holiness

2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21

Today, read 2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 21:6-7: “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 7 And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

God is holy and God is just. God’s holiness means that he is separate from sin so he hates sin and loves righteousness. His justice means that every sin must be appropriately punished. All is right within his creation when sin is punished.

Despite these truths, we should not conclude that God enjoys the suffering that his judgment brings to people. Just the opposite is true; God is satisfied when justice is done but he mourns the pain and suffering that just punishment brings to his creation. In these verses, then, God commanded Ezekiel to groan and express sadness, grief, and fear for the judgment of God that was coming on his people.

Similarly, as Christians we should feel a sense of satisfaction when justice is done but also empathize with the sinner who experiences the pain and loss that come with judgment. That empathy can best be expressed through the gospel of Christ. In Christ, every bit of God’s wrath was poured out in justice but it fell on our Lord Jesus Christ rather than on us sinners. Because God’s justice has been satisfied, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are possible. When we groan and grieve for sinners, God’s love and the offer of forgiveness in Christ is expressed. If God is pleased, then, sinners can be saved.

Do you empathize with criminals when they are found guilty and sentenced for their crimes? Or, are you happy in a vindictive way for their suffering? The people Ezekiel prophesied to were wicked people who deserved every bit of God’s judgment that they got. Yet God ordered his prophet to “groan before them with a broken heart and bitter grief” because God loves his creation. Are we developing that ability in our hearts? Do we truly “love the sinner but hate the sin” or do we secretly hate the sin and the sinner too?

Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, Psalm 88

Today we’re reading Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, and Psalm 88.

This devotional is about Exodus 40.

At long last the tabernacle was completed as well as all the items that were needed to make it useful for worshipping God. The Lord ordered Moses to set it all up (vv. 1-8), set it apart with anointing oil (vv. 9-11), and anoint Aaron and his sons for their ministry in it (vv. 12-15). The rest of the chapter details how Moses obeyed these commands (vv. 16-33) and how the Lord blessed this tent with his presence and communicated his will through that presence (vv. 34-38).

God had promised his presence would go before Israel and give them rest in the promised land (Ex 33:14). That promise was now visually fulfilled through the cloud that inhabited the tabernacle. So, on one hand, the tabernacle demonstrated God’s presence with his people.

On the other hand, there is an emphasis in this chapter on the importance of keeping the people separate from the presence of God in the tabernacle. The word “holy” means to set apart, to make special by separating something for a particular use. Each anointing of the tabernacle and its furnishings and instruments was done to set it apart as holy for the Lord’s service (vv. 9-10). The strongest indication of God’s separation was the “shielding curtain” (v. 21a) that “shielded the ark of the covenant law” (v. 21b). What was is shielded from? Everyone. Nobody was allowed near the ark which represented God’s presence. It was kept in the most holy place and only the high priest could enter and then only once a year. So, while God was truly present among his people, his holiness still kept them from direct contact and fellowship with him.

This is why the gospel writers took note of how the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross. The curtain that was torn was the one between the most holy place and the rest of the temple. When it was torn at the death of Christ, it was a direct, visual symbol that the separation between God and man was now over. God did not lower his standards and allow people into his presence. Instead, in Christ, we are declared to be holy because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

Through Christ we have access to God that people before Christ never had. God invites us to know and love him, to contemplate his greatness and worship him in holiness because our Lord Jesus Christ gave us access by his death.

As we prepare to remember the Lord’s death tomorrow in our Good Friday service at 6:30 p.m., keep in mind what God has done for us in Christ. Through him we have direct access to God and can approach him at any time in prayer without fear.

Have you approached him yet today?

Exodus 24, Job 42, Psalm 72

Today’s Bible readings are Exodus 24, Job 42, and Psalm 72.

This devotional is about Job 42.

Job was a godly man before trials took his children, his wealth, and his health. His understanding of God, however, was incomplete. He was thankful for God’s blessings in his life, but when it was all taken away, he demanded an audience with God. His demand to speak with God reveals that he felt God had treated him unjustly and that Job deserved an explanation for it.

When God spoke to Job here in the closing chapters of this book, he did not explain why he allowed Satan to persecuted Job. In fact, God did not mention Satan’s role in Job’s trials at all. Instead of justifying himself to Job, God overwhelmed Job with his greatness and power. His purpose was to remind Job that God was sovereign over everything; therefore, God is accountable to no one.

God’s words were deeply convicting to Job. Despite how painful his persecution was, he now knew God in a more personal and mature way. In verses 5-6 Job prayed, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember that this story began as a challenge between Satan and God. As expected, God won the challenge; Job did not sin or charge God foolishly. But the trial Job experienced did reveal some defects in Job’s view of God. After suffering through it all and receiving God’s revelation, Job was a more holy man, one who had a stronger walk with God than ever.

This is always God’s purpose in every trial he sends into our lives as believers. God wants us to be holy and he uses the rough chisel of trials to remove the unsanctified thoughts and motives we don’t even know are there in our lives. Trials are always painful but, like surgery, the wounds God inflicts on us in trials are designed to heal us of the spreading cancer of selfish depravity in each of us.

If you’re facing a trial right now, how do you feel about it? Does it feel unjust to you that God would do this or allow this to happen to you? Like Job that may be the very thing God wants to root out of you. So welcome the trial (James 1:2: “consider it pure joy”), not because you want the pain but because you trust the Surgeon to remove the sin that’s killing you and stitch you up again and make you whole when he is finished.

Revelation 4

Today we’re reading Revelation 4.

After addressing the churches on earth in Revelation 2 and 3, John’s vision of the Lord causes him to be transported to heaven to see what is happening there (v. 1). The purpose of this vision was to convey to John and to us the greatness and holiness of God. Despite all the problems his churches on earth were dealing with, God was not worried. He was sitting on a magnificent throne (v. 3) surrounded by worship (vv. 4-8). And what was the content of that worship? It was to proclaim the holiness of God (vv. 8) and his worthiness for worship (v. 11). The word “holy” means “set apart.” It is used elsewhere in the Bible of God’s moral purity, his freedom from sin, in the sense that he is set apart from ungodliness. But the word “holiness” is also used just to describe how different God is from us and everything else that exists. The creatures worshipped God for his holiness, for his uniqueness in all things (v. 8). And why was God so different, so distinct? Because he “created all things” (v. 11). God is the only one who understands reality as the Creator--the one who planned and caused it. Even if we could understand everything God knows (we can’t, but go with me here), we still wouldn’t know AS God’s knows because he knows all things as the Creator. We only ever know anything as created beings. This means that:

  • God is infinite; we are finite.
  • God is independent; we are dependent on him.
  • God knows everything because he planned and made everything; we know anything only because he gave us the ability to observe and learn as well as create tools and instruments to help us.

God’s greatness--his holiness--is an inexhaustible truth. This is why living creatures (v. 8) glorify him and why spiritual leaders fall down before him in worship (vv. 9-11).

Before Jesus revealed anything to John about the last days, he reveled to John the power and majesty of himself. This is so that he and we would develop an awe for him that causes us to worship him as the twenty-four elders did.

Did this passage strike you, giving you a new vision of God’s power, greatness and holiness? The spend some time worshiping the Lord for his holiness just as the elders did here in 4:9-11.

Colossians 2

oday’s reading is Colossians 2.

The church at Colossae that received this letter was not started by Paul. Colossians 1:7 plainly states that the people who received this letter from Paul had received the gospel from “... Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” As we read yesterday in chapter 1, Paul was thankful and encouraged by the faith of these Colossians. Now, here in chapter 2, he assured them that he was “contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” Though they were not churches he had founded, Paul was concerned for their spiritual growth and health (vv. 2-4). Then, in verse 5, he wrote, “I... delight to see how disciplined you are....” That phrase, “how disciplined you are” is kind of unexpected. The rest of the verse, “and how firm your faith in Christ is,” is exactly like something we’d expect Paul to write. But what did he mean by, “how disciplined you are”?

Let’s start with the word “disciplined.” Discipline means training. When you discipline your children, you are not (or shouldn’t be) punishing them for being bad; you should be teaching them that doing wrong is harmful and doing right is better. So, when Paul said, “I... delight to see how disciplined you are” he is referring to the training they had received from Epaphras (again, 1:7). Epaphras not only told them that Christ died for their sins, he taught them what it meant to live in obedience to Christ and he expected them to show obedience to Christ in their daily decisions and lives. This was and is Christ’s goal for every Christian. He commanded his apostles to “Go make disciples” (Matt 28:19) and to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matt 28:20). Epaphras not only obeyed the “make disciples” part, he obeyed the “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” part of Matthew 28:19-20. Paul was happy to hear how these believers were growing in that way spiritually.

Still, threats to their faith were lurking around. False ideas about spirituality were gaining a hearing among the believers in Colossae. That’s why in verse 2 he said that he wanted everyone to “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” It’s also why he said, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Everything they and we need spiritually is in Christ. There is no need to look to Judaism or to pagan religions. God has given us everything we need in the church. What we need to put these growth resources to work in our lives is discipline. Discipline is a form of self-control that enables a person to make progress in the Christian life. Discipline is what calls us to form daily spiritual habits--Bible reading and prayer at the least--that will nourish our faith and stimulate our growth. The fact that you’re reading this devotional probably indicates that you’ve developed the discipline of reading the scripture daily. That’s great! But, also, each believer should discipline him or herself to pray everyday, asking God to keep purifying them even more.

Grace and discipline are not enemies; instead, discipline is an expression of grace and an application of the grace we received in salvation. Without grace, we could never discipline ourselves just to become more godly but, since “all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ” (v. 3) we can use God’s grace to teach us to be more holy and Christlike. So think about an area of your life where you need to become more holy and Chrislike. What kinds of self-discipline should you use by grace to become a godly man or woman?

2 Corinthians 7

Today, read 2 Corinthians 7.

At the end of chapter 6, which we read on Friday, God’s word told us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (v. 14). One reason to obey this command is the promise of God in verse 16, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and the promise in verse 18, “I will be a Father to you... says the Lord Almighty.” These are promises of a unique, personal, family relationship with God. What relationship with an unbeliever can replace that? There is no greater promise that could be made to a man or woman than this kind of love from God.

Today’s passage began with the word, “therefore.” What Paul says in verse 1, therefore, is a conclusion based on those last few verses of chapter 6 where Paul repeated these promises of God from the Old Testament. Given that God has promised us this, what is the best way we could respond? According to verse 1, “let us purify ourselves... perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” As believers, we learn to choose righteousness over sinfulness, holiness over unholiness by believing that God’s promises of fellowship with him will be better--far better--than anything sin can offer us, including the companionship of being yoked with unbelievers.

In the moment of temptation, this is one truth we can remind ourselves of to help us choose what is right over what is sinful. This isn’t the only thing we have to help us be holy, but it is a powerful motivator when the lure of temptation draws us toward sin. Since we reverence God, let us choose what is holy over what is unholy. May God grace us to do that today.

2 Samuel 6, 1 Corinthians 16, Ezekiel 14, Psalm 55

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Samuel 6, 1 Corinthians 16, Ezekiel 14, Psalm 55. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 2 Samuel 6.

In 2 Samuel 5 David became king of all Israel (vv. 1-5) and established Jerusalem as his capital city (vv. 6-10). Having accomplished these things, he then desired to make Jerusalem the religious capital as well as being the political capital of Israel. That goal required him to move the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Moving the Tabernacle was no big deal; it was a tent that was designed to be taken down and moved. The Ark of the Covenant was designed to be moved, too. It was built so that poles could be inserted into it; these would allow it to be carried without any human hands touching it. 

When the Philistines captured the ark in 1 Samuel, they returned it to Israel on a cart carried by oxen. Apparently this seemed like a good idea to David and the others because they followed the same strategy for moving the ark from Abinadab’s house to Jerusalem (v. 3). The poles that were designed to carry the ark must have still been around; the men probably used them to move the ark onto the cart. But it must have been easier to use oxen and the cart than to have two men carry the ark using the poles. Although God’s people were technically disobedient by using the cart instead of the poles, God was merciful to them and allowed them to start the move using the carts. But when the oxen stumbled and the cart began to fall, Uzzah touched the ark in an attempt to keep it from being destroyed (v. 6).

Verse 3 tells us that Uzzah and the other guy escorting the cart, Ahio, were “sons of Abinadab. Abinadab was the man who took the ark into his home to protect it when the Philistines returned it in 1 Samuel 7. So Ahio and Uzzah grew up with the ark in their home. They cared for it and watched over it as a family; it was a special responsibility that they took seriously. When David decided to move the ark, these two men wanted to personally escort it. 

So when Uzzah touched the ark in verse 6, he was trying to do something good. He was trying to save the ark from accidental damage or destruction. He was trying to do what his family had done for 20 years which was watch over and protect the physical symbol of God’s presence in Israel. Yet verse 7 tells us that God was quick to punish Uzzah when he touched the ark, taking his life immediately for “his irreverent act” (v.  7).

Why would God do this, especially given that Uzzah was trying to save the ark, to protect it? He was not trying to defy the Lord or do the forbidden and get away with it. He was trying to help God out and watch over the ark for him. My phrase there “help God out” describes why Uzzah died. God did not judge him or his brother (or David) for moving the ark improperly using a cart instead of the poles. God could have judged them for this, but he did not. Yet their disobedience to God’s instructions by putting the ark on the cart in the first place is what exposed the ark to risk. God was merciful when the ark was moved improperly, but his mercy ran out when Uzzah disobeyed the Lord by touching the ark. His act was “irreverent’ (v. 7) not because he was leaning against it casually or sitting on it, or using it like a step-stool. His act of touching the ark was irreverent because the whole process was done carelessly, irreverently. Instead of consulting God’s laws to see how the ark was to be moved, the people assumed that it would be OK to move it the same way the Philistines had moved it. When their method of moving it put the ark at risk, Uzzah did not trust the Lord to protect the ark himself; he instinctively felt it would be better to sin by touching the ark than to let the unthinkable happen and see the ark fall. But God wanted his people to learn to be careful in their worship through obedience. 

David did learn this lesson from Uzzah’s death as we see in verse 13. Verse 13 refers to “‘those who were carrying the ark.” The word “carrying” indicates they were using the poles that God had commanded them to use. 

This passage is difficult to apply directly to our lives because there is nothing like the ark of the covenant in our worship. That object was chosen by God to visually and physically portray his presence; there is no object similar to that in our New Testament worship. But there are times in which we are irreverent toward God. When we do what seems right to us without consulting his word, we are acting a bit like Uzzah. Even if our motives are good and we desire to honor God, if we disobey God’s commands, God is not honored, he is disrespected. Christians today do all kinds of things in God’s name. Approaches to evangelism try to downplay the Bible’s teaching on creation or miracles or historical events in the Bible. “Just focus on Jesus” the well-intentioned Christian or preacher says; don’t worry about the rest of the Bible. But this is dishonoring to the Lord. It relies on human ingenuity (like the cart or a steadying human hand) rather than seeking to understand and obey what God’s word said and trusting him. Whenever we try to make it easier to become a Christian or to follow the Lord or to worship him, we ought to be very careful. While God does not often judge as immediately and severely as he did Uzzah, he wants us to understand how important it is to reverence Him and treat him as holy.

Let’s keep this in mind as we gather for worship this morning and around the Lord’s table as well.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 5, Acts 9, Jeremiah 18, Mark 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 5, Acts 9, Jeremiah 18, Mark 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Jeremiah 18.

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth. But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel indestructible. In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” indicates that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” This explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a), allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e). Those are harsh words, to be sure. Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them? Possibly (as we’ll see on Sunday), but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of their rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.” This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understands, for the first time in his life, how God feels. He knows personally what it is like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and be personally rejected despite that gracious offer. He knows what it is like now to be righteous and have sinners hate him because of it. If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness and he is so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross. What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness. This is something to keep in mind when we struggle with temptation; if we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Joshua 10, Psalms 142–143, Jeremiah 4, Matthew 18

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 10, Psalms 142–143, Jeremiah 4, Matthew 18. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalms 143.

Few men in world history have faced the number of immanent dangers to life that David faced. In addition to fighting in several traditional battles, he also was hunted by his father-in-law the king and, later in life, by his own son as well. Many of the songs we’ve read this year were written by David while on the run. His musical gifting provided comfort to him in fearful situations and gave God’s people a gift that enhanced their worship. Today we’ve read two of these “songs in the key of fear.” What impresses me so often in these songs is David’s concern for his walk with God even while he pleads with the Lord to spare his life. In verse 8 of Psalm 143, David sang, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.” I take that phrase, “let the morning bring me word” to be a poetic and spiritual way of saying, “Please give me deliverance by tomorrow morning.” I think this because verse 9 echoes with, “Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you.” But, concerned though he is with his physical deliverance, he also sang, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God….” This line shows how much David wanted to walk with God in his moral life in addition to saving his neck. 

Think about how we and Christians in our church pray. Many of us are completely prayerless until we or someone we love gets a serious diagnosis or is in financial distress, or has a wayward child, or faces some other kind of distress. There is nothing wrong, of course, with praying for God’s help and deliverance in these situations. David did, after all, pray for God’s deliverance. But how often do our prayers cry out for God’s help in the immediate problems and circumstances of life but say nothing about learning holiness? Yet God is far more concerned to “teach [us] to do [his] will” (v. 10a) than he is with solving our immediate problems. In fact, the Bible teaches us that the problems of life are allowed into our lives by God because he wants to root our pride and self-dependence out of us, as well as loosening our love of this world. 

Of course we should pray for God’s help and deliverance from the difficult circumstances we face in life. But we should also, like David, learn to ask God to train us and others we pray for to live for his will. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Joshua 8, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 2, Matthew 16

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 8, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 2, Matthew 16. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Psalm 139.

This song is a very personal meditation by David. It is personal in the sense that David considers how deeply personal God’s knowledge of him is. Plenty of people in the world believe in God but the “god” they believe in is impersonal, detached, abstract. They believe in a free-floating spirit, a concept like karma, a deistic deity who may have started the world but is more or less uninterested in humanity. And, to the extent that God is interested in humanity, it is the powerful or the abundantly evil, they think, that he cares about.

There is also in our day a differing view of God, one that is hyper-personal. This view believes that God exists to serve me; he is the divine butler that brings about my every wish, my every intention, if I just reach out and ask him for stuff. Both of these visions of God are completely distorted. Yes, God is transcendent, powerful, spiritual but he is also personal. David sang about God’s personal traits when he described in verses 1-6 that God has “searched… and known” him (v. 1). Verses 2-4 detailed this knowledge that God has of David. It includes David’s physical movements (v. 2a), his thoughts (v. 2b), his habits (v. 3), and his word (v. 4). Not only does God know all of this but his presence is always as close as a person who can touch you is (v. 5). In verse 6, David is overwhelmed emotionally with how perfectly God knows him and keeps tabs on him. In verses 7-12 David detailed how impossible it was to escape God, even if he wanted to do so. Not even the darkest night, the blackest cave, can veil David’s being from being known perfectly and personally by God. Verses 13-16 said that this is true because God created him and thus knew him when he was invisible to everyone in his mother’s womb. Again David is submerged in wonder as he considers how carefully God watches and thinks about him.

Although David was a key figure in the history of God’s people, there is nothing that is sung in this Psalm that is unique to him. There are over 7 billion people on earth right now and billions more who lived and died before now, yet God knows them all as intimately as he knew David. God is close enough to all of them to be touched if it were possible for a human to touch the living God (Acts 17:27-28). This song ends with David asking God to act on what he knows about all people. First, he wished that God would rid the earth of the wicked (vv. 19-20), affirming that he personally hated the Lord’s enemies (v. 21). And yet he understands that he himself is not perfect before God, so he asks God to search his heart, test his faith, purge the wickedness from within him, and continue to lead him in righteousness by faith (vv. 23-24). This is a fitting prayer for everyone who understands the holiness of God, his personal knowledge of us, and our own depravity. We don’t even understand the depth of our desire for wickedness, so it takes tremendous courage and faith to ask God to root the evil ways out of us. God’s methods for making us holy are not delicate and delightful. Becoming like God is painful; it requires being honest with God and ourselves, seeking and finding true repentance, and pleading for the grace of God in our lives. But, when God has completed his work, we will be satisfied with the transformation he has accomplished in us and he will be glorified.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 22, Psalms 110–111, Isaiah 49, Revelation 19

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 22, Psalms 110–111, Isaiah 49, Revelation 19. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Deuteronomy 22.

Critics of the Bible often point to the punishments spelled out in a passage like today’s to show that the Bible is harsh, unreasonable, and unloving. Cross-dressers (v. 5), promiscuous single women (vv. 13-21), and people who commit adultery (v. 22-24) all get the death penalty for their sins, even though they were all “consenting adults.” Rapists also were to receive the death penalty (vv. 25-27) which maybe harsh by today’s standards of punishment but probably not an example critics would bring up. These punishments seem harsh only because of how comfortable we are with sin; in God’s sight, every sin is an eternal offense, so these punishments should teach us something about how our sins—and the desires that compel them—look to the holy eyes of God.

This passage is also a favorite of critics because some of these laws seem arbitrary (vv. 9-12). 

But notice the other case laws in this passage. If someone else—whether you know him or not—is about to suffer the loss of his valuable property, you are supposed do what you can to prevent that loss (vv. 1-5). “Do not ignore it,” the scripture says in verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.

More interestingly, you’re allowed to take a mother bird’s eggs but not her (vv. 6-7). The promise of obedience to this passage is “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (v. 7b). But this act of conservation doesn’t benefit any Israelite person; it’s just good management of God’s creation. It teaches us not to be destructive just because we could be. 

Verse 8 of our passage tells God’s people to make sure that they build reasonable safety precautions into their homes. Since people in these desert cultures used their roof to entertain in the evenings when the weather is more comfortable, God’s word commanded them to be careful to protect human life by putting appropriate fencing around the roof. 

These laws show that God was not harsh or arbitrary at all toward people in general. He wanted to protect his nation from becoming a lawless culture full of promiscuity. The penalties spelled out in these passages were to protect the importance of the Jewish family and to emphasize important God’s holiness is to him. The laws against abusing birds and requiring Israel to watch out for each other’s property and protect each other’s lives show how much God values human life. They teach us not to be so self-centered that we look the other way when someone is about to lose their valuable property. Instead, we should watch out for others, showing them the kind of kindness and compassion that we would want others to show to us and that God himself does show for us. If we find a lost wallet or purse, a lost smartphone, or see a wandering child, God wants us to do what we can to help. We may not have a flat roof that needs to be fenced in but are we careful to clear our sidewalks of snow and ice? As people who belong to God, we should be conscientious and kind toward everyone, not just conscious of our own stuff.

Finally, the harsh punishments in this chapter remind us of the deep grace of God toward us. God hates sin and is uncompromising in how he wants sin to be punished. He is so uncompromising that he demands that every sin should be punished to the fullest extent of justice. Yet, because he loves his creation and is compassionate toward us, he did not look the other way when we wandered from his commands. Instead, he came in the person of Christ both to look for and find us when we were lost AND to bear the just punishment that our sins deserve. No sin is trivial in the sight of God but none is putrid enough that Christ’s death cannot cover it. The cross-dresser, the adulterer, the promiscuous, the self-centered one who never helps another in trouble are all savable, if God wills, through the atonement of Christ. The same goes for those who speak lies, who gossip, who break things and hit people in uncontrolled rage, who lust but don’t touch, who take the eggs AND the mother bird. No sinner is beyond the saving grace of God; if you’ve been redeemed from one of these sins—or from any sin at all—give thanks that God is uncompromisingly holy but also incredibly compassionate, loving, and gracious toward all of us who are unholy.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 28, Psalm 72, Isaiah 19–20, 2 Peter 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 28, Psalm 72, Isaiah 19–20, 2 Peter 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 2 Peter 1.

Second Peter 1:3-4 is a passage I return to again and again in my own life as a Christian and in my attempts to teach and encourage other believers toward godliness. The passage starts with a bold proclamation: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life….” If you believe in Jesus, you can become a godly person; God has provided you with everything you need to become one and nothing you need is missing. The ability and tools to grow in godliness come supernaturally and spiritually from God himself for the passage says, “His divine power has given us…” But how exactly was it given to us? Verse 3 continues, “…through our knowledge of him who called us…” In other words, it is our knowledge of God that enables us to become godly. This is a reference to our salvation, how we came to know God, for the next phrase of verse 4 says, “…who called us by his own glory and goodness.” It was God’s grace in salvation—grace that brings glory to himself—and his goodness that caused us to come to know God and have all that we need for a godly life. Verse 4 expands on this reality by telling us that God’s gracious salvation consists of “great and precious promises” and that the result of these promises is “that through them you may participate in the divine nature…” This is a reference to the new life that God gave us. His promise to us was that, if we believe in Jesus, we will know God, have our sins forgiven, and be given a new nature that desires to become like God in holiness. When we believed in Jesus, these promises were planted into our lives and began to bear fruit that gives us all we need to become godly men and women. 

Note, though, that we don’t just passively and automatically become godly. No, God “has given us” through “his divine power” “everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him.” When we understand this truth, Peter urges us to put it to work in our lives; verse 5 says, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge….” The phrase “for this reason” takes us back to all that God has done for us. Since knowing him in salvation means receiving everything he given us—everything we need—for a godly life, we should actively build faith and holiness into our lives. God does some of this for us through the conviction of sin in our conscience, through the purging effect of trials/discipline in our lives, and through the teaching of his Word and the sharpening effect of community in the local church. But, as we live out our days as Christians, we must add to our faith all that God commands us to become. Since he has given us everything we need, we can become the people God calls us and commands us to be. So don’t lose hope in your struggles against sin! Don’t give up believing in the power within you to become holy within and without. Keep reading God’s word, talking through it with godly teachers and mentors, and applying it to your life. The seeds of godliness, once planted, will grow if we cultivate them to cause us to be beautiful in holiness in God’s sight. In addition to being declared holy through Christ’s blood, the gospel tells us that we can become holy through faith and obedience. So, keep striving for holiness and reaching to become the kind of man or woman of God that God has called us to be. And, when you feel yourself backsliding or becoming discouraged, remind yourself of this verse; memorize it: "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." Memorize it, remind yourself of it, then believe that it is true as you work on growing in Christ.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 23, Psalms 64–65, Isaiah 13, 1 Peter 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 23, Psalms 64–65, Isaiah 13, 1 Peter 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 1 Peter 1.

Holiness is hard work. Not being declared holy—that hard work God did for us in Christ. When Jesus lived a perfect life and died as a sacrifice for sinners, he did everything that was necessary for God to declare us holy (see verse 2). Now that we have been called to be his children, he calls us to become holy like he is; as we read today in 1 Peter 1:15-16: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Becoming holy in real life is where the hard work of the Christian life lies. We have what we need—the Holy Spirit within us, the Word of God, the community of other believers, but we also have significant opposition from our own sin nature, the world around us and the devil. As you’ve lived the Christian life and grown in Christ, you experienced the frustrating, painful struggle to do right when it would be so easy to do wrong. So how do we cope with the tug-of-war between what God calls us to become and what we often want to remain? Verse 13: “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” It is thinking about the future that God has promised us in Christ that pulls us toward holiness. When we desire to sin, we need to remember what God has taught us in his word—that sin is pleasurable, but that pleasure is temporary and costs far too much while God is glorious and those who live by faith in him will be rewarded with great joy and glory when Jesus comes. That’s why Peter, after telling us in verse 13 to “set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” follows that with verse 14: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Yes, the evil desires we had before we knew Christ remain but when we think forward to the life Christ promises us, it empowers us to live obediently to God instead of obeying (“conforming”) to those evil desires within.

What are you grappling with right now? What sinful urges inject evil thoughts into your mind when you least expect it? What sin are you toying with or being tempted by? Do you know anyone who has succumbed to this sin? Did it make them happy? Did it cause them or anyone else pain? What would your heavenly father think if you surrendered to the desire that Christ died to free you from? How much will that sin matter to you when you see Jesus and are welcomed into his kingdom? These questions clarify the lies that sin and temptation tell us. They offer us pleasure, they promise us freedom, they lure us into rationalizing the act and they ignore or downplay the painful consequences that sin will bring into our lives. So, knowing what Christ has done for us and has promised us, “sober up” (v. 13a) and think about your sin, your desire, your temptations from Christ’s eternal viewpoint. That is where you will find the strength to choose holiness over sin, faith over unbelief.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 16, Psalms 52–54, Isaiah 6, Hebrews 13

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 16, Psalms 52–54, Isaiah 6, Hebrews 13. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Isaiah 6.

King Uzziah was one of the most enigmatic kings Israel ever had. He reigned over Judah (the Southern Kingdom after Israel was divided following Solomon’s kingship) for over 50 years. In terms of the economy and military, Uzziah was successful. But it was his spiritual leadership that made him such an enigma. At the beginning of his reign, when he was assisted by the prophet Zechariah, he was a righteous ruler, leading God’s people back toward obedience to God’s word. But, as he became more successful and more powerful, he became arrogant, even entering the Temple like a priest to burn incense before God (much like we read about in Numbers 16 today with Korah). God punished Uzziah with leprosy and his reign, which started with so much promise, ended disappointingly. 

As we saw in Isaiah 6:1, the year of Uzziah’s death was when Isaiah saw his vision of God. For the good of his people, who were so lacking in spiritual leadership, God raised up one of Israel’s greatest prophets by giving him a compelling vision of our God. The theme of Isaiah’s vision is stated in verse 3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” When the Bible talks about the holiness of God, it does so in two distinct (but related) senses. The word “holy” means “separate, set apart.” One way in which God is “holy” or “set apart” is in his nature. Because he is the Creator, and there is only one who is uncreated and uncaused, God is unique from everyone else in creation. The Bible says that we were created in God’s image, so we are like God but he is not like us. His power, his glory, his eternal existence, the fact that he is everywhere present in the fullness of his being—these truths and others make God unique; they make him holy in the deepest essence of his being. This is the primary thing Isaiah saw in his vision of the Lord. Verse 1 says he was “high and exalted, seated on a throne.” This description visually depicts a God who is separate from his creation; he is exalted, he is ruling, he is distant because no created thing has any business coming near him. In fact, verse 1 ends by saying, “and the train of his robe filled the temple.” I’ve always wondered about that phrase, but as I think about it today I think I see the point. The temple was the place where God said his presence would live among his people. It was the place people could go to worship and to have their sins forgiven. It was a place where they could learn about God and talk to him in prayer. It was a special place, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word. And, yet, does God really live there? According to Isaiah’s vision, no; only the tails of his tuxedo reside there. The most worshipful, awesome day a Hebrew person had in the Temple was just a mere coattail experience of who God really is. Why? Because he is holy; we can understand who he is and what he is like, but never from the lofty perspective that he occupies.

The first aspect of holiness, then, is the difference between the creator and the created ones. He is exalted in ways that we never will be nor could be. He is unique, set apart, different from any and all of us by his very nature as God. The second aspect of God’s holiness is the one we usually think of—his complete freedom from sin in any way. Isaiah felt this deep in his spirit when he saw the first aspect of God’s holiness. His response to this vision in verse 5 was “Woe to me! […] I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” When Isaiah saw God depicted in his naturally separate state, he became acutely aware of his own sin. To put it another way, when Isaiah saw the holiness of God’s nature, he became aware of his own lack of moral holiness and feared the consequences. 

This vision prepared Isaiah to become a man who railed against the godlessness of his culture with very few results (vv. 8-13). It was a difficult calling but his understanding of God in this passage and the purifying God graciously did for him gave him everything he needed to be faithful. Isn’t this what we need when living the Christian life becomes so deeply taxing? We need to see God in the scriptures and understand how magnificent, how powerful, how utterly other-worldly he is. Knowing that gives us the power we need to live an other-worldly life for him.

As we gather this morning to worship, this passage will help us stand in awe of our holy God so that we can worship him from the heart.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 20, Psalm 25, Ecclesiastes 3, 1 Timothy 5

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 20, Psalm 25, Ecclesiastes 3, 1 Timothy 5. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 20.

As we’ve read through the book of Leviticus, we have seen all kinds of commands. Some were moral, others were ceremonial. Some are repeated in the New Testament and make sense for us to obey today; others seem arbitrary and unnecessary. What was the purpose of these commands? As we approach the end of Leviticus, we are given the answer here in Leviticus 20:23-24: “You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, ‘You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations.” That last sentence, “I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations,” explains the reason for all these commands. God had made a covenant with Israel; part of that covenant was delivering Messiah into the world, but for that to happen, Israel must remain a distinct people. If they began to blend in and intermarry with the people of the land, their distinct identity would be lost.

These days God wants us to be holy through obedience to “the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21) rather than through ethnic purity or symbols and ceremonies. But reading these laws reminds us not only how difficult it is to be holy, but how perfectly Christ has fulfilled the law for us.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Leviticus 19, Psalms 23–24, Ecclesiastes 2, 1 Timothy 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 19, Psalms 23–24, Ecclesiastes 2, 1 Timothy 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God. Those who desire to know God must also desire to become holy; this chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer. Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God is holy.

Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did intend us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy. In Christ we are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ. 

When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. This required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to their natural moral instincts, the ways that were common to the other nations around them. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4 or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19. But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?

The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a: “Do not steal.” This command tells us that people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else. Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, tools, trucks, factories, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive. And, you have the right, morally speaking, to keep the product of that production. That’s why people were allowed to own land, farm land, and harvest what they have planted. 

However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live. This kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart his people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor-because we want to live a holy life that emulates God. That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program. After all, the people were commanded to leave the grain out there, not to hand over 40% of what they reaped to the central government. But it does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. This goes against our instincts to watch out for ourselves alone; that is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them. This is why we as a church have a food pantry and why we leave money in our budget for benevolence. Being holy, like God is, means loving and showing kindness and help to the poor people nearby us.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.