Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Matthew 12

Read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Matthew 12 today. This devotional is about Matthew 12.

God’s intention for the Sabbath was that man would take a day off from the way that he normally makes his living. It was to be a day of rest and a day to reflect on God, our Creator. So farmers would not plant, weed, water, reap, or do any of the normal activities that farmers do Sunday through Friday. The same was commanded for their wives and children and servants; everybody was supposed to get a break from their normal daily schedule.

This law was clear enough that it could be applied easily to most situations. Don’t farm your land, or fix your equipment, or type up those invoices, or make a fancy meal, or clean the house, or do the laundry. It was a day to rest, not to catch up on chores–work or personal. Do what needs to be done but keep it simple so you get a break and feel rested for a change. That’s the idea.

The problem with broadly-applicable commands is that it is not always clear how they should be applied. Obeying the command, “Do not work on the Sabbath” depends on how you define “work.” Is it work to make your bed? Tie your shoes? If you were a milkman who delivered milk by walking from house to house, that would clearly be forbidden on the Sabbath. But what if the milkman’s wife wanted to go for a long walk for recreation? Is that forbidden? The Pharisees hated ambiguity so they wanted every possible application of every law spelled out clearly. They specified how far someone could walk on the Sabbath to keep the milkman or his wife from doing “work” accidentally. This is one aspect of legalism.

Speaking of legalism, what exactly is it? It is a term that can be applied to at least two kinds of situations: First, anyone who thinks they can do good works to merit favor with God is a legalist. Second, anyone who thinks that his or her application of the Bible has the authority of the Bible itself is a legalist.

The Pharisees were legalists in both senses. They believed that their obedience to the law gave them favor with God. They also believed that they ways in which they applied God’s laws were as authoritative and binding as the law itself. That’s what’s going on here in Matthew 12:1-2. The disciples were not farmers. They were not working to earn a living by reaping. Instead they were getting a snack from someone else’s farmland. Taking small amounts of food from someone’s farm was allowed in God’s Law, so the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of stealing. Instead, they accused them of working on the Sabbath. Because they applied the Sabbath law to any kind of reaping at all, they concluded that the disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” (v. 2b).

Elsewhere in the gospels we learn that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for distorting God’s intentions. The Sabbath law was supposed to be a blessing from God, not a burden. It was God imposed a day off on everyone so that everyone could enjoy life for at least one day a week. By denying the right to snack on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were making the Sabbath something unpleasant instead of enjoyable. Their legalism was not an obedience that pleased God, it was a burden that robbed people of the joy he wanted them to have.

Here in Matthew 12, however, Matthew records a different emphasis of Jesus regarding Sabbath violations. Jesus pointed out ways in which people broke the law technically but they did so in a way that upheld the law’s intention. The first example Jesus cited was from David (vv. 3-4). He and his warrior-companions ate the temple show bread which was against the law, yet they were not condemned. The reason was that they were servants of God doing God’s work, just like the priests were. So, technically they broke the law but by taking and eating the bread, they were being served by the law’s intention–to provide for God’s servants. Likewise, the priests on the Sabbath were technically in a no-win situation. The temple duties allowed no Sabbath breaks for the priests but the priests made their living being priests. So, they were not allowed to let the temple activities lapse even for a day, but that required them to do the normal work of priests–a technical violation of the law. Yet Jesus said that “they are innocent” (v. 5b). Then Christ took things further; not only were the disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by picking up a snack, Christ himself asserted the right to rule or overrule anything regarding the Sabbath because he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He then pressed the issue further by healing a man deliberately on the Sabbath day to show his lordship over it (vv. 9-14).

The Pharisees’ zeal about the Sabbath wasn’t really about obedience to God; it was about control. They wanted to define everything so that there was complete uniformity; no ambiguity or exceptions were allowed. They could, then, define who was right with God and who wasn’t based on how well or how poorly everyone kept the rules.

Unfortunately, we sometimes do the same things. The “good guys” never wear denim on Sunday, or use the right translation of the Bible, or only buy American, or never listen to music that has a beat to it. But these (and other) rules are at best only applications of Biblical principles, not Biblical truths themselves. The Bible teaches us to accept each other in areas where there are genuine disagreements about application (Rom 15:7). You should never use someone else’s actions to justify doing something that your conscience bothers you about. And, if you are truly concerned for someone else’s spiritual life, I think it is good to humbly approach them to talk about how they are or are not applying a scriptural command. But let’s be careful not to judge and condemn each other based on our own man-made rules. Instead, each of us should submit ourselves and our actions to the Lord of everything–including the Sabbath–and do what we think is right in his sight based on the clear teachings of scripture.

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Matthew 11

Read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, and Matthew 11 and this devotional which is about Genesis 16.

Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

From the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 until the judgment day, people have blamed other people for decisions that turned out badly. This means sinful decisions, of course, but also decisions that were reckless, unwise, or that just didn’t turn out well.

We humans have a strong tendency to deflect blame from ourselves by blaming others. We see that tendency here in Genesis 16.

Yesterday in Genesis 15, God repeated the promise to Abram that Abram would physically father a great nation. Here in chapter 16, Abram’s wife Sarai came up with a plan to make it happen. The text of this chapter tells us three timess that this was Sarai’s plan. Notice:

  • Verse 2: “she said to Abram… sleep with my slave.”
  • Verse 3: “Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.”
  • Verse 5: “I put my slave in your arms….”

What was Abram’s role in this? “Abram agreed to what Sarai said” (v. 2) and “He slept with Hagar” (v. 4).

The plan succeded in creating an heir because “she concieved” (v. 4b). The unexpected side effect of the plan, however, was that the master-slave relationship between Sarai and Hagar was disrupted. Verse 4c-d says, “When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.” 

This is the point at which Sarai began to blame Abram. She took some responsibility when she said, “I put my slave in your arms” in verse 5c. But before she said that she said, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering” in verse 5b. Then after she admittted her role she said, “May the Lord judge between you and me” in verse 5f.

Did you notice the blame sandwich Sarai made there?

  • You are at fault: “You are responsible for the wrong” (v. 5b)
  • I played a role in it, sure: “I put my slave in your arms….” (v. 5c)
  • But you’re the one who is really at fault: “May the Lord judge between you and me” (v. 5f)

The implication of these statements is that Abram was ultimately responsible because he should not have agreed to Sarai’s plan.

And, she’s right; he should not have agreed to the plan. Abram is guilty for going along with a plan that took a shortcut to achieving God’s promise. But God did not instruct Abram or Sarai to follow this plan nor did the plan require any great amount of faith to see God’s promise fulfilled.

Instead of continuing to wait for God to keep his word, Sarai came up with her own way and Abram expressed no concern or refusal to cooperate. His passivity continued when Sarai complained about how Hagar was acting. “’Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.'” Abram was wrong to agree to the plan without consulting God and he was wrong to withdraw from the situation once it became a problem. The angel of the LORD told Hagar, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her” but those words should have come out of Abram’s mouth. He should have addressed the problem, taking responsibility for his part in it, and calling both Sarai and Hagar to do right.

But Sarai has to answer for this situation, too. It was her idea, after all. Despite her attempt to downplay her role when she said, “I put my slave in your arms,” she was still responsible for this happening.

So, let’s go back to the questions I opened this devotional with: Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

You are.

God is gracious to us; he forgives our sins when we change our minds about them and he sometimes even withholds or minimizes the consequences for our sins and unwise decisions.

What he doesn’t do, however, is absolve us from responsibility. In fact, “he shows favor to the humble” (Prov 3:34, 1 Pet 5:5, Jas 4:6). The forgiveness you want from God and the road back to righteousness runs through the town of repentance and confession. When we step up and admit what we did wrong, we are ready to receive God’s grace.

When we blame others, however, and minimize our role, problems go unsolved and unresolved. There are always other factors that lead us to do what is wrong or to make unwise choices. Often, other people are one or more of those factors. But until we accept responsibility for what we decided and did, the situation will get worse, not better.

Are you in a bad situation that you’ve tried to blame on others? Humble yourself. Own up to your role and do the right thing now. God will meet you there with forgiveness based on the blood of Christ and he’ll give you grace to deal with the situation in the best possible way.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10 today. This devotional is about Genesis 15.

Genesis 14, which we read yesterday, described how Abram and his men battled and defeated four kings who had beaten five other kings and had taken Lot captive. Scripture gives us no indication here of how that battle affected Abram emotionally but it is possible that, even though he won, Abram was traumatized by the experience.

If Abram was traumatized by that battle, it is not surprising to see God giving him comfort in the opening words here in chapter 15. In verse 1 God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield….” That phrase indicates that God was the one who had just protected Abram in battle and would protect him in the future, too.

But God went on to tell Abram that knowing God was worth more than all the wealth and power that Abram refused at the end of chapter 14: Verse 1e says, “I am… your very great reward.” 

Abram had received other promises like this from God so in verses 2-3 he questioned God about this promise. Specifically, he wanted to know how God could keep this promise given that he and Sarai had no children. 

Questioning God is a spiritually-risky thing to do. God is sovereign; he is creator. We have no right to question his will because we are his creation.

But questioning God is not always a sin. In fact, there are two types of questions. Sometimes we ask questions to understand what God has said. At other times, we ask questions to undermine God and suggest that his promises are not worth trusting.

Abram’s question was not an attack on God or his word, it was a sincere effort to understand what God said and how it would be accomplished when it seemed so unlikely.

God answered Abram’s sincere question with his word. Notice that verse 4 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.” God and Abram had already been talking so why was this phrase necessary?

The point was to remind us who is making the promise. God graciously gave Abram a clarification (v. 4) and a re-affirmation of the promise (v. 5). Though God’s answer may not have been totally satisfying, Abram accepted it in faith anyway (v. 6a).

Then verse 6b recorded one of the most important statements in the book of Genesis: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abram to be a righteous man. That declaration was not based on something Abram did to create or demonstrate his own righteousness. Rather, God considered Abram to be perfect based on his faith, not his obedience.

The lesson for us is that living by faith means trusting God’s word even when God doesn’t answer all our questions.

God commands and calls us not to be perfect on our own, but to believe; to fall in total dependence on God’s promises. 

Do this when obeying God seems risky or you are afraid or you doubt God’s goodness or wonder if God’s promise really applies to you. Fall in total dependence on his promises and watch God keep his word.

Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, Psalms 4-5

Today read Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalms 4-5. This devotional is about Psalm 5.

In Psalm 5, David cried out to the Lord for help and waited “expectantly” for the Lord to answer (vv. 1-3). His reason for expecting the Lord to answer his prayer was God’s righteousness (vv. 4-6). He is displeased with wickedness (v. 4a), does not welcome evil people (v. 4b), won’t let the arrogant stand (v. 5a), hates all who do wrong (v. 5b), destroys liars (v. 6a), and detests the bloodthirsty and deceitful (v. 6b). In just a few verses there David cast a very wide net, ruling out answers to prayer for all kinds of sinners.

Of course, David was a sinner himself. So how could he be so confident that God would answer his prayers while refusing everyone else? The answer is in verse 6: “But I, by your great love, can come into your house.” Very simply, God had graciously chosen him. Because God chose to love David, David could come before the Lord in prayer and in worship.

God’s electing love was not restricted to David. It is the sole reason you want to know God. Whenever you pray, or gather for worship, or observe the Lord’s supper, remember this: It is not your perfect performance of righteousness that causes God to hear your prayers, welcome your worship, or receive you at His table. In reality, you and I are as guilty before the Lord as any of the sinners David mentioned in verses 4-6. But, because of God’s great love, we are forgiven in Christ, welcomed in Him, and loved. Let this grace of God encourage you today as you pray and as you seek to live for Him.

Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, Proverbs 1:20-33

Today read Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, and Proverbs 1:20-33. 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 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, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and one “who keeps his covenant of love….”
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

Genesis 11, Ezra 10, Matthew 8

Read Genesis 11, Ezra 10, and Matthew 8 today and this devotional which is about Genesis 11.

The flood was over and back in Genesis 9 God renewed his original covenant with humanity. God had told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” in Genesis 1:28b; in Genesis 9:1 God told Noah and his sons the same thing: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.'”

Chapter 10 described for us in geneaological form how the three sons of Noah developed into three branches of the human family tree. Here in Genesis 11, the people in society decided they did NOT want to follow God’s commands to “fill the earth.” In verse 4 we learned that the people felt they had to build a city because “otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” The desire for human unity, then, was to unite against God and his commands.

The Lord confused their langauge in order to keep humanity from unitiing against him. In the words of verse 6, “The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” The phrase, “nothing… will be impossible for them” was not an expression of fear that humanity would gain omnipotence. Rather, it is a statement that the wickedness of humanity would know no boundaries if people could communicate freely. The language boundaries God created at Babel caused one language-group to distrust and fear the other language groups. That fear caused each group to seek safety in distance which “scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

This passage does not teach that language or cultural or racial boundaries must be maintained. God did create humanity to be a unified group. It was sin that necessitated the boundaries that we read about in this chapter and that remain today.

When Jesus taught the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (v. 19), he was re-establishing the basis on which humanity could and should function as a unit rather than as separate people groups. The basis of human unity is God. When humanity worships the true God, it can truly be one. But that “one-ness” is oneness in Christ, not in humanity or in common approaches to living in sin.

God wants the human race united but he wants us to be united in holiness, not in ungodliness. Babel is about dividing the world so that it will not be united in ungodliness. Jesus and his redemption is about uniting the world in him.

We can have great fellowship and genuine love, then, with people look different than we do, talk differently than we do, and have a different cultural heritage. When Christ returns and establishes his kingdom, all believers from every nation, language, culture, and race will be united in every aspect of reality because we are united to Christ spiritually.

So, don’t separate from others because they have a different language or skin color or whatever else. Instead, unite with other Christians from different culures, love them genuinely, and seek to reach others for Jesus regardless of human boundaries. “God does not show favoritism” according to Romans 2:10 so let’s not be guilty of that, either.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Matthew 7

Read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Matthew 7 and this devotional which is about Matthew 7, particularly verses 24-27.

As Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, he left us with a memorable image. Two homes were built. One was built on a rock foundation, the other was built on sand.

Both homes were beaten by rough weather.

The one founded on the rock remained; the one with a sandy foundation was not only damaged; it was completely destroyed.

Each house corresponds to a type of person. Both types of people heard the message of Jesus. It was not a question of ignorance versus knowledge. Both had the knowledge they needed.

No, the difference is that one type of person “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.” The other type of person hears the words, too, but never acts in obedience to them.

We need to be continually reminded of this warning because we deceive ourselves into thinking that knowledge is enough. If we know God’s word, we think our lives will be rock solid. Temptations may come, trials may blow, but knowing God’s word will carry us through, right?

Wrong.

We often succumb to temptation or lose our way in trials because we have not obeyed God’s word. Obedience to God’s word is what builds a stable life. Knowledge is important, but not enough.

Is there an area (or more than one) in your life where you are living disobdiently to God’s word? I mean a situation where you know what the right thing to do is but you won’t do it.

And day after day after day you keep choosing to do wrong or, at least, you keep choosing not to do right.

If so, please realize that you are building your life on an inadequate, unstable foundation. When life gets rough, your house will collapse.

Jesus said so.

Be wise and change your mind and your ways today.

Genesis 8, Ezra 8, Matthew 6

Read Genesis 8, Ezra 8, Matthew 6 today and then read this devotional about Matthew 6.

We all care what other people think of us. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps us from all kinds of obnoxious, antisocial behavior, like ignoring appointments we made or showing up egregiously, unapologetically late for them.

Our concern about others’ opinion becomes a problem when it becomes the primary driver for what we do. When our lives become too focused on appearing a certain way to others, then we start doing things for appearance sake only rather than from the heart. Do this too much and your life will resemble a studio lot–on camera things look real and amazing but in reality, it is a facade.

Here in Matthew 6, Jesus spoke to us about religious life that is done only to impress others (v. 1). Jesus warned that those who lived this way “will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (v. 1). Then Christ applied this teaching to:

  • giving to the needy (vv. 2-4)
  • prayer (vv. 5-15)
  • fasting (vv. 16-18)

These were markers of spirituality in Jesus’ culture and they are still areas that can be impressive when we consider someone’s spiritual life. I wonder, though, what kind of spiritual or religious acts impress us? Perfect attendance on Sunday morning? A long history of having devotions without ever missing a day? Bible memorization or detailed Bible knowledge? Service in some work for Christ?

Jesus was not telling us never to give to the poor or to pray. In fact he spent a good amount of time in verses 5-15 teaching us to pray so that we would know how to do it in a way that glorifies him instead of ourselves. Similarly, we should not stop doing something for God or to grow in our faith just because someone is (or might be) impressed by it. Nor should we stop serving the Lord just because we may struggle with inconsistent motivation. Instead, we need to examine our hearts and ask God to help us worship and serve him from the heart and not to impress or please others.

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Proverbs 1:1-19

Read Genesis 7, Ezra 7, and Proverbs 1:1-19.

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, Psalms 1-3

Read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalms 1-3.

This devotional is about Psalm 1.

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 wicked people 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?

Through technology, we can spend time with celebrities, actors, athletes and journalists. We don’t spend time with them in real life, of course, but media and the Internet and apps allow them to communicate what they do with their time, what they think is good or bad, cool or uncool, etc. These people may have a strong following but most them them care nothing about God. If you aren’t careful, you can be heavily influenced by their ungodly lives by spending lots of time uncritically in their “virtual” presence.

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).

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.