Day 100: The Finish Line

       Today’s reading: Psalm 150

Congratulations! You made it to the finish line. In the last 100 days, I hope you have not only become more Biblically literate, but that your faith has deepened as well. Take some time today to celebrate your cover-to-cover expedition. Thank God for the multi-textured gift of Scripture that still has the power to challenge, inspire, encourage, confront, and console.

Thanks for participating in the journey.

Grace and Peace,

Steve

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Day 99: The End. . .the Beginning

Today’s reading: Revelation 12-22; Psalm 148-149

“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. . .”  (Revelation 21:2)

As the curtain begins to fall today on our 100-day journey through the Bible, John gives us another image of what the end will look like. Here again, the picture he paints is of God coming to us.  As Eugene Peterson puts it, “God has moved into the neighborhood!”  (Revelation 21:3, The Message). It is the ultimate expression of love and commitment. . . that the God whose thoughts are above our thoughts, whose ways are above our ways, would choose to live among us forever.

The good news in John’s description is that what we had thought would be the end is actually just the beginning. Everything is made new, and in this newness there is wholeness. All the pain that we have endured in this life will be gone and death can no longer have its way with us. Not only that–everyone is invited!

“. . .And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Revelation 22:17)

 

 

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Day 98: Hope, not Fear

Today’s reading: Revelation 1-11; Psalm 146-147

Perhaps some of you entered the final book of the Bible today with fear and trembling, uncertain of what you would find there. Even if you’ve never read it, you’ve probably heard plenty about it, and your impressions may not have been favorable. It’s too bad that the way the book of Revelation has been manipulated by people for their own evangelistic agendas has cast a blight on its reputation.

Reading it today and tomorrow, I invite you to listen for its message of hope. Did you realize that the text for perhaps the most beloved and well-known pieces of sacred choral music is straight out of our reading today? Georg Friedrich Handel drew his inspiration for the composition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Revelation 11:15. Notice again the words themselves from this verse. They suggest that the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples to speak, “thy kingdom come. . .,” will in fact be answered in the end. The kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord! This verse certainly helps address any notions that this book is primarily about a future event when certain people will be taken up from this earth while millions of others are left behind. If anything, the book of Revelation suggests that in the end God is coming here–watch for more on this in tomorrow’s reading.

As you read, it is also important to recognize Revelation as a highly symbolic book, originally composed in a particular time with a particular audience in mind. John was speaking to a group of Christians under persecution. He uses language and metaphor in a way that enables them to believe in a future with hope. For any Christian who struggles with the way things are in the world sometimes, the message is still there if we’re willing to listen.

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Day 97: They’ll Know We Are Christians. . .

Today’s reading: 1 John 1-5; 2 John; 3 John; Jude; Psalm 145

Back in the gospel of John, we heard Jesus giving final instructions to the disciples as they gathered in the upper room. Then he prayed on their behalf. In both the instructions and the prayer, his focus was clear–that they should love each other as he had loved them and that they should be one in heart and mind as he and the Father are one. This would be the way the world would come to recognize them as his disciples.

Not surprisingly, then, this theme is picked up again today in the letters of John. Each letter reiterates the centrality of love as the defining mark of the Christian life. In fact, practicing love is the way we give evidence that we know God. As John says in the first letter, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Following yesterday’s reading on putting our faith into action, today John gives us instruction on the driving force between all our actions. Because more than anything else, they’ll know we are Christians. . .by our love.

 

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Day 96: Making It Real

Today’s reading: James 1-5; 1 Peter 1-5; 2 Peter 1-3; Psalm 144

Yesterday we were reminded that we are called to live by faith, trusting that Jesus Christ has already accomplished what is necessary to put us into right relationship with God. Today, James reminds us that living by faith does not mean doing nothing nor does it give us license to do whatever we want. Quite the contrary–while we cannot earn our way to heaven, our faith is intended to move us into action. This action, or works, as James puts it, becomes the evidence that our faith is real.

Here is where the rubber meets the road for the Christian life. Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as once saying, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” All too often, it is not the gospel itself that turns people off. It is the way people behave who claim to follow the gospel. What we say we believe carries no weight if our our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and our classmates can see no evidence in the way we act. In fact, we become an embarrassment to ourselves and a stumbling block to others.

James says to his original audience and to us, “Don’t just talk the talk; walk the walk.” Not because the works earn us anything–but because we have already been given the very best–the free gift of God’s grace. And doesn’t that gift deserve our very best in return?

 

 

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Day 95: By Faith. . .

Today’s reading: Hebrews 1-13; Psalm 143

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”  (Hebrews 11:1)

Remember those days earlier this summer when you thought you’d never be done reading about blood and sacrifices? Today, the book of Hebrews takes us back there again for a review, establishing the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New. It is in this book of the Bible that the theology of Christ’s sacrifice as an atonement for sin is most fully articulated.

Remember that, under the law of Moses, certain sacrifices were to be offered in the temple to atone for sins. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us today, each new sin demanded a new sacrifice. In Christ, however, this old order has become obsolete. His offering of his own life becomes the one-time sacrifice that serves as atonement for all sin.

The original recipients of this message in Hebrews had responded to the message of the gospel but were having difficulty holding true to it. They acted as if it was not enough on its own to take care of their situations. They needed Jesus and “fill-in-the-blank” in order to make things right. It was so hard to completely let go of the old order. We can understand this–we often wonder ourselves what else we need to do to fix things with God besides just believing.

So, after reviewing the theological foundation for their beliefs, the writer of Hebrews turns to the art of repetition in chapter 11 to drill home the core message. Calling on a who’s who cast of Biblical personalities for support, he exhorts his listeners to take up the baton of living “by faith.” With such a grand cloud of witnesses cheering us on, how could we not?

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Day 94: A Radical Invitation

Today’s reading: 1 Timothy 1-6; 2 Timothy 1-4; Titus 1-3; Philemon; Psalm 141-142

It is one of the shortest books in the Bible. It measures a grand total of one page–25 verses. Yet, in Paul’s letter to Philemon, we get a real treasure in Scripture today. A remarkably personal epistle, it gives us a snapshot of Paul’s willingness to challenge individuals to grow in their faithfulness.

It is clear from the opening lines that Paul has a deep affection for his friend Philemon. He begins by lavishing compliments and praise on him–some might say “buttering him up.” It is true that Paul has a specific motive in writing his letter, but he skillfully sets up the appeal by first affirming Philemon for the way in which he has already lived out the gospel. Only then will he urge him to embrace a radical action, framing it as an opportunity to demonstrate yet another example of his Christian witness.

Onesimus is a runaway slave. He had escaped from Philemon, at some point ending up with Paul. Paul had apparently taken him in for a time, but now is sending him back to Philemon. In fact, he is having Onesimus deliver the letter himself! It is an extraordinary move, inviting two men who previously had one relationship to each other to risk embracing a new kind of relationship as a result of their commitment to Christ. Just two days ago, we read that in Christ “there is no longer slave or free.” Now, we see Paul encouraging these two men to bear witness to the new reality.

In Christ, our lives are woven together in such a way that there is meant to be mutual support, encouragement, and accountability. Tomorrow, we will read in Hebrews that we are called to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” In his letter to Philemon, Paul gives us a beautiful example of how to do it.

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Day 93: Unpredictable

Today’s reading: Colossians 1-4; 1 Thessalonians 1-5; 2 Thessalonians 1-3; Psalm 140

We are not supposed to be here still. . .at least according to the prediction we heard earlier this year. One man and his followers were convinced that, based on his calculations, the world would end on May 21, 2011. They purchased newspaper ads, posted billboards, and used the web to get the word out. They were quite outspoken in claiming that the Bible was the primary source for this belief.

In today’s reading, in a distant place and time, we hear the apostle Paul settling the minds and concerns of a Christian community over the issue of when the world would end. Apparently, some people had created quite a stir among the church in Thessalonica by  claiming to know when Jesus would return to earth. As a result, there was more than a little anxiety over the matter, which also spawned other troubling questions, such as: “What will happen to those who have already died?” Concerns over an impending  future was distracting the community from living out their faith in the present.

Over the centuries, voices have arisen from time to time to claim special knowledge about the end. Self-named prophets waste precious time, energy, and money trying to convince others of their delusions. In such times, Paul’s message to the Thessalonians offers a helpful reminder: “You know as well as I that the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, The Message)  In light of this news, he urges the Thessalonians to get back to the business of living their lives now in the best way possible as a response to the grace of Jesus Christ. The same holds true for us.

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Day 92: Bearing Fruit

Today’s reading: Galatians 1-6; Ephesians 1-6; Philippians 1-4; Psalm 139

“. . .the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” Galatians 5:22

Paul is beside himself. How could the Galatians have gotten off track so quickly? When he was with them, he had laid out the good news to them so clearly–through God’s gift of grace, Jesus came to save them from the law of sin and death and set them free for new life. In his absence, however, it seems that other teachers have sprung up and steered the Galatians in the wrong direction–one that binds them to the law as the means by which they must prove themselves. Paul writes the letter to the Galatians to clear things up and to reprimand them for being led astray so easily.

One of the most recognizable parts of the letter is found in chapter 5, where he sets up a contrast between living according to the flesh and living according to the Spirit. He reminds the Galatians that those who live by the Spirit will reveal certain fruits in their lives. I have heard plenty of sermons and lessons over the years that have placed the emphasis on our striving for these fruits–as if we could accomplish them if we just try hard enough. In the context of Paul’s letter, however, this is a terrible mistake. It turns the fruit into a checklist–a law–by which we will be judged as being good enough or not.

It is exactly the kind of message Paul is fighting. The fruit we bear is the natural outgrowth of the life we choose. If we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, the fruit will take care of itself. Trusting God to be the master gardener of our souls will produce a bountiful harvest.

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Day 91: Encouraging Generosity

  Today’s reading: 2 Cor 1-13; Psalm 137-138

While the New Testament contains two letters from Paul to the Corinthians, the content of today’s second letter suggests that Paul wrote a total of at least four letters to the community. As a result, reading parts of today’s letter is kind of like hearing only one side of a phone conversation. In addition, you may have noticed a sudden change in tone that occurs at the beginning of the tenth chapter. The harsh nature of the final four chapters, in contrast to the encouraging style of the first nine, has led many scholars to believe that these chapters may actually be part of the earlier “letter of tears” to which Paul makes reference in chapter 2. So, what has come to be known as 2 Corinthians may actually be a compilation of two or more letters he wrote to the church that were merged together at some point along the way.

In the closing chapters of the first section of 2 Corinthians, Paul focuses his attention on encouraging the Corinthians to be generous. His desire is that they will join other churches in providing for the needs of the Jerusalem Christians living in desperate conditions. He offers two models for them to follow: first, God’s own example, who has shown them such great generosity in all things; secondly, the example of the Macedonians, a Christian community without significant financial resources themselves, yet one that could not resist giving above and beyond their means to contribute to the needs of others. Speaking to a church that exists in one of the most prosperous cities of its time, Paul urges them to follow the example of others and do their best.

Paul’s advice to the early church is great advice for us as well. If we all are generous in proportion to our own means, we find that the church has more than enough to provide ministries that care for all. Such a witness is reminiscent of the early Christian community we found in Acts, where no one holds onto more than is needed and everyone has enough.

 

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