Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 51, Psalms 60-62 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 51:1-4

Wanting to live for Christ and doing what is right in God’s eyes can be a lonely way to live. Those around you who do not know Christ will respond to you in various ways. Some people will respect your morals and convictions. Some will despite your morals and convictions. Others might feel that you are judging their (lack of) morals and convictions. But, unless someone shares your faith, they are incapable of glorifying God, even if they live relatively moral lives. So, you stand out as one who is different, and feel it.

Even professing Christians, sometimes, don’t want to be too vocal about what is right and wrong or about identifying with Jesus. So, you may know people who could and should walk with you as you walk with Christ but it feels like they do not. That’s a lonely way to live, too.

So what do you do about this?

Verse 1 was addressed to Israelites who wanted to live according to God’s righteous way. It says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord…” so anyone who wants to follow Christ today can identify with and apply the revelation that follows. And what is that revelation? It is to reflect on the past. Verse 1c through 2b point the godly person in this passage back to the man and woman who started the nation we call Israel.

When Abraham began, he had nothing but God’s promises. As verse 3c put it, “When I called him he was only one man….” Yet, he believed God, was called God’s friend, and did what was right in the sight of the Lord (for the most part). And what was the result? “I blessed him and made him many” (v. 2d). This look at the past was meant to encourage God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem an the Babylonian exile. God promised in verse 3 to return blessings and comforts to his people and their capital city of Jerusalem. Then, through his people, he promised to speak truth and light for all nations (v. 4).

Jerusalem was trashed after the Babylonians were through with it. Anyone who looked at it might say, “This city will never amount to anything again.” Yet God said that he would use the few, lonely people who sought him and pursued his righteousness to be a light for the world. Just as he turned Abraham and Sarah into a great nation, he would use those who follow him to bring about his will.

Do you feel discouraged and alone in your walk with Christ? Maybe there are no other Christians in your workplace or even in your home. Do you feel discouraged and wonder what good it is to follow Christ when you’re by yourself?

Then this passage is for you, because you are not by yourself. You have God. You have his word and his promises. So don’t give up or quit! Keep pursuing God and his righteousness and let him do the growing and multiplying.

Genesis 25, Esther 1, Matthew 18

The schedule, which you can download anytime right here, invites us to read Genesis 25, Esther 1, Matthew 18 today. The devotional below is about Genesis 25.

Death comes a shock to most people.

Trust me; as a pastor, I’m often one of the first people to find out about someone’s death. Even though the person who died might have been very old and in very poor health, the people who loved him or her are often surprised when that person dies.

The first four verses here in Genesis 25 tell us that Abraham had another life after Sarah died. He remarried (v. 1) and had a bunch of new kids (v. 2). But then Abraham died. He lived a long time (vv. 7-8), but not forever.

Such is life for all of us unless Jesus returns before our turn to die arrives.

So we shouldn’t be too surprised as we get older when other people ahead of us chronologically and even those around our age start dying.

Nor should we be surprised that death is coming for each of us. We might not want to think about it, but we should prepare for it whether we want to prepare or not.

That’s what Abraham did here in Genesis 25:1-10. He prepared for his death. Notice that:

  • His heirs were all provided for. Isaac was the covenant child, the one whom God had chosen to receive the blessing and promise of becoming a great nation (vv. 5, 11). But Abraham made sure that each of his other children was provided for before he died (v. 6).
  • His children knew his burial wishes (vv. 9-10). There was no family drama about where he would be buried or who was in charge of the arrangements. Isaac and Ishmael were in charge and he was to be buried with Sarah, his original wife and the wife of promise for him.

There is no reason to deny yourself the joys of life just because you are old and don’t know when you might die (vv. 1-4). Go ahead and get remarried if your spouse dies before you do. 

But you shouldn’t act like you’re going to live forever, either (vv. 5-6), and Abraham’s actions at the end of his life provide an excellent example for us. So: 

  1. Do you you have a will or trust that provides for your children if you die before they are adults?
  2. Does your will or trust indicate how the assets you own upon your death should be distributed?
  3. Do your children or someone else you trust know where your will is and can they get it when you die?
  4. Do you have life insurance to pay your funeral expenses at least? How about enough insurance to give them a financial blessing after you’re gone?
  5. Do your children know where you want to be buried?
  6. Have you left instructions about who should prepare your body for the grave, what your funeral should be like, and where you should be buried?

As important as it was to prepare on earth for his death, it was more important that Abraham was prepared spiritually for his death. Abraham’s death on earth did not mean the end of his existence. Note that v. 8b say that Abraham “was gathered to his people.” This can’t mean that he died because we were already told that he died in verse 8a. It also can’t mean that he was buried because we were told about his burial in verse 9.

Therefore, the phrase, “gathered to his people” describes Abraham’s life after death. Because he believed God, he was welcomed into eternity with other believers. The most important act of preparation for death is to know that you will be saved on the day of judgment. That comes only through faith in God by Jesus Christ.

But the second most important aspect of preparing for your death has to do with the spiritual instruction of your children (v. 5, 11, 21-23). While Abraham was alive, he taught his son spiritually (vv. 21-23). He taught him what it meant to trust in God (v. 21). He taught him how to lead his family in trusting God (vv. 22-23).

Are you prepared if death comes soon or suddenly? You can apply this passage to your life by taking some or all of the action steps that Abraham took in this chapter.

Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9, Proverbs 2

Read Genesis 20, Nehemiah 9 and Proverbs 2. This devotional is about Genesis 20.

Abraham and Sarah did this, “We’re brother and sister” thing before back in Genesis 12:10-20. On that occasion, they were in Egypt; here they are in Gerar. In Genesis 12, God protected Sarah just as he did here.

But this was stupid both times, even more so the second time after the close call back in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12:11, 13 Abraham told Sarah, “I know what a beautiful woman you are…. say you are my sister.”

But think about how that would sound to man. “Hi, I’m Abraham and this beautiful women here is my sister Sarah.”

Well, if they were merely brother and sister and there’s no husband introduced, then it would be reasonable for a man to conclude that this beautiful woman was single and available for anyone who wanted her.

Predictably, that’s what happened; she was added to the harem of Pharaoh (Gen 12) and Abimelek (here in Gen 20). In both cases, Abraham lost his wife and put God’s promises in jeopardy. In both cases, only God’s miraculous intervention preserved Sarah and allowed her to become the covenant mother that God had promised she would be.

So why would Abraham do this–knowingly and predictably put his wife in a situation where she would be taken by other men?

The answer–in both cases–was fear. Abraham was afraid of being killed so that someone could get to Sarah (v. 11).

So he just lied and made Sarah available.

That was unloving to her and unnecessary. Abraham and his men had just defeated a cohort of kings in Genesis 14. If Abraham and his servants were powerful enough to liberate Lot and Sodom from these kings, surely they could have protected Abraham’s life and Sarah from being abducted.

And, how often does it actually happen where a man kills another man to be with his wife? I know there are news stories where that kind of thing happens but I’ve never personally met anyone in that situation. If a man did that–killed another man to take his wife–the other men who lived around the killer would gang up on him and kill him.

So, Abraham’s fear was unspiritual, irrational, and far adrift from reality.

This incident shows what happens when we live in fear instead of faith in God’s promises; namely, we make foolish decisions. God protected Abraham because of his covenant promises that Abraham would become a great nation through the son born to Sarah. But God would have been just to allow Abraham to live through the consequences of the foolish, fear-filled decisions he made.

Are you living your life in fear instead of in faith? Do you use lies and deception to manipulate others instead of trusting God to care for you and provide for you? It is easy and tempting for us to fall into a similar trap as Abraham. Learn from his negative example in this instance and trust God instead of acting in fear.

Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, Matthew 11

Read Genesis 16, Nehemiah 5, and Matthew 11 and this devotional which is about Genesis 16.

Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

From the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 until the judgment day, people have blamed other people for decisions that turned out badly. This means sinful decisions, of course, but also decisions that were reckless, unwise, or that just didn’t turn out well.

We humans have a strong tendency to deflect blame from ourselves by blaming others. We see that tendency here in Genesis 16.

Yesterday in Genesis 15, God repeated the promise to Abram that Abram would physically father a great nation. Here in chapter 16, Abram’s wife Sarai came up with a plan to make it happen. The text of this chapter tells us three timess that this was Sarai’s plan. Notice:

  • Verse 2: “she said to Abram… sleep with my slave.”
  • Verse 3: “Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.”
  • Verse 5: “I put my slave in your arms….”

What was Abram’s role in this? “Abram agreed to what Sarai said” (v. 2) and “He slept with Hagar” (v. 4).

The plan succeded in creating an heir because “she concieved” (v. 4b). The unexpected side effect of the plan, however, was that the master-slave relationship between Sarai and Hagar was disrupted. Verse 4c-d says, “When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.” 

This is the point at which Sarai began to blame Abram. She took some responsibility when she said, “I put my slave in your arms” in verse 5c. But before she said that she said, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering” in verse 5b. Then after she admittted her role she said, “May the Lord judge between you and me” in verse 5f.

Did you notice the blame sandwich Sarai made there?

  • You are at fault: “You are responsible for the wrong” (v. 5b)
  • I played a role in it, sure: “I put my slave in your arms….” (v. 5c)
  • But you’re the one who is really at fault: “May the Lord judge between you and me” (v. 5f)

The implication of these statements is that Abram was ultimately responsible because he should not have agreed to Sarai’s plan.

And, she’s right; he should not have agreed to the plan. Abram is guilty for going along with a plan that took a shortcut to achieving God’s promise. But God did not instruct Abram or Sarai to follow this plan nor did the plan require any great amount of faith to see God’s promise fulfilled.

Instead of continuing to wait for God to keep his word, Sarai came up with her own way and Abram expressed no concern or refusal to cooperate. His passivity continued when Sarai complained about how Hagar was acting. “’Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.'” Abram was wrong to agree to the plan without consulting God and he was wrong to withdraw from the situation once it became a problem. The angel of the LORD told Hagar, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her” but those words should have come out of Abram’s mouth. He should have addressed the problem, taking responsibility for his part in it, and calling both Sarai and Hagar to do right.

But Sarai has to answer for this situation, too. It was her idea, after all. Despite her attempt to downplay her role when she said, “I put my slave in your arms,” she was still responsible for this happening.

So, let’s go back to the questions I opened this devotional with: Who is responsible for your life? Why did you make the decisions that you made?

You are.

God is gracious to us; he forgives our sins when we change our minds about them and he sometimes even withholds or minimizes the consequences for our sins and unwise decisions.

What he doesn’t do, however, is absolve us from responsibility. In fact, “he shows favor to the humble” (Prov 3:34, 1 Pet 5:5, Jas 4:6). The forgiveness you want from God and the road back to righteousness runs through the town of repentance and confession. When we step up and admit what we did wrong, we are ready to receive God’s grace.

When we blame others, however, and minimize our role, problems go unsolved and unresolved. There are always other factors that lead us to do what is wrong or to make unwise choices. Often, other people are one or more of those factors. But until we accept responsibility for what we decided and did, the situation will get worse, not better.

Are you in a bad situation that you’ve tried to blame on others? Humble yourself. Own up to your role and do the right thing now. God will meet you there with forgiveness based on the blood of Christ and he’ll give you grace to deal with the situation in the best possible way.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10 today. This devotional is about Genesis 15.

Genesis 14, which we read yesterday, described how Abram and his men battled and defeated four kings who had beaten five other kings and had taken Lot captive. Scripture gives us no indication here of how that battle affected Abram emotionally but it is possible that, even though he won, Abram was traumatized by the experience.

If Abram was traumatized by that battle, it is not surprising to see God giving him comfort in the opening words here in chapter 15. In verse 1 God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield….” That phrase indicates that God was the one who had just protected Abram in battle and would protect him in the future, too.

But God went on to tell Abram that knowing God was worth more than all the wealth and power that Abram refused at the end of chapter 14: Verse 1e says, “I am… your very great reward.” 

Abram had received other promises like this from God so in verses 2-3 he questioned God about this promise. Specifically, he wanted to know how God could keep this promise given that he and Sarai had no children. 

Questioning God is a spiritually-risky thing to do. God is sovereign; he is creator. We have no right to question his will because we are his creation.

But questioning God is not always a sin. In fact, there are two types of questions. Sometimes we ask questions to understand what God has said. At other times, we ask questions to undermine God and suggest that his promises are not worth trusting.

Abram’s question was not an attack on God or his word, it was a sincere effort to understand what God said and how it would be accomplished when it seemed so unlikely.

God answered Abram’s sincere question with his word. Notice that verse 4 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.” God and Abram had already been talking so why was this phrase necessary?

The point was to remind us who is making the promise. God graciously gave Abram a clarification (v. 4) and a re-affirmation of the promise (v. 5). Though God’s answer may not have been totally satisfying, Abram accepted it in faith anyway (v. 6a).

Then verse 6b recorded one of the most important statements in the book of Genesis: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abram to be a righteous man. That declaration was not based on something Abram did to create or demonstrate his own righteousness. Rather, God considered Abram to be perfect based on his faith, not his obedience.

The lesson for us is that living by faith means trusting God’s word even when God doesn’t answer all our questions.

God commands and calls us not to be perfect on our own, but to believe; to fall in total dependence on God’s promises. 

Do this when obeying God seems risky or you are afraid or you doubt God’s goodness or wonder if God’s promise really applies to you. Fall in total dependence on his promises and watch God keep his word.

Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, Proverbs 1:20-33

Today read Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, and Proverbs 1:20-33. This devotional is about Genesis 13.

Abram and Lot must have had some kind of close personal relationship. Genesis 11:31 told us that Lot was Abram’s nephew. The fact that Lot went with Abram (12:4) when Abram left Ur suggests a close, personal friendship between Abram and Lot, one where Abram was most likely a mentor that Lot looked up to.

God had promised, in Genesis 12:3, that he would bless anyone who blessed Abram. Lot’s personal association with Abram sure seems to have brought God’s blessing to Lot’s family. As we read today in Genesis 13:6, Lot and Abram became so wealthy that “they were not able to stay together.” So, they separated themselves geographically and Abram graciously gave Lot the power to choose which land each of them would inhabit (vv. 8-9).

Verse 10 told us that Lot made his decision based on what would benefit him most economically. As a rancher, a “well watered” plain “like the garden of the Lord” would provide the best environment for Lot’s flocks and herds to thrive, contributing to Lot’s bottom line. So Abram and Lot parted for economic reasons and Lot chose his next home for economic reasons.

Verse 12 told us that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” The next verse told us that Sodom was inhabited by wicked men. When I was growing up, messages I heard on this text suggested (maybe even stated directly) that Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom” because he was curious about the wicked lifestyle of the people who lived there. I don’t think that is correct, based on 2 Peter 2:7-8. I think Lot lived near the cities, especially Sodom, because it gave him a great market for his livestock. So, again, he chose what was best for himself and his family’s prosperity despite the spiritual threats Sodom would pose to his family.

I believe the prosperity gospel is wrong, a heretical distortion of the gospel.

But I don’t believe that prosperity is wrong; in fact, I believe that we should prosper—unless God chooses not to allow us to prosper–because our faith causes us to work hard and act prudently with money. So, I’m pro-economic growth for all of us within the sovereign and the moral will of God.

But, if prosperity drives all of our decisions, we will make bad moral choices (see 1 Timothy 6:10. This happened to Lot, as we’ll see.

How about you and me?

  • Do we choose to take a job with a better salary without considering how it might affect our families?
  • What about the choices we make when it comes to spending money? Are your kids enrolled where they are in high school or college because you can save money that way? Did the spiritual and moral costs of that decision factor into your choice

Money is important; we all need it to live and I pray for the prosperity of our church members within the will of God. But don’t let money drive you to make disastrous moral decisions.

Lot would have been so much better off if he had offered to reduce his flocks and herds so that he could stay with Abram. He probably wouldn’t have been better off economically–at least not at first–but he would have retained the moral example and instructions from Abram which would have benefited him in every area of his life. Be wise; don’t allow every big decision you make to be decided only to the money needed.

Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Psalm 21

Today’s reading: Genesis 22, Nehemiah 11, Psalm 21.

This devotional is about Genesis 22.

God sure liked to test Abraham, didn’t he? Abraham trusted the Lord for all the things God promised him the covenant. He moved to a new land and traveled around in it like a Bedouin. He received the wealth God promised him quickly and easily but waited for years for the promised heir, Isaac, to be born.

Now that Isaac was alive and growing up, Abraham must have been filled with thanks and happiness each day. That is, until God told him to kill Isaac here in Genesis 22. After testing Abraham and Sarah’s faith by making them wait, he would now test Abraham’s faith by commanding him to do the hardest thing imaginable.

[I wonder if Abraham told Sarah about God’s command in this chapter before he and Isaac left for Mt. Moriah….]

Anyway, the test Abraham received in this chapter was a test of his heart. As much as he loved Isaac, would he fear God more? Although he did not understand what God’s plan was in this chapter, Abraham followed God’s commands quickly (v. 3: “early the next morning”) and completely–right up to the point where God stopped him.

God knew that Abraham would obey before he issued the command to kill Isaac. So why put Abraham and Isaac through this emotional wringer? Why did God test Abraham so often and so painfully? One answer is that God wanted to set an example for Isaac, Jacob, and everyone else in the nation of Israel to follow. God’s people would face many choices to obey God’s command thoroughly and unconditionally. They would have to wait to inherit the promised land just as Abraham had to wait for Isaac to be born. They would have to choose between loving what God gave them and loving God just as Abraham had to do in this chapter.

Have you ever had to risk losing (or actually losing) someone or something you love in order to be obedient to God? That takes faith! As you trust God in those moments by doing what is right rather than what you want to do, you will see God work in your life in ways that you did not expect. Also, the trials and problems you face in life can, if you handle them in faith, give your children and others that you lead the footprints to follow in their own lives.