Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, 1 Corinthians 16

Read Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, and 1 Corinthians 16.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 22.

Critics of the Bible often point to the punishments spelled out in a passage like today’s to show that the Bible is harsh, unreasonable, and unloving. Cross-dressers (v. 5), promiscuous single women (vv. 13-21), and people who commit adultery (v. 22-24) all get the death penalty for their sins, even though they were all “consenting adults.” Rapists also were to receive the death penalty (vv. 25-27). That maybe harsh by today’s standards of punishment but it probably is not an example modern critics will bring up. These punishments seem harsh only because of how comfortable we are with sin; in God’s sight, every sin is an eternal offense, so these punishments should teach us something about how our sins—and the desires that compel them—look to the holy eyes of God.

This passage is also a favorite of critics because some of these laws seem arbitrary (vv. 9-12).

But notice the other case laws in this passage. If someone else—whether you know him or not—is about to suffer the loss of his valuable property, you are supposed do what you can to prevent that loss (vv. 1-5). “Do not ignore it,” the scripture says in verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.

More interestingly, you’re allowed to take a mother bird’s eggs but not the mother bird (vv. 6-7). The promise of obedience to this passage is “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (v. 7b). But this act of conservation doesn’t benefit any Israelite person; it’s just good management of God’s creation. It teaches us not to be destructive just because we could be.

Verse 8 of our passage tells God’s people to make sure that they build reasonable safety precautions into their homes. Since people in these desert cultures used their roof to entertain in the evenings when the weather is more comfortable, God’s word commanded them to be careful to protect human life by putting appropriate fencing around the roof.

These laws show that God was not harsh or arbitrary at all toward people in general. He wanted to protect his nation from becoming a lawless culture full of promiscuity. The penalties spelled out in these passages were to protect the importance of the Jewish family and to emphasize important God’s holiness is to him. The laws against abusing birds and requiring Israel to watch out for each other’s property and protect each other’s lives show how much God values human life. They teach us not to be so self-centered that we look the other way when someone is about to lose their valuable property. Instead, we should watch out for others, showing them the kind of kindness and compassion that we would want others to show to us and that God himself does show for us. If we find a lost wallet or purse, a lost smartphone, or see a wandering child, God wants us to do what we can to help. We may not have a flat roof that needs to be fenced in but are we careful to clear our sidewalks of snow and ice? As people who belong to God, we should be conscientious and kind toward everyone, not just conscious of our own stuff.

Finally, the harsh punishments in this chapter remind us of the deep grace of God toward us. God hates sin and is uncompromising in how he wants sin to be punished. He is so uncompromising that he demands that every sin should be punished to the fullest extent of justice. Yet, because he loves his creation and is compassionate toward us, he did not look the other way when we wandered from his commands. Instead, he came in the person of Christ both to look for and find us when we were lost AND to bear the just punishment that our sins deserve. No sin is trivial in the sight of God but none is so putrid that Christ’s death cannot cover it. The cross-dresser, the adulterer, the promiscuous, the self-centered one who never helps another in trouble are all savable, if God wills, through the atonement of Christ. The same goes for those who speak lies, who gossip, who break things and hit people in uncontrolled rage, who lust but don’t touch, who take the eggs AND the mother bird.

No sinner is beyond the saving grace of God; if you’ve been redeemed from one of these sins—or from any sin at all—give thanks that God is uncompromisingly holy but also incredibly compassionate, loving, and gracious toward all of us who are unholy.

Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50

Read Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50.

This devotional is about Psalm 49.

Psalm 49 is not usually on the list people have of favorite Psalms, but it offers great wisdom to those who meditate on its truths. The passage opens in verses 1-4 with a call for everyone, despite their station in life, to listen to the voice of wisdom. And the wisdom this Psalm offers is: Don’t be afraid of though times and wicked people (v. 5) because everyone is going to die (v. 10a, 12). It doesn’t matter how much money you have, no one can buy more time. God does not traffic in human marketplaces, so no matter what you try to offer him, it won’t matter (v. 7).

Apple founder Steve Jobs was worth over $10 billion on the day he died. Although he lavishly funded cancer research seeking a cure for his illness, his vast wealth was not enough to save him. He could have offered everything he owned but nobody could give him even one extra moment on earth. “This,” the Psalmist wrote in verses 13-14 “is the fate of those who trust in themselves… their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.” Jobs led the design of a spectacular headquarters for Apple—one that is was built after his death–but he is buried in the dust just like everyone else who dies.

So, don’t be so easily impressed by wealth, the Psalmist wrote in verse 16 because, according to verses 17-19, “They will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life.”

What is the alternative to this depressing truth? Verse 15: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” Although the details of the afterlife were fuzzy in the Old Testament, there are passages like this one that express confidence, certainty, in the salvation of those who hope in the Lord.

You’ll never have enough money to live forever on this earth, but trusting in God gives us hope for today and tomorrow because those who trust in him by faith WILL live.

Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, Luke 22

Read Leviticus 7, Isaiah 2, and Luke 22 today.

This devotional is about Luke 22.

There are moments in life when it is hard to think about or care about anything other than the big thing that is about to happen. It might be a really big thing like major surgery or something a bit more exciting like a job interview, your wedding, or the birth of a child. For kids and teens, a big game or major exam might fit with what I’m describing.

You remember how it felt to be waiting for one of these big things. You might have gotten so nervous that you couldn’t sit down. You tried to watch TV or do something else to distract you but you couldn’t concentrate. When we’re faced with moments and events that scare us, it is hard to think about anything else.

At the end of this chapter, Jesus betrayed by Judas, arrested by the chief priests, and put on trial (vv. 39-71). He knew this time was coming and had predicted it to the disciples. In the first part of Luke 22, then, it would be normal for a person in Jesus’s position to be nervous and unable to think about anyone but himself.

That was not Jesus’s mindset, however. Instead, he sought to make the most of the time he had left with his disciples by having the Passover–his last supper–with them.

While Jesus was not focused on himself, the disciples certainly were. Oblivious to the danger that Jesus was about face, they were arguing openly with each other about which one of them should be “considered to be greatest” (v. 24).

Jesus used their argument as a teaching moment. He flipped their expectations about greatness and taught (as he had before) that the greatest servant is the one who matters (vv. 25-26).

So often we are defensive about our rights, sensitive about perceived slights from others, and miffed when we don’t get something that is owed to us. And, at our worst, we compare ourselves to others, accentuating in our own minds the ways in which we feel superior to those we measure ourselves against.

But the words of Christ in Luke 22:27 cut through all of that like a knife: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The greatest of all came to serve us and he served us well, bearing our sins in order to be our salvation.

As his followers, he calls us to emulate his example—serving him by serving each other. Do you have a servant’s heart or a “serve me” heart? How can you follow the pattern of Christ today? Who can you serve for the glory of God?

Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, Luke 7

Read Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, and Luke 7.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 1.

Like the earth revolves around the sun, your life revolves around something. The center of your life is what you think about day and night. It is the thing that gives you something to live for, the thing that provides you with direction when you have a decision to make. The center of your life is the thing that defines you. It is the word you would put in the blank of this sentence: “I am a ________________.”

Lots of people, though, couldn’t put a word they like into that blank. It might be because they don’t really know what their center is or, possibly, because they don’t like the answer.

Here’s my question: What is your “one thing”? What is your center? What is the thing that guides you, that provides meaning for you and helps you make decisions in life?

Answer this question: “What is my center?”

If you have trouble answering that question, here are some questions that might help you:

  • What do you spend money on without worrying about the cost?
  • What would you miss the most if it were suddenly gone from your life?
  • What would you avoid missing if you had a conflict in life? In other words, if you had to miss a meal or miss work (even if there were consequences) or miss sleep in order to do something, what would that thing be?

If you’re having a hard time answering the question, “What is my center?” then consider the choices you make in life. The center of your life is revealed by the choices you make in life.

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes had everything a man could want in life:

  • Wealth? According to a webpage I read once that is now gone, Solomon’s peak net worth was $2.2 trillion in today’s money. That makes him the fifth wealthiest man in human history.
  • Women? He had 1000 women (700 wives and 300 concubines).
  • Career success? He was king of his country and faced no serious threats to his kingdom which expanded constantly during his reign.
  • Smarts? Verse 16 says that he “experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”

Despite all these things, he felt that his life was meaningless (v. 2). Verses 3-11 describe how completely lacking in permanence everything in life is. No matter how great you are, coming generations will barely think about you at all (v. 11).

We may think our lives are centered on pleasure or achievement, or insight or something else, but what really stands at the center of most people’s lives is self.

In other words, most of the time we are self-centered.

Self-centeredness is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is seeking things for myself by keeping them from others. Self-centeredness means measuring things by myself rather than by an objective standard. A self-centered person does what is pleasurable whether it is right or wrong. The morality of a thing is defined by what you want rather than by an objective standard of morality. A self-centered person seeks to achieve not to benefit humanity but to get credit for greatness from humanity. A self-centered person seeks insight in life for the ego boost that comes from having more insight than anyone else.

A self-centered person may be very generous to the poor or to others. He may be kind and considerate. He may show an interest in other people. But, the self-centered person does these things for self-centered reasons. He is generous, kind, considerate, etc. because he wants to be liked, because he wants attention or because he wants to manipulate other people into doing his will. Self-centeredness is not always easy to see in ourselves or in. others.

Many negative feelings rise from self-centeredness.

Someone who is angry feels offended because he or she did not get what they feel they deserve—respect, admiration, love, etc. The same is true, often, of those who have deep seated bitterness. They are bitter about not getting what they thought or expected out of life. Fear or anxiety can come from realizing that the things someone has could be taken or lost. That person is fearful because he cannot bear the thought of losing it. Depression can come from wanting something that you cannot obtain or that doesn’t satisfy you when you do obtain it. 

The rest of this book of Ecclesiastes will chronicle Solomon’s attempt to find a meaningful, satisfying, purposeful center for his life. Here’s a spoiler, though: The only thing worth centering your life on is God.

Did this devotional help you realize how self-centered you are? Did it help you see why you are disappointed, mad, bitter, fearful, or depressed?

What would your life look like if it were truly centered on God–not as the “correct Christian answer” to a question about centeredness but truly in your thoughts and actions?

We’ll look at this more in future chapters of Ecclesiastes but, for today, the application is to repent and ask God to lift your self-centeredness and to teach you to focus your life on him.

1 Kings 7, Ezekiel 37

Read 1 Kings 7 and Ezekiel 37.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 7:1.

The last verse of 1 Kings 6, which we read yesterday, told us that Solomon spent seven years building the temple of the Lord.” The first verse here in chapter 7 says, “It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace.” The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are not inspired and were long after both the Old and New Testaments were complete. Someone decided to end chapter 6 with the statement that the temple took seven years. The same person decided to start chapter 7 with the contrasting statement that Solomon’s palace took thirteen years to build. That was an unfortunate decision because the original author meant for these two statements to stand back to back as a contrast. He wanted us to know that Solomon spent much more time on his home than he did on the Lord’s house.

I guess Solomon’s house could have been beset by construction delays but that’s probably not why his house took so much longer to build. If we compare the dimensions that are given in chapters 6 and 7, we will see that Solomon’s house was much larger than the temple. Notice:

  • 1 Kings 6:2 says the temple was 60 cubits by 20 cubits by 30 cubits.
  • 1 Kings 7:2 says the palace was 100 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits.

So the two buildings were the same height but Solomon’s house was much bigger–longer and wider–than the temple he built for worshipping the Lord.

Solomon’s house wasn’t just a residence; it was a government building where he also lived. We can see that in verse 7 where we read about “the throne hall, the Hall of Justice, where he was to judge…” and then verse 8’s statement, “…the palace in which he was to live, set farther back, was similar in design.” But the human author of 1 Kings wanted us to see that Solomon’s palace was much larger and took much longer to build than the temple did. The point is that Solomon did an incredible job building a house for the Lord but he spent even more money building a house for himself. He was self-centered, materialistic, and showed poor priorities in the contrast between these two buildings.

Do our lives reflect the same struggle with priorities or self-centeredness? Do we give our best energy to our career or our hobbies but give leftovers to serving the Lord? Do we spend money lavishly on ourselves while being stingy when it comes to financially supporting the Lord’s work?

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22, which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years, but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about, but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive, but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Deuteronomy 11, Isaiah 39

Read Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

This devotional touches on both Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

In Isaiah 39 a delegation from Babylon came to visit Hezekiah. Their mission was was peaceful and was designed to create goodwill between the two nations (v. 1). Hezekiah was eager (probably too eager) to welcome them and he showed them all of the material blessings God had given him (v. 2) making reconnoissance easy for the Babylonians who would soon become Judah’s enemy.

God used the occasion of their visit to send a message through Isaiah prophesying of the coming Babylonian captivity (vv. 6-7). Hezekiah was untroubled by the prophecy because it would be fulfilled after his death. As verse 8 said, “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” His viewpoint was self-centered and short-term in its focus. Instead of being concerned about Judah receiving the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel for many generations, Hezekiah only cared to know that there would be tranquility during his kingdom and lifetime.

Contrast Hezekiah’s attitude with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 11. While Moses was certainly concerned with the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the current generation (vv. 8-18), he also urged the current generation to pass on what they had seen and learned about God to the next generation (vv. 2, 5, 19-21).

All of us who love the Lord here in the church age should think this way, too. Unfortunately, many Christians do not and some of the common problems churches experience are the result of short-term thinking like Hezekiah’s. The more mature you are in Christ, the more you should care about the salvation and spiritual growth of young people. Of course the church should minister to every age group, but it should focus most on ministry to families. When you are a child, a teen, a young adult, and a parent with children, the church should be optimized to to minister to you. As your children become adults, they should, by God’s grace, be moving more and more toward leadership and service in the church. Then, the older you get, the more your growth in Christ and personal maturity should point you toward reaching and discipling the next generation.

Often, though, there becomes inter-generational conflict in the church. This is where some of the “worship wars” come from but also the inability of the church to prune ministries that once were effective but are now no longer serving a good spiritual purpose. A church can easily be born, grow strong, and then decline (or even die) in a 20 year span because it only ministers to one generation. People in that generation are content, even complacent, that the church offers “peace and security in my lifetime” (Is 39:8b) and so, like Hezekiah, they are unconcerned about what will come after them.

When you think about our church, are you looking to see if young people coming through our youth group stick around and get involved as young adults? Does it give you joy to see those young adults marry, have children, and raise them in our church? Are you praying that some of them will become elders in the days ahead? Are you looking to be involved in some of our ministries to children or young adults so that you can pass on what you’ve learned in your walk with God to others who haven’t seen what you’ve seen?