2 Chronicles 19-20, Zechariah 4

Read 2 Chronicles 19-20 and Zechariah 4.

This devotional is about Zechariah 4.

God was moving his people back to Jerusalem in the days of Zechariah. A man named Zerubbabel was the leader in charge of rebuilding God’s temple (v. 9). In this chapter, the Lord sent some encouragement to him.

The people who returned to Jerusalem were poor. They had an immense amount of work to do rebuilding the city and the temple; but the resources they had to do that work were miniscule.

A massive job to do and few resources to use can easily result in discouragement. God sent Zechariah to Zerubbabel to remind him that he had the ultimate resource in God. How would he be able to rebuild that temple? “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (v. 6). The natural, financial, and human resources at Zerubbabel’s disposal were few but only resource he needed was spiritual, the power of almighty God.

As a result, neither Zerubbabel nor God’s people should give up or be discouraged by meager beginnings. As verse 10 says, “Who dares despise the day of small things….” Everything that exists once started as something small and modest. Every large church, for example, was once a small church; indeed, it was once merely the idea and desire of a small group of people. If God is in the project, it will not be stopped; if he is not in it, it will not ultimately succeed.

Are you ever tempted to look at your ministry or your life or something else that belongs to God and think, “This is never going to amount to anything!” Verse 10 is for you: “Who dares despise the day of small things…?” Trust God that the desire to serve him matters. Your resources may be few and the beginning may be humble, but God is more than powerful enough to make something great.

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.

1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2

Read 1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2.

This devotional is about Micah 2.

Micah fought a two-front war in this chapter.

First he spoke out against powerful, greedy people who used power to take the land and homes of others (vv. 1-2). Because of their sins, God would take all the land and hand it over others (vv. 3-5).

The second front Micah battled was from false prophets who attempted to silence Micah’s message (vv. 6-11). The message of these false prophets was summarized in the last line of verse 6 and the first three lines of verse 7. I will paraphrase their false message this way: “Shut up! We’re not going to lose to another nation, Micah! God’s patience is infinite (vv. 7b). He will never turn on his people.” Their argument was that God’s promises to his people were completely unconditional. No matter how much God’s people sinned, they would be safe because God loves them just that much.

It is always more pleasant to believe the prediction that we’ll be OK. If one economist is predicting a recession and another is saying that current problems in the economy are temporary but then a big boom is coming, which one would you want to believe? If one doctor tells you that your cough will clear up in a few days while the other says you have lung cancer, which message is more appealing?

Micah’s situation was similar. He predicted pain and suffering for all of God’s people because the wealthy were exploiting average citizens. Meanwhile, the prophets of eternal optimism rebuked him and told these unrighteous businessmen that everything would be fine.

We want things to be fine; we want good times. God’s message, however, wasn’t that good times were impossible. Instead, he offered a better way to prosperity: “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?” (v. 7d-e). God wanted his people to prosper but he wanted their prosperity to come as a blessing for obedience to his word. “Take the medicine,” God was telling his people. “Repent of your greedy oppression and do what is right and then everyone will prosper because I will bless you.”

Ultimately, God does have good plans in store for his people (vv. 12) when Jesus comes as king (v. 13). Before that, however, they would pay a heavy price for their sins. The best course of action was to believe God’s word, pay the price to undo what they had sinfully done, and do what was right going forward. Instead, they chose to listen to the sunny-side up prophets. Verse 11 sarcastically describes the kind of prophets we all, in our sinful nature, want: “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be just the prophet for this people!”

Are you listening to the hard truths of God’s word? Do we pay attention and change our ways when God’s word rebukes us? Or do we change the channel and listen instead to a message that offers more encouragement? Encouragement is good unless it distorts God’s word (as in verse 7a-c) and comforts us in our sinful ways. Everyone would rather get a massage than have surgery but only one of those ways will remove cancer and put you on the road to health again. Let God’s word surgically address your sins and shortcomings; then you will walk more righteously and follow Christ right into his kingdom.

Judges 2, Jeremiah 15

Read Judges 2 and Jeremiah 15.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah is set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment has been passed and the sentence is settled. Pain is on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there will be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God kept saying it is too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was bringing to him. He had no friends (“I sat alone…”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling him to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult word, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you. But if you don’t stand alone, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but they do provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96

Read Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:73-96.

This Psalm is a long acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. It is also a love poem for God’s word. The Psalmist writes in every stanza words of praise and thanks to God for giving his law to Israel. He also claims throughout to love and live by God’s laws.

Like most Psalms, this songwriter had problems in life. Some of those problems, he felt, were afflictions from God (v. 75b). Others were persecutions (v. 84b) brought on by others. Or, perhaps, he had one major problem which he saw from two perspectives–(1) the persecutions of men (2) allowed by God’s sovereignty to afflict him for his own discipline and growth. Regardless, the Psalmist never claimed that his love for God’s word or his obedience to it gave him a trouble-free life. Instead, he found through his delight in God’s laws encouragement (v. 81b), comfort (v. 76) a basis for companionship with other godly people (v. 74, 79), guidance on how to live (v. 89, 93), and understanding about what is righteous and unrighteous in God’s sight (v. 85). Having benefited in all these ways from God’s word, he pleaded with God to rescue him according to the promises he’d read in God’s word (vv. 76b, 94) and to keep his heart faithful to obey God’s word (v. 80).

Scripture and prayer are God’s primary ways to minister grace to us while we live in this world and wait to be with Christ. We stray into sin when we stop looking for God’s help through prayer or stop looking to his word for our growth, guidance, and hope. It is possible–I know because I’ve done it–to be in God’s word each day and still have one’s heart grow cold to God’s word. This is why we should follow the Psalmist’s example and pray for God’s help to have insight to apply God’s word (v. 73), to think about God’s word (v. 95b), and to be tender to our own sinfulness so that we can be corrected by God’s word (v. 80).

I would encourage you to pray before reading these devotionals, before we worship together on Sunday, and anytime you are going to hear God’s word. Ask God to convict you, to give you insight into yourself, to give you understanding about what to do with his word once you understand it, and to give you courage to believe and obey it. This will help you keep from growing cold to the Lord and his truth.

Numbers 5, Song of Songs 3, Psalm 118

Today’s readings are Numbers 5, Song of Songs 3, and Psalm 118.

This devotional is about Psalm 118.

Some churches begin their services on the Lord’s day by saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Maybe you’ve said that to yourself when you need a little boost in the morning or when trying to drag a tired child out of bed.

That quotation comes from today’s reading, Psalm 118:24. And, theologically, there is everything right with saying that about any day.

But, Psalm 118:24 was not written to encourage us on any and everyday. That’s (maybe?) why the NIV translators went away from the translation you’re used to hearing and translated the verse as, “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” That translation should get us to look at the context and see that “this very day” is a reference to verses 22-23 which say, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” You may recall that Jesus quoted the words of verse 22, “the stone the builders rejected…” in Luke 20:17 and applied them to himself. In that context, he was referring to the judgment he would bring in the future on those who rejected and killed him (see Lu 20:13-16).

What all of this means is that Psalm 118 is an end-times prophecy of Christ. It is a promise, a prediction, that God, in the person of Christ, will rescue his people (vv. 10, 14-17), establish his kingdom (with Christ himself as “the cornerstone” v. 22b), and bring them safely into that kingdom. THAT is the day the Psalmist looked forward to and called on his companions to rejoice about in verse 24. When that happens, our Lord will be worshipped, thanked, and praised by all of us that he has redeemed.

My understanding of this verse and these types of prophecies is that they were made for Israel and will be fulfilled literally for Israel but that we Gentiles, according to God’s eternal plan, have been grafted into the plan by God’s grace. This is the hope that we wait patiently for until Christ returns and begins the fulfillment of these words.

So, go ahead and encourage yourself by saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” But realize that any rejoicing you do today will be just a taste of what God has planned for us in eternity. On THAT day, when Jesus establishes his kingdom on the unshakable cornerstone of himself, we’ll have so much more to rejoice about!

Exodus 9, Job 27, Psalm 57

Today’s readings are Exodus 9, Job 27, and Psalm 57.

This devotional is about Psalm 57.

If the superscription is correct–and it probably is–then David wrote this Psalm during one of the most fearful times in his life. The king that he attempted to serve was hunting him to take his life. David was separated from his family and hiding in caves like an animal. Yet, in the middle of this desperate, unjust situation, David took time to praise God.

This song appears to have a chorus which is sung in verse 5 and again in verse 11. In verses 1-4, David called out to God for mercy, looking to God for his refuge rather than the cave he was in at the moment. After the first chorus in verse 5, he began recounting his woes again, but then turned in verses 7-10 to praising God for his love and faithfulness.

This song illustrates the encouraging power of praise. David had plenty of problems that would be worthy of singing a lament. Instead, however, he laid his problems before God’s throne and chose instead to sing his praises. When the song was done, not one of his problems was solved, but I’ll be he felt better emotionally and was strengthened and edified spiritually.

Try this for yourself the next time you feel discouraged and/or afraid. Choose a song of worship that lifts your heart and sing it out loud to the Lord. Sing it as a duet with your favorite recording or acapella by yourself. If you need to, get in your car and drive so you won’t be observed or overheard or take a shower if that’s where you do your best singing. But, however you do it, harness the encouraging power of music and let it minister to your soul. It lifted David through some very serious problems that you and I will never face. If it worked for him, it will probably help you, too.

Genesis 48, Job 14, Psalm 46

Today let’s read Genesis 48, Job 14, and Psalm 46.

This devotional is about Psalm 46.

The world is a dangerous place. The same natural environment that nurtures us with air, water, and food can drown us, poison us, strike us with lightning, and kill us in any number of other ways.

The people who live in this world can be dangerous, too. Although most people have no intent to harm, there are plenty who want to rob, rape, and even kill. Some of these people become world leaders which enables them to marshal resources to kill on a massive scale through warfare. Nations in this world, today, are at war or preparing for war. Innocent people will die because they were conscripted against their will into some man’s army or because that army will attack them and destroy their homes.

This is the world we live in. We feel secure most of the time, but that security is an illusion. If we paid attention to all the ways we could die, it would greatly increase our fears.

Psalm 46 invites us to contemplate a different world. It calls us to trust in God as “our refuge and strength” the one who is “ever-present” to help us in time of trouble (v. 1). This kind of faith gives us confidence, not fear, no matter what disasters happen around us (vv. 2-3).

But the world that the Psalmist envisions here in Psalm 46 is not a present reality yet. When God dwells in Jerusalem on earth (vv. 4-6), then we will see him protect us (vv. 7, 11), stop the natural disasters that kill (v. 8) and the wars that claim so many lives (v. 9). Instead, he will command the nations, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (v. 10).

The vision of life presented in this song won’t happen until Jesus reigns on earth in his kingdom. When his kingdom has superseded all the kingdoms of this earth, when he has defeated his enemies, then there will be peace, prosperity, joy, and eternal life. But better than all of those benefits is the opportunity to know God (v. 10a). Everyone will know him and we will all worship him (“I will be exalted”).

This is the hope that God’s word sets before us believers while we live on this earth. We are citizens of that kingdom but in exile for now until he fully establishes that kingdom on earth. While we wait, Jesus gave us to the gospel to call people all over the world to know the Lord, worship the Lord, and wait for that coming kingdom with us.

If you are harassed, feeling helpless, discouraged by the problems of this world and wondering why life has to be so hard, be encouraged. Things are a mess because the rebellion against the true Lord of this earth has not been defeated yet. But, when that kingdom comes, the joys and pleasures of worshipping the Lord in it will far outweigh the problems we lived through to get there. So don’t give up your faith; it will be rewarded when the king comes.

Genesis 44, Job 10, Psalm 42

Today we’re reading Genesis 44, Job 10, and Psalm 42.

This devotional is about Psalm 42.

The term “self-talk” is a phrase from modern psychology that refers to how we think about ourselves and interpret the events that happen us. A person may be very attractive to others physically, but his or her self-talk might be, “I’m ugly, no one will ever love me.” That kind of self-talk dramatically shapes a person’s confidence and the choices that person makes. It is a defeating-kind of self-talk that many people practice.

Self-talk also can refer to instructions your conscious self gives to the rest of you, particularly your emotions. If you are sad and you tell yourself all the reasons why you should be happy, that is positive self-talk.

Here in Psalm 42 the Sons of Korah gave us an emotional song. Verses 1-2 describe a strong, sincere desire to see God but verse 4 indicates that this person could no longer experience God’s revelation of himself in the temple (…how I used to go…) any longer.

That was depressing to the author of this letter, so he used “self-talk” to refocus his mind on God. Note the self talk in these words, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” Similar examples of God’s self-talk are 5b, 6, 11. The author here coached himself about what to do in his moments of despair: he instructs himself (to himself) by saying, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” In other words, he commanded himself to think differently–bibilically–about his life and act according to that command.

What is your self-talk like? Have you learned how to encourage yourself biblically to do the right thing, even when your desire to do it isn’t there? Use the pattern in this Psalm and pay attention to what your brain is telling you. Teach yourself to remind yourself of Christ’s promises. Good self-talk is a great way to internalize scripture passages so that you can act freely and learn how to glorify God with your life.