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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 are and what we do. When we lose sight of this, we lose sight of our spiritual identity in Jesus. I pray then we might refocus our hearts and appreciate the distinctive role and purpose that is ours. With that said, allow the Apostle Peter’s appeal to move us into the day ahead . . .


So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy (1 Peter 1:14–16, NLT).”

February 22, 2022

Leviticus 17-19


If any native Israelite sacrifices a bull or a lamb or a goat anywhere inside or outside the camp instead of bringing it to the entrance of the Tabernacle to present it as an offering to the LORD, that person will be as guilty as a murderer. Such a person has shed blood and will be cut off from the community . . . Give them this command as well. If any native Israelite or foreigner living among you offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice but does not bring it to the entrance of the Tabernacle to offer it to the LORD, that person will be cut off from the community (Leviticus 17:3–4, 8–9, NLT).

 

God has provided a way of forgiveness for His people. A place of meeting has been established. The manner of sacrifice has been explained and commanded. Renewal and restoration are available as the people draw near to the LORD. That said, God's prescribed path is the only way. The children of Israel will be unsuccessful in all other attempts. Indeed, if they make sacrifices to the LORD outside of His instructed way at His appointed place, they will alienate themselves from God and will be cut off from the community of faith.


Let's think about this further. It appears that from the very beginning, God is teaching that there will not be multiple paths to God and His forgiveness. Even though many in our day might suggest that all religious attempts lead to God, the LORD would state otherwise. We are not afforded the luxury of adopting an approach of our choosing or making. Instead, God is the One who makes such a way possible. He has provided the way of salvation and life. He and He alone. Do we understand this? Do we accept this?


Of course, God's prescribed way with the children of Israel is only pointing us to the ultimate expression of God's salvation through Jesus, His Son. Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He is our atoning sacrifice (1 John 2:2). Acknowledging this, we must likewise understand—Jesus is the only way. Multiple options or paths do not exist. Jesus, Himself, states, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me (John 14:6, NLT)."


Don't interpret this to mean that God is trying to make it more difficult for people to be saved. This issue is the problem of our sin. Our disobedience and rebellion condemn us, and frankly, there's only one way that our guilt can be adequately addressed. It is through the sacrifice of God's sinless Son. Maybe we should stop criticizing the exclusivity of God's plan and be grateful that He chose to provide a way of salvation at all. Let's reflect upon this today and respond appropriately. 

February 21, 2022

Leviticus 14:33-57; 15:1-33; 16:1-34


When Aaron has finished purifying the Most Holy Place and the Tabernacle and the altar, he must present the live goat. He will lay both of his hands on the goat's head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people's sins to the head of the goat. Then a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness. As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people's sins upon itself into a desolate land (Leviticus 16:20–22, NLT).


The Day of Atonement is the most elaborate and complex ritual recorded in the book of Leviticus. Its significance can not be overstated. If Passover is the most important festal day, the Day of Atonement represents the children of Israel's most solemn of days. In Hebrew, it is known as Yom Kippur and intended to be a day of introspection, repentance, and fasting. And its purpose? Its purpose is to provide the necessary cleansing: to the high priest and his family (16:6, 17), to the people of Israel as a whole (16:17), and also to the Tabernacle itself (16:16, 20, 33).


For our benefit today, let's focus on the ceremonial sending away of the "scapegoat." Two goats are presented before the LORD at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Following a casting of lots, one is offered as a sin sacrifice upon the altar. The other is driven into the wilderness—not before the High Priest lays his hands upon the goat, symbolically transferring the people's sins upon it. The sending away of the "scapegoat" illustrates the sufficiency of the forgiveness secured. The people are not to be chained to their past guilt or sin. They have been freed and delivered. It serves as a physical reminder of a spiritual truth. God's forgiveness is real and should affect their lives.


Perhaps we need to be reminded of the same. I fear that sometimes we carry the guilt and shame of our sin with us instead of allowing the power of Jesus' forgiveness to free us from our past. We carry our guilt like a ball and chain. We become prisoners of our own making. Let's allow the imagery of the scapegoat to help us. Accept the sufficiency of God's forgiveness. Visualize Jesus, our High Priest, placing His hands upon the scapegoat and then sending it away—never to be seen again. Be encouraged by the thought and celebrate the power of God's forgiveness toward your life.


As further encouragement, consider John's reassuring words, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, ESV)." Take his words to heart and accept God's forgiveness. Jesus has sent your guilt away. Choose to do the same.

February 20, 2022

Leviticus 12:1-8; 13:1-59


The LORD said to Moses, "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. If a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her menstrual period. On the eighth day the boy's foreskin must be circumcised (Leviticus 12:1–3, NLT)." 


God's instruction to His people is thorough—from their diet to addressing blemishes on their skin to even responding to mold within their home. So much detail. It's easy to get lost amid it all. That said, there are moments along the way when my mind naturally shifts to Jesus. Today's command concerning circumcision is one of those occasions (Leviticus 12:3). It immediately reminds me of Luke's account when he says of Jesus,


Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, He was named Jesus, the name given Him by the angel even before He was conceived. Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so His parents took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says, "If a woman's first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the LORD." So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—"either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons (Luke 2:21–24, NLT)."


The New Testament informs us that Jesus conformed to God's requirements completely. Even when it was beyond His control, Joseph and Mary acted on Jesus' behalf so that He would fulfill the totality of the law. That includes His circumcision on the eighth day. Of course, all of this would be necessary if Jesus was to become the spotless sin sacrifice on our behalf. He could not be lacking at any point. Think about that with all our readings in view. And we're not even halfway through Leviticus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law for our sake (Matthew 5:17). Let's think about that and give thanks. Jesus certainly deserves our trust and devotion. Let’s renew both for the day ahead!

February 19, 2022

Leviticus 9:1-11:47


Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkled incense over them. In this way, they disobeyed the LORD by burning before him the wrong kind of fire, different than he had commanded. So fire blazed forth from the LORD's presence and burned them up, and they died there before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD meant when he said, 'I will display my holiness through those who come near me. I will display my glory before all the people.' " And Aaron was silent (Leviticus 10:1–3, NLT).

 

The death of Nadab and Abihu is tragic and disheartening. The day had been filled with so much good. Sacrifices had been presented to the LORD. In response, God dramatically makes His presence known. His glory is evident. God is visibly dwelling among His people. And then? Aaron's sons behave foolishly. They disregard God's direction, and their disobedience will not be overlooked. God judges their sin promptly and severely. It is a sobering moment.


We might consider God's response as unfair. However, Moses had instructed Nadab and Abihu concerning their activity. Even more, he had modeled the appropriate approach. Moses was committed to doing "just as the LORD had commanded him (Leviticus 8:9, 13, 17, 21, 29)." We noted this yesterday. In contrast, Aaron's sons considered God's holiness as something that could be denigrated or ignored. They brought shame and sorrow to a situation that should have been characterized by amazement and joy.


What do we learn from this? Where much is given, much is required. Nadab and Abihu were placed in a position of privilege and honor. They were set apart before God to reflect His glory among the people. They debase their role by defying God's command, and the price they pay underscores the seriousness of their actions. We may empathize with Aaron's loss, but let us humbly acknowledge the lofty position of our God. If Nadab and Abihu had only honored the LORD by their actions, the memory of this day would be entirely different.


Let's admit that we may still find our hearts unsettled. Perhaps, like Aaron, the best way to conclude today's lesson is to stand or sit in silence. May God grant us a perspective that allows us to experience His presence and glory without fear. May we draw near to the LORD humbly, grateful for the privilege that is ours.

February 18, 2022

Leviticus 7:1-8:36


Then the LORD said to Moses, "Bring Aaron and his sons, along with their sacred garments, the anointing oil, the bull for the sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of bread made without yeast, and call the entire community of Israel together at the entrance of the Tabernacle." So Moses followed the LORD's instructions, and the whole community assembled at the Tabernacle entrance (Leviticus 8:1–4, NLT).

 

Let's focus today on Moses' response to the commands of the LORD. Great attention is given to God's instruction. This is especially true as Aaron and his sons are ordained as priests. Moses is diligent in adhering to everything that God prescribes. The testimony is repeatedly the same concerning Moses: he did "just as the LORD had commanded him (Leviticus 8:9, 13, 17, 21, 29)." His obedience is noteworthy.


Can the same be said of us? I admit the occasion of Moses' actions is unique. Even so, this is a pattern on Moses' part. He consistently takes God's instruction to heart and then proceeds to do whatever the LORD requires. Of course, Moses will not prove perfect, and nor do we. Nevertheless, His commitment to follow God's commands should call us to action.


Let's then take an inventory. To what degree are we following God's command? Can it be said, "We did just as the LORD commanded us"? Or do we tolerate half-hearted or selective obedience? Do we obey the LORD's command just enough to feel good about ourselves but don't want to appear overzealous? If that is anywhere in our thinking, maybe we should think again. Consider Jesus' final appeal to His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)." How do you think Moses would respond to Jesus’ words? And our response?

February 17, 2022

Leviticus 4:1-35; 5:1-19; 6:1-30


"If any of the common people sin by violating one of the LORD's commands, but they don't realize it, they are still guilty. When they become aware of their sin, they must bring as an offering for their sin a female goat with no defects. They must lay a hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place where burnt offerings are slaughtered (Leviticus 4:27–29, NLT)."


Let's begin today's devotion with a prayer, "Lord Jesus, I seek Your forgiveness. You died on my behalf so I might experience forgiveness and life. Restore me now. I acknowledge my wrong for what it is and turn freely from it. Cleanse me. Renew me. Grant me the privilege and joy of experiencing Your presence and activity into the day ahead. Lord Jesus, I trust in You."


Do we understand how blessed we are because of Jesus? Our readings in Leviticus should drive the lesson home. Can you imagine offering the sacrifices prescribed for sin? Two thoughts stand out. First, ignorance does not excuse. Did you notice the number of times people are described as guilty even if they are unaware of their offense? One's ignorance or unintended negligence does not negate the sinfulness of the action. "I didn't know," will be an ineffective defense. When we violate God's standard, we are guilty before Him. A sin sacrifice is required.


Second, did you notice the recurring emphasis on the sacrificial animals being without defect? The sacrifices are intended to be a symbolic substitute for the sinner. Sin stains a person before God. A spotless sacrifice is offered in exchange. The judgment for sin is death. By transferring one's guilt to the animal presented, the possibility of life results. Admittedly, the whole process is ugly and unsettling. Yet, it is intended to underscore the seriousness of our actions.


Again I ask, "Do we understand how blessed we are because of Jesus?" Speaking of Jesus, the Apostle Paul writes, "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT)." Let's think about this as we reflect upon today's reading. May we recognize the opportunity that is ours to experience true forgiveness by turning to the One who died on our behalf. His cleansing is simply a prayer away. Why would we hesitate?

February 16

Numbers 8:1-26; 9:1-14; Leviticus 1:1-17; 2:1-16; 3:1-17


When you present the Levites before the LORD, the people of Israel must lay their hands on them. Raising his hands, Aaron must then present the Levites to the LORD as a special offering from the people of Israel, thus dedicating them to the LORD's service. Next the Levites will lay their hands on the heads of the young bulls. Present one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to the LORD, to purify the Levites and make them right with the LORD. Then have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons, and raise your hands and present them as a special offering to the LORD. In this way, you will set the Levites apart from the rest of the people of Israel, and the Levites will belong to me (Numbers 8:10–14, NLT).


God requires a group to serve on the people's behalf. He chooses the tribe of Levi to be the representative tribe. They would be set apart to the LORD, set apart to a holy task within the Tabernacle. Our reading today highlights the steps taken to consecrate God's chosen servants. Interestingly, the people of Israel physically lay their hands upon those who would serve. The "laying on of hands" would become a symbolic act of transference or identification. Regarding future sacrifices, the worshipper would place his hands upon the animal to publicly identify with the sacrifice . A similar action is taken toward the Levites. In this case, the Levites do not become symbolic sin-bearers but become living sacrifices that would serve on the nation's behalf. The consecrated Levites represent the "kingdom of priests" that God promised (Exodus 19:5-6).


Of course, to serve in this capacity would require the appropriate sacrifices and cleansings. They would be incapable of ministering within the Tabernacle unless they first addressed their sin and guilt. Failing to do so would dishonor and provoke the very One they seek to serve. Thankfully, the LORD provides a way of forgiveness and cleansing so that their service would be possible. How does any of this relate to us? Consider Paul's testimony concerning all who have responded to Jesus in faith. He writes, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1, ESV)."


In the Old Testament, the Levites became representative of God's kingdom of priests. In the New Testament, God actually creates an entire nation of priests. Every believer in Jesus is set apart unto the LORD as a living sacrifice. Even more, His cleansing on our behalf is thorough and complete. Jesus has made each of us holy and acceptable. Please appreciate. This is not something that we achieve for ourselves. Instead, it is God's work of grace that we freely receive through the gift of Jesus, His Son. Let's reflect upon this today as we consider the Levites and their role. May the LORD open our spiritual eyes to the incredible privilege that is ours.

February 15, 2022

Numbers 7:1-89


Whenever Moses went into the Tabernacle to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the ark's cover—the place of atonement—that rests on the Ark of the Covenant. The LORD spoke to him from there (Numbers 7:89, NLT).


Two observations stand out from today's reading. First, I am struck by the practicality of the leaders' offering. They collectively present six carts and twelve oxen to the LORD in front of the Tabernacle. It was a gesture of faith and devotion, but it would also serve a functional purpose. The carts and oxen would be utilized to transport the different components of the Tabernacle as the people would break up camp to follow the LORD's presence. It was both generous and functional.


We should appreciate that our gifts to the LORD fulfill the same. Though our gifts are often financial, they enable us to achieve what is needed on our behalf. They facilitate our ministry efforts day by day as we, too, seek to follow the LORD's lead. We present what is in our hands to the LORD so that He might make a difference through us. May God bless our generosity and faith.


My second observation involves Moses' interaction with the LORD. He would enter the Tabernacle and hear the LORD's voice speaking between the two cherubim above the ark's cover. Think about that. The ark is a symbol of God's covenant with the children of Israel. It is a physical reminder of God's relationship with His people. It is also referred to as the "mercy seat (Exodus 25:17)." For it's there that the sacrificial lamb's blood would be applied to secure the necessary atonement. It is not coincidental that Moses would hear God's voice from the place where mercy rises. There's something beautiful in that. God doesn't speak to His people because they deserve it. He appeals to His people, both then and now, as an act of love and mercy. Perhaps we should keep that in mind. Maybe it would influence how and why we draw near.


Of course, for us, we do not physically draw near to the ark of the covenant, nor do we hear God's audible voice. Instead, we approach the LORD by faith as we open His Word. We recognize that God's presence dwells within each of us through the Holy Spirit as He affects our hearts within. In some ways, we are afforded the greater mystery and privilege. May we consider that as we continue to read daily from God’s Word. May we remember that the God of covenant appeals to us, like Moses, from a place where mercy rises.

February 14, 2022

Exodus 39:32-40:38; Numbers 9:15-23


Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on. So they camped or traveled at the LORD's command, and they did whatever the LORD told them through Moses (Numbers 9:22–23, NLT).

 

Construction on the Tabernacle is now completed. On the first day of the first month, everything is carefully erected and placed. They follow the LORD's command at every point, consecrating the Tabernacle, the furnishings, the altar of burnt offerings, and all the associated articles. The "Tent of Meeting" is ceremonially set apart unto the LORD along with the priesthood who would serve on the people's behalf.


God indicates His approval as a cloud descends upon the Tabernacle. The glory of God's presence is so intense that even Moses withdraws. The "Tent of Meeting" will now serve its intended purpose. The people of God will be able to draw near to the presence of God in personal ways. On the first day of the first month, it is a new beginning for the children of Israel. However, this is only the beginning. The children of Israel will learn to follow God's leadership. Whenever the glory of God's presence lifted, the people would break camp. They either set up their camp or traveled at the LORD's command. They are committed to following His lead. Can we express the same?


Let's allow their example to instruct our hearts. As followers of Jesus, may we prove to be as devoted. Let us commit ourselves to following Jesus' lead. May we seek His influence and refuse to move contrary to His leadership within. By faith, let's draw near to the LORD so that His glory might also be seen in us. May it be so!

February 13, 2022

Exodus 37:1-39:31


Bezalel made the ephod of finely woven linen and embroidered it with gold and with blue, purple, and scarlet thread . . . The ephod consisted of two pieces, front and back, joined at the shoulders with two shoulder-pieces . . . They mounted the two onyx stones in settings of gold filigree. The stones were engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel, just as a seal is engraved (Exodus 39:2, 4, 6, NLT).

 

Bezalel made the chestpiece with great skill and care. He made it to match the ephod, using finely woven linen embroidered with gold and with blue, purple, and scarlet thread . . . They mounted four rows of gemstones on it . . . Each stone represented one of the twelve sons of Israel, and the name of that tribe was engraved on it like a seal (Exodus 39:8, 10, 14, NLT).


Work on the Tabernacle is now underway. Filled by God's Spirit, Bezalel and the other craftsmen serve the LORD as they bring God’s detailed plans into being. It is exciting as portions of the "Tent of Meeting" are completed—the Ark the Covenant and associated items, the Tabernacle's curtains and protective coverings, and of course, the priestly garments and specified accessories. God's people will soon have a setting to draw near to the presence of the LORD. We can only imagine the growing anticipation.


You may have found your attention pulled in many directions in today’s reading—the beauty and placement of the golden items placed within the Tent, the size and design of the altar placed strategically outside the Tent, or a potential curiosity surrounding the colorful embroidery incorporated into the curtains and veils. There's much to attract our attention.


My attention is especially drawn to the details involving the High Priest's ephod and chestpiece. Specifically, it stood out to me that the twelve names of the twelve tribes of Israel are engraved three times onto ornate stones that adorn the High Priest's garments. All twelve names are inscribed upon two onyx stones that decorate the shoulder pieces of the ephod. Each name is also engraved individually upon a series of twelve precious gems that are mounted upon the chestpiece. Consider the implications of this. The High Priest bears their names upon His shoulders as he lifts the necessary sacrifice to the LORD. Their names are also near His heart as he makes intercession and seeks to draw near. The High Priest represents the people, and the engraved names serve as an appropriate reminder.


Project that close association upon our High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God. Is it too much to imagine that Jesus bears our names upon His shoulders? Even more, our names are also close to His heart as He intercedes on our behalf. Before talking yourself out of that possibility, consider the testimony of the book of Hebrews,


So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:14–16, NLT).

 

Think about it and be encouraged!

February 12, 2022

Exodus 35-36


Then Moses said to the whole community of Israel, "This is what the LORD has commanded: Take a sacred offering for the LORD. Let those with generous hearts present the following gifts to the LORD: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen and goat hair for cloth; tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the lamps; spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense; onyx stones, and other gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest's chestpiece (Exodus 35:4–9, NLT).”

 

So the people of Israel—every man and woman who was eager to help in the work the LORD had given them through Moses—brought their gifts and gave them freely to the LORD (Exodus 35:29, NLT).


Finally the craftsmen who were working on the sanctuary left their work. They went to Moses and reported, "The people have given more than enough materials to complete the job the LORD has commanded us to do!" So Moses gave the command, and this message was sent throughout the camp: "Men and women, don't prepare any more gifts for the sanctuary. We have enough!" So the people stopped bringing their sacred offerings (Exodus 36:4–6, NLT).


What a difference a day makes. Yesterday's reading was characterized by idolatry, judgment, repentance, and restoration. Today's reading highlights a renewed response of devotion and service to the LORD. I don't know about you, but I much prefer today's reading over yesterday's.


Let's think about the people's response. Moses appeals to the twelve tribes of Israel to give an offering to the LORD. God had provided detailed instructions for a place of worship, the Tabernacle. However, the construction of the "Tent of Meeting" would require considerable resources. A few individuals would not achieve it, so Moses extends the call. Bring an offering to LORD. Freely honor Him as one's heart is stirred.


And the response? The outpouring is remarkable. People give generously toward the construction. Day after day, they continue to give from the resources that God had placed in their hands. I'm not sure that we grasp just how generously. Tomorrow's reading will inform us that 2193 pounds of gold are contributed (Exodus 38:24), and an additional 7545 pounds of silver are presented to the LORD (Exodus 38:25). Measured in today's dollars, that represents a combined value of $50,613,028. And that doesn't include the costly gems, fabrics, spices, and other items freely offered to the LORD. Indeed, the people are so generous that Moses finally announces, "Men and women, don't prepare any more gifts for the sanctuary. We have enough (Exodus 36:6)!"


Just as we were appropriately critical of the people's spiritual failure yesterday, we should pause and acknowledge the people's heartfelt response to the LORD today. Their faith and devotion are there for all to see. They honor the Lord by their generosity and make the Tabernacle's construction possible. Let's celebrate their response and be encouraged by it. It is a testimony worthy of being told.


That said, this past fall, our congregation responded in a similarly beautiful way. In an attempt to pay down our debt toward our recent renovation and expansion, we asked our members to commit themselves to give. And the result? We received gifts and pledges that put us on track to pay the remainder of our debt within five years. It was a "glory to God" moment for the North Fort Worth Baptist Church. So, with sincerity of heart, I not only celebrate the faith and generosity of God's people of old but also celebrate God's continuing work among God's people today. May the LORD be praised!

February 11, 2022

Exodus 32-34


And the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 32:7–8, ESV)!' "

 

Sad, confused, angry—so many emotions come to the surface as one considers the spiritual infidelity of God's covenant people. Forty days earlier, they had pledged, "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do (Exodus 24:3, ESV)." Their words, however, would ring empty as they abruptly turn away from their Deliverer and bow before a god of their own making. It's baffling. How does this happen?


Let's keep the facts in view. God dramatically delivers the descendants of Abraham from Egyptian captivity. The LORD sustains His people in miraculous ways as He leads them across the wilderness. God reveals His power and glory to His people as He explains the nature of their relationship, and He could not be more clear: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God (Exodus 20:2-5, ESV)."

 

Knowing this, why do the people turn away? How did Aaron permit this to happen? Where are the seventy elders who confirmed the covenant six weeks earlier (Exodus 24:9-11)? Was there no one to speak on the LORD's behalf? I raise questions without answers. I'm grateful that Moses successfully intercedes on behalf of the people (Exodus 32:11-13). I'm thankful that God's wrath is averted (Exodus 32:14). I'm encouraged to see steps taken toward reconciliation (Exodus 33-34). All of that said, I remain stunned that God's people would abandon their God so quickly.

 

I invite you to join me in wrestling with the emotions that this episode provokes. May we search our hearts. Are we susceptible to so easy a betrayal? Will we cry out if we see others stepping away? I pray that we display a devotion and fidelity that honors the One we follow. May it be so. Yes, may it be so!

February 10, 2022

Exodus 29-31


Exodus 31:1–6 (NLT) — Then the LORD said to Moses, "Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! And I have personally appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make . . .

 

God enables what He commands. Do you believe this? It's a biblical principle that we should all take to heart. God enables His people to do whatever He commands. He doesn't simply offer suggestions or point the way. God actively seeks to empower His people to accomplish whatever He asks. As previously stated: God enables what He commands.


A helpful example of this is observed in the craftsman Bezalel and his assistant Ohiliab. They may not be the most familiar names, but they illustrate today's lesson or principle. God empowers both of these men and the other gifted artisans to construct the prescribed Tabernacle of God. The details of the Tabernacle were spelled out in yesterday's reading. Indeed, God was particular and precise in defining what should be done. Construction would require both skill and artistic flair.


That said, God identifies Bazelel and Ohiliab for the job. He recognizes their natural abilities. However, God does something more. The LORD fills them with His Spirit so they may accomplish what He commands. In other words, "God enables what He commands." This doesn't discount their giftedness or experience. Instead, it highlights what is intended to be a spiritual pattern. The LORD takes us as we are, with both our strengths and weaknesses and then empowers us by His Spirit to accomplish whatever He commands.


Let's think about this concerning our lives, our situations. As believers in Jesus, each of us has received God's Spirit within (Romans 8:9-16). The Spirit bears witness that we are God's children. Yet, the Holy Spirit is also given to empower us to make the necessary difference. God intends to be more than a spectator. He seeks to equip and enable us to achieve what would be impossible otherwise. Of course, we can attempt things independently of Him with various degrees of success. Or, we can acknowledge God's presence, seek His active influence and power, and discover that we can do far more with God than we ever imagined.


So, what has God been asking you to do? Take heart! God enables what He commands. Let's then acknowledge our dependence on Him. Seek a fresh activity of God's Spirit within, and then step toward the task before us. It may not be as elaborate as constructing the Tabernacle. Even so, God has something He desires to do through us. Let's give Him the opportunity. 

February 9

Exodus 25-28


"Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you (Exodus 25:8–9, NLT)."

 

Our reading today provides the blueprint for God's Tabernacle. Referred to as "the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 29:42)," "the Tent of Testimony (Numbers 17:7)," or simply as "the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:9)," which means "dwelling," God continues to move toward His people. He seeks to restore a fellowship that Adam and Eve's rebellion disrupted. The construction of the Tabernacle, the establishment of the Priesthood, and the introduction of appropriate sacrifices will be a significant step forward.


What are we to make of all the detail provided? God not only provides building instructions to Moses, but the language of Exodus suggests that Moses is permitted to see a representation of the Tabernacle itself (Exodus 25:9). It's always easier to construct something that you have visually seen. That said, where does Moses see it? Is it a vision or dream? Is the earthly Tabernacle a faint reflection of a heavenly one?


There is something deliberately mysterious and beautiful about Israel's "Tent of Meeting." Though we may not find all the answers to our questions, we are informed by the writer of Hebrews that the Tabernacle, the Priesthood, and the sacrificial lamb, serve as a copy or shadow of heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5). They point us to Jesus and the difference Jesus makes. So, with all that we've read in Exodus in view, let's consider a greater testimony,


So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With His own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people's bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:11–14, NLT).

 

I pray that we will keep this testimony in mind as we continue our readings tomorrow. The Tabernacle, the Priesthood, the sacrifices all point to something more significant—the coming of Jesus. The glory and mystery of the Tabernacle will pale in comparison to what God ultimately reveals through the incarnation of His Son. May God help us keep this in mind.

February 8, 2022

Exodus 22:16-24:18


Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence (Exodus 24:9–11, NLT)!

 

Can you imagine experiencing this moment? God redeems His people so they might draw near to Him. The LORD expressed that desire when He initially called Moses up the mountain (Exodus 19:4-6). "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," the LORD announces. Sadly, as I noted yesterday, the people choose to stand back instead of stepping near (Exodus 20:18-19). Even so, God's desire for fellowship remained. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders, share a covenant meal with the LORD upon the mountain. They are described as eating and drinking in His presence. Again, can you imagine this?


Keep this scene in mind as you consider the LORD's instructions and commands. We make a mistake when we view God's wisdom and guidance as merely an impersonal set of rules. They are far more. They reflect His character and knowledge so that we might be protected from harmful actions but also enjoy His presence at the table. Understand me. A person doesn't earn one's right at the table. The LORD is the One who redeems. Our obedience, however, increases our awareness of what can be and should be. It places us in spiritual proximity so that we might experience even more of the LORD's presence. Then, let's do the right thing, not simply because it is "right." Let's do the right thing because we enjoy fellowship with the One who is righteous. Do you see the difference? One approach leads to legalism and pride. The other moves us humbly toward His presence and the table of fellowship.


Do you doubt God's desire for fellowship? Get ready for tomorrow's reading as God provides the layout for the Tabernacle of God—the Tent of Meeting. The LORD will continue to step toward His people. And their response? And our response? May God help us to draw near.

February 7, 2022

Exodus 20:1-22:15


When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram's horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. And they said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us, or we will die (Exodus 20:18–19, NLT)!"


God addresses His redeemed people with grandeur and power at Mount Sinai, the appointed place of meeting. He calls His people to relate to Him as God and relate to one another appropriately. Jesus would later summarize God's covenant expectations to involve loving God with all we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:32-40). The often-cited Ten Commandments highlight both.


Yet, as God speaks directly to His people, they draw back in fear, and a great tragedy occurs at this point. God redeemed the descendants of Abraham so that they might experience His presence and interaction in personal ways. They were intended to become a "kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6)," but they stopped short of what could be because of fear. Instead of God addressing them directly, they plead with Moses to be their intermediary. "You speak to us," they cry. "And we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us, or we will die (Exodus 20:19, NLT)!"

 

Every time I read this, I wonder what might have been. The people chose to stand at a distance (Exodus 20:18) instead of drawing near. Is it possible that we choose the same? In the Israelite's case, they feared their death. Moses appealed, "Don't be afraid." He then adds, "for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of Him will keep you from sinning (Exodus 20:20, NLT)!" Isn't it ironic that their future struggles would be directly related to an absence of proper reverence and fear?


The people chose to stand at a distance. It is not coincidental that Jesus establishes us to be a kingdom of priests. As the Apostle Peter describes, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV)." The relevant question is: Will we stand at a distance or draw near? Let's not be content to allow someone else to approach God on our behalf. By faith, admitting our inadequacies and our fear, let's draw near to the LORD so we might experience even more of His glory and power. Will you join me in this pursuit or stop short of what should be?

February 6, 2022

Exodus 16-19


Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt (Exodus 16:1, NLT).

 

The life of faith is a journey. Day by day, we learn to relate to God as God. We learn to trust Him, follow His lead, and submit to His commands. Today's reading illustrates that sometimes the learning process is a slow one. Consider the steps and missteps of the children of Israel. A month into the journey, the Israelites are still inclined to complain. When lacking food, do they seek God's counsel? No. They find it easier to blame Moses and Aaron for the shortage. They are slow to look at the situation through the eyes of faith.


Interestingly, God's solution to the problem would require active faith on their part. He instructs the people to gather a daily portion of manna each morning to sustain them. They are to harvest just enough for the day at hand—not too much, nor little. The exception would be on Friday. God directs His people to gather enough for two days on the sixth day. Why the difference? God not only demonstrates His sufficiency to sustain them. He also provides the gift of a Sabbath day. The term "Sabbath" means "to cease." God teaches formerly enslaved people (whose work never ended) the value of setting a day apart to rest and refocus. It would become a day for physical and spiritual renewal.


And the people's response? I'm fascinated that, despite God's explicit instruction, some disregarded His guidance. Some still attempted to take more than needed during the week, only to discover that it had gone bad. And then others went out on the Sabbath to gather the manna as if God's instructions are not trustworthy. I want to attest that God is far more patient than I would have been.


The lesson in all of this is a lesson in faith. Day by day, we learn to follow God's lead and trust His provision. Faith is not a feeling. It is an action. We act upon what He says and move toward the future, confident in His ability to make the difference. Take heart. God will also be patient with us as we learn the necessary lessons along the way. Just remind yourself. The life of faith is a journey. Let's keep learning, keep trusting, and keep following. He is worthy of our confidence and faith.

February 5, 2022

Exodus 13-15


"With Your unfailing love You lead the people You have redeemed. In Your might, You guide them to Your sacred home (Exodus 15:13, NLT)."


God's people lift these words of praise to the LORD as they witness the dramatic defeat of Pharoah's best. Of course, their jubilation is preceded by an episode of fear and doubt. Remember the scene? God deliberately leads His people to a place of vulnerability so He might demonstrate His faithfulness. They are trapped with a body of water before them and Pharoah's army behind them, and they envision the worst. They cry out, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:11, NLT)?" They only see the problem and fail to open their eyes to the sufficiency of the One leading the way.


Moses seeks to reassure, "Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm (Exodus 14:13-14, NLT)." The truth is: Moses required a little encouragement himself. God, however, is not surprised by the situation nor unable to provide. He opens a way where there is no way. He separates the Red Sea, so His people walk across on dry land. At the same time, God lays a trap for their pursuers. The path of deliverance would also become the instrument of God's judgment. Behold the power of the LORD. God's people erupt in celebration and praise. Consider the earlier refrain,


"With Your unfailing love You lead the people You have redeemed. In Your might, You guide them to Your sacred home (Exodus 15:13, NLT)."


Think about this testimony with Jesus in mind. Can we trust Jesus to lead on our behalf—even if we find ourselves in a difficult place? Has He not redeemed us so that He might guide us to His sacred home? I anticipate observing quite a few parallels as we continue our readings into the days ahead. May the LORD open our eyes to His unfailing love as we commit ourselves to follow His lead.

February 4, 2022

Exodus 10-12


"These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the LORD's Passover. On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD! But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:11–13, NLT)."


God's judgment is about to descend upon Egypt. God informed Abraham centuries earlier that a time of reckoning would come (Genesis 15:14). The nation would cry out in horror as the LORD strikes down the firstborn male in every household. Death would be no respecter of persons. The firstborn in the richest and poorest families would suffer the same judgment—even firstborn male animals would be affected. The midnight hour would be unlike any other that they had ever experienced.


God, however, had provided a way of escape to the descendants of Abraham and those who would act upon God's instructions. God's judgment would pass over families where the blood of the prescribed lamb was appropriately applied upon the doorposts. Death would be averted, and release from captivity would follow. In the truest sense of the word, it would be a night of salvation for the people of God. The blood of the lamb would make the difference.


The children of Israel would commemorate the events of that unforgettable night with each passing year. They would remind themselves of God's ability to save and deliver as they reenact the Passover meal and ceremonially apply the blood of the lamb. However, this same observance would later point to an even greater demonstration of God's power and love. Jesus, the Son of God, would open our eyes to God's greater work as He shares a final Passover with His disciples.


As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then He broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, "Take it, for this is My body." And He took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many (Mark 14:22–24, NLT)."


Let's allow the truth of this to settle within our hearts. Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). He delivers us from the horror of God's judgment for sin. Though we are deserving of death, Jesus rescues us as we respond to Him in faith. He died in our place so that we might receive new life as a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). Let's reflect upon this as we enter the day. Keep in mind that the night of deliverance was only the beginning. God intends to lead His people to discover their new life together with Him. God desires the same for us as we learn to relate to Him through Jesus, His Son. May we do so today!

February 3, 2022

Exodus 7:14-9:35


Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is stubborn, and he still refuses to let the people go (Exodus 7:14, NLT)."


What does it take for God to get our attention? Do we ignore or reject what God says to our demise? At what point do we pass the point of no return? Our misguided choices can become a moral and spiritual avalanche that tragically sweeps us away.


The stubbornness of the Egyptian Pharoah serves as a sobering example. How many ways does God try to get Pharoah's attention? God turns water into blood. Nope, he's not persuaded. How about an invasion of frogs? Nope, still resistant. Pesty gnats? Not enough. A swarm of irritating flies will certainly make the point? As the text describes, "Pharoah again became stubborn and refused to let the people go (Exodus 8:32, NLT)." What then will it take? Diseased livestock? No. Festering sores? No again. Surely a devastating hail storm will open the ruler's eyes? As the storm clouds depart, Pharoah's stubbornness reappears.


Why so resistant? Why reject God's warning? Why travel further down a path of judgment and destruction? The issue with Pharoah is the same issue with us. The problem is one of pride. The Egyptian ruler refused to acknowledge the LORD despite the proof and warnings. His stubbornness of heart (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32) perpetuated a rebellion that multiplied the consequences.


To make matters worse, his stubborn pride reached a point of no return. His persistent rejection resulted in a hardening of the heart affected by God (Exodus 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10). And the lesson? It is foolish to presume unlimited opportunities. We can move beyond God's warning and step foolishly toward judgment and loss. Thankfully, this does not occur quickly or easily, but tragically it does happen. In Pharoah's case, it was even predictable—as God Himself announced.


So, what does it take to get our attention? Let's not ignore God's appeals. May we recognize our pride for what it is. It blinds us to who God is and our response to His Word. The added tragedy to Pharoah's stubbornness is that it negatively impacted far more than himself. That is always the case. May we then humble our hearts this morning and respond appropriately. One last time—what does it take to get our attention?

February 2, 2022

Exodus 4:18-7:13


So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey, and headed back to the land of Egypt. In his hand he carried the staff of God (Exodus 4:20, NLT).

 

Moses is on his way back to Egypt, but God's servant will prove tentative and erratic at times. If we expected everything to fall naturally into place, that would not be the case. Moses hadn't even circumcised his son as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:9-12). What does that suggest concerning the one who's called to deliver and lead God's covenant people?


No, Moses' early steps are not faultless. He's a work in progress—as is each of us. That said, I give Moses credit for returning to Egypt. He's facing his fears in ways that, honestly, I might hesitate. He seeks to move forward with the LORD, learning as he goes. And there would be much to learn, with some noticeable ups and downs along the way. For example, Moses' initial success in rallying the Israelites would be followed by confusion and disappointment as their circumstances worsened.


Have we ever experienced the same? We take an exciting step forward with the LORD only to discover a new set of problems. Do we find ourselves second-guessing? Moses certainly did. He cries out to God, "Why have You brought all this trouble on Your own people, Lord? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as Your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to Your people. AND YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING TO RESCUE THEM (Exodus 5:22–23, NLT)!"


Of course, Moses is misreading the situation, as do we. Let's not be too hasty in diagnosing the problem. If we learned anything from Job's testimony, we know that more is going on than meets the eye. We need to step back and remind ourselves WHO we are following. He is the great "I AM." He is EL-SHADDAI, GOD ALMIGHTY. We should take heart, not lose heart. God sought to remind Moses of that very thing (Exodus 6:2-5), even as He would remind us. Let's not allow our early disappointments to cause us to doubt God's future provision. Let's focus instead on God's promise (His larger plan) and keep moving in HIs direction. We will experience God's grace and power as we do.

February 1, 2022

Exodus 1-2; 1 Chronicles 6:1-3a; Exodus 3:1-4:17


In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land (Exodus 1:6–7, NLT).


The story of Abraham's descendants continues, and God's covenant remains active. However, that doesn't mean that there would not be difficulties ahead. God's covenant people would suffer horribly at the hands of the Egyptians for an extended length of time. They are forced into slavery, devalued, and abused. The destructive influence of sin and pride manifests itself again in the ugliest of ways.


God is not blind to the Israelites plight. He is not unmoved. At the right time and in the right way, God acts to provide His solution to the deteriorating situation. Indeed, God had already promised their deliverance centuries earlier to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-15). God sees what we do not see. He knows what we are incapable of knowing. Of course, that does not prevent us from complaining along the way.


Dramatically, God reveals Himself to a man who had fled Egypt in fear. God explains to Moses, "I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land (Exodus 3:7–8, NLT)."

 

God keeps His promises. Though we may not always understand the circumstances at hand, God is not indifferent or unaffected. We must learn to trust His timing and act when He calls us forward. I anticipate learning a great deal through Moses and the unfolding story ahead. I already see myself in his initial hesitation. Like Moses, I can be negatively influenced by the "what if" scenarios that I create in my mind. I suspect I'm not alone. Even so, let's follow Moses' story. Let's learn about God's ability to make the life-altering difference as we choose to follow His lead. Will you join us for the journey? It's the continuation of "Our Story." May God speak to our hearts as we do.

January 31, 2022

Job 40:6-42:17


Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, 'Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?' It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me (Job 42:1–3, NLT)."

 

Job had faced the unimaginable. He suffered in so many ways, leaving him discouraged and confused. At times, his emotions would get the best of him. He would say things to God and about God that he now painfully regrets. However, is that not the nature of grief and suffering? We find ourselves thinking things, feeling things, and saying things that God helps us process and work through. That doesn't always happen quickly. Sometimes our questions and disappointments linger. Even so, God faithfully seeks to help us along.


In Job's case, God's revelation of Himself at the end of the book was humbling. God permitted Job to see Him in ways that he had not considered. That said, God's patience was also evident. Nowhere in the book does God punish Job for his emotional outbursts or questioning. He allows Job to be honest with his emotions but then opens Job's spiritual eyes to the truth of who He is. Interestingly, God doesn't answer the "why me" questions that Job raises. Instead, God works to reassure Job that His wisdom and actions on Job's behalf are trustworthy—that He is trustworthy.


I pray God will grant us the same realization. We'll all be confused and unsettled at points along the way. The question is, "Will we consider the LORD trustworthy amid the storms?" Will we doubt Him? Will we challenge Him? Job's mistake was that he failed to give God the benefit of the doubt. He failed to appreciate that there is often more going on than meets the eyes. Life is not as simple as "good things happen to good people" and "bad things happen to bad people." May we remind ourselves of the same and respond to God in humble faith, even though the circumstances confound us. I pray the story of Job will grant us a perspective that enables us to navigate life’s disappointments with patience and trust. May it be so!

January 30, 2022

Job 38–40:5


Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind (Job 38:1, NLT).


What does Job feel as God answers him from the whirlwind? Is he thinking, "Uh-oh, maybe I was a bit hasty?" Indeed, Job had been insistent that God grant him a hearing. "If only I knew where to find God," Job exclaimed, "I would go to His court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to His reply and understand what He says to me (Job 23:3-5, NLT)." Is Job second-guessing his plan as he's confronted by the sound and force of a violent whirlwind?


God certainly has Job's attention and proceeds to challenge his thinking. Job accused God of being unfair, even unjust. He questioned the appropriateness of his suffering and the perceived prosperity of the wicked. From Job's vantage point, something appears off. Of course, Job's vantage point is essentially the problem. He doesn't see nor understand nearly as much as he thinks.


To illustrate this, God raises a series of questions. Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth? Do you appreciate its dimensions and the complexity involved (Job 38:4-20)? With pointed sarcasm, God adds, "But of course you know all of this! For you were born before it was all created and you are so very experienced (Job 38:21, NLT)."


If I'm Job, I swallow hard, but God is not done. The LORD directs Job to consider the wisdom required to create and maintain the natural order of things. What does Job understand about the constellations above and sustaining seasons below (Job 38:4-41)? To what degree does he grasp the diversity of life itself and how each part of God's creation functions and thrives (Job 39:1-30). Then the LORD bluntly states,"Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God's critic, but do you have the answers (Job 40:2, NLT)?"

 

Is God being too harsh? Or is the LORD enlarging Job's perspective? Job's response says it all,


"I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand.

I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say (Job 40:4-5, NLT)."


God is not finished with the discussion, but that may be enough for now. What do we learn from this exchange? Will we admit the inadequacy of our vantage point? Do we presume to know and understand more than our perspective allows? Maybe we should echo Job's confession and humble ourselves before the One who knows and understands. May our trust in the LORD deepen as we do.

January 29, 2022

Job 35-37


Then Elihu said: "Do you think it is right for you to claim, 'I am righteous before God' (Job 35:1–2, NLT)?"

 

Elihu continues his appeal to Job. He's convinced that Job has overstated his innocence, and even worse, wrongly maligned God's actions. It should again be noted: Job's declarations of innocence are grounded in the truth. He's not suffering due to his sin or wrongful acts. Job, however, is mistaken. He misinterprets his present struggles to be an expression of God's judgment. Job's falling into the same mental trap as his three friends. They, too, assume that all suffering is a form of God's punishment.


Elihu challenges Job to step back and rethink his presumptions about God. Is it possible that Job has diminished the truth of who God is in his attempt to prove his innocence? The answer is, "Yes." Elihu appeals,


"Look, God is all-powerful. Who is a teacher like Him? No one can tell Him what to do, or say to Him, 'You have done wrong.' Instead, glorify His mighty works, singing songs of praise. Everyone has seen these things, though only from a distance. Look, God is greater than we can understand (Job 36:22–26, NLT)."


Elihu is on to something. Has Job allowed his suffering and pain to distort his perception of God? If so, Job is not the only person who has let life's disappointments negatively influence one’s perspective. Personal loss and suffering frequently cause us to view God differently and view life from a self-centered way. We fail to appreciate the complexity of life and underestimate God's wisdom in the process. We make it all about "me" when there is more than our individual lives and experiences to consider.


Elihu helps us to step back and take another look. As he does, God steps forward and opens our eyes further to the wonder of who He is. Of course, that's tomorrow's reading. For today, let's wrestle with the questions, "Am I allowing my pain and suffering to distort my perception of God? Have I become self-centered in my focus?" If "yes" to either, may God begin to open our spiritual eyes so that we might see Him more clearly and view ourselves more appropriately. May it be so.

January 28, 2022

Job 32-34


"Listen to my words, Job; pay attention to what I have to say (Job 33:1, NLT)."


Job concludes his final plea of innocence. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar remain silent, unable to refute Job's latest claims. Has the debate come to an end? Not quite yet. A new voice enters the theological fray. He's identified as Elihu, son of Brakel, who's been a quiet spectator to their verbal wrangling. Elihu, however, has reached his breaking point. He's fed up with both sides. He's angry at Job for challenging God's actions. He's upset with Job's friends for failing to prove Job's guilt, which would justify God's actions. In disgust, Elihu lashes out.


As an aside, seldom is it helpful to erupt in anger. Anger amplifies our words and actions in ways that frequently diminish an effective result—especially in a conversation. That said, Elihu feels compelled to defend God's honor. He's troubled by Job's assertions and seeks to put him in his proper place. To his credit, Elihu raises a relevant consideration. The argument thus far has centered upon Job's suffering as a sign of God's displeasure. What if there is another possibility? What if Job's suffering is a means of God speaking to Job (Job 33:14-24). He's not punishing Job for past offenses. Instead, God is instructing Job, disciplining him for the future good. That is a worthy consideration as we reflect upon our struggles and disappointments. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis notes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."


Of course, we already know that Job's suffering is in no way related to his sin or guilt. Human suffering is more complicated than "bad things happen to bad people." The book of Job is helping us to realize this. Let's continue to reflect upon the implications of what this means. May we resist simplifying what is profoundly complex. May God encourage our hearts as we do.

January 27, 2022

Job 30-31


Job's words are ended (Job 31:40, NLT).

 

You may have wondered when the back and forth between Job and his friends would ever end. Round and round they went, each arguing their point of view. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar denounce Job as a sinner. Job, in self-defense, pleads his innocence. He even offers a moral checklist of his righteousness.


Sexually pure (Job 31:1, 9-12)—CHECKMARK!

Honest toward others (Job 31:5-6)—CHECKMARK!

Fair toward his servants (Job 31:13-15, 31-32)—CHECKMARK!

Generous to the poor and helpless (Job 31:16-23)—CHECKMARK!

Trusts in God, not money (Job31:24-25)—CHECKMARK!


And the list goes on. The character of Job's life is consistent with God's earlier commendation (Job 1:9). But why the thorough self-evaluation? The truth is: Job can't make sense of his plight. The more he mulls it over, the more confused and discouraged Job becomes. He finally reaches the end of his argument, and perhaps also the end of himself, and Job stops talking.


There's a lesson here. It's worth noting that God speaks up when Job is finally ready to listen. As long as Job persists in arguing his case, he will be unable to hear God's perspective. His friends were no help. Their constant attacks kept Job in a defensive posture. However, things are finally winding down.


It's funny. Before God addresses Job, someone else attempts to fill the silence. We'll consider Elihu's take on Job's situation over the next two days. His unexpected input is somewhat typical. People often interject themselves into situations better off left alone. That said, let's focus on today's emphasis. Sometimes we need to stop talking so we might finally listen. Is God trying to address our hearts? Have we reached the end of our arguments with God, the end of ourselves, so that we might finally consider God's point of view? May God give us ears to hear.

January 26, 2022

Job 26-29


I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days (Job 27:6, NLT).


Job's final speech to his detractors again defends his honor. He's lost his family, his resources, and his health. The only thing that remains is his good name. Though Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have done everything they could to berate and accuse their so-called friend, Job will not relent. "I will never concede that you are right," he asserts. "I will defend my integrity until I die (Job 27:5, NLT)."


And that Job most certainly will do. Though Job's suffering would cause him to question God's actions, of his own actions, Job is assured (Job 27:6). His devotion to God would withstand all scrutiny. Can I assert the same? Can you?


Job's claim, however, is not egotistical nor delusional. As honestly as Job knew how he lived according to God's wisdom. Succinctly stated, "The fear of the Lord is true wisdom, to forsake evil is real understanding (Job 28:28, NLT)." To the best of his ability, Job lived this out. "Everything I did was honest," Job testifies. "Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban (Job 29:14, NLT)."


I mention this to influence our perspective further. A righteous, honorable man endured unimaginable hardship. It is clear from Job's experience that bad things happen to good people—sometimes horrible things happen to very good people. We would be wise to let that sink in. If we fail to grasp this lesson, we miss a crucial element to Job's message—bad things happen to the best of us.


Interestingly, the Book of Job doesn't really explain why that is. Job's "why me" questions essentially go unanswered. Instead, the book informs us that suffering can come unexpectedly and often appear undeserved. Will we take this lesson to heart? Will we view our losses and disappointments differently? Of course, there is still more to Job's story, but for now, let's allow today's consideration to influence our perspective into the day ahead.

January 25, 2022

Job 22-25


God has made me sick at heart; the Almighty has terrified me. Darkness is all around me; thick, impenetrable darkness is everywhere (Job 23:16–17, NLT).

 

Job is experiencing an emotional and spiritual freefall. Though he tries to grab any element of truth that might slow his descent, his so-called friends do all they can to accelerate his downward spiral. Eliphaz rails, "Is it because you are so pious that He (God) accuses you and brings judgment against you? No, it is because of your wickedness! There's no limit to your sins (Job 22:4-5, NLT)."

 

The irony is this: Job presently suffers because he is pious. God is not displeased with his servant, but everyone (Job included) misconstrues the situation. Job blames God, the friends blame Job, and everyone is misguided and wrong. And the result? Job plummets all the more into mental and emotional darkness. 


What do we learn from all of this? The most devoted of souls can find themselves in the darkest of places. Our faith in God may not prevent us from an emotional freefall. Let's be honest. The right combination of suffering, disappointment, and criticism can leave anyone bewildered and unsure. It can push us over the emotional ledge, and then what?


Be patient with yourself. We may all experience what St. John of the Cross describes as "the dark night of the soul." We feel detached from God, discouraged of heart, and unsure of our situation. Like Job, everywhere we turn to find God or experience His help appears unsuccessful. Even so, don't lose heart. More is at work than meets the eye. Don't reach conclusions about the situation prematurely. Admit your confusion, acknowledge the darkness, and (as honestly as you know how) embrace the silence. God is still at work. I do not pretend this is easy, but don't panic in the darkness. Your story is still being written, and God is not yet done.


May God help us take this to heart. I pray that we do!

January 24, 2022

Job 19-21


But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought (Job 19:25–27, NLT)!

 

Job's mind and emotions are jumbled. Tortured by the accusations of his so-called friends, confounded by his inability to make sense of his situation, Job struggles within. Even so, he fixes his heart upon a singular truth: "I know that my Redeemer lives." Despite Job's confusion, he remains convinced that God will ultimately prove to be his deliverer. Though disturbed and unsettled, Job's hope is still in God—even through death.


His testimony should serve as an example and encouragement. We, too, may find ourselves disoriented and emotionally worn. At such moments, we should focus on the stabilizing truth of our Redeemer. Some interpreters see Job's confession as prophetically pointing to Jesus. What Job understood only in part, we can know profoundly. Jesus, our Redeemer, has made Himself known and can be known. Though, like Job, we may find ourselves confused by life. Let's not be confused about our future hope. Our future hope is Jesus.


Jessie Pounds Brown expressed this hope over a century ago in her uplifting hymn, "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth." May her words be a further encouragement as we move into the day.


I know that my Redeemer liveth, And on the earth again shall stand; I know eternal life He giveth, That grace and power are in His hand.


I know his promise never faileth, The word He speaks, it cannot die; Tho' cruel death my flesh assaileth, Yet I shall see Him by and by.


I know my mansion He prepareth, That where He is there I may be; O wondrous tho't, for me He careth, And He at last will come for me.


I know, I know that Jesus liveth, And on the earth again shall stand; I know, I know that life He giveth, That grace and power are in His hand.

January 23, 2022

Job 15-18

 

"Terrors surround the wicked and trouble them at every step (Job 18:11, NLT)."

 

"Wicked, wicked, wicked Job, you are a wicked man!" That's how I summarize Bildad's second response to Job. Go back and look at the number of ways Bildad describes a wicked person's demise. It's not a pretty picture, and, of course, he's pointing a finger of blame and responsibility at Job. On Friday, someone commented, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"


Keep in mind. Bildad's indictment follows Job's most recent attempt to assert his innocence. He tries to plead his position, even asking God to stand up on his behalf (Job 17:3). All this to no avail. The judgment and condemnation of his friends persist. Three voices against one, and it takes an inevitable toll. Job cries out in despair, "My days are over. My hopes have disappeared. My heart's desires are broken (Job 17:11, NLT)."


I bring us back to Friday's consideration. Do we hear the cries of those hurting around us? Do we respond to those in need? The pandemic has caused a tidal wave of fear and depression. So many are being swept away by the circumstances, isolated and confused. If that's not enough, the past 24 months have been characterized more by verbal attacks than compassion or love. Too many have discovered ways to wag a finger of indictment instead of extending a helping hand.


Something has to change for the better, and (with God's help) that change should start with us. We have enough Bildads on Facebook and Twitter. Let's adopt a better approach. Think about someone that you know who is discouraged. Pray for the person even now by name. But let's do more than that. Let's look for an opportunity this week to listen awhile, and even more, to offer a shoulder to lean on. We may not be able to eliminate the present difficulties, but we can be a source of light in the darkness that reminds them that they are not alone. Do you think such a friend would have been a help to Job? Let's be that kind of friend this week.

January 22, 2022

Job 12-14


True wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are His (Job 12:13, NLT).

 

Job makes a statement that is very much true about God. True wisdom, power, counsel, and understanding are absolutely the Lord's, and we are wise to affirm this. Yet, it is one thing to confess the truth, and it is something else to embrace it.


In Job's defense, he suffers in ways that I can't imagine. I don't pretend to share Job's perspective, and I certainly wouldn't offer him advice—much less condemnation. Knowing myself as I do, I would likely grimace with him in pain and try not to glance at his oozing wounds.


That said, Job's disorientation can be instructive. He knows the truth, but Job's current situation appears to prevent him from accepting the truth. How so? If God possesses all wisdom, power, counsel, and understanding, shouldn't Job trust the Lord in the present situation?


Job's problem is one of presumption. He presumes that the all-knowing, all-powerful God would never allow a good person like him to suffer in this way. Job also supposes that he sees the whole situation for what it is. Neither of which is true. That lack of understanding erodes his confidence in God and the truth about Him.


Can we fall into the same trap? How often do we know the truth intellectually but (for whatever reason) fail to embrace the truth inwardly? Once again, I give Job some leeway in light of the situation. In our case, however, let's choose to trust the Lord's wisdom, power, counsel, and understanding for the day ahead—even if it turns out badly.

January 21, 2022

Job 8-11


Your children must have sinned against him, so their punishment was well deserved. But if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, and if you are pure and live with integrity, he will surely rise up and restore your happy home (Job 8:4–6, NLT).

 

Grief and loss are emotionally debilitating. Add to that the disorientation caused by physical pain and suffering, Job is in a terrible state. He's mourning the death of his ten children and might have expected some sympathy from his friends. None would be extended.


Bildad and Zophar speak bluntly to Job, presumptuously. Bildad blames Job's children for their disaster. From his perspective, they brought their deaths upon themselves. Zophar targets Job. He accuses the grieving father of being self-deceived and spiritually dimwitted. "An empty-headed person won't become wise," Zophar asserts, "any more than a wild donkey can bear a human child (Job 11:12, NLT)."


Set the "why" behind Job's situation aside. We can all learn something about WHAT NOT TO DO as we respond to the suffering of others. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar seem more interested in condemning a perceived sinner than extending comfort and support to a friend. The truth is: they were the most helpful when they simply sat with Job in silence.


Let's conclude today with that as our focus. How should we comfort those that we see grieving and confused? They're not looking for answers. They need someone who will identify with their pain and sympathize with their loss. Granted, sometimes we don't know what to say following a tragedy or a death. Even so, let's avoid sermonizing and try to be a sympathetic friend. May God help us to do so. 

January 20, 2022

Job 5-7


Look at me! Would I lie to your face? Stop assuming my guilt, for I have done no wrong. Do you think I am lying? Don't I know the difference between right and wrong (Job 6:28-30, NLT)?


Job has suffered immeasurable loss—the loss of resources, family, and health. His initial response is faith in God, but confusion descends as his misery persists. The arrival of his friends offers little comfort or support. Eliphaz's assessment is quick and to the point, "I have seen that fools may be successful for the moment, but then comes sudden disaster (Job 5:3, NTL)." In other words, "Repent Job! Plead for God's forgiveness so that the suffering may end."


A call for repentance appears to be a reasonable course of action, but Eliphaz is blatantly wrong. The present circumstances are not a sign of God's discipline or displeasure. God's testimony concerning Job is that "he's the finest man in all the earth (Job 1:8, NLT)." What then went wrong? This will be a driving question throughout the book. Why does a "good" person suffer in this way?


His friend's indictment compounds Job's pain and confusion. He appeals to God, "If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of humanity? Why make me a target (Job 7:20, NLT)?" His cry to understand is heart-felt. He then adds, "Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone (Job 7:21, NLT)."


Do you hear Job's desperation? Can you identify with his confusion? How often have you been disturbed or heartbroken because of a situation but unable to make sense of it? Do we allow our hurt and confusion to push us away from God? Do we begin to doubt God and His intentions? These are relevant questions. You may even find yourself in that state of mind today. If so, express your confusion and emotions honestly. Don't step away from God, but let's step toward Him.


Will we find all the answers that we seek? Probably not. Can we discover a better understanding of God and His willingness to help? Absolutely. Let's continue our journey with Job and allow God to strengthen our hearts as we wrestle with our problems and even ourselves. Life can be admittedly hard, but God is not against us. As honestly as we can, let's draw near to God today and seek His help.

January 19, 2022

Job 1-4


Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad (Job 2:10, NLT)?


Today we begin reflecting upon the well-known story of Job. Who hasn't heard of Job's misery and suffering? People unfamiliar with the Bible are familiar with his legendary patience, which raises the question, "Is it patience that Job displays?"


Let's ask the Lord to open our eyes to the truth of this often-told story. What will Job's experience teach us about life? What does it reveal about God and Job's accuser? Are there practical applications that we should carry with us? I pray that God will provide the appropriate insight.


To start with, let's remind ourselves of Job's exemplary character. He is a man that God Himself commends to His heavenly audience (Job 1:8; 2:3). His suffering is not the result of wrongful behavior. Instead, Job's suffering serves as a spiritual test. Does Job do what he does because of the good things he enjoys? Or, is Job's conduct a true reflection of his abiding faith?


The opening two chapters indicate the latter. Job refuses to denounce God or deny his faith despite the unimaginable losses. Even so, he finds himself conflicted and confused. Job struggles to make sense of what has happened, wishing he had never been born. Can we identify with Job's confusion?


How do we respond to life's unexpected losses? What are our expectations of God? As Job expressed, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad (Job 2:10, NLT)?" And our response? Once more, let's pray for God's wisdom as we begin this journey together. May the Lord encourage us as we wrestle with the difficult questions surrounding suffering and our attitude towards God. Will we trust the Lord through our suffering or point the finger of blame?

January 18, 2022

Genesis 47:28-50:26


But Joseph replied, "Don't be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people (Genesis 50:19–20, NLT).


Jacob's death caused an understandable fear among Joseph's older brothers. They believed that the one they betrayed was merely biding his time to open a floodgate of pent-up anger and bitterness. For 17 years, they lived with a foreboding fear and dread.


Joseph's heart breaks as he becomes aware of his brothers' misguided thinking. They allowed their feelings of guilt to blind them to Joseph's sincere effort to forgive and restore. Joseph wished them no harm. God is the arbiter of justice and vengeance. For that matter, Joseph recognized that God could take the ill-intentions of others and produce something beneficial and good. Have we learned the same?


Joseph's testimony should instruct our hearts. We can allow the hurts of life to mar and embitter us, or we can open our eyes to God's transformative grace. God is able to reach down into the ugliness of life and produce that which is beautiful and noble. How did the Apostle Paul express it? "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them (Romans 8:28, NLT)." If you doubt this, think about Jesus upon the cross. Out of the horror and darkness of the cross, the hope of salvation dawns.


Let's reflect upon this as we move into today. May God enable us to look at our hurts and difficulties differently. Let us yield ourselves to His transformative work of grace so we might discover the far-reaching good that the Lord can bring about.

January 17, 2022

Genesis 45:16-47:27


Then Joseph brought in his father, Jacob, and presented him to Pharaoh. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh. "How old are you?" Pharaoh asked him. Jacob replied, "I have traveled this earth for 130 hard years. But my life has been short compared to the lives of my ancestors." Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh again before leaving his court (Genesis 47:7–10, NLT).


Jacob and the extended family have relocated to Goshen. Pharoah has provided fertile land for Jacob and his descendants to raise their families and maintain their flocks. God is meeting the needs of His people despite the drought and famine.


Joseph presents his beloved father to Pharoah, and something noteworthy occurs. The sojourner Jacob blesses the ruler of Egypt—not once, but twice. The truth is: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has already blessed Pharoah by warning him of the impending famine and then providing Joseph to supervise the nation's survival. Jacob now extends God's blessing in a personal, tangible way. He becomes an instrument of God's grace to a ruler and a people outside the covenant.


Jacob's conversation with Pharoah reveals something further. When asked his age, Jacob grants us a perspective about his life that may be instructive. Jacob indicates that he has traveled this earth for 130 "hard" years. This contrasts with his grandfather, Abraham, who died at a ripe old age (175), having lived a long and "satisfying" life (Genesis 25:7-8). What made the difference?


Though neither of the patriarchs was perfect, Jacob made his journey harder than it needed to be. His early actions contributed to the difficulty, and his description to Pharoah suggests that Jacob knew it. May we understand the same. May we appreciate the importance of our choices and the lasting effects—both good and bad. Our faith in God can protect us from so much difficulty if we trust Him enough to follow Him.


That said, Jacob's life appears to end well. God blesses Jacob with 17 prosperous years surrounded by those who loved him. Let's take heart. Even if we make life more complicated than it needs to be, God still looks to bring goodness into our lives if we seek Him. May the Lord help us to do so.

January 16, 2022

Genesis 42:1-45:15


Since Joseph was governor of all Egypt and in charge of selling grain to all the people, it was to him that his brothers came. When they arrived, they bowed before him with their faces to the ground . . . Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they didn't recognize him. And he remembered the dreams he'd had about them many years before (Genesis 42:6, 8–9, NLT)


It must have been surreal for Joseph. The brothers who sold him into slavery are now kneeling before him. They fail to recognize their younger brother. Why should they? They presumed Joseph had died as a result of his prolonged captivity. If not, he would be nowhere near this setting. Little did they realize that they were kneeling before the one they betrayed.


Joseph recognized them immediately, and his dream involving them also flashed to mind. They were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, his sheaf rose and stood upright. Their sheaves, in contrast, gathered around his and bowed down (Genesis 37:7). What served to antagonize his brothers over twenty years earlier would now help to preserve them.


What was the purpose of Joseph's earlier dreams? To inflate a young man's ego or prepare him for the moment at hand? The answer is clear. God was preparing Joseph for the future so that he might respond appropriately. It would have been easy for Joseph to allow a fit of past anger to consume him. Instead, the dreams helped him recognize that something greater than himself is at work.


Do we need the same perspective? We may not be the recipients of prophetic dreams. We are the beneficiaries of God's inspired Word—much of which points us to our future day. The promised picture of what will be is intended to influence our perspective in the here and now. God's future promise should affect our attitude and actions. Will we allow it to do so?


Again, it must have been surreal for Joseph as his brothers kneeled before him. Let's continue to reflect upon his example today and consider how God would encourage our hearts as we move toward our future together.

January 15,2022

Genesis 40:1-23; Genesis 35:28-29; Genesis 41:1-57


"It is beyond my power to do this," Joseph replied. "But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease (Genesis 41:16, NLT)."


Hardship and difficulty can affect one's perspective—positively or negatively. In Joseph's case, he gained a deeper understanding of his dependence upon God. One might conclude as a teenager that Joseph had an elevated view of himself. He was his father's favorite, and there were those two mysterious dreams—both of which would single Joseph out in an exalted way. However, thirteen years as a slave and then a prisoner will inevitably shape one's point of view. Instead of becoming embittered, Joseph recognizes God's ability to work despite the hardship. His faith grows, and his perception of himself becomes inseparably tied to God's work and power.


"It is beyond my power to do this." Joseph's response to Pharoah is revealing. He doesn't pretend to be something he is not, even though it might be to his advantage. He directs the ruler's attention to God and His capacity to make the necessary difference. Joseph presents himself to be a humble servant. What results from this display? God works through his servant to do what is not natural and then positions Joseph in a way that no one would have expected. Joseph goes from being an imprisoned slave to the second most powerful ruler in the land. It is quite the reversal.


That will prove to be a consistent pattern with God. He will often take the unlikely to achieve the impossible to point people ultimately to Himself. God seeks to do so through those individuals who have learned to trust and depend upon Him. Joseph embodies these qualities beautifully. What about you?


Do we allow our hardships to refine our faith or harden our hearts? Does disappointment draw us to God or push us away? Do we acknowledge God's ability to make the necessary difference in ways that point others to Him? There's much we can learn from Joseph's example. May the Lord strengthen our hearts as we renew our trust in Him.

January 14, 2022

Genesis 37:1-36; Genesis 38:1-30; 1 Chronicles 2:3-6, 8; Genesis 39:1-23


"How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God (Genesis 39:9, ESV)?"

 

We focus the next few days upon Joseph, the son of Jacob. He is hated and detested by his older brothers because of the preferential treatment he receives from their father. Of course, Joseph may have exacerbated the situation by his own youthful actions. None of that was deserving of the betrayal Joseph would experience at the hands of his own flesh and blood. He is sold off as a slave to a passing group of Ishmaelite traders.


So begins a challenging series of events in the life of Jacob's beloved son, Joseph. He will be tried and tested in ways that this young man never imagined. Even so, God would work with him, through Him, and noticeably for him. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that God is seeking to do the same with us—if we allow.


God's hand is upon Joseph. He is rising in position and influence. Yet, he also attracts the unsolicited attention of his master's wife. She seeks to seduce Joseph again and again. Each time, Joseph rebuffs her overtures. He even takes measures to avoid future interactions. He models for our benefit a helpful approach. Sometimes the best way to overcome temptation is to avoid temptation.


That said, some temptations may prove unavoidable. Even then, Joseph refuses to succumb. What drives such determination? Simply put, "Joseph refuses to dishonor the God he trusts." In his own words, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God (Genesis 39:9, ESV)?" Joseph views his life and actions in the light of his continuing relationship with God. Do we do the same?


Joseph's confession stands out as a stark contrast to so many in the book of Genesis. He refuses to adopt the selfish, me-first approach that characterizes many (including his brothers). Instead, Joseph chooses a God-first mindset, even if it costs him. Again, do we do the same?


Let's learn from Joseph's example. Let's look at today's decisions and actions from a "God-first" perspective. May we commit ourselves anew to resist temptation and pursue that which honors the One we trust. Will that be easy? Probably not, but it will prove to be the right decision as we continue to follow God's lead and discover His unfolding plan on our behalf.

January 13, 2022

Genesis 36:1-19; 1 Chronicles 1:35-37; Genesis 36:20-30; 1 Chronicles 1:38-42; Genesis 36:31-43; 1 Chronicles 1:43-54; 1 Chronicles 2:1-2


These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael's daughter, the sister of Nebaioth. And Adah bore to Esau, Eliphaz; Basemath bore Reuel; and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. These are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan (Genesis 36:1–5, ESV).


Genealogies may not be your favorite part of our chronological Bible readings. Even so, they are helpful. They remind us of the passing of time and the impact that is made upon future generations—both good and bad. It's worth noting (in the case of today's reading) that God blesses the descendants of Esau because of their distant relationship with Abraham. God's covenant with Abraham is far-reaching. Whether they fully grasped how God's covenant with Abraham impacted their lives, we can't know. The fact that they benefitted from the relationship is undeniable.


Do we recognize the impact of our lives generationally? I look back over my life and see firsthand this principle at work. The faith of my grandparents on both sides of my parents' family directly impacted my life, which has shaped my children's lives, which now influence their children's lives. God's work with one generation reaches far beyond that single generation. Granted, it doesn't assure a favorable response to God on the part of future generations. It does put into motion a lasting influence for the better.


Instead of reading the Bible's genealogical lists with indifference, let's allow them to move us to think about our lives—both backward and forward. Let's give thanks for those who may have influenced us favorably toward God. Thank God for the testimony of their faith. May we also actively pray for those who follow behind. Ask the Lord to extend a Godly influence through your words and actions. May the testimony of your life be a source of light that leads them to Jesus and the difference that He can make.


If we allow the many genealogical lists to prompt us to pray, we may view the various lists differently. Let's give it a try today!

January 12, 2022

Genesis 32-35


Then Jacob prayed, "O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac—O LORD, You told me, 'Return to your own land and to your relatives.' And You promised me, 'I will treat you kindly.' I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness You have shown to me, Your servant (Genesis 32:9-10, NLT)."

 

Jacob journeys home at God's command. He returns to the land that was promised to his father and grandfather. His homecoming, however, is accompanied more by fear than joy—the fear of his brother and the unknown. Jacob cries out in prayer, and the honesty of his words are revealing,


"I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness You have shown to me."


His confession is true. So much of Jacob's life has been characterized by qualities that one would not expect of God's servant. Deceit, self-centeredness, pride, Jacob is far from the poster child of faith and obedience, and he knows it. Even so, He humbly calls to God. Though he has faltered, Jacob recognizes that God has not. He understands that his future rests upon God's promise and testimony—not his own.


Do we understand the same? Though we may seek to honor God with our actions, we are nevertheless recipients of God's steadfast love and faithfulness. Our promise of the future is based upon God's grace through Jesus, His Son, not our good works. The Apostle Paul expresses it beautifully when he writes (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV),

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.


Like Jacob, we are unworthy of God's unfailing love and faithfulness. Yet, thank the Lord, God seeks to accompany us in our journey. Let's turn to Him today. Let's renew our trust in the One who can make the necessary difference—even if we feel undeserving. God is faithful. May we face the unknown expectantly with grateful hearts.

January 11, 2022

Genesis 30:25-43; 31:1-55


Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your father and grandfather and to your relatives there, and I will be with you (Genesis 31:3, NLT)."

 

It's time for Jacob to return home. God's words are direct and to the point, "Return to the land of your father and grandfather." It has been twenty years since he traveled to Haran to find a wife. A great deal has happened over two decades. It is now time for Jacob, his wives, and his children to make the long journey home.


Jacob and the family depart secretly, failing to inform his father-in-law. He is fearful of his father-in-law Laban's reaction. He has amassed a significant flock and wealth due to God's activity, and he anticipates an adverse response on the part of his father-in-law. However, he fails to remember the promise that accompanied God's directive, "I will be with you."


Of course, Laban's initial reaction is not favorable, and to make matters worse, Rachel steals the household idols during their hasty exit. Even so, God is faithful to His promise. The night before Laban reaches his fleeing son-in-law, God confronts him in a dream, "I'm warning you—leave Jacob alone (Genesis 31:24, NLT)!" Laban takes the warning to heart and ultimately enters into a covenant with Jacob, establishing a boundary line and assuring the family's well-being.


And the lesson? Within today's passage, God is referred to twice by Jacob as the fearsome God of Isaac (Genesis 31: 42, 53). The Hebrew literally translates, "the fear of Isaac." The point is that Isaac displayed a proper understanding of who God is. He had come to see God as God and relate to Him appropriately. Through this experience, perhaps Jacob is beginning to learn the same.


The fear of God is not dread but a healthy understanding of God's power and authority. The truth is: Jacob should have trusted God's provision on his behalf more than fear Laban's potential reaction. Said another way, Jacob should have feared God more than man. Should we do the same? God is faithful both to lead and provide. Let's then renew our trust in Him as we follow the fearsome God Issac.

January 10, 2022

Genesis 28:6-22; Genesis 29:1-14a, 14b-30, 31–30:24


At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway. At the top of the stairway stood the LORD, and he said,

 

"I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What's more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you (Genesis 28:11–15, NLT) ."


Through a dream, God dramatically reminds Jacob of His presence and His promise on his behalf. God opened Jacob's spiritual eyes to reassure his heart and influence his future actions. Perspective always influences activity. 


What then is our perspective as Jesus' followers? Do we view Him as far off and removed? Are we familiar with His promises on our behalf? Do we feel that we are on life's journey alone? I remind you of Jesus' final words to His disciples, which extend to us, "And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20, NLT)."


We are not alone as we make our way forward. God is with us, His promises are for us, and He intends to make a difference through us. Will we allow for His activity in our lives? Let's enter the day with our spiritual eyes open to the truth. Let's renew our confidence in the Lord despite the difficulties and uncertainties. Jacob erects a memorial stone to remind him of God's presence and promise. May we look for personal ways to remind us that God is also at work on our behalf. Perspective always influences activity. May our actions be influenced by our renewed perspective on God's presence and work.

January 9, 2022

Genesis 25:27-34; 26:1-35; Genesis 27:1–28:5


From there Isaac moved to Beersheba, where the LORD appeared to him on the night of his arrival. "I am the God of your father, Abraham," he said. "Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you. I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this because of my promise to Abraham, my servant." Then Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the LORD (Genesis 26:23–25, NLT).


A sibling rivalry, a case of parental preferences, increasing family strife, yet God remains faithful to His promise. I read of the developing dysfunction within Isaac's family, and I wonder, "How does God work through all of this?" The family is far from the people that you would expect to impact the world for the better. Yet, in the middle of all the dysfunction, God reaffirms His plans to Issac, the son of Abraham. The LORD also explains why. Look again at His pledge, "I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this BECAUSE OF MY PROMISE to Abraham, my servant."


Their future hope did not rest upon their collective piety or devotion. Instead, it was dependent upon God's fidelity to His promise. In a sense, their future hope is tied to their relationship with Abraham and the covenant God made. That doesn't mean that God is indifferent to their actions. We will observe His continued efforts, in particular toward Jacob. It does, however, underscore the far-reaching power of God's promise.


I highlight all of this to remind us that our future hope is likewise tied to God's promise. Our abiding confidence rests upon our faith relationship with Jesus and the covenant that He made on our behalf. We, too, are a people of the promise. That doesn't mean that our actions are somehow irrelevant. They certainly are not. Nevertheless, it should take our eyes off our collective efforts and place them more fully on God's promise. I leave you with Jesus' words of hope,


For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, ESV). 

January 8, 2022

Genesis 25:27-34; 26:1-35; 27:1–28:5


And he died at a ripe old age, having lived a long and satisfying life (Genesis 25:8, NLT).


The report of Abraham's death is short and to the point. He died at the ripe age of 175, which means he walked with God for 100 years. Abraham was 75 when he left the comforts of home to follow God's lead (Genesis 12:4), and for ten decades, his faith and understanding would deepen and grow.


That said, the so-called friend of God (James 2:23) would experience both victory and defeat. At times his heart would soar. There would also be episodes of great disappointment and loss. It may help to realize that this characterizes the life of faith. No child of faith is promised a life without hardship. No child of faith walks without stumbling. What then does faith supply? It enables us to experience God's help, wisdom, and provision as we actively seek to follow His lead.


Our faith journey should also lead us toward a "satisfying life." My heart is encouraged by this summary description of Abraham's experience. Even with his ups and downs, his heart and life were full. I would stress that this is not a result of his achievements or wealth. It is a testimony to Abraham's life of faith and his active journey with God. God is the One who satisfies the deep longings of the heart. God is the One who moves us toward a life worth living.


Let's not lose sight of Abraham as "our story" continues. May we learn from his example and choose to follow God's lead. Let's renew our faith in the Lord (whether we find ourselves at a high point or low point) and anticipate a satisfaction that only He can supply. Remember Jesus' words to His disciples, "If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:9-10, ESV). May, then, it is ultimately said of us, "Because they followed Jesus, they lived satisfying lives." O Lord, let it be so!

January 7, 2022

Genesis 21:8-24:67


Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means "the LORD will provide"). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided (Genesis 22:14, NLT)."


"The Lord will provide." I cannot imagine Abraham's emotions when God asks him to do the unimaginable—to sacrifice his beloved son. How could God ask him to do this? The fulfillment of God's future promises rests upon the well-being of Isaac, his son. Why must Abraham offer Isaac as a sacrifice? Maybe we struggle with God's request of Abraham as well. Is God heartless or cruel?


"The Lord will provide." We benefit from a perspective that was not afforded to Abraham. We know that a day would come when God Himself would offer His Son, His only Son, as a sacrifice for our sin. It is worth noting that God leads Abraham to a particular mountain to erect the altar (Genesis 22:2, 9). The place in question is Mount Moriah which would later be near the site for the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicle 3:1). Is this coincidental? I think not. I personally believe the altar that Abraham erects may have been at the very place that a future altar would be erected where Jesus would be crucified and die.


"The Lord will provide." Abraham submits to God's request because he trusts in God's provision. Whether God would raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:19) or provide some other way, Abraham chooses to place his trust in the Lord. God demonstrates that Abraham's faith is not misguided.


"The Lord will provide." What about us? Is this our perspective toward the Lord? I have already noted the future element of Abraham's actions. Ultimately, it is God Himself who sacrifices His Son, His only Son, on our behalf. There would be no last-minute substitution because Jesus would become our substitute for us. May we never lose sight of the significance of Jesus' actions on our behalf. May we marvel at God's love for us and confess, "The Lord HAS provided." Indeed, He has. May our hearts and our faith be strengthened as we enter the day.

January 6, 2022

Genesis 18-21:7


We are introduced today to another example of God's judgment against sin. It's worth noting that the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was great. Their sinful behavior rose to a level that demanded a response from God. What do you think the outcry against our nation might be? More than 61 million babies have been aborted since 1973. Add to that the widespread rejection of God's wisdom concerning human sexuality and sexual behavior. And still further, many who influence our culture's values (or lack thereof) reject the idea of objective truth and disparage the notion of God Himself. Again, I ask, is there an outcry against us?


My intention is not to depress but to provoke us to think, even more, to move us to intercede. I'm encouraged by Abraham's example. His plea on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah should also guide our actions. Abraham likely believed that he had succeeded in averting God's judgment. He presumed that his nephew's presence would have positively influenced at least ten people, right? Wrong! Lot failed to sway his future sons-in-law to flee an imminent judgment, much less move people in God's direction. Abraham must have been stunned to see the rising plumes of smoke rising from the once fruitful plains.


That said, let's not allow Lot's ineffectiveness to discourage our course of action. First, let's commit ourselves to intensify our effort to influence those we love. Ask God to work through both your words and actions. Pray for God to open the eyes and hearts of those we seek to influence for the better. A future judgment is coming, and we are God's "angels" to lead them to safety through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The primary meaning of the biblical term "angel" is that of "messenger." This is the role that each of us should play—must play.


Second, may we also commit ourselves to becoming active intercessors like Abraham. Let's pray on behalf of our nation. Pray for mercy. Pray for the Church to be an effective source of spiritual light and truth. Pray specifically for our city. Join us tomorrow as we pray for 24 consecutive hours for our city and surrounding communities. Download the prayer guide (northfortworth.com/pray247) and join us as we intercede. Come on! Let's take today's biblical account to heart and renew our efforts to influence and pray. Will you join us?

January 5, 2022

Genesis 15-17


We continue our focus on the faith experience of Abram. When he and his wife (Sarai) are beyond the age of conceiving children, God promises descendants that can be likened to the starry heavens in number. How is that possible? Could you accept such a promise is true? Let's be honest. God has made promises to us through Jesus, His Son, that may seem beyond the scope of possibility—the forgiveness of ALL our sins, the opportunity to approach God as Father, even the promise of life after death. Can you accept these promises are true? To Abram's credit, he chose to believe the Lord (15:6).


Abram's faith, however, was a work in progress. Believing God's promise, Abram tries to help God out. Maybe he adopted the approach, "God helps those who help themselves." This approach (by the way) is NOT what God had in mind for Abram and NOT what he has for you. Abram's attempt to fulfill the promise of God outside the will of God produces complications that stretch far beyond his lifetime. To believe in God's promise requires one to trust God's timing and plan. Abram slowly learns this crucial lesson as unlikely or as laughable as some of God's promises may be. We should learn the same. We should choose to take God at His Word. I smile at God's humor as He instructs Abram to name the future child Isaac, which means laughter. Abram would eventually see things as God sees them. Do we?


It's worth noting that Abram and Sarai both experience a name change in the process (Abraham and Sarah). Perhaps the name change would serve as a reminder to take God at His promises. Every time they would hear their new names, they could say to themselves, "Trust the Lord, trust the Lord, trust the Lord." How about us? I'm not suggesting that we change our names, but do we have reminders that cultivate and strengthen our faith? Think about it. The main thing is to keep moving toward the Lord's way of seeing things. Let's then renew our commitment for the day ahead and choose to trust the Lord.

January 4, 2022

Genesis 11:1-26; 1 Chronicles 1:24-27; Genesis 11:27-31; 12:1-20; 13:1-18; 14:1-24


Are you surprised that the fresh start with Noah and his descendants failed to alter the sinful trajectory of humanity? Pride and the selfishness that ensues continue to raise their ugly head. Personally, it's disappointing to see. I suppose then that we should not be too shocked by similar manifestations today. The inherent problem of sin persists.


Thankfully, a glimmer of hope remains. God initiates a relationship with an aging man by the name of Abram. Interestingly, God calls for Abram to follow Him at 75. He asks him to leave all he knew and follow Him to a place that God would not define in advance. Would you have followed God's lead? There is something commendable about Abram's response.


Of course, Abram was not without his share of weaknesses and fears. His faith journey would be a growing experience with both successes and failures. We should take heart in knowing that the so-called Father of faith was a flawed individual as we are. However, what distinguishes Abram is his deepening trust in the Lord that would lead him consistently forward.


Yes, today's reading provides yet another contrast between a morally confused world and a person willing to follow God's lead. I pray we might be encouraged by Abram's example and choose to be distinguished from the world that surrounds us. May it be so!

January 3, 2022

Genesis 7:1-24 Genesis 8:1-22 Genesis 9:1-17, 18–10:1 Genesis 10:2-5 1 Chronicles 1:5-7 Genesis 10:6-20 1 Chronicles 1:8-16 Genesis 10:21-30 1 Chronicles 1:17-23 Genesis 10:31-32


Today’s reading sobers me. We must be careful not to allow the account of Noah and the ark to become a children’s story. It’s easy to focus on the novelty of a floating zoo and lose sight of what is happening outside the safety of the ark—God is judging sinful humanity. We live in a day when many pretend that there are no consequences to our actions. We can do as we wish, and it does not matter. Today’s passage should warn us that this is not true. The judgment for sin is real. Jesus points to the flood as a warning of what is coming.


I don’t highlight this to depress us but direct us to Jesus. Jesus bore sin’s condemnation upon the cross so we might escape the judgment we deserve. In a sense, He is the spiritual ark that delivers us from the horror and suffering that will characterize God’s future judgment for sin. Jesus offers a sinner like me hope for the future, and you?


Let’s not focus on the pairs of animals that enter the ark. Let’s reflect upon the families of people who realize too late that there is no escape to the rising waters. May such a consideration cause us to renew our focus upon Jesus as our Savior and call for others to do the same. In closing, consider Jesus’ words,


As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:37–42, ESV).

January 2, 2022

Genesis 4:1-26; 5:1-32; 1 Chronicles 1:1-4; Genesis 6:1-22.


What do we learn about humanity in today’s readings? It’s a further revelation of both good and bad. The bad is particularly disturbing—a brother takes the life of his own flesh and blood. Then, later, practically all of humanity reflected the same disregard for life and all things sacred. I wonder how our generation compares with the wickedness and evil that characterized Noah’s day?


Amid all the immorality and moral darkness, two flickers of light appear. The first is Enoch, who walked closely with God for 300 years. Can we imagine what it was like for this descendant of Adam? He pleased the Lord so thoroughly that Enoch did not experience death. At the age of 365, God simply receives him unto himself. His example should remind us that our walk with God is possible even amid the most challenging days. How does anyone walk with God for 300 years? The answer is right in front of us—one day at a time. Like Enoch, we choose to respond to God in faith and allow Him to influence our lives for the better.


The second notable light from today’s reading is Enoch’s great-grandson, Noah. He, too, displays faith and righteousness in a way that moves God to act on his behalf. Noah refuses to give in to the evil influences that surround him. He chooses (like his great-grandfather before him) to walk with God, which produces an outpouring of God’s grace. We will read more about Noah’s journey tomorrow, but for now, let’s be encouraged by Noah and Enoch’s examples and consider the implication for our lives.


Will our lives be distinguished from the moral decline around us? Will it be said of us today, “These individuals chose to walk with God”? I pray the answer is “yes” and may one day lead to the next and the next so that testimony of the coming weeks and months will be as consistent as that of Enoch’s. May it be so!

January 1, 2022

Genesis 1-3


Today we begin a new series of readings that will take us through the Bible chronologically. It will take approximately 15 minutes each day. Our prayer is for God to open our spiritual eyes to humanity's story and God's gracious work of salvation on our part. Join us today as we begin the journey. Our reading today is Genesis 1-3. What will we learn about God and ourselves?


God created a beautiful and complex world that was visibly good by the power and authority of His spoken word. It was as He intended. He spoke, and then it happened. Humanity, however, was a more personal endeavor. God formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed life within his nostrils. He desired mankind to reflect something more than His creative genius. God created humanity, male and female, to reflect His very image. He designed Adam and Eve with the capacity to think, to reason, to feel, and to love. He fashioned humanity so that goodness would be more than a descriptive word but the very character of their lives.


What went wrong? We went wrong. Created to reflect God’s image, Adam and Eve refused to trust the One who fashioned them. They chose to question the Creator’s wisdom and turned away. Their doubt led to their disobedience, and their descendants have been dealing with the consequences ever since. I don’t point the finger of blame in their direction because I see the same doubt and distrust within me. Their story is my story, our story.


Thankfully, God has not abandoned humanity to our sin. He seeks us when we are hiding. He provides what we do not deserve. And God ultimately supplies what is desperately needed to restore what our rebellion has marred. Of course, that’s getting ahead of the story. May God help us in our daily readings to better understand who God is, who we are, and His unfolding work of salvation on our behalf. Thankfully, there is hope for the sinful and I pray we learn to experience His hope more fully in 2022. Join us on this journey. Let’s discover the hope that Jesus makes possible.