1 Chronicles 13-14, Zechariah 7, John 20

Read 1 Chronicles 13-14, Zechariah 7, and John 20 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 7.

During the 70 years that Judah was captive to Babylon, the Jewish people began a tradition of fasting in the fifth and seventh month of each year (vv. 3-4). The purpose of this fast was, on the surface at least, to beg the Lord to end the captivity, return his people to the promised land, and restore the temple. But the temple was now being rebuilt and many people were returning to Judah, so this delegation wanted to know if the fasting was still necessary.

Zechariah’s answer was long and did not conclude until chapter 8, but his entire answer challenged the questioners more than it answered the question. The Lord asked the people, “…was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?” (vv. 6-7). A fast of true repentance would have honored the Lord but a mere ritual that everyone observed as a matter of custom meant as little to the Lord as it did to the people observing the fast. Likewise, their “normal” days of eating and drinking were done without any regard for the Lord. They did not give thanks for the food he provided or enjoy it as an act of worship from grateful hearts. Both their religious observance and their daily habits were done for themselves, not as servants of God seeking to please him.

Instead, God wanted his people to live like him daily, showing justice, mercy and compassion (v. 9) by caring for widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor rather than using the vulnerabilities of these groups as levers to exploit them (v. 10). That is the kind of worship God wants, not because he expected people to work to earn his favor but because these ethics were evidence of a truly changed heart.

Think about your daily choices–to eat or not to eat, to read God’s word and pray or not, to attend church or sleep in, to be kind and helpful to others or to ignore their needs. Does your walk with God drive the decisions you make on these (and other) things or do you choose what you will and won’t do based on your own personal motivations?

When you have the opportunity to help someone in need, do you do it as an act of worship and obedience to the Lord?

Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20

Read Genesis 27, Esther 3, Proverbs 3:1-20 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 3:7-8.

Everyone is looking for the secret formula, the missing key that unlocks health and prosperity and happiness. These verses claim to have that formula or key. Look at all the favorable results that are described here:

  • Long life: Verse 2a says that something “will prolong your life many years.”
  • Peace in your heart and money in your pocket: Verse 2b says that it will “bring you peace and prosperity.”
  • An easy road in life: Verse 6b: “he will make your paths straight.”
  • A healthy body: Verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

These verses are Hebrew poetry and in Hebrew poetry ideas are repeated or restated in parallel phrases. So when verse 8 says, “This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones: then whatever “this” refers to must be the missing ingredient, the secret formula, the key that unlocks the life we all want. 

So what is that secret? Verse 7: Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” The parallel commands are to do what your parents taught you to do (v. 1), submit to God (vv. 5a. 6a), love him faithfully (v. 3a), and worship him reverently (v. 7a). This is the secret formula to a successful life.

Lots of us say that we are doing these things but what is the real proof? The answer is in verse 7b: “shun evil.” Avoiding evil behavior is the test of whether or not someone loves God, worships God, and truly submits to and obeys God. More specifically, one who will “shun evil” is someone who has learned to “lean not on your own understanding” (v. 5b).

Our default instinct about how to live a peaceful, happy, prosperous life is to do evil and get away with it. We think that happiness comes from:

  • materialism instead of wise stewardship (vv. 9-10)
  • dishonesty instead of telling the truth
  • taking advantage of others instead of serving with integrity
  • sexual pleasure instead of loving faithfulness
  • and on and on

Every sin you commit in your life is an act that happens when you “lean… on your own understanding.” Sin promises immediate shortcuts to happiness that instinctively appeal to our inner hunger for success and happiness. And, it is true that sin gives a certain amount of pleasure for a while.

But the pleasure sin offers diminishes over time; meanwhile the hidden costs of sin increase over time.

By contrast, someone who believes God’s commands instead of his own (sinful) instincts builds a life that gradually provides greater levels of happiness.

So this is the biblical formula for happiness: love God and show it by doing what God commands. This is a “secret” formula in the sense that it is the opposite of “your own understanding” (v. 5b).

It is also a secret in the sense that it requires the saving grace of God. Only the gift of eternal life in Jesus can make you want to fear God, love God, trust God and obey God when everything else in your body and mind screams at you to go the other way.

Today you may be offered a direct but sinful choice that seems like it will give you the pleasure you seek. You will be offered a dozen little choices that promise the same thing.

But because you know the Lord and have his Spirit, his word, and his new life in you, trust him and do the right(eous) thing instead. This is the secret path to true happiness.

Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, Psalms 4-5

Today read Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, and Psalms 4-5. This devotional is about Psalm 5.

In Psalm 5, David cried out to the Lord for help and waited “expectantly” for the Lord to answer (vv. 1-3). His reason for expecting the Lord to answer his prayer was God’s righteousness (vv. 4-6). He is displeased with wickedness (v. 4a), does not welcome evil people (v. 4b), won’t let the arrogant stand (v. 5a), hates all who do wrong (v. 5b), destroys liars (v. 6a), and detests the bloodthirsty and deceitful (v. 6b). In just a few verses there David cast a very wide net, ruling out answers to prayer for all kinds of sinners.

Of course, David was a sinner himself. So how could he be so confident that God would answer his prayers while refusing everyone else? The answer is in verse 6: “But I, by your great love, can come into your house.” Very simply, God had graciously chosen him. Because God chose to love David, David could come before the Lord in prayer and in worship.

God’s electing love was not restricted to David. It is the sole reason you want to know God. As you prepare to gather for worship and the Lord’s supper this morning, remember this. It is not your perfect performance of righteousness that causes God to hear your prayers, welcome your worship, or receive you at his table. In reality, you and I are as guilty before the Lord as any of the sinners David mentioned in verses 4-6. But, because of God’s great love, we are forgiven in Christ, welcomed in Him, and loved. Let this grace of God encourage you and prepare you to worship as we gather this morning before the Lord.

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.