September 20 | Bible in a Year: Ecclesiastes 4–6; 2 Corinthians 12
[Jesus said], “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
READ Luke 19:1–10
LISTEN ONLINEZach was a lonely guy. When he walked down the city streets, he could feel the hostile glares. But then his life took a turn. Clement of Alexandria, one of the church fathers, says that Zach became a very prominent Christian leader and a pastor of the church in Caesarea. Yes, we’re talking about Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1–10).
What prompted him to climb the tree? Tax collectors were perceived as traitors because they heavily taxed their own people to serve the Roman Empire. Yet Jesus had a reputation for accepting them. Zacchaeus might have wondered if Jesus would accept him too. Being short in stature, however, he couldn’t see over the crowd (v. 3). Perhaps he climbed a tree to seek Him out.
And Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus too. When Christ reached the tree where he was perched, He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (v. 5). Jesus considered it absolutely necessary that He be a guest in this outcast’s home. Imagine that! The Savior of the world wanting to spend time with a social reject.
Whether it’s our hearts, relationships, or lives that need mending, like Zacchaeus we can have hope. Jesus will never reject us when we turn to Him. He can restore what’s been lost and broken and give our lives new meaning and purpose.
By Poh Fang Chia
REFLECT & PRAY
What relationships in your life can Jesus help restore? What will it mean for you to be restored by Him?
Jesus, thank You for seeking me when I was lost in sin and for redeeming my messed-up life.
Tax collectors had a reputation for extorting money from others. Their position would make it easy for them to imprison others with false accusations, so people had no choice but to cooperate. Some would even initiate bribes with tax collectors in hopes of preventing higher fees.
It’s likely that the wealthy Zacchaeus was guilty of such behavior, something he seems to tacitly acknowledge in Luke 19:8 (“if I have cheated anybody”). But Jesus’ willingness to be Zacchaeus’ guest prompted a response of repentance in Zacchaeus, who promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and make four-fold restitution for anyone defrauded by him. Paying “four times the amount” (v. 8) is likely an allusion to Old Testament law regarding retribution (see Exodus 22). Zacchaeus’ words show he recognizes his behavior as theft requiring additional compensation.
Monica La Rose
September 15 | Bible in a Year: Proverbs 22–24; 2 Corinthians 8
We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
READ Isaiah 64:5–9
Considered one of the greatest video games ever made, Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has sold more than seven million copies worldwide. It’s also popularized the ocarina, a tiny, ancient, potato-shaped musical instrument made of clay.
The ocarina doesn’t look like much of a musical instrument. However, when it’s played—by blowing into its mouthpiece and covering various holes around its misshapen body—it produces a strikingly serene and hauntingly hopeful sound.
The ocarina’s maker took a lump of clay, applied pressure and heat to it, and transformed it into an amazing musical instrument. I see a picture of God and us here. Isaiah 64:6, 8–9 tells us: “All of us have become like one who is unclean. . . . Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter. . . . Do not be angry beyond measure.” The prophet was saying: God, You’re in charge. We’re all sinful. Shape us into beautiful instruments for You.
That’s exactly what God does! In His mercy, He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sin, and now He’s shaping and transforming us as we walk in step with His Spirit every day. Just as the ocarina maker’s breath flows through the instrument to produce beautiful music, God works through us—His molded instruments—to accomplish His beautiful will: to be more and more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).
By Ruth Wan
REFLECT & PRAY
How can knowing that you’re a recipient of God’s mercy affect what you think, say, and do today? How can you submit yourself to His transformation?
Father, thank You for saving me and transforming me so that I’ll become more like Your Son, Jesus. Teach me to submit to Your Spirit’s work of transforming me.
The potter-clay motif is an image used by the prophet Isaiah to depict the strained relationship God had with His people. This metaphor points to a sovereign Creator and submissive creature relationship. As clay, we’re the intricate work of the Father’s hand (Isaiah 64:8). Choosing to go our own way, we reject God’s authority over our lives and “turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!” (29:16). It’s like the pot telling the Potter what to do. Isaiah warns, “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker” (45:9). As our Maker, He has every right to do what He pleases (vv. 10–12). Some sixty years after these words from Isaiah were written, the prophet Jeremiah went to a potter’s house to give God’s people this same message: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).
K. T. Sim
September 10 | Bible in a Year: Proverbs 8–9; 2 Corinthians 3
Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
READ Philippians 2:1–11
I surprised my wife with concert tickets to listen to a performer she’d always wanted to see. The gifted singer was accompanied by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the setting was the matchless venue at Red Rocks—an open-air amphitheater built between two 300-foot rock formations at more than 6,000 feet above sea level. The orchestra played a number of well-loved classical songs and folk tunes. Their final number was a fresh treatment of the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.” The beautiful, harmonized arrangement took our breath away!
There’s something beautiful about harmony—individual instruments playing together in a way that creates a bigger and more layered sonic landscape. The apostle Paul pointed to the beauty of harmony when he told the Philippians to be “like-minded,” have “the same love,” and be “one in spirit and . . . mind” (Philippians 2:2). He wasn’t asking them to become identical but to embrace the humble attitude and self-giving love of Jesus. The gospel, as Paul well knew and taught, doesn’t erase our distinctions, but it can eliminate our divisions.
It’s also interesting that many scholars believe Paul’s words here (vv. 6–11) are a prelude to an early hymn. Here’s the point: When we allow the Holy Spirit to work through our distinct lives and contexts, making us more like Jesus, together we become a symphony that reverberates with a humble Christlike love.
By Glenn Packiam
REFLECT & PRAY
Who could use some encouragement from you today? How could you put the interests of others above your own, just as Jesus did for us?
Dear Jesus, thank You for saving me. May Your Spirit transform me into Your image. In my attitude and actions, help me to take on Your humility and sacrificial love. May it result in a greater unity with other believers in my life.
When Paul asked readers in Philippi to consider the humility of Jesus (Philippians 2:5–8), he used a word that describes the attitude of those willing to be counted among servants. More importantly, he wanted them to remember that those who live in the spirit of Jesus do so in the awareness that He first humbled Himself for us. It wasn’t a new thought. Long before, the prophet Isaiah had described a mysterious “Servant” as being despised, rejected, and familiar with pain and suffering. Before alluding to this person’s true honor and glory, the prophet went on to anticipate that He’d be held in such low esteem that people would find it hard to even look at Him (Isaiah 53:3). So too now, those who lower themselves for the good of others in the spirit of Jesus express the humility of our Savior who is “in very nature God” (Philippians 2:6).
September 6 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 148–150; 1 Corinthians 15:29–58
Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long.
READ Deuteronomy 33:1–5, 12
I wrote a letter to our children as each became a teenager. In one I talked about our identity in Christ, remembering that when I was a teenager, I felt unsure of myself, lacking confidence. I had to learn that I was God’s beloved—His child. I said in the letter, “Knowing who you are comes down to knowing Whose you are.” For when we understand that God has created us and we commit to following Him, we can be at peace with who He’s made us to be. And we also know that He changes us to be more like Him each day.
A foundational passage from Scripture about our identity as God’s children is Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.” Just before Moses died, he proclaimed this blessing over the tribe of Benjamin as God’s people prepared to enter the land He’d promised them. God wanted them to always remember that they were His beloved and to rest secure in their identity as His children.
Knowing our identity as God’s children is equally important for everyone—teenagers, those in the middle of life, and those who have lived a long time. When we understand that God created us and watches over us, we can find security, hope, and love.
By Amy Boucher Pye
REFLECT & PRAY
How does knowing that you can “rest between his shoulders” increase your love for God? How does this deepen your understanding of who you are?
Loving Father, You created me and You hold me close. Let my identity as Your child permeate my thoughts and actions.
Moses’ blessing to the Israelites before his death follows the tradition of a father blessing his children before death (Genesis 49). He addresses each of the tribes as if they were individual sons. These individual blessings (Deuteronomy 33:6–25) are framed before and after with a poem of blessing addressed to all of Israel (vv. 1–5, 26–29). (Jeshurun, vv. 5, 26, means “the upright one” and refers to all of Israel.) Because Yahweh was their God, they were blessed—saved, secure, and strong. God was their warrior and king who defeats all foes (vv. 26–29) and rules His people through the law given to Moses (v. 4).
Monica La Rose
September 5 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 146–147; 1 Corinthians 15:1–28
Return, faithless people. I will cure you of backsliding. Jeremiah 3:22
READ Jeremiah 3:11–15, 22
LISTEN ONLINEWhile my classmates and I used to skip the occasional lecture in university, everyone always made sure to attend Professor Chris’ lecture the week before the year-end exams. That was when he would unfailingly drop big hints about the exam questions he’d set.
I always wondered why he did that, until I realized that Prof. Chris genuinely wanted us to do well. He had high standards, but he would help us meet them. All we had to do was show up and listen so we could prepare properly.
It struck me that God is like that too. God can’t compromise His standards, but because He deeply desires us to be like He is, He’s given us the Holy Spirit to help us meet those standards.
In Jeremiah 3:11–14, God urged unfaithful Israel to acknowledge their guilt and return to Him. But knowing how stubborn and weak they were, He would help them. He promised to cure their backsliding ways (v. 22), and He sent shepherds to teach and guide them (v. 15).
How comforting it is to know that no matter how big the sin we’re trapped in or how far we’ve turned from God, He’s ready to heal us of our faithlessness! All we need to do is to acknowledge our wrong ways and allow His Holy Spirit to begin changing our hearts.
By Leslie Koh
REFLECT & PRAY
Where do you struggle to follow God faithfully and obediently? How can you ask God to heal you and help you?
Loving God, thank You for Your merciful love that enables me to be holy like You are. Please help me to let Your Spirit heal me of my faithlessness and transform my heart.
The faithlessness of Old Testament Israel is a story that began at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, a covenant agreement between God and Israel (Exodus 24:3) established the new nation as a people of God. This covenant was quickly forgotten. Having been rescued from bondage by the God of their ancestors and having witnessed numerous acts of wonder by that same God, the Israelites turned their backs on Him—seeking instead a god of their own making, a golden calf (Exodus 32). Even worse, the architect of this false idol was Aaron, chosen by God to be the high priest of the nation of Israel! Similar patterns would continue throughout the days of the judges and the kings, ultimately culminating in exile as God lovingly disciplined His people to bring them back to Himself. Israel’s frequent faithlessness stands in stark contrast to the constant faithfulness of God.
By Bill Crowder
September 3 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 140–142; 1 Corinthians 14:1–20
His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.
READ Luke 15:17–24
Robert was embarrassed when he showed up for a breakfast meeting and realized he’d forgotten his wallet. It bothered him to the point that he pondered whether he should eat at all or simply get something to drink. After some convincing from his friend, he relaxed his resistance. He and his friend enjoyed their entrees, and his friend gladly paid the bill.
Perhaps you can identify with this dilemma or some other situation that puts you on the receiving end. Wanting to pay our own way is normal, but there are occasions when we must humbly receive what’s graciously being given.
Some kind of payback may have been what the younger son had in mind in Luke 15:17–24 as he contemplated what he would say to his father. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants” (v. 19). Hired servant? His father would have no such thing! In his father’s eyes, he was a much-loved son who’d come home. As such he was met with a father’s embrace and an affectionate kiss (v. 20). What a grand gospel picture! It reminds us that by Jesus’ death He revealed a loving Father who welcomes empty-handed children with open arms. One hymn writer expressed it like this: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
By Arthur Jackson
REFLECT & PRAY
How does it make you feel that because Jesus has paid your sin debt, you can receive forgiveness for all your sins? If you’ve never received this forgiveness, what’s keeping you from accepting this gift through Jesus?
God of heaven, help me to receive and enjoy the forgiveness You’ve provided through Your Son, Jesus.
The word compassion in Luke 15:20 comes from the Greek verb splanchnízomai. The noun form of this word refers to “bowels or intestines.” Generally speaking, it refers to the internal organs, such as the heart, lungs, and liver. It’s the word used in Acts 1:18 to speak of Judas’ demise: “all his intestines spilled out.”
While ancient Greek poets saw the “bowels” as the seat of more violent emotions, the Hebrews saw them as the place for affections such as kindness and compassion. When the verb is used in the New Testament, it refers to internal feelings of pity that result in external acts of benevolence. In the Gospels, the compassion of Jesus compelled Him to heal the sick (Matthew 14:14) and feed the multitude (15:32). In Luke 15:20, compassion motivated the father to welcome his son: “[He] was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
By Arthur Jackson
September 2 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 137–139; 1 Corinthians 13
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
2 Timothy 3:16
READ Genesis 11:26–32
When Colin opened the box of stained-glass pieces he’d purchased, instead of finding the fragments he’d ordered for a project, he discovered intact, whole windows. He sleuthed out the windows’ origin and learned they’d been removed from a church to protect them from World War II bombings. Colin marveled at the quality of work and how the “fragments” formed a beautiful picture.
If I’m honest, there are times when I open particular passages of the Bible—such as chapters containing lists of genealogies—and I don’t immediately see how they fit within the bigger picture of Scripture. Such is the case with Genesis 11—a chapter that contains a repetitive cadence of unfamiliar names and their families, such as Shem, Shelah, Eber, Nahor, and Terah (vv. 10–32). I’m often tempted to gloss over these sections and skip to a part that contains something that feels familiar and fits more easily into my “window” of understanding of the Bible’s narrative.
Since “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful” (2 Timothy 3:16), the Holy Spirit can help us better understand how a fragment fits into the whole, opening our eyes to see, for example, how Shelah is related to Abram (Genesis 11:12–26), the ancestor of David and—more importantly—Jesus (Matthew 1:2, 6, 16). He delights in surprising us with the treasure of a perfectly intact window where even the smaller parts reveal the story of God’s mission throughout the Bible.
By Kirsten Holmberg
REFLECT & PRAY
Why is it important to recognize each portion of Scripture as a fragment of God's bigger story?
Father, please help me to see You and Your work more clearly.
In the ancient world, genealogies weren’t always simply a straightforward record of “who begat whom.” Instead, they were sometimes used to show legitimacy of relation or position. This is particularly true when it came to tracing the lineage of royalty. Ancestry (often traced back to a deity) was intended to show that the person with whom the lineage ended was the rightful and true heir. For example, the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Luke traces Jesus’ human lineage back to God Himself (Luke 3:23–38).
Ancestry records often provided key information as well, as we see in today’s text. In Genesis 11:26–32, Sarai’s childlessness is one of the striking features (v. 30) and becomes one of the important elements of the story later on (18:10–14).
By J.R. Hudberg
SUPPORTSeptember 1 | Bible in a Year: Psalms 135–136; 1 Corinthians 12
Be made new in the attitude of your minds.
READ Ephesians 4:20–32
It was time to give the inside of our home a fresh, new look. But just as I’d begun prepping a room for painting, our state government announced it would be halting the sale of many home improvement items due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as I heard the announcement, I rushed to the store and purchased the essential materials. You simply can’t remodel without the proper supplies.
Paul had a bit of a remodeling project in mind when he wrote Ephesians 4. But the changes he was talking about went far beyond superficial alterations. Even though trusting Jesus as Savior makes us a new creation, there’s still some ongoing work the Spirit needs to do. And it takes time and work for Him to accomplish “true righteousness and holiness”
The presence of the Spirit makes needed changes on the inside that can help us reflect Jesus in our words and actions. He helps us replace lying with speaking “truthfully” (v. 25). He guides us to avoid sin in regard to anger (v. 26). And He directs us to speak words that are “helpful for building others up” (v. 29). These Spirit-controlled actions are part of the internal change that’s manifested in things like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (v. 32). The Spirit works in us to enable us to imitate Jesus Himself and reflect the heart of our heavenly Father (v. 24; 5:1).
By Dave Branon
REFLECT & PRAY
In what areas do you need the Holy Spirit to make real, heart-based improvement in you through His leading and strength? How will you get started?
Loving God, thank You for making me a new creation in Christ. Help my actions, through Your guidance, to reflect the change You’ve made in me.
Ephesians 4:32 describes some of the evidence of a changed life: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Interestingly, these words were written to a culture very much like the world in which we live today. It was one in which the claims of Christ were disregarded, corruption was widespread throughout its institutions, and people were prone to use others to advance themselves. Yet, in the face of these problems the apostle Paul issued the challenge to believers in Christ for our heart-response to be in contrast to that culture. Kindness, compassion, and forgiveness express the countercultural life of Jesus Himself and remind us that our great goal and need is to be like Him.
By Bill Crowder