Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14

Read Numbers 27, Isaiah 50, Proverbs 13:1-14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 50.

Picture a man who went hiking in the woods and, somewhere along the way, lost his keys when they fell out of his pocket. The sun was going down and he was left out in the woods groping around in the darkness to find his keys so he could go home. Poor guy, right?

But what if he had a flashlight with fresh batteries in the backpack on his back? How …um… bright could he be if he had the light—and knew it—but was too lazy or stubborn to take it out and use it?

So is everyone who knows God’s word but makes decisions without considering or consulting it. Anyone who lives by what is acceptable and promoted in society, or by their own human ingenuity, or by the tenets of some false religion is groping around in the dark. Here in Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah called to the people of God and asked for those who trusted Him to reveal themselves. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?” he asked in verse 10a. Then he said, “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” The implication of that verse is that darkness is the result of living by our own human reason.

In contrast, for those who believe the Lord, who take him at his word, the light of God’s revelation is available to them. Trusting “in the name of the Lord” and relying “on their God” means living as if you believe God’s word is true. That’s what faith is! It is accepting what God says and living accordingly, believing that you will be better off because God’s word is true. Verse 11 contrasts the one who lives in the light of faith with those who try to manufacture their own light through human wisdom: “But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.”

These are trying times we live in. Things that were accepted as universally-held facts in the past are now questioned, attacked, even ridiculed. Every choice, every “lifestyle decision” is considered valid in our culture (except for living by faith in God’s word, of course). But God warns all of us that they will “receive from my hand” pain and judgment (v. 11). At the end of today’s chapter the Lord promised, “You will lie down in torment.”

I’m glad you show up here everyday to read God’s word and consider its teachings with me. But do you live by the things you are learning here? Do you take the light that God’s word offers us and walk by it in your own life or do you put it away in your mental backpack and grope around looking for the keys to life on your own, by the light of a makeshift torch?

The difference between God’s blessings and his punishment is faith in his word which is evidenced by obedience. What area of disobedience has God brought to light in your life recently? Will you accept the light that God’s word offers and live by faith in that area?

Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2

Read Leviticus 14, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Acts 2.

This devotional is about Acts 2.

Christians use the phrase, “the Day of Pentecost” to describe the event in this chapter. To us, the “Day of Pentecost” is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a way that could be observed. There was “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” (v. 2) and the sight of “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). These were supernatural, outward, observable evidences of a spiritual reality which is that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). The result of being “filled with the Holy Spirit was that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v. 4b). There has been a lot of discussion in recent church history about whether what the disciples experienced here is supposed to be the normal Christian experience or whether this kind of power was unique to that time in church history. A devotional on this passage is not the best place to talk about that dispute.

What is important to understand, however, is what happened after this demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, after Peter’s message of the gospel, and after “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41). What happened after the Day of Pentecost is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). They did not devote themselves to speaking in tongues or doing other miraculous works. In fact, verse 43 references “wonders and signs performed by the apostles” not “performed by everyone.” No, what followed this experience was great teaching and fellowship around God’s word and prayer as well as “praising God” (v. 47a) and having “those who were being saved” added “to their number” (v. 47b). In other words, the effect of God’s power was salvation, teaching, fellowship, and worship.

We need God’s power as much as they needed it on the Day of Pentecost and the days that followed. And, we have the promise of God’s power, too, just as they did then. What we should be looking for as believers is not the proof of God’s power through miracles but the results of God’s power in true spiritual change–people coming to Christ, hungry for God’s word, fellowship, and prayer. May God give us hearts that desire these things more than we desire great, dramatic displays of his power.

Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Acts 1

Read Leviticus 13, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, and Acts 1.

This devotional is about Isaiah 8:1-9:7.

Although they had the great prophet Isaiah living among them and speaking constantly on behalf of God, Judah was in deep rebellion to God’s word and cared nothing for Isaiah’s prophecies. As people tend to do, they looked to more mystical sources for revelation instead of the written Law of God and the spoken teachings and prophecies of Isaiah.

God rebuked his people for this in Isaiah 8:19. Instead of fooling around with false sources of spirituality, God through Isaiah called them back to his word: “Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (v. 20).

When people look outside God’s word, they are dissatisfied (v. 21a) and end up cursing God (v. 21b). Instead of finding light in these sources, they find “distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (v. 22).

Chapter 9 opened against this bleak backdrop by promising “no more gloom” (v. 1). Instead, the prophet stated that “people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (v. 2). Isaiah was prophesying a day of victory for God’s people (vv. 3-5) but it started with the birth of Christ, foretold in Isaiah 9:6-7.

Whether people look to God for truth or not, God would (and did!) send his Son to bring light into the world and he will come again to finish the work and establish his kingdom on earth. That is our hope, so let’s look to his word only for guidance and revelation and truth about how to live until his kingdom comes.

Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, Proverbs 9

Read Leviticus 1, Song of Songs 5, and Proverbs 9.

This devotional is about Proverbs 9.

This chapter in Proverbs continues comparing wisdom to a woman and folly is also compared to a woman. You remember from high school, maybe, that this is a literary device called “personification.” Solomon has already “personified” wisdom as a woman; now folly is also personified as a woman. I will refer to them as “Wendy Wisdom” and “Polly Folly.”

Both of these women call out to people “from the highest point of the city” (v. 3b, 14b). This means that their invitations are broadcast and can be heard from far away.

They both invite people to come in to their homes and eat. Wendy Wisdom offers her own nourishment (vv. 4-5). It is the nourishment of a godly life (v. 10) which results in a disciplined life. Like healthy food, it isn’t always the most tasty, but it is healthy and will extend your life (vv. 6, 11).

By contrast, Polly Folly offers “stolen water… and food eaten in secret” (v. 17). This is a reference to sin. It is immediately enjoyable, even addictive, but like all addictions, it will kill you (v. 18).

In between the contrasts offered by these two women, Solomon talked about correction. There are two kinds of people: those who reject correction (vv. 7a, 8a) and those who accept correction (v. 8b).

Those who reject correction will turn and attack the person who tries to give it to them. If you’ve ever tried to show someone a problem in their life and they turn and accuse you of being unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental or the bad guy, this is the kind of person you’re dealing with. Of course, there are some people in the world who are unloving, unkind, critical, judgmental, and bad guys. The difference is in the motivation and delivery of the person bringing correction. A loving person cares about you; they want to see you avoid sin or help you get unstuck from a sinful situation, habit, or temptation. They speak up because they want to help you not to hurt you. Those who are unloving, unkind, critical, etc. just want to hurt you. It is the difference between a surgeon who cuts you open with a scalpel and a solder who cuts you open with a sword. Both of them are cutting–which wounds you–but they have very different motivations and results.

The person who accepts correction is wise (v. 8b) and is on a pathway to greater wisdom (v. 9). On one level he may love the sin you are correcting him for, but as a believer, he will recognize his sin is wrong and that it will bring pain and destruction if he persists in it. So your correction will help him grow and he “will love you” as a result (v. 8b). All of this points again to the importance of humility. People resist correction out of pride but those who are too proud to accept correction will eventually pay a much more painful price than wounded pride.

If you want to be wise, you have to start by being humble. Humility calls us to fear the Lord (v. 10) which “is the beginning of wisdom” but we progress down that path by continuing to accepting the truth in humility. That truth may come from the correction of God’s word or the correction of another person but if it is true, we should receive it even though it hurts.

Did you receive any correction this week–any criticism from your boss or a complaint about your actions or character? Criticism delivered lovingly is easier to take, but even our harshest critic can still help us onward toward wisdom if we have the humility to accept the criticism and change accordingly.

Exodus 38, Song of Songs 2, Luke 16

Read Exodus 38, Song of Songs 2, and Luke 16.

This devotional is about Luke 16.

At the end of this chapter we learned about a rich man, unnamed, and a poor man named Lazarus (vv. 19-31). As rich people do, the rich man lived a comfortable life; conversely, Lazarus the poor man lived a painful, uncomfortable life. Despite his disadvantaged financial standing and the difficulties that poverty created for him, he trusted in God.

When death came to both men, their previous situations were reversed. The wealthy man was in torment in hell (vv. 23-24) while Lazarus was in eternal bliss (vv. 23b, 25b). Unable to be blessed in any way while in hell, the unnamed rich man pleaded for Lazarus to be sent back to warn his family (vv. 27-38). At this point, some interesting details emerge:

  1. The rich man knew Lazarus by name. Verse 20 told us that Lazarus was laid “at his gate.” These two facts suggest that the rich man talked to Lazarus at some point or at the very least had his servants find out about Lazarus. Yet, according to verse 21, the rich man gave Lazarus nothing, not even his leftovers. So the rich man had interacted with Lazarus but day after day ignored his horrible poverty.
  2. The rich man’s family knew Lazarus, too. That’s not stated but it is implied by the phrase, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” If the rich man’s family was unaware of who Lazarus was, they would have been unaware of his death and, therefore, unmoved by his resurrection from the dead. So they, like their brother it seems, had personal contact with Lazarus and yet did nothing to help him.

This gives us some insight into the selfish nature of the wealthy family portrayed in this story. Not only did they receive “good things” (v. 25) in their lifetime, they were stingy with what they had. Once in hell, however, the rich man became aware of how foolish his comfortable life really was. Unable to be saved or to save himself, the rich man called for a miracle to save his family.

The word of Abraham to this rich man in hell explains so much about our faith. Verse 31 said simply, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Why did so many people see the miracles of Jesus yet reject him as Messiah? Because unbelief is not about evidence; it is the outgrowth of our darkened sinful hearts.

Why do so many people today believe that Jesus did miracles and rise from the dead? Because God’s word has supernatural power. It is not solid logic, or great evidence, or even supernatural displays of power that create faith. It is God who creates faith and he does so with his word. As Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

What do you need to be effective in evangelism? God’s word. That’s it. Be faithful in sharing God’s word when you can and ask God to use it to make faith in others.

Exodus 34, Ecclesiastes 10, Proverbs 8:22-36

Read Exodus 34, Ecclesiastes 10, and Proverbs 8:22-36.

This devotional is about Proverbs 8:22-36.

In our culture, calling someone “old” is usually intended to insult or dismiss them. “Who cares if he tells you to get off his lawn? He’s just a cranky old man,” is one example of what I mean. Youth and beauty are prized in our times so old men and old women are coldly disregarded as being unimportant.

Sadly, this is especially true for women. In our culture, a woman is judged by her appearance more than her character, intellect, personality, accomplishments, or the total of these and other traits. Therefore, the older a woman gets, the more invisible she becomes to some people.

Here in Proverbs 8:22-36, wisdom speaks as if she is a woman. Instead of hiding her age, the key fact that she stresses about herself is that she’s really old. Verse 23as says, “I was formed long ages ago….” She was the first thing God created (v. 22) so she is older than any material thing that exists. With great eloquence, reverence, and no negative judgment at all, Solomon painted a picture of how old wisdom is. Like gravity or the laws of physics or matter, wisdom is a foundational idea, an ancient principle that makes everything else possible. It is true that we humans have only recently discovered things like the laws of physics, but though the ideas are new to us, the principles are ancient because they are foundational.

So it is with wisdom. Except that, too often in our world, wisdom isn’t prized as a great discovery; it is despised as being old and out of date. That’s how our culture treats true wisdom–God’s wisdom–because people in our culture want to lead an immoral life and wisdom directs you to fear God and lead a moral life according to his commands. At the end of our passage today, however, verses 35-36 promise great benefits for wisdom and penalties for folly–wisdom’s opposite.

Wisdom is old but it is far from obsolete; it is crucial! It is foundational to a successful life. Remember that wisdom begins with fearing God, so building your life on a foundation of wisdom starts with welcoming God’s revelation and living obediently to what it says. As sinners we can’t do this naturally but the saving grace of Christ enables us to learn how to obey.

Are you resisting some command of God? Are you questioning some principle of his word or some tenet of the Christian faith? Do you wonder if the Bible isn’t obsolete because it is so old? Wisdom brags about being old because it is a foundational principle to all of life. So seek wisdom in  your life by learning God’s word and–most importantly–obeying what you learn in God’s word. Wisdom won’t let you down, so build your life on it. It is a dependable foundation, the only one worth founding your life on.

Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, James 2

Read Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, James 2.

This devotional is about James 2:12-13.

This passage is about the sin of favoritism (v. 1). Favoritism is a recurring problem that every church–meaning most Christians–will battle in our minds and hearts. Maybe we’re less overt than the people described in verses 2-3, but we all tend to gravitate toward people who look like us or seem like us. And, we all tend to be wary of people who look or seem different. 

At the end of this paragraph on favoritism, James commands us to “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (v. 12). This verse reminds us that we will all give account to God for our lives. If we have been truly saved by Jesus, we will not be condemned to experience God’s wrath on that day of judgment.

But, as Christians, we will give account to the Lord for how we’ve lived. James tells us to keep that in mind when he says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged…” (v. 12a). That means we will answer to the Lord for our generosity–or lack of it–toward the poor. We will answer to him for any racist words or prejudiced actions toward other people. 

God’s law is our guide in these and every area of Christian obedience. James already referenced “the royal law… love your neighbor as yourself” in verse 8. Here in verse 12 he says that the law “gives freedom.” That’s not usually the way we think about laws. Laws, as we think of them, restrict our freedom. And that’s the way they act and feel to us before we become followers of Christ.

But once Christ comes into our lives, the Holy Spirit and the word of God go to work on our minds and our hearts. God uses his word to turn us from hating God’s law to seeing it as our pathway to holy living. David experienced this and sang about it throughout Psalm 119. Verses 97-98 give us just one example of this: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies.”

Do you love God’s word–even the parts we call “the law”? Do you read these passages everyday looking for insight about how to change your life to conform to God’s ways? When you have a moral choice to make, or you are talking to another person, do you think about the fact that you will have to answer to God for the choice you make or how you treat that person?

Let God’s law be your guide to holiness. Remember that you will give an account to the Lord for how you live so speak and act like it (v. 12) and ask the Lord to help you do that more and more by his Holy Spirit as you grow in your faith and knowledge of his word.

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14

Read Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 8.

There are (roughly) three types of sermons:

  • Topical: A topical sermon is one where the preacher chooses a topic, studies that topic from all the relevant scripture passages, then organizes the sermon as he sees fit and delivers it. Topical sermons usually reference many different passages from the Bible. In my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical.
  • Textual: A textual message happens when the preacher takes one verse (usually) which provides the main point (Big Idea) of the message. Sometimes one or more points of the message is also drawn from the same verse as the Big Idea. But other passages of scripture are brought in to develop the Big Idea. I don’t do a lot of textual preaching but my series on prayer titled How to Talk So that God Will Listen contains several textual messages. In that series, each line of the Lord’s Prayer provides the Big Idea like, “Our Father in heaven,” but I went to other scripture passages to explain what the Bible says about God as Father.
  • Expository: An expository message is about one passage of scripture, usually an entire paragraph of scripture. The paragraph that is chosen provides most, if not all,  the biblical content for the sermon–the Big Idea, the main points, the sub-points, and so on are all drawn from the same paragraph and are explained in the message. Preachers often quote or reference other scripture passages in an expository sermon, but those quotes/references are used to clarify, explain, illustrate, or apply the truth in the main paragraph of scripture.

Most of my preaching is expository. Even in a series or message that is topical, I will usually spend extended time in the message in one passage of scripture. I wrote above that in my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical. That is true; however, my message on God’s eternality is mostly an exposition of Psalm 90. And the series I’ve done preaching through Genesis, Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, and many other books are all examples of expository messages. They go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, explaining and applying God’s word until every passage in that book has been explained and applied.

What does any of this have to do with Nehemiah 8? Consider:

At the end of Nehemiah 7, which we read yesterday, verse 73 told us that “When the seventh month came….” but the end of that sentence is here in Nehemiah 8 which we read today. What happened in “the seventh month” (7:73) is that “all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”

Why did they do this? Because they were celebrating the Feast of Trumpets which is commanded in Leviticus 23:23-25 to happen “on the first day of the seventh month” (Lev 23:24b). Leviticus 23 doesn’t say much about this feast. All it commands is “trumpet blasts” (Lev 23:24c), “a day of sabbath rest” (Lev 23:24b) and “a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:25).

As the people observed this festival, they wanted to hear God’s word. So they asked Ezra to read the scripture to them. Verse 3 here in Nehemiah 7 told us that “he read it aloud.” But verses 7-8 told us that he and other Levites did two more things in addition to reading God’s word aloud:

  1. They translated the Hebrew text into Aramaic which was the common spoken language of God’s people at that time. The phrase, “making it clear” in verse 8b refers to that translation.
  2. They explained the passages they were reading. The phrase, “giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” in verse 8c refers that explanation.

What they were doing was, in basic form, expository preaching. They read the text and then explained it.

This is what I try to do in every message I preach: read God’s word, then explain it. I also try to apply it and that happened, too, in verses 13-18.

Why do I preach this way? Because it feeds God’s people. When a true believer hears God’s word read, explained, and apply, they are nourished in their faith and in the truth of God’s word.

Topical and textual messages have their place; when they are done properly, they teach God’s word, too. But the paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse teaching of God’s word is what God’s people need to grow. They needed it here in Nehemiah after they returned to Jerusalem from exile.

You and I need it, too. So come to our Sunday assemblies hungry for truth and ready to be taught God’s word. It’s the best thing for you and your faith.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10 today. This devotional is about Genesis 15.

Genesis 14, which we read yesterday, described how Abram and his men battled and defeated four kings who had beaten five other kings and had taken Lot captive. Scripture gives us no indication here of how that battle affected Abram emotionally but it is possible that, even though he won, Abram was traumatized by the experience.

If Abram was traumatized by that battle, it is not surprising to see God giving him comfort in the opening words here in chapter 15. In verse 1 God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield….” That phrase indicates that God was the one who had just protected Abram in battle and would protect him in the future, too.

But God went on to tell Abram that knowing God was worth more than all the wealth and power that Abram refused at the end of chapter 14: Verse 1e says, “I am… your very great reward.” 

Abram had received other promises like this from God so in verses 2-3 he questioned God about this promise. Specifically, he wanted to know how God could keep this promise given that he and Sarai had no children. 

Questioning God is a spiritually-risky thing to do. God is sovereign; he is creator. We have no right to question his will because we are his creation.

But questioning God is not always a sin. In fact, there are two types of questions. Sometimes we ask questions to understand what God has said. At other times, we ask questions to undermine God and suggest that his promises are not worth trusting.

Abram’s question was not an attack on God or his word, it was a sincere effort to understand what God said and how it would be accomplished when it seemed so unlikely.

God answered Abram’s sincere question with his word. Notice that verse 4 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.” God and Abram had already been talking so why was this phrase necessary?

The point was to remind us who is making the promise. God graciously gave Abram a clarification (v. 4) and a re-affirmation of the promise (v. 5). Though God’s answer may not have been totally satisfying, Abram accepted it in faith anyway (v. 6a).

Then verse 6b recorded one of the most important statements in the book of Genesis: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abram to be a righteous man. That declaration was not based on something Abram did to create or demonstrate his own righteousness. Rather, God considered Abram to be perfect based on his faith, not his obedience.

The lesson for us is that living by faith means trusting God’s word even when God doesn’t answer all our questions.

God commands and calls us not to be perfect on our own, but to believe; to fall in total dependence on God’s promises. 

Do this when obeying God seems risky or you are afraid or you doubt God’s goodness or wonder if God’s promise really applies to you. Fall in total dependence on his promises and watch God keep his word.

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and one “who keeps his covenant of love….”
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

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).

2 Chronicles 36, Malachi 4

Read 2 Chronicles 36 and Malachi 4.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 36.

Our reading of the Old Testament ends here with a description of the end of Judah’s independence in 2 Chronicles 36 and a promise for “you who revere my name” that “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” in Malachi 4:2. Let’s look for a minute at the end of Judah’s independence in 2 Chronicles 36.

God’s plan for Israel was to be one nation that worshipped him alone and lived under his sovereign leadership and direction, guided by his laws which both prescribed righteous behavior and described how to receive forgiveness when someone broke one of his laws. If the people kept the covenant they had made with God at Sinai, they would have had military victory, economic prosperity, large healthy families, and happy long lives.

Instead, they consistently disobeyed every aspect of God’s word. The worshipped other gods, refused to claim the land God had commanded them to take, divided into two kingdoms instead of one, and became subject to Assyria and Babylon. Despite all the problems their sins produced, verse 14 of this chapter says, “all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”

Although God’s people deserved immediate punishment, God was patient with them. Verse 15 says, “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.”

There is a human tendency to resist correction and rebuke, no matter how lovingly delivered. God sent rebuke “because he had pity on his people” not because he enjoyed wounding them with words. If God’s people had humbled themselves in repentance, they could have received forgiveness and the blessings of God’s covenant. Instead, they resisted the Lord’s word and persecuted his messengers.

Don’t make the same mistake. Open your heart and mind to the correcting influence of God’s word. Be quick to repent when it convicts you and to obey when God commands. Most of all, believe the forgiveness of sins that Christ died to give us by grace. It will save you from the wrath of God in eternity and it will keep you walking with God all the days of your life.

This is the end of the line for this year’s devotionals. Next year–aka tomorrow–I will be starting another devotional series. If you’re reading this in your email, you’re all set and should keep receiving these daily devotionals automatically.

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Thanks for reading the Bible with me this year. I hope it was a blessing to you and helpful to your Christian life.