1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, Proverbs 20:1-15

Read 1 Samuel 9, Ezekiel 20, and Proverbs 20:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 20:4: “Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

A sluggard is someone who is sluggish. It is a word that describes a person’s work habits, or, to be precise, his lack of work habits. A sluggard is lazy. He avoids work as much as possible and, when he does work, he moves at the slowest possible pace. When I was in college, I worked landscaping for two summers. We called one of the guys I worked with “two speed.” He never asked why we called him that, but we called him that because he had two speeds–slow and slower. He dragged his feet at everything, so working with him was a drag for the rest of us.

The book of Proverbs contains many sayings about sluggards. This one tells us that sluggards “do not plow in season.” Plowing was hard work. If you didn’t have a donkey to pull the plow, it was really hard work. But it had to be done so that you could plant and, later, reap. This proverb says that sluggards won’t “plow in season.” They avoid doing the hard work of breaking up the ground “in season,” meaning at the time when it should be done. Instead of starting early in the semester on a term paper, the sluggard does nothing. He waits until the night before the paper is due to get started. Or, if he’s in the workforce, the sluggard doesn’t follow up on customer calls or sales leads quickly. He doesn’t get to work when the work shows up. Instead, he shuffles papers, talks to colleagues, gets more coffee, writes another to do list, or does anything he can to appear working without actually doing the productive thing.

What is the consequence of being sluggish about one’s work? The last part of Proverbs 20:4 says, “…so at harvest time they look but find nothing.” For the lazy student, it is failing a class or not getting nearly as good a grade as the student could. For the lazy worker, it means missing promotions and raises or being the first to get laid off when the company needs to cut costs. The point is that the lazy person fails to get results. The lack of results are not because the sluggard lacked ability; instead, it is because he did not work when he could have worked. He avoided the hard work, so the results avoided him.

Are you a sluggard anywhere in your life? Are you dragging your feet, procrastinating on tasks that really need to be started or completed soon? A sluggard must live on the kindness of others, such as a boss who is too compassionate to fire him or a relative who can’t bear to let his family member get evicted, or become homeless, or accumulate debt to have food to eat and clothing to wear.

There is a type of sluggard that we Christians sometimes meet. That sluggard says, “The Lord will provide” or “I’m waiting on God” instead of working or seeking work or just putting basic effort into life. It sounds spiritual, but it is just a covering for laziness. There are times when we do have to wait on God because we’ve done everything we can. But, too often “waiting on God” is justification for doing nothing.

We do need God to provide. The anti-sluggard may plow diligently, plant and cultivate carefully, and still miss the harvest because of drought. Hard work usually pays off, but not always. There are circumstances that only God can control.

But from the very sixth day of creation, when God created man, his will was for humanity to work. God provides for us most often by us putting effort into our work. So, don’t procrastinate today. Don’t make excuses or avoid doing hard things.

In fact, if there is something you’ve been avoiding–a phone call you need to make, a problem you need to address, a client who has been waiting too long–do that first today and stick with it until it is done. That’s the way to become an anti-sluggard, a believer who lives a work-life that is pleasing to God.

1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, Ephesians 2

Read 1 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 15, and Ephesians 2.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

There is such a contrast in this chapter between the godly praise of Hannah in verses 1-10 and the evil acts of Eli’s sons in verses 12-26. Hannah not only gave praise and glory to God in her words, but she described who the Lord would honor and who he would humble. She also prophesied in verse 10 when she said, “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” At that point, there was no king in Israel, nor was any king on the horizon. Late in Samuel’s life, when his mother had almost certainly been dead for some time, Samuel, her son, would anoint the first and the second king of Israel.

Meanwhile, Eli and his sons were acting dishonorably before the Lord and, instead of giving prophesies, they were being prophesied against (vv. 27-36). The author of 1 Samuel described Eli’s sons in a general way in verse 12. Then in verses 13-17 he gave specific instances of their sin of having “no regard for the Lord” (v. 12). The manifestation of their ungodly attitude toward the Lord was first of all their treatment of his offerings. When the people brought sacrifices to the Lord, they were acts of worship to him, of course. But God had also decreed that some sacrifices were to also provide food for the priests (see Lev 6:25-26 for one example). The problem was not that Eli’s sons ate the sacrificial meat; the problem was that they cared nothing for the Lord, the worshipper, or the Law’s instructions about the sacrifices. All they cared about was getting the best portion of meat from the sacrifice and the ability to cook it as they wanted. 

Eli’s sons treated the meat of the sacrifices as property they could take for their own appetites. They also viewed the women who served in tabernacle as property they could take for their sexual appetites (vv. 22b). Eli’s sons, then, used their privileged position as priests to serve themselves with no regard for how the Lord was to be served. Eli did confront his sons about their sins and did urge them to stop (vv. 23-26), but he would not use the position and power the Lord gave them to make them stop. He had every right—responsibility even—to remove them as priests for their wicked acts, but he cared more about honoring them than he did about honoring the Lord (v. 29). 

All three of these men, then, were sinning in their capacity as leaders. His sons abused the privilege of leadership to bring them pleasure. Eli refused to use the power he had as a leader for the Lord’s glory. Instead, he used it to protect his sons, even though he was disgusted by their sins.

The problem with power is that it can seduce those who have it into using for their own enrichment or for their own protection rather than for doing what is good. The boss who takes credit for the work of his team, the pastor who steals from the church’s treasury or preys on women who come to him for spiritual help, the father or mother takes out their own frustrations on their children, the politician who uses public office to enrich himself or herself—these are all ways in which people use a position for selfish gratification instead of to serve the Lord by using that power for his glory.

Is there any area in your life where your actions as a leader benefit you but displease the Lord?

Samuel was brought to serve in the tabernacle by his mother, but God brought him there to replace the house of Eli with godly leadership. Samuel will show us how a godly leader operates and, of course, the sacrifice of Christ a little over a thousand years after this will show us how God wants us to use our leadership to serve not to be served. Think about where God has called you to lead; now, is your leadership there glorifying to him or gratifying to you?

Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, Ephesians 1

Read Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, and Ephesians 1.

This devotional is about Ruth 2.

As we read through the book of Ruth together, it is helpful to remember that this story took place during the period of the Judges (1:1). Because we’ve just completed reading through Judges, you are aware that not much was happening spiritually in Israel at the time. The nation of Israel worshipped idols, so God allowed their neighbors to oppress them. Then Israel would repent and God would send a deliverer to defeat their attacking neighbors. That became a cycle that happened repeatedly throughout the book of Judges.

But even the judges God sent were poor spiritual leaders, often living in disobedience to the Lord themselves. The impression one gets from reading Judges is that nobody in Israel was really following and serving the Lord from the heart.

The book of Ruth, however, indicates that more was going on spiritually than Judges suggests. Although it is true that there was a lot of disobedience, there were also men like Boaz, whom we met here in Ruth 2. Everything about Boaz exudes a strong faith in the Lord and desire to please him:

  • When he greeted his workers, he pronounced a blessing on them in the Lord’s name (v. 4).
  • When he saw Ruth gleaning in the field, he did not throw her out; he followed God’s law and let her glean.
  • Even more than that, he invited her back (v. 8), protected her safety (v. 9a), and even encouraged her to use the water provided for his worker (v. 9b).
  • When asked why he would do this in verse 10, he acknowledged Ruth’s sacrifice for Naomi (v. 11) and asked for God to reward her for it (v. 12).

One thing to take away from this story is how God provided for Ruth based on her faith. The language in verse 3 could lead one to think that her choice of Boaz’s field was random (“as it turned out”). But this was God’s providence working in her life.

It is important to remember that the events our lives that seem like chance have been ordered by God who is working for his glory and our good.

This passage also calls us not to despair when the people surrounding us are insensitive to God’s word and ungodly in their lives. Boaz stood out because of his faith. He not only spoke faithful words that glorified God, he lived a life that was obedient to God’s word because he trusted in the Lord.

Although we live in a culture that is darkening morally and we may feel at times like we are the only ones trying to serve the Lord, we should not be fearful or tone down our faith. Instead, like Boaz, we should live what we believe no matter what and trust God for his provision and work in our lives.

Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, Romans 10

Read Judges 1, Jeremiah 47, and Romans 9.

This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land of promise, but not completely. Their territory was larger sometimes and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied everything God promised them.

Why not?

Unbelief which led to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) and Israel was still procrastinating when it comes to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later. Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots. The Lord was with them, but they were not courageous enough to believe that and follow through with obedience.

God’s people were willing to follow God to a point, but when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage. God makes promises. God’s people believe and act on those promises and succeed until the challenge looks hard. Then they quit and settle for less than what God promised.

Do we ever do that? Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has. But how much effort do we put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has. But how much effort do we put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for us?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament encourage generous giving to see God provide: 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” God’s word does encourage generous giving so that you can see God provide. But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?

Joshua 5:1-6:5, Jeremiah 30-31, 2 Corinthians 12

Read Joshua 5:1-6:5, Jeremiah 30-31, and 2 Corinthians 12.

This devotional is about Joshua 5:1-6:5.

For decades God had provided manna for his people to eat in the desert. For most of the people in that generation, God’s provision was all they knew. Six days a week manna was waiting for them in the morning; on the sixth day, they gathered enough to feed them for the Sabbath as well. I wonder if it ever occurred to the younger adults in Israel that the manna would stop some day? Or, if they did ever think about that, if they thought it would continue until they had conquered some territory and were settled?

Regardless of what they expected, the manna stopped when they entered the promised land. They ate a Passover meal and the manna was no more (v. 12).

Yet God was not done caring for his people. The crazy instructions that the Lord gave to Joshua about how to conquer Jericho is proof of that. Instead of laying siege to this fortified city or doing a frontal assault, God just told them to march around it.

Day after day for one whole week, they played ring-around-the-rosies with Jericho. On day 7, they did that seven times and, boom, the walls of the city sang “we all fall down.” This strategy was designed to show Israel that God was in control of their conquest and that their victories were due to him fighting on their behalf. There would be more traditional battles in the future, ones where God’s people would use conventional weapons and warfare to take cities. But this conquest of Jericho was to show them that it was God’s might, God’s power, God’s promises that would give them the land, not their military prowess.

Isn’t the Christian life just this way? We look for God to provide for us and make it easy. Sometimes he does that to show us that he is with us. But, more often, God calls us to trust his promises and cultivate the land ourselves. God commands us to claim his power but show it by doing battle with our will, our sin nature. We get deeply disappointed with God for not causing holiness to descend into our lives like manna. We are thankful when he gives victory in our lives one day, but then calls us to do battle ourselves in faith that he is fighting with us and for us.

Israel’s failure to get everything God promised them was a failure of faith. Instead of learning the lessons of the manna and Jericho and boldly taking the rest of the land, God’s people became too satisfied too soon.

Don’t allow a complacent attitude to keep you from striving, from growing strong in Christ. Although this passage has to do with miraculous food and miraculous military victory, God works in the same way in all domains in life. Trust that the God who provided for Israel miraculously until they could reap his provision providentially will provide providentially for you, too, if you work at your life in faith. Trust that he’ll be there to provide supernaturally when you need him to, but that he’s already providing what you need through his divine providence. Claim all this by faith and do the hard work of daily Bible study, daily prayer, daily fighting the sinful impulses of the flesh, daily working hard at your profession and your relationships.

Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3

Read Deuteronomy 25, Jeremiah 17, 2 Corinthians 3.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 25.

This chapter from God’s law is about justice and injustice. It begins in verses 1-3 by describing how disputes would be handled in Israel. They would be heard by judges would be charged with “acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.” Verses 2-3 describe the punishment that the guilty should receive if the judge feels it is appropriate (v. 2a).

Verse 4 commands the farmer to treat his ox with justice. As the ox works for the farmer, he creates value through his threshing work. It would be unjust to deny him food while he works, so the law prohibits the farmer from muzzling him.

Verses 5-10 are strange to us but we need to remember how important the land was to God’s people. Due to war, farm accidents, and other factors, men tend to die before their wives. If a woman were to continue living, she would need to remarry as she would need a man’s work to provide for her. But if she did remarry, her husband’s family line would not continue and they would lose their family land. Over time, the tribes of Israel would start to look very different. To prevent that, God commanded a man’s brother to marry his widow so that she would be provided for, his land would remain in his family, and his family name would continue (v. 6). But some brothers would not want to fulfill this responsibility to a sister-in-law. If a man refused to obey the commands in this chapter, he was denying justice to his sister-in-law and hurting his own family. This passage specifies embarrassing social consequences to the man who refused to continue his brother’s family (vv. 9-10).

Verses 11-12 were designed to protect a man’s ability to continue his family line. Though you could see how a woman might want to protect her husband from having the tar beat out of him, it was unjust to damage his family so an equally damaging consequence was prescribed for a woman who did this.

Verses 13-16 command God’s people not to be unjust in their commercial dealings with each other. Each person was to pay a fair price for what he bought. The “differing weights” were designed to deceive the buyer and the  Bible her says that “the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly” (v. 16). People who make tax policy in this country should read and consider this passage. It is fundamentally unjust to require one person to pay more than another person does (v. 16).

Finally, God commanded his people to treat the Amalekites with justice for attacking Israel when they were defenseless as they left Egypt (vv. 17-18).

While some of the things specified in this chapter seem arbitrary and petty, they emphasize to God’s people that God is just. It is part of his fundamental nature and, as his people, we it should become important to us to treat others fairly, with justice.

So, how about it? Are there some people in your life who are getting less than what they deserve from you? If you have power over someone’s life in some way, do you treat that person with justice?

Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, Acts 9

Read Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, and Acts 9.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply of food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God, who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God.

But notice that God described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age.

We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We can also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship.

If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

Help People in Need as an Intentional Act of Faith

James 1:27a-b: Help People in Need as an Intentional Act of Faith

There are many people in need around us. What are we supposed to do about that as followers of Jesus Christ? Find out in this message. 

This is message 13 in the series, Intentional Acts of Faith, a series about the New Testament book of James. It was developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Sunday, March 28, 2021.

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Ruth 4

Ruth 4: U-Turns

From the series, “U-Turns.” This message shows how God may use the u-turns of your life to take you in an unexpectedly good direction.

This is a message from chapter 4 of the Old Testament book of Ruth. It was part of 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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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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Ruth 2

Ruth 2: U-Turns

From the series, “U-Turns.” This message teaches us that God will direct you and provide for you when you trust Him through the U-Turns of life.

This is a message from chapter 2 of the Old Testament book of Ruth. It is part of a series called U-Turns by Pastor Brian Jones. This message was delivered on Sunday, July 19, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, MI.