2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, Psalms 124-126

Read 2 Kings 23, Zephaniah 3, and Psalms 124-126 today. This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.”

Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done. Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever.

Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring.

This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.” But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears.

God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are exceptional events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else?

Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore?

This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it.

Even if you’re crying while you do the work (v. 5), the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort!

So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, Mark 4

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 38, and Mark 4 today. This devotional is about Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41).

The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25 describes how failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers.

The parable in verses 26-29 also teaches about the kingdom of God using a farm metaphor. A farmer scatters the seed into the ground and…. that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.”

Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c says that the farmer’s planting works even “though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

A lot of effective processes work this way. You do not have to understand the process to benefit from the process.

So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works nor do need to do anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know… how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

Many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure.

But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come.

Are you planting anything?

Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Today’s readings are Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done. Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.” But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Mark 4

Today we’re reading Mark 4.

This chapter contains some of Jesus parables about the kingdom (vv. 1-34) followed by the incident where Jesus miraculously calmed the storm (vv. 35-41). Some of these parables explain the same truths I taught in yesterday’s message. The parable of the soils here in Mark 4:1-25, for instance, describes how failure to receive the gospel is due to the hearts of people, not the seed or the sowers. The parable in verses 26-29 also teaches one of the truths I’ve talked about the past two Sundays. Jesus said in verses 26-27 that the kingdom of God is like a farmer. He scatters the seed into the ground and…. that’s it. He just leaves it there. It doesn’t matter how else the farmer spends his time for verse 27 says, “whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed spouts and grows.” Once he has done the work of sowing, the land and the seed take over the work and work together. Verse 27c even says, “…though he does not know how.” The farmer knows that process of sowing and reaping works, but he didn’t know why it works. He has no idea how the process of germination happens. Neither did I until I read this hideously ugly webpage about it. Once the seed is planted, the process works “all by itself” (v. 28a). If the farmer waits patiently, he will reap the results.

Although the farmer didn’t know how the seed germinates, he knew that it would germinate if he planted it. He did not have to understand the process to benefit from the process. So what was Christ teaching us about his kingdom here? He was teaching that God will sow the gospel into the world and then it will bear fruit. You and I, the sowers, don’t need to understand how it works nor do need to anything else but plant the seed. We don’t need to “know… how” (v. 27c); God uses the gospel to his work “all by itself” (v. 28a).

As I mentioned in yesterday’s message, many of us never witness for Christ or we stop witnessing for Christ because we fear failure. But the only way to fail is not to plant or not to reap. If we stay in the farmhouse, we will fail. If we plant the seed of the word, Jesus said it would work “all by itself” (v. 28).

When was the last time you tried to invite someone to church? When did you last open a spiritual conversation with someone and tell them about Christ? The kingdom is growing and when Christ returns, the harvest will come. Are you planting anything?

While we’re on this subject, some of our church members are involved in campus ministry and they will be attempting to share the gospel with thousands of incoming students. Pray for them to find the good soil and plant the seed of the word. And, if you have time to help and want a bootcamp in evangelism, contact Bryce or EJ and volunteer to help them.

2 Kings 17, Titus 3, Hosea 10, Psalms 129–131

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 17, Titus 3, Hosea 10, Psalms 129–131. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Hosea 10.

Our reading here in Hosea 10 gave the prophecy of God’s judgment on Israel and we also read about the historical fulfillment of that judgment in 2 Kings 17. God’s people in Israel and Judah committed many sins against him; chief among those sins was idolatry. If Israel had worshipped their God, he would have empowered them to keep the other commands and to offer the sin offerings he prescribed when they failed to keep his commands. But his people did not worship the Lord, therefore, they were slaves to ever other sin and wickedness that humanity can think of. 

As we have seen over and over again this year, however, God always leaves room for repentance. Although he is just in dealing out the judgments promised in his covenant, his prophets come to warn the people to repent and return to righteous living. Here in Hosea 10 we see one of the most beautiful pleadings by a prophet to God’s people. Verse 12 says, “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love….” Don’t those words give you hope? Righteousness, of course, means right living according to God’s laws. Do what God says is right and you will reap the fruit of unfailing love. 

Obedience to this command requires some heart-work to prepare for. Verse 12b says, “…break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord….” This is a visual way of describing repentance. The “unplowed ground” refers to the hardness of the human heart. This hardness causes people to seek anything but the Lord—we seek the prosperity or pleasure or protection offered to us by idols. Our idols are our selfish desires for materialism or pleasure or recognition or whatever else competes with the Lord for our full attention. The Lord in this passage calls people to repent of those idols, to “seek the Lord” from a repentant heart. And how long should we do this? Verse 12b: “…until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Even in the Old Testament there are passages that show us that God’s righteousness comes as a gift, like the rain showers of heaven that cause plants on earth to grow. God wasn’t commanding his people to try harder to do right; he was calling them to turn to him in repentance, receive his righteousness as a gift, then “sow righteousness for yourselves [to] reap the fruit of unfailing love.” Here is the basic outline of the gospel; the atonement of Christ is not spoken of here, but God’s people knew from the law that their sins needed to be atoned for. We believe and speak the same truths that Hosea held out to Israel. Turn to seek the Lord in repentance preparing the soil of your heart, receive his righteousness like the gift of rain, then plant the seeds of righteous living in your life and watch how God grows them into the fruit of his unfailing love. Do you believe that in Christ God has done all that you need to make this truth a reality? Are you living according to these truths, then, sowing the seeds of righteousness in your life?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.