365 Challenge – Luke


Dear 365 Readers,

There are four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and frequently we lump them all together.  I am certainly guilty of this!  However, it is fascinating to consider how each author chose a different style and emphasis for a different audience.  We start reading Luke tomorrow (10/21).

Luke probably did not know Jesus personally as he was not one of the twelve disciples, but he was a dedicated early convert and he accompanied the apostle Paul on missionary trips.  As Luke mentions in his opening paragraph, he felt the need to research eyewitness accounts and to write an orderly documentation of the life of Christ.  His book shows thoroughness and detail, starting with before Jesus’ birth and ending after His ascension into heaven.

If Matthew was focused on tying together key points and sermons as they related to Jewish audiences and history, and Mark was a gospel of action for non-Jewish readers, then Luke could be considered the gospel of relationships.  Luke notes many different ethnic, religious, and social groups and how they respond to Jesus, and he provides excellent character descriptions.  Additionally, there are two large sections in Luke not found in other gospels:  Chapters 1-2 on the birth of Jesus, and chapters 10-19 containing some of the most famous parables and teachings of Jesus.


365 Challenge – Mark


Dear 365 Readers,

As you may know, there are four gospels and each tells the story of Jesus’ life – but in a  different style, for different audience, with differing focal points.  Matthew was written for Jews, and served to tie the New Testament to the story and promises of the Old Testament.  Mark’s gospel is entirely different.

Mark was written to a non-Jewish audience (maybe the Romans?) and was probably a missionary style book for people who were not acquainted with Jesus or Christianity.  Mark doesn’t quote the Old Testament much, never mentions the Law, and doesn’t record many speeches or parables.  Mark is more like a concisely edited documentary film script… It is full of action verbs like “at once” and “immediately” (42 times)… Characters rush from place to place and action sequences are spliced together in a way that almost defies organizational structure.  Mark’s characters are “amazed”, “astonished”, and “terrified”… He would have written in all caps with lots of exclamation points today!

You will not need special instructions for reading Mark, it is loosely chronological and reads easily like a newspaper.  Enjoy!

365 Challenge – Matthew


Dear 365 Readers,

Congratulations, today (9/28) we start reading in the New Testament!

Matthew, one of the four gospels we will read, is the first book of the New Testament because it serves as a bridge from the Old to New Testament.  From the very first sentence Matthew makes it clear, he is connecting Jesus’ arrival with the Old Testament story line… a story that begins back with Abraham, Moses, the people of Israel, and a line of kings.

Matthew was a Jew himself, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus.  He writes to a Jewish audience using metaphors and references they would be familiar with.  In fact, Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament author.

The Jews had been waiting thousands of years for a Messiah, a King – but Jesus and His kingdom were completely different from what the Jews expected.  We learn more about the King (Jesus) and the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s collection of Jesus’ teachings including the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), Jesus’ interaction with people, and the majority of the parables (Mt 13-25).  If you’re curious about the Kingdom of God, highlight the word “kingdom” as you read through Matthew!


365 Challenge – Minor Prophets


Dear 365 Readers,

Tomorrow (9/15) we start our reading of the “minor prophets”, those short little books at the end of Old Testament that can be hard to find and keep sorted out in your mind!  I’m going to give you a brief overview here, maybe you can print it out and keep it with you as you read:

Hosea – to the Northern Kingdom, in the days of its last evil kings.  A painful personal love story of Hosea’s marriage to a woman who acted like a prostitute.  He was good to her and she humiliated him with her unfaithful, brazen behavior.  It is both a true story, and a symbolic story of God’s love for His unfaithful people.

Joel – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, during the time of Elisha.  A plague of locusts had come to discipline the nation, Joel called people to return to God before an even greater judgement came.  The Holy Spirit is promised here as well.

Amos – to the Northern Kingdom, in the days of its last evil kings.  Amos spoke against those who exploited or ignored the needy, reminding people that God calls his people to fight against injustice.

Obadiah – to the nation of Edom, in the days of Elijah.  Obadiah spoke against the pride of Edom and its violent actions against God’s people.

Jonah – to the city of Ninevah in the nation of Assyria, prior to the fall of the Northern Kingdom and the rise of Assyrian empire.  God sent Jonah to warn Ninevah to repent or face judgement, but Jonah didn’t want to go, and there was a drama with a big fish!  When Jonah finally went, the people of Ninevah repented and God relented.

Micah – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, prior to the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  Micah predicted the fall of both kingdoms as discipline for God’s people.  Good King Hezekiah listened to Micah, and thus delayed the fall the of Southern Kingdom/Judah.

Nahum – to the nation of Assyria, after the fall of the Northern Kingdom.  Assyria oppressed the Southern Kingdom/Judah, and the people of Judah admired the wealth and power of Assyria.  Nahum warned that the mighty Assyrian empire would soon fall.  God would judge Assyria, and God rules sovereignly over all the earth.

Habbakuk – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Habakkuk asked God why He didn’t punish the wicked in the Southern Kingdom/Judah.  How could God allow such evil exist?  God promised to use the Babylonians to punish Judah, and then to punish the Babylonians as well.  Habbakuk chose to hold on to the hope that God would be faithful and strengthen him in time of disaster.

Zephaniah – to the Southern Kingdom/Judah, during the time of Jeremiah.  Zephaniah warned that a day will come when God, as judge, will punish all nations.  But after judgment, He will show mercy to all who have been faithful to Him.

Haggai – after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.  Haggai warned that the temple of God was only half finished, yet the people had lost interest and instead built beautiful homes.  Haggai encouraged the people to finish the temple, and not to prioritize their jobs and possessions ahead of God.

Zechariah – after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, same time as Haggai.  Zechariah also encouraged the completion of the temple, and shared many visions of an eternal kingdom that gave people hope.

Malachi – the last prophet of the Old Testament, after the temple and walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt completely.  Malachi warned that the people’s relationship with God was broken because of sin, in particular the sins of the priests and society’s complete disregard for the sanctity of marriage.  Careless living has consequences, but those who repent will find favor with God.  The coming Messiah is promised.

And then there was silence for 400 years.

365 Challenge – Daniel


Dear 365 Readers,

Whew!  I don’t know about you, but I felt like the trip through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel was such a depressing journey as we witnessed disobedience and destruction… though each book was punctuated by rare chapters of hope and light.

Now we start Daniel.  Daniel was a refugee, taken captive as a young man in Israel and carted off to Babylon.  Later Daniel rose to the post of prime minister in Babylon – a post he held for a very long time!  By the time he was thrown in the lion’s den he was actually an older man.  Daniel was respectful of the pagan kings he worked for, but he never compromised his faith, even under threat of death.  The Bible gives no better model of how to live with and serve those who do not share your beliefs.

The book of Daniel is divided into two strikingly different parts:  Chapters 1-6 recount the familiar stories of Daniel and his adventures in Babylon.  Chapters 7-12 are a series of visions God gave Daniel regarding the future of world history and the rise and fall of empires.  You might want a commentary to help you through the visions – but know that, in the time the visions were given, the historical empires he references would have been known to his hearers.

Just a few short prophetic books left and we’ll start the New Testament (we start Matthew on October 2)… almost there!

365 Challenge – Lamentations & Ezekiel


Dear 365 readers – Wee start Lamentations tomorrow, and Ezekiel shortly thereafter!

Lamentations – A five stanza song of lament, a time of weeping and grief.  Beloved Jerusalem has been destroyed, its buildings burned to the ground, and its people carried off into exile in Babylon.  The author, presumably Jeremiah, seems astonished and stunned that God would allow His people to endure such suffering.  From Lamentations we learn that mourning is ok, there is a time and place for grief.  And yet, in the end the author clings to a quiet hope in the character of God, that “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23)

Ezekiel was a prophet who was in Jerusalem prior to its destruction, and then went into exile in Babylon in one of the early waves of people who were deported (along with the prophet Daniel).  Ezekiel becomes the messenger to captives in Babylon.  It’s a strange book – full of imagery and visions.  As you come to each prophecy, consider the dominant image (prostitute, grapevine, shaved head…) and consider what it represents.  Also watch for the repeated phrase, “Then they will know that I am the Lord”.  Ezekiel closes with hope, there will be a new Jerusalem one day and God will make His home there forever.

Courage friends, this is perhaps the darkest period of the history of Israel.  God’s punishment on them for their sin is heavy, and yet He has a plan to restore and renew.  May we be encouraged by His faithfulness and unfailing love!

365 Challenge – Jeremiah


Dear 365 Readers,

I am still marveling at the content of Isaiah… chapters 40-66 might be some of my favorite in the whole Bible.  It’s incredible to think Isaiah wrote all the passages about the exile and return of Israel, the coming of Jesus Christ, and the new heaven and new earth so long before any of those things came to pass (or haven’t happened yet!).  We are also personally grateful for Isaiah 56:6-7 and 66:19-21 where Isaiah shares that the gospel will be for ALL peoples of ALL nations. So fantastic!

Jeremiah spoke (or wrote) in the time period just after Isaiah was put to death.  For more than 40 years he delivered a warning to top officials that they did not want to hear and refused to heed.  The destruction of Judah was coming, and no one wanted to listen to the truth.

For me, the interesting character is Jeremiah.  He was a reluctant prophet, insecure, unhappy, afraid of ridicule and death.  He hated standing alone against the crowd.  He was moody, and he felt unprepared and incapable of the task God called him to.  And yet Jeremiah obeyed – he is one of the best examples in the Bible of what it means to follow God in spite of everything.

You can re-read 2 Kings 23-25 to understand the period when Jeremiah was speaking.  Unfortunately his messages are not chronological, so you might need to watch for the names of kings in order to keep it all straight.  And finally, one chapter of special note – chapter 31 is God’s promise of restoration and a new covenant.