Green Pastures: They Require Action

John D. Barry

Love and complete reliance on God are interrelated concepts. When we discover what love really means, we want to praise God for it. When we learn to rely on God for all our needs, we see just how loving He is as He takes care of all aspects of our lives. And this love makes us want to show love to others.

It’s those who don’t have who are most apt to come to Jesus. They’re most in need of love. For this reason, it’s hard for us who do have—a home, a car, enough food for a week—to fully understand reliance on Christ. It takes a different type of discipline.

This is why it’s still shocking to me how many people absolutely love Psa 23. It’s comforting, I suppose, and that’s why: “Yahweh is my shepherd; I will not lack for anything. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by quiet waters he leads me” (Psa 23:1–2). I think so many of us love it, though, because we’re aware of how frail and vulnerable we really are. It could all be gone in a moment. Disease catches up to us, and death will eventually get us all. We often forget just how important love is in all this, and we fail to recognize why Psa 23 has a special place in our hearts.

We are in the top percentile of wealth in the world. Many of our families own more than one car. Nonetheless, the death around us and the diseases we see show just how quickly it can be gone. And for this reason, we can recognize how crucial love is. Love carries people through hard times. It brings them to depend on God. Paul tells us we could have all sorts of incredible spiritual gifts, but if we don’t have love, there’s no point (1 Cor 13:113).

And when Paul speaks about love, he’s not talking about something we say or even feel; he’s talking about something we do. Love requires us to give all things; or in Paul’s words, it “rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:6–7). So, those of us who understand relying on Psa 23, even in our wealth, must help those who rely on its promises but are yet to experience them. They are people all over the world, waiting for us to “bear” their burdens with them. They are the hurting, the voiceless—the people who need us to show real love.

How can you show love to the hurting and voiceless in the world today? God has called us all to action—that is what love means. So how will you act?

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

Bitter and Betrayed

Rebecca Van Noord

The betrayal of a loved one can shake our world. It can make us feel vulnerable and used, and if we’re not careful, it can cause us to be bitter and suspicious toward others. The psalmist in Psalm 55 experiences such a betrayal from a friend who feared God: “We would take sweet counsel together in the house of God” (Psa 55:14).


The psalmist agonizes over how he was deceived: “The buttery words of his mouth were smooth, but there was battle in his heart. His words were smoother than oil, but they were drawn swords” (Psa 55:13). How does someone move beyond a violation of trust? Instead of growing bitter, the psalmist puts his trust in Yahweh: “Cast your burden on Yahweh, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be moved” (Psa 55:22).


Similarly, in 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the church in Corinth about his sufferings. Among Paul’s lashings, stonings, shipwrecks (three of them), and robbings, he also lists “dangers because of false brothers” (2 Cor 11:26). He suffered anxiety because of the churches (2 Cor 11:28).

Paul adds to this list by discussing a force of oppression over him. He states that he prayed for his “thorn” to be taken from him (2 Cor 12:8). However, the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, because the power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). This reshapes Paul’s perspective on suffering: “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in calamities, in persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). By submitting to Christ, Paul relied less on himself and more heavily on God. As a result, God’s grace and power was manifested within him.

Betrayal causes bitterness that can poison our hearts. But, like Paul, we should use trials as an opportunity to submit more fully to God, and to show others His work in us.

How are you holding onto bitterness? What would God have you do instead?

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

The Art of Confession

John D. Barry

Confession is a lost art. Most Christian communities today have little outlet for doing so, and the systems for confessing that we do have are often tainted by a lack of honesty and trust.
This isn’t helped by the fact that none of us like to admit wrong. Yet God calls us to confession. In revealing sin in our lives, we have an opportunity to change (Jas 5:16). When a sin is revealed, the strength of temptation wanes.


This is not to suggest that we should openly confess our sins to all people, for unsafe and abusive people certainly exist. Rather, in close friendship with other Christians, we should be honest about our failures. Most importantly, we must confess these things to God.


We need to overcome the fatal assumption that because we are saved by Christ’s dying and rising for our sins, we no longer need to confess them. In admitting our sins to God, we move toward overcoming them and into an honest relationship with Him. God already knows who we are and what we’ve done, so there is no reason to fear being honest with Him. And perhaps in learning to be honest with Him we can also learn to be honest with others.


For many of us, the difficulty of praying about our sins is what prevents us from telling God what we need and what we’ve done. God has an answer to this, though: the psalms.
For example, in Psa 51, the psalmist says, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and from my sin cleanse me. For I, myself, know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psa 51:2–3). He goes on to say, “Create a clean heart for me, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and with a willing spirit sustain me” (Psa 51:10–12).


When we confess our sins to God and to others, He is faithful to help us overcome temptations. We have been given the great gift of Christ Jesus, who purifies us from all our wrongs against Him and others. And so we must seek His presence and live in it; in doing so, we can overcome the power of sin. In light of God’s power, sin is nothing; it deserves no stronghold.

Are you currently confessing your sins to God and others? How can you create a safe system to confess your sins in a way that honors God?


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

Student or Scholar?

Rebecca Van Noord

Sometimes we approach God with curiosity, but not with a spirit of humility. We enjoy participating in religious discussions, but forging the link between interpretation and application is difficult for us. We have certain expectations of who He should be for us, but we don’t think about how we should align our lives with Him.


Nicodemus—a Pharisee, a leader of his fellow Jews, and a teacher of Israel—wanted answers from Jesus. He told Him, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one is able to perform these signs that you are performing unless God were with him” (John 3:2). Was Jesus a Messiah, like Moses or David, who would restore Israel?


The scholar quickly became a student. Through His answers, Jesus showed Nicodemus that he wasn’t in a place to hold Jesus accountable. Rather, it was the other way around: Nicodemus needed to be challenged and transformed. He was a teacher of Israel, but he didn’t really understand Jesus’ teaching; his questions showed that he was hesitant to even believe Him, despite all the signs.


We might be like Nicodemus, approaching God with off-par expectations. Jesus showed Nicodemus that he had to receive the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. In order to see the kingdom of God and enter into it, we need to do the same.

Are you teachable? Do you approach God ready to learn and apply His words?


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

God's Ideas: More Than Good

John D. Barry

It’s exciting to see ideas take shape and then become reality. Even more exciting, though, is when God’s ideas take form. The Bible shows us these events repeatedly. As the reader, we’re given glimpses into what God is really doing—events the characters are unaware of. Or we have a hint all along that God is up to something unexpected, and that He will make good out of the evil that’s happening.


The story of Moses is like this. God’s people are terribly oppressed, but they are many (Exod 1). And we all know there is power in numbers. When baby Moses comes along, we’re ready for something amazing to happen. It will be from this unassuming moment that God will do the least expected (Exod 2:1–10): He will help those on the underside of power. Our suspicion is confirmed when Moses is willing to kill for justice (Exod 2:11–12). Moses flees, and then God hears Israel’s complaints about the pain they’re enduring (Exod 2:23–25). He answers their cry by calling Moses (Exod 3:1–22). Moses is hesitant because he can’t speak well, but God will (as we thought) use this unexpected turn of events (Exod 4:10–17).


Like Moses’ story, we see behind the veil at the beginning of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word … And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:1, 14, 17). God gave Moses His law, and He gave Moses the opportunity to guide His people from oppression to the wilderness and almost to freedom. But He gave Jesus grace and truth.


And that’s the message of the testaments: from cry to freedom cry, from calling upon God to salvation, and from merely men guided by God, to God in a man guiding men. Our love for God should be every bit as great—and far greater—than the love shown by the chorus of people in Song of Solomon. We must say about our God, like they say about people, “Let us be joyful and let us rejoice in you; let us extol your love more than wine. Rightly do they love you!” (Song 1:4).


We are called to see God’s work in our everyday life. We must recognize His story. He’s involved. Are we?

Are you worshiping God with your entire being—seeing His workings in your everyday life?


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

Avoiding the Unavoidable

John D. Barry

It’s common to put people in our lives on hold, even if we love them, until something forces us to pay attention. Forgetting those who are closest to us is a frightening thought. Peter, Jesus’ disciple, likely realized that people were making a similar mistake in their relationship with Jesus.


In the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16:13–14). At first, they respond with the expected: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and the prophets—suggesting that Jesus is an esteemed and powerful prophet, but not more. Then Jesus asks the are-you-paying-attention question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15).


Simon Peter understood this, blurting out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matt 16:16). Jesus asked about the Son of Man, emphasizing His humanity; Peter responds by emphasizing both His status as the anointed one of God (the Christ) and His divinity, as God’s Son (which also has kingly implications).


Peter does all this in Caesarea Philippi, a place full of altars and idols to other deities. Caesar was worshiped and celebrated as god’s son there. Peter, surrounded by people worshiping the king of the known world, calls Jesus king.


Jesus responds by affirming that God has revealed this to Peter. And He states that following Him means completely giving up ourselves and being willing to suffer like Christ (Matt 16:24–25).


Just like a relationship with a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend, if we think Jesus is less than He is, we will inevitably misunderstand Him. And if we understand our relationship with Him to be anything less than life altering, we treat Him like someone we have fallen out of love with. The one who died for our sins wants and deserves so much more.

Who are you not noticing in your life that you should be? What parts of your relationship with Christ are you overlooking?


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

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like ...

John D. Barry

Few in the world have sold everything to pursue an idea. Yet Jesus claims those who discover the kingdom of heaven are willing to do so. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, that a man found and concealed, and in his joy he goes and sells everything that he has and buys that field” (Matt 13:44). It seems that hardly any of us are equally willing to give up everything for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.


The realization that Jesus has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth presents us with a choice. Will we decide that His kingdom is worth more than all things, or will we devalue it by equating it with worldly treasures?


There are many types of currency, not just money: reputation, occupational status, and social media popularity are just a few. But the kingdom is much more than material or monetary ideas. It’s about giving our gifts, thoughts, and wealth. It’s about being willing to sacrifice everything when God asks.


Putting aside God’s priorities in our lives can be far too easy—probably because He is not standing in front of us, nagging us to do His work. But there won’t be another day to get around to God’s work. Instead, those who believe in Christ (the righteous) will be separated from everyone else (the wicked). In the meantime, our job is to lead the “wicked” to the ways of Christ (Matt 13:44–50). We’re called to do His work, day by day. And we’re called to work as if we don’t have another chance—as if nothing in the world is more valuable.


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

Noteworthy Stories

Rebecca Van Noord

When God’s promises are lavished on Abram in Genesis, we can’t help but feel a bit surprised. It seems undeserved—mainly because we know nothing about Abram. We haven’t had a chance to weigh his wisdom or foolishness, something Ecclesiastes endorses. Yet God promises to make Abram’s children as numerous as the stars in the sky (a blessing in the ancient Near East). “I will make your name great,” He says. “I will make you a great nation.” He also promises protection: “I am your shield.” Even after the fact, God doesn’t disclose why He wants to bless and protect Abram.


The greater context of the Genesis narrative shows that God’s blessing is certainly not just about Abram. Just before God promises to give Abram a great name, a nation, and land in Gen 12, He had scattered the nations over all the earth. At the Tower of Babel, God dispersed those who were grasping for a relationship with Him on their own terms.


But God doesn’t leave humanity this way. He presents Abram with a promise and a gift—a plan of salvation for humanity. God re-establishes relationship on His terms.


What about Abram, then? His faith is renowned throughout Scripture (Gal 3:6; Rom 4:9; Heb 11:8–12), but it’s not because he did anything particularly noteworthy—at times he even deceives others (e.g., Gen 12:10–20). It’s because of his response to God’s particularly noteworthy promises: “He believed the LORD, and he counted to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). He responded to God’s promises with faith, and God counted it as righteousness.
In Christ, we have an even greater promise and a greater hope. God has lavished promise and deliverance on us. We can only stand in complete awe of His goodness, and respond with trust.

Do you rest too much in your own work or failings? In what ways can you shift the emphasis to Christ’s work?


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

Judging the Seasons

Rebecca Van Noord

We often have difficulty judging the events in our lives and then responding appropriately. Although God has placed eternity “in our hearts,” we don’t know the reason or the outcome of our life’s events (Eccl 3:11).


The danger comes in being known for only one mode of operation and one response for all seasons. In Matt 11, Jesus speaks to a generation who responds in one way—with skepticism and unbelief. Those who judge see John the Baptist as a demon-possessed man rather than a prophet. They see Jesus as a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners—not the one who has come to save them from their sins.


Jesus illustrates their responses with a tale. He compares them to children who call out to each other in the marketplaces, saying, “We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a lament and you did not mourn” (Matt 11:17). Those who hear and fail to act confuse the writer of Ecclesiastes’ times of mourning and dancing. They don’t acknowledge the judgment of John the Baptist or the joy of Jesus.


For those in His audience who refused to acknowledge His words, and miracles, Jesus pronounces a judgment far worse than that of Sodom. Those who respond with humility and faith, however, have the promise of rest. Jesus invites them: “Take my yoke on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29).
This response is an act of faith. We need to rely on God’s Word and His Spirit to judge the events of our lives, and to help us respond with faith.

What response are you known for?


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

Beginnings

John D. Barry

In the beginning, God subdues the greatest symbol of chaos in the ancient world: the waters. He also creates light—something that the ancients thought ruled everything. Even darkness, which they deeply feared, is now ruled by Him.


The ancients were in the middle, asking, “God, where are you in the midst of this chaotic world?” He answers them with a story about beginnings. In this story, we find that God establishes order in a chaotic world. He rules other gods. He rules the light. He rules the night. It’s as if God said, “Why are you afraid? I’m here. I’m working it out.”


Matthew 1–2 gives us another beginning—a child born in humble circumstances. But it’s through this child, Jesus, that the world itself was first created. And that’s not all: in Him and through Him everything is brought together. Chaos is made orderly: “Because all things in the heavens and on earth were created by him … and he himself is before all things, and in him all things are held together” (Col 1:16–17). If we want to truly understand our origins, we need this frame of reference.


Like the ancients, we too are in the middle. We worry that evil and chaos will reign, but we must let Christ take control. He can bring order to our unruly lives. We need a new beginning. In Genesis, God wants us to see Him taking back what He created—and that includes us.

What chaos do you fear? We often feel in the middle, but our beginnings suggest that Christ is holding everything together. What areas of your life still need God’s order? Where do you need Christ to step in and hold everything together?

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