January 21: Power, Authority, and Its Result

Genesis 34:1–35:15; Matthew 25:14–26:13; Ecclesiastes 8:1–9

“For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Eccl 8:6).

We all struggle with the future and the vast uncertainty it creates in our minds. It’s rarely the present that keeps us awake at night; it’s our concerns about what will happen if the present changes for better or worse.

But unlike other places in the Bible when we’re told not to worry, the words of Ecclesiastes 8:6 are set in the context of a request to obey the king of the land. This is not because the king is offered as a solution to the problems, although he could potentially help, but because like many other things, there is nothing that can be done about him. Why worry about that which you cannot change?

This situation is equated to life and death itself: “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the way of death” (Eccl 8:8). The Preacher of Ecclesiastes then goes on to reflect the cultural reality of the time: “There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.” Again, what can you change about it? If the king is corrupt, it will destroy him, like it will destroy others—it’s only a matter of time. Wickedness has no power to deliver; only the power to destroy.

And this is most pressing for reflection: Sin is often cast as an escape from life’s pains and sometimes feelings of meaninglessness, yet it really destroys life. (If only this reasoning was present in our thinking every time we were tempted.)

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes begins to draw his thoughts to a close by telling us: People’s power over one another is “hurt”—it’s painful (Eccl 8:9). Here in a passage about the need for people to be governed (that’s likely written by one in power), we see the author admit that power will inflict pain, or more literally “evil” or “badness.”

This startling reality forms another realization: In a world that was meant to have God as its king and ruler—in a world where that power only shifted after people sinned and were no longer allowed in the presence of their creator—it makes sense that power would corrupt. But we’re told: what can we do about it? The only thing we can do is to be people who choose to follow the good—the good God—and work toward the overthrowing of evil and the battle against corruption. But we must, along the way, realize that worry and anxiety will only paralyze, not help.

What do you need to pray about that is a worry or anxiety of yours? In what ways can you be an agent of change in the world, without succumbing to the pains it can bring?

John D. Barry


January 22: Be Vigilant

Genesis 35:16–36:43; Matthew 26:14–56; Ecclesiastes 8:10–17

Faith doesn’t always come to bear until we are faced with our own fallibility. When we “enter into temptation,” it often means we haven’t been vigilant—that we’ve stopped pursuing the God who has pursued us. In the aftermath of temptation, we recognize our spiritual laziness. We become wise—but remorsefully.

Vigilance and complacency are illustrated in the garden of Gethsemane. In His last moments, Jesus requests that His closest disciples stay awake with Him (Matt 26:38). But while He repeatedly prays, they fall asleep. What seems like a request for moral support gets defined a few verses later: “Stay awake and pray that you will not enter into temptation” (Matt 26:41). Staying awake is associated with spiritual awareness. And their sleep is costly. Because of their spiritual sleepiness, they’re not prepared for His end, even though He had repeatedly prepared them for His death. They abandon Him, and they even deny Him (Matt 26:56; 75).

But in this same passage, we get a picture of what vigilance looks like from the Son of God. Jesus anticipated His imminent suffering and death. “Deeply grieved, to the point of death,” He turns to the Father in prayer. Jesus boldly requests relief from suffering; when it is not granted, He submits to the Father’s will.

Being vigilant means seeking guidance and refuge from the God who provides it. He has provided refuge, but we must seek it out. This means asking for His Spirit to equip us for discernment. While we don’t know the challenges and temptations we’ll face, He does. And if we ask Him, He will provide us with all we need to face them.

Are you seeking God’s guidance today? No matter what your situation may be, pray for His Spirit to provide you with strength and discernment.

Rebecca Van Noord


January 23: Pride in Disguise

Genesis 37; Matthew 26:57–27:31; Ecclesiastes 9:1–6

Sometimes recognizing our sin for what it is can throw us into deep shame. In Matthew, we find that two of Jesus’ disciples experience this moment of remorse—Judas after he betrays Jesus, and Peter when he denies Jesus. From their responses, we learn what true repentance looks like.

Judas is remorseful when he realizes the enormity of his betrayal. But he doesn’t move from remorse to repentance. He tries to absolve his guilt by returning the payment he received for betraying Jesus—an attempt to buy back his innocence. And when the “blood money” is refused and he is unable to eliminate the guilt, Judas hangs himself (Matt 27:5).

Peter, the disciple with an impulsive, childlike loyalty to Jesus, denies his Lord when questioned by a mere servant girl. When Peter remembers Jesus’ prediction, he leaves, “weeping bitterly.” However, the Gospel of John tells us that Peter glorified God in his death (John 21:15–19).

When sin is exposed, stopping at realization and remorse is tempting. Reveling in self-hate and self-loathing can seem fitting—we feel like inflicting punishment on ourselves will somehow absolve our guilt. But this is simply another form of relying on ourselves—it is pride in disguise. We diminish the sacrifice that Christ has completed. We deny the freedom from guilt and shame that Jesus has bought for us at a costly sacrifice.

It’s only when we reach the end of our self-reliance and pride that we can look to the one who actually bore the guilt for us.

How are you holding on to guilt and shame?

Rebecca Van Noord


January 24: Undue Favor

Genesis 38–39; Matthew 27:32–28:20; Ecclesiastes 9:7–10

Genesis 38 interrupts the climax of the Joseph narrative with another tale: Judah and Tamar. Switching protagonists is surprising enough, but the tale itself shocks us. We’re hardly given time to process the strange cultural practices of the ancient Near East, prostitution, deception, and the sudden death of those who displease God before we’re returned to Joseph’s struggles in Egypt.

The story is additionally confusing because it seems to lack a hero. Judah uses Tamar, as his two sons did—though he at least acknowledges his actions. Tamar uses her wits and risks her life to secure a future for herself, but she does so through deplorable means.

Attempts have been made to justify the characters and put it all in perspective, but there is no neat packaging. The characters in this story face dire circumstances and a unique cultural context—one that is nearly impossible for modern readers to understand. But we don’t need a lesson in ancient Near Eastern cultural studies to see that they are fallible, and that they exploit others for their own ends. And we don’t need a history lesson to be able to identify with them. An honest look at ourselves reveals our own sins—subtly deplorable, and respectably wrapped.

So, why is this story in the Bible? Why this tale of woe? Surprisingly, there is a hero. As we read, we see that God also uses people for redemption, not exploitation. Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, is one in a long list of names that will lead to the birth of Christ. Through unlikely characters like Judah and Tamar, God prepared a way out of the sin that defined us.

Just like these characters, we are unlikely recipients of His favor.

How can you be thankful for God’s faithfulness in your life?

Rebecca Van Noord


January 25: Radiance

Genesis 40:1–41:37; Hebrews 1–2, Ecclesiastes 9:11–18

When I was a boy, my dad took me to his construction site, and told me, “Don’t look directly at the welding light; it can blind you.” But a welding flame is cool and dangerous. As my father was talking with the foreman, I fixated on the light. I saw spots for the rest of the evening, but didn’t tell anyone. I secretly feared that the radiance had actually blinded me.

The radiance of Christ is blinding—it was for Paul (Acts 9:1–31). In an epic hymn about the work of God’s Son throughout history, the author of Hebrews calls Jesus “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the representation of his essence, sustaining all things by the word of power” (Heb 1:3). It’s easy to wonder if sustainability is possible, if the world will one day crumble and fall. But in Christ, there is hope.

Jesus is much like the sun. You don’t always notice its power, warmth, or even that it’s there. That is especially the case for the cloudy days. We forget that without the sun, there would be no life. It’s easy to forget that it is warming us even through rain and clouds.

The same is true for Jesus in our lives. It’s easy to forget Him until we desperately need Him. It’s easy to overlook the daily miracles, such as life itself, when searching for something extraordinary. But the extraordinary is always present. It’s here in the work of Christ, every day. His radiance shines upon us, even when we don’t realize it.

What miracles can you recognize today?

John D. Barry


January 26: 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


January 27: Revenge Isn’t Sweet

Genesis 42:29–43:34, Hebrews 5:11–7:28, Ecclesiastes 10:10–20

It’s easy to revel in vigilante justice, be joyful in the irony of someone getting “what’s coming to them,” or feel satisfied when “bad Karma comes back around” to others. The colloquialisms around the subject alone demonstrate our infatuation with justice. Joseph is similarly impassioned; he schemes against his brothers who sold him into slavery. At the beginning of Gen 43, Joseph’s brothers must go back to Egypt to request food from him—their younger brother, whom they do not recognize. Joseph waits for the youngest, Benjamin, to join them. What Joseph intends to do when he does, we’re not told.

When Benjamin and the other brothers arrive, Joseph is either moved with empathy or chooses to act upon his original plan of revealing himself in front of all his brothers (Gen 43:16, 29). Joseph even helps them financially, signaling that he somehow still cares for them (Gen 44). Yet it doesn’t seem that Joseph has forgiven them yet, because in Genesis 44, more evil schemes emerge.

The thought of others feeling the same kind of pain they have inflicted can cause us to feel remorse. But we’re always aware of the choice; we can choose to fight our instincts. We can recognize that instead of lashing back, the best answer is turning the other cheek. This may be easy for some, but for others—especially those who have been deeply hurt—abandoning the urge to inflict injury will require spiritual strength, prayer, and self-control.

Whom do you currently desire to see hurt? How can you let that feeling go? How can God help you release the situation to Him?

John D. Barry


January 28: 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


January 29: 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


January 30: Difficult Definitions

Genesis 47–48; Hebrews 11; Ecclesiastes 12:1–8

As an editor, I love definitions. The field of lexicography can be complex, but when a definition is finally solidified, there’s comfort to be found. It becomes something stable. This is also the reason I love the book of Hebrews: the author is keen on definitions, clarifying terminology, and using analogies to prove his points.

“Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the proof of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). In this succinct definition, I have perspective on the essence of faith. There is no room for doubt or error. The hope referred to is Jesus. And the proof is in an assurance that even though we cannot see Him, we have confidence in His work both presently and in the future.

The author goes on to say, “For by this [faith] the people of old were approved [by God]. By faith we understand the worlds were created by the word of God, in order that what is seen did not come into existence from what is visible.… By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out to a place that he was going to receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:2–3, 8).

Abraham, whose story is an exemplar of actions reflecting faith, shows us that belief is about hoping in God’s work in Christ. And in acting on that which He has promised but we are yet to see. That’s lexicography we can all depend upon.

How does this definition of faith (or belief) change your perspective on living a life that is faithful to Christ?

John D. Barry


January 31: Discipline

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

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?

Rebecca Van Noord[1]

 

[1] Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.