2 Chronicles 29, Zechariah 11

Read 2 Chronicles 29 and Zechariah 11.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 29.

Unlike the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Judah had some kings who served God–eight of them (out of 20) to be exact. The degree to which they served God, however, varied widely from one king to another as we have seen.

Here in 2 Chronicles 29 we read again about Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings. After introducing him in verses 1 and 2, the author of 2 Chronicles began telling us how bad things had gotten in Judah when Hezekiah became king. Hezekiah “opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them” (v. 3b) because the previous generations had “turned their faces away from the Lord’s dwelling place and turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors of the portico and put out the lamps. They did not burn incense or present any burnt offerings at the sanctuary to the God of Israel” (vv. 6b-7).

The magnificent temple Solomon built and dedicated was neglected and in disrepair, a fitting symbol for Judah’s spiritual condition as well. It needed to be fixed up and cleansed both physically and spiritually (v. 5). When Judah turned away from the Lord in previous generations, many of the priests also abandoned their work of serving the Lord (v. 34). So there was much to do if Hezekiah wanted to restore Israel’s ability to worship the Lord biblically.

Despite all that needed to be done, Hezekiah wasted no time before starting Judah on a path of worship reformation. In verse 3 we are told that he started this reformation, “In the first month of the first year of his reign.” Of all the things he sought to change and improve as king of his nation, obedience to the Lord in national worship was A1 on his priority list. As you look at your life here at the end of this year, what do you want to change? Do you want to eat healthier? Exercise more? Spend more time with your children? Strengthen your marriage? Paint your house? Get trained in some area of your work so that your career can move to the next level? All of these are good things but far less important than your walk with God.

When I was growing up, preachers used to encourage us to “get dedicated” or “rededicated” to the Lord’s work. Many of them meant something theologically that is unbiblical, so I have resisted using that language in my preaching. Instead, I try to encourage people to be obedient to the Lord today and do the same thing tomorrow.

But this passage indicates that maybe there is something to be said for making a renewed covenant to serve the Lord, as Hezekiah did in verse 10, after a time of disobedience or half-hearted obedience. Maybe that’s something to consider in your life as we move toward the end of this year.

1 Chronicles 18, Zechariah 3

Read 2 Chronicles 18 and Zechariah 3.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 18.

“Counseling should be encouraging” a man said to me years ago. It was his justification for ending weekly sessions of marriage counseling I’d arranged for him and his wife with a Christian counselor I trust.

I had talked with this couple enough myself to know that there were serious sin problems that needed to be addressed–mostly, but not completely–on his side. The Christian counselor I sent them to work with was kind but candid about how he was treating his wife sinfully. A straight dose of truth was exactly what he needed but it was not what he wanted. So, they quit going.

Do I even need to tell you that they are now divorced?

Ahab, the king of Israel, had similar feelings toward Micaiah, the truth-telling prophet. When Jehoshaphat king of Judah wanted a true prophet of YHWH to speak God’s mind about his joint venture of war (v. 6), Ahab replied, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah” *(v. 7).

Why did Micaiah always prophecy bad things for Ahab? Because Ahab was an ungodly man who did ungodly things. Rather than repent when confronted with he truth, Ahab preferred to change the channel and find prophets who were more encouraging.

We all have a tendency to avoid facing the truth about ourselves or our ways. It is easier to change the channel than to change yourself.

But God is in the “changing you” business. He wants us to grow in our walk with him and that begins by honestly confronting your sins.

Do you find yourself looking for a positive message to drown out the truth of God’s word? Please realize how foolish it is to ignore God’s loving correction in your life. Instead, seek out his correcting word and do what it says.

2 Kings 23, Joel 2

Read 2 Kings 23 and Joel 2.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 23.

The phrase, “Too little, too late” is a cliché that is self-explanatory. If you don’t pay your electric bill for months, then try to hand over $5 when someone comes to turn off your power, you are living the cliché.

Josiah’s reforms came too late to avoid God’s judgment on Judah (v. 25). Josiah cannot, however, be charged with doing “too little.” Verse 25 says, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” Josiah was a true reformer, a devoted servant of God who did everything in his power to live according to God’s law and lead God’s nation according to that law. The list of things that Josiah had to do in this chapter to excavate idolatry from Judah is incredible. Consider:

  • v. 4: He ordered the removal “from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem….” (v. 4 c-d).
  • v. 5: “He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places….”
  • v. 6: “He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there.”
  • v. 7a: “He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord….”
  • v. 7b: He also tore down “the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah.”
  • v. 8b: Josiah “desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense….”
  • v. 10: “He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek.”
  • v. 11a: “He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun.”
  • v. 11c: “Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.”
  • v. 12: “He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz….”

[You get the idea. This list keeps going through verse 20, then more reforms are mentioned in verses 24-25.]

This list shows us how deeply rooted idolatry was in Judah, the land where 8 good kings (out of 20) reigned after Solomon. All of this work followed publicly reading God’s word (v. 2d) which, amazingly, had been lost for years in God’s own temple. After reading God’s word, Josiah led his nation to re-affirm their commitment to the covenant described in God’s word (v. 3). The actions he took in this chapter were acts of obedience that flowed from the covenant renewal he and the people of Judah pledged themselves to.

Have you ever made a commitment to God to (1) start tithing (2) stop sinning in some way (3) start reading his word daily and praying or to do something else? Commitments are great; they are often part of growing in grace. But once the commitment has been made, we have to show up and do the work of rooting out the old sins and idols and habits. If you’re like me, you’ve made many decisions before the Lord that you never followed through on. Why not? Because making the decision to repent feels like reformation; it isn’t. It is just the beginning of change, not the end.

What commitment to the Lord needs to be carried out in your life? Do the thorough acts of obedience described in this chapter encourage you to make some changes in your own life?

1 Kings 2, Ezekiel 33

Read 1 Kings 2 and Ezekiel 33.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 33:31-32: “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

It is difficult for us servants of the Lord to speak to people who come faithfully to hear but who leave unchanged Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year. On one hand, I am grateful for the audience. It is much easier to speak to a room full of people than it is to speak to an empty room. I’m always grateful for the people who are there and I try to give my best effort no matter how many or how few come, but it is discouraging to see a lot of empty chairs and only a few people.

On the other hand, it is tough to teach God’s word week after week and see little if any change in many people who come to hear it. Again, I’m glad they come to listen; after all, if nobody is listening, nobody will change or grow. But after a while, you start to feel more like an entertainer than a servant of the Lord. That’s what God said to Ezekiel in verse 32: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

This chapter lists several ways the people in Ezekiel’s day did not practice what Ezekiel preached:

  • Verse 25c says, “…you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood….”’
  • Verse 26 says, “You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife.”
  • Verse 31e says, “Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.”

So what were God’s people involved in? Idolatry, adultery, violence, greed, and dishonesty. Ezekiel faithfully pronounced God’s verdict on these things as sin; he predicted God’s judgment for such sins. People came routinely and listened, but only for entertainment purposes. After they were done, they returned to living wicked lives again.

But how has your life changed as a Christian in the past month? How about this year, as you’ve read these devotionals. Are you more generous with what you have–to the poor and to God’s work? Are your thoughts and actions toward other people purer, sexually speaking, then before? Are you serving the Lord somewhere in his work or, if you’ve been serving right along, are you more conscious of how your service is an act of worship to God?

One more thing here: Verse 32, as I noted, describes how Ezekiel was treated like a singer instead of a prophet. He was a form of entertainment for people more than a source of spiritual conviction and growth. As I visit other churches when I’m on vacation or watch videos of worship services and messages, I feel like churches are embracing entertainment more and more. The preaching in particular is therapeutic. Pastors give “talks” about “believing in yourself” or “leading great.” They may be interesting, thoughtful, and might contain some good advice. But where’s the need for repentance? Where’s the blood of Christ? Pastors need to read the first 20 verses of our chapter today, Ezekiel 33 and remember that we are watchmen who are called to warn people that God’s judgment is coming not entertain them until his judgment falls.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king….” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important–which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over Saul’s unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. I

n the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred.

Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23).

Trust God, then, your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Numbers 8, Song of Songs 6, Psalm 119:49-72

Read:Numbers 8, Song of Songs 6, Psalm 119:49-72.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:72: “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

Would you rather be wealthy or smart?

On one hand…

  • You might be tempted to choose “smart” if you think that superior intellect can be used in multiple ways, including to earn you wealth.
  • You might be tempted to choose “wealthy” if you think that money can buy you brains.

On the other hand…

  • If you’re wealthy but lack intelligence, someone smarter than you might swindle you out of all your money.
  • There is no guarantee that being smart will make you wealthy. I read somewhere once that really smart people are risk-averse because they can think of ways in which things might go wrong. Earning wealth often requires risk so people with very high I.Q.s tend to take jobs instead of starting businesses because a job feels safer.

So, money or smarts? A good case can be made for either. Here in Psalm 119:72, the Psalmist knew the answer to a similar question. That question was, “Would you rather be wealthy or have God’s word?” His answer was, “God’s Word.” He put more value on God’s revelation than on a vast amount of wealth. Why?

One reason was that he had been “afflicted” (v. 67, 71a). This describes the discipline of the Lord in his life which corrected his disobedience and put him back on a righteous path. In that incident of discipline, the author of this song learned how valuable truth and obedience are. Wealth can make problems go away but only God’s word and God’s loving discipline can change your life. This is one reason why God’s word is more valuable than wealth.

Another reason is that money is temporary. Even if you inherit a large fortune and use skill to make it grow, you will die someday. After you die, your money will be useless to you and your eternity will be set. God’s word has saving power to create faith in your heart so that you can be redeemed from God’s wrath by his grace. That’s an eternal value that makes scripture more valuable than any human wealth.

What’s most valuable in your life? What would need to be true for you to value scripture above anything else?

Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116

Today’s readings are Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116.

This devotional is about Psalm 116.

The unknown author of this song proclaimed his love for the Lord (v. 1a), then detailed why he loved the Lord. His reasons for loving the Lord were personal; God saved him from death (v. 3a, 8a). But, although his reasons for loving the Lord were personal, they were not detached from God’s revelation. In verse 5, the Psalmist tied the answer to prayer he received–his salvation from death–to what he had been taught about God from his word. Verse 5’s statement, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” is a paraphrase of God’s revelation of himself in Exodus 34:6: ““The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness….” The songwriter, then, learned from experience what he had been taught in principle. He realized that God’s answer to prayer in his life was one of many examples throughout human history of God being who he is and doing what he does.

What was God’s purpose in saving this man from death? Verse 9 says, “that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” In other words, God’s purpose was to show the power of God in his changed life. From the time that God saved him from death until his actual death (v. 15), the Psalmist believed that he should “walk before the Lord” — a phrase that describes living an obedient life to God.

But this “walking before the Lord” was not payback for his salvation. In other words, the Psalmist did not see living a godly life as something he must do to earn the favor God had shown him. We know that because he asked the question in verse 12, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer was worship; verse 13 describes him offering a drink offering of thanksgiving to God: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (see also verse 17).

So “walking before the Lord” was not an attempt to deserve his salvation. It was a description of how God’s salvation had changed him. His wording in verse 9 makes this clear: “that I MAY walk….” This describes God’s power in his life; it restates what he had said in the phrase just before in verse 8, “For you Lord have delivered… my feet from stumbling.” God not only saved him from death; because he trusted the Lord, God also changed him within, giving him the desire and the power to walk with God and live for God.

God may not have saved you or me from physical death in some near death situation, but in Christ he has saved us from the wages of sin which is death. That is, he’s saved us from an eternity accursed and apart from him. And, just as God has done throughout human history, when we look to God by faith for salvation, he both delivers us from death and empowers us to live! This is something to thank God for (v. 17). If you’re like me, you may not thank God for your salvation very often, but we should. Without God’s gracious and compassionate nature demonstrated for us in Christ, we would be estranged from God daily “stumbling” (v. 8). In Christ, however, we have received the benefit of God’s salvation–both the deliverance from death and the capacity to live for our Lord.

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. So when Solomon wrote here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he taught us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful–critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker–the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

To Receive His Blessing, Obey God’s Word as an Intentional Act of Faith

James 1:22-25: To Receive His Blessing, Obey God's Word as an Intentional Act of Faith.

God did not give us His Word just to fill our minds with information. He gave it to us, in part, to change us. So, he calls us not to fool ourselves but to actually change in obedience to his word in our lives. That, he tells us, will bring his blessing into our lives.

This is message 11 in the series, Intentional Acts of Faith, a series about the New Testament book of James. It was developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Sunday, March 14, 2021

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