats with tax collectors and sinners.” 

For the Pharisees, scrupulous observance of religious law was prioritized over love for people who needed the message. Jesus prioritized people—especially those that good society rejected—those that weren’t really welcome in the place of worship; those that might bring dishonor to my table-fellowship.

The story of Zachaeus is one more example of Jesus concern to reach out to those that society typically rejects. Jesus’ message of grace seemed especially welcome as meal-time conversation with those who were outcastes and sinners. Jesus love for them seemed to overcome the awkwardness that some feel around religious professionals.

Who do you eat with? Do your meal time conversations show you to be a “friend of sinners?” Or are you more like the Pharisees—filled with judgment and condemnation—refusing to enter into intimate conversation with those who most need the message of God’s grace? To often Christians are known more for their condemnation than their love for “sinners.”

To be Christ-like is to become a “friend of sinners.” The true follower of Christ will seek to find ways to eat with “tax collectors and sinners” demonstrating the good news in mealtime conversation. Consider those that Jesus came to spend time with:

“Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used car salesman. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them–fully aware that his table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyes of the religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of their authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their rejection of the Gospel of Grace.” –Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 20-

So with whom will you be eating this week?

Heavenly Father, keep my eyes open to opportunities to be a friend to sinners, to listen, to care, to converse, to serve, to love. May those conversations move naturally to the source of my hope and joy—my relationship with Jesus. Go before and prepare the way and use me to share good news in gentleness when the time is right. Amen.

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Cast Your Cares (Apr 17)

April 17

Cast Your Cares

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 55:16-23 | Joshua 15:1-63 | Luke 18:18-43 | Proverbs 13:9-10

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Psalm 55:16-23

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22 NIV). 

David laments the wounds caused by the betrayal of a close friend. He is filled with anguish, fear and troubled thoughts. He wishes he could fly away like a bird–escaping the hurt. But realizes a better course is to takes his burden to God.

He places his burden in God’s strong hands. He pours out his wounded heart to the God who hears: “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and he hears my voice. . . . God who is enthroned forever will hear” (16-19). God is working out all things according to his plan and purpose. He is enthroned forever and he is listening. Matthew Henry wrote: “He, who bore the burden of our sorrows, desires us to leave to him to bear the burden of our cares, that, as he knows what is best for us, he may provide it accordingly. Why do not we trust Christ to govern the world which he redeemed?”

David casts his cares on the LORD and finds that the LORD sustains him. He knows that God will never let the righteous fall. He reaffirms his trust: “But as for me, I trust in you.”

The wounds from a friend or loved one can be especially painful. Take them along with your other wounds and concerns to the LORD; cast your burden upon him. Rest in his promises and find his sustaining power. As you cast your cares upon Him, you learn the healing truth that he loves you and cares for you–and he will never betray you or let you fall.

“Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders–he’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out. He’ll never let good people topple into ruin” (The Message).

Compassionate God, thank you for loving and caring for me. When I am tempted to carry my own burdens, help me to learn to bring them to you. Help me to cast them upon you and find peace and freedom. I trust you to care for these concerns and never let me fall. Amen.

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We Should Not Give Up

April 16

We Should Not Give Up

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 55:9-15 | Joshua 13:1-14:15 | Luke 18:1-17 | Proverbs 13:7-8

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Luke 18

“Then Jesus told them a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1 NIV).

Persistent prayer and persevering faith are missing elements in much of our prayer. Jesus reminds us in this parable how important it is not to give up in our praying. He also shows us that it is not only being persistent in prayer that is important, but also persevering in our faith when we pray.

When our prayers are not immediately answered, our faith is stretched and tested. It is easy to give up. It’s easy to throw in the towel and not make the effort to persevere in prayer. But Jesus reminds us that even an unjust judge will eventually answer the persistent cries of the one who is bothering him for justice. How much more, he asks, will our Heavenly Father who is just and loving answer our cries for help?

But perhaps the most important part of the story is the final question, “But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” (The Message). Even more important than the persistent prayers is the faith that perseveres despite the delays and apparent denials. You see, even our persistent prayers can be made without faith–we just go through the motions with little expectation of the answer. God is looking for our faith–and is especially pleased with a faith that perseveres despite what it sees–a faith that refuses to die even as it presses in expectantly despite months or years with no apparent answer.

Your persistent prayers will one day be rewarded. As your faith is refined through the testing, you will grow and mature. That is often a big part of the answer (and the reason for the wait). But know that the answer is coming. Don’t give up on your praying. Never stop expecting. Your heavenly father is just and loving—and he is listening.

Loving Father, thank you for hearing my prayers. Help me to understand that the delays are opportunities for my faith to be stretched and to grow. I wait in hope. I wait expectantly. I look forward to the answer when the time is right. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Where are the Other Nine?

From Open Up Your Heart by jeff Syverson

April 15

Where Are the Other Nine?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 55:1-8 | Josh 11:1-12:24 | Luke 17:11-37 | Proverbs 13:5-6

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 17:11-37

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner? Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:15-19 NIV).

Ten men, feared and ostracized because of their dreaded disease, came to Jesus to be healed. Jesus wasted no time in bringing healing to their leprous bodies. He told them to search out the priest so that they could be declared clean.  

One of the men, upon realizing he had been healed returned to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice! He threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him. 

Jesus responded, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

On the one hand, it is hard to imagine how someone who has been a despised outcaste by society, and who had been given a fresh start in such a miraculous way would not respond in praise and thanksgiving. Yet it is easy to take the blessings of God for granted. It is easy for us to think we deserve the good things God has given us. It is easy to get so caught up in the celebration that we forget to give thanks. How quickly we forget to thank and praise God for his blessings; how quickly our rightful gratitude is neglected as we move on in the everyday details of life. 

One detail that comes through clearly in Luke’s account is that the one who returns is a Samaritan. The implication is that the other nine were probably Jews. Perhaps they took their status as God’s chosen people for granted and failed to appreciate the blessings. Or maybe they just got so caught up in the celebration that they failed to think about making an appropriate response to the one who had brought healing. In any case, it was the Samaritan—who remained an ethnic outcaste, even as the social stigma of his disease had faded—that went the extra mile and expressed his gratitude in a tangible way. 

Don’t take the blessings for granted. Don’t get so caught up in the celebration that you forget to express your gratitude.

Father, thank you for your grace. Thank you for your provision and care each day. May I never forget to thank you for your abundant blessings. Amen.

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How Many Times? (Apr 14)

April 14

How Many Times?

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 54:1-7 | Josh 9:3-10:43 | Luke 16:19-17:10 | Proverbs 13:4

Today’s Scripture Focus: Luke 16:19-17:10

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:3-5 NIV).

Whenever we deal with people, there is a good chance that someone will say or do something hurtful or unhelpful. Everyday life brings plenty of opportunities for offense. This is why learning to forgive is so important.

Learning to forgive may be one of the more difficult lessons in the life of following Christ. Forgiving too early, or too often, seems unfair. Forgiving so easily seems to diminish the importance of the hurt we feel. Yet Jesus tells us that if a person comes back to us in repentance, even seven times in one day, we still ought to forgive them.

Forgiveness powerfully releases the one who has sinned against us. It also releases us as we forgive – it’s an important part of the healing process in our own lives. It helps us deal with anger and bitterness. It also reminds us of the never ending love and grace of God—who never tires of us returning to him in repentance saying, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”

Forgiveness is powerful, and as we learn to release forgiveness to those who have sinned against us, we release ourselves from negative attitudes and patterns of behavior that keep us trapped. Forgive and find freedom.

Like the disciples, this teaching may seem difficult. They said, “Increase our faith!” Sometimes we need the same. Ask God to give you the strength to take the offense to the cross and leave it there. It may seem too difficult for you—but nothing is too difficult for God.

Heavenly Father, thank you for forgiving me. Help me to forgive those who have hurt me. Help me to take these wounds to the cross and leave them there. Amen.

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Guard Your Lips (Apr 13)

April 13

Guard Your Lips

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 53:1-6 | Josh 7:16-9:2 | Luke 16:1-18 | Proverbs 13: 2 -3

Today’s Scripture Focus: Proverbs 13:2-3

“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3 NIV).

One of the common themes of Proverbs is the importance of choosing our words wisely. Wise words bring blessing and delight. Ill chosen words bring trouble and ruin.

Sometimes the most important thing we can say is nothing at all. “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives.” In a heated moment, we say so many things we regret. In a careless moment, we say things that hurt and offend. Without even realizing it, a word that was on our tongues before we had carefully considered it in our minds brings unintended consequences.

Sometimes the most important thing we can say must wait for another day. Maybe this is not the moment where it can be received. In the heat of a battle of words, our ears and minds take a back seat. Cooler heads may be required before words become conversation (listening, hearing and then speaking).

Often we speak too quickly. We engage mouth before mind. Listen, think, and then sometimes use words.

Heavenly Father, give me the grace to guard my lips and choose my words carefully. When my words would be unhelpful, help me to remain quiet. May my words always bless and never curse. Amen.

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