Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, Psalm 12

Read Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, and Proverbs 1:20-33.

This devotional is about Genesis 13.

Abram and Lot must have had some kind of close personal relationship. Genesis 11:31 told us that Lot was Abram’s nephew. The fact that Lot went with Abram (12:4) when Abram left Ur suggests a close, personal friendship between Abram and Lot, one where Abram was most likely a mentor that Lot looked up to.

God had promised, in Genesis 12:3, that he would bless anyone who blessed Abram. Lot’s personal association with Abram sure seems to have brought God’s blessing to Lot’s family. As we read today in Genesis 13:6, Lot and Abram became so wealthy that “they were not able to stay together.” So, they separated themselves geographically and Abram graciously gave Lot the power to choose which land each of them would inhabit (vv. 8-9).

Verse 10 told us that Lot made his decision based on what would benefit him most economically. As a rancher, a “well watered” plain “like the garden of the Lord” would provide the best environment for Lot’s flocks and herds to thrive, contributing to Lot’s bottom line. So Abram and Lot parted for economic reasons and Lot chose his next home for economic reasons.

Verse 12 told us that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” The next verse told us that Sodom was inhabited by wicked men. When I was growing up, messages I heard on this text suggested (maybe even stated directly) that Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom” because he was curious about the wicked lifestyle of the people who lived there. I don’t think that is correct, based on 2 Peter 2:7-8. I think Lot lived near the cities, especially Sodom, because it gave him a great market for his livestock. So, again, he chose what was best for himself and his family’s prosperity despite the spiritual threats Sodom would pose to his family.

I believe the prosperity gospel is wrong, a heretical distortion of the gospel.

But I don’t believe that prosperity is wrong; in fact, I believe that we should prosper—unless God chooses not to allow us to prosper–because our faith causes us to work hard and act prudently with money. So, I’m pro-economic growth for all of us within the sovereign and the moral will of God.

But, if prosperity drives all of our decisions, we will make bad moral choices (see 1 Timothy 6:10). This happened to Lot, as we’ll see.

How about you and me?

  • Do we choose to take a job with a better salary without considering how it might affect our families?
  • What about the choices we make when it comes to spending money? Are your kids enrolled where they are in high school or college because you can save money that way? Did the spiritual and moral costs of that decision factor into your choice

Money is important; we all need it to live and I pray for the prosperity of our church members within the will of God. But don’t let money drive you to make disastrous moral decisions.

Lot would have been so much better off if he had offered to reduce his flocks and herds so that he could stay with Abram. He probably wouldn’t have been better off economically–at least not at first–but he would have retained the moral example and instructions from Abram which would have benefited him in every area of his life. Be wise; don’t allow every big decision you make to be decided only to the money needed.

Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Psalm 1

Welcome to the first installment this year’s devotionals. If you read each chapter, you’ll read through the Old Testament this year.

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 1, Ezra 1, and Psalm 1. This devotional is mostly about Psalm 1, so read that if you can’t read all three chapters.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if you love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by the wicked will cause them to be blown away (v. 4) and rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people–ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members, celebrities, actors, and journalists who care nothing about God?

The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spent and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

Thanks for reading and happy new year!

2 Kings 7, Micah 1, Proverbs 25:1-14

Read 2 Kings 7, Micah 1, and Proverbs 25:1-14.

This devotional is about Proverbs 25:1-14.

I know nothing about metallurgy but I read on the Internet that “dross” is the “scum or unwanted material that forms on the surface of molten metal.” Verse 4 here in Proverbs 25 told us that if you “Remove the dross from the silver” that “a silversmith can produce a vessel.” That suggests–and, again, I’m not sure because… metallurgy–but it suggests that the dross weakens the silver in some way.

If you separate that scum from the silver, though, the silversmith can make something more valuable. That principle is applied in verse 5 which says, “remove wicked officials from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.” Evil men who advise a ruler weaken him. They weaken his decision-making and his moral authority. Separate that scum from his rulership, then his authority and rule will be strengthened.

You don’t have to be a king to apply this to your life. Each of us has influences that weaken us. We have friends that get us thinking or talking negatively or friends that tempt us to sin. We watch too much TV and then complain that we don’t have time to read God’s word and pray. We listen to music or talk radio on the way to work when a good podcast or audiobook would encourage us or challenge our thinking.

What scummy influences in your life are weakening it? Skim them out and be a stronger person!

2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, Proverbs 22:1-16

Read 2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, and Proverbs 22:1-16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 10.

Here in 2 Samuel 10, David—the great warrior king—tried to build a political alliance. According to verse 1, the Ammonite king died and verse 2 tells us his name was Nahash. This man was mentioned in 1 Samuel 11, where he was instrumental in beginning Saul’s career as Israel’s king. Back then, Nahash had besieged Jabesh Gilead and demanded incredibly cruel and gruesome terms for a peaceful settlement (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Saul mustered the men of Israel and defeated Nahash and his army which rallied the nation to Saul as their leader.

Given the events of 1 Samuel 11, it is quite surprising to read that David said, “Nahash… showed kindness to me” (v. 2a). He must have treated David much differently than he did Jabesh Gilead in 1 Samuel 11. Maybe being defeated by Saul made him treat Israel with much greater kindness and generosity. Or maybe this is an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Nahash was kind to David because Saul hated David and Nahash was the enemy of Saul. We don’t know because Nahash is not mentioned at all between 1 Samuel 11 and 2 Samuel 10. Whatever Nahash did for David left a very favorable impression on him, so David desired to show kindness to Hanun, Nahash’s son. Sending a delegation to express sympathy, as David did in 2 Samuel 10:2c, was an act of political diplomacy. It was a personal kindness, yes, but it was also a political one—a way to encourage peaceful relations between two nations who were near each other geographically. 

David’s kindness, however, was interpreted as espionage (v. 3). Hanun, therefore, humiliated David’s men. In Israelite culture, the beard is a symbol of manhood. Only women and boys had hairless faces, so shaving half of a man’s face was a way to humiliate him before everyone who saw him. That insult was bad enough but cutting off someone’s garments to expose them would be even more humiliating to anyone. These men arrived unarmed since they were on a peaceful mission, so to treat them this way was both personally humiliating and politically insulting. It was an act of war which is how David responded to it (vv. 5-7). 

There is a difference between cautious and paranoid, between skeptical and cynical. A cautious person will trust someone more and more as that person demonstrates trustworthiness over time. A paranoid person trusts no one, ever. A skeptical person wants to believe the best about someone but has plenty of doubts. A cynical person consistently believes the worst about others. A young king like Hanun should have expected to be tested by other nations, so caution and even skepticism were warranted and wise. But Hanun and his military advisors went way beyond skepticism. They were paranoid—unreasonably suspicious. They were also cynical—assuming the worst motives in any and every situation. They reacted as if David’s men were caught spying, not suspected of it. Their response was unjust and unwarranted. It was also unwise.

There is an old saying, “Once burned is twice shy.” That saying expresses something you and I know to be instinctively true—we are doubly cautious toward anyone we feel has burned us or betrayed us in the past. Trust is like a wall of dominoes: it takes a long time to build, one positive act placed next to another with perfect spacing between them. But, just as one flick of the finger can take down the carefully built wall of dominoes, so one foolish act, one rash statement can destroy years of trust and credibility. These are facts of human nature.

Cynicism, however, is far worse. A cynical person believes the worst about others by default. The cynic believes that everyone’s motives are not just suspect but evil, so every act is interpreted as an act of war, even acts that are designed to be peaceful. But cynicism is an incredibly costly way to look at the world. A cynic will never trust anyone enough to have a truly good relationship with that person. A cynic will wound even the person who wants to nothing more than to befriend him. Jesus commanded us to look at others far differently than the cynic looks at others. He commanded us to be kind and generous to everyone, even our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). He commanded you to forgive the guy who sins against you 490 times, if he asks forgiveness (Matt 18:22). If you are a suspicious, cynical, paranoid person, people may not be able to take advantage of you, but they also can’t really love you. If you respond badly to those who try to show you kindness, everyone will end up being your enemy. As followers of Jesus, we must learn to be open-hearted to others around us. We should take some appropriate caution, to be sure, but value the difference between careful and closed. Not only are there eternal rewards for trusting Jesus enough to be good to those who are not good to us, there is the immediate return of cultivating friends instead of creating enemies.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of cynicism because in him we learn what mercy is, what grace is, what forgiveness really means and how costly it is. We also learn that he is sovereign over every event in our lives so that even if others wound us or even kill us, he will bring justice when he determines. Lean on these truths when you are tempted to distrust others; if others sin against you, trust God to take care of you instead.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, Mark 1

Read 1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, and Mark 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 23.

God had chosen David to be Israel’s next king. David knew this, because Samuel had anointed him (1 Sam 16). Saul’s son Jonathan knew it, and he claimed that Saul knew it as well (v. 17). It was inevitable. Despite Saul’s best efforts to hunt David down and kill him, “God did not give David into his hands.”

This passage demonstrates David’s love for the LORD and his desire to please and obey him:

  • David sought the LORD’s will when the Philistines were attacking a Jewish city (vv. 1-2). He attacked the Philistines and defended them successfully, despite the fears of his men, because the LORD commanded him to do it (vv. 2-5).
  • David sought the LORD when he heard that Saul was coming for him (v. 10), and he believed and acted on what the LORD told him (vv. 11-13).

Why did God subject David to this relentless attack by Saul? Why did David have to wait for many years to become king, given that God had chosen him? Why did David have to travel from place to place to be safe and experience so many close calls (vv. 26-28)?

The answer is not specified in this passage, but it is revealed in many other passages of scripture. The LORD makes us wait and puts us in pressure situations to test our faith. Testing reveals whether we truly trust the LORD or whether we are following him only for the benefits he promised. It

Testing also strengthens our faith and teaches us to pray. When David did become king, he had experiences like this one to look back on. He could remember how God used him in military campaigns to save his people (v. 5). He could remember how God protected him from Saul (v. 14) and how God answered his prayers. These incidents would strengthen his resolve to do what was right when he became king later and they would form a habit of asking for God’s will and God’s guidance in his decisions as king.

But none of this was easy. It must have been discouraging and unpleasant to live on the run the way David and his men did. The Psalms that David wrote while he was on the run show that he struggled with fear as Saul chased him (see Psalms 59 and 63 for two examples).

So it was appropriate and necessary for Jonathan to encourage David, as we’re told he did in verses 15-18. But notice that Jonathan didn’t encourage David by telling him, “Everything will be ok. You’re too good at hiding for Saul to ever find you. He’s getting too old and won’t be around much longer.” In other words, Jonathan didn’t minimize the problem to try to make David feel better.

Instead, verse 15 tells us that Jonathan “…helped him find strength in God.” How did he do this? Two ways:

  1. By telling him not to be afraid (v. 17a). Fear is a natural human emotion, but it is the opposite of faith. When Jonathan told David not to be afraid, he was reminding him of the power of God. The LORD God who had protected David’s life to this point would not fail to keep protecting him in the future. So David had nothing to fear.
  2. By reminding him of God’s promises. When Jonathan told David that he would be king, he wasn’t making up a fanciful wish out of thin air. He was reminding David what God had promised. Samuel had delivered this promise to David when he anointed David. Jonathan believed it and reminded David of it.

What a great friend Jonathan was! Not just because of his humility (v. 17e), but because of his godly heart, solid theology, and determination to bolster David’s faith when his circumstances were bad.

Do you have any Christian friends who are discouraged? Follow Jonathan’s example. Remind him or her that God is all powerful, so there really isn’t anything to fear because the LORD’s will will overcome. Remind your friend, too, of God’s promises: that Christ is coming again for us, that he will raise us again to new life, wipe every tear from our eyes, vanquish his enemies and bring us safely into his kingdom where we will rule and reign forever.

A friend who can speak this kind of encouragement is a godly friend. Help your friends “find strength in God.”

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 46, Job 12, Hebrews 4

Read Genesis 46, Job 12, and Hebrews 4 today. This devotional is about Job 12.

Imagine experiencing the devastation Job experienced and then, when your friends came over to comfort you, they began to insist that this was your fault. That’s where Job found himself in these chapters. His friends took turns explaining that God is just and so Job must deserve what happened to him. Since they believed that as a given, they urged Job to repent.

When Job responded to his friends he insisted on his innocence, cried out to God for an explanation, and complained about his suffering.

In the previous chapter, Job 11, his friend Zophar rebuked Job for his words (11:1-12) and promised Job that if he just cut the nonsense and turned to God, his life would get better. “Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand… Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning” (vv. 13-14a, 17). 

Here in Job 12, Job began his response and Job’s speech in this cycle goes through chapter 14.

The first four verses of this chapter are harsh. In them, Job struck back verbally at his friends for the things they have said to him. In verse 5 Job said, “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune.” That statement was meant as a rebuke to his friends. They have a smug sense of security that causes them to look down on Job for what he suffered.

The problem with Job’s friends was not that their theology was completely wrong. The problem was that they made simplistic assumptions about Job and then applied their theology based on those assumptions.

Imagine that you were on a jury in a criminal case. As you enter the jury box, you look over at the person sitting at that defendant’s table. Just because they are sitting there, they look pretty guilty. It is easy to rationalize that the police would not have arrested them nor would the prosecutor have charged them if they didn’t have really good reasons to think that they are guilty. If you assume–as many of us do–that most criminal defendants are probably guilty, then it is tempting to pass judgment on the defendant without really weighing the evidence or applying the standard, “innocent until proven guilty” in a rigorous way. After all, you don’t commit crimes, so you’ll never be in that guy’s shoes.

But if you were wrongly accused of a crime, you would want the jury to think differently than the thinking I just described in the previous paragraph. You’d want the jury to listen carefully, weigh all the evidence and–most of all–empathize with what it would feel like to be charged and convicted of a crime you didn’t commit.

The point of all this for us is that, when our lives a going well and we feel secure, we should not “have contempt for [the] misfortune” of others.” We don’t know everything about anyone and we certainly don’t know the mind of God. So be careful about assuming that someone who is suffering deserves what they are suffering and that it is their own fault.

Being a good friend to someone who his hurting starts with empathizing with their pain. You shouldn’t ignore obvious sin but you also shouldn’t assume that someone who’s suffering has sinned and deserves it.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalms 1-3

Read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalms 1-3.

This devotional is about Psalm 1.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if we love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by wicked people will cause them to be blown away (v. 4), rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people–ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members?

Through technology, we can spend time with celebrities, actors, athletes and journalists. We don’t spend time with them in real life, of course, but media and the Internet and apps allow them to communicate what they do with their time, what they think is good or bad, cool or uncool, etc. These people may have a strong following but most them them care nothing about God. If you aren’t careful, you can be heavily influenced by their ungodly lives by spending lots of time uncritically in their “virtual” presence.

The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess  your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spend and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

Friends Make Ministry Better

Happy Stylish Multicultural Friends Shaking Hands While Playing Golf on Golf Course
Happy Stylish Multicultural Friends Shaking Hands While Playing Golf on Golf Course

From my daily devotional today:

Here in Acts 16, Paul found a friend like that–Timothy (v. 1). Timothy was younger than Paul so it was more of a mentor-relationship than a peer-to-peer friendship. But at the end of his life, Paul wanted Timothy with him (2 Tim 4:9-13). That’s a great friendship.

Do you have a friend like that? Have you served with someone and, in the course of serving, became close to that person personally?

https://pastorbrianjones.com/2020/05/12/acts-16/

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