Deuteronomy 20, Isaiah 47

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 20 and Isaiah 47.

This devotional is about Isaiah 47.

There have been many empires in human history. During their days of dominance, most people considered those empires impossible to defeat. In this chapter, Isaiah was inspired to speak against the Babylonian Empire, warning them that they were not as invincible as they believed. Verses 1-3 predicted Babylon’s humiliating defeat. Staring in verse 4, God explained that Babylon’s dominance was part of his plan to discipline Israel for her sins (v. 6). Babylon’s God-given domination seemed to them to be an eternal entitlement to rule (vv. 7-8) but God said that they will suddenly fall in defeat without knowing how it happened (vv. 9-11). The chapter ended with God mocking the religious practices of the Babylonians (vv. 12-15) and predicting that these prophets would not even be able to save themselves (v. 14c) much less the whole nation.

This chapter reminds us again that nations are under God’s sovereign authority and control, too. They may desire strength and domination but they cannot achieve either apart from God willing or allowing it to happen. In Babylon’s case, God had decreed that, for his own purposes, God would allow the Babylonians to defeat and exile his people in Judah. They served God’s purpose and, when that purpose had been served, God moved on to other nations to exercise his will, leaving the Babylonians weak and exposed and ultimately defeated by the Persian Empire.

Here in the USA, in the 21st Century, we too feel dominant and that our power will continue for as long as American’s can imagine. But what if God has other plans? What will happen to your faith if God moves on from America and allows another country to dominate us? Would you lose your faith in God if Canada, our mighty neighbors to the North, ascended in power and brought us nationally into subjection? What about if Russia or Brazil subjugated us to their rule. Would your faith be disturbed then?

God has blessed our nation and I’m thankful for the freedom and benefits we have. Nevertheless, this is not God’s kingdom and someday Christ’s kingdom will defeat and supplant every human nation and power on earth, including ours. That is, unless he allows some other powerful nation to take us down first. If that seems impossible to you read verses 7-11 again. The Babylonians thought they were incapable of defeat and they were… right up until God was finished with them. It is foolish for anyone to trust in human rulers or nations but this especially goes for believers. We belong to King Jesus; any other allegiance we have is far less powerful, important, or meaningful to us. If it isn’t, we are idol worshippers. Check your heart; is it with the Lord and his will or is it set on Americanism?

Deuteronomy 19, Isaiah 46

Read Deuteronomy 19 and Isaiah 46.

This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13). The purpose for this revelation was (1) to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12), (2) to teach those who would read this later during that judgment not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1), and (3) to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness….” This rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong stick because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.”

As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e). Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142

Read Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. This book is like a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

This chapter begins with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges. As Moses recounted the ordination of judges, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. Either they get what they want because of their reputation or they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Can you trust God to provide for you through the cost and disadvantages?

Why Easter Matters

Why Easter Matters

Does Easter matter? Why does it matter? Find out in this message. 

This is an Easter message, developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021.

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Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. So when Solomon wrote here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he taught us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful–critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker–the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

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.

Exodus 27, Proverbs 3, Psalm 75

Today we’re reading Exodus 27, Proverbs 3, Psalm 75.

This devotional is about Psalm 75

This Psalm, and tomorrow’s reading from Psalm 76, both sing praises to God for his sovereign justice.

As his chosen people, Israel praised God for his favor to them (75:1). In verses 2-10 the Psalmist explained that God’s justice happens in his time (v. 2) and that those he judges are powerless to avoid the judgment he brings (vv. 3-8).

In the middle of Psalm 75, the Psalmist sings, “No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another” (vv. 6-7). We think that military might or political success are matters of human strength and ingenuity; this Psalm mocks our foolish assumptions and tells us that God sovereignly and precisely rules over the affairs of humanity:

  • No one can become powerful unless God allows them to become powerful (vv. 6-7).
  • No one can hold on to power if God determines to take it away (vv. 3-5).

While obedience to God should cause us to do all we can to bring righteousness and justice in our world, God has his own plans and those plans sometimes involve exalting the wicked so that his will can be done. But justice will be executed in God’s time.

Given all this, does it make sense to worry so much about who who occupies the oval office, controls the House of Representative, or has a majority on the Supreme Court?

Yes, we want righteous leaders who will make righteous laws and enforce them justly, so we should vote biblically and conscientiously.

But what if God allows unrighteous, unjust, unscrupulous, and unethical leadership to be elected because of his own purpose? When that happens, can you join the Psalmist in singing, “As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob, who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up’” (vv. 9-10)?

Can we trust God—and praise him—even when we don’t understand why he allows troubling things to happen? Can we wait for him to do justice according to his will in the time that he chooses?

Exodus 8, Job 25-26, Psalm 56

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 8, Job 25-26, and Psalm 56.

This devotional is about Exodus 8.

In Exodus 7, we read yesterday that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened after Moses did two incredible miracles. Part of his hardening, it would seem, was related to the fact that his sorcerers were able to turn their staffs into snakes and were able to turn water into blood. Although Moses’s snake ate theirs and Moses was able to generate a whole lot more blood, in Pharaoh’s mind, perhaps, he had access to as much supernatural power as Moses did.

Today, however, as we read Exodus 8, Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to make frogs just as Moses and Aaron did (v. 7). Still, there was something about the plague of frogs that affected Pharaoh in a different way than the previous plagues because even though “the magicians did the same things by their secret arts” (v. 7), “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away….’” (v. 8). Maybe the plagues were having a cumulative affect but, for the first time, Pharaoh looked to the Lord for relief.

He received that relief, too, but to emphasize to Pharaoh that this really was an act of God and not a mere coincidence, Moses allowed Pharaoh to choose the time when the frogs would go away (v. 10b). I don’t know why he said, “tomorrow” (v. 10a); I would have said, “Immediately! ASAP!” Just as he asked, however, the frogs all… um… croaked the next day (v. 13). Before the sun went down, however, Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (v. 15b) and would not let God’s people go.

Why exactly did he harden his heart? Verse 15 says it happened, “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief.” We do this sometimes, too. We suffer because of our sin or just because of foolish choices we make, so we get really serious about our faith. We cry out to God for help earnestly, with tears even, maybe. As soon as there is relief, however, we return to our unbelieving ways. I’ve seen this too many times to count in the lives of people I’ve tried to help. They come to me in pain and in fear, admitting that they’ve neglected the Lord and sinned against him. I pray with them and for them and try to encourage them but as soon as the pressure is off, they return to their routines and show no more interest in walking with God than they did before.

This is a symptom of unbelief. Pharaoh was an unbeliever which is why he responded to God’s work as he did. Unbelievers around us respond to God this way, too. We believers, however, are capable of nearly every sin that unbelievers do, including this one. We treat God like a spare tire, riding unseen and unthought about in the trunk of our lives until we find ourselves in an emergency. We turn to God when we need him, then return him to the trunk when life is back on track again.

Does that describe your walk with God? If so, learn from Pharaoh the difference between true repentance, which makes you want to know and glorify God, and the kind that only looks to God in emergencies. Ask God to give you true repentance and faith and learn to cultivate your faith in bad times and good times.

Exodus 6, Job 23, and Psalm 54

Today we’re reading Exodus 6, Job 23, and Psalm 54.

This devotional is about Job 23.

Sometimes it seems like God’s presence is real and tangible. You can’t see him or touch him, but his conviction is so powerful, or his work in your life is so undeniable, or the power of his word is so strong that you can sense his presence.

Most of the time, though, we don’t sense the presence of God, at least not that strongly. In the most discouraging moments of life, actually, it feels like God is a million miles away. That’s how Job was feeling in Job 23. He was willing to travel anywhere to have an audience with God (v. 3). His purpose in seeking that audience was to explain to God why his problems were unjust (v. 4) and then to hear God’s response (v. 5). He was confident that God would respond in his favor and reverse all the troubles he had experienced in the opening chapters of this book (vv. 6-7).

Alas, though, he couldn’t find God (vv. 8-9). There was no location on earth Job could travel to and have a direct, personal, tangible give-and-take with the Lord God.

Instead, Job realized that he had to wait for God to summon him. He couldn’t go and find God but he believed that God would find him (v. 10a). And, when God did find him, Job was confident that he would be vindicated (vv. 11-12).

But what if God didn’t vindicate Job? That was the question he considered in verses 13-17. God exists on another level from us, one that we can never approach.

  • God is creator; we are the created.
  • God is infinite; we are finite.
  • God is perfect; we are… not.
  • God has absolute power; we have very limited powers and whatever power we have was delegated from God anyway.
  • God is all-wise; we are foolish.
  • God knows all-things; compared to him, we know nothing.

We desire to know why–why bad things happen to good people, why innocent children suffer painful birth defects, why our hopes and dreams often don’t come true and why those that do come true don’t seem to be as sweet as we thought they would be.

These are common human questions and struggles and they are not necessarily sinful or disrespectful to God.

It is sinful, however, when we challenge God instead of fearing God. To challenge God, one must believe that he knows better than God does and has better moral judgment than God does.

Questions are inevitable. But can you consider them and ask them while still remembering to fear God? The fear of God is to remember that he exists on another level from us, a level we cannot even imagine much less understand. Ask your questions but remember who God is and who you are. Ask your questions in submission, fearing God for who he is. Someday, he may honor you with the answer.

Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53

Today’s readings are Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53.

This devotional is about Exodus 5.

With God’s direct command, some impressive miracles at his disposal, and the promise of success, you would think that getting the Israelites out of Egypt would be snap-your-fingers simple for Moses, right? It should have been like riding a bicycle downhill with the wind at your back.

Not so much.

The first attempt Moses made to persuade Pharaoh was a spectacular failure. Not only did Pharaoh say no, he punished the Israelites for asking (vv. 6-18). This caused the Jewish men and women Moses was trying to lead to turn against him. In verse 21 they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses himself was less than thrilled with God. In verses 22-23 we read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’” Moses started out very reluctant to do what God commanded him to do and, then when he did it, God made things worse for His people, not better! You can almost hear the frustration in his voice when he said, “he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (v. 23).

Unfortunately for us, this is God’s typical way. God does not promise that a life of faith will be easy; he does not make all opposition fall like dominoes after our first act of obedience. Often, in fact, things get worse and harder before we see any fruit or success for our labor. But, when we persevere in faith and continue in good works, God is faithful. The trials we face for our obedience make us stronger; they also cause us to see God’s greatness and power in even more magnificent ways. So don’t quit believing in God or give up obeying him when things don’t immediately fall into place. Keep serving, keep trusting, be faithful. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

So don’t give up before “the proper time” of harvest arrives.