Luke 15

Today’s reading is Luke 15.

The other day I was standing in line at a coffee shop while the couple in front of me placed their orders, paid, and received change. As the cashier was handing the man his change, he dropped one of the coins. I watched it fall to the ground where it leaned on its edge against the man’s shoe.

My first instinct was to reach down, pick up the coin, and hand it back to the man. But then I hesitated for two reasons. First, the coin was touching him, so reaching down to pick it up would put me uncomfortably into his personal space. Second, the coin was a penny, so was it really worth it for one measly cent?

Before I made a decision, he reached down and picked it up himself so my problem was solved. But the fact that it was a mere penny got me thinking about things that are lost. If you lost a penny, you might look around for it for a few seconds, but probably would not waste too much time searching because the value is so low. If you lost a ten thousand dollar check or an extremely rare coin– one that was of great value to collectors and of personal value to you because it was given to you by a favorite grandpa or aunt or someone else you loved–you would tear the place apart looking for it, right? You’d do that because of the immense value it has in terms of cash and personally to you.

Here in Luke 15 Jesus overheard the muttering of the religious (v. 2) about Jesus’ tendency to spend time with the outcasts of society (v. 1, 2b). “Those people” were not worth anything to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were worth less than a penny because they were “sinners.” If they were coins, not only would the religious people refuse to stoop down to pick them up, these religious leaders would grind them into the dust with their sandaled feet.

Jesus told three stories here in Luke 15 to illustrate why he spent time with sinners. All of them have to do with the worth of the sinners involved. To Jesus, saving sinners was like a shepherd finding a lost sheep (vv. 3-7), a woman finding a lost coin (vv. 8-10), and a man reconciling with his lost (that is, rebellious) son (vv. 11-24). The point of these stories was to invite the religious leaders to reconsider their hatred of sinners (vv. 25-32). But another key point of these stories is to illustrate how much lost humanity means to God.

I have many things in my past that I am ashamed to have said or done. In my present life, there are areas where I wish I was more like Christ and had a greater desire to improve. While I don’t think of myself as worthless, I have to admit that my sinfulness makes me far from desirable to a holy God. Jesus taught, however, that God loves to find his lost sons. This chapter calls us, then, to look at sinners differently. We should see ourselves and others not as worthless pennies but as precious in God’s sight, so precious that he came to find us. Let’s give thanks for God’s love and remember to love other sinners, no matter how reprehensible we think they are. To do anything else puts us in the place of the judgmental older brother who missed out on the party because of his unloving attitude.

2 Chronicles 34, Psalms 148-150

Read 2 Chronicles 34 and Psalms 148-150 today. This devotional is about Psalm 149.

I don’t get too excited when someone does what he or she has agreed to do. When I go to a store that carries an item I need and the item is there for me to buy, I don’t jump for joy all the way to the cash register. Of course they have it; why wouldn’t they? It bothers me when they run out of something I usually buy there, but it doesn’t thrill me when they have what I expect them to have. When someone meets our expectations, we may be thankful but we’re not especially impressed.

All of us have consistently failed to meet God’s expectations. The very best of us morally is far below what God created us to be morally and expects us to be. God in his grace redeemed us from the fall, but that doesn’t make our fallenness irrelevant or acceptable. If God were like us, he would not be impressed when we do what is right; he’d think, “That’s what you’re supposed to do; too bad you’ve failed me so many other times, though.”

Yet, that is not how God is. Psalm 149:4 says, “For the Lord takes delight in his people….” That’s a pretty astounding statement. Despite all the ways in which the people of God, either Israel or us, have failed him, yet God still looks on us with delight.

That delight is, of course, because of the perfect merits of Christ that he applied to us by faith. This is alluded to in verse 4b: “…he crowns the humble with victory.” It is our humility, expressed in repentance and faith, that causes God to delight in us. If you’re in Christ, do you believe that God delights in you? Do you understand that he is not frustrated or angry when you sin; that sin has been paid in full by Christ. And, God isn’t like an emotionally detached father who says, “Impress me;” Instead, he tells looks on us with delight, not because of who we are or what we’ve done but because Christ, his beloved one, did everything that was necessary to give God that delight.

Don’t live today under the burden or weight of guilt; understand that, because of Christ’s perfect life and his sacrifice, God is delighted with you. Your progress in becoming holy may be slow and frustrating to us at times, but nothing can separate you from God’s love and delight. Let this truth fuel you today as you live for him.

2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14 today. This devotional is about Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone.

Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5. They were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c).

As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

1 Chronicles 23, Malachi 1, 1 John 5

Read 1 Chronicles 23, Malachi 1, and 1 John 5 today. This devotional is about Malachi 1.

The final book of the Old Testament has a pattern of writing that is distinct from any other book in the Bible. Malachi’s pattern of prophecy is:

  • God makes a statement (v. 2a, 6a-d)
  • God’s people question the statement (v. 2b, 6e)
  • God gives more explanation or support for the statement (vv. 3-5, 7-14).

Two topics are addressed here in Malachi 1 using that pattern. They are;

  • God’s love for Israel (vv. 2-5).
  • Israel’s dishonoring of God through blemished sacrifices (vv. 6-14).

The first topic, God’s love for Israel, is one that Israel may have questioned throughout the Old Testament era. God’s people experienced many setbacks and even captivity, so they may have questioned God’s love literally, not just through the literary conventions of verse 2b. How could God love a nation that faced so much military defeat for so long?

God’s answer is not to point many specific instances of his love but to contrast the outcome of Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, with the Israelites (vv. 3-5). Israel suffered defeats; no doubt about it. But Edom was about to be destroyed completely in God’s wrath while Israel had returned to their land after the exile. God’s love, then, was demonstrated by being faithful to his covenant with Israel even when they were faithless at hime). 

LIfe’s problems and negative circumstances can make us struggle to believe that God loves us. Malachi’s answer to that struggle is not to minimize the problems Israel had but to point them back to their own existence. God saved them and preserved them in ways he has not done for any other nation. This is the most powerful proof of God’s love that could exist.

When you and I wonder if God loves us, we need to take our eyes off our circumstances and remember how Christ saved us from our sins. He not only died for our sins but, before that, he chose you to receive that forgiveness through election. Then, on the day of his choosing, you heard the gospel message and the light of spiritual life turned on in your heart. It caused you to turn to Christ and gratefully receive salvation. All of this happened because God loves you.

In this life you will have problems, setbacks, struggles, and heartaches. God’s love does not spare us from these things. God’s love saves us from eternal destruction which is much more loving than making sure your car always starts or that you always have more money in your bank account than you will ever need.

So, when you question God’s love for you, return again to the doctrines of salvation. Your salvation is the greatest evidence you’ll ever get of God’s love for you. Don’t forget it; remember it and thank God for it.

1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, 2 Timothy 3

Read 1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, and 2 Timothy 3 today. This devotional is about Hosea 14.

This chapter is yet another plea from one of God’s prophets to God’s people to repent of their sins (vv. 1-3) and serve God alone (v. 8a-b). Sandwiched between these two elements are the ardent promises of God to “love them freely” (v. 4) and cause the nation to blossom (v. 5b, 7c) and flourish (v. 7b). 

With promises like these, repeated over and over and over by God’s prophets, why didn’t God’s people at least try it? Why–with few exceptions–did generation after generation follow idols and forsake the Lord?

The answers are in verse 9: “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” The sinfulness, the rebellion that comes naturally to our human hearts causes us to stumble over God’s commands. We are unable to “walk in them” until we are righteous and only God can declare and make someone righteous. 

This is the BIG lesson of the Old Testament. God makes promises and teaches humanity his ways but humanity rebels against God and stumbles in his ways unless God breathes new life into our dead spirits. The Israelites should have read the words of these prophets and cried out to God for help to overcome the rebellion of unbelief. Instead, people rejected God’s word or tried to cobble together their own religion of Judaistic “good works” plus something else like Baal worship. Note that before God said the righteous would walk in his ways in verse 9 he first said in verse  4, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely….” 

If you find yourself trying to live the Christian life but failing, this is what you need. You need to cry out for the righteousness of God and the new life he gives through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This is what our kids need, our friends need, our neighbors need; it is what we all need. We don’t need to try harder to walk in God’s ways or reduce God’s ways to a list of requirements. We need  God’s grace and the righteousness of Christ given to us by faith. 

Then we will grow and flourish and blossom and show all the other signs of life and blessing that are described in this chapter. Then God will be glorified in us and we will bless us “like the dew” (v. 5).

1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, Proverbs 23:19-35

Read 1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, and Proverbs 23:19-35 today. This devotional is about Hosea 11.

Some people look at family life as restrictive. They describe it as being “tied down” or call their spouse a “ball and chain.” Children are, to them, a burden rather than a blessing. Or, if they are children, they think of their parents as taskmasters instead of loving leaders and protectors.  

This is how Israel looked at God. It is true that God gave them a number of laws to regulate their worship and their lives. But it is also true that God released them from true bondage, the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In this chapter, God explains his side of his relationship with Israel. In verse 1, he proclaimed his love for Israel like a loving father for his child. God called them out of bondage in Egypt, and nurtured them like a loving parent would to his infant or toddler. Look at the terms of tender love in this passage. God:

  • loved Israel “when Israel was a child” (v. 1a).
  • He called his son “out of Egypt” (v. 1b).
  • He “taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (v. 3a-b).
  • He “healed them” (v. 3d).
  • He “led them with cords of human kindness” and “ties of love” (vv. 4a-b).
  • He lifted them to his cheek (v. 4c-d)
  • He “bend down to feed them” (v. 4e)

How did Israel respond to God’s many acts of tender love? They “went away from me” (v. 2b) sacrificing “to the Baals” (v. 2c).

Israel’s idolatry, then, was a refusal of his love. It was like a child who receives his parents’ love and then, when he turns 18, spits on his mom and dad and leaves the house for good. 

God explained that he would allow Assyria to rule over Israel because “they refuse to repent” (v. 5). But he also promised not to give up on his people (vv. 8-9). Though they totally rejected him and would suffer the consequences, God would not reject them forever. Instead, he would change them spiritually for good. Verse 10 says, “They will follow the Lord….” This phrase looks forward to the day when Israel will be genuinely converted. They will stop pretending to obey God and instead will love and obey him from the heart. 

This did not happen when Jesus came the first time. When God became a man in the person of Christ, “He came to his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). This happened so that the few Jews who did receive Jesus would fan out into the world with the message of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Some day, soon, Christ will return and will fulfill this promise. He will give new life to the people of Israel, saving them and causing them to worship him–finally–from the heart. 

For us, it is important to see in this passage how tenderly God thinks of us. John 1 says that those who received Jesus were given the right to be called God’s sons (Jn 1:12). Think about how lovingly God describes himself in relationship to his sons in this passage–teaching them to walk, lifting them to his cheek, bending down to feed them (vv. 1-4). Realize, then, that God’s commands to us are not burdensome regulations designed to weigh us down but they are protections against the pain and ugliness of sin just as your household rules protect your children from injury and exposure to wickedness. 

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, Philippians 4

Read 1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, and Philippians 4 today. This devotional is about Philippians 4.

Paul experienced many difficulties and stressors during his ministry. So, it must have been incredibly encouraging to have the Philippians as his friends. While they had some interpersonal problems (cf. 2:3-4 with 4:2-3), they were loved deeply by the apostle and they returned that love, even sending Epaphroditus to help personally (2:25) as well as financial aid (4:10-18).

There is so much joy in this letter that it is easy to forget that Paul was in prison when he wrote it (cf. 1:12, 17). The Philippians’ friendship and Paul’s imprisonment form the background out of which he wrote the chapter we read today. His imprisonment, particularly, was the circumstance he lived in when he wrote verses 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Undoubtedly Paul was a man who had practiced these commands in his own life repeatedly; his command to the Philippians to deal with their fears that way rose out of his own experience as well as from the inspiration of the Spirit.

In verses 8-9 he commanded them to discipline their thoughts toward good and godly things instead of focusing on their problems, complaints or fears.

Many of our negative emotions rise out of undisciplined thinking. We attach meaning to things that happen, then tell ourselves negative stories about the meaning we’ve made up.

It is easy to do and we’ve all done it, at least at certain times in our lives or with certain events of our lives. God’s word, however, gives us a different story–a truthful one–to tell ourselves about anything and everything that happens in life. A sovereign God has ordered the events of your life for his glory and your good. There will be problems, pains, stresses, heartbreak, sorrow, and grief in this life. That’s because this life and this world have been broken by sin, not because God doesn’t love you.

The solution to the problems of life is to trust God’s promise and put your hope in his future kingdom. When it comes, the pains of this life will be forgotten and the perfect life that you and I want will be real; it can never be real until then.

When life tempts you to think thoughts of despair, replace those thoughts with truth: God loves you and redeemed you from the guilt of your sin and the punishment you deserve for it. He is preparing a perfect, eternal kingdom for you and is re-making you into a perfect person by his grace.

While we have much less to fear than the martyrdom that ultimately took Paul’s life, his teaching reminds us that, no matter how little or much we fear, the Lord is waiting to hear our prayers and give us peace as we look to him.

Genesis 38, Job 4, Matthew 26

Read Genesis 38, Job 4, and Matthew 26. This devotional is about Matthew 26.

Matthew continued to chronicle the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and, in verses 1-2, Jesus warned the disciples that the crucifixion was coming. While the religious leaders conspired together to execute him (vv. 3-5) and Judas came forward to betray him (vv. 14-16), Jesus was anointed by one of his followers (vv. 6-13), observed the Passover with his disciples (vv. 17-30), predicted Peter’s betrayal (vv. 31-35), and moved to the place where it would all begin–Gethsemane (v. 36).

It seems amazing to me that Jesus told the disciples multiple times that he would be betrayed and crucified. One of them is here in verses 1-2 and that prediction told them when to start looking for it to happen.

Despite all these predictions, the disciples were completely unprepared. Why? Did they think Jesus was just being paranoid or dramatic?

Who knows?

What we do know is that Jesus was in deep anguish (v. 38) and the disciples he asked to pray for him were too tired to do what Jesus asked them to do (vv. 40-41, 43-45).

In verse 39, Jesus spoke to the only one who could truly understand and truly care. He prayed, “may this cup be taken from me.” The “cup” in biblical prophecy was the cup of God’s wrath. Jesus was not afraid of the pain of crucifixion; he was dreading the fact that he was about to become cursed by God the Father. The eternal fellowship that the three persons of God had enjoyed for eternity would be broken–temporarily–as Christ became the object of God’s wrath against us.

When the Bible tells us that God loves us, that he demonstrated true love by dying for us, it is impossible for us to understand how difficult and costly that love was. It was unfathomably offensive for the holy one of God to become a sin offering for us. It was unbelievable that one of the three persons of God would be disfellowshipped for a time from the Father and Spirit.

Yet it was absolutely necessary if any one of us were to be saved. Christ’s love is the only reason he went through with the cross. His love for us caused the triune God to will for the death of the son. It was a bitter cup, for sure, the most vile thing that any person has ever experienced. But Jesus did that for us.

Genesis 34, Job 1, Proverbs 3:21-35

Read Genesis 34, Job 1, Proverbs 3:21-35 and this devotional is about Job 1.

The first portion of Job 1 carefully painted a picture of Job, the man as an outstanding man:

  • Verse 1b told us that he “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”
  • Verse 2 told us that he was wealthy and successful by giving us a full inventory of his assets, then concluding, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.”
  • Verses 3-5 told us that he was a loving, godly family man. He loved God and his family so much that he interceded with God on behalf of his children as a “regular custom” (v. 5f).

As we read these opening verses, we are led to an obvious conclusion. Job had it all–a close walk with God that showed in his personal actions, his financial success, and his family life.

No wonder God loved Job so much, right? No wonder he led such an ideal, enviable life. Job was such a great guy that God gave him everything a man could want–yes?

Satan looked at it just the other way around. When God pointed to Job as a model human being (v. 8), Satan scoffed. “Of course he loves you, God! You’ve given him everything he could possibly want!” (vv. 9-10).

This caused Satan to offer God a bet: “I’ll bet you, God, that if you take away all the good stuff Job enjoys, “he will surely curse you to your face” (v. 11b). God accepted Satan’s wager, protecting only Job’s life from being taken by the evil one.

Just like that, Satan swooped in and took Job’s wealth and his children from him on the very same day (vv. 13-19).

How did Job respond to this?

Not in the way Satan expected. Satan’s belief was that Job’s love for God was based on God’s blessings on Job. Take those away and “he will surely curse you to your face” (v. 11b).

Job also did not accuse God of taking away his love just because he suffered such deep, sudden losses.

Job still had a lot of processing to do, as we’ll read in the rest of the chapters of this book. But his initial reaction to what happened to him was to leave it with the Lord: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (v. 21c-d). This is a godly response to the heartaches, traumas, and trials of life.

Is that how you respond to problems in your life? Or is your evaluation more performance based? Your theology is performance based if you love God because he’s given you what you want in life or if you measure God’s love for you based on how well your life is going. Either of those options is unbiblical. Both of them lack faith.

Can you trust God when problems enter your life?

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalms 10-13

Read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalms 10-13 today. This devotional is about Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel.

Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing–both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down?

We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.