Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, Acts 16

Read Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, and Acts 16.

This devotional is about Acts 16.

Paul’s second missionary journey got off to a great start! On one of his early stops, he met Timothy who became a trusted fellow-servant and a dear friend (vv. 1-3) and God was blessing each stop on his journey with spiritual and salvation growth (vv. 4-5).

Then God directed Paul and Silas away from where they intended to go and into Greece (Macedonia) (vv. 6-12). At first, things started off great there, too. In the city of Philippi, after Lydia became a believer, she gave these missionaries a place to stay (vv. 13-15). But, then Paul and Silas liberated a woman from the demons that possessed her (vv. 16-18) and things changed quickly and drastically. The woman who had been demon possessed was a big money maker for others. Now that her powers were gone, her spiritual pimps wanted revenge. So, they pressed charges against Paul and Silas, accusing them of inciting a riot (vv. 19-21). As a result of the criminal charges against them, Paul and Silas were “…stripped and beaten with rods” (v. 22b)… “severely flogged [and] thrown into prison” (vv. 22b-23a).

I don’t think my reaction to these circumstances would have been very happy. But instead of being dragged down emotionally, Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). God worked miraculously and saved the jailor (vv. 26-34), then worked providentially and had Paul and Silas released (vv. 35-40). So it seems clear that the bad treatment these men received was both to teach them to trust God and to bring salvation to the Philippian jailor. The painful, unpleasant circumstances were part of his plan.

James 1 commands us to consider it pure joy when we encounter many kinds of trials. Paul and Silas practiced that truth and God used them. Are you facing a trial, a difficult time, an unexpected setback after a period of good spiritual growth and blessing? Choose to sing God’s praises and glorify him while waiting to see how he wants to use you in that circumstance.

Exodus 21, Job 39, Psalms 30-32

Read Exodus 21, Job 39, and Psalms 30-32.

This devotional is about Psalm 30.

David planned a magnificent temple for the Lord and even left Psalm 30, which we read today, behind for its dedication. In this Psalm, David reviewed for us in broad strokes his experience of walking with God.

  • As a warrior, David was delivered from death by God’s help (vv. 1-3).
  • Although David felt the sting of God’s displeasure when he sinned (v. 5a, c), God remained faithful in giving the favor that He had promised David (v. 5b, d). For this, David encouraged his people to sing God’s praises (v. 4).
  • God secured David and his kingdom from many attacks (vv. 6-7a) and was merciful to David when he called on the Lord for help (vv. 7b-10).
  • God took away David’s sorrow and replaced it with joy (v. 11) so that David would sing to Him in heartfelt praise.

I hope your heart is rejoicing today as we gather to worship the Lord. If your heart is heavy–whether from trials or discipline or just the turmoil of living in a fallen world, may the Lord encourage your heart. Take comfort: “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (v. 5). That morning may not break until we reach eternity, but it is coming. Trust the Lord’s plan; cry out to him for help, give him your sorrows and look to him for joy.

Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Matthew 16

Read Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Matthew 16.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 12, particularly verses 27-47.

Compared to the growth and expansion of the kingdom that David and Solomon saw, what Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was small.

But, compared to the ruin that Jerusalem had been for 70 years and the powerlessness and exile that God’s people had experienced for a generation, the days of Nehemiah and Ezra were amazing. They were more hopeful than successful, like a sprout from the ground on a farm that hadn’t produced anything in years. A sprout is not the same as an acre of corn ready to be harvested, but it is a reason to be hopeful. Every acre of corn began with a spout, after all.

So, these were not Judah’s greatest days politically or economically. But God was moving in his people and for his people again. He was working in the hearts of pagan kings and governors to protect and provide for his people. The people were expressing repentance for their disobedience to his word and were publicly recommitting themselves to obey his covenant. And what was result of all of this work God was doing in Jerusalem? Singing!

The wall around Jerusalem was a defense mechanism. It had no real spiritual purpose, like the altar and the temple did. It was there to protect the inhabitants of the city from enemy attacks.

But Nehemiah saw the repair and rebuilding of this wall as a spiritual act, because Jerusalem was God’s city. It was the place where his temple was, where his name would dwell, and eventually where his Messiah would reign. So, when the wall was finished, Nehemiah organized a ceremony to dedicate it (v. 27). And, one of the key features of that dedication ceremony was singing. “Two large choirs” (v. 31) were organized “that gave thanks” (vv. 31, by singing during this ceremony (v. 40).

They were joined by “musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God” (v. 36). The two choirs stood on top of the wall to give thanks, then they came together to continue that singing in the temple (v. 40).

The result of all of this music was joy. Look at how verse 43 described it: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

The music offered to God on that day had such a powerful affect that people wanted it to continue. People brought provisions to the temple (v. 44) to provide for musicians and singers (vv. 46-47). Their actions show what a key, important role music has in the worship of God’s people.

When God is working in people’s lives, they want to praise him in song. Music lifts our hearts when they are wounded and it gives us a way to express our joy when we are glad and thankful for what God has done.

Music can be part of your walk with God as well. Not only can we be thankful for our worship team members who lead us in worship each Sunday, we in this age have the gift of recorded music to help us worship in our private devotional times, to encourage us when we are down, and to help set our hearts to thankfulness and praise as we go to work each day.

Why not pick an uplifting song of praise to listen to on your way to work today? Sing along and let the Lord use this gift to help you start the week off in dedication and praise to him.

That pretty much always works for me.

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Matthew 12

Read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Matthew 12 today. This devotional is about Matthew 12.

God’s intention for the Sabbath was that man would take a day off from the way that he normally makes his living. It was to be a day of rest and a day to reflect on God, our Creator. So farmers would not plant, weed, water, reap, or do any of the normal activities that farmers do Sunday through Friday. The same was commanded for their wives and children and servants; everybody was supposed to get a break from their normal daily schedule.

This law was clear enough that it could be applied easily to most situations. Don’t farm your land, or fix your equipment, or type up those invoices, or make a fancy meal, or clean the house, or do the laundry. It was a day to rest, not to catch up on chores–work or personal. Do what needs to be done but keep it simple so you get a break and feel rested for a change. That’s the idea.

The problem with broadly-applicable commands is that it is not always clear how they should be applied. Obeying the command, “Do not work on the Sabbath” depends on how you define “work.” Is it work to make your bed? Tie your shoes? If you were a milkman who delivered milk by walking from house to house, that would clearly be forbidden on the Sabbath. But what if the milkman’s wife wanted to go for a long walk for recreation? Is that forbidden? The Pharisees hated ambiguity so they wanted every possible application of every law spelled out clearly. They specified how far someone could walk on the Sabbath to keep the milkman or his wife from doing “work” accidentally. This is one aspect of legalism.

Speaking of legalism, what exactly is it? It is a term that can be applied to at least two kinds of situations: First, anyone who thinks they can do good works to merit favor with God is a legalist. Second, anyone who thinks that his or her application of the Bible has the authority of the Bible itself is a legalist.

The Pharisees were legalists in both senses. They believed that their obedience to the law gave them favor with God. They also believed that they ways in which they applied God’s laws were as authoritative and binding as the law itself. That’s what’s going on here in Matthew 12:1-2. The disciples were not farmers. They were not working to earn a living by reaping. Instead they were getting a snack from someone else’s farmland. Taking small amounts of food from someone’s farm was allowed in God’s Law, so the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of stealing. Instead, they accused them of working on the Sabbath. Because they applied the Sabbath law to any kind of reaping at all, they concluded that the disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” (v. 2b).

Elsewhere in the gospels we learn that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for distorting God’s intentions. The Sabbath law was supposed to be a blessing from God, not a burden. It was God imposed a day off on everyone so that everyone could enjoy life for at least one day a week. By denying the right to snack on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were making the Sabbath something unpleasant instead of enjoyable. Their legalism was not an obedience that pleased God, it was a burden that robbed people of the joy he wanted them to have.

Here in Matthew 12, however, Matthew records a different emphasis of Jesus regarding Sabbath violations. Jesus pointed out ways in which people broke the law technically but they did so in a way that upheld the law’s intention. The first example Jesus cited was from David (vv. 3-4). He and his warrior-companions ate the temple show bread which was against the law, yet they were not condemned. The reason was that they were servants of God doing God’s work, just like the priests were. So, technically they broke the law but by taking and eating the bread, they were being served by the law’s intention–to provide for God’s servants. Likewise, the priests on the Sabbath were technically in a no-win situation. The temple duties allowed no Sabbath breaks for the priests but the priests made their living being priests. So, they were not allowed to let the temple activities lapse even for a day, but that required them to do the normal work of priests–a technical violation of the law. Yet Jesus said that “they are innocent” (v. 5b). Then Christ took things further; not only were the disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by picking up a snack, Christ himself asserted the right to rule or overrule anything regarding the Sabbath because he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He then pressed the issue further by healing a man deliberately on the Sabbath day to show his lordship over it (vv. 9-14).

The Pharisees’ zeal about the Sabbath wasn’t really about obedience to God; it was about control. They wanted to define everything so that there was complete uniformity; no ambiguity or exceptions were allowed. They could, then, define who was right with God and who wasn’t based on how well or how poorly everyone kept the rules.

Unfortunately, we sometimes do the same things. The “good guys” never wear denim on Sunday, or use the right translation of the Bible, or only buy American, or never listen to music that has a beat to it. But these (and other) rules are at best only applications of Biblical principles, not Biblical truths themselves. The Bible teaches us to accept each other in areas where there are genuine disagreements about application (Rom 15:7). You should never use someone else’s actions to justify doing something that your conscience bothers you about. And, if you are truly concerned for someone else’s spiritual life, I think it is good to humbly approach them to talk about how they are or are not applying a scriptural command. But let’s be careful not to judge and condemn each other based on our own man-made rules. Instead, each of us should submit ourselves and our actions to the Lord of everything–including the Sabbath–and do what we think is right in his sight based on the clear teachings of scripture.

2 Chronicles 7, Habakkuk 2

Read 2 Chronicles 7 and Habakkuk 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 7

This chapter in 2 Chronicles 7 is a spiritually satisfying one to read. The temple has been built and it is a wonder to behold. Nothing man makes is truly worthy of the Lord, but God was pleased to show his presence there (v. 1) because it was a structure built with love for him and it was done to the very best of human ability at that time. When God demonstrated his glory to the people, they worshipped him in thankful prayer (v. 3), animal sacrifices (vv. 4–5, 7) and music (v. 6). The people enjoyed a festival of dedication (vv. 8-9) and went home “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done.”

Then God told to Solomon that he would answer his prayer of dedication (vv. 11-16) and the Lord affirmed to the king that he would bless Solomon’s kingdom for as long as he obeyed the Lord (vv. 17-22). Verse 10 describes the fitting conclusion to this event: “On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel.”

I usually feel this way at the end of a good pastor’s conference or an encouraging retreat. Spiritual crescendos like the one described here leave me feeling like I have spiritual momentum to walk with God without ceasing. But it doesn’t take long before living in a sin cursed world with a sin nature drags you back to reality.

But days like this are a preview of what all eternity in God’s kingdom will be like. We will work in God’s kingdom and live in a society there but we will also spend much time learning about the Lord, praising the Lord, and fellowshipping with other believers in the Lord. These activities will bring us more pleasure than any entertainment or recreation we enjoy in this life. That’s because our sin nature will finally be eradicated and we’ll be perfect by the grace the of God.

Hopefully you’ve experienced something like what is described in this chapter. I hope our Sunday services feel this way to you regularly. Moments like these give us a boost in our walk with God and remind us what God has promised for us in eternity. So savor those moments and be encouraged! God has so much in store for us when his promises are finally and fully fulfilled.

1 Kings 8, Ezekiel 38

Read 1 Kings 8 and Ezekiel 38.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 8.

After years of planning, preparing and building, the temple of the Lord was complete. It was time to move in! Solomon called for all the leaders distributed among the tribes and towns of Israel (vv. 1-2). He called them to Jerusalem so that they could witness the ark of the covenant and all the objects used for Israel’s worship being moved into the temple (vv. 3-9). Then, to confirm that what Solomon had done was according to God’s will and to demonstrate that the new temple, not the old tabernacle, would be the official place of worship, God made his presence visible in the temple. A cloud that represented God’s glory filled the place, demonstrating his presence there (vv. 10-13).

Solomon then turned to the people who witnessed this event and spoke words of praise to God and explanation to them about the meaning of all of this (vv. 14-21).

Finally, Solomon spoke to the Lord; his prayer in verses 22-60 displayed his devotion to the Lord and his desire for how this temple should function in Israel’s life as a nation. He began by worshipping God for who he is (v. 23a) and for the promises he had kept (vv. 23b-24). He continued by asking God to continue fulfilling his promises to David (vv. 25-26). Then he asked the Lord to let this temple be a place where God’s people can get an audience with him. He asked that God would listen day or night and be merciful in forgiveness to his people (vv. 27-30).

Then Solomon asked the Lord to listen and judge when God’s people came to him asking for justice (vv. 31-32). He next asked that the Lord would hear their prayers of repentance when he disciplined them with war losses or famine (vv. 33-40, 44-45). He asked that even Gentiles living in the land of Israel who pray would be heard so that “all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (v. 43). He asked the Lord even to hear, forgive, and restore his people even if they sinned so much that he allowed them to be exiled to a foreign country (vv. 46-50). The basis for his prayer was God’s redemption of the people from Egypt (vv. 51-53).

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to observe this dedication service and to hear Solomon’s prayer and praise as well watch the offerings begin (vv. 62-64) and enjoy the feast that followed (vv. 65-66). Solomon left this event “joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel” (v. 66). I’m guessing everyone who attended felt the same way. Hopefully for some of them, the memory of this event caused them to turn to the Lord in prayer during their times of need, just as Solomon prayed that they would.

Ceremonies like this one can be so helpful in steering our emotions in a godly direction, but this was a rare occasion in the life of the nation of Israel. It was like Pentecost is to our faith as Christians—an important, rare demonstration of the Lord’s presence and power. After this, though, Israel went back to their routines. A farmer living far away in his tribal land would visit this temple as part of his observance of the Jewish feast days, but if he needed forgiveness or justice, he would have to pray toward this temple in faith that God would hear and answer him. There was no visual smoke to give him assurance of forgiveness or of an answer to his need; he just had to take it on faith that God’s will would be done.

While we have no literal place like the temple, we actually have better access. Instead of seeking forgiveness by offering our prayers and bringing an animal to burn, we come seeking forgiveness based on the finished sacrifice of Christ. Instead of thinking that the Lord is among us as a group because the ark of his covenant is in Jerusalem, we have the promise of the indwelling Spirit and the assurance that, collectively, we are the temple of the living God when we gather together as his church (1 Tim 3:15; 2 Cor 6:16). Although Solomon’s prayer was certain to be answered because it was based on God’s covenants with Israel, we have the assurance of Christ that he hears and answers our prayers according to his will when we ask in his name. But, like the ancient Hebrews, we have to act on these promises to get the blessings. Let’s not just long for God’s work and intervention in our lives; let’s ask him for it based on all he has done for us and promised us in Christ.

Judges 19, Jeremiah 33

Read Judges 19 and Jeremiah 33.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 33.

Jeremiah 33:3 is one of the better known verses in Jeremiah’s prophecy. It is often assigned in Bible memory programs because of the compelling invitation to prayer it contains: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

It is a great verse on prayer, but like every verse in the Bible, it needs to be interpreted in context. When you read this verse alone, it sounds like a blank check from God. “Just pray and I’ll show you such delightful things that you never knew before.”

But what are these “great and unsearchable things”?

Before answering that question, Jeremiah reminded us of the situation he was living in. Verse 1 reminded us that he was still a political and religious prisoner in the palace. Verse 4 reminded us that severe judgment was coming to the city of Jerusalem: “They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.”

Yet God was not about to abandon his promise to Israel. After a period of defeat and exile, the people of Jerusalem would “enjoy abundant peace and security” (v. 6) as well as cleansing “from all the sin they have committed against men” (v. 8). There would be great worship in the city: “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.” (v. 9).

Although Jerusalem was about to deserted and demolished (v. 10), someday it would be a place of great happiness and joy and worship (vv. 11-12). All of this will happen when Jesus rules on earth over Israel in the period of time we call “the Millennium” (vv. 15-16). So God was calling, through Jeremiah, to his people urging them to pray for the spiritual restoration that would come through the work of Messiah.

God wanted to bless his people so much! The joy he wanted them to experience was far beyond what they had ever known. But they needed to call out to him in repentance and call upon him in faith, asking him to make good on the promise. When Israel put their trust in the Lord that wholeheartedly, God would establish his kingdom just as he promised he would (vv. 19-26).

Part of God’s purpose in allowing Israel to live in this unbelief is so that Gentiles, like us, would be gathered into his kingdom as well. But, like Israel, we wait for God’s timing to be accomplished when this great joy will be realized. Until then, we should call on God, as Jesus taught us to do, saying “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….”

The prayer of Jeremiah 33:3, then, is not that God will do wondrous things in your life today as much as it is urging us to pray for God’s kingdom growth and Christ’s return so that we can experience the beautiful promises of peace, joy, and prosperity described in this passage.

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 26, Isaiah 53

Read Deuteronomy 26 and Isaiah 53.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 26.

But, about Deuteronomy 26, yesterday I wrote about Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 and how it teaches us that God’s word has ongoing relevance to every believer in any age, even if if doesn’t directly apply to you. In other words, you don’t have to own oxen to be obedient to Deuteronomy 25:4.

As I mentioned yesterday, Paul saw the command in Deuteronomy 25:4 not to muzzle the ox as a specific instance of a universal truth: people who work should benefit from their labor. Specifically, he argued in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:9 that people who benefit from the ministry of apostles, evangelists, pastors, etc. should provide financial support to those church leaders. Today, in Deuteronomy 26, Moses commanded the people entering the promised land to bring 10% (a tithe, v. 12) of what the land produced and dedicate it to the Lord. This initial tithe was a thank-offering; they were to rehearse Israel’s history from Abraham to the present day when they brought it (vv. 5-10). It was an offering to God because it was called “the sacred portion” in verses 13 and 14.

But, although it was an offering to God, it was given for the benefit and blessing of specific people. Namely, it was giving to “the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (v. 13). The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow were people who unable to provide for themselves so they needed to be provided for by others. This tithe was God’s way of doing that.

The Levites, on the other hand, did not have an allotted portion of land like every other tribe. Instead, they were scattered among the towns and villages of all the tribes in order to teach the Law of God to the people. They were allowed to own and farm land, but their primary responsibility was to teach God’s people his word and to minister at the tabernacle (later, the temple) during assigned times. God’s command was that the tithe would provide financial support to these ministers of his word so that they could serve the spiritual lives and needs of his people.

There are no commands to tithe in the New Testament and some believers are convinced that tithing is not for the New Testament age. In principle, I agree. We are not under the law so Moses’s command to tithe does not have the same force as it did for the people of Israel.

However, as we saw yesterday, all of God’s word is written for us even though it was not written to us. God’s work still needs to be financially supported somehow and the New Testament (like the aforementioned 1 Timothy 5:18 & 1 Corinthians 9:9 but also Galatians 6 and other passages) commands believers to give financially for God’s work. The 10% rule is not commanded but God’s people are encouraged to give generously, to store up treasure in heaven.

Think about this: do you think that Paul, who was raised in Judaism and taught to give 10% would think that a few hundred bucks, or 1% or 5% or anything less than 10% would qualify as giving “generously?”

So, God’s word does not require anyone in this age to tithe but it does command God’s people to give to provide for the poor and for the work of God’s ministry. Here at Calvary, our membership covenant requires tithing so, if you’re a member, you agreed to tithe to our church even if you don’t think tithing is for Christians today.

But beyond all of this, notice what Moses said would happen when God’s people brought a tithe to the Levites and the poor:

  • Verse 11: “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
  • Verse 12: “you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

These passages show the human benefit, the personal blessing that giving to God’s work and to the poor will bring. You will rejoice (v. 11) and so will the recipients (v. 11) because they will “eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

Do you tithe to our church? If not, do you think the Lord is pleased by your decision?

Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31).

But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “…rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?

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 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”