4 JUL: THE CYRUS CYLINDER

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia. — Ezra 1:1

READ EZRA 1:1-4

In 1879, archaeologists discovered a remarkable little item in an area now known as Iraq (biblical Babylon). Just 9 inches long, the Cyrus Cylinder records something that King Cyrus of Persia did 2,500 years ago. It says that Cyrus allowed a group of people to return to their homeland and rebuild their “holy cities.”

It’s the same story told in Ezra 1. There we read that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” to make a proclamation (verse 1). And in that proclamation, Cyrus said he was releasing the captives in Babylon to go home to Jerusalem, re-establish their homes, and rebuild their temple (verses 2-5).

But there’s more to the story. Daniel confessed his sins and his people’s sins and pleaded with God to end the Babylonian captivity (Daniel 9). In response to Daniel’s prayer, God sent an angel to speak to Daniel (verse 21). Later He moved Cyrus to release the Hebrews. (See also Jeremiah 25:11-12; 39:10.)

Together, the Cyrus Cylinder and God’s Word combine to show us that the king’s heart was changed and he allowed the exiled Hebrews to go home and worship.

This story has great implications for us today. In a world that seems out of control, we can rest assured that God can move the hearts of leaders. We read in Proverbs 21:1 that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.” And Romans 13:1 says that “there is no authority except from God.”

The Lord, who is able to change our own hearts as well as the hearts of our leaders, can be trusted for He is in control. Let’s ask Him to work. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Dear Father, the world so often seems out of control. We know You are sovereign over everything. We pray that Your will be done in our homeland and in the hearts of our leaders.

3 JUL: LETTERS IN THE BIBLE

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. — 2 Timothy 4:7

READ 2 TIMOTHY 4:1-8

For more than two decades, Andrew Carroll has been urging people not to throw away the letters written by family members or friends during a time of war. Carroll, director of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California, considers them an irreplaceable link to tie families together and open a door of understanding. “Younger generations are reading these letters,” Carroll says, “and asking questions and saying, ‘Now I understand what you endured, what you sacrificed.’ ”

When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome and knew his life would soon end, he wrote a letter to a young man whom he considered a “son in the faith,” Timothy. Like a soldier on the battlefield, Paul opened his heart to him: “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

When we read the letters in the Bible that the heroes of the Christian faith have left for us and grasp what they endured because of their love for Christ, we gain courage to follow their example and to stand strong for those who come after us. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, give us strength for the spiritual battles we face today, knowing that You have won the ultimate victory and that we will one day live eternally with You.

2 JUL: BLAZING DISCUSSIONS

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt. — Colossians 4:6

READ JAMES 3:2-10

In northern Ghana, bush fires are regular occurrences in the dry season between December and March. Many acres of farmland could be set ablaze when the winds carry tiny embers from fireplaces or from cigarette butts carelessly thrown by the roadside. With the dry grassland vegetation, all that is needed to start a devastating fire is a little spark.

That is how James describes the tongue, calling it “a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). A false statement made here or backbiting there, a vicious remark somewhere else, and relationships are destroyed. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords,” says Proverbs 12:18, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing”. Just as fire has both destructive and useful elements, so “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). For conversation that reflects God’s presence in us and pleases Him, let it “always be with grace” (Col. 4:6).

When expressing our opinions during disagreements, let’s ask God to help us choose wholesome language that brings honor to Him. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Guide my conversation today, Lord. May the words I choose bless and encourage others and build them up rather than tear them down. May You be pleased with what You hear.

1 JUL: GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. — John 3:17

READ JOHN 4:7-15, 28-30

The St. Olaf Choir from Northfield, Minnesota, is renowned for making beautiful music. One reason for its excellence is the selection process. Applicants are chosen based not only on how well they sing but also on how they sound as part of the whole. Another reason is that all members agree to make the choir their first priority and commit to a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule.

One of the things that intrigues me the most about this choir is what happens during rehearsals. Whenever members make a mistake, they raise their hand. Instead of trying to hide the blunder, they call attention to it! This allows the conductor to help each singer learn the difficult part, and it increases the likelihood of a flawless performance.

I think this is the kind of community Jesus was establishing when He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save it, not condemn it (John 3:17). Shortly after this conversation, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the public well. He made it easy for her to admit failure by promising her a better way of life where she could enjoy His forgiveness (John 4).

As members of Christ’s body on Earth, we should not fear admitting our wrongs but welcome it as an opportunity to together experience and rejoice in the forgiveness of God. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, it’s our tendency to hide our sins and flaws. May we come to You in full honesty, understanding that we are loved and forgiven by You.

30 JUN: BROKEN BEAUTY

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

READ ECCLESIASTES 3:9-14

Nothing is more peaceful than walking down the beach. Most people can’t resist bending over to pick up a few shells. From the distance of standing, a shell looks beautiful, complete, unbroken; but, when we actually pick it up, it has flaws, cracks, and might be missing a part. At that point, we tend to toss it aside thinking it’s not perfect so we don’t want it.

God made the broken as well as the complete. He takes the broken and transforms them into something beautiful. Some of the most stunning art work in the world is made from broken and partial pieces. As we go through this journey we call life, we might get chipped, scratched, broken, and maybe even lose pieces of ourselves. That’s when the liar comes pouncing on us and gives us the fear that we are inadequate, ugly, or that we are not whole anymore. FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real!

None of us know God’s complete plan, but we can trust that He has a purpose for each and every one of us. He can use what we call our brokenness to help someone else who is feeling incomplete or useless.

REFLECT & PRAY 

We are His broken beauties. We have to put our trust and faith in Him and just say, “Here I am Lord, just as I am, USE me!” Pray that we see the beauty in each other and realize that even the broken have a purpose.

29 JUN: SAVING THE UNWILLING

The men took hold of his hand, . . . the Lord being merciful to him, and they . . . set him outside the city. — Genesis 19:16

READ GENESIS 19:12-25

Swim coaches during a water safety class, usually are taught how to save a drowning person who is resisting rescue. “Approach the person from behind,” the instructor always tell them. “Place one arm across the person’s chest and flailing arms, and swim toward safety. If you approach from the front, the person may grab you and pull both of you down.” Panic and fear can paralyze the ability to think and act wisely.

When two angels sent by God came to rescue Lot and his family from the impending destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:12-13), they encountered resistance. Lot’s sons-in-law thought the warning was a joke (verse 14). When the angels told Lot to hurry and leave, he hesitated (verse 15). At that point, the two angels “took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters,” and led them safely out of the city because God was merciful toward them (verse 16).

When we reflect on our journey of faith in Christ, we can see God’s faithfulness in overcoming our reluctance and resistance. When we encounter people lashing out in spiritual desperation and fear, may we have God’s wisdom to show His love to them—and to every person who is reluctant to be rescued by Him. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Father, as I look at my own heart, I know I have resisted You and have been reluctant at times to come to You. Thank You for Your mercy. Help me to share with others who You are.

28 JUN: JOY TO SERVE

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord! — Psalm 134:2

READ PSALM 134

Psalm 134 has only three verses, but it is proof that little things can mean a lot. The first two verses are an admonition to the priests who serve in God’s house night after night. The building was dark and empty; nothing of consequence was occurring—or so it seemed. Yet these ministers were encouraged to “lift up [their] hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!” (verse 2). The third verse is a voice from the congregation calling into the darkness and loneliness of the night: “The Lord who made heaven and earth bless you."

I think of other servants of the Lord today—pastors and their families who serve in small churches in small places. They’re often discouraged, tempted to lose heart, doing their best, serving unnoticed and unrewarded. They wonder if anyone cares what they’re doing; if anyone ever thinks of them, prays for them, or considers them a part of their lives.

I would say to them—and to anyone who is feeling lonely or insignificant: Though your place is small, it is a holy place. The one who made and moves heaven and earth is at work in and through you. “Lift up your hands” and praise Him. 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, show me how I can be an encourager of others who might feel they are in a “small” place. Let them know that their lives leave an eternal impact on those they serve.

27 JUN: THE COMPLETE GIST

Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. — Acts 8:35

READ ACTS 8:26-37

A 5-year-old boy, asked, his grandpa “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” His grandpa had a little talk with him. He explained to him about sin and Jesus’ willingness to be our sacrifice. Then the boy ran off to play.

A few minutes later, his grandpa overheard him talking to his 5-year-old cousin, explaining to her why Jesus died. His cousin said to him, “But Jesus isn’t dead.” The boy replied, “Yes. He’s dead. Grampy told me. He died on the cross.”

His grandpa then realized he hadn’t completed the story. So they had another talk as he explained to his grandson that Jesus rose from the dead. They went over the story again until his grandson understood that Jesus is alive today, even though He did die for us.

What a reminder that people need to hear the whole gospel. When a man from Ethiopia asked Philip about a portion of Scripture he did not understand, Philip “opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35).

Tell others the good news about Jesus: that we are all sinners needing salvation; that the perfect Son of God died to save us; and that He rose from the grave, showing His power over death. Jesus, our Savior, is alive and is offering now to live His life through us.

When someone wants to know about Jesus, let’s make sure to tell the whole story! 

REFLECT & PRAY 

Lord, Your story is amazing. Help us to tell all of it so others can put their faith in You and enjoy the salvation You offer to all who trust and believe.