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November 27, 2022

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved (Romans 10:9–10, NLT).”

 

Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ. As we respond to the truth of Jesus, we experience the power of His salvation and life. That is the good news of the gospel. As Paul declares, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NLT).” What a glorious message of hope for everyone who turns to Jesus! Yet, as today’s reading further highlights, God is not a spectator to His work of salvation. He is involved from beginning to end. The truth is: the idea of salvation began in God’s heart. He is the One who initiated a covenant relationship with Abraham and chose the promised line of descent for humanity’s Savior. Again and again, God chose to bring about what was necessary so we might ultimately respond to Jesus in faith. As stated above, God is no mere spectator. We find salvation because of His direct involvement.


Does God’s activity negate human responsibility? Paul would exclaim, “Certainly not.” As Paul states, “How can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them (Romans 10:14, NLT)?” Our responsibility is highlighted in two ways. First, someone must deliver the message of hope for others to hear, for no one will respond to Jesus unless they are informed of His saving work. And second, as Paul notes, a person must also call out to Jesus in faith. Salvation is not imposed upon any individual. It is a gift freely received as the person turns to Jesus in faith. A response is required.


Regrettably, some push this discussion to two extremes. They emphasize God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility or choice. Others emphasize humanity’s free will or choice to the exclusion of God’s sovereignty or election. The Bible, however, portrays both as operating and true. Salvation is undeniably God’s work from start to finish. Yet, the invitation to believe is not a charade or a scripted response. Our choices matter, and we will be held responsible before God—good or bad. The Bible introduces the tension between God’s sovereignty and humanity’s choice. We would be wise to leave the tension in place, admitting that there may be more involved than our limited minds fully comprehend. I’m comfortable with the wonder and the mystery of it all. And you?


Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ. Instead of being sidetracked by who is choosing whom or what? Let’s marvel that God extends a way of salvation to anyone. God would have been righteous and just to judge all of humanity because of their sins—myself included. Yet, God displayed mercy and grace in providing a way of salvation through Jesus, His Son. And yes, God extends an invitation for us to believe in Him. As we do, the promise is assured. “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved (Romans 10:13, NLT).”  Is this descriptive of you? I pray that is true. Let’s conclude with Paul’s testimony concerning Christ’s unfailing love. Let’s reread his words and take them again to heart!

 

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For Your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above o I am grr in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35–39, NLT).”


Amen and Amen! I am grateful for Christ’s love.


November 25, 2022

Romans 5:1-8:17


Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace (Romans 6:1, NLT)?


Our faith response to Jesus changes our standing before God. Instead of being pronounced guilty because of our sins, we are declared righteous because of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Jesus makes the difference. Are our present and future actions then irrelevant? For that matter, doesn’t our continuing sin only accentuate the wonder of God’s gracious gift? Paul answers, “Absolutely not!” Our persistence in sin exposes a lack of understanding of God’s gift. Jesus not only rescues us from sin’s condemnation. Jesus also delivers us from sin’s domination. Jesus, spiritually speaking, sets us free to discover the life that God intends on our behalf. Paul explains, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the One who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God (Romans 7:4, NLT).” In other words, Jesus not only came to change our standing. He also came to change our conduct.


How does the change occur? Is it instantaneous? Are we passive spectators? What part do we play? First, Paul reminds us that a negative influence (our sinful nature) remains at work even after our faith response. Trust in Jesus does not eradicate one’s evil desires. Indeed, everyone recognizes the internal struggle between right and wrong remains. As Paul portrays, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway (Romans 7:18–19, NLT).” And the solution?


Our solution is centered again on Jesus (Romans 7:25). Just as Jesus changes our standing before God. Our faith in Jesus should also change our walk before God. How so? Not by human effort alone—though our participation is involved. It requires the life-giving dynamic of God’s Spirit (Romans 8:2). The Holy Spirit within seeks to guide and energize our steps, so our words and actions begin to reflect Jesus’ influence. This work of grace, however, does not happen without our cooperation. By faith, we learn to yield to the Spirit’s presence and choose to act according to His leading.


The operative word is that we learn. Regrettably, we are prone to act according to our strengths and preferences, which then works against the Spirit’s activity. Paul describes the contrast. He writes, “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace (Romans 8:5–6, NLT).” Paul urges us to set our pride and self-effort aside and discover an increasing awareness and dependence on God’s liberating Spirit. Are we doing so?


It should be noted, as Paul does, that our response to Jesus should be whole-hearted. As Paul commands, “Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace (Romans 6:13–14, NLT).” Again I ask, is this descriptive of us? Do you think it should be?


I pray God opens our spiritual eyes more and more to His presence so we might experience even more of His grace and power. Would you pray the same? As we do, admit the mystery of what is being described. But don’t allow the mystery to cause us to rely upon ourselves instead of Him. May we start each day by acknowledging our need and seeking His Spirit’s activity—particularly today. Will you join me?

November 24, 2022

Romans 2:1-4:25


“People are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners (Romans 4:5, NLT).”


Yesterday’s reading concluded with Paul highlighting the destructive effects of a society that turns away from God (Romans 1:18-32). Suppressing the truth does not result in personal freedom. Instead, it produces moral confusion that works against a society’s well-being. It places people and a nation on a downward moral and spiritual trajectory. It is not a good situation.


And how does sin affect the individual? Today’s reading highlights the disturbing impact upon the sinner—whether Jew or Gentile, religious or irreligious. The result is God’s judgment. Paul explains, “Because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done (Romans 2:5–6, NLT).”


Paul’s description should alarm us all because (whether we admit it or not) we are all sinners. Indeed, we have all violated God’s standards. Citing the Old Testament, the apostle declares, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one (Romans 3:10–12, NLT).” The problem is not limited to a few. It is universal.


What, then, can a person do? Try harder? Religious observance? The answer is “no” and “no.” Our collective efforts will prove utterly inadequate. The Jewish people, for example, were given God’s law—His standard for righteousness. But their possession of the law did not save them. Instead, it only further exposed their spiritual need. Paul exclaims, “The law simply shows us how sinful we are (Romans 3:20, NLT).” So again, I ask, “What can a person do?” The solution is Jesus Christ. Paul explains, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right in His sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins (Romans 3:22–24, NLT).


How is Jesus able to make a difference? Jesus can save the sinful because He offered Himself on the sinner’s behalf. The sinless Son of God claimed our guilt so He could extend His righteousness (His right standing). Spiritually speaking, Jesus exchanges places with us. He suffers judgment so we can experience life. As Paul describes, “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood (Romans 3:25, NLT).” And later, he adds, “He (Jesus) was handed over to die because of our sins, and He was raised to life to make us right with God (Romans 4:25, NLT).”


The solution is Jesus, and our response should be one of faith. We cannot save ourselves—that much is clear. Our only hope is to trust in God’s provision and promise. Like Abraham of old, we place our faith in who God is and His actions on our behalf. It is our faith response that changes our standing before Him. It is our trust in Jesus that addresses our sins. Have we done so? Have you done so? Of course, this has been a recurring theme in our New Testament readings, so it’s certainly not new. Even so, it’s the message we should keep before us. I pray we are encouraged and will continue to be so as we press further into Paul’s theological letter. May God illuminate and reassure our hearts as we read on together.


November 23, 2022

1 Corinthians 16:1-24; Acts 19:21-20:6; Romans 1:1-32


For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile (Romans 1:16, NLT).

 

Life continues to be challenging for Paul. Opposition to the gospel persists. In Ephesus, he escapes yet another angry response to his message and ministry. It is worth noting that in Ephesus, controversy arose over a decline in business among the local idol makers. The population of Ephesus was responding to Jesus in such great numbers that people were no longer interested in worshipping lifeless pieces of stone or metal. Instead, they are experiencing spiritual life and transformation in Jesus—the Son of the One true God.

 

Paul departs from Ephesus to return to Jerusalem as his third missionary journey comes to a close. He plans to travel thru Macedonia, with a stop in Corinth along the way. Wintering in Corinth, Paul also writes a letter to the church in Rome. The Book of Romans is the longest and most theologically structured of Paul’s thirteen New Testament letters and, throughout the history of the Church, perhaps the most impactful.


As Paul opens the letter, he expresses his desire to visit the Roman congregation. He had previously attempted to travel to Rome but had been prevented. Paul looks forward to strengthening their faith in Christ and expanding their gospel efforts. As the missionary admits, he is not ashamed of the gospel. He’s convinced that “it is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile (Romans 1:16, NLT).” The key is to get the word out. People need to hear about the difference that Jesus makes.


Do we feel the same? Do we understand the spiritual power inherent in the message of Jesus? When we speak about Jesus’ death and resurrection and testify to His ability to forgive and restore the worst of sinners, something greater than our testimony is involved. The Holy Spirit of God engages the unbeliever’s mind, appealing to the heart. Indeed, God’s Spirit draws the person toward faith so that the individual can respond to Jesus, experiencing His forgiveness and life. The point is: a greater power than ourselves is at work. It’s not just about you and your ability to persuade. God, Himself is working. Sadly, when we fail to share what we know, we fail to draw upon God’s activity and power. Because of our silence, what could have been will not be—our unwillingness to share matters.

 

Does our sharing the gospel then guarantee a favorable response? The answer is “no.” The person may still resist the Spirit’s appeal within. Yet, each time we share, there’s an opportunity for the miraculous. God may open the person’s eyes to the truth of Jesus, resulting in their spiritual birth and eternal life. If that’s a real possibility, why would we not share? May God grant us then the boldness to share what we know. Like Paul, let’s not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus but point someone to the truth of who He is. Who knows? We may witness the miracle of spiritual birth as the person turns to Jesus in faith. Let’s speak up and allow God to display His power.

November 22, 2022

1 Corinthians 14:1-15:58


"I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, NLT)."


Many issues contribute to the church in Corinth's struggles. Pride and selfishness are the primary culprits, but in some cases, the problem is a lack of clarity or understanding. Paul seeks to help the congregation navigate several disruptive situations—interpersonally and regarding worship. Paul's guiding principle for worship is relatively simple. Worship services should spiritually strengthen those who gather and be free from disorder or confusion. Sadly, the church in Corinth appears to fall short of that objective. The apostle seeks to guide them forward.


Paul also addresses false teaching concerning the future resurrection of the dead. Someone has wrongly suggested to the congregation that the dead in Christ will not rise again. The false teacher is likely promoting the Greek philosophical idea that the body is evil and the spirit is good. In the Greek way of thinking, the spirit’s escape from the body at death is preferable, and any thought of returning to the body is absurd. Paul encountered this same misguided line of thinking when he preached about Jesus’ resurrection in Athens (Acts 17:22-31). Paul confronts the heresy and explains the implications.


Paul first reminds the believers of the veracity of the testimony surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. He recounts the resurrection appearances of Jesus, concluding with his own experience—a day that Paul would never forget. He then illustrates how Jesus’ resurrection correlates with our future hope. Because of Jesus’ victory, we can also anticipate a future life—Greek philosophy has it all wrong. The body is not resurrected to its former state or condition—by no means. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension secured something far superior. Paul explains, “Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength (1 Corinthians 15:42–43, NLT).”  He later adds, “Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man (1 Corinthians 15:48–49, NLT).”

 

Do we hear the good news of Paul’s message? Our future with the Lord is more than a slightly better version of the earthly life we know here. Indeed, we will become as Christ is (1 John 3:2), and honestly, I don’t think we can comprehend the glory of it all. Our loftiest thoughts are woefully inadequate. So don’t be deceived or misled, Paul would write. Focus instead on the One who conquered death on our behalf. Anticipate a future victory. As Paul joyfully declares, “We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51–53, NLT).”

 

That is where our hearts should also focus. We should anticipate a better day—unlike anything we have known. May we not allow the misguided voices of our day to take our eyes off the promise of what will be. Indeed, may God strengthen our hearts with this future hope—making us (as Paul urged the Corinthians) strong, immovable, and working enthusiastically for the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). O Lord, may it be so. May it be so!

November 21, 2022

1 Corinthians 11:2-13:13


A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other (1 Corinthians 12:7, NLT).


Paul continues to address various issues that affect the Corinthian congregation. However, particular attention is given to the purpose and use of spiritual gifts. As is often the case among the Corinthians, something God provides to unite the congregation has become a source of division. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. They found a way to make the observance of the Lord's Supper an occasion for envy and division (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). Their level of dysfunction is astounding, as further illustrated by their attitude toward spiritual gifts.  


What is a spiritual gift? God Himself, for the help and benefit of the Church, equips believers with various abilities to strengthen their collective work. The phrase "spiritual gift" can also be understood as God's "grace gift" to every believer. Indeed, Paul uses two Greek terms translated "spiritual" in our English bibles. He uses the term "pneuma" which is the word for "spirit," and he also uses the term "charisma" which is based upon the word for "grace." The use of both Greek words is instructive. The gift or ability is imparted through God's Spirit into the life of a believer and is an expression of God's grace for the larger good of the congregation. Ironically, the Corinthians took something designed to strengthen and unify the church and made it a source of pride and contention. They completely miss the point of their spiritual gifts.

 

Paul seeks to explain God's desire on their behalf. He reminds them that their gifts are imparted as God chooses and intends. There should be no boasting of one's gift over another as if one is specially selected and the other is not. They are all expressions of God's grace and are directed toward the believers' lives for the church's good, not personal praise. Nor should they diminish the role or function that some play within the church. They should elevate and celebrate those who serve in less prominent ways. The church will not succeed or thrive otherwise, for everyone has a part to play. God gifts every believer for the congregation's larger good.

 

Of course, people frequently ask, "What's my gift?" However, that's probably the wrong question. That focuses the attention back on you. The better question is, "What is God desiring to do through His church?" We should focus on God's work through the church and then move to help in ways we can. I'm convinced that we discover God's gifts as we step toward service. Our collective service through the church allows God to demonstrate and confirm His gifting within. As Paul clearly explains, "A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other (1 Corinthians 12:7, NLT)." So my suggestion is to pray, "Lord, what can I do to help?" And then step forward and help. As you do, God’s grace gift or gifts on your behalf will become more evident through your various acts of service. Resist making it about you. Focus on the church and others, and let the Lord handle the rest.


Paul tries to steer the Corinthians in that direction. He reminds them that it is more about loving than doing, giving than receiving. We should then commit ourselves to love as Jesus loves. And what is that like? As Paul beautifully describes, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 13:4–7, NLT).”

 

May God help us to serve and reflect such love today!

 

Novemeber 20, 2022

1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1


"You say, 'I am allowed to do anything'—but not everything is good for you. You say, 'I am allowed to do anything'—but not everything is beneficial. Don't be concerned for your own good but for the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:23–24, NLT).

 

In today's reading, Paul highlights a principle that should guide our hearts. What is it? Simply stated, "Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:24, NLT).” Paul expresses the same to the Philippians when He writes, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too (Philippians 2:4, NLT).” And similarly, Paul appeals to the Roman believers, “We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn’t live to please Himself (Romans 15:2–3, NLT).” Are we getting the idea? We don’t live exclusively for ourselves as Jesus’ followers. We often make decisions based on the greater needs of others.


How many of the problems in the Corinthian church would disappear if they embraced this lesson? Sadly, they allow pride and selfish desire to dictate their decisions. They are motivated by “me first” thinking. Paul calls Jesus’ Church to something higher, something nobler. And it is a principle that Paul openly practiced. The apostle consistently adjusted his life to the more significant needs of the people around him. He explains, “When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20–22, NLT).”

 

Do we hear Paul’s heart? It’s not about compromising oneself morally or spiritually in ways that would dishonor the Lord. Instead, it’s about sacrificing one’s freedoms or rights for the spiritual benefit of others. If we recognize that something is detrimental to the spiritual health or well-being of the congregation, we do not demand our way. If we understand a particular action diminishes our public witness, we freely set it aside. We are driven by a greater law—Christ’s law of love. We look for common ground that might bring the body of Christ together and strengthen our testimony to an unbelieving world. Paul confesses, “Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:22-23, NLT).”


Once more, Paul is not proposing that we become morally or spiritually ambivalent—quite the opposite. His appeal is that we allow more of Christ to be seen in our everyday lives. Indeed, he urges, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1, NLT).”

 

Should we commit to doing the same? Will we? I recognize that what Paul asks is contrary to how many conduct their lives. The typical expectation or demand is for others to accommodate our desires or preferences. Again, the “me first” mindset is far too pervasive today. Yet, Paul is calling us to the “Jesus first” approach that elevates others for the sake of His Church and mission. As we do so, Jesus knows we will make a greater impact for His kingdom and experience more of Him in the process. So again, I ask, “Will we do so?” Will you?

November 19, 2022

“My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide (1 Corinthians 4:4, NLT).”


Paul is concerned about the church in Corinth. He has been informed about the congregation’s problems and seeks to bring them to a place of spiritual health and effectiveness. Unfortunately, a part of the church’s problem is that Paul is being undermined and diminished among the members. Even though he is the one that God used to start the congregation, Paul is being disparaged by others. As I read the text, I’m saddened by how Paul is being represented and treated. The man who gave sacrificially on their part is now forced to defend himself and the character of his ministry. However, Paul maintains the right perspective. The apostle cares more about God’s evaluation of his efforts than a crowd of self-promoting detractors. Paul confesses, “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide (1 Corinthians 4:3–4, NLT).”


Nor will Paul remain silent when these same critics accommodate behavior that dishonors the Lord and defiles the church. He confronts the congregation’s tolerance of a sexual relationship between a member and his stepmother. Paul is appalled and calls for the congregation to practice church discipline against the individual. For Christ’s sake, they must dissociate themselves from the person so that he might repent and be restored. Paul also reminds the congregation about the nature of sexual sin in general. When we reject God’s wisdom concerning our sexuality and sexual conduct, we dishonor our bodies and the Lord. Paul asserts, “You can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:13, NLT).”

 

To compound matters, sinful sexual behavior exposes Jesus Himself to the unholy act. Paul explains, “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, ‘The two are united into one.’ But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:15–18, NLT).” Paul later asks, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God (1 Corinthians 6:19, NLT)?” Their actions fail to display an understanding of this spiritual truth. Paul then declares, “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NLT).


Do we understand the same? Just as divisions within the church (the temple of God) are an offense to the Lord, sexual misconduct defiles God’s beloved temple and exposes Jesus in an unseemly way. And the appropriate response? As Paul commands, “Run from sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18, NLT)!” His words are simple and to the point. Don’t toy with sexual sin, rationalize, or justify it. Turn away from the behavior because you value your fellowship with the Lord more. When we involve ourselves in sexual sin, we grieve God’s Spirit within. In contrast, when we walk in the light of God’s wisdom as He is in the light, we enjoy fellowship with the Lord and are positively affected by Him (1 John 1:5-7). Think of it this way. By our actions, we either positively or negatively affect Him, which then (in turn) positively or negatively affects us. We are short-sighted when we view our sinful decisions as only impacting our individual lives for the moment at hand. They directly disrupt our fellowship with the Lord and often negatively influence the relationships around us.


Again, do we understand what Paul is teaching? I pray God grants us discerning hearts amid a morally confused and sexually reckless society. May we choose to walk in the light of God’s wisdom because we choose to walk in the light with Him. May the Lord help us to do so, even today!

November 18, 2022

Acts 18:24-19:20; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3:23


I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose (1 Corinthians 1:10, NLT).

 

Paul spent considerable time during his second missionary journey in Corinth. He is familiar with the people and the personalities involved. While in Ephesus (during his third missionary journey), Paul writes to the congregation to address several issues and problems hindering their effectiveness. A contrast between Paul's letter to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians is worth noting. With the Thessalonians, Paul prays, affirms, reminds, and clarifies. With the Corinthians, Paul corrects, corrects, and then corrects some more. The church in Corinth appears dysfunctional in far too many ways.


A key area of concern is the interpersonal division that exists within the congregation. Instead of being united in Christ, they have become fractured and divided. By Jesus' authority, the apostle appeals to the church members to live in harmony with one another. Perhaps Paul is mindful of Jesus' prayer for His future disciples. "I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are one—as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me (John 17:21, NLT)."


The division in Corinth insults what Jesus desires for His people. It is also an indication of the congregation's spiritual immaturity. Paul expresses as much when he writes, "Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn't talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready for anything stronger (1 Corinthians 3:1–2, NLT)." Paul then exposes the problem, "For your sinful nature still controls you. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn't that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren't you living like people of the world (1 Corinthians 3:3, NLT)?"

 

Paul's question is telling. The church's superficial attitudes and actions mirror the unbelieving culture around them instead of reflecting the heart and mind of Jesus—the One they claim to follow. Again, Paul appeals to the congregation to set their pride and divisions aside. He also warns those who would contribute to the problem. He writes, "Don't you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, NLT)."

 

And what of us? Do we understand the seriousness of division within the church? Do we justify divisive actions and attitudes? Please know that the goal is not some form of superficial uniformity. A diversity of backgrounds and personalities contribute to the beauty of Christian unity. Instead, our Christian unity should be based upon our mutual relationship with Jesus Christ. We humbly relate to and follow Him, which causes us to relate to one another in humble and loving ways. He brings us together through His Spirit in a way that testifies to the unbelieving world around us. Is it possible then that there will still be times of disagreement? Certainly so. The difference is that we relate to one another through Christ in ways that strengthen the church, not weaken it. Paul's concern will continue to be a point of emphasis further in the letter. May we take the lesson to heart and relate to one another accordingly. Let's join together and pray, "Lord Jesus, make us one even as You and the Father are one so that the world will see and believe in You."

November 17, 2022

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3:18; Acts 18:4-23


Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, NLT).

 

Yesterday I highlighted Paul's approach to the new believers in Thessalonica. They responded to Jesus in a hostile environment, so Paul writes to strengthen and reassure them. As I noted, Paul prays on their behalf, affirms their actions, reminds them of his teaching, and clarifies what should be understood. We should probably do the same as we encourage new believers around us. Even if you view yourself as relatively new in following Jesus, you can adopt the same approach in supporting someone you may know.



As Paul moves to the conclusion of his letter, he voices a benediction that should encourage our hearts. He prays for the Thessalonians in a way that we should also pray for ourselves and others. Specifically, Paul asks the God of peace to make them holy in every way. The idea of "holiness" is to be set apart for God's purposes. It suggests more than a godly morality (though that is implied). It emphasizes one's higher purpose in life—to reflect Jesus in what we do, what we say, and who we are becoming. And Paul's prayer? He prays that the God of peace Himself would bring this about. Indeed, his language for God's activity is emphatic. This is not insinuating that we are entirely passive in the process, for we are not. However, it does remind us that God is not a spectator to this work of grace. God is directly involved, and we should humbly acknowledge and seek as much.


The benediction also emphasizes how God's work should affect the whole of who we are—spirit, soul, and body. Our transformation will falter when we offer a limited aspect of who we are. Instead, we should petition the God of peace to impact every facet from the inside out. May we seek that for ourselves even as we would intercede the same for others. Of course, the goal is that God's sanctifying work would make us blameless, beyond scrutiny. That does not imply that we can be perfect. None of us will experience perfection on this side of eternity. Nevertheless, we should request and pursue a Christ-likeness that withstands the examination of a skeptical, unbelieving world. O, that God Himself would perform such necessary work.


The encouraging news is that God desires to answer this prayer. As the apostle joyfully declares, "God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:24, NLT)." Every time I read Paul's words, my heart is strengthened. The God who rescues us in Jesus and calls us to His holy purpose is committed to completing His transforming work in our lives. He who calls us is faithful. Paul returns to this theme in his second letter to the Thessalonians. He writes, "So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of His call. May He give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with Him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, NLT)."

 

Once more, this does not ignore our participation in the process. However, it's a beautiful reminder that more is at work than our collective efforts. God is very much at work. May we never lose sight of that for ourselves, as well as for others. So, let's do more than be encouraged by Paul's benediction. Let's lift his petition to the God of peace in prayer. Will you join me?

 

November 16, 2022

Acts 17:16-18:3: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5:11


Then they took him to the high council of the city. "Come and tell us about this new teaching," they said (Acts 17:19, NLT).

 

Paul's second missionary journey reaches the renowned city of Athens, and he's invited to address the city's high council. Earlier discussions about Jesus had aroused curiosity among many. Paul then seeks to meet the listeners where they are in their beliefs and move them to the truth of Jesus Christ. The apostle again models the necessity of discernment (knowing your crowd) and a thoughtful proclamation of the truth. In other words, though the message of Jesus does not change, how the gospel is communicated very well may.


In his appeal, Paul alludes to the Greek altar "To an Unknown God" and explains how the "unknown God" can now be known and experienced. Paul boldly speaks about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how He is God's remedy for the coming day of judgment. Some laugh at Paul's message, others seek to understand better, and some respond sincerely in faith. Paul's courage to speak out creates the opportunity for God to work. May we keep that in mind. People will never turn to Jesus if no one is willing to speak up about Him. Let's commit ourselves to be messengers of His good news.


Paul eventually leaves Athens and travels to Corinth. Timothy, however, is sent back to Thessalonica to check on the developing congregation. Though Paul focuses on a new work in Corinth, he remains concerned for the Thessalonian believers. Indeed, upon Timothy's arrival in Corinth, Paul writes a helpful letter to the Thessalonians. His letter gives us a glimpse into the apostle's heart but also further insight into a church birthed out of controversy and persecution. Paul's time in Thessalonica had been limited due to the volatile opposition. Yet, the apostle's commitment to the persecuted believers remains.


What do we learn from Paul's letter? His epistle offers practical insight into the Christian life and should be considered as relevant to us as it was to the Thessalonian church. May we approach Paul's letter prayerfully and act upon his words appropriately. Paul's words also provide an example that we should follow. How so? He exemplifies how we might help and encourage new believers. Look again at the letter. What do we find? We observe Paul praying, affirming, reminding, and clarifying.


PRAYING—the apostle indicates that he and the missionary team constantly pray on the Thessalonians' behalf (1 Thessalonians 1:2). Paul understands that prayer is crucial because new and mature Christians alike depend upon God's daily grace and power. Paul prays. AFFIRMING—Paul recognizes and affirms the good that is taking place within the church despite its hardship (1 Thessalonians 1:3-10). New believers need to hear when they are moving in the right direction. Paul affirms. REMINDING—Paul also seeks to remind the new believers of God's wisdom and guidance concerning their daily lives (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12). His words are morally practical and to the point. He also understands that they must hear his instructions more than once. Paul reminds. CLARIFYING—Paul likewise explains what is unclear or misunderstood (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Sometimes repetition is not enough. New believers may require additional instruction and clarification. Paul clarifies.


Let's learn then from Paul's words and example. May we point others to Jesus—discerning where people are and communicating the truth appropriately. Let's also take Paul's Thessalonian letter to heart and seek to emulate his approach toward new believers. As we do, we will grow in grace as we live out God’s wisdom. But we will also help others to do the same as we pray, affirm, remind, and clarify. What do you think? Will you join me?


November 15, 2022

Acts 15:22-17:15


After some time Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing." Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated (Acts 15:36–39, NLT).


With the questions surrounding the gospel resolved, Paul and Barnabas discuss returning to the cities they had previously visited. Their discussion, however, results in a sharp disagreement. Barnabas desires John Mark, his cousin, to join them again in their efforts. Paul is firmly opposed to the idea. We do not know what contributed to John Mark's early departure during their first missionary endeavor. Paul is adamant that the young man should not participate in the second. Both Paul and Barnabas are immovable in their opinion, resulting in two teams being formed instead of one. Barnabas and John Mark sail for Cyprus. Paul and Silas travel throughout Syria and Cilicia.


What are to conclude from the disagreement? Is one of them right and the other wrong? Regrettably, sometimes we view all decisions in those terms when both positions likely possess some strengths and weaknesses. Barnabas is determined to pour further into John Mark, while Paul is convinced that the path ahead requires greater stability than what John Mark displayed. The outcome results in God working in both directions. We will continue to follow Paul and Silas' efforts in the readings ahead. Yet, we should likewise appreciate the success of Barnabas' decision. The time he invests in John Mark is of value. Indeed, his younger protégé will become the writer of the Gospel of Mark. That's right. John Mark will record a testimony concerning Jesus that has touched the world for generations. Not only that, the skeptical Paul will later speak of John Mark in commendable terms. In his letter to Philemon, Paul describes him as a "co-worker" (Philemon 24). And then, Paul writes to Timothy in his final letter and asks, "Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry (2 Timothy 4:11, NLT)." Yes. We should consider both Barnabas and Paul successful in their efforts, though their difference of opinion led them down different paths.


And what of Paul and Silas? They follow God's leadership into a whole new area. Prompted by a visionary call, they carry the good news of Jesus Christ into Macedonia. We should admire their courage as they follow God's leadership. For all practical purposes, they are leaving any potential support system behind. They place their confidence in God's call and trust in God's provision. It should again be noted (like the first missionary endeavor) that Paul will face consistent and sometimes severe opposition. For example, their first stop in Philippi would result in a church being formed, but Paul and Silas also being beaten and imprisoned. That combination would seem to characterize much of today's reading. Whether in Philippi, Thessonalica, or Berea, the team would experience both a fruitful harvest and an angry opposition. Paul's opponents in Thessonalica are so irritated that they follow Paul and Silas to Berea to instigate further trouble. Yet, the team remains focused on the Lord and His call upon their lives. Can we say the same?


So what do we take away from today's reading? First, differences of opinion can sometimes be a blessing instead of a hindrance. Keep this in mind. There's no indication that Paul and Barnabas allowed their disagreement to become personal, fracturing their relationship. Paul's later commendation of John Mark would suggest his appreciation of God's work through his former associate, Barnabas. May God help us in Christian love to agree to disagree and yet still work for the cause of Christ in ways that He would lead. Second, we should also remind ourselves that we can be in the center of God's will and still encounter significant difficulty. Don't make the mistake of assuming that following God's leadership will guarantee a comfortable path. Honestly, the opposite is more likely. That said. Walking in God's will ensures an outpouring of God's grace and provision—and on top of that, a full heart. Who knows? Your heart may overflow with praise in the most unlikely places. I pray God will encourage us with both lessons today in ways that will lead us forward.

November 14, 2022

Galatians 3:24–6:18; Acts 15:1-21


While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: "Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved." Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question (Acts 15:1–2, NLT).

 

How is a sinner saved—made right with a holy God? Is it a result of religious effort or ritual? Or is it a result of God's redemptive work on a person's behalf? Jesus answers the question in His conversation with the religious leader, Nicodemus. He explains, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16–17, NLT). Of course, Paul expresses the same message of hope during his first missionary journey. In Antioch of Pisidia, the apostle proclaims, "Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in Him is made right in God's sight—something the law of Moses could never do (Acts 13:38–39, NLT)."


Disturbingly, as noted yesterday, false teachers began to distort the good news of Jesus Christ. They promoted a way of salvation in Jesus that demanded conformity to the Old Testament law. In other words, faith in Jesus is not enough. Paul aggressively combats this heresy in his letter to the Galatian churches. Paul elaborates regarding the law, "The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:24–26, NLT)."

 

Does that allow for moral indifference or lawlessness among Jesus' followers? Certainly not! Paul pleads, "Don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13, NLT)." Paul later adds, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there (Galatians 5:24, NLT). Paul's point is this: salvation is undeniably based upon one's faith in Jesus. However, the heart (where faith resides) should reflect Jesus' influence in noticeable ways. We will observe this lesson consistently in Paul's future letters.


So what can we conclude from today's reading? Let's be clear. Salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. We must resist anyone or anything that would take our eyes off Jesus, our Savior. This issue was so important that leaders gathered in Jerusalem to address it. Paul, describing the Gentile response to Jesus, explains, "He (God) made no distinction between us and them, for He cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus (Acts 15:9–11, NLT)." The leaders of the Church agree. Though they request Gentile believers to display an appropriate sensitivity to Jewish believers, the gospel's message is settled. Salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. May it remain settled in our hearts as well. Indeed, may Jesus be praised!

November 13, 2022

Acts 14:21-28; Galatians 1:1-3:1-23


After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers (Acts 14:21–22, NLT).

 

Paul and Barnabas retrace much of their earlier path as their initial mission endeavor moves toward an end. They seek to strengthen the believers they left behind. It must have been spiritually encouraging to observe God still at work in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia. They also appoint spiritual leaders within each congregation. The future health of the churches depends on mature leadership to navigate the challenges ahead. Ultimately, however, Paul and Barnabas commit the greater work to the Lord. As Luke describes, "With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:23, NLT)."

 

Eventually, the mission team returned to their sending church—the congregation in Antioch. Three years have passed since the Antioch leaders spiritually set Barnabas and Paul apart for their missionary enterprise. Three years of personal challenges and trials, as well as significant successes. New congregations have been planted on the Island of Cyprus, with additional churches in the provinces of Pamphylia and Galatia. The saving power of Jesus Christ has been witnessed again and again. Barnabas and Paul report everything God achieved, notably how the Lord opened a door of ministry to the Gentiles.


While in Antioch, Paul likely writes his letter of support to the congregations in Galatia. The apostle may have received word that a group of false teachers had begun to mislead the new churches. These so-called teachers have been promoting a "gospel" contrary to Paul's message. Jewish in background, the false teachers claim that one's faith in Jesus as Savior is insufficient without embracing Judaism's practices (circumcision, food restrictions, etc.). Paul's response could not be more pointed. He writes, "I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to Himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ (Galatians 1:6–7, NLT). Paul also warns, "Let God's curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you (Galatians 1:8, NLT)."

 

The stakes could not be higher. Salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. To suggest otherwise diminishes Jesus and places our attention unhealthily upon ourselves. If we could save ourselves through the law, then Jesus need not have come. But our best efforts are grossly inadequate. Salvation is not Jesus plus something else. Paul explains, "We know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law (Galatians 2:16, NLT)."


Is that a truth that we also need to keep before us? It is so easy to take our eyes off Jesus and redirect our attention to something else. Paul writes the book of Galatians so that we might keep our eyes of faith on the One who saves—Jesus. Will we do so? Will we help others to do the same?

November 12, 2022

Acts 12:6-14:20


"Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers (Acts 12:24, NLT)."


Persecution against Jesus' followers continues to intensify. Herod Agrippa executes James (John's brother) by the sword and then, motivated by the popularity of his actions, arrests and imprisons Peter. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Jerusalem church. Even so, the congregation remains spiritually vibrant and resilient. God miraculously delivers Simon Peter, and the church's testimony concerning Jesus resounds. Indeed, as stated above, "the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers (Acts 12:24, NLT)." Sometimes the light of the gospel shines its brightest when the circumstances are their darkest.


The good news of Jesus also continues to spread abroad. The leaders in Antioch prayerfully set Barnabas and Saul (Paul) apart as the first missionary team. John Mark joins the pair as they sail from Syria to the island of Cyprus. The message of Jesus Christ is on the move. Though John Mark eventually abandons the effort, Barnabas and Paul press faithfully forward. They courageously share their abounding hope in Jesus from Cyprus to Pamphylia to Galatia. Their faith and determination should inspire us all.


What can we learn from the team's example? First, Barnabas and Paul adjust to the changing conditions. They focus initially on the Jewish population but soon recognize the dynamic of God's activity among the Gentiles. They consequently invest their time and energy where God is working. The team's discernment and flexibility are crucial to their success.


Second, Barnabas does not allow his ego to hinder God's continuing work. How so? Early in their journey, Luke lists the team as Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:3, 7). Something changes, however, as they travel from Cyprus to Pamphylia. Paul begins to be listed first (Acts 13:13, 43, 46, 50). The change in order likely suggests a shift in leadership and prominence on Paul's part. Some think that John Mark may have defected due to the change. Of course, we do not know Mark's motivation for sure. What should be noted is that Barnabas remains focused on the mission. He refuses to allow a change in roles to interfere with their collaborative effort. Barnabas' example should instruct us all.


Finally, the first missionary journey also reminds us that doing God's work does not insulate a person from hardship. It may potentially move God's servants toward it. Paul and Barnabas are at the center of God's activity and yet encounter a series of tests and challenges. Notably, Paul is stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14:19-20). Remarkably, he gets up and seemingly continues his work undeterred. Neither Paul nor Barnabas allow the struggles they endure to dissuade them from the mission. Instead, they view such sacrifices as worthy of the One they follow.


So what might we learn? There's much to consider. How's our flexibility for the sake of the gospel? Do we allow our ego to get in the way of God's work? And how often have we quit a task because it became too difficult? May God encourage our hearts through Barnabas and Paul's example and move us toward service in ways that make a difference.

November 11, 2022

Acts 10:1-12:5

 

"Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean (Acts 10:15, NLT)."


Today's reading highlights another significant step forward in the work of the gospel. Jesus announced that His disciples would receive power and be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ultimately, to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We focused yesterday on Philip's ministry among the Samaritans. Our attention shifts today to Simon Peter as he travels to Caesarea to visit the home of a Roman officer. It is a pivotal moment for both Peter and the early Church. The good news of Jesus Christ will be deliberately shared with a Gentile family. Such an important step would require God's direct coordination.


The story begins with the Roman officer, Cornelius, receiving an angelic visitor. God sends His messenger to instruct the god-fearing Cornelius to summon a man named Simon Peter to his home. As unusual as the announcement may have seemed, the officer promptly obeys. He directs a soldier and two household servants to travel to Joppa to extend his invitation. As Cornelius' representatives approach their destination, God prepares Simon Peter for the unlikely invitation. God does so through a series of three visions. In each, Peter is stretched beyond his comfort zone. God commands him to kill and eat a collection of animals, birds, and reptiles that Simon perceives as unclean. However, God's message could not be clearer. The Lord declares, "Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean (Acts 10:15, NLT)."


As Simon Peter reflects upon his experience, the men sent by Cornelius arrive at the residence where he is staying. God's timing is perfect. Indeed, God's Spirit directs Peter (even before receiving the invitation) to travel with the three previously unknown individuals. God is arranging a meeting that would impact the future thinking of the Church. Peter travels to Caesarea and arrives at Cornelius' home with some Christian brothers he had invited to join him. God's visionary lesson remains fresh in Peter's heart. He explains to Cornelius, "You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for me (Acts 10:28–29, NLT)."


And what results from this orchestrated meeting? Cornelius and those gathered respond by faith to the gospel—a Gentile household become followers of Jesus Christ. It is a divinely appointed meeting with purpose and design. Dramatically, God teaches the early Church that Jesus' message of hope is for all people—for Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. That's especially relevant to me, a Gentile follower of Jesus Christ.


And what is the lesson for us? Let's marvel over God's direct involvement in sharing the good news of Jesus. He's not a spectator to the gospel enterprise. God is ever-seeking to bring people together so that the message of Jesus Christ can affect a person's heart. He positions Philip at the right place and time to share with an Ethiopian official. And now he orchestrates another unlikely encounter for all to see. A vital element with both is Philip and Peter's willingness to follow God's lead. Are we willing to do the same? Will we move beyond our comfort zone to become God's messenger of hope? Will we boldly share what we know about Jesus with another? God is still working today to bring these divine appointments together. Will we follow His lead? Will you?

November 10, 2022

Acts 8-9


A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1, NLT).


Our reading today highlights a series of notable conversions or salvation stories—starting with a significant number of faith responses in the city of Samaria. Persecution against the Church is increasing. Many early believers are forced out of Jerusalem as a result. Philip, for example, travels to the city of Samaria and begins to share the good news of Jesus openly. He refuses to allow the threat of persecution to silence his testimony. The Samaritans turn to Jesus in great numbers and are baptized. Jesus' pronouncement concerning His followers is being fulfilled. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NLT)."

 

The Jerusalem church sends Peter and John to observe and confirm God's work among the Samaritans. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not to be limited to Judea alone. Jesus' message of hope will ultimately touch the world. Of course, Jesus foreshadowed this when He interacted with the Samaritan woman at Sychar (John 4:1-42). She, too, responded to Jesus, resulting in the entire village discovering the good news of Jesus. They later exclaim, "Now we know that He is indeed the Savior of the world (John 4:42, NLT)." Jesus truly is the hope of the world.


Despite his ministry success in Samaria, an angel of the Lord directs Philip south along a desert road to Gaza, leading to another noteworthy conversion. Philip observes an Ethiopian man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. God's Spirit prompts him to engage the man in a discussion. Philip obeys. He connects the prophecies of scripture with the message of Jesus, and the man's heart is affected. The Ethiopian official responds in faith and (given the opportunity) is promptly baptized. A seemingly random encounter results in a new believer in Jesus and a new witness to the gospel—now to Ethiopia. We should marvel at how God works and learn (like Philip) to obey the Spirit's prompting. We never know what God is in the process of doing, which brings us to our final significant faith story.


Saul violently opposes Jesus' followers. He's doing everything within his power to halt the spread of their message. They are, from his perspective, blasphemers who deserve to suffer and die for their claims concerning Jesus. However, on the road to Damascus, Saul's perspective radically changes—he encounters the resurrected Jesus. Indeed, Jesus confronts his angry opponent personally. "Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?" "Who are you, lord?" Saul asked. And the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting (Acts 9:3–5, NLT)." Ironically, Jesus temporarily blinds Saul so he might spiritually see. And see, he does. A new voice for the gospel of Jesus Christ will soon be heard. Jesus' future missionary to the Gentiles will be put into service.


We'll continue to follow Saul's transformation moving ahead. For now, think about what we have observed from today's reading. People respond to Jesus when given an opportunity. They turn to Him in faith when they recognize the truth of who He is. Admittedly, not everyone will accept Jesus as their Savior. We know that is true. Even so, many individuals will choose to believe if only given the opportunity. May we learn from Philip's example and provide them with a chance. Saul (better known as Paul) later expresses it this way: "How can they call on Him to save them unless they believe in Him? And how can they believe in Him if they have never heard about Him? And how can they hear about Him unless someone tells them (Romans 10:14, NLT)?" Do we get the point? Will we do something about it? I pray we will reflect Philip's availability and boldness to share our hope in Jesus with someone near. Will you join me?

November 9, 2022

Acts 6:1–8:1a


"But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent (Acts 6:1, NLT)."

 

The rapid growth of the Jerusalem church resulted in new challenges—first internally. Discontent arose over the distribution of food among certain widows within the congregation. The Greek-speaking widows were not receiving the same attention as their Hebrew-speaking counterparts. The inequity began to generate division among the members, jeopardizing the congregation's continued effectiveness. This issue illustrates how interpersonal challenges can appear even when God is dramatically at work. Loving God, serving God, and following God's leadership doesn't mean internal struggles will not arise. The local church will always have its share of potential problems. The question is, "When the problems occur, how will the congregation respond?" The Jerusalem church models an instructive approach.


Instead of ignoring the problem, the congregation appoints a group of individuals to address the concern. They chose seven respected leaders who could distribute the widow's support more effectively. Not coincidentally, the seven selected all reflect Greek-sounding names. In other words, the congregation appoints seven spiritually mature individuals with a natural affinity toward those who may have been neglected. They represent God's solution to a problem that threatens the future success of the church—seven "problem-solvers" who would serve on the congregation's behalf. Many believe these initial seven are the first to serve as deacons within the expanding church. The term "deacon" literally means servant in the Greek language. Here we have an early example of these servant-leaders and their vital role. And what results? "So God's message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too (Acts 6:7, NLT)."

 

Yet, the expanding church also experiences challenges externally—highlighted by the death of Stephen. We are introduced to Stephen as one of the seven selected to address the congregation's internal struggle. However, Stephen is likewise a bold witness outside the church, provoking angry opposition. Indeed, some falsely accuse Stephen of blasphemy resulting in his arrest and trial. Will Stephen be intimidated into silence? Quite the opposite! In a thoughtful, scripturally insightful way, Stephen highlights how Jesus is the culmination of God's covenant promises and then rebukes the council that had condemned Jesus to die. He declares, "You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That's what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn't persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered (Acts 7:51–52, NLT)."

 

Stephen's words enrage those gathered, but then he adds, "Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God's right hand (Acts 7:56, NLT)!" That was all the Sanhedrin could take. They rush Stephen, drag him outside the city, and violently stone him to death. Yet, even then, Stephen reflects Jesus' influence. He prays, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and then he shouts, "Lord, don't charge them with this sin (Acts 7:59–60, NLT)!" And with that, the church's first martyr dies.


And our response? First, let's be a part of God's solution when the church struggles within, not part of the problem. May we step forward in service in ways that enable the congregation to overcome the challenge—facilitating the church's progress and success. Second, may the Lord raise up "Stephens" in our day who will boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to an increasingly hostile world. May we also reflect Jesus' influence when mistreated and wronged. Stephen stood up for Jesus in the face of cruel opposition. And let it be noted that Jesus stood up for Stephen. I pray we live in a way that motivates Jesus to do the same. May God's Spirit empower us in that direction!

November 8, 2022

Acts 3:1-5:42


Peter said, "I don't have any silver or gold for you. But I'll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk (Acts 3:6, NLT)!"

 

Jesus commands His disciples to be His witnesses and powerful witnesses they become. They boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Their message is consistently the same. Jesus died and rose again so He might impart forgiveness and life to all who believe. God even enables Peter to heal a lame man begging in the Temple. Instead of contributing a financial gift, Peter commands the man to get up in the name of Jesus. As Peter helps the man to his feet, he is instantly healed. The power of Jesus Christ is displayed.


A crowd soon forms in response to the miracle. Peter promptly points the gathering people to Jesus. He declares, "You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact (Acts 3:1, (NLT)!" What a statement, but it's true. They put to death the "author of life," but God raised Him from the dead so that He might extend the gift of life. Peter appeals, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away (Acts 3:19, NLT). Peter's message is compelling. Many who heard the message believed, and the number of believers in Jesus increased to 5000 (Acts 4:4). The early Church is fulfilling Jesus' earlier pronouncement. They are Jesus' witnesses (Acts 1:8).

                                                                         

However, not everyone is pleased. While interacting with the crowd, Peter and John are soon confronted by the religious leaders, even the captain of the Temple guard. Indeed, they are brought to explain their actions to the Sanhedrin the following day—the same council that condemned Jesus to death. Peter is fearless in his explanation. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he declares, "Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we've done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, 'The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.' There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:8–12, NLT)."


Peter and John's boldness amaze members of the council. Where did they acquire such biblical insight and understanding? They have recognizably been with Jesus, so the religious leaders attempt to intimidate them into silence. And Peter and John's response? "Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than Him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19–20, NLT)." The conflict now begins, which will escalate in the days to come into violent persecution. Jesus' witnesses would live up to the meaning of the word. The Greek term for witness is "mártus," from which we obtain the English word "martyr." Yet, even in their language, the early disciples recognize that being a witness might require the ultimate sacrifice.

 

And what of us? Are we bold in our witness or intimidated into silence? If silent, what is it we fear? Are we afraid of rejection or loss of reputation? Is there a threat of physical loss or harm? What is it that prevents us from pointing others to Jesus? Let's be honest in our assessment. Consider also what made the difference with the early disciples. Remember Jesus' promise, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NLT)." The key is God's Spirit. They allowed God's Spirit to work through them in ways that moved them beyond their fear. Perhaps we should seek to do the same. Let's yield ourselves anew to the Spirit's presence and work. May we also focus on Jesus and His promise of life. With our eyes on Jesus, let's step toward our fear and anticipate God's activity as we do. Indeed, let's pray for an opportunity today to point someone to Jesus—fear or no fear. May Jesus be lifted up!

November 7, 2022

Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:1-2:47


"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NLT)."

 

The resurrected Jesus gathers with His disciples one final time before He ascends to His exalted position of power and authority. As one might imagine, the disciples focus on when Jesus will establish His earthly kingdom. Jesus' attention, however, remains on the mission at hand. Jesus is ascending on high so He can facilitate a continuing work through them. In a spiritual sense, His followers (the Church) will become His spiritual body upon the earth (1 Corinthians 12:27). Before His departure, Jesus lays out the general plan.


First, Jesus reminds them they will receive a power greater than themselves. Indeed, as Jesus explained on the night of His arrest, the Father would send them the gift of His Holy Spirit to dwell within them (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13). His presence would become a part of their lives to comfort, guide, and strengthen them, but also, so they could fulfill the Father's larger plan and work. God's Spirit would prove sufficient for their task ahead.


Yet, Jesus also underscores their mission. The disciples would be the recipients of God's presence to become effective witnesses on Jesus' behalf. The promise of His power was for more than personal benefit. Yes, God's Spirit would be a source of comfort and support. But the dynamic of the Spirit's work would be diminished if the disciples become self-centered in their focus. As Jesus previously explained, "But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about Me. And you must also testify about Me because you have been with Me from the beginning of My ministry (John 15:26–27, NLT)." They are to be His witnesses.


Again, as Jesus spells it out, "And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NLT)." Jesus could not be clearer. His disciples must not keep what they know a secret. They are to testify to what they have experienced in Jesus. His followers are to share the hope that they have found in Him. They are to explain how Jesus died and rose again as the Son of God so that anyone who believes in Him can experience forgiveness and life. They are to be His witnesses!


Of course, ten days later, the disciples experience this firsthand when Jesus' promise is fulfilled (Acts 2). They dramatically receive the Holy Spirit and immediately share the good news within Jerusalem—resulting in 3000 new believers in Jesus. And as we read on, they will also become witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and, yes, to the ends of the earth. They become a living testimony to Jesus' words, and the world has never been the same.

 

And what of us? We are given the presence of God's Spirit as we believe in Jesus. As the Apostle Paul explains, "And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom He promised long ago (Ephesians 1:13, NLT)." Like the first generation of followers, we have received power from on high. The question is, "Are we continuing the mission?" We have been given the same gift of God's Spirit, so we, too, might bear witness to the One who has changed our lives for the better. Are we doing so? Do note: you don't have to be a biblical expert or scholar. Instead, if you have experienced forgiveness and life in Jesus, you share what you know. More directly, you point those around you to the One you know—Jesus. You become a witness to Him in the truest sense of the word.


Please don't make it more complicated than it is. And more importantly, don't forget that you have a power greater than yourself at work. Yield yourself to the Lord daily. Pray by name for those around you. And, as God enables, point someone to Jesus. Ask God for the opportunity to do so—even today!

November 6, 2022

Luke 24:13-49; Mark 16:12-18; John 20:19-21:25; Matthew 28:16-20


At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn't see who He was. He called out, "Fellows, have you caught any fish?" "No," they replied. Then He said, "Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you'll get some!" So they did, and they couldn't haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, "It's the Lord! (John 21:4–7, NLT)."


Jesus, the Son of God, conquered death. He died and rose again, so whoever believes in Him would be assured of life eternal with God. May our hearts rejoice. Jesus has risen! Our reading today highlights a series of post-resurrection appearances that Jesus' makes among His disciples. Each illustrates that Jesus is truly alive. He visits with two down-hearted followers on the road to Emmaus. Jesus opens their eyes to the testimony of the prophets concerning the promised Messiah's suffering and plan. More significantly, Jesus opens their eyes to the truth of His identity as He breaks bread with them. They rush back to Jerusalem to declare, "The Lord has risen!"


Yes. Jesus, in a variety of ways, demonstrates that He truly is alive. Jesus unexpectedly appeared to the disciples on that first Easter, still hiding behind locked doors. Jesus shows them the wounds in His hands and side. It is as if He is saying to disbelieving eyes, "See, it really is me!" Thomas, however, remains skeptical. Since he was not present at Jesus' appearance, he openly expresses doubt. He states, "I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side (John 20:25, NLT)." I appreciate Thomas' honesty. Would any of us have thought otherwise? Normal people do not conquer death. Of course, Jesus is more than a man. One week later, Jesus appears and invites Thomas to act on his words. He says to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and look at My hands. Put your hand into the wound in My side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe (John 20:27 (NLT)!" And Thomas' response? He exclaims, "My Lord, and God." Indeed, Jesus is our Lord and God!


Perhaps one of my favorite resurrection accounts is Jesus' appearance to the disciples as they fish on the sea of Galilee. It is like they have come full circle. Jesus originally called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples following an earlier miracle on the water. And here they are again—fishing. And here Jesus is again—revealing Himself to be the Son of God. As Peter becomes aware that Jesus is on the shore, he promptly dives into the water and swims to join Him. What is racing through Peter's mind? Though Jesus had previously appeared to Peter, he likely is still struggling with the shame of his three denials.


It's Jesus who initiates the conversation. And it's Jesus that tenderly encourages Peter, even as He would lovingly reassure us. Jesus asks Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" Jesus' question must have initially stung. Peter claimed that if all the disciples abandoned Jesus, he never would. Indeed, Peter asserted that he would die if necessary. Peter's failure proved otherwise. Meekly, Simon responds, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." Jesus presses further and asks a second time, "Simon, do you love me?" And then a third time, "Simon, do you love me?" Why the repetition? The parallel to Simon's denials is obvious. Yet, with each question and each of Simon's confessions of love, Jesus calls Simon Peter back to service. "Feed My lambs. Take care of My sheep. Feed My sheep."


Here's the point: Simon Peter's failure did not disqualify him from service, and (by the way) nor does your stumbling disqualify you. The forgiveness and compassion of the Lord restore those who falter. It is worth noting that Jesus didn't ask Simon to try harder, for it's not about one's effort. Jesus asks Peter to focus again on the relationship that can strengthen and empower Him. "Simon," Jesus asks, "do you love me?" He would ask the same of us. Not to provoke guilt but to call us back into relationship and service. The resurrected Son of God desires for us to know Him, and knowing Him to love Him, and loving Him to follow Him. So, do we love Him? Do you? Simon confessed His love on that memorable day. Maybe it would lift our hearts to voice our love today. "Lord Jesus, I love you."

November 5, 2022

Mark 15:42-16:11; Matthew 27:57-28:15; Luke 23:50-24:12; John 19:38-20:18


But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn't find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, "Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn't here! He is risen from the dead (Luke 24:1–6, NLT)!"

 

What sets Christianity apart from the world's religions? One would rightly say it's the message of Jesus. Salvation is not the result of man's work but God's. Indeed, Christianity teaches that God (in the person of Jesus, His Son) entered the brokenness of the human experience so He might rescue humanity from the consequences of sin. Jesus came to do what no other descendant of Adam could. The Son of God lived without sin so He might become the sin offering on our behalf. As the Apostle John describes, "He Himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world (1 John 2:2, NLT)." Because of Jesus, salvation can be received by faith as a gift. It is unmerited and forever alters one's standing and relationship with God. John's gospel also declares, "But to all who believed Him (Jesus) and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God (John 1:12–13, NLT)."

 

Again, what sets Christianity apart? It is the good news of Jesus Christ. However, we should admit that no good news exists if Jesus did not conquer death. His resurrection is essential. Why so? Jesus' victory proves He is whom He claimed to be. Think about it. Jesus declared Himself to be God incarnate and that His words are the source of life and hope (John 14:1-11). Anyone could make such claims. Many religious leaders have uniquely elevated themselves to attract attention and followers. Yet, they have all died and remained in their grave or tomb. Though their teachings may persist, their mortality is not in dispute. They were mortal as we are, limited as we are, and, yes, sinners as we are. Yet, Jesus claims to be more, and the testimony surrounding His resurrection attests He is. As the Apostle Paul affirms, "He was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:4, NLT)."


Of course, skeptics would argue that the biblical witness is fraudulent. They suggest that the early disciples concocted the resurrection account to perpetuate a lie—that none of it is true. But these same disciples (history tells us) would later die for their fabrication, which raises a question. Who would die for a lie? Maybe one deluded soul, but one alleged eyewitness to the resurrection after the next? No. Something historically happened that radically affected a group of people, resulting in the birth of Christianity. And what was that something? Our reading today highlights the motivating factor—Jesus, the Son of God, who died for sinners, lives!


And our response? My heart is stirred to look again at the Jesus I follow. I do not follow a religious leader or adhere to impersonal religious beliefs. My focus is on the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. My hope rests upon the truth of who He is and the promises He extends. Jesus declares to a grieving family, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die (John 11:25–26, NLT)." Jesus then asks, "Do you believe this?" I want to be on the record, "I believe." I believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sin and now lives victoriously. I believe in Jesus, and my life will never be the same. And your response?

November 4, 2022

Mark 15:21-41; Matthew 27:32-56; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:17-37


And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). They offered Him wine drugged with myrrh, but He refused it. Then the soldiers nailed Him to the cross. They divided His clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified Him.

 

A sign announced the charge against Him. It read, “The King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at You now!” they yelled at Him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save Yourself and come down from the cross!” The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but He can’t save Himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe Him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed Him.

 

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?”

 

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought He was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to Him on a reed stick so He could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take Him down!” Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed His last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. When the Roman officer who stood facing Him saw how He had died, he exclaimed, “This Man truly was the Son of God (Mark 15:22–39, NLT)!”

 

He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on Him the sins of us all (Isaiah 53:3–6, NLT).

 

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, NLT)!”

 

I offer no commentary today. Think about what you have read. Pray about what is described. Respond to Jesus appropriately.

November 3, 2022

Mark 15:2-20; Matthew 27:11-31; Luke 22:63-23:25; John 18:28-9:16


Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "You have said it (Mark 15:2, NLT)."

 

Who is Jesus? Whom do we perceive Him to be? Jesus has already been tried and pronounced guilty by Caiaphas and the religious leaders. They condemn Him to die because of His accused blasphemy, for He claimed to be the Son of God. Is it blasphemy if Jesus truly is God's anointed? However, to them, a decision has been reached. They view Jesus as a fraud and a threat. They want Him to suffer and die.


It is Pilate's turn to assess Jesus' identity and potential guilt. The Roman governor sees through the manipulative schemes of the religious leaders, but he's unsure what to make of this man. Is Jesus a religious leader or something more—a king? Pilate asks, "Are you the king of the Jews?" The whole situation leaves Pilate skeptical of Jesus' guilt, but what to do? Informed that Jesus is Galilean, the Roman governor sends Him to Herod Antipas, who has jurisdiction over Galilee. Maybe Herod can address the matter and relieve Pilate of the responsibility. The Jewish ruler, however, will prove no help. Jesus refuses to respond to Herod, which results in Jesus being thrust again before the wary governor.


Pilate concludes that Jesus is indeed innocent and not someone worthy of death. He looks instead for a way around the situation. Would flogging suffice? The people cry, "No." How about a choice? Pilate offers the option of releasing a violent insurrectionist (Barabbas) or Jesus—the so-called King of the Jesus. The governor campaigns for Jesus' release to no avail. The religious leaders and their organized mob cry out for Barabbas. And what to do with Jesus? The people keep shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"


Who is Jesus? Whom do we perceive Him to be? The angry crowd views Jesus as a blasphemer. Pilate regards Jesus as an innocent man but still condemns Him to die. And our conclusion? We have read through each of the four gospels, bringing us to this critical moment. Who is Jesus, and how do we respond? I have raised this question often through our daily readings because it is the question of the ages. Who is Jesus? Is He a religious leader, a moral teacher, or a deluded zealot? Who is Jesus? Is He a political king or a redeeming Savior? Our response will be far-reaching in impact in the present and the eternal future.


Who is Jesus? I confess Him to be the Son of God, who died and rose again so that I might experience forgiveness and life. And you? Yet, let me press us today. If we confess Jesus to be God's promised Son and Savior, that response should be evident in our lives. Tomorrow, in our reading, we will follow Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. If we believe that is true, we should also follow Jesus with our lives. Again, I confess Jesus to be the Son of God, who died and rose again so that I might experience forgiveness and life. And you?

November 2, 2022

Mark 14:53-15:1; Matthew 26:57-27:10; Luke 22:54-71; John 18:25-27


Then the high priest said to Him, "I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 26:64, NLT)."


Jesus is arrested during the darkness of night. His disciples fearfully scatter, and events rapidly progress toward Jesus' crucifixion. Over the coming hours, Jesus will experience a series of six trials. There will be three religious proceedings—before Annas (John 18:12-14), Caiphas (Matthew 26:57-68), and the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1-2). That will be followed by a series of three civil trials—before Pilate (John 18:28-38), Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and finally again with Pilate (John 18:39-19:6).


During the second religious trial, Caiaphas (the High Priest) pursues a way to condemn Jesus but struggles. Finally, the High Priest presses Jesus to answer under oath, "I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Fully aware of the consequences, Jesus boldly asserts, "You have said it." Then He declares, "And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God's right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:63–64, NLT)." That is all that Caiaphas needed to hear. The High Priest dramatically tears his garment and accuses Jesus of blasphemy. He then leads those gathered to condemn Jesus to death.


Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, "You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean." But Peter denied it in front of everyone. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said (Matthew 26:69–70, NLT).” Could there be a more dramatic contrast? Under intense scrutiny, Jesus boldly declares Himself to be God’s Son—courageously facing off against those who plot to kill Him. Meanwhile, Simon Peter wilts in the face of a servant girl’s accusation and denies any association with Jesus (a total of three times). What contributes to Simon’s failure?


Sadly, Simon is full of himself and empty of grace. Considering his actions before his embarrassing denials, Simon is entirely self-reliant. Indeed, he arrogantly claims that he would never abandon Jesus, even if it cost his life (Matthew 26:35, NLT). Here is Peter (“the rock”), confident in himself, who crumbles like a castle of sand when threatened by a servant girl in the courtyard. He becomes a living illustration of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” Simon is full of himself.


Simon is also empty of grace. What do I mean? I don’t mean that Simon fails to be gracious toward others. Instead, full of pride, he is empty of God’s grace and activity on His behalf. Think about it. Jesus prepares Himself in the garden to face the challenges before Him. Simon does not. While Jesus prays, Simon sleeps. The man who promises to die with Jesus cannot stay awake an hour and pray with Him (Matthew 26:40). Jesus even warned, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation (Matthew 26:41, NLT).” But Simon fails to do so. He neglects to secure in prayer the necessary grace and power to withstand the later accusations. He was full of himself and empty of grace.

 

And what of us? Whom do we resemble? Do we withstand the hour of testing like Jesus or embarrass ourselves like Simon? Expressed another way, do we humble ourselves as one in need, accepting by faith God’s grace and provision? Or are we self-confident in our abilities, too busy or weary to pray, and consequently empty of God’s grace and provision? Actually, we don’t have to answer. Our response will be evident in our actions. May we display that we are empty of ourselves and full of God’s grace. Please, Lord, may it be so!

November 1, 2022

John 18:1-24; Mark 14:32-52; Matthew 26:36-56; Luke 22:39-53


He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me (Matthew 26:38, NLT)."

 

Our reading today allows us to follow Jesus into an unimaginable scene. Jesus, the Son of God, emotionally wrestles with the implications of what is before Him—God's judgment against sin. Having prayed for His disciples (John 17: 1-26), Jesus now draws near to the Father on His behalf. As He does, the emotions of His humanity will come fully into view. Jesus confesses to His disciples, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death (Matthew 26" 38, NLT)." His words reveal overwhelming anguish, even horror. What is the source of Jesus' distress? It's not the fear of dying. Jesus knows that He will ultimately conquer death. His extreme grief is over the cup He is being asked to drink. Indeed, Jesus humbly prays, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me (Matthew 26:39, NLT)." What, then, is the nature of this troubling cup?


First, Jesus, the Holy Son of God, is being asked to drink a cup brimming with guilt and shame—the defiling cup of humanity's sin. That will take place as Jesus becomes the sin offering on our behalf. As the Apostle Paul describes, "For our sake He (God) made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). I'm not sure that we can grasp the full significance of this. We are far too familiar with both sin and guilt. Yet, in an instant, Jesus will take the whole world's sins upon Himself—the vilest, most disgusting, despicable acts. Jesus will claim them as His own. Imagine your most disgraceful moment, which still causes you to look away in shame. Jesus drank that cup for you. God, the Father, made Jesus, His Son, to be sin for us.


Yet, there's more. The dreaded cup will also include the full measure of God's holy wrath and judgment. Again, this is beyond our comprehension, for this is more than suffering. It is more than physical torment. It is the cup of God's wrath against sin in all its ugliness and filth. Nothing could prepare Jesus for what would assail Him as darkness envelopes the cross—the horror, the alienation. Indeed, the Son of God would be alienated from the Father for the first time in all eternity. This truly is incomprehensible. It was inconceivable to Him. But the following day, from the cross, we will hear Jesus cry, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means "My God, my God, why have you abandoned Me (Matthew 27:46, NLT)?" Perhaps, as we think about this, we can better appreciate Jesus's emotional burden. He asks the Father honestly, "Is there not another way?" Of course, He knew the answer. To redeem sinful humanity, someone must pay the price. So He prayed again, and again, and again—"I want Your will to be done, not mine (Matthew 26:39, NLT)."

 

And our response? Words elude me. How does anyone express a fitting response to this supreme act of love and sacrifice? God forbid we ever doubt the depth of Jesus' commitment and love on our behalf. And my response? Lord, I yield my life to You. Anything else seems inadequate. And you?

October 31, 2022

John 15:18–17:26


“If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me first (John 15:18, NLT).”

 

Today we conclude Jesus’ extended conversation with His disciples on the night of His arrest. As I have previously noted, there’s an urgency in Jesus’ words. He wants to prepare the disciples for all that is before them. Jesus also seeks to impress lessons upon their hearts that they will carry with them—lessons they will increasingly understand in the coming days. We should resist reading today’s passage too quickly. Ponder His words, linger on each line and phrase.

 

The reading first highlights the inevitability of the world’s rejection. Like Jesus, His disciples will be hated, even despised. They will experience the same opposition to the truth. Though they reflect Jesus’ love and compassion, they will still be opposed and persecuted. But they must not take it personally. It will be more about the world’s rejection of Jesus than their dislike of His followers. It’s the truth that provokes them. People don’t want to be confronted by the light of God’s truth. They aggressively seek to extinguish the light but will ultimately fail.


Jesus seeks to reassure His disciples by teaching them further concerning the role of the Advocate that would soon be sent. The same Holy Spirit that we have already received as believers in Jesus. God’s Spirit, the Spirit of truth, will guide the disciples’ hearts more fully into the truth of who Jesus is and what He revealed. In a sense, the Spirit will come alongside each of us to instruct and teach. The term “Advocate” (Greek, paraclete) literally means “calling to one’s side.” Every believer is promised the Advocate's beneficial presence and instruction. Jesus even states that it is to the disciples’ advantage that He depart so that the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit might begin (John 16:7). May our hearts be encouraged by such a thought.

 

Yet, with the reality of His death pressing in, Jesus directs His disciples to look beyond the coming shock. Yes. They will mourn and grieve only as a precursor to indescribable joy. Jesus likens it to a woman suffering the pains of childbirth. He explains, “When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world (John 16:21, NLT).” Jesus is pointing to His promised victory. Indeed, He will conquer death, and their temporary sorrow will erupt into inexhaustible, overflowing joy. It's the promise of that coming joy that moves Jesus steadily forward.

 

Jesus concludes His extended conversation by voicing a prayer on His disciples’ behalf. However, if we look closely, it is also a prayer on our behalf (John 17:20). Think about it. On the night before Jesus’ death, He prayed for you. He had you on His mind. The truth is that you are always on His mind, and He continues to intercede on your behalf (Hebrews 7:25). So, instead of highlighting a verse or two from Jesus’ prayer, let me ask you to do something instead. Take out your Bible again and read the whole of His prayer out loud. May we allow our ears to hear Jesus’ words, and may they bring fresh meaning to each of our hearts. Please, Lord, speak to our hearts anew!

October 30, 2022

John 13:31-15:17; Mark 14:27-31; Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:31-38


“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me (John 14:1, NLT).”

 

Judas has departed to facilitate Jesus’ arrest. Jesus and the eleven make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Yet, Jesus continues to prepare His disciples for the events before them. He announces that they will all soon abandon Him like a scattered flock. Simon argues defiantly, “Even if everyone else deserts You, I never will (Mark 14:29, NLT). Jesus, however, warns Simon Peter that he will publicly deny Him—not only once, but three times before the morning rooster crows. Even so, Simon insists he will prove faithful to the end. Of course, the evening will unfold as Jesus predicted.


Jesus’ teaching continues. He seeks to reassure His disciples concerning the upcoming changes. Their world would soon be turned upside down as He goes to prepare a place for them. The life they knew for three years will dramatically change. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension will alter the physical access and interaction they once enjoyed. However, their new relationship will surpass what they have previously known. How is that possible? The Father will send another advocate or helper (the Holy Spirit) who will never leave Jesus’ disciples. God’s presence will dwell within them and become a continuous source of help and support. Indeed, they will learn to be led and strengthened by God’s Spirit of truth in ways that promote greater fellowship and peace. Their lives, Jesus promises, will never be the same.


And their relationship with Jesus? They will no longer follow Him like a band of disciples. Instead, they will relate to Jesus as dependent branches to a life-giving vine. They will turn to Him daily by faith, allowing His words to abide in their hearts. They will also talk to Him regularly, availing themselves of the spiritual resources necessary to become the fruitful disciples Jesus desires them to be. Their interaction with the ascended Jesus will not be less. It will become more personal and dynamic than it has ever been—for Jesus will be at work in them (through the Spirit) and not simply with them. This is the message of hope Jesus shares with His disciples on the eve of His death. Did they take it to heart? Have we?


If you doubt this possibility, look again at Jesus’ words to His disciples (John 14:15-15:11). He seeks to open their spiritual eyes so they might see what would be. If you are settling for something less than what I summarized above, ask God to open your spiritual eyes to the truth. Press toward Jesus by faith. Yield yourself to His work within. Take Jesus’ command to heart. “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:4–5, NLT).”


The verb “remain” can be translated “abide” or “dwell.” Jesus commands His disciples to draw life from Him as they spiritually rely on Him. It is an active response as they recognize Jesus’ presence and continuous work by faith. They allow His Words to be more than words on a page, but the basis of their expectations and life. “Abide in Me,” Jesus commands, “and I will abide in you.” I marvel at Jesus’ words and the privilege that is ours. I pray today’s reading moves us to experience even more of Jesus in our daily lives. Will you pray the same?

October 29, 2022

Mark 14:1-2, 10-26; Matthew 26:1-5, 14-30; Luke 22:1-30; John 13:1-30


It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given Him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So He got up from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then He began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel He had around Him (John 13:2–5, NLT).


We have reached the place in the gospels that should cause our hearts to pause. We are (spiritually speaking) standing on holy ground. Our readings permit us to follow Jesus in the final hours that lead up to His sacrificial death on the cross. Though we may be familiar with the journey, may it never become commonplace. How do we get our minds around all that is taking place in the heart of our Savior? He knows what is before Him. Yet, Jesus also recognizes that He must still prepare His disciples. The easy thing to do would be to isolate oneself. Jesus, however, seizes every moment to help His disciples better understand God’s plan. Again, do not allow your familiarity with the accounts to detract from each action and word. Let’s prayerfully focus our hearts and allow our minds to ponder every aspect of what unfolds.


Today, I focus on Jesus’ humble service of washing His disciples’ feet. They gather in an upper room to share the Passover. Of course, during the Passover meal, Jesus will attach new meaning to the bread and cup they share. By doing so, He will teach them about His sacrificial death and shock them as they realize His betrayer is among them. How could that be? Yet, before the meal, Jesus took off His robe and wrapped a towel around His waist. Despite His heaviness of heart, Jesus assumes the role of the lowliest of servants. He lovingly proceeds to wash the dirt and dust from each disciple's feet. One after the next, Jesus serves them. Please note. He did not do this so He would have a lesson to teach. Jesus washes His disciples’ feet because He recognizes their need and chooses to meet it. He has demonstrated this quality throughout His public ministry. Jesus consistently responds to the needs of those He sees around Him. The final and ultimate expression of Jesus’ love and concern will be displayed the following day—when Jesus lays down His life for humanity’s sins.


Though Jesus did not serve His disciples to make a point, He nevertheless sought to impress a lesson upon their hearts. “Do you understand what I was doing?” Jesus asked. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you (John 13:12–15, NLT).” Jesus calls for His disciples to follow His example. They are to reflect His heart—not by looking to be served, but by freely humbling themselves in the service of others. They are to open their eyes to the needs of others and then, in love, meet the needs. Jesus states it directly when He later adds, “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples (John 13:34–35, NLT).”

 

Jesus does all of this with His arrest merely hours away. And what is our excuse for not serving? For refusing to love those in need? May Jesus’ example stir our hearts anew. But even more, may His command move us to action. Let’s open our eyes and respond to the opportunities before us. Let’s love, even as Jesus loves. Will we do so?

October 28, 2022

Mark 13:32-37; Matthew 24:36-25:46; Luke 21:34-38

 

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes (Matthew 24:37–39, NLT).”


Jesus Christ has promised to return. Yes. The Son of God, who died, rose again, and ascended on high, will dramatically appear on a day of God’s choosing. His appearance will be cosmic in scope and the defining moment in all of human history. God’s angels will separate unto the Lord the saved from the lost, the redeemed from the condemned. As Jesus describes, “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left (Matthew 24:40–41, NLT).”


Again, it will be the defining moment as the Shepherd separates unto Himself the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32), those who trust in Jesus as Savior from those who do not. And on that day, the opportunity to trust in Jesus will have passed. Indeed, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. Those outside the ark (God’s way of deliverance) will be left to face the consequences of their sin. Of course, as Jesus notes, the people in Noah’s day were oblivious to the coming judgment. They were doing what they always did—enjoying banquets, parties, and weddings. They refused to take Noah’s appeal seriously and were swept away by the flood.


Jesus warns that we must not repeat the mistake. To the unbeliever, Jesus would call the person to faith. Today is the day of salvation. Turn to the Savior. To the believer, Jesus would call His disciple to diligence and service, for we, too, can be distracted. As Jesus appeals, “Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times (Luke 21:34–36, NLT).”

 

Jesus expects spiritual vigilance from His followers, but is that what He’s observing? To what degree are we living with an expectation of Jesus’ return? How urgently do we seek to influence others to the Lord? Or do we presume we have plenty of time? Jesus’ message concerning His return is consistently the same. We must remain alert and engaged. May God help us to do so!

October 27, 2022

Mark 13:1-31; Matthew 24:1-35; Luke 21:5-33


As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, His disciples pointed out to Him the various Temple buildings. But He responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world (Matthew 24:1–3, NLT)?”


Our passages today can be challenging to interpret. The problem is that Jesus’ discussion with His disciples touches on two notable events. First and foremost, Jesus points to His glorious return on a day of God’s choosing, which will be cosmic in scope. Yet, in the context of the passage, Jesus also addresses the promised destruction of Jerusalem, which He has repeatedly warned would be. These two events are distinct, as described by Jesus, but the disciples assume they are the same. Thus, Jesus’ response to the “WHEN QUESTION” becomes more complicated since the two events are separated by at least two thousand years. The first event (Jerusalem's destruction) already occurred in 70 A.D. And the second event (Jesus’ return) is still before us.


So what do we do? I suggest we focus on what we know is clear concerning Jesus’ return. Consider the following: First, the destruction of Jerusalem serves to foreshadow Jesus’ future return. It will help the disciples anticipate the later event's enormity and devastation. It will also assure their hearts. As Jesus’ pronouncement concerning Jerusalem was true, Jesus’ words concerning His promised return will likewise prove true.


Second, the days preceding Jesus’ appearance will be characterized by spiritual deception and confusion. False messiahs and teachers will seek to mislead the masses, even Jesus’ followers. Many will be deceived and manipulated. Others will misinterpret the global crises of wars, famine, and earthquakes, which are recurring but will intensify as the day of Jesus’ appearance approaches. In addition, persecution against Jesus’ followers will increase. They will be hated worldwide. Yet, the Good News about the Kingdom will still be preached. Indeed, the global proclamation of the gospel will be a recognizable marker that the day of Jesus’ return draws near (Matthew 24:12).


Third, Jesus' return will be cosmic in scope. When Jesus finally appears, it will be visible to all. As Jesus describes, “Immediately after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:29–30, NLT).”  When Jesus gloriously returns, all will know it—none will deny it. At that moment, Jesus will dramatically separate the redeemed from the condemned as He ushers forth the final events of human history as we know it. As Jesus explains, “And He will send out His angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather His chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven (Matthew 24:31, NLT).”


Finally, as we will observe in tomorrow’s reading, the precise day of Jesus’ return will remain unpredictable. Jesus states, “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows (Matthew 24:36, NLT).” Though Jesus’ followers should watch for the general signs that point to His return (global evangelism, the prophesied desecration of the Holy Place, the intensifying suffering and persecution), we will be unable to pinpoint the precise day or hour. We should instead live every day with a watchful eye, faithful to the One we follow. Jesus expected that of His earliest disciples. Jesus desires that of us.


So the lesson for the day? Be assured that Jesus, who died, rose again, and ascended on high, will return as He promised. We must be vigilant in service, faithful in our devotion, and expectant of Jesus’ promised appearance. We must guard against being deceived or discouraged, for Jesus warned of the challenges ahead. May we instead lift our eyes of faith and anticipate a day that will surpass anything we have ever known—the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. The promised day is coming. Let’s not be caught unaware.

October 26, 2022

Mark 12:28-44; Matthew 22:34-23:39; Luke 20:41-21:4


One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important (Mark 12:28, NLT)?"


In Jesus' final days, most religious teachers attempt to entrap Him with their questions. They do not seek the truth. Instead, they hope to use Jesus' words against Him. One teacher, however, appears to be the exception. He is impressed by Jesus' answers to what are admittedly tricky questions. He then poses a question of actual relevance. He asks Jesus, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" The Bible experts (the scribes) of Jesus' day identified 613 individual commandments in the Old Testament Law—365 negative commands and 248 positive ones. Which one would Jesus single out as most important? The Jewish teachers believed that distinctions could be made between weightier laws from lighter statutes. So, from Jesus' perspective, which law would He identify as the weightiest of all?


Jesus responds by citing Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which is, "Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength (Mark 12:29–30, NLT)." And Jesus then, "The second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).' No other commandment is greater than these (Mark 12:31, NLT)." In a simple, straightforward way, Jesus characterizes the life of faith and obedience in two directions.


First and foremost, vertically, we are to love God with all we are (heart, soul, mind, and strength). And second, horizontally, we are to actively love the people around us with the same attention and concern we show ourselves. From Jesus' perspective, these two commandments provide the foundation upon which the over 600 commands in the Law arise. If we get these two right, the other commands make sense. If we disregard these two, the other directives lose their purpose and motivation. "Love God," Jesus appeals. That's where it all starts. "Love one another," Jesus adds. That's where our life of faith should lead.


Do we agree? If so, how are we living it out? In what ways each day is our love for God evident? If it is not evident in some tangible way, then (I would argue) it does not exist. True love for God is a verb. It should be in motion. It should be demonstrated by what we do, what we say, and who we are becoming. Do we love God in this way? The same is true of the second command, "Love your neighbor as yourself." God expects more than confessions of love or concern. The command points toward deliberate actions. As with God, we should demonstrate our love toward others through what we say and do—particularly in what we do. Love is action, not sentiment. It should be visibly recognized. But is it?


The religious leader agrees with Jesus' assessment. He even adds, “This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law (Mark 12:33, NLT).” That is insightful on the teacher’s part. He recognizes that outward religious activity is not enough. It’s possible to offer sacrifices to God and not love Him. Instead, it’s all for show or has become a mindless activity devoid of faith and love. Worship activities lack meaning or value when separated from a heart of devotion. Yes. The teacher of the law is on to something.


Jesus reacts favorably to the man’s response and says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God (Mark 12:34, NLT).” What does that mean? It indicates that the man displays a spiritual understanding and openness that could lead him to see the truth of God’s Messiah. While most religious leaders openly reject Jesus, Jesus desires this man to receive Him. How did the unnamed teacher respond? We are not told. I want to believe, however, that the man became a follower of Jesus. He came to Jesus with an honest question and perhaps discovered more than he ever imagined. And what of us? Have we responded to Jesus in faith? If so, are we living out the two great commandments? Do note: We can’t follow Jesus otherwise. Let’s then renew our faith in Jesus and commit ourselves to love God and our neighbor in ways that reflect His presence and influence. Will you do so?

October 25, 2022

Matthew 21:28-22:33; Mark 12:1-40; Luke 20:9-26


Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which He could be arrested. "Teacher," they said, "we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don't play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn't we (Mark 12:13–14, NLT)?"

 

The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders is escalating. The Pharisees and the supporters of Herod form an unlikely partnership. Though at odds on most issues, they find common ground in their opposition to Jesus. They plan to entrap Jesus with a carefully worded question. They ask, "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn't we?" In their minds, Jesus will alienate himself from the people by supporting taxation. Or Jesus will put Himself at odds with the Romans by discouraging the people from paying their taxes—leading to His arrest. Either way, Jesus is left in a weakened position.


Jesus sees through their hypocrisy and asks, "Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I'll tell you." Someone hands Jesus a coin which leads Him to ask, "Whose picture and title are stamped on it?" They reply, "Caesar's." It should be noted that coins in Jesus' day were generally understood to be the property of the person whose picture and inscription were on them. "Well, then," Jesus said, "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God (Mark 12:17, TLT)." The verb "give" is a term in Greek that describes giving payment in return for something. It is as if Jesus is saying, "You carry Caesar's coins. Give him what he deserves." But at the same time, Jesus adds. "You were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26—we are God's coinage), so be sure to give to God what He also deserves."


The people are amazed by Jesus' response. He successfully disarms the verbal trap. However, Jesus did more than that. He provides a spiritual principle to guide His followers for generations to come. With this statement, Jesus acknowledges a proper place for civil government and taxation. The Apostle Paul later emphasizes the same when he writes, "Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority (Romans 13:7, NLT)." In other words, Jesus' followers are to be good citizens. They are to abide by the laws of the land and, yes, pay their taxes.


Yet, Jesus' statement also makes an appropriate distinction. We are to render to Caesar (the government) what he (it) deserves, but no more than he (it) deserves. Interestingly, the Roman coin in Jesus' day included two inscriptions: Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus; and Pontifex Maximus, identifying Caesar as Chief Priest. Throughout history, the "Caesars" of this world have often sought to claim more than is their right to claim. Is there a place for civil government and taxation? Yes. Should we yield to the government that which belongs to God alone? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Jesus' statement helps us to appreciate the distinction.


Here's the potential problem. When God's teaching places us in conflict with governmental authority, what do we do? Do we stand according to God's teaching, or do we yield moral and spiritual authority to the government? Historically, from the early days of the Church, governments have attempted to elevate their authority over God's authority. Indeed, the early followers of Jesus were forced to decide whether they would bow to Jesus as Lord or Caesar, which could cost their lives. And in our day? When the government seeks to usurp Jesus' authority and wisdom, will we peacefully stand our ground? Again, Jesus teaches us to render to Caesar what he deserves, but no more than he deserves. Will we follow Jesus when it places us at odds with the culture and government around us? Will we bow to Jesus alone or yield to governmental authorities that seek to usurp His lordship?


As Jesus' disciples, we must be prepared. We are living in a day when our devotion to Jesus may place us at odds with the government. When that happens, will we peacefully hold our ground? Are we willing to face the consequences as we do? Don't be naïve. There will be consequences. The question is, "Will we place our present and future in God's hands or the government's?" May Jesus' words be our guide, "Well, then," Jesus said, "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God (Mark 12:17, TLT)." May it be so!

October 24, 2022

John 12:37-50; Mark 11:12-33; Matthew 21:12-27; Luke 19:45-20:8


"Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light." After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them. But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in Him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted: "LORD, who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed His powerful arm (John 12:36–38, NLT)?"

 

The response to Jesus varied among the crowds. Much of the nation outright rejects Jesus, fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy. Their lasting unbelief became a testament to their early refusal to see the truth. Though the signs surrounding Jesus should have been self-evident, they deny the obvious. The nation at large covers its eyes to the truth concerning Jesus. They refuse to see the light, which would perpetuate the darkness. Their persistent rejection of Jesus would result in a permanent hardness of heart. As Isaiah predicted, "The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts— so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them (John12:40, NLT)."


It is a tragic account of spiritual arrogance and pride. The nation had become the fruitless fig tree described in the gospels (Mark 11:12-14; Matthew 21:18-22)—a tree that warrants a declaration of judgment. Indeed, Jesus curses the fig tree and then cleanses the Temple, pronouncing judgment upon the religious leadership within (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48). Jesus' words in the Temple are not a call to repentance. They are an indictment against a people who consistently refuse to see the signs of God's promised Messiah and remain spiritually corrupt. Again, they are the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, whose disbelief contribute to a permanent hardness of heart.


All of this is both troubling and sobering. To what degree did the religious leaders recognize what they were perpetuating? Rejecting the light is a dangerous thing, not only for the individual but also for those they influence around them—a lesson we should keep in mind. Yet, let's consider the other possibility—the promise of what results when a person responds to the truth concerning Jesus. Jesus loudly asserts, "If you trust Me, you are trusting not only Me, but also God who sent me. For when you see Me, you are seeing the One who sent Me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in Me will no longer remain in the dark (John 12:44–46, NLT)." Faith in Jesus moves a person from darkness into light, from death into life. He changes a person's spiritual condition. As Jesus earlier declared, “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life (John 8:12, NLT).”

 

Jesus came to save the world, not to judge it. He came to lead people into the light, into the life of God. If people reject the truth concerning Jesus, their refusal to believe in the Savior becomes the ultimate indictment against them (John 12:48). They choose the darkness over the light and will suffer the consequences. May our testimony, however, be one of faith. May we choose the light over the darkness and begin to reflect the One we follow. Indeed, may we not only experience His light, (through Jesus) may we prove ourselves to be His beloved children of the light (John 12:36). May that be evident for all to see.

October 23, 2022

Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-36; Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-44


"Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While He was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over His head (Mark 14:3, NLT)."


In today's reading, Jesus defends a woman from whom we should learn. She responds to Him in a way that should instruct our hearts, not provoke them. Who is the woman, and what is the lesson? The episode occurs at a dinner hosted in Bethany by Simon, the leper. Simon was likely healed by Jesus and known by Mark's readers. During the dinner, a woman approaches Jesus with an alabaster jar. John's gospel reveals the woman to be Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:3). Perhaps Mark leaves her unnamed so that we might focus more on the action than the person. Mark also informs us that the woman comes to Jesus with a costly jar. The small stone container contains about a pint of expensive perfume made of pure nard that was highly valued. The flask and ointment may have likewise been a family heirloom, adding sentimental value to its worth.


The woman breaks the neck of the costly jar and begins to pour the sweet-smelling perfume over Jesus' head and feet (John 12:3). The fact that she breaks the flask suggests that she intends to pour out all its contents upon Jesus. Such an act reveals a heart of deep devotion. She loves the Lord and honors Him extravagantly--which causes me to think. Have I responded to Jesus similarly? Have you? Let's think about it. What's your most costly response to Jesus? Was it a gift of time, a resource, or a personal pursuit? How have you honored Him? How do you honor Him now?


Of course, Mark informs us that the woman's action becomes a source of agitation for some. They react angrily, scolding her before the Lord. How could she be so wasteful? The ointment could have been sold and given in support of the poor. Do they not realize that their criticism of her is a criticism of Jesus for allowing such an extravagant gesture? But Jesus speaks up. He not only defends the woman but commends her. Jesus declares, "Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have Me (Mark 14:6–7, NLT)."

 

Jesus isn't diminishing the importance of supporting the poor. His point, however, is that there's a timeliness to Mary's actions. The poor will always be with us, but here is a rare moment for Jesus to be honored extravagantly. To Jesus, it meant even more than that. She is preparing His body for his burial. "Don't criticize her," Jesus would say. "Learn from her." There's a time and place to honor Jesus in extravagant and lavish ways, and the truth is: when we respond lavishly to Jesus, we never know all that it may do or all that God has in store. Jesus elevates the woman's actions so that we might learn. Will we do so?


Again, I ask. Have we responded to Jesus similarly? Do you think we should? Shouldn't there be points in our lives when we respond lavishly to Jesus with grateful hearts? Shouldn't there be extravagant gestures of love and devotion? Is it possible that Jesus deserves such an act even today? Pray about it, and then allow your heart to lead you. But be prepared. Not everyone will applaud such an effort. Let's respond to Jesus extravagantly anyway. Will you join me?

October 22, 2022

Matthew 20:1-34; Mark 10:32-52; Luke 18:31-19:27


They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear. Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to Him. "Listen," He said, "we're going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence Him to die and hand Him over to the Romans. They will mock Him, spit on Him, flog Him with a whip, and kill Him, but after three days he will rise again (Mark 10:32–34, NLT)."


Jesus continues to make His way to Jerusalem. He knows what is before Him. Each step takes Jesus one step closer to the suffering He would endure. Can we even imagine it? Jesus again explains to His disciples what He will soon encounter. For a third time in Mark's gospel (Mark 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), Jesus highlights the brutality ahead. This time, He supplies an even greater level of detail. Yes, Jesus will die, but His public execution will be preceded by physical and emotional cruelty. He will be mocked, spit upon, and flogged by the Romans. Again, can we imagine such things? It's bad enough to endure the indignity and torture of a public crucifixion. Still, Jesus will be treated with contempt and abuse before the first nail is driven into His body.


Yet, knowing all that is before Him, Jesus continues His journey to Jerusalem. How is that possible? Let us admire Jesus' courage. Even more, may we marvel over Jesus' love. For it is Jesus' love on our behalf that drives Him forward. Indeed, His love ultimately motivates Jesus to accept His future suffering and death. For He also knew that as the Son of God, He would conquer death and secure the possibility of forgiveness and life for everyone who believes. Would that dull the suffering before Him? No, the pain and torment would be no less great. However, the promise of rescuing sinful humanity enables Jesus to take one difficult step after another.


How do the disciples respond to Jesus' latest revelation? Do they lend support? Do they emotionally agonize along with Him? No, for whatever reason, they appear to ignore what Jesus is saying. They still have it in their minds that the masses will elevate Jesus without Him suffering. They envision Jesus seated in a position of authority, not nailed to a cross. James and John reflect this thinking when they approach Jesus with a request. They don't ask how they might support Jesus as He faces the challenges ahead. Instead, they inquire if they might share in His future glory. Could they be seated on Jesus' right and left? Would Jesus allow them to benefit from His prestige and power? They fail to understand what they are asking as Jesus seeks to explain.


Of course, when the other disciples hear of their request, they become indignant. Are they upset over James and John's failure to lend support? No. They are frustrated because the two brothers are positioning themselves ahead of the others. Instead of empathizing with Jesus or, even better, learning from Him, the disciples as a group appear self-centered and self-absorbed. In response, Jesus shares the following lesson, "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42–45, NLT)."

 

Everything about Jesus' journey to Jerusalem testifies to His commitment to serving in this way. Did the disciples not see it? Would they take His lesson to heart? And what about us? Are we willing to humble ourselves and be the servant of all? Or do we want to be seated in prominent positions and served? Let's be honest in our response. It may be painful to recognize that we are more like the disciples than we care to admit. Claiming to follow Jesus, we are often vying for positions of honor. And what can change this approach? Perhaps focusing on the One we follow more than ourselves would be an excellent start. Jesus, by His selfless courage and love, models the right approach. He embodies the message that should inspire our actions. Marveling over Jesus' service and sacrifice is a natural reaction. Following His example, however, is what Jesus desires us to do. May we do so in the day ahead!

October 21, 2022

Luke 18:9-30; Mark 10:1-31; Matthew 19:1-30


"One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so He could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Him. When Jesus saw what was happening, He was angry with His disciples. He said to them, 'Let the children come to Me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.' Then He took the children in His arms and placed His hands on their heads and blessed them (Mark 10:13–16, NLT)."

 

Parents are bringing their young children to Jesus for Him to touch and bless. However, His disciples rebuke the parents for bothering the Lord. Seeing what is happening, Jesus is irritated with His disciples' interference and seizes upon the moment to teach a spiritual lesson—a lesson that we should also consider. And what would Jesus have us learn? Simply worded, "Those who desire to enter God's kingdom must come to Jesus like a child."


How does one receive God's kingdom like a child? The emphasis is not on a child's innocence, though we recognize the beauty and simplicity of a young child. Instead, the focus is on a child's neediness, helplessness, or dependence. Children, by their nature, are not self-sufficient. They will not survive apart from the intervention of another. The same is spiritually true of us if we seek to enter the kingdom of God. We do not earn our way or achieve our way. There's a spiritual helplessness about us that absolutely requires the intervention of another, and Jesus is the One who intervenes.


Like the children in the story, we come empty-handed into the arms of Jesus. We freely receive what only Jesus supplies. Again, we do not climb our way up to God through our collective good works. God instead has come down to us through Jesus, His Son, so that we might receive the kingdom of God like helpless children receiving a life-giving gift. Another way to consider it is this: Access to God's Kingdom is received, not achieved. As the Apostle Paul explains to the Romans, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23, NLT)."


We come to Jesus empty-handed and find in Him what we need by faith. Have you turned to Jesus this way? Interestingly, the account that follows Jesus' interaction with the children involves a wealthy man attempting to earn his way into the kingdom. He confidently asks Jesus, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17, NLT)?" He places his misguided attention on himself instead of the One who could make the difference. And how does the man's exchange with Jesus conclude? Jesus asks the extremely wealthy man to sell everything he has (giving the proceeds to the poor) and follow Him. Is it coincidental that Jesus asks the young man to come to Him empty-handed like a child? No, the contrast between the two scenes is purposeful. Indeed, Matthew and Luke's gospels include the same order of events. The contrast is deliberate, and we should take it to heart.


Are we trying to achieve eternal life, or have we come to Jesus with the spiritual helplessness of a child? If we try to attain eternal life on our own, we will fail. We cannot do enough good to earn our way into God's kingdom. We need, in a real sense, to get over ourselves. Our overestimation of our ability will become a spiritual obstacle to turning to Jesus. We need to get over "our goodness."


The opposite is also true. We conclude that eternal life is beyond our reach because of the magnitude of our sins and failure. We allow our disobedience and shame to become an insurmountable barrier. Like our perceived goodness, we need to get over "our badness" and turn to Jesus. Both "goodness" and "badness" can stand in the way of us discovering life in God’s Son. Don't let this be descriptive of you. Instead, may we humble ourselves, draw near to Jesus by faith, and allow Him to take us into His arms of love. Jesus can do what we cannot do for ourselves, for we receive God’s kingdom as a child.


Think again about the scene of Jesus and the children. Envision them in His arms, experiencing His blessing. Recognize the same is true of us as we come to Jesus empty-handed, placing our faith in Him. May God encourage our hearts as we do!

October20, 2022

John 11:38-57; Luke 17:11-18:8


Jesus asked, "Didn't I heal ten men? Where are the other nine (Luke 17:17, NLT)?"

 

Luke shares an account we do not find in the other gospels. The story again highlights the supreme power and authority of Jesus to heal. It involves a group of ten lepers appealing to Jesus as He enters a village. The afflicted group abides by the biblical instruction to maintain a safe distance (Leviticus 13:42–46). However, it doesn't prevent them from crying out for help. They plead, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us (Luke 17:13, NTL)." Perhaps they heard about Jesus healing a leper along the sea of Galilee (Luke 5:12-16)." Would He extend the same mercy toward them? Desperate of heart, they hope for a miracle.


Jesus looks at them and ushers a command, "Go show yourselves to the priests." No declaration of cleansing. No promise of healing. Jesus simply directs them to present themselves to the priest. Their faith in Jesus is so resolute that they promptly obey His command. Though as lepers, they had previously been pronounced unclean by the priests, they determine to act upon Jesus' words. Their obedience results in the miraculous. Luke (a physician) reports, "As they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy (Luke 17:14, NLT)." In an instant, ten individuals who had suffered in ways that few could imagine are dramatically healed. Seemingly, between steps, they go from diseased to restored. Behold the power of the Son of God!


Startled and amazed, nine of the ten hastened their pace to obey Jesus' words. They rush with new enthusiasm to present themselves to the priests, who would publicly pronounce them clean. One of the ten, a Samaritan, turns his face back toward the one who had actually made them clean—Jesus, the Son of God. He returns to Jesus, praising God, and then falls to the ground at Jesus' feet. He is grateful to Jesus and humbly expresses it, thanking Him for what He has done. It is a beautiful scene of a grateful heart honoring the instrument of God's mercy and grace. I imagine the man kept repeating, "Thank you, Jesus, oh dear Jesus, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I can't thank you enough." It is the appropriate gesture of gratitude and worship.


Jesus, however, glances about and then asks, "Didn't I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?" Jesus' words expose an inexcusable failure on the part of the nine. Carried away by the joy of their answered appeal, the men focus more on themselves than on Jesus and His mercy. Their eyes were fixed on Jesus when they needed His help, but now, physically healed and restored, Jesus appears to be the last thing on their minds. "Where are the other nine?" Jesus asks.

October 19, 2022

Luke 14:17:10; John 11:1-37


So Jesus told them this story: "If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away (Luke 15:3–7, NLT)!"

 

What is God's disposition of heart toward the sinful? In Luke 15, Jesus shares a series of parables that offers tremendous hope for the sinner. Jesus describes a shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine in search of one lost sheep who wandered off. He also emphasizes a woman who relentlessly searches her house for one lost coin, even though she has nine in her possession. And finally, Jesus highlights the ongoing concern of a father whose younger son arrogantly demands his inheritance and then rebelliously departs for the far country. Despite the son's insolence, the loving father faithfully watches for his lost son's return.


With each of the stories, the primary lesson is the same. God is concerned for the lost, and heaven rejoices when one sinner repents and returns to the Lord. That is illustrated by the found sheep, the found coin, and most vividly, by the repentant son who discovers his father's embrace. What is God's disposition toward those who lose their way? God wants them to be found and lovingly restored. Our hearts should be encouraged by this truth. No matter how far a person has wandered away, God seeks their restoration.


Is this a message that you should take to heart? Maybe like the rebellious son, you have traveled to the far county, only to suffer the resulting shame and disappointment. Sin makes promises it never delivers. It takes us to places we would never otherwise go. Yet, when we finally come to our senses, maybe (like the younger son) we too can find the Father's embrace. Perhaps we will recognize that we were created for something better than the pig pen. We can humble ourselves and set our face toward home.


One of my favorite scenes in the Bible is the loving Father watching for his wayward son's return. And seeing his distant profile, the Father runs toward his son and, reaching him, joyfully throws his arms around him. Despite the filth and stench, the loving father draws his son near. That's an image that should reassure the guiltiest of hearts. It's the picture of God's mercy and compassion. And consequently, the father joyfully restores his repentant son in a way he did not deserve. Again, let's be encouraged by Jesus' message of hope. And, if we are not where we should be today, let's set our face toward home.


However, something more to Jesus' parables should be learned and appreciated. Jesus shares the stories in response to the religious leader's criticism of His interaction with sinners. Instead of condemning His actions, Jesus challenges them to join Him. Instead of looking down on sinners, they should learn to reflect God's heart and begin to look for them. They should be like the shepherd, the woman, and the father and seek to find the lost. We should take the same challenge to heart. Jesus would invite us to join Him in the task so that we might share in heaven's joy. Will we do so? Will you?

October 18, 2022

John 10:1-42; Luke 13:22-14:24


"Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 14:11, NLT)."

 

Jesus calls His disciples to a life of humility. That shouldn't surprise us when we consider the example Jesus provides. He models what it means to humble oneself. As Paul portrays, "Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross (Philippians 2:6–8, NLT)." Has there ever been a greater example than this?


Jesus lived each day with the type of humility we should emulate, and (we should know) He expects His followers to do the same. Jesus uses a dinner party to drive the lesson home. Invited as a guest, He notices that many attendees are competing for the best seats—the seats of honor. They're motivated by their self-interest and theirs alone. Jesus offers some helpful advice. Don't push yourself forward to claim the seat of honor. You may later be embarrassed when the host moves you to a lesser position. Instead, choose the lowest place at the table. So that when the host sees you, he may elevate your seating and truly honor you.


That was assuredly Jesus' approach as He entered the room. He didn't seek to elevate Himself at the expense of others. He modeled humility. Humility is not thinking less of oneself (Jesus is the Son of God). It is choosing instead to think of others more. Is that our approach? Should it be? Of course, Jesus reminds us that God notices the humble heart. Even more, He honors them. As Jesus states, "Those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 14:11, NLT)."  That was true of Jesus—"Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor (Philippians 2:9)." It will likewise be true of us.


So, will we take Jesus' advice? Will we selfishly push ourselves forward like so many around us? Or will we walk humbly into the day, following Jesus' example? "But wait," someone asks, "won't people take advantage of those who choose the lower position?" Yes, some may, but our lives are ultimately in God's hands. Think about it this way. Would you prefer the temporary attention that self-promotion affords or enjoy lasting recognition and honor from the One who matters? I choose to attract the Lord’s attention. And you?

October 17,2022

Luke 12:35-13:21; John 9:1-41


"Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your Master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks (Luke 12:35–36, NLT)."


Are we ready for Jesus' return? Are we living in ways that reflect our readiness? Jesus promises He will return on the day the Lord appoints. It will be unlike any day that human history has ever known. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, will be seen in all His glory. Readiness is not an option.


Our reading today highlights Jesus' call to vigilance. He commands His disciples, like servants awaiting their Master's return, to be dressed for service with their lamps burning brightly. They do not know the appointed hour of his return. They are simply instructed to live ready—appropriately dressed, busy about the Master's business. Jesus adds, "Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks (Luke 12:36, NLT)." Would that be descriptive of us? Is it descriptive of you?


To motivate His disciples, Jesus shares something surprising. The Master of the house will reverse roles with his faithful servants upon his late-hour return. Instead of being served. The grateful Master will seat the faithful, clothe himself with an apron, and proceed to serve them as they sit and eat together. It may be hard to grasp just how astounding Jesus' words would be to His first-century disciples. The Master will do what? Jesus' description would have been unimaginable. Yet, Jesus shares this remarkable scene to encourage those who serve on His behalf. "Be faithful in your service," Jesus would say, "for you will be honored by your Master."


Of course, Jesus also warns against unfaithfulness. He confronts "so-called" servants who refuse to live with the Master's return in view. They live selfishly, mistreating fellow servants and ignoring any responsibilities. They demonstrate by their actions that they are only "servants" in name, and the Master punishes them accordingly. They are banished with the unfaithful.


So the question is, "Which servant are we?" Are we dressed for service with our lamps burning brightly? Or are we proving by our actions that we are unprepared? Even worse, we don't really know the One who’s promised to return. I pray we see ourselves clearly and find ourselves dressed and ready!

 

October 16, 2022

Luke 11:14-12:34


Then He said, "Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own (Luke 12:15, NLT)."

 

Jesus is pulled into an inheritance dispute and uses it to warn His disciples against the foolishness of greed. Why so foolish? It distracts the person from what truly matters. The term "greed" or "coveteousness" highlights a person's insatiable desire for more. The individual never seems to have enough, which distorts their perception. They are always one dollar or purchase away from true happiness. In the process, they take their attention off their relationship with God and the relationships of those around them. Sadly, they live for the elusive chase, failing to understand that life is intended to be so much more. As Jesus states, "Life is not measured by how much you own (Luke 12:15, NLT)." Is He right?


The actions of many today would argue otherwise. They utterly define their lives by the toys and trinkets they elevate as important. To expose the danger in this thinking, Jesus shares the parable of a prosperous farmer. The unnamed farmer experiences a harvest that exceeds his expectations. Instead of viewing his success in ways that might honor God or bless those around him, his attention is exclusively on himself. He decides that the only way to take advantage of the situation is to tear down his barns and build larger ones. Again, his focus is entirely on himself and his future self-indulgence. That is until God speaks into the situation. Instead of commending his planning and industry, God describes the man for what he is—foolish. God declares, "You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for (Luke 12:20, NLT)?"


Greed and self-indulgence blind the person to what truly matters. The issue in the parable is not the farmer's prosperity. God has blessed many individuals through the years with tremendous wealth and resources. As Jesus emphasizes, the problem is the man's singular preoccupation with his money and himself. The unnamed farmer fails to see that life is intended to be more than amassing earthly wealth. Indeed, true life is measured in our relationship with God and how we allow Him to influence us toward others. Jesus warns, "Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a relationship with God (Luke 12:21, NLT)."


Are we foolish? Though the farmer in the story is unnamed, we could easily attach his greedy preoccupation with far too many in our day. Greed and self-indulgence have become an American way of life. The question is, "Are we under the same destructive influence?" As I reflected upon today's account, I thought it might be helpful to read about the farmer's plight regularly. We are inundated by cultural forces that push us toward selfish preoccupation and indulgence. A frequent reminder of the farmer's foolish miscalculation could be helpful. However, perhaps a better remedy is to focus daily on what is most important—our faith relationship with God and the difference He makes through us. If we anchor ourselves to Him, then maybe we won’t be so easily swept away by the greed and self-indulgence swirling around us. The decision is ours. Let’s focus on what matters.

October 15, 2022

John 8:21-59; Luke 10:1-11:13


Later Jesus said to them again, "I am going away. You will search for Me but will die in your sin. You cannot come where I am going." The people asked, "Is He planning to commit suicide? What does He mean, 'You cannot come where I am going'?" Jesus continued, "You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins (John 8:21–24, NLT)."


Jesus continues to find Himself confronted by those who would question and challenge His claims. In fairness, Jesus has been making some mind-stretching declarations. As noted yesterday, Jesus invites the spiritually thirsty to turn to Him as they would turn to God. He promises to bestow a quality of life that only God makes possible. Is Jesus out of His mind? Is it unreasonable for a person to pause and try to ascertain the truth?


Shortly after that, Jesus again portrays Himself in God-like terms. He announces, "I am the Light of the world. If you follow Me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the Light that leads to life (John 8:12, NLT)." The implication of Jesus' words is eye-opening. People are to relate to Him as they relate to God. If they follow Him, they will discover life. If they reject Him, then death is presumed. Jesus' words must have been provocative and outright offensive to many. The debate surrounding Jesus' identity would persist.


As reflected in the opening passage, Jesus again presses the issue because the stakes are so high. He explains that people will ultimately die in their sins unless they believe in Him. In other words, Jesus is the only hope. Faith in Him is essential, or they will be judged for their sin. This isn't the only time Jesus has communicated this lesson. Jesus taught the religious leader, Nicodemus, the same foundational truth. He explained, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God's one and only Son (John 3:16–18, NLT)."  Jesus' message is clear and unambiguous. Without Him, people will die in their sins. That's a statement of fact. However, by turning to Him, a person can experience God's gift of life.


Some, as today's reading describes, choose to believe in Jesus. He encourages them to hold onto His words so they would experience the fulness of His liberating power (John 8:31-32). In contrast, Jesus' religious opponents become angry and combative. They recycle an earlier allegation against Jesus, accusing Him of being demonically possessed. Of course, Jesus defends Himself, but the spiritual line has been drawn.


And on which side do we stand? I again highlight Jesus' words, "Unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins (John 8:24, NLT)." Do you believe that Jesus is who He claims to be? Do the people you know and love? I stress that Jesus' statement is not only true concerning your life but also their lives. Without Jesus, every individual we know will die in their sins—for we are all sinners. I don't highlight this spiritual truth to depress us but to remind us of our responsibility to share what we know. What we say or do will not guarantee how a person responds to Jesus, but if we share nothing? Their outcome is already determined. Jesus knew that some would react angrily to His Words, but if they did not hear the truth, there would be no possibility of forgiveness and life. Let's remember that the next time we talk ourselves out of initiating a difficult conversation. Jesus shares the truth, so people have an opportunity to respond. May we commit to doing the same.

October 14, 2022

John 7:1-8:20; Luke 9:51-62; Matthew 8:18-22


On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, "Anyone who is thirsty may come to Me! Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart (John 7:37–38, NLT).' "


Great crowds have gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Feast of Tabernacles. The week is filled with festivities and worship that remind God's people of God's sustaining provision and grace. For seven days, worshippers lived under make-shift shelters to reenact Israel's wilderness experience when God faithfully led His people from captivity to the land of promise.


Jesus is the topic of considerable discussion during the week's activities. Some commend Jesus as a good man, but others portray Him as deceptive or fraudulent. Jesus, however, remains initially in the background. That changes midweek when Jesus begins to teach publicly in the Temple. His appearance provokes the religious leaders, leading to further debate concerning Jesus' ministry and identity. Is He the Messiah or not? Should He be followed or denounced? The atmosphere is quite contentious. Indeed, some Pharisees and priests unsuccessfully seek Jesus' arrest. Yet, Jesus is not done. On the last day of the Feast, the climax of the Festival, Jesus makes a dramatic announcement. With a loud voice, Jesus cries out, "Anyone who is thirsty may come to Me! Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart (John 7:37–38, NLT).'"

 

Jesus' words hold particular relevance for the worshippers who have gathered. The people have observed a joyful procession from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple for seven consecutive days. The High Priest carried a golden pitcher of water to pour ceremoniously upon the altar. The ritual served as a symbol and a petition for God's sustaining provision and care. Many believe that on the eighth day (when the water ceremonies officially concluded) is when Jesus stepped forward. Who is Jesus and what He offers, had been debated all week. Jesus is now calling the people to a decision.


"Anyone who is thirsty may come to Me!" The timing of the appeal and the promise Jesus extends leaves little doubt concerning who Jesus perceived Himself to be. He is "God's Anointed," the Messiah. He is the One people should turn to in faith. Jesus' words must have startled many in the crowd. They are an invitation to experience life in a way that only God can make possible. "Believe in Me," Jesus appeals. "Come to Me and drink." Sadly, it appears that few respond to Jesus' invitation. Arguments about Him continue, but far too many leave the day spiritually thirsty and unsatisfied.


And what of us? Jesus' invitation is as relevant today as it was on the climatic day of the Feast. Jesus would say to us, "Are you thirsty, come to Me and drink!" Have we done so? If not, why not? Jesus promises a fulness of life that rises from within. John explains that this refers to God's gift of His Spirit (John 8:39). Jesus promises a steady stream of life that the world cannot offer. Do we believe Him? Jesus calls for us to decide. Have we done so? Have you done so? By faith, let's turn to Jesus and allow God's promised One to provide what only God can supply—true life within!

October 13, 2022

Mark 9:14-50; Matthew 17:14-18:35; Luke 9:37-50


"If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back (Matthew 18:15, NLT)."


How might our lives be better if we acted upon Jesus' words and wisdom? Our daily readings have no value if we refuse to follow the Lord's leadership. His words are intended to illuminate our path, to influence our behavior. That said. What lesson did God impress upon your heart in a particular way? My attention is drawn to Jesus' concern over broken relationships.


We should all admit that life is not perfect because people are not perfect (ourselves included). Indeed, we are all sinners, and sometimes we say things that should not be said. Or we behave in ways that we know are hurtful or wrong. The question is, "what do we do when such offenses occur?" The typical response is for the relationship to break down and for the person to find ways to get even. Instead of addressing the wrong, one failure is typically compounded by another, and the dysfunction worsens and persists.


Jesus offers a better way. As His follower, choose to address the wrong. Prayerfully approach the individual and be honest about the hurt. The goal is not to accuse or to punish but to reconcile—to win the person back. The desire is to work through the wrong suffered with understanding so we can further reflect Jesus' influence and grace. Too often, when wronged, we criticize at a distance. We look for ways to hurt the person in return, and the effects of the initial wrong spread like cancer within the body. The problem rapidly grows, and the dysfunction widens and produces devastating effects. And all of it could have been addressed early on, allowing the parties involved to move toward a healthy resolution.


Again, I stress when wronged, we don't approach the person to condemn—to put the person down. We pray that the individual will admit the sin so that the relationship can be restored, and we lift the person up. Can we agree that this so outside what we typically see or pursue? Yet, as Jesus' followers, this is what He calls us to embrace. Do note: this does not diminish the seriousness of the offense. The wrong must be addressed appropriately. And yes, hurtful behavior may require steps toward restitution and restoration. However, the goal is that—restoration. Address the sin so that you may win the person back.


What if the person refuses to acknowledge the wrong? Jesus teaches that this approach is so important that you bring another person or two to join you in the appeal (Matthew 18:16). Once more, the goal is to win back, not to punish. You are not seeking to elevate yourself above the person but to illustrate a mutual commitment to follow Jesus—to walk in Christian love. And if that is unsuccessful? Jesus warns that additional actions should be taken to underscore His call's seriousness and expectations.


And our response? I suspect the primary obstacle to Jesus' approach is the wounded party's unwillingness to address the wrong with reconciliation in mind. Vengeance may be what we have in mind, not forgiveness. Yet, I remind us that our commitment is to follow Jesus, not our angry emotions. It's not coincidental that Jesus' instructions lead to an extended conversation about forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35). Don't miss the connection. Too often, an unforgiving spirit feeds the growing dysfunction and begins to multiply the wrong.


As I said at the start, Jesus' words are intended to illuminate our path, to influence our behavior. Will we allow them to do so at this point? Will you?

October 12, 2022

Mark 8:22-9:13; Matthew 16:13-17:13; Luke 9:18-36


When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is (Matthew 16:13, NLT)?"

 

Jesus asks His disciples a relevant question, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Jesus, of course, is referring to Himself. The designation "Son of Man" was His favorite way of describing Himself to others. Rooted in Daniel's prophecy concerning God's promised One (Daniel 7:13-14), it highlights Jesus' identity as God and man. Indeed, He is God's solution to humanity's greatest need, underscoring the seriousness of His question. Whom do people perceive Jesus to be? Is He John the Baptist, as some suggest? Is Jesus the return of one of God's renowned prophets—Elijah or Jeremiah? Who exactly is He? And for that matter, why has Jesus come? Jesus personalizes the question for His closest disciples and asks, "But who do you say I am (Matthew 16:15, NLT)?" Ah, that's the question that will affect eternity itself. At the end of the day, what others say about Jesus will not impact your spiritual standing before God, but your confession will result in death or life, judgment or blessing. It all hinges upon your response. And what is your conclusion?


While the other disciples hesitate to speak, Simon Peter boldly professes, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:15–16, NLT)." His words must have hung in the air, full of revelation and hope. Paraphrased, "Jesus, You are God's Anointed One sent on our behalf. Even more, Jesus, You are God's Son given on our behalf. You are the ONE." What a statement! And the astounding thing—it's true. Jesus is unlike any individual who has ever walked upon the earth. He is the Creator of all we see and know, yet He entered the brokenness of a fallen world so hope might be restored. To do so, however, will require great sacrifice on Jesus' part. Indeed, He will suffer terrible things at the hands of the religious leaders resulting in His death, and as Jesus promised, "on the third day He would be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21, NLT)." Jesus will fulfill everything the prophets foretold, for He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Is that your confession? Is it mine?


I recognize I sound redundant in my devotional posts concerning Jesus' identity. But if we don't understand this, we will not understand anything else. Either Jesus is God's Son, or He's not. Either Jesus is capable of saving those who turn to Him, or He's not. I agree with Simon's confession. I believe Jesus is more than a religious figure or an inspirational teacher. I believe Jesus to be God's Messiah, the Son of God. And, like Peter, I didn't figure that out on my own. God, the Father, opened my spiritual eyes to the truth of Jesus, and I responded to Him as honestly as I knew how. We're naïve if we think otherwise. And your response?

 

Jesus is the Messiah, my Savior, my God. May the sound of these words never become ordinary or blasé. Jesus is the Son of God, my source of hope and life. Is this your confession? If so, declare it out loud. Speak the words even now. Let your ears hear the testimony that changes one standing before God forever. "Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living of God." Just typing the words brings a smile to my face. I anticipate speaking the words will do even more within you. Jesus asks, "Who do you say I am?" And your response?

October 11, 2022

Mark 7:24-8:21; Matthew 15:21-16:12 


"Dear woman," Jesus said to her, "your faith is great. Your request is granted." And her daughter was instantly healed (Matthew 15:28, NLT).


Jesus continues to perform miracles in dramatic ways. He delivers a young Gentile girl of demonic possession without physically being present with the child. Jesus sets her free from a distance in response to her mother's remarkable, unrelenting faith (Mark 7:24-30). Jesus makes the difference. In contrast, Jesus heals a man who is both deaf and mute by putting His fingers in the man's ears and applying spittle to the mute man's tongue (Mark 7:31-37). Again, Jesus makes the difference. The question is: Why are physical measures required with one and not with the other? For whose benefit is Jesus' presence or touch required?


The demonstrations of Jesus' power appear to be increasing. As Matthew attests, "A vast crowd brought to Him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn't speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and He healed them all. The crowd was amazed! Those who hadn't been able to speak were talking, the crippled were made well, the lame were walking, and the blind could see again! And they praised the God of Israel (Matthew 15:30–31, NLT)." Can you imagine witnessing so many displays of His compassion and power? How would you have responded? Jesus even repeats the miracle of multiplying fishes and loaves to feed another hungry crowd—4000 in number (Mark 8:1-10).


What point is Jesus making through His increasing demonstrations? I remind you again of the prophecy that Jesus applied to Himself at the start of His public ministry. Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD's favor has come (Luke 4:18–19, NLT)." Returning the scroll to the attendant, Jesus also declared, "The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day (Luke 4:21, NLT)!"

 

Do we see the correlation? More is taking place than a series of miracles. God is spotlighting Jesus, His Son, for all to see. Do we see Him for who He is? Or, has our familiarity with Jesus' miracles diminished our appreciation of what is being revealed? Are we missing the point? The religious leaders of Jesus' day certainly did. Given all that has been reported, they still demand that Jesus prove Himself by supplying an additional sign. Exasperated, Jesus exclaims, "Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign (Mark 8:12, NLT)." How do they fail to see?


Consider the testimony of today's reading. Let's again step back and marvel over what is revealed. Yet, as we do, may it strengthen our faith and deepen our devotion. Seeing Jesus for who He is, let's be confident in His ability to make the necessary difference with us. Though it may not always manifest itself in miraculous displays, we can trust in His provision. Ironically, Jesus' disciples (who witnessed everything described above) became frustrated because they only had one loaf of bread to share (Matthew 16:7-9). Had they learned nothing from all of Jesus' demonstrations of power and authority? They follow the One who heals the sick, delivers the oppressed, and multiplies the loaves and fishes. Yet, they are troubled over a single loaf of bread. And what bothers or distracts us? Today's reading reminds us of who we also trust. We are followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Think about that. Should we enter the day confident or discouraged? Let’s renew our faith and step toward our challenges with renewed confidence in the One who is with us. Jesus will make the necessary difference!

October 10, 2022

John 6:22-71; Mark 7:1-23; Matthew 15:1-20


Jesus replied, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35, NLT)."


In our reading yesterday, Jesus does what is humanly impossible. He feeds over 5000 people with a handful of food (John 16:1-15). Who could do such a thing? It is becoming increasingly evident that Jesus is more than a religious teacher. He is God's promised Messiah, His beloved Son. If that wasn't yet obvious to His disciples, Jesus followed the miracle of multiplying the fish and loaves by suspending the laws of nature themselves. That's right. Jesus physically walks across the sea of Galilee like it is a hardwood floor (John 6:16-21). Again, who could do such a thing? Should there be any doubt concerning Jesus' identity?



Surprisingly, the recently fed crowd pursues Jesus for all the wrong reasons. Instead of turning to Jesus as the promised Messiah, they chase Him down in pursuit of another free meal. Their focus is on physical comfort instead of spiritual redemption. God (for generations) had promised a coming Messiah who would reconcile sinful people to Himself (Isaiah 53). God's "Anointed One" would be the catalyst of spiritual life. Jesus highlights this foundational truth by declaring, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty (John 6:35, NLT)." His assertion is the first of seven "I AM" statements (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1), heralding His uniqueness and the promise of life in Him. That's the point of each. True life, eternal life, is found in Jesus.


Jesus later underscores His initial statement by adding, "I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life (John 6:47–48, NLT)!" Could Jesus be more clear? The key is how a person responds. If they turn to Jesus in faith, yielding themselves to God's promised Messiah—eternal life results. The people, however, struggle to accept Jesus' words. Instead of humbling themselves before God's Messiah, they remain fixated upon their physical needs. They chase after Jesus to supplement their lives, not save them. They turn to Jesus to make their lives easier, not to be transformed by Him. Do some make the same mistake today? Do they view Jesus and Christianity as a way of enhancing the quality of life instead of turning to Jesus as the source of life itself?


Jesus presses the crowd toward a commitment by saying, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day (John 6:53–54, NLT)." Jesus' words are deliberately provocative because He's not looking for a large congregation of self-centered groupies. The church was never intended to be a social club to ease life's discomforts. Jesus is building a spiritual kingdom of disciples. He is looking for men and women of faith who will turn to Jesus wholeheartedly and are fully committed to who He is and what He teaches.


Is that descriptive of us? Is it descriptive of you? Do you believe that true life is found in Jesus alone? What about your daily routine indicates this is true? Many who heard Jesus' words turned away from Him that day. Indeed, so many rejected Him that Jesus asked His inner circle if they also would depart. Simon Peter responds in a way that we, too, should confess, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68–69, NLT)." Can we express the same? Let's humble ourselves before the LORD, renewing our faith in Jesus and committing ourselves to follow Him fully—for true life, fulfilling life, (as Jesus promises) ETERNAL LIFE is in Him. And you would say?

October 9, 2022

Our chronological reading for the day includes Luke 9:7-17, Mark 6:14-56, Matthew 14:1-36, and John 6:1-21. Join us as we read together. May the Lord also prepare our hearts for worship at 9:30 am or 11 am. May God be honored by our response.

October 8, 2022

Matthew 9:27-38; Mark 6:1-13; Matthew 13:53-58; Matthew 10:1-42; Luke 9:1-6


I want to thank you for your prayers on my behalf. The good news is that I do not have the flu or COVID, but the bad news is that I have a sinus infection that is still taking a toll. I had hoped to make better progress than what I have experienced thus far. With that said, I was optimistic about resuming the devotions more quickly than my mind and body would support. My goal is to resume my daily devotional posts on Monday, hoping that I might still improve sufficiently toward sharing in both services on Sunday. I appreciate your continuing prayer support. Join us today for our reading. I pray for God's encouragement as you do.

October 7, 2022

Mark 5:1-43; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-56; Matthew 9:18-26.


Regrettably, I am posting this on Thursday evening because I feel under the weather. For that reason, I will not be sharing a devotional thought for the day (Friday). However, this provides you the opportunity to put yesterday's lesson into practice. Prayerfully identify the primary thought, verse, or application that the Lord impresses upon your heart. Connect it with the day ahead and be encouraged. I hope to post a new devotional post on Saturday. I would appreciate your prayer support toward the end.

October 6, 2022

Matthew 13:10-52; Luke 8:9-25; Mark 4:21-41; Matthew 8:23-27

 

"Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them (Mark 4:24–25, NLT)."

 

How attentive are we to Jesus' words? Do we act upon what He says, or only read our Bibles to fulfill a religious obligation? Jesus calls His disciples to careful consideration. The verbal command, "pay close attention," suggests more than mere listening. It highlights a mental focus or awareness that facilitates the appropriate response. Is that our approach? Think back upon yesterday's reading. What stood out to you? What did you carry with you into the day? The key to remembering a spiritual lesson is to put it into practical action. Simply reading or listening to Jesus' words without connecting them to one's life will be of little value.


I find it helpful to single out one primary lesson or thought from each day's reading to avoid this tendency. The scope of our chronological readings can make that more challenging. Reading multiple or extended passages can make our hearts less attentive. Instead of actively receiving the Word, we're tempted to race to the finish. When that happens, our minds develop a Teflon surface—nothing sticks, and that's spiritually unhealthy. Instead, approach each day's reading with a sincere prayer, "Lord, impress a lesson on my heart that You would have me to see." Ask Him to speak and then read the passage with an expectation that God's Spirit will highlight a verse, a thought, or an application. Invite God into the experience and then identify the day's primary lesson. This spiritual approach will discourage us from racing through a reading. It will help us to focus our minds on listening, not finishing.


Allow yesterday's reading to serve as an example. What stood out to you? Did you ask the Lord to impress a lesson upon your heart? My lesson for the day was Jesus' assurance that He forgives all our sins as we turn to Him. Of course, the broader context involved Jesus' warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit—persistently denouncing the Spirit's witness concerning Jesus. However, the helpful lesson amid the discussion is Jesus' ability to forgive all our sins as we respond to Him. As Jesus states, "So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven (Matthew 12:31, NLT)." Again, the thought encouraged my heart, and I carried its assurance into the day. What was your lesson?


What about today's reading? Look back over the combination of passages. Ask the Lord to impress a primary lesson upon your heart. Seek His influence as you glance again at the texts. Prayerfully identify a verse, thought, or application you might connect with the day ahead. As Jesus instructs, "Pay close attention to what you hear." As you do, be further encouraged by what Jesus then adds. "To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given." In other words, Jesus will build upon what you are already learning. Sadly, the opposite is true if we approach our readings haphazardly. Our lack of attention will diminish what we already know. Let's take Jesus' words to heart today as we continue our chronological readings. We will be stronger because of it!

October 5, 2022

Luke 8:1-8; Mark 3:20-35; Matthew 12:22-50; Luke 8:19-21 Mark 4:1-20; Matthew 13:1-9


"So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven (Matthew 12:31, NLT)."


The Spirit of God descends dramatically upon Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit fills Jesus within and promptly leads Jesus into the wilderness to prepare Him for His mission (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). The same divine Spirit empowers Jesus to do what no one else can. He heals the sick, teaches with authority, and visibly sets Jesus apart from everyone around Him. As the prophet Isaiah states concerning the coming Messiah (meaning, "Anointed One"), "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD's favor has come (Luke 4:18–19, NLT)." Jesus claims these words for Himself as He reads Isaiah's testimony (Luke 4:21). Regrettably, the people of Nazareth fail to respond to Jesus in faith and drive Him away.


Yet, in today's reading, the religious leaders' response to Jesus is even more sinister. They attribute Jesus' healing power to the devil's work instead of giving proper credit to God. The religious leaders would have been knowledgeable of Isaiah's Messianic prophecies and should have understood that God's Spirit would be recognizably at work through God's anointed. Again, the meaning of the term "Messiah" is "Anointed One." However, they refuse to acknowledge the One standing before them because of their spiritual pride. They view Jesus as a threat to their power and control instead of humbling themselves before God's Messiah, who could spiritually set them free. Their hard-hearted defiance is moving them to a place of no return, and Jesus warns them of their potential peril. Jesus warns, "So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come (Matthew 12:31–32, NLT)."


Again, the Holy Spirit and His undeniable work are manifest by God to identify Jesus as God's promised One, the Messiah. To attribute God's power to the devil is to spurn God's witness. If one persistently denies what is self-evident, the person risks blaspheming God's Spirit. When that happens, the Spirit of the LORD will no longer appeal to the heart concerning the Son of God. And if the Spirit of God ceases to open one's eyes to the truth of Jesus, then there is no hope. That individual will never recognize their need for Jesus and consequently die in their sin. That is why blaspheming the Holy Spirit is so dangerous. It is, as Jesus warns, the unforgivable sin. It's unforgivable because that person will never recognize their need for Jesus and experience His power to forgive.


Do note: blaspheming or spurning the Holy Spirit does not happen casually or accidentally. If you are concerned that you have committed this sin, that's a good indication that you have not. The Spirit of God convicts the heart and raises spiritual concern. An individual who has blasphemed the Holy Spirit would have no such alarm. They will be spiritually calloused to all such considerations. Again, this does not happen quickly. Indeed, Jesus appears to be warning the religious leaders that they are approaching this offense but have not yet crossed the line of no return. On some level, that should be reassuring. I prefer, however, to focus on the other aspect of Jesus' words. If a person responds to Jesus for who He is, then "every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven." Think about that for a moment. Through Jesus, every sin and every blasphemy is forgivable by God. The worst of human actions, the most detestable of practices, can be cleansed away through the sacrificial blood of Jesus, God's Son. Jesus can forgive ALL OUR SINS as we turn to Him in faith. Be encouraged by that truth. Accept Jesus' forgiveness for what it is. In a personal way, celebrate the forgiveness that He makes possible and give thanks


Of course, all of this illustrates the seriousness of Jesus' warning. If a person persistently, arrogantly, and defiantly rejects the Spirit's testimony concerning Jesus, the day may come when the Spirit's illuminating appeals finally cease. All hope will be gone at that moment because their spiritual eyes will remain permanently closed. I grieve for the foolishness of that hardened soul, but I am grateful to God for the total forgiveness I have found in Jesus. And you?

October 4, 2022

Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-50; Matthew 11:1-30


"But the officer said, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have You come into my home. Just say the word from where You are, and my servant will be healed (Matthew 8:8, NLT).'"

 

Faith is the necessary response of the heart to the truth of Jesus. We are not reading through the gospels chronologically to be informed about Jesus but to respond to Him in faith. It does us little good to know the stories of Jesus and fail to be impacted by the truth of who He is—to be unaffected by His words. Today's reading highlights the example of a person who models faith in a way that we should emulate. Indeed, Jesus points to the most unlikely person (a Gentile officer) and celebrates the depth and beauty of the faith he displays.


The unnamed officer is concerned for a servant who is seriously ill. He hears that Jesus is near and requests the Lord's help on his servant's behalf. The officer recognizes the authority of Jesus in a way that others fail to see. So much so, the Gentile man feels unworthy of having Jesus come into his home, much less (as Luke informs us) to speak to Jesus directly. He humbly appeals for Jesus' help. It is at this point that the Centurion's faith shines brightly. He appeals to Jesus, "Just say the word from where You are," and that is enough. "Just say the word." His plea reveals a great deal about the officer's perception of Jesus.


The Centurion recognizes Jesus' authority over life and death. He understands that Jesus' healing ability is not related to His touch or words. Instead, Jesus' power to heal is directly related to who He is and the authority He possesses. The Centurion explains, "Just say the word from where You are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, 'Go,' and they go, or 'Come,' and they come. And if I say to my slaves, 'Do this,' they do it (Matthew 8:8–9, NLT)."


Jesus marvels over the man's confession and exclaims, "I tell you the truth, I haven't seen faith like this in all Israel (Matthew 8:10, NLT)!" Think about that. Jesus makes this observation as Peter, James, John, and the other disciples watch and learn. Even Jesus' closest disciples have yet to display such an understanding and faith. The Centurion exemplifies a belief that should instruct our own. The key is the officer's perception of Jesus' identity and authority. He's convinced that Jesus is more than a man. His appeal reflects as much. "Just say the word, Lord." The man of faith connects Jesus' position and authority with the transforming impact of His words. Because Jesus is who He is, the Centurion is confident that whatever Jesus says will be. The faith directed toward Jesus' identity is then appropriately applied to His words. It is essential to see the correlation. Jesus' words are life-changing because Jesus is life-changing. There's something about Him that makes the difference.


Jesus commends the Centurion's faith, but what would Jesus say about ours? Do we recognize Jesus' authority? Do we connect Jesus' identity and power with the words He speaks? How did we recently respond to Jesus' words in the "Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)?" Yesterday I highlighted some of Jesus' teaching on prayer. Did we take them to heart? Did we accept them as authoritative and true? If not, what does our lack of response reveal concerning our perception of Jesus? The Centurion asserts, "Jesus, just say the word, and that is enough." Can we make the same confession today? Will our faith be worthy of Jesus' commendation? I pray the answer is "Yes!" Faith is more than a feeling. It is a response to the truth of who Jesus is and the words He conveys. "Jesus, just say the word, and that is enough!"

October 3, 2022

Matthew 6:5-7:29; Luke 6:37-49


“Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may Your name be kept holy. May Your Kingdom come soon. May Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive those who sin against you, Your heavenly Father will forgive you (Matthew 6:9–14, NLT).”

 

Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)” is one of the more significant teaching sections in the New Testament. In a way, Jesus describes the difference He seeks to make with those who choose to follow Him. The difference is profound. Their lives will be like a house built upon a firm foundation (Matthew 7:24-29). Their response to Jesus and His words will assure their spiritual survival, even when tested by the severest of floods. Their future (because of Jesus) is guaranteed. We should be encouraged by such a thought.


Yet, Jesus highlights so much more. He teaches His followers that they can trust in God’s daily care and provision over their lives. If God provides for the birds of the air, how much more will He provide for those with whom He has a relationship? We should, in turn, cast our anxiety aside and learn to trust in Him. But do we? If we are not careful, we’re tempted to view life through the eyes of those who disregard the LORD and live for themselves. They live for the treasures of this world and are never satisfied. Their lives are sadly characterized by envy, worry, and selfish discontent. Jesus invites us to discover something better.


To help us in that direction, Jesus teaches His disciples how to approach God in prayer. He warns that His disciples shouldn’t pray to impress. Nor should they view prayer as a magic incantation, believing the right combination of words or phrases is the key. Instead, they are to envision prayer as a conversation between beloved children and their Father on a long journey. That’s how I characterize Jesus’ instructions. Think about the implications.


First, we address God as Father, so no specialized language is required. We also recognize that He’s with us as we journey through life and invites us to share our emotions and needs—like children turning to a loving Father for help. Indeed, Jesus directs us to request our daily bread, representing life’s physical needs. He also promises we can experience God’s forgiveness and renewal as we turn to Him honestly in prayer. That said. Forgiveness is to be extended as freely as it is received. In other words, we choose to reflect the Father’s heart toward those who hurt and disappoint us. In addition, God’s children can anticipate future victories as they learn to trust the Father’s leadership and rely upon the Father’s provision. Our desired victories, however, will not occur without timely conversations along the way. Jesus modeled this Himself as He followed the Father’s leadership concerning His life and mission. Will we seek the same?

 

One further emphasis should be noted—identifying who’s leading is crucial. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray to “our Father in heaven”—emphasizing His authority and position. He sees what we do not see. He knows what we do not know, so we are wise to ask the Father to take the lead. We should pray, “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We make a mistake when we separate our requests for help from the Father’s larger purpose and plan. Day by day, we should renew our trust in the Father’s provision and humbly submit to the Father’s lead.


So, will we maintain our conversation with the Father? Please realize. We don’t pray each day to gain God’s favor. We enter the conversation because we are already favored because of Jesus and do not face life’s challenges alone. By faith, let’s open our eyes to His presence, resume the conversation daily, and discover the help and support God supplies. Come on. Let’s experience the difference Jesus came to make!

October 2, 2022

The readings for today, which are predominately in Matthew, begin a collection of Jesus’ basic teachings which are often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). There are numerous teachings which, if we addressed each one, it would take more time than we have this morning. Join us as we reflect on these amazing sections of God’s Word.


Jesus did not preach sermons as we do today. Matthew 5, 6, and 7 are a literary form of His teachings. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) are the foundation for the rest of the three chapters. Jesus’ style of speaking was magnetic and engaging. His charismatic presence and powerful words, stories, and expressions touched the hearts and souls of His listeners.  They ignited the emotions of His disciples, followers, and others. At the same time, Jesus also provoked the religious leaders and others who did not accept or realize what He was about. To them He was too revolutionary! They felt Jesus was undermining ancestral, cultural, and long-held traditional values. These dissenters accused Jesus of nullifying and breaking the laws of Moses. There is no doubt, however, that Jesus was meeting the needs of those who longed for God’s intervention, and genuine reign of justice and happiness.


Since we do not have time to cover all the readings for today, a simple question – as you read, what passage caused you to pause and consider what Jesus was saying? Pause again and reflect on those verses. Was it one of the Beatitudes? Was it the section on salt and light? What about the section that commands that we love our enemies?


What verse cause me to pause and reflect? In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus further elevates the command to love others, not just those who love us but also our enemies. Then Jesus says, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5:48). Hmmm…perfect.


Listen to what William Barclay writes in The Gospel of Matthew, p. 177:


“The Greek word for perfect is teleios. This word is often use in Greek in a very special way. It has nothing to do with what we might call abstract, philosophical, metaphysical perfection. A victim which is fit for a sacrifice to God, that is a victim which is without blemish, is teleios. A man who has reached his full-grown stature is teleios in contradistinction to a half-grown lad. A student who has reached a mature knowledge of his subject is teleios as opposed to a learner who is just beginning, and who as yet has no grasp of things.


To put it another way, the Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, and designed, and made.”


To be perfect, therefore, means we realize and live out the purpose for which we were created. For what purpose were we created? In the creation story, God says, “Let us make man in our own image after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).


Am I living out the purpose for which God created me? Is my life characterized by the teachings of Matthew 5-7? Do I love like God loves – everyone unconditionally? God help us live out the purpose for which we were created, starting again today!

October 1, 2022

Hard to believe it is October 1. Wow! Time flies…


Thanks for joining us in reading the chronological Bible together. We have been in the New Testament for several days and are now in John 5, Mark 2-3, Matthew 12 and Luke 6. The story of Jesus’ ministry continues to stir the anger of the religious leaders.


As we discovered in the early chapters of the Gospel accounts, it did not take long for the religious leaders to confront and come into conflict with Jesus. And as Jesus continued to heal, preach and teach in these passages, the Pharisees and other religious leaders began to seek ways to kill Him.


In what ways did Jesus’ actions and words cause this extreme reaction? In previous verses, Jesus was accused of blasphemy, for He claimed to have the authority to forgive sins, only something God could do according to the religious leaders. Jesus associated with so-called “sinners”, which they disapproved. Jesus was gaining a favorable impression with many Jewish people as well.


Now Jesus begins to heal people on the Sabbath and the lame man He heals carries his mat. Both of these actions were “work” because Jewish leaders had added a lot of regulations to God’s law. The Sabbath, according to them, was a day of rest. 


Next, Jesus and His disciples walk through a field of grain, and break of heads off grain to eat. Again, the Pharisees condemn the action because it is on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds the Pharisees of times in the past when God’s people, including priests, worked on the Sabbath. In conclusion, Jesus adds one of my favorite quotes – “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) 


Truth for October 1 – Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord over the Sabbath. He is Lord over sickness and disease. He is Lord over broken physical bodies. He is Lord over the universe. He is Lord over all. He is Lord over my life and your life. Let’s praise the Lord for His goodness, protection and provision. Truly, Jesus is Lord!

September 30, 2022

Chronological Bible Devo – Friday, September 30


Join us in continuing to read about the early life and ministry of Jesus. The passages for today are found in Luke 5, Mark 1-2, and Matthew 8-9. Jesus calls men to follow Him, miraculously heals a man of leprosy and paralysis, and is challenged by the Pharisees and religious leaders about the forgiveness of sins.


There is much to be shared about the miraculous catch of fish and calling of Peter to discipleship. We know Peter’s story – his brashness, strong leadership, over-zealousness, and public denial of his relationship with Jesus. We also rejoice that Jesus restores Peter to fellowship and followship. Peter becomes the rock! But it all begins with an amazing catch of fish. After Peter and his fellow fishermen catch nothing during the evening, Jesus simple command leads to boats so full of fish that they nearly sink. It leads to one of Peter’s most well-known statements – “O Lord, please leave me – I’m such a sinful man.” The truth? All of us have had our highs and lows as we have followed Jesus. God help us as we succeed and fail in our walk with Him. Let’s pause and ask God to forgive us when we have sinned against Him.


The healing of the man with leprosy is inspiring and miraculous. In Jesus day, leprosy was a highly contagious disease. People with leprosy were cast out of society to live a life of loneliness. They were declared “unclean”. But Jesus, violating the laws of His day, reached out and touched the man, and he was healed! My thought? What a clear reminder of the Lord’s desire that we, too, reach out to those on the fringe of society with a message of hope found only in Jesus.


The healing of the paralyzed man reminds me of two thoughts. The Pharisees were convinced that Jesus was wrong and they were right. No one but God could forgive sins. How dare a young man from Nazareth presume He can forgive sins. But nothing deterred Jesus from His mission. And Jesus, the Son of God, does have the power and authority to forgive sins. My thought? What deters us from fulfilling God’s mission for our lives? Hopefully…nothing!


Other passages for September 30 are important. Jesus calls more men to follow Him. And a despised tax collector, Matthew, is the next choice. Thank God that He invites us into a loving relationship with Him, in spite of who we were and are! Say a prayer of thanks as we close today’s readings.

September 29, 2022

Chronological Bible – Thursday – September 29


Join us today in reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These verses provide insight into the beginning days of Jesus’ public ministry.


The readings for today emphasize the essence of Jesus ministry – preaching, teaching and healing. I quickly observed that the early days of Jesus public ministry, which began around the age of 30, were filled with miraculous healings of several people of all ages.


I was especially touched by the healing of an official’s son in John 4:46-54. So early in Jesus’ ministry, an official expresses true belief (v. 50) in Jesus as the Son of God. This healing was done at a distance – the young son was not from Galilee but Capernaum. The details of the healing are exciting.


John adds a comment in verse 54 that confirms the nature of the miracle. It was a sign. It demonstrated the human compassion of Jesus, and yet declared more. It affirmed that He was not only the Lord of created things (water, wine), He was also the authority over life. It revealed the character of the Messiah who created life, and who has the power to recreate it.


Many responded by faith in Jesus because of miraculous healings. These verses share other accounts of healings – a demon possessed man, Simon’s mother-in-law, many people with various diseases and possessed by demons. God’s work through Jesus was being noticed throughout that part of the world. Large crowds followed Jesus wherever He went.


My thought for today? We are followers of Jesus Christ. How can we increase our influence in a world that is becoming more and more secular and immoral? How can Jesus use our lives to make others notice God’s miraculous activity? How can you and I make a difference for God’s Kingdom? 

September 28, 2022

Chronological Bible – Wednesday – September 28


Today’s reading shares the account of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. Other highlights include more about the life of John the Baptist. Join us in reading John 3 & 4 and a brief part of Luke 3.


The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 is well-known and fascinating. The understanding of “born again” is clearly defined. And there is no doubt that this section in John’s Gospel is the most renowned in all of Scripture – especially verse 16 – the most familiar verse in all of the Bible. Why is this? John 3:16 presents the clearest, simplest statement of the good news Jesus came to bring to the world. What is the good news? First, God loves you. Second, God’s love was so great that He sent His only Son to tell the world about God’s love. Third, that anyone who will believe in God’s Son will never die but live forever with God.  Belief means far more than intellectual assent. It means placing your life and trust in complete surrender to the One in whom you believe. May each of us pause now and refresh our understanding and commitment to Jesus.


Then in John 4, we witness a second fascinating conversation. Resting by a well, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman who had been living a life of immorality. The woman was shocked that Jesus would even talk to her, for she knew of the great hatred between Jews and Samaritans. But although she constantly found excuses for the questions Jesus asked her, Jesus continually responded not to her questions but to her needs, offering her the opportunity of receiving “living water” (4:10).


In both of these circumstances, we see the intent of Jesus’ ministry, to bring people to a realization of the state of their life in order to lead them to repentance and a new life in Him. 


God has called us to a ministry of reconciliation. May we be faithful to engage our world in meaningful conversations about our walk with God and the need to be “born again” and to receive “living water.”

September 27, 2022

Chronological Bible – Tuesday – September 27


The reading for September 27 is found in Mark 1, Matthew 4, Luke 4 and John 1. Join us in reading and reflecting on the early days of Jesus’ ministry.


The verses in John speak of John the Baptist’s affirmation of who Jesus is – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! The section continues and shares the account of the calling of the first disciples – Andrew, Peter, and Philip.


I have found the miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana to be quite humorous. I am sure the disciples were dumbfounded and asked each other, “How did Jesus do that?” And the miracle caused the disciples to “believe in Him.”


The encounter in the Temple has one of the most meaningful quotes of Jesus during the early days of His ministry. After driving the merchants, dealers and animals out of the Temple, the Jewish leaders demanded an answer – who gave Jesus the authority to do what He did? Jesus’ answer? “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” This prophetic utterance was completely misunderstood by the religious leaders of that day, but for us, it is a cause to pause and praise the Lord God. Jesus is telling the world that He will be victorious over sin, death and the grave!


I find the focus for today, though, in the words of Matthew 4 and Luke 4, the temptation of Jesus. It is summed up this way in The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, page 592: “If Christ had followed Satan’s way, he would not have lost his deity, but we would have lost our Savior! Christ is the divine Son of God, and nothing Satan or man can ever do can change that fact. But, if God in Christ had not been willing to turn down all the easy alternatives and go to the cross of Calvary for our sins, we would have been utterly without hope in this sinful world. Let us bow the knee in trembling gratitude as we see Jesus struggling in the wilderness. There was won the victory of divine love over the power of the Evil One. What was at stake in that awesome struggle was not his deity but our salvation! Thanks be unto God that Christ won the victory there.”


 We are forever grateful for the victory we have in Jesus!

September 26, 2022

Chronological Bible – Monday – September 26

From the visit of the Wise Men to the escape to Egypt to Jesus in the Temple to ministry of John the Baptist to Jesus’ baptism. Join us in reading several passages in Matthew 2-3, Luke 2-3, Mark 1 today.


How do you choose what to share with such a variety of topics revealed in these passages. I will focus on one thought – hearing the voice of God.

How did the characters in New Testament times hear the voice of God? In these passages, the Wise Men, Joseph and Mary, and John the Baptist very clearly heard God speak to them. The Wise Men followed a bright star to find the Messiah, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to avoid the rath of Herod, and John shared the hope of the coming Messiah and heard the blessing bestowed upon Jesus at His baptism.

How do you and I hear the voice of God?


Henry Blackaby has provided an outstanding study, Experiencing God, which teaches us about hearing and obeying God. Blackaby reminds us in Units 5-6 (pages 72-107) that:


1)     If the Christian does not know when God is speaking, he is in trouble at the heart of his Christian life! 

2)     God speaks through the Holy Spirit and when I understand spiritual truth, it is because the Holy Spirit is working in my life.

3)     God reveals Himself to His people and God’s revelations are designed to bring you into a love relationship with Him.

4)     God speaks through the Bible. When the Spirit directs my attention to a truth, I write it down, meditate on it, and adjust my life to it.

5)     God speaks through prayer. Prayer is a relationship not just a religious activity.

6)     God speaks through circumstances. To understand your bad or difficult circumstances, God’s perspective is vital.

7)     God speaks through the Church. As I function in relationship to the church, I depend on others in the church to help me understand God’s will.

One statement that continues to resonate with me says this, “One critical point to understanding and experiencing God is knowing clearly when God is speaking. If the Christian does not know when God is speaking, he is in trouble at the heart of his Christian life!”


May each of us learn and listen to the voice of God !

September 25, 2022

Luke 1:39-80; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-40

 

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us (Matthew 1:23, NLT).’ ”

 

Jesus is the Son of God. Is that how you perceive Him? Each of the four gospel writers seeks to open our spiritual eyes to this truth. Jesus is far more than a man. Even His conception testifies to the uniqueness of His identity. Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus did not gradually become the Son of God because of His collective efforts. The promised Messiah is miraculously conceived by God’s Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18) so that even within His mother’s womb, the distinctiveness of Jesus would be evident.

 

Consider the response of John (Jesus’ forerunner) within his mother’s womb as Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s home. Luke records, “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed (Luke 1:42–42, NLT).’” Again, Jesus did not achieve sonship later in his life. Jesus’ unborn messenger senses the presence of God’s promised One and reacts.

 

Zechariah, John’s father, would also attest to Jesus’ identity and purpose following the birth of his son. Of course, Zechariah had been mute since doubting Gabriel’s message announcing the birth of his son in his and Elizabeth’s old age. Yet, even the birth of Jesus’ forerunner would illustrate the significance of what is unfolding. During John’s circumcision ceremony, Zechariah regains his voice and makes this announcement concerning God’s coming Messiah. He joyfully declares, “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace (Luke 1:78–79, NLT).” This is not a reference to Zechariah’s son, John. It points instead to the life and mission of Jesus, God’s Son. As the English Version translates verse 78, “the Sunrise shall visit us from on high.” Jesus is our spiritual sunrise.

 

It seems then only appropriate that the Son of God would be born in the middle of the night. Jesus came to bring God’s light into humanity’s darkness, to bring hope where all hope is lost. As Luke describes, “She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped Him snugly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them (Luke 2:6–7, NLT).”  Of course, heaven could not remain silent. The significance of Jesus’ birth cannot be ignored. Luke adds, “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger (Luke 2:8–12, NLT).”

 

God’s sunrise has come! Our future hope was born. Let me stress one more time. Jesus did not gradually become the Son of God. From Jesus’ conception to His birth, from Jesus’ public ministry to His death, from Jesus’ resurrection to His ascension, the testimony is the same—Jesus is the Son of God! Is that how you perceive Him? If not, I pray that you respond to Jesus even now in faith. If you already have, I pray that you choose to trust in Jesus more fully today than the day before. May our response to Him reflect a deepening faith and devotion. Jesus deserves all we are because of the truth of who He is—Jesus is the Son of God!

September 24, 2022

Mark 1:1a; Luke 1:1-38; 3:23-38; Matthew 1:1-17; John 1:1-18

 

“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1, NLT).”

 

Today we begin our chronological readings through the New Testament. It's fitting that we start by fixing our attention upon Jesus, the Son of God. Each of the four gospels shines its light on Jesus' identity in helpful ways. Mark is straight to the point. He boldly asserts Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, and then proceeds to demonstrate the truth of his claim through the remainder of his gospel. Mark seeks to open the readers' eyes to the wonder and power of Jesus.

 

In contrast, Luke researches and then highlights the unique testimonies surrounding Jesus. Even before Jesus is miraculously conceived, His identity as the Son of God is announced by an angelic messenger. Gabriel explains to Mary, "Don't be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David. And He will reign over Israel forever; His Kingdom will never end (Luke 1:30–33, NLT)!" God's message concerning Jesus could not be more clear.

 

Matthew also highlights an announcement by God's messenger. This time it is directed to Mary's betrothed, Joseph. Gabriel dispels Joseph's confusion and disappointment about Mary's pregnancy by declaring, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Matthew adds, "All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through His prophet: 'Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means God is with us (Matthew 1:20–23, NLT).'"

 

Yet, before the angel's announcement, Matthew provides a genealogical record concerning Jesus, which points us back to the Old Testament testimony. God promised that the Messiah, His "Anointed One" (the meaning of Messiah), would descend from Abraham's line. He would also be from the tribe of Judah and would be a descendant of king David. Indeed, the Messiah would ascend David's throne, and His reign would last forever. Matthew will help us see that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises and prophecies of old. He truly is God's anointed.

 

Of course, one other gospel will testify to the truth of Jesus. John's gospel introduces us to Jesus by directing our attention beyond the Old Testament and its promises. John points us to Jesus' existence before the foundations of the world—to Jesus' eternal nature and being as the Son of God. John refers to Jesus as the Word and writes, "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone (John 1:1–4, NLT)." John's testimony leaves no doubt concerning Jesus' identity. He is far more than a man or a religious teacher. Jesus is the Eternal God who became flesh. John explains, "So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son (John 1:14, NLT)."


September 23, 2022

Malachi 2:10-4:6; Joel 1:1-3:21

 

"The LORD gave this message to Joel son of Pethuel (Joel 1:1, NLT)."

 

Today is our final reading in the Old Testament as we complete Malachi and Joel. We know very little about the prophet Joel, apart from the name of his father—Pethuel. Scholars even disagree about when Joel delivered his series of messages. Some suggest it may have been during the reign of king Joash (835–796 B.C) before the Assyrian invasion of Israel. Others place his ministry during the post-exilic days of Nehemiah, which is why Joel's writings are placed at the close of our Old Testament chronological readings. We cannot definitively say.

 

Instead of debating the date of Joel's ministry, let's focus on the prophetic nature of his message—notably Joel's pronouncement concerning the future outpouring of God's Spirit. Indeed, as we begin our readings in the New Testament tomorrow, let's envision what Jesus will usher forth in preparation for the promised day of the LORD. The prophet announces God's pledge, "I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out My Spirit even on servants—men and women alike (Joel 2:28–29, NLT)."

 

Jesus, God's promised One, will live, die, rise again, and ascend on high so He (and He alone) can fulfill this transforming promise. And on the Day of Pentecost, the historian Luke shares the rest of the story. "On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability (Acts 2:1–4, NLT)." The apostle Peter publicly attests to the significance of the day. He declares, "Joel's promise is being fulfilled."

 

Think about that. Centuries before it would occur, God announced what He intended to do. The LORD will pour out His presence and not in a limited way. Men, women, young, old—God will introduce a new work of His Spirit that will move humanity's story one step closer to the day of the LORD Jesus' final appearance. And on that day, we can be assured, "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved (Joel 2:32, NLT)." Let's rejoice! There is hope in Jesus Christ.

 

We have come a long way since Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden (Genesis 3). We have followed the ups and downs of the human experience. We have observed some of the best of humanity and the worst. Yet, through it all, God has been steadily moving us toward a better day, a promised day. Starting with our readings tomorrow, we will begin to recognize that Jesus is the key. He is the axis that connects us with the past and future. He is the Promised One of God. May God encourage our hearts as our New Testament readings begin. But let's not lose sight of where we have been. To truly appreciate the wonder of Jesus, we should keep humanity’s larger story in view. In the coming weeks, may God open our spiritual eyes to see Jesus for who He is!

 

September 22, 2022

Nehemiah 12:2–13:31; Nehemiah 5:14-19; Malachi 1:1-2:9


"This is the message that the LORD gave to Israel through the prophet Malachi. 'I have always loved you,' says the LORD (Malachi 1:1–2, NLT)."

 

The book of Malachi is our final book in the Old Testament. In our chronological readings, however, we still have the book of Joel ahead. The name Malachi means "my messenger." Because of this, there's some discussion surrounding whether Malachi is the writer's name or a description of the author's role. Either way, Malachi is sent by God to deliver a timely message to His people. No additional information is provided about God's messenger inside or outside his prophetic messages—nothing about the writer's background, call, or personal life. That said. The book is frequently cited in the New Testament (Matthew 11:10; 17:12; Mark 1:2; 9:11, 12; Luke 1:17; Romans 9:13) and offers a relevant message for today.

 

God's pronouncements through Malachi begin with a declaration, "' I have always loved you,'" says the LORD (Malachi 1:1–2, NLT)." Think about that. The opening statement reassures the people of God's love. That should mean a great deal to people who vividly remember the difficulties of the recent exile. The children of Israel had suffered God's discipline and punishment. God now desires His people to live in the reality of His love. The problem is that the people do not appear to be reciprocating His affection. Yes, they are participating in religious activities, but their responses appear half-hearted. Their daily actions expose something less than genuine devotion.

 

Malachi confronts the spiritual deficiencies through several exchanges between God and His people. The problems that the prophet exposes parallel the same struggles Nehemiah (God's faithful servant) attempts to address as governor. Indeed, Malachi may have delivered these messages during the timeframe of Nehemiah's absence from Jerusalem. One further distinction. Malachi's messages reflect a series of questions and answers between the LORD and His people. God and His people go back and forth as He exposes their sin and spiritual apathy.

 

An example in today's reading involves the people offering inferior sacrifices to the LORD in public worship. Instead of offering God the best of what they have (as He rightfully deserves), they present animals that are crippled or diseased. They offer leftovers or castaways. What does that suggest concerning their hearts toward the LORD? Are they reciprocating God's love? Though they confess devotion with their lips, their actions prove otherwise. God’s assessment is blunt and to the point. "A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for My name (Malachi 1:6, NLT)!”

 

And what of us? What do our actions reveal concerning our response to God? Do we offer just enough to satisfy our perceived religious obligations? Or do we present to the LORD the whole of who we are, the best of who we are? Let’s think about that as we move into the day. Let’s consider that the next time we gather for public worship. God would declare to us, “I have always loved you.” What will our actions (not our words) say in response? May the depth and sincerity of our love be on display for all to see!

 

September 21, 2022

Nehemiah 11:1-12:26; 1 Chronicles 9:1-34

 

"The people of Judah were exiled to Babylon because they were unfaithful to the LORD (1 Chronicles 9:1, NLT)."

 

One more time, let's be reminded of an obvious lesson. God's people suffered severe consequences due to their prolonged rebellion and sin. They were exiled to Babylon because, as 1 Chronicles describes, they were unfaithful to the LORD. God is patient, and for that, we are grateful. But God's people can push the LORD beyond the limits of His mercy. Indeed, they can cross a spiritual line that requires His discipline or judgment. The children of Israel tragically chose to do so, and consequently, the people endured decades of hardship. We would be wise to keep this in mind. When (not if) we stumble, may we refuse to justify or persist in our sin. May we choose instead to humble ourselves before the LORD and commit ourselves anew to follow His leadership. How different might the story of Israel have been if they had responded in repentance instead of defiance?

 

Of course, God brought a remnant of His people back into the land of promise—all in His time. This month's readings highlight their path home and early challenges. Today's passage focuses primarily on the return of the Levites/priests. The significance of their return is underscored by the completion of Zerubbabel's Temple and the worship that eventually ensued. Both Nehemiah and 1 Chronicles trace the genealogical line of those who would serve again in God's presence. Most names are not familiar to the typical reader. What is worth noting, however, are the many roles assigned to the various individuals who would minister. Though they all possess a priestly heritage, they do not perform the same tasks or assignments. Some guard or maintain the gates while others manage the Temple articles and sacrificial food items. Each is assigned specific duties that they effectively carry out. Everyone will not serve in the spotlight. Indeed, most will honor the LORD by serving in the background. The ministry of Temple would not function otherwise.

 

That's the lesson I seek to emphasize for the day. Not everyone will minister or serve the LORD in the same way. Though spiritually speaking, we are all priests in Jesus. The apostle Peter joyfully declares to believers, "You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession (1 Peter 2:9, NLT)." Even so, we do not all fulfill the same roles. Perhaps some responsibilities appear more prominent than others, but everyone's area of service matters. Ministry within the Jerusalem Temple required those who would handle the sacrifices daily and those who would guard the gate or maintain the building. Each role is of vital importance for the continuing effectiveness of Temple. The apostle Paul illustrates this principle for the Church by adopting a body analogy. He writes,

 

"But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where He wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don't need you.' The head can't say to the feet, 'I don't need you.' In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary (1 Corinthians 12:18–22, NLT).

 

Let's take this lesson to heart. Don't fall into the trap of envying or diminishing the roles of others. Let's rejoice over our privilege to serve the LORD in ways He calls and enables. Every member of Christ's body matters. Every act of service is of significance to the LORD. Let's celebrate that today and then yield ourselves anew to the opportunities before us—especially if it's behind the scenes. It's not hidden from God!

September 20, 2022

Nehemiah 8:13-10:39

 

"On October 9 the family leaders of all the people, together with the priests and Levites, met with Ezra the scribe to go over the Law in greater detail (Nehemiah 8:13, NLT)."

 

On October 8th, God's people (in a personal way) elevate the authority of God's Word over their lives. They praise Him and humble themselves before Him. They recognize that they have been living in the dark for too long. The revelation of God was again permitted to enlighten their way. This renewed emphasis, however, would not be a one-day occurrence. The following day (October 9th), the family leaders return with the priests and Levites to examine God's Law further, even more closely. Do note the role of family leaders. A family leader's weightiest responsibility is influencing those one loves in God's ways. It is to assure that the light of God's Word shines brightly within the home. Our families will only know the truth if God's Word is communicated and expressed.

 

As the leaders study God's Law more carefully, they recognize that they have neglected one of the LORD's appointed festivals—the feast of tabernacles or shelters. It is a week-long emphasis when God's covenant people would erect and live within temporary shelters. The purpose is not to promote outdoor camping but to remind the children of Israel of God's redemptive work of grace. The seven-day emphasis points back to God sustaining His people as He led them across the wilderness to the promised land. Once established in the land, the week of spiritual renewal expanded into a harvest festival—further acknowledging their need and dependence upon the LORD. Almost five centuries later, Jesus (God's Promised One) would stand up on the final day of this great feast and call out, "Anyone who is thirsty may come to Me! Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart (John 7:37–38, NLT).' " Have you responded to Jesus' invitation?

 

Returning to today's account, the family leaders see what they have neglected and immediately move to obey God's command. They understood that we are to become doers of God's Word, not hearers only (James 1:22-24). They promptly organize the festival, constructing temporary shelters on rooftops and in open spaces. They seek to humble themselves before the LORD anew, expressing their dependence upon Him in a tangible way. They also opened their hearts daily to the reading of God's Word. As Nehemiah describes, "Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God on each of the seven days of the festival. Then on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, as was required by law (Nehemiah 8:18, NLT)."

 

Do we see the progression? The people read God's Word, leading them to respond in faith. But as they act in faith, they continue to read God's Word. The spiritual revival among them is directly related to a rediscovery of the authority of God's truth and revelation over their lives. We should recognize that the same can be true in our day. We, however, must keep our Bibles open if we seek a fresh movement of the LORD. Yet, we must do more than read or listen. We must allow God's testimony to guide our steps forward. Will we do so? I pray God will grant us a longing for Him and His Word. Will you join me in this prayer?

September 19, 2022

Nehemiah 7:4–8:12


"All the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had given for Israel to obey (Nehemiah 8:1, NLT)."

 

Much has been taking place among the people of God. Ezra has been instrumental in leading the nation toward widespread spiritual renewal, while Nehemiah has organized and mobilized the population to repair what had been too long neglected—Jerusalem's walls and gates. Both men are playing critical roles as God seeks to restore His covenant people. The LORD's hand is at work. Today's passage describes how the people now gather to hear the public reading of God's Word. To read the Holy Scriptures for oneself was rare. Few copies existed, and a limited number of people had access. That is why today's event is so significant. As the people continue to move toward the LORD, they recognize that they require the light of His Word to do so. Do we understand the same?

 

A great crowd gathers inside the recently repaired walls near the Water Gate. Ezra ascends a platform with God's Word in hand. However, something noteworthy happens even before God's servant begins to read. Nehemiah describes, "When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet. Then Ezra praised the LORD, the great God, and all the people chanted, "Amen! Amen!" as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground (Nehemiah 8:5–6, NLT)." Ezra and the people display joyful expectations as God's Word is opened. Indeed, they praise the LORD but also humble themselves before Him.

 

Do we reflect the same expectation, the same humility of heart? Or has the reading of our Bibles become commonplace, taken for granted? Ezra and the people's examples should instruct us. Perhaps we should do more than open our Bibles and read. Maybe we, too, should pause and praise the LORD for the opportunity we share. We are granted the privilege of reading and reflecting upon God's revelation. Let's rejoice and humble our hearts before Him before the first words are read. Whether you physically bow down is up to you, but let's do something tangible that expresses to God an understanding on our part.

 

Ezra and others begin to read the Book of the Law aloud (likely the first five books of the Bible). They do so throughout the morning—maybe even five or six hours. Think about that the next time you think reading for 15 or 20 minutes is too difficult. Yet, they do more than read aloud. Ezra and the Levites with him also seek to explain and apply the text. As today's passage describes, "They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage (Nehemiah 8:8, NLT)."

 

This, too, is helpful. Our daily Bible readings are not about checking a box or fulfilling a religious obligation. We should read to understand and apply. Admittedly, there may be elements of what we read at times that we struggle to grasp. That's normal. Our prayer, however, should be for understanding so we might walk in the light of God's Word. As the psalmist's prayer expresses, "Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in Your instructions (Psalm 119:18, NLT)." May we pray and seek the same.

 

God's people spend the day listening to His Word and are inwardly affected. They are deeply convicted by what His revelation reveals. Their past ignorance had contributed to a spiritual and moral compromise, and they now respond in heartfelt repentance and contrition. Interestingly, Ezra and other leaders encourage the people also to rejoice over what is happening. God's Word is again being elevated to its proper place. The people are discovering what has been ignored for too long.

 

And what about us? May today's example supply a fresh appreciation of what we seek each day through our chronological readings. Our goal is more than completing a Bible plan. Our prayer is a daily encounter with the LORD so He might guide our steps, affect our hearts, and ultimately change our lives. May we keep that in mind as we approach our readings in the days ahead. Let’s praise Him as we read, humble our hearts before Him, and then read to understand and apply. May the LORD Himself help us to do so.

September 18, 2022

Nehemiah 3:1-7:3

 

“So on October 2 the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15–16, NLT).”

 

Yesterday's reading introduced us to yet another significant post-exilic leader among God's people. Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah, served as the cupbearer to Artaxerxes—the Persian ruler. Like God's placement of Esther and Mordecai in the inner circle of Xerxes, Nehemiah is also strategically placed by God into the royal entourage of Artaxerxes. He, too, would prove to be an instrument of the LORD on behalf of God's people.

 

The king's cupbearer receives a distressing report concerning the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem. The city wall and gates remain in ruins, and the inhabitants reflect the same disorder. Nehemiah is visibly affected, which draws the attention of the king. Artaxerxes is informed of the situation. He then agrees to send his trusted cupbearer to Jerusalem to address the many problems. He does so with the Persian king's blessing and support. Nehemiah is likewise appointed governor of the province of Judea to facilitate the necessary work.

 

Today's reading highlights Nehemiah's effectiveness in the role. The situation is every bit as challenging as the earlier report had indicated. Nehemiah, however, acts promptly to organize and mobilize God's people. What had been disregarded and neglected for decades would finally be addressed. Indeed, in a matter of 52 days, the task is complete. The walls and gates are rebuilt, and the city's security is restored. It is an act of God through the availability of His people. It is a beautiful testimony of what God can do when His people take up the challenge together. It should be noted—it was far beyond a one-person job. Though Nehemiah's role should be celebrated, the leaders and workers who rally around the cause should be equally applauded (Nehemiah 3). They face threats and hardships but persevere to the end. They are committed to finishing the job with a sword in one hand and a building tool in the other. Their story should inspire us.

 

And the application? Let's again marvel at God's ability to place the right person in the right place to accomplish His task. Nehemiah was the person for the hour. However, we should anticipate God's continued placement of strategic people as we face today's challenges and problems. Yet, let's also appreciate that the larger works of God require more than an individual. They demand the coordination and sacrifice of countless (many unnamed) individuals to achieve something greater than themselves. Even Nehemiah's opponents recognize that the hand of the LORD is at work. I pray that for our day. Will you join me in the prayer?

September 17, 2022

Ezra 9:1-10:44; Nehemiah 1:1-2:20

 

"At the time of the sacrifice, I stood up from where I had sat in mourning with my clothes torn. I fell to my knees and lifted my hands to the LORD my God. I prayed, 'O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to You. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens (Ezra 9:5–6, NLT).'"

 

Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in August of 458 BC. There's no way that he could have anticipated what he would find. As a priest and scribe (an expert in God's Law), Ezra hopes to observe God's people honoring the LORD. What he discovers instead drives the man of God to his knees, for the people have defiled themselves again. Inexplicably, God's people have taken up the detestable practices of the surrounding nations. Did they learn nothing from the Babylonian exile? Are they blind to God's holiness, exposing themselves to His hand of discipline and judgment? To compound matters, many returning exiles (including their leaders) have joined themselves to foreign wives—a further indication of their widespread moral and spiritual compromise.

 

Ezra is stunned. He did not anticipate such a low spiritual ebb. As a priest before the LORD, he tears his cloak and shirt as a public act of contrition. He is appalled by what the people have tolerated and accepted. At the time of the evening sacrifice, God's servant falls to his knees in prayer. Ezra lifts his hands to the LORD and confesses, "O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to You. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens (Ezra 9:6, NLT)." Ezra's words are honest, and his emotions overflow. He proceeds to acknowledge the people's actions and the seriousness of their sins. He attests, "Once again we have abandoned Your commands (Ezra 9:10, NLT)!"

 

As Ezra prays and weeps, a large crowd soon gathers, and they share in his sorrow. The people join Ezra in humbling themselves before the LORD. No excuses are made. No justification for their sin is offered. In response, Ezra directs the people to act accordingly. Sorrowing for sin is not enough. They must submit to God's Word and conform their lives to His standard. Yet, not just those gathered, but the whole of God's people within the land. A call is sent out for the people to assemble, and three days later (on December 19), all the people of Judah and Benjamin convene in Jerusalem. They gather with one purpose—to address their sin before the LORD. It is a solemn assembly for God's people. It will become a defining point for God's people as they rededicate themselves to the LORD and His wisdom for their lives.

 

And the lessons for us? Is God looking for "Ezras" in our day who will mourn over the spiritual condition of the people? Could that be you? Would the LORD have you humble yourself in deep remorse for the spiritual needs of the congregation or nation? Or, are you like those who observe Ezra's sorrow, and it leads you to personal repentance? Is today's reading calling you to examine your life and respond to the LORD anew? No excuses are made. No justification for sin is offered. May we submit the whole of our lives to His standard and honor Him with our devotion. What is the LORD asking of you?

September 16, 2022

Ezra 4:7-23; Ezra 7:1-8:1-36

 

“Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in August of that year. He had arranged to leave Babylon on April 8, the first day of the new year, and he arrived at Jerusalem on August 4, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel. (Ezra 7:8–10, NLT).”

 

Sixty years have passed since the work on the Temple was completed. Challenges in Jerusalem persist, but the LORD's servant Ezra now leads a group of exiles back to God's holy city, including Temple servants, Levites, and priests. Ezra himself is a priest and a notable scribe. He is also commissioned by the Persian king Artaxerxes to improve the Jerusalem Temple and to take command of the Judaean community upon his arrival. Indeed, Artaxerxes sends an accompanying royal declaration,

 

 "I decree that any of the people of Israel in my kingdom, including the priests and Levites, may volunteer to return to Jerusalem with you. I and my council of seven hereby instruct you to conduct an inquiry into the situation in Judah and Jerusalem, based on your God's law, which is in your hand. We also commission you to take with you silver and gold, which we are freely presenting as an offering to the God of Israel who lives in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:13–15, NLT)."

 

This represents a notable moment for God's people. The Lord is sending someone to reintroduce His people to His Law and wisdom. Ezra is not just anyone. He is a direct descendant of none other than Aaron, Moses' brother. He is also an expert on God's Law and a capable teacher. More than that, Ezra seeks to live out God's teachings. He is a man of sincere faith, and God's hand is recognizably upon Him.

 

Again, this is a significant step forward for God's people. When God's people are ignorant or negligent of His Word, it leaves them spiritually vulnerable. The LORD is sending His servant to bring God's Word and its application into focus. That is the lesson I would underscore with us today. Our chronological readings have allowed us to consider God's testimony anew. Yet, as we consider Ezra's role, let's rededicate our commitment to study and apply God's Word in our daily lives. God's hand of grace was upon Ezra because of His obedience and devotion. May the LORD's hand likewise be upon our lives as we read His Word and faithfully seek to live it out.

September 15, 2022

Esther 5:1-10:3

 

“On the third day of the fast, Esther put on her royal robes and entered the inner court of the palace, just across from the king's hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing there in the inner court, he welcomed her and held out the gold scepter to her. So Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter. Then the king asked her, "What do you want, Queen Esther? What is your request? I will give it to you, even if it is half the kingdom (Esther 5:1–3, NLT)!"

 

The story of Esther is an unusual account in the Old Testament. It takes place during the reign of the Persian king, Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus) around 479 BC. Many of the Jewish exiles had returned to Judah almost sixty years earlier to reestablish their presence in the land of promise. However, a percentage of the Jewish population remained in Babylon and across Persia, many serving within the Persian empire. The story of Esther takes place within that historical period.

 

The Jewish woman Esther (also named Hadassah) was orphaned as a child but raised by her uncle Mordecai. It should be noted that the book of Esther is not a handbook on how to enjoy a happy marriage, nor is it a textbook on faith and life. Indeed, there's much within the book that may leave the reader uncomfortable—particularly the actions of king Xerxes. He deposes his queen (Vashti) for refusing to make a banquet appearance. To compound matters, the king proceeds to replace the former queen by organizing a beauty contest (of sorts) to identify his future queen. Again, there are elements to the story that likely leave us shaking our heads. The purpose of the book, however, is not to prescribe God's design for courtship and marriage. The purpose is to illustrate God's ability to preserve His people amid challenging and difficult circumstances.

 

The villain in the story is a man by the name of Haman, who despises Esther's uncle. His hatred also extends to the Jewish people at large. So much so that Haman (Xerxes' closest adviser) manipulates the king into signing a law that would result in the collective annihilation of the Jewish population across the empire. As the book describes, "Dispatches were sent by swift messengers into all the provinces of the empire, giving the order that all Jews—young and old, including women and children—must be killed, slaughtered, and annihilated on a single day. This was scheduled to happen on March 7 of the next year. The property of the Jews would be given to those who killed them (Esther 3:13, NLT)."

 

How will God preserve His people from such powerful forces? The LORD positions His people to be at the right place and time—starting with Esther. She is selected to be Xerxes' new queen among all the women available across the kingdom. Esther's role as queen will prove vital in rescuing God's people. Also, Mordecai (her uncle) overhears a potential assassination plot against the Persian king and communicates this to Esther. She discloses it to Xerxes, protecting him from harm. Mordecai is credited for saving the ruler's life which will play a significant role in unfolding events. Is all this coincidental? Absolutely not! The story illustrates how God is placing the right person at the right place at the right time. Mordecai acknowledges this when he expresses to Esther, "Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this (Esther 4:14, NLT)?"

 

Don't misunderstand me. It still requires God's servants to act with courage at the right time. Esther displays extraordinary courage as she implements a plan to reverse Haman's murderous scheme. Her decisions are vital for the protection of God's people. She is not a mindless pawn. She is heroic and should be applauded. Yet, the story behind the story remains. God is working and able to protect and preserve His covenant people. Let’s keep that in mind as we step toward our future challenges. God is seeking to position the right person at the right place and time. Who knows? That right person might be you. May the book of Esther enlarge our perspective and encourage us to act as the situation requires.

Setptember 14, 2022

"So the Jewish elders continued their work, and they were greatly encouraged by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel and decreed by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia. The Temple was completed on March 12, during the sixth year of King Darius's reign (Ezra 6:14–15, NLT)."

 

The reconstruction of the Temple is finally complete. Sometimes referred to as Zerubbabel's Temple (due to his leadership), the project required 20 years for God's people to finish. Why so long? The work began in 536 BC following the exile's return to the ruins of Jerusalem. They initially erected an altar on the Temple's original site so they might worship the LORD (Ezra 3:2-3). That would subsequently be followed by a foundation being prepared for the future structure (Ezra 3:8-10). Everything is proceeding well, but then it stalls. The people soon become distracted by other interests and also encounter a growing level of opposition. The combination of the two produces a delay that extends over a decade.

 

God, however, remains committed to this work. The LORD calls His people to action through the prophetic appeals of Haggai and Zechariah. The LORD also uses the Persian ruler, Darius, to clear the way for construction to resume. God is doing whatever is necessary to fulfill His command through His people. There's a lesson in that. Whatever God commands, He enables. We should keep that in mind as we live out our faith. Ezra celebrates as much as he declares, "The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel (Ezra 6:15, NLT)." And the people's response? With joy, they dedicate their new Temple to the LORD. They worship Him with generous offerings and resume a priestly ministry before Him, which had been impossible for 70 years. God has kept His promise. He reestablished His people, who now freely worship the LORD their God.

 

What lesson should we consider? I already mentioned it above. Whatever God commands, He enables. We need to take this lesson to heart. God doesn't command the impossible. He commands what He intends to make possible. Today's example: The LORD commands that the Temple be rebuilt. He then works to bring it about through the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia. Think about that. God supplies what is needed in unexpected ways—sometimes through unlikely people. The Lord also prompts and encourages His people to do their active part. Yes, they had to set aside their distractions and fears (as must we). By faith, they were finally willing to do so. They obeyed and fulfilled God's command, and it was a glorious day. Will we do the same? What is God commanding us to do? What task is being left undone? Let's be encouraged by today's example, and step forward in faith. For we know, whatever God commands, He enables. 

September 13, 2022

Zechariah 9:1-14:21

 

"Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey's colt (Zechariah 9:9, NLT)."

 

For today, let's focus upon another one of the prophetic messages that point us to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Zechariah's joyful pronouncement concerning the coming King is one such passage. He describes the Promised One as righteous and victorious, yet humble of heart. His humility is highlighted by his appearance upon a donkey's colt compared to a mighty steed. The action also communicates a message of peace on the arriving ruler's part. The gospel writer, Matthew, notes the symbolic significance of this concerning Jesus as he describes the Son of God's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He writes,

 

 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. "Go into the village over there," he said. "As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will immediately let you take them." This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, "Tell the people of Jerusalem, 'Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey's colt.' " The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to Him and threw their garments over the colt, and He sat on it. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of Him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around Him were shouting, "Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the One who comes in the name of the LORD! Praise God in highest heaven (Matthew 21:1–9, NLT)!"

 

Over five hundred years before Jesus sat upon the colt, Zechariah announced His coming. Of course, Jesus fulfills over three hundred prophecies throughout His life and ministry. He is the Promised One of God for all to see. And as Zechariah notes, He is both righteous and victorious. The term 'victorious" can also be translated from the Hebrew text as "having salvation." You see, Jesus' victory is not for Himself. It is for us—those Jesus would redeem from sin's judgment. Jesus is righteous and victorious. And humble? The beauty of the Promised One's humility would be demonstrated far beyond riding a donkey colt. It would be ultimately displayed as Jesus humbled Himself "in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross (Philippians 2:8)" on our behalf.

 

For today, let's focus anew on Jesus and respond to Him for who He is. Let's join the shouts of those who celebrated Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. "Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the One who comes in the name of the LORD! Praise God in highest heaven!" Amen and Amen!

September 12, 2022

Zechariah 6:1-8:23; Ezra 5:3-6:14

                                                                                        

“But Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River, and Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues soon arrived in Jerusalem and asked, "Who gave you permission to rebuild this Temple and restore this structure?" They also asked for the names of all the men working on the Temple. But because their God was watching over them, the leaders of the Jews were not prevented from building until a report was sent to Darius and he returned his decision (Ezra 5:3–5, NLT).”

 

Construction on the Jerusalem Temple continues. Progress is being made, but not everyone is pleased. Tattenai and Shelthar-bozenai (regional leaders west of the Euphrates) raise questions concerning the project, disputing its appropriateness. They sought to intimidate the Jewish leaders by demanding the names of those undertaking the construction. Yet, as Ezra indicates, God is watching over those laboring toward the Temple's completion.

 

Even so, Tattenai and Shelthar-bozenai write a letter to king Darius, the Persian ruler, reporting on the construction. They include in their letter the Jewish leaders' explanation for the work. They claim Cyrus, the previous Persian leader, authorized it. The Jewish leaders assert that Cyrus commissioned the work and returned the gold and silver cups Nebuchadnezzar had previously carried away. Tattenai and Shelthar-bozenai question the legitimacy of these claims and ask Darius to investigate the matter and reach a decision.

 

It is at this point that the story takes an interesting turn. Tattenai and Shelthar-bozenai presume they have the upper hand and expect Darius to end the Temple's construction. However, Darius researches the Jewish claim and uncovers a scroll that reports the following: "In the first year of King Cyrus's reign, a decree was sent out concerning the Temple of God at Jerusalem. Let the Temple be rebuilt on the site where Jews used to offer their sacrifices, using the original foundations. Its height will be ninety feet, and its width will be ninety feet. Every three layers of specially prepared stones will be topped by a layer of timber. All expenses will be paid by the royal treasury. Furthermore, the gold and silver cups, which were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple of God in Jerusalem, must be returned to Jerusalem and put back where they belong. Let them be taken back to the Temple of God (Ezra 6:3–5, NLT)."

 

Confirming the Temple's construction had indeed been authorized, Darius announced his support. The king also adds something in his response to Tattenai and Shelthar-bozenai that brings a smile to my face. He commands their assistance in the effort. He writes, "I hereby decree that you are to help these elders of the Jews as they rebuild this Temple of God. You must pay the full construction costs, without delay, from my taxes collected in the province west of the Euphrates River so that the work will not be interrupted (Ezra 6:8, NLT)." God is working to fulfill His promise—the Temple will be rebuilt.

 

The lesson from this episode is reassuring. God will accomplish what He intends despite those questioning or challenging His plans. He may even use those who oppose His causes to contribute to their success. Think about that. The LORD is greater than the schemes and maneuvering of man. His purposes will be fulfilled. May God then strengthen our resolve to follow His will as we anticipate His provision despite the difficulty or opposition. Remember Ezra's description. God watches over those doing His work. Let's keep that in mind and be encouraged as we move into the day.

September 11, 2022

Haggai 2:1-23; Zechariah 1:1-5-11; Ezra 5:2


Then on October 17 of that same year, the LORD sent another message through the prophet Haggai. "Say this to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of God's people there in the land: 'Does anyone remember this house—this Temple—in its former splendor? How, in comparison, does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all (Haggai 2:1–3, NLT)!'"

 

Four people stand out prominently in today's reading—two prophets (Haggai and Zechariah), the high priest who is involved in the Temple's reconstruction (Jeshua, also known as Joshua), and the regional governor (Zerubbabel, grandson of king Jehoiachin). Haggai and Zechariah are contemporaries. The LORD uses both prophets to encourage the completion of the Jerusalem Temple. Work had slowed due to neglect and opposition. Haggai and Zechariah urge the people forward. They address Zerubbabel and Jeshua directly, seeking to reassure and motivate their actions. Haggai appeals, "Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the LORD of Heaven's Armies. (Haggai 2:4, NLT).'"

 

The prophets also call for the people to return to the LORD fully. The nation had suffered enough as a result of past sin. Through His servants, God calls for His people to respond to Him appropriately. Their future depended upon it. Indeed, Zechariah announces, "This is what the LORD of Heaven's Armies says: 'Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of Heaven's Armies (Zechariah 1:3, NLT).'" God sought more than the people's physical return to the land. He desired for them to rediscover a right relationship with Him. The LORD adds, "Don't be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, This is what the LORD of Heaven's Armies says: 'Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices (Zechariah 1:4, NLT).'" Half-hearted religious devotion would not be accepted.

 

Yet, as the people openly return to God, He promises blessing and physical prosperity. The LORD declares, "I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you (Haggai 2:19, NLT)." God's message could not be more straightforward. He invites them to walk with Him again so that they might experience the benefits.

 

The appeals of Haggai and Zechariah prove successful. As Ezra attests, "At that time the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem. They prophesied in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jehozadak responded by starting again to rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them and helped them (Ezra 5:1–2, NLT)."

 

How does this relate to us? God desires the same whole-hearted devotion on our part. Having been delivered by Christ, we make a mistake when we settle for less than a vibrant relationship with the LORD. The people in today's reading became distracted or discouraged, preventing them from pressing toward all that God makes possible. The LORD calls them to focus again on what truly matters. Maybe that is the appeal for us. Let's not settle for less than what can be. We are the Temple of the LORD in the New Testament sense (1 Corinthians 3:16). Let's then direct the appropriate attention and effort toward our lives in ways that fulfill the LORD's purpose and plan. Be encouraged. As we return to Him, He will return to us.

September 10, 2022

Daniel 10:1–12:13; Ezra 4:24–5:1; Haggai 1:1-15

 

“In the third year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia, Daniel (also known as Belteshazzar) had another vision. He understood that the vision concerned events certain to happen in the future—times of war and great hardship (Daniel 10:1, NLT).”

 

Daniel, God's servant, experiences another dramatic vision from the LORD. The vision occurs following an extended period of prayer and fasting. The prophet's concern is likely for the exiles who had recently returned to the land of promise. As a notable official, he would have been informed about their arrival and initial efforts. He may have received reports describing opposition to their progress and their many struggles. If so, his response is not a surprise. A man who consistently humbles himself before the LORD in prayer will do so even more intently during particular times of concern. However, his season of prayer may also have been motivated by a greater desire to understand his earlier visions. The images of the four beasts, the ram, and the goat (Daniel 7-8), may have lingered in Daniel's mind. Though the LORD supplied some insight, perhaps God's prophet seeks a greater understanding concerning the future of Israel. This is a helpful example for others seeking to understand God's revelation better. Like Daniel, we should be willing to tarry in God's presence. We should humble ourselves before the LORD, submitting to His will, waiting for His guidance. Some insights may not come quickly.

 

Whatever motivated Daniel to pray, God answered His servant dramatically. A man appears that is unlike any individual Daniel has previously encountered. He writes, "I looked up and saw a man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people (Daniel 10:5–6, NLT)."

 

Who is this mysterious figure? Is he an angelic messenger sent by the LORD, the angel Gabriel with whom Daniel had earlier interacted, or is this a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Bible scholars effectively support each possibility. My focus, however, is not on the identity of the glorious individual but on what his appearance represents. The man whose presence radiates God's power and glory is a response to Daniel's intercession for Israel. God heard his petitions.

 

Admittedly, much of what the man reveals is as mysterious as the messenger's identity. He speaks of being opposed by the prince of Persia but overcoming with the help of Michael, an archangel. What is the nature of this opposition? Is it a portrayal of the spiritual realm unseen by natural eyes? Does it indicate a spiritual complexity to our lives of which we are generally unaware? The man also delivers a message that likewise stretches our imagination. He speaks with authority about humanity's future. The man describes a progression of kings and kingdoms that would historically rise and fall. Though aspects of the message may perplex us, the future is not uncertain to God. Indeed, we should again be reminded that God holds humanity's future in His hands. In a day when so many uncertainties unsettle us, take heart. God's larger purposes and plan will be fulfilled. God's future is not in doubt.

 

Any applications for us amidst all the mystery in today's reading? I would suggest that we learn again from Daniel's example in prayer. When concerned or unsure, Daniel humbles himself consistently before the LORD. Shouldn't we do the same? Let's also appreciate the spiritual complexity of our daily lives. We live generally unaware of a conflict that rages in the spiritual realm around us. Perhaps we should be more patient with some of life's delays or struggles. Finally, let's remind ourselves that humanity's future is ultimately in God's hands. Current headlines and troubling events may disturb our hearts. It may then serve us well to pray, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  The future is not a mystery to God. Let’s renew our trust in Him. Yes, today’s reading has stretched our imagination, but may it also strengthen our hearts.

September 9, 2022

Ezra 2:1-4:5, 1 Chronicles 3:19-24

 

"Here is the list of the Jewish exiles of the provinces who returned from their captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar had deported them to Babylon, but now they returned to Jerusalem and the other towns in Judah where they originally lived. Their leaders were Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah (Ezra 2:1–2, NLT)."

 

God keeps His promises. We have learned this lesson often over the length of our chronological readings, but our reading today highlights it even further. God keeps His promises. For decades, Jeremiah (God's messenger) announced that judgment would come against Judah, God's people (Jeremiah 20:4–6; 21:7–10). Even more specifically, the LORD's prophet warned that the king of Babylon would be the instrument of His judgment against their sin and that many would be carried away into exile. Did the people listen? They did not. The people refused to heed God's warning and suffered the consequences. Their experience illustrates a foundational lesson—God keeps His promises. His word is true.

 

Seventy years later, a remnant of God's people begins a 900-mile journey back to the land of Israel. Indeed, a total of 42,360 descendants of Abraham make their way home. And with each step of their four-month trek, the people should have been reminded—God keeps His promises. Just as God announced His judgment would come, the LORD's messenger also promised His covenant people would return (Jeremiah 25:1–14; 29:10). They would survive their exile. They would be restored in the land of promise. And what occurs? At the appointed time, Cyrus (the ruler of Persia and Babylon) decreed,

 

"The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are His people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2–4, NLT)."

 

And the people of Israel should again have learned—God keeps His promises. The LORD not only facilitates the exiles' return to the land, but He finances their journey and the reconstruction of the Temple through a foreign leader and people. Think about that for a moment. What lesson should we conclude?

 

Of course, the journey home would have its share of challenges. Reclaiming the land and rebuilding the Temple would include overcoming more than a few obstacles. Yet, the people should have learned along the way—God keeps His promises. And knowing this is true, God's people should then display confidence in their future. Do they? We'll continue to follow their story and observe how well they learned the lesson. But what about us? Have we learned the same? Do we accept God's promises as true? Do we allow God's Word to influence our actions because we are assured of the outcome? Do we actively believe that God keeps His promises? Do you? If so, how will we approach the day differently? Let's give that prayerful consideration as we move into the day ahead.

September 8, 2022

Daniel 6:1-28; Daniel 9:1-27; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11; 1 Chronicles 3:17-19


"Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn't find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. So they concluded, 'Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion (Daniel 6:4–5, NLT).'"


Daniel is the kind of person I want to be. His faith in God affects his heart, influences his life, and is there for all to see. Yes, as some might say, "he's the real deal." Of course, the story of "Daniel and the Lion's Den" illustrates the character of this man's faith and life beautifully.


As an exile in Babylon, Daniel did not allow life's challenges to defeat him. He walks with the LORD. He applies himself to the assignments given to him and distinguishes himself from those around him in ways that facilitate his advancement. Indeed, Darius (Babylon's new ruler) intends to promote Daniel to a position that solicits the envy of others.


It's at that point that we learn Daniel's true character. His adversaries look to undermine the Jewish exile's rise but can't uncover anything negative against him. Think about that. Could your opponents reach the same conclusion about you? The envious then devise a plan to use Daniel's faith and devotion to God as a trap. They cleverly pass a law forbidding praying to anyone except Babylon's ruler (Darius) for the next 30 days. And the penalty? If the law is violated, the guilty will suffer a horrible death. The person will be cast into a lion's den.


How does Daniel respond? "But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God (Daniel 6:10, NLT)." Every time I read this, I am challenged. Under the threat of death, Daniel refuses to alter a single thing. He continues to kneel before the One whom he trusts. He will not violate (what is to him) the higher law or principle—his devotion to God.


Can we attest to the same? How easily do we yield to the pressures of the culture around us? How often do we accommodate society at the expense of our faith in the Lord? Daniel is willing to suffer the consequences, which he does. God's servant is arrested, and despite Darius' attempt to avert his execution, Daniel is cruelly thrown into a lion's den to die. And the ending? Who doesn't know the end? God miraculously protects his servant from harm, further elevating the testimony of the LORD across the land.


And our lesson? His example should challenge us to look honestly within our hearts. Would we stop praying if threatened by death? Or does a busy schedule already prevent us from doing so? Daniel's daily dependence upon the LORD should serve as an example, for he understood who held his future—in life and death. He relates to God for who He is—the living God. Yes, Daniel is "the real deal." Can the same be said of us? Do you want it to be?

 

September 7, 2022

Daniel 7:1-8:27; Daniel 5:1-31

 

Earlier, during the first year of King Belshazzar's reign in Babylon, Daniel had a dream and saw visions as he lay in his bed. He wrote down the dream, and this is what he saw (Daniel 7:1, NLT).

 

Our reading today takes us back to Daniel's writings, which include two dreams on Daniel's part—visions that leave God's servant troubled and looking for answers. That's right. The man who interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dreams now seeks answers for himself. It is worth noting that both of Daniel's dreams appear to parallel and expand upon Nebuchadnezzar's vision in Daniel 2 of the imposing statue that dramatically collapses. The statue's head, chest, torso, and legs are composed of four metals, all crushed by a rock cut from a mountain (but not by human hands). Daniel's dreams appear to add detail to what was previously revealed.

 

Space does not allow us to explore all that is suggested by Daniel's visions. What is clear, however, is God's foreknowledge and authority over the larger affairs of this world. As much as humanity pretends to be in charge, we are not. God sees what we do not. He knows what we are incapable of comprehending. And the LORD's purposes and plans will ultimately be fulfilled. Daniel's dreams communicate this foundational truth as He portrays the rise and fall of humanity's greatest kingdoms and empires. Does this then negate human freedom or responsibility? As I have previously discussed, it does not. It does, however, highlight where ultimate power and authority rests. It is with the LORD, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. God emphasizes this initially with Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:44-45), and He now impresses it anew upon Daniel's heart.

 

Do we understand the same? To encourage us further, consider the testimony concerning God's promised Messiah. "As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey Him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13–14, NLT)." Though this points to Jesus' glorious return, Jesus claims this testimony for Himself as He appears on trial before Caiaphas. When asked, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of Blessed One?" Jesus responds, "I Am. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God's right hand, and coming on the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:61-62, NLT)."

 

I marvel at Jesus' response because (at a pivotal point) it directs us back to Daniel's dream and God's revelation of what will be. It also reminds us that God is in the process of fulfilling His larger purpose and plan. Though the kingdoms of this world will come and go, we can be assured that God's kingdom will not. Daniel learned this in a way he would never forget. May God help us to understand the same. 

September 6, 2022

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35; Ezekiel 29:17-30:19; 2 Kings 25:27-30; Jeremiah 52:31-34


“In my vision, the man brought me back to the entrance of the Temple. There I saw a stream flowing east from beneath the door of the Temple and passing to the right of the altar on its south side (Ezekiel 47:1, NLT).”

 

As Ezekiel's vision continues, the prophet observes a stream of water flowing from the entrance of the Temple. It flows from the Holy of Holies past the altar and beyond the eastern gateway. What appears to be a small stream deepens and widens beyond the outside wall. Indeed, Ezekiel is led by his angelic guide through the northern gate (the eastern gate is permanently closed) to observe the water's increasing flow beyond the Temple. The rapid increase in depth is noteworthy. It goes from ankle-deep to knee-deep, knee-deep to waist-deep, and waist-deep to a depth requiring a person to swim. All of this is taking place within a relatively short distance. There's nothing natural about the water's flow. It transforms from a small stream to an expansive river unexpectedly.

 

The greater surprise, however, is the impact of the river's flow. It becomes a source of life to whatever it touches. As the angel explains, "The waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure. There will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows. Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh. Life will flourish wherever this water flows . . . Fruit trees of all kinds will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, for they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing (Ezekiel 47:8-9, 12, NLT)."

 

Again, the water's flow is life itself. It generates life where once there was death. And we must not lose sight of its source. Life ultimately flows from the throne of God. More specifically, it emanates from the LORD Himself. Life is in Him. Of course, similar language is used in Revelation 22, as John describes the new Jerusalem. He writes, "Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations (Revelation 22:1–2, NLT)." Life flows from the LORD. We understand that, right?

 

We should be experiencing an element of this life-giving flow even now. On the last day of one of Israel's great feasts, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, "Anyone who is thirsty may come to Me! Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.' When He said "living water," He was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in Him (John 7:37-39, NLT)." Have we turned to Jesus in faith? Are we experiencing the life that streams from Him? Do understand: If Jesus is not seated upon the throne of our hearts, then the life He supplies is drastically reduced. Life flows freely within as we relate to the LORD for who He is. He is intended to be our God and King. So, figuratively speaking, how deep is the water's flow within you? Ankle-deep? Knee or waist deep? Or are you carried along by His presence and life that your feet are unable to reach the bottom? What do you want it to be? Will you yield everything to Him as LORD? Oh, may God's river of life flow mightily through us today!

September 5, 2022

Ezekiel 44:1-46:24


"Then the man brought me back to the east gateway in the outer wall of the Temple area, but it was closed. And the LORD said to me, 'This gate must remain closed; it will never again be opened. No one will ever open it and pass through, for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered here. Therefore, it must always remain shut (Ezekiel 44:1–2, NLT).'"

 

In yesterday's reading, God grants His prophet, Ezekiel, a vision of His future Temple. It must have been breathtaking for an exiled priest to walk through such an elaborate complex. Every room, every detail likely captivated Ezekiel's mind. Yet, the defining moment occurs when the glory of the LORD dramatically appears at the east gateway. God would once again fill His Temple, but it would be permanent this time. Indeed, God declares to His servant, "Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place where I will rest My feet. I will live here forever among the people of Israel (Ezekiel 43:7, NLT)." God's intention is clear. He desires to dwell among His people for all eternity.

 

Today's reading provides further instructions concerning that future day. The LORD defines His expectations for those who would serve within His future Temple. The priests would relate to God as holy in specific ways, reflecting the privilege that is theirs. God also provides details about the distribution of certain land and guidance concerning worship and festal observances. God is preparing His people for a new day, a better day. As I noted yesterday, interpretations vary concerning the meaning of Ezekiel's vision. I admit there are aspects of what is described that I find difficult to understand. Even so, my heart is still encouraged by the larger message of hope. God portrays a future time and setting when His covenant people will draw near and experience the glory of the LORD.

 

And what lesson can we draw from today's passage? After Ezekiel's guide leads him back to the east gateway of the Temple, the prophet notices that the gate is closed. This is the place where the LORD's glory had previously entered. Why is it now closed? The LORD explains that it is permanently shut because of the significance of His entry into the Temple, and no one will be permitted to open the gateway for future use. The gate's permanent closing elevates our God's greatness, testifying to the uniqueness of His power and authority. There is no one like Him. The restriction concerning the gateway accentuates this truth. Yet, there is another consideration. The fact that the gate will never again be opened serves as further testimony that the glory of the LORD will never depart. Think about the implications of that and be encouraged.

 

Again, there's much about Ezekiel's vision that is mysterious and difficult to understand. There's one thing, however, upon which we can all agree. Ezekiel's fresh response to the LORD's glorious presence is the appropriate response. As the prophet describes, "Then the man brought me through the north gateway to the front of the Temple. I looked and saw that the glory of the LORD filled the Temple of the LORD, and I fell face down on the ground (Ezekiel 44:4, NLT)." Shouldn't that be our disposition of heart, considering all we have read? Perhaps, we should do the same even now. Take a concluding moment and (by faith) kneel before the LORD's presence with your face to the ground. Gratefully humble yourself before Him and acknowledge the privilege that is ours to be numbered among His people because of His Son, Jesus Christ. May we never lose sight of the wonder of it all!

September 4, 2022

Ezekiel 40:38-43:27


“After this, the man brought me back around to the east gateway. Suddenly, the glory of the God of Israel appeared from the east. The sound of His coming was like the roar of rushing waters, and the whole landscape shone with His glory. This vision was just like the others I had seen, first by the Kebar River and then when He came to destroy Jerusalem. I fell face down on the ground. And the glory of the LORD came into the Temple through the east gateway (Ezekiel 43:1–4, NLT).”


God enables His prophet, Ezekiel, to take another visionary visit to His Temple. Nineteen years earlier, Ezekiel had witnessed the dramatic departure of God's glory from the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8-11). The Lord's divine presence is driven out from the Holy of Holies and out from the Temple due to the sinfulness of God's people. They had defiled the meeting place of God in every way imaginable and would suffer the consequences of their choices. The departure of the LORD's manifested glory would be the precursor to the judgment that would follow. The Babylonians would subsequently destroy Jerusalem and the holy sanctuary. Ezekiel's first vision of the Temple was unsettling on so many levels.


God now transports Ezekiel to a new Temple that exceeds the size and scope of the former sanctuary that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed. An angelic being (bronze-like man) leads the prophet through an elaborate complex. He sees the Temple's walls, structures, and courtyards—the dimensions of which are carefully defined by the bronze-like guide. Ezekiel, a Judean priest, must have been amazed by all he witnessed. No doubt, his heart raced as he considered the spiritual implications. Yet, as awe-struck as he may have been about the surroundings, what happens at the eastern gate causes Ezekiel's heart to soar. God's glory reappears.


This is the third time that Ezekiel is privileged to observe God's glorious presence. First, before his prophetic call (Ezekiel 1), the LORD grants Ezekiel a vision of His presence seated upon His chariot throne. Second, the prophet witnesses the LORD's sorrowful departure from the Temple (again seated upon His chariot throne). And now, God's servant is permitted to see the glory of the LORD return. The roar of rushing waters accompanies his entrance, and the Temple is flooded with radiant light. Ezekiel responds as only one could. He quickly bows face down before the presence of Almighty God. The glory of the LORD is again in His house.


And what is the significance of the LORD's return? The Spirit of God lifts Ezekiel up and places him in the inner courtyard, where he hears an explanation from the LORD. "Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place where I will rest My feet. I will live here forever among the people of Israel (Ezekiel 43:7, NLT)." It may be noteworthy that the chariot throne is not mentioned. The mobility of the throne is no longer necessary. In this new Temple, God will establish His permanent throne. He will live forever among His people. Of course, this raises the relevant question, "When will this take place?" Do know that nothing like this has yet occurred. Some then interpret this scene symbolically, pointing to a future day when God will eternally manifest His presence among His covenant people. Others (of whom I am one) believe this detailed vision will ultimately find fulfillment during Jesus' thousand-year reign described in Revelation 20. Either way, don't miss the main emphasis. God intends to dwell again with His people in all His glory. May our hearts soar with the realization of this truth.


As uplifting as this may be, one additional lesson should be highlighted. The sinfulness of God's people previously drove His glory from them. They defiled the place of meeting and suffered accordingly. God provides a glimpse of a bright and glorious future but (in so doing) calls His people to a life of holiness. The LORD appeals to Ezekiel, "Son of man, describe to the people of Israel the Temple I have shown you, so they will be ashamed of all their sins. Let them study its plan, and they will be ashamed of what they have done. Describe to them all the specifications of the Temple—including its entrances and exits—and everything else about it. Tell them about its decrees and laws. Write down all these specifications and decrees as they watch so they will be sure to remember and follow them. And this is the basic law of the Temple: absolute holiness! The entire top of the mountain where the Temple is built is holy. Yes, this is the basic law of the Temple (Ezekiel 43:10–12, NLT)."


Do we hear God's heart? The future Temple will be a place of undefiled holiness. The LORD Himself will make that possible through Jesus, His Son. God's expectation, however, is that His people relate to Him with purity and righteousness during the in-between. He commands Ezekiel to share the vision so His people would relate to Him appropriately. "The basic law of the Temple: absolute holiness!" The LORD expects no less of us. So, let's marvel at Ezekiel's vision of the Temple. But may we also (with God's help) walk with Him in faith and holiness. Do I hear an "Amen"?

September 3, 2022

1 Chronicles 8:29–9:1; Daniel 4:1-37; Ezekiel 40:1-37

 

"I, Nebuchadnezzar, was living in my palace in comfort and prosperity. But one night I had a dream that frightened me; I saw visions that terrified me as I lay in my bed. So I issued an order calling in all the wise men of Babylon, so they could tell me what my dream meant (Daniel 4:4–6, NLT)."

 

Today's reading includes an episode in Nebuchadnezzar's life—the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar played a prominent role in the recent events involving Judah. His military forces facilitated the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Indeed, God uses a foreign ruler to pour out a devastating judgment against His covenant people. The LORD did so, not because Nebuchadnezzar deserved it, but because God had pledged to hold his people accountable for their sins. The Babylonian ruler's success had more to do with the LORD's activity than his own. Nebuchadnezzar's terrifying dream would make this clear.


As Daniel describes, the Babylonian ruler experiences a nightmare that sends him searching for answers. The dream involved cutting down a prominent tree that reached into the heavens. Its demise and the consequences afterward left Nebuchadnezzar unsettled and afraid. The troubled monarch calls for his kingdom's experts to interpret the dream. The king will not ignore what he perceives as a message from on high. However, Daniel alone will make sense of Nebuchadnezzar's night vision. And what does it mean? The LORD's servant explains, "This is what the dream means, Your Majesty, and what the Most High has declared will happen to my lord the king. You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone He chooses (Daniel 4:24–2, NLT)." Having interpreted the dream, Daniel also appeals, "King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper (Daniel 4:27, NLT)."


Nebuchadnezzar's fear appears to be well-founded. The ruler allowed his many victories to go to his head, and the dream indicates that God can quickly bring him down to size. Like a towering tree, he can be cut down. Does Nebuchadnezzar learn the lesson and promptly humble himself before the LORD? The answer is "No!" He continues to live as if he is self-sufficient and in control. Later, Nebuchadnezzar even exclaims, "Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor (Daniel 4:30, NLT)." The king fails to learn the lesson and immediately develops a mental condition that drives him into the forest to live. Instead of humbling himself before the LORD, the great king of Babylon is publicly humiliated for seven years. The one who once commanded great armies is reduced to behaving like a beast of the field.


And the lesson for us? It's relatively simple. We should walk humbly before the LORD. Don't make Nebuchadnezzar's mistake. Let's view our successes and victories for what they are—a gift of God. Let's acknowledge God's grace as we navigate forward. Let's select the path of humility instead of humiliation. Interestingly, God gave Nebuchadnezzar another chance to get it right. I suggest we choose humility from the start, not the end. What do you think?



September 2, 2022

1 Chronicles 5:18-26; 1 Chronicles 6:3-15, 49; 1 Chronicles 7:1-8:28


There were 44,760 capable warriors in the armies of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. They were all skilled in combat and armed with shields, swords, and bows . . . The people of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh lived in their land until they were taken into exile (1 Chronicles 5:18, 22, NLT).”

 

Genealogical lists may be some of the least favorite passages for people to read. Though they connect the children of Israel with their tribal past, today’s readers may struggle to understand their relevance. Yet, the genealogical roll call is significant as 1 Chronicles begins. 1st and 2nd Chronicles were written following the Babylonian exile. God’s people had suffered a humiliating defeat. The LORD Himself exposed the sins of His people and held them accountable. God’s judgment against Judah and Israel should underscore within all our hearts the seriousness of our sins and God’s expectations for His people.


However, the purpose of 1st and 2nd Chronicles is to reconnect the returning exiles with their past so they might better understand their future. Their story is retold, so they might refocus on the promise of a future KING to come. Yes, the “chronicler” reintroduces the readers to David and Solomon and recounts the destructive spiritual decline, resulting in the Babylonian exile. Yet, this fresh retelling aims to position a new generation toward the promise of tomorrow—thus explaining the importance of the genealogical list. It’s the writer’s way of saying to the generations that would follow, “Our story is not yet done.”


The background surrounding 1st and 2nd Chronicles helps me better understand what is written and the reasoning behind his genealogical opening. But already knowing how Judah’s story ends also awakens a level of sadness within. The people had so much potential. They were collectively strong in number, skilled and gifted in many ways; nevertheless, they still failed. They serve as a sobering illustration of God’s people’s inadequacy apart from God’s blessing and activity. As noted above, the armies of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were skilled in combat and armed with shields, swords, and bows. Warriors from these three tribes alone numbered 44,760 strong. And the end of their story? “They were taken into exile.” The people failed to understand the spiritual principle, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:6, ESV).”


The “chronicler’s” hope is that the next generations might learn from the tragic failures of the past. I pray that we might do the same. May we increasingly appreciate that our present and future success is not dependent on our numbers or giftedness. It is directly related to our walking with the LORD and experiencing the difference He makes. Though reading a genealogical list may not be our favorite thing to do. There are lessons to be learned. May we take them to heart.

September 1, 2022

Ezekiel 32:17-33:20; Jeremiah 52:28-30; 1 Chronicles 4:24-5:17; Psalm 137:1-9


“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me (Ezekiel 33:7, NLT).”

 

God calls His servant, Ezekiel, to be a spiritual watchman on behalf of His people. The role of the watchman cannot be underestimated. He serves as the eyes and ears for the people looking for potential enemies or threats. Physically speaking, the watchman’s role is essential if a people or a city are to remain safe and protected. Someone must watch out for the well-being of others. Spiritually speaking, it is all the more crucial. Spiritual adversaries seek to influence God’s people in self-destructive ways. They may not rattle a sword, but through deception and clever compromise, they promote self-inflicted injury and harm. God calls Ezekiel to understand the danger and to stand watch.


God also explains a two-fold responsibility on the part watchman and the people. 1) The watchman is to sound the alert whenever an enemy is detected. 2) The people are expected to respond with the appropriate diligence whenever they hear the alarm. Each is dependent upon the other. If either falters, defeat is assured. If both react appropriately, God’s people can prevail.


Interestingly, God will not hold His watchman responsible if the people refuse to respond to the warning. Ezekiel is only accountable for sounding the alarm. He cannot control what people choose to do or not to do. That’s a lesson we should remember as we spiritually seek to influence others. We can only prayerfully share the truth. We cannot guarantee a particular response. The watchman, however, will be held accountable if he fails to sound the appropriate alarm. The LORD explains, “If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths (Ezekiel 33:8, NLT).” Silence or indifference is not an option for God’s watchmen. He expects vigilance on Ezekiel’s part and the courage to share the necessary message.


Do you think God is looking for spiritual watchmen in our day? Is He looking for spiritually alert individuals willing to sound the alarm when a threat appears? I’m not asking if God is seeking a “moral police squad” that is only interested in controlling or condemning the lives of others. Jesus exposed the Pharisees of His day as that kind of group. They were primarily interested in casting down the guilty instead of lifting up the repentant. That’s not the kind of watchman God desires. The LORD instead is looking for the tenderhearted who will call others (by word and deed) into a right relationship with the God who loves them. They warn the misguided of the self-destruction that sin and disobedience will cause. Yet, they also reassure the sinful that God’s forgiveness is real if they humbly repent and turn to Him faith. God’s watchmen deliver messages of warning and hope.


Do you think the LORD is looking for someone like that today? Is it possible that someone is you? Ezekiel responds to God’s call and faithfully seeks to deliver His messages to the people. Though our circles of influence may be smaller, are we willing to share God’s messages of warning and hope with those around us? No, we are not responsible for how they respond. We are accountable, however, for sharing what we know. May God give us the faith and boldness to do so.

August 31, 2022

Ezekiel 32:1-16; Ezekiel 37-39


“The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out (Ezekiel 37:1–2, NLT).”

 

The destruction of Judah and Israel is complete. The nations that once represented the twelve tribes of Israel now cease to exist. The land has been conquered, the Temple has been destroyed, and God’s covenant people have been scattered abroad. The aspirations of a once proud and defiant people have come to a dramatic end. Judah and Israel are no more, but is all hope gone? God answers this question through another visionary experience by His servant, Ezekiel. God transports the prophet to a valley of dry bones. In every direction Ezekiel looks, he observes the vestiges of death and shame. It must have been disturbing for a Jewish priest to see. The valley testifies to an enormous loss of life without the deceased afforded the dignity of burial.


The unsettling scene, however, will become the basis of God’s message of hope. The valley of dry bones represents the death of the nations of Judah and Israel. The unburied bones symbolize the shame and dishonor that the people rightfully deserved. Yet, God restores life and purpose in the most unexpected ways. Indeed, the LORD asks his servant a surprising question, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again (Ezekiel 37:3, NLT)?” The expected answer would be, “No, dry bones will not live again.” But to the prophet’s credit, he recognizes the authority of the One raising the question. He responds instead, “O Sovereign LORD, You alone know the answer to that (Ezekiel 37:3, NLT).”


Ezekiel’s confession proves insightful, for God will enable the prophet to facilitate the impossible. Lifeless bones will dramatically come together, which will then be followed by the reappearance of muscle, ligament, and flesh. This disturbing valley of death becomes the setting for a miraculous display. Yet, the Lord does something more. From the earth's four corners, He sends a life-giving wind or spirit to reanimate the bodies. God reintroduces life where there is no life. Behold the power of the Sovereign LORD.


What is the catalyst of this supernatural display? It is the spoken word. God commands Ezekiel to prophesy over the scattered bones and then witnesses the bodies miraculously reassemble. God then directs His servant to call forth the four winds, and God’s breath of life achieves the impossible. God resurrects an unlikely army to fulfill His divine purpose and plan. And all of this is achieved through the spoken word. But not just any collection of words or sayings. The power rests in God’s revelation and promise. The LORD empowers what He promises and commands. We must always keep that in mind.


What does all of this mean? The LORD interprets the vision Himself. “O My people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. When this happens, O My people, you will know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 37:12–13, NLT).” Though the nations of Israel and Judah had visibly died a painful death, hope remains. God promises to restore life to His people and bring them home. God will do what they are incapable of doing for themselves. He will resurrect His people from a valley of dry bones. Again, behold the power of the Sovereign LORD. There’s power in His promises. There is power in His words.


The implications of this message should encourage our hearts. God restores life where death abounds. His words are powerful enough to affect any situation. Again, not just any words, but His revelation directed toward our lives with purpose and design. May we keep this in mind as we move into the New Testament and reflect upon Jesus’ words. Envision the difference Jesus can make as we hear Him speak with authority over our situations and lives. May He cause our dry bones to rattle and to bring life where there is no life—to bring hope where all hope is gone. As Jesus states, “And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear My voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live (John 5:25, NLT).” May God grant us ears to hear.

August 30, 2022

Ezekiel 34-36


“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep (Ezekiel 34:2, NLT)?”


Today’s reading includes both good news and bad news. The bad news is directed toward the spiritual leaders who failed the nation of Judah. They were to guide and protect God’s people like shepherds watching a flock. They were to act on the people’s behalf but were instead driven by self-interest and desire. God denounces their failure through His prophet, Ezekiel. “You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So My sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal (Ezekiel 34:3–5, NLT).”

 

God pledges to hold the fraudulent shepherds accountable. The Sovereign LORD declares, “I now consider these shepherds My enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to My flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue My flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.”  This is bad news for those who spiritually neglected God’s people.


The bad news, however, is balanced with good news—in fact, great news. God announces that He will assume responsibility for sheperding His people. He declares, “I Myself will search and find My sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for His scattered flock. I will find My sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live (Ezekiel 34:11–13, NLT). The LORD later states, “I Myself will tend My sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. I will search for My lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:15–16, NLT)!” And how will this be achieved? “And I will set over them ONE SHEPHERD, My servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be a prince among My people. I, the LORD, have spoken (Ezekiel 34:23–24, NLT)!”


I can't read these words and not think of Jesus. He’s the One who came “to seek and save those who are lost (Luke 19:10).” He’s the promised Shepherd prophesied by Ezekiel. He’s the One sent to make the essential difference. As Jesus says of Himself, “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd sacrifices His life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good Shepherd; I know My own sheep, and they know Me, just as my Father knows Me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice My life for the sheep (John 10:11–15, NLT).”


Let’s focus today on the good news—God’s faithful Shepherd. May we marvel over the LORD’s promise and renew our trust in the One who laid down His life on our behalf. Jesus is more than a hired hand. He is the good Shepherd who deserves our faith and devotion. Let’s then focus on the good news and be encouraged as we do!

August 29, 2022

Jeremiah 42-44; Ezekiel 33:21-33


“Pray that the LORD your God will show us what to do and where to go (Jeremiah 42:3, NLT).”

 

Judah remains a place of instability and uncertainty. The Babylonian-appointed governor, Gedaliah, is assassinated by a group of Judean rebels. Though the perpetrator, Ishmael, is driven from the land, the population fears severe repercussions by Nebuchadnezzar. They anticipate another violent response. Amid growing fears, they seek God’s counsel through His servant, Jeremiah. Their request is to the point: “show us what to do and where to go.”

 

God provides His reply ten days later. “Stay here in this land,” the LORD explains. “If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you. For I am sorry about all the punishment I have had to bring upon you. Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the LORD. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power. I will be merciful to you by making him kind, so he will let you stay here in your land (Jeremiah 42:10–12, NLT).” God’s message is full of hope, but the LORD also extends a sobering warning. He adds, “If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there (Jeremiah 42:15–16, NLT).”

 

The choice seems straightforward. Stay in Judah and anticipate God’s provision. Flee to Egypt, and God’s judgment will follow. Not much of a choice if one thinks about it. The obvious answer is to trust the LORD and remain in the land. Yet, once again, the people reject God’s counsel. They accuse God’s prophet of lying and determine that Egypt will be their future home. They pursue the specific path God warns would be their undoing—and force Jeremiah to make the journey with them.


Reading today’s account stirs so many strong emotions within me. The people seek God’s counsel but then reject God’s wisdom and choose the path of self-destruction. It makes me cry out, “WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?” Of course, the problem is they refuse to listen to God’s Word. They only go through the motions of seeking God’s will. They have no intention of following His lead. They expect Jeremiah to tell them what they want to hear. They seek validation, not revelation. And the consequences are severe. God pronounces His judgment, “Therefore, this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I am determined to destroy every one of you! I will take this remnant of Judah—those who were determined to come here and live in Egypt—and I will consume them. They will fall here in Egypt, killed by war and famine. All will die, from the least to the greatest. They will be an object of damnation, horror, cursing, and mockery (Jeremiah 44:11–12, NLT).”


Again, I ask, “WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?” Do their actions expose a tendency among some today? People turn to the Bible and religious leaders to tell them what they want to hear instead of allowing God to address their lives. They don’t want to reject God outright. They just don’t want God telling them what to do, where to go, or who they can become. How much disappointment and suffering will the people inflict upon themselves before they finally humble themselves before the LORD? Of all the people who should submit to God’s authority, it should have been those who survived Babylon’s final invasion. But they refuse to listen and then force others (like Jeremiah) to experience the devastation in Egypt that will inevitably follow. “WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?”


Let’s learn from their negative example. May we choose to seek God’s wisdom and then submit to His Word. God promised His provision and care if the people would trust Him. They refused to do so. May we choose to do so. The question is, “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?”

August 28, 2022

Lamentations 5:1-22; Obadiah 1-21; 2 Kings 25:22-26; Jeremiah 40:7-16; 41:1-18


“The day is near when I, the LORD, will judge all godless nations! As you have done to Israel, so it will be done to you. All your evil deeds will fall back on your own heads (Obadiah 15, NLT).”

 

Judah will not suffer alone in response to a nation’s sin. Jeremiah and Ezekiel announce that God’s judgment will also touch the surrounding nations (Jeremiah 25:15-38; Ezekiel 25-32). Think about it. If God holds His people accountable for their sins, how much more will He hold those responsible who live outside a covenant relationship with Him? Even Babylon, the instrument of God’s judgment against Judah, will experience His righteous fury at the LORD’s appointed time. The righteousness of God is not selectively applied. God will hold all nations accountable in His time.


The book of Obadiah illustrates this truth concerning the nation of Edom. Of all the surrounding kingdoms, the population of Edom should have known better. They are distant cousins of Israel—descendants of Esau. They should have displayed some concern, even support, for Judah—descendants of Jacob (Esau’s brother). They choose instead to capitalize on their neighboring nation’s misery, and God holds them responsible. The LORD raises His servant, Obadiah, to expose Edom’s offenses. The prophet denounces their behavior.


“You should not have gloated when they exiled your relatives to distant lands. You should not have rejoiced when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune. You should not have spoken arrogantly in that terrible time of trouble. You should not have plundered the land of Israel when they were suffering such calamity. You should not have gloated over their destruction when they were suffering such calamity. You should not have seized their wealth when they were suffering such calamity. You should not have stood at the crossroads, killing those who tried to escape. You should not have captured the survivors and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble (Obadiah 12–14, NLT).”


What motivates Edom’s actions? Greed, self-interest, pride? For whatever reason, the Edomites feel justified in their response and perhaps shielded from future repercussions. God, however, announces otherwise. “I will cut you down to size among the nations (Obadiah 2, NLT).” He later adds, “You have been deceived by your own pride because you live in a rock fortress and make your home high in the mountains. ‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’ you ask boastfully. But even if you soar as high as eagles and build your nest among the stars, I will bring you crashing down (Obadiah 4-5, NLT).”


Edom did not escape the LORD’s gaze, and He will hold them accountable. And what about us? As we have observed God’s pronouncements against Ammon, Moab, Philistia, Tyre, and Sidon (the list could go on), are we concerned about what He might say about our nation? Do we think the Sovereign LORD is no longer paying attention? I don’t raise the question to alarm but to cause the appropriate introspection. Whenever I read about God’s judgment against a nation, I wonder, “If them, why not us?” As you consider the same, may it lead us to humble ourselves before the LORD and pray. Let’s not presume upon God’s mercy. May we actively seek it. Indeed, the day may come when the LORD decides to cut us down to size. Let’s not test God’s patience. May we turn to the LORD instead.

August 27, 2022

Lamentations 2-4


"I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken. My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people (Lamentations 2:11, NLT)."


The suffering of Judah is almost indescribable as God's people experience His judgment for their prolonged rebellion and sin. The pain, misery, and hardship appear unbearable. There's such sorrow and loss. The book of Lamentations provides some perspective on what the people endured and felt during Jerusalem's siege and destruction. The emotions are raw, but their understanding is clear. God's judgment has come!


The book of Lamentations is a collection of five poems or laments. The author is not identified, but the writings have traditionally been attributed to Jeremiah, God's "weeping prophet." Whether the emotionally-charged poems are from Jeremiah's pen or that of another, the author is an eyewitness to the horrors and distress of Jerusalem's collapse. The person witnesses the unimaginable and expresses honest emotion and grief. “Tears stream from my eyes,” the writer explains, “because of the destruction of my people!” He adds, “My tears flow endlessly; they will not stop until the LORD looks down from heaven and sees (Lamentations 3:48-50).” There is such sadness and anguish among God’s people.


The poems are a sincere attempt by the author to express his emotions, so he might spiritually work through them. Four of the laments (Lamentations 1-4) are organized as alphabetic acrostics. The writer allows the Hebrew alphabet to focus his thoughts and emotions. Though the fifth lament or prayer (Lamentations 5) does not follow the same pattern, it is no less thoughtful. The point is. The book of Lamentations is not the ramblings of a heart overrun by emotion. Instead, each poem represents an honest attempt to process what happened. They remind us that we, too, should be open with our feelings as we work through the challenges and disappointments surrounding us.


However, the writer also points to the faithfulness of God. He does not allow his heartache to blind him to the truth of God’s love and support. Instead, he confidently declares, “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!’ The LORD is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD. Lamentations 3:22–26 (NLT).” This represents one of the Old Testament’s greatest testimonies of God’s faithfulness and love. Yet, it rises from the darkest of hours. Is it possible to see the LORD’s goodness most clearly when we feel helpless and heartbroken? Is there a lesson to be learned?


I don’t know what your present circumstances may be. I doubt any of us have come close to experiencing the nightmare of Jerusalem’s siege and collapse. Our worst days do not even begin to compare. That said. Have we allowed our difficulties to blind us to God’s goodness and love? Have we permitted our disappointments to turn us away from the One who loves us? Have you? May we choose instead to voice the testimony of Lamentations. “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him.” May it be so!

August 26, 2022

Jeremiah 39:11-40:6; 52:12-27; 2 Kings 25:8-21; 2 Chronicles 36:15-21; Lamentations 1:1-22


“The LORD, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent His prophets to warn them, for He had compassion on His people and His Temple. But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the LORD's anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done. So the LORD brought the king of Babylon against them (2 Chronicles 36:15–17, NLT).”


Judah has suffered the consequence of its sin. The people's persistent rejection of the LORD has resulted in His divine judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. The writer of 2 Chronicles provides a straightforward summary of the nation's spiritual journey. The LORD desired a right relationship with His people, but they rebuffed His compassionate appeals. They mocked His prophets and scoffed at their recurring message. Judah's refusal to listen guaranteed the pain and misery that followed.


Of course, Jeremiah was one of the prophetic voices that God's people ignored. He warned the nation and its leaders for decades. His message was consistently clear and to the point—the Babylonians would overwhelm the nation and even destroy the Temple because of the people's spiritual defiance and sin. Instead of heeding Jeremiah's call to repentance, they punished God's messenger. Indeed, Jeremiah suffered a great deal as a result of his unpopular message. That, however, did not alter the truth of his words. As 2 Chronicles states, "The message of the LORD spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:21, NLT)."


And what would happen to God's prophet? Today's reading provides the following details: "King Nebuchadnezzar had told Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, to find Jeremiah. 'See that he isn't hurt,' he said. 'Look after him well, and give him anything he wants'. . . The captain of the guard called for Jeremiah and said, 'The LORD your God has brought this disaster on this land, just as He said He would. For these people have sinned against the LORD and disobeyed Him. That is why it happened. But I am going to take off your chains and let you go. If you want to come with me to Babylon, you are welcome. I will see that you are well cared for. But if you don't want to come, you may stay here. The whole land is before you—go wherever you like (Jeremiah 39:11-12; 40:2-5, NLT).'”

 

Is it not surprising that the Babylonian leaders grasp God’s actions against Judah better than God’s people? The nation suffered this disaster because they “sinned against the LORD and disobeyed Him.”  Nebuchadnezzar recognizes the truth and then acts to provide for God’s messenger. He offers Jeremiah a choice through his local commander. The LORD’s prophet is invited to live in Babylon, where he can dwell comfortably, or Jeremiah can remain in Judah—with the poor and beleaguered. What would you have decided? Jeremiah chooses to stay in the land. Once again, Jeremiah distinguishes himself as someone to be admired. The prophet’s devotion to God and His people is an example to follow. Jeremiah doesn’t choose the easy path, even after years of suffering and hardship. He places himself in the setting where he hopes to make the greatest difference.


And what of us? Do we choose the easy path or the one of greatest impact? Do we aim to be comfortable, or are we willing to become a source of God’s comfort to others? Jeremiah’s example has already challenged us in the past. Will we allow his actions to influence us again today? Will you?

August 25, 2022

"But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah's eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon (2 Kings 25:5–7, NLT)."

 

The older I get, the more uncomfortable I've become with violence and bloodshed. Even the smallest amount in a movie or program causes me to look away. That's all the more true in real life. Human suffering in its mildest forms disturbs me. It goes then without saying that today's reading is unsettling. Even though we've been informed of God's approaching judgment, my heart is no less uneasy. Of course, God warned Zedekiah not to oppose the Babylonians. Jeremiah could not have been more direct. "If you want to live, submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and his people. Why do you insist on dying—you and your people? Why should you choose war, famine, and disease, which the LORD will bring against every nation that refuses to submit to Babylon's king (Jeremiah 27:12–13, NLT)?"

 

Does Zedekiah listen? No, he does not. He persists in rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar in the same way he defied and sinned against the LORD. Judah's king refuses to learn, only to discover that God's warnings and pronouncements are true. Do we display the same stubbornness of heart? God warns us away from particular paths. He calls us to trust Him and follow His lead. Do we listen or suffer the consequences of our defiance? As confounding as Zedekiah's actions prove to be, I am just as baffled by the choices of so many today. How often must God steer us away from self-destructive paths? How frequently must we suffer the pain and suffering of our decisions? Will we listen? Will we learn?


Zedekiah and Judah would not suffer God's judgment alone. Tyre and Sidon would experience the same devastating outcome. Consider the Sovereign LORD's pronouncement against Tyre, "I will make Tyre an uninhabited ruin, like many others. I will bury you beneath the terrible waves of enemy attack. Great seas will swallow you. I will send you to the pit to join those who descended there long ago. Your city will lie in ruins, buried beneath the earth, like those in the pit who have entered the world of the dead. You will have no place of respect here in the land of the living. I will bring you to a terrible end, and you will exist no more. You will be looked for, but you will never again be found. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken (Ezekiel 26:19–21, NLT)!"

 

God help us! May we seek and find His mercy before we reach a place of no return. People's sinful actions will produce consequences far beyond what they ever imagined. God's heart is to redeem and restore, but that doesn't eliminate the harsh reality of His divine judgment against those who refuse to listen. Zedekiah refused to listen, and we are left to read the disturbing end to his reign. Will we learn anything from his example? Again, I would say, "God, help us, please!" 

August 24, 2022

Jeremiah 32:1-33:26; Ezekiel 26:1-14


Jeremiah said, "The word of the LORD came to me: Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, 'Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.'"… And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver … I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: 'Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land (Jeremiah 32: 6–7, 9, 13–15, NLT).'"

 

God's judgment against Judah is inevitable. The nation will soon be overrun by Babylon's army one final time, resulting in Jerusalem's defeat and the Temple's destruction. It is a dark chapter in Judah's history. Yet, despite the recurring pronouncements of judgment, God offers a future hope. The LORD directs Jeremiah to purchase a piece of property from his cousin, Hanamel. Some might view the purchase as unwise with the Babylonian threat before them. Who buys land when a foreign power potentially claims everyone's property as its own? God, however, directs Jeremiah and the people to anticipate a better day.


Jeremiah's land purchase serves as a prophetic reminder that God's people will return to land and that life will be restored. "'Houses and fields and vineyards," God explains, "shall again be bought in this land." Though it will not benefit Jeremiah nor most of the generation at hand, a better day for the descendants of Abraham is nevertheless assured. Yes, the nation of Judah will suffer the devastating consequences of their spiritual rebellion and sin, but a future hope remains. Indeed, the LORD later declares,


"I will certainly bring My people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in My fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be My people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship Me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship Me, and they will never leave Me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land (Jeremiah 32:37–41, NLT)."


How will this be achieved? Who will usher forth God's better day, His everlasting covenant? The LORD declares through His prophet, "In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David's line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: 'The LORD Is Our Righteousness (Jeremiah 33:15–16, NLT).'" Please take a moment and marvel with me. At Judah's darkest moment, God again points to His people's ultimate source of Light (John 1:5; 8:12)." God's Promised One will also be given the name of JESUS (Luke 1:31-32), which means "God saves." That's right! "The LORD Is Our Righteousness" will save His people from their sin. Now that is something to encourage the heart.


Let's then focus on God's promise of hope. Amid the threat of judgment descending upon a sinful nation, let's fix our hearts upon the "The LORD Is Our Righteousness." Consider the difference Jesus came to make. And our response to Him?

August 23, 2022

Ezekiel 24:15-25:17; Jeremiah 21:1-14; Jeremiah 34:1-22 Ezekiel 29:1-16; 30:20-31:18


"Then this message came to me from the LORD: 'Son of man, with one blow I will take away your dearest treasure. Yet you must not show any sorrow at her death. Do not weep; let there be no tears. Groan silently, but let there be no wailing at her grave. Do not uncover your head or take off your sandals. Do not perform the usual rituals of mourning or accept any food brought to you by consoling friends.' So I proclaimed this to the people the next morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did everything I had been told to do (Ezekiel 24:15–18, NLT)."


I can sincerely say that Ezekiel's devotion to God exceeds my own. That has been demonstrated again and again as the prophet faithfully carries out the LORD's instructions during his Babylonian exile. His trust in God and obedience to God's commands expose a noticeable inconsistency on my part. Ezekiel responds in a way that I don't know that I could. The death of Ezekiel's wife displays this most vividly.


God informs His servant that his wife (his dearest treasure) will be taken from him before the day ends. Can we imagine the shock? My heart aches just reading the words. Please know that God's heart did as well. To read today's account and conclude that God is uncaring and unmoved by what He reveals is to ignore the larger testimony of God's Word. I'm reminded of Jesus' response to Mary as she grieves over the death of her brother, Lazarus. Jesus is deeply moved by what He sees and weeps (John 11:33). Even though Jesus knew that He would soon raise Lazarus from the dead, He identifies with Mary's emotional pain—as He identifies with our own. Jesus is the embodiment of God's heart. The LORD is not unmoved by human suffering or loss. He is not unaffected by the unfolding events. As the psalmist describes, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book (Psalm 56:8, NLT)."


Again, don't read today's account and project a calloused indifference on God's part. Choose instead to view the death of Ezekiel's wife as a further indication of the national tragedy that is taking place. God's beloved people (His dearest treasure), and the people's privileged place of meeting (the Temple), would soon experience destruction and loss. Everything happening is heartbreaking to witness; yes, God asks Ezekiel and his wife to share in the suffering. As a person of faith, I want to remind myself that death is not the end—that God ultimately provides for Ezekiel and his wife through death. Even so, my heart aches for God's prophet. He loses (as some translate) the "delight of his eyes" and is asked to bear this emotional burden without any public displays of grief. Why is he forbidden to grieve publicly? His actions would model the appropriate response for God's exiled people following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Their silent acceptance would be a humble acknowledgment of God's promised judgment upon the nation and the people.


Does any of this make Ezekiel's loss easier to bear? No. Once more, my heart is affected by the death of the prophet's wife. I also marvel at his prompt acceptance and obedience. His faith challenges my own and, I suspect, it does the same with you. May God help us then to trust in Him as we face our share of losses along the way. We are not immune, and God (we can be assured) is not indifferent toward our pain. May we learn from Ezekiel's example and relate to the LORD accordingly.

August 22, 2022

Ezekiel 22:17-24:14; 2 Kings 24:20b–25:2; Jeremiah 39:1; Jeremiah 52:3b-5


"The LORD said to me, 'Son of man, you must accuse Oholah and Oholibah of all their detestable sins. They have committed both adultery and murder—adultery by worshiping idols and murder by burning as sacrifices the children they bore to me. Furthermore, they have defiled my Temple and violated my Sabbath day! On the very day that they sacrificed their children to their idols, they boldly came into my Temple to worship! They came in and defiled My house (Ezekiel 23:36–40, NLT)."

 

The prophetic drumbeat of God's judgment is intensifying. Judah will soon experience the fury of God's wrath over the nation's moral and spiritual infidelity. Today's reading highlights the inevitability of Judah's demise. The people have spurned the LORD and will suffer the consequences.


God compares Israel/Samaria and Judah/Jerusalem to two sisters (Oholah and Oholibah) who betray a husband that rescues them from a life of prostitution. Instead of reciprocating the husband's love, they display indifference and disdain. They defile their relationship in every imaginable way and pursue a self-destructive path. Oholah (Israel) would be the first to experience ruin. The outcome of her spiritual adultery could have served as a warning to Oholibah (Judah), but it does not. Instead of learning from Oholah's downfall, the younger sister (Judah) moves in the opposite direction. Her misbehavior exceeds that of the already judged sister. Indeed, she chooses a course of action that magnifies and guarantees her destruction. Judah's devastation is assured.


Let's agree that today's reading is disturbing. We want to look for some glimmer of hope. However, the defiance of Judah's leaders prevents that from happening. As Ezekiel declares, "I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn't have to destroy the land, but I found no one. So now I will pour out My fury on them, consuming them with the fire of My anger. I will heap on their heads the full penalty for all their sins. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken (Ezekiel 22:30–31, NLT)!" There's sorrow in God's assessment. The LORD waited for someone to come to their senses, but no one did. Their rebellion persisted, and God's judgment would result. Spiritually speaking, the younger sister (Oholibah/Judah) would soon experience the fury of God's righteous judgment.


The crescendo of God's prophetic drumbeat finally erupts with the siege of Jerusalem. As 2 King records, "Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah's reign (2 Kings 24:20–25:2, NLT)."


What do we learn? Honestly, I am saddened by the hard-heartedness of the people of Judah. Their sin is worse than Sodom's (Ezekiel 16:48), and God's judgment will prove no less devastating. Why did they not open their spiritual eyes and repent? But they refuse. Yet, my heart is likewise saddened for God, who redeemed His people from Egypt. He acts with love toward His covenant people. He intends to bless and honor them but suffers one betrayal after the next. The level of spiritual defilement and disregard at the end of Judah's rebellion is disgusting and now provokes God to action. I grieve for the LORD. May God help us to understand the seriousness of sin and respond to Him with a love He rightfully deserves. May we gain corrective insight from Israel and Judah's foolish decisions.


August 21, 2022

If you have been reading the recent chapters in Ezekiel, you are aware of God’s anger, frustration, and pending punishment of the people of Judah. Unfortunately, chapters 20-22:16 continue to express the continuation of Judah’s rebellion and God’s growing anger.


Ezekiel continues to share God’s message to the people of Judah. Nothing has changed. The people continue to sin and “their children, too, rebel against me (God).” (Ezekiel 20:21) There is no new teaching in this section but rather a restatement and deeper intensified message.

Every action of God was for the sake of His name. Thus, although God threatened to pour out His fury on them, He withdrew His judgment. Ezekiel 20:22 says, “Nevertheless, I withdrew my judgment against them to protect the honor of my name before the nations that had seen my power in bringing them out of Egypt.”


The lesson for today? God honors His Word.


We, followers of Jesus, must have a sincere desire to follow His work and will in our lives. To follow Him “occasionally” is not sufficient. To disobey Him is unacceptable. It is comforting, however, to know that God never leaves His children, not in the wilderness, not today. There is always a future in the midst of our failures. God is always seeking how He can use us, not how He can punish us. God desires that none should perish. See 2 Peter 3:9. God wishes that all people come to repentance and be of service, helping His plan and purposes come alive in this world.


How about me? How about you? Does God find us sincerely striving to honor Him, obey Him, and serve Him today?

August 20, 2022


We continue to read and focus on God’s Word in Ezekiel. Join us in the reading of Ezekiel 17-19.


Chapter 17 is intriguing. God’s people should have been encouraged by Ezekiel’s description of the future. This passage reveals that God has designed her the nation for a spiritual mission. The ‘Young twig” will bear fruit and become a noble cedar.” Some believe Jesus had this passage in mind in His parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32).

Chapter 19 needs some interpretation. The “mother” (v.1 and “lioness” (v.5) is referring to the people of Judah. The “young lion” (v.3) and “young lion” (v.5) is referring to kings of Judah. The words of chapter 17 (like a dirge), are a graphic description of the spiritual bankruptcy of the country because of its rebellion against God. Even the ungodly kings, the “young lions”, have led Judah to a weakened condition which has made her vulnerable to other foreign armies. Sin carries with it its own destruction. Ezekiel gives lyrical expression to the nationwide feeling of sadness in this chapter.

Today, my heart was more focused on chapter 18. A truth that we often disregard is introduced – man is responsible for his own actions. He cannot blame his father for his own sin. Neither can he benefit from his father’s good deed. Each person must make their own choices and their destiny is based upon these decisions. Pastor Stephen has reminded us of this biblical truth on many occasions. If we have not learned this truth in the past, let us revisit and understand it today.

Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” Thus, we are accountable for our personal sin and relationship with God.

But here is the hope of Ezekiel’s prophecy – God is compassionate and forgives. God finds no joy in punishing the wicked. In conclusion, God offers life – “I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live.” (Ezekiel 18:32)

May each of us reflect on our walk with God, seek forgiveness of our sin each day, and live for Him.

August 19, 2022

Ezekiel 14-16


Yikes! What a difficult series of chapters to reflect on… Join us in the reading of Ezekiel 14-16.


Chapter 14 reveals God’s holy anger toward the sins of His people. The worship of idols had become prevalent, and they had turned away from obedience to the one true God. God’s response is very clear – repent and turn away from idols or face punishment for their sins. The language is very strong.

A series of examples are then presented – war, famine, wild animals, and disease – all terrible and dreadful punishments that could fall on Jerusalem. The question is asked, who will survive and who will save them? The answer – not even the righteous leaders of the nation will be able to save them.

Then in chapter 15, the Lord God stresses the seriousness of sin and how useless the lives of those who sin is for His Kingdom purposes. This is quite an unnerving and forceful chapter.

In Ezekiel 16, the prophet’s language is offensive. His apparent purpose was to present the wickedness of the Israelites in a very repulsive way in order to shock them into utter disgust concerning their moral condition. According to Ezekiel, the sin of Judah was so terrible it made Samaria, and even Sodom, look good. But our great God is faithful, and the section closes with a promise of restoration and hope – God will forgive her and once more establish His covenant with her.

God help us. May each of us look at our walk with God and discover where we fall short and sin. As these three chapters emphasize – let’s recognize our sin, turn from our sin, repent and return to God!

August 18, 2022

Ezekiel 10-13


"In my vision I saw what appeared to be a throne of blue lapis lazuli above the crystal surface over the heads of the cherubim. Then the LORD spoke to the man in linen clothing and said, 'Go between the whirling wheels beneath the cherubim, and take a handful of burning coals and scatter them over the city.' He did this as I watched. The cherubim were standing at the south end of the Temple when the man went in, and the cloud of glory filled the inner courtyard. Then the glory of the LORD rose up from above the cherubim and went over to the entrance of the Temple. The Temple was filled with this cloud of glory, and the courtyard glowed brightly with the glory of the LORD (Ezekiel 10:1–4, NLT)."

 

Our reading today includes another dramatic vision for God's prophet, Ezekiel. He is transported to the Temple in Jerusalem to observe a disturbing sight. As yesterday's reading highlighted, he sees God's Temple's defiled by His so-called people (Ezekiel 8:1-18). They dishonor the LORD in detestable ways by worshipping the foreign gods of Babylon and the surrounding nations. They yield themselves to gods that are not gods, provoking the holiness of the ONE TRUE GOD. Their sinful actions will drive God's presence and glory from the Temple, the promised meeting place.


God allows Ezekiel to observe the dramatic departure. It begins with the reappearance of God's chariot throne (Ezekiel 1). Entering the Temple, the chariot throne accompanied by four mysterious beings position themselves in the inner courtyard to the south of the Temple. The unthinkable is happening. God's glory is departing. Ezekiel portrays the stunning departure in stages. First, God moves from the "mercy seat" within the Holy of Holies to the Temple entrance. God's glory then moves from the Temple threshold to the chariot throne itself. Once resting upon the mysterious throne, the glory of God proceeds to the eastern gate. At each stage, God appears to be waiting for someone to cry out and stop the progression. No one does, resulting in God's glory sadly departing the city. As Ezekiel describes, "Then the cherubim lifted their wings and rose into the air with their wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them. Then the glory of the LORD went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east. Afterward the Spirit of God carried me back again to Babylonia, to the people in exile there (Ezekiel 11:22–24, NLT)."


It's done! The sinfulness of God's people has driven His presence, glory, and power away. And what is left for Judah and the city? Judgment will soon arrive, as illustrated early in Ezekiel's vision by the man in linen scattering the burning coals (Ezekiel 10:2). The people have rejected their God and will suffer the consequences. Every time I read Ezekiel 10 and 11, it unsettles my heart. The people drove God from their midst.


Is there a lesson in this for us? Plainly stated: Let's not drive the LORD away. May we search our hearts and repent of anything that grieves or diminishes God's presence among us. Maybe some question if that is even possible in the church of Jesus Christ. Isn't God's presence assured because of His gift of the Holy Spirit? It's true that those who truly know Jesus cannot completely drive the LORD away. He has (spiritually speaking) joined Himself to us. However, we can push Jesus to a place where His presence and power are ineffectual. We can relate to Him in ways that quench His glory and power among us. Consider Jesus' letter to the church in Laodicea,

 

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the One who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation: ‘I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth! You say, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from Me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on His throne. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches (Revelation 3:14–22, NLT).’”


Jesus is outside where He should be in their lives. Is that descriptive of us? May God give us ears to hear.

August 17, 2022

Ezekiel 5-9


Then this message came to me from the LORD: "Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says to Israel: "The end is here! Wherever you look— east, west, north, or south— your land is finished. No hope remains, for I will unleash my anger against you. I will call you to account for all your detestable sins. I will turn my eyes away and show no pity. I will repay you for all your detestable sins. Then you will know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 7:1–4, NLT)."

 

The judgment of God is always uncomfortable, even disturbing. Some would seek to soften the language or lessen the consequence, but to do so is to ignore the truth. It is to deny the seriousness of Judah's sin and, in some way, diminish God's holiness and purity. We are foolish to do so, for God's judgment is not an idle threat or a manipulative religious tool. It is a physical and spiritual reality. The Sovereign God of the ages will judge righteously from on high. The wise person understands this and responds appropriately.


But what can be done? It is too late once God's final judgment begins. As expressed above, there's no hope when God's anger is unleashed. The unrepentant will have missed their opportunity and will be held accountable for their sin. Keep in mind. God was more than patient with Judah. He extended His patience for centuries to those who humbled themselves before Him. We witnessed an unexpected outpouring of mercy toward king Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:12-13) as he turned sincerely to the LORD. The opportunity for forgiveness had been there, but Judah rejected God's call. They spurn His overtures for two decades. They lash out at His prophets. And now, as Ezekiel announces, the end has finally come. God will hold the unrepentant accountable.


Do we see a lesson in this for us? I pray that we do. I fear many in our day discount or deny the reality of God's judgment. They dispute that such a thing will happen. They want to believe instead that the threat of punishment is not real or that it will not affect them. Perhaps they have convinced themselves that they deserve a better outcome. Many in Judah felt the same before they were overwhelmed by God's fury. Please remember, once God's final judgment begins, it is then too late. The opportunity for God's mercy is not unlimited. What was true of Judah will be true of many in the last day. They will have neglected God's call for repentance, and there will be no hope. God will hold them accountable for their sin, and the consequences will be horrifying.


The good news is that our opportunity for mercy has not yet passed. Salvation is still available—for us and those we love. The key is to turn to God's Son. He is the embodiment of the LORD's mercy and love. His actions on our behalf can address the judgment we rightfully deserve. Our need is to respond to Him while the opportunity remains. As I have done so in previous devotions, I remind you again of Jesus' words of hope.

 

"For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God's one and only Son (John 3:16–18, NLT)."


The opportunity for mercy has not yet passed. Have you turned to Jesus? Have those you love experienced His mercy? It's not too late.

August 16, 2022

Ezekiel 3:16-4:17; Jeremiah 27-28; Jeremiah 51:59-64


"Then the Spirit came into me and set me on my feet. He spoke to me and said, "Go to your house and shut yourself in. There, son of man, you will be tied with ropes so you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says!' Those who choose to listen will listen, but those who refuse will refuse, for they are rebels (Ezekiel 3:24–27, NLT)."

 

I have previously noted that the life of an Old Testament prophet was frequently hard. They are not only asked to deliver unpopular news but are often directed to bear unusual hardships to communicate God's message. Their actions become prophetic sermons unto themselves. We are provided two such examples in our reading today.


We see this first in God's instructions to His servant, Ezekiel. The prophet is asked to portray God's coming judgment upon Jerusalem by drawing a city map upon a large clay brick and then recreating the elements of a surrounding siege. It would illustrate the suffering that would soon descend upon Jerusalem's leaders and population. Yet, to me, God's further requirements stand out even more. The LORD commands Ezekiel to do the following:

 

"Now lie on your left side and place the sins of Israel on yourself. You are to bear their sins for the number of days you lie there on your side. I am requiring you to bear Israel's sins for 390 days—one day for each year of their sin. After that, turn over and lie on your right side for 40 days—one day for each year of Judah's sin. Meanwhile, keep staring at the siege of Jerusalem. Lie there with your arm bared and prophesy her destruction. I will tie you up with ropes so you won't be able to turn from side to side until the days of your siege have been completed (Ezekiel 4:4–8, NLT)."

 

Do we complain about what God might ask of us? Can we even imagine how physically grueling this would be for God's servant to perform? Add to that the meager rationing the prophet would likewise endure (Ezekiel 4:9-13). Set the meaning of the prescribed actions aside. Consider the hardship itself and Ezekiel's willingness to obey. And we are tempted to grumble about what God requires of us? I am challenged by Ezekiel's determination and discipline to follow God's commands.


Of course, we also read today about the wooden yoke God directs His servant Jeremiah to wear. His action would visually testify to Babylon's yoke being placed upon Judah and the surrounding nations. Jeremiah could anticipate an angry, unfavorable response to his accompanying message. Yet, in obedience to the LORD, he does it anyway. Like Ezekiel, Jeremiah is committed to following God's command. Can the same be said of us?


I recognize the uniqueness of the Old Testament prophets' roles, and I am hesitant to equate what we do with them. Even so, I am challenged and convicted by their examples. May God forgive us for complaining over the little things (comparatively speaking) that He asks us to do. Indeed, may we renew our commitment today to follow God's leadership and commands with the same determination and discipline as Ezekiel and Jeremiah. LORD, may it be so!

August 15, 2022

Jeremiah 37:11-38:28; Ezekiel 1:1–3:15


"On July 31 of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God (Ezekiel 1:1, NLT)."


As Jeremiah suffers in Jerusalem, we are introduced to another of God's prophets—Ezekiel, son of Buzi. Ezekiel, a Judean priest, was carried into exile in 597 BC along with king Jehoiachin. He is forced to live far from his home, far from the land of promise. Ezekiel's life would be dramatically changed because of the nation's sins. God, however, was not done with His people. In distant Babylon, God calls His servant to deliver His message.


How does God commission an exiled priest and prophet? The LORD does so first by opening Ezekiel's eyes to the greatness and glory of who He is. He is granted a vision of four mysterious beings. As Ezekiel describes, "Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back. Each had two pairs of outstretched wings—one pair stretched out to touch the wings of the living beings on either side of it, and the other pair covered its body (Ezekiel 1:10–12 (NLT)."

 

The mystery surrounding their appearance is exceeded by the heavenly beings' function or role. They accompany a chariot throne and are strangely attached to four sparkling wheels. Indeed, the spirit of the living beings is in the wheels themselves and facilitates the throne's movements—up, down, or in whatever direction. And the sound of their movement reverberates like waves crashing upon the shore or, even more, like the voice of the Almighty.


However, a greater vision surpasses these beings' awesomeness and the throne they bear. God's prophet is afforded a vision of the ONE who sits upon the throne. He writes, "And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the LORD looked like to me (Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT)." And Ezekiel's response? He falls face down and begins to hear the voice of the ONE upon the throne. Ezekiel hears the voice of the LORD.


How does God call a prophet who will spend the entirety of his ministry in a foreign land? He opens His eyes to His greatness and power. We will learn some of the significance of the chariot throne later in Ezekiel's writings. For the moment, let's marvel over the "otherness" of the ONE who sits upon the throne. The LORD is far more than a better version of us. He is mysteriously great, gloriously powerful. There are aspects to who God is that we will never comprehend. He is the LORD. He is the CREATOR/RULER of the heavens and earth. Like Ezekiel, we should humble ourselves before the ONE sits upon the chariot throne.


It's worth noting that it is after Ezekiel falls face down before the LORD's throne that he begins to hear God speak. To me, there's a correlation in that. God ultimately shares His message with those who humble themselves before Him. With Ezekiel, God stands His prophet up and calls His servant to the task before Him. Admittedly, much about Ezekiel's vision stretches our imaginations and is beyond our capacity to understand. Maybe that's good. When we reduce God to easily explained statements or ideas, we diminish the truth of who God is. He is far more than what our minds may comprehend. Let's allow that thought to carry us into the day ahead and be encouraged. May we, like Ezekiel, humbly bow ourselves before Him and allow the LORD to call us to His service. Let us do so today!

August 14, 2022

Jeremiah 51:15-58; 2 Kings 24:10-17; 1 Chronicles 3:10-16; 2 Chronicles 36:10-14

 

"Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. But Zedekiah did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and he refused to humble himself when the prophet Jeremiah spoke to him directly from the LORD (2 Chronicles 36:11–12, NLT)."


The final four kings of Judah are disappointing on every level. Ascending to the throne following king Josiah's death, his three sons (Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah) and his grandson (Jehoiachin) display none of the virtuous qualities that commended their predecessor. Each of them does what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking God's anger and moving the nation closer to God's culminating judgment. Our reading today summarizes Zedekiah's unsuccessful reign. He follows the brief (3 months and 10 days), ungodly rule of his nephew, Jehoiachin. Zedekiah's actions reveal a darkened heart, and his refusal to listen to God's prophet says all we need to know. He is on a self-destructive path and will take the nation with him. Tragically, that is often the case. The failings of a national leader will have far-reaching consequences.


What went wrong with Judah's final king? Plainly stated, "Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the LORD, the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 36:13, NLT)." His defiant spirit is surprising when you consider that his older brother (Jehoiakim) and younger nephew (Jehoiachin) are forced into exile by Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon's ruler. Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin leave Jerusalem humiliated and defeated. Does that cause Zedekiah to adopt a different approach? Certainly not. He mirrors the mistakes of his older brother. Judah's young king refuses to turn to the LORD and influences the nation's leaders to do the same. As 2 Chronicles states, "All the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful (2 Chronicles 36:14, NLT)." Again, the failings of a national leader will have far-reaching consequences.


How does Zedekiah's story end? He rebels against Babylon even though he swore loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar in God's name (2 Chronicles 36:13). Judah's king is defiant toward God and displays the same insubordination toward Babylon's ruler. He fails to understand that God will use Nebuchadnezzar as an instrument of judgment against him and the nation. Ironically, as Zedekiah fears his future defeat at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, he appeals to Jeremiah to pray on the nation's behalf (Jeremiah 37:3). If the stubborn king had only listened to the prophet's earlier messages, he would already have his answer. Even so, Jeremiah sends word that Jerusalem's defeat is assured. He writes, "Even if you were to destroy the entire Babylonian army, leaving only a handful of wounded survivors, they would still stagger from their tents and burn this city to the ground (Jeremiah 37:10, NLT)!" That could not be more clear. God's patience has long since ended, and God will hold Judah and their king accountable.


And a lesson for us? Defiance toward God is never a good idea. How often have we discovered that to be the case in our chronological readings? Time and time again, we have observed the foolishness of this approach. Zedekiah serves as one more example. May we choose instead to humble ourselves before the LORD and to walk in His ways. It may not prevent us from experiencing hardship along the way (with Daniel's exile in mind). It will, however, position us to experience God's presence and help as we face the challenges around us. The choice each day is ours. I choose to humble myself, and you?


August 13, 2022

Jeremiah 31:15-40; Jeremiah 49:34-51:14


"The day is coming," says the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife," says the LORD (Jeremiah 31:31–32, NLT).

 

Through His prophet, Jeremiah, the LORD promises to make a "new covenant" with the people of Israel and Judah. The mention of that possibility must have astounded God's rebellious people. They had utterly violated the Mosaic covenant established by God at Sinai and were now suffering the consequences of their disobedience. They forfeited the privileges that could have been by spurning the God who loved them. Nevertheless, God's love endures so much that the LORD promises a future covenant that will exceed the old. He points to a better day.


It should be noted that Jeremiah is the prophet that God affords the privilege of introducing the phrase—"new covenant." Though others will speak of the coming blessing, Jeremiah uses the important language of covenant. He announces that God will join Himself again with His people in an even more intimate and dynamic way. It seems only appropriate that the "weeping prophet" would be permitted to announce this extraordinary news.


How will the "new covenant" be different from the old? With both, God enters into a relationship with His people—like a loving husband to a wife. However, the "new covenant" will include a change of heart within the people themselves. The LORD explains, "I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts (Jeremiah 31: 33, NLT)." The old covenant required adherence to a set of rules or commands chiseled in stone (Exodus 34:1), and the people struggled to keep God's standard. The LORD's new arrangement will spiritually affect the heart's inner workings. God will empower His people toward obedience rather than simply pointing the way. God explains further through His prophet Ezekiel. He declares, "I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put My Spirit in you so that you will follow My decrees and be careful to obey My regulations (Ezekiel 36:26–27, NLT)." Will action on their part still be required? Yes, their decisions will still be their own. The difference is that God works within them, not simply commanding from high.


Yet, there's more. God's people will also discover a greater intimacy with God. The LORD announces, "I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, 'You should know the LORD.' For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know Me already (Jeremiah 31:33-34, NLT)." In the "new covenant," God's people will know the LORD in ways they could not have imagined, from the least of them to the greatest. The verb, "know," suggests a close, personal knowledge. He will be their God, and they will be His people. How is that possible due to their past failures and sins? God promises, "I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins (Jeremiah 31:34, NLT)." Behold the depth of God's love. Step back and marvel at the possibilities. Even better, step toward the LORD and experience the power of His words.


If you haven't figured it out, God ushers the “new covenant” forward through the actions of His beloved Son (Hebrews 8). Jesus' shed blood became the basis of the "new covenant (Luke 22:20).” Indeed, Jesus' actions (His death, resurrection, ascension) make the promised heart change possible within everyone who believes in Him—from the least to the greatest. Does that include you? If not, why not? And if the answer is “yes,” don't step short of what God’s “new covenant” provides. Let’s know the LORD our God and discover the transforming difference He desires to make!

August 12, 2022

Jeremiah 23:33-24:10; Jeremiah 29:1-31:14


"For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT)."


Jeremiah 29:11 may be one of the most familiar verses in all of Jeremiah's writings. It's a refrigerator magnet kind of verse. One that many people claim for themselves because they think it promises a life of comfort and prosperity. They potentially make the mistake of snatching God's words out of context. And what is the context?


The verse is directed to a people who find themselves in exile. A portion of Judah's population has been forced to dwell in a land far from the familiar surroundings of Judea. They are strangers in a foreign land, disillusioned and discouraged. Jeremiah writes to reassure them. God's message is that His work on their behalf is not yet done. Yes, they are suffering the consequences of the nation's sin, but God's intentions remain good. After a lifetime (70 years), the LORD will return His covenant people to the land of promise. The LORD extends hope to a people that may have lost hope. "My plans," the LORD declares, "are for good and not for disaster." He seeks to open their eyes to the promise of what would still be. Hope lives, even for exiled people.


And how should the exiles respond? Jeremiah urges them to get on with life—to build houses, plant gardens, and start their families. Instead of regretting or ignoring the current realities, they are to allow God to work through their lives in personal ways. They are to contribute toward the good of Babylon, praying on the nation's behalf (Jeremiah 29:5-7). More significantly, they are to renew their faith and confidence in the LORD and toward their future. As the people seek Him wholeheartedly, God promises He will be found (Jeremiah 29:13). The hardships of the exile are what they are, but God is still present. God is still working.


And the lesson for us? Jeremiah 29:11 doesn't promise that God's people will never experience difficulty or loss. It's quite the opposite. Through the verse, God reassures His people that He can work despite their self-inflicted hardships. He is a God who seeks to redeem and restore. Did He hold Judah responsible for their prolonged rebellion and sin? Yes, and they are forced to deal with the far-reaching consequences. Is God committed to bringing them through their suffering? The answer is a resounding "Yes." That should bolster our hearts, for God consistently works to redeem and restore. Jeremiah 29:11 is more than a refrigerator magnet verse. It reminds us to trust the LORD despite our current challenges—to relate to Him as God. Our future and hope are in Him. Will we trust Him?

August 11, 2022

2 Kings 24:5-9; 2 Chronicles 36:6-9; Jeremiah 22:24-23:32; 49:1-33


"As surely as I live," says the LORD, "I will abandon you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. Even if you were the signet ring on my right hand, I would pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek to kill you, those you so desperately fear—to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the mighty Babylonian army. I will expel you and your mother from this land, and you will die in a foreign country, not in your native land (Jeremiah 22:24–26, NLT)."


Jeremiah, God's prophet, continues to announce the advancement of God's judgment. Judah, however, would not be alone in experiencing the effects of His displeasure. Amnon (Jeremiah 40:1-6), Edom (Jeremiah 49:7-22), and Damascus (Jeremiah 49:23-27) would also face the consequences of their actions. Kedar and Hazor (Jeremiah 49:28-33) would likewise be held accountable. The great nations and the small would soon experience God's righteous judgment, and the impact will be devastating.


In addition, God's displeasure would be notably directed toward Judah's prophets and wayward spiritual leadership. They will be held personally responsible for contributing to the nation's demise. Addressing the nation's spiritual leaders, God declares, "Instead of caring for My flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them (Jeremiah 23:2, NLT)." And the false prophets? "The paths they take will become slippery. They will be chased through the dark, and there they will fall. For I will bring disaster upon them at the time fixed for their punishment. I, the LORD, have spoken (Jeremiah 23:12, NLT)!" God will hold the spiritual pretenders responsible.

 

And, of course, God's judgment will impact who sits upon Judah's throne. Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, will soon be removed. Fulfilling the prophecy above, 2 Chronicle reports, "Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months and ten days. Jehoiachin did what was evil in the LORD's sight. In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin to Babylon. Many treasures from the Temple of the LORD were also taken to Babylon at that time. And Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin's uncle, Zedekiah, as the next king in Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:9–10, NLT)." God's people are discovering that God's past pronouncements were not idle threats. Indeed, they are experiencing the consequence of their actions.

 

And a lesson for us? Some today suggest that God's future judgment is not real and that people have nothing to fear. Like false prophets of old, they say what the people want them to say—filling their pockets with gain. Their message contributes to the problem instead of leading the people to repentance and faith. May today's reading cause us to take God's warnings to heart.


But is there no hope? Thankfully, the LORD also points to a future provision for Judah and also for us. Consider His words and be encouraged. "For the time is coming," says the LORD, "when I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David's line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. And this will be his name: 'The LORD Is Our Righteousness.' In that day Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety (Jeremiah 23:5–6, NLT)."

 

Be aware! God's judgment is coming against sin, but God has provided a way of salvation for all who believe (John 3:16-18). The LORD is Our Righteousness, and His name is Jesus. Let's not be like Judah and ignore God's message. Let's turn to the One who saves and experience His power to restore.

August 10, 2022

Jeremiah 16-18, 35


"This is what the LORD says: 'Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit (Jeremiah 17:5–8, NLT).'"

 

Are we stunted shrubs or fruitful trees? What's the difference? Spiritually speaking, stunted shrubs represent those who trust in themselves instead of the LORD. They pretend they are self-sufficient or turn to gods of their own making. From their perspective, the One True God is irrelevant. They ignore His wisdom and defy His commands. Life is what they make it, so why trust in the LORD?


Do you know anyone like this? Sadly, the nation of Judah became a spiritual desert overrun with stunted shrubs. God's people turned away from the LORD and refused to hear His appeals. They forfeited what could have been. What did they reject? They could have been a thriving grove of fruitful trees instead of unproductive bushes. That was God's desire all along. If only they had trusted in Him—fixing their hope and confidence in who God is—everything would have been different. The LORD would have sustained them like a life-giving river. Not even drought conditions would have jeopardized their fruitfulness if they only had trusted in Him. They chose to be stunted shrubs instead.


And what about us? Are we stunted shrubs or fruitful trees? Are we positioning ourselves to experience God's blessing or judgment? Are we planting ourselves by God's life-giving river or making the best of things in a dry, arid land? The answer is directly tied to our response to the LORD or lack thereof. Will we trust in Him or not? Consider the similar testimony of Psalm 1.


Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction (Psalm 1, NTL).


The people of Judah chose to be stunted shrubs/worthless chaff, and they suffered the consequences. Who are we choosing to be? Do we trust in the LORD? Will we allow God to guide our steps so we might experience even more of His mercy and grace? Withering shrubs or abounding trees, what will we be?

August 9, 2022

Jeremiah 12-15


"How long must this land mourn? Even the grass in the fields has withered. The wild animals and birds have disappeared because of the evil in the land. For the people have said, "The LORD doesn't see what's ahead for us (Jeremiah 12:4, NLT)!"


Jeremiah finds himself again troubled and perplexed. With the suffering increasing around him, God's prophet keeps hoping it might end. Who wouldn't feel that way? Whenever we come face to face with severe anguish and pain, the human heart should be troubled. God fashioned our hearts to sympathize with the afflicted. Tragically, sin often hardens the heart, so one becomes less sensitive or responsive. That was not the case with Jeremiah. God's servant remains tenderhearted concerning Judah's plight. He keeps looking for a solution, hoping for a reprieve.


No solution, however, will come. Even more, God forbids Jeremiah to intercede on behalf of the people. The LORD states, "Do not pray for these people anymore. When they fast, I will pay no attention. When they present their burnt offerings and grain offerings to me, I will not accept them. Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease (Jeremiah 14:11–12, NLT)." This isn't the first time God has asked Jeremiah to stop praying. The LORD instructs the prophet to cease his intercession on two previous occasions (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14). Why the constraint? Because God's people fail to display the genuine sorrow or repentance necessary. Their outward demonstrations are religious performances. They lack sincerity, and consequently, God is unmoved. Thus the LORD says to His prophet, "Stop praying."


Interestingly, Jeremiah ignores God's restrictions. He proceeds to pray, "LORD, have you completely rejected Judah? Do you really hate Jerusalem? Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing? We hoped for peace, but no peace came. We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror. LORD, we confess our wickedness and that of our ancestors, too. We all have sinned against you. For the sake of your reputation, LORD, do not abandon us. Do not disgrace your own glorious throne. Please remember us, and do not break your covenant with us (Jeremiah 14:19–21, NLT)."


I admire the prophet's determination. Tenacity is a good quality within those who would serve the LORD. And if you look at Jeremiah's prayer, he says all the right things. He identifies with the people, confessing their sins. He appeals to God based on His name and honor. And most importantly, he asks the LORD to respond with His covenant in view. But that was the problem. God's people had long since violated and abandoned the covenant relationship they shared. And God's response?


"Then the LORD said to me, 'Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people, I wouldn't help them. Away with them! Get them out of my sight (Jeremiah 15:1. NLT)!'" God's answer is "No." The people's persistent pride and defiance have moved them beyond the intercession of God's most significant leaders, including Moses and Samuel. In other words, "Jeremiah, this is not about you. It is about the continuing rebellion of the people and the consequences that will follow." The answer is "No."

 

What stands out from today's reading? First, I want to be like Jeremiah. May God grant me a heart that remains tender to the hurts and struggles of those around me—even if self-inflicted. May I not become calloused to their suffering, pointing a finger of blame.


Second, I want to pray like Jeremiah. If I am going to err when it comes to praying, may it be on the side of praying too much. May God observe in me a determination that will not take "no" for an answer. I want to be like the persistent widow described in Jesus' parable (Luke 18:1-18). Her voice would not be silenced before the Judge. I readily acknowledge that God is sovereign in what He decides. He sees what I do not see and knows what I do not know, and I am confident that His actions are righteous and just. That said. I still want to be an intercessor like God's weeping prophet. And you? May God help us care deeply enough to press toward His throne consistently in prayer. Will you seek the same?

August 8, 2022

Jeremiah 8:4-11:23


"Jeremiah, say to the people, 'This is what the LORD says: " 'When people fall down, don't they get up again? When they discover they're on the wrong road, don't they turn back? Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path? Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back? They cling tightly to their lies and will not turn around. I listen to their conversations and don't hear a word of truth. Is anyone sorry for doing wrong? Does anyone say, "What a terrible thing I have done"? No! All are running down the path of sin as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle (Jeremiah 8:4–6, NLT)!"

 

The people of Judah persist in their sins, and God expresses His bewilderment. Why do the people not turn back? Why remain on a self-destructive path? It makes no sense. There's a sadness in God's words as He exposes the people's defiance. The LORD longs for His people to return. Why do they not turn back? Could the LORD say the same about us? Are we moving in the right direction? Are you?


Jeremiah is also burdened over Judah's defiance and coming judgment. He exclaims, "My grief is beyond healing; my heart is broken (Jeremiah 8:18, NLT)." Jeremiah sees the devastation that is coming. He pleads for the people to repent, but to no avail. He's like a heartbroken parent unable to influence his children away from harm. He urgently cries out, but they refuse to listen. Jeremiah adds, "I hurt with the hurt of my people. I mourn and am overcome with grief. Is there no medicine in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is there no healing for the wounds of My people (Jeremiah 8:21–22, NLT)?" Can we identify with Jeremiah's pain? Perhaps, we're not the ones moving in the wrong direction, but we're unable to prevent those we love from doing so. Can we feel his desperation and sadness?


Amid the disappointment and sadness, God still calls out. He seeks to lead His people to the place where they should be. In a helpful, clarifying way, the LORD appeals.


"Don't let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know Me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken (Jeremiah 9:23–24, NLT)!

 

The people are placing their trust and confidence in all the wrong things—earthly wisdom, power, and riches. God redeemed His people so they might discover a fulness of life in Him. He wants His people to know Him, to experience His unfailing love, justice, and righteousness in ways that will bless and enrich their lives—but they turn away.


One more time, what about us? Where do we place our trust and confidence? What is the source of our boasting? May Paul's words to the Corinthians influence our response.

 

"The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God . . . Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world's eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; He made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, 'If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD (1 Corinthians 1:18, 26–31, NLT).'"

August 7, 2022

Daniel 2-3, Jeremiah 7:1-8:3


"This is what the LORD of Heaven's Armies, the God of Israel, says: 'Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don't be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the LORD's Temple is here. They chant, "The LORD's Temple is here! The LORD's Temple is here!" But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever (Jeremiah 7:3–7, NLT).'"


Judah suffers a resounding defeat at the hands of the Babylonians in 605 BC. The LORD gives Nebuchadnezzar the victory (Daniel 1:2). God's people are beginning to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. As a result, an initial group of exiles is carried off to Babylon—including four young Jewish men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They are forced to live far from God's land of promise and are assigned new names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Subsequent waves of exiles will travel to Babylon in 597 BC and 586 BC, following Judah's further humiliation and defeat. In 586, Jerusalem and the Temple will be utterly destroyed.


Today's reading provides an instructive historical contrast. We observe the faith and devotion of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah as they adapt to their Babylonian surroundings. The goal of Nebuchadnezzar is to assimilate the men into his emerging kingdom. He and his leaders seek to indoctrinate each of them into a new way of life. It would have been easy to yield to the pressure and accommodate the foreign culture. The young men choose otherwise. The four, led by Daniel, display a remarkable faith in God and a determination to keep themselves pure before the LORD. Their actions are unexpected when considering the widespread moral and spiritual compromise so prevalent in Judah. It's comforting to observe at least a remnant of faithful individuals.


Their actions, however, are also ironic. If the remaining population in Judah would choose to relate to God like Daniel and his associates, the nation could avert further judgment. Indeed, the LORD appeals through His prophet, "Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land." Will they repent and heed God's warning? No, they will not. Again, think about the contrast. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are already suffering due to the nation's disobedience, but they remain faithful to the LORD in a foreign land.


In comparison, the leaders in Judah (who could avoid future suffering by turning to the Lord) refuse to do so. They reject God's appeal, resulting in future exiles being carried to Babylon. Consider how different the story could have been if Jehoiakim behaved like Daniel. Let's step back and marvel at the uncompromising faith of the four young men. May they remind us how we can stand firm in our faith and devotion. They distinguish themselves in ways that God could bless. Will we allow the same? Who knows? If we relate to God appropriately (like Judah is unwilling to do), we may avoid some future challenges altogether. That's worth some prayerful thought.

August 6, 2022

Jeremiah 19-20; Daniel 1


"Why was I ever born? My entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow, and shame (Jeremiah 20:18, NLT)."

 

Jeremiah lived a difficult life. God called him to deliver a message of judgment for a prolonged period. People would not welcome or respect God's prophet or his message. Instead, they would lash out against him. Jeremiah would suffer physically and emotionally at the hands of God's people. His life would be characterized by hardship and loss. Would you have obeyed the LORD if assigned Jeremiah's task?


The prophet confesses that he had little option. God's revelation weighed so heavily upon Jeremiah's heart that he could not remain silent. "If I say I'll never mention the LORD or speak in His name," he confesses, "His Word burns in my heart like a fire. It's like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can't do it (Jeremiah 20:9, NLT)." Can we imagine the internal struggle? The prophet is between a rock and a hard place. If he refuses to proclaim God's message, it consumes him within. If he delivers God's pronouncements of judgment, he suffers rejection and even violence. As we have previously noted, a prophet's path is difficult to walk. Yet, Jeremiah yields himself to God's call. He bears the responsibility, and God accomplishes his purposes through his weeping prophet.


Do note that God doesn't correct or punish Jeremiah for his honest expressions of emotion. It is similar to Job and the psalmists when God permits His servants to voice their sadness and discontent. God will not be pushed away by our human emotions. The LORD seeks to strengthen and sustain His own. Down deep, Jeremiah knew that, for he also declares, "But the LORD stands beside me like a great warrior. Before Him my persecutors will stumble." And he exclaims, "Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! For though I was poor and needy, he rescued me from my oppressors (Jeremiah 20: 11,13, NLT)." Of course, that doesn't keep the prophet from venting in his weaker moments. Nor should it prevent us.


Let's find comfort in Jeremiah's lament. First, in knowing that we can be honest before the LORD. Don't hold your emotions within during times of confusion and sadness. The LORD will not disown you. God gives His children space to admit their hurt and disappointment. He wants us to confide in Him during such moments, not turn away. Be honest about what you are feeling and draw near. Yet, like Jeremiah, we should also yield to His continuing work. Despite all that Jeremiah endures, he continues to press forward with the LORD. And His example beckons us to do the same. He would call for us to trust the ONE we follow. Though our paths may be challenging, God's faithfulness remains. May we choose to yield to God's continuing work, starting today.

August 5, 2022

Jeremiah 25:15-38; Jeremiah 36:1-32; Jeremiah 45:1-5; Jeremiah 46:1-28


"This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: 'Take from My hand this cup filled to the brim with My anger, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink from it. When they drink from it, they will stagger, crazed by the warfare I will send against them (Jeremiah 25:15–16, NLT).'"

 

Jeremiah dictates a series of messages to be delivered by his scribal assistant, Baruch. The messages further sound the alarm of God's approaching judgment against Judah but also against the surrounding nations. The prophet hopes the people will turn away from their sin and seek the LORD's forgiveness. Baruch carefully records Jeremiah's words and carries the scroll to Jerusalem. He then publicly reads Jeremiah's messages to the people gathered in the Temple, which attracts the attention of the local administrative officials. They seek a private reading by Baruch and are immediately disturbed by what it reveals. They recommend that Jeremiah and his assistant go into hiding because of the nature of God's pronouncements.


Jehoiakim, Judah's king, hears about the scroll and requests it be brought to the palace. He listens as his servant, Jehudi, reads the prophet's messages. Instead of taking God's warning to heart, the king defies the LORD. He begins to cut up the scroll and cast the fragments into the fire. Destroying the scroll, however, does not nullify the message. The threat of God's judgment remains. Indeed, in response to Jehoiakim's actions, the LORD directs Jeremiah to rewrite the scroll. This time, God adds to the prophet's revelation. The LORD announces that Judah's king would die shamefully without an heir to assume his throne.


Do we see the relevance of this account to our lives? Ignoring or even destroying God's Word does not alter the truth. God's message remains. As Isaiah describes, "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8, NLT)." Or, as Jesus states, "Heaven and earth will disappear, but My words will never disappear (Matthew 24:35, NLT)." Jehoiakim thought his actions would somehow leave God's Word null and void. By cutting out what he didn't want to hear or systematically burning the scroll, the king hoped to escape the truth of God's revelation. But it didn't work. The power and authority of God's Word are not connected to a scroll or page. They are derived from the God who speaks. To discard the Bible, or to cut out uncomfortable portions of the Bible, will not negate the truth or the ramifications of what is revealed. God's Word remains. We would prove wise to humble ourselves before the LORD and take His message to heart. Let's do so today!

August 4, 2022

2 Chronicles 36:1-5; 2 Kings 23:31-24:4 Jeremiah 22:1-23; Jeremiah 25:1-14; Jeremiah 26:1-24


"This is what the LORD says: 'If you will not listen to Me and obey My word I have given you, and if you will not listen to My servants, the prophets—for I sent them again and again to warn you, but you would not listen to them—then I will destroy this Temple as I destroyed Shiloh, the place where the Tabernacle was located. And I will make Jerusalem an object of cursing in every nation on earth (Jeremiah 26:4–6, NLT).' "

 

Upon Josiah's death, the nation of Judah is thrown into a difficult transition period. Jehoahaz, Josiah's son, is placed upon the throne for only three months. Egypt's ruler, Neco, asserts his dominance over the region by replacing Jehoahaz with his step-brother, Eliakim. Neco not only changes who would sit upon Judah's throne; he also changes Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim. The consequence of Josiah's misguided opposition continues.


Change, however, is also occurring spiritually within the nation. Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim promptly lead the people away from the LORD (2 Kings 23:32, 37). They reintroduce the idolatrous practices that had previously provoked the LORD's anger. The effects of Josiah's godly influence quickly disappear. So much so that God sent His prophet Jeremiah to confront the nation and announce God's coming judgment—Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed.


How do the people respond to the declaration of doom? Instead of humbling themselves before the LORD, they lash out against God's prophet. He's accused of treason, and many demand his death. Jeremiah defends himself by explaining, "The LORD sent me to prophesy against this Temple and this city." He adds, "The LORD gave me every word that I have spoken. But if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the LORD your God, He will change His mind about this disaster that He has announced against you (Jeremiah 26:12–13, NLT)." Jeremiah's defense includes an appeal to repent. But the prophet also warns, "If you kill me, rest assured that you will be killing an innocent man! The responsibility for such a deed will lie on you, on this city, and on every person living in it. For it is absolutely true that the LORD sent me to speak every word you have heard (Jeremiah 26:15, NLT)."

 

The leaders are swayed by Jeremiah, along with the testimony of others, to release the prophet. Jeremiah’s call for repentance, however, is unheeded. The nation remains on the path of self-destruction. God's judgment is coming.


And what might we learn from today's reading? Once again, we're reminded of the impact of godly or ungodly leadership upon a nation. Josiah's death had immediate and far-reaching implications. We're also reminded that it's not easy being God's messenger in a time of spiritual rebellion. Courage is required to speak the truth to a population that rejects God's revelation. To Jeremiah's credit, he steps up and delivers God's message. Will we do the same? Are we willing to share the truth of God's Word with a culture that refuses to listen? Are we willing to face the consequences? May our actions demonstrate our answer.

Augusts 3, 2022

Zephaniah 2:8-3:20; 2 Chronicles 35:20-27; 2 Kings 23:29-30; Jeremiah 47-48


While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, went to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah and his army marched out to fight him, but King Neco killed him when they met at Megiddo. Josiah's officers took his body back in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. Then the people of the land anointed Josiah's son Jehoahaz and made him the next king (2 Kings 23:29–30, NLT).


Pride and presumption can be a dangerous combination. Sadly, it appears that both may have ensnared Judah's noble king. I have noted Josiah's commendable qualities in previous devotions. When convicted by God's Word, he humbly repents and cries to the LORD in prayer. Afterward, he seeks to lead the nation back into a right relationship with God—cleansing and restoring the Temple, reestablishing the Passover, and publicly leading the people to renew their covenant with the LORD their God. Yes! There's much about his example that should inspire us.


However, the report of Josiah's death may catch us by surprise. As 2 Kings describes: Judah's king faces off against the king of Egypt and subsequently dies. It appears all matter of fact. Yet, there's more to the story. The writer of 2 Chronicles informs us that God warns Josiah to stay out of the way. Indeed, king Neco sends the following message, "What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or He will destroy you (2 Chronicles 35:21, NLT)."

 

And his response? "But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back (2 Chronicles 35:22, NLT)" Why the refusal? Did Josiah doubt the message was true? If so, why didn't he seek the LORD's counsel himself? There's no indication that he attempts to do so. Instead, Josiah ignores the warning, disguises himself, and leads his army into battle. Tragically, Judah's king is mortally wounded during a barrage of enemy arrows. It all seems so senseless, unnecessary.


Why did Josiah ignore the warning? Again, I would say, "Pride and presumption are a dangerous combination." Josiah determines that he knows what is best. Perhaps the king presumes that his past religious zeal would guarantee his victory. God will undoubtedly side with the king who restored Jerusalem's Temple. Right? So, without seeking the LORD, Josiah leads his army into battle and dies. Just like that, the story of a good and noble king abruptly ends. It seems anticlimactic, such a waste.


And the lesson? Pride and presumption are a dangerous combination. We never graduate from our dependence on the LORD, for He alone is our victory. We are fool-hearted to think otherwise. Consequently, we should consistently seek God's counsel, follow His wisdom, and entrust our situation to the One who sits upon the throne—which is not you. I'm saddened by the end of Josiah's story, but I am also instructed. May you be as well.

August 2, 2022

Habakkuk 1:1-3; Zephaniah 1:1-2:1-7


"Stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign LORD, for the awesome day of the LORD's judgment is near. The LORD has prepared His people for a great slaughter and has chosen their executioners (Zephaniah 1:7, NLT)."


The prophecies of Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah portray a disturbing future for the nation of Judah. God's people will pay a devastating price for their sin and idolatry. The Babylonians are coming and will serve as God's instrument of judgment. Though Josiah's efforts delay the timing of Judah's destruction, the day of the LORD is drawing near. The prophet Zephaniah announces,"That terrible day of the LORD is near. Swiftly it comes— a day of bitter tears, a day when even strong men will cry out. It will be a day when the LORD's anger is poured out— a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet calls and battle cries. Down go the walled cities and the strongest battlements (Zephaniah 1:14–16, NLT)!"


Whether we read Jeremiah, Habakkuk, or Zephaniah, the message is the same—God's judgment is coming! How would you respond to such an unsettling revelation? The prophet Habakkuk laments before the LORD, trying to make sense of everything. He also intercedes on behalf of the people. He prays, "I have heard all about You, LORD. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as You did in years gone by. And in Your anger, remember Your mercy (Habakkuk 3:2, NLT)."

 

Habakkuk's prayer is two-fold. He seeks God's intervening power (as in days of old) but pleads for God's action to be accompanied by mercy. The prophet recognizes that God's anger is justified. He hopes, however, that God's mercy might prevail. I like how the Contemporary English Version expresses the same prayer: "I know Your reputation, LORD, and I am amazed at what You have done. Please turn from Your anger and be merciful; do for us what You did for our ancestors."


Habakkuk does more than pray. He also rejoices in the LORD. The prophet declares, "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights (Habakkuk 3:17–19, NLT)."

 

This response may be more instructive than Habakkuk's prayer. Even if God's judgment is not averted, the prophet's faith will not wane. He will still rejoice in God's ultimate salvation. He will trust in the actions of his Sovereign LORD—drawing the necessary strength. Can we do the same? The natural response is to plead for mercy so we can avoid life's troubles. Rejoicing in the LORD amid life's hardships is a greater example of faith and trust. Let's seek to follow his example as we face the challenges before us.

August 1, 2022

2 Kings 23:1-28; 2 Chronicles 34:29-35:19; Nahum 1-3


"Then the king summoned all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up to the Temple of the LORD with all the people of Judah and Jerusalem, along with the priests and the Levites—all the people from the greatest to the least. There the king read to them the entire Book of the Covenant that had been found in the LORD's Temple. The king took his place of authority beside the pillar and renewed the covenant in the LORD's presence. He pledged to obey the LORD by keeping all his commands, laws, and decrees with all his heart and soul. He promised to obey all the terms of the covenant that were written in the scroll. And he required everyone in Jerusalem and the people of Benjamin to make a similar pledge. The people of Jerusalem did so, renewing their covenant with God, the God of their ancestors. So Josiah removed all detestable idols from the entire land of Israel and required everyone to worship the LORD their God. And throughout the rest of his lifetime, they did not turn away from the LORD, the God of their ancestors (2 Chronicles 34:29–33, NLT)."

 

Josiah is a person to admire. He moves humbly and consistently toward the LORD and attempts to influence others to do the same. With the discovery of the Book of the Covenant (the first five books of the Old Testament), Judah's king repents over the nation's sin, which delays God's pending judgment (2 Chronicles 34:28). Josiah also publicly renews God's covenant and requires the people to do the same. He is doing everything within his power to sway the people back toward the LORD.


Of course, spiritual conditions in the land had reached a disturbingly low level. Today's reading describes the situation as Josiah directs the priests to cleanse and restore God's place of meeting. They removed articles used to worship Baal, Asherah, and all the powers of the heavens. The people had brought their defiling practices inside the Temple confines, further mocking and spurning the One True God. They had even constructed accommodations for male and female prostitutes within the Temple to facilitate their unholy practices. These details help explain Josiah's horror and prompt reaction to reading the Book of the Covenant. He recognizes how far God's people had violated God's standard, provoking the LORD's anger and judgment. 


Judah's king does everything within his power to lead the nation back to the LORD—the public reading of God's Word, the restoration of God's Temple, and the re-establishment of the LORD's Passover. With the Book of the Covenant to guide him, Josiah leads both by example and command. And the effects are favorable. His faith and devotion would make an impact. The people would not turn away from the LORD throughout the rest of his lifetime (2 Chronicles 24:33).


Again, Josiah is a person to admire—even more, to emulate. How can we influence those around us toward the LORD? Admittedly, we do not sit upon a throne with all its power and authority. We can, however, influence others through our words and actions. With the Bible as our guide, we can move people toward the LORD in personal ways. We can lead people by our example to discover the benefit and blessing of God's wisdom. We can lead them to the LORD. Will we do so? Perhaps we perceive the present circumstances as too challenging. More challenging than Josiah's? Let's follow his example. May we humble ourselves before the LORD and commit to following His lead. It will make a difference!

July 31, 2022

Jeremiah 5:20-6:30; 2 Kings 22:3-20; 2 Chronicles 34:8-28


“Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions? Not at all—they don’t even know how to blush! Therefore, they will lie among the slaughtered. They will be brought down when I punish them,” says the LORD (Jeremiah 6:15, NLT).”


Today’s reading provides a striking contrast between a repentant king and a spiritually defiant people. Josiah continues his efforts to influence God’s people toward a right relationship with the LORD. He directs his leaders to restore Jerusalem’s Temple, which results in the discovery of the “book of the Law.” The recovered book or scroll likely refers to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). As Josiah hears what is written within, the king publicly tears his garments in repentance and sorrow. Judah’s king recognizes that God’s people are far from where they should be. He promptly directs Hilkiah (the priest) to intercede on the nation’s behalf. “The LORD’s great anger is burning against us,” he exclaims, “because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do (2 Kings 22:13, NLT).”

 

Josiah recognizes that the people are deserving of God’s judgment. The LORD, however, responds with mercy to Josiah’s humble contrition. Indeed, God promises to shield the repentant king from a future punishment that is coming.


The same would not be true of the nation. The stubborn defiance of the people would result in God’s judgment on their behalf. Their refusal to listen to His Word would guarantee their destruction. As the LORD announces, “They will lie among the slaughtered. They will be brought down when I punish them (Jeremiah 6:15, NLT).” The pronouncement could not be more disturbing. It also could have been averted if they had responded like Josiah. He hears God’s Word and humbly repents. The general population will hear God’s Word and brazenly turn away. Josiah experiences mercy. The nation will take one step closer to God’s judgment. As I noted, the contrast could not be more striking.


And our response? When confronted by God’s Word, do we humbly submit—appealing for God’s forgiveness as needed? Or do we rationalize and justify our sinful behavior? The LORD describes the people of Judah as incapable of blushing (Jeremiah 6:15), which is very telling. They became so entrenched in their sin that they became insensitive to right and wrong. They had eyes that did not see and ears that did not hear (Jeremiah 5:21). Could that be said of us?


Our response to God’s Word will reveal the answer. If the truth of God fails to stir, convict, or guide, then something is spiritually wrong. God’s Word is intended to affect the heart, to provoke a response. As Hebrews states, “the Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires (Hebrews 4:12, NLT).” Is that our experience? God’s Word penetrated Josiah’s heart, resulting in change. May this also be descriptive of us as we continue our chronological readings.

July 30, 2022

Jeremiah 2:23–5:19


“My heart, my heart—I writhe in pain! My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still (Jeremiah 4:19, NLT).”

 

Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as the “weeping prophet.” Over the forty years of his prophetic ministry, much will weigh heavy upon Jeremiah’s heart. He will address God’s wayward people before and after their Babylonian defeat and exile. His years of service will often be difficult and lonely, but his call by God (as noted in yesterday’s reading) was undeniable.


Jeremiah 1:4–8 (NLT)—The LORD gave me this message: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as My prophet to the nations.” “O Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I can’t speak for You! I’m too young!” The LORD replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!”


Jeremiah is called by God (like the prophet Samuel) as an older child or younger teenager. The spiritual reforms introduced by king Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:1-7) would influence Jeremiah’s early years of preparation. Sadly, Josiah’s reforms did not alter the far-reaching spiritual trajectory of the people. The moral and spiritual compromise promoted during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon persists and will lead to the nation’s demise. As the LORD declares through His young prophet, “My people are foolish and do not know Me,” says the LORD. “They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right (Jeremiah 4:22, NLT)!”


Jeremiah’s ministry will be directed toward a people (in large measure) that refuse to listen. Their spiritual infidelity will continue—despite the LORD’s appeal. Again, Jeremiah’s ministry will not be an easy one. His heart will often “writhe in pain,” and tears of sorrow will fall. We should keep this in mind as we continue our readings.


We might also ask ourselves, “Would we remain faithful to the LORD’s call over such a long and difficult path?” Let’s agree. It’s easy and energizing to serve the LORD when we enjoy the fruit of our labor. But when the going gets hard? When circumstances worsen instead of improve? How, then, will we respond? I pray that God will not only speak to us through Jeremiah’s message but also through his example. Who knows? We may be facing similarly difficult days ahead.

July 29, 2022

"Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. He did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites . . . Manasseh also sacrificed his own sons in the fire in the valley of Ben-Hinnom. He practiced sorcery, divination, and witchcraft, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the LORD’s sight, arousing His anger . . . But Manasseh led the people of Judah and Jerusalem to do even more evil than the pagan nations that the LORD had destroyed when the people of Israel entered the land (2 Chronicles 33:1-2, 6, 9, NLT)."

 

The death of Hezekiah results in a dramatic change in leadership. Manasseh, his twelve-year-old son, ascends to the throne, and the nation begins a downward spiritual decline. The young ruler abandons the LORD and leads the nation to do the same. Their evil exceeds that of the surrounding nations, provoking God’s anger and judgment. How could the spiritual conditions reverse so quickly? Who influenced Manasseh away from the LORD?


We are not told who or what influenced Manasseh negatively. Was it the death of his father at such an early age? Was it an unholy influence of those around him? Was it an attempt to accommodate the surrounding nations, particularly Assyria? We are not told. We are informed that he abandons the LORD in so many destructive ways. He even sacrifices his own sons in the valley of Ben-Hinnom. He visibly leads the nation into moral and spiritual darkness.


God appeals to Manasseh and the people to no effect. They ignore His warnings (2 Chronicles 33:10) and suffer painful consequences. Indeed, the nation is defeated with Judah’s king bound and transported to Babylon in captivity (2 Chronicles 33:11). Manasseh’s humiliation and suffering results in a spiritual change of heart. Second Chronicles recounts, “But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the LORD his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the LORD listened to him and was moved by his request. So the LORD brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the LORD alone is God (2 Chronicles 33:12–13, NLT)!”

 

Two observations stand out. First, I am again surprised by the scope of God’s mercy. Manasseh represents a dark-hearted, morally despicable individual who humbles himself before the LORD and discovers God’s forgiveness and mercy. Consider that in light of your moral and spiritual failure. With Manasseh’s story before us, I’m confident we are never beyond God’s mercy and love as we humble ourselves before Him—regardless of our guilt and shame. Second, Manasseh’s repentance is sincere of heart. He removes the foreign gods from the Temple, restoring the altar of the LORD. Manasseh demonstrates genuine repentance that produces noticeable change. Repentance is more than feeling regret over one’s actions or saying “I’m sorry.” True repentance leads a person to actual change, and Manasseh demonstrates that with the direction of his life. Manasseh’s change of heart would influence others to follow his example. The king who led the nation into spiritual darkness would now move them back toward the LORD—a further testament to God’s mercy and grace.


Where are we today as we reflect upon Manasseh’s experience? Are we moving toward the LORD or away? Is our influence positive or negative? Do we need to humble ourselves before the LORD so we, too, might experience His mercy and grace in fresh ways? I remind you. Repentance is more than saying “I’m sorry.”

July 28, 2022

Isaiah 63:15–66:24; 2 Kings 20:20-21; 2 Chronicles 32:32-33


“This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Could you build Me a temple as good as that? Could you build Me such a resting place? My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are Mine. I, the LORD, have spoken (Isaiah 66:1–2, NLT).’”


We conclude our readings in Isaiah, and the opening verses of the final chapter (Isaiah 66) are fitting. It is a glorious description of God’s greatness and power. “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.” Is that how we see God? We can simplify much of Isaiah’s message in two ways: 1) God’s people suffer when they lose sight of who God is and turn away. 2) God’s people are blessed when they see the LORD for who He is and relate to Him appropriately. Of course, a good portion of the book includes God’s activity to bring the people back into a right relationship. Inherent throughout is the people’s perception of God. Who do they view Him to be? Is He a lesser god of their own making? Or is He the ONE TRUE GOD, maker of heaven and earth—whose greatness and power exceeds human comprehension? “Heaven is My throne,” God declares, “and the earth is My footstool.” Is that how the people see Him? Do they understand that His hands have made both heaven and earth? That everything in them is the LORD’s? How they answer these questions dictates their response.


For example, if we view God truly for who He is, we will be blessed by Him. We will be blessed because we will respond to Him in humble faith and devotion. As God states, “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at My word (Isaiah 66:2, NLT). Recognize the correlation. A proper vision of God will lead to an appropriate response. Wrestle then with this: What does our present response indicate concerning our vision of the LORD? In contrast, a negligent or distorted view of God will lead to self-destructive behavior. The LORD explains, “But those who choose their own ways— delighting in their detestable sins— will not have their offerings accepted. When such people sacrifice a bull, it is no more acceptable than a human sacrifice. When they sacrifice a lamb, it’s as though they had sacrificed a dog! When they bring an offering of grain, they might as well offer the blood of a pig. When they burn frankincense, it’s as if they had blessed an idol. I will send them great trouble— all the things they feared. For when I called, they did not answer. When I spoke, they did not listen. They deliberately sinned before My very eyes and chose to do what they know I despise (Isaiah 66:3-4, NTL).” Who would behave in such a way if their vision of God is clear? Vision is key.


Remember God’s revelation of Himself to Isaiah. “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Attending Him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1–4, NLT).” Also, remember Isaiah’s response, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies (Isaiah 6:5, NLT).” See the correlation? Our vision of God affects our response. One naturally leads to the other. Isaiah humbles himself before the LORD, resulting in his cleansing and call (Isaiah 6:6-8).

 

Why the emphasis? We live in a world that seeks to deny God’s existence or, at the very least, diminish the truth of who He is. As a result, our vision of the LORD can be tainted or distorted. We may find ourselves adopting a lesser view of God, which facilitates responses to the LORD that are inadequate or even self-destructive. God supplies through His prophet a fresh vision of who He is. “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool . . . My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are Mine.” Is that how we see Him? If so, how will we respond?

July 27, 2022

Isaiah 58:1-63:14


“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon Me, for the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent Me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies (Isaiah 61:1–2, NLT).”


Yesterday we focused on Isaiah’s prophetic description of Jesus’ suffering and sacrificial death. Jesus bore our sin so we might experience forgiveness and life. We should pause and thank God daily for Jesus’ redemptive work on our behalf. Apart from Him, we would have no hope. Because of Him, we are right with God and can step toward the future with peace and confidence. May we never lose sight of Jesus’ saving actions.


A portion of today’s reading focuses on another prophetic passage—a messianic passage Jesus claims for Himself. Consider Luke’s account, “When He came to the village of Nazareth, His boyhood home, He went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: ‘The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for he has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at Him intently. Then He began to speak to them. ‘The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day (Luke 4:16–21, NLT)!’”

 

Isaiah describes the future mission of God’s anointed servant. The Promised One would come onto the scene, heralding good news with power and authority. His words and actions would reveal the truth of His identity. Jesus declares Himself to be the fulfillment of this prophecy in His hometown of Nazareth. Sadly, He experiences the truth of the adage, “No prophet is accepted in his own hometown (Luke 4:21).” The people reject Jesus’ claim and angrily drive Him from their midst.


That day, the crowd fails to see Jesus for who He is and consequently misses out on what could have been. Their absence of faith prevents them from experiencing Jesus’ power and life. They could have discovered spiritual comfort and release but rejected Jesus instead. And what of us? Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies foretold. He is the anointed One of God. In Him, there is life and hope and peace. Have we embraced Him by faith, or do we (like the people of Nazareth) drive Him away? Do note: our faith in Jesus does not cause Him to be who He is. Jesus is the anointed One of God, the Savior of the world, whether we believe in Him or not. Our faith response, however, enables us to be affected by who He is. It allows Him to impact our lives in ways only He can. I choose to see Jesus for who He is. By faith, I embrace the life He offers. And you?

July 26, 2022

Isaiah 52:13–57:21)


"Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed His powerful arm? My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on Him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet He never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth. Unjustly condemned, He was led away. No one cared that He died without descendants, that His life was cut short in midstream. But He was struck down for the rebellion of My people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But He was buried like a criminal; He was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush Him and cause him grief. Yet when His life is made an offering for sin, He will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in His hands. When He sees all that is accomplished by His anguish, He will be satisfied. And because of His experience, My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins. I will give Him the honors of a victorious soldier, because He exposed Himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels (Isaiah 53, NLT)."

 

Why read the Old Testament? Because it tells our story. It exposes humanity’s need and also God’s loving response. It points to One who would come on our behalf. Isaiah 53 does so in astounding fashion. Centuries before Jesus’ public ministry and crucifixion, Isaiah describes His future actions in eye-opening detail. The miraculous nature of Isaiah’s prophecies is observed initially in his description of the Persian ruler, Cyrus. But now, Isaiah portrays Jesus’ life and actions in ways that accentuate the prophet’s future vision. Only God could reveal such detail concerning Jesus’ sacrifice and death. Think about what this suggests concerning the credibility of Scripture. The Bible is so much more than a book. It is God’s revelation to man (2 Timothy 3:16-17).


Yet, consider especially the testimony concerning God’s suffering servant. Marvel over the actions taken on our behalf. He is “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins (Isaiah 53:5).” Still further, “the LORD laid on Him the sins of us all (Isaiah 53:6).” How can anyone read this and not think of Jesus? The prophet later adds, “My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins (Isaiah 53:11).” Isaiah records that Jesus would become our sin offering to restore our relationship with a holy God. Jesus makes us righteous before the LORD by bearing our guilt and shame upon the cross. We should be astonished by Isaiah’s ability to describe the future. We should be even more amazed by what the prophet declares. Jesus died for us—He died for you. Centuries later, John (the Baptizer) would point to Jesus and say, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, NLT)!”

 

And our response? Faith in the Savior is the starting point. But should there not be more? Love and devotion? Trust and obedience? How should we respond to the One who endured God’s judgment on our behalf? More specifically, how will we respond today? The decision is yours. 

July 25, 2022

Isaiah 48:12-52:12


"The Sovereign LORD has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning He wakens me and opens my understanding to His will. The Sovereign LORD has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame (Isaiah 50:4–7, NLT)."

 

Just as the prophet, Isaiah, introduces Israel's military deliverer (Cyrus), he also speaks of a greater deliverer or servant (Jesus) who will intervene on the people's behalf. Centuries before Jesus' public ministry began, Isaiah supplies a series of passages or songs (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-13; Isaiah 50:4-11; Isaiah 52:13-53:12) highlighting the character and spiritual nature of the promised One's mission and purpose.


Consider the passage above. The Promised Servant of God will comfort the weary at great expense to Himself. He will be beaten and mocked but ultimately vindicated by the LORD who sends Him. As we read these words, do we not see Jesus as God's anointed? Consider also an earlier passage,


"At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you. I will protect you and give you to the people as My covenant with them. Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel and assign it to its own people again. I will say to the prisoners, 'Come out in freedom,' and to those in darkness, 'Come into the light.' They will be My sheep, grazing in green pastures and on hills that were previously bare. They will neither hunger nor thirst. The searing sun will not reach them anymore. For the LORD in His mercy will lead them; He will lead them beside cool waters. And I will make My mountains into level paths for them. The highways will be raised above the valleys. See, My people will return from far away, from lands to the north and west, and from as far south as Egypt (Isaiah 49:8–12, NLT)."


Again, do we not see Jesus' ministry described by the prophet's words? They speak of a future day that will only find fulfillment in Jesus. Let's ponder Isaiah's descriptions and renew our focus on Jesus and the difference He seeks to make in our lives. May it only prepare us further for tomorrow's reading. As we do, may we celebrate with God's people of old.


"Sing for joy, O heavens! Rejoice, O earth! Burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people and will have compassion on them in their suffering (Isaiah 49:13, NLT)."

July 24, 2022

Isaiah 44:6-48:11


"This is what the LORD says to Cyrus, His anointed one, whose right hand He will empower. Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear. Their fortress gates will be opened, never to shut again. This is what the LORD says: 'I will go before you, Cyrus, and level the mountains. I will smash down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness— secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the One who calls you by name (Isaiah (45:1–3, NLT)."


Isaiah prophesies Judah's eventual defeat by the Babylonians and exile (Isaiah 39:5-8). He also promises God's sustaining grace on the part of His exiled people (Isaiah 40-44). Our reading today highlights that Isaiah likewise foretells the emergence of a military leader and ruler who will subsequently free God's covenant people from their Babylonian captivity. A century before his birth, God's prophet announced the military dominance of Cyrus the Great (also known as Cyrus II).


The Persian ruler and king would fulfill Isaiah's prophecies. God would enable Cyrus to achieve extraordinary military success. However, all of his accomplishments would serve God's larger purpose and plan. The LORD appointed Cyrus to set His people free and facilitate their safe return to the land. He would become God's anointed on their behalf. Isaiah explains, "And why have I called you for this work? Why did I call you by name when you did not know Me? It is for the sake of Jacob My servant, Israel My chosen one (Isaiah 45:4, NLT)."


Behold the power of our God. He foresaw what would be. He worked according to His purpose to fulfill His unfolding plan. Isaiah adds, "I am the LORD; there is no other God. I have equipped you for battle, though you don't even know Me, so all the world from east to west will know there is no other God. I am the LORD, and there is no other. I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the LORD, am the One who does these things. Open up, O heavens, and pour out your righteousness. Let the earth open wide so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together. I, the LORD, created them (Isaiah 45:4–8, NLT)."

 

We will read about Cyrus' future actions in September. For now, let's pause and marvel at the workings of our Sovereign God. Sadly, some attempt to navigate the miraculous nature of Isaiah's prophecies by suggesting that the book results from several writers over a long period. I prefer to accept Isaiah's prophetic ability concerning Cyrus, but more significantly concerning Jesus—God's suffering servant (Isaiah 53). God enables His servant, Isaiah, to see what would be so that we might further recognize God's power and authority. Who has the greater power? Cyrus, with his future military victories? Or the LORD, who announces Cyrus' emergence and facilitates His success? The answer is clear—it is the LORD. Let us then humble ourselves and acknowledge the LORD's authority and power. May we echo God's testimony concerning Himself. "He creates the light and makes the darkness. He sends good times and bad times. He is the LORD who does these things." May we recognize God for who He is and worship Him appropriately.

July 23, 2022

Isaiah 40-43


“Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand (Isaiah 41:10, NLT).”


In today's reading (Isaiah 40-43), God seeks to encourage and reassure His covenant people who find themselves far from where they would prefer to be. They are exiles in a foreign land—exiles in Babylon. Again, this is not where they would choose to be. It is, however, where their past actions have caused them to be. Their refusal to listen to God's past warning has resulted in their exiled state. Their spiritual disobedience and neglect would have lasting consequences.


Even so, hope remains through a series of prophetic messages delivered by God's servant. Chapter 40 opens, "Comfort, comfort My people (Isaiah 40:1, NLT)." Though much about their exile would weaken the strongest of hearts, God opens their eyes to His continuing activity and work. Isaiah declares, "The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary (Isaiah 40:28, NLT)." The prophet invites God's people to turn to the LORD. Isaiah adds, "But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31, NLT)."

 

Take heart. The people's exile did not separate them from God's willingness to help. The LORD is willing and able to renew their strength as they refocus their faith on Him. Think about the implications of this. Like the children of Israel, our past actions may place us in situations we would not prefer. However, it does not sever us from God's continuing work of grace. Like God's people of old, the LORD is willing to renew our strength if we would redirect our hearts to Him. Will will do so?


Yet, God extends His comfort and support further. Like a reassuring voice in the darkness, the LORD calls out, "Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with My victorious right hand (Isaiah 41:10, NLT)." God's words of assurance are exactly what we need to hear when we find ourselves in situations beyond our control. First, God promises His presence. Though we may presume that the difficulty indicates that God has abandoned us. His sustaining presence remains. God lovingly appeals, "Calm your heart. You are not alone." He also states, "I've got this, for I am your God." The problem or the circumstance is not greater than the One who is with us. His strength will prove sufficient in our weakness. His help and support will be more than adequate in our hour of trouble. God even promises to carry us when needed. He declares, "I will hold you up with My victorious right hand." The right hand is the symbolic hand of God's power and authority. Once again, God is saying, "Trust Me. I've got this, for I've got you."


Isaiah 41:10 has brought me through many a dark moment as God’s promise opened my eyes to the light of His presence and help. Maybe His reassuring words are what you need to hear for the day ahead. Lift your troubled heart and hear the LORD say, “Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with My victorious right hand (Isaiah 41:10, NLT)."

July 22, 2022

2 Kings 20:1-19; Isaiah 38:1-22; 2 Chronicles 32:24-31


"About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: 'This is what the LORD says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness (2 Kings 20:1, NLT).'"


What would you do if God informed you to get your affairs in order because your death is near? We can only imagine Hezekiah's emotions when Isaiah delivers the LORD's sobering news. Hezekiah responds promptly. The dying ruler turns humbly to the LORD and pleads his cause, "Remember, O LORD, how I have always been faithful to You and have served You single-mindedly, always doing what pleases You (2 Kings 20:2–3, NLT)." Emotionally, Hezekiah weeps bitterly before the LORD. And the results? God directs Isaiah to return with the following message:

 

"Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for My own honor and for the sake of My servant David (2 Kings 20:4–6, NLT). '"


The account is quite dramatic, but what might we learn from Hezekiah's experience? We can certainly learn from the king's humility and faith in response to Isaiah's initial message. Again, how would you have reacted to the prophet's announcement? Hezekiah models an appropriate disposition of heart. However, we must be careful not to use Hezekiah's example to become the basis of our expectations for healing. Can God help the sick? Absolutely yes. Does the LORD heal everyone who humbles themself in faith? Undeniably no. An honest survey of Jewish and Christian history would indicate as much. Indeed, more men and women of faith die due to illness than are healed. The issue is not that the person lacks the "right kind" of faith or fails to respond to the LORD appropriately. The point is that people generally die of terminal illnesses or injuries. That is the natural order following Adam's rebellion and sin (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20-22).


In Hezekiah's case, God chose to extend his life by fifteen years. It was God's decision according to God's larger purpose and plan. Why fifteen and not seventeen or twelve? Again, it was God's decision according to His wisdom and timing. Like Hezekiah, can we humble ourselves and also ask for healing? Most definitely, yes. I would encourage as much if facing a terminal situation. I know firsthand cases when God has extended a person's life like Hezekiah. Yet, at the same time, I remind us that we must submit to God's larger purpose and plan. God sees what we do not see and knows what we are incapable of understanding. We must learn to trust in His wisdom and plan. In Hezekiah's case, God's actions are working far beyond the health and well-being of Judah's king. We must keep that in mind as we also seek God's will for our lives.


Hezekiah's dramatic healing is a fascinating story to consider. May God encourage our hearts as we reflect further upon his experience. More importantly, let us respond to the LORD with the appropriate humility and faith in God's unfolding plan.

July 21, 2022

2 Kings 19:1-37; Isaiah 37:1-38; 2 Chronicles 32:9-19


"This message is for King Hezekiah of Judah. Don't let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 19:10 (NLT)."


King Sennacherib, Assyria's ruler, announces Jerusalem's inevitable capture. He taunts Judah's king but, more notably, mocks Judah's God. He arrogantly declares that Assyria's victory is assured, only to be proven dramatically wrong. God demonstrates that the most powerful military force of the day would prove inadequate against the power of the one true God.


The LORD initially diverts Assyria's energies away from Jerusalem for a period (2 Kings 19:9) but then directly defeat Assyria's armies to display God's greatness and power. The LORD intervenes on behalf of His people. The writer of 2 Chronicles recounts the event, "And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land (2 Chronicles 32:20–21, NLT)." Assyria's ruler defies the LORD and is proven foolish in the process. Sennacherib became an object lesson to Solomon's familiar proverb, "Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall (Proverbs 17;18, NLT)."


In contrast, king Hezekiah of Judah humbles himself before the LORD. When confronted by Assyria's ruler, he clothes himself in burlap. The king places Sennacherib's threatening letter before the LORD and prays, "Now, O LORD our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O LORD, are God (2 Kings 19:19, NLT)." Hezekiah's prayer is honest and to the point. The king of Judah directs his confidence heavenward, and God's response would leave no doubt where the ultimate power resides—it is the LORD's.


Two rulers—one defies the LORD and suffers loss. The other trusts the LORD and experiences God's deliverance. One arrogantly views himself as invincible and in control. The other humbles himself, admitting his need and dependence on God. Which of the two rulers do we more resemble? Whose attitude will we display in the day ahead? May we learn from the actions of both men and choose to renew our trust and confidence in the LORD.

July 20, 2022

Micah 6-7; 2 Chronicles 32:1-8; 2 Kings 18:13-37; Isaiah 36:1-22


"What can we bring to the LORD? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins. No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8, NLT)."


God's people refuse to relate to God appropriately. They openly pursue paths that dishonor Him and are convinced that their selective displays of religious devotion somehow compensate for their disobedience. They ask, "What are we missing? More elaborate or costly sacrifices?" The LORD answers, "No!" The issue isn't the lack of religious fervor. The problem is the absence of faith. God explained this to His people at the very beginning of their journey.


"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases Him, and love Him and serve Him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good (Deuteronomy 10:12–13, NLT)."

 

Through His prophet, God now calls His people back. What does the LORD require? He requires His people to walk with Him in faith. They are to do what is right, to love mercy, and walk humbly with their God. There is no substitute for the dynamic of faith within a person's life. Keep in mind. Faith is more than a confessional statement. I fear sometimes we convince ourselves that saying "WE BELIEVE" is the same as believing. That was not the case with Israel, and nor will it be the case with us. True faith finds its way forward into everyday life. It influences what we say and do. It determines the paths we follow. It should be evident in who we are becoming. As the New Testament explains, "faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26, ESV)." In other words, "Our response to who God is should influence who we also are." Get the point?


Let's quickly admit that our life of faith will not result in perfect obedience. I wish it did, but we all know it does not. Even so, our life of faith should nevertheless be evident. So, as we enter the day ahead, let's refocus our hearts on the One we trust. As we do, may we also commit ourselves to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. That sounds like a good plan of action for the day ahead. Care to join me?

July 19, 2022

Isaiah 34-35; Micah 2-5

 

“But this is what the LORD says: "I will reward your evil with evil; you won't be able to pull your neck out of the noose. You will no longer walk around proudly, for it will be a terrible time (Micah 2:3, NLT)."


Micah is a contemporary of the prophets, Isaiah and Hosea. His message concerning God's judgment mirrors the similar pronouncements of his fellow messengers. God is warning Israel and Judah, but the people are slow to listen. They refuse to accept the consequences of their actions. As they did with Isaiah, they say to Micah, "Don't say such things," the people respond. "Don't prophesy like that. Such disasters will never come our way (Micah 2:6, NLT)!" Their self-denial will not alter what their actions have put into motion.


Yet, glimmers of hope remain as grim as many of Micah's prophecies sound. The prophet points to a better day beyond the coming judgment and exile. He promises the LORD will gather His people unto Himself again—like a shepherd gathering His flock. Micah proclaims, "Someday, O Israel, I will gather you; I will gather the remnant who are left. I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture. Yes, your land will again be filled with noisy crowds! Your leader will break out and lead you out of exile, out through the gates of the enemy cities, back to your own land. Your King will lead you; the LORD Himself will guide you (Micah 2:12–13, NLT)." Who comes to mind as we reflect upon Micah's promised deliverer (John 10:1-16)?


Micah later speaks of the promised one's birth in the most unlikely places. He writes, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf (Micah 5:2, NLT)." Do note. Though the future ruler and deliverer will be born in obscure Bethlehem, His origins reach mysteriously back in time. The phrase "in the distant past" is translated from the Hebrew text in various ways: "from of old, from ancient of days (ESV)," "from long ago, from the days of eternity (NASB95)," "from of old, from everlasting (NKJV)." As we can see, the promised One of God will not be an ordinary man. He rises from eternity itself. Again, who comes to mind as we reflect upon Micah's promised ruler (Luke 2:1-7)?

 

Much of today's reading informs us that God's judgment is coming. The people of Israel and Judah need to be aware, but hope remains as God's prophets point to His promised Messiah. As Isaiah describes, "And when He comes, He will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland (Isaiah 35:5–6, NLT)." One last time, who comes to mind as we consider Isaiah's testimony (Luke 7:18-23)? Go ahead, say the name—JESUS. Let's do more than that. Let's keep our focus on Jesus as we enter the day ahead. Jesus is our source of hope for today and tomorrow. Let's keep our eyes on Him!

July 18, 2022

Isaiah 30-33


"What sorrow awaits my rebellious children," says the LORD. "You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins. For without consulting me, you have gone down to Egypt for help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh's protection. You have tried to hide in his shade. But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated, and by depending on him, you will be disgraced (Isaiah 30:1–3, NLT)."

 

Why do God's people turn away from the God who loves them? Why do they seek answers and solutions outside God's wisdom and help? These questions, to me, are not easily answered. Yet, time and time again, that appears to be the story. Instead of allowing the LORD to be their source of life and help, His people walk away. Isaiah expresses God's disappointment and offense toward Judah's actions. He is straightforward in announcing their future consequences. The prophet explains that they will be humiliated by choosing to turn to Egypt instead of the LORD.


Tragically, God's people cover their ears to His continuing appeals. Instead of listening to the LORD's messengers, they seek to silence them. They exclaim, "Don't tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies. Forget all this gloom. Get off your narrow path. Stop telling us about your 'Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 30:10–11, NLT).' " Why do God's people delude themselves? Why pretend everything is alright when it is not? I ask these questions in general, but dare we ask ourselves the same questions? Are we not tempted to listen to those that justify our behavior rather than admit our disobedience. Paul warns of this very thing when he writes, "For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3, NLT)." It seems as if we are living in such days.

 

I pray today's reading will lead us to examine our hearts honestly so we might respond to the LORD appropriately. Even when we lose our way, God still seeks to restore the repentant. As Isaiah expressed to the people of Judah, "So the LORD must wait for you to come to Him so He can show you His love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for His help (Isaiah 30:18, NLT). Again, why do God's people turn away from the God who loves them? I pray we respond to the LORD appropriately.

July 17, 2022

Isaiah 24:1-27:13; Isaiah 29

 

“Look! The LORD is about to destroy the earth and make it a vast wasteland. He devastates the surface of the earth and scatters the people. Priests and laypeople, servants and masters, maids and mistresses, buyers and sellers, lenders and borrowers, bankers and debtors—none will be spared. The earth will be completely emptied and looted. The LORD has spoken (Isaiah 24:1–3, NLT)!”

 

Today's reading announces a worldwide judgment that will result in the destruction of God's enemies and the restoration of God's people. Isaiah's words are sobering as we consider the scope and devastation of God's actions. The people will suffer because of their sins. The prophet explains, "The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God's instructions, violated His laws, and broken His everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5, NLT)." Those who have rejected the LORD and His ways will suffer the consequences of their unbelief.

 

Yet, there is hope for God's covenant people. In contrast to those who suffer judgment, the people of the LORD will experience His blessing and life. They will enjoy a feast like no other. As Isaiah describes, "In Jerusalem, the LORD of Heaven's Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There He will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The LORD has spoken (Isaiah 25:6–8, NLT)!"

 

Isaiah's message of judgment and life seems to parallel Jesus' teaching concerning His glorious return and the establishment of His reign upon the earth (Matthew 24-25). Do note that God's judgment against sin precedes Jesus' earthly reign. But it will also include His covenant people's preservation and blessing. Believers in Jesus will share in the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10). They will ultimately experience the blessings and life of a new heaven and earth—a new Jerusalem (Revelations 21-22). That is something upon which to fix our hope. Indeed, may we join the people Isaiah describes and proclaim, "This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the LORD, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings (Isaiah 25:9, NLT)!"


Yet, what do we do as we await Jesus' return? There's much that can distress us. It may even appear darker before the dawn. Isaiah offers God's reassurance. "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You! Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock (Isaiah 26:3-4, NLT)." These words are as valid for us as they were in Isaiah's day. The key amid life's uncertainties and challenges is to keep our eyes of faith on the LORD. When we fix our minds on God and His promises, He renews our peace. He introduces a light in the darkness. He supplies inner confidence as we face an uncertain future. When peace is absent, that may indicate where our focus rests. Are we dwelling on the LORD or the problem? Let's voice Isaiah 26:3 to God as we move into the day. "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" May we discover God's comfort and support as we do!

July 16, 2022

Isaiah 18-23


"All you people of the world, everyone who lives on the earth— when I raise My battle flag on the mountain, look! When I blow the ram's horn, listen (Isaiah 18:3, NLT)!"

 

Assyria is the dominant power of the day (714 BC). The surrounding nations plot their individual and collective plans in response. Will they attempt to appease the Assyrian ruler or organize a military alliance against him? Isaiah, however, reminds us that God is the supreme power and authority. He is not a spectator of world events, unsure of the outcome. God instead sits upon His throne on high. He is the One who governs the larger affairs of man. Does this negate the volitional choices of others? No, the free will of men and the sovereignty of God are not mutually exclusive. Instead, God (in His sovereignty) created a system in which His actions and our actions function independently but are intertwined. Sound mysterious? Indeed, it does and serves to highlight our God's greatness and glory further. May we never lose sight of who ultimately sits upon the throne.


From God's position of authority, He addresses the contending nations: Ethiopia, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, Arabia, and Judah. Through His servant, Isaiah, God communicates what they should expect—both the good and the bad (mostly bad). The LORD announces the future events so the people (especially Judah) might respond appropriately. We should appreciate that this would not be an easy message for God's prophet to deliver. Yet, Isaiah remains faithful to the task. He not only communicates God's pronouncements but also demonstrates His message in a physically uncomfortable manner. How so? For three years, Isaiah publicly discards his outer garment and sandals to indicate what Egypt and Ethiopia would eventually experience. They would walk about as enslaved people under Assyria's control. As the LORD declares, "My servant Isaiah has been walking around naked and barefoot for the last three years. This is a sign—a symbol of the terrible troubles I will bring upon Egypt and Ethiopia. For the king of Assyria will take away the Egyptians and Ethiopians as prisoners. He will make them walk naked and barefoot, both young and old, their buttocks bared, to the shame of Egypt (Isaiah 20:3–4, NLT)."

 

What do we take away from today's reading? First, we should note Isaiah's devotion to the LORD. His extended ministry would often be challenging. He would prophesy during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Jotham and Hezekiah respond favorably to the prophet, but Ahaz and Manasseh (Hezekiah's son) do not. Indeed, ancient tradition suggests that Manasseh executed God's servant. The tradition describes Isaiah being bound, placed within the trunk of a hollow log, and sawn in two. Whether Isaiah died in this manner, we cannot know for sure. What is clear is that he is willing to suffer hardship for the sake of God's calling. Isaiah obeys the LORD even when it's uncomfortable. Will we do the same? Second, allow today's reading to remind us who sits firmly upon the throne. Global leaders come and go. They flaunt their power and authority. Yet, it is the LORD who rules and reigns. He sees what we do not see. He knows what we do not know. And, He acts in ways we may never fully grasp or understand. We are wise when we actively trust the LORD, placing our present and future situations in His hands. May today's reading encourage us to do so.

July 15, 2022

Psalm 136; Psalms 146-150


“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever (Psalm 136:1, NLT).”


We conclude our survey of the psalms with today's reading. Which of the six psalms especially appeals to your heart? What verse or lesson will you carry with you into the day? My attention is drawn to Psalm 136 and the recurring declaration of God's enduring love. Twenty-six times the psalmist proclaims the faithfulness of God's love and assures the reader that God's covenant love will never end. The psalmist drives this lesson home in two ways.


First, the writer continuously repeats the phrase—"His faithful love endures forever." Throughout the psalm, he seeks to highlight the testimony of who God is and how God has acted to redeem the children of Israel. It's an uplifting tribute to God's power and grace. Yet, the psalmist also helps us to see that we can only understand God and His actions within the larger context of His faithful love. Indeed, every verse makes that clear as he repeatedly announces, "God's faithful love endures forever." Over and over again, that is the defining refrain. It is impossible to separate God and His actions from His abiding love.


Second, we should also be encouraged by the Hebrew term for "love" that the psalmist uses. He repeatedly utilizes the Hebrew noun "ḥeseḏ." This is one of the most important words in the Old Testament and is used by biblical writers 240 times. Why so significant? The term came to represent God's covenant love directed toward His people. It emphasizes more than a strong emotion or feeling. It communicates an enduring loyalty and commitment on God's part. That's why the NLT Bible translates "ḥeseḏ" with two words—"faithful love." It's not enough to say that God's love or affection endures forever. His "faithful love" will stand the test of time. His loyalty, attention, and devotion will never wane. As Psalm 136 gratefully declares, "His faithful love endures forever."


Consider the implications of this for our lives. We, too, are God's covenant people through Jesus, His Son. As such, there is never a moment when God's love will fail to influence His thinking or actions on our behalf. Of course, that doesn't mean that life will not be disappointing or even heart-breaking at times—for it will. What it means, however, is that God will not act toward us apart from His abiding love. It will even govern His discipline toward our lives when we falter or turn away. We can be assured that God’s love and devotion will stand the test of time. So be encouraged. God's "faithful love endures forever.”


I conclude with Paul’s reassuring words, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38–39, NLT).” Yes, be encouraged!

July 14, 2022

Psalms 128-130; Psalms 132; Psalm 134-135


"From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for Your help. Hear my cry, O Lord. Pay attention to my prayer. LORD, if You kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive? But You offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear You (Psalm 130:1-4, NLT)."


Can God forgive my sin? Will God forgive my sin? Psalm 130 is another psalm of ascent as the would-be worshipper makes his journey to Jerusalem. Yet, the psalmist's heart is cast down, for he knows he has failed the LORD. He has sinned against God. From the depths of his despair, he calls out to the LORD for help. He fixes his hope on the possibility of God's forgiveness. He confesses, "I am counting on the LORD; yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in His Word (Psalm 130:5, NLT)." Do note that his confidence or hope is based on more than a wishful desire. It is anchored on the testimony of God's Word and the LORD's past willingness to forgive the repentant. The psalmist declares, "I am counting on the LORD; yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in His word (Psalm 130:5, NLT)."


Can God forgive my sin? Will God forgive my sin? The answer is "yes." Psalm 130 extends a hand of hope to those weighed down because of their sin. The sixth of seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) expresses the sinner's sorrow and regret but also moves the person to experience God's mercy and forgiveness. Today's psalmist knows that apart from God's unfailing love, no one could survive. We would all be lost. But there is hope in Him—genuine hope because God's forgiveness is available for those who humbly return to Him. The Hebrew term for forgiveness (selichah) describes the removal of one's guilt. Though the person's offense is undeniable, God's pardon is available. There is hope for the downcast.


Can God forgive my sin? Will God forgive my sin? Again, the answer is "yes." We should anticipate God's forgiveness as a watchman anticipates the sunrise. The psalmist exclaims, "I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn (Psalm 130:6, NLT)." Though the darkness of guilt may surround us, the promise of God's forgiveness is as sure as the morning dawn. We should then lift our eyes of faith and watch for the light of God's mercy to appear. Indeed, the psalmist appeals to all who would hear, "O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows. He Himself will redeem Israel from every kind of sin (Psalm 130:7–8, NLT)."

 

Can God forgive my sin? Will God forgive my sin? These are wrong questions. The real question is, "Will I return to the God who forgives?" And our answer is?

July 13, 2022

Psalms 120-123; Psalms 125-126


“I took my troubles to the LORD; I cried out to Him, and He answered my prayer (Psalm 120:1, NLT).”


Today's reading includes five psalms of ascent, sometimes called pilgrim psalms. There are fifteen such psalms in the Old Testament—ten of which the authors are unnamed. They are described as pilgrim psalms because they became incorporated into the worshipper's journey to Jerusalem. Most who observed the Jewish holy days and feasts traveled varying distances to the Temple. These select psalms became a part of their pilgrimage, and they would often sing them to prepare their hearts for what they would soon experience. They are called psalms or songs of ascent because the journey involved an uphill march to Jerusalem. It may also be based upon the priesthood lifting these psalms in worship as they ascended the steps into the Temple.


Both practices illustrate the value of singing words of faith to move one's heart to worship—to draw near to the LORD. What songs of faith do we allow to encourage our journey? I'm convinced that music is a gift of God designed to affect our emotions. Styles of music can soothe, energize, inspire, or move us to contemplate. It's fascinating how the combination of melody and rhythm influences our perspective. When combined with words of faith, a song can become a powerful instrument of God's grace—awaking our awareness of God's presence and work. What songs of faith are an active part of your journey? Whether you consider yourself musical or not, appreciate the value of personal songs of ascent that move us toward the LORD. Even now, identify a song or hymn and sing it to the LORD. Observe how it can influence your perspective and emotions.


Focus also on a few verses from today's psalms. Which stirred your heart in some way? I noted the following:


“I took my troubles to the LORD; I cried out to Him, and He answered my prayer (Psalm 120:1, NLT).”

 

“The LORD Himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade (Psalm 121:5, NLT).”

 

“Those who trust in the LORD are as secure as Mount Zion; they will not be defeated but will endure forever (Psalm 125:1, NLT).”

 

“Restore our fortunes, LORD, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest (Psalm 126:4–6, NLT).”

 

Which verses did you highlight? Can we appreciate how these words of faith would awaken the heart of a worshipper as they journeyed to the Temple? They would move the person of faith one step closer to the LORD. Read aloud the verses that you highlighted. Voice them as a prayer, or even better, put them to a melody and allow them to become your psalm of ascent for the day ahead. May the LORD Himself lift your heart as you do!

July 12, 2022

Psalm 119


“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105, NLT).”


I want to be a Psalm 119 person. I want to be the kind of person who responds to God and His Word in ways that noticeably affect my life. And you? Of course, Psalm 119 directs our attention to the invaluable role the Bible should play in our lives. It is more than a religious book. God's Word leads us to experience life with God and the meaningful difference He makes.


The psalm is written as an acrostic following the Hebrew alphabet. There are nine psalms organized in this way. However, none as exhaustively as Psalm 119. This psalm is divided into twenty-two sections—one for each Hebrew letter. Each section has sixteen lines (8 verses) that begin with the designated consonant. For example, each line in the opening portion begins with the Hebrew letter "aleph," and the next section starts with the consonant "beth." It continues this pattern until it goes through the entire Hebrew alphabet. And the recurring focus? Each section underscores the importance of God's Word in personal and practical ways.


The psalmist's goal is to lead us to discover God's blessing and activity. As the opening verse states, "Joyful are people of integrity who follow the instructions of the LORD (Psalm 119:1, NLT)." The writer points to the help and support that he has experienced. This does not happen by accident. It requires an active response on a person's part. Did you notice the number of ways the psalmist describes his longing for and interaction with God's Word? His testimony humbles me. He actively loves God's Word and delights in it. He does not turn to God's commands and promises as a religious obligation. It is his source of hope and joy because it opens his eyes to God's wisdom and understanding---even more, to God Himself. Can we say the same? If you found yourself racing through your reading of the psalm because of its length, go back and look at how the psalmist views God's Word and responds to it. Learn from him. If God helps us reflect the same, our lives will dramatically change.


The good news is that God wants to help us. Again and again, the psalmist asks the LORD to teach him, to give him understanding. He recognizes God as the One who ultimately stirs and instructs the heart. God does not watch at a distance. He engages our hearts as we turn to Him in faith, so let's do so. Allow the testimony of Psalm 119 to become a fresh invitation to walk with God more closely as we approach His Word more intently. I want to be a Psalm 119 person. And you?


“Be good to your servant, that I may live and obey Your word. Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in Your instructions (Psalm 119:17–18, NLT).”

July 11, 2022

Psalm 115-118


"Praise the LORD, all you nations. Praise Him, all you people of the earth. For His unfailing love for us is powerful; the LORD's faithfulness endures forever. Praise the LORD (Psalm 117, NLT)!"

 

Our psalms for the day continue to call for us to trust the LORD and praise Him. They remind us that we do not face life alone. Indeed, our God is present and attentive. His steadfast love is assured, and He responds to the prayers of His people. We should, as the shortest psalm in the Bible suggests, "Praise the LORD." Why not take a moment and do so.


My focus, however, is on one particular verse—Psalm 116:5. The psalmist offers a threefold description of our God: "How kind the LORD is! How good He is! So merciful, this God of ours!" Let's reflect a moment upon each one. First, "How kind the LORD is!" The Hebrew adjective (ḥannûn) refers to God's kindness, favor, or grace. It reminds us that God is predisposed to help on our behalf. He is not indifferent as we enter the day ahead. Indeed, He is mindful of our situation, and (be encouraged) we can anticipate His grace and kindness.


Second, "How good He is!" Our God is not only gracious. He is also "good." This Hebrew term (ṣǎd·dîq) is often translated as "righteous." In other words, we can count on God to do the "right" thing in response to our situations. His righteousness will not be compromised or adversely affected by the circumstances. Instead, we can depend on the LORD to respond appropriately regardless of the situation. His goodness assures that He will be there for us—faithful to His Word.


Third, "So merciful, this God of ours!" This may be the most important of the three descriptions since we are flawed and sinful individuals. Where would any of us be apart from God's mercy? Without it, the Bible would have ended with Genesis 3. But God, as the psalmist reminds us, is “so merciful.” This is who He is! The Hebrew term for mercy is “rā·ḥǎm.” It highlights God’s compassion despite our failure. Though He is righteous in His character, the LORD is also merciful toward those who are not. May our hearts be strengthened by the thought.


Three descriptions to carry with us: "How kind the LORD is! How good He is! So merciful, this God of ours!"  Does this renew our confidence for the day ahead? It does for me!

July 10, 2022

Psalm 107; Psalms 111-114


"Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies (Psalm 107:2, NLT)."

 

Are we silent about the LORD's activity when we should speak out? I fear, at times, we are more inclined to express our complaints about life than our praise to God. I appreciate the psalmist's straightforward question, "Has the LORD redeemed you?" If so, don't remain indifferent or quiet. For goodness sake, "Speak out!"

 

Of course, our psalmists in today's reading seek to do that very thing. They publicly declare God's greatness and power. They point to His acts of deliverance and salvation. They celebrate the LORD's faithfulness and steadfast love. Again and again, they remind us that there is no one like our God. I smile at Psalm 114's portrayal of God's activity, 


"The Red Sea saw them coming and hurried out of their way! The water of the Jordan River turned away. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs! What's wrong, Red Sea, that made you hurry out of their way? What happened, Jordan River, that you turned away? Why, mountains, did you skip like rams? Why, hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob. He turned the rock into a pool of water; yes, a spring of water flowed from solid rock (Psalm 114:3–8, NLT)."

 

I agree with the psalmist. The earth should tremble at the presence of the LORD, and God's people should praise Him. Do we? Will we? Consider the earlier appeal. "Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out! Or, as the English Standard Version expresses the same verse, "Let the redeemed of the LORD say so (Psalm 107:2)." Come on then, let's look for opportunities today to say so!

July 9, 2022

Psalm 105-106


“Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim His greatness. Let the whole world know what He has done (Psalm 105:1, NLT).”


Our psalms today are testimonial in nature. Psalm 105 reminds us of God's covenant activity toward the descendants of Abraham. He promised to bless and sustain them and ultimately to give them the land Canaan. However, the journey included hardship and testing along the way. Joseph's experience serves as an early example. Initially enslaved in Egypt, God would soon elevate Joseph to a position of power and prominence. The nation of Israel later mirrors his experience. They also suffer through a period of prolonged captivity to be rescued by the LORD. He delivers them from their enslavement and then miraculously leads them toward fulfilling His covenant promises. Again and again, God displays His faithfulness.


And the LORD's expectation? As the psalmist describes, "All this happened so they would follow His decrees and obey His instructions. Praise the LORD (Psalm 105:45, NLT)! God redeems the children of Israel, so He might be their God and expects them (in response) to be His people. That is a reasonable expectation on God's part. Sadly, the people falter in their response. Psalm 106 chronicles their embarrassing failure, and it didn't take long. They stumble when confronted by their first obstacle—the Red Sea. Instead of turning to the LORD in faith, they cry out in fear and despair. They appear to forget all that they had previously experienced. As the psalmist reports, "They soon forgot His many acts of kindness to them. Instead, they rebelled against Him at the Red Sea (Psalm 106:7, NLT)." That's not a good start for God's people.


Inexplicably, Psalm 106 describes this continuing pattern. Again and again, the people take theirs off the LORD. Instead of humbling themselves before Him, the nation murmurs and complains. They disobey and rebel. They refuse to relate to God as God and suffer the consequences. Some might question why such a disappointing testimony would be included as a psalm. Hopefully, the answer is obvious. God's people need to recognize their past failures so that they might avoid repeating them. What is true of Israel is also true of us. Yet, there's something more. Recounting yesterday's failure allow us also to remember God's capacity to forgive and restore. That is notably evident in His dealings with Israel. The psalmist declares," He (the LORD) remembered His covenant with them and relented because of His unfailing love (Psalm 106:45, NLT)."

 

Why write down the testimony of a nation’s past failings and regrets? Because we can be assured that God who showed mercy in the past is disposed to show mercy again. Thus, the concluding appeal: "Save us, O LORD our God! Gather us back from among the nations, so we can thank Your holy name and rejoice and praise You. Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting! Let all the people say, "Amen!" Praise the LORD (Psalm 106:47–48, NLT)!”

 

We have two testimonial psalms to lead us to reflect upon our testimony. What should we remember—both good and bad? How, too, have we experienced God's mercy? And how should we respond to the LORD today? May we draw near, mindful of His goodness and thankful for His grace.

July 8, 2022

Psalms 98-100; Psalm 102; Psalm 104


"Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth! Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before Him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation (Psalm 100, NLT)."


We remain in the psalms for another day. For that, I'm grateful. I find the psalms helpful because they direct our hearts to God in personal ways. Sometimes they enable us to navigate our disappointment and our hurts. Other times they take us by the hand and lead us to worship the LORD. Today we focus upon one of my favorite psalms of worship—Psalm 100. Though brief, it is tremendously instructive.


Consider the following questions: Is it possible to shout to the Lord and not be joyful? Can we engage in the activities of worship and not be glad? Can we join others in song and be unaware of God's presence? Of course, the answer to each is "Yes." The activities of worship and genuine worship are not the same. We can mindlessly participate in a church service and be completely unaware of the LORD's presence and work. Worship, at its core, is a response to who God is and His gracious activity on our behalf. It moves from the mind to the heart and then overflows into action—a joyful shout, a grateful song, a humble bowing of the knee. Do you see the connection? Psalm 100 helps us to do so.


Look again at the appeals: "Shout with joy. Worship with gladness. Sing with joy. Enter with thanksgiving. Go in with praise. Give thanks and offer praise." If we remove our awareness of God from the equation, then none of the activities make sense. And the emotions? Genuine feelings associated with the actions will disappear. One's awareness of God is the key. We shout with joy because we shout to the LORD. We worship with gladness because we worship the LORD. We sing with joy because (by faith) we come before Him. Do you see the correlation?


Psalm 100 is an effective call to worship because the writer directs our attention first and foremost to the One we worship. Look at the testimony: "Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are His. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture." See the emphasis? Look likewise at the concluding verses: "For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation." The focus is on the LORD, which leads the individual to respond appropriately. Let's take that lesson to heart and allow Psalm 100 to move us toward the LORD. Remember that worship, at its core, is a response. It moves from the mind to the heart and then overflows into action. May the LORD open our eyes anew to the wonder of who He is so that worship may result—even now!

July 7, 2022

Psalm 92-97


"It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morning, Your faithfulness in the evening (Psalm 92:1–2, NLT)."


Our reading today includes six additional psalms, which means we have six opportunities to be encouraged. Which psalm or lesson will you carry with you into the day? For me, two particular verses are especially beneficial. They are the opening verses of Psalm 92. How are they helpful? First, the best thing I can do to start the day is to thank the LORD. It forces me to be mindful of the goodness of God and His activity on my behalf. Too often, life's challenges and disappointments distract me from God's presence and provision. I focus more on what's missing than on appreciating the good that's present. As a result, I am more inclined to start the day complaining than giving thanks. Ever been there?


The psalmist offers a better approach. Recognize that it is good to give thanks to the LORD. Of course, it honors the LORD but also refocuses our hearts. It directs our attention to the One who is with us. We all need to know that we do not enter the day alone. We likewise benefit by lifting praises to God. Think of it this way. Thanksgiving moves us emotionally down the runway. Verbalizing praise to the LORD get us spiritually airborne. It shifts our attention off God's activity onto God Himself, and that's always therapeutic. Praising God can lift our hearts as our vision of God comes more clearly into view. Care to give it a try?


Yet, there's something more. The psalmist directs us to two additional actions—proclaiming God's unfailing love in the morning and heralding His faithfulness at night. These are our spiritual bookends for any given day. We are assured of God's love at the start of the day and can count on His faithfulness as the day concludes. Life's circumstances will change, but these constants will not. Again, we are assured of God's love at the start and can count on God's faithfulness to the end. Why not acknowledge that? Even better, like the psalmist, confess it directly to God. Say to the LORD aloud, "It is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morning, Your faithfulness in the evening." Say it repeatedly until the truth of the statements positions your heart for the day. Think about the implications of what that means. We will never enter a day outside the scope of God's love, and there will never be a day when He will prove unfaithful to His commitment on our behalf. If that doesn't strengthen the heart, then I don't know what will.


So join me and confess, "It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim Your unfailing love in the morning, Your faithfulness in the evening." Amen and Amen!

July 6, 2022

Psalms 1-2; Psalm 10; Psalm 33; Psalm 71; Psalm 91

 

"Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1:1–2, NLT)."

 

Today we begin reading through the psalms that are not attributed to any writer. That makes them no less significant but prevents us from assigning an additional historical context. That said—our chronological Bible inserts the anonymous psalms at this point because they may have been collected during Hezekiah's reign (like Proverbs 25-29). Yet, even that is speculative. We can, however, be sure of this. God's Spirit worked through various individuals to guide and strengthen our hearts. Though we may not know their names, we know who was stirring their hearts. As the Apostle Paul describes, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NLT)."

 

Which then of today's psalms was particularly instructive? What appealed to your heart? Psalm 1 stands out prominently in my reading. Some think the opening psalm was written as a preface to the psalms themselves. If not written for that purpose, at the very least, it's positioned at the start to influence one's approach. In other words, we don't read the psalms casually. We choose instead to delight in God's revelation and instruction, meditating on it day and night. Is that our approach?


The term "law" in verse 2 is the Hebrew word, "TORAH." It can be translated as direction, teaching, or law. It's likely pointing to more than the so-called Books of the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Instead, the psalmist encourages us to delight in all of God's loving guidance and direction. The LORD has spoken so we might experience His goodness and life. We are wise when we approach God's Word accordingly. Again, we do more than reading. We choose to meditate upon His revelation, carrying His instructions with us so that we might experience the LORD's blessing and life. This is helpful to remember as we move beyond the midway point of our chronological Bible. Let's avoid reading to check a religious box. Our goal is not to fulfill a religious obligation. We seek to draw near to the LORD as we read each day. Our prayer is to gain insight from His Word, so we avoid the self-destructive foolishness of an unbelieving world. Even more, we meditate on His Word each day so we can become fruit-bearing trees sustained by God's life-giving flow. Again, is that our approach?


Don't be confused by the word "meditate." The term conveys the idea of muttering or talking to oneself. We do more than read God's Word. We prayerfully ponder what it says. We talk it forward into our lives, reminding ourselves of the truth. We allow His Word to become a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. As we do, we are affected by His revelation for the better. So what will we do? Will we listen to the misleading voices in the world around us or direct our hearts to the testimony of God's Word. I choose to be a fruit-bearing tree. And you? 

July 5, 2022

Psalms 47-49; Psalms 84-85; Psalm 87


"Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the LORD Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth (Psalm 47:1–2, NLT)."

 

We continue our reading through the psalms that are attributed to the descendants of Korah. As I noted yesterday, we can't identify specifically who the writers are. We can, however, assume that they are worship leaders within the Jerusalem temple that seek to lead God's people to the LORD. Indeed, several of their psalms are written to draw us into worship—and not passive worship at that. For example, Psalm 47 commands God's people to clap their hands and shout. Yes, both directives are written commands. Standing by quietly is not an option. Why is that? Because of who God is! He is the LORD Most High, the great King of all the earth. God then deserves our enthusiastic worship and praise.


Consider also the testimony in Psalm 84, "With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God (Psalm 84:2, NLT)." I love that description. The worshipper is holding nothing back. With all that is within him, the psalmist joyfully shouts to God. When was the last time we let out a holy shout? I realize our worship services are typically more subdued, but do you think we are missing something? Interestingly, shouting isn't out of place at sporting events or upon the arrival of good news. We practically expect it. When did expressing extreme joy or excitement become out of place within the church? No, I'm not suggesting that we turn our worship services into pep rallies. Nor am I advocating that we work up superficial or insincere emotions. I am, however, questioning whether our general approach to worship is too passive and spectator oriented. Maybe a holy shout would do us some good from time to time--more importantly, it would honor the LORD.


Again, let me be clear. Shouting for shouting's sake is not what I'm promoting. I'm hoping instead that our hearts might become so aware of the goodness and greatness of our God that we cannot contain our emotions. Whether it's a clap, a shout, or lifting our voices in song—whatever it is—let it be a whole-hearted response to the God we love and serve. The LORD deserves nothing less. Here's my suggestion. Take a few moments and think about who God is. Reflect upon His love, mercy, and grace directed toward your life. Envision the wonder of what He has prepared in eternity on your behalf, and then respond to Him. Verbalize your praise and gratitude. Express your excitement. Physically respond to Him in worship. Don't be timid about it. Surprise yourself and give God a holy shout. Who knows? It may become something you find yourself doing more often. Let's give it a try!

July 4, 2022

"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1, NLT)."


Our reading today includes five psalms from the sons or descendants of Korah. We know little about who specifically composed these particular psalms. Some of Korah's descendants are appointed as musicians and worship leaders in the Temple during David's reign (1 Chronicles 26:1-19). Though generally unidentified, their trust and devotion to God are easily recognized—especially during times of difficulty. A survey of the Old Testament reveals that eleven psalms are attributed to these unnamed descendants of Korah (Psalms 42–49, 84, 85, 87).


Which of today's psalms resonated with you? For me, it is Psalm 46. That is no surprise because Psalm 46 has been a great help to me throughout much of my life. The psalm has been my traveling companion as I have navigated some of life's more difficult moments. I can say that sincerely about a number of the psalms because they have enabled me to move through my jumbled emotions toward the LORD. Life will often leave us disoriented and unsteady. The psalms are God's gift to us, designed to give voice to our feelings so we might regain our spiritual footing. To me, Psalm 46 serves that purpose. It is a stabilizing psalm that helps me refocus when life is turned upside down.


With its opening declaration, the psalm seeks to settle our hearts. "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1, NLT)." Yes, life gets crazy. The ground feels as if it is moving beneath our feet. What do we do? Panic? Allow our fear to get the best of us? Or do we focus on the One who is with us? The psalmist points us in the right direction. He would urge us to lift our eyes of faith and confess, "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1, NLT)."


I would suggest (if you haven't already done so) that you confess the words aloud. Give voice to your faith as you face your present challenge, "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1, NLT)." There's something helpful in hearing the words. Indeed, I will often read the psalms aloud for that very reason. Doing so moves my heart to engage my faith more fully. I strongly recommend it as a spiritual exercise.


I also suggest that we frequently recite specific verses or phrases that settle the mind. We have an example of this in verse 1, "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble." Psalm 46:1 is worth memorizing. It can steady our hearts as we encounter the unexpected. When startled by life, we can quickly refocus the heart by saying, "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1, NLT)." Verse 10 is another verse worth memorizing, "Be still, and know that I am God!" Though we are often tempted to panic when life gets crazy, God seeks to reassure us. He appeals to our hearts directly, "Be still, and know that I am God!" The LORD himself seeks to calm our minds and refocus our gaze. Don't fixate on the problem. Focus on the One who is with you. Say the words aloud, "Be still, and know that I am God," for that is God’s appeal to your heart.


So, which of today’s psalms appealed to your heart? How will you carry it with you into the day? I want my traveling companion, Psalm 46, to join me for the day. And you?

July 3, 2022

Proverbs 30-31


"Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10, NLT)."


We have no additional information concerning today's two writers, Agur (whose name means "gatherer") or Lemuel (whose name means "dedicated to God"). Rabbinic teachers speculated that Lemuel may have been another name for Solomon, but there's nothing definitive about that. What we have, however, with the final chapters is a portion of God's revelation that deserves our attention. The last two chapters have been incorporated into the Bible with purpose and design. We should then approach them prayerfully.


What primary lesson stands out from today's reading? As we did yesterday, allow the LORD to highlight a verse or lesson you can carry with you. My attention is drawn to Lemuel's description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. She has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for generations. I refer to her as the Wonder Woman of Wisdom. She embodies so many of the qualities that the book of Proverbs promotes. She is a faithful wife (31:11-12, 23), a diligent manager (31:18, 21, 27), a generous provider (31:27), and a gracious teacher (31:26). She's everything a mother would want for her son's wife. She is a beautiful blending of dignity and strength (31:17, 27). And most importantly, she is a woman who actively fears the LORD. As I mentioned, she is the "Wonder Woman of Wisdom."


And the purpose of the profile? It appears to be a mother's counsel to her son toward finding the right woman to be his wife. She highlights the qualities that should be valued. I'm impressed that Lemuel took his mother's guidance to heart—so much so that he wrote down her words. It's also worth noting that a father would highlight similar qualities in finding the right person for his daughter. He, too, should be faithful, diligent, generous, and gracious, a man of dignity and strength that actively fears the LORD. See the practical parallel?


For today's lesson, however, I'm convinced that the final emphasis is the key—the fear of the LORD. The fear of the LORD is the foundation from which all the other noble qualities arise. Our lives will be lesser if we don't relate appropriately to the LORD. In a sense, the book of Proverbs has come full circle. The book began by emphasizing the importance of "fearing the LORD (Proverbs 1:7)." It now illustrates the noticeable difference that a proper response to God can make. Will it generate the near-perfection of the Proverbs 31 woman? The answer is "No." But it will certainly contribute toward a quality of life that deserves to be celebrated and praised. My focus then is not on finding the person but on becoming the right person who actively fears the LORD. And you?

July 2, 2022

Proverbs 25:1-29:27


"These are more proverbs of Solomon, collected by the advisers of King Hezekiah of Judah (Proverbs 25:1, NLT)."


Hezekiah seeks to move the nation back toward a right relationship with the LORD. He reintroduced worship within the Temple, presenting offerings to God, accompanied by the appropriate fanfare and praise (2 Chronicles 29:18-36). Hezekiah effectively spearheads a spiritual revival as he again elevates God's authority among His people. Regarding the Temple, Hezekiah "obeyed all the commands that the LORD had given to king David through Gad, the king's seer, and the prophet Nathan (2 Chronicles 29:25, NLT)."


During this period, Hezekiah also directs his scribes to organize a collection of Solomon's proverbs. Solomon's wisdom was a gift from the LORD, and Hezekiah's advisers worked to preserve this testimony for generations to come. Today's reading represents the fruit of their labor. Hezekiah's officials diligently copied the wisdom that continues to guide our lives. And our response?


First, let's give thanks to the LORD for His activity in preserving the testimony of His Word. God has worked through countless individuals like Hezekiah's advisers to copy and pass on His revelation for our benefit. Do we appreciate that? We may never grasp the number of people the Lord has used over thousands of years to preserve His Word. Let's pause and give thanks as we hold our Bibles. Yet, may we do something more. From today's reading, let's ask the LORD to impress a lesson on our hearts that we will carry into the day. Of course, the challenge in reading Proverbs is to single out a primary lesson among so many possibilities. That's especially true when we read five chapters at one time. Yet, the point of reading God's Word is to allow it to influence our hearts. Consider then the following approach:


1) Prayerfully read Proverbs 25-29. 2) Place a dot or asterisk beside any of the verses that resonate within your heart in some way. 3) Prayerfully review the verses that received a notation and attempt to reduce the number to five—your top 5 proverbs from today's reading. 4) Word for word, write out your top five on a sheet of paper. Reflect upon each as you do. 5) Finally, ask the Lord to single out one of the five proverbs to carry with you. This will be your proverb for the day ahead. Do note: God worked through Hezekiah's advisers to collect these words of wisdom so that we would do more than read them. Let's determine to do so. Will you do it?


Having already completed the above approach, I placed a dot beside 27 verses, which I prayerfully reduced to my top five, leading to my proverb for the day. Here it is: "When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability (Proverbs 28:2, NLT)." I pray for wise and knowledgeable leaders amid our troubling day. What proverb will you carry with you? 

July 1, 2022

2 Chronicles 29:3-31:21


“In the very first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah reopened the doors of the Temple of the LORD and repaired them (2 Chronicles 29:3, NLT).”


We were introduced to Hezekiah in last week’s readings. At twenty-five, he ascends the throne of his father, Ahaz. His father was an evil, idolatrous ruler who led the nation of Judah toward moral and spiritual decline. Ahaz was more interested in impressing the Assyrian leader, Tiglath-pileser, than honoring the LORD God. He abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, promoting the Assyrian gods instead. As the writer of 2 Chronicles describes,


"The king (Ahaz) took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the LORD’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the LORD, the God of his ancestors (2 Chronicles 28:24–25, NLT)."


Hezekiah moves to reverse the direction of his father’s rule. Within the first month of his reign, Hezekiah reopens the Jerusalem Temple. He is determined to lead the people back to the LORD. The Temple, however, was defiled and in disrepair. Hezekiah promptly summons the necessary priests and Levites to restore and purify the Temple, the altar, its fixtures, and utensils. They were careful to follow the LORD’s instructions. Once completed, the king led the people to rededicate the Temple and themselves wholeheartedly to God. Indeed, it is said of Hezekiah. “In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly (2 Chronicles 31:21, NLT)." These actions would lead the nation into a period of spiritual renewal and revival.


And what of us? I reminded us last month that believers in Jesus Christ are now God’s temple. It is within our lives that the LORD makes His presence known. Paul explains, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NLT).” Is it possible that we have allowed the temple of the LORD (our lives) to become defiled and spiritually ineffective? Paul teaches that our physical actions directly affect the LORD who dwells within us. He warns the Corinthians about the example of sexual sin and its negative impact (1 Corinthians 6:15-18) and calls for believers to conduct themselves appropriately.


What is the state of God’s temple within our lives? Hezekiah recognized that the Temple in Jerusalem was not as it should be. He led the people to remove what should not be present and rededicate what should be. The priests and Levites worked for sixteen days to cleanse and renew God’s dwelling place (2 Chronicles 29:17). Are we willing to pursue a similar work of renewal within us? Dare we invite the LORD to open our eyes to our spiritual condition before Him? What activity or attitude needs to be removed? Do we recognize how the LORD is negatively affected? Also, what about our lives should be rededicated and renewed? In what ways does God desire to make a greater difference—to make His presence known? We should celebrate Hezekiah’s commitment to cleanse and renew the Temple of God. We should also be encouraged to do the same. Will we do so? Will we allow the necessary work to begin, even today?

June 30, 2022

2 Kings 16:19-20; 2 Chronicles 28:26-27; Isaiah 13:1-16:14


"Scream in terror, for the day of the LORD has arrived— the time for the Almighty to destroy. Every arm is paralyzed with fear. Every heart melts, and people are terrified. Pangs of anguish grip them, like those of a woman in labor. They look helplessly at one another, their faces aflame with fear (Isaiah 13:6–8, NLT)."

 

The ruler of Babylon likely felt invincible. Baylon’s power and dominance were under his control. Who could stand in the way of his desires or ambition? The prophet, Isaiah, reminds us that the greatest of global powers are no match against the LORD of heaven’s armies. When God acts against a nation or a people, there is considerable cause for alarm. “Scream in terror,” Isaiah exclaims. The day of the LORD will overwhelm the strongest of hearts. The people will look helplessly at one another, with their faces marked by fear. Who can stand against God’s fury and fierce anger? The answer is, “No one!” When God acts in judgment, the most powerful people and nations are brought humbly to their knees.


Do we understand this? We are blessed as Jesus’ followers to approach the God of the Ages as a loving Father (Matthew 6:7-13). However, we are shortsighted if we lose sight of God’s sovereign authority and power. Our reading today highlights the supremacy of His reign. No nation can defy the LORD of heaven’s armies. Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, and Moab are helpless before Him and are subject to His authority and judgment. The same is true of China, Russia, and the United States. Though various nations and leaders attempt to flaunt their perceived power and might, a single word from the LORD will bring all such endeavors to an end. Consider John’s dramatic testimony in the book of Revelation.


“Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for He judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on His head were many crowns. A name was written on Him that no one understood except Himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed Him on white horses. From His mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations … Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the One sitting on the horse and His army … Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the One riding the white horse (Revelation 19:11–15, 19, 21, NLT).”

 

May today’s reading remind us of who we trust and follow. We serve the LORD of heaven’s armies. Let us commit to following His lead and yield ourselves to His larger purpose and plan. As Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Do I hear an “Amen”?

June 29, 2022

Isaiah 1:21-5:30


"Now I will sing for the One I love a song about His vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a rich and fertile hill. He plowed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with the best vines. In the middle He built a watchtower and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks. Then He waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were bitter (Isaiah 5:1–2, NLT)."

 

The northern nation of Israel (Ephraim) suffers the consequences of its sin. The people reject the LORD and are forced into exile. Will the southern nation of Judah learn from Israel’s mistakes? Will they defy the LORD and risk the same outcome? Isaiah, God’s prophet, appeals to the southern kingdom. He calls for them to repent so they might escape the LORD’s judgment. Will they listen? Today’s reading includes a series of Isaiah’s messages. They represent a mixture of warning along with glimmers of promise and hope. Let’s focus on Isaiah’s message in chapter 5 as God’s people are portrayed as a disappointing vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7).


God plants His people in the land so they would thrive. He expects them to relate faithfully to Him as God so they might reflect His influence and character. God did everything necessary—He plowed the land, cleared the stones, and planted the best vines. And the results? Instead of producing a harvest consistent with the LORD’s activity, the grapes are bitter and unusable. As Isaiah describes, “He expected a crop of justice, but instead He found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead He heard cries of violence (Isaiah 5:7, NLT).” This isn’t the only occasion when God expresses His frustration with Judah as an unproductive vine. Through His prophet, Jeremiah, God also declares, “But I was the one who planted you, choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best. How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine (Jeremiah 2:21, NLT)?”

 

God is disappointed with His people and will respond accordingly. The LORD announces, “Now let me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will tear down its hedges and let it be destroyed. I will break down its walls and let the animals trample it. I will make it a wild place where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed, a place overgrown with briers and thorns. I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it (Isaiah 5:5–6, NLT).” Their refusal to relate to God appropriately would have serious consequences. God, however, would not give up on His vineyard. His solution would be to plant a fruitful, life-giving vine in the future. Consider the testimony of God’s promised Messiah and be encouraged.


“I am the TRUE GRAPEVINE, and My Father is the gardener . . . Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:1, 5, NLT).”


What God’s old covenant people were incapable of doing, Jesus enables His new covenant disciples to fulfill. God will finally have His fruitful branches. And what makes the difference? Of course, the difference is Jesus—the LIFE-GIVING VINE. As His disciples actively relate to Jesus for who He is, they will produce an increasing level of fruit that pleases the Gardener. Their fruit will not be characterized as bitter or wild. Instead, their harvest will be consistent with the One who grants them life. As they abide in Jesus, they will reflect His character and heart. Apart from Him, however, they will be unable to bear the necessary fruit. Jesus is the catalyst and the life.

 

Let’s focus then on the fruit that Jesus desires to produce in us. We read of God’s disappointment with Judah as they fail to reflect His character because they refuse to relate to Him as God. Let’s not make that mistake. May we choose to renew our focus on Jesus, admitting our dependence on Him. May we seek His influence and power so we might reflect who He is to the world around us. There should be a sweetness to our lives that draws attention to Jesus. Join me as we renew our faith in the Lord so we might bear the appropriate fruit.

June 28, 2022

Isaiah 28:1-29 2 Kings 17:5-41; 2 Kings 18:9-12; Isaiah 1:1-20


“Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:5–6, NLT).”


For three weeks, a good portion of our readings has focused on Israel's self-destructive spiritual decline. Sadly, the northern nation began its downward trajectory rather quickly. Their initial king, Jeroboam, led them astray as they began to worship the golden calves at Dan and Bethel. Yet that would only be the beginning. God’s covenant people would soon embrace the false gods of the surrounding nations, and they would continue to do so. God would appeal to them through His prophets—Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea. However, the people (along with their rulers) refused to listen. They remained determined to do things their way. As today’s reading describes,

 

“They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the LORD their God. They rejected His decrees and the covenant He had made with their ancestors, and they despised all His warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves (2 Kings 17:14–15, NLT).”

 

God warned that such actions would be their undoing, but they did not take His repeated words of warning to heart. They chose to suffer the consequences of their disbelief and sin. And suffer they did. The king of Assyria overran the nation, and the population was carried away into exile. Everything God predicted was fulfilled. Every opportunity to avert God’s judgment was tragically ignored, and the nation of Israel experienced a total loss.


Any lessons to be considered? Let’s not lose sight of God’s patience. For over two hundred years, God appealed to His covenant people. They had the opportunity to turn to the LORD again and again. God was more than patient with Israel, but His patience reached an end. That, too, is a lesson to remember. Did the people presume upon the LORD’s mercy and grace? They assumed God would always look beyond their defiance and sin. They were wrong. May God help us take an honest look at our hearts and teach us accordingly. May we likewise learn from God’s continuing interaction with Judah. I leave you with God’s appeal on Judah’s behalf. “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool (Isaiah 1:18, NLT).” How will they respond? And our response to the LORD?

June 27, 2022

Hosea 9-14


“I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and shower righteousness upon you (Hosea 10:12, NLT).’”


God’s covenant people have broken His heart. They have spurned the LORD like an adulterous spouse. The nation has defiled itself by chasing after other gods, and the consequences will be severe. Even so, God still appeals to His wayward people. He urges them to respond in ways that result in blessing instead of judgment, hope instead of fear. He encourages them to plant good seeds to experience an uplifting harvest.


Before the seeds of righteousness can be planted, the hard soil must first be turned over—plowing is required. That’s the language of repentance. The people must recognize that they are wrong so they may change direction and return to the LORD. The problem with repeated sin is that it hardens the heart. It causes the individual to be less sensitive to one's activity, perpetuating the behavior. Even worse, repeated sin can make the person susceptible to greater sin and self-destructive behavior. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, experienced this first-hand. Her unfaithfulness ultimately leads to her enslavement. Gomer literally became a slave because of her actions. For most, their captivity isn’t literal but painfully dominating. Their thoughts and actions are dictated by a self-centered, self-satisfying craving that is never satisfied. The only way to break the pattern is to break up the hard soil of the heart. It requires repentance when the person finally admits the wrong and returns whole-heartedly to the LORD.


The good news is that it's God’s heart for His people to return. Through His prophet, He cries out, “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for your sins have brought you down. Bring your confessions, and return to the LORD. Say to Him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer You our praises (Hosea 14:1–3, NLT).” Though rejected and offended, God still invites His covenant people to return. He desires to restore the repentant, forgive and lift up those whose actions have cast them down. I marvel at God’s love and His willingness to restore.


Is this a lesson we need to hear? Have we been moving in a direction that needs to stop? May God open our ears to His appeal. God desires to shower our lives with goodness and righteousness, but we must first seek the LORD. Will we do so today? Will we do so, even if it requires us to turn over the hard soil? By faith, let’s step toward the LORD and enjoy the harvest of His love.

June 26, 2022

Hosea 2:14-8:14

 

“Its people don’t realize that I am watching them. Their sinful deeds are all around them, and I see them all (Hosea 7:2, NLT).”

 

Every time I read the book of Hosea, a sadness descends. It’s a book that illustrates the nature of Israel’s sin against God in a way that disturbs the heart. It parallels the worst of human betrayals—the adulterous betrayal of an unfaithful spouse. Hosea communicates this message to God’s covenant people in word and deed.

 

Consider first his actions (Hosea 1-3). Hosea’s marriage and family become a symbolic message against Israel’s spiritual infidelity. Directed by God to marry a promiscuous woman (Gomer), Hosea experiences God’s pain firsthand as he witnesses his wife's flagrant cheating and adultery. Some question whether God would ask his servant to defile himself this way. Yet, by doing so, God underscores the seriousness of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The shock and pain that Hosea experiences testify to the depth of God’s emotions toward Israel’s actions. If we imagine that God is emotionally unaffected by their behavior, we deceive ourselves. Consider Hosea’s emotions as Gomer makes a mockery of their marriage. With the birth of each child, we slowly begin to understand the level of offense that God has suffered and the national consequences that result. Imagine yourself in Hosea’s position, and now you can appreciate the emotions of God’s heart toward the moral and spiritual infidelity He endured.

 

What is illustrated by Hosea’s marriage is also communicated by the messages he delivers (Hosea 4-12). Hosea exposes the nation's sin and highlights the LORD’s heartache and disappointment. What was the nature of their sin? The prophet exclaims, “There is no faithfulness, no kindness, no knowledge of God in your land. You make vows and break them; you kill and steal and commit adultery. There is violence everywhere—one murder after another (Hosea 4:1–2, NLT).” Their society is deteriorating morally and spiritually. To compound matters, there is a lack of spiritual leadership to reverse the trend. God attests, “My people are being destroyed because they don’t know Me. Since you priests refuse to know Me, I refuse to recognize you as my priests. Since you have forgotten the laws of your God, I will forget to bless your children (Hosea 4:6, NLT).” The situation is dire, and the consequences will prove severe. Is there no hope? Thankfully, God’s instruction to Hosea becomes the basis of Israel’s future hope.

 

“Then the LORD said to me, ‘Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the LORD still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them (Hosea 3:1, NLT).’”

 

Spurned and rejected, God remains faithful when Israel is not. Though the nation will suffer the consequences of its actions, God is committed to reclaiming and restoring His covenant people. The LORD pledges to pursue them with steadfast love and compassion. Through the prophet, God declares, “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope (Hosea 2:14–15, NLT). God adds, “I will make you My wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you Mine, and you will finally know Me as the LORD (Hosea 2:19–20, NLT).”

 

Yes, there’s a sense of sadness whenever I read the book of Hosea. I’m reminded of how God is affected by the sin and unfaithfulness of His people. He’s a spouse betrayed. Yet, there’s also an uplifting message of hope as I recognize the nature of God’s covenant love. The LORD will remain faithful when we are not. What was true in His relationship with Israel is even more true as God relates to us as Christ’s bride, the Church. Think about that and be encouraged. God’s heart consistently seeks to move us from “the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” Let’s step into the gateway of hope!

June 25, 2022

Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 17:1-14; 2 Chronicles 28:16-29:2; 2 Kings 15: 30-31; 2 Kings 16:10-18; 2 Kings 17:1-4; 2 Kings 18:1-8; Hosea 1:1-2:13



"Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the LORD. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, "Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them." But instead, they led to his ruin and the ruin of all Judah (2 Chronicles 28:22–23, NLT)."


"Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the LORD in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the LORD had given Moses. So the LORD was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did. He revolted against the king of Assyria and refused to pay him tribute (2 Kings 18:5–7, NLT)."

 

Today's reading contrasts two kings—a father and a son. As we have noted previously, King Ahaz struggled to trust the LORD. He responds to Assyria's emerging power by seeking to appease Tiglath-pileser, their king. God appealed to Ahaz through His prophet, Isaiah, to place his trust and confidence in the LORD. Foolishly, Judah's king refuses to do so. Even worse, Ahaz turns to foreign gods to secure his future. He envied Tiglath-pileser's increasing power and began to imitate his worship practices. This was short-sighted on Ahaz's part, provoking the LORD's anger against him and the nation (2 Chronicles 28:22). In contrast, Hezekiah (Ahaz's son) displays a faith worth noting. It is said of him, "There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time (2 Kings 18:5) ." There is nothing mediocre or half-hearted in Hezekiah's response to God. He trusted in the LORD fully and consistently did so.


What made the difference? Had Hezekiah been positively affected by hearing stories about his godly great-grandfather Uzziah? Never underestimate the influence of a godly grandparent or great-grandparent. Or did Hezekiah recognize the emptiness and ineffectiveness of his father Ahaz's pursuits? Sometimes we are moved toward God by the spiritual failures of others. Or perhaps it was the continuing influence of God's servant, Isaiah. He called Ahaz to faith. Would it be a surprise for Isaiah to also appeal to Hezekiah? What made the difference? We cannot say for sure. What is evident, however, is that Hezekiah trusted in the LORD and lived his life accordingly.


And the results? "So the LORD was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did (2 Kings 18:7, NTL." Hezekiah experiences God's activity and blessing in ways his father never knew. The opportunity was there for Ahaz. Sadly, he chose to turn away and suffered the consequences. The question is: who do we resemble more? Like Ahaz, do we imitate the world's approaches? Do we bow our knee of devotion to something other than the God who saves? Or, like Hezekiah, do we actively seek the LORD in all we do? Hezekiah's faith shone brightly and was more than confessional. His trust ordered his steps, positioning the king to experience God's activity and blessing. The contrast between the two kings is stark. Whose example will we follow?

June 24, 2022

Isaiah 8:1-11:16


“Look to God's instructions and teachings! People who contradict His word are completely in the dark. They will go from one place to another, weary and hungry. And because they are hungry, they will rage and curse their king and their God. They will look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair. They will be thrown out into the darkness (Isaiah 8:20–22, NLT).”


People who turn away from God and His Word wander in the dark. God is the source of light. To reject Him is to choose confusion and darkness. Sadly, far too many in Isaiah's day preferred the darkness over the light, and they will suffer the consequences of their choices. Isaiah, however, points to a better day—a promised day that stretches seven centuries into the future. God's prophet declares,


"Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine (Isaiah 9:1–2 (NLT)."

 

Isaiah is pointing us to the promised Messiah—Jesus, the Son of God (Matthew 4:12-16). He will do that often through His prophetic messages. Indeed, Isaiah is directly quoted 66 times in the New Testament. In other words, Jesus did not accidentally come onto the scene. He is the fulfillment of God's long foretold promises. Jesus is the illuminating light that would alter human history. As Zechariah (the father of John) prophesied, "Because of God's tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace (Luke 1:78–79, NLT)."


Of course, this indicates that Jesus is far more than a man. As we noted yesterday, the promised One of God would be called "Immanuel," which means "God is with us (Isaiah 7:14)." In today's reading, the prophet further describes the uniqueness of the promised One when he also announces, "For a child is born to us, a Son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven's Armies will make this happen (Isaiah 9:6–7, NLT)!"


Let's pause for a moment and reflect upon the significance of Isaiah's testimony. Remind yourself: when you respond to Jesus, this is who you are following. He is the promised One who leads us out of darkness into light. He is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” My heart is encouraged by this thought. May your heart be lifted as well.

June 23, 2022

2 Kings 15:32-16:9; 2 Chronicles 27:1-28:15; Micah 1:1-16 2 Kings 16:1-9; Isaiah 7:1-25


"When Ahaz, son of Jotham and grandson of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah, the king of Israel, set out to attack Jerusalem. However, they were unable to carry out their plan. The news had come to the royal court of Judah: ‘Syria is allied with Israel against us!’ So the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm (Isaiah 7:1–2, NLT)."


It is a fearful and uncertain time for the nation of Judah. The Assyrian empire is beginning to assert its regional power and dominance. King Rezin of Syria and king Pekah of Israel forge a military alliance to strengthen their position, pressuring Judah to do the same. However, Ahaz resists, pledging his loyalty to the king of Assyria instead (2 Kings 16:5-9). Judah's king delivers his wealth and that of the temple to Tiglath-pileser to seal the deal. Ahaz is playing politics instead of trusting the LORD.


God sends his prophet, Isaiah, to urge Judah's young king to place his trust in the LORD. Rezin and Pekah are two "burned-out embers" whose days are numbered (Isaiah 7:4-8). Indeed, both kings would die within two years. The need of the hour for Ahaz is one of faith, not political posturing. God appeals through His prophet, "Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm (Isaiah 7:9, NLT)." His trust in the LORD is essential, but the king appears slow to respond. Later, God invites Ahaz to ask for a sign to encourage his faith. "Allow me to prove Myself, "the LORD would suggest. Ahaz refuses, claiming that he would not test the LORD. The truth is: that the king would rather place his trust in his Assyrian alliance. God's prophet responds,


"Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn't it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us'). By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt and honey. For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted (Isaiah 7:13–16, NLT)."

 

God will demonstrate His faithfulness by providing a sign to Judah's king but an even more dramatic sign for us. For Ahaz's benefit, a virgin would get married, conceive, and bear a son whose name would be "Immanuel." This child would be a symbolic reminder that God is with His people and would act on their behalf. For our benefit, the sign would also point us to the promised Messiah of God. Indeed, the "Anointed One" would be miraculously conceived and become the instrument of God's ultimate deliverance. The angel of the LORD explains to Joseph, "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord's message through His prophet: 'Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means "God is with us (Matthew 1:20–23, NLT)"' ".


God provides a sign to reassure the heart—for the king of Judah, but especially for us. Ahaz was slow to respond. Will we be the same? Will we place our faith in the LORD and His ability to deliver? Or will we direct our attention and confidence elsewhere? I trust the "Promised One" of God, Immanuel. And you?

June 22, 2022

Amos 7:1-9:15; 2 Kings 14:28-29; 2 Kings 15:6-29; 2 Chronicles 26:22-23; Isaiah 6:1-13


"The Sovereign LORD showed me a vision (Amos 7:1, NLT)."

 

God calls His servant, Amos, to deliver a message of judgment against the nation of Israel. God's patience has reached an end. The people's persistent idolatry and cruel mistreatment of the poor have provoked the LORD to action. Israel's ruler, Jeroboam II, and the people at large will be held accountable for their defiance and sin. The Sovereign LORD has assessed their spiritual condition and pronounced His judgment against them. As Amos describes,


"I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the LORD said to me, 'Amos, what do you see?' I answered, 'A plumb line.' And the Lord replied, 'I will test My people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end (Amos 7:7–9, NLT).'"


The language of judgment is always unsettling. Yet, it is not without a glimmer of hope for the future. Though the nation will be overrun because of their sin, God points to a better day. The LORD announces, "' I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine. I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,' says the LORD your God (Amos 9:14–15, NLT)." All is not lost. Though the coming judgment is drawing near, God promises to restore His people in the future. His work of mercy and grace will prevail.


Of course, the closing portion of today's reading records the initial events leading toward the fulfillment of Amos' prophecies (2 Kings 14:28-15:29). The Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser, invades and conquers God's rebellious people—carrying many away into captivity. Israel has been evaluated by God's standard (the spiritual plumb line of His Law) and found lacking. The people will now suffer the consequences. And what about us? What would be revealed if God assessed our lives by His holy standard?


We are all grateful that our standing before the LORD ultimately rests upon Jesus' work on our behalf. Does that mean that our actions are no longer relevant? Is it possible we might reach the end of God's patience? That is not to suggest that our salvation is in jeopardy, for it is not. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our actions, however, still have consequences. Read Jesus' letters to the churches of Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 2:12-3:6). God is not blind or indifferent to what we say and do. May the LORD then give us ears to hear what the Spirit says to His churches. I pray we pay better attention than the people of Israel.

June 21, 2022

Amos 1:1–6:14


Our reading today takes us through much of the book of Amos. It records the prophetic ministry of a Judean shepherd, Amos, who delivers a message of warning to the northern nation of Israel. God's appointed spokesperson is not a well-known prophet or priest. He is a layman—an ordinary shepherd and tender of sycamore trees in Tekoa (Amos 7:4). Yet, he is chosen by God to expose the sin of a nation, calling Israel to repentance so they might escape God's judgment.


However, before God's lay prophet addresses Israel's sin, he announces that the LORD will also hold the surrounding nations responsible for their actions. Amos declares, "This is what the LORD says: 'The people have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished!" This message is directed toward the people of Damascus (1:3), Gaza (1:6), Tyre (1:9), and Edom (1:11). The prophet also confronts the populations of Ammon (1:13), Moab (2:1), and Judah (1:4). Each nation is warned that God is not blind or indifferent to their sin—that a divine judgment is coming. Amos sounds the alarm.


The early warnings only set the stage for Amos' primary message against King Jeroboam II and the people of Israel. Amos proclaims, "Listen to this message that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt: 'From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins (Amos 3:1–2, NLT).'" Amos' pronouncement must have startled the people. The nation had been experiencing a period of outward prosperity and peace. The people assumed all was well until God sent Amos to open their eyes.


What is the nature of their sin? God's covenant people worship and serve pagan gods—provoking the LORD their God. They also twist and denigrate God's standard of justice—abusing the poor and vulnerable to their advantage. Though these practices have been present for generations, God's patience is ending. His judgment is coming. The warning, however, comes with an invitation. God appeals, "Come back to Me and live (Amos 5:4, NLT)!" And again, God pleads, "Come back to the LORD and live (Amos 5:6, NLT)!" We learned from the story of Jonah that God is merciful to the repentant. How will the people respond?


What about us? Do you think God is trying to get our attention? As with the nations in Amos' day, we can be sure that God will not allow our country's sin to go unpunished. He remains the God of justice and truth. Is the LORD trying to open our spiritual eyes? It's worth noting that it's not the religious professionals that God uses to sound the alarm in today's reading. It's a layperson named Amos who responds to God's call. What is God saying to your heart, and how will you respond?

June 20, 2022

2 Kings 13:12-13; 2 Kings 14:1-15:5; 2 Chronicles 25:1-26:21; Jonah 1-4


"The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 "Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are (Jonah 1:1–2, NLT)."


How familiar are you with the story of Jonah? God calls a Jewish man by the name of Jonah to go to the Assyrian city of Ninevah to deliver a message of judgment. Jonah doesn't want to go, so he boards a ship for Tarshish in the opposite direction. Can a man run away from God? God causes a severe storm upon the sea. The sailors are terrified while Jonah sleeps in the ship below. The captain awakens Jonah looking for answers, and Jonah informs him that he is the source of the problem. He recommends that they throw him overboard as the solution. Exhausting all other possibilities, the sailors cast Jonah into the sea, and the storm immediately ceases.


Yet, there's more to the story. God provides a great fish to swallow Jonah whole. Though Jonah assumed he would die, he now finds himself miraculously alive within the belly of the fish. The dire circumstances bring Jonah to his senses. He turns to God in prayer. After three days, God speaks to the fish that then vomits God's servant upon the shore. Jonah likely found himself back where he started. God calls his previously reluctant prophet to go to Ninevah to deliver his message. Not surprisingly, Jonah goes. He travels 500 miles to Ninevah and proclaims God's pronouncement of judgment—the Ninevites have 40 days.


Something extraordinary happens. The wicked Ninevites repent. Like Jonah, they, too, turn to God. Not just a few of them, but the whole city, from the greatest of them to the least. Even the king bows before God in repentance. God responds with mercy, and His judgment is averted. End of the story? Not so quick. The story continues with Jonah becoming angry and frustrated that the Ninevites were spared from God's judgment. The book concludes with Jonah sulking, pouting over God's mercy toward the repentant people.


What then do we learn from the 48 verses of this short book? First, the story is more about God than Jonah. The attitude and actions of the LORD are where we should focus our attention. He is the primary character in the account. Second, by focusing on God, we learn He is the God of second chances. We see that miraculously toward Jonah and unexpectedly toward the worst of the worst—the wicked Ninevites. Be encouraged! God is a God of mercy and second chances. Third, God expects His servants to obey and share His concern. The final chapter illustrates this vividly. The book could have ended on an up-note with the Ninevites repenting and experiencing God's mercy. But it doesn't. It concluded instead with Jonah frustrated and disappointed over the Ninevites' escape. The final verses of the book reflect God's appeal to his servant, following the wilting of a plant—Jonah's source of shade. And the LORD says,


"You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city (Jonah 4:10–11, NLT)?"

 

God desires more than obedience from His servants. He wants us to reflect His heart, but do we? I close with three questions: Do we care more about people or things? Do we care more about people or comfort? Do we care more about people or yourself? How we answer the questions will indicate whether we truly understand the book of Jonah. So do we?


June 19, 2022

2 Kings 12:17-13:25; 2 Chronicles 24:23-27


"Then Jehoahaz prayed for the LORD's help, and the LORD heard his prayer, for he could see how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel (2 Kings 13:4, NLT)."

 

Two lessons stand out from today's readings. First, sometimes God intervenes despite His people. The northern nation of Israel had been far from the LORD. The current king, Jehoahaz, followed the rebellious example of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat. He did what was evil in the sight of God, leading the people to do the same. As a result, the nation suffered a series of military defeats. It is at this point that the story takes an encouraging turn. Jehoahaz calls out to the LORD in prayer, and God responds in mercy. He provides a deliverer to defeat the Arameans, and God's people are free—at least for a period.


God's response to Israel is instructive. The people's actions deserved judgment. However, God was predisposed to mercy. It's as if He was waiting for someone to call out, to seek His help. In this case, the less than commendable Jehoahaz would call upon the LORD. Let's be encouraged by this. Sometimes we assume that only the noblest, the holiest of individuals, will have sway with God. In actuality, the humble of heart are the ones who discover God's grace and provision. It's not a matter of earning God's favor. Instead, it is more about relating to God for who He is and receiving His favor. The New Testament writer James explains it this way: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, NLT)." Be encouraged. We can and should turn to the LORD.


A second lesson might also be observed from the interaction between Elisha and Jehoash. On this occasion, the king of Israel, Jehoash, appears to settle for less than what God was willing to do. Elisha instructs Jehoash to shoot an arrow out the east window. This would have been in the direction of Aram, Israel's enemy. Elisha proclaims,"This is the LORD's arrow, an arrow of victory over Aram, for you will completely conquer the Arameans at Aphek (1 Kings 13:17, NLT)." Elisha then instructs Jehoash to strike the ground with the remaining arrows. Whether that means for Israel's king to hit the ground with the arrows or shoot the arrows is not clear. The point, however, is that God is offering Jehoash the possibility of multiple victories. Each arrow represents a potential success. Regrettably, instead of seizing five, even six arrows (victories), the king hits the ground with only three. He fails to open his eyes to what could be. Do we make the same mistake? Does God offer a greater measure of grace and activity toward our lives than we seek? Do we strike the ground with three arrows when six are available? I don't want to over-spiritualize the story. However, I do wonder if, like Jehoash, we settle for less.


Two lessons: Sometimes, God intervenes despite us as we humbly turn to Him. And sometimes, we settle for fewer victories than could have been. Which lesson challenges us the most today, and how will we respond?

June 18, 2022

2 Kings 10:32-12:16; 2 Chronicles 22:10-24:22


"When Athaliah, the mother of King Ahaziah of Judah, learned that her son was dead, she began to destroy the rest of the royal family (2 Kings 11:1, NLT)."


Moral and spiritual darkness persists in Judah following the death of Jehoram, a wicked king. His son, Ahaziah, would maintain the darkness during his brief reign of one year. He would die due to God's actions against Joram, the king of Israel. It is a distressing time in Judah's history. Upon hearing about Ahaziah's death, his mother acts swiftly to seize power for herself. Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, systematically eliminates the remainder of the royal family. She would have no contenders as she claims the throne. For seven years, she leads Judah further into idolatry and spiritual darkness. However, all is not lost. Ahaziah's infant son Joash is shielded from his grandmother's evil scheme. The future king would remain protected for seven years within the safety and under the godly influence of the Temple. The high priest Jehoiada would not only preserve Joash's life. He would raise the would-be king in the teachings and admonitions of the LORD. There's a flicker of light in the darkness.


Jehoiada eventually acts to elevate Joash to the throne. He anoints the rightful heir to become the king of Judah at the young age of seven. Athaliah is unable to prevent the transfer of power and is subsequently put to death. A descendant of David is again seated upon Jerusalem's throne. Jehoiada, recognizing the moment's significance, leads the people and the child king into a time of covenant renewal before God and with one another. It is a holy moment for the nation as they step toward the LORD. This would usher the nation of Judah into a period of blessing and spiritual light. God's people would again live as God's people. This would be true for much of Joash's forty-year reign. Sadly, following the death of the chief priest Jehoiada, Joash would be swayed to reverse many of the priest's reforms. The king would again open the door for idolatry to reenter the land, provoking the LORD. I'm puzzled by Joash's actions. The LORD appeals to Judah's king through His prophets and Zechariah, Jehoiada's son, to no avail. Without Jehoiada's godly influence, Joash is too susceptible to worldly influences.


And our lessons for the day? Be encouraged. God has a way of preserving the light in the darkest hours. Though we may not see how everything works together, the Athaliahs of our world do not have the upper hand. We can be assured that God is positioning people like Jehoiada to be at the right place and time. God is ever-working to introduce the light in the darkness. Today's reading also reminds us that a godly voice in our lives is crucial. The difference in Joash is undeniable. I don't understand why Joash was unwilling to listen to Zechariah or the prophetic voices the LORD directs his way. What I know is this: the absence of a godly influence in Joash's life ended badly. Nor is it healthy for us. Let's keep that in mind and allow God to speak in our lives through a godly voice or two. It makes a difference. I know who mine are. And you?

June 17, 2022

2 Chronicles 21:8-22:9; 2 Kings 8:23-10:17


"Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. No one was sorry when he died. They buried him in the City of David, but not in the royal cemetery (2 Chronicles 21:20, NLT)."


Could there be a sadder obituary than Jehoram's? He reigns as king of Judah for eight years, he dies, and no one is sorry. What did he do wrong? Why would no one grieve for their former king? An explanation is provided in Elijah's letter to Jehoram. He writes, "This is what the LORD, the God of your ancestor David, says: You have not followed the good example of your father, Jehoshaphat, or your grandfather King Asa of Judah. Instead, you have been as evil as the kings of Israel. You have led the people of Jerusalem and Judah to worship idols, just as King Ahab did in Israel. And you have even killed your own brothers, men who were better than you. So now the LORD is about to strike you, your people, your children, your wives, and all that is yours with a heavy blow (2 Chronicles 21:12–14, NLT)."

 

Jehoram's death represents a direct act of judgment on God's part. His sins are intolerably brazen, mirroring the sins of Ahab and the kings of Israel. Jehoram built pagan shrines in the hill country of Judah and led the people away from the LORD. God refused to ignore his defiance. The nation soon became vulnerable to outside invaders, and the king ultimately became afflicted with a terminal disease. God held Jehoram accountable. Similarly, God's displeasure is also directed toward Ahab's son, Joram. Indeed, the whole of Ahab's family would experience the hand of God's judgment through the actions of Jehu (Israel's future king). Jehu's measures are brutal, leaving me personally uncomfortable. Yet, his actions remind us again that God's judgment is justifiable and unsettling. We've been confronted by the harsh reality of God's judgment in past readings, and now we wrestle with it again.


And our lesson? We should consistently remind ourselves that idolatry is a serious matter before God. To pretend that God is unaffected by such defiance and sin is to cover our eyes to the truth. God consistently warned the children of Israel about the consequences of such behavior. At Sinai, God explained,"You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands (Exodus 20:4–6, NLT)."


Jehoram, Ahab, and Joram refused to trust and honor the LORD. They turned away from Him instead of turning to Him. They chose judgment instead of blessing. The consequences of their choices are troubling, but they are as God promised they would be. May their negative examples remind us of God's holiness and justice and move us to trust and honor the LORD appropriately. 

June 16, 2022

2 Kings 5:1-8:15


"But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: "Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy (2 Kings 5:10, NLT)."

 

The biblical accounts of Elisha's miracles are many. God works through His prophet in undeniable ways. Yet, one of Elisha's more instructive miracles involves the healing of an Aramean commander. Naaman was a warrior of considerable reputation who faithfully served the king of Aram—leading successful raids against Israel. As great as Naaman was, he was not immune to illness. Leprosy afflicted the soldier's body. Interestingly, Naaman hears about God's servant, Elisha, through a young Jewish girl that had been captured during a previous raid. As difficult as it must he been for the Aramean leader, Naaman travels to Israel searching for a miracle.


The proud commander eventually finds his way to the home of God's prophet, but Elisha does not greet Naaman personally. He sends instructions through his servant, Gehazi.


"Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy (2 Kings 5:10, NLT)."


Naaman reacts angrily to Elisha and his instructions. He feels insulted and initially turns away. His officers appeal to their commander, urging Naaman to reconsider and act upon the prophet's instruction. Naaman finally concedes and humbly steps into the Jordan. He proceeds to dip his body into the water. Once, twice, three times, the great Aramean warrior obeys. Four, five, six, and seven times he submits to what the man of God requires. And the result? "And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed (2 Kings 5:14, NLT)!" Behold, the power of God.


As I indicated, this particular miracle is instructive. First, the power is with God, not with the prophet. Elisha delivers the Lord's instruction, but the LORD cleanses Naaman's body. The ability to heal is God's. Second, humility is required. Naaman's hesitation could have cost the commander. It could have prevented him from experiencing God's cleansing power. Thankfully, for his benefit, the appeals of his officers move Naaman into the water as he humbly acts upon Elisha's instructions. Finally, Naaman had to embrace the promise fully. His cleansing did not occur with the first or second dip. Nor was it a gradual renewal with each additional plunge. Instead, it is a test of Naaman's faith. The leprous man must act upon the promise. To his credit, he does, and Naaman experiences the power of God.


May we learn from his example. Think about it regarding our cleansing from sin. The power is God's to forgive and cleanse. Through Jesus, His Son, God can remove the guilt and stain of the worst of sinners (John 1:29). Humility, however, is required. The problem remains unless we acknowledge our need and seek God's provision. Pride has prevented many a sinner from experiencing God’s cleansing. Finally, we must embrace God's promise fully. Consider Jesus' words to Nicodemus, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God's one and only Son (John 3:16-18, NLT)." Our solution is not to dip into the Jordan. Our solution is to turn to Jesus, our Savior. We must embrace the promise of life He extends. As we do, forgiveness and cleansing are ours. Behold, the power of God!


June 15, 2022

2 Kings 2:1-25; 2 Kings 4:1-44


“As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11, NLT).”

 

How do we comprehend what the writer of 2 Kings describes? Elijah and Elisha are walking along in the wilderness when a fiery chariot dramatically separates God's two servants. Once separated, a whirlwind physically lifts Elijah from the ground and carries the LORD's prophet into heaven. Just like that, Elijah the Tishbite transitions from his life on earth into the realm of God. How do we make sense of this? My mind is flooded with questions. Why is Elijah permitted to escape death? What's the significance of the fiery chariot and horses? Why does a whirlwind lift Elijah to heaven? What is Elijah feeling while all of this happening? And finally, what does he experience when he enters the kingdom of God? The truth is, we will have more questions than answers regarding Elijah's experience. That said, let me highlight two considerations.


First, this extraordinary moment highlights the uniqueness of Elijah's life. There's a quality to his faith that commends him to God. A quick survey of the Bible indicates that only two people physically escape death—Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and Enoch (Genesis 5:24). It is the quality of Enoch's faith that results in his heavenly promotion (Hebrews 11:5). We can also be sure that the quality of Elijah's faith results in the same. Though we may not be able to explain the significance of the whirlwind, we can appreciate the power and importance of Elijah's response to God. Faith is essential for those who please God (Hebrews 11:6). It enabled Elijah to pray in ways that affected the weather (James 5:17-18). It enabled Enoch to walk closely with God for 300 years. How does your faith affect you?


Second, when I read of Elijah's dramatic departure, my mind drifts to the events surrounding Jesus' glorious return. Paul writes,


"And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, NLT)."

 

Like Elijah's experience, my mind is astonished and amazed by what Paul describes. Jesus appears, a shout and trumpet ring out, the dead in Christ are gloriously raised, and the believers in Jesus who are alive at that moment are dramatically caught up to meet the LORD in the air. There's no mention of a whirlwind, but like Elijah, these men and women of faith are lifted to glory without experiencing death. Like Enoch and Elijah, God simply welcomes them home. Again, I probably have more questions than answers when I reflect upon Paul's description, but my heart is encouraged. Whether God raises me from the dead or lifts me up as one still alive, I'm confident that I will meet the Lord in the air as He receives His own. And the basis of my confidence? It's not in myself but in the One who is coming. I place my faith in Jesus and all He has done on my behalf. And you? As we marvel today over Elijah's departure. Let's also daydream about our promised day when we, too, will experience the dramatic!

June 14, 2022

1 Kings 22:41-50; 2 Kings 1:1-18; 2 Kings 3:1-27; 2 Chronicles 20:31-37


"Jehoshaphat was a good king, following the ways of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the LORD's sight. During his reign, however, he failed to remove all the pagan shrines, and the people never fully committed themselves to follow the God of their ancestors (2 Chronicles 20:32–33, NLT)."

 

The testimony of Jehoshaphat in Scripture is both good and bad. The son of Asa walked undeniably in the ways of the LORD. His faith moved him toward God in personal ways. Yet, Jehoshaphat also stepped short of what could have been—what should have been. Though the king of Judah drove out the shine prostitutes that morally defiled the nation, he didn't remove the shrines themselves. He tolerated their presence, allowing their corrupting spiritual influence to persist. Jehoshaphat's story is perplexing. He represents a life full of promise but settling for less than God desired.


What went wrong? To me, Jehosophat was susceptible to cultural compromise. Don't misunderstand. There's nothing about Jehoshaphat's life to suggest that he faltered morally or spiritually. He lived a life of character and faith before the LORD, and that should be noted. However, there are instances where he enters into arrangements or partnerships that create instability. For example, he forges a political relationship with Israel's kings in ways that leave him vulnerable—first with Ahab (2 Kings 22) and then with Ahaziah, Ahab's son (2 Chronicles 20:37). Jehoshaphat exposes himself to harm and loss in ways that could have been avoided.


Perhaps the most devastating compromise on Jehoshaphat's part involved marrying his eldest son (Jehoram) to the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. This action would have far-reaching consequences. Instead of influencing Israel toward God, Jehoram would come under the destructive` influence of an idolatrous culture and society. Did Jehoshaphat step short of destroying the pagan shrines in Judah to accommodate the union between his son and Ahab's daughter? Whatever the motivation, this action on Jehosphat's part would begin a devastating downward spiral. As today's reading described, "Jehoram followed the example of the kings of Israel and was as wicked as King Ahab, for he had married one of Ahab's daughters. So Jehoram did what was evil in the LORD's sight (2 Kings 8:18, NLT)."


I believe Jehoshaphat was a good, godly man, but he compromised his convictions in ways that put into motion effects that reached far beyond his days. I'm sure he thought he was doing the right thing at the time. His example, however, challenges me to look honestly at my actions and potential accommodations. And you? How might things have been different if Jehoshaphat had benefitted from Paul's counsel to the Corinthians? "Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14, NLT)." Paul's words are timely and relevant. May God enable us to live godly in Christ Jesus and avoid partnerships that introduce forces beyond our control. When tempted to do so, may we remember the story of Jehoshaphat.

June 13, 2022

1 Kings 22:10-53; 2 Chronicles 18:9-20:30


"But Micaiah replied, 'As surely as the LORD lives, I will say only what the LORD tells me to say (1 Kings 22:14, NLT).'"


Ahab, the king of Israel, is determined to reclaim Ramoth-gilead from the Arameans. He enlists Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to join him in his military campaign, but Jehoshaphat suggests they seek the LORD's counsel before proceeding (1 Kings 22:5). In response, Ahab summons 400 prophets to address the question, "Should I go to war with Ramoth-gilead, or should I hold back?" They unanimously proclaim Ahab's future victory. Zedekiah, one of the king's prophets, later fashions iron horns to symbolize Ahab's victory and declares, "This is what the LORD says: With these horns you will gore the Arameans to death (1 Kings 22:11, NLT)!"


Jeshoshaphat is not yet convinced. Perhaps he sensed the self-serving nature of Ahab's prophets, so he asks if there is still another who could be consulted (1 Kings 22:8). At this point, we're introduced to God's servant, Micaiah, who Ahab distinguishes from the others. His counsel is described as troublesome to Israel's king.


What is Micaiah's response? He's encouraged by the king's messenger to agree with the other prophets. But Micaiah boldly declares, "As surely as the LORD lives, I will say only what the LORD tells me to say (1 Kings 22:14, NLT)." And what does the LORD have to say concerning this matter? Through a prophetic vision, Micaiah warns Ahab that proceeding with the campaign would result in his defeat and death. A second vision also warns the king that the counsel of the other prophets is intended to lead Ahab to his doom. Is Ahab grateful for the warning? Certainly not. He arrests and imprisons Micaiah and proceeds with the campaign to his demise.


What is the lesson for us to consider? We need more Micaiahs in our day. We need individuals more committed to delivering God’s message than impressing the rich and powerful or being popular with the crowds. The Apostle Paul warns that a day will come when the Church will be weakened because God’s people will stop seeking the truth. He writes, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths (2 Timothy 4:3–4, NLT).” Do we see the parallel with Ahab? Are we making the same mistake?


And the solution? Pray for God to raise up clear and courageous voices in our day. We desperately need to hear God’s truth amid the confusion and the chaos. We need messengers more interested in moving us to God than satisfying our self-centered desires. Pray for a new generation of Micaiahs. Pray also for responsive hearts to the truth. God warned Ahab of his defeat, and Ahab proceeded anyway. Pray that God will not only send His messengers but that our hearts will respond appropriately. Pray for humble, receptive hearts. Ahab’s final days can be instructive if we learn from his mistake. I pray that we do so!

June 12, 2022

But the LORD said to Elijah, "Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He will be at Naboth's vineyard in Jezreel, claiming it for himself. Give him this message: 'This is what the LORD says: Wasn't it enough that you killed Naboth? Must you rob him, too? Because you have done this, dogs will lick your blood at the very place where they licked the blood of Naboth (1 Kings 21:17–19, NLT).'"

 

Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, are two of the more villainous people in the Old Testament. They not only lead Israel toward the idolatrous worship of Baal and Asherah but are also morally corrupt. They are two people you would not want to know, much less emulate. The tragic story of Naboth illustrates their sinful, self-indulgent ways. Naboth owned a vineyard adjoining Ahab's palace, which the king of Israel coveted. Ahab offers to purchase the property or provide a fair exchange, but Naboth refuses. He did not want to be the descendant who sold the family's ancestral land.


Ahab became visibly disappointed by Naboth's refusal, so much so that his wife (Jezebel) intervenes to secure the property. She implements a scheme in which Naboth is falsely accused of cursing God and the king. The contrived allegation tragically results in Naboth being stoned outside the town. It was an evil plot, eliciting a pronouncement of judgment against the king and his family from the LORD. It's at that point the story takes an unexpected turn. Ahab repents. Based on prior behavior, we would not have expected the wayward king to humble himself in this way. Indeed, Ahab had been the evilest of Israel's kings (1 Kings 16:30). And yet, Ahab now humbles himself before the LORD—tearing his clothing, dressing in burlap, and fasting. The king even sleeps in burlap as he mourns before the LORD (1 Kings 21:27). And the result? God responds in mercy to the most notorious of Israel's kings. God announces, "Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime (1 Kings 21:29, NLT)."


Let's think about this for an additional moment. Is anyone beyond the LORD's compassion if Ahab can experience God's mercy? Tomorrow's reading will reveal that Ahab's future decisions will still result in his military defeat and death. But for this moment, we should observe the scope of God's mercy. God's heart is merciful to the repentant, even to Ahab. Let's then be encouraged by that consideration. More importantly, let's freely accept God's mercy directed toward our lives as we humble ourselves before Him. Our God is a merciful, compassionate God. Let's turn to Him in faith.

June 11. 2022

1 Kings 17:8-20:22


"How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!" But the people were completely silent (1 Kings 18:21, NLT).


One of the great scenes in biblical history is the spiritual showdown at Mount Carmel. The LORD had been attempting to get the people's attention. A drought had been imposed upon the land for three years through the prophetic ministry of God's servant, Elijah. However, the difficulty appears to have caused little change among the people. That was especially true of Israel's king, Ahab. Instead of leading the people to humble themselves, Ahab and the people remain unmoved.


Directed by the LORD, Elijah escalates the situation by challenging Ahab and a host of false prophets to a defining test. At issue, who is the God of Israel? Would God's covenant people bow their knees of devotion before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the Great "I Am" who manifested His glory at Sinai? Or would the idolatrous children of Israel declare their continuing allegiance to the pagan gods of the land—Baal and Asherah. The time for their decision had arrived. The contest would occur at Mount Carmel and guarantee an indisputable winner. The showdown involved the following: two bulls would be brought forward for sacrifice. The 450 prophets of Baal would prepare an altar and appeal to their god. Elijah, the lone prophet of the LORD, would prepare his altar and appeal to his God. Whichever sacrifice is consumed by a heavenly fire would be declared the winner—the God of Israel.


Elijah invites the prophets of Baal to go first. They prepare their altar, plead with their God for an extended period, and even become frantic in their efforts—cutting themselves with knives and swords. But nothing happens. There's not even a spark, much less a consuming fire. Do note: the size of their number, the sincerity of their hearts, and the zeal and length of their petitions are to no avail. I mention that because I fear that sometimes we emulate their example more than Elijah's. We wrongly conclude that we will prevail in prayer if we're significant in number, pray for a long time, and become impassioned, even desperate in our praying. But like the prophets of Baal, the fire does not fall.


We should learn instead from Elijah. First, Elijah repairs the altar (1 Kings 18:30). Don't overlook the importance of this action. We will not see God's power at work as long as the altar of the LORD is in disrepair. The altar for us represents the state of our lives—the condition of His Church. We cannot expect God to glorify His name when our lives are not as they should be. Elijah repairs the altar, and so must we. Second, Elijah steps toward the LORD in faith. Three times he saturates the sacrifice with four large jars of water. Elijah places his trust entirely in the LORD. There would be no doubt that the LORD acted in power. Finally, Elijah submits to God's purpose and plan. Without religious theatrics, he humbly prays, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant. Prove that I have done all this at Your command. O LORD, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that You, O LORD, are God and that You have brought them back to Yourself (1 Kings 18:36–37, NLT)."

 

Look closely at Elijah's prayer. His prayer is more about God than about himself. Can we always say the same? It's more about God's will than the prophet's desires. Again, can we say the same? There's nothing elaborate about Elijah's prayer. He seeks what God seeks, and he does so for God's glory. How might our prayers prove more effective if we did the same? And the result? "Immediately the fire of the LORD flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, "The LORD—He is God! Yes, the LORD is God (1 Kings 18:38–39,NLT)!"

 

Will we learn from the showdown at Carmel? Are we willing to repair the altar of our lives? Will we approach the LORD in faith? Will we submit ourselves to God’s will as we humble ourselves in prayer? Will we see the fire of God’s glory fall? May it be so, O LORD, may it be so!

June 10, 2022

1 Kings 15:16-17:7; 2 Chronicles 16:1-17:19


"There was constant war between King Asa of Judah and King Baasha of Israel. King Baasha of Israel invaded Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent anyone from entering or leaving King Asa's territory in Judah. Asa responded by removing all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the Temple of the LORD and the royal palace. He sent it with some of his officials to Ben-hadad son of Tabrimmon, son of Hezion, the king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus, along with this message: "Let there be a treaty between you and me like the one between your father and my father. See, I am sending you a gift of silver and gold. Break your treaty with King Baasha of Israel so that he will leave me alone (1 Kings 15:16–19, NLT)."


Yesterday we focused on the example of Asa and the positive difference he made during much of his reign as king of Judah. It was said of the noble king that "his heart remained completely faithful to the LORD throughout his life (1 Kings 15:14)." Yet, today's reading illustrates (like previous individuals of faith) that Asa would not prove perfect in his responses to God. Indeed, toward the end of Asa's life, he displays a noticeable lapse of faith. What went wrong? Asa and the nation were threatened by the aggressive actions of king Baasha of Israel. Instead of turning to the LORD, Asa turns to the king of Aram for a solution. Judah's king empties the royal treasury and the treasury of the LORD to enter into a treaty with Ben-hadad—eliminating Aram's political arrangement with Israel. The maneuver appears to work on the surface, but at what expense?


God sends Hanani to expose Asa's lack of faith. He informs the king, "Because you have put your trust in the king of Aram instead of in the LORD your God, you missed your chance to destroy the army of the king of Aram (2 Chronicles 16:7, NLT)." Asa should have known better. He had experienced God's power and provision in the past (2 Chronicles 14:9-15). Why did he falter now? That's a relevant question. It illustrates how quickly one can lose sight of God amid life's problems. Asa did what came naturally, but God expected more of the great-great-grandson of David. As Hanani announced, "The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. What a fool you have been (2 Chronicles 16:9, NLT)!" Asa faltered when he should have trusted, and his example reminds us that we can just as easily do the same.


What challenges currently test our hearts? Where will we focus? Do note: faith does not imply that we become passive spectators. God will often work through our efforts. The issue is our focus. Do we seek the LORD's wisdom? Do we trust the LORD's provision? Do we act according to His leadership or attempt what seems best? In this instance, Asa adopts a worldly solution when God has other plans. He should have asked the LORD, and so should we.


Let me make one final observation. Asa's failure to trust the LORD is disappointing but not defining. It was costly but did not negate the overall testimony of his life. 1 Kings 15:14 says of Asa that "his heart remained completely faithful to the LORD throughout his life." That's instructive in light of today's account. "Complete faithfulness" does not imply perfection. It portrays the general direction of Asa's life. The imperfect king of Judah was committed to the LORD in a way that distinguished him from his predecessors and should still encourage us. In a sense, even his imperfection offers hope. Think about it. An embarrassing lapse of faith did not define his testimony, nor should it define ours. There is more to our story than a weak moment or two. Let's keep that in mind if we look over our shoulders with regret. Like Asa, may the larger telling of our story be one of renewed faith and determination to seek and follow the LORD—including today. Come on! Let's seek Him today!

June 9, 2022

1 Kings 13:1-15:34; 2 Chronicles 12:13-15:19


"Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of the LORD his God (2 Chronicles 14:2, NLT)."

 

In today's reading, the testimony concerning king Asa is in stark contrast to the other rulers in Judah and Israel. Asa's faith in the LORD leads him to respond distinctively. What sets him apart? Unlike his predecessors (Rehoboam and Abijah), Asa "removed the foreign altars and the pagan shrines. He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles (1 Chronicles 14:3, NLT)." Asa's faith is personal and real. He actively removes the defiling influences that Solomon had introduced so many years earlier. Just as significantly, Asa "commanded the people of Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and to obey His law and His commands (1 Chronicles 14:4, NLT)." Asa (by his words and actions) lead the people back into a right relationship with God. He even removes his grandmother, Maacah, from her position as queen mother because of her flagrant idolatry. Asa takes God's commands to heart and responds to the LORD appropriately.


And the results? It's worth noting that Asa's actions produced an extended period of peace for the southern nation of Judah (2 Chronicles 14:5). This allows the people to rebuild, fortify, and flourish. It can fairly be said that the people benefited from Asa's godly influence over his 41-year reign. This is in contrast to the influence of his grandfather, Rehoboam, who led the nation in the opposite direction. With the example of these two rulers, in particular, we have two men who adopt two noticeably different approaches, which result in two recognizably different outcomes.


What might we learn from their two approaches? Our actions matter. Though the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that sometimes bad things happen despite the right actions, our godly influence still matters. Our choices facilitate or diminish God's work among us. We open the way for God's favor or position obstacles that stand in the way. The question is: Which of the two will be descriptive of us? Personally, I want to follow Asa's example. It is said about Asa that "his heart remained completely faithful to the LORD throughout his life (1 Kings 15:14)." What a beautiful summary of a person's life! And how is such a life achieved? Be assured. It isn't achieved by accident. It required a daily commitment on Asa's part to relate to God for who He is, resulting in a lifetime of faith. Let's then renew our focus for the day ahead. Let's choose to enter the day (like Asa) as a person of faith and allow God to make a positive difference through us. What do you say?

June 8, 2022

Ecclesiastes 11:7–12:14; 1 Kings 12:1-33; 2 Chronicles 10:1-11:17

 

“So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of the LORD, for it fulfilled the LORD's message to Jeroboam son of Nebat through the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh (1 Kings 12:15, NLT)."


King Rehoboam chooses foolishly and follows his young advisors' counsel in today's reading. He adopts a heavy-handed approach toward the people, inciting the nation's revolt (1 Kings 12:1-20). His actions, however, would also contribute to the fulfillment of God's earlier pronouncement against Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13). By worshipping the gods of his foreign wives, Solomon's sinful actions would have negative consequences on the reign of his son. The prophecy of Ahijah concerning Rehoboam would prove true. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel would be torn away from Solomon's heir and given to his servant instead. (1 Kings 11:31). It would be a painful and disappointing outcome resulting from Solomon's disobedience.


The unfolding events are also instructive. God's pronouncement of judgment against Solomon didn't require lightning bolts from above. It simply involved God removing His influence so that Rehoboam would choose foolishly. The decision to bear down on the people was the king's to make. In a sense, God gave Rehoboam over to his desire, and that desire would become the instrument of God's judgment.


Pay attention to this correlation. The discipline or judgment of the LORD doesn't always require an overt act on God's part. Sometimes God lets us have our way, and we then experience the consequences of our making. The Apostle Paul describes the same pattern in the book of Romans when God hands the people over to their sinful desires, resulting in their self-destruction (Romans 1:24-32). We should keep this in mind as we weigh our decisions and choices. Sinful choices can put into motion influences that have lasting effects. We should then relate to God appropriately.


Of course, that's the concluding emphasis in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon appeals, "Fear God and obey His commands, for this is everyone's duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, NLT)." I'm convinced that Solomon comes to this realization toward the end of his life. Perhaps he pleads for us to respond to God appropriately because he is painfully aware of his failure and the pending consequences. If so, it only adds to the force of his appeal. Let's then take his words to heart and walk humbly before the LORD—for our sake and those who follow.

June 7, 2022

Ecclesiastes 7:1-11:6


"So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun (Ecclesiastes 8:15, NLT)."

 

Did you recognize your "This Is Good" moments yesterday? Did you pause and give thanks to the LORD? As I noted in yesterday's devotion, the "Teacher" of Ecclesiastes repeatedly encourages us to enjoy life's simple moments, so we don't miss out on life altogether. Solomon learned through his experience that a person could be so busy pursuing education, work, wealth, or pleasure that one misses out on living. He compares it to chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:17). Solomon's advice is that we learn to appreciate life's beauty, goodness, and relationships (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). That doesn't mean that we don't seek to be educated, work hard, or become successful. It means, instead, that we keep life in proper perspective. We choose to appreciate each day's "TIG" moments and honor the LORD as we do.


This is all the more important as life's unpredictability confronts us. Things don't always turn out the way we expect. As Solomon admits, "The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time (Ecclesiastes 9:11, NLT)." Realizing that this is true tests our faith on some level. Based on Proverbs, we expect good things to happen to the wise and bad things to the foolish. Yet, life sometimes produces the opposite. We discover that the Book of Proverbs offers predictable patterns, not guarantees—the unexpected can still occur. Solomon adds, "People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy (Ecclesiastes 9:12, NLT)."

 

And the solution? Resist overanalyzing life's hardships and disappointments. Yes, learn what you can, but appreciate that some difficulties may prove beyond our comprehension. As Solomon appeals, "Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life (Ecclesiastes 7:14, NLT)." That's a helpful reminder. Life will include unpredictable elements. And our response? Resist taking the hardship personally. Focus instead on life's "TIG" moments. Value the simple goodness of everyday activity, enjoy the people around you, and relate to God for who He is. That is Solomon's advice, and I suggest we embrace it. 

June 6, 2022

Ecclesiastes 1:12-6:12


"I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God (Ecclesiastes 3:10–13, NLT)."


The book of Ecclesiastes is written to help make sense of life. Solomon (at the end of his life) scrutinizes much of what people elevate as important, exposing the inadequacy of education, work, pleasure, or wealth as ends unto themselves. Though we might discover some measure of benefit or enjoyment from these pursuits, they fail to produce the lasting fulfillment or satisfaction that one might expect. Indeed, Ecclesiastes' so-called "Teacher" testifies to the utter futility of life's most common endeavors, and his conclusion is far-reaching. It's like chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:17).


It would be easy to become disheartened or disillusioned by Solomon's observations. He systematically discredits the very things upon which many build their lives. However, his purpose in writing is not to discourage but to offer a better approach. In a recurring way throughout the book, the "Teacher" recommends that we learn to embrace the simple goodness of life and relate to God appropriately. For example, he writes.


"So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from Him (Ecclesiastes 2:24–25, NLT)?" And later adds, "So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God's purpose is that people should fear Him (Ecclesiastes 3:12–14, NLT)."


Do we hear his practical appeal? Far too many miss life altogether through their ardent pursuit of education, work, pleasure, or wealth. They become so fixated on climbing perceived ladders of success that life races by, and they miss living. Even more seriously, they lose sight of God in the process. Personally, I believe Solomon is admitting his own mistakes toward the end of his life. The so-called "wisest of men" failed to live wisely, and he doesn't want us to do the same. Will we take his appeal to heart?


Some years ago, I developed a helpful approach based on Solomon’s insight. I began to watch for what I describe as “TIG” moments. What are they? They represent “THIS IS GOOD” moments in the course of a typical day. We choose to appreciate life’s simple goodness amid the chaos and confusion. We celebrate a completed task, an enjoyable meal, or well-spent time with family or friends. We recognize that, if we look for them, there are “TIG” moments to be acknowledged and enjoyed. And here’s the deal: by appreciating life’s “TIG” moments, we come to enjoy life in ways that we might not have expected. Does it make life any less confounding? Probably not. However, it does help us view life in ways that will enhance the journey, and teach us to relate to God appropriately. So, will you recognize your ”TIG” moments in the day ahead? It won’t happen by accident. Commit yourself to do so, give thanks to God as you recognize them, and see if it doesn’t encourage you through the day. Will you do so? You may be surprised by the difference it makes!  

June 5, 2022

1 Kings 11:1-43; 2 Chronicles 9:29-31; Ecclesiastes 1:1-11


"Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh's daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, 'You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.' Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway (1 Kings 11:1–2, NLT)."

 

God blessed and prospered Solomon's reign in noticeable ways. God did so in response to His promises to David and Solomon (2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 22:9-10; 1 Kings 3:12–14). The nation had never experienced such a long period of peace and success. Yet, Solomon also benefitted from the wisdom that God directed through his life. The LORD enabled Solomon to rule with an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:12–14) so that the nation could prosper. We can fairly say that Solomon's reign was the high mark of Israel's history (2 Chronicles 9:22–23).


However, Solomon was not without sin. As today's reading exposed, he knowingly disobeys the LORD in a critical area. It's one thing for us to be familiar with God's wisdom. It's something else for us to act upon it. Though Solomon allowed God's wisdom to influence his governance as king, he disregarded God's commands for his personal life. He openly defies God by marrying countless foreign wives, which leads him eventually to worship their pagan gods—turning Solomon's heart away from the LORD.


Solomon's actions are disgraceful and without excuse. He did the very thing God warned him not to do (1 Kings 11:10). God's appointed ruler compromised himself, and it would not be tolerated. The LORD announces that Solomon's spiritual adultery would result in most of the nation (ten tribes) being handed over to one of Solomon's servants. Interestingly, it was for David's sake that the nation as a whole would not be torn away. In retrospect, it was because of God's relationship with David that Solomon experienced much of his prosperity. And now, God's further loyalty to David would enable Solomon to complete his reign and would also leave the tribe of Judah for Solomon's descendants.


And what do we learn? Again, we are reminded that those who God richly blesses can disappoint Him. Solomon knew better, but he sinned against the LORD anyway. His example should serve as a precautionary tale. Knowing what to do is not enough. We must act upon God's wisdom. It's troubling that the "wisest man in the world" behaves so foolishly. Solomon's failure should instruct our hearts. Yet, I'm also encouraged by God's faithfulness to His servant David. Solomon is the beneficiary of God's promises to his father. I highlight this because God's disposition toward us is based on our relationship with His Son, Jesus. We are the active beneficiaries of God's grace because of Him. Of course, that is not a license to sin, but we should be encouraged that Jesus will always influence God's actions toward us. That will never change, even on our worst of days. Now, that is something that should lift the heart.

June 4, 2022

Song of Songs 1-8


Kiss me and kiss me again, for your love is sweeter than wine (Song of Solomon 1:2, NLT).

 

The Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon) is unique among the biblical writings. It appears to be an anthology of love poetry, which has caused considerable discussion. What's a collection of love poems doing in the Bible? Some answer the question by suggesting that the poems are allegorical in nature. For example, some early Jewish scholars interpreted the romantic interaction to portray God's love for the nation of Israel. Later Christian writers, however, offered another possibility. They suggested that the love sonnets illustrate Christi's love for the Church. Though God's love for Israel and Christ's love for the Church are biblically true, that's likely not the book's point. The Song of Songs may be what it appears to be—a collection of Hebrew love poems.


Why then is it included in the Bible? The answer may not be as complicated as we think. Romantic love was not an accidental development on humanity's part. God fashioned Adam and Eve to discover the intimacy and goodness of a life-long romantic relationship. God declares as much when He says,


"It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him". . . So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the LORD God took out one of the man's ribs and closed up the opening. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man. "At last!" the man exclaimed. "This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called 'woman,' because she was taken from 'man.' This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one (Genesis 2:18, 21 -24 NLT).

 

This was the Creator's doing, and the Song of Songs is a poetic celebration of the joy and desire of romantic love. There's no reason to allegorize it. Instead, allow the ancient poetry to remind us that romantic love is beautiful and good as we pursue it according to God's wisdom and plan. Though it's doubtful that we will romantically recite the poetry, it hopefully can move us to confess our love and affection in appropriate ways. Indeed, that would be my suggested application for today's reading. If married, celebrate the love that you share and complement one another. We have an entire book of the Bible that points us in that direction. Let's take the hint, and do something about it. God will be honored as we do.

June 3, 2022

Proverbs 22:17–24:34


"Don't befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul (Proverbs 22:24–25, NLT)."


Do you think that the stress of the pandemic has caused people to be angrier and more short-tempered? I perceive that it has. The heightened fear and uncertainty of the past two years have taken a toll. Patience and goodwill have eroded. Sadly, the world appears an angrier place, making Solomon's warning more timely and relevant. He writes, "Don't befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul (Proverbs 22:24–25, NLT)."


People are known and formed by the company they keep. That's true in childhood. It remains true in adulthood. We must, as Solomon suggests, take responsibility with whom we associate because it will make a positive or negative difference. Consider an earlier proverb, "Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble (Proverbs 13:20, NLT)." Do you see the correlation?


We are influenced by the company we keep, which is especially true of angry people. Anger is an infectious and destructive emotion. It will spread throughout a situation and a group if unaddressed. We've observed that firsthand during the pandemic. Though we cannot always control when we become angry (for it's an emotional reaction), we must avoid those who actively feed and justify their anger. Otherwise, we will become like them.


Will we do so? I recognize that this sounds easier said than done. We may find ourselves in work situations, or other settings where dealing with angry people is unavoidable. In such cases, we should approach the interactions prayerfully, seeking to counteract the negative influence. However, Solomon's concern is about our closer associations, where we relax and let our guard down. He warns that when angry people characterize our inner circle, we will soon become one of them. And that is not a good thing. "People with understanding control their anger," Solomon explains, and "a hot temper shows great foolishness (Proverbs 14:29, NLT)." Let's not prove foolish in our actions or our associations. What do you say?

June 2, 2022

Proverbs 20-22


"The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way (Proverbs 20:24, NLT)?"

 

There's much about life that we will not understand. Though we try to fit our circumstances together like a carefully crafted jigsaw puzzle, making sense of some situations will evade us—even frustrate us. So what do we do? Solomon recommends that we allow for the mystery. "Why," Solomon asks, "try to understand everything along the way?" That's a fair question. The English Standard Version translates the question more bluntly: "How can man understand his way?" That implies some level of inadequacy, even impossibility.


As that is true, the New Living Translation is helpful. "Why try to understand everything along the way?" In other words, "Relax. God is still working even when we are confounded and confused." That is Solomon's overall point. He reminds us that the LORD directs our steps when life becomes bewildering. God sees what we do not see. God knows what we do not know. And, be assured, God will accomplish His purpose and plan, despite the unexpected. As Solomon attests, "the LORD directs our steps."


I know. That's not how we want it to be. We want our lives to be easily understood and explained. Quite frankly, life isn't that simple. With a global population of 7.9 billion, our existence has a glorious complexity that involves so many variables and dynamics that our limited minds will not comprehend. But that's part of the problem. We think it is only about us. We identify ourselves as the center of the universe, and we're not. Our lives are intricately connected and influenced by factors far beyond our control or mastery and certainly beyond our understanding. That said, it's not beyond the LORD's, and it will not thwart His larger work and plan. So, as Solomon would advise, let's allow for the mystery. Will we do so? I leave you with an appeal from a previous reading,


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5, NLT).”

 

May God help us to do so as we move toward the unknown.

June 1, 2022

Proverbs 17-19


"It is safer to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than to confront a fool caught in foolishness (Proverbs 17:12, NLT)."


Solomon frequently speaks of the would-be fool in the book of Proverbs (66 times in NLT). Who does he have in mind? Don't think of someone who is mentally dull or unaware. Instead, think of someone who is spiritually disinterested or rebellious. The "fool" from Solomon's point of view is a person who rejects God and His influence. They live as if they know what's best and defy God accordingly. Life, from their perspective, is all about them and what they make of it. Sound like anyone you know? Is it potentially descriptive of you? Again, Solomon has much to say about the foolish. His descriptions include:


1) Fools despise God's wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7).

2) Fools think their own way is right (Proverbs 12:15).

3) Fools deceive themselves (Proverbs 14:8).     

4) Fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence (Proverbs 14:16).

5) Fools feed on trash/folly (Proverbs 15:14).

6) Fools have no heart for learning (Proverbs 17:6).

7) Fools only want to air their own opinions (Proverbs 18:2).


Once more, does it sound like anyone you know? I raise the question because I fear we are increasingly surrounded by fools—as Solomon defines the term. More and more, people are living as if God and His wisdom are irrelevant. Even worse, they display little patience toward anyone who would suggest otherwise. As Solomon warns, "It is safer to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than to confront a fool caught in foolishness (Proverbs 17:12, NLT)." Have you encountered any angry bears lately? They are all over social media if you promote God's wisdom online. It's ironic. A culture that elevates tolerance as its highest virtue will not tolerate those who espouse a biblical morality or worldview. It pains me to admit this, but it's true.


And Solomon's counsel? We must be discerning in what we say and when we say it. Understand that the "fool" will be unwilling to consider God's perspective or wisdom, so don't jump into an argument for argument's sake. Solomon later adds, "Don't waste your breath on fools, for they will despise the wisest advice (Proverbs 23:9, NLT)." Ignoring Solomon's advice will only stir up an angry bear.


Does that mean we become silent on moral and spiritual issues? Absolutely not! It means that we learn to be spiritually discerning. From our knees in prayer, we look for the right time and place to address our day's moral, social, and spiritual issues. We don't spout off or lose our cool. Instead, we look to speak the timely word in love so that Christ might work in and through our words and actions. The key is spiritual discernment. As Jesus would teach, "Don't waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don't throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you (Matthew 7:6, NTL)." Sound familiar? So don't stir up the bear unnecessarily. May God teach us the appropriate discernment so we might respond in ways that may make a lasting difference.

Proverbs 14-16


"There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death (Proverbs 14:12, NLT)."

 

We live in a day when people increasingly choose their own paths. It's all about doing what one feels, following one's preference or desire. It's reaching such a level that our culture has begun to question long-held convictions and beliefs. Of course, this is not a new approach. Solomon reminds us that people have been choosing their own paths for generations. This isn't a recent phenomenon. Doing what "seems right" has been a self-destructive approach for millennia.


Solomon warns us to avoid choosing foolishly. It's serious enough that he repeats himself two chapters later. "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death (Proverbs 16:25, NLT)." Did Solomon forget what he had previously written? Certainly not. Solomon repeats himself because he understands our fallen sinful nature. Since Adam and Eve pursued what seemed right in the garden of Eden, their descendants have been doing the same. It didn't work out for the original couple. It will not turn out well for us.


Despite humanity's failings, the Creator still reaches out to extend a better way. God appeals to our hearts to trust Him, to embrace His wisdom. In a sense, that's Solomon's reason for writing much of Proverbs. He's providing God's practical insight and guidance. However, none of that matters as long as we go with what we feel. It's incumbent upon us to seek God's wisdom above our own. If what "seems right" aligns with God's revelation, we should be encouraged. However, if our thinking is contrary to God's Word, will we submit to His will?


Solomon urges us to trust the LORD enough to follow His lead. It's to our benefit if we do. As Solomon declares, "Fear of the LORD is a life-giving fountain; it offers escape from the snares of death (Proverbs 14:27, NLT)." The choice is ours. Will we do what seems right? Or will we choose what is right? God has given us His Word, so we recognize the difference. I choose to go with His Word, and you?

May 30, 2022

Proverbs 11-13


"Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing (Proverbs 12:18, NLT)."


Of all the verses you read today, what stood out to you? What lesson appealed to your heart? As I emphasized yesterday, let's carry at least one verse into the day. What was it for you today? For me, it was Solomon's reminder that our words matter. Indeed, there's power in what we say—for either good or bad. We need to keep this in mind as words bombard us in every direction. And, more times than not, they're intended to beat us down more than build us up. Here's the question. Do we contribute to the problem, or do our words impart healing and life? I want my words to bring healing, and you?


Of course, the book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the words we speak. Here's a summary:


1) Remember that there's power in what you say (Proverbs 12:18; 18:21).

2) Develop the habit of listening before you speak (Proverbs 18:13; 29:20).

3) Engage your heart before your mouth (Proverbs 15:28; 16:23-24; 25:11).

4) Realize that sometimes less said is better (Proverbs 10:19; 17:27-28).

5) Recognize that sometimes nothing said is a mistake (Proverbs 27:5-6).

6) Be aware with whom you speak (Proverbs 9:8; 23:9).

7) Don't forget—tone matters (Proverbs 15:1, 4).

8 ) Keep in mind—slander is never a good thing (Proverbs 10:18; 12:22).

9) When all is said, your words are your responsibility (Proverbs 21:23).


How many of our relational problems would immediately improve if we would take Solomon's counsel to heart? Will we do so? Today, let's do more than read the Proverbs. Let's commit ourselves to living God's wisdom—starting with our words!

May 29, 2022

Proverbs 8-10


"Listen as wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice (Proverbs 8:1, NLT)!"

 

Do we hear God's wisdom calling? Yesterday we were warned against voices that lure us away from where we should be (Proverbs 7). Today, Solomon seeks to open our ears to the voice of the One we should trust and follow. In Proverbs 8, God's wisdom is symbolized as a noble woman who appeals to our hearts, offering hope and life. As Solomon describes, "For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death (Proverbs 8:35–36, NLT)."


Sadly, some view God's wisdom as too restrictive. They claim it limits or takes away from life. In actuality, the Creator's insight is the path to life. God is for us, not against us. His Word turns the light on in the darkness, so we find our way forward. As Solomon explains, "Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer (Proverbs 9:11–12, NLT)."


Again, I ask, "Do we hear God's wisdom calling?" Just as importantly, will we act upon it? Let's be honest. Reading three chapters of Proverbs can be like getting a sip of water from a water hydrant. There are so many potential applications, so much so that we do nothing with any of them. As we continue reading in Proverbs, ask the LORD to highlight a verse that you will carry with you. Do more than reading God's wisdom. Act upon it. Look again at today's suggested chapters. Prayerfully identify a lesson and do something with it. Wisdom is calling!


May 28, 2022

Proverb 5-7


"There are six things the LORD hates—no, seven things he detests (Proverbs 6:16, NLT)."


The book of Proverbs is filled with Solomon's helpful counsel and instruction. He seeks to address life's significant areas of importance and concern—from faith to family to work. We will be hardpressed not to be impacted by each day's reading. Solomon's words offer practical insight into everyday life. My challenge will be to narrow our focus to an emphasis or two, three, or even seven.


Today, let's direct our attention to the seven things that the LORD hates. Anything the LORD hates, I think we should likely avoid. Don't be put off by the word "hate." Think "dislike intensely." There are certain things that the Creator dislikes in the strongest of terms because it works against who He created us to be. He desires the best for us. What then makes Solomon's list? They are: "Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family (Proverbs 6:17–19, NLT)."

 

Solomon describes who we do not want to be from head to toe. He portrays the attitude and actions of a godless scoundrel. Each quality must be avoided, for they are detestable to God and should be offensive to us. Why are they such a big deal? Because they reflect a person who rejects God's character and wisdom. In contrast, maybe it would be helpful to reverse the list and consider the qualities that God loves and enjoys. That would be humble eyes, a truthful tongue, hands that help another, a heart that plans to do good, feet that move in the right direction, a faithful witness, and a person who builds up and strengthens the family.


Which of the two lists do we more resemble? It's worth remembering that we're more successful in saying "no" to the wrong pursuits when actively saying "yes" to the right ones. Let's choose then to say "yes" to the qualities that reflect the Creator's influence and character. We'll discover that it's better for us and those around us. So what do you think? Will the LORD hate or love the direction we choose? I choose love, and you?

May 27, 2022

Proverbs 1-4


"Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7, NLT)."


Solomon is renowned for his wisdom. Of course, his knowledge and understanding are not self-achieved. He received his perspective from above, from the LORD Himself. It was a gift of God. That is crucial because Solomon will invite us to seek the same through his writings in Proverbs. The question is: "Will we seek the LORD and His wisdom."


With each day's reading in Proverbs, much could be emphasized. However, I direct us to a foundational verse. As Solomon states, "Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7, NLT)."


We need to be sure and understand Solomon's point. Wisdom is not something we achieve like an educational degree. Biblical wisdom rises from the heart of one who recognizes God for who He is. That's the idea behind the "fear of the LORD." To fear Him is not to dread Him or tremble nervously before Him. To "fear the LORD" is to relate to God as God. It is to elevate Him above ourselves. It is to turn to Him as the One who possesses a perspective greater than our own. As Solomon appeals,


“My child, listen to what I say, and treasure My commands. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1–5, NLT).”


Again, if we are to benefit from the book of Proverbs, we must lock into this basic lesson. The goal is not to apply the mind but to direct the heart. We turn to God as God. We trust His perspective more than our own, so much so that we follow His lead. That's what it means to fear the LORD. Will we do so? In closing, consider Solomon's familiar commands,


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. Don't be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:5–7, NLT).”


Will we do so? I pray that we do!

May 26, 2022

1 Kings 4:1-34; Psalm 72, Psalm 127


"Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted (Psalm 127:1, NLT)."

 

Life was good across the kingdom. As 1 Kings portrays, "The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink (1 Kings 4:20, NLT)." Yes, it was a good time to be a citizen under Solomon's reign. His reputation, and that of the nation, continued to increase and grow. Yet, as I noted yesterday, the key to their success was the LORD. He's the One who promised to prosper Solomon and the people, and God delivered on His Word.


To Solomon's credit, the king understood this as true. Psalm 127 states as much. The key to building a house, guarding a city, or enjoying a family is the blessing of the LORD. He's the ultimate provider and sustainer. He is the source of life. Is this how we see Him? Look again at Solomon's opening declaration,


"Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted (Psalm 127:1, NLT)."


The New English Version translates the verse, "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." I don't want to labor in vain. Do you? I freely acknowledge my dependence upon the LORD. And you?


Early in my ministry, I would write at the top of my sermon notes: "Unless the LORD builds the sermon, I labor in vain." Based upon Solomon's words, I wanted to remind myself that the key to my success was the LORD. That's true of a house, a sermon, a career, a family. It's true of one's marriage, reputation, character, and future. Unless the LORD builds it, we labor in vain. Do we see the simple wisdom of Solomon's words? Insert whatever is of importance or value into the statement: "Unless the LORD builds the ___________, I labor in vain." It reminds us where our true source of help is found. It teaches us to turn to the LORD, rely on the LORD, and walk humbly with Him. He is our ultimate provider and sustainer. He is our source of life.


Let's remind ourselves of this as we enter the day. The LORD's even our protector amid life's uncertainties. Solomon adds, "Unless the LORD protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good (Psalm 127:1, NLT)." Again, are we getting the point? I pray God opens our eyes to His sustaining presence and work so we will live humble, dependent, and grateful lives. The truth is: "Unless the LORD builds our lives, we labor in vain." May we renew our focus and faith as we move forward with the LORD.

May 25, 2022

1 Kings 9:15-10:13; 2 Chronicles 1:14-17; 2 Chronicles 8:1-9:28


"So King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king on earth. Kings from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him (2 Chronicles 9:22–23, NLT)."


The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob prospered His covenant people in ways that may be difficult to comprehend. God's blessing of Solomon and the nation reached extraordinary heights. They enjoyed a period of financial growth and expansion, unlike anything that had previously been known. Indeed, Solomon's wealth and success exceeded even that of his father, David. King Solomon and the nation rose dramatically in prestige and influence. The testimony of the Queen of Sheba expresses it well,


"Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn't believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told (1 Kings 10:6–7, NLT).


To what do we attribute Solomon's success? Is it the result of his wisdom and insight? Or was it the combination of economic and military forces converging in the right place at the right time? How do we explain this prolonged period of prosperity and achievement? The answer is not complicated. Plainly stated: "It is the promise of God." That's right. This unprecedented period in Israel's history is directly related to God's promise on Solomon's behalf. Consider God's earlier pledge to the young king following Solomon's request for wisdom.

 

"Because you have asked for wisdom in governing My people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life (1 Kings 3:11–13, NLT)!


Do we see the correlation? It doesn't diminish Solomon's contribution to the success. Instead, it reminds us that even Solomon's wisdom was a gift from the LORD. We should then observe the connection and take note. As much as we are tempted to claim credit for our accomplishments, it may be wiser to acknowledge God's hand at work. Yes, we can marvel at Solomon's achievements. I choose instead to marvel at the LORD, who is faithful to His promise. I also find my heart bolstered because God will prove faithful to His promises on my behalf. Granted, the LORD has not promised that I would be the wisest and most prosperous of individuals. Nevertheless, He has promised to make a difference in my life that will have eternal ramifications. My heart is encouraged by that thought. I hope yours is as well. So, let's be impressed by Solomon's accomplishments, but let's give credit where credit is due—the hand of a faithful God who keeps His promises! May the LORD be praised!

May 24, 2022

1 Kings 8:54-9:14; 2 Chronicles 7:1-22


Then if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, NLT).


This represents one of the great verses in all of the Bible. It has consistently appealed to my heart. We should recognize that the verse is an answer to a prayer. King Solomon voiced the prayer as God's people dedicated the temple to the LORD. The day was filled with acts of worship, sacrifice, and praise, and God responded by dramatically manifesting His presence within the temple. It was a day to remember. Yet, amid the festivities, Solomon lifts a prayer to God (2 Chronicles 6:14-42), and it is not your typical dedicatory prayer—at least not to me. Amid Solomon's appeal, the king places a series of scenarios before the LORD. The potential events focus on the people's future failures and the consequences that result. For example,


If Your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against You, and if they turn back and acknowledge Your name and pray to You here in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people Israel and return them to this land You gave to them and to their ancestors (2 Chronicles 6:24–25, NLT).

 

Solomon's question is relevant. When Your people mess up (and Solomon assumes they will), but they return to You, O LORD, will they find forgiveness? Again, Solomon highlights a series of possibilities, but his driving concern is the same throughout. Will God forgive and restore His repentant people? Surprisingly, the prayer goes unanswered for an extended period. Indeed, years pass with no apparent response until God finally speaks up in the middle of the night. What is God's response? The answer is "Yes." Forgiveness and restoration would be available as God's people relate to Him appropriately. And what are the prescribed conditions? Look at them again,


Then if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, NLT).


Look closely and be amazed. God doesn't ask His people to do anything extraordinary. He doesn't require them to jump through a variety of religious hoops. God asks His people, instead, to resume relating to Him for who He is. Nothing more than that and certainly nothing less. He calls them back to a life of faith and devotion.


Examine God's instructions: He asks His people to humble themselves (as they should always do), to pray and seek His face (again, as they should naturally do), and then return to Him as they turn away from their sins. All the conditions or requirements characterize what we typically consider the life of faith. That's significant. It's not about making up for our mistakes. It's about acknowledging them and choosing to walk with God again. We should be encouraged by God's response. Sometimes we fear that our failures have created an insurmountable chasm that can never be crossed. God says, "Humble yourselves, turn to Me, and walk with Me again." It is as simple and direct as that. Of course, simple does not always mean easy. Letting go of the sins that led us away will frequently prove painful. Yet, God extends the invitation in the form of a promise. "Turn to Me. Forgiveness and restoration can be found." 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse full of promise. May we take God's words to heart and humbly step toward the LORD and the life He supplies.

May 23, 2022

1 Kings 8:1-53; 2 Chronicles 5:1-6:1-42


"When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the LORD. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the LORD filled the temple of the LORD (1 Kings 8:10–11, NLT)."


There are specific points in biblical history when I wish I could have been present. To me, this is one of those occasions. It reminds me of when God manifested His presence upon the tabernacle's completion. As the book of Exodus describes,


"Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34–35, NLT)."

Do you see the parallel? If there was any doubt that God was pleased with the temple's construction, His response said it all. The LORD demonstrates His approval as He did in the wilderness. God manifests His glory, and all activity stops. The people are affected by God's presence—at the tabernacle and the temple. To have been there must have been unforgettable.


Do you long for a similar manifestation? Are there occasions when your heart cries out, "Make Your presence known, Lord? Make Your presence known!" That has been the longing of my heart. Amid the darkness and confusion of our present day, my heart yearns for God to manifest His presence among us in fresh and dramatic ways. Please understand me. My prayer is not for God to put on a show. It's not about being impressed or entertained. Instead, it's about being impacted by the fullness of God's presence so that we, too, are affected.


Interestingly, when God dramatically pours out His presence upon the early church, it doesn't stop their activity. His presence moves them out (Acts 2). Indeed, the disciples leave the upper room empowered by God's Spirit. Do note: their service doesn't cease when God shows up. In some ways, their true service only begins. And that is my longing. Yes, I yearn for God to manifest His presence anew, not so that we would have a story to tell. I seek a fresh outpouring of God's Spirit among us so that the LORD might make a greater difference through us. And you? Do you yearn for the same? If so, would you begin to pray with me toward that end? Let's pray toward our upcoming times of worship on Sunday. May God be so pleased with our gathering that He fills the Temple—which means our lives. May the LORD Himself stir our hearts to seek the glory of His presence!

May 22, 2022

1 Kings 7:1-51; 2 Chronicles 3:15–4:22


Solomon also built a palace for himself, and it took him thirteen years to complete the construction (1 Kings 7:1, NLT).

 

Do you think Solomon went overboard concerning his palace? The construction of his residence took noticeably longer than the Temple due to the size of the estate. Thirteen years compared to seven and a half; 11,250 square feet compared to the 2,700 square feet of the temple floor. Of course, by today's standards, Solomon's palace is noticeably smaller than the rich and powerful residences in our day. For example, the Ground Floor, State Floor, and residence floors of the White House are approximately 55,000 square feet. Did Solomon overdo it? There's no indication of God's displeasure toward Solomon's actions, and some scholars suggest that it further illustrates God's blessing upon Solomon and the nation.


However, the greater focus of today's reading is on the fashioning of the various temple furnishings. It's reminiscent of Bezalel's crafting of the holy articles for the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 31). This time, Solomon enlists Hiram from Tyre for the task. He is described as "full of wisdom, understanding, and skill (1 Kings 7:14)." He replicates many of the earlier articles prescribed by God (Exodus 26-30). A noticeable addition involved the construction of a great round bronze basin called the Sea (2 Chronicles 4:2). It was estimated to hold 17,000 gallons of water. It added to the grandeur and the glory of the Temple setting. When you factor in the amount of gold, silver, brass, and precious stones incorporated into the artistic design, it must have breathtaking. Solomon's palace may have been larger, but it was not more glorious. The Jerusalem Temple exceeded what anyone could have imagined. Solomon ensured that the permanent location for the ark of the covenant would be worthy of the LORD they worshipped.


And a lesson from today's reading? The lesson that stands out to me is this: God deserves our best. As impressed as we might be with Solomon's palatial home, it does not compare with the cost or beauty of God's Temple and its holy articles. Everything about it was designed to highlight God's transcendence and glory. Nothing could compare with it, and perhaps nothing should. Solomon guaranteed that everything about their place of worship would awaken their senses to the wonder of God. He knew that God deserves our best, and so should we. God deserves the best of our time and effort, the best of our resources and treasures. God deserves the best of who we are. Do you agree? I pray today's reading might cause us to respond to God for who He is in fresh ways. May He be glorified by our response.

May 21, 2022

1 Kings 3:16-6:14; 2 Chronicles 2:1-3:14


Solomon decided to build a Temple to honor the name of the LORD (2 Chronicles 2:1, NLT) . . .

 

Construction on the Temple has now begun. King David dreamed that a structure worthy of the LORD would be erected in Jerusalem. Though God would not permit David to construct the Temple himself, he did all he could to prepare for that future day (1 Chronicles 22). Generous contributions were organized and collected to facilitate the project. It would be more than simply another building or structure. As Solomon informs King Hiram of Tyre,


"This must be a magnificent Temple because our God is greater than all other gods. But who can really build Him a worthy home? Not even the highest heavens can contain Him! So who am I to consider building a Temple for Him, except as a place to burn sacrifices to Him (2 Chronicles 2:5–6, NLT)?"

 

Solomon's words reflect the appropriate humility and insight. We can be assured that the Temple would not be an ordinary building. It would reflect the otherworldly beauty and majesty worthy of their Redeemer and God. In human terms, it would represent an architectural masterpiece. And in spiritual terms? It would serve as a permanent place of meeting where the people of God might experience God's divine presence and power. Solomon did not overlook the significance of the building or the moment.


And what about us? My focus is not on a physical Worship Center or building. Instead, my attention is directed toward each of our lives. If you did not know it, we are now God's holy temple. The Eternal God manifests His presence within our bodies. Consider Paul's appeal to the church in Corinth,


Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NLT).

 

The question is, "Do we properly reflect God's glory and power?" Solomon was determined to build a magnificent structure because of the greatness of our God. Do we aspire to do the same concerning our daily conduct? Do we seek an inward beauty and dignity worthy of the LORD we serve and follow? Do people detect an otherworldliness to the character and direction of who we are? We are the Temple of God. Do we live as such? From today's reading, let's admire Solomon's determination to construct a suitable building, but let's do something more. Let's approach our lives with the appropriate attention and seriousness because we know who we are. May God's glory and majesty be on display for all to see. As Solomon attests, this must be a magnificent temple. May it be so!

May 20, 2022

Psalm 83; 1Chronicles 29:23-25; 2 Chronicles 1:1-13; 1 Kings 2:13-3:15


"That night the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, "What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you (1 Kings 3:5, NLT)!"

 

Solomon sits upon Israel's throne and enjoys God's favor upon the nation. He must already feel blessed above all men. Yet, God extends an offer that must have amazed the young king. He pledges to give Solomon whatever he asks. How about that offer? Can we imagine the possibilities? There are so many directions our desires might take us. Solomon refuses to be self-serving. He chooses to focus on what would best serve the nation and responds,


"Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern Your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours (1 Kings 3:9, NLT)?"


Solomon (like his father) will not prove to be a perfect man, but his response to God's offer is impressive. He could have fixated on selfish desires. Yet, Solomon chooses to direct his thoughts toward the nation's larger good. He asks the LORD for wisdom so he might serve God's people most effectively. Again, let me state that his request is impressive—especially in the light of the self-absorption of our day.


However, I'm not the only one impressed. God rewards Solomon's selfless act. "Because you have asked for wisdom in governing My people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! (1 Kings 3:11–13, NLT)."


Solomon humbles himself by placing the nation's needs first, and God elevates Solomon by blessing him beyond measure. Is there a lesson to be learned? Consider Jesus' words, "The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:11–12, NLT)."

 

Let's learn from Solomon's example!

May 19, 2022

“Turn us again to Yourself, O God. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved (Psalm 80:3, NLT).”

 

God's people are not in a good place. They are like a flock without a shepherd, a vineyard without protection. They find themselves vulnerable and exposed, and it is their fault. They turned away from the LORD their God and now suffer the consequences. They recognize their error and repeatedly cry out,


“Turn us again to Yourself, O God. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved (Psalm 80:3, NLT).”

 

“Turn us again to Yourself, O God of Heaven's Armies. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved (Psalm 80:7, NLT).”

 

“Turn us again to Yourself, O LORD God of Heaven's Armies. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved (Psalm 80:19, NLT).”

 

The recurring appeal is the same. The people plead with the LORD to turn them to Himself. The request is not for God to turn the circumstances around. The prayer, instead, is for God to turn His people around. That is insightful on the part of the psalmist. Too often, we focus on the circumstances instead of our hearts. We fixate on the physical at the expense of the spiritual. Psalm 80 would teach us to address the spiritual and then allow God (in His time) to respond to the physical. The objective is to walk again with God and trust His activity on their behalf. The emphasis on fellowship is highlighted with each petition—"Make Your face shine down upon us." The language is reminiscent of Aaron's High Priestly blessing.


"May the LORD bless you and protect you. May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you. May the LORD show you His favor and give you His peace (Numbers 6:24–26, NLT)."

 

The focus is not on improved circumstances. The appeal is for a deeper, more vibrant fellowship with God—to experience His smile. It's worth noting that each request on the part of the people becomes slightly more emphatic as the description of God is expanded. They appeal to "God", to "God of Heaven's Armies," to "LORD God of Heaven's Armies." The people's faith and focus upon the LORD become more urgent and clear.


And what about us? Do you sense that our nation needs God's help? And what is the spiritual condition of the church across our country? Are we praying for a change of circumstances or a change of heart? Perhaps we should begin to plead, "Turn us again to Yourself, O LORD God of Heaven's Armies. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved." Will we intercede on behalf of God’s people? Will we intercede on our behalf? May Psalm 80 turn our faces toward the LORD so we might experience His fellowship in fresh ways.

May 18, 2022

Psalm 75-78


"God says, 'At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked (Psalm 75:2, NLT).'"

 

What do the psalms reveal about God? He is revealed to be our creator, sustainer, protector, and redeemer. In Him, we experience goodness, love, power, and truth. Light and life are found in Him, and because of Him, we rejoice. Yet, Psalm 75 reminds us of something more. The God who saves is also the God who judges. The God who rescues is also the God who brings justice. We must keep this in mind.


God appeals, "I warned the proud, 'Stop your boasting!' I told the wicked, 'Don't raise your fists! Don't raise your fists in defiance at the heavens or speak with such arrogance.' " For no one on earth—from east or west, or even from the wilderness— should raise a defiant fist (Psalm 75:4–6, NLT)." Do we hear His warning? Do we understand that God's judgment is real?


Far too many refuse to acknowledge God's role as the eternal judge. They pretend their actions are of no consequence, but God (speaking through the psalmist, Asaph) warns that His judgment is coming and He alone will render the verdict (Psalm 75:7). Psalm 75, however, is not intended to terrify the people of God but to become the basis of their rejoicing. Yes, God will bring down the wicked but (by His action) also elevate the righteous. That's why the psalm begins and ends with an element of thanksgiving and praise.


"We thank you, O God! We give thanks because You are near. People everywhere tell of Your wonderful deeds . . . But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. For God says, "I will break the strength of the wicked, but I will increase the power of the godly (Psalm 75:9–10, NLT)."


Again, the righteous should not dread God's judgment but worship gratefully before the throne. And our response? Perhaps the language of judgment unsettles us. Maybe our past sin causes us to fear God's verdict. I remind you that the God who judges is also the God who saves. It's the arrogant and defiant that should tremble and shake. Those who have experienced God's forgiveness and salvation should take heart. That's particularly true of those who respond to God's salvation through Jesus, His Son. Consider Paul's reassuring words,

 

"And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God's condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of His Son while we were still His enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of His Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God (Romans 5:9–11, NLT)."


Yes, God is the eternal judge. May the proud be warned, but let the people of God rejoice. May we especially lift our voices in thanksgiving and praise.

May 17, 2022

Psalm 50, Psalm 73, Psalm 74


"Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on Me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory (Psalm 50:14–15, NLT)."

 

God is not impressed by religious activity when it fails to reflect faith and obedience. Indeed, God charges His people with ignoring what's most important. His complaint is not against the abundance of their sacrifices and offerings. God's concern is that His people appear to misunderstand their purpose. It's not as if God requires nourishment or food. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), and all the world is His and everything in it (Psalm 50:12). God is not dependent upon the people's sacrifices. It is the other way around. God's people are dependent upon the LORD.

Through Asaph, the psalmist, God calls for His people to take another look and respond to Him appropriately. He appeals,


"Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on Me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory (Psalm 50:14–15, NLT)."


There's a little bit of irony in God's appeal. The abundance of sacrifices should have been offered with grateful hearts. However, at some point along the way, the people's motivation changed. Instead of humbling themselves before the LORD, dependent upon the LORD, they began to elevate themselves through their religious activity. Their attention shifted to themselves. They even allowed their outward displays of worship to become a substitute for their obedience.


God appeals to His people to renew their faith. They are to give thanks, walk in obedience, and rely openly upon the LORD who sustains and delivers them. Is this a lesson we should also consider? Are we prone to substitute religious activity for faith and devotion? I pray that we might take the psalm's message to heart and relate to God accordingly. 

May 16, 2022

Psalm 144-145, Psalm 88-89


I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise Your name forever and ever (Psalm 145:1, NLT).


Psalm 145 is David's final psalm listed among the 150. It's fitting that his final psalm would be another hymn of praise. Yet, it's not just another testimony to God's goodness and greatness. Psalm 145 represents a carefully crafted Hebrew acrostic that systematically glorifies the LORD. How is it acrostic? David follows the order of the Hebrew alphabet to start each line within the psalm. It is (in a sense) David's ABCs of praise. Psalm 145, however, is not the only example of this alphabetic approach. There are nine such psalms found in the Old Testament, with David composing five of the nine.


Why employ this technique? It certainly aids the Hebrew reader in memorizing the text, but it also enables the author to organize his thoughts straightforwardly. Twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet push the writer to think in expanded ways. That is very much the case in Psalm 145. David would not settle for a few passing expressions of praise. Following the alphabet, David thoughtfully praises the LORD again and again. It was a healthy exercise for David and beneficial for us.


Which of David's statements resonates with you the most? To me, verse 8 especially appeals to my heart.


The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love (Psalm 145:8, NLT).

 

The first word of verse 8 in the Hebrew text is the term ḥǎn·nûn, which is translated as "merciful" or "gracious." The letter" ḥ" is the eighth consonant in the alphabet as David continues his alphabetic progression. Our focus, however, should not be on the consonant but the testimony—The LORD is MERCIFUL. And He's not just merciful. Our God is compassionate, slow to get angry, and filled with unfailing love. Let each of the descriptions linger in our minds. I pray they also find their way into our hearts. If they do, we recognize that God is for us and not against us, that we should turn to Him, not away, and that we can enter the day confident in God's continuing care and support. Is that your perspective? And that's just one verse. It may be helpful to take another look at the psalm as a whole and be encouraged further.


Yet, let me suggest something more. Since David was willing to write out his ABCs of praise, could we attempt something similar? To make it easy, let's think through the first seven letters of our alphabet (a to g). Let's write seven statements of praise to God, beginning each sentence consecutively with a new letter—starting with a, then b, then c. Get the idea? As we do, we may discover why the psalmists did the same. It pushes us to expand our thinking toward God, which is spiritually beneficial. I hope you will give it a try.

May 15, 2022

Psalm 131, Psalm 133, Psalm 138-141, Psalm 143


LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don't concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother's milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD— now and always (Psalm 131, NLT).


Psalm 131 is brief but tremendously helpful. David writes the psalm to encourage the proper inner disposition as a person approaches the LORD. There's no place for pride or self-promotion. A humble, childlike spirit should characterize anyone who draws near. David's confession is all the more significant when we remember the prominence of David's role. It would have been natural for the king to possess an inflated view of himself, but David refuses to do so. He confesses,


"LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty."


David then adds, "I don't concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp." That is quite a statement for the king of Israel to make. Everyone in David's royal circle would have elevated his perspective or his point of view. He's the king, and his rulings represent the final word on most matters. David, however, did not allow his prestige to go to his head. He didn't pretend to be someone he wasn't. Instead, David chose to cultivate a quiet, contented heart—like a weaned child. He approached God gratefully and humbly and urged others to do the same. Indeed, David appeals,


 "O Israel, put your hope in the LORD— now and always."


The psalm is brief, but the message is beneficial. May we take David's words to heart and relate to God appropriately as we seek to draw near!

May 14, 2022

Psalm 103, Psalms 108-110, Psalm 122, Psalm 124


Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise His holy name (Psalm 103:1, NLT).

 

Let's focus today on praising the LORD. David models a helpful approach in Psalm 103. First, as verse 1 reflects, our praise should be wholehearted toward God. We make a mistake when we simply go through the motions of praise. It involves more than singing a song or giving lip service to God. Genuine praise overflows from a heart that sees God for who He is and understands the LORD's actions on our behalf. It's more of a response than an activity. It bursts forth as we recognize the glory of God's greatness and activity. Again, David models the right approach.


Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things He does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle's (Psalm 103:2–5, NLT)!

 

What stirs David's heart to praise? His awareness of God and His activity on David's behalf. What diminishes our praise? We focus more on our problems than on God's provision. We fixate more upon ourselves than God's goodness. David's focus is appropriately placed, and he cannot keep silent. He exclaims,


The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The LORD is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him (Psalm 103:8–13, NLT).

 

Everything David expresses is true. When was the last time we reflected upon God's patience, love, provision, and power? When was the last time our hearts erupted in praise? There is likely a correlation between the two. Of course, David's not done. His praise continues. But what about our response? Will we praise the LORD with our whole hearts? May David's psalm lead us to focus anew upon the LORD so that we, too, lift our voices in worship and pray. With all that we are, let us praise the LORD!

May 13, 2022

Psalm 68-70; Psalm 86; Psalm 101


I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil (Psalm 101:3–4, NLT).


Psalm 101 is another one of my favorite psalms. David lays out a series of personal rules to guide his life as Israel's king. I believe his royal code is just as relevant for us as it was for David. I've organized his insight into the following list.


1)           Start the day with a song—sing to the LORD (v.1).

2)           Commit to a life of integrity—especially at home (v.2).

3)           Take responsibility for where I direct my eyes (v.3).

4)           Detest crookedness within myself and others (v.3).

5)           Reject anything that leads me away from God (v.4).

6)           Expose slander for what it is—a serious problem (v.5).

7)           Avoid associating with condescending, arrogant people (v.5).

8)           Associate instead with genuine people of faith (v.6).

9)           Do not tolerate deceit—inside or outside my home (v.7).

10)        Stand up for what is right as a way of life (v.8).


Do you see the practicality of David's code? Are we willing to take his insight to heart? To drive the lessons home, consider writing out the above list and begin to pray over each one. Ask the Lord to move you in the direction of David's wisdom. Indeed, may God enable us to live accordingly. It will bless our lives and will make a positive difference in the lives of those around us. Let's give it a go!

May 12, 2022

Psalm 61, Psalm 62, Psalm 64-67


“I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken (Psalm 62:1–2, NLT).”

 

Do you find it difficult to wait on the Lord? Waiting is not a quality that many enjoy. We live in a culture that demands quick solutions, where no patience is required. But life seldom works that way. That's especially true during periods of hardship or difficulty. We seek (even demand) prompt solutions from the Lord, and if the answer appears delayed, we become frustrated or disillusioned. Sadly, our lack of patience reflects a lack of faith and understanding. That's why Psalm 62 is so beneficial. Through the psalm, David displays a willingness to wait, and so should we. Look at David's opening statement.


"I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from Him (Psalm 62:1, NLT)."

 

Two quick observations. First, waiting is presumed. David doesn't expect an immediate solution. He recognizes that some situations require time. Do we understand the same? Do we impose our timeline on the LORD? Second, David waits quietly before God. He's not frantic, chattering, or complaining because he's confident in the outcome. Why so confident? David recognizes the source of his victory. It's not in himself or the circumstances. David's confidence rests upon the One who makes the ultimate difference. He asserts, "He alone is my rock," pointing to God, "and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken (Psalm 62:2, NLT)." That's quite the testimony, and David is emphatic. God ALONE is his rock, salvation, and fortress. God is the key. Is that our perspective?

 

I don't suggest that this is a natural response. More times than not, we're prone to be impatient and self-reliant. David, however, models the better approach. His example teaches us to place the problem in God's hand and wait on Him—quietly, confidently. Easier said than done? Admittedly, "Yes." Even David had to realign his thinking to endure those scheming against him (vs. 3-4). Look at verse 5.


“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him (Psalm 62:5, NLT).”

 

David talks himself back into the appropriate frame of mind. The right combination of circumstances can distract the best of us, causing us to become self-focused and impatient. Like David, we must frequently remind ourselves where our hope abides. It's not in ourselves or the circumstances. Our victory is in the LORD. David returns to his earlier testimony, "He (God) alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken."  And then adds, "My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge (Psalm 62:6–8, NLT)."

 

Will we learn from David's perspective? I don't know what you are facing, and the idea of waiting quietly on the LORD may feel impossible. I don't pretend it's easy. But choosing to trust in the LORD is the right course of action. Does that mean you are entirely passive? "No." Instead, you actively submit to God's leadership, trust God's timing, and consistently place the situation in God's hands. In other words, you actively wait on the LORD. So, what do you say? I say, "Let's trust the LORD, even if waiting is required!" Will you join me?

May 11, 2022

Psalm 39-41; Psalm 53; Psalm 55; Psalm 58


And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You (Psalm 39:7, NLT)."


As we continue to read David's psalms, Psalm 39 appeals to my heart. Like Psalm 37 from yesterday, Psalm 39 seeks to influence our perspective for the better. David is frustrated by the circumstances but doesn't want to speak rashly or inappropriately (Psalm 39:1), for he recognizes that his current hardship is a result of his sin (Psalm 39:10-11). Even so, David feels disoriented and struggles to get his mind around the present situation. So he pleads,


"LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is (Psalm 39:4, NLT)."


David's prayer is helpful. We would all benefit from a similar point of view. But David's subsequent confession is the key to the psalm. He adds,

 

“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You (Psalm 39:7, NLT)."


There it is! David regains his spiritual footing by refocusing his heart. He reminds himself of where his true hope is found. It's not found in the circumstances, his ability, or the people around him. David's hope—his only hope—rests entirely upon the LORD. That realization would then move David to the LORD in fresh ways. It will be his first step forward.


What about us? How do we answer David's question? Where do we place our hope? Let's be honest. The challenges of life can leave us disoriented and confused. If so, do we anchor our hope to something or someone other than God? Or do we redirect our heart toward the LORD? Let's allow David's confession to become our own. Let's declare to the LORD, "You are our hope, our only hope!" Indeed, I encourage you to say it out loud, "LORD, You are my hope, my only hope!" I pray that the words of our mouths will become the testimony of our hearts. As they do, we will (like David) move toward the LORD in fresh ways, and that will be our first step forward. Come on. Let your heart be known! "LORD, You are my hope, my only hope!"

 

May 10, 2022

Psalm 35-38


It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich. For the strength of the wicked will be shattered, but the LORD takes care of the godly (Psalm 37:16–17, NLT).

 

Which of the four psalms stood out today? Do you find yourself turning to the LORD like David? Do you think you should? Each of the psalms provides a glimpse into David’s heart. They open our eyes to his faith and trust in the LORD. Hopefully, they will also lead us to do the same.


For today, my attention is drawn to Psalm 37, which is not surprising. Psalm 37 has become one of my LIFE PSALMS in recent years. What is a LIFE PSALM? It’s a psalm that you actively carry with you—that lives within your heart. Psalms 8, 13, 23, 32, and 46 are a few others. Over the years, these psalms have become spiritual aids or companions to reassure and strengthen my heart. They help guide my way as I respond to the circumstances around me.


And you? Do you have a LIFE PSALM? If not, ask the LORD to highlight a psalm or two as we continue our readings. Maybe an earlier psalm has already registered with you in that way. Once identified, begin to read the selected psalm or psalms daily. Seek to carry the main ideas with you. Even more, attempt to memorize them over time. Before you know it, they will become your LIFE PSALMS and will make a lasting difference.


Why is Psalm 37 so important to me? It helps me maintain a proper perspective. For example, as stated above,


“It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich (Psalm 37:16).”

 

Do you agree? I suspect that many might think otherwise. Indeed, far too many live as if wealth is all that matters. David would warn us to avoid falling into that trap. Even though the unscrupulous appear to get ahead, Psalm 37 reminds us to take the long view. Their moral compromise is short-sighted, for the strength of the wicked will ultimately be shattered. And those who relate appropriately to God? They are assured of God’s continuing support and care. That doesn’t imply that life will be easy. Read the psalm. It frequently is not. The promise, however, is that God will make a lasting difference. As David later explains, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand (Psalm 37:23–24, NLT).”


How about that for reassurance? The LORD holds our hand. That’s the perspective that comforts my heart for the day ahead. How about you? Let’s then enter the day with that picture in mind. Even more, let’s also allow the LORD to give a LIFE PSALM or two along the way. We’ll be stronger because of it!

May 9

Psalm 27-32


Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty (Psalm 32:1–2, NLT)!

 

I return after a week out of town. Which psalm stood out to you in our reading today? Which appealed to your heart in a particular way? My attention was drawn to David’s reassuring words in Psalm 32. It is one that God has used to encourage my heart on many occasions. It offers hope to anyone who has stumbled or faltered in sin.


David is well acquainted with moral failure. His actions toward Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11) are beyond excuse or rationalization. He sinned shamefully against God, and David knew it. Yet, he also came to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. Psalm 32 represents a testimony of God’s willingness to forgive the repentant. David, however, resisted God’s mercy for a period. He refused to acknowledge his wrongdoing or guilt. Whether it was his pride or a clever rationalization, David pretends that he had successfully covered his offense—only to be confronted by God’s prophet (2 Samuel 12). Once confronted, David wisely throws himself before the mercy of God.


Psalm 32 represents David’s journey from the darkness of one’s guilt into the light of God’s forgiveness. It portrays a heart set free from the burden of one’s shame and celebrates the power of God to forgive and restore the worst of sinners. As David declares, “What joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt.” Every time I read David’s words, my heart is lifted. It reminds me that God is willing and able to forgive the worst of our offenses. David’s actions were appalling to God. Yet, through repentance, David found cleansing and rediscovered joy. He writes his psalm as an invitation for us to experience the same. Will we do so?


Two obstacles stand in the way: 1) our unwillingness to acknowledge our sin, or 2) our unwillingness to accept the possibility of forgiveness. Both dispositions of heart will leave us outside of where we need to be. Let’s choose then to humble ourselves, turning away from our sin as we turn to the LORD, and discover the joy of God’s presence and forgiveness anew. As we do, we can join David and declare, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!”  LORD, may this be said of us. May it be so!

May 1, 2022

2 Samuel 22:1-51; Psalm 18:1-50

 

David sang this song to the LORD on the day the LORD rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul (2 Samuel 22:1, NLT).

 

Today, our reading is a song (2 Samuel 22:2-50) and a psalm (Psalm 18). The two are essentially the same. Both reflect David’s testimony of God’s past provision and deliverance. David cannot remain silent as he recalls the many ways that God has intervened. The grateful king must speak up, and speak up he does. Which verses do you identify with the most? My heart resonates with the following:


The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection (2 Samuel 22:2–3).

 

 O LORD, You are my lamp. The LORD lights up my darkness (2 Samuel 22:29).

 

God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to Him for protection (2 Samuel 22:31).

 

 You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping (2 Samuel 22:37).

 

I love You, LORD; You are my strength (Psalm 18:1).

 

 The LORD lives! Praise to my Rock! May the God of my salvation be exalted (Psalm 18:46)!

 

Again, the two passages are essentially the same, with only slight variation. Even so, what spoke to your heart as you read both? Compile your list of favorites as I have done. Once complete, read the testimonies aloud. Read them more than once. Make them your own. My heart is especially lifted when I declare, “I love you, LORD; you are my strength.”

 

Reflecting upon God’s goodness, David could not keep silent. Nor should we.

April 30, 2022

2 Samuel 19:31-43; 2 Samuel 20:1-26; 2 Samuel 21:1-22; 1 Chronicles 20:4-8; Psalm 7:1-17


Once again the Philistines were at war with Israel. And when David and his men were in the thick of battle, David became weak and exhausted. Ishbi-benob was a descendant of the giants; his bronze spearhead weighed more than seven pounds, and he was armed with a new sword. He had cornered David and was about to kill him. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue and killed the Philistine. Then David’s men declared, “You are not going out to battle with us again! Why risk snuffing out the light of Israel (2 Samuel 21:15–17, NLT)?”



How does David proceed following Absalom’s rebellion? He acts with mercy toward Shimei, who cursed and taunted David as he fled Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:18-23). He displays kindness toward Mephibosheth and Barzillai (2 Samuel 19:24-40), reassuring Jonathan’s son following his alleged disloyalty and publicly honoring Barzillai and his family for their support. David also seeks to unite the nation as they move beyond such a volatile episode. It’s not surprising that Sheba’s revolt followed Absalom’s rebellion. David’s perceived weakness perhaps fed Sheba’s ambition. Like Absalom, however, his actions would prove to be short-sighted and costly.


How does David proceed? The king endeavors to rule again. He does so with appropriate humility. David confesses his dependence on the LORD, “I come to You for protection, O LORD my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me! If you don’t, they will maul me like a lion, tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me (Psalm 7:1–2, NLT).” The restored king recognizes his vulnerability but also celebrates the LORD’s salvation and deliverance. “God is my shield,” he declares, “saving those whose hearts are true and right (Psalm 7:10, NLT).


My favorite portion of today’s reading involves the appearance of several sizable enemies—four Philistines, to be specific. Even the brother of Goliath (Lahmi) attempts to defeat the Israelites, only to experience his brother’s fate. Though the Philistines are physically intimidating, they would prove no match to God’s provision through David and his warriors (2 Samuel 21:22). David’s role, this time, was more inspirational than heroic. Nevertheless, the outcome would be the same. God would grant His people the victory. Indeed, their new giants would fall.


How does David proceed? With God’s help, David moves on to the next challenges. Absalom’s defeat didn’t represent the end of David’s problems. Nor does it indicate the end of God’s provision. Let’s learn from David’s renewed focus and (with God’s help) face the giants before us. God will prove faithful on our behalf. Let’s then trust in Him as we seek to move forward.

April 29, 2022

2 Samuel 17:15-29; 2 Samuel 18:1-18, 19-33; 2 Samuel 19:1-14, 15-18a, 18b-23, 24-30; Psalm 3:1-8; Psalm 63:1-11


During the battle, Absalom happened to come upon some of David’s men. He tried to escape on his mule, but as he rode beneath the thick branches of a great tree, his hair got caught in the tree. His mule kept going and left him dangling in the air (2 Samuel 18:9, NLT).


Absalom assumed that he had prepared for every scenario. He was confident that his plan was fool-proof, but it would not be God-proof. All of his scheming and planning would fail to achieve his ultimate dream. Instead, Absalom would find himself dangling from a tree. His distinctive hair would be his undoing. The man who would be king would die without honor and without anyone to come to his defense.


And David? Despite all of David’s failings and flaws, his faith and humility will elicit God’s help and support. In one of the darker chapters of David’s life, he cries, “O God, You are my God; I earnestly search for You. My soul thirsts for You; my whole body longs for You in this parched and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1, NLT).” God will respond.


Absalom foolishly placed his confidence in himself. David, in contrast, puts his hope in the LORD. And it would be this heartfelt trust that would bring him through his family nightmare. No, this is not a “happily ever after” story. However, it is another example of God’s mercy and grace reaching into the messiness of the human experience. David will still shed some tears. He will face new hardships, but David’s faith in the LORD will remain intact, and it will be the difference.


And our faith? I don’t know what you are currently facing. Perhaps you, too, are experiencing disappointment and hurt. The question is, “Will our circumstances push us from the LORD or draw us to Him?” In the worst of David’s situations, he turns to the LORD, and so should we. Indeed, let’s allow David’s testimony to become our own: “I lie awake thinking of You, meditating on You through the night. Because You are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of Your wings. I cling to You; Your strong right hand holds me securely (Psalm 63:6–8, NLT).”


Yes, life can be disorienting, but come on. Let’s cling to the LORD.

April 28, 2022

2 Samuel 15:1-12, 13-37; 2 Samuel 16:1-4, 5-14, 15–17:4; 2 Samuel 17:5-14


So Absalom went to Hebron. But while he was there, he sent secret messengers to all the tribes of Israel to stir up a rebellion against the king. “As soon as you hear the ram’s horn,” his message read, “you are to say, ‘Absalom has been crowned king in Hebron (2 Samuel 15:9–10, NLT).’ ”

 

Absalom, David’s son, moves to seize his father’s throne. As he schemed to murder his brother, Amnon, he now plots to overthrow his father. Absalom is careful as he implements his plan—slowly casting doubt among Israel’s leaders concerning their aging leader. He cleverly elevates himself in the people’s eyes while diminishing David at the same time. Absalom’s plan is shrewd and well-executed.


At Hebron, Absalom publicly announces his intentions. Word is sent to all of Israel that he would soon be crowned king. His conspiracy is out in the open, and Absalom appears to have the upper hand. David, hearing the report, hastily flees Jerusalem. What must God’s anointed be thinking, be feeling? The man who faced so many enemies is now pursued by his own son. David’s emotions must have been jumbled and confused.


Reactions to the unfolding events vary—some support David, others turn against him. Shimei, a member of Saul’s clan, is very outspoken in his denunciation. He travels beside the fleeing procession, casting rocks in David’s direction, publicly cursing the departing king. And David’s response? Interestingly, David refuses to take action against him, for he’s unsure of God’s intentions. He explains to Abishai,


“My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to do it. And perhaps the LORD will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today (2 Samuel 16:11–12, NLT).”

 

What might we learn from today’s reading? Again, we’re reminded how our past actions can have far-reaching effects. How much is David replaying in his mind the mistakes of the past? Does he view the unfolding events as an inevitable consequence? One thing is clear. David’s determined to yield himself to whatever the LORD deems appropriate. He expresses this earlier to Zadok as the king refused to allow the ark of the covenant to accompany him out of the city.

 

“If the LORD sees fit,” David said, “He will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again. But if He is through with me, then let Him do what seems best to Him (2 Samuel 15:25–26, NLT).”


“If the LORD sees fit!” David’s exclamation expresses it all. The fleeing ruler doesn’t know what the future will hold, but David knows the LORD and chooses to yield himself to His purpose and plan. Perhaps that’s a lesson we can also carry with us. Let’s entrust the uncertainties of our future into God’s hands. Is He not trustworthy? “If the LORD sees fit!” Indeed, may it be so!

April 27, 2022

2 Samuel 12:26-31; 1 Chronicles 20:2-3; 2 Samuel 13:1-39; 2 Samuel 14:1-24, 25-33


When King David heard what had happened, he was very angry (2 Samuel 13:21, NLT).

 

What's going on? Rape? Murder? Are we observing another downward spiral—morally and spiritually? Reading today's passage, I had to double-check to make sure I wasn't reading again in the book of Judges. The actions of David's sons, Amnon and Absalom, are reminiscent of the period when God's people pursued what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). It was destructive then and is destructive now as David's reign begins a negative descent.


It's not coincidental that the events at hand follow the report of David's moral collapse (2 Samuel 11). His failure created an environment that contributed to Amnon and Absalom's shameful behavior. The prophet, Nathan, warned this would be: "From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah's wife to be your own (2 Samuel 12:10, NLT)." This does not excuse or justify the actions of David's oldest sons. Their sin is their sin. They are ultimately responsible for their decisions. Admitting as much, we can't ignore the impact (positively or negatively) of a parent's choices. The "sins of the father" can have generational implications.


What can we learn from today's unseemly account? As with David's demise, let's appreciate the danger of unrestrained sexual desire. Amnon, driven by lust, acts reprehensibly toward his sister. He disregards all sensibility to satisfy his carnal longing, only to discard Tamar without consideration or concern. His actions are despicable and must be condemned. But that's the problem. There's no indication that David holds Amnon responsible. The king is outraged (2 Samuel 13:21) but fails to confront his son. Take note: inaction in the face of evil promotes further evil.


What is David thinking? Did his past failures disqualify him from addressing Amnon's sin? Or does David hesitate because Amnon is the firstborn, the future king? Whatever the motivation, David's refusal to hold his son responsible will open the door to greater harm. How does Tamar interpret David's silence? What does it communicate to the already dysfunctional family? On some level, the king's inaction contributes to Absalom's extreme action. May God help us to see the correlation.


Everything about this story disturbs me. It screams for godly accountability, and no one steps forward. I pray God will grant us His perspective in ways that influence us appropriately toward our society and families. It bothers me that Amnon's cousin, Jonadab, appears unaffected by the whole sordid episode. May today's reading teach us to act honorably and responsibly toward the LORD and others, for we see the consequences if we do not. 

April 26, 2022

1 Chronicles 20:1; 2 Samuel 11:1-27; 2 Samuel 12:1-25; 2 Samuel 5:14-16; 1 Chronicles 14:3-7; 1 Chronicles 3:5-9; Psalm 51:1-19

 

Then David confessed to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD (2 Samuel 12:13, NLT)."

 

The Bible doesn't hide the failures of God's servants. In both the Old and New Testaments, that is true. The greatest of God's leaders falter in disappointing and devastating ways. What are we to make of this? On one level, it lends credibility to the testimony of God's Word. If the Bible was merely the product of men, we can be sure that they would hide such failings. The fact that their sin and disobedience are blatantly exposed indicates that something more is being revealed. Indeed, it is. God's Word testifies to humanity's need (no matter how prominent the individual) and God's willingness to forgive.


David's sin is particularly distressing. He displays such faith and devotion to the LORD. He's described as a man after God's heart (1 Samuel 13:14), but his actions toward Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah, raise serious questions. What went wrong? We might say that David was at the wrong place, at the wrong time (2 Samuel 11:1-2), and that is true. He likely should have been with his army during a time of war. Perhaps we could also highlight his failure to turn away when he observed Bathsheba bathing at a distance. Again, yes, David should have shown discipline and restraint. The problem is he didn't (2 Samuel 11:3-4). David elevates his desire for Bathsheba above all things, which leads to tragic, far-reaching consequences. The king of Israel, the man after God's heart, proves himself to be a flawed, sinful individual. David would eventually admit as much. "For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against You, and You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight. You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:3–5, NLT)."

 

Sadly, David is slow to acknowledge his sin. Like so many, he seeks to hide his offense. He attempts to navigate around the consequences. Sin, however, puts into motion forces beyond one's control. If we fail to repent, sin frequently drives us further into the darkness with even greater ramifications. Again, the man after God's heart demonstrates the destructiveness of spiritual blindness and self-deception. Yet, the LORD would not allow His servant to remain in the shadows. God sends His prophet, Nathan, to bring David's actions into the light so that he might respond appropriately. And, with great remorse of heart, David chooses to do so.


What do we learn from David's monumental failure? We should be mindful of our vulnerability. If this could happen to God's servant, David, are we not all susceptible to temptation and sin? David's example should serve as a cautionary tale on all our behalf. Yet, David's experience also extends the hope of forgiveness. Do note: the forgiveness of God does not eliminate the consequences we may put into motion by our sinful actions. We may still experience potential sorrow and loss. God's forgiveness, however, enables us to face the future before us with the assurance of God's presence and help. His forgiveness is not a reset button, but it does offer the promise of restoration and joy—even the possibility of a clean heart. May God teach us through David's failure and lead us to walk humbly before the LORD. Indeed, may we join David in his confession, "You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God (Psalm 51:16–17, NLT)."

 

For that, we should be grateful. I know that I am.

April 25, 2022

2 Samuel 8:15-18; 1 Chronicles 18:14-17; 1 Chronicles 6:16-30, 50-53, 31-48; 2 Samuel 9:1-13; 2 Samuel 10:1-19; 1 Chronicles 19:1-19


One day David asked, "Is anyone in Saul's family still alive—anyone to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake (2 Samuel 9:1, NLT)?"


The story of David and Mephibosheth is yet another revealing account of Israel's notable king. In addition to being a king "who did what was just and right for all the people (2 Samuel 8:15)," we can add kindness to David's list of qualities—which says a lot. David did not allow his success and power to go to his head. He remains grounded in how he relates to those around him. Undoubtedly, his trust and humility before the LORD influenced his attitude and actions toward others.


And what about the story of Mephibosheth? We're introduced to Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 4:4 (NLT), when it is recorded, "Saul's son Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth, who was crippled as a child. He was five years old when the report came from Jezreel that Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle. When the child's nurse heard the news, she picked him up and fled. But as she hurried away, she dropped him, and he became crippled." The sad account of Jonathan's death is accompanied by Mephibosheth's crippling injury. The child's situation goes from bad to worse, and then he disappears from the story until today's reading.


Remembering his loyal friendship with Saul's son, Jonathan, David inquires if any descendants of Saul remain. He learns of Mephibosheth and promptly brings Jonathan's son to Jerusalem. Mephibosheth must have been fearful to hear of David's summons. Descendants of former kings were often viewed as potential threats to one's reign. David, however, meant no harm. He intends to honor the son of his beloved friend. Indeed, he acts with great kindness and generosity toward Jonathan's child. It's a further glimpse into the heart of Israel's king.


Let's allow David's example to promote kindness and love on our part. How might we act with the same disposition of heart? It doesn't have to be tied to a past event or relationship. Let's simply think about honoring another, looking for someone today or this week to whom we might respond with kindness. David wasn't too busy or too important to do so. He acted with compassion and love. Let's seek to do the same. May the Lord encourage our hearts as we do. 

April 24, 2022

When King David was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all the surrounding enemies, the king summoned Nathan the prophet. "Look," David said, "I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent!" Nathan replied to the king, "Go ahead and do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you (2 Samuel 7:1–3, NLT)."


Grateful to God, David desires to honor the LORD. He intends to construct a dwelling worthy of the LORD. He envisions a permanent home in which the sacred ark of God might reside. God's prophet, Nathan, supports the king's noble intent, only to have the LORD inform him otherwise. The LORD is not offended or dishonored by David's aspiration. God simply had other plans.


What are God's plans? The LORD intends to build David's house instead of the other way around. Indeed, God extends to His shepherd-king a twofold pledge: First, the LORD will bless and prosper David beyond his imagination. He announces, "I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth (2 Samuel 7:9, NTL)." Second, the LORD promises to establish a dynasty of kings through David's line. What Saul forfeited by his disobedience (1 Samuel 13:13-14), David would experience because of his trust and devotion. Of course, the promised dynasty would find its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, our LORD (Matthew 1:1). God would keep his pledge to David (2 Samuel 7:16) and also fulfill the words of His prophet Isaiah,


For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven's Armies will make this happen (Isaiah 9:6–7, NLT)!

 

There's something beautiful and instructive from today's reading. David seeks to honor the LORD, and God turns it around and honors His servant-king. That is so much like God. He builds up those who do not build up themselves. He honors those who do not strive for self-glory. Should we take that lesson to heart? In what ways do we seek to honor the One we trust and follow? Please note. We do not elevate the LORD to be exalted. We humble ourselves before the LORD because He is worthy—even if our position remains unchanged. David didn't offer to build a permanent residence for the ark to gain an advantage. David's motive was pure, and God's promise and pledge only deepened his devotion and service. Again, let's learn from David's example and seek to honor the LORD appropriately.

April 23, 2022

2 Samuel 6:12a; 1 Chronicles 15:1-28; 2 Samuel 6:12b-15, 16; 1 Chronicles 15:29; 2 Samuel 6:17-19a; 1 Chronicles 16:1-43; 2 Samuel 6:19b-23

 

So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. After the men who were carrying the Ark of the LORD had gone six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. And David danced before the LORD with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the LORD with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams' horns (2 Samuel 6:12–15, NLT).

 

What is David thinking as he begins to dance? What is he feeling? We can be sure that his dance is not a choreographed series of steps. It is instead an overflow of emotion within. Israel's king could not restrain himself. He could not simply walk in procession. David had to dance, and dance he did. David dances before the LORD with all his might.


What would cause such strong emotion? To David, he's experiencing a defining moment—for himself and the nation. The people of God are accompanying the symbol of God's presence (the ark of the covenant) into the very heart of the nation (Jerusalem, the new capital city). God's people had neglected the ark for too many years. They had lost sight of the LORD and their responsibilities to Him. David is determined to lead the nation back into a right relationship with their God and Savior. He even provides the Levites with a song to be lifted in praise.

 

"Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever. Cry out, 'Save us, O God of our salvation! Gather and rescue us from among the nations, so we can thank your holy name and rejoice and praise you.' Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting (1 Chronicles 16:34–36, NLT)!"


Again, David could not restrain himself. His heart soars because he recognizes the significance of the moment. The LORD will dwell again among His people, and the nation will not be the same. Yes, David dances before the LORD, and it’s the appropriate thing to do.


What about us? How aware are we of God’s presence? When was the last time we were so overcome with emotion over the LORD that we couldn’t stand or sit still? I read today’s account, and I want to experience the joy David displayed. I want the LORD to be in the center of my kingdom, of my life. And you? May the LORD open our eyes to anything that may stand in the way. May we renew our focus and commitment to following the LORD wherever He leads. May our excitement be evident for all to see. Indeed, let the dance begin!


April 22, 2022

2 Samuel 5:1-2 Samuel 6:11; 1 Chronicles 3:4; 1 Chronicles 11:1-9; 1 Chronicles 12:23-40; 1 Chronicles 13:1-14; 1 Chronicles 14:1-17


Then all the tribes of Israel went to David at Hebron and told him, "We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, when Saul was our king, you were the one who really led the forces of Israel. And the LORD told you, 'You will be the shepherd of my people Israel. You will be Israel's leader.' " So there at Hebron, King David made a covenant before the LORD with all the elders of Israel. And they anointed him king of Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in all (2 Samuel 5:1–4, NLT).

 

David is recognized as king over all of Israel. God's anointed finally ascends to the nation's throne, and the people of God celebrate. It represents a new beginning for the twelve tribes as they submit to David's leadership and come together as one people. There's renewed excitement and anticipation as the various tribes pledge their military support.


It doesn't take long for David to distinguish himself from his predecessor, Saul. For example, David makes a covenant before the LORD with all the elders of Israel. Saul never took this action. It's an early sign that David will approach his reign differently. David also adopts a distinctive approach in his warfare against the Philistines. He's especially deliberate in seeking and following the LORD's counsel. And when a victory is achieved, David is quick to acknowledge the LORD's activity. He celebrates God's intervention on one such occasion by naming the site, Baal-perazim—translated, "The Lord who bursts through (2 Samuel 5:20)." Again, David's approach sets him apart from Saul.


David also acts strategically in moving his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. Having defeated the Jebusites, David secures the fortress of Zion once and for all for the nation. It would prove to be a notable victory for Israel's new king. Indeed, Jerusalem would become David's home and subsequently be called the city of David. Additionally, David's reputation would grow. He would become more and more powerful because the "LORD God of Heaven's Armies was with him (2 Samuel 5:10)." God's work through His anointed had begun.


What can we learn from today's reading? It's one thing to confess one's faith, and it is something else to show it. As James attests, "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions (James 2:14, NLT)?" David's faith is a visibly active part of who he is. It influences his decisions and positions the nation to experience even more of God's blessing and activity. What about us? To what extent is our faith on display? What actions testify to our trust in the LORD? Authentic faith should be observed in what we say and do. It should determine the general direction of our lives, allowing for even more of God's blessing and activity. Genuine faith is "lived out." So will we be a people of faith today? Come on. Let's show it!

April 21, 2022

2 Samuel 3:6-4:12


Meanwhile, Abner had consulted with the elders of Israel. "For some time now," he told them, "you have wanted to make David your king. Now is the time! For the LORD has said, 'I have chosen David to save My people Israel from the hands of the Philistines and from all their other enemies.' " Abner also spoke with the men of Benjamin. Then he went to Hebron to tell David that all the people of Israel and Benjamin had agreed to support him. When Abner and twenty of his men came to Hebron, David entertained them with a great feast. Then Abner said to David, "Let me go and call an assembly of all Israel to support my lord the king. They will make a covenant with you to make you their king, and you will rule over everything your heart desires." So David sent Abner safely on his way (2 Samuel 3:17–21, NLT).

 

Transitions between kings and kingdoms are often chaotic and complicated. That is certainly reflected in today's reading. Ishbosheth alienates himself from his general (Abner) because he accuses the influential general of sleeping with one of his father's concubines. Enraged, Abner makes overtures to David to unite Israel's tribes under his reign. David then requests that Ishbosheth return Michal (David's first wife and Ishobosheth's sister) to him, which causes tremendous heartache and distress to her current husband, Palti. Does this sound like an episode of Jerry Springer?


Yet, there's more. Abner meets with David to negotiate the nation's reunification. Joab, David's general, hears of David's intentions and confronts the king because Abner had previously killed his brother. Joab, in turn, deceptively lures Abner back to Hebron so he can treacherously murder him at the city's gate. David pleads his innocence in the matter, publicly cursing Joab and his family for generations to come. It's a convoluted mess.


We're not done. In Israel, receiving word of Abner's death, two of Ishbosheth's captains betray and assassinate their king while he takes an afternoon nap. The two brothers (Baanah and Recab) then carry Ishbosheth's head to David, expecting to be rewarded. David, however, sentences the pair to death for killing an innocent man. Is this how you envisioned the transition to David's reign? Is there a lesson from any of this?


We should know that we live in a broken, dysfunctional world. I fear little has changed in the thousands of years that have passed. From generation to generation, people act selfishly and maliciously against one another. Cruelty is no less common today than it was in David's day. The hope in all of this is that God somehow still accomplishes His purposes, despite the fallenness of man. Please note: none of this is a result of God's direction. Yet, the chaos will not derail God's larger work. God will prove greater than man's worst actions. It may not happen overnight but be assured that God's larger purposes will be fulfilled. I reflect upon today's reading, and it is a bit disheartening. But I read the daily news and experience much of the same disappointment. My prayer is that God may fulfill His larger purposes in our day despite the chaos and complications. Will you join me in that prayer? David will emerge as Israel's king in the end. My King, Jesus, will also emerge as our victorious sovereign in the end. I am encouraged by the thought, and I hope you are as well!

April 20, 2022

2 Samuel 2:1—5; 1 Chronicles 3:1-4a; 2 Samuel 23:8-17; 1 Chronicles 11:10-19; 2 Samuel 23:18-39; 1 Chronicles 11:20-47


Then the men of Judah came to David and anointed him king over the people of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4, NLT).


David is anointed king over the tribe of Judah, but not the nation as a whole. Loyalty to Saul's son, Ishbosheth, remains strong among many. Indeed, Ishobosheth (not David) would be recognized as king by most remaining tribes (2 Samuel 2:8-11). Additional time would be required for God's anointed to ascend the nation's throne. David would need to wait—to patiently trust the LORD.


Can we all agree that patience is sometimes a challenge? That's especially true when we are waiting for a long-desired outcome. We want things on our timetable, which means quickly. David, however, submits to God's timing, not his own. Please note: we're talking about years, not weeks. Trust and patience would be required for an extended time, and David demonstrates both.


In the meantime, David continues to assemble a formidable army. His reputation and popularity grow, particularly among a group of renowned warriors. David's so-called "mighty men" are utterly loyal to their courageous leader. Their devotion is exemplified by the actions of three such men who risk their lives to secure David a drink from his beloved well in Bethlehem (1 Samuel 23:13-17). Their heroic effort would humble David's heart. As a tribute to his men, David pours out the water as a public act of worship before the LORD. By doing so, David acknowledges God's goodness in surrounding him with such noble and brave men. While David is patiently waiting, God is preparing David for what is to come.


Yet, not everything is ideal. David marries multiple wives, producing multiple children (2 Samuel 3:2-5). God's anointed disregards God's instruction, and it will cost him. God's Word is clear: "The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD (Deuteronomy 17:17, NLT)." Whether David's marriages were motivated politically or romantically, it doesn't matter. David disobeys the LORD, and he and his family will pay the price. How many of David's future problems could have been avoided if he had embraced God's wisdom?


I pray that we will learn from David's strengths and weaknesses. May we reflect his trust and patience in the LORD as we move through the circumstances around us. May we also avoid the pitfalls of rationalizing away God's wisdom when it comes to our decisions. God provides His instruction for our benefit. He understands the complexity of life in ways that we cannot. As the old hymn expresses, we should "trust and obey." Will we do so? May God help us to reflect both into the day. 

April 19, 2022

1 Samuel 30:1-31; 1 Chronicles 12:20-22; 1 Samuel 31:1-13; 1 Chronicles 10:1-14; 1 Chronicles 9:40-44; 2 Samuel 4:4


So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD. He failed to obey the LORD's command, and he even consulted a medium instead of asking the LORD for guidance. So the LORD killed him and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse (1 Chronicles 10:13–14, NLT).


Our contrast between Saul and David ends with Saul's self-inflicted death. Fearful that the Philistine army would capture him, the first king of Israel falls upon his sword and dies. There's a sadness to this account that weighs on my mind. Saul had so much potential, but he refused to relate to God as God. He chose to do things his way, and it cost him. As 1 Chronicles explains, "Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD (1 Chronicles 10:13, NLT)." The historian's assessment could not be more direct. Sadly, Saul's unfaithfulness would also result in the death of his three sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. We should be reminded that our actions (good or bad) will affect those we love.


Yet, today's reading highlights again how David is noticeably different. Unlike Saul, David actively seeks the LORD's guidance and acts accordingly. He's determined to follow the LORD. Of course, we'll later observe that David is not perfect in his obedience. However, his heart is undeniably the LORD's, and he will submit to God's leadership more times than not. Can we say the same?


There's one further contrast from today's descriptions that should be noted. God honors David and gives him the victory against superior forces. Saul dishonors the LORD, and his army is overwhelmingly defeated. Don't miss the correlation. God is the key to one's future victory or success. That is not to suggest that a faithful follower will not suffer hardship. Sometimes God's greatest demonstrations of grace are evident when God sustains His servants amid life's struggles. We should remember Paul's thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). The question is: will we follow God's lead regardless of the situation?


My final thoughts take us back to Saul's repeated failure. What contributed to his unfaithfulness? Consider two possibilities. First, Saul fails to see the LORD for who He is. Think about it. We never read about Saul actively praising the LORD, expressing trust in the LORD, or spontaneously celebrating God's faithfulness. There's not a single psalm in the Bible attributed to Saul. Compared to the younger David, Saul displays an inadequate view of God, and it works against him. Second, Saul also displays an inferior view of himself. He is God's anointed but fails to reflect as much. At times, David possesses a higher view of Saul than even Saul himself. Our perceptions of God and ourselves matter. They will inevitably influence how we respond positively or negatively. In Saul's case, I fear the latter. May we learn from Saul's negative example one final time. May God enable us to see Him for who He is and appreciate who He has made us be. 

April 18, 2022

1 Samuel 26:1-27:7; 1 Chronicles 12:1-7; 1 Samuel 27:8-29:11; 1 Chronicles 12:19; Psalm 56:1-13


I praise God for what He has promised; Yes, I praise the LORD for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me (Psalm 56:10–11, NLT)?

 

Where do we focus when life's circumstances are uncertain? Do we focus on the challenges and problems that surround us? Or do we direct our hearts to God and His Word? David's situation remains precarious. He's forced to dwell outside of Israel as Saul's irrationality persists. Even when David could have ended Saul's life, he refuses to do so (twice). He would not be guilty of attacking the LORD's anointed. He would place his situation in the LORD's hand instead. Would you have done the same?


I admire David's trust, but that doesn't mean it was easy for the future king. There are points along the way when David is admittedly afraid. I appreciate David's honesty in Psalm 56 as he expresses as much. Yes, there are occasions when the giant slayer of Israel is fearful. We should be encouraged by that thought. David's response should also instruct us.


"But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. I praise God for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me (Psalm 56:3–4, NLT)?"

 

David's approach is straightforward. When he's afraid, he directs his heart to the LORD. He recognizes that God is the One who can make the difference. His attention, however, is not toward God in general but to His promises in specific. Even more, He praises the LORD for such promises. That, too, is instructive. By praising God for His promises, David (in a sense) is anticipating their fulfillment. He's focusing on what God will do, not simply on the difficulties or problems surrounding him. Let me be the first to say, "That is easier said than done." For that matter, I don't think it was easy for David. After sharing his approach to fear, he recounts everything going wrong (Psalm 56:5-6). But David knows that God is not indifferent to his hurts or sorrows. Indeed, as David expresses, the LORD collects his tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). God is very much aware, so David again affirms his approach.


I praise God for what He has promised; Yes, I praise the LORD for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me (Psalm 56:10–11, NLT)?


Do we get the point? Psalm 56 has been a great help to me over the pandemic. I have often turned to David's testimony when my heart is afraid. I even developed the following plan of action that I've found beneficial. I pray it will be an encouragement to you.


When I AM AFRAID: 1) Take responsibility for my thoughts — to the degree I am able. 2) Acknowledge the fear for what it is — identifying its source. 3) Focus upon God's presence and help. 4) Praise God for His promises — anticipating their fulfillment. 5) Step forward in faith — do the next good thing. 6) Be patient with the situation and my emotions. 7) Allow for the support of others.


May God strengthen your heart, as you put the plan into action.


April 17, 2022

1 Samuel 23:13-25:44; Psalm 54:1-7


But Nabal, a descendant of Caleb, was crude and mean in all his dealings (1 Samuel 25:3, NLT).

 

What would you want your testimony to be if your name found its way into the Old Testament? Would you desire to be renowned for your courage? Or would you seek to be known primarily for your faith? Personally, I would hope to be described as a man who trusted the LORD, honored Him, and treated others with kindness and respect. Or expressed another way, I would hope to be the opposite of Nabal.


As I read today's account of Nabal and his response to David's men, I couldn't help but notice how this descendant of Caleb is described. Simply put. Nabal was crude and mean in all his dealings. How sad is that? The New Living Translation is actually kind in its Hebrew translation. It could also be translated that Nabal was cruel and outright evil. In other words, Nabal was not a good man. What went wrong?


We're told that Nabal was a man of great wealth. We're also informed that his wife was both discerning and beautiful. It looks as if Nabal had all that a person might desire on the surface. He was even a member of the famed family line of Caleb. Why then did Nabal become such an unlikeable, unhappy man? Sadly, he appears blind to the goodness of life before him, selfishly squandering it away. Indeed, his cruel, uncaring disposition would ultimately result in his premature death. God would judge this man for his cold actions toward David. In my mind, the name Nabal could be synonymous with "a squandered life." That within itself is truer than you may realize. The Hebrew name Nabal actually means "foolish or senseless." I suppose we can conclude that Nabal lives up to his name.


So again, I ask. What would you want your testimony to be if your name found its way into the Old Testament? Let's agree that we do not want to be like Nabal. So let's approach the day by pursuing the qualities that matter—faith, integrity, kindness. Our names will obviously not find their way into the Old Testament, but the testimony of our lives is being written each day. It is impressed upon the minds and hearts of those around us. What then will our testimony be? With God's help, let’s live honorably today—worthy of His praise.


April 16, 2022

1 Samuel 22:1-2; Psalm 57:1-11; Psalm 142:1-7; 1 Chronicles 12:8-18; 1 Samuel 22:3-23; Psalm 52:1-9; 1 Samuel 23:1-12


So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men (1 Samuel 22:1–2, NLT).


The contrast between David and Saul continues with our daily reading. David remains in hiding and escapes to the cave of Adullam. However, his supporters are slowly growing in number. People join David for various reasons—some out of loyalty, others because they are in trouble or have grown discontent with Saul, or others simply out of fear. Whatever the motivation, David has become the leader of an army of 400. How does he utilize his new army? Following the LORD's leadership, David acts to protect the people of Keilah.


Saul, in comparison, is becoming increasingly paranoid. He fears his support is waning. He even questions the loyalty of his officers, accusing them of siding with Jonathan in his pact with David. Saul is delusional. He sees assassins where there are none and lashes out irrationally. The king even condemns Ahimelech and the priesthood for conspiring against him when no disloyalty existed. He orders his bodyguards to execute the priests, but they refuse. Saul then turns to Doeg the Edomite. He carries out the ruler's command with tragic results—the death of 85 priests and their extended families. How does Saul use his position as king? Saul punishes the innocent.


The difference between David and Saul is becoming more and more distinct. Perhaps, most notably in their response to the LORD. David appears to be turning to the LORD consistently, following His lead. Saul displays little or no interest in the LORD's counsel. Instead, he impulsively acts, often to the harm of others. As I have asked in a previous devotion, who do we more resemble? It stands out to me in today's reading that David writes two psalms while taking refuge in the cave. He's honest about his emotions and fears, but more significantly, David affirms the character and faithfulness of the God he trusts. The psalms enable David to refocus his heart as he turns to the LORD for help.


The question is: what do we do with our cave experiences? Do we slip further toward discouragement and despair, or do we turn honestly in faith to the LORD? Let's conclude with a spiritual exercise. Why not write out a prayer of your own? David's psalms are frequently his prayers to God amid life's troubles. Let's do the same. Let's write down our emotions and fears but move quickly to acknowledge the LORD's presence, faithfulness, and support. Allow the writing of your psalm to calm your mind and refocus your heart as you actively turn to the LORD for help. Your psalm can be as long or short as it needs to be, but let's choose to renew our trust in the LORD in a tangible way. Will you do it? It may be just what your heart needs. Let's give it a try!

April 15, 2022

1 Samuel 20:1-21:15; Psalm 34:1-22


The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed (Psalm 34:18, NLT).


David is God's anointed future king, yet his life is far from comfortable. That is a lesson within itself. How often do we presume that following God's plan places us on the easy path? It didn't turn out that way for David, nor will it turn out that way for us. Life is frequently complicated and characterized by both good and bad. In David's case, the peaks and valleys seem extreme. At one moment, he's a celebrated hero; and the next, David is pretending to be a mad man, isolated and alone. Let's not be surprised by life's ups and downs. If it can happen to David, it can happen to us.


Also, don't overlook the value and necessity of true friendship. The kinship between David and Jonathan stands out prominently in today's reading. How would David have managed apart from Jonathan's protection and help? When life becomes chaotic, we all need a Jonathan to have our back. He models a loyalty and support that should inspire and instruct. "A real friend," Solomon writes, "sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24, NLT)." Jonathan is that kind of a friend. Let's commit to being the same to another.


Finally, let's learn from David's perspective during his difficulties. Despite the hardships, David maintains his trust in the LORD. He even speaks of the LORD's goodness. David writes, "Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him (Psalm 34:8, NLT)." This doesn't diminish the severity of the problems. Instead, it points us in the direction of God's help and support as we navigate life's struggles. God isn't indifferent to our woes. As David attests, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed (Psalm 34:18, NLT)." Let's then affirm God's presence and faithfulness, even when we feel confounded by the problems around us. When tested, may David's testimony become our own.


I prayed to the LORD, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; He saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the LORD is a guard; He surrounds and defends all who fear Him (Psalm 34:4–7, NLT).


Let's be encouraged as we move through the day. The LORD is with us!

April 14, 2022

"Don't worry about this Philistine," David told Saul. "I'll go fight him . . .The LORD who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine (1 Samuel 17:32, 37, NLT)!"


The contrast between David and Saul is stark. Saul stands out because of his great stature. David doesn't even stand out from his seven brothers. Outwardly speaking, he is the least of the sons of Jesse. However, that's the point. As the LORD explains to Samuel, "Don't judge by his appearance or height . . . The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7, NLT)." There's the key. God is looking for a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).


Let's be clear: being a person after God's heart does not indicate moral perfection. David will prove to be flawed at many points. That said. David's trust and devotion to the LORD will be whole-hearted. He will actively seek the LORD and (as sincerely as he knows how) walk in His ways. David's faith will be visible for all to see—starting with his defeat of Goliath. He would face off against the imposing giant, not because he is outwardly superior, but because the LORD he serves is superior. As David announces to the approaching Philistine, "This is the LORD's battle, and He will give you to us (1 Samuel 17:47, NLT)." His confidence in the LORD is complete.


Can we say the same? There's much we will learn from David's experience, both good and bad, in the coming days. However, let's focus on his heart for now. Let's allow the beauty of David's faith and devotion to serve as a measure of our own. Who do we more resemble—Saul or David? Are we more like Saul, who relates to God as a distant spectator? Or do we approach life as if God is in the middle of it all? I suspect we fall somewhere in between. However, given today's reading, I hope we commit ourselves to move in David's direction. With that in mind, consider David's testimony in Psalm 59.


"You are my strength; I wait for You to rescue me, for You, O God, are my fortress. In His unfailing love, my God will stand with me. He will let me look down in triumph on all my enemies . . . As for me, I will sing about Your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about Your unfailing love. For You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for You, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love (Psalm 59:9–10,16–17, NLT)."

 

Is that our perspective? Do we want it to be? Remember that God focuses more on our heart than our stature or ability. He's looking for a person after His own heart. May we be that person today!


April 13, 2022

1 Samuel 15:1-17:31

 

Then the LORD said to Samuel, "I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to Me and has refused to obey My command." Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the LORD all night (1 Samuel 15:10–11, NLT).


Yesterday I noted that Saul was erratic in his leadership. Seemingly impulsive, he would frequently act according to His perspective. However, in today's reading, Saul goes one step further. He outright disobeys the LORD, and it will cost him his throne. What went wrong? God commands Saul and the children of Israel to become an instrument of His judgment against the Amalekites. Centuries earlier, the Amalekites attacked God's people as they made their way to Sinai. The LORD pledged their destruction as a result: "Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven (Exodus 17:14, NLT)." 

                                                                                

It's a sobering pronouncement, and as I have previously acknowledged, every example of God's judgment leaves me personally unsettled. The destruction and loss of life underscore the seriousness of rejecting God and opposing His purposes. You would think that Saul would then be careful to follow the LORD's command as he implements God's judgment. Inexcusably, he fails to do so. Saul chooses to spare the life of the Amalekite ruler and allows his army to plunder the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle. Saul blatantly disobeys the LORD.


Israel’s king attempts to justify his actions by claiming that the sheep, goats, and cattle were to honor the Lord with future sacrifices. Saul pleads his innocence, but Samuel is unswayed. He replies, "What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, He has rejected you as king (1 Samuel 15:22–23, NLT)."

 

God's intentions for Saul were noble and good, but the first king of Israel squandered his opportunity. He chose to trust in himself more than the LORD. He willfully dishonored the LORD by his disobedience, and now he would suffer the loss of his throne. How often do we do the same? I'm hesitant to compare our decisions to that of the king of Israel. Even so, his attitude should serve as a warning to us all. He seems genuinely surprised that his actions were a problem. He became so insensitive to LORD that he became comfortable in his disobedience. May we refuse to fall into the same trap and suffer loss. May we hear again the words of God’s prophet, "What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” May we live accordingly!

April 12, 2022

1 Chronicles 9:35-39; 1 Samuel 13:1-5, 19-23, 6-7a, 7b-14, 15-18; 1 Samuel 14:1-52


Saul was thirty years old when he became King, and he reigned for forty-two years (1 Samuel 13:1, NLT).

 

The reign of King Saul has begun. The man appointed by God to serve as Israel's ruler would do so for an extended period. Regrettably, the quality of his leadership would prove erratic at best. Yes, Saul would lead the nation to many notable victories. His impulsiveness, however, would create unnecessary problems that ultimately lead to his demise. Consider today's account of Saul's impatience (1 Samuel 13:8-14).

 

Samuel instructs Saul to wait for his arrival before confronting the Philistines in battle, but the king acts prematurely. Fearing that his army is dwindling in size, Saul takes matters into his own hands. Why wait for Samuel when he can offer the appropriate burnt offering himself? Or so he thought. His presumption and impulsiveness would be his undoing. Perhaps one might argue that his heart was in the right place, but was it?


Another example involves Saul's hasty vow (1 Samuel 14:24-46). Saul requires his army to take a short-sighted oath: "Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening—before I have full revenge on my enemies (1 Samuel 14:24, NLT)." The pledge leaves his men weakened as the day progresses and could have resulted in the death of his son, Jonathan—if the people had not intervened. What motivated the king's vow? Fear? Pride? Where is the LORD's leadership at work in Saul's life? Of course, that is the problem. Despite Saul's courage and determination, he lacks true devotion to God. The LORD seeks a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:1).


What might we learn from today's reading? Be patient with the LORD and His timing. I must admit that I'm prone to impulsiveness at times. We should note that quick actions are not always best. Of course, there are occasions when we should act promptly---but as the LORD leads. Saul appears inclined to act and then hope the LORD works things out afterward. The better approach is to seek the LORD and then respond accordingly. Saul stood head and shoulders taller than anyone in the land (1 Samuel 9:2). He was a commanding presence. However, it would have served him better to humble himself consistently before the LORD, actively trust God's leading, and anticipate His provision moving forward. May that describe our approach to the day ahead.

April 11, 2022

1 Samuel 9:1-12:25

Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.


Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it over Saul's head. He kissed Saul and said, "I am doing this because the LORD has appointed you to be the ruler over Israel, his special possession (1 Samuel 10:1, NLT).


Saul leaves home searching for the family's donkeys and returns the man who would be king. He had quite the story to tell. It may not be as dramatic as the fictional Arthur drawing the famed Excalibur from a rock, but it is a fascinating story. More significantly, it's true. The portion of Saul's story that stands out most notably is the role of God's prophet, Samuel. Samuel is so in tune with God's voice, God's leading, He anticipates events days before their occurrence. Indeed, Samuel is looking for Saul even before Saul realizes that he would be searching for the prophet.


I smile at God's foreknowledge and how He always sees ahead. As smart as we might perceive ourselves to be, our understanding of the big picture is inadequate. God sees what we do not see. He knows what we do not know and acts to bring us where we need to be. This doesn't discount the reality of our choices. Instead, it elevates God's capacity to will and to work for His good pleasure in the middle of our best and worst days. The story of Saul is a beautiful example of God's activity to bring us to where we need to be.


Of course, Saul's story culminates with Samuel calling the twelve tribes to present themselves before the LORD at Mizpah (1 Samuel 10:17-24). The last time we had a scene like this, Achan was identified by the LORD as the source of Israel's problems (Joshua 7:10-26). This time is different. God intends to elevate, not condemn. Saul would be singled out before the people to become the nation's appointed king and ruler. Samuel attests, "This is the man the LORD has chosen as your king. No one in all Israel is like him. And all the people shouted, "Long live the king (1 Samuel 10:24, NLT)!" The recurring cry for a king in Israel has been satisfied, and Saul fills the role.


Allow me to make one further observation. As joyful as Saul's coronation may have been, an element of sadness remains. The people's acceptance of Saul as king represents a rejection of the LORD as King (1 Samuel 8:7). It serves as one more example of God's people settling for less than what could have been. Part of me marvels at God's patience and willingness to accommodate the people yet again. Perhaps we should be encouraged by this. He acts with similar patience and love toward us. For that, I am grateful. However, let it be known that I seek only one King to rule over my heart, and His name is Jesus. And you?

April 10, 2022

1 Samuel 4:12-8:22


Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.

 

After the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they took it from the battleground at Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. They carried the Ark of God into the temple of Dagon and placed it beside an idol of Dagon. But when the citizens of Ashdod went to see it the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground in front of the Ark of the LORD! So they took Dagon and put him in his place again. But the next morning the same thing happened—Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the LORD again. This time his head and hands had broken off and were lying in the doorway. Only the trunk of his body was left intact (1 Samuel 5:1–4, NLT).

 

The ark of the covenant symbolized God's presence to His covenant people. Within the Tabernacle, God would manifest His presence upon the mercy seat. He would meet with His people, providing leadership and help. Sadly, in their battle against the Philistines, the children of Israel treat the ark of the covenant like a magic relic or good luck charm (1 Samuel 4:1-11). They fail to understand that the LORD is the source of their victory, not a sacred object. Sadly, God's people have neglected the LORD for so long that they no longer appreciate the difference. As a result, the children of Israel are defeated, and the ark of the covenant is captured.


At that point in today's reading, an unusual series of events occur. The Philistines treat the ark of the covenant like a victory trophy. They presume that because they defeated the Israelites, they conquered their God. That was not the case. The children of Israel defeated themselves by ignoring and dishonoring the LORD, and they suffered the consequences. The Philistines would soon learn that they and their gods were powerless against the One True God. 


The Philistines place the ark within the temple of Dagon, and God soon begins to teach them a lesson. First, the LORD would not allow a pagan idol to stand above the ark of the covenant. He makes that point by knocking over the Philistine God and breaking the lifeless God into pieces the next day. Second, the One True God begins to afflict the inhabitants of Ashdod and then Gath with debilitating tumors. The people recognize that the God of Isreal is judging them and seek to return the ark of the covenant with an appropriate guilt offering. Though they defeated Israel on the field of battle, they could not contend with their God.


What do we learn from today's reading? God's people should relate to Him appropriately. Interestingly, after the ark of the covenant is returned, seventy Israelites at Beth-shemesh foolishly die because they dishonor the LORD. They disregard the LORD's commands through Moses and glance within the ark. They would pay a severe price and be reminded, "Who is able to stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God (1 Samuel 6:20, NLT)?" Again, what's the lesson? God's people must learn to relate to Him for who He is. For generations, the children of Israel had lost sight of the LORD and were the lesser because of it. And us? Granted, because of Jesus, how we relate to God has changed. We are afforded greater intimacy and access through His Spirit. However, should we treat Him as less holy? Should we disregard Him, His Word? Do we view our religious activity as magic tricks that guarantee our victory? Or do we actively relate to the LORD as our source of life and seek to follow His lead. Yes, Jesus has changed how we relate to the One True God, and we are grateful. Even so, may we trust and honor Him appropriately. May we do so today!

April 9, 2022

1 Samuel 1:9-4:11


And the LORD came and called as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel replied, "Speak, your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10, NLT)."


There's much in the book of Judges that leaves the reader disappointed and discouraged. The question is, "Would things ever change? Would God's people rediscover a right relationship with the LORD?" With the birth of Samuel, there's a glimmer of hope. It's worth noting that Samuel's birth is an answer to prayer. One naturally sympathizes with his mother, Hannah. Incapable of having children, in a sense, she symbolizes the spiritual barrenness of God's people. The life that God desired among His people was missing.


Thankfully, in granting Hannah's plea, the LORD also supplies a future leader that would call His people unto Himself. As was highlighted in today's reading, Samuel is dedicated to God as a young child and would grow in favor with the LORD and the people (1 Samuel 2:26). That's significant. Samuel would become a stark contrast to the ungodliness of the High Priest's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Their utter disregard of the LORD and His commands would provoke God's judgment upon the house of Eli.


What set Samuel apart? Simply stated: Samuel hears and obeys the voice of the LORD. During the period of the Judges, messages from God were rare, and visions were uncommon (1 Samuel 3:1). The people had become deaf to God's voice and actively ignored His past revelation. Young Samuel represents a spiritual change. The LORD calls out to Him, and Samuel hears His voice. Of course, the child fails to recognize who is calling initially. He assumes it is the High Priest, Eli, and proceeds to wake him. After three late-hour interruptions, the aging priest discerns something more—it is the LORD. He also instructs Samuel on the appropriate response. "Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, 'Speak, LORD, your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:9, NLT).'"

 

Samuel obeys, and his service as God's prophet begins. Is there an application for us? Samuel responds to the voice of the LORD and makes a difference in his day. Are we willing to do the same? I'm not suggesting that we will hear God's audible voice. However, we should discern His Spirit's prompting or conviction as we read from His Word. Will we do so? Jesus would frequently say, "Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand (Matthew 11:15, NTL)!" That applies to you. That applies to me. Will we actively listen to His Word? Maybe we should adopt Eli's helpful advice. Voice a simple prayer as you open your Bible tomorrow, "Speak, LORD, your servant is listening." May God grant each of us ears to listen and understand!

April 8, 2022

Ruth 4:13-22; 1 Chronicles 2:9-55; 4:1-23; 1 Samuel 1:1-8

 

So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the LORD enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women of the town said to Naomi, "Praise the LORD, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel . . . And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:13–14, 17, NLT).

 

A redeemer is born in Bethlehem. And his name? We naturally think of Jesus. However, the Redeemer in today's reading is the son of Boaz and Ruth. Why is Obed described in this way? He's a "redeemer" because he restores Naomi's future. In Moab, all hope was lost for the grieving wife and mother. As Naomi expressed, "the LORD Himself has raised His fist against me (Ruth 1:13, NLT)." And now, the woman who changed her name to Mara ("bitter") rejoices over her life restored—a redeemer is born in Bethlehem.


Of course, there is so much more to this story. The child born to Boaz and Ruth would become the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. Upon Obed's birth, the women in Bethlehem exclaim, "May this child be famous in Israel." Little did they realize that their words would prove prophetic, not because of Obed's achievements but because of his grandson, David. That's right, the most notable of rulers in Israel would be born in Bethlehem.


And yet, as we know, there is far more to this story. As great as David would become in the eyes of Israel, it would be a future descendant of Boaz and Ruth that would become the true Redeemer of Israel and even the world. Consider Matthew's genealogy of Jesus and be encouraged.

 

This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar). Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David (Matthew 1:1–6, NLT).

 

I marvel every time I read Matthew's genealogy. Focus on the women's names—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth. The Redeemer born in Bethlehem would come from the most unlikely line of descent. The list reminds us that God works through the brokenness of life to bring forth the One who would redeem and restore. God brought Naomi from bitterness to life through the birth of her redeemer. How much more has God done on our behalf by providing our redeemer, whose name is Jesus. Blessed be His Name!

April 7, 2022

Ruth 1:1-4:12


"Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us (Ruth 1:16–17, (NLT)!"


Life can be unexpectedly hard and tragically sad. Naomi follows her husband, Elimelech, from Bethlehem to Moab to experience a series of unimaginable losses—the death of her husband and both of her sons. Naomi believes herself abandoned by God, changing her name from Naomi to Mara, which means "bitter." She feels left with no choice but to return home to Bethlehem, empty and defeated. Yet, amid such emotional darkness would be a flicker of light.


Naomi urges her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their parents' homes. Perhaps they might discover a new beginning, a better life. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, responds in a way that should encourage and instruct each of our hearts. "Wherever you go, I will go," Ruth declares, "wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us (Ruth 1:16–17, (NLT)!" Is there a greater pledge of one's love and dedication to another in all of the Bible?


Ruth is whole-hearted in her devotion to Naomi and joins her in their journey to the unknown. Ruth's confession is a dramatic contrast to the self-centeredness and dysfunction that characterized so much of the book of Judges. Yet, their story continues, and further distinctions appear. In our reading of Judges, we were hard-pressed to find much influence of God's Law among His covenant people. The story of Ruth takes place during that same period, and we observe God's people applying His instruction in at least two ways—allowing the poor and vulnerable to collect grain from the fields (Leviticus 19:9) and the application of the kinsman-redeemer (Leviticus 25:47–55; 27:9–25).


My heart is bolstered to read of Boaz's kindness, generosity, and integrity. He reminds us that all was not lost as God's people frequently appear misguided and confused. His actions reflect a character that we should seek to display within our lives. However, his role as Ruth's "goel" or "family redeemer" stands out most prominently. He acts on Naomi and Ruth's behalf, purchasing the land of Elimelech to preserve the family legacy. More significantly, he marries Ruth to ensure the family's line of descent. Our western culture may struggle to understand the application of this principle. Even so, highlighted within the book, Boaz acts as a redeemer on the family's behalf. The Hebrew term redeems, or redeemer, is found in the text over twenty times. We'll consider the implications of this further in our reading tomorrow.


For now, let's take heart. As bad as things became in the book of Judges. There's a flicker of light in the darkness—the devotion of Ruth and the redeeming compassion of Boaz. May their story encourage us as we respond to the challenges and disappointments that surround our lives. May our actions offer hope to those who feel that all goodness is gone. Let's be a light in the darkness.


April 6, 2022

Judges 19:1-21:25


In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, NLT).


Are we ready to move on from the book of Judges? I've decided that Judges may be one of my least favorite books in the Bible. I'm not suggesting that it is unimportant and should not be studied. It is a part of God's revelation to us. And as such, it serves a purpose and is beneficial. Uncomfortably, it reminds us of how disappointing and dysfunctional God's people can still become. Our final reading is yet another example of their moral and spiritual failure. Indeed, the story of the Levite and his concubine provokes such strong emotions—feelings of disgust and disbelief. We recently read through God's Law and His expectations for His people. How could the children of Israel have gotten it so wrong? A part of me cries out, "Who are these people? How could they be so misguided?"


Remember what God expressed to His people at Sinai, "Now if you will obey Me and keep My covenant, you will be My own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to Me. And you will be My kingdom of priests, My holy nation (Exodus 19:5–6, NLT)." Where in Judges do we observe any of this. They have robbed themselves of the privilege and the blessing that God graciously bestowed. Again, what went wrong? The final verse of the book explains it all. "All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, NLT)." That could not be clearer. The people willfully ignore the LORD, His wisdom, and His promised activity. I often say of the children of Israel, "They foolishly settle for less." Repeatedly in the book of Judges, that is exactly what they do. I wonder. Is that also descriptive of us?


How frequently do we pursue what's right in our own eyes? Look back over the past few weeks. To what degree did you actively follow Jesus' teaching and leadership. Did you accept Jesus' word as the final authority, or did you elevate your perspective above His? It is so easy to do whatever "feels" right, especially when we live in a culture that emphasizes personal feelings above all things. Let's not fall into that destructive pattern. Instead, let's seek the LORD and submit to His authority, His wisdom. Day by day, let's commit ourselves to doing what is right in His eyes, not our own. Let's not foolishly settle for less. Will you join me?

April 5, 2022

Judges 16:1-18:31


Then she cried out, "Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!" When he woke up, he thought, "I will do as before and shake myself free." But he didn't realize the LORD had left him (Judges 16:20, NLT).

 

Every time I read this verse, it disturbs me. Samson didn't realize the LORD had departed. A life filled with so much potential has now been squandered. What went wrong with the strong man of Israel? What might we learn from his self-destructive behavior?


Consider first God's good intentions. Samson is set apart by the LORD with a noble purpose in mind. He is to serve as God's deliverer on behalf of His people and would be endued with extraordinary power and strength to accomplish the task. Sadly, Samson has other priorities. Instead of fulfilling God's purpose, Samson lives a self-centered, self-indulgent life. He shows little regard for the things of God or his intended purpose. He seems much more interested in doing things his way for his satisfaction.


Yet, there's another contributing factor to Samson's demise. The chosen servant of God is too easily manipulated by those who would do him harm. His weakness of will and mind, combined with his self-centered pursuits, would guarantee his future failure and shame. He is so preoccupied with pleasing himself and the agendas of others that he forfeits what could have been, what should have been. The story of Samson is a tragic tale of a person sacrificing God's activity and work for something cheap and degrading. And the lesson for us?


When I read the story of Samson, I think about the church of Jesus Christ. We, too, are set apart by God with purpose and design. We are to be the instrument of God's deliverance as we communicate Jesus' message of hope and life. Like Samson, the church is endued with spiritual power and strength to accomplish the task of changing our world. Will we do so? Or, like Samson, will Christ's church become self-centered, self-indulgent? Will we find ourselves easily manipulated by those who quietly work against us? Will we forfeit our purpose and calling for that which is empty and unsatisfying. If we do, we should be warned. We may find ourselves like Samson, unaware that the LORD has departed. In closing, may we prayerfully consider Jesus' warning to the church at Sardis.


Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: "I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don't wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches (Revelation 3:1–6, NLT).

 

Do we have ears to hear? Or will we live self-centered and unaware?

April 4, 2022

Judges 11:29-15:20


Jephthah judged Israel for six years . . . After Jephthah died, Ibzan from Bethlehem judged Israel . . . After Ibzan died, Elon from the tribe of Zebulun judged Israel for ten years . . . After Elon died, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, judged Israel . . . Again the Israelites did evil in the LORD's sight, so the LORD handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years. (Judges 12:7-8, 11, 13; 13:1, NLT).


As we continue our readings in Judges, finding much that lifts the heart is difficult. One judge after the next appears to reflect the surrounding culture more than the God they serve. From Jephthah to Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Sampson—where are the spiritual leaders? Yes, each of these individuals is empowered by God to deliver and lead His people, but something is noticeably absent. Where is the spiritual zeal of Moses or Joshua? Tragically, the overall quality of leadership is in steady decline.


However, if we look at the situation honestly, the decline in leadership mirrors the nation's general moral and spiritual decline. Remember the repeated cycle or pattern that characterizes the book. 1) God's people turn away. 2) They suffer domination by the people of the land, 3) which results in the Israelites crying out to God. 4) The LORD raises a leader to deliver His people, 5) so the nation experiences a season of blessing until they willfully turn away. The pattern is easily recognized. The problem is that each occurrence produces a greater moral and spiritual decline, evidenced by the quality of the leaders that follow. Think about it. Deborah, in Judges 4, is portrayed as noble and heroic. She is also a woman of faith, as reflected in her song of praise to the LORD. Compare Deborah to Jephthah or the better known Samson. Neither appears to exhibit the same character or faith as Deborah. Jephthah's foolish vow and Samson's self-centered activities do not reflect God's wisdom or Law. How would their stories have turned out differently if they had been fully devoted to the LORD?


What's my point? The leadership of a nation will directly reflect the nation's character. If the people are declining morally and spiritually (like the children of Israel), their leaders will reflect the same. Some want to blame the moral decline on the imperfections of their leaders. I tend to think it works the other way around. When the people themselves lose their way, you can anticipate leaders who do the same. I do not deny that poor leadership accelerates the problem. I'm simply suggesting that the solution to the downward spiral will require a widespread turning to God on the part of the people. Sadly, in the book of Judges, we will not see that happen in a lasting way. The negative cycle will continue to repeat itself, producing a consistently disappointing group of leaders.


In closing, how would you assess the quality of our leadership across the nation (governmental, business, religious)? What does it suggest concerning the moral and spiritual direction of our country? Are we moving in the right direction? If not, what is the greatest need? Do we need a change in leadership or a change in the people themselves from which the leaders rise? Do we see the correlation? I pray for a spiritual awakening or revival that will affect both. And you?

April 3, 2022

Judges 9:22-11:28


Then Abimelech attacked the town of Thebez and captured it. But there was a strong tower inside the town, and all the men and women—the entire population—fled to it. They barricaded themselves in and climbed up to the roof of the tower. Abimelech followed them to attack the tower. But as he prepared to set fire to the entrance, a woman on the roof dropped a millstone that landed on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull (Judges 9:50–53, NLT).

 

In our journey through Judges, we may often find ourselves shaking our heads. Many of the lessons will likely illustrate what not to do. That is certainly the case with today’s reading as we continue to follow the story of Gideon’s son, Abimelech. I think we can agree. He’s not a good guy. If you remember from yesterday’s reading, Abimelech seizes power by murdering his seventy-half brothers at Ophrah with the help of the leaders of Shechem. Only one of his half-brothers escapes (Judges 9:1-6). It’s a disturbing scene, reminding us of the cruelty of a greedy, sinful heart. Jotham, the surviving brother, warns that Abimelech and the people of Shechem would ultimately get what they deserve (Judges 9:7-21). Today’s reading demonstrates that is true.


The text indicates that God now works against Abimelech. Trouble is introduced between the ruler and the leading citizens of Shechem. They are the same people who assisted in murdering Gideon’s sons and appointed him as king. A partnership between a dark-hearted opportunist and a treacherous group of leaders is not the best combination for peace and security. They soon turn against one another, resulting in their mutual demise. Admittedly, there’s nothing within the account that inspires us. No one is heroic or worthy of emulation. It’s a story of who not to be and what not to do. It’s a reminder that our sinful actions, if unaddressed, will be our undoing.


Thankfully, we’re told (with little detail) that others would rise and serve more effectively on the nation’s behalf—namely, Tola and Jair. Even so, it’s the story of Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem that should warn and instruct our hearts. The wisdom of Proverbs offers an appropriate application,


Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers. Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving. For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day. They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble. They eat the food of wickedness and drink the wine of violence! The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over (Proverbs 4:14–19, NLT).


Let’s walk in the light, shall we?

April 2, 2022

Judges 7:1-9:21

 

The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’ ” So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight (Judges 7:2–3, NLT).

 

The story of Gideon attracts my attention at several points. First, from yesterday’s reading, Gideon’s requests for God to prove Himself by affecting the condition of a wool fleece raises a question. Can we do the same? Can we test the LORD to determine whether or not we will follow His lead? From Jesus’ perspective, our sign has already been given (Matthew 12:39-40). His resurrection victory should be enough. We should follow Jesus because He has demonstrated Himself to be the Son of God. He deserves our trust and obedience.


That said, can we ask for an additional sign along the way to discern His leadership about a particular decision? I would suggest instead that we humble ourselves before the LORD and ask Him to guide our steps by His Word and by His Spirit’s prompting (Colossians 1:9-12, James 1:5). This should be our consistent approach, not putting God to the test. If the Lord decides to confirm our steps dramatically, that’s up to Him. I desire to walk by faith, not according to a fleece. And you?


Yet, a second aspect of Gideon’s experience is also instructive. It involves God deliberately reducing the size of Gideon’s army. They go from 32,000 to 300. There’s a part of me that smiles at this. It’s as if God is saying, “Gideon, you test me? Now, I’m going to test you.” Of course, God’s motivation for shrinking the army is for the nation’s sake. As God explains, “If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.” Maybe we should take the same lesson to heart. Pride and self-reliance will always pose a spiritual problem to God’s covenant people. As a solution, God deliberately places His people in what appears to be an impossible situation so they might trust in Him. And the result? Gideon’s 3oo discovers that God is more than able. Will we trust the LORD as well?

 

My final observation highlights Gideon’s post-victory attitude and response. The people want to make him their king. How about that rise to fame? We’re introduced to Gideon hiding in a winepress (Judge 6:11), and now he is offered the most powerful position in the land—quite the change in circumstances. However, Gideon’s response says a great deal. “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you (Judges 8:23, NLT)! I’m impressed by Gideon’s response; even more, I’m challenged by it. It would have been easy for Gideon to elevate himself instead of the LORD following Israel’s victory. To his credit, he seeks to direct the people to the LORD instead of himself. An example worth noting.


There you have it—three considerations. Of course, Gideon is far from perfect. Nevertheless, may his example influence our hearts in beneficial and appropriate ways.

April 1, 2022

Judges 3:31-6:40


After Ehud’s death, the Israelites again did evil in the LORD’s sight. So the LORD turned them over to King Jabin of Hazor, a Canaanite king . . . Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help (Judges 4:1–3, NLT).


The book of Judges reveals a discernable cycle or pattern among God’s covenant people. It was present in yesterday’s reading. It is observed again in today’s reading, and it will continue to manifest itself in the chapters ahead. What is the spiritual cycle?


1) The children of Israel turn away from the LORD. 2) As a result, God allows His people to be dominated by the people within the land. 3) The Israelites cry out to God for help and deliverance. 4) The LORD raises a leader to throw off the oppressors. 5) Finally, the people experience God’s blessing, enjoying a period of peace and prosperity until the cycle starts again.


We see the pattern in our reading today. The Israelites do evil in the sight of the LORD (Judges 4:1). God allows the Caananite King Jabin to oppress His people (Judges 4:2). The people eventually cry to the LORD for help (Judges 4:3). God raises the prophetess Deborah (along with Barak) to lead His people to victory (Judges 4:4-23), resulting in a season of blessing until God’s people rebel against the LORD.


As we continue to read, let’s watch for the cycle. More importantly, let’s prayerfully seek to understand what is taking place. Why do God’s people repeatedly turn away? Are there safeguards we should adopt to guard our hearts and actions? What will the LORD teach us as we focus upon the slow downward spiral on the part of God’s people? I fear the American Church is also experiencing a downward spiritual descent. Do we see it? Will we be the ones who cry out to the LORD? Could we be the individuals God uses to lead His people back to where they should be? These are sobering questions, but let’s take them to heart. Again and again, God responds to the prayers of His people in the book of Judges. May He hear our cries and send the difference-makers to lead us forward. May it be so, O LORD. May it be so!

March 31, 2022

Judges 1:1-3:30


The LORD was with the people of Judah, and they took possession of the hill country. But they failed to drive out the people living in the plains, who had iron chariots . . . The tribe of Benjamin, however, failed to drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem . . . The tribe of Manasseh failed to drive out the people living in Beth-shan, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo, and all their surrounding settlements . . . The tribe of Ephraim failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer . . . The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron and Nahalol . . . The tribe of Asher failed to drive out the residents of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Aczib, Helbah, Aphik, and Rehob . . . Likewise, the tribe of Naphtali failed to drive out the residents of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath (Judges 1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, NLT).

 

God led His covenant of people into the land of promise to take possession of it. He guarantees their victory if they would only follow His lead. The good news is that they secure a large portion of the land. The bad news is that they stop short of what God intended. Tribe after tribe, for whatever reason, fail to drive out their enemies and take full possession of the land. Of course, from our readings in Joshua, we know the reason. The people doubt God, doubt themselves, and then fail to act in His power. Again, they fall short of what could have been.


Maybe the people thought that they would act upon God's command in the future. Though they hesitated in the past, they envisioned a better day down the road with greater success. Sadly, what they fail to appreciate is that God's promise of victory would be withdrawn due to their prolonged disobedience and compromise. The angel of the Lord delivers the heartbreaking message.


"I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you (Judges 2:1–3, NLT)."

 

The children of Israel missed their opportunity. God promised certain victory. However, His people took His promises for granted, disregarded His commands, and now are left with the consequences. They, their children, and future generations would encounter temptations and hardships that could all have been avoided. How short-sighted they had been. Why did they refuse to trust the LORD and follow His lead? The realization of their loss overwhelms them as they publicly weep and grieve.

Let's learn from this episode. Are we taking God's promises for granted? Are we short-sighted in delaying to act according to God's Word? Is it possible that we may lose future opportunities because of our unwillingness to follow God's lead today? Please know: delayed obedience is disobedience, and disobedience will diminish God's activity in our lives. Let's not make the same mistake. By faith, let's renew our commitment to follow Jesus, taking hold of His promises, claiming the spiritual ground He desires for us to take. Let's not miss this moment nor jeopardize future opportunities. With the courage of Joshua and Caleb, may we step boldly toward the LORD and His work through our lives. May it be so today!

March 30, 2022

Joshua 22:1-24:33


The people said to Joshua, "We will serve the LORD our God. We will obey him alone (Joshua 24:24, NLT)."

 

At the end of Joshua's life, he asks God's people to look again within their hearts. He had witnessed the children of Israel turning to the LORD over his lifespan, but also away. He had experienced the best and worst of possibilities—blessing and judgment. With the end of his life in view, the aging leader asks the twelve tribes to renew their trust in God. He appeals,

 

"Fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone (Joshua 24:14, NLT)."


Joshua is not naïve. He recognizes that each generation must choose for themselves. We don't inherit faith. We embrace it, or we don't. Joshua challenges the emerging leaders to choose the LORD. From his perspective, there's no question about where he stands. "As for me and my family, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15, NLT)." It must have lifted Joshua's heart to hear the people confess the same.


That gets me to thinking, what about us? Where does our commitment lie? For that matter, how often should we declare our devotion to the LORD? Personally, I think the more, the better. I say that because competing voices surround us. Day after day, something new appeals to our hearts, seeking to lure us away. Day after day, we determine who we will trust and follow. Is it Jesus? Or do we yield ourselves to another? Again, there's value in fresh commitments. I remind you of Jesus' words, "If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow Me, (Luke 9:23, NLT)." It sounds like a consistent determination is beneficial. So what's it going to be? The choice is before us. Who will we follow and serve today? As for me and my family, we will serve the LORD. And you?

March 29, 2022

Joshua 19:49-21:45; 1 Chronicles 6:54-81


After all the land was divided among the tribes, the Israelites gave a piece of land to Joshua as his allocation. For the LORD had said he could have any town he wanted. He chose Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. He rebuilt the town and lived there (Joshua 19:49–50, NLT).

 

Two thoughts stand out in my mind from today's reading. First, as highlighted above, Joshua receives his allotment of land last. If anyone could have been justified in pushing himself to the front of the line, it could have been Joshua. Think about it. He and Caleb trusted the LORD when the Exodus generation refused to do so. Joshua is then appointed as Moses' successor to lead the next generation forward. He shoulders a level of responsibility that no one else would. He deals with the nation's successes and failures as only a leader can. Undoubtedly, his path was often stressful and lonely to walk.


Even so, Joshua doesn't elevate himself in a way that would interfere with his effectiveness or his role. Like Moses before him, he adopts a humility that should likewise characterize our approach. I'm not suggesting that Joshua didn't receive a prime piece of property in the end. No doubt he did. My point is this: his focus and general practice do not appear to be self-serving. Instead, Joshua reflects the attitude that Jesus later promotes, "Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else (Mark 9:35, NLT)." May we adopt the same attitude and approach.


The second emphasis that encourages my heart is the concluding summary of God's faithfulness. "Not a single one of all the good promises the LORD had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true (Joshua 21:45, NLT)." If that doesn't strengthen one's faith in the LORD, I don't know what will. God keeps His promises. That's true with the children of Israel. Bless the LORD, that's true with us in Jesus. The Apostle Paul expresses it well, "For all of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding "Yes!" And through Christ, our "Amen" (which means "Yes") ascends to God for his glory (2 Corinthians 1:20, NLT). Think about the implications of what that means and be encouraged, for God is faithful to His promises!

March 28, 2022

Joshua 18:1-19:48


Now that the land was under Israelite control, the entire community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tabernacle (Joshua 18:1, NLT).


The people gather at Shiloh and erect the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting. This is a significant moment for God's covenant people. It's the first time the Tabernacle is mentioned since the people crossed into the land of promise and indicates the people's general success in securing the land. God is keeping his promise to His people. The children of Israel are taking possession of the land.


However, the setup of the Tabernacle is intended to do something more. The conquest of the land is beginning to slow. Though God is consistently providing the victory, the effort required is significant on the people's part. It appears that a delay has resulted. Joshua appeals, "How long are you going to wait before taking possession of the remaining land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has given to you (Joshua 18:3, NLT)?" Their job is not yet complete. Seven of the twelve tribes have not received their promised allotments, so there are battles still to be fought.


Setting up the Tabernacle at Shiloh is intended to remind the people of God's presence and inspire them to finish the task. Joshua also takes additional action by organizing a "mapping" party to lay out the remaining areas to be secured. Three representatives from each of the seven tribes, who had yet to receive their allotments, are sent to map out the territory. They are instructed to explore the land and carefully write a description. They are then to return to the Tabernacle, and in the presence of the LORD, the land would be appropriately assigned. Think about the practicality of this measure. It enlarges the people's vision of what should be as they map out the land. Allotting the regions in advance of future battles also reminds the people of what will be. At the Tabernacle of the LORD, the people renew their focus and are sent out to fulfill God's promise on their behalf.


Do you see a potential correlation with us? Obviously, we are not involved in military conquests, and for that, I am thankful. However, we are called to fulfill Christ's mission—to reflect His character and extend His hope. He sends us out with the promise of victory, but let's be honest, sometimes we become weary, and our efforts are delayed. That's where gathering with the people of God is so important. It serves to remind us of what should be and, ultimately, what will be as we study His Word. We gather in Jesus' name to renew our focus so that we might be sent out anew to fulfill God's promise on our behalf. Think about that as we enter the week ahead. If we have become sluggish or delayed, may the LORD refocus our hearts in ways that move us forward!

March 27, 2022

Joshua 15:20-17:18


The descendants of Joseph came to Joshua and asked, “Why have you given us only one portion of land as our homeland when the LORD has blessed us with so many people?” Joshua replied, “If there are so many of you, and if the hill country of Ephraim is not large enough for you, clear out land for yourselves in the forest where the Perizzites and Rephaites live.” The descendants of Joseph responded, “It’s true that the hill country is not large enough for us. But all the Canaanites in the lowlands have iron chariots, both those in Beth-shan and its surrounding settlements and those in the valley of Jezreel. They are too strong for us (Joshua 17:14–16, NLT).


In yesterday’s reading, Caleb models the proper approach to victory with God: Act according to God’s promise and follow God’s lead wholeheartedly. Yet, yesterday’s passage also illustrates that not everyone followed Caleb’s example. Some of the tribes step short of what could be. They fail to secure the land God promised would be. Today’s reading highlights this same problem as the descendants of Joseph allow their fear to get the best of them. Instead of focusing on the LORD and His provision on their behalf, they direct their attention to the enemy’s iron chariots and the strength of the opposition. “They are too strong for us,” they exclaim, with no mention of God at all. Again, they allow their fear to get the best of them.


Let’s admit that fear is often an unexpected, uncontrollable emotion. We don’t plan to be afraid. We simply are, and that is usually the result of the circumstances at hand or the possibility of what might be. Something alarms us, which causes us to feel uneasy. The question is, “How will respond?” Will we fixate on the source of our fear or direct our hearts to the One who can make the necessary difference. Caleb, the senior adult warrior, chose to focus upon the LORD. In contrast, the descendants of Joseph (probably more in number and younger age) chose to focus on the circumstances. Caleb experiences God’s help and overcomes his giants, the descendants of Joseph ignore the LORD and settle for less. What is our approach?


I want to be clear. I don’t believe that fear is the absence of faith. Not so, from my perspective, it’s possible to have faith and still feel afraid. Faith is the path that helps us move through our fears to experience God’s presence and help. Does that make sense? Fear is an emotional reaction. Faith is a spiritual plan of action that moves us through the very circumstances that make us afraid. Personally, I will never condemn someone for being afraid. My desire is to remind them that they are not facing the troubling situation alone. “They are too strong for us,” the descendants of Joseph exclaim. Someone among them should have stood up and declared, “But the LORD is with us, and our GOD is stronger still.”


May God help us to focus upon His presence with us so that we keep moving forward. Let’s not step short of what should be!

March 26, 2022

Joshua 12:7-15:19


"So give me the hill country that the LORD promised me. You will remember that as scouts we found the descendants of Anak living there in great, walled towns. But if the LORD is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the LORD said (Joshua 14:12, NLT)."


If God promises us victory in battle, do we enter the fight? Or do we prefer to avoid the struggle altogether? Yesterday we read about the Israelites defeating the famed descendants of Anak—the fearsome giants of the land (Joshua 11:21-22). Our reading today provides a little more detail. How are the Anakim defeated? It's not by accident. It requires the faith and courage of one of Israel's oldest leaders. It's none other than the former scout of Israel, Caleb, who steps up and says, "Give me the hill country!"

 

We have to admire the boldness of Caleb. At age 85, he's not looking for an easy path. He chooses a fight that younger hearts might seek to avoid. He calls out, "Give me the giants." Again, we have to be impressed. However, maybe we should do more than marvel at God's aging warrior. Perhaps we should be challenged instead. Think about it. What battles are still before us? Are we stepping toward them, making ourselves available? Or do we pursue the path of least resistance?


I'm not suggesting that we can choose any monumental problem and then presume success. That isn't Caleb's approach. The LORD guides his servant's action, and it is God's promise that becomes the basis of his boldness. Let's learn from this. We, too, must seek God's leadership moving forward. We don't chart our path. By faith, we follow God's lead. As we do, we also cling to His promise, anticipating His provision in the battle. Let's remind ourselves that we serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—and don't forget Caleb.


Caleb courageously steps forward in faith, but there is one further description that should also be noted. "He wholeheartedly followed the LORD, the God of Israel (Joshua 14:14, NLT)." The lesson is: we don't experience God's victories by being half-hearted in our commitment. Maybe that is already presumed on our part, but then again, maybe not. Our commitment to the LORD needs to be complete as we step toward our giants. Anything less will likely result in us abandoning the struggle prematurely, stopping short of the victory that could be. Sadly, today's reading indicates as much among some of the other tribes of Israel (Joshua 13:13). They fail to drive out their enemies and are left to deal with the consequences for years to come. Let that not be said of us. Like Caleb, let's step forward in faith, become courageous in heart, and remain wholly committed to the LORD as we enter the battle ahead. May it be so!

March 25, 2022

Joshua 10:1-12:6


As the LORD had commanded His servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua. And Joshua did as he was told, carefully obeying all the commands that the LORD had given to Moses. So Joshua conquered the entire region—the hill country, the entire Negev, the whole area around the town of Goshen, the western foothills, the Jordan Valley, the mountains of Israel, and the Galilean foothills (Joshua 11:15–16, NLT).


Today, our reading highlights a series of victories on behalf of God's people. Even when their enemies combine forces, they are no match for the LORD's army. God delivers the victory again and again. That said, it is not without a struggle. They prevail as the LORD works through them, and that's helpful to remember. God is not watching at a distance, nor are the soldiers passive in the conflict. Instead, the LORD leads and empowers the children of Israel to defeat their enemies, no matter the number or size. They even overwhelm the descendants of Anak (Joshua 11:21), who caused their parent's generation to shudder in fear (Numbers 13:32-33). That's right. They defeat the so-called giants of Anak.


Think about that for a moment. One generation, intimidated by the Anakim, turns away from the land in fear. Another generation steps forward with the LORD and discovers that even giants are no match when God joins you in the battle. Which generation do you identify with more? Are you stepping toward life's giants with the LORD or doubting Him and turning away? If we're honest, we probably identify with both at different times. If so, let's learn from today’s reading and follow the LORD's lead.


Of course, that is the key to Israel's success. Joshua carefully obeys the LORD's commands as they enter the land. He does not seek God's blessing on a plan of his own making. Instead, he leads the people according to God's plan, God's promise, so they can experience God's power. Is that our approach? Admittedly, it's much easier to develop a plan that we prefer and ask God to endorse it. Yet, if we genuinely seek God's activity, shouldn't we take the necessary time to pursue God's counsel through His Word and request God's leadership from our knees in prayer. Shouldn’t we? If Joshua is our example, I choose to follow the LORD's lead because I have some giants to defeat, and you?

March 24, 2022

Joshua 7:1; 1 Chronicles 2:7; Joshua 7:2-9:27


So approximately 3,000 warriors were sent, but they were soundly defeated. The men of Ai chased the Israelites from the town gate as far as the quarries, and they killed about thirty-six who were retreating down the slope. The Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away (Joshua 7:4–5, NLT).


The children of Israel go from victory to defeat unexpectedly. They presume their early success at Jericho would lead to an easy victory at Ai. They are greatly mistaken. They approach the task without consulting the LORD and are soundly defeated—thirty-six die as a result. What went wrong? Why did they suffer such a disheartening defeat?


Joshua initially blames the LORD but soon discovers the problem is with the people themselves. Israel had sinned against God and had broken the covenant. Someone within the camp disregarded God's command and stole items in Jericho that should have been set apart unto the LORD. As a result, Joshua calls for the people to purify themselves and submit to God's examination. It must have been a fearful exercise as the LORD singles out Achan.


Achan confesses his sin as Joshua confronts him. "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. Among the plunder I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest (Joshua 7:20–21, NLT)."

 

Achan made a severe mistake thinking that God's commands did not matter. Instead of focusing upon the LORD and His instructions, he finds himself tempted by the costly items he observes in Jericho. Achan sees, desires, takes, and then conceals the forbidden objects. He foolishly believes that he can get away with his sin. This destructive pattern is tragically too common. How often do we repeat the same sequence—to see, desire, take, and conceal? May God forgive us and help us to learn from his actions.


However, there's one other lesson to consider from Achan's disobedience. The consequences of his action went much further than he imagined. It leads to Israel's costly defeat at Ai. It results in the public exposure of his sin. And even more significantly, Achan forfeits his life and that of his family. We can be sure that he never intended any of that to happen, but that is often the nature of sin. It puts into motion consequences that will be far beyond our control—heartbreaking consequences. We should think about that and allow Achan's experience to be a cautionary tale when we are tempted and enticed. Will we do so? I pray the answer is "Yes" as we seek to follow the LORD.

March 23, 2022

Joshua 3-6


So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. He told them, "Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the LORD your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' Then you can tell them, 'They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the LORD's Covenant went across.' These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever (Joshua 4:4–7, NLT)."


We all need spiritual markers in our lives—markers to remind us of God's faithfulness, markers that point to God's sufficiency. Today's reading highlights this principle as God instructs His people to erect a memorial as they cross miraculously into the land of promise. The monument would consist of twelve select stones placed upon one another as a visible tribute to God's grace and power. And what story do the rocks tell?


At God's command, it begins with the Ark of the Covenant being carried into the rising waters of the Jordan river. What are the Levites thinking as they wade into the river's flow? Their instructions seem somewhat incomplete, "Take a few steps into the river and then stop there." And then? That's the beauty of the story. The priests are asked to step forward without being informed of the result. It's like the LORD is saying, "Trust Me. I've got this, but you need to step out." To their credit, that's what they do. With the Ark of the Covenant upon their shoulders, the Levites plunge their feet into the water.


Of course, the Levites are not moving toward the Jordan alone. The twelve tribes of Israel follow at an appropriate distance. They witness the actions of the priests, but more significantly, they behold the power of God. As soon as the feet of the priests touch the water, the water above that point begins to back up, and the water below that point flows onto the Dead Sea until the riverbed is dry (Joshua 3:15–16, NLT). In other words, God creates a way where there is no way, and God's people dramatically enter His land of promise.


Now that's a story to tell! No, that's a testimony to remember—thus the marker. God commands Joshua to take action to ensure the people would not soon forget. Representatives from each of the twelve tribes return to the riverbed. They individually collect and carry sizable stones into the land of promise to erect the monument. Think about that. Their first action as they step toward the future is remembering God's faithfulness.


How about us? Should we have a marker or two to encourage us forward? I'm not suggesting anything elaborate. Instead, identify something simple that will prompt your heart and mind of something significant. For example, place an item in your home that serves to remind you that you have been saved by God's grace—a tangible reminder of God's forgiveness and salvation. You decide what it is, but allow it to point you to God's past faithfulness. Second, place another marker somewhere in your home or office that directs your mind to God's sustaining grace—a physical token that points to God's ability to carry you through a past hardship or challenge. Again, the markers can be very simple, but the testimony will be far-reaching. Will we do it? God thought it was important enough for the children of Israel to remember. Maybe we should do the same.

March 22, 2022

Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12; Joshua 1:1-2:24


This is the blessing that Moses, the man of God, gave to the people of Israel before his death (Deuteronomy 33:1, NLT).

 

So Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, just as the LORD had said (Deuteronomy 34:5, NLT)

 

There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10, NLT).

 

Today I highlight three verses, each of which points us to Moses. First, note how Moses is described as he prepares to bless the various tribes. Matter-of-factly, he is referred to as "the man of God." A truer statement could not be made concerning Israel's leader. Though he is not a perfect man or leader, Moses displayed a devotion to God that should be acknowledged and celebrated. He was faithful to God's calling, committed to God's Word, and determined to do whatever was necessary for the sake of God's people. He was undeniably a man of God. What might be said of us? Is our devotion to God so apparent that people would describe us as a man or woman of God? This suggests more than a singular moment or action. It portrays an extended pattern. Interestingly, Moses doesn't emerge as God's man until he responds to the LORD at the burning bush later in life. If I recall, he was 80 at the time. I mention that to illustrate that we are never too young or old to allow God to affect the direction of our lives.


Second, as we are informed of Moses' death, he is also described as the "servant of the LORD." We should readily appreciate how this relates to the earlier description. It is impossible to be a man or woman of God and not be His servant. Service characterizes those who know God and seek to follow Him. Moses did not allow his identity as God's man to go to his head. If you recall, Moses was described earlier in our readings as the humblest of all men (Numbers 12:3). Though elevated by God to a position of great authority, at his death, Moses is described as a servant—not a ruler. Let's reflect upon that for a minute. How often do we strive for recognition that places us above others? The legacy of Moses' life is that he was the LORD's servant. May that also be said of us.


Finally, let's conclude by considering one further description concerning Moses' life. He is distinguished as God's prophet because he knew the LORD face to face. The uniqueness of his relationship with the LORD is without question. He was privileged to approach God in ways that set him apart from his brother Aaron, the priests and Levites, and even Joshua, his protégé. Something special about the relationship he enjoyed with the LORD would not be repeated. Admitting that, however, do we recognize the privilege that is ours? Because of Jesus, we have become the temple of the LORD whose Spirit dwells within us so that we might experience His life and power within (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18). I mention that because we, too, should be drawing near to the LORD. By faith, we should seek Him in ways that affect our lives, reflect His glory, and enable us to accomplish what He desires. Yes, let's marvel at Moses' relationship with the LORD, but let's not step short of what He desires with us.


Three verses. Three descriptions. Three considerations to encourage us forward in our faith.

March 21, 2022

Deuteronomy 31:30–32:52; Psalm 90:1-17


I will proclaim the name of the LORD; how glorious is our God! He is the Rock; His deeds are perfect. Everything He does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright He is (Deuteronomy 32:3–4, NLT)!

 

Today's reading includes a song and psalm, both from Moses. The song may not make one's list of favorites. It's intended more to instruct than to inspire. That said, His testimony concerning the LORD stands out. He confesses, "Everything He does is just and fair." Think about this statement in the light of Moses' inability to cross over into the land of promise. He doesn't allow his disappointment to distort or diminish his perception of God. From Moses' perspective, "He is a faithful God who does no wrong." Again, his testimony stands out to me. And you?


I'm also encouraged by Moses' prayer in Psalm 90. He writes, "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom . . . Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:12, 14, ESV)."

 

Both appeals are helpful. First, it's helpful to keep a proper perspective about life itself. Every day matters, and we make a mistake when we live for a future that may never be. The problem about living for tomorrow is that it potentially robs us of today. Through his prayer, Moses promotes the wise approach. "Lord, teach us to appreciate the importance of the day at hand and to live accordingly." Will we take this lesson to heart?


Second, Moses reminds us where true life is found. It is the LORD who satisfies the heart within. It is His steadfast love that generates lasting joy. Again, given the ups and downs of Moses' experience, it's instructive to hear Moses' appeal. "Lord, what I essentially need is You. You are the One who satisfies my heart." Can we confess the same? Will we turn to Him today?


A song and a psalm of Moses—May the Lord encourage our hearts as we allow Moses' experience to influence our own. 

March 20, 2022

Deuteronomy 29:2-31:29


So Moses wrote this entire body of instruction in a book and gave it to the priests, who carried the Ark of the LORD's Covenant, and to the elders of Israel. Then Moses gave them this command: "At the end of every seventh year, the Year of Release, during the Festival of Shelters, you must read this Book of Instruction to all the people of Israel when they assemble before the LORD your God at the place he chooses. Call them all together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living in your towns—so they may hear this Book of Instruction and learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully obey all the terms of these instructions. Do this so that your children who have not known these instructions will hear them and will learn to fear the LORD your God. Do this as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy (Deuteronomy 31:9–13, NLT)."

 

As was highlighted in yesterday's reading, God's Word is vital for His covenant people. His wisdom, commands, and promises must not be neglected or ignored. They are the basis of the Israelite's future hope. God's revelation serves as a "Book of Instruction" for the twelve tribes to follow. That is how His revelation is described six times in four chapters (Deuteronomy 28:61; 29:21; 30:10; 31:11,12, 26). Over and over again, His teaching is described in the most practical terms. It is "the Book of Instruction." Literally, it is the book of the "TORAH." The Hebrew term, TORAH, can be translated as "direction, teaching, law, or instruction." It is the source of God's necessary guidance.


It is one thing for God's people to admit this. It is something else for them to act as if this is true. God calls for His people to act accordingly. That would require the "Book of Instruction" to be consistently read. Every seventh year, the people were to gather and read the text aloud. Unlike our day, not everyone had access to copies of Scripture. They were dependent on these gatherings to ensure the people, young and old alike, understood the testimony of God's Word. Do know: God's people would discuss and remind one another of His teaching from year to year. The seven-year cycle would guarantee familiarity and elevate the priority of God's revelation.


And for us? Recent studies indicate that biblical literacy is on the decline. People are less informed than previous generations. Even the pandemic did not change this trend. Last year, a national survey revealed that people are reading the Bible less now than before the pandemic. I would have anticipated otherwise. Though we can't alter the actions of others, we can take responsibility for ourselves. Your participation in our chronological readings is a step in the right direction. However, our greater focus must remain on Jesus and His work on our behalf. We do not read to fulfill a religious requirement. We read to discover the greater truth concerning Jesus and the difference He makes. Let's then persist in our daily readings but do so from a heart of faith. May God open our eyes as we do.


March 19, 2022

Deuteronomy 26:1-29:1


When you cross the Jordan River and enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write this whole body of instruction on them when you cross the river to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you—a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you (Deuteronomy 27:2–3, NLT).


The people of God cannot do what they do not know. They cannot know what they have not heard or read. To solve this, God provides a practical solution. He instructs His people to erect a series of large stones as they enter the land of promise. Next, they are to plaster the rocks so that God's covenant teaching can be written upon them for all to see. Again, people cannot do what they do not know. They cannot know what they have not heard or read. God ensures that the people understand His will and His promises as they publicly renew their covenant.


The covenant renewal would be a dramatic ceremony. The people are divided to stand across two mountains with the ark of the covenant positioned in the valley below. Six tribes stand across Mount Ebal, and six along Mount Gerazim as God's people declare their intentions. The choice is between being blessed by God or cursed. They can have God working for them or against them, multiplying their victories or guaranteeing their defeat. The decision is theirs to make, and the consequences are assured. In Joshua 8, God's people do as He prescribes. The whole of God's Law is read before the people by Joshua, and Israel announces their decision. The twelve tribes declare their loyalty to God as they commit themselves to follow His lead. It is an exciting step forward for God's covenant people.


And how does any of this relate to us? We, too, should consistently confess our intentions. There should be no doubt where we stand. We should commit ourselves to follow Jesus' lead publicly and privately. Of course, we can't do what we do not know, and we will not know apart from a genuine commitment to His Word. The need is not for us to write His testimony upon plastered stones. Instead, the priority should be to read and reflect consistently upon His Word so that we carry His message with us. So, let's stand up and declare our intentions. We are followers of Jesus Christ, and we will walk in His ways. Do you agree?

March 18, 2022

Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19


When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don't go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all you do. When you beat the olives from your olive trees, don't go over the boughs twice. Leave the remaining olives for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don't glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. That is why I am giving you this command (Deuteronomy 24:19–22, NLT).

 

Today's reading covers a number of different topics, from family relationships to sexual purity, from worship restrictions to various issues and guidelines. My attention is drawn to God's instruction concerning the people's approach to the harvest. Instead of over-picking a field, vine, or tree, God's people deliberately leave a small portion of the crop for those in need. It would become a societal safety net of sorts. Of course, foreigners, widows, and orphans would need to glean from the fields, orchards, and vineyards themselves. It would still provide for their need and promote a generous spirit among God's people.


Does God desire a similar approach from us? Few of us have a field or orchard, so the above injunction may appear irrelevant. However, the point of the passage is their attitude toward the poor and vulnerable. Will they act unselfishly for the sake of those in need? Or will they focus only on themselves, hoarding their resources for their benefit alone? Jesus shares a parable that might add to our consideration.


"A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, 'What should I do? I don't have room for all my crops.' Then he said, 'I know! I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I'll sit back and say to myself, "My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!" ' But God said to him, 'You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for? (Luke 12:16–20, NLT).'"

 

Jesus exposes the self-centered approach, which is far too familiar. He calls for His disciples to become rich in ways that matter with God, which involves compassion and generosity. How we express that in our day may vary. The key is to look for opportunities where we might help the vulnerable, responding in ways that we can. God commands His people to live unselfishly and to show appropriate concern. May the LORD help us do so into the weekend ahead.

March 17, 2022

Deuteronomy 16:18–18:22


Appoint judges and officials for yourselves from each of your tribes in all the towns the LORD your God is giving you. They must judge the people fairly. You must never twist justice or show partiality. Never accept a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly. Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you (Deuteronomy 16:18–20, NLT).

 

Justice, true justice, is vital for any civilization. When justice becomes corrupt or manipulated by the rich and powerful, then a society's stability is in jeopardy. You've heard the expression, "Justice is blind." It should be. From God's perspective, it must be. The LORD commands His people to appoint individuals who uphold what is right and apply the law fairly, without bias. We need to insist upon the same across our society. As Jesus' followers, we should demand a fair legal system for the rich and the poor, for the powerful and weak, and we must speak out when our system appears compromised or corrupt. If we remain silent in the face of injustice, we contribute to our nation's demise. God demands justice, and His people must require the same. Justice is not a luxury for a healthy society. It's essential.


Today's reading also highlights God's expectations for those who would serve as the nation's kings. I was struck by how many future problems would have been avoided if the nation's rulers had obeyed His commands. For example, the LORD commands that a king must not take many wives for himself (Deuteronomy 17:17). How many of David's struggles could have been avoided if he heeded God's instruction? The same could be said of Solomon. God's Word is given to guide their steps, not to be ignored.


How would much better would they have ruled as kings if they had applied Deuteronomy 17:18-20, which reads, "When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel."

 

How many verses of the Bible have you copied by hand? Do you think doing so would impress the lessons further upon your heart? God requires the nation's rulers to physically write out the whole book of Deuteronomy and carry it with them. They were to read it daily, reflect upon its wisdom, and obey its commands. Do you see the value of this? As the LORD explains, it will teach the king to walk humbly with the LORD, benefitting from His leadership and instruction. And what about us?


Consider the following exercise. Take a notebook and physically write out Deuteronomy 6. As you do, ask the LORD to speak, to impress His Word upon your heart. We may discover the practical benefit of God's instruction to Israel’s kings. Give it a try, and you may decide to adopt the practice more frequently.

March 16, 2022

Deuteronomy 13:1-16:17


You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the LORD your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 14:22–23, NLT). 


God commands His people to honor Him each year with a tithe, a tenth of what He placed in their hands. It would serve two important purposes. First, it would support the ministry of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. Their consistent gifts to LORD would sustain the Levites who served on the people's behalf, but it would also support those with a particular need—the foreigners, the orphans, and widows.


Second, and perhaps even more critically, it would promote faith and reliance upon the LORD. It would teach the people to "fear the LORD." This "fear" is not to feel uneasy toward God or dread Him. Instead, it is to keep in mind that He is God, and we are not. We fear the LORD when we relate to Him for who He is. We walk humbly with God, admitting our need but gratefully acknowledging His provision and grace. In "fear," we do not run from Him. To "fear the LORD" is to draw near to Him in faith and honor Him appropriately. The tithe allows a person of faith to do both. We acknowledge that God is the One who sustains us, and we lift before Him a grateful token of His goodness.


Why a tenth, and not a fifth, or a twentieth? The Bible does not say. Perhaps it mirrors the response of Abraham (Genesis 14:20) or the pledge of Jacob (Genesis 28:22). What's clear is that it represents a significant enough contribution to assure that faith would be required and reflected. It's more than giving to the LORD the leftovers of one's resources. It's a tangible gesture of trust and reliance. As verse 23 indicates, it would teach His people to "fear the Lord."


Of course, the question inevitably arises, must New Testament followers of Jesus give a tithe to the LORD? Hasn't Jesus freed us from the requirements of the Law? Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law on our behalf, and we should be eternally grateful. I know that I am, which begs the question—should I then offer to the LORD less than the children of Israel? I don't want to fall into the trap of legalism when it comes to the tithe. Even so, I want to reflect a heart of faith that honors the One who has saved me and graciously sustains me. And you?

March 15, 2022

Deuteronomy 10-12


So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors (Deuteronomy 11:18–21, NLT).

 

God calls for His people to teach their children concerning matters of faith and conduct. They are not to leave it to chance, hoping that the children figure it out. They instead are to talk about their faith so that future generations might experience a relationship with the LORD. They discuss it at home, when they are on the road, and when they get up or go to bed. In other words, families openly discuss their faith as they share life together. It's not so much scheduled, as it is incorporated into the everyday experiences of life.


Do we understand the importance of this? I fear that some have almost adopted the opposite approach. They have bought into the idea that children should develop their own conclusions about faith and religion without being influenced. I agree that each child must ultimately decide for themselves. That said, it's the parent's responsibility to ensure that such a decision is possible. If we neglect to reveal the truth about God and to model a life of faith, the likelihood is that our children will fill their lives with something other than God. How can children embrace something that they do not know or understand? God calls for parents and grandparents to be practical. We are to look for natural opportunities to talk about our faith and the difference that God can make.


The good news is that we have abundant resources available to help us with this task. At church, online, and in print, age-appropriate materials are available to encourage and guide us in our faith discussions. The bad news is that there are just as many misleading resources and cultural influences present to deceive and confuse the young. If we leave it to our children to distinguish the true from the false, it's like leaving young children to cross a busy street on their own. Hoping they cross over safely is just not enough. God would say, "Teach your children. Talk to them." Yes, the day will come when they will make decisions on their own, but for now, lead them down a path of faith and pray that they continue to walk it.

March 14, 2022

Deuteronomy 6-9


Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, NLT).

 

From the very beginning, God desired a relationship with humanity. The Creator fashioned us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), so we might know Him and relate to Him as God. As we know Him, He also expects that we would trust Him and actively love Him. Sadly, much of human history has demonstrated otherwise. Too many descendants of Adam and Eve turned away from God, rejecting the privileged relationship He desired. God's covenant with the children of Israel appears to be a relational reset of sorts. God provides a way of forgiveness, a place of fellowship, and a wisdom for life that would allow the Israelites to rediscover the joy of relating to God, their Creator.


Deuteronomy 6:4-5 serves as foundational verses for God's redeemed people. They are to relate to God as God and (as God plainly commands) love Him for who He is. Keep in mind. Loving the LORD with all of one's heart, soul, and strength is more than a warm emotion or feeling. Instead, it is an appeal to respond to God with the whole of one's being. It's more of a determination of the will than a spontaneous stirring within, which makes sense. You can't command an emotion. Feelings will rise and fall, often influenced by the circumstances. However, you can command an action or priority. That is the message of these notable verses. God directs us to relate to Him as God—choosing to turn to Him, trust in Him, and respond to Him with the whole of we are.


Jesus later states that loving God with all that we are is the most important command in all of the Law, adding a second, "to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31)." Again, keep in mind that this is not about an emotional response. It is descriptive of a determined response. You choose to relate to God for who He is—trusting Him, following Him, honoring Him, serving Him, enjoying the possibility of fellowship with Him. You are, as the verses explain, to "love the LORD your God (see the personal component) with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. It is a decision of the will, not a temperamental emotion within. The truth is: the more we relate to God in this way, the more we will know Him and experience Him; and the more we know and experience Him, the more often we will experience the human emotion we often refer to as love.


So, how will we approach the LORD into the day ahead and week ahead? I recommend that we love Him with all that we are, and you?

March 13, 2022

Deuteronomy 3:21-5:33


So Moses told the people, "You must be careful to obey all the commands of the LORD your God, following his instructions in every detail. Stay on the path that the LORD your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy (Deuteronomy 5:32–33, NLT)."


How important is one's obedience to God? Moses would attest, "It is vitally important." Moses disregarded the LORD at one critical point, and it would cost him dearly. God promised that He would make water miraculously flow from a rock if His servant would only speak to it. Sadly, Moses allowed his emotions and pride to get the best of him. Instead of obeying the LORD's command, Moses physically struck the rock with his staff, not once but twice. God still provided water for His people. Moses, however, forfeited his opportunity to enter the land of promise. What a painful mistake!


Moses admits that he appealed to the LORD for a second chance (Deuteronomy 3:24-25). Though God forgave Moses' disobedience, the consequence of his sin remained. He still would be unable to join God's people as they cross over into the land. We can argue over whether this is fair on God's part. Yet, it's the lesson that's key—our obedience matters. God's commands are not optional. He expects His people to follow His lead for their benefit. This is especially true of God's leaders.


That explains Moses' passionate appeal, "Stay on the path that the LORD your God has commanded you to follow." From experience, Moses doesn't want anyone else to miss out on what could be. Nor does the LORD. Keep in mind. Our obedience doesn't earn the desired benefit. It simply places us in proximity with the One who provides. Sin disrupts fellowship, which hinders God's activity. In contrast, obedience enables us to walk with the God who provides, so we experience His continuing grace and power. Get the idea?


Take heart. Our future hope in heaven rests upon Jesus' perfect work on our behalf. Disobedience doesn't disqualify us—praise Jesus’ name. That said. Daily obedience positions us to experience even more of God on this side of heaven, so it's worth the time and effort. So how important is one's obedience to God? Moses testifies, "Vitally important!" And we agree?

March 12, 2022

Deuteronomy 1:1-3:20


Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. And the LORD our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people (Deuteronomy 2:32–33, NLT).

 

From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, as far as Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. The LORD our God gave all into our hands (Deuteronomy 2:36, ESV).

 

The battle is the LORD's. That's not always an easy lesson for God's people to learn. We are prone to two extremes. We either push God into a spectator role, attempting the battle on our own, or we adopt a passive role, expecting the LORD to give us a victory without us entering the fray. It's either all God or all us, when in fact, it is intended to be God's work through us, not without us.


The battle is the LORD's. God seeks to impress this vital lesson upon the hearts of a new generation of followers. The LORD reminds them how He has given them their past victories and how He will lead them to greater success as they step toward the future. The key is to discover the proper disposition of heart. Their responsibility is to trust the LORD enough to follow His leadership and anticipate His provision as they enter into the battle. Sounds easy enough, but we know that's not true. Pride, selfishness, sin, and doubt—all have a way of interfering with God's plan and provision. That was true of the children of Israel, and it is just as true of us. 


The battle is the LORD's. Let's renew our focus for the day ahead. Let's confess our dependence. Let's commit to God's leadership. Let's move into the day, anticipating His provision and work. Once again, don't push God into a spectator role nor expect His activity without your involvement. May we realize instead that we will share in God's activity and discover His sufficiency in whatever we face. Consider some additional verses from Deuteronomy, and let's be reassured.


 Do not be afraid of the nations there, for the LORD your God will fight for you (Deuteronomy 3:22, NLT).


When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you (Deuteronomy 20:1, NLT)!


For the LORD your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will give you victory (Deuteronomy 20:4, NLT)!

 

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6, NLT).

March 11, 2022

Numbers 34-36


Then the LORD said to Moses, "Give these instructions to the Israelites: When you come into the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your special possession, these will be the boundaries (Numbers 34:1–2, NLT).


God lays out a vision of what should be. Before the children of Israel cross over into the land, God defines the future boundaries. From the north to the south, to the east to the west, God explains what could be as the people trust Him and follow His leadership. The land is there to be claimed, but will they do it? The answer is "no." Though much of the defined territory would come under Israel's control, the twelve tribes would ultimately stop short of establishing the promised boundaries. Large tracts of land will remain unsecured. On some level, the people will settle for less than God intended.


Let's reflect upon that further. The boundaries of God's blessing are clearly defined. He guarantees their success as they follow His lead. He promises their victory as they step forward with Him, trusting in His provision. So why would they choose to step short? Did they grow content with their early conquests? Did they become weary of the struggle? Why settle for less? We'll read of their future actions in the Book of Joshua. However, for now, think about what could have been—what should have been.


Why the emphasis? As Jesus' disciples, God also defines the boundaries of His blessing on our behalf. Granted, His promises to us are not geographical. His promises to us are transformational. Go promises to affect our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus so that we might reflect His character and nature. The Apostle Paul explains, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)." However, to experience the "new" fully involves a series of actions on our part. It's not spiritually instantaneous. Like the children of Israel, we must actively follow God's lead and then claim the ground that He promises. Are we doing so? Why would we settle for less?


Perhaps we're unfamiliar with the moral and spiritual ground we should claim as we abide in Jesus. Maybe we've grown content with our early successes. Why stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone? Or, perhaps we've grown weary of the struggle? Let's admit. Spiritual growth or transformation can be a real battle. Seldom do we reject the influence of our sinful nature without a struggle. It's much easier to go along with the world, and our natural desires, than to follow Jesus. Yet, if true life is what we seek, we choose to say "yes" to Jesus and "no" to ourselves. So, let's ask the LORD to open our spiritual eyes to the promised boundaries before us. Even more, let's follow God's lead into the day ahead and claim the spiritual ground that should be taken. May it not be said of us today, "we settled for less."

March 10, 2022

Numbers 32-33


At the LORD's direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress. These are the stages of their march, identified by the different places where they stopped along the way (Numbers 33:2, NLT).


God asks Moses to keep a journal of the people's roadmap to the land of promise. There's a benefit in remembering their many stops. A story might be told and remembered with each entry—both good and bad. Of course, their journey begins dramatically with their deliverance from Egypt. A captive people set free to follow God's leadership to a better place, a better life. Their path would include a trail across the Red Sea on dry land. Who would have charted that as a possibility, except the LORD? That said, other destinations would also remind God's people of His faithfulness. At Rephidim, God miraculously supplies water from a rock. He teaches His people—you can trust in Me. At Sinai, their eyes are opened to the possibility of a covenant relationship with their God. They would draw near to Him in ways that the people had never known. Good stops. Good memories.


The journal entries would likewise remind Moses of some regrets along the way. The wilderness of Sinai would highlight both. The privilege of drawing near and the shame of turning away. At Kibroth-hattaavah, the children of Israel express doubt in God's concern and provision, suffering the consequences. Regrettably, their refusal to trust the LORD would characterize many stops along the way. Indeed, they would experience quite a few regrets if they retraced their path. And us? God commands Moses to keep a record of their progress, to remember their journey. Do you think it would be helpful for us to do the same? Not so much focusing upon places that you physically lived, but key points along the way where you learned a lesson of faith—perhaps good and bad.


For example, start with how your journey began. When did you experience God's deliverance in Jesus? What led to your response in Him? Consider also two high points in your spiritual journey—points along the way that God opened your spiritual eyes further to His activity and grace. Identify also two spiritual low points where you faltered or failed. It's helpful to remember and draw the appropriate lessons. Moses' journal included the place where his brother Aaron died. What place or experience might you remember where you discovered God's comfort and support? We all have such times and places to remember.


There's a value in remembering. Though our roadmap will not be as detailed as Moses', take a few moments and reflect. Give God a few minutes to refocus your heart. I pray our faith and confidence in the LORD will be strengthened as we do.

March 9, 2022

Numbers 30-31


Then the LORD said to Moses, "On behalf of the people of Israel, take revenge on the Midianites for leading them into idolatry. After that, you will die and join your ancestors." So Moses said to the people, "Choose some men, and arm them to fight the LORD's war of revenge against Midian (Numbers 31:1–3, NLT)."


If you had a choice, how would you conclude a lifetime of service to the LORD? An enjoyable reception or two? A few public speaking engagements? Maybe a simple, non-stressful act of service? I doubt it would in any way compare with Moses' final assignment. As Moses' life draws to a close, God calls for His servant to become an instrument of God's judgment against the people of Midian.


Why take such action? If you recall, the Midianites (advised by Balaam) lure God's people into moral and spiritual compromise (Numbers 25). Many of the men of Israel openly worship the pagan God, Baal, in pursuit of sexual gratification with the Midianite women. God's people defile themselves, and twenty-four thousand Israelites die as a result. The consequence of their spiritual infidelity is terrible and ugly. The time, however, has now come for God to judge the instigators of the offense. God demanded vengeance against the people of Midian.


Can we agree that every expression of God's judgment in Scripture is unsettling? We should never grow comfortable with displays of God's justice and retribution. The heart should be dismayed. It should remind us of the seriousness of sin in the eyes of a holy God. That said, consider leading God's people to be the instrument of God's wrath. That is Moses' final assignment. God directs him to mobilize the army, and Moses faithfully obeys.


Why highlight this action? I suppose it would be easier to look beyond the story. We don't like to dwell on examples of God's judgment. But let's look at it in all its horror and remind ourselves that Jesus, the Son of God, bore our judgment for sin on the cross. He suffered immeasurably for our sake so that we might be forgiven and made whole. Think about that and give thanks. Consider also the example of Moses at the end of his life. The aging servant of God yields himself to lead the people of God in a way that no one would prefer. He will prove devoted, not perfect, but faithful to the end. Think about that and consider your response to the LORD. 

March 8, 2022

The LORD replied, "Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people (Numbers 27:18–19, NLT)."


How does one choose a leader, especially one responsible for leading a significant number of people? Is it based upon popularity, giftedness, or personal resources? Or should our attention be directed elsewhere? Our reading today answers that question regarding the children of Israel as God commands Moses to appoint His successor. And who is that person? God singles out Moses’ protégé, Joshua. What can we learn from this process?


It is worth noting that Joshua has demonstrated His faithfulness to the LORD over a long period. His service is in no way short-lived. He's been steady and dependable in so many circumstances and situations. For example, Joshua stands with Moses when the people defile themselves by worshiping the golden calf. Joshua also points to God's power and provision when the majority refuses to enter the promised land. Joshua will not be intimidated into silence. Again and again, he demonstrates a pattern of consistency and spiritual credibility. Joshua's trust and dependence upon the LORD are not temperamental displays. His faith has been proven and tested.


And that's what's interesting. Of all the things that might be said about Joshua, God's recommendation of Joshua is brief and to the point. "Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him." This in no way negates all that has been stated. In some way, it may explain it. According to the LORD, what is most important for their future leader, is that Joshua possesses God's Spirit within. His success, and the people's success, will not rest upon Joshua—the person. Their future would depend upon God's activity in and through Joshua's life. God's Spirit is crucial. Do we understand the importance of this within the church? Do we value the same?


I fear that sometimes we focus on the world's criteria more than the LORD's regarding Christian leadership. We are too easily influenced by a person's popularity, giftedness, or personal resources, instead of the recognizable influence of God's Spirit. And, honestly, we suffer because of it. May God help us learn from Joshua's example and teach us to elevate what God holds essential. May we seek those who reflect God's presence within and allow Him to make the necessary difference. 

March 7, 2022

Numbers 25-26


So these are the results of the registration of the people of Israel as conducted by Moses and Eleazar the priest on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Not one person on this list had been among those listed in the previous registration taken by Moses and Aaron in the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers 26:63–64, NLT).

 

The LORD directs Moses and Eliezar to conduct a second census among the people. Much has happened since the people were originally counted at Sinai (Numbers 1). God led His people from the mountain filled with so much expectation. They were heading to the land of promise. What could go wrong? We know what went wrong. They focused more upon their obstacles than God's provision. They fixated more on their inadequacy instead of trusting in God's sufficiency. What about us? How often do we reflect the same?


Their lack of faith proved costly. The generation who doubted God would spend the remainder of their life wandering in the wilderness, outside of where God intended them to be. That said, they would still benefit from God's leadership and provision. That is somewhat ironic. Though this group of people had refused to enter the promised land because they doubted God's ability to provide would then spend the remainder of their days dependent upon God's daily provision and care. There's a message of hope in that as well. Even when God's people falter, God's grace can still make the difference. Even when we step short of what could have been, God still seeks to make the difference if we follow His lead.


Of course, the purpose of the second census is more about the future than the past. It's time for the children of the "doubting" generation to step forward and experience what God always intended. Moses and Eliezar number them as a testimony to God's sustaining grace. Interestingly, their total number of men is only slightly less than the previous generation. God now positions His people to step toward a promising future despite the wilderness's challenges and losses. God has proven faithful. God will lead them forward.


Consider the implications of this for our lives. God is faithful whether we are dealing with the consequences of our past mistakes or stepping with God toward a new beginning. God desires to lead His people and to make the necessary difference. Do we understand that? Will we acknowledge His sustaining presence for the day ahead? Will we anticipate His provision for our lives? Will we trust Him enough to follow His lead? I say, "Yes." And you?


March 6, 2022

Numbers 22-24


Balaam concluded his messages by saying: "Alas, who can survive unless God has willed it (Numbers 24:23, NLT)?


The story of Balaam is one of the more unusual accounts in the Old Testament. It involves a foreign ruler (Balak) who enlists a pagan soothsayer (Balaam) to curse God's chosen people (the children of Israel). It includes Balaam being instructed by the LORD, Balaam being protected by a donkey who talks, and finally, Balaam pronouncing a series of blessings that will further affirm God's good intentions for the children of Israel.


Admittedly, the talking donkey is what typically attracts the most attention. I smile at God's flair for the unexpected. I'm also encouraged to know that if God makes it possible for a donkey to communicate, He can effectively enable anything to speak—including me. Of course, the novelty of a talking donkey is a minor detail in the story. From my perspective, two helpful lessons emerge.


First, it's foolish to act contrary to God's will. We know that, right? In the story, Balaam embodies a worldly mindset. If he had his way, he would have cursed the children of Israel and profited from it. The New Testament describes Balaam as a person who loves unrighteousness (2 Peter 3:15). Generally speaking, he's not a good guy, even with a talking donkey. That said, Balaam learns that defying Israel's God is not in his best interest. He acknowledges his sin, submits to God's purpose, and ultimately becomes an instrument of God's blessing. I wonder. Have we learned the same?


However, it's the second lesson that especially encourages my heart. An unbelieving world cannot stop God's good intentions for His people. Mind you. We can make a mess of it at times, but the opponents of the LORD are helpless in halting God's grace and blessing. They can scheme all they want, but God's purposes will be fulfilled. This whole episode reminds me of Paul's statement, "If God is for us, who can ever be against us (Romans 8:31, NLT)? That doesn't imply that we will not have our share of hardships or struggles. Read the passage surrounding Paul's statement, and you will know that is not true. The point is: we are more than conquerors if God is on our side (Romans 8:37). And here's the good news, "God is on our side."


So let's step back from Balaam's story and carry these lessons with us into the day. It will do us all some good.

March 5, 2022

Numbers 19-21


Then the LORD told him, "Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!" So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed (Numbers 21:8–9, NLT)!


We could reflect upon many things from today's reading. The episode of Moses' striking the rock in anger stands out. If you're like me, you might find yourself thinking that Moses should have been afforded a greater level of patience from the LORD. Yet, at the same time, it illustrates the necessity for God's appointed leaders to submit to God's leadership and will, even when their emotions get the best of them. Obedience to the LORD's command is essential to effective leadership.


However, my primary focus for the day is the scene involving the bronze serpent. We find the children of Israel impatient and again voicing their displeasure. They speak out against God and His servant Moses. Their complaint sounds too familiar, "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?" Once again, the people refuse to trust the LORD, dishonoring Him with their words. And they would suffer a severe consequence because of their sin. Poisonous snakes entered the camp, and many began to die.

 

The people recognize the source of the problem and promptly turn to Moses. "We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take away the snakes (Numbers 21:7, NLT)." God's decision is unexpected. Instead of removing the serpents, God offers an unusual solution. The LORD instructs Moses to fashion a bronze serpent, attach it to a pole, and place it within the camp. God then extends a promise. If the poisonous snakes bite anyone, God will heal them as the stricken fix their eyes upon the bronze serpent. Think about that. Their problem arose because of a lack of faith. Their deliverance would now require active faith.


Interestingly, Jesus uses this same story as an illustration of our salvation. Jesus explains, "And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:14–15, NLT)." Do you see the practical connection? We, too, face judgment because of our sin. And the LORD's solution? God places His Son on a pole (the cross) so that He can provide the way of salvation for each of us. Do note: God's solution requires a faith response on our part. Jesus goes on to say, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, NLT)."

 

Have you lifted your eyes of faith to the One who saves? If so, give thanks for the gift of life you have received. If so blessed, do you know someone who has yet to respond? Take a few moments and pray for them by name. Ask the LORD to work through you and others to lead them to the One who saves—Jesus, the Son of God. May we continue to lift them to God in prayer until we see them graciously delivered. May it be soon, O LORD. May it be soon!

March 4, 2022

Numbers 16-18


One day Korah son of Izhar, a descendant of Kohath son of Levi, conspired with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, from the tribe of Reuben. They incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly (Numbers 16:1–3, NLT)?"

 

What is our posture when life appears to go from bad to worse? Do we stand defiantly? Do we turn to walk away? Do we humble ourselves before God and others? How do we respond?


I think we can fairly say that Moses' situation has shifted from bad to worse. It is bad enough that the children of Israel rejected God's plan to enter the land of promise. Even then, Moses intercedes on the people's behalf. Moses is a faithful, tireless leader. That said, Moses is now confronted by a religious and political coup. Korah of the tribe of Levi, Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben publicly challenge Moses and Aaron's authority. They organize an uprising among the people. And Moses' response?


When Moses heard what they were saying, he fell face down on the ground. Then he said to Korah and his followers, "Tomorrow morning the LORD will show us who belongs to Him and who is holy (Numbers 16:4–5, NLT)."

 

Moses' actions reveal a great deal. Instead of standing defiantly against the people or turning to walk away, Moses humbles himself before the LORD. He places the situation in God's hand and invites the others to do the same. We probably shouldn't be surprised by Moses' response. He is described as the most humble of individuals (Numbers 12:3), which says a lot. Moses did not allow his position or authority to go to his head. Could we have said the same?


Of course, the rest of the story validates Moses' approach. God elevates Moses and Aaron in the eyes of the people and, at the same time, judges those who would defy His appointed leaders. The episode serves as a further reminder that we should walk humbly with our God and entrust our lives into His hand. Let's keep that in mind as we move into the weekend ahead.

March 3, 2022

Numbers 14-15


Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. They said to all the people of Israel, "The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the LORD, and don't be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don't be afraid of them (Numbers 14:6–9, NLT)!"

 

God directs Moses to send representatives from each tribe to spy out the land of promise. Twelve leaders are set apart and sent to explore the possibilities of what God has in store. Unfortunately, ten of the twelve focus more upon the land's obstacles than its fruitfulness. They fixate on their would-be enemies instead of marveling over the goodness of God's provision. They return fearful and defeated when they should have returned eager and excited. Why so despondent? They lack faith in the God who delivered them, who promised their future victory.


Thankfully two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, refuse to close their eyes to the possibilities. They testify to the land's bounty and plead for God's people to step forward in faith. "If the LORD is pleased with us," they appeal, "He will bring us safely into that land and give it to us." They call for the people to reject their fear and to anticipate God's provision. However, the people are unswayed. They rebel against the LORD and turn away from what could be.


This is yet another disappointing episode in the life of God's chosen people. Once again, the people step short of what should be, of what could be. And the issue? They refuse to trust the LORD. It makes you wonder what more God could have done to prove His faithfulness. The LORD rescues them from the Egyptians. He sustains them in the wilderness despite their complaining, and now He is physically manifesting His glory before them as He leads them dramatically forward. And their response? They reject His promise and turn away.


So what do we learn? For one thing, I know I could not be Moses. I'm grateful for his commitment to the people and his effective intercession on their behalf, but I don't think I could endure the repeated disappointments. His faith and devotion inspire me, and we should learn from his example. I'm also reminded of the nature of faith. Faith is not a feeling. It's a decision to accept and act upon God's promise. It's to see the future based upon the assurance of God's Word, not our fears within. The people had an opportunity to trust the LORD, and they turned away. And us?


I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that God has promised to make the necessary difference through Jesus, His Son. More times than not, the promise is not to eliminate life's problems but to demonstrate His faithfulness and to bring us through the situations victoriously—one step at a time. With Jesus leading the way, we should step forward confidentially, expectantly. Jesus guarantees our present and our future. Will we trust Him?


Again, that doesn't mean that we will not face our share of giants and obstacles along the way. It means that we will not face them alone. I leave you with Paul's testimony to encourage us into the day. From a prison cell, he writes, "I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12–13, NLT)." May it be so with us!

March 2, 2022

Numbers 11-13


Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the LORD heard everything they said. Then the LORD's anger blazed against them, and he sent a fire to rage among them, and he destroyed some of the people in the outskirts of the camp. Then the people screamed to Moses for help, and when he prayed to the LORD, the fire stopped. After that, the area was known as Taberah (which means "the place of burning"), because fire from the LORD had burned among them there (Numbers 11:1–3, NLT).


Complaints, complaints, and more complaints. How quickly God's redeemed people lose sight of God's provision and care. They display very little faith and a great deal of selfish preoccupation. With the manifested presence of God leading their way, instead of gratitude and trust, the people express dissatisfaction and discontent. It is hard to believe they are so short-sighted. But then again, how often do we reflect the same? How easily do we fall into the "What have you done for me lately" mindset? I fear it is far too familiar.


Of course, with the children of Israel, it would prove costly. They stretch God's patience and mercy one step too far. Let's not forget their idolatrous rebellion while Moses was on the mountain. You would think the people would follow the LORD's leadership humbly and contritely. It appears otherwise. Again and again, they voice their displeasure and suffer accordingly. Even Aaron and Miriam join in the criticism and discover the error of their ways.


And the lesson? Maybe complaining is not such a good idea. Even in the New Testament, we are discouraged from making this mistake. Paul writes, "Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:14–15, NLT)."

 

Does this mean we can't express our disappointment or concern? No, certainly not. God invites us to approach Him honestly, acknowledging our sources of anxiety and lifting everything to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). The difference is attitude. Do we come to God as God, humbly seeking His help? Or, like in our reading today, do we dishonor Him as God, voicing our complaints like spoiled, temperamental children? I recommend the humble approach. And you?

March 1, 2022

Numbers 6:1-27; Numbers 10:1-36


Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: 'May the LORD bless you and protect you. May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you. May the LORD show you His favor and give you His peace.' Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them (Numbers 6:22–27, NLT)."


The Aaronic blessing is likely familiar to most. We can find the text on wall hangings, refrigerator magnets, and various decorative pieces. The words are frequently voiced at the close of special ceremonies or times of worship. The blessing itself is filled with hope and God's good intention on behalf of His people. Though familiar, do we appreciate what it conveys?


It reminds us that God is the true source of blessing and life. How often do we lose sight of this? How frequently do we set our hearts on pursuits other than God, only to discover that we have been deceived and mistaken? It is the LORD who blesses and protects. It is the LORD who brings goodness, favor, and peace into our lives—may we then seek His face.


The prescribed blessing also highlights the necessity of faith on the people's part. Though God intended to bless the people, He nevertheless requires Aaron and his sons to verbalize the words in His name. Three times the name of the LORD is invoked. Each time God's role as provider is acknowledged. Each time God extends the promise of blessing. Don't overlook the connection. God's provision is not presumed. A faith acknowledgment is required. Think about that in terms of our response to God. It's one thing for us to admit that God is the true source of life. It is something else for us to verbalize our dependence on Him in prayer. It is by voicing the request that our faith is expressed.


Here's an encouraging thought. The name we invoke is the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus, we ask for God's blessing and protection. In the name of Jesus, we seek the joy of God's presence and the sufficiency of His grace. Yes, in the name of Jesus, we don't presume upon God's favor and peace. We ask for it in the holy name of Jesus. Is this something you are willing to do? By faith, choose to do so even now. May God lift our hearts as we do.

February 28, 2022

Numbers 4-5


The duties of the Kohathites at the Tabernacle will relate to the most sacred objects. When the camp moves, Aaron and his sons must enter the Tabernacle first to take down the inner curtain and cover the Ark of the Covenant with it. Then they must cover the inner curtain with fine goatskin leather and spread over that a single piece of blue cloth. Finally, they must put the carrying poles of the Ark in place. fine goatskin leather on top of the scarlet cloth. Then they must insert the carrying poles into the table (Numbers 4:4–6, NLT).

 

As was noted in yesterday's reading, God provides clear instructions concerning the positioning and mobilization of the twelve tribes. God's attention to detail is again on display as He instructs Moses concerning the transportation of the Tabernacle and its sacred objects. Three Levites clans are assigned specific tasks. The Merarite clan would carry the Tabernacle frame, the crossbars, the posts, and related items. The Gershonite clan would be responsible for the many curtains and coverings that make up the Tabernacle. And the Kohathite clan would be granted the privilege of carefully wrapping and transporting the holy objects within the Tent of Meeting. God assigns each clan very particular responsibilities.


And what might we learn? We can again acknowledge God's attention to detail. He is a God of order and design. Yet, today's reading also reminds us that God works through various people in distinct ways. We observe that throughout Scripture. We are not all called to the same tasks. God seeks to work through our lives in different ways. That's true in the Old Testament. It is also true in the New Testament. 


Of course, as Jesus' followers, we are not assigned to set up and tear down the Tabernacle. Instead, God calls each of us to build up and strengthen His Church, the body of Christ. And even at that, we don't all do the same thing. God gifts and equips us to distinct roles and tasks like members of a body. As Paul explains, "Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other (Romans 12:4–5 NLT)."


Let's think about that today. Even better, let's pray about that. We all have something that God would have us to do. It may not be spelled out as clearly as the three clans of Levite. Nevertheless, God desires to make a difference in ways we can. Let's ask the LORD to guide our hearts and move us to build up those around us. We may not all do it the same way, but I think that's the point. May God encourage our hearts accordingly.

February 27, 2022

Numbers 2:1-34; Numbers 3:1-51


Then the LORD gave these instructions to Moses and Aaron: "When the Israelites set up camp, each tribe will be assigned its own area. The tribal divisions will camp beneath their family banners on all four sides of the Tabernacle, but at some distance from it (Numbers 2:1–2, NLT)."


How do you effectively organize and mobilize a population of over a million people? God did not leave it to chance. The LORD provides clear instructions to Moses concerning the careful placement of each of the twelve tribes. He specifies where each tribal group would be located and supplies their travel order as the children of Israel pick up camp and move. For example, the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun pitched their tents on the east side of the Tabernacle. Each gathering around their family banners. These three tribes would be the first to follow the procession behind the Levites as the LORD would lead His people. Next in order and camping to the south side of the Tabernacle would be the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. To the west would be the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. And last but not least, the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali would camp north of the Tabernacle.


The order of things had a practical purpose. Can you imagine mobilizing a group this size without a plan? The placement of the tribes was also instructional. God would be central to their mutual relationship as a nation. As symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant, God would be in the center of things and lead the way. It's worth noting that the tribe of Levi would camp within the center area surrounding the Tabernacle itself—with Moses, Aaron, and his sons positioned at the Tabernacle's entrance.


What might we learn from today's reading? We are wise to recognize the orderliness of God's plan. This is no surprise. The Creator who introduced the laws of nature and their precise coordination would prove no less wise as He leads His chosen people. The Eternal God is a source of wisdom and order, and we should remember as much. Mind you. There is a place for spontaneity in life, but not when you oversee the mobilization of a million people. Yet, the more important lesson involves the layout of the encampment itself. As noted, God is central. God is at the center of their lives. Every time they set up or tear down their camp, they would assess their situation based upon their specific proximity to God. That's a lesson that we should all take to heart. We, too, should evaluate our coming and going based upon our proximity to the LORD. He should be no less central to our plans and actions—a helpful reminder as we move into the day. May the LORD encourage us as we align ourselves appropriately.

February 26, 2022

Leviticus 27:1-34 Numbers 1:1-54


The LORD said to Moses, Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. If anyone makes a special vow (Leviticus 27:1–2, NLT) . . .


We may find it surprising that the book of Leviticus concludes with a chapter devoted to vows. Perhaps we should not be surprised since, through the book, God has consistently made promises on His people's behalf. And, of course, God will prove faithful to His pledge. The question is, "Will the people display the same fidelity?" Keep in mind: the highlighted vows in today's reading are not commanded by the LORD. They are voluntary expressions of faith, gratitude, or devotion.


What did the potential vows include? They reveal pledges of one's life for service, the servitude of a family member, a person's property or home, or the dedication of an animal or field. It seems that the individual could freely promise anything of worth or value. On the person's part, it would be a gesture of faith and affection. Interestingly, the chapter also explains how any would-be vows could likewise be purchased back. This is noted since the ongoing ministry of the Tabernacle required continuing financial support, and the "buy back" option would benefit their efforts. So, whether one personally fulfilled the vow or redeemed the vow, both were considered significant before the LORD.


How does any of this relate to us? Has the day of "vow making" passed? From my perspective, it certainly has not. We benefit from a greater expression of God's salvation and grace. Think about how Jesus' actions have freed us from the far-reaching demands of the Law. How many times in your Leviticus readings did you think, "I'm so thankful that Jesus fulfilled the Law on my behalf"? Should we then be more grateful or less?


Vows are intended to be spontaneous expressions of faith and devotion. They allow the heart of a believer to celebrate God's goodness in personal ways. That said, they are not expressed impulsively or frivolously because God expects His people to keep their promises (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5). It's important to remember that. Even so, shouldn't there be occasions when we, too, present a vow to the LORD? Maybe this will give us something to think about, to pray about. What worthy vow might we offer?

February 25, 2022

Leviticus 25:24-26:46


Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the LORD your God . . . I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high (Leviticus 26:1, 12–13, NLT).


God redeemed the children of Israel from captivity so they might relate to Him as God. God desires fellowship with His people so they might experience His blessing and activity on their behalf. He committed Himself to walk among them as their God so He might affect their lives for the better. His heart is for them to walk with their heads held high.


The people, however, had a choice to make. Would they relate to God for who He is? Or would they bow to other gods, seeking blessing from another? Again, the decision would be theirs to make, but consequences would accompany whatever they decided. They would experience either prosperity or loss. They would enjoy God's presence at work among them, or they would discover the foolishness of turning away. Given such clearly defined outcomes, it's hard to understand why God's people would ever abandon the true source of life. Of course, let's admit, there's nothing sane about one's disobedience or sin.


What about us? It should be acknowledged that Jesus does not promise His disciples financial prosperity or a life free from calamity or loss. Jesus is clear. His kingdom is not of this world (Matthew 6:19-34). However, that does not mean that our lives should not be characterized by fullness of heart or joy. Jesus says of His disciples, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10, ESV)." Jesus desires to impart life. However, the fullness of life He extends directly relates to our decision to walk with Him by faith. We either walk in fellowship or not. We experience His activity or not. Like the children of Israel, the decision is ours to make. And our response? As we move into the day, consider the testimony of John,


This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5–7, NLT).

 

Again, the decision is ours to make. I choose fellowship. I want to walk with my head held high, and you?

February 24, 2022

Leviticus 23:1-25:23


The LORD said to Moses, "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. These are the LORD's appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as official days for holy assembly (Leviticus 23:1–2, NLT).


Our reading today highlights the various days and festivals to be observed by the children of Israel. It is important for God's people to remember His actions and His provision on their behalf. If they lose sight of God's mercy and grace, they will be weakened spiritually as a nation. God then calls for His people to renew their faith and consistently celebrate His goodness. We should take note of this.


I would underscore a further emphasis on God's part. Again and again, God calls for His people to come together for a holy day or holy assembly. In Leviticus 23 alone, eleven times this appeal is made (Leviticus 23:2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 21, 24, 27, 35, 36, 37). The word "assembly" is the Hebrew term, miqrāʾ. The idea behind the term is to gather for a religious purpose. It's more than a general gathering. The intent is specifically for faith and the people's response to the LORD.


Let's think about that. Some in our day suggest that believers can respond privately to God in isolation. They believe the whole idea of gathering with others is optional at best. God disputes that notion. God makes gathering with others a priority. Even more, the first emphasis upon assembling is assigned to the Sabbath Day (Leviticus 23:3). In other words, God prioritizes a weekly gathering for the benefit of His people.


As followers of Jesus, should we think otherwise? Of course, the Sabbath gathering has shifted to Sunday (the first day of the week) for us because of Jesus' resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). It is the Lord's Day for Jesus' disciples (Revelation 1:10). That said, the spiritual priority of gathering should be no less important. As a people of faith, we should look for such opportunities weekly and even other possibilities. The question is, "Do we?" I pray God will grant us a renewed commitment to assembling with others. In closing, consider the writer of Hebrews appeal,


Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near (Hebrews 10:24–25, NLT).

February 23, 2022

Leviticus 20-22


Do not live according to the customs of the people I am driving out before you. It is because they do these shameful things that I detest them. But I have promised you, 'You will possess their land because I will give it to you as your possession—a land flowing with milk and honey.' I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from all other people (Leviticus 20:23–24, NLT).

 

God saved and delivered the children of Israel to live distinctively from the world around them. They are not to emulate the Egyptians (Leviticus 18:3), nor are they to adopt the defiling customs of the Canaanites (Leviticus 20:23). They are instead to reflect the character of the God who redeemed them. His influence is to be observed in what they eat, how they dress, and most importantly, how they conduct their lives. They have been set apart by God and must choose to live accordingly.


It should be noted that a warning accompanies God's call to holiness. If they reject God's wisdom, the land itself will vomit them forth. Instead of enjoying God's blessing in the land flowing with milk and honey, their sinfulness would result in their expulsion. The language that God uses is deliberately provocative. Their response to God or the lack thereof would either establish them in the land or cast them out. The decision would be theirs to make. Of course, God appeals for the appropriate response,


"You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy.

I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own (Leviticus 20:26, NLT)."

 

And their response? As we continue our chronological readings, we'll observe a regrettable mixture of both. There will be periods of blessing, but painfully, the people of promise will also be driven from the land of promise.


What do we learn? God's people are set apart by God to reflect His glory and influence. The same is true of us. His goodness and character are to be displayed in who we ar