Your Plan for 2024

Commit to read the New Testament in 2024. Just one chapter every weekday, accompanied by a short devotional here.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

February 29 - James 3

Key Verse: James 3:2
Big Idea: Wisdom begins with our words.

Words are powerful things. We can build someone up or tear them down. We can strengthen a relationship or destroy one. Words are also uniquely easy to employ. We do not need anything special to speak, because our mouths are with us all the time. Various forms of technology give us the ability to speak easily and without immediate consequence, emboldening us even more. In modern society, our marriages, our child rearing, our friendships and our politics are all in chaos, largely because of untamed tongues. That tongue, James says, is a fire. Fire has three characteristics I think are relevant here: it only needs a little bit to start, once is starts spreading is is very difficult to stop and it leaves destruction behind it. Our words are the same way, and a life of wisdom must weigh each one carefully.

Younger kids: What is something you say when you are upset that you might not mean? How can this cause problems?

But James also explains that a tongue is like a horse's bridle or a ship's rudder; although it is small, it sets the course for everything else. Our words can set a course for our actions, where we set off a chain reaction with an ill advised remark that takes us farther than we want to go. Even in our own emotions, choosing to complain can set us deeper into a feeling of irritation and discontent. If your words are the rudder of your life, are they pointing you in the direction you really want to go?

God made the world with His words, spoke His Word to us and called Himself the Word when He became a human being. Speech is no casual thing, but a central part of what it means to be an image bearer of God, a special gift of humanity. Then how blasphemous is it for us to take that gift and use it to speak against people who are also made in the image of God? No one would burn a picture of someone they loved, yet people claim to love God while slandering the people made after His likeness. James tells us that this is as insane as one plant bearing two kinds of fruit. Our words reveal our hearts, and when we control our language with love, the whole body will follow in wisdom.

Discussion idea: When someone says 'I just speak my mind,' what are they really saying? Should we be concerned when a date, a politician, a friend or a church leader cannot control their words? What does that say about their wisdom and the state of their hearts? Read Proverbs 18:6-7 and compare it to what James is saying here.

Prayer focus: No one can totally tame the tongue except the One who made it. Pray for God's help to think of Him before you speak and to only say the words which glorify Him.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

February 28 - James 2

Key Verse: James 2:11
Big Idea: A life of wisdom cannot be taken in bits and pieces.

Imagine a long, strong iron chain. It can lift tremendous weights and remain as strong as it has always been. Imagine now that someone has come with a file and weakened the chain. How many links must be broken until the chain is broken? Obviously just one. James teaches us that God's Law is the same way. We can rightly say that murder is worse than lying and that in the chain of a moral life, murder is a larger, heavier link. But when either is broken, the whole Law is broken. Disobedience in one area of life is not an isolated problem, but one aspect of the basic sin of rebellion. The same God gave every command, and to disobey one is less about disobeying the command than it is about disobeying God.  God is not a respecter of persons: one person who rebels in something scandalous and dramatic is not any less redeemable by  God than the one who sinned by gossip and envy. Indeed, even the one who shows favoritism to the rich, the powerful or the socially acceptable sinners has by their partiality shattered the whole law. We cannot follow God in one area of life when we are willfully disobedient in another.

If all sin is an expression of disobedience, then all righteousness can also be understood as diverse aspects of one thing: love (Galatians 5:14). Love is the distinguishing mark of a person who has been truly saved. Even the demons recognize God mentally, but to recognize Him in our hearts is to be changed. The kind of faith that led Abraham to offer up Isaac, trusting that God would provide Himself a lamb was the same kind of faith that led Rahab to show hospitality to the spies, and trust that God would use His people to show hospitality to her. The kind of faith that is alive shows itself in loving kindness and love cannot be fragmented. To live a real life of wisdom, we must let love for God and our neighbor shine through in every area of life.

Discussion idea: Where are you tempted to show favoritism instead of godly love? How can you love someone that might seem unlovable in the next week?
Prayer focus: Pray for the single-mindedness to love God with your whole heart.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

February 27 - James 1

Key VerseJames 1:5
Big Idea: Wisdom comes from God.

James is a short letter, written by the half-brother of Jesus (the son of Mary and presumably Joseph, rather than Mary and God), but is extremely rich. In many ways, it is a kind of loose commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, taking and applying many of the things that Jesus taught during His earthly ministry. Going back much further, it reflects some of the content of Proverbs in the Old Testament, and could be described as where the rubber meets the road in the Christian life. Living for Jesus is not just a matter of theological learning, but of wisdom - the skill of living well.

It is easy to live well when things are going smoothly, but life is full of bumps that threaten to throw us off course. James 1 warns us that when these trials come, we have to patiently endure, and let the challenges of life mature and grow us. The only what that this can happen is to have the wisdom to know how we ought to respond to difficult situations. But where do we get that wisdom? Do we need to go to a special school? Does it require a certain amount of failure in life to learn the lessons to succeed? The answer that James gives is surprising in its simplicity: just ask. Ask, and like when Solomon asked, God will give generously without finding fault (1 Kings 3:1-14). We must not ask in a double-minded way, where we look for God's guidance, but still intend to keep our own counsel. Instead, we must ask with the kind of humility that shows that rich and poor, young and old and everything in between are all just as fragile before God.

Older kids: At a certain age, most people enter a "know it all" phase. Some people are blessed enough to leave it! Why do you think that when we gain a little bit of confidence, we go too far and assume we do not need anyone else's advice? Why is it so tempting to get set in our ways?

In our own hearts, we find only the soil that is fertile for the growth of our darkest temptations. But every good gift, including the wisdom to use those gifts well, comes from God and God alone. The secret to living life well is to simply ask God, in faith, to show us what to do, and then humbly do it. If we trust and obey, we can live the life God intends for us.

Discussion idea: Why might we be reluctant to ask God for the wisdom to deal with a situation? How might our own desires keep us from asking in faith?

Prayer focus: What is the most challenging decision facing you right now? Pray for God to give you the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

Monday, February 26, 2024

February 26 - Hebrews 13

Key VerseHebrews 13:13
Big Idea: Following the Son of God is to be at home with God and exiled from the world.

In the final chapter of the book of Hebrews, the supremacy of Jesus is applied to real life. If we have  a better word from God, better promises and a better priest, we ought to live in a better way. Some of the ways this works out are mundane: show hospitality to foreigners or follow the pastors of your church. Others are extreme, describing how we should grieve with fellow Christians in prison unjustly.  But they all point out that as Christians, we live in this world but are not of this world. We are pilgrims, only living here for a little while, but our true citizenship is not of Texas, the United States or even the Earth. The cities of this world are passing away, but our eyes must be fixed on the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven, where our citizenship lies.

Older kids: Hebrews 13:4 talks about the marriage bed being undefiled. Why do you think that sexual morality is included in a chapter like this, in between being arrested for your faith and greed? Does adhering to a biblical morality in this area cause people to be outcasts?

Younger kids: Hebrews 13:16 says that when we do good and share (the King James Version says "communicate"), that is a sacrifice God is pleased with. Why is sharing hard? How is sharing with someone else a sacrifice that pleases God?

Jesus was crucified just outside the gates of Jerusalem, like the sacrifices of old were taken outside of the camp. They were removed from the community because they were defiled by the sins of the people and Jesus, in the same way, was rejected by the people before He carried away their guilt. As Christians, we must be ready to follow Him there. We must go where the Son of God is, even if it is a place of stigma and shame. We must go where the Son of God is, even if following Him means that we stand out from the crowd. We must go where the Son of God is, because He gives us a real home, that we can never lose. The God of peace will give us peace, even when we are being rejected.

Discussion idea: Why is the idea of being rejected so painful for us? When does following Jesus make us lower in the eyes of other people?
Prayer focus: Think of an area in your life where you are tempted to worry about what people think instead of what God thinks. Pray for the wisdom to follow Jesus, wherever He leads.

Friday, February 23, 2024

February 23 - Hebrews 12

Key Verse: Hebrews 12:2
Big Idea: Our faith’s trailblazer and completer is the Son of God.

Many advances are started by one person and finished by another. Much of what we know about planetary motion was discovered by Johannes Kepler, but he built on years of observations by his mentor Tycho Brahe. Edward Jenner invented vaccines when he discovered that infecting someone with cowpox would keep them from getting smallpox, but Jonas Salk changed the world by applying the principles to polio. Even in our families, we often see things unfulfilled and picked up by others. We might read the Hall of Faith in the last chapter and think that Christianity is like that: Moses had some, David added a little more, the prophets added to that and Jesus finished it off. But today’s verse reminds us that this is not the case: Jesus is the author and the finisher of faith - the beginning and the end.

Younger kids: Do you have an easier time learning to do something if someone shows you or tells you? Why do you think that is?

This is what gives chapter 12’s call to endurance its bite. We have been given the perfect example of where to go and how to get there, because Jesus came to the beginning of the path when He was born in Bethlehem and followed it all the way through the cross to return to Heaven again. The example of Jesus is not a rosy picture. It involves pain, rejection and separation from the temptations for the world. If we stray from that path, God disciplines us to bring us right to the path.

Older kids: How do you react to different kinds of discipline? Why does one person respond to correction by improving, while another gets harder hearted?

But we do not do it because it is easy. We should hold fast to our faith, no matter the cost, for at least two reasons. First, the trail has already been blazed by the Son of God. Second, the path leads straight into the presence of our Heavenly Father. Jesus has showed us the path, and His presence empowers us to take it.

Discussion idea: If Jesus were just a perfect human, we could admire the life He lived. How does the fact that He was also God allow us to follow His footsteps?
Prayer focus: Is there some area in your life that you have given up and decided that some sin or act of obedience is unattainable? Pray for forgiveness and confidence that Jesus had taken the path before us.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

February 22 - Hebrews 11


Key Verse: Hebrews 11:26
Big Idea: The Son of God lets us see the unseen.

Hebrews 11 is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, often called something like the "Hall of Faith." It begins with the definition of faith - the substance of what we hope for and the assurance or conviction of what is still unseen. Faith lets us hold onto what God has promised, but that has not yet occurred. The chapter then proceeds to give the stories of major exemplars of faith throughout the ages, from Abel down through the ages. While some of these are quite short, the description of Moses is lengthy, beginning with the faith of his parents, and moving through the Exodus.

This mini-biography of Moses is the story of how Moses, who was raised as a prince of Egypt, turned his back on the pleasures that he saw in the moment to throw in his lot with the Israelites instead, confident that they would go to the land God had promised. He saw that his unseen reward was greater than the visible things that he gave up. Moses traded the treasures of Egypt for what ended up being 40 years wandering in the desert and never lived to enter the Promised Land. Still, he trusted that it was better to suffer with Jesus than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of this world and he trusted that even death itself could not keep God from fulfilling His promises. Moses knew that one day, Jesus would come again and raise him from the dead to dwell in the land with Him.

Throughout the letter, Hebrews has been explaining to us that Jesus is better. He is better than the Law, better than sacrifices, better than the priesthood and better than the Temple. But Moses' example shows us that even the pain of the Christian life is better than the pleasure of the world. Faith is our confidence that God's Word is worth more than we can see. When we walk by faith, we realize that we may face suffering and heartache in this life, but trust that when we cannot see what God is doing, we can still trust who He is. In Jesus, we see the unseen.

Discussion idea: When have you ever traded short term pleasure for the longer term?
Prayer focus: Pray for the ability to see and trust God with the bigger picture.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

March 21 - Luke 12

Key Verse: Luke 12:37
Big Idea: We ought to live with priorities that reflect the Son of Man is coming.

Luke 12, like Luke 11, is a chapter rich in warnings against anxiety. The birds are fed by their Maker, but He is your Father; don't you realize He will care for you? But the sharpest warnings against worry in this chapter seem to be rooted in the fact that the most important things are the ones we could not stockpile anyway. How many smiles can you deposit in the bank? How many hugs from someone you love can you put off today so you can have them tomorrow instead? The things that we can pile up are the very things that we cannot keep anyway. Either they will rot, moths will eat them, or we will die. All the things we can worry about, we are going to lose.

Younger Kids: 
When you are playing hide and seek, how high do you normally count? How would you play differently if you did not know how high the person was counting? Would you get ready right away, or take your time looking for the best spot? If we do not know when Jesus will come again, how should we act today?

Older Kids:  When your parents leave you at home with chores to do and say they will be back at a certain time, when do you start working? What do you do with the rest of the time? What would you do if you did not know when they would be back? How do you think God will respond if He has told us He is coming and we waste the time He has given us?

If we realize that Jesus is coming again to set up His Kingdom, we will live with a sense of urgency and purpose. If He finds we have been serving faithfully, then He will come to serve us, giving us rewards which we could never dream of. But if when He returns, we have wasted our time on games, we will lose everything we thought we had. Jesus left us when He died on the cross and took the punishment for our sins, then He rose again on the third day and ascended up to Heaven. He has told us He will return, although we don't know when, and told us to be about the business of making disciples in the meantime. If we are fishers of men, then we will have nothing to worry about, because the things we love will be the things we can never lose.

Discussion idea: Why do you think that people who believe in God are still tempted to live for the physical stuff of this world like money, prestige and power?
Prayer focus: Pray that Jesus would let us live with the joy of security in Him and the passion of expecting Him to return at any moment.

February 21 - Hebrews 10

Key Verse: Hebrews 10:26
Big Idea: If we reject the Son of God, there is no plan B.

The story is told about a man who got some terrible news from a doctor. He was certain to die unless he had a medication which would cost more than a million dollars, which he did not have and could not hope to get. A single vial was all he needed, but it was so far out of reach. He fell to his knees and sobbed, begging the doctor for mercy, begging the doctor to find some way to get him the medicine. When he left, the doctor sought out to do just that:cashing out retirement, working extra hours and more. For the patient, it was unattainable, for the doctor, possible, but painful. A few weeks later, the doctor called the patient to meet him at the office at a certain time. The patient arrived shortly before the doctor did, but when he did come through the door, his hair was disheveled, his white shirt was splattered with fresh blood and a single red vial was in his hand.

“I have it. I raised the money, and found out there was only one vial left in the trial. I knew that you would not make it to the next round, so I drove too fast across town and my car was hit. My son died in the accident, but I told the police that I had to get back here, or someone else would die too.’ Exhausted, he handed the vial to the patient and collapsed in the chair.

The patient took the vial, looked at it and poured it on the carpet, where it soaked into the fibers, lost forever. “I don’t want this one. Isn’t there something else you can do for me? Doctor, I don’t want to die. You have to help me.”

If there were another way, would the doctor have given up everything, including his own son? Of course not. And with this sacrifice rejected, there is no other sacrifice to give. The parallel is clear, with the death of Jesus God purchased our deliverance. If we reject that gift we condemn ourselves and mock the price paid so we could receive it. If we reject Jesus there is no plan B, no hope, only “the fearful expectation of judgement.” We must recognize we are sinners and come to the Son of God for forgiveness. There is no plan B.

Discussion Idea: What is the gift you have given someone that you are most proud of? What did it cost you? How would you feel if it was rejected?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to help us realize that goodness, religious rituals, and everything else we can do are no substitute for being born again.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

February 20 - Hebrews 9


Key VerseHebrews 9:26
Big Idea: The Son of God saves us once and for all.

Did you make your bed this morning? How about brush your teeth? Do you ever notice how dishes seem to keep piling up? The truth is that many of the tasks of our daily lives are never done and never can be done. You may think all of the laundry is done, but you are already wearing the next set of dirty clothes. Housework is never finished. There is never any rest. Is our relationship with God an eternal treadmill like that, where we can stay on if we continue to put in the effort, but will fall off the back the moment we let up?

A lot of people think so. They assume that pir relationship with God is about continually proving ourselves to Him and eventually doing more good things than bad. But this is not the picture the Bible describes. The Bible says that we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). That confidence is not possible if it depends on our efforts tomorrow or the next day. It is only possible because the Son of God ascended to Heaven with the perfect sacrifice - Himself - and purged our sins once and for all. He does not need to be sacrificed over and over again, because there are always more sins.

If we try and get to God by our own goodness, we will never have any rest or any success, because the treatment will never be able to get past the surface to where the real problem lies. In fact, by adding in self-righteousness, all of our good works give us more that needs to be cleansed, rather than less (Hebrews 9:14). Only one thing will do the job: the blood of Jesus received in faith. He died once and for all, so that when we die, we can live with Him.

Discussion idea: How would your life be different if every day's sins required more sacrifice? What confidence can we have in knowing that Jesus had made a way for all of our sins to be covered before we were even born?
Prayer focus: Pray for forgiveness for our own self-righteousness and ask Jesus to help hs to trust that His work is good enough for all time.

Monday, February 19, 2024

February 19 - Hebrews 8


Key Verse: Hebrews 8:1-2
Big Idea: In the Son of God, we find the bridge between Heaven and Earth.

One of the most frustrating experiences which I have driving in cities is the ability to see where I want to be, without an easy way of getting there. With most of the highways in Houston under perpetual construction, sometimes it seems like it is just impossible to get from point A to point B. It is there, tantalizing but untouchable. In a sense, worshiping God ought to be like that. We can look at the heavens, the mountains or the oceans and see God's power. God's skill and wisdom are displayed in the delicate balance of the laws of physics, the patter of a hummingbird's wings or the complexity of the trillions of cells that make up our bodies. On our own, we could see that there was someone to worship, but could never actually get there.

We know who God is, not because of the might of our brains, but because He has come down and revealed Himself to us. He gave us the Law and the Prophets to tell us about who He was, what His expectations were and what He does. To begin to bridge the gap, He gave Moses plans for the tabernacle, where each element served as a shallow shadow of the spiritual realities.

Younger kids: When playing pretend, what could you use to remind you or a horse? What about a castle? God used the symbols like the temple and tabernacle to tell His people about what Heaven was like, although they could not see it directly.

Jesus goes beyond the pictures of the Old Testament and, as the God-Man who came down to earth, staggers both Earth and Heaven. He serves as the bridge that gives humanity access to God, as the place where Heaven and Earth collide. In the Temple’s Holy of Holies, Jews believed that Heaven came down and touched the Earth. But Jesus claimed that these were all shadows of the true place God would come to dwell: Him. He, as our great High Priest, gives us access to the real Heaven. We can really know and worship that God that otherwise we could never touch. In Jesus, God reaches down to us and in Jesus, we are given the pathway to God.

Discussion idea: Why did we need a bridge to connect us to God? What are some of the things that keep us from accessing Him directly?  
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help us to see the permanent, spiritual reality that He gives us access to, and to realize that those unseen things are eternal, while the visible and material things are temporary. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

February 16 - Hebrews 7

 Key VerseHebrews 7:26

Big Idea: The Son of God is our perfect priest.

Hebrews 7 involves a complex argument. In the Old Testament (Genesis 14:17-20), after rescuing his nephew Lot in a battle, Abraham gave a tithe (the first ten percent) of the spoils to the Gentile king of a city called Salem, which would later be known as Jerusalem. That king, Melchizedek (mel-KIZ-uh-dek), was only mentioned in one other Old Testament text (Psalm 110:4) that predicted God would raise up another priest after the order of Melchizedek. The anonymous author of Hebrews explains that Melchizedek serves as a portrait of Jesus: with no genealogy listed, no birth and no death, he points to the King and Priest who would be born of a virgin, and live forever. In fact, Abraham paying a tithe to a priest showed that his grandson Levi would not be the father of the only legitimate priesthood. When the Son of God became the eternal high priest, He would not be reversing what had come before, but going back to fulfill the original model.

In the Old Testament, priests would make sacrifices for their own sins, and once purified kill animals for the sins of the people. There was no forgiveness by ancestry, citizenship or future good works, only by a conscious decision to come and ask the priest to intercede on their behalf. Jesus, the ultimate high priest, did not need to make any sacrifice for Himself - he is eternally sinless. He did not offer animals as the bloody reminder that sin deserved death, but offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice.

This is the kind of high priest who we need. Not someone weak, who might fall into sin and need another priest to intercede for them. Not someone mortal, who might through illness or death be unable to help, even if willing. Not someone who sits like the angels, untouched by our suffering. Not someone indistinguishable from us, who might offer comfort but no help. No, we needed a high priest who was fully human and fully divine, holy and blameless, exalted above the heavens.

It is not enough to believe in God intellectually. It is not enough to be "good," because all of us have sinned. We must go to this High Priest, confess our sin, and let His sacrifice make us clean. He is willing and able to bring us peace with God, if we will ask Him. All we have to do is admit that we are sinners, deserving God's judgment, believe that Jesus died on our behalf and rose again and call on Him to save us. Why not now?

Discussion idea: When was a time that someone made peace between you and someone else? What did they need to do that? How is Jesus the supreme example of that?

Prayer focus: Pray to God, thanking Him for the opportunity to pray to Him because Jesus has made peace.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

February 15 - Hebrews 6

Key VerseHebrews 6:19
Big Idea: The Son of God is our anchor.

When people say things, sometimes they follow through, and sometimes they do not. When they don't, sometimes it is their fault, and sometimes it it beyond their control. Because of this uncertainty, when someone wants to assure you that they are going to make a particular effort, they say things like "I promise." Jesus taught that Christians should not need these kinds of oaths, because we should be people of such integrity that when we say "yes," people know we mean "yes," and when we say "no," people know we mean "no." But with God, the situation is even more dramatic. He never lies, and can always accomplish what He says: His word needs no special assurances, because He is faithful and true to everything He says. Yet, when He made His promise to Abraham, He did swear. He went beyond what He really needed to do to reassure us that our hope was secure. 

When we face difficulties in this life, we can know that God's promise to make us His own is sealed with an oath, and testified by the death of His Son. We can hold tight to the refuge we have found, because it will never move. The author of Hebrews uses a powerful image: our hope is an anchor for our souls. For a boat, an anchor means that you are secure no matter what happens on the surface, and our hope in God is the same way. Jesus has promised that all of us who put our faith in Him are secure, and no tossing and turning of life can shake that anchor. 

The anchor of our hope is not in an abstract idea or theological construct. The anchor of our hope is Jesus Himself, who entered into the throne of Heaven, giving us a link to the very heart of God, and who has promised to come again and receive us to Himself. We have an anchor because we know that the greatest struggles of this life were already beaten by Jesus. We have an anchor because we know that whatever struggles we face, we have a perfect advocate in Heaven. We have an anchor because we know that the same Jesus who is enthroned in Heaven is coming again to end death and pain once and for all. While the waves of this life may toss us side to side, we know that beneath the surface, God's plan is secure. The Son of God is our anchor!

Discussion idea: When was a time that you felt unstable and insecure? How did someone help you to feel better? How does Jesus' role as our anchor help us to handle the storms of life?

Prayer focus: Identify some turbulence in your life, and specifically pray for God to be your anchor in those areas.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

February 14 - Hebrews 5

 Key Verse: Hebrews 5:12

Big Idea: The Son of God teaches the sons and daughters of God how to grow up.

Growing up is a gradual process. We trade being carried for crawling, crawling for walking, and walking for running. Strollers give way to tricycles, tricycles give way to bicycles with training wheels, the training wheels fall away and eventually, all of them are left in the rearview mirror when a teenager gets a vehicle with a rearview mirror. Each of these is appropriate at one phase, but like a baby driving a car or a 30-year-old being swaddled and carried, when someone's behavior does not match their phase, something is wrong.

The author of Hebrews reprimanded the Hebrew Christians for their hard hearts. They had been believers for a long time, yet had never fully grasped the most basic principles of the faith. Instead of growing up, they happily stayed on their tricycles, covering the same ground over and over again. Yet, their older sibling, the Son of God, showed the example of growing up by obedience. Jesus, our High Priest, lived a life of prayer and obedience to become the perfect (or complete) mediator and set the example for us of how we too can be complete. Do we know how to read God's Word and live by it? Then we are mature. If not, we are babies.

This is, like growing up physically, a process. Every time we study God's Word, we are faced with the choice of obedience or disobedience. If we choose obedience, then our spiritual muscles grow stronger, and we will be better equipped to face the next test. If we choose disobedience, our spiritual muscles will atrophy, and we will slide further away from God. The more we exercise obedience, the stronger we will be to differentiate and choose between good and evil. That is what it means to grow up.

Discussion idea: What part of growing up has been the hardest for you physically? Why? Spiritually? Why?

Prayer focus: Think about a specific area of weakness in your life. Pray for the wisdom to know the right thing to do, and the strength and courage to do it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

February 13 - Hebrews 4

 Key Verse: Hebrews 4:14

Big Idea: We can rest in the perfect work of the Son of God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days. On the seventh day, He rested on His throne: His work completed. Millenia later, He called out His people Israel from slavery in Egypt and gave them 10 commandments, one of which was to rest on the seventh day. When they finally entered the Promised Land, Joshua extended the hope of rest. Yet, in David’s day, the promise of rest was still offered for those who would not harden their hearts. Rest was something more than not working one day a week (as if God had been tired after creating the world) or of having an end of war. The rest that God really offers was something deeper, rooted in a more profound peace.

Younger kids: When were you the most tired you have ever been? What did resting to you mean then? Can you really rest when you are afraid?

When God rested at the end of the creation week, it was because His work was all accomplished. He ceased from His labor and sat on His throne because He had completed what needed to be done. When the Israelites rested on the Sabbath day, they were not copying God, but trusting Him. If the maker of Heaven and Earth still sits on the throne, then I can go to sleep at night or take a day off from my labor, because He still reigns. When Joshua offered rest to the Israelites, or when David warned them about hardening their hearts, it was not a promise of ending all fighting, but an offer to recognize that God would fight their battles - if they would let Him.

Today, we have a supernatural rest. Our enemies (sin and death) have been defeated, and the work is already done. There is no need for us to scurry around, trying to earn God’s favor. Instead, we have the incredible rest of knowing that the Son of God meant it when He said “It is finished!” One day, when Jesus returns, we will have the full rest of having sin, pain and death vanquished once and for all, but even now, we experience it spiritually. If we accept it in faith, today there is a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

Older kids: Have you ever tried really hard to earn someone’s approval? What is the difference in the “rest” that comes from knowing someone loves you unconditionally versus the insecurity and fear of constantly trying to measure up. 

Discussion idea: What are some ways we try to earn God’s favor? Why do we try to do that? Do you see that in any other area of your life?
Prayer focus: Pray that God will give us the faith to rest in the work Jesus finished when He died for us and rose again.

Monday, February 12, 2024

February 12- Hebrews 3

Key Verse: Hebrews 3:13

Big Idea: The Son of God gives us the other sons and daughters of God to encourage us.

It is easy for our hearts to get hardened. Things do not go the way that we think they should, people let us down or we try and justify our own failings. But no matter the explanation, the result is the same. We get more vulnerable to sin, less dedicated to prayer and further from God's will in our lives. Worse still, hardness leads to hardness. Like a callous that continues to get thicker because irritating it no longer hurts, the harder our hearts get, the easier it is for us to wander down heart hardening paths. This is not a new problem; in Moses' day, it kept the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. They did not trust God when He spoke, and so they hardened their hearts against Him and lost the opportunity to experience His rest.

Is there a solution? Does God give us any tools to avoid such a dangerous path? He does, but it might seem too simple for some of us to embrace. The vaccine against a hard heart is our local church. Not just Sunday services (although those are important, as we will see later in Hebrews), but being challenged and encouraged by our brothers and sisters daily. When I am weak, someone else in my church is strong and can help sustain me. When I am strong, someone else in my church is weak and needs me. We have to exhort each other today before the deceitfulness of sin can take root in our hearts. The Christian life is too hard to live alone, so the Son of God gave us brothers and sisters.

Discussion idea: Who is someone in your life than can encourage you or correct you when you get out of step with God?
Prayer focus: It is easy for us to get defensive when confronted, instead of grateful. Pray that we will have humble hearts which will appreciate the loving

Friday, February 9, 2024

February 11 - Hebrews 2


Key VerseHebrews 2:14
Big Idea: The Son of God became the Son of Man so the sons of men could become sons of God.

We know by faith that God has promised us a role as joint-heirs of Jesus, but we do not see that revealed in our world yet. Instead, we see Jesus and what He did: humbled Himself to become a Man so that He could taste death for every human being who would ever live. Because He has paid the price and laid the path for us to be His brothers and sisters, we know that He will finish what He started.

Younger kids: What are some things that brothers and sisters have in common? If we are Jesus' brothers and sisters when we get saved, what are some things we should have in common with Him?

But when Jesus takes us into a new family, He is also distancing us from an old one. We leave the house of slavery to join the house of the Son of God, breaking the Devil's bonds of sin that lead to death and replacing them with the bonds of love. Jesus became like us and lived a perfect life, so that He could be a merciful High Priest. He has been tempted like we are, so He knows the struggle of temptation, but He never gave in, so He is able to approach the Father on our behalf and bring us forgiveness.

Older kids: Have you ever gone through something that you felt like most people did not understand? What difference does it make to know that someone knows what you are going through?
Jesus left the splendors of Heaven to come to the sin-wrecked Earth. He died for the sins of all mankind, taking the punishment that we all deserved. He returned to Heaven, but not to live there alone, but to let all of the people who trust in Him to join Him in glory and worship forever together. What a High Priest! What a Savior!

Discussion idea: Jesus humbled Himself by becoming like us, so that we could become like Him. What are some lesser ways that we can come to people on their level, to show them God's love through us?
Prayer focus: Pray for opportunities to follow Jesus' example of humility and compassion, whether sharing the gospel, meeting a physical need or just being there for someone.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

February 10 - Hebrews 1

Key verseHebrews 1:2

Big Idea: The Son of God is the ultimate revelation of God.

Our study through the New Testament in a year moves from Matthew, the gospel of fulfillment, to Hebrews, the letter of the supremacy of Jesus. I have put these together because they are both rich in Old Testament allusions, and help us to see how God's plan is the same from beginning to end. Everything in Israel's religion and history pointed forward to Jesus, and He supersedes and fulfills everything which went before. Hebrews is the book about moving beyond symbols and pictures into the heavenly reality ushered in by Jesus Christ. The Supremacy of the Son of God is in many ways the theme of this powerful book.

In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself in many ways. He spoke through prophetic utterances, through visions and dreams. Even the laws and historical records of the Old Testament taught the people about who God is, by revealing what He values and what He resists. These all truly revealed God's identity, but incompletely. But now, God has shown us who He is by sending His Son into the world. While the previous revelations were partial, this one is total, to such an extent that if we reject Jesus, we have rejected God (1 John 2:23). Jesus is God's face pressed into our world, and it is only through Jesus that we can know God personally.

Hebrews 1 reveals several ways that Jesus reveals to us who God is. First, He is the one who made and sustains the entire cosmos (Hebrews 1:2-3). Second, He has purged our sins by His blood, when He died on the cross as the innocent sacrifice for our sins and offered Himself up as our great high priest (Hebrews 1:3). Third, He lived a sinless life, choosing good and rejecting evil (Hebrews 1:9). Finally, He sits enthroned as the eternal king (Hebrews 1:10). When we see the Lamb that was slain, giving us life from an eternal throne, we truly know who God is.

Younger kids: Draw a picture that represents someone you love. What would you put around them or in their hands so someone looking at the picture would understand who they are?

Older kids: How do some stories you know from the Old Testament partially teach these same things that are revealed finally in Jesus?

Discussion idea: What are some false ideas people have about God which would be corrected by a better study of Jesus?
Prayer focus: Praise God for His humility in revealing Himself to us, and pray for the desire to know Him better.