Bible Reading Plan | Devotion
week of July 11, 2021
WCC Bible Reading Plan
― James Merritt
Reading the Bible Together
When we spend time in God’s Word, we’re getting to know Him. We’re also maturing in our faith. Regularly spending time together with God in His Word is such a beautiful, life-giving thing. And just as it benefits us as individuals, when we gather together as the church to commit to spending time reading and studying the Bible, something special happens. We’re able to encourage one another and grow together.
5 Minutes a Day, 7 Days a Week
Commit around five minutes a day, seven days a week, to our church-wide Bible reading plan. We’ll have seven chapters to read each week – most weeks will include five chapters from one book and two Psalms. The goal of this plan is to consistently spend time in God’s Word. We’ll be reading various styles of books – gospels, epistles, history, poetry, prophecy, etc. Using this guide, you’ll easily be able to track your reading and follow along. And don’t worry if you get off track; you can just jump back in where we are. You can always go back and catch up when you have extra time.
Each week, devotionals will be published that correspond with what we’re reading. These devotionals will be from a variety of people participating in this church-wide reading plan. Through these devotionals, we will be encouraged and challenged as we journey through God’s Word together.
These devotionals will be in written or video form and can be found on our website.
Do you have questions about what you’re reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.
Up for more of a challenge?
Don’t just read the chapters, use the following questions to study them:
Observation: This is how to learn what a passage of scripture says. Questions to ask: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? What does it say? What do I notice?
Interpretation: This is how to accurately interpret scripture and understand what it means in the right context. Questions to ask: What are the key themes or truths? What is the writer’s intended meaning? What is the context? What questions do I have?
Application: This is how to correctly apply the truth of the text to everyday life. Questions to ask: How do I apply it? What are the implications in my life? What does this mean for me
WEEKLY READING: JONAH 1-4; PSALM 34-36
PASSAGES REFERENCED: JONAH 4; LUKE 15:28-32; JOHN 21:20-22
From Sunday school flannelgraphs to Veggie Tales, the story of Jonah is one many of us are fairly familiar with. But just focusing on the big fish is missing the point of the story. When I read the story now, I am pushed beyond the fantastic nature of it. What I get out of it now isn’t a lesson on obeying God, rather a reminder of God’s mercy and grace and a lot of conviction on my judgmental ways.
We’re pretty familiar with the first three chapters: God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim a warning from God, Jonah goes the opposite direction, God sends a storm and a big fish, God gives Jonah a second chance, Jonah goes to Nineveh and shares God’s message, and the people of the city listen and repent.
Picking up the story in chapter four: But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:1-4)
In the next few verses, there’s some Jonah sitting, plant growing, plant dying, sun shining, and some more Jonah complaining and wishing he was dead. (4:5-10) And then the book ends with God asking Jonah, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (4:11)
Hopefully, you’re starting to see how this story is a reminder of God’s mercy and grace and can convict us of our judgmental ways. To put it plainly, the story of Jonah reminds me of what a jerk I am sometimes. I judge others, I think I know best, and I feel like I know who deserves a second chance. A lot like our pal Jonah, right? He didn’t want to go to Nineveh and share God’s message because he didn’t like the idea of God extending grace to people he didn’t think deserved it. Right there in verse two, Jonah basically says, ‘I knew you would show them mercy, and I didn’t think they deserved it. So I ran in the opposite direction. And then, when I finally did what you asked, I did it with a bad attitude. And now I’m so upset about everything that I think I’d just rather die.’
Now, I’d apricate if Jonah calmed down a couple of notches, wouldn’t you? He’s being a bit dramatic. But if we push the ‘I’m so upset, I wish I were dead’ attitude aside for a minute, I think we can see ourselves in Jonah and hopefully be open to hearing God’s warning to us in his story. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria – Israel’s enemy. So you can see why Jonah might struggle with the concept of God extending them grace. Our first reaction to God extending mercy to our enemies might not be the best either. But we should remember that we did nothing to earn God’s grace. And we should thank God for the beautiful gift of His mercy and love towards us.
This lesson from Jonah reminds me of two different teachings of Jesus, one parable and one interaction with a disciple. First, the ending of the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15: “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:28-32)
And then the final chunk of Jesus’ interaction with Peter in John 21: Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them… When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:20-22)
So what should we do with what we’ve learned from our reading of Jonah and these words of Jesus? You should take some time this week to ask the Lord exactly what He wants to teach you. But I know for me, there are a few things that come to mind:
- We don’t get to decide who should receive God’s mercy, love, and grace.
- We don’t deserve the gifts of God, but we’ve still received them. We should be thankful and want those blessings for others as well.
- God loves our enemies. Are we ok with that? And what will it take for us to love our enemies as well?
- And, ultimately, maybe we need to mind our own business and worry about our own relationship with God rather than how He works in the lives of our friends and enemies alike.
So, are we going to be like Jonah, the older brother, and Peter? Or are we going rejoice when God extends mercy, grace, and love to others, regardless of our opinion of them? Are we going to respond in anger, disappointment, or maybe even nosiness? Or are we going to celebrate in thanksgiving – for God working in their lives as we remember how He’s blessed us as well? The choice is ours. I just hope we don’t pull a Jonah. – Sarah Neel
- Check out The Bible Project’s overview video of the book of Jonah. It is an excellent source for background information and context that walks through the book’s sections and themes. It can be really helpful for those who appreciate some visuals while learning.
Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing, you find on the internet, email us at email@example.com. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.
WEEKLY READING: ROMANS 11-16; PSALM 33
PASSAGES REFERENCED: ROMANS 11:5, 23
“It is the same today, for a few people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them.”– Romans 11:5
“And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree.” – Romans 11:23
Undeserved kindness. When I think of what has actually been a force of change in my 36 years, it boils down to a few major acts of kindness extended to me when I didn’t earn it. They were transformational and humbling. The Bible has so many stories of God acting this way to people. There are the people of Nineveh—He changed His mind and extended them mercy instead of destruction. In Exodus, God states He will “lavishly love” those who love and obey Him for 1,000 generations—but He only carries the ill effects of sin for 3 to 4 generations of those who reject Him. The woman at the well—Jesus didn’t cast judgment on her promiscuity; He took her shame and encouraged her to go and live differently. Just flip through the book, and you’ll see acts of undeserved kindness demonstrated throughout.
It has the power to diffuse some of the uglies of life, to bring peace and a new beginning.
Picture this scene: after a busy workday with a hungry and tired body, you journey through the grocery store to grab just two items needed at home. You round the corner to see lines of stuffed grocery carts sitting stagnant. Let’s also say one of the only two cashiers open has his blinking light on for help. And just for fun, everyone has a handful of coupons, a slew of kids all under the age of 5, and (bonus) each one is finishing a sugary red sucker. (I’m feeling the panic!)
Then, a kind someone up ahead waves to you to cut in front of him in line. Just grafts you right in there. In all reality, you should have had to wait behind all of those overflowing carts amidst all the chaos. What an act of undeserved kindness! Your feelings of frustration and powerlessness melt, and you walk out of the store thankful and calm.
If God’s grand act of undeserved kindness in grafting us in through Jesus wasn’t enough, Romans 11:23 shows us He is willing to do it repeatedly. We have an opportunity to come back to Him when we stray in disobedience. He always has His grafting tools ready.
When in your life did someone extend kindness to you that you didn’t earn? How did it move you? How have you shown someone undeserved kindness this week
Ask God to let you be part of His work in this way—ask Him to give you an opportunity to show His transformational kindness. These genuine acts will draw others to Him and bring glory to His name.
Just a note of clarification: some of us are working on building healthy, God-intended boundaries. Undeserved kindness is not the same as ‘doormat’ kindness—extending grace like a revolving door without healthy self-protection. If this strikes a chord, please pursue finding someone with a heart and training to help you navigate establishing those good and necessary limits. – Brandy Carman
As we’re finishing our reading of Romans this week, you may want to check out The Bible Project’s overview videos of the book of Romans again. Part One covers chapters 1-4 and Part Two covers chapters 5-16. It is an excellent source for background information and context that walks through the book’s sections and themes. It can be really helpful for those who appreciate some visuals while learning.
Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.
Passages referenced: Psalm 31:3-4; Romans 8:26-28
Take a minute to think and write down the words or phrases that come to mind when you hear the word: refuge.
Now take 5 to 10 minutes to sit and listen to God. If a word or phrase comes to mind, write it down. Do not debate it. Just write it down.
Psalm 31:3-4 teaches us, “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge.” (ESV)
ESV Study notes use two words to describe when we take refuge in Him:
Humbly (meaning: genuine gratitude) coming before Him and emptying ourselves (with good or bad things) in desperate need of His guidance, strength, understanding, and encouragement.
Take a minute to read, reflect, and respond to Romans 6:1-14.
The price God paid by sending His Son to the cross to die for all our sins leads us to come humbly, with genuine gratitude, before Him to empty ourselves and receive His loving grace and mercy.
As we humbly come before Him, seeking His refuge, with genuine gratitude, we have to trust in His provision, i.e., next steps.
Romans 8:26-28 teaches us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)
If we love Him, then we trust Him. We came to Him in our weakness depending on His provision; therefore, we must rejoice and trust in His plan for the next step.
Don’t seek refuge only in times of distress. Refuge in Him should be a daily routine. God wants us to seek Him daily to be renewed in Him. Intimacy (dependence and trust) with God is life’s highest priority! – David Wildman
Some questions for further reflection:
- In what ways do you seek His refuge? What rhythms do you put in place to seek His refuge daily?
- What things or people keep you from His refuge? How can you set boundaries so these things or people do not rob you from this time of refuge? What people can you let in that help encourage and support your dependence and trust in God?
- How are you listening to, speaking with, and learning from God daily?
Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at email@example.com. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.
Passages referenced: Romans 1:16-17; 3:23-24
Romans was a book that, for me, was hard to understand. I kept reading it over and over again; it just did not make sense. Now I look back and see that the church I went to at the time did not teach much on grace, more on the law. After reading a book on Romans and growing in my understanding of grace, I was set free.
Now I’d like to share just a few things about this marvelous book of Romans and our reading of chapters 1-5 this week:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
These two verses show us the main theme of the book. It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Both Jew and Gentile. It is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith. The righteous person shall live by faith.
From verses 1:18 to the end of chapter 2, God condemns the unsaved person, the good person, and the Jew.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
In chapter 3, God condemns the whole world. Verse 23 sums up the first three chapters by saying we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And verse 24 then tells us Jesus Christ has redeemed us through grace which is a gift from God.
Chapter 4 tells us that when we decided to believe God about His son Jesus, God counted us as righteous. Another way of saying it is that we are saved by faith alone.
Chapter 5 goes on to say we have peace with God through faith. We are no longer enemies of God. We have received this through faith only by the grace of God and not by anything we have done or will do.
My thoughts above are just a short summary of the first five chapters of Romans. So I recommend you study it very slowly to learn more about God’s grace. This book is probably the greatest book on grace in the Bible. Every time I go through this book, I get more out of it. I hope it does the same for you. – Norm Earlywine
The Bible Project’s overview videos of the book of Romans. Part One covers chapters 1-4 and Part Twocovers chapters 5-16. It is an excellent source for background information and context that walks through the book’s sections and themes. It can be really helpful for those who appreciate some visuals while learning.
- Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.
Passages referenced: Ruth 4:21-22; 1 Samuel 13:14;
Psalm 27:11; Psalm 119:105
I am sure I cannot be the only person who looks back on life decisions and plays out the “what ifs?” What if I would have gone to a different college? What if I wouldn’t have married my spouse? What if I had never met this particular person in my life? After reading the book of Ruth, I feel reminded of these thought processes.
Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi’s lives would have looked much different if Ruth had listened to Naomi and gone back home. David was a result of that decision. (see Ruth 4:21-22) I think about Ruth’s decision to stay loyal to Naomi. Was that a hard or easy decision to make? Was it easier for her to stay with her mother-in-law in that time of grief and uncertainty? Or was it actually a hard choice because going home would have felt safer?
Life is full of choices like this; some may be simpler and smaller compared to others. But each choice we make could lead to different results and paths. I sometimes question myself on how much thought I put into some decisions. Did I take the time to pray over it? Did I seek wise counsel beforehand? Or did I find it to be a thoughtless decision, too easy to even consider the consequences of my actions?
It is super easy in our culture to just float through life, making all of these choices without a real thought process. We can go with what we know, what feels safer or just easier. But could we possibly be altering our journey or even our destination and not even know it? Consider this concept when it comes to our relationship with others. We all have people in our lives who are not on the same path as us, maybe even a more destructive path. Are we being intentional with the decision to continue that relationship? Is that relationship starting to change our path in a negative direction? Or are we being called to be the light of Christ in their life?
Ruth married Boaz and gave birth to Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David. David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and an ancestor to Jesus, lived a life that had a major impact on the world, and his words are still read in the Bible today. The ripple effects of his life are not just from his story but his words as well, “Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.” (Psalms 27:11)
May our life decisions be bathed in prayer and may God’s word be “a lamp to guide [our] feet and a light for [our] path.” (Psalm 119:105) – Stephanie Cloud
- Check out The Bible Project’s overview video of the book of Ruth. It is an excellent source for background information and context that walks through the book’s sections and themes. It can be really helpful for those who appreciate some visuals while learning.
Passages referenced: Ephesians 2:4-6; 4:4-6; 6:12, 18
Have you ever watched a food documentary and immediately wanted to make changes to your diet? Or listened to a podcast that finally motivated you to make your dreams a reality? Have you ever had an experience that inspired you to live life a little differently?
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us of the transforming power of the Gospel. It’s no food documentary, but inspiring to say the least.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6)
This verse illustrates such a beautiful picture of the Gospel. How incredible is it that we can be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms through God’s grace alone? We were dead, and He made us alive. Because of this story of grace, our story is reshaped in every way.
In fact, Paul describes us as being one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. (see Ephesians 4:4-6) Our gifts and differences contribute to the diversity and impact of the church, but ultimately we are unified by Christ. How much better does a body function when all the parts work together? Jesus came to unite us and reshape us to live more fruitful lives not only for ourselves but for the good of the entire family of God.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
God desires for us to be unified, working together to build the church with Jesus as the cornerstone. Although it often feels like we’re at odds with each other, or even ourselves, we’re actually battling spiritual forces of evil. Paul tells us to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18) because we’re all united against the same thing.
After reading Ephesians, I felt inspired not only by the Gospel, but by the desire God has for us to be one. United in Christ, united in our new story, and united against evil. – Kelsey Swanson
Passages referenced: Psalm 23; John 16:33
In case you missed Sarah’s great introduction to the book of the psalms, you can find it here. Psalm 23 falls into the first book of the Jewish hymnal (what we call the book of Psalms). This first section has been called by many Bible scholars the book of personal experience. This means that the psalms of this first section are meant to teach us to worship in the midst of real human experience. As such, many of the psalms in the first 42 chapters are psalms of lamentation (heart-cries of pain and sadness). These lamentations express pain and fear but almost always return to the Truth of who God is in spite of the circumstance. This is worship – returning to God in the midst of painful and scary circumstances.
Most of us, as humans, are really bad at centering our worship on God. We put all kinds of things in His place. We worship people and things that make us feel powerful and, most especially, people and things that make us feel safe. Depending on how one translates the Greek and Hebrew, some variation of the phrase ‘do not be afraid’ appears between 100 and 140 times throughout the Bible.  Fear is obviously something that scripture takes very seriously because it is one of the things that leads us most quickly into faith. For me, it’s pretty convicting to look honestly at the places my faith goes when I am afraid. Usually, it is to myself, my resources, and my allies. And on rare occasions, I just decide it’s not something I can fight, and I hide.
David reminds us in Psalm 23 that fear is meant to lead us to God. This psalm is a short and powerful reminder of why we ought to worship God when we are afraid.
For those who are tempted to fear that God is not paying attention to your personal life:
“The Lord is my Shepherd.” (v1)
For those who are tempted to fear that material needs will not be met:
“I shall not want.” (v1)
For those who are tempted to fear that there is not enough energy to finish the day:
“He restores my soul.” (v3)
For those who are tempted to fear that God has abandoned you to human opponents:
“He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (v5)
For those who are tempted to fear that there is no hope left in life:
“Surely goodness and covenant love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (v6)
Fear is a real part of the human experience. It is something we all face to varying degrees at different times in our lives. David’s hymn reminds us to worship God, who is greater than all of our fears. Jesus reminded His disciples of this very thing when He told them, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take courage! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Friends, we can worship God in the face of every one of our fears because He provides. His promise is that there will be tribulation (pain, fear, suffering), but we worship with courage because He has already triumphed.
A note on the end of Esther this week: Esther chose to act boldly and rely on God for the outcome. Her courage has echoed down through millennia. Last week we saw her fear; this week, we get to see God use her as a tool for the salvation of His people because she was faithful and courageous in spite of her fear. Based on the timeline, it is possible that she was being encouraged by this same psalm 2500 years ago. Indeed, the Lord literally prepared a table in the presence of her enemy.
God bless you all as you explore God’s Word this week. – Zach Tingle
 A search using Accordance Bible Software for the 17 Hebrew words for fear and the 4 Greek words with each of their negations yields 133 results with anywhere between the numbers in the range above being translated as ‘fear not’ or ‘do not be afraid’ depending on translation.
PASSAGES REFERENCED: ESTHER 4:14; PSALM 22:9-10;
ROMANS 8:28; PHILIPPIANS 1:6; 2:13
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 2:13
What’s my purpose in this life? How many of us have asked that question, either to ourselves or to God? I know I have many times. We know we’re each given special gifts and talents to use for the Lord’s purposes, but discovering what those are and what to do with them can be difficult.
Esther was a woman of great outward beauty, which helped her seal the role as queen to King Xerxes, but her inward strength and faith in God were what helped truly set her apart. The Lord established Queen Esther on her throne for more than just looking beautiful next to King Xerxes. He had a very real and purposeful plan for her.
Esther had the esteemed title of queen and access to so much, but she still had doubts and discouragements like any of us. When she heard of Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews (Esther’s people), her cousin Mordecai helped convince her to take a stand against his evil plan. He reminded her of her current role as queen and the standing she had with King Xerxes. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Mordecai also made it clear in his message to Esther that God’s plan would prevail, whether or not she decided to participate in it.
This is such an important and timely reminder for us as well. We are called to be a part of God’s great plans, and they will be fulfilled even if we choose to sit on the sidelines. God, however, wants us to participate fully. We are given our positions in life “for such a time as this,” and it’s up to us to trust God to help us use them wisely.
David reminds us in the Psalms that God sets us apart, and we can trust in Him and His purpose for our lives. “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:9-10)
God is good, and His purposes for each of us are good. God’s plans will always prevail; we just need to trust in Him above all else. The things God chooses for us are ALWAYS for our benefit and to fulfill His kingdom purposes. We can have faith in that, even when we question and doubt what God’s purpose for our life really is. As Paul teaches in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Brooke Price
- Check out The Bible Project’s overview video of the book of Esther. It is an excellent source for background information and context that walks through the book’s sections and themes. It can be really helpful for those who appreciate some visuals while learning.
PASSAGE REFERENCED: PSALM 17-20; ISAIAH 6:9-10; 55:10-11;
ACTS 21-28; HEBREWS 12:4
This week's devotional writer is Mark Swinger. Mark has attended WCC for many years, served as an Elder, and currently leads one of the men's Bible studies. Because of Mark's experience with Bible studies, you'll find this devotional has a bit of a study flavor compared to the devotional flavor of previous weeks. As it covers each of this week's chapters, you might consider waiting to read this until you've finished the week's reading.
When we come to Acts 26, we should recall some of the events that brought Paul to this point. He had already been confronted by a murderous Jewish mob (Acts 21:7), a Roman commander named Claudius Lysias (21:37-40), the Jewish high council or Sanhedrin, including the high priest Ananias (22:30-23:2), Governor Felix (23:33), and then Felix with his Jewish wife, Drusilla (24:24). In chapter 25, Paul appealed to Caesar to save himself from the murdering Jews, then was brought before King Agrippa and his sister Bernice (25:23). King Agrippa was an expert on Jewish customs and controversies (26:3).
Try to imagine the number of Jews and Gentiles who heard Paul's story and the Gospel, then believed in Jesus because of Paul's testimony. Even though some didn't agree with his beliefs, they could not refute his witness. When we tell our own story, though some might not believe it, hopefully, our lives and the changes in us will bear witness to the truth. In Isaiah 55:10-11, God declares that when He sends out His Word, it always produces what He wants. In Hebrews 12:4, we read that "the Word of God is full of living power." Wow! What an impact His Word can have in our lives and in the lives of others. We may never know the impact even a few kind words coupled with a loving attitude might have in someone's life. We can only imagine, as the song goes!
Some who hear us may say we're insane, having too much "study" (Acts 26:24). Some may study just for knowledge, which isn't totally wrong. But we grow as Christ-followers when we prayerfully study with the purpose and desire to grow ever closer and more intimate with God.
In Acts 27, God speaks to Paul, informing him about some of what lies ahead. God doesn't include all the details. Paul will need to trust God despite all the hardships, as well as life-threatening experiences he and many others will have to endure.
In Acts 28, the most impact is in verses 26-28, as Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10. The very thought of God including Gentiles in His plan of salvation was diametrically opposed to the Jewish mindset, which excluded anyone who wasn't of Jewish descent. They considered Gentiles the same way the rest of the world viewed the Jews. They were God's chosen people, and therefore better than everyone else. Do we ever consider ourselves better than others?
In Psalm 17, notice the worship and trust in verses 6-9.
Psalm 18 contains worship and some remarkable imagery.
Verses 1-6 of Psalm 19 tell of the evidence of God's existence and great power. Verses 7-11 speak of God's word and commandments. And verses 12-14 contain a well-known prayer, especially verse 14.
In Psalm 20, verses 1-5 provide a prayer for others. Verse 6 is a testimony, while verses 7-9 declare that the LORD is our real salvation, not weapons, but God's power! That's something to consider and believe! – Mark Swinger
• Do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at email@example.com. We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.
PASSAGE REFERENCED: PSALM 16; PHILIPPIANS 4:6-9
Many people struggle with anxiety and stress. You might be one of those people. I know I am. And when I find myself amid a bunch of anxious thoughts, I’d love nothing more than to pull a Bob Newhart in that MadTV psychologist sketch and just tell myself to “Stop it… S-T-O-P, new word, I-T!” But that’s not how it works. When I try to tell myself to stop feeling anxious, I just become anxious about my anxiety. It’s a real mess. But I’ll let you know what does work: reminding myself of Paul’s advice to the Philippians:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:6-9, NIV)
And after I think about those verses, I try to listen to Paul’s advice. I pray and then remind myself what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Do you know what fits all those categories and more? God. And there are two ways that I can remind (sometimes convince) myself of the truth about God: the Bible and my past.
Let me explain. We can use our past to remind ourselves of the truth about God by looking back on our lives and recalling all the times that God was at work, guiding and comforting us. God is always at work in and around us. We just have to open our eyes to look for God’s presence. The longer we’ve known the Lord, the longer that list of the ways He’s been at work will be.
The other way we can shift our thinking is by reminding ourselves what we’ve learned about God from the Bible. The more we read God’s Word, the more we get to know God’s character. As we read, we see over and over again the ways that God works in the lives of the people of the Bible. We also read promises of God working in our lives as well. God doesn’t change. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So when we get to know God in scripture, we can trust that that same God is at work in our lives today as well.
Psalm 16 is a great example of scripture that helps us remember God’s character. The verses that stick out to me are: “Every good thing I have comes from you…, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing… I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me… You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:2b, 5a, 8, 11, NLT)
In verse 8, David says that he knows that the Lord is always with him. “I know” is a really strong statement. David doesn’t say “I hope” or “I wish” or “if only.” No. David knows that God is always with him. But how? How did David know that? Those two things again: God’s Word and his past. Those are the two ways to consistently remind ourselves that God is always with us – guiding, directing, comforting, supporting, and encouraging us. This truth about God’s character is found beyond Psalm 16. We see it throughout scripture, from the stories of Genesis to the Psalms to the Gospels to the letters of Paul. And we can see it in our past as well. We just have to look for it. – Sarah Neel
- Do you struggle with anxiety? How can you use God’s Word and your past to help change your thinking and shift your focus away from anxious thoughts onto the truth about God?
- Consider making a list of God’s qualities that comfort and encourage you that you can look at when you need help with your anxiety. You can include qualities from scripture as well as examples of God’s faithfulness in your own life.
- An interesting resource you can check out as we slowly work through the Psalms is the work of the band Sons of Korah. According to their website, “Sons of Korah is an Australian based band devoted to giving a fresh voice to the biblical psalms… They endeavor to lead their listeners into an impacting encounter with this book that is often described as the ‘heart’ of the Bible. From lamentation to songs of jubilant praise, from battle cry to benediction, from exclamation of awe and wonder to reflections of tranquility and perfect wisdom, Sons of Korah provide a compelling portrait of the world and experience of the psalms.” They’ve recorded a version of Psalm 16 that you can check out on YouTube & Spotify.
PASSAGE REFERENCED: ACTS 14:21-28
OTHER PASSAGES TO READ: 1 CORINTHIANS 12:12;
EPHESIANS 4:11-13, 16; PHILIPPIANS 2:25
After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, 22where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. 23Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24Then they traveled back through Pisidia to Pamphylia.25They preached the word in Perga, then went down to Attalia.
Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.– Acts 14:21-28, NLT
We can learn quite a bit from this passage about the life-cycle of missionaries. They preached the Good News and strengthened the disciples – encouraging them to remain true to the faith. Then they appointed elders in each church, committing them to the Lord.
Here in Papua New Guinea, that’s what our church planters do as well. First, they have to learn the language and culture of the tribal people group they’ll be working with to be able to preach the Good News to them effectively. They then preach through the entirety of scripture, establishing a firm foundation and guiding the tribal people to understand that they’re sinners in need of a Savior and must rely on Jesus and not their own work to be part of God’s family. Once there are believers who are truly putting their faith in Jesus’ blood alone to save them, the missionaries strengthen the new disciples in their faith and encourage them in the hardships they will go through. In this process, the missionaries move out of the tribal location but continue to go back to the tribe to continue discipling and encouraging the church as they grow into maturity. Leaders develop within the church and are eventually nurtured into elders. Then the work of the missionary is complete. But it takes 12-18 years to get there. They must commit the church to the Lord and trust Him to continue the work He started there. Our missionaries will still go back to visit and encourage the tribal church, and so did Paul. But, at this point, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, considering their work “complete.”
The church at Antioch was the church that sent them out, their sending church, and now they return to gather the church together to report all that God had done through them. Imagine that gathering – the report that Paul and Barnabas were able to give of the ways God was opening a door of faith among the Gentiles. I’m sure the church in Antioch came away amazed and encouraged, uplifted by this God-glorifying report. This could happen for WCC as well, as you take time to hear from missionaries and how God is working through them and through this church to reach the nations.
As part of the church body at WCC, both you and the church’s missionaries are part of the same body working together to build and uplift the church. Not only are missionaries part of planting and building up a church where they have gone to serve, they’re also still part of building up their sending church. You are working in partnership with each of the church’s missionaries to grow your church to maturity in Christ. Are you acting as effective hands and feet? Or are you hanging limply alongside your mission partners, failing to play your vital role in supporting them practically, relationally, and through prayer?
Verse 28 says that Paul and Barnabas stayed a long time in Antioch with their sending church. Imagine that time. What do you think it was like to hear all the stories of Acts in person from the missionaries that experienced it? Did the church cherish every opportunity they had to hear more about God’s glory, His mighty acts, His faithful provision? Or do you think they stood at a distance and missed out as the missionaries left on another journey?
Our yearly Missions emphasis just concluded, but you can get more involved with Missions at any time. So make a point to connect with one of WCC’s Mission Partners that joined us in person this past Sunday. Or reach out to a missionary who wasn’t able to come to the Missions Celebration to hear more of their story and what God is doing. You can also sign-up for our mission partners’ email updates and take the time to get to know them and cheer them on as fellow workers in the Lord. And be sure to visit https://warsaw.cc/missions to find out more about our partners, Pit Crews, 3rd Thursday Missions Nights, and other ways you can become more involved with Missions. – Summer Zimmer
Passages referenced: Acts 1:8; 9:16; 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:16
The Book of Acts is rich with riveting accounts of how God began to fulfill the Great Commission through Jesus’ disciples. Before His ascension, Jesus commanded His followers to “be [his] witnesses, telling people about [him] everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NLT) Despite this directive, the young church of Jerusalem focused on its own flock. Very few ventured outside the city walls to share their newfound faith.
Our reading this week is a turning point in the story. Here the Gospel jumps from being shared primarily with the Jews in and around Jerusalem to become the Good News for the Gentiles (all other people groups) as well. Through this shift, God provided the way to take His Gospel to the ends of the earth.
After Stephen’s death, persecution scattered the believers of Jerusalem in every direction, some fleeing as far north as Antioch in Syria. Antioch was a thriving commercial center, attracting merchants and tradespeople from distant lands and diverse cultures. The Jewish believers interacted with shopkeepers and neighbors along the narrow, bustling streets. Believers shared their faith in Christ. Relationships grew. God touched peoples’ hearts, and many responded to the Gospel, Jew and Gentile alike. Soon, a thriving church community was born!
There is much to admire about this remarkable church. The Antioch church leadership team in Acts 13 is an inspiring example of inclusion and harmony, listing men of wide-ranging cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The church was bold and welcoming in its community by pioneering open outreach to the Gentiles. And it was compassionate and generous by sending relief to their sister church in Jerusalem. The people of the church were first called “Christians” there. Perhaps this nickname was a testament to their Christ-like character and love.
The church of Antioch is also a model of how the church is involved in sending out missionaries. The church leaders, led by the Holy Spirit, gathered together to fast and pray. Little is written about that meeting except that they prayed until they had an answer. The Holy Spirit clearly led the men to commission Saul (also known as Paul) and Barnabas for His “special work.” They prayed again, laying their hands on the two, dedicating the men to God. Then the church leaders sent them out on their first mission—to bring the light of God’s grace to a vast and spiritually dark world to the west.
In a time of intense growth, the church of Antioch chose to obey the Spirit and gave two of their best teachers to this venture. The implication in Acts 13:1-3 is that there was unity amongst the leaders about the goal and target of the mission. They were going to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and plant churches where God’s saving story had never been heard. And later in the book, when their challenging journey was complete, the Church of Antioch welcomed the missionaries home, listened to their report, and celebrated God’s work through them. Then Paul and Barnabas returned to their roles in the church body, leading, teaching, and discipling until God called them to their next outreach. These qualities are valuable to emulate in a mission-oriented church, even today.
If one considers his history, Paul was absolutely the least logical choice to lead this mission. He later referred to himself as“a prime example of [God’s] great patience with even the worst sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:16, NLT) This violent terrorizer of the early church became the caring planter of at least 14 vibrant churches. He did this knowing full well how he would suffer (see Acts 9:16). Be encouraged that God uses us, in spite of us, if we will submit to His direction. In the end, the work is unmistakably God’s and can only be credited to His glory.
The Book of Acts is a story of God using flawed but willing followers to advance His Kingdom. It is a story of faith, grit, and deep dependence on His Spirit. It is the story of the birth and beauty of the church. But it is more than a narrative. It is God’s Word, “useful to teach us what is true.” (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT) So, as we read, know that God is revealing these scenes to us, twenty centuries later, to help us continue His story. His Great Commission is not yet complete. We have our chapter to write, and the pen is in our hands. – Mike Boze
Passages referenced: Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 6:1-14; 7; 8:1-3, 26-40; 9; 10:23-48
The book of Acts has a lot of action and growth of the Church. This book shows what the First Church looked like - outside of an actual church building. And it follows the lives of several disciples as they preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers – an astonishing number of which became followers of Christ and were baptized with the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 6:4, we see the main focus of the disciples is to spend time in prayer and teach the Word of God. We see this lived out throughout the book of Acts. Not only do we see several examples of how disciples maintained this focus, but we also see examples of how we should live our lives. We see the importance of a focus of prayer, connection to God through the Holy Spirit, and sharing the hope of the Gospel within our daily lives, regardless of job, age, gender, socio-economic status, etc. We are all called to live this way (see Matthew 28:18-20). Stephen is a great first example of this. He was one of seven men chosen to oversee daily food distribution (see Acts 6:1-6). As he carried out the task he was given, he continually honored God and performed miracles before being arrested for false accusations (see Acts 6:7-14). Stephen used the opportunity before the high council to preach the Gospel as a way to defend himself before being stoned to death (see Acts 7:1-60).
Within this passage, we are introduced to Paul (see Acts 7:58), who wrote the majority of the New Testament letters. At the time, he was actively persecuting the Church at large (see Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2) before his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ (see Acts 9:3-18). Paul began preaching the Gospel immediately to all who would hear it (see Acts 9:19-31).
Tabitha made coats and clothes for the poor and widowed as a way to share the Gospel. Her story became even more impactful when she died and was raised to life again by Peter, which caused several more people to believe in Jesus Christ (see Acts 9:36-43).
Philip followed the guidance he received from the Holy Spirit and found himself in a position to preach the Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the book of Isaiah but didn’t understand the meaning of what he was reading. Philip explained the text and the Gospel to the eunuch and baptized him (see Acts 8:26-40).
Peter was called to do something unheard of at the time; he started socializing and eating with Gentiles, which was against Jewish law (see Acts 10:28). Not only did he associate with them, but he preached the Gospel message to them and then baptized them (see Acts 10:23-48).
All of these instances were disciples stepping out in faith to share the hope of the Gospel with others. They were able to create more disciple-making disciples connected to God through prayer and the Holy Spirit, following His promptings, and teaching the Word of God to others. – Abby Sroufe
- How are you inspired and challenged by the example set by these New Testament believers?
- How are you being a disciple today?
- How are you being a disciple-maker today?
Note: do you have questions about this week’s Bible reading? We’d love to help! Rather than relying on the first thing you find on the internet, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org We are more than happy to answer that nagging question you have, provide you with some clarity, or point you in the right direction for further study.
Passages referenced: Psalm 8:1,3; 139:7-10; 147:5; Isaiah 40:12-14; Romans 6:9, 8:37-39
In Psalm 8:1, David sings, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (ESV)
The dictionary says that majestic means to have or show impressive beauty or dignity. When I think of impressive beauty, I tend to think of nature. Last year my husband and I took a road trip down to the Great Smoky Mountains. One of my favorite spots was Abram Falls: a 4-mile hike to see a rushing waterfall in the forefront of brilliant fall-colored trees. It was breathtaking, even somewhat majestic, and one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
I think many of us have no issue appreciating the majestic nature of material things – exotic travels, successful relationships, attractive appearances, and more. Yet, we struggle to appreciate and understand the majestic nature of our God. So who exactly is our God, and why does He deserve the attribute of majestic?
Our God is the creator of the universe. Psalm 8:3 says, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” (ESV)
Our God is omnipotent – He can do anything (see Matthew 19:26),
Omniscient – He knows everything (see Psalm 147:5),
And omnipresent – He is everywhere (see Psalm 139:7-10)!
Our God unconditionally loves those He calls His children (see Romans 8:37-39).
Our God has dominion over everything, including death (see Romans 6:9).
Sometimes we hear these attributes of God repeatedly and forget just how impressive our God actually is. We even may tend to limit God, His character, and His capabilities. However, Isaiah 40:12-14 paints a perfect picture of our God’s limitless, majestic character:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the Lordor what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? (Isaiah 40:12-14, ESV)
Wow, what a contrast between what God can do and what we cannot do. Our God can do anything, and He does not need anyone’s counsel, understanding, or knowledge. In scripture, God is sometimes called Naddir Kavod (in Hebrew), meaning Majestic Glory. God is the most impressive beauty. We should be in constant awe over our God Himself and all that He can do. Not even Abram Falls can compare to the majestic glory of our God. So now I ask you, does God take your breath away? – Madison Murphy
- What are some things in your life that take your breath away? Is there something or someone that is taking precedence over your awe with God?
This week kicks off our reading of the book of Acts. This 28-chapter book was written by Luke, the same author of the Gospel of Luke. It is a continuation of his account of what Jesus did and taught, first in person (in Luke) and then through the Holy Spirit in the Early Church (Acts).
A great resource whenever starting to read and study a new book is The Bible Project – especially their overview videos. They are an excellent source for background information and context as they walk through the book’s sections and themes. And they can be really helpful for those who appreciate some visuals while learning. Here’s their video for Acts 1-12: https://youtu.be/CGbNw855ksw.
Weekly reading: John 17-21; Psalm 5-6
Passages referenced: John 16-20
“He is risen.” – All Christians everywhere
Easter is the defining celebration of our faith. This is the point where we most clearly focus on what makes us distinct—Christ’s crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. We thank God for the forgiveness we have in Christ through His death on the cross and the promise of life everlasting with Him thanks to His resurrection from the dead. Woven throughout the final chapter of John, we see this Easter story played out. God’s Word is a rich tapestry, and the main thread is His redemptive plan. Criss-crossing that pinnacle moment in the latter part of John is another important thread, God’s plan for followers of Christ. Let’s spend some time tracing several significant passages from John 16 to John 20 where we can begin to discern our role as followers of Jesus Christ, now that Easter has come. – Nate Metler
Invited In (John 16:28) – Jesus is very clear with the disciples that He will not be physically present with them much longer. In John 16:28, He sums things up, saying, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” Jesus is making it plain that the disciples need to be prepared to step into a larger role, with the help of the Holy Spirit, when He returns to His Father in heaven. This is the role we are invited into as well. (Fun fact: this verse can be seen as an outline for the entire Gospel of John: “came from the Father” 1:1-18, “entered the world” 1:19-12:50, “leaving the world” 13:1-19:42, and “going to the Father” 20:1-21:25.)
Knowing Him (John 17:3) – In John 17, Jesus begins a rich, lengthy prayer where He lifts to His Father what is on His heart as He prepares for the cross and returning to God in heaven. In verse 3, Jesus prays, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Here we are given a paradigm-shifting truth. Knowing God, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is where we can experience the reality of eternal life. Being a disciple is fundamentally this.
Increasing Joy (John 17:13) – A few verses later in the prayer, Jesus prays, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” Jesus’ heart for us is that we would experience His joy more completely as we go about our lives. One mark of a disciple is greater and greater joy in Christ.
In the World (John 17:15) – Jesus’ groundbreaking prayer continues, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” While we may wonder why we are here in this fallen world, Jesus is clear that there is a reason. Our purpose on Earth is fulfilled when we are in the midst of this world and trust Him to protect us.
Defined by Love (John 17:26) – Here in verse 26 and several other key passages, Jesus makes it clear that we are defined and known by God’s love and the love we have for each other. Jesus prays, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” This, again, is countercultural. You probably know some Christians that live this out well. They’re the ones that leave you with the impression that God’s love is more real than you ever imagined.
People of Truth (John 18:37) – Jesus has been arrested by John 18, and he is being questioned by the governor. Verse 37 picks up with Pilate saying, “‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’” Jesus defines the kingdom where His authority reigns as the kingdom of truth. To be disciples, we must be committed to seeking and listening to the truth (see also John 16:13).
Sent Out (John 20:21) – Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Maybe the lesser-known “Great Commission,” John’s Gospel includes the resurrected Jesus telling His disciples to go out in His name. One hallmark trait of a follower of Christ is a commitment to this commission. We are compelled to go out into the world in His name as ambassadors of the hope we have in Him.
Believing and Secure (John 20:31) – Toward the end of John, the purpose for the whole book is spelled out. John says, “But these are written that youmay believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John rounds out this picture of a disciple as one who believes and has security that their life is entirely caught up in Christ for all eternity.
Weekly reading: Mark 16; Luke 22-24; John 13; Psalm 3-4
I treated last week’s devotion as a bit of an intro to this year’s Bible Reading Plan and stressed the importance of getting a good study Bible. If you’ll humor me, I’d like to continue that introductory nature with this week’s devotional. This year we’ll be reading quite a few Psalms, and I want to make sure we have some good background info as we get started.
And just a note before we begin: starting next week, these devotionals will be actual devotionals. Ones that are connected to the weekly reading, that you hopefully find encouraging, challenging, and personal, and that are written by a variety of individuals: staff, elders, members of the congregation, men & women, young & old, etc.
Now, let’s get to know the book of Psalms. Here’s some general info to get us started:
Number of psalms:150
Definition of a psalm: a sacred song or poem used in worship
Especially: one of the biblical hymns collected in the Book of Psalms
David – 73 psalms
Asaph – 12 psalms
Sons of Korah – 11 psalms
Heman & Ethan – 2 psalms
Solomon & Moses – 3 psalms
Anonymous – 49 psalms
Organization of the collection:
Book 1 – Psalms 1-41
Book 2 – Psalms 42-72
Book 3 – Psalms 73-89
Book 4 – Psalms 90-106
Book 5 – Psalms 107-150
Main styles of psalms: lament & praise
Psalms of lament = prayers of pain, confusion, and anger
These psalms draw attention to what’s wrong in the world and ask God to do something about it. They show us that lament is an appropriate response to the evil and injustice we see in our world and that acknowledging our pain can be a healthy and healing experience.
They dominate Books 1-3.
Psalms of praise = prayers of joy & celebration
Since the Psalms are poems and songs, we shouldn’ approach them in the same way we do prose and the narratives and letters we find in other books of the Bible. When we read the Psalms, we should expect to find vivid imagery, lots of emotions, and figures of speech like similes and metaphors.
In The Case for the Psalms N.T. Wright says, “The Psalms are among the oldest poems in the world, and they still rank with any poetry in any culture, ancient or modern, from anywhere in the world. They are full of power and passion, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope. Anyone at all whose heart is open to new dimensions of human experience, anyone who loves good writing, anyone who wants a window into the bright lights and dark corners of the human soul—anyone open to the beautiful expression of a larger vision of reality should react to these poems like someone who hasn’t had a good meal for a week or two. It’s all here.”
Throughout the next year, we will typically read two psalms a week, and we will most likely get through around 100 psalms. That will carry us through Books 1-3 and into Book 4, as explained above. Which means we will see more psalms of lament rather than praise. But maybe that’s a good thing considering the last year we’ve experienced.
I am excited about this year’s Bible Reading Plan, especially that we’ll slowly be working our way through the Psalms. I’m looking forward to the ways I’ll be encouraged, comforted, and challenged by these poems of lament and praise. And I hope you are as well. – Sarah Neel
Sources: The Bible Project: Psalms https://bibleproject.com/learn/psalms/ & A Psalm for All Seasons: Studies in the Books of Psalms by Bob Deffinbaugh https://bible.org/series/psalm-all-seasons-studies-book-psalms
Weekly reading: Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-15; Psalm 1-2
Passages referenced: James 1:22
As I was doing this week’s reading, I was reminded of how helpful a good study Bible can be. They are a great tool that can enrich your reading of God’s Word. Sure, there are countless resources out there, especially on the internet. But it’s just so handy to have additional resources included right next to the text you’re reading. And that’s what you get with a study Bible.
My study Bible provides a timeline of the life of Christ, with a special section on His last week, within the Matthew chapters we’re reading. This is helpful because it takes events from all four gospels and puts together the whole picture of the week. Sometimes it can be tricky to remember where each event is found within the four accounts, so this is super helpful. Because it was useful for me, I thought I’d copy it here for you too:
THE LAST WEEK
The Triumphal Entry, JERUSALEM, Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19
Jesus curses the fig tree, Monday
Matthew 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-14
Jesus clears the temple, Monday
Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18
The authority of Jesus questioned, Tuesday
Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8
Jesus teaches in the temple, Tuesday
Matthew 21:28-23:39; Mark 12:1-44; Luke 20:9-21:4
Jesus anointed, BETHANY, Tuesday
Matthew 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; John 12:2-11
The plot against Jesus, Wednesday
Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6
The Last Supper, Thursday
Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20; John 13:1-38
Jesus comforts the disciples, Thursday
Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46
Jesus’ arrest and trial, Thursday night and Friday
Matthew 26:47-27:26; Mark 14:43-15:15; Luke 22:47-23:25; John 18:2-19:16
Jesus’ crucifixion and death, GOLGOTHA, Friday
Matthew 27:27-56; Mark 15:16-41; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:17-30
The burial of Jesus, JOSEPH’S TOMB, Friday
Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:31-42
And in my reading of our Mark chapters for the week, I found another interesting resource: a map of Bethany, the Mount of Olives, and Jerusalem with all the passion week events noted by location. Again, this type of resource adds another layer to our understanding of the narrative. Another great tool that you’ll find in every study Bible is a collection of notes below the text. They can be notes on translation, cultural context, or links to other verses. And some study Bibles even have devotional elements and reflection or discussion included.
So I guess this brings me to the point of all this: get a study Bible and use it. I love the Bible App just as much as the next person because it means I always have a Bible with me, and I can easily switch between translations. But when it comes to daily reading God’s Word and really digging it and studying it, a physical study Bible can’t be beaten. So I hope you’ll get one if you don’t have one yet. And then really use it – feel free to highlight, underline, jot down notes, and add a bunch of sticky tabs. And if you don’t have one yet and aren’t sure how to pick one out, I’d love to help. Shoot me an email (email@example.com), and we can figure out the right one for you.
And as you’re following along with the WCC Bible Reading Plan, be sure to use the Observation, Interpretation, Application guide on the handout. It’s a simple tool that helps you engage with the text and better understand what you’re reading. And be sure to read through the notes in your study Bible, talk through what you’re reading with others using this plan, and encourage your family and friends to join you if they haven’t yet.
I’d like to leave you with one last thing – a challenge I grew up hearing from my pastor that I think is a great reminder as we kick off another year of reading God’s Word together: as we get into God’s Word, may it get into us. May we not just be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word. (ref. James 1:22) – Sarah Neel