2 Peter 2

Read 2 Peter 2.

This chapter predicts strong judgment for false prophets. But the point of the chapter is not to warn the false prophets themselves; rather, the point is to warn US about them. They are sneakily deceptive according to verse 1 (“They will secretly introduce destructive heresies”). They “will exploit you” (v. 3) and “seduce the unstable” (v. 14b). Their judgment is certain according to God’s long pattern of judging the wicked (vv. 4-10), but before that judgment falls they will cause much “harm” (v. 13).

How do we avoid falling prey to these false prophets? Knowing the truth and comparing all truth claims to it is the most important way to avoid them. In addition, though, the scriptures encourage us to watch the outcome of their teaching and the lifestyle that they lead.

  • Are they greedy for money (v. 3a, 14c)? That’s a telling sign.
  • Does their teaching actually have tangible spiritual results? Or is it merely pious sounding talk with no real substance? Verse 17a says that they “are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.”
  • Are they really different–holy–themselves? Verse 19 says that they “promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity.”

There is so much teaching available to us now through books, radio, TV, and the Internet. These mass broadcast media make it harder to know what these teachers are really like, but you cannot hide what you are forever.

So, first of all, keep reading and learning God’s word. But beware–and wary–of the teachers you allow to influence you. Look for the substance of God’s word in their teaching and watch how they live. These things will help you know whether someone is a man of God or a false teacher.

2 Corinthians 3

Read 2 Corinthians 3.

Why is it that when people hear the gospel or read the Bible, some believe but others are unmoved, unchanged? How can someone study the Bible for years without coming to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that he died on behalf of sinners? How can a devout Jewish person read Isaiah 53 without falling to his knees to confess Christ, calling on God to save him?

The answer to these questions is here in 2 Corinthians 3: 14-16: “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

Anyone who knows how to read can read and interpret the Bible properly, but not everyone can believe what the Bible says.

Here in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that this is because we are blind, by nature, to God’s truth in Christ. The reason why people don’t see him in the Bible and come to trust in him is that “a veil covers their hearts” (v. 15). Only the work of the Spirit of God (v. 17) can welcome Jesus and believe the Bible when they encounter his truth.

Then, once we’ve come to know Christ by faith, we can study the Bible’s depiction of Christ clearly without the veil of unbelief over our eyes (vv. 17-18).

This is how we should pray for unbelievers that we’re witnessing to–that God’s spirit would open their spiritual eyes to see the light of Christ in the gospel. It is also why salvation does not depend on how good your presentation skills are or how perfect your arguments for Christianity may be.

Salvation is a spiritual act; it requires the work of God’s Holy Spirit. So ask for the Spirit’s help when you witness, the Spirit’s illumination, conviction of sin, and regeneration in the hearts of those to whom you witness.

Galatians 5

Read Galatians 5.

Paul continued passionately, here in Galatians 5, to argue that the Galatians must not try to mix faith in Christ with obedience to the Law of Moses (vv. 3-6).

Verses 7-10 are a slight parenthesis in Paul’s argument. Paul stopped teaching about our freedom in Christ (vv. 1, 13) and began to wonder in print about who was responsible for the false teaching that had invaded their church (v. 7). In verse 9 he wrote, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” In other words, if the church tolerates just a little false doctrine, false doctrine will eventually pervade the entire church. Like cancer cells, false doctrine consumes the body of Christ slowly, but steadily.

Also like cancer, false doctrine is often unseen and undetected for a long time, sometimes until it is too late. Paul wrote this letter like a spiritual surgeon, seeking to cut out the spreading cells of false doctrine before it metastasized and killed the whole body.

False doctrine has existed in every age of humanity and, in our digital world, we have access to more of it than ever. Have you been sampling false teaching through TV broadcasts, books, podcasts, or online videos? Remember that it only takes “a little yeast” (v. 9) to leaven the entire loaf. We must be on guard, then. We must test everything against the teaching of scripture and reject everything that conflicts with God’s word.

Matthew 5

Read Matthew 5.

Who is responsible:

  • to obey God’s word? (vv. 17-20)?
  • to release anger toward others (vv. 21-22)?
  • to go try to fix a relationship with someone who is angry with you (vv. 23-24)?
  • to settle out of court (vv. 25-26)?
  • to have a pure heart toward people of the opposite (and same) sex (vv. 27-30)?
  • to keep a troubled marriage together as long as your spouse hasn’t crossed the line with another person (vv. 31-32)?
  • to be honest–so honest that you keep your word and don’t even need to “swear to God” (vv. 33-37)?
  • to be taken advantage of by others and even love others who treat you poorly (vv. 38-47)?

The answer to this quiz is the same for every question–you are.

Why? Because God created you. He’s perfect so you should be perfect like he is (v. 48).

That’s an impossible standard, I know. Jesus knew it, too. That’s why he began by telling us that happiness and prosperity come from being “poor in spirit” (v. 30), hungry and thirsty for righteousness (v. 6) and so on. We need the grace of God to save us from our many failures to obey the commands in that list above.

And, in Christ, we have that grace. He died to atone for every failure we’ve ever had in living up to God’s perfection.

But, having been saved by Christ’s death for us, we have a new power and a new resolve to do all the hard things on that list. We want to shift the blame to people who sin against us to justify our anger but Jesus commands us to deal with our anger in a Christ like way. The same is true for fixing broken relationships, settling with those who want to sue us, being sexually pure in our thoughts and actions, being committed to our marriages, being honest, and loving our enemies.

Nobody else can walk with God for you and you can’t make anyone else do the right thing. You are responsible before God to do what is right and, because of righteousness and power of Christ, you can do it if you trust him and obey what his word commands.

Is there anything on that list that you need to change your mind (repent) about? What is one action you need to do today based on what Christ taught and commanded in this chapter?

2 Chronicles 25 and Proverbs 30

Read 2 Chronicles 25 and Proverbs 30 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 30.

This chapter was authored by “Agur” (v. 1a) We don’t know who he is, nor does anyone recognize “Ithiel” (v. 1b), the man to whom Agur wrote.

Agur’s words in this chapter, though, show us a man who is yearning for God. He told us in verse 3 that he had not “attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.” Consequently, he was “weary” (v.1c) and lacked understanding (v. 2).

In verse 4 he described the one he is looking for. Only God can gather up the wind in his hands and wrap up the waters in a cloak. Only he “has established all the ends of the earth” (v. 4d). All of this, and the parallelism that we find in poetry like these Proverbs, leads us to conclude that the one “who has gone up to heaven and come down” is also a reference to God. It is interesting, isn’t it, that when he asks God’s name he also asks, “what is the name of his son?” The phrase “who has gone up to heaven and come down” and “what is the name of his son” foreshadow the coming of Christ, whose birth we celebrate on Monday.

Verses 5-9 describe Agur’s life after he found God. He treasured the “flawless” nature of God’s word, it’s completeness (v. 6) and how he protects all who trust him (v. 5b). Instead of sin and wealth, Agur longed for God to protect him from sin (v. 8a) and from the false self-sufficiency that would come from wealth.

Although we are material beings and, therefore, need stuff to survive, what we need more than anything is God’s self-revelation and sustaining grace. Agur’s words remind us that we have nothing apart from God and that knowing him brings joy and satisfaction. These are important lessons at any time in our lives but as we give and receive gifts this Christmas, may the Lord cause us to yearn for him and find our satisfaction in his flawless words, including the “Word” incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Chronicles 18 and Revelation 11

Read 2 Chronicles 18 and Revelation 11 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 18.

“Counseling should be encouraging” a man said to me years ago. It was his justification for ending weekly sessions of marriage counseling I’d arranged for him and his wife with a Christian counselor I trust. 

I had talked with this couple enough myself to know that there were serious sin problems that needed to be addressed–mostly, but not completely–on his side. The Christian counselor I sent them to work with was kind but candid about how he was treating his wife sinfully. A straight dose of truth was exactly what he needed but it was not what he wanted. So, they quit going.

Do I even need to tell you that they are now divorced? 

Ahab, the king of Israel, had similar feelings toward Micaiah, the truth-telling prophet. When Jehoshaphat king of Judah wanted a true prophet of YHWH to speak God’s mind about his joint venture of war (v. 6), Ahab replied, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah” (v. 7).

Why did Micaiah always prophecy bad things for Ahab? Because Ahab was an ungodly man who did ungodly things. Rather than repent when confronted with he truth, Ahab preferred to change the channel and find prophets who were more encouraging.

We all have a tendency to avoid facing the truth about ourselves or our ways. It is easier to change the channel than to change yourself.

But God is in the “changing you” business. He wants us to grow in our walk with him and that begins by honestly confronting your sins.

Do you find yourself looking for a positive message to drown out the truth of God’s word? Please realize how foolish it is to ignore God’s loving correction in your life.  Instead, seek out his correcting word and do what it says.

1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, John 16

Read 1 Chronicles 1-2, Zechariah 1, and John 16 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 1.

When Zechariah wrote these words (v. 1) there were still 18 years or so to go in Judah’s 70 year exile. The end was not yet in sight but it was much closer than it was at the beginning. God’s message to the people in the first 6 verses of this chapter can be described as follows:

  • Your parents and grandparents refused to repent when the prophets preached to them that the exile that we’re in was coming. Don’t be like them (v. 4).
  • What happened to those ancestors off yours, anyway? Oh, yeah, they died in exile just like the prophets said. The prophets themselves died too, by the way (v. 5).
  • What survives from those days? God’s word; that’s what (v. 6). Everything God said would happen, did happen.

The point of these first 6 verses is that God’s word through the predictions of the prophets had proved to be true. His word was so clearly true that even the rebellious ancestors were forced to admit, “The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do” (v. 6d). God’s punishment for their sins was clear proof of the truthfulness of his word.

So, “‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Don’t wait for the punishment of sin to prove the truth of God’s word. Believe that God’s word is true now and turn to him accordingly.

People in every generation have rejected and tried to discredit God’s word. They argue that there is no proof that the Bible is God’s word; it is just a human book, they think.

Leaving aside the prophecies that have already been fulfilled, God’s word is fulfilled day after day in the consequences that people experience for their sins. “The wages of sin is death” according to Romans 6:23; the fact that every sinner dies proves this word of the Lord to be true. The Bible also promises blessings for faith in and obedience to his word as well as judgment for unbelief and disobedience to his word.

You and I have the benefit of history. We can see how others who lived before us have disregarded God’s commands and sinned because the wanted to sin. What became of their lives? In every case I can think of, they proved that faithlessness and disobedience bring heartbreak and sorrow. 

Receive the grace of God in the warning of these words and choose to believe that obeying God’s commands will be far better for you than disobeying them. That’s the lesson God wanted the people of Zechariah’s generation to learn from the exile. Likewise, it is the same lesson he wants us to learn, too.

2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, Proverbs 26:1-16

Read 2 Kings 22, Zephaniah 2, and Proverbs 26:1-16 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 22.

Josiah was eight years old when he became king.

When he was a mere twenty-six years old, however (v. 3: “in the eighteenth year”), he supervised the renovation of Solomon’s temple (vv. 3-7). During that renovation, the “Book of the Law” was discovered. This is a reference to Moses’ law; whether it meant all five books of Moses or just one book (such as Exodus or Deuteronomy) is unclear. What is clear is that God’s word had been neglected. Whatever Josiah and any other observant person in Judah knew about God was known by oral tradition, not direct instruction from God’s written word.

Having re-discovered God’s word, however, the secretary (v. 8)  and the king (v. 10) read it. The king immediately accepted the words he heard as God’s word (v. 11) and realized that God had promised judgment for disobedience to this covenant—disobedience that was common throughout his kingdom.

His response to the message in verse 13 was, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me….” This inquiry was to find out what the Lord’s will was for the king and his people. Had the Lord already determined to bring judgement to them or would he accept the king’s repentance?

Having consulted the prophet Huldah (v. 14), they learned that God had indeed willed judgment for Judah (vv. 16-17).

However, verses 18-19 tell us that Josiah’s responsiveness to God’s word would mean mercy for him and the people during his life. Verse 19 put it this way, “Because your heart was responsive….” He, therefore, modeled for Judah and for anyone who follows God what walking with God looks like.

We must read God’s word—not someone else’s description or summary of God’s word —but the word itself. We must believe that it is true and applies to us and we must turn to God in repentance when we are convicted of disobedience to it.

I’m glad you’re reading these devotionals but are you reading the Bible passages first? Are you finding truth for yourself in these daily chapters from scripture in addition to the truth I email you every morning?

Most importantly, are you doing anything about the truths that God is bringing to your attention from the word?

1 Kings 9, Hosea 12, Psalm 119:1-40

Read 1 Kings 9, Hosea 12, and Psalm 119:1-40 today. This devotional is about Psalm 119:1-40.

People have a hard time with rules—even ones they agree with—because rules are incapable of changing human desires. Our hearts long for the freedom to do what we want; we are deceived and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can sin without consequences. We tend to see God’s laws, then, not as lights to illumine our choices so that we know right from wrong, truth from error, or wisdom from folly; rather, we perceive God’s laws as fences that would seek to restrict our freedom to run.

The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 had come to think just the opposite way about God’s law. In verse 32 he wrote, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.”

This lengthy Psalm is an acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. The subject of this poem is God’s law; someone once called it a “love letter to God’s law,” and that is a good description.

Nobody in our culture writes 26 poetic verses—one for each letter of our alphabet—extolling the virtues of federal law but some inspired Psalmist did.

Why?

What made the difference between the vast number of Israelites who worshipped idols and disregarded God’s laws and its promised blessings?

The answer is a changed heart. The Psalmist who wrote these lines had experienced the new birth we call salvation. He had received regeneration—the gift of spiritual life to someone who is spiritually dead. One result of that regeneration was a changed attitude toward God’s word. Instead of experiencing God’s commands as fences that restrict freedom, the believer now sees God’s laws as a flat, smooth footpath that provides moral and spiritual guidance. He can “run in the path of your commands” like a child runs across the backyard—free, happy, and secure.

He could do that because “you have broadened my understanding” (v. 32b; see also verse 45). This is what God’s grace does; it teaches us to understand that God’s word is a blessing to be treasured, loved, and most importantly obeyed. A believer receives and obeys God’s word with joy because it frees him from the bondage of sin and its consequences.

It also holds out the promise that, if the believer does what God says to do, there will be rewards. Those rewards may be in eternity rather than this life, but they are guaranteed because God promised them.

That’s faith—obey first to experience blessings later.

This is not to say that the Psalmist never struggled with the sin nature any more. In verse 29, he begged the Lord to “keep my from deceitful ways.” In verses 36-37 he asked the Lord to turn his heart and his eyes away from sin and toward God’s word.

Your struggles with obedience are proof that God has not completed his work of salvation. Salvation is a fact if you’re in Christ; it is certain because it is based on God’s promises but it won’t be completed until we are with Christ. Until then, we need God’s word to guide us and we need to continually ask the Lord to give us the desire to obey his word as he changes us within by its power.

Some of you have been reading God’s word more faithfully than you ever have before this year. Keep showing up each day to read with me; much truth still awaits. But let’s be sure to do what the word tells us to do so that we can grow in our faith and be liberated to follow the Lord.

2 Samuel 19, Daniel 9, 1 Timothy 1

Read 2 Samuel 19, Daniel 9, and 1 Timothy 1. This devotional is about Daniel 9.

Daniel’s prayer here in chapter 9 is model for how we should pray in concert with the will of God.

First, what prompted Daniel’s prayer was God’s word. Verse 2 says, “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” It was his reading and understanding of Jeremiah’s prophecy that caused him to pray as he did. The lesson for us here is that the truths of scripture can lead us to pray. Daniel saw a promise in God’s word that had a time-deadline of 70 years so he prayed that the Lord would fulfill that promise. Likewise, when we see God’s promises in scripture that are as of yet unfulfilled, they can motivate us to ask God to make them happen.

Next, Daniel began his prayer with praise. Even though his people were in exile in Babylon, he believed that God was “the great and awesome God” (v. 4), that he was “righteous” (v. 7a), and that he was “merciful and forgiving” 9v. 9). God loves to hear us wrap our requests in worship; when it is our faith in God’s attributes—specific attributes—that compel us to pray, God is glorified and worship in our prayers.

The kernel of Daniel’s prayer, of course, was repentance. He arranged his physical appearance to express repentance (v. 3) and he acknowledged the sins of his nations (vv. 5-7) as well as his personal sins (v. 20: “confessing my sin…”). This focus on repentance was because he was praying for restoration. God’s purpose in exiling Israel was to turn their hearts back to him, so repentance was the proper response to their situation. While the purpose of our prayers is not always repentance, it is always appropriate to confess our sins to the Lord in our prayers. This aligns our hearts morally with his will and causes us to remember that our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone and his atonement for us.

My final observation about this prayer is that the reason for his request was the glory of God. Verse 19 says, “For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” He wanted the restoration God promised because he wanted God to be glorified. When we ask God for things in our prayers, are we thinking about how the answer to our prayers will bring him glory or are we focused merely on improving our situation for the better. While God is loving and compassionate toward us, his love and compassion will ultimately be experienced in eternity; until then, he allows problems and pain and tragedy and other issues because this world has not yet been redeemed. He is more concerned about the growth of his church and the coming of his kingdom than he is about our comfort, so our prayers should be about the things he cares about far more than they are about the things we care about. Too often we have that order inverted.

So, what are you praying about right now? Do the scriptures inform and stimulate your prayers? Are your prayers layered with worship and praise for who God is? Are you confessing your sins and claiming the sacrifice of Christ as the basis for your forgiveness and even your praying? Are you praying for the glory of God?