September 22: Keep Us from Distraction

Haggai 1:1–2:23; Acts 20:1–38; Job 28:1–11

It’s easy to get distracted from the good work God intends for us to do. Competing forces vie for our attention; we’re sidetracked by fear or selfishness. We start living our own stories and lose sight of the greater narrative, of which our lives are just one thread.

The Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem had begun the work of reconstructing the temple, a symbol of God’s presence among His people. In the rebuilding of the temple, they gathered up the remnants of their broken identities and together formed a collective identity as Yahweh’s people. They had their priorities in order.

Then they got distracted. When they started putting their own needs and security first, Yahweh sent the prophet Haggai to remind them of their true purpose: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your houses that have been paneled while this house is desolate?… Consider your ways! You have sown much but have harvested little. You have eaten without being satisfied; you have drunk without being satiated; you have worn clothes without being warm; the one who earns wages puts it in a pouch with holes” (Hag 1:6).

The work that the Jewish exiles did outside of God’s purpose for them had no lasting effect or real merit. Because they were neglecting their first calling, their frantic attempts to meet their own selfish needs were doomed to fail anyway. Outside of Yahweh, there could be no blessing. God used Haggai to speak this truth into the lives of the Jewish exiles, but He also encouraged them with His presence: “I am with you” (Hag 1:13).

Listen to the words of Haggai. Speak truth into fear and selfishness—either your own or others. Remember that you’re not meant to travel through life on your own, outside of this great narrative or apart from the presence of God.

What is the priority in your life right now? How can you shift away from priorities that aren’t part of God’s grand scheme for your life?

Rebecca Van Noord

September 23: Beyond Measure

Zechariah 1:1–2:13; Acts 21:1–26; Job 28:12–28

When we say, “God is gracious; God is kind,” do we fully comprehend the extent of God’s graciousness and kindness toward us? We glimpse it in Zechariah: “You must say to them: ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts: “Return to me,” declares Yahweh of hosts, “and I will return to you,” ’ says Yahweh of hosts” (Zech 1:2–3).

An astounding reversal is hidden in these words, couched in a dialogue expressing how terribly God’s people have treated Him (Zech 1:4–6). By relying on their ancestors’ wisdom, God’s people are marching toward their own destruction: “Your ancestors, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?” (Zech 1:5). Instead of wiping them from the face of earth or banishing them from relationship with Him, however, God acts graciously: “Return to me … and I will return to you” (Zech 1:3). It’s an incredibly generous offer, one that the people accept (Zech 1:6).

But this is not the end of the journey. Zechariah’s vision goes on to illustrate painful times on the horizon before moving once again to hope (Zech 2:1–13). Ultimately, Yahweh remarks: “Many nations will join themselves to Yahweh on that day, and they will be my people, and I will dwell in your midst. And you will know that Yahweh of hosts has sent me to you. And Yahweh will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and he will again choose Jerusalem” (Zech 2:11–12).

The one “that Yahweh of hosts has sent” is likely a reference to the Messiah. Here Yahweh moves from welcoming only the people of Israel to welcoming all people into His kingdom. Anyone can return to Him or come to Him—because that is what He desires. His graciousness and kindness are truly beyond measure.

What graciousness and kindness are you grateful for today?

John D. Barry

September 24: Speaking the Truth with Love

Zechariah 3:1–5:11; Acts 21:27–22:21; Job 29:1–12

Read today’s headlines and you might conclude that Christian boldness is a thin disguise for defensiveness, anger, and demeaning behavior. Believers who feel voiceless in their society sometimes respond by becoming adamant “defenders of the faith” in ways that can be destructive. In an age of instant electronic communication, our potential for good or harm has increased exponentially. But if we lay claim to special rights as Christians, we have forgotten that we’re supposed to be like Jesus.

We need wisdom and spiritual maturity to share our faith with love. Paul serves as a model for using influence in a Christ-like way. In Acts 21–22, Paul encountered an angry Jewish mob that wanted him dead. He could have responded to the crowd self-righteously, looking down on them from his enlightened position. Instead, Paul confessed that he was once a persecutor of “this Way” (Acts 22:4). He could have used his status as a Roman citizen to his own advantage. Instead, he testified about the “Righteous One” to people who vehemently opposed him.

Paul came from a place of humility. He appealed to the Jews by telling them his own story—simply, boldly, and honestly. He emphasized his transformation: He was once a persecutor of the Church, but now he shared the work of Jesus in his life.

We should be ready to do likewise, to spread the gospel by speaking the truth in love, without insisting on our rights or using our influence in self-serving ways. We should be like Paul, but mostly we should be like Jesus. We should be ready to preach wherever and whenever we can and trust that God will work out the rest.

How are you sharing the gospel with both truth and love?

Rebecca Van Noord

September 25: Visions, Revelations, and Questions

Zechariah 6:1–7:14; Acts 22:22–23:22; Job 29:13–25

The prophets of old had visions and dreamed dreams. They experienced apocalyptic nightmares and witnessed breathtaking scenes of beauty. Perhaps most fascinating, though, is how they reacted. Zechariah provides us with an example of both the revelation and the proper response.

“I looked up again, and I saw, and look!—four chariots coming out from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of bronze.… And I answered and said to the angel that was talking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ And the angel answered and said to me, ‘These are the four winds of the heavens going out after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth’ ” (Zech 6:1–5).

Zechariah could not have understood what he was seeing, but he paid attention, and he asked questions. Although we may not experience visions as confounding as Zechariah’s, we certainly have the opportunity to be perplexed by God. Our response should be modeled after Zechariah’s: Ask questions and then act. Zechariah’s life was marked by asking and responding, and it made a difference for his generation. People came to God because Zechariah was willing to be God’s instrument.

How many people experience incredible revelations from God and then fail to respond? How many people come near enough to glimpse God’s plan but never pay close enough attention to receive it from Him? How much are we losing as individuals, and as people, because we don’t care enough to ask God for the answers?

What confusion or uncertainty can you overcome by asking questions?

John D. Barry

September 26: Unexpected Opportunities

Zechariah 8:1–9:17; Acts 23:23–24:27; Job 30:1–15

When we are busy doing the work of the kingdom, how do we respond to obstacles that get in our way? Do we expect God to blast a path straight through so that we can proceed? We might read the drama of Paul’s life through this lens, waiting anxiously for God to open the way for Paul to continue his spectacularly successful work. Instead, God allows Paul to be imprisoned and put on trial.

But as Paul defended himself before Roman officials, he recognized that God was using him in ways he hadn’t expected. The conflict and rejection Paul encountered from the Jews provided him with the opportunity to share the gospel with some of the most influential Gentiles he would ever encounter.

God used Paul’s trials to expand his ministry from the Jews to the Gentiles. Through Paul’s life, God displayed His power to bring about the growth of the Church and the spread of the gospel message far beyond Israel.

God is working in and among us to bring the good news to those whom we don’t have in our field of vision. We should reconsider our attitude toward the conflicts and disappointments in our lives, instead seeking God’s providential hand in them.

How can you pray for wisdom to see God at work in all the circumstances of your life?

Rebecca Van Noord

September 27: The True Source of Leadership

Zechariah 10:1–11:17; Acts 25:1–27; Job 30:16–31

When leaders latch onto power, considering it their right, it’s destructive. God holds leaders to a higher standard because their words and actions cause others to rise or fall. When leaders of corporations, churches, or other organizations take their authority for granted, entire communities may end up fighting against God rather than with Him. Such was the case for the Israelites in Zechariah’s lifetime.

The context suggests the people were mistakenly relying on Baal (the storm god) rather than Yahweh. Yahweh responded by reminding them and their leaders that He is the one who sends rain: “Ask rain from Yahweh in the season of the spring rain—Yahweh, who makes storm clouds, and he gives showers of rain to them, to everyone the vegetation in the field. Because the household gods speak deceit, and those who practice divination see a lie, and the dreamers of vanity speak in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted because there is no shepherd” (Zech 10:1–2). Based on what happened next, it appears that the leaders were the ones suggesting that Israel should rely on household gods.

Although Yahweh was upset with His people, He directed the main force of His anger against those in charge: “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders, because Yahweh of hosts watches over his flock, the house of Judah; and he will make them like his majestic horse in war. From them the cornerstone will go out, from them the tent peg, from them the battle bow, from them every ruler, all together” (Zech 10:3–4). Israel’s leaders had to change their ways first—the horrific behavior (the battle bow) came from them.

How many professing Christian leaders lean on themselves—their unearned “battle bows”—instead of being the kind of leaders Yahweh has called them to be? Even Christian leaders tend to locate the source of their power in themselves or in this world rather than Yahweh. These misguided shepherds may achieve a temporary victory, but their work will eventually bring suffering to themselves and those in their care.

How should you lead? What aspects of your leadership should you change?

John D. Barry

September 28: Turning the Tables

Zechariah 12:1–14:21; Acts 26:1–32; Job 31:1–8

When Paul presents the gospel before King Agrippa, we expect him to be defensive. But Paul is ready to shift the spotlight. He offers a surprisingly simple explanation of recent events and a testimony of his faith, and then he describes how the resurrection of Jesus changes everything. He deftly turns the tables and gives the king the opportunity to believe.

Paul describes the gospel as something that was intended all along—it is nothing new: “Therefore I have experienced help from God until this day, and I stand here testifying to both small and great saying nothing except what both the prophets and Moses have said were going to happen, that the Christ was to suffer and that as the first of the resurrection from the dead, he was going to proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23).

Paul respectfully tells Agrippa that his testimony should come as no great surprise. Agrippa knows of the Jewish faith, and he has heard about recent events. Now Paul challenges him by presenting him with the only possible explanation—Jesus, the first of the resurrection of the dead, for whose sake Paul is now imprisoned. This faith is consistent with the Jewish belief in God. Now it is not reserved for the Jews, but also available to the Gentiles.

Paul’s words put everyone else in the spotlight. He earns responses from the Roman leaders—a rebuke from Festus (Acts 26:24) and a question from Agrippa: “In a short time are you persuading me to become a Christian?” Paul responds with faith: “I pray to God, whether in a short time or in a long time, not only you but also all those who are listening to me today may become such people as I also am, except for these bonds!” (Acts 26:29).

His constant witness and his trust in God’s power to turn people’s hearts to Himself give Paul confidence and assurance that his words will bring about a response (Acts 26:18). If a man facing trial can present the gospel so respectfully, when he is most defensive and vulnerable, why can’t we? We should have such courage.

How are you looking for opportunities to witness to others about the hope that is in you?

Rebecca Van Noord

September 29: Rebuilding Is Not Always Wise

Malachi 1:1–2:9; Acts 27:1–44; Job 31:9–22

Who can rebuild what Yahweh tears down? The prophets articulate this message again and again. Yahweh tears down evil things; evil people rebuild them; the prophets insist that He will just tear them down again. God tolerates evil for a time, waiting for people to repent, but when His patience is up, it’s up.

“ ‘I have loved you,’ says Yahweh, but you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is Esau not Jacob’s brother?’ declares Yahweh. ‘I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated. I have made his mountain ranges a desolation, and given his inheritance to the jackals of the desert.’ If Edom says, ‘We are shattered, but we will return and rebuild the ruins,’ Yahweh of hosts says this: ‘They may build, but I will tear down; and they will be called a territory of wickedness, and the people with whom Yahweh is angry forever.’ Your eyes will see this, and you will say, ‘Yahweh is great beyond the borders of Israel’ ” (Mal 1:2–5).

This scene seems brutal upon first reading. If you’re on Jacob’s side, you’re fine—Yahweh loves you even though you don’t acknowledge it. But if you’re on Esau’s (Edom’s) side, you’re left wondering why God hates you so much—unless you know the backstory: Edom ravaged the lands of God’s people and committed atrocities against them in their greatest time of need. When foreign nations invaded Israel, Edom preyed on its brothers instead of coming to their defense. This is the reason for Yahweh’s anger—and why He will tear down whatever Edom builds.

How often do we try to excuse ourselves as Edom did—to defend our behavior as justifiable retribution for previous offenses? What does God think about the state of our hearts and the actions we take against others as a result?

How must your plan of action change, today, in light of God’s will and His standard?

John D. Barry

September 30: Key Players and Main Narratives

Malachi 2:10–4:6; Acts 28:1–31; Job 31:23–40

The book of Acts ends on a somewhat unsatisfying note. After all that Paul has been through—imprisonment, trial, shipwreck—we expect a showdown with Caesar or mass conversions of the Jews. Instead, the plot seems to sputter out.

Paul arrives in Rome and appeals to the Jews living there. He quotes Isaiah to the Jewish leaders: “You will keep on hearing, and will never understand, and you will keep on seeing and will never perceive” (Acts 28:26). When they fail to respond, Paul determines to reach out to the Gentiles. “They also will listen” (Acts 28:28) and will respond differently.

The poignant end of this book leaves Paul “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Facing either rejection or reception, he continues proclaiming the good news to both Jew and Gentile.

Paul is a key player in the Church that is being gathered by Jesus Christ, but the drama cannot end with Paul. Jesus is the main character in the story of humanity’s redemption. The book of Acts leaves the ending open so that we can pick it up and carry it forward. The work of Jesus, through His Church, continues to the present day, and Jesus is using both you and me in His grand narrative.

How do you see your life as a story that honors God as the key player?

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.