Numbers 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1

Read Numbers 36, Isaiah 59, 1 Corinthians 1.

This devotional is about Numbers 36.

This passage in Numbers discusses how property rights in Israel’s promised land were to be managed, but in the middle of this passage there is an interesting statement. In order for the daughters of Zelophehad to retain their family property, they had to marry within their own family. Verse 6 says, “This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan.”

Notice that phrase, “They may marry anyone they please….” When I was a young, unmarried man, I wondered and worried about who the Lord wanted me to marry. Since I believed (and still do) that God knows all things because he has sovereignly decreed all things either directly or by allowing them to occur, I believed that God had chosen my wife. But how would I find her and, when I did, how would I know that she was “the one?” Furthermore, what if I misjudged the will of God or wanted to be with someone so much that I missed the will of God for my life? These are heavy questions and the Bible seems to give little to no insight on them.

Until I read this passage, that is. When I read this passage I noticed that God did not specify who the daughters of Zelophehad must marry. He could have! He could have revealed their names to Moses and paired them up right then and there. Instead, however, he said that they had the freedom to marry “anyone they please.” This was a great relief to me. God’s will for my life would not be someone revealed by mysticism nor would I be forced to pledge my faith to someone I might actually dislike. No, God’s word allows his people to marry “anyone they please” as long as that person meets a few other important qualifications.

Instead of giving us steps for finding “the one,” God’s word tells us that there are certain things that a godly believer should be looking for in a spouse. God wants us as believers to marry other believers (see 1 Cor 7:39 and notice that the widow “…is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord”). This is not just someone who claims to be a believer, but who claims it and shows it by a growing Christian life so that together they can raise a godly family (see Mal 2:15). Further, the book of Proverbs specifies some characteristics of a wise woman. So, instead of looking for “the one” and wondering how I would find her, I sought out Christian girls I thought were attractive and looked to see if they had evidence of a growing faith and the character qualities that would contribute to a godly marriage. And, in God’s grace, he led me to a beautiful woman who compliments me well and has been an excellent companion for me for over 25 years now.

Did God decree that I would marry Suzanne? Yes, but the factors that explain that decree are complex. God knew what would be attractive to me and who would find me attractive. He knew how we would meet and the circumstances under which we would get to know each other and want to be together. There are many, many factors that God in his infinite wisdom understands that we never will. Although there is much more to this than I can explain in this simple devotional, I think it is important to understand that making godly decisions in key areas of your life is not so much about discerning or divining what God had decreed. Rather, it is about understanding that God has designed you in a certain way, that he has allowed your life to develop in certain ways, and that he has given you the scriptures and the Spirit and godly counselors to purify your desires and give you wisdom about making these key decisions. If you make decisions in faith and obedience to God’s word and apply God’s wisdom from the Word as best as you can, you can follow your desires with confidence that God’s providence will lead you to his will in your life.

Numbers 35, Isaiah 58, Psalms 63-65

Read Numbers 35, Isaiah 58, and Psalms 63-65.

This devotional is about Numbers 35.

The best form of leadership is self-leadership. If every person would do what is right, what is wise, and what is best, then human leaders would be unnecessary. We would not need bosses, or human government, or even pastors.

Although self-leadership is the best form of leadership, it is also the most difficult form of leadership. Even when we know what is right, what is wise, what is best, we have trouble doing it. Laziness, lethargy, pride, and depravity call to us, making us yearn to do was is easy, pleasurable, or perverse rather than what is right. So all of us need human authority; each of us needs leadership to call us to do what is right, to lead us toward what is right, and to hold us accountable to righteousness.

Moses knew this as well as anyone else. In this chapter from Numbers 35, God told Moses that his time had come and his life would be over. Moses’s response was not to plead for more time; it was to beg God for godly leadership for the people (vv. 15-17). This shows why Moses was such a successful, godly leader. He cared about the people and what they needed more than himself and what he wanted or needed. His life illustrates what servant leadership is all about.

God was gracious to Israel and provided Joshua to succeed Moses. There was a very public transition from Moses to Joshua in verses 22-23. That transition provides an excellent model to follow anytime there is a change from one leader to another.

Notice, though, how Moses described the need for leadership in Israel. Recall that Moses had been a shepherd before God called him to lead Israel (Ex 3:1). The time he spent as a shepherd caused him to observe how people wander from righteousness into danger just as sheep wander from nourishing pastures into dangerous places. So, in Moses’s prayer for a new leader, he said, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community… so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (vv. 16, 17b). A good leader, a godly leader, knows that each of us has a heart that can wander; therefore, godly leaders show their care by giving oversight, guidance, and correction when people need it.

The problem is that people are not as easily led as sheep are. Someone told me that sheep bite; that may be true, but according to Jesus they hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him. People are not always so quick to listen and follow their leaders, even when leaders provide loving guidance and oversight.

If you are a leader, do you love and lead and watch over your people like a shepherd does his sheep? If you’re under a leader, do you listen to the voice of your shepherd and follow him? Good leadership is a gift from God. Be wise and follow the leaders God has given you.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 57, Proverbs 13:15-25

Read Numbers 34, Isaiah 57, Proverbs 13:15-25.

This devotional is about Proverbs 13, specifically:

“Good judgment wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful leads to their destruction. 16 All who are prudent act with knowledge, but fools expose their folly.”

– Proverbs 13:15-16

These two proverbs speak to how we make decisions.

The first proverb, 13:15, talks about the choices that we make in life. “Good judgment” in this proverb is contrasted with “the way of the unfaithful.” By calling it “the way of the unfaithful,” Solomon is indicating is a pattern of choices. The pattern of choices someone makes leads them down a path–“the way.” All of us use poor judgment at times in our lives and that leads us to make bad choices accordingly. But there is a difference between taking a wrong turn but correcting it and making one wrong turn after another. The “unfaithful” has a habit of making bad choices. He or she shows poor judgment over and over again. The “unfaithful” in verse 15 is a description of unfaithfulness to God’s word. That indicates a person who leaves behind a pattern of sinful choices. At the end of the road for that person is “destruction”–a destination nobody wants for his or her life.

The contrast to the destructive way of the unfaithful is the person who shows “good judgment” (v. 15a). Because it is contrasted with “the way of the unfaithful,” “good judgment” probably also refers to a pattern of decisions but in this case it is a pattern of good decisions, moral decisions, decisions that are informed by God’s word and obedient to his commands. And what happens to the person who shows “good judgment?” That person “wins favor.” God’s favor is certainly included in this but I think Solomon left the identity of the one who is favorable unspecified because both God and people look favorably on those who live morally good lives.

Have you ever been to a funeral where hardly anyone else showed up and those who did struggled to find something good to say about the deceased? Those who are disobedient to God’s commands may find prosperity. They may be fun to be around at times and may seem cool for being so carefree. But one by one, sinful decisions stack up and leave a lack of trust, hurt feelings, a bad reputation, and a lonely decline and end.

So how does one avoid the way of the unfaithful that leads to destruction? How do you become a person who wins favor by having good judgment?

Verse 16 supplies the answer:

All who are prudent act with knowledge,
    but fools expose their folly.

– Proverbs 13:16

You show “good judgment” (v. 15) by getting knowledge before you act. That knowledge causes “prudent” actions. Seek wisdom, get knowledge–from God’s word, from godly parents, from wiser, godly friends and mentors. Then you’ll have the knowledge to act prudently, show good judgment, and win favor in life.

Numbers 33, Isaiah 56, Acts 19

Read Numbers 33, Isaiah 56, and Acts 19.

This devotional is about Numbers 33.

This chapter is an overview/review of all the places Israel went in their journey from Egypt (vv. 1-5) to the edge of the Promised Land (v. 48: “…by the Jordan across from Jericho”). It is a factual account. Each place they camped is mentioned but the (mostly sinful) events that happened in each one are not recorded. Consider:

  • After they leave the area around Mt. Sinai (v. 16a), they go to Kibroth Hattaavah (v. 16b). According to Numbers 11, God consumed some complainers there (11:1-3), commissioned elders to help Moses (11:16-30), and provided quail and some more judgment (11:31-35) before they left Kibroth Hattaavah (11:35). None of that is mentioned here in Numbers 33:16.
  • From Kibroth Hattaavah, Israel went to Hazeroth (33:17). According to Numbers 12:1-16 that’s where Moses’s brother Aaron and sister Miriam complained about Moses and were confronted by God about it. Miriam contracted leprosy (12:10) until Moses prayed for her (vv. 13-15). But here Numbers 33:16, none of that is mentioned.

I could go on, but you get the idea. This list of places here in Numbers 33 doesn’t even mention Israel’s rebellion when God commanded them to take the land (Numbers 14). Instead, here in Numbers 33:36 we’re told they “camped in Kadesh” (where the rebellion happened, among other things) and then, in verse 37, we’re told, “They left Kadesh.” Aaron died at the next stop (vv. 38-39), and that’s the only significant thing we’re told about each of these places.

Israel went from place to place to place after verse 37 through verse 47 because they were wandering under God’s judgment. All those over age 20, except for Joshua and Caleb, lived out their lives wandering in the desert and died out there (15:28-30).

So, when we get to verse 48 in today’s reading from Numbers 33, all the disobedient people have died. Only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb are left and Moses will died, too, before Israel enters the land.

Having cataloged every place where God’s people camped along the way, God spoke through Moses and gave instructions (vv. 50-51). He commanded the people to (1) “drive out all the inhabitants…(v.52a). (2) “Destroy all their carved images and cast idols” (v. 52b). (3) “…demolish all their high places (v. 52c). (4) “Take possession of the land and settle it…” (v. 53) and (5) “Distribute the land by lot…” (v. 54).

Then, verse 55 warns that failure to obey God’s commands would cause them “trouble” (v. 55c) which would lead to God’s judgment (v. 56).

So, in this summary chapter, we have two responses to God subtly contrasted. God delivered everyone (vv. 1-4) but then most of God’s people sinned and rebelled against him (vv. 3-49). A new generation is given a fresh opportunity to obey the Lord and receive his blessings (vv. 51-54) or disobey him and receive his judgment (vv. 55-56).

A big factor in whether or not the new generation would succeed was whether or not they drove the Canaanites out of the land and destroyed their idols (v. 52). If they allowed godless people to stay, and let their idols linger, they would fall into sin and find God’s judgment (vv. 55-56).

This warning corresponds to our lives as Christians, too. Our growth and joy in Christ will be hindered by sinful people who linger in our lives and idols from our culture that we refuse to eliminate. Are you holding on to, and secretly worshipping sinful things in your life? Ruthlessly remove them in obedience to God’s word so that they do not become “barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides” (v. 55).

Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, 2 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 32, Isaiah 55, and 2 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 2 Thessalonians 3.

When I was growing up my pastor used to frequently say, “Some people are so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthy good.” That might be an apt description of the Thessalonians. The things Paul wrote about in 1 & 2 Thessalonians indicate a church that was focused on end time events–the coming of Christ, the arrival of the man of lawlessness, and the final judgement on earth were all topics Paul discussed in these letters.

Here in chapter 3, however, he urged them to pray for the spread of the gospel through his work (vv. 1-2). While it is good to be looking for the Lord’s coming, Christ has charged us with work to do here until he comes–namely reaching people for Christ and discipling them to obey him. Paul was more than willing to teach about the end times, but he wanted the churches to remain faithful in prayer for the gospel to keep growing.

In the meantime, it is possible that some of the believers in Thessalonica had quit working and were living on charitable giving from other members of their church (vv. 11-12). This might be because they were so convinced that Christ would return any moment that they lost motivation to work. Or, perhaps that was unrelated to their interest in eschatology. Regardless of the reason, Paul must have heard that there were loafers in the congregation. He wrote this chapter, therefore, to remind them of his own example and teaching when he was in Thessalonica (vv. 7-10), to instruct the unproductive people to get to work (v. 12), and for the obedient people in the church to be wary of the disobedient and unproductive members (vv. 6, 14-15).

These strong statements remind us that the Christian life is more than words; it is truth lived out in a holy and productive life. God created us to care for and make productive use of the earth. Now that, in Christ, we are seeking to be obedient to the Lord, we must realize that living a productive life is part of God’s will for us. These passages apply to those who are “unwilling to work” (v. 10), not those who are unable to work. Other passages of scripture show us that homemakers are living productively, so this doesn’t mean everyone must be in the secular workforce. Still, there are some believers today who could work or do something productive who instead are “idle” (v. 6) and even “busybodies” (v. 11). This chapter calls all of us to put our faith into practice by providing for ourselves and our families.

I think it goes further, too, and reminds us of our need to be good managers of what God allows us to produce. So many Americans are building mountains of debt and are one financial setback away from dependency.

Are you working productively? Keep it up. Are you living below your means and preparing for the future? That’s what God wants us to do, too.

Numbers 31, Isaiah 54, 2 Thessalonians 2

Read Numbers 31, Isaiah 54, and 2 Thessalonians 2.

This devotional is about 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued to discuss end time events in this chapter, telling the Thessalonians (and us) that “the day of the Lord” will not come until the “man of lawlessness” comes first, proclaiming himself to be God (v. 4), displaying great powers that will deceive many people into following him (vv. 9-12). Those who believe him will face God’s judgment because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10).

By contrast, those who trust in Christ do so because we have been set apart by the Holy Spirit and “through belief in the truth” (v. 13). These statements remind us again how important truth is to the Christian life. While faith in Christ is a supernatural gift of God’s grace given to us when we hear the gospel through the new birth, part of that conversion process is a desire to receive the truth. This means receiving the truth about ourselves–that we are sinners deserving God’s punishment and the truth about God–that he is just and will punish sinners but also loving so that he came in the person of Christ to take away our sins.

These truths were the means God used to save us; in addition to these truths, however, God gave us a love for all of his truth. That “love” breaks down our hostility toward believing in the supernatural or in doctrines that we find difficult to accept. Since God has removed our hostility to the truth, then, Paul commands believers to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (v. 15).

Doctrine is important and those who love Jesus love doctrine, too. While there are some disagreements among believers about how to interpret the scriptures in some areas, we should keep looking together at the scriptures and seeking to find the correct interpretation because we are people who love truth.

Numbers 30, Isaiah 53, 2 Thessalonians 1

Read Numbers 30, Isaiah 53, 2 Thessalonians 1.

This devotional is about Isaiah 53.

Isaiah 53 is one of the most detailed prophecies of Christ. It is an important passage for believers in Jesus to know.

Verses 1-3 introduced us to the life of Christ by explaining that there would be nothing spectacular about it, on the surface. His family background would be unspectacular. Verse 2 used two images from the natural world to describe what the early life of Jesus would be like. When it says that, “He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,” the image compares Jesus’ childhood to one of the little “sucker” plants that grows up next to a tree. If we walked out into the woods and saw a large tree surrounded by a bunch of sucker plants, we would know instinctively that those sucker plants would never amount to very much. In fact, most land owners cut those things off so that they don’t sap nutrients from the big tree. Yet that’s what the Bible says Jesus’ early life was like. If you met his family, saw where they lived, listened to them speak, you’d say, “Nice family, but those kids will never be anyone important. Verse 2 goes on to prophesy that Jesus would be “like a root out of parched ground.” If you were traveling though a vast desert in Nevada and saw a little tomato plant growing out the ground you might stop to look because it would be almost miraculous, but you’d also probably conclude that there is no way that a little tomato plant could survive under the withering heat and dryness. That is what Jesus’ childhood would be like. No one looking at it would expect him to amount to much.

Verse 2b tells us that Jesus would not be physically attractive. He did not look the part of a leader. If you or I saw Jesus as he appeared when he was on earth, we would not have been struck by his appearance at all. He looked like an ordinary, everyday person—Joe Average. Furthermore, he would not succeed because of his winning personality, either, because, according to verse 3, he was not accepted by people who knew him.

Given these descriptive words of Christ, you would naturally expect him to struggle as a young man growing into adulthood. And, according to verses 4-5, you would be right. It describes “pain” and “suffering,” even saying that those who saw him suffer would consider him “punished by God and crushed” (v. 5). Yet this section told us that it was not his own deficiencies, weaknesses, or sins that caused this suffering. No, it was “our pain” and “our suffering” (v. 4), “our transgressions” and “our iniquities” (v. 5). This is what theologians call the “vicarious atonement of Christ.” His death was on our behalf; and why? Because his punishment “brought us peace” (v. 5). It was a direct act of God placing the punishment for our sins on Christ that caused him to suffer so much (v. 6b).

It wasn’t just suffering that Christ would endure for us. Verses 7-9 tell us that he would die silently for us. Verse 8 put it this way: “…he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.” Lest we miss it, Verse 9b says that Christ suffered all this despite his own innocence: “…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” And why did all this happen to him unjustly? Because it was God’s will (v. 10). Although he suffered and died for the sins of others (v. 10b), God would reward “his offspring” (v. 10c), that is those who are born again because of him. And Christ himself would be happy that he endured all this; verse 11 says he will be “satisfied” with the results of his suffering; specifically, “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” This means that those who know him will be justified; we will be forgiven when we know that he died for our sins. The reward for all of this is described in verse 12: because of what Christ did and accomplished on the cross “I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong,” In other words, he will receive the glory he deserves when all is said and done.

It is truly amazing what God in Christ has done for us. My amazement is amplified by the fact that the core message about him was described for us in detail hundreds of years before he was born. Take a moment today to let these truths sink deeply into your soul; then thank the Lord for the plan of salvation that Christ accomplished on our behalf.

Numbers 29, Isaiah 52, 1 Thessalonians 5

Read Numbers 29, Isaiah 52, and 1 Thessalonians 5.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 5.

What will the end of humanity look like? Everyone agrees that this earth is doomed–eventually. Some people believe that space travel will offer escape for the human race to some other inhabitable planet when our sun dies out or the earth becomes uninhabitable.

But, realistically, that’s the stuff of science fiction, not reality.

According to God’s word, human history will end here on this earth. And most of humanity will be utterly unprepared for it as we read today in verses 1-3. Verses 4-11 describe the contrast; while most of humanity will be unprepared for the end, believers “are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (v. 4). God’s word has described for us what will happen when the “day of the Lord” (v. 2) arrives. As students of his word, then, we should not be surprised when his judgment comes.

Still, although we are not in darkness, this passage urges us to “be awake and sober…since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (v. 6b, 8). The promise of salvation from God’s wrath in Christ (v. 10) calls us to be active and growing in our faith, not passive and complacent as if we are just passing the time until Christ comes.

This is always how the Bible applies end times promises to believers. The promise of deliverance through Christ should motivate us to become like Christ. We strive to become holy for many reasons–the new nature within, the Holy Spirit within, a desire to be like Christ–but one of the things that should motivate us to grow is the knowledge that Christ will return. Understanding that this world is temporary and that eternal things are, well…, eternal, lifts our thoughts from materialism, self-centeredness, pleasure-seeking, and other temptations. We lose our desire for these things when we realize all that God has promised to us eternally in Christ.

Have you lost your focus on eternity? Is your interest in the Lord, his word, and his character formed in your life cooling off? Let this reading remind you that the Lord is coming. So many things that seem important now will be completely irrelevant when Jesus returns; likewise, things that advance God’s work through evangelism and God’s holiness in people’s lives will be shown for the eternal value that they have. So let these words encourage you (v. 11a) but also refocus and re-energize you to know the Lord and participate in his work.

Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62.

This devotional is about Numbers 28.

When we think of worship, we think of music*. When the ancient Israelites thought of worship, they thought of the smell of burning meat, grain, oil, and wine.

Music, as a regular element of Israel’s worship, came later in Israel’s history. Sacrificing things to God was the primary way in which Jewish people worshipped him.

This chapter tells us about routine worship offerings. These are different than sin offerings or thank offerings. God commanded sacrifices when someone sinned or when they were thankful or when they had a child. But the offerings described here in Numbers 28 were not offerings presented for an occasion or because someone had sinned. These offerings were presented to the Lord as part of the everyday activity of the temple. In this chapter, we read about:

  • Food offerings (vv. 1-8). They were offered twice a day, morning and night (v. 4). Each time they were offered, a lamb was killed and burned thoroughly (v. 3). Grain and flour and olive oil were also offered with the lamb (v. 5) as well as wine (v. 7).
  • Sabbath offerings. This was a doubling of the daily food offerings that I just described for you (vv. 9-10).
  • Monthly offerings. These were offered at new moon (v. 14) and consisted of extra meat–two young bulls, one ram, and seven year-old male lambs (v. 11), puts the grain, oil, and wine described above (vv. 12-15).
  • Passover offerings (vv. 16-25).
  • Firstfruits offerings (vv. 26-27).

Food was precious to God’s people. It was hard and expensive to produce but valuable both to have and to sell. Yet God, who does not need food–ever–commanded Israel to offer to him what would have been delicious meals for us humans. This went on twice a day, every day.

Why? Because sacrificing valuable food to God, twice a day, everyday, with extras offered on Saturday and month, showed how God was worth more than the daily food and drink God’s people needed. It not only reminded God’s people that he was worth more than the things they produced and needed but that he must be prioritized over themselves and their families.

Think about how good the temple must have smelled on a daily basis. The smell was “pleasing” to God (v. 2) as an act of worship, but it smelled pretty pleasant, and appetizing, to God’s people, too, like the aroma of a good restaurant smells to us.

This is how Israel worshipped God. They routinely gave to him things that were precious and valuable to them.

We don’t bring sin offerings to God because Christ died for our sins, but we are still commanded to worship God. We give our bodies to serve him in worship as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). We sing and speak praises to him, which Hebrews 12:15 calls “a sacrifice of praise.”

The question I have, after reading this passage is this: Do I routinely give the best of my worship to God? Do I gladly give him my best time and energy to serve? Do I sing loudly, from my heart, to praise and thank him for who he is and what he’s done for me? Do I come to church to worship gladly, every Sunday, and arrive rested and attentive? Or do I drag myself into church after staying up too late on Saturday night.

God deserves the best of our worship just as he deserved and demanded Israel’s best food, not to earn favor with God but because he is great and worthy of our love and our best.

How is the quality of your worship at this point in your life?


* For some Christians, that’s all they think of is music. But Christian worship has more elements than just worship music. Prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and even preaching are elements of Christian worship

Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 50.

Picture a man who went hiking in the woods and, somewhere along the way, lost his keys when they fell out of his pocket. The sun was going down and he was left out in the woods groping around in the darkness to find his keys so he could go home. Poor guy, right?

But what if he had a flashlight with fresh batteries in the backpack on his back? How …um… bright could he be if he had the light—and knew it—but was too lazy or stubborn to take it out and use it?

So is everyone who knows God’s word but makes decisions without considering or consulting it. Anyone who lives by what is acceptable and promoted in society, or by their own human ingenuity, or by the tenets of some false religion is groping around in the dark. Here in Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah called to the people of God and asked for those who trusted Him to reveal themselves. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?” he asked in verse 10a. Then he said, “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” The implication of that verse is that darkness is the result of living by our own human reason.

In contrast, for those who believe the Lord, who take him at his word, the light of God’s revelation is available to them. Trusting “in the name of the Lord” and relying “on their God” means living as if you believe God’s word is true. That’s what faith is! It is accepting what God says and living accordingly, believing that you will be better off because God’s word is true. Verse 11 contrasts the one who lives in the light of faith with those who try to manufacture their own light through human wisdom: “But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.”

These are trying times we live in. Things that were accepted as universally-held facts in the past are now questioned, attacked, even ridiculed. Every choice, every “lifestyle decision” is considered valid in our culture (except for living by faith in God’s word, of course). But God warns all of us that they will “receive from my hand” pain and judgment (v. 11). At the end of today’s chapter the Lord promised, “You will lie down in torment.”

I’m glad you show up here everyday to read God’s word and consider its teachings with me. But do you live by the things you are learning here? Do you take the light that God’s word offers us and walk by it in your own life or do you put it away in your mental backpack and grope around looking for the keys to life on your own, by the light of a makeshift torch?

The difference between God’s blessings and his punishment is faith in his word which is evidenced by obedience. What area of disobedience has God brought to light in your life recently? Will you accept the light that God’s word offers and live by faith in that area?

Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, 1 Thessalonians 4

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, and 1 Thessalonians 4 today.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 4.

In this chapter Paul moved from discussing his history with the Thessalonians to addressing how they should live as Christians (vv. 1-2). Sexual purity was first on his list, an evergreen topic in every age (vv. 3-8).

Next was the issue of loving others and general living in light of our life in Christ (vv. 9-12). The Thessalonians had a God-given gift for Christian love, so much so that Paul said he didn’t really even need to write to them about it (vv. 9-10). When Paul wrote, “you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” (v. 10a), he is referring to the generosity of the Thessalonian believers toward other believers and church in the wider region around them. This suggests that the Thessalonians had instinctively reached out to other churches and had been generous toward whatever needs they had.

Even though the Thessalonians had already demonstrated their love, Paul “urge[d] you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” We all, from time to time, quit doing things that are good and productive just because they can be costly. Paul wasn’t chiding them for losing some of the loving ways they had developed; he was encouraging them not to stop doing the God-honoring things they had done by instinct.

As a parent and as a pastor, it is easy to take for granted the good things that our children and our church family members do. I might congratulate my kids when they get good grades–or improving grades–on their report cards, but I don’t usually pat them on the back when I see them he daily work of studying and doing homework.

Similarly, in our church, many people show up and serve faithfully each week. I do try to thank people from time to time, but it’s easy just to expect their faithful service. Positive reinforcement, though, can mean a lot. It matters more to some people than others based on their personalities, but it means something to just about everyone. Like Paul, then, it would be helpful for us to notice the good things our spouse, our kids and our friends do–the areas where they are growing in their Christian lives, when they serve faithfully, when they make good choices–and encourage them to keep it up. That bit of encouragement might help others keep doing good and it might stimulate them to do more in that area.

Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, 1 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, and 1 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 3.

Persecution was a factor in Paul’s relationship to the church in Thessalonica. Back in chapter 1:6 Paul mentioned that the Thessalonian believers suffered persecution for their faith in Christ from the very beginning. We read a brief description of this in Acts 17:5-9 when a man named Jason and “some other believers” (v. 5) faced legal charges for letting Paul and his team stay in their home.

Here in chapter 3:3-4, Paul reminded the believers that he had predicted persecution would come to them (v. 4a-c) and that his prediction had come true (v. 4d). Paul was concerned that this persecution would supplant the gospel and that those who had responded to Paul’s message would not endure (v. 5).

Paul himself also continued to experience persecution in some of the places he traveled and the good report Timothy brought about the faith of the Thessalonians encouraged him (vv. 6-7). That caused Paul to ask God to allow him to return to Thessalonica (vv. 10-11). In the meantime, he continued to pray for their spiritual growth and strength (vv. 12-13).

There are times in our lives when someone we love is physically separated from us. It might be a child away at college, a spouse away on a business trip, a brother or sister who lives in another state. We have phones and texting and other ways of communication that help keep those relationship bonds strong. But we are not with the person we love, so we may wonder if they are dealing with temptations or giving into temptations we know they face. We may wonder if they are involved in a church and if they are continuing to grow in their faith by spending time in the word and prayer.

These are all godly concerns but the best answer to them is to pray. Pray for God to protect the faith of those you love who are away. Pray that the Lord would keep them from temptation and strengthen them to do right if they are tempted. Ask God to give them a hunger for his word so that they keep growing in grace. This is the best way to exercise faith in a situation like this so let  your concern for a believer you love lead you to pray for that person often and specifically for his or her spiritual life.