Judges 7, Jeremiah 20

Today’s readings are Judges 7 and Jeremiah 20.

This devotional is about Judges 7.

God chose some unusual characters to lead Israel in this book of Judges. Those unusual characters used some unusual weapons, too. Gideon fit right in with the other oddballs God used in Judges. He was a weak man from a weak family and a weak tribe in Israel. He had no military experience, and no killer instinct. He did everything he could to shirk the assignment God gave him to rescue Israel from the Midianites.

I think Gideon had enough disadvantages already, but in today’s chapter God weakened his army even more. In verse 3, God told Gideon to announce that anyone who was too scared could go home. Twenty-two thousand men took him up on that offer but God thought Gideon still had too many troops. I’m sure Gideon didn’t think it was funny, but I laughed when I read, “I will thin them out for you” (v. 4). Uh.., thanks?

Anyway, after sending home all the guys who kneeled down to drink, Gideon was left with three hundred men (v. 8). Using nothing but trumpets, torches, jars, and their voices, God defeated the Midianites with those three hundred water-lapping Hebrew men.

The point of this strange approach to fighting was to give glory to God. In verse 2 we read, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.”’” By choosing a weak man to lead using a small group and an unconventional method, God was able to demonstrate his power to Israel again and call them to trust him and stop worshipping those false gods.

God doesn’t always use weakness and strange methods to do his work, but this certainly wasn’t the only time he worked this way, either. The lesson for us is to rely on God to use us not our superior tools or preparation. I’ve been guilty in my life and ministry of relying on excessive preparation and the best tools possible, at times, while neglecting prayer and faith in the power of God to work. Passages like this remind us that we need God’s power and promises far more than we need human power, ingenuity, and tools.

Have you ever thought or said, “I could never do “x” for God because I don’t have “y?” For instance:

  • I could never teach a Sunday School class because I don’t have enough time to prepare.
  • I could never give my testimony in church because I don’t have confidence to do public speaking.
  • I could never talk to someone else about the gospel because I don’t know every answer to any question they might ask me.

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you should apply this lesson from Gideon to your life. God wants to use you and has promised to do so if you rely on him. What kind of act of faith might he use you for if you trusted him?

Joshua 14-15, Jeremiah 7

Read Joshua 14-15 and Jeremiah 7.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 7:19b: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?”

The people of Judah had it made in the days of Jeremiah. They had divine protection from God because God’s dwelling place on earth, the magnificent temple built by Solomon, was in their capital city of Jerusalem. Nothing could ever touch them because God would Protect This House. After Israel, their blood brothers and neighbors to the North, were defeated by the Assyrians, the people of Judah did not fear. When the Babylonians came along and started whipping other nations, Jerusalem was unafraid. If they ever did feel concern, they would just point to that huge building on the horizon and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (v. 4). Reminding themselves and each other that they had the Lord’s temple made them feel secure about their lives. They could sin all they wanted (vv. 9-10) because the Lord would protect his temple (v. 10).

Yes, the people of Judah had it made!

Or, that’s what they thought, at least. Prophets like Jeremiah came along to tell them that things were far worse than they thought (v. 13). “I have been watching! declares the Lord” in verse 11c. Look at what I did to Shiloh, the first place where my house lived (v. 12), God said. You may have the temple, but you’re no better off than the Northern Kingdom of Israel was (vv. 14-15). So shut up already about the temple of the Lord (v. 8); instead, change your ways if you want to stay (vv. 5-7).

God was displeased by many sins in Judah (vv. 6, 9) with idol worship being #1 on his list of grievances (v. 9b, 18). Yes, he was angry (v. 20) but his people did not realize something truly important: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” (v. 19b). Sin angers God but, being all-powerful and everything, it doesn’t really hurt him in the sense of diminishing his power or glory. It does diminish us, however. It cuts us off from the blessings he promised for obedience and puts us under the curses he promised for sin. Sin provides us with temporary pleasure but it leaves permanent damage behind.

Jesus has rescued us from the eternal damage of sin by taking God’s wrath on himself. However, he does not give us a license to keep sinning without consequence. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” rhymes (conceptually, at least) with “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” but anyone who thinks, I can sin and be safe because, Jesus! does not understand what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.

What damage has sin caused in your life, even as a believer? What seeds of sin or sin habits are you sowing that will someday harvest real problems in your life? Are you saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as an excuse to keep sinning? Will you receive God’s grace in this rebuke and change your mind and your life by the power of the Spirit?

Deuteronomy 13-14, Isaiah 41

Read Deuteronomy 13-14 and Isaiah 41.

This devotional is about Isaiah 41.

Verse 1 speaks to “you islands” and verse 5 also makes reference to “the islands.” Commentators say that the islands are a way of speaking about all the nations on the whole earth. If the islands are doing something against God, the argument goes, then the larger, more populous countries must have an equal antagonism against God, or worse. So this chapter challenges all the nations and people of the earth to a direct confrontation with God. As verse 1b put it, “Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.”

So how do the gods of the rest of the nations on earth fare against Israel’s God? Not well; according to verses 2-4, God has easily defeated the nations and their kings and, in verse 5, they fear God as a result.

Still, people don’t want to give up their false gods so instead of repenting, they redouble their efforts and try to psych each other up. In verse 6 they tell each other to “be strong” and in verse 7 the craftsmen who make idols encourage each other. Just to be on the safe side, they nail down their idol “so it will not topple” (v. 7e). Israel, on the other hand, has a special covenant with God (vv. 8-9) and, therefore, should not fear (v. 10). Their enemies will be defeated (vv. 11-12) because “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” This contest between the gods of every nation–including the islands–and God is no contest at all.

Although we are not Israel, we’ve been graced with Israel’s God as our God through adoption. The nations of earth are still every bit as hostile to God; their gods are still every bit as weak, too. Though the tides of politics and culture may have turned against us, God commands us not to fear. He is greater than all other gods; his plans cannot be foiled or defeated. So don’t let the hostility of unbelievers or of the world’s system in general scare you or wear you down. Trust in the Lord; lean completely on him. He will defeat his enemies and ours; we have nothing to fear.

Numbers 7, Song of Songs 5, Psalm 119:25-48

Today we’re reading Numbers 7, Song of Songs 5, Psalm 119:25-48.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:45: “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”

Unbelievers sometimes complain that the Christian life is restrictive. You aren’t supposed to party and get drunk every weekend, you have to wait until you’re married to have sex, you are commanded to give to God’s work with your money, you’re supposed to worship in Sunday instead of going to the beach, and so on.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 119:45 thought that God’s commands were just the opposite of restrictive. He wrote, “I will walk about in freedom.” What kind of freedom did he have in mind? Verse 46 supplied one answer: “I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame.” That describes the ability to speak truth knowing that you won’t be refuted because God’s word is truth. Other freedoms that following God’s word gives you is the freedom from a nagging guilty conscience, freedom from the pain and consequences of sin, and freedom from the fear of death. I’m sure there are others but this is, to me, an attractive list of benefits that we receive for obedience to God’s word.

April is almost over so, if you’ve been reading these scriptures daily, you’ve had four months of regular, direct exposure to God’s word. I hope you’re thinking differently in some ways and finding some of the freedoms that are promised in scripture for those who believe and obey God’s word. But, keep it up! One day of healthy eating doesn’t make you a healthy person. One week of daily exercise doesn’t make you fit. Growing in Christ through God’s word is similar. It takes daily practice to unlock the growth benefits but they will come if you are consistent.

Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114

Today’s readings are Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is for me to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.” Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

Why Easter Matters

Why Easter Matters

Does Easter matter? Why does it matter? Find out in this message. 

This is an Easter message, developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021.

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Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, Psalm 86

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, and Psalm 86.

This devotional is about Proverbs 14:2, 16, 26, 27.

Fear is feeling that motivates people to act in ways that other things do not. You may love America, for example, but I’ll bet you pay your taxes more because you fear being prosecuted than because of patriotism.

These verses in Proverbs are linked by the concept of the “fear of the Lord.” The first two of them describe about how the fear of the Lord motivates people to do what is right:

  • 14:2: “Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly….”
  • 14:16: “The wise fear the Lord and shun evil….”

We often hear that “fearing the Lord” doesn’t mean being afraid of God but rather having a sense of “reverential awe” toward him. Reverential awe is good but there is more to fearing God than just being in awe of him. Someone who fears God is reverent because of who God is personally but a God-fearing person also respects his role as Lord and judge. Fearing God does not mean we serve him because he’s angry and we’re terrified of being annihilated at any moment for doing or saying the wrong thing. It does mean, however, that we submit to his authority to make the rules and we obey the rules because we believe in him and all that he is, including that he is just. Verses 2 and 16 tell us that this kind of proper fear of the Lord causes someone to do right (“walks uprightly”) and avoid doing wrong (“shun evil”). These are the consequences when someone fears God.

Verses 26 and 27 show us, however, that fearing God is not negative at all; it is positive. Verse 26 says that fearing the Lord provides a person with “a secure fortress” and verse 27 says that it “is a fountain of life.” When you believe in God as the Bible presents him, it brings security (v. 26) and blessings such as joy and purpose to your life (v. 27). Why is that true? Because sin is dangerous! Verse 27 says that the fear of the Lord turns “a person from the snares of death.” Sin kills but fearing God will help you avoid it.

We need God’s grace to fear him and to live obediently because we fear him. That means extending grace, of course, to others who truly fear God but still give into the desires of the sinful nature within. But, please understand, we do ourselves and our loved ones no favors at all when we act like sin is no big deal because God’s grace in Christ covers it all anyway. Sin is a big deal! The wages of it “is death” (Rom 6:23). When we rebuke someone who is sinning because we fear God, we are not trying to cut them down personally; we’re trying to save them from the destructive effects of sin. If you’ve ever had a loving friend step in and help you avoid or extricate yourself from sin, you know what a blessing that is. Until we are fully redeemed by God (at death or Christ’s return), we are vulnerable to the deceptive lives of our sin nature, the world, and the devil. But if we fear God and his discipline in our lives, it will help us avoid sin and find the fountain of life Solomon described in v. 27.

Exodus 35, Proverbs 11, Psalm 83

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Exodus 35, Proverbs 11, and Psalm 83.

This devotional is about Exodus 35 with a cross-reference to Proverbs 11:24-25.

God’s law was given and God’s promise to lead Israel to victory was secured in the preceding chapters. Those who were unbelieving and worshiped the golden calf had been punished for their sins. Now, here in Exodus 35, it was time for God’s people to do what God had commanded them to do for worship.

The passage began with a reminder of the importance of rest and worship on the Sabbath in verses 1-3. Then, in verses 4-9, God commanded his people to “take an offering for the LORD” (v. 5a). The people were invited to give God the resources that would be needed to create the tabernacle and all its furnishings and equipment. This is how they would have the materials they needed to build a place for worship.

In verses 10-19, a different kind of offering was commanded; it the offering of one’s time and talent. God’s people were commanded to “make everything the LORD has commanded” (v. 10). “Everything” was detailed in verses 11-19. Those who had skills were to help Bezalel do the work (vv. 30-33). They were to learn what they needed to know from Bezalal and Oholiab, both of whom had “the ability to teach others” (v. 34b).

In verses 20-29, the people responded to God’s commands through Moses. They dug around in their luggage and belongings and found all the stuff that was needed to make the tabernacle and the tools of worship. Notice, however, that nobody forced them to give. Although the Lord had commanded them to give, nobody forced them to do so. In fact, the words of the passage communicate directly that their gifts were voluntary. Verse 22 says, “All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought” these items to give to the Lord. Verse 29 repeated the point twice by saying again, “All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord…” and by calling their gifts “freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.”

This is how God’s work is provided for–by the willing gifts of his people. Although the things they gave (both their treasures and their time/talents) were used by the priests, what they gave was given to the Lord for his work (v. 29: “for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do”).

Proverbs 11:24-25 discussed the blessings that come through generosity. In verse 24, Solomon observed that generous people give stuff away, but gain more while the stingy get poor: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” Verse 25 repeats the prediction when it says, “A generous person will prosper” but then it adds a blessing, “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” These verses commend generosity in every aspect of life, not just for the Lord’s work but the principles taught here in Proverbs 11:24 -25 and modeled for us by Israel in Exodus 35 still apply. God provides for his work through the generous giving of his people. Are you giving generously to the Lord or are you withholding from supporting God’s work?

Some withholding is motivated by materialism; some is motivated by fear. In both cases, faith is needed. Do you believe that God will provide for you and even prosper you if you give generously out of love for him?

Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, Psalm 80

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, and Psalm 80.

This devotional is about Exodus 32.

The people of Israel had been slaves for 400 years. They knew how to follow orders, make bricks out of straw, and that’s about it. In the recent past, they rode a roller coaster of emotions as God liberated his people from Egypt but then allowed them to be chased by the Egyptians as well as struggle with hunger and thirst. These were all traumatic events. Without God, they were helpless against armies. Without Moses, they had no direction, no leadership.

This is why they freaked out when Moses stayed with God on Mount Sinai for so long (v. 1). They were fearful that the powerful, awe-inspiring God that liberated them from Egypt had killed Moses for insufficient holiness, leaving them on their own. Without any ability to provide for themselves or defend themselves, they were fearful, vulnerable, and directionless. This is why they insisted that Aaron create a god for them (v. 1); it was an attempt to tranquilize their fear and give them a new hope for the future.

It was also an opportunity to forget God’s law that they’d received in the preceding chapters of Exodus. God’s law prescribed duties and penalties, but also promised blessings, including built-in blessings such as Sabbath and feast days. By contrast, the new golden calf god gave them no laws to follow and threatened no penalties for disobedience. This god, made by men, conformed to and appealed to human desires. It let them have a festival without any moral constraints; the word translated “revelry” has sexual overtones. It sure seems like they broke the first, second, sixth, and tenth commandments as they worshipped their false god.

This is how idolatry works. It promises power by taking credit what the true God did in the past, v. 4b. It liberates the sinful nature within with lawlessness. Israel may have felt better for a while during their festival, but they paid dearly because of God’s justice. The same thing happens to us when we worship an idol. It offers us relief from fear and momentary pleasure but it cannot protect us from the consequences of our sin.

Although Moses was angry with his Hebrew brothers and sisters for their sins, verses 30-34 show us his tender love and compassion for these difficult, sinful people. Moses pleaded with God for his forgiveness for them (vv. 31-32a). He went so far as to insist that God remove him from his elect (v. 32b). This is a powerful statement, asking for God to send him to hell if He would not forgive the Israelites. In this way Moses foreshadowed our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although Jesus could not be blotted out of the book of life because he IS life, he identified with us sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself. When God poured out his justice on Jesus for our sins, Jesus took the punishment due to those who are not in God’s book of life. Then he rose from the dead to restore us sinners to eternal life.

A sinner like Moses could never substitute for anyone else’s sin, much less the idolatry of a whole nation. Yet Moses’s statement in verse 32b shows the depth of his love for the people of Israel. Christ DID die for our sins. By doing that, Jesus demonstrated how great his love for us is.

Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76

Today’s readings are Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76.

This devotional is about Exodus 28.

Exodus 28 described the uniform that the priests were to wear. Most of the garments that made up this uniform were for all the priests when they ministered in the Holy Place (vv. 43). Some pieces were reserved for only the high priest to wear (v. 15). Besides a description of each piece in the uniform, this chapter tells us the following:

  • The purpose of these garments was to give them “dignity and honor” (vv. 2, 40).
  • The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones and warn over the priest’s heart (vv. 9-12).
  • The breast piece was designed to make decisions for Israel and that was to be warn “over his heart before the Lord” (v. 30).

The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones which were warn over the priest’s heart. This should have helped him be conscious of what he already knew which is that he represented the people before God. Every time he put on the ephod, he had something tangible to remind him of his responsibility for all of Israel’s people. Likewise, every time he put on the breast piece, he had a physical reminder that God was the king of Israel and he was making the decisions for his people. Still, the best human priest could only imperfectly remember the people and his responsibility to them and the Lord and his way of revealing his will.

Aaron was a man, just like every other priest. As a man, he felt responsible for the work he was supposed to do. But he also experienced the concerns of everyday life–anxiety, perhaps, fear, loneliness, doubt, greed, envy, lust, and more. There were some times and some priests, I’m sure, where very little thought was given to the people or to the Lord’s will because the priest was preoccupied with his own stuff.

Jesus, our perfect priest, however, did not suffer from the sinful and/or selfish concerns that every other priest wrestled with as he did his duty for God. Jesus needed no reminder that his priestly ministry was for the people. The Bible tells us that his people were chosen by name to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was able to reveal God’s will like no other priest because he was God in the flesh. He did not need the Urim and Thummim over his heart to know and be conscious of God’s will; he knew God’s will intimately because he was the one willing it. Likewise, he did not need a reminder of the people whose sins he atoned for because he knew perfectly and completely each one of us. As the perfect man, because of his divinity, he was and is able to be our perfect priest without being distracted by his own human “stuff.” Instead of bearing a category representing us over his heart, he made atonement for and intercedes for us because we are in his heart.

Praise Jesus for fulfilling the symbols in this passage perfectly as our great high priest.