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.

1 Kings 11, Ezekiel 41

Read 1 Kings 11 and Ezekiel 41

This devotional is about 1 Kings 11.

Non-Christians who read the Bible sometimes complain about how large a role the wrath of God plays in the story of Scripture. They are not wrong; God is frequently described as being angry in the pages of scripture.

The truth is, God has a lot to be angry about. He gives us life, has created a planet and a solar system that reliably and predictably provides our basic human needs of water to drink, air to breathe, and food to eat. He gave us each other so that we could know the joys of family and friendship. He called us to worship him alone and promised blessings and joy to us if we worship him.

Despite all of this, mankind as a group has rejected him and his word in order to live selfishly. Instead of thanking him for food, water, and air, we consume these things without giving them a second thought and we idolize material things instead of enjoying and giving thanks for what we have. Instead of loving one another, we resent others for not loving us enough or meeting our expectations; we use and abuse other people instead of serving them and giving thanks for them.

What I just described is only the beginning of the ways in which we’ve dishonored and disobeyed God. No wonder God is angry.

Here in 1 Kings 11, the scripture describes for us the kind of selfish life that Solomon began to live. In disobedience to God’s commands (v. 2), Solomon married women from other nations (v. 1). His marriages to them may have had political, diplomatic value but they were more personal than that because verse 2 ends by saying, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” Just as God predicted (v. 2), Solomon’s heart turned away from God and he “did evil in the eyes of the Lord….” This is why God was angry with him; verse 9 says, “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel….” This is the heart of sin, of disobedience to God. When we love God, we keep his commands. When we become enamored with other things (or other people), our hearts grow cold to God and we look to sinful things for pleasure.

Because of Christ’s love for us and his death for us, we no longer live under the wrath of God. Christ bore every bit of God’s wrath for us so that we would not fear his wrath but could love and live for him, just as he created us to do. We have the Spirit of God within us which makes us thankful for God and his works and stimulates the desire to love and please him. Nevertheless, each of us still has a sinful nature within that causes us to stumble. It is important to remember that breaking God’s laws results in personal consequences for our relationship to God. If you break the laws of our state or nation, nobody in the government gets mad at you; they seek justice but it doesn’t make anyone angry. When we break God’s laws, however, we bring grief to the heart of God who has done so much for us.

Try to keep this in mind today when you are tempted to sin. Not only is sin a bad idea because it creates human problems for us; it is a bad idea because it represents a personal rejection of God. Honor your Father in the choices you make today because you love him and are thankful for all he has done for us.

1 Kings 10, Ezekiel 40

Read 1 Kings 10 and Ezekiel 40.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 10.

Sometimes things seem too good to be true. Maybe you see an advertisement for some product or place and it appeals to you. Or, maybe a friend recommends something to you that sounds like something you’d enjoy. But, then you try it, and it doesn’t quite meet your expectations. Or, maybe it turns out to be a completely negative experience.

On some rare occasions, however, things turn out to be better than we expect. After the first course of my doctorate was complete I was talking with a new friend I’d made in the class. He said something I’ll never forget: “This was one of the few things in life that actually turned out better than I thought it would.”

If only there were more experiences in life that fit that description! In this chapter, the Queen of Sheba had one of those experiences. Verse 1 told us that she had “heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord….” So she showed up to Jerusalem “to test Solomon with hard questions” (v. 1c). At the end of her visit, verse 5 says, “she was overwhelmed.” Her words were even more potent in their description: “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard” (vv. 6-7).

In verse 8 she went on to say this: “How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” But were Solomon’s people happy? Were they as blown away by his wisdom as she was?

Maybe, but I doubt it, because of human nature. Human nature tends to feel entitled. We tend to think that whatever good things we’ve always had are to be expected. That causes us to take valuable things for granted and, often, we don’t realize how precious, how unusual, or what a blessing the thing we take for granted is… until it is gone. People take good health, a loving spouse, good kids, a good job, or close friends for granted too often. Then, if death or some other circumstance takes that away, they feel both the sorrow of loss and the regret of not having enjoyed and appreciated what they had.

Is this happening in your life at all? Do you have a blessing (or more than one) that other people would dearly love to have? Do you realize how gracious God was to give that to you? Do you thank him for it and just savor and enjoy it?

Or, do you complain or just never express gratitude because you feel entitled. You may not know that you feel entitled, but you may reach a point in life where you realize what a great blessing you had.

The Queen of Sheba went on to praise the Lord (v. 9) who was the source of it all (v. 1: “his relationship to the Lord”). Think about what God has given to you and take some time to thank him for it. If it is a person, find a way to let that person know how blessed you feel and are to have him or her in your life.

Joshua 10, Jeremiah 4

Read Joshua 10 and Jeremiah 4.

This devotional is about Joshua 10.

In Joshua 9 the Gibonites saved their own lives by deceiving the Israelites and making a peace covenant with them. Here in chapter 10, their neighbors were ticked and decided to attack Gibeon in retaliation for the peace they had made with Israel (vv. 1-5). The agreement Joshua made with the Gibeonites was made under false pretenses. It protected them from being attacked by Israel but it in no way formed a NATO-like alliance that said Israel would come to their aid of they were attacked by others.

Nevertheless, when they were attacked, they sent word to Joshua asking for help (v. 6b). Joshua and his army did help even though they were under no obligation to do anything. So this was an act of kindness, a blessing conferred on the Gibeonites far beyond what they deserved or should have expected based on their agreement with Israel. God’s people did far more than they had to and God blessed their gracious act of deliverance and used it to defeat five kings at the same time (vv. 16-21) instead of attacking those cities individually.

What interests me in this passage is how magnanimous Joshua and his nation were. Instead of being bitter about the deception of Gibeonites and taking pleasure in their demise as if it were cosmic payback, Joshua came to their aid. He did not hide behind the technicalities of their covenant; he abided by the spirit of it–which was that the Gibeonites would be protected. In other words, God’s people went beyond what was required to do something generous and kind.

So many people today do only what is expected. Or, worse, many people will do less than what is expected if they think they can get away with it. Doing more than what you’re required to do and expected to do is gracious and, because it comes from grace, it is pleasing to God. God rewarded the kindness of his people toward the Gibeonites with a greater victory. Is there any area in your life where you’re doing only what is required or less? What might God do in your life if you put more effort and did more than what is expected or required in the areas where you’ve made commitments to others?

Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, Psalm 60

Today’s readings are Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, and Psalm 60.

This devotional is about Psalm 60.

We all experience low moments in life. Things that we expect to go well sometimes go very badly. Sometimes it seems like God’s promises don’t become true in real life. That’s how David was feeling here in Psalm 60. Verses 1-3 especially lay out his complaint against God.

When life does not go as expected, especially if we expect God’s favor and don’t receive it in the way we expected, disappointment can sometimes tempt us to move to unbelief. Problems like these can repel people from God. David, however, did not lose faith in God. He called on God, instead, to help him (vv. 5-12). The reason is that he knew there was no other help available to him (vv. 9-10). Though he may have felt rejected by God, he believed that there was no one but God who could save him. So he increased his prayers and restated his reliance on God.

Do problems and disappointments in your life pull you closer to God or further away from him? One of several problems of pulling away from God is that there really is nowhere else to go. Walking away from God’s love and opening yourself to disobedience will not give you the success or the comfort you seek. It is better to receive the harder moments of life as trials to strengthen your faith than to interpret them as God’s absolute rejection and displeasure. When we see these times as trials God sends to strengthen our faith, it will pull us closer to him by faith.