2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143

Read 2 Chronicles 17 and Psalms 140-143.

This devotional is about Psalm 143.

Few men in world history have faced the number of immanent dangers to life that David faced. In addition to fighting in several traditional battles, he also was hunted by his father-in-law the king and, later in life, by his own son as well. Many of the songs we read in the Psalms were written by David while he was on the run. His musical gifts provided comfort to him when he was afraid and gave God’s people a gift that enhanced their worship.

The Psalms we’ve read today are part of David’s “songs in the key of fear.” What impresses me so often in these songs is David’s concern for his walk with God even while he pleads with the Lord to spare his life. In verse 8 of Psalm 143, David sang, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.” I take that phrase, “let the morning bring me word” to be a poetic and spiritual way of saying, “Please give me deliverance by tomorrow morning.” I think this because verse 9 echoes with, “Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you.” But, concerned though he is with his physical deliverance, he also sang, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God….” That line shows that David wanted to walk with God in his moral life just as much as he wanted to save his neck. 

Think about how we and Christians in general pray. Many of us are completely prayerless until we or someone we love gets a serious diagnosis or is in financial distress, or has a wayward child, or faces some other kind of distress. There is nothing wrong, of course, with praying for God’s help and deliverance in these situations. David did, after all, pray for God’s deliverance.

But how often do our prayers cry out for God’s help in the immediate problems and circumstances of life but say nothing about learning holiness? Yet God is far more concerned to “teach [us] to do [his] will” (v. 10a) than he is with solving our immediate problems. In fact, the Bible teaches us that the problems of life are allowed into our lives by God because he wants to root our pride and self-dependence out of us, as well as loosening our love of this world. 

Of course we should pray for God’s help and deliverance from the difficult circumstances we face in life. But we should also, like David, learn to ask God to train us and others we pray for to live for his will.

1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, John 16

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, and John 16.

This devotional is about John 16.

This section in John continues the teaching of Jesus on his final day of freedom. John recorded the teachings Christ gave as he and his disciples walked from the upper room (where they ate the Passover & Christ’s began the Lord’s Supper, John 14:31) to the Garden of Gethsemane (where Judas would betray him, John 18:1).

According to our passage today, John 16:1, these teachings were designed to fortify the disciples against rejecting him. Hard times would come to them for their faith in Jesus, including excommunication from their local synagogues (v. 2a). Christ gave the reason that people would persecute his disciples in 16:2b: “…anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”

How foolish for anyone to think that the disciples were a threat to their lives or political power. Jesus’ students did not wish to overthrow the government and they weren’t trying to take over Judaism either. Yet governments would imprison them and religious people would persecute them, even taking their lives, in God’s name.

Verse 3: “…because they have not known the Father or me.” Unbelief exacts a high price; not only does it damn one’s soul for eternity, it skew’s one’s moral compass in this life as well. This is why morality is constantly being re-defined (downward) and why the ungodly are celebrated and followed while the loving, righteous people of God are shunned and persecuted. It is true that God created each of us with the voice of conscience. Conscience points the right way toward morality but that voice can be rationalized away, miseducated, dumbed-down, and even suppressed completely. The further we come toward the return of Christ, the farther our world moves away from what is right and good.

Yet Christ told us about these things ahead of time for our good: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). The peace Jesus promised in this verse is not the outer peace of an undisturbed, unpersecuted life. It is the inner peace that reassures us when things get rough on the outside that Christ is in control and will ultimately end this turmoil forever when his time comes. Lean on this promise as you encounter hostility and trouble in life due to your faith in Jesus. 

Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, Acts 27

Today read Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, and Acts 27. This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly, but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they had killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce, so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead had showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That act of brutality provided some wives to the Benjamites, but didn’t provide enough women for everyone. So, the Israelites told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, if the girls were kidnaped rather than given in marriage, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership.

When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other: overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they routinely showed better leadership than what we’ve read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us. It should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will rule and judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, 2 Corinthians 1

Read Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, and 2 Corinthians 1.

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to continue to address problems in the church, just as he did in 1 Corinthians. One problem, which he addressed in verses 12-24, was criticism he received for changing his travel plans after he had told the Corinthians he was coming to visit them. Before he got to that issue, however, he took time to praise God for how God had comforted him during the troubles he and his ministry partners had experienced in Asia (v. 8).

Why does God allow problems into our lives? Why aren’t his servants exempt from problems as a reward for their ministry of the gospel? There are at least four answers and three of them are discussed in this chapter.

First, God allows problems into our lives because we live in a fallen world. Until the redemption of all things is complete, problems will be part of life for everyone–believers and non-believers alike. This we know from other texts, not this chapter.

Second, God allows problems into our lives so that he can comfort us and teach us to comfort others (v. 4). The best people to help you when you are persecuted are those who have endured persecution themselves. The best people to help you when you face a life-threatening illness are those who have been there. They are the “best people” to help because they can empathize with your struggles more deeply and more personally. They know what encouraged and helped them when they were struggling, so that makes them more equipped to help you.

Third, God allows problems into our lives to test and strengthen our faith. Verse 6 says that problems produce “in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” That “patient endurance” is not just giving up and taking it, like when you’re stuck in stopped traffic on the freeway and there is nothing you can do about it. “Patient endurance” is the ability to trust God throughout the duration of a trial rather than giving up faith in him. Trials reveal whether we are truly trusting in God or whether we are self-deceived about our faith. They also teach us to look to God for comfort, help, and deliverance which strengthens our faith when God delivers us. Verse 9 made the same point when it said, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” For true Christians, trials drive us closer to God while problems in life drive unbelievers further from him. That doesn’t mean you’ll never question God; read the Psalms and you’ll see plenty of verses that question God. Instead, while your faith may waver and feel week, it will ultimately hold and eventually get stronger through trials.

Fourth, God allows problems into our lives to teach others how to pray. Verse 11 says, “…as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” As you go through problems in life and ask others to pray for you, your trial gives them the opportunity to learn intercessory prayer. When the trial ends, it gives other believers who prayed for you the opportunity to give thanks to God.

What problems and struggles are you facing right now? Which of these lessons do you feel God is teaching you most directly? If you’re not facing a trial in your life right now, give thanks for God’s favor but study the list above, too, to fortify yourself for when the problems arrive.

Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, Acts 14

Read Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, and Acts 14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 31.

The Assyrian Empire dominated the Middle East 700 years before Christ. They defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel and scattered the people in those tribes away from the Promised Land. That was a direct result of Israel’s disobedience to God’s Law.

Although the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem remained in the Promised Land assigned to them, they were oppressed by the Assyrians and fearful that Assyria would defeat them as they had Israel.

Hezekiah was a godly king of Judah in many ways, be he also did some foolish things. His advisors urged him to create an alliance with the Egyptians but Isaiah pronounced a curse (v. 1: “woe”) on anyone who was looking to the Egyptians for military strength against the Assyrians. The reason for this curse is stated at the end of verse 1; they seek help from Egypt “… but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.” As mighty as the Egyptians were, they were not nearly as powerful an ally as the Lord himself was for Judah, if they would only trust him. “But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together” (v. 3).

God had promised to protect and defend his people and that promise is repeated here in Isaiah 31 (v. 4), but humans naturally seek human solutions to human problems rather than looking to God for supernatural or providential solutions to human problems.

You and I do this, too. We go Googling for the answer almost immediately when we encounter a problem, but often we forget God altogether or pray as if he won’t help us anyway. This passage reminds us to turn to God, claim his promises and call for his help when we face pressures and problems in our lives.

Exodus 30, Ecclesiastes 6, Luke 10

Read Exodus 30, Ecclesiastes 6, and Luke 10.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.”

In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life.

These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it.

But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Genesis 40, Job 6, Matthew 28

Read Genesis 40, Job 6, and Matthew 28.

This devotional is about Job 6.

In chapter 6, Job continued lamenting the painful afflictions that had come into his life. He had asked his wife in chapter 2:10b: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” But now the sorrow of his reversal in life was weighing down on him much more heavily. He viewed the devastation he had experienced as a direct attack from God (v. 4) and wished that God would just kill him so that he could die without cursing God (vv. 8-10). Job was tempted to curse God because he felt there was no future for him, nothing to look forward to, no encouragement left for this life (vv. 11-23). He concluded this chapter by asking for proof of his disobedience (vv. 24-30).

Although we know personally and theologically that Job was not perfectly sinless, we also know from chapters 1-2 that God did not allow these problems into Job’s life to punish him.

But Job didn’t know why God allowed all this trouble in his life. In that way, he’s like us most of the time. If I break the law and get caught, then I know that the “trouble” in my life is my fault while I’m being prosecuted.

But if I’m living my life as I always have and suddenly my house catches fire and burns to the ground, then I am left to wonder. Why did God allow this? Was it something I did?

When we cannot see a direct cause for the problems in our lives, we tend to speculate in one of two directions. Either:

  1. I did something and God is punishing me for it
  2. Or God is mistreating me unjustly.

This is what Job was wondering so he demanded that God answer him. In verses 29-30 he said, “Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.  Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice?”

If you were one of Job’s friends, how would you respond to the feelings and questions he expressed in this chapter? His friends were sure that God was not unjust so they were likewise certain that Job did something wrong.

Is that how we treat people who are hurting and dealing with problems? Do we assume that God is punishing them for something?

That isn’t comforting to anyone, but could it be correct? How would God want us to respond to someone in Job’s situation?

Maybe we know enough about Job’s story to give the right answer biblically. But does that knowledge guide us when we are talking with hurting people? Can we offer friendship and comfort and encouragement to other believers without wondering or implying that they are somehow to blame for their suffering?

Genesis 34, Job 1, Proverbs 3:21-35

Read Genesis 34, Job 1, Proverbs 3:21-35.

This devotional is about Job 1.

The first portion of Job 1 carefully painted a picture of Job, the man as an outstanding man:

  • Verse 1b told us that he “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”
  • Verse 2 told us that he was wealthy and successful by giving us a full inventory of his assets, then concluding, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.”
  • Verses 3-5 told us that he was a loving, godly family man. He loved God and his family so much that he interceded with God on behalf of his children as a “regular custom” (v. 5f).

As we read these opening verses, we are led to an obvious conclusion. Job had it all–a close walk with God that showed in his personal actions, his financial success, and his family life.

No wonder God loved Job so much, right? No wonder he led such an ideal, enviable life. Job was such a great guy that God gave him everything a man could want–yes?

Satan looked at it just the other way around. When God pointed to Job as a model human being (v. 8), Satan scoffed. “Of course he loves you, God! You’ve given him everything he could possibly want!” (vv. 9-10).

This caused Satan to offer God a bet: “I’ll bet you, God, that if you take away all the good stuff Job enjoys, “he will surely curse you to your face” (v. 11b). God accepted Satan’s wager, protecting only Job’s life from being taken by the evil one.

Just like that, Satan swooped in and took Job’s wealth and his children from him on the very same day (vv. 13-19).

How did Job respond to this?

Not in the way Satan expected. Satan’s belief was that Job’s love for God was based on God’s blessings on Job. Take those away and “he will surely curse you to your face” (v. 11b). But Job worshipped the Lord (v. 20) and said, “…may the name of the Lord be praised” (v. 21).

Job also did not accuse God of taking away his love just because he suffered such deep, sudden losses.

Job still had a lot of processing to do, as we’ll read in the remaining of the chapters of this book. But his initial reaction to what happened to him was to leave it with the Lord: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (v. 21c-d). This is a godly response to the heartaches, traumas, and trials of life.

Is that how you respond to problems in your life? Or is your evaluation more performance based? Your theology is performance based if you love God because he’s given you what you want in life or if you measure God’s love for you based on how well your life is going. Either of those options is unbiblical. Both of them lack faith.

Can you trust God when problems enter your life?

Your First Instinct

Reflex test
Neurologist using hammer to make a reflex test

What is your first instinct when you face a problem in your life? Do you:

  • Get really anxious?
  • Go into denial that the problem even exists?
  • Enter problem-solving mode and start to develop a plan?
  • Call your mother? Or father? Or someone else whose advice you trust?

As a Christian, your first instinct should be to pray:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

James 1:5

God has promised his presence with us and his help for us. But that help comes to us when we turn to him in prayer.

Everything else–anxiety, anger, denial, planning, complaining, etc.–we do when we have a problem, comes from a place of self-dependence. We feel those emotions and do those actions because we feel the responsibility to fix the problem. Our instinct is toward self-dependence but we know we might fail! It is hard to depend on yourself because you know your own weaknesses, limitations, and track-record of failure.

The Christian life is about God-dependence. You became a Christian when you stopped trying to do it yourself and turned in repentance to God in faith for forgiveness and salvation. That’s how your Christian life began.

But your Christian life proceeds in dependence on God, too. Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

Here’s a truth I read in a Bible commentary today:

“Most of us turn to God only when we have exhausted every other option.”


Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell, James, vol. 16, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 62–63.

It’s true, isn’t it?

One reason why God allows and even brings problems into our lives is to teach us to depend on him. He wants to retrain our instincts so that we turn to him FIRST instead of as a last resort.

What problems are you dealing with today? Why not take a moment and ask for God’s help in prayer?

Ruth 3

Ruth 3: U-Turns

From the series, “U-Turns.” This message teaches us that we have do what is right if we’re really trusting God in the U-Turns of life.

This is a message from chapter 3 of the Old Testament book of Ruth. It was the first message in a series called U-Turns by Pastor Brian Jones. This message was delivered on Sunday, July 26, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.

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