Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, 2 Corinthians 1

Read Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, and 2 Corinthians 1.

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to continue to address problems in the church, just as he did in 1 Corinthians. One problem, which he addressed in verses 12-24, was criticism he received for changing his travel plans after he had told the Corinthians he was coming to visit them. Before he got to that issue, however, he took time to praise God for how God had comforted him during the troubles he and his ministry partners had experienced in Asia (v. 8).

Why does God allow problems into our lives? Why aren’t his servants exempt from problems as a reward for their ministry of the gospel? There are at least four answers and three of them are discussed in this chapter.

First, God allows problems into our lives because we live in a fallen world. Until the redemption of all things is complete, problems will be part of life for everyone–believers and non-believers alike. This we know from other texts, not this chapter.

Second, God allows problems into our lives so that he can comfort us and teach us to comfort others (v. 4). The best people to help you when you are persecuted are those who have endured persecution themselves. The best people to help you when you face a life-threatening illness are those who have been there. They are the “best people” to help because they can empathize with your struggles more deeply and more personally. They know what encouraged and helped them when they were struggling, so that makes them more equipped to help you.

Third, God allows problems into our lives to test and strengthen our faith. Verse 6 says that problems produce “in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” That “patient endurance” is not just giving up and taking it, like when you’re stuck in stopped traffic on the freeway and there is nothing you can do about it. “Patient endurance” is the ability to trust God throughout the duration of a trial rather than giving up faith in him. Trials reveal whether we are truly trusting in God or whether we are self-deceived about our faith. They also teach us to look to God for comfort, help, and deliverance which strengthens our faith when God delivers us. Verse 9 made the same point when it said, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” For true Christians, trials drive us closer to God while problems in life drive unbelievers further from him. That doesn’t mean you’ll never question God; read the Psalms and you’ll see plenty of verses that question God. Instead, while your faith may waver and feel week, it will ultimately hold and eventually get stronger through trials.

Fourth, God allows problems into our lives to teach others how to pray. Verse 11 says, “…as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” As you go through problems in life and ask others to pray for you, your trial gives them the opportunity to learn intercessory prayer. When the trial ends, it gives other believers who prayed for you the opportunity to give thanks to God.

What problems and struggles are you facing right now? Which of these lessons do you feel God is teaching you most directly? If you’re not facing a trial in your life right now, give thanks for God’s favor but study the list above, too, to fortify yourself for when the problems arrive.

Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, 1 Thessalonians 4

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, and 1 Thessalonians 4 today.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 4.

In this chapter Paul moved from discussing his history with the Thessalonians to addressing how they should live as Christians (vv. 1-2). Sexual purity was first on his list, an evergreen topic in every age (vv. 3-8).

Next was the issue of loving others and general living in light of our life in Christ (vv. 9-12). The Thessalonians had a God-given gift for Christian love, so much so that Paul said he didn’t really even need to write to them about it (vv. 9-10). When Paul wrote, “you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” (v. 10a), he is referring to the generosity of the Thessalonian believers toward other believers and church in the wider region around them. This suggests that the Thessalonians had instinctively reached out to other churches and had been generous toward whatever needs they had.

Even though the Thessalonians had already demonstrated their love, Paul “urge[d] you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” We all, from time to time, quit doing things that are good and productive just because they can be costly. Paul wasn’t chiding them for losing some of the loving ways they had developed; he was encouraging them not to stop doing the God-honoring things they had done by instinct.

As a parent and as a pastor, it is easy to take for granted the good things that our children and our church family members do. I might congratulate my kids when they get good grades–or improving grades–on their report cards, but I don’t usually pat them on the back when I see them he daily work of studying and doing homework.

Similarly, in our church, many people show up and serve faithfully each week. I do try to thank people from time to time, but it’s easy just to expect their faithful service. Positive reinforcement, though, can mean a lot. It matters more to some people than others based on their personalities, but it means something to just about everyone. Like Paul, then, it would be helpful for us to notice the good things our spouse, our kids and our friends do–the areas where they are growing in their Christian lives, when they serve faithfully, when they make good choices–and encourage them to keep it up. That bit of encouragement might help others keep doing good and it might stimulate them to do more in that area.

Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, Galatians 4

Read Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, and Galatians 4.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1- 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), and through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Amidst all this prophecy about the future, verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah told his readers to encourage others who belonged to God but were weak and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths–that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10)–were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers among them.

In Hebrews 12:12 the author of Hebrews referred here to Isaiah 35:3 as a concluding thought to his teaching on God’s discipline. Discipline is always painful but it is productive for spiritual growth so we should not be discouraged but rather should encourage each other.

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” (v. 4 c-d). When he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and give prosperity to his people.

Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off in following Jesus. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

Exodus 2, Job 19, Hebrews 8

Read Exodus 2, Job 19, and Hebrews 8.

This devotional is about Job 19.

Today we read one of the most powerful statements in the book of Job here in Job 19:25-27: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” These short poetic stanzas refer to two core doctrines of our faith:

  • They foreshadow the incarnation of Christ in verse 25 when Job says, “in the end he will stand on the earth.”
  • They affirm the resurrection of the dead: “after my skin has been destroyed [in other words, “after I’m dead”], yet in my flesh I will see God;” Note that Job says he will see God “in my flesh,” not “in my spirit.” He thus affirmed the bodily resurrection of the dead.

Though these truths did not remove Job’s suffering or his questions, they do offer great encouragement if we consider them. No matter how difficult your suffering, how senseless and unfair it all seems in this life, or how you meet the end of your life, God is waiting there on the other side of eternity for you if your faith is in Him. And, God’s plan is not just for you to know him spiritually but to include you in his earthly kingdom in eternity.

I hope you find these words encouraging, no matter what you’re facing today. Maybe it would be a good idea to memorize this passage and remind yourself of it when you need encouragement.

Genesis 50, Job 16-17, Psalms 20-23

Read Genesis 50, Job 16-17, and Psalms 20-23. This devotional is about Job 16-17.

There are times when we need to speak hard but truthful words to each other. Jesus commanded us to go a fellow believer who sins and point out their fault (Matt 18:15).

But that command is for a situation where you have direct knowledge of the sin, either because you were sinned against, or saw the person sin, or the believer is not hiding the sin.

We are not commanded to make assumptions about one another or accuse others of sin when we have no evidence. It is never wrong to ask if someone is in sin but it is never right to accuse without a clear basis.

Job’s friends had no evidence that he had sinned. Not one of them pointed out a specific instance of sin or even suggested specific ways in which he might have caused himself this trouble by sinning. They worked backward from his calamity to accusations of sin because, in their theology, God punishes sinners and rewards the righteous. Job’s tragedies were all the evidence they thought they needed to accuse him.

Nobody likes to be accused so it is insulting to accuse someone without evidence, especially if the person being accused is actually innocent. Job was dealing with incredible trauma and, instead of being comforted, his “friends” railed on him to ‘fess up. It is a cliché to talk about “adding insult to injury” but that’s exactly what Job’s friends did. His statement in 16:2b, “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” expressed the frustration he felt based on how he was being treated.

What Job needed was not accusers who would help him come clean but loving friends who would help him.

And what would have been helpful to him? Two things:

  1. Encouragement: In 16:4b-5 he said, “…if you were in my place…. my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” A godly friend would have comforted Job with affirming words that God’s ways were always right, so this would turn out someday for good.
  2. Prayer. In 16:20-21 we read these words, “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”

How can you help a fellow believer who is hurting? Encouragement and prayer.

Is someone coming to mind who needs this? Pray for them now, then contact them to encourage and pray with them.

Genesis 45, Job 11, Hebrews 3

Read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Hebrews 3.

This devotional is about Hebrews 3.

Although the grace of God caused us to believe in Christ and keeps us believing in him, the pull of sin never goes away in this lifetime. The sin nature that each of us was born with pulls us toward temptation like a magnet pulls a nail. This chapter in Hebrews taught us that Christ was greater than Moses but just as Moses, the great lawgiver, dealt constantly with sinful rebellion from the people, we–the church–see people who claim to be among us pulled into wickedness and unbelief.

Verses 12-14 urge us to keep an eye our hearts in order to guard against the pull of unbelief. Verse 13, in particular, reminds us that how easy it is to be drawn back into sin. By calling it “sin’s deceitfulness,” the author of Hebrews labels the tendency that we all know too well. That tendency is the tendency to think we can sin without anyone ever knowing or that we can sin without any negative consequences or that we can sin because, in our case, it is justifiable. These lies and others call to us and tempt us to disobey God’s word and to pull away from following Christ.

One of the defenses against sin’s deceitfulness is the community of other believers we call the church. Verse 13 commands us to “encourage one another daily… so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” This is a call to fellowship that is much deeper than chatting over donuts and coffee on Sunday morning. It is a call to fellowship that urges us to get involved in each other’s lives, not so that we can pick each other apart and question each other’s salvation, but so that we can redirect each other’s attention back to Christ and away from the lies that sin is constantly telling us. Verse 14 tells us that continuing to cling to Christ to the end is really the only way to know that we belong to him: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” We don’t hold to this conviction in order to become Christians; rather, holding our conviction is the evidence that we did come to share in Christ on the day of our salvation.

Think about your friends in our church. Is there anyone who seems to be wavering in faith? Anyone who seems like they are dropping out? Anyone who’s commitment to the Word of Christ seems to have cooled? Maybe the Lord is bringing that person to your mind today so that you can encourage him or her to hold on to Jesus and not trade him in for the false promises of disobedience and unbelief.

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!