Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Psalm 16

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Psalm 16.

This devotional is about Genesis 17.

Two major events in Israel’s history were recorded in this chapter. First, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (v. 5). Second, God commanded Abraham and his descendants to obey the covenant of circumcision (vv. 9-14). Of all the commands God gave to Israel throughout the generations, this is the only one that they obeyed faithfully. The generation that entered the promised land had not been circumcised by their fathers, but that appears to be the only time when this covenant was not practiced faithfully (see Joshua 5:2-8).

Circumcision created a permanent, physical mark on a man’s body that separated him from people in other nations and specified that he belonged to the nation of Israel. That was important for preserving the unique ethnic identity that God wanted. The Hittites, the Perizzites, Rephaites, and later the Philistines and many others had their own identity for a time, but then were absorbed into other nations and ethnicities. Circumcision set God’s people apart from these other nations.

But the covenant of circumcision had a much greater importance than just creating and preserving a national identity for Israel. God told Abraham here in Genesis 17:7 that the purpose of the covenant was, “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Although it was a physical mark, it had a spiritual purpose. Faithfully marking each man physically, apart from the spiritual purpose, made it an empty ritual.

Rituals such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, faithful church attendance, and Bible reading and prayer are some of the ways in which God’s grace helps us to grow in Christ. But you can observe these rituals without God actually becoming “your God.” And, even as Christians, we can lose focus on our walk with God while continuing to practice these rituals; our practice of them becomes work that we do by habit or by willpower or because we think they earn merit with God rather than expressions of our love for God. Is there anything you’re doing as a Christian that is expected of Christians but that does not come from your heart? Ask God to re-ignite your passion for him so that you become again a person who walks with God faithfully from the heart.

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15

Today, read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15.

This devotional is about Genesis 16.

Genesis 15 was such a beautiful chapter about Abram’s relationship to God. After Abram saved Lot and his cohorts but refused to take any gains for himself in Genesis 14, God appeared to him in Genesis 15 and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abram was honest with God about the pain of having no heir despite all God had promised him (vv. 2-3). God re-affirmed his promise to Abram (vv. 4-5) and even made an unconditional covenant ceremony for Abram (vv. 9-21). Verse 6 of chapter 15 told us that, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

What a beautiful chapter!

Once he left that metaphorical spiritual mountaintop, however, Abram acquiesced to the request of Sarai here in Genesis 16 (vv. 1-4). Her solution to the lack of an heir was reasonable and acceptable in their culture and it worked (v. 4)! But it was an act of unbelief in the promises of God and created all kinds of problems in Abram’s household (vv. 5-6). This is one of the ways that sin appeals to us. It offers us a direct and easy solution to the problems that bother us the most. And, it usually works, at least for a while. Because we are not all-knowing, we never see the consequences coming. We ignore God’s promises and his warnings, make choices in fear instead of faith, then are filled with regrets and complications.

One way people do this is by dating someone who is unsaved. Every Christian knows that it is wrong date an unbeliever. And, sometimes, God is gracious and saves an unbeliever who unequally yoked with a Christian.

More often, however, the believer compromises again and again. They know it is wrong to date an unbeliever, but they tell themselves that they won’t marry him or her. Besides, he’s a good guy or she’s a nice girl. They have strong qualities and good morals, so there’s really no risk. When a good Christian comes along, the believer thinks they’ll end the ungodly relationship. For now, though, it feels good to be loved.

And, in some cases, they tell themselves that they’ll remain pure even though their unsaved boy/girlfriend doesn’t understand the “wait until marriage” thing. That creates greater pressure to compromise morally than one already feels from his or her own physical body. When the unbeliever proposes, the Christian decides to marry him or her, hoping that God will save their spouse but feeling thankful for someone to love and marry.

Again, sometimes God is merciful and gracious, but that’s not usually how the story goes. Even when God is merciful and saves an unbelieving spouse, there are still tensions and temptations that go with compromising in this area. Not to mention that dating an unbeliever is a sin by itself.

I am burdened for some people in our church who are in relationships with unbelievers or with people who may profess Christ but don’t seem to walk with him much. I understand your desire and how tempting it is to compromise. But look at the problems that Abram and Sarai created by trying to solve their problems themselves instead of trusting the Lord to provide. The longer you live in one sinful situation, the greater the pressure will be to compromise morally again and again. It will not get easier to do right in the future. It will get harder, more painful and costly. Just trust the Lord and do what he tells you. I promise you, he won’t let you down.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Psalm 14

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, and Psalm 14.

Nehemiah lived and led Jerusalem as a civic leader at the same time that Ezra was leading the people spiritually. As we read the book of Ezra, we saw how the temple was rebuilt, worship was reinstated, and God’s word was instructed and applied by Ezra the priest.

There were more problems in Jerusalem than the ones Ezra was called to address. The city was virtually defenseless because the wall that had surrounded it was demolished and gates were burned beyond usefulness. God had placed Nehemiah in a position of influence over king of Persia and then God burdened Nehemiah’s heart with a desire to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That’s a summary of what we’ve been reading the past few days in Nehemiah 1-3.

Here in chapter 4, some of Israel’s enemies engaged in psychological warfare, scorning the people of Jerusalem in hopes of discouraging them so that they would quit (vv. 1-3). In response to their taunts, Nehemiah prayed (vv. 4-5) and asked God to treat them justly for how they had abused his people.

Progress was made on the walls (v. 6), so things got worse--not better--in spite of Nehemiah’s prayers. The enemies of God conspired together to attack Jerusalem physically (vv. 7-8). What did Nehemiah do this time? Verse 9 says, “we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

There are times in life when trusting human solutions presents a bad testimony. Ezra felt this in Ezra 8:22-23: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

But most of the time in scripture, the human leaders God appointed see no tension between trusting God and asking him for protection and taking human measures to defend themselves. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard. Later, Nehemiah took some men off the project and had them stand guard (v. 16) and he even armed the men who were working in case of an attack.

You and I can learn from this in our own walk with God. Don’t put all your confidence in human measures. God is not honored when we ignore him and are too proud to ask for his help and favor. But asking for God’s help is usually not the opposite of using human means. God created us to make tools--including weapons--so that we can defend ourselves. He works, through divine providence, within human means. In fact, most of the time God’s work is done through providence, not through miraculous works. So there is nothing wrong with praying about your health concern AND seeing a doctor for treatment. There is nothing unspiritual about trusting God for your daily needs AND saving money and preparing for retirement. Be wise in the way that you live your life even while you ask God to help you and protect you daily. That’s a godly way to live and lead, just as Nehemiah did.

Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalm 13

Today, read Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalm 13.

This devotional is about Genesis 14.

I wrote yesterday about the close relationship that Abram and Lot had. Although the wealth of each man, and the conflicts that wealth created, led to them to live separately (Gen 13), Abram still cared about Lot and his safety. It was Abram’s commitment to Lot that caused Abram to chase down Kedorlaomer and company when they won their war with Sodom and her allies. Verse 12 told us that Lot was already living in Sodom when this happened and that Lot was “carried off” by Kedorlaomer after they won the battle. Verse 14 said that Abram decided to pursue the victors when he “heard that his relative had been taken captive.” Abram was not interested in showing his military might or in plundering the victors. He wanted to save his nephew, giving Lot back his freedom.

In verse 21, the king of Sodom was in no position to negotiate. So, he asked Abram to let him and his citizens have their freedom. In the rules of their culture, Abram could easily have enslaved all of the people and kept their valuables as well. When the king of Sodom requested his freedom, he was actually asking for quite a bit.

Abram, however, refused to keep anything of value for himself. He took an oath (v. 22) before entering the battle that he would keep nothing for himself. Why? Verse 23 says, “so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’”

If Abram had plundered the people of Sodom and their allies, eventually those people would have resented Abram. After their gratitude for being alive and free subsided, they would have considered how much they lost in that battle and would have blamed Abram for their economic depression. By not taking advantage of them--even though he had every right to gain handsomely for the risks he took--Abram demonstrated that he trusted in God. He was willing to let his wealth grow organically as God prospered him rather than artificially by plundering others. He considered it unrighteous to gain from the trauma and bad fortune of others.

Have you ever been in a position to profit from someone else’s pain? I can’t think of a situation where I have been in that position but, if I ever am in that position, I hope Abram’s example will guide my decisions. Abram took enough to cover his expenses (v. 24a) and to thank God for his blessing (vv. 18-20) but he would not impoverish his nephew and Lot’s neighbors in order to enrich himself. You know and I know that there are people in this world who will take advantage of you when you are desperate. A person like that shows what they value wealth over faith in God and service to others. If you love the Lord, it should translate into compassion for others and cause you to be merciful and help others when they have a need.

Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, Psalm 12

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, and Psalm 12.

This devotional is about Genesis 13.

Abram and Lot must have had some kind of close personal relationship. Genesis 11:31 told us that Lot was Abram’s nephew. The fact that Lot went with Abram (12:4) when Abram left Ur suggests a close, personal friendship between Abram and Lot, one where Abram was most likely a mentor that Lot looked up to.

God had promised, in Genesis 12:3, that he would bless anyone who blessed Abram. Lot’s personal association with Abram sure seems to have brought God’s blessing to Lot’s family. As we read today in Genesis 13:6, Lot and Abram became so wealthy that “they were not able to stay together.” So, they separated themselves geographically and Abram graciously gave Lot the power to choose which land each of them would inhabit (vv. 8-9).

Verse 10 told us that Lot made his decision based on what would benefit him most economically. As a rancher, a “well watered” plain “like the garden of the Lord” would provide the best environment for Lot’s flocks and herds to thrive, contributing bigly to Lot’s bottom line. So Abram and Lot parted for economic reasons and Lot chose his next home for economic reasons.

Verse 12 told us that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” The next verse told us that Sodom was inhabited by wicked men. When I was growing up, messages I heard on this text suggested (maybe even stated directly) that Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom” because he was curious about the wicked lifestyle of the people who lived there. I don’t think that is correct, based on 2 Peter 2:7-8. I think Lot lived near the cities, especially Sodom, because it gave him a great market for his livestock. So, again, he chose what was best for himself and his family’s prosperity despite the spiritual threats Sodom would pose to his family.

I believe the prosperity gospel is wrong, a heretical distortion of the gospel. But I don’t believe that prosperity is wrong; in fact, I believe that we should prosper---unless God chooses not to allow us to prosper--because our faith causes us to work hard and act prudently with money. So, I’m pro-economic growth for all of us within the sovereign and the moral will of God.

But, if prosperity drives all of our decisions, we will make bad moral choices (see 1 Timothy 6:10). This happened to Lot, as we’ll see.

How about you and me? Do we choose to take a job with a better salary without considering how it might affect our families? What about the choices we make when it comes to spending money? Are your kids enrolled where they are in high school or college because you can save money that way? Did the spiritual and moral costs of that decision factor into your choice? Money is important; we all need it to live and I pray for the prosperity of our church members within the will of God. But don’t let money drive you to make disastrous moral decisions.

Lot would have been so much better off if he had offered to reduce his flocks and herds so that he could stay with Abram. He probably wouldn’t have been better off economically--at least not at first--but he would have retained the moral example and instructions from Abram which would have benefited him in every area of his life. Be wise; don’t allow every big decision you make to be decided only to the money needed.

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Psalm 11

Today’s scheduled readings are Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Psalm 11.

This devotional is about Genesis 12.

Every large nation, every big, extended family, every large church or institution or corporation once started out as something small. Even if it scaled up quickly, it began with the idea and ambition of one person or a small group of people.

God promised Abram that he would become “a great nation” (v. 2) when all he had was his wife and nephew. In faith, Abraham believed God’s promises and rearranged his life to be obedient.

That’s verses 1-9. In verse 10 and following, however, Abram acted in fear rather than faith. He instructed his wife to deceive, putting her in jeopardy so that he could protect himself. It was quite a departure from the venture of faith we read about in verses 1-9.

Although Abram was inconsistent in his faith, God was faithful. Because of his promises, God acted supernaturally to extricate Abram and Sarai from the problem that Abram’s unbelief created.

Isn’t it amazing how good God is? He calls us to trust him and is patient with us when our trust in him buckles a little in the knees. If you are the kind of Christian who is always wondering if God still accepts you, let this passage encourage you. None of us is always completely obedient to God at all times. Far from it, actually. It is not our faithfulness that matters; it is the object of our faith. If your faith is in yourself--your consistency, your obedience, your morality, your dependability, or whatever, that will do you know good because you can never be perfect.

If your faith is in God, however, he won’t abandon you when you fail. His character, his promise, and the righteousness of his son applied to us is all that we will ever need.

Genesis 11, Ezra 10, Psalm 10

Today, read Genesis 11, Ezra 10 and Psalm 10.

This devotional is about Psalm 10.

In this song, the psalmist wondered why God did not judge the wicked (v. 1), called on God to judge the wicked because of how they have victimized the weak (vv. 12-15), and affirmed his confidence in God to care for and defend the weak (vv. 16-18). In between his direct addresses to God, the writer described the wicked in verses 2-11. At the very end of his description, the psalmist wrote this about the wicked man: “He says to himself, ‘God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees’” (v. 11). That statement accurately sums up the mentality of anyone who sins. When we are conscious of God’s presence and aware of his watching eyes, we are able to say no to temptations. Like a shoplifter who is on his best behavior when he sees the security camera, each of us makes better moral choices when we are conscious of God.

The late theologian R. C. Sproul, who died last month, used a Latin phrase--Coram Deo “before the face of God” to sum up how a believer should live in this world. When we live before the face of God, it changes what and how we worship and how we live.

Apart from God’s grace, we all would live with the same moral abandon as the man described in this Psalm. We would sin as we wanted, comforting ourselves with the story that God will never know or notice. Jesus came to reveal God to us and to die for us so that we could live “before the face of God.”

Are you conscious of God during your daily life? Do you consider that he hears every word you say and watches your actions? If not, ask him to help you remember his presence with you and live in light of it daily.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news--the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well..., I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think--given that he knew about Noah and Lot--that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry--so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like this. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was ,but the truth is that we’re interconnected spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans* but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another bigly. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

*Apologies to those who read this in Kingston, Ontario and elsewhere in the world.

Genesis 8, Ezra 8, Psalm 8

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 8, Ezra 8, and Psalm 8.

This devotional is about Psalm 8, specifically verses 3-9.

We look back at people who lived in Old Testament times and think they were primitive. They didn’t have electricity, indoor plumbing, or climate controls. The tools they had were crude and they spent an inordinate amount of time just trying to stay alive by providing for each day’s needs for themselves and their families.

Secular people think they were even more crude than this. They think these people didn’t understand mathematics or natural laws like gravity. They think that David and his contemporaries didn’t even know what the sun and moon were and some people in this time even worshipped those heavenly bodies as if they were gods.

Here in Psalm 8, we see that David had a much better understanding of the physical world than we might expect. He knew that the sky he looked at in the night was showing him the “heavens” (v. 3a) and that the lights he saw in those heavens were celestial bodies in the heavens just as the earth was. In other words, he saw that the earth was not like the set of a movie with everything above being an illusion or a prop. He knew that God had created a vast universe of which the earth was just one planet.

Now that we have telescopes and satellites, we see how vast the universe really is and how small we really are in comparison. But David had a sense of it which is why he marveled, “...what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” With so much stuff in the material universe, why would God care about humanity as a group, much less the individuals in it?

I just googled the earth’s population and it is estimated at 7.6 billion people. I can’t even begin to visualize that number, much less think about knowing each person’s name, story, thoughts, and so on. Yet God knows it all and cares about each of us individually. That’s why David concluded this Psalm with, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Nobody comes anywhere near his majesty.

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7

Today we’re reading Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7.

This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study... of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the... observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalm 6

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalm 6.

This devotional is about Genesis 6.

I don’t think that a greater contrast could exist between Noah and the rest of the world around him. Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (v. 9b) while the world around him was “...corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (v. 11). Regarding the rest of the world, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth” (v. 6) but “ Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” There is no subtle contrast here. God approved of Noah and was “deeply troubled” (v. 6b) about everyone else.

Although Noah was “righteous” “blameless among the people” and “walked with God” (v. 9b), he was not perfect. He “found favor” with God because of God’s grace, not because of his own righteous merits. As a man, Noah had a sinful nature like everyone else on earth. Apart from God’s favor, he would have been as wicked as everyone else and just as worthy of divine punishment. So God’s divine election of Noah is what is meant by the phrase “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Practically speaking, God’s favor came through divine revelation. God explained to Noah his plan to destroy everyone and everything (v. 13), commanded Noah to build a means of escape (v. 14), instructed Noah about how to do it (vv. 15-16), then made a promise--“my covenant”--to protect Noah and his family (vv. 17-21). Because Noah was a man who knew God and walked with him, Noah received God’s word by faith, believed God’s promise, and obeyed accordingly (v. 22).

The details of our lives are different, but the pattern is the same with every person who knows God. God chooses us, God reveals what he wills to us, God commands us to obey, promises to protect us if we do, then calls us by faith to act. We can apply this to our own lives. Every truth taught in Scripture is God’s gracious gift to us, revealing what he wills to do, commanding us to believe and obey it, and promising blessing to us after we do what he said.

Are you struggling with obedience to the Lord in some area of your life? I don’t mean building an ark, I mean receiving the truth from his Word in some area and obeying it? Understand from this passage that God’s commands are not burdens for us to bear through obedience; they are his means for blessing us. If we will trust the Lord and do what His word commands, we will receive the promises he makes. It’s guaranteed because it is backed by God’s grace.

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Psalm 5

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Psalm 5. This devotional will focus on Genesis 5:21-24.

The genealogy in this chapter follows a clear pattern. A man lives for a specific number of years, has a son, lives for many more years while also having “other sons and daughters.” Then his total lifespan is given followed by the fact that “he died.” Moses recorded this genealogy for historical purposes. He wanted to document the family line from Adam (v. 1) to Noah (v. 32). No interest is given to how tall or short a man was, how intelligent (or not), whether he had a great personality or a dull one, or whether he invented anything that moved the human race forward. Nobody’s story is recorded; no color is provided. They are names on a page documenting that they lived, died, and left an heir.

Except for Enoch. If it weren’t for verses 22-23, you and I would be no more likely to remember his name than we would the name Mahalalel (v. 15). Yet, after he lived 65 years and fathered Methuselah, we learned that “Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years” then “had other sons and daughters” (v. 22). We know he didn’t live the longest in this genealogy (at least, not on earth). Was he the smartest of these men? The best looking? The most prosperous? Who cares. The Bible doesn’t compare him to the others directly and say, “he was the godliest man alive” but it says that “he walked faithfully with God.” This was remarked on because it was remarkable. Others, like Lamech (v. 29), knew God. But “Enoch walked faithfully with God.” That’s what he was known for. And, in grace, God spared him from the curse of death (v. 24). He went from walking with God by faith on earth to walking with God in person in eternity.

Because of Christ and his grace to us in the gospel, each of us is walking with God. But would you be known for that? If someone were trying to describe your life, is that the phrase they would choose--he or she walked with God? Faithfully walked with God?

As Christians, that a life we should aspire to have.

Genesis 4, Ezra 4, Psalm 4

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 4, Ezra 4, and Psalm 4. This devotional is about Ezra 4.

Have you ever owned car that was hard to start on a cold winter day? Did you ever get that car going (finally!) only to have it stall out a few yards away from your house? This is what a stuck project feels like to me. It takes so much effort to start something new, but we do it because we have high expectations. Then, for reasons we can’t control--and sometimes don’t even understand--all progress on the project just stops.

God’s people in Jerusalem came back to build a temple. Yes, they came back to rebuild their nation and community, but the government officially authorized and allowed them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1). And, they did it! First, they re-established obedient worship, then they laid the foundation for the temple and started building as we saw yesterday in Ezra 3.

But, from the very beginning, there were problems. I did not mention this yesterday, but at the end of Ezra 3 there were both shouts of joy from the people (Ezra 3:11b, 12b) and loud weeping from “many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple” (v. 12a). Were these tears of joy? Hardly. Ezra didn’t say so, but those who wept did so because the foundation of the new temple was so small and humble compared to the great temple Solomon had built. That is suggested in verse 12 by the phrase “who had seen the former temple.” It is confirmed by Haggai 2:3 where the prophet Haggai asked these people, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” So, there was internal dissension and opposition to the Lord’s work by God’s people themselves.

Here in chapter 4, we see opposition to building the temple from outside of Israel as well (vv. 1-3). First, foreigners offered to help but, of course, their “help” would almost certainly have come with expectations. God allowed Israel and Judah’s enemies to force them from the promised land because they had mingled the true worship of God with idols. The enemies described here in Ezra 4 wanted that same result.

When God’s enemies failed to infiltrate the construction of the temple they “set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (v. 4). They used bribes (v. 5) and political maneuvering (vv. 6-23) to successfully stymie the construction of the Lord’s temple (v. 24) less than a year after the work began (compare 3:8 to 4:24).

What was behind all of these roadblocks? Satan was, of course. There were human actors in all of this dissension, whether internal or external, but God’s ultimate enemy, Satan, was the one doing the damage.

I’ve encountered this in every ministry I’ve ever been involved in. We set out to do something for the Lord. Just when we start to get some momentum some problem discourages people, complicates the work, or stops it altogether. Maybe you’ve encountered this in your life, too. You’ve set a path to serve God in some new way and, unexpectedly, problems cause you to stall out.

Don’t give up. That’s exactly what Satan wants! Opposition to God’s work is part of living in a fallen world. God’s people got through this and, if we keep trusting the Lord and seeking to do his will, he’ll get you and me and us through the problems too.

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Psalm 3

Today we’re reading Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Psalm 3.

This devotional is about Ezra 3, so read that chapter if you can’t do all of today’s reading.

The events recorded in Ezra happened late in Old Testament history. They happened after the kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon and after those kingdoms were divided into the Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Because of idolatry, God used the Assyrian Empire to scatter the northern kingdom of Israel. Years later, God then used the Babylonians to take the Southern Kingdom into captivity. Daniel and his friends were living in Babylon due to that captivity. Daniel, while reading Jeremiah, realized that the captivity would end after 70 years. Ezra recorded what happened after that 70 years of captivity ended.

First Cyrus the king of Persia was moved by the Lord to send the people of Judah living in exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. We read about that in Ezra 1. Ezra 2 recorded the names of those returned. At the end of Ezra 2, yesterday, we read, “When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site” (Ez 2:68). Then, today in Ezra 3 we read that the people “assembled together as one in Jerusalem” (v. 1b). They built an altar and began the routine sacrifices commanded in Moses’ law (v. 3). They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4) and began rebuilding the Temple (vv. 7-13).

One thing that is impressive about this chapter is how quickly the people organized to begin worshipping the Lord together as a group. Verse 1 refers to the “seventh month” but that doesn’t mean seven months after they arrived. It means the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, the month when the Feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated (v. 4, 6). Although Ezra did not say so, the events of verses 1-6 happened probably only 3 or 4 months after the exiles returned to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem they returned to was a mess. It had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians 70 years before and was uninhabited during that time. When they got there, they had to figure out who owned what property, then repair or rebuild some kind of home to live in. They also needed to make a living, so they also had to begin working to start an economy going again. Verse 3 says that they “had settled in their towns” but that “settling” was only a bare subsistence. They were far from a thriving, vibrant community at that point.

And yet, they began their worship as a nation and their obedience to God’s word pretty quickly. It is true that Cyrus sent them there to rebuild the temple (chapter 1), but it would have been easy to make excuses--very plausible excuses--about the importance of making sure they could survive before they began worshipping God corporately again. They also could have said, “Well, we need to rebuild the temple first, then we can do the sacrifices and feast days.” But the temple took two years to get going (v. 8). Rather than wait, their faith in God and zeal for his glory caused them to obey his word as soon as they could.

All of this indicates what a priority worship was for these Israelites. Unlike their ancestors who worshipped idols and mixed God’s word with pagan gods and rituals, the 70 years of exile had chastened them and had shown them the importance of faith in God’s word and obedience to it.

I wonder if we would respond the same way? If some natural disaster wiped out all of our homes and businesses and leveled our church building, would those of us who survived that want to get together as soon as possible to start worshipping again?

I’d like to think that gathering again as a church family would be very important to us. Maybe a tragedy like that would make it so. But, when I think about how many people in our church attend our Sunday worship here and there, I wonder. Many people are faithful to our worship services Sunday after Sunday but many others attend for a Sunday or two, then disappear for weeks at a time. They all have reasons but how many of those reasons are just excuses laid on top of poor priorities? And that’s just Sunday services we’re talking about. Small group attendance and Calvary Class attendance is even more random and unpredictable.

This passage, and the coming of a new year, give us a chance to think about our priorities and where our time is spent. The fact that you’re reading these devotionals probably puts you in the category of people who are committed to the Lord and his work in our church. But, there is always the temptation to get distracted and let priorities fall out of whack. Don’t let that happen to you and, if you have a chance to encourage someone else who isn’t attending regularly, take the opportunity to speak to them for their good as a believer in Christ.

Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Psalm 2

Today’s readings are Genesis 2, Ezra 2, and Psalm 2.

Well, I rang in the new year by getting really sick overnight so I’ve been in bed all day today (Monday). Because of that, and because I still really like what I wrote in 2016, I’m recycling that devotional from Genesis 2. Here you go:

After he described God’s break from work on the seventh day in verses 1-3, Moses, the author of Genesis, focused his attention on Day 6 of the creation week. The events of Day 6 were described in summary form in yesterday’s reading from Genesis 1:24-31. God’s work on that day was detailed more explicitly for us in today’s reading from Genesis 2. We know that the events of Genesis 2:18-25 all happened on Day 6 because Genesis 1:27 says “…male and female he created them” when it summarized God’s work on Day 6 of creation. Since Genesis 2:18-25 discussed the creation of woman, all that happened in today’s passage must have happened on Day 6 of the creation week.

According to Genesis 2:18-25, the creation of man and the creation of woman were separated by enough time for Adam to name the animals and to realize that there was no corresponding partner for him (vv. 18-20). This was an object lesson for Adam to teach him his absolute uniqueness among the living things God created. While he was to tame and make productive use of these animals, none of them was his equal nor could any of them provide what he needed to fulfill God’s command to fill the earth in Genesis 1:28.

This exercise also seems to have given Adam a profound sense of loneliness. His loneliness is indicated by Adam’s exclamation “at last” in verse 23. The NIV translates this “now” which lacks the punch and excitement of his original statement. Though it is not my favorite, the New Living Translation gets this one right by beginning verse 23 with “‘At last!’ the man exclaimed.” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A23&version=NLT

Remember that feeling? Maybe it hit you on your wedding day when you saw your bride walking down the aisle or as you were walking down the aisle toward your groom. Maybe it was when you were walking arm-in-arm down the aisle together just after the pastor presented you to the congregation as husband and wife. Regardless of when you realized it, one blessing God intended for your marriage was to replace the sense of loneliness in your life with a partner who corresponds to you and complements you.

Moses applied the personal experience of Adam and Eve to humanity in general when he wrote in Genesis 1:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” What compels a man and a woman to get together? God’s creative work.

Do you believe that, for most of us, we are incomplete without a spouse? Do you understand that divorce breaks the blessing God created marriage to be in your life (see Matthew 19:8)? Do you know that adultery may awaken youthful passions that have been dormant for a while and may make you feel honored and desired but that it costs far too much (see Proverbs 5:1-14). How is the state of YOUR union? If things at home are troubled, unsatisfying, or just a bit dull, you may be tempted by divorce, infidelity, or just some “harmless flirting.” God’s prescription, however, is to recommit and reinvest in your spouse. Don’t believe me? See Proverbs 5:15-23.

Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Psalm 1

Welcome to the first installment of OT18. Read each chapter each day and you’ll read through the Old Testament this year.

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 1, Ezra 1, and Psalm 1. This devotional is mostly about Psalm 1, so read that if you can’t read all three chapters.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if we love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by the wicked will cause them to be blown away (v. 4), rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people--ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members, celebrities, actors, and journalists who care nothing about God? The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spend and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

I’d love it if we could discuss these readings everyday. If you have a thought or a question about one of the passages we’ve read--even one I didn’t write about--would you consider putting into the comments? Or, repost the day’s reading to your Facebook wall and ask your question or make your comment there. Others may join in and we could actually have a real discussion together about God’s word everyday.

I won’t nag you about this in these devotionals; it’s just a suggestion for you to think about. Thanks for reading and happy new year!

Proverbs 31

Today’s reading is Proverbs 31.

Proverbs 31 is known for “The Proverbs 31 Woman,” aka the “wife of noble character,” who is described in verses 10-31. It is, of course, fair that this chapter is known for the woman described here. After all, 2/3rds of the verses in this chapter are given to describing her.

I would point out that many of the qualities described in this section are applicable to men and women. Both men and women should be:

  • beneficial to family (v. 12: “brings... good not harm”)
  • kind to the poor (v. 20)
  • hardworking (vv. 13, 15, 17, 19, 27)
  • productive (vv. 14, 16, 18)
  • prepared (vv. 21-22, 25)
  • wise (v. 26)
  • God-fearing (v. 30b)

So, when I read this passage, I see more than the description of a great woman. I see the description of what a godly life looks like when lived by a woman. You might call it a feminine portrayal of godliness or, better, a godly life applied specifically to women in daily Old Testament life.

Some of what is described here would have been considered “typical” for women in the time and situation when this was written. For instance, providing “food for her family” (v. 15b), making sure her family has warm clothing (v. 21), and watching “over the affairs of her household” (v. 27) were all considered women’s responsibilities. In many ways, they still are “typical” for women in our times.

But notice that this woman does many things which were not considered “typical” for women, especially in the Old Testament. The women described in this chapter is a first-rate businessperson according to verses 16, 18, 24. Many people who talk about the biblical role of women today don’t seem to notice this particular detail. Also, verse 26 says, “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” In a world where women were confined to an outer place in the temple and, later, to the back of the synagogue, one might not expect a woman to be wise and insightful, but she was.

Also notice that this exceptional woman is not forced to be exceptional because she is married to loser. Instead, “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (v. 23) and he “has full confidence in her” (v. 11a). The point is that this couple makes quite a team! The husband is himself faithful, hardworking, and successful but he is even more successful and resourceful because his wife takes care of business at home and even outside the home as well.

Already I have written more about this passage than I intended, but I never read it without (a) giving thanks for my wife Suzanne who fits the description in these verses and (b) thinking about what a slacker I am compared to this remarkable woman. Guys: this passage gives us a lot to think about for ourselves. Look to your own life before you start judging your wife by these words.

But please indulge me as I come to the real point I wanted to make in this devotional. It is Saturday, after all, so you probably have some extra time to read and think today. So, consider this:

The description of this woman was given in a particular context. The author of this chapter, King Lemuel (v. 1) was trying to give good life-advice to his son, presumably the future king. Lemuel prayed (v. 2b) for his son. Having received him, he urged him to be wise about how he lived his life. Lemuel’s concern was that his son would become a lazy, self-indulgent man. Because he was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” (as they say), he might live for himself. Because he was a child of wealth, power, and privilege, it would be easy for him to make bad decisions that were pleasurable in the moment. Specifically, he could get involved with women who had loose morals and low character (v. 3) and he could spend his days getting drunk (vv. 4-7).

A prince of a guy like Lemuel’s son would probably find it easy to meet beautiful girls who would do and say anything to get with him. Win the future king’s heart and she would be set for life. Likewise, guys who wanted an easy route in life would show up with booze to share with the future king in hopes that they, his drinking buddies from way back, would get high paying, low stress jobs in his administration.

So the description of the wife of noble character in this chapter, while giving us all much to aspire to, was really designed to sober up (pun kind of intended) a young man destined for leadership. It was designed to get him to be wise about his choice of spouse. Don’t look for a beautiful girl who is easy, Lemuel was saying. Look hard for one of those precious ones (v. 10) who loves the Lord (v. 30), cares about people (v. 20), will nurture her family (vv. 14-15, 21) and will be a supportive, hardworking partner with you to build a successful life (vv. 28-31).

Beauty and godliness are not mutually exclusive. But there are great looking people--both men and women--who have low moral character. If we choose a partner in life based on looks alone or based on looks and personality, we are making a serious decision based on very weak grounds (v. 30a). A well-lived life depends on forming a strong partnership with someone you’re attracted to physically who also walks with God and works with you to make the most of whatever God allows into your life (v. 30b). I think my wife is gorgeous; I always have. I was attracted to her the first time I saw her and that has not changed. But I knew plenty of attractive girls before I met Suzanne who seemed to like me but didn’t care so much for the Lord. I kept looking for a godly, wise, and gifted young woman who was also attractive to me. When I found her, I kept pursuing her until she decided she wanted to be with me. Some of the girls I knew when I was single have made good choices and built admirable lives; Lemuel acknowledged in verse 29 that there are plenty of good women out there. But this entire chapter beckons to us all—men and women--to aspire to much more than a pretty good life. It calls us to be men (vv. 1-9, 23) and women (vv. 10-31) who take life seriously as believers in God and work together as a couple to build a praise-worthy union (vv. 28-29, 31).

Are you working with your spouse on that? Or are your wasting your time in self-indulgent behavior such as mindlessly watching TV for hours, undisciplined consumption of food and/or alcohol, dabbling in sinful pleasures, and making shallow, short-term decisions? The beginning of a new year, which arrives on Monday, gives us a chance to look at our lives and change them based on the wisdom we find in this chapter.

And, don’t forget to give your children a vision of what a well-lived life looks like. Encourage them to think about the long-term consequences of their choices in life and to make wise and godly choices.

May God use this convicting chapter as a means of grace to us, calling us to a higher way of living for his glory.

OT18 Test

This is a test of the OT18 devotional email system. I just want to make sure everything works perfectly so that the daily devotional emails start on time this Monday, January 1, 2018.

If you're reading this in your email on Saturday, December 30, you're all set to receive the daily devotionals starting on Monday, January 1. You can safely ignore any other messages describing the OT18 subscription process. You're already in.

Revelation 22

Today’s reading is Revelation 22.

Well, we made it! If this is the first time you’ve ever read through the New Testament in a year, way to go!

And, what a way to end the Bible, with the promise of living with God for all eternity. As verses 3 and 4 put it, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

It is interesting, isn’t it, that this chapter describes “the tree of life” on “each side of the river” (v. 2)? This fact recalls the garden of Eden, as the NIV’s section heading suggests. Although God is hidden from us now because of the curse, he has revealed himself in nature, in our conscience, in his word, and in Christ. But his intention has always been to live with humanity. God’s will and his ultimate purpose is to live on earth with humanity. When this chapter is fulfilled, human life will finally exist as God intended.

Until then, we who know God by faith should be waiting for Christ’s coming (vv. 12, 20). While we wait, we have the Word and the Spirit of God with us and, by faith, we should live before the face of God. The way we think, the way we live our lives, the choices we make, and the way we use our time should all be done as consciously as possible that God is with us and is watching us.

If you’ve developed a Bible reading habit this year, keep it going! Knowing and thinking about God’s word is an important part of living consciously in the presence of God. I trust these devotionals have helped you grow in your faith and obedience to our Lord. May he help us in 2018 to grow even stronger in faith and in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me mention that I have decided to keep going and write devotionals in 2018, too. If you’re reading this in your email, you don’t have to do anything. I will use the same subscription list for OT18, so you’re all set.

If you want to get off the list for any reason, I understand; no hard feelings. Just click the unsubscribe link on Sunday when the final NT17 email comes and you’ll be out.

If you are reading this anywhere but your email and want to subscribe, click here for the subscription form.