old-testament

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148

Here are today’s readings: Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah encouraged his reader to encourage others who belonged to God but were old and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths, that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10) were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers in their camps. These truths could be used to give spiritual strength and stability to believers (v. 3).

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” and, when he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people. Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Psalm 19

Today, read Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, and Psalm 19.

This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did this, “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here. But this was equally stupid both times. In Genesis 12:11, 13 Abraham told Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.... say you are my sister.” If they were merely brother and sister, then this beautiful woman would be single and available for anyone who wanted her. Predictably, that’s what happened; she was added to the harem of Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelek (here in Gen 20). In both cases, Abraham lost his wife and put God’s promises in jeopardy. In both cases, only God’s miraculous intervention preserved Sarah and allowed her to become the covenant mother that God had promised she would be.

So why would Abraham do this--knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men? The answer--in both cases--was fear. Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11). So he just lied and made Sarah available. This was unloving to her and unbelievable in that Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his men were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

This incident shows what happens when we live in fear instead of faith in God’s promises. We make foolish decisions. God protected Abraham because of his covenant promises to Abraham that he would become a great nation through the son born to Sarah. But God would have been just to allow the consequences of Abraham’s foolish actions to happen.

Are you living your life in fear instead of in faith? Do you use lies and deception to manipulate others instead of trusting God to care for you and provide for you? It is easy and tempting for us to fall into a similar trap as Abraham. Learn from his negative example in this instance and trust God instead of acting in fear.

Psalms 144-147

Today we’re reading Psalms 144-147.

Psalm 144 is a wartime Psalm but it is a good choice to read on Christmas eve. In verse 5 David wrote, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down.” This is not a reference to the coming of Christ because verses 5b-6 say, “touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot your arrows and rout them.” The visitation David wanted from God was not the incarnation of Christ but the direct military defeat of Israel’s immediate enemies.

Still, Israel’s enemies were God’s enemies because of the covenants God had made with Abraham, Moses, and David. Asking God to defeat Israel’s foes was in keeping with the promises he made to his people. So was asking for God’s deliverance as David did in verses 7-8: “Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful.” Ultimately, Christ will return and defeat all of God’s enemies, so the requests in this song will finally be realized when Christ’s kingdom is finally established.

Jesus’s birth was the beginning of that kingdom; it was an invitation to believe that he was the promised king and that faith in him would cause someone to be included in that kingdom. So, just as David said in verse 9, “I will sing a new song to you, my God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,” so we can rejoice and sing today that Christ will deliver us from this present evil age, will judge his enemies with justice, and will bless us with eternal life in his kingdom. At Christmas, we remember the inauguration of these promises and we give thanks for God’s grace which extended these promises to us in Christ. We are his people, now, so as verse 15 put it, “Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.”

Proverbs 30

Today’s reading is Proverbs 30.

This chapter was authored by “Agur” (v. 1a) We don’t know who he is, nor does anyone recognize “Ithiel” (v. 1b), the man to whom Agur wrote.

Agur’s words in this chapter, though, show us a man who is yearning for God. He told us in verse 3 that he had not “attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.” Consequently, he was “weary” (v.1c) and lacked understanding (v. 2). In verse 4 he described the one he is looking for. Only God can gather up the wind in his hands and wrap up the waters in a cloak. Only he “has established all the ends of the earth” (v. 4d). All of this, and the parallelism that we find in poetry like these Proverbs, leads us to conclude that the one “who has gone up to heaven and come down” is also a reference to God. It is interesting, isn’t it, that when he asks God’s name he also asks, “what is the name of his son?” The phrase “who has gone up to heaven and come down” and “what is the name of his son” foreshadow the coming of Christ, whose birth we celebrate on Monday.

Verses 5-9 describe Agur’s life after he found God. He treasured the “flawless” nature of God’s word, it’s completeness (v. 6) and how he protects all who trust him (v. 5b). Instead of sin and wealth, Agur longed for God to protect him from sin (v. 8a) and from the false self-sufficiency that would come from wealth.

Although we are material beings and, therefore, need stuff to survive, what we need more than anything is God’s self-revelation and sustaining grace. Agur’s words remind us that we have nothing apart from God and that knowing him brings joy and satisfaction. These are important lessons at any time in our lives but as we give and receive gifts this Christmas, may the Lord cause us to yearn for him and find our satisfaction in his flawless words, including the “Word” incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 27:14-27

Today we’re reading Proverbs 27:14-27.

If you leave your ice cream bowl on the counter, it will warm up to room temperature and melt. If you leave your coffee on the same counter, it will cool off to room temperature as well. Left alone, things drift toward mediocrity. That’s how the world works.

It’s also how business works. In verses 23-27, Solomon urges farmers to pay close attention to their flocks and herds (v. 23) because things that are valuable decay without routine maintenance and careful attention (v. 24).

Likewise, if you pay attention to things that are valuable and cultivate them, you will prosper (vv. 25-27). These are helpful instructions for us to consider as we come to the end of 2017. Are there areas in your life that you’ve stopped paying attention to? Anything that is drifting, coasting, lacking your attention? Whether you realize it or not, those areas are drifting toward mediocrity or worse. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that much of life is like a garden. It doesn’t need constant, intense attention, but consistent, proper attention. If something is wilting but hasn’t died yet, you can often restore it with the right kind of attention. Take a few minutes now and think about your walk with God, your personal health and growth, your family, your work, and anything else that comes to mind. What in these areas needs attention? What kind of attention and how much? Learn what “the condition of your flocks” is, then “give careful attention” to them. They will pay you back benefits in the future (vv. 25-27).

Proverbs 27:1-13

Today, read Proverbs 27:1-13.

Got any leftovers from Thanksgiving? Maybe you don’t mind eating turkey for several days in a row, but there are probably some of you reading this who would rather not eat turkey today.

This illustrates one of our proverbs for today, Proverbs 27:7: “One who is full loathes honey from the comb....” Honey was one of the best tasting treats available in the days of Solomon. There was no ice cream, or Snickers bars, or pumpkin pie. If you wanted sweets, you ate fruit or honey. But, if you’ve had too much to eat already, you’re not going to eat even a tasty treat like honey.

This is what happens to people who get everything they want. They become entitled and no longer value what they have or what is offered to them. By contrast, verse 7b says, “...but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” When someone doesn’t have much, that person has a greater capacity to enjoy what he or she receives.

Did you find it hard to feel grateful about your life this week? If so, give some thought to what you have. Earlier in your life you might have been thrilled to have the life you have now. There are probably people around you--people that you know--who look at your life and don’t understand why you are so unhappy all the time.

In an imperfect, sin-cursed world, there are always reasons to be unhappy about something. But the truth is that there are people who are much worse off than you are. If you can think about what it would be like to be “hungry” again, maybe God will use this Proverb to help you and me be grateful for what we have instead of complaining about how our bellies ache.

Proverbs 26:17-28

Today’s reading is Proverbs 26:17-28.

Verse 17 of today’s reading starts with a strong image to make an important point. Imagine a German Shepherd walking along the road. It is looking for food because nobody owns it and it is hungry. All of a sudden, someone walks over the to the dog, grabs its ears, and picks it up. What will happen?

My guess is that the person who picked up the dog will be bitten squarely in the face. And he will deserve it! He picked up the dog in a way that would be excruciatingly painful for any dog. He also disrespected the dog by picking it up. Finally, given that the dog is a “stray” (v. 17), the dog has no loyalty to the stranger who laid hands on his ears. Of course he will lash out in self-defense against someone who appears to be a threat.

Verse 17 tells us this is what will happen to someone who jumps into an argument where he is not the injured person or the injuring person. Instead of being the mediating influence that he expected to be, he is going to be severely hurt.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” but that doesn’t describe someone who got involved in an ongoing argument without any first-hand knowledge. Only God knows the real truth; the person who wants to drag you into his or her argument wants to convince you that they are on the side of justice. Unless you are appointed or elected to interpret the law, stay away from someone else’s dispute. It will hurt you and do little to no good for anyone else.

Proverbs 26:1-16

Today’s reading is Proverbs 26:1-16.

Self-discipline is a character quality. It is the ability to do things that are necessary or required ore productive when you don’t feel like doing them. Someone else defined it as doing what you don’t want to do in order to get a result that you do want to get.

Self-discipline does not come naturally in every area of life for us. You may be painfully aware of some areas where you are not as disciplined as you want to be or should be, but there are some areas where you are very disciplined, but you just don’t think about it. If you brush your teeth every day, twice a day, you have self-discipline in that area.

But there is probably at least one area in your life that is suffering from a lack of self-discipline. Verses 13-16 in today’s reading describe the opposite of self-discipline which is laziness. A “sluggard” is another word for a lazy person. What is he like?

  • He makes up crazy excuses for his lack of action. Verse 13: “a fierce lion is roaming the streets!”
  • He moves a lot, but only within his comfort zone. Verse 14 says he turns on his bed like a door turns on its hinges. That describes constant movement but only in the horizontal position. Sometimes we do a lot for our own comfort when we should be doing the uncomfortable--but much more productive--thing.
  • He quits halfway through a productive project. Verse 15 says that he puts food on his fork, but never moves it to his mouth. This is like getting your paycheck but being to lazy to take it to the bank and cash it. The benefit is right there, but it requires a little effort to receive it. The sluggard--the undisciplined person--can’t be bothered.
  • He thinks he’s got all the answers. Seven wise people can all give him the same bit of great advice, but the undisciplined person thinks he has better ideas.

Do you see any of these qualities in your life in areas where you know discipline is lacking? Why do we act this way? Often it is about fear. We fear putting in effort and having the project fail anyway, so we make excuses, stay in our comfort zone, quit doing productive things just before the productivity benefit shows up, and refuse skillful advice.

Living a self-disciplined life requires faith. It requires believing that God has structured the world in ways that reward productive behavior. Could it be that your laziness in one or more area of life is really an expression of unbelief? God has promised that a person reaps what he sows and you see it everyday in the corn fields that surround our church building and are throughout our community. Don’t let laziness and unbelief rob you of the blessings and benefits of disciplined work. God will reward effort that is invested in productive things.

Proverbs 25:15-28

Today, read Proverbs 25:15-28.

I have been the leader here at Calvary for almost 8 full years now. Before that I was the assistant pastor here, a staff teaching pastor (not the lead pastor) at a church in Illinois, a senior pastor for 2 years before that, and a seminary staff member. So, I’ve been the main leader and I’ve been a leader who was subordinate to the leadership of others. I think I’ve learned some things about leadership but I have also learned some things about being a good follower. Being a good follower is the subject of this devotional.

It is helpful to understand that the main leader sees things differently than everyone else. The main leader is accountable for the whole situation--the things he knows and doesn’t know that are happening, the decisions he makes and that he doesn’t make, and the results of all of it. This means that the main leader is accountable for more than anyone and everyone else. Consequently, the main leader can often be slower to make decisions. A wise leader needs to consider what the outcome might be of any decision. He also needs to think about the cost of the decision. Every decision has a cost--people question or complain, people leave the church or become less active, customers take their business elsewhere, money and resources are denied to other things, etc. Until you are the main leader, you rarely think about the costs of a decision. Until you are the main leader, you will tend to underestimate how much a decision might cost. This can make it frustrating to be a follower of the main leader.

Different kinds of people can be described as “influential followers.” An assistant pastor can be an influential follower; so can an elder, a deacon, or a respected church member. In other contexts, a staff member or vice-president or highly skilled worker can be an influential follower. So can a customer. When you are an influential follower, you see things that the main leader might not see or might not want to see. You see things that need improving and have ideas about how to improve them. You see opportunities that the main leader might not see or appreciate. I know from being in this situation what it is like to see an opportunity that the main leader doesn’t see or doesn’t think is important. I know how frustrating it is to know that you’re right about something but get very little interest from your main leader. It is easy to get so frustrated that you become obnoxious to the main leader or to leave in order to become the main leader or find another main leader to follow.

So what do you do if you are an influential follower but you haven’t been able to persuade the main leader to take your advice or suggestion? You patiently keep proposing the idea to the main leader. As we read today in Proverbs 25:15, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Leaders often make mistakes by not listening to others with good ideas but followers often make the mistake of impatience when proposing new ideas. This proverb counsels us not to give up or leave or get mad when the main leader doesn’t listen. It counsels us to be patient and learn how to gently but persistently persuade those who lead you.

Do you have a leader that is frustrating you? A parent, a husband, a boss, or some other kind of leader? Please understand that the burden of leadership in these roles is heavy. You can’t appreciate how hard it is until you’ve done it. So be patient but don’t give up trying to influence the leaders above you. Be gentle but persistent, like a stream that slowly shapes and smooths the rock it flows over. You can persuade those who lead you, but you need to approach that persuasion the right way. This proverb gives excellent advice for how to do that.

Proverbs 25:1-14

Today let’s read Proverbs 25:1-14.

I know nothing about metallurgy but I read on the Internet that “dross” is the “scum or unwanted material that forms on the surface of molten metal.” Verse 4 here in Proverbs 25 told us that if you “Remove the dross from the silver” that “a silversmith can produce a vessel.” This suggests--and, again, I’m not sure because... metallurgy--but it suggests that the dross weakens the silver in some way. If you separate that scum from the silver, though, the silversmith can make something more valuable. That principle is applied in verse 5 which says, “remove wicked officials from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.” Evil men who advise a ruler weaken him. They weaken his decision-making and his moral authority. Separate that scum from his rulership and his authority and rule will be strengthened.

As with most of these proverbs, you don’t have to be king to apply this to your life. Each of us has influences that weaken us. We have friends that get us thinking or talking negatively or friends that tempt us to sin. We watch too much TV and then complain that we don’t have time to read God’s word and pray. We listen to music or talk radio on the way to work when a good podcast or audiobook would encourage us or challenge our thinking.

What scummy influences in your life are weakening it? Skim them out and be a stronger person!

Proverbs 24:19-34

Today we’re reading Proverbs 24:19-34.

You’ve moved to a new area. Which is more important--finding a home that you love or finding a job that will enable you to provide for yourself and--eventually--find a home that you love?

This is a question about priorities. It is about what needs to happen first in order to enable other things to happen. That’s what verse 27 is telling us when it says, “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” In terms of comfort, it is appealing to do it the other way. You build yourself a nice comfortable home. Get out of that tent you’ve been living in and move into a nice, big, warm farmhouse. Then you can get busy being a farmer. A good night’s sleep in a warm home will help you plant and cultivate and reap those crops more effectively anyway, right?

No. That’s a rationalization for operating in your comfort zone rather than doing the wise thing first. If you’re going to be a farmer, you need to till up that soil, plant those seeds, and let them start growing. It takes a long time for that stuff to grow to productivity so the sooner you start on it, the better off you will be. The work you do now on those fields will pay dividends later for years and years. After you have a productive system started, you will have time to build yourself a nice home. You’ll also have the financial resources to pay for it.

How does this apply to us non-farmers? It teaches us to cultivate and work toward the long-term value. It teaches us to sacrifice personal comfort for a time in order to provide for the long term. For young people, start learning to save 10% of your income and tithe 10% of your income from the very first paycheck you receive. Don’t spend everything on a nicer apartment, leasing a new car, subscribing to cable TV and buying whatever new gadget. Sacrifice now to plant seeds in you life that will pay off when you are older and in eternity.

It applies to more than just young people, though. All of us are inclined to feather our nests and make our comfort zone more comfy at the expense of doing work and making sacrifices that will take years to pay off. It is easier to to eat that doughnut today and think about dieting tomorrow than it is to forgo that junk food for a healthy diet. It’s easier to sit on the couch and watch Netflix than it is to go for a run. Do you spend every dollar you have--and more thanks to easy credit--or are you disciplining yourself to set aside money for the future?

Think about something you’ve been neglecting because it will take sacrifices now and won’t pay off until the future? Then, make that your priority. Spend the first hour of your day on it every day, then go about doing the day-to-day stuff that seems urgent but is rarely important. These are some ways to wisely apply ourselves in the present that will benefit us in the future.

Psalm 119:41-88

Today read Psalm 119:41-88.

Psalm 119 is the longest (by far) chapter in the Bible. It is also unusual because the entire thing is one massive love-poem to God’s law.

Many people think of laws as restrictive and oppressive. Human laws certainly can be. Our sin natures within certainly view God’s laws that way as well. The Psalmist, however, felt differently. In verse 45 he wrote, “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” God’s law--because of God’s spirit within him--made him free to become a holy man rather than enslaved by the sinful passions which reside in all of us.

Can you look at God’s word that way? Instead of seeing it as something that binds you and restricts your freedom, can you believe by faith that obedience to it, by the grace of God, will help you evade the consequences of sin and keep you from being enslaved?