Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148.

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 and 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), through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah encouraged his reader to encourage others who belonged to God but were old 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 in their camps. These truths could be used to give spiritual strength and stability to believers (v. 3).

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” and, when he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on 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. 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.

Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120

Read Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:118, 120: “You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their delusions come to nothing…. My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”

The songwriter described so many benefits from knowing, loving, and obeying God’s word throughout this Psalm. In verse 105 of today’s reading he made the well-known statement, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” which describes God’s truth as bringing clarity about decisions in his life.

But what about those who don’t know and love God’s word? What do they have to guide them through life? Verse 118 answers that question by saying, “their delusions come to nothing.” What unbelievers have, then, are delusions rather than truth. They make decisions based on their own deluded ideas rather than on absolute, God-revealed truth. They may have strong convictions but their convictions are based on nothing other than their own preferences or ways of looking at the world. This shows itself in our society daily. The crazy things people claim to be true, like that there are 57 genders or whatever, are symptoms of a deluded society.

Delusions can be really interesting, even very appealing. The human mind is capable of incredible, wild fantasies and, because they are only thoughts, they are not constrained by things like logic, physics, morality, or human laws. When people start to live as if their delusions are true, they will stumble into many absurd, wicked ways. As the Psalmist wrote in the last phrase of verse 118: “their delusions come to nothing.”

The preceding part of verse 118 tells us what will happen to those who live by their own delusions instead of God’s truth: “You reject all who stray from your decrees.” People may enjoy acting as if their distorted reality is true but after they die, they will find a holy God who has rejected them for rejecting his word.

This brings me to verse 120. Obeying God’s word is hard, right? Without the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and illumination, it is impossible. Even with those gifts of the Spirit, we believers have to grapple with our sin nature within. So what enables a person to reverence, receive, and obey God’s word? Verse 120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you….” It is the fear of God that causes people to obey his word. This is the work of the Spirit causing us to turn from our delusions about God, about life, about sin and believe that God exists and that we are accountable to him but also that he loves us and wants to redeem us from our delusions.

Any appetite we have for God’s word or any success we have in obeying it is only by the grace of God given to us by his Spirit. This is why we have nothing to be proud about. But we must always remember to rely on the Spirit, asking God to keep us humble and dependent on his grace. Otherwise, we will be tempted again by the “delusions [which] come to nothing.”

Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95

Today’s readings are Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95.

This devotional is about Psalm 95.

God’s commands only seem burdensome to us because we want to make our own rules and live by our own desires. If humanity understood how much God loves us, we would all view God’s commands as loving and gracious because obedience to them will protect us from the damage and pain that sin causes us and others around us.

Here in Psalm 95, the songwriter encouraged God’s people to come together to sing and shout the Lord’s praises (vv. 1-2, 6) because of his greatness (vv. 3-5) and his care for his people (v. 7). In the last four verses, the song turned from encouraging God’s people to praise him to urging God’s people not to harden their hearts toward him as they had in the past (vv. 8-11).

When the song writer referenced Meribah and Massah in verse 8, he was calling our attention to the events of Exodus 17. That’s where the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and God due to the lack of drinking water, so God commanded Moses to strike a rock with his rod and water poured forth. The point of this section is to remind us that God wants good things for us and will provide for us but we must trust him and not complain to him. When we sit in judgment on God or his word instead of praising and thanking him, we are hardening our hearts to his grace (v. 7b) and cutting ourselves off from the good things he wants to do for us.

Do you find it hard to praise God? Does your mind go blank when the topic of giving thanks to God comes up? Could that be happening because you’ve hardened your heart against God, complaining that he hasn’t given you something instead of worshipping him for who he is and all that he has done for us?

God has been good to us. He has been merciful to us when we’ve rejected him and his word by saving us. Let’s praise and thank him, then, instead of hardening our hearts toward him.

Jonah 1

Jonah 1

People often disobey God’s commands. What will God do about it? Find out in this message from Jonah 1.

This is a message from chapter 1 of the Old Testament book of Jonah. It was the first message in a series covering the entire book by Pastor Brian Jones.

This message was delivered on Sunday, September 20, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.

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