hope

1 Kings 20, Daniel 2

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 20 and Daniel 2.

This devotional is about Daniel 2.

What would you do if you were a powerful leader but suspected that your spiritual advisors were making stuff up? You might do what Nebuchadnezzar did here in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a weird dream (v. 1) and he apparently believed that something was being communicated to him in it. Instead of describing it for his spiritual advisors, he tested them: could they tell him what he had dreamed and THEN interpret what it meant (vv. 2-9)? The key phrase in that passage is in verse 9: “You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” If they could tell him what he had dreamed that would be proof that they had genuine access to the spiritual realm. That would give him greater confidence in their interpretation of this dream and in their spiritual guidance in every other matter.

Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisors did not like the new terms of service he was imposing on them. They protested that what he wanted was impossible (vv. 10-11) which confirmed to the king that they were dealers of nonsense; Nebuchadnezzar therefore ordered them to be put to death (vv. 12-13). Daniel and his friends were apparently junior officers in the spirituality cabinet of Babylon at this point. They were subject to the same death penalty but had not been given the opportunity to advise Nebuchadnezzar about his dream (v. 14). Daniel asked for some time and urged his three friends to pray (vv. 15-18), and God answered their prayers, revealing the vision and its meaning to Daniel (vv. 19-45).

The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important because it predicted world events that would happen after his reign and would culminate with the kingdom of Christ (vv. 36-45). But for this devotional, I want to focus on how Daniel responded when God answered his prayers. Daniel was given a gift that, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s astrologers, was impossible: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” they said in verse 10. Daniel recognized that what they said was right. His ability to interpret dreams was a supernatural gift from God, not a natural skill he developed himself (v. 23). Daniel also recognized in this dream that God was at work in world events (v. 21). While we think that kings and leaders are chosen by natural events, political processes, and/or human manipulation, God’s providence stands behind it all. The rulers of this world think they are in control but their control is an illusion. God is using their ambitions to advance his will. While we should do what we can to influence world events toward righteousness, we need to recognize that the nations and political structures of this world belong to this world; they will be replaced by the kingdom Jesus came to establish (vv. 44-45). What seems so powerful, so permanent, so impenetrable to us now will be supernaturally—“not by human hands” (v. 34)—“broken to pieces and… swept away without leaving a trace” (v. 35).

Anytime we have an election, there are people who feel hopeful and people who feel hopeless. Regardless of your politics, you’ve been on the hill and in the valley of that roller coaster already in your life and you will likely experience that again. If our hope were in reforming this world and it’s rulers, we would have plenty to worry about, but our hope is in Christ. His kingdom may be right on the verge of appearing or it may be another thousand years away. Only God knows the timeline, but he has revealed to us the outcome. Look in faith to these promises and trust God to watch over us and use us in the meantime, just like he did with Daniel and his friends.

Leviticus 16, Proverbs 30, Psalm 102

Today’s readings are Leviticus 16, Proverbs 30, and Psalm 102.

This devotional is about Psalm 102.

The superscript to this Psalm, “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord,” describes verses 1-11 very well. The person who penned this prayer cried out for the Lord’s help (vv. 1-2), then described what his current life felt like in verses 3-11. In verse 10 the phrase, “because of your great wrath,” coupled with verse 16 seems to indicate that the songwriter was writing in response to the Babylonian captivity. He is distressed, then, because God’s judgment has fallen on Judah. Although it was a national event, it affected the Psalmist in a deeply personal way. He was emotionally devastated when he considered his circumstances.

In verse 12, however, he turned his prayer from describing his circumstances to describing God. Despite what had happened, he was confident that God was still ruling the universe securely from his throne (vv. 12, 15) and that he would be merciful and restore the nation (vv. 13-20). Someday, God would be glorified in the land among his people again (vv. 21-22).

The beginning of that restoration was 70 years away, however, and would probably be outside the remaining lifetime of this writer. What hope, then, could he have? Verse 23-28 answer that question. The Psalmist would not live to see the promises he wrote about in verses 13-22 but he still had hope. His hope was in eternity. Verse 26 told us that this world would come to an end but that would not be the end of God’s people. In verse 28 he wrote, “The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.” Given that these words came after the Psalmist described the end of heaven and earth, it seems clear that he is describing eternity with God.

Life in this world can be disappointing, even devastating, but this is not the only reality that exist. When we hope in God and believe his promises by faith, we can be confident that a perfect future awaits us in eternity. Let this hope encourage you today no matter what you’re dealing with now or what may happen today. God is still ruling and when this age is over, we will live eternally in his presence.

Genesis 40, Job 6, Psalm 38

Today, read Genesis 40, Job 6, and Psalm 38.

If the story of Joseph’s life were plotted on a graph like the price of a stock on the New York Stock Exchange, what would it look like? Early on, the line would go up--he was favored by his father and had divine dreams that assured him of greatness. But, after his stock ascended for a while, it would have moved downward drastically after he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Then, there would be a small move up when Potiphar entrusted him with more responsibility, then another big move downward when he was falsely accused of assaulting Potiphar’s wife and put into prison.

At the end of Genesis 39, his stock moved up again a bit. Although he was in prison, the warden of the prison elevated Joseph into leadership and paid little attention to what he did “because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (39:23b). Still, he was in prison so the overall trend of his life was downward, despite this little spike upward.

Here in Genesis 40, Joseph saw an opportunity. Two of Pharoah’s officials were incarcerated and had dreams. Joseph interpreted their dreams and asked the cupbearer--the one who got good news--to “remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (v. 14b). After all the downward moves in his life, he finally had a reason to hope.

Alas, however, according to verse 23, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” His hopeful opportunity never materialized and, if it were me, I would have despaired of ever getting out of prison.

Although Joseph had many discouraging moments in his life, he also had evidence of the Lord’s work in his life. God blessed his work and allowed him to rise even in the bad situations he found himself in. More obviously, the Lord gave him the interpretation of the dreams of these two men.

Fortunately, neither you nor I have been enslaved by others or imprisoned based on a false accusation. But it is easy to feel in the tough times of life that God has forgotten about us or doesn’t care about our circumstances. If that’s you, let Joseph’s story give you hope. God is watching and the story isn’t finished yet.

Genesis 35-36, Job 2, Psalm 34

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 35-36, Job 2, and Psalm 34.

This devotional is about Job 2.

In Job 1 we were introduced to this famous man of the Old Testament. Although he is not tied through any genealogy to Israel, he was someone who worshipped the true God. As 1:1-2 told us, “he feared God and shunned evil.”

(By the way: people refer to Job sometimes as “the oldest book in the Bible.” It might be, but we really don’t know. My Old Testament professor in seminary wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Job and he thought the author could be Solomon based on the Hebrew text. But Job the man probably lived prior to Abraham, so his story is quite old regardless of when God inspired someone to write it.)

Anyway, in chapter 1 we learned that Job loved God, had a large, loving family, and was financially prosperous. God pointed him out to Satan as an example of spiritual greatness. Satan responded by asking and receiving permission to test Job’s faith.

After taking everything Job had but his wife, here in chapter 2 Satan received permission to cover Job’s body with painful sores. He was now suffering immensely inside and outside. His wife, also a victim of everything Job suffered except for the sores, was unable to contain her anger at God. “Curse God and die!” she said to her husband in verse 9. In verse 10, Job responded with a condensed form of his understanding of discipleship: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” The longer version was spoken in Job 1:20-21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In both of these quotations, we are challenged to accept our place as the “creature” in the “Creator-creature” hierarchy. God is the Creator; he owns all things, including us, right down to the length and quality of our lives and the health (or not) of our bodies. Anything we have is on loan to us from God because we came out naked and leave naked (1:21a-b). If it was loaned to us by God, he has the right as the Creator to reclaim it anytime he wants: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” Our mission in life is, whether happy or sad, prospering or suffering, to worship and praise God: “may the name of the Lord be praised.” When Job asked his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” he was speaking reverently and in submission to God, his Lord and Creator.

But Job’s attitude is a tough one to replicate, isn’t it? God did not create us to suffer; he created us to worship and serve him in joy. It was the entrance of sin that brought suffering into the world. Since God could have stopped the entrance of sin or the causes of our suffering, it feels unjust to us when suffering comes into our lives.

This is why suffering--trials--is the test of our faith. When we curse God, we call him unjust. We appeal to our own sense of right and wrong, a sense that is permanently skewed in our direction. We want mercy when we do wrong but justice when we feel that wrong has been done to us. God allows us to suffer to expose our unbelief, the weaknesses in our faith, so that they can be purified from our hearts and we can trust him even more purely and fully.

Everyone reading this is suffering in some way, or emerging from suffering, or heading toward it, probably unknowingly. Let the presence of pain in your life strengthen your walk with God. Let it cause you to turn to him for hope and comfort not away from him in anger or bitterness. Let it teach you how to truly praise God from the heart and trust him. Remember that Job did not have the answer to “why” that we were given in chapters 1-2. All he had was his theology and his circumstances. When those two seemed irreconcilable, he went with his theology and staked his hope there.

May God grace us to do the same.

John 5

Today’s reading is John 5.

Every year, some of the funeral homes in our area drop by the church building at Christmas time and leave me a gift. The one that does this most consistently gives me a tin of mixed nuts. I snack on them in my office for weeks--it’s a big tin--and I’m grateful that they brought me something healthy and not just more Christmas cookies. Or shudder fruit cake.

I guess it is good business for them to keep in touch with pastors. The truth is, however, that they are in a recession-proof business. People are dying all the time, so there are always needs to be served in their industry. Everyone likes referrals, as weird as that sounds when talking about funeral homes, but they’re going to get “customers” no matter what.

Doing funerals and attending funerals that I’m not involved in are part of the life of being a pastor. I am always grateful for the opportunity to serve families when they have a funeral. But, I hate the pain and sorrow that death brings. I also hate that many families only get together and reminisce about old times when someone dies. That’s the reality of busy lives and people who live in different parts of the world, but it is still sad.

Jesus promised to end all of this here in John 5. He promised life to those who believe in God through him (v. 24). “Eternal life” is such common terminology in our faith that we sometimes go numb to what it means. Jesus’s promise to us, however, is that God will raise the dead and that all believers will live with him forever.

Visualize this promise: “...a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.... Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” There is an end to death coming and it will be a great day for those in Christ and an absolutely horrid day for everyone else. Each of us will be judged according to what we have done: “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (v. 29b). All of us would be in that latter category and would rise to be condemned if it were not for the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us by faith (v. 24) and the payment that his death made for our sins. This is the hope of the dying, the living who will die someday, and those who live who have lost someone they love in death. Because of Christ’s mercy and grace, death will end and eternal life will reign forever.

The funeral business may be recession proof, but it will be disrupted and made obsolete by the final resurrection. Are you ready?

1 Peter 1

Today we’re reading 1 Peter 1.

In yesterday’s devotional, I wrote about the importance of looking forward with anticipation to Christ’s coming and his kingdom. In today’s reading, we’re in a different book written by a different apostle, but the same theme emerged. In Christ we have been promised “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (v. 4a). This promise isn’t stored somewhere here on earth and it isn’t dependent on Equifax to protect it. Instead, it is “kept in heaven for you” (v. 4b).

Recall that this chapter was written, through the Holy Spirit, by Peter. Jesus told him that “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). What did that mean? Just as sifting (winnowing) separates the wheat from the chaff, Satan wanted to use trials to separate Peter and the other apostles from Jesus. He wanted to remove their eternal life by breaking their bond with the Lord. That did not happen because Jesus prayed “for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32a). Then he told Peter, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32b). In concert with that command, Peter wrote here in 1 Peter 1:5 that we “through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Why is it that no one who trusts in Christ will ever be lost? Why is your eternity secure in Christ even if you feel like your faith is far from perfect? Satan wants to separate you from your salvation; that’s why he brings trials into your life (vv. 6-7). But he can’t separate you from Christ because you are “shielded by God’s power” (v. 5a). Instead of shaking you loose from Jesus, God allows those trials in your life to prove the “genuineness of your faith” (v. 7a) for his glory (v. 7c) but he will shield you as you go through those trials by his power.

Are you facing something hard in your life now? Cling to Christ and his promises, even if you are feeling less than confident. He will shield your faith by God’s power and, after a time of suffering, you will be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

[In case you aren’t aware of what happened with Equifax: https://www.wired.com/story/equifax-breach-no-excuse/]

Mark 16

Today’s reading is Mark 16.

After Jesus was crucified, Matthew 27:57-61 records that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who became a disciple of Jesus, received permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’s body. Remember that Jesus died on Friday and that, in the Jewish world, sunset marked the beginning of the next day. That sunset meant the start of Saturday and if they had taken time to properly embalm Jesus’ body, they would be breaking the Sabbath command. So, Joseph (with the help of Nicodemus, according to John 19:38-40) wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean cloth with some spices (Jn 20:40) and placed it into the tomb Joseph had purchased for his own burial place. In today’s reading from Mark 16, three women came on Sunday morning to do the job right (vv. 1-3). The stone in front of the door to the cave seems to have been a standard practice since the opening to Lazarus’ tomb was also covered by a stone (Jn 11:39). The women were concerned that that no one would be there to roll the stone away for them (v. 3) but that turned out to be a non-issue. Jesus had risen from the dead (vv. 6-7) and angels were waiting to give the news to the women and the disciples.

This is how the gospel according to Mark ends--with the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and a record of the fear the women experienced. It seems like a strange ending which is why other verses were added by well-meaning Christians in later manuscript copies. But Mark is complete as it is, ending at verse 8 because ti records the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Christ is just as essential to his story and our faith as his crucifixion is. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 15 that, without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins (1 Cor 15:17) there is no hope of eternal life (1 Cor 15:17), our faith is a lie (1 Cor 15:14) and the apostles are all liars (1 Cor 15:15).

Fortunately, Jesus did rise from the dead as we read here in Mark 16. The fact that his disciples were willing to be persecuted and even martyred for Jesus is a key point on the subject of the resurrection. These were the same men who abandoned him and fled when he was betrayed. Peter, who denied him three times, later gave his life for Jesus as did many other early disciples. They were willing to do that because they saw the resurrected Lord. Having seen him, they knew that his testimony about himself was true and that promises he made guaranteed eternal life to those who believed in him. As 1 Cor 21-22 says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

This is the hope that will sustain you through the trials and problems of life. It will encourage you when those you love die and it will calm your fears when the time comes for you to die. Jesus rose from the dead and he promises to raise each of us from the dead when he returns. There is no fear, no problem in life, nothing that is bigger than that. It is a promise that you can hold to and that will hold you no matter what life has in store for you.

Mark 1

Today we’re scheduled to read Mark 1.

If you had a terminal illness or a permanent, disfiguring, disabling injury, how far would you travel to be healed? Would you travel a long way if the chance of being healed was 50%? 20% 1%?

My guess is that just about everybody would travel as far as necessary even if the chances were slim. This explains the remark at the end of Mark 1, verse 45 that, “As a result [of the cured leper’s blabbing to everyone], Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” Jesus had forbidden this man whom he healed from talking about it (vv. 43-44), but he talked about it anyway. So, people who were desperate, with no hope, kept looking for Jesus until they found him. They were undeterred by how difficult he was to find or how arduous the journey to him would become. The hope of healing compelled them to find Jesus. When they did, Jesus was gracious to heal them.

There were many purposes for the healings that Jesus performed. One was to fulfill prophecy and another was to demonstrate his love and compassion for people and their sufferings. But the biggest reason why Jesus healed was to demonstrate his power. The healings authenticated his message and gave a taste of the perfections of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. Those of us who know Jesus by faith can read about these healings with hope. Jesus did not come to remove all human suffering in this age; he came to call us to trust him for a better age. The people he healed during his life on this earth are a demonstration of his absolute power over ever human problem. They also serve to remind us that one day we will be made whole when we enter his kingdom eternally.

Until we enter it eternally, we are citizens of it by faith but we live in exile, waiting for our true home. If you are suffering today and wondering if Jesus cares, take heart. He may not choose to heal you in this life but imagine the joy and thanks you will have when your sufferings are over and your body is glorified, perfected, and eternally protected from harm.

I trust this truth gives you hope today, no matter what you face.

Colossians 3

Today’s reading is Colossians 3.

Although the Colossian church had faith in Christ and evidence of spiritual growth, there were doctrinal issues in the church that were threats to the spiritual health of the church. One of those threats seemed to be legalism, which Paul began addressing at the end of Colossians 2.

We need to stop here and define what legalism is. I would argue that the New Testament confronted two types of legalism:

  • Legalism for salvation. This type of legalism was the belief that good works were necessary for salvation. This belief taught that someone had to do good works (usually defined as religious rituals of some kind) to be accepted by God in eternity or that someone had to believe in Christ but also do good works to be accepted by God into his kingdom.
  • Legalism for spiritual growth. This type of legalism taught that Christ alone was necessary for salvation but that obedience to religious ceremonies and self-discipline were necessary to help you grow spiritually.

The second type of legalism--the “legalism for spiritual growth” type seemed to be an issue for the believers in Colossae. In Colossians 2:6 Paul urged them to live in Christ because they had received him as Lord. Then, in verses 16-23 of chapter 2, Paul urged them not to submit to religious rules as if those could cause you to grow. One of the most important concepts for refuting this false idea is that believers have died with Christ to the old ways. As verses 20-21 of chapter 2 put it, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’?”

This concept that we “died with Christ” or that “in Christ” we have certain spiritual benefits and privileges is a doctrine “Union with Christ.” I did an entire series on this doctrine last spring called, :”I.D. Understanding who you are before God.”. Here in Colossians 3, Paul continued developing the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ. We saw that in verse 1 which said, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ....” The idea of being “raised with Christ” is that our identification with Christ--our union with him--means that the spiritual benefits of Christ’s resurrection now belong to us who believe in Christ. Now that those benefits belong to us by faith and await us in Christ’s kingdom, we are commanded to desire “things above” v. 1b. And, what are those things above? First and foremost, Jesus: verse 1 says that he is there seated at the right hand of God, verse 3 says our life is hidden with him and verse 4 says that we will appear with him in glory when he appears. Living the Christian life on this earth begins when we start longing for Christ and his kingdom. That is when the full benefits of being “in Christ” will be ours and when the promises Christ made to us will be ours.

The hope of our eternity with Christ has practical benefits today, however, because that hope helps us to “put to death...whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (vv. 5-11). It also helps us to live “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (v. 12). When we put our hope in Christ, his power and future promises, it helps us to say no to sin and live a kinder (v. 12), compassionate (v. 13), loving (v. 14), peaceful (v. 15a), and worshipful life (vv. 15b-17). It also helps us to live a godly life in our human relationships, whether as wives or husbands, children or fathers, slaves or masters (vv. 18-25).

Here’s a great truth to start out our week! We are “in Christ” by God’s grace, so we should live for the future--hoping not so much for things to get better in this life, but for the promises Christ made to us in the future. When we hope in the future Christ promised us, THEN our everyday lives get better because that hope draws us toward purity and godliness in this life. Whatever problems you encounter today or this week, remember that God has given you hope for a perfect eternity with him in Christ. Let that hope cause you to live for him in your daily decisions and relationships.

Leviticus 10, Psalms 11–12, Proverbs 25, 1 Thessalonians 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 10, Psalms 11–12, Proverbs 25, 1 Thessalonians 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 1 Thessalonians 4.

Death is always an unpleasant topic. It is unpleasant to think about your own death and it is sad and difficult when others we know and love die. As a pastor, I have attended more funerals than the average person. Funerals for godly believers can be worshipful and even uplifting in some ways, but they are never joyful. God did not create us to die so the irreparable separation that death brings is always difficult, even when your loved one is in heaven. Here in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul offers words of comfort to the Thessalonians and to us about the dead. Paul’s reason for this is to give them hope even in their grief: “…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13). Yes, even Christians grieve but our grief is not the grief of complete loss. Christ gives us hope even in the most tragic and unexpected death of a believer because of His resurrection from the dead: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” This reminds us that, although Christ did not immediately end death with his resurrection, he did break its power over humanity. The phrase “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14) reminds us that the spirits of those who die continue to exist. Christ will “bring” them with him when he returns because they are with him now. In verses 15-17, Paul describes how the process of the resurrection will happen. There will be believers “who are still alive, who are left” on earth when Jesus returns, but their gathering to Christ will not precede the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Instead, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Christ will bring their spirits with him to earth and after his trumpet and loud command, their living spirits will be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection. Once this resurrection has occurred, those in Christ who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17). The result of this rapture is “so we will be with the Lord forever.” This is the endgame of discipleship, the harvest of new life in Jesus Christ. After living by faith on this earth we will be rewarded with an eternity with Jesus. Christians have debated when this event will occur in relationship to other events prophesied in scripture. It seems clear to me that the coming of Jesus is what the Lord tells us to look for next, so I believe in the pre-tribulational rapture though this is not the place to spell out all the reasons why. The point of this passage is not to lay out a prophetic timeline of all that the Lord has promised to do in the future. It is, instead, to “encourage one another with these words.” Death is always unpleasant, always sad, always accompanied with grief; yet in Christ we have the hope of a perfect resurrection followed by eternity with Jesus. Here is something to hold on to in faith despite whatever fears you have about death or whatever trials and struggles you face today. If you die before Jesus returns, you’ll be with him and return with him when he comes. If you live until his return, you will be gathered in the air with him and all those who have died in him. Hold this hope in your hearts and live today like eternity is the only thing that matters. It is!

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.