Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99

Today’s readings are Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99.

This devotional is about Proverbs 27:22: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.”

Why do some people make a bad decision once and learn from it while others make the same bad decision many times? The answer is that the one who learns from their bad decisions is on the path to wisdom. Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and humbly accepting rebuke–either from God or from friends (vv. 5-6, 17) or from the consequences that bad decisions inevitably bring.

The wisest person believes what God’s word says and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade A Wisdom.” This person does not try to test God’s word by making moral choices that are against what it says. Instead, he or she obeys God’s word because they believe it to be true. This person will avoid many heartaches and problems simply because they believed God. In this case, God’s word provides the rebuke in advance and teaches the wise person not to give into that sinful desire of his or her heart. Nobody does this perfectly; after all, we’re all sinners. But God’s grace allows some people to sin less than others because they wisely believe and obey God’s commands.

A step below the wisest person is the person who watches the decisions made by others, notices whether the outcome is good or bad, and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade B Wisdom.” This person learns from the mistakes/misdeeds of others and avoids many heartaches and problems as a result. In other words, the rebuke is found in the life and consequences produced by those who live immorally. The person with “Grade B Wisdom” believes that the bad consequences that follow the sinful choices of others will come to him or her if they make the same sinful choice.

Next we have the person who sins–either because they are ignorant of God’s commands and the bad outcomes others have or because they ignore the sources of rebuke from “Grade A” and “Grade B” wisdom. This person learns wisdom by experience and acquires “Grade C” wisdom. They experience the consequences and pain of their sins and, at that point, choose to believe and act differently in the future as a result.

Finally, we have the fool. He’s got “Grade F ‘wisdom’” which is equivalent to straight up folly. This person does whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not God has commanded against it or others have experienced the pain that comes from it. This person believes that he is some kind of exception. While God’s word may be true for everyone else, he or she will not be hurt by their sins like everyone else is. And, if this person sins once and pays the price for it, they believe it is an anomaly so they sin again expecting a different result. Proverbs 27:22 addressed this kind of person. It says that you can try as many ways as you want or as often as you want to drive the folly out of a fool, but “you will not remove their folly from them” even if you “grind a fool in a motar.” This person learns nothing from anyone–not God’s word, not the mistakes and misdeeds of others, and not even from their own experiences.

A few years ago, someone was planning an unwise, sinful action and several of us spoke to him about it. We pleaded with him not to do what he intended to do. This encounter was not our first with this person. I had personally witnessed him disregarding his parent’s instructions, even though he was warned. When that decision got him in trouble, he tried to sin his way out of it again even though I and others urged him not to. Finally, when I heard of this person’s plans to sin again, I told him: “Haven’t you learned anything from your experience? You sin, it gets you into trouble, so you sin more to try to get yourself out of it.”

Our rebuke did not work. Showing him scripture did not change his actions. Pleading with him to at least try a different path fell on deaf ears. This person was determined to prove God’s word right not by obeying it to avoid trouble but by disobeying it, making their own sinful, selfish choices. He thought he was an exception to the rule; I think he made a foolish choice that would hurt him, just as God’s word said.

Are you one who accepts good confrontation or someone who argues or ignores it? Few people like to confront others and nobody enjoys being confronted. A wise person, however, will accept rebuke–from God’s word, from the experience of others or from their own experiences–and change course. Is that you? Or will you keep making morally foolish decisions despite God’s clear commands or the pain that results?

God is gracious and merciful but not to the fool. He is gracious and merciful to those who accept rebuke and repent, changing their minds and choosing a different path. If you’re on an unwise path, please let these verses turn your thinking. Don’t be a fool.

Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95

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

This devotional is about Psalm 95.

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

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

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

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

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

Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, Psalm 91

Read Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, and Psalm 91.

This devotional is about Leviticus 4.

This chapter of scripture prescribes how the people of Israel were to atone for their sins. The commands in this chapter are tailored to the type of person who sins:

  • an anointed priest who sinned was required to bring a young bull for his sin offering (vv. 1-12). His sacrifice was more costly than that of the other individuals in this chapter because he was guilty of “bringing guilt on the people” as their representative before the Lord.
  • if the whole nation sinned, they too were required to sacrifice a young bull as a sin offering for the whole community (vv. 13-21).
  • if a leader sinned, he was required to sacrifice a male goat (vv. 22-26).
  • if a everyday Israelite sinned, that person was to bring a female goat (vv. 27-31).

There are several things that are worth noting in this chapter, but let’s focus on this one: for all four types of people described in this chapter, the sinner (or his/her representative) was required “to lay his hand on its head” (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29, 33) just before it was slaughtered. Why? Because the animal was about to serve as the sinner’s substitute. When a sinner placed his hand on the animal’s head, he was symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal who would then die in the sinner’s place.

This gesture would remind the person offering the sacrifice how serious sin is. Because of his or her sin, an animal would die. Although the expense of animal life was bloody and costly, it was a merciful concession by God to allow the sinner to live by accepting another’s death as a substitute.

All of this pointed toward Jesus who died as our substitute on Good Friday. Animals couldn’t really be substitutes for sinful people; only another human could die in our place. But just as each animal had to be perfect (“without defect” — vv. 3, 23, 28, 32), so only a perfect man could truly substitute for sinners.

This is what Jesus did for us! As we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday, we can do so knowing that our sins are truly and eternally forgiven. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, stood in our place, accepted the guilt of our sins, and was punished by God as our substitute. This is why we are accepted by God and can worship him today and everyday.

Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, Psalm 80

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, and Psalm 80.

This devotional is about Exodus 32.

The people of Israel had been slaves for 400 years. They knew how to follow orders, make bricks out of straw, and that’s about it. In the recent past, they rode a roller coaster of emotions as God liberated his people from Egypt but then allowed them to be chased by the Egyptians as well as struggle with hunger and thirst. These were all traumatic events. Without God, they were helpless against armies. Without Moses, they had no direction, no leadership.

This is why they freaked out when Moses stayed with God on Mount Sinai for so long (v. 1). They were fearful that the powerful, awe-inspiring God that liberated them from Egypt had killed Moses for insufficient holiness, leaving them on their own. Without any ability to provide for themselves or defend themselves, they were fearful, vulnerable, and directionless. This is why they insisted that Aaron create a god for them (v. 1); it was an attempt to tranquilize their fear and give them a new hope for the future.

It was also an opportunity to forget God’s law that they’d received in the preceding chapters of Exodus. God’s law prescribed duties and penalties, but also promised blessings, including built-in blessings such as Sabbath and feast days. By contrast, the new golden calf god gave them no laws to follow and threatened no penalties for disobedience. This god, made by men, conformed to and appealed to human desires. It let them have a festival without any moral constraints; the word translated “revelry” has sexual overtones. It sure seems like they broke the first, second, sixth, and tenth commandments as they worshipped their false god.

This is how idolatry works. It promises power by taking credit what the true God did in the past, v. 4b. It liberates the sinful nature within with lawlessness. Israel may have felt better for a while during their festival, but they paid dearly because of God’s justice. The same thing happens to us when we worship an idol. It offers us relief from fear and momentary pleasure but it cannot protect us from the consequences of our sin.

Although Moses was angry with his Hebrew brothers and sisters for their sins, verses 30-34 show us his tender love and compassion for these difficult, sinful people. Moses pleaded with God for his forgiveness for them (vv. 31-32a). He went so far as to insist that God remove him from his elect (v. 32b). This is a powerful statement, asking for God to send him to hell if He would not forgive the Israelites. In this way Moses foreshadowed our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although Jesus could not be blotted out of the book of life because he IS life, he identified with us sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself. When God poured out his justice on Jesus for our sins, Jesus took the punishment due to those who are not in God’s book of life. Then he rose from the dead to restore us sinners to eternal life.

A sinner like Moses could never substitute for anyone else’s sin, much less the idolatry of a whole nation. Yet Moses’s statement in verse 32b shows the depth of his love for the people of Israel. Christ DID die for our sins. By doing that, Jesus demonstrated how great his love for us is.

Genesis 31, Esther 7, Psalm 30

Today, read Genesis 31, Esther 7, and Psalm 30.

This devotional is about Genesis 31.

People steal from their employers in different ways–taking cash, removing small items, doing personal tasks with company time or resources, etc. People do this kind of theft for different reasons but one of them is that they don’t feel they are appreciated and paid well enough for how hard they work. This kind of person feels entitled to steal as a matter of justice. He or she takes what the employer has and rationalizes it by telling themselves that they deserve it.

I wonder if something like that was a factor in Rachel’s decision to steal Laban’s idols (v. 19). The story of Laban and Jacob is told from Jacob’s perspective in scripture. He was the one who contracted to serve 7 years to marry Rachel and he was the one who was duped into marrying Leah instead. But Rachel was damaged in this deal as well. The man who loved her was given to her sister! What if Jacob decided he loved Leah after he got over the shock of being swindled? What if Laban refused to see both of his daughters married to the same man?

Furthermore, although she did eventually get to marry Jacob, she was now merely one of two wives instead of his one and only–the way Sarai was to Abram and Rebekah was to Isaac. Also, the fact that Jacob’s other wife was her sister probably heightened the tension between them. When we consider the situation from Rachel’s perspective, it is not hard to imagine that she felt used and deceived and devalued by her father. Her theft of his idols, then, might have been an act of payback for how poorly Laban had treated her.

Whatever her motivation, Rachel’s decision to steal nearly caused her to lose her life (v. 32). The consequences of her theft were far more costly than the value of his idols. I think about this whenever I see a news article about someone who embezzled money. $10,000 or $40,000 or $100,000 is a lot of money. But it isn’t worth losing years of your life in prison over. In many cases, people stole less money than they would have earned from employment if they’d stayed out of jail.

God was merciful to Rachel despite her theft and to Jacob despite the absurdly over-the-top penalty he promised Laban if anyone was found with Laban’s idols (v. 32). Don’t count on receiving that kind of mercy yourself if you are dishonest and take something that doesn’t belong to you. The rationalizations we make to convince ourselves to sin (or soothe our conscience after we’ve sinned) sound convincing in our own heads but completely absurd when said out loud. This is why we are wiser to follow God’s commands than to justify to ourselves why we can sin.

One more thing about this passage occurs to me: Do you see how deception spreads like a cancer? Jacob deceived his brother and his father. He was deceived by his father-in-law and saw his wife do something deceitful that she hid from him. It is the principle of sowing and reaping, a theme which recurs in the Bible over and over again. Like sowing corn, you get more back than you sowed so be careful about what you’re sowing.

Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, and Psalm 18

This devotional is about Genesis 19.

Today we’re reading Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, and Psalm 18.

A few years ago, just after 8 p.m., I was driving south on Maple Rd. in Saline to pick up my daughter from a choir rehearsal. All of a sudden, the sky lit up with blue light. It was so bright and the source of that light seemed to be behind me. Then it flashed brightly and was gone. I kept waiting for a sound…, something. A crack of lighting? No, it was bright for too long to be lighting and the weather conditions certainly didn’t seem right for that. Was it an explosion? That didn’t seem right either because the light was so blue.

It wasn’t until I saw the news this morning that I learned it was a meteor. I’d never seen something like that before. It was completely unexpected.

This is what the judgment of God on Sodom and Gomorrah was like. Abraham had never seen anything like it and I’m sure his heart sank when he saw it (vv. 28). Likewise, when Lot tried to warn his would-be sons-in-law, they “thought he was joking” (v. 14b). Even Lot himself and his family had to be hustled out of Sodom by the angels (v. 16). The prophecy they received about God’s coming judgment seemed unbelievable because they’d never seen anything like it before. When it happened, it was surreal because they’d never seen anything like it before.

This is how it will be when Christ returns to judge the world. It is hard to visualize that happening because none of us has ever seen anything like it. Whether we can visualize it or not, it is true and it will happen in reality. Like Abraham and like Lot, we should take God’s promise of judgment seriously and we should warn those around us that God’s judgment is coming. It might seem to those we warn that we are joking (v. 14b), but God is merciful and has promised to save some in this age.

The return of Christ and his judgment will be like nothing you or I have ever seen before. But it is true and it will happen. What are we doing about that?

Here’s a video of that meteor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SqbKhRaqHg

Proud About This

woman with American flag
Patriotic holiday. Happy young woman with American flag. USA celebrate 4th of July.

Sometimes Americans–especially American politicians–say:

“America is the Greatest Country in the World!”

That is an expression of national pride but it also reflects an attitude called “American Exceptionalism.” Historian Ian Tyrrell has defined Amercian Exceptionalism this way:

“Exceptionalism requires something far more: a belief that the U.S. follows a path of history different from the laws or norms that govern other countries. That’s the essence of American exceptionalism: The U.S. is not just a bigger and more powerful country — but an exception. It is the bearer of freedom and liberty, and morally superior to something called “Europe.”

–Ian Tyrrell
https://theweek.com/articles/654508/what-exactly-american-exceptionalism

There is no inherent conflict between being a Christian and being happy to be an American. There is a problem if, as Americans, we believe ourselves to be greater or “morally superior” (to quote Tyrrell, above, again) than people from other nations.

Just like people from other nations, Americans are fallen, lost, and under God’s perfect wrath apart from the grace of Jesus Christ. What Paul wrote in Titus 3:3 applies to every American as equally and fully as it does to any other person who has ever lived:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”

Titus 3:3

The next two verses in Titus 3 apply to us, too, if we have faith in Christ:

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

Titus 3:4-5

As Christians, then, we have nothing to be proud of except who are God is and what he has done for us. The Scriptures tell us this over and over again:

  • Jeremiah 9:23-24: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me….‘”
  • Romans 3:25-27: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement… to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded…
  • Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”
  • Romans 5:11: ” we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:28-31: “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’

I am happy to live in America and I enjoy the many freedoms that Americans have. But I am a sinner who is worthy only of God’s judgment and wrath. Therefore, I have the right to be proud of only one thing: Jesus Christ.

Be careful, Christian, that you are proud of nothing more than our God.

Jonah 1

Jonah 1

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

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

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

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