1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5

Read 1 Chronicles 7-8, Amos 5.

This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on.

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can do rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture.

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves. Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23).

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about ti? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things–church attendance, etc.–are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.

Joshua 1, Isaiah 61

Today, read Joshua 1 and Isaiah 61.

This devotional is about Joshua 1.

Joshua’s mission was not easy, but it was easy to understand: Take the Land! “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (v. 1-3).

To accomplish this mission, he did not need a stack of thick procedural manuals or a complicated plan. All he had to do was believe God and start attacking.

Yet, despite the simplicity of his mission, God commanded him to be a godly man as well as a faithful military leader. Verse 7 says, “…Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left.” To be faithful to God’s commands and obedient to God’s word, Joshua needed to be in word daily. Verse 8, therefore, says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua’s success as Israel’s leader was dependent on him becoming a faithful and obedient student of God’s word. As he learned and lived God’s word, God promised to make him successful.

The success God promised if Joshua was faithful was not a magic spell that reading the Word gave him. Instead, it was the fulfillment of the promises God had made in his word. Those promises for Joshua and for all of Israel were the blessings that would result from loving the Lord God. It was the cultivation of godliness, then, that Joshua needed foremost. He was a busy man leading all of Israel into warfare but he was never to be too busy to read God’s word and grow in his faith.

I know that you are busy raising a family, building a career or a business, learning a new skill or obtaining a degree. But do you make time each day to cultivate your walk with God? “Success” and “blessing” are different for us than they were for Joshua but God still promises blessing for learning and obeying his Word. James 1:25 says, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Whatever else you’ve got going on in your life, make time to walk with God. Read his word daily, pray as Jesus taught us to pray, worship weekly with us on Sunday and fellowship around the Word with your small group, too. These are the ways in which God administers his grace to us for our growth in Him. We must be obedient to what we learn, of course, but learning it is what leads to obedience. As Joshua 1:8 said, “…meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”

Don’t let a busy life be an excuse not to walk with God.

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalm 62

Today we’re reading Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalm 62

This devotional is about Exodus 14:10-15.

Although they saw the miraculous power of God repeatedly in the ten plagues, God’s people became fearful in this chapter when they saw the Egyptians pursuing them. Verse 10b says, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” Their crying out, however, was not for his help or his power. That would have honored God. Their cries were cries of unbelief as you can see in their words to Moses in verses 11-12.

Moses’s answer in verses 13b-14 was magnificent. It radiated faith in God’s promises: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Despite this perfect response to Israel’s unbelief, Moses must have felt some fear, too. God rebuked him in verse 15: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.’” The Hebrew word translated “you crying out” is singular. In other words, God wasn’t saying, “Why are you Israelites crying out to me.” He was saying, “Knock off the praying, Moses, and get moving.”

Did you know that there are some things in your relationship with God that you shouldn’t pray about? Asking for God’s help, strength, favor or for his power to overcome your fear is always appropriate. It is never necessary, however, to pray and ask God whether or not you should do something he’s clearly commanded us to do. We never have to pray about whether we should share the gospel, for instance, or go to church, or tithe, or read his word. We never need to pray about whether or not to obey any of the Ten Commandments or any other moral command of God’s word. Asking God whether or not we should obey his commands is not spiritual; it is an act of unbelief. God requires us to obey his Word; there is no need for further discussion.

Again, we can ask God for his favor as we carry out his commands. We can ask for his help so that we have the courage to obey his commands. We can ask for him to comfort our fears as we carry out his commands. What we shouldn’t do is ask for an exemption from obeying his commands. That is the opposite of faith.

Is there any area of your walk with God where you’re procrastinating on obedience? Are you “putting out a fleece” (to borrow the words of Gideon) when you should just be doing what God said. Quit praying (about that thing) and just do what God’s word tells you to do. As Moses told the people in verse 13b, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you….”