Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22

Today, read Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 12, particularly verses 27-47.

God was doing something in Jerusalem. Compared to the growth and expansion of the kingdom that David and Solomon saw, what Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was small. But, compared to the ruin that Jerusalem had been for 70 years and the powerlessness and exile that God’s people had experienced for a generation, the days of Nehemiah and Ezra were amazing. They were more hopeful than successful, like a sprout from the ground on a farm that hadn’t produced anything in years. A sprout is not the same as an acre of corn ready to be harvested, but it is a reason to be hopeful. Every acre of corn began with a spout, after all.

So, these were not Judah’s greatest days politically or economically. But spiritually, they were powerful. God was moving in his people and for his people again. He was working in the hearts of pagan kings and governors to protect and provide for his people. The people were expressing repentance for their disobedience to his word and were publicly recommitting themselves to obey his covenant. And what was result of all of this work God was doing in Jerusalem? Singing!

The wall around Jerusalem was a defense mechanism. It had no real spiritual purpose, like the altar and the temple did. It was there to protect the inhabitants of the city from enemy attacks.

Nehemiah saw the repair and rebuilding of this wall as a spiritual act, however, because Jerusalem was God’s city. It was the place where his temple was, where his name would live, and, eventually, where his Messiah would reign. So, when the wall was finished, Nehemiah organized a ceremony to dedicate it (v. 27). And, one of the key features of that dedication ceremony was singing. “Two large choirs” (v. 31) were organized “that gave thanks” (vv. 31, by singing during this ceremony (v. 40). They were joined by “musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God” (v. 36). The two choirs stood on top of the wall to give thanks, then they came together to continue that singing in the temple (v. 40). The result of all of this music was joy. Look at how verse 43 described it: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

The music offered to God on that day had such a powerful affect that people wanted it to continue. People brought provisions to the temple (v. 44) to provide for musicians and singers (vv. 46-47). This shows what a key, important role music has in the worship of God’s people. When God is working in people’s lives, they want to praise him in song. Music lifts our hearts when they are wounded and it gives us a way to express our joy when we are glad and thankful for what God has done.

This can be part of your walk with God as well. Not only can we be thankful for Nick Slayton and all the worship team members who lead us in worship each Sunday, we in this age have the gift of recorded music to help us worship in our private devotional times, to encourage us when we are down, and to help set our hearts to thankfulness and praise as we go to work each day. Why not pick an uplifting song of praise to listen to on your way to work today? Sing along and let the Lord use this gift to help you start the week off in dedication and praise to him.

Testing

Testing

My kids are taking final exams this week. That fact has me thinking about testing. 

I had a teacher once in middle school who told our class that he loved test day. He said, “My attitude was, ‘I’m going to show that teacher what I know and how smart I am.'”

I have never had that attitude. Not in high school, not in college, not in graduate school. I hated preparing for tests, taking tests, and waiting for tests to be graded.

Here’s the thing, though: Without testing, you don’t really know what you know.

Ya know?

You may think you know a subject. You may think you have absorbed all the material and mastered its meaning. When I was studying for a test, I used to look at the textbook or my class notes and say, “Yup, I remember that. I know that.” 

But then, during the test, I’d sit there in my blue plastic seat with that tiny little desktop that’s so small you couldn’t have two pieces of paper sitting next to each other on it. I’d sit there, looking at the question and muttering to myself, “I know this. Why can’t I think of the answer?”

So, I didn’t know it. I did not know the answer. I hadn’t mastered the material. I was vaguely familiar with it, but I did not really know it. 

I’m thankful that I don’t have to take tests like that any more. But, the truth is, you and I are always being tested. Your performance at work is a test of your competence, your work ethic, your commitment to excellence, your understanding of the company’s goals, and your ability to meet a customer’s needs.

Your parenting skills are always being tested. Do you know how to give wise, sound advice to your kids–even if they don’t really want your advice? Do you know how to set rules and boundaries and enforce them? Do you know how to say no to your kids–for their own good, not for your own comfort and convenience? Do you know how to let your kids have some freedom and even make some mistakes without being irresponsible and letting them get into situations they don’t have the maturity or moral character to handle?

If you are a Christian–as I am–your faith in Christ is always being tested. Are you going to trust him when he doesn’t give you the answer to prayer that you want? Are you going to be obedient to his Word when it would be easier and more fun to disobey God and sin?

Think about whatever is a problem in your life right now. What are you worried about? What are you stressed about? What are you handling poorly? What is giving you pain? Did it ever occur to you that you are being tested in that area? Have you been struggling because you thought you knew the answer in that area but, in fact, the test is showing you that you don’t know the material after all?

In school, you take a test, get your grade, and move on to new material. In life, though, we get tested about the same stuff over and over again while also getting tested in new areas and about new material. If you’re doing poorly in some way, that means there’s something you need to learn. You haven’t learned enough to ace the test so life is going to keep giving you that test until you either learn it, quit, or your life comes to end.

So, let’s go back to thinking about whatever is a problem in your life today. If you’re struggling in an area, then you don’t know what you need to know in that area. Maybe you thought you were ready for that test but you’ve realized now that you clearly are not. What are you going to do about it? Can you find a tutor to help you? Do you need to put some more time in the textbook to really learn the answers this time?

Learn to look at your problems as tests and handle those tests the way you would in school–learn the material one way or another.

Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Psalm 21

Today’s reading: Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Psalm 21.

This devotional is about Genesis 22.

God sure liked to test Abraham, didn’t he? Abraham trusted the Lord for all the things God promised him the covenant. He moved to a new land and traveled around in it like a Bedouin, as God commanded him. Abraham received the wealth God promised him quickly and easily; however, he and Sarah waited for years for what they really wanted— the promised heir, Isaac, to be born.

Now that Isaac was alive and growing up, Abraham must have been filled with thanks and happiness each day. That is, until God told him to kill Isaac here in Genesis 22. After testing Abraham and Sarah’s faith by making them wait, he would now test Abraham’s faith by commanding him to do the hardest thing imaginable.

[I wonder if Abraham told Sarah about God’s command in this chapter before he and Isaac left for Mt. Moriah….]

Anyway, the test Abraham received in this chapter was a test of his heart. As much as he loved Isaac, would he fear God more? Although he did not understand what God’s plan was in this chapter, Abraham followed God’s commands quickly (v. 3: “early the next morning”) and completely–right up to the point where God stopped him.

God knew that Abraham would obey before he issued the command to kill Isaac. So why put Abraham and Isaac through this emotional wringer? Why did God test Abraham so often and so painfully? One answer is that God wanted to set an example for Isaac, Jacob, and everyone else in the nation of Israel to follow. God’s people would face many choices to obey God’s command thoroughly and unconditionally. They would have to wait to inherit the promised land just as Abraham had to wait for Isaac to be born. They would have to choose between loving what God gave them and loving God just as Abraham had to do in this chapter.

Have you ever had to risk losing (or actually lose) someone or something you love in order to be obedient to God? That takes faith! As you trust God in those moments by doing what is right rather than what you want to do, you will see God work in your life in ways that you did not expect. Also, the trials and problems you face in life can, if you handle them in faith, give your children and others that you lead the footprints to follow in their own lives.

Genesis 21, Nehemiah 10, Psalm 20

Today we’re reading Genesis 21, Nehemiah10, Psalm 20.

This devotional is about Genesis 21.

A new man is joining the FPC—Former President’s Club—today. While former Presidents retain Secret Service protection and other benefits, they no longer live in the White House, work in the Oval Office, or give orders to the military. That’s because when a person leaves a position of power, they lose the power the position gave them. The power stays with the position not with the person.

Here in Genesis 21, Abraham’s life finally achieved a measure of peace. He felt at peace with God’s promises because the son God promised him was born and had begun to grow and mature (vv. 1-8). Though it was a sad occasion, his other son Ishmael was sent away in order to ensure that Abraham’s estate would go to his son Isaac (vv. 9-21). That action gave him some peace with his wife (vv. 9-10). Although Abraham felt personally troubled about it (v. 11), God reassured him that Ishmael and Hagar would be cared for and become prosperous (vv. 11-21).

Then Abraham made a peace treaty with others in his region with whom he’d had some difficulties (vv. 22-31). So some turbulent areas in his life were now settling down. As I was reading this passage and trying to visualize what it was like, I felt almost a sigh of relief when “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba” (v. 33). It’s almost as if he planted that tree expecting to live there for a while (v. 34: “for a long time”) to enjoy its beauty and shade. So, Abraham was feeling more settled, perhaps, than he had felt in a while.

But notice what comes next in verse 33: “there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.” This takes us back to the Former President’s Club. I said that the power of the office stayed with the office after every individual left it. But “the Lord” is “the Eternal God” (v. 33b). He never gives up the office; he can’t because only he can occupy it and only he is worthy of it. He is God for eternity. The circumstances of Abraham’s life were placid now but tumultuous at other points. What carried him through the tough times in his life was the knowledge that the LORD is “the eternal God.” God’s promises would not fail because he eternally held the power and position needed to make his promises true in reality.

Is your life in tumult? Do you feel distressed like Abraham did in verse 11? Is there a situation in your life where you have to settle for something different than what you want? Trust the Lord. He’s the Eternal God. His plans often perplex us, but they never cause him distress. Every tumultuous situation we face in life is a new lesson on trusting God and being at peace with his eternal plan.

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Psalm 19

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

This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did this, “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here.

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

So why would Abraham do this–knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men?

The answer–in both cases–was fear.

Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11). So he just lied and made Sarah available. This was unloving to her and unbelievable in that Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his men were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

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

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

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, and Psalm 18

This devotional is about Genesis 19.

Today we’re reading Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, and Psalm 18.

A few years ago, just after 8 p.m., I was driving south on Maple Rd. in Saline to pick up my daughter from a choir rehearsal. All of a sudden, the sky lit up with blue light. It was so bright and the source of that light seemed to be behind me. Then it flashed brightly and was gone. I kept waiting for a sound…, something. A crack of lighting? No, it was bright for too long to be lighting and the weather conditions certainly didn’t seem right for that. Was it an explosion? That didn’t seem right either because the light was so blue.

It wasn’t until I saw the news this morning that I learned it was a meteor. I’d never seen something like that before. It was completely unexpected.

This is what the judgment of God on Sodom and Gomorrah was like. Abraham had never seen anything like it and I’m sure his heart sank when he saw it (vv. 28). Likewise, when Lot tried to warn his would-be sons-in-law, they “thought he was joking” (v. 14b). Even Lot himself and his family had to be hustled out of Sodom by the angels (v. 16). The prophecy they received about God’s coming judgment seemed unbelievable because they’d never seen anything like it before. When it happened, it was surreal because they’d never seen anything like it before.

This is how it will be when Christ returns to judge the world. It is hard to visualize that happening because none of us has ever seen anything like it. Whether we can visualize it or not, it is true and it will happen in reality. Like Abraham and like Lot, we should take God’s promise of judgment seriously and we should warn those around us that God’s judgment is coming. It might seem to those we warn that we are joking (v. 14b), but God is merciful and has promised to save some in this age.

The return of Christ and his judgment will be like nothing you or I have ever seen before. But it is true and it will happen. What are we doing about that?

Here’s a video of that meteor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SqbKhRaqHg

Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Psalm 17

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Psalm 17.

This devotional is about Psalm 17.

We don’t know the circumstances that led David to sing this song of prayer to God. Was it because Saul was pursuing him? We don’t know. What we do know is that David was distressed (vv. 1-2) and that whatever he was concerned about was not caused by his own sins (vv. 3-5).

Tucked away in this song is the phrase, “save me… from those of this world whose reward is in this life” (v. 14b). Why is do people lie? Why do they make promises they don’t intend to keep? Why do they take advantage of others? Why do people commit so many sins against other people?

The answer, often, is fear.

People fear getting passed over for a promotion they want, so they spread gossip about other worthy candidates. People use deception to get you to buy something or overpay for it because they fear the financial problems they’ve created for themselves. In short, people act they way that they do because they don’t fear accountability to God and they believe, on some level, that all that matters is what happens in this life. There is a certain, twisted logic to the idea that if your reward is in this life, then you’d better get all you can, even if you have to do unrighteous things to get it and keep it.

By contrast, David lived as he did because he believed a greater reward was waiting for him after this life. And what was that reward? It wasn’t streets of gold, or a mansion over the hilltop, or a crown of self-righteousness.

God was the reward he wanted: “As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (v. 15).

Since you love the Lord and belong to him, keep this in mind when you are afraid. When you’re afraid of the consequences of doing the right thing, remember that a greater award awaits: seeing God. Then, call on God to protect you and save you in this life (vv. 6-9) until the time comes when you will be with him.

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 concerned for professing Christians 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.