Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalms 1-3

Read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalms 1-3.

This devotional is about Psalm 1.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if we love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by wicked people will cause them to be blown away (v. 4), rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people–ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members?

Through technology, we can spend time with celebrities, actors, athletes and journalists. We don’t spend time with them in real life, of course, but media and the Internet and apps allow them to communicate what they do with their time, what they think is good or bad, cool or uncool, etc. These people may have a strong following but most them them care nothing about God. If you aren’t careful, you can be heavily influenced by their ungodly lives by spending lots of time uncritically in their “virtual” presence.

The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess  your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spend and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Matthew 1

Welcome to my DailyPBJ devotions for this year! If you do all the Bible readings in this program, you will read through the Bible this year.

Read Genesis 1, Ezra 1, and Matthew 1.

This devotional is about Genesis 1.

What is the greatest feat of human engineering ever accomplished? Could it be the Apollo missions to the moon or the pyramids in Egypt or the creation of the Internet or the Palm Islands in Dubai?

An Internet search will yield many interesting suggestions; people have designed and built some incredible things. All those things, however, required years of thinking, planning, and building not to mention large amounts of money.

By contrast, God spoke and things were formed instantaneously. That’s the message of Genesis 1. Our massive universe with innumerable planets, including earth, were brought into existence from nothing. God willed and spoke and there they were.

This is even more impressive when we consider that God is pure spirit. He created not only the physical objects in an instant but also the very concepts of matter and energy that comprise them. Imagine writing a story with shapes and rules and beings and language that do not already exist. Before you could create the setting and the characters in the story, you’d have to make up the shapes and rules for how matter and energy behave and so on. That would take time and mental effort to develop before you could even begin writing the story. But God did all this and made it a reality with merely a series of commands. The more deeply I think about this, the more it causes me to stand in awe of God and has greatness.

But let’s come back to all that people have created and accomplished. Fish don’t build homes, much less rockets. Bears wouldn’t know what to do with a computer if they had one; they certainly could never build one. When verse 26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…,'” we understand that humans create things is because we were made in the image of God our creator.

Everything that exists started with an idea but ideas themselves are worthless until someone takes action to make them into reality. When we decide to act on an idea, to put thought and energy and effort into making an idea into reality, then we are following in the image of God our creator.

A new year is upon us. What ideas do you have in your mind that would be amazing if they were reality? Did you have the same idea last year? Did you do act at all to move toward making those ideas into reality? One year from now, what could be true about your life that is now only an idea? What steps do you need to take to move closer to that reality?

God gave you and me and every other human being the power to create. We can’t speak things into existence or make something out of nothing but we can take the ideas we have and the raw materials God deposited into this magnificent earth and follow the example of our creator.

Be a good steward this year of the mind and resources God gave you. Take those ideas in your head and act on them, moving them closer to reality. By doing this you will be obeying the command God gave to us through Adam in verse 28b: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it….”

1 Samuel 19, Lamentations 4

Read 1 Samuel 19 & Lamentations 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 19.

There was simply no good reason why Saul should want to kill David, yet that was order that Saul gave to his son Jonathan (v. 1a). Instead executing the order (and David), Jonathan reported Saul’s intentions to his close friend, David (v. 1b-2a). Jonathan encouraged David to hide (v. 2b) while Jonathan attempted to to talk his father out of killing David (vv. 4-5). Although it was God’s will to replace Saul as king with David, it was not nearly God’s time for that to happen. David was more than content to serve Saul and wait for the Lord to make his will happen in his timing. There was no threat to Saul, either imminently or in the long-term. In fact, David had been a great benefit to Saul as Jonathan pointed out in verse 5a. The penetrating question Jonathan had for Saul was, “Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” (v. 5b). Since there was no reason for Saul to kill David, Saul relented and even put himself under oath to Jonathan not to kill David (v. 6). Although this restored David to Saul’s service for a time (vv. 7-8), it was only a matter of time until the demons that tormented Saul incited him to try to kill David again (vv. 9-17).

Although Saul and David are the main characters in this story, it is impossible not to be impressed with the selfless character of Jonathan. HE was the man who could have been fearful and jealous and homicidal toward David, yet he took “a great liking to David” (v. 1b), protected David’s life (v. 2) and sought to make peace between his father and his friend.

I wonder how often we try to make peace when there is obvious turmoil between people we know? Remember that Jonathan was not jumping to conclusions about Saul’s intentions toward David; Saul had ordered him and all his other men to kill David (v. 1a). We should certainly avoid jumping to conclusions and gossiping about others; those actions are sinful and create problems instead of solving them. But when we are aware of problems between others, how often do we stand on the sidelines and tell ourselves, “It’s none of my business.” Jonathan could easily have done that. He could have let his father sin or even become the agent of his father’s sin if he had obeyed the order in verse 1; he could have let his friend be killed because he did not want to get involved. But instead of passivity, Jonathan chose to have the hard, right conversation. Imagine confronting the king about his murderous intent; imagine telling your father that he was attempting to do wrong and sinning against God. These are not easy things to do and most of us (myself definitely included) would look for an excuse to stay out of it.

Jonathan, the one who had the most to gain by David’s death and the most to lose if he and Saul were reconciled, disregarded his own discomfort and advantage and did the right thing. Is there anyone in your life who is harboring sinful intentions that you know about? Are their people in your circle of relationships who need to be encouraged toward reconciliation? Could it be that God wants you to step in and try to do the right thing?

Ultimately, Jonathan was unsuccessful. He achieved a temporary cease-fire from Saul, but not a permanent solution. It doesn’t matter; Jonathan did everything in his power to do the right thing. It was a testament to his faith in God and desire to please Him. May we step up and follow his sterling example.

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of risk or hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful.

I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book about God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94

Today we’re reading Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94.

This devotional is about Proverbs 22:9.

Many people–most of us, probably, at some point in our lives–live under the delusion that more stuff or better stuff will make us happy. We think that nicer clothes, or a new car, or a house in a better neighborhood, or just some more spending money to go out when we want is what we need. We think that money is the antidote to worry because if we had the money, we wouldn’t have to worry if the car breaks down. Or, we think that spending is the cure for boredom because dinner and a movie sounds better than leftovers and reruns.

One symptom of our materialism is stinginess. The person who wants more and better stuff has a hard time giving anything to someone else because each dollar spent on others is one less that could go toward that new iPhone.

Proverbs 22:9 urges us to reconsider. It says, “The generous will themselves be blessed….” Being “blessed” means being “prospered” in the loosest sense of the word “prosper.” Sometimes that blessing is material prosperity. The Bible tells us that the things we have and the money that comes into us is God’s blessing in our lives. Other times, though, being “blessed” in scripture refers to the joy or contentment that only God can give. That joy or contentment is usually distinct from our circumstances. There are poor people with joy and wealthy people who are miserable. There are people who are ill or aging or who have experienced many problems in life who live each day happily as a gift from God. Likewise, there are some very bitter, unpleasant people who have only first-world problems.

This verse told us that those who are generous will be blessed in some way. Is that blessing the blessing of joy or is it the blessing of material prosperity?

The last half of verse 9 may hold the answer. It says that they generous will be blessed “for they share their food with the poor.” This phrase gives the reason why God blesses them. Because they share with others, God shares blessings with them. But what if sharing “food with the poor” IS the blessing? In other words, what if the blessing God gives to the generous is the joy of helping others? What if God is telling us that there is a blessing built in to generosity because it triggers gratitude in those who have their needs met by your gift? What if God wants us to know that within every poor person there is a potential relationship that your generosity might unlock?

If you have no needs, no threats, no real problems in your life but you lack real joy, it’s time to open up your wallet and start sharing. When you share your time serving others in need and spend your money on those who don’t have it, you might find joy like you’ve never experienced before. Take this truth statement and think about how to apply it in your life; the result might make you happier than you can possibly imagine because it will make a real, meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Psalm 3

Today we’re reading Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Psalm 3.

This devotional is about Ezra 3, so read that chapter if you can’t do all of today’s reading.

The events recorded in Ezra happened late in Old Testament history. They happened after the kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon and after those kingdoms were divided into the Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Because of Israel’s idolatry, God used the Assyrian Empire to scatter the northern kingdom of Israel. Years later, God then used the Babylonians to take the southern kingdom, called Judah, into captivity. Daniel and his friends were living in Babylon due to that captivity. Daniel, while reading Jeremiah, realized that the captivity would end after 70 years. Ezra recorded what happened after that 70 years of captivity ended.

Cyrus the king of Persia was moved by the Lord to send the people of Judah living in exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. We read about that in Ezra 1. Ezra 2 recorded the names of those returned. At the end of Ezra 2, yesterday, we read, “When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site” (Ez 2:68).

Today in Ezra 3 we read that the people “assembled together as one in Jerusalem” (v. 1b). They built an altar and began the routine sacrifices commanded in Moses’ law (v. 3). They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4) and began rebuilding the Temple (vv. 7-13).

One thing that is impressive about this chapter is how quickly the people organized to begin worshipping the Lord together as a group. Verse 1 refers to the “seventh month” but that doesn’t mean seven months after they arrived. It means the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, the month when the Feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated (v. 4, 6). Although Ezra did not say so, the events of verses 1-6 happened probably only 3 or 4 months after the exiles returned to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem they returned to was a mess. It had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians 70 years before and was uninhabited during that time. When they got there, they had to figure out who owned what property, then repair or rebuild some kind of home to live in.

But the people who returned also needed to make a living, so they also had to begin working to start an economy going again. Verse 3 says that they “had settled in their towns” but that “settling” was only a bare subsistence. They were far from a thriving, vibrant community at that point.

And yet, they began their worship as a nation and their obedience to God’s word pretty quickly. It is true that Cyrus sent them there to rebuild the temple (chapter 1), but it would have been easy to make excuses–very plausible excuses–about the importance of making sure they could survive before they began worshipping God corporately again. They also could have said, “Well, we need to rebuild the temple first, then we can do the sacrifices and feast days.” But the temple took two years to get going (v. 8). Rather than wait, their faith in God and zeal for his glory caused them to obey his word as soon as they could.

All of this indicates what a priority worship was for these Israelites. Unlike their ancestors who worshipped idols and mixed God’s word with pagan gods and rituals, the 70 years of exile had chastened them and had shown them the importance of faith in God’s word and obedience to it.

I wonder if we would respond the same way? If some natural disaster wiped out all of our homes and businesses and leveled our church building, would those of us who survived that want to get together as soon as possible to start worshipping again?

I’d like to think that gathering again as a church family would be very important to us. Maybe a tragedy like that would make it so. But, when I think about how many people in our church only attend our Sunday worship here and there, I wonder.

Many people are faithful to our worship services Sunday after Sunday but many others attend for a Sunday or two, then disappear for weeks at a time. They all have reasons but how many of those reasons are just excuses laid on top of poor priorities? And that’s just Sunday services we’re talking about. Small group attendance and Calvary Class attendance is even more random and unpredictable.

This passage, and the coming of a new year, give us a chance to think about our priorities and where our time is spent. The fact that you’re reading these devotionals probably puts you in the category of people who are committed to the Lord and his work in our church. But, there is always the temptation to get distracted and let priorities fall out of whack. Don’t let that happen to you and, if you have a chance to encourage someone else who isn’t attending regularly, take the opportunity to speak to them for their good as a believer in Christ.

Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Psalm 1

Welcome to the first installment this year’s devotionals. If you read each chapter, you’ll read through the Old Testament this year.

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 1, Ezra 1, and Psalm 1. This devotional is mostly about Psalm 1, so read that if you can’t read all three chapters.

God created us to be social creatures. It is natural for us to seek acceptance from others, to try to find a group where we fit in and belong. One way to belong is to do what others are doing. Find a group that seems like they might accept you, do what they do and sooner or later, they will accept you as “one of us.”

People have differing personalities so the desire for acceptance is stronger in some of us than others. But we all want to fit in somewhere. Our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships, so we look for friends in order to be happy.

That desire to fit in can be a positive force for good in our lives, but it can also be destructive. I said above that, “our happiness is largely determined by the quality of our relationships,” but Psalm 1 says that a happy person (that’s what “blessed” means in this context) is one “who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

This statement runs counter to our instincts. If people accept us and offer us friendship, we naturally want to “walk in step” with them. Psalm 1:1 warns us, however, that the happiness we find in acceptance will not last if we find our acceptance with wicked people. Wickedness is always destructive. Ultimately, God will judge the wicked but even before that judgment, the Bible teaches us that wickedness leads us into destructive ways. The feeling of acceptance and safety we find among wicked friends will lead us to do wicked things to “keep in step” with them. Those wicked actions are like seeds buried in the ground; eventually, they will bear fruit in our lives and the fruit of wickedness will always be painful and destructive.

The contrast to those who seek acceptance from the wicked is found in verse 2. The happy person, the “blessed one” (Ps 1:1a) is the person “whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Because God is eternal and perfect, his word points us to eternal principles that will always be right. They may bring short-term pain but, if we love God and his word, if you are one who “meditates on his law day and night,” you will find stability and fruitfulness in your life (v. 3). Meanwhile, the wicked seeds sown by the wicked will cause them to be blown away (v. 4), rejected in God’s judgment (v. 5). Ultimately, their ways will lead “to destruction.”

I’m glad you’ve subscribed to these devotionals and I hope they are a blessing in your life. My goals for them are (a) to help you be in the Word each day by making it as easy as possible and (b) to help you look at your life through the microscope of God’s word, think about what you see there, and make changes accordingly.

The first thing I want you to consider is, who do you spend your time with? Do you spend your time in God’s word and with his people? Or are you trying to keep in step with wicked people–ungodly friends as school, ungodly co-workers or family members, celebrities, actors, and journalists who care nothing about God? The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to re-assess your life. Maybe it is time to look at where your time is spend and make some changes for God’s glory and for your own flourishing (v. 3).

Thanks for reading and happy new year!