Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, Proverbs 16:1-15

Read Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, and Proverbs 16:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 16:1-15.

Wealth is one of the deepest desires of many people.

For some, wealth is valuable because of the experiences it can buy. Others value the possessions that wealth can help you collect. Still others are fearful of financial ruin so accumulating wealth gives them a greater feeling of security.

Regardless of why someone wants financial gain, the temptation to be dishonest or to take advantage of someone is too strong for many to overcome. Proverbs 16:8 calls us to consider a different path. Instead of pursing and acquiring money at all costs, verse 8a invites us to consider the value of personal integrity. Would you rather do the right thing even if it meant less money for you or would you rather compromise your principles just a little bit to put some more money into your pocket? You are wiser, the Holy Spirit wrote through Solomon, if you get by on less to do the right thing than if you turn a bigger profit in an unjust way.

But why is it better–wiser–to do right instead of taking the money? Doing the right thing keeps your conscience from bothering you; in fact,  you may feel a sense of holy satisfaction if you do what is honest and right. Additionally, the Lord is watching when you choose righteousness over unjust gain. By choosing to do what God commands, you are banking on his promise to provide for you and your needs.

Will you face a situation like this in the next week? Maybe a cashier will mistakenly give you a $10 bill back instead of a $1 bill? Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to buy something for yourself with the company credit card? Maybe you’ll be tempted to embezzle funds or join a dishonest get rich quick scheme.

Remember that God is watching what we do and, if you belong to him, pleasing him with your choices will be better than stocking away more cash for yourself. If your trust is in the Lord, then count on him to provide for you by doing what is right, even if it leaves you with less money in the bank.

Deuteronomy 12, Jeremiah 5, Proverbs 14:19-35

Read Deuteronomy 12, Jeremiah 5, and Proverbs 14:19-35.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 5.

Jeremiah was called by God to proclaim judgment to Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He is called “the weeping prophet” because he saw the judgment he prophesied happen and wrote a lament about it in the book of the Bible known as “Lamentations.” God judged Judah because they worshipped idols instead of the true God. Jeremiah wrote about that in this chapter in verses 7-25, but the opening verses of this chapter look at the problem differently.

In verses 1-3 God told Jeremiah to search Jerusalem, capital of the Southern Kingdom, to find a truthful person. Verse 1b issued this challenge: “If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” But, in verse 2, the Lord told Jeremiah that everyone in his city was dishonest. People might swear in God’s name to be telling the truth, but they were lying.

Jeremiah knew this to be true, but he believed the problem was confined to the poor who “do not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” (v. 4b). He was confident that the leaders of Judah would know better. “Surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” he said to himself in verse 5b. So, verse 5a tells us about his resolve to speak to the leaders to see if he could find that one honest man that would spare the whole kingdom from judgment.

But, no. According to verses 5c-6, even the leaders of Judah had traded truthfulness for dishonesty. 

Since the root problem was that Judah did “not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God” (v. 4), that they had “sworn by gods that are not gods” (v. 7b) and “‘have been utterly unfaithful to me,’ declares the Lord” (v. 11), why is there such a focus on telling the truth in the early verses of this chapter?

The answer is that truth is an attribute of God. An untruthful person is showing the evidence of his unbelief. Lies are a measurable symbol of what someone worships. The further a person or a society strays from God, the more untruthful that person or society will become.

Unbelievers do tell the truth at times. They may even be generally truthful in what they say. But people like us have an uncanny ability to lie to and deceive ourselves. We all speak sincerely at times about our beliefs, but if we’ve chosen to believe something to be true that is actually false, we are not objectively truthful. Eventually whole societies are swallowed up in nonsense because they—collectively—have agreed to believe and to affirm what is false. Unless you know God, you can’t live a life of truth. 

As Christians, we too struggle to be truthful. We sometimes deceive others purposefully and we often deceive ourselves. We do this when we make excuses for sin (our own or others) or give assent to what is popular even though it is unbiblical and often irrational.

This passage should remind us that the God of truth that we worship calls us to reflect his nature in our lives by being truthful people as we grow to become like him. Jeremiah could not find a truthful man because he couldn’t find a man who really worshiped the Lord. Let us who know the Lord, then, choose to show the glory of God, the God of truth, in the honest, truthful ways in which we speak.

Exodus 16, Job 34, James 5

Read Exodus 16, Job 34, and James 5.

This devotional is about James 5.

Are you a man or woman of your word? If you tell someone you will do something or be somewhere or arrive at a certain time, can that person count on you?

Or, do you have to preface or follow something you’ve said with the statement, “I swear!” or “I promise!” Those phrases are necessary when we know we can’t be trusted. When we’ve just failed to keep a commitment or have a habit of being undependable, we have to resort to saying, “I swear” or “I promise” to manufacture a little bit of credibility for ourselves.

Jesus commanded us, his followers, not to say these things. James repeated those words of Jesus here in James 5:12: “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” The point of saying “a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” is that you will do what you agree to do or you will be honest if you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do it. Because we want people to like us, we all have a tendency to say “yes” to things that we really don’t want to do. James reminds us that following Jesus means being upfront and honest with others.

A person who is consistently honest and keeps his or her word is someone who can be trusted in the future. That kind of person, so rare in our world, never needs to say, “I swear” or “I promise.”

Life happens sometimes and prevents us from keeping our word when we had every intention of doing so. When that happens, the best thing to do is go to the person who was counting on you and apologize, taking responsibility and explaining–truthfully–what happened.

These days, of course, everyone has a cellphone on them, so missed commitments can be renegotiated. A renegotiated commitment is not a broken commitment. A person who keeps his commitments will keep his commitments or he’ll contact you to explain or apologize as soon as possible.

Today you will be asked for things–to show up at a meeting, to take on a responsibility, to come for an appointment, to bake cookies for your kids’ bake sale–whatever. Christians are people of truth; if you can’t do what is being asked of you, there is absolutely no shame in saying, “No.”

Remember that is one of the options James said we could say in verse 12. As followers of Christ, let’s make our commitments slowly, carefully, and with every intention of fulfilling them. Do this day after day, week after week, and people will learn that you can be trusted. That is a character quality that pleases the Lord.

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20.

This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones,” whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.

Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59

Read Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59.

This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11: “justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away” (vv. 9-11).

Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do. Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God….” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and we stand separated from him (vv. 2-3). Therefore, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19).

Read these words; they are so gracious and hopeful: “From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory” (v. 19). And then God will save his people along with us: “‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord” (v. 20). This is another promise, another prophecy that Jesus will reign as king. Then we will live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord.”

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of risk or hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful.

I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book about God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Leviticus 5, Proverbs 20, Psalm 92

Today we’re reading Leviticus 5, Proverbs 20, and Psalm 92.

This devotional is about Leviticus 5:1: “‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.’”

“Minding my own business” is a phrase that people use to disclaim responsibility. Sometimes that is a good thing; the Bible commands us not to get involved in gossip or someone else’s argument. In those situations, we would do well to mind our own business.

But there are times in life when we see something that we really should speak up about. If someone else sins and you see it but say nothing, are you complicit in their sin?

My instinct has always been to answer that question with “No.”

This verse, Leviticus 5:1, argues otherwise.

As Christians we are not under Moses’s law, so Moses won’t do anything to you if you don’t speak up. But these laws are God’s Word and, as such, they reflect God’s standards of right and wrong. They give us a set of ethical principles that should guide our behavior. This verse, then, tells us that God is not impressed when we are silent after witnessing a crime or some other kind of non-criminal sin. If you saw a man scratch someone else’s car, then drive off, what would you do? Would you try to stop him or say, “I saw that” if he drove by you as you walked through the parking lot? Would you copy down his license plate number and call the police or at least leave it on the car that was scratched?

Or would you just mind your own business?

Again, my instinct is usually very strong in the direction of do-nothing. Although I cannot remember any specific instances, I feel convicted reading these verses that there have been times in my life when I remained silent when I should have stepped in or spoken up.

Note that this is not the same as being a “tattle-tale.” Tattle-tales are, in my thinking at least, people who report others who broke procedural laws without damaging anyone else. So the isn’t a command to write down the license plate number of everyone who speeds but it is a call to do something if you witness a hit and run accident. It isn’t your job to turn in a child who runs in the hallway at school but you and I shouldn’t stay silent if we hear someone slandering the good reputation of someone else.

Each of us will answer to God for how we’ve lived our lives on this earth and that means giving an account for the things we’ve personally done. But we also have some obligation to others. Part of living in a community means not being idle or quiet when one person in the community takes advantage of someone else in the community.

Is it possible that someone reading this devotional today is sitting on some information that really should be brought to light?

If you’re struggling with whether or not you should come forward with information you have, let the moral principle behind this verse give you some guidance. If you remain silent, could someone be blamed falsely for something they didn’t do? Will it hurt a business or negatively impact someone’s life if you are silent about the information you have?

I once met a man in another state who moved across the country to take a new job in a community’s government. Once he was in that job, he discovered evidence of corruption and spoke up about it. Instead of being praised for his honesty, he lost his job and was blamed for the situation. Eventually an independent investigation cleared him of the false charges against him but he is unemployed and his reputation has been sullied. I prayed with this man and asked for God’s justice and I continue to pray for him periodically as I think of his situation.

But I told you this story to warn you that there may be negative consequences for you if you speak up they way Leviticus 5:1 says you should. Nevertheless, trusting the Lord and obeying his will in these areas is the right thing to do. Let’s determine in advance not to be silent when we should speak up.

Exodus 22, Job 40, and Psalm 70

Today we’re reading Exodus 22, Job 40, and Psalm 70.

This devotional is about Exodus 22.

The New Testament teaches us that we are not under the Law of Moses. That means we are not to try to earn saving favor with God by keeping his commands. There are two reasons why we should not try to be justified by keeping the Law:

  1. Because we can’t do it. Compared to the federal, state, and local codes we live under, God’s law is short and simple. Still, because we are sinners, none of us has obeyed it or could obey it perfectly.
  2. Because Jesus did it for us. The reason why we are declared righteous before God when we trust in Jesus is that Jesus kept the law perfectly (we call this his active obedience) and he paid the penalty for all the ways we’ve broken the laws (we call this his passive obedience).

So because we are in Christ, we do not try to earn God’s favor by keeping the law. But that doesn’t mean that the moral laws of God are irrelevant to us. In this chapter God spelled out some important laws for his people to follow. In verses 1-15, he commanded someone who deprived another person of their property to pay it back–often more than was taken. It does matter if it was outright theft (vv. 1-4) or carelessness / negligence (vv. 5-7, 10-15).

A major purpose of these (and all of God’s) laws were to set his people apart from those around them. Verse 31a says, “You are to be my holy people.” This means a people set apart from the world around them. The world around them sought to get away with stealing from others or depriving them through negligence. God wanted his people to act ethically and responsibly in these situations. Laws like these should get us to reflect on our own lives. Do we take value from others directly or refuse to pay if we take value from them inadvertently? These are sins in the sight of God just as much as they were when God’s people were in the desert.

Want to stand out in the world for the glory of Christ? Then be honest and ethical in the way you deal with others. Take responsibility and pay up when you’ve caused someone else a loss. When we do these things, are not trying to win God’s favor. Instead, God’s gracious gift of spiritual life is compelling us to be honest and ethical, pure and righteous in our dealings with others.

Genesis 37, Job 3, Psalm 35

Read Genesis 37, Job 3, and Psalm 35.

This devotional is about Job 3.

Job received the blows of affliction well in chapters 1-2. He recognized that he was not entitled to the life he enjoyed and that God, as Sovereign, had every right to take away what he gave.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Job felt no pain. Here in chapter 3, he lamented being born. The pain of losing his children, his prosperity, and his health was greater than the joy he had experienced from those things. Dying before he lived long enough to enjoy anything was a more appealing prospect than losing the blessed life he’d had. His concluding words in verses 25-26 make your heart go out to him: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Although he maintained faith in God, he still hurt and wondered why.

It seems to me that many Christians believe that heartbreak is un-Christian. We feel guilty about mourning; we think that glorifying God means smiling through every trial. We often put smiles on our faces to hide our pain so that other’s won’t question our salvation or spiritual maturity. But there is a way of hurting, of crying out, of wondering why that does not curse God. Submission to the will of God does not mean turning off your feelings. Trusting God does not mean eradicating all questions from your heart and mind. It means processing all the pain while recognizing your dependence on God. It means looking to him for hope and help instead of as an object of cursing.

Have you suppressed your questions, fears, and heartaches because you think that’s what good Christians do? If so, you haven’t really solved anything nor have you opened up the capacity within yourself to grow from your trials. God allows our faith to be tried to expose to us pockets of unbelief and to refine them out of us. Being honest about how you feel is part of that process.

If you’re hurting today or wondering why, ask God. Journal your thoughts and fears. Wonder aloud. Just don’t accuse God of evil and injustice. Ask him, instead, to show you how your circumstances fit into his plans. Ask him to strengthen you through this trial so that you will grow because of it.

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15

Today, read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Psalm 15.

This devotional is about Genesis 16.

Genesis 15 was such a beautiful chapter about Abram’s relationship to God. After Abram saved Lot and his cohorts but refused to take any gains for himself in Genesis 14, God appeared to him in Genesis 15 and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abram was honest with God about the pain of having no heir despite all God had promised him (vv. 2-3). God re-affirmed his promise to Abram (vv. 4-5) and even made an unconditional covenant ceremony for Abram (vv. 9-21). Verse 6 of chapter 15 told us that, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

What a beautiful chapter!

Once he left that metaphorical spiritual mountaintop, however, Abram acquiesced to the request of Sarai here in Genesis 16 (vv. 1-4). Her solution to the lack of an heir was reasonable and acceptable in their culture and it worked (v. 4)! But it was an act of unbelief in the promises of God and created all kinds of problems in Abram’s household (vv. 5-6). This is one of the ways that sin appeals to us. It offers us a direct and easy solution to the problems that bother us the most. And, it usually works, at least for a while. Because we are not all-knowing, we never see the consequences coming. We ignore God’s promises and his warnings, make choices in fear instead of faith, then are filled with regrets and complications.

One way people do this is by dating someone who is unsaved. Every Christian knows that it is wrong date an unbeliever. And, sometimes, God is gracious and saves an unbeliever who unequally yoked with a Christian.

More often, however, the believer compromises again and again. They know it is wrong to date an unbeliever, but they tell themselves that they won’t marry him or her. Besides, he’s a good guy or she’s a nice girl. They have strong qualities and good morals, so there’s really no risk. When a good Christian comes along, the believer thinks they’ll end the ungodly relationship. For now, though, it feels good to be loved.

And, in some cases, they tell themselves that they’ll remain pure even though their unsaved boy/girlfriend doesn’t understand the “wait until marriage” thing. That creates greater pressure to compromise morally than one already feels from his or her own physical body. When the unbeliever proposes, the Christian decides to marry him or her, hoping that God will save their spouse but feeling thankful for someone to love and marry.

Again, sometimes God is merciful and gracious, but that’s not usually how the story goes. Even when God is merciful and saves an unbelieving spouse, there are still tensions and temptations that go with compromising in this area. Not to mention that dating an unbeliever is a sin by itself.

I am concerned for professing Christians who are in relationships with unbelievers or with people who may profess Christ but don’t seem to walk with him much. I understand your desire and how tempting it is to compromise. But look at the problems that Abram and Sarai created by trying to solve their problems themselves instead of trusting the Lord to provide. The longer you live in one sinful situation, the greater the pressure will be to compromise morally again and again. It will not get easier to do right in the future. It will get harder, more painful and costly. Just trust the Lord and do what he tells you. I promise you, he won’t let you down.