Day 1 | Why 40?

day 1Hi, friends!  Happy Lent!  I am excited about the next 40 days as we seek God together.

Why 40?  If you have read my book, Stones from the River Jordan, you know why.  But here is an excerpt from that book for those who have not read it:

Holy Numbers

Now let me stop for a moment and explain something that I think is really cool about reading the Scriptures.  There are many references in the Bible to certain key numbers.  I call them “holy numbers”.  Some of the most common are three, seven, 12, and 40.  The number three can be classified as holy perfection like the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The number seven indicates completion and perfection—like the seven days of creation. The number 12 often encompasses the family of God,  representing all God’s people, and reminds us of the covenant or unending promise of relationship between God and his people—like the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 disciples. The number 40 is often a number of cleansing and preparation for the extraordinary—like the flood in the days of Noah which lasted 40 days and 40 nights, or when Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness before He began His ministry.

 

So the answer to “Why 40?” is that we choose to remember for 40 days in order to be cleansed

In order to be transformed

In order to invite the preparation of the Holy Spirit to make our hearts and minds ready for God to do something extraordinary in our ordinary lives.

 

In our society today, 40 is a big, scary number.

We laugh, sometimes cry, dress in black, and endure endless jokes when we turn 40.  If you haven’t reached that historic point in your history, let me relieve you.  It is not that bad.  I am 46 years old (ummm, now I am 51!) as I write this blog post.

Unless God has another plan, I am right in the middle of my life.  The dreaded “middle age” term applies quite nicely.  I am good with it.  I, so far, have avoided a mid-life crisis.

 

While growing up, I was the middle child.  Often we find ourselves in the middle of a problem, in the middle of one of life’s storms, in the middle of grief.

In the middle doesn’t feel like a great place to be.

It is like you’ve settled in, not expecting too much.

But this is not God’s plan for us.  He doesn’t want us stuck in the middle of mediocrity.

He wants to use that middle place for cleansing and preparation for the extraordinary things to come.

Trust Him.  Wait and see.  Be still and know that He is God.  He is with you. He is for you.  He wants to show you how lovingly He can transform you and take you to the high places, to the extraordinary places.


Thoroughly Equipped: Schedule for Bible Reading for February

Hey, friends!  I hope you are still reading God’s Word each day and listening to the whispers the Holy Spirit has for you.  Keep going!  Here is the list of scripture reading for the month of February.  If you get behind,  no worries.  Just pick back up and start on the current date.  Or you can quickly catch up by listening to it on the Bible App as you go about your day.

 

February 1:  Exodus 13:17-15:18, Matthew 21:23-46, Psalm 26:1-12, Proverbs 6:16-19

February 2:  Exodus 15:19-17:7, Matthew 22:1-33, Psalm 27:1-6, Proverbs 6:20-26

February 3:  Exodus 17:8-19:15, Matthew 22:34-23:12, Psalm 27:7-14, Proverbs 6:27-35

February 4:  Exodus 19:16-21:21, Matthew 23:13-39, Psalm 28:1-9, Proverbs 7:1-5

February 5:  Exodus 21:22-23:13, Matthew 24:1-28, Psalm 29:1-11, Proverbs 7:6-23

February 6:  Exodus 23:14-25:40, Matthew 24:29-51, Psalm 30:1-12, Proverbs 7:24-27

February 7:  Exodus 26:1-27:21, Matthew 25:1-30, Psalm 31:1-8, Proverbs 8:1-11

February 8:  Exodus 28:1-43, Matthew 25:31-26:13, Psalm 31:9-18, Proverbs 8:12-13

February 9:  Exodus 29:1-30:10, Matthew 26:14-46, Psalm 31:19-24, Proverbs 8:14-26

February 10:  Exodus 30:11-31:18, Matthew 26:47-68, Psalm 32:1-11, Proverbs 8:27-32

February 11:  Exodus 32:1-33:23, Matthew 26:69-27:14, Psalm 33:1-11, Proverbs 8:33-36

February 12:  Exodus 34:1-35:9, Matthew 27:15-31, Psalm 33:12-22, Proverbs 9:1-6

February 13:  Exodus 35:10-36:38, Matthew 27:32-66, Psalm 34:1-10, Proverbs 9:7-8

February 14:  Exodus 37:1-38:31, Matthew 28:1-20, Psalm 34:11-22, Proverbs 9:9-10

February 15:  Exodus 39:1-40:38, Mark 1:1-28, Psalm 35:1-16, Proverbs 9:11-12

February 16:  Leviticus 1:1-3:17, Mark 1:29-2:12, Psalm 35:17-28, Proverbs 9:13-18

February 17:  Leviticus 4:1-5:19, Mark 2:13-3:6, Psalm 36:1-12, Proverbs 10:1-2

February 18:  Leviticus 6:1-7:27, Mark 3:7-30, Psalm 37:1-11, Proverbs 10:3-4

February 19:  Leviticus 7:28-9:6, Mark 3:31-4:25, Psalm 37:12-29, Proverbs 10:5

February 20:  Leviticus 9:7-10:20, Mark 4:26-5:20, Psalm 37:30-40, Proverbs 10:6-7

February 21:  Leviticus 11:1-12:8, Mark 5:21-43, Psalm 38:1-22, Proverbs 10:8-9

February 22:  Leviticus 13:1-59, Mark 6:1-29, Psalm 39:1-13, Proverbs 10:10

February 23:  Leviticus 14:1-57, Mark 6:30-56, Psalm 40:1-10, Proverbs 10:11-12

February 24:  Leviticus 15:1-16:28, Mark 7:1-23, Psalm 40:11-17, Proverbs 10:13-14

February 25:  Leviticus 16:29-18:30, Mark 7:24-8:10, Psalm 41:1-13, Proverbs 10:15-16

February 26:  Leviticus 19:1-20:21, Mark 8:11-38, Psalm 42:1-11, Proverbs 10:17

February 27:  Leviticus 20:22-22:16, Mark 9:1-29, Psalm 43:1-5, Proverbs 10:18

February 28:  Leviticus 22:17-23:44, Mark 9:30-10:12, Psalm 44:1-8, Proverbs 10:19

 

 


Thoroughly Equipped: The Secret, Sacred Life of the Christian

Today’s reading is Genesis 23:1-24:51, Matthew 8:1-17, Psalm 9:13-20, Proverbs 3:1-6.

Our assigned reading is no longer about the Sermon on the Mount, but my thoughts are still back there, sitting at the feet of Jesus, trying to see what new insights those familiar words may have for me.  What keeps coming to my mind is this:  There is a secret life for the Christian.  Of course, secrets in the negative sense of the word can create havoc and bitterness and deep, painful scars.  Negative secrets can destroy.  We see in the current #MeToo movement that many, many women have held negative secrets of great pain—until now.  Bringing these types of secrets to the Light of Jesus releases the grip of pain, shame, and bitterness and in time will render it powerless to hurt you any longer.  Don’t keep negative secrets.  You certainly don’t have to reveal your negative secrets on a social media platform.  In fact, for some, the better choice would be with a trusted friend, family member, pastor or counselor.  But today, my thoughts are not on the negative secrets, my thoughts are on the positive ones. For the Christian, there is a whole secret life that only is shared with the Father.  We remain open to others, we live in honest community, we remain willing to share our “pearls” with others, but at the same time, we have a whole private life with the Lord.  Matthew 6 begins, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” And in verse 6 we see this about our secret life of prayer: “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corner and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.  I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.  But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

For the Christian, there is a secret life.  In verse 14 we are encouraged to forgive those who sin against us, and in turn, God will forgive us.  Forgiveness is a secret work. It is hard work that is done in our heart and is between us and God.  Yes, others may be involved, but the work of forgiveness is between us and God and is accomplished in our secret, sacred time with Him.

We see in verse 16, that our times of fasting should be accomplished in our secret, sacred life.  In those days, fasting was a common practice.  People would often put on sackcloth and mope around, announcing to all that they were fasting.  Jesus said that our fasting is secret and sacred.  It is between us and God.

And in verse 19 we see this same secret, sacred concept in regards to our treasures. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

So, our good deeds, our prayers and time of fasting, our earthly treasure…all should fall under the category of secret and sacred.  All of these are between us and God.  All of these are part of the intimate privilege of the secret and sacred life of the Christian.  And our Father who sees our every secret will help, heal, and reward us.


Thoroughly Equipped: The Covenant of Marriage

Today’s reading is Genesis 13:5-15:21, Matthew 5:27-48, Psalm 6:1-10, Proverbs 1:29-33.

Today we find Jesus still on the mountain, teaching to the great crowd who were following him.  And though His ministry was new, and most likely many were there to simply check out the new guy, He addressed them as a Father—or big brother—may address someone He loves.  He is imparting life lessons and wisdom.  These concepts go against what the world says is success, what the world says is appropriate response to difficult situations.  Blessed are those who mourn?  Really?  Jesus says yes!  Why?  Because they can experience the love, healing, and comfort that only God can provide.

This concept of mourning transitions my thoughts to the next chapter—and it is about marriage.  Yes, there are times of mourning in marriage.  Sometimes there is death in marriage—either physical death or death of love that, once warm and alive, has now grown cold.  Let me stop and say that this post comes with zero judgement.  With divorce rate being 50%, even among Christians, we must understand that God loving offers His perfect comfort and redemption to those who mourn through the death of marriage.  But for those of us who are married (or those who are considering getting married), it would benefit us to think for a moment about what the scriptures teach us about God’s view of marriage.

First, from the very beginning, God was huge fan of marriage.  He created it for intimacy, procreation, fulfillment, and comfort. He said that the two become one through marriage and that we should cling to each other.

Secondly, God created marriage to be made in binding covenant.  What is covenant?  You remember from our study of the Old Testament, covenant is a never-ending promise.  Covenant is for life and even extends into the next generations.  When a covenant was made, a sacrifice was cut into two pieces.  Those who were making the covenant walked between the two pieces, which literally meant, “May this happen to me if I break this covenant.”  Now, think about a marriage ceremony.  The officiant speaks words of covenant, not just commitment.  It is the covenant of marriage.  And the two making this covenant walk between the two sides of family and friends who have sacrificed on their behalf to get them to this day.  And they speak not just words, or even promises, but they speak vows.  Vows are a big deal. Covenants are a huge deal.  And breaking them only brings a deep cutting of the heart to those who made that covenant, as well as to the generations behind them.

Thirdly, we must know how God feels about divorce.  He is very clear and does not mince words concerning this topic.

16 “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty, ” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”

Malachi 2:16

Please note that it says God hates divorce.  He does not hate divorced people.  In fact, He loves, adores, comforts, and understands divorced people.  And I can imagine that those who are divorced also hate divorce, having experienced its pain and grief.  But there is hope and healing and relief and understanding and comfort all found in Jesus.

In this passage, we find a warning to those who have not yet experienced the pain of divorce.  There are strategies here to prevent it.  And it all starts with remembering that marriage should be a faithful covenant, not a feeling of love.  Jesus is pretty clear where the problems begin—in the mind.  Unfaithfulness, whether directed toward another person or whether it is simply imagining a life without your spouse, always begins in your mind.  To look at another with lust, to think about another with lust, to even lust after a life of being single—all that is unfaithfulness, all that is adultery.  And Jesus tells us that entertaining these thoughts is not only adultery, but is also the first step toward divorce.  And this is very serious and can be fatal to the covenant of marriage.

In Biblical times divorce was easy.  Just a written notice could get you a no-fault divorce.  And yes, there are biblical grounds for divorce which made it acceptable.  But even if it is acceptable, that does not mean it is best.  Even today, it is fairly easy to get a divorce.  But just because it is easy, or even acceptable, does not mean it is best.

It makes sense to me that Jesus quickly transitions into instructions about vows.  And He tells us that we should be such covenant minded people that we don’t even have to make vows.  Our yes is yes and our no is no.  We must keep our words in big ways and in small ways.

And it also makes sense to me that Jesus then transitions into instructions about loving our enemies.  If you are having marital problems your spouse may seem like your great enemy. And how should we respond?  Go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemy, be kind anyway, let the perfection of Jesus reign in our hearts.

Mont and I have been married for 26 years.  You can’t be married for that long and not have difficult times.  Most of our years have been wonderful, but that is only because of hard work, determination, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile.  Our most difficult years were in the early years.

I remember after getting through the refining fire of a very difficult time, I had a friend come to me and say, “Sara, my husband and I aren’t as close as you and Mont are. We don’t have the intimacy that I see in you two.”

My reply was prefaced by a small laugh and a great sense of peace.  “Well, I said, I think that if you really want to have intimacy in your marriage, you have to be willing to walk through the refining fire of adversity.”

You know, I don’t even recognize that young, selfish married couple of our early days.  We have both changed a lot.  And we don’t take it for granted either. We fight for a good marriage, we fiercely protect it.  There is so much at stake and we are better together.  Besides that, we have made a covenant.  And that is a big deal.

So friends, let’s pray for each other.  Let’s be honest with each other.  Let’s comfort each other.  If you are divorced, remember what Isaiah 54:5 says:

For your Maker is your Husband — “the Lord of hosts is His name — “and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth He is called.

If you are married, hang in there.  Ask the Lord to give you eyes to see your spouse as He sees them.  Ask Him to give you a heart to love him as He loves him—with compassionate forgiveness and unending covenantal love.


Thoroughly Equipped: Evidence-Based Truth

Today’s reading is Genesis 11:1-13:4, Matthew 5:1-26, Psalm 5:1-12, Proverbs 1:24-28.

In our reading thus far, we have seen several references in the New Testament readings to the fulfillment of prophesies of the Old Testament.  For example, Matthew 1:22-23 says, “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Isaiah 7:14). In Matthew 2 we find out that Herod killing spree of all the baby boys was prophesied (Jeremiah 31:15), as was the ministry of John the Baptist (Isaiah 40:3).

For hundreds of years, God spoke through his prophets, promising that a Savior would come.  The prophets told of many details that would come to pass when the Savior arrived.  All of those prophecies, which we read and studied last year, were fulfilled in Jesus.  Let’s take a look at a few of these prophesies, especially those related to the early scriptures of the New Testament.

Hundreds of years before, God had promised that the Savior would be in the family of King David.  That is why God picked Joseph.  Joseph was an ancestor of King David. (Isaiah 16:5)

God had also promised that the Savior would be fully human, yet fully righteous.  The Savior would be without sin, though He was a man.  That is why Jesus had to be born, not just sent down from heaven on a cloud.  Jesus was fully man, but he never sinned.  (Isaiah 53:1-12)

In the Old Testament, God promised that wise men from the east would bring presents to Jesus, and that is exactly what happened. (Isaiah 60:1-7, Psalm 72:10)

God promised that the Savior would be the Prince of Peace.  Some people expected royalty. That is why they didn’t recognize that Jesus was the Savior.  He was just a baby.  But He is the Prince of Peace.  We can only find true peace in our hearts when we have Jesus as our Savior. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

God told us through his prophets that King Herod would be furious about the talk of a Savior and in his anger, he would kill all the baby boys under two, thus killing the Savior.  However, it was also told that an angel would warn the Savior and He would escape.  And that is just what happened.  Mary and Joseph took Jesus away and fled to Nazareth.  So, Jesus grew up in Nazareth.  This too was foretold hundreds of years before. (Hosea 11:1, Isaiah 9:1-2)

God promised that this baby, who would be born in a manger, would be the hope of the world.  This baby would one day grow up and become the Savior of the world.  Through His sacrifice, we can be saved and have eternal life. (Malachi 4:2)

God promised that Christ (Messiah, Anointed One) would come as Savior, taking our sins on Himself. (Isaiah 53:5-7, Daniel 9:25-26)

God promised that you could be saved if you trust and believe in Jesus.   God’s greatest gift to the world—and to you—came wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Will you receive the gift today?  If you already have, will you trust God with the details of your life today?  (Isaiah 9:6-7, John 3:16)

One of the thrilling things about studying the New Testament after a year of focusing on the Old Testament, is that we get to experience the great unfolding of the greatest, most magnificent plan ever conceived.  And these fulfilled prophesies listed today only scratch the surface of what we will continue to see.  The evidence is not just compelling, but it extremely detailed and irrefutable.  Praise God!