Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50

Read Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50. This devotional is about Psalm 49.

Psalm 49 is not usually on the list people have of favorite Psalms, but it one that offers great wisdom to those who meditate on its truths. The passage opens in verses 1-4 with a call for everyone, despite their station in life, to listen to the voice of wisdom. And what is this wisdom that the Psalmist offers? Don’t be afraid of though times and wicked people (v. 5) because everyone is going to die (v. 10a, 12). It doesn’t matter how much money you have, no one can buy more time. God does not traffic in human marketplaces, so no matter what you try to offer him, it won’t matter (v. 7).

Apple founder Steve Jobs was worth over $10 billion on the day he died. Although he lavishly funded cancer research seeking a cure for his illness, his vast wealth was not enough to save him. He could have offered everything he owned but nobody could give him even one extra moment on earth. “This,” the Psalmist wrote in verses 13-14 “is the fate of those who trust in themselves… their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.” Jobs led the design of a spectacular headquarters for Apple—one that is was built after his death–but he is buried in the dust just like everyone else who dies.

So, don’t be so easily impressed by wealth, the Psalmist wrote in verse 16 because, according to verses 17-19, “They will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life.”

What is the alternative to this depressing truth? Verse 15: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” Although the details of the afterlife were fuzzy in the Old Testament, there are passages like this one that express confidence, certainty, in the salvation of those who hope in the Lord. You’ll never have enough money to live forever on this earth, but trusting in God gives us hope for today and tomorrow because those who trust in him by faith WILL live.

Exodus 2, Job 19, Hebrews 8

Read Exodus 2, Job 19, and Hebrews 8. This devotional is about Job 19.

Today we read one of the most powerful statements in the book of Job here in Job 19:25-27: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” These short poetic stanzas refer to two core doctrines of our faith:

  • They foreshadow the incarnation of Christ in verse 25 when Job says, “in the end he will stand on the earth.”
  • They affirm the resurrection of the dead: “after my skin has been destroyed [in other words, “after I’m dead”], yet in my flesh I will see God;” Note that Job says he will see God “in my flesh,” not “in my spirit.” He thus affirmed the bodily resurrection of the dead.

Though these truths did not remove Job’s suffering or his questions, they do offer great encouragement if we consider them. No matter how difficult your suffering, how senseless and unfair it all seems in this life, or how you meet the end of your life, God is waiting there on the other side of eternity for you if you are in Christ. And, God’s plan is not just for you to know him spiritually but to include you in his earthly kingdom in eternity.

I hope you find these words encouraging, no matter what you’re facing today. Maybe it would be a good idea to memorize this passage and remind yourself of it when you need encouragement.

1 Kings 20, Daniel 2

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 20 and Daniel 2.

This devotional is about Daniel 2.

What would you do if you were a powerful leader but suspected that your spiritual advisors were making stuff up? You might do what Nebuchadnezzar did here in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a weird dream (v. 1) and he apparently believed that something was being communicated to him in it. Instead of describing it for his spiritual advisors, he tested them: could they tell him what he had dreamed and THEN interpret what it meant (vv. 2-9)? The key phrase in that passage is in verse 9: “You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” If they could tell him what he had dreamed that would be proof that they had genuine access to the spiritual realm. That would give him greater confidence in their interpretation of this dream and in their spiritual guidance in every other matter.

Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisors did not like the new terms of service he was imposing on them. They protested that what he wanted was impossible (vv. 10-11) which confirmed to the king that they were dealers of nonsense; Nebuchadnezzar therefore ordered them to be put to death (vv. 12-13). Daniel and his friends were apparently junior officers in the spirituality cabinet of Babylon at this point. They were subject to the same death penalty but had not been given the opportunity to advise Nebuchadnezzar about his dream (v. 14). Daniel asked for some time and urged his three friends to pray (vv. 15-18), and God answered their prayers, revealing the vision and its meaning to Daniel (vv. 19-45).

The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important because it predicted world events that would happen after his reign and would culminate with the kingdom of Christ (vv. 36-45). But for this devotional, I want to focus on how Daniel responded when God answered his prayers. Daniel was given a gift that, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s astrologers, was impossible: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” they said in verse 10. Daniel recognized that what they said was right. His ability to interpret dreams was a supernatural gift from God, not a natural skill he developed himself (v. 23). Daniel also recognized in this dream that God was at work in world events (v. 21). While we think that kings and leaders are chosen by natural events, political processes, and/or human manipulation, God’s providence stands behind it all. The rulers of this world think they are in control but their control is an illusion. God is using their ambitions to advance his will. While we should do what we can to influence world events toward righteousness, we need to recognize that the nations and political structures of this world belong to this world; they will be replaced by the kingdom Jesus came to establish (vv. 44-45). What seems so powerful, so permanent, so impenetrable to us now will be supernaturally—“not by human hands” (v. 34)—“broken to pieces and… swept away without leaving a trace” (v. 35).

Anytime we have an election, there are people who feel hopeful and people who feel hopeless. Regardless of your politics, you’ve been on the hill and in the valley of that roller coaster already in your life and you will likely experience that again. If our hope were in reforming this world and it’s rulers, we would have plenty to worry about, but our hope is in Christ. His kingdom may be right on the verge of appearing or it may be another thousand years away. Only God knows the timeline, but he has revealed to us the outcome. Look in faith to these promises and trust God to watch over us and use us in the meantime, just like he did with Daniel and his friends.

Leviticus 16, Proverbs 30, Psalm 102

Today’s readings are Leviticus 16, Proverbs 30, and Psalm 102.

This devotional is about Psalm 102.

The superscript to this Psalm, “A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord,” describes verses 1-11 very well. The person who penned this prayer cried out for the Lord’s help (vv. 1-2), then described what his current life felt like in verses 3-11. In verse 10 the phrase, “because of your great wrath,” coupled with verse 16 seems to indicate that the songwriter was writing in response to the Babylonian captivity. He is distressed, then, because God’s judgment has fallen on Judah. Although it was a national event, it affected the Psalmist in a deeply personal way. He was emotionally devastated when he considered his circumstances.

In verse 12, however, he turned his prayer from describing his circumstances to describing God. Despite what had happened, he was confident that God was still ruling the universe securely from his throne (vv. 12, 15) and that he would be merciful and restore the nation (vv. 13-20). Someday, God would be glorified in the land among his people again (vv. 21-22).

The beginning of that restoration was 70 years away, however, and would probably be outside the remaining lifetime of this writer. What hope, then, could he have? Verse 23-28 answer that question. The Psalmist would not live to see the promises he wrote about in verses 13-22 but he still had hope. His hope was in eternity. Verse 26 told us that this world would come to an end but that would not be the end of God’s people. In verse 28 he wrote, “The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.” Given that these words came after the Psalmist described the end of heaven and earth, it seems clear that he is describing eternity with God.

Life in this world can be disappointing, even devastating, but this is not the only reality that exist. When we hope in God and believe his promises by faith, we can be confident that a perfect future awaits us in eternity. Let this hope encourage you today no matter what you’re dealing with now or what may happen today. God is still ruling and when this age is over, we will live eternally in his presence.

Genesis 40, Job 6, Psalm 38

Today, read Genesis 40, Job 6, and Psalm 38.

If the story of Joseph’s life were plotted on a graph like the price of a stock on the New York Stock Exchange, what would it look like? Early on, the line would go up–he was favored by his father and had divine dreams that assured him of greatness. But, after his stock ascended for a while, it would have moved downward drastically after he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Then, there would be a small move up when Potiphar entrusted him with more responsibility, then another big move downward when he was falsely accused of assaulting Potiphar’s wife and put into prison.

At the end of Genesis 39, his stock moved up again a bit. Although he was in prison, the warden of the prison elevated Joseph into leadership and paid little attention to what he did “because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (39:23b). Still, he was in prison so the overall trend of his life was downward, despite this little spike upward.

Here in Genesis 40, Joseph saw an opportunity. Two of Pharoah’s officials were incarcerated and had dreams. Joseph interpreted their dreams and asked the cupbearer–the one who got good news–to “remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (v. 14b). After all the downward moves in his life, he finally had a reason to hope.

Alas, however, according to verse 23, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” His hopeful opportunity never materialized and, if it were me, I would have despaired of ever getting out of prison.

Although Joseph had many discouraging moments in his life, he also had evidence of the Lord’s work in his life. God blessed his work and allowed him to rise even in the bad situations he found himself in. More obviously, the Lord gave him the interpretation of the dreams of these two men.

Fortunately, neither you nor I have been enslaved by others or imprisoned based on a false accusation. But it is easy to feel in the tough times of life that God has forgotten about us or doesn’t care about our circumstances. If that’s you, let Joseph’s story give you hope. God is watching and the story isn’t finished yet.

Genesis 35-36, Job 2, Psalm 34

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 35-36, Job 2, and Psalm 34.

This devotional is about Job 2.

In Job 1 we were introduced to this famous man of the Old Testament. Although he is not tied through any genealogy to Israel, he was someone who worshipped the true God. As 1:1-2 told us, “he feared God and shunned evil.”

(By the way: people refer to Job sometimes as “the oldest book in the Bible.” It might be, but we really don’t know. My Old Testament professor in seminary wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Job and he thought the author could be Solomon based on the Hebrew text. But Job the man probably lived prior to Abraham, so his story is quite old regardless of when God inspired someone to write it.)

Anyway, in chapter 1 we learned that Job loved God, had a large, loving family, and was financially prosperous. God pointed him out to Satan as an example of spiritual greatness. Satan responded by asking and receiving permission to test Job’s faith.

After taking everything Job had but his wife, here in chapter 2 Satan received permission to cover Job’s body with painful sores. He was now suffering immensely inside and outside. His wife, also a victim of everything Job suffered except for the sores, was unable to contain her anger at God. “Curse God and die!” she said to her husband in verse 9. In verse 10, Job responded with a condensed form of his understanding of discipleship: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” The longer version was spoken in Job 1:20-21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In both of these quotations, we are challenged to accept our place as the “creature” in the “Creator-creature” hierarchy. God is the Creator; he owns all things, including us, right down to the length and quality of our lives and the health (or not) of our bodies. Anything we have is on loan to us from God because we came out naked and leave naked (1:21a-b). If it was loaned to us by God, he has the right as the Creator to reclaim it anytime he wants: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” Our mission in life is, whether happy or sad, prospering or suffering, to worship and praise God: “may the name of the Lord be praised.” When Job asked his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” he was speaking reverently and in submission to God, his Lord and Creator.

But Job’s attitude is a tough one to replicate, isn’t it? God did not create us to suffer; he created us to worship and serve him in joy. It was the entrance of sin that brought suffering into the world. Since God could have stopped the entrance of sin or the causes of our suffering, it feels unjust to us when suffering comes into our lives.

This is why suffering–trials–is the test of our faith. When we curse God, we call him unjust. We appeal to our own sense of right and wrong, a sense that is permanently skewed in our direction. We want mercy when we do wrong but justice when we feel that wrong has been done to us. God allows us to suffer to expose our unbelief, the weaknesses in our faith, so that they can be purified from our hearts and we can trust him even more purely and fully.

Everyone reading this is suffering in some way, or emerging from suffering, or heading toward it, probably unknowingly. Let the presence of pain in your life strengthen your walk with God. Let it cause you to turn to him for hope and comfort not away from him in anger or bitterness. Let it teach you how to truly praise God from the heart and trust him. Remember that Job did not have the answer to “why” that we were given in chapters 1-2. All he had was his theology and his circumstances. When those two seemed irreconcilable, he went with his theology and staked his hope there.

May God grace us to do the same.

John 5

Today’s reading is John 5.

Every year, some of the funeral homes in our area drop by the church building at Christmas time and leave me a gift. The one that does this most consistently gives me a tin of mixed nuts. I snack on them in my office for weeks–it’s a big tin–and I’m grateful that they brought me something healthy and not just more Christmas cookies. Or shudder fruit cake.

I guess it is good business for them to keep in touch with pastors. The truth is, however, that they are in a recession-proof business. People are dying all the time, so there are always needs to be served in their industry. Everyone likes referrals, as weird as that sounds when talking about funeral homes, but they’re going to get “customers” no matter what.

Doing funerals and attending funerals that I’m not involved in are part of the life of being a pastor. I am always grateful for the opportunity to serve families when they have a funeral. But, I hate the pain and sorrow that death brings. I also hate that many families only get together and reminisce about old times when someone dies. That’s the reality of busy lives and people who live in different parts of the world, but it is still sad.

Jesus promised to end all of this here in John 5. He promised life to those who believe in God through him (v. 24). “Eternal life” is such common terminology in our faith that we sometimes go numb to what it means. Jesus’s promise to us, however, is that God will raise the dead and that all believers will live with him forever.

Visualize this promise: “…a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live…. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” There is an end to death coming and it will be a great day for those in Christ and an absolutely horrid day for everyone else. Each of us will be judged according to what we have done: “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (v. 29b). All of us would be in that latter category and would rise to be condemned if it were not for the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us by faith (v. 24) and the payment that his death made for our sins. This is the hope of the dying, the living who will die someday, and those who live who have lost someone they love in death. Because of Christ’s mercy and grace, death will end and eternal life will reign forever.

The funeral business may be recession proof, but it will be disrupted and made obsolete by the final resurrection. Are you ready?